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Archive for June, 2011

 Memorial to a Real Man

I wrote this piece about my late father-in-law back in the eighties in response to an article written by Bob Greene in his newspaper column on the then-popular subject of whether real men eat quiche. Parts of this piece were read by the pastor during Grover’s memorial service at the First Baptist Church of McGehee, Arkansas, in 1989.

Grover Williams

“The first step to greatness is to be honest.”

—Shaker Manifesto, 1887, quoted on desk calendar

Within the past decade, there has been a great deal of attention focused on the issue of male-female role types. Since 1982, especially, one aspect of this crucial issue seems to be concentrated on the burning question: do “real men” eat quiche?

Being born as I was just prior to World War II in a rural Arkansas that was yet to experience the marvels of post-war prosperity and modernity (i.e., electricity, running water, indoor plumbing, telephones, etc.), at a moment I consider the “tail end” of real-life existence, I feel eminently qualified to recognize a “real-man type” when I meet one.

In those days, a wartime society might be forced to accept the temporary necessity of synthetics in its manufactures, but even then it would never countenance artificiality in its people.

Life was very real back then. In a part of the country just barely emerging (if at all) from a decade of life-or-death struggle for economic survival during the Great Depression, we suddenly found ourselves thrust into a perhaps even more dramatic and crucial conflict, the outcome of which could well determine our very existence, not only as a state and region, but also as a people and a nation.

Even we children were aware that this was no game we were playing. Ours was a very real world, and it was populated by very real people.

Despite the passage of time and the inroads of that most insidious of enemies to all that is truly authentic—creeping modernism—some of those real people still exist today, though their number grows dangerously smaller with each passing year. One of those real people was my father-in-law, a simple, native son-of-the-soil who could say with Abraham Lincoln: “I never knew who my grandfather was; I’m more interested in what his grandson will be.”

Grover as a boy

Grover as a boy

Grover as a young man

Grover as a young man

A “good ole country boy from Arkinsaw,” he was married one week to the day before Pearl Harbor, sought to enlist in three different branches of the service, but was turned down (flat feet), only to be promptly drafted into the army and sent to the South Pacific to see months of service against the Japanese.

Grover as a soldier in WWII

Grover as a soldier in WWII

When the war was over, he came back home: unsung, unheralded, undecorated, and unappreciated, to a young wife and a three-year-old daughter (later to become my wife) whom he had never seen.

Grover and Marion on her third birthday

Grover and daughter Marion on her third birthday

 
Grover and his family

The Williams Family (from left): Marion, Bessie, Janice, and Grover

 After his four years or so of military duty, there followed an unbroken and uneventful thirty-five-year, seven-days-a-week, on-call-twenty-four-hours-a-day tour of duty as a brakeman for the Missouri Pacific railroad, for which he was awarded a modest pension (no gold watch, no testimonial dinner, no pat on the back).

Then, having dutifully “fulfilled his obligation” to his country, his company, his community, and his clan, he settled down to spend his retirement years attending to his garden, his VFW membership, his duties as a deacon down at the First Baptist Church of McGehee, his neighbor’s welfare, his aching joints, and (perhaps most important) his own business.

Grover Williams and wife Bessie and daughjters Marion and Janice

Grover in middle age with wife Bessie and daughters Marion (left) and Janice (right)

Now, in my estimation, this is a real man: the nameless, fameless, dog-faced GI of “Dub-ya, Dub-ya Two”; the hard-workin’, law-abidin’, tax-payin’, church-goin’, guitar-pickin’ family man whose intentions are honorable, whose gaze is level, whose mind and conscience are clear, whose hand is steady, whose debts are paid, and whose word is bond.

Surely there are some of us left who are old enough to remember (hearing stories, at least) of the old-fashioned, feet-on-the-ground, look-you-dead-in-the-eye-and-tell-you-the-honest-to-God-truth, “No-credit-thanks,-I-pay-cash-for-what-I-buy,” “I-won’t-promise-unless-I-can-deliver,” “Here,-let-me-help” type. Well, if so, I’m happy to say that there are a few of that rare breed still around! My father-in-law was one of them.

Grover in retirement years

Grover in retirement years

This quiet man was the personification of a simpler, nobler, bygone era symbolized by the humble, self-effacing, Gary-Cooper-toe-twisting-in-the-dirt, “Shucks,-ma’m,-it-tweren’t nuthin’,” “I-just-seen-my-duty-and-I-done-it” hero types we all admired and respected and emulated “back in them days.”

Quiche? It’s likely he never heard of it. Even if he did, it was not a part of his vocabulary any more than Gucchi or Pucchi or “fen-TIS-tic!” Neither “quiche,” nor “gauche,” not “God, you guys!” ever issued from his lips. His diet tended much more to cornbread, collard greens, and apple cobbler; his haberdashery to J. C. Penney; and his use of the name of the Almighty to reverence, praise, and thanksgiving.

He knew nothing of “clout,” or “charisma,” and he was certainly not “with it.” But he most assuredly did “have it.” And what he had comprised the three essentials of a real man—grit, gumption, and godliness.

That bit of alliteration seems somehow poetically fitting, since his name was Grover. Grover Williams. A man as solid, and dependable, and unpretentious, and old-fashioned as his name, and his namesake, Grover Cleveland.

Quiche and quiche-eaters? These “ye have with ye always,” I suppose. But there ain’t many Grovers left. It is they, not the whooping crane and the alligator, who have become the real endangered species.

Thank God for the Grovers of this nation—who now, since August 2, 1989, are one less. In the perilous times in which we live, they are as vital as they are scarce.

Hollywood Actress Responds to This Tribute

After writing this piece I sent it to Academy Award-winning actress Mary Steenbergen, a native Arkansan whose father also worked on the railroad. She even made a movie filmed in Arkansas based on his life. She wrote me back a gracious note thanking me for the piece and expressing to me how much she enjoyed and appreciated it.

Academy Award-winning actress Mary Steenburgen, who won Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Melvin and Howard, arrives at Young Storyteller

3-19-90

Dear Jimmy,

Thank you belatedly for your letter and the article you wrote. I loved it on many levels–my father was just such a man. He died in March, 1989, and my heart still hurts more than anyone knows.

My uncle Grover, of Newport, who was like a grandfather to me, died six months before Daddy. I lost my two biggest fans and two of my heroes in six months. Your article touched me very much.

Thank you again.  Your kindness was much appreciated, or as my father always said —

Much obliged.

Mary Steenburgen

And “much obliged” to Grover Williams and all those like him (including his grandson Keiron Peacock), who sacrifice so much for so many and who receive so little in return. To view a monument to these veterans where Grover’s name is carved in stone along with hundreds of others, click here.

 

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“The Old South will never die, not as long as there are darling debutantes, doting docents, indomitable dowagers, and other groups of proud Southern women like the Junior League, the Ya Ya Sisterhood, the Sweet Potato Queens, the Steel Magnolias—and the Maggie [McGehee] Clique!”
–Quote by Jimmy Peacock in letter
to Charles Allbright dated June 10, 2002

 The following entry is made up of tributes that I wrote and sent to the Clique, a group of women who were special classmates and friends of Mari’s in the 1960 Class of McGehee (pronounced Magee) High School.

There are two important facts about these special young women. The first is that, along with two or three of my male friends, I dated, double-dated, or “buddied” with most of these “girls” back in the Archie and Reggie, Veronica and Betty days of our youth.

The second fact is that I “went steady with” one of the girls for two years and dated and married another. The history of that “eternal triangle” and the love story that came out of it will be presented in a later post. For now let’s view selections from the annual tributes of flowers and poetry that I have sent to these “girls” every year they have met since 1991–twenty years–which must be some kind of record.

Select Annual Tributes from Jimmy
t
o Mari’s High School Clique 
All Based on Theme: “Lest We Forget . . .”

 

Clique in corner in high school
Part of the Clique during high school days in McGehee (Mari on right in long white dress)
 
1991 Ruston, LA (sent with accompanying card and bouquet)

 The Clique 

Soft Southern belles from McGehee,
Steel magnolias with hearts young and free,
Eternally eighteen,
Each a homecoming queen,
Who lives forever in fond memory.

1992 Tulsa, OK (sent with accompanying card and bottle of champagne)—the “girls’“ 50th birthday celebration.

 The Clique

Southern belles,
Like vintage wine,
Grow ever sweeter
With passing time.

Part of High School Clique in Hot Springs

Part of the MHS Clique in Hot Springs (Mari is second from right)

 

Part of the high schol Clique in Hot Springs

Part of the MHS Clique in Hot Springs (Mari is second from right)

 1993 Magnolia House, McGehee, AR (sent with card and bouquet)

The Clique . . .
as described in a paraphrased quotation
from an episode of the TV show “Designing Women”
by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
(
Only the names were changed)

            “Yesterday in my mind’s eye I saw several women standing on a veranda in white gauzy dresses and straw-colored hats. They were having a conversation . . . and it was hot . . . their hankies tucked in cleavages where eternal trickles of perspiration run from the female breastbone to exotic vacation spots that Southern men often dream about.

            “They were sweet-smelling, coy, cunning, voluptuous, voracious, delicious, pernicious, vexing, and sexy . . . these earth-sister Rebel mothers, these arousers and carousers . . . and I was filled with a longing to join them.

            “But like a whim of Scarlett’s, they turned suddenly and went inside, shutting me out with a bolt of a latch, and I was left only to pick up an abandoned handkerchief and scan the perfumed shadows of these women . . . these Southern women: this Judy, this Leta, this Mary Emily, this Sylvia, this Wanda Sue, this Frances, this Adrianne, this Martha and Mari.

            “Thanks for the comfort.”

Card sent to Clique

Card sent to Clique

1997 Memphis, TN (sent with accompanying card and Magnolia bouquet)

Southern Belles Always Ring True

Part of the high school Clique at Girls' State (Mari is second from the left on the front row)
Part of the high school Clique at Girls’ State (Mari is second from the left on the front row)

 1998 Waco, TX (sent with accompanying Magnolia card and bouquet)

 TO: The Clique, the flower of Southern womanhood

FROM: Those for whom the Belles toil

The Clique plans 2000 class reunion

The full Clique plans their 1960 class reunion held in 2000: Back row, left to right: Judy Roberts, Sylvia Willis, Wanda Sue Wood, Marion Peacock, Leta Horan; front row, left to right: Mary Emily Jackson, Adrianne Anderson, Frances Pearson, Martha Shreve

 

Seven of the Clique with my roses

Seven of the Clique in Waco with my roses (Mari is first on the back row, left, in sailor dress)

 1999 McGehee, AR (sent with FORGET ME NOT card and flowers)

As a former teacher
I can say without reserve
That the Clique ranks highest
On the Southern Belle Curve!

2000 McGehee, AR (sent with card and red and white roses, McGehee High School colors)

 To get the Maggie Clique
To return to McGehee,
Just tie a “ya ya” ribbon
‘Round the old oak tree.

Verse in card with flowers (Clique’s 40th high school graduation)

 Our alma mater’s Maggie,
Her colors red and white,
To Maggie we’ll we loyal,
For her we will fight.

Mari's gift to the Clique

Mari's gift to the Clique

2003 Antebellum Jefferson, TX (sent with card and yellow roses)

Magnolia card sent to Clique

Magnolia card sent to Clique

No Yellow Roses of Texas,
As sweet and lovely though they be,
Could ever hope to compare with
The Steel Magnolias of McGehee.

 2004 Salado, TX (sent with summer card and bouquet) 

An Exile’s Lament
2
004 Tribute to the Clique

 I’ve met some folks who say that I’m a dreamer,
And I’ve no doubt there’s truth in what they say.
For sure a body’s bound to be a dreamer,
When all the things he loved have passed away.

 And precious things are dreams to an exile,
They take him to a place he cannot be.
Especially when it happens he’s an exile,
From friends and times he knew in Old McGehee.

But dreams don’t last, tho’ dreams are not forgotten,
When we return to stern reality.
And were I offered all the ladies here in exile,
I still would choose the Clique from Dear Maggie.

I still would choose the Clique from Dear Maggie.

 —Paraphrase of Isle of Innisfree

2005 Hot Springs, AR (sent with card and bouquet)

Card sent to the Clique

Card sent to the Clique

FROM: A Melancholy Arkie of the Covenant

TO:   The Heavenly Creatures in the Holy Land

Condemned to lonely exile here,
I get so danged homesick.
The only thing that gives me joy,
Is thinking about the Clique.

 Remember me when thou comest into the Kingdom!

2006 Hot Springs, AR (sent with card and bouquet)

An Exile’s Lament (con’t)

While you ladies get together there in Arkansas,
I’ll be out here in lonesome misery.
As you sit and watch the moon rise in the Ouachita,
Perhaps you’ll give a fleeting thought to me.

For if there is going to be a life hereafter,
And somehow I am sure there’s going to be,
I will ask my God to let me make my Heaven,
Where that dear Clique is meeting without me.

—Paraphrase of Galway Bay

2007 Hot Springs, AR (sent with bouquet of spring flowers)

 Of all the girls that my mind might pick,
My heart never strays outside of the Clique.

Card sent to Clique with Jimmy's special note

Card sent to Clique with printed inscription: "Be your own flower" . . . and Jimmy's note . . . "of Southern womanhood"

 (Sent with book SWAG, Southern Women Aging Gracefully, and a musical Gone With the Wind card playing “Tara’s Theme”)

The Clique never shows either spot or wrinkle
For as everyone knows, Southern Belles never tinkle!

Gone With the Wind card sent to Clique by Jimmy

Musical "Gone With the Wind" card playing "Tara's Theme" sent to Clique by Jimmy

2008 Hot Springs, AR (sent with a dozen pink roses)

Tho’ many miles and years have kept us apart,
The sweet sound of the Belles still chimes in my heart. 

2009 Hot Springs, AR (sent with a card and a dozen pink roses – Mari’s “signature color”)

Pink rose card sent to Clique

Pink rose card sent to Clique

The older I get
The more my raison d’être
Becomes praising the Clique
In Southern Belles Lettres.

 

2011 Hot Springs, AR (sent with a card and a bouquet of spring flowers)

 

So many faces
And none of them thine.
So many smiles
And none of them mine.
So many joys
And all of them gone.
So many places
And none of them HOME!

Have a wonderful time!

2011 Clique card

2011 Clique card with printed inscription inside: "The best part of being is being together."

Seven of the Clique in 2011 reunion

Seven of the Clique in 2011 meeting: Back row, left to right: Judy Roberts, Frances Pearson, Mary Emily Jackson, Sylvia Willis; front row, left to right: Martha Shreve, Marion Peacock, Leta Horan. Unable to attend: Adrianne Anderson and Wanda Sue Wood

A Note to the Clique: 

 Thanks for giving Mari the sweetest moments of her youth, and the most cherished memories of her golden years.


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