Saturday, September 24, 2016

Bud and Dad

Dad and Bud Rose
Dad and Bud Rose
To successfully navigate the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, one must have a sponsor to keep them on the right path and stay sober.
My dad's sponsor is the guy in this photo.
Many times I've listened to my dad, through smoke-filled rooms, give testimony to his life with and without alcohol.
I preferred without.
I am convinced that all alcoholics really just trade the alcohol for coffee and cigarettes. For those familiar with the area, the house on Bayou Sara Ave, near Cedar Street, was where I heard him talk and where I learned to drink copious amounts of coffee.
Good times!
Now, to the photo: you might be forgiven for thinking that the guy standing to the right of my dad was actually, COL Sanders. It sure looks like him. I half-way expect him to reach out holding a bucket of fried chicken - original recipe!
It's actually a man named Bud Rose.
He lived in Memphis and I remember him talking to my dad in our house in Saraland about getting sober. He had a Big Book and spoke about admitting that he was "powerless over alcohol ... and that his life ... "had become unmanageable."
Yes. It was.
Dad often drove to Memphis to speak or to listen to Bud speak.
But Bud had a secret (sort of). And I'm hoping that this doesn't constitute some old FBI state secret.
Regardless, Bud would tell us that his claim to fame was being a body guard for the American gangster from Memphis, George Francis Barnes Jr., better known as Machine Gun Kelly. Then he'd lift his shirt and display a large and gruesome scar on his stomach that was produced, allegedly, by a machine-gun. For a good visual, see Lyndon Johnson showing off his surgical scar to reporters.
Sometimes I get the chance to talk about terrorism and its history in the U.S. And this old story makes for a nice way to introduce the topic.

Friday, September 23, 2016


Cecil Swann - millitary circa 1952I was driving through downtown Taylorsville, Mississippi (which is fairly small) and a guy in a blue Chevrolet pick-up truck drives past me, extends one hand, and waves like he knows me.
I don't know him, but I wave back.
I am pretty sure that if I tried that in New York I’d be assaulted and or arrested.
This little hand-waving thing reminds me of my dad and riding in his truck.
My dad had a habit of always waving at approaching vehicles - one hand on the wheel, another hand holding a Pall Mall cigarette (ashes on the seat and floorboard).  If a hand was empty, it'd would be holding a cup of sugar and milk – with a touch of coffee.
My dad grew up in a little town in Alabama. I’m guessing they waved a lot there.
I grew up with the smell of these aromatic (not) cigarettes and, although I don’t mind the smell of some pipe tobacco and most cigars, cigarettes just kill me.
My dad was a real life red-headed step-child.
At the age of 17, he lied to join the Army. He made it just in time for the end of World War II. This gave him a chance to see some more of the world than Choctaw County.
Once he told me, during commercial breaks of Black Sheep Squadron, that he’d been, in no particular order, a driver for an Army general, a mechanic, and a drill instructor. At Camp Campbell the Army even taught him to jump out of perfectly good airplanes.
He didn't stay in the Army long.
And in the big picture, he didn't stay here for a long time either.
He died when he was 55.
That was a lifetime ago.
I can’t imagine how he'd react to knowing that I married a Russian or that smartphones exist, or even what Bluetooth is.
I wish he knew.
Sometimes I can still imagine him driving that blue and white 1974 Chevrolet Pick-up truck with white toolboxes on each side. He’s holding a cigarette and a large cup of coffee is precariously situated in front of him – sloshing occasionally all over the dashboard.
He takes a puff and stretches back against the seat.
And waves at an upcoming driver.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Baldwin Square

Saraland and or Satsuma - 075Before it was a park in the middle of the now heavily populated Satsuma, Alabama, under a canopy of oaks and home to a few squirrels, there stood a small wood framed house with a detached garage, or as I liked to remember it – our horse barn.
We didn’t have horses.
But we did have a few dogs who could pass for horses any day – at least to a four year old boy with lots of imagination.
There was no asphalt or cement for the short driveway – only fine granulated Alabama top soil baked in the afternoon sun.
It was ideal for mud pies.
Behind the house sat a little one room barbershop and beyond that – train tracks.
My dad caught rides on trains from our personal train station. The train took him to Chickasaw or Mobile for work. I’m hoping it slowed to a manageable speed as there was really no depot in Satsuma at the time. I don’t know that there ever was one there.
The post office was across the street. I think that the house is still there today, although the Postal Service relocated the mail office across Highway 43 beside what used to be a neighborhood store. I liked the old house better.
Once, as a three or four year old, I wandered away from the homestead and into the parking lot of the post office.
I say wandered, but it was about 10 yards away.
I heard galloping. There weren’t many buggies left in circulation, but some still non-conformists chose to travel by horse.
I would call the horse Mr. Ed because he's what I think of when I remember this scene, but that young rider of the horse now has a son with that name so I’ll call him Speedy.
I stared as this traveler dismounted his horse, looped the rope over a chain-linked fence, and walked inside.
Turns out, Speedy was not interested in checking the mail, or for that matter, waiting for its rider.
Speedy tilted his head a few times, un-looped the rope, backed away from the chain-linked fence, and smiled at me.
OK, maybe he just winked. Regardless, one second later he was galloping down 4th Street towards East Orange Ave.
Soon thereafter, the rider exited the post office with his mail, but with no visible horse on which to return home.
For only a brief second, the horseless rider glanced at me.
Did he think that I had freed Speedy?
He didn’t wait around to ask. He took off in a gallop after his horse on 4th street towards the high school.
The only way I know – or am reasonable sure – of the rider’s identity is that I recounted this story to a friend years ago.
And he told me that he was most likely the rider who failed to properly secure his horse when he went into the post office.
Years later after we’d moved to the only slightly larger city of Saraland, Mr. Baldwin (for whom the park is named) demolished (or moved) that old house. In 1982, the Baldwin family gave the land to the city of Satsuma and it now serves as a public park.
In 1992, I brought a young Russian Princess to this place where I had a kind-of “beginning” (i.e., my parents had moved from Louisiana to Alabama when I was four – so this was my beginning in Alabama. I know it’s a stretch but work with me!)
I kneeled and asked her to begin a new journey with me.
She said yes.
My children don’t care too much for this story – especially after the 100th time.
But I like it.
It reminds me of home.