The other day someone mentioned Razz Poe, a colorful character in these parts some years ago, whose handle won him a spot on the list I used to keep of interesting and unusual Arkansas names. Razz Poe wasn't as good a name as Norvel Gooley or Duford Lafoon, but it beats a hacking cough.
Razz's first name was actually Razza, perhaps the first and only Razza this side of the Levant. He was said to be very likeable, good-natured and red-headed like so many hereabout of Irish descent, a longtime mail carrier who worked alongside my older sister Nita, the two of them retiring from the postal service at the same time, in 1981.
I know of at least four settlements in this woods' neck that have lots of Poes, or used to. One of these was Belfast, now long defunct, founded by a portly red-headed Poe of Irish descent who was said to have been a cousin of Edgar Allan Poe, the raven quother and horror-story master who stayed back east, among the more civilized early American Poes.
Among the better-named parochial Poes were Razz's brother Bye Poe — did that make him bipolar? — and his half-brothers Preacher and Dude.
From the Prattsville Poe constellation was a contemporary of mine named Joe Poe. He was one of those cool guys with the ducktail who went around with his Camels rolled up in his T-shirt sleeve. I didn't know Joe and had no gripe ag'in him except that my first great love — I was in the Ninth grade and she was in the Seventh — threw me over for him. I think she liked his car. That's what I wanted to think anyhow.
I had a high-school classmate and friend named Dickie Poe. He was one of the East End Poes. Likeable, good-natured, funny, but a little scary somehow. Dickie dropped out of school before graduation, and soon after began a storied career as an underworld goon. We all heard the lurid tales of his goonery — including the one in which the inevitable whirlwind is inevitably reaped — and believed them, and repeated them as gospel of which we had indisputable first-hand knowledge. That's how it goes with legends. You never know the real skinny on them till the movie comes out.
Dickie Poe had a son Todd, likeable, good-natured, ursine but not at all scary. Todd Poe was my daughter's boyfriend during much of their time in high school, and familial assumptions were made but Todd died young of the epochal scourge. He helped me rescue kitties and one Christmas Eve — 1979, I think it was — he and I labored to save the new house from a flash flood. The midnight floodwaters might near swept both of us away.
Todd Poe's mother, called Tootsie in her youth, had been the better half of my first real date. She and I were the back-seat pair in a double-date at the drive-in picture show, with Wally Freeman, the future Razorback baseball and basketball star, and Martha Gwin, the elusive little scamp who had dumped me previously for Joe Poe, up front. Despite the inconstancy, and no offense to Tootsie, little Marthy (as Pap came to call her) remained the apple of my eye. Still is, for that matter, here 50 plus years later.
It hurt to see her up there in the front seat with somebody else, but if that's how it had to be, it was good she was with ol' Wally, whose main interest was visiting and revisiting and re-revisiting and finally pretty much camping out at the concession stand take-out window. I'm sure he would've pitched a tent there if he'd had one.
Haunted before and since by other Tootsie connections and Poe associations. Warp and woof. Connections and associations so intricate and far-reaching and time-jumbled that they're almost spooky.
A couple years after that big double-date, W.B. Freeman Sr. drove his two sons Wally and Danny up to Kansas City to see a weekend set of New York Yankee-Kansas City A's baseball games. They invited me along and I was thrilled to go and country-boy awestruck the entire time there. This was 1961, and Roger Maris hit several of his fabled 61 taters that weekend. I liked him OK, but Mantle more, and figured I was the only goob in the stands that weekend harboring a secret admiration for Norm Siebern, the fiery-headed underappreciated left fielder of the A's.
But unknown to me 11-year-old Siebern fanatic Max Brantley up from Lake Charles, La., was on the scene as well. Yep, that Max. Colleagues for a coon's age now, he and I swapped memories of those glorious diamond doings 51 years after the fact.
W.B. Freeman Sr. was my older brother Harold's best friend growing up, and they remained close friends until Harold, who was born the same month and same year as Razz Poe, died in 2005.
Tootsie, now an Alabaman, is godmother to my grandchildren in Maryland, who until fairly recently lived in a DC suburb next door to a Baptist preacher who as a young department-store clerk working his way through Ouachita nigh 40 years ago sold my brother Harold his go-to-meeting shirts and ties and blazers and dress shoes.
Wally Freeman's younger brother Dan has been our next-door neighbor — mine and Marthy's — for the past 34 years.
All of this a way of saying there really aren't 10 degrees of separation among any of us here on the third rock. There aren't even six, as the book and movie allege. There aren't any.
Bob Lancaster, one of the Arkansas Times longest and most valued contributors, retired from writing his column last week. We’ll miss his his contributions mightily. Look out, in the weeks to come, for a look back at some of his greatest hits. In the meantime, here's a good place to start.
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