Sunday, May 15, 2005


(Originally run 11/8/03 on the old site)

Tom Pry

My accomplice in this Journal of Homeless Memories is Ernie Simpson, a man on whom I have not laid eyes since 1956, when I graduated from Searcy High School, him a year behind me.

Ernie is not as wordy as am I but, like the legendary “still waters,” he occasionally Runs Deep; the rest of the time, his memories seem to come in small spurts, and from a totally different viewpoint than mine.

Here are some of his spurts.

Ernie Simpson - 1956 Posted by Hello
I KNOW about dirt roads. North Main, (used to be called route 5) was paved about 1951. Bobby Van Patten and I rode our bikes from Truman Baker's out to the bottom of 'junk pile hill,' where the pavement stopped. Ours were the first wheeled vehicles to roll on that new pavement. I thought that was a 'cool first.’

At the 4-way intersection two miles further north, was Ballew Community Church, now an Optimist Club building, the old church long gone. Yep, when you walk a dirt road, and a crowd of kids get off at the same place, you learn to get along, play marbles or fight, whichever is the order of the day.


Do you remember the great jingle played on the radio for Peck's Dog House, (remember, across from the Spring Park?) It featured Oran L. (Peck) Maness, with “Punky” Caldwell on clarinet. I think Peck did the singing. Just another notion to stir your rusty memory.

Peck's Hot Dogs (in a moderate four)

Peck's Hot Dogs, mmmm they're delicious,
Peck's Hot Dogs, you'll come-back-for-more,
Peck's Hot Dogs, mmmmm, they're nutritious,
There's a treatn', Always eatin' Peck's Hot Dogs! (clarinet: diddle-de-dum, dum, then a slow downward glissando)


I was just remembering valiant Uncle Albert Simpson. In WWII, Uncle Albert got two fingers shot off by a German machine gun, but destroyed the nest, and won a Silver Star. My Dad said later that Uncle Albert was tough in a fight, because the two fingers and stump of his right hand made a formidable weapon in a bar brawl!

Speaking of missing fingers, this is as good a place as any to throw in a memory that Ernie and I share, because it involves one of his contemporaries and close friends, Frank Thompson.

I’m not sure if Frank would qualify as a musical prodigy but, if not, he came close. By the time I first became aware of him, Frank was a freshman, and already first chair clarinet in the highly-regarded SHS band.

His clarinet playing came to an abrupt halt in the summer of 1954 (?) when Frank’s right hand got into a losing fight with a lawn mower, resulting in a surgically-excised middle finger.

Frank’s dad was faced with two choices: feed the kid’s (somewhat justified) self-pity … or get him mad.

Dad chose the latter course, implementing it with variations on “Well, since you can’t play clarinet with 9 fingers, I guess you’ll have to take up the trombone!” To a clarinetist, the though of being relegated to the “slush pump” was a fate worse than death.

Dad was relentless and merciless, occasionally seasoning his comments with doubts as to Frank’s ability to even make the switch, to the point where Frank screeched at him one day, “Alright, you get me the trombone and I’ll learn to play the damn thing!”

Dad did … and Frank did, to the point where he became first chair trombone before he graduated and, I heard, made All-State Band on it his senior year. Not at all bad, especially when you consider that the only thing the clarinet and the trombone share in common is that they’re both musical instruments: their music isn’t even written in the same clef.

In fact, the missing digit only seemed to slow Frank down in typing class and, at that, not much.

The 10-minus-1 arrangement, though, was not without its hazards. The story is told that Frank was up in Newport at a band thing, and riding around town with his buddies one night, in the passenger seat of the car they were in, when they were almost cut off by a car full of locals.

As the story is told, Frank instinctively, unthinkingly, went to give the miscreants the time-honored symbol of teenage road warriors, the well-known “finger” … totally forgetting that he no longer had a finger to give. His intended rude (some would say) gesture thus looked like a clenched fist, which to us was an invitation to a fight (“The Finger” was merely a social suggestion).

The cars stopped, the occupants of both climbed out, and it took some fancy talking on the part of Frank’s companions to avert a full-scale street brawl. However, the locals were not entirely without a sense of humor and, upon evidence of Frank’s fickle finger, there was laughter and parting in peace.

Strange the things you remember … and, between Ernie and me, we’ve got a pile of memories, not all of which are entirely socially acceptable.


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