Leaving New Jersey and moving to Milan was a blur to me. I don’t remember the drive or the moving van or anything about the journey across country that lead me to Liberty St., Milan, TN. I do remember the thing I noticed first as we got out of the car, was the trees. Tall pecan trees were all over the place and a walnut tree was dwarfed by three big pecan trees in our back yard. Around front stood a giant magnolia and I would learn to disdain each of these trees before my days in Milan were through. Why, you ask? Well let me tell you why, I had 2 mow the yard and the Magnolia dropped leaves and cones in the summer and the pecans and the walnut dropped nuts all fall and I had to pick um up…constantly it seemed.

The house was brick but older and was situated on a corner along side stately mansions and older upscale houses and across the street a lower level of housing lined the street; neat older two bedrooms or larger. A good place to be it looked to me. And in the house we went. Bedroom picking time and I got a section that was a breezeway from the parking area, overlooking what would be Momma’s rose garden. Brick walls and a sliding glass door, a twin bed, maybe a dresser, a set of dumb bell weights and I was home …. Again. Momma could make a new home quickly from each house we moved too.

I prayed a lot back in those days cause I had troubles and a lot of uncertainty that lead to fears. So I prayed and lifted weights and laid down in Tennessee happily fearful of what my life in this town would be like, and went to sleep after a lot of noise hearing and light watching. It was in Milan that I first felt the real presence of the Lord and He stayed with me close and saved me from many bad times and things. Being I was part of Gods plan for my Daddy’s life, He took care of me as his plan for my life unfolded.

The first day in a new town is always an adventure and it was so with me. After breakfast, I would search out the surroundings, go to the “edges” with bike and ball glove, looking for a pick up game lot, the closest store, the biggest house, the thickest woods, the closest school, and make my way back home. Sometimes I’d meet people, sometimes I didn’t. I couldn’t find a ball field because they were on the other side of the highway and for day one, the highway was the “edge.”

Like every other place except New Jersey, I met my first friends at church. It was easy to meet kids your age and be befriended at church, especially in Milan. I was old enough to appreciate how nice everyone was to me. My dad preached at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church downtown Milan. It was an older facility but the folks that gathered there were solid gold, most of um.

My first friendship from church was with Herbert Williams, one of Dr. Phil Williams children and I am forever grateful for this family’s examples of how to live happily as family and friends. I would spend countless hours at Dr. Phil’s house, cabin, rec room, dark room, wood shop, back yard, and driveway playing basketball. It was always ok with Dad if I stayed with the Williams. And I stayed over there a lot, happily.

Little League Baseball tryouts were just a few days away from my landing in Milan and there I met my team mates on Holt and Holt. Milan held a draft to pick new comers in the league each year and most were younger than me. My mind traveled back to my days in Clarksville when the older guys would pick teams, and after each team had nine, the game was locked. I had been locked out before, but not this time. I was drafted first by Holt and Holt, and batted behind Randy Wheeler, and caught behind the plate. I loved Milan’s Little League system. If you went undrafted and a lot of young newcomers went undrafted, there was a second league, “the minors”, where the undrafted played and worked on their skills. Milan, as a people, and especially in their sports, are very competitive and therefore the kids had a higher than average skill level than I had seen in my age group in other towns. I had to work hard from the very start, but that was a good thang. That first year our little league team won the league and I made All Stars and I hit a bunch of home runs and I was a proud little boy. My play on the field gained me friends and respect quicker than I had ever experienced. And some girls started noticing the new kid in town too, which was cool but awkwardly tongue tying for me at the time. I had yet learned to flirt but once I decided to learn how, I studied and practiced it “all the time”, so I got good at that too.

Summer church camp was always a great week and Camp Clark Williamson was nearby. I made life long friends at church camp from all over West Tennessee and the Americas, so my first summer in Milan was undisturbed by bullies or loneliness. I was happy and I liked Milan.

The summers always fly by and included a family vacation and this summer was great.

My first days at school were memorable. I went to Park Avenue and it was a very nice school that had a ball field and hooked on to a tennis court and the football stadium. Many kids rode their bike to school and some 7th graders even had motorcycles they rode to school. How cool was that and from that moment on I was on a quest for my own motorcycle with a never ending request for one, and telling my Dad over and over who all had one and that I wanted nothing else but that …. A motorcycle, and I eventually got the first motorcycle Bob’s House of Honda sold – a cub 50 … not everything I dreamed of but a brand new motorcycle nonetheless and I was free to roam.

On day one, I was met in the school yard by Mike Raheyia. Mike was the first to let me know he was bad and would leave an initial ring “R” on my forehead right between my eyes if I crossed him and then he welcomed me to his world, without leaving a R on my forehead.

Classes in those days were always seated in alphabetical order so you sat by the same people in each class. Being a Barker, I was in the front with a lot of folks to my back and I could feel the eyes on my red crew cut head. Andy Arnold, Beverly Alexander, Linda Carlton, Tim Crocker, Daniel Ivory, Marty Irby, Hubert Clemmer, Donna Jewel Kevin McGuahey and David Mallard were aligned within talking distance in nearly every class, so I remember and all of them were soon friends. One day at lunch I put mustard in Linda Carltons beans and they made me eat them…yes they did and in stupid anger I said something that I was made apologize to the entire school for saying…I will not repeat it but I do remember it, forever.

David Mallard was my first school friend and I went to his house in Bradford and stayed the night a lot at first. It was great fun to romp in the country and explore, then at night his brothers would play music; all of them could play and sing really good. David played guitar and sang in my first wedding.

Everybody dressed in high fashion at Park Avenue and tight pants with cuffs… Beatles style… that let at least on inch of your socks show between the cuff and a pair of penny loafers. Proper socks matched the shirt color. I had none of these “cool clothes” at first but Momma got me dressed right before too long. The girls wore dresses and “mini skirts” …. Oh yes they did, with pantyhose … oh yes they did…. And from that moment on I began to think about sex, oh yes I did and for years I studied it constantly, while awake and asleep. These girls were gorgeous and I was gonna win me one someday, I hoped.

Park Ave. teachers I remember most were Coach Phillips and Mrs Edith. Coach Phillips was very stern with a flat top and he coached the football program at Park Avenue. He was known for his hard licks he passed out daily and I was on the receiving end of a few of those that were earned shooting paper clips with a rubber band. These projectiles would definitely put an eye out and we had a lot of fun with um, watching people jump in pain from the flying piece of metal. We deserved our ass whooping. Mrs Edith was a older large woman and I was one of her pets. She went to our church and she loved Cardinal baseball. I was lucky enough to go to the 1967 World Series game and watch Bob Gibson and crew beat Boston in the brand new Busch Stadium with my Uncle Max and Aunt Helen and my favorite cousin, Mark Alexander. She had me give a report in front of the class about my trip and she was the leader of the chess club that I participated in. She was a real piece of work and a fixture in Milan education for yrs, and I was lucky, I thought, that she liked me.

Football was king in Milan, but it was a baseball town too. Park Avenue football was limited to a bunch of practice led by Coach Phillips and one game. The Blue/Gold game. I was quarterback of my team and Mike Raheyia was quarterback of the other team. Terry Taylor was teamed with Marty Irby as our full back/tail back duo. This was the beginning of two relationships that grew in totally different directions as my high school days were lived out. Terry Taylor hated me and Irby and I became the best of friends. Terry was mean and big and a little crazy and Marty was small and red headed and funny and fun to be around. We lost the game when Tim Crocker took the ball out of either Terry or Kevins hand as he was making a long run for our team and went all the way back the other way with the ball for a touchdown that made the difference. Marty scored our only touchdown on 24 dive – his play and his jersey number. Tim Crocker was as fierce and competitive a person as God ever made and he was hard to beat at any sport or hunting adventure.

My motorcycle would soon expand my range and enjoyment. There was never a dull moment in Milan. Pre-motorcycle days we: Herbert, Hubert, Marty, Bill Harrison, Robert Mathis and others would ride our bikes through the Arsenal to the back roads and all the way to Atwood and back. We would run the “clay pits”. The clay pits was a series of gullies that cut their way through and up and around the landscape and eventually we had BB gun wars that landed Crocker in Dr Phil’s office with a BB lodged in his forehead right between his eyes. Dr Phil got on to us like a Daddy and advised us to use some eye protection next time we had war in the clay pits … and we did. We all went to Kerr’s and bought swimming masks and new CO2 cartridges for our new BB pistols and we played on. Summer spare time was spent at the Milan Golf and Country Club swimming and flirting.

Billy Warren Beasley eventually won my big sister’s eye and he was one of my heroes in Milan. I looked up to BW and he was so nice and polite and good to me and LuAnne and my Momma. Billy Warren and Momma talked a lot and he considered her his second Mom and she was the first person he would talk to about whatever problem his life had dealt him. His Dad was a car dealer, like my Dad used to be, and I made friends with all the car dealer’s sons in town. Marty Irby’s Daddy, “King James”, was a car dealer and Bill Harrison’s Dad was a car dealer, and Andy Arnold’s Dad had a car dealer license. All these Dads were good men and very good to me and their children. I looked up to these guys and for years all I wanted to be was a car dealer. In fact, after graduating, my Dad helped me apply to be approved to purchase the Pontiac dealership that was for sale in Milan. This was at the time when new owners of old dealerships were required to build a new car lot and show room and shop to get the dealership or it was awarded to a dealer already equipped with a new lot. To this day, I am convinced there is no easier way to make money in America, to make good money. And it still amazes me that some dealers must cheat you when they don’t have to succeed. I would have been a good car dealer… I think.

I was a smart kid; always made good grades and math was my strong suit. I can still multiply in my head and figure in general without pen or paper. So I goofed off a lot in school at Park Avenue. And life was good for me.

My house was added on to and our garage became our den and I was moved to a back bedroom with the window a/c that cooled Dad’s room and that side of the house. My room stayed like 60 degrees all summer and I got used to cold sheets and cold pillows and to this day I can not sleep if I am hot.

At that time in Milan, Park Avenue was part Junior High and part Elementary School and 9th graders, or freshmen, entered the High School building. Junior High football and Babe Ruth baseball were my joys, along with going to the William’s cabin on the lake, shooting Estes Rockets with Marty and swimming at the Country Club and girls made me a busy boy. I was made feel welcome by everyone, except Terry Taylor and I call Milan my “hometown” with pride.

Out of all the people that befriended me, I must give one special mention: John Cole. John went to our church and upon Dad’s encouragement I was privileged to become one of John Cole’s many friends. John could quote baseball stats like no other before him, and he loved wrestling. John lived on the golf course’s edge and was an avid Ham Radio enthusiasts, talking to his friends by their “handle name” all over the world. John was in our class some of the time and he was a joy to be around. Soon we talked daily and after I turned 16 and I could drive, I’d pick John up for wrestlin’ at the Jackson Coliseum and stop at Shoney’s after the match and talk to the wrestlers. John would call and it would go like this: “Hey Jay, you wanna go to Wrestling with me tonight? ToJo, Mad House and Jackie Fargo and Eddie Gilbert and Super Star Bill Dundee are gonna be there … Handsome Jimmy Valiant too.” John had shook each wrestler’s hand at ringside or in Shoney’s at the after match meeting place of the stars. I would always say yes and we would have a great time at wrestling. One day John called with this same request and I said I had a date that night, so I answered him “John, I can’t tonight. I have a date.” and he quickly said, “Aw, that’s alright Jay, I don’t mind, she can come too.” John always saw the bright side of things. I didn’t really have a date that night, I just didn’t think I felt up to a wrestling trip this Saturday night, but John was special and persuasive. Back in my Milan days John wouldn’t date and I asked him, “John, why don’t you get a date and we will go to the movie on a double date”. John pointed his finger at me, the way John does when he is serious and said “Jay, once you get to the show and pay to get them in, they want popcorn and coke, and they just keep on costing you.” he paused, “I go to the movies to watch the movie, not talk to a date.”

John is a great friend and I know he won’t mind me telling these sweet memories he gave me while I was in Milan. John is Autistic and wears thick – not that it matters – glasses and a giant smile. He walks with a purpose of joy and he brightened my every meeting with him. You know this kinda person, they light the room up when they enter it and I was lucky, very lucky, to have been befriended by John Cole and his family. John was and is a cool dude and he taught me a lot about living happily and joyfully and I will always treasure those “rasslin” trips. One of the last times I “went to see rasslin” with John, John met each wrestler as they entered ringside and they all shook his hand and knew him by name. We had front row ringside seats and I stood and admired my buddy and treasured the moment, because college was on the horizon and I knew these trips would no longer be for John and me. I swelled with pride as John reveled in the action and the intensity of the Coliseum. And after the match, I drove my Momma’s 1967 Cougar to Shoney’s for the after rasslin’ hand shakes and hellos with both the good and the bad wrestlers. On this particular night, we sat nearly an hour longer than the usual one hour wait for them to arrive. Disappointed I told John we had to leave; we had waited as long as we could for his heroes. We paid up and walked out to the car, only to find I had locked the keys inside. Within seconds, a long white Cadillac pulled up beside our car and four doors opened and out steps Tojo – Eddie Gilbert –Superstar Bill Dundee– Jackie Fargo – and Handsome Jimmy Valiant. John was so happy; not worrying one second about our car being locked up with no keys to get in, and John proceeds to have detailed conversation with them about the night’s match. I, meanwhile ask , “ Do any of ya’ll have a hanger? I locked my keys in my car.” Tojo in his robe, and funny wooden bottom shoes, without saying a word opens the trunk, straightens out a hanger, waddles over to my driver’s door, slides the wire hanger through the windows edge and pops my lock open in five seconds flat, and says “Next time I steal your car.” That is all he said and I said, “Thanks, I guess.”

John had a great ending to our locked car dilemma and I did too. And as I wrote this about Milan, it was John Cole, among many others, that made my heart smile and having moved a lot, I found Milan families to be the kindest, most welcoming, happiest bunch I had ever seen and it made me happy to be there. Milan is my Hometown….and LuAnne and Judy fit in as good as I did…..to be continued.