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The April 29, 2016 Tailgate News is ready to read. Sun Paper to put up a mill at Gum Springs. China will invest more than $1 billion constructing it the next four years and then there will be 250 permanent jobs at the mill. The annual scholarship and academic awards ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 3 at Cabe Auditorium. GPD caught the last meth and cocaine dealer on their list. A group of Malvern residents want more action on a house on West Third to stop all night disturbance of the peace. Malvern will have a City Council agenda meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday. The Gurdon Clean-up will go through May 6 and folks are encouraged to put big items on their curbs to be hauled away free. The sermon is about Coming Back Alive with the help of Jesus Christ. We are at Southern Arkansas Tailgate News on search. Pull up the dashboard, go to current issue and open the pdf that says Read pages for current news. Here is hoping you enjoy the publication. Please share it with your timeline to help us build readership. Comments? Email me at: email@example.com. Thank you for reading the Tailgate News Weekly Magazine. Sincerely, John H. Nelson II, editor
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I am now 57. I wrote the book The Path I Took at 55. This book is autobiographical in nature and has 14 chapters. I hope you find it entertaining and perhaps it will allow you to know the editor of Tailgate News a little better. Sincerely, John
The Path I Took
Chapter 1: The Path I Took
By JOHN NELSON
Tailgate News Editor
Everyone has a story. You have one. I have one. Mine started with my first real memory, chasing Cathy Conn in Morgantown, West Virginia.
I believe I was just a little more than 2 years old, the same age as my grand daughter Rayne is at the present. I will be 55 in two days so this memory is many moons back. My name is John.
My dad is Dr. John W. Nelson. I lived in an apartment with him and his parents, John Hans and Marvel May Nelson. They let me play around the complex and associate with another doctor’s children; Rex Conn’s kids, Connie and Cathy. Cathy was my age.
For years, nobody believed I could remember this story I am about to tell you. But here it is, just as I remember, 53 years later. I played in the hall with Cathy and her older sister until nearly time to go get some supper. But I was not ready to stop talking with Cathy. It was cold out and there was snow on the ground. I went outside to meet little curley blonde-headed Cathy at her window.
I don’t recall what was so important for us to talk about, but if my grandfather had not called me into supper I might still be out there in the snow. The old man gave his grandson too much time. I got frost bite in my left ankle.
Grandpa Nelson always was probably too lenient with me. When the weather gets a certain type of cold and wet, my left ankle nearly buckles in pain to this day. It has to be really cold though for the frost bite to come back. I rarely experience it from my Arkansas home.
About 10 years ago, I felt it in Minneapolis. That is a very cold place. So cold that I pleaded with my daughter Kelley to send my body back south if I should die in the land of the lakes… and ice.
I could chronologically go through my life, but I won’t. Still, before I leave my West Virginia days, I do have one more strong memory. This one involves a couple of my fingers getting caught in an iron door. Again, I was supposedly too young to remember this.
I had been playing with kids from around the apartment and not paying attention to the closing doors. It did not occur to me that the iron, end of the floor, door would be too heavy to open for my little hands. I carelessly laid my hand across the door frame and got to talking to another kid. I think it was Connie Conn. I remember her running in front of me, in her pajamas.
But my smiles from our play disappeared quite promptly when that door closed. I screamed bloody murder! Most likely it scared the other kids off. I remember the terror in Connie’s eyes. And then this large person opened the door. Actually she was just a grown up, but when you are two all grown ups are large. It turned out the lady was a registered nurse and friend of my father’s. She took me to Daddy at the hospital.
Dad’s reaction was very concerned but very professional. He X-rayed my fingers and found out they were just badly bruised, but not broken. That is fortunate, as I would need those fingers to type many stories for years to come.
THE MEMPHIS TREE
After West Virginia, my father took a job at the University of Tennessee Medical Center for a Dr. Lemmie Utterback. At least I think that was the guy’s first name.
I got to know Dr. Utterback a little bit because of his boat. He took my Dad and me out on the water and it was the first time I had ever been in a motor boat. But the biggest small child memory I have of Memphis was when a car nearly came though our apartment picture window.
I was about six months away from entering kindergarten and it was Christmas time.
I was stringing popcorn with my grandfather to go on our tree. My grandparents had moved in with my Dad to help raise me after my mother left because she got sick.
In about three years, I would get a step mother, who to my knowledge is still married to my Dad, Dr. John W. Nelson, today He is 86 this year, if God has graced him with a long life. Although we have lost touch, I have tried to find him. So far no Daddy and no obit.
Back then, I continued living with my grandparents, John and Marvel Nelson, of Hagerstown, Indiana, and Dr. John W. Nelson, of wherever he happned to be doctoring at the time. It is no wonder I later became a person who loves to travel. Indeed, in the final analysis, the apple does not fall far from the tree.
But back to my significant memory. We almost got ran over in our living room. A car, on Christmas Eve night, on Southern Avenue just across from Memphis State Campus, hit a tree with about a 6-inch circumference. That little tree saved our lives. If not for God putting that there, my grandparents, my Dad and me would have been toast right then and there.
I never forgot that God, at least in my life, has been a God of mercy. In 55 years, that has never changed. And of course, being God, it is highly unlikely He ever will. We heard a huge boom that night and went out to investigate. My father said something about a drunk out of control. Being a little kid, I really could not say for sure what the cause of the accident must have been.
But a drunk out of control sounds like a pretty reasonable explanation. Back then, it always seemed like as long as my folks were around, life was safe. No matter what might be happening in the world, I was safe with them.
In this book, rather than just move from incident to incident, I will try and pick out points of mercy shown to me by God to let you understand that God has been good to me -even though I drink fairly deeply of the cup of love and of life – charging through like I was in control when actually I was scared to death a lot of the time. Now don’t tell anyone.
The Path I Took…
Chapter 2: The Band days…
When I entered the fifth grade, it was proposed to me that I join band in Hagerstown. I loved music, and my Daddy had been in band, so why not?
I began by taking up the clarinet. Before it was over, I would get pretty good on the coronet as well, plus get good enough on the guitar to write my own songs. But back in fifth grade, I just smiled and asked for a clarinet.
My Daddy got me one from somewhere in Oklahoma. It was a wooden woodwind, which was an old clarinet. But it played pretty good and the best part was making music with my friends. To this day, I wish that is what I did for a living; make music with my friends.
And yes, I realize that is a line from “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson, but believe me, it fits. I went to work with that Clarinet to be first chair in the clarinet woodwind section. I made first chair out of about a dozen or so players. However, I shared it with a girl named Peggy Lindley. We would challenge each other from time to time. Sometimes I was first, sometimes second. It all depended on who won the challenge.
I have a column in Tailgate News Magazine called Memorable Moments. This book is probably going to be a series of such moments; times I remember that somehow stick out at 55 years old. The stuff we are talking about now represent some pretty good times when I was between the ages of about 11 and 18. They all took place in Hagerstown, Indiana, my childhood hometown.
My first band director was Mr. Haskett. I don’t recall his first name. It might have been Joe, like my second and final band director was called. Joe Backmeyer came into my life when I was about in the seventh grade. I loved his class and how he made me and my fellow musicians feel a part of each other’s lives.
I probably learned more friendship skills back then than at any other part of my upbringing. I used to have a lot of close friends. I don’t let all that many folks that close to me anymore. I know I should, and I am working on it. I suppose I have been playing life a little over cautious these past eight year but that is another rabbit to chase entirely.
Let’s go back to band class. I remember those challenge trials with Peggy. She was a slender, very tall blonde girl, a grade or two ahead of me in school. I have always been short; 5’6″ is stretching me. But hey, Napoleon was short right?
I remember Ross Bennett playing trumpet, John Sanders playing trumpet and Dean Charles playing trombone. Bob Farris played the tuba. I saw Bob at our 35th class reunion but did not get to talk to him. I hope to do that at our 40th. That should be coming up in a couple of years, say 2017…
So let’s try and get a handle on the year I first started band. I graduated Hagerstown Jr. Sr. High School in 1977 and so my first experience with band must have been around 1970. I don’t really recall too much about fifth and sixth grade band, or if I did all that much with Mr. Haskell except figure out I enjoyed what I was doing.
But in seventh grade, when it was announced that Joe Backmeyer would take over, things started to change. There was this girl who played clarinet also. Her name was Joni and she went to my First United Methodist Church with me. We sang in choir together there and played in band together. She had curley reddish brown hair and freckles. I watched with interest as she grew up…
But somewhere in junior high school, Mr. Backmeyer decided to let some of us young folks, with what he called talent, move up to play with the high school kids now and then. I was one of those that got to play with the bigger kids. That was great boost to my ego.
I was not only in band, but in 4-H, Methodist choir and vice president of the Hagerstown Historical Society. This met I got to help another classmate, Jim Hudson, clean out cemeteries from time to time. We mowed them, set up broken head stones the best we could and recorded names and dates of the dearly departed. That data would probably be of use in today’s world of the Internet in something Ancestry.com. But back then, it was taken down and I have no idea what happened to it after that. Jim Hudson was the Optomitrist’s son. I thought Dr. Hudson was cool and his profession was the first one I attempted before switching majors in college to Social Work and then to psychology and journalism. I stuck with the latter and eventually got a bachelor’s with a major in journalism and minor in psychology.
So I was a busy kid back in 1970. I also took care of between 100 and 300 rabbits, from which I picked a prize winning buck, doe and meatpen to display at the Wayne County Fair every fall.
One of my first memorable band moments was in a church. I had competed in this music memorization contest with my clarinet and Mr. Backmeyer played along with my song on the piano. The contest was at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, where I would eventually get that bachelor of science afore mentioned. I got a superior rating and felt so accomplished.
But the moment that stands out in my memory came about a month later when I was supposed to reconstruct my musical piece in front of Dr. John W. and Nancy Nelson, my Daddy and step mother. There was only one problem. I did not take seriously relearning the piece…
I got up on the stage and started out pretty good. I noticed my Daddy smiling and Nancy smiling. I so wanted to impress them. You see, I only got to see them every three months, when they came to visit me from Oklahoma City. Other than that, my grandparents (his folks) raised me on the farm. Even back then I was a lover of life and the pleasures there of. Before I fully understood the path of following Jesus Christ, I understood pleasure and exploration. This little moment we are on is an example.
I had spent the time I should have been practicing for that concert talking to my Daddy, which I idealized back then and frankly still do. His dropping out of my life is the single most painful thing that ever happened to me. That pretty much happened when I was 20 years old and newly back from Florida.
I know I was hard to take as a young, “bullet proof” young rebel. But still yet, I wanted to see my Daddy every chance I could. He did come to my college graduation in 1982 and his own father’s funeral in 1989. That is the last time we were together. I have never understood why and I probably never will. My latest research, here in 2014 is swaying me to believe that my neurologist father has passed from this world. If he is still alive, and he happens to read this, I sure would like some contact. Just for the heck of it, my telephone number is 1-870-353-8201. As always, I am throwing the bottle out into the ocean.
But let’s return to those innocent times. That church concert was a hoot. I started looking at my Daddy and step-mother and completely forget the song! I mean I had no idea what in the dickens I was playing. But I am a natural song writer. Having written more than 150 poetic tunes for guitar, I suppose I can say that. And it was no different at the age of 14 or so. I played that group a tune they seemed to be into. My band director cut his eyes to me and then started following my jazz piece with his piano keys. We both played along a while until it seemed like an appropriate place to stop…
The crowd went wild. I received all sorts of applause. I got the heck off that stage as fast as possible, after taking the customary bow with Mr. Backmeyer and after seeing that my Daddy and Nancy seemed fine with the tune.
Back stage, Mr. Backmeyer could not help but laugh. I laughed right along with them. We even went out and took another bow, or at least I am remembering such. All I know for sure is we pulled it off. It was the John Nelson version of Mark Twain’s “Royal Nunsuch,” straight out of Huckleberry Finn! And it worked. Mr. B asked me if I could play the same tune again. I laughed and shook his hand. I said something to the effect of, “Not until donkeys fly!”
It was one of the first times I remember that I realized I work better under pressure. That is why, in my opinion, my 16-page Southern Arkansas Magazine, is turning out to be much more entertaining to create for you than my 12 pager I created in 2013 was. It fills my schedule and challenges my talents. That is the best thing for John, and hopefully for you the reader.
I remember going home and telling my grandparents what happened. Sweet Jesus, I said, I simply went blank and then decided, what the heck, time to improvise. They too had a great laugh about it. I don’t remember whether I told Daddy and Nancy or not. If I did, I am sure I was somewhat embarrassed, but at any rate, we do what we must. At least that is the way I was raised.
The next big band memory was my first band camp. It was also my first time away from home, other than that occasional visit to Daddy’s house in Oklahoma, or before that Milwaukee, Wisc. And of course North Webster Church camp. That is worth a mention in another chapter. But now, for my favorite band memory, “It happened at Band Camp.”
To fully understand the wonderful relationship I had with this 65-member band, you just have to have a little background to how bad I wanted to go to that first band camp. I was 15 and had just been snipe hunting with Joni Woodward. That is the little curley headed gal I mentioned earlier, also a clarinet player. Now at band camp, I was playing the coronet. I switched ombisures and instruments for marching band to be heard more. Even as a writer of the written word today, I love it when we have a huge number on the site visits. It makes me think maybe someone is enjoying what I have to say.
But anyway, I was in first section trumpet, never first chair like on the clairinet. My trumpet playing buddies all had five or six years more experience than me and besides, I just did this when I marched.
Back to Joni. I promised my wife Michelle that I would not write anything dirty in our Christian based magazine, so I will not go into the full relationship. But I can tell you Joni and I were in puppy love and I could have done a lot worse than to love, honor and obey that gal. She was fantastic. We never married though. It was the era of, “If it feels good, do it,” so when I went to college on my own I started dating other women and eventually moved on to Elaine DeHart, my second serious girlfriend.
Again, back to the age of innocence. I was excited. I had kissed Joni snipe hunting and that was a thrill to me back then. She kissed back with a lot of enthusiasm and we went to the show pretty regular. We also spent a lot of time at each other’s houses. But band camp took our relationship to the next level, where it stayed for five great years. In short, our childhood relationship became accepted by our family members to the point where the term John and Joni was used a lot, instead of thinking of us as two people.
But just before band camp, about three years before my graduation so it had to be in 1974, I started dating this gal that was two years older than me. And we had big plans together for when we got away from home…
I was so excited about it I dropped a huge dresser drawer on my right big toe! I mean it was seriously messed up and horrible looking. I lost that toenail and it grew back funky. It is something I just looked at as I was writing this. Yes, it is a childhood folly that stuck with me this far in life an will probably always look funky and double-layered.
My folks suggested I go to the doctor and that I definitely needed to cancel my band camp plans. I did neither one. I had a date with Joni for some serious smooching and I was not going to let her down! We band folk left the next day for some 16-hour-day marching. This was actually my second band camp we are talking about. I knew the routine and still wanted to go – because of my heart-throb for Joni Michelle Woodward.
My first band camp, where I met a gal named Kelley Thompson, was a lot of fun too. But nothing compared to band camp number two. So we will go on with the Joni band camp story of 1974. It was everything my folks said it would be work wise, and I was a rank leader. That made it even more challenging.
I had a straight ranked file and I had a comical way of lining them up. I remember saying some word phrase akin to “Butts up!” and all of the five folks in rank formed a perfectly straight line for marching . Mr. B caught me doing that one time and remarked that my unique approach to life had not changed since that church audition a few years before. I smiled at him. Our rank actually won an award, despite the fact that I felt like my foot was going to fall off.
I think Brent Meadows actually got put down in the air duct the year before. He was good natured about it though. A group poured water on him and let him loose. It was so hot in Indianapolis that year and also the second time that water was definitely a good thing.
But all rabbits aside, Joni and I had a plan. She was going to sneak down to the boys floor and we were going to listen to eight track tapes after room inspection. My room mate, Grover Brower, a drummer, was part of the plan. Most of the band knew about this rendezvous, but nobody ratted us out.
We came up with some cock and bull story the next morning about how Joni had just wanted to borrow a couple of tapes and had only been in my room a few minutes. It was still a violation of rules. We waited for the axe to fall and Mr. B to send us home… He was no dummy. He knew she had not been in my room for just a few minutes. But what happens at band camp stays at band camp… just like in Vegas right?
He scolded us and told us there would be no more violations of the rules on his watch and then sent us back to our ranks and files. We did not chance any more get togethers that week, but the flood gates had been opened. After that week, for five years, it was never John. It was never Joni. It was always John and Joni.
We were kids and we from decent families. But we were in lust/love and that, as they say, was that. Yes, it was a band thing. And we stayed in band. She was there until her graduation in 1975 and me until mine in 1977. We never dated around. It was always John and Joni. I tried to date a couple of times, but somehow my innocence was in tact. She was my one and only those five years, and that was the way it stayed.
As for the band, they were my closet friends in high school. I can honestly say I had a love for each and every one of them. We played concert after concert, and marched in those hot uniforms every summer. We also played with frozen horns on the post office steps every Christmas as the Christmas carols bellowed out and the seasons passed.
We were in pep band too. I remember these giant sweet tarts, sort of salvo tablet sour treats, that I loved to eat as I watched my classmates play football and basketball. To me, it was only yesterday.
In Chapter 3, we will go into family memories during high school, both good and bad on the farm, and how life progresses for the John and Joni dating scenario. Every day was exciting back then. I was a young man in love and full of dreams to conquer the world.
Chapter 3, The Path I Took
When Grandma got sick…
By JOHN NELSON
Tailgate News Editor
Once Joni and I got back from band camp, life started to get into a routine. It was a healthy routine, as far as I was concerned.
My grandparents and her Mom accepted she and I as part of both families. I had a youth leader from church, Ron Close, who offered to put me on the management trainee course at Dana Corporation if I wanted to marry Joni straight out of high school. I considered the motion, but ended up going to Indiana University(IU) alone instead.
But when I first stated dating her, all I could think about was how cool it was to have a steady girlfriend. I never got over enjoying spending a lot of time with a girl. That is probably why I have been married to Michelle for 16 years as of this year. She and I just seem to fit together and I hope we always will. Back then, it was a different story. I was 15 and Joni was 17 and the advntures of youth were before us.
One of the points that stand out in my memory was my grandfather sending us to the doctor to make sure we did not start our family sooner than we planned. One thing I will say for my folks, they were practical but not condemning type souls.
My grandfather did encourage me to marry her after high school and assured me he would still pay for my college education. Grandma said I was too young to marry. I listened to her. Did I make a mistake? I guess I will never know. Joni was a wonderful girlfriend and would have probably made a wonderful wife. There was only one problem, Grandma was right, I was just too young to settle down.
I proved that by going ahead with my IU plans. I was one of those lucky folks who grew up in a time when many children got a chance to go to school. In the 2014 economy, college educations do not seem to be nearly as available. Maybe I just know too many working stiffs who can not seem to prioritize an education in order to have a more financially secure future doing something interesting instead of the same old thing, different day.
But this chapter is to be about high school memories. It is Superbowl Sunday as I write this. Joni was a Minnesota Viking fan. Back then, the star quarterback was Fran Tarkington and it was around 1975. She and Dean Charles, one of my best friends of all time, would watch the football games closer than me. They even went out alone once, but Dean brought her out to the farm and dropped her off. He felt so guilty. I felt sorry for him. Joni and I survived it. But in the end, we both screwed up the “puppy love marriage.”
It was the era of “if it feels good do it,” so she dated a little and then I dated a lot. But that does not take away from the five years of loyalty we had. She and I would go to band practice and then to the truck stop, nearly every fall week night. I always had the same thing to eat; a smoked sausage sandwich with cheese, on a hoogie bun with steak fries, thick and sliced…
THE EYE TWITCH
During the five years I was with Joni, plus those previous years when we were church friends, I had three attempted dates before my college days. One such date was with a cheerleader that had a twitch in her eye. I do not remember her name, Valerie I think. She had a shapely body but a really strange personality. Still, she liked me and that made band news…
I picked her up and she immediately started downing lime vodka. Then I decided to go parking at my Grandpa’s other farm, known as the Allen Place. I headed down Highway 1 and figured I could find the old farm. Unannounced to me, I was being followed by probably a dozen band cars. The Hagerstown High School Band was going to make sure me and this gal did not get into any trouble.
We got the Allen Place parking spot and she told me she was not in the mood for parking. She offered to get together later. I was disappointed to say the least. I do not remember if I kissed her. I probably did. But she was steadily sucking down the lime vodka. Then, on our way back to her house, she said, “Pull it over quick!” I looked in the rear view mirror and saw a line of cars pull over with us. My one-night-stand gal, with the twitching eye, was throwing up out of my passenger door. I heard about a dozen people honking. I was so embarrassed.
I took this lady home and headed to the truck stop. Joni and her mother, Buryl, were at our favorite booth already. The news of the messed up date had reached my childhood spouse. Joni and her mother were both busting a gut in laughter! Oh yes, high school days were a blast. I started laughing too. Laughing at myself comes hard at first, but then it always becomes much easier.
My two other attempts to explore what other ladies might be like back in high school went a little better. Elizabeth Williamson was a buddy’s sister and Cindy Miller rode my bus… One went to a movie with me. The other met me out at the Hagerstown Park for a bike ride and walk in the woods. But Joni and I somehow talked out our differnences and things got happy again for a couple of years. So much for puppy love in the life of John Hancock Nelson.
AT THE HOSPITAL
Another family memory, involving me, Grandpa and Grandma and Joni happened with my grandmother had a bleeding ulcer. My folks and I were at the supper table. I am not sure Joni had arrived for the evening just yet, but she got there before the ambulance came. Without warning, my grandmother grabbed her stomach and began to keel over. We called that ambulance and they got her loaded up. I remember talking with Joni, who wanted to ride to the hospital with us and my Dad, who said he would make the trip home to Indiana from Oklahoma as soon as possible to check on her.
We drove in silence in my Dodge Dart swinger. Grandpa rode up front and Joni in the back. It was about 35 minutes and we pulled into the hospital, Reid Memorial, in Richmond, Indiana. They were unloading Grandma and taking her into the surgery area.
Her doctor, Dr. Rex Henshaw, came out and talked with our family. We all prayed before Grandma went under the knife. She would have a third of her stomach removed and then live another 13 years. But at the time, it was eight long hours. Joni fell asleep in the waiting room after telling Grandpa and I everything was going to be all right. Grandpa and I stayed awake and worried.
He told me the story of how they met at a dance in Grundy County, Illinois. I listened in silence. Tears were in his old eyes. It was 1975 and they had been married since 1918. Joni had smiled at him and told him it would be all right just before curling up and falling asleep. She looked so peaceful. And yes, Joni Michelle Woodward was very easy on my eyes. But my priority was not to be there for my girlfriend that night.
It was to be there for Grandpa and there I was; all eight hours of that grueling operation.
Finally, the doctor came out of surgery and found me and the old man, sitting on pins and needles, both looking like sleep could take a hike for the next week!
Dr. Henshaw said, “Marvel is going to be OK. I had to remove a lot of her stomach, but I got the bleeding stopped and I made her a smaller one. She will have to eat more often and have smaller meals, but it will probably be easier to keep excess weight off. I anticipate a full recovery.”
I could have kissed him. My grandfather shook his hand and thanked him profusely. Grandma would be in recovery for awhile, but then we could see her. On October 31, 1988, I faced her death. She was 92. Grandpa lasted until the following January. In the first month of that year, my grandfather went to be with the Lord at the age of 96. They said he had the healthy body of a 64 year old man, but that he died of a broken heart…
So as the song says, “I come from a long line of love. And indeed, when things get tough, we don’t give up.” As I may have mentioned, I have been married four times. My view is if something is worth doing, it is worth doing until you get it right. My current wife Michelle and I have had 16 years of wedded bliss, as of this writing, that is if we make it until Sept. 19 without me running off with a Playboy model! My bet is we will be just fine. I subscribe to the theory that the secret to remaining married is getting two imperfect people together who refuse to give up on each other.
As for the old days, it took me a long time to learn the consideration it takes to keep a spouse interested in continuing to share a home with me. As my daughter Kelley said many years later, “My Daddy can get a date easy. It is keeping a girl that he finds to be a challenge.”
Oh well. She was right in my younger days, but I have high hopes this go around.
My grandfather and I took Grandma home in a few days after her ulcer operation and things got back to normal for awhile back there in 1975. Then Joni graduated and went off to Ball State University to college. That is when things really started to get hard as far as maintaining puppy love goes.
She took on a job as a theater hand, setting up stages for plays and got acquainted with an actor type fellow named Ron.
All I can remember was she told me he brought her a bottle of wine and it fell out of his hands on her step when he attempted to knock on her door.
She did not end up with Ron. He was just a stone in our road. But the trust had been broken for both of us now and one thing you can count on in life is trust is very hard to rebuild.
Chapter 4: Florida Days
When Joni and I broke up, after about a year in college and some other adventures to New York and California for brief stints, something happened to me. I got the traveling fever.
In the spring of 1978, before I had a chance to finish that second semester of full-time college at Indiana University, I decided I wanted to see what life would be like if I just took off on my own. Sure, it was a sabbatical from my goals, but looking back, it was worth it.
I began a journey that would continue sporadically for about two years before finally settling back in to school full time and finishing that college degree in August of 1982. But this chapter is from 1978 until about 1980 and is probably better titled, “Florida Days.”
I loaded up a U-Haul trailer with all of my earthly possessions from an IU dorm room in March of 1978, cranked up an old Neil Young eight-track tape called, “This is Nowhere,” and headed for the Sunshine state down Interstate 75.
I really had no idea where I was going. I just knew I was not ready for college in my known world until I knew a little bit more about what the world at large had to offer – and how I would react without so much structure in my life.
I had turned 19 December 24 of 1977. Wow, and here all of these years I was a year amiss if we are correct now. Yes, I was 18 at high school graduation in May of 1977 so I would have had to turn 19 and headed to Florida for the first time in March of 1978. That would account for the two years I have always remembered of adventures before settling down in the spring of 1980.
At any rate, Florida was in front of me. My background was behind me, but I still had an umbilical chord to my grandparents. I called them every night I was down there.
My grandfather’s wisdom and my respect for him probably made the difference between coming out of that place alive, as I obviously did, verses dying at the wrong end of a gun.
When I hit the Florida state line, I pulled into a small town, Ocala I believe, and found a park. I have always loved parks.
I had my old beach guitar in the car and a song in my heart. I did not really know where I was going or what I would do, but I figured I would have to come home when my savings ran out or I ran out of work.
Wow, Florida was beautiful. The palm trees were so pretty and the seagulls looked like they do in the movies.
I enjoyed the sounds of nature and just resting there a bit before getting back in my 1974 Dodge Dart Swinger, slant six, to continue the journey.
I took a side road that said Sara Sota, 300 miles or so. I really don’t remember what else the sign said. I just decided I would head toward Sara Sota and find a small town near the beach to get some sort of a place to live.
I ended up renting a trailer in an orange grove in a town called Arcadia. It was a rodeo town and a place where migrant workers came to pick oranges every year. The trailer was empty because it was the off season.
My landlord was nice enough. I remember moving enough of my stuff in to feel at home that first night, but there was no lights yet so it was a bit frightening as I read the Bible by flashlight.
Then I heard some weird rustling of pages when I turned out the light. I clicked the flashlight back on to discover roaches bigger than I had ever seen in my life! Everything in Florida grows big. I suppose tropical climates are good for them.
The next day the old guy I rented the trailer from sprayed it down for the pests and hauled 16 of them out of there. I was not unhappy to see them go.
I went to town and got lights, gas and water on, and then went back to the trailer to be sure all was in order. I asked the landlord if I could eat the oranges from the trees in the yard and smiled. He said sure, to enjoy them.
After playing my music on the porch and eating a couple of oranges, I got told to keep it down if the windows were open in the trailer. I agreed. I don’t recall ever having any more criticism from the landlord after that.
I drove into town and started looking around. I found this Trailways bus station, where I called my last girlfriend at IU, a curly black haired gal named Becky Cook. She was the police chief’s daughter there in Bloomington, Indiana and a great looking woman. I asked her to come to Florida. She said she would love to but had too many things holding her in school…
The bus station owner overheard my conversation with Becky and saw the disappointment on my face.
He smiled at me and offered his hand.
“My name is Al,” he said. “I own this bus station and do a little preaching at my church on Sundays. It is just outside of town if you would care to join us.”
I told him I would and did so. The bus station business was sort of at a lull and so Al and I had occasion to have a lot of long talks during the next few weeks.
He invited me to join him in a business called Amway. I did that and ended up delivering products for him to earn a weekly salary for a while.
Then I met Alice. Alice was 36 and I was 19. I used to tell people her name was Alice Hyatt. Truthfully, I don’t recall ever knowing her last name, even though we lived together for more than a year. She was just Alice and one of the nicest people I have ever met.
She came into the station and announced that she had a Dodge Dart also. Hers was white with a black top. She said since we drove the same kind of car, I should give her the key to my trailer and let her start cooking supper.
To Al’s surprise, I gave her the key and told her I would be home around 6. Al thought I was crazy. It was a rather bold move, looking back. But Alice was as good as her word. She was a great cook and so the next day she decided to move in with me.
I don’t ever recall arguing with her. Before I came home to Indiana to finish college, she asked me to marry her. I could have done a lot worse. She may have been older, but she was pretty, resourceful, easy to work with and definitely somebody I have always been glad that I knew.
She told me she had been raised Pentecost and rebelled at an early age. After getting pregnant and giving her son to her parents to raise, Alice had gone to Los Angeles, California to try her hand at being a stripper.
She loved it. And with her jovial personality and looks, I bet she got a lot of tips from the guys. However, as fate would have it, she fell off the stage one night and broke her leg.
This caused her to move back home for recuperation and to make a new plan. She told her son she was his older sister, at her parents insistence.
Alice joined me in the Amway business and we went to a lot of upbeat sales meetings. Al had us convinced with hard work we could achieve great success.
In reality, he kept me going at about $250 a week for the deliveries so he could draw Amway, multi-level marketing circles and recruit new people under him.
Like any sales job, it would have taken time and hard work, but it was an honest occupation and I could have probably developed my own wing of it to make the serious money in a few years.
But there were other distractions. Al introduced me to some of the wilder side of Florida. I was a drinker and so I introduced myself to the local night club, known as the Hitch N’ Post, located between Arcadia and the Sara Sota beaches.
It was there that I met night club owner Buddy Brewer, who was also a “Freedom Fighter.” I gave that name to the guys who fought white slavery by putting away abusive pimps and getting young girls out of the strung-out prostitute bear trap. I started using my sales ability to help that group at night rather that keeping my mind on building an Amway business.
It seemed OK with Al. He felt sorry for those girls caught up in drugs and prostitution just like I did. Between Al and Buddy, I became what was known back in the day as a “spinner.”
A spinner was a guy who would go to a strip bar, strike up a conversation with a pimp and pretend to be a pimp himself. I was told beforehand about a girl wanting to go home to her parents. You see, the prostitution racket was one thing, but these abusive pimps hyped the girls up on heroin in order to get 10 tricks a day out of a girl that should have been doing no more than four tricks without the drugs.
The 10-trick druggie prostitutes burned out fast. Some had respectable parents who wanted them back home and enough sense to tell a Freedom Fighter about their situations.
I usually went into the club, met the girl briefly that wanted out and then sat up at the bar, as I was instructed. Pretty soon the pimp would come up to me and ask me if I thought that little girl I was talking to was pretty? I would tell him sure I did.
Then the spin would begin. Cops had tape recorders on us as he tried to get me to pay for the hooker. I explained to him that I was in the whore business too and was just being nice when I talked to “his property.”
This line usually brought a smile to a pimp’s face. Degrading a woman as if she were a hound dog was their way of doing business. I had been an A student for the most part in high school and college. So I caught on pretty quick as to what to say to get the guy to open up with me about just how big an operation he had and how many tricks a day he was getting from his ladies.
I would get them laughing and joking, doing what I called a Jim Croce act. Croce was a popular singer at the time. And yes, I had been told the deal. I realized this was a combined effort by the police and the local mafia to get these greedy pimps out of the prostitution racket. They were bad for mob business and they made the police look bad because so many of the girls before us spinners got going ended up going home to their parents in a box.
I worked the “Gilded Cages,” a Florida term for strip bars, night after night. The Freedom Fighters called me Tygar, a Seminole Indian name that a few folks still call me to this day. It was strongly rumored that Al was affiliated with the Tampa mob. He as much as told me so.
But Al was my boss and my friend and probably had just as big of a hand in keeping me alive as my nightly calls to Grandpa. My grandfather, in his younger days, had a close association with the John Dillinger gang and he knew a lot of the old timer gangsters in Florida.
Wow, there is so much more to tell. We will have to call the next chapter of “the Path I Took,” Florida Heated Adventures. But I as a reasonably good farm boy. I was loyal to Alice while down there and I was honest with my boss at all times.
I met him every night at his church to let him know how the spinning was going and to get schooled on how to survive the racket I found myself getting deeper and deeper involved with. I could go back there to this day and probably find a nitch as a spinner, or rather its modern-day, high tech equivalent. But I am sure high tech has changed a lot of things. But Florida was more than just shell games. Florida, between 1978 and 1980 was when Johnny the boy became Johnny the man – not necessarily an all good man, but a man just the same.
Chapter 5: Barking at the Moon
In the last chapter, I set you the scene for my 2-year life in the state of Florida. I didn’t tell you about the slices of life that mattered more than all of the drama.
Here is the deal. I had the long-time relationship with Joni for five years and then Elaine for about a year and a half, but settling down was really not in my veins. Searching for my “soul mate” was. But in the meantime, there was Alice. She was a good friend, a good room mate if you will and an overall good partner in personal life and in business.
But I was looking for that spark that never came. Actually, it did come to me twice years later, but like the lighter that goes out from lack of lighter fluid, those sparks went out too… The beauty, however, is both seem to have the potential to be re-lit. Even so, just like when I was a child, I wonder if that perfect, God-send, soul mate might be just over the next hill.
As I get older, it no longer bothers me nearly as bad. I have discovered, through my now 55 years of life as I write this to you, that what I sought in Florida, I still seek every day. And some days, I find it in the eyes of my dear sweet wife Michelle. Other days, I feel like I am so lonely for that spark that Michelle or no other woman could fill the loneliness void. It is those days that I pray a lot, walk with God even more and listen, as one of my sermons said.
Sometimes, when we bark and moan, silence on our part is the only cure. That silence gives God the opening to respond to our loneliness, grief, disappointment, despair or whatever other dark side human experience we happen to be going through at the time.
It was on one such occasion that God responded to me when Alice walked into my life. As I say, she apparently knew Al, as I believe I recall them smiling at one another when she walked into the bus station that day.
In the last chapter, I told you how Alice said she had been watching me go in and out of the trailer park in my beige Dodge Dart. She had a car of the same make and model. It was even a rag top like mine, but her Dart was white with a black top… The night she invited herself to live with me was a blast. I really did believe there might be a spark there at first.
The Bible says marrying a friend is the best way anyway, as there is no greater love than he who lays his life down for a friend. That may be an admittedly twisted interpretation. But the bottom line is, to live with someone, lay down with them every night and hold them close to you, a man and a woman in that situation had better be a lot more than physically compatible.
The years have taught me the mental capability is at least as important as the physical attraction. But whatever life has taught me, whether it was Alice, Linda in Texas who was my next girlfriend, or my four wives of later years, you can fit together like a hand in a glove with a woman and still not feel that spark when you enter the room with her.
Chasing yet another rabbit, before we return to life in Florida, I have always told my kids that relationships between the opposite sex are either a business deal or true love. You can build a good life either way. But when God gives you a spark, you never forget it. And when you see her, even years later, and you hold each other forever in the middle of a public store, that spark comes up out of both of your souls in all of its glory. Some live with it between them and their life-long mate every day. Me, at least I did experience it, twice.
I probably won’t be writing chapters on those two experiences. Some things are too wonderful to put into words and even too private for me to share. Suffice to say, both ladies were the cat’s meow in this Tygar’s mind. My conclusion on sparks is simple; shut up about such magnetic love experiences and simply thank God for not forgetting to allow you to feel them.
That was the whole point of Florida back in the day; to learn to feel life’s experiences and then to return to my educational pursuits and writing career for the right reason – because it was what I truly wanted to do.
PICKING A MATE
Living with Alice was a trip. That is a phrase from back then. It simply means life with Alice was fun and I learned a lot from her being 17 years my senior. But that ended up being my reason for not marrying her. I wanted someone younger and someone I could have babies with. I needed a different business deal. Looking back, she was still young enough she could have had my children.
To my knowledge, there was no reason why she could not have. The truth was I was still fascinated with being the county stud back then. Like a wolf that had eaten a few pieces of steak from a grill, that wolf wanted more.
To date, I have had nearly 40 close relationships with the opposite sex. I told a friend of mine the other day the reason I kept trying was if something was worth doing it was worth learning how to do right. My current wife and I will be on anniversary 16 this Sept. 19. Michelle is a keeper, not that several of the other 40 were not keepers too. But apparently that settling down gene had not grown inside my head until my current wife came along. She is easy on the eyes, accomplished and yet reserved enough to put up with my continued effort to grow up.
Back in the day, when Alice was in her shoes, Alice was every bit as good of a woman. The problem with Alice and John was that John was not very good husband material at the time. I had wild oats to sew and a spark to search for. Back then, I believed the spark of “google eyes” true love would be enough to keep me with the sparker forever. It was not.
But the friendship and love life I had with Alice could have lasted to date, just as the life I have built with Michelle seems to be on solid ground. Alice and Michelle remind me a lot of each other. I have no way to know what the future holds, but I will say about my current wife what I said to you a bit earlier about Alice of Florida, she is good for me. And I pray I am good for her.
ME AND ALICE
Now I am done musing, back to Florida. The year was 1979. Yes I know. John gets all mixed up on times, dates etc. but listen. So far, if you will be patient, those memories do come back accurately. This time I will venture a timetable guess like this. I went to New York and California that first year, 1977-78. Then in the spring of 1978, I came back to Indiana University with Elaine DeHart under my arm. We lived together that spring in college and then we got back together that summer in Hagerstown and New Castle before heading down to Memhis, Tenn. to take a class or two at Memphis State University and enjoy each other a little more.
Then I returned to IU. Elaine did too but we broke up that fall of 1978, as I wanted to date around. I also dated Elaine still from time to time. And Leslie, Beth and others. The last, once again, was Becky Cook, the police chief’s daughter, which I spent time with just before going to Florida in the spring of 1979. I could go back and rewrite that last chapter, but no need. We just did.
Getting back on an accurate and more chronological track, waking up with Alice in Florida was a pleasure. She was the most sensual woman I had known, at least up until that time. She did mean a lot to me, and had I been a more mature guy, I would by golly have married Alice. Of course, I would have had to learn her last name to do so.
A typical morning in Florida involved enjoying my room mate, then going out on the porch and peeling oranges while she made me bacon and eggs for breakfast. Then I would go to the bus station to pick up the day’s Amway product order for delivery and to talk with Al about learning how to “draw circles” for the sales end of that business.
From there, I would go to Buddy Brewer’s Hitch N’ Post to talk with some folks about helping those trapped in the drug abusive prostitution rings. Of course, before leaving for such a day, I always kissed dear Alice goodbye and assured her I would make it home to her that night. She used to get a bit nervous about that, smoking cigarettes until I got in. Oh how my old heart goes out to that good woman. I used to say I was a man with few regrets. Well folks, I regret having treated her so matter of factly. She deserved so much better than my younger self. And I sincerely hope she found it in life after our season was over.
THE FAKE OUT
Ok, so some folks like tales of the love lorn and some don’t. This next incident is a tale of my work in Florida, that is as a spinner of yarns to help those girls who believed themselves trapped forever.
I came into the Hitch N’ Post one day, after delivering Amway, and sat down with Buddy Brewer. He seemed a bit nervous for some reason and said, “Tygar, can I get you a margarita on me?”
I smiled and said sure. He ordered one for himself as well and we sat there enjoying our tequila. I noticed a couple of “Freedom Fighters” at the pool tables. I called them Michigan Fred and Pistol Pete from Texas. I have no clue what their real names were.
But they were loyal to me in 1979 and 1980. As was the older, more conservative, black gentleman I used to call Alfonso. They were just there, so to speak. I did talk to Alfonso for quite a spell on an airplane once and I got used to the other guys being around. They went where I went. I suppose some higher ranking officer in the police department or the Tampa mob made sure I was not alone very much.
I used to tell Alice I did not feel like the work day had gotten off to much of a start unless a dozen or so motors cranked just after I fired up the old sewing machine engine, slant six under my Dodge Dart hood. But that night, Buddy had something to say and he was not in a very good mood.
“I have a girl I want you to help Ty.” “Will you do it?” he asked. I smiled and asked if he thought my abilities could do her any good and he said yes. I asked for an explanation of what was going on. He said he would just have to explain on the way. He was playing with a pair of scissors. He knew I carried a knife but no gun. I did not want to be tempted to commit murder.
We walked outside of the club and I saw Cowboy. Cowboy was a wild gangster who had a bunch of men following him in pick-up trucks with rifles in the back window. I had on my trench coat that my grandmother had bought me. I still had my passport from my European trip I took back in high school in the inside lining.
Cowboy had a girl in the truck with him. She had a pair of cutoff shorts on with a tie up top that was more off than on her breasts. I could see her “Alice Cooper” lines, as her mascara had been running down her cheeks. Buddy told me she was one of his whores, but that she had a year and a half year old baby and needed to come get her kid and go to the house for some shut eye.
Buddy was said to be a pimp too, but a traditional one. Not one to put the women on a mountain of snow (heroin). He said her name was Candy. He showed me the little boy playing inside the club before we went out there. Cowboy was drunk. And his gang was about that way too.
“Can you help her Ty?” Buddy asked. I thought quickly of a spin that might work to free Candy. I realized at the time it would be considered a crime by the legitimate law. I include it here based on my suspicion that it would be hard to prove what I am about to reveal and also on the statute of limitations on such a deed. And of course, it might have never happened. After all, I am such a mixed up old guy. Heck, I temporarily forget that one year with Elaine, Beth and Becky. And of course Leslie…
OK, here is the skinny of it. Me, or somebody who looked one heck of a lot like me, walked out to where Cowboy had Candy in the pick-up.
Cowboy said, “Yo Tygar. I don’t want no trouble with you and you need to go back inside. I am going to get a few more rides out of this old gal before I let her go. She is a really fantastic little whore.”
The girl looked scared to death. I started the spin.
“Cowboy, I know you think I am independent and that my assignments are not to get regular whores away from regular clients, but this girl and you not being willing to release her leaves me no other choice but to reveal to you one of my most guarded secrets.
“With your permission, I want to show you something. It is not a gun, but can I reach in my pocket and bring out a little booklet?”
Cowboy’s face looked amused. He nodded at his shooters and they pointed a half of a dozen rifles straight at me. The girl looked terrified as he fondled her and started to ignore me.
I reached for the passport and brought it out in plain site, slowly holding up the United States eagle seal on the document’s cover.
I shouted, “LIsten to me Cowboy. You see this seal. I am a United States federal agent now. If you kill me, they will be on you and yours like ugly on an ape. Now we have been friends on the road. All I am supposed to do today is get that woman back with her kid and give her a chance to hang up her whore boots for some legal line of work. I don’t want you and the boys busted but if you force my hand, I too have guns around here.
After all, this is Buddy’s place and you know the mob and the cops have been banning together to help young whores change their lives.”
The spin sobered him up. It was delivered with as authentic of a voice tone as I could muster. Then I stood there, holding up the passport and staring into the eyes of my woman-hungry friend.
He knew who and what I was, the grandson of the body double of John Dillinger who had robbed 18 banks in 1934 and got away with the money and the robberies…
He looked at his boys and motioned for them to stand down. The rifles were dropped. He opened the pick-up truck door, lifted the whore like she was a sack of rabbit pellets and threw Candy at my chest. The poor woman was sobbing.
“Now get on with it Cowboy. Go have dinner with the boys somewhere and I will see you down the trail,” I told him. He tipped his hat and said, “Later Tygar. Be careful out there and thanks for not bringing the law down on my ass.”
I nodded. He fired up his 350 Silverado engine and he and the rest of the Cowboys headed down the road.
Buddy had come on up behind me while I was still starring down Cowboy. I turned my attention to the lady I had just freed from his clutches and to Buddy. I carried Candy inside and placed her on a couch. When she calmed down, Buddy brought her the little boy.
They were playing peacefully while Buddy and I retook our seats at the bar. He asked me if I realized impersonating a federal officer carried a five to 10 year sentence in the penitentiary? I said I knew it but somebody had to help Candy. He slapped my back.
“Dillinger,” was all he said…
Chapter 6: My grandfather’s Dillinger story…
By JOHN NELSON
Tailgate News Editor
Since the last chapter ended with a friend in Florida comparing me to a known gangster of the 1930’s, I want to describe the reasons why I remembered the end of the day rescuing “Candy” with the Dillinger name being mentioned.
Like every boy, I had to be raised by someone. My grandfather, John Hans Nelson, 1892 to 1989, was a hard working farmer, a family man and a story teller in his own right. I recognize that everything he implied, and/or told me about John Dillinger, the Robin Hood criminal of the early 1930’s, as possibly being Grandpa’s own fiction novel.
I make no claim that any of the following material is gospel. I do, however, make the claim, that to my knowledge it is true. I have come to that conclusion after years of pondering what happened. So, in order for the curious reader to understand why I am who I am, he or she needs to know what I was told as a child.
FIRST MENTION OF JOHNNY D
I was about my own grandson Josh’s age, or maybe a year or two younger, when my grandfather first started telling me about the legendary John Dillinger AKA Jack Rabbit AKA Public Enemy #1. I was about 6 to 8 years old I suppose (my Josh is 7 as I write this) when I went back to Warfle’s woods, carrying a beebee gun. Grandpa and I were hunting rabbits in the snow. Warfles woods was about 20 acres of woodland just next to our 80-acre farm out on State Road 38, by Hagerstown, Indiana.
On the back 40 of the corn and soybean farm was a group of roadsters from the early 1930’s. Everyone of them had riveted holes all through their front doors and some of the windows also appeared to be busted out. I walked by those old cars in silence for awhile. The year was somewhere around 1969 so those cars had been there for sometime. But finally, curiosity got the best of me.
“Grandpa,” I asked, “Where did all of those holes come from in those cars?” His answer was, “A long time ago there was an ancient machine gun known as the Tommy Gun. The police put those holes in those cars when I had to leave town in a hurry. They were trying to stop me, and folks like me, with showers of machine gun fire.”
I asked my grandfather when all of this happened. He said it took place during the bank robbery days of a Moresville, Indiana man named John Dillinger. Or at least that is who the papers said did the bank robbing.
I did not know much about things like that back then so I did not ask any more questions. But every time I went back to the woods to hunt squirrels, I checked out those bullet holes in those old 1933 roadsters just a little closer…
EIGHTH GRADE HISTORY CLASS
Between 7 years old and 14, there is time for a lot of conversations between a boy and his Grandpa. I was in 4-H, heard stories about a bad year of farming when the cholera took everyone of my Grandfather’s hogs and about how Grandpa went back to pool sharking to make her a living that year and make enough money to buy starter hog crop. And of course, I heard about him studying up on how to treat the cholera so the disaster never happened again. Hogs was where the Indiana farm money was. They sent Daddy to medical school and me to journalism school. I love hogs. Can you blame me?
But something was not adding up. I mean there was not a safe full of 20 dollar bills to be made pool sharking for 18 months, or was there?
Grandpa never would answer that question with anything but a rather sinister smile. He would go on to say it was easy to get feed and seed delivered for him in the 1930’s because he had the money in the safe to pay for things…
I finally asked him what sort of currency was common in those banks that Dillinger robbed? He smiled and said they mostly kept money in 20’s back then.
He would talk of how Johnny Dillinger always started a robbery by shining his blue eyes at the people behind the counter of the bank, wheeling up a Tommy gun and saying, “My name is John Dillinger and I am here to rob your G.. Da.. bank!”
It was part of the Dillinger signature. The element of surprise was planned and on the gang’s side for 18 robberies, all over Indiana and Illinois, for a year and a half. Once, he said, Dillinger was caught. But they sent him to Joliet State Penitentiary on a robbery and assault only to become discouraged when the gang helped break him out.
Dillinger thought on his feet, so my grandfather said. His theory was if he told another soul about his plans the cat would be out of the bag. So he thought on his feet and he asked a trash truck driver if that truck were pretty easy to drive when the guards had let him and his cell mates out in the yard to exercise. Johnny D. hit that guard with his huge fist and got in that trash truck and drove. Bugsy Malone, Baby Faced Nelson and a few others in the gang were waiting outside to get Johnny to safety. He stormed the prison gates in that big trash truck and kept going!
The banks were being robbed again after that. It seemed the most successful bank robber in history liked the dance halls. He visited a blonde beauty in Chicago and some say he was sweet on her. The couple, others say, looked like a farm couple from over here next to Moreland, Indiana, some 100 miles from Mooresville where Dillinger was raised.
Then he would break, smile and go back to reading his newspaper. My first thought was my grandfather was John Dillinger… In later years, I would find out I was probably partially right. The biological John Dillinger was a brown-eyed, 5’6″ farm boy who was a good mechanic and good with his hands all together. Other than the height, and the fact that the 6’0′ Dillnger robbing the banks had blue eyes, the two farm-boy mechanics walked the same, talked the same and met each other in a desperate need for an ala bye person – probably in a Chicago bar where Grandpa was hustling pool about the time John Herbert Dillinger showed up for a drink after being released from prison.
John Herbert Dillinger, baseball player and married man from Mooresville, robbed that town’s grocery store, or at least tried to do so, and went to jail for eight years. When he got out, his wife was divorcing him and there was no work to be found under the Dillinger name. If only he could put that bad name to use.
He met a girl in Chicago named Birdie Lawrence, who said she loved the name Jimmy. Birdie was also a flapper, just like the bank robber’s main squeeze Marvel. A flapper was a girl who worked in a speak easy, illegal night club that served alcohol. Birdie smoked Chesterfield cigarettes and drank coke with real cocaine in it, just like Marvel did. Jimmy Lawrence, AKA John Herbert Dillinger, and Birdie wanted to be farmers. A trade out idea came to John Herbert and John Hans. John Herbert and Birdie would live on the Nelson farm in Hagerstown for a couple of years while John Hans gathered money to go back into farming his own land after that…
It was a time of wildness for their generation. But let us go back to Hagerstown, Indiana when I was 14. You see, I knew a little more about the Dillinger gang and how John Hans Nelson met and made a deal with John Herbert Dillinger with each passing year.
But I wanted to know if John Hans, who swore his name was Nelson, was somehow the man asking banks for the their G.D. money.
I came in from school and found my old man sitting in his favorite rocking chair, reading the newspaper. I immediately started a verbal jabb on him to see what information came out. In Florida, I explained to the Freedom Fighters this technique is best described as “drawing fire.”
I said to Grandpa, “Grandpa, I did a term paper on John Dillinger and looked all sorts of information up in the dictionary and Brutannica encyclopedia. But some of it did not agree with what you said happened.”
This made the old man drop his newspaper to the floor, sit with his elbows on his bony knees in those overalls, and say, “Like what?”
I said, “Well for one thing, it said Baby Faced Nelson shot a deputy during a robbery. You said the robberies came off with no real wounding gun play.”
Grandpa got mad. He stood up and started calling Baby Faced Nelson a low-IQ sorry SOB that could not follow a damn order no matter how hard he tried. He called Nelson trigger happy and uncontrollable. Grandpa had been a straight A student in school and you might be surprised how eloquently he could talk to you if he really wanted your attention.
Grandpa also spoke Indiana farmer’s ease, a crude form of cussing where those who participate are supposed to invent the most vulgar ways to talk known to man. He was good at this. So am I.
“When Nelson shot that deputy, I fired him, I fired him quick see because innocent bloodshed was not what I wanted. I wanted to shift the economy a bit and give the working man a chance to hold up his head and be proud somebody was protesting governmental regulations. Too many rules strangled too many little men. But as to Baby Face, always remember he is no blood relative of ours. He was a killer and I had to get rid of him. We were there to get $100,000 a bank and get out. (the takes varied according to history but $100,000 was what the federal government insured at the time) That’s all.”
I looked at him and said, “You fired Baby Face Grandpa? I thought Dillinger did that (gotcha I thought to myself).” He looked at me, got real quiet and went back to reading his newspaper.
From time to time, we would talk of a robbery. He seemed to know the details of every move Dillinger had made. Then I was watching television late one night and caught a special on the gangster. It showed an old clip of him being arrested in Kendleville, Indiana, on his second and final incarceration.
The television reporter asked the robber, “Mr. Dillinger, I understand you give part of these 20’s to widow women in their back yards. Is that true?”
The robber turned to him, as he was unloading his pockets and pulled out a pocket-watch that looked strangely familiar. I had seen one just like it packed away in the drawers of the living room cabinet on many occasion.
“Yes, I like to help people who would work if they could. But our government won’t see fit to concentrate on that so somebody has to feed them. The government steals money from the people through high taxes. I take that money from the federally insured banks and give it back to the people who should have had it in the first place,” he said. “But tonight, all of that ends. These coppers got my pocket-watch, my money and the worst part is I had a date later tonight with my best girl. Well, at least I will have a bed to sleep in.”
Laughter followed. I swear the guy in that movie was the spitting image of a young John Hans Nelson. The rest of that story, according to my grandfather, and according to what history I have been able to uncover, was that “Mr. Dillinger” somehow got a hold of a prison knife (shank) and carved a bar of soap in the shape of a pistol. Then he waited for his supper in that city jail. A black man was in there with him, smiling and keeping real quiet.
Officer friendly brought the food and Dillinger asked him what was going on in that front office? He said he thought he heard someone coming in the front. The officer turned and Dillinger pushed the soap to his neck.
“Now give me those keys copper.” “Sure Johnny,” he said. “Just don’t get excited.” Dillinger and the black fellow left the jail without further ado, locking Officer friendly in his own jail. Rumor has it the man later said he was honored to have had John Dillinger escape from his jail. Again, from that day on, the blue-eyed bank robber, with the jovial laugh, never got caught again.
The black fellow that was in there with him went and got drunk in an Indianapolis bar and bragged about escaping. He was subsequently collared by the coppers and returned to his cage.
Allegedly, John Dillinger was killed in front of the Biograph Theater somewhere around July of 1934, in a hail of Tommy gun bullets fired by federal agents working for J. Edgar Hoover, then head of the FBI. Hoover’s top agent was there firing as well. His name was Melvin Purvis. But when the corpse was turned over, it was strangely short… about 5’6″ and the eyes on that corpse were brown. Fingerprints revealed it was John Herbert Dillinger all right. His father, and sister Audrey Hancock, claimed the body and took it back to Indiana for burial.
Ironically, Audrey Hancock was my biological mother’s maiden name as well.
Years later, Grandpa would tell this story and hint at a conversation where he talked to J. Edgar Hoover. He said his best friend in life was Lawrence Hoover, a fellow fisherman. He said the name Jimmy Lawrence was the alias John Herbert Dillinger used when he hoped to run away with his fiance Birdie Lawrence to raise their child on his share of the bank robbery booty. For you see, the biological Dillinger got a share of the money for loaning his “bad name” to an Indiana farmer with a “good name” so that good name could come back to society after the robberies were over.
But Jimmy Lawrence, AKA John Herbert Dillinger, had his face altered to avoid a connection with the very similar face of John Hans Nelson, AKA Johnny Dillinger… The face looked different but a lady in red ratted out John Herbert Dillinger to avoid being sent back to Hungary. Dillinger was going to go out on a date with Birdie. The lady in red, his land lady, wanted to go along, so the couple said sure.
When the lady dressed in red stood next to John Herbert Dillnger, the fireworks from the feds began. After the killing of John Herbert Dillinger, our Mr. Hoover got a very provocative telephone call from a bank robber.
“This is John Hans Nelson Mr. Hoover,” my grandfather allegedly said. “Yes John, what can I do for you?”
“I am the one who robbed your GD 18 banks, not that unfortunate stooly you shot.”
Hoover’s end of the phone went silent. Then he spoke, “Your name is Nelson sir, not Dillinger. We have no arrest warrants for you. We suggest you go back to your farming lifestyle and enjoy your life. We have a depression on and rumor has it you have a little money saved. The public needed a dead John Dillinger. We gave them one. We solved the case and the public can now move on. Have a great life Mr. Nelson.”
It is said that Melvin Purvis, in his follow-up research kept thinking about the blue eyes verses the brown eyes and how short the victim in Chicago looked compared to the man who escaped Joliet Penitentiary. When he was satisfied what happened, and figured out what J. Edgar Hoover had already accepted as a deal, Purvis knew the wrong man had been shot. The discouraged Melvin Purvis then shot himself…
Grandpa always said a man who would kill himself just took life too seriously and must have had bad nerves…
THE BOAT CONFESSION
When I was 15, some more of the Dillinger story came out. Most of what I just wrote came my way in pieces years later. But here is an actual account of something “old blue eyes” had to say to his grandson.
We had been showing rabbits at the Wayne County Fair, so it must have been August. I suppose it was around 1975. I can not remember if I had started going with my high school sweetheart Joni yet, but if we have our dates right that “honey moon” band camp had just happened that summer. Maybe Grandpa thought of me as more of a man than before.
At any rate, he grew his mustache out and went to the fair. I looked at it in surprise. Sometimes, he said, I like to dress up like the old days. The fisherman afore mentioned, Lawrence Hoover, had just died. We had went by Mabel’s home. She was Lawrence’s wife. Looking back, knowing what I know now, I wonder if the man Lawrence Hoover was John Herbert Dillinger and Birdie Lawrence’s son? It would make sense.
Grandpa said if you wanted to hide, stay right under the nose of the law. They usually did not look there…
I had read, while researching my afore mentioned history paper, that John Herbert Dillinger always wore a mustache. Historical photos proved that out. So it would make sense that the body double would want to grow a mustache…
I did not mention any of this at the fair, but rather looked my Grandpa dead in the eye, and asked, “Tell me the truth, are you John Dillinger?”
The old man gave me that smile of his and said once a secret was shared with even one other human being it was all of a sudden public knowledge.
Later that day, he invited me to go fishing at the Scout Lake there in Hagerstown. I accepted. I always accepted. He was my hero and best friend. My girl Joni loved my grandparents too. She had to if she was going to be my girl…
So there we were, me and him, row boating around the lake in silence, casting rubber worms under tree branches in an attempt to snag a big bass. And we did too, every now and then. Then I would go back to worm fishing and work on filling up the bucket with blue gills and red ear.
I was not really thinking about my question about Dillinger, as I figured the old man just did not want to admit it or else it was a lie he would just as soon not explain. But all of a sudden, he started talking. And this is what he had to say.
“My name is Nelson. My best friend’s name was Lawrence Hoover. It was taken from the two names of Jimmy Lawrence (AKA John Herbert Dillinger) and J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI leader from back when I was young. These men did me a favor back then. I wanted to farm bad boy and I had lost my hogs to the cholera and what little money I had. I met somebody who helped me and then I came up with a plan to go back into farming without any trouble.”
I listened awhile longer as he paused. Then he said, “My name is Nelson, but I have always been good at playing poker, pool and checkers. But my loves, besides your grandmother, have always been farming and fishing. I did what I had to do to continue both.
“But when I came home, people thought I was a bank. I loaned them money for awhile but most could not pay it back. So I started giving away gasoline, food and other things people had to have to survive. I suppose that had to do for them. If I kept giving away money, I would have lost the farm again. And I had to keep farming.”
I took this information, pieced it together with some dates and historical accounts, and then came up with my theory. John Hans Nelson robbed those GD banks of their GD money. And he GD it to hell got away with it. That is my story, and I, John Hancock Nelson, am sticking to it.
When my grandfather died, it took our family attorney, Ralph Lafuse, six months to find all of his bank accounts the man had scattered here, there and yonder. He had a couple hundred thousand dollars and two farms paid for, after medical and final expenses. But he had another $428,000, so I was told, hid out around this country… Not bad for a small time Indiana corn and hog farmer.
He also paid $20,000 cash for my Daddy’s medical education and who knows how much for my journalism degree. I do know he gave me $144,000 in pieces from my college graduation in 1982 until his death on Jan. 22, 1989.
In Chapter 7, I want to shift gears and discuss my love for music and how my grandparents were quite an influence in that realm as well.
Chapter 7; Music: from Clarinet, to Coronet
to Piano to Guitar to Voice
I suppose I came on this earth loving music. I remember listening to my grandmother sing “Three Little Birds” and thinking that was just the best song ever. It was something about three little birds up in the top of a tree, tree, tree. And they looked so sweet and they were so sweet.
Later in life, when I had my daughter Kelley, I used to bounce her on my knee and sing, “My little girl is a pretty little girl and a pretty little girl is she. And she looks so sweet and she is so sweet and her name is Kelley Marie.”
Now I have my 2-year-old grand daughter Rayne Rose Marie. I bounce her on that same knee, and you guessed it, I sing, “My little girl is a pretty little girl and a pretty little girl is she. And she looks so sweet and she is so sweet and her name is Rayne Rose Marie, Marie. And her name is Rayne Marie!”
So back to my musical history, other than loving songs on the radio like, Those Boots are Made for Walking, and Mr. Bojangles and of course, Piano Man, I played around with the piano in the church basement and learned to play Inna Gadda Da Veda by Iron Butterfly. I played clarinet for 7 years, trumpet for 5 years and then took up guitar. I wrote 150 songs using guitar chords and actually just about got on an album in Memphis with “So Easy.”
I also had several fans and dorm buddies who liked one I wrote called, “Junk Yard Full of Dreams.” Here are the lyrics to those two:
So Easy, I need you so easy.. I need you so easy. I ain’t asking you to sacrifice. I ain’t asking you to like. But once in awhile two souls meet more than once before they die.
So easy, I need you so easy. I will admit the paths of love, don’t cross out loneliness nearly enough. But all you get in life equals all you give up. So easy, I need you so easy…
Junk Yard Full of Dream
I am feeling old today, what are we going to do? The bills keep on mounting and your nervousness does too. Hell its only money and I never cared for that. I got my dreams, though tattered and worn, I smile like an alley cat.
Can’t you see we’re sinking, It ain’t working like you said. The cob webs of your dreams are sinking fast and the spider just can’t be fed.
I got you and this old guitar. We’re gonna save our songs. We’ll make all of those dreams come true and it won’t take that long.
Oh I can tell you believe it, and I dig that scene. But what you really got is a rusted out engine and a junk yard full of dreams…
Yes sir, that was the song. I used to sing it and think of my first wife, Renee. She laughed at me in some ways and believed in me in others. I was immature and did not value her friendship nearly as much as I should have. I blame hormones and just being too young in my mind to be married.
But the point is, one time she told me John Nelson would have his own newspaper. She was just sure of it. I was too. Since then, I have owned and operated the Bryant Community Press, the Marmaduke Chronicle, The Magnet Cove Community News, The East Poinsett County Progress and the Southern Arkansas Tailgate News Magazine. I still own that last one, seven years to date, and you may very well be reading this book chapter in said magazine.
Two years ago, after 32 years in print media, I went website and Facebook Widget site hit circulation proof. I put out 12 to 16 magazine pages that can be printed but instead I use Word Press to present them to between 3,500 and 6,000 site hits a Friday.
So yes Renee, John really did have his own newspaper. As a matter of fact, all of my dreams pretty well came true. Now then, I would not mind having a bit of money to go with all of this stuff. Time will tell on that one…
But still, love is the thing I have always wanted most. In So Easy, I wrote it at age 19 for my old girlfriend Joni Michelle. That is only 36 years ago at this writing. I continued to write music until I was about 30. I still have a good many of the songs. Now I have written a few since, but nothing that really stands out in my mind. I still put a poem in this magazine every week and my guitar still sits in the corner of this office begging for attention.
One of these days I will write 100 more songs. Who knows. Some might even get some site hits.
I just wrote another one. I will put it in the paper this week as a poem called, “So Tired of Me.” Those of us who spend hours alone get that way from time to time. I sang to the song to edit it. One day soon I will get my old guitar down and write some chords for it.
I grew up with my grandparents as an only child. Writing music and singing music was how I passed a lot of lonely hours. As a magazine writer, living with a girl who enjoys spending a lot of time alone doing her own thing, I find myself once again with time to think, time to create and time to get to know the real me.
Perhaps it is time to write more music again. I have had about all I want of the music my current world or memories has to offer. Sometimes I get tired of me… just might be my come-back kid tune and find a bit of Intenet popularity.
At the beginning of this book, we had a chapter on band. I shared a few of my more tender musical memories in it. Those band kids were my true chums back in high school. I suppose then I should have known I could never get away from being a writer.
But I fear I have broken the Mark Twain rule here. Twain, Samuel Clemmons that is, once said life is much too important to be taken seriously. So let’s revisit a football game, say about the fall of 1976. My classmate and quarterback Jeff Bell had the ball. He came barreling down through our opponents and made a great pass. I have no memory of who caught the ball, only that they ran it in and the extra point was good too!
This was significant, because I think it was the only time our team scored that entire season. I was in pep band with my coronet at the time, playing charge as they ran in the ball and taps when the other team scored a couple three times and put us back down with the chickens doing that pecking thing.
This was Indiana and football season sometimes got pretty cold. But those band uniforms were heavy so me and my fellow musicians did not really mind.
High school was also the time I listened to rock and roll a lot in my bedroom. I had my speakers set up in an amateur surround sound type deal. I had an elephant light and I even had earphones so I could listen after 11 p.m. The folks always crashed about 11, as the day began early on the farm.
I mentioned earlier that I know how to play Inna Godda Da Veda by Iron Butterfly on the piano. I used to play it a lot as I watched that elephant light. This was before beer and smokes. Back then all I had was the music.
Grandpa Nelson must have thought all the hippy music was some crazy stuff. At any rate, because Johnny Boy enjoyed it, John Hans was determined to join in. The old man loved dancing. He would come in my room and dance a jig right there in front of me. He loved the drum solo. One night he came in with two trash can lids and added his own symbol play, along with his usual dancing. He had to be 80 at the time, or pretty close. Let’s see, I was 14. He adopted me at 66 so yep, 80 he was and what a music man!
I don’t know if he thought I would be offended, but I wasn’t. I loved his act! Sure wish I had it on video as we explore this memory. Grandma stayed in the living room, but when I looked around the corner at her, she was laughing fit to be tied.
And you will not believe this. But as we speak to one another through these words on the page, I have been listening to The Band, “The Weight,” and Marshall Tucker Band, “Can’t You See.”
Music changed a bit for me as I got older. I bought a guitar and an amp and started playing my songs and a few copy band songs. I have always been the writer and singer more than the guitar performer so the good Lord blessed me in college with Tony and Mark in my dorm. They played lead and base guitar and we had a lot of fun. We even named our little band “Bold Tiger.” Those two were from England and they could make guitars sing right along with whatever I could create or copy.
Oh I realize our technology has changed so much, but the cloud I am on when I am singing stuff like Billy Joel, “The Piano Man,” is still has soft and fluffy as ever. It is like another world to me, a world without bills, worries, or even goals to reach. It is simply wonderful.
When I get to heaven, hopefully in another 70 years or so, I want to tune up a harp and get a few angels to join in. They can play the harp and I will sing. So yes, I love music. I love country and rock especially. I love old hymns and old Pentecostal gospel too. So does my current wife on that last part.
Michelle is quiet natured like Grandma was. She is there and she is a loving soul, but she never tries to up stage my act. I appreciate that. I am a writer and not too bad at it I guess. I am a salesman and good enough to make a living. But music is my heart. Music is my soul. I long to tell you about it – in a song….
Chapter 8: My addiction to writing…
I suppose getting started as a writer comes to everyone in a different way. Me, it all started at 8 years old when I was pecking out sentences on an Underwood typewriter to have something to do on a long Saturday morning alone.
You see, as previous chapters have indicated, I grew up an only child with my Dad’s parents on a farm in Indiana. I raised rabbits and cats, helped with the gardening, hunted wild rabbits in Warfle’s woods and rode around on my Grandpa’s tractor with him while he let me shift gears back then. Being 8 on a farm was actually a lot of fun.
I started writing simple stories. Every night, when I got home from school, I would hurry up and get all of my rabbits fed so I could watch Dark Shadows on television before I tackled any homework I might have. Back in my day, there was actually very little homework except a weekly list of spelling words. I would go over them in the mornings with my grandmother about four mornings out of five to make sure I did not miss any on Friday’s test. I am sure I did miss one occasionally, but for the most part I got 100s.
School to me was very important. You see my biological Daddy was an excellent student. He was said to have made all A’s and he became a neurologist. Talk about big shoes to fill… I usually made 5 A’s and a B on most report cards. I always said it was because I refused to work hard on subjects that bored me to tears, but to get below a B would have been academically embarrassing so I worked at least that hard.
I ended up with a 3.79 out of 4.0 in high school and a 3.4 out of 4.0 in college. Both of those scores amounted to an A and an A- /B + average. School is hard for some. For me it was fairly easy, but I just could not hatch in my soul that love for money to turn my grades into golden nuggets. I understand my daughter Erin Anne has it. God bless her. Maybe she is giving her excess to the homeless or something. I do know she has a kind heart and I miss her very much. I have not seen my oldest in years.
But getting back to my history, every boy has to have something in his veins. I went from typing stories about vampires at 8 years old to writing for the sixth grade newspaper and developing comic strips, to being a janitor and inventory boy at the weekly newspaper in high school to writing copy for the Delaware County Sports Times and the Muncie Weekly News at Ball State University where I graduated.
I also wrote for the Ball State Daily Student. Somewhere in there, I remember realizing that personality features were my favorite kind of writing. I had a friend that was a woodworker, an old veteran who had retired as the head of security at a Connersville industry. I wrote one of my first features on A.J. My friend Ed Janes, from the journalism department at Ball State University, took the pictures of A.J. Stein as he worked on his wood.
Ah the days of divided labor. Now I write 90 percent of my stories, take 90 percent of the photos and put the paper together for 16 pages a week. Plus I sell and make up all of the advertising, which supports this glamorous lifestyle I live in the lower middle class style of a king in Gurdon, Arkansas. Actually, I love my simple life. I did go in debt for my two good cars, the house and some home improvement, such as windows, a new porch and redone kitchen ceiling this past year. Hopefully all of those payments will be well over with and a decent savings started in their place before I am 65.
The debts should be done at 61 and then I will save a few hundred a month until I retire from the advertising business somewhere around 75. Being used to the payments, my plan is to go to Edward Jones and get the automatic bank draft thing going. Maybe that way I can finance a few gardens, raise a few rabbits and enjoy some fishing coupled with an occasional game of golf. But oh yes, writing. There I go chasing rabbits again, and this close to Easter.
Writing is something I will probably do until the day I die. And if me and the good Lord are indeed on the same page, that won’t be for more than 7 decades on top of the breathing time I have already had on planet earth. My wife says if God grants my request, I may not like what the world is like in 2084. I bet I will. And I bet I will still be writing a blog on the Internet about it, paid advertising or not. And knowing me, I will always do the Tailgate News but when I hit my mid 70’s I am sure I will at least cut it back to 12 pages a week so I have more time for that fishing, gardening and golfing.
So let’s talk about the pen some more. When I went to college, I tried to major in optometry. My grades in Calculus were not the best, B+ average, but what really got me was the C+ I got in freshman biology. Sure, half the class flunked and that grade could have gotten me admitted to Optometry School there in Indiana because most of my other grades were A’s. As I say, I finished college with a 3.4. That really is not so bad and I believe being an optometrist would have been a fine career.
But I was in love with writing and ended up majoring in magazine journalism with a minor in psychology. I knew it was aiming for a struggle money wise. And it still is a struggle, even in the blog/digital publication world.
But the pay from selling ads on the net is more spendable income because I no longer have a print bill and I can come out once a week to keep my ads turning like worms in a dirt pile for fishing. So far, so good. That is, the balancing act continues.
So somewhere around my second year of college, I began to realize journalism was what I wanted as a career. I considered law school after college, but decided “Mark Twaining it” was what I wanted and so by golly that was what I was going to do. My grandparents stood beside me all the way. I wish they had lived to see me now. For a writer, the digital income is about as close to success as I have ever gotten.
There are days when I think about trying to get this book published one day and live off of royalties on some island somewhere, but most of the time I just dream of breaking even and putting a few bucks back for a nice vacation or two more.
As with all of us, it depends on whether or not I can stay reasonably healthy, and if I can find someone to buy this book or some subsequent fiction based novels I have planned. This one is a get to know me type of affair. And as I always told my daughter Kelley, who I at least partially raised, “If Daddy is not writing, Daddy is not working.”
THE REAL WRITER
But let’s get down to it. I could give you background all day long and talk about features that AP liked in the various newspapers where I worked as a reporter/editor over a 34 year so far career, but let’s just say I did win a few awards for my writing and photography. Those awards did not pay very many bills, but man the trip down the road I took was fun, at least for the most part.
I had a couple of week-long hospital stays from the money stress and stress of my non-conventional life style, coupled with a lack of diligence in taking a pill a day to keep the bad moods away, but for the most part my biggest problem was living on pennies and dreams for so many years. Now, living on credit cards, car payments, a house payment and a window payment, those old days are in the rear view mirror unless my wife and I can not stay healthy enough these next few years to get the house, the windows, and the two cars paid off, along with getting those credit card debts to being collectively under $1,000.
Again, as soon as the major investments are paid, it will be time to get back into the money tree lifestyle of Edward Jones. And the best part of being a writer like me, with a home, a pretty wife of 16 years, a career as a magazine publisher that I love, friends that are better to me than I deserve and a God that is definitely better to me than I deserve, is I agree with song writer Jimmy Buffett, “If it suddenly ended tomorrow, I could somehow adjust to that plight, good times and riches and sweet sunny beaches, I’ve seen more than I can recall.” Yes, I cleaned that up. We are, after all, a Christian publication that wants to at least make an attempt at overcoming obvious sins.
And that is really hard for me when it comes to swearing. Outside of writing and singing, swearing an entire new language is one of my pleasures in life. And so I must keep my temper and my mouth sweet. And when I mess up, I must follow my colorful expletives with some serious apologizing to Jesus Christ and anyone else in ear shot.
But to be a real writer, you have to live what you are writing about. I write about the financial struggles and loving and living struggles of the common salaried man. Here is one time when I collected a little of that poor boy wisdom to use in my writing.
I lived in a trailer park in Alexander, Arkansas where a possum came up the dryer vent and screamed at me around 2 a.m. I screamed back as I was taking a golf putter to the darn thing!
I was the editor and advertising director of the Bryant Community Press at that time and it must have been around 1991. My wife and small child, Kelley Marie, came out of the bedroom to see what Daddy was screaming about. Both of them laughed so much they were fit to be tied! Finally, the possum went back down the hole and I was declared the winner of the fight.
Now folks, on a normal salary, or credit card allowance and pay back scheme like I have today, a fellow would not have had such a privilege as fighting with that possum. And man can I tell you about old cars. I have had some vehicles that were about 20 steps below the definition of clunkers. I would always have to find a kind hearted mechanic. Sure I knew car payments would have been cheaper and easier, but I had not decent credit score and no chance of getting a bank loan on a reporter’s salary, so all of that stuff was out of the question.
But man did I write back then, feature after feature, investigative news story after investigative news story and whatever else the publishers and editors wanted from me. My old writing mentor, D.L Bailey of Helena/West Helena/Jonesboro, used to say, “You have to get a bit faster on the story turnouts and quit working so darn many hours or you will burn out. You have worked for nearly every editor in Arkansas and we all like your work. Stay healthy and stay happy in your writing. It is the only way for those of us with printer’s ink in our blood to survive this big old, bad old, world.”
Dee taught me that all of the writing rules I had learned in college were just guide lines and that the main thing was conveying information that was “easily read and readily appreciated.” He also taught me the value of a photograph that made people smile or admire the fact that those in the picture were accomplishing something. Journalism is supposed to be about people in the picture. Now and then, as a magazine editor since 2007, I break that old newspaper rule, but I still adhere to it for the most part.
I remember running into another couple of fellows who had the printer’s ink in their blood over Marmaduke, Arkansas way. Ronnie and Roger Hardin loved publishing their sports copy and photos in the Marmaduke Chronicle every week for four years. With four of us drawing money out, paychecks and print bills were a struggle to say the least, but as my wife pointed out, we still never missed a meal. The Hardin’s called the paper “our labor of love.”
By the time I threw 3,000 copies a week all over Greene County and mailed out my 400 and some paid subscription list there in Marmaduke, it sometimes seemed like our labor of love was about to bury us. But we kept going, right up until 911 when the economy came to a screeching halt and the worst happened, I had to get a real job for awhile… I got one as a sports writer for Mark Bivens, then editor of the Malvern Daily Record. I had known Mark since we were reporters for the Bltytheville Courier News back in the 1980’s. He recently retired, which seriously freaked me out. I realize his health failed him, but for a purpose driven writer to stop writing, most of the time it is a funeral parlor that they land in next. Hopefully Mark is still secretly writing and we will hear from him again.
For a writer, like me or Mark, or Joe May in Amity, D.L. Bailey in Jonesboro or Joe Phelps in Arkadelphia, there is always something else to say. At least it seems like those guys fall in my category of looking at things. But then again, some people bail out of the career that I would have never thought would. A friend of mine who climbed pretty high in a chain newspaper is trying to get a trading post going here in Gurdon. She quit her editing job to “take off the stress.” Man, if I was not writing at all, the stress of boredom would soon catch up to me. But I wish Wendy Ledbetter all the luck in the world with her trading post.
As for me, I always told my daughter Kelley, “Kelley, Daddy is a writer and writers write.”
Chapter 9: My purpose driven life to ‘make a difference’
With me, it was not enough to write. I wanted my writing to make a positive difference in the world I lived in, just like I wanted my life overall to make some sort of positive difference.
Here lately, in 2014, I have taken to writing a sermon a week in my current publication, Southern Arkansas Tailgate News Magazine. That is both satisfying and convincing in regard to making me believe I am making that positive difference.
But when I first came up with this altruistic philosophy, I was 19 and living in the state of Florida. I already told you about being a spinner down there, helping the police to put away pimps who were trying to abuse the natural talents of prostitutes by working them twice as many tricks a day as nature would allow. Drugs, specifically heroin, were a good way to get this done for a short period of time. Some of the girls did not seem to care. Others wanted out. That is where my efforts came in. I helped a few get away from their abusers and find a different path than using their natural sexual abilities to turn their bodies into money making machines.
But as I probably mentioned, and/or alluded to in my Florida chapter of this book, I realized the danger of my “police” work in Florida and when I was approached about actual police academy at Cape Canaveral(not sure how to spell it), I turned them down. What I have never written, or told family or friends, is that sometimes I have regretted that. Being a fighter comes natural to me.
My grandfather fought to be a farmer with everything he had, Dillinger Days and all… My Daddy fought to be a doctor with everything he had, despite his neurology school financing disappearing through a mentor’s death in the service and him having to turn to Grandpa to get the schooling paid. My grandfather also paid all but one semester of my bachelor’s degree in journalism and psychology. He would have paid for a law degree as well if I had not decided that I was a “writer and writers write.” So fighting to help those girls came natural and I wanted to help more. But I just could not see how I would ever keep my promise to finish college, or my promise to myself to get married and have children, if I remained a white slavery spinner.
So I came home to Indiana. I worked my last gilded cage in the craft of spinning in Indy, just before doing my semester at Indiana University/Purdue University combined. Once I was back on Indiana soil, my regret to not become a police officer went away. I am a chess player. It is something I have done since the sixth grade and loved ever since. I rarely run into anybody who shares my love for chess, but when I do I really enjoy myself.
I have often wished I had a lover that was into the game. The closet I ever had was a daughter who could play nearly as well as me. But once she beat me, she now refuses to play me anymore. I hope to manipulate her into changing her mind one day. Sorry Kelley, but I do. I really enjoy playing you in chess because you are one of the few people I have ever met with as determined a will as I have.
But here is the deal, I don’t play much anymore. In my purpose driven life as a website journalist, I have to sell advertising for a living on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and put the paper together on Thursdays and Fridays. When I deviate from that pattern, the next week’s publication usually suffers because I am not as good at doing twice the work in half the time as I once was. Still, putting a 12-pager together once a week for the Southern Arkansas Tailgate News helps me keep my life focused. This next weekend is a Grandpa weekend and I will have my three biological grand kids in my home and in my arms. When I look into their eyes, I know I am glad I did not become a professional spinner years ago.
As a journalist, when I feel it is appropriate, I enjoy writing editorials where I present a problem and then suggest a solution. That is part of the purpose driven process as well. This week I may make some of them mad because I am going to write about Russian taking over a part of the Ukraine that, poll wise at least, welcomes the protection of Mother Russia. Our president, along with many European countries, seems to be in favor of angering the “Bear” and economically sanctioning a country that could give us a run for our money on the battle field and we need in our pocketbooks. I realize freedom is important to some of those folks in that country that Russia is taking back over, but I also realize the cost of intervening will be devastating economically and possibly in other ways down the road.
I read that a bunch of Muslims will be asked to leave that country, as Russia does not want them in anything they have annexed. Hmm. Perhaps that is one reason our Muslim president is so willing to put the already unstable US economy at further risk.
I also read there is a jet that has disappeared over Taliban infested territory near Afghanistan, from Malaysia. That sounds spooky too. You might remember we lost our twin towers in New York City when two jetliners were turned into bombs.
Yes, us independent journalists do have our opinions. And writing those opinions is never going to be popular among corporate media folk who fear being cut off from big-time government supported advertisers. Personally, with God’s guidance that I ask for, I write what I want to write. It is my way, and probably always will be. When God ends it, so be it. One preacher, Happy Caldwell on television, says there is a place in the Bible where God tells us we will live as long as we are pleased to do so, and we shall live in health to the end if we refuse to accept the ramifications of disease. I intend to do both. If I am still writing in 70 years, I will let you know what I know now. God does not lie.
At 55, about the only time I even plan to change my ways, is when my prayers to God for guidance in overcoming certain sin tendencies in my character result in God showing and telling me, in His still small voice way, that something needs to be cut off or added to my routine of life. Then, and only then, will I attempt to change. I know I can not change on my own, but I know my God can change me on His potter’s wheel.
So what do I do while I wait for the eventual change from the integrity of the carnal body to the integrity of the celestial? Occupy. That is what the Word says. My version is to write. It is my purpose. My current wife, Michelle, sleeps in our bedroom. She needs at least two more hours than me. She is having back pain health problems. If it were me, I believe I would pray. This week, all of the money seems hard to get. I am praying for enough released to do what God would have me to do.
Being purpose driven means different things to different people.
I am glad it does. I enjoy meeting others with this curse. And, it probably is one. You see, those who sleep in the other room, and accept the diseases that kill, they do not have this endless gnawing in their hearts to have all that God would offer them, that is all the tools to do all of the Great Commission tasks. I want those tools.
But I am human. And I have human desires. I want a soul mate. I have no comment as to whether that has ever happened to me. I have the mate part. Perhaps there is no Eve for this Adam. My current mate makes me happy. She is the best wife I have ever had in so many ways.
She has kids and grand kids. So do I. I have a challenging occupation. I have my health and a great place to live and work. Nobody bothers me much anymore. I stay out of trouble. My purpose helps it be so. I wonder what my soul mate is doing sometimes. When I do, I close my eyes and dream of her. Is she Michelle made over? Ok, so there you have it, the end of rambling about purposeful desire.
In the reality of the matter, there is a School Board meeting tomorrow night that needs covering by a professional reporter and so I will do it. Also, there is a Chamber of Commerce banquet Thursday. I have photos to take, pages to lay out. It is my reality.
Reality, so my Celebrate Recovery counselors used to tell me, is to be sought after, accepted and lived in. I tried it. I sort of liked it, sort of mind you. Sometimes I would like to trade this reality for living in that farm house back in Indiana. Other times, I would trade it for the excitement of Florida. Still other times, I would like to be back in college, exploring the many books I read and the many souls I encountered. I was easily friended back then and could not wait to meet anyone that might be my soul mate, or just a good friend.
But my purpose driven life, organized by a handful of friends, a weekly magazine to publish and a family to love, keeps me out of my past habits and makes me watch candles burn on a leisurely writing night like this one.
In the next chapter, I will reveal to you just how far out of a purpose driven pattern I allowed my spirit to once wander. It was an interesting, and seemingly crazy time. So, as my grandparents would have said, Hang on to your hats for chapter 10, called “The Journey of a natural witch.” Some will see it as my fantasy, or made up chapter. I don’t think of those times very often since I have become older and now take my Christian obedience seriously. But when I was young, I was a very curious soul. So turn off your science fiction channel, sit back and relax and enjoy this ride through the walk of my spirit while my body yet lives.
There is an old saying, if you intend to win, as I do in my quest to be more Christ like as I age, one must know thine enemy. Prepare, in chapter 10, to see the world through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy just beginning to realize he might not really be alone in a room where he came in there by himself.
But before you condemn my spiritual exploration, search yourself. If you are totally honest, you too may admit, only to yourself of course, that there have been times when your life inside your head was more than what someone else might have observed outside of you. In short, we shall discuss it in detail in the next chapter. In the meantime, boo!
The Path I Took: Chapter 10
The Natural Witch…
I suppose I started my interest in magic back in my Dark Shadows days. I watched that old soap opera back in junior high school and earlier, but the black magic exploration took place from about 12 until I was 15.
I felt a closeness to God, as Mr. God and I had innocent talks through the mind of an only child on a farm in the 1970’s. I have never understood it. No, I am no good at keeping secrets, but I am a pretty honest fellow and always have been as far as what I tell you is for real.
Back in the day, I was a kid who loved to read and had a lot of curiosity about my biolgical mother, Audrey Hancock Nelson. I had been told she had Extra Sensory Perception, an IQ of 176 and was one of the first women doctors in the state of Indiana.
I was also told that she was a white witch. That was someone who used spells to make the lives of people around her easier… I was just a kid. My folks also told me she gave up the magic for Christianity later in her life. That made me feel a bit better about Mother Audrey.
Yes, Audrey Hancock was my mother’s maiden name and ironically also the name of John Dillinger’s sister about 50 years before my generation. I did not know that then.
All I knew was there was some weird books in my upstairs and a lot of talk of spells around me. I am not sure just how I seemed to understand so much about the devil and his magic. That is why I entitled this chapter, “The Natural Witch.” Oh, I understand in such circles of earth, wind, fire and water, the air would have power..
I could go on with a bunch of hoo doo sayings, but I have said enough that those who have also studied the “magic” of the devil can now be convinced I know a little about things like that. I created encantasions and tried to make things change. Did any of it become reality? I really don’t know.
It was probably just my natural ability to be poetic and my desire to make the things I had seen on television about the Dark Shadows witch Angelic become real. There was a movie some years later called “The Craft” that my teenage daughters took an interest in. That movie brought back my readings, and the nights I spent wondering how my mother could tell you how much money was spent to the penny on a bill of groceries before it was added up.
The whole business of White Witchery, later known as Wicka, is a fraud in my opinion. Black magic, that is the self centered practice of incantations with Satan to get what one wants is what it is. There is nothing white or black about it. It is all black. If something is not of the Lord Jesus Christ, by default it is either human manipulation or the devil’s magic. That includes those who now would behead Christians, ISIS I believe their call letters to be.
I did make a cat rise from what appeared to be the dead once. The sucker had just been thrown up into the air by me and may have just been in shock. I give the credit to Jesus, who was probably amused by my desparation not to hurt my daughter Kelley, who owned the cat. I also got a date with a girl I always wanted to kiss and ended up sleeping with her for about five years. Years later, I actually fell in love with a girl who talked in incantations. I still know her. She and I never got to live together or marry. I have often wondered what that would have been like.
Demons don’t give up easily. I had a dream just before accepting Christian salvation at age 15 where the devil told me I could live and look 25 with Joni forever if I would serve him. I said no and a loud thunder clap woke me up. My grandfather heard that thunder clap, came in my room and asked if all was all right? I told him I was just fine. I am not sure if I ever told him the dream. I also considered anything demon related to be evidence of my insanity that I was afraid would come back to bite me later.
Now, at age 55, I am a Christian man who still fights demonic temptation from time to time, but it seems to be less and less as I go down the road toward my own demise. The devil bores me most of the time. That one other natural witch I mentioned meeting about a dozen years ago still comes to mind. Her memory haunts me some, but not enough to take action. You see, I am happily married and so is she.
There is a story in the Bible about Samson and Delilah, where the witch Delilah cuts Samson’s hair and he loses his God given glory and power. I do not wish to be tricked by an entity that may be serving the devil, which is another reason I have very little desire to take such chances.
The term “Natural Witch” probably just describes us when we are kids, or folks who have spent too much time alone and experimented with incantations and drawn perhaps false conclusions that they were connected with life events that just happened to go our way. I am not particularly proud to have fallen in such a catergory. Some call us males with such pasts “natural warlocks.” I do not think the thoughts merit gender differentiation.
Some more of the things such experimenters as I was do involve lighting four candles before a poetic incantation. Then four souls are named to make the magic work. They must be four souls that have provided sexual intercourse to the witch beforehand. It is supposed to give the request to the devil more power. There was a time in my life when I would have told you this hocus pocus was as true as life and death, but no more.
Since studying the Christian Bible, I have come to realize the master of trickery, Satan, can convince young, plyable minds of nearly anything. But then real trouble comes and one finds out if you do not ask for a change in the Name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the only Living God, one has no real assurance of power. I am glad, very glad, I learned this fact.
And I would advise any young “natural witch” to heed my warning. Stop giving in to thinking the devil, or his demonic powers, can gain you anything.
All they gained me was a flood of memories I would rather not have. One such memory was of my soul leaving my body to circle a crowded room while my body sat sipping on my first drink at a bar one night. Believe me, once my body and soul came back together, I wanted no more alcohol. I simply went home grateful that God had been mercifuly to my willingness to listen to whatever power of darkness had allowed the unnatural split of a soul from its living body. Was it a dream? No. Was it a vision? No.
I could tell you what the converstations were around the room. I would move from table to table ease dropping. Don’t go there. It will scare the dickens out of you.
I once had another friend who said she was a witch. She liked to go to Lake DeGray, an Arkansas Lake near where I live, and dance naked in full moon light. I wanted to do that with that one natural witch I had such strong feeling for but I am just as glad I did not. Again, Samson thought he was safe with Delilah.
The one lady who loved to go to Lake DeGray said her incantations all ended with “Blessed Be.” To each their own I suppose. The worst part of this deal is being recognized as a student of the Occult. I suppose there is something in my manner that gives it away. Again, I am very glad that part of my life, the active pursuit of witchery power to make my dreams come true, is over. One of my favorite sayings used to be, “I will have what I want and not give up my front seat in hell.”
Well I did give it up and now hope to never give up my seat in heaven. May God bless you and yours. Remember, the devil prays on weak and curious souls. Find a good church of Holy Ghost filled Christians and learn the truth of Jesus Christ.
And so ends my conclusions on being a natural witch. It is simply over rated. Christ is the answer, no matter with the question. And His Will is so much better than our will. It is quite natural seek His guidance and direction so one can obey Him once a person sees the real value of gaining Christian wisdom.
I went from incantations of self-centeredness to asking God to be my Co-pilot to asking God and Jesus for guidance and direction every time any decision is at hand. I did a lot of this holding the hand of the man who calmed the water.
The Path I Took: Chapter 11: On the Road Again
By JOHN NELSON
Tailgate News Editor
This chapter is probably going to be my favorite to reread as I gain toward that 90-year-old mark and push into fifth gear toward busting the century mark in my life.
I started enjoying traveling when I was 2 years old and living in Morgantown, West Virginia. My Dad, Grandpa and Grandma lived there while Dad picked up some experience as a neurologist in that city before returning to work at Memphis, Tenn. I remember moving to Memphis when I was only 3 years old. My Dad was Dr. John Woolard Nelson, address and recent history unknown. My Grandpa and Grandma were the late John Hans and Marvel May Nelson, of Hagerstown, Indiana.
The first really vivid memory I have about traveling was concerning two Ford Galaxy cars. One was Grandpa’s, probably about a 1960 version, white, with brown interior, while the other one was my Dad’s, a white one also, just almost like Grandpa’s, but with blue interior.
I remember the trip from Morgantown to Memphis, with toll roads and old men with hats on driving too slow in front of us at several points of the journey.
I remember that we always left on our trips before dawn, somewhere around 4 a.m. so we could drive into the dawn and then stop at some rest area to eat donuts or something that the folks had fixed. Knowing them, it was probably egg sandwiches, orange juice and coffee. For me, the whole deal was exciting. I always rode between Grandpa and Grandma. I am not sure what the laws were about kids riding back then, but that was the deal with my folks – one on one side and the other on the other side.
When we left Morgantown, my Dad took us to the Appalachian Mountains for history’s sake. It was his intention to yell hello into a mountain canyon to see how long the echo took to get back to our ears. I am not sure about that length of time, but it was not long.
When we got to Memphis, it was settling in time. I mostly played with Grandpa for entertainment. He taught me checkers and cards, and also read me simple books. Really, I think it was Grandma who did most of the out- loud reading.
Once I got settled in there, the next trip memory was visiting the Indiana farm. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen and I begged to grow up there. Many times I have wished I had only begged to visit there every summer, as my Dad deserted me with my grandparents when he remarried. I was 7 years old and I guess that was enough child rearing for Dr. Nelson. That is a twist in my life I will never understand. How could a man of education and integrity desert his only son?
Still, life goes on. I have learned the hard way that the sure bet does not always win the race. Sure, I loved my grandparents more than breath for many years, but Daddy just drove away. Mom was too sick to do the raising, or so I was told. I accepted that. She came to see me on the farm every few weeks and I at least got to know her. Dad visited the farm every three or four months. It was not enough.
He was rich and with no excuses in my book. But the apple does not fall far from the tree. I deserted my oldest daughter to a once a year visit in Northern Indiana when I should have moved close enough to visit her every two weeks. I should have fought for my rights as a Dad. My ex wife Renee sure fought for her rights to my money… But again, we travel and go on.
I love Erin, my oldest daughter. I wish I had the chance to tell her that again. We all have our haunting spirits. The two I just mentioned were hard to travel out, and sometimes I still have to drive to put them back in my mind where I can stand the pain.
Traveling, since that is the aspect of my life we are discussing, has always been a drug to me. It has been, as one of my live-in college girlfriends Elaine used to say, “a healthy alternative to suicide.” In my life, I have visited more than 40 states and two European countries. I settled down for 12 years in Hagerstown, Indiana and finished high school there. Then I traveled to Florida for two years and finished growing into my own man down there, before returning to Indiana to finish college in journalism and psychology.
I had to travel to Florida before coming home made sense. After college, I worked a number of years all over Arkansas, Louisiana and Illinois as a journalist. Finally, after four marriages, I settled down in Gurdon, Arkansas in 2004. I still live there and write this to you from my magazine office, which is a separate little area in the back of my house. My current wife, Michelle, and I took a trip last summer to Manatee, Florida, New Orleans, Nashville, Tennesee., Memphis, Tennesee and Montgomery, Alabama. It was our only vacation thus far in 16 years but it was a great week and a half.
When I am on the road, I feel like all is well. There is something about getting lost behind the wheel that makes me feel free and easy. Perhaps you have felt that way before? One of my favorite trips was when I took off for Arcadia, Florida for a last Sunshine State hurrah back in 1980 from Indianapolis. I had come home for college, got an apartment on Post Road and enrolled in IUPUI. I was on the finishing track and ready for it, but just could not resist one more jaunt before putting on the academic saddle.
I picked up a hitch hiker, who was an electrician named Ed from Indy. Ed wanted to go to Macon, Georgia to be with his wife and child in a double wide. I drove him there free of charge. He was good company and I felt good about helping someone out. That was 1980. I am not sure I would be that trusting in 2014.
But times were different back then. I was young and impulsive. I visited my friends Al and tried to look up my ex girlfriend Alice. That did not work out to well, as she had gotten into some shoplifting scrape and acquired a shell of bitterness.
Bitterness is a quality that I travel to get away from, not to acquire. So I left that one alone. When I first left Alice, I traveled to another girlfriend’s house in Tyler, Texas. That was earlier that year, say March. There I stayed with a young lady named Linda Motes. She was a wonderful person. If I would have been of the marrying mind back then, I could have done a lot worse.
I will never forget her brunette hair and beautiful doe deer eyes. She looked a lot like a black haired Playboy model. I remember playing with her 3-year-old son Charlie and waiting for her to fix supper one night. She made hamburger pie. I had never had such a treat, but wow was it good tasting. In Tyler, Texas, on the road and meeting up with her, I felt free, oh so free. As I watched her make the supper, I could not believe how lucky I was to be there, in Tyler, with such a beautiful girl who actually liked me!
What I loved, and love, about traveling the most, is it makes me feel free and easy, without financial worries and adult responsibility. Some young people do drugs and escape in their minds. Me, I did road trips and escaped to the hum of the tires. On a smaller scale, I travel three days a week to three or four counties selling advertising and visiting with folks. It keeps me fed and makes me feel a bit free, most of the time. But sometimes, I must still travel a bit further.
Moving the guitar bridge to present day again, my current love, Michelle, and I, listened to books on my CD player in my 2012 Versa when we took our vacation back in July of 2013. That Versa is the first good car I have been able to afford since the Dodge Dart my grandfather bought me back in the 1970’s. That is why I did not take a real long for so many years. You have to trust your wheels before you light out!
As a journalist, I specialized for years in selling advertising out of old junkers. My last one, a 1995 light blue Taurus dubbed “Old Blue,” cured me of wanting to drive heaps. It practically broke down every time I started the thing.
Most of my old rides were fairly reliable. I had a 1973 Dodge Coronet, gold in color, that I drove from Little Rock to Hagerstown, Indiana several times. And my ex-wife Doris (who I was married to for 12 years) and I had a 1979 Toyota Corola that was the Nelson version of a yellow submarine. That Toyota as a very reliable machine as well.
But big, little, it did not matter. If it ran, I cranked it. One Toyota hatchback had no reverse. I remember taking my pre-teen daughter with my on sports assignments in it and forgetting I had no reverse. We would put it in neutral and push it around to where I could go forward.
It has been an adventuresome journey. Kelley got so used to hitch hiking with me, it was almost the normal course of events. I remember going to get her from Paragould, Arkansas to Little Rock and trying to bring her home on Christmas Eve. We had a little Toyota then too. It quit in Brinkley and the kid got out of the car, stuck out her thumb and never batted an eye…
Other than this last vacation trip, where Michelle introduced me to someone reading me a book, I have always loved singing humorous and upbeat songs as I travel. One of my favorites when Kelley was young was “Lord It’s Hard to Be Humble,” by Mac Davis. Kelley Marie told me for years she thought I had the perfect song to describe my self-absorption back then. Indeed, “I must be a helleva man.”
Also, I used to sing, “I Ought to Be in Pictures.” The lyrics went on to say, “because I am the picture of health.” My daughter said she thought I was singing, “because I am the picture of hell.” I am not sure where that one came from, but we drove on anyway. We always drove on.
I remember the last good trip I made to see my oldest daughter Erin. I had Michelle, Kelley and my three step kids, Charity, Danielle and Jacob, with me in a rented van. For some reason, my wife just did not trust our old sturdy rides to make the journey. Wise woman that Michelle. So we go up there to Mongo, Indiana and Erin did not seem to know what to say. We made some great family photos, but there was just too much damage done by me not being around enough…
I have only a few regrets, but my lack of tenacity in claiming my rights to be an active part of my oldest daughter’s life is definitely my biggest regret in 55 years of living. Now, apparently from her not ever sending me back a Christmas greeting or anything, my efforts to contact her are seen as a joke. This is pain it will take many more miles to drive away – if it ever goes away.
Back when that last good trip up north occurred, Michelle noticed Erin was distant. She had to have been about 17 at the time. Kelley said she felt like she was sitting in the room with a stranger, and yet this was her half-sister. I had to do a lot of traveling to try and forget my big mistake in that situation. I should have given Erin a lot more time… She actually has a beautiful side to her. Erin is intelligent, educated and works in the computer industry. I proudly read about her on the Internet, but sincerely regret that she is no longer in my life. I am in a better position now to fight for time with her. It is not too late as far as I am concerned, but some people close doors. I hope someday she opens a door to us having a friendship and has the patience to allow us both to go through that door. Perhaps I could be more use to her than just a few dollars toward her education…
As to why I did not visit Erin more often when she was growing up, I used the excuse that I was a struggling writer, barely making $18,000 a year. Looking back, that was a horrible excuse, even though it was true. I should have found a way to be there for her band performances, her graduation ceremony, her marriage. I was invited to the graduation and one of my old cars broke down during the trip. I should have found a way to rent another van so I could have been there to take her photo as she graduated. I later condemned a friend of mine for not being there to take a photo of his son doing the same thing. Indeed, what disgusts us the most about other people is many times found in our own lives. . We got there that evening but Erin had left on a graduation trip without waiting on us… That pain had to be traveled out for years. In fact, it still hurts to think about it.
So no, I am not the man with 100 percent integrity. And yes, without God’s grace and the free gift of salvation from Jesus Christ, I would get what I deserve in eternity, although I have learned enough to not ever neglect a child again.
Michelle and I travel to my daughter Kelley’s once a month to get my three biological grand kids for the weekend. It is so worth the hour and a half journey. And we go once a month to see two of her biological grand kids in Paragould. Plus her other biological grand kid, in Friendship, Arkansas, is with us at least one weekend a month. I try to dote on all of them as much as possible when I am around them. The journeys to see Josh, Zander, Rayne, Laila, Daniel and Ava are happy miles, filed with the drug of anticipation instead of the drug called cleansing forgetfulness, as the miles hum away…
So I now travel around five or six counties in Arkansas to visit family and friends, plus sell enough advertising to keep this weekly magazine going and pay the bills. Yes, life and the traveling end of things, has changed a lot for me. Will I ever just take a year and see the country again? Yes. But I intend to pay off my house, my cars and pay down my credit cards to under $1,000 so I have plenty of options to come home and live cheap. This should take me about seven years, if my financial calculations are correct. That will put me at about 62 when it becomes “white sheet” time. Michelle will be 54. This planned Sabbatical may upset her job or my business clients, but if the money is there to take the trip, I bet I go as far as the money will take me.
As soon as my worst percentage credit card payment is finished, hopefully by the end of this year, I will set up a $100 a month withdrawal by Edward Jones to mount me some cash for the journey. Five years of that would mean more than $5,000 plus interest. If I hold up the account for $5,000 to establish a checking account in Manatee, Florida that should do it. The rest can ride and mount interest until I return to Gurdon the following year.
When I get back, after the planned year, I will start the 16-page magazine over again, hopefully with new zeal and life to boost a fresh brand of optimism into the pages. This probably means my web site will simply have a few stories and photos posted for free in 2021, so folks know I am alive and well. And, of course, there will still be a weekly sermon posted. You never know, I may just find enough clients to continue the magazine from Manatee and cut it back to 12 pages a week. Time will tell on that one.
I do not see myself going on any adventures until this stuff in Gurdon is paid for. After all, when the adventure is done, I need to have this place to come home to, so I can write you an update on the art of traveling and so I can continue on my quest to make Southern Arkansas Tailgate News live as long as I do. I will be thinking of this plan, and other plans, as I travel around the next seven years locally, moving down the road to break even as to the debts in my life so I can truly move on down the road, free and easy, like I have always loved to do.
Traveling is a drug of choice for me. It has served me well over the years, and as you can see, I do not intend to give it up entirely. In chapter 12, I will speak of another love of my life; water and how calm it has always made me feel. I love fishing. I love ponds. I love swimming. I love pools. I love the ocean to wade in and walk beside. Water is a therapy that has given me much comfort over the years.
Join me by reading another chapter and we will explore together how this has been so.
Chapter 12: My Love for Water…
I suppose my love for water first came about in Hagerstown, Indiana at the then Scout Lake. I started living with John Hans Nelson and Marvel May Nelson full time going into the second grade.
As I have already communicated, school was very important to me. I worked hard to get my eventual 3.79 Grade Point Average (GPA) in high school and 3.45 in college. But as a little boy, I soon found out that water was also very important, first in regard to fishing and then in regard to swimming. Oh sure, I had been exposed to water in Memphis, Tenn. and caught my first 3-pound catfish at 3 years old, but even that prideful event did not convince me to love water.
Being in a boat made from an old wagon, with Grandpa John Hans, did convince me. I was one happy first grader when I was wetting a line with that old man of mine. And every time we went, that my memory can recall, we got a bucket full of brim and a big ole bass, and or catfish. And we went, more than often, when it looked like rain and farm work had to be delayed. I loved water then. At 55, as I write to you, I love water now.
As a matter of fact, I am going to try and convince my best friend, Mike, who is a retired government employee and three-hitch Vietnam Veteran, to allow me to haul him, his wheelchair, and an umbrella, to Clear Lake, near Joann, Arkansas. I will have him over to the house tonight, laugh with him until about 10 a.m. and get my writer’s butt up about 4 a.m. I hope to be on the road by 6 a.m., after eating a couple of eggs for breakfast and loading up my car.
If Mike won’t go, because of the cold weather and need for an umbrella that our illustrious Weather Channel predicts, I will go alone. Why? Because 50 degrees and scattered showers will not keep me from trying to catch a mess of crappies. Should I go alone, I may try our Gurdon Pond, where I know for a fact about a crappie hole. We shall see, as Moe of the Three Stooges so often said.
If Mike won’t go, I still plan to get him up early so I can be at that crappie hole by 6. I want to be there when the sun is just getting up good, the best time I have ever known to fish…
Oh how I love water. I love going to church too, but this weekend is about water. I have known it for nearly a week now. I must go visit God on the water. It is a private thing between me and Him, just as it was for my grandfather before me. He took off fishing alone on more than one occasion. I never questioned it. I figured he would invite me as he could. And he did, more often than not, as time went by…
So let me describe the Scout Lake, in Hagerstown, Indiana. First of all, when I went back to Hagerstown in 2012 for my 35th class reunion, that Scout Lake was marked private property and closed. Had I been alone, rather than with my law abiding, and much timid, wife Michelle, I would have been very tempted to cross that private property boundary and go down to the lake and take a look around.
I suppose someone might have arrested me or shot me. But then again, you gotta live instead of exist right? But I had the old lady with me. So… I was a nice guy and let it go. I often compare Michelle to Grandma. Had it been Grandpa and Grandma, they would have both crossed into that property if they had a mind to. But convincing Grandma the adventure was worth it might have been difficult.
One of my memories of the old gal proves my point. She was outlaw, through and through. You just had to get through that moralistic exterior to the true colors.
The year of this story is about 1980 and I had been enrolled in a private, small college, named Franklin College, in Franklin, Indiana. The folks thought I might get along better than in those big state schools. I might have, had I not lived off campus. As it were, I quit before the semester was over and ended up bouncing from Southern Florida to Indianapolis, where I did finish college, at IUPUI and then Ball State University in Muncie. Florida, after all, had plenty of water. And Indianapolis, plenty of places to have more adventures. So did Muncie, for that matter.
But let’s get back to Franklin, Indiana. I had been running around Florida more than a year with the Seminole Indians, the law and the mafia. Yes sir, I had a lot of great friends. Just kidding. But it was a lot of fun working with such a diverse group of people.
So there I was, all in Franklin, Indiana as a trailer park resident. The only problem was a hood that lived there with his girlfriend. The girlfriend apparently preferred my company to Nathan’s. I am not recalling his real name, so Nathan will have to do. We will call his girlfriend Connie. Connie was a cutie, but Connie was about 6 months pregnant by Nathan. They were not married, and I believe she sort of doubted his good intentions.
Nathan was a skinny hood, wiry and obviously a user of the drugs he was pushing. I had seen his kind in Florida and was not particularly impressed. He threatened to do me bodily harm and I weighed the idea of the confrontation. I declined, but kept hearing from the grape vine that old Nathan was going to “get me.” Not really wanting to bother with what I then called a “druggy,” I brought Connie’s books back from my trailer and said my goodbyes to the couple. You see, Nathan was not openly venomous at the time.
But I kept watching his eyes. They looked fit to kill, and maybe I was the target he had in mind. I determined my life was worth more than this. I was dating a girl named Dottie at the time, from Martinsville, Indiana – just down the road.
I told Nathan and Connie I was moving back to Grandpa’s farm in Hagerstown. The folks were disappointed that I dropped out of their expensive college, but agreed to give me another go at a state university if I would “grow up a little.” I told them I wanted to go get my stuff out of my trailer, but I was expecting some trouble, maybe involving some violence like a gun or a knife.
Grandpa looked at me and I did not like the look in his eyes. It was his fatalistic stare, the one he probably used a lot in the 1930’s during his John Dillinger gangster related days… I had seen that stare before, but fortunately for me, not very often. He said, “Marvel, I am going with this boy…”
His tone of voice was eerie and I knew I had a partner in that moment. I told my old man I was sorry for the trouble and I never intended to involve him, but I could use a hand getting my stuff out of that trailer. He understood. I needed back up and it was my way of asking him for help.
But now for the rub… We never got out of that house alone. My grandmother looked at the two of us and said, “Ok, if you boys think there may be a gun fight, you can count me in. I have not seen anything like that in a long time and you are not going to leave me out of this.”
I smiled but never said a word. The old man smiled too. Grandma got her coat and purse. She declared she was ready as she was going to get. We three outlaws got in the truck. We carried no guns that I knew about, just the grace of All Mighty God and a pocket knife or two.
We got to that trailer park in Franklin, Indiana, after a couple of hours of driving in near silence. This was odd for my talkative family, but I guess we were all doing a bit of thinking. Getting my folks involved in a potential bushwhacking did not really appeal to me. When we got there, I started loading stuff in the truck with Grandpa’s help. We cleared the place of furniture, music material, books, a couple of guitars and whatever else I had in that make-shift dorm room.
Then Nathan and pregnant old Connie came out on their trailer porch. Nathan was smiling and wanted to know if I would come in and have a beer. I walked up to the porch, without even a glance back at Grandpa and Grandma. I was street smart but I was also mad as hell. There is no other way to put it. Sorry for the swearing, but again, make no mistake, I was made as hell ever thought about being!
I smiled and said sure. I walked into their living room and opened the beer. Nathan and Connie did the same. Connie did not look very happy. Nathan’s face changed soon. He pulled a bow and hunting arrow and cocked the bow, shouting some sort of threats to me about getting back at me for flirting with his woman.
I snapped. I saw his coffee table and instantaneously my Florida Days training came right back as my then fast reactions had the coffee table up, smashing old Nathan, bow and all, into the other side of the trailer. I had a bit to say.
I said, “Threatening me you little Sweet Old Boss is one thing, but physically offering to harm me, here and now, with my folks outside and us planning to clear out is going to cost you. I ought to beat your butt to a pulp, but I am simply going to say goodbye.”
I turned and walked out of the trailer. I do not know if Nathan got up right away, but soon the two were back on the porch all smiles. I loaded up. Grandpa was smiling. Grandma was also. We got the last of it and started the truck. We all waved goodbye.
I could be wrong, but I think I saw Connie wink at me. I laughed. She realized she had been right. I might appear to be all moralistic compared to most on the streets, but if you pushed the Tygar, the roar could and would turn deadly. I had hit men friends that were always offering to do my dirty work, but I realized early on that Grandpa was right. The only secret that was kept in life was the one you told to no one.. Once another person knew, the whole world would soon know.
Of course, God’s Word says all of our secrets will be shouted from the roof top. I think He was letting us know that if they were not shouted here, on our judgment day they would be brought up by a screaming Satan trying to usher us into the hell we all deserved. It is only by the grace of Jesus Christ that some escape, but make no mistake we all have an evil side that deserves to go to hell.
I did not completely lose my temper that day or I would have smashed more than Nathan’s body. My Vietnam training (from friends who had gone) would have come back and that Sweet Old Boss would have had a crushed nose, bones into brains… And Johnny Boy would not have been writing this, as he would have done time for manslauter or murder. So no, I did not lose it completely – just enough to get the hell out of there with my folks and furniture. I felt sorry for Connie, but then again, her bed with Nathan was of her own making. God bless her, where ever she may be.
Water, that is what I am to be writing about. Having taken you on a rabbit hunt, I will now get back to my subject. It is Sunday, as I write this. I skipped church to watch the rain. No fishing today. Mike and Josh came to their senses sooner than me and would not go until next month. Me, I thought about going, even this morning. But I realized the weather was indeed prohibitive. That is OK. Sitting on my back porch, watching it rain and checking for leaks, has made me relaxed and happy. My wife and step son Jacob are around today. I love them both dearly and am thankful they are in the living room talking to one another.
I will get my Clear Lake fishing expedition a bit later this spring, God willing. Right now, I will settle for a slow steady rain, a tin roof on a remodeled back porch and plenty of hot coffee. I think back at how my folks handled the deal with Nathan. They let their grandson face his fears and fight his own battles. As one of my best friends (Ed Janes) in college used to say, “Your folks love you so much if you decided to be a bank robber, they would drive the getaway car.”
I believe he was right. But at any rate, all was well by way of a shove on a trailer park coffee table. And so we went home, put away my stuff and were once again safe and sound in the old farm house. I put out a cigar as we speak, my mind thinking of that brave old woman and her “John Dillinger” look alike husband. I had to wonder how she felt about the way he financed the farm. Still yet, they made it happen. They had some sand in their two sets of underwear, and I gotta admire them for that.
As a certain bank robber once told me directly, “I did not want anybody killed, or even shot, in our GD bank robberies, and I did not want more than $100,000 missing per heist because I had no grudge against the innocent and no desire to steal savings from struggling Americans.”
But he kept on until the end, that bank robber. Then someone else, carrying his robber name, took some bullets so that he could go free of legal ramifications. Then again, I am not sure the biological John “Jimmy Lawerence” Dilliner or J. Edgar Hoover were all that innocent of characters. It sounds to me like all three could have been out for number one at the time.
My point, as I recall my grandfather and me talking it over one fine day on the Scout Lake, was the water made us calm then, but poverty brought out some “necessary” action back in the 1930’s that displayed my grandfather’s evil side. Thus, we see why that old body double was known on the streets as the Jack Rabbit; hard to find, hard to stop and with some pretty strong legs under him for self defense… Ok, enough said. Go enjoy your version of water. Next time, we will have a chapter on girlfriends. This should be interesting. Oh that’s right, my family said not to publish too much information on Grandpa’s past so let’s just move on to my love for guns.
Chapter 13: My love for guns and target practicing
I don’t do the gun thing much these days. I have been attempting to build a three-person business since 2007 with one guy to run the publishing company. But I hired a salesman this week so perhaps my bills and time allotment schedule are about to get looser.
If so, and I find myself with more money than the month, I will be buying a six gun Smith and Wesson, medium police barrel, a 30-30 Marlin with clip and scope, a 22 Marlin with clip and scope, a 12-guage double barrel, preferably with hammer locks and a 12 gauge single shot to go with my existing 20 gauge single shot. Then I will get a 25-22 semi automatic pistol for some close range can shooting as well.
I have no excuse for loving guns. I grew up on a farm. Murder has never really interested me. I just like to hunt now and then, mostly small game, and I love to set up targets and see if I can learn to drive a nail into the side of a shed with each of these guns at distances ranging from 10 feet to about 50 yards. Oh yea, I also want a Daisy bee bee gun to shoot at sparrows in my back yard for city stuff.
Guns, like my old habit of playing golf, cost a little money. But I have had it before and I will have it again, at least in all likelihood. I used to carry six guns in my trunk at all times. Those were the days when I took a lot more chances with my freedom than I do at 55. Oh, I would still do it, if I had any reason to, but most of my life these days revolves around building my business, kissing my wife and trying to make sure all of my grandchildren are sufficiently spoiled.
My first gun was a Daisy Bee Bee gun and I was about 8 years old, growing up on a farm in Indiana. I shot that thing four and five hours a day for years. Finally, I ended up sharing my habit with the neighbor boy, Kevin Giggy. We shot at all sorts of things, mostly just targets. But we did kill an occasional bird. My grandmother, Marvel Woolard Nelson, encouraged me to understand the difference between what she referred to as pest type birds and song birds. I was told not to shoot at song birds and so tried my best to obey. Of course, temptation got the best of me from time to time, but I did hide the bodies pretty well…
Many of my kills went to my nine barn cats. They would keep their distance as I went around bombing mostly sparrows and black birds. If I killed one, they were on it like vultures. My biological Daddy, Dr. John Woolard Nelson from Edmond, Oklahoma, would come and visit me on the farm about every three months. He enjoyed showing me his skills with a 22 rifle and also his skills with a double barreled shotgun. I must admit, Daddy was damn good. I don’t like to cuss in print, but folks, he was an excellent shot.
I watched my father follow barn swallows in the air as they flew with a rifle and knock them out of the sky. Sure, when it came to driving nails on a target that was not moving, Grandpa and I usually held our own with his skills, but if we were talking moving objects, Daddy got the gold star more often than not.
He was also really good at long-distance, bullet drop shots. He could knock a crow out of a walnut tree at three-quarters of a mile away, with pretty dog gone good odds that he would hit them.
John W. grew up on the same farm I did. I guess he spent a lot of time target practicing. So did I. I eventually got pretty good at the moving objects and long distance, bullet drop shots too. And the last time I target practiced, I could still do it. I believe gun skills come back to you, sort of like riding a bicycle.
I am getting old, so I will keep my bragging to a minimum. Besides, it goes against my beliefs that a man should be humble and thankful for what God has blessed him with talent wise, possession wise and overall ability wise – such as decent brains etc. I was listening to one of my favorite preachers the other day on a local television station, VTN out of Little Rock, and Andrew Womack said if you are only concerned with you and yourself, your life becomes a pretty small package and not very interesting to you or others. I agree.
But for the sake of loving guns and honesty, I must say my reactions have always been pretty damn fast. Am I the fastest? Nope. As Grandpa John Hans Nelson always said, “Son, there is always a faster gun.” But I can hold my own. And if the end times require it, I may get another chance to prove it in the future. If not, I still hope to get a few acres over by Daisy, Arkansas at Lake Grecian when I retire where I can shoot to my heart’s content and see if any of my grandchildren can beat me in shooting skills. Personally, I figure I am bullet proof and forever young so there is no way they will. Ok, so I lie a little. I am human. What can I say?
But maybe my gun skills will still be fast enough that we can have some target competition and some of the same sort of fun I had with Daddy and Grandpa back in the day. I hope so. You will notice my list of guns are old style and rather mild compared to the modern day arsenal that is out there. I may learn nine millimeter yet, probably will. I also have an interest in acquiring an old Tommy Gun from the Dillinger Days era, just to say I have one and can use it. That gun may be hard to find and even harder for a journalist to pay for. Time will tell on that last one.
WHY I LIKE GUNS
I read a long time ago that citizens of this United States have the right to bear arms. Our current president, Barack Obama, has indicated he may not believe that. But then again, there are so many of us that do that I fear Obama’s gun control will not have any lasting effect on my society. Again, time will tell.
I hate to hear about school shootings and Islamic idiots shooting United States soldiers, or really any sort of gun abuse. Pardon my Islamic prejudice. I am sure there are good Muslims like any other type of people. But I am no fan of the Taliban. Enough said. There is a certain mind set that thinks they have the right to run the lives of others. I call them legalists. I am just the opposite in my political views.
I am one of those guys who believes the old National Rifemen Association credo that says, “Guns do not kill people. People kill people.”
It is just a question of education. I have seen a gun kill a rabbit, a bird and a squirrel. Most of my Southern buddies have seen them kill deer. I may eventually take up deer hunting, if I get that 10 acres of land I hope to have when I retire. I really don’t like the idea of hunting in somebody else’s woods, and 10 acres of so would probably produce enough wild life next to a stream for me to eat regularly. Most of the time, my idea of a good kill is one you can eat. Of course, if that two-legged sort of beasty starts shooting at me, I have been known to take self-defensive actions. But as they say, what happens along those lines is better not detailed.
I am a survivalist. If it is you or me, I will promise to give you a Christian burial. I think most Indiana farm boys feel that way. We want to protect our own lives and the lives of those we love from attack. When I was young, they called that being a good American. Again, my ancient ways are showing that I am not among the politically correct youngsters. Still, I know folks in their 20’s that agree with my survivalist views. And I thank God they do. Since they do, perhaps freedom of choice in the way we live our lives, make our living, choose our spouses etc. will continue a few more generations before the inevitable end of time.
So that is the deal. Guns are fun. I love shooting and I make no excuses about it. If you feel the same, feel free to look me up and maybe we can do some target practicing or actual hunting. Does my love for guns make me want to harm innocent people? Absolutely not. Does it make me want to force someone to live like I do? No way. Those who believe disarming our society will make it somehow safer amaze me. No offense, but they most certainly qualify for some sort of special kind of stupid.
Graveyards. That is the hint the socialists who want to disarm us should remember. Look for freshly dug graves in our woodlands. You just might find coffins filled with guns and ammo there, placed by old timers who can afford such things just in case the socialist really do come for our guns.
If they do, most of us gun lovers will probably say, “I used to have all of those guns you mentioned sir but I gave them away years ago. I do have a bee bee gun on my back porch. Do you want it?”
One other point before I close this chapter. If you do plan to hide a miniature self-defense arsenal, don’t tell a soul. My grandfather was right. Once someone besides you and God know your secret, it is no longer a secret.
I had a father-in-law once who came back from Vietnam and buried baby… Baby was his machine gun. I could be wrong, but I honestly believe if they come for our guns in the United States of America, our government just might be biting off a bigger piece of pie than they can chew without choking. Enough said.
In my next chapter, I will switch gears again and give you some insights on why I love the game of golf and how I found it to be a great form of stress release in my younger days.
Chapter 14: Golf, fishing and still having fun!
This will be the final chapter of “The Path I Took,” at least for now. Let me say this. I have had a wonderful life. Jimmy Buffet was right, if it suddenly ended tomorrow, I could somehow adjust to the plight…
But since life does seem to be going on, I can not help but wonder why I felt the need to tell all of the things in this book. I have made my living, despite my wife’s opposite views, from being personal in my writing and in my business dealings. I believe people want to know what the other man is and feels so they have a measuring stick of comparison in a predominately anonymous world.
But when you are personal, you run the risk of embarrassing certain people. As my grandparents used to say, some people really can not take a joke. I have a family. For this I am grateful. Some of my friends that I love dearly are alone. Some have families. The ones with families seem the happiest to me. Perhaps this is because I happen to be wired that way. Still, consideration for others, and a choice not to exercise complete freedom of speech for those other folks in the family, brings a lot of pent up anger to me.
One solution to such pent up anger, for me, was to learn to play golf, fish or even sit down to a good old fashioned game of chess. I played a lot of golf back in Hagerstown, Indiana and I hope to do so again in a few years. I am also a fan of romance novels. But let’s look at why golf was important to me as a child growing up. And I do have high hopes of incorporating it into my world again.
My favorite part of the game, besides having a respectable top 9-hole round of 36 to 40 strokes, is the walking part. I am not a fan of golf carts, but rather I like to hit my golf ball, stride to it, perch it just so and hit it again. In high school, this sometimes met smacking it from the rough into a lake – which gave me a lot of penalty strokes on the night my golf coach decided to teach me a lesson and put me on second string for our next match because I knocked too many balls astray. You see, when the ball lands in the taller grass, that is the rough, a fellow is not allowed to move it. Really, you are not supposed to touch it even on the fairway, but as kids we sometimes ignored that rule. In short, we played for fun, not to be tournament correct.
In my hour of ironic glory, when I got three boggies, three pars and three birdies for a perfect 36 stroke round, Hagerstown, Indiana golf coach Gordy Goodnight kissed my 36 for nine holes good night on the night of the tournament. In other words, because he had put me on second string, the par score could not count toward helping the Hagerstown Tigers…
I look back at it now and feel sorry about it. I must admit I was laughing back then. I should have probably been more of a team player and regretted the team loss over some petty little argument, but instead I was quite happy to gloat over how things turned out, with me getting my coach back, so to speak. All though the revenge was not intentional, the irony of how I won despite the put down of being told, in my mind at least, that I was not good enough, made me smile.
Now there is the real topic of the final chapter of my life. I am now, and always have been, the guy who marches to the beat of a different drummer. And I have always been the guy who wants to win, at least win in my own mind.
Whether it was playing golf by myself, with no shoes or socks, or fishing at dawn by myself after my grandfather passed in 1989, I was, and am, someone who has always cut his own trail. I do not wish to be bossed around, nor am I going to spend the rest of my life hearing the legalists squawk about my behavior or lack of their high minded morals. I do take my orders from God. I don’t like that very much sometimes, but He is, after all, God. But being a do it my-selfer, there is a lot of stress that goes with such a life style. Besides golf, playing chess or going fishing have been my versions of getting away from it all.
Chess is my favorite pass time, if I have a challenging partner. But I must admit, it has been a long time since I have had another person take that much interest in me and my enjoyments of that game. The thing that I love about playing chess is the intimate mental connection to another soul. Just as in shooting firearms, I realize there is always a faster gun, in this case a better chess player. I met a guy back in 2004 that was a known outlaw in Clark County. Steve could beat me in chess more often than not. I loved playing him because of the challenge.
Even though losing at anything sucks, I do love learning. And the only way to learn in any task, at least for a stubborn soul like me, is to seek out someone better at the challenge in question.
I realize I do not think like a whole lot of people, and outside of wanting to please my family and business clients, I am happy in my unique thinking ways. I enjoy thinking like I think and writing about what I consider news worthy. And I enjoy selling the advertisements that make this magazine possible so I can feel justified in using that space to address issues near and dear to my heart.
My grandparents both had a loner side to them. So do I. Even in chess, I play both sides of the board sometimes to just sharpen my own skills. I do see my friend Mike’s point about living alone, with only pets and maybe plants to take care of around me. Mike married three young ladies years ago and is going on four decades of living alone by choice.
He used to date, until the last five years or so. Now, other than a few mental connections, he and his dog Mugsy live by themselves. Oh, he takes on a room mate now and then, but stays away from the life partner scene.
My wife is my chess playing partner, yet we have never played one game of chess with one another. What I mean is she is my life’s partner and I place more confidence in her than anyone else – after all, we do live together. And I will now apologize to her publicly, and to my family, for being such a stubborn mule at times. I do come by it honest. My Grandpa was one and he taught me well.
That stubborn streak has gained me five pretty good publishing businesses, a house and a wife that I am still overall proud to be with. So it really does not suck to be me. In short, if you really want something to happen, you must keep hammering until that nail goes through the wall.
But the best part of being me is that I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior when I was 15 years old. That has made all the difference in my life since. I do blow up and say stupid things from time to time. And occasionally, I even write those stupid things for publication. But in my defense, I am quick to forgive, quick to stand up for the under dog and quick to go the extra mile if I can help you in any way. Part of that is Grandpa and Grandma teaching me to be kind. But mostly it is Jesus living on the inside of me and not giving up on me. Thank you Lord!
So besides chess, the one hobby I can still afford, and even practice from time to time, is fishing. Mike loves to fish so I can connect with my best friend when we do this. I hope to go fishing with him on the May 2 weekend of this year and then again on the May 17 weekend. April rains have been heavy so maybe May will be dryer.
I think I have discovered a fishing hole where we can catch a mess near Arkadelphia for May 2 and another hole where we can do the same in Eastern Arkansas. The main thing is it breaks our routine and gives us something fun and simple to do. Sure, I also love to fish alone. But in this case, it is absolutely wonderful to fish with someone I care about.
I hope to get some, or all, of my six grandchildren, interested in fishing. I once had a fishing trip with my daughter Kelley, back at the Paragould trailer park, that went perfect. We went back to Frankie Joe’s pond and came home with a bucket full of brim. I cleaned them and cooked them and me and Kelley ate them. Wow were they ever good, all rolled up in corn meal. But the part that made them really good was the fact that my daughter and I caught them, cleaned them and ate them! Now that was true communion with somebody you love. Kelley used to play me chess too. Then she beat me and won’t give it another go – well at least to date.
One thing you should also know, as I close out this autobiography, finished this year of our Lord, 2014, is that I am genetically half Cherokee, one quarter English and one quarter Swede. I suppose that at least explains part of the way I am.
As afore mentioned, I am the son of two doctors but was raised by two farmers with a bit of outlaw taint mixed in there somewhere.
I did an entire chapter on music that showed you my heart. I normally wake up thinking about a song. Whether or not I wrote it makes me no difference. But a song in my heart I usually have. It may range anywhere from “Lord Have Mercy on the Working Man,” to “Amazing Grace,” but I do love ideas expressed through music.
I read a quote by one of my favorite movie stars that also describes me pretty well. Now deceased actor Michael Landon said, “I believe the public is hungry for stories that have real meaning.” Amen. Whether those stories are told in a book, a magazine article or in a song, we crave slices of real life. “Newsworthy data” is over rated, as is neutral news that stirs no emotion.
In the words of a group called “Nine Inch Nails,” who wrote “Hurt” which Johnny Cash made famous, I have found I can relate to the following lyrics: “I hurt myself today to see if I still feel. The needle tears a hole and the pain I feel is real.”
So am I drawing fire from the self righteous crowd with this novel? Honestly, no. All I have really intended to do is to see if I still feel and if maybe someone else can use this effort to decide to find out if they do. I hope you have enjoyed these 15 chapters. I could reprint 14 of them and I do not believe it violate my pledge to try and not hurt my family. The lost chapter, which I omitted from the web, could not be published again unless I were living alone. That is OK. I choose my family’s happiness over that chapter any day. I quickly replaced it when I was told it hurt those in my life now.
I used to say take me as I am or not at all. I suppose I still feel that way. But our Lord Jesus Christ says all of our secrets will be shouted from the roof top. He does not say we have to shout out those secrets ourselves. Chapter 13 of this book does exist. It will be up to the Lord if it ever goes public again. As one friend said, maybe that part of your life is better left to be revealed after you die…My thoughts in writing it was confession was good for the soul.
I did not take into consideration that many folks, including members of my own family, care about presenting an image. Me, I am just me. Still, I am glad to have pulled the article, as pulling it made someone else’s life easier. Would I have left it in publication if there were not complaints by loved ones? Yes. My feeling is the truth is the truth and should be told at every opportunity.
But again, this book, and my writing since Tailgate News Magazine started in 2007, is not about my feelings or believes. I am trying to give back to a God and a world that has given me the freedom to be me, a sweet wife who deserves so much more than I can ever give her and a family that I love dearly. So the decision to fix what I could to ease the pain of someone else instead of choosing to stroke my own writer’s ego was an easy one.
Writing has always brought me joy. And it has always brought me a good stress called a challenge. I love a challenge just like my doctor daddy and doctor mommy did. They wanted to be the best at what they did. Me too.
Am I the best writer in the world? No. But maybe you have found me readable. Do I take criticism well? No. But I normally step back from it and change what I can about what someone else is so upset about because I am a people pleaser as long as you don’t cross my battle lines.
If somebody does not like a chapter in a book, and I see their point, whether I agree or not, I will do what I can to please them. If they tell me I can not write an editorial about how this country needs to fight to keep its freedom to choose its own health insurance and pack its own choices of guns, then yes, I will write those opinions until I die.. And if that is considered drawing fire, so be it. This is America. We are free to be and do what we want, at least as long as our arms to not collide with other people as we are expressing that freedom.
So yes, I back down on what I consider the unimportant details of life so I can be more of a part of someone’s smiles instead of their frowns.
But if we are talking about voter rights, gun rights, freedom of choice in the market place without fear of penalty or jail, yes I will stand up and write against what appears to be a form of legalistic control freak maneuvering. And no, I don’t care who it embarrasses when I say I am proud to be a Christian and from a Christian nation. And I do thank God for term limits and to be living in a system of government that allows the people’s opinions to count – even if they are not always the same as mine.
I guess you can tell I am a man who loves to create business and work it. Socialism, that is the notion that the government should give me a free lunch, does not appeal to me for me, my friends, my family or even those people I can not agree with. The reason is nothing is free and I really don’t want to pay the penalty of being dependent on anyone but God. And as I said before, if I live another 100 years, I will take my orders from God because after all, He is God.
I will say this about my choices in life. We all ask ourselves if our choices have been worth it? I can honestly say mine have been.
Thanks for reading about a pole cat journalist. And may God in heaven bless you all!
Editor’s Note: Want more information on my grandfather’s association with John Dillinger and the bank robberies of 1933-34? Go under features II and you will find a 15-chapter book of notes taken from the story of how John Hans Nelson stayed in farming and survived just fine at the tail end of the Great Depression.