Posts Tagged ‘Friends’

In Remembrance

This is a feel-good story about people and families, although it’s tempered with a measure of sadness. It seems fitting as we enter a new year, a time when the old steps aside for the new.


Here in Jefferson, the local hotspot on weekends is the Pendergrass Flea Market, billed as the largest indoor flea market in Georgia. Indeed, the place is sprawling, chaotic, and crowded.


Over time, the PFM has evolved into a social gathering spot for area Hispanics, and, to a lesser extent, various Asian groups. Much of the merchandise reflects that fact.

Maybe you aren’t in the market for Mexican pottery, oriental spices, cell phone cases, boom boxes, Iron Maiden tee-shirts, imported toys, imitation jewelry, pony rides, tools, tires, or live chickens, but the fresh produce is plentiful, and the food court has an array of authentic international cuisine.

The PFM began as an ordinary flea market operated, then as now, by Anglos. Likewise, while many of the vendors are Hispanic and Asian, just as many are locals of European stock.

One of them is my amiable friend Tony, a fellow divorcé and retiree.

Tony is a builder, a tinkerer, a hands-on kind of guy. In the same way that Trump golfs and I busy myself with wordsmithing, Tony enjoys woodworking. Behind his house is an elaborate workshop where he spends his days, and many nights, building planters, birdhouses, benches, side tables, and whatever else strikes his fancy.

On Saturdays and Sundays, you will find Tony at his booth at Pendergrass Flea Market, selling his creations.



Tony rented the booth a few years ago as an experiment, to see if sales would make it worthwhile. He seemed hopeful, but not optimistic. And, I gather, sales were slow at first.

But he stayed with it, and, over time, business improved. And continued improving. Soon, he was spending much of the week in the workshop to prepare for the weekend ahead. He also branched out and began making seasonal items for the various holidays.

One Saturday before Christmas, I stopped at the flea market to see how Tony was doing. His booth was brimming with woodcraft, including quite a few Christmas-themed items. Most notable: dozens of colorful paintings on rustic 4”x4” pieces of wood — Santas, Christmas trees, snowflakes, snowmen, elves, and more.

Had Tony painted them? Did his skills transcend woodworking?

No, he said, they were painted by his mom, an artist and author who lived on the other side of Atlanta.

To be clear, I know Tony only casually. I knew little about his family or his daily life. His mother was an artist and a writer? Interesting.

This is what Tony told me about his mother Marge.

She was born in Ohio, got married, had four children. She was a Registered Nurse by profession. Eventually, the family moved to Kennesaw, Georgia, where she worked at a local hospital until her retirement. Before long, she founded a private nursing service and ran it for the next decade.

Marge was an accomplished painter, working in oil, acrylic, and watercolor. She published five books. Her cooking skills and singing voice were widely acknowledged.

She was widowed in 2002. In 2015, at age 85, she toured Europe with friends.

Tony and his siblings were quite prolific. Marge had 13 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren.

In early 2017, Marge called Tony with a business proposition. If he would give her a supply of rustic wood squares, she would paint them with scenes suitable for Halloween, Christmas, and other holidays. Tony could sell them in his booth, and they could split the profits.

This was not a lady fading into her dotage.

Tony made and delivered several dozen 4”x4” squares. She demanded more.

He furnished more. She demanded more again.

In the end, she painted about 350 wood squares, all initialed, dated, and equipped with a ribbon for hanging. As each holiday arrived, Tony displayed and sold the appropriate paintings.

One of her favorite subjects, he told me, was an angel. Marge had painted about 50 of them. Tony figured they would be the hit of the Christmas season.

In November, after a long life of good health, Marge suffered a sudden and fatal stroke at age 87.

Because of his mother’s fondness for the angels, Tony decided not to sell them. Instead, he gave one to each of the 40 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, in remembrance of Marge.

The proceeds from the sale of her other paintings will go to her favorite charities.

When Tony finished telling me all this, I turned away and began perusing Marge’s paintings. It helped me maintain my composure.

At that point, I badly wanted one of her paintings. Any would do. I chose this one.


I may leave it up after the holidays. Just, you know, in remembrance.


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On a balmy day in June 1964, I was handed two documents: my college diploma and my commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Force, the latter courtesy of ROTC.

Within two weeks, I was ordered to active duty. Before July ended, I was in uniform, serving at a base in New Mexico.

In those days, as you may know, the Vietnam War was at its height. One of the reasons I took ROTC in college was to avoid being drafted, handed a rifle, and sent into the jungles to my doom.

Yes, I dodged being drafted. But to my dismay, the Air Force still had plenty of chances to send me into the war. Fortunately, I was just a non-flight-status lieutenant, first an Administrative Officer and later a PR Officer. They decided they didn’t need me over there.

But plenty of my contemporaries got the call. How it was done was frightfully efficient.

In the Air Force, the usual practice with support personnel was to send you overseas on a TDY (temporary duty) assignment for three months. One day, everything was normal. The next day, you got the TDY orders. A few weeks later, you were in Vietnam.

What you did when you got there depended on your career field. If you were a Supply or Personnel Officer, you worked in Supply or Personnel. Had I gone, I would have remained in admin or PR.

My mentor and boss Major Walker was an experienced pilot. His Vietnam orders assigned him to fly military transports that sprayed the defoliant Agent Orange. Major Walker didn’t come home.

But in most cases, the person returned from TDY safely, greatly relieved to be back, praying that someone else would be sent next time.

However, there were exceptions. There were a few who salivated to get their orders. Who ached to be in the middle of the action.

One of them was my fellow officer Smokey Ellis.

In my experience, the non-flying junior officers were obliged to stick together. Most of us were young and single. We worked, lived, and socialized together because, as a group, we were disdained by everyone else; to the senior officers, the pilots, the NCOs, and the enlisted personnel, junior support officers are useless.

Smokey was an Air Police officer and a decent guy. He was cocky and loud, had a bit too much of a John Wayne swagger, but essentially, he was good-natured and good-hearted.

(Smokey had been his nickname since childhood. He was born Francis Charles Ellis. When he reached adulthood, because he was who he was, he had his name legally changed to Smokey Francis Charles Ellis.)

By the time I knew him, Smokey had a burning desire to get into the war while there still was one. And it wasn’t mere bravado. Like Mr. Roberts two wars earlier, he genuinely longed for his shot at glory.

He submitted Volunteer Statements. He sent letters up the chain of command. Nothing worked. There he sat, languishing in New Mexico.

Finally, he did something about it. He arranged to give up his Air Force commission and enlist in the Army.

Apparently, the Air Force saw no reason to turn him down. Knowing Smokey and his intense passion to be in the fight, I suppose it was the right decision.

Smokey left us rather hurriedly. He consented to a brief going-away party, but you knew his thoughts were elsewhere.

I last saw him in front of the Bachelor Officer Quarters as he walked down the sidewalk toward his car. Two large duffle bags were slung over his shoulder. He turned back toward us once, grinning and waving. You had to be happy for him.

We didn’t hear much from Smokey after that. There was talk that he was accepted for Green Beret training, that he went to Vietnam.

And eventually, the rumor went around that he had been killed in action.

Maybe the scuttlebutt wasn’t true. 56 soldiers named Ellis are listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, and neither Smokey nor Francis is one of them.

Maybe he met his fate in Thailand or Laos in some clandestine operation. Maybe he survived and is now a retired dude enjoying his grandkids.

Your guess is as good as mine.



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The College Bowls

This is one of those “why, back in my day” posts, in which I put on my curmudgeon hat and bemoan something that was better in the old days.

But I aim to make a legitimate point, by cracky, so bear with me.


For an old guy with plenty of football seasons behind me, I have attended only one college bowl game. It was the 1966 Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Georgia beat SMU 24-9.

Back then, there were nine post-season bowl games:

The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, established in 1902
The Orange Bowl in Miami, 1935
The Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, 1935
The Sun Bowl in El Paso, 1935
The Cotton Bowl in Dallas, 1937
The Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, 1945
The Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, 1946
The Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston, 1959
The Liberty Bowl in Memphis, 1959

Today, all nine are still around, and the Rose Bowl is still the Rose Bowl. But the other eight, one by one, sold their naming rights to corporations.

Ah, free enterprise. It’s as American as apple pie.

The Orange Bowl is now the Capitol One Orange Bowl.
The Sugar Bowl is the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
The Sun Bowl is the Hyundai Sun Bowl.
The Cotton Bowl is the Goodyear Cotton Bowl.
The Gator Bowl is the TaxSlayer Bowl.
The Tangerine Bowl is the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.
The Bluebonnet Bowl is the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl.
The Liberty Bowl is the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

In case you didn’t know, TaxSlayer is a do-it-yourself online tax software company.

AdvoCare (they are advocates who care) sells nutritional supplements. V100 is a “tropical chew” — $35 for a pouch of 60. They must work wonders.

Which leads to my next point. Have you counted the number of bowl games out there lately? The college bowl industry now operates an astonishing 41 games around the country.

In addition to the nine bowls listed previously, we also have:

— The Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl in Atlanta
— The AutoNation Cure Bowl, Orlando
— The BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl, Glendale (BattleFrog stages local obstacle races)
— The Belk Bowl, Charlotte
— The Birmingham Bowl (Formerly the Papa John’s Bowl, now owned by ESPN)
— The Camping World Independence Bowl, Shreveport
— The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Atlanta
— The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Boise
— The Foster Farms Bowl, Santa Clara
— The Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Nashville
— The Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque (For Gildan t-shirts)
— The GoDaddy Bowl, Mobile
— The Hawai’i Bowl, Honolulu
— The Holiday Bowl, San Diego (Previous sponsor National University pulled out)
— The Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Fort Worth
— The Marmot Boca Raton Bowl, Boca Raton
— The Miami Beach Bowl, Miami Beach (Owned by the Marlins)
— The Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman, Annapolis
— The Motel 6 Cactus Bowl, Tempe
— The New Era Pinstripe Bowl, New York City (For New Era baseball caps)
— The Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl, Tucson
— The Outback Bowl, Tampa
— The Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, Nassau
— The Quick Lane Bowl, Detroit (For the Quick Lane auto repair chain)
— The R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, New Orleans
— The Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, Montgomery
— The Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Las Vegas (Royal Purple makes synthetic oil)
— The Russell Athletic Bowl, Orlando
— The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, San Diego
— The St. Petersburg Bowl, St. Petersburg (Bitcoin pulled out as sponsor)
— The Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio
— The Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, Dallas


I realize the selling of bowl names is a minor matter compared to, say, gun deaths or global warming, but this particular commercialization strikes me as especially tacky and offensive.

Yes, a bowl needs a name. But renaming it to hype a product? That’s beyond unsavory; it’s vulgar and sleazy.

It’s like a car dealership drawing attention to itself with an inflatable gorilla.

It’s like the NASCAR tradition of cars and drivers festooned with as many logos as will fit the space.

I understand and respect the role and the power of advertising. My college degree is in Advertising. I spent most of my working life in the business.

And when a marketing practice triggers my internal “tacky and offensive” detector, it tells me the practice is over the line.

Too bad those companies couldn’t simply buy some ad space, or run some TV spots, or sponsor the PBS News Hour, and leave the bowls alone.

Bowl games, when you think about it, have limited appeal. Except in the case of the very top bowls where the national title is determined, most people don’t care all that much. Only the fans at the two competing colleges, plus some people in the bowl’s host city, are paying attention. Not much of an audience, really.

I also should point out that the corporate sponsors are not the only villains here. The bowls themselves are more than willing to sell out. Clearly, all parties have a healthy mercenary spirit, wholly unburdened by shame.

Ah, free enterprise. It’s as American as apple pie.


In order to end this on an upbeat note, let me add some recollections about that Cotton Bowl game I attended in Dallas in 1966.

I was in the Air Force at the time, and I had just spent the Christmas holidays with my family in Georgia. The trip back to my duty station in New Mexico had me passing through Dallas at just the right time, so Dad surprised me with a Cotton Bowl ticket.

The Bulldogs had a terrific season in 1966. Vince Dooley was in his third year as coach. That year, Georgia lost only one game (by one point) and shared the SEC title with Alabama. The Cotton Bowl win was gravy.

That was a long time ago, but I still remember a marvelous series of downs in the 4th quarter, when Dooley sent a star defensive lineman into the game as quarterback. Yes, quarterback.

The player was two-time All-American tackle George “The General” Patton, the team captain, playing in the last game of his college career.

Patton, 6’3″ and 210 pounds, had been an All-State quarterback at his high school in Alabama. He came to UGA as a quarterback in his freshman year.

But after watching Patton during practice, Dooley asked if he would consider trying out as a defensive tackle.

“I told him it didn’t matter to me,” Patton said. “I just wanted a job.”

On the first play of his defensive career, Patton sacked Alabama’s Joe Namath for an eight-yard loss. For the next two seasons, Patton was the terror of the SEC.

So, at the Cotton Bowl in 1966, with Georgia comfortably leading SMU, Dooley sent Patton into the game for one series of downs in his old position of quarterback.

Patton handed off the ball twice, ran the ball himself for a 14-yard gain, and heaved one mighty pass downfield. It fell 20 yards beyond the nearest receiver.

For me, the highlight of the game was seeing Patton let the ball fly and watching the tremendous arc of that pass.

What a supremely satisfying moment it must have been for Patton.

Cotton Bowl

Dooley and the Dogs celebrate in Dallas, December 1966.


George “The General” Patton.


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Here in Jefferson a few months ago, a group of high school kids got busted for underage drinking. They had quietly gathered at some secluded spot to toss back a few, when suddenly, cops were everywhere.

Some of the young merry-makers bolted into the woods and escaped, but most stayed to face the music. They were taken to the station and booked, and their parents were summoned to collect them.

Ultimately, the teens went to court, and their names and faces appeared in the local newspaper. They suffered varying degrees of humiliation, but were not severely punished.

As the drama unfolded, the local citizens separated into two camps. One side favored harsh punishment to teach the little villains a lesson. The other side dismissed it as harmless youthful high-jinks — something everyone did in their youth.

I suppose both sides were right. And the story certainly is nothing new. Teenagers have been scheming to obtain alcohol since alcohol was invented.

Which leads me to the prominent role that beer — premium-quality, high-octane German beer — played in my life at that age.

I was raised a Military Brat, the dependent kid of an Air Force officer. Over the years, we followed Dad on assignments around the United States, as well as to Japan, France, and Germany. It was a pretty cool way to grow up.

I attended high school on an U.S. Army base in Stuttgart, Germany. My alma mater, SHS, was a typical American high school, except for the location.

The location factor made for some interesting dynamics. I mean that from the standpoint of American teens living in Germany and having easy access to alcohol.

When I lived in Stuttgart, the situation was this: we kids lived inside a walled compound and were allowed to wander unsupervised around the base. As aspiring adults, we were afforded an appropriate degree of latitude. That also applied when we went off-base.

In our world, “off-base” consisted of three wholly different experiences. One was our various organized trips — group outings to sporting events, the zoo, the museum, the municipal swimming pool. We usually went by bus and were well chaperoned.

The second was family trips, such as vacations and shopping excursions with our parents.

The third was our below-the-radar trips — the quiet, illicit visits we teens made, usually in small groups on a Saturday night, to the local gasthauses and biergartens.

For us, sneaking off to a bar was ridiculously easy.

For one thing, American families lived on half a dozen military installations scattered around Stuttgart. The Army post where I lived, Patch Barracks, was 20 miles from our high school in the Pattonville housing project. Cross-town trips were routine.

For another thing, we were living in a non-English-speaking country where most of the population wanted us gone and avoided us. Had we been back in the U.S., the surrounding community would have been our home town, where people knew us. Frequenting the local bars? Probably not in the cards.

If a legal drinking age existed in Germany in those days, it didn’t seem to apply to us. If we chose the right bars, we and our money were perfectly welcome in the establishment. And we learned quickly how to choose the right bars.

In reality, many of the local gasthauses were off-limits. Some were frequented by locals who hated Americans. Others were operated by locals who hated Americans. Some bars were already taken — the turf of U.S. enlisted men who had no intention of sharing them with bratty American teens.

So, we worked within the system, and we found the watering holes that were appropriate and satisfactory for us.

To be clear, my friends and I carefully avoided trouble, and we did not sneak out constantly to go drinking. An individual kid managed to pull it off, say, once every month or two.

In total, during the three years we lived in Germany, I went bar-hopping about a dozen times. In truth, I never visited the same gasthaus more than a time or two. Frankly, most of the places have faded from memory.

But I still vividly remember one of them. It was called Bruno’s, and we could see it from the windows of our high school.

Bruno’s was located beyond the baseball fields at SHS, on the other side of a hedgerow, past a high fence topped with barbed wire, inside a massive Czechoslovakian refugee camp.

The refugee camp was there because of the Cold War, which burned hot in those days. West Germany had to accommodate a steady influx of people fleeing from behind the Iron Curtain.

Such camps, I later learned, were called DP camps — for “displaced persons.” Most had been built by the Nazis to house Jewish, Polish, and Czech slave laborers. After the war, they were converted to refugee camps.

Naturally, a sizable refugee community required services and amenities. These refugees being from Czechoslovakia — the country where Pilsner was invented and beer is called “liquid bread” — one of those amenities was a proper gasthaus for the refugees.

Bruno’s was that establishment.

My night at Bruno’s happened in the fall, during “Fasching,” the German period of celebration and revelry that precedes Lent.

A few of us were spending the weekend with friends at Pattonville. One of them knew about Bruno’s and had a Czech friend who offered to take us there.

That Saturday night, we went to the main gate of the refugee camp. We were met by a young man in his early 20s who vouched for us to the guards. The gate was opened. We proceeded to Bruno’s, where the residents were observing Fasching with gusto.

Bruno’s was a joyous place. The residents of the camp being Czechs, not Germans, they loved Americans. They loved everybody. They had escaped communism, and the future seemed bright.

The Czechs at Bruno’s were a delight to be around, and they welcomed us enthusiastically. Music played, beer flowed. People danced. The air was thick with laughter and cigarette smoke.

At some point, we were given brightly-colored party hats. Mine was a cardboard fez, metallic silver in color, with a yellow crescent stapled to the front and a dangling yellow tassel. Whether the fez was symbolic of something or merely festive, I neither knew nor cared.

The fez looked like this, only silver and yellow.


After a terrific evening of beer and merriment, we said our farewells and stumbled back to Pattonville. No trouble, no unpleasantness, no complications, no regrets.

When I got home, my parents asked where I got the fez. Mom zinged me by calling it “silly-looking.”

Personally, I thought “garish” or “tacky” would be more accurate. But I told them the literal truth: we went to a party where everyone got a hat.

For years, that fez was one of my most treasured souvenirs. For the rest of our tour in Europe, it sat on the dresser in my bedroom.

When I went away to college, the fez went with me. It was one of the decorations in my dorm room, along with some beer coasters from Stuttgart and my favorite pencil caddy, a souvenir beer stein from the Hofbräuhaus in Munich.

Naturally, after I got married, the fez was relegated to a souvenir box. I didn’t think about it for a long time. Then one day, after we moved to Ft. Lauderdale, I went looking for it. The little thing was gone. Nowhere to be found. I was deeply saddened.

Mind you, I’m not implying in any way whatsoever that my ex-wife was responsible.

The  last time I saw good old SHS was at graduation in June 1960. By the end of the month, we were on our way back to the U.S. and Dad’s new assignment in Atlanta.

By September, I was a freshman at the University of Georgia, living in Athens. For the first time in my 17 years, I was on my own.

More about that in Part 2.


My alma mater, Stuttgart American High School.

The view behind SHS. The refugee camp was over there.

The view behind SHS. The refugee camp was over there.

Residents of a DP camp in Germany, late 1950s.

Residents of a DP camp in Germany, late 1950s.

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In my last post, I described a happy incident from my youth: a game of touch football on a frat house lawn at the University of Georgia in 1963. During that game, running with uncharacteristic speed, I eluded all pursuers and scored a very satisfying touchdown.

Years later, in the early 1980s, I was inspired once again to run at the limit of my abilities. But that second occasion was not a happy moment. I was running to escape a rather large oak tree falling in my direction.

At that terrifying moment, I was as close to death as I have ever been, before or since.

Knock on wood.

The Red Oak Incident

After I attended college, and after a hitch in the Air Force, I became a garden-variety white-collar worker, married with two kids, endeavoring to make a living and provide for my family.

By 1980, we were living in Lawrenceville, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, in a huge tri-level house, the heating of which in the winter was a severe drain on our meager finances.

So, I installed a giant Fisher woodstove in the den on the lowest level of the house. That stove was wonderful. It kept the living areas toasty warm, the heat drifted to the upper levels where we slept, and our utility bills in winter became almost reasonable.

A woodstove, of course, demands beaucoups of firewood. Over the ensuing years, I became quite adept at the art of firewoodery — buying it by the cord, hauling it, splitting it, stacking it. Rocky make fire. Fire good.

But all of that evolved over time. In the beginning, I was naive enough to go forth and collect my firewood in the manly manner: by cutting down the trees myself with a chainsaw.

In my defense, we lived in a semi-rural area with trees aplenty. Large tracts of forest ran in all directions. My dad and I had cut our own Christmas trees every year, so why couldn’t I harvest a hardwood now and then?

And I did. Several times, I selected a medium-sized red or white oak, brought it down with a chainsaw, sectioned it into manageable chunks, and hauled the bounty home in a borrowed truck. All was well.

Sort of. Turning a live tree into free firewood is hard and dangerous work.

Ultimately, it was the danger factor that caused me to put away my chainsaw and switch to buying firewood from the local wood yards. It was a wise decision.

One day in early fall, my neighbor Charley called with news. He had a friend who had some acreage on the edge of town, and the friend was willing to let us cut down a tree for firewood.

The details after all this time are a bit fuzzy, but I recall the high points very well.

The two of us, plus our wives, drove to the south side of town, where the friend’s acreage fronted a lightly-traveled paved road with a grassy right-of-way about 10 feet wide. We parked, surveyed the nearby trees, and selected a suitable red oak.

The tree we chose was 12-15 inches in diameter, tall and straight, standing at the edge of the woods. We reckoned to drop it at an angle, so it would fall out of the forest and onto the right-of-way, where we would have room to cut it into sections.

I was tapped to do the felling. No problem. I fired up my chainsaw and bent to the task with the confidence of a man whose limited experience did not yet include an uh-oh moment.

The procedure began normally. I cut a notch at the base of the trunk, then started the “felling cut” opposite the notch.

Some seconds later, I heard the telltale crack of the hinge, and the tree slowly began to topple, exactly in the desired direction, toward the right-of-way. I set down the chainsaw, turned, and hastily retreated.

As I moved away, flush with adrenaline, admittedly pleased with myself, it occurred to me that my three companions were yelling frantically — at me.

At first, because the situation was already chaotic and highly-charged, my brain could not assimilate this new information. Then, their words began to register.


In that same split-second, I glanced back at the tree. It had pivoted 45 degrees on the hinge, and instead of dropping at the expected angle onto the right-of-way, was falling precisely in my direction.

I had two choices. One was to ascertain the direction of the fall and step aside either left or right. The other choice was to stop wasting time and run like hell.

I ran, faster than ever in my life — faster, even, than during my monumental touchdown run in Athens in 1963.

As I did, the voices of my companions rose in pitch, volume, and degree of hysteria. In the end, all three were in full-out screaming mode. My survival, it told me, was in serious doubt.

Only by inches did I escape being flattened. As my legs worked like mighty pistons and propelled me to safety at last, I felt the leaves of the upper branches brush across the top of my head.

That is my second-to-last memory of the incident.

My final memory is of scrambling feverishly with Charley to get to work with our chainsaws to remove the tree, which had fallen onto the road instead of the right-of-way, and was blocking both lanes of traffic.

The proper method of felling a tree with a chainsaw, by the numbers.

The proper method of felling a tree with a chainsaw, by the numbers.


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Both of my sons are avid runners. For them, every week involves something — a fun run, a few hours on the local streets and trails, occasionally a marathon or half-marathon.

Me, I never got into running. I consider walking and hiking to be more genteel ways to exercise. I especially like the serenity of being on the trail, alone, with plenty of time to ponder any topic my brain selects.

Running undoubtedly has great benefits, but I’ll never know. If I switched to running at my age, my knees would not take kindly to it.

There was a time, however, when I was quite capable of sustained running — as well as capable of a mighty burst of speed when necessary.

In fact, I can remember two times in my life when I ran so fast that my legs began to outrun the rest of my body, and I was in danger of falling over backwards.

One of those times, I was in college. I had just caught a pass from the University of Georgia’s star quarterback and was racing for the end zone. No, I didn’t play for the Bulldogs. It happened one Sunday in a game of touch football on a frat house lawn.

The other time, two decades later, I was running for my life to get out from under a falling tree. Which I had just cut down with a chainsaw. I did not escape by much.

I remember both events as if they happened yesterday.

The Pick-up Game

Up through high school, practically any inept kid can participate in sports. From elementary school on, anyone can wear a uniform. To compensate, sports teams have two rosters: the starters and the benchwarmers. All kids know the difference.

Did I just use the word inept? That certainly describes my athletic ability as a kid.

Growing up, I was a blah outfielder in Little League baseball. In high school, I warmed the bench for one season of football. (I was an “offensive tackle” in both position and performance.)

The next year, I played junior varsity basketball; I had a hot hand in exactly one game. It was a sublime moment of glory.

By the time you reach college, however, all that equal opportunity stuff  comes to an end. College sports are for the elites. It might as well be the pros. Come to think of it, it pretty much is the pros.

With so many used-to-be athletes around, it isn’t surprising that flag football and touch football are popular campus pastimes. That was the case at UGA when I was a student.

In the spring, if you drove down Milledge Avenue — which was, and still is, Greek Row — you would pass four or five such games in progress. As you might expect, the rules and the quality of play varied considerably.

One fine spring Sunday in 1963, my junior year, I went to see my friend Al at his fraternity house on South Milledge.

Al and I were best buds throughout our college years. (In 2009, I wrote about Al and his friendship with a group of Thai students.) Sadly, he and I went our separate ways after graduation, me into the Air Force, Al into matrimony.

Anyway, when I arrived at the frat house, Al and a few others were sitting on the front porch watching a touch football game on the lawn.

To my surprise, playing on one of the teams was Larry Rakestraw, UGA’s starting quarterback.

Rakestraw was a genuine campus superstar — a superb quarterback with an outstanding record. He was Georgia’s starting quarterback for three years straight.

To refresh my memory, I looked up Larry’s record. He passed for over 3,000 yards, was an All-SEC player twice, and was Senior Bowl MVP. Against Miami in the Orange Bowl, he had over 400 yards passing. He broke three SEC records and one NCAA record. He went on to play three seasons as QB of the Chicago Bears.

On top of that, Larry was a nice, friendly, modest guy — the kind who would roll up his sleeves and play touch football with the little people on a warm spring afternoon.

Being one of the little people myself, I did not travel in the same lofty circles as the football players, but I knew some of them from various classes.

I wrote about one, Richard Brooks, in a post in 2012. Another was Larry Rakestraw. For a while, we were fellow cadets in Air Force ROTC, and we both graduated from UGA in 1964.

So, there I was, sitting on the front porch of a frat house with my friend Al, watching a casual game of touch football being played on the lawn, four to a team, and the quarterback of one of the teams was the famous Larry Rakestraw.

Before long, one of Larry’s teammates got tired, or had to be somewhere, or whatever, and left the game. Larry surveyed the spectators in the porch and pointed at me.

“Rocky, you’re up!” he yelled. “Get in here!”

A wave of dread washed over me, but I got to my feet and trotted with a grin toward the scrum of players.

I got over the dread soon enough. I wasn’t exactly a great addition to the team, but I ran and grunted and sweated and did my pedestrian best.

And then, my moment arrived.

Our team had the ball. In the huddle, Larry told me to go downfield, then cut left and stop. When I looked back, the ball would be waiting for me.

And it was. When I turned, Larry’s perfect spiral was whistling toward me, mere feet away. Somehow, I reacted quickly enough to grab it and hang on.

That was the first miracle. The second miracle came when I took off down the left sideline, running as if my life depended on it.

As I ran, all four members of the other team were in pursuit, as hell-bent to intercept me as I was to score.

One by one, they failed. With a few yards to go, I only had to elude one last man.

Mentally and physically, I was in overdrive. Until that moment, I had never run so fast. It was exhilarating.

At the same time, I had the unsettling sensation that if I did not slow down, my feet and legs would literally outrun my head and torso, and I would crash with disastrous results.

But by then, I was over the goal line. The last player missed touching me by inches. It was a magnificent personal victory.

Of course, in the overall scheme of things, my astounding feat of athleticism meant nothing. It was just one touchdown of many that day. The game continued, and my epic run promptly was forgotten.

But, oh, how sweet it was.

In my next post, I will describe an incident in which I ran as if demon-possessed to avoid being sent to Glory by a falling tree.

A pick-up game at UGA, 1962.

Ace Georgia QB Larry Rakestraw in 1963.

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Joseph Louis “Joe L.” Hensley led a double life.

Born in 1926 in Bloomington, Indiana, Hensley was a journalist, lawyer, prosecutor, member of the Indiana General Assembly, and circuit court judge.

Simultaneously, he was a fiction writer — the author of 20 novels and over 100 short stories, mostly crime fiction and science fiction. He began writing in the 1950s; his last novel was published just after his death in 2007.

Hensley’s name is not in the top tier of sci-fi authors most familiar to the public. But as “The Pair” shows, good stories are not the province of the big names alone.


The Pair

By Joe L. Hensley
Published in Fantastic Universe, July 1958

They tell the story differently in the history stereos and maybe they are right. But for me the way the great peace came about, the thing that started us on our way to understanding, was a small thing — a human thing — and also a Knau thing.

In the late days of the hundred year war that engulfed two galaxies we took a planet that lay on the fringe of the Knau empire. In the many years of the war this particular planet had passed into our hands twice before, had been colonized, and the colonies wiped out when the Knau empire retook the pot — as we, in turn, wiped out the colonies they had planted there — for it was a war of horror with no quarter asked, expected, or given.

The last attempt to negotiate a peace had been made 10 years after the war began and for the past 40 years, neither side had even bothered to take prisoners, except a few for the purposes of information. We were too far apart, too ideologically different, and yet we each wanted the same things, and we were each growing and spreading through the galaxies in the pattern of empire.

The name of this particular planet was Pasman and, as usual, disabled veterans had first choice of the land there. One of the men who was granted a patent to a large tract of land was Michael Dargan.

Dargan stood on a slight rise and looked with some small pride at the curved furrow lines in the dark earth. All of his tillable land had been plowed and made ready for the planting. The feeling of pride saw something he had not experienced for a long time and he savored it until it soured within him. Even then he continued to stare out over his land for a long time, for when he was standing motionless be could almost forget.

The mechanical legs worked very well. At first they had been tiring to use, but in the four years since his ship had been hit he had learned to use them adequately. The scars on his body had been cut away by the plastic surgeons and his face looked almost human now, if he could trust his mirror. But any disablement leaves deeper scars than the physical ones.

He sighed and began to move toward the house in his awkward yet powerful way. Martha would have lunch ready.

The house was in sight when it happened. Some sixth sense, acquired in battle, warned him that someone was following and he turned as quickly as possible and surveyed the land behind him. He caught the glint of sunlight on metal. He let himself fall to the earth as the air flamed red around him and for a long time he lay still. His clothes smoldered in a few spots and he beat the flames out with cautious hands.

Twice more, nearby, the ground flamed red and he lay crowded into the furrow which hid him.

Martha must have heard or seen what was happening from the house for she began shooting his heavy projectile “varmint” gun from one of the windows and, by raising his head, Dargan could see the projectiles picking at the top of a small rise a hundred yards or so from him. He hoped then that she would not kill the thing that had attacked, for if it was what he thought, he wanted the pleasure for himself.

There was silence for a little while and then Martha began to shoot again from the window. He raised his head again and caught a glimpse of his attacker as it scuttled up a hill. It was a Knau. He felt the blood begin to race in him, the wild hate.

“Martha!” he yelled. “Stop shooting.”

He got his mechanical legs underneath him and went on down to the house. She was standing in the doorway, crying.

“I thought it had gotten you.”

He smiled at her, feeling a small exhilaration. “I’m all right,” he said. “Give me the pro gun.” He took it from her and went to the small window, but it was too late. The Knau had vanished over the hill.

“Fix me some food,” he said to her. “I’m going after it.”

“It was a Knau, wasn’t it?” She closed her eyes and shuddered, not waiting for his answer. “I’ve never seen one before — only the pictures. It was horrible. I think I hit it.”

Dargan stared at her. “Fix me some food, I said. I’m going after it.”

She opened her eyes. “Not by yourself. I’ll call the village. They’ll send some men up.”

“By that time it will be long gone.” He watched her silently for a moment, knowing she was trying to read something in him. He kept his face impassive. “Fix me some food or I will go without it,” he said softly.

“You want to kill it for yourself, don’t you? You don’t anyone to help you. That’s why you yelled at me to stop shooting.”

“Yes,” he admitted. “I want to kill it myself. I don’t want you to call the village after I am gone.” He made his voice heavy with emphasis. “If you call the village I won’t come back to you, Martha.”

He closed his eyes and stood swaying softly as the tension built within him. “Those things killed my parents and they have killed me. This is the first chance I’ve ever had to get close to one.” He smiled without humor and looked down at his ruined legs. “It will be a long time dying.”

The trail was easy to follow at first. She had wounded it, but he doubted if the wounds were serious after he had trailed awhile. Occasionally on the bushes it had crashed through were droplets of bright, orange-red blood.

Away from the cleared area of the farm the land was heavily rolling, timbered with great trees that shut away the light of the distant, double blue suns. There was growth under the trees, plants that struggled for breathing room. The earth was soft and took tracks well.

Dargan followed slowly, with time for thought.

He remembered when his ship had been hit. He had been standing in a passageway and the space battle had flamed all around him. A young officer in his first engagement.

It was a small battle — known only by the coordinates where it had happened and worth only a line or two in the official reports of the day. But it would always be etched in Dargan’s brain. His ship had taken the first hit.

If he had been a little further out in the passageway he would surely have died. As it was he only half died.

He remembered catching at the bulkhead with his hands and falling sideways. There was a feeling of horrible burning and then there was nothing for a long time.

But now there was something.

He felt anticipation take hold of his mind and he breathed strongly of the warm air.

He came to a tree where it had rested, holding on with its arms. A few drops of bright blood had begun to dry on the tree and he estimated from their height on the tree that the Knau had been wounded in the shoulder.

The ground underneath the tree was wrong somehow. There should be four deep indentations where its legs had dug in, but there were only three, and one of the three was shaped wrong and shallower than the others.

Though he had followed for the better part of half the day, Dargan estimated that he was not far from his farm. The Knau seemed to be following some great curving path that bordered Dargan’s land.

It was beginning to grow dark enough to make the trail difficult to read. He would have to make cold camp, for to start a fire might draw the Knau back on him.

He ate the sandwiches that Martha had fixed for him and washed them down with warm, brackish water from his canteen. For a long time he was unable to go to sleep because of the excitement that still gripped him. But finally sleep came and with it — dreams…

He was back on the ship again and he relived the time of fire and terror. He heard the screams around him. His father and mother were there too and the flames burned them while he watched. Then a pair of cruel mechanical legs chased him through metal corridors, always only a step behind. He tore the mechanical legs to bits finally and threw them at Knau ships. The Knau ships fired back and there was flame again, burning, burning…

Then he was in the hospital and they were bringing the others in. And he cried unashamedly when they brought in another man whose legs were gone. And he felt a pity for the man, and a pity for himself.

He awoke and it was early morning. A light, misty rain had begun to fall and his face was damp and he was cold. He got up and began to move sluggishly down the trail that the Knau had left, fearing that the mist would wash it out. But it was still readable. After awhile he came to a stream and drank there and refilled his canteen.

For a time he lost the trail and had to search frantically until he found it again.

By mid-suns he had located the Knau’s cave hideaway and he lay below it, hidden in a clump of tall vegetation. The hideaway lay on the hill above him, a small black opening, which was shielded at all angles except directly in front. The cave in the hillside was less than a mile from Dargan’s home.

Several times he thought he could detect movement in the blackness that marked the cave opening. He knew that the Knau must be lying up there watching to see if it had been followed and he intended to give it ample time to think it had gotten away without pursuit or had thrown that pursuit off.

The heat of the day passed after a long, bitter time filled with itches that could not be scratched and non-existent insects that crawled all over Dargan’s motionless body. He consoled himself with thoughts of what he would do when he had the upper hand. He hoped, with all hope, that the Knau would not resist and he could take it unawares. That would make it even better.

He saw it for certain at the moment when dusk became night. It came out of the cave, partially hidden by the outcropping of rock that formed the shelf of the cave. Dargan lay, his body unmoving, his half-seeing eyes fascinated, while the Knau inspected the surrounding terrain for what seemed a very long time.

They’re not so ugly, he told himself. They told us in training that they were the ugliest things alive — but they have a kind of grace to them. I wonder what makes them move so stiffly?

He watched the Knau move about the ledge of the cave. A crude bandage bound its shoulder and two of the four arms hung limply.

Now. You think you’re safe.

He waited for a good hour after it had gone back inside the cave. Then he checked his projectile weapon and began the crawl up the hillside. He went slowly. Time had lost its meaning. After this is done you have lost the best thing.

He could see the light when he got around the first bend of the cave. It flickered on the rock walls of the cave. Dargan edged forward very carefully, clearing the way of tiny rocks, so that his progress would be noiseless. The mechanical legs dragged soundlessly behind him, muffled in the trousers that covered them.

There was a fire and the Knau lay next to it. Dargan could see its chest move up and down as it gulped for air, its face tightened with pain. Another Knau, a female, was tending the wound, and Dargan felt exultation.


He swung the gun on target and it made a small noise against the cave floor. Both of the Knau turned to face him and there was a moment of no movement as they stared at him and he stared back.

His hands were wet with perspiration. He knew, in that instant that they were not going to try to do anything — to fight. They were only waiting for him to pull the trigger.

The fire flickered and his eyes became more used to the light. For the first time he saw the male Knau’s legs and knew the reason for the strangeness of the tracks. The legs were twisted, and two of the four were missing. A steel aid was belted around the Knau’s body, to give it balance, making a tripod for walking. The two legs that were left were cross-hatched with the scars of imperfect plastic surgery.

Dargan pulled himself to his feet, still not taking the gun off the two by the fire. He saw the male glance at the metallic limbs he revealed beneath his pants cuff. And he saw the same look come into the Knau’s eyes that he knew was in his own.

Then carefully Dargan let the safety down on the pro gun and went to help the female in treating the male.

It should have ended there of course. For what does one single act, a single forgiveness by two, mean in a war of a hundred years?

And it would have ended if the Knau empire had not taken that particular small planet back again and if the particular Knau that Dargan had tracked and spared had not been one of the mighty ones — who make decisions, or at least influence them.

But that Knau was.

But before the Knau empire retook Pasman it meant something too. It meant a small offering of flowers on Dargan’s doorstep the morning following the tracking and, in the year before they came again, a friendship. It meant waking without hate in the mornings and it meant the light that came into Martha’s eyes.

And Dargan’s peace became our peace.

/S/Samuel Cardings,
Gen. (Ret.) TA
Ambassador to Knau Empire


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It’s Never Personal

For the first week of my recent trip to the Pacific Northwest, we got rain every day.

Well, rain fell every day for several hours. And to be honest, it was usually just an annoying drizzle. Only once did an all-out frog-strangler happen, and that was during the night.

I was told, and observed it to be true, that people in that region think umbrellas are for sissies. In fact, I only saw one umbrella in public, and that was carried by a little old lady. Fortunately, my raingear with a hood was all I needed.

Despite the rain, I managed okay for the first few days. I got some dramatic photos of clouds around the mountaintops. And fogbanks. And shots of where I was told Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens were, even though I couldn’t, like, see them.

Finally, I decided to seek better weather. I drove east on I-84 through the Columbia River Gorge and onto the plains of Eastern Oregon.

Sure enough, the clouds stayed behind at the coast, and the sun came out. I spent the day poking along, checking out waterfalls, scenic overlooks, and whatever else attracted my attention.

By evening, I arrived in Pendleton, Oregon, a city of about 15,000 whose motto is “Welcome to the Real West!”

That’s because the city is home to the Pendleton Round-Up, a world-famous rodeo that attracts 50,000 people every year. The Round-Up had just ended. Had I arrived two days earlier, the motels would have been full.

But I found a room easily, got settled, and eventually ended up downtown at a steakhouse with — you guessed it — a cowboy theme.

While awaiting my slab of beef, I thumbed through a tourist brochure. It boasted that Pendleton is the home of Pendleton Woolen Mills, they of blankets and garments fame.

Pendleton Mills, I learned later, dates back to 1863 and is still privately owned by relatives of the founder. The company is headquartered in Portland.

They are internationally known for high quality wool stuff. Pendleton blankets and apparel are especially popular among the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni people of the Southwest.

Personally, I have no use for a Pendleton blanket. At my house, it would only serve as a doghair magnet. Nor do I need a western shirt. Not my style. Nossir.

But I knew someone who might be interested.

I took out my cell phone and sent a text to my friend Larry back in Georgia.

Yer honor, I’m in Pendleton, Oregon, home of Pendleton Woolen Mills. If you’re in the market for a southwestern blanket or a gaudy cowboy shirt, now’s your chance.

A few minutes later, the reply came in.

Hey, thanks! See if you can find me a western shirt, size large. I’ve lost some weight recently.

So it was that the next morning, on my way back to Portland, I stopped at the Pendleton Mills factory store.

The store is enormous, and it was packed with goods and people. A hundred customers were busily sorting through the stacks, leaving rumpled messes in their wakes. Staff people came along behind them and restored order to the merchandise with practiced efficiency.

I browsed through the place to get oriented, made a few disappointing observations, confirmed them with one of the staff people, and departed.

Later, at a lunch stop, I sent another text to Larry.

Well, I went to the Pendleton Mills factory store this morning to find you a western shirt. They had them, sure enough. However, after reading the labels and asking questions, I decided not to get anything.

The deal is, the company still manufactures its blankets locally. But the wool shirts are all assembled in Mexico. They ship the wool south, where cheap labor makes the shirts and sends them back to Oregon.

Even worse, they sell cotton shirts that are manufactured in China and sold with a Pendleton label, even though Pendleton isn’t involved at all.

So, the company still makes blankets in the U.S. because the process is mostly automatic. Those jobs that require a human being have been moved overseas.

If you want a Pendleton shirt, sir, you can order it from their website. I hope you don’t.

A few hours later, his reply came.

I totally agree, Rocky. What the hell are they thinking? I will not order a shirt or blanket and might send an email telling them why. Thanks for trying, pal.

Yes, I realize that business is business. To the people who lost their jobs, it wasn’t personal. It’s never personal. All those folks are free to find work at Walmart. Or Burger King. Or the Pendleton Round-Up.

But wow, what a sorry turn of events. How disappointing. How depressing.

I wish to hell I hadn’t gone there.


The mill in Pendleton, built in 1895. Financed with city bonds, of course.



A Pendleton label. Now obsolete on shirts.


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Scratching the Itch

My first trip to Grand Canyon was in 1994, 15 years ago. I may have mentioned that I was quite taken with the place and  have been a regular visitor ever since.

Over the years, I’ve squeezed in trips to Yosemite, Yellowstone, Bryce, Zion, Arches and other parks, but Grand Canyon has been my Numero Uno vacation destination.

I can’t explain the appeal, exactly. Millions of people visit Grand Canyon, stay for half a day, one day, two days, and are never compelled to return. Why did the Canyon bug bite me?

The closest I can get to an answer is this: every time I go to Grand Canyon and take in whatever panorama is before me, I am overwhelmed. It’s like a religious experience.

No, I don’t hear choirs or anything. But whether I’m hiking, rafting, walking, or gawking, there’s something about Grand Canyon that is both supremely gratifying and deeply humbling. I don’t get that feeling anywhere else.

Normal people don’t understand the appeal. They see a long, deep canyon in the middle of nowhere — impressive, yes, but nothing more.

Pretty regularly, friends and relatives politely inquire why I keep going back to see the same hole in the ground again and again.

I don’t lay the religious experience thing on them. I just reply that Grand Canyon is so big and so multi-faceted that no single human in a single human lifetime could possibly experience all of it.

I tell them I’ll probably keep booking trips until (a) I get tired of it or (b) I’m too old and decrepit to continue.

Coincidentally, I departed the South Rim of Grand Canyon just this morning.

I spent two delightful days there taking photos, walking great distances, observing the menagerie of foreign tourists, taking photos, shopping for souvenirs, dining lavishly, and taking photos.

I also paid a visit to the mule barn and, when no one was looking, harvested several samples of dried mule dropping. These trail souvenirs will be lovingly boxed and given as special gifts to a few select persons on my Christmas list.

But I digress.

When you add up all the river trips and hikes I’ve done in Grand Canyon, I’ve been to the place 20 times. Not bad for a dude who lives in Georgia.

In all candor, I assumed that, except to a few friends and family members, nobody knew that I’ve been here 20 times.

Au contraire, mes amis.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts, the mammoth corporate entity that handles the Grand Canyon visitor services — they know.

I found that out yesterday afternoon when I checked in at the Bright Angel Lodge front desk.

“Last name?” said the clerk.


“First name?”


After a long pause, she looked up from the computer screen and said, “Well, you’re quite the frequent visitor, Mr. Smith. How many times have you visited Grand Canyon?”

“Well actually, this is my –”

“No, Don’t tell me — I’ll look it up.”

For several seconds, she focused intently on the screen.

“My goodness!” she said finally. “This is your 20th visit with us!”

When she informed me that the Xanterra computers had that information, I instantly thought about all of the malevolent corporate entities conjured up by Hollywood.

You know — Umbrella Corporation, Cyberdyne, Tyrell, Weyland-Yutani. You would expect those guys* to be keeping an evil corporate eye on you.

Chances are, Xanterra isn’t evil. And I have nothing against them. They’ve never messed up a reservation or given me a hard time. Plus, their computers seem to keep very accurate records.

But it spooked me a little bit to know that someone — anyone — has kept tabs on me for the last 15 years like that.

“Wow,” I said to the clerk. “I had no idea you guys were keeping track of me like that.”

She laughed heartily and said, “Me, either!”

When I arrived at South Rim yesterday, I ate dinner at the Arizona Room, which is a steak house overlooking the rim. I mention it because of the woman who served me. When she seated me, she said I looked familiar; had I been to the canyon before?

I told her I was a regular visitor, to the tune of 20 trips.

“Well,“ she said, “I’ve worked here for 30 years, so the odds are, I’ve served you before. No wonder you look familiar.”

In other words, after 20 trips to this place, someone here finally remembered me.

And that brings up a point that had not occurred to me until now.

It’s true that most people can’t relate to this Grand Canyon thing that has taken hold of me.

But when I visit the place, I know I’ll be in the company of others who’ve also been infected with the Canyon virus.

When I go to Grand Canyon country, I can I.D. the real Canyon people — the kindred spirits — immediately. It’s sort of like gay-dar.

Never mind that there are a thousand tourists for every true believer. I can spot my people every time. On most trips, I’ll cross paths and chat with 10, maybe 20 people about past hikes, raft trips, and future destinations. Very gratifying, indeed.

This morning, with no small amount of sadness, I checked out of the Bright Angel Lodge and paid my tab. As the clerk was adding up the charges, he said pleasantly, “So, was this your first trip to see us, Mr. Smith?”

His name tag read Tony — Nebraska. I told Tony I was a regular. I’d been to Grand Canyon quite a few times.

Then, as an afterthought, I said, “I thought the only people who knew that were family members. But I’m told that Xanterra knows it, too.”

Tony cackled and said, “Oh, you must be the fella from Georgia who’s been here 20 times!”

The front desk at Bright Angel Lodge, a unit of Xanterra Corporation.

* Those guys are the thoroughly despicable companies featured in the Resident Evil, Terminator, Blade Runner, and Alien movies. But you probably knew that.

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I loved going off to college. I loved being on my own and making my own decisions. I loved the challenge, the excitement, the people.

A big school like the University of Georgia attracts the prettiest girls, the most popular boys, and countless eggheads from hundreds of little Georgia towns, then concentrates them on one campus.

In September 1960, Athens, Georgia, was a fine place for an eager young fellow such as myself, who wanted to have a good time and learn some stuff.

I think I succeeded in doing both. And if my leisure activities crossed the line now and then, if I sometimes drank to excess or acted the fool in public, I also never cut a class. Not once in four years.

In my day, all freshman and sophomore students were required to reside in university housing. The freshmen, those tender newcomers, were assigned to their own residence halls, segregated by sex.

The largest residence hall for male freshmen was Reed Hall, a battered old place perched on a hill overlooking Sanford Stadium.

I was assigned to Reed Hall, second floor, room 201. My roommate Paul was a boisterous, swaggering kid from Macon whose grandparents were Lebanese immigrants.

Reed Hall had been built in 1953, and the constant abuse from successive classes of freshmen had left it dingy and dilapidated.

But Reed was an institution, and it was organized into “communities” overseen by proctors — upperclassmen whose job it was to tend to our needs and keep us in line.

The day we all arrived in Athens was chaotic. It was a Saturday, and the campus was swarming with thousands of students, parents, and vehicles. The halls of the dorms were packed. The dads carted boxes up the stairs, and the moms futzed irrelevantly with draperies and linens. It was madness.

I must admit, Mom and Dad did well that day. They didn’t fawn, or lecture, or hover for too long. They helped me get moved in, expressed their love and best wishes, and retreated gracefully home. Not all parents were so considerate.

By late afternoon, Reed was beginning to settle down. The second-floor hall was still busy and noisy, but showing signs of what would become normalcy.

Paul and a few other new acquaintances and I walked next door to the Memorial Hall cafeteria for dinner.

The food was awful. Paul had a side order of sliced tomatoes, tasted them, and spat them out.

I reached across the table, speared a clean chunk, and popped it in my mouth. The tomato was virtually tasteless. The texture was a cross between mealy and crunchy. Yikes.

Then Paul added a dollop of mayonnaise and pronounced the tomatoes palatable. I did the same. Wow, mayo made all the difference!

From that meal forward, dining hall tomatoes were known in my circle of friends as test-tube tomatoes.

After a few days, most of us were beginning to get into the routine and hit our respective strides. Life at college was still fresh and exciting, but now it was a known quantity, not nearly as terrifying as in the beginning.

Then, late one weekday afternoon, as Paul and I relaxed in our room after classes, things got crazy.

A terrible scream split the air and echoed down the hall. Paul and I rushed to the door in time to see some guy running at full speed toward us, screaming, eyes wide with terror.

By then, the hall was blocked by six or eight people. Arms went out to stop the hysterical student, and he came to a halt, panting.

“He’s dead! He’s dead” the student wailed. “In my room — he’s dead!”

En masse, we surged down the hall to the room in question. We burst inside, jostling for position.

It was true. On the floor at the foot of the twin beds, flat on his back, eyes closed, arms at his side, was a young black man. He was, quite simply, as still as death.

Someone muttered, on behalf of us all, “Oh, shit!”

The unfortunate fellow was one of the Reed Hall janitors. It was a heart attack, we learned later. The man was overweight, but far too young for such a fate.

Someone knelt down to check for a pulse. Someone else ran to get the proctor. The rest of us stood there quietly.

I can’t speak for the others, but I was thinking about mortality, mostly my own, and the hand we are dealt, and how life is a crapshoot at best. I was thinking, too, that I had never before seen an actual dead body.

The janitor wore dark brown overalls and black shoes, the toes of which pointed toward the ceiling. He had big feet. His shoes were inordinately long, like clown shoes.

He was clean-shaven, and his hair was cut short. He was stretched out as if peacefully asleep.

Moments later, our proctor arrived in a rush. He sat on the floor next to the janitor and checked again for signs of life.

Finding none, he shook his head sadly and spoke the man’s name. I don’t recall it, I’m sad to say.

He looked up at the small group of his charges standing in a circle around him.

“Well, guys,” he said, “Welcome to Athens.”

Reed Hall-1

Architect’s rendering of the proposed Reed Hall, 1952.

Reed Hall-2

View from my dorm room showing Sanford Stadium and the Science Center beyond, Fall 1960.

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