We were the sons of a father of girls, we Boy Scouts of Troop 336, we Shepherd’s Fold church kids, we school students who grew up wanting to be like “Mr. Bill.” He had a family of girls, but spent so much time with us boys that I often wondered if his daughters were jealous of us. We were certainly jealous of THEM, because we only got to spend time with Mr. Bill at Scout Meetings, at church, on campouts, at the dinner table (when the Reynolds’ visited the Barkers’ and vice-versa.) Now and then, he’d join us for a pickup ballgame at the home of his nephews (the McLary’s.) But Beth, Rhonda, Cathy, Mary and Laurie were with him every day. It wasn’t fair. He lived with his daughters and only saw his ever-changing cast of sons a few times a week.
True to the Scout motto, Mr. Bill was always prepared: he made every task a game and every lesson a funny story... ‘though sometimes we misinterpreted the moral of the story:
On a mid-winter campout, he told us about a dumb thing he had done as a kid--skinny-dipping in 30-degree weather. We said that was no big deal--anybody could do that. He told us to forget it--there'd be no swimming on this trip. A good Scout is obediant, but we were not good Scouts that night. Several of us slipped out of camp, took off all our clothes and jumped into the frigid creek. Rodney Jenkins and Glenn Talley collected our clothes and went back to camp to blow the whistle.
I remember hiding in the woods, freezing wet, listening as Mr. Bill, in that booming voice of his, called our names and told us to come on in. We ran around in the swamp, from tree to tree, bush to bush, trying to decide what to do. With our extremities in danger of freezing off, we finally decided on a frontal assault, broke cover and ran for our tents as other Scouts, fully clothed and sitting by a warm campfire, hooted, whistled and applauded. Mr. Bill pretended he didn't get a kick out of it. (Or maybe he wasn't pretending.) He didn't seem all that flattered that we had emulated him. We had broken the rules, so he sent us home to explain it to our parents.
bull, leader-of-everything, thirty-something Bill Barker being scolded by his old mother about how he handled his Scouts. Grammy Barker was one tough cookie.)
On the night of my high school graduation, Mr. Bill and his wife, the beautiful SeWilla took me and other seniors on our first cruise down
And one of the first things I did after I moved away was help organize a Boy Scout Troop.
You never think of giants and heroes dying, but one did today. R.I.P., Mr. Bill.
RUNAWAY (Another Mr. Bill story): http://reynoldswriter.blogspot.com/2010/12/runaway.html
3. The night we told her parents: ..Me, suddenly chicken-hearted, "Honest, ya'll, I never touched her." .Sherry held my hand and wrinkled her cute nose at me. "Yes, you did, you big liar!"."I'm going to throw up," said Mary Louise. (Sherry says this story is slightly exaggerated & I'm hurt that she thinks I would exaggerate. LOL)
4. The rumors: The common wisdom at our daddies' churches was that we wouldn't last six months together.
5. Moving on down the road: I got fired for asking for a raise two weeks before the wedding. We got married anyway and moved 500 miles away where I started auditioning for jobs and Sherry enrolled in high school.
6. Shy and scared: I heard a relative say of Mrs. Randy Reynolds "That girl is shy as a rabbit." Well, the rabbit became a tiger.
7. It happened so quickly; it seemed like we blinked our eyes and suddenly we had grandchildren.
by Randy Reynolds
At the 1960 St. Tammany Parish Fair, I lost all my money first thing in the morning at the shooting gallery and walked around hungry the rest of the day with the smell of corndogs in the air. Traumatized by hunger (no money, no food, no way home until the bus delivered me back to Lee Road late in the afternoon,) I promised myself I'd never again waste all my fair money before I even had a chance to eat a corndog.
Six years later,when I took Sherry to the fair, I ate two—mine and hers, (taking advantage of the fact that she was still too shy to eat in front of me.)
Later, on the Tilt-a-whirl, as she joyously screamed bloody murder and held onto me for dear life, my stomach rolled independently of centrifugal force and I gripped the safety rail in misery. (Lord, why did I eat that second corndog?)
When the Tilt-a-whirl stopped spinning, Sherry said, “Your face looks kind of green.”
I opened my mouth and responded, but not with words. Spewing up corndog, Co-Cola and souvenirs from meals gone by, I looked to her for sympathy before I died, but all I got was, “Be careful. Don’t get it on my shoes.”
When I was at my lowest, on my hands and knees, dry-heaving in the midway, she said, “It’s after eight. We better be getting home.”
I panicked. It wasn’t time to leave. Nine o’clock was her curfew and I had big plans in mind for this girl, this night... before the clock struck nine. I couldn’t take her home yet. I had to get her in a better mood so I could spring my trap. What could I…
My gaze fell upon the shooting gallery. I hated that shooting gallery for taking all my money in 1960. I had come back each year since, seeking revenge, but never got it. What made me think things would be different now? Nothing. But I needed more time with Sherry and so I said the first thing that came into my mind: “Let’s try the shooting gallery.”
“We really need to get going, Randy.”
I spat the last of the bile from my mouth and pointed to the wall of prizes. “I’ll win you that purple poodle.”
The purple poodle was the largest stuffed toy on the wall.
“Okay,” she said, matter-of-factly.
My bluff had been called. I could stand there and shoot in that rigged gallery forever and never win a prize; which would be more time with Sherry, but I’d be spending it making a fool of myself, getting ripped off again, like all the times before.
But miracles happen: Either Jesus came down and directed my shots or that carny was so distracted by the pretty girl at my side that he didn't do what he should have done to make me lose, and I won the purple poodle!
Sherry, whose belief in me was apparently (and unaccountably) unlimited, said, “I knew you could do it.”
We took the scenic route home from Covington to Robert by way of Mandeville, stopping on a strip of Lake Pontchartrain shoreline that, despite its lack of sand, we called “the beach.” We ran and played among limbs and tree trunks left over from Hurricane Betsy’s passage the year before. Stopping to catch my breath, I leaned against a fallen oak, reached out for her hand and said, “Will you marry me?”
“Me? You want me?” she said.
She’d seen me at my worst that night, throwing up the last corndogs I would ever eat. She’d heard and believed my outrageous promise to win the purple poodle, a valuable clue, if one was needed, about my personality. And now this rash (?) proposal …because I could no longer imagine life without her… Could she square all that with whatever dream she had of the life she wanted for herself?
She made me tell her twice that I was sure and then she said, "Okay." And it started raining and we ran to the car and turned on the radio in time to hear The Lovin' Spoonful's Rain On The Roof, which we took to be a sign. (Of course, everything's a sign when you're in love.)
She named the purple poodle Pierre and slept with him, holding him desperately tight, as tightly as she could, every night from then until the following June, when I took his place.
Until Donna Archer plied me with girl-drinks at The Bleachers—
When my first-grade teacher said we were going to “dance the Hokey-Pokey” I tried to opt out on the grounds that I didn’t want to go to Hell, but she assured me that God loved the Hokey-Pokey (…and He probably does…along with a lot of other dances) so I did it.
In junior high (at
At those events, Sherry would be the only girl in the gym without makeup—her folks, as a religious principle, didn’t believe in it or allow it (and even as an adult she was scared to use makeup until, at 31, a neighbor took her by the hand, sat her in front of a dresser, and showed her what to do.) Sherry was 15 when I met her, and her only makeup accessory at the time was an eyelash-curler that she used obsessively. If she wanted to highlight her cheeks, she pinched them until they turned red. The only thing she was allowed to put on her lips was chapstick.
She went hungry at school because she was too shy to take a single bite in front of anyone else. She’d go through the lunch line at the CHS cafeteria, take her tray to a table, and sit there looking at her hands in her lap, afraid that if she looked up she’d see somebody laughing at her. When the kids around her finished eating, she’d get up as they did, and throw her food away.
I gradually, during that last year of high school, helped her become at ease eating in front of people. (I have a picture of her in a blue jersey dress mugging for the camera with her mouth full, one of the first times she ever took a bite of anything in my presence.)
Like her, I wasn’t allowed to go to “worldly places of amusement” such as the movies, bowling, skating, swimming in the presence of the opposite sex, dancing, or to parties where dancing was going on. Like her, I felt out of place associating with people who didn’t interpret the Bible the same way we did, because those people, based on what we’d been taught, were going to Hell unless they had a last-minute conversion. (This caused me to feel very sorry for the Catholics—especially the nice ones.)
One day at the beginning of this transformation, she was forced by a caring neighbor into a seat in front of a mirror and taught the mysterious rituals forbidden to her under pain of hellfire as a teen: the neighbor taught her to use makeup. Something about the process, the look, or maybe just stepping across that line, accelerated the emergence of the real Sherry. (Patricia, wherever you are, thanks for doing that for your repressed little neighbor!)
Obviously, learning to dance as a thirty-something would not normally be considered an earth-shattering experience. But it was for us, because no fire and brimstone rained down and the earth did not open up and swallow us whole.
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
When, despite all the prophecies at church, the world did not end that year, I began to breathe normally again, without the nervous snort that had driven off all my friends. I also quit believing every little thing I heard at church.
Parking to watch the 'submarine races' was a sin, but I figured it would be overturned someday like all the others and I wanted to be ahead of the curve.
Eddie came to school the next day wearing a neck brace but refused to give me credit: he said his neck was already sprained before the fight.
I settled onto the ground beside Alex' grave and ate my lemon, peel and all, while looking over the spelling words on the mimeographed handout. The first word on the sheet was misspelled, but I assumed it was supposed to be "Audacious." I also assumed I didn't want to waste a perfectly good afternoon studying words I could already spell better than my teacher, so I said goodbye to Alex, bridled my one-eyed horse Ranger and rode up the road to Johnny Johnson’s house to play with his monkey. http://reynoldswriter.blogspot.com/2011/01/audacious.html
In retrospect, I don't believe there were as many virgins at Youth Camp that year as Brother Ernie thought.
A self-confident little thing, she had no qualms about slipping into the bedroom with me in the middle of the school day and testing her resistance to temptation.
Conventional wisdom at my daddy's church and hers, was that we were too young to get married. They gave us six months at most.
Everybody in radio knew that "housewife music" was the smooth, slow, calming, middle-of-the-road stuff. But the lonely, bored housewife that I left at home each morning taught me different. When she was down, Sherry would call during my show and say, "I feel so bad. Play something to get me going. Play Crocodile Rock." And I'd play one fast song after another, only the fastest, funnest dance tunes, the hot hits! No soft stuff! She'd get the housework done in record time, blindfold the dog and beg me to hurry home. When I invented a format based on Sherry's preferences, we became the number one station in the nation.
A beige, eight-passenger 1964 Chevy station wagon crossed the intersection in front of me as I neared my girlfriend's house. I noticed the car because we had one just like it, and whichever model we had in a particular year, it seemed like those were the cars I noticed the most.
(What are the odds of a truant crossing paths with his dad a half block away from his girlfriend’s house en route to a romantic tryst? Like I said: small town.)
Dad continued on to the hospital to visit some sick church members, stopping at the front desk to borrow the phone to call my principal.
Mr. Wagner was a former Navy Captain. He took pride in running a tight ship at Covington High and he did not appreciate men (or boys) going AWOL. He especially did not appreciate being put on the spot. So when my dad said, “Can you explain to me, sir, just why you allow your students to roam the streets of
On my girlfriend's front porch I popped a Lifesaver into my mouth, intending to stand there just long enough to crunch it and give my breath that sweet Wint-o-green smell, but the girl hadn't invited me over just to be a porch ornament. She flung the door open wide, looked both ways, up and down the street, and jerked me inside, double-locking the door and lip-locking me all in one fluid motion.
(Rendezvous underway! It would be jeopardized by yet another witness, but that was later, minutes into the future and I was in no position to heed the future. All I cared about was 'now.' My biological clock was ticking.)
She stripped the school books from my hand, flipped them onto the couch and maneuvered me toward her bedroom, a place where we both knew that nothing much was going to happen because the instant it could happen, she’d give me her “Respect” speech-- the one about how much my respect meant to her, how it meant more than all the joy a boy and girl could have; how it was 'forever;' and ‘forever’ was more important than ‘now.’ That speech of hers could have stopped Pharoah’s army at the edge of the
We were getting close to her self-imposed limits--the "Respect" speech was probably on the tip of her tongue--when someone banged on the front door. Our tongues retreated into our own mouths, our lips came unglued from each other and all four of our feet hit the floor at the same time.
“Who IS it?” she yelled. The person on the porch kept pounding.
Despite her petite build, my girlfriend had the strength of a sumo wrestler--or else her adrenalin kicked into high gear like those people who do superhuman things in emergencies, like lift a car off their baby when it falls off the jack. She grabbed me by the front of my shirt, dragged me across the room and threw me into the closet. “Get in! And if you make a sound, I’ll kill you.”
I knew she meant it: she would not think twice about killing me if I did anything to jeopardize her reputation.
The knocking continued. “Just a MINUTE!”
She opened the closet door again, threw my books and shoes at me, and hissed, “Stay!”
Crammed in among the women's clothing, trying to will myself not to scratch what itched, and trying not to sneeze, I poured out my soul to Jesus. I made Him every promise in the book, everything I could think of to make Him happy, and all I asked for in return was for Him to keep my dad from marching into this house, yanking me out of the closet and belt-whipping me in front of my girlfriend. I was saying, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus..." just like the old ladies at church, when I heard the front door open.
My girlfriend greeted someone way too cheerfully. Then a voice that definitely wasn’t my dad’s asked if he could come in. The voice got closer, so I figured the answer was yes. He was in.
It was her other boyfriend. Supposedly her ex, but if he was an ex why was he stopping by in the middle of the day when she was skipping school? How did he even know she would be here? Was this a habit of hers? Had she skipped school with him, too? He was a friend of mine, but a couple of years older than me and I had to ask myself what I would do if he opened the closet and found me. Should I say something clever, or just knock him down and run for my life? Unable to think of a good one-liner, I decided that violence was the way to go.
Someone turned on the TV set. What the hell? The Cardinals were playing the Yanks in the World Series. The volume got louder and all I could hear was Curt Gowdy describing Bob Gibson's high hard ones that the Yankees couldn't handle. This was infuriating: were my girlfriend and her boyfriend really interested in this ballgame, or was it on just to keep me from hearing what was really going on? I couldn't stand this any longer!
I eased out of the closet and over to the bedroom door. Opening it just a crack, I could see the two of them still standing. It looked like he was trying to get further into the house and she was blocking his way. If the fool got to the bedroom and discovered me in there, the girl would kill us both. She’d get a butcher knife and slaughter us where we stood rather than allow her reputation to be compromised by one boyfriend’s discovery of another in her bedroom. She was that concerned with her reputation.
Deciding to save her the trouble,
Deciding to save her the trouble,I put on my loafers, picked up my books and snuck out the kitchen door.
Riding the bus back to the country that afternoon, I was oblivious to the other kids around me. Half-listening to Robert E. Rabbit on WTIX, I stared at my slyly smiling reflection in the window between me and the
Life was good for a boy who knew he was too smart to get caught.------------------
BACK TO INDEX: http://reynoldswriter.blogspot.com/2011/07/i-hope-you-dance.html
After Ricky used a stick to pin the snake to the pavement, I grabbed it by the head and it wrapped itself around my arm, coil after coil, a brilliant, twisting, pulsing orange armband that I wore home, driving with one hand.
The trunk was empty!
How it got out of that trunk is one of the enduring mysteries of our lives.
By Randy Reynolds
I had no idea that company was coming and I didn’t see him arrive because I was already asleep in my rabbit pajamas with the big ears and footies when he got there. In the middle of the night when a crack of thunder woke me up, I scrambled out of bed and down the hall as fast as I could move in the thick pj’s. I slipped into my parents’ bed and snuggled up against Daddy’s back, where I felt safer than anywhere else. I went to sleep to the sounds of Daddy’s soft snores and rain pelting the tin roof.
What I didn’t know was that Mother and Daddy had given the evangelist their room and I was snuggled up to the back of Brother Raleigh. He was a very surprised young preacher when he woke up soaking wet the next morning with an equally wet bunny rabbit snuggled against him. He sat up in bed, which woke me up. I took one look at him and screamed and Mother came running.
She made excuses for me. “He comes to our bedroom when he gets scared at night. The thunderstorm must have woke him up and he thought you were Gene and, and…”
At the breakfast table, Brother Raleigh described how it felt to get peed on by a large rabbit and my daddy roared with laughter. Preachers are, first and foremost, performers and Brother Raleigh, gratified by the response, told the story over and over. I hung my head in shame, anxious for breakfast to be over so I could go touch the BB gun again—the one that I was going to get for Christmas that I had discovered hidden in my parents’ chifarobe.
I wanted that Daisy BB gun more than I would ever want anything in my life, with the possible exception of horses (which were out of the question) and the Jenkins girl (whom I would later marry.) Many years later, when I first saw The Christmas Story, in which Ralphie begged for a Red Ryder BB gun, it was like someone had written a chapter of my life. I had gone through the same ordeal as Ralphie, begging my parents for a BB gun. My mother, like Ralphie’s, had argued against it, saying I might put my eye out. I was bitterly disappointed that I wasn’t going to get it. But then, while plundering their chifarobe, I found it—a no-frills, lever-action Daisy BB gun. My heart nearly leaped out of my chest the first time I saw it and touched it, and since that day I had frequently snuck into the chifarobe to hold it and pet it. I kissed it, too. It was soon to be mine, all mine. My very own BB gun. Proof that I had become a man.
An evangelist living in the house all week can’t be ignored by his hosts, so Brother Raleigh went where Dad went: on hospital rounds, visiting church members, paying bills—he shared Daddy’s schedule for the week. Which meant he heard a lot of talk, because my daddy was a nonstop talker. They say 40,000 words is a novel? Well, my daddy spoke about a novel a day or more. From one subject to the next, he just talked and talked and talked and talked. And people liked it, because he was a good talker, with lots of great stories and a first-rate mind and could talk about things that other people hadn't learned yet. The problem was, once he started talking, he didn’t hold anything back. He even told Brother Raleigh about the BB gun in the chifarobe and about Mother being against it because I might shoot my eye out.
And so it came to pass that the day after the revival was over, I gave my little brother and sister the slip and snuck into the chifarobe to hold my BB gun. But it wasn’t there. I went into the living room and examined all the presents under the Christmas tree, but none of them was shaped like a BB gun.
I looked under the beds, behind the couch, between the stove and refrigerator.
“What are you looking for?” asked Mother.
“I know y’all bought me a BB gun,” I said.
“Oh, sweetie…” she began.
“But it’s not in the chifarobe anymore. I think Ricky took it.”
“Now, Randy, you know I didn’t want you to have a BB gun this year. You’ll put your eye out.”
“But you already got it. It was in the chifarobe and now it’s gone!”
“I know, sugar, but your Daddy and I, well, we just thought you ought to wait a year or two.”
“Nooooooo!” I wailed.
“Your Daddy mentioned it to Brother Raleigh and he has a little nephew that wants a BB gun, so he bought it from us and we’re going to get you something better.”
I ran away from her, threw myself onto my bed and cried till I ran out of tears.
Many years later, when I was co-owner and General Manager of a radio station in
I forget now why I didn’t hire him. I hope he doesn’t read this and think it was because of the BB gun.
By Randy Reynolds
Richie Maklary made an excellent blackberry wine in his Granny Barker’s canning jars.
If we'd had BFF’s back then Richie would have been mine except for the year I couldn’t breathe because our Sunday School teacher told us that Red China was going to nuke Lee Road before the end of the year; I know my nervous snorting for air made me a pariah all that year and I can’t blame Richie, or anyone, for not wanting to be around me. However, when both Jesus and Red China tarried and Lee Road was saved and I could breathe again without sounding like a rooting hog, Richie once again became my best friend.
He and I went to the same church (Shepherd’s Fold) where we whispered and cut up on the back bench and my dad would stop in mid-sermon and order me to the front—memorable embarrassments for me, great amusement for Richie.
When Richie burgled the Fussell's storage shed on Jarrell Road, I was right behind him. We stole a few whatnots and decorated his tree house with them. This was the first time I had stolen anything since the age of 5 when I had slipped a roll of Lifesavers into my underwear at the grocery store and Daddy, noticing my remarkable bulge as we walked to the car, had made me go back in and apologize. Now, feeling guilty about our burglary, I decided to put the stuff back where we got it. So one day when Richie wasn’t around, I went to his tree-house and stole it all back. But a funny thing happened on my way to the Fussell shed: I got the better of my conscience and took the whatnots to MY tree house. It was a proud moment: I had stolen the same stuff twice without getting caught.
(My mother, when I whined “All my friends are going, why can’t I?”, never knew how useless it was to say, “If your friends were going to jump off a bridge, would you jump off it, too?” Of course I would! After following Richie out of the tree-house, backward, with my arms folded in death and my eyes closed, a bridge was no big deal.)
That was the year that Brother Ernie, like all young preachers that I remember, preached about his wanton early years and how God had saved him from all the terrible things he used to do that WE hadn’t even had a chance to do yet. The saved part didn’t sound nearly as delightful as the sins he was saved from—such as mixing Aqua Velva aftershave with Coca-Cola as a substitute for liquor. Richie and I spent the rest of that Youth Camp drinking Aqua Velva and Coca-Cola and talking about virgins. For these and certain other reasons, it’s a wonder we didn’t go blind that year.