A July 5 Visit With Dad

A July 5 Visit With Dad

It was Tuesday, the 5th of July. All the parades, fireworks and veteran services were over. I thought this had been an exceptional year for celebrating the fourth. This has always been one of my favorite holidays, but this year I was a little late in carrying out one of my annual traditions.

      My very first novel, Bertha, had arrived on July 1st and it was doing pretty good among face book friends and those that follow my column. I had several meetings at the history museum with folks wanting copies and I dropped off a box with Pat at the library.

      I was a little overwhelmed to say the least. The book had been a two year struggle and now it was a reality. We were holding out on releasing it to the gift and book stores until after the first signing which had been scheduled for July 16th.  We wanted to have a launch party at the Museum, but had released the book on-line for those who had eagerly anticipated its arrival.

     After the delivery and meetings had taken place, I eased my car into East View cemetery, parked and got out. I usually try to make this trip around the fourth to pay my respects to the man buried there. I have written several columns about my mother dying on Mother’s day when I was fifteen. However, I have not written on her husband, my father. Next to their graves is another plot which has a raised wall, just the right place for me to sit for a few minutes.

     Harry Ragland was a complex, multi-faceted individual. He was extremely intelligent. Years of reading had created a self educated man. But from the time I was old enough to know him, he had to fight the demons that lived in the whiskey bottle. He was an Alcoholic, and he knew it. It wasn’t that he wanted to be one, or even liked the taste of the stuff. In fact he tried over and over to quit and stay quit. He was never able to accomplish that feat. Alcoholics Anonymous kept him sober for almost two years one time. And he had lasted many times for six or eight months without a drink. But he always failed in the end.

     He was not a chronic Alcoholic. He was not the guy who drinks every day or gets soused on week-ends. He was what AA called a periodic Alcoholic. He would go weeks or months without a drink and then fall off the wagon. And when he did, he drank and drank. He wouldn’t eat anything or even touch water. Sometimes these bouts would last for as long as two weeks. At times it almost killed him. Then, he’d sober up and hunt a job.  He always got fired for staying out of work so long.

     He was a textile worker and loved working at Lindale. But they’d fire him nevertheless and he’d go to work for another Cotton Mill somewhere in North Georgia. He was a loom fixer, and a good one. And all the Mills knew he was good at his job. They also knew they’d get somewhere between three and six months of premium work before he pitched another drunk. They hired him time after time hoping he’d stay quit. I think he held the record for being hired at Lindale.

     Dad was born in Chattooga County, Georgia in 1915. His family moved to the little cotton mill village of Lindale when the Boll Weevil destroyed their farm. They were forced to become mill hands to survive.

     Harry finished the eighth grade. That was as far as the Lindale school system went at the time. He asked his mother if he could repeat the grade, he didn’t want to quit school, and she agreed. But after that he went into the mill. Working in the weave shop where he soon learned the trade of a weaver.  He often told me that he loved his job. To him it was better than farming.

     He met my mother at a dance at the Hearn Academy in Cave Spring sometimes in the late thirties. They were married on March 1, 1940. At that time he was not bad to drink. My mother would have never tolerated it.

     Then Pearl Harbor was attacked. He had five older sisters. Sister number two’s husband had been a doughboy in World War I. He had often told my father and his brother that if this country ever goes to war again, join the Navy.  Don’t get stuck in a trench and live in the mud. That’s exactly what he did.

     Dad enlisted in January of 1942. He was one of the first from Rome and Floyd County to enter the military. I have an article somewhere of him and others marching up Broad Street heading for the Induction center in Atlanta. He attended Boot Camp in Norfolk Virginia and then went to Radioman school in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. After that he went to sea on an old World War I destroyer that was to provide protection for convoys heading to Europe.

     He very seldom spoke of this part of his service until he had downed a few drinks and I prompted him. He said that in the summer of 1942 the German U-Boats were waiting for them off the coast of the U.S. The first convoy that he escorted started losing ships almost in sight of the Statue of Liberty. The crossing to England lit up the night sky with ships on fire. He said the burning ships looked like street lights as far as one could see. And his destroyer and others would pound the subs, or where they thought they were, with Depth Charges. This went on day and night.

     He told me that the part that bothered him most was the fact there were sailors and merchant seamen in the water drowning and screaming for help. Others were being burned alive in sinking ships and from the oil that was burning in the water, and he couldn’t stop and help, because to do so would have been certain death. Half the convoy would be lost before they got to England. They would re-supply their ship and escort basically a convoy of empty ships back to the U.S.  While in England or a United States port waiting for the next convoy, he and many of the crew would stay soused. They knew what was coming.

     On one crossing, he said they caught a German U-Boat on the surface and rammed it hard as it was diving. He thinks it was cut in half. There was a lot of garbage and dead bodies floating around and his ship suffered some severe damage. They were repaired in England and the War continued. By the summer of 1944, the U-Boat presence had been reduced greatly. They were now getting most of the convoys across without losing to many of their ships.

     Dad went to Lindale on leave sometime in September of 1944 and when returning to New York he missed a train connection and arrived a day late. His ship had sailed without him. Expecting the worse he reported in and explained what happened. Rather than getting in trouble he was assigned to the USS Anthedon—A Submarine Tender.  He was in heaven. It had a library, barber shop and all around better, cleaner and modern living facilities than the old destroyer.

      He got to go through the Panama Canal and went to Perth, Australia where they outfitted American Submarines that was wreaking havoc on Japanese shipping. He was enjoying his new home until they sailed up to the Philippines and some of the adjoining islands. He was in the vicinity of a little island called Okinawa when Japanese airplanes started diving at them. He couldn’t believe his luck. He’d lived through the German submarine offensive and now had to deal with Japanese Kamikazes. He was really scared. The Anthedon was nothing more than a big floating gas tank. If one plane hit it, there would be no purple hearts here.

     When the war ended he had enough points to be one of the first out. But he caught Malaria in Manila and stayed in a VA hospital for nearly a year in Jacksonville Florida.

     He eventually made it back to Lindale. Went to school at night to finish High School and took a correspondence course on fixing looms.

     All the time at sea he read everything he could get his hands on.  When I was just a youngster he told me the story of Ulysses and the Trojan War and his trip back to his home on Ithaca. He was well versed in Shakespeare and all the old Greeks. I got his and my mother’s desire for reading, and their love of books.

     I had just made Captain on the Police Department and was working a second job parking cars at a local country club. It was near midnight when my wife pulled up. Dad had been living with an older sister in Lindale for years. My wife had received a call from my aunt which said she found him lying in the floor in his bedroom. I wondered if he was he drunk. I had just spoken to him earlier in the day and he wasn’t.

     Dad was a baseball fan, he took me to Textile league games when I was five or six years old until that league finally folded up. He loved to listen to the Atlanta Braves on the radio. His sister said every night he would go to his room around eight. He would listen to the game then get up for a drink of water. This night he didn’t get up. She went to check on him and he had never made it to the radio, it wasn’t on.

     The doctors said he had a Cerebral Hemorrhage.  He had High blood. I looked at the quart jar of pills the VA sent him and they hadn’t been opened. He complained that they made him feel bad. He was sixty three years old that night in June.

     Dad was forty-six when my mother died. He and I lived together for the next two years until I entered the Navy myself. He never re-married and as far as I know never even came close. He truly was a one woman man. For the next seventeen years he lived a lonely life. He loved my daughter, but I didn’t take her to his house nearly as much as I should have. And she loved him too.

     You see, in the back of my mind it was always the alcohol. Growing up I could never have friends over, you didn’t know what was coming home. Children of Alcoholic parents are a special breed. They’re denied a very integral part of childhood. I envied my friends that had parents that didn’t drink or could at least control it. My early life was arranged around his Alcoholism, and I hated it. And when I got out of the navy, I didn’t come around Dad near as much as I should have. And now I regret it. This is the one thing I wish I could change.

     Yes, I drank my share in the service and after as well. I’ve often said that I know I paid for one of those Budweiser horses and I want it. But in the back of my mind was the saga of my father. I couldn’t live with it any longer. So I gave it up.

     He died on June 29th 1979. He loved all Veterans services and especially his American Legion post in Lindale. He kept my dues paid up for years, and I didn’t even know it. The fourth of July was a special time for him. He loved the flag waving and patriotic venues. He also loved the barbecues and being around his friends from Lindale who had also served.

     I got off my resting place. And once again read the foot stone the Government sent stating he was a World War II Veteran.

     I took the little American flag, stuck it next to his head stone, and said “Happy fourth of July Sailor. Rest in Peace. I’ll see you shortly.”

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When I Get Old-A short story.

Someday When I Get Old

  A couple of weeks ago, after volunteering at the museum I walked down to the end of Broad Street. After feasting on a Chicago dog at Roger’s hot dog stand I was nearly back to where my car was parked when I saw this old man sitting on one of the benches at the corner of the block. He had to be at least eighty and was talking to a nicely dressed young man sitting next to him.

I sat down beside him to talk

I sat down beside him to talk

     As I got nearly even with them the old man lit a cigarette and the young man got up and walked away. Now my church does a street mission program and I have gotten familiar with a lot of the street people in town. But I didn’t recognize this fellow. He had on a crumpled up shirt, a pair of dark colored pants that appeared to be clean with some built in stains. He hadn’t shaved for a week or two and wore no socks with his worn out shoes. And lastly he was wearing a baseball cap of some kind that was so faded you couldn’t read anything, but it looked like it might have been green at one time.

     I thought to myself, oh boy, I’m going to get me a couple of good stories right here. You see I’m a sucker for old people, especially old men that have been around the mountain a few times. They all have good tales of life and lost loves with experiences to back them up. That’s exactly the kind of stories that I want to be able to tell when I get to be an old man.

    I sat down and attempted to strike up a conversation with the old fellow.

     “Need any help?” I asked.

     “Help?” he asked back. “I need my granddaughter to come and get me. I don’t want to sit here all day.”

     I thought to myself. Yep, when I get to be an old man I’ll be as stubborn as I want to be and won’t listen to anybody.

     He turned, looked at me and said. “Did you see that fellow that just left?”

     “Well I just asked him what time it was and he got up and left. He had an ear-bob in his ear. Never trust a man with an ear-bob in his ear.”

     And when I get old, I thought, I ain’t gonna trust nobody that ain’t at least sixty-five.

     I finally asked if he had any family other than the granddaughter he was waiting for.

     “I had a whole house full of young’uns. My wife died over thirty-five years ago and I raised them all. Course they’re gone now.”

     “So you never remarried?” I asked.

     “When you got a house full of kids to raise, you ain’t got time to hunt for a woman,” he replied. “Look mister,” he said, “I just come to town to straighten out the mess the VA has made of my check “I don’t drink. I don’t need much to live on. Women’s what takes yore money, without them it ain’t to hard to get by.”

     Finally I got him on a roll. He told me all about his children, the ones that had been successful and the ones who hadn’t. The ones who were having problems with alcohol and the ones who lived with him but left cause he played a lot of preaching on the TV.

     His granddaughter pulled up and hollered. “Get in grand-paw we’re going to be late.”

  He gave me a wave as he got in the car. I noticed he had a big smile on his face.

     I sat there reflecting on what he had just told me. I doubted if I could get a story out of it, but I sure did envy him. I kept thinking, he doesn’t care what anybody thinks, says what he wants to, and can be a stubborn old coot. The wrinkled shirt and baggy pants, shoes with no laces and feet with no socks also gave me the impression that dress was not a factor in his life.

     I was basking in the sun when I was startled by a car horn. I think I might have actually dosed off and jumped a bit when the horn sounded. I looked up and there was my daughter and granddaughter sitting in her car at the traffic light. My granddaughter was frantically waving for me to come to the car. As I approached the car they both started yelling for me to get in. I crawled in the back seat and they pulled off.

     “What’s up?” I asked as we headed down Broad.

     “What are you doing?” my daughter asked.

     “Not much” I replied. “Just got off at the museum and was headed for my car at the parking deck. Why do you ask?”

     “How long have you been sitting there?” my granddaughter asked.

     “Didn’t time it,” I said. I was beginning to get skeptical at this line of questioning. And I once again asked why.

     “Grandpa,” said my granddaughter. “You’re sitting out here on the street looking like that. You’re lucky some church group didn’t offer you a personal hygiene bag. And half the people in this town know who you are. What do you think was going thru their minds when they saw you sitting here?”

     “Bekki,” I said to my daughter. “What’s she talking about?”

     “Daddy, you’re wearing men’s shorts that look like they were wadded up in a ball and then you put them on, and the shirt you’re wearing is frayed and faded and probably has a hole in it somewhere. And when’s the last time you were at a barber shop to get your beard trimmed and shaped?”

     “Is that all?” I asked. “Where ya’ll going anyway?”

     “We’re going to the mall,” my daughter said. “Where are you parked?”

     “I’m in no hurry,” I said. “I believe I’ll go with ya’ll.”

      “No you won’t,” my granddaughter said. “We’re going to get something to eat first. And you’ve already eaten.”

     “How do you know that?” I asked.

     “Cause part of it is still on your shirt. It looks like mustard.”

     I always do that I thought. I tried to get it off and then forgot about it.

     “And grandpa,” she continued, “You have several pairs of nice tennis shoes and dress shoes. Why do you insist on wearing those Jerusalem cruisers with no socks when you go to the museum?”

     “Jurusa what?” I asked.

     “Sandals, Daddy,” my daughter answered.

     “Well for one thing they’re comfortable and I like ‘em.”

     “And would it be too much trouble to get rid of that old faded out Alabama hat.”

     “I’m not going to get rid of my hat,” I said. Then I added a “Roll Tide” just for good measure.

     “Well could you at least get another one. Maybe a white one, so when it got dirty even you could tell it.”

     “Grandpa,” Mattie said. “You can go with us if you really want to, but at the mall would you remain in the car.”

     “Nah, I’m going to walk real close to you and tell everybody you’re my baby girl.”

     “Mama,” she said.

     “He’s just being stubborn like always,” my daughter said with a smile on her face.

     They took me back to my car. When I got home I told my wife about all that had transpired.

     She thought it was funny. I knew she would.

     I sat on my back porch this past week-end remembering the old man.  I wish I had gotten his name.

      ‘Cause when I get to be an old man I’m going to act the same way.

     “Martha, is John Hagee on yet?”

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Snippets from Bertha–An upcoming book by Mike Ragland

Snippets from Bertha

About a month ago I published a blog on my upcoming book. It’s at the printers now and I can hardly await its arrival.  I feel somewhat like an expectant father, and I’ve been there and done that.

At my age I chose to self-publish “Bertha” which is my first book. I didn’t figure I had two or three years to waste playing games with agents and publishing houses. My main goal was to save the story from being lost to the future. It was a story that galvanized the community for nearly two years. Folks were waiting at their door for the Newspaper to run so they could see what happened next.

It could have happened in any small Southern town, and most likely many had their own form of Bertha, or traumatic incident. I simply chose to set this one in the community from which it happened.

Now back to the blog from a month ago. I had a lot of hits on that story, and a lot of e-mails. I didn’t have a single comment that didn’t like the entry. But I did have many requests for an additional tease.  The established standard says don’t publish excerpts or snippets from an upcoming book, but I’ve never been real good at playing by the rules, so I shall honor that request. And I’m going to throw some photos from the book at you also.

Please remember these snippets are from a draft that was corrected many, many times. I simply do not have the finished PDF in front of me.

Frank Russell, lead investigator in the Bertha Hill case

Frank Russell, lead investigator in the Bertha Hill case

Frank Russell the chief Deputy Sheriff has walked downBroad Streetto get a bite to eat. He’s in deep thought about the day’s event and he fails to see the owner of the Restaurant—Joe Adams –slide into the booth next to him.  Joe like frank had at one time been a Rome Police Officer.  After they exchange greetings Frank begins to ask his friend about Leroy Hill and his habits.

“Slow down pard,” Joe said. “Yeah, Leroy drank a lot. But he didn’t get falling down drunk like some of my customers do.

“I really run a restaurant, and sell beer. I don’t actually run a tavern like some of the other folks do. There is still a good bit of drinking that goes on, but most of them old boys were familiar with my police background and they don’t drink too much here.

“I guess I failed to mention that most of the crowd that Leroy drew was either women, or guys looking for women. Leroy was one good looking man, at least that’s what the women seemed to think. And it must be true, because he always had one with him that usually picked up his tab.  If Leroy had a problem, it was money and women. He always had too little of one and too much of the other.”

Leroy Hill, dressed for the ladies.

Leroy Hill, dressed for the ladies.

After the first day’s initial investigation, Frank knows he’s got some problems. He ends the first day lying in bed and going over the day’s events, and dwelling on what’s coming.

“Frank didn’t waste any time getting to bed. He lay there in the dark, looking to where he knew the ceiling was. As tired as he was, he couldn’t sleep. His mind was running wide open. What have I missed? What have I missed? He kept repeating over and over to himself. Those eyes and that smile-or was it a smile?

Finally rest, sleep, peaceful sleep once again conquered his accelerated mind, and slowly but surely, turned everything black.”

 The next day after the body had been sent to Jennings funeral home an autopsy was performed there.  Frank was required to testify before a coroner’s jury, so his partner, Deputy Harry Davis attended his first autopsy. Frank got there as fast as he could but it was basically over when he arrived. He picked Harry up and they started toward the jail.

“What’s the matter buddy, you look a little pale,” Frank said trying to sound sincere.

“Frank,” Harry said. “That doctor pulled Leroy’s fingernails and toe nails off. Not all of them but some on each hand and foot. Then he cut him open. He started picking up his insides. He would hold each piece up and announce what it was so that one of them funeral home guys could write it down. He’d just turn it over and over, poke on it some and then put it in a bag. I know that he took samples of stomach, liver, kidneys, and intestines and then he got hair samples. It was awful, just awful.”

“Guess I owe you one Harry,” Frank said as he stopped for a light onBroad St.

“You’re mighty right you do,” Harry said. “And it ain’t gonna be cheap either.”

“Wouldn’t want it to be,” Frank said. “Tell you what I’m gonna do. I got a call this morning before I went to the Sheriff’s meeting from Chief Wood Quarles at the Rome P.D. He said that they was having a supper this Friday night at a cabin down near the lock and dam and he wanted me to come. He said I could bring a deputy or two with me. I think the Sheriff will be there, too.”

“Frank, I ain’t feeling real good. Don’t want to talk about food right now.”

“Well, I gotta let them know Harry. And Joe Adams is doing the cooking. Gonna be a big chitlin supper. I know how you love chitlins. I can remember watching you eat a hog gut a mile long-and you know Joe. He boils them first. A lot of cooks don’t. I ain’t crazy about the smell of boiling hog guts. But after he gets them good and tender he cuts them up in six inch pieces and fries them good and brown. They’re great, unless you get a kernel of corn that didn’t pass through. But you know that Joe takes his hog guts when they’re fresh and cleans them real good. They’re creek flung and stump whupped.”

“Stop the car Frank,” Harry said in a crisp harsh voice.

“Harry, you all right? You’re kinda turning green around the hair line buddy,” Frank taunted.

“Stop the car Frank,” Harry said again.

Frank and Harry were waiting for Bertha in the Greystone Hotel and made the arrest when she came to meet Leroy’s mother who had just arrived from North Carolina. They guided her out of the Hotel into the waiting patrol car.

“Bertha could feel her heart beating all over her body. It seemed it was in her throat preventing her from speaking. She thought for a minute that it would choke her to death or that she would pass out.”

Once she arrived at the jail, she was booked in and made the trip to the second floor and was placed in a cell.

“Bertha eased into the cell. There were four bunks. The light was not too bright, and it took a few minutes for her eyes to adjust. The two bottom bunks were occupied and there was another woman stretched out on one of the top bunks. Bertha realized that she didn’t have a place to sit. She could hear the jailer as he walked down the corridor and slammed the steel hallway door. She turned her back to the women in the cell, grabbed the bars and sobbed uncontrollably.”

Criminal defense Attorney Mack Hicks had just been appointed to defend Bertha, and he was very unhappy about it. It was a Friday afternoon and he just wanted to go to his club and have a few shots of bourbon whiskey.

Bertha Hill in court with her defense team.

Bertha Hill in court with her defense team.

“But no, I’ve been appointed to defend this female cracker for poisoning her whole damn family. This case had the necessary ingredients to ruin his career, or at least cause it grievous harm.”

     He entered the jail and asked to see his client. She was ushered into the small interview room where Mack was waiting.

“She stood behind her chair and let her eyes settle on the man looking up at her. Their eyes locked in contact, and neither looked away for several seconds.”

“Mack looked the woman over from head to toe and thought to himself, not bad, I’ve seen a lot of good looking women in my life and this one is better than average. And she had something. Mack could spot that immediately, although he didn’t know what.

She’s about five foot seven he thought, and just a little heavy. But she has a good build. Not fat at all but would probably go a hundred forty pounds coming out of the bathtub. He had always considered himself a connoisseur of fine female flesh and this girl was grade A.

“Five foot eight,” She said without moving her eyes. “And I’d probably go about one thirty five or thirty eight right about now. I fill up a thirty eight C but can’t handle a D. I’ve been here almost two months and know I lost a little. Do I pass?”

“How’d she do that? She read my thoughts right down to the letter.

“Oh yeah, I think you do,” Mack said indicating for Bertha to take a chair.

  Bertha was in the small waiting room the morning her trial started.

Standing room only for the Bertha Hill trial in Rome, Georgia

Standing room only for the Bertha Hill trial in Rome, Georgia

“How many people are out there Mack?” she asked.

“I’m not gonna lie to you Bertha, the courtroom is packed.”

“Oh Lord,” she said. “They’ve come to see me fed to the lions.”


Bertha was deathly afraid of going to the electric chair.

“Look Bertha, you’ve got to get over this thing about the electric chair,” Mack said. “Nobody’s gonna put you in the chair.”

“How do you know Mack?”

“Cause they don’t put women in the chair. That’s how.”

“Oh yeah,” Bertha said as her anger became evident. “Then why don’t you tell me about Lena Baker. They damn sure put her in the chair last year and she’s as dead as a doornail.”

“Ok Bertha let me rephrase that. They don’t put white women in the chair.”

“Mack you think she didn’t feel it cause she’s colored? The woman had three kids. She was drinking with a white man that she worked for and was seeing on the side. She said they got into an argument and he pulled a gun, while they were wrestling it went off and hit him in the head.

Does that sound like an electric chair case to you? She faced an all white male jury and you see what she got. Now I’ve got to go out there and face the same kind of jury that thinks I killed my Mama and Papa along with Leroy. And you tell me not to worry.”

  I hope you enjoyed some of the “snippets” from Bertha. I’m told that it will be ready for order by July 1st.  Our first endeavor is to have a launch Party at the Rome Area History Museum on the first Saturday that we can. We hope to have a Bertha window up at the museum soon with news clippings, photo’s, articles from Detective Magazines, and a quilt top she made while in jail.

     We chose to have our party at the Museum because during the War it was McClellan’s five and dime, where Bertha worked when the sky fell in on her. Some say she’s still there.

Mike Ragland.

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How I became a Beatle’s Fan


  In 1965, I had been in the Navy for two years.  After boot camp I was ordered to submarine school in New London, Connecticut.   After twelve weeks in the frozen tundra of New England, I was assigned to the U.S.S. Chopper (SS-342) which was home ported in Key West, Florida.  The next eighteen months we were in Cuba, all over the Caribbean and up the Atlantic seaboard.  Now it was the middle of summer and we were in the Mediterranean Sea attached to the Sixth Fleet.  We had stopped at Portugal, Spain, Italy, and France and were now pulling in to Malta. 

USS Chopper heading into Malta

USS Chopper heading into Malta

     This little island of Malta is strategically located almost dead center of the Mediterranean and everybody had occupied it at one time or another. The Apostle Paul was shipwrecked here in the 1st century and was bitten by a poisonous snake.  The Turks invaded in the 1500’s and the Germans bombed it to smithereens during the early days of World War II.

         But, in 1965 it was a British naval base.  As we came into Valetta, Malta, there were several British frigates and one carrier already in port.  Since the British and Americans were the closest of buddies we were cordially invited to their enlisted men’s club.  We were told that they had American burgers and fries plus your favorite German beverage which came in barrels and all of it was CHEAP!  Cheap is always good for the American sailor.  That’s when quality gives way for quantity.  But if you can get both for less money it is a win-win situation.

     When we left the states all of the radio stations were locked in to Beatle music.  They had seven songs in the top ten.  That’s all you could hear.  We HATED the Beatles.  Besides, they needed haircuts.  Everyone knew that real men wore flat tops or crew cuts!!  These guys looked like somebody had put Granny’s mashed tater bowl on their heads and trimmed the hair around it!  Yep, we hated them.  But, all the girls loved them!  You know who else loved them?? BRITISH SAILORS! 

     The Enlisted Men’s Club was huge.  It had fifty to seventy five tables that seated from six to eight each.  And, it was full.  We got a table right smack in the middle.  Got a food order in, settled back and began to tell war stories.  This place was LOUD!  Three to four hundred people talking as loud as they could (German beverages have a way of affecting one’s hearing, even being the cause of temporary deafness or acute bouts of hearing difficulties).  The juke box was wired to large speakers in the ceiling and was blaring “I want to hold your hand” and “love, love me do” or any number of other songs by the Lads from Liverpool.  The British sailors were nice to us and as I stated earlier, we were friend and allies.  Oh, I knew a long time ago we had a couple of misunderstandings, one in the late 1700’s and then again in 1812.  But that was water under the bridge.  Hadn’t we stood toe to toe and beaten the Germans twice, and now we were holding off Russian expansion, while our boys in Viet Nam were preventing the domino effect from taking place.

     One of the members of our group had gone to the juke box to play anything besides Beatle music.  His name was Morgan and he was from somewhere close to Mobile.  He wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he liked country music.  He had dropped his coin in probably a half hour before the selection came up. When it started my heart skipped a few beats and THEN STOPPED!  I looked at my shipmate and thought “What have you done??”  It was a Johnny Horton song.  Johnny had been tragically killed while at the top of his career and many of his songs had crossed over to pop and rock charts, and were loved and respected by all.  One song was titled “Sink the Bismarck” which glorified the British navy’s hunt and destruction of Germany’s huge battleship.  The other Johnny Horton song, which I don’t believe got a lot of playing time here was just coming on.  It went something like this:

    “In 1814 we took a little trip

 Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip

     We took a little bacon and we took a little beans

     And we caught the bloody British in a town called New Orleans”

 The music was blaring, but the vocal chatter was starting to subside.  My friends and I were very quiet, except for Morgan, who was singing at the top of his lungs and directing the music!

     “Well we looked down the river and we seed the British come

       they must have been a hundred of them beating on the drum

       they stepped so high and made their bugles ring

      we sat beside our cotton bales and didn’t say a thing.”

   You got that right!  We didn’t say a thing, except for Morgan and I sure would have liked to been behind a cotton bale right about then.

     “We fired out guns and the British kept a coming

       wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago

      we fired once more and they began a running

      down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.”

   It was deathly quiet except for that jukebox.  And then came the part I dreaded most.  Johnny Horton goes up an octave and literally growls the next verse:

     “They ran thru the briars and they ran thru the brambles

     and they ran thru the bushes where a rabbit couldn’t go

     they ran so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch them

     down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.”

   Chairs start sliding back and this little Tommy walks over to our table and says, “Are you Yanks trying to insult us?”  Morgan replied, “It’s on YOUR jukebox!”  That remark caught him by surprise, so he says “Well I think that is an affront to the Queen.”  Morgan then tells him where the Queen can go (it’s real hot there!).  The rest of us panic as more chairs begin to slide.  I thought they were going to just beat our eyes out but the little Tommy says, “What if I said that about President Johnson?”  Morgan’s response was “You wouldn’t have to send Johnson, he is on the way regardless.  But, if you’ll hold him, I’ll pack him a lunch and maybe we can hurry him along!”  This amused our British host and at about the same time the Beatles came blaring back thru the speakers with “She Was Just Seventeen”.  I thought we might survive after all!  Shortly, we eased out of there one by one, all except Morgan, and we left him.

We proudly wore the Chopper insignia

We proudly wore the Chopper insignia

     The next day Morgan comes back to the boat (submarines are called boats) and the little British Tommy is with him.  They are like joined at the hip!  He tours our boat, then takes Morgan to his ship where Morgan tells us later that he ate dinner with them and got to drink some grog. We really are fast friends with the British military, I thought.  But that one night I felt like John, Paul, Ringo, and George had intervened and stopped a homicide.  MINE.  I’ve loved them ever since!!

Mike Ragland

Cave Spring, Georgia    

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The upcoming book BERTHA by Mike Ragland


Cover picture for BERTHA by Mike Ragland

Cover picture for BERTHA by Mike Ragland

  I opened this blog on March fifth. Since then I’ve been blessed with positive comments on each and every one that has been published. And I do thank you for that. Most of the things I write are Southern Humor and History. All of the first four had been designed to be humorous. The last one was a historicalpiece. And it was well received.

     A friend asked if I would do a Civil War story after listening to me on a local radio show discussing the start of that War. I took his advice, and that blog is now archived and we’re ready for something else.

     The same friend knows that I’ve been researching and writing my first novel for the last two years.

      Oh, I have written News paper columns for almost four years and have short stories in several nostalgia based books. But believe me it’s a lot different putting a 100,000 word book together, especially if you’ve never done one. Now the thing is destined to come out at anytime. And I must admit it’s an anxious moment.

     Anyway he asked me to do the next blog on the book, and fill him in on what it’s about. I’ve thought about that all week—everything I find on the net says don’t do chapters of your upcoming book—you’ve nothing to gain—and you might lose some sales.

     I’ve thought about that also. But you see, I didn’t write it to make a lot of money. Now I don’t want to lose any, I’d certainly like to get my investment back. But the motivation for the book was that I don’t want the story to be forgotten. And it almost was.

     So I’ve decided to do a synopsis. I’ve broken rules all my life, and I’ve made it this far. Can’t teach an old dog any new tricks this far in the game. So here goes.

     Her name is Bertha Gossett Hill—she was born in 1918 in Cherokee County Alabama. Actually her maiden name was Hardin, but she married Neal Gossett at age fifteen. She survived the depression like everybody else, by scratching out a living anyway she could.

      In 1940 she moved to Rome, Georgia and got her first job ever in a local dime store. She worked there all during World War II and had been promoted to floor manager by the time it ended.

     She had separated from Neal years ago, but had not divorced. Then she met the good looking, hard drinking, hard partying Leroy Hill at a New Years Eve dance. After a whirl wind romance she divorced Neal and married Leroy in July of 1945.

      Both of her parents who lived with Bertha died four months apart the same year. Then in February 1946, Leroy became ill and died three days later.

     The Floyd County Health Commissioner was curious about why a 28 year old man would refuse to go to a Doctor and just lie in a bed and die. He asked the Sheriff’s Department to check out the death. Sheriff Mark Horton assigned the investigation to his Chief Deputy Frank Russell and the saga of Bertha Hill begins.

     I have enclosed just a touch of an un-edited version that I hope gives you an idea what it’s about. Please remember—Bertha was a charmer—she wrapped men around her little finger. I had some of her friends and relatives tell me that she was the nicest person you ever met—others would disagree. She was educated far beyond what she had received in a classroom. She never played on a level playing field if she could help it.

           Leroy Hill was dead! Ollie Watkins looked at the still figure and thought to herself. What’s happened here? He wasn’t but twenty-eight years old. Nobody should die like this. Even in death his vacant eyes seemed to have a confused look. Ollie had watched her parents die, peacefully, nothing like this.

     My Lord, she thought, Leroy was a mess. The bed was filthy, but they couldn’t change it while he was alive. Ollie let her mind wander back over the past three days as she relived them once again.

     Leroy had vomited almost continuously, and screamed in pain if you touched him.  For awhile he said that his legs were paralyzed. But they weren’t. He couldn’t keep them still and was rolling all over the bed. He kept complaining about stuff around the heart and how he needed to vomit to get it out. His wife Bertha had given him salt and soda water to make him throw up.

     Mrs. Watkins thought “Lordy it’s been a long time since Monday.” That was the night she sent for her daughter Missy, to help tend to the sick man. Missy had stayed for a couple of hours Monday night. Both of them returned Tuesday and spent the night trying to give Bertha a little rest. They comforted Leroy as best they could by placing wet towels on his forehead and talking to him.

     Missy had asked Bertha if she wanted to go and get a doctor, but Bertha said no, Leroy had been in the hospital several times in the last two months and the doctors had said there was nothing else they could do for him. She had given him a capsule, which he threw up. Then she gave him some liquid medicine in a glass and he asked what it was. Bertha replied that she didn’t know, but it was one of his prescriptions. Leroy had said not to give him anymore because it burned him to bad.

     On Wednesday night he told Ollie and Missy to take him to the hospital at daylight and get Doctor McCall to open him up and see what was around his heart and get it out. He hadn’t lived till morning. Ollie glanced at the mantle clock when he died. It was two A.M. Thursday, February 14th.

     Ollie looked over to Bertha, who was sitting quietly in a chair with a strange look on her face.

     “He’s gone Bertha,” she said with a lump in her throat.

     “I know Mrs. Watkins,” she said almost in a whisper. “He’s not suffering anymore. I hope he’s at peace.”

     Missy gave Bertha a big hug and was choking back tears when she said, “Honey, we got to call a funeral home and get an ambulance up here.”

     Bertha answered by saying, “I want Jordon Funeral Home over in Centre. They’re the ones done Mama and Papa.”

     Missy turned to her mother and said, “Mama I’ll help Bertha dress Leroy if you’ll walk up to Lynch grocery and get Mrs. Lynch to call for the ambulance.”

     Ollie Watkins left Bertha’s and began the walk up the road to the Lynch household. The Lynch’s were actually Bertha’s next door neighbors but their house was still a couple of hundred yards away.

     Even though it was after two in the morning several cars came by. Ollie couldn’t help but wonder where they were going so early in the morning. Traffic was always heavy on this road.

      Highway 27 runs from somewhere up north to Florida she was told. The war had been over for a mere six months, and now there seemed to be plenty of gas. Once rationing had been lifted, the traffic flow seemed to increase daily.

     As she neared the Lynch home she quit wondering about cars and began banging on the door. After a very short time a man’s voice rang out. “Who is it?”

     Ollie could hear the excitement in his voice. Out in the country like this, if somebody came to your door at this time of the morning something was wrong.

     “It’s me Mr. Lynch,” Ollie replied, “And I need Jessie.”

     Mr. Lynch opened the door and said “Come in Ollie, what’s wrong?”

     “Lord Mr. Lynch, Leroy died and I need ya’ll to call the Jordon Funeral Home over in Alabama and get them to send an ambulance to come and get him,” she said and then continued, “reckon they know the way by now.”

     “I guess they do Ollie,” he said. They had been to Bertha’s house twice in the last year when her Mama and Papa had passed away.

     Jessie Lynch came out of the bedroom and said to Ollie, “Just give me a minute and I’ll go with you back to Bertha’s. “Cyril,” she said to her husband, “you go on up to the store and call for that ambulance. I’ll be up there helping with Leroy.”

     “I’m already on the way,” he stated as he tied his last shoe.

     The two women started walking back down the narrow highway when Jessie Lynch asked. “What happened, Ollie? We knew that Leroy was sick but this is a surprise. We didn’t expect him to die.”

     “I know,” Ollie replied.  “Bertha came for me on Monday and I stayed most of the day. She came back again Tuesday evening and said that he was worse. Me and Missy have been there ever since. He died a while ago, kind of sudden like.”

     “Didn’t Bertha call a Doctor?” Jessie asked.

     “Leroy wouldn’t let her,” Ollie replied, shaking her head as if she didn’t believe her own words. “He told me and Missy on Monday and Tuesday that he would be all right. Bertha said that the doctor’s had told her there was nothing else they could do for him.”

     As the two women neared the house Jessie asked, “Ollie does Carrie know about this yet?”

           The story is based in the South. It could have been anywhere, and there were probably similar stories in all parts of the Union. The war has just ended– Troops are coming home by the thousands– We’re going to get us a full-fledged baby boom started– The economy is trying to shift from one of war time to peace time– And can’t keep up at this point.

     Then the story of Bertha Hill breaks. It paralyzed the community. It goes nation- wide. All the wire services are here— Law enforcement is in its infancy as far as training is concerned. The little community is almost overwhelmed by the event itself.

     While I was researching the story, I would ask eighty year old seniors that were from Rome did they remember the story of Bertha Hill. Every one of them did. When I dropped down to the mid seventies, about half remembered. Below seventy hardly anybody had heard of her.

     It was more than a trial and a murder case—it in fact was a Saga. And due to Bertha’s wiles—it made some very unusual turns.

     I hope to have the book out as soon as possible. Believe it or not—we still are finding things out that we didn’t know—but mostly now it’s ready to go—after the 1st draft comes back—and if it’s all right—should take about eight days at the printers—we’ll have a launch party at the Rome area history museum—which oddly enough was the dime store where she worked.

     In fact—some say she’s still there—a paranormal kind of modern day Ghost Buster group is trying to get permission to spend the night.  More power to them.  We’ve got a big screen T.V. upstairs in the big dining room which is used for major events—it keeps coming on when no one’s up there. Of course way back yonder there was a funeral home upstairs also.

Posted in BERTHA, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 50 Comments



   I was thinking about a story for Confederate History Month when I ran into an old friend the other day.  During our conversation he mentioned that one of his church’s former pastors had fought at Gettysburg and that it was quite a story.  He said that I might want to do a little research on this preacher, because his story was very uncommon.  Research the story I did and he was correct.  It is an intriguing story and it needs to be shared, so here goes.

Headrick's Grave from Myrtle Hill Cemetary, looking down on the First Baptist steeple

Headrick's Grave from Myrtle Hill Cemetary, looking down on the First Baptist steeple

     Robert Benjamin Headden was born in Cassville in 1838 on Christmas Day.  I can’t think of a better day for a preacher to be born.  His father was born in Chelsea, England and came to this country when he was five years old.  Robert’s grandparents and parents owned and operated a wagon and carriage shop till Sherman burned it in 1864.  His family had been old line English Baptist and his father was a big supporter of the Cherokee Baptist College from which Robert was in the last graduating class.

      When the war started he enlisted in Phillips Legion on July 6, 1861, one of the first units formed.  The Legion was first sent to what is now West Virginia and the troops had to withstand a brutal winter plus several small skirmishes or battles.  Early 1862 they were sent south to regain their strength.

      A few months later they were back in Virginia in time for the Seven Days Battle.  They followed that engagement with the battle of 2nd Manassas.  It was here that Robert Headden took his first wound.  After a short stay in a Richmond Hospital he was furloughed home to recuperate. 

     He reported back to his command in late November 1862, just in time for the battle of Fredericksburg in December.  He was with General T.R.R.Cobb at the stone wall when the General fell, mortally wounded.  The following summer he would be in Pennsylvania for Gettysburg. 

     Phillips Legion along with Cobb’s Legion made up the left flank of General Wofford’s brigade on the second day of the battle.  Along with General Barksdale’s Mississippians they overran the Peach Orchard.  Barksdale turned north to roll up the union line and Wofford continued west and overran stony hill and the Wheatfield.  They reached the bottom of little round top before a direct order from General Longstreet stopped them.  Somewhere during this advance an artillery shell exploded and inflicted a terrible wound to Robert Benjamin Headden.  His right hip and side were mangled and shredded by shrapnel. 

     According to his service record he was taken prisoner on the July 4th.  This would indicate that he lay on the battlefield for two days severely wounded.  All practical logic says that Robert Headden should have died during that two day ordeal.  But he didn’t.  It would appear that he had a little more to do.  He was taken to a Union field hospital, and after about two weeks he was transferred to DeCamp General Hospital on Davids Island in New York Harbor.  There he would remain for four months.

      He was exchanged in late October and spent two more weeks in Richmond Hospital #1.  His doctors offered to discharge him and send him home, but he refused.  He accepted a sixty day furlough and returned to Georgia to mend.  True to his word, after his furlough he was once again back with his unit.  He was promoted to 4th Sergeant and would participate in the Battle of the Wilderness, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Saylors Creek and would be present at the surrender at Appomattox. He was one of the first to enlist and one of only 88 out of the original 900 of Phillips Legion to make it to the end.  Now he headed home.

                 After the war he taught school for a couple of years.  He gave that up however in 1868 when he accepted a call to preach.  He had accepted Christ as his savior in 1855 at the age of sixteen and entered into the King’s business at that time.  He would preach in small country churches for the next two years in and around Cassville, GA.  In 1870 he accepted a call to 1st Baptist Cartersville and would pastor that church for the next thirteen years.  He would come to 1st Baptist in Rome, Georgia in 1883 and remain thirty years.

                 He had married Mary Dyer in 1869 and they would raise five children.  He was a devout mason belonging to Rome’s Oostanaula lodge, and a member of Rome Commandery Knights Templar.  In fact he served as its prelate, and for a time as the state of Georgia’s prelate.

                 During his three decades at Rome 1st Baptist, the church enjoyed a wonderful development and his efforts blessed by a prosperity that made the old first church one of the leading churches of the state.  As pastor he baptized members, performed wedding ceremonies, and buried the dead for two generations.  Therefore there grew up a community and church relationship with a thousand tender ties.  It is said that he had a delightful personality, spotless character, and consecrated zeal.  He made his mark upon the community as a whole, and of course upon his church.  He taught by example, but could expound precept.  His sermons were lucid expositions of gospel truths.  He spoke quietly, but his words rang with such earnestness and force that his preaching was always effective.  As he got older his sermons were said to have gotten even better.

                 He served as a trustee of the theological Seminary’s at Louisville and Mercer University’s and for many years was the president of the state board of missions.  Many other positions were offered to him, but these he modestly refused.

                 All of his life he carried a feeling and torch for the “Lost Cause”, and he was awarded the Cross of Honor by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the early 1900’s.  In 1913 he returned to Gettysburg for the fiftieth reunion of the blue and gray.  As he walked to the spot where he had been so terribly wounded a half century earlier, he suffered a stroke.  He was removed from the battlefield once again and housed in a local hospital.  As soon as he could be moved he was transported back to his home in Rome.  This time he would not recover.  He died on August 14, 1913 and was buried at Myrtle Hill Cemetery.  There was a fountain erected in the cemetery in his memory.  Later it was removed to the grounds of 1st Baptist, where it remains today.

                 A month after his funeral in Rome, a eulogy and memorial service was held at 1st Baptist Cartersville where many of his friends spoke.  He had left such an impact on his home town and at 1st Baptist Cartersville that the speakers had to be limited.  One of those to eulogize Rev. Headden was Judge A. M. Foute.

                  During the Judge’s address, he made mention of a young lady from Virginia who had come to Bartow County as a school teacher at the Female Academy of Cartersville.  She had become a member of the church and was in the congregation along with Judge Foute the morning that Rev. Headden preached upon the importance of missions.  From that sermon she resigned her position as a teacher, answered a call to be a missionary, and the rest is history.  Her name was Lottie Moon.

                  In 1888, from China, she began the Christmas fund that bears her name to support missionaries.  As of this writing over one and a half billion dollars have been raised through the Lottie Moon fund.  Today it pays for half of the Baptist missionaries around the globe.  What her impact may impress upon the people of the world, eternity alone may reveal.  To quote Judge Foute, “If Robert Headden had done nothing else in this life, other than preach the sermon that sent Lottie Moon into the mission field he should be memorialized for that.”

                 I told you there was a reason he didn’t die at Gettysburg.  You can believe it or not.  But I, for one, quit believing in coincidences long ago. After a devasting war and horrible reconstruction period, somebody had to set those two churches solidly on the rock and preach that sermon to Lottie Moon.  I believe that Robert Headden was given that task..

        During Judge Foute’s Eulogy, he used a quote that was either written or used by Rev. Headden quite frequently.  So I thought it would be wise to let him speak one more time.

                    Finally a lesson for us –

                    Swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, we

                    Are being borne down time’s river into the ocean of eternity,

                    They are slipping away’

                    The sweet, swift, years,

                    Like a leaf on the current cast.

                    With never a break in their rapid flow into the beautiful past

                     Be ye also ready

Posted in Civil War human interest stories | Tagged , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Appearances. Those teeth are around here somewhere.

Did you ever lose your teeth in the hospital waiting room?

Did you ever lose your teeth in the hospital waiting room?


 My wife’s friend (we’ll call her Susie), had to admit her husband to the hospital recently. His diagnosis was a bit more serious than first thought, and he was transferred to one of the huge hospitals in Atlanta. There he was admitted and placed in an intensive care unit.

     Susie then began that long hour by hour vigil that most of us have endured at some point in time.

     This particular hospital had the spouses and friends of the patients virtually in the hall right outside the unit. But like all hospitals visitation is limited.

     During the long days to follow, Susie struck up a friendship with another woman whose husband was in the next room. They enjoyed each other’s company during the long hours of inactivity and the all to short visitation periods.

     Susie left her chair in the hall only to grab a sandwich or take a short break, but even then she was never far away. After five days of living in a chair in a large metropolitan hospital, she was physically and emotionally drained. Sleep for any length of time was impossible. Nerves supplanted appetite, and general worry occupied most of her waking moments. Most of us have been in similar situations and understand Susie’s plight.

     Sometime during the fifth night, exhaustion won and Susie was sound asleep in her hall chair when a nurse woke her up, startling her, and telling her that her husband was awake and wanted to see her. She jumped up and ran into the room. When she reached his bedside she discovered that he was some better and just wanted to visit for a moment.

     Hubby was soon into a deep sleep. Susie was standing by the bed holding onto the rail with both hands and she also went to sleep. She startled herself awake as she began to fall. A few quick steps backward and close proximity to a wall prevented her from falling down, but it scared her to death!!

     She went to the bathroom in his room, washing her face and trying to get awake. Returning to her chair in the hallway she opened a magazine and tried to read.

     Sitting in the chair in the hall, Susie did not feel right. Something was wrong and she couldn’t tell what it was. She got a peppermint out of her pocketbook and as she put it into her mouth, SHE KNEW!!

     Susie is not really an old woman, she is just a shade over fifty, but she does wear dentures, and as soon as the peppermint hit her mouth she panicked!

     “My teeth are gone! Where are my teeth?” she thought as she jumped to her feet. They were not in the chair or under it. “Oh Lord,” she thought, “I went to sleep standing by the bed in his room. My teeth must have fallen out then.” Susie burst into the ICU and straight to her husband’s room. She was now in full panic mode. She looked on and under the bed, felt up under her husband in case he had rolled over on them. She looked in the bathroom, on the floor, in the sink, throughout the room and in her pocketbook. No teeth!

     Susie went back to the hall way and literally fell into her chair. “What am I going to do?” she thought. “I can’t stay here without my teeth. How will I eat? What am I going to do at daylight when doctors and other staff start coming in?”

     Susie wasn’t exactly vain, but she wasn’t in the habit of running around without her teeth!

     That reminds me of my saintly old mother-in-law. She wore dentures all the years that I knew her, and they never fit properly. Her teeth came from a dentist, but she would have bought a set at a ten cent or hardware store if they had sold them. She like a lot of elderly folks simply referred to them as “store-bought teeth.” Half the time she wore them and half the time she didn’t. Depending on what was for dinner was the deciding factor of whether she ate with them or not. Her teeth were just as likely to be in her pocketbook, an apron or a pocket in her dress as in her head!

     One time at a Sunday dinner most of the family was at her house when one of her daughters made the statement that she had just gotten her new teeth. They had been fitted by a dentist who specialized in dentures and she said they felt really good. My mother-in-law promptly asked to see them and stretched out her hand. “Let me try them out,” she said. My wife’s sister said, “No mama! You are not going to put my teeth in your mouth.”

     “I won’t hurt them,” she replied, “I’ll wash them off! I just want to see how they fit.” Of course my sister in law refused and that might have been the angriest I ever saw my mother-in-law get.

     As Susie sat in the chair pondering her fate, she noticed an object about thirty or forty feet away. “Nah, it couldn’t be,” she thought. Nevertheless, she got out of her chair and started walking toward the object. She told my wife, “As soon as I got about half way there, I could tell, it was my teeth just laying there smiling up at me.”

     “What did you do?” my wife asked.

     “Why I snatched them suckers up, run into the bathroom, washed them real good and plopped them back in my head,” she stated, “thinking all the time someone could have stepped on my teeth and fell, or broke my teeth. Then what would I have done?”

     Susie guessed that she or the nurse had made a hockey puck out of them when she was startled awake and made a mad dash into her husband’s room. Apparently they had fallen out while she slept in the chair.

     As that crisis ended it’s fair to say that Susie was wide-awake.

     On the fourth floor she knew that she could freshen up, and with an overnight bag that her daughter had brought her earlier in the day, she headed that way.

     Susie has real short hair and most of the time she wears a wig. But during her stay at the hospital she had not. However her daughter when packing the overnight bag had included her favorite one.

      Susie showered, applied make-up, put on nice clothes and wig for the first time in a week. She was then back in her chair when her friend returned at daybreak. The new friend stuck out her hand, introduced herself, and asked. “Did Susie decide to go home for the day? Are you a sister or a relative?”

     “I am Susie, don’t you recognize me?” Susie asked. “Lord no!” her friend replied. “I don’t know what you done, but I want me a double dose of it!!” With that both ladies cracked up and a nurse had to come over and ask them to be quiet.

     Susie told my wife, “I must have really looked like a booger after talking to that woman for five days and her not recognizing me.”

     Susie’s husband is now at home and improving daily. I told her that I just had to write about her adventure and asked what she thought about it.

     “Go ahead,” she said, “just tell all them old women out there that if they have to go to the hospital, to keep their mouths shut and their hair on their heads!”

     I promised to do that. And now I have.

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Slippy Larue and the redneck chicken dinner


The Ballet of Slippy Larue

 “He’s pitiful,” said Sadie. “Can we keep him?” she asked.

     “Sadie, he’s a people, not a danged animal! You can’t make a pet of a people!” Jug replied angrily.



Jug's champion rooster

Jugs champion rooster

     The train thundered through the night. The lightning was ferocious and rain was falling by the bucketfuls. The young man who was crouched between two boxcars was cold, wet and miserable. As he tried to work his way under one of the cars to ride the rails and escape the fury of the storm, he slipped. The train was near the little cotton mill village of Shannon in North Georgia when he fell.

     He didn’t wake up till well after daylight. He was alive, nothing was broken, but he was covered in scratches, bruises and lacerations. His head had bumped along the gray rocks of the railroad bed many times. He would never know it, but others would, that all his oars would never be in the water again.

     A week later, he showed up in the Colons at Jug Cunningham’s house. Jug’s wife Sadie, saw him first.

     “Jug, there’s somebody in the front yard running around and acting crazy.”

     Jug slipped a .22 caliber pistol into the pocket of his overalls and walked out on the front porch.

     “Who are you?” asked Jug, as he watched the young man dash and dart, jump, accelerate and stop, pivot and pirouette. He would run down the road for a short distance and then come rushing back, stopping to squat and wave both arms like he was flying.

     Jug just sat down on the porch steps and watched the young man for better part of an hour. Sadie had eased out on the porch during that time and had very quietly sat down next to Jug. She was absolutely transfixed and enthralled at his dance.

     “What’s he doing, Jug?” she asked.

     “Says he’s chasing butterflies,” Jug replied, and then added “and I think he is!”

     “He’s pitiful,” said Sadie. “Can we keep him?” she asked.

     “Sadie, he’s a people, not a danged animal! You can’t make a pet of a people!” Jug replied angrily.

     “I’ll bet he’s hungry anyway,” Sadie replied. “Hey you!” she yelled to the dancing young man. “What’s your name?”

     “Slippy Larue,” he replied.

     “Well Slippy Larue, when’s the last time you had something to eat?” Sadie wanted to know.

     “I don’t rightly recollect, but probably two or three days,” he said.

     “I got a pot of soup on the stove,” she said. “You wash up and I’ll dish you up some. Jug, show him where to clean up.”

     During supper Sadie managed to pull the story out of Slippy one piece at a time. She found out that he had grown up on the mean streets of Atlanta. He had boxed in Golden Gloves competition as a teenager, but mostly he was a thief and a burglar. And as far as he knew he had no family.

      He was good at getting in and out of even the hardest buildings, without arousing suspicion or getting caught. And that was how he got the name Slippy. The name had been pinned on him by the Atlanta Police Department.

     Although he was well known by the APD’s Burglary squad they never came close to catching Slippy.  Until one day a girl friend set him up and got him caught.

     He was given a five to ten year sentence in a Georgia work camp. Eighteen months into that sentence, he lived up to his name and slipped away. He caught a north bound freight and was doing pretty good till the storm came up and he fell off the train.

     After supper, Sadie got him some old clothes and had Jug fix him a bunk in the back room of the tool shed. That was over eight years ago.

     For the first year or two, Slippy followed Jug around. He learned how to work a garden, feed the chickens and gather eggs. He helped Jug make corn whiskey way back in the woods. In the fall, he gathered muscadines for wine and persimmons for beer, and he loved to possum and coon hunt in the winter. The month of July was reserved for picking blackberries. Sadie made preserves out of the blackberries and the rest was used to make some of the best wine in the county. The uptown ladies liked to sip it with imported German chocolate.

     Slippy also took care of the twenty or thirty game roosters that Jug had in individual little coops. He soon found out that Jug was known throughout Northwest Georgia and the edge of Alabama as a champion breeder and fighter of game roosters. This art of the hills was better known around these mountains as plain ole “Chicken Fighting.”

     Jug and Slippy could often be found on Sand Mountain, Alabama, or one of the Georgia hot spots. Esom Hill in Polk County Georgia and the little community of Holland up in Chattooga County were top fighting territories. Wherever there was a big fight scheduled, they would be there. Jug seemed to make a lot of money fighting and selling Roosters.

     But Slippy’s favorite thing was taking care of the goats. Sadie had ten or fifteen goats and Slippy gave each a name and loved every one of them!!

     Yep, Slippy had made a new life for himself with Jug and Sadie and had become like a member of the family. He did not have one criminal tendency left.

     Slippy wasn’t the only one that hung around Jug’s, there was quite a crowd of misfits, rednecks, and basically just good ole boys and girls that gathered on the weekends. Lots of beer got drunk and occasionally somebody would fire up one of them left-handed cigarettes. But the main entertainment was watching Slippy chase butterflies.

      One of the good ole boys that hung around Jug’s was John the plant man (a landscaper by trade). He had brought slippy a butterfly bush which in season attracted hordes of butterflies. Plant man had also given Slippy a book on butterflies and he studied it every night. Jug’s crowd got a kick out of watching Slippy gracefully chase butterflies and try to imitate their flight.

     Although Slippy was part of the scenery at Jug’s, you never knew what you were gonna see or what might show up. That’s what made it such an attraction.

     One day an old man in a worn out pick-up truck with a five hundred pound hog in the back pulled into the drive and asked to see Jug.

     “That’s me,” Jug replied as he walked to the truck.

     The old man had gotten out of the truck and had a small game rooster sitting on his shoulder. It was apparently an old rooster and only had one eye.

     “I heard a fellow could get a fight over here,” the old man stated.

     Jug walked around looking in the back of the truck. “What you going to fight?” he asked. Then stated “I don’t see nothing!”

     “Thought I’d fight Pete,” the old man said, pointing to the rooster on his shoulder.

     “I don’t fight for less than a hundred dollars,” Jug said seeing easy money. “Is that all right with you?”

     “I don’t have that kind of money, but I’ll put that hog up against your hundred if it’s ok with you,” replied the stranger.

     “Slippy, go get Mr. Wilson,” said Jug referring to one of his prize roosters. “Plant man, I want you to referee if you will,” Jug said, at the same time yelling out to Sadie. “Get your skillet out mama, I smell bacon a frying!”

     Plant man slipped the spurs on both roosters, gave the command to pit, then to fight and let go.

     The little one-eyed rooster went straight up and drove a spur through Mr. Wilson’s neck and he was DRT (dead right thar). Jug was in shock! The old man retrieved his money and was getting ready to leave.

     “Wait a minute,” Jug said. “I want another chance to get my money back. I’ll put up two hundred against your hundred and the hog.”

     “That’s fine,” replied the old man. “But this is my last fight of the day, win or lose.”

     Jug told Slippy to go and get Samson (that was his best rooster). He had paid $150.00 for Samson from an Arkansas breeder at a sale over on Sand Mountain. Since then, Samson had won a dozen or so fights.

     Once again Plant Man gathered the money and called the fighters to pit. This time the little one-eyed rooster side-stepped the larger rooster then came in high behind him. Results were the same. The old man got his money and drove away, much richer and with his hog intact.

     Jug’s temper was legendary. He stood in the driveway and watched as the truck went out of sight. He wanted to break something, to yell and scream! He turned to his companions and said, “Would somebody tell me what just happened here. Some stranger pulls into my yard, stays thirty minutes and leaves with three hundred dollars of my money in cash and all I got is two hundred dollars worth of dead roosters. What Happened???”

     “His rooster killed yours Jug,” said Slippy. “That’s what I used to do. Slip in and get the money and be gone before anyone knew what was happening!”

     “Shut up Slippy!” said Jug. “Just shut up!”

     Plant man stayed for supper that Saturday night. Sadie cooked mashed potatoes, made gravy, boiled corn, butter beans, corn bread and fresh fried chicken that had been par-boiled till tender.

     “Sure is good chicken, Miss Sadie,” Plant man stated as he reached for another piece.

     “Sure is,” said Slippy.

     A long minute later Jug said, “It ought to be good Plant man. It’s a five hundred dollar chicken dinner!!!”

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SIXTY FOUR– a rare Ragland poem


April is National Poetry month. There are a lot of poems that I really like. I’m glad they have a month to recognize the folks that write them, and the ones that have written them in the past.

I was introduced to poetry by my eleventh grade English teacher. During a class room discussion, I informed the class that I didn’t care for poetry. I didn’t understand it, and didn’t want to.

After class my teacher asked me if I had ever heard of Robert Service. My answer was of course, “no”. She exclaimed that with my love of history I might like reading some of Service’s work, and she loaned me a book of his poems.

The first lines that I read were “There are Strange things done in the Midnight Sun, by the men who moil for Gold.”

That is the beginning of the “Cremation of Sam McGhee.” Service wrote a lot about real life adventures in the Alaskan and Yukon wilderness during the gold rush of the late 1890’s. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Now I’m not a poet. Let me get that said right out front before we go any further. I’m a story teller, I’ve always been a story teller, and for the last four or five years I’ve been trying to reduce some of my stories to the written word. Believe me, it’s not as easy as it seems. However, there are times when I do like to try and rhyme words.

I have no knowledge of the context, or syntax that is required in the proper way to write poetry. I just write what I like, which is very similar to my stories.

Now I’ve said all of that to say this. About two years ago, right after my sixty-fourth birthday, my wife and I were sitting on our front porch. My granddaughter came and sat in the rocking chair next to me. She said that she wanted to talk to me, but didn’t want to hurt my feelings. Well, there isn’t much a fourteen year old teenager can say at this time in my life that would hurt my feelings. I just nodded for her to continue.

“Grandpa,” she said, “You’re crazy. You embarrass me so bad in front of my friends I just want to crawl in a hole somewhere.”

“Would you mind giving me an example?” I asked, looking very serious.

“You cheer out loud at my Tennis matches. You dance while you’re driving. You sing old Willie Nelson songs when you’re hauling me and my friends around. And then you rap and sing Taylor Swift songs, I think you’re losing it.”

“I thought you were supposed to cheer at tennis matches?” I asked.

“You are,” she said, but not when everybody else is being quiet. He is crazy, isn’t he grandma?” she asked.

My wife just grinned faintly and nodded her head.

“He used to be a lot worse,” she said. “Just ask your mother.”

I had been through this exact scenario about twenty-five years earlier with my daughter. She got over it and now thinks some of my antics at that time in her life were hilarious. But she didn’t at the time. I knew that my granddaughter would eventually feel the same way. But for the time being, I promised to do better.

My wife asked why she brought this up now.

“Grandma, we were on the way home from the Braves baseball game, right. I asked grandpa to stop at Wendy’s and get us something to eat. We were deciding what to get. I’m sitting behind grandpa, so he pulled up just a little and let me order. There’s nothing wrong with that, right. Well when we get to the window to pay.”

“I don’t see anything wrong with that Mattie,” she said.

You didn’t let me finish,” Mattie replied. “The little lady looks out and sees this great big old man. You know, I’m sure she was expecting a little girl. Then grandpa pays her and starts signing to her like he’s deaf. I mean we live in the town where the Georgia School for the Deaf is located.  Grandpa knows a little sign language, but that girl didn’t know what to do. I wanted to crawl under the seat, and Melody and my friends were encouraging him to keep it up, it’s so embarrassing.”

“What exactly do you want me to do baby?” I asked.

“Just act your age, you’re old, and quit embarrassing me,” She said. And with that she wandered off to do who knows what.

My wife and I just looked at each other and laughed.

I carry this little note book with me at all times. You never know when you’re going to hear a word or a phrase that you can use later in a story. I began writing the minute Mattie came and sat down.

I had the word embarrass written several times. Don’t embarrass our own I was thinking, act your age old man. You’re crazy, but not as bad as you once were. I scribbled for a while and this is the finished product. I hope you like it. I titled it “Sixty-Four”

As I got old, and began to mold

I found I was turning to rust

I used to have flair, without putting on airs

And to party all night was a must

Now continuously I find, I’m in bed by nine

I can’t stay awake any longer

I sleep not in a hat, but with a big yellow cat

Who purrs out loud like a songster

One man’s living on sponge cake, another on Tulsa time

A few days in Margaritaville, I spent with nary a dime

And out in Oklahoma I wandered

With thoughts of glory and fame

I spent weeks dodging jails, on the Rodeo trail

By living on Rhythm and rhyme

But fortune and fame were fleeting, and never really possessed

With guitars and songs we were beating

The encroachment of age, we guessed

Never once did the realization stand out, that time was a passing fling

It’s nothing more than a candle

Whose flame is a curious thing

The days of Jack Black are behind us, Johnny and Waylon are gone

The good ole boys that we once were, are now doomed to sit home alone

It hurts to get up in the mornings, after we managed to get old

We’re not allowed anymore to be crazy, but must act our age we’re told

We can’t clown around, or even leave town

And please don’t embarrass our own

Aches and pains we have plenty, suffered from incidents long ago

Things that happened after we turned twenty

Were frequent and continued to grow

From wrecks in cars, to fights in bars, and hanging out all night

We traveled along, singing our songs

Hoping things would turn out all right

But then we realized, and our eyes were kept on the prize

We were assured that our final feature

Was soon to co-star with a preacher

We prepared for the trip

By clinching our grip

On something outside of this creature

To avoid the pain, and stay in the game

Our doctors all tell us the same

They say our best bet, is to live on Lorcet

And spend our last days in a haze

We’ll rock in our chairs, avoid climbing stairs

And pretend we’re still in a daze

Then when we pass on, our memoirs well known

Will live through our kids in a blaze

Rest in peace Robert William Service for all the joy you’ve given millions with your pen and ink.

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A Redneck Ghost Story


                 Mumbles and the Haint

 About ten years ago I visited an Aunt who was at that time residing in a Nursing Home. She was only there for a few months going through Re-Hab. It wasn’t a permanent stay.  While there I saw an old Bootlegger, “Mumbles Cunningham.”  We had tried to catch Mumbles for years but to no avail. He too was going through some treatment for recent back surgery.

      Mumbles, like most of the old line of Southern bootleggers was very friendly to the Police, well really to everybody. It was a society that is almost completely gone. Oh there are some people still making moonshine, but it ain’t fit to drink. They take no pride in their work. They’ll strain it through car radiators and put all kind of additives in it. Most people want touch it.

     I told Mumbles that I was proud to see him and asked how he was doing. We talked for a few minutes and curiosity got the best of me.

     “How did you get the name of Mumbles?” I asked. He didn’t have any teeth and was definitely hard to understand.

     “I tell you what Captain,” he said. “Let’s go outside and sit on the bench where I can smoke and I’ll tell you how it came about.”

     I went outside and found a good seat while he went to his room to retrieve his smokes. When he came back he lit up a non filtered Old Gold, took a deep drag and let the smoke escape slowly through mouth and nose.

     “You in a hurry?” he asked. “These ladies want let me smoke inside, and don’t like for me to come out here. But they won’t say nothing as long as I’m talking to the law,”

     “Not at all,” I replied. Even if I had of been, I wasn’t anymore.

     “To make this sound right, I got to start somewhere close to the beginning,” he said. “My real name is James Harrison Cunningham. I grew up with everybody calling me Jim. And then in the army everybody calls you by your last name.”

     I stopped him here and asked. “You’re Jug’s dad aren’t you?”

     “Uncle,” he replied. “Jug’s dad was my older brother. But we were raised on the same land Jug now owns, and so was our father and grandfather. But I left in 1944 when I got drafted. I got to England just in time to hit Omaha Beach. After we made the beach head we spent the next nine months or so crawling on our bellies all the way to Germany. The Germans were good fighters, but they were a lot like Americans and British. You could pretty much tell what they were going to do next.”

     “Now I told you that to let you know I liked the army all right and decided to just stay and do twenty. It seemed like a pretty good deal to me. However, six years later we were in another war, and I found myself in Korea. Way up in North Korea, nearly freezing to death, and then the Chinese came. They were nothing like the Germans. They were crazy. If you killed one ten would take their place.

     “What’s this got to do with the name Mumbles?” I asked.

     “Hang on, you said you weren’t in a hurry,” he replied as he lit another smoke from the first one.

     “I had a reputation of being the fastest man in the unit. I had always been able to out run anything that walked on two or four feet. I had never been beat.”

     “Our company Captain called for me and told me we had no communication. He said that we were surrounded, and he wanted me to go for some help. And that the closest American forces that he knew about were twenty-five miles away. I waited till it was good and dark then slipped thru the enemy lines. I covered that distance in about five hours. But I had to stop about half way and take my boots off. I couldn’t run as fast as I wanted to with them on. Even as a kid we ran the mountain barefooted. I got them help, and I got my feet partially froze. They gave me a medal and a little pension and discharged me. My army career was over.”

     “Is that when you come back here and returned to the whiskey trade?” I asked.

     “Not for a few years, probably closer to ten,” he said. ”You guys almost caught us a few times, pure luck that you didn’t.”

     “I stayed in the Nation’s Capitol for years just living on the street and feeling sorry for myself. Spent everything I had on booze. I broke the first rule of a whiskey man. You don’t drink the stuff you’re selling, or get hooked on your product. But that’s what I did.”

     “And then you came home, right?”

     “I nearly did. I made it to Atlanta and did the same thing for a couple more years, then one morning I woke up in Rome. I still don’t know how I got here. But I was walking down the main street when Jug’s wife Sadie Jane saw me. She said she recognized me from some old photos at the house where she and Jug now lived. I can’t see how, but sure am glad she did.”

     “So, what did she do?” I asked.

     “She took me home with her. Sadie, I found out a little later is big on taking in strays. Me included. She and Jug cleaned me up and fixed me a place in the back of the tool shed, along with Slippy Larue.”

     “Who is that? “ I asked. That the guy you see all the time with Jug?”

     “That’s him,” Mumbles replied. “He fell from a freight train years ago and thinks he’s a butterfly. He really is about one taco short of a combo but he don’t know it. Anyway he took good care of me.”

     “After a couple of years, I was almost as good as new. I started helping Jug and Slippy at the still. Pretty much got my health back.”

     “Oh, I forgot, Sadie got me an appointment with the V.A. and they got me some new teeth after they pulled the bad ones I had.”

     “I started climbing that old mountain again that I loved so much as a kid. By the end of summer I was back to running up and down that thing and it sure felt good. I couldn’t wait for fall and Coon season to open.”

     “We started going pretty much every night when it did. Jug and slippy went a lot, but there were lots of nights when I was by myself. That’s when it happened.”

     “What happened?” I asked.

     “I was several miles from the house following Jet and Brownie (Our dogs), they were hot on the trail of what I hoped was a great big one. It was a pretty easy trail. We had been on a fire break for the past two miles. It was a full moon and I didn’t really even need my light. Then I saw it, coming over the top of the mountain. It was big, grey and about ten feet tall. It had short things where legs and arms are supposed to be and one for the head also I couldn’t see any recognizable features. It kind of looked like a cloud except it was coming right at me.”

     “What was it, and what did you do?” I asked.

     “I don’t rightly know what it was exactly,” he said. ”But it was some kind of a Haint.”

     “You remember me telling you how fast I was. Well sir, I started down that mountain wide open with that thing not too far behind me. It was screaming like a banshee and I was scared to death.  Nah, I was terrified. No German or Chinaman ever scared me that bad. I kicked my shoes off while I was running and put it in passing gear. I caught the first dog about a third of the way down the mountain and passed the second one shortly after. I was afraid to look back, cause I knew it was gaining. Don’t ask me how, I just knew it. I was chattering so bad from fear that I chattered by new government teeth out on the ground.”

     “When I got home everybody including me thought I was about to have a heart attack. I finally got calmed down and was able to tell the story. Both dogs were home by now and had run up under the house and even Sadie couldn’t get them to come out.”

     “The next morning we went back up the mountain. We found my shoes, light, and the .22 rifle I carried, but no teeth. We looked for several days but never found them teeth. So I figured that was what that thing wanted, and although Sadie has tried to get me to get some more I ain’t gonna do it. I’d be afraid that Haint would want them too.”

     “So that’s why you mumble when you talk,” I said.

     “Yep, without my teeth I can’t talk plain, and folks got to calling me “Mumbles” because of it.”

     As I drove back to the Police Department I wondered if I had just been had.

     Has another old timey slick bootlegger just led me on another wild goose chase. Or was he just lonely and wanted somebody to talk with.

     Couldn’t have been the truth, could it?

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