Tall Tales

“You’re On Fire”

            When I was a small boy we heated our small home with a coal heater. It was a rather small thing actually and sat outside in the elements in an unobtrusive corner of our yard all summer until it was brought in and set-up when it was needed in the fall. Coal at that time was a cheap source of heat. It burns very hot and so a small fire is probably best. In the winter mornings when we were preparing for school we would all gather around the old coal stove to warm ourselves as we ate our breakfasts. Mama would have the stove warm and we kids in our pajamas would stand around it and eat. Most mornings Mama would have the stove glowing a cheery red by the time we got to it and the particular morning I’m telling you about was one of those mornings. I was sitting on our sofa trying (half-heartedly) to finish my homework (was a terrible student) and my sisters, in their nylon house coats were eating their cereal with their backs to the red-glowing stove. The older sister was standing opposite the stove from me and while eating the back of her nylon house coat must have touched the glowing stove. The back of her house coat burst into flames the fire moving quickly up her back toward her hair. I saw the flames and began to yell “YOU’RE ON FIRE!, YOU’RE ON FIRE!.”

            Mama was there instantly, beating the fire out on my sister’s back with her bare hands, the molten nylon sticking to her hands as beat out the last of the flames. This all happened in less than a half-second, so quickly in fact the sister who had been on fire didn’t even know what had happened. She says she was trying to figure out what she might have done wrong that early in the morning that had prompted Mama to leap over and start spanking her. Everyone survived and I will always remember Mama’s great heroism.


Dark Adventure

(don’t try this at home)

(Nashville Wanderin’ ‘Round does not endorse this activity)

            As boys running around in the neighborhood we discovered a storm drain, a huge one. This thing was large enough to drive a small car into. It was of course inaccessible to cars… but not to bicycles. From time to time we rode our light equipped bikes into this pipe which went on for miles. It changed shape a few times and eventually the floor got too rough to ride our bikes on. If we brought flashlights we would leave them when the floor changed and explore on foot. This particular day my neighbor friend I ran with and I went to explore the pipe. We had flashlights (torches) and went into this big thing. We met these two younger boys there and determining that they were going through the pipe as well, invited them to go along with us. It was always very dark in the pipe except where there was a manhole above and after walking in the darkness the little holes in the manhole provided oasis’s of light. We talked of going from one “light” to the next.

English: Storm drain, United States Deutsch: S...

English: Storm drain, United States Deutsch: Straßenablauf (Gullydeckel), Vereinigte Staaten (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Being a storm drain there was always water flowing in the bottom of the pipe from a trickle to a large stream and with it a thin, sometimes very slippery, film of mud.

English: A picture from inside a Storm drain i...

English: A picture from inside a Storm drain in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Its a large RCB type drain. Use it anywhere you like, but please give credit to Rz350 for image. I took the image myself. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is very like parts of the pipe I’m speaking of

        We walked through the pipe for hours that day; I was determined to get to the end of it. The two younger boys were right with us and we began to notice that the heavier of the two younger boys was slipping and falling a lot. We added up his previous falls and began counting his new ones. Splash, splash, splash, slap, “17” we would call out.

               As we went further into the pipe it kept changing and getting smaller. We were walking bent over at the waist and my neighbor was complaining endlessly about his back hurting from being bent over so long so at the next “light” we turned and went back. We counted as I remember the younger boy with us slipped and fell thirty-seven times that day. But he seemed to be a neat kid and we all had fun.

             This was a different time and place and I don’t recommend anyone doing that today. Aside from being illegal, we saw cottonmouths (a poisonous snake), moles, and other vermin and risked every moment the chance of being swept to our deaths in a flash storm.


Space Shuttle Mystery

     I used to wonder about the space shuttle. From time to time one would see on the news (the television, the newspapers) and would hear on the radio that the space shuttle was leaving on a “secret mission”. A “SECRET MISSION”? I wondered from whom is it secret? But now, I think I have it figured out. Those astronauts didn’t know they were up there.

Astronaut: Ok, Houston we’ve done the checks you told us to do   can we come out now?

Houston:    No, you need to stay in there a little longer. (turns off microphone, giggle, giggle)

Astronaut: Houston, Buzz has to go to the bathroom and uh…


The Poker Incident

 Isaiah 6: 1-8

1In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.  2Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. 3And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.   4And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

5Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.  6Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar:  7And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. 8Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

             Yes I know this is the wrong page for this but here me out. The true story I’m about to tell you reminds me of this biblical event so bear with me. Once when I was a boy I was left at home alone on a winter’s day. When I was a boy we lived in a house that was heated (more or less) by a coal heater that we would set up in the one room that had a chimney flue. Coal was an inexpensive, albeit nasty, way to heat one’s home and many used it during those days. Being home alone as I rarely was I, for some reason, found myself reasoning this way. “Now I know that fire and water cannot coexist. Even a drop of water will extinguish a candle flame. Wouldn’t it be cool to get the poker red-hot and then touch it to my tongue? The red-hot would be instantly quenched and my little sister and everyone will think I am clever and a hero.”

            I can tell you that if I was old enough to be left home alone I should have been able to think that through more accurately, but I didn’t. I took the poker and washed it off, (I didn’t want to get germs or something) stoked the fire up and held the poker over the flames until it was red-hot. Then I started to lower the poker toward my face. The poker as I recall was a little over three feet long, maybe just over a meter. It had a loop on one end as a handle and a hook on the other end. Now the hook end was red-hot and most of the rest of the poker was unholdably hot as well, which should have tipped me off… but it didn’t. I had to hold the poker at arm’s length down by the handle and gently lower the red-hot hook toward my face. In my mind I can still feel the heat pouring off of that thing, which again should have tipped me off… but it didn’t. When the poker got close enough to my face I stuck out my tongue and…, well, it doesn’t take me long to taste a red-hot poker. It hurt horribly as you might imagine. It burned the surface of my tongue and I didn’t tell anyone for a long time. The truth is I struggled to “tell” anything until my tongue healed itself. I just kept quiet or spoke in quick words for a while. Fortunately I was such a strange kid no one caught on.

            Now do you see why that biblical story reminds me of my incident? In my mind’s eye I see Isaiah standing there while the angel brings the burning coal and touches his mouth and Isaiah says, “WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!


Getting Older

   It has long been my experience to walk into a room and have the people there embark on a discussion of what a terrible accident I must certainly have been in to come out looking as I do. I’ve grown used to that by this time. But lately they’ve been asking me if anyone lived and well…


Walking on Water

            Everyone has heard of this, I’ve actually seen it done. No fakery, no trickery, in real life I was an eye witness. Let me tell you about it.

            This would have been in the early 60s, Pillow Street in the south of Nashville Tennessee where I grew up was still considered to be in the county and not the city of Nashville proper, and all of the alleys in the neighborhood were unpaved dirt with a little gravel. The alleys that got any use at all were heavily rutted and almost impassably muddy after a large rain. It was after such a rain that two of my cousins (a couple of the greatest guys on Earth) and I found the pothole. It was in the alley behind Pillow Street and Little Hamilton Street where just as people had been turning off of Merritt Street they had created a supersized pothole. The pothole was slightly longer than a car and about twice as wide. Having been filled with water from a recent rain it ranged in depth anywhere from 5 inches to 1½ inch. We marveled at the sight of it for a moment before I slipped down to the house and borrowed one of Mama’s No.2 galvanized wash tubs. The tub floated easily across the large pool and we decided one of us should try to float across the pothole in it. The tub instantly sat on the bottom of the puddle and wouldn’t float. Not knowing anything about water displacement we spent a great deal of time trying to figure out why the tub wouldn’t float with one of us aboard. It was then it happened.

            As I recall the older cousin (OC) was standing at the edge of the puddle leaning over pushing the tub back and forward to check for any underwater obstructions when the younger cousin (YC), for reasons known only to him, gave OC a mighty shove. OC then set out across the puddle in a dead run and having quickly gained the opposite shore swung around in the adjoining field and circled back to deprive YC of his life. I stopped the fracas before it really got started and noticed and pointed out OC’s shoes …they were dry.

            Now you tell me how it happened. I’ve always figured that OC must have leaped when he was pushed and the force of that leap carried him across that water, the soles of his shoes splashing under him as he went was merely coincident. Still it was quite impressive and I’ll always remember it.


Walking Back From Town

            We old timers will tell you that from its founding right up to the early 70s the hub of the city of Nashville was its downtown shopping district. There were a few local shopping areas but to really “shop” everyone went downtown. At that time one would catch the bus and for 20 or 25 cents you could get there, and downtown was where everything was. One would wear their “good clothes”. The ladies wore their dresses and gloves, and all the stores were there, WT Grants, Cain Sloan’s, Caster Knott’s, Harvey’s, the National Shirt Shop,

National Shirt Shops

National Shirt Shops (Photo credit: gojeffrey)

SH Kress. There were movie theaters, the Paramount, the Tennessee, and the Lowes. Not to mention the restaurants. One could go in the morning and stay all day. And then, to save money, because we lived in this neighborhood we could walk back home.

            As a kid it seemed such along way from downtown back to Pillow St. but as I grew older I enjoyed the sense of independence it gave me. The absolute worse part of the whole thing though was the walk past the Old City Cemetery. When I was young the city was more sparing with streetlights (I think there was one, maybe two for the entire length of the cemetery) and it seemed so dark and spooky. By that time “Bailey’s  Esso” at the corner of 4th and Bass St. would be closed and as I approached that corner I was already steeling up my resolve. I would casually pick up my pace as I crossed Bass St. and begin singing Christian hymns under my breath. I would walk nearly out at the street and try never to look at the cemetery, in case anything was there. By the time I reached the streetlight I was, very casually, nearing a run I would slow down and start back up again until I crossed Chestnut.

            But thinking back, those were good times. It would be refreshing in this day and time for the worst fear on your mind to be walking past a cemetery in the dark.

National Register of Historic Places listings ...

National Register of Historic Places listings in Davidson County, Tennessee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


…and I found a snake

I believe if this story had been told to me by almost anyone else I would be dubious. But it happened to me. This story is true, I stand by every word.

       As has been related earlier the old Lucy Holt Moore center meant a great deal to the people of this community. Providing educational, health, and recreational events for all in this area and being a resource that is sorely missed. One of the things they provided in the summers were summer camps. For fees that were more than reasonable kids could go for either night camp (leave on Monday morning return on Friday afternoon) or for less money day camp (leave each morning return each afternoon for a week). It was a wonderful treat and a fun diversion for us kids that could afford to go. This particular year I got to go to day camp. It was cool, we were teamed up in a group of about seven boys and one counselor and we went on a trail into the woods and set up a camp site. We even set up a latrine so we could, um… you know, right in the woods it was so neat. In the mornings we would meet at a central site that had a large pavilion and some smaller buildings restrooms and such. We would sing songs and hear announcements and things like that. There at the main camp we had our crafts center where we made fun things. Also in the main pavilion they had several small cages. Campers would catch frogs, interesting bugs, lizards and things which would be kept on display till the end of the week then released. Nearing the end of the week our counselor Kenny House had taught us each all the stuff they had planned for us to learn that week ie. to toast a marshmallow golden brown, to tie a square knot, to sharpen a knife on a whet stone.. (hey, it wasn’t rocket surgery but it was something). We as a group decided we would like to find something to put in the cages for the rest of the kids to see for the last day. Kenny gathered us all together and made us pair up. My partner was Robert Best a guy from my neighborhood. A rather shy and retiring sort of fellow but someone I had known all my life. Kenny gave us a few rules “Stay on the trails” “Don’t go too far” etc. Everyone seemed to want to stand around the campsite so I motioned to Robert and we took off down the trail away from our camp. We had gone maybe 100 feet from camp when we came to a wash about 5 feet deep 10 or 12 feet across and strewn all about with dead leaves. I told Robert I would slide down the embankment first so I sat on the ground and began to slide down into the ditch. Before my feet reached the bottom something stopped me and there under my feet I saw the snake. It was big. I don’t remember my next move but I was instantly standing at the top of the wash by Robert pointing and saying “There’s a snake down there”

     “Where?” said Robert, “I don’t see it” I pointed to it and finally had to stand beside him and let him look down my arm before he ever saw it. Now we had designated a secret call to make should we find anything, I’ll demonstrate here; ehem, ehem,… WHOOP, WHOOP, WHOOP (imagine someone being goosed repeatedly) So Robert and I stood and WHOOPed  for a couple of moments and when the others didn’t respond immediately I sent Robert back for them whilst I stayed and WHOOPed alone. When they still didn’t return quickly enough I went myself. Everyone was still standing around the camp talking and I ran up and caused such a fuss they had to listen to me. I soon convinced them to come and see, so Robert and I led the whole group back to the wash.

     It took me a little while to find the snake again owing to its excellent camouflage then I had to show every other camper in turn. It was a big one. Our intrepid counselor Kenny cut a long forked stick and sent us all back to camp, except for two or three stalwarts he couldn’t run away. After a few minutes Kenny and the others returned to join us at our camp and Kenny said when he put that forked stick down on the creature’s head it straightened out and had about nine buttons on its tail. Latter we determined it was a timber rattlesnake 6 to 7 feet long, close to two inches in girth at its widest. We figured the beast had been sunning itself or maybe I wouldn’t be here today.

Timber Rattlesnake - Crotalus horridus

Timber Rattlesnake – Crotalus horridus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Too often I find myself energized, basking in the light and warmth of my own wisdom, only to waken and find myself in the dark and frozen to my bones.


Summer Fun in the style of the ancients

            One of the fixtures of the community in the last century was J.E. “Shug” Hicks, a very interesting man he worked for the L&N Railroad, was a local handyman / carpenter, a great ball player formerly pitching on a farm team for the one of the major league ball clubs, and a wonderful story-teller. The story I’m about to relate is one of his. Although you won’t hear his gravely voice and see his expressions I think you’ll love it.

            One day in the summer Shug rounded a corner to walk down an alley and heard two of his friends having a loud argument. (In my mind I picture this as being the alley between Humphreys St. and Houston St. I don’t know why.) The two boys who I will call J. and M were getting more and more agitated and as Shug approached one was saying, “Yeah you are, and if I can get Shug here to hold my stick I’ll show you.” Always anxious to see a good fight Shug quickly agreed. I should stop here to tell you that prior to Shug’s appearance the boy with the stick had dipped it into the pit beneath an outhouse and covered the moisture with a coating of dust.

            When Shug grabbed the stick the boy quickly whipped it through his grasp leaving Shug with a handful of the outhouse contents and J. and M. beat a hasty retreat propelled I’m certain by vile curses and threats of mayhem.


My brother lifts a car

            Once when my brother was home from college, he was having trouble with his car, a little MGB he had bought while he was in the navy. He pulled the car up between the maple trees in mama and daddy’s front yard, and began dismantling his engine. He began working on the car in the morning and was still hard at it when I went to work at about 2:30 p.m. I was putting newspapers in machines at that time and went to distribute the evening edition. When I returned home around 6:00 p.m., my brother had gone to work himself at his summer job loading trucks. Several of the neighborhood guys came up to meet me absolutely wide eyed and raving. “Your brother picked up his car!”  I at first thought that they were just pulling some kind of joke. But they were very insistent. Still I couldn’t imagine anything like this, my brother was legendary in the neighborhood for his strength (he was a weight lifter) but this was beyond anything I had ever imagined. I had the picture in my mind of my brother as superman lifting up his car up on his shoulder as one would a large box. I could hardly wait to ask him about it. Of course as it goes he worked till late that night and slept late the following day. And working on call as he did and with my schedule it was a couple of days before I could actually ask him about it.  Finally the next time we spoke I did ask. He said he had been working on the car for a few hours and the sun had moved around to where it was shinning on him as he worked. To remedy this, his car still being dismantled, he lifted one end of the car and moved it into the shade. Then he lifted the other end and moved it into the shade. Not quite the superhero feat I had been led to believe. But still a pretty great feat when you consider the MGB weighed about 2000 lbs.


The Pothole

            Back before the mid 60s West End Ave. in Nashville was still a gravel road out beyond Vanderbilt College. Gravel has a tendency to rut up under heavy use and before its paving West End was becoming quite rutted. It happened that during a particular summer the rutted gravel had been subject to a strong summer downpour and a friend of mine was coming back to town down that road. On the southwest corner of 29th Ave. and West End Ave. at that time was a service station and one of the attendants was out at the street changing the tire of one of the customers using a bumper jack. The customer was standing between the street and his car watching the attendant work when my friend came along moving toward town with the rush hour traffic. My friend hit a pothole just behind the customer splashing him totally up his back with muddy water. The customer whipped around to see who might have done this and my friend’s rear tire hit the pothole soaking him right up the front. My friend pulled his car over and though he was barely able to  control his laughter at the situation offered to pay for the customer’s cleaning bill. The man brushed him off with a firm, “It’s alright, it’s alright, I should have been minding my own business.”


The Dive

            My cousins and I were adventurers growing up, doing all manner of exploits and generally having a grand time. A short distance from my home was a small wood or thicket as my parents called it and all the neighborhood kids had a great time playing there. It was located behind the houses at the top of Pillow St. Hill on the west side of the street and between Merritt St. and Hamilton Ave. and behind the business at the corner of Merritt St. and Martin St.

            One day as I was playing alone in that wood I climbed a tree and discovered that as I looked out to the west there was another tree with a strong limb some three feet away, just out  of reach if one was holding on to the tree. It seemed to me that to jump from the tree I was in to the other tree, catch the limb and climb down that tree would be the coolest thing in the world, but I couldn’t raise within myself the courage to do it seeing as how the limbs were between ten and fifteen feet off the ground. The next time my cousins were visiting I took them to the wood and showed them the two trees and told them I had done it and how cool it was. Cousin number two climbed the tree and jumped to the other tree flawlessly and climbed down. Cousin number one climbed the tree and made the leap with little effort. I had convinced them that I didn’t have to do it since I already had but now seeing they each had made it I felt I had to. I climbed the tree and got into position let go of the tree I was in and jumped catching the limb in the other tree. My momentum swung me way out and from a nearly horizontal position my hands slipped off the limb and I fell the full distance landing on my back. Realizing what had happened and seeing their shocked expressions I thought “They think I’ve killed myself” so I leaped to my feet immediately and said “That smarts!” using every last bit of the air I had in my lungs.

            I fell down in panic until my lungs could refill and I could breathe again and lived on to fight another day.


The Suitcase

In the sixties, on Sixth Ave. downtown in front of the War Memorial Auditorium there was a small park one block square the outside perimeter of which was bordered with shelters for the city buses. The story as told to me was that a couple of guys who ran a game farm locally, before the current zoo, had on a particular evening lingered too long at their cups and decided to play a trick. The men took an old suitcase and put a live bobcat inside it; they then took the suitcase to the bus shelters in the late evening and left it sitting by itself out by the street. The two men then proceeded to park and observe. Before too long a car drove by with several young men in it and slowly drove by the deserted bus shelters and the suitcase. In a few moments they drove by again. After several passes, seeing no one around, one of their number jumped out and absconded with the suitcase. The car went down the road only a few feet when all four doors opened and everyone abandoned it. No word as to what happened to the bobcat.



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