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Number of posts: 59
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By Noel Holston:
'tis the Season
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . a partridge. In a pear tree. Seriously.
This was several years back, when we were still courting. But I’m reminded of her generosity and creativity every year about this time because some newspaper or wire service or blogger invariably runs a feature article about how, if someone really were to give all the presents on that celebrated 12-day checklist now, the tab, price-adjusted for inflation, would be $10,000 or more.
Well, I can tell you from experience that it ain’t necessarily so.
Time for Reruns
If it please the court, I’d like to argue a brief on behalf of The Advocates.
It’s a series whose time has come. Again.
The Advocates was a weekly public-TV presentation from 1969 through 1974 and was revived as a bi-weekly for most of 1978 and ’79. Co-produced by Boston’s WGBH and Los Angeles’ KCET, it came to be known as the “PBS Fight of the Week,” and while the pugilism was all verbal, serious blows were landed. More than one partisan hotshot left the arena with his or her ego bruised.
Walking the fence, Daddy fell on the ant bed
Tim yelled out my name and I came running
We dragged Daddy away and brushed him off
When I picked him up
He put his arms around my neck and clung to me
Like a worn-out child at bedtime
My father, Simpson Wesley Holston Jr., was born in 1917 in Buckatunna, Mississippi, the son of a horse trader. To the best of my knowledge, Simpson Wesley Sr. never did a hard day’s work in his life if he could help it. Daddy, on the other hand, did not have the guile or the glad hand to be a horse trader …
Off and on for years I had heard my relatives talk about what a big-time New York model their childhood friend Charlotte Payne had been. I tended to take such effusions with a grain of salt. They also went on about how my Uncle Vernon played some ball for the Washington Senators, but I’ve never been able to find a trace of him in the major league record books.
But while I was in Laurel, Mississippi, my hometown, for Christmas in 2009, my Aunt Nell took me and my wife with her to visit an old family friend, a relative of Charlotte Payne’s. When prompted, the lady opened a closet and hauled out two big cardboard boxes bursting with photographs, clippings and tear sheets and set them on her dining room table.
And then there was that time George Foster Peabody made Jon Stewart cry. Well, sort of. It was in 2006. Mr. Peabody by then had been gone from this world for about 68 years. Stewart, irreverent host of The Daily Show, was hosting the presentation of the awards that bear the Georgia-born philanthropist’s name.
Twice a Peabody recipient himself, Stewart was working the Waldorf-Astoria’s cavernous, chandeliered grand ballroom like a comedy club. He was dancing up and down the fine line between impish and rude, messing with even big-name winners like Martin Scorsese. But close to the end of the ceremony, after presiding over clips from winning entries that ranged from Hurricane Katrina coverage to Battlestar Galactica to a TV-movie about a South African mom with AIDS, Stewart got choked up. He had to pause, clear his throat and compose himself before he could go on.
Haley Barbour’s gaffe and subsequent backtracking were all over the newspapers and TV newscasts while I was home visiting relatives earlier this week. But the story that really caught my eye was on the front-page of my hometown paper, the Laurel Leader-Call.
The article detailed plans by the Jones County Sheriff’s Department for a fund-raising gospel concert in January.
At least once during the Christmas season, I pull out a pair of pleated, wool pants, a old tweed sports jacket, a starched dress shirt and Rooster knit tie. I take an old fedora out of its hat box, and I shine up the only pair of dress shoes that reside in my closet cluttered of sneakers in varying states of cleanliness and deterioration. I get dressed – dressed like my father, circa 1960 – and I go out to see what’s going on around town.
My father worked most of his post-World War II life at a foundry in Laurel, Mississippi. But on Christmas Eve day, he would treat himself to dressing like the natty man about town that he would have preferred to be.
On a Sunday drive not long ago in the countryside near Laurel, my Mississippi hometown, my octogenarian Aunt Nell pointed out the burned ruins of a house and told me about a hideous crime. “They think it was about drugs,” she said. “They chained this poor man to the kitchen stove and set the house on fire.” She shook her head. “What is the world coming to?”
My instant reaction was, “What indeed.” But after a moment’s reflection, I remembered that grisly episodes – in Laurel and throughout the South – are anything but a new phenomenon. And I was reminded anew of that exchange with my aunt when I got a copy of The Legs Murder Scandal.
About halfway through the Civil War of Northern Aggression Between the States, the Mississippi county where I would be born some 90 years later seceded from the Confederacy. A rebel Rebel by the name of Newton “Newt” Knight declared Jones County the “Free State of Jones” and said, in effect, “We don’t want no part of this nasty conflict, so no matter whether you’re wearing grey or blue, you enter at your peril.” I have been feeling kind of Newtonian since the election on Nov. 2.
Up and down the great state of Mississippi, from Biloxi to Holly Springs, there’s been much wailing and gnashing of teeth of late about the ouster of the longtime Ole Miss mascot, Colonel Rebel, a moustache-sporting old Confederate with a string tie, cane and planter’s hat.
The Colonel got the boot a few weeks ago because a faction of students, administrators and alumni decided that, like the use of “Dixie” as a fight song, a practice already discontinued, an old Rebel soldier was at best an awkward symbol for a school looking to national standing as a serious haven of…
Looking closely at diagrams of the human ear — an activity that going deaf tends to encourage — has given me a new understanding of God. I think God is Rube Goldberg, or at least, as the casting agents out on the West Coast would say, a Rube Goldberg type.
For those possibly unfamiliar with his name and genius, Goldberg (1883-1970) was an author, an engineer, a sculptor, an inventor and, most notably, a cartoonist who envisioned and drew comically complex devices that perform simple tasks in indirect, convoluted ways.
Keep Goldberg’s work in mind as I briefly refresh your memory as to the construction and mechanics of the intricate, delicate, sensitive, goofy apparatus we call the ear.
After months of ruminating on the thoughts of various pundits, partisans and political scientists about what motivates the Tea Party movement – Is it political or spiritual, racist or classist, inspirationally patriotic or childishly petulant, xenophobic or just Barack-naphobic? – I may have stumbled onto an overlooked, or at least neglected, factor: It’s nostalgic.
This flash of insight, if that’s what it is, came by way of an unexpected source, a forwarded email of the sort I get every month or so from an acquaintance who’s my age. It wasn’t political, not overtly anyway, and it was as innocuous in intent as a vanilla milk shake at the Frosty Treat.
Since my ears stopped working about six months ago, I’ve heard a ton of music. But I don’t mean that I’ve been summoning up old favorite recordings from memory, although I am fortunate enough to be able to do that. I’m talking about music that my brain and my sickly inner ears generate entirely on their own. Electro-chemically. Spontaneously. Unstoppably. For the past couple of weeks, pretty much every minute I was awake, I heard a tune strongly reminiscent of “Telstar,” the instrumental by the Tornados that became a chart-topper in 1962 thanks to its “weird” space-age sound.
What made airport security in Minneapolis search me last week when I was trying to fly back to Atlanta, I still can’t figure. Maybe they were picking passengers at random. Maybe they thought I was a particularly wily terrorist who had mastered the art of disguising himself as a sleep-deprived, middle-aged, white bozo in cargo shorts who’d partied too hard at his son’s wedding. Maybe they thought the big red “C” on my Colbert Report baseball cap stood for Communist. Whatever the cause, it didn’t help that I am nearly deaf these days.
I am the scratchy old Victrola at my grandmother’s house
I am a transistor radio shaped like a little rocket ship
I am a tan & white portable phonograph that spins 45s and 33s
I am a frayed blue Methodist hymnal at a Wednesday night sing
I am the blinking Wurlitzer jukebox at the Choo Choo Grill
Full up with Marty Robbins and James Brown
Sam the Sham and Brenda Lee
Met anybody with a colorful nickname lately? And no, Georgia’s esteemed governor doesn’t count. I’m not talking about public figures, and I’m interested in nicknames a little more exotic than Sonny or Bubba.
A while back, I posted a piece about the great, ongoing Southern tradition of family-name first names. I talked about growing up in south Mississippi among men and boys whose names sounded like law firms or brokerages, fellows like Houston Graves, Partlow Tyler and Lampkin Butts. But I also grew up alongside men – and a few women – whose given names had long since been eclipsed by sobriquets bestowed upon them by family or friends.
Appearing on Sean Hannity’s Fox News Channel program recently, Sarah Palin mocked President Obama for signing a new strategic-arms treaty with the Russians.
“It’s kinda like getting out there on a playground, a bunch of kids, getting ready to fight, and one of the kids saying, ‘Go ahead, punch me in the face and I’m not going to retaliate. Go ahead and do what you want to with me,’ ” Palin said.
I stand corrected. For months now,
Goodness me, that new Massachusetts senator, Scott Brown, sure knows how to articulate the popular rage. On Neil Cavuto’s show on Fox News Channel last week, he was asked about the Texas kamikaze who crashed his small plane into a building in Austin that houses IRS offices, killing himself and one other person and doing easily a million dollars property damage. Brown was not about to rush to judgment. The pilot may have had issues, he said, and besides, “No one likes paying taxes, obviously.”
I sure don’t like paying taxes. I don’t like paying for groceries, either. In an ideal world, they’d be free. But they’re not, and that’s the way it is,
The video clip of Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., shouting “You lie!” at President Barack Obama during his recent health-care speech before a joint session of Congress has now been replayed on various TV outlets a combined total of 5,237 times. This is admittedly an extrapolation on my part, based on my personally having seen the clip 353 times despite diligent rationing of my news-viewing hours, but I think the guesstimate is about right. It was during my 344th or 345th exposure to the questionably spontaneous outburst and the President’s reaction – the surprise and then either rueful or wry amusement that crossed his face briefly before he refocused – that a name came to mind: Jackie Robinson. Robinson was, of course, the infield whiz from Cairo, Georgia, who broke Major League Baseball’s “color barrier.” Branch Rickey, who was running the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s, knew well what amazing talent […]
Up the hill from my house in Athens, looking out on Atlanta Highway, there’s a brick building that houses the Foy Horne law office. Foy and Horne are not partners. They’re one in the same. Foy is the attorney’s first name, Horne is his last. He’s a fine example of one of my favorite Southern traditions: family name first names. Southerners are not the only cultural group that goes in for this sort of familial nomenclature, but we do seem to do an outsized share of it. Why this is, I’m not entirely sure. It probably has something to do with Scots being so heavily represented among the early white settlers of the southern regions. Scots were big on signifying lineage — honoring a father or respected uncle, or keeping a mother’s family name alive. So were the English and the Irish, for that matter. What I do know for […]
Almost any old lean-to would do if you were a boy in the rural South in the early 1960s — a treehouse, a hideout, a fort — just so long as you had some place where you could have some privacy. Where you could put some space between yourself and the world of homework and chores and, if you were really lucky, imagine yourself living the kind of daring adventures you saw played out on a big screen on Saturday afternoons at popcorn-littered movie emporiums like the Strand or the Ritz. I was luckier than most. I had the Bus Body. The Bus Body wasn’t actually mine. It was Frankie Mixon’s. I just got free use of it because he was my nearest neighbor and my best friend. Frankie’s daddy made his living back then driving a rolling store. In the rural south back then, there were still country folks […]
My best friend when I was growing up in rural Mississippi in the early 1960s was a boy named Frankie Mixon. Frankie was what we would now call an alpha male. He could out-run, out-’rassle, out-climb, out-shoot, out-just about anything all the rest of us boys. I had better penmanship, but that didn’t count for a whole lot. Frankie made my childhood interesting. He was forever leading me into more mischief than I would ever have gotten into by myself. Like tree rodeo. I don’t know if Frankie dreamed it up himself or learned it from his older brother, Charles, but we would ride pine trees for sport. A bunch of us boys would get a rope and make a lasso and throw it up to the top of a young pine, a 20-25 footer, and bow it down toward the ground. One of us would climb on the trunk […]
I was a graveside mourner at Mary Phagan’s funeral. I was on the jury that convicted Leo Frank of her murder. I was one of the good citizens of Marietta who gawked at Frank’s lifeless body dangling from a tree. I was all these people and a couple more – in different coats and hats. I was a background player, an extra, in “The People v. Leo Frank,” a historical docudrama that got a special hometown premiere Thursday night at Cobb Energy Center. Filmmaker Ben Loeterman previously has made documentaries about the Golden Gate Bridge and John Dillinger for PBS’s “American Experience.” He shot his Leo Frank film at various locations around Atlanta area last summer. The film, which supplements archival photographs and news clippings with dramatic re-enactments, will eventually air nationwide on PBS, probably late this year. Thursday night, however, “The People v. Leo Frank” was the centerpiece of […]