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, 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

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

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, 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

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

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