Push to the Summit

One sunny July day nearly 46 years ago, a friend called asking if I wanted to go mountain climbing.

One summer day nearly 45 years ago, a friend called asking if I wanted to go mountain climbing with him.
Jeff Thimsen climbing towards the summit (1972).

I climbed my share of mountains while living in Alaska. None of them had spectacular names like Denali or St. Elias. In fact, I don’t recall any of them having names at all except one. It was only by fluke I ended up scaling that peak.

I’ve never been a person seeking to climb a mountain or traverse a glacier just because they are there. Putting my name to a list of thousands having climbed Mt. Denali is not my cup of tea.

Whenever I climb anything, it’s because I’m searching for something like an old mine, antique bottles, or gold nuggets. Often times I only want a better vantage point for photographs.

One sunny July day nearly 45 years ago, a friend called asking if I wanted to go mountain climbing. Our expedition was to start the following day. I had absolutely nothing planned so I agreed.

“What do I need to bring?”

Jeff told me to wear jeans and good hiking boots, plus take my backpack with plenty of food and water. We weren’t overnighting so a stove and tent wasn’t necessary. I tossed in my camera and a light jacket just in case.

My pal picked me up very early the next morning. We would be climbing in the Chugach Mountains, so it didn’t take long to get to the base of the mountain.

We made sure we were sufficiently hydrated beforehand by drinking plenty of coffee. I had a chilled can of Pepsi wrapped in my jacket. I planned to use it to celebrate when we reached the summit.

It had rained for days previous so the going was tough. Several times I slipped on wet rocks and had to catch myself. Jeff took a deathly tumble but didn’t get hurt other than a bruised finger. We slowly made our way upwards stopping every so often to catch our breath.

There was light fog in the air as sun warmed the morning dew. At this point we removed our jackets. I was glad I’d brought one along. Jeff’s coat was made of Gortex thus it stayed dry. Mine on the other hand was manufactured of nylon. It looked like a wet puppy. Perspiration along with early morning moisture completely soaked it.

Taking a break on some rocks Jeff pulled a small thermos out of his backpack. He poured himself another cup of coffee. I decided to tap my can of Pepsi, regardless that we hadn’t reached the top. I still had a canteen of water. The sweet taste of soda was even sweeter at altitude. Something about the beverage always gives me a peppy feeling. I would need such for the final 300 feet.

With additional zest in our systems we pushed for the summit. It didn’t take long to reach it. Looking around we were stunned at the view. It was unbelievable. We could see Sleeping Lady Mountain across Cook Inlet through gray mist. About that time a recognizable scent struck us both.

The delicious aroma of frying bacon permeated the morning air. Looking perhaps 200 feet to the right, a man was sitting beside a small orange tent with frying pan in hand. Gazing around we saw more of the colorful tents.

We instantly hiked over to see what was going on. A church group had overnighted on top of the mountain. They were just waking up. The man frying the bacon told us more of his gang would be coming up later that day.

Jeff and I were somewhat stunned by this. We expected to have the peak all to ourselves. This definitely wasn’t in our game plan. We made the most of it.

Finding a dry place to spread our tarp we sat down to eat our grub. Jeff’s cold pizza and my peanut butter and jelly sandwich were glib compared to what the others were enjoying. They invited us to have some of their hot breakfast and we eagerly accepted.

We chatted with them a bit before kicking back and taking in the unusual sights. A hippy soon arrived carrying a boom box. A gal with braids sat beside him with her guitar. Another guy showed up with a portable xylophone and a small dog. They quickly started making music.

By noon there must’ve been 30 people sitting amongst us. The scene was reminiscent of a city park on Sunday afternoon. Several of the climbers looked to be in their late 60’s or 70’s. There were small children scurrying about.

Packing up our duds, we decided to head back down the mountain. People were still trudging up the hill. Arriving back at Jeff’s car, we noticed folks having a hard time finding a parking place. Most were using the side of the road.

“I’m sure glad we came early.” Jeff mused. This place is worse than Leroy’s Pancake House on Friday night!”

I was glad to have made the trip. I knew I wouldn’t do it again. Asking Jeff what the mountain was called, he said he didn’t know. Someone at East High School had told him about the place.

“I think they call it Flattop Mountain. I’m not really sure?”

I told Jeff if anyone asked, maybe we should say it was Mount Fujiyama.

“That sounds more gnarly than Flat Top mountain!”

Jeff agreed.

The way I saw things back then, fishermen often stretched the truth about the size of fish they caught. What difference did it make if 2 Alaska mountain climbers chose to stretch things a bit regarding a mountain they climbed!

Thankfully or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, no one ever asked.

.

THE SAME HERD

“There is no second-class!”

"There is no second-class!"
Second-class passenger, Elsie Hereford, from Butte, Montana.

I’ve flown third-class many times in my life. That’s always been my mode of travel when flying somewhere. I went ‘cargo status’ one trip in a tiny Cherokee Lance aircraft. I sat on cases of food destined for a rural Alaskan village. My butt was frigid by the time we arrived. Warm flesh became well-acquainted with Green Giant brand frozen vegetables.

Far as I know I’ve only flown ‘second-class’ twice in my life. The first time was when a flight attendant walked up asking if I’d mind sitting in the first row. They’d overbooked third-class (coach) and my seat was needed.

The next occasion was when I transported our Yellow Nape Amazon parrot “Jesse” from Alaska to Arizona. Alaska Airlines made me purchase a second-class ticket, saying there’d be more room up front where carrier size was concerned. It cost me a few extra dollars to do so. The airline should’ve paid me, because Jesse entertained the dozen or so passengers from takeoff to landing.

I have a friend telling folks he travels strictly first-class. I once corrected him by saying he travels second-class. That upset the fellow. He quickly responded,

“There is no second-class!”

I’ve had other friends and acquaintances tell me the same. They too are in error. By now you’re probably wondering what am I talking about?

**********************************************************

The first time I actually ‘thought’ I was flying first-class was a misnomer. I leaned back in my cushy leather seat believing I was on top of the world. The flight attendant had just brought a steamy hot towel, at the same time inquiring what entrée I wanted for dinner. I actually had a choice!

As I glanced around the cabin I observed what appeared to be business people. Many of these folks sit up front because of their abundant frequent flier miles. I didn’t notice any celebrities amongst our group. In my way of seeing things I’d just become Mr. Big. I planned on savoring every moment of it!

As we waited for a motorized tug to pull our Boeing 747 away from the terminal I glanced out my window. Several hundred feet away was a red brick, two-story executive flight facility. There were sleek Lear jets on the asphalt tarmac in front of it waiting to be boarded.

“Just one time”, I thought to myself.

As I continued staring a black limousine rolled up. The driver stopped in front of a short set of stairs connected to one of the planes. The man exited, and then walked quickly to the rear of his vehicle, opening doors for a middle-age couple and their 2 children.

The family looked excited as they entered the stylish jet. They exhibited the same giddiness as folks on a commercial flight bound for Hawaii or Vegas do. I continued to stare as the limo driver unloaded bags, and then accepted a tip from what I assumed to be a crew member. That’s when the thought struck me,

“Now that’s first-class!”

Years ago my brother equated passengers boarding airplanes to cattle boarding trucks. The thought stuck to my mind like gum in hair. These days I smile strolling through the front section of a plane. I can’t help but think,

“All these bovine actually believe they’re traveling first-class!”

On an airplane junket several years back, my brother-in-law Calvin bellowed like a steer upon entering the craft. He could imitate the sound to perfection. As if rehearsed, some guy standing behind us let out a perfect,

“Mooooooo”.

Several people in line laughed. A flight attendant also found it amusing. As we strolled through the forward section not one chuckle came from these folks.

If you were to ask why, I’d say those travelers didn’t want anyone thinking, that they came from the same herd as the rest of us!

"There is no second-class!"
Some of the third-class herd including me.

CHEAP SUNGLASSES

“I’d even accept ruby red ones like George Faust’s if someone gave them to me!”

My ‘poor man’ Oakley’s look identical to the real deal from several feet away.

I’ve always wanted a pair of Oakley sunglasses.  They’re those pricey sunglasses with an O on each side.  They start at a hundred bucks.

I found some lying beside the road once.  They’d been run over and smashed beyond repair.  My luck!

What makes Oakley sunglasses so expensive?  That’s a good question. The cheap sunglasses I buy are around ten bucks each.  They do just fine although lenses seem to easily scratch.  I’ve yet to wear a pair of sunglasses out. I end up losing them way before they fall apart.

I’ve come across several lost sunglasses over the years with all of them being cheapies.  A friend of mine owns a pair of ruby red Oakley’s.  He’s had them forever.   George Faust works as a musician and professional clown in Alaska, so bright colors are in with him.

He told me he’s had people offer him big dollars for his eye-wear since he purchased them 20 years ago. Oakley doesn’t make that model anymore so I assume they’re rare.

I found a way around the expensive price tag on Oakley’s. I’m not talking about stealing them. It was quite by accident that I discovered this brilliant idea.

While at the optometrist both of my eyes were dilated. I hate that!  Afterwards the nurse gave me a pair of what my daughter calls,

“Old Man sunglasses”.

I’m not sure what she means by that statement?  The ones given to me look like any other sunglasses that hip senior citizens wear.

In a desk drawer my wife has some self-stick white circles used to repair holes in notebook paper.  These circles are very close to the oblong O‘s on Oakley’s. I took one and stretched it. That made it perfect.

"I'd even accept ruby red ones like George Faust's if someone gave them to me!"
Available at any office supply store.

Next step was place a self-stick O on each side of my glasses where the hinges are. I seriously doubt folks can tell the difference between my imitation Oakley’s and the real deal.

My wife doesn’t like me wearing them in public but I do. Hopefully sufficient embarrassment will lead her to purchase me an authentic pair.  I’m not counting on such but it’s worth a try.

There are many different Oakley styles.  A pair of black Oakley’s resembling my replicas would be great.  I’d even accept ruby red ones like George Faust’s if someone gave them to me!

"I'd even accept ruby red ones like George Faust's if someone gave them to me!"
George Faust, Alaskan musician and professional clown wearing his distinctive red Oakley’s.

DESTINATION SELMA

“It’s good finally having someone to talk to!”

T-33 trainer much like the one Lt. David Steeves flew.

On May 9, 1957 Lieutenant David Steeves of the United States Air Force carefully placed a duffle bag into the vacant rear seat of his airplane. Military T-33 training aircraft weren’t designed to carry luggage. Standing on a removable entry ladder, the polished aluminum fuselage reflected blinding rays of sun into his eyes. Thankfully he wore a pair of aviator sunglasses.

Oil stained black asphalt quickly picked up California heat, transferring invisible waves of it to his lightweight flight coveralls. The young lieutenant wiped small beads of perspiration from his forehead. Lt. Steeves’ destination that day was Craig A.F.B. in Selma, Alabama. He’d recently been transferred there.

Firing up the Lockheed T-33’s powerful jet engine and going through a series of preflight procedures, Steeves slowly but methodically applied throttle before quickly leaving runway behind. He hated saying goodbye to San Francisco, yet his beautiful wife Rita and daughter Leisa eagerly awaited him in Selma; 2300 miles away.

Climbing to 38,000 feet Steeves leveled off then pointed the nose of his bird southeast towards Arizona. Luke A.F.B. in Phoenix was one of several planned refueling stops. Unfortunately he never made it. The last communication with Lt. Steeves was with a Fresno, California air traffic controller. That was 12:20 p.m.

When Steeves didn’t arrive in Arizona rescue operations began. Searchers initially began looking in a straight line from Oakland to Phoenix. Bulletins were issued via radio including newspaper.

Wreckage spotted in mountains near Topock, Arizona was thought to be his plane. Further investigation showed it to be the crash site of a WWII B-25 bomber.

After several weeks of looking high and low, military investigators believed Lt. Steeves might have gone down in the rugged Sierra Mountains. Since there’d been recent snowfall in the higher elevations, search organizers thought snow and ice could’ve covered all traces of a possible crash.

Near the 2 month mark after Steeves’ disappearance a preliminary death certificate was issued. Copies were sent to his wife including parents who lived in Connecticut. After many search hours the Air Force declared Lt. David Reeves dead.

Thirteen days later the family was in for a shock of their lives. A bearded and gaunt Lt. Steeves was found by 2 horseback campers in the depths of Kings Canyon National Park. Fifty four days had passed since his disappearance. He’d lost 80 pounds. The story Steeves told was amazing. He believed his survival lay entirely in his faith in God, physical conditioning, and survival training.

“I was 3 years old at that time. Dad had just moved our family to Jones Trailer Park in Selma from George A.F.B. in California. My father, much like Lt. Steeves, had a new duty station at Craig. I was too young to recall Steeves’ dilemma, but my father oftentimes mentioned it in conversations with his military friends. Much of the following story comes from archived newspaper accounts.”

**********************************************

Steeves’ Saga

The trip began with no problems. Lt. Steeves engaged his autopilot and tried to relax while enjoying the scenery. Somewhere early in the flight an explosion rocked his aircraft. Lt. Steeves blacked out for a short time. When he came to he saw the plane was out of control. He immediately pushed an ejection button. The Plexiglas canopy blew away at the same time his ejection seat rocketed from the cockpit.

Floating down by nylon parachute, the distraught pilot saw nothing but rock and snow covered ground below. Landing fast and hard on frozen ground he sustained severe damage to both ankles. Unable to walk, Steeves sat for several minutes taking in the surroundings. Eventually he started crawling along the ground in search of safe haven.

Area where Lt. David Steeves landed via his parachute.

During frigid nights Lt. Steeves used his thin parachute to stay warm. A freezing snow storm came through on one occasion. He sought refuge in a snow cave. The going was more than tough. After 15 days of torturous travel consisting of slipping and sliding across jagged rock, he happened upon an old cabin. He’d just painfully traveled 20 miles in terrain that experienced mountaineers avoided.

Small cabin that Lt. Steeves stumbled upon.

Having nothing to eat for 15 days made him extremely weak. Steeves was able to find water in puddles of melting snow. That prevented his body from incurring deadly dehydration. It took all the strength he could muster to break into the small building.

Inside the dwelling a box with canned hash, beans, tomatoes, and some sugar sat on a shelf. On the floor lay a rusty fish hook with a short piece of nylon line still attached. The first can of food helped him to somewhat regain lost strength. Using good judgment he decided to ration what was left.

Thankfully in his coveralls pocket were 2 books of partially used matches. Discovering some left behind packing materials he made a bed out of it. The exhausted pilot slept for almost 2 days straight. Upon waking he knew he had to find more food. Lt. Steeves was able to use the salvaged fish hook to catch trout. Grubs were used for bait. A small deer was shot with his service revolver. Lt. Steeves said mountain lions took most of the venison before he could harvest it. A harmless garter snake slithered by and he grabbed it without hesitation.

Topographic maps in the shed showed he was almost dead center in the Sierra’s. It was a place called Simpson Meadow. To get out was going to be a chore, especially for someone having bum ankles. Several days passed before the lieutenant attempted a hike to freedom. Cold rapid waters of the Kings River prevented such. He lost several articles of clothing during the attempt and almost drowned.

Simpson Meadow

Taking a needed break he waited a few days before trying again, this time choosing a different route. As he stumbled along a deer trail, local guide Albert Ade and his client Dr. Howard Charles came into view. They were in the area looking for a place to camp. Lt. Steeves was elated in seeing them. He told the men,

“Its good finally having someone to talk to!”

Dr. Howard stayed behind allowing Ade and the downed pilot to ride packhorses to the nearest ranger station. Word quickly spread on Steeves’ rescue. The lieutenant became an instant celebrity. He appeared on the Art Linkletter and Arthur Godfrey shows, including doing several television and radio interviews.

Photos of him reunited with wife and daughter were splashed across the front page of newspapers throughout the country. Along with all the hoopla, doubt and innuendos began to follow. No wreckage from the plane had been found. Because of a couple of inconsistencies in his story, some writers began calling it a hoax. The hoax word picked up speed.

Some conspiracy types believed he’d sold the low tech jet to the Russians. Others claimed it went to Mexico; shipped there part by part. It was even mentioned that the lieutenant had been planted in the wilds after disposing of his plane. Conspiracy theories ran rampant.

Besides having demoralizing things whispered behind his back, tension in the lieutenant’s marriage began to mount. The Saturday Evening Post backed out of their agreement to do a story on him because of unstated reasons. After a lengthy investigation where he was checked for physical and mental aptitude, Lt. Steeves was cleared for duty.

He returned to Craig in September as a hero of sorts yet with some co-workers still having doubts. In the accident report there were 3 possible reasons for what happened. One of them referred to the accident as a possible ‘hoax’. The hurtful word had reared its ugly head once again.

Perhaps his biggest backer during these trying times was Craig A.F.B. Commander Colonel Leo F. Dusard. Colonel Dusard said he had no reason not to believe Lt. Steeve’s story. He had full faith in his ability to perform. Lt. Steeves’ tenure at Craig was brief though. In spite of Col. Dusard’s support, Steeves asked to be released from active duty and was granted such.

After him and Rita split, David Reeves remarried and moved to Fresno, California. He started a small aviation charter company there, working on plans for a plane capable of landing during an emergency via parachute.  David Steeves often flew over the area where he bailed out. It was only 60 miles from his home in Fresno.

He valiantly searched for the missing T-33 in an attempt to clear his name. He endured long hikes throughout the Sierra’s doing the same. The hoax monkey was firmly planted on his back and he couldn’t seem to shake it.

In 1977 a group of Boy Scouts hiking at the 12,000 foot area of Kings Camp National Park came across the Plexiglas canopy of an airplane. Writing down the serial number (52-9232A) which was etched on the aluminum canopy frame, they gave it to a park ranger. It took almost a year before the Air Force confirmed the canopy was from Lt. Steeves’ jet. What he’d been telling people all those years was proven. He was finally exonerated of any hoax or wrongdoing.

Unfortunately Lt. David Steeves was not around to hear the good news. Twelve years earlier on October 16, 1965, while testing a small cargo airplane in Idaho, the plane crashed while landing. Steeves along with another man were killed.

Note: At this time no additional wreckage of Lt. Steeves’ plane has ever been found. That makes a total of 3 military aircraft still unaccounted for in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. During the past 50 years, over 2,000 aircraft have crashed there. The area is known as the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ of the west.

Lt. David Steeves as he appeared after being found.

Mikey

“Give it to Mikey, he’ll eat anything!”

“Little Mikey” – John Gilchrist.

When an early 1970’s commercial came out featuring a kid named Mikey, guys and gals throughout the country named Mike became the butt of countless jokes.

In the advertisement, two brothers contemplate whether to eat a bowl of Life brand cereal after being told it’s good for them. Both siblings are hesitant. They decide to let younger brother Mikey try it first. The next thing heard is total excitement,

 “He likes it! He likes it!”

From that moment on the infamous 7 words were heard everywhere,

“Give it to Mikey, he’ll eat anything!”

When I was growing up that statement was true. My father expected my brother and me to eat anything and everything on our plate. We’d best heed dad’s rule or else.

There was one food item that never made it down no matter how hard I tried. Liver would only partially enter before escaping through the door it entered. No amount of ketchup or gravy would help. My father was very persistent that I keep trying until mom finally stepped in. These days if you offer me liver I’ll pass. Give it to someone with an iron stomach.

Since my early years, there hasn’t been much I’ve refused to eat. On the flip side, many food items that I crave have been deemed unhealthy.

Eating too many eggs was considered a cholesterol risk. I was okay with that and didn’t give it a second thought. Soon afterwards bacon was considered taboo. The grease in bacon was labeled as artery clogging. Next on the list was whole milk. This stuff supposedly caused calcium buildup in arteries. The healthier alternative was 1% moo juice. You might as well drink water.

Since then, red meat, processed foods, anything made with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, salt, soda-pop, pastries, white bread, along with many other things have joined the roster. The list goes on and on.

I sometimes think back to the health advocate and Grape Nuts cereal spokesperson, Euell Gibbons. If there was ever a person personifying healthy lifestyle it was Euell. He believed in the word natural. Young people these days most likely would not know who Euell Gibbons is.  Let’s just say he was “the” health nut extraordinaire back then.

In spite of Gibbons’ “nutrition expedition”, the man sadly died of a heart attack at age 64. He didn’t know what he missed passing up an Egg McMuffin® over a bowl of cold cereal. Perhaps Gibbons would’ve lived longer had he ate such? Salt does act as a preservation agent.

For the most part I attempt to place stuff in my mouth that’s considered healthy. I don’t get jacked out of shape when I don’t. Brussel sprouts and spinach aren’t going to make me live forever. Nuts won’t either as Mr. Gibbons proved.

“Give it to Mikey, he’ll eat anything!” 

I’ve heard that line a thousand times. Hopefully I’ll hear it a thousand more!

"Give it to Mikey, he'll eat anything!"
My brother Jim holding me (1955).

Escape From Selmont Baptist

“At this point what does it really matter?”

Most of us have something in our past we’d rather keep secret.  I say most of us because there are exceptions to the rule.

My mother said there were certain things she’d take to the grave.  It wasn’t until after mom died that my wife and I discovered one of them.  Her real name was Perry Tallulah Haynes.  She dropped Perry like a hot potato. If not for an old birth announcement we would’ve never known.  I suppose when I get to ‘the other side’, I’ll be in trouble for spilling the beans!

I’ve kept something under wraps of my own.  When my kids were young I didn’t want them hearing the story.  Perhaps it would have triggered a similar event in their lives.  As Hillary Clinton would say,

“At this point what does it really matter?”

I suppose Hillary would be right in this case.

When I lived in Selma, Alabama our family attended Selmont Baptist Church.  This house of worship was fairly close to Craig Air Force Base where dad was stationed.  The year was 1959.

In Sunday school it was customary on your birthday to bring a penny for each year of age.  I’d just turned five.  Mom gave me a bright shiny nickel to use as a birthday tithe.  A nickel would buy a kid lots back then.

Sitting in class the nickel was burning a hole in my pocket.  It was also speaking to me in a most convincing manner,

“Hey Michael, you need a candy bar!”

The plan to voluntarily give up my money got harder and harder with each passing second.  After 2 minutes I couldn’t stand the thought.  Faking a trip to the restroom, I kept on walking.

Calculating that R&R Grocery on Highway 80 was a short distance away, I set off in pursuit of the noted candy oasis. Trouble is I headed the wrong direction.  Getting lost is something I’m skilled at.  I can’t tell you exactly how long I walked, but it must’ve been an hour or more.

When an older couple from our congregation rolled up in a cloud of dust I knew I was in trouble.  They told me countless people were beating the bushes fearing the worst. My rescuers drove me back to Selmont.

Outside, standing in the parking lot, pastor and other members were praying for my safety.  For several short minutes I was hugged and congratulated as being a hero; at least that’s how I viewed it.  Things quickly deteriorated on the way home.

I received a tongue lashing next to none and then the proverbial spanking.  It must not have been terribly harsh because I survived.  Undoubtedly to this day, ministers all over creation use my escape from Selmont Baptist to demonstrate what robbing God of tithes will achieve.

Yes, I learned a valuable lesson that day. It seems each time I hear a sermon on tithing, that blotched attempt at escape comes to mind.

One thing still has me scratching my head.  It’s hard to fathom candy bars only costing a nickel back then!

Say What?

“We from Alabama.”

It’s been several years, but I still remember this incident clear as day.  Living in Anchorage, Alaska at the time, I bumped into a man wearing an Auburn Tigers’ sweatshirt.  He was part of a church group visiting the 49th state.

Asking where he lived the fellow replied,

“We from Alabama!”

By his shirt I figured out that much. Inquiring again I asked specifically what city,

We from Alabama!”

By now I thought the visitor had hearing problems or was a bit slow.  Not wanting to come across as insulting I simplified my line of questioning.  I spoke slowly inquiring what town in Alabama he lived in.  It was easy to see I ruffled the man’s feathers.

“We from Alabama!”

This time he’d repeated things in a much louder voice. Seeing I still didn’t get it he started spelling out the first word,

“R – e – f – o – r – m, Alabama!”

Turns out I was the slow one.  It was obvious I’d been gone from the south too many years!  Reform, Alabama is one of those towns a person’s strangely drawn to.  Supposedly the place got its name in a most unusual way:

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In the early days when folks first settled there, some residents were known for their wild crazy behavior.  A certain Methodist pastor named Lorenzo Dow became miffed at locals for not attending his religious revivals.  The residents let it be known to Pastor Dow they didn’t need his preaching.

He was so disgusted by their attitude that he cancelled the remainder of his meetings. He disgustedly packed up his personal belongings.

Riding out of town on a mule, someone asked Lorenzo what the new community should be named.  Without blinking an eye he replied,

“Reform!”

**********************************************************

There must be some truth to the story.  What other reason could there be for naming a town that?  Evidently things have changed drastically, because on the internet I found 6 local churches located there.

Even though Reform is in Pickens County it’s only 30 miles from Vernon via Highway 17.  There’s a business in Reform I need to visit. It’s a second hand store called ‘The Mud Hole’.  My aunts talked of going there.

Photos show the building to be most unique.  Eclectic businesses like The Mud Hole are where you find one of a kind items. I love browsing in such stores.

Before closing this out, there’s one final item I’d like to share.  I was caught years ago forging my dad’s signature on a school absence slip. Mom warned me after finding out that if I didn’t straighten up, I’d end up in reform school.

I’m quite sure she wasn’t talking about a school in Reform, Alabama!

NO POMP & ALL CIRCUMSTANCE

“The atmosphere was lively yet somber.”

1972 East Anchorage High graduate Pamela Painter Jones mentioned a couple of years back, that those of us having interesting or funny stories from our tenure at the prestigious school should share them. Her intention I suppose was get them out there while folks can still remember. She was hoping someone would compile all the tales into a notebook for the 50th East High Reunion – Class of 1972.

For the past 2 years I’ve thought about such. Basically I came up empty-minded where exciting incidents are concerned. There was no last-second touchdown catch to win a football game or anything close. Fact is I didn’t play football, basketball, or hockey. Not that I didn’t have the ability. Unfortunately or fortunately I had to work after school.

There is one moment of sporting adeptness worthy of mention. It deals with my running cross country. During P.E. class we ran a root-laden trail through the woods directly behind East. The designated trail exited in plain sight of the building. I was no runner so having to traverse that course brought unwanted pain; hungry mosquitoes being the worst of it.

One day classmate and best friend Jeff Thimsen asked me to follow him. Another student had informed my pal of a shortcut. That morning we were the only ones taking the secret path. Upon exiting, Jeff quickly noticed we were in the lead, with me sucking air like a fish out of water, thus I didn’t notice. East High star-runner Lonnie Wick was directly behind us instead of leading the pack like he always did. Jeff, Willie, and I had terribly miscalculated our exit time.

Coach White seeing such angrily motioned us over for a chat. We ended up having to rerun the whole loop while the others showered. That miscalculation didn’t keep us from cheating. From that point on we learned to time things precisely and pop out in the middle of the pack.

Later that year I had a flat tire in the school parking lot when it was minus 20 outside. Through a desire to finish the job and quickly seek heat I was able to change things in less than 5 minutes. That was done with no gloves or hat on.

I truly believe that’s a school record although the feat was never recorded. Turns out I was more mechanically inclined than athletic. If I were to compare this mechanical endeavor to a sporting record, I’d say it’s akin to kicking a 90-yard field goal or pole vaulting 29 feet.

There’s another event coming to mind that tops my tire swap extravaganza where bizarro nothingness is concerned. Before starting I need to ask this simple question: Who attended the Eklutna Lake Campground Party on Thursday night May 25, 1972?

I was there with Jeff Thimsen in my purple ’54 Chevy. It was drizzling rain and cold that evening. Newspaper archives show 39 degrees Fahrenheit. A group of maybe 5 graduates was parked close to us in a VW van. I remember most of their names yet shall keep them nameless.

A popular and attractive blonde walked over to our car asking if we had any papers. Being quite naïve, neither Jeff nor I had a clue what she meant. Thinking the gal might be contemplating starting a campfire, I told her I had some newspapers under my car seat. With puzzled look and Cheshire cat smile she replied,

“That’s okay!”

The pretty partygoer quickly scampered away to her bus empty handed.

Jeff and I hung around for maybe an hour trying to figure out why the party hadn’t begun. We were expecting a barbecue. Feeling hungry and finding no hot dogs, hamburgers, or Cokes, the two of us hightailed it to Leroy’s Pancake House. There we joined other stray cats from East.

I vaguely remember it being an all guy endeavor. The atmosphere was lively yet somber. Clinking spoons and forks hitting cheap porcelain plates could be heard throughout the room. Trying to liven up my own dampened spirits I splurged and ordered ‘Pigs in a Blanket’. The breakfast fare was a favorite at Leroy’s. Still is!

Somewhere around 2 a.m. after consuming ample dessert at Flapjack Jim’s just down the street from Leroy’s, our basically mundane graduation party ended without incident under inclement weather. We were bloated from excess eating and also very tired from doing nothing.

By the end of summer I’d wised up considerably where street smarts are concerned. I figured out by then what papers my former classmate was referring to. She must have been talking about TP. Evidently the girl was too embarrassed to spell things out.

I’m sure those crumpled-newspapers under my driver’s seat would’ve worked just fine. Why she didn’t accept them will always remain a mystery?

GLUE

There’s one adhesive that I didn’t touch upon. This type of glue cannot be purchased from a supermarket shelf.

I first came in contact with glue at an early age.  It might have been pre-school?  I remember “paste” coming in a round jar.  The jar had a brush built into the lid.  Paste is terrible for actually gluing anything together. It has virtually zero holding power.

I recall some of the kids eating paste including myself.  If I were a paste manufacturer I’d add some nasty flavor to it.  Castor oil or Brussel sprouts perhaps.  Glue, since the 1950’s has come a long way.  Good ole Elmer’s still remains the #1 glue for elementary age students.  I like Elmer’s, especially the picture of a smirking bull on bottle.  I suppose the bull is happy because he isn’t a horse.

Elmer’s was easy to clean off hands which teachers and moms appreciated.  As far as strength goes, I found it worked fine unless you used too much.  If you squeezed out rivers of glue the paper became a sea of wrinkles.  No matter how hard you pressed the wrinkles remained. It was a delicate process. Sometimes glue ended up on my desk.  Days later it was fun to peel off. Mom often said that, “Messy”, was my middle name.  Several years went by before I came to realize what ‘use sparingly’ meant.

Super Glue was invented in 1942 but wasn’t readily available until the late 1950’s.  I hate the stuff.  It immediately dries causing much anxiety when fingers become stuck together.  Many horror stories have been written about Super Glue.  The worst involving a girl having her eye lids glued to each other.  The gal ended up having surgery to unstick them.  My wife thinks Super Glue is wonderful.  I believe this has more to do with name than anything.

In my teen years some kids sniffed glue. I never knew anyone to intentionally do that. My brother and I often put together plastic cars and airplanes using model glue. I recall getting headaches if we were doing such in an enclosed room for too long. Right on the glue label was a warning about proper ventilation. During my growing years the words proper ventilation were subjective to interpretation.

My favorite glue these days is Gorilla.  Gorilla Glue is great for many different materials. It’s strong like the name implies.  If you allow Gorilla Glue to dry on hands it is a pain to clean off!  I still have some stuck on the side of both thumbs and my arm.

Getting back to Elmer’s Glue.  I see they now offer the product in a spray can.  This would not have been good in my early years.  A girl sitting in front of me had long blond hair.  Her name was Nikki.  I only remember her name because she always tattled on me.

 As careless as I was around glue, a can of aerosol in my hands would’ve spelled disaster.  Spray glue has a tendency to drift. Ask me how I know? Hair stuck to the back of a desk would be painful; especially upon standing.

The good thing being, instead of surgery, all you’d need to undo things is a good pair of scissors.

There’s one adhesive that I didn’t touch upon. This type of glue cannot be purchased from a supermarket shelf.

RING OF FIRE

“Well my goodness gracious, let me tell you the news!”

I’ve never been blessed with musical ability.  Unfortunately I was bypassed completely in the music making department. I’m lucky to find a radio ‘ON’ button. 

When I think of Lamar County, Alabama and tunes, Johnny Cash and Wallis Willis come to mind.  There’s valid reason for it.  1963 is the year my brother and I received transistor radios.  Dad brought them back from Japan after a 12 month military tour in Korea. I believe we were only able to pick up one channel in Vernon.

The popular song back then, “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash, played like clockwork each and every hour.  I loved the tune not knowing its true meaning.  Jim and I thought Johnny Cash was singing about an airplane pilot in trouble.

We tried to sing the words, or at least a small portion of them.

“I’m going down in a blazing ring of fire.”

Years later I heard a preacher say Johnny Cash was singing about going to hell.  Johnny’s daughter Roseanne disproved that statement, claiming lyrics were strictly about the transformative power of love.  I sometimes wonder what is the truth. Johnny Cash never commented publicly about the song meaning.

Johnny and June Carter-Cash performed many gospel songs towards the end of their career.  Johnny acknowledged finding God in a long dark cave near Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1967.  The story is quite riveting.

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Johnny Cash entered ‘NickaJack Cave’ with intentions of never returning.  Drug abuse and alcohol had taken hold of his life.  When he crawled into that dark black hole he believed he’d distanced himself from relentless torment. Little did he know had his suicide been successful he was far from it.  Fortunately God had better plans for his life; saving him by grace.

Johnny said he had to get down on his knees and crawl, literally feeling his way out. Wife June stood outside the cave entrance waiting. She’d brought a basket of food and comforting hug.  June Carter-Cash was directed to the cave strictly by the Lord’s hand, having no idea where her husband had gone.

Because of God’s intervention, Johnny Cash miraculously was led out of the place without a working flashlight.  The dim flashlight he’d carried into the cave eventually went dead.

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Johnny Cash wrote a song about his experience called “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”.  It’s a powerful message with no sugar coating of words.  My favorite lyrics in the gospel tune are,

“Been down on one knee, talkin’ to the man from Galilee.”

Perhaps Johnny Cash’s best known gospel song is an old black spiritual tune, “Swing low, Sweet Chariot”.

Freed slave Wallis Willis wrote the lyrics around 1840. Wallis was called ‘Uncle Wallace’ by most people he knew.  He received his name from half Choctaw – half Irish – Mississippi slave owner Britt Willis.  

The song presents an uplifting message for those wondering if there’s life after death.  The hymn refers to God sending a chariot to take departed believers to their new Heavenly home. Slaves sang it in the fields and at religious services.  The old hymn is still heard at some traditional churches.  Opening line sounds like something a fire and brimstone preacher might use,

“Well my goodness gracious, let me tell you the news!”

Those are words that every Bible believing church should begin services with. They definitely get your attention!

What I find most interesting about “Ring of Fire” and “Swing low, Sweet Chariot” is that one speaks about going down, while the other mentions going up.

Something tells me that Johnny Cash is still singing the later.