Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Merry Christmas And Lots of ‘Woo-Woo-Woo-Woos’ To You, Too!

OK, so we all sing along with the radio in the car, right?
When we know no one can hear us, and somebody out there in not likely to have a camera phone, and we don’t stand a chance of ending up on youtube.com.
By the way, be careful out there. In most places today, you do something stupid and you don’t just end up on America’s Funniest Home Videos; these days, you can end up on the WORLD WIDE WEB!
Still, in a moving car, alone, it’s still safe to sing, be silly and, in my case, WAY off key and have no one know about it (unless you ’fess up in a column).
That said I have a Christmas confession.
Every December, I like to sing along to Elvis Presley’s Christmas songs.
As painful as it is for you, imagine a “Taylor Sings Elvis, Live And Nowhere Near Key!”
Sure, Santa Claus Is Back In Town is my favorite. I mean how much cooler, this side of a polar bear’s behind, can a Christmas song be? It combines Santa and a black Cadillac for goodness sake!
But then, too, who doesn’t like to sing along to Blue Christmas?
In that little ditty, I do it all (while driving safely and adhering to all traffic laws, of course). I cover Elvis’ lead, the Jordanaires and most certainly Millie Kirkham’s vocals.
Who is Millie Kirkham?
Well, I’ll be a lump of coal!
You guys don’t know anything, do ya?
Millie Kirkham is the famed singer of what is best described in print as the “woo-woo-woo-woo-woo” backup vocals in Blue Christmas.
What a claim to fame! To be able to tell your grandkids, “I sang the woo-woo-woo-woo-woos” with Elvis (yes, THE Elvis) on Blue Christmas!”
Now that IS cool!
(Of course, I also dream about playing the cowbell on the Rolling Stone’s song, Honky Tonk Women. Yes, there is one on there (check it out), and what the heck, I figure should I ever run into the Stones eating ribs at The Rendezvous in Memphis, I’ll have a better chance, with, “Hey, blokes, what say you let me play the cowbell on the next tour…?” than I will asking for a backup singer job.)
But back to Kirkham’s Blue Christmas “woo-woo-woo-woo-woos”, of which it’s reported she and the rest of the singers did almost as a joke.
In fact, it has been said by one of the famed Jordanaires that Elvis encouraged the backup vocalists to record it badly because he didn’t really want to release it.
“They said have fun — do something silly,” Kirkham confirmed in a CNN interview. “When we got through, we all laughed.”
But you know what? It went on to be a No. 1 hit!
So…? Singing “badly/silly” worked out pretty well? There IS hope for me and the rest of all the cooped-up car crooners, right?
Well, maybe not, but you gotta dream.
Anyway, the Blue Christmas backup vocal was not Kirkham’s only claim to fame. She has continued to have a long career, also recording with: Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Jerry Lee Lewis, Burl Ives, Johnny Cash, Brenda Lee, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Perry Como, Carl Perkins, Rosemary Clooney, Little Richard, Reba McEntire, Brook Benton, Tammy Wynette, Vic Damone, Paul Anka, George Jones, Eddy Arnold, Loretta Lynn, Jim Reeves and many others.
You know…? (Warning! I’m thinking here, dangerous as that can be.) Actually, recording people trying to sing Kirkham’s Blue Christmas “woo-woo-woo-woo-woo” part and accompanying Elvis would be a great Christmas radio promotion, now that I think about it.
Sort of like the famed and oft-used “who can best whistle the theme song from The Andy Griffith Show?” promo. Except this time it could be, who can best sing the backup vocals for Elvis on Blue Christmas?
And let’s face it, the fun will be in hearing the ones that sound like me (or worse, as if that’s possible).
I’m betting there’s plenty of folks around town that are indeed nuttier than a fruitcake and ready to give it a try?
Heck, a trip to tour Graceland could be the grand prize!
Ah, but I am dreaming again.
Back to work. Merry Christmas, y’all!
(And meanwhile be sure to practice your “woo-woo-woo-woo-woos…!”)

Hark Y'all: A Christmas Quiz

My wife has long accused me of carrying around an empty cranium, and other than the trivia, well, she is pretty much right.
But in the spirit of this stored trivia and Christmas, I am offering you a Christmas movie trivia quiz this week.
Keep score and let me know how you do.

1.) In the movie A Christmas Story, where the kid, Ralphie, longs for a Red Ryder BB gun, what was the mystery phrase he solved with his Little Orphan Annie de-coder ring?

A.) Buy a Daisy Red Ryder, 200 shot Range Model with a compass in the stock, and this thing that tells time.
B.) Drink more Ovaltine!
C.) You’ll shoot your eye out!
D.) Daddy Warbucks is a Grinch!
E.) Fragile(y)! It’s Italian!

2) Hark, y’all! (I love that word — hark!) In the A Charlie Brown Christmas special who plays the part of the shepherd?

A.) Linus. He puts blanket to good use.
B.) Pigpen. One gets dirty out there in the pasture.
C.) Sally
D.) Snoopy

3.) In the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, two characters named Bert and Ernie were later the inspiration for the names of Jim Henson’s Muppets on Sesame Street. What were their occupations in the holiday movie?

A.) A bartender and a bank teller.
B.) An angel and a mayor.
C.) A druggist and a solider.
D.) A cab driver and a cop.

4.) What Little Rascal had a cameo in It’s A Wonderful Life as a grownup?

A.) Spanky
B.) Buckwheat
C.) Alfalfa
D.) Petey

5. In the Dr. Seuss animated TV special, How the Grinch Stole Christmas the singer of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” also helped make another cartoon character great if not famous with his booming voice. Which cartoon character was it?

A.) Toucan Sam
B.) Yosemite Sam
C.) Count Chocula
D.) Tony The Tiger

6. What famous actor provided the famed voice for the narration and the Grinch in the animated special? And, as part two, what other green character did he portray in another movie?

A.) John Smith, The Jolly Green Giant
B.) Boris Karloff, Frankenstein
C.) Johnny Whitaker, Sigmund the Seamonster.
D.) Jim Henson, Kermit The Frog

7. Complete the following:

“…And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit ______?”


1. B. “A crumby commercial!?!”
2. A. Linus. Pigpen is the innkeeper. Snoopy plays a host of critters.
3. D. A cabbie and a cop.
4. C. The Barber of Seville, Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer had a few other acting gigs. It all ended later, in a brawl over a bird dog, when the actor was shot. Perhaps some things are worth fighting for (others are not)?
5. D. Actor Thurl Ravenscroft sang the song and was later well-known as the voice of Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger.
6. B. Boris Karloff. Evidently, for him it was not only easy being green, but it was also profitable. Also, a lot of people think Karloff sings the “…Mean One…” song, too, but they are mistaken. (See No. 5.)
7. MORE! Again, try to remember “Christmas means more” this holiday as you celebrate with your family and friends.

Your Score

0-1 - So, as a kid, you bumped your head on the mantle while hanging a stocking, right?
2-3 - You’ve been dipping in the eggnog a bit early this year, eh?
4-6 - OK, so you have seen quite a few Christmases come and go.
7 – Perfect! Call Santa. Apply for job, now! He needs your help!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Birth Of A Blood Trailer

There’s a burnt-orange dog that sleeps in the monkey grass, near our home’s front doorstep.

Her name is Honey and she, like most golden retrievers, is sweet and loves people to a fault.

“Don’t let her jump up on ya and lick you to death,” I have to constantly warn visitors.

This bad habit follows a year or two of failing (evidently) to explain to my son, “If you let Honey jump up on YOU, she’s going to try to do that with EVERYBODY.”

“But Dad, she just wants to dance,” he said.

So, fair warning, we have a golden at our house that likes to put her paws on you when she greets you. Now, you can dance if you want, but I step on her toes enough that she doesn’t dance with me. (If you do choose to dance, though, let her lead.)

I think she woulda been a top-notch retriever had her trainer not failed her. Her nose keen, no doubt. She can smell carry-out from a great distance and has found dead doves for me in the thickest of the thick.

Honey, has been run over twice (once by a truck AND trailer), that I know of, kicked pretty good by a cow or two, and hates being penned up so much she will chew through mesh-wire fence to get out. So, she is also a pretty tough character when its called for, despite her sweet nature and name.

She is a darn good hunter, too, often bringing neighboring quail, rabbits, moles, voles, etc. to hand, even though I didn’t ask for such.

Her primary job for the family, though, is to let us know if somebody arrives unexpected, be it stranger, polecat or coyote.

She doesn’t care much for deer, and with that in mind I let her blood-trail one my son shot on the youth hunt. The buck fell off into a very deep and log-loaded kudzu ditch, so rather than try to trail a deer in the jungle by myself, I went home to get Honey.

Well, what do you know? She’s a blood-trailer, too. In hind-sight leaving that long lead on her was not a good idea, and she told me as much when it became tangled around the buck’s small rack. And yes, there was a brief moment that I wondered whether the whitetail was going to carry my dog away. But Honey wore on the dying buck. As it turned out, both of the buck’s shoulders were ruined and when it bedded down, Honey bedded down with it.

I wanted to get a photo with my phone, but I didn’t dare get in photog range, or I might risk jumping the buck and sending them off to the races again. So I just watched the strange scene, both of ’em bedded down like cattle in pasture.

And Honey babysat it pretty good, too, well, in her way. She just lay there licking the dying buck on the nose and muttering her favorite recipe of tenderloin sautéed in a skillet with onions, peppers and red wine. (I guess like most of us, she does have a dark side, too…or at the least, a sick sense of humor.)

Well, we got that buck, and of course, I shared some venison with the dog. (She told me I shouldn’t cook with such cheap wine! But I did note Honey said it with a mouth full of venison.)

She has since gone on several other blood trails with dead deer waiting at the end, and a time or two she found only a bloody arrow. And true, on some of the trails, we already knew where the dead deer was. We took her just because we knew Honey likes to go along. (I mean what are friends for?) I suspect it also keeps her dead-deer retrieval/finding skills sharp as well.

One fall day, I told my buddy when we picked Honey up to take her on a fresh trail, that she was talking to us, and asked if he could hear her.

“No, what’s she saying?” he asked, since he obviously did not speak golden retriever.

“Oh, she wants to know what we have messed up and let nearly get away this time,” I laughed.

But really, a good blood trailer is always good to have around, especially if they can also hold down/stunt the monkey grass, fend off polecats and dance with the guests…

Taylor Wilson is an editor at Bill Dance Publishing. He can be reached via email at taylorwilson@billdancefishing.com.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Friendship, Fun Wrapped In A Foliated Box

By Taylor Wilson

“You know I like duck hunting best, right?”

This from my nine-year-old when we were hunting something other than ducks.

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“Well, because you can talk a whole lot more,” he said.

I laughed and thought of his mom, and realized the gene pool is indeed split 50-50. (When the kid was a baby, he babbled so much that I figured he would probably have no other career choice than auctioneer.)

“I also like it because you get to be in the blind with your friends, and cook stuff and have fun. And if it is really right, we get to shoot a lot, together,” he added.

I agreed, with him, and as a dad, enjoyed his word “together.” Then I added that if forced to choose, my leanings were more toward waterfowl as well. And then it hit me.


A duck blind is no more than a clubhouse, really. Not unlike those places we would build out of scrap lumber as kids and go hide from the rest of the world with our best buds and our dogs.

Why had I never seen it that way before?

Maybe I had listened too much to some who believe blinds to be nothing more than a foliated box where they sit and wait?

Or maybe it was because it had been too long since I saw it through the eyes of a child?

This year, according to waterfowl surveys, looks to be a bang-bang, bang-up season; so clubhouse time could be prime.

But I have heard the “Mega Migration” predictions before, and to tell the truth, I have actually experienced better seasons in the reportedly lean years, than in those forecasted to be fantastic. So I am skeptical, in a cup-half-empty, one-hipboot-leaks, one-doesn’t kind of way.

Yep, you see enough seasons, greenhouse theory included (gaseous as that may be), and you’ll witness all the cycles of cold weather, rain/water and crop production/food. You’ll notice they pretty much chart all over the place. And at such times, it doesn’t matter how many ducks are north (or south) of you.

Then too, on the other side of the johnboat, just have all the ’fowl factors line up, and it can become the kind of season where clubhouses/blinds become crowded.

So it comes down to: We can only hope and keep our trigger fingers crossed.

But either way—lots of dead ducks or only a few—at Show Time I am mainly shooting for some time in the clubhouse/blind, with good buds, good food and our dog.

What? Some of us will never grow up?

Probably not, if we had been given a choice. But even all grownup, we can still catch a hint of being able to travel back, now and then, especially when occupying a camouflaged clubhouse.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Savannah's TN River Museum

My son and I were recently on a fishing trip in the Pickwick area, and when we left the water, we traveled north to Savannah, Tenn., for a stop at the Tennessee River Museum, 495 Main St.
This is truly one of those hidden gems, not unlike a freshwater pearls, that the museum tells about and showcases inside.
I had been there before and wrote a story about it, many years ago for a daily newspaper; at the time the museum opened its doors.

But each time I visit I am impressed and learn something new, which is what museums are supposed to do.
The “company” line is the museum includes info and artifacts about: dinosaurs, T.V.A., history the prehistoric Mississippi Mound Builders, the tragic story of the “Trail of Tears,” the Civil War on the River, the Golden Age of Steamboats, and the Tennessee River today and much more.
But this description sells short what there is to learn and appreciate here, especially when you see it through the eyes of a child.
For example, a child might learn:
“Wow! This general had 30 horses shot out from underneath him in the War, and still survived!”
Or, “I never thought a cannon ball this small, would be this heavy.”
And maybe a kid can pick up a dose of reality about the difference between video games, action movies and a real war.
He can learn that bayonets were used not only to kill people, but also to drag countless dead bodies from the field; that the “Bloody Pond” really was just that; and that the “Hornets’ Nest” must have been hell on earth.

Yep, there are a lot of lessons and amazing things to learn here. Check it out, should you ever be in the area. Take your kids.
Museum hours are Monday-Saturday 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults and free to those age 18 and under. Orange admission tickets to nearby Shiloh National Military Park allows for free admission to museum, as well.
For more information, call 800-552-FUNN.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Two Thumbs (Hooked) Up/My Life As A Pin Cushion

The Trials & Tribulations Of A Good Hook-Set
By Taylor Wilson

Ever read the, “this happened to me!” columns in the old outdoor magazines?
You know the stories I’m talking about. It’s the ones where some guy spent hours on a life raft and thwarted sharks, or where another guy climbed a tree, chased by a grizzly bear and survived only because he raked the bear’s snout with a piece of his arrow.
I was once at an outdoor writers’ meeting where the aged and grizzled scribes began telling about their “near-death experiences in the outdoors.”
One by one they told of the horrors they had somehow managed to survive and be present, there that day, to make laps around the free food bar.
When it came my turn, I of course, told ’em the truth of my most dangerous outdoor adventure:
“Well, WAY back in the day, I was hunting duck hunting off somewhere, and the night before we were hanging out in a honky tonk, and I made the BIG mistake of asking an even BIGGER guy’s girlfriend to dance.
“Have you fellas ever heard the Skynyrd song, ‘Gimme Three Steps?’ Well, I lived it! No wait, better make that, I SURVIVED it, way back in a 1980-something duck season!”
Now, my fellow scribes were not impressed. Especially not the one that had been washed down white-water rapids while trout fishing, nor the guy that had battled a Russian boar (in Russia) with a penknife!
Oh well, I survived, nonetheless. And just maybe it was such experience that got me through my latest mishap. But meanwhile in the spirit of the old magazine columns:

So there I was betwixt hook and crook…more so than rock and a hard place.

My tackle box lid was broken and would not stay closed, but I strapped it across my back, anyway.
Took it off my shoulder, put it in the bed of my truck.
Unbeknownst to me two bass plugs with (as it turns out) several very sharp treble hooks decided to hitchhike on my hind quarters, clinging to the backside of my Sunday pants.
I realized this when I sat down in the truck.
Of course, it wasn’t just one hook, but judging from the pain in my butt (literally), there were treble hooks aplenty.
So, I did what most folks would do when sitting on something sharp: I tried to fly.
Not unlike those folks that sat on tacks placed in chairs back when we were kids.
(An argument for what goes around, comes around, I tell ya.)
But, as it turned out, I was also now hooked to the seat covers, and the bass plugs, which were also hooked to my Sunday pants as well as some padding I had accumulated on a diet of high carbs.
Rising upward with my feet, I used a free hand to reach around and flank the problem.
And guess what?
It went from bad to worse.
One of the darn things snagged a thumb. The more I moved it, the deeper the barb went into my thumb.
So, again, there I was—contorted kind of limbo-like.
I remained this way for a few seconds that seemed like hours, realizing I couldn’t drive like this. And if I could, what would I do when I got there?
So I finally lifted upward and ripped free, from the seat covers. I was still wearing treble hooks in/on the hiney as I stood on the side rails and drove the pickup from a storage building to my house.
While driving, I had this image of me, falling out, being run over and found dead with bass baits attached to my butt.
Nope, it wouldn’t exactly be going out in a blaze of glory. But I’d be an obituary writer’s dream: “ANGLER DIES OF PAIN IN THE BASS,” “END OF LINE IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE FOR FISHERMAN,” “THOSE HE LEFT BEHIND,” “ANGLER’S DENIED HIS LAST FISHES,” “ANGLER KICKS (MINNOW) BUCKET;” and “LAST CAST,” etc., etc., etc.
But fortunately, as noted, I survived and made it into the house…though bleeding moderately, and got the pants off. And sure, I said several un-Sunday like things, but then again, these pants were never again be labeled “Sunday pants,” either.
After much pained delay, I finally got to leave for fishing trip.
Of course, it promptly rained it out, basically while en route to the water.
And as I retrieved my fishing rods from a friend’s vehicle to return home, they slipped and I felt the not-so old and familiar pain, again, but this time the hooks was in my other thumb.
My buddy helped cut it out with needle-nosed pliers. And after threatening to sue him for malpractice, I went home—bleeding yet again, and thankful again to BE the one that got away!

Monday, June 29, 2009

No Trash Fish, No GARbage, Just Great Fishing

By Taylor Wilson

LOWER SARDIS, Miss. — Mark Beason is the editor of Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’ Mississippi Outdoors magazine.
Among his many other claims to fame, he is also the self-proclaimed title of “No. 2 Gar Man” in all of the Magnolia State.
“Sure, it might not be your typical title (gar being labeled a ‘trash fish’ and all), or it might not even be a title most will claim with pride, but I will take it,” said Beason, a Jackson, Miss. resident.
“And last year, for a while, I was actually No. 1, because the top gar man was out of commission after an ATV accident,” Beason told me.
But these days, the No. 1 Gar Man is reportedly back to health, and Beason is still happy being No. 2.
And as most know, being No. 2 is not all bad because the claim is that “No. 2’s try harder”—’cause they have to.
Such extra effort might be what sparked Beason to have us meet him on this particular shoe-sole-melting day in late June.
The thermometer in my truck said it was 100 degrees when my 9-year-old son, Landon, and I waded through the parking lot’s heat waves to get to the boat.
“Only a fool, or, of course, the No. 2 Gar Man, would go fishing on a day like today. Surely, all the other gar gurus are at home soaking up freon,” I thought out loud.
“Oh, it is going to be top-notch gar weather,” Beason said. “The hotter the better!”

Beason has been chasing gar for a long time. He likes it for reasons other than the fishing is hot, though. He also likes it because the fish are big and follow suit with their fight. He claims gar battles are the closest thing to saltwater fishing that most Mid-South anglers can find.
“And it is probably not a good gar trip, if somebody doesn’t go home bleeding,” he told me.
Something that proved prophetic, at last count No. 2 was bleeding from more than one locale at day’s end. We battled many a bruiser (as well as a couple that were more into lacerations than blunt trauma, evidently.)
Beason makes his own gar lures out of white nylon rope. He frays the rope really well with a wire brush so that it resembles pieces of white beard from a Santa suit.

“These baits last forever, are inexpensive to make and the more you use ’em, the better I think they work,” he said.
He douses the wooly pieces of rope with various attractants (crawfish-, shad-scented, etc.), and believes this helps draw more strikes than rope baits not sprayed with smell-um.
Before the rope is frayed it is run therough a swivel and secured with mono-filament wraps. Above the bait, Beason places a bullet weight which gives cast-ability and added drop.
“I really fish it like you would a Texas-rigged worm, letting it sink, and maybe swimming it from time to time. I think the gar hit it most often on the fall.”
As one might imagine the frayed rope flares in the water, much as a hair- or feathered jig does.
“You don’t set the hook (there is no hook), when a gar strikes the bait,” Beason said. “You just keep the line tight and add pressure as their teeth get caught in that nylon rope. Once they shake their head, you have got ’em; though for a while there, you might think he has you,” he laughed.
Of course, getting a gar “unhooked” from a nylon fray can be a feat in itself.
We had the most success doing this by lifting them up out of the water with channel-lock pliers gripping the gar baits, and letting the weight of the fish rip the nylon tangles from their rows of teeth.

Thick gloves are recommended (see earlier mention of gar fishing trips and bleeding) when handling gar.
Beason admits to eating gar, and actually says they can be pretty good, though he also notes the best way to clean ’em is to use tin shears.
As with my previous trip with the No. 2 Gar Man, we caught lots of fish and most averaged in the 12- to 15-pound range, and some were near or over 20 pounds.
“I bet there is no one else anywhere on Sardis today that caught this many pounds of fish,” he said.
I bet he was right.
Of course, my son had a great trip. And though I worried he might not make it well in the extreme heat, by halftime he was already asking when he could come back with Gar Man, No. 2. (Having a cooler full of drinks certainly helped fight the heat.)

As it turns out most folks nearly always have a chance of catching their biggest-fish-ever on a gar trip. And Landon did this with his the first gar he caught.
“That’s the fun-est fishing trip I have ever been on,” my youngster said later at the ramp. On the way home, he covered up with a gar-scented beach towel and drifted in and out with dizzy conversation about when we would return for gar and questions about how long until duck season. (There is something to be said for a sportsman that has his priorities set at an early age!)
Admittedly, on this trip, Landon had the best of both worlds. When not landing his own fish, Beason and I would often hand over fish we had on line, so the kid could battle ’em to boat. And the battle is the reason people fish for gar, of course.
Prior to the adventure, Beason told me that no one had ever officially set the Mississippi record for longnose gar on a fly rod. (FYI, though, the all-tackle record is 40 pounds, set at Grenada spillway, according to MDWFP). So I carried a fly rod with me on this trip, for no other purpose than to catch a state record. After all, it would only take one longnose gar (any longnose gar) on the fly rod, no matter the size, to be in the sate record books, what with it being the first entry and all.
So later in the afternoon, with our game for gars about to be called due to darkness, I put down the bait-caster, took out the fly rod and caught one that weighed 8 pounds or so.
But despite a wonderful battle, and well-played fish on my end, if I do say so myself, I was denied.
“Oh no, I am not going to let you take a record with that, ” said Beason. “That’s a pup, if you are going to kick off the category, you ought to at least catch one around 15 pounds.”
So the day ended. And just as unofficially as Beason is No. 2 Gar Man in Mississippi, well, in my (record) book, anyway, I am the unofficial Mississippi record holder for longnose gar on a fly rod — for now, at least.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sight(s) Set For Fall

By Taylor Wilson

I am seeing things a different way—in a whole new light.
I broke down, or went for broke (literally) a month or so ago and had LASIK eye surgery.
My buddy Chester “Grumpy” Dixon volunteered to drive me home after the procedure.
So he was the one I handed my keys, my knives and all spare shotgun shells in my pocket over to, before I went back to be prepped for procedure.
Needless to say this gathered some attention in the waiting room. But a pocket full of ammo and knives did not stand out as much as when I accidentally showed up with a handful of waterfowl loads (post morning duck hunt) at the Capitol in Nashville for some sort of conservation meeting.
“Oh, don’t worry, it’s just steel shot, won’t hurt much and politicians are supposed to have thick skin,” I laughed as I handed over the ammo to the State Trooper.
(Hindsight, indicates I am lucky I am not still in the state pen.)
But back to eye surgery… So there I was, sitting in the back waiting for my turn under the laser, in a recliner at full-tilt, wearing a hair net, listening to Muzak and enjoying a happy pill, when they came to check on me.
“How’s Grumpy doing up front in the main waiting room? Is he behaving himself?” I asked.
“Yes, and thank goodness, because thanks to you, he now has ammo,” an employee told me.
“Well, yeah, but at least he doesn’t have a gun,” I replied and offered a relaxed-and-getting-more-so chuckle.
Several minutes later, really, my vision was corrected. Even so, I didn’t open my eyes because Grumpy was soon driving us home, and it was near 5 p.m.—on I-240.
And despite his urgent pleas to do so, I told Grumpy it was best to go home and sleep as the doctor ordered, and not stop and test my new vision at Hooters.
The next day, when I told the doctor, “it’s good to see you, and I mean really good to see you,” it was reported that I was seeing 20/15!
Of course, the goal for me, anyway, in regards to LASIK, was to be less dependent on contacts and glasses. I got that and maybe a little more.
Heck, I wasn’t that far away from Ted Williams, veteran and Hall of Fame angler and ballplayer. (Yeah, I am dreaming now, well that, and me being much minus his cat-like reflexes.)
Williams, they say, saw 20/10. And did you know doctors reported he could see at 20 feet what people with normal eyesight see at 10 feet? Armed forces ophthalmologists said his eyesight was so keen it was a one-in-100,000 proposition.
So, really, I am nowhere near that. But again, I am just happy to be less dependent on corrective lenses.
Want to know another certainty that’s come out of this? I have an increased self-obligation to protect my eyes. If I am shooting, fishing or mowing the yard (OK, at least two out of three are fun), I am wearing protective glasses. Ironic? Sure, but at such times I wear ’em because I want to, not have to.
And to top all this off, a friend has sworn to me, “You are going to really LOVE it when hunting season comes around!”
I hope so. Though I really doubt my accuracy (with bow, shotgun or rifle) will be that much better (note earlier mention of less-than-lightning reflexes; as of yet, they can’t correct that with a laser). And I will goof-up most days, anyway, due primarily to my known and accepted Charlie Brown approach or lot in life.
Still, I can’t wait to see fall this year.
(Who knows what I may get a glimpse of that I might have previously been missing?)
But until then I can only turn the thermostat down (for simulation purposes), and sit here and imagine what the Hatchie Bottom foliage will look like with new-and-improved vision.
Talk about wait and see…

Taylor Wilson is managing editor at Bill Dance Publishing. He has been writing for newspapers, magazines and websites for more than 20 years.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

If I Had A Say, I'd Borrow It

All day I have been pondering what I would tell graduates this spring, in the season of graduation.

And the best I could come up with is this, a favorite quote from loose-wire Edward Abbey. Boy, can I see the looks on faces of the moms and dads. LOL!

"One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am-a reluctant enthusiast... a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards." — Edward Abbey

Some Friends Are Extra Special

Special friends.
Who doesn’t need a special friend?
I am fortunate to have one such friend through a program in my home county of Haywood (Tenn.). The program originates through the University of Tennessee Extension Service and it is simply called the Special Friends Program.
A mentoring program, the way it works is we lucky adults are paired with some really special kids that might need some added attention and direction.
We go to lunch with them at school (Haywood County School System) from time to time. We talk about grades. We read books. We work on things they might be having problems with.
We become special friends.
My special friend and I have been meeting since he was in kindergarten. He is about to go in the sixth grade now.
The first time I met him. He told me, “my daddy is in jail.”
I told him I knew that. I had read about it in the paper, and then I went on to stretch the truth a bit, perhaps, about the unknown. “It will be alright,” I said.
What else could I say?
Then I told him a truth that I believed with all my heart to be true: “Life is about choices. We have always got to try and make good ones.”
We have gotten along rather well in the years that have followed. We laugh a lot, but the best times we have had together have been when we have gone fishing.
Such was the case when he and I recently took part in the Special Friends annual group-fishing trip to the home of Nan and Steve Darnaby. About 30 or so folks gathered together, baited hooks, caught fish, ate hot dogs and laughed—a lot.
Some kids caught their first fish and that is a treat in itself.
(I think those that don’t believe in magic have simply never seen a kid catch their first fish, but that is for another column.)
Now, I don’t mean to brag, but my special friend caught the biggest catfish of the day! (So what if it was the only catfish?) We secretly celebrated that, just me and him.
I know I am supposed to be teaching my special friend something, but sometimes I wonder if I have taught him anything other than to be goofy; which he probably has picked up mostly by association with me (bless his heart).
But I do know he has taught me a lot, my special friend.
And I am grateful.
We should all be so lucky as to have a special friend to go fishing with, to read a book or to share a life lesson now and then.

To learn more about the Special Friends in Haywood County contact Peggy Jackson at The Haywood County Family Resource Center (731) 772-2861.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ode To Pickup Trucks

By Taylor Wilson

There have been times in my life when I have been caught without a pickup truck and, looking back on it, I kind of remember feeling naked.
Well, heck, I might have very well been naked, for that matter; after all, that was during a couple of my wild and crazy college years (that everyone should be legally allotted, by the way).
It was when commuting and gas mileage were much more important than hauling boats and dead critters around. Thank goodness, I got my priorities straight.

Sure, there is no doubt the possibly-waning SUV craze changed some folks' way of thinking about vehicles with cargo beds and tailgates … but just maybe they weren't brought up like me.
Man, when I was a kid and an aspiring outdoorsman, a pickup truck could be something like a treasure chest. See a group of men standing around looking in the bed of a pickup truck and who knew what wonders were likely to held within?
Depending on the season, there could be all kinds of outdoor objects of desire in the back of trucks — things like big bucks, coolers of fish or perhaps even a timber rattler that had the misfortune of receiving death by skid marks.
Why, I couldn't wait till I got old enough to haul fish and game around in a pickup truck of my very own.
And then there was the social aspect.
Back in the good, old days, you could carry a lot more people in a pickup (and that was even before crew cabs became the rage). Why after the Dixie Youth ballgame, the coach would let everybody pile in for a trip to the Dairy Queen — whether we won or not.
I never worried about a pickup not having an air conditioner back then. I always rode in the back. And I am talking about in the cargo area, not some fancy seat, like pickups have today.
And if I had a dollar for every time my parents said, "You kids can ride in the back, but you have to sit down," I'd probably be driving a much more expensive truck than the one I have today.
(All that riding in the back. Shame. Shame. Shame. By today's safety standards, it's a wonder any of us survived long enough to get driver's licenses of our own. And by the time we did, we figured out that letting kids ride in the back might not be such a good idea.)
But as kids, we didn't know any better. Even while facing dire and unknown risks, we'd all fight over the seats.
Yep, seats. I am not going to admit to you how old I was before I realized the raised wheel wells/fenders in the bed of a pickup truck were designed for anything other than seats, but I will say this realization did come later in life. (I never made it to engineering school, by the way. Good thing, I wouldn't have been there long.)
Another unique and incredible design feature of pickups is the space left between the cab and the bed. How many hours did those designers spend trying to figure out just how wide that space needed to be to hold a pair of rubber boots?
Surely, you've seen such boots stored upside down between the cab and bed? A truck and a boot holder. Can there be a better example of US of A ingenuity? I think not.
Regardless, a pickup is a good thing — for outdoorsmen and everyone else involved.
But I will tell you this: Beware the outdoorsman who drives a clean one. It's like the person at work who has the really clean desk; sooner or later you've got to wonder if they actually use it.
No problem with my desk or my pickup, and particularly with the latter in the middle of hunting season.
Covered with mud, dust or both, strange drawings or words are apt to appear on my truck. Say during turkey season, for example, there is likely to be semblances of all kinds of things drawn with a finger in the dust — things like turkey tracks; a rough map of the whereabouts of a roosted tom; or even simply the words, "Gobble! Gobble!"
And if artistic fun on the outside isn't enough reason to own a pickup truck, you ought to look inside. Who knows the wonders (and organisms) that are likely held within?
To go through an outdoorsman's pickup, late in whatever season he happens to be taking part, has to be akin to an archeological dig. All kinds of wild and wondrous (and a few not-so wondrous things) abound.
We have to store a lot of stuff in there, right? This is simply because we never know when we are likely to need it.
Pickups, they haul it all … outdoor fun and then some.
Don't have one? Ride in the truck of a hunting or fishing buddy. Heck, rekindle some memories and ride in the back. But if you do, do so off-road and for goodness sake, "You kids sit down!"

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Not-So Ninja Turtle Has Turkey Track Back

By Taylor Wilson

I was stumbling around out in the bottomland trying to turkey hunt when I came upon proof positive that a certain mindset definitely changes the way you see things.
Looking down at this box turtle I noticed something slightly different about it.
There was something about its shell markings made me want to take a closer look.
Picking the little guy up, yep, there it was as plain as day. Well, as plain as day to somebody that spends a lot of time chasing turkeys.
There on the shell was a design that mimicked a turkey track.
“How cool is that?” I thought. “I gotta have a photo of this.”
So, I carried the “turkey track” turtle home with me to take his photo and after doing so, I put him the floorboard of the truck for a return to his home.
But when I got there, I realized I couldn’t find him. And it was going to get up to 80 degrees that day. Turtle soup has always been good, but I have never had baked turtle.
I sure hoped I could find him, so I dug around a lot in the cab, loaded with mildewed camouflage and turkey decoys.
The last I saw him, he was climbing upward toward the dash, but I be darned if I could place a hand on his turkey-track back.
“Come out, come out wherever you are!” I told the turtle, but he didn’t listen.
I left the windows down, and hoped for the best, considering leaving the doors open through the night if need be. But when I returned to the truck, there he was in the floorboard and ready to go home.
But he would have to wait. We took him to a softball game that night and he seemed to have a good time, doing all his tricks for the kids, which included “stay”, “roll-over” and “play dead.”
He rode in the back of the pickup the next a.m.—no more getting lost in the vehicle.
I took him to the exact spot where I had found him. It is said that box turtles have a homing instinct and if they are not returned to their home they roam ’til they find it, or try to. And with loss of habitat this roaming usually ends badly for the turtle, via automobiles or predators.
Many states have begun protecting box turtles because of their loss of habitat and an overzealous pet trade market.
But anyway, I put him back, and said goodbye in the pre-dawn darkness, just before a longbeard sounded off in the distance.
“See ya, later little dude. That’s a cool shell you got there. Thanks for the photo!”
Who knows, our paths may cross again. If so, I’ll know him when I see him, what with me always looking for turkey tracks, anyway.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Savory Slugburgers

By Taylor Wilson

OK, try to stay in the restaurant business and sell something called a slugburger.

Can you imagine a greater marketing challenge?

Me neither.

But stranger things have happened.

And it does so with regularity at a variety of burger joints in north Mississippi.
In fact, not only are slugburgers sold in high volume, but a festival with the same name has been held in the Corinth, Mississippi since 1988.

(For those wondering, yes, according to records there is a Slugburger Queen. Just think of the possibilities if you have that on your resume? Example? OK, former Lt. Governor of Mississippi, Amy Tuck, was once named Honorary Slugburger Queen.)

But back to a slugburger. What is it? Is it some sort of gastropod sandwich served on an episode of Sponge Bob Square Pants? And if you salt your sandwich, does the “meat” sort of melt and get all gooey?

OK, now that I have grossed you out, let me mention that you CAN put salt on slugburgers with no problems and that the name has nothing to do with anything similar to a snail.

Actually, one story I was told is that the slug in slugburger came about because the sandwiches were once sold for a nickel. And in the old days a metal slug, or a counterfeit coin (maybe even a washer) was often used to fool vending machines. Likewise, nickels were sometimes referred to as slugs.

(On this line of thought, I guess slug coulda also been plug (not worth a plug nickel). If that were the case, perhaps the plugburger would sound a tad more appetizing…or maybe not? And obviously, the burgers ARE worth the money or else they would not have been around for so long.)

I got wind of these uniquely-named burgers from my friend Rita Hathcock whose husband Johnny is from the area.

She said stopping for a slugburger had been something of a family tradition of theirs for many years.

“People either like them or they don’t,” Rita told me, and admitted she did not partake when she and Johnny recently stopped in Corinth.

But she did take a few photos (thanks Rita!).

My buddy, Craig Robinson, a north Mississippi native, was not that impressed with slugburgers. “I think they just came about as a way to stretch the basics you have and make it a meal, such as adding the other ingredients with the burger. They still serve them in several places in north Mississippi.”

According to historians the Weeks family began making “Weeks Burgers” in 1917. The hamburgers were made with a mixture of beef and potato flour (used as an extender). Today soybean grits are the extender.

The slugburger moniker only came about through time with the nickel/slug apiece deal.

Today’s method of preparation calls for frying the patties in canola oil and topping them with mustard, pickles and onions — all served on a small bun.

The burgers cost closer to the $1 price range these days. And in some restaurants where they are sold, like the White Trolley in Corinth, customers are given the more traditional option of a “beef” burger, as well.

As for the Trolley name, well, the Weeks family once peddled patties out of moveable stands until the late 1940s, when an old trolley car was purchased and converted into a café. As time went on several other trolley cars were likewise converted.

Two places that sell these historical hamburgers with the unique name are the aforementioned White Trolley, 1215 Highway 72 East, Corinth, Miss. 38834 and Weeks’ Hamburgers, 100 Mill St., Boonville, Miss. 38829.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rankin’s Grocery: Home of Green Sno Balls & Ham

By Taylor Wilson

“I am a fan of Dr. Seuss and all, but are those supposed to be green…?”

It seemed a sensible question to ask as I stood at the counter waiting to pay Mr. And Mrs. Rankin proprietors of Rankin’s
Grocery and daily purveyors of fine lunchmeats in Brownsville, Tennessee.

I mean it is not like there is a lot of green stuff sold at Rankin’s (amongst the ham, turkey, roast beef, hoop cheese, crackers, bread, chicken salad, chips, pork rinds, pickled baloney, etc.). So, when you see something green, well, it kind of stands out.

And what were the items in question. They were Hostess Sno Balls®, which are supposed to be pink — a long way from green.

Unless a food is Jell-O, a sherbet, a fruit or a veggie, shades of green aren’t often a good thing.

But no worries, Mrs. Rankin assured me all was well.

“Ah, they do that every year for St. Patrick’s Day. Yes, they are supposed to be green.”

“Thank goodness. I was a bit worried the snack cakes might have gone out of date, even though I don’t particularly care for Sno Balls, green other otherwise,” I said.

And what the heck? I bought ’em, anyway. I also told Mr. Rankin I was going to put ’em on eBay and sell ’em as a collector’s item.
He wished me good luck with the venture and then came back with a pretty good one-liner, before I exited, stage left.

As a side note, the elder sandwich seller once told me back in his high school days, he witnessed my grandfather break up a crap game.

My grandfather (Lloyd Wilson) was principal and Mr. Rankin, a student, swears he was not a participant, but rather a bystander of an entertaining game of chance.

“We were down on the floor and suddenly, these black leather shoes appeared in the game,” said Rankin who admits to saying something colorful, and it wasn’t green, either, by the way.
“I was just watching, understand? But Mr. Wilson took up the money and made us buy a new book for the library with it,” Rankin remembered.

But back to Sno-Balls. At the time of the crap game, which again, Rankin claims not to have participated in, if they had wanted to the gamblers (and bystanders) could have enjoyed a Sno Ball.

Yep, they were around way back then.

In fact, Sno Balls have been around since 1947.

According to the Hostess website, the cakes became and instant hit for Americans looking to indulge in a sweet treat during WWII, when there was a rationing of flour and sugar.
And back then, Sno Balls weren’t the pink crème-filled treats we know today (much less green).

The original Sno Balls were white marshmallow and shredded coconut covered chocolate cakes. In 1950, the crème filling was added, and not long after, in an effort to add a little pizzazz to the humble white Sno Ball, Hostess decided to tint the shredded coconut pink. And for added effect, each Sno Ball package included one white and one pink Sno Ball. Later, for efficiency’s sake, two of the same color were coupled.

Today, over 25 million are sold each year.

Hostess mostly produces the original white-colored Sno Balls around the winter holidays, with other colors appearing for different seasons.

You’ll find “Scary Cakes” and “Glo Balls” (orange and glow-in-the-dark Sno Balls) during Halloween, “Lucky Puffs” (the aforementioned green Sno Balls) for St. Patrick’s Day and Hoppers (lavender colored Sno Balls) in the spring for Easter.

Also, according to the Hostess website, you might be surprised to know that Sno Balls have also made celebrity appearances, with “supporting roles” in episodes of The X-Files and Gilmore Girls as well as in the film The Mirror Has Two Faces.
All that, of course, enough to make all the other snack cakes green too, but only with envy.

Taylor Wilson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and websites for more than 20 years. He can be reached via e-mail at taylor65@bellsouth.net.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Just Say Snow (Cream)

By Taylor Wilson

Some days, I figure Al “Greenhouse” Gore is right. Say in December, when it gets in the 70s, but then, then we have a Snow Cream Snow at the tail end of February. And I have some doubts. I have to think the “inventor” of the Internet and Nobel Prize winner might have been in the greenhouse too long (inhaling plant carbon dioxide emissions or something?).
The day we got a Snow Cream Snow was one of those days where I figure Greenhouse was wrong.
But enough politics, gloom, doom and saving the world via “going green” talk.
What you really want to know is what is a Snow Cream Snow, right?
OK, that’s easy enough. It is a snowfall deep enough to gather a bowl of snow.
Sure, if you get out in the yard and work at it, you can gather a bowl of snow after a “dusting.” But then, what you have to work with when it comes to making snow cream might not be desired — leaves, grass, pebbles, disease agents, etc.
You really need a good drift, a definite rarity in West Tennessee (Greenhouse Effect or not) to make high-quality snow cream.
You need to be able to jab a bowl down in the snow and scoop up all you want before you put the vanilla extract, the sugar and the milk to it.
So there you have it — a Snow Cream Snow is one that leaves actual snowdrifts deep enough to dip snow. (Well, by Taylor’s definition, anyway.)
The other day, we had such a phenomenon, and there I was, bowl in hand, dipping snow.
Prepping to make it, though, I couldn’t help but ponder: “Wonder if there is some kind of law against feeding kids snow cream these days? Is, or would, the Food and Drug Administration be involved? What about the risks of eating something that falls from our skies? We certainly can’t sterilize it in the microwave — kind of defeats the purpose you know?”
Oh, the random thoughts that go through Taylor’s head. With such empty space, I guess there is a lot of room for such?
But I got down to the business of making it anyway and realized I had limited sugar.
So, I made my son a batch. (Oh, the sacrifices we parents make.)
Then I turned to my own serving, but with no sugar left, what to do?
I had no choice but to use artificial sweeteners and that opened up an whole new can of misguided reasoning: Can you make snow cream with artificial sweeteners? If so, is it officially snow cream?
I asked some friends and they all doubted my reasoning, but then most know I’m several flakes shy of a snowball anyway, so they accepted my reasoning or lack thereof.
“What did it taste like?” one asked.
“Oh, I could stand to eat it, enough to get a brain freeze, anyway,” I said. “But if it had been one of those cooking reality shows like “Iron Chef,” the judges would have fried me.”
Truth be known, putting artificial sweetener in snow cream snow (so rarely granted as it is) was sacrilegious and deep down, I knew it.
That night I dreamed I went to heaven (yeah, I know, but again, remember, I was dreaming).
St. Peter was there at the Golden Gate of course.
“Well, hey there, Taylor,” St. Pete greeted me, obviously surprised to see me. “You know you are not getting in, right?”
“Well, I kinda figured I wouldn’t, sins against nature and all,” I replied.
“Yep, you didn’t have a snowball’s chance in… well, you know. That time you put the Sweet and Low in snow cream did you in, all right. We have ninth ring of the inferno, built especially for people like you, and well… the people that claimed to have invented the Internet.”
“Oh SNOOOOOWWWWW!” I said, just before waking up.
So, repent now, I am telling you. NEVER, EVER put artificial sweetener in snow cream.
Snow Cream Snows are gifts not to be granulated for granted with anything other than pure cane sugar.

Taylor Wilson is an editor and freelance writer that contributed to newspapers, magazines and websites for nearly 20 years. He can be reached via e-mail at taylor65@bellsouth.net.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sign(s) o’ the Times

By Taylor Wilson

I was thinking back the other day back the other day, and this old piece of a column came to mind. It goes back to the birth of our son, back when I was mainly thinking about diaper-changing strategies and putting out stork decoys in the front yard in an effort to ensure a speedy and safe arrival.

Well, he got here and boy did my life go into fast-forward. What the heck did I do with all my free time before he came along?
I must have really been a no-account (read: worthless), who didn’t really want to do anything but hunt and fish all the time.

Umm? Well, I guess there are some things even parenthood can’t change.

First words? Well, it was more like first sounds really. Together he and I figured out that if a finger was drummed across his lips as he babbled, it sounded something like a turkey gobbling. And before you know it, we were quacking, barking and demonstrating all kinds of other important communication skills.

Upon noticing my education efforts, his grandmother, who has a doctorate in education and probably knows a little more about teaching than me, laughed and said, the boy is never going to learn to talk. He’ll probably end up a walking-talking zoo.
I suppose worse things could happen.

As something of a trend among new parents those days, my wife and I also taught our son sign language. He learned like 75 signs before all was said, er…I mean signed and done. My guess he got his smarts from his mother. It couldn’t possibly be me. Let’s just hope he doesn’t swim over to my side of his gene pool as he grows older.
Among the “signs” he learned were: “ball,” “touchdown,” “eat,” “drink” (I didn’t teach him “be merry”, but he learned “happy” which is close) and “dirty diaper”. These signs were all well and good, but he also learned the important stuff like: “fish,” “duck,” “dog,” and “deer.”

As his vocal skills sharpened, sign language took a back seat, and he seemed to consider it about as important as David Letterman’s Stupid Pet Tricks.

But I also like to think my extra efforts in teaching him to communicate have tweaked his life in the right direction — toward the outdoor pursuits.

Is it wrong to apply such subtle pressure in hopes that he will enjoy something I enjoy? That I don’t know, at least not yet. We’ll save that for the teenage and rebellious years.

I can tell you, however that I ran across a quote one time that outlines my approach.

If I remembered who said it, I would pass that along too, but I don’t, so please note it’s not original. I just remember the words and to me that’s what’s most important. (I hope the author will forgive me.)

The quote was from a son reflecting on his father:

“How could I not love my Dad? This man took the time to take me hunting and fishing?”

For me, that sums it all up. And fatherhood is spelled T-I-M-E according to many.

Let’s just hope a lot of the time we spend with our children is in the outdoors.

Taylor Wilson is as written for magazines, newspapers and websites for over 20 years.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Booming For Business: Brownsville Sandstorm "Set" Stage For La Rue

By Taylor Wilson

Writing about B-Western movie star Lash La Rue (Let it rip...er...Whip, Feb. 20, 2009) certainly shook loose more memories about The Ritz Theater in my hometown of Brownsville, Tenn.

And back in the day (as they say), and on one day in particular, it felt like a whole lot of things might shake loose.

At the time The Ritz was being built (1940s), the cost of WWII was still at hand, and a lot of building materials were hard to find. And this was the case when Mr. Moreau Rice began building his Ritz.

Still, he searched far and wide and managed to acquire some steel and some fine aggregate sand for concrete.

The sand came in on a train, the only problem was it got freezing cold and the sand ended up frozen tightly in the rail car, just south of the square. Frozen tight, the sand could not be unloaded.

The railroad company did not like having their car "locked up" with sold merchandise.

And Mr. Rice, a frugal businessman, did not like it, either.

Soon the railroad began to charge a merge fee for every day their rail car set idle.

And likewise, the demands of the railroad and the growing fee sparked Mr. Rice to come of with a bang-up plan, and then some.

Taking some dynamite (how much he used is debatable), Rice went down and placed it in the car and set it off.

The subsequent blast shook the town square, reportedly blew out some windows and gave Brownsville a scare and its first (and probably last) sand storm — all at the same time.

No one was injured. The sand was "well-thawed.” And evidently, to the surprise of all sandstorm survivors, there was enough aggregate left over to make the concrete foundation and walls that formed The Ritz (where of course, would soon appear such greats as Lash La Rue).

In short, it all came down to this: there is business is booming and then there is booming for business; sometimes, as in the case of the Brownsville Sandstorm, there’s both.

Taylor Wilson is an editor and freelance writer that contributed to newspapers, magazines and websites for nearly 20 years. He can be reached via e-mail at taylor65@bellsouth.net.

Other Lash La Rue Sightings

By Taylor Wilson

My friend, Tony Mack, the producer at Bill Dance Outdoors, read in this blog about Lash La Rue ("Let It Rip...Er Whip", Feb. 20, 2009) and wrote to confirm that it is indeed a small world.

"I, too, was on hand in 1948 when Lash Larue was visiting several small town theaters around here,” Mack remembered.

“Where I lived in Crockettt County (small town of Friendship, TN) our little theater had some kind of problem at the time, so it was temporarily closed down. Because of that , old Lash appeared with whip demonstrations on the back of a flat bed, 2-ton truck, on the gravel lot of Pott's Cotton Gin. They set up and showed a movie of Lash's on a big portable screen afterwards and everyone was sittin' on hay bales.

"Best I recall, it cost 15 cents to attend and they had this clown out there on the lot selling chances to a grab bag for a nickel.

You'd pay your money then reach in a hole in a big cardboard box and pull out a prize....friend of mine, Clay Scobey, got a picture of Lash when he grabbed and the whipper dude signed it for him. I just got some bubble gum that was melted together with its paper wrapping.
"I was 7 years old then, but remember it well."

Thanks for the memory, T-Mack, your luck (in the gift grab) sounds like mine!

Taylor Wilson is an editor and freelance writer that contributed to newspapers, magazines and websites for nearly 20 years. He can be reached via e-mail at taylor65@bellsouth.net.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Let It Rip…Er…Whip

By Taylor Wilson

Oh, Brownsville has certainly had its brushes with “greatness”.
A handful has been born here (fortunately for them, mind you), while other celebrities have just passed through, and some have even stopped to perform.
For example, I have it from a reliable source that Mary Travers of the 1960s folk group Peter, Paul and Mary was once in Brownsville visiting relatives. No word if she left on a jet plan, doubtful, though, no airport and all.
Likewise, Jane Seymour, a.k.a., Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and a (James) Bond Girl, dropped by for a visit. She was reportedly given the key to the city at a private party.
Rock ’n’ roller Steve Winwood was once at the Taylor Family Camp Meeting.
The Father of the Blues, W.C. Handy once performed in the building that now houses Livingston’s.
And an 18-year-old, or thereabout, Jerry Lee Lewis once rocked the Rice Theater.
“I remember he had rollers in his hair before the show, but could he play that piano!” recalled my stepmother Susan (Rice) Wilson.
Her dad, Moreau Rice, built the theater in 1948 (that would, in later days and ownership, be known as The Ritz). Admittedly, rollers is not exactly how most people are going to remember The Killer, but they do call it rock ’n’ roll, right. (Ha. Ha. The puns are free, folks!)
But perhaps the most interesting Brownsville appearance, to me, anyway, is one I have often heard re-counted. It’s the one where one-time B-Western hero Lash La Rue performed at The Rice not long after it opened.
La Rue was a whip-wielding cowboy actor, who according to Western movie historians, had Humphrey Bogart looks and demeanor. He talked gruff and wore black. Of course, he also brandished a bullwhip, thus the name “Lash”.
But you want to know the cool part (as if it could get any cooler)?
Well, he evidently really knew how to use a bullwhip — it wasn’t all Hollywood trickery.
In fact, many reports say La Rue taught Harrison Ford how to use a whip for his famed Indiana Jones role.
Also, wikipedia.com notes: “La Rue made frequent personal appearances at small-town movie theaters that were showing his films during his heyday of 1948-1951, becoming the only cowboy star most children of the time ever got to see and meet in person. His skillful displays of stunts with his whip, done live on movie theater stages, also convinced young Western movie fans that there was at least one cowboy hero who could do in real life the same things he did on screen…”
Now remember that “did on screen,” dear reader. And perhaps it is better put what he “did TO the screen” in the case of the Brownsville appearance, anyway.
When La Rue came to town, his skill certainly made a believer out of my good friend Chester “Grumpy” Dixon. He was on hand in 1948 with a theater full of other kids to watch La Rue, live and on stage, show off his signature skills with a bullwhip.
“Did he cut a cigarette out of your mouth?” I asked my friend.
“No, no cigarettes. I was a kid! How come you always have to be a smart aleck!?!” Grumpy replied.
“Everybody has got to be good at something,” I said.
But seriously, Chester was there to witness the greatness that was Lash La Rue.
Of course, I like to imagine Chet sitting there in his cowboy outfit, loaded down with more Ju Ju Beans than six-shooter ammo. But I have a feeling he wouldn’t own up to that, what with him being about 13 at the time. However, he did confess, that he couldn’t get home fast enough on the nights a horror movie played at The Rice.
“And I only lived a block or so away, and still, I covered the distance pretty darn quick after a scary movie,” he laughed and told me.
“Wow! And you ran that fast in chaps, boots, spurs and all…?” I asked Grumpy.
“Again, always the smart aleck, aren’t you?” came the reply.
But regardless of the horror movies, Chester admits the La Rue appearance was likewise unforgettable. My buddy had no qualms about the memory.
“Yeah, I saw him. I saw that Lash La Rue split the screen. He was up there on the stage doing tricks with that whip and the next thing you know he hit the screen with it. I think Mr. (Moreau) Rice got pretty upset about it, especially since the theater was new. No telling what it cost,” Chester said.
But La Rue didn’t pay for the error of his bullwhip, if not ways, my step-mom remembers.
“I was there, but I wasn’t very old, so I asked my sister about that the other day. She said Daddy wasn’t that mad about it. And no, he (Lash La Rue) didn’t pay for the screen,” she told me.
“They simply got some duct tape and patched it up.”
So, Lash left a signature mark on the silver screen — in more ways than one — only this mark was often covered by celluloid images (scary though they may have sometimes been to Chester).
My step-mom added that the Rice’s screen soon suffered another accident, by a then youngster, rumored to still live in Brownsville, and one that we won’t make famous today.
That was when this “anonymous” kid slung his yo-yo through it. Reports indicate the projectile got only halfway “around the world” before sailing through the movie screen.
So, brethren, at column’s end, and in retrospect, what have we learned?
Well, first and foremost, thank goodness for duct tape.
But you know what? I also can’t help but bet that Mr. Rice was always thankful the guy that played Zorro never came to town.

Taylor Wilson is an editor for Bill Dance Publishing. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites for more than 20 years. He can be reached via e-mail at taylor65@bellsouth.net.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I’ve Kept It Bottled Up Long Enough

Sure, I felt foolish standing in the store looking at bottled water, but hey, been there before.
And here’s a flashback to foolishness example: I remember many years ago when a leading manufacturer of athletic shoes came out with “air ” models.
Not only were these shoes comfortable…the manufacturer also put a window in the heel/sole so you could “see” the air you were buying.
Wow! What a bargain! Not only was I suddenly pretty darn swift afoot, but hey, now I was literally walking on air. Not only that, I could look at the air…AND SHOW IT TO OTHERS.
I couldn’t wait to go out and show all my buds. “Hey man, just look at this! Look at this…well, look at this air I bought in these shoes!”
Fast forward a few decades, and we are buying air from compressors for a handful of quarters. It’s worth it if your tire is dangerously low, but does anybody remember when that was a customer service, for free?
And the shoe market? Heck, the other day we bought our kid a pair of shoes that was actually missing much of the sole. Now there is a deal! Today we don’t even need a window to look at the air we are buying in our athletic shoes. Heck, if we want, we can stick our fingers in there and FEEL it.
Oh, the joy!
I don’t know about you folks, but I feel kind of funny buying air, empty space or whatever, in shoes or elsewhere.
Fast forward again, and I am back to feeling foolish in the present.
Sure, there I was the other day, walking down the aisle of a major grocer.
And suddenly I realized I was akin to Charlton Heston in “The Ten Commandments”, minus the beard, robe, sandals, movie star good looks and cool staff that can turn into a cobra.
Yep, there I stood in a valley of water. On both sides of me, stacked high, were bottles and bottles of H20.
It was a dog-gone deluge, I tell you.
It brought to mind another ponderable: Does anyone remember when people that bought Perrier were the butt of jokes?
Talk about coming full circle in a whirlpool.
Today bottled water is evidently THE thing to buy…in the name of health consciousness.
There was spring water, glacier water, mineral water and more. There was even flavored water. (Man, I remember when they used to just call that Kool-Aid.)
On one hand it says how a good marketing man is worth his weight bottled water, if not gold. I mean really, some people can sell flip-flops to an Eskimo. But then too, some Eskimos are obviously out there that want to wear flip-flops, though probably not in their Artic homeland.
I mean my household has certainly “bought into it” (or fallen victim, depending upon how you look at it). Open our ’fridge and you can tell we go with the flow. At least “somebody” bought it. (And it wasn’t me, but boy and I apt to pay for that.)
So, the bottled water market is bubbling if not booming.
But on another hand, it defies common sense, a sentiment I was sharing with myself…sandwiched between aisles of agua and feeling foolish.
Think about it, people. (Yes, I am preaching now.) We are paying considerably more money for bottled water than the very similar (if not better) water we can get from the tap for basically pennies.
And hey, our city’s water is perfectly fine, by the way.
To make sure, I talked with Regie Castellaw, General Manager of the City of Brownsville Utilities.
“My personal opinion is that bottled water is not all that it’s cracked up to be,” Castellaw told me.
“I’m in an ongoing battle with my kids on this very issue. My ‘bottled’ water comes from the kitchen sink. We have some of the best water in the world available in West Tennessee.”
Castellaw also noted, in his opinion, that the packaging of water in bottles seems a waste of resources.
Meanwhile, here are some other points of interest I dug up that paint a cloudy picture, at best, when it comes to bottled water.
• A lot of the bottled water is lacking in fluoride, a fact that many dentists in this country believe is leading to more tooth decay. One statistic indicates that tap water — which for over two-thirds of Americans contains all of the fluoride that they need to prevent tooth decay. The American Dental Association has stated that if bottled water is your main source of drinking water, you could be missing the decay-preventive benefits of fluoride.
• Then you figure in the production of all the plastic to make water bottles (petroleum is used, and we know what’s happening in that market) and then the waste products…and well, the bottled-water phenomenon really doesn’t seem all that great in other avenues, either.
OK, OK, OK. With the exception of St. Patrick’s Day, I am not a “green” freak, but you gotta know a lot of resources are being used to make plastic bottles and in turn, a lot of them are being left behind as waste product.
Well, it doesn’t seem to add up.
And just maybe I feel foolish buying bottled water, simply because I deserve to?
What about you…?

Taylor Wilson is an editor for Bill Dance Publishing and has been writing for newspapers and magazines for 20 years. He can be reached via e-mail at taylor65@bellsouth.net.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Snow blind and other symptoms of aging

  “Darn it! It’s happened, again,” I thought.
  And it was true.
  It was one of those you-are-not-as-young-as-you-used-to-be moments.
  The time was several years ago and I was at a class reunion.
  My wife was on the dance floor (which keeps one young, by the way), and I was at the bar, being a student of life. We writers do that, though actually for nothing more than to justify hanging out at the bar. (But it does bring to mind an age-old question: Do you think there would have ever been a country music song, if not for barroom napkins? It seems songwriters are always scribbling their lyrics on napkins.)
  Anyway, back to the story.
  The bartender was older than me and she said, “You know, I had my class reunion just last week — my 30th?”
  “Really?” I remember asking. “What’s different from the 30th and the one we are having here?”
  “Oh, everybody is always much more humble…actually, they get a lot more humble,” she laughed. “Age does that to you, you know?”
  “I sure do,” I laughed.
  Those that don’t believe in time travel, have never been to a class reunion. But that is for another column.
  Here, I want to talk about age and the realization that it doesn’t always creep up on you.     Sometimes it chases us down and whacks us in the back the head with painful reminders.
  For example, take the threat and eventual delivery of ice and snow we had a week or so ago.
Sitting there, watching the weatherman threaten to send us all to the grocery for an extra loaf of bread and two gallons of milk, lest we starve, why, I actually wished it wouldn’t snow?
  Say what? Say it ain’t snow… er… I mean so!
  Before I knew what I was thinking, I believe I even said it out loud.
  “Man, I hope we miss all that (bad weather),” is how it spewed forth.
  No sooner had the words slipped out than it hurt my soul.
  “OH MY GOSH! How old have I become?” I pondered.
  In my youth, I spent my entire school year hoping and praying for a snow day.
  And I’ll confess I once eyed anybody that didn’t want a well-deserved snow day with great suspicion(s). Sort of the same way the hippies of the 1960s, never trusted anyone over 30, you know?
  But there I was, sitting in front of the TV, having uttered a definite sacrilege to snow-seeking kids (and some teachers) everywhere.
  What brought me to this feeble state?
  The unrecognized passage of time, I suspect.
  I just looked up one day and I was old and NOT hoping for snow.
  How sad.
  I mean really, a call for “no snow”? What follows? The fear of making and eating snow cream? It’s all down hill. Start hoping it doesn’t snow and you might as well begin the search for a retirement home in Florida.
  (Unfortunately, my Winning-The-Powerball Retirement Plan has yet to pay off, so that is out of the question.)
  But there I was, no doubt now fully prepared to taste a dose of humility at my next reunion…and then…then, it snowed anyway!
  Oh, it was a dusting at best. The kind that only a true Southerner could enjoy. Probably not even enough to scrap together a snow midget, much less full-grown Frosty. But hey, the kids got of school.
  It was mission accomplished as far as the young and young at heart were concerned.
  And on an official “snow day” my son even saw fit to take a year or two off his old man’s scorecard.
  Sniper-like, he hit me with a well-placed snowball that stuck on the back of my neck between my collar and my stocking cap.
  He laughed, and as it melted and ran down my back, I shivered, giggled and complimented the youngster on his aim.
  And then, almost magically, some years melted away. And a little boy, all but lost in this aging body, bent over (and admittedly, groaning a bit a that) scooped up a handful of snow, squeezed it for ballistic purposes and let it fly!
  In the barrage that followed, I watched my breath as an old kid laughed out loud with a young one.
  Forever young?
  Nope, of course not, but it is good to know that we’re always just one good snowball away from feeling like it.

  Taylor Wilson is managing editor at Bill Dance Publishing. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites for over 20 years. He can be reached via e-mail at taylor65@bellsouth.net.