Saturday, July 31, 2010

Leftovers from Memphis and beyond …

Hearing that the Pyramid had closed down in Memphis surprised me. I remember it as being a thriving downtown venue for some big-name basketball teams. Of course, that was when I was last there years ago. The Pyramid, by the way, has been leased by Bass Pro Shops and will be transformed into a delta swampland atmosphere complete with restaurants and a bowling alley. ... It also stirred some memories of some other places I’ve been in Tennessee over the years, such as the Jacksons, in Tennessee and Mississippi. I was in Jackson, TN twice with the LeTourneau University women’s basketball for the NAIA national tournament and in Cleveland, TN when it won the first of back-to-back NCCAA National championships in 1996-97. I was also Jackson, MS once for a football game at Jackson State. Stephen F. Austin played there in the late 1980s. I remember because Jackson State is where Walter Payton played in college … On the way to Jackson, MS we drove through Senatobia, MS and I was there in 1986 covering Kilgore College in the JC national tournament. The Lady Rangers won their first national title there, but the national tournament moved to Tyler in 1987, where I covered it for a few years for the Longview News-Journal … I failed to mention it, but Cynthia and I had our first ride in a limousine. We called a limo service after the Passion Play in Eureka Springs to pick us up. The sight of a limo driving through a campground anywhere must have been a sight to see … While waiting on the Memphis bus tour to arrive, two of the largest statues we’ve ever seen were at the Visitor’s Center, one of Elvis Presley and one of BB King. Even their rings were huge … We also loved a large mosaic egg at the entrance of the center proclaiming Memphis to be the Home of the Blues as well as the Home of Rock & Roll.

While touring the Sun Studios, a picture of some of the greatest singers ever was on the wall -- Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins gathered around at a piano. Ironically, Cynthia and I were trying to remember who was in that picture not long ago… St. Jude Research Hospital was interesting. Founded by Danny Thomas on the premise that no child should die in the dawn of life. … Another interesting stop on the tour was the sight of the Lorraine Hotel, the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The hotel was later converted into the Civil Rights Museum. A lady living at the hotel at the time, the last resident in the hotel, had to be physically removed by Memphis police and to this day – 22 years later, 7 months, so many days, so many hours – she still sits on a corner opposite the hotel in protest of the conversion of the motel and the money spent, because it was against everything Dr. King stood for. The police told her, she had fought a good fight, but the fight was over. She assured them it was not. Thus the protest goes on. The lady, Jacqueline Smith, even has a website, and it has a countdown of how long she’s been there …

Our bus driver Willie, told a few jokes along the way. He said UPS will be joining FedEx in the operation of the very expensive (to build) FedEx Forum and the name would be changed to FedUp! … Willie also told a true story, he noted, about two Memphis policemen who were caught digging up Elvis’ grave in the Forest Hill Cemetery, before it was moved to Graceland, because they wanted to hold the body for ransom. The two policemen are still in prison, he added … Willie told us about the bridge over the Mississippi River, that it was named for Dolly Parton, or so said, comedian Bill Cosby ... I’ve learned a little more about Kudsu, the invasive plant growth we saw. It comes from China and is used to stop erosion. It can also grow up to a foot a day or as much as 60 feet during a summer growing season. Larry Pennington jokingly said “plant the seeds and run.”

Thursday, July 29, 2010

East Tennessee and Memphis sights

As previously mentioned in another blog, Cynthia and I spent a week at a Thousand Trails campground -- Cherokee Landing – in west Tennessee and just went on “day trips” from there. One was to Jackson, about 35 miles north where we saw Casey Jones’ old home place and Cynthia took a tour of the museum. Her love of trains is much greater than mine, so I just sat and rested. (we had already walked quite a bit, and my stamina isn’t what it once was). Cynthia told me the story of Casey Jones, who was an engineer on steam locomotive #382 that was involved in a crash with another train. Jones could see it coming, so he instructed the fireman to jump out. Jones, like any good leader, stayed, the two trains collided and he was the only one to die. Sorta, you know, like the captain sinking with the ship.

The next day we went to the site of the Battle of Shiloh, about 35 miles northeast of us. In addition to taking a driving tour of the Shiloh battlefield, which took over an hour, and included sitting in on a short film about the battle of Confederate and Union soldiers, we visited the cemetery of all the union soldiers. The confederates were buried in mass graves in trenches on the battlefield. It was all very interesting. By the time, we had taken the tour, it was time for lunch. We found a place called the Catfish Motel and enjoyed some good fried catfish. It wasn’t really a motel, but the waitress explained that the weary travelers who stopped along side the Tennessee River years ago for some catfish, after all the tales were told and the time had slipped away were invited to spend the night. Hence, the Catfish Motel.

Once we left the catfish restaurant, we went through a small town called Adamsville and discovered it was the home town of Buford Pusser, a late sheriff who carried a big club rather than packing a gun. You may recall the movie Walking Tall, starring Joe Don Baker. It was about Pusser, the legendary sheriff of McNairy County. His home place was there and a museum, though we didn’t go into it. Ironically, Walking Tall comes on television tonight. We plan to tune in.

We visited Graceland the next day in Memphis. Graceland was of course the home of rock n’ roll star Elvis Presley. We toured the home and took in all the sights and sounds of Elvis, including his car museum, the Lisa Marie plane and all the gift shops. It’s a must-see for Elvis fans. The tour doesn’t included the upstairs portion of Graceland. Somebody joked, “Probably because that’s where Elvis is these days …”

Memphis was our next day’s stop, too. We took a bus tour of all the places in and around the city, including a stop at Sun studios where Elvis first recorded his songs, St. Jude Hospital, FedEx Forum and Auto Zone Park, downtown basketball and baseball sports venues. We also ate lunch on famous Beale Street, where the legend of Blues (music) got its start. All in all, our stay in east Tennessee was very relaxing, as well as informative.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Visiting old friends never gets old

Lots of places we haven’t seen and tons of relaxing is something we badly needed on our trip to Tennessee. And although we didn’t get to go as far and see as much as we would have wanted, because of some unfortunate RV problems and the extreme heat, the trip still involved visiting with some old Heavenerite friends and that was something we wanted, too. We traveled 1250 miles, going through five states, but the few days we spent with Jackie and husband Ken Alsup in Arkansas, along with Larry and Sharon Pennington in Memphis, were of the utmost importance.

Cynthia didn’t know Jackie and Ken before last year, but the time with them in Missouri was so fun-filled, we knew that this time in Arkansas would be the same way. They chauffeured us around Eureka Springs and the surrounding area of Northwest Arkansas, took us places that were gorgeous and places to eat that were scrumptious. Ken is a tour guide by trade and now that he has retired, we are certainly happy for him, but the sightseers in Missouri will suffer from his loss. Ken drove us around places and showed us some towns where he would like to live, but Jackie has told him, emphatically, “No!” They intend to move to Fort Smith as soon as they can sell their house in Lampe, MO. Good for them. They won’t be much closer to us, but you can rest assured, we’ll see them a little more often. Tyler to Fort Smith isn’t so far. And vice versa.

Larry and Sharon were as gracious in Memphis as Ken and Jackie were in Arkansas. They took us a couple of places to eat that were also memorable. One Italian restaurant the first night and the next night a catfish place that was to die for. Wray’s Fin n’ Feather. Seems Wray used to work with Sharon and retired. But after a couple years, he sat up in bed one night and announced to his wife, “I know what I want to do, “Put in a catfish restaurant!” He had always caught catfish and had fish fries, and people told him the fish was so good, he should consider opening an eatery. The rest is history.

With his own recipe he fried catfish like no other. Larry had said it was the best he’d ever eaten and I tend to agree. We went to Larry and Sharon’s house in Olive Branch, MS afterwards for some homemade strawberries and shortcake. Mmmm. Larry is an accountant and after years as administrator with a huge Methodist church, he is now working with the Memphis Boys & Girls clubs. Sharon, granddaughter of the late Buck Olive of Heavener, works for a funeral home in Olive Branch in the pre-needs area. Larry is also friends with Jackie, since they know each other from their days in Heavener. Larry was in the Class of ’67 with Jackie’s brother, Charlie Garrett. Jackie, of course, was in the Class of ’65. Larry and I were always good friends growing up in Heavener and both served in Viet Nam in 1969, Larry with the Army and me with the Air Force. We actually saw each other while we over there.

Next blog: sights in eastern Tennessee and around Memphis.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Kudsu rules!

Glen could probably be a little more clear on this since he lives in Tennessee, but one thing Cynthia and I noticed on our trip into the Volunteer state was not only how green every thing seemed to be, but how everything appeared to have some sort of growth all over it. Being the curious newspaper reporter I used to be, I had to inquire about what exactly it was that we kept seeing. It reminded me of ground cover but much, much thicker. Turned out it was something called kudsu or kudzu. A lady at the campground told me about it and didn’t know the correct spelling but said it just takes over and grows up and around everything in sight. Some sort of invasive growth. Cynthia said her mother had told her a little about it, since her mother was from Tennessee. Her dad said cows wouldn’t eat it, because it would make their milk go bad.

Anyway, our stay at the campground allowed us to take several days trips, which I will blog about later and include some photos Cynthia took. Just for grins, I’ll give you a little inside preview, however. We went to Jackson one day and saw the home place of Casey Jones (the famous train engineer) and a museum, toured the site of the battle of Shiloh and stopped to eat some wonderful catfish, plus we went through a little town called Adamsville, where we saw the home place and museum of Buford Pusser, though we didn’t go into the museum. Pusser was a famous sheriff who had a movie – Walking Tall – made about him. He walked around with a big club, rather than a gun.

Another day we went into Memphis and toured Elvis Presley’s home place at Graceland. Neither of us were big Elvis fans, but we liked his music and the tour proved to be very interesting and informative. We went back to Memphis a second straight day and went on a bus tour of the city. Again, very interesting and informative.

The one thing that impressed us was, of course, how green everything seemed to be and how neat and tidy things were. Well-manicured lawns, lots of white fences around all the pastures seemed pretty normal. And, yes, the kudsu, or zu, however it’s spelled, ruled.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Traveling with the Inman's, Part 4

SERENITY, TN – Actually, we’re not in Serenity, it only seems like it. We’re in a little place called Saulsbury, at a Thousand Trails campground. When last we spoke, er, blogged, we were in Memphis, but, alas, we had to put the I-bus in the shop for repairs. Wondering what we could do or where we could go, we decided to go to this Thousand Trails campground. Being members, it was in our directory, we had a bonus week coming, and it was only about 50 miles from Memphis. So, we went online and made reservations to stay in one of the cabins – another perk of being a card-carrying member. So, to make a long blog short, we decided to give it a try. We have stayed in cabins at Lake Texoma, as well as Lakes Conroe and Medina Lake in Texas.

What we discovered is probably Thousand Trails’ best-kept secret. On the website, it suggested to find it, don’t use a GPS. We followed the Thousand Trails’ map. It wasn’t easy to find, but once we got here, we were pleasantly surprised, in a serendipity sort of way. The campground, though neatly tucked away in the “backwoods,” is a beautiful and gorgeous place, surrounded with lots of trees, greenery, lots of campsites with cooking grills and a beautiful little lake behind the cabins. Boomer (in the picture) liked it¸ too. The staff here has been awfully nice, especially, Kelly Burke. She has made everything so accommodating, even came in and made up our beds upon our arrival and made sure we received a newspaper – the Memphis Commercial Appeal -- which as, uh, hum, VIP members are supposed to get. It’s located close enough to plenty of places, so we just took day trips from the campground. We’ve visited the Casey Jones Museum in Jackson, TN, the Battle of Shiloh site and Museum, Adamsville, TN, the home of the famous sheriff Buford Pusser, Elvis Presley’s Graceland and took a bus tour of Memphis.

Now, however, due to our RV being put into the shop for repairs, and the heat being so unbearable, we are leaving tomorrow and heading toward Jackson, MS, get on I-20 to Vicksburg, MS and Shreveport and eventually Tyler. Trying to go on to Nashville, Pigeon Forge and other places east appears to be too much for us to handle. I’ve called and informed my uncles and aunts of our plight. Upon our return home I’ll do another blog with pictures highlighting our trip and our visit with Larry Pennington. Until then …

Monday, July 12, 2010

Traveling with the Inman’s, Part 3

HARRISON, AR – Ha, I fooled you. Although I said our next stop after leaving Eureka Springs would be in Little Rock, we only made it about 35 miles or so before we decided to pull into this nice little RV Park. We got up early before leaving Eureka to do a couple loads of laundry. It was already hot even though we were up by 8 a.m. and it was doubly hot in the laundry room. Anyway, to make a long story short, it wasn’t until noon that we once got on the road. Down the road, Cynthia said, rather laughingly, she was ready to go home. I knew she was tired, so I told her to pull into the first RV park we came to (she does most of the driving), we would stop, chill out (see picture of Boomer by the pool), rest up and take it easy for a while. The RV Park was so nice, we decided to stay for a few days. We went to a movie, to a nice steak house and, literally “took it easy.”

It rained the two days we were here, and the weather cooled off and we had a very comfortable, enjoyable time. In the morning, our plans are to get up bright and early and hit the road again for a little place between Little Rock and Memphis. There we will stop for one night and watch the baseball All-Star Game (just in case you missed it, no less than eight Yankees made the team). Speaking of The Yankees, I’ve been able to watch most of the games on MLB.TV, since we’ve been in places with good internet streaming, which has made me very happy. When Papa John is happy, things are going well.

Once we get to Memphis, we plan to call Larry Pennington and renew an old Heavener acquaintance. And then things will be restored.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Traveling with the Inman’s, Part 2

EUREKA SPRINGS, AR—Boomer likes it here. He made friends with the bears surrounding the teepee next to our RV at Kettle Campground. Our first two days we received a personal guided tour throughout NW Arkansas with our friends, Jackie (Garrett) and Ken Alsup (pictured below) with John. Ken is a tour guide in Dogwood Canyon in Missouri and his talents were not wasted as he took us through Eureka Springs and Berryville then through places we’d never been, like Ponca and Jasper, to Lost Valley, various spots along the Buffalo River and Beaver Lake. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking with the cliffs and valleys, mountains and trees. We crossed Arkansas’s version of the Golden Gate Bridge, but it was only one lane! We dined Wednesday at the Cliff House Inn on what we all agreed was some of the best meat loaf ever. The Inn is actually built into the cliff and overlooks Arkansas’s Little Grand Canyon. (picture at for larger view) We have truly been blessed by their friendship and hospitality. They
have a serious prospective buyer for their little portion of this beautiful country and may be moving to Ft. Smith soon.

Thursday we navigated the trolley system to Thorncrown Chapel, an amazing glass church in a secluded forest setting, then through downtown Eureka Springs to the Crescent Hotel, built in 1886 and remodeled in 1902! It was actually our second visit to the Crescent, because we had lunch there Tuesday with Jackie and Ken. Cynthia did not have her camera with her that day and wanted pictures of the Christ of the Ozarks from the balcony. Of course Thursday it was raining so visibility was not as clear. She got her pictures anyway and spoke with the concierge who was kind enough to let her hear the mechanical self-playing organs in the lobby. On the trolley we also met a woman who had traveled in her RV from Napa, CA to Maine for the birth of her grandson in April and is just now returning to the West Coast. She plans to arrive by the end of July. And we thought our trip was long!

Friday was set aside to visit the site of the Great Passion Play, which includes the statue Christ of the Ozarks (See picture on left). During the day we took the Living Bible Tour, hearing testimonies from the likes of David, Peter, Hannah, and Moses. Next we enjoyed gospel music and Christian comedy along with a good meal at the Top of the Mountain Dinner Theater. The weather cooperated and we were able to view the Great Passion Play with only a few sprinkles. In fact the weather has been relatively cool all week, especially for July.

Next stop Little Rock on the way to Memphis.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Traveling with the Inman’s

Meet Boomer (lower right in picture). Cynthia gave me this little OU gnome and we decided to bring him along on our travels and take a picture at our stops along the way. As you can tell, the first stop was at the Heavener High School reunion.

Had there been a contest for the person who traveled the farthest for the bi-annual reunion, David Hinds would have probably won it hands- down. Hinds, a 1965 graduate, flew in from South America on Thursday to attend the 45th reunion of his class. He and his wife Linda are missionaries currently on furlough from their positions in Chili, where they were serving during the earthquakes earlier this year.
Hinds, along with a sizable contingent from the class of ’65, began the festivities with a dinner Friday evening at the home of Elton Ollar on Timber Ridge Road, followed by a street dance in downtown Heavener. The reunion continued Saturday with registration and a street parade, despite showers. Saturday afternoon the alumni attended class meetings at various locations throughout Heavener and surrounding communities.

The traditional alumni banquet and meeting was held Saturday evening in the high school cafeteria. Continuing a long-standing practice the colors were presented by brothers Martin and Bob Tate. Former superintendent Dale Elliott served as emcee. The Class of ’65 was well represented during the recognition of classes. The evening ended with all in attendance singing Allegiance.

A discussion was held concerning the class’ 50th reunion being held in the fall in conjunction with Heavener’s homecoming football game.

Leaving Long Lake Resort today. Next stop: Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

P.S.: Will send pictures from the reunion to classmates when we return to Tyler.