Friday, January 9, 2009

First things first

Mr. Barnwell has requested that readers of his blog, er, book, er, blog put their comments in this section here at the top of the blog. He will entertain any and all questions and comments as long as they are relevant and interesting. Mr. Barnwell alone will decide what constitutes relevant and interesting.

Note. If you are a first-time visitor to this blog, skip this section for now. Go at once -- do not pass GO, do not collect $200 -- to the next post, the one entitled “Caveat Emptor!” and do not come back here until you want to leave a comment or read the comments of others. Mr. Barnwell feels that this will be the best way to interact with you. Also, he didn’t want to have to be checking his individual chapters constantly for comments. As you can see, it’s all about him, him, him and not about you, you, you. Oh, and he wishes to thank you in advance for your cheerful cooperation.

If you are the independent type who doesn’t like to be told what to do, go ahead and read the first couple of comments below to get a flavor of what you’re in for. But it’s prolly probably better to get bogged down in the book itself than in the comments, at least until you have been exposed to enough of Mr. Barnwell’s twisted mind book to decide for yourself how you want to proceed.


Here are the first two comments received, along with Mr. Barnwell’s replies:

Pat - An Arkansas Stamper said...

Dear Billy Ray Barnwell

So far, I have read the Title Page and the Note From the Publisher (my eyes misted up with joy at what lies ahead) and would continue if I didn’t have to take Snuggles and Buddy back home this morning because last night I forgot to bring their dog food to my house whence I returned because I cannot sleep well in any bed other than my own and the dogs need a fenced yard in which to do their business so I don’t have to stay up or get up in the middle of the night, get them to hold still while I attach their leashes, then wander around a strange yard with no flashlight because my family let all their flashlights go dead and I don’t want to end up with a broken leg lying in the cold in my pajamas and my cell phone on the nightstand and no neighbor within earshot, and I will do so when I return to whatever I choose to call “normal” in my life. (January 9, 2009 7:22 AM)

Jeannelle said...

So, how long have, Mr. Barnwell....been working on this? You mean you have a whole book here on this blog? This blog is a book, then. Very cool. Mr. Barnwell, I think you should go give your opinions on my post of 2 p.m. today, entitled Poll: Reading or Writing. I’d love to know your views, considering you are now a “published” author.

I will look forward to reading this,, blog......

Good job! (January 9, 2009 1:28 PM)

Mr. Barnwell replies to comments from readers:

Pat, I completely understand the unavoidable delay caused by your dilemma with Snuggles and Buddy because I have had dogs myself starting with Tippy, a Border Collie, when I was just a kid and continuing with Sandy, a Shepherd-Collie mix, and then Frisky, another Shepherd-Collie mix, about whom my mother taught me to say, “I have a little dog named Frisky, he is a very intelligent pup, he can stand on his hind legs if you hold the front ones up” and each of those dogs lived to be three years old before they were hit by cars they were chasing so I certainly understand the need for a fence and I shudder to think about the possibility of you, make that your, ending up with a broken leg lying in the cold in your pajamas and your cell phone on the nightstand and no neighbor within earshot and may I also say that I admire your writing style immensely.

Jeannelle, rhymeswithplague posted about this book two times back in January of 2008 and even included Chapter 27 in one post as a teaser but no one seemed to take the slightest notice at the time and he also commented on your “Poll: Reading and Writing” post yesterday, not that it’s any business of mine what he does, he is an okay sort of guy when I can get him riled up about something but most of the time he is a complete drain on my creative juices and so I think I need not post my own answer on your blog as it might be somewhat repetitive but thank you for asking. (January 10, 2009 7:21 AM)

(Click on Comments below to leave a comment)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Caveat emptor!

This blog was created on January 8, 2009, by Robert H. Brague, also known as rhymeswithplague. Billy Ray Barnwell is not exactly Mr. Brague’s alter ego, but he has taken up quite a bit of space in Mr. Brague’s head for some time. The only fair thing to do, Mr. Brague reasoned, was to give Billy Ray his own blog and so clear Mr. Brague’s head once and for all. To which Billy Ray replied, “Good luck with that.”

Mr. Barnwell often attempts to take over Mr. Brague’s thought processes. For example, Mr. Brague is not now nor has he ever been a fan of Elvis Presley. Still, Mr. Barnwell suggested to Mr. Brague that Elvis Presley’s birthday (about which Mr. Brague posted earlier today, also at Mr. Barnwell’s suggestion) would be an excellent time to show the world Mr. Barnwell’s book, Billy Ray Barnwell Here (The Meanderings of a Twisted Mind).

If you choose to read Billy Ray Barnwell Here (The Meanderings of a Twisted Mind) from absolute beginning to absolute end, which Mr. Barnwell highly recommends, you may find that Mr. Barnwell is taking up more and more space in your own head as well.

Comments are neither requested nor encouraged, but if you choose to leave any, Mr. Brague is not responsible for whether Mr. Barnwell might respond, or how.




The Meanderings of a Twisted Mind


Billy Ray Barnwell

(Not a memoir...Not an autobiography...Not Grapevine, Texas)

A Truly-Godawful Book



The manuscript that became this book was found in a manila envelope on the ground next to a dumpster behind a Waffle House restaurant in Crabapple, Georgia, on a cold night in January by Melvin, the cook, who was taking a smoke break. Attached to the envelope was a yellow Post-It note containing the following message: “Whoever finds this, you can have it, do what you want with it, I don’t care any more, I’m going to South Padre.” Eventually the manuscript made its way into our hands. An extensive search for its apparent author, the hitherto unknown Billy Ray Barnwell, has proven fruitless to date.

Because we believe A this is an important work that may become a modern literary masterpiece and B it will change the way you think about the English language and C it deserves wide distribution, the book we mean, not the English language, that and the fact that we couldn’t pay any editor enough money to touch it, we have decided to publish it virtually unchanged from the form in which it was found and furthermore we plan to hold all monetary proceeds from sales of the book in an interest-bearing account for the talented but elusive Mr. Barnwell until we locate either him or someone willing to admit to being one of his legal heirs, whichever comes first.

The preceding sentence-paragraph is written in what will surely become known to the general reading public as “Barnwellese” just as soon as Mr. Barnwell acquires a general reading public. That’s where you come in. Read. Enjoy. Tell others. This unusual but compelling book, which includes blurbs written by the author, a first sentence that is 274 words long, and not one but two dedications, deserves a wide audience.

One caveat: do not expect Mr. Barnwell’s writing to be burdened with conventional punctuation; as a matter of fact, not much about Mr. Barnwell is conventional. That said, we haven’t enjoyed a book so much since The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N.

--Robert H. Brague
President, Godawful Books


Billy Ray Barnwell here, here are some blurbs you might want to put on the dust jacket unless you decide to use a plain brown wrapper instead, I prefer the plain brown wrapper, either that or a nice bright dayglow orange, or if you could pry that guy Fabio which is pronounced FOBBY-oh away from making those commercials for fake butter for a few seconds maybe a picture of him ripping at the bodice of a voluptuous but extremely willing maiden, and in case you are wondering, I made up the blurbs myself because a lot of these people are dead and the ones who aren’t would not return my calls.

“Step aside, P. Diddy and Britney Spears, pop music is dead. There’s going to be a new idol in America and his name is Billy Ray Barnwell.” --Simon, Paula, and Randy

“More fascinating than Bulfinch’s Mythology. Mr. Morris would be so proud.” --Elizabeth Beaver

“As refreshing as a snow-covered mountain in Alaska, as spectacular as a waterfall at Lake Louise, better than algebra.” --Belmont Brockett

“Any book that mentions me is simply fabulous, dahling, but this one is much more profound than Marcel Proust’s. I couldn’t put it down.” --Zsa Zsa Gabor

“Who?” --Bobby Clyde McWhorter

“Who?” --Elizabeth “Pie” Holland Griffin-Bonazzi

“Who?” --George Barton

“No comment.” --Horace Earl Triplett


There is a tide in the affairs of men,

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

--Julius Caesar, IV, iii

by Mr. William Shakespeare
(or maybe it was
Mr. Christopher Marlowe)


Billy Ray Barnwell here, Udella Mabry helped me sign on, if I were going to write me a novel, which I’m not, please note the subjunctive mood, which my old English teacher Mr. D. P. Morris back in Grapevine Texas said indicates an impossibility as in if I were you, which I also am not and could never be, I might call it Fifty Ways To Love Your Loser or something equally catchy but I sure wouldn’t sit down to a computer like this one and start pecking away at the keys like some Banty rooster trying to get his daily supply of corn kernels, no sir, no ma’am, no way, Ho-zay, and as the late great Tennessee Ernie Ford used to say on the TV, bless your little pea-pickin’ heart, no, I’d get me a big stack of yellow legal-size pads with blue lines and go out on the screen porch with a nice glass of sweet tea and proceed to do it using pen and paper the old-fashioned way, after all if it was good enough for President or rather ex-President Bill Clinton, the part about the yellow pads, I mean, not the screen porch and the sweet tea which he prolly can’t get either one up there in Harlem, then it’s good enough for me, and speaking of the old-fashioned way, how he could think of anything to write about except Monica Lewinsky is beyond me, it’s certainly what all the rest of us think about when his name comes up, and the kindest thing I guess we can say about that is at least it kept his mind off Hillary.

Wow, would you look at that, 274 words already and that was just the first sentence. I could learn to like this, I bet my novel will just fly by on this computer, not that I’m going to write one, novel I mean. You know, I learned so much from Mr. D. P. Morris, he wrote really helpful notes in red ink on the top of our papers, one time in the ninth grade my friend Bobby Clyde McWhorter got a paper back from him that said “Bobby, you need help in the areas of spelling, grammar, sentence structure, thought, reasoning, punctuation, and penmanship. It also would be nice if you researched your material” and another that said “The only reason I gave you the 60, I knew this had to be your work, because you could not have possibly copied it from someone else” and another that said “Someday, you will understand the reason for this grade” and another that said “Bobby, I know you have a talent for writing, I hope you find it before your senior year.” Whoever is going to be editing this book, do not add any commas in the previous sentence, I know where you think they belong but I like it better the way it is, I think it has the ring of au-then-tici-ty, plus its length is right nice too. Bobby Clyde was a true friend, even though there was that one time in the tenth grade when he tried to get me to cheat during an algebra test and give him the answers, which I of course refused to do and he wouldn’t talk to me for about a month, he was also really good at playing basketball and after we finally graduated from dear old G.H.S. I heard later he went into the army and became a guard at the Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington D.C. for a while but I eventually lost track of him. All the papers I ever got back from old D. P. as we called him, not to his face, said “Great work” on them or if they didn’t I have blocked it out.

Mr. Morris, if you are listening somewhere up there in English teacher heaven, I have already written over 600 words and am still in the Preface so I feel that I am well on my way to fame and fortune, and by the way when I got to the university I took some kind of a test which they then let me skip both semesters of Freshman English and go right into Survey Of World Literature at the sophomore level taught by Dean Ruth Ferguson who was the local big deal because both of her two sons had been presidents of the local chapter of the Kappa Alpha Order, whatever that is, but one thing that still irks me about that whole experience is they wouldn’t give me but three hours credit instead of the full six, the university I mean, not Dean Ferguson’s two sons, which I still think was grossly unfair, I think if you’re going to let a person skip both semesters then you should let him have the credit for both semesters, don’t you? and if you’re still listening, Mr. Morris, what I loved most about your class was when we diagrammed all those sentences but I have heard they don’t teach English that way any more, well it’s their loss, but thanks for your expert tutelage.

.#.#. .#.#. .#.#.

It is now the next day and I have to say right off the bat that my total output yesterday was 666 words which gave me pause, what with that being the number of the Anti-Christ and all, so I went back and added some more stuff in there this morning to get around such an unfortunate start, after all Ann Landers the famous advice columnist said if life hands you a lemon make lemonade, I underlined the added part and I promise I will try not to do any more adding in the future and just let each day’s output stand on its own. Since this isn’t going to be a novel, maybe it will be my autobiography instead with the names changed to protect the guilty, ha ha ha, that’s supposed to be a joke, either that or a journal of personal reminiscences, I read that phrase once in a magazine, or wouldn’t it be a hoot if it turns out to be a scientific treatise or some sort of historical romance or maybe I’ll just try my hand at a few poems or some nice short stories. I can hardly wait to see what it turns out to be. It just occurred to me that Mama used to get a funny look on her face sometimes in the middle of our conversations and say you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, I often wondered why she did that, but I have always believed I might could maybe make a 50% cotton, 50% polyester purse out of just about anything if I put my mind to it, so anyways I will just plunge on ahead and give it my best shot and if I am successful or rather I should say when I am successful you may be reading these words somewhere ages and ages hence, as the famous poet Robert Frost might say, and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.


Billy Ray Barnwell here, I let Udella Mabry who lives two apartments down read what I wrote for a Preface when she got back from her regular weekly hair appointment at Opal’s Beauty Palace and she said well, you have some pretty long sentences in there and you spell right good too, I was quite pleased to get both of those compliments because I consider Udella as fair and impartial a judge as they come plus you can’t hear nice things too often if you ask me, which you didn’t, but it reminded me of the only time I ever wound up anything but first in one of Mrs. Mary Lillard’s Friday afternoon eighth grade spelling bees, we would choose up into two sides and stand along opposite walls and if you missed your word you took your seat, I was always the last one standing and whichever side chose first always chose me before anybody else, it was kind of a guarantee of winning, but one time when several people were still standing, Mrs. Lillard gave me the word “material” to spell, only being a good Texan she said it like it had three syllables instead of four, I think that’s what threw me, because I stood right up there in front of God and everybody and spelled it M-A-T-E-I-R-A-L, and the whole room whooped and hollered for about three minutes, it was a day I would rather forget, prolly the low point of my entire life up to that time. Anyways, getting back to dedicating this book, if you managed to read the preface all the way through you prolly think I’m going to dedicate it to Mr. D. P. Morris, my old English teacher back in Grapevine Texas, well you would be wrong because I am not, I am going to dedicate it to Mrs. Janet Baines Brockett instead. Mrs. Brockett lived on the same gravel road we did about two miles out of town, we were the first house and she was the fourth, so we were neighbors even though it was about a mile to her house, Jimmy Wayne Oxley and Howard Griffin lived in between, Jimmy Wayne was two years behind me in school and his mother raised Poland China hogs, and Howard was the guy who later wrote the book Black Like Me even though he was white, Lord, that’s a whole story in itself, he went blind for ten or twelve years because of a plane crash he was in during World War II but one day when he was walking in his parents’ fields with his collie dog a blood clot behind his eyes suddenly dissolved, Howard’s eyes I mean, not the collie dog’s, and he could see again, and after that he said his blindness had taught him that the color of a person’s skin meant nothing, now this was a revolutionary idea in the South at the time, it was so shocking that after Howard’s book came out some local racists made a dummy and hanged Howard in effigy from one of the town’s two stop lights during the middle of the night, its right side was white and its left side was black and a big yellow stripe was painted down its back, the dummy I mean, not the stop light, and there it was the next morning, just hanging there, when everybody made the turn to go to school, personally I thought it said a whole lot more about the local racists than it did about Howard, and nobody took it down until after a news photographer from The Fort Worth Star-Telegram came out and took a picture to put in the paper. All Howard had done was he went down to New Orleans and paid to have a doctor chemically darken his skin, Howard’s skin I mean, not the doctor’s, and after wandering around the South for a while as a black man he came home, eventually his skin went back to being white and later he wrote about his experiences in a book, and his parents kept hogs just like the Oxleys, wait, I don’t mean the hogs were just like the Oxleys, I mean the Griffins kept hogs just like the Oxleys did, but they were Ohio Improved Chester Whites, the hogs I mean, not Howard’s parents. While he was blind, Howard had married Pie Holland, well her name was really Elizabeth but everybody in town called her Pie, and they had two children which he had never seen either her or them until that day he went walking in the field with his collie dog, you talk about a story. Anyways, not counting summers I rode to school with Mrs. Brockett every day of my life between second grade and eleventh grade, well Mondays through Fridays anyways, mainly because she was going there anyhow, she taught mathematics in the high school and all twelve grades were in the same building, and I would have gone with her in twelfth grade too if she hadn’t retired from teaching after my Junior year and the school hired old Mrs. Vickers, Flavill George’s mother, as math teacher when it hired Flavill as the new football coach, let me tell you she couldn’t hold a candle to Mrs. Brockett when it came to teaching, for one thing during trigonometry tests Mrs. Vickers let us use a sheet of paper with all the formulas on it, sines and cosines and secants and tangents, stuff like that, she didn’t make us memorize them like Mrs. Brockett did and as a result I can tell you very little today about trigonometry but I can still quote you the quadratic equation thanks to Mrs. Brockett, X equals minus B plus or minus the square root of B square minus four A C over two A, and to think some people actually say what good is algebra. Mrs. Brockett would tell me things on the way to school, for instance she told me about her grandfather who was a Southern Baptist preacher back in the early days of Texas before there was even such a thing as Southern Baptists, he supposedly baptized Sam Houston, stuff like that, and she got all upset at the thought that her daughter Genevieve had gone and married a Presbyterian but after visiting her daughter and son-in-law she seemed so relieved, she went to church with them and saw that Presbyterians preached the Scriptures too so she decided that they were just Baptists who have a little money, Presbyterians I mean, not Genevieve and John, although John was an architect so I suppose he had money, and also Mrs. Brockett’s son Delwyn became chairman of the board of Gulf Oil and whenever it was that Queen Elizabeth came over to Canada and dedicated the St. Lawrence Seaway Mrs. Brockett got to sit on the same platform with The Queen thanks to Delwyn. He was really Ernest D. Junior but I guess they called him Delwyn so they wouldn’t get confused at home and he went to Texas A&M and got a geology degree and eventually he married Francis Sammons from over in Keller and they had a son named Belmont who went to Duke University and years later after Delwyn retired from Gulf Oil they moved to the Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club in Boca Raton Florida and eventually it was bought out by British Petroleum, Gulf Oil I mean, not the Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club or Boca Raton Florida. But back to Mrs. Brockett, she drove her old two-tone green 1949 Pontiac with both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road and she wouldn’t look anywhere else for all the tea in China, I know because I tried to get her to many times, but the thing I love most about Mrs. Brockett was after she retired from teaching I visited her in Arlington Texas when L.B.J. was in the White House, and I said, “Mrs. Brockett, you were a Baines weren’t you, are you any kin to Lyndon Baines Johnson?” and she said, “Oh, yes, Billy, I thought you knew that,” and I said, “Well, have any of the White House historians contacted you?” and she said, “Yes they have, but I told them they didn’t want to talk to me, they should go talk to the other side of the family,” and she wasn’t real happy that Lynda Bird or Lucy Baines one, I can’t remember which, had brown eyes instead of blue eyes like the Baineses and she told me how she and President Johnson’s mother, Rebekah Baines, were first cousins and how they used to go shopping together when they were young ladies before either one of them was married, we’re talking 1906 or 1907 here, and how Rebekah Baines was so stately and so dignified and that it was like being in the presence of royalty to walk down the street with Rebekah Baines and then Mrs. Brockett got a faraway look in her eyes like she was remembering something she hadn’t thought of in a long time, something she would rather forget if she could, only she couldn’t, and what came out of her mouth was “And then she had to go and marry that trashy Sam Johnson” and need I remind you she was talking about the father of the man who was then president of the United States and who if he had had a son in addition to his two daughters Linda Bird and Lucy Baines would prolly have named him Bird Baines, L.B.J. was so self-centered even his wife and dog had the initials L.B.J., Lady Bird Johnson and Little Beagle Johnson respectively, but L.B.J. the dog’s pups were called Him and Her and the president later got his picture in the newspapers when he picked up either Him or Her by the ears, I forget which one, dog I mean, not ear, and one time he even showed photographers the scars from his gall bladder operation, Lyndon’s operation I mean, not Him’s or Her’s, you talk about a trashy guy, I guess it’s true that the apple never falls far from the tree. Anyways, that one statement of Mrs. Brockett’s, plus the fact that A she may have been the first woman to graduate with a degree in mathematics from Baylor University in Waco Texas and B she lived to be 92 years old and C one day in the car on the way to school this woman whose whole career involved numbers shocked me by reciting from memory the first twelve lines of Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard” complete with the beetle’s droning flight and the moping owl complaining and D when I came back from my hitch in the military and told her I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior she said, “You know, don’t you, Billy, that only a Southern Baptist minister has the right to baptize you,” is why I have decided to dedicate this book to the memory of the one and only Janet Baines Brockett, because they don’t make people like that any more, or if they do I haven’t met any, and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.


Billy Ray Barnwell here, okay before I get started for real I just want to say that I don’t have anything against short sentences or dividing things up into paragraphs or using past participles or semicolons or periods or having pronouns agree with their whatchamacallits, antecedents, I just think A all that stuff gets in the way a lot of the time and B you ought to write the way you talk, don’t you usually just open your mouth and let ‘er rip? well why should the printed word be any different, anyone in their right mind can still understand what you’re saying, except of course for the Triplett twins, Myrna and Verna from over in Smyrna, they haven’t been in their right mind or really understood much of anything since their big brother Horace Earl Triplett ran naked through the produce section down to the Super Wal-Mart in May of two thousand and four, he must have wanted to display the family jewels real bad, it really put them over the edge and they haven’t been seen in public now for nearly three years, the twins I mean, not Horace Earl’s family jewels, because to be more accurate I should have said first ran naked, everybody in town now knows he is their big brother if you get my drift. I kind of like saying “the Triplett twins” and “Myrna and Verna from over in Smyrna,” it makes me chuckle just thinking about it, have you ever noticed how some names are funny to write but not to say, like Garrison Keillor, and others are funny both to write and to say, like that childhood friend of Woody Allen’s, whatzizname, Guy de Maupassant Rabinowitz who Woody called Geeda for short, and some names just aren’t funny at all, like Dennis Miller. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Dennis Miller the man isn’t funny, just Dennis Miller the name, I guess it’s like with Horace Earl Triplett, it’s all in how you look at it.

That reminds me, a pet peeve of mine is when people say drug instead of dragged, snuck instead of sneaked, and hung when it should be hanged, for example someone might ask whatever happened to a certain outlaw in the Old West and another person says, “He was hung,” well excuse me, curtains can be hung and stockings are hung by the chimney with care, but “He was hung” means something entirely different altogether, as all the ladies who gather in the produce section down to the Super Wal-Mart hoping to get a glimpse of Horace Earl Triplett can tell you. Udella Mabry’s cousin Iva Parnell says Horace makes that actor in that Boogie Nights movie look positively prepubescent, I really wouldn’t know since A I never saw that movie and B I make it a point to stay at the QuikTrip and eat Krispy Kreme doughnuts on days when Horace is running, I don’t need to see what Horace has, I got my own. Daddy always said half the world has what the other half is looking for, and I think this is true no matter which half you happen to be in, I showed this chapter to Udella like I always do and she said something about a fish and a bicycle, I didn’t get what she was driving at, but then she said Billy Ray you’re all the man I want, well she is a sweetie but I have never even asked her out for coffee as she is always in the company of that Juanita Chastain anyways, why they’re practically joined at the hip, I mean it’s something else the way they are always together.

I think I am going to leave autobiography to the fiction writers and fiction to the autobiographers and write me some essays, after all it worked for E. B. White, I can hear some of you going “who?” well he was the guy who wrote that book Charlotte’s Web, okay that wasn’t an essay but he did write some good ones, essays I mean, and I am now going to let you in on a little secret, some of the names in this book are real and some are not and some of the real ones are used in a fictitious way and some of the invented ones convey the God’s honest truth, for example there is a Grapevine Texas but I didn’t go to school there, and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.


Billy Ray Barnwell here, in one of these little chapters or vignettes or whatever they are I absolutely positively must get started on a poem or essay or something really literary, boy it sure is hard being an author, there are so many possibilities to choose from that some days I can’t focus at all, maybe I could find me a pill I could take for that, but I sure wouldn’t want to become dependent on drugs like Udella Mabry’s cousin Virgil Abernathy did, that was a really sad case, but after he finished doing his time he went to school and became the town pharmacist, so all’s well that ends well, to coin a phrase. I do know this is not going to be a novel because if I were going to write me a novel the characters would already be saying things like “It don’t make me no never mind” and “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” things I would never say in real life. I wish I could think of something interesting to write about today, nothing ever happens in this one-horse town, I will just keep pouring the words onto the paper and maybe something good will come of it, I have faith in the process. Mr. Morris said the only way to become a writer is to write, I don’t know why it took me so long to actually do it, Udella said the other day just think this is how Ernest Hemingway got started and I said I like William Faulkner better, then Udella’s buddy Juanita chimed in and said she didn’t care for Faulkner and I asked her why not and she scrunched up her face for a minute like she was trying to decide why herself and finally she said “too many words” well let me tell you I was flabbergasted, it was just like that scene in that Amadeus movie where the Italian composers tell the king or duke or whatever he is that Mozart’s music has too many notes, well in my opinion we should all have too many notes like Mozart or too many words like Faulkner, even though he did tend to use words like “scrofulous” and “phylacteries” and “lugubrious” and “mendaciously,” Faulkner I mean, not Mozart, which always sent me scurrying to the dictionary, wait a minute, hold the fort, that isn’t Faulkner I’m thinking of, that’s Thomas Wolfe, talk about a man who used too many words, O by the lost and wind-grieved ghost come back again my eye, why couldn’t he just write about simple things, a stone, a leaf, a door, that’s a joke for all you literary types, I’m sure it will bring great guffaws in English departments at universities all across this wonderful land of ours, and for those of you who don’t get the joke, I don’t want to ruin your concentration by explaining it, the joke I mean, not your concentration.

I wouldn’t want to think the well is running dry or anything, but all I can think to tell you about right now are things my father used to say, such as using a condom is like wearing socks to take a shower, or when you eat beans if you also eat macaroni you will get a pipe organ effect, or the ever popular pull my finger, he was a real delight to know, I didn’t think so then and I don’t think so now, in fact I prayed many times for him to be gone and now that he is I miss him more than I like to admit, damn was his favorite adjective and hell was his favorite noun, he smoked Chesterfield cigarettes like they were going out of style and between him and Mama the ashtrays at our house were always full and the air was always blue with smoke, and in spite of all of that or maybe because of it he started teaching the men’s Sunday School class at the Methodist church, you couldn’t make this stuff up, truth is stranger than fiction, I guess I should cut him some slack, he was a good man trying to do his best, he served in the U.S. Navy during the Second World War as a machinist’s mate, whatever that is, on a ship called the PCE869, which PCE stands for Patrol Craft Escort, I know because he talked about the Navy every single day of his life and it is emblazoned in my brain along with the Great Lakes Naval Training Center and the Panama Canal Zone that has towns named Cristobal and Colón and when you say Colón it is not like the part of your body that is somewhere between your stomach and your anal sphincter, it is like the cologne that a man might want to splash on various parts of his body before going out on a big date so that if a person got close enough to smell him that person would end up smelling the cologne and not the body parts, oh by the way Cristobal Colón means Christopher Columbus in Spanish, he drove me absolutely bonkers, my father I mean, not Christopher Columbus, but he did have what every man wants and what every woman dreams about, Udella please tell Juanita she can stop laughing, I’m talking about a weekly paycheck, he was a good provider, for nearly twenty years he worked at Consolidated Vultee Aircraft which changed its name to Convair and then changed it again to General Dynamics Corporation, he was a turret lathe and milling machine operator, he helped build the wing assemblies of the B-36, B-58, and F-111 airplanes with guys named Jim Hodges and Ike Pemberton and Finn Wahl, and he rode thirty-four miles each way to work in a car pool with guys named Bill Poe and Wayne Harmon and Hubert Beard, his round dark green plastic-covered badge said he was employee number 183473, Daddy’s badge I mean, not Hubert Beard’s, not that I ever really noticed, then he got sick and died about a year and a half before he would have been eligible to retire and it’s a damn shame, pardon my French, that he died of pancreatic cancer, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone so be careful what you pray for because you just might get it, and it is way past time to end it for now, this is Billy Ray Barnwell your roving reporter signing off.


In the spring of my fourteenth year, my parents decided to give me a horse for my birthday, and after some searching my father eventually brought home a gentle fourteen-year-old mare that I named Silver after the Lone Ranger’s big white stallion even though she looked nothing like her famous namesake. She was a Pinto, a painted pony with big splotches of brown and white, and we kept her in a dilapidated structure that might have been red once, a multipurpose building that was part garage, part barn, part pigpen, and part henhouse. She shared it with a small, similarly splotched flock of chickens that included White Leghorns, Buff Orphingtons, Rhode Island Reds, and Black Dominicks; and she also shared it with Lady Henrietta, the pig I was raising to meet the personal project requirement in Mr. Ben Barber’s ninth grade vocational agriculture class and who later provided us with a delicious supply of ham, sausage, bacon, and pork chops, Lady Henrietta I mean, not Mr. Ben Barber.

All summer long I rode Silver around our pasture bareback, using only a bridle because my parents couldn’t afford to buy a saddle and stirrups, and I loved that horse more than any dog or cat that ever lived. She had about two acres in which to roam and graze; a third acre held a vegetable garden and all sorts of trees that old Mrs. Mason, the former owner, had planted: apple trees, pear trees, peach trees, cherry trees, plum trees, persimmon trees, mulberry trees, and there were also fig bushes, blackberry bushes, a grape arbor, two big oaks, two big elms, and another dilapidated and unpainted structure that housed Mama, Daddy, and me in its four small rooms. Between the house and the barn-garage-pigpen-henhouse sat an old Dodge pickup that had seen better days, rusting, with grass and weeds growing up all around it and, thanks to holes in the floorboard, into it as well. We didn’t have indoor plumbing; whenever Nature called, we had to walk down a well-worn path about fifty yards to an outhouse. Every drop of water for drinking, cooking, and bathing was obtained by lowering a bucket on a rope over a pulley into a well next to the back door and drawing it out by hand, every drop except what we gathered in pots and pans and jars and basins whenever an occasional rainstorm pounded on our corrugated tin roof and demanded to be let through. On the kitchen counter sat a bucket we drank out of using a long-handled ladle. There was no sink. On the counter next to the bucket sat two basins, a round metal one, white with a red rim, where Mama put soapy water for washing dishes, and a square one made of red plastic where she put clear water for rinsing. When the dishwashing was finished, we simply opened the screen door and threw the water into the back yard. We bathed in a number three tin tub that my father would set in the middle of the kitchen, spreading newspapers around on the floor to absorb any water that might slosh over the edge of the tub onto the ancient, cracked, nondescript linoleum. The water for the tub and also for the dishwashing had to be heated on an equally ancient wood-burning stove. We had a wooden icebox instead of an electric refrigerator like everybody else, and supplying it with blocks of ice every week and emptying the drain pan every day were a regular part of our routine. Even allowing for it being Texas in the nineteen fifties, it was a pretty primitive existence; I was the only kid I knew who lived this way.

Eventually we acquired a real refrigerator and an electric stove from the local Western Auto store, but Daddy never did put in plumbing. The shallow well went not dry but bad when a film of oil developed on the water, so it became my job two or three times each week to go through Silver’s pasture carrying a five-gallon bucket in each hand or sometimes pulling my old Red Flyer wagon with a large metal garbage can balanced on top, to a neighbor’s house about a quarter of a mile away, where my parents had been given permission by Florabelle Oxley, Jimmy Wayne’s mother, to get our water supply from a hose hooked to an outdoor spigot on the side of their house. Sometimes I would call to Silver, “Hey, girl,” whereupon she would stop grazing, look up, and neigh softly as if to say she understood completely the humiliation I felt, having to depend on others and living in substandard housing herself. Today, all these years later, when I turn on the sprinklers to water my azaleas I still think about pulling that red wagon across Silver’s pasture to the Oxleys’ house to get water; it’s hard to forget that Florabelle Oxley’s Poland China hogs lived better than we did.

In late autumn, when the “blue norther” cold fronts for which Texas is famous came roaring down the plains from the Panhandle and the weather turned wintry, Silver stayed in the barn most of the time eating hay. By the time spring arrived, when Mrs. Mason’s jonquils and violets and irises and God’s bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes splattered our yard with their colors, my father thought Silver might be a bit skittish since she hadn’t been ridden all winter. “I’m going to ride the damn horse first,” he said. Mama didn’t think it was a good idea, but Daddy was adamant, and since he wore the pants in the family, the decision was made. Whether it was Silver’s skittishness or the fact that my father was twice my weight I’ll never know, but as he swung himself up onto her back she bolted out of the barn door and began galloping across the pasture with my father holding on for dear life. At the far fence line she made a turn and headed back straight toward the plum tree where Mama and I were standing and staring in disbelief. Daddy was yelling “Whoa! Whoa!” and doing his best to get the horse to stop, but Silver, who apparently wore the pants in her family, kept running toward us. When she reached her destination, she deftly scraped my father off her back under a low-hanging branch of the plum tree, then stopped and began grazing calmly as though nothing had happened. Daddy lay on the ground, conscious but stunned, trying to comprehend what had just occurred. By this time Mama was laughing hysterically. “What the hell are you laughing at?” Daddy demanded, but Mama just kept on laughing. Picking himself up off the ground, Daddy dusted himself off, said, “You damn fool,” and slowly made his way back to the house. The doctor said Daddy had three cracked ribs and taped his chest up for a month, Daddy’s chest I mean, not the doctor’s. Before the tape came off, Silver had been sold, and even though I cried buckets the day they took her away, my father never bought another horse.


Billy Ray Barnwell here, a while back Udella showed me a letter she and Juanita got from their old friend Ila Faye Hostetter who lives down in Micanopee Florida and it was right intriguing so I said let me have Ila Faye’s address I might want to write to her sometime, so she did and I did and I’ll be dog if we didn’t strike up a whatchamacallit, a correspondence, last month I sent her an original poem I wrote, it went like this:

Whene’er urine micanopee
I hope that yew will thank of me
And ever time I thank of yew
I’ll be micanopeein’ too.

She wrote back and said my poem was real good, she liked it a lot and that she was mighty flatured, so I wrote her back last week and said that I have not been mighty flatured in quite a spell but I keep a special spray can in the bathroom for just such occasions, I can’t wait to hear from her again, well I know this is short but I have to run over to the post office and check my box, so this is Billy Ray Barnwell temporarily putting it on Pause.

.#.#. .#.#. .#.#.

Okay it has been three days since I got back from the P.O. but I have been unable to write one single word until now because I am completely devastated, I got a short note from Ila Faye that said, “Do not ever write to me again, I am no longer amused by references to bodily functions, I have started going to a Pentecostal church, you need to get right with the Lord” and that was it, well excuse me but from what I hear I think Pentecostal people are interested in a lot of bodily functions, I mean waving your hands in the air is a bodily function, speaking in tongues is a bodily function, rolling around on the floor is a bodily function, the whole Pentecostal ball of wax seems to be a very physical experience plumb full of bodily functions if you ask me, which I know you didn’t but I’m just saying, okay I will concede that swinging from the chandeliers is not a bodily function, it’s more of an acrobatic skill, not that I’ve ever seen anybody actually do that but I have it on very good authority that that’s what they do, gosh I sure am going to miss hearing from Ila Faye, I wrote her once that I owe my love of stream of consciousness to Joyce and she wrote me back and said “Joyce who?” which made me laugh, it reminded me of the time I had to go by the church to rehearse a song with Mary Louise Calcavecchio and Calvin Bryson for someone’s wedding and I got there first so I sat down at the piano and started playing Clair de Lune to pass the time and towards the end of it Mary Louise came in and said “what is that?” and I said Clair de Lune and she said “who wrote it?” and I said Debussy and she looked puzzled and said “W. C. who?” but I did manage to keep from laughing that time, and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.


Billy Ray Barnwell here, well since my long-distance relationship with Ila Faye Hostetter went belly up a couple of weeks ago and we are no longer Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, we are no longer Heloise and Abelard, face it, we were never even Sonny and Cher, I figured I needed to do something else with my life, something important, or I would go crazy, so I thought and thought about it and here’s what I have decided I will do, I have decided I will become a real estate agent so I can sell houses and maybe also those whatchamacallits, condominia, to all the new people moving in around here but I just have to wait a few more days until my nose heals up and this black eye goes away. See, what happened was Udella Mabry and her friend Juanita decided to take me out on the town last night to get my mind off Ila Faye, I think what they really wanted was to get me good and drunk even though they know I don’t drink, well actually I do drink, everybody drinks, I just don’t drink what they drink, I heard the famous singer Pat Boone say that one time on the Tonight show with Johnny Carson, so anyways we went to a new club out on McFarland Road, Saffron’s or Sapporo or something like that, no wait, I remember now, it was called Sappho’s, well wonder of wonders I had my pick of any woman in the place to dance with as it turned out I was just about the only man in the entire establishment, it was kind of fun in a weird sort of way, all the women were dancing with each other, and you know what, they seemed to be having a good time even without benefit of male companionship, go figure. Well, I must not have been sending out the usual waves of animal magnetism, or maybe it was because of the funk I was in over losing Ila Faye, but would you believe it, not one of those lovely ladies would consent to take a spin around the floor with me so since there was no action whatsoever at Sappho’s I left Udella and Juanita there and went across the street to a place called The End Zone, which turned out to be a sports bar, and ended up watching professional football on the big screen. I ordered a root beer and a hamburger and struck up a conversation with this guy sitting next to me at the bar who looked big enough to have been a defensive lineman in the NFL himself. “I just come from Sappho’s across the street” I said and he said “Well I’m new in town but I hear that place is full of lezzies” and my first thought was how shocked Udella and Juanita would be if they knew, and then it occurred to me that since this guy had just moved here he might be a prospect for my upcoming real estate career, so I decided to change the subject, I leaned in a little closer to him and said, “Well I don’t know about that, but would you be interested in having a condominia?” and I won’t repeat what he said back to me but it was ugly and uncalled for and then before I even knew what was happening he hauled off and socked me square in the jaw with one fist and up side of the nose with the other, bam, bam, just like that, I guess it was what people call a one-two punch, he hit me so hard I flew off the barstool and landed face down kersplat on the floor, I ended up with a broken nose and a black eye on top of a sore jaw, I have no idea why Mr. NFL got so upset, it’s a mystery to me, but I’m just glad I still have all my teeth, and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.


Billy Ray Barnwell here, while my nose was healing I decided to read back over everything I have written so far which you prolly won’t believe this but according to the computer comes to over six thousand words, Mr. Morris was right after all, and it was a real eye-opener for me because I learned something about how inspiration works, I didn’t realize it before but I’m pretty sure the seed for the story about my horse Silver in Chapter 3 was planted in my mind when I happened to write the phrase “one-horse town” in Chapter 2 and then I just kept pouring the words onto the paper like I said I was going to do and soon, I don’t know why, I was telling you things my father used to say and as the French say, vwah-lah, Chapter 3 just sort of appeared out of nowhere, it just popped out fully grown kind of like Athena I think it was did from the forehead of Zeus according to Bulfinch’s Mythology, which if you have never read you ought to run right down to your public library and check out. Those old Greek and Roman guys were pretty smart, I learned a lot of neat stuff in Bulfinch’s about Echo and Narcissus and Arachne and Tantalus and a whole lot of other folks besides, Vulcan the god of the forge and Persephone which rhymes with Stephanie and not telephone to name two. I guess the Greek language is still managing to hang in there, especially for people who happen to be from Greece but I hate it that Latin is dead, did you know that someone with a lot more spare time than brains went and translated Winnie the Pooh into Latin? well they did, it was called Winnie Ille Pooh but as my old work buddy Tom Bledsoe says about his days in Latin class, “flunko, flunkare, flunkuisti” and I imagine his experience is prolly more common than you might think, well I must say I don’t think we have improved any since the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, all kids care about today is stuff like American Idol on the TV and Britney Spears clones and P. Diddy and drugs and driving their parents bonkers. And sex of course. Hey, maybe things haven’t changed that much over the centuries after all, we just don’t talk about it in Latin any more, except in my family we sometimes did, when my uncle would get really disgusted he never cussed, he would say “sum esse fui” and then smile mysteriously, for years I thought he was saying “so messy phooey” and even Mama would sometimes say “heek hike hoke hoo-yus hoo-yus hoo-yus” and begin to giggle. I asked her to write that down one time and she wrote “hic haec hoc” in one vertical column, if that’s redundant you can just go ahead and report me to the Department Of Redundancy Department, and then she wrote “hujus hujus hujus” in another, I thought A it was a very strange thing to do and B it looked more like hick hake hock than heek hike hoke, and C why a J would be pronounced like a Y is beyond me, I asked her why she put it in two columns like that and at first she didn’t answer but when I said Mama aren’t you going to answer? she said “I respectfully decline” and began to giggle again, I guess I come from a strange breed, I wouldn’t know, I never met but one of my grandparents, so anyways instead of giving up I have decided to continue pouring the words onto the paper, God bless you Mr. Morris, well as Tigger in Winnie the Pooh would say, Ta Ta For Now, I wonder what that is in Latin, and I just want to say here that like my uncle I never cuss but where I spit grass never grows again, oh by the way I have decided not to go into real estate and this is illy-Bay ay-Ray arnwell-Bay igning-say off-ay.


Billy Ray Barnwell here, Mama always said fools rush in where angels fear to tread, but here goes anyway, some people have unusual names, don’t you think? for example the principal of the high school I attended back in Not Grapevine Texas was named Willie Pigg, he had a daughter named Barbara Ann and a son named Billy Dale, you’re prolly saying what’s wrong with that? well don’t look now but their initials were B. A. Pigg and B. D. Pigg, why would anyone do that to their children?, and back around World War Eye as the famous bandleader Lawrence Welk would say there was also a Governor of Texas named Jim Hogg, he and the lovely Mrs. Hogg had a daughter they named Ima, that’s right folks, Ima Hogg, and legend has it there was also a Ura Hogg but that has been emphatically denied, I have heard that in her old age Miss Ima Hogg reigned supreme as the grande dame of Houston society sort of like Alice Roosevelt Longworth the daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt did up there in Washington D.C. with her little pillow that said if you can’t say something nice about someone come sit by me, but I don’t know whatever became of Miss Ura, if indeed there ever was a Miss Ura, I guess the jury is still out on that one. In the service I had a friend named Jim Parsley and I knew of a guy whose last name was Turnipseed and I worked with a Marsha Lamb, I don’t know what it is with animals and vegetables, oh and my first grade teacher back in Pawtucket Rhode Island, as the famous newspaper columnist Dave Barry says I am not making this up, was Miss Edith Wildegoose, I still have her wedding announcement that Mama cut out of the newspaper to prove it, yes I was born in Rhode Island but only because I wanted to be near my mother and she happened to be there at the time, but just as soon as I could convince my family, we moved to the South, well that’s a little joke but it’s not entirely untrue, I was six years old and pre-asthmatic when the doctor told my parents I would prolly do better in a drier climate, and since my father thought he might find work in the aerospace industry, we sold our furniture and packed up our clothes and left our third-floor apartment at 61 Larch Street and our landlord Mr. Lee Vitale pronounced Mr. Leave-a-TALLY and the Misses Irma Chisolm and Yvonne Schack at the Pawtucket Day Nursery and also Mrs. Mullins who taught me for one whole week in public kindergarten before I was moved into the first-grade class of the aforementioned Miss Edith Wildegoose at Hancock Street Elementary School and moved to Fort Worth Texas on a train, a trip that took three days and two nights. I can hear some of you saying Texas isn’t the South, it’s the Southwest, well it seceded if that’s any qualification, but getting back to odd names, let us not forget Tom Bledsoe, and Mama said she knew a girl back in Philadelphia named Violet Roach, and when I finally got around to taking Latin in college the teacher who taught me all about conjugating the verbs and declining the nouns and adjectives so that I finally understood Mama’s little joke and also realized that my uncle wasn’t saying “so messy phooey” at all, he was saying the principal parts of the verb to be in Latin, was named Elizabeth Beaver. I have heard that when people began using surnames several hundred years ago they might pick a nearby geographical feature like Hill or Field or Rivers, or their occupation like Carpenter or Taylor or Cooper which means barrel maker, or an identifying physical characteristic like Long or Short, we won’t delve into that any further, or an animal name like Wolf or Fox or Byrd, but why someone would choose Beaver or Roach or Wildegoose is beyond me, and it’s not just animals either, some names just sound right and some do not, take colors for example, we all have friends named the Whites or the Blacks or the Browns or the Grays or the Greens but do we have friends named the Yellows or the Purples or the Oranges or the Beiges? no we do not and in the great overall cosmic scheme of things there’s prolly a very good reason why we do not, and some people go out of their way to try to be cute, for example that guy who wrote the book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang had characters in it named Truly Scrumptious and Caractacus Potts, of course those people were not real, but I think trying to be cute can create a burden for the child, for example George Lear who created Lear Jet airplanes named his daughter Crystal and so far so good but her middle name was, are you ready for this?, Chanda, that’s right, Crystal Chanda Lear, and my friend John Cornelius told me the other day he used to know a girl named Candy Machine but he may have been pulling my leg. Girls seem to have to bear the brunt of parental inventiveness, for example I know a family named Musselwhite where the sons are named Fred and Wayne but the daughter’s name is Fredonia, and I know another family named Furbush where the son’s name is Carl, common enough, but the daughter’s name is Tranquilla. Fredonia Musselwhite and Tranquilla Furbush and both of them are Caucasian, so you can stop giggling and rolling your eyes about the Sha’niquas and Champaydrons in your local African-American community. Two of my all-time favorite names are Ninnie Threadgood and Fannie Flagg, one is real and one is made up, in fact the one that is real made up the one that is made up, maybe we could start a contest and you can guess which is which, just send your postcard entries to me, Billy Ray Barnwell, care of General Delivery, Not Grapevine Texas, say either “Ninnie Threadgood invented Fannie Flagg” or “Fannie Flagg invented Ninnie Threadgood,” whichever one you think, we could have a drawing for the big prize, maybe a year’s supply of fried green tomatoes or something, this could be big, really big, but getting back to names, we all know families who fixate on a particular initial, for example I know a D group, Don, Doris, Darryl, and Dawn and I know a J group where the children are Jonathan, Jennifer, Jessica, Jeremy, Jason, Justin, and Julia, but the parents, go figure, are David and Sabrina. I also know a woman with a beautiful name, Amalfi, who told me her father was visiting in Italy and saw a highway sign that said Amalfi and he said if he ever had a daughter he was going to name her that, I told her if he had gone to Atlanta instead we would be calling her I-285 today, either that or Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. Amalfi’s sister Sammie has a total of 21 names because her father happened to be the pastor of a small church and when his wife became pregnant every woman in the congregation suggested a name for the new addition and since the pastor and his wife didn’t want to show favoritism or hurt anyone’s feelings they used all 21 names, Amalfi can rattle them off without blinking an eye but I can never remember what all of Sammie’s names are, the whole concept is so overwhelming, so whenever I see Sammie I just make some names up and say Hi there, Sammie Imogene Esmerelda Hildegarde Florence Ophelia Desdemona Eleanor Bess Mamie Jacqueline Ladybird Thelma Betty Rosalyn Nancy Barbara Hillary Laura, well you get the picture, and we all have a good laugh, Sammie doesn’t mind, but one thing she does do is she gets married a lot, she has been married several times in what I believe is an unconscious attempt to have enough last names to bring the scales into balance. Then there’s the case of everyone’s favorite violet-eyed actress, the famous Elizabeth Rosamund Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky, I don’t know what her reason is, and let’s not even attempt to understand Zsa Zsa Gabor who is from Hungary and has been married so many times her wedding dress is prolly drip-dry. Speaking of Hungary, foreign names are a world unto themselves, for example people from India all seem to have names like Praline Lolafalana or Bajeeb Bagoshbaghali, don’t you think? and we have all heard about names that are prolly just jokes, you know the ones, let me write phonetically here, fuh-MOLLY, oh-RON-juh-LO, luh-MON-juh-LO (female, orange jello, lemon jello), it just gets worse, my step-uncle, that would be my stepmother’s brother, married a woman named Ovaline and I always called her Ovaltine, behind her back of course, and years ago when a friend of mine married his wife Udella, no kin to Udella Mabry, three little kids I know began calling her Umbrella, behind her back of course, maybe it’s something in their DNA, like I said earlier the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, and on that disturbing note this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.



I can still see you saying it, Mama, hurrying to get it over with, hoping they didn’t hear too clearly. They never did. You knew they wouldn’t; you made sure they wouldn’t. Sometimes it came out different, your ear searching for the right sound: “Zimmerman,” you would say, or “Sellman,” or “Simmon.” I liked that one best. It made me smell hot cinnamon toast and taste the sweet persimmons from our yard.

I can still hear your eyes, Mama. Looking outward, seeing inward, they were the frightened eyes of a doe fleeing the hunter. But you were quick, you’d glance down, and they never saw. You always made sure they never saw.

But I did.

I saw and I heard, and I wondered why you were afraid, why you were so reluctant to reveal your maiden name. It seemed a fine name to me, a perfectly fine Jewish name. I liked the sound it made inside my head: Silberman. Bells chimed when I thought of that name. On our solitary visit to Pennsylvania when I was fourteen, when the telephone rang in your brother’s house and Uncle Jack who was really Jacob answered it with a cheery “Dr. Silberman,” I could hear in his voice a torrent of bells.

You told me never to say it to anyone, and you gave me other orders, too. “If someone wants to know what you are, say German,” you told me. “And never say Uncle Sol, call him Uncle Paul,” you said. Though I didn’t understand, the look in your eyes told me not to question, and I obeyed. Later, when I had heard of Auschwitz and Buchenwald and Dachau, I realized that you had private horrors and unspoken fears of your own. What happened, Mama? Did you plan to tell me someday? Was I too young? If you were waiting, you waited too long.

The cancers entered your body, crowding your life away, and as they advanced you receded. From a hundred and eight pounds at peak health, you were less than seventy at the end. I was sixteen years old when you died all those Octobers ago, all those eons ago.

Three eons after you were gone, I heard a pianist play something by Debussy at a recital at the university, a piece called La Cathedrale Engloutie, and in the swelling chords, the rising waters, I recognized the choking cancers growing also until, like the cathedral in the legend, you too were engulfed.

In the months and years before, in the dust and heat of the dry Texas sun, far from your early Philadelphia years, you were afraid. You were Jewish and afraid. But not me. I was a Methodist. Every week you sent me with the neighbors into town to attend Sunday School, and no one ever knew that you were Jewish, that I was half Jewish. It was our secret. Yours and mine and his.

I was twelve when I overheard the two of you arguing in whispers about a picture in a locket, a picture I never saw because he tore it to pieces that day. I knew then that he wasn’t my father at all. But you never knew I knew. It was our secret from each other. “Leave him alone,” you would cry whenever he hit me, “he never asked to be born.” All three of us had understood the message of your cry. When he began to try to tell me, after you were buried, all the color drained from his face when I said calmly that I had known for four years. He never touched me again. Eight months later he married a widow with four teenage children and life, as some people say, went on.

You had me, Mama, you loved me, and you kept me. And I know now that you were only trying to protect me, to spare me some of the hate in the world. You shouldn’t have been so afraid, Mama. Jesus said that we would know the truth and the truth would make us free. I read in a book that Louis XVI once asked Blaise Pascal to name one proof of the existence of God and Pascal answered, “The Jew, Your Majesty, the Jew.” You didn’t have to be afraid, Mama. Oh, they try to destroy us. The pharaohs tried, the Romans tried, the Inquisitors tried, Hitler tried, the Arabs are still trying today, but no one will ever destroy the Jew.

Once I came home from Sunday School, Mama, and asked you whether the Jews crucified Christ. Turning slowly toward me, your eyes widening, you said, “We were taught it was the Roman soldiers.” I know now it was neither Jew nor Roman soldier. It was all of us, Mama. All mankind in every century nailed Him to the cross, and He died for the sins of the whole world. You tried to take away my Jewishness, Mama, but my Messiah has come. Don’t you see, Mama? I wasn’t converted. Only Gentiles, goyim, are converted. I was completed. “Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us,” wrote Saul of Tarsus, a Jew. The exodus from fear can finally begin.

After the second funeral, I wrote to Aunt Miriam in Pennsylvania to learn more about my real father. “Ruth met him in New York,” she wrote. “He was a musician, a French-Canadian. He joined the Army and disappeared. We think he went to Panama when the war came. “What’s important, Billy, is not what he was, but what you are.”

You had two secrets, Mama--at least two. Awful secrets, as cancerous to your soul as the disease that wracked your flesh. How many more secrets there were I’ll never know.

Persimmons and eons, Mama. Cinnamon, persimmons, and eons. I love you, Mama, across the eons. “Dust thou art,” says the Bible, the Torah, “and unto dust shalt thou return.” Not you, Mama, not you. You’ll never be dust. You’re a Madonna in a cathedral. An emaciated Madonna in an engulfed, eternal cathedral. Even now, I can hear the bells chiming.


Billy Ray Barnwell here, another teacher I remember from back in Not Grapevine is Mr. Steelman who taught us Chemistry, his first name was Noble or Norris or something equally weird, I don’t remember much about the Chemistry class itself except that in the lab my precipitate never would do what it was supposed to, what I do remember is Mr. Steelman got upset at someone one spring afternoon for having made the mistake of chewing gum in his class, he didn’t rant and rave the way Mrs. Lillard did in the eighth grade one time when Melvin Lovinggood sassed her and she came up the aisle to where he was sitting and screamed in his face and grabbed Melvin by the hair of his head and bounced him up and down two or three times right there in the seat where he was sitting and we all learned that when a red-headed woman gets angry she is a force to be reckoned with, no, Mr. Steelman just said in his very calm way that it wasn’t the chewing of the gum that bothered him so much, it was the smell, the gum was Juicy Fruit and Juicy Fruit made him sick to his stomach, it smelled just like a pair of old ripe socks he said, we all sniffed the air and you know what, he was right, well many years have passed since then and I have never been able to put a piece of Juicy Fruit chewing gum in my mouth since that day, it’s crazy what you remember, you would think I might remember something from the periodic table of elements, but no. I will also never forget an important lesson I learned at the feet of Mr. Ben Barber, the vocational agriculture teacher, he was one of the finest gentlemen I have ever had the privilege to know, he spoke with a slow Southern drawl, a very slow Southern drawl, it’s unbelievable how slow his Southern drawl was, and one day in class he said Boys, as you go through life you will be faced with many decisions, some are more important than others, and if you need help deciding whether you should or shouldn’t do something, or if you ever are wondering how important your decision could turn out to be in the overall scheme of things, Boys, just think of a plate full of ham and eggs, well we just looked at each other like Mr. Barber had finally gone off his rocker, but he just smiled and kept on talking, very slowly, and I have never forgotten what he said next, he said Boys, never forget when you are thinking about that plate full of ham and eggs, that on the part of the hen it may represent a commitment but for the pig it is a real sacrifice. Mr. Barber also was not a big fan of pasteurization of milk, because it didn’t remove the impurities, he said, it just neutralized their effect. Well that’s not exactly correct, what he actually said while we all sat there silently praying Dear God, please can’t you make Mr. Barber talk a little faster was Boys, if I had a big old ugly oozing boil on my arm and squeezed it into a pail of milk fresh from the cow, or if I blew snot from my nose into that pail, would you want to drink that milk? and we said no sir, we sure wouldn’t, and he said, well, if I took that pail of milk with that boil and that snot in it and instead of pouring it out I heated it up to a high enough temperature to where all the harmful bacteria in the boil and the snot are killed and can’t hurt anybody and then let the milk cool back down to where you could drink it without burning your mouth and put it in bottles and put the bottles in the refrigerated dairy case at the grocery store, now remember boys it still has the boil in it, it still has the snot in it, would you boys drink it then? and we said eeewww, no way Mr. Barber, no sir, we wouldn’t drink that milk and he said well boys, that is how pasteurization works, it doesn’t remove any of the impurities from the milk, it leaves them all in there, all it does is neutralize their effect, and we found out he really wasn’t against pasteurization, he just thought a good cheesecloth strainer could also prove useful, and you are prolly beginning to understand why all the boys who ever passed through his class and who are grandfathers by now can still remember what Mr. Ben Barber said, he really had a way with words. But he and the assistant vocational agricultural teacher, Mr. Troy Smith, could also be really hard taskmasters when the occasion demanded, for example if someone was caught in a major infraction of the rules, such as swearing loud enough to be heard by the teacher or getting caught smoking in the boys’ restroom, Mr. Barber and Mr. Smith both would say Boys, wear your widest belts tomorrow because so-and-so is going to be running the belt line and we all did because truth be told we kind of enjoyed inflicting a little pain upon a fellow student’s behind, it was invigorating in a sadistic sort of way and also very therapeutic for the rulebreaker, and sure enough the next day the class would be dismissed five minutes early and we would all file out and gather behind the gymnasium and form two lines, kind of like one of Mrs. Lillard’s spelling bees only closer together, and then we would take off our belts and Mr. Barber or Mr. Smith one would say, now Boys hold the buckle end in your hand, there’ll be no whipping with buckles, and then the offender would run as fast as he could almost the entire length of the gym between the two lines of eager boys and we really got in some good licks now and then, it made a person realize he didn’t want to break the rules too often, well not get caught anyways, and then we would all put our belts back on and come out from behind the gym with beatific looks on our faces like nothing had happened and go to our next class where one of us would take his seat a little more gingerly than the others and try to look as angelic as possible, and by the end of the day his reputation among all the students, boys and girls alike, would have grown mightily and he would have no trouble getting a date for the football game on Friday night, well the world has changed a lot since then, good is bad nowadays and bad is good, right is wrong and wrong has become right, Mr. Barber and Mr. Smith would prolly be put in jail for all the trouble they went to trying to make us into good citizens, the television reporters would definitely show up with their cameras to interview the boy’s indignant parents, we would prolly all see Mr. Barber and Mr. Smith being led away in handcuffs on the evening news, and the boy’s date for the football game on Friday night might even be one of the guys from the belt line, but we did have some good times in those days back in Not Grapevine, the lessons we learned were not always in books, and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.


Billy Ray Barnwell here, I really don’t mean to be indelicate but I’m going to tell you a little-known bit of showbiz history in which some people from Not Grapevine, especially one, played a significant part. Once upon a time, many years ago, in a place referred to by many as Tinseltown, diminutive actor Gary Coleman was on his way to the taping of the first episode of a new television sitcom in which he and fellow actor Todd Bridges were going to be playing the adopted children of Conrad Bain, interracial adoption was very cutting edge back in those days, not like today when every Tom, Dick, and Angelina Jolie do it, well anyways Gary was having difficulty remembering what Todd’s character’s name was, and he was concentrating so hard on memorizing his lines that he got off the elevator on the wrong floor and found himself on the set of The McGuire Sisters show. The sisters were arguing over who was supposed to sing which note of a particular chord in “Sincerely,” their featured number, well their arguing went on until Gary couldn’t stand it any longer, he drew himself up to his full height and said “What’choo talkin’ about, Dottie? What’choo talkin’ about, Christine? What’choo talkin’ about, Phyllis?” and left, still trying to remember Todd’s character’s name.

He got back on the elevator to go to another floor and found three guys wearing blue corduroy jackets with big gold emblems on the back that said Future Farmers of America, and here’s where the indelicate part comes in, sorry ladies, they were arguing about when you are artificially inseminating a cow, what did Mr. Barber say was the best way to extract semen from the bull. Gary listened, fascinated, and realized he was tingling in a familiar place, but he said nothing and got off the elevator on another floor. He found himself on the set of the Mary Tyler Moore show, where Mary was doing a scene with her best friend and her landlady, and they were arguing over how the scene should be done, well their arguing went on until Gary couldn’t stand it any longer, he drew himself up to his full height and said “What’choo talkin’ about, Mary? What’choo talkin’ about, Rhoda? What’choo talkin’ about, Phyllis?” and left, still trying to remember Todd’s character’s name.

He got back on the elevator to go to another floor and found the same three guys in blue FFA jackets arguing, sorry again ladies, about when you are castrating sheep, what did Mr. Barber say was the right number of times to wrap the rubber bands around the ram’s testicles. Gary listened, even more fascinated, and realized he was tingling in a place that hadn’t tingled in quite a while, but he still said nothing and got off the elevator on yet another floor. He found himself on the set of the Grand Ole Opry show, where three country singers--a man dressed all in black, a curvaceous blonde, and a guy whose act seemed to consist of stuttering--were rehearsing, and they were arguing over who should sing which songs, well their arguing went on until Gary couldn’t stand it any longer, he drew himself up to his full height and said “What’choo talkin’ about, Johnny Cash? What’choo talkin’ about, Dolly Parton? What’choo talkin’ about, Mel Tillis? and left, desperately trying to remember Todd’s character’s name.

He got back on the elevator to go to still another floor and even though it sounds incredible he found the same three guys arguing, blah blah ladies, about when you are culling chickens out of a flock, how many fingers width did Mr. Barber say meant a hen was not a good layer of eggs. Gary listened until he couldn’t stand it any longer, mainly because he realized he was tingling in a place he didn’t even know he had. As he was drawing himself up to his full height, he noticed that each guy’s FFA jacket had “Not Grapevine Texas” embroidered over one pocket and the guy’s name embroidered over the other pocket, and Gary said “What’choo talkin’ about, Charles McMillen? What’choo talkin’ about, John Galloway? What’choo talkin’ about, Jerry Willis?” well something clicked and the rest is history, Gary Coleman eventually found the right studio and never had any more trouble remembering the name of Todd’s character. I truly apologize ladies, but sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.


Billy Ray Barnwell here, okay I admit it, I lied, I made up the preceding chapter, it never happened, I invented it out of whole cloth, except of course the parts about Mr. Barber, those parts are true. I guess I should repent and ask for your forgiveness because, as Virgil Abernathy’s sister Darlene always says, there’s a special place in Hell for liars, boy howdy, I am discovering that writing is really hard, prolly about as hard as being a stand-up comedian, which everybody seems to think they are these days, oops, Mr. Morris would say it should be everybody seems to think he is or seems to think he or she is or maybe even, God help us, seems to think s/he is, a monstrosity foisted on us by the W.M.B.C.I.P.C.L.P. which stands for the Well-Meaning But Completely Idiotic Politically Correct Language Police, I made that up too, but sometimes you just have to follow the crowd, go with the flow, take the easy way out, vox populi and all that, I do know when to say whoever and when to say whomever and I will never ever say between you and I so Mr. Morris you can rest more or less in peace, by the way how are you and Mrs. Brockett doing up there or out there or wherever you two are, it’s hard to place you exactly, it’s not like you’re on vacation in Corpus Christi, speaking of which, South Padre Island has always seemed a little like Heaven to me, only without the snow-covered mountains and spectacular waterfalls, if you know what I mean, even though I once lost a pair of prescription sunglasses in the surf there, South Padre I mean, not Heaven, well to tell the truth places like Alaska or Banff or Lake Louise up in Canada seem even more like Heaven to me than South Padre does for the simple reason A I have never been to any of those places but I would like to go one day and B they already have the snow-covered mountains and the spectacular waterfalls, but when I went to South Padre and stood on the white sand beach it had a beauty all its own, wild and spare and untouched and completely invigorating, it made me think of that old hymn I will sing, yes I’ll sing the wondrous stooory of the Christ, of the Christ who died for me, who died for me, sing it with, sing it with the saints in glooory standing by, standing by the crystal sea, the crystal sea, most churches don’t sing songs like that any more, nowadays they sing what a lot of people call seven-eleven music, you know, where the song has seven words and you sing it eleven times and you never have to crack the hymnbook because the words are on a big screen up on the front wall, well South Padre may not have streets of gold but it certainly has the crystal sea. I can hear some of you thinking what’s the big deal it’s just the Gulf of Mexico, well if you don’t appreciate what God made down here how are you going to appreciate what He made up there, I think people who make it into Heaven prolly aren’t the type who would look around and say it’s just a crystal sea, it’s just streets of gold, it’s just the throne of God, so before you get that blah-zay please remember that the One sitting on that throne is the same One Who created the Gulf of Mexico, I think if people spent more time at places like South Padre instead of watching The Real World on MTV or listening to blue material on what is called The Comedy Channel the world would be a better place, this isn’t blue but did you hear the one about the preacher who asked his congregation one Sunday evening how many want to go to Heaven? and everybody’s hand shot up except for this one old man, well the preacher thought the old guy might be a little hard of hearing so he leaned out over the pulpit and asked a second time a little louder how many want to go to Heaven? and again every hand was raised except this one old man so the preacher left the platform and went and stood in the aisle right next to the pew where the old man was sitting and put his hand on the man’s shoulder and asked a third time how many want to go to Heaven? and the old man still didn’t raise his hand so the preacher said to him, Sir, I’m surprised, don’t you want to go to Heaven when you die? and the old man said well sure, preacher, when I die, but it sounded like you were gettin’ up a load tonight, now just between you and I that’s comedy and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.


Billy Ray Barnwell here, we are all the way up to Chapter 12 and I still have no idea what this is, maybe you do, if so drop me a line, Billy Ray Barnwell, General Delivery, Not Grapevine, Texas, and explain it to me because I don’t have a clue as to the nature of just what it is I am doing, a lot of you prolly figured that out already, well I just hope Mr. Morris is still smiling down on me, he never did smile much, he just chewed gum and taught Shakespeare, Julius Caesar to the sophomores and Macbeth to the seniors, only our class never got to read about old Julius because a second English teacher named Mrs. Field was hired who was very modern and up-to-date and when they gave her tenth-grade English to teach she decided we should read The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit instead, so there are a bunch of folks of a certain age in Not Grapevine to whom Et tu, Bru-tay? means absolutely nothing and also to whom friends, Romans, and countrymen never lent their ears, all we got was a minor novel that Hollywood made into a movie starring Mr. Gregory Peck before it disappeared forever, the novel I mean, not Hollywood, Hollywood is still very much with us even though Mrs. Field isn’t, she lasted all of one year before they replaced her with Mrs. Propst, whose home room I sat in or rather in whose home room I sat for my entire junior year but who was apparently so forgettable that I cannot remember one single thing about the woman, she puts me in mind of the actress who played the English teacher in that movie Splendor In The Grass starring Natalie Wood, she was not the sort who would light up Debbie Boone’s life at all, Mrs. Propst I mean, not Natalie Wood, in fact I think it’s safe to say that if the famous singer Nat King Cole and his daughter who was also named Natalie, what a coincidence, were ever asked to sing a duet about Mrs. Propst, both of them would prolly be struck dumb.

But enough about Not Grapevine High School during the Pleistocene Age, I really did not set out to write School Days Revisited, but it occurs to me A that I am following in the footsteps of the famous French writer Marcel Proust who wrote a little something in seven volumes called Remembrance Of Things Past only he actually called it Á la recherche du temps perdu because he wrote it in French, don’t worry, I promise not to fill seven volumes and it certainly won’t be in French, and B that the only things any of us can remember are things that are past because if they weren’t in the past we wouldn’t be able to remember them, would we? now that is deep, and so much for the profundity of M. Marcel Proust, I mean if he really wanted to be profound why didn’t he write Remembrance Of Things That Haven’t Happened Yet instead? Sometimes it scares me how deep I am, like one time at work my friend George Barton said to me you’ll get what’s coming to you and I said well of course I will, if it’s coming to me I am going to get it, in fact if you stop and think about it that’s the whole reason for the existence of the United States Postal Service, to make sure that all of us will get what’s coming to us, well I don’t know why but George just walked away shaking his head, and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.






Billy Ray Barnwell here, I hope you enjoyed reading Chapter 13 as much as I enjoyed writing it, I started not to have a Chapter 13 because some people, not me of course, are superstitious, hotels don’t even have a thirteenth floor except they certainly do, they just call it the fourteenth floor, but I don’t have a superstitious bone in my body except for maybe on that rare occasion when a black cat actually runs across the street in front of my car or somebody spills some salt or breaks a mirror, then for just a teensy-weensy second or two I do get a tad superstitious and a little voice in my head goes “uh-oh,” like something bad could happen, I don’t know what exactly, maybe a whole chapter would just up and disappear, poof, from my book, you know, a ridiculous thought like that, but then my head clears and I get over it and come back to reality, because as the famous president Francis X. Roosevelt said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, don’t worry, I know it’s Franklin D. and not Francis X., I was just testing to see if you were awake. Anyways, I’m really proud of Chapter 13, I think it contains some of my best work so far.

Well, Mama used to say “Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back” so let me just plunge on ahead, because a word to the wise as we all know ought to be sufficient, plus as my friend Harlow Vandervoort whose father attended Cornell University in Ithaca New York always tells me, anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. Just think about that for a few seconds and you will see that it really is true, I mean if something is worth doing at all it’s worth doing period even if you don’t do it well because if you do it poorly at least something worth doing is getting done after a fashion and that is better than not doing it at all, unless of course you are that guy who owned the Tri-State Crematorium outside of Chattanooga Tennessee where they found something like three hundred and thirty-four uncremated bodies stored around on his property, Harlow’s Little Axiom does not apply to you, sir, because you, sir, and I use the term loosely, are what Mrs. Brockett used to call the exception that proves the rule, in your job it was extremely important to do your job very well indeed and now you have a lot of time, twelve years to be exact, to think long and hard about what you did or rather what you didn’t do, well anyways, Harlow Vandervoort still makes a lot of sense to me, but then I’m a deep thinker, not that I think I’m doing this poorly, in fact in my own humble opinion I think it’s right good.

Mama used to say lots of other things too, her sayings were not earthy like my Dad’s but they were every bit as memorable, for example she might say “Faint heart ne’er won fair maid,” or “A soft answer turneth away wrath,” not that a soft answer ever did any good when Dad launched into one of his tirades, or “There but for the grace of God go I,” or “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds,” or my personal favorite, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” I swear sometimes she sounded just like a page out of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and how they ever got together is beyond me, Mama and Daddy I mean, not Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, they were such different individuals, he left school after tenth grade and she received her teacher’s certificate from West Chester State College, his father went to work on a bicycle that none of his five boys could touch on penalty of being whipped with a razor strop, her parents owned two or three cars and her father was a gentle soul who never even raised his voice let alone a hand except to play the violin and the clarinet, not at the same time of course, and he also owned a successful real estate and insurance business, he’s the one grandparent I met, I saw him three times, when I was 14, 17, and 27 and he died when I was 29 at the age of 95, I mean he was 95, not that I was 29 and 95 at the same time, well getting back to what I was saying, Dad’s parents stood in lines to get soup and bread during the Great Depression, Mama’s parents put a son through medical school, Dad played lacrosse on the banks of the frozen Mississippi River with Indian kids that he knew in Wisconsin, Mama attended synagogue in a well-to-do suburb of Philadelphia, I mean you can’t make this stuff up, they were as different as night and day, Mama said once that she fell in love with a sailor suit and didn’t realize until later that she didn’t care much for the sailor, so I say again what I said in an earlier chapter, be careful what you pray for because you just may get it.

Speaking of praying, there’s this story Wendy Bagwell used to tell about the time he and the Sunlighters drove their bus all the way from Smyrna to east Tennessee to minister in song at a little church up in the mountains, and after they finished their part of the service they sat down on the front row, partly because it would have been impolite to leave but mainly because the love offering they were going to receive wasn’t going to be collected until the end of the service, well the preacher started in to preaching, and after about twenty minutes of what can only be called very spirited preaching the congregation was beginning to get pretty excited so the preacher reached down and pulled out a wooden box from under the pulpit and the congregation got even more excited and Wendy and the Sunlighters just looked at one another, then the preacher took the top off the box and the congregation began to get wild and Wendy was wishing he had sat on the back row so he could sneak out unnoticed, but there they were on the very front row, so Wendy asked the guy sitting behind him what was in the box and the guy said rattlesnakes and Wendy really wanted to get out of there because he had never been in a snake-handling meeting before and he wasn’t eager to start now, so he turned to one of the Sunlighters and said “Where’s the back door of this church?” and the Sunlighter said to him “Wendy, there’s only one door in this church, the one we came in back yonder in the vestibule, this church doesn’t have a back door” and Wendy said “Reckon where do they want one?” and the only reason he’s not telling that story any more is that he’s dead, not from snakebite, I hasten to add.

Now sir or madam as the case may be, if A you don’t think that story is funny and B you would never say reckon under any circumstances then you are definitely not a true Southerner, you prolly wouldn’t know Patsy Cline from Lulu Roman, you wouldn’t know Dale Earnhardt from Junior Samples, you wouldn’t know Minnie Pearl whose real name was Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon from Billy Ray Cyrus whose real name is Billy Ray Cyrus, in fact I will go further, you wouldn’t know Appomattox from Chickamauga, you wouldn’t know Tammy Faye Bakker from Kathryn Kuhlman, you wouldn’t know scuppernong jelly from muscadine wine, in fact here’s a little test you can take to see just how Southern you are, match the following names:

(1) Sam, Rusty, Howard, and Vestal
(2) Brock, Rose Nell, Mary Thom, and Ben
(3) Alphus, Urias, and Eva Mae

with their groups:

(A) The Speer Family
(B) The Lefevres
(C) The Happy Goodmans

because all true Southerners, black, white, green, purple, Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish, I can’t speak for Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists, can ace that test in about two shakes of a lamb’s tail, they can do it quick like a bunny as my Dad used to say, 1-C, 2-A, 3-B, even if they live north of the Mason-Dixon line or way out west somewhere, they don’t even have to think about it, so if you are wondering who in H. E. Double Toothpicks are The Speer Family, The Lefevres, and The Happy Goodmans, I’m pretty sure A your Great-great-grandpa fought on the Yankee side during The Late Unpleasantness and B you prolly never thought of eating turnip greens and ham hocks with black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck and C if I were to mention Hoppin’ John you would say “Who?” and D you would put sugar on grits in a heartbeat, oh something else Wendy Bagwell said that bears repeating, he said he prayed and asked the Lord one time, Lord, would you let me be a great musician and a great singer? if you would do that I would always give you the credit, would you please do that Lord? and the Lord said No, but I’ll tell you what I will do, I’ll send you to a crowd who don’t know the difference and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.


Billy Ray Barnwell here, it doesn’t matter whether you are A a U.S. Supreme Court Justice named Ruth Bader Ginzburg or B a New Testament Greek scholar named Spiros Zodhiates which is pronounced SPEE-rohs zoh-dee-AH-teez or C a former member of the doo-wop group Pookie Hudson and the Spaniels which is a real group just like Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys who sang “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed,” Kinky did I mean, not Pookie, or D the current prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet, I hope this book will cause you to think, so just stop right now and ask yourself this question, if someone could write a book called Olive, The Other Reindeer, and by the way someone did, then why hasn’t someone written a book called Gladly, The Cross-Eyed Bear? I mean, if that doesn’t cause you to think nothing will because to coin a phrase inquiring minds want to know, and speaking of wanting to know, I was sitting at my desk the other afternoon trying to look busy but really making up songs about former members of the Atlanta Braves baseball team, for example I sang “Dale Murphy is the guy to see, He’s Mormon as he can be” to the tune of the theme song from Green Acres, not out loud but just in my head, and then I sang, “Biff Pocoroba, Biff Pocoroba, I wonder what became of him?” to the tune of La Cucaracha, and I had just started in to singing “Ryan Klesko, Ryan Klesko, we miss you, we miss you” to the tune of Freré Jacques which you may know as Are You Sleeping? when all of a sudden it occurred to me that I hadn’t told you anything about Not Grapevine Texas in a while, so let me correct that oversight immediately, I think oversight is a really interesting word, I mean sight and see and look and view all mean about the same thing but oversight and oversee and overlook and overview mean four different things entirely just because of that little word over added in the front, there is a group called the Church of God that used to have a General Overseer before they changed his title to Presiding Bishop but they never had a General Overlooker even though most religious organizations would prolly benefit from one and if I had a mind to I would explore that a little further but I’m over it, ha ha ha.

Getting back to Not Grapevine Texas in the Pleistocene Age, there was this teen hangout place called Flurry’s just outside of town near where the Kow Town Rodeo Arena was later built which was part hamburger joint and part dance hall, Flurry’s was I mean, not the Kow Town Rodeo Arena, and by dance hall I mean a long, low, large, dark, cavernous space that could hold a couple of hundred hormonally-inspired young people plus what had to be the world’s loudest jukebox where teens from miles around flocked on Friday and Saturday nights, well to be more accurate white teens because A there weren’t many Hispanics around in those days except for a few seasonal migrant field workers up from Mexico each spring and fall and B even though it had been three or four years since Brown v. Board Of Education the schools in Texas had not yet been integrated and most of all C Coy Flurry had taken a bucket of white paint and painted in big letters three feet tall across the plate glass windows in front of the restaurant portion of the building WE DON’T SERVE N-WORDS, well he didn’t put N-WORDS, he put N-WORDS, there’s just no way I’m going to put what he put. I might be wrong but I think Coy was one of the movers and shakers of what was left of the local Ku Klux Klan, it was pretty much dying out in those days but one of their last gasps was hanging the dummy of Howard Griffin from one of the town’s two stop lights, I already told you about that. Alcohol and beer were not allowed in Flurry’s but there always seemed to be plenty in the parking lot, Coy didn’t care as long as no one got too rowdy inside, every once in a while it would get too much even for him and he would grab the offender by the collar and the seat of the pants and physically throw him out of the building, and as you might suspect Flurry’s had the town fathers up in arms but they couldn’t do anything about it because Coy built his establishment just outside their jurisdiction, but it was the delight of the high school crowd for miles around, that’s for sure, which by high school crowd I mean anybody up to about twenty-two years old who either A wasn’t married or B hadn’t gone off to the army or college or the big city, in other words the local and not so local yokels, it was very dim in the dance hall part of Flurry’s, in fact the only light came from the restaurant end and the jukebox, and sometimes the crowd would gather around in the darkest part farthest away from the restaurant end and watch couples dirty bop to “Annie Had A Baby, Can’t Work No More,” pretty tame by today’s standards I suppose but rather daring for back then, no girl ever got pregnant at Flurry’s but it wouldn’t surprise me if one or two did on the way home, and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.