Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Ramblin about my Scout Camp

Ah, Camp Tallaha.

Chiggers and ticks, the coldest dang spring-fed pool where I had to spend hours a day in lifeguard training, the only hot shower located by that spring fed wonder and by the time you got back to your campsite, you had sweated away your cleanliness.

Campfires songs, hundreds of skits (many recycled), kids from around the entire Mississippi Delta area — the Delta Area Council and Koi Hatachie Lodge 345 — yeah, I know Tallaha, I spent many summers attending and working at Camp Tallaha in the late 70s and early 80s.

Lashing bridges and lookout towers in our Commissioner sites, training young minds in the nuances of first aid and camping and cooking. Re-telling stories on our “Wilderness Survival” campouts once a week of people somewhere burning poison ivy and dying from breathing the smoke. Taking our nights off and heading to the Sonic in Charleston. Getting to know campers early in the week to scout out any “hot” big sisters who might come to the Friday night family campfire.

Traversing up suicide hill to get to the (the old) lake or rowing and canoing, finding those blue racer snakes, even found and killed and cooked a rattlesnake one summer, hitting the “canteen” after campfires for a coke and snack or to purchase a moccasin kit or basket weaving kit for your merit badge class. Watching kids become men, watching men swell with pride as their interest and hours molded these campers into the hope of tomorrow.

I haven’t been to Tallaha since the early 80s, when I moved away, but kept in touch through friends and family who kept the Tallaha torch lit with their contribution to delta area scouting. Always wanted to make it back and experience the newest faces seeing the traditions of my youth. Though I didn’t hear about the 75th anniversary, I would of killed to of been there and now my heart is saddened by the passing of this grand old campground. It’s not fancy, it’s not supposed to be.

Phrases like “don’t forget your buddy tag” and “who’s getting tapped out?” and “you dancing old style this week” all echo through my head as I remember my time in Tallahatchie county. Wet spring weekends and late summer memories of both opening and closing the camp each year, folding tents, clearing some land, cleaning and stacking and making the quartermaster hut glisten and shine.

Names and faces I haven’t seen in years flood my mind, as I remember nights as a staff person thinking of new ways to entertain the campers.

Skits like the pencil seller, the bee and the honey, the enlarging machine and many more are sketched in my mind and old notebooks I’ve carried for years as well as songs like Way Down Yonder in the Paw Paw Patch, The Titanic, German Orchestra, Sipping Cider and many more bring a smile as the memory floods each corner of my brain.

Waking up at 2 AM in the midst of a torrential downpour to go check campsites for trouble and have one of your buddies ask you if just saw the latest Halloween movie that eerily resembles your trek through the woods at the moment. Staff versus Scoutmaster volleyball games, box hockey and hours of tetherball (got to get the right angle headed upwards) are all tightly woven into my Tallaha grain.

The weekly pool events, the diving competition, swim meets and the ever hilarious ‘greased watermelon’ make me grin as I remember faded photographs of a skinny little boy slowly becoming a man through the sweat and determination of scores of men and women to keep this little hamlet in the hills alive.

Places like Tallaha aren’t supposed to die. And it shouldn’t be preserved just to be preserved, it’s a Scout camp, it’s my scout camp and my brothers and my friends and a few so-called enemies. But its ours. It belongs to everyone who ever tied a square not or hiked its backroads to meet the requirements of Orienteering, or any kid who came in as a boy and left closer to being a man. Its Camp Tallaha, a Boy Scout camp that helps make men.

That’s my Camp Tallaha. It may leave, but it will never die, hundreds of boys who became men will keep it alive, from Mississippi to California to Tennessee to Michigan, that’s how far I’ve taken that I learned in those hills of Tallahatchie county. Square knots and cooking skills, skits and songs — I’ve collected them all and shared them around the nation.

So, I guess its time to say thank you, Camp Tallaha and the hundreds or thousands of people who made it everything that it is. You helped make me what I am today. Today, I smile and cry, Tallaha is my friend, home away from home, a long lost but not forgotten special place. The torch may be extinguished in Tallahatchie county, but thousands more are being lit around the nation as the spirit of Tallaha will never fade.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Sharpova Ramblin'

The man fraternity is standing and applauding today. We have a new hero. His name hasn’t been given, but his efforts have hit the evening news and his exploit is cheered by all of us who understand.

An 18-year old Russian male just wanted a date with the girl of his dreams. It just so happens that girl is a world-class tennis player who recently won Wimbledon and is being compared to every other sports and modeling hottie in the world. Now many folks will scoff and chide this young man for his “lack of sense” and “didn’t he know better” try at getting past security at a major tennis event to meet her. But I know, men across the country, heck, even the world are standing up and cheering this young man.

How many of us have Maria Sharapova’s in our lives? That’s a lot of hands in the air. Mine is too. Both of mine.

It was the summer of 1983. After a full-year at the University of Mississippi, the training grounds for future Miss Americas, I spent the summer taking a few classes with a friend of mine at a smaller school. Our first week of being roomies, I thought I would impress him with my Ole Miss yearbook. I started pointing out beauties and saying I had met this one and had a class with that one and had said hi to this one when Bubba (yes, his name is Bubba and he actually does high end computer stuff with EDS) says to me, “How many of these women have you asked out?”

I stammered out a very weak, “none” and tried to show him some more. Bubba politely smiled and took my yearbook and closed it. He looked at me and said, “Just talk to me about the ones you’ve actually asked out.”
Our conversation ended and we went into some other useless drivel that 19-year old boys at summer school talk about, probably when the Pizza Hut buffet started or something like that.

Now this conversation didn’t break my spirit but energized me. I learned that “no” wouldn’t kill me, especially if it came out of the mouth of a drop dead gorgeous co-ed in training for Miss America. I finished that summer dating two or three local girls on the “hot” category and headed back to Ole Miss to conquer my Sharapovas. Needless to say, I heard enough “no’s” to last me a lifetime from these gals. They didn’t deter me, but rather spurred me on, gathering courage to try. I had plenty of Sharapovas from high school and that first year of college, I didn’t need anymore.

The young lad had pure intentions to meet Miss Sharapova, when security stopped him, he had two pieces of paper and a pen. The paper allegedly had his phone number and a friend's who was with him in the stands and the invitation to a Russian restaurant in the area for their date. Supposedly, the young Russian hadn’t heard about the Monica Seles incident, he was probably 7 or 8 at the time it happened and I’m sure growing up in Russia it wasn’t the main topic in the beet patch or bread line that day.

Now I’m not condoning every man to jump a fence at a major sporting event to meet a superstar and ask for a date, but if there’s a woman in your life or work world that you dream of meeting and asking out, just do it. No doesn’t hurt, much, and certainly won’t kill you. It might get you banned for life from major sporting events and arrested if tried twice. So show enthusiasm and pick your spot. Close the yearbook of dream girls and pick up the phone.

As Bubba said, “talk to me after you ask ‘em out.” I’d like to hear your story.

Friday, September 17, 2004


Sept. 23, 2004

All drivers are not created equal. That should be in the constitution. Somewhere in the amendments since it didn’t make the rough draft. I grew up in the South – Mississippi. Where you learn to drive the old fashioned way. Behind the wheel of a tractor. Now my education started young as I mowed yards or not yards really. I mowed acres. Thank goodness I had a riding lawn mower. It only took five hours to do my grandfather’s yard and another two to do my dad’s. Then another hour to do the ditch bank that connected our houses a little over a quarter mile apart. Somewhere close to 10 acres of mowing, once a week.

So you learn how to drive small John Deere tractors like the lawn mower and move up. The one drawback to mowing so much once a week on a loud lawn mower is that you tend to go deaf and lose feeling in one of your feet from the vibration, but other than that the five bucks my grandfather gave me usually brought the sensation back to my hands. So you learn how to drive, straight long lines or how to make big sweeping circles around Magnolia trees and other large objects in the yard.

Now when you hit the ninth grade back then, you had a special class called Drivers Education taught by the football coach. Now some schools used their basketball or track coach for this class but our coach was our coach, he coached everything and for some reason the school board thought he was expendable to be put in the same car with 14 year-old former lawn mower drivers. My first experience behind the driver’s ed wheel was on highway 82. A nice old, two-lane highway that will take you to Mexico if you have enough gas or north to places like Alabama. Anyway, a large truck was coming in his lane and I slowly eased over and two wheels were off the pavement and on the shoulder. Coach immediately spoke up, "Stowers!” Was all he excitedly said. “Just giving him plenty of room, coach,” I replied. Well, after a few more classes I learned they don’t need as much room as I thought and I started keeping all four wheels on the pavement. Now coach was one for a few laughs himself. We had four students in the car and when we would pull over to change, he would inevitably put his foot on the passenger/coach side brake and hold it down. The new driver would buckle up and coach would say go and they pushed down the accelerator and nothing happened. With a straight face coach would say, "Did you break the driver’s ed car?” which usually led the panicked student to push or jam the accelerator down a bit further than normal. Coach would then ease his foot off the brake the car would tear out leaving a terrified driver and four amused passengers. The funniest part is that the secret was kept until the whole class had been through this initiation of sorts. So that’s where I learned to drive.

So I took this knowledge with me to the hinterlands of America in my life’s journey. First to Tennessee. Now in Nashville and other southern states I’m sure, you can tell the tractor drivers from the rest of the population. They drive slowly and purposely in one lane. It could be the right, left or middle but they stay there. Now most of them usually are in the lane farthest away from the exit they need, maybe they are inspecting the mowing prowess of the state highway crews. And when they read the last exit sign they immediately head toward the exit, across all lanes, with no regard for other “mowers” on the interstate. As a mower thinks, “there are no other mowers on the road, so I have all rights at all times.” Stay far behind or far ahead of the “mower” drivers. They also may stop suddenly to clear debris from the road so they don’t mow it.

From Nashville I moved to California where speed limits are posted but not adhered to. You are either driving zero or close to 100. Everyone in California has a car or two and they take both of them wherever they go. And Southern Californians freak out with weather elements. No side street is safe during rain as everyone exits the interstate and uses side roads. You can’t get to the interstate, so my five mile commute took 45 minutes. Entrance ramps in California are like rocket launches. You start down it and look to the interstate to see how fast everyone is going, usually close to 100, but on most entrance ramps they have installed stoplights. Geez, you want me to drag race my way onto the 405 only to come to a screeching halt within a mile because everyone is rubbernecking at a tire change. To top it all off, I once got a speeding ticket and had to go to driving school, again. This time my $220 ticket was reduced to $180 with no points and I had to listen to a comedian talk about driving all day. I haven’t’ seen him on TV or any reality series, so I assume he’s a hit at the driving school. Oh, and my insurance increased when I moved to Socal. My agent says there are “more expensive cars to run into here.”

From California to Indiana. Backwoods hoosiers. Prefer not to relive time spent in this state. No wrecks, no tickets but driving in adverse weather. Then I moved to driving hell. Michigan. This state is known for making cars and everyone drives like every car is expendable. The “indestructible drivers” I call them. My first entrance into Detroit city limits and I’m forced off the road and down and exit by some jerk who wouldn’t release his portion of the road to me. So I ended up lost in the middle of the night in downtown Detroit. Not where a young, white country boy should be hanging out at midnight. Weaving my way back to the interstate I finally made my destination. That one encounter should of informed me that I was making a bad decision to move here. More were to come.
Being run off the road is a walk in the park when compared to being run over at a stoplight. Upon reading all of the witness’s police reports which were in great detail and many paragraphs such as “the Ford F-150 veered out of his lane and charged the changing signal as the hapless Honda began its left hand turn” and continued. Then I read my report to the policeman. “A big Ford truck ran over me at a stoplight.”
Good thing I wasn’t mowing, I guess, but I would of helped to of had coach there screaming “Stowers!” But I survived with eight staples and windshield glass imbedded in my head and some pocket change from the insurance company to cover the loss of my 1982 Honda with 240,000 miles on it. I think I bought a fancy cup of coffee with it and still couldn’t cover the tip.

So when it comes to driving, I long for the days of large circles in my grandfather’s yard where the only problems were the magnolia trees and what to spend my five bucks on.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


June 17, 2004

Ramblin’, ramblin’ round, I’m a ramblin’ guy…..

To quote on of my favorite southern “poets”, Alan Jackson, “where I come from it’s cornbread and chicken,” yes, it is, Alan — and leftovers. Everybody’s got some, whether they’re fried up or not. But where the heck do they go? Gotta put ‘em in something and get ‘em in the fridge or freezer.

Which brings me to my topic du jour. Tupperware. Everybody’s got some of that too, no matter where you come from and they get filled with cornbread and chicken and hot tamales and pizza spaghetti (never had any, but I hear it’s mighty tasty), or just plug in your own regional favorite leftover. So, we all reach for the best size Tupperware container amongst the ever-growing throng of plastic dishware hiding in our cabinets. Which brings up another pet peeve, every time I open that cabinet, half of everything falls out, then I throw it back in and slam the door quickly only to remember why I opened it in the first place. Gotta save some leftovers. So it’s lather, rinse, repeat on the falling out and slamming until I find what I think is the right combination of lid and bowl.

Now, some ingenious engineer hidden deep within the confines of Tupperware headquarters is about to start worrying and sweating. I’ve figured him out. With some help from my crack-pot staff of research assistants, the Tupperware cult is about to be exposed, broken open and put back together in a sensible manner. But please, no burping.

You see, this ingenious, element-chart reading, horn-rimmed glasses, pocket-protector wearing scientist came up with an idea a long time ago. Make the Tupperware lids out of a different material than the actual bowl or container it matches. But here’s the catch, make that lid material susceptible to heat. So when it gets hot, it shrinks. It doesn't’t take much heat, just a little and whala, you’ve got a pantry full of Tupperware bowls and lids that are just a teeny tiny bit too little and refuse to align and ever be burped again. So what does that make you do? Buy more Tupperware of course. A billion-dollar scam I’ve uncovered, hope I don’t get Hoffa’d and end up missing but keep an eye out for me in someone’s freezer in a misfitting Tupperware container.

But my crack-pot staff has come up with a remedy for this situation. It won’t help your leftovers, but it will help your love life. So invest in some good freezer bags with a Ziploc seal for your extra food and get ready for the Tupperware solution to love.

Guys, take all of your bowls and throw them away. They all have chili and spaghetti stains and came from your mom’s abundance of Tupperware anyway. Now gather your lids, or maybe just your favorite one, and head to the nearest bar. Ladies, take all of these misfitting lids and dump them in the trash. They probably have freezer tape on them with notes like “pinto beans 3/94” and “property of Thad. Herring” or something. Now gather all those bowls, or maybe just one, your favorite one, and head down to that same meeting place. Once you are there, just find the person whose lid fits your bowl or vice versa. Enough of those dimly lit, alcohol-hazed, meeting adventures. Now you can just meet the man or woman of your dreams and have at least one container that actually fits together. You can put your wedding cake in it or some pizza spaghetti and live happily ever after. That is until you get invited to another Tupperware party.