By: Jerry Barksdale
“Every time you need someone with a weak mind and strong back you call me, and I end up in a chiropractor or doctor’s office.” That’s what my good friend, Dan Williams would say when I recruited him for another “exciting adventure.” He blamed me for his bad back. And I suppose he was mostly right.
Dan was my best buddy. We met in the 11th grade at Athens High, sacked groceries at A & P, graduated in the same class, ran around together, double dated and, when I married in 1961, he was my best man. He paid my bride a high compliment “She’s so skinny she don’t cast a shadow,” he said. How sweet. He painted my ‘55 Chevy with “JUST MARRIED” and tied tin cans to the bumper. How could I not include a friend like that on an exciting adventure? Anyway he was an easy recruit.
Our big adventures began after I purchased a run down, hilly 80-acre farm in Leggtown back in 1974. It was grown over with bushes, brambles and cedar trees and needed to be cleaned up, pastured, and fenced. As luck would have it, a friend called me and said he had a “bunch of cross ties” I could have. That’s just what I needed to build a fence. I called Dan on a Saturday morning to help me pick them up. “There won’t be anything to it and besides it’ll be exciting,” I said. Dan reluctantly agreed.
When we arrived, the cross ties were piled helter-skelter in a ditch. Dan’s back went down like a punctured tire. He walked sideways for awhile but recovered. Afterwards, I recruited him to tear down a dilapidated barn on the farm. Most of the tin had blown off, bushes had grown through the rotted walls and it leaned sideways. It was a beautiful Saturday morning when we began tearing up planks and sledge-hammering support columns. My neighbor, Louie heard the commotion and drove over to inspect.
Louie was different. He lived with his dog in a Ford pickup in the woods. I heard that he was once a “spit and shine” MP in the Army. The shine part had long since vanished. Long black hair fell past his shoulders and his beard dropped to his chest. His appearance reminded me of an Old Testament prophet. His patched Army pants were stuffed inside tall rubber boots.
Louie was standing in the hallway of the barn when I sledge-hammered a main support beam. The old barn creaked, first quietly, then louder before erupting into an ear-splitting roar. “RUN!” I yelled, as I threw down the sledge-hammer and ran for my life. Dan and Louie were on my heels as the barn collapsed with a roar, sending up a cloud of dust. Whew! It was a close call. I almost got my neighbor and best friend squashed. Dan broke the tension. “Louie left so fast he ran outta his boots.” Afterwards, Dan and I went down to Mr. Charlie Christopher’s store in Leggtown where we lunched on bologna and crackers drizzled with Louisiana hot sauce and washed down with a Pepsi, all the while reliving our big adventure. Later that year, Dan helped me nail down tin and patch the roof of a tenant shack on the farm. Not very exciting. Neither of us fell off the roof.
Winter came and the sap fell in the many cedar trees that grew on the farm. Daddy said it was time to cut some of them to use as fence posts. I called Dan. “It’s supposed to be real pretty Saturday,” I said. “We can cut trees and enjoy the outdoors. It’ll be exciting.” Dan wasn’t so sure, but reluctantly agreed. I chain-sawed several cedars, trimmed the limbs, then cut them into 6-foot sections to use as corner posts. We paid no attention to the dead-looking fuzzy vines attached to the trees. We carried the cedar posts through the woods, down the holler and uphill the old fashioned way – balanced on the shoulder snug against the neck. It was a hard work, but exhilarating and built our appetites. We lunched at Leggtown store on bologna and crackers and generous dollops of hot sauce. The right side of Dan’s neck was red from carrying cedar posts.
Late afternoon, Dan complained that the redness was stinging. The following day, the redness on his neck had turned into a large red mass of itching misery. Poison ivy! Dan was miserable and went to see Doctor Pennington first thing Monday morning.
“May I help you?” the receptionist asked.
“Does Doctor Pennington practice euthanasia?”
“Huh, what’s that?” she asked.
History was made in Athens that day. It was the first time known that anyone had ever requested assisted suicide to put him out of his misery after a poison ivy outbreak. It was also the last time Dan volunteered to join me on another exciting adventure.
He may have had a weak back but his mind was strong. After serving one term on the Athens School Board, he was elected to the City Council and, later served 18 years as mayor. He was in his second term in Alabama House of Representatives when he lost his battle with leukemia on July 1, 2015. I sure miss Dan and often think of our exciting adventures.
By: Jerry Barksdale