Saturday, December 31, 2011


"Western Wagons" 
by the Benets

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, 
the evidence of things not seen."
Hebrews 11:1 
"Now faith is being sure of what we’d hoped for and plum certain of what lies over the hill that we cannot see..."

They went with axe and rifle

Before the trails were blazed;
They went with goods and family

In the prairie-schooner days,

With banjo and with frying pan ---
Oh, Susanna, don't you cry!
For I'm off to California,
To get rich or to try!

We've broken land and cleared it,
But we're tired of where we are.
They say that wild Nebraska
Is a better place, by far.
There's gold in far Wyoming,
There's black earth in Ioway.
So pack up the kids and blankets,
For we're moving west today!

The meek ones never started
And the weak died on the road,
And all across the continent
The endless campfires glowed.
We'd taken land and settled,
But a wagon train passed by,
And we're going West tomorrow,
Lordy, never ask me why.

We're going West tomorrow,
Where the promises can't fail.
O'er the hills in legions, boys,
And crowd the dusty trail!
We shall starve and freeze and suffer,
We shall die and tame the lands.
But we're going West tomorrow,
With our fortune in our hands.

and Stephen Vincent Benet

Monday, December 26, 2011

In Defense Of The "Color Episodes": My first Andy Griffith Show blog...

Perhaps the assertion that "The Andy Griffith Show" is the greatest sitcom of all time is an arguable one, but certainly [and perhaps inarguably] it ranks among the 25 best episodic television shows ever produced in the USA. Its cult, both in the US and around the world, is unrivaled by that of any other American TV show, with perhaps the exception of that 3-season contemporary '60s offering "Star Trek."

So you see, with a fan-base situation like this one, one humble blogger from AZ feels kind of intimidated to even join the decades-long discussion! 

But still... here I go.

Now, I should say at the outset that I am truly a big fan... not the biggest, by any means, but avid enough that I can actually be entertained by a perusal through  the endless and almost excruciatingly detailed discussions that permeate the plethora of websites and message boards devoted to TAGS [as we aficionados always abbreviate the object of our sad but harmless obsession.]  I own all 8 seasons of the original classic on DVD, and will undoubtedly buy the 3 seasons of "Mayberry RFD" [the much-maligned continuation of the franchise] should they ever become similarly available. I have watched every episode at least once, and most of them twice or even several times.

Unquestionably TAGS is a true American classic, especially in its first 5 seasons-- the ones that still featured Don Knotts in his classic role as Deputy Barney Fife.  Barney and Sheriff Andy Taylor had an undeniable working chemistry and timing that really went far above and beyond the typical "straight man and goofy sidekick" dynamic. In comedic terms, it was truly a marriage made in heaven, and both Knotts and star Griffith deserve all their due as brilliant comedic actors.

Over 5 seasons this chemistry was not only used and explored in some really well-written episodes, but a backdrop of amazing supporting characters was steadily developed until TAGS became one of the great ensemble comedies in all of entertainment history... an episodic tour-de-force  that still amazes and charms even the youngest, hippest,  and most sophisticated viewers to this very day.

But then... at the close of the 5th season... there arose a tragedy equally epic!

At the fabled end of that season, Don Knotts departed to pursue a mediocre movie career. 

Barney was now gone, the show switched to color, and Sheriff Andy,  left to toil on with his lesser cast as the new sidekicks, suddenly changed into a serious, almost morose lead character. 

I would venture to suppose that this transition is the subject of more controversy in "TAGS-dom" than any other one topic.  Virtually any TAGS fan can be counted on to have a strong opinion of some kind concerning this grave issue.

Now... although these last 3 seasons have extremely vocal and even hateful detractors [check around the message boards awhile and you'll see what I mean], it is worth noting that these seasons were still quite popular in the USA at the time of their production.  In fact, Season 8, the final season, ended as the #1 show in the country for the year it first aired, and stats show that these seasons have sold pretty much as well as the first 5 on DVD.  [I know I didn't hesitate to keep buying them!]  "Mayberry RFD" was indeed less popular, but still stayed in the top 20 for all 3 of its seasons, and was only eventually canceled as part of CBS' now infamous purge of "rural programming" in an early '70s effort to streamline its image moving into the "me" decade.

So, here's my confession:

Despite their obvious inferiority [and I do acknowledge it] I have actually grown to like these color episodes.  Not only that, I will state unequivocally that at least 2 of my 10 favorite episodes were in color, and neither one has Barney Fife as a character. [Knotts made 5 guest appearances in the color seasons.]

First, let me concede the negatives.  For one thing, Andy Griffith himself often seems just plain bored in these later episodes, and that, in and of itself, is a pretty sad development.

Second, the writers felt compelled to create several new characters, and a few of them [like Warren the New Deputy and Emmett the Fix-It man] are blatantly ill-conceived and painfully superfluous. [As far as Warren goes, I always wonder why Jerry Van Dyke-- as the "banjo playing deputy"-- wasn't retained from the tail end of season 5... he would have been a MUCH better choice.]

And third, there truly is something painful about the character of Helen Crump in these later color episodes.  Now... unlike most fans, I am not all that hard on Helen, actually.  Her character is somewhat harsh, as people always note, but I actually feel it is a very realistic depiction of teachers in those days. Also, 'net posters always rag on her looks, but in all honesty she was pretty hot [and no doubt hotter than these guys' own women-- just a hunch.]  Plus... like it or not, Griffith himself chose her as the love interest for fictional Andy, feeling that there was a good chemistry there.  I think the real problem was that the story lines of Andy's love life just weren't funny without Barney there to be the foil.  I personally think the writers should have just stopped writing "conflict" stories about Andy's love life entirely; there was just no way to make them funny anymore.

Having said all this... I still think there are some real positives to the later seasons.

First, people talk about the stories becoming stupid, but to be fair TAGS always had some really hair-brained episodes. While Goober Pyle believing a dog could talk in season 6 was indeed truly, staggeringly stupid, I actually found it less dumb than Barney's escapade with the goat who ate dynamite back in season 3 [my personal choice for "stupidest episode of the entire run."]

Also, many people think Goober was an annoying character and write endlessly about it, but even Barney could really get on my nerves sometimes.  There was this alarming streak of selfishness in Barney that could be at times funny, but at other times downright unfunny... and those episodes [dozens of them!] where Andy lies and manipulates events to spare his deputy/cousin's feelings can be not only stupid, but pathetic, emotionally warped, and morally offensive... all at once!  [Watch carefully a so-called classic like "Barney And The Choir," where the entire town joins in Andy's bizarre deception, and I think you'll see what I mean.]  I think even Andy and Barn were only as good a couple characters as they were written to be... and sometimes they were written to be a pair of genuine jackasses!  Say what you will about Goober's exaggerated  mental defects, he was at least truly well-meaning at all times, and this made for some really great "lesson" episodes, like "Goober Goes To An Auto Show," one of the best of all the color episodes.

Thirdly, the characters of Opie and Aunt Bee have some great and shining moments in these later seasons.  "The Ball Game" and "Opie's Job" are actually better showcases for Ronnie Howard's burgeoning talents than even the vastly over-rated "Opie The Birdman;" and the color Aunt Bee episodes deserve credit for really exploring the varying and different emotional facets of that most under-valued of all the main characters.

Finally, [and I know I'll take some flack for this one] I actually like the character of Howard Sprague.  He's one of those "town bachelor" characters so strangely  common in a lot of older fiction, and therefore the "gay" jokes about him will probably never stop... but actually, he's a fine, well-conceived character.  In fact, all these fans who gripe about him so feverishly and diligently actually only manage to confirm something about the character that they somehow never stop to consider: he is an absolutely unforgettable fictional creation!  Think about it.  Those writers managed, in this one late case, to create a character that is still indelibly stuck in all our minds... even in the wake of such great departed creations as Barney and Gomer!  That, like it or not, is no mean achievement. 

Also, the various scripts revolving around Howard's inter-personal troubles show genuine compassion for the geeky outsider in a much less offensive way than did all the weird, "co-dependent," Barney-as-pathetic-boob, episodes of the vaunted earlier seasons.

So anyway... I guess I "done done it" now!   I have gone and outed myself as a fan of the last 3 seasons of TAGS. 

Oh well... Let the chips fall where they may.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011


“The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast, and you miss all you are traveling for.” 

“I would not sit waiting for some vague tomorrow, nor for something to happen. One could wait a lifetime, and find nothing at the end of the waiting. I would begin here, I would make something happen.” 

“For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.”

“When you go to a country, you must learn how to say two things: how to ask for food, and to tell a woman that you love her. Of these the second is more important, for if you tell a woman you love her, she will certainly feed you.”

“Victory is won not in miles but in inches. Win a little now, hold your ground, and later, win a little more.”

“Adventure is just a romantic name for trouble. It sounds swell when you write about it, but it's hell when you meet it face to face in a dark and lonely place.”

“The way I see it, every time a man gets up in the morning he starts his life over. Sure, the bills are there to pay, and the job is there to do, but you don't have to stay in a pattern. You can always start over, saddle a fresh horse and take another trail.” 

“There is nothing more dangerous than a woman with a shotgun. Because you don't know when it's going to go off...and neither does she.”

“No man ever raised a monument to a cynic or wrote a poem about a man without faith.” 

“He never knew when he was whipped ... So he never was.......” 

“If you want the law to leave you alone, keep your hair trimmed and your boots shined.” 

“Too often I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.”


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

COOL STUFF FROM LIBRARY BOOKS #12: "D.L. Moody Visits A Prison"

Moody Visits A Prison

I have good news to tell you--Christ is come after you.

I was at the Fulton-street prayer-meeting, a good many years ago, one Saturday night, and when the meeting was over, a man came to me and said, "I would like to have you go down to the city prison to-morrow, and preach to the prisoners."

I said I would be very glad to go. There was no chapel in connection with that prison, and I was to preach to them in their cells. I had to stand at a little iron railing and talk down a great, long narrow passageway, to some three or four hundred of them, I suppose, all out of sight. It was pretty difficult work; I never preached to the bare walls before.

When it was over I thought I would like to see to whom I had been preaching, and how they had received the gospel. I went to the first door, where the inmates could have heard me best, and looked in at a little window, and there were some men playing cards. I suppose they had been playing all the while.

"How is it with you here?" I said.

"Well, stranger, we don't want you to get a bad idea of us. False witnesses swore a lie, and that is how we are here."

"Oh," I said, "Christ cannot save anybody here; there is nobody lost." I went to the next cell. "Well, friend, how is it with you?"

"Oh," said the prisoner, "the man that did the deed looked very much like me, so they caught me and I am here."

He was innocent, too! I passed along to the next cell.

"How is it with you?'"

"Well, we got into bad company, and the man that did it got clear, and we got taken up, but we never did anything."

I went along to the next cell.

"How is it with you?"

"Our trial comes on next week, but they have nothing against us, and we'll get free."

I went round to nearly every cell but the answer was always the same--they had never done anything. Why, I never saw so many innocent men together in my life. There was nobody to blame but the magistrates, according to their way of it. These men were wrapping their filthy rags of self-righteousness about them. And that has been the story for six thousand years. I got discouraged as I went through the prison, on, and on, and on, cell after cell, and every man had an excuse. If he hadn't one, the devil helped him to make one. I had got almost through the prison, when I came to a cell and found a man with his elbows on his knees, and his head in his hands. Two little streams of tears were running down his cheeks; they did not come by drops that time.

"What's the trouble?" I said. He looked up, the picture of remorse and despair.

"Oh, my sins are more than I can bear."

"Thank God for that," I replied.

"What," said he, "you are the man that has been preaching to us, ain't you?"


"I think you said you were a friend?"

"I am."

"And yet you are glad that my sins are more than I can bear!"

"I will explain," I said "If your sins are more than you can bear, won't you cast them on One who will bear them for you?"

"Who's that?"

"The Lord Jesus."

"He won't bear my sins."

"Why not?"

"I have sinned against Him all my life."

"I don't care if you have; the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses from all sin."

Then I told him how Christ had come to seek and save that which was lost; to open the prison doors and set the captives free. It was like a cup of refreshment to find a man who believed he was lost, so I stood there, and held up a crucified Saviour to him. "Christ was delivered for our offenses, died for our sins, rose again for our justification."

For a long time the man could not believe that such a miserable wretch could be saved. He went on to enumerate his sins, and I told him that the blood of Christ could cover them all. After I had talked with him I said, "Now let us pray."

He got down on his knees inside the cell, and I got down outside, and I said, "You pray."

"Why," he said, "it would be blasphemy for me to call on God."

"You call on God," I said.

He knelt down, and, like the poor publican, he lifted up his voice and said, "God be merciful to me, a vile wretch!" I put my hand through the window, and as I shook hands with him a tear fell on my hand that burned down into my soul. It was a tear of repentance. He believed he was lost. Then I tried to get him to believe that Christ had come to save him. I left him still in darkness.

"I will be at the hotel," I said, "between nine and ten o'clock, and I will pray for you."

Next morning, I felt so much interested, that I thought I must see him before I went back to Chicago. No sooner had my eye lighted on his face, than I saw that remorse and despair had fled away, and his countenance was beaming with celestial light; the tears of joy had come into his eyes, and the tears of despair were gone. The sun of Righteousness had broken out across his path; his soul was leaping within him for joy; he had received Christ as Zaccheus did--joyfully.

"Tell me about it," I said.

"Well, I do not know what time it was; I think it was about midnight. I had been in distress a long time, when all at once my great burden fell off, and now, I believe I am the happiest man in New York."

I think he was the happiest man I saw from the time I left Chicago till I got back again. His face was lighted up with the light that comes from the celestial hills. I bade him good-by, and I expect to meet him in another world.

Can you tell me why the Son of God came down to that prison that night, and, passing cell after cell, went to that one, and set the captive free? It was because the man believed he was lost.


CHICAGO: Rhodes and McClure Publishing Co. 1899

Sunday, December 18, 2011

RFD: "Rescued From The Dump"-- a commentary on Job 33: 19-33 by P.S.R.

JOB 33:19-33
He is chastened also with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain: So that his life abhorreth bread, and his soul dainty meat. His flesh is consumed away, that it cannot be seen; and his bones that were not seen stick out. Yea, his soul draweth near unto the grave, and his life to the destroyers. If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to shew unto man his uprightness: Then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom. His flesh shall be fresher than a child's: he shall return to the days of his youth: He shall pray unto God, and he will be favourable unto him: and he shall see his face with joy: for he will render unto man his righteousness. He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light. Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, To bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living. Mark well, O Job, hearken unto me: hold thy peace, and I will speak. If thou hast any thing to say, answer me: speak, for I desire to justify thee. If not, hearken unto me: hold thy peace, and I shall teach thee wisdom.

Now here we find RUIN (v 22), REVELATION (v 23), REPENTANCE (v 27), RANSOM (v 24), REGENERATION (v 25), RECONCILIATION (v 26), and RESURRECTION (v 30).

And this old story has been told and enacted so many times in the history of sinful man that 3,000 volumes of 1,000 page each would not tell the story. God's salvation has carried thousands of men (literally) from the "guttermost to the uttermost," and if the truth for many a life were posted over the door posts of that heart, it would read "RFD"--Rescued From the Dump.

Here is John Gimenez, who began to fool with hallucinogens and Lysergic Acid Diethylamine (LSD), and finally began to "take off" as a mainliner on heroin. Gimenez was a first-class Junkie before he was 25 years old; he was "on the horse" when God rescued him from the dump. In his childhood, Gimenez knew more about "Murphy men," hustlers, chickies, bulls, fences, horse parties, narcos, "booting it," skin pops, pushers, and muggers than most of you will ever know about your Bible.

At Mountain Dale (a Christian rehabilitation center), Gimenez finally wound up "cold turkey," after touching the brink of insanity and suicide half a dozen times; a burnt-out wreck at 30 years of age, Gimenez had "had the treatment"; he had drained the barrel of life and found nothing in the bottom of it but gravel and broken glass. At Mountain Dale, a converted "knife" man (Jackie Dean) suddenly woke up the "barracks" one night, at three in the morning, hollering, "Devil get outta here! Leave this place right now; in the name of Jesus, GO!!" Gimenez got up in a cold sweat and went outside the building while the rest of the men knelt inside to pray. In his own words, Gimenez was "crying, weeping way down deep inside." Gimenez said that God was shaking him like he had dumped a dirty rag into a washer and was banging it round and round. With the men inside praying for him, Gimenez staggered down a dirt road at 3:20 a.m. He began to weep and laugh at the same time. Suddenly all the heaviness left him and he began to sing: "Jesus, Jesus, praise your name! Thank you Lord! Come here Jesus!!"

At 7:00 a.m., that former addict (with nothing behind him but sin and nothing ahead of him but a harvest (Gal. 6:7, 8) that would cause the angel Gabriel to tremble) came back into the barracks and fell asleep. He didn't wake up till noon, and when he got up he was a new creature in Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, born again, and burning with a desire to witness for Christ instead of smoking pot. Gimenez says: "Man, it was like an explosion!" In writing to one of his former friends (who was still "carrying the monkey"), Gimenez says, "Curtis, you'll make it man, with Jesus Christ! Don't you forget it, Jesus is HIGHER than HIGH!" (And for those of us who have read Colossians 1:16- 18, an "Amen" would be just as appropriate following this junkie expression as it would be following a reading of John 3:16).

And over in this corner is Thomas Noah Carter, arrested in Arizona for dope and malpractice of medicine. Both of his grandfathers were preachers. Thomas Noah Carter studied at Mercer University and was the graduate of a Medical College, but he never received Christ, and he never believed the Bible. His mother prayed for him for more than twenty years. In jail, Carter cursed God and the Bible. A tubercular condition siezed him, and he went from 225 pounds to 118 pounds in less than six months. One time in his cell, he passed into a catalyptic state, and the prison doctor pronounced him dead. The prison officials notified Carter's aged mother but she wrote them a letter saying: "I don't believe it. I've been praying for twenty years that God would make a preacher out of him, and I haven't heard him preach yet!" He wasn't dead, but he was half dead. A week later Carter's voice failed him, and he could only curse God in a whisper. Carter then went to the chapel and came forward at an invitation, but the Chaplain told him that he was too wicked to be saved (Isa. 1:18!); so, in despair, Carter returned to his cell, tore a blanket into strips (intending to hang himself) and prepared to die. But Carter's preparation miscarried. Just as he was tearing a third strip off of the blanket, a Bible fell out of it! Carter sat down on his bunk, in a sweat, and opened the Book: It opened at 1 John 1:7. As he read 1 John 1 and 2, the Lord said to him: "If you will teach and preach this Book, I'll save and heal you!" Carter began to shout; he woke up all the prisoners in his cell block. The Warden and two guards came in to give him some "special treatment," but the warden got converted coming through the door! (God had been dealing with the warden for nearly three months, and as he stepped into the cell block and heard Carter yelling, "Glory to God! Praise God for the Lord Jesus Christ!" the warden accepted Christ on the spot!)

When they opened the cell, Carter rushed to him and hugged him and yelled, "Warden, I've just been saved! I've just been saved!" and before the body guards could interfere, the warden was yelling, "Me too, Carter, me too!!"

Thomas Noah Carter was given an unconditional pardon after serving four years of a ten-year sentence, and he preached the truth of God till the day that he died: RFD--"Rescued From the Dump!"

And who could forget old "Bulldog" Charlie Wyman from Kent, Kentucky!? You could "read the wallpaper" on the walls of the house where he was born-- it was literally newsprint!; and the house had a ground sandstone floor. When Charlie was a boy his mother whipped him three times because of three fist fights he had with an older boy at school who had challenged him. Each time she whipped him, Charlie would say, "Mother, if you whip me again, I'll beat that boy up worse than the last time." The third time (after he had put the older boy in the hospital) he said, "Mother, I'm going back and whip that kid again, and if you whip me one more time, I'll kill him." So, Charlie's "home discipline" (without a father) ended there at the age of 15. The rest of Charlie Wyman's life reads like a Zane Grey novel or a Hollywood "Western." He shot out all the street lights in his home town as fast as they were put in, and he whipped every deputy sheriff that came to town to arrest him. He took the guns out of the holster of a sheriff and told him to "be a good boy and go home before you get into trouble." He crippled a man for life in one gun fight, killed two men in another, and shot all the fingers off a man's hand ecept one, and in a bloody shot-gun versus .38 duel, one man went insane, one died of wounds, and Charlie caused the death of a clean-cut youngster (named Foss) who was not even involved in the fight. Running a liquor store and pool hall, "Bulldog" Charlie Wyman ran that town.

Then, in 1913, a small, circuit-riding, country preacher came to town. His name was "Night Hawk" Tom, and he was called that because it was rumored that no man could know as much about the sins of his congregation as "Night Hawk" knew unless he was abroad at night "window peeping." The first time Wyman saw Tom going down the street to the "meetin' house," he said, "ah, that little rabbit! Ah ain't going to kill him; ah'll jus run him outta town."

The next day Night Hawk Tom crossed the street to Charlie's pool hall, introduced himself, took Charlie's hand, and invited him to the revival meeting. When he left, Charlie shook his head and said to himself, "Now I wonder why a good man like that would take time out to talk to a rascal like ME?" Well, the "steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord," and Charlie didn't know it, but he wasn't about to run Night Hawk Tom out of anywhere.

The next night (after the revival had been running for a week), Wyman got terribly sick. He closed down the pool hall early, and, in a drizzling rain, he walked home down the dark streets of the town. As the downpour increased, he stepped into a front yard and took temporary shelter under the eaves of a large two-story house. The house had belonged to a young woman (Gaussey) whose husband was serving time for killing a man during a gunfight with Wyman. Leaning on the gate post near the window, Charlie Wyman wound up his "career." You see, the townspeople at the meeting had been praying for Charlie Wyman in public and private devotions for nearly a month, and as Wyman huddled against the house, below a bay window, he saw Alice Guassey-- the wife of the man who was in jail--come into the room with her two small children. They knelt, facing the window, and as the storm slacked and the rain stopped, Wyman heard that woman and her children praying aloud: "Oh God, please save the godless sinner, Charlie Wyman! Oh Lord, please save us and our town from that murderer! Don't let him burn in Hell, Lord, please save him!"

That prayer struck old "Bulldog" Charlie through like an arrow that pierces to the marrow of the bones. Charlie said to himself: "I am the man for whom she is praying! Oh my God!"

To make a long story short, Charlie was in church the next night. Before an amazed congregation, he literally ran to the altar at the invitation and knelt there, as he said with "blood dripping off my hands." At the altar, that old-time Methodist Circuit rider told him to repent and make restitution before asking God for any favors-- that's how they did it in those days! Charlie got up and went to the Banker and apologized to him for some bad checks; he then turned himself in to the sheriff whom he had made "dance" with bullets when the sheriff came to arrest him; when asked for someone to sign his bond, Charlie moaned, "Nobody in this country would sign a bond for me!"

"Well," said the sheriff, "do you mean business for God?"

With tears raining down his face, Wyman said, "Oh I want to do right. I want to be GOOD Man! I want to go to Heaven; if I have to go to the penitentiary the rest of my life, I must make it to Heaven!"

The sheriff bonded him out.

"Bulldog" Charlie preached the old-time gospel for nearly fifty years after God rescued him from the dump (Job 33:24, 27, 28). And time would fail us to tell of those legions of  "mouldy saints" with "unwashed breath" whom God salvaged for His glory and made their "harps" (Job 30:31) sound forth the praises of Zion.

On the 14th day of March, 1949, a drunken bum, working as a discjockey at a radio station (WEAR, Pensacola, Florida), received Christ as his Saviour. He made the decision in the record room of the station surrounded by album covers of Hank Williams, Patti Page, Tony Martin, Tex Ritter, Doris Day, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Dizzie Gillespie, Artie Shaw, Peggy Lee, Benny Goodman, and Stan Kenton. At 27 years of age this D. J. had "had the treatment." Raised as an Episcopalian, with a vestryman for a father, educated as a college graduate with a major in Radio and Psychology, trained as an Infantry officer with 46 months active duty as a Rifle Platoon leader, catechized as a Roman Catholic proselyte by a Jesuit priest from Loyola, and acquainted with the world system through jobs as a lifeguard, bartender, beach boy, radio announcer, newspaper cartoonist, and dance band drummer, this wreck had reached the end of the rope.

Liquor had not solved his problems, lust and dissipation had failed to provide any happiness, education and science had failed miserably, religion and mysticism had accomplished nothing of a permanent nature, and three years of "TM" and Zen Buddhism had failed to still the voice of outraged conscience and guilt. At 27, this junk heap was on his way to the junk yard-- lost, drunk, ruined, disillusioned, bitter, broke, and alone in the world "having no hope, and without God" (Eph. 2:12).

A country Baptist preacher named Hugh Pyle led him to Christ in the radio station that morning. In less than a month, he was studying the Bible. In less than a year, he was preparing for the ministry, and that depraved sinner (who had tried everything short of murder and suicide to attain his ends) has been preaching and teaching the living words of the living God for more than 28 years. What he could not find in two universities, three religious systems, four years of Government service, and every hell hole from Bourbon Street (New Orleans) to Hell's Half-acre (Honolulu, Hawaii), he found in God's Book!

Many a man who had worn out his constitution is living on his by-laws, or as an octogenarian said: "If I'dda known I was gonna live this long, I would have taken better care of myself!" There are physical wrecks on this earth, social wrecks, financial wrecks, and spiritual wrecks, but our God is a "junk specialist," and He can take a physical wreck like the man in Mark 5:5, or the woman in Mark 5:26, and restore their health.

He can take a religious wreck like Paul [Saul Of Tarsus] and make a flaming evangelist out of him.

He can take a scholarly wreck like R. A. Torrey or B. H. Carroll and make them preach the Virgin Birth, the Blood Atonement, and the physical Resurrection.

He can take a social wreck like the Samaritan woman of John 4:18 (or Mary Magdalene) and make her fit to dine with princes and angels (Rev. 19:9)!

And there has been many a "wreck" salvaged by God, who went on to greater service in the Lord's vineyard than the smooth, slick, flawless, keptand -cared-for "late models," like the "elder brother" of Luke 15. Many of these "cultured" Christians (Luke 7:39) thought that because they had morals, money, property, education, and prestige that God was obligated to use them; sometimes God will use an INSTITUTION when He can't find a man in it that He can do anything with by himself. "Corporative Christianity" and Communism are very popular these days, and when you hear many of these smooth, slick, professional motivators bragging about "THEIR" work, they are often referring to 10-200 Christians who are doing the work in their stead, paying the bills in their stead, teaching the converts in their stead, and working on slave wages to promote the "work." 1 Corinthians 3:13 will iron a lot of things out.

RFD-- Rescued From the Dump. "His flesh shall be fresher than a child's: he shall return to the days of his youth...he shall pray unto God...he shall see his face with joy...He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life SHALL SEE THE LIGHT" (Job 33:25-28). And God works these things "OFTENTIMES" (v 29) with man!


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: "Cracker Barrel Trouble Shooter" by Jim Kjelgaard

"Cracker Barrel Trouble Shooter"
by Jim Kjelgaard

Jim Kjelgaard, one of my very favorite authors, wrote this little book in 1954.  It's a bit of a change of pace from the usual JK book. While it has a great dog character, it is not a "dog story," and while it is set in a rural mountain hamlet and includes a couple of great fishing chapters, it is not his usual "outdoor" story either. Add to this the fact that there is actually a well-rendered romantic sub-plot [with an honest to goodness female!] and it's clear that Cracker Barrel is just "off-trail" enough as a JK venture to make it a perfect cold weather mid-December read.

The story is as charming as some classic old Andy Griffith episode. When college student Bill Rawl’s uncle dies suddenly of an unexpected heart attack, young Bill is left with a little money and the full ownership of a country general store in some unnamed eastern state [judging by Kjelgaard's choice of fictional place names like Elk Shanty and Cannasport it seems very Northeastern... or mayhap what ya might call "Maine-ish"] Bill decides to leave his architectural college studies, as well as his unpromising and painful start toward a boxing career,  to instead pack up for the hills and work his "new" old "cracker barrel" store out of its oppressive debts.

After Bill makes the acquaintance of a friendly hunter named Rifle Eye Smith, and an amusing stray blue tick hound called Lamb Chops, [a truly great Kjelgaard canine] he finds that his uncle had left the store in the care of a senile old man and his granddaughter Jan, with whom Bill strikes up an immediate friendship. [Jan is a great character, by the way, and just the kind of lively, witty, believable love interest you'd have bet Kjelgaard couldn't have created.]  Soon Bill has encounters with some mysterious enemies as he determines to make his store a financial success.  The chapters detailing Bill's strategies for meeting this goal and his struggles to master the arts of fishing and hunting [there is some great writing about angling for Brook trout with grasshopper lures] are quite entertaining, and I couldn't help thinking how much my Libertarian friends would appreciate JK's rollicking emphasis on free trade and gun ownership [old "Rifle Eye," for example, insists on toting his firearm into city stores, with much comical dialogue ensuing, of course.]

The mystery, such as it is, is pretty thin, but this is more than made up for by the humorous and lively tone of the writing.  In fact, I have decided that this book is now my "go-to recommendation" for those folks new to Kjelgaard who sometimes ask about a good place to start.

I never saw this book growing up, but I wish I had.  It is a really great "Boy's book" that I would no doubt have loved... and I will surely be reading it to my own boy sometime.

Highly recommended.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

PRODUCT REVIEW: "Old Time Radio's Greatest Westerns"

"Old Time Radio's Greatest Westerns"
Audio Cassette Album, 20 cassettes
Produced by Radio Spirits, Inc. (original issue June 1, 1999)
ISBN-10: 1570191980
ISBN-13: 978-1570191985
If you know me at all, you know I'm a great lover of Westerns.

As I have noted elsewhere on this blog, I was indoctrinated as a sagebrush fan early on in my small town Arizona boyhood. TV westerns, print westerns, big screen westerns... I loved them all... from THE LONE RANGER to Louis L'Amour to THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG

Born in 1964, I am in no way old enough to remember these radio shows, but when I saw this set offered on The Radio Spirits website back around 2003 or so, I couldn't resist buying the whole shootin' match.  As I recall, it ran me the astronomical sum of about 50 U.S. bucks at the time [less than a dollar a show, actually] but I assure you, I was in NO WAY disappointed.

The 60 shows that make up this marvelous collection of cassettes [I don't know if it was ever offered on CD or not]  easily divide into three types: 1) Westerns from anthology series,  2) so-called "adult" Westerns, and 3) "juvenile" Westerns.

Of these three categories, the Westerns drawn from the various old radio anthology series are uniformly the slickest, if not actually the best. The anthology series' represented in the collection are: "The Cavalcade of America," "Escape," "The Screen Director's Playhouse," and "Suspense."  I especially love the Daniel Boone episode of the Cavalcade starring Raymond Massey. Written by the great historian Marquis James, author of one of my favorite books [THE RAVEN,  a Pulitzer-winning biography of Sam Houston] it is one of the best half hours of narrative drama I have ever heard. [An interesting choice was including the adaptation of "Paleface" from "The Screen Director's Playhouse." A Bob Hope comedy nestled in among all these other somber, "first-nighter" type oaters was a lively and amusing diversion!]

The "adult" Westerns [at the time the label simply meant "non-kiddie" shows] included "Dr. Sixgun," "Fort Laramie," "Frontier Gentleman," "Gunsmoke," "Have Gun Will Travel," "Hawk Larabee," "Luke Slaughter of Tombstone," "Tales of the Texas Rangers," and my all-time favorite: Jimmy Stewart as "The Six Shooter." 

"The Six Shooter," in case you've never heard it, is a great story-driven western thought so highly of by star Jimmy Stewart that he performed in it for basic union wages just to save budget money [or so I have read anyway.]  I must say, I can see why he was so proud of that one: it is quite unlike any other western that you will ever hear.  Not only is the emphasis decidedly away from the standard violence of the traditional "shoot-em-up," but in the 30 or so episodes I have listened to at this stage I can only remember one time where the hero even fired a shot!  Great, offbeat little western drama.  [This show did go on to TV as something called "The Restless Gun" [with John Payne taking the lead role] but it was nowhere near as great as the original.]

"Luke Slaughter Of Tombstone" is a long forgotten '50s show that seems to me to have been an attempt to create an imitation of Matt Dillon and the "GUNSMOKE" saga, which were all the rage in that time frame.

"Hawk Larabee" seemed more like a sophisticated juvenile Western to me, but the enclosed booklet said it was squarely aimed at adults. I loved it, though... especially the gimmick of having a singing group perform bridges between the acts of the drama.  Great stuff... with great atmosphere!

"Have Gun Will Travel" and "Gunsmoke" have a production quality in keeping with their TV counterparts, but I must confess neither show does anything special  for me. I dislike the former because John Dehner [a very great voice and movie actor in his own right] always seems just plain wrong in the "Paladin" role that I so closely associate with the great Richard Boone [the TV version.].

The latter,"Gunsmoke," just grates on me, probably because of my whole Libertarian political outlook. I  just can't seem to warm up to any show that glorifies a big, bad-ass federal appointee throwing his weight around. It was VERY well done, to be sure... night-and-day better thasn the TV version.  I just never had much taste for either. Just me, I reckon... :) 

"Frontier Gentleman," also starring John Dehner, tells first-person tales of  a British journalist musing his way through the wild and woolly West. It is, in my opinion, a much better vehicle for Dehner and every episode I have ever heard has boasted a really well-written script.  The 3 included here are no exceptions.

"Fort Laramie" and "Tales of the Texas Rangers" also fall into the "adult" Western category, but they actually ably represent 2 separate and distinct sub-genres as well.

"Fort Laramie" (starring Raymond Burr) is a very good offering in the sub-genre of realistic war, or Cavalry stories. [Incidentally, the set also includes a great adaptation of a James Warner Bellah Calvary story from the "Escape" anthology show. Entitled "Command," it is a great character study of a young officer's first encounter with combat.]

"Tales of the Texas Rangers" is actually a police procedural show of the "Dragnet" variety, and a good one at that.  This show features plots that are fact-based and realistic, and the great Joel McCrea plays a likable hero who is both admirable and believable.  It's really more of a true crime detective series than a true western, and it is set in mid 20th Century Texas.

Oddly, I think I enjoyed the  juvenile Westerns the best. They were "The Cisco Kid," "Hopalong Cassidy," "The Lone Ranger," "Red Ryder," "Roy Rogers," "Straight Arrow," and "Wild Bill Hickock."

"Red Ryder" and "Roy Rogers" are very "kiddie" type shows to be sure, but the heroes are so likable and earnest that they manage to be just great fun all around.  My boy Gideon and I loved them. "The Cisco Kid" is well done, but hard to listen to, somehow.  Maybe the hokey accents are part of the problem.

"The Lone Ranger" is cool and iconic, but he's best taken in small doses, like the 3 decent episodes here. Don't get me wrong, I love the masked man, but on radio he comes on really strong. [Truth be told, the incessant "overture" music is main difficulty with this otherwise classic show.]

"Wild Bill Hickock" (with Andy Devine as Jingles providing comic relief) is a pretty durned  enjoyable show, even though the plots seem a little thin.

"Straight Arrow" is a show with a staggeringly inane premise that still manages to be very entertaining, albeit on a kid's level.  The title character is a super hero Comanche warrior whose secret identity is as "Steve Adams," a white rancher. Mr. Arrow is of course able to shoot his bow with remarkable accuracy from a variety or complicated horseback situations.  Like I say, its pretty stinkin' dumb... but also strangely cool. [This show also spawned some really great comic books, too... check around the scan blogs for samples!]

"Hopalong Cassidy" has to be the VERY best of the juveniles. The plots for this expertly crafted show were really just detective stories transplanted to the Old West.  However, William Boyd and Andy Clyde [as Hoppy and sidekick California Carlson] were both amazing voice actors, and the show is downright riveting. Great music, too.

All in all, this set is indispensable for any fan of American westerns or Old Time Radio.  I only wish it were even larger and therefore able to include some of the  shows I have only read about but have never actually heard.  If only, for example, they had put in the "Tom Mix Straight Shooters Show," which the late radio historian Jim Harmon claimed was as great as anything in all the medium's golden age; or the Juvenile "Tennessee Jed" about which childhood fans Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead wrote a great old song: or even a sample of  the radio original of  TV standard "Death Valley Days," which is always described in the  books as top-notch by the writers who remember it.  Some day I would really like to hear some of that stuff.

Still, beggars can NOT be choosers, right?

Anyway... I highly recommend this marvelous set, which also includes a nicely illustrated and very informative program guide.

Happy trails!

[Reviewed by Albie]

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"The Politics Of F TROOP": Hilarious article by Michael Tennant

Albie's Note: A few years back I got stuck working a hotel desk on Christmas Eve ... but through boredom (I had already seen Ralphie's and George Bailey's sagas many times), I came across this strange article about a retro TV show and it's political meaning.  I remembered this show from childhood (it was a great fave of my late father's)  so I couldn't help but read it.  As an ideological libertarian I found it funny but also downright profound!  Hope someone else out there enjoys it, too.

A Western Even Libertarians Can Love

A brief discussion of the old TV western Bat Masterson, and westerns of that era in general, has been taking place on my favorite libertarian blog. Lew Rockwell was disturbed to find that a program of which he had fond memories actually perpetuated the myths of the noble Yankee white man and the ignorant, savage red man, while Ryan McMaken pointed out that the western myths had the added effect of increasing the public's acceptance of a large, centralized, corporate state. Thus did the discussion end largely in despair of finding a western series with which libertarians can be comfortable.
I hereby nominate for the most libertarian-friendly western TV series not a stalwart, deadly serious, white-hats-versus-black-hats drama like Gunsmoke but the 1965—67 situation comedy F Troop.
Now it might seem odd to suggest a series in which the central characters are, for the most part, members of the United States Army as a libertarian's dream. However, when one considers the particulars of the show, it becomes obvious that, as is often the case, comedy can tell the truth which drama shrinks from bringing to light.
First of all, the men of F Troop are a miserable lot of lazy bumblers, exactly the sort of people who in real life couldn't be employed anywhere except on the federal gravy train. Stationed at Fort Courage (the last word that could be used to describe the soldiers therein), Kansas, they include the exceptionally myopic lookout, Vanderbilt; the over-the-hill and slightly senile Duffy; the overweight immigrant Hoffenmueller; the eager but far from musically inclined young bugler, Dobbs; and the scheming Sgt. Morgan O'Rourke (played brilliantly by real-life Army cavalry vet Forrest Tucker) and his rather dim sidekick and partner in crime, Cpl. Randolph Agarn (Larry Storch). O'Rourke and Agarn are forever scheming to make money off the taxpayers' backs, ordering more supplies than necessary and diverting the excess to their own profitable ventures, including the local saloon. The commanding officer of F Troop is Capt. Wilton Parmenter (Ken Berry), a clumsy but well-meaning sort who accidentally continues his family's tradition of military heroism by sneezing in the midst of a retreat during a Civil War battle. His sneeze is misinterpreted as a command to charge, and the troops reverse direction and win the battle for the Union. (Okay, so this one thing makes him less than a hero to most libertarian readers, but since it was an accident, I'm willing to cut him some slack.) His "reward" is to take command of Fort Courage.
Now I ask you: Where else in popular culture could you find a more accurate portrayal of how the federal government, including its military, actually operates? People who couldn't find work in the private sector get sinecures on the government payroll and then do their level best to extract as much as they can out of the taxpayer, while the people in charge are incompetent dolts who would be just as useless in the private sector as their subordinates.
Whereas Gen. Sheridan, much to Lew's dismay, was featured positively in Bat Masterson, Gen. Custer fares much more poorly in F Troop. In the episode "Old Ironpants," Capt. Parmenter attends an officers' training school run by Custer. Upon his return to Fort Courage, accompanied by Custer, he bids the general adieu with the parting comment, "Good luck on your new assignment at Little Big Horn." Meanwhile, Parmenter has been transformed into a Custer clone, complete with goatee. He proceeds to treat everyone in Fort Courage like dirt, drilling the men to death and even trying to have his erstwhile girlfriend, Wrangler Jane (Melody Patterson-- yowzah!), arrested for the mere act of being friendly and speaking to him. (When O'Rourke tells Parmenter that he can't arrest Jane because she's a civilian, the captain replies, "Then draft her. Then arrest her.") The men and Jane have to "un-Custer" him in order to be treated like human beings again.
Now that's how to portray a mass murdering general — as a man who considers his own soldiers worthless objects that are beneath his dignity and entirely expendable. No wonder he had no trouble slaughtering Indians by the score (when they didn't get him first) and ordering his men on to certain death! As far as he was concerned, only one person, himself, and only one cause, the glory of the U.S. government, mattered. It certainly beats the glorification of Sheridan on Bat Masterson.
Finally, and probably unwittingly, F Troop demonstrates the glories of capitalism. Wrangler Jane, one of the most kindhearted and good-natured characters on the show, runs the local general store. O'Rourke and Agarn, for all their faults in skimming from the army for their own gain, run a profitable business in partnership with the local Indian tribe, the Hekawis. The Hekawis, while comic figures just as the soldiers are, are treated with a great deal of respect by their business partners, who often come to them for help. Best of all, it is precisely this partnership that keeps the relationship between the white man and the red man peaceful — not that the Hekawis seem particularly eager to fight, but it doesn't hurt that they stand to lose substantial cash if they disrupt the relationship. For example, in one episode Don Rickles guest stars as Bald Eagle, the renegade son of Hekawi Chief Wild Eagle. When he asks Wild Eagle if he will lead the Hekawis in an attack on the fort, Wild Eagle replies, "Not during big end-of-month sale." Thus we see that trade is a powerful deterrent to armed hostilities.
So let's hear it for the men (and woman) of Fort Courage! In their own highly comedic ways — and F Troop, as far as I am concerned, is one of the funniest TV series ever, especially in its first season — they show us the bad, the ugly, and the just plain inept of government and the good of free markets and respect for individuals, whether soldiers, civilians, or "Indians."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

POETRY BREAK #4: "The Quitter" by Robert W. Service

"The Quitter" by Robert W. Service

Albie's note: Need some kind of a pick-me-up? We’ve all probably had moments of very real discouragement in our lives... moments when we feel seriously tempted to pack it in and just give up. As hokey as it sounds, it really is precisely at those times we should simply  grit our teeth and keep truckin'. Proverbs tells us  "For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again" [Prov. 24:16]

Quitting is the easy thing to do. It’s that "keep-going-on" thing that’s hard. According to this old poem, your reaction to difficulties determines your mettle...  Drive on!

The Quitter

When you’re lost in the Wild, and you’re scared as a child,
      And Death looks you bang in the eye,
And you’re sore as a boil, it’s according to Hoyle
      To cock your revolver and... die.
But the Code of a Man says: “Fight all you can,”
      And self-dissolution is barred.
In hunger and woe, oh, it’s easy to blow...
      It’s the "hell-served-for-breakfast" that’s hard.

“You’re sick of the game!” Well, now, that’s a shame.
      You’re young and you’re brave and you’re bright.
“You’ve had a raw deal!” I know — but don’t squeal,
      Buck up, do your damnedest, and fight.
It’s the plugging away that will win you the day,
      So don’t be a piker, old pard!
Just draw on your grit; it’s so easy to quit:
      It’s the keeping-your-chin-up that’s hard.

It’s easy to cry that you’re beaten — and die;
      It’s easy to crawfish and crawl;
But to fight and to fight when hope’s out of sight —
      Why, that’s the best game of them all!
And though you come out of each gruelling bout,
      All broken and beaten and scarred,
Just have one more try — it’s dead easy to die,
      It’s the keeping-on-living that’s hard.

ROBERT W. SERVICE  [1874-1958]
from the book RHYMES OF A ROLLING STONE, 1912

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Count your blessings-- YOU are RICH!


From the standpoint of material wealth, Americans have difficulty realizing how rich we are. However, going through this little “mental exercise” suggested by Robert Heilbroner can help us to count our blessings. Imagine doing the following, and you will see how daily life is for as many as a billion people in the world.

1. Take out all the furniture in your home except for one table and a couple of chairs. Use blankets and pads for beds.

2. Take away all of your clothing except for your oldest dress or suit, shirt or blouse. Leave only one pair of shoes.

3. Empty the pantry and the refrigerator except for a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, a few potatoes, some onions, and a dish of dried beans.

4. Dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, and remove all the electrical wiring in your house.

5. Take away the house itself and move the family into the tool shed.

6. Place your “house” in a shantytown.

7. Cancel all subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and book clubs. This is no great loss because now none of you can read anyway.

8. Leave only one radio for the whole shantytown.

9. Move the nearest hospital or clinic ten miles away and put a midwife in charge instead of a doctor.

10. Throw away your bankbooks, stock certificates, pension plans, and insurance policies. Leave the family a cash hoard of ten dollars.

11. Give the head of the family a few acres to cultivate on which he can raise a few hundred dollars of cash crops, of which one third will go to the landlord and one tenth to the moneylenders.

12. Lop off twenty-five or more years in life expectancy.

By comparison, how rich we are! And with our wealth comes responsibility to use it wisely, not to be wasteful, and to help others.

Think on these things.

-Steve Williams, from THE GOSPEL TRACT HAVESTER, November 2008

Cool Stuff From Library Books #11: "THANKSGIVING DAY--1941" by Stephen Vincent Benet

 by Stephen Vincent Benet
There are many days in the year that we celebrate, but this one
is wholly of our earth. Three hundred and eighteen years ago,
long before we were ever a nation, a handful of men and women who
wished to live for an idea and were willing to die for it, first
set this day apart as a day of thanks. They were neither rich nor
powerful, those men and women of Plymouth; they had bought the
very ground they stood on by the deaths of their nearest and
dearest. After three years of toil and suffering, they had made a
small settlement and planted a few cleared fields. Behind them
lay the ocean; before them, the untamed forest. They had come a
long way to stand between sea and forest; they had left all ease
and security behind them. Even so, they could not know whether
their experiment in freedom would succeed or fail; they could not
even be sure that Plymouth Colony would live through the next
winter. It is hard for us to realize that; it was what they
faced, under all their courage. Nevertheless, cut off from all
they had known, alone beyond our knowledge, they gave thanks in
humble sincerity for God's mercies and the gift of corn.

Today, one hundred and thirty million Americans keep the day they
first set apart. We all know what Thanksgiving is--it's turkey
day and pumpkin pie day--the day of the meeting of friends and
the gathering of families. It does not belong to any one creed or
stock among us, it does not honor any one great man. It is the
whole family's day--the whole people's day--the day at the turn
of the year when we can all get together, think over the past
months a little, feel a sense of harvest, a kinship with our
land. It is one of the most secure and friendly of all our
feasts. And yet it was first founded in insecurity, by men who
stood up to danger. And that spirit is still alive.

This year it is and must be a sober feast. And yet, if we know
our hearts, as a people, we can be grateful--not in vainglory or
self-satisfaction, but for essential things. Let us speak out
some of the things that are in our hearts.

We are grateful to those before us who made this country and
fought for it, who hewed it out of the wilderness and sowed it
with the wheat of freedom. We are grateful to all Americans, of
all kinds and sorts and beliefs, who stood up on their hind legs
and protested against injustice, from the first plantings till
now. We are grateful to the great men, present and past, who have
risen from our earth to lead us, and to the innumerable many
whose names are not in the histories but without whose laughter
and courage, endurance and resolution, all our history would have
been in vain.

We are grateful for our land itself--not for its material
resources or the plenty of its fields--but for its vast diversity
under the great bond of union. We are grateful for Connecticut
elm and Georgia pine, for the big stars over Texas and the bread
of the Middle West. We are grateful to little towns with common
place names where people get along with each other, not because
they are told to, but just because they believe in getting along.
That's the way we like to have it, and mean to have it. We are
grateful because we believe that all those who would confuse and
divide us with counsels of class hatred, race hatred, despair and
defeat know little of the temper of our people. We are grateful
to all the others, to every good neighbor, to each man and woman
of good will.

We are grateful to those who guard the far-flung outposts of our
nation--to the men on the lonely sea patrols, on the high patrols
of the air. To the men in the camps, to the men on the ships, to
the men of the air, to all those who keep watch and guard, we pay
our tribute today. Nor can that tribute be paid in fine words
alone. These are our own men we have summoned--it is the business
of all of us to back them with the firm resolution of a united
nation. And that shall be done.

Most of all we are grateful, under God, for the spirit that walks
abroad in this land of ours--the spirit that has made us and kept
us free. It is many years indeed since men first came here for
freedom. The democracy we cherish is the work of many years and
many men. But as those first men and women first gave thanks, in
a dark hour, for the corn that meant life to them, so let us give
thanks today--not for the little things of the easy years but for
the land we cherish, the way of life we honor, and the freedom we
shall maintain.
From the book: We Stand United and other Radio Scripts [1940-1942] 
Albie's note: 
I like old Benet's thoughts in this radio address. 
Thankfulness is vital to any nation of people.  
Here's hoping you and yours have a great holiday!
"You say, 'If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.' 
You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, 
you would not be satisfied if it were doubled." 
--Charles Haddon Spurgeon  

Monday, November 14, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: "The Valiant Ones" by Norman A. Fox

"The Valiant Ones" by Norman A. Fox

A collection of eleven classic pulp-era western stories dealing with the courageous men and women-- including explorers, soldiers, and settlers-- who opened the American West...

"The cowards never started and the week died on the road,
 And all across the continent the endless campfires glowed.
 We´d taken land and settled-but a traveler passed by-
 And we´re going West tomorrow-Lordy, never ask us why!"
From WESTERN WAGONS by Stephen Vincent Benet 

The above quote stands in the flyleaf of Norman A. Fox's 1957 collection ONLY THE VALIANT.  Its words form a fitting introduction to this collection of Fox's best magazine western fiction from 1946 to 1951.  

Assembled by the author himself a scant 2 years before his untimely death at age 48, this is one of the better single author collections of western fiction I have ever encountered [and I rather avidly collect western short story collections.]

What makes any short story collection great is first and foremost variety.  In fact, this one thing is what keeps most western story collections sadly separated from a cohesive overall quality.

This collection, however, is just about perfect in assembling stories devoted to conveying different aspects of the frontier experience.  "Saddlebag Sawbones" tells of a range-land physician standing off a group of outlaws; "The Fitness Of Sean O'Fallon" tells of an unlikely hero of the original Pony Express; "Homesteader's Wife" realistically depicts the bleakness, sorrows, and occasional joys of  a small time rancher's better half; and "Only The Dead Ride Proudly" is a much-anthologized tale set against the real-life backdrop of the river steamboat that carried the wounded from Custer's last stand to Fort Abraham Lincoln in record time.

I really like Fox's writing, by the way.  He may not be a  prose master along the lines of all-time western greats like Ernest Haycox, Dorothy Johnson or Verne Athanas, but his ability to write descriptions of setting and landscape, as well as his rendering of action scenes, is easily as competent as his pulp-era contemporaries Luke Short and Peter Dawson [and yes, that's a pretty substantial compliment coming from me.]

Beyond the writing itself, there is much to be said in favor of Fox's compelling story-telling, which is filled with realistic situations and well-drawn characters.  A really nice character study is "Old Man Owlhoot," a "modern" western story about a reporters's search for the truth about a Montana old-timer who claims he rode with Kid Curry in the wild days of the northwest.  It is an unusually heart-felt story succeeds in suggesting the inherent dignity that can be found in even the simplest characters that populate our world.

So all in all I highly recommend THE VALIANT ONES. If you like western short stories, It is an entertaining collection of tales that is well worth finding and checking out. 


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

POETRY BREAK #3: "Watermelon Time"


by James Whitcomb Riley

Old watermelon time is a-comin' round again,
   And they ain't no man a-livin' any tickleder'n me,
For the way I hanker after watermelons is a sin--
   Which is the why and wherefore, as you can plainly see.

Oh! it's in the sandy soil watermelons does the best,
   And it's there they'll lay and waller in the sunshine and
       the dew
Til they wear all the green streaks clean off of their
  And you bet I ain't a-findin' any fault with them; are you?

There ain't no better thing in the vegetable line;
  And they don't need much 'tendin', as every farmer
And when their ripe and ready for to pluck from the vine,
  I want to say to you they're the best fruit that grows.

It's some likes the yellow-core, and some likes the red.
  And it's some says "The Little Californy" is the best;
But the sweetest slice of all I ever wedged in my head,
  Is the old "Edinburg Mountain-sprout," of the west...

You don't want no pumpkins nigh your watermelon vines--
  'Cause, some-way-another, they'll spile your melons,
I've seed 'em taste like punkins, from the core to the rinds,
   (Which may be a fact you have heard of before.)

But your melons that's raised right and 'tended to with
  You can walk around amongst 'em with a parent's
     pride and joy,
And thump 'em on the heads with as fatherly a air
  As if each one of them was your little girl or boy.

I joy in my heart just to hear that rippin' sound
  When you split one down the back and jolt the halves
     in two,
And the friends you love the best is gethered all around--
  And you says unto your sweetheart, "Oh, here's the
     core for you!"

And I like to slice 'em up in big pieces fer 'em all,
  Especially the childern, and watch their high delight
As one by one the rinds with their pink notches fall,
  And they holler for some more, with unquenched

Boys take to it natural, and I like to see 'em eat--
  A slice of watermelon's like a frenchharp in their
And when they "saw" it through their mouth such music
     can't be beat--
  'Cause it's music both the spirit and the stomach

Oh, there's more in watermelons than the purty-colored
  And the overflowin' sweetness of the water squished
The up'ard and the down'ard motions of a feller's teeth,
  And it's the taste of ripe old age and juicy childhood

For I never taste a melon but my thoughts fly away
  To the summertime of youth; and again I see the dawn,
And the fadin' afternoon of the long summer day,
  And the dusk and dew a-fallin', and the night a-comin'

And there's the corn around us, and the lispin' leaves and
And the stars a-peekin' down on us as still as silver
And us boys in the watermelons on our hands and knees,
  And the new-moon hangin' o'er us like a yellow-cored

Oh! it's watermelon time is a-comin' round again,
  And they ain't no man a-livin' any tickleder'n me,
For the way I hanker after watermelons is a sin--
  Which is the why and wherefore, as you can plainly see.

Taken from the collection