Jerry Pierce

Things of Value

The Rolex watch folks gave golf legend Jack Nicklaus one of their glitzy timepieces more than a half-century ago, and he’s about to put it up for auction.  Experts say it will fetch millions of dollars. Nicklaus, who has won the most major tournaments in golf history, has not fallen on hard times.  He will put every penny he makes on the watch into his foundation for children’s health. Rolex presented Nicklaus the watch back in 1966 when he was starting to dominate professional golf.  Nicklaus says it is the first watch he ever owned, and he has been pictured with it on his arm hundreds of times over the years. A similar Rolex owned by the late actor Paul Newman was sold at an auction for $17.8 million two years ago, so the Nicklaus watch is expected to be the most expensive sports artifact ever auctioned. That honor is now assigned to a New York Yankees baseball jersey that Babe Ruth wore in 1920.  It was sold at auction for $4.4 million in 2017. It’s a good thing Nicklaus has never had anybody like my mother keeping things in order at his house.  That Rolex watch would have been ditched a long time ago. Nicklaus says he wore the Rolex a lot, but he didn’t wear it all those countless times he was practicing his golf or playing in big tournaments or when he was on fishing and scuba diving trips around the world. That means the watch was probably sitting in the drawer of a nightstand at his house for weeks at a time.  It would never have survived the kind of decluttering my mother did on a regular basis. I was a fervent baseball fan growing up and started collecting those trading cards with Major League players’ pictures on them the first time I saw one in a package of bubble gum. The cards became more important than the gum to boys in our neighborhood during the 1940s and 1950s.  Bubble gum companies started selling packs of baseball cards without the gum. We could buy packages of five or six cards for a nickel.  We got together every few days and traded cards with friends, swapping our duplicates for cards of players we didn’t have. I had shoeboxes stuffed with baseball cards by the time I went off to college.  When I went home for the Christmas holidays that year and looked for the card collection, I discovered that my mother had “cleaned out that closet.” The cards were gone, including some Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Stan Musial cards that are selling for thousands of dollars these days to card collectors. The comic books that I bought, traded, collected and cataloged for years had also been discarded as part of my mother’s continual decluttering of her little wood frame house that was propped on short brick pillars. Those Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Archie, Roy Rogers, Tarzan and other comics from the 1940s and 1950s are collectors’ items now that are worth a lot of money. The electric trains, View-Masters with all the films and reels that went with them and other boyhood possessions that I stockpiled were lost in decluttering crusades.  They would be valuable today. When Regina and I were clearing out my mother’s house after she died, we discovered that she was not nearly as diligent about getting rid of stuff that belonged to her and my dad, who had died 20 years earlier. I’m glad.  We got boxes of her old recipes, a lot of faded black and white family pictures, Christmas decorations that she made by hand, black iron skillets, my dad’s razor sharp pocket knives and J.C.  Higgins shotgun and the round “corner table” they bought for $3 as their first piece of furniture when they married in the 1930s. Nobody ever had a Rolex watch in our family, but the news about Jack Nicklaus planning to auction his watch to raise millions of dollars for charity reminded me that my folks gave me a Bulova watch for high school graduation in the 1950s. They got it from Sears for $29.95 and paid it off in monthly installments.  It would be worth a couple hundred dollars on eBay now, but it disappeared long ago when my mother was decluttering her house.


Youth Sports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Merle Kilgore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Beach and Seafood

On another great beach trip a couple of weeks ago, Regina and I learned that Louisiana is not the only place where folks like to talk about food and have strong opinions about it.

We have gone to Gulf Coast beaches at least once a year for nearly 20 years now and have enjoyed fresh seafood meals at a lot of hole-in-the-wall joints and fine restaurants.

There have been times when we watched workers at seafood markets unload fish, shrimp and oysters from boats that just pulled up to their docks.  We waited while they washed and wrapped it and then cooked it ourselves in the condo.

Our grandson Evan and grandson-in-law Branden went on a deep sea fishing trip during one of our beach visits not long ago and caught red snapper that was cleaned and fileted on their boat ride back.  We sautéed it, and it was out of this world.

The best parts of the beach never change…miles of shiny waters the color of old green Coke bottles…thunderous waves crashing like avalanches in the mountains, sparkling sand and steady breezes that keep motionless pelicans afloat in blue skies.

There are sand castles, scattered seashells and men with sun-browned leather skin combing the beach with metal detectors or reeling in whiting and pompano through the surf.   They anchor the long, stout reels in the sand until a fish moves the line.

One of them told us that whiting in Florida waters are like bream in our state.  They are plentiful, easy to catch, never get very big and taste good.  He said they use live shrimp for bait and that if they don’t catch fish they can just eat the bait.

Some of the locals told us on our recent visit that triple tail is now considered the best-tasting fish along the gulf.  We have seen it on menus but had never tried it.

Grouper has been our favorite Gulf Coast fish for a long time now.   We have had it baked, broiled, blackened, sautéed and battered and fried on po-boy sandwiches.

We have learned that folks who live near the beach know a lot about  their own foods but not so much about food in other places.   Some of them recommended a couple of restaurants where we could get good gumbo when they found out we were from Louisiana.

Regina and I love gumbo, and we tried it at both the places locals recommended.  It was just a haphazard stew of mushy, overcooked seafood over gummy rice that didn’t resemble the good, authentic Louisiana gumbo that Hank Williams sang about.

But they were right about the triple tail.  We had it fried in bite size pieces at a bayside restaurant where boats formed huge silhouettes on the waters as the sun set.

It was delicious pan seared at another dining place that has long been popular with people who live on the coast.  There was a good live band there that night.  We regretted missing the blue grass group with the female singer named Bubba that plays on other nights.

Conversations at the beach about different fish reminded me of similar discussions I heard growing up.  When my dad caught gar and mudcat at the mill ponds,  he threw them back. My uncle loved to mix those fish with onions and cook them like hushpuppies.

We caught bream and white perch and most of the other fish we ate, but my dad went to the little fish market in town once in a while and bought buffalo fish ribs.  They were greasy and smelled fishy.  My mother cooked them for us but wouldn’t eat them herself.

Some Florida restaurants serve mullet, but locals say it’s just for tourists. They have a mullet toss at the Flora-Bama Bar every year where they throw mullets across the Florida-Alabama line into big circles for prizes.

Mullets are apparently better to throw than to eat.  Some Louisiana folks eat alligators and turtles.  It would probably be better to throw turtles and alligators than to eat them.

We are spoiled in Louisiana when it comes to food.  Good fresh seafood makes our beach trips more enjoyable, but even things like the very best marinated crab claws there don’t measure up to those at Ernest’s in Shreveport.

The triple tail fish that we discovered on this year’s trip was outstanding…nearly as good as bream and white perch.  We didn’t eat or throw any mullets.


Energy Drinks

Most of us run out of energy before dark these days.  There is just more to keep up with than there used to be.  Maybe it’s all those emails, tweets, text messages and Facebook things.

I used to get groggy and start dozing off during the Johnny Carson or David Letterman late night shows after the 10 o’clock news.  Now I fall asleep watching the 6 o’clock newscasts.

We will probably discover someday that the same people who got us hooked on social media and all the other stuff that drains our time and energy created the proliferation of energy drinks.

The first time I noticed energy drinks was in the 1990s. Some of us were playing in a tennis tournament in Mobile when we were introduced to Red Bull.

There were tubs of the blue and silver cans of energy drinks iced down at the tennis complex.  Representatives of the company handed out free samples and told us how it would perk us up.

My partner and I drank a can of it right before an early afternoon match.  We won and felt good, so we had a couple more cans before our next two matches that day.

We didn’t read the ingredients.  Mainly it was caffeine and sugar.  My eyes never closed that night after the matches, and I don’t think my heart rate has dropped back to normal yet.

That was my first and last experience with energy drinks, but there are dozens of different brands now.  Their marketing seems to be aimed as much at young tech-savvy folks as it is at those involved in sports and other strenuous activities.

People with laptops, cell phones, iPads and those other devices are taking energy drinks with them to classrooms, coffee shops and libraries.  Some of them get double doses of energy with Starbucks coffee and Red Bull.

Coffee was our parents’ energy drink.  My folks kept a pot of Standard coffee on the stove day and night.  It came in bright yellow packages and was delivered to the house in a yellow truck.

They made the coffee in a little silver-colored pot and kept it hot by putting the pot in a saucepan of simmering water.  The longer it sat, the darker and stronger it got.

If my dad was working the graveyard shift and needed something with more kick to keep him alert,  he would get the A&P Store to grind him some coffee with more chicory in it.

Most kids in our neighborhood were not allowed to drink coffee, but we had home-brewed tea for lunch and supper.  That provided enough caffeine to propel us through bike races and ballgames.

My mother usually had tea left over from meals.  She kept it on the cabinet in a blue ceramic pitcher, and we drank it on ice cubes from the trays in our freezer when we got hot.

They have every kind of coffee and tea product imaginable now in cans and bottles at convenience stores.  You can get Starbucks vanilla lattes, caffe mochas, caramel macchiatos and a Frappuccino in different flavors.

Store coolers are filled with tea of every description.  There is herbal tea, green tea, black tea, white tea,  plain old sweet tea, pomegranate tea, organic tea and the list goes on.

All of those caffeine-based energy boosters should be sufficient to keep us pumped up without the huge wave of energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar, Full Throttle and all the others.

I never saw canned or bottled tea and coffee in my younger years.  Our energy drink was a six-ounce Coke in a short green bottle, and our parents didn’t let us have many of those.

There was a time when truck drivers, factory workers and others who had to work hard and stay awake were the major consumers of all these energy concoctions.

But all that stuff is gaining popularity now with college students, office workers and others whose energy is being sapped by computers, smart phones and the Internet.

Come to think of it, just typing this column, correcting all the things that were corrected by Spellcheck, selecting the right words from the electronic thesaurus, looking things up on Google and all that wore me out.

The next time I write something, I’m getting some Red Bull and one of those Starbucks bottled espresso drinks with a double shot of dark chocolate to keep my energy level up.


Driver’s Licenses

Sociologists and other folks like that who assign names to all the different generations and study their similarities and contrasts have shared some stunning statistics about today’s teenagers. 

They are telling us that most young people who reach the legal driving age these days are not in any rush to obtain a driver’s license.  That is mind-boggling for all of us who counted down the days to the birthday when we were old enough to do that. 

I remember getting my license the day I turned 15, the legal age for driving back then.  My kids and grandkids were also lined up at the motor vehicle office on the first day they were eligible to get a driver’s license. 

Last year, only about 25 percent of 16-year-olds had a driver’s license, and that number continues to decline.  More than 50 percent of driving age teens had licenses 35 years ago, and the percentage was even higher during the decades before that. 

If anything, the proportion of high school kids with licenses should be steadily increasing since most schools have driver’s education classes and cars are getting easier to drive. 

I’m pretty sure they didn’t have a driver’s education course at Springhill when I was growing up.  If we had one, I missed it.  The closest I ever came to a driving lesson in school was when Buddy Bonnette, one of our coaches, sent me on an errand in his car. 

My dad had let me drive our Plymouth with the automatic transmission a few times, but Coach Bonnette’s Ford had a standard shift.  When he gave me his car keys that day, I told him I couldn’t operate a stick shift.  He told me to “figure it out.”   

Several months before I was old enough to get a license, my dad had a painful kidney stone attack.  Our family doctor was out of town, and he advised us by phone to get my dad to a doctor in Shreveport 60 miles away. 

My mother did not drive at night or out of town, so she directed me to drive.  I might have had three or four hours of driving experience, but I somehow got us there and back.   

When I finally reached the age that I could get a license, the guy giving the test threw me a curve by taking me to an area in front of the funeral home that had parallel parking. 

All the other streets in Springhill had simple slanted parking spaces that didn’t require all the tactics and maneuvering of getting between two vehicles parked in parallel spaces. 

After backing up and going forward a dozen times or so, I managed to get at least the back end of the car in the parking space.  I still parallel park that way. 

Most young folks now who go to get a driver’s license have the advantage of vehicles that almost park themselves.  In fact, some of them advertise that they do park themselves. 

They have back up cameras, beepers that go off if you get too close to a car in front or back of you and all that other stuff. Even the worst drivers can get into those tight parallel parking spaces. 

My older son started begging me two years before he could get a license to teach him to drive.  The first time I let him get behind the wheel, he ran into one of brick pillars that held up the carport. 

When my twin grandchildren visited during their teenage years, they always wanted me to let them drive.  Evan did okay, but he got out and walked home the day Amanda ran off the road and stopped just before she hit a pine tree. 

Experts say there are several reasons teenagers are not in a hurry to learn to drive now.  For one, they have access to transportation like Uber and Lyft.  They also communicate with friends on cell phones and social media instead of going places with them in cars. 

Sociologists say Generation Z kids—that’s what they call young folks today—spend an average of three hours a day online instead of riding around with friends. 

I’m convinced that if today’s teenagers had ever dragged Main Street in Springhill with the pretty girls that rode around with us or sat in the car with them at the Dothl House having a hamburger and milkshake, they would get their license the day they got old enough.  


Drying Clothes

A few gas and electric clothes dryers were starting to show up in rich folks’ homes around the country when I was growing up, but they had not made it to our neighborhood near the paper mill.

Nearly every back yard of that three-street subdivision of little frame houses had several rows of wires attached to T-shaped iron poles.  Those webs of taut wiring served as outdoor clothes dryers.

When the temperature, sun, wind and other conditions were perfect, things that were dried on the clothes lines turned out soft, fresh and fragrant and ready to wear to school and church.

But outdoor clothes-drying conditions were unfavorable more days than not.  My mother had to work around rain, continual trash fires and smoke and chemical emissions from the paper mill to get our clothes dried.

Weather-forecasting was not as sophisticated then as it is now, so freshly-washed clothes that she hung out to dry were drenched pretty often by unexpected rain.

There seemed to be more cold weather in those days.  I recall times when batches of wet laundry on the clothes lines would freeze solid when sudden cold fronts blew through.

But the biggest obstacles to getting clothes from the washing machine dry before everybody had clothes dryers were smoke and liquor that caused my church-going mother to use terrible words like damn a time or two.

There were big smokestacks at the mill that gushed thick white smoke all day every day, and the smoke was accompanied by a mist of brown liquid that all the mill families called liquor.

That harsh, foul-smelling chemical fallout from paper making could take the paint off houses and cars.  It would sting our skin if it fell on us when we were out playing, and my mother said it ate holes in bedsheets, towels and my dad’s khakis on the clothes lines.

Neighborhood ladies watched the wind before hanging clothes out to dry to make sure the mill smoke was going the other way.  If the direction of the wind shifted toward our house, my mother drafted all of us into service to get the laundry off the lines.

There were no waste management or garbage collection systems back then.  Every household had 55-gallon drums in their back yard that they used to burn garbage.

Leaves, limbs and other debris from yards were raked into piles in drainage ditches around our homes and burned.

If smoke from trash piles or garbage barrels drifted toward our house when laundry was hanging out, everybody in the family scrambled to get the clothes off the lines and back in the house.

Even with all those complications, my mother still managed to send my dad off to work every day in neat, crisp starched and ironed khaki pants and shirts, and she kept my brother and me in clean school clothes.

But the outdoor clothes-drying system of wires and poles caused almost as many problems for kids in the neighborhood as it did for our mothers.

Nearly all the younger guys crashed into those heavy pipes when they were chasing pop flies or long passes in backyard ballgames.  We often got tangled up in wet clothes and left laundry scattered in the dirt and grass under the clotheslines.

Boys would run full speed into the wires on their bicycles and backflip heels over head into a heap after being “clotheslined.”

Most of our mothers used some metal devices called pants stretchers in those days to put sharp creases in jeans and khakis.  Pants with the stretchers in them were hanging on most clothes lines.

Heavily starched trousers with razor-edged creases formed by the pants stretchers posed a serious threat to kids running through the laundry in their back yards.

This retrospective underscores the fact that lives of people of every generation are enhanced and enriched by the invention and acquisition of new and better stuff.  Young folks today can’t wait for the latest phones, computers and other cutting edge devices.

Those of us who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s were there when things like super glue, Slinkys, color television, Tupperware, hula hoops, barbie dolls and McDonalds hamburgers came along.

I remember my mother saying many times that clothes dryers were the best invention ever, and she might have been right.


Old Photographs

The old black and white photos in the storage closet that I have seen countless times still captivate me.  They are a reminder of people,  places and things that are gone but should never be forgotten.

Most of the pictures were handed down by my parents.  They were made with a little Kodak Brownie box camera.  My dad would hold the camera at waist level and use the viewfinder at the top to line up the photos.

The pictures are square and just a few inches wide.  Some of them are in albums, held in place with little stickers in each corner.  Others are just loose in a cardboard box.

My folks took the film to Burnham’s Drug Store, which sent it off to be developed and got the pictures back in a week or so.      They got two prints of some of the photos so they could share them with kinfolks.

People didn’t make pictures of everything that moved back then like they do now with I-phones and fancy cameras.  Film and photos were expensive, and pictures were mostly for special occasions.

Documented in our little collection of black and white photos are things like birthdays, church socials, new bicycles and baseball gloves from Sears, visits with relatives and big snowfalls.

Our white dog Spunky, who was part of the family before I was, seemed to wander into most of the pictures.  Spunky didn’t have much of a pedigree, but my dad told people who asked that she was a feist.  I saw my dad cry for the first time when Spunky died.

There are some pictures of my mother’s mother, a tall, stately lady with her gray hair in a bun.  They said she would take me to her house in Bastrop for days at a time when I was little.  She died when I was three, and my only memory of her is in these photos.

One of the pictures is of my Uncle Buddy in his Army uniform the day he came home from World War II.  He gave me the khaki-colored overseas cap he had on that day, and I wore it for years.

The birthday pictures are some of my favorites.  They show motley assortments of snaggle tooth boys in shorts, sandals and suspenders with me or my brother holding a cake with candles.

Those were our best dress-up clothes.  Most of us had bad haircuts that our mothers tried to fix with some Brylcreem gel or Vitalis lotion.

A lot of the parents in our neighborhood cut their kids’ hair themselves, but my dad took us to Corley’s Barbershop.  Mr. Corley ran the clippers across our head, splashed Fitch’s hair tonic on us and brushed powder on our neck, all for 25 cents.

Dr. Butler delivered me and most of the other kids in Springhill, and there are photos of him with his black bag making house calls.   He is posing in a couple of them with snowmen in our front yard.

There is a picture of me with a white-haired preacher in front of Calvary Baptist Church.  He was doing a revival there that week, and it changed my life.

Some photos show new families moving into the neighborhood and others packed up and leaving.  Most of the men there worked for International Paper Company, and  they were transferred to and from different mills.

My dad got a new Plymouth every few years, and there were photos of them in the album.  The pictures were black and white, but we knew the cars were green.  All of his cars were green Plymouths.

There are pictures of my dad with big white perch that he caught at the mill ponds spread on the ground in front of him and of my mother with a ceramic Christmas tree she made or something she embroidered.

My brother or I are getting on a school bus in some pictures, probably on the first day of school, and there’s a photo of our first television set and the big antennae on the roof that went with it.

We have pictures of aunts, uncles and cousins that I remember and others that I don’t.  My dad identified them on the back of the photos with the Parker ink pen he used for all his writing.

These faded photos are black and white, but they provide a bright, vivid, colorful illustration of simpler times and family history.


Attention Span

Our attention span is getting shorter according to extensive research on that subject.  Based on those findings, I wonder how folks doing the studies were able to concentrate long enough  to finish them.

An article in Time magazine a while back stated that people could focus intently on something for just eight seconds.  The report went on to say that goldfish can concentrate for nine seconds.

Don’t ask me how they were able to determine how long a goldfish can concentrate.  I lost interest in the article before I got to that explanation and turned to another page.

Some other research shows that the millions of people who use the Internet spend an average of less than one minute on a site before jumping to something else.

The days when people would sit at the kitchen table and read the morning newspaper word for word while sipping their coffee are over.  Daily papers are dwindling as our attention span shrinks.

When I was growing up, we got both morning and afternoon papers.  My parents tried to memorize them, and I read everything in the sports section including the box scores in the tiny print.

My folks kept the papers around long enough to do the crossword puzzles, and my dad made funny hats for us with the Sunday morning comics.

Some experts say the decline in attention spans started with television.  We became conditioned to paying attention to programs for a few minutes and then giving our brain a break for commercials.

Then I-phones, social media and all that stuff came along and made it worse.  Younger folks started communicating on Twitter with limits of 20 or 30 words at a time.

Even that much writing and reading was too much for many of them, so they started using those strange emojis with smiling or frowning faces, heart symbols,  thumbs up and other signs.

To put that form of communication into perspective, there are about 350 words on one page of a book.  That’s a lot of reading for people who communicate with brief notes and emojis.

When I worked at the newspaper in New Orleans, editors might ask for a 1,500-word feature story or a 1,000-word column.

I did extended columns like that for years for newspapers, a statewide magazine and other publications.   My limit now is 750 words, and that is becoming too long for shorter attention spans.

Rick Bragg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist from Alabama and one of the South’s best writers, has cut his essays to the bone.  He wrote lengthy columns while winning the Pulitzer, but his pieces in Southern Living now are just 600 words or so.

Everybody’s getting the message.  People can’t read, listen or concentrate as long as they used to.  The goldfish comparison is a reference to intense, absolute concentration.  But our limit just to pay a little attention is 20 minutes at best according to experts.

Speech-writing specialists say most verbal presentations should be no longer than 15 to 20 minutes, and those numbers keep being lowered too.

An extensive study for the U.S. Navy showed that an audience’s ability to focus on a speaker’s message and remember what was said declines sharply at 18 minutes.  Listeners’ eyes glaze over after that.

These attention span issues have all changed since I was young.  I loved baseball growing up and could sit on the front porch and listen to St. Louis Cardinals games for hours at a time.

Or bat rocks into an open field at the end of our street while broadcasting imaginary games under my breath.  Not another thought entered my mind during those long, make-believe battles.

Most of the boys in the neighborhood had little pinball machine baseball games.  We could be both teams in those games, firing the pinballs and watching them land on strikeouts, home runs, singles, walks or flyouts to left field.  That required our total concentration.

I could stand on the banks of the mill ponds and bream fish with my dad all day with no distractions.  My mind never wandered like our thoughts do now as attention spans diminish.

So people who write things like this or make talks or reach folks in similar ways need to keep cutting back on the time they demand of their readers and listeners.

These columns have been trimmed a few times and will likely be cut some more.  I might write longer things once in a while for goldfish.


Unanswered Prayers

Country music star Garth Brooks wrote and recorded a big hit in the 1990s called Unanswered Prayers.  The words remind us to be thankful for some of the things we pray for but don’t receive.

The chorus goes, “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers; remember when you’re talking to the man upstairs; that just because He doesn’t answer doesn’t mean He don’t care; some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”

Brooks wrote the song about a high school sweetheart.   He said he told God in his prayers every night that if he could just  be with that girl, he would never ask for anything again.

But then the song recounts how Brooks and his wife ran into the old flame years later.  “She wasn’t quite the angel that I remembered in my dreams,” the lyrics go.  “We tried to talk about the old days; There wasn’t much we could recall; I guess the Lord knows what he’s doing after all.”

That song came to mind when I went to my 50th high school reunion a while back.  One of the first ladies I saw came up and asked that dreaded question, “You don’t remember me, do you?”

She was right, but I didn’t want to offend her.  I said I knew she was one of my teachers but I couldn’t recall which one.  She laughed and said, “You’re still crazy as ever.  Always cutting up.”

When she walked off,  a classmate told me she was the girl I dated through most of the l0th grade.  I did do some praying, I remember, for her not to get away.

There were other ladies there that I had gone out with in high school.  I can’t imagine any of them ever praying to keep me.  If they did,  they must have thanked God for unanswered prayers when they saw how the years had treated me.

Mr. Carlon, a man who lived down the street from us when I was growing up, lost his wife not long after he retired from the paper mill.  A good bit later, he started seeing a widow who played the upright piano at our church.

He told church folks that he was praying for that relationship to work out because he was so lonely.  But he also said Miss Henrietta sang hymns off key nearly all day every day, and it was starting to get on his nerves.

Miss Henrietta had to leave town to take care of a sick aunt in some faraway place like Alabama, so things didn’t work out for her and Mr. Carlon.  That might have been an unanswered prayer for a man who appreciated good hymns.

My favorite uncle owned a flower shop in Texas and enjoyed making corsages and bouquets.  He was also a tough World War II veteran who had some bar fights and loved rodeos.

I spent some weekends with him when school was out in the summer, and we went to rodeos on Friday nights.  He told me he had always wanted to be a bull rider.

The meanest bull we saw was named Tornado, and my uncle said he prayed for a chance to ride him even though he had never even been on a horse, let alone a bull.

He went through whatever approval process was needed to ride Tornado at a Friday night rodeo, and my folks and I were there to watch.

Tornado was in an unusually foul mood that night.  He threw a rider, stomped and butted him and broke some of  his bones.  The bull’s owner canceled the rest of his rides that night, including Uncle Buddy’s debut.  That was an unanswered prayer.

They were having tryouts for my high school play, and I really wanted the leading role.  I think it was the part of a judge. I remember praying to get that part.

Everybody who auditioned for the role was better than I was.  The drama teacher gave me a one-line part in the play out of pity.

When it was nearly time to deliver that single line, I started sweating and my heart pounded.  It was stage fright, and the words came out in a big squeak.  Thank God for not answering my prayer to play the big role.

Looking back, there have been a lot of things I prayed for and didn’t get.  But like Garth Brooks wrote in those lyrics, “some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”