Tag Archives: Gasconade County

Haunting image: Desperate for justice

This is a story that I covered on July 9, 1984, while working for the Belle Banner and the Bland Courier, sister papers of the three-newspaper Tri-County Publications. Because of the length, I’ve split this into two parts. Look for Part 2 on Wednesday.

Here’s the photo I took after police and volunteer firefighters allowed anyone else to get close to the scene.

“There’s been an explosion.”

That was the statement that I heard after the ringing phone woke me up just before 6 a.m. My publisher’s marching orders were clear: Get moving. There’s a story to cover.

In 30 years as a journalist, I’ve written more than 30,000 pieces for newspapers: photo captions, obituaries, rewriting news releases, news briefs, full-length, multi-page features, scores of articles about city council, school board, ambulance board, fire board and library board meetings, and stories about fishing derbies, homicides, chili cook-offs, fatal car crashes, floods, tornadoes … Well, you get the picture.

I’m not sure there’s any possibility I could list the Top 20 articles I’ve written, although I’ve kept fairly thorough records of my career as a scribe. Maybe someday I’ll try to make that list. But I’m sure that three events in 1984 would be on that list; perhaps even on a Top 10 list. Feb. 26-28 saw a 30-inch snowfall; less than nine weeks later, on April 29, a tornado destroyed most of a subdivision in Owensville, Mo. Those weather events – No. 2 and 3, respectively, on my Top 10 All-Time Weather Events of My Life – were personally notable because, at the time, Kelly and I were on-site caretakers for a 350-acre cattle farm off Elk Head Road in southern Gasconade County.

Long stories short: the huge snowfall caused myriad problems and they tornado first touched down in a field less than 500 feet from the old farm house that we called home. (FYI: The Flood of ’93 is the No. 1 weather event of my life).

The third big news event of 1984 was a man-made catastrophe that seemed both completely avoidable and inevitable. And six weeks to the day after Christial Veneda Branson blew up her house, she died.

Christial was 63. She worked 37 years to save enough money to pay cash for a new house. That’s how averse she was to being in debt. She refused to owe anyone. In 1980, she paid a contractor $1,200 to install a central air conditioning unit in her new $30,000 house. A divorcee, she worked for three decades at International Shoe Factory in Bland before it closed. She found work at Brown Shoe Company in Owensville and was a leather-cutter there.

Then she started getting bills from the central air unit supplier. The contractor hadn’t paid for the unit. Christial needed to pay – again.

She refused.

Christial and the A/C supplier both filed suit against the contractor, and they both won judgments, but the contractor – a guy that not even local police knew anything about – had vanished. The supplier placed a lien on Christial’s house, but she had the canceled checks to provide she’d already paid.

She consulted at least two attorneys. They both agreed that she’d paid the contractor, but they also advised her that the law required her to pay the supplier if she wanted to keep her house. The supplier offered to settle for $600. Christial could pay it off in monthly, $50 installments. Still, she refused.

The Gasconade County Sheriff eventually was forced to end the dispute by auctioning off Christial’s home to satisfy the debt. The auction was set for 1 p.m. Monday, July 9, 1984.

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Catching up: If elected, I promise …

I know what went wrong.

Blame the time change, when we sprang forward an hour two weeks ago. I don’t handle change all that well. Go and throw a whole extra hour in the day – just like that – and poof!, I’m out of sorts. My doctor said I have SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder. But she also said I need to lose weight, so what does she know, right?

(Just kidding. Dr. Reust is the best).

But my blogging schedule has been off. I’ve missed entire days. It’s not like the earth will stop spinning if I miss a day or two, but I’m out of kilter. This little acre of cyber space is the bit of structure I added to my life about four months ago and, wouldn’t you know it, you don’t tend to the yard for a few days and it needs mowing.

So consider this mowing. Friday is supposed to be memoir-in-progress “80’s Day,” but I’m going to skip all over the place right now. Follow along.

The Chronicles of Me

March 25, 1991 – “Meet The Candidates” forum at the Belle High School vo-ag room. I was one of six candidates vying for two seats on the Maries County R-2 Board of Education. That was 21 years ago. And that’s me on the right.

Is anyone surprised that I was the only guy wearing a tie?

 

I didn’t win, mostly because my last name was neither “Ridenhour” nor “Lange.” In fact, I finished fifth, but I did win the Canaan precinct in Gasconade County.

What the hail?

March 15, 1982 – A cast from the Baptist Student Union at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg was starting its third week of rehearsal for the musical, “The Apostle.” I played the part of Luke. (Yes, how fitting. The physician was also one of the world’s finest journalists). But the night of March 15 – it was a Monday night and we were rehearsing in the Lovinger Building gymnasium – a hailstorm busted out 3,000 windows on campus. Inside the gymnasium of the old building we were in, it sounded like the Apocalypse. (Whatever that sounds like).

What I remember most was how the streets flooded because the storm drains clogged up with golfball-size hail stones.

I was a staff writer for the Muleskinner, the campus paper. My front page story (just beneath the picture above) was “Regents pass dorm rate hike.” One sentence buried lower in the story noted that the university president asked the Board of Regents to authorize an emergency contract, “without competitive bid,” to repair the multipurpose building’s roof.

The good president called me to his office the day the paper came out (March 19) to tell me he was “perplexed” that I’d included that bit of information in the story. (My high school principal used to do the same thing). I asked, “Was it true?,” and he answered, “Well … yes,” and I wished him a good rest of the day and left.

That was 30 years ago this week. (What a trouble-maker!)

The Calendar Says …

March 23, 1982 – This notation: “75 days to go. Kelly.” Oh, yeah. We were engaged.

March 25 and 26, 1982 – Cue the lights! We performed “The Apostle.”

Fast Forward …

March 21, 1979 – “Shut up. I am going to KILL three or four of you! And I mean it!” That’s from my daily journal of my high school career at Belle High School, as spoken by English teacher Dale Mackey. Great guy, really – we often played tennis after school ‑ and I certainly don’t remember anything about his tirade, but apparently I lit his fuse that day. (Imagine that.) I laughed at his threat and he shouted some more. Me: “I think that’s pretty sad.” Him: “Well, your behavior is pretty sad, Jackson!”

The record is incomplete. I have no idea about the context.

From the aptly titled journal “My Senior Drear,” March 20, 1981 – “Had an emotional play practice last night. It’s all coming together now.” (I was Joe Keller in “All My Sons.” Intense.) “Kelly came over, we walked to school. She’s still sick, but we’re going out tonight.”

A little more …

“Cleaned out my moldy, rank locker. 3 bologna sandwiches, 1 ham/cheese, two Twinkies, 1/3 carton of milk. Carbon dating shows the provisions date back to September 1980.”

Got third quarter grades:

Journalism II – B

Astronomy – C

Study Hall – “I would’ve flunked study hall if there was a grading or credit system.”

Formal writing – A

Band – A minus

Yearbook/Publications – B

Speech II – A

Lunch that day? “Something that resembles congealed tooth plaque (allegedly ‘corn’).”

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Childbirth and an epic snowstorm: This date in history

Feb. 26, 1984. The weather forecast was for a chance of flurries and a high of 34. A couple of hours before dawn that Sunday morning the snow started falling. By the time the big wet flakes stopped around mid-day Tuesday, the result was (and still is) the most significant snow event of my lifetime. (No. 2 on my list of lifetime all-time weather events). Snowfall totals ranged from 24 inches in Maries County to 34 inches in Gasconade County.

Ten-foot drifts (I have photos) shut down Highway 63 at the Rolla Airport at Vichy. Not that it mattered, because Highway 28 between Belle and Vichy was impassable for two days. Power went in and out, but the temperature never dropped much below freezing. Otherwise the snow event would probably have been deadly as well as deep.

At that time Kelly and I were on-site caretakers for a 350-acre cattle farm — Pine Corners — in southern Gasconade County off Elk  Head Road. We managed to get to Belle (about 10 miles away) before everything was completely impassable, and it was three days before we were able to return, but only with the aid of a nearby farmer and his tractor. The drifts were consistently knee to waist-high. On our return to Pine Corners and the long, difficult trudge to the barn, we discovered that several of the cows had successfully calved.

Feb. 26, 1985. That night, Kelly gave birth to Kishia Chantel, our first-born, at St. Mary’s Health Center in Jefferson City. We instantly became rich beyond our wildest dreams. Kishia. Our baby.

Kelly had been in labor the better part of four days. I gently lowered Kishia into a warm bath. Kelly, completely exhausted, asked if Kishia had “all 10 fingers, all 10 ‘toeses’ and all 10 noses?”

“She’s perfect,” I said. “Only one nose.”

“That’s good,” Kelly said, mustering all the energy she had.

 Later, in the wee hours of Feb. 27, I drove home to Belle and smoked — or tried to smoke — a celebratory cigar.

I very nearly caught myself on fire. While I was driving.

Happy Birthday, Kishia!

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The Write Life: My Tribbees are winners

Countdown to Kianna

10, 9, 8 … Just one week and one day from the due date when Darnell and Kishia Brown will be parents, and Jodie and Kelly Jackson will be grandparents. Kianna Allene Brown will also be blessed by her Auntie Natasha.

And that’s just the immediate family. So many others are already invested in the Brown family. And a few hundred have followed this countdown to some degree for 30 days now

It won’t be long …

The Write Life

We all want to be relevant. Even the most introverted among us (and that certainly is not me) wants to matter, if not make a difference. I think that’s the Number 1 reason we write, whether it’s newspaper journalism, non-fiction biographical histories, or novels of fantasy or mystery.

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“And bless this service we’re about to endure”

Countdown to Kianna

Darnell and Kishia (Jackson) Brown’s tiny little human girl is due to arrive in 15, 14, 13, 12 … 11 days.

New mom Kishia reported yesterday that Kianna Allene Brown has run out of room to stretch. But, my daughter told me, “It’s not happening today. I just don’t ‘feel it.’ ”

So the countdown continues …

Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting

Have you ever known a prayer warrior? You know, the kind of spiritual giant who seemed to have a gift of prayer? My lifetime list of prayer warriors is headed by spiritual giants who were women, usually older and sometimes frail. I’m thinking of Faith Baptist Church prayer warriors Mary Peters, Viola Terwilliger and Jewel Smith. I’m not sure it’s right to think this way, but when they prayed, God shushed the heavenly host, leaned with his ear toward the prayer warrior, and listened a little more closely.

My mom has described her mother that way, and I count my mom, my wife and my daughters as prayer warriors. They have unleashed Light during the times when my life was most dark.

I’m thinking of Jewel Smith, wife of Virgil, both of them long since entered into Gloryland. One of the tasks of a preacher was to call on someone to pray to open the service, to bless the offering, to end the service. (The Manual of Proper Baptist Etiquette called for a minimum of three prayers). Sometimes the Sunday morning bulletin had those prayer duties already assigned, which inevitably led to awkward silence when the designated pray-er played hooky from church.

Hold on … sorry. We’ve gone too far in without a song. What was I thinking?

First up is a contemporary worship song, Chris Tomlin’s “I Will Rise.” (For reasons I can’t explain, I sing “I Will Rise” to Bella, our Brussels griffon, when I give her a bath. The song lasts just long enough for a little dog’s bath).

Now for an oldie, an incredible arrangement of “At the Cross,” performed by the Gaither Vocal Band.

Amen.

Wednesday night prayer meeting was different. There was no quota of prayers, but instead a “season of prayer,” where anyone who wanted to pray would simply take one person’s “Amen” as a cue to begin the next prayer. (Everybody knows I’m kidding about the Manual that I mentioned, right?) And there was no set lineup, as it were, for the many prayers that would be said, some with Shakespeare-esque quality and a liberal application of thees, thines and thous, and Brother Rufus Keathley’s legendary prayer starter, “Our Heavenly Father,” drawn out in a way that said, “There’s about to be some serious prayin’ so stop what you’re doing and pay attention.”

As I remember, you had to pay attention longer than at any other time when Bro. Keathley prayed. (What I would give to hear one of those prayers now.)

Sometimes the pastor got the round of prayers going; at other times he’d call on someone. If you were keeping track — and I always was, apparently, because I remember this stuff 40 years later — everyone knew that Virgil Smith didn’t pray out loud very often. If he was called on to pray, with something like, “Brother Virgil, would you please open us in prayer?,” he’d quietly clear his throat and say, “Jewel.”

And Jewel Smith didn’t pray gentle, little old lady prayers. Her prayers often had a storm-the-gates-of-hell edge to them, as if demons and angels were sparring at that very moment.

You never knew how someone would react when they were called on to pray. After all, you might catch them off guard, as if they’re expecting to bat clean-up or hit ninth, but suddenly they’re told, “You’re leading off.”

From 1987 to 1991 I was pastor of New Salem Baptist Church in Gasconade County. Ours was a small congregation – 25 was a crowd — and it’s the church where everyone except my bride Kelly brought beanie-weanies for a carry-in dinner one Sunday.

Some things you never forget.

Rosemary Howard was one of those people you never forget. Quiet, unassuming, dutifully doting on her husband, Daniel, and son, Dale. She didn’t look like a prayer warrior and had an otherwise passive demeanor. But, man, could she pray!

But she rarely led off. One Sunday morning as we prepared to begin worship, I requested that Sister Rosemary open in prayer. The look on her face, though, relayed complete bewilderment. I’d caught her off-guard. She took a breath and quickly uttered: “Lord, please bless this service we’re about to endure. Amen.”

Endure?

After the service I kidded her about her choice of words, and she didn’t realize what she’d said. It was a sweet moment … One of those moments you never forget.

Grandpa’s message to Kianna #26

The time is getting so close, Little Princess. I should probably be using this time to tell you a little bit about the people you’re going to meet. What? You want to know a little about Grandpa? Well …

I’m sort of weird. Sometimes. For instance, I’m a really picky eater, and I often smell my food before eating it. I mean up-close smell. Grab a cupcake from co-worker Catherine Martin. Smell it. Pour a bowl of cereal. Smell it. Mmmm! French fries! Smell ’em.

Yeah, weird.

I am also known to laugh out loud at the most random moments, sometimes in non-laughing circumstances. Maybe I’ll remember a “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy” as I’m going through the check-out at the grocery store, and I’ll laugh. And not just a little bit or a little chuckle. I might lose it.

What do you know? I’m laughing now. I’m just so excited, so happy. So anxious to see you.

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Filed under Family, Inspiration, Kianna Allene Brown, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, Old Time Religion