Saturday, January 23, 2016

1963 - Chapter Four - The Transition


  In 1964 I got the mumps. I have only been very sick about three times in my life. The mumps, tick fever, and a bad case of the flu. Tick fever was probably the sickest I have ever been but the mumps were a close second. I was affected on both jaws and I could barely lift my head or get out of bed. My jaws felt like they weighed a ton and when I stood up I felt like I was going to pass out. The adults told me that I needed to stay in a dark room and I should rest because mumps could go down on me. I didn't know what that meant so I took it easy. What they meant was that I could end up sterile if the mumps went down on me. Apparently I was fortunate in that department because I fathered five children. That is if you count the one we lost just before Jon. Life wasn't happy for me after the death of my parents. From 1963 until I met Debbie in February 1966 it was all kind of a blur for me in many ways. I just kind of existed.
Me at Bailey Jr. High about 13 yo

  In chapter three I mentioned that my sister Donna and James Larry Sircy were married in November 1962. Larry, as he preferred to be called, was from a large, very dysfunctional family, and they lived just a few doors down on Mckennie avenue. He was a handsome guy and was always well dressed, clean and neat. He was one of those people that no matter what kind of work they were doing they never seemed to get dirty. His hair was jet black and always slicked back. Larry was no good because he was a philanderer and abusive to Donna. I have heard from anonymous sources that he may have been bi-sexual. Larry would leave home for days, weeks, and months sometimes. During these times Donna would ask me to stay with her. More times than not I didn't want to be at home anyway. At one time or another Donna lived in every section of Nashville and it's surrounding counties. From the time she married Larry in 1962 until her second marriage to Richard Bass in 1978 she was moving constantly to various apartments, duplexes, and trailers. While Larry was away Donna would bad mouth him and say that she was fed up with his behavior. Then one day he would magically reappear. She would be upset with him all of fifteen or thirty minutes, if that long. Then they would be all lovey dovey. I wanted to throw up whenever I saw it because he had her wrapped around his finger. A few years ago Donna and I were talking about that period of her life. I told her that if Larry was still alive she would still be with him. She agreed with me.
Donna about the time that she married Larry

Didi holding Larry Sircy Jr.

  One morning in the winter of 1964 Larry's shenanigans almost did him in. He and two of his drinking buddies pulled up at the Miller's Clinic Emergency Room, on Gallatin Road, with a dead girl in his back seat. At first the police treated it as a potential homicide. Larry told the police that the three of them had met the woman the previous night, along with her sister, at a bar on lower Broadway near the present day Bridgestone Arena. The girls left the bar and the three men also left. But not together. Later that night the men and women met again at a popular barbecue joint called Charlie Nicken's. It was at the foot of the Jefferson Street bridge. They were famous for their barbecue and curb service where black men wearing white jackets would walk out to your car to take your order and when it was ready they would bring the food out to you. When I was a child this was one of my favorite places to eat and it was a local landmark for Nashvillians. Larry told the police that the sister of the dead woman had to leave so she could pick up her husband from work. The remaining girl got into Larry's car. He supposedly took the other two men home and proceeded to look for the girls apartment on Wimpole Drive in Donelson. Larry said that he drove all over Donelson that night looking for her apartment until he became sleepy and couldn't drive any longer. They parked on a dead-end street. The girl had been drinking and taking pills so she climbed into the backseat and passed out. Larry slept in the front seat. The next morning he tried to wake the girl up but it soon became evident that she was dead. Not knowing what to do he went by and picked up his two friends at their homes. Putting their heads together they decided that the best thing to do was to take her to the hospital. An autopsy revealed that the woman died of acute alcohol poisoning. Donna told me a few years ago that she believes that Larry lied to the police. She believes that the three men left the bar with the girl and all three partied with her all night. Donna was at his parents house on Mckennie when Larry came home that day and told her what had happened. She called him a "son of a bitch" and he tried to hit her but Mrs. Sircy stopped him. This was just one in the many episodes of the life of James Larry Sircy, although this was probably the worst. 

  During the summer of 1964 I played on the Eastland Baptist Church softball team. We also played a lot of sandlot softball. Our field was the front yards of three houses that then belonged to Eastland Baptist Church. These houses were used for Sunday School and Royal Ambassadors but were empty during the week except when they were being used on Sunday's and Wednesday night. The front yards were our infield and the intersection of McKennie and 12th Avenue was our left field. Twelfth Ave. and our front yard was center and right field. The only problem was that a huge tree blocked center and right. Most balls hit to center would get lost in the branches for a few moments and you had to guess where the ball might fall. That was an automatic double. Most of us usually aimed for left field. If a car came down McKennie or 12th we called time until the cars passed. It was a wonder that nobody was ever run over. We had some pretty good ball players. David Love, Bob Lawrence, Gus Fowler, just to name a few. Then there were those who were not so good like Billy Sircy. He was Larry's brother and the smallest. Billy was always the last to be picked and he was a sure out. He was a liability to any team that he was on but we tried to let everyone play, that wanted to play. He was never discouraged because he was always there to play. Then there was Tommy Franklin. We called him baldy. Tommy was a good kid and lived diagonally across the street from us on the corner of 12th and McKennie. His dad was bald and he always wore a burr haircut and had a round head. One of my fondest memories of Christmas was the music that his parents played from loudspeakers that could be heard throughout the neighborhood. My favorite song was The Little Drummer Boy. I saw Tommy in 2012 at my Aunt Didi's funeral. One guy who stood out in my mind was a guy that we called Gaylord Perry after the famous pitcher. I started calling him that and the name caught on. The main thing that I remember about him was that he had huge lips.

  In the warmer months we would play ball under the lights at Hattie Cotton elementary school. The park service would turn on the lights and we would play until late at night. These games were for people of all ages. Adults and teenagers would choose up sides and we never had any major problems or fights. I loved those games. The park service also sponsored a youth horseshoe tournament. David Love and myself  won second place that year in our age division. He lived in a run-down house on Greenwood Avenue with his parents. David had a younger brother and sister. His grandmother, grandfather, and two aunts also lived there. I always felt a little sorry for David. His grandfather had hardening of the arteries and he would frequently look like he was having a seizure. His eyes would roll back in his head and he would chew on his tongue. Gus Fowler would make fun of him. Davids grandmother was a character. She was skinny and feisty but I liked her. Davids aunts were not that much older than he was. Their names were Linda and Wanda Love. They were good looking and they seemed pretty wild to me. One night I walked in the front door at David's house and Wanda ran up and surprised me with a big wet kiss. I think they were drinking and I would have to count that as my first kiss. You have heard of fifty shades of gray, I turned fifty shades of red. David's mom was a character too. Gus told me to call her one day on the phone and not say anything. I did and she said "speak ass, your mouth wont". We thought that was hilarious. The next time I called I recorded her. David was a great friend and an all around good guy. He would later join the Marine Corps Reserve and make a career as a Metropolitan Nashville police officer. Gus was my best friend and I met him even before my parents died. Gus lived in a big white house diagonally across the street from David on Greenwood avenue. Anthony Fowler was his real name and he lived there with with his parents, an older sister, and maternal grandmother. His mother was a housewife and his dad worked for the  BATF or Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. He was a (revenuer) and primarily busted up moonshine stills. Just about every time that I came over there a different car or van was in the driveway. Usually with out of state license plates. I remember one particular van that was equipped with eavesdropping equipment, camera's and so on for undercover work.  Mr. Fowler was a Marine combat veteran of World War II in the Pacific island fighting. I don't know all of the campaigns that he was involved in but I know that he was at Peleliu, one of the most horrific battles of the Pacific war. Once when he was wearing shorts I saw several bullet hole scars running up his leg. He told me that he had been wounded by machine gun fire. Gus's grandmother was a sweet lady but he treated her badly. I felt sorry for her because he was very disrespectful and mean to her. Gus had a room upstairs and I spent many nights at his house during the summer and weekends. There was no bathroom up there and his mother kept a chamber pot as they were called by the upper echelon. We camped out in his back yard, nearly year round on weekends and many times during the week in the summer. Gus's daddy had several government issue sleeping bags this is why we could camp out even in the dead of winter.
David Love
David Love as a Metro Nashville police officer

  For much of the 1960's I delivered newspapers. Around 1960 I helped my cousin Roy from time to time when I would spend the night on weekends. After my parents died I had my own routes. I delivered papers all up an down Gallatin road from Cahal avenue down to Sharpe and Grenada. For a short while I had a route around Eastland Avenue. I would get up around two or three in the morning to deliver the Nashville Tennessean, which was the morning paper. In the afternoon I delivered the Nashville Banner. The Tennessean was generally considered a mouthpiece of the Democratic Party and the Banner was considered to be a Republican paper. I usually carried a large cloth bag with a wide strap that I slung over my shoulder. If I needed to, depending on the size of the paper, I would carry two bags evenly balanced across each shoulder. On Sunday morning the papers were so big we would usually have to spot bundles at various points along the route before we started delivering. There was no evening paper on Sunday.  Our papers were dropped off at Company 18 fire hall on Gallatin Road. If I had time I would sometimes roll my papers while I talked to the firemen and watch television with them. At other times I would roll my papers as I walked. I came to know the firemen pretty well. They were some of the most foul mouthed men I ever knew. Being a fireman could be pretty boring job. The men would sit around playing checkers, sleep, cook, eat, and watch television until the alarm sounded and everything went into high gear.  In a matter of minutes they were off on a fire call. It was fun to watch. Later when I watched alert flight crews scramble fighters it reminded me of those fire calls at Company 18. One of the men that I came to know was Earl Brown. My wife Debbie's grandmothers name was Grace Brown. When I met Grace she was single but had been married three times. I didn't know that she had been married to Earl until he started seeing Grace again in 1969. Earl was a great guy but would die a few years later of a heart attack.
Modern day picture of company 18 fire hall

  One night I really wanted to camp out with Gus in his backyard but I was grounded. No matter how much I begged Didi would not change her mind. Being very hard headed I was bound and determined that I was going to camp out. That night I waited until the house was totally dark and I felt sure that everyone was good and asleep. I went to bed fully dressed and very stealthily I got up and slowly eased my way to the back door. The house was very old and we kept an old fashioned key in the lock. I held my breath as I slowly turned the key waiting for the sound of the lock to disengage. When I had opened it I paused to see if anyone had been wakened by the noise. Satisfied, I eased the door open quietly shutting it behind me. I tiptoed down the steps of our wooden back porch and ran through our backyard to the alley. Thinking I was home free I ran up the alley behind our barn, which was well lit by a street light on the corner. Just as I reached the corner of our barn near 12th street a cop stepped out of hiding and blocked my path. Many times police officers would park in the shadows of the church parking lot across the street. Apparently he watched me leaving the house. I was big for my age and nearly as tall as I am now but I was looking up at this guy. He demanded to know what I was doing. I was trying to speak but nothing was coming out of my mouth because I was so scared. When I was finally able to talk I sounded like Mickey Mouse. I told him the truth. Although I have lied on occasion, which is wrong, I have found that telling the truth causes less pain in the end than lying. If you lie you have to keep lying in order to uphold the first lie. It has been my experience that most police officers appreciate the truth and are more willing to cut you some slack. Besides I am not a good liar. The officer told me to go back home and if he caught me out again he would not only tell my aunt he would take me to juvenile. Somehow I managed to get back in bed without waking anyone up. Didi never knew about this episode until I told her many years later at a family gathering.

  On July 31, 1964 we took a trip to St. Petersburg Florida's Treasure Island. Until then the farthest I had ever been from home was Ft. Knox Kentucky, Memphis, and Florence Alabama. On our way out of Nashville a news bulletin flashed over the radio. Country music star Jim Reeves had been killed in a plane crash near Radnor lake. I came to love the music of Jim Reeves before I even started liking country music in 1967. He had a golden voice, very smooth. I copied much of my singing style from him. However in 1964 I had no clue who he was. The interstates were under construction then. I-24 ended just past downtown Nashville so we traveled for much of the way on highway 41. We would be on two lane highways for miles and miles and then we would be on interstate for a while. Back then before the interstate was completed you would pass through town after town. Late at night many towns had rest centers set up near the town squares offering coffee and snacks to weary travelers. Traveling the highways back then seemed to take forever, especially on a long trip to south Florida.

  Didi's boyfriend Allen Smith, aka Gig's by the kids and Frog by the adults, drove us down in his car. That was the only way we could go on a trip like that. Didi was a couple of days away from her 37th birthday but she didn't have a license. If she went anywhere by car someone drove her. Nashville had a good bus system so it wasn't hard to get around and she was in walking distance of work. She and Gigs had been dating for years and on weekends, or sometimes during the week, he drove her anywhere she wanted to go. Didi wouldn't learn to drive until she was about forty and they were no longer seeing each other. Until that trip I always liked Gigs. I couldn't remember a time that he wasn't in the picture. However I had never been around Gigs more than a few hours. He was always nice to me and generous. Being around him for a whole week was a horse of a different color. Gigs was a lifelong bachelor in his forties and very set in his ways. If there was ever a person afraid to commit it was Gigs. He was not used to being around children for any length of time. We began to butt heads and by the end of the week we were barely speaking to each other.
Didi and Gigs


   While we were there on August 2, 1964 North Vietnamese patrol boats attacked an American destroyer in what came to be known as the Gulf of Tonkin incident. On August 4, another attack supposedly happened but this proved to be false. This would give president Lyndon Johnson an excuse to begin an escalation of our involvement in Vietnam. Congress basically gave him a free hand to act with passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. He ordered several air strikes on North Vietnam. By the time I reached draft age we had 500,000 men in Vietnam. However in August of 1964 I could not know the impact of the Gulf of Tonkin incident on my future and the future of hundreds of thousands of young Americans and this country. While in St. Petersburg we visited Busch Gardens before it was turned into a theme park. The only thing to see was a bird sanctuary and a brewery tour. We also toured the HMS Bounty, which was the ship used in the making of the 1935 movie Mutiny on the Bounty. We went to Madame Tussaud's London Wax Museum. This was my first trip to a wax museum and there was a chamber of horrors. As my brother Mark and I walked into a hallway I saw a woman lyying motionless on the floor. Not knowing if she was real or a wax figure I bent over her to get a better look. Just then she opened her eyes and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I looked up to see her husband walking toward us with smelling salts. Apparently she had passed out. This was what Readers Digest might call one of my most embarrassing moments.The beach at Treasure Island was very wide.  I rented a mattress float and lazily floated out from the beach until I l ooked up and noticed that the beach was looking smaller and smaller. In a panic I began paddling back to shore but it seemed like I was making very little progress. When I finally made it back to shore I had been out there a long time. After a shower I dressed and pulled on a brand new pair of Levi's which turned out to be a big mistake. Mark, Alton and myself walked to a nearby miniature golf course. Halfway through the game my legs began to feel like they were on fire and the Levi's felt like sand paper. I was burn't very badly on my legs from my time on the mattress and it was all I could do to walk back to the motel. I finished the week lying on my stomach in shorts with Didi rubbing my legs in vinegar.

  That Fall I played football for Bailey Jr. High. My coach was Larry Smittou who had been my Little League coach at Martha Vaught. I came out late so the coach lined up thirteen of the biggest players and made me tackle them. I did okay until I got to Larry Loring who was short and stocky. He had a low center of gravity. Larry was the last player in line and it probably took four or five tries to get him down. I was beat after it was all over but I made the team. They made me a defensive tackle and I did well in practice. One day the coach was acting as quarterback at practice. I got to him almost every time. As I was walking to the showers I overheard him tell coach Kee, "Segroves looks good and I think he's ready to play. I'm going to put him in the game tomorrow". I was very nervous but happy. We were playing one of the best teams, Waverly-Belmont, at home. Coach Smittou didn't start me until after the half. We were getting beat but were still in the game. At least until I came in. I was left tackle and scared to death. The guard opposite me knocked me flat and the ball carrier ran right over the top of me and scored. On the next series after we went on defense the coach gave me another chance but they ran the exact same play. They had my number, I was knocked on my butt and the ball carrier scored again. I was always great in practice but my nerves would get the best of me in a real game. This had always been the case even when I played Little League baseball. After that I never got a chance to redeem myself on varsity. For the rest of the year I played second string. Even at that I loved playing football. My biggest regret was that I never played ball in high school.

  In October 1964 President Johnson came through Nashville on a campaign swing. I rode the bus downtown and stood on the corner of 7th and Charlotte. He spoke at a platform in front of the War Memorial building. Secret Service were everywhere and snipers were visible on surrounding rooftops. Johnson liked to get close and personal with crowds. He was a big man at 6'4" tall and was wearing at brown fedora and a white trench coat. I was almost in arms reach as he passed by. He would leave Nashville and give the greatest speech of his presidency in New Orleans later that night. Johnson would go on to win one of the largest landslides in American history the following month.
Lyndon Johnson in Nashville October 1964



  I am not sure when this happened, but it was probably around the summer of 1965, I bought several boxes of M-80's and cherry bombs. A cherry bomb was very powerful and I remember boys at East High placing the wax covered fuse through the middle of a cigarette. They would light the cigarette and place it in the restroom. By the time it burned down to the fuse they would be long gone when it blew up. We would jump out of our desk at the loud boom as the noise reverberated through the hallway. Sometimes they would flush them down the toilet. An M-80 was even more powerful than a cherry bomb. I was always told that it was the equivalent of one tenth of a stick of dynamite. I came up with the bright idea of building a bomb. At the time there was a shoe polish that came in a metal can that was tube shaped. It had the polish and a rag inside. I thought that this can would make a perfect casing for a bomb. One day I broke open several M-80's and poured the powder into the empty can. Then I stuffed several M-80's and cotton into the can to make it extra tight. I ran a long fuse from the side of the can. I told all my friends what I was getting ready to do and while I placed the bomb in the gravel parking lot of Eastland Baptist church, they gathered in what was then my granddaddy's bedroom, looking out the window. I lit the fuse and took off running as fast as my legs would carry me and reached the window just as the bomb blew up. I could feel the ground shake and hear the window rattle just a split second before I heard the explosion. The bomb left a large hole in the church parking lot. My guardian angel was looking out for me that day because I could have easily killed myself. On another occasion I was throwing M-80's out of our back door into our back yard. My aunt Didi was sitting in the hallway behind me talking on the phone. It was the old rotary style phone of that period. She had asked me several times to stop. I would say okay but then I would throw another M-80 out the door. We had an old fashioned wooden screen door with a spring attached. Each time I would fling open the door and throw an M-80. Finally I threw the door open but it only went about halfway. The M-80 hit the screen and bounced backwards into the hallway landing only a few feet from Didi's feet. I stood frozen in place for a second helplessly looking at the burning fuse on the M-80 and trying to decide what I should do. Didi was looking the other way, unaware of what was happening.  I panicked and ran out the back door. By the time I was in the alley the M-80 exploded. I stood there trying to work up the courage to walk back up to the house. There had been no scream or sound after the explosion. Only silence. I walked slowly through the yard and eased up to the back door. I could see Didi sitting there in the hallway bent over holding her hands over her ears with her eyes tightly closed as if she was in pain. There was a big black spot on the floor and the telephone was lying upside down next to it.
The window on the left is where we were standing when my bomb exploded

The hallway where Didi was using the phone

Cherry Bomb

M-80's


  In the spring or Summer of 1965 I was downtown and standing on the corner of 6th and Charlotte getting ready to cross the street. Suddenly I heard a pop, pop, pop noise that sounded like firecrackers. Looking to my right I noticed a crowd beginning to gather on the next block at 5th and Charlotte. They were standing around a man in a brown suit that was lying on the sidewalk. Almost immediately I was surrounded by the wail of police sirens. I crossed the street and walked to a hotel near James Robertson Parkway. Police cars were everywhere. I had no clue what was going on. I learned later that a Nashville detective had been shot and wounded while chasing a bank robber in a foot pursuit. The robber ambushed him as he ran around the corner of a building. I walked into the lobby of the hotel in order to use a pay phone. While on the phone I heard a commotion out front. I hung up and walked outside. Police had the building surrounded and many of them were carrying shotguns looking up at the roof. Just then several police officers escorted the bloodied bank robber out the front door and into a waiting police car. Fortunately the wounded police officer survived. During these years I spent a lot of time in downtown Nashville and I would either ride the bus or take my bike. I saw a lot of movies at the Paramount, Tennessee, Loews and Crescent theater on Church Street. Epic movies like the Longest Day, the Alamo, How The West Was Won, and so many others. My cousin Roy worked as an usher at the Paramount theater. One day he told me that if I could get a few friends together, and pass out flyers advertising a Sinbad movie, we could go to the movie for free. I called three or four friends and we rode our bikes downtown. For several hours we walked up and down the street passing out flyers. After a quick glance people would throw them down. Soon, Church street was trashed. These flyers were blowing all over the street. An irate police officer walked up and started chewing me out. I tried to explain but he kept asking if I knew how much it would cost the city to clean up this mess. Another thing that I loved about going downtown was the Tennessee State Museum which occupied the basement of the War Memorial building. I virtually lived there and I especially loved the military exhibits. A friend gave me a WW1 German gas mask that he had gotten at an estate sale. The mask belonged to a veteran of the war. I took it to school and a friend wore it around all day at Bailey. The mask and filter was old and by the end of the day he was sick as a dog. I took the mask to the museum and asked the curator what kind of gas mask it was. He was himself a WW1 veteran. It was identified as German and he asked me if I wanted to donate it to the museum. For years I would look for my gas mask when I visited the museum. It had a piece of paper in front that said donated by Greg Segroves. The museum had a mummy, a model of the battleship U.S.S. Tennessee, a scale model of a WW1 battlefield and trench system, built by a war veteran. The shoe that Sam Davis used to hide his dispatches. A piano that was used as an operating table in the Civil War, a bench built by David Crockett, and a ten foot stuffed Polar bear. The museum was crammed packed with interesting things and my time was well spent there. I received an education that peaked my interest in history.
The Tennessee State Museum

Sam Davis exhibit
Probably my German gas mask
The battleship USS Tennessee 
This model of a WW1 battlefield was built for the State museum by a veteran of WW1

Ten Foot Polar Bear
Mark and I probably about 1964 or 65


  The 1965 - 66 school year was historic. I entered the tenth grade at East Nashville High School and for the first time in my life I attended school with black kids. There were probably ten black kids at East altogether that first year. The fact that I was going to school with black children never bothered me for a minute because I had been around blacks all my life working in my fathers store. The number of black students increased over the next two years. There was some friction that developed between some of the students that seemed to increase as the numbers increased.. A white working class neighborhood was in front of East and black neighborhoods behind it. East had a distinguished history going back to 1932. Many of it's students have gone on to successful careers. The school produced military heroes and officers like General Hugh Mott who won the Distinguished Service Cross for his action as a combat engineer capturing the Ludendorf Bridge over the Rhine River in WW2.  Eighteen hundred men served from East in WW2 and 59 died. The clock over the front entrance is 59 inches wide as a memorial to those men. Two prominent local politicians attended East, Richard Fulton and Bill Boner. Both were mayors of Nashville and Congressmen.  East alumni included many in the entertainment world. Among East High graduates were Frank Sutton, who played Sgt Carter on Gomer Pyle USMC. Ralph Emery and Oprah Winfrey, who graduated in 1971, three years after I graduated. Pat Boone didn't go to East but I have been told that his career was launched after he won a talent contest at East. The only other school in the Nashville area that comes close as far as I know is Hume Fogg. Dinah Shore and Bettie Page graduated from there. East was built during the height of the depression. It was damaged by the East Nashville tornado of 1933 that nearly destroyed Bailey. The trophy case in the front lobby was filled with trophies, game balls, pictures, and other memorabilia that represented the long sports history of the school.
East High

General Hugh Mott
Richard Fulton
Bill Boner
Frank Sutton
Ralph Emery
Oprah Winfrey's yearbook picture

Oprah on bottom right at East

Oprah bottom right

Pat Boone

  I enjoyed my years at East and had a lot of good friends there. My friends started calling me Brother Greg and the nickname caught on. I wasn't a christian yet but I had good values. My friends apparently thought that because I didn't smoke, drink or cuss I was some kind of saint or something. This didn't stop me from hanging out with them in our designated smoking area near the annex. Another nickname that I acquired was Gunther Toody. Why my friends started calling me that, I don't know. There had been a comedy show on television called Car 54 Where Are You in the 1950's. It starred Fred Gwynne of Herman Munster fame. Gwynne played a cop whose sidekick was Gunther Toody. I took it as an affectionate nickname and was not offended by it. At my twentieth high school reunion they were still calling me that. One morning I was getting ready for school and needed my shorts for gym class. Didi told me that they were in a pile of clothes on top of the dryer. I quickly stuffed them into my gym bag. Later that day, as I was dressing out for gym, I took my clothes off and as I was about to put on my shorts I noticed something white sticking out of the waistband. Curious, I began pulling it out and to my horror it was a pair of my aunt Didi's panties. Because of static they had clung to my shorts. I quickly crammed them into my gym bag. In a panic I looked all around me to make sure that I had not been seen by somebody. Luckily my predicament had not been discovered. I can only imagine what my nickname would have been if I someone had seen me.

  The Tennessee State Fair usually began in the third week of September. That September of 1965 I went to the fair with my cousins Jenny and Judy.  Jenny and I were close in age but she was a few months older than me. She was always trying to get me to dance with her but I was very shy. Jenny was an attractive girl and I had a crush on her but she was the type of girl that was always wanting to grow up too fast. At the time I was not aware that biologically she was not my cousin. She and her sister Judy were both adopted so I guess I am not really a redneck for having a crush on my cousin. We were at the fair for several hours and later that night my Uncle Doug and Aunt Catherine picked us up. At that time the interstate on I-65 North ended at Trinity Lane. As we approached the exit the announcer broke in on the radio station and announced that a fire had broken out at the Fair. Instinctively we turned our heads to look through the rear window and were shocked to see flames leaping hundreds of feet into the air and the whole horizon seemed to be on fire. It reminded me of the burning of Atlanta scene from Gone With The Wind. I knew immediately that it had to be the Woman's building on fire. The Woman's building had been a prominent feature of the fair for as long as I could remember. It was a gigantic old wooden structure that looked like a spooky castle to me. There was a complex of wooden buildings around the Woman's building along with the wooden grandstands next to the race track. The Woman's building held fair exhibits and was normally packed with people. I felt kind of sick at the thought that people were probably trapped in the fire. Miraculously there were no fatalities, only minor injuries. At one point during the night every fire company in Nashville was at the fairgrounds. When I went to pick up my newspapers early the next morning at Company 18 the fire engine and firemen were still at the fairgrounds. Just before I left out on my route the fire truck returned and slowly backed in to the fire hall. The faces of the firemen were blackened with soot and they looked utterly exhausted. The 2nd largest fire I ever saw was the night that the old Maxwell House Hotel burned down on Christmas night 1961. We were coming back from my grandparents house in East Nashville and could see the fire for miles. The Maxwell House sat right across Church street from the L&C Tower, the tallest building in Nashville at the time. As we crossed the Victory Memorial Bridge we could see firemen shooting water straight down into the fire from the ledges of the L&C Tower. The light from the fire made the area look bright as day. One of the male guests at the Maxwell House died in the fire.
The Tennessee State Fair Fire in 1965

  At the beginning of the 1965-66 school year one of my classes was Art. I hated Art and I couldn't even draw a good stick man. Our teachers name was Mr. Vaughn. He was a good guy and I am sure that I made his life miserable. All the boys sat at the same rectangular table near the windows and the girls sat at a table opposite to the boys. I was very disruptive because I was showing off and I was very bored since I had no interest in art. After a while Mr. Vaughn had enough of my disruptive behavior and he made me move to the girl's table. This tactic worked because I was shy around girls and I just sat there afraid to do anything. There was this cute girl sitting across from me. She was quite and smiled at me a lot. Both of us were very shy but somehow we began talking to each other. We would playfully slap at each other or kick each other under the desk. After a while I even worked up the courage to walk her to class. Her name was Debbie Phillips and I started calling her on the phone. We sometimes talked for hours. She invited me to her sister Judy's wedding but I worked at Daniel-Hoppe's Rexall drugstore on Gallatin Road next to H.G. Hills and I couldn't get off that night. I asked her if I could come over to her house on the following Sunday and she agreed. On Sunday I walked to her house at 915 Boscobel Street  from my house on McKennie.
Debbie's house at 915 Boscobel Street
Hulon and Judy Helms before they were married


  Boscobel, means "beautiful woods" in Italian. This street is in the historic section of Nashville called Edgefield. During the antebellum  and Victorian era it was the wealthiest neighborhood in Nashville. Shelby avenue and Shelby park are named after Dr. John Shelby who originally owned the property that makes up much of present day Edgefield. He built two large estates for his daughters named Boscobel and Fatherland. Today Fatherland street parallels Boscobel street. There are several antebellum homes that still exist in Edgefield but most of the existing homes were built in the Victorian era of the late 1800's. Confederate general Albert Sidney Johnston made his headquarters there after the fall of Ft. Donelson and would remain until the retreat of his Army of Mississippi, and the fall of Nashville, to Union Forces on February 25, 1862. Edgefield was the first place that the Union Army appeared as it marched in to occupy Nashville. The mayor of Nashville would surrender the city to Union forces in Edgefield. After the James gang was ambushed during a bank robbery in Northfield Minnesota, Jesse and Frank James, the only two members of the gang that were not killed or captured, hid out in Edgefield for the next few years. They figured that they could blend in to a big town like Nashville until the heat died down. Frank lived in the Whites Creek area and Jesse lived at several locations in Edgefield. At least two places on Boscobel Street, one of which was at 606 Boscobel, and one house at 711 Fatherland Street which still exists. Jesse took the alias J.D. Howard while living here. He finally got the itch to return to his old lifestyle as a notorious outlaw. A few years later, a member of his gang, Bob Ford, shot him in the back of the head while straightening a picture at his house in St. Joseph Missouri, Ford was referred to as that "Dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard". Over 800 homes were destroyed in the East Nashville fire of 1916. The fire started in the vicinity of what was once the King of the Road motel on North 1st Street. On a very windy day a small black child was playing with a ball of yarn that caught fire and fell into dry grass. The wind quickly swept the flames through the Edgefield community. Many of the homes remained but the wealthy citizens began moving out and rebuilding in what is today's Belle Meade community. This is considered today to be the old money community. The new money has established itself in Brentwood, Franklin, and Hendersonville. By the time I met Debbie Edgefield was a somewhat run down, predominately white working class neighborhood. It was a pretty close community with great neighbors and everybody knew everybody else. At this time I knew virtually nothing about the history of Edgefield. In recent years a wealthier preppy community has evolved. About twenty years ago we toured many of the restored homes and were absolutely blown away by their beauty and splendor. One even had a third floor ballroom. The real estate value has increased dramatically in Edgefield. I was looking through a history book of East Nashville and noticed a picture of Debbie's house in 1906. It was taken from the front yard of her best friend Carolyn Robinson's house at 916 Boscobel across the street. I had the picture blown up and framed.
Debbie's house at 915 Boscobel street in 1906
Jesse James and some of his gang working at a Nashville cedar barrel factory 
Jesse James house at 606 Boscobel street

Jesse James house at 711 Fatherland street
East Nashville Fire in 1916

East Nashville Fire

East Nashville Fire


  On the Sunday that I had my first date with Debbie I arrived early that afternoon. Debbie was wearing a pretty yellow dress and she met me at the front door. From there she led me to the den. Her mom Margaret was standing there smiling and her first words were "Grab a towel and get in here and dry these dishes". She was joking of course but this made me feel welcome right off the bat. I fell in love with her family immediately. We walked out to the backyard to meet her dad and her uncle Jesse. They were playing horseshoes and invited me to play. This would be the beginning of a long relationship with that house and family. Debbie's mom and grandmother, Grace Brown, were two of the best cooks that I ever knew. They both cooked as if they were cooking for an army. Her mom would leave the food on the stove and the kitchen counter. Everyone would help themselves and eat wherever they could find a seat in the den and kitchen. This was new and exciting to me because my parents and my grandparents always made us eat at the table. I loved being able to watch television while I ate. In our family the TV was turned off at meal time. Unfortunately we have carried this tradition over to our own family and if I had my life to live over again I would return to the tradition of eating at the table and turning off the television. I believe that dinner time is probably the best quality time that a family can spend together. Television, smart phones, and video games have been destructive to families, not so much by their content as the time that they rob from our time of bonding together. I hate to admit it but I am the worlds worst when it comes to looking at my cell phone when we are together as a family. Because of my work schedule and Debbie's dating rules I was usually only able to see her on Sunday's. I was not allowed to come over during the week and I worked most of the day on Saturday.
Easter in the 1950's - Debbie is holding the bunny

Baby Debbie

Little Debbie








Debbie and her best friend Carolyn Robinson at 916 Boscobel St.



Debbie sleeping


Debbie with her Baxter friend Debbie Palmer


A young Debbie


The usual gang
Debbie about the time we met

Carolyn Robinson & Debbie
Deb around 15

Carolyn Robinson
Debbie with cousin Gloria

Rebecca Haynes- Debbie's friend


A very young Margaret Traughber Phillips



Mr. Phillips @ Kemps Bi Rite in North Nashville


Margaret and Johnny Phillips
Mrs. Phillips

Debbie's mom


  Debbie's mom was the center of gravity, to use a military term, in that family. Every Sunday after church Uncle Jesse, Aunt Thelma, their daughter Gloria, Debbie's grandmother Grace Brown, her sister Judy, and her husband Hulon, her sister Sylvia, her crazy husband Jimmy, their daughter's Tammy and Connie, Aunt Dovie and her husband Uncle Johnny, Debbie's brother Ronnie, and any relative or friend that just happened to be in the neighborhood was there every Sunday. There was an endless parade of people. Debbie's grandmother Grace Brown was a character. She was in her sixties when I met her and she would live to the ripe old age of 93. Grace took care of herself and her house to the day that she died. She was born in 1902, and married at 15. Grace was married three times. Her first husband, George Traughber, was a alcoholic and died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Her second husband was Earl Brown, the fireman that I met at Co. 18 fire hall when I delivered papers. The third husband, who she hated, had the last name of Whitehead. She kept Earl Brown's name until she died. On October 8, 1918, the day Alvin York killed 25 German soldiers and captured 132 in France, Grace gave birth to Debbie's mother Margaret. The Spanish flu pandemic was killing millions across the globe and Nashville's General hospital was so crowded with flu patients that she gave birth in the hallway. She said that five people in her immediate vicinity died of the flu that day. When Debbie and I met her brother Ronnie was separated at the time from his first wife. He wasn't around very long because he joined the Army and would be in Germany for most of the next four years. Ronnie was the father of Debbie's niece Sondi who was a baby girl at the time. Debbie's sister Judy had recently married her husband Hulon. He and I were friends from the start and we were like brothers. Hulon was a country boy and a lot of fun to be around when he was in a good mood. He could be moody but he was very talented and could fix anything. When I first met him he was a television repairman. He had a laugh that was hilarious because it sounded like a hyena with rabies. We would all crack up just listening to him laugh and he and I could talk about anything.
The Hoaks from across the street


Grace Beasley at 15

Grace's parents

George and Grace Beasley Traughber

Grace and Margaret Traughber
Debbie's mom Margaret, Grace, George, Thelma and Billy Traughber

Johnny and Margaret Traughber Phillips wedding photo

Johnny Phillips drove this market wagon and this is how Margaret met Johnny

Margaret and Thelma in Nashville


Judy & Sylvia


In the Smokey Mountains

Aunt Thelma in front of the White House



Margaret, Debbie, Grace, and Uncle Jesse

Uncle Jesse and Aunt Thelma
Ronnie Phillips

Ronnie Phillips



Ronnie in Germany


  I was cursed at an early age with a painful shyness. In my case it was always an inferiority complex. When it came to girls I was virtually immobilized in the romance department. My first serious venture occurred in the 8th grade at Bailey Jr. High. A friend told me that a girl named Vicki liked me. Until then I had hardly noticed her but she was cute and I was interested. She would smile at me in the hall as we passed or from across the room in study hall. However I just couldn't muster the courage to break the ice and talk to her. This went on for about a month until one day I saw a good friend walking her to class. I figured that she just finally gave up on me. Because I was so shy I hated the American dating ritual of the time. Men were supposed to initiate the relationship. I wanted the girl to make the first move. If a girl came on too strong in those days she could lose her good reputation. In the summer of 1965, just before I started the 10th grade at East, I met a girl named Brenda. WMAK, which was the most popular rock station in Nashville at the time, had about five request lines. When you called to make a request the lines were always busy but you could hear boys and girls talking over the busy signal. This was a great way to meet girls. If you were lucky you could get their phone number. I got the phone number of a girl that had a very sexy voice. We talked a few times and arranged to meet each other. I was happy to find out that she lived on West Greenwood avenue, just across Gallatin road, from our house on McKennie. I jumped on my bike and when I saw her standing in her yard I realized who she was. Her parents were customers on my paper route and she usually was the one to pay me when I came by to collect the money each month. This sounds bad but I just kept right on peddling past her house. All I am going to say is that she was way too much woman for me.


  Well it was back to the drawing board and I met a girl named Brenda over the request lines. When I got her number I found out that it was the number to her hospital room. She was a patient in the old Memorial hospital on Due West avenue in Madison. Brenda had a benign tumor removed from her leg. Today that would probably be same day surgery but this was 1965. She wanted to meet me so I jumped on a city bus and rode out to Due West and Gallatin road. From there I walked all the way to the hospital which is a long walk. Brenda was not a beauty but I wanted to date her. We agreed to meet at the Inglewood theater the following weekend. I sat there like a knot on a log. This was all new to me. We continued to meet there every weekend. I finally got up the nerve to hold her hand and put my arm around her but I couldn't gather the courage to kiss her. We continued talking on the phone and I was determined that the next time I saw her I was going to kiss her. When the next weekend rolled around I sat there immobilized by fear. As the movie ended I quickly moved in for the kill and gave her a quick kiss on the lips. I was feeling pretty good until the next day. When I talked to her on the phone she wanted to break up. Debbie and I started dating in February 1966 and by July I still hadn't kissed her. We were holding hands and I was putting my arm around her but no kisses. Why she put up with me so long I don't know? I decided to ask her to go steady and on July 9th and I gave her a going steady ring. It was my plan to kiss her then but I chickened out. I was able to come by again the next night and I was determined that I wasn't leaving until I kissed her. She would always walk me to the front door there in her parents bedroom as I was leaving. I said goodbye and was about chicken out again but as I started to leave I spun around and kissed her right on the nose. We both started laughing. That finally broke the ice for me. I always looked forward to leaving when we had some private moments out on that porch.

  The school year of 1966 - 67 started out pretty uneventful. Debbie and I continued dating and were even planning marriage at the end of our junior year. Usually I walked to East from my house on McKennie. When school let out I walked Debbie to her house on Boscobel and from there I walked to H.G. Hill where I worked at 6th and Shelby. I had started working there during the summer of 1966. When I got off I would walk home. This was an everyday routine for me. Every Friday I would deposit a big part of my paycheck at the First American branch bank at 10th and Woodland. I enjoyed working at Hills. The store was next to the projects, which were pretty rough at the time, but nothing like they are today due to the proliferation of drugs and gangs. Occasionally we would catch a shoplifter. There was an older man who worked with us by the name of Mr.Shreves. We were friends and he was a big guy who loved to tangle with the shoplifters. Whenever we spotted somebody we would just call Mr. Shreves. One day he tackled one in the middle of the store and there was a knock down drag out fight but he didn't care because he was fearless.


  There was a little old man named "Popeye" who sold newspapers out in front of the store and was in his 90's. He was about two fries short of a Happy Meal and people boys my age would try to avoid him. He would run at you and try to grab at your crotch. You had to protect your family jewels. I am a weirdo magnet and after a while we actually became friends. For whatever reason he came to like me and would never bother me like everyone else. I also worked with a guy whose name was Charlie Churchwell. His mother owned a ice cream and burger joint in the projects. I would go by there regularly and order a milk shake or an ice cream cone. While working at the store I befriended some of the boys that lived in the projects. One of them happened to be in a neighborhood gang and he frequently came into the store.. One Saturday night after getting off work I stopped to get a milk shake. While I was sitting in my car a gang of local toughs began to surround my car and they quickly blocked me in. Some were leaning against the rear of my car. I sat there trying to be nonchalant but I was trying to figure out how I was going to get out of there in one piece. I started the car and was getting ready to throw it in reverse when one of the boys walked up to the drivers side and stuck his head in the window. To my relief it was my friend that I had  met at the store. He was needing a ride home.

  One Sunday night close to my birthday in February 1967, Debbie said that she wanted to go to Church with my cousin Pam Patterson. I was in a bad mood and church was the last place that I wanted to be that night. I went with her but I wasn't a happy camper. When we got back to Debbie's house I didn't notice anything unusual until I stepped into the den. Everyone jumped out shouting surprise. Debbie had organized a surprise birthday party for me. I was shocked and really embarrassed for acting like a jerk that night. My sister Donna had helped plan the surprise and I hadn't been talking to her for a while and that made me feel even worse. I wasn't talking to her because she had embarrassed me in front of Debbie a few months before and I was still mad at her.


  In the next few weeks I began to notice a change in Debbie's attitude toward me. Like the Righteous Brothers song, she had lost that loving feeling. She was giving me the cold shoulder at school and there were long uncomfortable silences, especially on the phone at night. We had been going together for about a year. In my heart I knew we were headed for a break-up but I didn't want to face reality. After a while I couldn't take the coolness any longer. One night on the phone I asked her point blank if she wanted to break up. It was hard for her and after what seemed like eternity she finally admitted that she wanted to break up. She said that she wanted to date other guys. I was devastated and I won't lie when I say that I cried a lot over the next days and weeks. My heart was broken. I broke off all contact with her for about a month or so. Then one day in the hallway Debbie's best friend Carolyn Robinson walked up to me in the hallway at school and handed me a note from Debbie. She was wanting to get back together. I was ecstatic and a little too eager but I called her that night. Events would soon prove that she wasn't ready. I was crazy about her and she knew it.


  I could tell immediately that things weren't the same between us but I didn't care. Just being with her again was good enough for me. At that time I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Debbie. She was wanting to play the field however. There was a Diesel college on Gallatin road and young guys from all over the country were going to school there. Most of them came from the mid western states like Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Michigan just to name a few. They lived in apartments all over East Nashville and were competition for the local guys. For some reason girls found them exciting because they were a little older and from out of town. A few weeks after we got back together I was walking home from work. I would always walk by Debbie's house on my way home. As I came within sight of her house I noticed what looked like a blue convertible pulling up in front of her house. I stood in the shadows watching from across the street as a boy and girl got out of the car and ran up to the porch and in to the house. The girl looked like Debbie but I wasn't sure. I was hurt and angry. Not only because she could be with another boy but she was with a boy on a week night. My rules were that I could only come over on weekends. Even though I suspected that she was with somebody else I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. I rationalized that maybe she was with a relative and I acted as if nothing was wrong when I saw her at school. Finally that Sunday I planned to come to her house as usual and called to tell her that I was coming. Tammy, her little niece, answered the phone. I asked to speak to Debbie but Tammy very innocently said that her Aunt Debbie was with her new boyfriend Gene. Stunned, I just hung up the phone. I walked over to my best friend Gus Fowler's house on Greenwood avenue. Gus could tell that I was upset and asked what was wrong. I told him and immediately he jumped into his car and took off. Mrs. Fowler came over to console me and I cried like a baby on her shoulder. I was embarrassed but she was very compassionate and I needed a shoulder to cry on. Gus had picked up a friend, and unknown to me, had driven by Debbie's to call her a bitch as they drove by her house. Debbie has always believed I sent Gus over there but I had nothing to do with it. I made up my mind then and there that I was going to break up with her for good and try to get on with my life. When I got home I called her and said I wanted to break up. She sounded very nonchalant about it over the phone but after we were married she told me that she cried because she really didn't want to break up. This happened near the end of our junior year. Our break-up was a blessing in disguise because we were planning to get married before the start of our senior year. I didn't see Debbie all summer. Several times I had the opportunity to date other girls but because of heartache and my usual shyness I just couldn't bring myself to ask anyone out.

  Around this time I got into the only real fist fight that I have ever had with my cousin Roy. I had always avoided fighting because my mother would tell me that real men didn't fight. I was a coward for the most part when I was younger and at the time I felt that I had been bullied by Roy. On this particular morning we were getting ready for school and I had been arguing with Didi. Roy didn't like it and we were in the back room when he charged at me. I knocked him down but he got back up and came at me again and I knocked him down a second time. By this time I was bigger than he was and I was shocked at how easy it had been. Didi and Alton jumped on me and we went down on the floor. Roy jumped on top of all of us. Didi broke up the fight but he pointed his finger at me and said "I'll get you later". We both went to school and later to our after school jobs. I got home that night before Roy and sat down to watch television in the dark with granddaddy. When Roy returned from work he pointed at me and said that he wanted to see me in the back yard. I got up to follow him out but granddaddy blocked the door. He told me not to go outside but I turned and ran out through the front door. Roy and I met in the side yard near the street. I squared off to hit him again but he surprised me and lunged at my legs, wrapping me up. We fell to the ground and at first I was able to hold his arms where he couldn't hit me. I became distracted because granddaddy was standing over us with a night stick threatening to hit us if we didn't stop. About this time Didi and her boyfriend were also trying to break up the fight. Roy managed to get in one good punch that gave me a good shiner. Because of this I looked like I got the worst end of the deal but I was proud of myself for finally standing up to someone. If granddaddy and Didi had stayed out of it I believe that I could have done much better. Eventually Roy and I made up and have been good friends ever since. It all seems pretty childish now. Roy was my 1st cousin on my mother's side and he married Sandra Wilkinson who was my 2nd cousin on my dad's side. They married in the summer of 1967 and he left for Air Force basic training soon after. Roy became an Air Force Security policeman and would eventually serve at Phan Rang Vietnam. He fell out of a guard tower breaking his foot so badly that he was flown back to the United States and went through months of hospitalization and surgeries. Roy and Sandra were married for many years but after two children, a girl and a boy, that marriage ended in an ugly divorce. He was remarried to Sheryl, who is from Washington state, and they have had two boys together.

  I started my senior year, 1967-68 in a depressed state of mind. More than ever I was still in love with Debbie but I hadn't seen her at all for at least four months. During the summer I took my savings of 900.00 dollars and bought a 1963 green Chevy II. Because I had no one to teach me to drive I payed for lessons through a private driving school. The day that I took my eye exam for my license is the day that I found out I needed glasses because I failed my eye test. I loved that car and I felt as if I had been liberated. I would constantly drive by Debbie's house hoping that she would see me in my car and try to imagine what she might be doing at that time. On my first day of school I walked into Mr. McGehee's sociology class and took a seat in the very back of the room. I was checking out the girls in class when I noticed a cute girl sitting in the front desk of the same row that I was sitting in. From where I was sitting I couldn't see her face that well until she would turn her head from side to side. I hadn't seen this girl before and I couldn't take my eyes off of her the whole class. Something about her chin looked familiar to me. The bell rang and I got up to leave. I bent over to get my books out from under the desk and as I looked up the girl I had been staring at turned sideways in her seat. She stood up and looked straight at me and our eyes met at that moment. I was utterly shocked to realize that the cute girl that I had been watching the whole hour was Debbie. You could have knocked me over with a feather. To me her appearance was radically different and I liked it very much. Her hair was much shorter and I had not recognized her at all.


  Seeing her again only made the heartache worse. I wanted to be with her more than ever but I was bound and determined that I would continue ignoring her. For days we passed each other in the hallway and I would see her in class but I never acknowledged her. This went on for a couple of months until one day I was walking on the sidewalk next to the lunch room when Debbie's friend Carolyn handed me another note from Debbie. She wanted us to get back together again. I wanted to dance for joy but in my heart I knew I should take things slow. I shouldn't look too eager. It would probably be good if I waited a few days and let her sweat it out. However I couldn't help myself. I was just too crazy about her and I called that very night. We started dating again and my brain was still telling me not to move too fast but my heart was telling me something else. I felt awkward from the start but I was determined not to lose her again. Her behavior was still troubling to me. She had dated a few guys that were diesel college students while we were apart. Debbie had been pretty serious with Gene. The same guy that I had caught her with. He was from Indiana and I found out that after graduating from school he had returned home. In my mind I was thinking that maybe the only reason she was back with me was because this guy had dumped her. I didn't hold it against her because she had dated while we were apart but what bothered me was that she was being flirtatious with these diesel college boys right in front of me. Since I have become older and wiser I realize that kids our age at the time are probably incapable of true love. I believe that it is more of an infatuation and lust than it is love. It is only after a long relationship of seeing that person as they really are that you learn to love each other. If you still around after sickness, pregnancy, crisis, and anger then you are probably in love. It is what holds you together after the passion subsides.

  Whenever I talked to my kids about dating I would warn them that the person that they chose to date could end up becoming their partner in marriage. It is important to look for red flags in the person you are dating. You need to ask yourself do they drink too much? Are they smokers? Do they do drugs? Are they possessive, unusually jealous, controlling, liars, philanderers and do they have a good work ethic? If a person exhibits these red flags we should be strong enough to break off the relationship in order to avoid unnecessary pain and heartache. I was lucky to find Debbie. As it turned out her flirtatious behavior was more from immaturity than a lack of character. I could have searched the world over and not found a woman like Debbie. Most couples who marry as young as we were have the deck stacked against them and these marriages end in divorce. Marriage is a lifelong commitment and it can be a nightmare if you make a mistake in judgement. My mother was an example of someone who made a terrible mistake in judgement. As far as I am concerned now Debbie got the worst end of the deal in our marriage. Debbie was immature and so was I. There were times that my jealousy got the better of me that year. When I would see her flirting with or talking to the Diesel College guys it was all I could do to keep from breaking up with her again.

  In January I signed up for the Air Force delayed enlistment program. There was a long waiting list because of the war in Vietnam and I was hoping that my name would come up for the Air Force before my draft notice. I asked Debbie to marry me one night while we were waiting for our hamburgers to be brought out to my car at the Krystal on Gallatin road. Nobody can accuse me of being the romantic type. I said something like " I think we should get married". She said yes and we planned to marry right after graduation in June. Just about this time Gus Fowler's mom died of cancer. I think that it was the late summer or Fall of 1967 that she found out that she had cancer. She had surgery but the doctors weren't able to get it all and she deteriorated very rapidly. Mrs. Fowler was always very nice to me and she was only thirty-six years old. Thirty-six seemed so much older to me back then than it does today. Oh what I would give to be that age now. We would also find out about the same time that granddaddy had cancer. His cancer was terminal also. He was in a lot of pain in the months leading up to his death and would suffer a great deal. Granddaddy died in July 1968 just after Debbie and I married. In the two or three years before he died we became closer. After I got my car I would take him to the grocery store and to the cemetery every now and then to visit my mother and grandmother's grave at Woodlawn. Granddaddy would talk to them as if they could hear him. I didn't enjoy going there but he seemed to draw comfort from it. His hearing problem caused him to be isolated from people. For years I never said more than a few words to him and if I did I had to shout in his ear. As I got older I became curious about our family history and what he was like as a young man. I would lean close to his ear and ask him questions. After a while we were talking about everything from politics, sports, family history, and any other subject under the sun. I began to see granddaddy in a whole new light.
Granddaddy listening to either baseball or wrestling on the radio at North 5th and Cleveland

  In January I quit H.G. Hill and for a short while I worked at the Big Star Store on Riverside Drive where my brother-in-law Larry, was working in the produce department. From there I went to work for Baird - Ward printing company. I didn't want to leave H.G. Hill but they cut back my hours and I was not happy at Big Star. So I applied at Baird-Ward. At first they didn't hire me. Every day I would drive to the personnel office ask to see the personnel manager. His secretary would tell me to have a seat. I always sat where the manager could see me in the waiting room. When my turn would come he would call me in and I would ask if there were any openings. He would say no and I would leave. Each day after school I would return to his office. This went on for at least a couple of weeks or so. Finally one day I was sitting in the waiting room where he could see me. Suddenly he stood up and walked out to where I was sitting. He said " You really want a job, don't you"? I said yes sir I do. He hired me on the spot. Baird-Ward was a hard and dirty job. Harder than anything I had done to that point. My job title was a jogger. The presses printed such magazines as Field and Stream, Leatherneck, Humpty Dumpty, and phone books. At the end of my shift I was usually covered from head to toe in ink. When the press was running I had to tie magazine inserts together in a heavy bundle that were held together with ropes and then we would stack them on wooden pallets. Periodically the press would go down for a changeover. Then I would have to help clean out the old ink so the pressmen could set up the new type, along with threading the new paper through the press. I nearly ruined my car seats driving home in my ink stained clothes. I was working there the night that Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis. Some white guys were shouting out things like " I hope the son of a bitch is dead" and other racist remarks. They were saying these things in front of our black employees. Rioting broke out all over the country and in Memphis and Nashville. The Guard was activated and for several days Nashville was under a dusk to dawn curfew. The Grand Ole Opry was cancelled for the first time in history. The only people allowed on the streets were first responders and the people like myself who were going to and from their jobs. I worked 2nd shift at Plant # 2 on Powell Avenue and I could see the National Guard headquarters across the road. It was a bee hive of activity and looked like an armed camp. Armed soldiers were everywhere and military vehicles were going and coming.
The assassination of Martin Luther King

Tennessee National Guard patrolling the streets of Nashville


  One night during the curfew I was driving home from work down 8th Avenue South. As I neared the downtown area the streets were very dark and deserted. Nashville looked like a ghost town. My car was the only one in sight. Suddenly in the distance I saw what at first looked like a mob standing in the middle of the road. I don't know what I was thinking but instead of making a u-turn I just picked up speed with the intention of battering my way through if I had to. I floored the accelerator and to my horror I realized that what I thought was a mob was actually a large number of National Guard, State Troopers, and Nashville police that were manning a road block. By the time I realized my mistake I was moving pretty fast. My tires squealed as I slammed on my brakes. An irate police officer came up to my window and asked "Where's the fire boy"? I told him that I was on my way home from work and I didn't realize who they were. Checking my license he asked where I worked. As I was telling him a car with two male blacks pulled up behind me.  They also worked at Baird-Ward and appeared to be as frightened as I was. After stopping, the car lurched forward. I think the driver might have accidentally hit the gas pedal instead of the brake. A motorcycle cop slammed his shotgun down on the trunk of the car. The cops then jerked these guys out and threw them up against their car. The officer that was talking to me said " Son, it's not safe out here, you need to go straight home," and handed my license back. Just two months later I was at work the night that Robert Kennedy was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. This was unreal to me. I couldn't believe that two Kennedy's had been shot in the space of five years. On my way home from work the DJ on WMAK kept playing the recording of the chaos around kennedy just after he had been shot. The DJ kept saying over and over that we were a sick and violent society. I resented this because I wasn't sick and violent and I knew that most Americans weren't either. This was my conservatism rearing it's head before I even knew what a conservative was.



  In May of 1968 I took Debbie to the prom. I took Debbie out on West End to have her hair done at a beauty shop while I waited in the car and took a nap. Things haven't changed much in forty-eight years. She shops and I take a nap. I rented a tuxedo and arrived at the appointed time. This was my first prom or anything like a school dance that I had ever been to. I couldn't dance and I wasn't about to start because I was just way too self conscious. When it came to the usual things associated with the high school experience I wasn't into it. I only went to the prom because of Debbie. I didn't buy a senior ring and I didn't join any clubs. I only bought one year book and that was my senior year. Luckily Debbie bought her sophomore, junior and senior yearbooks. I appreciate that today but I wasn't looking ahead to the future. Debbie belonged to a number of clubs and was more into the social life of high school. I am not a joiner or a follower because I march to a different drummer. We had to be home at 12 PM. Deb's mom allowed us two hours beyond our curfew. We had a formal picture taken, hung around for a while and left. We didn't dance but I wish I had and there have been many occasions since that I have wanted to dance with her but I just couldn't work up the courage. We left and drove out Murfreesboro road. I am a pretty boring date. The nature of our dates in these last few months before graduation were different because my car gave us more mobility and privacy. We would go on double dates with her friend Carolyn or we would go by ourselves to the Montague or Colonial Drive-in. The Montague was in Inglewood and the Colonial was in Madison. We went to see the movie To Sir With love, starring Sidney Poitier, but to this day I can't tell you much about the movie because we made out the whole time. There are no deep dark secrets to reveal here because Debbie and I remained virgins until we married. We were both very naive when it came to sex. I did talk her into going out to Shelby Park one night so we could be alone. Kids would go there and park near the railroad trestle to make out but Debbie didn't want to do it from the start. She didn't want to be near anyone so we drove up to a narrow one way road above the lake and parked. After a while car lights lit up the inside of my car and I noticed a police car pulling up behind us. They shined the spotlight on us and Debbie was mortified. She didn't want her mother finding out. The police officer was understanding and advised me that it was okay to park as long as I kept my parking lights on. I was willing to stay but my first and last experience on lovers lane was over. We graduated on June 6, 1968. I really can't remember much about that day. All I know is that I felt liberated. I was poor as a church mouse but I had my girl. She was all that mattered to me at that moment.
















 

       
     



 



      

     

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