Twist, B.B. King, & Lucille

On State Highway 42 in the Delta region of far northeast Arkansas is an almost deserted little town named Twist. As unlikely as it sounds, a little known incident in Twist led to a name all blues fans know.

One night in the mid-1950s, B.B. King, was performing at a club in Twist, Arkansas when two men got into a fight over a woman named Lucille and knocked over a kerosene stove. A fire resulted and in his haste to escape, King left his guitar inside the burning building. Not having money to replace it, he ran back inside to retrieve it and narrowly escaped death. From then on, as a reminder to never do such a foolhardy thing again and to never get into a fight over a woman, he has named all of his guitars Lucille. When he was 82-years-old, King said, “About 15 times a lady has said, ‘It’s either me or Lucille.’ And that’s why I’ve had 15 children by 15 different women.”

I'm not a huge fan of the blues, but I certainly know of B. B. King, have listened to his songs and have heard of his guitars named Lucille. When I saw an interview with him and he told the story of what happened in Twist, I decided to go see Twist for myself. Normally I make these little adventures by myself or sometimes with a male friend for company, but this time and much to my surprise, my wife and youngest daughter agreed to go with me and we made it a family outing. Heck, we even took along Riley the Wonder Dog.

Twist is about 2 1/2 hours by twisty back roads from my home. It's not that long if you take the interstate, but unless forced  by circumstances beyond my control, interstates are not for me. From Wooster, we passed through such bustling suburbs as Rose Bud, Bald Knob, Hickory Ridge, Cold Water, BirdEye, and Cherry Valley before arriving in Twist.

We arrived in Twist on a Saturday afternoon at 1:30 to find that except for two old dogs, the town was deserted. To call Twist a "town" is extremely optimistic. We saw not another car on the little 2-lane road during the last 15 minutes of driving there and never saw a another person in the 30 minutes we were there.

The Twist guard dog.
Even the two dogs were bored with the pace of life there. One of them laying beside the road gave one little bark when I pulled up within 10 feet of him and his buddy, but when I got out of the car with my camera, he decided I wasn't worth the effort and never moved from his comfy spot in the shade of a fence post. His buddy, perhaps a little more bored with being bored, got up and ambled across the street toward me. He barked a few times and then when I ignored him, he slowly angled away until laying down again in the side yard of one of the few houses that looked like someone might actually live there.

Sleepy town of Twist
Unfortunately the club where it all happened is apparently long gone as I could find no traces of it nor any resident old-timer to ask. I drove through town, but not a creature was stirring and when I came back through and stopped to take a few more pictures, even the lone watch-dog that was on the job just laid there in the grass, one eye open, watching me for a few seconds before ignoring me completely.

I guess Twist used to be a lot more than it is today, just another faded relic of times gone by with an interesting story to tell that begins with, "At one time..."

Postcard From War Eagle Mill

In northwest Arkansas, the prettiest part of the state in my opinion, a few miles east of Bentonville, home of Wal-Mart, and Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas, and only 25 miles southwest of Eureka Springs is one of the few surviving water-powered grist mills, the only working mill in Arkansas, and what is thought to be the one and only under-shot (the water flows under the wheel instead of over it) water powered mill in the whole U.S. of A. War Eagle Mill is situated in a wonderfully peaceful rural setting; wooded with some open fields, the War Eagle Creek running beside it (which powers the 18-foot cypress water-wheel) and a wooden-decked single-lane bridge crossing the flowing water.

The history of the mill began in 1832 when the first one was built by an 19-year-old man and his wife,  Sylvanus and Catherine Blackburn after he came upon the site while traveling west looking for a spot to build a home and raise a family. A talented builder he was as the home he built in 1831 is still standing and in use today. Being the only mill within 25 miles, a long distance back when you hauled your corn in a horse-drawn wagon over rutted trails, theBlackburn Mill proved to be a great success and very profitable.

In 1848, a heavy rains flooded the valley and the mill was pushed into the river and washed downstream. When the the water receded, Sylvanus and Catherine rebuilt the mill and expanded the structure to mill lumber as well as grain.

In 1861, when the civil war broke out, Union troops came into northern Arkansas and there were several battles in the area. Sylvanus took Catherine and their nine children to safety in Texas and borded up the mill. The Union soldiers moved into the area and for a short time, used the mill to grind grain for the soldiers. Confederates headed to the valley and the Union forces retreated. The Rebels used the mill for several days, but then moved on for the upcoming battle at Pea Ridge. Seeing they couldn't hold it, the Confederates burned the mill so the Union forces could not use it again.

After the war ended in 1865, the Blackburn clan returned to their still standing house, but the Mill was gone again. Sylvanus’ son, James Austin Cameron Blackburn took on the task of reconstructing the mill for a third time, which he finished in 1873. The Mill, now the largest in Arkansas, grew even more prosperous. Lumber cut at the War Ealge saw mill was used to build much of Fayetteville, AR.

J.A.C. ran for the Arkansas Senate and when he won, he didn't have enough time to perform his Senate duties and run the Mill, so he sold it to a family named Kilgore. They operated the Mill until 1924 when, for the second time, the Mill burned down by a fire of unknown cause.

Jewel Medlin purchased the property in 1973 and he became intrigued with the old mill foundation. Jewel, his wife Leta and daughter Zoe Medlin Caywood, searched and found blueprints for the third mill and rebuilt it for the fourth time.
Today, the mill is famous for it's organic grains which have no additives or preservatives, sauces, jams and other healthy food items as well as the Bean Palace Restaurant, it's on site eatery which serves food made with ingredients made at the mill. They also host a wonderful Arts and Crafts Fair each Spring and Fall. For more information, see their web site -

If you are into hiking, biking, or bird watching, the mill is just down the road from Hobbs State Park Conservation Area. From an easy 1 1/2 mile trail with benches and picknic tables to an interconnected series of trails covering 21miles, you can find whatever level you might want.

From Little Rock, go west on I-40 about 115 miles to AR-23 at exit 35. Turn right (north) on AR-23. You will go through the Ozark National Forrest, a really pretty drive in itself. Continue north into the town of Huntsville where you will need to carefully follow signs and get on AR-412 W/N. Continue north and west on AR-412 for about 11 miles until you can connect to AR-303 north, which is also known as CR-98 and High Sky Inn Road. You will come to the mill and fair area after about 7 miles. Watch for the signs.

Postcard From Natural Stone Bridge of Arkansas

If you are heading to Branson coming from Little Rock, you will travel west on I-40 and turn north in Conway on State Highway 65.  In the foothills of the Ozarks about 40 miles north of Conway is one of those interesting, quirky little tourist attractions that in these days of cookie cutter McDonalds and Wal-Marts and Starbucks at seemingly every highway exit, offers something a little different, a little slower paced, and a whole lot more interesting.

As you come on the town of Clinton (population 2,283), about 3.5 miles from where SH 65 splits from Hwy 9, watch for a  road labeled "Natural Bridge." The 1 mile drive down this side road itself is a bit of an adventure - perfectly drivable by any vehicle, but do take it a bit slow. At its end is a paved widened parking area and a little wooden shack selling curio's and keepsakes. After paying the reasonable $3.00 access fee,  walk out the back door and begin a short hike to the site of the Natural Bridge.

On the way, you will pass a reproduction of an Arkansas still site (no moonshine samples available), see lots of little caves formed by fallen boulders, see a number of different species of trees and plants, and finally, you will come to the bridge.  It is not an arch bridge like those found in Utah's Arches National Park, but a compression bridge of a huge flat slab of stone stretched across a waterway tumbling down the hillside.

The main slab is about 120 feet long and over twelve feet off the ground. Located in a very quiet, heavily forested area, it is a great place to visit, listen to the birds, relax in the quietness, and just get off the road for a short break.


Not Dead And Maybe A Bit Wiser

I have had so many people asking questions about my recent NDE (Near Death Experience) when I had my heart attack that I'll just go ahead and answer here. I am asked over and over, "What was it like?" or "Did you see anything?" or I see the looks on people's faces and can tell they want to ask those types of questions, but for whatever reason, don't feel comfortable enough to voice them. So here it is as I remember it. And if you have other questions, go ahead and ask; I really don't mind talking about it. I would ask me too if I weren't me.

The answer to the question it seems everyone wants to ask is no, I didn't see a bright light, I didn't see any dead relatives or friends waiting to take me by the hand (maybe they went to a different place than I was going?), I didn't float above myself and look down at my body, I didn't see my life flash before me or stand at any pearly gates. I saw and felt what I can only describe as "cosmic consciousness." It was warm, it was indescribably comforting, it was extremely serene, it was, for lack of a better word, heaven.

At first, I was very reluctant to tell this. I was afraid people would think me strange or crazy. People would treat me differently; with distance. But I feel free now to give a glimpse. Take me or leave me, it's what I experienced and your reaction is up to you. There's really no use trying to describe it to those who have not experienced it. It's just impossible to fully comprehend unless you've experienced it too. And I don't have the words, the writing talent to do it justice. What I would like people to know is that the fear of death is unjustified. Like most things, fearing it is worse than the reality. All pain goes away; all worries go away; only comfort and peace remain. You become one with everything. Everyone is different, but in a manner I don't understand, you as an individual will be given whatever you need to make the transition easier. If that is seeing loved ones who have passed before, that's what you will receive. If it is a bright light of love, that's what you will receive. I received what I needed. I wanted to stay there. It wasn't my time though, so I came back.

I've been asked, "Do I feel changed?" Absolutely. Here is the biggie - I'm not afraid of death now. I don't desire to die (again!) or anything like that. I never had any great, huge fear of it or thought much about it before and  I didn't dwell on it, but like most everyone, I certainly wondered about it with trepidation.  I promise you, dying itself is not that big of a deal really. Think about it this way - millions of people before have done it so how hard can it really be? It's not like you have a choice in the matter any way. I want to spend more time with my family, I want to see my youngest daughter grow up, I have lots of things I want to do or, in some cases, do again, but now I'm free from wondering what happens when you die.

From the moment it happened through now, over 4 weeks later, I have not once wished I had spent or wish I could spend more time at work. Some of the best friends I could ever hope to have are people I met at work and I received a surprisingly large number of get-well emails & cards from folks I have worked with, but not one communication from any of the "big dogs" - you know, the ones who asked me (and my fellow workers) to take pay cuts, to work more overtime, to do more with less, all for the good of "our" company. And my employer didn't miss a beat due to me being out - business didn't stop, clients didn't cancel. I have enough certificates and letters of appreciation and acrylic "headstones" awarded for jobs well done to fill up several file drawers and cover several shelves on my bookcase so thanks, but I really don't need more. Let the young and enthusiastic take their turn. What I need now is time with my family and time to do the things I put off doing while giving my all for the good of the company. Working so hard, putting in so many hours, and being away from home for my job so much is the biggest regret I have now.

Actually I'm pretty pissed about this whole thing. I haven't finished doing what I want to do. Hell, I feel like I've barely started. I'm pissed that it happened to me when I had just celebrated turning 60 such a short time before. I see people shuffling around that outweigh me 100 pounds or more and their only exercise is squishing themselves into their 25-year-old Honda Civic with the busted springs and floorboard and back seat covered in fast-food take-out cartons and driving from their house to the grocery store for more frozen dinners, beer, and another carton of cigarettes, but I'm the one that had a heart attack. I'm the one who has to be on a heart-healthy diet and do cardiac rehab exercises and take five different medicines every day.  I know, nobody said life is fair, but it sure should be more fair than this. And I also know there are good, decent folks who don't deserve it, but have it a lot worse than me. I feel bad for them, I really, truly do. Life hasn't been fair to them either. But right now I'm writing on MY blog and it's about me so waaa, waaa, waaa - it's not fair to me! Thanks. I feel better now.

I'm also really pissed that it happened while I was with my youngest daughter and it scared her so badly. I know I didn't have any control over the timing and it's a good thing it happened where and at the time it did so a medical person was right there, but I hate, hate, hate that something associated with me scared my sweet little girl and no wise, soothing words of comfort will ever change that.

Now that I've got my bitching out of the way, in a perverse way, I'm almost glad it happened. Someone or something (choose according to your belief) tapped me on the shoulder and got my attention. OK, maybe it was more like a sledgehammer upside the head. Time to start slowing down to enjoy what I have - my family and my friends mostly, but also the everyday things; a shared laugh, my daughter's smile, my wife's eyes, a beautiful sunrise, a golden sunset, shapes taken by clouds, the ability to still do things I enjoy like traveling, photography, writing. It's time to smell the proverbial roses, son.

I know how sugary sweet that sounds and how everyone has probably heard it all hundreds of times before. And if you want to dismiss this as the talk of someone who came very close to being just a memory, it's OK, I understand. Not too long ago I would have read this and thought to myself, "Blah, blah, blah." But if you happen to be lucky like me and get some borrowed time to live after your death, you'll be thinking, "Damn, that dude was right. Son of a gun!" It sometimes isn't true that you only have one life to live. I'm proof and I fully intend to enjoy this second chance I've been given. I wish I had been wiser and enjoyed my first one a bit more, but I'm not going to waste precious time thinking about it. Be happy while you're living for you're a long time dead!

Space Shuttle - Bucket List Item

On May 11, 2009, the space shuttle Atlantis blasted off from launch pad 39A (28.608 N, 80.604 W) at the Kennedy Space Center on a mission to repair the Hubble telescope. And I was there to see the lift-off. Check off a bucket list item!
My brother-in-law and I drove from Dallas, Texas to Titusville, Florida, which is the closest town to the Kennedy Space Center (right across the Indian River) and offers the closest off-site viewing after the NASA causeway. The causeway requires you to purchase tickets and unfortunately there are very few and are sold out months in advance. Not being among the lucky few able to acquire tickets, we watched the launch from Spaceview Park in Titusville, which is 12.1 miles directly across from the launch pad. As you can see from the photos, it was still a spectacular experience. 
Photographs and YouTube clips do not do justice to a shuttle lift-off. It's one of those things you really need to see in person - feel the awesome rumble of incomprehensible power deep in your chest; the man-made fire as bright as the sun. The collective experience of several hundred of your fellow human beings, all holding their breath for the first few seconds after lift-off and then the cheers; "Go Baby, go!" "My God, do you feel that?" "Holy cow! Look at her go!" It's an experience you will not forget.
Was it worth the hundreds of miles we drove and waiting in the hot sun for almost 5 hours just to watch about 15 seconds of shuttle lift-off?
Oh hell yeah!


Arkansas Tornado

This used to be somebody's home.
In the little Arkansas community of Damascus, very close to my own house, the devil came to town in the form of a tornado. It took several lives, destroyed property, and scarred survivors, perhaps forever. If you are not safe in your own home or even in your church, is there safety anywhere? What does it say when the beast jumps over a road-side fruit stand, not disturbing jars of home-made jam and jelly sitting out on a table or even fluttering the well-worn plastic tarp covering them and comes down a few yards away to destroy a brick church and across the street where it demolishes a house and takes the lives of the family that lived there?

Destroyed church
Do we thank God that more lives were not lost? Do the family members of those killed feel the same? I'm just glad the devil missed me and my loved ones this time.

Vehicle that was blown about 75 yards from
the church parking lot.
Truck that was full of grain.

Postcard From The Old Mill - Little Rock, Arkansas

In the opening sequence of the movie Gone with the Wind, the narrator eulogizes the passing of the Old South over a montage of quaint, picture-postcard scenes. One scene of pastoral bliss is a brief shot of a nineteenth-century gristmill. Few people realize that the Old Mill, as the building became known, was not old, was not a gristmill, and instead of being located in a quaint, sleepy southern hamlet, is located in a small park a block away from a busy thorough-fare in downtown North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Designed by the architect Frank Carmean and built in the early 1930’s, it is the work done by Dionico Rodriguez that is truly outstanding as he sculpted concrete to look exactly like wood, stone, and iron. Walkways and bridges look as though they were made from trees and driftwood instead of concrete. The intricate details are amazing. Even the planking and an old rain barrel are so realistic that you have to touch them to be sure they really are made of concrete.
The grounds are wonderful with a small pond and waterway surrounded by trees and moss covered rocky hillsides. Visitors instinctively speak using their inside voices and treat each other a little nicer. It’s like a time-out spot from the hustle and hurry world that lie just outside the gate of this oasis.

To visit, in North Little Rock, take McCain Boulevard East, turn south onto Fairway Avenue and then take a left onto Lakeshore Drive.