Radium Springs – Albany Georgia – My Home Town – Luke Battles the Radium Slide

Radium 8

This view as the same as the one below except this one shows the attraction the water at Radium was to local residents.

I grew up in Albany, Georgia not more than two miles through the woods from the largest natural spring in the state. Radium Springs or Radium as we called the springs is still the stuff that dreams are made of especially if you grew up there when I did. The kids who hung out there all those golden summers ago are still flush with the memories we made there and many of us have never stopped dreaming about Radium.

Radium 3

Crystal clear 68° water (that’s bone-rattling cold) pumping at a rate of 70,000 gallons per minute.

But the memory I have to share with you does not include the gorgeous southern belles we longed for in sweet dreams. My memorable story comes from an earlier age before our fragile and crushed libidos emerged scathed, and scorched from the narrow halls of junior high school straight into the cavernous hallways of Albany High School.

This memory is from that long lost age of prepubescence when Luke and I were only about ten years old. This would have been in 1951 or ’52. My Mother dropped us off one beautiful Sunday morning and left us to swim and play to the point of exhaustion so we would be too tired to bother her when we came back home after the big swim.

Luke and I were built pretty much alike. We both looked exactly like spider monkeys. We were skinny and had the long limbs of the world’s most successful tree swingers. Our simian good looks destined us to pretty much play together because other normal looking kids usually were intimidated by our tree climbing and limb swinging abilities. Our faces even looked like those of long limbed monkeys.

Radium 7

The front entrance to Radium Springs Casino during Christmas.

Radium 4

The Casino and springs viewed from the rear of the building.

Once we arrived at the springs we hit the ground running. We went all out. We swam around the island about a dozen times. We ventured down the creek that emptied into the Flint River at least twice before life guards told us they would kick our butts if we didn’t cut it out. We had worked the place over petty good that morning and we were headed for more of the same that afternoon up until the moment Luke fell in love with a slide that was at least as high as a two story building. I lost sight of him for a few minutes and when I next caught sight of him he was climbing up that long slide the same way most people use to slide down it. He was all over that sliding board. The picture shown below has the slide located on the Casino side of the swimming area but back when Luke commandeered the slide it was mounted on the island.

He fell madly in love with the slide. I temporarily lost sight of him again and when I finally spotted him he was swinging just like one of those old spider monkeys from the supporting structure beneath the slide. I felt sure he was going to set up a rhythmic swinging of the slide that would result in its crashing into the water on top of a dozen swimmers.

Radium 6It was hard to keep up with loose limbed Luke. I next saw him going up the slide by walking it from the bottom to the top. Man could he move. There is a man in this old picture of one of the slides doing the same crazy backward slide walk.

His great downfall finally came when he tried sliding down backward on his hands and knees. It was more fun than watching acrobats at a circus. As he went down the thing on his hands and knees he hit that little dip in the board where two sections were joined. He commenced to do a back flip that would have worked perfectly except for the fact he didn’t know he was going to do a back flip. When he completed the flip he lost his grip and his face hit that same joint between the slide sections.

Hitting your face wouldn’t normally have been much of a problem for either of us because we were far less than handsome boys. To be honest we were fairly ugly boys. The trouble with hitting his face right at that spot at that moment was, like most human type people, Luke had a mouth full of teeth. That joint in the slide sections got a good grip on one of Luke’s upper incisors and drove it deep into the roof of his mouth where the Lord did not intend it to be. It was noticeable and it was not pretty.

Radium 2

High water here has caused the water to be murky rather than crystal clear as is normal.

I don’t remember how I got in touch with my Daddy but it seems like it was no time at all before he had us in the car, still in our floppy swimsuits, and on the road to town.

I also have no idea how Daddy had arranged for a dentist to meet us downtown but the dentist was there in full regalia and with a huge assortment of stainless steel tools of torture waiting for Luke to show up. I do not remember the name of the dentist but I remember his office was on the second floor of a building on Front Street and it was across the street from Keenan’s Auto Parts Company.

Luke was quickly ushered into the dentist’s chair and as the dentist picked up a syringe with a pretty good sized needle attached I saw Luke’s spider monkey eyes accelerate to saucer size in a split second. Now I don’t really know how needles are measured in diameter but I understand that the smaller the number, the bigger the needle. A size seven is probably the largest they make but this dentist had somehow scraped up a number one needle and old Luke had not missed a beat when the dentist picked it up from his tray.

I have never seen an Olympic speedster move as fast as Luke did. He came out of that chair like it had a built in catapult. He went out the door and down the stairs. I could see him running past Keenan’s Auto Parts and heading for the river before the dentist could say, “What the hell happened?”

We chased Luke. Correction: I chased Luke for more than an hour all along Front Street to Broad Avenue up to Jackson Street and back down Pine Street. At times we passed the same businesses more than once. It had to be a Sunday because the streets were empty of cars and people and it was a good thing that few people saw us because I don’t think my Daddy could have taken the embarrassment of having Tift Park zoo keepers join the chase for a couple of spider monkeys running loose on the Flint River Bridge. Luke could run even faster than he could swing from limbs. Daddy tried to keep up in his car. Finally he told me, “Just yell to him that we won’t take him back to the dentist. We’ll take him home to his Mother and Daddy.”  And that’s what we did.

I understand Luke’s folks got him to settle down so the family dentist could get his tooth back in shape. I used to see him from time to time. I would look for signs of the tooth being false but I never could tell if they saved his tooth or if he had a new one stuck on a retainer. I was always afraid to ask. I didn’t want to take an ass whipping from a spider monkey.

Luke never went back to Radium springs with me and maybe it was best that way. I eventually became acceptable to a few local girls who apparently decided it was okay to have to put up with just one spider monkey.

Radium 14Radium 18

 

 

 

 

Spider monkey 3

Luke – Taking a rare rest.

Spider Monkey

Ben

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spider monkey 2

Luke at Work.

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The 1956 Pontiac SkiWagon – Albany, Georgia – My Hometown

For Johann Bleicher and Vic Miller.

56 Pontiac 3

The magnificent 1956 Pontiac Star Chief that pulled our feckless friends on skis through water filled ditches in Dougherty County, Georgia after heavy rains.

Pontiac-4

This looks much like the same station wagon we used. Friends who skied had lost at least three of their five senses. That would be touch, hearing and sight.

Ever aware of the old axiom ”Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”, Vic Miller, Johann Bleicher and I constantly struggled with our collective conscience to come up with different ideas and new efforts to entertain ourselves and to stay as far away from the devil’s workshop as possible.

Johann lived with his family adjacent to the Merck Chemical Plant south of Albany. There were great expanses of constantly trimmed and mowed acres all around and we sometimes flew kites there. Kite flying was getting pretty close to the devil’s workshop because it was so boring. We didn’t know how to fight with the air born kites so tiring of constantly looking up at them I got my old 410 Savage shotgun out of the car and blew Vic’s kite out of the air.

The most fun we had out there was the day we got some wine, cheese and crackers and invited a high school counselor to go to Johann’s with us. He was a fanciful lad and giggled nervously a lot. Did I mention the bows and arrows? Well, we also had three bows and a box full of arrows.

We got out in the middle of one of those large grassy areas and we began to fire the arrows heavenward. We pretty much knew the wind would take the arrows from directly over us and drop them a few feet downwind. we didn’t know beans about downdrafts and wind shear but the Lord was with us that particular day.

The counselor knew less about the wind than we knew. He would stand as straight up as possible to make himself a smaller target after we shot the arrows straight up. At that point all three of us would start to yell, “Do you hear that, do you hear that? It’s coming, Do you hear it? It’s coming.” Then we would make whooooshing noises and thooomping noises. This guy was a city boy and he didn’t realize we were making all that noise with our mouths. He thought the arrows were swooshing all about us and thudding deeply into the ground.

He got pretty shaky and I wish I could reproduce his giggle for you. That nervous giggle was a thing of beauty to us. We needed fearful reactions from him to keep our adrenaline pumping at high levels. A few weeks later I heard he had quit his job and was doing a stint in a North Georgia nursing home.

And so that’s partly how we passed a couple of the summer months and then it began to rain. It rained and it rained and I thought it would never stop. The ditches around Albany were filling and overflowing and I think it was Vic Miller I caught staring at the trailer hitch on my mother’s station wagon and when he said, “You know I have an old slalom ski and we can tie a ski rope to the trailer hitch on your Mother’s station wagon and we can pull a skier down those water filled ditches with her car pulling the skier from the road side.

When Miller had a brilliant idea (to him) Johann and I would say even more brilliant things to dissuade him from following through with it. We would say things like, “Duh, snarfle, snarfle, snarfle, duh, duh.” That was our way of buying time in an attempt to tell him that his idea was the craziest, stupidest, lamest thought he had ever had. We never won because to win would make you chicken and nobody was going to be called a chicken.

So we did it. I did not tempt fate. I knew I could refuse to let anybody else drive Mother’s car so that automatically made me a non-skier and it proved to me at an early age that I was not suicidal. Vic and Johann were the main skiers. There were others who skied but I only recall Vic and Johann because they became major players in the game.

At first we tried the ditches along the route that is now known as GA300. We were at the interchange on the Moultrie Road and GA300 right by Procter and Gamble. The road back then was still under construction and the ditches were wide and fairly safe because the water was also deep. If a skier fell the deep mud would soften the fall. Fortunately there was no paving at the time. Paving would have been destroyed by an impact from Vic or Johann’s head and we would have been liable for damaging the roadway.

The Eastside ditches turned out to be too easy. Now Victor had to ski the ditches of the Gillionville Road just a few miles out of town. These ditches were not only extremely narrow but there were high patches a few inches to a few feet long where there was no water at all.

The first time we hit a dry patch old Vic skied through the mud. The next little dry spot he came through equally well but the third was a little too much for him and I saw him in the rear view mirror when he tossed the ski rope up in the air and then he almost planted a full lip lock on a road sign.

Vic was through for the day but he coerced Johann into giving it a try. Johann made it through the first two spots okay but that third stretch of dry dirt threw him like he had been on the back of a wild horse. That wouldn’t have been too bad for Johann but he didn’t turn loose of the ski rope. We dragged him for a couple of hundred yards on his belly before I wisely hit the brake pedal and stopped the car.

Even all these years later I can still see deep scars from the unforgiving briars and brambles that raked his shirt off and tore his chest up like he had been whipped unmercifully with a cat-of-nine-tails.

Most people might not see it but now, almost 55 years later, I can still clearly make out the scars on his stomach that read, “AHS 1961.” The loop at the top of the number nine perfectly encircles his belly button.

It was a great summer.

water skiing in ditch

Water skiing in a ditch.

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water skiing in ditch 2

Good-bye to Uncle Billy Loveless.

Uncle Billy, Sara and Grace

Uncle Billy – Thanksgiving at the lodge.

Uncle Billy and Family

Uncle Billy and Family – Thanksgiving at the lodge.

The phrase ‘Best Man’ has stuck in my mind for days now and I can’t seem to shake it. ‘Best Man’ is reserved as a title for the principal groomsman at a wedding but the reason the phrase won’t leave me is I have known who the best man was for many years.

In our extended family, Uncle Billy Loveless was always the best man. All of us knew it and none doubted it. The males in our extended family were always sure we would not go wrong if we followed Uncle Billy’s example.

One week ago today on a beautiful first Wednesday in April, William David Loveless was laid to rest in our old home town of Albany, Georgia. It seems a paradox of nature itself for such a good man to pass away and be buried just when azaleas in a multitude of gorgeous, rich colors adorn every Southern lawn with wisteria and dogwood trees flashing and blooming their beauty from wooded areas along the roadways.

Billy was a young man in Macon, Georgia before he came to Albany. He moved to Albany in 1952 and retired from the Albany Fire Department as a Captain after 35 years. This proven stability in his life’s work followed him as a true and telling benchmark of his life for well over sixty years and he never wavered in following the path he marked for himself as a young man so many years ago.

Billy was only about ten years older than me but by virtue of his long marriage to Kay’s Aunt Sara (Sister to Kay’s Mother Grace) he was Kay’s Uncle Billy and certainly, by default, he was my Uncle Billy. When you get right down to it Billy Loveless was ‘Uncle’ to a host of people.

He and his lovely wife Sara were married for 63 years. Sara and Billy were blessed with three pretty daughters. Judy Loveless married Fred Burt. Delores Loveless is married to Ken Phillips. Lisa, Billy and Sara’s youngest Daughter tragically passed away when she was only sixteen. Delores and Judy are sweet mothers to four children of their own and at Billy’s passing he and Sara had been blessed with six great-grandchildren as well and what a fantastic brood of children they are.

He loved them dearly and each of them is a living testament to the caliber of man he was. He was kind, generous to a fault, warm and tenderhearted, loving and caring and those fine qualities of an honorable man are reflected in the personalities of his progeny. They are all loving and happy children.They have inherited from Billy and Sara the capacity to face adversity with brave and joyous laughter.

Billy managed to do things I have never been able to do. He volunteered freely of his time and life for causes he believed in. He served in the Navy during the Korean War. He was a member of Sherwood Baptist Church and The Encouragers Sunday School Class. He was a member of Triangle Lodge #708 F&AM. He was a 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason, a member of Hasan Shrine Temple, The Red Devil Clown Unit and a member of Royal Order of the Jesters, Court #159.

Billy Loveless was a noble and godly man. He believed in God with all his heart. He was honorable, faithful and caring. He adored his wife Sara and a number of his final days were spent in worry about her future existence if he would not be there to care for her.

And now you may think I have run out of good adjectives in describing Uncle Billy Loveless but I knew I had the right adjective from the very start. Uncle Billy was ‘The Best Man.’ He was the Best Man I have ever known. I will miss him.

Uncle Billy and Hudson

Uncle Billy and Hudson Vallandingham at the Lodge, Thanksgiving

Billy, Sara with Cake

Uncle Billy, Aunt Sara and Aunt Sara’s Birthday Cake.

 

 

 

 

Billy's Birthday

Uncle Billy’s Clan in it’s entirety.

Sara, Judy and Delores

The Lovely Loveless Ladies – Judy,  Aunt Sara and Delores.

 

Mad Dog Marion and the Mad Dog Canine Cop – Albany, Georgia – My Home Town

Albany, Georgia – My Home Town. About 1960 or so. A place where the city fathers had gone above and beyond the call of duty to provide a number of entertainment venues for our fun and pleasure but we were spoiled and selfish and drummed up a myriad of different ways to entertain ourselves. We didn’t need any help.

police dog

This is undoubtedly what Marion faced in his, ‘Come to Jesus’ moment on the fateful night.

Police dog 2

The face that launched a thousand fears when he leaped on poor Marion.

One way was to get a clean gallon jug and go by The Four Points Drive-In and get it filled with cold beer straight from the tap. Now this may have happened after it was renamed ‘Little Ben’s’ or even later when all the different establishment names kind of ran together and, in fact, I really don’t remember all the names it had over the years.

I do remember Johann and I were flush because we had been working and we had found a five gallon demijohn in the old barn down from my house. I didn’t know it was called a demijohn. I always heard old people call it a jimmy-john so that’s what I called it. Anyhow it’s just a five gallon glass jug.

So we went by the drive-in and our man of the moment, Bruce the Juice, filled that five gallon jug with five gallons of draft beer and just charged us five bucks. What a deal.

We were off to the Arctic Bear Burger joint hang-out. We rarely would hang out there because we had other places we liked more but the Arctic Bear had the best food. Located on the corner of Slappey Boulevard and Oglethorpe Boulevard its high visibility was not a quality we were seeking because we were too young to be drinking cold beer out of a five gallon jug, or any other jug for that matter.

We were not greedy with our beer and as pals and buddies came by we would fill a cup for them. Pretty soon there was a pile of young guys milling around the parking lot. I don’t know where they came from but it was a peaceful and pleasant Sunday evening until a woman also appeared in the parking lot.

Someone said later she had been drinking but I found it hard to believe people would go out drinking on Sunday in Albany, Georgia. Not in my home town.

Anyhow she and some of the young guys commenced jaw-jacking back and forth. It was all friendly banter at first but then someone threw harsh and crude remarks into the friendly mix and their voices became angry and she said a few things to the guys and then the guys said a few things back to her and before you can say, ‘You’re soused,’ the guys had formed a big ring around her and were chanting old Irish ditties of scorn and derision for her benefit.

The gentleman who managed the Arctic Bear (I think his name was Mr. Freeman) saw fit to dial up the police. There was also a cop patrolling the mid-town mall with a large police dog who came over to join the festivities.

If you remember Albany in the late fifties and early sixties you will recall The Albany Police Department had done an excellent job of reinforcing their squad car strength with a fleet of Nash Ramblers. A Nash Rambler looked tame and lame when the boys in blue tried to squall sideways up into the Arctic Bear parking lot but when the officers leaped out and began to toss the guys into the back of the cars the sight of their guns more than made up for the comic appearance of their cars.

They brought three or four cars but they didn’t bring enough. Pretty soon the rear ends of those old Nash Ramblers were leveling out the rocks in the parking lot.

Johann and I were standing off to one side and I’m pretty sure we could have left and gone home but the night was early and I thought it would be fun to ride downtown with all the guys so I said to Johann, ‘I think I’ll go with them.’ Johann said, ‘Are you just damned nuts or what……..I think I’ll go too.’ So we lined up outside one of the Nash Ramblers and waited our turn to load up.

Suddenly I hear a bark and a howl of anguish. Now I was not getting loaded up in the car from where all the noise was coming but I felt pretty sure one of the guys just got chomped on by that big German Shepherd police dog. I’m not sure if the dog bit Marion or Marion bit the dog but there was a whole lot of hell raising going on in the next car over.

Sure enough old Marion did not move fast enough for that dog. The truth was there was not enough room in those cars to fit us all in and when Marion backed out of the car a little so he could take better aim at the door, the dog thought he was an escapee and bit him.

Marion was in excellent physical condition and played football on our state championship team so I knew he was fast and agile but that meant little to the dog. The dog did not know Marion and he was not aware Marion was in such good shape and could move real fast.

Anyhow they finally got us all packed into those little squad cars. I insisted on riding shotgun because I knew those cars were dragging and I convinced my driver that too much more weight on the rear end and the whole car would collapse or the gas tank could blow up and fry us all. Sure enough when the car ahead of us pulled out onto Oglethorpe the rear end was scraping the road and sparks were flying every time he hit a little bump.  They had to slow down. We looked like we were in a funeral procession we were moving so slow.

When we got downtown you have never heard so much bitching and moaning in your life. I’ll bet there were 25 or 30 guys milling around all loudly protesting and saying they were innocent and they hadn’t done anything and demanding a phone call and telling the police they wanted to call their mamas and their daddies and their lawyers and their doctors (I think Marion was demanding a doctor).

I stood off to one side with Johann and we enjoyed the show. I was right. This was way more fun than a movie or play but it didn’t last long. Officer Red Gore who was a long time city policeman came over to me and said, ‘Come with me.’ I followed him into the rest room and when we got inside he turned and said, ‘Can you get all these crazy little bastards out of here?’ I said, ‘Yassuh Mr. Red, I sho can.’ (Red Gore’s son Dean Gore was our classmate at AHS and Dean was also an Albany City Policeman for many years).

I walked out into the lobby area and told about five or six guys, ‘Let’s go, we’ve been told to leave and we’re getting out of here right now.’ I didn’t have to tell anybody twice. We poured out of the city jail so fast we looked like a bunch of guinea hens being chased by a fox.

I don’t remember what happened to Marion but it was no time before Johann and I received subpoenas to appear in court from the City of Albany because Marion’s Pop was suing the city for siccing that wolf-dog on him.

We went to court. Marion’s lawyer was making his case on the assertion that there had been no disturbance that evening that warranted a call to the police so there was no reason for a cop to come over from the mall with a big old wolf-like animal that wound up teaching Marion how to move even faster than normal.

Classmate after classmate sat on the stand and testified there was no real disturbance that Sunday evening.

Then it came time for me and Johann to answer the same questions. Both Johann and I chose to tell the truth. It looked like a pretty good sized crowd of rowdy boys raising hell to us.

Paul Keenan was the city attorney and in his summation he said the only two people who told the truth on the stand was Ben Swilley and Johann Bleicher. The City won the case.

Outside the courtroom one of the guys rushed up to me and demanded to know how much of a bribe did Johann and I accept from the city in exchange for our testimony. He wanted to know if we got some new shoes or a new suit.

I let it go. The guy was obviously delusional and years later he eventually drank himself to death.

Back at school the next week. I don’t recall any more harassment from the guys. If there was any it must not have lasted over thirty minutes because I don’t remember any at all.

I do still have questions that arise in my mind (where else would they arise?) from time to time about that whole episode. All the worry and consternation was over Marion’s wound but my main concern was the dog.

After the dog bit Marion I think I saw a piece of Marion’s ass hanging from the canine of the canine. I wonder if anybody ever cleaned that dog’s teeth. I wonder if the dog lived after biting Marion.I do sometimes wonder if Marion is afraid of dogs and I think one of his close friends told me he howls at a full moon ever since that dog bit him.

Rambler Police Car

Not an Abany City Police car but much like the same cars the police used to haul us to jail. They got about ten guys in one of those cars.

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Double Hump Day in Albany, Georgia – My Home Town

Camel

This is Mac getting her picture taken with Bogart the famous Bactrian camel. He is a brother to Humphrey Bogart. If you are an older person you might remember seeing both Bogart brothers in the famous movie, ‘Casablanca.’ Mac was not in the movie. She was too young.

Camel 3

This is a close up of Bogart, brother to Humphrey and Humphrey’s co-star in the movie, ‘Casablanca.’ Note the same manly space between his nostrils and the devilishly romantic length of his eyelashes.

 

Katie Mae and I have been married forty years in July. I just counted up and we have lived in nine towns or cities since we first so bravely said, ‘I Do.’ We are both natives of Albany, Georgia and although Albany has now fallen on harder times than when we lived there the good citizens never fail to amaze me with their dogged and never give up attitude when it comes to their continuing efforts to make it a great place to live.

We sometimes complain about conditions in our old home town and we love to reminisce about the way things were when we were young but you really have to stop and consider that a town the size of Albany has more things to do for young people than any place I can think of.

Radium Springs is only four or five miles from downtown and is the largest natural spring in Georgia. It retains the gracefully designed walls, walks and enclosures that once made it a showplace of the south. The water is generally a crystal clear blue and when the spring is pumping at its best it produces 70,000 gallons of water per minute at a constant 68 degrees.

Albany has a beautiful aquarium dubbed ‘The Riverquarium’ that’s brimming with examples of plants, shrubs, fish and reptiles all native to the area.

When we were kids, Albany had a zoo that could be compared with zoos in large cities. We had it all. Gators, an anaconda, other reptiles, monkeys, a crazy chimpanzee, ferocious psychotic baboons, blubbery manatees, otters, swans, an elephant, a buffalo that looked like an American bison, big cats, and a donkey. There were exotic eagles from Africa and South America. We even had a lion that could hike his rear end high in the air on the chain link fence enclosure and urinate a stream like it came from a fire hose and woe be it to the poor spectator standing there in the front of the cage with mouth agape.

Later the animals were all transferred out into the county to Chehaw State Park where a huge area had been converted into natural habitats for all the wild animals.

And here is where my cue came in and rapped its knuckles on my thick skull to wake me and remind me that the governing fathers of Albany and its surrounding area are still at it. Even in these trying times they have produced a great new addition to Chehaw. If you live near there be sure to stop in and say hello to Bogart, the Bactrian camel in his new house.

Bogart has a set of lips you won’t believe. He can twist and screw up his lips so they look like a long straw and he can empty a 55 gallon drum full of water in just a few minutes.

But the greatest thing about Bogart is he has two humps. He is an Eastern Asia camel so that makes him eligible for a second hump. Dromedaries are from Western Asia and Northern Africa and they have only one hump. So now you know all you need to know about hump-backed camels.

We asked our young friend Mac, who is pictured above admiring Bogart, how she likes the new camel. She said she loved Bogart but the whole thing makes her kind of sad.

We said, ‘Sad, how in the world can Bogart make you sad?’

And she said, ‘People who have a hump day have hump day only one time a week on Wednesday but poor old Bogart has a double-hump day every day of his life.

It makes good sense to me and I don’t think Mac will be sad too long. I know I won’t.

Camel 2

Bogart checking out his new digs at The Parks at Chehaw – Wild Animal Park.

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For Nicky Lewis From Johann Bleicher – Albany, Georgia – My Home Town

Your very mention of ‘banana knife’ sent a shiver thru me and a pain to my right index finger. Seriously! One Spring day in ’61 I got paid from Radium Springs,hitch hiked to town,saw The West Side Story(all Hispanics live on the west side of towns,Nick) and was compelled to stop by the pawn shop to purchase a long,narrow bladed knife.Back at Radium behind the concession stand and filled with the illusion that I could move like Riff(Russ Tamblyn) and that Anita(Rita Moreno) would lust for me upon witnessing me skewer a coke cup with my blade, I proceeded: Cup on counter, knife in hand, an acrobatic head dodge and thrust! A very low thrust that stuck the counter sliding my sweaty hand forward and my finger along the blade.HOLY SHIT!! I still have the scar and never again postured as a PuertoRicanPachucopugilistpunk. And I never really liked AnitaRita all that much anyway.
But tomorrow Nicky,the collar gets flipped,at least for a day,in honor of one whose character far transcended style. Johann.

What Johann said in his first paragraph perfectly describes the high level of Nick’s inherent good character: he had an unusually kind disposition. The friendship he offered was always easy and he was, indeed, the essence of ‘cool.’

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Vic Miller, Johann Bleicher – Ellijay, GA 2012

 

 

 

 

A Goodbye to Nick Lewis – Albany, Georgia – My Home Town

Ben and Nick at Chehaw 2

Chehaw Park – Raymond Barlow’s famous 50.5 Reunion of 1960 AHS graduating class. Two and a half years after our 50th reunion in 2010. Nick and Ben

Nick Reunion

1960 AHS Reunion – Fairgrounds – 2010 – Albany Georgia – From Left – Nick Lewis, Ben Swilley, Vic Miller, Chan Chandler.

Ben and Nick at Chehaw

Another picture at Chehaw State Park – 2012

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Undated picture – Nicky Lewis probably Albany Junior High School in mid 1950’s..

50th Class Reunion 104

Nick sporting clown teeth 2010 – AHS 50th reunion with Rose Hancock Kemp

50th Class Reunion 070

2010 – Radium Springs-Albany, Georgia-AHS 50th reunion of Class of 1960. With Sister Miller, Rose Hancock Kemp, Ben and Nick.

50th Class Reunion 078

Radium Springs 1960 AHS reunion – 2010 – Ben, Spencer Lee, Nick Lewis.

50th Class Reunion 100

Nick and Linda Gray. Linda has also passed away after enduring a long battle with cancer. Rest in Peace Linda and Nick.

50th Class Reunion 080

50th class reunion AHS 1960. The group is pictured in front of the “boil” which is the source of beautiful Radium Springs.

 

Tomorrow in Jacksonville, Florida friends and relatives of Nickson Bruce Lewis will gather to memorialize and commemorate his life as they say goodbye to him. After battling a debilitating brain tumor for almost four years Nick left us Wednesday February 12. The eight years between the passing of his lovely wife Marsha Lynette Lewis and the time Nick’s brain tumor was discovered now seem so incredibly brief. Nick and Marsha had endured her fight with cancer for over fourteen years before she passed away.

But the time I want to strive to remember is the time of our youth. The time when we were growing up in Albany, Georgia.

The first time I ever saw Nicky Lewis it was a shock to my little self-centered red-necked existence. It was 1956 at Albany Junior High School. I was from the east side of the river and I think life was much

 

slower than it was for the cool cats on the west side and if there really was such a thing as a cool cat, his name was Nicky Lewis.

My memory is very dim at times but I believe the only Hispanics and Latinos we ever saw were in the movies. Nick Lewis looked exactly like a Pachuco and a Pachuco to us back then was a Hispanic gang member. They had a small tattoo in the webbed area between their thumb and forefingers that, as I recall, looked like a spider or a spider web. We only knew one guy like that and he was a phony because the biggest wus in our class whipped the Pachuco’s fanny one night after we got to high school. Shortly after the whupping the Pachuco left town.

Anyhow that’s how Nicky Lewis looked. He looked exactly like a banana knife wielding Hispanic killer. He had coal black hair combed into a neat, chiseled duck tail. There was not a Vaseline covered hair out of place. He was a fearsome looking dude. I always gave him a wide berth until one day in the restroom I missed the urinal and wet down one of his black engineer boots. You know, the boot with the single strap and the silver buckle across the top of the instep.

I thought then, “Oh my precious Lord, please do not let this greaser cut off my head with a banana knife.” I looked down at his shoe and then up at him and he was laughing so hard he almost fell into his urinal. I didn’t know what to think but he helped me out by saying, “You can’t see very well, can you?” I answered, “I can’t see at all on odd days of the week.” It was a Wednesday. He said, If you would step over to that sink and wash all of that crap out of your eyes, you might be able to catch an occasional glimmer of light.”

We were steadfast friends from that moment on and I can tell you a nicer, more gentlemanly and kinder Pachuco never lived.

I never really asked him why he had adopted the persona of a really bad Hispanic hoodlum but I will always believe that he was basically such a good person that the way he dressed and looked afforded him protection and grief from older, bigger guys because they were more afraid of him than we were.

These were the James Dean, “Rebel Without a Cause ” years. Everybody wore a red jacket like Dean wore in the movie or they got as close as they could get to that shade of red. The black engineer boots were hard to find because so many teen-agers were buying them. White T-shirts were hot items in department stores for years after the movie was released.

Just prior to the movie hitting the theaters, kids were shod mostly with black and white saddle oxford shoes. Everybody wore combinations of pink and black. The girls wore those ankle length black a-line skirts with a big pink poodle appliqué stuck on it. Even Elvis loved pink and black. His managers got him to hug a girl or two while he was wearing pink and black just so we would all know he was straight.

So it was a squeaky clean Pat Boone kind of world until James Dean and company topped our horizon driving a 1949 black, blocked, chopped, and dropped Mercury.

After that it was a Nick Lewis kind of world and he sauntered and moseyed into it dressed exactly like Marlon Brando in “The Wild One.”

He was one of a kind and totally the opposite from the image he conveyed at your first sight of him.

I keep hearing that old adage, “You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover” and it’s not Bo Diddley I hear singing it. It’s the voice of Montine Martin my favorite teacher at Albany Junior High School who taught me so much about people in such a short time.

She told me that after I had told her Nicky Lewis was a super-good person and lots of people had pegged him wrong because of the way he dressed. I failed to mention to her that I had become his friend by peeing on his foot in the restroom. I didn’t feel it appropriate to share that with her.

Goodbye Nick. I wish I could be there for the memorial service. You were always much loved my man and the memory will not die while we still live. I keep hearing the Mills Brothers singing, “The Song Has Ended But the Melody Lingers On.” And that it will my old friend; The memory and the melody will go on and on and on.

 

 

The Tift Park Terrors – Albany, Georgia – My Home Town –

Jim Fowler and Tiger

Jim Fowler who has played such an important role in bringing a wild life habitat to Chehaw State Park in Albany, Georgia

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Our old friend Nick Lewis who was so adept in dodging some of Albany’s finest when we would tempt them with our wild antics and they would chase us from Tift Park Zoo in Albany, Georgia

It was not until I had lived in other towns that I realized my home town had a zoo almost as good as those in the big cities. We can look back and thank the city fathers for having the foresight and for spending the money on an entertaining place for us to go after school or on the weekends. This was in the 1940’s and 50’s.

In later years Wild Kingdom’s Jim Fowler had a big hand in developing the zoo to the excellent wild animal habitat it is today. It has since moved out to the Chehaw Wild Animal Park and I hope the animals find it more pleasant there.

I said Fowler had a big hand because Fowler is a big man. He and his brothers were raised near Albany and his brother Bob was a much loved coach to us at Albany Junior High School and later at Albany High School. Bob was almost seven feet tall and weighed nearly 300 pounds. Bob’s hand was so big that the thought of taking a lick on your thin shanks from that large ham of a hand kept many of us in check and most of us needed to be kept in check.

Tift Park was situated between 5th Avenue on the south and 7th Avenue on the north with the east being bordered by Jefferson Street and the west side mostly made up of the Palmyra Road. Monroe Street ran south to north through the center of the park.

Between Monroe and Jefferson Streets the wild animals were caged. Not as much was known or thought of back then about the comfort of the animals so they were often housed in cramped and dirty, unhealthy quarters.

There were big cats, an elephant, a donkey, gators and turtles, monkeys on an island, monkeys in cages, a chimpanzee, baboons, snakes, otters, black swans, white swans and a number of large birds of prey.

As teenagers we cared little or nothing about the comfort of the animals. All we knew was we were bored and when we were bored we were trouble. We just thought we were trouble. Mostly we were in trouble. The most boring night of the week was Sunday night in the winter. We seemed to stay in more trouble on Sunday evenings in the winter than any other time.

Having said that we were bored you know I am going to tell you how we desperately fought the boredom and of course it has to do with the Tift Park Zoo. We always used the Dairy Bar on Slappey as a hangout. Since I always practiced angelic restraint 24/7 I’m sure it was Nicky Lewis and Terrell Cooper who hatched this hair-brained scheme to combat our doldrums.

We all climbed into one car. We drove over to the zoo but we did not park too close to the animals. We usually parked across Madison Street to the west in a residential area and walked from there to the zoo. Usually there were five or six of us and usually it was pitch black near the animals.

When we reached the cages we began to speak harshly to the animals. Naturally they began to speak harshly back to us. In no time the donkey would be braying to the extent it sounded like we were trying to rustle a bunch of broke-back mules. The elephant (her name was Laska) could speak more harshly than anybody except the two or three lions who really put on a show for the nearby neighbors.

At that point the night watchman would come scuttling down through the cages and start trying to yell at us above the din caused by the crazed beasts. We couldn’t hear him but we would wisely begin to trot off before the police arrived.

We knew the police were going to arrive because the watchman would call them and as soon as we saw the lights near the cages we would break into a full run. Since Monroe nearly bisected the park from south to north we would run across Monroe and into a large grassy area behind the teen center.

As we ran across that area and up a gently sloping hill to cross the Palmyra Road and then Madison Street, the police would have their patrol car spotlights on us. The lights would follow us all the way up the slope and across Madison but by the time the police drove up there to find us we would be gone.

We must have pulled this stupid prank four or five times before we got caught. I don’t think Terrell or Nicky or I got caught. They were too fast and I was a master of disguise. I was so skinny and ugly I could stand by a scrub oak tree and look like a dead limb.

On about the fourth or fifth Sunday night in a row we took some goofy kid with us who had no sense of direction. Instead of running back toward the parked car on the other side of Madison Street he ran in the opposite direction toward the river. The police caught him trying to find his way back to the car.

He later told us the cops had been great sports. They told him Sunday nights were slow for them too and they had been having as much fun chasing us as we were having trying to outrun them. They asked him to tell us they wanted us to stop because the night watchman at the zoo was an elderly one-armed man and they were afraid all the commotion we were creating might cause him to have a heart attack.

They said they were also afraid he might cause one of us to have a heart attack too if he became overly nervous and shot us in the chest with that double-barreled twelve gauge sawed-off shotgun he kept in his little shack.

We never went back … at night.

gators zoo

The Gator Pool at Tift Park Zoo in Albany, Georgia. Apparently this was taken during a drought.

Monkey Island

The monkey island, Tift Park Zoo, Albany, Georgia. There were many more monkeys there at the time this photograph was taken. The others were all camera shy.

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Elephant Best Shot

Laska the lonely elephant. She was the only elephant at the old Tift Park Zoo in Albany, Georgia for many years.

 

The World’s Greatest Frog Giggers – Nick, Terrell and Me.

Frog Legs

These fresh frog legs do not look so delectably delicious at the moment but a good Southern cook can turn you into a true believer and a natural born lover of frog legs with just one bite of a fried frog flipper.

Frog

The only reason I’m here is Kermit has a date with Miss Piggy and somebody has to help protect our rights. Where is PITA when you really need them? They do nothing for us frogs. They probably sneak around and eat frog legs on the sly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have known Nick Lewis all my life. If I’m wrong about that I surely have known him since we were together at Albany Junior High School in our home town of Albany, Georgia in 1956. That’s certainly the better part of sixty years. I probably met Terrell Cooper, our faithful sidekick during those years, a couple of years later.

The attraction among us was the total lack of reverence we had amassed in our short lives. We had big backyards at home that were full of holes and every hole was filled with discarded reverence we felt we no longer needed. Even worse was our collective sense of humor. Not only did we have huge irreverent senses of humor but no one was spared, included ourselves, when we chose to jest and poke fun at the world. We took no prisoners.

After our school days were over we took to the working class. Colleges back then had more irreverence than they could spare. Besides, it was easier to raise hell and get in trouble without school administrators interfering.

Sometimes we would meet after work at the Pig ‘N Whistle drive-in. This was a favorite cruising spot for our age group. Car-hops worked the parking lot and a lot of kids did not realize The Pig had a dining room off to one side of the lot. Sometimes when we finished work we would gang up in the dining room where you could gather a bigger audience of guffawers, gigglers and horse laughers and assorted other idiots who loved a lack of reverence.

I feel sure it was in the Pig N’ Whistle dining room that Terrell, Nick and I drank cold beer and decided we were master frog giggers. They sent me for the gigs. I rigged the gigs because they always said I was the best gig rigger. It was an old Tom Sawyer rub they would use on me to get me to do the work. I got the gigs and we met back at The Pig after dark.

Because I couldn’t see too well (my lenses on my glasses were thicker than the bottoms on coke bottles, they often told me) I was always extremely cautious about taking my precious fanny into dark water without being armed with a pretty good flashlight. I would try to find a flashlight with at least 16 batteries. What I really wanted was one that would blast out a beam of broad daylight.

I forgot to mention there were a few things I did respect. I had a great deal of respect for alligators (in all sizes) and cotton-mouth water moccasins (also in all sizes). I knew enough to recognize the reflection of red-eyes in the beam of the flashlight. That would be your typical gator. Frog eyes would shoot back an emerald twinkle that would make your mouth water. If you were so nervous your mouth would not water, then you had to have another beer to calm you down.

I’m not sure I remember the reflected color of a moccasin’s eyes. I do remember you could spot a water snake for a quarter of a mile down a crooked creek on a smut black evening if you were overly cautious like I was. And I can vouch that a skinny white boy can jump twelve feet straight into the air if a beaver’s tail slaps the pond water as a warning sign on a moonless night.

So we piled in Nick’s Ford sedan and we headed out the Gillionville Road to exhibit our gigging skill. Since we were totally irreverent, weather reports and flash flood warnings did not seem to effect us like they did normal people. I think Nick turned back south off the Gillionville Road onto Mud Creek Road (who knows where we really were). It was a dirt road and things went along swimmingly. That’s how we referred to things after as we plowed headlong into a creek raging across the road in full flood mode.

We sat there for a few seconds. The engine died. The car began to fill with good old Mud Creek’s muddy creek water. The car had those high floor sills over the rocker panels and your feet rested in little square compartments. Compartments that also quickly filled with water.

Swimming to shore soon became one of a diminishing list of options. It was then that Nick performed a miracle: it’s one I have never witnessed before or since. He started the car. Let me rephrase that. He cranked the doggoned car. He put it in reverse and backed us out of the creek. The water was up to the bottom of the windows and Nick Lewis drove us out of there backwards.

We drove back to the Gillionville Road and found a huge oak tree with roots about six inches above the surface of the dirt. Nick parked the big Ford atilt on those big roots and the water poured out of it for what seemed like forever. We took a beer break.

We decided to go to a pond we knew in Baker County. It was a beautiful place. There were huge bull frogs all over the place. We took a beer break.

Then we took our gear and Nick and Terrell went one way around the pond. I went in the opposite direction. I soon reached a place where a stream fed the pond and it was so swampy I could go no further.

I began to backtrack and followed the path Nick and Terrell had chosen. It was no time before I came up on this big frog that looked like he might have weighed as much as three pounds. I just knew two pounds were all leg. I stalked him carefully, slowly and slyly. I eased up on him. I eased up on him again. It must have taken me thirty or forty-five minutes to get a good stab at him. In a perfect spear tossing heave that would have made Tarzan envious I nailed the frog to the ground right beside a big log.

After reaching the same swampy area I couldn’t cross Nick and Terrell found me when they returned by the same path they had taken around the pond. I was sitting on that big log staring at my prize winning frog still ruthlessly speared on my gig.

They told me later (after I had a beer break) that they couldn’t get me to speak for a while.

The frog on my gig did not have any legs. They had gigged him and relieved him of his legs when they first started around the pond. I had spent almost an hour stalking a frog that couldn’t hop.

That’s when I quit drinking beer.

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This is the real deal with Paul Swilley’s fist wrapped around a beautiful pair of frog legs which are still attached to the frog. We later released the frog after he told us he was the original Old Croaker.

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Learn To Do the Tawny Crazy Ant Dance.

Aunt P, Bob Fowler and Ben

Coach Bob Fowler, Ben Swilley, Priscilla (Aunt P) Fraser Swilley at Albany (GA)High School Class of 1960 Reunion, 2010. Ben is not telling a lie. His lips are not moving. We lost Coach Bob way too soon and he is much missed.

Recently Katie Mae and I made a trip to our old home town of Albany, Georgia. While in Albany we visited our dear and wonderful sister-in-law, Priscilla, who is the widow of my late beloved brother, William Ashley. We affectionately refer to Priscilla as Aunt P.

We had to yell through a window to get her attention . She ran and opened a door for us and then she charged back into her laundry room where she went back to doing this amazing dance routine. I thought it was a new kind of Yoga Boogie. I had never seen anything even close to this except in old movies from the 1920’s.

She was putting a 21st century twist on dances from the Roaring Twenties. Aunt P was bringing back the Roaring Twenties of a hundred years ago all by herself in a laundry room in Albany, Georgia.  It looked as if she was dancing The Charleston, The Lindy Hop and The Black Bottom all rolled into one. I was fascinated. I had not seen Aunt P move that fast and for that long since 1972.

We finally pulled her over to our side of the room and got her to stop before her heart gave out. We thought it was best to stop her before we had to drag her lifeless body out of the wash room.

“My Gosh,” I yelled. “What has come over you?”  She kept pointing back toward the laundry room while all the time gasping, “We’ve got to get ’em. We’ve got to stop ’em.”

So I went back into the little room and sure enough, there were literally thousands of strange looking tiny tawny crazy ants running erratically in all directions. The only way you could attempt to control this mad invasion, if you didn’t have any ant spray on hand, was to stomp them. I even took a shot at it. I broke into a wild Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly inspired tap dance for at least 14 seconds. That’s about all the energy I could come up with on such short notice. I think I smashed three ants and I wear a size 12 shoe. My method seemed to be lacking.

It was kind of fun at first but I couldn’t last as long as Aunt P. She’s almost three months younger than I am. I quit dancing and attacked them by swinging wildly with the faithful old fly flapper. I was killing hundreds of them but there seemed to be an endless supply. I finally went out, got some super ant spray and subdued the mad masses.

Now I learn that we are being invaded by these new ants. I won’t bore you with the scientific name of this marauding invader but I can tell you the generic name is really “Tawny Crazy Ant.”  They are going to become so invasive that they will displace or eradicate other ant species. They may even wipe out fire ants. They are smaller than fire ants and they don’t bite (we are told).

Our problems are going to be their craving our food and our inability to keep them out of our homes. Another big problem is they are attracted to electrical boxes and outlets and this can cause electrical short circuits that are bothersome, costly and dangerous.

The good news for me is they probably will not come as far north as Athens because it gets colder here but for all my South Georgia pals, “Look out! Seal all your doors and food containers  and barricade your pantries.

Meanwhile, Aunt P is getting our musically inclined children and grandchildren to put together a YouTube film clip of her doing her version of “Aunt P’s Tawny Crazy Ant Dance.” She figures if a short fat kooky Korean kid who used to ride a stick horse can use that same stick horse riding motion to create a sensational international dance fad  and call it Gangnam Style and make tons of money with it, she knows her unique style of twisting, turning and ant stomping is going to make her one rich woman.

I’m going to be her manager.

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