by Randy Reynolds

My brother, when he was in his young teens in the mid-1960s, said he got mugged after mistakenly walking into the black side of town but I’m not entirely sure it was a textbook mugging.  African-Americans were so rare in our Covington (and Lee Road) world that my brother might have seen the other youngster coming and preemptively pulled out his empty wallet and told him to take it.

Overall, it seemed to me that whites and blacks got along very well together in the Covington, Louisiana, of the 1960s.  They had their “quarters” to live in and we had the rest of the parish.  They had their schools and we had ours.  The black shoeshine man at the barbershop was a favorite of the all-white clientele; kept us laughing, in fact, by his responses to white men’s barbs.  A black ex-con once known as the Pink Bandit because of his choice of facial wear during his robberies became the most popular gardener in town.  And those are the only black people that I remember seeing or hearing about while growing up around Covington except for Louis Prima’s wife Keely Smith.  There were rumors that she was part black, but she got a pass, them being rich and famous and owning their own country club and golf course and all, out on Highway 190 near the radio station.

I started working at WARB in early 1965.  The Billboard Top 100 that year had numerous black artists on it, but we didn’t play their music.  We did play popular black holdovers from the 1950s including Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles and Nat King Cole, but none of the new stuff that white program directors called “race” music.  (We couldn’t play white “race” music either, as I discovered when I aired my own copy of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” on my Saturday show. The boss said that was “an integration song” and forbade me to play it on his station again.)

Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, Pt. 1, by James Brown and the Famous Flames was #33 on the end-of-year Billboard Top 100 chart of 1965.  If we had played a song like that, we might have gotten some negative feedback from sponsors, certainly our wannabe Congressman John Rarick, who sometimes bought blocks of airtime to rant about Civil Rights.  Playing Hold What You’ve Got by Joe Tex (#85 that year)?  Out of the question. Other Top 100 songs of 1965 by black artists that we didn’t play:  I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch,) by The Four Tops; My Girl by The Temptations; Shotgun by Jr. Walker & The All Stars; Nowhere to Run by Martha and The Vandellas; How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You) by Marvin Gaye. Radical stuff, huh?

The Billboard Hot 100 songs we did play for our Covington audience in 1965 were:  Jolly Green Giant/The Kingsmen;  A Walk In The Black Forest/Horst Jankowski; Red Roses For A Blue Lady/Bobby Vinton; Red Roses For A Blue Lady/Bert Kaempfert and his Orchestra;  Cast Your Fate To The Wind/Sounds Orchestral; Goldfinger/Shirley Bassey; The Race Is On/Jack Jones; Crying In The Chapel/Elvis Presley; King of the Road/Roger Miller. 

Those white songs don’t seem as cool now as they did then.  When I think of 1965, I don’t start humming something from Horst Jankowski, Bert Kaempfert or Jack Jones. I think of Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, The Temptations, James Brown—all those artists I couldn’t play at the time but who became the soundtrack of my memory.




by Randy Reynolds
....Sherry's mother entered the living room and perched on the edge of a wing-backed chair. Huey took the one
 facing her. On the piano bench with their daughter, I felt surrounded.
.....Sherry hit them with it cold. "We want your permission to…"
.....Mary Louise leaned forward. "Absolutely NOT! You're too young."
....."Mo-THER, you didn't let me finish."
.....I squirmed to the edge of the bench, poised for flight. "We can come back later."
.....Sherry pulled me back. "We want to get MARRIED!"
.....Her daddy, stalling: "How will y'all make a living?"
....."Randy's going to be a famous writer!"
.... Huey smiled. "Oh, so we're talking about the distant future."
....."No. We're talking about now. Right away!" she blurted.
.....Huey: "What have you kids done?"
....."She's pregnant!" said Mary Louise.
.....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.
....."If y'all are through with your innuendos, I'll explain. Randy's going to write books and we'll be rich."
....."The boy's going to be rich," said Huey, third person, like I wasn't even there.
.....Sherry scrooched against me, hot, "We could have waited till later, but our future's already secure, so we just thought, why not?"
....."Secure?" asked Huey.
....."Randy's been accepted by the Famous Writer's School. And all we need is two thousand dollars…"
.....Mary swooped in. "So you want my daughter and we pay you two thousand dollars?"
....."You people! " said Sherry. Softening for her father, "Daddy, you're a businessman. How's this for a plan--you give us the two g's for Randy's tuition? We'll live right here till he graduates. I can help him study in my bedroom all day. And night, too, of course."
.....I thought about how I would write this scene. Coils of hatred radiated out from the midpoints of Mary's cheeks, like an electric stove warming up.
....."You're right about Randy eating like a horse, Daddy. But now we know the reason why. And don't worry we'll pay you for what he eats. Just keep a list, okay?"
....."So why, exactly, DOES he eat like a horse?"
....."Because of his creativity! Randy says it takes a lot of calories to run a brain as big as his."
.....My eyes were glued to the floor. "Is this new carpet, or did ya'll just have it cleaned?"
....."Randy says that the part of the brain that controls his creative urges also controls his sex drive. That's why he has such a large one."
.....Mary Louise's eyes traveled down my bony frame.
.....Sherry: "Mother! Honestly!"
.....Huey cleared his sinuses.
.....Sherry explained the options. "We may have to publish Randy's first book at our own expense, or yours, if you'll loan us the money. Or is it lend? Loan, lend, I never know the difference."
....."Lend," I said.
....."Oh, you're so good with words. You're good with everything," she said, kissing me on the cheek.
....."Y'all lend us ten thousand dollars for the first one and Randy will get discovered and we'll pay you back. It's simple, see? And when he writes his second book, we'll buy a house. I want a big one with a brick fence around it."
.....Huey narrowed one eye but not the other (a well-known symptom of a possible mini-stroke.)
....."We haven't even said yes and the boy's already asking for twelve thousand dollars?"
....."Only because you've never been able to say no to your daughter," said Mary Louise.
....."And I haven't even added in his food," he groaned.
.....Sherry's hand moved from my knee to my inner thigh, rubbing circles the way I liked.
....."Talk some sense to them, Huey!" beseeched Mary Louise.
....."Okay, here it is, kids. Take it or leave it. You forget about Famous Writer's School and publishing a novel, and I'll chip in fifty dollars to help with the honeymoon."
...... "Seventy five!" countered Sherry.
......"Deal!" he said. "Welcome to the family, son!"


by Randy Reynolds

My (yet-unpublished) novel Preaching To The Trees, opens in 1936, with young Wyatt Jacksonrapscallion, charmer and self-proclaimed king of the (Georgia) mill villageheaded down the street in a little wagon pulled by his pet goat to welcome the first black family to the neighborhood.  Their arrival, along with the tornado swoooping over the hill behind him, will change his world. 

(1936-1940) Young Wyatt Jackson is a pirate, a cowboy, a Confederate general, Babe Ruth, Tarzan, Franklin D. Roosevelt—it changes from one day to the next, depending on what book he's reading.  With his vivid imagination, photographic memory and gift of mimicry he could become a great actor but what happens in the tornado convinces him that he's been called to preach and he immediately starts practicing. He skips school and preaches to the trees.  He preaches to his dog and to his mama’s chickens. He preaches to the neighborhood children, black and white, including the girl across the street he thinks he’s in love with.

(1950-2005)  He grows up to become a famous televangelist and, as BISHOP Wyatt Jackson, preaches to millions, often illustrating his sermons with stories from his exciting chocked-full-of-miracles childhood.  

Oh, what stories:  He survived an epic tornado! He went to Heaven during a coma! He saw Hell in a hotel furnace! He stood up to the KKK in defense of a neighbor-lady! He befriended boys from another race—still unusual enough to mention in his sermons these many decades later, (though he never mentions that last day, how those friendships ended.) Life in that time and place was full of tragedy, but it was also funny—especially the way Bishop Wyatt Jackson tells it. 

(2015) With the aging bishop’s health failing now and his fabulous stories and parables in danger of being lost to history,  the bishop’s son feels inspired to preserve them in print (and if he makes a few dollars in the process, so much the better!)

What Junior needs to finish his project is one long private session with his dad to reconcile some details.  However, the bishop’s newest wife, a 30-something blonde who used to be his organist, refuses to let him out of her sight. 

“He gets too excited when he talks about the old days—being called up to Heaven that time, all that business with the KKK, him bringing his own daddy back to life, all those miracles,” she explains.  “He doesn’t have the strength to talk for more than a few minutes at a time anyways.”  

She has a solution, though:  “Why don’t we be co-authors, Junior? I’ll pump him for information, you do the writing and we split the profits 50-50?” 

Junior decides it’ll be much simpler to steal the old man away for a day, little realizing the caper will result in Stepmom calling in the cops and the media.  While she’s on CNN’s Breaking News making appeals for the bishop’s safe return, Junior and his dad are in a secret location doing something they’ve never done before—having a few beers and talking about the South the bishop grew up in (and tried to improve upon in his sermons) and discussing whether miracles are real.  They find out soon enough. 



by Randy Reynolds

Over the slow clop-clop of a mule’s hooves on the pavement and the creak of an overloaded wagon, a reedy voice called, “Watermelons!  Fresh watermelon! Straight from Forsyth County where ain’t nobody that ain’t white never lays their head at night!”
Gauge and the two boys from the quarters that he’d been playing ball with on the vacant lot hurried into the street and fell into step beside the mule.
 “Don’t walk too close! You might get stepped on!” said the driver, spitting onto the singletree.  “Ever been stepped on by a mule before?”
“Oh, I been stepped on by my grandpa’s mule before,” said Gauge.
“It ain’t no fun is it?” asked the little man.
“It didn’t bother me none,” said Gauge.
“Yeahhhh, you really a tough one.”  The man looked at the other two boys.  “How ‘bout y’all—ever been stepped on by a mule?”
JJ bowed his head to avoid looking straight into a white man’s face. “Naw, suh.”
LeRoy didn’t say anything.
“Answer me when I speak, boy!  Ain’t yo’ mama never taught you no manners?”
“He ain’t got no mama,” said Gauge.
“Well, he can talk, can’t he?”
“No, sir,” said Gauge.  “He ain’t got no voice.”
The watermelon man looked LeRoy over carefully.  “What happened to him?”
“Got hit by a board in the tornado.  It crushed his voice box and killed his mama. She was holding him and boards was flyin’ through the air,” said Gauge.
 “What they doin’ over here this side of the tracks?”
“Just playin' some baseball,” said Gauge.
 “Baseball? You tellin’ me they know how to play baseball?”
“Ever'body knows how to play baseball,” said Gauge.
“They any good?” asked the scrawny man.
“Not as good as me,” said Gauge.
The man laughed.  “Well, I would reckon not!”
“JJ’s a pretty good hitter, though.   And LeRoy’s the fastest runner.”
“Which one’s LeRoy?” asked the man.
“The one that ain’t got no voice,” said Gauge.
“Prob’ly thinks he can outrun a bullet, huh?”  The driver spat at LeRoy’s feet. “LeRoy, you think you can outrun a bullet?”
LeRoy refused to look up.
“Why you bringing watermelons way over here?” asked Gauge.
“To sell ‘em, boy!  What’chou think?”  He laughed and added, “Don’t know nobody that wants none, do you?”
“I don’t reckon not,” said Gauge.
“Guess I’ll go park at the Farmer’s Market, see can’t I sell some over there.”
“Can we ride on your wagon?” asked Gauge.
You can, but not them two.”  He made a clicking sound with his mouth and said, “Come on, Maude!”
Gauge looked from the mule to his teammates and said, “Never mind. I believe I’ll walk.”
The watermelon man shrugged and shook the reins, “Let’s go, Maude.  Getup!”
The three boys stood in the street and watched the mule plod over the crest of the hill with the driver yelling, “Watermelon for sale!  Raised in Forsyth County where ain’t nobody that ain’t white never lays his head at night! Watermelons! Forsyth County watermelon!”

Gauge took a practice swing with the bat and said, “Come on, y’all, let’s bust us a few watermelons.”
Mistah Gauge!” exclaimed JJ.
“Well, he deserves it, don’t he?”
“For what he said about us?”
“For calling his mule Maude!  Maude is the wife of King Haaken the Seventh of Norway. Maude was the wife of King Henry the First. Maude is my mother’s name and my mother is as good as the best and better’n the rest.”
“But, Mistah Gauge…” said JJ.
“Maude ain’t no name for a mule,” said Gauge, raising the bat above his head and rushing after the wagon.