Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Artie

(Originally run 12/23/03 on our old site)

Ernie Simpson

Arthur P. Russell was his name, and our class of ’57 lost him on April 15, 1991. I made two calls that day regarding Artie, one to the funeral home, and one to Frank Thompson. I asked the director at McCuen’s about details, and he said Artie was at work, and collapsed at his workstation. He was fifty-three.

The second call was to Frank, because he, like I, was not close to Artie, but had great admiration for his rebel attitude and no-nonsense approach to life. We both expressed mutual respect for the man, and sadness at his passing.

At our 40th reunion in 1997, I contributed some comments for the class booklet, one comment of which included Artie. Soon after the reunion in July, I got a letter from my friend, Cliff Wiggs from Little Rock (also class of ’57) with some wonderful observations and tribute to Artie, which, with Cliff’s permission, I will include as part of this little tribute to a man’s man, rough and tough, like John Wayne’s toilet paper. I kept the letter, because of Cliff’s and my friendship, and for the honor his comments paid to the man.

Cliff’s Christmas card a few days ago to Shelia and me reminded me of the letter. Excerpts are included below:

Little Rock, AR
July 13, 1997
Dear Ernest,

Just wanted to write a couple of lines in appreciation of the reunion. Linda and I enjoyed it so much. I don’t know when we have talked so much about any event; I think we’ve relived that night a hundred times.

I read your ‘reflections’ in the booklet, (what a great job on the booklet) and was both amused and saddened by some of the comments, especially those about Artie Russell. I trust you saw the pictures we made together during a visit in 1989.

Artie had mellowed a lot over the years. He’d gained a little weight, and his hairline had moved back a little, but he still had that half-moon smile, just like when he was a kid.

You mentioned his quickness to fight, and that is true. However, if you were his friend, he’d give you the shirt off his back. Before I married, I roomed with him a little while in Little Rock; he was working here and I was trying to find a job. He told me that if I got a job and stayed in Little Rock, he’d stay also; if not, he was going to join the Navy. I got an offer at the Shoe Factory in Searcy, moved back to Searcy, and Artie joined the Navy.

He would never allow me to put gas in his car (although I drove it all the time job hunting) or help buy groceries, nor help pay the rent. He was as goodhearted a person as I have ever seen in my life.

Concerning his fighting: I’ll never forget, he told me about walking down Main in Little Rock one evening, and some guys in a car came by yelling and making obscene gestures at him. He had done nothing to provoke it, and didn’t even know them. But he dared them to stop and get out of the car. They did, and he walked out in the middle of the street, and they fought it out, right there in the middle of Main Street.

He had on a brand new pair of Levis, but that was the only time he wore them. He gave them to me because he said they were too tight to fight in, and if they were too tight to fight in, they were too tight for him to be wearing.

Artie was a supervisor at the factory where he worked, and all the men liked him and were always playing jokes and pranks on him.

He longed for the day when he could move back to Arkansas.

You brought out all these thoughts in me and I guess that’s why I’m writing about them to you. I loved the man, and still miss him. There’ll never be another like him.

Hope you and yours are all well, we’re doin’ good. I’ve been at this job a long time, and Linda keeps the household going. Outside of Jesus Christ, she is the best thing that ever happened to me.

It was so great to see you, and I hope to see you again some day,

Your friend,
Cliff Wiggs

As we approach 2004, and the blessings we’ve shared in life, we are thankful that we all should be so lucky as to have friends like Clifton and Artie in our lives.

Ernie

1 Comments:

Blogger Harold said...

I'm Harold Cook. My family moved to Searcy when I was in the 3rd grade. My teacher, Mrs. Christian, assigned as my seat the other half of Artie Russell's seat. We became fast friends. Artie would fight anybody and protected me on several occasions. One day he told me that I could whip a certain boy and that if that boy ever gave me any guff that I should light into him.

My willingness to fight was all that was required. Thanks to Artie's 9 year old wisdom.

I also knew Cliff Wiggs. He and I palled around together in the 5th grade. ("L" bldg.). I loved the teacher but can't recall her name. Her son was in the class with us. She had come to Searcy from Center Hill.

Also in the class with us was Porter Rogers, not the doctor. Porter was already a working man--in the 5th grade. He delivered milk in the mornings before school.

He and I were friends for many years until I lost track of him in 1959 when I went back to California.

Cliff, if you remember me, e-mail me at 94honda@verizon.com. I live in the Dallas area.

5:43 PM  

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