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Accordion War
A Fortune Teller's Blessing
I Walk Toward the Sound of My Days: Poems of John Allen Adams
The German Spy

Autographed copies can be obtained post-paid from the author by sending a check or money order for $20 for one or $35 for two (either or both books) to:

Charles Hughes
PO Box 1112
Arkadelphia, AR 71923
(870) 246 8557

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From: Chapter 6 - When He Ran Through A Supple-limbed World

  • April 19, 1935    Camden First, Arkadelphia Second in Dist. Track Meet
  • In the junior division, Vestal, Mitchell, East and Adams showed well. . . .
  • 440 Yard Dash—Adams (Arkadelphia); Burton (Norphlet); Barker (Standard Umsted); Cathey (Camden).  Time 59.9 sec. . . .
  • Javelin—Gillespie (Camden); Kennedy (Norphlet); Adams (Arkadelphia); Taylor (Camden).  Distance, 124 feet 10 inches.
*     *     *     *
In weighing the question of nature vs. nurture, it’s clear that the young John Allen possessed extraordinary potential; but if he had remained a “road boy” on the carnival circuit, if he had not been transplanted to the home place under the guidance of Aunt Bessie and gained access to the good schools of Arkadelphia and the quality friends he made there, that potential could never have blossomed as it did.  The qualities he possessed, nurtured in his new environment, quickly erased any handicaps that might have resulted from his early life on the road.  Certainly his classmates and teachers recognized those qualities and regarded him highly as he advanced through school.  An honor student, he was elected President of his class every year from seventh grade on.

In high school his class voted on the characteristics of their fellow classmates; there can be little doubt how John Allen was viewed by his peers:

Class Votes:

Smartest John Allen Mary Sue
Best Athlete Billy Gill Dorothy
Prettiest Girl Aletha
Best Looking Boy John Allen  
Laziest Howard Frances Jane
Most Popular Billy Gill Aletha
Best Dressed John Allen Carolyn Jane
Sissy Boy Edward Huggs  
Tom Boy Girl   Dorothy
Best All round Billy Gill Mary Sue
Healthiest John Allen Susie Jane
Most Polite John Allen Mary Sue
Biggest Tease Billy Gill Susie Jane
Biggest Baby Edwin Smith Susie Jane
Best Acrobat Jimmie Green Carolyn Jane
Most Common Sense John Allen Mary Sue
Best Natured Billy Brown Clara Lou

Of the eleven positive categories for boys, with competition from a class of outstanding young men, John Allen got the top votes in six.  

Not many boys are celebrated in their home towns while still boys, but John Allen was.  My two colleagues in the English Department at Henderson State who had been classmates of his in high school were eager to provide testimonials concerning his character and accomplishments.  Clarice Freeman and Bennie Jean Bledsoe said many of the girls at Arkadelphia High had crushes on John Allen and told me how he was highly regarded by all his classmates and teachers as well.  They also told me a story that I heard from several others about an incident well known around town.  

One summer day while John Allen and his friends were swimming and wading in the river near De Soto Bluff one of the boys stepped on a piece of glass or sharp metal in the stream and cut a severe gash in his foot.  The boys were a long way from help and the injured boy was bleeding profusely, so John Allen grabbed him up in his arms, somehow got him past the bluff to the pecan bottoms where, according to all accounts, he ran with the boy across the fields to 8th Street and then all the way into town to a doctor’s office, a distance of a mile and a half, most of it up hill.  Now, hearing of such a feat of strength and endurance surely tests one’s credulity.  Whether he was able to run all the way, whether he had to stop at times to rest, whether he was assisted by some of the other boys, we can only conjecture.  But what is certain is that all those who told the story gave the same account.  And it is certain as well that he got the boy to a doctor.  What the story reveals beyond doubt is John Allen’s concern for others and the pride the community took in him.  

For a brief nine years John Allen watched the seasons turn in Arkadelphia.  Walking the three blocks to the river he discovered the first signs of spring in the star-flowers, henbit and dead nettle blooming along Clinton Street soon to be joined by dandelions, wild onions, clover and a myriad of humble but remarkable botanical specimens.  Dogwoods and azaleas brightened the neighborhoods in April, and by May honeysuckle and privet perfumed the streets of Arkadelphia and the paths John Allen followed along the banks of the Ouachita.  The white parasols of Queen Anne’s lace made their appearance in June and remained till the coming of the first frost.  Such seasonal changes are not the focus of a boy’s attention as he goes about his pursuits, but from the periphery of his awareness they imprint his nature with an indelible sense of identity and place, a sense of belonging that a road boy could never know.  

Though the country was in the depths of the Depression all the years John Allen was in school in Arkadelphia, children, as they always do, accepted the world as they found it, and their world was not without its attractions.  In those days people had not yet closed themselves off in air-conditioned boxes with television and other electronic diversions; they lived more among their neighbors, in the real world not in virtual worlds.  During the long hot dog-days of summer when yards around town were festooned with crepe myrtle and the ventriloquial chirr of cicadas swelled and collapsed and swelled from giant water oaks, people sought relief with funeral parlor fans and iced drinks on shady porches while the hum of the new oscillating Hunter electric fans could be heard in more and more houses.  To escape the heat some people slept unafraid on screened-in porches or even on beds set up in their yards.  

Before community recreational centers, city parks and public swimming pools, John Allen and Buddy Whitten and their friends found their entertainment largely outdoors. Boys played marbles and mumbly peg, spun tops, walked on stilts, flew home-made kites and played baseball in the streets.  In the evenings neighborhood children would gather to play hide and seek and Red Rover; at night they would sometimes roam freely through town and hear voices floating through open windows and see families around radios listening to shows like Amos and Andy, Lum and Abner or The Shadow, families illuminated by circles of light from bare incandescent bulbs suspended from wires on the ceiling.  Walking through the dark children would see lightening bugs winking among shrubbery and high in the trees and catch the lemon scent of magnolia blossoms and the sensual perfume of gardenias.  For the most part boys spent their summers barefoot and shirtless, relying on nature, their friends in town, and their own imaginations and ingenuity to fill long summer days and, when the heat became unbearable, seeking relief in the shaded swimming holes of the Ouachita.  

John Allen arrived in Arkadelphia two and a half decades after his nine-year-old mother made the wagon ride from Fairview with her parents the year of Halley’s Comet.  Then there were many horses, mules and wagons in the streets and only a few Model T’s.  Now there were few horses and wagons to be seen and more and better cars were parked up and down the streets, some as yet unpaved.  Since Amy Horton first bought the home place in 1910 blacksmith shops had given way to filling stations and livery stables to garages, though farmers still brought their produce to town in wagons, some announcing their produce loudly, “Watermelons!  Watermelons!  Get your red ripe watermelons!”  

On hot summer afternoons during those years John Allen and his friends, Buddy Whitten, Billy Gill East, Billy Vestal, W.S McNutt and other high school friends and members of Mr. Huddleston’s Boy Scout troop, could often be heard whooping and hollering as they splashed and chased each other in the swimming hole at the bottom of Caddo Street.  On weekends when not working at the Linotype machine in the office of the Southern Standard, Bessie could sometimes be seen sitting on a blanket on the high bank of the river watching the boys swim below.   Her straight form and stolid exterior gave no hint of the pride and vicarious pleasure she took in watching John Allen and his healthy limbed young friends sporting in the water.  

Bessie was ever conscientious in watching over her prized nephew and ward.  Now, in her mid-forties and having long since given up on the possibility of carrying on the Horton legacy through her own issue, she had channeled all her hopes for future family glory in the handsome, talented, affectionate and totally unaffected son of the most unlikely mother, her wayward sister, Louise.  Her highest hopes for her nephew lay in the musical talent he demonstrated as a student of her cousin Elizabeth Scott Butler.  Everyone who had attended her recitals had been impressed by John Allen’s musical abilities and Bessie harbored in her heart the dream that he would someday bring recognition to her family as a distinguished classical pianist.  She worried about his exuberant physical activities, his swimming and sports, particularly his football. She was afraid he might injure his hands and damage his prospects as a musician.  So she kept a close eye on his activities.

*     *     *     *

John Allen enjoyed two more months of summer vacation in Arkadelphia before school started.  Then on Sunday, September 27, 1936, he wrote the following letter to his parents.  It would be the last hand-written letter they would receive from him:

Dear Mother and Dad,

School starts tomorrow morning. I am taking algebra, chemistry, English, and social civics.  I have joined the glee club and am going out for football too.

Mother, the new flour mill opens in Oct.  They will employ twenty or thirty women to make sacks.  Aunt Bessie thought maybe you would like to try to get a job.  They will [pay] one cent a sack but you may have to get a special machine.

Uncle Thad hopes to finish his new house [at Fairview] soon.  It has two stories and will be a nice one when finished.

I’m going to stop football at the end of this week.  Aunt Bessie wrote you a letter last week about the flour mill job.  Did you get it?

We are both well and hope you are the same.

                John Allen

Although completely devoted to his life in Arkadelphia with Aunt Bessie, John Allen through the years always missed his parents and wanted them close by.  This letter reveals that desire and also shows how hard times were during the Depression.  (“one cent a sack!”  And you may have to furnish your own machine!)  

The letter also shows that Aunt Bessie, fearing her nephew might injure his hands, had finally persuaded him to drop football.  John Allen had informed Coach George Emory of his decision, but, with a small team of only fifteen players, the coach wanted him to help the team one more time in the upcoming game against one of their toughest opponents, Malvern.

The Friday after John Allen wrote the above letter the young coach and math teacher gave a pep talk to his Badger football team outside the five-year-old high school building on 12th and Haddock (today Central Elementary) but, like the year before, Arkadelphia faced a tough schedule and the Malvern team would be one of the toughest they would face.  Youthful spirits were high, however, as the team boarded the bus.  

Coach Emory had made the final decision.  When Arkadelphia High took the field the starting lineup would be:  Dodson, Left Tackle; Donald Meador, Left Guard; Harlan Sloan, Center; Jessie Franklin, Right Guard; Woodrow Ligon, Right Tackle; John Allen Adams, Right End; Charles Moores, Quarterback; William Winburn, Left Halfback; Johnny Hall, Right Halfback; Weldon Lookadoo, Fullback.

Professor Alford’s all-male band and the Badger yell leaders would accompany the team to give support.   The Pep Squad girls, Carolyn Jane Carpenter and Ann Clark wore white calf-length dresses emblazoned with “A.H.S. Badgers” in red on the front, and the boys, Dick McFarland, Roy Mitchell, and John Allen’s best friend Floyd “Buddy” Whitten, wore white pants and shoes and red shirts with white ties.  

And there were many other supporters.  Aletha Sloan, Mary Sue Allen, Billy Vestal, Billy Gill East, W.S McNutt, and a host of John Allen’s friends and Arkadelphia High fans, some in sweaters decorated with big red “A’s,” piled into busses and automobiles and joined the procession up Highway 67 to Malvern in high spirits, following the Old Military Road route General Fredrick Steele and his Union forces marched down in the spring of 1864 when John Allen’s great grandfather and thousands of other Confederate soldiers under the command of General Price were bivouacked and dug in up and down the Ouachita River waiting for the Yankees to make their appearance. 
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