#45. COME WITH ME SNOWBALL:
The pictures are still vivid in my mind---I was 13 yrs old---Sondheimer was buzzing with activity on a Saturday afternoon. The Blacks were crowded around and inside Bud Richard's Juke Joint. The white folks in a separate cluster only a few feet away at my father's bar. Lots of farmers and shoppers around our store across the street.
Suddenly the Black crowd parted with a collective yell. I watched from our store porch as a big black man stood alone in the center of a human vee. He had a pistol in his right hand and began firing at another deeper in the vee. Pow, Pow, Pow, Pow.---Four shots at the chest of the other. He fell---people rushed to him.
And then there was dead silence. I recognized the shooter----it was Snowball---a well known millworker. He just stood there a few seconds---perplexed---looking left and right. Nobody approached him. Clearly he had not thought of what to do after the act. He held the pistol at his side and then started walking home.
My father standing beside me, stepped from our cluster of folks and walked toward the street to intercept Snowball. Everyone watched as the two approached. (my hear was in my throat--would he shoot my daddy?) He stopped a few feet away---gestured and said "COME WITH ME SNOWBALL" ----AND SNOWBALL CAME! "GIVE ME THE PISTOL"---AND SNOWBALL GAVE IT OVER! "SIT OVER THERE"----AND SNOWBALL SAT---leaning forward--head down. "You're going to have to talk to the sheriff" daddy said as he phoned for him.
The Sheriff came---took Snowball away---he served 3 years in the prison farm. The victim---amazingly--was not seriously injured--a bullet in each arm and a flesh wound on both sides of his chest. The argument was about money owed.
I had a hero for a father and the whole town knew it. I reminded the three hundred folks at his funeral of this incident. Heads nodded in remembrance.
#46 DADDY DROPPED THE CHARGES
Two local brothers robbed our store and were quickly caught and taken to jail. Two days later my father went to Lake Providence and dropped the charges.
I was incredulous: "Why did you do that" I said. He replied: "Because they live here and if they serve time will return as bitter enemies---that can do us lots of harm.
By releasing them, Their whole family will be grateful and perhaps friends some day".
Exactly that--proved to be true---nothing was ever said about it again and the two boys eventually worked for my dad.
#47 I STOPPED A RUNAWAY MULE TEAM
Yes, I did---when I was about 12 ----It was a warm summer day---a team and a wagon were plodding down the road outside Sondheimer----WITHOUT A DRIVER!
I clamored aboard the rear of the wagon---got in the drivers seat---seized the reins---turned the team around and drove them back to town---parking at the colored juke joint. Quickly the owner came out and thanked me profusely and gave me a dime.
#48 I SOLVE AN ADULT PUZZLE
Three men in my father's café grouped around a countertop---considering a matchstick puzzle: Ten matchsticks aligned like this:
The rule is to pick up a match---jump over two and cross a third match as shown here
And without violating the rule--continue till you have 5 crosses like this.
I won't insult your intelligence by showing the next 4 moves----unless you insist.
Anyway to continue the story-----they puzzled for quite a while without solving it. I watched and cogitated----THEN BINGO----I SAW THE SOLUTION----I reached my hand into their midst and made 5 quick moves----the puzzle was solved. They all turned and looked at me---WITH NEW RESPECT----one smiled and said "POPPY"S DONE IT!
I hope every kid in the world has a moment like this.
My father set up a portable sawmill out in the countryside near some timber. Then something happened that changed my life. I've rhymed the incident for you.
The Belt Punch
Daddy sent me to town for a belt punch
When our sawmill stopped dead cold.
The drive belt broke and needed re-lacing
But first it needed new holes.
I asked at the store, and of several folks;
I checked with sawyer Bill.
No one had a belt punch and so
I returned straightway to the mill.
Daddy seemed dumbstruck with my tale.
In clearest oratory,
Said, “I sent you to town for a belt punch;
What you brought back was a story.
“Now son, I really need that tool.
You can see we’re in a crunch.
Go back to town and this time, please
Bring me back a belt punch.”
It was as though God spoke to me,
And I’ve made it a lifelong rule
To Bring results and not excuses.
(I quickly returned with the tool.)
RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES: I hope to persuade you that your hometown is not that different from Sondheimer----IN THAT---it possesses the full human drama---when looked at closely. AND that in your memory are your tales of childhood---the character shaping events that made you you.
UPDATE: My friends and I are still camped in the National Forest just outside the park entrance---only minutes from the Canyon's edge. The weather has been near perfect and we go often to park events. Entrance is free with our passes.