#37 A VERY CLEVER CON MAN
He stopped his 18 wheeler --tire delivery truck--at my father's service station---said he delivered tires all over Louisiana---had competitive prices on most brands---BUT SUPER PRICES ON BLEMS. (tires with some slight defect) ---had only two samples with him which he would sell for one fourth their regular price--- they had only the tiniest defect--- My father bought those two and was promised more on the next load. The trucker called a week later asking how many my father wanted---guaranteeing he could reject any blem he didn't like---but they must be paid for before leaving the factory. Daddy ordered a hundred ---the check was cashed and the tires never delivered.
We went to Chicago to the "factory" and discovered a boarded up warehouse. I can still see my father looking through a dusty window into a vacant room----silently accepting that he had been conned. No doubt he was one of many station owners ripped off. He was embarrassed--all I ever heard from him was a single guttural groan.
#38 GAINES FLORENCE STOPS A CON
Gaines ran my father's station. Guy buys a pack of cigarettes---lays down a $10 bill. As change is being made the guy says wait---I have the correct amount and begins a complicated money entanglement that ends up with a $5 profit to the purchaser and a confused clerk. We learned later that this scam was done at two more stores in town. But when Gaines got confused---he said WAIT A MINUTE---LET'S START OVER---and then he step by step completed the sale without losing any money.
#40 ALABAMA RAY'S FREE SHOW
Big 18 wheeler truck rolls into town---the above message on its side. flyers posted around town promised an exciting, free-- one night only stage performance. The stage was created by lowering one wall of the trailer. A mixed audience of about a hundred--blacks and whites-- stood to watch the show. The MC invited 3 kids on the stage for a whistle contest. The first to make a whistle sound won a box of candy. The catch was that first you had to eat three crackers. Of course I put all three crackers in my mouth and found that I didn't have the saliva to get them down. The audience laughed at my pitiful effort to whistle with a mouth full of crackers. My cousin just nibbled away at his crackers and soon whistled to win the prize.
Next up was a humorous ghost story drama---stopped at intermission to sell us boxes of candy for fifty cents. Some boxes had tickets inside for prizes attached to the rear wall of the truck. The MC said that if all the candy was sold then all the prizes not claimed would be just thrown out into the audience. A lot of candy was sold--- a few prizes given then the drama completed, Next morning the truck and trailer were gone. This has long served as a model for me of one perfect lifestyle. More significantly it was a rare time when the races stood together--intermixed.
#41 SATURDAY NIGHT TENT SHOW
In the vacant lot beside my father's bar they erected the tent ----about 30 ft by 40 ft---all us kids pitched in---two sets of "seats" set up---a colored side and a white side---each had 3 stringers, anchored at the front and held up by A-frame supports--tall medium short toward the front for a stadium effect. The seats consisted of planks across these stringers---no back support. The entertainment was mostly westerns but some comedies. Also an adventure serial that strung us along for months with cliff-hanger endings. (I remember the Clyde Beatty one) The cost was fifty cents--I think---because my family never had to pay---that was the rent for using our land. Midway, the movie would stop to change reels.
One night someone on the white side kept lobbing rocks over to the colored side--eventually some rocks came lobbing back. More and more came both ways---both sides were getting mad. Etched in my mind is the scary climax: As the movie ended---in the projector's bright light I saw a hail of rocks flying in both directions----things were getting very serious---and then when the interior lights came on---it suddenly stopped. Both sides realizing the dangers of an all out race war.
#42 A CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN
Hard to believe---but true---a real circus---albeit a small one---came to town and set up for one night. I was very young and barely remember a few of the acts. I'm embarrassed to tell you that my most vivid memory was being part of the tightly pressed crowd and a lovely black girl's breast against my arm. I savored the moment.
#43 A CARNIVAL COMES TO TOWN--LEAVES SOMETHING GOOD.
It had most of the conventional carnival features----savory food smells---try your luck booths---a small Ferris wheel and most significantly a swing ride where you would be snapped into a seat suspended from a tall rotating metal structure. Once in motion it swung us high and wide for a thrilling ride.
Soon the carnival left town and AMAZINGLY-----LEFT THE SWING RIDE BEHIND. And there it stood for a year or two---without it's motor. You'd think the town would activate it---but no one did---and finally people scavenged the metal and chains till one day it was all gone.
#44 MAN WITH CROOKED DICE
He joined a crap game in the side room of my father's bar and damn near got away with everyone's money-----making 7 straight passes. Then my brother picked up the dice and noticed that they only had 2,4 and 6 on them----impossible to lose with them.
Amazingly, when cornered--the guy said to my brother: You're not going to make me give the money back are you? Bud Foster spoke up and said ---of course you'll give it back if you expect to leave this room in one piece. He gave it back.
RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES: I have more Sondheimer stories but the end is in sight. I'm beginning to get the grand overall vision about the meaning of it all. I hope next time to share some of my glory moments and some shameful ones that no doubt shaped the style and attitude of the person writing this. After that I will take a break and share an interview with a local boy who made good---built a farming empire and told me the surprising secret.
UPDATE: People have joined and departed our little cluster of friends in the forest.