Friday, December 31, 2010

Hunting Season - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of 12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:

In the South, the day after Thanksgiving to the end of January is widely known as “hunting season”. In most Alabama counties, this means the time of year when the Alabama Department of Conservation allows white tail deer hunting with a rifle. There are other times of the year when only a bow and arrow can be used. There is even a time of year when a spear can be used. Deer hunting is enjoyed by many hunters in the state, but also vilified by animal rights interests as well. The arguments of managing the state’s deer population to eliminate starvation from limited food resources to animal cruelty are heard around this time of year from each side of the sport.

Needless to say, the hunters outnumber the animal rights folks by a vast margin. Evidence of this was a certain PETA demonstration at a bass fishing tournament on the Tennessee River a few years back that did not go well for the anti-fishing protesters. The protest group greatly underestimated the number and strength of the bass fishing sympathizers. They also did not think about the revenue to the locals from the tournament event, so the PETA folks had to be escorted out of town, for their safety.

There is no hunting season, however, for animals considered a nuisance or vermin. One of these, coyotes, is an invasive species that have migrated to our state. There is no closed season and no bag limit for hunting them. You apparently can hunt them in daylight hours and in certain times with dogs. Coyotes prey on small animals and are a nuisance in urban fringes of habitation.

One of our Hartselle residents, named Bill, had enough of coyotes in his neighborhood. He lives in a residential subdivision of nice homes and covenants to protect the neighborhood. None of the covenants protect the neighbors from him, unfortunately. Bill has a dog that he likes very much. He takes his dog walking around his block in the Paradise View Subdivision every day. Bill also says what he means and does not hold back in giving his opinions. One day while walking around with his dog, it barked at lady walking around the block opposite of Bill. The dog took an aggressive stance toward the woman who then told Bill to get the dog “put down” if he was that aggressive. Bill then told her that the dog only barked at fat women and that she should lose a few pounds. It turned out that the lady was a friend of Bills’ wife, so after an ugly homecoming from his walk, an apology was made and Bill was in trouble for a while.

About that time, Bill started noticing coyotes in his yard in the evenings. Bill’s yard borders a deep canyon with a wooded area. This area is a habitat for all sorts of animals, but Bill did not like the coyotes because they threatened the neighbors’ dogs and cats. He wanted to know how to get rid of them, so he called a pest control service in Massey, AL that specializes in varmint removal. Thy told him that they could put out traps and humanely relocate the coyotes to another place, but there was a chance they would come back, as they are apparently territorial. Bill also learned that they charged $400 to perform this task, so he politely declined.
Bill came up with another idea, one that cost a fraction of the price and would solve his problem permanently. He went to Lacon, AL to the infamous Trade Day bazaar and bought four chickens and a wire coop from a Spanish-speaking vendor. He went back home and tied a string around the chickens in his back yard to use as bait for the coyotes. He then loaded his .22 rifle and sat in his backyard gazebo to wait for darkness to fall. At this point it is probably relevant to mention that some single malt Scotch was involved in this process.

As all of this preparation spelled impending disaster, the coyotes never appeared to take the bait. More than the intelligence of the coyotes, Bill probably fell asleep in the gazebo and his snoring scared them off. After a few days, Bill’s wife and the neighbors wanted to know why there were chickens tied to the ground in Bill’s backyard. Bill revealed the details of his plan and was told to get rid of the chickens and not to do this again, or his permanent home would be the backyard gazebo. The neighbors had a quickly summoned meeting and decided to pay to have the pest control folks remove the coyotes. They also passed some stringent rules against their neighbor, Bill. The amendment had something about firearms in the city and such. In defiance of his neighbors, Bill let the chickens go and roam free in the neighborhood. The “gazebo hunting” plan was only a few weeks ago, and to this day, there are still chickens running around in that subdivision.

Mowing the Beltline - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of 12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:

Working during construction season, I am exposed to a lot of different people, from wealthy investors who lend money for projects, to the day laborers who build them. The key to a successful project is to find common ground between them all and get things built. Often, I get to hear stories about some of the people I work around.
One of the contractors working a smaller job that we designed is a man named Jim from Trinity, AL. Jim has a few dump trucks, a backhoe, bulldozer, and some other big yellow construction equipment that he owns and maintains for his business. Jim always needs a laborer with him, to do small jobs around the project site, but mainly to be around case something bad happens. Construction is dangerous and safety is always practiced, even on the most stressful jobs, because an on site accident is a tragic, show-stopping event that no one can afford these days.

Jim’s helper was an older man named George, who had a personal demon of alcoholism. George could not and was not able to stop drinking. During work times, at least up until around 3:30 every afternoon, you could not ask for a more dependable hand. Unfortunately, after that time, George was nowhere to be found.
Jim was the only friend George had left, as he had alienated most all of his family and friends. As expected, Jim would have to answer the phone at home and come down to the police station in the middle of the night to post bail for numerous public intoxication charges. As difficult as the situation was, the relationship was symbiotic, as each needed the other to make a living.

I saw Jim on a construction site a few weeks ago and noticed that George was not around. I asked, fearing the worst, as he was an older man. Jim said, “Nope. George is in the pokey for a while.” To which, I asked “Well, what did he do this time?” Jim explained that about a month prior to my seeing him, George had been arrested again for driving under the influence, public intoxication, and attempting to elude a police officer in Decatur. This seemed very odd, since George was, even drunk, a peaceful man. Knowing that George did not have a car, and I wasn’t sure he even knew how to drive, I dug deeper to find out how this could have happened. Jim said that it was the strangest story, and he still had trouble believing it.

Apparently, George took a Snapper zero turning radius lawn mower that he and Jim used to mow yards for extra money and best that anyone can tell, he drove it to north Beltline Road in Decatur. From Trinity. Down Gordon Terry Parkway. At 3:30 AM on a Sunday morning. Now this feat is extraordinary at face value. I mean, what kind of gas mileage does a Snapper get at highway speed? What is highway speed on a riding lawn mower? How long had he been on the road? Granted it was 3:30 AM, how did he not get driven over on a four-lane highway for at least four miles? No median grass was cut, so he was obviously riding on the asphalt, undetected by anyone for that distance and length of time, with the blades at full throttle.

As he entered Decatur, the spectacle attracted the attention of traffic leaving one of the manufacturing plants on the river changing shifts. The police were called and an intercept was made. George was having none of the demands to stop or pull over, and continued his ride down one of Decatur’s busiest roadways. As the police car chased the slowly moving Snapper, George refused to stop and kept moving. The officer got out and walked along side the mower, again ordered George to stop, then reached over, and switched the ignition off. The “Easy Rider” was done and there was a price to pay. They properly secured George in the back of the Decatur Police car and put as much of his Snapper in the trunk as would fit. Then George went to jail.

Public Intoxication – Check
Driving under the influence (albeit a riding lawn mower) – Check
Attempting to Elude – Check

George went to jail, but will be out soon, so if you are driving in Northwest Decatur, keep your hands on the steering wheel at 10:00 and 2:00, always look both ways, and watch for riding mowers.

Hired Hand - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of 12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:

During the 1990’s employment in our little town was at an all time high. Almost everyone that wanted a job could get one without much effort. That was great, unless you were an employer needing to hire subcontractors that were constantly in demand. The pay rates were reasonably higher that other part of the state during this time, and good workers, that showed up sober, and with regularity, were at a premium.

Our business did not require skilled help, we needed someone to take care of the equipment on a job site and cut brush for the survey crew to see through to do our work. Because of the market, we went through a revolving door of “bottom of the barrel” employees, who had various and sundry personal problems and demons that prevented them from fulfilling their life’s goals. Frustrated with the lack of responsible help, I placed an ad in the Decatur Daily and got a response right away.

Our office was located in the basement of my Mom and Dad’s house in Hartselle. We were just starting out as a cottage industry, a surveying and engineering business that my Dad had started on the side for weekend work. After graduating from Auburn, I came home and with the help of two partners, took the enterprise full-time and incorporated in 1992. We rarely had clients ever come to us, but when they did, they came through the front door, then down to the basement where we discussed their projects.

One afternoon, in response to our ad, Earl showed up at our door. Earl, who was about 32, was from a part of Lawrence County, Alabama called Chalybeate, but pronounced “clebet” by it denizens. On this afternoon, I was out of the office on a project site, and Mom was at home to greet Earl. She invited him in and visited with him for a while awaiting my return. During this time she learned that Earl was really in need of a job, and had scoped out a convenience store to “knock off” on the way home if he could not find employment that day. Earl lived in a mobile home that he was in the process of restoring, behind his parents’ house. He was very proud that he had just completed the plumbing the night before, that consisted of a garden hose from the parents’ spigot to his dwelling so he could have water anytime he needed it. Earl had a son from a previous encounter, and a girlfriend/fiancee named Nancy that sometime hung around, and sometimes not. Nancy was addicted to crack cocaine, so he didn’t want her around his son when she was high.

I got home and met my petrified mother at the door who told me of Earl’s appearance and his announcement of the Plan “B” if he didn’t get a job. I took Earl downstairs and talked with him to see if he was exaggerating, or telling the truth about his situation. As it turns out, he was being brutally honest and was in need of a job. As I was really desperate for good help, I hired him. Earl was at least honest enough to tell me his situation and that was a lot better than what I was getting in my other help. He showed up the next day on time and ready for work of any kind, and so began our symbiotic relationship.

The first thing I noticed about Earl was his attire. He wore work clothes, as we did not know from day to day where our needs would take us. One day we would be cutting miles of brush and killing snakes, the next day, he would wash the company truck while I calculated survey data. Earl always wore dirty jeans, a clean t-shirt, and an ever-present 36” long blade machete strapped to his waist. The machete was a tool of his trade, but wasn’t needed every day, but was worn nonetheless. Everywhere he went, the machete went. No one ever made mention of it, (probably out of fear) but he wore it to lunch, to pick up the mail, and other errands that we had for him. Earl had some front teeth missing from a fight in the Lawrence County jail, so he had a gap in his smile. He was saving up for some teeth, but the replacement dentures were very expensive and seemed unrealistic, but he saved anyway. This appearance was certainly frightening, if you did not know him. At first, I was concerned, too. Later, however, Earl would prove useful in a big way.
We had a certain real estate office in a nearby town that decided that they were not going to pay their bills to us for work we did. They ordered a survey on a lot, but the closing did not happen, or the buyer backed out, so they said “too bad” to my requests for payment. I got the hint, and after getting to know that Earl was a lot of things, he was not violent. Except for the time he beat up Nancy’s crack dealer in NW Decatur, but that another story, I sent him to their office with a bill and told him to sit in their waiting area until it was settled. He regaled the prospective buyers in the office with his stories of how he lost his teeth in a Moulton jail fight and that he liked the food in the Hartselle jail better than anywhere else he had been. He came back very shortly with every penny that group owed us, and they never were late with a bill again.

Earl had several personal problems, to say the least. But to his credit, he was struggling against them to provide for his son, clean up Nancy, and create some sort of normal life for his little family. It would be easy to look at him and condemn, but things are often more complicated than they seem. One of Earl’s demons was a fact that his own mother put succinctly “he’s too dumb to drink”. Many of Earl’s problems were a result of some drinking. He had acquired so many DUI’s that he could not get a valid Alabama driver’s license until sometime around 2020. Because of this high number, he was incarcerated on weekends in the Hartselle City Jail. He would go in on Friday night and serve until Sunday evening, on numerous charges of driving without a license. What puzzled me was the fact that he drove his car to the jail and drove home every weekend. I guess the police never looked outside to see how Earl got there. If they had looked outside, Earl’s car was a spectacle. The 1970’s model Ford LTD had been in a frontal crash that left the headlights inoperable. In their place, were two Sears battery operated flashlights that he would pull over at dusk and turn on. He had a large supply of D cell batteries on the dash for this purpose.

One Friday, I needed to get a big survey done for a closing on Monday. We were behind schedule and needed to work on Saturday to get this job finished. Earl had other engagements on Saturdays, so I called the city judge who happened to be the closing attorney for the transaction (Only in a small town). I explained the situation and as he needed the transaction to occur, as I did, he agreed to release Earl for the Saturday to work. The next morning, I went to the jail to pick him up. My thinking was that working outside would be better than spending the day in jail. The office at the jail told me I had to feed him lunch, which again, I thought Earl would like better than jail food. Wrong. Earl was very upset that I had released him for the day. To my bewilderment, Earl was a trusty, which means that he had been around so long, that they let him do special chores and tasks during his confinement. On Friday nights, the police bring in all the “potential defendants” on their various charges and book them into jail. While the perps are in the back seat handcuffed, they can apparently remove pills and other “evidence” into the seat of the police car. Earl, the trusty, washes the police cars on Saturday. During the thorough cleaning, he collects this evidence and apparently sells it back to the detainees when they are released on Sunday. He made more money doing this than he did working for me all week. During this Saturday, we discussed how that was wrong and that he could be sent away if he was caught. He eventually stopped this practice and revealed the scam to the jailer, who prevented other trustys from doing the same.

A few months later, I had some meetings at the basement-office and did not have anything for Earl to do for those few hours, so I asked him to wash the mud off of the company truck. After my meetings were over, I noticed that he was washing the truck with new sponges, car wash soap, tire brushes, and car wax.
Knowing we did not have these items in our office or upstairs in the house, I asked him where he got them.
My thinking was that he spent his own money and that I needed to reimburse him. Wrong. He stole them from the police station, where he usually washed police cars. I had him finish, put all the City’s property back, and I explained to the police chief what had happened.

A few more months later, Earl found another job, closer to his home in Lawrence County. Later, I heard that he got arrested for beating a man in Georgia, who had assaulted Nancy. He was sentenced to the sate penitentiary in Atmore for a few years. Seems that this was not all bad for Earl. The state paid to have his teeth fixed, cut his hair, and cleaned him up. Apparently, in the joint, they try to teach you job skills so you can enter the workforce on your return. Earl had a choice of several skills such as auto mechanics, welding, construction, etc. The State of Alabama paid to train Earl in a skill that I did not know was in demand. Male exotic dancing. Yes, you read that right. We all pay someone to teach this skill to prevent recidivism in our prison system.

Earl opened my eyes to a different world than the one most folks I know enjoy. A world based on poor decisions, and the struggles that come from them. He had a big heart, but few tools to advance in life. All in all, prison helped him more than any job he ever had. I saw him a few years ago, and he was working as a cook in one of the restaurants in Hartselle. He had cleaned up and left Nancy. He and his son lived in Lawrence County and were doing OK. I learned to pay more for the positions that I needed, and eventually got some really good folks to work for me.

Deep Freeze - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about life in North Alabama.

I have lately become obliged to document stories about life in the many communities that dot the rural areas of our home state. They are all true, except that names and some places have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty alike. If you are not from the South, there will be many references and phrases from our dialect that may escape your understanding, so consult a fellow Southerner if you must.

Some of my work requires me to travel to remote places across North Alabama. One of the projects we were working on involved an earthwork job to build a foundation for a new store and parking area in a rural County. I have to make frequent site inspections to make sure the soils are being dug from the correct property, that they are being compacted properly to prevent settlement, and sloped properly to prevent sediment from running off the property and damaging a nearby stream.

The owner has a capable job foreman, Jack, who manages the site work and keeps all the big yellow construction equipment running. During one of my inspections, Jack told me this story.

The construction site is near a half-baked body shop/garage/junkyard. The proprietor is a friendly guy who had two sons. One worked for Jack on the construction site, the other, Tiny, didn’t really do much. In the South if you are named “Tiny”, there is a very high probability that you are not. Tiny liked to hunt and fish, and somehow was eking out a living within those parameters. Tiny was not married, as most women look for breadwinners with a job or a skill set. Unfortunately, Tiny had no interest in pursuing either.

One morning, Jack arrived at the job site, where a terrible stench wafted over the entire project. Knowing some people, who know some people, who can make one “sleep with the fishes”, Jack’s first thought was that someone had buried a body on the site. After asking around at the neighboring garage, he learned the real truth.

A few weeks prior, Tiny was cleaning up around his single-wide and happened to be weed-eating around his most precious appliance, his large, self standing deep freezer. Nothing is unusual about this choice of appliance, as most Southern gentlemen do have one. Some have to work harder than others to get one, but almost every man south of Tennessee has one for the various fish and game that they hunt and gather. The deep freezer is an ingrained tradition that has its roots in ancient granaries where food was stored for the winter.

During his annual weed-eating, Tiny did not notice the he had inadvertently cut the orange extension cord that ran from a working electrical outlet in his bedroom, out the partially closed aluminum window, then to the appliance outside. The grass and weeds were probably tall enough that he did not see the resulting spark that would have happened when the electricity was shorted in the extension cord.

The next few weeks of brutal summer heat, the contents of the now non-operating deep freeze were emitting a sign that there was a problem. This was oblivious to Tiny, as several more weeks clocked on.
Eventually, the smell of the decaying game emanated through the white sheet metal and insulation of the deep freezer to a level that even Tiny could detect. The dogs began to avoid that side of the house when they ran outside. Finally, a few weeks more had passed, and Tiny decided that he had enough of the smell and needed to do something with this problem. He decided to move the deep freezer to another location away from his single-wide abode. He looked around and thought of the construction site next to his father’s garage to bury his problem. Transporting the deep freeze to the site was going to be an issue, so he thought hard about how to accomplish this. Eventually, after a lot of drinking, he came up with a brilliant plan.

Tiny lived about a mile and a half away from the garage and project, and the roads were all paved, except for the dirt road to his single-wide dwelling. Being that he was not the sharpest tool in the shed, Tiny’s plan involved tying a log chain around the appliance and dragging it behind his truck to the construction project. The deep freezer does not have wheels, so he used duct tape to secure the top from opening and spilling the contents. That evening, with the top secured with the ubiquitous silver tape, off he went. Down the driveway to the paved road, dragging a deep freeze with a logging chain. He didn’t want to get caught speeding with his truck, since he was also a candidate for a fresh DUI, so he drove slowly along the route. As expected, the deep freeze in tow on the blacktop pavement created sparks behind it like they were in a Fourth of July parade. A few local residents, sitting on their porches and seeing this menagerie weaving wildly side-to-side out of control down the roadway in front of their houses, immediately called the Sheriff to put a stop to it.

A few minutes later a deputy arrived, saw the spectacle, and pulled Tiny over. The officer smelled the deep freeze and questioned Tiny about what exactly he was doing. Tiny explained “The Plan” and pointed to the construction site a few hundred yards away where he was going to deposit his appliance. The officer, also being mindful of the “sleeping with the fishes” people, made Tiny open his freezer. The now disgusted deputy, satisfied no homicide was involved, wanted no part of the stinky deep freeze. He let Tiny continue to the final resting spot on the construction site and waited for him to fire up the large track hoe, dig a hole, and bury the deep freezer. After Tiny finished, the officer figured Tiny had regained enough of his faculties to execute his plan to remove the rancid deep freeze for the common good of the County, so he let him slide on the DUI. He did not let him drive, and made him wait for his brother to come and take him back home. I have not checked with Sears, but I am fairly sure that they do not condone, in any way, this method for transporting their products.

Halftime Show - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about life in North Alabama.

I have lately become obliged to document stories about life in the many communities that dot the rural areas of our home state. They are all true, except that names and some places have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty alike. If you are not from the South, there will be many references and phrases from our dialect that may escape your understanding, so consult a fellow Southerner if you must.

Small communities that dot our state have a local source of pride in their high school. In generations past, they were symbols of higher education and opportunity for the children of the residents. The quality of education was measured and boasted by the schools’ performance on standardized test scores. Now days, they are measured by how many wins their sports team can compile against your town. Sports booster clubs are an order of magnitude larger than scholastic boosters clubs, if there even is one. To be fair, in some rural areas, sports are simply the only chance for a college scholarship that many kids could get.

All towns in Alabama are measured by population, but most denizens of our state will only know the size of a community by their Alabama High School Athletic Association school size class, by average daily enrollment. To outsiders, the AHSAA class ranges from 1A being the smallest to 6A being a large urban sized school.

One particular town in North Alabama, Arley, in Winston County, has a vibrant program of community-involved sports and academics. They are a “2A” classification, so by some strange formula of dubious origin, one can infer the town’s approximate population. As with any small town, the high school is a source of great pride in the community. Everyone is involved in the school activities at some level. Local businesses donate money and materials for campus events, parents and grandparents are called upon to make cookies and refreshments for holidays, and all are called upon to show up for the Friday night football games in the fall. Apparently empty seating is a sign of community apathy, and is greatly frowned upon if it is apparent to the visiting team’s supporters.

Of the many volunteer tasks that are required to run a sanctioned ASHAA football contest is a staff of people to carry the “chains” during the game. These are the people who hold the “first-down” and “down number” markers on both sides of the sidelines so the teams and fans can see how far the offense needs to move the ball in order to get four more plays. This sideline crew, called the “chain gang” unlike the referees who are obliged to be brought in from somewhere else, are from the home teams’ support base. One night this became a problem.

A few storied seasons ago, a heated football game between Arley’s only high school, Meek High and their bitter rival, Addison High, another Winston County school was underway. The game was in Arley and was very close, so tensions were high as both teams made scores against the other, but neither could put the other away. During the first half, the referees made several penalty calls against the two teams for what each side of the stands thought were undeserved and obviously made because the other team had somehow paid them off prior to the game. The scene was getting even more tense as halftime approached.

Two of the chain gang crew for the Arley home team were a husband and wife team, Ned and Alice. They were local residents who had been doing the chains for as long as anyone could remember, and that is what they lived for. It is widely known that Alice, was the meanest wife in all of Winston County. Evidence of this is another story, but suffice to say that she was a fiery woman. Ned was no prize himself, but they got along with minimal turbulence. Ned and Alice raised and sold “recreational poultry” for a living.
This night, Ned was on the visitors’ sideline doing his job marking the placement of the ball and setting the down number. An overly spirited woman, an Addison fan, was standing near the sideline with other visiting fans, watching the game. As the first quarter melted into the second, she began hurling insults and berating Ned, and the chain gang in general, for being from Arley. Ned, being used to this abuse, just ignored her and continued with his task. As the game wore on, she became more vicious with her verbal attacks and finally got to a level that captured Ned attention. During a timeout, Ned turned to the belligerent fan and told her she should behave or she would be escorted out. This made the woman even angrier and she continued her vitriolic assault squarely on Ned. She yelled “Stop moving the markers to help Meek out” and “You Arley trash are always trying to cheat us” and “You ain’t nothin”. Her flowery language got even worse and Ned warned her again “Lady, if you don’t get on, I’ll have you throwed out!” To which she replied, “I wish you were a woman, so I could whip your butt!”
The Addison woman seemed to like the reaction from Ned when she tossed out the “whip butt” provocation. Ned just smiled and returned to his duties as the timeout expired and play resumed.

A few minutes and a couple of incomplete passes later, halftime finally arrived. Ned and his group walked across the field to meet the other sideline crew and get a Coke. The concession stand was halfway between the two stands of fans, so they headed to the neutral lands to get a drink.
One of the school bands began their routines and started marching on the field. The Addison woman, who must have been very highly spirited in a dry county, followed Ned and the crew to the fence that lead off the field. Again she lit into Ned about how he was cheating and that he was a low down trashy liar.

Against his better judgement, Ned hollered at her, “Tell me what you said before, you witch!” Addison woman then repeated her “I wish you were a woman, so I could whip your butt!” statement. At this point, Alice, who apparently didn’t like anyone else but her to whip up on her man, jumped the fence like a steeplechase mare and started swinging punches at Addison woman. Addison woman gave as good as she got, and the fight was on. The band stopped playing as the fight spilled onto the football field.

Everyone just stood around and watched in stunned silence for what seemed like an eternity, but it could not have been more than a few minutes as both football teams began filing out of the locker rooms back to the field. Other fans began to push and shove as tempers flared over. Shouts and insults were passed over the crowd as other fights were starting to breakout. Both women were swapping prizefight punches with each other in a full-on catfight, so vicious that the coaches were pulling the wide-eyed players back to the sideline away from the fracas. Eventually, others calmed down from screaming at each other and pulled the fighting women apart. Apparently a threat of canceling the bitter rivalry game was all that was needed to get the crowd back under control. Ned and Alice stayed on their side of the sideline, and another chain gang was used on the visitors’ side. Addison woman was escorted off the premises and told to leave.
The game progressed, eventually ended, but no one ever forgot the halftime show in the Meek-Addison game, locally known as the “Thrilla in the Free State”.

Farm Fire - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of 12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:

In the early 1990’s Lisa and I had an opportunity to buy a small ten-acre farm in the SW portion of our fair city. The land had no road frontage, and had an easement across other people to get to it, making the place undesirable to developers, but perfect for us. The property is surrounded by older developments of houses that back up to the land all around us. We had an urge to grow a large garden and enjoy the fruits of our labors. Little did we know that a large garden requires an immense amount of time and effort to maintain. As we were both starting our careers and had little extra time or energy, the raccoons ran off with most of the fruits of our labors and the weeds got the rest. A wise developer-client of mine once told me “you don’t own ten acres, it owns you”. He was spot on with his observation.

After the garden fiasco, we needed a way to maintain the property properly. You don’t mow ten acres with a riding lawnmower, because by the time you get finished, its time to start all over again, hence the “it owns you” mantra. So, we bought a tractor to do the job. A wheezing, old, 1958 Ford 8N model from some guy in Athens. It was in remarkable shape for its age and worked well. When I describe this tractor as old, I mean that to get parts, you don’t get to go to the parts store, you have to go to Cracker Barrels across the south land and buy them from their walls and rafters.

One Spring morning, I was busy creating urban sprawl at my job, when the wife of friend of mine called and needed a temporary job for their son. Jonathan’s father was serving in Iraq, and needed work to help out. I couldn’t use him on the survey crew, so Lisa and I hired him to get the tractor out and mow the farm for us. The first “starting of the tractor” each year is almost a ritual ceremony that slightly changes every spring. A very complex combination of starting fluid, gasoline, manual choke arrangements, cursing, and prayer is required to awaken the sleeping red and gray giant.

Jonathan was a part time mechanic, so I felt he was best suited to get the tractor started and do the job. I met him on the site and went over the procedure that had worked last year. I left to another appointment and him to his devices to get the job done. The field was still damp from a rain the week before, but OK to drive on for the limited traffic that the tractor would need. The land was covered with the golden brown sage grass that seems to grow in the winter.

About an hour later, I got a call from Jonathan that everything was going well and that after a few sputtering starts and stops, the tractor engine was eventually purring like a kitten. He had made several passes with the bush-hog mower and should be done by that afternoon. Another hour later, Jonathan called to tell me that a small fire had started around the tractor and that he was working on getting it out. A few minutes later he called to ask for the number of the Hartselle Fire Department. This is not what you want to hear, so after calling the fire department, I raced out to see what was going on.

When I got to the property, I saw an out-of control grass fire that was moving with a swiftness that was shocking. The ground was sort of damp, but the sage grass was dry and was burning like gasoline. In a few minutes the Fire Department showed up and quickly assessed the situation. They called for back up and began to beat out the flames and hose down the grass. The fire had spread out in all directions from the tractor, so the first responders were quickly overwhelmed and more units were called. Eventually every fire truck the City of Hartselle owned was in my pasture. To make matters even worse, the ground was not as dry as we all thought and in a matter of minutes they were all stuck in the mud to the axles on the fire trucks and could not move.

Ricky Joe Smith, the Chief at the time, called a local wrecker service to come get all of his trucks out of my field so they could move. The wrecker guy showed up, saw the crazy scene, and told Rickey Joe that he wasn’t getting into this mess and left. Ricky Joe peeled the paint off the wrecker truck with his language as the guy drove away. The Chief had no choice but to enact emergency procedures and call in surrounding communities Flint and Ebeneezer volunteer fire units to answer Hartselle calls that day as there seemed to be no solution to the situation they were in. If another fire had happened in Hartselle that day, Decatur would have to be called in to respond as fast as they could.

The fire was spreading away from the now immobile fleet of HFD vehicles and was speeding toward the property fence on the east boundary. The land on the other side of the fence was a pine thicket about 200 feet wide that was the back yard of some very large houses on Rice Road. The thicket had not been raked in over ten years and pine needles lay over a foot thick. The fire now reached this point and the flames rose to frightening heights as it consumed the dry pine needles. The firemen watched helplessly as the fire roared out of control towards the homes in one of Hartselle’s more influential neighborhoods.

As if we were in a movie, right in the nick of time, a Flint City Fire Department 4-wheel drive pickup truck with a water tank in the bed arrived, saw what was happening, and drove right into the flames of the burning pine thicket. The driver and his partner got out and sprayed the fire all around them, effectively putting it out. The Flint FD guys saved the Rice Road houses from danger, then turned around and chased down the last of the flames in the other directions. After the fire danger was over, they stayed behind to help extricate a few of the critical HFD trucks from the field to put them back into service. One of the firemen owned a large 4-wheel drive truck with a winch that they used to get the other fire trucks out.

During the post-mortem on the fire, it was concluded that the tractor had a gasoline leak that had ignited the freshly cut sage brush somehow. Jonathan said he wasn’t smoking at the time, but who knows. The HFD seemed to want to forget the whole thing happened and didn’t pursue it further. I don’t know if Hartselle ever bought a “brush truck” for our department, but there was no better salesman than the action on that day for one. Chief Ricky Joe Smith retired immediately afterward, and ironically, opened a wrecker business, where he is today. The Ford 8N tractor was not damaged, other than some burned wires. It still runs, as long as there are Cracker Barrels....

Grand Theft Auto - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of 12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:

In the late 1970’s, my parents drove a ridiculously large, very blue, Pontiac Bonneville that would seem to take up the whole road when we went anywhere. Well, it was vary large to me as a nine-year-old at the time. As a family car it was great, because the rear “dash” was large enough to stretch out on. During these times, the Federal Highway Safety Administration was run by men and women of common sense who apparently saw no need to put warnings on cars to prevent children from riding in anything but the designated seats or on truck tailgates. The Pontiac had a metal dashboard and you learned very quickly to avoid hitting it with your head. The car had more steel in it than a battleship. You could mount a .55 caliber weapon on it and drive through Fallujah, Iraq safer than a humvee.

During these years, one of my parents’ friends lived up the street from us and had kids close to our age. The patriarch of the family, named Bob, is where this story begins.

Bob’s family also had a large Pontiac much like ours, but he used it to drive to work everyday, and they used another car for the “family car”. Bob drove his car only to work, as it was of considerable age and wear. It wasn’t terribly dependable, but it wasn’t dead yet. Saturdays were spent fixing and adjusting the parts and engine to squeeze just one more month out of it. No one that we knew bought a new car every year as they were very expensive.
One morning, Bob went out to the driveway to go to work and found that someone had stolen his car right out of his yard. This was a big deal in Hartselle, as there were very few car thefts, as in none. It was obviously someone from out-of-town, because everyone knew what everyone drove in town and no one was incognito in someone else’s car. Occasionally cars would turn up missing as kids went joyriding and didn’t return in time to get the car back in the garage before Mom and Dad noticed. Other times, a car would go missing as a neighbor needed to borrow it to go to the store or the hospital. You just waited and it would turn up later with a perfectly logical explanation and a full tank of gas for the trouble.

Bob’s car did not turn up and he had to get Dad to take him to work that day. He filed a police report as a precaution because he could not recall giving anyone permission to borrow it. A week went by, and finally Bob got a long distance call from the Madison, AL police department. Indeed, they had found his Pontiac abandoned on the side of Highway 72 and he could come to the impound yard and pick it up. The police sergeant reported “Bob, you need to be prepared for this, the perpetrators really wrecked the interior. There is trash and debris all over the inside. They really messed it up”. Bob called Dad and they went off to Madison County to get Bob’s car back.
As they arrived, the police gave the appropriate paperwork to Bob for an insurance claim and took him to the impound yard. As they went, the officer on duty at the yard again warned Bob that there was a grisly sight in the automobile and that he was sorry to see thugs do that to nice folks’ property. This seemed to be the mood of all the officers in the Madison police precinct.

As my Dad swears is the truth, Bob got to the car, thanked the officer and muttered something about filthy S.O.B.’s that stole his Pontiac. What he didn’t say, and what he was really embarrassed to say, was that it was exactly as he had left it! Bob wasn’t the neatest guy around, but from that day forward he made sure he cleaned his car every Saturday. I guess the rare criminal that visited our town had enough of the filthy car and found a more pleasant automobile to heist. Only in Hartselle.

The Homeowner’s Association - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of 12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:

During the mid 1990’s in the demise of the dot.com boom and the ascension of the housing bubble, we were working on housing developments and subdivisions all over North Alabama. Hartselle, Alabama had become a full-fledged bedroom community by this time and rural land grew houses rather than crops. In the seemingly endless river of plats and development plans, one in Hartselle stood out. The developer approached us with a sketch of a layout he wanted and gave us a free hand to design the neighborhood. Rather than the usual mantra of maximizing the number of lots that we could squeeze into a piece of property, his idea was to make a nice looking layout with common space and areas set aside for amenities, like a clubhouse, swimming pool, boat and RV storage, etc.

This had never been done before in our town, and the cost of dedicating the lost potential lots would mean that the lot price would have to go up beyond the normal range. Actually, after the costs were estimated, they would be the highest priced lots in Hartselle. The developer did not feel that was a problem, and besides, we could always go back and re-plat the lots if it didn’t work, so there wasn’t that much risk. The first phase began and in it we put in a “pocket” playground on some land that was difficult to fold into either of the adjoining lots. This went over well, and the development took off, as the lots sold very quickly. A year later, we began the second phase, which had a large wooded area set aside for a walking trail. It also included a clubhouse, swimming pool, and RV storage area. All of these were built during the construction of the streets and utilities, so the potential buyers would be assured that they were going to be built, not promised. Phase two sold out as fast as the first and houses started to go up.

A homeowner’s association had to be established to maintain these new amenities, and the developer had majority rights until a certain percentage of lots sold. It was in his best interest to keep the lots controlled so they would not get funny looking houses or crazy siding. This is where our story begins.

The homeowners association had a monthly fee that was payable to the entity for maintenance of the common holdings. Anyone who purchased a lot was subject to this fee. There was some vagueness in the covenants as to whether or not builders had to pay the fee, since they were not residents. It was around $40 per month at the time. The developer was the sole association member as few houses had been completed and sold, so he managed the fund and kept the place looking nice. One builder, locally famous for building very large houses, bought several lots and began construction. Some of his houses were for others, called in the business, a “pre-sale” and others were for speculation purposes a “spec” house. Mr. Builder went about his construction and did not bother to pay the association fees because he did not live there, and felt he did not have to pay. The lots were purchased in his name, however. Mr. Developer decided that Mr. Builder did indeed owe him the fees, which were accruing every month. Mr. Builder ignored the many certified letters and bills stapled to his permit display. Mr. Developer had a stubborn streak and would not let this matter go. He felt he was right and would not back down.

One day, Mr. Developer rolled up in his ever-present golf cart (which hadn’t seen a fairway in years) that he used to patrol the neighborhood. He confronted Mr. Builder about the unpaid fees, to which Mr. Builder told him to “get off my land” and don’t come back and bother him anymore. He said he didn’t owe it and he wasn’t going to pay it. Mr. Developer drove off (at a slow rate of speed in a worn-out golf cart), fuming about how to get back at this guy who was defying his authority. A few more weeks and months passed, and nothing was said about the feud, although Mr. Builder had also bought the lot next to Mr. Developer’s new house through a third party. Everyone thought that the feud had been settled, until Mr. Builder got ready to sell the first completed house. At the closing, an event at an attorney’s office where the buyer and seller meet and sign documents for the transfer of ownership, Mr. Builder found that Mr. Developer had filed a lien against the lot. A lien is like a mortgage that has to be paid or settled before the house can be sold. Mr. Builder was furious. It totaled several thousand dollars for fees, interest, and God only knows what else. The buyer was unaware of the “fee feud”, and just wanted to buy the house. Mr. Builder must pay the lien holder, Mr. Developer, in order to clear the title and sell the house, that day, or the buyer’s loan would not go through and the sale would not happen. In a tight spot, losing most of the profit, he had to pay it. After much anger and gnashing of teeth, Mr. Builder successfully sold the house, went home and began looking over the homeowner’s association documents.

The next morning, it was summertime by then, Mr. Builder went to work with his framing crew on another lot in the development, while the new family moved into their new house up the street. Mr. Developer pulled up in his golf cart and told Mr. Builder that if he hadn’t been so stubborn, that the lien wouldn’t have happened, and gloated a little that he was right all along. Mr. Builder didn’t say anything, but kept working.
Mr. Developer drove off to patrol the neighborhood for covenant violations and left Mr. Builder to his work. The day was hot and the framing crew was getting worn out from working in the heat.

At dinnertime, Mr. Builder told everyone to stop working, for lunch. The men came off the scaffolding, put their tools away, and followed Mr. Builder up the street to the community clubhouse. Seeing this parade of labor coming up the street, Mr. Developer puts the golf cart in high gear to come see what Mr. Builder is doing. Mr. Builder opens the clubhouse and has a sack lunch for everyone on tables inside. He also opens the pool gate and tells the men to enjoy a swim, because it was hot. Mr. Developer pulls up and screeches to a halt at the gate and hollers at Mr. Builder “What in the hell are you doing? Get these men out of my clean pool!” Mr. Builder, who happened to b a retired GAO accountant for 30 years said, “I read your covenants last night and found that as a lot owner, I am entitled to use any of the facilities and bring my “guests”. We will be using the pool until we are done, and we’ll be back tomorrow, too.” Mr. Developer was livid. He drove off to call his lawyer, the Mayor, anyone he thought could help, but he knew he had been beat. No one thought of this situation when the covenants were written, and a career government accountant, who was trained to read complex Defense Department contracts got the last laugh on him.

After that afternoon, Mr. Developer and Mr. Builder, two of Hartselle's most stubborn men, both still thinking each was right, buried the hatchet and agreed on a “deferred” payment plan to refund some of the recovered fees, and all was well. The development was completed in a third phase, and all the lots were sold in a build-out record for the Hartselle market. Mr. Builder purchased other lots and built many other houses there, but never forgot the day he got one over on Mr. Developer.

The Liar's Table - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of 12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:

Back in 1986, I was a senior at Hartselle High School. Our class was much like most others, as we had the gamut of personalities and potential. One group of my friends heard about a breakfast ritual at the Corral Restaurant, called the Liar’s Table. The Corral Restaurant was a throwback to the early sixties, as the d├ęcor consisted of wagon wheels everywhere. All of the light sconces on the walls were wagon wheels, the chandeliers in the ceiling were wagon wheels, and the walls had faded Conestoga wagon images in a repeated pattern from one end of the place to the other. It was the only “quasi-formal” sit-down restaurant in town and all of the civic clubs met there. A schedule was worked out, so the Kiwanis Club would meet one night, the Jaycees another, the Civitans another, and Lions Club yet another. Holidays made for chaos as the meeting nights would get mixed up and Kiwanians would show up at Jaycee meetings, etc.

It seems that a group of men, who moved and shook our town, all sat down at the same table and ate breakfast every morning at a big table in a meeting room at the back of the restaurant, called the Liar’s Table. These guys were judges, the mayor, most of the city councilmen, realtors/developers, lawyers, doctors, and of most importance to us, many of our teachers from school. I am here to tell you that stuff got done in town at that table. Deals were worked out, policy was discussed, and of course, good old-fashioned gossip could be heard. There are very few secrets in Hartselle, Alabama.

Being precocious teens, and having more ambition than vanity, we decided to meet at the Corral every Friday morning for breakfast, dressed in slacks, dress shoes, and dress shirts, and ties. We would have our own Liar’s Table and discuss things that we were interested in and see if we cold overhear the power brokers in the special room. If I recall, the membership was not exclusive and was always in flux. Brian White, Brian Taylor, Donald Rand, Tim Roden, Anthony Light, Bob Bryan, and many others were all included at one time or another. We had a great time and got to speak with everyone at the Table as they came and went. After many weeks, the novelty wore off and the staff got used to the kids dressed in Sunday clothes and treated us like we were as important as the older men in the big room. The menu was sparse, but after awhile they memorized what we ordered just like they knew what the men ordered. We said hello and joshed with the guys going to the big table, but never presumed to sit back there, as we were not members in the unofficial and exclusive organization. There was a seating order back there and everyone knew who sat where. Little did we know that the fates would change for us…..

One day in the Spring, my Mom, Glenda Greene, burned up the kitchen in our home on Washington Circle. The fire department came and saved the house, but we were without a kitchen for weeks as the repairs were being done. As a result we had to eat out. Being that there were few alternatives in town at that time, we ate at the Corral, a lot. Friday rolled around that week, and my Dad went to the Corral for breakfast, like he had done all week. We arrived and sat in our usual place, when Dad, apparently a welcome seat holder, extended a “Wonka-style” golden ticket when he came up front and invited us back to the big room. It appears that there were extra seats that were not widely discussed outside of the power room. The four of us got to come inside and see the magic kingdom. We were welcomed and got to participate in discussions of timely importance in town that week. William Booth, our favorite teacher was there, and he heaped ridicule and his usual caustic humor at us as we had a great time. He was a teacher we respected and getting to see him out of his element at school was a lot of fun.

Time came to leave, we were invited to come back anytime, which we did, but now it just wasn’t as exciting anymore. The curtain had been drawn back, and the machinery was laid bare for us to see. The magic was gone from the speculation and innuendo of what happened in the big room. The meeting room wasn’t even that big. After a few months, high school graduation came and we all went our separate ways. A few years later, the venerable old restaurant closed, then burned, and now exists as a concrete slab on the east side of Highway 31. While I was at Auburn, I heard about the Corral closing, and I asked Mom to secure a wagon wheel light sconce from the building after they closed, but she was too late, the fire had happened, and the icons of the wagon wheels were lost forever in time.

Waffle Restaurant Adventure - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of 12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:

Lisa and I have few vices in our lives , but going to the Waffle restaurant on I-65 is one of them. They are open all the time, and have a chiseled-in-stone consistent menu of Southern goodness . The clientele is a unfiltered human slice of life. Travelers from well-to-do places, enjoying anonymity by slumming in the diner, sit in the booth next to a working class family enjoying a night out of the house.

One Monday night very recently, we were enjoying our “All-Star” guilty pleasure breakfast at the local franchise at I-65 and Highway 67 in Priceville, AL. There were only a few other patrons at the time, around 8:30 PM. Lisa and I finish work late sometimes and in Hartselle, this is our only option for dinner together at this hour. Our waitress was a smallish woman, probably in her forties. She was very courteous and attended to us very well. The cook was a rather large woman also in her forties and seemed like she was having a bad night. This was an omen of the nights entertainment.

As we were eating, our waitress and the cook began sparring with words over some misappropriation of tip money from the previous occupant of the booth we were in. The conversation became more heated and stronger words were exchanged. In our booth, I was seated facing the cook galley, while Lisa had her back to them. Lisa was oblivious to the activity behind her, maybe because she was eating crunchy bacon, which is her supreme weakness. I, on the other hand, was watching a bolt of molten magma rise through the earthy crust as the two employees were now in each other’s face, degrading the other’s pedigree. The tension was rising swift and sure.

As if I was watching a National Geographic special on volcanism, this disagreement reached a climax when the larger cook backhanded our petite waitress and knocked her glasses off. Game On! These two started screaming, throwing punches, and slapping with a fury of angry gods. Pancake batter went everywhere, plates shattered on the floor, and butter and eggs were wasted. The fight then changed to a utensil throwing match, until the small waitress picked up a ridiculously large kitchen knife. The larger cook said ”You better kill me, cause I’m gonna if you don’t put than knife down”. At this point, the mind numbing sensation of crunchy bacon and scattered, covered hash-browns was interrupted in Lisa and she ducked down in the booth to deflect the flying breakfast debris. All of the action was right by our booth and woman with the knife blade was just a few scant feet from us.

The cook lunged at the waitress and punched her in the face so hard that the knife and her rings flew off and bounced across the greasy floor. Lisa was getting ready to perform emergency first aid on someone, anyone. I poured myself another cup of delicious coffee and waited for round two. The other patrons were older, and stone cold silent, as we all waited to see what was going to happen next.

Finally, another waitress, older than these two and much more mature, bull-rushed the two fighting women into the swinging doors that lead back to the storage area, almost like she had done this before. We then heard the sounds of boxes being wildly thrashed about and more broken crockery. The fight then progressed outside as we could hear the women screaming, hurling insults, and swapping face slaps in the parking lot. I looked around at the other stunned patrons, as we got up to leave. No one said a word as I got to the counter to settle the bill. The older waitress came back in and profusely apologized for the outburst that we had witnessed. Not thinking, I replied “Well, sometimes you just have to get things settled.” To which she looked at me like I had no sense, whatsoever.

Thanks to the staff at the Waffle restaurant, you can get great food, and violent entertainment that money cannot buy. As a fan of mayhem, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

121 Sparkman Street SW - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of 12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:

In 2003, Lisa and I decided to stop renting office space for the surveying company. We began to look for available commercial buildings to buy and convert for our needs. We did not need much parking, as our clients generally contact us by email or telephone. We looked at several properties, and found a few that piqued our interest. One was Dr. Martin’s old optometrist office on Sparkman Street. It was a solid brick building that was once a cotton warehouse at the turn of the last century. We went to the building across the street , a TV repair shop, also on Sparkman Street, to check out any flood history, or other problems we needed to know about. Mr. Dwight Looney was very helpful and told us the history of the place since he had been there.
We placed an offer with the realtor, but someone else had also offered (earlier, but less than us) and threatened to sue Mr. Albert Henry, the seller if they did not get it. He relented and sold them the building. To his credit, he took a week to talk with his attorney, and think about it. At the end, the realtor had sued him before, so their threat, although with no legal merit, rang true to him.
A few months later, after the sting of the loss of the building, things turned around. I noticed a for sale sign in the window of the TV repair shop. I contacted the realtor and made an offer, not believing that it was available. We went back and spoke with Mr. Looney, who said that our last meeting got him thinking of retiring and he was now interested in selling. We had an inspector go through the building, and got a local attorney, George Miller, to work on the title and closing paperwork. I know many real estate attorneys in Hartselle and Decatur in my work, but I had helped George with a difficult closing a few months before, so he offered to do the closing for the filing fees.

A few obligatory weeks passed while realtors and George did their thing. Mr. Looney removed his operation and the closing date arrived. The building a was actually owned by his brother, who was at the closing along with Dwight. David Burleson was there from the bank and everything went smoothly, until they gave us the keys. It seemed that the front door key worked, but they hadn’t seen the back door key in a while, like five or more years! Basically the building sat unlocked while they had the business. Only in Hartselle. Also, after the closing, everyone got up to leave and George, the closing attorney said “well, lets go.” “Go where?” I asked, not sure of where this was headed. “Let’s go see what you two fools just bought.” Again, only in Hartselle will the closing attorney leave the transaction to go see the property and pass judgment on it, with commentary about how stupid we were to buy such a place, and so forth. All in good fun.

A few weeks later, we began the renovation process. By renovations, I mean we gutted the entire place from wall-to-wall to ceiling. The building was built in 1927 at a time when materials were delivered by railcar to the Hartselle station. One of the unique problems we had to solve was the tin ceiling. The pressed tin pattern was very unique and looked nice, on the front. The back area was apparently a storage area or workshop and was not so nice. There were bullet holes, rusted panels, and other damage to the ceiling. Lisa and I searched Ebay, all the restoration web sites, and even got my cousin who does restoration salvage in Atlanta to help us find matching panels. None to be found, anywhere. It appears that the company that made them went out of business during the Great Depression, so that was the end of the search. George Dutton who was doing the restoration work for us made replacement panels by taking a good one down and making a rubber mold of it. He then poured a cement paste into the mold and voila, new replacement panels that are exact matches.
Another problem that we found was that people did not know that the TV repair business had closed. For months, folks still brought TVs and left them at the back door so Mr. Looney would fix them. We carefully put them inside every morning and stacked them up at the end of the building. We finally got in touch with Dwight and asked him what we should do, since no one left a name or number on them. He said he would be down later and get them. He did, and only in Hartselle, he knew who each one belonged to! We helped him load them up and take them to his house in Falkville where he continues to repair TVs.

A few months later, the building was ready and we moved in. Everyone liked the new place and it serves its purpose well. It is in the National Register of Historic Places, and has quite a history inside. To date, we know of it being a hardware store, a casket store, a pressroom for the Hartselle Enterprise (a/k/a the The Hartselle Enquirer), a record shop, Yarbrough’s radio repair shop, and then the TV repair shop. The coolest bit of its history was from a client of ours who was leaving for Korea on the bus which stopped across the street. Mr. Dwain Howard kissed his then girlfriend goodbye under our awning one rainy day in 1950 to go overseas to war, not knowing if he would ever see Hartselle again. He did, came home, and married her.

Mr. Dwight Looney passed away in 2010.

John Sparkman Day - Part 2 - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

The Big Day arrived and Hartselle was overwhelmed. Mom and the other ladies in the Jaycees drove to the airport in Huntsville and picked up dignitaries that travel with the Democrats. The ABI agents in the area had made large illicit liquor raids the night before, since they now had tremendous manpower in North Alabama. Mom saw the boxes and crates of booze on the tarmac at the Huntsville airport, and asked the ABI agent nearby if it was safe to leave all that liquor there. The agent replied “Look around you lady, do you think anyone’s gonna mess with this?” She said that she saw snipers on every roof at the airport buildings. “I guess not” she replied, to which the agent grinned.

Norman Lear and John F. Kennedy Jr. and others rode in our family’s fake wood-paneled Buick Elektra station wagon from Huntsville to Hartselle and back. John explained to the entourage that was in the car how the TVA changed the area and that it was an example of how government could work to improve impoverished areas. To his credit he was fairly young at the time and surprised everyone with how knowledgeable of the area he was. As a note, the account from my Mom of this exchange has always given me the fundamental platform of the Democratic Party. Like them or not, the upper crust of the old party firmly believed in the power of big government and how it could be used for good. The country did not agree, and voted in Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Schools were let out in Hartselle and the parade began around mid morning. I was in the Boy Scouts at the time, so our troop marched together. At that time, at the Junior High School gym, a special invitation only dinner was being prepared. My Mom was he greeter at the door, flanked by two Secret Service agents. The agent in charge told her to point out anyone she did not know personally. After a few minutes, an African-American man approached and held out his invitation. Mom didn’t know him, and said “ Sir, do you mean like that guy with a gun?”. As they approached, his coat opened, revealing a pistol. They went into overdrive and subdued him outside in a flash. As it turned out, he was a newly elected sheriff in South Alabama and wanted to come see his hero, Ted Kennedy. He wore a sidearm all the time, and did not think to leave it in his car. They immediately verified his story, and let him in, sans pistol. In the anteroom at the lunch, Ted Kennedy’s staff had prepared a specifically required snack for him, consisting of an apple cut into 8 pieces and American-produced cheese, which John Sparkman found first and ate prior to Mr. Kennedy’s arrival. At the same time, Mrs. Sparkman had flushed her expensive corsage down the toilet and was asking the Jaycees to get her a new one.

After the parade, the entourage went to the Civic Center for the main attraction, the reason for this whole deal, the bust unveiling. The press corps that traveled with Ted Kennedy had one member, in rotation, for every stop, that was to be given access to the nearest telephone to broadcast the news to API/UPI that he had been shot. This job was called “Death Watch” and it was agreed ahead of time whom did what if that occurred. The Kennedy campaign folks knew of this macabre practice and actually assisted in getting the telephone set up at every venue. Sen. Kennedy’s personal physician also traveled with him. There was a “Death Watch” line at the HJHS gym, as well.

The distinguished guests sat on the stage and the audience was seated on the gym floor in yellow stacking chairs. Mr. Sparkman gave most of his speech to the other stage guests instead of the audience. He was in advanced age at this time in his life. Lillian Carter said a few words, then it was time for Mr. Kennedy. As Ted spoke, two members of the audience stood and started heckling him about housing in Philadelphia or something. I was in the audience one row in front of these two guys, and watched the Secret Service and FBI deftly subdue and remove these two from the gym. It was pretty cool to see the agents in action, although most everyone was thinking the same thing when they stood and start shouting. Bob Schofield, seated on the stage exclaimed, “Oh my God they’re gonna shoot him” and ducked behind Mrs. Sparkman on the stage. With the hecklers removed, Mr. Kennedy finished his remarks, actually announcing his candidacy for the Presidential race for 1980, shook hands and departed to the next stop, a special lunch.

The special invitation only lunch was set up for Sen. Kennedy, his mother, Eunice Shriver, Sen. Sparkman and his wife, Mrs. Lillian Carter, and John D. Long, the Hartselle mayor. The guests had lunch prepared by Russell Priest, who was excited to have Sen. Kennedy enjoy his meal. The MCHS chorus sang and a few local people spoke. Mrs. Josephine Puckett was asked to speak about Sen. Sparkman as she was a classmate of his. She was unfamiliar with public speaking and promptly put the microphone to her ear (like a telephone) and began speaking. Someone immediately corrected her and she continued.

The night before, the FBI and Secret Service had “bomb swept” the entire Civic Center, HJHS gym and all of the route along Karl Prince Drive between the two venues. They brought bomb sniffing dogs and tore through the centerpiece floral arrangements that the Jaycees had paid for. Prior to the event, everyone in the venue had to have their names given to the FBI and full background checks were performed. If you were in the chorus in 1979, you have an FBI file.

Just as the whirlwind of reporters and campaign people arrived, they left. A vast amount of undercover work, planning, and effort by many Hartselle people, for one day of ceremony, then, gone.
This event showed me how powerful big government can be. With a phone call from the White House, heaven and earth could part. The FBI showed up in force, running laps around town every morning and
the U. S. Secret Service was an extremely thorough security detail, and not just the earpiece wearing guys around the President. These guys were dressed like Hartselle folks, shopped in our stores, and ate lunch in our town for weeks and we never knew they were there. Hartselle survived and quietly returned to normal, with a newly named Sparkman Civic Center to enjoy.

Mr. Sparkman passed away in Huntsville, AL, in 1985.

John Sparkman Day - Part 1 - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of 12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:

In the Sparkman Civic Center on Nance Ford Road, in Hartselle, AL, near the trophies of softball, baseball, and city league basketball teams of dynasties long ago, there is bronze bust of Senator John Sparkman. Senator Sparkman was from Hartselle and served in Congress from 1937 to 1979. Senator Sparkman had a mixed legacy, as he was influential in bringing the U.S. Army Missile Command to Huntsville, but he opposed racial integration in the 1950’s.
He was probably the most famous person, besides William Bradford Huie, to come from our humble town, and his retirement announcement in 1978 brought much discussion in Hartselle about how to honor our native son. My parents were in the Hartselle Jaycees at that time. The Jaycees agreed to ask the City Council for $500.00 for a bronze bust of the Senator for display in the Civic Center for which he had acquired the funds. The Council decided to name the Center for him while they were at it.
The City decided to hold John Sparkman Day and honor him with the naming ceremony and unveiling of a bust. That was it. The event was over a year away, so everyone had plenty of time for adequate preparation.

Few in Hartselle realized that 1979 was a major Presidential election year and the Carter Administration was getting weaker by the day. Not only the Republicans smelled “chum in the water”, but the Democrats, which Alabama and the rest of the south were identified with, had an open field of candidates, since the incumbent President was not polling well. One of these was Ted Kennedy. The South was a solid voting bloc, and the Kennedy’s were not very strong in Dixie. Ted Kennedy was allied with Senator Sparkman on many issues in Washington and had served in the Senate with him for many years. The Kennedy campaign saw an opportunity in Hartselle, to show solidarity with Sparkman, and gain Southern support at the same time. So it was now on. Ted Kennedy was coming to Hartselle on John Sparkman Day. Not only was he coming, he would announce his 1980 Presidential bid in Hartselle.

In response, the White House, not wanting to be slighted in Carter’s backyard, decided to send an emissary of their own. The President, being occupied with matters concerning the hostages in Iran and the fallout from the oil embargo from OPEC, could not attend, so he sent the only person that could identify with voters in Alabama, his mom. Lillian Carter was coming to Hartselle, Alabama.

The event spun wildly out of control at this point. As the big day came, no one noticed the new faces that were milling around Hartselle a few weeks prior to Sparkman Day. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Secret Service was in Hartselle at least three weeks prior to Sparkman Day that I personally know of. My parents were involved with other Jaycees and the City to plan and organize the now overwhelming maelstrom that was headed toward Morgan County. My Dad and Joe Berry worked for the government in the Department of Agriculture, and was told by their agency to work only on this Sparkman Day project on request of the White House. My Mom ran an office supply company in town and was deluged by Kennedy campaign folks. The Kennedy campaign staffers ran copies of the press releases and set up shop so late that Mom gave them a key and told them to lock up when they left at night.

Her vendors and salesmen that were coming to Hartselle off I-65 were stopped by the Secret Service up to two weeks prior to Sparkman Day and asked if they would be returning, what their business was in Hartselle, etc. I had to give up my bedroom and sleep in my brother’s room because the Secret Service kept someone at our house to work. A parade was organized, a presentation and speech at the Civic Center, and a special invitation only dinner, were planned for the day.

A friend of my parents, Larry Orr, worked at South Central Bell and was given covert orders by the Secret Service to run special telephone lines for the event, so that constant communication with Washington could be maintained. Larry’s supervisors didn’t even know what he was doing. Others were coordinated secretly in the same way for other special purposes.

Prior to the big day, my Mom got a call from an operative from the White House, asking for four Hartselle Police cars to meet Mrs. Carter’s motorcade at I-65 and escort her into town. Mom replied, “We only have three working police cars and they are all in the parade…” To which the caller responded, “where the hell is this place?.. Don’t’ worry, I’ll take care of it.” The Governor of Alabama was then contacted, and twenty Alabama Bureau of Investigation agents were dispatched immediately to Hartselle for Mrs. Carter’s escort.

Wrestling Night - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of 12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:

Back in 1985, while I was in high school, afternoon TV consisted of quality programming, unlike now. Instead of Jerry Springer, Maury, and Cops, we had Georgia Championship Wrestling. For younger readers, Georgia Championship Wrestling was the forerunner of today’s NWA and WWE.
Every afternoon, three or four bouts occurred on TV with promotions of locations where the next action would be. One day, in Fall of 1985, Hartselle, Alabama was the venue, and not just any low card fight, but the man, Tommy “Wildfire” Rich would be here to defend his title against his main adversary, Brad Armstrong.
Well, the fact that Hartselle, Alabama was even mentioned on TV was a big deal to the under 17 crowd. Our town was finally on the map. A big wrestling match was to take place here and this news was as big as the McDonalds’ grand opening a few years earlier. Not even Decatur could boast of an event of such magnitude.

One the day of the fight, a handful of HHS students (you know who you are) decided that we needed to go and see this spectacle. This was not an everyday thing, and we were not going to miss this opportunity. If not for the show itself, but to see who would show up to see it. We were not disappointed.

The doors of the Sparkman Civic Center opened an hour early to accommodate the throng that had swelled outside in the parking lot. If I recall, about four of us arrived together about that time, so we could get the special “ringside seats” that cost an additional two dollars each. For some reason, the two dollars was a problem for many who attended, as they were relegated to the yellow stacking chairs and fold-out bleachers against the back wall. The ring did not look like the ones on TV. A piece of canvas that looked like it doubled as someone's mainsail on a boat was tightly stretched across a steel frame, with angle steel “turnbuckles” rising from each corner. The “ring” ropes were actually garden hoses that were screwed together around the steel frame. They were green with a yellow stripe along them, and brass hardware on the ends. At this point we realized that were in for the lowest common denominator of sporting events.

Our fellow wrestling fans were from the working background many Hartselle residents were, and many from the County as well, had obviously been waiting for the big day. The police were there, as a precaution and thank goodness. A few had brought signs, not realizing that they would not be on TV as this was not a televised fight. A few others looked like they were hoping to be discovered and could have given the card fighters a good beating.

Show time arrives and the Civic Center lights dim except for one lone fixture above the ring. It is fight time, except that a fight in the audience breaks over some unrelated misunderstanding, and the lights are immediately re-ignited to get a stabbing sorted out. I imagine the wrestlers were probably used to this, but we weren’t. After the “stickin” was cleared up, twenty minutes later, the first fight begins, in the now fully illuminated auditorium. The first two fights were rather nondescript. The wrestlers were not well known and the crowd did not respond with much enthusiasm. A tag team match was next with some better-known fighters. These guys had actually been on TV, so the crowd starts to get animated. Slams into the canvas were matched with whoops and hollers of joy and frustration as the crowd was divided on their allegiance in the contest. The “referee” in the match was somehow ”distracted” by some protest by a member of one of the teams, while the other took advantage and abused his adversary with a move that was so illegal, that the entire crowd recognized it and began screaming and hollering at the “official”. It was now on. This was the frenzy we came to see and at that point got all our money’s worth of entertainment. The crowd became enraged at the lack of professionalism exhibited by the referee, and began to rush the ring shouting, spitting, screaming, and gesturing toward him. The seating arrangement was now a point in history of the event, as everyone was standing around the ring. The tag team fight was over, albeit by nefarious means, and the angry mob was on fire.

The only thing that could soothe the now raw nerves of the audience was the announcement of the main event. The promoter called his name, and the man everyone came to see, Tommy “Wildfire” Rich, emerged from the dressing rooms behind the stage, carrying his shiny, over-the-top, and ridiculously large Georgia Championship Belt high above his head. The crowd went into another frenzy, even more furious than before. Grown men were holding up their children to see this historical moment. Some women wept. It was both a happy and sad day for my hometown.

The antagonist of the show, Brad Armstrong, later emerged to boos and catcalls from the frenzied crowd. After several minutes of crowd cheering and booing, the fighters settled into their respective corners for pre-fight consultations with their pimp-like mangers fanning themselves with hundred dollar bills.
A bell from seemingly nowhere sounded and the main event was on. This wasn’t supposed to be much of a fight, as Tommy Wildfire Rich had defeated this opponent on TV a few weeks before, but the fight did not seem to go his way. Brad Armstrong tossed Tommy into the garden hose ropes many times. He flipped Tommy over and tossed him around (like they had obviously, previously rehearsed). The referee in this event, who looked a lot like one of the wrestlers on the early fight card, was in charge and almost slapped the canvas three times on Tommy. This was not looking good for the defending Championship belt holder. Tommy was tossed into the turnbuckle closest to us, seemingly out of strength and beaten within an inch of his life, a kindly looking, woman, that could be anyone’s grandmother, eased up to the side of the ring and began to cuss Tommy out like a sailor on a submarine. I am not sure if it was encouragement or just her opinion that she was giving, but during her tirade, her false teeth fell out and hit the floor of the Civic Center. Without missing a syllable, she scooped them back up, put them into her mouth and continued her cussing.

Tommy, apparently summoning the strength from the now screaming, out-of-control fans, begins to rise and slowly exact justice on the challenger. He turns the momentum of this event to a crescendo of violence toward Brad Armstrong that results in the three canvas slap signal from the official that the event is over and Tommy has successfully defended his ridiculously large shiny belt.
The crowd goes wild. Everyone is high-fiving each other, and completely satisfied that they got their money’s worth from this event. No one ever suspected that “the play’s the thing”. A big giveaway, that no one seemed to ask why, was that all of the wrestlers were now seated at the exit to the auditorium signing photographs of themselves for $10 each. Sitting next to each other, borrowing sharpies and making change, with the guy they were fighting for their life, a few moments earlier.

That was the last time I am aware that Hartselle had TV sponsored wrestling. Recently, we have had cage fighting and Bad Boy Boxing, but they usually involve locals fighting each other for a purse. It is still fun to see, and it sells so well, that the fire marshal is involved to maintain building capacity limits. But it will never match that night in 1985 when history was being made in our hometown.

Oh Canada! - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of 12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:


This really isn’t a story about Hartselle, but how a man from Hartselle got stuck in Windsor, Ontario, Canada last February.

Deep in the South, we see winter snow once every three or four years, if that much. If it does snow, we can only expect two or three inches, and then it melts away as quickly as it arrived. We do not play winter sports, like hockey, because ice is not for recreation, it is for sweet tea.

Last February, a pump manufacturer sent their salesman to our company to show us their range of products.
We design water and wastewater systems, so their lines were relevant to our interests. The company decided to send me and another engineer from Huntsville to Detroit, Michigan to see some water distribution equipment and see if we could use it in Alabama. This excursion was planned quickly and we departed the Huntsville airport in February. It was about 55 degrees when we left.
We flew across the central portion of our nation in rapid time, and saw breathtaking views of major midwestern cities.

As our flight droned on, I noticed the terrain looked like it had a sandy appearance. Upon closer inspection is was indeed, snow. Vast quantities of snow that someone like me had never seen. Covering farms, fields, cities, it was amazing to see. At this point I began to wonder if the jacket I had brought was going to be sufficient. I had good reason to worry when we landed, as the temperature was around 0, zip, nada.

We arrive in Detroit, and meet with the pump company officials. We all get into a van and drive away from the city, towards our first destination. After a nondescript inspection and much pointing and nodding at mundane pumps and apparatus, we depart for the next stop, which is over the international border into Windsor, Canada. As we drove along an interstate through the greater Detroit area, I see urban decay on a scale unimaginable. Block after block of abandoned, burned out houses and businesses. Not just two or three streets, but ten, twenty, as we raced by. Now, I know there are probably nice places in Detroit, but they have adequately hidden them from view of the route we took through the middle of the city. I think I saw a guy get killed, but that’s another story. A kind of shock overtakes you if you are not adequately conditioned for this scenery. Being from Hartselle, this was like being dropped on an alien planet.

We finally get to the international border with Canada, and our driver was Canadian, so we went right through the car lane into Ontario. Again, the scenery was a little different, as we crossed the Ambassador Bridge into what looked like a college campus on the Canadian side. I watched as the large ice floes, which looked like huge icebergs, floated rapidly along the Detroit River to the Great Lakes. You would never see this in the Tennessee River on any day, unless Hell had frozen over.

We ate lunch in a town that was the historical refuge for British loyalists fleeing the 13 colonies after we drove them out. We were apparently the entertainment for the locals, being asked to pronounce words in our Southern dialect that they enjoyed hearing. I noticed that the menu had something called Kentucky-style chicken. After a consultation with our waitress, and our explaining that we lived almost 100 miles south of Kentucky and had never heard of this, it was revealed that they meant “fried” chicken.

Lunch over, we saw some more pumps and controls, then began the drive back to the good old USA for our flight home. We approached the U.S. Border Patrol and Customs office, and were asked to produce our passports. Well, guess what none of us Americans had. A passport, as we did not know when we left that we would be crossing into another country.

Thinking this isn’t going to be a problem, I hand the officer my drivers license. Well this is a problem. A passport is needed to enter the United States she said, and I use “she” loosely, because, lets face it, women from the South are just easier on the eyes, so to speak. She got us out of the van and took us to an office, where we had to produce more identification or return to Canada until our passports could be MAILED to us, for us to enter the country. I asked again to the officer, would my valid Alabama Drivers License not be sufficient identification? To which I got a stern “No, you must have your passport to enter the country. We advertised this rule change on the radio, on billboards and TV for the last few months to let everyone know.” I replied, “Well, this just isn’t widely discussed in Alabama”.

Getting desperate, and seeing time slipping away from getting on the plane to come home, I went through my wallet searching for anything that would get me home. “Well, I’ve got a Drivers License, a Wheeler Basin Library Card, a Kroger Saver Card, and a valid Alabama Hunting and Fishing Combo License, any of that work for you?” I mean what terrorist is going to have these forms of I.D.? No, a passport only.
In total desperation, I said “Look ma’am, that’s all I’ve got. If these documents and our accent don’t convince you that we are Americans and rightfully belong in the USA, I’ve got a better deal. If you ever see my ass up here again, you can take that Glock 9mm out of your holster and shoot me right between the eyes.” She looked at us carefully and responded, “Welcome to the United States of America, citizens.”, and let us in. I knew that I was either going to jail in America or go back to Windsor, Canada, and both seemed about the same at the time. I never got the officer’s name, but I wanted to send her a fifth of Tennessee’s best whiskey for her discretion that day. I like to travel, but on that day in February, I just wanted to go home to Hartselle.

Henry Dotson - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of 12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:

My travels throughout the county allow me to meet many people. Some not so interesting, but on that rare occasion I run into someone with a really cool story. One of these was from Mr. Henry Dotson, I shall name, the Greatest Whuppin’ Story Ever Told.

Mr. Dotson lives in the southern part of Morgan County, within a stone’s throw of the Morgan-Cullman County line. At the time of our meeting, over a difficult land line between him and his adjoiner, he was at least 90 years old. He learned that I was from Hartselle, and proceeded to tell me this story, the Greatest Whuppin’ Story Ever Told….

Sometime in the late 1930’s early 1940’s, Hartselle was a major trading center for the residents of rural Morgan County. Falkville and Lacon, (yes it was actually a town at one time, and the pathways at Trade Day are actually platted streets where houses and businesses once stood) were waning and not very active. Everyone came to buy their dry goods in Hartselle. Mr. Dotson’s father had passed away sometime in his teens and he had to become the head of the household at an early age.
From accounts by others, Mr. Dotson was probably the strongest man in the County. Eyewitnesses to this day claim to have seen him lift and hold a blacksmith’s anvil at arm’s length for an impressive period of time. That is an incredible feat even for today’s steroid-induced WWE participants. Mr. Dotson had to work his family’s farm and eek out a living in the way most farm families in the day did. He had to grow up fast and had little time for fun.
One morning, his mother asked him to make their monthly trip to Hartselle to pick up the few things that a sustenance farm family needed to get them through the month. Things like coffee, sugar, flour, and various hardware that they could not manufacture themselves. Henry loaded up the family’s raggedy Model A Ford car and headed to town. When he got to town, he ran into a man whom he knew. He knew this man because his father and the mans’ father had a feud going on. Mr. Dotson would not identify the man, because as he said “they are still a prominent family in Hartselle”. Now, I don’t think Mr. Dotson had been to Hartselle in many years, as in at least 20, so I cannot imagine whom he was referring. Well, the man decided to settle the feud right then and there on the dirt Main Street of Hartselle.
To this day, Mr. Dotson could not remember what the feud was about, but someone’s honor was disparaged, so a fight was about to commence. Henry thought about what was about to happen and decided “to take a beatin’” because he was in their family’s only vehicle, and they had no money to come get him and bail him from the Hartselle Jail. Mr. Dotson got a pretty good whuppin’ on Main Street in Hartselle for everyone to see. He didn’t fight back, and took a pretty thorough beating. Afterwards, he picked himself up, patted off the red clay dust in his overalls from the Hartselle street, and went to the police station. He asked the chief and sole policeman what the amount was for a fine for fighting in the street. Apparently at this time, this situation came up often enough that City Council action had been taken and an Ordinance had been passed. Henry learned that he fine was $25.00, a fortune to someone of his limited means.

Henry returned to the farm with his goods and spoke no more about what had happened in town, so as not to worry his aged mother. He did, however, get a second job at the nearby sawmill, loading logs into the breech of the planing saw. He worked his family’s farm from sun up to dusk, providing as before, but worked at the sawmill in the evenings for twenty-five cents per day. Sawmill work was not easy, and over the course of the summer and early fall, he had built himself up to be a physically large and powerful man.
All the while, keeping his home responsibilities.

He saved up the $25 he needed and returned to Hartselle, later that year for the normally scheduled dry goods retrieval. He walked down Main Street and sure enough, found the man who had fought him earlier. Mr. Dotson said that the man did not recognize him at first, because Henry’s physique was remarkably different than before. Sort of a Charles Atlas bodybuilding course that had gone too long. Henry called him out and laid the greatest whipping on him that the folks in Hartselle had ever seen. The man’s brothers apparently came out to jump Henry, so he whipped them, too. An Old Testament beatdown, like never seen before or since.
After the punishment had all been handed out, Henry went to the police department and slapped his $25 on the counter to pay his fine. The kindly police chief told him that the man “had one coming” and to keep his money. Henry bought his goods, and with some of his new wealth, a new washtub and board for his Mom, and returned home to the farm.

Only in Hartselle can you get the Greatest Whuppin’ Story Ever Told. I cannot image what the recipient of this was going through. His friends telling him, “Hey, Henry’s coming to beat you up, but he’s got to save up first!”