Jerry Pierce

Paul Newman’s Dog

Rep. Francis Thompson of Delhi is in his 45th year as a member of the Louisiana Legislature.  He reminisced recently about one of the memorable moments of his long tenure in state government. As the Natchitoches-based movie Steel Magnolias was showing in theaters across the nation in 1989, superstar actor Paul Newman was playing the lead role in another film being shot in Louisiana. Ron Shelton, who wrote and directed the hit movie Bull Durham a decade earlier, had done the script for a picture on former governor Earl Long’s fling with a stripper and wanted Newman to star in it. Called Blaze, the film was based on a book by exotic dancer Blaze Starr.  She had appeared in Bourbon Street clubs for years and was still performing in her late fifties when the movie was being made. Newman was 64 at the time and legendary in the motion picture business, auto racing and philanthropy related to his Newman’s Own line of food products.  He frequently turned down offers for movies roles but was intrigued by the thought of playing Earl Long. A biography on Newman noted, though, that the star was reluctant to do love scenes with an actress who was younger than his daughters.  While Newman was deciding whether to do the film, there was talk that the role might go to Gene Hackman. But a little known Canadian actress named Lolita Davidovich who tried out for and got the Blaze Starr part put Newman at ease and won his friendship, and he accepted the role of the unconventional ex-governor. As it turned out, nobody could have been happier about that arrangement than Francis Thompson. He was among the batch of legislators who hammered out tax incentives for the entertainment industry that resulted in numerous movies and television shows being filmed in the state. Francis and his wife Marilyn had visited Natchitoches when Steel Magnolias was being filmed here and mixed and mingled with the movie star cast members. One of the most colorful and effective lawmakers in Louisiana history, Thompson got word while Newman was filming Blaze in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and other parts of the state that the actor might want a Catahoula Cur dog. It was really Newman’s wife and celebrated actress Joanne Woodward who expressed an interest in the dogs that are named after Catahoula Parish in northeast Louisiana just a stone’s throw from Thompson’s home in Delhi. Earl Long had a Catahoula Cur in real life, and there was one sharing the screen with Newman in the filming.  Woodward said  Newman’s sky blue eyes helped make him a major star so it would be appropriate for him to have a blue-eyed Catahoula Cur. Thompson had worked with the state’s society of Catahoula Cur owners and breeders 10 years earlier to help push a bill through the legislature making the Catahoula Cur the official state dog. That organization found a beautiful, speckled, blue-eyed pup for Newman, and Thompson officially presented it to him on the floor of the House of Representatives. Thompson said last week that getting to know Newman was one of the highlights of his decades in public office. “He was friendly and down to earth, and you never got the feeling you were in the presence of a celebrity,” Thompson remembered. “You knew when you talked to him that he had a special place in his heart for Louisiana,” said Thompson. Newman met his future wife Joanne Woodward, who had attended LSU, when they were filming “Long, Hot Summer” in the state in the 1950s. Thompson stayed in touch with Newman after the actor returned home to Connecticut.  Newman sent him a picture of the Catahoula Cur sitting in his lap and told Thompson that he had changed the dog’s name from Uncle Earl to Grits. That photo and the one of him presenting the dog to Newman are among Thompson’s favorite keepsakes in his extensive collection of memorabilia reflecting a long career and countless special occasions in state government.

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Flunked Shopping

Another holiday season has come and gone, and I got a failing grade again in Creative Christmas Shopping.

Calling it shopping is a stretch.   I pick up a few gifts for Regina, and she searches stores and combs the internet for numerous presents for everybody else in the family.

She is not fussy about gifts for Christmas and other occasions and has learned to have limited expectations.

Her only request is for some surprises under the tree.  The only Christmas I managed that was the first year we were together.

All those Christmases since then, she has gotten pretty much the same thing every year.  She said she liked the gifts the first time, so she keeps getting them.

It seems to frustrate her some, but change is hard for folks my age.   If we go to a restaurant and the fried shrimp dinner is good, I get fried shrimp every time we go back.

It’s embarrassing that when we open gifts on Christmas Eve, she looks at the shape of packages and announces what the presents are before unwrapping them.

“This must be my collector Santa,” she says, or “Oh, good, this is the body lotion.  I’m about out of last year’s fragrance.”

She knows some Ugg waterproof boots are in the shoebox-size package.  They were a big hit the Christmas after we married but will just go in a closet now with other pairs almost like them.

Online shopping is beyond my technology skills, so Regina never suggested that I should get her anything from Lululemon.  But there is a Lululemon store in Shreveport now, and she mentioned  a couple of things there she would like.

A big item at Lululemon is skin tight workout pants for ladies.  They call them yoga pants.  Regina does not do yoga, but she liked the pants so I got her some and a Lululemon yoga mat to go with them.

If she had told me about Lululemon earlier, it would have saved a lot of time shopping.  We set a spending limit on our gifts for each other, and you can get to the limit in a hurry at Lululemon.

As she was opening her collector Santa this year, I looked around at the decorations and noticed that there were just a couple of Santas on the shelves by the fireplace.  All those others were still stored in the attic.

So I flunked Christmas shopping again even after going to Google before the holidays and researching all of the new and interesting gifts that were available for ladies.

There was what was described as a personal portable concrete fireplace that looked like a coffee can with a little flame flickering at the top of it.  The advertisement said it was good to warm your hands or toast marshmallows.

She likes house shoes, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger on the Sasawashi Wool Room Boots lined in fiber woven from dry washi paper and antibacterial kumazasa leaf extract.

A set of two bronze bottle openers caught my eye.  One had a handle with the head of a beagle on it, and the other had a Labrador retriever.  They were $150 for the set, and the advertisement suggested that they could be accompanied in the gift package with a six-pack of apple cider.

Maybe I should have gotten her that Williams Sonoma latte milk frother or the little I-pod looking device called a Muama Enence Translator that lets people communicate with each other in 43 different languages.  Translations take less than two seconds.

That would have let her get through to me in 42 other languages next Christmas that she does not need any more waterproof boots or collector Santas.

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Cursive Problems

My cursive keeps getting worse, but our granddaughter in the fourth grade is trying to help me with it.

Cursive is not a word that I have used very often during my long life, so it took a minute for it to sink in when Allie told me a while back that I really needed to work on my cursive.

That is the term she and apparently most other elementary school kids use now for what folks my age used to call handwriting or penmanship.

It is the next step up in school from learning to print your letters.  I got to thinking that I must have skipped that grade, because I don’t recall any of my teachers ever talking about cursive.

But then I remembered that the only kid I grew up with who was allowed to skip a grade was a girl named Beth who lived down the street from me.

We talked about it years later when I saw her at a football game back in our hometown.  She said she regretted skipping the grade because she lost touch with kids her own age and never fit in with the older ones in the grade she skipped to.

I told her that was the main reason I never skipped a grade.  She said she always thought it was my poor penmanship and terrible grades in math.  Skipping a grade made her sort of a smart aleck.

Anyway, I assured Allie that they did teach cursive when I was in school but that we just had different names for it like longhand.  Teachers would say, “I don’t want you to print today.  Do this paper in longhand.”

That seemed to confuse her, so I told her that there are different terms in handwriting just as there are in math like long division and short division.

She reminded me that her parents have emphasized to her that she should never let me help her with math homework or even discuss anything related to math with me.

All of this came up one day when she was watching me do hand-written thank-you notes to some ladies who had done something nice for me.

I wanted to send them emails, but Regina said that would be tacky and socially unacceptable.

My handwriting was decent enough to read at one time but has deteriorated into an indecipherable, scribbling mixture of printed  letters and a smattering of cursive, as Allie calls it.

Working for decades in journalism and taking notes at warp speed has been  a factor in destroying my penmanship.

It’s certainly not my parents’ fault that my handwriting is so bad. My dad wrote letters and Christmas cards with a real fountain pen.  He kept a bottle of ink on the table to refill the pen.

He would wave his hand around before he started writing like an athlete warming up for an event.  I still look back at some of his letters and admire the flowing, oversized, perfect script.

My mother’s writing was not nearly as impressive or ornate, but it was easy to read.  We still use the dessert recipes that she wrote on index cards and brown paper bags.

Allie is trying to re-teach me cursive, but we have a long way to go.  I have noticed that one of us writes the letter O and the letter E clockwise, and the other makes them counter clockwise.  I’m not sure which one of us is doing them backwards.

She says it is hard to tell how many “points” there are in my M’s and  N’s.  I told her we called them humps, and she rolled her eyes.

For the ladies who got the thank-you notes and couldn’t read them, there is a sentence in there expressing appreciation for your kindness and another apologizing for the condition of my cursive.

NOTE: Reflections will take a few weeks off while Jerry works on his cursive and will return in 2021.  Contact him at pierce@nsula.edu.      

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Dave Treen

Dave Treen was a plain vanilla Republican governor in a multi-flavored, heavily Democratic state when he spoke at Northwestern in the 1980s.

I was master of ceremonies for the program and took some good-natured jabs at him.  That was the popular style for banquets then.  Emcees tried to keep things light with quips and gentle barbs.

Treen was an easy target.  He was a genuinely nice man and good public official, but he came across as pretty dull compared to his flamboyant predecessor.

Edwin Edwards served two terms before Treen became the first Republican governor of Louisiana in a century.  Everything about Edwards was colorful…his wardrobe, language, politics, personal life and all the rest.

I reminded the banquet audience that Edwards wore stylish sport coats, bright neckties and pastel leisure suits and that Treen had survived in politics with a pair of gray slacks and one blue blazer.

The legislature had approved an 8 percent raise for state workers that year, but Treen cut it to 5.7 percent.  I announced that we would lose money on the banquet since tickets were 8 dollars but state employees refused to pay more than 5.7 dollars for them.

Treen’s reputation for being cheap was confirmed, I told the crowd, when somebody at the governor’s mansion saw him gargle with Listerine and spit it back in the bottle.

Edwards had announced he would run against Treen in the next election.  I told the audience that Treen had no hard feelings and had just sent Edwards a turkey for Thanksgiving with a note telling him to stuff it.

My office phone rang early the morning after the banquet.  The voice on the other end said, “Hey, it’s Dave Treen.  I loved the program last night and would like to get some of your lines for a roast I have to do in Washington this week.”

I had no doubt the caller was Gene Knecht, Tynes Hildebrand or some other friend on campus.  Our practical jokes were rampant then, and I knew governors didn’t make their own phone calls.

So I bantered with the caller, told him I was too busy to mess with him and things like that.  But as we talked and laughed about some of the private conversation we had at the table the previous night, I realized this was really Governor Treen.

He had served in Congress earlier and was on the program to roast one of his former colleagues in Washington.  I told him I had just jotted down notes for the program but would type up the comments and get them to him.

Treen called a few days later to say his remarks went over well at the roast and to share some other speakers’ one-liners with me.

Edwards beat him in the next election with some campaign lines like, “Dave Treen is so slow it takes him an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes on TV.”

Treen was sharp and far from slow and lost primarily because Republicans were so heavily outnumbered by Democrats then.

The governor’s reserved demeanor disguised a genuine zest for life and sparkling sense of humor.

He arranged for comedian Bob Hope to headline the fund-raiser kicking off his re-election campaign, and Treen played a big role in the Republicans’ annual Elephant Stomp extravaganza that became one of the most colorful social and political events in the state.

His mother was a Northwestern graduate, and he truly liked Natchitoches.  As governor, he helped create the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts.  That was a bold, significant political accomplishment at the time.

We talked periodically after he left office to share humorous stories and one-liners for speaking engagements.

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Turn Over in Grave

The first time I heard that old saying about somebody turning over in their grave was when one of my mother’s sisters showed up at our house with her hair dyed red.

It was a striking change from her natural light brown tint.  My mother said, “Gussie would turn over in her grave if she saw this.”  They often referred to their mother by her first name, but only after  she died.

I was a little surprised at my mother’s reaction to something as common as a lady having a different shade of hair, even if it was her own sister.

Ladies in our neighborhood got together regularly when I was growing up to give each other home permanents and hair dyes.  I stayed outside when those hair-fixing sessions were at our house, because the smell of home permanents seemed lethal.

I had known the ladies in our community all my life, but it was hard to recognize some of them when they left after having their hair curled or colored.

So my mother’s comment about somebody being so shocked at something that they would turn over in their grave got my attention.  I have not used that term much, but it seems appropriate right now.

My mother would turn over in her grave if she heard that folks are being advised not to muster up all the family members they can to celebrate Thanksgiving.

National health organizations and virus experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci are recommending that holiday gatherings be limited to just members of households instead of relatives from far and wide.

People are also being urged to make other modifications to their Thanksgiving plans like having the meals outdoors if possible and assembling for just an hour or so instead of all day.

One health guru even went so far as to say that Thanksgiving gatherings should not include watching football on TV.  He said cheering and shouting would worsen the spread of the virus.

All these efforts to alter Thanksgiving celebrations would upset my parents, who always had those events at their house.  The mid-day meal was the main attraction, but there were other activities.

Kinfolks, neighbors and church friends shared my mother’s famous Thanksgiving dinners.  She had turkey for folks who liked it but baked big hens and huge hams for my dad and others who preferred it.

Her chicken and dressing  with giblet gravy was legendary, and it was accompanied by green bean casseroles, candied sweet potatoes and desserts like pecan pies and coconut cakes.

Everybody filled up at noon and went back the rest of the day for leftovers that stayed on the stove and kitchen cabinet and to refill their glasses of sweet tea.

Grownups watched ballgames on television and played Rook on card tables set up in the living room and on the porch.  Some just sat outside under shade trees when it was warm enough and talked about colorful aunts and uncles who were no longer with us.

The preacher and his wife usually came by for dessert.  My dad waited until they left to open a Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Kids rode bikes and tire swings, threw footballs and fired chinaberries with their slingshots.  Our old dogs were under foot hoping somebody would drop some ham.

My folks lived through the Depression, World War II, some public health threats and other hard times.  They experienced air raid drills, food rationing, shortages of household goods and the loss of friends and relatives in combat.

But they were born too late to witness the ravages of Spanish flu in 1918 and would never have understood today’s pandemic.

I can’t picture them in masks, and my mother was too much of a hugger to embrace social distancing.

Advanced technology like making long distance phone calls unless somebody died defied logic for my dad.

If he could hear these suggestions for people to celebrate the holidays virtually with Webex and Zoom instead of getting together,  he would be turning over in his grave.

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Garage Revivals

It is still my hope after all these years that kids who thought they were spiritually saved during our neighborhood revivals in somebody’s garage eventually experienced real salvation.

Revivals were popular back then.  There were evangelists like Billy Graham on the radio and our black and white television screens,  and they inspired little towns and churches to hold revivals.

Calvary Baptist, where we went for Sunday morning and Sunday night services and Wednesday evening prayer meetings, had a week-long revival every year.

Preachers from big towns like Shreveport and Texarkana would deliver fire and brimstone sermons every night and twice on the final Sunday.  They brought their music directors to put the congregation in the right spirit with old Baptist hymns.

Some summers, there would be a tent revival in a sprawling open field just outside town.  Folks of every denomination gathered under the white canvas covering as some genuine and a few self-proclaimed evangelists preached, sweated and took up offerings.

My mother and most of the others in our paper mill community had their kids at all those revival services.  So it was not unusual for us to simulate revivals just as we did western movies we saw on Saturdays and baseball games we heard on the radio.

On long summer days, we might have a game between the Yankees and Red Sox in an empty field,  pretend to be Gene Autry or Hopalong Cassidy chasing cattle rustlers in the nearby woods or have a full-fledged revival in a single-car garage.

Every family in the village had those cookie-cutter, one-car garage and storage space buildings at the end of their gravel driveway.  So there was always one available for our revivals.

The older boys did the preaching and song leading most of the time.  But some of the rest of us would get to  deliver a sermon occasionally or wave our arms to direct the singing,  and a couple of junior high girls played hymns on their clarinets.

There was a guy a year or two ahead of us in school with wavy, blond hair who did most of the preaching.   He had a black leather King James version Bible, and the rest of us had those pocket-size white New Testaments that we got for participating in Bible drills.

Word got around that he had written some page numbers on his palm to win the Bible drill competition, but nothing ever came of it.

A burly, older boy named Gerald on Second Street was never invited to the revivals, but he always found out about them and showed up to sing solos like Brother Caraway did at Calvary Baptist.

Brother Caraway worked for the railroad and was music director at the church on Sundays.  They called him the Singing Engineer, and he performed Old Rugged Cross, Blessed Assurance and songs like that in a deep, rousing bass voice.

Gerald’s voice cracked on the high notes and faded during the  low parts.  He always left on his bike after his solo and didn’t stay for the preaching.

Nobody was ever saved when I preached, so I was never burdened with any guilt that might have resulted if they had been.  I think it was because my sermons were not nearly as long or as loud  as the pastor’s at Calvary Baptist or all those evangelists.

But I do remember some younger kids going up front when the boy with the King James Bible delivered the invitation at the end of his sermons.

There were not any facilities in our garage venues to baptize them, so those rituals were scheduled for the minnow ditch at the end of the street.  It was muddy and about waist deep in the middle.

A few guys agreed to be dunked by the blond-haired preacher,  but the girls would wade out up to their knees and just get a little water splashed on them.

I’m certain none of those baptisms took, so I was always relieved to see those friends and schoolmates get officially baptized later by bona fide preachers whose voices were not still changing.

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Top 10 Desserts

It’s harder for folks to find things to talk about since the pandemic curtailed social gatherings, sports events, travel and other normal activities.

When we were waiting for everybody to get on one of those awful Zoom calls this week, somebody suggested that we list our top 10 favorite movies and email each other the results.

Who would have thought we would ever resort to top 10 lists to have something to chat about?  But these requests for people to rank their top 10 favorite cities, songs, sports stars and all that keep popping up everywhere.

There was a suggestion on a social media group recently for members to list their top 10 favorite desserts.  I tried it but never could get my list below a hundred.

Sweets have become my favorite food.  I used to think Jack Clayton, our football coach at Northwestern, was strange when he offered to swap his steak, chicken or some other main dish for my dessert.  I understand now.

So I decided to rank just the top 10 desserts my mother made and not include all the other great sweet treats I enjoy.  Here are the results from bottom to top:

  1. Pineapple upside down cake.  She made it in a black skillet with a lot of butter and brown sugar.   There were cherries in the pineapple rings on top, and I ate those first.  We should have made pictures when she flipped it out of the skillet onto a cake plate.
  2. Banana pudding.  My dad and I didn’t like meringue, so she covered the mixture of bananas, pudding and vanilla wafers with homemade whipped cream.  She usually made it for church dinners.
  3. Chocolate chip cookies.  Her recipe made enough to last all week even when I took some in my school lunch every day.  I never decided if they were better with walnuts or pecans, but nothing ever went better with milk.
  4. Peach cobbler.  Or really any kind of cobbler.  She made it with apples, blackberries, strawberries and other fruits.  They came out of the oven just as we finished supper, and we cooled the hot, crisp crust down with vanilla ice cream.
  5. Chocolate pie.  All of us gathered in the kitchen when we heard the whisk and smelled the cocoa mixture cooking.  She let us scrape the leftover chocolate filling from the pan.  I still make the pies today with her recipe, and the grandkids love it.
  6. Brownies.  They were made from scratch and filled with pecans.  She made an icing with cocoa, powdered sugar, vanilla and milk, and poured it on the brownies when they were hot.  We had them every time my Uncle Buddy visited.
  7. Pecan pie.  The first day my dad took us to gather pecans every year, she made a pie with pecan halves that put a crunchy top on the thick, syrupy filling.  Family and friends considered it her best dessert, and we had the pies for Christmas and Thanksgiving.
  8. Homemade ice cream.  On a lot of hot summer days, she would send my dad to the icehouse for crushed ice while she fixed the ice cream mixture.  She added fresh figs or peaches when we had them, and we took turns cranking the wooden ice cream freezer.
  9. White cake with cherry filling.  There were three layers of cake with cherry filling and icing between them.  The icing on top turned firm and crispy instead of creamy.  She made it for my birthdays for years, and Regina still does.
  10. Divinity candy.  There is an art to making this fluffy white candy with corn syrup, egg whites, sugar and other ingredients that have to be cooked to perfection,  and she mastered it.

She made big batches of it for us every Christmas with black walnuts or hickory nuts and shared it with friends and neighbors.  As many times as she tried to teach me to make it, I never could.

It will always be first on my top 10 list of favorite sweets.

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State Fair

There won’t be a State Fair in Shreveport this year.  Coronavirus has delayed it until next spring.  The event started 114 years ago and was called off just once before.

That was in 1918 when the Spanish flu killed 50 million people. So it takes a pandemic to shut down the fair.

Kids these days with all those television channels, video games and other entertainment might not miss the State Fair,  but it was a big deal when we were growing up.

For those few days at the fairgrounds every October, there were more thrills and dazzling sights and sounds than we experienced in our little hometown all year.

We piled into yellow buses for annual trips to the fair with school groups.  My family and I would always spend another day there,  arriving before it opened and staying until it closed.

School friends entered sheep, goats and such in the livestock competition, and we stopped by those shows to support them.  We didn’t raise anything but chickens at our house, and I never saw one that was pretty enough to enter in a contest.

We spent most of our time riding the Ferris wheel and Tilt-a-whirl and at food booths where we were lured by  the scent of corn dogs and cotton candy that floated across the fairgrounds.

There were sideshow tents where barkers with tattoos tried to coax us inside to see such sights as fire eaters, sword swallowers, the world’s tallest man and Bonnie and Clyde’s bullet-riddled Ford.

But we had saved up our money all year for the fair and didn’t have much allocated for sideshow attractions.  We preferred to spend it on rides that never lasted long enough, funnel cakes and games of chance at the midway booths.

Even as we soaked up the glitter and glamour of the fair, we were well aware of all the grifters and flimflammers that offered shoddy prizes for winning carnival games.

We tossed dull darts at balloons, shot oversized basketballs at undersized rims and threw softballs trying to knock down lead milk bottles that tanks couldn’t budge.  We won when they let us and showed off our prizes.

But it was a day alone with my dad at the State Fair that left a lasting soft spot in my heart for the event.

I had barely reached my teenage years, and he told me one night that just the two of us were going to the fair the next day.  It surprised me since we had already been that year and never went without my mother and brother.

After some rides and corndogs, my dad guided me to a dusty tent on the midway.  It had paintings of shapely ladies in tiny swimsuits and big lettering about sex and the mysteries of life.  I had noticed it several times.

The barker out front said I had to be 16 to get in.  My dad slipped him a few dollars, and I became old enough to enter.

Inside the tent were folding tables that held rows of jars.  The contents were unidentifiable to me.  There were index cards by each jar with typewritten wording.  I was so busy looking for ladies in swimsuits that I didn’t pay much attention to the jars and cards.

I had overheard my mother a couple of times telling my dad that he needed to talk to me about the facts of life.  He had broached the subject when we were fishing or frog hunting but never got around to providing any information.

My dad’s great sense of satisfaction as we left the fair made me realize that this had been my official introduction to the facts of life.  I smiled as we rode home that night and finally laughed out loud.

Dad asked what was funny, and I told him he had just done the worst job of any parent in history of teaching a kid the facts of life.  He seemed taken aback at first but soon broke into laughter.

All the way home, one of us would start laughing, and the other joined in.  We shared that private joke for the rest of his life.

It’s sad that there will be no State Fair in 2020.  Some young boy might never get to know the facts of life.

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Thoughts of Ghosts

In October, thoughts of ghosts flutter through my mind.  I don’t believe in ghosts, but there is some sense of relief for me every year when Halloween is over and talk about ghostly things subsides.

The first funeral I ever attended was for an old uncle in Jackson, Miss.  I was in grade school, and the funeral experiences alone were enough to spook me even without what my Aunt Annie Belle saw.

It was not unusual in those days for a body to be viewed at the home of family members leading up to a funeral.  Uncle Robert was on display in the living room when we arrived to spend the night at my aunt’s house.

I never went in the living room but got glimpses of  my late uncle from the hallway.  He was removed from the house later in the day and returned to the funeral home.  But I could hear strange sounds from the living room that night as I laid awake in my bed upstairs.

It was what I heard the next day,  though, when we went down for breakfast that unnerved me the most.  Aunt Annie Bell said, “I saw Robert clear as a bell standing here making coffee when I walked in the kitchen this morning.”

The Uncle Robert I caught sight of the day before didn’t seem up to making coffee.  I watched him later at the church service and burial and was sure he had not been walking around in the kitchen earlier that day.

After asking my parents a lot of questions, I realized that Aunt Annie Belle seeing Robert was just some kind of illusion or vison.   It was sort of like the times I could picture myself in Yankee Stadium playing for my favorite team.

But the thought of Uncle Robert making coffee the morning after people were viewing him laid out in the living room in his best suit gave me chills for a long time.

That boyhood experience and memory helped me understand our little granddaughter Charlee Ann’s reaction to a discussion about ghosts that we were both involved in a few days ago.

Actually, Charlee was listening much more than talking when her older sisters Allie and Ava were asking me questions about the legend of the ghost on Northwestern’s campus.

Northwestern students have heard tales of the mythical ghost Isabella for more than a century.  The story goes that she lived in a mansion that became the first building at the school and took her own life after her fiancé was killed in a duel.

The original columns of the mansion that still stand as the symbol of the university are near the elementary lab school where Charlee, Allie and Ava are students.

Bits and pieces of the Isabella legend have floated among lab  school students for decades.  Allie is in the fourth grade and Ava the fifth, and they have heard the tales that seem to spread every year as Halloween approaches.

But Charlee is a first grader and was learning about Isabella for the first time that afternoon as the four of us were riding around the campus.

The older girls wanted to know what happened to the ghost after the mansion was torn down.  We talked about Isabella living in another historic building until it burned and then being moved to the next oldest structure at the university.

They wanted to see it.  As we rode by the building that was once a women’s gymnasium, I assured Charlee again as I had been doing since the conversation started that there was no such thing as ghosts.

One of the girls asked Charlee if the talk about the legendary ghost scared her.  “I’m not scared right now,” Charlee said, “but if I ever think about this when I’m by myself, I’ll be horrified.”

I could relate to that.  For years when it was near Halloween and I remembered my Aunt Annie Belle saying she saw Uncle Robert making coffee a few hours before his funeral, my spine tingled.

Even now, I’m like Charlee and try not to think about ghosts when I’m by myself.

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Pandemic Attire

Not many things about our daily lives are easier now than they were before the pandemic.  But dressing for the workplace is certainly less complicated and time consuming.

Since Zoom and all these other forms of video communications have replaced in-person meetings, most of us have not worried much about whether our socks match our pants or even each other.

Dress shirts and ties are not required for most business meetings anymore.  A nice polo shirt looks dressy now compared to the things some folks are wearing on these electronic gatherings.

Stiff leather shoes are in closets gathering dust and might never see the light of day again.  Sneakers, sandals and flip-flops are fine for videos that focus mostly on heads and shoulders.

My old friend Bob Griffin, the legendary television personality in Shreveport, would not have needed to alter his attire much for the global pandemic.

Bob was way ahead of his time in the concept of combining apparel that provided both comfort and propriety like people around the world are doing now on Zoom and Webex.

The first time I was in the studio with Bob for a broadcast, he wore a white shirt, tie and sport coat for the camera, but his cargo shorts, floppy white socks and tennis shoes were out of view.

After the show, he ditched the coat and tie, put on a golf shirt, and we went to lunch.

Bob, who died earlier this year before the pandemic hit, needed a variety of apparel in his early days on TV.  He was doing news, sports, weather and a live cartoon show for kids when his wardrobe was topped off by a straw, flat-top skimmer hat.

Toy companies flooded Bob with samples of products that he gave away as prizes on the Bob and His Buddies show.  One of those new-fangled toys left bumps and bruises on my son when he was in elementary school.

Bob would spend afternoons at my house when he came to town for Northwestern football games and bring my kids toy company samples.  One was an early version of a “water wiggle” type toy that attached to a water hose.

When we hooked it to the hose, the water pressure sent the hard plastic cartoon figure flying and gyrating wildly, flapping my son in the head and body before we could turn the water off.

Bob was distraught.  The next time he visited, he brought a toy doctor’s kit.

My interest in wardrobe matters like the attire folks are wearing for Zoom meetings goes back to the 1940s when my mother dressed me in those awful riding pants with puffs on each side.

Old black and white snapshots of birthday parties and such show other boys in jeans and overalls and me in the prissy riding pants.

I have worked hard since then to dress conventionally and much like my peers even when I started my journalism career in New Orleans and we all wore short sleeve white shirts and thin, clip-on black ties.

All these decades since, I have been properly attired in dress shirts and pants, ties, sport coats and all that.  But I have also kept shorts and T-shirts handy for tennis and other activities.

My late friend Tom Murchison and I played a lot of tennis matches after work.  He didn’t want folks at his law office to know when he left early some days that it was for a tennis match.

The courts were near my house, so Tom would go by and change in the utility room off the carport.  One day when he had on nothing but tennis shoes and bent over to get his shorts, my big boxer dog Bandit snuck in and stuck his cold nose on Tom’s rear end.

When Tom got to the courts, he told me about it and said, “I made a new opening in your utility room.”

With mostly Zoom meetings now, I can just wear decent looking shirts and nobody knows if I have on shorts, sweatpants, jeans or some of those riding britches with the puffy pockets.

REPRINTED FROM THE NATCHITOCHES TIMES