Monday, November 25, 2013

Unlike The Grassy Knoll, This Is No Big Mystery

Had I been reporting from Dealy Plaza that day — had I not been 4 and somewhere else — I would not have said “grassy knoll.”

I’ve never heard anyone say “knoll” without saying “grassy” before it and without talking about Dealey Plaza and the assassination of President John Kennedy, Nov. 22, 1963.

“A lot of people, including a couple of motorcycle policemen, are running toward the little grassy hill,” I would have said. Or “the hill with grass on it.” Maybe “the green where it goes sort of up.”
Another reporter might have said “grassy hummock,” but I doubt he would have been from north Louisiana or from Lake View, S.C.

Whether it’s a hillock or a hummock or a knoll or a rise or a mound might depend on where you stand. Regardless, “knoll” is the perfect word here. “Grassy knoll” has an aura of mystery; “green hill” or “grassy hillock,” not so much.

But there’s no doubt about this: One guy, UPI reporter Merriman Smith, is credited with first using the term, in one of his dispatches less than half an hour after the president was shot. Smith and others were in a press pool car a few cars back of the presidential limousine.

One guy said it, now the whole world does.

Lee Harvey Oswald was just one guy. He, too, altered history in those few moments 50 years ago, and in a much more dramatic way than reporter Smith did. While many conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination exist — one might even be true? — the majority exist solely because most of us find it hard to believe that history can be altered so dramatically by just one random act of a single otherwise undramatic, “regular” person. Hard to understand how one guy with a $20 mail-order rifle can, in less than a dozen seconds, tilt the world’s axis.

But each of us, in a good way or bad, positive or negative, make a difference. Every day. Few actions are as dramatic to the entire world as what Oswald chose a half century ago, but every little thing each of us does adds up.

Most people have heard of Dwight L. Moody, one of the greatest communicators of the gospel in history. Few people have heard of Edward Kimball, who one day visited a boy in his Sunday school class named Dwight, who was stocking shoes at work. Kimball led the young man to Christ, there in the shoe store, and Moody led thousands and thousands of others.One guy, Edward Kimball, made a big positive difference.

A wolf chases a rabbit, loosens some dirt and rocks fall and a small river’s course is changed and what happens over the next few millions of years is ... the Grand Canyon? One wolf, or one faster rabbit, makes a difference.

In fiction, we all know that George Bailey had a wonderful life because he helped others have one, without his even really realizing it. His big moment was really years of little ones, strung together.
None of us was put on the earth to sit the bench and watch everyone else carry the ball. “Nothing would be the same if you did not exist,” I read this week. “Every place you have ever been and everyone you have ever spoken to would be different without you.”

JFK’s most famous quote is probably the one about not asking your country what it can do for you, but what you can do for your country. We start by doing what is right for each other. We’re going to make a difference, one way or the other.

Few might notice right away, and no one might ever stand on a high hill — even a knoll — and praise you. But somebody will notice, that’s for sure. That, and the truth that we each have control over what kind of difference we make.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A scrapbook day for our best Buddy

From today's Times and News-Star

Scott Boatright – we call him “Boat” -- wondered where his friend and co-worker Buddy Davis, Ruston Daily Leader sportswriter and man about town, was on that Saturday morning this past July.

The reason Boat missed him was because Buddy was here most every Saturday for the past 40-plus years, including the few years Boat had worked at the Leader. Unless he was on the road, Buddy, a one-man sports staff since pre-Watergate, was in the office to get the Sunday sports pages out.

But not this Saturday.

Long and tough story short: Buddy had suffered a stroke. Early Friday afternoon after work, he’d come home to the house he’s lived in since his parents died a decade ago. He had the stroke in the kitchen, struck his head on a counter falling and was flat on the floor, immobile and in and out of consciousness, for almost a calendar day when Boat arrived. The paramedics were there shortly after.

No one missed Buddy until Saturday because this happened on one of maybe three Friday nights a year when Buddy didn’t have to be somewhere covering something.

He’d had better nights off.

It’s been a battle for Buddy, these past four months. But this past Saturday was different than that one in July. On Nov. 9 on the Louisiana Tech campus, Orville Kince (O.K.) “Buddy” Davis (Class of 1969) and four others were inducted into the University’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

This is notable because all across the state, especially in North Louisiana and Lincoln Parish, thousands of people have pieces of Buddy’s stories in their scrapbooks, in their wallets or displayed with magnets on their refrigerators. Before the stroke, Buddy had admirers like Fort Knox has gold bars. Since this setback, he’s been elevated to rock star.

Cards. Visits. Calls. Facebook likes. (Buddy didn’t know Facebook from phone book in the spring, but now he’s constantly asking Tech’s athletics media relations director Malcolm Butler, Buddy’s personal Facebook manager, how many “likes” he has. It’s a bit embarrassing.)

Before he could take calls himself, we’d play the messages off his cell phone in his hospital room. One day I played him Doug Williams/Terry Bradshaw/Archie Manning back-to-back-to-back, each wondering how Buddy was and wishing him well. The late Eddie Robinson once told Sports Illustrated that Buddy was “like a son to me,” and if the rest of us were older, maybe we’d feel the same way. As things are, Buddy is like a friend you don’t want to go to the game without, even with the bad puns and name-dropping and his constant losing battle with Twitter operations.

Saturday’s induction offered Lincoln Parish’s version of a Big Foot photo op: Buddy, owner of a T-shirt/polo collection that reaches into the thousands, in a borrowed suit and tie. Wow. He came into the room in his motorized chair, his first public appearance since going on the disabled list. People beamed, asked him where his hair had gone, then talked with others behind his back about how great it was to see their friend again, and outside a hospital for a change.

Buddy, who struck out in Little League every time he faced classmate and fellow inductee George Stone, hit a homer with his speech. The highlight around the jokes might have been his comment that while his legs and left hand were still feeling numb due to the stroke, his whole body was feeling numb because of the day’s honor.

He’s writing his Sunday column, “O.K.’s Corral,” again. He scribbles them on a legal pad from the assisted living center, and Boat types them in. Baby steps. It’s good for us to see him in person again, but it’s good to see him on the page, too.

For his career, his calling, Buddy has always been the perfect guy in the perfect place at the perfect time. The perfect name is just icing on the cake.




Sunday, November 10, 2013

An Eloquent Testimony To Patriotism And Sacrifice

From today's Times and News-Star

Fitting on this Veterans Day Eve to share the best book I read all summer, which was actually three books in one, what columnist George Will describes as “history written at the level of literature,” Rick Atkinson’s “unsparing” Liberation Trilogy of World War II.

I began in the war’s middle with “The Day of Battle,” set in Italy. Proceeded to Europe and the best and final book of the trilogy, “The Guns at Last Light,” released in May. Then backtracked to the war’s beginning to finish with the first book of the trilogy, “An Army at Dawn,” published in 2007 and covering America’s infant Army in North Africa.

I have read lots of World War II history, but, like Hollywood, I’ve concentrated mostly on the war in 1944 and 1945, the “more glamorous” part of the war when the Allies landed in Europe on D-Day and fought their way into Germany.

What I knew about North Africa came from the movie “Patton,” and about Italy, I knew little at all.

But there’s so much more here. This is history alive, in many layers, and handled by a master of the craft, not only of research but of writing. It’s hard to imagine a better testimony to the Allied soldiers and citizens of that world-saving event. This trilogy is insight and education, but it’s also tender in language, both haunting and harsh in reality and emotionally moving in rhythm and sense of place. These snapshots from “The Guns at Last Light” help to illustrate:

Dwight Eisenhower, supreme commander of the allied forces, tells his fellow planners of D-Day that all egos will be checked at the door. “I consider it to be the duty of anyone who sees a flaw in the plan NOT to hesitate to say so,” Eisenhower said. “I have no sympathy with anyone, whatever his station, who will not brook criticism. We are here to get the best possible results.”…

Patton, trapped in Italy after success there but now in a bit of a disciplinary military time out, writes to his wife as the battle in Europe continues: “I fear the war will be over before I get loose, but who can say? Fate and the hand of God still run most shows.” …

Eisenhower often quoted Napoleon’s definition of a military genius as “the man who can do the average thing when all those around him are going crazy.” …

Atkinson captures the chaos, not only of battle, but also of rose-colored planning. About Market Garden, a failed Allied enterprise for sure, he takes you into the war room and lets you hear one of the Allies, a Polish commander, “after listening to an excessively chipper review (from the British commanders) of the battle plan on Sept 14, burst out, ‘But the Germans, how about the Germans, what about THEM?’ A British brigadier acknowledged a tendency ‘to make a beautiful airborne plan and then add the fighting-the-Germans bit afterwards.’” …

The war’s final colossal battle – the 600,000 Americans who fought in the Battle of the Bulge were four times the number of soldiers at Gettysburg – “affirmed once again,” Atkinson writes, “that war is never linear, but rather a chaotic, desultory enterprise of reversal and advance, blunder and elan, despair and elation. Valor, cowardice, courage – each had been displayed in this spectacle of a marching world.”

It’s almost as if the writer put the war to music. History as opera.

Atkinson is a two-time Pulitzer winner, so I don’t know what else to give him but a pat on the back and a word of encouragement. Other than that, we just need to be quiet. (Shhhhhhh…he’s at work on a history of the American Revolution.)


Sunday, November 3, 2013

At The State Fair, It's The Little Things

From Sunday's Times and News-Star

You still have time to take a little person to the State Fair.

Most of us have had some highs and lows in the Fair arena. The lows tend to dominate your thinking as you get older. Maybe it was a night haunted by rude people. A bad parking sport. Poor weather. The guy guessing your weight overshot the runway by about 40 pounds.

“Do these corn dogs make me look fat?”
A personal low: My interview, for the newspaper, with The Headless Woman. Toughest quote to get of my career.

But my favorite memory is so top-shelf that I can’t remember with clarity any “bad” time I might have ever had at the Fair. My son was almost 3, and on the icebox a magnet holds a photo of him sitting on a hay bale by the petting zoo, a smile on his face and goat poop on the bottom of his Nike.

Those were the Salad Days. And that was the first trip of a few. And that first trip was 21 years ago.

A note from Cousin Other reminded me of all that, made me hope that older folk jaded by grownup things would remember that to a little one, the Fair is lights and sounds and Oz. To a Fair veteran, it might be crowds or noise or wondering whether the same guy who invented the guillotine invented the Tilt-A-World. But it’s all new and wonder and dreaming in color to a little one.

Other said it best in his note:

Took my granddaughter, Abbey, to the Fair last night.
Just me and her.
It was dollar-night so all rides were $1 each.
She's 8, almost 9, and tall enough to ride everything.
I'm much older and haven't ridden anything in years.
Nevertheless, we wore out the token dispensers buying ride coinage.
There were the traditional Ferris wheel-bumper car-fun house options.
But also an endless selection of Scrambler-Octopus knockoffs.
Different names and lights and music but basically the same ride.
You know, a two-seat compartment freewheeling at the end of one of several rotating stems.
So you spin and twist and jerk and bump and rise and fall for about three minutes.
And Abbey, convinced they were each unique, wanted to do them all.
Do that for about half a dozen rides in a row.
I dare you.
On a full stomach of fair food.
But I held my own and my food.
However it was not dollar-night at the concession booths.
Far from it.
And Abbey had a "homework assignment" to sample specific fair foods.
Supposedly Old Lady Huggins told the third-graders they "had to" have:
Jumbo Corn Dog ($6)
Lemonade ($6)
Cinnamon Roll ($6)
Notice the pattern.
Everything was six bucks.
Even the large order of curly fries we shared was $6.
(Not part of the assignment, but a personal favorite.)
When we came to the pineapple whip ice cream for only $3, I couldn't get my money out fast enough.
And there were several places offering generous cups of sweet tea for only 75 cents.
I was almost too embarrassed to buy one.
We were also able to squeeze in a few side shows and freebies.
Big tortoise, small pig, camels and horses and llamas trotting in circles.
And Abbey fed carrots to the (selfish) giraffe.
All things considered, it was time, if not money, well spent.
I'd do it again.

If I could go back 21 years, so would I.