Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

  • Blog
  • December 8th, 2017

WHAT’S ON MY MND

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

CACHE ME IF YOU CAN

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 (geocaching.com) 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 geocaching.com 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 geocaching.com 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

THE FORGOTTEN CORNER

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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  • Blog
  • November 19th, 2017

TO REMOVE OR NOT TO REMOVE

By Joel M. Vance
Call it an ethical problem, call it a crisis of conscience or call it who gives a rat’s ass, but whatever you call it the problem is mine and I’ll have to deal with it, probably by ignoring the whole thing. It involves a gravel road, a statue in a city park, and a notable honor accorded me for which I am both grateful and baffled.
The road is an undistinguished gravel diving south from an East-West transverse Road, South of Dalton, Missouri, indistinguishable from any of the many gravel roads that lace southern Chariton County like the strands of a spider web.
Here is the situation: the road is named Val Verde, which is the same name as a plantation owned by Sterling Price, a Civil War Confederate general. The road is just South of Dalton, where I lived for a decade in the 1940s and 50s. Now here is where it gets complicated. General Price actually captured my great grandfather and his brother, both Union militiamen who thought they were soldiers and who set out to defend Glasgow from the rebels in 1864.
Glasgow was and is a town of not much significance on the Missouri River, which did give it some importance during the Civil War due to its location overlooking the river. I suppose it could have been a Confederate or Union stronghold on the order of Vicksburg, but instead it was where after a half day, barely noticeable encounter, Price’s army captured the two Vance brothers and their ragtag company, and sent them back to their farms via parole, rather than shooting them outright or sending them to some pestilent Confederate prisoner of war camp.
Now, and for many decades, there has been in the city park of Keytesville, where I went to high school, a statue of General Sterling Price, who was not born in the town, but is claimed by it as a native son. And in the year 2010, I was the honored resident of Chariton County during the annual Keytesville Festival called (are you ready for this?) Sterling Price Days.
As that year’s honoree, I got to make a talk at the local high school auditorium to an audience, I can only characterize as politely indifferent, and then my wife, Marty and I got to ride in the back seat of a convertible in the annual parade down Main Street, waving at people in the manner of a returning war hero. No one threw confetti but they did smile and wave back, better than throwing bricks and rotten tomatoes in recognition that I was nothing more than the legatee of a damn Yankee.
Amid today’s nationwide hoohaw over removal of Confederate symbols, especially statues of prominent Confederates, how can I, as the descendent of a less than notable Union soldier— a captured one at that— reconcile being honored during Sterling Price Days, practically in the shadow of a statue honoring a notable general of the Confederacy?
Keytesville is not a notorious Confederate stronghold, as are many other towns, especially in the South. There have not been and doubtless never will be demonstrations on the order of the one in Charlottesville, Virginia, organized by right wing extremists, unregenerate rebels, and neo-Nazis. Price Days is not a recognition of the supremacy of the Confederacy, nor is it a call to return to the days of yore. It simply enough, is a celebration of long-standing, that originally began to recognize the accomplishments of a local boy who did more than just about anyone else in town, even if it was for a losing cause, and which has evolved into, simply enough, an occasion for everyone to have a good time.
Chances are if you ask most of the adults on the street or give a pop quiz to the students at Keytesville High School, challenging them to tell you in 100 words or less who Sterling Price was and what he accomplished in the Civil War, the best you can hope for will be a blank stare. General Price, before he led troops in the Confederacy, was a governor of Missouri, and before that a successful battlefield commander in the Mexican war.
Likely you would get a similar blank stare from Keytesvillians, were you to ask them to tell you about Maxwell Taylor. Taylor likewise was a general, probably also a Democrat, as was Price, whose military credentials are light years advanced over those of Sterling Price. Born in 1901, Taylor was the commander of the 101st airborne during World War Two. He later commanded the Eighth Army in Korea. The 101st was one of two airborne divisions to parachute into Normandy on D-Day and his outfit included Roy Joe Finnell, my first cousin, who was injured on landing behind German lines and had to fight with a broken back for several days until he linked up with Allied troops and was evacuated to England.
General Taylor went on to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appointed by President Kennedy. He also was the ambassador to South Vietnam for a year, amid other honors. He died in 1987 at the age of 85. Perhaps Keytesville’s lack of appreciation for General Taylor has to do with the fact that he was raised in Kansas City and graduated from high school there. On the other hand, Price was born in Virginia and when he did move to Missouri it was not originally to Keytesville but to Fayette, a few miles from Glasgow, where in future years he would capture my great grandfather.
Thus, my connection to Gen. Maxwell Taylor is far more immediate and personal than one to a Civil War Confederate general who captured my great grandfather and his brother (who also happened to be the great grandfather and great grand uncle of Roy Joe Finnell). Curious oddity is that the headquarters of Sterling Price Days is on West Finnell Drive in Keytesville. There is a Maxwell Taylor Park in Keytesville where visitors with RVs can find a utility hookup and campsites. But you will find no statue to Maxwell Taylor in the Keytesville city park or anywhere else within the town and there are no celebrations or parades to honor General Taylor. Something in this tangled relationship does not make sense, but I’m still a long way from calling for the removal of Price’s statue and the erection in its place of one to honor Maxwell Taylor.
All I have in common with Sterling Price is a gravel road, the next one west of Val Verde which unaccountably is named Joel Vance Avenue. Price’s road is not named for him but named for his plantation where the workers were African-American slaves. And my road is an avenue, while Price’s Val Verde is a plain old road. Take that, you defeated Johnny Reb.
Why there is a road named for me anywhere is a mystery whose solution calls for the talents of Nero Wolfe. I’ve tried various County agencies, asking who might’ve been responsible for putting my name on the county roadmap and each one keeps referring me to another one until I’m back at the beginning. The road even as an avenue lacks the charisma of, say, Broadway in Manhattan. It dead ends at the upper end of the Dalton Cutoff lake and the only building on the mile-long stretch of road (excuse me, Avenue!) Is an abandoned house.
I don’t mean to downgrade Sterling Price. After all he was a governor of Missouri and by all accounts, a good one. On the other hand he is the textbook definition of a sore loser. After the Civil War, in contrast to Robert E Lee and other defeated Confederate generals who accepted that defeat, Price gathered the remnants of his army and fled to Mexico, offering his services to the Emperor Maxmillian, who declined. A year later Price returned to the United States and shortly thereafter died and is buried in a St. Louis Cemetery. His statue at in the Keytesville Park dates to 1915, and the 2017 celebration of Sterling Price Days was the 50th such event.
You might call North central Missouri a hotbed for the breeding of notable generals. Not only do we have Maxwell Taylor from Keytesville, Sterling Price from Keytesville (via Virginia), Omar Bradley from Moberly, and John Pershing from Laclede. (Gen. Pershing died in 1948 at the age of 87 and is buried in 624-acre Arlington National Cemetery which is on the site of the pre-Civil War estate of the Robert E. Lee family). We might also include Jo Shelby, who although born in Kentucky, settled near Waverley on the Missouri River. Two months after Gen. Lee surrendered and the war ended, Shelby, along with about 1000 rebels, fled to Mexico where, as did Price, he offered his services to Emperor Maxmillian and, like Price, he was turned down. He returned to Missouri, took up farming, and became a US Marshall, and died in 1897 and is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, in Kansas City.
The battle of Glasgow was a bit of a last gasp effort for Price and his army which, by then was in disarray. He had been defeated at Pilot Knob in Iron County, in southern Missouri only a week before, and had thoughts to capture Jefferson City only to realize that it had too many guns for his weaponry. He thought Glasgow had a storehouse of weapons and supplies and launched about 1500 men against the 800 union militiamen station at Glasgow, including those Vance boys. Starting about dawn, the Confederates (commanded by none other than Jo Shelby) blasted away at Glasgow and at 1:30 PM the Union boys surrendered. According to testimony. The Yankees were given ”uniform kindness and gentlemanly treatment.”
Price’s Army shortly would be whupped up on at Westport near Kansas City, and he would retreat into Arkansas until the end of the war which, in his eyes, never really ended.
So there you have the whole complicated story of the Vances, the Confederate general a couple of gravel roads and my personal and cherished honor as being a distinguished citizen of Keytesville and Chariton County. I’m proud of that and proud of the leaning road sign that points South down Joel Vance Avenue. It is not given to many Chariton County citizens to be so recognized. I love to read about Civil War history, but have no desire to relive it.
People who fly Confederate flags or wear white sheets and burn crosses are despicable, the scum of humanity who parade their paranoid and hateful symbols under the guise of patriotic or religious belief. Those are the dirty remnants of a lost cause that should be condemned, not the removal of statues dedicated to notable Confederates. Fighting a war that ended 150 years ago is a useless exercise and a waste of time that could be better used in ending the turmoil that divides the country today, not wrangling over the turmoil that divided the country so many years ago.

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  • November 11th, 2017

MOORE IS LESS

By Joel M. Vance

In 1959 my wife, Marty and I fled the land of grits and hominy for Missouri, a move that couldn’t have come too soon. Now the rest of the world has gotten a graphic reminder of all that motivated our move.
Roy Moore, the Republican candidate and putative shoo-in for United States Senator from Alabama, has gotten caught with his hand in the panties of a 14-year-old girl, a transgression that, even in Alabama, with a reputation for some of the most disreputable politicians in the history of the country, might be enough to deny him a seat in the Senate.
Moore, already a discredited judge, still had enough credits with the credulous voters of Alabama, who were willing to ignore every one of his outrageous statements over the years, but who may not be able to ignore this over-the-top indiscretion.
Although, given that Alabama voted for Donald Trump to be the president of the country, a man who brags about his ability to fondle women’s underwear, anything is possible. Alabama has a long and inglorious history of electing politicians who, in a just society, would be serving prison terms. But then you have to remember that Alabama is a state where formal dress often is considered a white sheet, and a weenie roast historically often featured a black person as the main course.
The Republican primary was a typically bizarre Alabama political Keystone Kop melodrama. Moore ran against Luther Strange who had been appointed to fill the unexpired term of Jeff Sessions who had been appointed the nation’s attorney general, the top cop on the federal level. Sessions, of course, is at the heart of the investigation into the Russian meddling in the 2016 election which saw Donald Trump unaccountably become president.
Strange was the Attorney General of Alabama, who was investigating the governor, who was involved in a scandal of his own. Governor Robert Bentley was accused of having an overly cozy relationship with one of his aides, some of which was recorded and the salacious tape was played widely to the amusement of everybody not involved. So what happens? The governor appoints Strange to fill the empty seat of Jeff Sessions— rewarding (and derailing) the very fellow who was investigating him for sexual misconduct. Bentley resigned ahead of being impeached.
So you have the governor of the state hanky-pankying around with an aide, suspected of cutting a deal with his attorney general, the fellow who was investigating him, who in turn was defeated in a primary battle with a discredited judge, who now has been implicated in his own sexual scandal.
Alabama politics as weird as it almost always is, can’t get much more convoluted than that and, if you happen to live almost anywhere else, laughable. One of the former governor’s spokespersons, Angi Stalnaker, summed up Alabama politics thusly “all of our corruption up until now had been our own private family embarrassment.”
I started working for the Alabama Journal, a newspaper of not much renown, in 1956, the tail end of the political reign of perhaps the most colorful politician Alabama has spawned—and that’s saying a lot. Big Jim Folsom, 6 foot eight and 250 pounds, was coming to the end of his term as governor, ultimately brought down by a combination of outrageous behavior, not the least of which was appearing drunk on television.
He was called Big Jim, for obvious reasons, but also Kissin’ Jim for his habit of planting one on every pretty girl he met. I heard that once he tried that with a University of Alabama cheerleader and she responded by slapping the snot out of him. He bragged about his amatory overtures, but said that he confined his smooching to women 16 and up, unlike the present Republican senatorial candidate who apparently has no lower age limit. “It was sort of like baby kissing” Folsom said, “Only I started with the 16-year-old ones and worked up from there.”
Folsom was, as were all most all southern politicians of the day, a Democrat. It was only in the 1960s and later that the xenophobic Democratic party switched identities with the Republicans and today’s Republican is similar if not identical to the Democrat of the 1950s and 1960s.
Stories about Kissin’Jim were legendary in the Journal newsroom. He would show up drunk at a news conference and the reporters would enjoy his bawdy repartee with them. One possibly apocryphal story was that when he was barnstorming through southern Alabama some redneck shouted out, “Jim, they say you been stealing up there in Montgomery.” To which Folsom replied, “shore I stole. You want all them sons of bitches up there to get all the money?” And the crowd cheered.
The Folsom era ended with a typically knotted Alabama political Gordian knot. His successor was George Wallace whose second wife was Folsom’s niece. And Folsom had a well-publicized affair with the 18-year-old daughter of Earl Warren, later to be the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, and a noted liberal who spearheaded the decision by the court to end segregated schools in the South. Wallace famously would go on to stand in the door of the University of Alabama to deny Autherine Lucy, an African-American, access to the then all white University.
To give Folsom his due, he vowed to uphold the Supreme Court’s 1954 desegregation order because as he said it was the law of the land and he would obey the law of the land. I worked with a fellow who had been a school principal in a rural Alabama school and who said the same thing—that if it was the law he would obey it and desegregate the school. He was fired by the school board.
I think that it may have been the morning before we left Alabama for good. Marty and I went out for breakfast. And I decided to try grits with my eggs and bacon. I discovered that, along with hominy, grits constituted the epitome of Alabama cuisine and it was time to hit the road. If Alabama politics had not curdled my soul, a diet of grits and hominy was sure to.
We headed back to Missouri which, in those days, was scarcely more advanced in civil rights than Alabama, but at least we didn’t endorse the Klan, white citizen’s councils, and other examples of Southern social clubs. We stuck with the Kiwanis Lions and other more traditional and acceptable guy gatherings of white middle-class males.
Still to come in the Southland I happily left behind were the murders of civil rights workers, the bludgeoning of marchers seeking equal rights, the loosing of police dogs and fire hoses on yet more protesters of school integration by such stalwarts of bigotry as George Wallace and Orville Faubus.
Still to come also was Roy Moore, the latest incarnation of bizarre Alabama politicians. His explanation for his behavior and the interpretations of his supporters are like dialogue from the most fervid imaginings of Lewis Carroll. Alice would have fled in horror— bad enough to be harangued by giant rabbits and deranged hat makers, but attempted diddling by Roy Moore is beyond Wonderland and well into the territory of Hell.
Moore was appointed as a judge by then Alabama governor Guy Hunt who would be convicted of theft for converting $200,000 campaign contributions so he could build a marble shower and buy a lawnmower. Hunt resigned in disgrace in 1993. Moore twice was kicked out of the judiciary, once for defying a court order to remove a plaque containing the 10 Commandments from his court room, the second time for willfully and publicly defying the orders of a United States District Court. In 2016 Moore was suspended from the Alabama Supreme Court by the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission which found him guilty of six ethics charges, stemming from his defiance of previous court orders.
Since then Moore has been active railing against same-sex marriage, homosexuality, Islam, and anything he doesn’t like. Moore did explain that he probably did date younger women when he was in his 30s but never, he stoutly maintained, without having gotten the consent of the girls’ mothers, an explanation that raises eyebrows high enough to cause vision problems. Can you imagine the parents of a 14-year-old giving consent to their daughter dating a 32-year-old man? Daddy would be busy searching for shotgun shells while mom would be busy dialing 911.
If you have seen the news stories about Roy Moore and it is difficult not to have, you doubtless have seen him riding a horse. Other than the fact that it’s difficult to separate him from the back end of the horse I am invariably inspired to comment to the television set with a suggestion that other than committing illegal shenanigans with underage girls he should also consort with, as the phrase ends, ” the horse you rode in on.”

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  • November 5th, 2017

ONCE AGAIN

I’ve posted this piece several times since I wrote it several years ago. Every day seems to bring new divisions in the country and new animosity among people that used to be United—or at least most of the time. We are a country of immigrants, of diverse religious, political, and social beliefs, and that is our strength. It is, when we forget, that we begin to become unraveled. I’ve submitted this for publication at least two dozen times and no one has seen fit to publish it. Perhaps it’s just no good, perhaps the editors are idiots, perhaps I should retire and listen to Beethoven.

By Joel M. Vance
It was Veteran’s Day and our local symphony orchestra preceded Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with a tribute to the nation’s servicemen and women. “Bring the house lights up,” said the concert master, “and all those who have served in the military stand up.”
Quite a few men stood, mostly bent with age and various infirmities. I didn’t stand, although I spent 13 years in the Reserves and National Guard. But when I was in the Guard we attended weekly drills, and for two weeks each summer we invaded northern Minnesota to keep the nation safe from people named Olson.
I didn’t feel entitled to be showered with the same appreciation given to men who actually did risk taking a bullet for us.
The old men sat and we hunkered down for the musicale. The first number was a medley of patriotic songs. “Over There” echoed from the War to End All Wars (several wars ago) and that morphed into “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” I appreciated the homage to the guys with the long guns in “The Caisson Song,” even though I never saw a caisson during my tenure in the artillery.
And finally they played “American the Beautiful” and I realized that my eyes were wet. This is a beautiful country, not like any other. It offers everyone the chance to be something, just like it promises.
Some citizens choose to be evil, mean, obnoxious, bigoted and awful. Others choose to be saintly. Some go to church, well, religiously, while others just as religiously avoid it. Supposedly Stephen Decatur said, ”… may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” Since, it has been corrupted to “my country—right or wrong” but if every citizen hewed to that philosophy we still would be paying homage to a queen and eating boiled kidneys.
We are a nation founded on civil disobedience. My immediate response to bumper stickers reading “My country—love it or leave it” is anger because what they really mean is “my country—love it my way or leave it.” And it’s not “my” country. It’s ours, mine too, even when I disagree with the bumper sticker bigots.
We should acknowledge that maybe we aren’t as good as we think we are…and try to do better. It’s not fruitful to talk only of the glories of the mountains and the prairie and the oceans white with foam…and ignore the ghettos and the mountain top strip mining and the many other abscesses on the face of the nation.
But to concentrate on those open sores at the expense of all that’s right with the land is as wrong as refusing to admit them. There is no anthem called “America the Ugly” and I hope there never is. We can’t control the occurrence of hurricanes, ice storms, floods or, most of the time, wildfires, but we can control the ugliness and despair of human life. We just don’t try hard enough.
It sounds Pollyannaish, but the alternative is to grumble and carp and create a sort of national dyspepsia. There is no cosmic Pepto Bismol. I hark back to the Eisenhower Decade, the 1950s when I graduated from high school and college, got married and participated in creating our first child—a momentous time that is accused today of being a national nap.
Maybe so, but it also was the decade when the high speed interstate highways we love today were born, when the Korean War ended and when we enjoyed postwar prosperity, economic growth and that 10-year nap. Conversely, it also was a decade when we overused pesticides, swallowed the family farm with a corporate one, used the mega-machines developed for war to create environmental outrage, and heard the first whispers of Viet Nam and the racial unrest that would plague the 1960s—evil twins that still haunt us today.
We will always be a nation at war with itself specifically because of our freedom to do so. For every mining entrepreneur who would rip the top from a beautiful mountain to get at the precious ores beneath there is someone who will tie himself to a tree to prevent it. For every sodbuster who would upend the last native acre of native prairie with massive plows there is someone who would buy that prairie only to leave it alone to bake in the summer sun and bend beneath winter’s nor-westers.
While diversity can be aggravating, it’s what makes this country the confused whirlwind it is. It’s no great revelation that we live in a country that embraces every form of human behavior that offers vistas from majestic to dismal.
So once in a while it is helpful to the human spirit to hear a local symphony play “America the Beautiful” and really mean it.
-30-

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  • October 29th, 2017

GONE HOME TONEW ORLEANS

By JoelM. Vance

A sprawling low ceiling room, filled with the stench of cigarette smoke (this was in the days when not only everyone smoked, but there were no prohibitions against it in public places), stale beer and sweating college students. The atmosphere was light years away from emulating the name of the place– the Paradise Club, part dance hall, part roadhouse, and all unique in Columbia, Missouri, where it introduced a generation of college students to seminal rock ‘n roll. There were three colleges to draw from–the University of Missouri, Stephens College, and Christian (now Columbia College).
It was for the last couple of years of my largely undistinguished college career, a Mecca of Music, a place where the aficionados of early rock ‘n roll could hear the giants of the genre in person. It sprawled four miles east of Columbia on old Highway 40, and there African-Americans and white college students mingled freely in an era when segregation still was in full flower and the three colleges were virtually lily white. The presence of several burly bouncers, who looked like the front four of any given NFL defensive line ensured that racial disharmony would be short-lived— but I never saw anything untoward just people enjoying the best of roots rock ‘n roll.
Outside in the crowded parking lot there was a Mount Everest of empty beer cans where once, while being introduced to the date of an acquaintance, I lost my balance and fell backward into that reeking monument to college degradation that, to give it its due, cushioned my fall. The guy went on to be the attorney for the University of Missouri, and I suspect he doesn’t remember the incident, and neither does his date, other than with disgust, but the moment is etched in my memory forever. That same attorney-to-be also had taught me to sift a salt shaker into a foaming glass of beer to temper the head on the beer, a useful trick for any lawyer. Apparently I had done considerable salt sifting that night, which is why I lost my tenuous grip on balance.
But I was not at the Paradise Club to fall into mountains of beer cans or to shake salt into my drink, despite my dive into the crumpled Budweiser talus. I was there to drink in the music of an entertainer who to this day, a sad one as it turns out, lingers in my memory like the sweet aftertaste of beer that didn’t go flat (thanks, no doubt to a deftly manipulated saltshaker). The evening news, now that my days of falling into mountains of beer cans, and seasoning my foaming beer glass, are regretfully over, carried the story that Fats Domino had died. If, in later years, there would be Deadheads who followed the fortunes of the Grateful Dead with the devotion of religious zealots, I was (and just skip the lame jokes) a Fatshead. Fats was the apotheosis of rock ‘n roll, nevermind the other giants who shared fame with him.
Yes, there was Little Richard, who attacked a piano as if he were afraid that if he didn’t it would attack back, Chuck Berry duck-walking across the stage to the irrepressible lilt of “Sweet Little Sixteen’, and that amped up white kid from the Memphis area who would be crowned the King of rock ‘n roll —but not by those us who were Fatsheads. To give him credit the Memphis King is the only rock ‘n roll artist who sold more records than my king. But Fats racked up 68 million records sold and had more sales than Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Buddy Holly put together. Not bad, considering that Fats never had a record that hit number one on the best-selling chart. “Blueberry Hill” came closest topping out at number two.
The chunky baritone from New Orleans, with the fluid Cajun accent and a pounding boogie beat, was the real King of rock ‘n roll to me and always will be as long as I’m around to pay homage. Fats didn’t much like his lardy nickname when it was first applied to him but when he sold one million copies of his first recording titled “The Fat Man” he accepted the moniker with gratitude and a gold record.
The Paradise Club was respite from the drudgery and trauma of college classes. To be sure, there were classes that I enjoyed like French, with the idea in mind that I would someday travel to Paris, and live on the Left Bank and join the ranks of the literary lions of yesteryear— Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and those guys. Then there were classes like sociology, a so-called science that I equated with alchemy and the summoning of evil entities through devil worship. There were no devils at the Paradise Club, only the Angels of rock ‘n roll.
For his greatness, Fats only had an eight year career in the upper reaches of the charts before the Beatles came along and blew everyone out of the water. Still he didn’t quit even though early rock ‘n roll morphed into music that bore little relation to the boogie, rhythm and blues, and jazz roots that had nurtured it. He was still touring and filling small clubs with aficionados with long memories when he vanished amid the chaos of Hurricane Katrina and was feared dead. Several days later he was rescued along with his wife of 50 years from the roof of their destroyed home. Gone was the legacy of his musical career including his gold records, but his indomitable amiability remained as did he until time caught up with him.
Once I took a date to the Paradise, a freshman (or are they now in this era of gender equality, called freshwomen?) from Stephens College (they were and probably still are called Stephens Susies). Normally, our outings to the Paradise were guys-only where we could be unfettered and ill mannered without the animus of a date. My little Susie turned out to be a loose cannon who, feeling the effects of a drink or two which she acquired from God knows where (not me—I didn’t have enough money to buy a half pint of Jim Beam) she ran through the parking lot opening cars and jumping in while I vainly tried to corral her. It was like trying to put a halter on an unbroken filly and I vowed to myself that if I ever succeeded in getting this girl back to her dorm, I would, first of all, never date again and secondly I would never take another date to the Paradise Club.
Fortunately, I did date again and 61 years later, I am married to a subsequent date— but I never took Marty to the Paradise Club.
The parade of rock ‘n roll superstars who appeared at the Paradise Club is astonishing. Ike and Tina Turner owned a piece of the place, and appeared there many times. I saw BB King plucking blue notes out of Lucille, his fabled electric guitar as if he were back in the cotton fields of Arkansas pulling cotton bolls before the world realized his genius. Chuck Berry traveled over from his home in St. Louis to astonish with often copied guitar licks (hail, hail rock ‘n roll!).
Of them all there was one, only one, who approached Fats in my affection. He actually predated Fats in grabbing my musical mind by its metaphorical throat. Ray Charles sang “Come Back, Baby” on a distant radio station from somewhere in Arkansas and I picked it up on our old Zenith upright radio in Macon, Missouri, where I spent lonely weekends, because I had no baby to come back. Macon was the new town to which we had moved from Dalton where music appreciation ended about the time of the Edison phonograph. Charles had begun as a Nat King Cole clone, but had switched to black gospel-inflected blues and ”Come Back, Baby” was so raw with emotion that it made me shiver all over.
There he was, one night at the Paradise Club, not yet one of the towering musical geniuses of the 20th century, but to those of us who had delved into black rock ‘n roll before that insipid Pat Boone began to rip off black artists with his pallid and uninspired cover records, he was the real deal.
At the break I went to the stage, hoping to get an autograph but was intercepted by one of the Raylettes, and when I told her what I wanted she said I’ll sign it,” and did so.
Ray Charles was to the back of the stage slumped on his piano bench and although I didn’t know it, he was floating on a heroin high, a drug which ultimately he would kick en route to immortality
Our drug of choice was dime a glass beer or the cheapest whiskey possible—Early Times was a raw favorite, barely out of the still. If you want to experience the full flavor of Ray Charles musical genius look up the YouTube video of him and Willie Nelson singing “Seven Spanish Angels.”
Still, as much as I love Ray Charles, and the other legends of early rock ‘n roll, it was Fats Domino who dominated my affection. There is an indelible memory of the one night I saw him at the Paradise Club, in the full flower of his fame. He sat at the front of the stage, pounding out hit after hit, and leaning slightly toward the audience as if to inhale them. He sweated mightily with the effort of his entertainment, his ever genial smile warming the audience like a ray of sunshine.
Directly in front of him, perhaps six or eight feet back into the room was a support pillar against which leaned an enormous African-American lady who jiggled with the beat like a great bowl of Jell-O. It was hard to tell whether she was supporting the post or vice versa but to her it was a dance partner. She rotated around the pillar 360°, never losing contact with it. Each time she came face-to-face with Fats, she would jerk an enormous handkerchief from somewhere, the size of a bedsheet, and step forward to mop his streaming brow, after which she would step backward against her pillar and Fats would illuminate her with his capacious grin.
The Paradise Club is a long gone and now so is Fats Domino. It’s the fate of old men to mourn the golden moments of yesteryear, those pinpricks of sheer joy that will not come again.

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  • October 25th, 2017

LOST RIVER

By Joel M. Vance

Long before President Eisenhower became the father of the interstate highway system, the country was traversed by rivers. The earliest explorers probed up the upper Mississippi River in the 1600s and were frightened by the tumultuous rush of the Missouri River at its mouth. Then Lewis and Clark braved the Missouri River en route to the Pacific Ocean in 1804-5. Later explorers included the naturalist John James Audubon, and George Catlin a painter who documented Indian tribes that the white man callously exterminated by infecting them with smallpox against which they had no immunity.
Most settlers and pioneers who invaded what now is the United States relied on rivers to get from here to there. The Chariton River once threaded its way halfway through Missouri from Iowa to the Missouri River, a serpentine waterway that even as it quarters the top half of the state, also bisects the history of the Vance family. Almost all pioneers in Missouri and elsewhere owe some of their heritage to a river of some size, but the Chariton River is woven inextricably through the fabric of the Vance family’s history.
The Chariton belongs almost equally to Iowa and Missouri— with 106 miles of its length in Iowa and the remaining hundred and 12 miles in Missouri, before it is swallowed by the Missouri, South of Keytesville where I went to high school. That 218 mile length is misleading. Once the river coursed hundreds of miles until man got his grubby fingers involved, aided by the play toys of development gone mad.
The Chariton has been the victim of river rape that encapsulates all the bad things that can happen to once pristine watercourses. It’s dammed (read that damned) in Iowa and channelized in Missouri. It has been contaminated over the years by every agricultural chemical yet devised by man, muddied by erosive run off from the rich agricultural lands of southern Iowa and northern Missouri. The trade-off is that what once was a wooded and pristine small river became drainpipe for the evils of agriculture— erosion and chemical contamination.
In 1969, the Corps of Engineers, ever vigilant for a chance to alter the landscape, usually with disastrous results for the environment, began construction of 11,000 acre Rathbun reservoir in southern Iowa which drowned a considerable mileage of the upper Chariton River. According to Corps self praise the lake which spans 21,000 acres at flood stage, provides a virtual paradise for recreationists, alleviates floods, and does all kinds of good for the bureaucratic universe. This miracle Lake was dedicated in 1970 by none other than President Richard Nixon. Nixon and his tarnished legacy are gone, but the lake lingers on.
About 30 miles downstream from Rathbun dam, the Chariton slips into Missouri and heads downstream toward my territory, Chariton County, named for the river, or vice versa, where I lived for a decade in the late 1940s and most of the 1950s. The Chariton River threaded its way through my history, mostly in a good way.
The Chariton gained its name about 1804 when John Charaton established a trading post near the mouth of the then-unnamed tributary of the Missouri River and named the watercourse after himself. The little river was a godsend to Missouri, Sac, and Iowa Indians, who depended on it for fish and wild game. It was so insignificant to the early explorers that Lewis and Clark passed it by without comment. Then a fellow named James Loe explored upstream almost to Callao, where my parents would live in the 1960s.
The river continued to be a river for a century after John Charaton established his little settlement, but in 1904, a farmer named Peter Vitt started talking up the idea of pulling the kinks out of the Chariton and turning it into a straight ditch the faster to shepherd floodwaters downstream to the Missouri. In Chariton County, where my grandfather built and tended fish traps and where my father would own a farm, the Chariton River wound through an estimated 300 miles of streambed. From the Iowa line to the Missouri the historic length was about 900 miles. After the Corps of Engineers finished its lethal assault on the twisting stream, less than 100 miles remained, a straight ditch, as inviting to outdoor enthusiasts as a sewage lagoon. Gone were the bordering trees, the wildlife, and most of the fish that once provided bounty to settlers, replaced by bordering corn and bean fields.
My father was not immune to the pressure and so-called progress either. He was a partner in a 640 acre farm near Bynumville, through which once ran the original Chariton River. By the time we moved to Dalton in 1948, the Chariton had been straightened and the new ditch ran by it outside the property line. The old channel remained within the farm as a twisting watercourse, slowly growing stagnant.
In the 1840s, probably on our farm and a century before the river was straightened, there was a fish trap in the Chariton, that for many years provided a bounty of fish for individual and community fish fries. The ruins of this old fish trap are documented today in yellow photographs, although the trap itself is long gone.
Two memories stick out, concerning that old channel. One is of what we called the Bend, a crook in the river that isolated a five-acre patch of woods, that frequently was flooded. In the fall when mallards sailed down from the North country, this woods of water-tolerant old oaks was a magnet for them, and we would hunt there sloshing through the shallow water where my father had distributed a dozen decoys. The Bend was a microcosm of the flooded oak marshes of the Southland, legendary for duck hunting. It was, for us, a sometime thing where, when conditions were just right, our shabby decoys would trick a small band of migrating mallards into helicoptering down to where we would shoot, and more often than not miss, since neither of us was a particularly good shot. The excitement, for a teenage kid, and for that matter, his middle-aged father, was almost unbearable.
One morning we got to the Bend to discover that a neighbor had sneaked into the flooded marsh and, mistaking our decoys for living ducks, potshot them full of holes so that about half of them had a list, reminiscent of the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. My father, caught up in the postwar mania for bigger and better farms, arranged to have the Bend cleared and drained and it became five acres of corn and beans, no longer our duck hunting spot, only a fond memory, tinged with sadness.
Another morning on another crook in the old channel my father and I walked up pair of ducks that flushed ahead of us in the early morning sunlight. I was carrying a model 12 Winchester pump with a 32 inch barrel, the quintessential old timers duck gun, which my father had gotten in a trade of some sort, and I shouldered it as if I knew what I was doing, and dropped one of the two ducks at 40 yards splashing it into the muddy water. My father’s pride in my shooting knew no bounds, and neither did mine. It was a rare moment, not shared nearly often enough.
In the 1940s we could travel a rough gravel road from the Finnell farm to our home in Dalton, crossing the Chariton at what was called Rockford, a grouping of houses which also included a hardware store where I got my first gun, an authentic Red Ryder BB gun (“you’ll shoot your eye out kid!”). The river was spanned by a rickety wooden bridge which vanished when the new channel cut through and the shortcut route from the Finnell farm to Dalton vanished along with it. Once, I had seen a brief flash of feminine flesh when a Guilford girl ran across the yard in her underwear, just up the hill from Rockford. That was every bit as exciting as getting my first BB gun.
Grandpa Joseph Oliver Vance was born just after the Civil War ended,in 1866, a son of a Union militiaman whose military career had lasted all of a couple hours before he was captured by General Sterling Price’s army and sent home to quit pestering the Confederates. My grandfather lived for 87 years, taking up carpentering as a trade, which helped him immeasurably in building fish traps. He also built a two room addition to the Finnell farm house where he lived with his daughter and her husband from 1937 until his death in 1953.
I would spend several summers on the Finnell farm, not learning to be a farm boy, but learning that I didn’t want to be a farm boy. I would watch my grandfather head across the hill in the morning to tend to his fish trap, often carrying a single shot 22 caliber rifle with which he would shoot squirrels for the family pot
As far as I know, the old man walked cross country from the family farm to the Chariton River, through the woods and across gullies, of which there were many in the pitted hills of southern Chariton County. At the river he tended his fish trap, a device cleverly constructed to capture catfish and other denizens of the murky river, which became his contribution to the family’s larder. It was about a mile hike to the old Chariton and it wouldn’t have been easy because in those days there was no cropland other than the occasional tobacco patch and the countryside was creased with gullies and ravines, the legacy of a century or more of trying to scratch a farm living from unfriendly and infertile dirt.
Little did the old man know, but when he was laid low by a stroke at 87, his day was over as was that of the lower Chariton River. By the time my folks and I moved from Chicago to Dalton in 1948, the Chariton River had been ousted from its original channel into a carefully engineered drainage ditch and the point of tending a fish trap was pointless.
My fellow worker at the Conservation Department, Kenny Hicks, once wrote a history of the Chariton, titled “The River That Went Straight” where he said this, “Where are the old fishing holes, the tree-lined banks, and the valuable otter? They helped feed, house, and clothe our last century kin, only to be swallowed up in the iron jaws of mammoth shovels or washed into oblivion by a modern method devised to rid ourselves of unmanaged water.”
Kenny closed his piece with this observation, “When will the conflict end? Will it be only when there are no more rivers or no more men?” Those are both questions that have yet to be answered, but I can answer them partially— gone is the Chariton, at least as my grandfather knew it, and so is my grandfather. Gone also is the Bend and the father with whom I shared misty mornings and shot-holed decoys. They say, “progress brings change.”
Please, define “progress” for me. I’m confused.

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  • October 15th, 2017

I CAN’T DANCE, DON’T ASK ME….

By Joel M. Vance

“I can’t dance, don’t ask me!” Famously sang Fred Astaire in 1935, the year after I was born. Dance he did, of course, and more gracefully and admirably than anyone before or since. He did dance in 10 musical movies with his longtime partner Ginger Rogers who, it was said, did everything he did, only backward and on high heels.
I can only marvel when Astaire danced up the wall and across the ceiling in one of the many movies he made with Rogers. In contrast, I have trouble negotiating simple dance steps on level floor. My history with dance is so personally depressing as to call for intensive therapy, but I think that having reached octogenarian status, my time to emulate, even faintly, Fred Astaire has come and gone.
Klutz like stumbling on the dance floor, is doubly depressing because Marty, my wife, is a mid-Missouri Ginger Rogers, and always has been. I have no doubt that she boogied in her crib and that her first steps were as flashy as those of the vintage Cyd Charisse. 
She is a veteran of an ice cream parlor right out of Happy Days, called Louie’s, which in her high school days was the gathering place for teenagers in Macon Missouri, her hometown. The jukebox rocked and so did the kids. Ask her today her favorite memories from high school and she will instantly reply, “Louie’s, where we went to dance.”
By contrast, in Dalton, Missouri, where I lived, or in Keytesville, where I went to high school, dancing for all boys save a few precocious and scorned showoffs, was something you watched Fred Astaire do in a movie, while waiting for John Wayne to show up in the second half of a double feature and shoot someone. 
I do recall one time in high school, possibly in a physical education class, where we attempted to learn how to square dance, stumbling around as fiddles played on a scratchy phonograph. The girls had no problem with the intricate steps of square dancing but us guys looked more like hogs loose on a skating rink.  Girls frequently danced together, while we wall flower boys sat on the bleachers steps and talked about baseball.
It occurred to me, probably because my mother told me, that if I wanted to be the most popular boy in school, I would have to learn to dance. Becoming most popular was probably about as likely as my becoming president, although given the one we have now, maybe I could’ve made it. Although, if being elected to the highest office in the land depended on my ability to dance, I couldn’t have been elected dogcatcher.
So, my mother attempted to teach me a simple two-step, which I think she called a foxtrot, although I did it more like a foxhound with sore feet. There are few things more embarrassing than dancing with your mother. We fox trotted around one of the many rooms in the Dalton Hotel, where we lived in semi-squalor, probably to a big band recording from the 1940s.
My mother, who had danced in Chicago nightclubs with my father, during the Roaring Twenties when they were dating and before I came along to complicate their lives, was incapable of teaching me the fast dance steps of 1950s teenagers. Even by the 1940s, she had passed through impetuous teenage dancing. So I learned a sedate two-step (two to the left and one to the right), a mechanical march that was about as rhythmic as if the Creature From Another Planet (a favorite 1950s sci-fi movie) had broken into a frantic shake and bake before destroying a major American city.
Now at least I was armed (or legged) to participate in what we called buckle polishing dancing, but anything faster than Glenn Miller, playing “Moonlight Serenade” was beyond me. Even when my cherished and deeply beloved wife of 61 years, Marty, offers to show me the steps that made her the Ginger Rogers of Louie’s Sweet Shop, I turn to jelly and step on my lower lip in a surly pout and quit, like a frightened dog being dragged to the veterinarian.
A couple of incidents in my formative years go a long way toward explaining my reluctance, inability or whatever it is to trip the light fantastic–which for me is so fantastic as to be beyond the realm of imagination. Let me explain:
For one thing, dance opportunities at my high school, Keytesville, were limited to school dances a couple of times a year. There was no Louie’s in Keytesville or anywhere close by where teenagers could gather and juke to the jukebox. Marty tells me that Louie’s was a gathering spot, not just for Macon teens, but for kids from neighboring towns as well. “After a football game,” she says, “we’d get kids from whatever team Macon was playing that night and we’d all dance.”
There was no football at Keytesville high school, not to mention no equivalent of a Louie’s, and none of the prom nonsense that was the highlight of the social scene at Macon high school. I had exactly one date to a dance in high school and came down with a case of impetigo on my face that made me look like a character from a horror movie. There was a grotesque scab running from just below my nose to below my chin. I looked like a pestilent survivor of a chemical warfare attack. Not only did I not dance, but my date was taken home by a senior who happened to have a car, which I didn’t, and who did not have impetigo.  That horrifying incident obviously did not increase my ambition to acquire terpsichorean facility.
I can date my aversion to fast dancing to one dreadful moment in the summer of 1955, at ROTC summer camp at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Fort Sill historically was where Indians would drive buffalo over a cliff to their death and if I had been a buffalo I think I would’ve been happy to be driven over a cliff– anything to get away from Fort Sill. On weekends we callow would-be soldiers could escape to nearby towns where we could buy technically illegal beer (Oklahoma at the time was dry). Some warriors went to Wichita Falls, Texas, known as Whiskey Falls, a wet oasis just over the border, but some of us chose to go to Anadarko, where there were alleged to be real live girls in the roadhouses.
        There was a girl’s college in Anadarko and little knots of coeds would gather at a local dance hall and whisper girl secrets to each other and occasionally when approached by an especially daring male child would take to the dance floor and, miracle of miracles, engage in buckle polishing.  But all too many of the rock ‘n roll records of the 1950s rocked  ‘n rolled, requiring the  dreaded fast dance, which pinned me to my seat as if I were stuck there with super glue
It was in one of these beer joints, with Fats Domino rocking on the jukebox, that I summoned up my courage and asked a girl to dance with me. I had absolutely no concept of dancing outside the two-step box, but figured that natural rhythm would carry the day. I thought I was doing a credible imitation of somebody who knew what he was doing, when the girl suddenly stopped in the middle of “Ain’t That a Shame” and snarled, “what the hell are you doing?”
      “I don’t know,” I mumbled and slunk back to our booth, humbled, shamed and irrevocably traumatized forevermore.  Ever since that moment so long ago, I have been crippled by the deep and unhealing wound of that humiliating encounter.  I can stand alone in front of a thumping recording of “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On” by the vintage Jerry Lee Lewis and manufacture a creative modern dance, on the beat, and as imaginative as something by Sammy Davis Junior in his prime— but there, in my solitude, is no girl looking at me as if I were a repulsive insect, sneering, “what the hell are you doing?”
I grew up, first on radio and later on television, listening to the inane jingle, “Arthur Murray taught me dance’n/in a hurry.” Murray packed it in long ago, but if his spirit were confronted with me at one of his dance studios he’d whirl in his grave like a centrifuge.  There is a local group where we live that offers what they call swing dance lessons but the thought of exposing my ineptitude to strangers makes me quiver. I can just see the instructor, after fruitless hours trying to teach me twirling and whirling to fast music, growling “what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
So as I approach the age where, if I did know how to fast dance, I’d have to use a walker, I am doomed to be among the wallflowers.  I think I hear the Four Freshmen singing “Memories Are Made of This” on an oldies station.  Buckle polishing music.
Anyone care to dance?
 
 
 
 
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  • October 8th, 2017

SASSE’S HOLE

By Joel M. Vance

It shimmers in memory, a half acre of clear water inelegantly named Sasse’s Hole. It was where we swam in the halcion days of teenagerhood. Hormones mixed with sunshine in a heady brew that only comes once in a lifetime, and all too soon vanishes amid the confusing infirmities of maturity.
Climate scientists doubtless believe they can prove that global warming began decades if not centuries ago, but for me it has happened in my lifetime. I was born in 1934, in the depths of the driest and hottest decade, possibly in the nation’s history. It was not only the Great Depression, but also a time of intense heat and massive dust storms that not only stirred up the dirt of the Midwest but also spawned me. And again, in the early and mid-1950s came another time of intense heat— all of these formative years with no air conditioning and virtually no way to find the relief from the smothering heat.
There was no incentive to be concerned about global warming at a time when immediate warming was a fact. National Geographic magazine may have provided titillating photos of bare breasted African natives, but no such photography existed for natives of mid-Missouri, and we had to live with what we had, amid demurely bra-clad female classmates.
That’s why Sasse’s Hole always will be for me a cool spot in the hell of memory. It was a blue hole, a rare phenomenon where crystalline water appears, apparently from nowhere to create a pond or lake where none existed before. They also call it a blowout as if it were somehow dynamited from nonexistence to existence by some cosmic explosives maven.
Whether or not Sasse’s Hole was a true blue hole or not is almost a matter of semantics. It could’ve been a cenote, another type of aquatic phenomenon, common in some parts of the world. Blue holes apparently are mostly associated with salt water while cenotes are more common in freshwater areas. Either way a normally circular body of water appears, caused by some geologic trick that I don’t understand and don’t really want to. More important is that Sasse’s Hole existed on hot days when teenagers suffused with summertime ennui needed cooling off—teenagers almost always need cooling off.
Sasse’s Hole was a bastard child of the Dalton Cutoff, itself a bastard child of the Missouri River. Once the capricious Missouri ran just south of Dalton, where I lived and then in 1875, the river that baffled and frightened Pere Marquette during his explorations into the heart of North America, decided, as it was wont to do periodically, to go in new directions.
So, in 1875, the Missouri decided to cut a new channel in the middle of the night (contemporary accounts describe a terrifying roar). When the river finally settled down it had left behind a sizable Lake which became the Cutoff. Later the Cutoff, mostly a muddy body of water, like its parent, the Missouri River, would become our playground winter and summer.
In the summertime it was a fishing hole, in the fall it became one of the best duck hunting spots in North America, and in winter time some of us played ice hockey on its frozen surface. I have a 1 inch scar on my chin from having taken a header onto the ice during a heated hockey game which required several stitches to repair. We didn’t have regulation pucks so used beer cans, which might have had something to do with the reason I went sprawling.
We drove to Salisbury about 16 miles away and found a doctor with some surgical thread who stitched up my chin and bandaged it so I looked like Amenhotep or some other pharoah from an Egyptian pyramid tomb. I was quite the object of admiration and revulsion at school for several days until the stitches healed enough that I could peel off the bandage.
I think the explanation for Sasse’s Hole is that it was the result of a conduit between the Dalton Cutoff, which decided to burrow like a mole, under a fairly narrow screen of dry land and trees, perhaps into a subterranean sinkhole, and then surface as a blue hole, perhaps reinforced by possibly sizable springs–the water always was cool no matter how hot the summer temperatures got.
Visualize a basin perhaps a half acre in size with the deep end at the east tailing off to the west. The banks all are clean sand with the northern half almost a beach. The sand is heaped on the east and dune-like. Someone, perhaps Chris Sasse, built and floated a platform a few yards out in the middle of the deep end, to which you could swim, haul yourself out and soak in the sun. Today no landowner in his right mind would risk financial ruin from a lawsuit alleging criminal indifference by letting kids swim without supervision on his land. But those were far different times, not that the kids were more responsible or less prone to get in trouble than they are today.
Sasse’s Hole was a godsend (or, perhaps, a Sassesend) to kids stuck in the hinterland with no access to a public swimming area. The nearest public swimming pool was in Marshall, 50 miles away and across the Missouri River via a bridge at Glasgow. We went there exactly one time in my teenage years, and the water was crowded with other kids, saturated with chlorine, and altogether unsatisfactory, compared to the unsullied water at Sasse’s Hole.
The East sandbank offered a refuge behind which the tender of sensibility could change clothes without embarrassment . Norman Rockwell and other artists of Americana were fond of paintings depicting the old swimming hole with bare butt kids cavorting, but unfortunately for us would be lascivious types there was no skinny-dipping at Sasse’s Hole, especially and regrettably not co-ed. I came close to it only because the only swimming suit I had was inherited from my father, possibly because we were too poor even to afford a Sears and Roebuck special, or because I was so war orphan skinny that anything on my meager shanks was likely to wind up around my ankles.
Only rarely was there a mixed crowd, boys and girls. Usually it was a group of guys swimming, mostly talking about girls. Only once I remember a group of boys and girls gathered and I swam out to the platform with a cute girl who had come with a friend and apparently had borrowed a bathing suit from her larger friend because it up hung on her much like my baggy trunks sagged on me. There were gaps in her one-piece suit that offered tantalizing glimpses of the flesh within and I was smitten with lust for this stranger. I searched for conversational gambits which would indicate to her that I was a potential lover of such amatory ability as to be enshrined in the annals of romance— a Don Juan of the Dalton bottoms.
I asked her name which I immediately forgot and searched for inflammatory phrases, none of which came to mind. She seemed preoccupied, possibly wondering what she was doing with this hapless nerd, while we hung suspended in the water in our baggy swimming gear like a couple of mosquito larvae. Presently she mumbled, “well, I gotta go,” and dog paddled back to shore where she rejoined her friend and they vanished amid the fog of memory.
Possibly the best thing about Sasse’s Hole was that you had to know it was there in the first place, and then how to get there, which was not easy unless you were local. That kept out foreigners perhaps from Chariton County’s metropolitan areas such as Keytesville, Brunswick, or Salisbury. Those of us in the know kept the location of the Hole close to our scrawny chests.
If it were 1952, you couldn’t pry the location of Sasse’s Hole out of me with thumbscrews, but that paradisiacal swimming hole is no more so here is how you would’ve gotten there in those long ago days: you drove south out of Dalton, first past the one-room school, now a community center, where I was threatened with attendance in the eighth grade after we moved to Dalton from Chicago but after I howled like a gut shot coyote at the prospect of having to attend school with a bunch of hillbillies (cosmopolite snob that I was), my parents paid the tuition so I could go to Keytesville elementary school six miles away, but a place with at least more than one teacher and presumably more than one or two books.
Across the street from the one-room school was the Methodist Church where once, at the urging of my mother, I sang “Dear Hearts and Gentle People” to a massively disinterested congregation, a performance enlivened mostly because a wasp fell on my neck and stung me midway through the song. I said a word not often heard in church, one that I had learned in the alleys of Chicago, and an old lady fell asleep and snored in harmony to my adolescent warble.
Continue on South on a gravel road until it’s time to turn west on yet another gravel road toward the Dalton Cutoff. Drive between the Sasse brothers homes, on either side of the road— they owned most of the land east of the Cutoff–and ahead you will see the levee, an earthen barrier designed to keep the Missouri River at bay, something it has failed to do many times over the years. In fact, in 1951 and again in 1993, the Big Muddy overwhelmed not only its banks but the many levees along it, flooding farms and towns to the point where some, like Dalton and Cedar City, became historic footnotes.
Turn on to the farm lane at the base of the levee and park. Get out of your car scramble up the levee and across the top and there, for your bemused eyes, is Sasse’s Hole. From then on it’s up to you. I give you the directions because they no longer are operable or have any meaning. They would’ve worked 65 years ago, but assuming that today there even is a body of water it will be as I discovered it some years later when I made a pilgrimage to the site— a sort of homage revisitation to the bright and sunny days when I was a teenager and all the world lay ahead of me.
I parked and scrambled up that same levee somewhat less agilely than I had done years before and what I beheld was a mudhole, suitable for mud turtles, water snakes, and possibly a gar or carp. Time and floodwater had eroded the barrier between the Dalton Cutoff and Sasse’s Hole and they had become one.
A fragment of my youth had washed away with that barrier and drowned in the passage of time. Somewhere someone’s grandmother may remember an afternoon when she wore an ill fitting bathing suit and dangled in the water like a mosquito larva with a skinny kid.
What was that kid’s name again?

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