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Ellaville

Prologue

August 1928 – Somewhere east of Ellaville Florida on the Suwannee River.
The fog was still pretty thick this early morning insuring that the humidity would still be high to go with the rising temperature. Two men were removing the catfish from their trot lines that were tied to the low hanging tree limbs when the taller of the two saw the head tangled in the half submerged brush.
“Great Scott, do you see what I see?”
“It looks like a head of a man,” the other man replied.
He paddled the boat close enough to the brush while being mindful of any water moccasins that might be lying on a limb. The tall man poked at the head with the paddle and it came loose and bobbled in the water.
“What are we going to do with it?”
“How do I know, I ain’t never seen a head with no body?”
“We got to get the sheriff.”
“It will be gone by the time we get back.”
“Pick it up and put it in the boat and we will take it with us.”
“What! I ain’t touching that thing. You pick it up,” he said.
“Maybe we can put it in the boat with the paddles,” the tall man said, while wondering out loud, if it was anyone he knew.
With the head in the boat they paddled down the river to the bridge at Ellaville and the phone at the Suwannee River Park Store.

1
August 1988 – Near “Five Hole” on the Suwannee River.
“Come here Bo. Bo, come here boy. Now where is that dog? Probably digging a hole.”
The couple was walking along the trail with their chocolate lab. Jordan called again for Bo but with no results. So he and his wife April left the trail in the direction that Bo went. After about 10 minutes they saw him.
“I knew it, he’s digging a hole.”
As they got closer they could see he had uncovered what looked like bones.
This area was named by the locals because of the five sink holes that are joined by a spring then emptying into the river. The Suwannee River along with the Withlacoochee River defined Hamilton County Florida. Both rivers having originated in Georgia and merging a couple of miles west of here, thus connecting the county to the rest of Florida by bridge only. The Suwannee River was one of the few remaining unspoiled pristine rivers in the South. Along the banks of the Hamilton County side ran the Florida Trail. The trail was maintain by an association by that name out of White Springs. Locals loved the area for swimming at Five Hole and hiking the trail on weekends because of the unspoiled wilderness river. Such was the case on this beautiful Saturday morning.
“Bo leave those bones alone. You’re not going to take those old animal bones home with you,” Jordan said.
“Honey look!” “That looks like human bones!” April said as she put her hand over her mouth as if to stop herself from speaking more.
“Bo come here, back away Bo!” Jordan reached to grab Bo’s collar and keep him away from the bones, but not seeing the one in his mouth right away.
“Kind of looks like an arm and hand bones – you may be right – we gotta call the sheriff and report this. Bo, put down that bone!”
“I will stay here and you go call.”
“I don’t want to leave you here alone,” April said.
“Ah come on, ain’t no one watching over this grave, if that’s what it is. Go call Virgil and take Bo and leave him at the house.”
April grabbed Bo’s collar and walked to where they parked their pickup.

Ellaville will be published the first of 2016

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Behind The Fence

About five inmates were standing in a group about 50 feet from the rear sally port. Monk had his football pool sheet writing down names as the inmates made their bets. They were oblivious to the three officers standing in a group about 200 yards away. They already knew that they were rookies and just paid them no mind. Neither did they notice Frank Smith standing behind them looking over their shoulders. He stood there a while and then just reached in and took the football pool sheet out of Monk’s hand.

“Monk you know better than this, and right in front of those new officers.  Get out of here before I lock up every one of you.” Frank said.

They all left but Monk and he waited to the other inmates got far enough away then asked Frank:

“Mr. Smith can I have my paper back please.”

“What paper, get on out of here Monk.” Replied Frank.

“Come on Mr. Smith, all them guys will say they won Ifn I don’t have the pool.” Monk said sheepishly

“You should have thought about that before you disrespected those new officers like that, now get out of here before I lock you up Monk.”

You can’t spend 30 years in the correction system without collecting a gold mine of stories. Some are even funny at times. Life behind the fence is a constant battle fighting boredom. Older Inmates down for the long count find ways to combat that and find a quieter life while the younger ones are always cooking up something. They figure it is their job to beat the system and we know it is our job to catch them. I have worked thousands of inmates in maintenance and construction and have seen many come and go like Monk. He burned his bridges on the outside and therefore received no financial help from family or friends. Gambling became his only source of income.

Now days inmates are not allowed to have paper money on the compound. What money the inmates get from family is in a bank and they are given that much credit at the canteen. That doesn’t stop the gambling though, because they just adapted to the change. But when Monk was running the football pool inmates had cash. Later that day Monk came to Frank again.

“Mr. Smith, would you please give me my paper, I need it bad. You know what these guys will do. I have no proof who gave what.”

“Monk, what paper? I don’t know what you are talking about.”

That afternoon the Lieutenant call Frank and ask Frank what was up with Monk. He said that he just checked in to Administrated Confinement. He said that he was in fear of his life. Frank told him and they had a good laugh. But that was not the end of Monk or his gambling. He became famous betting on his fighting spiders. That was another big deal with the inmates. I can’t tell you how many spider boxes that came out of my maintenance shop over the years. Inmates love their spiders and Monk had his favorite. Frank and I were talking the other day reminiscing about the old days, (we have been together most of my 30 Years with the department), and he was telling me that one time Monk was bragging about a praying mantis that he caught and he was going to let his prize fighting spider fight him. Later when Frank saw him he ask about how the fight went. With tears in his eyes Monk said.

“Mr. Smith that thing ate my spider.”

He lost money that day. But it was just another day trying to relieve the boredom. Gambling caused as much grief in prison as it does on the street. In a society of crooks playing fair could be a liability. However, old Monk was a true enthusiasts and his strategies are still talked about today.

I plan to blog more about “Behind the Fence,” and my next one will be on Krispy Critter king of the “Buck” makers…

I was an Outlaw.

My horse galloped across the yard as fast as I could run him trying to get away from Roy Rogers and the rest of the posse. The Lone Ranger came around the corner of the house trying to cut me off, but I slapped my behind and jerked my reins to the left and headed towards the corn crib.

It was summer and Dad had a week’s vacation from Coats and Clarks in Albany, so we headed to Granddaddy Butler’s farm in Moultrie Georgia. While he helped pick tobacco and mom helped in the kitchen, my siblings and I played. For me it was cowboys and Indians or outlaws.  I have a lot of cousins in that part of the country, and back then when we came down with me being the city slicker I had to play the bad guy. It was either that or an Indian. I wasn’t much with a bow and arrow but I deadly with my two finger pistols. I can’t remember ever being one of the good guys. However, I can remember how raw it was between my legs from riding my tobacco stick horse all day trying to evade that posse of real country boys.

In my mind’s eye I can still see those stick horses with the cotton string tied to one end for reins tied up to the hitching rail. Which in this case just happen to granny’s back porch. I can also still see that clean swept yard in the mornings having been swept with a gallberry broom the evening before. There wasn’t a blade of grass within a 100 feet of the house either. Granddaddy told me that was done so he could see what critters came up to the house during the night. He had plenty to see though when they came from the field in the evening with the tracks of our horses left between our little footprints.

Granddaddy was a sharecropper for a widow lady and he and grandma lived in an old styled farm house on the back side of the old Spence Army Airfield. The kitchen was separate from the house joined by a long porch. I can remember that screen door going into the kitchen and the wood stove. There was a pie safe cabinet from which she would get cold biscuits and give us one. I would poke a hole in it where she would pour cane syrup. I can even see the old butter churn.

It doesn’t take much these days for my mind to drift back to days of my youth. I guess that comes with age. When we have the Butler Reunion each year in June and I see my cousins, I think of those days. I can still hear and see in my mind the Yellow AT-6 Trainers taking off the airfield runway. They are long gone now as is my granddaddy’s old farm house.  Even the old tobacco sticks are a rare find today. So I guess this is my way of keeping them alive.

Coming Home

If you are a veteran that’s been to war I’m sure you remember what it was like when you came home. We went to town the day the 269th Engr Bn from Live Oak came home from Iraq. Thousands of people had turned out to welcome them home. Flags were waving and people were cheering. Our church was there because of Gerald Creech and his nephew Robbie and others we knew. Gerald is a fellow deacon, and a two time war veteran, having served in Desert Strom with his son Brian. The bus let them off in town so they could march to the Armory. Watching them march down the streets of Live Oak brought tears to the eyes and lumps to the throat. Finally veterans coming home were shown respect for their service. They stood tall and we stood proud.
I have made it a point to thank servicemen for their service when I have the chance. Recently I saw one paying for his dinner at the cash register, and I went up and asked him if he would he allow me to honor his service by paying for his meal. Thankfully he did and I did. You may think that is trite, but read on and you will see why.
As a two tour Vietnam Veteran my homecoming was much different. Last year I wrote and posted a tribute to Veterans on my blog for Veterans Day 2013. While writing it, all the memories of that time came flooding back. Even now a year later while selecting and editing my stories for a book I’m writing, that one evokes emotions long kept pocketed. While I think I can understand the anger at the war back then, I will never understand the dislike and disrespect for the warriors that came home. I never will forget leaving Vietnam after my first tour. Actually, I was sent home about two weeks early. My brother Kenny had a brain tumor and was fixing to have surgery. I was getting ready to go on my last flight before my regular return date. The company clerk came out to the flight line and handed me the following message:
THE AMERICAN NATIONAL RED CROSS
To: Commanding Office Date: 7 June 1968
1st MI Det.
APO SF 96240
From: American Red Cross Subject: Emergency Message
Office of the Field Director
APO San Francisco 96240
Sir:
The following message received this date verifying that servicemans brother is to have an operation. QUOTE: Msg HARE 818 from Chapt Albany, Ga. RE Sp5 Alvin D. Butler RA 14883774 D Det 1st MI Bn (ARS) APO SF 96249. Dr. Lowery Neuro-surgeon states ten year old brother Kenny to undergo surgery Monday 10 June. Brain Tumor. Dr recommends svemn presences. Advise soonest.

RAYMOND E. GORDY
AFD
I still have that message and copied it exactly as it was written. You can only imagine the emotions going on inside of me. Happy to be going home to my family, but sad to leave men that had become closer than brothers, all the while holding a message that my baby brother is suffering from a brain tumor bad enough to get me sent home for the surgery. My company commander put me on a flight to Saigon, where the Air Force put me on a C-124 Jet that was filled with caskets. I rode home in the cargo section of that plane next to a lot of brave men that had died serving their country. Except when I was invited to visit the cockpit my only view was those caskets. As much as I love words, I have none to express how that felt.
After a stop in Japan, we landed at Travis Air Force Base at Oakland, California. I was bused over to the section where incoming personnel from Vietnam were processed. There I was given a new uniform, and a partial pay. After I put on the uniform with all my metals and my shiny silver wings, I just stood there in front of the mirror, proud. Proud to be going home, proud to have served my country, proud to have survived.
About a dozen of us were put on a bus to the San Francisco Airport. As we were pulling into the terminal, our driver, (who apparently made several runs a day), told us to stay away from the bunch of people in front of the terminal with signs. There were a few cops standing near them, keeping them away from the entrance. As we got off the bus they started yelling at us. I couldn’t really understand what they were saying, but their signs said it all. That was a wakeup call. From that point on, and for many years, it was “All dogs and soldiers keep off the grass.” From the ticket agent to the people running the concession stands, and even the people on the plane to Atlanta, it was if I smelled bad or something. I saw only a few friendly faces during that time. No welcome home greetings anywhere. I simply could not understand. Had we lost the war and I had not been told?
However, all that was forgotten when I got off the plane in Atlanta and saw my beautiful smiling wife and my grinning dad waiting at the gate. They had driven up from Albany to meet me. God was in His Heaven and all was right in my world again. It was on to Albany to see my darling daughter, Missy, my mom and other brothers and sisters. I went to the hospital and saw Kenny. The doctor said that surgery was too dangerous for him, so it was canceled. He lived just over a year after that. That was one homecoming that will stay with me, till I see him again on that great getting up morning. And that’s all I got to say about that.

Dempsey laying flat on the ground, pushed himself along the fresh cut hay trying to rid himself of that awful smell that covered his chest. The fourth lesson he learned in such a very short time that night was, that sliding along the fresh cut hay will not remove the smell of fresh skunk perfume.

You know, country living has great benefits for young people. Even more so, if it is deep in the heart of agriculture country. The one draw back, (not that it is one), is that the young people, unlike their city friends, have to invent most of their own games. So, if three friends like Dempsey, Keith and Richard happen to be out one night walking across a damp hay field and see fresh tracks leading away from them, then the game is to follow it. What more fun is there to three full blooded country boys, than to follow fresh animal tracks. And what the more fun, if the trail leads to a skunk. A large skunk that was just minding his own business, but now surrounded by three grinning country boys. Now, “Boys will be boys,” does not apply here. I was not raised in the country, but even I know that you don’t mess with a skunk. People raised in the suburbs have been known to run over one on the highway and remember that smell clearly. That smell strongly says to “leave me be!”

So, lesson number one is to “Leave him alone.” However, that lesson was ignored. Lesson number two, don’t listen to Dempsey when he says, “If you pick him up by the tail he can’t spray you, because he can’t brace his hind legs on anything.” However, Dempsey, believing his own wisdom, picked him up. Lesson number three, Yes, he can spray you by just pressing his hind leg together. And he did! A big beautiful perfume cloud surrounded the three friends, with Dempsey getting the worst of it. Now this should have been the end of the game. I mean the smell is the worst of any smell anywhere at any time. It is so bad that you really can’t describe it. Or, at least I can’t. So, this should have sent them packing to find relief from the smell. But alas, not these country boys. Dempsey, with even more wisdom beyond his years announced that, “He can only spray once, until his body makes more perfume,” and he picks up the skunk by the tail again, and no, this skunk didn’t spray him again. But who other than country boys would even try it after the first time. I do believe that I would not have believed Dempsey this time.

So, there you have it folks. Three country boys and their newly invented game of, “I bet you can’t spray me.” Only I think this particular game never caught on, and was played only this one time. That takes us to the last lesson number four, mentioned before, that sliding along the fresh cut hay on your belly will not remove the smell of fresh skunk perfume. In fact it was several days before the smell started to dissipate. You gotta love country boys and this community.

I knew something was wrong the moment I walked into the poultry house. There was an unusual amount of dead laying about. The chickens were laying down with their heads stuck way out and just hassling and not moving around much, other than to get water. My brother-in-law, Lavon and I picked up about 300 dead out of the 6 poultry houses with grown birds that Saturday Morning. Little did we know that this was just the beginning of a disaster.

It was the first weekend in August in the year of 1980. The weather was the hottest I’ve seen since moving here. The temperature in the middle of the day was 108° Fahrenheit, and the humidity was 100%. There was no wind to speak of and no rain or relief in sight. This was the days before we had water misters and only three 4 foot fans in the each house. Our chickens were a week away from loading out and they were heavy. The last thing we needed now was to lose any, now that we carried them this far.

We worked in the houses until noon, picking up the dead and trying to provide as much ventilation as possible by letting the curtains down to their lowest point. After lunch we were back in the houses picking up more dead. I then started spraying the ceiling up and down the houses with water one at a time to try to cool down the birds. Nothing helped. By dark we had most of the dead out and called it a day, praying that tomorrow would be a cooler day.                                                                                

I was back in the houses at day light and I was shocked at what I was seeing. Dead chickens lay everywhere. My heart just sunk. We had worked so hard to get them to the right weight for market and to see it all die right before my eyes was almost more than I could take. But I started to work trying to save as many as I could and remove the dead. The first thing I did was take the food away from them, because that just added heat to their bodies. Lavon came in and we started picking up the dead. Later my father-in-law, whom we called Uncle, came by and I told him we would not be at church that morning. We were members of First Baptist Church in Lee Florida where he was the pastor. He went and called Cherry Farms to see if they would move up the load out to that night. But that was not to be. There was nothing left to do but pick up dead. My wife BJ, and daughters, Missy and Terri, were right there with us.

At noon that Sunday I drove out to Corinth Baptist Church, about a mile away, and waited outside for the people to come out. I want to see if my friend Richard Williams could come and help remove the dead. Ray Burnett overheard us talking and said he and his boys would come too. That started a chain reaction as others said they would help. What happen then is something that I will never forget as long as I live. From this small country church, 30+ people showed up at our poultry farm and started picking up dead chickens. Even their pastor Jimmy Deas and his wife Sherry were there working. I had men on our front end loader plus Ray’s, digging pits to bury them in and a half a dozen pick ups trucks backed up to the doors being load. Men, women and children walking up and down in every house picking up the thousands of dead. Many of which had started to decompose and when you grabbed their feet, the skin would come off, (someone said their socks came off), but no one held back. Some used rubber gloves, paper towels or just bare hands, and the dead were removed and buried.

Before this day I really like this community. After this day I was in love with this community. In the time of our need, the community showed up in mass. The only way I can explain it is the fact that we all live close to one another’s trials, because life is never really easy for any of us. In spite of our differences at times or even the apparent aloofness in some, at times like this we were one.

All in all we lost about 25,000 chickens, the equivalent of 1 and 2/3 houses. A real disaster at the time. I had never seen anything like it, but it happen again years later, only this time it happen to my friend Ray and his family. It wasn’t as bad as ours but a disaster still. Again the community turned out to help, as they have many times during floods, tornadoes, you name it and they will come. Yep, I love this community. A year later my whole family joined the church that was the center of it all.

The Ugliness Therein.

 

There were two shopping carts in the aisle at the front of the store, one inside the other as they are designed to do to save space in the cart corral. In a hurry and thinking that they being out front was handy, (as Lavon would say), I tried to separate them by just pulling them apart. I pulled and pulled, even to the point of bending over and grabbing a handle in each hand pulling hard using all my strength. No luck. Finally I realized that the little child seat belt latch was hung up, holding the carts together, and was able to release the two carts. Grabbing the first one I took off, trying to hurry as I always do when shopping Planet Wal-Mart, which is a feat in itself due to the sear number of “Walmartens” in the aisles.

Shopping carts were originally designed for shopping. However, I’m sure the inventor never foresaw what his creature could do to the human psyche, at least to someone like me, unless of course he was sadistic. Take the wheels for instance. They’re made of hard rubber, but for some mysterious reason the one I always select is flat on one side. What’s up with that?

Now, while some may love the “Clanky,clanky noise that a “Flat on one side wheel” makes, but to me, it’s not only unnerving, but it frightens children too. Today I’ve not only selected a cart with a flat hard rubber wheel, but the right front wheel spins around and around while rolling, plus the cart pulls to the left. I look back at the entrance, thinking I would try to swap the cart for a better one, but the 40 or 50 Martens jousting for carts terrified me more that the cart I had. I truly wish I had BJ’s courage when I come to this place, but alas, it’s not to be.

So while clanking down the aisles, bumping into the carts on the left side, getting hard looks from mothers with crying kids, I come to two ladies, (that are wider than their carts), talking over their screaming brats and blocking the aisle. I stand there trying to look pleasant waiting for one or both of them to realize that I needed by, but that was not happening. I could feel the horns growing out of my head, but then I realized how much of a coward, a non-confrontational type, that I am. So I cowardly turn around and go down another aisle.

Store aisles are not for socializing. That is an uncivilized cultural anomaly and when you add the hated cart or carts to that along with their snotty nose brats, you create a situation in which I truly wish I was not such a coward, and could just crash through them, saying as I do so that, “You are in my way ladies, move over and wipe that kids snotty nose while you are at it, I’m coming through.”

I only go shopping when I have to get something. To me it is a necessary task and I want to do it with speed and efficiency. Shopping aisles are for people like me, to find what they I need, throw it into that “thing” called a cart and rush to the checkout counter, clanging all the way, and pay for it. Those aisles are not the village square where you congregate and gossip, while sipping your 32oz. sugar drinks, all the while blocking the aisles for real customers like me. Yeah, you know who you are.

After paying for my goods, I race to my truck so I can rid myself of that left turning, clanging, front wheel spinning cart, only to find that several other carts have broke loose from the corral and had congregated around my truck. That had to be the case, because no self respecting person would just turn his cart loose on its own in that parking lot, with the chance of them banging a car or two. Surly that didn’t happen. Who would ditch their cart rather than walk 5 feet and corral it? Tell me that you are not that thoughtless or lazy. Well, I may be wrong about that, because at any given time of day at Wal-Mart, you will find about a hundred carts roaming loose around the parking lot bumping into vehicles. If the carts were just breaking loose, then Wal-Mart would have found a way to keep them corralled. No, I suspect it is people like those two ladies that block the aisle. Anyone that inconsiderate would not stop at leaving their cart where it stopped.

Just saying…