I was watching a special on Bill Withers (he wrote and sang “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean on Me” and other great songs) last night and he said a lot of cool things on the special. One thing he said really describes my childhood journey from town to town. It was this “If you seek greatness, you gotta go through a whole lot of “ALRIGHT” to get there and so you got to enjoy alright and be OK with alright… cause only a few reach greatness”.

That’s not an exact quote, but its close, and he was right and Clarksville, TN was ALRIGHT, and I enjoyed it for the most part. Barksdale School was not as fun as it looked with its pool and modern round shapes and giant play fields. Can you imagine not remembering a person’s name you went to school with in the 3rd, 4th and 5th grades? I cannot recall a school mate’s name and definitely don’t know who my teachers were. I do remember not enjoying it and feeling so happy if I got to see LuAnne at lunch. LuAnne always fit in. She was in the 5th grade. I was in the 3rd.

Outside of school, Clarksville was way cool to me. The first and best thing was the neighborhood baseball sandlot. It had a back stop with chicken wire and three creosote treated round wood poles that held it divided the teams. The infield was worn to the dirt and the bases were crude and ever changing pieces of 2×6 or bags or somebody’s shirt.

I found out real quick that if you wanted to play ball on Saturday, you had to get up early and be at the field at 7 AM; some of the guys would get there even earlier. I was a new kid in town, just in the third grade and too little to play with the Saturday crew. They were good ball players, some in high school, some junior high, some were squirt elementary kids like me.

At 7 AM, the team pickings began and if I got picked it was last and early on I was “locked out” cause I was to little and could get hurt, they said. So I’d watch or sometimes let use my shirt for second base. But boy did I want to play and so I practiced with a ball and a bat a lot; hitting a tennis ball against the house and then throw the “super ball” against our brick wall and catch it with my baseball glove from all angles and jumping high, trying not to let the ball get by me. And my across the street neighbor (don’t remember his name) was cool to me. He was a year or two older, but he played pitcher for me in his back yard and my hitting improved greatly and by 4th grade, I was able to get in on Saturday sandlot games and I always got up for 7 AM pickings just to see those big boys talked and joked and ran the ballgame.

Their rules were unquestionable and the one I remember is: If you ain’t here at 7, you are “locked out”, so I was there at 7 without Momma waking me up, on a day we didn’t have to get up early for school… I’d get up.

Everywhere I went in the neighborhood was on my bike. This was the age of banana seats and high handle bars, spider bikes and Honda 65s, ball cards were usually in the back spokes and our first fortunes were wasted on the ball cards that made our bikes sound like a motorcycle… my dream bike was a motorcycle.

Super balls and Orby’s were popular new tech toys and the skating rink/putt putt center was a treasured Winter, Spring and Fall destination. LuAnne and I would walk with our skates over our shoulder down to the skating rink for the Saturday all day special. We got a weekly allowance and if we went skating, it came out of our allowance, but we went anyway.

There I broke my arm in group races trying to impress the girls of my life. These skating rink races were organized by the owners and we would all stand on the toes and stoppers of the skates, crouched with head up and arms cocked for the sound of ready, set, go… and 20 to 30 kids would take off running on the tip toes of their skates, arms and legs going at top speed and take- off- group- wrecks would happen. I got tangled up in one of those and broke my arm, which everyone said was ok except me and my arm. A day or two later when I was taken to xrays and casting to set my broken arm did the others agree with me

The skating rink was fun, but so was the neighborhood. We had fort wars with other kids, tearing each other’s forts down; we played in the woods where I accidentally caught the neighborhood on fire with firecrackers and green toy plastic mini soldiers. I say I did that because I was the one that took the blame. We did it and I was part of we, so I got punished and gained respect of my older friends for not “getting them in trouble” for their part – supplying the fires and cigarettes.

The milk man came to the house every day or so and we would leave milk jugs on the porch and if you needed two milks, you left two empty jugs. The milk man left eggs and other items to and I see why they used to say “you look like the milk man” to talk bad about someone’s mom.

I did have one or two friends that came to my house and an overweight kid from the corner house would come in and always go to the stove first to see what was left in the stove skillet and get a piece of bacon or sausage and eat it before he would say hi. Momma used to get tickled telling a story about one time he picked up something that was bad tasting to him and the face he made prior to spitting it out. He came over a lot to avoid the fat boy hazing.

I broke my tail bone in Clarksville showing a neighbor how to do a cannonball from our picnic table. I had planned to jump off, hold my knees a second and let go and land on my feet. Well, a second was too long and I landed on my butt, still balled up holding my knees, and I cried awhile, after I got my breath back that I knocked way out of me.

Judie had a sandbox and I played with trucks and such all day some days. Our backyard was bordered on one side with an old fence line that had honeysuckle vines and smaller trees and beyond that no houses were yet built for a hundred yards or so. A lot of woods and adventure and growing up went on in Clarksville. A big part of my growing up involved my first stand off with Dad.

Momma had cooked brussel sprouts for supper and I hated them. We were told each night to eat two more of this or finish your veggies and you may be “excused” from the table. Well this night I asked to be excused and Dad said I had to eat my brussel sprouts first. I begged him to not make me but he insisted I eat them before I got up. Well about two hours past and I am still sitting there and so are some extremely cold brussel sprouts. Momma would come hug me and sweetly comfort me, always quietly encouraging me to just take one bite and she’d see if I could get up. After almost a lifetime of three hours, Momma and Dad started arguing over whether to let me get up and Momma went against Dad, on my behalf and I got up and Dad left the house mad, slamming the door and getting into his car and driving off.

I had never seen my parents “fight” or argue, but I did that night. I felt guilt and fear and was mad at my Dad for sometime over that night. I paid over and over for that rebellion against Dad’s command, with each new time I got in trouble; he got payback on my backside.

I was five years older than Judie so we never got real close until she grew up some.

Larry Harris and his family would have me over some weekends to spend the night and I loved to go there. They were rich and lived on a hill with a long paved winding drive that split horse pastures and lead to a modern mansion with marble in the foyer and the den being larger than our entire house. I was always in awe there. They had a barn and a creek and horses and we would go get in that creek every time I went there, even being told not to get wet, we did, accidentally. When I spent the night there we would play Rook and eat Kraft caramel squares and I got good at Rook. I loved horses and loved going to Larry Harris’ house.

I watched my first color TV in Clarksville at the across the street neighbor’s house, when Dad let me skip Sunday night church to watch Bonanza in color. The man of the house there liked “Black Label beer” and “Pabst Blue Ribbon” and it was in their fridge all the time. I had never seen beer in a family fridge until that night, and I naively thought my neighbor was one of those “AL KEY HALL LICKS”. He wasn’t, but being a preacher’s kid, that’s what I thought. I didn’t tell Dad cause I was afraid I wouldn’t get to go over there anymore.

Barksdale’s swimming pool was equipped with racing lane lines in black tile lines under the water on the pool floor and had three diving boards one a high dive… real high… and I loved it. Momma would take us swimming and we swam a lot.

I tried out for a form of Little League and Little League Baseball while in Clarksville and my Dad took me to that. Seeing I wasn’t going to get “drafted” that first year, he told the coach I would be a catcher because nobody wanted to be a catcher. The best player on each team pitched and usually real hard and fast and it was hot and all that gear had to be worn and every other pitch was wild, so the catcher was up and down and chasing the ball to the back stop, so I got a spot on the White Soxs. And I was a catcher from then on. Not a good one, early on, but a catcher nonetheless and on the team. Being “locked out” in the neighborhood and not making the team in Little League was something that helped our age group accept rejection and truly made me try harder and get better or face not playing. I got pretty good at baseball.

I listened to Elvis and The Beatles. Momma like Elvis and LuAnne had a Beatles record or two and we would play them on our console stereo that was wood encased with a lift top that usually was kept down with stuff that was pretty to Momma sitting on it.

We had a silver Christmas tree that sat in the living room front window with a color wheel that turned the tree blue, green and red as the disc of colors turned in front of a light bulb that shone on the tree.

I went to my first church camp from Clarksville at Montgomery Bell State Park and Dad preached at the biggest, prettiest church I had ever seen. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church there had old, tall trees and beautiful red roses that flanked the fellowship hall and a giant stained glass front window that formed the back drop of  Dad’s pulpit. It was in Clarksville where I went down front to be saved so Momma and Dad would quit asking me when I was going to go down front and be publicly pronounced saved.

It was not long before it was moving time again, this time to New Jersey where Dad would enroll in Princeton’s Theological College and earn his Masters.

Clarksville was ALRIGHT, bordering on great, except for school. I learned to enjoy alright as I moved from town to town. And I was never really conscious of another way to live. I had learned to “show out” for attention, I learned to fight and avoid fights, I learned even the perfect parents fuss and fight sometimes and I learned a lot about life, sex, rock and roll and religion.

I learned how far “too far” is on a bicycle and when testing Dad’s will. I learned what broken bones feel like way down in your stomach and I learned to hit and catch and throw a baseball pretty good. I learned Red Ball Jets ran faster and jumped higher than other tenny shoes and I learned how to take the fenders off my bike and turn the handle bars upside down.

And I learned I wanted a motorcycle bad. I saw Santa Claus and the wide world taking motor car vacations to the big church meeting.

Most of all, I learned how much I was loved by Momma. The night she risked her marriage for me never left my soul and it was the only time I ever saw my Dad leave the house after 10 PM unless it was to be with a dying or sick person. This time he was mad at me and Momma, and I can remember the strange feeling in our house that night and being scared I had made Daddy leave us all. Was it for good? I thought. And Momma said, “Come here and let me give you a hug honey, it will be alright. It’s not your fault.”

Some years later, I found out the real reason they fought and he left and it wasn’t my fault. She had put her “foot down” about something else and soon we moved, not a second too early for Momma.

It was 1967 and I was packed to move to New Jersey and a trying, yet valuable year or so in my younger life. I can remember dad packing the Coleman into the trunk, stocked for the long drive to our new house that Momma would make into a home. And like that, we left Clarksville behind, never going back to visit those we left. Momma had her reasons and Daddy had his calling and we moved on.

I can still see that Rambler Momma had as our second car and that neighborhood baseball field and Little Joe and Hoss riding into my world in color on the TV … it was amazing, colored TV pictures… I couldn’t believe it but it was… and some 2 to 3 years later we would own one of those color TVs Dad would buy one on the credit in Milan…that’s about when I made it through the ALRIGHT part of my life into the GREAT! Milan!… but first Hightstown, New Jersey and new “friends” and a new school and more hell… especially for me and Judie… tell you why next time I write in the Cookbook of Life.

Clarksville was alright…not great…kinda like this entry…just sayin…It’s all right 2 b just alright.

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