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Posts Tagged ‘The South’

My beloved Paco, my best friend, the kindest and gentlest soul I’ve ever known, died Friday. I am reeling with grief. I have cried a hundred times.

Paco was 15, more or less. I don’t know for sure. He was a rescue dog, a stray found wandering along a county road, wearing a purple nylon collar with no identification.

He was a charmer, and I adopted him, and he had a long, eventful life. He was happy, healthy, comfortable, and content. Then, a few mornings ago, he was too weak to stand. The vet never determined why.

Death came to my precious boy in a calm, gentle way. For two days, he was kept on an IV. He was lucid, and he responded to me and others with his usual affection, although it was muted.

But he couldn’t get up. Several times a day, the staff carried him outside on a blanket. He ate only once.

Although he didn’t bounce back, he was never in pain or distress. When the time came to let him go, he passed away peacefully. I kissed his cheek and stroked his fur, and we were looking into each other’s eyes when the moment came.

For 13 years, Paco and I were a team. It was just the two of us, and I did my best to treat him well. I tried to make sure he lacked for nothing.

I probably raised my voice a few times, but I never struck him or punished him. I treated him with kindness and respect, because he deserved it; he never misbehaved or caused the slightest trouble. He was just a devoted friend. I was soothed and uplifted by his calm demeanor and quiet presence.

During the last year of his life, Paco slowed down considerably. For a long time, we were trail buddies, and we logged many miles hiking in the North Georgia mountains. But age and arthritis finally made the hills and the distances more than he could handle.

So, instead of driving north for a day of hiking, we settled for Sunday morning walks in town, around the elementary school or the high school. He could go off-leash there, wander at his own pace, and investigate all the wonderful smells.

It may be selfish of me to say, but suddenly, my life is abruptly changed. Paco isn’t there to greet me when I come home. The food and water bowls have been put away. The treat canisters are gone from the kitchen counter.

The familiar rituals — taking him outside for potty breaks, saving a few choice morsels for him on my dinner plate, making sure the toilet seat is up and the bowl is full, helping him onto the bed at night — all have ended.

Paco was a border collie, but an especially calm and quiet one. He rarely barked or vocalized. Perhaps to compensate, I talked to him quite a bit.

I had a long list of affectionate names for him. I called him “Sweetness.” That was the nickname of Walter Payton, the Chicago Bears running back of the 1970s.

I called him “my handsome friend” and “my bat-eared buddy” and “old flop-eared mutt” as often as “Paco.”

“You silly pooch,” I would say, or “What a knucklehead,” or “Look at that beautiful tail.” He answered with a head tilt.

Yes, I know — everyone’s dog is the best dog in the world. But Paco truly was a special creature, a special soul. Everyone who knew him acknowledged that.

It’s hard to say what made him so. Probably many factors. He was deeply intelligent. He had a quiet dignity, a noble character — almost an air of Zen, if “just a dog” could display such a thing. Whatever it was, it was impressive. It was admirable.

A long time ago, I ran across the adage that “most dogs are better people than most people.” Paco certainly was that. He was a better man than I am.

He was a calm, serene, delightful spirit. I loved, admired, and respected him more than I can express.

People have said Paco was lucky I found him. I suppose that’s true. But I was the lucky one. That silly pooch, he was a treasure. He enriched my life.

If there is a next realm, if there is a God, then God has the duty to take care of my wonderful Paco now.

There. I’ve said what I wanted to say about my dear, delightful friend. If you’ll excuse me, it’s Sunday morning, and I feel like walking for a while at the elementary school.

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A Geechee, as you may know, is a person from coastal South Carolina or Georgia. The term can refer to:

– African Americans, including those from both the Gullah culture in South Carolina and those known as Geechees on the coastal islands of Georgia, or

– the local Anglos, who also embrace the name.

According to some authorities, the word Geechee derives from the Ogeechee River, which flows into the Atlantic below Savannah. Others say the term came from one of the languages brought to America by African slaves.

I’m familiar with all this because Savannah is the long-time home of the Smith family. My dad and his three siblings were born and raised there. They proudly called themselves Geechees, and they spoke Geechee because they couldn’t help it.

Indeed, part of being a Geechee is the distinctive manner of speech. Among blacks, the dialect can be baffling to the listener; among whites, it’s a hybrid of Irish and Scottish brogues, heavily influenced by Gullah/Geechee words, style, and delivery.

In Geechee-speak, most “R” sounds are discarded except at the beginnings of words. Thus, Cousin Roger is Cousin “Rah-juh,” and the Lone Ranger is the Lone “Range-uh.”

To a Geechee, Charleston is “Choll-stun.”

A Geechee will wish you a Happy New “Yee-uh.”

As for my dad, he was not Walter, but “Wall-tuh.”

The four Smith kids — Walter, Allan, John, and Betty — were of the World War II generation. The three boys enlisted and went off to war.

Dad became a bomber pilot in Europe. Allan was an Air Corps mechanic in China and Burma. John was an Army infantryman who, as he liked to put it, pursued the German army on foot up the length of Italy.

Happily, all three brothers made it home. Dad, who spent months in a prison camp, came back with a bunch of medals. So did John. Everyone had stories to tell.

The war also set the three brothers on their eventual career paths. Dad stayed in the Air Force and flew jet fighters. Allan became a civilian instructor of Navy aircraft mechanics. John, an Army cartographer, pursued an art career.

Clearly, art was John’s thing. As early as grade school, he showed genuine talent. He did the oil painting below at age 15. (The white material flowing from the coffee cup: grits.)

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After the war, John moved to New York City to seek his fortune. He attended art school at Pratt Institute and began working as a commercial artist in Brooklyn. As often happens, he met and married a nice local girl, Annette Conlin from Connecticut.

A few years later, John was hired by the design department at Fisher-Price Toys in East Aurora, New York, near Buffalo.

John and Annette raised four children in East Aurora, and John rose to became the chief product designer at Fisher-Price. Most of the classic Fisher-Price toys you may remember from your childhood, including the “little people,” are John’s creations.

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In 1993, Fisher-Price was acquired by Mattel, Inc., the toy manufacturing behemoth. John’s department was disbanded, and Mattel took over the design duties. John was invited to retire.

But the new Mattel designs didn’t measure up, and Fisher-Price sales quickly nose-dived. Before long, Mattel asked John to return to the company in a consulting role.

John agreed, and ultimately, Fisher-Price rebounded in the toy market. John’s consulting fees, I’m told, were eye-popping.

A few years later, having put Fisher-Price back on course, John retired again. He and Annette settled into a quiet life in East Aurora.

It’s worthy of note that, even after decades of living in New York, John never lost his Geechee accent. Neither did Dad, Allan, or Betty.

Despite drifting into commercial work and product design, John had a fire in the belly to paint. For him, it was both artistic expression and therapy.

He preferred maritime subjects,  landscapes, and architecture — which Savannah, and Buffalo and Lake Erie, provided aplenty.

This watercolor of a stately downtown Savannah residence is typical of his style:

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So is this watercolor of the Savannah Cotton Exchange, where my grandfather worked years ago as a broker.

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Sometimes — in fact, many times — life takes an unexpected turn. And, when life is really on its game, the turn can be wonderfully ironic.

Not long after college, one of John and Annette’s daughters took a job, strictly by chance, in Charleston. Soon, the other daughter joined her.

As often happens, both girls married local fellows. They had children and became Charlestonians — Geechees, if you prefer — but with New York accents.

John and Annette spent their golden years in East Aurora, but naturally, they went to Charleston often, sometimes for visits of a month or two. Charleston became the subject of more and more of John’s paintings.

Through the years, John enjoyed good health and remained mentally sharper than people half his age. But a few years ago, his time came. He died in East Aurora at age 91.

It took a while, but Annette got the estate settled, got the house ready, and sold it. Last fall, she relocated from upstate New York to Charleston.

There, she moved into a comfortable cottage near the beach, which was fixed up for her by a son-in-law in the landscaping and construction business.

Because the cottage is on stilts (required by the hurricane code), and because Annette is 85, the son-in-law installed an elevator. Annette says it’s quite handy for taking in the groceries and taking out the garbage.

In the Geechee vernacular, a true native is a “been-yee-uh” (been here), and a newcomer is a “come-yee-uh” (come here).

Annette will never be the former, but she is now a Charlestonian. As are three of her four children and all of her grandchildren.

Last month, Annette invited me to the coast for a few days to see her new place, join her for her daily walks at the beach, and visit with the cousins.

Her cottage is impressive. Nicely renovated and beautifully landscaped. Tastefully decorated with her treasures from East Aurora, plus lots of new beach-themed items.

And, parked beneath the house, convenient to the elevator, is a gift Annette gave to herself to celebrate her new life down South: a handsome Mustang convertible.

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The new wheels.

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Annette enjoying the ocean breeze on the pier at Folly Beach, in the land of the Geechees.

 

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On September 22, 1962, in the opening week of the SEC football season, the Alabama Crimson Tide spanked the fannies of the Georgia Bulldogs, 35-0. It was Alabama’s 12th straight win.

The game marked the debut of Alabama’s sophomore quarterback Joe Namath, who threw three touchdown passes. The Tide defense, led by All-American Lee Roy Jordan, held Georgia to a mere 116 yards on offense.

But the game was destined to have even greater consequences. Big trouble was brewing.

In early 1963, the Saturday Evening Post ran a sensational story claiming that, prior to the game, Georgia Athletic Director Wally Butts gave crucial information about Georgia’s plays and formations to Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.

The magazine gave as its source an Atlanta insurance agent, George Burnett, who claimed that on September 13,1962, when he placed a routine long distance phone call, his line was accidentally connected to a conversation between Butts and Bryant.

Burnett said he listened, spellbound, and quickly understood that Butts was divulging crucial information that would give the Alabama team a major advantage over Georgia. He said he took notes as the 15-minute conversation unfolded.

Burnett claimed that he only told a few friends about the incident. But after the big Alabama victory, he went to several officials at UGA with his story. Inquiries began.

Abruptly, Burnett then sold his story to the Saturday Evening Post for $5,000. And, according to later reports, the Post rushed the article into print to avoid being scooped by other news outlets.

The result, no surprise, was a firestorm. Both coaches vehemently denied the accusation. Outraged football fans in Georgia and Alabama rose to defend the two coaches. Butts filed a $10 million libel suit. Bryant, who already had a lawsuit in progress against the magazine (for alleging that Bryant was a brutal coach), did the same.

When the Butts libel trial reached court, evidence showed that Butts and Bryant indeed had spoken by telephone at the time Burnett claimed. Southern Bell admitted it was possible for a third party to be connected accidentally to another call.

But three UGA players testified that Alabama did not seem to have any special inside information. And three Alabama players testified that their game preparation was normal.

Namath and Jordan both said they would have known if their team possessed the kind of sensitive information described in the story.

Butts and Bryant, close friends for many years, insisted they simply had shared “coach talk,” and Bryant received no information that would help him in the game.

In his summation, Butts’ high-powered attorney William Schroder, Jr. intoned, “Someday, Wallace Butts will pass on to where neither the Post nor anyone else can then bother him. Unless I miss my guess, they will put him in a red coffin with a black lid with a football in his hands, and his epitaph will read, ‘Glory, glory to old Georgia.'”

Mrs. Butts and her three daughters, sitting in the front row, sobbed.

The jury ruled that the magazine indeed had rushed to judgment and was liable. The publisher was ordered to pay Butts $3.06 million in damages — the largest amount ever awarded in a libel suit.

When the verdict was read, Butts wept. Attorney Schroder leaned over and said, “Let it come, Wally. Let it come, boy.”

“I couldn’t help it,” Butts said later. “It was six months rolling out of me.”

“It’s not the money. It’s the vindication,” he said.

Later, the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court previously had ruled that news organizations are protected from liability when they make allegations about public officials. But in Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, the Court said news outlets can be held liable if they print information about public figures that is “recklessly gathered and unchecked.”

Eventually, the $3.06 million awarded to Butts was reduced on appeal to $460,000. Bryant settled out of court for $300,000. The Saturday Evening Post, already in financial trouble, closed its doors in 1969.

In 1963, the Georgia Bulldogs had a 4-5-1 season, which sealed the fate of Johnny Griffith. He was fired and replaced by Vince Dooley.

That same year, his reputation further battered by the Post story, Wally Butts stepped down as Athletic Director. He moved to Atlanta and opened the Wallace Butts Insurance Agency. The business soon became successful, and he moved it back to Athens, where he was still a beloved figure.

Butts died of a heart attack in Athens in 1973, age 68.

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When I arrived at UGA as a freshman in 1960, Wally Butts was the head coach. In my sophomore and junior years, Johnny Griffith had the job. When I was a senior, Vince Dooley began his reign.

The irony doesn’t escape me that the Bulldogs were SEC champs the year before I arrived, and they resumed their winning ways the year after I graduated.

As the 1960 football season unfolded, the Bulldogs having just lost consecutive games to Florida and Auburn, rumors circulated on campus that Coach Butts was surely doomed, on his way out.

I didn’t know, of course, that a group of prominent Georgia alumni already had met with Butts and invited him to resign. (Please, Wally, don’t force us to go public with details about your girlfriend and all that.)

All I knew was that the very idea of firing the legendary Wally Butts was unfair and underhanded. After all, the man was a Georgia institution.

But I was a tender, innocent freshman, just back in the U.S. after living for three years in Europe. I was just getting used to campus life, just learning my way around Athens. What did I know?

So, one sunny Saturday afternoon in December, as Fall Quarter was winding down, when my friend Al came to my dorm room and asked me to go with him to a “Save Wally” demonstration at the Arch on North Campus, naturally I said yes.

The demonstration wasn’t much. About 50-75 students showed up. We milled around for 30 minutes or so, chanting things like “Wah-LEE! Wah-LEE!” and “Save Our Butts! Save Our Butts!”

The group declined, however, to chant one of the most obvious slogans before their eyes, which Al and I had hand-lettered with black Magic Marker on white t-shirts and proudly wore to the event: I LIKE BUTTS

What can I say. I was young and stupid.

The University officially replaced Butts with Griffith the first week of January 1961, as Winter Quarter was starting. It’s worthy of note that on the same day, a federal judge ordered UGA to quit stalling and admit its first black students.

That, of course, led to other demonstrations — bone-headed, embarrassing, dangerous demonstrations — from which I stayed as far away as possible.

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Room with a view… I took this photo of Sanford Stadium from the window of my dorm room in November 1960.

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Wally during the glory years.

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The iconic Arch between the UGA campus and downtown Athens originally was a gate to keep out livestock. It has became a traditional spot for demonstrations, such as this “Occupy Athens” rally in 2011.

 

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My alma mater, the University of Georgia, dumped its head football coach after last season and hired a new one.

Gone is Mark Richt, who held the job for 15 years. Richt had a respectable record of 145 wins, 51 losses. He was replaced by Kirby Smart, an Alabama assistant coach.

Why did Richt get the boot? Because for all his winning, he delivered the coveted SEC championship only twice, way back in 2002 and 2005. That fact was stuck in the craw of too many influential UGA alumni, so Richt was invited out the door.

The same thing happened to the previous Georgia coach, Vince Dooley. Dooley coached at UGA for 24 years, from 1964 until 1988. He, too, had a strong record (201-77-10), but a mere five SEC titles. He was replaced as head coach and put out to pasture as Athletic Director.

Dooley and Richt are still highly regarded in these parts, because they are honorable men, models of civility and decorum, respected as coaches, leaders, and role models. Unfortunately for them, the UGA power elite wanted meat-eaters.

Inevitably, this latest Athens coaching kerfuffle leads my thoughts back to when I attended UGA in the 1960s.

During my four years there, Georgia had three different head coaches. And the terms “decorum” and “role model” do not come to mind.

Therein, my friends, lies a marvelous tale.

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James Wallace “Wally” Butts, Jr., often called “the little round man,” was an unlikely college athlete. He was 5′ 6″ and 155 pounds. But he attended Mercer University on scholarships in football, basketball, and baseball and was team captain in all three sports.

After a decade of coaching football at prep schools around the South, Butts came to the University of Georgia in 1938 as an assistant coach. In 1939, when the UGA head coach departed (following a 5-4-1 season), Butts was picked for the job.

At practice sessions and on game days, Butts was a feisty, fiery-tempered presence. He paced the sidelines, strutting and fuming and barking orders.

In an era when power runners fueled the offense in most of college football, Butts was a proponent of the passing game. Success came to the Bulldogs almost immediately.

UGA quickly won three SEC titles (1942, 1946, 1948) and two national championships (1942 and 1946). Butts recruited the two Georgia football legends who helped deliver the national titles: Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich in 1942 and Charley Trippi in 1946.

But success in sports is a transitory thing. By the 1950s, the Bulldogs had become mediocre, languishing in the SEC cellar. The team suffered through five losing seasons.

Butts rebounded briefly in 1959 under ace quarterback Fran Tarkington, and UGA again won the SEC title. But in 1960, with Tarkington gone, the Bulldogs went 6-4.

The powers-that-be stepped in. Butts was replaced as head coach, but allowed to stay on as Athletic Director. His record over 21 years was 140-86-9.

The performance of the football team, however, was not the only factor in his firing.

Butts was married with three children and was, of course, an Athens institution. The telephones in his house were red and black. His home phone number was listed in the telephone book. He owned The Huddle, a popular downtown diner.

But his personal life had become increasingly, and sometimes openly, scandalous. The allegations were eyebrow-raising.

According to reports, Butts frequented bars, drank excessively, and had a young girlfriend in Atlanta with whom he went nightclubbing.

Sometimes, she traveled with him to out-of-state football games; he charged her expenses, including airline tickets, to the University.

The school also said it found over 300 long distance phone calls between Butts and his lady friend that were charged to UGA.

There’s more. Allegedly, Butts was pals with a Chicago beer distributor known for gambling on college football games. At various times, the man helped Butts with business investments, and he once arranged for the coach to get a sizable loan.

Meanwhile, the IRS was after Butts for $36,000 in unpaid income taxes.

Slowly, the stories became public knowledge around Athens and Atlanta. Team morale and recruiting almost certainly were affected. As Butts’ reputation declined, so did the team’s performance.

Butts accepted the Athletic Director position, but he resented being pushed out as head coach. It didn’t help that Georgia’s new head coach, Johnny Griffith, took the Bulldogs to a record of 3-7 in 1961 and 3-4-3 in 1962. Butts began to criticize Griffith’s coaching abilities publicly and often.

Then, the saga took a turn for the surreal. Sensational accusations were made of high-level cheating and collusion. A monumental legal fight ensued.

More about which in my next post.

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Wally Butts during practice at Sanford Stadium.

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Coach Butts on game day.

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Posing in 1959 with Tarkington (10) and other star players.

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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.

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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

Mind-boggling.

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.

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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.

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Dooley and the Dogs celebrate in Dallas, December 1966.

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George “The General” Patton.

 

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Statues

On July 20, 2009, this article appeared in The Times, the daily newspaper of Gainesville, Georgia.

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Visitor Arrested for Eating Chicken With Fork

Ginny Dietrick fought the law Monday. But this time, she won.

The Louisiana resident was celebrating her 91st birthday by enjoying a lunch of Longstreet Cafe’s finest fried chicken Monday when Gainesville Police Chief Frank Hooper told Dietrick to put down her fork and listen up — she was under arrest.

Hooper informed Dietrick that it’s against a city ordinance to eat fried chicken, “a culinary delicacy sacred to this municipality, this county, this state, the Southland and this republic,” with anything other than your fingers. The 1961 ordinance was put on city books as a sort of public relations stunt to promote Gainesville as the poultry capital of the world, Hooper said.

Dietrick had Gainesville resident and friend A.C. Marshall to thank for the practical joke. Dietrick can also thank Marshall for setting up her pardon.

Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras was on hand at Longstreet Cafe to dismiss the charges of improper poultry consumption against Dietrick.

And Abit Massey, president-emeritus of the Georgia Poultry Federation, ordained Dietrick an Honorary Georgia Poultry Princess.

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It’s true. Eating fried chicken with a utensil is against the law in Gainesville, which is 20 miles from where I live, and which calls itself the “Poultry Capital of the World” and “Queen City of the Mountains.”

Technically, Gainesville isn’t in the mountains. It’s in the foothills, although on a clear day, you can see the Blue Ridge Mountains on the horizon. The “Queen City” thing, therefore, is a bit of a stretch.

The “Poultry Capital” claim, on the other hand, isn’t.

Gainesville is an interesting and in some ways curious place. It is most notable for:

1) the looming presence of Lake Lanier, which was created in its backyard when the Chattahoochee River was dammed in the 1950s, and

2) a robust, billion-dollar poultry processing industry.

Lake Lanier surrounds Gainesville on three sides. Countless coves and inlets intrude deep into the rolling hills. As a result, Gainesville (population 35,000) and Hall County (190,000) are home to some eye-poppingly spectacular and expensive lakefront residential neighborhoods.

As for the poultry industry, it has dominated the local economy for the last 75 years.

Gainesville was founded 200 years ago as Mule Camp Springs, at a spot not far from the Chattahoochee River where two old Indian trails crossed. Before long, the town was renamed Gainesville in honor of General Edmund P. Gaines, a hero of the War of 1812.

Frankly, I like the choice. In those days, President Andrew Jackson was engaged in forcibly removing the native tribes from the Southeast (as many individuals as they could catch, at any rate) and shipping them to the Oklahoma Territory, thus freeing up their land for European settlers.

General Gaines was a veteran of several Indian wars, but to his credit, he publicly opposed the removal policy on moral grounds. His opposition did nothing to stop the removal, of course, and it ended his military career.

Maybe Gaines would be a good choice to replace the villainous Jackson on the $20 bill.

Edmund P. Gaines

Edmund P. Gaines

But I digress.

The poultry industry rose in Gainesville thanks to Jesse Dickson Jewell (1902-1975), a savvy businessman who perfected the process of raising, slaughtering, and marketing the birds.

Jesse Jewell

Jesse Jewell

From the 1930s to the 1960s, Jewell made the chicken-processing industry efficient and profitable. During the post-World War II boom, J. D. Jewell, Inc. became a leading regional employer.

The Jewell processing plant also was among the first local factories to hire black workers.

The Rooster Statue

After Jewell died, the city fathers and business leaders determined to honor both Jewell and the chicken, the source of so much of Gainesville’s fame and prosperity.

The primary north-south avenue through downtown Gainesville was renamed Jesse Jewell Parkway.

Then in 1977, Gainesville opened Georgia Poultry Park, fittingly located on Jesse Jewell Parkway, not far from the center of town.

The centerpiece of the quiet little park is a 25-foot marble obelisk topped by a handsome three-foot-tall bronze rooster.

Poultry Park-1

Poultry Park-2

Jesse Jewell would be proud.

The Rabbit Statue

Although most Gainesvillians are proud of their poultry-related heritage, resentment simmered in the northeast corner of the city, in a tiny neighborhood where chickens were less revered.

Around 1900, well before poultry’s rise to prominence in Gainesville, local farmer David Highsmith began raising and selling rabbits to the citizenry. Most people were poor, and rabbits were a cheap and plentiful food item. Highsmith’s business prospered, and soon, he dubbed his little community Rabbittown.

Highsmith remained in the rabbit business through the 1920s. When he died, the business died with him. Rabbittown was absorbed into Gainesville and largely was forgotten…

… except in the hearts of Rabbittown’s residents. In 1993, a few local businessmen, probably irritated by the presence of the bronze rooster in Poultry Park, erected their own monument: a 20-foot-tall rabbit, perched on its haunches, one paw raised in greeting to passersby.

Rabbit statue-1

Whereas the rooster statue is a dramatized, but realistic depiction, the rabbit statue is… more like a gray version of a chocolate Easter bunny.

The statue is made of Styrofoam, covered with a layer of fiberglass mesh and coated with synthetic stucco for preservation. It stands in the parking lot of the Rabbittown Cafe, a local favorite for home cookin’.

David Highsmith would be proud.

The Tiger Statue

Tiger? Yes, Gainesville also has a tiger statue, said to be the largest in the world.

The bronze tiger, installed in 2013 on the campus of Brenau University, is 7′ 6″ tall and 14′ long. It rests on a granite base and weighs 2,200 pounds.

Tiger statue

If you sense an interesting story here, your instinct is correct.

Brenau is a prestigious private university founded in Gainesville in 1878. Today, in addition to the Gainesville campus, Brenau has six other locations around Georgia and one Jacksonville. Enrollment is about 3,500 students.

The statue represents Brenau’s Golden Tiger mascot. It was a gift from Irwin “Ike” Belk, former head of the Belk Department Store chain. Apparently, Ike’s hobby after retirement was to donate “world’s largest” statues to colleges and universities.

Over the years, he placed 40 such statues at various institutions, including a giant flying falcon at the Air Force Academy.

Brenau students voted to name the bronze tiger “Lucille” after the wife of a former university president.

I close with one last interesting fact, a connection between Brenau and the Jewell family.

Jesse Jewell’s mother, Mary Dickson, worked as an art teacher at Brenau (which was a women’s college until the 1960s) before she married Edgar Jewell. Consequently, the Jewell family always maintained close ties to Brenau.

Mary died in 1953. In the early 1960s, when Jesse sold the company and retired, he used a large portion of his fortune to establish a scholarship fund at Brenau. Over the years, the fund has enabled many local women to attend Brenau.

Mary Jewell would be proud.

Rabbit statue-2

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Happy Independence Day. I have a story suitable for the occasion.

In 2013, I wrote a series of posts about “Local Heroes” in my adopted home, Jefferson and Jackson County, Georgia. Every place has its celebrities, and ours measure up very well.

After I wrote those posts, I learned about another local fellow who deserves mention: Rev. John Harrison, a longtime Presbyterian minister here who was born on the day America declared its independence, July 4, 1776.

Pretty cool, right?

John Harrison (1776-1847) was part of a proud Scottish family where ordination in the Presbyterian Church was a long tradition.

John’s grandfather, Henry Patillo, was a Presbyterian minister who emigrated from Scotland to North Carolina in the early 1770s. Henry’s daughter Ann married a Virginia fellow, and John was born in Virginia at some location lost to history.

Harrison continued the family’s association with the Presbyterian Church. As a young man, he was educated in the classics and trained in the teaching profession by a Presbyterian elder in Laurens, South Carolina.

In 1812, John began the study of theology, and in 1815, he was ordained by the Presbyterian Church. His long career of preaching and teaching began.

Soon after being ordained, Harrison married Margaret Stuart of Spartanburg (whose brother was a Presbyterian minister in Mississippi). In 1818, John and Margaret moved to Jackson County and settled along Curry Creek, just north of the village of Jefferson.

The Harrisons undoubtedly chose that spot for its location: next to Olney Presbyterian Church, where Harrison would serve as pastor for the next 30 years.

Olney Presbyterian had been founded in the 1790s by Scottish and Scotch-Irish veterans of the American Revolution who brought their families to North Georgia for free land.

Olney Church was so named because the members sang “Olney Hymns” that originated in the village of Olney in Buckinghamshire, England. These were simple songs written for the common folk, rather than the more formal music heard in larger churches. “Amazing Grace” is the best known of the Olney Hymns.

From what I’ve read about those times, rural Presbyterian churches in the South carefully avoided any show of opulence or the trappings of prosperity. They chose to remain primitive and simple and were dedicated to the needs of the common folk, especially the poor and disadvantaged.

In 1828, Thyatira Presbyterian, a large church near Salisbury, North Carolina, recognized Olney Church for its years of community service. The recognition included financial assistance, and in 1830, Rev. Harrison and the Olney congregation were able to build a larger church a few miles from the old Curry Creek location.

In honor of its benefactor, Olney Presbyterian changed its name to Thyatira-Olney Presbyterian Church. In time, the community that grew up around the church became known as Thyatira.

Rev. Harrison served as pastor of the church until his death in 1847.

Thyatira-Olney Presbyterian Church today -- proudly primitive for two centuries.

Thyatira-Olney Presbyterian Church today — proudly primitive for two centuries.

Having been educated as a teacher, Harrison worked with a number of Presbyterian churches in the area to help establish schools.

In those days, long before the concept of a public education system, children were educated through the church, if at all. Adults who could afford it attended private schools or paid a tutor.

In that environment, John Harrison was much in demand. The first school he organized, and where he also taught classes, was Hebron Academy at Hebron Presbyterian Church near present-day Commerce. Like Harrison’s own church, Hebron had been established decades earlier by Scottish and Scotch-Irish immigrants.

Hebron Academy, started in 1819, was among the first church-affiliated schools in North Georgia. And more soon followed. Over the years, Harrison’s building plans, methods, and procedures were widely copied by other churches in the region.

But at Hebron, Harrison faced an obstacle. He wanted the school to be open not only to the children of church members, but also to the children of slaves. (With the slave-owners’ permission, of course.) The congregation said no.

This is where I became a fan of John Harrison. He replied that they didn’t understand the situation; the slave children would be included, or he would walk. You want a school, handle it yourselves.

In the end, they compromised. The slave children were allowed to attend the school, but were taught in separate classes.

A compromise, yes, but a great victory for Harrison. For any man at that time and place to stand as he did on the principle of educating slaves — it was gutsy and admirable.

Harrison’s “sabbath schools” taught the children to read and instructed them in the principles of the Presbyterian Church. He used the Shorter Catechism, a simplified version of church teachings designed for children and less-educated adults.

Harrison’s schools continued in operation long after his death, and they continued to educate the children of slaves. But, as the Civil War approached and outside pressure grew to eliminate slavery, the state legislature finally reacted. A law was passed that made it illegal to teach slaves to read. Harrison’s schools were finally closed to them.

John Harrison is buried near where he and Margaret resided along Curry Creek, on a small hill a few yards from the road. His grave is at the foot of a large tree, about a mile from my house. The grave stands alone. There is no evidence nearby of other burial sites, the Harrison homestead, or Olney Church.

And surprisingly, he is buried in a simple above-ground vault with a cap of stone.

Harrison-2

Harrison-3

Above-ground burials are seldom seen today. But they were popular in Europe in the 1700s, and many early American colonists maintained the tradition. Most are rectangular enclosures with capstones that may be flat, peaked, or arched. The fancier the treatment, the more important the deceased.

As the decades passed, later generations of Americans lost touch with European traditions, and above-ground vaults went out of style.

Sometimes, graves such as Harrison’s are decorative and not functional; the deceased is buried below ground, and the above-ground vault is added as an embellishment.

Whether John Harrison’s coffin is inside the above-ground vault or buried in the ground below it, I have no idea.

William Harrison, the son of John and Margaret, also became a Presbyterian minister. He served as pastor in the village of Eucheeanna in the Florida Panhandle, which was the first Scottish settlement in the Florida territory.

Margaret Harrison was 13 years younger than her husband, and she outlived him by 35 years. She died in 1883, age 94, and is buried in the church cemetery at Thyatira Presbyterian.

Today, Thyatira Presbyterian is 220 years old. Hebron Presbyterian is 219. The Hebron church, school, and cemetery are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Both churches are still active and still conduct services.

Happy birthday, Rev. Harrison. And thank you for your service.

Hebron Presbyterian Church, 2015. The present building, constructed in the 1880s, features separate entrance doors for men and women, a tradition I assume the church no  longer honors.

Hebron Presbyterian Church, 2015. The present building, constructed in the 1880s, features separate entrance doors for men and women, a tradition I assume the church no longer honors.

Classes were held in the main church building until 1909, when this schoolhouse was constructed next door. It was a primary community school until the 1930s.

Classes were held in the main church building until 1909, when this schoolhouse was constructed next door. It was a primary community school until the 1930s.

Hebron Cemetery was established in 1802 and features 15-20 above-ground burial vaults from the early days. 20 veterans of the American Revolution are buried at Hebron.

Hebron Cemetery was established in 1802 and features 15-20 above-ground burial vaults from the early days. 20 veterans of the American Revolution are buried at Hebron.

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