Tag Archives: The Belle Banner

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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Doug C. and the Belle Drive-In

Countdown to Kianna

10, 9, 8, 7, 6 … Our granddaughter continues to incubate. Kishia is ready for Princess Kianna to hatch.

And so we wait.

Doug C. and the Belle Drive-In

Note: The Journal dedicates Mondays to a memoir-in-progress journey back to the 70s. This is the second part of a four-installment, 2,000-plus word short story that weaves songs of the 70s and one particular 1980 hit with a look back at memorable encounters with Doug C. while I worked at the Belle Drive-In from June 1979 to October 1980.

Doug sang and sounded just like Bob Seger …

“And I guess I lost my way

There were oh so many roads

I was living to run and running to live

Never worried about paying or even how much I owed …

… Against the wind

We were runnin’ against the wind

We were young and strong, we were runnin’

Against the wind.”

Against the Wind, Bob Seger, 1980

Pizzaburgers were a popular menu item at the Drive-In. At $1 they were a bit pricier than the regular fare of cheeseburgers, French fries, onion rings and fish squares, all of which were deep-fried in heavy oil. And $1 was one hour’s wage for most workers at the local pool hall/eatery. (By the summer of 1980, my wage “spiked” to $1.50 an hour).

Doug was especially fond of pizzaburgers and seemed to always have a few dollars in his pocket. I long suspected that he distributed “unlicensed pharmaceutical items” and also used part of his product. Finally I spied him slipping a tiny plastic baggie of pills to Carla, one of my troubled classmates (not her real name), in exchange for a 10-dollar bill.

Carla wrote a lot of poetry and she knew I kept a daily, sometimes hourly, journal of my high school experience. She felt comfortable asking me to critique her work; and she once shared with me an essay she wrote about tripping out on LSD. Another time she called me when she was hallucinating. I never understood where her pain and demons came from.

A couple of years after graduation, after I’d left college early to become editor of The Belle Banner, the local weekly newspaper, I found Carla walking toward town on Highway 28. She asked if I’d take her to the Drive-In.

“You’ll hate me now,” she said after getting in my car. “I went to St. Louis.”

She was nervous – looked so much older than 21 or 22. Her hands shook. “I need a smoke.”

“Can’t help you there, you know that,” I told her. She avoided eye contact. “Why will I hate you?”

She began to cry, spilling her soul-deep, unseen pain, as if pushing the air out of my little red Chevette.

“I got an abortion.” We were just a block from the Drive-In.

“Doug gave me the money.”

I pulled into the gravel parking lot and asked if I could do anything for her.

“Just pray,” she said. Tears seeped from empty, sorrowful eyes that still avoided mine. I lifted her lowered chin with one hand and stared into her emptiness.

“I don’t hate you,” I whispered. She hugged me quickly and got out of the car.

A few years earlier — it was early August, 1980 — Doug was my only customer when closing time approached on a Sunday night at the Drive-In. It was the most unpredictable shift, because I was expected to keep the deep-fryer on and the grill hot and ready until 9 sharp. Usually, though, the place cleared out by 8. If I had the grill scraped down (appetizing, huh?) and already swept and mopped the game room, all I needed to do was shut down the deep-fryer and I’d be locking the door at 9:01.

But that plan rarely saw reality. The school year was still a week away from starting, so there wasn’t exactly a rush to get home, and I lived less than two blocks from the Drive-In. Doug had been the only customer for the past hour while a few other late customers shuffled in and out or came up to the order window, mostly for ice cream cones or root beer floats.

I still needed to sweep and mop and had a finger on the deep-fryer switch when the phone rang. I should have expected it. Every Sunday night right at or just after closing, Mr. Banks called to order food. A lot of food.

“Jodie, we’re bringing some friends by in about 20 minutes. Four full chicken dinners. And some mozzarella sticks. I’ll make the coffee when we get there.”

That was two whole chickens, what was left of the slaw and potato salad, the deep-fried mozzarella sticks, dinner rolls and probably two or three other items that E.J. and his crew would order after they arrived. It also meant that I’d probably be there another couple of hours unless my boss offered to close up, which he sometimes did – when he was by himself or with his wife, Mary.

I returned to the kitchen to prepare the meal.

“Boss man hungry?” Doug shouted from his perch at the counter in the dining area. “He could prob’ly stand to miss a meal. Or two.”

I shook my head and chuckled. No matter how crude his language was or how high he’d get, Doug’s observations were spot on.

“How about a pizzaburger, Little Preach?”

He says, Son can you play me a memory

I’m not really sure how it goes

But it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete

When I wore a younger man’s clothes

Piano Man, Billy Joel, 1973

Grandpa’s message to Kianna #31

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, but naps are good.

Of course, you’ll need to take lots of naps when you come home, and you’ll keep taking good, regular naps for a few years. Enjoy those naps. Savor your naps.

And if you’re wired anything like Grandpa, you’ll continue to not only need but will learn to cherish naps. I gets a second wind around 9 or 10 p.m. and usually have the most creative energy between that time and 1 a.m.

Grandpa had only a one hour nap on Sunday, but it was so deep and sound that I actually dreamed.

About you.

Grandpa napping on the sofa with his 5-week-old baby, Kishia. (Grammy was snapping the photo). Grandpa sometimes refers to that period as "The Unfortunate Mustache Period."

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The written record, etched in time

Countdown to Kianna

Eighteen days, 17, 16, 15, 14 — two weeks until Feb. 19, the date that Kianna Allene Brown is set to arrive.

Kelly — Grammy — finished sewing two mattress covers for Baby Kianna on Saturday, so it’s time. After we attend church with Kishia and Darnell this morning at One in Christ Baptist Church in Jefferson City, maybe we can have a little lunch and then drive to Boone Hospital to get little Kianna delivered.

Sure. Good plan.

The written record(s)

I love my job as a news reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune. Thirty years ago when I started in this profession, I reacted to my byline with a reaction of, “How cool! My name’s in the paper. I wrote that article.”

The ego-boosting property of one or more daily bylines isn’t what it used to be, but I’m still amazed that I get to go to work every day as a reporter. I barely have two years of college on my resume’ and it’s that lack of formal education, among other things, that often leaves me feeling like I don’t belong. I still smile almost every time I walk through the Tribune doors. I can’t believe I get to make a living doing what I hoped I’d be doing when I was 13.

Before that I was planning to attend college at Arizona State University – probably on a baseball scholarship (of course) – and pursue the love of the first decade and three years of my life: Reptiles. ASU is the college Reggie Jackson attended before embarking on a Hall of Fame baseball career, but more than that, ASU at the time had the nation’s preeminent herpetology program.

Seriously. I was sure I was born to be a herpetologist – a reptile scientist. (Not “reptilian” scientist, like the aliens in “V.” But that would have been cool, too). I’d probably specialize in snakes and lizards. Besides, I was already on my way to “expert” status with all the snakes and/or lizards I’d already captured, studied, fed and been bitten by.

Eventually, though, I realized there was one problem.

Math.

The prerequisites for admission to the Arizona State herpetology program included all the advanced math and science that was available on the planet, which meant that most of those courses weren’t available at Maries County R-2 High School in Belle, Mo. I was a “B” student in algebra 1 and 2, and geometry, but I had to absolutely bust my hump to get that grade.

Nothing else in high school – with the exception of my principal – gave me as much grief as math. Time for trig and calculus?

See ya.

And that’s basically how I ended up a journalist. I figured I wouldn’t need advanced math for this profession and – sorry, Mr. Fann – I was right. Anyway, it worked out pretty well. Not that many jobs out there for herpetologists, I suppose.

Last night I shuffled through a Rubbermaid tub of old newspapers and clips with my byline. I’ve been a reporter, stringer, sports writer or editor for: The Belle Banner (my hometown newspaper, including sister papers The Bland Courier and the Maries County Gazette-Advisor in Vienna); The Muleskinner (campus paper at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg); the Gasconade County Republican weekly newspaper in Owensville; the Post-Tribune and Daily Capital News, evening and morning editions of the Jefferson City News Tribune; South Callaway Courier weekly newspaper in Holts Summit, which eventually became the twice-weekly Callaway Courier and then the daily Callaway Courier, and then back to the weekly Courier – mostly with a three-person staff; the Fulton Sun; Hannibal Courier-Post; Mexico Ledger; Quincy Herald-Whig; California Democrat; Centralia Fireside Guard; my own Northern Boone County Bullseye, which published 202 editions before “expiring” in September 2008; and the Columbia Daily Tribune. Countless bylines attached to articles picked up by The Associated Press have appeared from coast to coast.

That makes me almost laugh out loud with glee. I can’t believe I’ve been able to do this for a living. It makes me think of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer is mistaken for an employee at a big company until finally he writes a business report and the boss says something like, “This stinks. It’s as if you have no business training at all.”

I keep waiting for someone (besides an angry reader) to tell me that.

Grandpa’s message to Kianna #23

The birds have been singing a little more loudly the past few mornings. I keep bird seed available in a couple of feeders, one of which gets raided by the squirrels. I can’t wait for you to discover things like squirrels and birds and earthworms and crickets and the hidden world of creatures that lives in the grass in your own backyard.

We’ll look through a telescope into the cosmos. We’ll grow our own paramecium and look at them under a microscope.

There’s so much to hear, see, feel, taste and smell. (Note to Grandpa: there’s another story entirely about “smell.” Maybe later. Right, Kishia?)

It’s gonna be GREAT!

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The waiting game: February 1985

Countdown to Kianna

Twenty, 19, 18, 17, 16 … Just two weeks and two days away from the Feb. 19 due date. I don’t doubt there are many people in my personal and professional circles who will be incredibly relieved when I can talk about something besides the impending arrival of Kianna Allene Brown, our first grandbaby. (Go ahead, admit it. You know who you are.)

I’m also surprised daily to know that others are now counting down with us. I had to pick up something from the Boone County Commission office on Thursday. I told the commission’s secretary, Monica Kuster, that I’d be by between 2 and 3 p.m.

I got sidetracked and didn’t show up until just after 4 p.m. By then, both Monica and public information officer/administrative assistant Michele Hall were convinced that Kianna had arrived (why else would I be late?). “No baby? Is there a baby? Did Kianna come?”

(Note: You’re going to meet Monica next week. She’s guest-posting Tuesday by sharing a love poem she wrote to her husband. There’s some exciting news about the poem and a certain song-writing contest. Tune in Tuesday!)

 

February 1985

The calendar chronicles the schedule and mileage of my labors as editor of the weekly Belle Banner and bi-vocational pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Kelly and I were both 21. And we were “expecting.”

That calendar page also has a baby countdown or, more accurately, a baby count up. Feb. 7 listed “Kelly to Dr., 1:30,” with “LaBoyer class, 7:30.” (I misspelled “LaBoya,” which was the method of birth we’d selected for both of our daughters. The LaBoya Method involved gently placing the baby in a warm bath immediately after birth. Sad to say we didn’t get photos of Kishia’s LaBoya bath, but we have several photos from Natasha’s LaBoya bath).

Feb. 10 was Kelly’s due date. Then 15 days passed as I marked the calendar with “still no baby” or simply “no baby.”

Check out Tuesday, Feb. 26: BABY!

As a side note, there’s one notation that’s a clear indication of the decade. Feb. 15. Besides paying a heating bill of $54, there’s this: “Breakdancers, 3:30 p.m.” As I recall, the only two students capable of breakdancing in our all-white, rural school put on an after-school demonstration.

Oh, baby.

Grandpa’s message to Kianna #21

I often knelt with your mommy, Kishia, to say a bedside prayer as part of our bedtime routine. Her little prayers were so sincere and sweet. And simple. (She taught me a lot about praying.) Kishia’s forehead pressed her praying hands into the side of the mattress.

One night, in the next breath after her “Amen,” Kishia sneezed and immediately lowered her face to the mattress, and softly whispered, ” ‘Scooze me, God.”

So, God apparently lived in the mattress. At least that was the premise for one or more sermons over the years.

But come to think of it, the innocence of your mommy’s courtesy to the Creator made God as real to me that night as He had ever been.

This is one of my all-time favorite photos. Our little lhasa apso puppy, Gizmo, with Kishia and my pretty wife Kelly. I’m guessing Kishia is 18 months to 2 years old here.

 

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Let’s have a meeting!

I routinely cover a lot of routine meetings, most notably county commission meetings, planning and zoning meetings, board of trustees meetings (fire district and hospital board), and in the past there were school boards, ambulance districts, city councils, boards of aldermen … lots and lots of meetings.

It’s safe to say I’ve been doing it forever. Today I was at a hearing (another word for “meeting”) at the State Capitol, where the House Committee on Appropriations for Agriculture and Natural Resources heard about an eminent domain issue in Hallsville.

You’ll just have to wait until tomorrow’s Columbia Daily Tribune rolls off the press to see my report on that meeting/hearing. Like thousands of meetings before it, my single focus and single goal is telling the story of the meeting without inducing eye-glazing numbness, which so often is the effect I fight off during said meeting.

In 30 years of news reporting, I’ve covered too many meetings to count. My archives of material for my epic memoir-in-progress — tentatively titled “Goats on Top of the Car” —  contain a time-lapse chronology of a meeting of the Belle Board of Aldermen, dated Jan. 14, 1981. I was a senior in high school, but employed by The Belle Banner as the ace reporter. I’m assuming I kept notes of the real action, but my “log of the meeting” details the cigarettes smoked and coffee consumed during the city aldermen meeting in a town of 1,104 residents.

I’ll only present the highlights, so to speak, but first you need a quick introduction to some of the main players: Herb Henley, the city marshall, collector and sewer commissioner; Marlis King, the city treasurer; and Guy Rager, the mayor, a man who perfectly resembled Col. Sanders.

Here goes, unedited:

7:02 p.m., Mayor calls meeting to order. 11 present. All have coffee. Most have cigarette. Some already on cig #2. Marlis King to be late because of wisdom teeth just removed.

7:05, councilmen Curry and Hicks light up. Mayor appearing foggy.

7:08, Henley/Rager begin unnecessary discussion on cig. tax stamps.

7:10, Treasurer King comes in, holding jaw steady.

7:14, smoke in room blending with color of mayor’s hair.

7:35, Hicks lights cig #3. King cusses — couldn’t hear exact word. Curry lights another. King leaves, coughing. King grabs jaw, face contorted in pain as she exits.

7:39, mayor nearly completely obscured by nicotine-laden cloud of toxins.

7:39, aldermen Shanks, Curry get coffee. Curry now has three half-full cups of joe. And two cigs going at once.

7:48, I imagine being fatally wounded by a gunshot through the door.

(I’m skipping over rapid-fire references — with time stamps — to someone lighting up or getting another cup of coffee).

8:28, mayor says he’ll veto an ordinance that just passed. He adds, “Just kidding.” I hear his voice, but i can’t see him.

8:33, mayor doesn’t know Henley is also the water/sewer commissioner. Aldermen snicker.

8:38, meeting adjourned.

Tonight’s totals: 36 cigarettes smoked (that I could see), 24 cups of coffee downed. Conclusion = arteriosclerosis, emphysema and caffeine addiction.

Those were my notes. No idea what was in the actual news story, but I’m sure it wasn’t as entertaining as my notes.

COUNTDOWN TO KIANNA: 35, 34, 33 days away …

The highlight of today was dropping in on my old stomping ground at the Jefferson City News Tribune, unaware that so many of the old gang would be working. Intruding was my pleasure and it gave me a chance to kiss former sports writing colleague Tony Hawley smack upside the head. Sports editor Tom Rackers, under whom I wrote and produced sports and sports pages for parts of nine years from 1992 to 2001, declined a smooch.

Managing editor Richard McGonegal and so many other faces and names from those wonderful years at the “other” Tribune provided the perfect audience for me to announce, “I’m going to be a grandpa soon!”

Reporter Anne Kettenbrink, who was in high school and an intern when I left 11 years ago, recognized my voice, inquiring from her obscured seat, “Is that Jodie Jackson?” When I said it was nice to be remembered, my old sports writing pals quickly let me know that my name does crop up from time to time. It seems I’m partly remembered as a spinner of stories, a teller of tales. And I believe they also mention my name mockingly.

Kind of like at the Tribune where I’m presently employed. (Columbia).

Grandpa’s message to Kianna, #5:

Learn to laugh at yourself.

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