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Archive for July, 2011

“Everything else you grow out of, but you never recover from childhood.”
—Beryl Bainbridge

I wrote the following story about a males-only hunting trip to Snow Lake, Arkansas, that took place when I was a boy in about 1952. That was the same year that John Grisham’s story based on his childhood in East Arkansas and titled A Painted House was supposed to have taken place. Both stories include cottons fields and Mexican farm laborers.

The difference is that I wrote my story in 1981–exactly twenty years before Grisham’s book was published in 2001. (To read about his book, click here. To read about the 2003 movie version filmed around Jonesboro, click here.)

Incidentally, our younger son Keiron, now on active duty in Afghanistan, was born in the same hospital in Jonesboro that Grisham was born in, though Keiron has never been back there and has no memory of Jonesboro or that part of the Delta. I have also never been back to Jonesboro since we left in 1971, nor have I been back to Snow Lake for decades. But I do remember both places.

Yo Recuerdo
(I Remember)

“Great writers are exiles, either spiritually or geographically . . . the impulse to write is the impulse to give order and definition to one’s world, and such a desire can only arise out of need.”
—Louis Rubin

I don’t recall exactly when or how Al Boyd and my father met, since we had only recently moved to town (McGehee, Arkansas) from the country (Selma) in 1948. But, due to their shared interest in all things Western in general and cows in particular, I am sure the initial contact must have been through other mutual acquaintances like C. B. Walker, later my father’s partner in the McGehee Livestock Auction, or Hilliard Stroud of the McGehee Bank, both of whom also shared a more than casual interest in the same bovine-related subjects.

Daddy and C.B. Walker at the McGehee Auction Barn

Daddy (on the right in the white hat) and C.B. Walker (on the left in the auctioneer booth) at the McGehee Livestock Auction in 1952, the year of the "huntin' trip" to Snow Lake

However the original connection was made, despite a slight age and education difference, the two “cowpokes” hit it off from the very beginning. Naturally it wasn’t long before the men’s families became equally close and spent many enjoyable hours together—especially after the Boyds moved in directly across the street from the Peacocks on Fairview Drive.

As a painfully timid but intensely sensitive young boy, I always looked forward to the frequent visits between our families, not only because of the good times and tasty treats they invariably occasioned, but also because I, while not nearly so smitten as my elders with livestock, did harbor secretly in my young heart “a more than casual interest” in the older Boyd daughter, Martha—a dark-haired, dark-eyed charmer four years my junior who was blessed with a honey-dripping, magnolia-scented Scarlett O’Hara drawl and a physical appearance that would have qualified her (in my admittedly less than objective juvenile opinion) as a perfect stand-in for the youthful Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet.

It was in October, some time after the melding of the Boyd-Peacock families, that Mr. Boyd suggested the males-only hunting trip to the far northern reaches of rural Desha Country that produced the memory that regularly comes to my mind each fall.

Later diesel version of the Missouri-Pacific Delta Eagle

A later diesel version of the Missouri Pacific Delta Eagle

Packing our guns, hunting gear, and a few other necessary outdoor provisions, Mr. Boyd, Daddy, and I (a boyish tagalong) boarded the Missouri Pacific Delta Eagle to travel north up the nearby Mississippi River—through the cotton fields heavy with their white harvest, across the impressive system of levees and landfills, and on into the remote and mysterious Arkansas and White River bottoms with their tangled, foreboding undergrowth and their intriguing houses perched precariously on stilts above the swampy, sponge-like terrain—to the tiny isolated metropolis of Snow Lake, accessible to the rest of the county only by that long and tenuous strip of rusty rail.

Delta Cotton Field

Delta cotton field

Snow Lake, Arkansas, in 2010 (photo by Joe Dempsey)

Snow Lake, Arkansas, in 2010 (photo by Joe Dempsey)

Eventually disembarking from the train at the virtually empty local station, we made our way through the shimmering autumn woods to a remote cabin where we spent a thoroughly delightful weekend bagging our limit of prime, acorn-fattened squirrels. The older men spent the two deliciously cool evenings lingering around the pot-bellied stove sipping scalding-hot coffee and “swappin’ tales” (as they called it) while I listened and dreamed and tried to keep my drowsy eyes from robbing me of a very special shared time.

It was on Sunday afternoon after we had made our way out of the almost impenetrable wilderness to the sleepy hamlet where we were to catch the only available means of transportation back to civilization that what was to become the most memorable event of the trip occurred.

“What greater grief than the loss of one’s native land.”
—Euripides

Finding ourselves with several hours before the arrival of the last scheduled passenger train south, we headed for the only establishment open on that otherwise somnolent Sabbath—a small wayside cafe near the tracks. Inside we placed our orders and sat down to wait for our meal at one of the checkered-tablecloth-covered tables that graced the uneven linoleum floor.

A tree and a gasoline pump  in Snow Lake (photo by Joe Dempsey)

A tree and a gasoline pump in Snow Lake, Arkansas, in 2010 (photo by Joe Dempsey)

As we passed away the time, we could not help but be aware of the only other denizen of the diner—a sad-faced and half-drunken Mexican farm laborer, one of hundreds imported each year in those days to help pick the bountiful crops of cotton in the luxuriant fields of the Delta. As we silently drank our RC Colas and chewed on our greasy burgers and stringy fries, the dejected bracero hung wearily onto the old orange-and-red Wurlitzer which he continued to plug with coins as he sang along in slurred Spanish and moved his work-hardened if somewhat unsteady body in time with the only tune on the jukebox he recognized—a Country-Western version of a popular Mexican folk song. (To listen to Gene Autry’s version of that song, click here.)

Seemingly oblivious to his rather dispassionate audience, the homesick Hispanic spent the entire syrup-slow Southern Sunday swigging on a bottle of unidentified fiery liquid and wailing his heart out in painful lament for a distant and sorely missed land and language and love.

For some inexplicable reason, that seemingly minor and insignificant scene stuck in my subconscious adolescent mind like a recurring dream. Although it transpired more than a half-century ago, there are still moments when it suddenly comes back to me in stark clarity and reality.

One of those moments was several Octobers ago when my wife and I learned that, like my father who had died of a heart attack some two years after this event while working at the McGehee auction barn, Mr. Boyd, retired and a widower for several years, had died of a heart attack while changing the oil in his car.

Mindful of the longtime bond that had existed between the two cattlemen, it was observed by his elder daughter Martha, now a mother and grandmother, that the two friends are rejoined in heaven where they are once again “tawkin’ cows.” I like to think that is so. After all, as someone much more wise and knowledgeable than I once noted, ultimately it is the quest of every living soul, whether realized or not, to get back home.

Perhaps, that is why today, more than five decades later, I recall that long-ago trip and remember not only the two reunited amigos, but also the other two characters whom fate cast in that strangely haunting one-act melodrama.

I know what became of the “painfully timid and intensely sensitive young boy,” now a writer, and himself a tormented exile, who has spent half of those long intervening years “wailing his heart out”—through pen and ink—“in a painful lament for a distant and sorely missed land and language and love.”

But as a writer and an exile I can’t help being curious about the fourth, foreign player in that long-remembered backwater obra dramatica. I wonder if he has yet made it back home, and if so whether he is now aware of the lasting impact his poignant—and powerfully portentous—performance had upon an impressionable young norteamericano with whom he once whiled away a languid October afternoon in a lonely cafe beside a silent railroad in a faraway place called Snow Lake, Arkansas, USA.

Rusty railroad tracks in Snow Lake, Arkansas, in 2010 (photo by Joe Dempsey)

Rusty railroad tracks in Snow Lake, Arkansas, in 2010 (photo by Joe Dempsey)

This story was previously published by the Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, where I taught for a brief time forty years ago.

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“The contemplation of beauty causes the soul to grow wings.”
—Plato

I must confess to a secret character flaw. Ever since childhood I have been strangely attracted to the dark side . . . in the form of black-haired beauties.

It all began when I entered the third grade in our two-room country school in my birthplace of Selma, Arkansas. That year for some reason the school at Florence, Arkansas, a similar rural community a few miles up the road where Mari’s family came from, began to transfer its students to the Selma Elementary School.

One of those students was a darling young girl named Lynell Hays who sat right in front of me in one of those old-fashioned folding-seat desks. In my memory at least, she had the most beautiful black hair I had ever seen. It was prominently and profusely paraded right in front of my boyish eyes all day long, every day. I was immediately and irreversibly captivated by that vision of raven loveliness, a luxurious pool of shimmering ink into which I was quickly and helplessly swallowed up.

Mari (as an infant) and her black-haired cousin Lynelle Hays

Mari (as an infant) and her black-haired cousin Lynell Hays in 1943, a few years before Lynell came to school in Selma

Obviously, I had a crush on the owner of those ebony ringlets, but since I was far too timid to express my feelings, the object of my affection never knew of my devotion. It was more than twenty years later that I learned that Lynell was Mari’s first cousin. And it was more than sixty years later at the fundraiser for the Selma Methodist Church this past May that I learned that my classmate Lamar Daniels of Selma had harbored similar feelings for the lovely Lynell. I assume he never told her of his devotion either, which is just as well because he was much more attractive to the young girls than I would ever have been.

So that first romance with a black-haired beauty was a lost cause from the beginning.

Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair 

Black is the color of my true love’s hair.
Her lips are like some rosy fair.
The purest eyes and the neatest hands,
I love the ground whereon she stands . . .
—Traditional Appalachian folk song

My second romance with a black-haired beauty was more successful, though it too eventually failed.

Her name was Martha but I called her “Fred.” She was the daughter of a couple of family friends in our hometown of McGehee, Arkansas. Since her parents and mine got together often, I had known her from her earliest childhood.

So patiently (and not so patiently) I waited for her to grow up, or at least to become of sufficient age for me to start dating her—which I did in the summer of 1958 when she was a junior in high school and I was a junior in Ouachita Baptist College.

That steady romance lasted two years until 1960 when “Fred” graduated from high school and entered college, and I graduated from Ouachita and entered graduate school in a different university. After a rather shaky on-and-off relationship, the romance ended permanently on Christmas Day 1961.

Looking back on that traumatic experience I eventually realized what the problem was between us. Since “Fred’s” father and mine were both cattlemen, the basis of their longtime friendship, I assumed that what she and I had going for us was the fact that we were both country. That was true, but the problem was that she was country club, and I was country clod.

So that second romance with a black-haired beauty also failed.

Blame It All on Liz Taylor!

But now after loving you, what else is there to do?
For honey, all the rest is just gonna have to be second best.
I know I’ll go through life comparing her to you.
That’s ’cause I’m no good, I’m no good to anyone, after loving you.
—Elvis Presley

Besides being woefully mistaken in thinking I could ever attract or retain the affection of either of the preceding black beauties, my other problem was unrealistic expectations—of myself and of the objects of my affection.

Part of that problem resided in the fact that I had even earlier fallen hopelessly and eternally in love with the very icon of black beauty, Elizabeth Taylor, for whom I reserved total and undying admiration, adulation, and adoration.

Liz Taylor  the icon of Black Beauty

Liz Taylor the icon of black beauty

Elizabeth Taylor in Lassie movies

Elizabeth Taylor as a child in Lassie movies

That third and doomed romance also began in childhood, mine and hers, with her appearances as an adolescent in movies like Lassie Come Home, Courage of Lassie, and National Velvet. It continued with her roles as a blossoming young lady in films such as Little Women, Father of the Bride, Father’s Little Dividend, and Ivanhoe.

Liz Taylor in National Velvet

Liz Taylor in National Velvet

Liz Taylor in Father of the Bride

Liz Taylor in Father of the Bride

Liz Taylor in Raintree County

Liz Taylor in Raintree County

Liz Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Liz Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

A Thing of Beauty Never Dies

 A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams . . .

—Keats

That infatuation with Elizabeth Taylor has never ended, as evidenced by an email I sent to several friends at the time of her death on March 23, 2011.

In that email, which began with the above quotation from Keats, I described a dream I had about Liz a few days before she died in which I got to visit her in person. In our conversation I was able to share with her my quote about her: “Elizabeth Taylor is the most beautiful creature God ever made—except for Mari, of course!” When she smiled and told me that it was sweet, I replied, “Oh, Miss Taylor, I have loved you since we were both children.”

Liz Taylor in all her youthful black beauty

Liz Taylor in all her youthful black beauty

When I woke up, I told Mari, “Instead of my usual nightmares, I just had a sweet dream about Elizabeth Taylor and was able to say goodbye to her.” That dream gave me a sense of closure.

My Letter about Liz Taylor

“Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.”
—Old adage

But that dream was not my first personal “encounter” with Elizabeth Taylor, as evidenced by the attached letter and photo that I once wrote about her and to her:

6 February 1995

Letters Editor
Good Housekeeping Magazine
959 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10019

Dear Sir or Madam:

Imagine the shock to my fifty-six-year-old male system when, while leaning over the kitchen bar gazing deeply and longingly into those spellbinding violet eyes which graced the cover of your March issue, I suddenly saw Elizabeth Taylor wink…right at me!

Although obviously and undeniably a sign from Saint Valentine of long-last requited love, my jealous wife of thirty-two years tries to laugh it off as merely a cruel hoax played on me by a combination of “an overactive imagination, wishful thinking, and slipping bifocals.”

Yeah, sure. And I suppose that fluttering in my chest was ’cause I forgot to take my heart medication!

Oh, she of little faith.

Sincerely,

Jimmy Peacock

xc:  Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor on cover of Good Housekeeping magazine

Eizabeth Taylor on the cover of Good Housekeeping magazine in 1995

I will miss Elizabeth Taylor, but I now have five photos of her (including this one) above my computer, taken at different stages of her life. I look at them several times a day . . . and sigh. I also start each day saying, “Mornin’ Liz, I sure do wish you would wink at me again!”

My Final and Successful Romance:
“Love Is Blond” 

The girl that I marry will have to be
As soft and as pink as a nursery . . .
—Song I used to sing to Mari while we were dating,
taken from the musical Annie Get Your Gun
(To see a video of it performed by Tom Wopat
and Bernadette Peters, click here)

Yet, isn’t it a strange quirk of fate that for all of my attraction to black beauties I ended up marrying a blonde beauty whose “signature color” is pink? But there is a reason.

Mari, the honey blonde I married

Mari, the blonde beauty I married because . . .

. . . the blonde beauty loved my black heart!

. . . the blonde beauty loved my black heart.

Last December 27, I went forward at church, put a dollar in the Joy Jar, and said:

“Today Mari and I have been married forty-eight years. The only smart thing I ever did in my life was marryin’ Marion. But even that I can’t take credit for. She and my mother and God got together and worked out that whole deal. All I did was show up and say, ‘I do.’

Jimmy and Mari on wedding day

Mari and me on our wedding day, December 27, 1962

“But I’m awful glad I had at least enough sense to do that. ’Cause not only is she much younger [four years younger] and much prettier than I am, she’s also much smarter than I am. But then y’all already knew that. Which means that y’all are smarter than I am too, ’cause it took me years to figure that out.

“But by then it was too late. It was a done deal.

“So, you young people, be careful who you say ‘I do’ to. You just might end up like me—happy and blessed!”

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The Way We Were

 Getting Electricity for the First Time 

            “Recollection is the only paradise on earth from which we cannot be turned away.”
Richter

Anyone born or raised in the country, as I was back in the pre-indoor-plumbing, pre-electric light days, will appreciate the sentiment expressed by my visiting country cousin (after we had moved to town) who, eyeing the proudly displayed, shiny porcelain bathroom fixtures, longingly and enviously remarked: “Ah tuk me a bath in one `a them slipp’ry tubs one time.”

Well, I can’t say that I remember the first time I “tuk me a bath in one `a them slipp’ry tubs,” but I do recall quite vividly the first time I turned on our very own “’lectric lite.”

It was back in 1947. The long-awaited day finally came when electric power was extended to our little rural Southeast Arkansas community of Selma (Drew County, pop. 200—counting dogs, pigs, chickens, and guineas). Comprised of a general store/post office combination (à la the Waltons), a two-room school, two sawmills, two churches (Baptist and Methodist, of course), and scattered houses and farms, Selma was to me Camelot, Shangri-La, and Treasure Island all rolled into one Tom Sawyer paradise.

Selma general store as it looked in the 1980s

Selma general store as it looked in the 1980s--forty years after the arrival of electricity.

Selma Elementary School

Selma Elementary School: two classrooms for six grades, each grade occupying one row (the room across the back was the lunch room, the toilets were out back)

The absence of modern facilities was of little concern to me, a nine-year-old, barefoot, tousled-haired son of the soil. After all, at that age, it’s not so much the things of life that are important, but life itself—the exhilaration, the sheer joy, of being alive and young and free.

Me as a child in Selma

Me as a child in Selma

Nevertheless, the anticipation of the arrival of such a wonder as electricity was enough to cause a thrill of excitement in our otherwise routine lives.

Finally, the long-awaited day came. The poles were set, the lines all strung, and gradually individual houses were linked to that magic current that ran mysteriously through the drooping wires from some who-knows-what miracle source off yonder somewhere in the vast outside world.

Me on front steps o fmy birthplace

A fuzzy photo of me as a child sitting on the front steps of my birthplace--I was born in the front room on the right

Our house was wired and eventually connected to the system one Saturday, the REA electricians finishing up their work just as we set out for our weekly excursion into town (McGehee, pop. 5,000, distance fifteen miles).

My birthplace as it looked in the 1980s

My birthplace as it looked in the 1980s

This “Sairdy-nite” ritual was as established in our weekly regime as the regular Sunday-afternoon pilgrimage back out to the country “to visit the ole fokes” would be later after we ourselves had joined the swelling post-war migration to the “city.” Somehow I never questioned it, nor did I consider that there might come a day when we would no longer pile (all five of us) into the cab of that stockman’s GMC pickup (we kids couldn’t rightly ride in the rear because of the billowing dust and the reeking cow manure) and journey to Metropolis.

Mama and Daddy said they went to town to “watch the country folks parade.” I don’t recall what my two teenaged brothers did. But I went to meet my Selma buddies at the Ritz Theater (later the Malco) where we sat through a fantastic double-feature —which always, but always, included a Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Rex Allen, Red Rider, Lash LaRue, et al western; a cartoon; a serial; and advertisements for RC Cola (“Best by Taste Test”) and the local Chevrolet place. At an admission price of fourteen cents, I can guarantee you it was worth every penny!

The Malco Theater in McGehee, Arkansas

The Malco Theater in McGehee

This particular Saturday night, Huntz Hall and the Bowery boys, Johnny Mack Brown, and Yosemite Sam were of especial delight to me, tingling as I was with pent-up excitement at the mere thought of what awaited me back home.

Even Roy Acuff and the Grand Ole Opry on the truck radio as we drove home couldn’t keep my mind from the sense of urgency I felt as we seemed to literally drag along the gaveled, rutted ribbon that wound around the cypress sloughs with their “knees” poking up,

Arkansas cypress slough

Arkansas cypress slough

across Bayou Bartholomew (“Longest Bayou in the World!”), through the luxuriant fields of cotton and corn and rice (a newcomer that year from Texas), up out of the flat tableland of the Mississippi River Delta, and into “the hills” thick with pine and cedar and oak.

Bayou Bartholomew

Bayou Bartholomew

After an eternity we lurched to a halt in front of the yard gate, and I scrambled out of the truck like a shot to be the first to run up on the porch and into the house to turn on that magic lantern.

I’ll never forget that experience. You would have thought I was lighting the National Christmas Tree.

Looking back, more than a half-century later, I am made aware of how little any of us realized then the full impact of the moment, that Saturday evening in 1947.

Oh sure, we knew it meant that now we could enjoy all those marvels of modern living: a “gen-u-wine ’lectric ’frigerator” (not an ice box, though we still called it that), a non-battery radio that wouldn’t run down in the middle of Amos ’n Andy, a real-live oscillating fan (at least fifteen inches in diameter), not to mention light at the flick of a switch instead of from a flickering “Aladdin (kerosene) lamp.”

 But perhaps most wonderful for Mama, it meant a trip to Sears & Roebuck over in Greenville, Mississippi, to pick out a brand-new, shiny Kenmore electric washing machine—“with a wranger ’n ever’thang.”

Yes, it meant that soon Mama would never again have to go outside in the blistering heat of August or the bone-chilling winds of February to build a fire under the old soot-blackened pot to heat water for washing.

No more leaning over those scorching flames to stir clothes with the end of a cut-off broomstick while the sun beat mercilessly down on her exposed head and neck.

A woman washing clothes in a black pot

A woman washing clothes in a black pot

No more breaking her back and scraping her aching fingers hand-scrubbing on that old washboard.

Like the wood cook stove and heaters, the bottle of bluing was destined to eventually become a thing of the past. And the Number 2 and Number 3 washtubs would one day be retired from active duty, except for Saturday afternoon service as makeshift bathtubs for our weekly family ablutions.

Yep, that bare little 40-watt bulb dangling from the living room ceiling on that twisted cord —that amazing symbol of post-war prosperity—signaled more than any of us ever dreamed.

True, it heralded the arrival of a wonderfully new and exciting and innovative electronic age.

But, unknown as yet to any of us, that marvelous little bulb, lazily swinging back and forth like a bell, was also silently tolling the end of an era.

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My Father’s Brand

When an infant is baptized in the Episcopal Church, after pouring the water over the child’s head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the minister dips the ball of his thumb in lightly scented chrism (oil), makes the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead, calls his Christian name, and then intones these age-old words: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever. Amen.”

Episcopal Baptism

Stained-class window in Saint Mary's Episcopal Church in Memphis depicting the baptism of an infant

After viewing this ritual many times I suddenly realized its intended significance as I recalled a poem I had once written about my father’s branding iron.  That poem was published by the Desha County Historical Society with a photo of me holding the iron.  I had written the poem decades after Daddy’s death when I discovered the rusty old iron hanging on the outside wall of an unpainted shed behind the house in which I was born in Selma, Arkansas.

 The Father’s Brand 

I found it hanging on a weathered wall
on the back of a handmade shed,
Forgotten, forlorn, left behind by all
when we moved from the old homestead.

 So I took it down and brought it back home
where I soon cleaned away the dust,
And with a file and rasp and gritty hone
I scraped away the gathered rust. 

I filed and I brushed and in a short while
I had scrubbed away the long years,
So I polished and shined and with a smile
I brushed away the gathered tears. 

So there it now sits, in honored glory
right in front of my fireplace grill,
At it I point while I tell the story,
of the home place upon the hill. 

It’s the old Circle-P, my father’s brand,
which he used with his face set grim,
To burn in their hides by his callused hand,
the young calves that belonged to him. 

My father's brand :the old circle P

My father's brand: the old Circle-P

I witnessed today a special event,
an infant baptized all alone.
And deep in my soul I knew what it meant

to be branded the Master’s own.

Though Daddy is gone, his old iron still stands,
it’s displayed there upon my hearth,
And while the old brand is still in my hands,
the Father’s mark is in my heart.

Jimmy holding his father's brand

Me holding my father's brand

Jimmy Peacock
January 12, 1992

My Father’s Seal

After my family had moved from Selma to McGehee in 1948 when I was ten years old, Daddy became a partner with C.B. Walker in the McGehee Livestock Auction.

Daddy with C.B. Walker at the McGehee Livestock Auction in 1952

Daddy (on the right in the white hat) at the McGehee Livestock Auction in 1952 with C.B. Walker (on the left in the auctioneer's booth)

Daddy died there of a heart attack on sale day, May 25, 1954, while I was in the back penning cattle. He was forty-nine years old; I was fifteen.

Me and my brothers at the time of our father's death in 1954

Me (on the left) with my two brothers, Adrian and Joe, at the time of Daddy's death in 1954

Some years after I discovered Daddy’s old brand, while I was living in Oklahoma but on visit to my hometown of McGehee, Arkansas, I was given the corporate seal of the McGehee Livestock Auction. It was presented to me by J.T. Henley of McGehee, one of Daddy’s acquaintances whose wife was associated with the auction barn.

For some time I used that precious seal to stamp copies of the poem about Daddy’s brand that I shared with family members and relatives. Then for some reason I can never explain I left it sitting on the work table at the office supply store where I used to go to make photocopies of the poem which I then stamped with the seal.

When I became aware of what I had done, I rushed back to the office supply store hoping that someone had realized how old it was and had kept it. When I arrived and asked about it I was told by a concerned young clerk that she had indeed noticed the vintage seal and had kept it for about a month. However, she added sadly, “When no one came to claim it, I threw it in the trash about two weeks ago.”

You can imagine my anguish and self-recrimination knowing how careless I had been with such an irreplaceable family heirloom. So I had a fascimile made of it using the last piece of paper in my files on which I had stamped the imprint made by that old seal. While it does not look like the original seal, it does make the same impression — on paper. The impression in my heart, however, will never be the same.

The actual page and impression used to make the facsimile seal

The actual page and final impression used to make the facsimile of Daddy's corporate seal. It was stamped on a photocopy of a page from the Desha County Historical Society that published the poem.

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My Cancer Car

“With all the junk I have experienced in my life (most of which I caused myself), I feel that I am eminently qualified to write either Country music or Southern literature.” (The journey is the story.)
–Jimmy Peacock

This past week, including a three-day stay in the St. Francis Health Care System, has been pretty miserable. I am now “recuperating at home.” Still often as sick as a dog and in considerable pain, given my lifelong Irish melancholy, naturally I have not had the brightest of outlooks in regard to my current or future health situation.

But then this morning at breakfast, which I had difficulty consuming, I suddenly realized that it was on this date, July 2, in 1992 that I was declared “cancer free” after a bout with lymphoma in which I was sick from the chemotherapy day and night for seven long months.

On that day I was so happy and relieved to be free from that misery and fear that to celebrate my victory I went right down the street and bought a brand-new, shiny-black-and-chrome Chrysler LeBaron with “all the bells and whistles.” I told the salesman that I was “trading a cancer for a Chrysler.”

My Cancer Car

My "Cancer Car"

I also stopped on the way home and bought a solid black business suit, the only one I now own, which I have worn in every wedding, funeral, reunion, official photo (including the avatar for this blog), etc. for all the intervening two decades. I will probably be buried in that “cancer suit,” though I hope not too soon!

Me in my 1992 "Cancer Suit"

Me in my 1992 "Cancer Suit"

For a long time I kept that car, my favorite of all the vehicles I ever owned, in pristine condition. Then after thirteen years when we had two newer and larger vehicles and no room for it in our two-car garage, I gave it to the Tulsa chapter of the American Cancer Society.

When I told the people at the cancer society the story of my “cancer car,” they got so excited they contacted the local newspapers, and my story with a photo of me standing beside the car appeared in both the Tulsa World and the Sapulpa Daily Herald.

Me and my "Cancer Car"

Newspaper photo of me and my "Cancer Car"

The photo caption read: “JIMMY PEACOCK STANDS next to the Chrysler he donated to the American Cancer Society, dressed in his gear supporting his son’s military efforts in Afghanistan.” At the time Keiron was in his first deployment in Afghanistan with the 45th Infantry Brigade of the Oklahoma National Guard. Now he is in his third deployment, this time back to Afghanistan after a second deployment to Iraq.

After that article and photo appeared in the papers, I received a folding card with a copy of the photo on one side and a congratulatory note on the other which began: “You Made the News!” Ironically, the card was sent to me by a local . . . funeral home!

To remind me of that experience I have kept that card up over my computer along with an eight-by-ten glossy photo of the “cancer car”—my all-time favorite that I still love and miss. The photos of that shiny black car, one of them with me in my black cap and shirt honoring my son, along with the photo of me in my sole black suit, and the five photos of Liz Taylor and her coal-black hair, serve to remind me that as dismal as things may appear, black is not always bad.

Liz Taylor and her coal-black hair

Liz Taylor and her coal-black hair

Sometimes black is beautiful.

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