The Ballard County Courthouse is one of my favorite views. My grandfather, grandmother and an uncle served as county jailer, and one of the duties was care of the courthouse. I spent quite a bit of time there when I was a younger person.

The Techniques

Musical approach with the right Technique

 

          I would have been a great rock and roll star except for one minor, insignificant, irrelevant point: I had no talent.

          Some people are born with natural singing ability. My voice puts them all to shame. No, that’s not right. My voice puts me to shame.

          I remember once when I was young, probably 10 or younger, and was sitting in the congregation on the front row at the Wickliffe Baptist Church, probably sitting beside or near Paul Rollins.

          Paul and his wife Gobel (I’m not sure of the spelling) lived near where I lived with my parents. Paul was the church’s song leader. He was a kind man and I thought the world of him.

          Whatever the hymn was that morning, I was really belting it out.

          When Paul returned to the pew, he asked me kindly where I had learned to sing. I probably told him I taught myself.

          It wasn’t until some years later when I realized how awful my singing voice is and that I can’t even come close to carrying a tune that I knew how kind he had been. He could have just told me not to sing, or at least not to sing so loud.

          By the time I was in high school I knew that I was incapable of making a joyful noise unto the Lord. There may have been joy in my heart but when I let it out in song, anyone within hearing range was not uplifted with joy. It’s more likely that they experienced anguish.

          But high school and rock and roll were happening at about the same time. I remember watching Elvis on his first TV appearances, several consecutive weeks on the Dorsey Brothers show.

          It wasn’t the singing or the moving that touched me, though. It was the guitar playing.

          I loved guitar then, and still do.

          All it would take would be an electric guitar, and maybe a few years of singing lessons, and I would be ready to join the ranks of such stars as Elvis, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins. Fame, glory and fortune were mine to grasp.

          I think the song that pushed me past procrastination and into hallucination was Rebel Rouser as performed by Duane Eddy. Oh man, that twangy guitar was talking to me. It was saying, very low and in whispers that no one else could hear, “Joe, Joe, you need to play me.”

          The guitar it whispered me into was a Silvertone, a large electric guitar sold by Sears & Roebuck. It was probably more appropriate for rhythm in a big band than rocking with Duane Eddy, but – hey! – this was the late 1950s and this was rock and roll and this was youth still young enough to have dreams unfettered by reality.

          Billy Ed Boyd lived a couple of miles down the road, toward Mayfield. He was one of the sons of Clint and Georgia Mae Boyd. Clint taught me how to hunt, but that’s another story and I may write it one day soon.

          Billy Ed was that greatest of talents – a guitar picker. In retrospect, he wasn’t very good at the time – he got much better as he practiced and played – but anyone who even knew how to tune a guitar was someone I could look up to.

          Not that it mattered much if the guitar was in tune. Honestly, I couldn’t tell. In fact, if I ever tried to play a few chords and sing in the privacy of a large forest, I would have to get it very far out of tune so it would come close to matching my voice.

          Billy Ed spent a little time with me. He showed me some chords, which I practiced constantly, through the sore finger stage into the callused finger stage.

          He showed me how to pick something that sounded close to Rebel Rouser, and he showed me a couple of bass licks from some Johnny Cash songs.

          With that much skill under my belt, the Silvertone was no longer a proper guitar for an up-and-coming rocker.

          I was earning some money at the time, guiding tours at the Ancient Buried City in Wickliffe on weekends. If my memory serves me, I was earning the princely sum of a dollar an hour.

          But that was enough to embolden me to go to the Ray Butts Music Store in Cairo, Ill., to look for a proper instrument.

          Ray Butts wasn’t quite the genius that Les Paul was, but he was somewhere in the ball park. He had invented a playback recorder for a guitar amplifier that gave an echo effect. Scotty Moore, who played guitar for Elvis, would stop in from time to time to see if Ray had invented anything new. Ray eventually left Cairo and opened a store in Nashville.

          I looked around through some Fenders and other guitars, but the one that caught my eye was a double cutaway Rickenbacker, the first one I had ever seen. The next one I saw was several years later when the Beatles appeared on television. One of them played a Rickenbacker. Mine cost $200, case included, which was a small fortune to me at the time, but all you had to do was look at that Rickenbacker and you knew it was meant for greatness. I wasn’t, but it was.

          A solid body double cutaway electric Rickenbacker isn’t much good without an amplifier, so I asked my dad to make me one. Daddy had been in radio and TV since he was about 13 years old, and he can make just about anything electronic.

          It took a while but he came up with an amplifer and twin speakers. Later, after Jorgen Ingmann released the guitar song Apache, I knew that a plain amp wasn’t enough. I had to add a reverberator to capture that sound.

          Reverberators weren’t a common feature on amps then, so daddy had to do some research. A reverb unit consisted of a metal case which enclosed two long springs and I don’t know what else.

          I think the springs slow down the sound and give a sort of echo, reverberating effect.

          Anyway, daddy learned how to make one and before long I was on the way with a Rickenbacker guitar, an amp that drove two speakers, and a reverberator so I could play Apache if I ever learned how to play it.

          I actually did learn how to play it, or something that sounded close to it, thanks to an evening with Chuck Sowers of Mound City, Ill., a truly remarkable guitar player about whom I will write more in a separate story.

          I wish I could remember what drove us to get together, but I can’t. All I can remember is that a few of us at Ballard Memorial decided that we should get together and play some music.

          Carol Wolfe of Kevil, a gifted pianist; Lewis Warford of near Bandana, who had taken trumpet lessons; and Gail Parsons of Barlow, who was talented at playing the organ; and I, who had a Rickenbacker guitar, an amp, two speakers and a reverberator, decided we would get together and make music.

          We gathered at Gail’s house in Barlow, because there was a piano and an organ there, and her parents were patient and kind people who could put up with us.

          So we got together – three pretty good musicians and me – and tried to figure out some songs that all of us could play.

          Mr. Parsons got a kick out of me because when we played at his house I would lie on his couch and play my guitar. He thought if I could just learn to play in an upright position and tap my foot, I might become a musician.

          We figured out a few songs we could play and decided it was time to have a band and a name. The name we came up with was either the Techniques or the TechNiques. I can’t remember if we used the capital N. It wouldn’t surprise me if we did because we were ahead of the times. Remember a few years back when the young people wrote everything with alternating capital and small letters? We probably were the ones who set the stage for that.

          Some time later, we got a drum and Junior Vincent became our drummer. We didn’t have a drum stand so he would have to prop it up on something.

          We played music at a few places to appreciative audiences, most of whom were too old to hear what we played so they couldn’t tell if we were good or not.

          Our repertoire was never very big. That was because of me. I couldn’t read music and couldn’t play by ear, so I had to learn by watching other people or take coaching from Carol, who didn’t know about guitars but she sure knew about music and she could tell me what chords to play.

          We composed one original number we called Eulogy, and we liked it.

          We never had any record deals and if I recorded any of our music I’ve lost it over the years, so we haven’t left a musical legacy.

          I haven’t heard from Lewis Warford or Gail Parsons in several years. Carol Wolfe and I exchange e-mail fairly often. Junior Vincent died a couple of years ago from cancer.

          In times of nostalgia and melancholy, I wish I had some tapes of when we played together that year. The past becomes more important as we get older, because for many of us that’s where the excitement and the creativity and the discovery lives.

          Hearing our music would be a smiling trip into the past. It’s a trip I wish I could take.

How girls ended my budding ping pong career:

Who would have thought a tongue could feel like that

 

          If it hadn’t been for Louise Page and Latin I probably would not have enough ex-wives to start a basketball team with a couple left over for subs.

          And I might still be playing ping pong at Teen Town in Cairo, Ill., except that it’s no longer open.

          Ah, those were the days. The days of innocence. The days when a bunch of high school boys had all sorts of fun doing things together. The days before girls changed it all.

          During our early high school years, my best friend Danny Ryan and I were weekend regulars at the Oriac Teen Town in Cairo. We took on all comers in singles and doubles in ping pong.

          It was a passion. We even wore white shirts to provide a poor background for our opponents.

          Other things were going on there too, but they existed only in the periphery, at the edge of our ping pong commitment.

          Live bands played. Good live bands made up of some very musically talented young people from Cairo. Boys and girls danced. They seemed to be having fun.

          Danny and I played ping pong. We rarely lost, except maybe in singles games against each other.

          We also hunted a lot.

Danny’s dad, Bill Ryan, had a cabin on Prairie Lake in the river bottoms. Danny and I would spend the first several days of squirrel season there before school started, hunting, eating frozen strawberries that my mother had put up, removing mouse droppings from the sugar bowl.

          In the fall and winter we stayed at the cabin on weekends and school holidays, duck hunting in the blind directly across the lake from the cabin.

          We got to it by paddling across in the plywood boat Roy Ellis built for me. Cost me $20. My father advanced me the money. I repaid it at a dollar a week.

          Danny and I drug that boat all over the river bottoms.

          Meanwhile when we came of age for our driver’s licenses, we found many other activities to do with our good friends in our class at Ballard Memorial High School.

          We would go to Paducah where they had a couple of restaurants teenagers would cruise around. I believe a couple of the hot spots were Bob’s Drive In and the Driver Inn.

          There was a brief time when a couple of things were popular. One was a place with batting cages where you could pay a fee and bat at baseballs the machine heaved toward you.

          Another was trampolines. A couple of places had dug pits in the ground and covered them with trampoline material. For a fee, you could bounce a certain number of minutes on the trampolines.

          Several of us boys would get together and do those kinds of things.

          We also got together occasionally at one or another cabin in the bottoms and had cookouts, maybe with steaks or maybe with catfish.

          Sometimes we would put out trotlines, build big fires, and sing off-key to the accompaniment of guitars, played badly.

          At least once we even made some records. My dad had an old record-cutting machine among the devices he hoarded over the years. I bought some blanks and took the machine one evening to the cabin Joe Edwards’ dad had on Axe Lake.

          We cooked food, played and sang and made bad records with revised lyrics – off-color, mostly – of popular songs. I can’t remember everyone who was there, but there were quite a few of us.

          Those years provided some of the greatest fun of my entire life.

          But then came Louse Page and Latin class.

          The best I can remember, Latin was the only “foreign language” Ballard offered at the time. I’m not sure folks realized it wasn’t spoken any more.

          Louise Page was the teacher. She also taught English, but I think Latin was her passion. She told us of trips to Rome. Latin didn’t seem like a dead language.

          In retrospect, I probably learned more about the complex rules of English in Latin than I did in English classes.

          I really loved Ballard Memorial and my classmates. We had amazingly good teachers, and the best basketball gym in the area.

          Our class was small, but close.

          I didn’t date girls. I was too shy to ask them out, and was having too much fun with ping pong and hunting and trampolines and cookouts and off-key singing and good friends, both boys and girls.

          Latin class was especially fun. It was populated with classmates I cared about, and we had great times studying Latin and swapping insults.

          The end came because one of Mrs. Page’s annual events was the Latin Club banquet. And she required that each person had to bring a date to the party.

          I couldn’t miss that party because I felt so close to the class, but I didn’t know how to go about getting a date. I was too shy to ask a girl out, and the girls I knew best were very good friends. You can’t ask a friend to go on a date, even one as innocuous as a Latin Club banquet.

          My memory of the time is that I solved the crisis by secretly passing a note to Latin classmate Brenda Thurman, then and now a very pretty girl/woman with a great smile and good personality.

          I think most of us used bedsheets for togas to wear to the event.

          Later, with another girl, I experienced my first kiss.

          She and I were going to a movie, probably, and on the way we stopped by a Paducah hospital to visit a classmate who was there.

          On the way up in the elevator, she moved to me and gave me the first non-family kiss I ever had. Wow! Who could have imagined that a tongue would feel like that. I’m woozy now as I remember that elevator ride. I began to suspect at that moment that maybe ping pong wasn’t what life was all about.

          A couple of other platonic sorts of dates with other girls later, I had the first serious relationship of those years, with a girl who eventually became my first wife.

          We had a special place we would park after a movie or whatever date we went on. It was near her home, off a side road among some trees.

          We turned the radio on the 1959 Pontiac to radio station WLS in Chicago, where disk jockey Dick Biondi was a popular DJ on a clear-channel station that played rock and roll music.

          One of the musical memories that stays with me is the first time he played the Shirelles singing “Dedicated to the One I Love.” The song, the station, the trees, the girl I was with – it all coalesced perfectly to send shivers up and down my body. I still shiver when I hear them sing that song.

          There have been other girls in the years since then, other music, many life changes, but no song triggers memories like that one does.

          Life changed. The guys, each of whom had a girlfriend by then, spent less time together.

          Danny and I still hunted and fished and stayed at the cabin from time-to-time, but it wasn’t the same. Instead of talking about where we found squirrels, we talked about girls.

          I’ve had other good experiences in my life, some of them great experiences. But the years at Ballard Memorial, the classmates, the activities, the rites of passage, the teachers and the classes, those still rank if not at the very top of my list of best years, then not more than one or two notches down.

          And as I age and look back at memories of youth, I can think of the cabins, the wooded parking space in the Pontiac, and that first kiss in the elevator.

          And it’s all because of Louise Page and Latin.

But you know something, gosh, I sure miss ping pong.

Things to Avoid When Training an Attack Dog

 

I got out of the army in 1967 and returned to work at the Cairo Evening Citizen in Cairo, Ill., as sports editor. I made two major purchases: A brand-spanking new Austin-Healey Sprite and a Doberman pinscher.

For those of you unfamiliar with that particular car, it’s about as long as a kitchen table with a couple of leaves in it, and seats two people or one person and a Doberman. It’s sort of like an MG Midget, if that helps. It’s small enough that I recall one time driving in Thebes, Ill., when a large dog ran beside the car and looked down at me.

For those of you unfamiliar with Doberman pinschers … well, read on.

Being a macho ex-soldier, I wanted a mean dog to help me repel any would-be evil guys. I’d never been attacked by any bad guys, but – hey! – you never know when that first time will come.

The Doberman had a reputation as a bad dog, developed by someone in Germany as a war dog, an attack dog. One look at a Doberman and bad guys stay away.

My particular Doberman turned out to be Tonga the Avenger, and he turned out to be … well, a sissy. I take a good share of the blame for that. I took the pup Tonga to the office with me every morning, and he slept by my desk. People who came to the newsroom frequently would pet him and play with him, and he became quite gregarious and friendly instead of surly and mean.

We went every evening to the local soft freeze ice cream place and had a milk shake each. I held Tonga’s for him. His Doberman nose was perfect for getting down to the bottom of a milk shake cup.

I reasoned, however, that although I knew he was a sissy, the bad guys who might attack me wouldn't know that. I reasoned that if I gave the command "Kill!" and a Doberman raced toward him, even the evilest of the evil would take flight.

I taught Tonga to sit and stay. I rolled up an old sock and stuffed it into the toe of another old sock. I would hold the sock to Tonga and command "Kill!" Tonga would grab the sock, growl, shake his head tugging on the sock.

When he became proficient at grabbing, growling and tugging, I told him to "sit, stay" and I took a couple of steps back. I held out the sock and commanded, "Kill!" Tonga leaped at the sock, grabbed, growled and tugged, and I commended his behavior profusely.

After a few days of that, I moved across the room. I commanded, "Kill!" and Tonga raced across the room, leaped through the air, grabbed the sock, growled, and tugged.

He was ready for his first public viewing.

I took him to work at the newspaper the next day and told my good friend Jimmy Wissinger to come outside and help me in a demonstration of the results of my great training to turn Tonga into a protective force.

"Take this stick, walk down to the end of the lot, hold it like it was a gun or knife," I told Jimmy. "Whatever happens, don't panic. Don't race away. Just stand there and hold the stick. You’ll be amazed." Jimmy pledged to do just that.

When Jimmy was in place, and Tonga was poised in a sit position at my left side, I gave the command, "Kill!"

Up to that point, I had always trained Tonga alone. He never had worked with someone else holding the thing he was supposed to grab, growl and tug. So, as I didn't have anything in my hand, he jumped up and bit my arm. It brought blood.

Jimmy told me, "That was pretty impressive all right, but I'm not sure why you would train your dog to attack yourself."

Jimmy died a few years ago. I miss him.

Eddie (right) and me along Route 66
Eddie showed my best side in this photo of me taking photos
This is when we realized we were no longer on the right route

We got our kicks on Route 66         

 

The most memorable trip I’ve ever taken was a few years ago – probably in 2002 or 2003 – when Eddie Faye and I drove along Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Fe.
          Eddie and I grew up about a mile outside what was the biggest town in Ballard County at the time, Wickliffe, population 900.
          He was raised by his grandparents, Hub and Myrtle Copeland, two of the finest people who ever lived. They lived just up the Old Blandville Road from our house.
          Eddie spent a lot of time visiting with my family because we were just about the only kids in the area. Eddie was like another brother, and he’s more like that now that we’re grown. Today, he’s an attorney in Bowling Green.
          Eddie called one day and said we should take some time off, rent a Corvette, and drive along as much of the old Route 66 as we could find.
          It was a good time for me. I was scheduled to attend a meeting in Santa Fe and was able to arrange to take some vacation time before the meeting. We decided to drive to Santa Fe and fly back from Albuquerque.
          We met at the airport in Chicago, and went to the car rental place. They didn’t have any Corvettes, but we said we would take a Mustang which should provide nearly the same excitement as the guys used to have on the old TV series.
We waited and waited for them to bring us the Mustang. Finally we went to the checkout counter and asked what was the holdup.
          “Oh, we don’t have any Mustangs,” we were told. Turned out, they never did have them, which made it strange that they had told us to wait while they brought us one.
          We wound up in a Mercury Grand Marquis, not quite the same cool car we wanted but after a few days on the road we were happy we had the bigger, more comfortable auto.
          We joked, laughed, reminisced and had terrific opportunities to talk with people along the way. We took lots of photos, ate lots of food, and had lots of fun.
          We drove through Illinois, Missouri, probably part of Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, maybe Texas, New Mexico and I can’t remember all of the states.
          I believe we were spending this particular night in Joplin, Missouri.
          We went for dinner to a large barbecue place. The receptionist just inside the door was a buxom, beautiful young woman showing an adequate view of her cleavage.
          “How many in your party?” she asked.
          “Just the two of us,” we answered. “We couldn’t find anyone to have dinner with us.”
          “Aw, I can’t believe that, not for a couple of studs like you,” she said, clearly recognizing our studliness which we had not even been aware of before she brought it to our attention.
          If nothing else notable had happened the entire trip, we would have been floating above ground the rest of the way anyway, after having been acknowledged as a “couple of studs” by such an attractive woman.
          We left a good tip.
          Another overnight stop, perhaps in Oklahoma, and another dinner in a restaurant. The crowd had thinned out by the time we got there and our server – who was nowhere near as interesting visually as the receptionist in Joplin – seemed attracted to us, so she stopped by occasionally to talk.
          When we told her we were driving Route 66 to Santa Fe, she said she had lived there once.
          “I used to be married to a preacher,” she told us, “but I ran off with a younger man and we moved to Santa Fe. I had to leave eventually because he was abusing me and I didn’t like some of the abuse.”
          Neither Eddie nor I had the forwardness to ask her which abuse she did like.
          We talked with people at restaurants, gas stations, tourist stops, and each conversation was a great experience.
          We felt like family with the folks who lived and worked along the parts of the highway that we traveled.
          We didn’t always stay on the highway.
          Eddie had bought some maps that showed where original parts of the Mother Road still remain.
          He pointed to one side road and said that it was a part of that original road. I was a little suspicious when we crossed over a cattle grate onto a dirt road where the ruts had grass growing on both sides and in the middle.
          Suspicion grew when we drove through a herd of cattle, many of which stopped whatever they were doing and looked at us as if asking, “What are you doing out in this field.”
          Sharp dropoffs on both sides of the road into deep chasms, more grass in the ruts, no sign of any buildings within a few miles and we were getting confident this wasn’t part of the original Route 66.
          When the road ended at a barbed wire fence, just beyond which was the edge of the world, where it dropped off perpendicularly into a bottomless pit, we decided we’d better turn around and go back.
          The cattle were waiting there, expecting us. They knew we were lost.
          The greatest memory of the trip was at the Albuquerque airport, where we had plane reservations to fly back.
          That was at a time when airport security was really strict. I think they opened every bag.
          The line snaked around and around, with what seemed like hundreds of people.
          At one point, we allowed a group of folks to get in front of us. It was a young woman – very attractive, which probably is at least part of the reason we let them in – with five children.
          We talked with her and learned she was a social worker taking the Navaho brothers and sisters to relatives in Utah, removing them from an abusive situation at home.
          My heart melted when the youngest girl, probably around three or four years old, looked up into my eyes and smiled at me.
          We invited them to join us for lunch, which we purchased, and then we took them to the airport gift shop and let each child pick out something, which we bought.
          Our generosity was made possible in part because each of us had won $400 or $500 the day before at slot machines at a Pueblo casino near Santa Fe.
          We had such a good time with the children that it seemed almost like they were ours.
          Finally it was time for them to go to their gate and us to ours. Eddie and I both were shedding tears when they left.
          We were sitting at our gate talking about how intense our feelings were for the children when we looked up and saw them coming toward us.
          The social worker – Jennifer was her name – said she had never had anything like this happen before. When they were walking toward their gate, the children all said they wanted to come back and say goodbye to Eddie and Joe again.
          I probably don’t have to report that more tears fell when they left.
          Sometimes grown men have to cry.

A free lesson in anatomy

 

          When I began attending law school at the University of Tennessee in 1978, a good friend offered to let me live on his property rent-free.

          He was a surgeon and an avid outdoorsman. He had opened a boarding kennel near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where he also raised, trained and sold Labrador and golden retrievers.

          His offer was to let me live in a trailer on a hill overlooking the kennel.

          I didn’t want to feel like a freeloader, so I volunteered to help out at the kennel on weekends. On Saturdays I helped check in and care for dogs that were brought in for boarding. On Sundays, I cleaned the runs and fed the dogs and cats so no employee would have to come in on Sunday.

          At the time, I had dogs of my own, including Puke and Dammit, my pair of Chesapeake Bay retrievers. I’ll tell more about them in another story. I also had Dracula, a Doberman pinscher. Puke had a litter of six pups while we were living there.

           As a result, I was a frequent customer of one of the local veterinarians, Dr. Mickey McArthur, who had a clinic alongside Oak Ridge Turnpike.

          Working at the kennel on weekends gave me the opportunity to get to know quite a few dogs and their owners.

          On this particular day I had taken the puppies to Dr. McArthur’s to have them checked for worms.

          Sitting in the waiting room, I recognized a woman who was a regular customer at the boarding kennel.

          She and her doctor husband owned a basset hound, a purebred male dog of good quality.

          I acknowledged her presence with the dog, whom I’ll call George because I can’t remember his actual name.

          “Well, what are you and George doing here?” I asked. “Is it time for his shots?”

          “Oh no,” she replied. “I’m here to get George ‘fixed’.”

          Just hearing that kind of talk will make any red-blooded man press his legs together in a reflexive protective response, and it had that effect on me.

          “I don’t understand why you would do something like that to such a fine specimen of basset masculinity as George,” I said to her.

          “Well, we keep George in our fenced-in back yard,” she explained to me. “There are other dogs in the neighborhood, including some female dogs, and George keeps digging out. He’ll dig a hole under the fence and take off, and we have to track him down and bring him back.

          “We fill in the hole he dug, but he just digs another one and takes off again. We decided to stop that by having him fixed.”

          “Lady, he’s your dog and I guess you can do whatever you want to him,” I told her, “but I gotta tell you … that ain’t what he’s diggin’ with.”

Why the American Kennel Club let me name my dog Dammit

 

          Puke came first.

          During my macho period after I had served in the Army and the Navy, at first I rode around with my vicious attack Doberman, Tonga the Avenger. Except that he wasn’t vicious, he was a sissy and you can read about him in another story posted to this site.

          Eventually I decided an inanimate weapon might be more effective than the animate sissy weapon, so I bought a Ruger Blackhawk .44 magnum revolver and kept it beneath the front seat of my car. I even took it with me when I joined the Navy and spent a term at Guantanamo Bay.

          Time passed and nothing happened to justify my preparation for being accosted by bad guys.

          I was visiting my Aunt Nina in Paducah, Ky., and I saw an ad in the local paper, initially known as the Paducah Sun-Democrat but later they dropped the Democrat part and became the Paducah Sun.

          Someone in Paducah had a litter of Chesapeake Bay retrievers for sale.

          I didn’t have the money on me to buy one, but I went to a gun dealer and sold the Ruger for enough to buy a pup.

          I picked out a female of the deadgrass color.

          Within the first two or three blocks of our trip home, she threw up three times. Her name was an obvious choice.

          Back in Tennessee, I bought a male Chesapeake. He was one of the shades of red or liver.

          It was time to register him with the American Kennel Club.

          At that time, the AKC had you give two choices of names. I believe each choice had a total of 25 letters and spaces.

          Chesapeakes being a breed of dog that typically produce very independent, hard-headed individuals (which is one of the qualities I admire in the breed), the owner/trainer spends a lot of time saying damn it or dammit.

          “Come back here with that training dummy, damn it!” is a frequent shout.

          “Put down that decoy and go get the duck, damn it!” is something else a trainer might yell at his young Chesapeake.

          Naturally I decided to name my male something that he would be familiar with being called anyway.

          It was time to fill out the form.

          My first choice was Culver’s Cocoa Dammit.

          I don’t remember what the second choice was.

          Imagine my consternation and disappointment when the papers came back from AKC registering my dog with the second choice.

          As far as I knew, the AKC would not change its mind, but as the disappointment ate at me I decided to give it a shot anyway, so I wrote a letter to the AKC.

          “Dear AKC,” I started the letter, opting for the polite, respectful approach instead of an angry, threatening tone which I believed would result in their rejecting my plea.

          “I was disappointed to see that you chose my second choice as the name for my Chesapeake,” I continued.

          “I don’t think it could be because the name already was taken. I conclude, therefore, that you regard ‘Dammit’ as a profanity that you won’t accept as an official name.

          “But let me explain why I chose that name.

          “I live in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which is near Knoxville, which is the site of the TVA headquarters.

          “Anytime TVA sees a river, they decide that need to dam that river.

          “I chose the name ‘Dammit’ to honor TVA.

          “Therefore, please issue a new registration certificate with that name on it.”

          I didn’t expect the AKC to do it. I was writing to reduce the frustration at not having Dammit as the registered name.

          But it wasn’t long before I got a new certificate acknowledging the name Culver’s Cocoa Dammit as my dog’s official name.

          I don’t know if AKC had ever done that before but it gave me a warm feeling to know that when I yelled Dammit, it was both a name and a comment.

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© Joe W. Culver