What Satellite Radio Taught Me About My Father

This is an essay I entered in a contest as a tribute to my father, Amos (Gene) Pittman


Country music is me; it’s what I’ve grown up with, and it’s what I do—Scotty McCreery

Two years ago, I was driving to South Texas for some gigs and as usual had Sirius Satellite Radio tuned to Willie’s Roadhouse on Sirius Satellite. I’ve always enjoyed the station, but today something felt different. Every song for over an hour, one after the other, was a song I had heard my daddy do.  Those songs caused me to remember and realize some things about my father and the music that filled his life, and because I was his son, filled mine.

            Amos Pittman was a Haskell County Texas dry-land farmer’s son. He and his two brothers and sister had been raised hard, working the fields of his father’s dry-land farm.

By the time he graduated from high school, two important things happened: First, he learned to play guitar. He was left-handed, but he learned to play guitar right-handed. Second, he was drafted into the Army in the last days of World War II.  He was proud of being a veteran his whole life. When he was discharged, while visiting an Army friend, he met my mother, Jessie Fae, and they fell in love immediately and soon married. He was twenty and Jessie Fae was only fourteen.  They tried their hand at farming, but the brutal weather of West Texas, financial struggles, the never-ending work, and family conflicts caused them to pack up their few belongings in their 1933 Ford and seek their fortune in Dallas.

Amos found work right away in Dallas as a city bus driver, then with fleet service for American Airlines, which he worked for until he retired. I was born when my mother was seventeen and I grew up immersed in country music. Wherever he went, Daddy always had the car radio on, and to this day I can still hear the voice of Bill Mack in my head. In our Dallas home, Saturday evening was a consistent ritual of country music shows—Porter Wagoner, Wilburn Brothers, Panther Hall, Ernest Tubb and their guests—music that lasted until the evening ended with our watching “wrasslin.”

My father took me to country music concerts in Dallas when we could afford to go.  I still recall seeing Charlie Pride and other country greats at Panther Hall and the Sportatorium. I also remember him describing the heart-wrenching songs of George Jones, whom he saw once at a small dive in Dallas. He said Jones’ music touched him deeply, even though Jones was so drunk that night Jones had to lie down on the stage to sing.

Daddy played every venue he could, mostly charity events, and taught me to play guitar. He bought my brother a set of drums and we became his little band. My first guitar was a Silvertone electric ordered from a Sears catalog. The strings were set high, but I played hard every day till my fingertips bled and the callouses and muscle memory of a guitar player were formed. Daddy taught me to play by ear and in any key, and soon I had the same gift he had of being able to hear a country song and play it immediately. I played that catalog guitar with its Black Diamond strings every day, while Daddy picked his Fender Broadcaster.  As I learned to play fairly well, I’ve often thought he developed a country music version of the Suzuki method of music instruction.

Today as I sing along with the satellite radio songs, I realize how my Daddy must have had an amazing memory for song lyrics. I can’t explain why I can sing along with a song I hadn’t heard in twenty or more years, other than the fact I must have been so immersed in music as a child. Until his last years, I never saw Daddy sing from a notebook, though I know he must have at times. He knew virtually every song of Hank Williams, Jim Reeves and the other early country singers word-perfect. I started making a list of songs Daddy knew by memory and I stopped counting at 300. As a teen I moved into rock music, but as an adult I moved back to my roots in country music and was surprised to find that I too still had so many of those old songs memorized. Those old country songs hardwired in my memory make up most of the shows I do today.

When the new “pop” sounding country music came along, Daddy stuck with the classics, only occasionally adding a new ballad to his list.  He encouraged me to write songs and said he hoped that someday I would make a record.

Daddy died in 2011.  I inherited his guitars. The last song I heard him do was “Seven Spanish Angels,” at an Opry in Hendrix, Oklahoma, a year before the strokes and dementia robbed him of the gift of song and speech. I’ve made six CDs now, but my daddy never got to hear any of them.

Now, when I’m performing, dressed in cowboy hat and boots just like he usually wore, I always mention my father somewhere in the show.  I wish we could once again sing and play together on stage.  I wish I had paid more attention to him, learned more from him. Whenever I visited my mother and I’d strum on his guitar, she would often say, “Your daddy loved that song.”

Yes, it was Willie’s Roadhouse on Sirius XM that helped me reflect on my Daddy and the music he knew and loved.  Those were the songs that saturated my boyhood and that touched my memories and formed my heart and soul. Music that I still love.  Music that will always be with me and that the crowds I play to will also always hear.

Daddy lived in the age when AM radio, Saturday night country music TV shows and the 45 RPM records he could afford to buy were his teachers. I wish he could have experienced Satellite Radio and Willie’s Roadhouse. Every time I listen to that old music, in my mind, I can hear the twang of that Fender Broadcaster and my father singing those songs. The country music of satellite radio keeps the memory of my father alive in my heart.


Romance on the The Tamiami Trail

Romance on the Tamiami Trail: A short story by Rickey Pittman

   I had seen dynamite used in the movies and read about it in books, but the first time I actually saw dynamite in use was in Naples, Florida. I pulled my car over to watch the road construction men on Highway 30 as they followed a traveling dynamite drilling machine.  They would drop the lit stick of dynamite into a hole, drag the blasting map over the hole. The explosion wasn’t very loud, but it was effective in breaking up the limestone rock so the limestone can be used for a base for the road. I found this fascinating. I knew that over two million sticks of dynamite had been used building the Tamiami Trail. Three million had been used in Collier County to create the canals next to the highways. Much of the finances required for this infrastructure came about as a result of the ambition, determination, and resources of Barron Collier, a man blessed with a plethora of resources.

            I’ve always enjoyed South Florida—I would live there again if I could. I had only returned to see if I could convince my ex-girlfriend Tessa, to give our relationship another go. I loved this girl fiercely, with her porcelain skin and long black hair that in the sunlight shone like a halo. I had left South Florida and moved to Orlando, an area where a working musician can still make a living. I stopped at the Decadent Dessert Bar on Highway 30A, where Tessa was to meet me. I had performed here many times in the past.
The manager remembered me and asked if I could play for her lunch crowd.  I said, “Sure,” and I sat down with a cup of coffee and began to softly plunk on my guitar, searching for the right melody to fit my mood. I finally settle on a song about a man who compared his girl to an Everglades orchid. I sat at a table where I could see into the parking lot, and I saw her step out of her Corvette. Tall, slim and graceful, I felt something in my gut, and choked a bit on the words of the song I was singing.  She was dressed in flip-flops, denim shorts, and a flowery blouse. I had loved Tessa, and at this moment I realized I still loved her. I felt like I was a moth attracted to a candle (her), in danger of getting too close to what could destroy me. As she entered the cafe, I ended the song a verse early, set my Taylor guitar on its stand, and stood up. Tessa saw me and smiled, then hugged me.  We both sat down at my table.
“Sean, you came back.”
I thought this was stating the obvious. When we broke up, in anger I said I’d never come back to Collier County. Yet, here I was.  “Yes, I’m back. Thank you for coming to meet me.”  I ordered our coffees—a frozen mocha frappé for her,           a double espresso for myself.
“How is your work in Orlando?”
“It’s good. Gigs nearly every night. Pay is good. Better than here.”
“Why did you come back, Sean?”
“I wanted to see you. That’s all.”
I didn’t answer right away. I suddenly felt that nothing I could say would come out right. She looked at me and raised one eyebrow, indicating she expected an answer.  “Tessa, I’m not really sure what happened between us. After I left, I realized how much I missed you, needed you. I was hoping we could try again.”
Then she said something that any man who wants the love of his life back doesn’t want to hear.
“I’m seeing someone else now, Sean. He’s a good man and I care for him greatly. He’s an architect. And yes, we are living together.”
“So what happened between us, Tessa?”
“You blew up what we had. You were never around me. You stayed out late with your music gigs, slept late, you drank too much, and when I did go with you for your music, it was horrible. Do you know what it feels like to drive an hour or more to where you’re playing, watch you set up your sound system, sit alone and listen to you for three hours, then watch you pack your stuff, and then have to face a long drive home. Not exactly what you’d call a fun girl’s night out.”
She had a point.
She continued. “Besides, I don’t think it would work if we did get back together. I could give up my present boyfriend, but you’re not going to give up your music. I do believe you love me, and I still care for you deeply, but the road between us has been torn up. We’ve hurt each other too badly to travel down that messy path again. You would just blow it all up again. And now, I need to go, Sean.”
I asked a server to take our picture with my cell phone. We stood with our arms around each other. It was a feeling I remembered.  I figured the photo would give me something to ponder—or cry over.
I watched her leave and drive away, just as I heard the road crew set off another stick of dynamite.

Orphanage Road: A ghost story from the RIO GRANDE VALLEY

Orphanage Road by Rickey Pittman

            Highway 77 runs from Corpus Christi to Brownsville, Texas. The road is surrounded by a rich history and legends, and many ghosts. As one enters Willacy County, he or she will pass Orphanage Road. As I knew of no orphanage in operation in the area, I decided to investigate and see how the road obtained its name.

My research revealed that shortly after World War I, Willacy County had assigned fifty black orphans of the Rio Grande Valley to the care of a couple running an orphanage. My research revealed that the orphans must have had a sad life. Ever since the years after the War Between the States, the black families in the Rio Grande Valley were ostracized socially. They lived in isolation, sometimes in fear, but always striving to live unnoticed by the whites and Hispanics who ran the Valley.  World War I took many of the black fathers of the Valley.  Spanish Flu killed the remaining mothers and the surviving children were collected by Willacy County and sent to the Black Orphanage. Though the children were cared for, the routine of life was difficult for the orphans. Their life there was a one room schoolhouse approach to learning, endless chores, and strict discipline.

            Then there was the terrible fire that killed forty-nine of the orphans.

I finally found a survivor of that fire–Hattie.  She agreed to meet me at the site of the orphanage.  Under a black ebony tree, I studied the ruins of the burned-down dormitory that had once been a home for her and for forty-nine others.  Beyond that was a cornfield and one large live oak in the center of the field. Hattie’s caretaker drove her from Raymondville to meet me. Hattie was old now, nearly eighty years old but with the help of her crutch was still mobile.

After we made proper introductions, Hattie said, “So, you want to know about our orphanage. I’ll tell you more than you want to know. Maybe more than you should know.”

What follows is the story she told me.

*           *           *

“After the fire, I first thought Celia survived.  We were best friends. From time to time we would sneak out from their dormitory at night to walk and play in the woods or the cornfield behind the orphanage. Celia always seemed nervous in the cornfield. ‘There’s a Devil’s Tree there,’ she said. ‘With a door. If you ever go near that tree, don’t open that door.’

“‘Trees ain’t got doors, I told her.

‘Some trees do have doors. And once you go in, it’s mighty hard to get out. The Devil’s Tree won’t let you go.’

“One night Celia told me at supper we wouldn’t be able to sneak out because she was going to run away from the orphanage.

“ ’Is that why you is dressed up, Celia’? I said. Celia was all gussied up in a blue calico dress with a red bow in her hair. Nows that I think about it, that was the last time I remember seeing her.

“I thought Celia was kidding about running off and dozed off that night, but later I awoke when she heard something. It sounded just like a window opening.  There was just enough moonlight for me to see the open window behind Celia’s bed and the bed was empty too. I went to that window and called out, ‘Celia? Celia, where are you?’

“I slipped out the window and into the cornfield behind the orphanage. I could hear the rustling cornstalks as Celia moving through the field ahead me. The cornstalks behind her snapped in the cold evening breeze.  I ran faster to try to catch up. I found myself in front of that oak tree you can still see from the road. The wind was blowing real hard and swirling around my bare feet.  Then, I lost her bearings and didn’t know where I was.  I wanted to find Celia, but when I heard hourly bell of the orphanage I thought about returning. I eased on up to that gray-barked oak tree with endless arms and fingers. It’s Celia’s Devil Tree, I thought.

“I could see Celia’s name carved on the tree. I touched it and the bark felt warm.  And, as I stared at it, the tree seemed to open and I passed out.

“I woke near dawn, and for a moment I still couldn’t remember where I was.  Crazy houghts rushed into my mind, one after the other.  Then it came back to me: Celia had run away and I had followed her into the cornfield and to the Devil’s Tree.  I decided I better get myself back to the orphanage.

“When I stood up, I saw black smoke rising from the direction of the orphanage. I ran as fast as I could back to the orphanage, only to find it all burned up.. Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the orphanage director and his wife, were talking to the Sheriff and so I ran up to them.  The director’s wife said, “There’s Hattie! At least one made it out alive! Hattie, oh Hattie . . .”

“I asked them what happened.”

            ‘A fire, Hattie,’ the director said. ‘All the other orphans were lost.’

“No, not all,” I said. “I followed Celia out the open window. She was running away and I wanted to bring her back. ”

“The director shook his head and he said. ‘Hattie, we found Celia. She died with the others.’

I set down my pen. “I’m so sorry, Hattie.”

Hattie said, “They dug her a grave with the other orphans, but I don’t think she’s gone. Deep down I think she’s still with us and always will be in some way.”

 “I hope so, Hattie.”

In the weeks following, I interviewed as many as I could, but no one knew how the fire started, only that forty-nine orphans died. There’s not much written about the orphanage either—no court records, no diaries, no letters. One night I was driving into Harlingen and passed Orphanage Road. I went to the next exit and turned around.  Something bothered me and I felt no peace. I turned onto Orphanage Road from 77 and as I drew near to the site of the orphanage, I passed a little black girl on the side of the road, waving to me. She wore a blue calico dress and had a red bow in her hair. I hit the brakes and turned the car around, but found no little black girl. Only a thick mist that faded out into the cornfield. I  pointed my car’s headlights into the cornfield and could just barely see the twisted, gnarled limbs of an oak in the distance.

I’ve driven down Orphanage Road several nights since then. And every time, I’ve passed the same little girl on the side of the road, but she’s never there when I turn around.

Rickey Pittman, Bard of the South

Pine Knot’s Last Prayer

Pine Knot cursed and popped the back of the lead mules again with his whip. “Damnation, what is wrong with you mules today?  You poke along like I’m taking you to a funeral.  I got to get these pumpkins up to Jacksoboro and I don’t have time to fool with you.  Ought to sell every durn one of you and buy some oxen.  What do you think, Hank?”

            “Uh huh,” Hank said.  He lifted the water jug to his lips and drank deeply.

            “Go slow on the water, Hank.  I’d like to have some. Hank, you should spit out your tobacco before you take a drink. Swallowing that tobacco juice will make you sick.”

“Uh huh.” Hank set the empty jug down.

“Never you mind, Hank. At Howard Creek Road we’ll refill it at the spring. That is, if these durn mules will cooperate.  Go on, mules!”

At the spring, Pine Knot stopped the wagon and studied a line of Indians in the distance.  “Ah, hell, Hank. We best get out of here.”  The road was too narrow and the terrain too rock covered to turn the team around where he sat, but he saw a wider area ahead where he ought to have enough room to circle back the other direction, so he eased the team on, hoping that if he didn’t pay them no mind, the raiders wouldn’t be interested in their scalps or the mules.

Hank stood, leaned forward slightly and peered at the Indians.  He drew his imaginary pistol, pointed it at the Indians, and started firing.

“You sit yourself down, you idgit, afore you get them riled up.  Put up your pistol, Hank.  They might not can tell you don’t have a real one.”

Hank sat down, but the Indians started slowly moving their way, and Pine Knot guessed that since their hair was cut short on the right side of their shoulders they were Kiowa.  He muttered, “God in heaven, I wish I was Elijah and could call fire down from heaven on these heathen.”   The wagon had nearly turned completely around.

Hank stood up and turned to face the Kiowa.  One hand held the reigns of a horse long ago shot out from under him and in the other, his imaginary pistol blazed away like he remembered it doing at Chickamauga.

Pine Knot cursed his luck.  His shotgun lay right next to him, but he knew that its two shots would be all he could fire if they attacked.  He wouldn’t have time to reload the muzzleloader and the Indians would cut them to pieces.  “Durn it to hell,” he said.  “How’d I get stuck here with one shotgun and an idiot with an imaginary pistol?  God, don’t let us die! Make them go away.  I want to keep my hair!”

War whoops and the pounding hooves of horses revealed the answer to his prayer.

Climbing Mount Baldy

A boy and a man both climb Mount Baldy

“The Child is father of the Man”—Wordsworth

My favorite day in nature happened twice on the same mountain.  As a Boy Scout, I was the only boy in our troop in Dallas to be sent to Philmont Scout Ranch.  My early years of reading had fueled my passion for history and the wilderness, and though I had gained some camping experience in scouts already, this was the camping trip that would give me my finest and favorite day in nature.

            The Philmont experience took our Dallas busload of young campers on a two-week trek through the Philmont Scout Ranch. We hiked a total seventy-two miles through various terrains.  Passing other hiking groups struggling with their uncooperative burros, we were glad we chose to carry our gear in. I tried to observe everything I could—tracks of animals, trail signs, the types of trees and while many boys kept their tired eyes on their tired feet, I kept looking ahead for the various birds and wildlife I knew lived on the Philmont Ranch.

The high point of our trip (pardon the pun) was climbing Mount Baldy, the third highest mountain in New Mexico.  It was not an easy climb, even for athletically inclined teenage boys. We followed the switchbacks, stopping every so often to catch our breath. We finally snaked our way to the rocky bald top.

            At the top, the misty, cold, and stiff wind greeted us. The panoramic view was amazing. Our guide pointed out the five states we were looking down on. Bighorn sheep approached us and ate trail mix from our hand. On the summit, I picked a few small delicate flowers, intending to dry them and keep all my life as a reminder of this mountain experience.

            Laurel Bleadon-Maffei said, “I found my heart upon a mountain I did not know I could climb, and I wonder how many other pieces of myself are secreted away in places I judge I cannot go.” I think I found and touched, or the mountain I climbed found and touched, secret places in me that I didn’t know were there.

            I said in my introduction that my favorite day happened twice on the same mountain. When I was forty, I climbed Mount Baldy again. In 1990, I decided it was time to reinvent myself. I floundered with selling jobs for a while, but I got a real break when I was offered a scholarship at Abilene Christian University. I knew it was time to reinvent myself. One of the classes I elected to take was backpacking. The final part of this course was a week’s camping trip in the mountains of New Mexico, close to, but not on the Philmont Scout Ranch.  We walked fifty-two miles in our trek.

One day of that trip was devoted to climbing Mount Baldy. Once again, I followed the switchbacks up that mountain, stopping every so often to catch my breath in the thinning mountain air. The stiff, misty cold wind increased as we climbed. At the summit, our class shared a canned Dr. Pepper and took our group photos. Once again, I looked at the five states about me. Once again, I fed gorp (trail mix) to the Bighorn sheep that greeted us near the summit. I don’t know the life expectancy of such sheep, but perhaps they were the same herd, or perhaps descendants of the ones I had seen as a teen. Once again, I picked the same type of small delicate mountain flower. The one I had picked as a teen had vanished somehow somewhere in my wild teenage years, and I vowed that I would not lose this one.

Now, many years after that last climb of Mount Baldy, in the window of my mind I can still see that mountain, the teenage boy who struggled to its summit and the forty-year-old man on a search to reinvent himself yet once again.  Both the first and second flowers I picked on that mountain are lost to me, but that day, that day in two parts, will never be lost.

The Mad Mounty of Mystery Mountain: A short story by Rickey Pittman


Beth’s two children were laughing as they tried to catch the red leaves raining down upon them. A cold wind brought the promise of frost by morning and she shivered as she herded the children to stay on the narrow path. A fall in the river would be dangerous this time of year. She cursed herself for taking this assignment from her publisher. Some vacation. Her assignment? She was to write a story about the legendary Mad Mountie of Mystery Mountain. Preferably, he wanted her to find and photograph the man as well as collect anecdotes. So far, she had found a few who had seen him, or whose parents had seen him, but few details. The legend claimed that he had been sent years ago to Mystery Mountain to find an escaped criminal who now lived wild in the woods of British Columbia with the Spirit Bears, rare white-coated black bears. The Mountie, who had twenty years of experience with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, had not found the criminal and in fact, had never returned to duty, though he had been seen many times. It was thought that the assignment and the vast solitude of the Canadian forests had made him crazy.
The woods can do that sometimes.
As Beth walked on, she glanced up, and she instinctively reached for the children’s hands. A man in a faded Red Serge, the dress tunic of the Mounties that had once dripped with its scarlet red color, was approaching. As he drew near, he showed a toothless grin, tipped his worn, felt campaign hat politely, and said, “I haven’t met anyone on this path in several years. I am Owen McKenzie, with the Royal Canadian Police, at your service.”
“I am pleased to meet you, Owen.” Beth contemplated the faded blue breeches and could just barely see the yellow stripe indicating the cavalry history of the Mounties. Physically, she could tell that the years had not been good to him. She wondered if serendipity had worked its magic and she had been led by fate to find the legendary, Mad Mountie. “I am Beth Cameron, and these are my children. I’m a reporter and I’m on a working vacation. I would love to talk to you about your work with the RCP. I would so appreciate this favor.”
Owen said, “It’s been such a long time since I’ve talked to anyone. The day is getting late. I assume you walked up from the cabins at the Mystery Mountain Park and we should return there now while there is light. I’ll be happy to answer any questions, though I may have a favor of my own to ask of you.”
“I will be glad to honor any favor you may ask,” Beth said. As they returned on the path they had started on, Beth decided to start gathering information. “You know people say you are mad.”
He nodded. “Yes, sometimes I think the same thing.”
“Where do you live?” Beth asked.
“In a tent in the woods. For many years I’ve traveled throughout British Columbia searching for the escaped brother of Gilbert Paul Jordan. But he has proved to be elusive. Have you heard of him?”
Beth replied, “I’ve heard of Jordan, but not his brother. Didn’t they call him the Boozing Barber? He liked to prey on Native American women in Vancouver’s skid row.”
Owen said, “His brother had the same evil in him. I was sent to find him and bring him in, and I vowed to never return to duty until I do. You know what they say about us Mounties?”
“You always get your man?”
“Yes, we always get our man, though as it’s been said, not always quietly. And I’ve got him cornered this time. He will certainly be going back to prison very soon.”
At the cabin, Owen helped her start a roaring fire. Beth made a pot of tea and warmed up a soup she had made the day before. After they had eaten, she put the kids to bed on their cots. They begged Owen to tell them a story of his adventures.  He told them of his first sighting of the Spirit Bear and how the Native Americans had deliberately not shared with the white settlers the knowledge of these creatures who lived deep in the dark and quiet recesses of the Canadian forest. Jordan’s brother had found them too and become attached to them. Owen said he could count on Jordan to always return to the parts of the forest where they lived. When the kids had drifted to sleep, Owen said he must excuse himself and return to his tent.
“Will we talk again?” Beth asked.
“No, but I will still count on you to grant me the favor I’m going to ask of you.”
“Anything. What is it?
“You will know in the morning. Goodnight, Beth.”
The cabin’s fire had died to ashes, and when Beth woke in the morning, she revived it. She opened the cabin door and gasped at what she saw. Lying on the porch, bound hand and foot was a bearded man with a note pinned to his jacket. The note read:
Beth: Here is Jordan’s brother. Call the Royal Canadian Police at 911.They will assist you. Tell them that Owen McKenzie always gets his man.

Tuesday’s Tale, April 26, 2022 If You’re Gonna Be Dumb, You Gotta Be Tough!

Today’s Tuesday’s Tale will focus on education (both academic and life education). This is the last week in the spring semester for the two colleges I work with: the University of Louisiana at Monroe and Delta Community College. Both are fine schools and I’ve worked as an adjunct for several years, teaching mostly Freshman Composition. It never fails that in the last days of the semester, the smelling salts of reality wake some students from their stupor and lack of involvement in my course. The excuses flood my inbox, and I can feel the desperation in their futile pleas for extensions ( I never give extensions at the end of a course), for makeup work (allowed only in a short window of time and only for college-approved reasons) and for extra credit work, which I never give. I’m sure some of them will have a good cry when I firmly reject their request. Perhaps they will realize that not all teachers are pushovers, that the lost opportunities to learn and improve themselves, the time and money wasted as they partied and tip-toed through the Tulips is is a high price they didn’t anticipate. Experience isn’t always the best teacher, but it is often the hardest teacher.
The best advice I can give my students is expressed in these lines by Roger Alan Wade:
If your gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough
When you get knocked down you gotta get back up,
I ain’t the sharpest knife in the drawer but I know enough, to know,
If your gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough!

Beau and the Hurricane: A Short Story by the Bard of the South

Beau and the Storm . . .

Marie checked the barometer on her porch wall and saw the air pressure had dropped suddenly, dropped so low that she heard the next-door neighbor’s car windows pop.  The wind began to wail. Yawning to pop her ears, she glanced out the cabin window, and saw dark purple storm clouds racing over the hill. It looked like a bad one.  The news casts warning Louisiana residents of the storm caused her to remember Hurricane Rita. That hurricane created a tidal wave from the Gulf that had reached Lake Charles ten miles north of her, and along with the high winds, the 400 recorded tornados, these storm factors demolished every building and house in Rita’s path and spawned 400 recorded tornadoes.  The authorities did find one Brahma bull that had managed to find a cheniere to survive in. Marie hoped she wouldn’t have to experience that with this storm as she was pessimistic that she could be as lucky as that one bull.

            Remembering her Catahoula Cur puppy was still outside, she ran to the door, opened it and called him, “Beau! Come here.”  When he didn’t appear, she dashed outside and found him frantically digging at the dirt near the rickety fence. “Beau, what on earth are you doing? You get yourself up here right now.”  Beau looked back at her, whined, and after he continued digging for a moment, ran to her and stood before her in a defensive position as if he wanted to protect her from the dark clouds moving their way. A blast of warm gulf air slapped her in the face and that was when she knew she and Beau had little time before the storm.

            After she filled two gallon-jugs with drinking water from the tap and made what she knew might be her last cup of Community coffee, her houselights flickered a few times, and then she and Beau were plunged into darkness. Her cell phone and landline phone were dead.

            “At least I have you with me, Beau. We’ll be alright.” She glanced up at the Heart of Jesus painting, and kissed the rosary hanging from her neck.  “I’ll fix us some supper and then we’ll hunker down for Hurricane Diane coming our way.” Beau was her best friend these days. She was so happy she had bought him from Mr. Johnson her neighbor.

            She poured Beau a bowl of Blue Buffalo Chicken and Brown Rice food and opened a can of tuna for herself that she ate with crackers. She taped the windows with giant X’s to help minimize the danger of flying, shattered glass.  The temperature had dropped, so she and Beau cuddled together in the Lazy Boy chair in her living room. She listened to the whoosh and whistling of the wind, then that same wind pounded her house like her home was a drum and made a roaring sound like an angry beast.  She heard strange thunderclaps and crackling lightning above them.  Her house seemed to be holding up well under the strain, so after nearly two days without sleep, she drifted off.

            She woke when the tin roof was ripped off and the house was torn apart wall by wall. She woke briefly but passed out again when a cypress board slammed against her head.

            Marie woke many hours later, covered by boards and wallpaper covered sheetrock. The storm sounds were gone, and she was enveloped in a strange silence. She called out for Beau. “Beau, where are you?  I hope you weren’t hurt.”  As she pushed off some of the boards and detritus, she saw her whole house was gone, and it seemed Beau was too. She tried to stand, but couldn’t, noticing her legs were bloodied and one leg was twisted in a strange shape. She managed to crawl toward where the door used to be, and she cried as she looked out at her yard. The picket fence Beau had dug at had mostly been taken away somewhere, and her fruit trees were twisted as badly as her leg. “What am I going to do?” she said to herself.

            It was then she heard Beau’s familiar bark. She managed to rise up enough to see Beau running to the house, followed by her nearest neighbor, Howard Broussard. Broussard reached her, raised her slightly and said, “Don’t worry, cher. We will help you. I’ll get my truck and we’ll get you to the doctor. ”

            “How did you know I needed help?” she asked.

            “Why that Beau of yours, he come to my house and he bark and bark and grabs my pant legs and pulls on me till I follow him. I see now why he wanted me to follow him. I think you have a smart dog there.”

            Marie hugged Beau. “He is a good, smart dog, a good friend.”

            Beau wiggled out of Marie’s arms and went out to what remained of the picket fence and started digging again.

            “Why does Beau like to dig around that fence, Mr. Johnson?”

            “I don’t know for sure, cher. Dogs, especially the smarter ones I’ve owned, all seem to have little quirks. His mama used to dig like that too. I never did figure out what she was looking for.  Don’t let Beau’s digging  bother you much.”

            “Beau saved me, Mr. Johnson. I bet if I could read his mind, he’d see some things about me he doesn’t understand.”

When the Seminole Met Shakespeare

When the Seminole Met Shakespeare

                        Death . . . The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns.—from Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Lt. William Tecumseh Sherman once described Fort Picolata as a beautiful place. Shaded by giant live oaks, with a calming vista of the St. Johns River, the calm and peaceful setting was a contrast to much of war-torn Florida. The fort had a single sentry house surrounded by a palisade of split pine logs. Picolata rested on the site of a now-vanished twice-built Spanish fort that had also been garrisoned by the British.  Inside the fort now were a few civilians who had fled for safety from nearby plantations, the fort’s soldiers and the beginnings of a wooden hospital. Outside the palisade were friendly Seminoles camping and an area with rows of crude crosses marking many graves of soldiers who had fallen to diseases or who had died at the hands of the Seminole last summer.

When  Williams C. Forbes and his theatre troupe disembarked on May 22, 1840, he must also have thought about the beauty about him. After two years managing his theatres in Savannah and Augusta, he was ready for his two-week tour to St. Augustine to increase his earnings. St. Augustine was only 18 miles away following a fairly decent road. Though he had toured extensively in America, Florida was undiscovered country for him, but he had heard how St. Augustine had swelled with soldiers and citizens recently in population due to the Seminole War. He was counting on the citizens to be hungry for entertainment, which was exceedingly rare in the frontier in the best of circumstances.

His troupe were experienced and hardened travelers, familiar with the repertoire which included Hamlet, Othello, Julius Caesar, Richard III, and the always good for a laugh,  Honeymooners. Tonight at Fort Picolata, he intended to perform Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. After introductions to the fort’s officers and a fine supper of venison and vegetables, he directed his stagehands to set up their simple set and prepare the props as the actors donned their costumes. The fort’s commander agreed to allowed Forbes to use a drummer and fifer in the play.

Scattered nearby the staging area were a bonfire, several beacon-lights and candle lanterns for illumination. As night spread its dark veil, Forbes looked up at the stars blanketing the sky, at the thin sliver of a waxing moon, and the ghostly white shroud of moon flowers in the distance covering the tops of many trees. Soldiers, civilians, and Indians sat on the ground or stood to see the play.  For many in the audience, this was their first play and certainly their first experience to Shakespeare performed by professional actors.

They began with a veil dance by Miss Rosalee, accompanied by Mr. Wegher on his violin. As she whirled and pranced about, she would fix her eyes on a soldier in a flirtatious manner and then glide over to another.

With himself as Hamlet, Rosalee as Ophelia, Fanny Isherwood as the Queen, and Thomas Lyne as Horatio, and using the secondary actors for other parts, they plunged into the dark tragic world of Hamlet’s Denmark.  With the dead were scattered on the ground around him, Horatio (Mr. Lyne) closed out the play saying, “Take up the bodies: such a sight as this shows much amiss . . . .

The drummer began a death march. At first there was a soft silence, enhanced only by the night sounds of crickets, tree frogs and loud hoots of an owl. Then there was applause and cheers. The dead Danes arose and lined up around Forbes and they bowed.

“Goodnight to all,” Forbes said with a flourish.

*           *           *

The next morning, after a breakfast of coffee, hardtack, and cornmeal mush, the troupe packed for their short journey on the straight and relatively smooth road to St. Augustine. Forbes, the Isherwoods and two actresses boarded a borrowed stagecoach.

“Isn’t Florida beautiful! And what a wonderful morning,” Fanny said. “Absolutely inspiring!”

The other actors loaded a wagon loaded with the costumes, props and set materials followed behind, with a FORBES ACTING COMPANY sign mounted on the wagon’s side. About seven miles outside St. Augustine, with the stagecoach long out of sight, the slower moving wagon was ambushed by Seminole warriors led by Wild Cat and John Horse.  As was their custom, the Seminole loosed  deadly rifle fire when the travelers came into range.

In the first volley, Mr. Miller, who had hitched a ride on the wagon to St. Augustine, the secondary actor Vose, were killed immediately. The German musician Wegher attempted to flee but was shot as he stopped and begged in vain for his life in German. The black driver and G.C. Germon were able to hide in the palmetto scrub. Thomas Lyne hid in a hammock and spent a miserable night in a tree, and that morning set out on the road and caught up with Germon and they walked until they found soldiers at Fort Searle.  Mr. Hagan, one of the drivers, hid until dark and somehow made his way to a nearby plantation owned by an Army Colonel.

The Seminole lost interest in the ones who had escaped the sudden and savage attack and set to plundering the wagon for the spoils of war. They broke open the luggage and with whoops and laughter began trying on the troupe’s colorful costumes, medallions, and bling jewelry and applying the troupe’s makeup to their faces. One retrieved a huge sword and chased another around the wagon, poking him playfully in the arse. Another, donning a beaver-skin top hat, found a jug of whiskey which was passed freely around the war party. The warriors were silent for a moment, then nodded and grunted in approval when Wildcat, wearing a Viking helmet, held up Yorick’s skull and whispered words of death to it.

While the Seminole in their new tunics, bloomers, sashes, various women’s clothes, and buckled shoes were enjoying their parody of Shakespeare, another wagon with a driver and three passengers from St. Augustine approached the macabre scene. These travelers too were quickly attacked by the crazed players cast to play parts directed by the demon-fueled Florida war. Francis Medicis, the mail carrier, was killed along with A. Ball, a carpenter from Massachusetts.  The third passenger and the black driver escaped on foot to Fort Searle.  As soon as the news reached St. Augustine, a militia was sent out to hunt the raiding Seminole and to retrieve the bodies of the slain. As usual, no Seminole were found. They had simply vanished again into the trackless Florida wilderness.

The Seminole thespians were seen in their Shakespearean costumes on several occasions many months later: Wildcat in the turban and robes of Othello, another in the royal purple and ermine robe of Richard III, and others decked out in the crimson vests, tunics, and plumes of Forbes’ troupe.

Forbes and his troupe who made the trip safely, the residents of Saint Augustine, and the soldiers who saw Wildcat and others in their wild Shakespearean garb, never forgot the images planted in their minds when the Seminole, in the wild and savage Florida war, transformed themselves into characters from Shakespeare’s tragedies. And each time one would read a selection from Hamlet out loud, they would remember, and he or she would retell the story of the Massacre of the Theatre Troupe in an undiscovered country.












Meet the author: Rickey Pittman at the Basin Book Fair in Midland, Texas

As the flier below shows, I’ll be at the Basin Book Fair in Midland, Texas on April 9, 2022. I scanned some websites about the value of book fairs in general and here’s what I discovered:

  1. Book fairs in our nation  put millions of books into the hands of children and also helps schools obtain resources needed to promote reading and literacy.
  2. Book fairs are happy events for educators, parents, and children. Memories are stimulated and new reading and technological discoveries are made.
  3.  Book fairs provide an opportunity to meet authors.
  4. We are sick of virtual events, and this event is a chance to have a bookish experience in real life.

I hope you will consider visiting this event! It looks like it will be great fun!