WELCOME TO THE VIRTUAL HOME OF BRONSON L. PARKER. A native of Tennessee, "Bo" is a former journalist and writer of historical non-fiction. His creative writing career began after retirement from his day job as an appointed public servant in his adopted town of Hampton, VA. "It isn't a gipe site," he says. "If I enjoy something I read, or learn something about the writing game that I think is worthwhile, I'll have a few comments to make. His goal is to make it a fun site, both to write and, hopfully, to read.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Road to a Second Novel Continues to be a Rocky One

It has been almost four years since the public release of the first Joe Mckibben novel. It has been a time of both joy and frustration. The joy came from the sales of THE PROVIDENCE OF DEATH, even after circumstances ended almost all promotion of the book two years ago. Not only did readers continue to buy it, emails arrived from readers who said they enjoyed the book, loved the widower, Joe McKibben, and wanted another story about him.  

The frustration, in part, is the delays caused by continuing physical issues that included a forced move from Hampton, Virginia, to Raleigh, North Carolina. And on the writing side, the struggle to make the story the best it can be has added to the delay. Giving in to a personal quirk has not made the task easier.

During my newspaper days and through all the years I wrote historical non-fiction articles and books, the why of an event intrigued me more than the other Ws, who, what, when, where. There was never time in the next-story rush of daily journalism to seek out answers to why. During the years of writing about historical events, time allowed more research, but the answers to why remained elusive.

With the decision to delve into creative writing, why became the starting point, an element of my own creation. Joe McKibben is an ordinary man who is reluctant to do what he feels he needs and wants to do. Why he feels this reluctance and how through the help of others he works his way past the fears and concerns causing it, is the story told in THE WEIGHT OF EMPTINESS.

With much of the story residing in the mind of the main character, the approach of showing, not telling, proved to be a challenge. Placing him in situations where he had to physically react, or creating comments for him in scenes involving dialogue, became the method to show his inner feelings. That is not as easy as it might sound. In pursuit of the idea of making all this writing the best one can, I’m at that stage where Dorothy Parker (no relation) said, “I can’t write five words but that I change seven.”

That may explain why she never wrote novels. She was best known for her short stores. But to her credit, she wrote two screenplays that received Academy Award nominations. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Being Aware of Your Surroundings Means Being Safe Rather Than sorry

The following nine pieces of advice, written by a policeman, could save you or a loved one from physical harm or worse.

1. Take a tip from Tae Kwon Do. The elbow is the strongest point on your body. If you are close enough to use it, do!

2. Learned this from a tourist guide. If a robber asks for your wallet and/or purse, DO NOT HAND IT TO HIM. Toss it away from you. Chances are that he is more interested in your wallet and/or purse than you. He will go for the wallet/purse. RUN LIKE MAD IN THE OTHER DIRECTION!

3. If you are ever thrown into the trunk of a car, kick out a back taillight, stick your arm out the hole, and start waving like crazy. The driver won't see you, but everybody else will. This has saved lives.

4. Women have a tendency to get into their cars after shopping, eating, working, etc., and just sit (doing their checkbook, or making a list, etc. DON'T DO THIS!) The predator will be watching you, and this is the perfect opportunity for him to get in on the passenger side, put a gun to your head, and tell you where to go. AS SOON AS YOU GET INTO YOUR CAR, LOCK THE DOORS AND LEAVE.

If someone manages to enter the car's back seat and puts a gun to your head DO NOT DRIVE OFF, Repeat: DO NOT DRIVE OFF! Instead gun the engine and speed into anything, wrecking the car. Your Air Bag will save you. The person is in the back seat they will get the worst of it. As soon as the car crashes, bail out and run. It is better than having them find your body in a remote location.

5. A few notes about getting into your car in a parking lot, or parking garage:
A. Remain aware. Look around; look into your car, at the passenger side floor, and in the back seat.
B. If you are parked next to a big van, enter your car from the passenger door. Most serial killers attack their victims by pulling them into their vans while the women are attempting to get into their cars.
C. Look at the car parked on the driver's side of your vehicle, and the passenger side. If a male is sitting alone in the seat nearest your car, you may want to walk back into the mall, or work, and get a guard/policeman to walk you back out. IT IS ALWAYS BETTER TO BE SAFE THAN SORRY. (And better paranoid than dead.)

6. ALWAYS take the elevator instead of the stairs. Stairwells are horrible places to be alone and the perfect crime spot. This is especially true at NIGHT!)

7. If the predator has a gun and you are not under his control, ALWAYS RUN! The predator will only hit you (a running target) 4 in 100 times; and even then, it most likely WILL NOT be a vital organ. RUN, Preferably in a zigzag pattern!

8. Women can be sympathetic. STOP! It may get you raped, or killed. Ted Bundy, the serial killer, was a good-looking, well-educated man, who ALWAYS played on the sympathies of unsuspecting women. He walked with a cane, or a limp, and often asked "for help" into his vehicle or with his vehicle, which is when he abducted his next victim.

9. Another Safety Point: Someone just told me that her friend heard a crying baby on her porch. She thought it was weird, and called the police because it was late in the evening. The police told her “Whatever you do, DO NOT open the door.”
The lady then said that it sounded like the baby had crawled near a window, She was worried that it would crawl to the street and get run over. The policeman said, “We already have a unit on the way. Whatever you do, DO NOT open the door.” The police told her that they thought a baby's cry had been recorded and was being used to coax women out of their homes.
This had not been verified, but police had received several calls from women who said they hear a baby crying outside their doors when they're home alone at night. The Crying Baby Theory was mentioned on America 's Most Wanted when they profiled a serial killer in Louisiana

10. Water scam! If you wake up in the middle of the night to hear all your taps outside running or what you think is a burst pipe, DO NOT GO OUTSIDE TO INVESTIGATE! Turning on all your outside taps full blast is a ploy to get you outside and vulnerable to an assault or worse.

Forward this to all the women you know. And this is not for the ladies only. Guys, if you love your mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, etc, pass this on to them, as well. Everyone needs to be reminded that the world we live in has a lot of crazies in it. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Last Day in DC a Unique Experience; But Eagles Beat Skins In Last Minute

Our last event in Washington was attending the Redskins vs. the Philadelphia Eagles at DC Stadium. Since the game was our last official stop on the schedule—We were heading home immediately after the game—we became more regular tourists than pampered VIPs.

There was no blue sedan with chauffeur. It was only the second or third home game at the new stadium. There were a few traffic flow problems to be resolved. Had we not had a pass that allowed us to park next to the stadium, we might have listened to the game on the car's radio.

Our seats for the game were smack on the fifty-yard line, in a TV booth. In the photo below, imagine you are sitting as high as you can on the left. It took a series of steps and catwalks to reach it.

After seeing our passes that allowed us in the booth, the camera operator asked us how we got them. After hearing our explanation, the told us that seats in the booth were highly prized by those who wanted to see the game and had no desire to be seen by the public.

I admit my memory of the game details have faded. What I do remember is that we thought we’d seen the Skins win their first game of the season after a 6-0 start. What we did not see was the team’s seventh loss of the season. The Eagles won the game in the closing minutes. The final score was 27-24.

We had decided to beat the crowd. When the Eagles scored the winning TD, we were winding our way down the catwalks and stairs in the stadium. An hour later, we drove across the Potomac River and headed back to South Carolina.

A goodly amount of travel time was spent discussing our two days in Washington. Both of us were left with the feeling that Washington had a small-town, friendly feel about it. Now, more than a half century later, I suspect that small-town feeling has been replaced by the feeling of a city under siege, armed to the teeth against a type of enemy never imagined in 1961. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Pentagon and National Press Club; Both Made Lasting Impressions

I came away from the tour of the Pentagon those many years ago with one thought. The place was so huge it defied comparison to any other structure at the time. The US Army prepared a document with the title, “How to find a Room in the Pentagon.” According to this set of instructions, “It is possible for a person to walk between any two points in the Pentagon in less than seven minutes.”

Even though it’s been more than fifty years, I still remain convinced the average person could not match that time, even if he or she had memorized the Army’s manual.

I also remained convinced that had I been left alone that day in one of the building five rings, finding my way back to the entrance we used to enter the building would have been a sheer accident. Except for a few areas, everything looked the same except for the numbers on doors.

One thing I remember beyond the sheer size of the building was the scope of services that were not related directly to a military function. Located along one entire corridor were a series of retail shops. I would not see a similar lineup until shopping malls began to appear.

 Our guide, a two-star General, said that every human need, from birth to death could be handled by a facility within the walls. The one exception, he explained, was a mortuary to handle the deceased.

During lunch, he was asked why a two-star General was conducting tours. He laughed, said we should not be all that impressed. Within the Pentagon, he added, having two stars meant little more than being a first lieutenant at any other military installation.

Then came Saturday night and the National Press Club. Meeting the President of the United States earlier in the day had been an impressive moment, but as a young newspaper reporter, entering the NPC was a “pinch me” moment.

The d├ęcor of the NPC in 1961 would not have appeared in Architectural Digest. The only thing I vividly remember from that evening was the wall of framed flongs (see photo below). Flat fibrous/resin boards that were molded under heat and pressure to make impressions of newspaper pages. In turn, the boards became molds for the hot lead used to make printing plates. That entire process is becoming “past tense.” Flongs may someday bring thousands of dollars on the antique market.

Beyond these artifacts, it’s the history of events that make the NPC a unique place. After months of planning, its grand opening was held in May 1908. The special guest that day was Wild West star Buffalo Bill.

Seven months later, a lighted cigarette was thrown in a trashcan. But the smoke and fire, and the arrival of the firemen didn’t stop the poker game in progress.

The club has had the expected procession of US Presidents as members, starting with William Howard Taft in 1910. It has hosted many national and international figures, and there have been moments that show a different side to life in Washington.

When Prohibition ended in 1933, the NPC bar is the first to re-open its doors and was granted liquor license #1. During WW II, the club became a canteen for military personnel on Saturdays with free beer, hot dogs, and entertainment. Those who were there on February 10, 1945, saw movie star Lauren Bacall perched atop a piano while Vice President Harry Truman tried to keep his eyes on the keys.

Next: our last day in Washington. The football game.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Second Stop on DC Weekend Proved to be a Study in Contrasts; Except One

I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the dark blue sedan that October morning back in 1961when it picked us up at the hotel. But the number of identical autos on Washington’s streets got my attention. What make or model they might have been has been long forgotten, but they were everywhere. The wording on their license plates stated they were for official use only. My thought was that if there was this much official stuff happening on a Saturday morning, the weekdays in Washington must be really busy.

Later that morning, after we had left the White House, our guide led us into the waiting room outside the office of U. S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. If the number of dark blue sedans on the streets had been impressive, the view in this room was beyond belief.

It was by far the largest room I seen that was used for such a purpose.  Chairs lining every inch of wall space except for the area in one corner around the entrance door and a space in the diagonal corner occupied by a desk and a door behind it.

A man holding a brief case in his lap occupied almost every chair. Most of them wore traditional western dress--dark suit, white shirt, and tie--but a goodly number wore clothing associated with African and Middle Eastern countries.

We followed our guide across the room where he identified us to the young man sitting behind the desk. I glanced over my shoulder as we were ushered to the door behind his desk. It seemed that every set of eyes in the room was following us with a look that said, “Who are you?”

The first thought I had when I met Robert Kennedy was how small he was in comparison to his brother. When I first began to reduce my memory of that day to writing, I questioned how accurate it was regarding the respective size of the two brothers. That drove me to the Internet.

The first thing I found was that President Kennedy was not as large as the image held in my memory. He was only an inch or so taller than me. I weighed five pounds more than the heaviest weight I found listed for him on the Internet. But having stood face to face with the man to shake his hand, I carried an image of a taller man who outweighed me by a measurable amount.

Robert, I was able to confirm did stand at least two-three inches shorter than his brother. The photographs I found seemed to confirm the height difference as well as my memory of Robert having a slimmer build.

This photo, taken August 28, 1963, outside the Oval Office, is reported to be the
last group picture taken of the three brothers, Robert, Edward, and Jack.

There was another difference between the two bothers. Even with his shoes off and sitting cross legged on a table, I never forgot for a moment that I was in the presence of the Pesident of the United States. Meeing Robert was a more infromal encouneter without any ongoing thoutht that I was in the presence of the U. S. Attorney General.

In shirtsleeves with the cuffs rolled up a couple of turns, and his tie loosened, he was standing when we walked into his office. He shook hands before sitting down on the front of his desk. There is only one other thing I clearly remember about the rest of that short visit. His accent was the same as the President’s.

The late American linguist Richard Bailey wrote in his book, “Speaking American,” that the Kennedy accent was a “New England Original,” one that could be traced back to the 1600s. It was an accent we would continue to hear in Washington as Edward, the youngest brother in the family, served in the U.S. Senate for another forty plus years after the death of Robert.

This photo, taken in 1937, shows that Jack at age twenty was the tallest memer of the family, with the possible esception of his older brother Joe, who was at Harvard when the picture was taken. Edward is on the left. Brother Robert is second from left.

Next time, the rest of Saturday. The Pentagon and the National Press Club.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The 1961 "Football" Weekend in D. C. That Proved to be More About Politics

I was a happy guy back in October 1961 when my boss in South Carolina told me I would be going to Washington, D. C. to see the Redskins play the Philadelphia Eagles in the new D. C. Stadium. I had no idea that politics would be a bigger part of the trip than football.

The Skins had a promotional program in those days that give recognition to a state at home games. The state was asked to select an official representative to be the team’s guest of honor for the weekend. This representative could pick a press member from his state to accompany him. The State Commander of the American Legion, a resident of the town where I was working was picked to represent The Palmetto State. I was the press member that accompanied him.

Our whirlwind time in the nation’s capitol began on Saturday morning. We were picked up at our hotel and taken to the Senate Office Building where we met our host and guide for the weekend. He was a staff member for one of South Carolina’s Senators.  Over breakfast in the Senate Dining Room, he told us our schedule for the weekend. That was when we learned the trip was about politics more than it was about football.

First stop after breakfast would be a tour of the White House. Since President Kennedy was out of town on a speaking engagement, we would be going to the Justice Department to meet his brother Robert, the nation’s Attorney General. Then it would be lunch at the Pentagon with a tour of the facility to follow. After a return to our hotel for a rest break, we’d go to the National Press Club for dinner. That was Saturday’s schedule. On Sunday, it would be the football game.

At the White House, we had just left the Oval Office when a group of young women ran past us down the hall and disappeared through a doorway. We were invited to join the gathering in what we learned was the Cabinet Room.

Through the French doors along the outer walls of the Cabinet Room we first saw the First Lady, Jacqueline. She was standing on the lawn halfway between the White House and a helicopter, holding John Jr. in one arm. Standing beside her was Caroline, holding her mother’s hand. The President had arrived earlier than expected.

He stepped off the helicopter, walked to his family, and picked up Caroline. After a family hug, he put his daughter down, and took John Jr. in his arms. Mother and daughter headed back to an entrance we could not see. The President walked across the lawn and entered the Cabinet Room through one of the French doors.

The White House guide told the President who we were and why we were in Washington. He shook our hands and said he hoped the Redskins would win the game.  We then stepped back and watched as the young staffers instantly surrounded the President and his son.

He spoke to the young ladies by name as he began to kid them about not wearing shoes. He then kicked off his shoes, used one of the chairs to crawl up onto the massive table that filled the room. He folded his legs Indian style, placed John Jr. down in his lap with his back against his father’s waist.

He was still sitting on the table with John Jr. in his lap chatting with the young women when our guide told us it was time to leave. A vehicle was waiting to take us to the Justice Department.

We were told that what we had seen had become a new White House tradition. While the young ladies worked throughout the west wing, some only doors away from the Oval Office, they seldom saw the President.  When he returned by helicopter, they gathered in the Cabinet Room from which they could at least see him.

After the President learned about this, and when circumstances allowed, he entered the White House via the Cabinet Room and spent time with the staffers. We were also told that working in only stocking or socks had become a common practice in many offices.

It has been written that John Junior could often be found with his father in the Oval Office. 

Next time. The fleet of dark blue sedans that keeps our government moving (or at least they did fifty-two years ago) and a brief visit with the 64th U. S. Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Hat's a Reminder of the Crash; And My Interview with Minnie Pearl

I recently stumbled across the picture of the hat shown to the left. A part of the America's History collecton at the Smithsonian Institution, it was a reminder of the day in 1967 that I had a chance to interview Minnie Pearl.

Thanks to the Internet, where I found the picture of the hat, I found a couple more items from April 18, the  day when Minnie and her husband's plane crash landed in the pasture of a dairy farm just west of Knoxville, TN.

The couple was close to escaping unscathed during the forced landing until a small drainage ditch snagged the nose landing gear on the Beechcraft Bonanza. Their seatbelts kept them from suffering injuries beyond bruises.

The following AP story, found on the Internet, is a shortened version of the one I wrote for the local paper. The story behind this story is one of the highlights of my days as a newspaper reporter.

When news of the crash reached the Knoxville Journal, where I was working as the police reporter, I headed to Fort Sanders, the Presbyterian hospital where the couple would be taken. I rushed into the ER, found a nurse I knew, and asked where I could find Minnie Pearl, and if I might be able to see her.

I was told I was in luck. A hospital official had met Minnie upon her arrival and asked about her desire for privacy. Her response, I was told, had been she would be glad to talk with any member of the press that might arrive. “You’ll find the lady in the second exam room on the right, waiting for the doctor.”

This would not be my first interview with a nationally known public figure, or for that matter, a member of the Grand Olde Opery cast. But this was Minnie Pearl. Yeah. I still remember being a bit nervous as I walked down that hallway and opened the door.

Minnie Pearl was nowhere to be seen. One of the chairs in the room was occupied. I was a bit stunned by the appearance of the woman that prompted another author to later write, (She was) “a lady who could only be described as cultured and reserved, the very model of a genteel Southern lady.”

That was my introduction to Mrs. Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon. Her voice, when she responded to what I remember as my stumbling words about looking for Minnie Pearl, was the educated utterance of a graduate of Nashville’s most prestigious school for women, Ward-Belmont College, now Belmont University.

My face-to-face visit with Minnie lasted almost an hour that day. I would later watch her on the television show, HeeHaw. But when I saw her in those frilly dresses, that hat, and heard her signature greeting—“How-w-w-DEE-E-E-E! I'm jes' so proud to be here!"—I was reminded of the brief opportunity I’d had to get to know the lady behind the on-stage character.

In today’s world, she would probably be called corny, or smaltzy. But there is one point to be made. One fan said it best. “It is important for all comedians who feel they need off-color innuendo or vulgarity to be successful to remember that Minnie Pearl's career thrived without ever lapsing into such base trappings.”

As the pictures show below, Minnie had a very expressive face. She could get a laugh with a subltle expression as easily as she could with words. As it is with all good actors, dress and makeup can hide the true appearance of the person. There are no pictures to be found that show the attractive lady that was Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon.