Saturday, June 29, 2013

the Nik-Nak and the straight and narrow

Image of the Nik-Nak before the city paved the park with cement.
Noccalula Nik-Nak stood at the entrance of Noccalula Falls Park on 'the mountain' in Gadsden, Alabama.  We lived on the mountain and we frequented the Nik-Nak regularly.  For years the Noccalula parking lot was gravel.  I don't think they paved it until the mid-eighties...or until the Nik-Nak was torn down and replaced with a Jacks Hamburgers.  It just wasn't the same when the Nik-Nak was knocked down and replaced with a franchise.

Anywho, you always heard gravel crunch beneath the tires when you pulled into the old Noccalula Nik-Nak.  Finlayson's had a yen for ice-cream.  I'm pretty sure we Finlayson kids got our love for ice-cream from mother's side of the family.  My mother loves ice-cream.  My mother used to play a game when she was little, when she had a little sister growing up in the cotton mill village.  She and my Aunt Ina would be eating an ice-cream from McNair Drug Store.  My mother would say, "Let's play a game!"  Little sister, like most little sisters love to play games with big sisters.  Mom would say, "Who ever finishes their ice-cream first gets to help the other finish their ice-cream!"  Sounds like fun, but to poor Ina, she always ended up with the short end of the cone.

Anywho, Noccalula Nik-Nak was the place a mountain kid loved going.  You could get an ice-cream and then run to the playground and play for an hour or so.  I thought mom was doing it for the kids, but looking back, she was doing it for her ice-cream addiction.

Noccalula Falls was right across from where I served time at R.A. Mitchell school.  I remember looking out the windows on many occasions at the park, at the playground and at the beloved Nik-Nak.  The playground would have toddlers toddling around in the playground while moms sat overseeing nearby enjoying their ice-cream.  It was torture to see such a beautiful world outside and have to stay inside within the confines of the drab institutional green walls of elementary school.

Anywho, to go to the Nik-Nak was always a big treat.  Any baby-boomer who grew up on the mountain during it's day will have nothing but good to say about the place.  It wasn't a pretty building, but it was full of delicious treats.  A trip to park just wasn't a trip to the park unless you got to get a treat from the Nik-Nak.

I mentioned earlier that the parking lot was gravel.  My brother Brook loved gravel.  I think he still does.  He loved gravel and muddy pot holes in the road.  If you were ever in Brook's 'Chigger' (a red VW bug), he'd aim for the pot-holes or spin around in gravel.  Once I was riding shotgun in Chigger when Brooky, out of the blue,  pulled into the Noccalula Falls parking lot and spun three to four tight doughnuts.  It was a lot of fun.  Brook had a big grin on his face and I was holding onto the dash and laughing.

Brook was in the process of pulling out of the parking lot, waiting for cars to have their right of way with him when someone approached the window on Brook's side of the car.  It  was Sheriff Felton Yates himself.  He told the young doughnut-spinning whipper-snapper that he and his wife happened to have been enjoying an ice-cream together with their windows rolled down.  All that dust came wafting into their open windows.  Brooky's grin had faded.  I wasn't laughing either.

I thought for a moment we'd both end up in jail for making dusty doughnuts. 
 Instead we only received a brief rebuke.  He let us go asking us to be more considerate in the future.  He wasn't angry. His mere authoritative and sudden presence rattled us to the core...putting enough fear in our minds to drive straight from there least in the Noccalula Nik-Nak parking lot.

Note: If perchance Brook and Jennifer's kids or future grand-kids have a hankering for gravel, puddles and pot-holes, It'll be from my brother's genes.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wanna hold it?

A long time ago, somewhere in the sixties, we had a couple of pet turtles.  These little guys didn't require much attention, just a little food, a little water and a little plastic island with a plastic tree to call their own.  I believe we got our store bought turtles at Murphy's Department Store at the Agricola Shopping Center.   If memory serves, the pet section of the store was on the back wall to the left.  Murphy's carried small pets, like fish, hamsters, birds and turtles.   It wasn't a big pet department, but there were enough pets back there to draw  a kid's attention.  It's as close to a zoo as I ever got as a boy.

Most kids back in the day had one of those itsy-bitsy green turtles (Red Eared Sliders) at one time or another. Kids in the 50'a and 60's loved those little turtles.  You couldn't do much with them.  You could take them out and hold them for a little bit.  You could put them outside their plastic Eden and let them experience the outside world.  They were small enough to slip in your pocket, but they don't like that.   I always got the feeling that they'd rather stay in their own little clear kidney-shaped habitat.  All the turtles I've met in my life weren't very sociable.  They just wanted to be left alone.

Those little store bought turtles eventually disappeared from the store shelves.  Kids were getting sick from them.  Some kids even died.  It turned out that those little critters are contaminated with salmonella.   Kids have this habit of touching nasty things and not washing their hands afterward.  Due to the sliders shedding of salmonella, the sale of small shelled turtles were banned in 1975.

Monday, June 17, 2013

needed: male role models

There once was a day when most young men aspired to be like their fathers.  A boy wanted to emulate the primary male presence in his life, so he too would one day grow to be a good man like his father.  Today it seems most boys had rather look elsewhere for their influences.  It  appears they'd rather emulate the fatherless sons from the hood.  Our culture is more influenced by the ghetto rather than the family. Those boys are in such dire need of a real role model, that they've already got their pants around their knees, waiting to get straightened out by a good butt paddling from a real adult male.  Pull those pants up son, you're making an ass of yourself.

Friday, June 14, 2013

fathers and son

Last night I went to the midnight showing of The Man of Steel for Katie's 17th birthday.  I really wasn't thinking it was going to be much to see.  The Superman story has been told.  I usually read a review or two before going to a movie.  I usually watch a trailer to make sure I'm not wasting money when going to the movies, but I was just disinterested.  Gina had already gone by the theater earlier in the week and bought the tickets. We were going to see Superman.

I'm getting tired of reboots.  I was hoping that the origin of Superman wouldn't be retold like the previous Superman movies have done, like Spiderman, and Batman.  Someone told me before the movie started that this movie was also going to reintroduce Superman, do the origin thing all over again. Oh well...on with the show.

No spoilers here.  I just want to write a little how much I enjoyed this movie - origin and all.  The Man of Steel surpasses all previous Superman movies.  It was a great story, a great retelling.  I can't think of a weak element or moment within it.  The story of General Zod was entertaining.  There was plenty of action of super-beings battling it out.  My favorite element of this movie wasn't the action.

My favorite element of The Man of Steel is the relationship between Kal-El and his earth-born father Johnathan Kent.  Though Superman's natural-born father Jor-El saves his son from Krypton's demise, it was Johnathan Kent that teaches young Kal-El in the way he should go...instilled within the boy a moral compass.  If it were not for Johnathan Kent, Jor-El's hope might not have come to fruition.  
In a way, Kevin Costner's role of Johnathan Kent stole the show. There is more depth and heart to this than any preceding Superman movie.  Great movie.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

the back porch

early to mid sixties

a cool dusk
amid one of the countless summer nights
the faint aroma of honeysuckle

i remember
peering behind the porch screen
we finlayson kids doubled and perched
upon the giant porch rockers
watched the vanishing treeline
against the gathering darkness
the sky turned deeper and deeper
shades of blue
til all was changed to night
to us the world was safe
all was well
we heard crickets
a cast of thousands
crickets in the woods all around
unseen distant and very near
dogs barking in the distance
dogs barking near
then silence
then broken
we listened to the rumble
of a distant train
running down the tracks
running through the valley
the track beyond the trees
from way down the mountain
we heard the horn clearly
passing in the night
the rockers squeaked
children giggled
children cuddled
comfortable together
then silence
then broken
we talked about the sounds
we talked about the night
we told ghost stories
scared outselves
with made up ghost stories
about ghost trains
lost trains far from home
and there we were
on the back porch safe
on the back porch
of our home

Monday, June 3, 2013

Laverty Music

My brother in-law Don Rakestraw worked at Laverty Music in the 1970's and 80's. He took a shining to my sister Jennie while giving her guitar lessons.  Somewhere along the way he began giving kissing lessons too.  They soon started dating and eventually married.
Don sold guitars and sound equipment.  Laverty had a lot of it to sell.  My brother Brook eventually started teaching guitar for Laverty Music somewhere in the mid-seventies.

Other people I knew eventually worked at the music store.  Dan Noojin got a job at Laverty repairing guitars.  He too became a brother in-law.  David Creel worked there. He's still a buddy of mine. He used to repair electronics. David was usually in the workshop soldering wires.
Going to Laverty Music was always fun.  There was always someone there I knew.  I'd also see plenty of interesting folk come in to check out the wares.  It was one of my hangouts after I learned to drive.  There was always something going on there. Don once hired me to do custodial work.  I worked there for about a month...until Don's boss discovered I was working for him. I didn't know that I wasn't on the payroll.

It was amazing how much dust accumulated in that place.  Custodial work at a sound shop, dusting was the biggest part of the job.  There was also the nasty bathroom with the nasty toilet.  I'd clean it one day to come back another and find it nasty all over again.  The coffee pot looked almost as nasty as the toilet.  They'd leave the pot on all the time and cook the java juice in the bottom of decanter.  They'd keep making more coffee and cooking the remains of the day until someone like me came along and chiseled the mess out.  I was a busy guy when I briefly worked at Laverty.

So anyway, I found out I wasn't on the payroll.  
Don just told me to take my pick of any of the used guitars on the wall as payment for my work.  I chose an old Yamaha FG-180 they had hanging up there.  I was more than satisfied with my payment.  I still have that guitar today.  It was kind of Don to allow me a means to acquire an instrument I desired to have.

Somewhere around '76 or '77 Don asked me to come up with a t-shirt design for the guitar and sound shop.  He gave me the general idea of what he wanted, something medieval  something featuring a Les Paul and Marshall amps.  This was my first t-shirt design. Everyone seemed very pleased with my handiwork.  It felt good to see folks walking around wearing my art.  This old T made it's way back to me a few years ago. Now I cringe a little at my crude handiwork.
My daughter claimed it when I showed it to her.  She wears it in spite of the holesThe shirt brings back memories.  It's older than she is.  I was  younger than she was when I did the design.