Jerry Pierce

Comfort in Nostalgia

There has been some comfort in nostalgia as we hunkered down during the coronavirus. A video a guy from Springhill did about life in his hometown and mine in our growing up days is on the internet, and it keeps pulling me back.  When I watch it, the words and images stir good thoughts. And it’s not just a Springhill thing.  We loved our upbringing there, but so did kids in Natchitoches, Many, Coushatta and other area towns. All those communities had things that made them unique, but there were more similarities than differences in the way of life their young folks shared. At a time when the pandemic has kept us apart, a video that shows how closely schoolmates and neighbors were connected in those towns is soul-stirring. David Welch did the video.  It’s a hobby. He’s a retired football coach who was a few years behind me in school. His dad had a shoe repair business in town, and David was formed and fashioned by Springhill and its people.     Just as I do, he still has some of the town in his blood and bones. He did the guitar playing, singing and songwriting for the video that was created with mostly old black and white photos of people and places from his school days. Those images are etched in the mind of folks who are spread far and wide now but who spent their teenage years in the same soda fountains, ballparks, hamburger joints and other hometown hangouts. There are photos of paper mill smokestacks as Welch sings, “Things could be tough for a country town.  They came in and shut the factory down.  Things change…nothing stays the same.” Yearbook pictures of classmates roll by to the words, “Some would say it’s just a poor town now.  Just a shadow of itself.  It’s best days are gone.  But those memories, they will live on.” And then the chorus, “In my mind, I’m seventeen.  Back in time and back at The Hill.  Dragging Main to see and be seen, eating French fries at Billy’s Dairy Kream.  A Stampley song on the radio.  Football games on Friday nights, the ‘Jacks would play; everybody came.  Teentown dances at the old rec hall. Where did it go?” Photos flashed of Springhill Lumberjack teams and the stadium where they played, the recreation center where kids danced in their socks, and of local singer Joe Stampley who became a big music star. There were pictures of Main Street where kids cruised on Friday nights, the movie theater that had Saturday morning double feature westerns and our old high school that was torn down not long ago. And more words to the song, “The old school is gone, replaced by a new one; the black and gold, it’s gone too.  The memories, they still remain.  Memories of those ivy walls, they live in us forever; they won’t be taken away.” Interwoven in those lyrics are references to the school colors we wore and the alma mater we sang. David’s words in that little four-minute video surely reflect the thoughts of those old friends and classmates who watched it.  “Things change and nothing stays the same…but the memories will live on.”

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25-Cent Gas

I went to fill up my car one day last week and paid my bill after the transaction with a quarter.  That was just one more indication of how upside down the world is right now.

It was the same service station where I use a credit card to fill up every week or so.  But the storm and demand for gas for generators and things like that knocked everything out of whack.

Hand-written signs taped on pumps indicated that credit card sales had to be conducted inside with the cashier before gas was pumped.   Exact change was required for cash sales.

When I surrendered my credit card to the cashier, she said I could fill up at Pump 6 and go back in the store afterwards to complete the paperwork.

As promised, the pump was working when I got back outside.  I squeezed the handle and got 21 cents worth of gas, about .0009 in gallons, before it cut off.

When I went back in, the cashier said that pump was probably out of gas and asked if I wanted to put the sale on the credit card.  I gave her a quarter instead, knowing I would not get change back.

My problem, I discovered, was that I was trying to fill the car with a higher grade of gas than “regular.”  Signs on other pumps showed that there was no mid-grade or premium gas.

The owner’s manual for my car is emphatic that it requires a higher grade of gas.  But I eventually filled up with regular, and nothing has shut down or blown up.

Anyway, the whole incident of trying to fill up my car and paying just 21 cents after the pump stopped reminded of when I started driving in high school.

Gasoline was about a quarter a gallon when I got my driver’s license in the 1950s.  That seems cheap, but it was more money than teenagers had most of the time.

Even when I had a quarter, it was hard to decide whether to spend it on a gallon of gas or a hamburger at the Dothl House that was so juicy it dripped down your arms.

Cars got better mileage then.  My best friend and I were both dating girls from Taylor, Ark., seven miles away.  We could put a gallon of gas in my family car or his, drive to Taylor, ride around with the girls a while and have enough gas to get back home.

We got interested in some Plain Dealing girls once, but that was 18 miles away.  Even when we could afford two gallons of gas, getting to Plain Dealing and back to see them was cutting it close.

So we stuck with the Taylor girls until the night I gave away the Elvis Presley autograph.

We had saved up a few dollars and decided to take the girls to the Louisiana Hayride show in Shreveport to see Elvis Presley.

When Elvis finished singing, he signed autographs near the stage.  The girl I was with begged me to get his autograph for her.

The line was long, and I crawled under seats to get closer to the front.  Elvis singed my Louisiana Hayride program just before the announcer said, “Elvis has left the building.”

On the way back to my cheap seat in the balcony, a pretty girl from Springhill said she would do anything for the autograph.  I gave it to her and found out she didn’t tell the truth.

We were in my friend’s Ford.  I never realized how big the back seat was until I rode home back there by myself.  The girl I was with got in front with the other couple and wouldn’t speak to me.

My friend said I messed up a good thing, because the Taylor girl he was dating quit seeing him too.

Most nights after I gave the Elvis autograph away and we lost the Arkansas girls, my friend and I just stayed in town when we had a little pocket change.  We had greasy hamburgers at the Dothl House and listened to sad songs on the juke box.

My 21-cent bill at the service station brought back some good memories.

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Demand for Tuna

The magnitude of this pandemic really sank in with me when I learned that the demand for canned tuna fish has soared in America during the global crisis.

Tuna producers around the world say sales of cans and pouches of tuna went up by 100 percent in the first months of the coronavirus.

Big retail groceries put limits on the number of cans of tuna customers could buy as shoppers tried to stock up on food.

That sudden surge in tuna fish sales was disturbing for some of us who lived in an era when consumption of canned tuna was extensive and just a way of life.  We had been encouraged by the declining popularity of the food in recent years.

From the 1950s when I was growing up until the late 1980s, tuna was the most consumed seafood in the nation.  More than 85 percent of households in the country had containers of tuna in the pantry.

But canned tuna sales had plummeted steadily for nearly three decades before the pandemic.  Per capita consumption in the United States dropped by 30 percent from 2000 to 2015.

Before it fell out of favor, tuna had been marketed for years as a healthy ingredient for sandwiches, salads and casseroles.  Lord knows my mother contributed to the tuna fish craze in her day.

Neighborhood gatherings of ladies’ groups were common back then.  There were frequent prayer meetings, Tupperware parties and home permanent days at our house, and tuna was a main attraction.

My mother would mix canned tuna with boiled eggs, celery, mayonnaise, onions and other stuff, put a glob of it on lettuce and call it tuna salad.

That was for fancy meetings.  If some of the ladies were just getting together to give each other home permanents, she usually served tuna fish sandwiches on white bread with the crust cut off.

She concocted some tuna casseroles a couple of times with mushroom soup in them, crushed potato chips on top and things like that, but my dad refused to eat them.

His main complaint was that they made the whole house smell bad.  I agreed with that and never could decide if the tuna fish or the home permanents smelled worse.

I dreaded the days my mother made tuna fish, because I knew she would put a tuna fish sandwich in my school lunch if there was any left over.

My third grade teacher Miss Bearden asked me to tell my mother not to send tuna sandwiches, because they smelled up the whole classroom before lunch.

I delivered that message, but my mother thought I had just made it up because I didn’t want any more tuna fish sandwiches in my lunch bag.  I told my dad, and he thought I was kidding.

Miss Bearden finally called my mother to complain about the smell of the tuna sandwiches.  The teacher didn’t help me learn the multiplication table that year, but she did save me from tuna fish.  This absolutely true story emphasizes how bad tuna fish really tastes. A tennis coach friend of mine was dating a girl from Russia who came to America to play college tennis.  They fell in love, and he wanted to ask her to marry him.

He is old-fashioned and felt he should get her dad’s permission before proposing.  He flew alone to Russia to meet him.  The coach didn’t speak Russian and was concerned about ordering food on the long trip.  So he took a few cans of tuna.

The girl’s dad granted his approval for the engagement, and the coach headed home.  At the Moscow airport, he saw some cans of food with a picture of fish on them in the gift shop and picked up several for the trip.

When his girlfriend and future wife was helping him unpack, she asked why he had cans of cat food from Russia in his backpack.  He had eaten a couple of them on the plane.

The coach said he really didn’t notice much difference in the tuna and the cat food.  I wish my mother was still around to hear that story.

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Jobs-Work

I hope my former and current employers can’t get their money back if they read this, but none of the many jobs over my lifetime ever felt like work, even when there were two or three at a time.
My decades of employment started at age 12. I mowed the yard for an elderly couple on a hot summer morning, and they paid me $3 in cold cash. That was a fortune to a kid in the 1950s.
I picked up two more customers for the lawn service, and my income soared to $9 a week.
The overhead costs were low. I had a manual, reel-type push mower, a sling blade and a file to sharpen them. So the $9 was all profit and more than I could spend.
I bought comic books for a dime and Grapettes at Barrett’s Grocery and spent a quarter every Saturday for the western movies.
Mowing yards was enjoyable. I liked the sun on my neck and the smell of fresh-cut grass. I have never missed a week without being paid to work since that first boyhood job.
When I went out for football in junior high, Coach Baucum observed my physique and asked if I wanted to be a trainer. That let me hang around sports taping knees and ankles.
It also provided opportunities for the future. Experience as a trainer got me a scholarship to college when there was no other way I could have gone.
And the sports ties led to other jobs. Coach Buddy Bonnette put me through a grueling water safety instructor course and hired me at the recreation center to clean the pool, mop floors and help lifeguard.
The editor of the Springhill Press paid me a dime an inch to cover sports, so she got detailed stories.
That little job led to stringing work for daily papers and to some disc jockeying and a sports show at the local radio station.
When I flunked math and stayed with my grandparents in Bogalusa to take the class in summer school, my uncle hired me to run his snowball stand. His profits fell, because girls got free snow cones.
They paid me in college to work as a trainer and for the school paper. I kept covering sports for dailies and worked nights at the Coushatta Citizen doing rewrites.
A rock with a Ku Klux Klan flyer wrapped around it crashed through the window one night. I called my editor Gordon Nelson who said he was watching a cross burn in his yard.
I had summer jobs at the paper mill in Springhill. College kids got the creampuff work. Regular employees did the important stuff.
After college, I got my dream job covering news and sports at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. There were five deadlines a night. We never missed one even when we slept on the floor to get the paper out during hurricanes.
I liked our early afternoon until midnight schedule. Long dinner breaks let us watch Mardi Gras parades, wander the French Quarter, catch the trolley to Camellia Grill for pie and have raw oysters at the Pearl and shrimp po-boys at Mothers.
On days off, my background as a trainer allowed me to travel the state selling athletic training supplies. I visited every school in Louisiana and met hundreds of great coaches and principals.
When an offer came to go back home to Northwestern, I jumped at it and have cherished my half-century involvement in media relations, athletics and other realms of the university.
Lovan Thomas bought The Natchitoches Times in the 1960s. I started writing for the paper then and still do. We did a lot of good journalistic things together when newspapers were in their heyday.
Maybe at this late stage of life, I will never have to get a real job.

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Drive-in Theaters

With apologies to the Walton family and the other nice folks at Walmart, I am not planning to patronize the drive-in movie theaters in their parking lots.

But the company should be applauded for its plan to put temporary drive-in theater screens in the parking areas of 160 of its stores beginning this month.

Drive-in patrons will see major motion pictures without leaving their vehicles.   Folks my age did that in the old days when there were drive-ins in nearly every town.

The Walmart movies will allow today’s younger generation to experience a form of entertainment that has about faded away.

When the Rancho Drive-in opened in Springhill, it offered us kids a new sense of freedom.

Parents had always inspected the family cars after we used them for dates to see if we had been  on red dirt roads to park at the gravel pits or oilfields.

After we got a drive-in, teenagers could park and make out at the theater without putting mileage on the odometers and getting red dirt on the tires and hubcaps.

The outdoor movies also let us escape the vigilance of an old usher named Charley at the indoor theater.  He wore an official gray usher uniform and waved a flashlight to keep us from talking, chewing gum or putting our feet on the seats.

There were not many rules at the Rancho.  Kids going to the concession stand often walked in front of the projector, casting oversize silhouettes of their head on the giant screen.

Horns blared from cars across the big parking area when the film broke or got fuzzy or the sound quit.

It was hard enough to hear what was happening in the movies under the best of circumstances with those scratchy, squawk box speakers that hung on the car windows.

A lot of those speakers got ripped from the posts that held them by movie goers who drove off without remembering the devices were temporarily attached to their cars or trucks.

Drive-ins got even more interesting when I went to college in Natchitoches and started going to movies at the Chief Drive-in.

There was no way we could have gotten our hands on alcoholic beverages to sneak into the drive-in in Springhill.  Folks at every place in town that sold booze knew our parents and our preachers.

But it was cool in college to smuggle some Schlitz beer or Thunderbird wine into shows at the Chief .  That resulted in a lot more speakers being snatched off their stands.

College students then could imbibe a little even at the indoor theater on Front Street.  There was a package liquor store next door.  Guys would get a half pint of bourbon or sloe gin to mix with their concession stand soft drinks.

People would go into the movie cold sober and leave walking into street signs and parked cars.

Drive-in theaters in their heyday had the benefits of privacy and freedom, but they had some drawbacks.

For one thing, there were only about six days a year when the weather in Louisiana was perfect for drive-in theaters.  Other times, it was too hot, cold, humid, rainy or foggy.

And mosquitos were a nuisance.  You could buy one of those insect repelling coil things at the concession stand.  It smoked when you lit it.  That made it hard to breathe with the windows up.  We put the windows down,  and more mosquitoes got in.

A big advantage of drive-ins was the price.  Admission was a quarter a person and another quarter for the car.

But that didn’t include the cost of all that mosquito repellent and replacing car windows that cracked when we drove off with the speakers still attached to them.

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In a Nice Place

Charlee Ann is the youngest of our four granddaughters who live in town, but she’s an “only child” for a week every year.

When her three sisters go off to summer camp, Charlee has what she calls “home camp” with her parents and at our house.

She’s just six, but Regina had her cutting out fabric and learning to sew masks.

It was when Charlee was helping me cook chicken and dumplings one night that she declared, “It’s good to be an only child once in a while.”  There’s still flour on the ceiling fans.

We moved the “home camp” to Branson for a few days this year.  Charlee didn’t have to be squeezed between her sisters on the roller coaster or other rides at Silver Dollar City.

There were no siblings trying to scare her when we rode through dark caves at the Big Cedar resort.  Nobody tried to douse her as she watched waterfalls and waded in cold streams.

She had the best seat on the balcony of her parents’ condo for breakfast and coffee milk in the mornings and the prime spot on our balcony for the water, fire and music show on Lake Taneycomo.

During one of our condo conversations, Charlee said she knows exactly what my first words will be when I call her on the phone or if she calls me.  “Whatcha doin’ Darlin?” she said in a perfect impersonation of my drawl and accent.

We were bantering about something and she asked if I wanted her to Hi-Yah me.  Not sure what that was, I told her to go ahead.  She gave me a karate chop in the chest and yelled “Hi-yah.”

Charlee watches karate on television and leaves bruises on her sisters with jabs she learned.  We asked if she would like to take karate lessons and she wanted to know if she would get to break some wood.

I had Charlee by myself for a couple of hours one afternoon, and we explored the whole promenade mall.  She wanted to go to the Build-a-Bear store to get some clothes for Animal.

Animal is the colorful, unsightly stuffed creature who plays drums on the Muppet Show.  Charlee got it for Christmas, and they are inseparable.

She picked out black shoes, pants and a cap but a green shirt.  I showed her several black shirts that would have matched better.  “Those are plain shirts,” she said.  “Animal likes hoodies.”

A clown working near the fountain was making things out of balloons.  He charged a dollar a balloon.  I saw girls with crowns made of one balloon and told Charlee that’s what she needed.

She asked if he could duplicate Animal with balloons.  I quit counting after a couple dozen.  He made a flawless replica of Animal and settled for 20 dollars.

At the shoe store, Charlee tried on countless tennis shoes before choosing a pair of Nikes.  She studied the fish in the Bass Pro Shop aquarium and got Sour Punch candy at the Five and Dime Store.

Charlee asked why I was lagging behind her as we walked back to the condo.  I told her I was getting too old to keep up.  She said, “Momee is just 60 or 70, and she can’t ride a bicycle.  You’re 90, and you walk and ride a bike every day.”

I said, “Charlee, I’m not 90.  I’m barely in my 80’s.  I probably won’t make it to 90.”

She asked, “Do you think you’ll go to Heaven?”  I told her I did, and she said, “Then you’ll be in a nice place.”

I enjoyed the walk with Charlee and hope to have a lot more before leaving for a nice place.

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Fewer Choices

Variety is the spice of life and all that, but a lasting fallout from the pandemic will be fewer choices in food, cars, apparel and other things.

Companies that have been providing wide varieties of products trying to meet the different tastes of consumers are cutting back on that effort.

Things like watermelon popsicles, lightly salted potato chips and caffeine free diet Dr. Peppers have been hard to find in stores lately.

Consumer groups say the number of different items available in grocery stores is down 7 percent overall and as much as 30 percent for some bakery and meat products.

In the old days, the Lays company had four kinds of chips.  They had 60 when the pandemic started.  Campbell’s Soup has increased its varieties from 100 to 400 in recent years, and a grocery chain that had 40 kinds of toilet paper has just 4 now.

Some of us who are up in years will not be bothered much by this phenomenon.  We grew up during a time when there were not nearly as many choices for shoppers.

The red Coca-Cola box at Barrett’s Grocery in Springhill had regular Coke, RC Cola and 7-Up.  We could get Delaware Punch and Grapettes off the shelf but not cold.

It didn’t take long to survey the breakfast cereal section in stores back then.  There were corn flakes, raisin bran and a few others.  Cereal aisles are as long as football fields now.

My mother worked hard at providing a variety of meals, mainly because my dad said he got tired of fried chicken and meatloaf.  I was surprised anybody could get tired of fried chicken and meatloaf.

But she was always putting something new and different on the table for supper with the understanding that nobody could complain about the meals.

Her rule was that if we didn’t like what she cooked we could fix ourselves a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

When my brother and I turned up our nose at liver and onions, she got us the mayhaw jelly out of the refrigerator and peanut butter from the kitchen closet.

The kitchen closet was a general purpose storage area.  It was the panty for food that didn’t have to be refrigerated, and there were cleaning supplies, pots and pans and such on other shelves.

Space was limited in the three or four little cabinets over the sink and stove.  That’s where she kept her good china and everyday china.  The everyday china was the same as the good china but with more chips and stains.

There was a cabinet for cups, saucers and glasses.  Some of the glasses had held peanut butter and jelly before they became part of her assortment of glassware.

Nobody ever complained much about my mother’s meals.  She was a good cook and could make simple things like pork chops and spaghetti and meatballs seem like a delicacy.

A few things like the liver and cabbage rolls could divert me and my brother to the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

My dad loved mayhaw jelly on biscuits, but he never had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that I know of.

One night when my mother served a tuna casserole that we could smell from the front yard, he did fix himself a Vienna sausage sandwich while my brother and I had peanut butter and jelly.

So more variety is not always a good thing.  Tuna casserole proved that for us.

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Al Hirt

Al Hirt was in the twilight of his career when he performed in Natchitoches in 1991.  But he was still brilliant, colorful and New Orleans to the bone then at age 70.

When we visited in his dressing room after rehearsal and a few hours before the show, he was sweating profusely in boxer shorts, T-shirt and socks up to his knees.

He was wiping out a roast beef po-boy from the sandwich tray the caterer delivered.  There was mustard on his beard, and he laughed loudly and heartily as he always did.

Hirt liked to talk about his roots in New Orleans where I saw him often at his Bourbon Street club, in Mardi Gras parades and other venues when I worked at the newspaper there in the 1960s.

The powerful sound of his trumpet echoed across two blocks of the French Quarter in those days when he and Pete Fountain were superstars in the city.

Some guys at the newspaper like Buddy Diliberto and Pete Finney who grew up in New Orleans and knew Hirt well called him by his nickname Jumbo.  He was already a national celebrity when I met him, and I called him Mr. Hirt.

Hirt was a sports fan who became a minority owner of the New Orleans Saints and performed at some of their games.

His dad had been a policeman, so there were usually cops and some of us sports writers at his club.  I don’t remember ever paying to get in.

He talked the night he was here about music, sports and famous rogues from his hometown.

We shared stories about bigger-than-life New Orleans characters Allen Lacombe and Anthony Richidella.  Both of them used to hang out at the newspaper and at bars, race tracks and night clubs.

Lacombe was a gambler called Black Cat.  Nobody messed with him because they said he knew important people.

He had a heart of gold.  They sent me to cover horse races, and I didn’t know much about the sport.   Black Cat sat with me and told me what I needed to write.

He noticed I was having trouble seeing the numbers on the tote board and asked if I had vision problems. I said I didn’t think so.    The next day, he took me to an old building downtown.  We went up some stairs to a dark, musty office.

There were eye charts on the wall, and a bald elderly man asked me to read them.  He ordered me some glasses and said there would be no charge because he owned Black Cat a favor.  I got the glasses and started seeing road signs again.

Black Cat ran for governor once and raised campaign funds with red beans and rice dinners.  He got half of one percent of the vote.

Richidella was called The Stooper.  He went to every horse race in town and walked around picking up betting tickets that people threw away because they didn’t understand win, place, show, daily doubles and trifectas.  He made a living cashing them in.

Al Hirt and I laughed about those and many more stories from the city where he spent his lifetime and I worked for a few great years.

He went on stage with his trumpet, played Java, Cotton Candy and some of his other hits that he had been doing for decades and left the crowd wanting more.

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Country Song Titles

Willie Nelson must be thinking more than usual lately about meeting his maker.  That thread runs through the lyrics in several of his songs.

It is not surprising that the prospect of dying pops into the mind of the colorful country music icon every so often.  He has lived hard for most of his 87 years.

There is no gloom and doom in Willie’s messages.  He is just  flippant and whimsical in his references to death.

In the song Last Man Standing, Willie wrote, “It’s gettin’ hard to watch my pals check out.  Cuts like a wore out knife.  One thing I learned about running the road, is forever don’t apply to life.”

Then he names some of the pals.  “Waylon and Ray and Merle and old Norro, lived just as fast as me.  I still got a lotta good friends left, and I wonder who the next will be.”

The references are to superstar friends Waylon Jennings, Ray Price and Merle Haggard and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Norro Wilson.

Willie sums up his feelings in the chorus, “I don’t wanna be the last man standing.  On second thought, maybe I do.”

Other songs Willie wrote and recorded in the past few years have touched on death.  Like the frivolous number, Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die.  No explanation is necessary.

Then there was his song I Woke Up Still Not Dead Again Today. The lyrics go, “I woke up still not dead again today.  The news said I was gone,  to my dismay.  Don’t bury me, I’ve got a show to play.  And I woke up still not dead again today.”

I thought of Willie’s unorthodox songs recently when a friend gave me a list of outrageous titles to country songs.

Some of them are well known and became big hits.  Like the Roy Clark classic, Thank God and Greyhound She’s Gone, and Jerry Reed’s She Got the Goldmine, I Got the Shaft.

Mel Tillis did a tune called How Come Your Dog Don’t Bite Nobody But Me, and John Denver sang You Done Stomped on My Heart and Mashed That Sucker Flat.

Syndicated columnist Lewis Grizzard wrote a book with about the same title as the John Denver song.  I don’t know which one came out first.

Jimmy Swaggart’s unruly cousin Jerry Lee Lewis from Ferriday sold a lot of records with What Made Milwaukee Famous Made a Loser Out of Me.

Old time country music legend Little Jimmy Dickens was in Natchitoches years ago to sing at a political rally for former sheriff Norm Fletcher.  He did his big hit, May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.

Nearly all the songs Roger Miller performed were offbeat, like My Uncle Used to Love Me But She Died and You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd.  A popular Statler Brothers song was You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith Too.

Whispering Bill Anderson sang When You Leave Walk Out Backwards So I’ll Think You’re Walking In.

Billy Ray Cyrus did I’m So Miserable Without You It’s Almost Like You’re Here, and Jimmy Buffett sings, If the Phone Don’t Ring, You’ll Know It’s Me.

Some of those titles cut to the bone, as Willie Nelson said, “like a wore out knife.”

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Hanging Out

Allie and I have been hanging out together a few days a month for several years.  She’s nine and has been my frequent sidekick since she learned to navigate bathrooms on her own.

We have three other granddaughters here and spend a good bit of time with them.  But they don’t share most of the interests that Allie and I have in common.

Before the virus thing, we could go to Northwestern ballgames during whatever sport was in season and spend a day.  We kept our energy up with popcorn and hot dogs.

Doing fun things these days is a little more challenging.  She called a couple of Saturdays ago and asked to come hang out.

Her timeline was flexible, but she wanted Chick-Fil-A for lunch. Fortunately, I had already eaten.  After paying for her chicken sandwich, fries, six-piece nuggets, parfait with fruit and blue Powerade, I could not afford another meal.

The new Northwestern women’s basketball coaches were there, and she was thrilled to meet them.  They invited her to sit on the bench with the team for one of their games.  She has asked me several times to remind them of that.

Allie asked the coaches where they were before, how many games they won, if they had any new players and where the players were from.  It was like an ESPN interview.

Dining in was out, so she ate lunch at my office.  I showed her the video of Tim Conway accidentally numbing his own hand and leg playing the role of a dentist on the Carol Burnett show.

We watched it three times and she never stopped laughing.  She wanted to see the part once more before we left where Conway had to drape his numbed leg over a rolling chair to get around.

On the downtown riverbank, we saw low-riding, overloaded party barges and amateur canoers and kayakers trying to keep their vessels upright.

She loves sports and asked if there were any games on television.

The first televised golf tournament of the season was on and we went to the house to watch it.

As she watched and talked about birdies and bogeys, she said she could teach me to play gin rummy.  She shuffled the cards better than I do and explained the game.  We played four hands and quit when she got ahead.

Allie learned the game from her kinfolks from Avoyelles Parish on the other side of the family.  She said they speak Cajun, and she likes how it sounds.  “If somebody is named Cooper, they call him Kuppa,” she said.  Our conversations take a lot of turns.

We went out and watched some softball at Parc Natchitoches and stopped by the golf course.  She and her family were going to the beach that week, and she wanted to practice for putt putt golf.

She knocked her three-foot putt 30 yards off the putting green.    I’m worried she might take out a pedestrian or passing car at the putt putt course.

I told her about Jim Croce’s plane crash and showed her where it happened.  She listened to Bad, Bad Leroy Brown on my phone.  She liked the story but didn’t care for the music.

When I took her home, she said she would call when they got back from the beach to hang out again.

     REPRINTED FROM THE NATCHITOCHES TIMES