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His serves would not even have registered on those sophisticated machines they have now showing how fast players are hitting the ball. Roger Federer’s average serve is 125 miles an hour.
Without one of those devices to calculate it, my guess is that Levi’s best serve would not have reached the speed limit of Front Street in Natchitoches.
You could read the word Penn or Wilson on the ball that Levi served while waiting for it to get to you. Nobody was ever hauled off in an ambulance if Levi hit them with his serve.
Despite its lack of speed, though, Levi’s serve was effective and hard to return. He could make it spin out to the right or left, jump straight up or just hover a few inches above the ground.
Levi won a lot of matches when he played for the Northwestern tennis team nearly 70 years ago and later earned a reputation as one of the state’s best adult players.
He loved to tell stories, and one of his favorites was how he developed his slow, tricky serve when he started playing in Waterproof where he grew up.
The only court in town had big cracks in it and roots coming through the concrete in a couple of places, Levi said. So he worked at hitting precise serves to avoid the obstacles and concentrated on accuracy instead of speed.
Levi’s dinky serve became significant to me when I started playing competitive tennis more than a half century ago. The first tournament I ever played in was with Levi.
I had known and admired him for years. He was obviously smart because he read, understood and taught Latin. Learning another language is hard. I had two semesters of Spanish in college and never learned to say hello in that language.
Levi was also considered a masterful football strategist during his coaching years and a good school administrator who was guided by the principles of teamwork that came from his sports background.
But tennis was always close to his heart. I had played with him a time or two and been beaten badly, so I was surprised when he asked me to be his doubles partner in a big tournament.
We were playing a really good team from Alexandria. Levi was serving, and I was at the net. On Levi’s first serve, the return hit me in the midsection before I could even raise my racket.
The next return zoomed past me inches from my head. Levi called me to mid-court and asked what I needed him to do with his serve. I said, “Double fault before you get my butt killed up here.”
My back was to Levi, and I kept waiting for him to serve again. When I turned to see what the delay was about, Levi was bent over with his hands on his knees laughing.
Levi and I played a lot of tournaments together before he gave up the game. Then he helped hook me up with another great doubles partner, Tom Eppler, who was also a former college player.
Closing in on 90-years-old now, Levi has some memory lapses like so many others that age. The last time I saw him was at the dedication of the new city tennis complex managed by his son-in-law Willie Paz.
His family members said he might not remember me. I walked over and shook hands with him. He said, “Do you want me to double fault so you don’t get your butt killed up there?” Then he talked about nearly every point of that match.
Levi opened the door to an exciting new world to me by introducing me to competitive tennis. Regina and I have played in countless local, state, regional and national tournaments over the years.
We developed close and lasting friendships on those tennis trips to Palm Springs, Tucson, Mobile, Miami, Louisville, New Orleans, Chattanooga and many places in between.
I am indebted to Levi Thompson for the decades of pleasure that tennis brought me even if his dinky serve did endanger my life. I thanked him that day I saw him and could tell that he understood.
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Not being able to see outside makes me uneasy. I have to resort to some kind of meditation that puts my mind in a different place. Somewhere bright and open like the beach or on a lake fishing.
Sometimes when I seem completely engrossed in things around me, I’m pulling in a big bream. God forgives us for things like that I think when we are claustrophobic.
If I get stuck in the middle of a row at church or anywhere else with people closing in on me from both sides, sweat starts forming on my head and I have trouble breathing.
Regina understands all that so she goes places early to get me a seat on the aisle. Aisles feel like escape hatches and provide a little breathing room.
Airplane travel is challenging at best and impossible without an aisle seat. Being jammed into middle or window seats creates panic, especially if the window shades are closed.
Most airplane windows stay covered now so passengers can see movies, videos and things on their phones, laptops and the airlines’ in-flight entertainment systems.
People in window seats get to decide if the shades stay open or closed. Those of us on the aisle have to live with their decisions. If the windows are covered, I think of fishing and beaches.
Experts on these things say most people with claustrophobia have it as kids and it gets better as they grow older. It was not a problem for me growing up.
I hid in dark closets, toolsheds and even underground culverts in make-believe wars, western movie reenactments and other games, and it never bothered me.
Our country church, Calvary Baptist, had plain glass windows. We could watch birds and squirrels in the oak trees while Brother Carraway sang Nail Scarred Hand. On hot days, the windows were pushed up to let fresh air in. Claustrophobia was not an issue.
My first experience with the condition was in college in the 1960s. Five of us in the athletic dorm piled into Mickey Parker’s Chevy Bel Air to go to a football game in Shreveport. I was in the middle of the back seat between two big linemen.
It was cold outside and cool in the car, but I was sweating and it was hard to breathe. Everything got back to normal when we got out of the car at the stadium.
I think I remember googling my condition when we got back to the dorm and discovering that it was claustrophobia.
It has bothered me ever since. We were touring a Missouri cave with the grandkids a while back, and they had to send a golf cart to get me back into the sunlight.
Regina and I were in Asheville, North Carolina, and decided to drive over to Chimney Rock Park where The Last of the Mohicans was filmed. The admission cost to the mountaintop was pretty steep.
I couldn’t make myself get in the steel elevator surrounded by solid rock, and Regina hates heights anyway. We left without going on the mountain and gave our tickets to folks coming in.
There’s an elevator in the stadium where I work. I got on it to check the press box one Friday afternoon before a Saturday game. There was nobody around, and the elevator stopped between floors.
Nobody knew I was there, and that was before cell phones. I was sweating, yelling, gasping for breath and pushing the button. It finally started, but that was one of the worst hours of my life.
That was 30 years ago, and I have not been back on the elevator. It’s a long walk up the steps to the boxes where I go for games, but it’s in the open air.
The grandkids don’t know about claustrophobia, and I don’t plan to mention it to them. But they don’t understand why I try to hide in wide open places in their big hide and seek games instead of getting in closets or under beds with them.
Regina is sympathetic. She still gets me aisle seats at church and is learning to sleep with lights on and windows open.
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Out of Ice Cream
When we were there earlier this month, we narrowed it down to Jason’s Deli, Zoes Kitchen and Walk-ons. They all have plain, uncomplicated food like we both prefer.
My friend Tom Murchison used to call me “low brow” because I always ordered the simplest thing on the menu in restaurants. I like hamburgers better than braised lamb shoulder chops or veal marsala.
Zoes has a good grilled pimento cheese sandwich, and Walk-ons chicken strips are light and crispy. There’s an excellent salad bar and a big variety of sandwiches at Jason’s Deli.
We decided on Jason’s because you can get a free soft serve ice cream cone after your meal. They never make a fuss if you get two ice cream cones.
I kind of rushed through my soup and sandwich special to get to the ice cream machine. My heart sank when I saw the big “Out of Order” sign on it.
There are some things that just should not happen in Louisiana. You should not feed an alligator if it wanders into your back yard or say nice things about Nick Saban,
You should never turn your nose up at good country music or sit down naked on the hood of your car in August, and you should not run out of free soft serve ice cream.
I tried to contact Jason about the problem, but none of the people working there had any idea who Jason was or how to reach him.
Having lunch at Jason’s Deli and not getting an ice cream cone for dessert was in the crisis category, but it was not as catastrophic as the recall of Blue Bell ice cream a while back.
Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla is the Elvis of ice creams. No other ice cream compares with it, but that soft serve ice cream that sweetens my boyhood memories is still dear to my heart.
Like Blue Bell, soft serve ice cream is best when it’s vanilla. You can get chocolate and even the chocolate and vanilla swirl at Jason’s Deli and other places, but vanilla is the bona fide flavor.
In my day, teenagers who could scrape up a quarter or so could get a good vanilla malt or milkshake at the Dothl House made with soft serve ice cream.
We would walk down the hill to Tennyson’s Drugs a lot of days after school for Coke floats, sundaes and banana splits, but that ice cream was hand-dipped from big cartons in the freezer.
Somebody told me they got a soft serve ice cream machine there later on. Another place with soft serve cones, malts and milkshakes called Dairy Cream or something like that also opened in town during those days.
Before that, some of us would travel to Homer 30 miles away to a drive-in called the Purple Cow. We got the drink named after the place. It was soft serve ice cream mixed up in a blender with a Grapette.
My dad found out we had been going all that way to get a Purple Cow and asked why we didn’t just get our own Grapettes at Barrett’s Grocery and mix them with ice cream. He was from a different generation and didn’t understand about soft serve ice cream.
Not that he didn’t like ice cream himself. Some Sunday afternoons, he and my Uncle Jim got out the wooden hand-cranked ice cream mixer and made homemade ice cream.
My mother mixed up plain old vanilla with eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla flavoring for them, and it was good when they left it alone. They messed it up sometimes with figs, peaches and things like that.
I have seen folks do that to the free ice cream at Jason’s Deli. They will put it in a cup instead of a cone and pile stuff from the salad bar on it like cranberries, raisins, walnuts and other things that don’t belong on ice cream.
All you need for a perfect free soft serve ice cream cone at Jason’s Deli is one of those light, crispy, flaky cones. And of course some soft serve ice cream which they didn’t have the last time Regina and I picked Jason’s as our lunch place.
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The Wall Street Journal ran a front page piece recently about how many people lose the sleek Apple earbuds that miraculously let folks listen to things on their iPhones with no wires in the way.
More than 50 million people are expected to buy AirPods this year. That’s a huge increase over the 28 million sold in 2018. One reason for the increase is that so many people are losing the devices.
Regina bought wireless earbuds when they came out three years ago and talked me into getting some last year. I had been satisfied for a long time with my old-fashioned earpieces, wires and all.
They got lost or misplaced once in a while, but another set didn’t cost much more than a hamburger and fries. The new AirPods sell for about $150.
There’s no doubt the wireless earbuds are more convenient than other kinds. You don’t get the wires tangled up in your clothes, bicycle handlebars and workout machines or damage your ears when you accidentally yank them out.
Now I’m hooked on them, but I’m already on my second pair. The first ones disappeared without a trace. That’s not supposed to happen with the Bluetooth tracking system that Regina had installed to help me keep up with the earbuds.
All that technological stuff is beyond my comprehension. All I know is the AirPods were never found at the locations where the tracking system said they should be.
Losing that first pair has made me a little skittish about using the wireless earbuds. I lie awake some nights wondering if I got them back into their charging case safely or if they have vanished again.
The AirPods have become almost indispensable to me. I listen to Merle, Willie and Johnny Cash some days when I walk and ride my bike and enjoy audiobooks a lot of other times.
Is has been especially nice to listen to books while walking, biking or at the gym. Before I started doing that, I suffered several minor injuries when I drifted off reading and a book fell on my face.
But I still have anxieties about losing the AirPods, especially after reading the newspaper story about how many other people have lost them. An executive at an investment firm has lost nine pair.
I can’t imagine that, because Regina and I spent hours searching for that first set I lost. We kept going to sites where the tracking system sent us and found no sign of the earbuds. Then we had to come up with a lot of money to replace them.
Sociologists, economists and other folks who do research on that kind of thing say it is pretty common for people in this country to lose things, waste hours looking for them and spend tons of money replacing them.
Experts say the average person misplaces nine items a day and spends a total of 2.5 days a year looking for those various things that they put somewhere and forgot where they left them.
Researchers who focus on the economy estimate that $2.7 billion is spent in America every year to replace things that go missing. It would not take many lost AirPods to cost that much to replace.
The one item that people misplace most often according to all this research is the remote control for their television. After our grandchildren visited once, we found ours in the potato bin of a kitchen cabinet.
Other things we misplace a lot besides AirPods and TV remote controls are car keys, glasses, umbrellas, cell phones, purses, wallets and ballpoint pens. I found my sunglasses once in the refrigerator.
People seem to be going to extremes to keep up with their ballpoint pens. I have been to offices lately where the ballpoint pens had big plastic flowers and things like that attached to the top of them. One secretary told me it cuts down on theft.
It’s not a bad idea. I’m thinking about sticking some plastic daffodils on my AirPods. Those fake flowers might look funny hanging from my ears, but they would be a lot cheaper than replacing some lost earbuds.
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The whole chicken sandwich uproar seems to have started when Popeyes put them on their menus a few weeks ago. That sparked an avalanche of publicity about the sandwiches on social media.
At the root of all the conversation is the question of whether the new Popeyes sandwich is better than the fried chicken sandwiches at Chick-fil-A, Cane’s and other fast food chicken places.
Opinions are varying among all those people lighting up the social media platforms, but folks like me who love fried chicken sandwiches want to decide for ourselves which sandwich is best.
A lot of us have not been able to do that because we can’t get our hands on a Popeyes sandwich. Most of us have had chicken sandwiches from Chick-fil-A, Cane’s, Wendy’s and other places, but Popeyes keeps running out of chicken or buns or both.
All the social media stuff is just creating confusion. I don’t know much about social media, but I am an expert on fried chicken sandwiches and could probably clear all this mess up for everybody if I could just get a Popeyes sandwich.
Other so-called experts who have been able to get a fried chicken sandwich from Popeyes are comparing it in newspapers and on social media and websites with other sandwiches.
Just the other day, a food writer at a South Louisiana newspaper rated fried chicken sandwiches from Popeyes, Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A and Canes. There were pictures and all in the article.
I could just pass that information along, I suppose, to folks who didn’t get to see the story, but that wouldn’t be fair. People either need to do their own tests or wait until I can compare the sandwiches and share my findings.
My affinity for fried chicken is well documented. Regina, our kids, grandchildren and other family members and friends will testify that my first question in every restaurant is whether they have homemade–not frozen–fried chicken. If they do, I order it.
Evan and Amanda, our grown twin grandchildren, started years ago beating me to the punch. When a waiter or waitress came to the table, they asked if they served homemade fried chicken.
And long before there were Popeyes, Chick-fil-A or Canes on every corner, I was having my fried chicken on a sandwich if there was any way to get buns or bread.
That all started decades ago when my mother packed my lunches for school in a brown paper bag. My favorite was leftover cold fried chicken between two slices of white bread with mayonnaise.
We raised chickens in our back yard, so we had a lot of leftover fried chicken. I wish I had known then to put some dill pickle slices on the sandwiches like some of the fast food places do now.
My dad raised cucumbers in his garden, and my mother canned pickles in Mason jars every summer, so those homemade pickles would probably have made the chicken sandwiches even better.
It’s really disappointing that Popeyes keeps running out of fried chicken sandwiches right here in Louisiana where the whole Popeyes chain got started.
I worked at a newspaper in New Orleans for a few years and am familiar with the very spot where the restaurants originated. It was called Chicken on the Run back then, and their slogan was “Get your chicken before you get your change.”
When I first heard that the name of the place had been changed to Popeyes, my first thought was that they had started selling creamed spinach or something like that instead of fried chicken.
The old Popeye cartoon character ate spinach to stay strong. On the 75th anniversary of the cartoon, the Empire State Building was aglow with spinach-colored green lights to celebrate the occasion.
It’s a good thing Popeyes no longer has that motto about getting your chicken before you get your change. That would sound a little silly with all those folks waiting in line for a chicken sandwich.
I will keep having chicken sandwiches from Chick-fil-A, Cane’s and Wendy’s to compare them with the Popeyes sandwich if I can ever get one and will share the results with you.
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It’s hard to even write the word snake when you’re as afraid of them as I am, but there are things going on in the snake world that we need to be thinking about.
A fellow in Texas got arrested and fined the other day for killing a timber rattler. It was in the newspaper. I thought he should have gotten a medal or a reward but not a fine.
But those particular snakes are apparently protected by state or federal laws because they are an endangered species. There has been talk in our state recently about expanding laws to protect pine snakes.
I understand that the Good Lord had a plan for snakes when He put them here. They help balance the ecosystem and all that by eating rodents and other things that could get out of control.
God also gave people two eyes. One of them is to watch out for snakes, and the other is to see everything else.
Snake experts tell us that most of them are harmless. They have charts and pamphlets showing the difference in shapes, colors and patterns on good snakes and bad snakes.
My concern is that you could be swelling up and turning blue from the snake bite you got while browsing through a manual trying to figure out if the snake was dangerous.
The late newspaper columnist Lewis Grizzard had a theory on identifying snakes that I adopted a long time ago. He said, “There is only one kind of snake. The dreaded copper headed water rattler.”
Country comedian Jerry Clower said he went to a church once not knowing they did snake handling. When the preacher dropped a snake on the floor, Clower asked where the back door was. He was told they didn’t have one. “I wonder where they want one?” he asked.
Snake bites are increasing across the country according to the national Association of Poison Control Centers. They are up by 10 percent from last year. In Texas, there were 415 snake bites in May and June.
That is 27 percent more than for the same time period five years ago. The number might have been higher if that man had not been willing to kill the rattler and pay the fine.
I have had some terrifying encounters with snakes. One night right after Regina and I married, I was going to the bathroom and nearly stepped on a snake in the hall.
My squeals woke her up. She said she could take care of it but not with me standing on her in the bed. When I let her up, she killed it with a broom and went back to sleep.
In that same house, our daughter Natalie threw her luggage in a corner one night after returning from a week at summer camp. When she was unpacking the next morning, a snake crawled out of her backpack. We put the house up for sale.
Lum Ellis and I were frog hunting one night. He was holding the frog grabs on a long pole while I picked up a frog with my hands. The pole knocked a snake down from a tree limb and into the boat.
We both dived out, scrambled to the bank and gave the boat to the snake. We got back in it a good while later when the snake crawled out and swam away.
My dad and I use to wade into the mill ponds chest deep to fish for bream. We tied tow sacks around our waist to hold the fish. When we quit fishing one day, he eased up to me, grabbed the tail of a snake hanging from my tow sack and hurled it into the water.
The snake was halfway into the burlap bag trying to get to a fish. After that, I didn’t get a tow sack. He took fish off his hook and mine and put them in the bag around his waist.
A North Carolina herpetologist who was analyzing the increase in snake bites said the best way for people to deal with the problem is to just leave snakes alone.
I hate it when my grandkids say “Duh,” but the only logical response to that snake expert is Duh.
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Growing up, I had the mind and heart to play football. I loved everything about the game and thought about it all the time. It was all the other things I didn’t have…muscular legs, broad shoulders, speed, power, agility and stuff like that.
Not that I didn’t try to be a football player. I went out for the eighth grade team at Springhill even though I was skinny and could be knocked off my feet by a brisk wind.
Billy Baucum, our coach, was a hero at school and in town. He had been a college quarterback and had put together a high school team that was beating schools like Haynesville and Minden.
He dropped by our math class once in a while, and the teacher asked me to show him some of the football plays I drew in my notebook while she did math problems on the blackboard.
That’s one reason I didn’t do well in math and had to take it over in summer school one year to graduate with my class.
Coach Baucum looked at my diagrams with lines going in every direction and all the X’s and O’s like coaches used in those days for offensive and defensive players.
His response was usually just a nod. I couldn’t tell if that meant he didn’t grasp the complexity of my plays or if he secretly planned to use them in the next game. If he ever ran one of them, I didn’t recognize it.
The second day we were trying out for the eighth grade team on the practice field with the dirt, rocks and patches of parched grass, an older player came to tell me Coach Baucum wanted to see me.
He was down on the lush green field at the stadium where the varsity worked out and the Springhill Lumberjacks played their games in those shiny black and gold uniforms.
Big water sprinklers were usually running on that field when there were no games or practices. The only time the eighth grade field got a drop of water was when it rained.
As I was jogging to the soft green field to see Coach Baucum, my first thought was that he had seen me catch a pass and wanted to move me up to the varsity.
I would have been the only eighth grader on the team, so he must have been impressed not just with my pass catching but also by the plays I drew up.
It was like letting the air out of a balloon when Coach Baucum looked me in the eyes and said, “Son, how would you like to be a trainer?” My football career was over before it started.
Maybe I should have been prepared for the letdown. We had tackle football games on empty fields in our neighborhood all the time, and I never scared the other players.
John David Crow, who lived down the street from me, did. John David was a brute who ended up winning the Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M.
When he showed up for our sandlot games, I was the first one who claimed to hear my mother calling me home for supper. I never felt like a sissy just because I didn’t want to get any bones crushed trying to tackle John David.
After Coach Baucum made the humanitarian decision to keep me from playing football, he sent me to some clinics to learn how to tape ankles and treat injuries.
In my first season as a trainer, I asked a coach who was helping me tape ankles for some more tape. He tossed the can of tape to me when I wasn’t looking. It hit me above my eye and left a gash.
While Dr. Garrett was sewing four stitches in it at his clinic, I asked him to put it in his records as a football injury. He did, so I have not been lying when I told people that all these years.
I regret I never got to play college football, but I plan to watch all of it I can during the 150th anniversary season.
Maybe Coach Brad Laird at Northwestern or Coach O at LSU or Nick Saban at Alabama will use one of those plays I drew up in math class.
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Jones, who died this week at 85, left a huge imprint on the legal profession, state and federal government, country music, politics, education, southern cooking and tomato farming.
Separated from his parents when he was a year old, Ted was raised by his grandparents on a farm in Georgia where he was born. He learned about Louisiana on childhood visits to his dad’s soft drink bottling plant in New Iberia.
Jones quit the agricultural college in Georgia where he was enrolled in 1954 to join the Air Force. He was sent to San Antonio but ended up at England Air Force Base in Alexandria.
That led him to Northwestern State University where he said his professors “put the fire to the clay of my character and prepared me to meet the world.”
It was the beginning of a long and powerful bond between Ted and the university. He was a professor at Northwestern in the Charles Ragus Endowed Chair in Business when he died.
Over the years, Northwestern paid tribute to Jones by inducting him into its Long Purple Line Hall of Distinction and with an Honorary Doctorate Degree.
Northwestern bestowed those highest honors it offers on Jones in recognition of his extraordinary career achievements and the extensive financial and political support he generated for the school.
In his college days, Ted cut his teeth on politics playing in bands that stumped the state with governors Earl Long and Jimmie Davis. He said that launched his participation in 175 political campaigns.
Ted got a law degree from Ole Miss and a Master of Laws in Taxation from Georgetown to prepare for dealing with legislatures, Congress, governors and others even higher up the political ladder.
He was lobbying for Louisiana when Congress voted to give the state a cut of offshore oil revenues for higher education. Ted brought back the first multi-million dollar check from the Treasury Department in his coat pocket.
Every member of Congress beginning in the 1960s knew Ted. Most of them were in his Washington home for his Country Dinner No. 1 of chicken fried steak, white gravy, mashed potatoes and purple hull peas or Country Dinner No. 2 of chicken and dumplings.
Ted often hauled a stainless steel smoker behind his truck and cooked whole pigs and all the trimmings for politicians and other friends.
Nobody had more political stories than Ted Jones. He was a master raconteur who entertained elected officials nationwide with his anecdotes for a half century.
He helped start the Washington Mardi Gras and was still a major player in that popular and widely-publicized event when he died.
His passion for guitar playing and country music never waned. He played with the Jimmie Davis Band for years when the former governor was recording hits like You Are My Sunshine.
Ted backed up Elvis Presley at the Louisiana Hayride in the 1950s. He was Merle Haggard’s personal attorney, went to dozens of Merle’s concerts and fed the band when it was in Louisiana.
After Ted mastered thumb picking on his guitar and was named to the group’s Hall of Fame, he got them a million dollars in federal money for a new building. The “business card” Ted handed out for years was printed on a guitar pick.
He is also in the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame and worked to keep it going and was named a Louisiana Legend by Louisiana Public Broadcasting.
Ted’s love for growing things that started on his granddaddy’s farm never faded. He had thousands of tomato plants and acres of watermelons for years on his farm in Bogalusa.
He gave away most of what he grew but enjoyed sitting on the tailgate of his truck under a shade tree in his Panama Jack straw hat selling produce and visiting with folks who came by.
Ted was an outdoorsman. He went on duck hunts with Gov. John Bel Edwards and Vice-President Dick Chaney, fished for salmon in Alaska with U.S. Sen. .Ted Stevens and caught bream and white perch at Toledo Bend with Congressman Billy Tauzin.
Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, a long-time friend, offered an appropriate tribute when he heard of Ted’s death. He said, “Ted Jones was always the most interesting person in the room.”
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We had a set of maroon-colored encyclopedias in a bookcase in the living room all the years I was growing up. My brother and I used the books for homework and school research papers.
My dad flipped through the pages of the 15-volume set of encyclopedias for information on chemistry and other things related to his work in the bleach plant at the paper mill.
He looked up things about botany and horticulture that might help him grow bigger and better tomatoes in his back yard garden. He read up on aquatics and meteorology to help him catch more bream and white perch at the mill ponds.
Mostly, though, he and my uncle used the encyclopedias to help settle their continual arguments about wars, politics, sports, movies and nearly everything else.
I got the encyclopedias out several times a week when school was going on to help with homework projects in history, geography, science, civics and other subjects.
They were especially valuable when our English teachers, Mrs. Stone and Mrs. Branch, assigned us a bunch of themes on a variety of topics for the whole school year.
The teachers obviously collaborated on a plan for students to do writing and research. They gave us a hundred or so titles for essays that had to be turned in by the end of school.
Most of the information for those papers came from our well-worn set of encyclopedias. If we had to write about the invention of automobiles or airplanes, the continents, famous writers or scientists, we went to the encyclopedias.
Teachers apparently overlooked it if some of our information was outdated, because they knew our encyclopedias were outdated. But book companies were always trying to sell my folks new ones.
There were men in suits and ties and shiny cars in our neighborhood all the time selling insurance, vacuum cleaners, pots and pans, house siding, magazine subscriptions and encyclopedias.
I liked the look and smell of the new encyclopedias that the salesmen said were available for small monthly payments. Our encyclopedias were some off-brand, but these sales people had fancy volumes like World Book and Britannica.
We never got any new encyclopedias, but my dad did sign up for a single volume every year that was supposed to be an update to older encyclopedias.
My parents liked to read, so there were always plenty of reading materials around. They got two daily newspapers and a local weekly. They read them cover to cover, and I concentrated on the sports and comic pages.
Magazines came in the mail nearly every day. We all found things we liked in Reader’s Digest, Life, Look, Colliers and the Saturday Evening Post with the great Norman Rockwell illustrations on the covers.
My dad got popular magazines for men like Argosy, True and some of those detective and crime publications. They were off limits to my brother and me, but we managed to read them anyway.
There were never any fancy fashion magazines for women at our house, because my mother was not into the ritzy things featured in those publications. If she wore jewelry, it was the gawdy plastic stuff my brother and I got her for birthdays and Christmases.
She did get magazines like Good Housekeeping, mostly for the recipes. That surprised me since she rarely used a recipe when she cooked.
A boy on a bicycle delivered the Grit newspaper to the house, and my folks bought subscriptions to other magazines from us and other kids who sold them for school projects.
I sold my dad a subscription to Mad Magazine, but he canceled it after the first issue. That offbeat publication died last month.
My parents belonged to some book clubs that were popular then and got books for all of us year-round.
Most of our important reading, though, was in those tattered encyclopedias. They didn’t have a fraction of the information that we get now on the internet, but the books smelled and felt good, and it was always exciting to discover what was on the next page.
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