Swans and Swanns

We learned about them in 2007, but didn’t go.

Since  then, my bride has asked me (occasionally) to drive up to Magness Lake to see the swans. Who knew there were swans in Arkansas.

Actually, there are a couple of swans in Little Rock at a small lake near the Searcy Building (west LR near the ice-skating rink).

But, there are scores of swans on the lakes near Heber Springs.

So, yesterday we drove up to Magness Lake and found one swan.

One swan. (He’s the lonely guy in the pictures above)

Sadly, the little guy was injured, which accounts for him being the sole swan on the lake. Everyone else has fled.

We found more swans down the road here.

I am hopeful the injured swan’s leg will heal and he can escape before the heat of summer arrives. He is, after all, from the Arctic Circle and he will not welcome the brutal Arkansas heat.

Bonus: Can you spot the other Swann from the arctic region in the photos below?


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Another Old Bridge In Northern Arkansas

Somewhere near Mammoth Springs, Arkansas on the Spring River.

1916 Bridge Near Mammoth Springs, AR
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Somewhere near Hardy, Arkansas

Driving back to work this week I decided to take the scenic route. Near Hardy, Arkansas I turned off the road because my apple map showed that there was a bridge crossing the Spring River. I was hoping it was a covered bridge. Instead of a bridge, I found this “bridge.” I do not understand why Arkansas doesn’t build a safer crossing here. I couldn’t find any historical information on why the bridge is in the shape it is. But, I will keep looking.

Spillway Bridge – Hardy, Arkansas


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Real Commitment: Married at 15

When they got married, in 1903 in Alabama, my paternal grandfather (Ollie Manning) couldn’t read. I am sure this was common in this area of Alabama in the early twentieth century. He was a carpenter, so he could work to some degree. My grandmother (Mary Jones) decided that she’d teach him to read. And she did. When they married, she was about 15 years old and he was about 26. The first picture shows them on their wedding day. She was a little over 5 feet tall and he was not much taller. I don’t know why he is sitting while she is standing.
The next photo shows them years later. They are probably both well in their sixties and maybe seventies. I am really not sure, but I do know that one is 11 years older than the other. So, there is my grandfather, whom I never knew, reading to my grandmother, whom I also never knew. He’s reading his bible to his sweet wife after her eyesight had gotten so bad that she could read no longer. I wish I could have spent time with them.
Grandpa reading to my Grandmother
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My Kennedy Connection

Another sun sets in my review mirror. (I knew that picture would come in handy one day.)

And I’ve managed to keep breathing for another year.
Which doesn’t really seem to me like an accomplishment.

Not everyone gets the chance to see another birthday…

But like my mom used to say, “It’s just another day Paul…”

When I was younger, I’d buy my mother a present for my birthday and explain that she was the one who’d done all the heavy lifting, not I.

She liked this little tradition.

When I was in elementary school, I would tell classmates that I was born a year and one day after President Kennedy was assassinated.

“Wow” they’d say. Which of course (as an ignorant kid), is what I was going for.

As if that was something I had any control over or that the terrible event was something that I wanted to be associated with. I think I was probably in the 7th grade before I stopped telling people about my “association” with Kennedy.

I am, however, just happy to be here and to maybe see another sunset.

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War Storm (Flash Fiction)

The winds picked up outside of the barracks at Fort Louis.
Captain Roger Greenwood, a Tennessee Army Guardsman, reclined on a worn leather sofa in the day room in the dilapidated Vietnam Era barracks.
His soldiers sat around; some on the phone with their girlfriends or mothers.
Most of the men played games on their smart phones. They’d just returned from a deployment assignment in Afghanistan and were happy to be almost home.
  Roger looked up for a moment as the wind whistled through the eaves of the barracks. For a few minutes he dreamed he was back home in Tennessee; the East Tennessee mountains– at his daughter’s school…
As he dozed, he found himself glaring through the dirty truck window of his 2001 Chevy Silverado trying to recognize the flags in front of his daughter’s school. His truck radio blared something about a tornado warning. But he was in a hurry and usually ignored what he called “panic warnings.”
Man, I hope the guys are all OK in this mess, he thought.
He was at school to have lunch with his 10-year-old daughter, Rochelle. The snap of the flags was louder, and he turned to stare and shook his head at the insane world he left behind in Kabul.
The school flags waved as the wind picked up more.
The crooked smile of Ms. Wrangler, the school secretary, met him as he entered the front office. He wondered how such a sour person had landed a job working with children.
“Here to see Rochelle for lunch.”
She ignored him and went back to bidding on a cherry-red Chevy Tahoe on eBay.
 Roger scribbled his name on a puke-green visitor’s tag and stuck it to his shirt pocket. He started down the hall. It should have taken less than two minutes. He felt dizzy and slammed into the wall next to a Crayon rendition of George Washington, steadying himself until he could walk straight.
“Good grief, Roger! Are you drunk?”he whispered to himself.
There was only silence where instead a cacophony of children’s voices should have drowned out his footsteps.
Where is everyone? Roger wondered.
The only sound was that of Moonlight Sonata being played over a boom box in the lunchroom.
He walked back toward the front office. But Ms. Wrangler was gone. And where was Rochelle?
Roger headed for the exit. The sunlight steadied his confusion. He sat on a concrete bench just outside the front door. As he looked over the lawn, he saw the school flag waving in the still air.
A moment later, the sound of automatic gunfire rattled him. A live round grazed his head as he retreated to the closest piece of earth he could find. Thoughts of his daughter’s elementary school faded. It was the Afghanistan he had left weeks earlier.
Yards away, the earth exploded, sending a horizontal shower of crystallized molten metal and dirt. Roger prayed that the shrapnel wouldn’t find its way to his legs. His prayer wasn’t answered favorable.
He saw a cinder-block building to the north, checked for more approaching fire, mentally calculated the distance, and he sprinted to the closest building and dove through an open window.
The floor was carpeted with shattered glass. Blood seeped from his wounds. When the shelling stopped, he heard cries. He searched for a radio to call for a medic.
He heard another whispered whimper. A moan. And a sharp cry of pain.
Atop the pole, the flag stopped moving.
And then there was silence. He combed his right hand through his hair, bent over, and rested his head in his hands. He wanted to go back to the school’s front door. But no one was there. The screams reminded him of a train engine. Pain shot through his legs, and he inched closer to the cries.
He awoke as a large tornado ripped through the base.
In the day room, all of his soldiers were relaxed, sprayed out on the floor, and dying to get out of Fort Louis and back home.
The intensity of the storm picked up outside the remodeled Vietnam-era barrack. The holes in the walls whistled. And then the winds stopped; the flag clung to the side of the pole, lifeless. The TV was silent and in several pieces.
A Fort Louis fireman reached Roger first. His body was a bloody mess “Over here. Got a live one.”
The broken bodies of most of the soldiers were scattered to the four corners of the post. Some would be going back home in a box.
“Hold tight, Captain. We’re gonna get you out of here.”
Before retreating back into the grey Mississippi sky that spring afternoon, the twister plowed through most of the adjacent counties leaving a scene reminiscent of a distant and brutal war.
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Bud and Dad

To successfully navigate the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, one must have a sponsor to keep them on the right path and stay sober.
My dad’s sponsor is the guy in this photo.
Many times I’ve listened to my dad, through smoke-filled rooms, give testimony to his life with and without alcohol.
I preferred without.
I am convinced that all alcoholics really just trade the alcohol for coffee and cigarettes. For those familiar with the area, the house on Bayou Sara Ave, near Cedar Street, was where I heard him talk and where I learned to drink copious amounts of coffee.
Good times!
Now, to the photo: you might be forgiven for thinking that the guy standing to the right of my dad was actually, COL Sanders. It sure looks like him. I half-way expect him to reach out holding a bucket of fried chicken – original recipe!
It’s actually a man named Bud Rose.
He lived in Memphis and I remember him talking to my dad in our house in Saraland about getting sober. He had a Big Book and spoke about admitting that he was “powerless over alcohol … and that his life … “had become unmanageable.”
Yes. It was.
Dad often drove to Memphis to speak or to listen to Bud speak.
But Bud had a secret (sort of). And I’m hoping that this doesn’t constitute some old FBI state secret.
Regardless, Bud would tell us that his claim to fame was being a body guard for the American gangster from Memphis, George Francis Barnes Jr., better known as Machine Gun Kelly. Then he’d lift his shirt and display a large and gruesome scar on his stomach that was produced, allegedly, by a machine-gun. For a good visual, see Lyndon Johnson showing off his surgical scar to reporters.
Sometimes I get the chance to talk about terrorism and its history in the U.S. And this old story makes for a nice way to introduce the topic.
First two are dad. Last one is Bud Rose
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I was driving through downtown Taylorsville, Mississippi (which is fairly small) and a guy in a blue Chevrolet pick-up truck drives past me, extends one hand, and waves like he knows me.
I don’t know him, but I wave back.
I am pretty sure that if I tried that in New York I’d be assaulted and or arrested.
This little hand-waving thing reminds me of my dad and riding in his truck.
My dad had a habit of always waving at approaching vehicles – one hand on the wheel, another hand holding a Pall Mall cigarette (ashes on the seat and floorboard).  If a hand was empty, it’d would be holding a cup of sugar and milk – with a touch of coffee.
My dad grew up in a little town in Alabama. I’m guessing they waved a lot there.
I grew up with the smell of these aromatic (not) cigarettes and, although I don’t mind the smell of some pipe tobacco and most cigars, cigarettes just kill me.
My dad was a real life red-headed step-child.
At the age of 17, he lied to join the Army. He made it just in time for the end of World War II. This gave him a chance to see some more of the world than Choctaw County.
Once he told me, during commercial breaks of Black Sheep Squadron, that he’d been, in no particular order, a driver for an Army general, a mechanic, and a drill instructor. At Camp Campbell the Army even taught him to jump out of perfectly good airplanes.
He didn’t stay in the Army long.
And in the big picture, he didn’t stay here for a long time either.
He died when he was 55.
That was a lifetime ago.
I can’t imagine how he’d react to knowing that I married a Russian or that smartphones exist, or even what Bluetooth is.
I wish he knew.
Sometimes I can still imagine him driving that blue and white 1974 Chevrolet Pick-up truck with white toolboxes on each side. He’s holding a cigarette and a large cup of coffee is precariously situated in front of him – sloshing occasionally all over the dashboard.
He takes a puff and stretches back against the seat.
And waves at an upcoming driver.
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Baldwin Square

Before it was a park in the middle of the now heavily populated Satsuma, Alabama, under a canopy of oaks and home to a few squirrels, there stood a small wood framed house with a detached garage, or as I liked to remember it – our horse barn.
We didn’t have horses.
But we did have a few dogs who could pass for horses any day – at least to a four year old boy with lots of imagination.
There was no asphalt or cement for the short driveway – only fine granulated Alabama top soil baked in the afternoon sun.
It was ideal for mud pies.
Behind the house sat a little one room barbershop and beyond that – train tracks.
My dad caught rides on trains from our personal train station. The train took him to Chickasaw or Mobile for work. I’m hoping it slowed to a manageable speed as there was really no depot in Satsuma at the time. I don’t know that there ever was one there.
The post office was across the street. I think that the house is still there today, although the Postal Service relocated the mail office across Highway 43 beside what used to be a neighborhood store. I liked the old house better.
Once, as a three or four year old, I wandered away from the homestead and into the parking lot of the post office.
I say wandered, but it was about 10 yards away.
I heard galloping. There weren’t many buggies left in circulation, but some still non-conformists chose to travel by horse.
I would call the horse Mr. Ed because he’s what I think of when I remember this scene, but that young rider of the horse now has a son with that name so I’ll call him Speedy.
I stared as this traveler dismounted his horse, looped the rope over a chain-linked fence, and walked inside.
Turns out, Speedy was not interested in checking the mail, or for that matter, waiting for its rider.
Speedy tilted his head a few times, un-looped the rope, backed away from the chain-linked fence, and smiled at me.
OK, maybe he just winked. Regardless, one second later he was galloping down 4th Street towards East Orange Ave.
Soon thereafter, the rider exited the post office with his mail, but with no visible horse on which to return home.
For only a brief second, the horseless rider glanced at me.
Did he think that I had freed Speedy?
He didn’t wait around to ask. He took off in a gallop after his horse on 4th street towards the high school.
The only way I know – or am reasonable sure – of the rider’s identity is that I recounted this story to a friend years ago.
And he told me that he was most likely the rider who failed to properly secure his horse when he went into the post office.
Years later after we’d moved to the only slightly larger city of Saraland, Mr. Baldwin (for whom the park is named) demolished (or moved) that old house. In 1982, the Baldwin family gave the land to the city of Satsuma and it now serves as a public park.
In 1992, I brought a young Russian Princess to this place where I had a kind-of “beginning” (i.e., my parents had moved from Louisiana to Alabama when I was four – so this was my beginning in Alabama. I know it’s a stretch but work with me!)
I kneeled and asked her to begin a new journey with me.
She said yes.
My children don’t care too much for this story – especially after the 100th time.
But I like it.
It reminds me of home.
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Good News Perspective

One person’s good news is another’s bad news.


My wife and I were in college at the same time.

And one of the benefits of attending said school was free health care.

Of course, it wasn’t really free, but an option for students at a reduced price.

Thank you tax payers!

One of the riders to that health insurance was that pregnancy was covered. For some reason I think this was a popular addition.

We already had an 18 month-old girl when I started law school.

But my wife wanted 2 girls. And she wanted them to be about the same distance apart in age as she was from her sister.

There are a few things that professors will tell you not to do when you are in law school.

Don’t get married.

Don’t have a baby.

Don’t rob Federal Reserve banks.

Crazy, right?

Thankfully, my experience in these is limited.

And the statute of limitations hasn’t run yet, so…

I’ll just stick to my story here.

In other words, law school is stressful enough so don’t complicate it by doing more stressful stuff.

Which is apparently why we decided to have a baby in my second year of law school. I missed my Evidence final exam to welcome our second girl into the world.

Hey, some law school classmates got married.

But that’s still not the point.

We went to the university health clinic for a pregnancy test.

Now, upon your first visit to said clinic you must deal with a life-size Barbie doll staring at the sick students waiting to receive Benadryl or other life saving medicine.

Let me say that again: A life-sized Barbie doll. Well over 6 feet tall.

She was creepy.

I don’t know if it is still there but it was not very appealing, unlike the Russian Barbie I had bought for my bride.

Which was pretty and stayed that way until one of our girls gave her a hair cut years later.

Now, for reasons I can’t go into here, we were pretty sure that the wife was pregnant. But we had to get the official test from the clinic so some insurance official could make a car or house payment that month.

A few minutes later a young woman sits down in front of us with a stern look on her face.

And I could tell that she didn’t want to tell us the results of her findings.

Just tell us the news.

“Well,” she began. She was nervous.

“The results are back and, well… Well, um,  you’re pregnant.”

(Actually only one of us was…)

But we both breathed a sigh of relief and happiness.

The worker, for a nano-second, was confused and also breathed a sigh of relief.

“Oh good.”

She was sincerely relieved.

I suspected that this announcement wasn’t always met with happiness. I wouldn’t want her job.

We said thank you to the nice clinic worker and a hearty goodbye to Barbie and went shopping for diapers and baby clothes.


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