Father’s Day

Sam Richey

My father lost his father in a car accident when dad was 10 years old. He ran and hid under a bed in my grandmother’s house when he heard the news. He stayed there crying, wouldn’t come out. 

Something like that put a child to work in those days, on a family farm, in a way that our kids today and even my own generation might describe as cruel. My dad had to work very, very hard. There were no choices. 

Only a few years later, he lost his only brother, to a freak lightning accident at their home near Frankstown. Life wasn’t very kind to my grandmother, my dad and his sister, but my Granny’s faith was strong. What a survivor she was. My dad, however, for the most part, flailed around in life back then. A little basketball at Northeast Junior College, service in the army in Cold War Germany, even worked for the Mississippi highway department for a short while. Finally, he got a degree from Mississippi State University, pretty much to avoid working for the highway department. He got it, nonetheless. 

My dad never intended to be a basketball coach. He got a teaching job at Jumpertown HS in 1967, with my mother, and was assigned assistant basketball coach. In 1968 he was head coach, in ’69 state runner up, and in 1971 he and his Jumpertown Cardinals won his first state championship. He had found his calling. He fell backwards into it. 41 years of bouncing balls later, before his stroke, he stacked up over 900 wins and 6 championships, and other honors, like cord wood (a phrase the source meaning of which he can tell you the from first hand experience). 

He can look back and say he was one of the best ever. 

I say he was the best. 

Whatever gets ingrained in a person who suffers the losses my dad did early in life, I don’t know. I thank God that I don’t. But whatever he got that made him at first a survivor and later a ferocious achiever and competitor, he passed on the best parts of all that to me. I thank God for that too. 

My dad not so much taught, but instilled in me, imbedded in me, many things, the first of which was “be the best.” Not “be the best you can be,” but be the best — period. Just being the “best you can be” leaves too much wiggle room. You are either the best, or you are not.  

I would sometimes make 10 or 12 tackles in a high school football game, and when I got home he would point out the 2 series I was not going full speed, how he had seen it, how it was clear to him. I ran 6 miles in training one summer afternoon, and I came in and reported what I had done. He asked, “Did you time it?” Obviously, I wasn’t pushing hard enough if I did not time it.   He made me so mad. He was so right.

I still think of how dad was once a man so obsessed with winning. He filled 10,000 notebooks with basketball diagrams – offenses, inbound plays, press defenses – every morning over breakfast for my entire lifetime. He finally reached the point that losing was the most painful thing, and no joy of winning could compensate for it. I’ve seen him win the state championship and immediately – not the next day or week – but immediately start working on the next season at the hotel with the gold ball sitting right there on the table in his room. 

It’s clear to me now that dad was how he was because he wasn’t going to let life keep him a scared 10 year-old boy, under a bed, crying forever. He wasn’t going to let life beat him. Or anything or anyone else, if it was in his power to prevent it. That’s why he’s still alive – 8 years after a stroke that would have killed most men. And damned if he’s not still improving. He’s the toughest man I’ve ever known. 

Most of my compassion probably comes from my mother, and her influence tempers the obsessive things I do. But my drive, my fight, my stubborn persistence to achieve, and to not quit even under crushing adversity – that comes from Sam Richey. I am so proud that he’s my father. 

I love you, Dad. 

Happy Father’s Day.


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The Last “Talk of the Town”

This is the LAST “Talk of the Town.”

When I started writing this column nearly two years ago, I told then-editor Tammy Bullock that I’d do six weeks and see what happened.  What happened was this: I wrote about 90 columns, on everything from discovering a valuable, local time capsule to suffering the consequences of forgetting to pick my son up from school.  And the responses that I have received from it all have made it one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.

I started out to write historic pieces about our hometown of Baldwyn, and I wrote several.  At least a third of my offerings have been history-related.  I discovered how a sitting Speaker of the House in Mississippi was murdered on Front Street, under salacious circumstances, in 1882, and I found many intriguing and heart-breaking stories that revealed the hardships most Baldwyn families endured from the Civil War through the Great Depression.

Caldwell HospitalThough I soon changed course to more popular tales of the wacky humor found in the human condition, especially among Southern families, mine being the focal point, I always tried to hold true to the original intent of the column.  And that was to explain to people here and abroad that Baldwyn is a special place.

Baldwyn’s special to me, first, because I was born here, about where the water tank behind the post office now stands, at the long-gone Caldwell Memorial Hospital.  It was Dr. Gene Caldwell who, with my mother, managed my arrival … “old school,” plenty of drugs and a pair of forceps that left my head whop-sided for six months.

It’s special because it’s where my wife and I were married.  My boyhood preacher Bro. W.T. Dexter did the honors at the First United Methodist Church, just west of my engineering office down Main Street.  That same Methodist Church plays beautiful music – bells – everyday at lunch that can be heard all over town.  I distinctly hear lyrics behind those bells.  “This is America.”  “God is good.”  “Love your neighbor.”

Claude GentryEven time proceeds differently here at home, its passage marked by successes and failures of our children on playing fields, dates flagged by their graduations and their weddings.  Memorable chapters sadly close with the inevitable deaths of loved ones and leaders.

“Baldwyn is special.”  That’s what Claude Gentry thought.  It’s what Simon Spight and Johnnie Lee Smith thought.  And I know it’s what Michael James, Johnathan Bass, Stanley Huddleston, Earl Stone, John Haynes, Lee Bowdry and three thousand others believe, too.  I stand with these guys.

Tom's SignSo now, I’m off to something new.  It might be a new Baldwyn Orchestra (we’re actually testing the waters for interest now), or some new theatrical endeavor (Improv Apocalypse was a nice success last week for Main Street Players), or reopening the old Tom’s Drug Store soda shop (I’ll get there eventually, the Lord willing).  My guys at Quail Ridge Engineering have even suggested that perhaps I could help them out by doing a little engineering work on occasion.

Whatever I do, I’ll be doing it from Baldwyn.

And if in the distant future I happen to recall any more old tales, or experience any new ones, that measure up to “Prayer for my Hemorrhoids,” “This is NOT Hooterville,” or “One Large Freaking Ocean Water,” I just might jot them down and send them in.  Who knows?

Thanks for reading!


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An Historic Tidbit Worth At Least Twenty Bucks

If you are fortunate enough to hold a twenty dollar bill, you will notice that the face looking back at you from it is a man named Andrew Jackson.

Jackson was the 7th president of the United States, and he was one of the important ones.  An accomplished but back-woodsy Tennessee military man, he was the first man to be elected to the high office from outside the Virginia-New England establishment.  twenty-20-dollar-billHe was elected president by popular support from the common folks, and having reached the nation’s highest post by those means, he was universally disdained by the ruling elite of his day.  (I like him already.)

Jackson, more than any other person in American History, is responsible for settling the South, that is, if you view his actions from the perspective of a European immigrant.  If you happened to be a Creek, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw or any member of several other Native American groups, your impressions of Andrew Jackson will be decidedly different.  Jackson may be better known today for defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans, but his Indian Removal Act and his own actions with his army in the field during the Creek War, or The War of 1812, essentially eliminated all Native American presence east of the Mississippi River in the modern South.

Like many who lived in the wilds of frontier America in the early 1800’s, Jackson’s life mixed moments of altruistic greatness and achievement with acts of harsh brutality.  Nonetheless, Jackson did undoubtedly achieve, and then … he ruled.  Old Hickory Newspaper AccountAnd he did so successfully enough to find his way onto our twenty dollar bills, successfully enough that the inventory of all the places to have taken their name from “Old Hickory,” including major cities in Tennessee and Mississippi, is a lengthy list indeed.

“Old Hickory,” an interesting sobriquet almost as well-known as “Honest Abe,” is the fitting, trademark nickname that General Jackson picked up somewhere along the way.  Recently, local Chickasaw historian Mitch Caver sent me an exciting find that may have firmly nailed down that “somewhere” as Pontotoc, Mississippi, or very near to it.

Wikipedia says Andrew Jackson was called Old Hickory because of his “toughness and aggressive personality.”  Mitch Caver disputes that assertion because of an article he found in an 1865 Camden, New Jersey, newspaper.  The story, an interview originating in Jackson, Mississippi, presented a very detailed description of how General Jackson had become sick while his army camped near Pontotoc.  It told how brothers John and William Allen had made Jackson a shelter from hickory bark to help him keep dry and out of the weather on a rainy night.  However, a jovial drunk stumbling through camp later that same evening crashed into the general’s make-shift shelter causing it to collapse.  When the angry Jackson rose from the rubble, he was covered from head to toe in hickory bark.  Rather than recognizing the gravity of his situation, the drunk instead loudly called out, “Hello, Old Hickory!”

The absurdity of the scene brought chuckles from the men, and even Jackson, in good humor, couldn’t help but join in.  As General Jackson laughed at his midnight mishap, his men spontaneously burst out with a rousing cheer, “Hurrah for Old Hickory!”  And THAT was the first time Andrew Jackson was called Old Hickory, out there on a piece of ground somewhere near Pontotoc, Mississippi.  The article Mitch Caver uncovered and graciously shared with me is posted online with this story.

Check it out.  It’s an historic tidbit worth at least twenty bucks … but you can see it here for free.

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Fat Rats and the Allure of Velveeta

Rotel cheese dip is something that, once I start, I simply cannot stop eating.  In fact, I contend that if I was a one of the characters who, with golden ticket in hand, had visited Willie Wonka’s fictional factory, my fat body would most certainly have plugged some tube there that pumped golden, melted faux-cheese and chili peppers through the place.  Augustus Gloop can have the chocolate.  I’ll take the Rotel.

cheese-dip-ingredianceFrankly, diabolical chemists at Kraft have apparently managed to molecularly infuse this concoction’s primary ingredient – Velveeta Cheese – with some mysteriously unnatural, irresistibly addictive property.  Think Winnie the Pooh and honey.  Oozy, steaming Velveeta, spiked with chopped tomatoes and chilies, is good enough with regular tortilla chips but when blessed to have it paired with Frito Scoops, the steam shovel of the chip world, hot Velveeta leapfrogs even marbled rib-eye steak, batter-fried chicken and deep dish pizza up the Food Taste Hot 100 Chart … with a bullet.

And now, the rest of the story …

It all started one morning last week when I noticed a hole in a golf ball lying in the floorboard of the front passenger seat of my Toyota SUV.  The hole appeared to have been drilled into the hard coating of the ball, and the shavings were still scattered around it.

“Those are teeth marks,” my wife, the lovely and talented Rothann, exclaimed.

I wanted to deny the obvious, but unless Lilliputian miners interested in the innards of golf balls had somehow infiltrated my vehicle during the night, clearly a rodent – a squirrel, a rat, a mouse (a big one) – had violated my sovereign territory.  And it had destroyed property.

I told myself that this was a one-time event.  Whatever had gotten in surely wasn’t “in” now.  The lovely Rothann and her skittish 11-year-old Maddux weren’t convinced.

“Something’s been eating the side of the seat!” Maddux incredulously exclaimed while Rothann, now standing outside the car, whacked her seat with an umbrella handle.  To avoid the imminent rodent horde that would, of course, be flushed out by his mother’s whacking, Maddux stopped, dropped and rolled to safety.  I was going to be forced to take action.

The first night I tried a basic, old-style mouse trap with peanut butter.  Sunrise revealed the results of my first direct encounter with our trespasser – trap licked clean, un-triggered.  After an ensuing two nights of more of the same, I stepped back and pondered the situation.

“He’s getting in and out for sure,” I thought.  “Or worse – he’s in there with me all the time.  Or worse than worse – THEY are in there with me all the time.”

rat-trapI ratcheted up my efforts and switched to a new-fangled D-Con black plastic, triangular, “hallway” trap – two of them.   Several more nights passed, and no hallway had been walked through as far as I could tell.  I threw it all out when I noticed the varmint had audaciously bitten into my seat belt strap.  It occurred to me that if he goes for a brake line, he may actually kill me.

The A-team theme song played in my head as I pulled my infested vehicle in at Rutherford’s Texaco.  I had a new battle plan, and it involved my Toyota being cleaned to perfection.  Of utmost importance, I explained, was that I not have a single Cheeto crumb or even the faintest dusting of powdered sugar anywhere inside my SUV this particular evening.  No, there must be only ONE thing to eat in my car, at least if the dashboard and floor mats aren’t counted.  Tonight carefully placed atop a heavy-duty rat trap – one powered by that ingenious human invention called spring-loaded steel – would be a juicy, bouncy, tacky cube of Kraft crack – Velveeta.

Dead Rat 016 - CopyThe following morning, as the sun rose to the first warm day in weeks, I expectantly opened my SUV’s right rear door, and visual evidence confirmed that my nocturnal nemesis had indeed finally met his end.  A steel bar crushed his not-so-little rat head during the night at his first and last taste of the human temptation that I had calculated he couldn’t resist.

Yes, the fat rat that eluded capture and elimination for weeks while yielding NO ground in his personal battle with Earth’s preeminent life form had finally succumbed … to the allure of Velveeta … as I knew he would.

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Hot Under the Collar

My mother – Virginia Dale Richey –deserves a full biography one of these days.

I’d categorize Mama’s life story, for the most part, as a comedy.  And if you really think about it, isn’t that about the best we can hope for out of life?

Woman Ironing While Drinking CocktailCertainly, she’s had her share of drama and tragedy sprinkled on a story that spans something more than half a century – and that’s as close as I’m coming to telling her age – but these days, and for many years running, she has somehow managed to maneuver herself consistently into funny, even downright wacky, situations.

I reported several weeks ago the broken hip she suffered in November, and how that infirmity caused her such dismay through the holidays.  She simply wasn’t able to do the holiday things she would normally have done.  My brother and I were therefore conscripted into an array of unnatural domestic duties to help get us all through Christmas.  We did what we could.  Thank God for our wives.

women_ironingBut finally now, Mother’s recovered.  She’s back up and walking.  Yet for some reason, I still discover her, quite often in fact, sitting in my dad’s motorized wheelchair when I visit.  She appears to be using it more like a little indoor golf cart now rather than the absolute mobility necessity it was a month ago.  I make no judgment of her new practice, but when I do pop in and catch her in the chair, she’s quick with an excuse – “Now Clark, this is the first time I’ve been in this chair all day” – like she’s just been caught smoking.

“But, you know, it really is comfortable.  It really, really is.”  She hangs that out there for my approval, or perhaps just commentary.  I don’t know what I’m supposed to say to it.

woman-ironingThis morning I surprised my mother and father and showed up, unexpectedly, to enjoy a cup of coffee with them about 8:30.  When Mother finally got finished with a fresh litany of wheelchair excuses, she fired up her engine and pulled forward enough that I could slide past and take a seat between them at the kitchen table.  We had a very pleasant conversation, moving through several topics, the last of which was just how much she and her cousins had enjoyed our local theater production of 12 Angry Men (which I directed) last Saturday night.

“Oh, it was just wonderful.  It could NOT have been any better.  It really, really couldn’t.”  She heaped on praise and repeated it ad infinitum for emphasis.  I always know where to turn if I need a little confidence boost.

Ironing2My mother believes that she still needs to take care of me.  As we sipped our coffees and chatted, she thought she saw a small spot on my knit shirt.  I looked down and unfortunately confirmed, sure enough, there WAS just the tiniest blotch of discolored fabric there under my buttons.

“Well, that’s all right.  I’ve got one right here.  I was going to give it to you anyway.”

She sprang from her comfortable chair, disappeared into the hall, and returned almost instantly with a near-duplicate of the shirt I had on, tags and labels still in place.  I changed shirts and sat back down.

“Uh oh!  That one’s got those little hanger marks on the shoulders.  Let me get my iron, and I’ll steam those out for you,” she continued, in her attempt to perfect me.

She left her wheelchair idling, again disappearing into the hallway, only to return seconds later this time with a steam iron and a towel.

Ironing PaintingShe worked my left shoulder, with the towel stuffed through the new shirt’s neck-hole to protect my skin.  In a minute, she had cured that shirt-pucker and switched sides.  My dad and I continued to chat Super Bowl talk across the table as Mother’s attention began to drift back to my left side.  She was not quite satisfied it seems with the amount of “un-puckering” she had accomplished with that initial shoulder procedure.   There was a wrinkle or two still in existence there, and certainly that would never do for an accomplished community theater director such as her son.  She could come back to it later, she thought, but for now she would just fix this side right the first time.

She pressed her thumb down hard on the “steam” button … and fired a thick and steady stream of super-heated water vapor through my new shirt, three folds of towel and at least half the layers of skin that covered my right shoulder, which by the way was perfectly FINE before my visit of this morning.

ironingI leapt across the room, stumbling over Mama’s idling wheelchair.  She just stood there, stunned, holding her iron above her head like a running chain saw.  My dad, who has some trouble these days finding just the right words due to a stroke a few years back, delivered a stream of expletives that were aligned perfectly with my thoughts on the present situation.

“Did that burn you?”  Mother asked, as I jerked the 212-degree-Fahrenheit towel out of my shirt collar, and then, cooling, picked up the two chairs I’d knocked over in my escape attempt.

Maybe I’ll get around to penning the whole epic saga of Virginia Dale Richey some day, but for the moment, I have only a weekly column at my disposal to recount her exploits.


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Excuse Me, Which Way to the ‘American Way’?

Who exactly does a global economy benefit?  Have you ever really thought about that?

Sometimes, late at night, I ask myself just why the establishment of an open-border, un-tariffed market exchange with any and every pocket of 3rd world humanity should be part of an American agenda.  The rational answers I come up with are a little bit scary.  Actually, more than a little.

Mouthpieces for the global economy among our own elected officials routinely spout rehearsed platitudes.  They tell us how the free market system and competition is the “American way.”  They tell us that competition is GOOD for our businesses here at home, and just look at the benefits, they say, for the American consumer – low, low prices on the essentials of life, stacked on shelf after shelf in your local Walmart.

Blue Bell Employees - 20 Years Experience -1977We used to make blue jeans in Baldwyn, Mississippi – Levis and Wranglers – in two separate, competing plants, Blue Bell and Lucky Star.  I bet my children don’t even know that.  And somewhere down in central Mississippi, along Highway 45, other Mississippians made toasters, I think.  Maybe it was blenders.  You can still see the fading “Sunbeam” letters on the side of the empty, deteriorating factory down there somewhere.  The establishment of a free market with countries where men, women and children were paid pennies for every dollar an American made took those jobs from Mississippians, pure and simple.

But our citizens, better educated, will move to more highly skilled professions, we’re told.  That’s the future for Americans … if we are to compete in the global economy.  “Compete in the global economy?”  Weren’t we on top of the world economy when we started all this?

Lucky Star (2)As for moving every Little Johnny and Little Jane into more highly skilled positions, I’m enough of a realist to say – out loud – that I know plenty of kids that I do NOT want as my brain surgeon, if the day comes that I need one.  We’re not all exactly alike in skill and ability, and the ridiculous, drum-beat contention to the contrary is going to get people killed sooner or later.  I want doctors and nurses who are the smartest kids out there.  I don’t even know if we are supposed to say “smartest” in America anymore.

global economyIf you want to know the real “why” of things, just follow the money trail.  Who truly benefits (translated: makes more money) from a global economy?  Clearly, massive corporations do, those monstrously-large entities that crave the world’s 6 billion consumers for their cell phones, and cheeseburgers, and garbage pickup, rather than the paltry 300 million available in the United States alone.  CEO’s and board members for these behemoths can write campaign checks, election contributions, for $500,000 as easily as you or I could give $100.  Who do you think the politicians are listening to?

In Sunday school this past week, a mother of two young children got up and delivered an impassioned plea for those in our group to take action.  She said that she believed we needed to stop “Common Core” in Mississippi, and she urged us to take a look at it.  I did, and I saw that Common Core’s stated intent was to prepare children to compete in the global economy.  I didn’t really need to look much further.

Feel free to disagree with me, but I have a strong sense that there is a plot – a determined, insidious national/global plot – whose goal is to drive regular humans, like you and me, into a sad sameness for the sake of greed and control.  Doomsday Prepper TunnelIndividual thought and choice are perpetually under attack these days, and the places where we might draw inner strength or find a protective shield – Christian faith, the family, regional autonomy – are being steadily degraded.

I may not be ready to begin “Doomsday Prepping” just yet, but I do admit that I’ve thought, just a little, about how a series of underground tunnels, constructed beneath Baldwyn, might be a good way to avoid attack by government drones.  Just saying.

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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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