Saturday, November 28, 2009


Spot, Fuzzy and I enjoy walking down by Lake De Queen. If you look at that lake from way up in the air, it looks like a figure eight that has been mashed down from above. Both parts of the eight have become diamonds, balancing on the dam on the south end. The dogs and I walk on the north-east facet of the lower diamond, on an old road that is most often flooded in places, so there is not much motorized traffic. We were down there during the Thanksgiving break and, lo and behold, there was the wise old man, sitting on a five-gallon bucket, fishing with a cane pole.
Regular readers of this column are acquainted with the uncanny fact that the wise old man shows up every holiday somewhere, whether it be Texarkana, Westerville, Ohio, West Palm Beach, Florida or here closer to home. His comments are always droll and somewhat quirky, but, I have come to understand, there is method in his madness.
“Hello, sir, what are you doing down here?”
“That has to be a pretty dumb question, Dan. Where did you get your Ph. D.?”
“No, I can see that you are fishing, but what brings you to Lake De Queen?”
“Fishing,” he replied with a wry grin.
He pulled in a nice bluegill and arranged it on a stringer with six or seven other bream. He reached into a coffee can and fetched a nice red wiggler and re-baited, while Spot and Fuzzy watched with respectful interest.
I thought I would try another ploy, “How have you been?”
“I feel great. Old age has not brought me the preoccupation with aches and pains I hear so much about from the elderly I visit. Rather, it has brought me peace and contentment.”
“What’s your secret?”
“Now, if I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret, would it?”
“No sir, but I’m reaching the point in life when I crave advice for aging gracefully.”
“Now, Dan, that sentence contains the answer to your query. You used the word ‘gracefully’. You realize, I’m sure, that grace means you have a free gift that sustains you and keeps you fully living, eternally alive right now, a free gift that you did nothing to earn and can never deserve.”
“Yes, you are talking about salvation, sir, I’m asking about avoiding aches and pains.”
“Oh, I mistakenly thought you were asking me about abundant life. The kind that is full of fulfillment, peace, enjoyment, love, kindness, patience and much much joy.”
“You mean, sir, that the fruit of the Spirit keeps you from aches and pains?”
“In a sense, I am. Remember St. Paul saying that whatever state he was in, he had learned to be content?”
“Contentment with the life you have been given, walking in forgiveness, both giving it away and receiving it, makes the aches and pains of no consequence. The important thing is reciprocation. Just like, when I dangle a worm in the water, a nice fish reciprocates by biting it--when we forgive, God reciprocates by forgiving us. When we love, we get love in return. This deep knowledge about reciprocation brings contentment, that is, as long as we walk in forgiveness and love. Do you mind if I give your dogs a treat?”
“Not at all, sir.” He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a hunk of jerky. He bit off a couple of nice sized hunks and gave them to the dogs. They reciprocated by an extravagant display of friendship.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Hi Fi's

I recently read Ronnie Hardcastle’s commentary about Mike Meinert’s death in the El Dorado News Times with dual emotions: deep sadness and great joy. Sadness because of the loss of a wonderful and talented childhood friend—joy because of the memories of the Dixie Land Band, the Hi Fis, that came in like a flood. The guys in that band were a mainstay to my youth and each one was richly talented, admirable, unique and full of life. As Ronnie wrote, Mike was our leader and we never heard him belittle or bully anyone—it was against his principles and his personality. He also had a deep sense of fairness and compassion for all.
I played bass fiddle in the group and sometimes transported the band to our out-of-town gigs in my 1946 Dodge. Mike loved that gangster-style automobile and always wanted to drive it. I would lodge the bass with the neck protruding into the front seat and we would pack ourselves around it like sardines. One night when Mike was driving at peak speed back from a gig in Smackover, about 60 miles-per-hour, the Dodge threw a rod. Mike was so remorseful, feeling the full responsibility for the event. I told him over and over that the engine was about to blow anyway and would have done so no matter who was behind the wheel, but he was not satisfied until he arranged to have the car towed to my house and offered to pay for the repairs. He and our guitar player, Joe B. Lawler, did tow the old car to my house, but it was beyond repair. When I dropped the oil pan, there were pieces of cam shaft and cylinder wall in there. We got to our gigs in other ways from then on.
Years later, Mike came to see me in the dorm at Southern State College when we were both enrolled there. Jacque and I lived in an apartment in back of McCrary hall at Southern State College. We were dorm parents. When Mike and I talked, our conversation was full of the quiet laughter of reminiscence and I’ll never forget his effervescent good will. He told my wife about the demise of the old Dodge as if it had happened yesterday. It was as if we were related because of the musical connection.
One of my best memories of the group is the night we all discovered that we sounded pretty good. We had practiced a lot both individually and as a group and on our third or fourth gig, I believe it was at the TAC house in El Dorado, everything fell into place. Our rendition of “When My Baby Walks Down the Street” sounded so cool that people stopped dancing and gathered around the bandstand. Then, when we played Clyde McCoy’s “Sugar Blues” even the chaperones paid attention and joined the applause. I discovered that night that it is far better to be proud of your group than of yourself.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pink Shoes

Curtis was more than an older brother. He was a father surrogate, since our father died when I was in Mother’s womb and he was only five. From the beginning of my life, I looked up to him, admired him, wanted his approval and tried to be like him, with certain variations that suited my nature. So, when he was killed as co-pilot of a B-47 when we were both in the Air Force, I truly lost a father, brother, mentor and friend.
Mother married a carpenter when I was six and Curtis was 11. Mother told him she would marry him if he would quit drinking and build her a house. He built her two houses but could never commit to perpetual sobriety. So, like most childhoods, ours was rough at times. I accepted and loved Pop like a father, but Curtis, not so much. After all, he had known his real father. Curtis and Pop had some serious run-ins through those early years.
The first house Pop built had a small basement room, and when Curtis reached the point of wanting to avoid the fray, he converted that room into a nice bachelor’s pad. I helped him work on it and enjoyed the project immensely. Pink and gray were THE colors of the time, and Curtis chose those colors for the brick walls and concrete floor.
I was helping him paint the walls pink, wearing my Pat Boone style white bucks that Mother had bought me for band. All marching bands in those days required white shoes as part of the uniform. I splashed a little pink paint on one of the shoes and, when I tried to wipe it off, it spread out. Impulsively, I painted both shoes pink, while Curtis fell backwards onto the cot laughing hysterically.
When Mother came home from work it wasn’t funny: “Daniel Gordon Ford, what do you mean ruining those band shoes. I worked my fingers to the bone to be able to buy those and you have ruined them. If you think I am going to buy you another pair of white bucks, you are mistaken, sir. You will either earn the money yourself or get out of the band. And, if you ever leave this property wearing those ridiculous things, you will be in worse trouble than you have ever been in, do you hear me?”
I heard her, but I wore them to my Western Union messenger job one Saturday anyway, thinking I wouldn’t have to be out much, since Saturdays were usually slow. But, I got sent to the top floor of the Lion Oil building and Uncle Herbert saw me and looked at my shoes. I’m not sure he was the one that told Mother he saw me downtown in the garish footwear, but someone did. Her anger was ice, not fire, and that’s the worst kind. It took awhile to thaw. She warmed a bit after I threw those pink shoes into the trash and bought some new white bucks with my own money.
When I think of my late brother, I see pink, and hear him laughing through my sadness.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The House on Morning Star Road

The group I ran with as a kid loved to go camping. We looked for any excuse to go out to the salt flats, down to the river, back in the woods or to an old abandoned house we found out on Morning Star Road.
I went camping with the Boy Scouts, too, but that was not as much fun as the spontaneous camping trips with my friends. Maybe those Scout trips were too structured and supervised, I don’t know. We weren’t interested in the liberties someone gave us, we were interested in the liberties we took and we took quite a lot.
Camping with the Scouts, I had to pack my stuff just right, pitch the tent where I was told, wait for the adult in attendance to start the fire and cook. Camping with my friends was different. We would wad newspaper around a few eggs and put them in jars to keep them from breaking, confiscate a wad of bacon from the refrigerator, get a loaf of bread, grab a sleeping bag or some quilts and off we would go.
We ate when we were hungry and slept when we were out of giggles or mischief. Some of us slept. I don’t remember ever going to sleep on our camping trips. I do remember that my eyes felt like sandpaper most of the time we were on a venture.
That old house on Morning Star Road was a find! It had a functional fireplace and one huge room. The porch, or what was left of it, was treacherous and the rusty tin roof had just enough tin left to be called a roof. The old place and the yard to boot had fallen into disrepair. Vines knitted the chimney and wrens had nested in various places under the meager tin. But we loved it.
We set up our lanterns in the middle of the great room, started a fire in the fireplace, roasted whatever meat we could come up with and laughed the night away with jokes and stories. Things that weren’t even funny got guffaws. It didn’t take much to be a comedian with that crowd. Even spontaneous nonsense jokes were well accepted and no one ever said, “I don’t get it,” because that wasn’t the point. What place does logic have in humor anyway? It was incongruity we were after and there was plenty of that.
We wanted to keep the old house a secret from fellows outside our group. But we were under adult pressure to take a known juvenile delinquent with us on a camping trip, so we took him. But we blindfolded him for the whole trip out Morning Star Road. When we took the blindfold off inside the old house, he said, “How far out the Morning Star Road are we, about eight miles?” He was exactly right. I asked him how he knew where he was and he said, “I heard that vacuum whistle.” I have no idea what he meant by that. I had never heard a whistle out there. Anyway, that was our last trip to the location.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.