Vardaman History Project - Memories of the 1950s

Hal D. Bennett, Jr.

Hal D. Bennett, Jr. is the son of a former pastor of the First Baptist Church of Vardaman. He, his father and mother, and his two brothers Tommy and Tim lived in Vardaman during the senior Bennett’s tenure as pastor there. The Bennetts were very active in Vardaman life, as Mr. Bennett’s recollections here indicate. These memories are taken from his postings in the Vardaman History Project Facebook group in January 2015. Mr. Bennett now lives in Gulf Shores, FL.

We came there in the summer of 1954 and left for Florida in August 1959. Paul Blue moved us to Vardaman from New Orleans in a black truck with a fairly big -- not very big though -- truck bed. We were moved from Vardaman to Florida in a big professional moving van.

The last time I heard of Paul Blue, he was a millionaire, and so was Billy Penick, I believe. Both men were attentive to the football program, and in hindsight I appreciate them more than I knew then. Billy took us and two or three others to see Ole Miss play Hardin-Simmons -- it must have been 1958. Jake Gibbs was the Ole Miss punter; Charley Flowers was the fullback. Sammy Baugh was the H-S head coach and in warmups he passed the ball from behind center, just as he had years ago, I guess, for Texas Christian and the Hal BennettWashington Redskins. Jim Bain, our 1957 football coach who flew the coop in 1958 for Calhoun City, could have coached football in any league. He thought it was funny when Billy Penick told us players that when he (Billy) played, "I closed my eyes and tackled 'em." Billy was disappointed when it became known that we were leaving for Florida in 1959, and he compared it to losing the opportunity a year or two earlier of having Jimmy Hollingsworth of Tunica to come play in our backfield. Hollingsworth, who went to Ole Miss on a football scholarship but wound up as a punter for Louisiana College, came to Vardaman in about the spring or summer of 1958 and practiced a little with us on the then new (present) football field. Dewitt and I both raced Hollingsworth together in a hundred yard dash -- he outran us both by eight or ten yards and was that far ahead of us after about fifty yards.

In the late summer of 1958 our father went before the Bynum Baptist Church near Anniston, Alabama in view of a call. Daddy's brother, Lamar, lived just outside Anniston and worked at the Bynum installation that housed chemical weapons for the U. S. Army. The idea was that Daddy, as an ex-Army chaplain who had been stationed in late WW II at Fort McClellan on the other side of Anniston, would minister to the military personnel and their families in the Bynum church. He preached there for two or three Sundays, and while he was doing this, Tommy and I stayed with our grandmother, Pearl Bennett, who lived twelve miles from Anniston in Jacksonville. For two weeks we -- Tommy and I -- were transported first to Oxford High School for a week to practice football with the big 100-strong football team there and the second week to do the same with the Walter Wellborn High School team just across the road from Uncle Lamar's house. It was either during these two weeks or on an earlier visit that summer to Jacksonville with our grandmother that we (Tommy and I) received news that Jim Bain had left Vardaman for Calhoun City. I suppose that I may be a little more philosophical about this now, but I will never believe that Mr. Box handled the situation correctly. First, he should have paid Jim what he asked. Second, he should have spoken with us boys on the team about this either before or after letting Jim go, instead of this being dropped on us like it was.

In any case, Daddy was not called to Bynum, we went back to Vardaman, won our first four games, lost the next four, and won the last one. Earl Gilder, our quarterback, did not complete a pass all season, and why this was I will never know. Jim later told me that Coach Thomas, his replacement, "had three plays" -- all running plays, and by our fifth game almost everyone in the Tombigbee Conference knew exactly what they were. With Jim there we would have gone probably 8-1 or 7-2 at worst, but it was not to be. Hal Bennett MoveMeanwhile, the girls basketball team, Mr. Box's showpiece before heading off for Mississippi State, won the 1958-59 B-BB state championship. The lowlight of the football season -- and the whole school year -- was a drubbing by Jim and Otis Shattle's Calhoun City football team, something like 38-6. Earl Gilder later told me, "It was the worst day of my life." During the game on the field he pulled his helmet off and threw it on the ground. George Wayne Bradford, the Calhoun City halfback and captain, has agreed with me that when the same two teams, Vardaman and CC, had played a covert spring game on the Vardaman field in the spring of 1958, we (Vardaman) outplayed them. The difference was Jim Bain and where he was at the time.

In 1959, the Bennetts moved to Graceville, Florida, as this newspaper clipping relates, to become the Director of Public Relations for the Florida Bible Institute.


I have warm feelings for the memories of both of these men. They were the legendary athletes of a bygone era in both basketball and football at Vardaman, Mississippi. "Treetop" was 6' 4", and C. P. was about 6' 2." Treetop was offered a football scholarship at Mississippi State and turned it down. His son, Tommy Richard, was the very best blocker I ever played for, and he was offered a football scholarship to Southern Miss but turned it down.

It seems that everyone, boys and girls, who ever played either basketball or football for Vardaman must have played in at least a hundred games refereed by C. P. Ward. My father once remarked that as a referee C. P. was hard on his two daughters, Faye and Ann, both of whom were stars on the elite Vardaman girls' basketball team. Faye was all-state on that state championship team. Both Treetop and C. P. were very handsome men. Both men had great heads of hair, Treetop with his curly sandy brown hair and C. P. with that great head of black hair. Treetop was always smiling, as he made a good living driving his truck, and eventually became Treetop MorganSheriff of all Calhoun County [1976-1983]. C. P. had that great laugh and that base voice, but it turned into a stern look pretty quick when he caught you fouling somebody, or inching the football along the ground after being downed.

The Vardaman Baptist Church choir had the best congregational singing I have ever heard, and C. P. Ward and Mr. Sharon Hamilton were two of the best base singers any church choir or congregation ever had. When I later led music north of Lake Ponchartrain north of New Orleans for two years, I developed two base singers in our choir there, using the model of C. P. Ward and Sharon Hamilton. Mr. Sharon's son, Carl Wayne, loved music, and later in his life his voice lowered almost to the level of Mr. Sharon's. But there was something about music in north Mississippi, with its Delta sound and its Gospel sound that has stuck with me ever since. You can still hear that sound if you turn on the car radio travelling from Jackson to Memphis.

When Daddy was called to be pastor of the Vardaman Baptist Church in the spring or summer of 1954, there was one dissenting vote keeping it from being unanimous -- C. P. Ward's. Heaven knows what C. P.'s reasoning was. But he and Daddy became the best of fishing buddies, and when I went back up there in about 1968 to preach in my best Sunday suit, one of the first things that happened once I had walked into the church building from the parking lot was someone touching the back of my head and this big booming voice laughing and saying, "Looky there-- he looks just like him!" It was, of course, C. P. Ward.

C. P. was known as the best bass fisherman in the area. He may have been the best bass fisherman in the whole state of Mississippi. His favorite lure was the Jitterbug, which looked like a frog and gurgled as he pulled it across the top of the water. He loved, like Daddy, to get up at four A. M. and get out to the pond, when, he said, the sun was sitting like a quarter on the surface of the water. He developed an elite left-handed cast, which would allow his right hand to be free to set the hook. He taught this to Jimmy Gregg, that and his method of jerking the bait in a backwards flip after it had settled in debris.

CP Ward & Hal Bennett, Jr. C. P. was so adept at catching bass that he had his own pond down the hill behind his house, where he would release the big bass he had caught and then re-catch them. Daddy and I both thought this was neat -- to me it was like an overgrown aquarium. C.P.'s only qualm I ever heard him express about my father was that Daddy would take a while after arriving at their fishing destination to assemble his flyrod, line, leader, and popping bug. By the time Daddy would actually start fishing, C. P. had already been casting his Jitterbug for thirty minutes.

It was late in our stay in Vardaman that a challenge arrived to C. P.'s dominance as the premier bass fisherman in the area. Billy Joe Cook came onto the scene with his Black Eel, and actually caught a seven pound bass from the barpit of Scott Collins' pond. Every fisherman roundabout, including me, started using plastic worms to catch bass. I don't know how C. P. took this, but he probably had caught every bass within ten miles of Vardaman that liked frogs anyway.


I have said that in 1957 we were challenged to be put into the Tombigbee Conference as a football team. We would have been in a conference of schools more our size if we had joined the Big Black. But the Big Man, Mr. Box, had other ideas, and those concerned his girls basketball team, apparently. That team was the best B-BB girls team in the whole state the next year.

In August or early September 1957, we had already played a secret "preseason game" against Houston, which was in the Little Ten Conference, which was made up of bigger schools than even those in the Tombigbee. Jim Bain was trying to tell us, I guess, "If you can get on the same field with Houston, who plays teams like West Point, you can play in the Tombigbee Conference." In fact, we broke the femur of Houston's star tailback, Mackie Weaver in that preseason game. He was picked that year to be the MVP of the Little Ten. He didn't play a down in the regular season. He went on to play for Mississippi State as a fullback, and he was the Southeastern Conference "Sophomore of the Year" in about 1960.

But I can tell you honestly, that when we went up to Kossuth, which was a big country school out in the middle of nowhere near Corinth, Jim knew that we were by comparison wet behind the ears and in way over our head. I know Kossuth must have had more than fifty players dressed out that night, and we had maybe 24 at the most. I know he knew this because of the story he told us before the game. We had dressed in a big old red brick school building that was two or three stones throws from the Kossuth playing field. Once we had our togs on, Jim commenced telling us about his Mississippi State's team going up to Knoxville to play Tennessee, who in 1956 was in the hunt for the national championship with Johnny Majors as their Heisman Trophy candidate single wing tailback. Darrell Royal, Jim began to tell us, told us before the game, "They put on their pants on just like we do, one leg at a time." Jim, who, according to my father had correctly said, could "preach a row of fire down the middle aisle of the church," must have scared me to death with this pre-game speech that evening at Kossuth. The reason I say that is that everybody but me filed out of that old brick school building and went on out to the football field. I stayed behind and threw up in a stall of the bathroom next to where we had dressed out. We went out there, and I ran the "Quickie" all night long. Mr. Box told me after the game, "Hal, you ran that play well all night long, against a good Tombigbee Conference team." Kossuth beat us 30-0. I wonder if we ever got the ball beyond midfield.


I was told by a prominent member of the Vardaman community ten or fifteen years ago that I showed when I was there that I had no common sense. I think that she was right -- right on the money. In fact, I think that a lot of us boys were in the dark, as it were, when it came to having common sense. Please permit me to explain. Here's a project for the Vardaman History Project. I have been told by someone who should know this sort of thing, that of a total of some sixty members of the Class of 1961 at Vardaman High School, only four boys are alive today. If that is true, and God forbid it is true, how could that be remotely possible?

I have purposely bragged on a lot of Vardaman boys I knew back then because I don't think they have been given their due. It is nice to get back with Vardaman people. One reason is that I don't think I counted my blessings when I was there. Having discussed matters with my own private counsellor for forty years, I now think that if I had it all to do over, I would appreciate Vardaman very much. I would have COUNTED MY BLESSINGS.

There were many blessings there that I did not properly count. For example, God sent one of the finest human beings I have ever known to be our neighbor across the street, Carl Wayne ("Bull") Hamilton. Bull was my surrogate Big Brother for three or four years there. No, he didn't clear up a lot of troubling questions I had, but he sure provided me with a companionship that lasted until his death. Heck, that companionship lasts until this very day.

But the thing that Vardaman was known for was its beautiful girls -- and women. For ever after living there, I compared them to the Miss Americas from Mississippi that seemed to dominate the pageant. We even had a girl to come from down around Jackson where a lot of these nationally known beauties came from. Her name was Barbara -- can't remember her last name right now. She came and stayed with the Bowlings for a while. It seemed natural that she would come live in a town that was already filled with such a bevy of beauties. She would feel right at home there. I was embarrassed to hear my father turn around right there in the pulpit and point to all the beautiful girls in the choir.

Now, I will say what I am about to say after talking forty years with a professional counsellor who put a lot of "truck" in this matter of "Transactional Analysis." Really, despite the big words, this is a simple way of looking at how people relate to one another. It involves to a great extent what is termed "strokes." Compliments -- that's basically what 'strokes' are. If I do something I am proud of, and you compliment me for it, you have given me a 'stroke.' Now, there were lots and lots of strokes GIVEN to the beautiful and skilled girls at Vardaman High School. Today you can come on Facebook and see how graceful and accomplished so many of them have become as adults. There is a plethora of them. It is as though the Blessings of God were on them as children in that community, and that as a result those blessings have been turned into substantial accomplishment and personality development.

Am I missing something here? I look around, and I wonder about our boys there at Vardaman. I know what it was like to have been there, when the girls were the stars of the show. But the boys -- most of them, anyhow -- there were a few politicking boys who were exceptions -- were not provided with a lot of compliments. This dearth of blessing, I think, even caused us to fight one another for the few compliments available. Even some of the politicians have died deaths that I think were unnecessary. I am speaking, for example, of two men I knew closely -- Dewitt Spencer and Earl Gilder.

A plant that grows up in a well-watered and well-fertilized garden can grow into a beautiful flower, even while being a beautiful plant. I have seen that happen regarding the beautiful flowers of womanhood at Vardaman. But I am reminded by my son's tragic death of two things -- I should have known how to count the blessings I had at Vardaman, but I wish that the boys there had been planted, watered, and fertilized a little better.


One of the regrets of my life is that Earl Gilder did not throw a single pass his senior year at Vardaman. His junior year, Jim Bain had drilled it into us as a team that a great weapon was the fake to the back and a pass to the end or halfback once Earl had faked the ball to the other halfback. "Twenty-six" was the playcall number for the left halfback to carry the ball off right tackle. "Twenty-Six Roll-Out-Pass" was the play call number for the fake to the left halfback and then the pass to either the right end deep or the right halfback in the flat. Coach George Thomas didn't have Earl throw one single pass in 1958, but Earl never said a mumbling word about it.

59 Yearbook

Vardaman Rams football team 1959. Seniors on the team are Earl Gilder, quarterback; Wayne Bush, tackle; Bruce Landreth, guard; Bobby Inmon, halfback; Howard Morgan, end. All were lettermen and factors in the successful season. Fullback Dewitt Spencer and Howard Morgan were elected captains for the year. Following the season, Spencer and Morgan were selected on the all-conference team, the second year for both to achieve this honor. The RAMS scored 104 points in all games. Here's how the scoring broke down individually; Dewitt Spencer got 8 touchdowns for 48 points, Hal Bennett scored 36 points on 6 touchdowns, Earl Gilder 12 points on one touchdown and 6 extra points, Fred Hartley added 6 points on one touchdown and Howard Morgan and G. G. Henley each made an extra point. (Copied from the 1959 VHS Yearbook and posted by Laura LeCornu Young.)

59 Yearbook Earl loved to tell stories, and one of them was a true story about 1957, when he was a junior, and so was Kenneth Bush. "Bush," as we called both him and his brother Billy, was sent into the game by Jim Bain with instructions to tell Earl to call "Twenty-Six Rollout Pass." Kenneth and Billy Bush were both country-boy Salt-of-the-Earth types. They were the lineman that never got any of the credit, but Kenneth would develop into a very fine left tackle. I know, because I ran off his blocks many times. But in 1957, the year Jim coached us, we were a very young football team, and Bush, like the rest of us, was probably scared to be playing varsity football in the Tombigbee Conference -- which is a story unto itself. Mr. Box and Mr. Watt Carter, it seems, had decided that they wanted their very fine girls' basketball team to have the opportunity to play in the big Tombigbee Conference. That was fine, except that it meant that we boys would be playing against teams with two and three times the number of players we had, not to mention BIGGER players than we were. And we were mostly sophomores and juniors anyway.

So Jim tells Bush, to "go in there and tell Earl to run "Twenty-Six Roll-Out Pass." Earl loved to tell it: "Bush comes running into the huddle from the sideline and says, all out of breath, 'Run Twenty-Six Rattlefast!' "


[My son] Bryan loved to fish with his grandfather, Hal D. Bennett, my father, who was pastor of the Vardaman Baptist Church 1954-1958. I don't know how many people at Vardaman remember that my father flyfished every eligible farm pond around Vardaman within ten miles during that five years. I sometimes went fishing and hunting with him, and one of our favorite ponds was the Scott Collins pond, about a mile and a half west, maybe, from the pastorium at Vardaman.

One of my favorite memories comes from one of his trips to that pond. On the far north (shallow) end from the barpit was a channel that jutted out invisibly from the west shore towards the middle. Daddy loved to wade those ponds and he invariably wore an old (but spiffy) brown Fedora hat with two holes for ventilation, one on either side. In his typical concentration upon catching a big seven pound bass -- and one that big was caught there by Billy Joe Cook on a Black Eel bait -- Daddy waded off near that channel and suddenly fell off into it. The only thing left on top of the water was that hat, floating upright, but he was no longer attached to it for the moment.

Being an Alabama fan and Bear Bryant aficianado, I have forevermore compared what happened at Vardaman between Jim Bain and B.F. Box to what happened at Kentucky between Bear Bryant and Adolph Rupp. Just as it was all about basketball with Rupp it was all about girls' basketball with B. F. Box. His son Larry could have been a great high school (and maybe Division 1A college) center, but Larry, after centering on our ninth grade team, flawlessly I might add, never stepped on a football field again -- except in the band. Go figure. I doubt if anybody in the state of Mississippi could have pulled this off like Mr. Box did. He was a towering figure. Nobody in town -- including my father, Dr. Edmondson, Watt Carter, Willie B. Gregg -- seemed to disagree with Mr. Box on ANYthing. And so just as Bear Bryant got his cigarette lighter from the Kentucky boosters and Adolph Rupp got his Cadillac, so Jim Bain got his $1800 a year and Mr. Box got his girls' state championship. Vardaman Wins State And just as Bear Bryant packed up and left for A&M, Jim Bain left for Calhoun City -- (and Tommy and I left for Florida). Chick Martin promised to build an addition onto his house on the hill if I would stay for my 12th grade year. I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was called into Mr. Box's office in the elementary school building in the spring of 1959 -- the old high school building had burned. Mr. Box, Coach Thomas, and Mr. Larkin Landreth were sitting in there. They asked me to stay for my senior year. I said, "I'll stay if you'll let me play quarterback." Coach Thomas did that throat-clearing thing he did, crossed his legs away from me, and said, "You shouldn't have learned to run with the ball." I know what it was, in hindsight. They all thought my hands were too small to trust me with the ball like that.

And that was that. We went to Graceville and won the Panhandle Conference football championship. Tommy wound up as the Graceville quarterback and I as the left halfback. We were, the two of us, their defensive backfield all season long. Tommy was ineligible to stay at Vardaman since he had two more years to play, according to a Mississippi HS association rule. Oh yeah, one other thing -- Mr. Box left for Mississippi State -- he didn't even stay at Vardaman for 1959-60; he had won his state championship.


Oh Yes indeed, Rosemary [Massey], I remember very well you, your mother, your father Carthel, and your blond-headed brother. Carthel Richardson said one of the nicest things anybody has ever said to me. Tommy and I came and cut weeds for him in back of your house one day. I think it may have been some okra stalks that needed taking down. We all three agreed that day that a football player shouldn't worry about how good his hair looks when he runs. It was told to me that Carthel Richardson "would give you the shirt off his back." I believe it. My son was just like that. sweet, sweet memories.


Rosemary – ol' Tim [my brother] got his twenty years in in the Marines as a warrant officer/public information officer. I am confident that his playing cowboys with your brothers -- Carl Martin is the one I remember -- prepared him well for the Marines. At 5' 4" tall, was probably one of the shortest Marines in The Corps. But he was tough. He worked out with weights and did rafting before going in. He is City manager of Madison, Florida.


Permit me to talk also about James Alfred Waits. Like Rex Franklin ("Shankie") Sanderson, "Sug" Waits was only there at Vardaman in the summer of 1954, but my brother and I continued to know him after he moved to Bruce. "Sug" was probably called that because he had that special charisma as an athlete that few have, like Walter ("Sweetness") Payton, or Derek Jeter. "Sug" was my favorite athlete at Vardaman, and he may well have been the best. Oh sure, I know about Treetop Morgan, C. P. Ward, that crew. Impossible NOT to know about them. But here's what's on my mind about "Sug." He reminded me of a guy I knew at New Orleans before we moved to Vardaman -- Larry Epperly, who was the son of a seminary student there and had a big brother, much like "Sug" had a big brother Sam. Both "Sug" and Larry were the athletes in their family -- I would term them both "sweet." "Sug" died of Diabetes, wasn't it?, as an adult, and Larry died of a kidney disease that he had had all along, right after we had moved from Vardaman to Graceville. I know that the Bruce basketball coach, who somehow managed to bring the big 6' 6" center from Derma over to Bruce, was very glad to have "Sug" as a former Vardaman resident. "Sug" and Danny Caldwell were both very good basketball AND baseball players at Bruce. Danny was my idol. I was thrilled when he came over and talked with me one day at the Bruce baseball diamond. They were a great tandem as the Bruce guards that went up through the tournaments. "Sug" was pure sweetness as a shortstop and as a pitcher. I had the opportunity of batting against "Sug" once. I felt like I was going against a major league pitcher. "Sug" also came over and sat by me a few years later, on the bench at the Calhoun City baseball diamond. My brother Tommy was up to bat. "Sug," who had not seen either of us in a while, said of Tommy: "He's built like a _____ ______."


If you are (over?) sensitive, you may not want to read this, but it comes to mind in talking with the former Laura Lecornu, regarding her brother Clifton -- and Mr. Willie B. Gregg. Be forewarned -- I cannot always be the good preacher's boy I was expected to be at Vardaman. A preacher's son might be forgiven an impish urge, I hope, if he were known as Joonyer as I was for five solid years. Mr. Willie B. Gregg, to my way of thinking, was the perfect fit for Vardaman. He was a Democrat, but an old-line Democrat who was religious. There actually were such people back then. I know Mr. Gregg was a Democrat because he didn't like my father's hero Eisenhower -- Willie B. called Ike "the Great White Father." Mr. Gregg always had a smile for everyone, but he was quiet, for the most part -- unless he was calling Howard Easley in that high pitched voice "Eely" -- stuff like that -- and he was straight-laced in his piety. Besides being my American History teacher and my Biology teacher, and my baseball and basketball coach, he taught our boys' Sunday School class on Sunday mornings. He was an ardent churchgoer and went so far as to adopt the hobby of fly-fishing, even telling me that he did it because it was peaceful "and your daddy taught me how to do it."

Most of all, Mr. Gregg was a fit there because he won enough basketball games so as to outdo his predecessor, Coach Culpepper, whose boys' basketball team didn't win a single game in 1954-55 and whose football team won one (that's right, 1) game in 1954. But Mr. Gregg also fit in because it was Mr. Box's girls' basketball team that was the star of the Vardaman show. Mr. Box, the principal, told my father when we moved there in 1954: "We lose money in football season, due to the cost of the lights. We win the money back in basketball season." Now you can immediately surmise that "we" didn't win it back because of the boys' basketball team.

I will assume that people remember a boy named James Patton (class of 1956) who was the opposite, you might say, of Willie B. Gregg. I asked Mr. Gregg one day what he thought of Clifton Lecornu (class of 1955) as a basketball player, who wore # 20 on his football uniform. "He was the center (middle) of that great (2-1-2) defense I had," said Mr. Gregg. Clifton was very religious, polite, and serious, but that wasn't the nature of James Patton. When Clifton graduated as an end on the football team, his number 20 went to James Patton. I distinctly remember Patton, who played center, grinning and telling someone (it may have been Mr. Gregg), "I hope I can live up to it (Clifton Lecornu's wearing of it)."

Patton was known as "Patton" to everyone and he sat at the head of the Biology class on the left hand side next to the windows facing east (Houston). Mr. Gregg, being the history teacher as well as the biology teacher, asked Patton one day, "Are you kin to General Patton?" "No," answered Patton, probably proud that the question had been asked. I myself had never heard of General Patton.

As you may remember, the term Evolution was banned from our Biology books. Our educator-bureaucrats had been instructed to provide us with nobler subjects. Mr. Gregg, returning to his characteristically stoic manner, began holding forth with his Biology lecture, arms crossed in front of him with his left hand and fingers gesturing towards the class, talking about, I think, mollusks. And I think he must have said the word "oysters." Patton waved his right arm and Mr. Gregg acknowledged him. Because I was sitting well back of Patton and he was facing Mr. Gregg, I couldn't very well hear the question, but I did hear Patton say the words "mountain oysters." I had never heard of such a thing, personally. But I do remember that a slight but clearly detectable wince came across Mr. Gregg's tanned face as he turned away from Patton and as gracefully and silently as possible he moved away from the windows towards the teacher's desk in the front and center of the room.

Willie B. Gregg was one of the very finest men I have ever known. But his coaching was best described by the man who hired him -- B. F. Box. Mr. Box stood up one day behind the desk in the math room of the old high school building and proceeded to tell us boys on Mr. Gregg's basketball team, "If you boys would get in shape, you'd have a good basketball team." Now, you didn't talk back to Mr. Box, you understand. But what I wanted to stand up and say to him was, "Mr. Box, who hired your basketball coach?!"


I am 72 years old, and the only place I have ever been called "Hal Joonyer" by the general public was at Vardaman. A precedent had been set, since everyone in Vardaman seemed to know Hal Joonyer Reece (Reese?) of Calhoun City. In 1958 our football team was warming up on the south end of the Vardaman field (donated, I am told, my Mr. Watt Carter, incidentally), and my old basketball and baseball opponent from younger days, David Allen Rogers of Calhoun City, came around the end zone there in street clothes and hollered out at the top of his voice: HAL JOON--YER! I impulsively and immediately did something at that moment I have regretted doing the rest of my life, something certainly unbecoming for the son of the local Baptist preacher -- the old single-digit salute. David Allen (that's right, not just 'David') and I never spoke again -- I've never seen him since. I will add this -- Thanks to the Vardaman people for not calling me "Hal DURWARD," because that's my real middle name.


Rex Franklin Sanderson was the first baseman for the Vardaman Babe Ruth baseball team that played its games in a cow pasture across Hwy 8 from the school and up a little towards town. He was only there for me to get to know that first summer, in 1954. So I only came to know many years later that he was known for being quick with a quip. But my chief remembrance of him was when I had the good fortune to get into a game at second base. I was eleven years old, and all I had on, I think, was my blue jeans, a cap, and a glove. Rex Franklin, who must have been 14 or 15, was out there to my left all decked out in cleats, cap, etc., and he had that cool-looking first baseman's mitt (I believe he was left-handed). Knowing that I was the new preacher's son, the first thing he said when I ran out onto the field was, "Now I don't want to hear any bad language out of you, like 'Dadgummit.' Carl Wayne Hamilton told me that Rex Franklin was the one who gave him the nickname "Bull." If I remember, RF had a bullwhip, and "Bull", until then known as Carl Wayne or Wayne, was cracking it out there in front of RF's house, where Olga Boyd and family moved in after the Sanderson's had left.


Sorry to hear about Charles Graham [being in the hospital]. The last time I talked with him I called him long distance, and he laughed at me for the fights I had at Vardaman, and we talked about the Indians who left the mounds in Mississippi. He and his brother John CGVHLeigh were ALWAYS fonts of knowledge. When we were kids I was visiting them at their home on the hill one day, and we were standing at the door of a shed behind their house (that would be on the east side of the house). On the doorpost with an outdoor thermometer was a handwritten notation that read something like 'Record temperature, 106 degrees, July 7, 1952.' Now who else in or around Vardaman ever kept up with stuff like that?! I think it was John Leigh who told me that men strike a match from away towards the chest, whereas women strike a match from the body outward. Wow! Could you learn stuff there, or what? Also -- Charles Graham carefully but succinctly explained to me that tornadoes in Mississippi came out of a cloud cover, but that in Texas one could come out of a lone cloud. Interesting, because they had a tornado shelter down below that hill in back of their house by the road that went out to Mrs. Hawkins' property. I once tried unsuccessfully to get Daddy to take us -- the whole family -- to that storm shelter during a storm. Charles Graham had an interesting college career. He came back home from Miss State telling about an atheist he had for a professor there, and he explained to me, in downtown Vardaman one day,how he agreed with the professor. Later, in 1968 or 1969, I preached at the Vardaman Baptist Church, and Charles Graham sheepishly glanced at me as he walked by up at the front as he was one of the ushers handling taking the offering. Mr. Johnny Van Horn and his wife (Sadie?) were both intellectuals as farm people go, and they raised two intellectual boys, that's for sure. Two fine boys.


When Jim Bain came to Vardaman, he was about 21 years old. But as John Vess Martin told me when I was sitting in his chair at his old barber shop there next to Doc's clinic, "He's set those people out there (at Midway) on fire."

Now I did have enough experience in my time in the ministry to know what it's like as a preacher to confront the Establishment. As was told me by the leading pastor of the Louisiana parish where my biggest church was, south of Baton Rouge, "A lot of preachers have been educated at churches like this."

Jim Bain not only set Midway on fire; he pretty well set Vardaman on fire. And he got educated for his trouble. But I want to tell you this. My father didn't make it easy for him, but Jim responded not in kind but in treating Tommy and me with Christian love. He did go to Calhoun City and beat the tar out of our Vardaman Rams football team. But I can understand that. He had a right -- and probably a duty too.

Jim Bain was born and raised over in Pell City, Alabama, fifteen miles from where I was born in my grandfather's living room at Ragland, Alabama. And as it developed, Jim's younger brother Bob, who signed to play quarterback for Bear Bryant at Alabama, showed Tommy and me a great time when we would go to either my grandfather's place in Ragland or to our (other) grandmother's place in Jacksonville, twelve miles from Anniston.

Tommy and I had some of the greatest times of our lives visiting Bob at his parents' home in Pell City. Bob would get us dates with girls in Pell City, and on at least one occasion we drove all the way to Birmingham to see a movie. One of those girls had a brother who played the piano by ear. What a great time of our lives!

I know that Jim was behind a lot of this, the way that both Bob and his mother took to Tommy and me.

Jim's daddy was a furniture salesman in Pell City during the week and a country preacher on weekends. He was "Rural Pastor of the Year" for the state of Alabama in the PROGRESSIVE FARMER/Emory University annual contest, which would take outstanding country preachers from the Southern states and hold a seminar at Emory for them each summer. I learned about this because the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Bonifay, Florida, who was a trustee of Baptist Bible Institute, was Florida's representative in about 1953. Pell City had an outstanding football coach, and Jim's team his senior year went undefeated at 10-0. This was a big thing with me. I felt like he was setting us up to do the same thing at Vardaman.

I don't think that Jim was recruited by Alabama or Auburn, and the reason I say that is that he has never seemed to appreciate Alabama football. But Jim came out of high school before Bryant got to Alabama, when Alabama was down, under "Ears" Whitworth. Jim's claim to fame is that he was urged by Darrell Royal to follow him from Miss State to the University of Washington. Jim declined the offer and within a year or so was at Midway Baptist Church -- and Vardaman. Royal, after one year at Washington, became head coach at the University of Texas.

About that time Jim met a young lady from Vardaman who had been, I believe, Miss Itawamba Junior College. And the rest is history.


Dewitt Spencer and I spent a few years talking to each other, mostly by emails. I have a picture of him with Jim Bain on my wall. I can glance up and see it right now. He and I never did solve the world's problems, and I guess you might say that the following discussion we had summarizes the whole thing.

I told Dewitt that I felt real shaky when I was at Vardaman because it seemed that just about everybody there either had some ties to the farming in the area or else they were actually farmers -- and farm kids. I was particularly aware when we started school every Fall that so many of the Vardaman farm boys had those good tans -- and I was white as a sheet by comparison. Daddy even commented after a basketball game that when I was sitting on the bench I stood out as the white-as-a-sheet guy amidst all the guys with good tans.

So I would even try to get a job out on somebody's farm, not for the money ($3 a day wouldn't buy much then, but that was the going rate) but for the suntan. I had a little skin cancer on the side of my nose removed a few years back for my trouble. I was the record worst cotton-picker in the whole Vardaman area, and Tommy wasn't that far behind me. I still salve my embarrassment about this by remembering that one day in the bottom down below the Van Horns, Tommy just abandoned all pretense and laid down on his cotton sack, right there while everyone else, including me, kept right on picking as expected.

Joyce Gilder's mother gave me the third degree one day by driving her pickup truck over the row I had "picked." Once she had done that, with me and friends in the bed of the truck sitting so that we could see behind, it was evident that I had left as much cotton on the stalks as was in my bag. A big reason for this sort of thing is that my competitive spirit wouldn't let me fall behind such people as Barbara Moore. But Mrs. Gilder's reprimand made things much worse than falling behind would have been. Barbara knew what was happening anyway. She knew that the preacher's kid from the city couldn't pick cotton better than the daughter of Rivers Gilder could.

I wasn't any better as a cotton-hoer (whew!). Mr. Watt Carter informed me of that. But he was nice about it and said, "You did get SOME." He even told me once that "they" (I assume him and Mr. Box) had discussed at the beginning of school whether I should take Mr. Watt's Ag Class. But I showed them -- I was elected FFA Secretary.

I told Dewitt during our old-man discussions of this inferiority complex I had, and he said, "Yeah, and everybody wanted to be like you." He meant, I take it, that being a farmer wasn't the coolest thing like I seemed to think it was. I told him that I thought that Daddy and I both loved to just look at a field full of black dirt with nicely plowed furrows that stretched far into the distance, that this gave one a certain feeling of stability. Dewitt didn't argue with that.

Thomas Wolfe told us, "You can't go home." I think I can honestly say, [along] with most of you reading The Vardaman History Project, that I hope he is at least in some sense wrong.

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