Category Archives: Goings On In Baldwyn, Mississippi

12 Angry Men get Jury Duty while Wives Vacation at the Beach

My recent involvement with the community theater group Baldwyn Main Street Players may have unintentionally started a social experiment.

In December, I signed on to direct the classic play 12 Angry Men for BMSP.  This particular show has a 13-member cast, entirely male – twelve “angry” jurors and one jury room guard, who does NOT become noticeably angry during the production.  (So the count in the title comes out right, you see.)

This latest BMSP show opens in the Claude Gentry Theater on Thursday, January 23rd, at 7 PM, and will have a total of six performances.   We expect sell-outs.  It’s a good one.

12 Angry Men - Jak SmithAppropriately enough for this courtroom drama, Jak Smith, a practicing lawyer in Tupelo, has been cast in a featured role – Juror #4.  Expect Smith, a newcomer to our stage, to masterfully deliver the character originally portrayed by E.G. Marshall in the award-winning 1954 film.  He has been doing just that, night after night, for the last two weeks.

As for the demanding lead role of Juror #8, accomplished BMSP regular Bentley Burns more than ably meets the challenge.  Juror #3, a dangerous sadist and the story’s chief antagonist, will be handled, against type, by lovable local ham Anthony “Frog” Buse.  This deadly-serious role will be the first of its kind for the gifted Buse, who’s played the more light-hearted roles of Rodney Dangerfield, Thurston Howell, and Hee Haw’s Gordie Tapp in recent shows.

12 Angry MenBurns, Buse and Smith won’t be flying solo.  Talent abounds throughout the show’s cast.  Veterans Craig Gaines, Steve Collins, David Jenkins, Greg Lominick, and Jonathan Hancock return to action for BMSP in this one, and they’re joined by first-timers Gregg Tucker, Ricky Murphy, Ken Anderson, James Rinehart and Jamie Gray.

BMSP also tapped well-known Booneville native Marshall Dickerson for the role of Juror #10, a harsh and intense bigot, played by Ed Begley in the old movie.  Dickerson told me he expected as much from a “Baldwyn” community theater group.

“Sure, you HAD to put someone from Booneville in the villain role,” Marshall lamented.  “I’ll have to have a police escort to get out of town when this thing’s over!”

12 Angry Men - Stage RightI didn’t intend it that way … but it does seem sort of appropriate, don’t you think?

“So, what about that “social experiment” thing you referred to earlier,” one might ask.

Well, THAT allusion has to do with THIS fact:  I am also directing a “chick-flick” in May – called The Dixie Swim Club – which, ironically, has a cast made up entirely of WOMEN, five of ‘em.   (Auditions for DSC will be held February 9th, a Sunday afternoon, at 2 PM … for you ladies who might be interested.)

I suspect that I will find a significant amount of material for future columns as I compare the two experiences – directing an all-male cast on the one hand and an all-female cast on the other.

Dixie Swim ClubI can already say that directing the men through a holiday-compressed rehearsal process has had a “military” feel to it.  While scripts were passed out in December, rehearsals really didn’t start in earnest until after New Year’s Day – with a production opening night of January 23rd!  That’s tight.  But we all knew it going in, and the guys have worked hard to bring out every nuance of their characters.

In contrast, the ladies of Dixie Swim Club will have more than three months to perfect their show.  The men have brought this point up to me on more than one occasion.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must say that discussions among the men have generally moved to a conclusion like this one:  “Well, of course, you know men can get done in two weeks what it will take those women three months to finish … because we don’t have to stop and talk about every little thing.”

I look forward to The Dixie Swim Club’s response to a comment like that.  I’ll keep you informed.

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Swing for the Fence

When I look at my second son Gabe, I can’t help but see a “McGee” man, a near-clone of my lovely wife’s side of our immediate family. 

Gabe's Big SwingAt 22, about 6-feet tall, square-jawed, and with a hairline that already recedes just a little, Gabriel McGee Richey fills a mold cast around his grandfather Jerry and his uncle Matt, almost perfectly.  Gabe’s clearly a different kind of cat than his three “Richey-stamped” brothers.  He always has been.

Unlike me, Gabe’s an outdoorsman.  He’ll feel an urge to take up one of his many rifles and head for the hills – literally – often by himself, to hunt deer and wild hogs.  Hank Williams, Jr., would be proud to know that Gabe can indeed “skin a buck,” or a hog, or most any other creature that’s legally hunted in north Mississippi. He’s a tough, gritty son of a gun.  He’ll need to be.  He joined the United States Army in December. 

Tanner, Gabe & CassieGabe heads to Fort Benning, Georgia, to begin basic training on January 21.  He’ll follow that up with Ranger training, which he’s qualified for.  That’s “Airborne” Ranger training.  That means you jump out of airplanes … routinely.  I’ve got plenty of faith in Gabe’s toughness and ability, but I’m going to worry about him just the same.

When he was a baby, Gabe broke his mother’s heart.  His big brother Gardner, who preceded Gabe to life by only 14 months, was a typical “baby.”  Gardner had to be rocked, and held, and fiddled with endlessly to get him to fall asleep.  Gabe, on the other hand, absolutely refused to be rocked – at all.  Gardner was, of course, fine with the arrangement.  Pop, Gabe & MattThat little McGee baby would stiffen up his whole body when his mother tried to hold him in her chair and demand, expressively, to be put down, let go.  I thought it was cool that if you just laid Gabe in his crib – without anything touching him – he’d go right to sleep.  His mother, the lovely but shaken Rothann, did not. 

Gabe’s never been much of a “hugger.”  And it’s a good thing.  Back then, when we’d arrive at grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ homes with our two car-seat-strapped toddlers, a bevy of kinfolk would emerge and descend on our vehicle.  Consistently, they’d unstrap our chattering first-born and carry him inside, held aloft like baby Simba in The Lion King.  Gabe, still strapped, would look to his ol’ Dad to, hopefully, at least include him with the diaper bags and other baby paraphernalia that had to be carried in.  As far as I know, I never left #2 in the car.  And we – Gabe and I – still call Gardner “Simba” occasionally, when we think he deserves it.

Gabe in WadersGabe was the Richey boy who had the “great pleasure” of having his father coach or manage his entire little league baseball career – from age 9 to 15.  That’s a LOT of father-son time, but we somehow survived it.  Our travelling team – originally made up of players from Baldwyn, Booneville and Saltillo – was called the Devilcats.  Gabe’s close and eternal friends are numbered among those boys – especially Brandon “Dino” Woodruff and next-door-neighbor, “buddy-for-life” Tanner Gaines.

The memorable moments from all that sweat and dirt and stinking, sun-burned boys are innumerable.  But there are two that stand out for me.

First, Gabe stepped up to the plate in his first at-bat as a high school senior, after transferring back to Baldwyn from Tupelo where he had played his first 3 years, and he homered, on a full count.  A lot of batters might have cut their swing down with two strikes in what was for Gabe and our family an uneasy, pressure-filled situation.  Gabe swung for the fence.  That’s Gabe. 

For the second one, I go back to a 9-year-old game we played at Guntown City Park.  In that year right after “coach pitch,” kids begin to run around the bases like the big boys.  Unfortunately, the result is that 9-year-old games generally turn into unwatchable, chaotic steal-fests.  Inexperienced fielders will throw the ball around wildly in ill-advised attempts at picking runners off.  It never happens.  This night, Gabe was catching, and an opposition runner broke from second to third.  Gabe rose up and fired a Johnny Bench rocket down the line.  Our third baseman, of course, didn’t catch it, and the base runner, a hefty hundred-pounder, rounded the bag and headed home.  Somehow the ball was scooped up quickly enough at third to hurl it towards home, where Gabe waited, his mask tossed in the dirt.

Gabe with guitarGabe caught the ball like a pro, but a small bull elephant rumbled towards him, head down, 2/3 of the way home.  In that moment of decision, rather than wait for a collision, Gabe raced up the line.  Ten feet off the plate, Gabe threw his entire banty-rooster body into the runner’s chest, ball and mitt extended, and shockingly knocked an elephant to the ground. 

“You out, boy!”  Gabe yelled, standing over him, and the game was over.

Next week, a tough-as-nails, no-hugs, “McGee” outdoorsman will take his place in the U.S. Army.  I expect he’ll compete like a “Devilcat.”

Swing for the fence with all you’ve got, Gabe.  This game’s just starting.

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A Good Life, A Great Uncle

Gabe & JackMy great uncle, Jack Hamblin, Jr., is a World War II veteran.  He saved a dozen or more men from drowning when his ship was sunk in the English Channel during the Normandy invasion.  Jack Jr. and my grandfather Mort Gardner were my employers from the time I was 10 until I graduated high school at their Sinclair, Arco and Phillips 66 service stations here in Baldwyn. 

Jack told me a funny story several weeks ago.

Jack Hamblin Jr. & Charles Sidney SpainWhen he was a boy in the early 1940’s, Jack worked at the Union Drug Store, for Len Rowan and Archie “Fat” Frost, on Main Street in Baldwyn.  One day a local man named Bishop came in and approached Frost at the counter.  Archie, who was nearing 40 and balding, had had a long day.  He was seated behind the counter with his arms propped up, leaning forward. 

Bishop thought there was a little fun to be had.

Walking over to Frost, he clapped his hand down on top of Archie’s head, and loudly proclaimed “Archie, that feels just like my wife’s butt.”  And he laughed it up.

Archie Frost made no immediate response except to reach up and pat the top of his own head a couple of times.  Finally, he brought his hand down, looked up at Bishop, and dead-panned, “Damned if it don’t.”

Jack said Bishop never came in the Union Drug Store again. 

Certainly, Jack thought that was a pretty funny story.  In fact, he thought it was funny enough to relay it to his nephew more than 70 years after it happened.

Jack Hamblin, Jr., & Clark RicheyAs I debated this past week whether or not to write up the tale Jack had told me – I’m not sure the Baldwyn News will even publish the word “butt,” which is not really the term he used anyway – I realized I’d forgotten something.  Jack had told me what the Bishop man’s name was.  It was Claude, or Clarence, or Carl – something that started with a “C.”  But as I prepared my column this week, I couldn’t think of it for the life of me.  I had jotted it down on a piece of paper at my office, but that was months ago.  That scribble’s long since been discarded.  But I know that Jack knows it.  And I can get it from him later. 

Jack Jr. will be 90 this spring, I think.

Before Christmas, I sat with Jack at my niece’s wedding, and we talked about how he and my grandfather had started their service station business.  It was after the war, and they bought someone out – I can’t remember who he said – but he said they only had one tire tool in the place.  He told me one of the guys who had the station would wash someone’s car and then take the money and go straight to the pool hall.  He gave me the person’s name.  I can’t remember it.

Jack told me that when he and my grandfather thought about going into the service station business, people around town told them they were crazy.  Their competition – Brownie Coggins and Harless Rutherford, who in typical small-town fashion were also their brothers-in-law – had the gas business “sewed up” at Blue Top and Standard Oil. 

“But we did it anyway,” Jack said.  “Mort said, ‘I think it’ll be all right.’”

Jack Hamblin Jr., Claire & Hallie Goodson, Reggie RicheyJack told me how they saw that no one in town offered credit to black families in those days … and how he and my grandfather decided that they would.  He said they went to several solid men in the black community and told them directly that they wanted their business and that their credit would be good with “Mort and Jack.”  He called the men’s full names.  One was a Stewart, and I just can’t remember who else he mentioned.  Jack said when he and my uncle Dan closed the station 50 years later they had more business than anyone in town and that it had been basically 50/50 black and white all the way from the start.  I had never heard any of that before.

I’ve talked a lot over the past couple years with Jack Jr. and other elder statesmen around Baldwyn – Annie Laurie Arnold, Jimmy Cunningham, Wallace Pannell, Taylor Lindley, many more.  These golden souls are the ones who put flesh and bones on historic local names like Archie Frost for me.  They called him “Fat,” Jack told me.  I try hard to remember the details, to capture it all.  I don’t think I can.

But I called Jack back on Sunday anyway.  It was “Roy Stewart.”  He was the man Jack went to in the black community, in the fall of 1946, to offer credit.  He worked for the railroad.  And “Clarence” Bishop was the man who thought it’d be funny to pat Archie Frost’s bald head.  That was in 1941 or ’42, Jack thought.

At my niece’s wedding a month ago, my great uncle Jack Hamblin, Jr., told me, “You know, I’ve lived a good life.” 

Damned if he hasn’t.

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A Family Christmas, Finely Chopped

“Christmas is a time for family.”

Standing alone, that statement generally has a positive connotation, but as those of us who are past our 12th birthday know, it is in fact a two-sided coin.

Wedding Photo 1My mother broke her hip 5 weeks ago, and she, being a 60-something mother of two sons and no daughters, has had a rather rough go of it.  Not from the pain – that subsided in a week or so – but from her inability to carry on the cooking/cleaning/shopping/entertaining load for her family through Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  She’s hopped about on one foot and a walker for more than a month now, trying not to look injured while being virtually helpless, unable to put even the slightest pressure on her right leg.

Wedding Photo 2Thanksgiving was tough enough for Mother.  And after that she had to sit through her oldest granddaughter’s wedding, in early December, unable to walk down the aisle.  She was just “there,” on the second row, permanently affixed to her pre- and post-game seat of honor.  Ever resilient, she would occasionally hop up on one foot and try to appear able-bodied and two-legged to greeters who hadn’t seen her lately and didn’t know her hip had been broken.

But then Christmastime was coming, and who on God’s green earth could possibly make her Christmas dinner?  Certainly not my brother or me.

In desperation, she turned to her daughters-in-law.  My sister-in-law Lorie drew potatoes and green bean casserole, but the piece de resistance – the dressing – along with several other dishes fell to my spouse of 30 years, the lovely and talented Rothann.

As in most families, very specific recipes have travelled down through generations and must be perfectly replicated when rubber meets road at holiday time.  My mother has great love for and faith in Rothann, yet she still called her daughter-in-law’s cell phone at least 10 times, over the two-day span leading up to the fateful December 25th date.  She had to deliver the intricate and near-mystical details of dressing preparation to the next generation.

The step that created the most buzz between Mother and Wife during their walkie-talkie, pre-Christmas contact was the amount of celery to be included in the dressing … and more importantly, the degree to which it would be chopped.

“Fine.  Very fine.  Very, very fine,” my mother exclaimed on eight separate occasions.

“I mean really fine.  Maybe you should just come get my food processor,” she resolved.

Rothann tried to explain that she had in fact worked with celery before – in tones similar to how a nuclear physicist might have discussed working with plutonium – but she abandoned that line of discussion when my mother felt the need to go over the difference between a “bunch” of celery and a “stalk” of celery.

What my mother didn’t say, but Rothann and I both knew, was that the real reason for the fine chopping requirement was that my brother would in no way EVER knowingly eat a piece of celery.  Therefore, the offensive vegetation – a vital component of our holiday standard – must be pulverized beyond recognition.

I was not oblivious to all the goings-on surrounding the dressing.  As I watched Rothann plan, prep and deliver masterfully two pans of dressing, a broccoli and cheese casserole, macaroni and cheese (my dad’s mother’s recipe), and a shoe-peg corn casserole for our Christmas lunch, I was more than impressed.  I even heard her talk directly to my brother about the dressing.

He told her bluntly, “If I bite into a piece of celery, I ain’t eating it.”

Unshaken, she retorted, “I’m going to make it the way I make it, and if you don’t eat it, I don’t care!”  Rothann’s been around as a Richey for 30 years.  She doesn’t sweat my brother.

Nonetheless, she put me on food processor duty, and when I had pureed 4 stalks of celery down to an unrecognizable green liquid, she allowed me to pour it into the dressing.

I felt satisfied and confident enough with the situation to have a little fun, so I called my mother on Christmas Eve.  We discussed many things – presents I’d picked up for her, how she was feeling, if she needed anything from the grocery store, etc. – when I delivered the haymaker.

“By the way, Mama, Rothann is NOT chopping the celery up nearly fine enough for the dressing for tomorrow.”

There was dead silence, complete silence, on the other end of the line for a good 10 seconds.  Finally, my mother squeaked out, “ … oh, Lord … ”

I continued and told her that Rothann hadn’t pulled any strings off the stalks either.  I listened to my Mother’s labored breathing on the other end for a few seconds more, before I finally relented and laughed.  She still didn’t accept that I was joking for another minute or two.  A day later, she told me how her mind had raced through multiple contingency plans in the split second after I threw her the curve and she thought her dressing recipe had been derailed.

She didn’t think any part of it was as funny as I did.

Christmas day came, and we had perfect dressing and plenty of other dishes.  And if you know my brother or me, you know we ate plenty of it.  We were happy.  Our wives were happy.  And my mother was happy.  One big, happy, well-fed family eating dressing with a hint of celery but no noticeable evidence that it had been included.

Rothann said “everybody” thought it was the best dressing we had ever had.  I agreed, of course.

Christmas is a time for family.

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Batman versus Superman: Geek Food for Thought

I have long been a comic book geek.

Finally, at 45-ish, I have reached the level of self-confidence sufficient to combat any ridicule I might receive from hunters, athletes, mechanics or other stereotypical roles of masculinity regarding my love for the superhero genre.  Therefore, I am at last comfortable revealing that I know the difference in “a cyborg,” a being who is part-man and part-machine, and “Cyborg,” a member of DC Comics’ Justice League who is … well, part-man and part-machine.

Batman and RobinI can tell you the secret identity of almost any costumed, comic book hero – a gripping game I like to play on long road trips.  Believe it or not, my family very seldom wants to join me.  My youngest child Maddux WILL occasionally indulge me in a “name ‘em” game where we spread out a drawing of multiple comic book characters and then try to call the correct names of each one, no matter how obscure.

Look, I already said I was a geek.

One must admit that Hollywood, over the past decade, has validated MY position – that comic book heroes are the modern-day analogies of ancient mythological characters like Hercules and Beowulf.  Inarguably, Tinseltown has discovered that my fictional, spandex-wearing, new titans are very, VERY marketable.

I was way ahead of the curve on that one.

From pre-school days, I’ve been a fan of Batman.  Like many from my generation, I became aware of the caped crusader by watching him on television in the BIFF-BAM-POW campy creation that ran on ABC back-to-back weeknights from 1966 to 1968.  Even today, the show’s star Adam West, in his gray and blue long underwear, defines the Batman character for millions.

I was in elementary school before I found out that Batman was not just a TV show.  There were these picture books called “comics” for sale at Hopkin’s Big Star or Cunningham’s Grocery that painted a much fuller picture of the Batman and his teenage sidekick Robin.

RobinBatman was more, I found out, than a melodramatic, goody-two-shoes who chit-chatted with celebrities as he climbed Gotham’s buildings via the bat-rope.  The Dark Knight was a brilliant detective and a vicious but virtuous vigilante who could find ways to succeed regardless of the odds stacked against him – not comically like on television, but semi-realistically.  The bottom line:  comic-book Batman was cool.

Apart from the dynamic duo, I also discovered “others” out there, a whole DC Comics’ “universe” of characters.  And in that universe was, of course, the ultimate superhero, Superman, the granddaddy of ‘em all.

The red-caped, Kryptonian Man of Steel had a TV show of his own, too, I later learned – The Adventures of Superman – but his series was gone from the airways, along with its star George Reeves, long before my time.  I did eventually pick it up later in childhood, syndicated on Saturdays, but the strange visitor from another planet never could penetrate my psyche like Batman.

Frankly, I think it all came down to the idea that a regular person – if he was driven enough, talented enough, crazy enough – could theoretically BECOME Batman, at least as much as he could become Tarzan, or James Bond, or the Lone Ranger.  Because Batman was a man.

On the contrary, no matter how much Popeye spinach I forced down, I would never be able to defy gravity and fly or shoot red laser beams out of my eyes.  To be Superman was simply unattainable.

In the comics, I discovered another difference between Batman and Superman, more subtle but just as profound.

Superman sees human beings as inherently good, while Batman views mankind as untrustworthy, at best, and psychotically depraved, at its worse.

BatmanThat’s geek-food for thought.

One would want to see it Superman’s way.  From his vantage point above squeaky-clean Metropolis, a pinnacle of human civilization in the DC Universe, Superman looks down on people as generally noble beings, who in their heart-of-hearts desire to do right by one another.  It’s only the few bad apples – Lex Luthor, Toyman, Parasite, etc. – who are out there actively trying to spoil the bunch in the Man of Steel’s worldview.

On the other hand, Batman, whose parents were gunned down in an alleyway in gritty, dirty Gotham City, views mankind quite differently.  People are selfish, belligerent and dishonest or far, far worse – take the homicidal lunatic the Joker, for instance.

In black and white pre-school terms, Batman and Superman are both certainly out there vanquishing evil.  But the difference is Superman believes that ultimately he can win, that he can expunge evil completely.  The Batman, for his part, understands his quest is a never-ending battle against depravity which can spontaneously recreate itself anywhere human beings exist.

Batman’s realism versus Superman’s idealism is just one of the heady philosophical considerations that keep my status as a comic book geek intact after four decades as a fan.

Of course, I also like to see Lex Luthor and the Joker just get punched in the face.  So there’s that, too.

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Readers, Ping Pong & Pee Wee Football

Coaching pee wee football is currently my favorite thing to do.

I have been assigned a group of 5th and 6th graders in a league at Saltillo, and we’ve notched two division wins so far in 2013 against only a single, out-of-division road loss at Tishomingo County (5th and 6th graders are still fed on cornbread in Tish County).

Three BroncosWe’re the Broncos.

My 10 year old son Maddux plays quarterback, flanker and outside linebacker … with gusto and confidence.  He almost perfectly reflects what I look for in a player.  He studies the game, he plays in the yard every day, he is aggressive far beyond what his 85-pound frame suggests he should be, and he has talent enough to succeed.  He has already run for, thrown for and caught multiple touchdowns, and if he doesn’t lead our team in tackles, he’s close.  I’m very proud of him.  You probably picked up on that.

But beyond being able to spend time with my youngest child, I just generally like coaching.  To see a group of varied and unique individuals come together for a common purpose is satisfying in itself.  To have that group be successful is more.  To gather up a team from a “park league” environment – always a hodgepodge of budding athletes, non-athletes, and those who are frankly unclassifiable – and somehow win football games is the ultimate.

Park leagues take all comers.  If your child wants to play football or baseball or soccer, you simply go fill out a registration form and pay a fee.  Soon, your offspring will be roaming a field at the W.K. Webb Sportsplex in Saltillo, in Baldwyn’s Latimer Park or in some other municipal venue.  It’s a great community service.  Kids need it.

Sports teach things that you don’t get anywhere else.

Wanting something does not guarantee you will get it.

A good friend off the field, where life sails along smoothly, is not necessarily the guy you want with you in a conflict.

Sometimes you can pick your battles, but sometimes they pick you.

When you get knocked down, the proper response is not to cry, but to get up.

How to win with grace (if you have a good coach).

How to lose with dignity (if you have a good coach).

Learning is not confined to the players.  I contend that it is impossible for even coaches, at least open-minded ones, to go through a season without gaining new insights.  If nothing else they will get to know the kids who play for them.

Football is a loosely-controlled, physical battle for the acquisition of territory, and the bodily stress of such a demanding sport reveals what a person is made of.  Over the course of a single football season, a coach will likely learn more of a person’s true nature than a classroom teacher will see through years of instruction.

Now, the parents on the sidelines are the real hard-cases.  It’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks.  Mom’s and Dad’s protective parental instincts almost always override visual evidence, sometimes comically so.

Lee County Bronco Pre-Game“He’s holding him!  He’s holding him!” said the mother, whose son was being tackled … while carrying the football.

If you don’t realize why that’s funny, don’t fret.

I was games director at a children’s church camp a couple years ago, and I mapped out an elaborate schedule of games for 1st through 6th graders.  Each group of boys and girls would go through “stations,” where an assigned camp leader would manage their activity.  While Group A was playing Noodle Hockey on the softball field, Group C would be playing Frisbee Golf along the hiking trail, and so on.  One of the stations I set up was Ping Pong.

I assumed that playing Ping Pong – table tennis – was universal.  Generations of my extended family had long battled in pursuit of made-up “championship belts” in my parents’ carport.  The competition was always intense.  My son Gabe and his cousin Grant garnered reputations as paddle-throwers.  My brother Clay and I broke many a table by diving on top of it, trying to prevent some cousin’s game-winning point.  Even my mother would join in on occasion before finally, intentionally losing to some pre-teen family member, who none of the rest of us would let win.

At church camp, the deacon’s wife I had assigned to Ping Pong duty came to me holding her score sheets.

“I’ve got this ‘Ping Pong’ thing, Clark.  How do you play that?”

In response to the stunned look on my face, she continued.

“Now, Clark, you know we are not ‘athletes’ at our house.  We’re readers.”

Maybe it goes without saying.  Maybe it doesn’t.  But I do not consider Ping Pong an “athletic” endeavor.

However, I do very much appreciate “readers.”  I have a few playing for the Broncos.

But when they button on their chinstraps and jog onto the field next Saturday to take on Marietta, they’ll be football players.

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Can You Believe He Did That?!

Maddux SaddenedI have unintentionally entertained my so-called friends this week by revealing that, yes, it is remotely possible that Clark Richey is capable of a mistake.

I forgot to pick up my 10 year-old son Maddux from school on Tuesday and when I finally remembered and arrived, at about 3:55, he stood there on the edge of the sidewalk at Baldwyn Middle School, stone-faced, blankly staring at the southern sky.  He never made eye contact with me as he opened the door and threw his backpack into the passenger-side floorboard with more vigor than usual.

“Sorry about that,” I said.

“S’all right,” he replied.

“Well, how was your day otherwise?”

Silence.

It really was not that big of a deal, I thought – 45 minutes – and, in fact, I had noticed that he was not alone there on the sidewalk.  There were three or four others who also waited for their rides to arrive.  I felt pretty good that, at least, I wasn’t the LAST parent to pick up their child.

Unfortunately, I later learned that the rest of the group that stood there had all been in after-school detention.  So, as it turned out, I actually WAS the last one to pick up a “non-incarcerated” child at BMS on Tuesday.  There’s no way around it; I’ll go ahead and own that.

A so-called friend consoled me Wednesday morning.

“Don’t worry about it, Clark.  He probably picked up some great skills – how to shoot dice, use a switchblade – something he’ll need later on.”

I was happy to have given my so-called friend such enjoyment.

I always tell my four sons this:  “I am RIGHT 98% of the time.  So if you do EXACTLY what I say, you will also be RIGHT 98% of the time.  If, however, you try to pick and choose that rare moment when I am wrong, the laws of probability insure that you will be WRONG more than 2% of the time.”  They usually stare at me, stone-faced, when I say that.  Yet I have heard them repeat it when they did not think I was listening.  They know.

I dropped Maddux off at Art 108 late Tuesday afternoon where his mother was teaching an after-school art class to 1st-graders.  It was there that the tale of my mild and inconsequential error grew to legendary proportions, so much so that, before I knew it, it was a community topic on social media.

Now, Maddux is the perfect genetic mixture of his mother and me.  He stood there Tuesday on that sidewalk and REFUSED to admit to any teacher or administrator that there could possibly be anything wrong.  He NEVER considered walking the twenty feet to the office and calling to see if anyone was coming to get him.  To do that would have been to admit defeat, to admit that something was out of his control.  He gets that from me.  And although that characteristic may need to be tempered with a little reasoning over time, I’m proud he’s got it.

Maddux IrateMaddux’s mother, the lovely and talented Rothann, is smart, funny, artistic, and conscientious.  She also is gifted in prodding – EXCESSIVELY – for the salacious details of any event, and before Maddux left Art 108 on Tuesday afternoon, she had used her gift to stir her half of the genes present in our 10 year-old to a boiling lather.  So stirred, the pair of them bounced “Can you BELIEVE he did that?” comments back and forth, apparently for hours, until their woe-filled exchange culminated with a Facebook post that included pictures of Maddux both saddened and outraged.

There, my so-called friends could weigh in on the matter.  Nice.

I scrolled through the ensuing line of commentary, which essentially established my place among the most villainous and inept fathers in recorded history.  I was dejected to find not one statement sympathetic to my point of view.

Couldn’t someone have said, “Hey, can’t you actually see Clark’s office from the middle school?  What is it, maybe 300 yards? ”

Or “Didn’t the fall of the Roman empire begin in the first place, not with debauchery, but when Roman dads started having to pick up their Roman kids at Forum Elementary School?”

Yet I got nothing.

So I’ll close this topic for the time being, admittedly errant and guilty, but still slightly perturbed at the lack of sympathy shown for the devil by his so-called friends.

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Don’t Let Fatigue Make a Coward of You

Baldwyn-Booneville Football is a game of aggression and pain.

I have a co-worker, a Booneville alum, who routinely spouts off – as is their nature – insincere tidbits of Blue Devil “wisdom” for the sole purpose of riling me into a fit of anger and retribution. While I, being the bigger man, discard most of his biased ramblings, generally derogatory towards our beloved Baldwyn Bearcats, out of hand, he does occasionally stumble upon an acorn of truth.

“The winners in football are the ones who can endure the most pain. That’s what it’s all about,” he professed this week. And on this point, I felt compelled to pause and agree with him.

I played organized football for 13 years – from the spring of 6th grade through a 5-year collegiate career that included 3 seasons in Division I. Nowadays, I may be getting old and overly opinionated, but the way I see it, kids are simply not as tough as they once were.

They are pampered and petted and told how good they are based on how fast they run a 40 yard dash or how much they can power clean, but on a good night, about 50% of them, maybe, get through an entire game without having to come out due to “injury,” or cramps or – I choke as I say this – fatigue.

I looked up at the starry sky, as I lay on my back in a grassy Tippah County field in 1981, unable to breath. One time, in one game, playing left defensive end for the Bearcats against Walnut’s Wildcats, I had to come out – hurt.

I had herded and trapped one of their tailbacks against the Walnut sideline. In front of the home crowd, I maneuvered and prepped myself to force him out of bounds – or I’d clean his plow if he stayed in – when all of the sudden he cut back towards the field … and me. What he saw, that I didn’t, was Walnut Wildcat fullback Willie Poole sprinting at my right side, my blind side.

Poole buried himself under my ribs and ejected all the air from my right lung. When I hit the ground and slid under the feet of the Walnut scrubs, most of the air from my left lung also made its way to parts unknown. I have no idea what happened on that play after that moment. I remember blinking my eyes and seeing strobing images of smiling Wildcat B-teamers.

“Way to hit, Willie Poole!” I distinctly remember hearing, with laughter.

I did not immediately get up. I just closed my eyes and waited for air and Coach Willie Bender.

59 BearcatsCoach Bender showed up and used the time-tested method of grabbing my belt and lifting my butt off the ground several times to somehow pump air back into my lungs. It must have worked, because after about 20 seconds, I got to my feet and wobbled to the sideline. My pain had just started, however. By the time I reached mid-field, I saw defensive coordinator Bud Reynolds, glaring at me, arms folded, and I seriously considered returning to the Walnut sideline, where people were smiling and happy.

Coach Reynolds only said one word to me. I can’t put it in print. And I jogged back on the field the very next play. I did not come out of that game or any other ever again due to pain.

There’s a difference in pain and injury. I’ve had two knee surgeries, both caused by football, and I certainly realize that players break bones and can’t go. I understand, too, that kids tear ligaments and cartilage and get concussions, and when those things happen, they must come out. But I also know that my dad, whose teams won over 900 high school basketball games, said, “Don’t let fatigue make a coward of you.” He could have coached football on that line alone.

My opinion on this subject doesn’t really matter in any substantial way. These days, I only coach a pee wee park league team in Saltillo. But when I’m working with those kids, including my 10 year-old son Maddux, I want them to realize that to go forward, when you feel like you can’t, is itself a true and great measure of success.

I hate it when a Blue Devil is right about anything, even accidentally.

Willie Poole, the Walnut Wildcat, who knocked me out of a game in north Tippah County in 1981, played his high school career, and at Northeast Mississippi Community College, with one arm.

Don’t let fatigue make a coward of you.

 

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Theater Of, By and For the People

Robert & Craig“And that government, of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish from the face of the earth.” – Abraham Lincoln, from the Gettysburg Address.

“Of the people, by the people and for the people.” That inspired phrase, delivered on a most somber occasion by one of our greatest presidents, today conveys a truth that is applicable beyond the realms of war and patriotism. If any endeavor is to survive and be declared relevant and useful, it should satisfy the three components of Lincoln’s Gettysburg closing. Certain things must simply be of the people, by the people and for the people if they are to last.

Community theater, in my mind, is a thing of that kind.

On Thursday night, September 19, at 7pm, a 6-performance production of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” will open in the Simon Spight Auditorium/Claude Gentry Theatre. This show will kick off the first full and official season for Baldwyn’s Main Street Players. A host of people – including BMSP’s newest board member, and the show’s director, Debby Gibbs – have worked tirelessly over the last 6 weeks to make this initial production possible. And before that, a different host of people worked, for more than a year in advance, to create the theater itself that will serve as BMSP’s primary venue for years to come.

City officials, Baldwyn residents, generous friends from abroad, and other community theater groups around North Mississippi have all contributed to assist Main Street Players in reaching this point, both materially and with their ceaseless encouragement. So far, this sincere and worthy effort to bring art to life in Small Town, Mississippi, has been “of the people.”

BMSP’s Debby Gibbs, who spent a career teaching high school theater, agreed to direct this first show. I met Debby when I first got the bug two years ago and tried out for a play at Tupelo Community Theatre. Debby was directing a musical there that I’d never heard of called “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Soon after auditions, I was elated to learn that I had gotten a substantial part. I was not nearly as elated to later learn that the part included a 3-minute tap dance routine (I don’t dance – tap or otherwise) and a scene where I would sing a duet with the leading lady (no problem there) while roller skating blind-folded (big problem). Debby shortened my tap dance routine to one minute (thank goodness), I brushed up my roller skating skills, and we put on a nice show that featured an ensemble cast of very talented singers and performers.

One of those performers was Angela Howard. Angela is a lot of things – an inventor, a nurse, a mother, a singer, and a dancer. But possibly her most unique and surprising talent is ventriloquism. Angela is, in fact, an award-winning ventriloquist. I kid you not. This is one multi-talented lady. And now, thanks to the recruiting skills of Debby and me, apparently rivaling those of Nick Saban, Angela will play Vera Claythorne, a suspected murderess, in this first BMSP show.

Professional actor Kenny Cook, who has appeared in both independent films and Hollywood productions, showed up for a role in this first BMSP show as well. Just out of the blue! Now as Sir Lawrence Wargrave, another suspected murderer (EVERYONE in this show is a suspected murderer), Kenny will polish his craft and just have some fun acting. And, by the way, he’s good at it.

Judy & BentleyMany talented performers who have been seen in BMSP productions before – including Craig Gaines, Robert Palmer, Bentley Burns, Judie Garrett, Jonathan Hancock, Chet Barber and Buz Plaxico – will be on hand again to offer their takes on the challenging comic-mystery roles of this show. And newcomers Debbie Davis and Brenda Daher will join the party.

Additionally, audiences will be stunned by the show’s set, created by Baldwyn’s builder Stuart Cockrell and his creative sister Tina Velasquez. Tina, a first-time participant, is all in. After working countless hours on the set and in rehearsal, Tina will also serve as the play’s stage manager.

Always overlooked, but vital to the production of any show, are the sound and light technicians. Youngsters Casey Cagle and Noah Hancock will ably fill those roles for BMSP. They are a couple of very smart and very dedicated kids.

It has truly been a group effort bringing this production to our Main Street stage. As with all community theater, “And Then There Were None” will be a show made possible “by the people.”

The only thing that remains is for patrons to buy tickets and come see the show.

This production is ready “for the people.”

Note: This story was originally published in The Baldwyn News on September 19, 2013.

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A Tall, True Tale of a Southern Pioneer: Abednego Inman

A.I. TaylorIn 1838, when he was only 24 years old, Abednego Inman Taylor was innkeeper at an original Mississippi tavern, the Carrollville Inn, located just north of modern-day Baldwyn.  He and his wife Martha Gibbs had come to northeast Mississippi from Franklin County, Tennessee, with the first influx of settlers, those who rushed in to fill the void left when the Chickasaws accepted final removal in 1837.  Taylor was a stereotype of the early Presbyterian pioneers who struggled through the Cumberland Gap and along the Tennessee River in a steady stream until the Southern United States, from eastern Tennessee to Texas, was settled.  Descendants of A.I. and his siblings – including Taylor Lindley, Louis Cochran, Tommy Shellnut, and many others – are widely known by current Baldwyn residents.  The original innkeeper, A. I. Taylor, is today acknowledged as an important founder of old Carrollville and its municipal offspring, Baldwyn.

In the context of modern sensibilities, one finds it difficult to conceive a motivation that would launch a man and his family into far-away, densely-wooded wilderness to somehow there achieve a better standard of living.  But to Taylor, it was simply a family tradition.  Likely, it was A. I.’s namesake grandfather – Maj. Abednego Inman – who was responsible for passing on this family’s trailblazing spirit of adventure and migration to the young Taylor.

A story from the life of Baldwyn forefather and notable Indian fighter, Abednego Inman …

Abednego Inman, was one of three brothers – the others being, of course, Shadrach and Meshach – who left their home in England prior to the American Revolution. The mobile Inman trio and their families passed through Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee eventually joining Daniel Boone in his exploration of the wild country west of the Cumberland Mountains.

In 1772, Boone led Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the Appalachian trails they had mutually established and pressed further into territory where the Chickasaws and the more dangerous Cherokees ruled.  A harsh winter descended upon the exploration party, and soon their food supplies were exhausted.  They resorted to eating the only thing available, native game that they were fortunate enough to kill with their rifles, and that was a feat not so easily accomplished in the dead of winter.  The beleaguered group meandered into central Tennessee and set up camp near the famous Nickajack Cave.  With no sentinel posted, the weakened pioneers were surprised by an attack of Chickamauga Cherokees.  Nearly all the band of adventurers were killed or wounded.  Among the dead was Meshach Inman.

Shadrach Inman escaped death but was seriously wounded by a Cherokee spear.  Still, he managed to rejoin the fierce and fleet Boone who led all the survivors he could gather on a race to safety.  The Chickamauga pursued the party for days but the reenergized woodsman Boone moved “like a ghost” through the winter countryside.

Daniel Boone Indian FighterDuring the battle, the third brother Abednego was struck in the forehead with a tomahawk.  He carried the resulting scar for the rest of his life. Injured and thought dead by his compatriots, Abednego Inman found a hiding place in a hollow tree, where he essentially remained immobile for nine days without food and with very little water.  Somehow he eventually gathered enough strength to make his escape, which he did, hobbling home over hundreds of miles alone through the wilds of eastern Tennessee.

Abednego Inman, who would later fight with Tennessee’s first governor John Sevier at King’s Mountain during the Revolutionary War, was a survivor.  The blood of this adventurous pioneer flows through many of the families that settled Baldwyn, Mississippi, passing first through his grandson, a founder of old Carrollville, the innkeeper Abednego Inman Taylor.

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