I’m getting a fileserver upgrade, so my computer will be dark for a few days, which would be a problem because Mother’s birthday will fall within that period. Fortunately, I can post this under the Birthday Season Exemption.
My family, for better or worse, is made up of packrats who saved stuff that would be considered inconsequential to most folks. While going through an envelope of greeting, birthday, sympathy and get-well cards, I ran across this snippet of a letter I had written to Mother from Ohio University, probably in 1967.
I’m glad she saved it (and that I found it)
I don’t know what triggered me to write it, but I’m glad I did. I didn’t do that enough to people who are important to me.
Maybe I was trying to recover for letting Mother’s Day slip past me the first year at OU. Trust me, that never happened again.
When I was working at The Gastonia Gazette in North Carolina, I was a member of the rescue squad.
One of the dreaded calls was “Welfare check: neighbor reports flies on the window next door.” Too often, that meant someone was dead. Long, liquefied dead.
That was brought to mind when my Cape kitchen was suddenly full of houseflies the first time the weather turned cold. I found this sticky thing got rid of most of them in a few days before my neighbors dialed 9-1-1.
My days on the squad
I don’t want to exaggerate my contribution to the Gastonia Rescue and First Aid Squad, which was made up of volunteers, many of whom were “lintheads” who were looked down upon by the community’s movers and shakers – until they had a heart attack or piled up their car.
I got on because John Stepp, a Gastonia fire captain, and captain of the rescue squad, saw that I had PR value. He gave me permission to buy an ancient two-way radio to put in my car so I could know what they were working. They went on enough “good” calls that pictures of them made the paper almost every week.
Even though I had taken basic first aid training, my utility and level of expertise soon became clear. Because I was roaming all over the area, I was often first on the scene. I would radio in a situation report, then provide aid and comfort to the injured by hollering, “I hear ’em comin.’ I hear ’em comin.'”
John was a rough-and-tumble firefighter who was a natural leader of men. He was also like a second father to me.
Capt. Stepp explained Southern life to me
The crew was a United Way agency, so we had to appear before a board of suits to get our budget approved. Red King, a textile worker, was treasurer, if I remember correctly. I had been elected secretary, so the two of us, along with Stepp had to appear before the board.
The UW group asked poor Red all kinds of detailed questions that were designed to get him flustered – “Why do you need a telephone in the dormitory area?” for example.
Finally, I had enough. I told the suits that Red wasn’t the guy you would want doing your income taxes, but he’s definitely the one you wanted next to you if you suddenly clutched your chest and collapsed of a heart attack.
I turned to Stepp and suggested that our group go out into the hall for a conference.
I told my fellow crewmen that we were the most popular agency under the UW umbrella. We could go alone, and probably make more money than what UW would give us.
Stepp calmed me down. “You don’t understand how things work down here. Those guys jerk us around to show who runs this county. They’re going to give us everything we ask for, like always. If we pull out, it’s going to hurt a lot of agencies that don’t have the public support we do. We’re going to go back in, let them strut and bluster, then they’ll approve our budget request.”
It happened just like he predicted, but I never supported United Way again.
They trusted me with a dead man
When things were slow at the paper, I’d hang around the crew hall answering the phones and playing dispatcher.
An unknown emergency at a construction site north of town came in, and two rigs went to check it out. I volunteered to stick around. I called the office and had Kermit Hull, another photographer, drift that way in case it turned out to be something newsworthy.
As soon as the crew arrived, they told me to jump in the rescue truck that had all the heavy equipment in it and come fast because a trench had collapsed, burying several men.
This was my first Code 3 (lights and siren) run. When I got about a quarter mile from the scene, I hit a traffic backup. Driving on the wrong side of the road was a new – and scary – experience for me. Fortunately, an 18-wheeler in the oncoming lane flashed his lights to let me know he was going to hold back the traffic.
As soon as I rolled up, they told me to hop in the back of an ambulance to feed oxygen to the first man they had recovered. In retrospect, I realize they had already determined that the man was dead, and there wasn’t much I could do to make his condition worse.
I was given the Goodbye to a Yankee Award
At the end of the year, after I had given notice to The Gazette that I was headed to The Palm Beach Post, the rescue squad held its annual banquet with lots of good-humored banter, and awards given to members for outstanding performance.
Much to my surprise, I was called forward to receive The Sparkplug Award, for my efforts at the trench cave-in.
I turned to Lila, who had only heard snatches of my exploits that day, and said, “They didn’t give me that for my heroics, it was their way of saying, ‘Thank goodness, we’re going to have one less Yankee in town.'”
I’m moving this from my bike blog and updating it.
Coon Dog Cemetery 10-10-2008
I like back roads
You never know what you’re going to find. When the boys were little, we took the less-traveled roads from West Palm Beach, FL, back home to Cape Girardeau, MO. Our path took us near Tuscambia, AL, where we stopped to visit Helen Keller’s home.
It’s seven miles west of Tuscambia on U.S. 72. Turn left (south) on Alabama 247, go 12 miles, turn right and follow the signs.
Trust me, anytime directions say “follow the signs” something is gonna get interesting.
We were pulling a small utility trailer
We were in a small Mazda 626 with two adults and two squirmy – “He’s Looking At Me” – kids and pulling a small utility trailer behind us when we made the turn onto a narrow gravel road. It was getting late in the afternoon and the road seemed to go along forever.
We’ve got company
I looked in the rearview mirror and saw a cloud of dust about a tenth of a mile behind us. I didn’t hear Dueling Banjos, which made me feel better, but figured I’d keep an eye on the mirror just in case.
We finally saw the sign and made the turn into the cemetery.
The dust cloud disappeared
While the wife and kids piled out of the car, I noted that the following cloud of dust was gone, but that the car hadn’t passed us. Oh, well, he may have pulled off.
The kids amused themselves by wandering around collecting chiggers and reading the stones.
Troop, owned by Key Underwood, was the first dog buried in the graveyard. On Labor Day, 1937, after being hunting companions for 15 years, it was reported that Underwood wrapped Troop in a cotton pick sack, buried him three feet down and marked the grave with a stone from an old chimney.
About 30 minutes after we had gotten there, a car pulled in and a couple got out and walked up to us.
“We saw you pulling that trailer behind you and thought you might be conducting a burial, so we wanted to give you a little privacy,” the man said, respectfully.
We thanked them for their consideration and assured them that all of the folks who had arrived at the graveyard would be leaving with us.
Grave markers are unique
Some grave markers are commercial versions with professional sandblasted lettering like you’d find in a human cemetery, but most of them are homemade and reflect the personality of the dog and his / her owner.
Some are carved out of wood and are rotting away. Others are simply names gouged into cement or stone.
Bear was memorialized with a welding bead spelling out his name and dates on a rusting piece of sheet metal.
Nearly 200 dogs buried there
Underwood told a reporter that he had no intention of establishing a coon dog cemetery. “I merely wanted to do something special for a special coon dog.”
There are standards and rules
The hunter told columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson in 1985 that a woman from California wrote him wanting to know why he didn’t allow other kinds of dogs to be buried in the Coon Dog Cemetery.
“You must not know much about coon hunters and their dogs, if you think we would contaminate this burial place with poodles and lap dogs,” he retorted.
“We have stipulations on this thing,” William O. Bolton, the secretary/treasure of the Tennessee Valley Coon Hunters Association, and caretaker of the Coon Dog Cemetery was quoted on the organization’s web page. “A dog can’t run no deer, possum — nothing like that. He’s got to be a straight coon dog, and he’s got to be full hound. Couldn’t be a mixed up breed dog, a house dog.”
It’s a beautiful and peaceful place
The cemetery is very well taken care of. We were a little disappointed to see that almost every grave was decorated with plastic flowers that looked out of character for the place. We assumed that they had probably been placed there as part of the annual Labor Day celebration since we visited in October and they looked fresh.
The celebration runs from 1 to 4 P.M. and includes music, dancing, food and a liar’s contest. Official Coon Dog T-shirts and camouflage caps are available.
The gravel road has been paved these days. If you are interested in going there, drop me a comment and I’ll give you the GPS waypoint for the place. I’ve seen at least three different locations shown for it on different maps.
Bug spray is advisable (mosquitoes were heavy late in the afternoon) and keep an eye out for ticks.
Oh, and if you see a car pulling a trailer turn in, give them a few minutes of privacy.
One thing about Missouri’s weather is it predictably unpredictable.
In the last month or so, we’ve gone from weeks of drought, torrential rains that flooded communities like Marble Hill (rain was falling at the rate of better than four inches an hour at my house, and about a week of the heat index above three digits, not counting the decimal point.
The Night of the Big Rain didn’t bring promised (dreaded) winds and hail, but the lightning was almost continuous.
That brought to mind Mark Twain’s comment, “Thunder is good, thunder is impressive, but it is lightning that does the work.”
Not only hot, it’s humid
You can see from the condensation on my basement window when I started up the stairs to go to bed that there’s a lot of moisture in the air
When the heat index was 106 (116 if you believe the local TV station), I elected to replace a dusk to dawn porch light that had decided to stay on all the time.
The whole process took about an hour, at which point you could ring sweat out of my cap, shirt, suspenders and underwear. I had other projects on my list, but I may put them on hold until the one week in November before temps drop below zero,