Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

  • Blog
  • January 21st, 2018


By Joel M. Vance

It’s called “beggar’s tick,” among the more charitable names. What you call it when your long-haired setter comes back covered with the sticky little seeds can’t be reproduced in anything remotely approaching a family magazine.
Others group the seeds with anything that clings to fur and chaps as “sticktights.”
Desmodium is a legume and one of its species, tick trefoil, has few parallels as a quail food. There are 19 species of desmodium in the Midwest. The kidney-shaped seeds are prized by bobwhites in the fall when they’re getting ready for a long winter.
Each seedpod is covered with fine hairs that, like Velcro, stick to almost everything—the plant’s mechanism for spreading its seeds. Fortunately, unlike cockleburs, desmodium is easy to comb out or scrape off.
So prevalent is it that a quail-hunting friend once complained that he’d broken open a brand-new package of underwear shorts…and found sticktights on them. Another friend sprung for a set of hunting chaps although he doesn’t hunt just because their slick surface retained fewer beggar ticks when he was birdwatching.
Desmodium is but one of the vegetative pests that upland hunters are plagued by, a bird hunter’s version of the Book of Job. Spanish needle is an invasive critter, no doubt one that the Spaniards are glad to get rid of. The most familiar seed is a two-pronged affair that attacks your clothing in clusters and, if the clothing happens to be a T-shirt, the little prongs go right through to the skin beneath.
They aren’t as painful as cactus or other stiletto-imitating plants, but they’re irritating and usually manage to lodge somewhere you can’t reach, like between your shoulder blades or, if you happen to be in the supermarket chatting with the local minister, your crotch.
Spanish needle also is grouped with the “sticktight” crowd and I grew up calling it beggar’s lice (as opposed to the desmodium “ticks).
While briars don’t seem to be much of a problem for dogs, they certainly are for dog owners. A friend once chased an errant dog through a multiflora rose hedge, intent on administering a religious experience to the dog, forgetting that he was wearing a down vest. “Looked like a snowstorm,” he said of the resulting cloud of feathers.
Of all the sticky pests in the field, the cocklebur is the arch villain. It’s said that the cocklebur was the inspiration for Velcro—its hooked spikes grab anything soft and won’t let go. While Velcro is ubiquitous today as a fastener and is beloved by all sportsmen, the cocklebur tangled in a setter’s belly fur teaches new variations on old swear words.
Some dogs submit to de-burring with minimum complaint, but many will run through brick walls, bound over broken glass and burning coals and never whimper while they’re hunting. A bird dog’s mind, once locked on hunt, knows no other stimulus. Flop that same dog on his side and begin untangling cockleburs and you’d think you were performing open heart surgery with a can opener.
The screams of anguish alert the neighbors to Vance mistreating his dogs again….and the nearest neighbors live a half-mile away. I figure the ASPCA will be camped in my driveway any day now and I’m prepared. I’ll hand the guy in the uniform my metal-toothed comb and show him my bleeding fingers and say, “You think you can do it better? Have at it!”
Meanwhile, the smirking dog will be trying to sneak away and hide.
No matter how many bur patches Streak has encountered before, he never learns to avoid them. I think all game birds slip into cocklebur patches when they sense bird dogs in the neighborhood. Avian revenge. And then there is the well-known bird dog obsession with intolerable juxtapositions: juicy cowpies, irate bovines who take out their ire on the dog’s owner, porcupines and skunks.
Compared to those fond memories, cockleburs are a minor irritation, but a persistent one. It’s said that you can remove cockleburs by coating the dog with Vaseline and then combing it and I have no doubt this works because who would do such a thing if it didn’t? Which is worse—the dog with burs or an oiled dog?
One authority says to hold the bur in one hand and separate hairs four or five at a time with a steel toothed comb until the bur comes free. That’s fine if you happen to have a few years to spare. I’ve deburred mostly white dogs that were completely brown with burs. A few hairs at a time would have taken me well into the next millennium. Some opt to cut the burs out with scissors and that works if you’re careful and don’t mind the dog looking like a badly-maintained punk rocker. I once sliced my cherished Chubby trying to cut a bur out and my hunting buddy, a Viet Nam medic, sewed him back together. Better to stick with pulling the offending burs.
I’ve had to stop in mid-hunt to relieve the dogs of the worst of the cockleburs, especially those in their armpits and crotch—no fun for dog or hunter alike. Once Pepper went through a cocklebur patch at full tilt and her ears flapped up and stuck together over her head. She came out of the burs looking like a Russian peasant lady with her babushka on.
Cockleburs are so endemic where I hunt that it’s rare when a hunt doesn’t result in a post-hunt bur-picking session. The hunt is fun; the next hour or so involves a squirming, complaining dog and a fuming hunter, frostbitten fingers throbbing, a growing pile of hairy burs nearby.
Dog vests keep the majority of burs off, but some dogs have zero tolerance for clothing. Meg, our Lab, has a nice Neoprene vest to keep her bosom warm in icy water, but she hates the thing—maybe it isn’t her fashion. She goes on sulk-strike, glaring moodily into the distance and ignoring ducks falling like snowflakes all around her.
Likewise, some dogs will pout when you strap boots on them. In many parts of the far Midwest the sandbur creates a vicious obstacle course, along with another bad vegetative citizen, the goat head bur. Either one can turn a dog’s feet into chopped beef. I’ve kenneled the dogs in Nebraska and the Dakotas when the hunting terrain was littered with those nasty little burs. The dogs literally could not take a step without picking one up.
I once sequestered my dog in a stranger’s pickup which lacked a portable kennel. The dog could see us hunting and before we returned it had ripped the pickup topper screens to shreds. A confined dog is a ticking time bomb (as was the owner of the truck).
Perhaps the most dangerous vegetative ambush is a stiff awn from foxtail. One of our dogs came up lame and it took an intuitive vet to realize a shard of foxtail had penetrated between the dog’s toes and was working its way under the skin, up his leg. It took surgery to remove the nasty thing.
The vegetative world truly is a minefield for the working bird dog, but there are side benefits. As I relieve the dog of his burs I fling them disgustedly into the yard and the next spring my lawn is tastefully decorated with jaunty cocklebur plants to go with the crabgrass, knotweed and chickweed that warms the heart of this old green thumb landscaper.

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  • Blog
  • January 15th, 2018


By Joel M. Vance

A while back I spit in a test tube and dutifully sent my slobber off to 23 and me with a modest check so the chromosome folks could tell me who my ancestors were, where they came from and what their genetic makeup was.
23 and me is one of several DNA-oriented companies that check your spit for your roots, without benefit of Alex Haley to record the results. I pretty well knew anyway where I came from thanks to a shirt tail relative who did a genealogy search of my branch of the Vance family years ago and tracked my forebears back to the early 1700s. According to the lady, who wasn’t even named Vance, our clan derives from a bunch of Frenchman who crossed the channel during the Norman conquest, more than 1000 years ago, who then were named Vaux which, over the centuries, morphed into Vans and finally into Vance. Somewhere along the line some of them crossed the ocean and settled in this country, ultimately migrating to Missouri where they have been ever since.
Like every human being in the United States of America including so-called Native Americans who migrated to this continent either from Siberia or up from Central America, I derive from immigrants— and so does Donald Trump, that awful human being, who pretends to be our president.
So, are the Vances, one time citizens of France, a country of fine food and fine wine, entitled to brag about our pure heritage, immigrants worthy of praise from the likes of the Trump? A History Channel story on attitudes toward a certain class of immigrants in the 1840s said this, summing up the prejudiced attitudes of many Americans at the time: “The refugees seeking haven in America were poor and disease ridden. They threatened to take jobs away from Americans and strain welfare budgets. They practiced an alien religion and pledged allegiance to a foreign leader. They were bringing with them crime. They were accused of being rapists. And worst of all, these undesirables were….Irish.
Do I hear loud echoes of Pres. Trump and his toxic rhetoric more than 150 years later castigating immigrants from Africa from Central America, from Middle Eastern countries, from Mexico, and from anywhere else except, apparently, Norway. Nothing it seems ever changes, especially in the mind of Donald Trump where vile opinions are set in concrete. (Reaction from Norway has been universally, “Thanks, but no thanks to Trump’s suggestion we need more Norwegian immigrants).
Yes, Ireland in 1848, was, in the minds of the worst of the United States, a shit hole country. Never mind, that the Irish were fleeing from a multi-year famine that killed hundreds if not thousands of the country’s citizens, mostly because of a repressive regime imposed on them by England.
My mother’s maiden name was Soper which means one who makes soap. Soper is an English name so I have in me the genetic make up of the oppressors and the oppressed. Mom once washed my mouth out with soap for having called a disagreeable playmate a son of a b. I was basically innocent, apparently having heard the term without the “itch” attached and didn’t realize its profane significance. But that cut no ice with my mother who decided, somewhat reluctantly, to use the moment as an object lesson. Like Ralphie in Jean Shepherd’s “A Christmas Story” after Ralphie had used the F word, and got to taste a cake of Lifeboy soap, which had as he described it “a certain piquancy” I can testify that soap does have a distinct piquancy, but not one that you’re likely to find in fine wine.
Anyway, where is a mother, when one needs one to wash out the mouth of the president of the United States for having acted like a five-year-old, using words that he heard his old man use. Only Trump is not a five-year-old—he just acts like one most of the time. The Soper clan is a large one worldwide and I’m sure that I among them are a number of mothers of a liberal bent who would volunteer to stuff the mouth of Donald Trump with a cake of Lifeboy soap, if not to cure him of vile language, at least to shut him up.
Some psychiatrists are pretty sure that Donald Trump is several gold bricks shy of a full load,while others maintain it is wrong to psychoanalyze without examination. Maybe so. Not to draw conclusions but it seems that every time he applies his stubby fingers to the cell phone and vomits forth another erratic tweet right out of the Looney Tunes playbook he reinforces the belief of those of us who think he is off the rails crazy.
It’s discouraging that his base does not realize that this 70-year-old spoiled brat is no more advanced as a human being than a five-year-old who is upset about something. Does this mean that his base is composed of adult children acting like unruly grade schoolers during recess? I suspect so. We don’t see condemnation nor regret among those who voted for this despicable excuse for a world leader. And what’s more discouraging is that we don’t see a wholesale repudiation of the man by his own party leaders. Some have offered halfhearted pats on the wrist after one of the Donald’s outrageous tweets, but most have either murmured obfuscations or been AWOL when asked what they now think of the Screwball in Chief.
Some sub-Saharan African nations that Donald Trump denigrates as shit holes where people live in huts, have a GDP equivalent to or greater than that of the United States. Yes, some of them have their problems, but look around you— so does the United States, the major of which is that it continues to be a racist society unable to come to grips with its intolerant past and increasingly intolerant of those of everywhere else. And everywhere else is where our ancestors migrated from. Spit in a test tube and find out you aren’t as pure as you think you are.
We have so much in our history to apologize for, us white people. Start with people of color shanghaied to a life as slaves and add to that the shameful way we have treated what we now call native Americans. We deny that anyone who is not derived from northern Europeans (think Norwegians who already have many of the things that Trump wants to take away from us, like universal healthcare) can be a true American and is one who deserves to be barred from entry into our country. We propose to emulate the Soviet Union and East Germany by building a wall to bar immigrants from Mexico. How stupid and regressive is that? As long as we continue to deny our repressed racism, we WILL continue to practice it— and, I’m afraid, continue to elect sub humans like Trump and those who wallow in the toxic mud of racism.
The father of our granddaughter in law, a successful Kenyan businessman, emailed our daughter Carrie after Carrie had apologized on behalf of decent Americans for the hateful words of Donald Trump, “Dear Carrie, Thank you for your kind remarks. First I would like to say that it is not your fault, and we as members of your family know very well how you feel. It is disappointing to hear the president of the US talk the way he has just done about immigrants. I am currently in Kenya, and I would like to take this opportunity to give you salaams from here…my mother especially has asked me to give you and your family her very kind regards. We love you all as well, just as much.”
Tony’s mother owns a large plantation in Kenya and our granddaughter in law now has dual citizenship with Kenya and the United States. She was born in Kenya, educated in England, emigrated to the United States and joined the U.S, Army for four years as a path to her citizenship in this country. She has been a teacher and best of all has become a treasured member of our extended family.
As I said, her father Tony is a successful businessman in Africa. Compare him to Donald Trump who has declared bankruptcy at least seven times, and who is without doubt financed today by Russian money, tied to Vladimir Putin and his oligarch allies. Trump is a money laundering machine for the Russians— there is no doubt in my mind the man is an, as yet, unindicted criminal who somehow has managed to con his way into the most powerful office in the world and who brags that he has a larger nuclear button than his equally insane North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un.
Is it somehow unpatriotic to call the president of the United States an insane criminal? As an imperturbable major league baseball umpire once told an irate Yankee manager Casey Stengel, who was objecting vehemently, to a called third strike, “I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.” New Yorker Casey Stengel was a credit to the city where he managed; his counterpart New Yorker Donald Trump is merely a disgrace, not just to New York City, but to the entire world. No, make that a disgrace to all humanity, and to the idea of man having evolved into a superior animal. Give me the simple fealty of a Labrador retriever any day.
Meanwhile, where is a Soper, armed with a large bar of Lifeboy and access to the Oval Office and to the man who squats behind the desk there like our own Jabba the Hutt, with the intent of laundering, not Russian money, but the dirty mouth Donald Trump.

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  • Blog
  • January 10th, 2018


By Joel M. Vance
Our son Andy was in mourning, tears welling, a feeling of hopeless abandonment, an overwhelming sense of loss. His 10-year old pickup was headed for the crusher. It was not a choice—the truck became afflicted with terminal frame rust and was recalled by Toyota which planned to euthanize it into a cube the size of a portable dog kennel.
Andy spent 10 years and 100,000 miles turning that pickup into a bird hunting vehicle and now it was destined for Automotive Heaven. It joined my late hunting buddy Spence Turner’s ancient Volvo and my 1967 Ford Fairlane station wagon on the Celestial Compost Heap. There must be a special place in the Jalopy Junkyard for defunct bird vehicles because they have transcended the normal wear and tear of vehicular life and become something else—sort of automotive Rambos.
Oh, sure, Andy got a hefty settlement from Toyota which was suffering corporate embarrassment because of other recalls, and he acquired a new pickup, shiny, smelling not of wet bird dogs and the gaseous effusions from hunters who have lunched on stale baloney and rat cheese, but of Essence du Pick-Up Nouveau.
It wasn’t a hunting vehicle, not at first. Not until it has had its muffler battered by rocky high centers, its floor mats defiled by muddy boots, its seat covers stained by game bird blood and the vomit of carsick puppies. That takes time and careful attention. Calling a hunting vehicle names and kicking it is preferred as a repair procedure to using a set of wrenches.
The Fairlane became so rusty in its nether parts that you could watch the passing pavement (or more often a gravel or dirt surface) passing beneath your feet. Spence’s Volvo had so much detritus in it from countless bird hunting ventures that I suspect empty McDonald’s wrappers, blood-matted feathers, green-colored dog food residue and other impedimenta of the bird hunter’s life were all that was holding the thing together. But, like all vintage hunting vehicles, it had an engine that could have competed in NASCAR. A great heart transcends the weaknesses of everything else.
Spence’s Volvo was a work-in-deprogress, if there is such a word. The Volvo company began in 1927 in Gothensburg, Sweden, not exactly a capital of bird hunting and there’s no doubt that Gustaf Larsson and Assar Gabrielsson, who founded the company, both spun in their graves like roulette wheels when Spence’s station wagon reached its nadir of neglect.
There is no way they could have foreseen what would happen to the descendant of their first proud quality car. Spence’s hatchback had broken so it needed to be propped up to stay open, and a viscous assortment of unidentifiable items had accumulated throughout the interior, like driftwood in the wake of a hurricane. Then came the final insult.
Spence loaded two setters in a portable kennel which, like the rear hatch, was defective—the gate would not latch. No problem. He positioned the kennel against the Volvo hatchback and went hunting. Spence was fond of snack food and he brought a two-pound sack of chocolate-covered raisins to keep his metabolism at bay on the long road to the bird fields.
He was to work at a deer check station the next day, so he had a duffel bag with clean clothing on the passenger seat and, being Spence Turner who lifted untidiness to an art form, the bag was unzipped. Spence decided one dog was enough, so set out with the chosen one, leaving the reject howling in frustration. An abandoned bird dog, having glimpsed its master and kennel mate armed and headed for likely-looking cover, is a canine time bomb.
The spurned setter managed to scoot the kennel back far enough to push the gate open, wriggle out and over the kennel toward the front seat, venting its frustration en route by rending the headliner and seat padding. And then it discovered almost two pounds, less Spence’s intake, of chocolate-covered raisins. If Daddy wouldn’t take the dog hunting, at least he left a generous supply of snacks. The dog gulped the raisins as only a bird dog can.
Might as well have swallowed an armed hand grenade. When Spence returned he opened the door to a tattered interior and the awful smell of what the dog had deposited in his duffel bag. Spence was appalled. He considered the wreckage of his vehicle and cried in anguish, “He ate my chocolate-covered raisins!”
My very first bird dog puppy became carsick and demonstrated on our trip home from his birthplace that a five-pound animal can vomit seven pounds of awfulness. He never again was sick, but he didn’t need to be. He had forever marked the Fairlane with the faint ambience of dog whoops.
Andy baptized his Toyota long ago, learning the hard way that bird dogs need to be drained thoroughly, fore and aft, before you load them. No matter how eager they are to kennel up, until they have hunkered and leg-lifted they are not ready. And a bird dog, having misbehaved in the back of a pickup, will then do a fecal fandango that spreads the malaise like fallout from a nuclear explosion.
After such an event it’s a grand thing to have a hard fiber bed liner and a power washer, not to mention a deep head cold and a strong stomach.
A friend created a bird vehicle in one afternoon in a duck marsh. He left his Lab shut in a Blazer, along with an unopened case of shotgun shells. He returned to find the frustrated dog had destroyed the headliner and the seat cushions and had ripped open the case of shells and every box within. “Do you know how many shells there are in a case?” he asked rhetorically. The answer is 300, assuming a dozen boxes of 25 each.
It would make a good question on Jeopardy, but only if the contestants were sporting dog owners.
Another friend, Mark VanPatten, had perhaps the ultimate outdoorsman’s vehicle when he was a teenager. He was too young to drive legally, but given the state of the car that was a minor inconvenience. He and a younger friend lived in the deep Ozarks and made Huck and Tom look like housebound sissies.
They somehow acquired a decrepit 1962 Plymouth Belvedere which they used to prowl the backwoods roads (or sometimes off-road), hunting, fishing and camping, often for days. Then they decided to go to Woodstock, yes, that Woodstock. That the famed concert was a thousand miles from their Ozark home was a minor inconvenience.
That they were unlicensed also was immaterial. That there were no seats in the Belvedere and they had to use orange crates to sit on was a matter of adaptation. When they got back from the long trip (“Remember the scene in the Woodstock movie with the kids skinny-dipping?” Mark says. “That was my bare butt showing.”) they resumed their forays into the Ozark woodlands, fishing, hunting and camping out.
Ultimately the tires gave way and there was no money to buy new ones. But that was no barrier to backwoods travel as long as there were rims. But rims on cherty Ozark backroads is like scrubbing your face with sandpaper and it wasn’t long until the wheels were nearly down to the hubs.
Regretfully they pushed the plucky Plymouth into a shallow grave beside the road and here it squats to this day, a monument to Ozark ingenuity and tenacity.
We come now to my truck. Let me describe it (you might want to send the kids out of the room). It is 28 years old which in truck years, like dog years, is nearly a century and a half. It has interesting rusted out portholes in the bed which were not factory installed. That’s so the dogs can see what the road improvements are—except there are no road improvements where we go. So far the holes are not so big that the dogs risk falling through, but give it another hundred thousand miles or so.
The tailgate has a crease in it from where our daughter practiced her destructive backing technique, and the driver’s door is sprung because the mechanic who was fixing a minor ailment forgot to put the truck in gear when he parked it, left the door open, and it tried to escape and ran into a light pole.
The door panels are splotched with rust blossoms. There is no Clearasil to cure automotive acne, so I leave it alone. It gives the truck individuality and I could pick it out instantly from among a hundred Nissans.
The seat leans forward to give access to the space behind it, but I am half afraid to open that Pandora’s Box of surprises. A tangle of jumper cables is about the only identifiable object and, oddly, the only time I’ve ever used them was to start someone else’s vehicle.
This is a truck that defines a good ol’ vehicle. It starts instantly on the coldest day and I believe I could run it to the North Pole and back without an engine misfire. It does have four-wheel drive of the old style where you have to get out in subzero temperatures and lock the hubs with numb hands. I do have to confess that the good old truck has been retired and now is unlicensed, uninsured, and used only on our own place to haul firewood.
Four wheel drive, a friend once told me, is so you can go farther before you get stuck. Next to the engine, the most important equipment is a come-along. I was in four-wheel drive in a good ol’ Suburban one night when I hit snow-covered ice on a bridge, did a complete 180 and plunged into a 10-foot deep ditch.
Four bird dogs in two kennels and I stared at each other and took a simultaneous deep breath. “You don’t want to drive in four-wheel on ice,” a nice patrolman unnecessarily told me. But the Suburban, except for a fractured front axle, landed upright, the dog kennels scarcely moved and we all survived for many more miles.
As my truck aged so have the dogs. Several need help to mount the tailgate. In their early years they began their leap about six feet from the truck, cleared the tailgate and crashed into the kennel. Now they look imploringly at us for help.
These days my back hurts to the point that lifting a 40-pound Brittany is like taking a fungo shot in the sacroiliac from Albert Pujols. I may have to build a handicap ramp for the dogs and use a walker for myself when we hunt. There is little hope for remedy aside from a team of knife-wielding orthopedic surgeons shouting “Book the Club Med vacation!” to their receptionists. You can buy a new truck, but replacement bodies are tougher to come by unless you have a helper named Igor and your name is Victor Frankenstein.
The thought of buying a new truck is like thinking about the end of life. Not fun. We will stick with our shabby veteran until it coughs its last or until Mr. Nissan does what the Grim Reaper of Toyota did to Andy and condemns it to the crusher.
Meanwhile Andy is enjoying his sparkling new truck. If he’s lucky Millie or Mattie or Libby or Meg or Cap or will vomit copiously en route home from some obscure hunting destination the canine version of breaking a bottle of champagne over the bow at the launch of a battle wagon.

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  • Blog
  • December 25th, 2017


This was the first blog I ever posted on this website, on my birthday in 2010. It seems almost a lifetime ago, as does the event described. But it also seems somehow appropriate to repost it on this day of peace when, if we believe someone arrived two thousand years ago to offer hope to a troubled world, we can also believe that such people do exist even in our own time. To the memory of my mechanical Messiah I offer my inadequate thanks and tell him or his spirit that Marty and I made it home, her cold is cured, the ailing Ford, having served a long and useful life has gone to the great junkyard in the sky, and the pitiful kids you played savior to have done okay in the six decades since.
May everyone who reads this blog find someone in his or her life who measures up to that guy, whether it’s in or out of church, whether it’s in daily life or wherever. Have a wonderful Christmas and accept the fondest hopes from the Vance family for peace, good health and happiness for all of you.
• * * *
By Joel M. Vance
We were young, less than a year married, in love and far from home. We were still learning to live together and had not suffered any major crisis—no births, deaths or serious illness. I was stationed at Ft. Bliss, Texas, perched on the south edge of the United States in the arid desert around El Paso.
It was peacetime, 1957, and my active duty tour had ended. I was an unemployed second lieutenant with a specialty in antiaircraft artillery, a skill that, in the age of missiles and jet airplanes, was as useful as wet plate photography.
I had a couple hundred dollars in cash. Home in central Missouri was 1,200 miles away. Marty and I left El Paso well before dawn, intending to drive all the way without stopping—there was little money, even for a cheap motel room.
Marty had come down with a miserable cold, one of those ache all over, watery-eyed, nose-dripping miserable colds that feels worse than most terminal illnesses. She huddled on the passenger side of the 1949 Ford we’d bought for $500 and periodically sneezed and whimpered.
I sped through the night, the Ford purring like a contented kitten. We finally were going home, freed from sand burrs and cacti and being treated like cheese mold by superior officers and subordinate non-coms, vectoring on soybeans and corn. There was no traffic. The yellow headlights flashed across the occasional saguaro cactus, its arms raised in a southwest Texas goodbye.
The night flowed past like a dark river. The headlights showed yucca and sage and sand—for the last time, I hoped, at least on an involuntary basis. The Southwest is hospitable only to those with enough money to afford air conditioning and swimming pools…or to rattlesnakes, Gila monsters and scorpions.
We slipped into New Mexico, passed by Alamogordo and White Sands National Monument where we had spent a giddy weekend sliding on the pristine white dunes like the kids we had been back in Missouri, sledding on a snowy hill.
Mountains began to appear to our east as the rising sun, still hidden behind them, lightened the sky. We were in rolling hills that seemed to go on forever, the way they do in Western states. Tularosa, Three Rivers, Oscuro…the little towns came and went, each of them one step closer to home.
Our euphoria at being freed from military servitude lasted 250 miles until the Ford threw a rod. We were 10 miles outside Santa Rosa, New Mexico, and about 900 miles from Macon, Missouri. What had been a landscape of stark beauty suddenly became alien and hostile.
There was no traffic and I was 10 miles from help with a sick wife and an even sicker car. As miserable as she was, Marty would get well without help, but the Ford needed intensive care. I prayed that Mr. Ford had built a car that would endure the torment I was proposing to inflict on it—to go for help with a busted engine. I coasted down the hills and clenched my teeth so hard my jaws hurt as the Ford labored uphill, the shattered parts clattering around in the guts of the engine.
Finally we drifted into Santa Rosa, a town of about 1,500 and I stopped to ask where we could get a car fixed. “Ain’t much to choose from,” a fellow said. “There’s a Ford garage up the street.” I suspected the Ford mechanics would charge far more than I had available and it would take several days to get the car fixed.
But any small town kid knows there is a one-man garage somewhere in town, operated by a perpetually greasy mechanic who can fix any car ever made. “Is there a fix-it garage anyplace around?” I asked.
The fellow directed us to a quintessential one-man auto repair shop where the one man was shoulder-deep under someone’s hood. With Marty beside me, red-eyed and sniffling, I explained my problem. “I can do it,” the fellow said. “But I’ll have to get the parts from Tucumcari and that’s an hour away, each way. I can get it done by sometime tomorrow.”
I must have looked as if I were going to burst into tears (because I was). “I just got out of the Army,” I said. “We just have a little money and we’re trying to get home to Missouri.” I stopped there because I didn’t know what else to say. Marty snuffled.
The fellow looked at us through a sheen of automotive grease and said, “Well, I’ll do the best I can. Can’t promise anything, though. I’ll try to get her done by tonight sometime. Check back later.” It wasn’t as if he had no other work. Cars were stuck here and there in the small garage and we should have been at the end of the line.
We trudged through steadily increasing heat to a small motel where I repeated my story of woe. The proprietor, less friendly than the mechanic, grudgingly rented us a room for the day, a place where Marty could lie down in misery and I could count the minutes. If every day passed as slowly as that one, we’d all live a thousand years—but not very happily.
It was stifling by mid-day and we stripped to our underwear and sweated in the sweltering heat. There probably were motels with air conditioning, but not in Santa Rosa for $2.50. We tried to sleep, but it was too hot. I got dressed and told Marty I was going to check on the car. She coughed and sniffled.
The mechanic said he’d sent for the parts and they’d be in Santa Rosa in about an hour. “If everything goes well I might get it done by 8 or 9 tonight,” he said. Seven hours to wait in that awful motel room, sweating and anxious. I still didn’t know how much the car would cost, but I was pretty sure it would be more than we had. I didn’t know what we’d do if that were the case.
This was well before credit cards and we had no bank account. I supposed I could phone my parents or Marty’s, collect, to wire some money, but really didn’t want to do that and reinforce their opinion that we should have waited to get married and that I was a son/son-in-law with no money and little prospects.
The day dragged on and finally the sun began to go down and it got a little cooler. I went back to the garage about eight and the mechanic, tired and dirty, said he was almost finished. “Haven’t had any supper,” he said. “I wanted to get you folks on the road.” I didn’t know what to say to him. How can you thank someone who has given up his day, his work and his supper to help his fellow man and a stranger at that?
I didn’t get his name or address. I was young and thoughtless and I should have done that, among many thoughtful things that I didn’t. No doubt Hell is filled with folks who didn’t do something nice when the opportunity was there, but I hope when they throw a rod in a celestial carriage there is a grimy guy in an obscure corner of Heaven who will say, “I’ll have her done before manna.”
“Don’t push it,” the fellow said. “Let those parts wear in before you run her above 50 or so.”
Now came the dreaded part. “How much do I owe you?” I asked.
He wiped his dirty hands with an equally dirty rag, looked at me and at Marty who sniffled and coughed. “Say about $90,” he said. Even as dumb as I was about cars I knew that I was paying only for parts and maybe not all of them and not for his hours of hard work. I felt my eyes water and swallowed hard.
I emptied my scuffed billfold and handed the worn bills to him.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” I said. “I…don’t know…”
“Forget it,” he said. “Maybe you can help me out some day.”
They say charity begins at home, but I’d argue that, for me, it began long ago with a scruffy mechanic in Santa Rosa, New Mexico.

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  • December 23rd, 2017


By Joel M. Vance

Here’s the good news, to brighten your holiday spirits. All the Congressional bastards have gone home, having done as much damage to the country as they could in 2017. They’re warming up to do even more to the country in 2018, unless we band together as voters to throw them out of office(and maybe impeach the arch enemy who defames the White House every day he abandons his golden tower and deigns to live in the country’s own home)
You all doubtless know that Congress has passed a massive tax cut which will screw you over and will benefit the wealthy donors of those who serve in the increasingly grimy halls of Congress. The president well, if he already hasn’t, will sign this present to himself with much glee and holiday cheer like Santa Claus gone totally insane— and in case no one has noticed, Donald Trump is certifiably nuts. He has so many things wrong with him psychologically; it would take a psychiatric casebook to list them.
Oh yeah the tax bill includes a provision opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, a kiss of death for any national natural resource. And the Environmental Protection Agency headed by an arch enemy of the Environmental Protection Agency, is poised to allow the spraying of deadly pesticides on many thousands of acres of farmland which should put an end to the Monarch butterfly and other pollinators of the very crops that the pesticides are alleged to protect. Think about that, for those of the future, when all of a sudden the agricultural products that come from the land, bereft of pollinating insects, are in short supply and everyone is wondering why.
The scene among the Republican leadership after the passage of the tax bill was nauseating, like watching the climactic scene of one of Caligula’s orgies. Looming above it all, like Jabba the Hutt, was Donald Trump who finally achieved one of his fondest aims, the screwing of the majority of middle income Americans. And the unfortunate thing is that most of them, conned as so many business people have been over the years by Trump, will think at least for the short haul as if they have gained something. It’s useful to remember the prophetic words of PT Barnum, himself a master con man (although not nearly as harmful to the general population as is Trump) who said, “you can fool all of the people some of the time but not all of the people all the time.”
Paul Ryan smarmy architect of disastrous economics and Mitch McConnell the chinless wonder from Kentucky, and Mike Pence all swarmed around Mount Trump like dung loving insects attracted to a manure pile. Nothing needs to be said about vice president Pence except that if Trump ever suddenly stops, Pence will break his nose.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to get into the spirit of Christmas, a time that should appeal to peace on earth and goodwill toward men, when we are so beset by a rapacious government, gone to the dark side. Where is a real-life Luke Skywalker when we need him? The Democrats can’t come up with anything better than Hillary Clinton who was marginally more popular than the man she ran against and the Republicans are dedicated to the philosophy that all men are created equal— except that they are more equal than the Democrats or anybody whose political inclinations are left of the Ku Klux Klan.
Meanwhile the chicken Congress populated mostly by white leghorn roosters of both parties, kicked all the important issues down the pike until next month. It passed a stop gap spending bill to avoid having to shut down the country, but left 800,000 people hanging (those children of illegal undocumented immigrants who have been in this country all their lives but who stand in danger of being deported to a country they have never known), and refused to fund the children’s insurance program (CHIP) leaving countless children in danger of losing not only their healthcare but their lives. It also likely will result in the loss of health care for 13 million Americans. The Republicans have set the stage for deep cuts if not elimination of Medicare, Social Security, and other programs that have saved Americans from poverty. In order to pay for their gift to the rich they will claim a necessity to lower the national debt by deep cuts in vital programs while their rich donors wallow in the filthy lucre that we get to pay for.
Our local congressional representative, Blaine Luetkemeyer (he is not my representative—I would no more claim him then I would pick up a venomous reptile) is among the wealthiest congressmen He certainly didn’t get any of it from me nor will he. All I pledge to him is a no vote against his name on the next ballot. Luetkemeyer’s wealth among Missouri congresspeople is exceeded only by that of Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat. Luetkemeyer’s worth is almost $16 million.15 times more than the average member of Congress and 19 times more than the average representative. Money talks in Congress, but unless you have it, you are basically mute. Most of Luetkemeyer’s campaign money comes from banking and insurance company interests.
Lurking always in the background is the disheveled Steve Bannon, infinitely more intelligent than Donald Trump and also infinitely more devious and frightening. He may seem bombastic and a somewhat cartoonish figure, but then so was Adolf Hitler when he started out and look where that led.
Bannon is ruthless and cruel and capable of and dedicated to any indignity committed on the fabric of our democracy. He calls himself a populist, a man of the people, but his people are more in the mode of the Hitler regime’s SS, the worst of the worst. It’s easy to compare Breitbart News, the Bannon voice, to the propaganda machine of Hitler’s Heinrich Himmler and see an alarming resemblance. Stirring up the populace to mass insanity, hysteria, and infinite cruelty is what Himmler did effectively and where Breitbart seems to be headed. Bannon recently told a reporter for Vanity Fair, noted for its political reporting, “I have power. I can actually drive things in a certain direction.”
It’s terrifying to think that where he might be driving things is right over a cliff, if Trump doesn’t beat him there first. Bannon professes to hate the Republican establishment, especially Mitch McConnell, but that doesn’t make him right, even though we share that distaste. It just makes him a different threat, but no less a dire threat to the future of the nation.
While I’m ranting about the dire prospects of what the nation seems to be becoming, let me comment on Sarah Huckabee Sanders who, in my mind, scarcely deserves to be described as a woman. It’s hard to believe she is a woman, considering the fact that she daily stoutly defends a man who violates every value that a woman—a real woman— cherishes. Not to mention one who violates the women themselves.
The Pulitzer prize-winning website Politifact has a scorecard on Sarah Sanders. It rates her statements in defense of the Groper-in-Chief as false 75% of the time and pants on fire false the other 25%. Rated true, mostly true, half true, or mostly false 0% of the time. The discouraging aspect of her press briefings is that she exhibits no shame in standing in front of the nation’s press corps and lying so obviously that even the densest Trump voter should be able to figure it out. Although perhaps that’s giving that “basket of deplorables” too much credit.
Not only does she defend Donald Trump the Groper in Chief, but she doesn’t, as an avowed evangelical Christian, daughter of a Baptist minister, and fervid believer in Biblical precepts, stand up for those principles and condemn the man and his allies who violate them with impunity, but she also trumpets his values as if they were her own. How’s that for hypocrisy? Where Sean Spicer lurked in the bushes like the comic German soldier from the old Laugh In show (“veddy intereshting”) and seemed ill at ease at the podium, Sarah Sanders embraces her rostrum as if she were delivering a hellfire and damnation sermon at the end of a church service. Maybe there’s a point there—hellfire and damnation loom closer all the time. She also is a mistress of passing the buck. Any uncomfortable subject which, these days, is almost anything gets booted along to somebody else with the promise that that source will be right in touch with all pertinent information. Somehow, those promises never get kept.
This country is within a very few years of being 250 years in existence. It endured two wars for independence from England. It endured a devastating civil war to ensure the integrity of one nation. It endured two world wars, a crippling depression that probably would have destroyed a nation with less resilience, the trauma of two largely useless wars in Korea and especially in Vietnam. We’ve had some great presidents and some real losers— although the one we are saddled with now is a horse’s ass of a different color, artificially and gruesomely yellow-orange. Still, likely, we will survive Donald Trump as we have survived other loser leaders and other outrages to the ideal of a democratic republic.
This is a nation that seems to endure and survive regardless of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that plague it. Perhaps that is what is meant by the American spirit— the ability to take what would be a knockout punch to any other nation and get off the floor to fight again.
So, in this time of unhappiness and possible peril try to see the world as joy filled and uncomplicated as are those of a puppy or a kitten. Celebrate the birth of Christ— or not. Up to you. Go to a church—or not. Up to you. But do give thanks for the miracle of life and for the wonder of the natural world. Take time out to contemplate a bird and wonder about it. And have a peaceful Christmas with those you love and make a vow to work toward the happiest new year ever in 2018.
Up to you.

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  • December 19th, 2017


I posted this as a blog back in January which makes it almost a year old. And, just as I predicted it would, it has come to pass. Our pretend president, the maniac of the White House, and his evil surrogate, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, have done just when I said they would— destroyed the integrity and probably the sanctity of the Bears Ears national monument, shrinking it by 80%. Native Americans are rightly incensed because they consider this area sacred land, which it was long before the Trumpites came along intending to desecrate it. They hope to force Zinke and Trump’s action into court and public view, and rouse the populace to righteous fury.
What the two of them have done is analogous to spitting on the flag and they will continue to do such scurrilous things as long as their scrofulous regime exists. It’s up to voters, especially in coming elections, to throw the scoundrels out of office and start to make things right again. We are in perilous times, led by an almost demonstrably insane person who seems intent on ripping asunder the very fabric of the United States of America.
By Joel M. Vance
‘tis said the wheels of progress grind slowly. For conservation it seems like sometimes they simply grind to a halt. That’s the danger facing the country now if the Trump administration turns the nation’s public lands legacy into history.
As citizens and taxpayers we all have a stake in and own a piece of public lands: national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, national grasslands— and that great unknown the Bureau of land management.
BLM controls 264 million acres. All those acres are open to hikers hunters and others who want to enjoy the nation’s outdoor legacy. Then there are those who would use those same acres for exploitation. Congress has the power to sequester that land for everyone or to turn it into a giant shopping center for special interests. Think mineral, oil and gas exploitation.
The threat to sell off public lands is real and imminent, but the Obama administration used a little-known piece of legislation to set aside a number of BLM lands, supposedly forever. It’s called the Antiquities Act, signed into law in June, 1906, by Pres. Theodore Roosevelt. Its aim was to protect cultural and natural resources in the United States.
We have not had a president since Teddy so dedicated to the preservation of the outdoors. A hunter and fisherman, the blunt spoken Mr. Roosevelt was the outdoorsman’s best friend one hundred and eleven years ago and he still is. There has not been a president like him since, although a couple have come close.
Pres. Obama used the Antiquities Act to set aside and protect a number of areas that fall into the category of cultural and natural resources. To name a few, Rio Grande del Norte, Berryessa Snow Mountain, a bunch of others and, most recently and notably, Gold Butte and Bears Ears, in Utah). Unfortunately, what one president giveth by executive action, another can just as easily taketh away. Likewise Congress can pass laws that hamstring protection for outdoor resources.
Critics of Pres. Obama have objected to his use of executive action. For the record many presidents have used executive order or action more frequently than Pres. Obama. You have to go back as far as Grover Cleveland to find a president who use the congressional circumventing executive order fewer times than Pres. Obama. It’s worth remembering that Theodore Roosevelt created the first of the world renowned national wildlife refuge system by executive action in 1903 because Congress wouldn’t. Other president similarly has set aside natural resources by executive action, both Republican and Democrat.
As one of his final acts in office Pres. Obama designated Utah’s Bears Ears area as a national monument. The area has been sacred to Native Americans for thousands of years and still is an important source of native medicinal plants and wild game for the estimated 20,000 Indians who live within the boundaries of the monument.
Bears Ears is a huge area, some 1.2 million acres, roughly equivalent to the size of the state of Delaware. According to critics of Obama’s designation, the area could be a source of mineral and energy extraction. Thus, the almost inevitable collision between those who would plunder a national resource and those who would protect it. No president in the 111 year history of the Antiquities Act has reversed the decision of a predecessor, but Pres. Trump could do it with the slash of a pen.
Peter Metcalf founder of one of the outdoor industries largest manufacturers, Black Diamond, has called for the outdoor retailers to pull their winter expo out of Utah because of political opposition to the Bears Ears designation. Thus twice yearly show attracts about 22,000 people and brings in an estimated $45 million to Utah. The Associated Press quotes Metcalf, “if they don’t want to change their policies, we should respond with our dollars, with our conventioneers, with our money, and take the show to a state that is much more aligned with our values.”
The Antiquities Act has been a blessing to those who would protect natural resources and a curse to those who would plunder them. Pres. Jimmy Carter designated 56 million acres in Alaska over the protests of local politicians and others who opposed protection for those lands. Predictably, Congress was deadlocked over the idea of setting aside such a large chunk of the nation. Another president, Bill Clinton, designated more national monuments than any other president.
The first big battle under the Antiquities Act was when Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt set aside Jackson Hole, Wyoming, as a national monument, after Congress had refused to give the area protection. Congress passed a bill to abolish the national monument but Roosevelt vetoed it. Finally, in 1950 Congress created the grand Teton National Monument.
If there is a single situation which summarizes the possible course of the nation in regard to conservation Bears Ears is it. The United States has much to answer for over the course of its history, especially over its treatment of Native American rights. Even before there was slavery as a blot on the white man’s resume, white European pilgrims were busily slaughtering Native Americans and stealing their heritage and resources.
Native Americans proved that they do have a voice in what happens to their natural resources when many banded together in North Dakota to block a proposed pipeline that had the potential to damage the area’s drinking water supply. The standing rock Sioux tribe at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers vowed to stop the proposed pipeline, which would have stretched 1,100 miles and would have been built under a permit from the US Corps of Engineers, and which was to have been financed by a consortium of banks, oil and gas companies.
The Sioux quickly gathered supporters from conservationists across the land, of all races creeds and colors. Despite determined efforts to break up a large sit-in camp, which included the use of water cannons, arrests, mace and guard dogs, and the removal of water and sanitation resources from the tribe’s reservation, the conservationists prevailed— in December, 2016, the Army said it would explore alternate routes for the pipeline, but the fight is not over (it never is) because president Trump, who owns stock in the company building the pipeline, could reinstate the original route.
A similar fight could be brewing over Bears Ears, but like the pipeline brouhaha, Bears Ears could bring together a diverse team of conservationists to fight any attempt to undo protection for the Utah national treasure. It’s worth mentioning that attempts to protect the Bears Ears area as a national monument date to 1968. It will be jointly managed by BLM and the U.S. Forest Service.
Predictably, the national monument designation of Bears Ears has been greeted by a mixed reaction. Present plans are to allow all activities that now exist including hunting, fishing , grazing, and timber management, but to prohibit new development of oil gas and mineral resources. While many sportsmen endorse the Bears Ears monument designation, others are equally opposed to it, apparently fearing that somehow they will lose access to the area.
The Conservation Lands Foundation is one organization dedicated to, in the words of one of its workers, “turn the Bureau of Land Management into a better conservation agency.” The nonprofit group donates collected funds toward protection of otherwise vulnerable natural resources. “BLM is a system just as big and worthy and great as our national parks or national wildlife refuges. And they’re better, because people can hunt and fish in them. It’s just that nobody knows what they are.”
That some sportsmen should oppose legislation that protects their right to hunt on public land, and which was signed into law by the greatest sportsman/hunter president we’ve ever had, is hard to believe. As another great American forefather, Benjamin Franklin, who proposed the wild turkey as the national bird , said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “we must indeed all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

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  • December 12th, 2017


By Joel M. Vance
Let’s give him a few weeks and make it an even 100. That’s how old Bill Crawford would have been on his next birthday. Bill Crawford died December 7 after a short bout of pneumonia from which he was apparently recovering and was due to be released from the hospital in a few days. He lunched and had dinner with two of his sons, but a few hours later peacefully slipped away, ending a life that spanned the entire history of Missouri’s remarkable conservation program.
Bill was born August 30, 1918, in Howard County, on a farm not far from Fayette, so he was several months shy of 100, but already was planning for a celebration at the century mark—he wanted to have a big celebration at Columbia’s Tiger Hotel. It’s too bad that event won’t happen because, had it happened, Bill would’ve been the life of the party, telling stories of 100 years of life, always fascinating, always informative, and always fun to listen to—-the way he had been for the first 99 years of that century.
The Tiger Hotel had special significance for Bill because it was there in 1935 that 100 conservation dedicated sportsmen gathered to create what became the Conservation Federation, a group that would spearhead a drive to take Missouri wildlife conservation out of politics forever. Among the 100 was 17-year-old Bill Crawford. The Federation has gone on to become the most powerful voice for outdoor conservation in the state, a consortium of many conservation groups and private individuals dedicated to taking care of the state’s enviable outdoor treasures.
As a young man, Bill carried petitions in 1935 which ultimately resulted in Missouri’s fish wildlife and forestry program being jerked from the sleazy clutches of politicians and established in the state constitution, its funding dedicated and its authority free from interference by those who would abase natural resources for their greedy purposes.
In a June, 2017, conversation with Sara Parker Pauley, director of the Conservation Department, Bill reflected on his early involvement with conservation: “Dad had about 3,000 posters to put out, so we bought a 1935 Chevrolet and drove all over the county putting up posters on telephone poles and in post offices. We were early birds and there to help the cause.”
Bill went on to graduate with a master’s degree in biology from the University of Missouri and joined the Conservation Department in 1942. He became chief of the Department’s Wildlife Research Section (a position he would hold for 34 years until his retirement in 1983) and recruited and hired a cadre of wildlife biologists unlike any in the country. Most of them became nationally recognized experts in their field and Missouri’s innovative wildlife projects resulted in such triumphs as the restoration of white tailed deer and wild turkeys to where Missouri now ranks nationally near the top of hunting for both species—near oblivion before Bill Crawford and pioneers like him came to rescue them. But deer and turkeys were just the tip of the iceberg. River otters, giant Canada geese, and other restoration projects followed with notable success. Still in the works are efforts to salvage something of Missouri’s tallgrass prairie heritage, with prairie chickens as the cornerstone.
Typically, Bill Crawford was a pioneer in prairie preservation. He and fellow biologist Don Christisen founded the Missouri Prairie Foundation, a group which has bought a series of native prairie remnants scattered across what used to be a third of the state, covered by warm season grasses and irreplaceable forbs. It takes just a few hours of walking across one of these prairie areas listening to the wind rustling the tall bluestem and Indian grass, enjoying the incomparable beauty of prairie wildflowers and seeing the grace of a hunting marsh hawk to become a convert to the necessity of preserving prairie.
Bill told a story, which may have been embellished a bit, but was too juicy not to pass along. It seems that he and Don Christisen were trying to get money from a wealthy out-of-state donor for prairie preservation. They met her for dinner somewhere in southwest Missouri, took her for a tour of a remnant prairie, and then took her to dinner where they plied her with cocktails (it seems that the old gal was fond of her evening toddy). Before the jolly trip was ended, she had pledged funds which resulted in the purchase of about 12,000 acres of native prairie.
Two years ago, Bill reserved a table at the annual Missouri Prairie Foundation banquet to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of MPF in 1966 and, coincidentally Bill’s 98th birthday. He asked me to sit with him and seven other guests. It was a signal honor, like being knighted, or being seated as a cherished guest at a state dinner. I was overwhelmed that he would pick me out of all the possible people he could’ve invited. He liked what I write and often told me so, but any respect he had for my scribbling was not nearly as intense as the respect I had for Bill Crawford. I was awed by the man.
It always took time for Bill to make his way to his front row seat at Boone County Historical Society events because he had to stop repeatedly along the way to talk with people he knew. Once, I said to him, “Bill, you’re looking great.”
“As long as I take the pills,” he joked. Maybe he didn’t need pills in his later years (we all do) but mostly he had, in abundance, what kept him young— an insatiable desire to know, to learn, and to teach us kids what conservation meant and how to take care of it. He is credited with creating the Missouri Natural Areas program in 1977, an honor he shared with the late John Wylie, who became state forester and then the chief of the Conservation Department’s Natural History Section (later Division).
Bill became a Master Conservationist in 2010, honored by the Conservation Commission as among the best of the best, and soon will be a member of the Missouri Conservation Hall of Fame, an honor reserved for those legends who have passed on. That was only one of many honors Bill gathered during his long lifetime including the presidency of the Wildlife Society, the professional organization for conservationists.
Bill was married twice. He married his first wife, Midge, in 1942. She died in 1993 after 51 years of marriage. Bill remarried to Jimmie Brown in 1996. She died in 2006. The Crawford clan is a large one comprised of four children with Midge, a dozen grandchildren and a half-dozen great-grandchildren. His dear friend, Carolyn Doyle, sums up Bill this way: “Bill was an avid singer, dancer, hunter, trombonist, historian, model T owner, and MU fan. He was also a pretty good cook. Most of all, he loved people and was always ready to shake a hand, strike up a conversation, and pitch in to help.”
Of all Bill Crawford’s civic ventures, and there were many, none was more dear to his heart than the restoration of the Blind Boone piano. John William (Blind) Boone as the name implies was a sightless musical genius, born in 1864. He was the son of a slave, and a child prodigy on the piano. Exploited by various adults as a child, but also helped along in his musical training by more enlightened adults, he traveled from town to town giving musical concerts and gradually gaining experience in all forms of music. By the beginning of the 20th century, Blind Boone was famous and well-to-do, so well off that by 1913 he had donated $180,000 to various charities, churches and other outlets.
The piano dates to 1891. It is a custom-made Chickering, which, given its present day magnificence, belies the fact that it had fallen into disrepair and was in danger of being lost to history when Bill Crawford and the Boone County Historical Society got involved in its restoration— which would not have happened had not Crawford donated $25,000 to the project.
Today, the magnificent restored, gleaming oak grand piano is in the Historical Society building, the construction of which also owes much to Crawford’s generosity and sponsorship. More than a decorative art object, which it is, the piano is put to use a number of times each year in concerts featuring various styles of music ranging from ragtime to classical, and featuring musicians from talented amateurs to seasoned professionals. Not two months before his death he and his son Todd announced another $25,000 gift to the Historical Society’s Endowment’s General Fund.
Bill’s long time close friend, retired publisher of the Columbia Tribune, Hank Waters, said this about Bill’s contribution in a Historical Society newsletter: “Bill’s initial gift was essential to the resurrection of the historical instrument. Every note we love so much heralds his legacy. I can testify from close observation every note thrills the donor the most.”
Bill had a front row seat reserved for all of the musicales presented by the Historical Society and periodically would be called on to tell about the history of the Blind Boone piano and how it came to be restored. Bill liked to talk and once given a microphone it was hard to get it away from him. One night, not that long ago, Bill leaned against the piano that he had so lovingly (and expensively) had restored and sang an old pop tune, maybe “Sunny Side of the Street” (I don’t remember which one). He sounded great, slick for a young man, not to mention one in his 90s. If, indeed, that was the song that Bill sang it’s appropriate, because Bill never saw any side of any street that wasn’t sunny, and if there were shadows he found a way to drive them away.

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  • December 8th, 2017


By Joel M. Vance

For well more than half my life I have spent time in Minnesota, the largest state in the Midwest and one of exceptional beauty and variety. I’ve spent so many days and weeks in Minnesota that I more than qualify as an honorary citizen.
For 10 years I spent two weeks each summer in the mosquito infested confines of Camp Ripley, near the alleged home of the legendary Paul Bunyan. To paraphrase a famous poem by Gelett Burgess “I never saw a purple cow (think Babe, the blue ox) I never hope to see one. But I can tell you anyhow I’d rather see than be one.”
Every Columbus Day week, that fabulous time of fall when the aspens turn to gold and the air is crisp with the hint of winter, I spent time prowling through the grouse and woodcock woods of northern Minnesota, occasionally taking time off to hunt diving ducks.
For 35 years, while our daughter, Carrie, and her husband, Ron, lived in Minnesota, various members of our Missouri family traveled north to visit them. We canoed the St. Croix River together, went to a bluegrass festival, went into the Twin Cities for entertainment and memorable dinners, and savored the incomparable joy of the fun farm of 16 acres where they lived. We took a family house boat trip on Rainy Lake, caught and ate walleyes, and sat around a campfire under the stars on a remote shore of the big lake and told family stories.
So now Minnesota has become the nexus of sexual scandal with Senator Al Franken accused of misbehavior a decade ago and Garrison Keillor the beloved host of the radio program A Prairie Home Companion, likewise in the crosshairs of the scandal mongers. Franken has resigned from the Senate and Keillor has been fired from Minnesota Public radio. Both of their reputations basically are ruined, their lives turned upside down.
It was a bitingly cold Christmas Eve in Minnesota, as cold as only it can be in a Minnesota winter time. It was so cold that cars that depended on diesel fuel refused to start because the fuel thickened and would not flow. We saw a rooster pheasant dejectedly standing beside I 35, doubtless doomed to freeze in the subzero temperatures, but that’s the way of the wild.
We were en route to a performance of A Prairie Home Companion at the decrepit old World Theater. The original home of the show, was sparsely filled because apparently most people thought that there would not be at show on such a forbidding night. An antique popcorn machine produced snacks in the lobby and we sat in rickety wooden seats left over from vaudeville days. This was A Prairie Home Companion in its original form, a local radio show featuring homegrown talent.
Garrison Keillor drifted aimlessly around the stage, but always was at his microphone when the music or the skit ended and he needed to say something. He announced that at the intermission song sheets would be passed out in the lobby and those lucky enough to snare one would become members of the Lake Wobegon choir to sing Christmas carols on the air in the second half of the show. Ron and I raced to the lobby just in time to see the last song sheet grabbed by someone else. As Maxwell Smart used to say on the television show “Get Smart” “missed it by that much!”
Keillor said that the allegation against him originated when he put his hand on a woman’s bare back accidentally in an attempt to console her. So far the woman’s name has not been announced. I am suspicious of an anonymous accusation, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. However, characterizing a hand on the back, bare or not, seems to be a minimal sexual advance. Apparently, others say he patted them on the butt when they were having their photo taken with him. Thus, the evidence against him mounts, as it has with others who have been accused of sexual indiscretion.
I began writing this as a confused and conflicted defense both of Keillor and of Al Franken, but as accusations against Franken mounted, I was more confused than ever and less sure of anything. All I do know in my heart is that no matter how distressing accusations against Al Franken and Garrison Keillor are, they are pale in comparison to the credible accusations against most of the men who have been so far involved in sexual scandal–Moore, Weinstein, Sandusky, Spacey, Cosby, et al.
I confess that I have had enormous respect for both men for a long time. My wife, Marty, and I traveled with the Prairie Home cast and Keillor on one of their summer cruises to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. We would not have taken a cruise with anyone else. We stood in line for a couple of hours to have Franken autograph his book Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. As a fierce opponent of standing in line for anything, there are few people on earth I would spend that much time waiting for.
Ironically, an op-ed column by Keillor, defending Franken appeared one day before Keillor’s firing by Minnesota Public radio. Keillor said that it was absurd for people to call for Al Franken’s resignation from the Senate, considering what had happened. USO shows traditionally have featured raunchy skits, and those who sign up to go on the USO tours are well aware that they may be involved in such skits. Bob Hope, the Godfather of USO tours through several wars and half a century, was a serial womanizer and had a long-standing relationship with Marilyn Maxwell, one of his USO troop— yet he holds an unblemished record as a true American, as well he should, given his many years of service to the country through those USO tours. My first thought was why not offer Al Franken the same consideration society has given to Bob Hope? Since, other women have said that Franken forced himself on them, and his fellow Democrats in the Senate, both women and men, immediately called for him to resign.
In my mind which may be as misguided as the minds of the misogynistic oafs who are guilty of manhandling women, I still think that both Franken and Keillor are light years less culpable than Roy Moore, Donald Trump, John Conyers and the other men who have been credibly accused by multiple women and who often have flaunted their inexcusable behavior.
Let us not forget George H. W. Bush, past president of the United States who was a genuine World War Two hero (although he made the mistake as did Sen. John McCain of being a loser according to our present Misogynist in Chief Donald Trump– who strenuously avoided military service of any kind–of being shot down in enemy territory). Mr. Bush has been accused by quite a few women of patting them on the rump. Does he thus deserve to be humiliated and have his lifetime legacy of service to the country trashed? I don’t think so.
Let us also not forget Clarence Thomas, while we’re busily bringing down the high and mighty. Those with fairly long memories may recall his confirmation hearing where his rampant sexism was graphically exposed, and yet Congress, which now has sidelined three of its members and is investigating a fourth, rewarded him with a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land.
There is such a fine line these days drawn between men who cross into sexually inappropriate territory and those who don’t. As a man, I feel totally unqualified to comment on either side of that line. It is a line that has existed almost since time began. I think of the image of Proto Man dragging his mate by the hair into his man cave. The concept of the droit du seigneur echoes through history, and for that matter through our political system. The flawed but long accepted idea is that man is dominant in a relationship and woman is subservient–that repugnant idea even appears in the wedding vows of some religious faiths. Perhaps that fundamental belief of male dominance which is prevalent in the religious right goes at least part way toward explaining such awful creatures as Roy Moore.
How can a self proclaimed devout Christian vote to seat in the United States Senate a pedophile and go to sleep tonight after kneeling by the bedside to pray? But then that’s Alabama politics where, these days anyway, either you are a Republican or you’re disenfranchised. There is no such thing as too much as long as you hang on to that cherished Senate seat.
If you don’t think politics is the bottom line in these scandals, regardless of party, consider that the Senate Democrats are willing to fall on Al Franken like wolves attacking a weak member of their pack while at the same time accepting a pedophile across the aisle. The Democrats don’t want to be accused of being tolerant of the antics of one of their own members so Franken is the sacrificial lamb. That way the Democrats can claim the high ground if there is such a thing in today’s politics, and gain potential strength in next year’s election cycle. Hypocritical? You betcha.
I’m afraid that I can foresee about these rambling thoughts women saying, “Oh, he’s just a guy defending guys.” But I suspect I am not alone in worrying that anything I say or do might be deemed offensive by some women.
On one hand I see a sort of national hysteria where any man can feel threatened by the potential for accusation. On the other hand I am gratified to see women insisting on their rightful place in society, gaining long delayed justice for injustice to them by men, in demanding and winning the ability to throw rocks at the workplace glass ceiling, in every way achieving the equality (and, in my opinion, superiority) in a male-dominated society that dates back to the days of Adam and Eve.
Ron and Carrie have moved to Colorado and live 8000 feet above the fray and although they’ve never done it and neither have I the temptation is to climb Pike’s Peak to the very top, amid the clouds, light a legal-in-Colorado joint, inhale deeply and float away into the cumulus, far above the shit that has infested not only the political climate far below, but also an uncomfortably large portion of the citizenry of what used to be a country that the world looked up to and which now is looked down upon as if the rest of the globe were on top of Pike’s Peak where the air is pure and we down below aren’t.
There is no excuse for sexual predators and no remedy other than to expose them and subject them to whatever punishment is appropriate. Men who brutalize, intimidate, threaten or otherwise dominate women are reprehensible and despicable. The Donald Trumps and Roy Moores of the world are evil personified and debase humanity by their very existence. They are the human equivalent of tapeworms or other parasites which feed on the human host and deserve a legal purgative that will rid us from their depredations.
I’m more and more convinced that we need the current wave of accusation and subsequent male abasement, kind of like rubbing a dog’s nose in its mess to make the point.
And maybe I should just learn to keep my mouth shut and limit my commentary to hunting, fishing, and adorable Labrador .retriever puppies.

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  • Blog
  • December 3rd, 2017


By Joel M. Vance

When I was wee a few years ago (okay, quite a few years ago) we played games like kick the can and hide and seek. Add a few years and we began to play games like hearts and cribbage. A few more years our game became canoodling in the family car with the playmates of yesteryear, although those of a different gender.
Now, a new game has entered the fray. Perhaps not as much fun as the hysteria of kick the can or canoodling but even so a game that has gripped the Intercontinental masses like nothing since the inexplicable mania for collecting pet rocks (if anyone still is interested in that phenomenon, I have 40 acres of prime material which anyone is welcome to, especially those rocks that infest my garden plot)
The new game is called geocaching, and those caught in the throes of it are as addicted as anyone entrapped by heroin or any other hard narcotic. Those most addicted to geocaching are every bit as helpless to kick the habit as someone strung out on speed. But, unlike crack cocaine, geocaching is good for you and may even lead to improved mental and physical health.
Our daughter, Carrie, a lovely lady of maturity, a retired high school English teacher, and a person of rare intelligence and the mother of two handsome grown boys, introduced me to geocaching, after which experience, and a couple of days of intensive recovery, mostly consisting of long naps and periods of incipient weeping, I resolved to, unless lashed with bull whips and barbed wire, leave geocaching as strictly alone as if it were a particularly venomous serpent.
Geocaching usually involves some physical exertion and Carrie raced into a lifelong fascination with fitness by such extreme avocations as marathon running. When I was young I used to run from our home in Mexico, Missouri, to my job at the Mexico Evening Ledger, almost always in the dark. I would speed through the nights like the god Mercury, past sleeping homes and shuttered businesses, arriving at my desk sweaty but fit. Now, I am elderly and the appeal of running distance or otherwise, has waned to the vanishing point.
My wife, Marty, and I have to take some responsibility for Carrie’s obsession with strenuous outdoor activity, including geocaching. When she was about a week old, during the worst snow winter we have had in modern times, we took her for a checkup, and Marty slipped getting out of the car and launched Carrie, swaddled in many layers of baby clothing, into a three-foot snowdrift. Whether this left some lasting impression on her barely formed psyche, is anyone’s guess, but since then she has been infatuated with the outdoors.
Geocaching is the electronic age’s answer to the use of maps which have been around for centuries. It took global positioning satellites to make the reading of maps obsolete and create geocaching. Once Magellan and them old guys looked at a map and said “I reckon we ought to go there.” Now folks peer nearsightedly at a miniscule screen on a handheld gadget that sometimes even talks to you. Magellan would have screamed in terror and thrown the device overboard and summoned an exorcist, not a bad idea.
The idea of geocaching is that someone hides an object, posts coordinates to it, and you use a handheld GPS, that gadget I spoke of, to find that hidden object. After which your reward is that you can leap in the air and shout Eureka! Or something equally silly, and brag to your friends and fellow cachers that you did it.
My history with maps is a checkered one, littered with wrong turns and backtracks. Once, on a blistering hot day in northern Wisconsin, on the trail of a supposedly pristine fishing spot, never visited by competing anglers, I traced a route from a remote County highway down a railroad track to the location of a small lake, presumably brimming with trophy pike, walleyes, and other desirable game fish. It was a considerable hike, on the order of the Bataan death march, and I made the mistake of wearing chest waders, in case I needed to delve into those icy waters in search of the monster fish of my fever dream. Soon, the interior of the waders was drenched in sweat and I began to slosh, drowning in my own salty effusion. I continued to stumble down the rail bed toward my mystery lake, becoming more and more miserable, and then, down the rails toward me came a sidecar with three burly trainmen astride it.
As they pulled even with me, one shouted, “goin’ fishin’ Har de har har!” And they continued on reveling in the cool breeze generated by their speed. Finally, I came to my cherished goal only to behold a lake transformed by what we laughingly call progress. There was a parking lot crammed with cars, a beach populated with squalling kids, and the lake itself which contained an armada of fishing boats. That was symptomatic of my experiences with maps which goes a long way toward explaining why I never got involved either with treasure hunts or orienteering. Now has come geocaching
Back in the 1960s it was an event comparable to spotting a UFO when you saw a satellite drift overhead in the night sky. Kind of like Superman: “it’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a satellite!” That was the beginning. A few years later, nations began launching satellites for purposes which they did not disclose to the general public. The ability to photograph a license plate in a Moscow parking lot from thousands of feet up was a well kept secret, as was the secret that a comparable Russian satellite was photographing license plates in a Washington DC parking lot. Our spy agencies learned an awful lot about the parking habits of the other side, but the ability to watch Oprah on a cell phone was still a long way away.
The Russians whupped up on us by launching the first satellite to orbit the earth in 1957, named Sputnik. 1960 saw the first weather satellite and the Russians again were first to put a man in orbit in 1961. A year later the first communication satellite went into orbit, presaging today’s cell phone and Internet. But it wasn’t until 1994 that GPS came into existence with the first of 24 geosynchronous satellites that link everyone on earth with everyone else. Today there are more than 1000 satellites zipping around overhead and making geocaching science fiction reality.
Geocaching dates to 2000 when Bill Clinton released 24 satellites that made GPS far more effective and available to the general public. It took only weeks for geocaching to become an electronic hula hoop enveloping the world. Now you could place an object in some sort of container ( think Tupperware), hide it somewhere and post the coordinates on a central Internet location ( and encourage people to treasure hunt for the container and either add further objects or take something from the container as a trophy and then brag about how many geocaches you have discovered—it’s like bird watching without a lifetime list and without birds.
On May 3,2000, a computer guy named Dave Ulmer, wanted to test the accuracy by hiding a navigational target in the woods. He called the idea the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt” and posted it in an internet GPS users’ group. The idea was simple: Hide a container out in the woods and note the coordinates with a GPS unit. He stuck a black bucket, in the woods Portland with a logbook and pencil, and put the coordinates on the internet.
Within three days, two different readers read about his stash on the internet, used their own GPS receivers to find the container, and shared their experiences online. By September 25, coincidentally my birthday, the idea had become and the idea had exploded into a worldwide mania.
Our daughter, Carrie, got into geocaching by joining a hiking club after she and her husband, Ron, moved to Colorado. A fellow hiker had geocached with her late husband and told Carrie how she left tiny mementos about her husband in each cache that she visited. Soon, Carrie had invested in a handheld GPS and had joined the premium version of geocaching which features clues to locating otherwise difficult caches.
I followed her on one outing to recover an unknown object which her GPS told her was only feet from the top of a hill. It led us further and further down the slope until we were at the bottom of an eminence not seen this side of Nepal. The problem with going down a mountain is that you have to go back up when where you want to be is at the top. And we didn’t find the object at the bottom.
Satellites trembled in their orbit, possibly realigned by my swearing. Subsequently, I went on two other cacherthons with Carrie, one of which involved an arduous hike around a large lake, the other to the far side of an obscure cemetery where the cache was located next to a rude gravestone that may date to Neolithic times. After the second hike I felt as if I dated to Neolithic times myself and took to bed for a long nap.
Carrie currently is involved in helping a Swedish geocacher realize an esoteric ambition, a project like building replicas of the Eiffel Tower out of matchsticks. The Swede cached a toy bear named Bjorn which now has made two trans- Atlantic voyages and since settling in the United States has touched down in several states with the eventual goal of being cached in every state in the US before being returned to its owner and originator in Sweden. Carrie cached Bjorn under a bridge at a nature center in central Missouri and posted her find with the coordinates and dared other cachers to find him if they could. Presumably a fellow cacher would recover Bjorn from his troll-like resting place and carry him to yet another state on his Odyssey. (Four days later someone visiting from Texas retrieved Bjorn and now he is en route to the Lone Star State.)
Geocaching probably would be even more addictive if the rewards were more substantial, like finding Captain Kidd’s buried treasure. But the fun is in the finding, not the return. One geocacher has logged more than 8000 “finds” which seems more a full-time occupation than a hobby. Obviously, geocaching has the potential to grab you by the throat and not let go.
The urge to geocache is irresistible and I find myself visiting where I find that for 50 to 100 bucks I can get a starter kit and for a few bucks more I can become a premium member. Perhaps I too will give in to the desire to find things of no value whatsoever and clamber into other abysses. Maybe I will launch my own toy bear on a worldwide Odyssey.
I think I will name him Bjorn To Run……

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  • Blog
  • November 26th, 2017


By Joel M. Vance

“Let’s get it while the gittin’ is good!”
Those words of wisdom from the Midnighters summed up why we took a gravel road several miles South of Cramer Hall, to hang out at what had been a local watering hole for area farmers, until a couple of redheaded rowdies from Keytesville, Missouri, bought the place and turned it into the world equivalent of Studio 54, although with far fewer celebrities, and only a University of Missouri fullback as bouncer.
Where once the drinker’s uniform was Big Smith overalls and run over boots, coated liberally with cow shit, the new uniform was a blue Oxford cloth button down shirt, covered with a V-neck sweater, and trousers called cords, a kind of seersucker fabric, succeeded in the colder months by blue jeans. The footwear of choice very likely would be blue suede shoes, in keeping with the Carl Perkins anthem of the day. The grimy old farmers who had depended on Andy’s grumpily departed for some other rural beer joints where they could nurse their Griesedieck Brothers or Country Club beers in peace, without the clamor of “Work With Me Annie” blaring on a jukebox.
It was called Andy’s Corner, and no one knew who Andy was because the two owners were CR and Billy Dale Foster, dispensers of Griesedieck Brothers lager, and other sadly lamented low-cost brews of the late and equally lamented 1950s. Both were graduates of Keytesville high school as was I. CR had spent time in the Navy, and both were enrolled as students at the University of Missouri. Both were legendary chick magnets at KHS and had carried that romantic prowess over to the University, which possibly accounted for the popularity of Andy’s with some coeds, although probably not so much with their testosterone infused dates.
Cramer Hall was one of four dormitories on what used to be the south end of the University of Missouri campus, grouped like a quartet of medium security prison compounds, or possibly like the four corners of an old West military post, positioned for maximum security against Indian attack. Cramer and Stafford both had been built in 1946, an upgrade from the first postwar dormitories, which were no more than Quonset huts adapted to civilian use. Those were called TDs—temporary dorms— with all the charm of a US army barracks. All I remember about the TDs was that I was enormously glad I didn’t live in one. A student committed suicide in one of them, possibly because of having to live there.
By contrast with the Spartan temporary dorms, Cramer and Stafford along with the other two dorms—Defoe, which was the first of the four, and Graham were luxurious. Each room, shared with a roommate, featured a bed which was every bit as comfortable as sleeping on a 2 x 12 pine plank, a desk and a closet. Spartans had better digs. In later years there would be window air conditioners, but such modern innovations were beyond the imagination of those who built and furnished Cramer Hall. Also in later years, the dorms would become coed, a concept as unthinkable in the 1950s as if the Pope had been spotted at Andy’s Corner sharing a beer with Nikita Khrushchev.
Excitement was sparse in Cramer Hall. A housemother prowled the halls like a KGB operative sniffing out illicit beer or any whiff of corruption. Each floor had a resident student/monitor who was, however pleasant to fellow inmates, a member of the establishment and thus to be regarded with deep suspicion.
A basic problem with drinking beer is that inevitably it works its way through the internal plumbing and demands release. Andy’s Corner had not evolved enough to feature indoor plumbing, which was not a problem for guys, for whom the outdoors is a urinal and any spot is appropriate for release as long as someone’s foot is not in the way. But the distaff side had no recourse other than to hold it and pray that willpower would last until safe delivery back to civilization. There was an outhouse, a unisex structure so disgusting that no one dared go inside, no matter how imperative the need.
Guys, being pack animals, sometimes would exit the Corner and head for the outhouse, not to go inside but instead to stand in an informal semi circle and engage in athletic competition not, so far anyway, sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee. The idea was to see how high on the outside wall of the outhouse one could pee. Honored was he who could arc the stream higher than his head.
There were no trophies or gold medals awarded to those with firehose capability, but there was satisfaction in the knowing and in peer appreciation. Meanwhile, inside the Corner, dates patiently waited for the return of their incontinent warriors, listening to “Work With Me Annie” and possibly wishing either that they had not drunk so much beer or that they had never agreed to this nightmarish date.
Andy’s Corner was not just sunshine and shadow and peeing contests. There was one unmemorable night highlighted by thunder, lightning, and the threat of University retribution, which in those days at least was Draconian. It happened this way: my date was Marty Leist, an increasingly serious relationship which would result in, so far, 61 years of marriage. Marty had to be back in her dorm by 10 PM or the hell of University retribution would fall heavily upon her delectable form.
I had borrowed a car for the evening from a dorm mate, whom I didn’t know all that well, with his admonition to “take care of my car or you’re a dead man” echoing in my ears. But the prospect of an evening night clubbing at Andy’s with Marty overwhelmed any trepidation I might have felt about risking death at the hands of a fellow Cramer Hall inmate.
We were sitting in a booth at Andy’s and a mid-Missouri storm brewed up outside. The beer was good, intimacy of the moment overwhelming. But the dreaded 10 PM curfew drew ever closer and finally we dashed into a driving rain and jumped into the borrowed car. But the damn car wouldn’t start! After grinding futilely on the starter until I was afraid the battery would die, I raced back inside and, almost on the verge of tears, explain my plight to Billy Dale. There were few customers and he turned the bar over to somebody (probably someone under age) and we got Marty home to Johnson Hall with a few minutes to spare.
As I said, Cramer Hall ultimately would become coed. Girls were sequestered in Johnson Hall, a monolithic building, operated much like a woman’s prison. In the 1950s a girl so much as one minute late was subject to what they called late hours, and enough accrued late minutes would result in a reduction of credit hours. Guys could stay out all night if they wanted to, but let a girl be a moment tardy at home base and she risked losing credit hours, for which she had paid good money. Nevermind that she was a straight-A student or a pillar of campus society—in the rigid minds of the administration she was a potential fallen woman. It’s a wonder they didn’t have stocks erected at Johnson Hall and an ever-heated branding iron with the fateful letters L.H., meaning late hours, to be burned on the errant girl’s forehead.
Billy Dale left me at Cramer Hall, sodden and sullen because I didn’t even get a good night kiss from Marty, and with the unwelcome chore of explaining to the car’s owner the next morning why it was still at Andy’s corner while I was at Cramer Hall. I never asked to borrow his car again. I think it was a De Soto and there is good reason why that car company no longer exists–the damn things won’t start in the rain.
In the succeeding years since Andy’s Corner was in full flower, the area South of Columbia has suffered the blight of urban sprawl and now practically is a new city. There is a new paved highway replacing the old gravel road and there is no Andy’s Corner with attendant outhouse. A jazz pub named Murry’s claims to be on the spot where Andy’s once stood but I have my doubts, because the location does not jibe with my memories. Guys wouldn’t dare go outside now to pee without risking arrest for indecent exposure and the girls have their own indoor restroom. The music often is live and does not feature the Midnighters or songs like “Work With Me Annie”. Beer costs more than a dime a glass or a quarter a bottle. Griesedieck Brothers and Country Club folded their tents long ago and so have at least some of the habitués of the old Andy’s Corner. Cramer and Stafford Hall died a tumultuous death in 2010, when the University demolished them to make way for an expansion of the ever sprawling medical complex.
Back when I was much younger and prone to fantasizing I had a recurring fantasy about how to ensure world peace. It was a time when the US and the Soviet Union were at missile point to each other and every day brought the threat of nuclear destruction. I would fantasize that if we could get Nikita Khrushchev and Dwight Eisenhower together for an afternoon at Andy’s Corner, armed only with enough money for as much Griesedieck Brothers beer as they could hold and a pocket full of nickels for the jukebox, which would have only one recording on it, that of the Midnighters singing “Work With Me Annie”. When they would walk out into the crisp 1956 autumn sunshine, perhaps headed for the rickety outhouse for a peeing contest, to see which one could hose higher on the stained siding of that venerable edifice, the world would be at peace, without threat.
In those long ago days, we had Khrushchev banging his shoe on the table at the United Nations to no discernible rock ‘n roll rhythm, Richard Nixon later would record his own melody of treachery on tape in the White House. Possibly we could get Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump together for an afternoon of tippling at Murry’s, but somehow I don’t think that would solve the problems that we face in today’s tumultuous times.
I remember one beery afternoon at Andy’s when the beer was free. I don’t remember the brand but it was awful stuff. The jukebox blared and the air was thick with cigarette smoke. “How do you like the beer?” asked a stranger and I replied, “Tastes like horse piss but it’s free.”
“Glad you like it,” he said. “I’m the one that’s buying it. A promotional thing.”
And the Midnighters sang, “Work with me, Annie/Let’s get it while the gittin is good!”

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