I can remember seeing our little tan brick house with carport for the first time. I was excited, as we slowly drove down the street and up the drive into my new home.  The back yard was big and an apple tree stood waiting for me beside the drive. I was in heaven, I thought.

Hohenwald was the picture of Southern small town. And all my memories of Hohenwald are good… very good. I fit in with my classmates – their pants were bought a size or two too big too, as to allow for growth – falling down and rolled up on each leg, usually that bulky double roll. A well rounded ball cap and red ball jet high top “tenny” shoes made me “run faster and jump higher”.

I went to the first grade in Hohenwald and the second. Some very profound, never gonna forget them, events happened to me in each grade. The most notable to you would be the assassination of John F. Kennedy. That was a stone cold moment when the announcement came over the school intercom system and a bunch of kids faces went limp and then to fear. If you did not live in the era of JFK, one cannot possibly understand the chaos this caused in mind and “how could this happen to our President”. My Dad loved Kennedy for his stance on Civil Rights and how he cracked the religious barrier for the Presidency…. Kennedy was Catholic, and in the 50’s, rednecks and bigots weren’t gonna put up with no non-Protestant President. And did I mention Daddy was, and is, a Democrat?

Just the other day, I asked Dad what was wrong with America right now and he said without looking up from his dinner salad, “the Republicans.” Some things never change; he was a Democrat back then and still one today.

So, the news of John F. Kennedy getting shot was traumatic, as were the bomb drills that came after his death. I also got my small pox shot that year and wore around a plastic bubble taped to my arm with a big ole gnarly scab under it that I wanted to get at and scratch. You know what I mean? It kinda itched and tingled, and it was right there on my shoulder in that plastic dome waitin on me, tempting me to throw that sissy plastic thang away. And I did.

On a sadder note, while in the first grade, we had a class mate get run over and killed by the school bus. I don’t remember his name, but he had walked around the front of the bus and dropped his pencils. As he leaned down to pick up his new pencils, the big fat kind, the bus started going and he died.

Some days before in class, I had “traded” pencils with him because mine were short and he had several new long ones. He was not happy with our trade, but I bullied him into it. That act has never been fully forgiven by me and I literally felt responsible for this young boy’s death. I was scared at night and I had a pattern of dreams for years to come of a pencil tip on a clean piece of paper and the dream would start with flowing, slow curving lines created by this pencil tip. But as the dream went on, the happy feeling that came with the slow, nearly musical strokes of the pencil tip went away, replaced by a very hard scribbling of wide zigzagging lines that made anxiety and displeasure fill my young body and I would awaken and cry or cry out.

I probably owe my personality more to this one bully action, than any other action I took in my young life. I came to grips with the facts of this life changing event, and my Dad convinced me and my Momma assured me I was not the cause of this death. But this death was the cause of much of my compassion for others and my despise of bullies. This event began my lifelong battle with bullies. Don’t freak out about this as I did at first. I have since learned about “guilt and the sense of guilt”. Many of us unhealthily carry a sense of guilt with us constantly, yet we are not guilty. I have learned to grow from my sense of guilt then replace that feeling with closure and grace. The sense of guilt will beat you up if you let it… even when you are not guilty of anything. Rid yourself of guilt by accepting the truth. I did.

Hohenwald was bicycling to town or the neighborhood grocery for penny candy, it was climbing trees and eating apples and mulberries all day, it was BB gun “get in trouble for shooting windows” and any Robin or Mockingbird, it was when I met John Tucker the coach and Johnny Tucker the son, it was where after school we went to the pie factory in the school parking lot for two fried pies a day old for a nickel.

We hiked in the Meriwether Lewis Park, me and Bill Grimes, and he took raw potatoes as his snack… me? I had peanut butter and jelly samwiches. Johnny Tucker lived across the street and down the road a house or two and we played a lot of ball and I was at the Tuckers a lot. Johnny could draw cars real good and that was so cool to me. We competed daily in all things and he beat me constantly. I learned a lot from Johnny. Even though he was superior to me in the things we played, he was always nice to me… always. John Tucker was the high school football coach and as a hobby at that time, built beautiful remote control airplanes and flew them to my amazement. Coach Tucker would let me watch as he worked and painted on his planes. Mrs. Nancy was my second mom in Hohenwald and she had a bunch of kids of her own but she handled us all with a smile and usually a baby in her arms breast feeding. We became life long friends with the Tuckers. Johnny Tucker and Bill Grimes are the only two names I remember that were childhood friends.

I do remember a couple of real cool men of the church though. One was Claude Ricketts. He was a banker and took all of us kids to the Dairy Dip after night church and we often ate Sunday lunch at the Rickett’s house and he would lay with his hands behind his head after lunch and coins would fall from his pockets, into the cracks of the cushions on the couch. Then he would get up and tell us if we cleaned out from under the couch cushions for him we could keep what coins we found. He bought me a lot of bubble gum baseball card packs with that change treasure I was given.

The other church man I remember was Mr. Dardin and his girls. I thought the girls were cute but I loved their Dad’s bird egg collection. He had thousands, it seemed, in display cases in his house. I wonder how one man could get so many kinds of bird eggs from ostrich to sparrow and I wonder what happened to that fabulous collection.

Hohenwald was a real adventure for little ole me. It was there I smoked my first pack of cigarettes and my first grapevine. I built my first club house fort and got my first two stitched scars. And I ventured into the world of what goes on in a barn when fifth graders have a willing fourth grade girl and first and second graders to stand guard at the doors. I was a guard. Through the cracks of those planks, my eyes were opened and needless to say I got an early start in the business of living.

In Hohenwald, I placed in punt, pass and kick and that was big for me. I hit one of my sisters accidentally in the head during my back swing with one of Dad’s “do not use” golf clubs, I got stung by 20 something hornets. I was climbing an apple tree some 200 yards from our house and as I neared the top where three pretty yellow and reddish apples hung, the hornets filed out of their giant nest and stung me out of that tree and escorted me home, some riding in my pants and others in my soon discarded shirt.

A rock fight with the neighbors across the street and a bolt from the bottom of the school merry-go-round awarded me with head scars and stitches. Chicken pox scars added to my already gnarly crew cut head.

I remember Hohenwald as being my playground. My bicycle took me where ever I desired, after I asked Momma, and the feeling of freedom and adventure was a daily reality.

I used to love to go next door to a very old couple’s house. They had the biggest wood pile I had ever seen. The old man made me rubber band guns out of wood, a clothes pin and a piece of old bicycle inner tube. And he was nice to me and we enjoyed each other’s company. His wife was very old too and she let me help her “burn the yard off”. And they heated with a wood stove and used a ringer washer to wash clothes. I would go inside and feel that warm wood stove heat and lay on their feather bed that was in the same room as the wood heater and the sitting chairs.

My Dad would soon take his calling and family to Clarksville, TN and that would create a culture shock soon to be experienced. But up until then, Momma took us to the pool where she would sunbath and read and we would swim and drink Sun Drops and eat a Zero bar and be screaming for “one more minute, Mom, please” when it was time to go.

Momma would get tickled at her self and tell these stories to others on herself. One of her favorites came from Hohenwald when one night I had vomited in the floor and LuAnne called for Momma to come there. Momma came running into the hall and slipped, in the vomit, her feet went up in the air, and she fell back into the vomit and so there we were crying, screaming and laughing. She was a great Mom and made things light and fun. I am not sure who vomitted 1st but I think we all did before this scene unfolded completely.

I still drive by our old house on occasion and smile to myself about the fun I had in Hohenwald. And I will never forget the day Kennedy died or the sense of guilt I had from my “pencil trade”. My experience in small town Tennessee was a gift I will treasure, just as I treasured those coins found in Claude Ricketts couch. I was rich then and richer now because of Hohenwald. Thanks small town Tennessee.