I wrote my first “newspaper story” for the March 8, 1984, edition. It doesn’t take much ciphering to figure that to be thirty years ago. And if you multiply thirty times fifty-two weeks in a year, you’ve got an idea how many of these little blurbs I have perpetrated on an unsuspecting populace for over a quarter of a century.
This story today is not about me. It’s not about perseverance. It is certainly not about writing ability. It’s about how do you get off this treadmill! My goodness gracious, I’m tired of jotting these things down! I can only imagine how worn-out you must be from having to listen to all of them!!
Mr. Wesley Ramsey, the owner of “The Star”, apparently enjoyed my “yarns” about growing up in a time and place where the druggist knew your name, where the doctor could sign your football physical without even looking at you and where, if you messed up over at Kenny Butler’s house, Mr. Butler whipped Kenny first……and then everyone else in his yard that had not lived up to the standard expectations of the day!
Or maybe, that shrewd editor-in-chief just needed a little free “filler” for his newspaper. Here’s the most important sentence in today’s article; I do not, and have never, considered myself a writer. I think about something that happened “back home” and I try to scribble it down right fast—as close as I can to the way Mr. Jack Cantrell or Mr. Willard Brush would be telling it from those waiting chairs up at Gene’s Barber Shop.
McKenzie, Tennessee, is the bona fide star of my “weakly” efforts. Everywhere I go someone will ask me if Buddy Wiggleton is a real person. They think I can make up names like Graylene Lemonds and LaRenda Bradfield. They want to know if Bill Argo really owned the Gulf Station there. I got up once over at the capital in Tallahassee to give a detailed report on Property Values in Gulf County before a state senate hearing committee. I hadn’t hardly cleared my throat yet when a distinguished senator from Northwest Florida said, “Kes, tell us about the time Leon jumped off that bridge over the Tennessee River.”
You figure I lived in McKenzie from birth till going off to college. If you calculate in I’ve got to be five or six before I really start remembering things; that leaves a window of about twelve years to weld all of this stuff into my mind. I’ve been writing about my childhood for over twice as long as I lived it! It’s like that “M*A*S*H” TV show lasting longer than the Korean War it was portraying.
It’s about time for me to helicopter off into the sunset.
As I’m working on an exit strategy, let me tell you what these stories have meant to me. If you just “remember” the Tri-County Stockyards, it’s an old building on the outskirts of town. If you go to write something down about the place, well, that’s a whole new ballgame entirely! You’ve got to “feel” the railroad tracks as you come up the hill and turn into the parking lot. You’ve got to “see” the concrete cafeteria and office on the left and the big, sprawling holding pens and auction area looming in front of you. You need to “smell” the best hamburger in three counties cooking on the grill……..mixed in with the aroma of manure, hay, diesel fuel and chewing tobacco. You’ve got to “hear” the pigs squealing from the far back side of the giant barn and the auctioneer singing his way through lot after lot of horses, cattle, hogs, sheep and goats.
And you’ve got to do the same with the elementary school, J. A. Abernathy’s Hardware, U’tot’em Grocery and a hundred other places in town…..well, ok……maybe twenty other places in town.
If you’re going to tell the story, you can’t just watch the homecoming parade, you’ve got to jump aboard. You don’t just cruise the Dairy Bar, you’ve got to “taste” the shake and onion rings. You don’t vaguely remember “The Coasters” blasting out of those big speakers at the swimming pool; you’ve got to squint a little from the sun bouncing off the water. You’ve got to feel the Baby Oil greased into your skin, the faint chlorine smell lingering in the air and, of course, you’ve got to be singing “Fe-fe, fi-fi, fo-fo, fum; I smell smoke in the auditorium.”
I’ve made a career out of writing about the people I grew up with. I’ve poked fun, shed a tear, revealed a few secrets and, thankfully, have NOT told “all I know” in some instances. I hope my love for them has shown through more than anything else. My best friends in high school……are still my best friends in life. I write about them often……because I think about them often. Whatever the story, it makes me dig deeper into my memory bank. You will never know how grateful I am for that.
If I misspeak or exaggerate at times that because it’s the way I remember it.
I do know this for dead certain positive; the town, the old buildings, each and every single person, even writing about them…….has certainly given me much more than I have given back.