Retro Crossroads 0103
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- This time on Retro Tennessee Crossroads, we're going to the circus, in 1987. Then we'll visit a town called Nameless, we'll witness a survival championship game, and finally some sweet memories of sorghum making in Benton County. That's our lineup for this edition of Retro Tennessee Crossroads. You sure are welcome. Once again, I'm joined by Becky Magura, NPT's president and CEO. Hey Becky. - Hey Joe! Thank you so much. I'm so excited to take a look back at this past on Tennessee Crossroads. You know, there are a couple of stories in here that I feel really just so special about like that one from Nameless. So I can't wait to see it. - Okay, well, I tell you what. Let's head to 1987. That's when the late great Jerry Thompson joined the circus. Well, at least for one evening, Not as a lion tamer or trapeze artist, it was something more appropriate, like clowning around. - When the circus comes to town, there's excitement in the air. There're acrobats, there're animals, there're clowns. There's something that attracts kids of all ages. I know, but since I was a kid, I've always wanted to be a clown. So when Ringling Brothers and Barnham Bailey brought their greatest show on earth to Nashville, Tennessee, and gave me the chance to be a guest clown, I jumped at that chance. First thing we do is make you up. Some phases of this process can get a fellow all choked up. - Oh my gosh, it's a clown. - Oh, then there's the clown briefing. - Okay. Here's the scenario. It's a baseball game. The Cubs are leading. I know this is fiction. Okay. Ninth inning. Let's see. Bottom of the ninth. They're ahead by five or six runs. I always forget, but I'm the world's greatest right fielder. I'm playing right field for the Cubs. You and grandma are coming to see a game that day. So you'll come out the right field to watch the game. And what happens is every time there's a hit out to right field, you and grandma interfere with me and it goes over the wall or becomes a double or something like that. And everybody's mad at me. So then there's another hit. As I turn back to catch this one, to make the final out, you got this hot dog and my mouth will be like this and you'll place the hot dog in my mouth. And so I'm choking on the hot dog. There's another home run. It's real simple cuz grandma will be there with you telling you, okay, this is we do now. This we do next. So it's real simple. You don't have to memorize anything. - I, that's the best way for me. - Good. - And I can hardly wait to meet grandma. - Okay? Yeah, me too. - All right. - Grandma! - While I rushed off to get in costume, some of my fellow clowns were doing the same thing. Some costumes are more complex than others. Mine was quite simple. Pants, wide suspenders, an old coat, a bow tie and a top hat. I loved it. But many times I felt like a clown. Now I look like a clown and I'm ready to go act like a clown. It's a childhood fantasy come true. I can hardly wait. I actually got to go out and do my routine. Clowns call it the gag, by the way. Before the circus officially started, the clowns go out before every show for what they call meet and greet. - Hey, are you hungry? - There's something magical and enchanting about a circus. People are never too young to get a kick out of all the fanfare, the music, and of course, cotton candy. At the same time, people never get too old for the circus either. Err, if you didn't know better, sometimes you might think they were watching a tennis match. And then there are more clowns and more clown routine. And like me, the clowns always have fun, but almost as much fun as being a clown was being able to be backstage behind the scenes. Suddenly I was really behind the scenes and vice versa. As a long time circus goer, I can detect some changes taking place. There's still tigers and seals and dogs and trapeze art, but there's something new too. Bicycle acts. They please the kids and frighten the parents. Yet my favorite circus performance will always be the clown. As with all childhood fantasies, all dreams have to come to an end. I've had a ball being a clown with the greatest show on earth. In just a few minutes, little baby shampoo, quick wipe or two, I'll become Jerry Thompson again, but I'll always have a dream of this night. It was a dream fulfilled. And when I think back, I'll think of this big hat, this big, heavy hat I wore that inside it said I was a guest clown. Sometimes life's hard to beat. - Well, you know, Becky, the circus, as we know it - Right. - Shut down in 2017. But I read that a comeback, Ringling Brothers that is, a comeback is planned for 2023. This time without animals. - Oh wow. Okay. I didn't know that, but I understand that. That makes a lot of sense. - Yeah. It makes a lot of sense in this day and time. - Yeah. You know, and I, I loved watching that. I had the chance. I, I know he said it was like a childhood memory and I had that same memory once and got to actually ride on one of the elephants while I was working in television. Did you ever get to do anything at the circus? - You weren't as a clown though? - I wasn't a clown. I know. I know that shocks you that I wasn't a clown. - No, I just, - I enjoyed riding the elephant. - I just sat in the audience and ate peanuts and watched the show. - Okay, Joe, where are we going next? - We've always set up our stories in advance with phone calls, emails and such. But you know, there was a time when we saw a certain spot on the map and just headed that way to see what we could find. It was all because of the name or a lack of one. - Tennessee is a state full of interesting sites from the west side in Memphis to the east side up in the Smokeys. It's also a state full of towns with interesting names while there's Christmasville here in west Tennessee, Ducktown down in the Southeast, and perhaps the most notable name of all Nameless, Tennessee. You almost can't get to Nameless from here, but if you can read the name on this battered sign and you turn on Shepherdsville road off Highway 56 North, you're on your way. It's one of those places, so small if you blink, you'll miss it. I guess I blinked cause I missed it the first time. So I stopped here at a store on the way to get directions. When I finally got there, I found this community building, but no stores and certainly no visitor center. So I stopped at the nearest house and found a Nameless resident working in his yard. - Elmore, what does it feel like being in a place that's Nameless? - Well, it's pretty good, I guess. 'Bout as good place as any. - If you had your way, would you name it something else? - Yeah, I would. - You would? - Yes, I would. - It wouldn't be Nameless anymore. - No, it wouldn't be nameless. - What would it be? - I'd name it Cat Town. Nothing else. That's all you see, run in a bunch of cats. - Next. I met up with Willie Frank Wheeler. He's a lifelong Nameless resident and I figured he could offer an explanation on how the strange name came about. - The most likely story is came from a representative went to name it for- Well, they couldn't decide at first and then a representative wanted to name it for a friend and they wouldn't accept that, so Nameless seemed to be the best name to please everybody. - So when people couldn't make up their minds, they said, let's just leave it nameless. Huh? - That seemed to please everybody. - Now there used to be a Nameless store across the road, which is now somebody's house. There's a Nameless community center where the folks get together every so often and a volunteer fire department, always ready for those Nameless emergencies. Don Chinoy moved here a few years ago and became the first Yankee elected to the county commission. Don also works for the volunteer fire department. This fire truck is an old converted school bus. You see, there's no budget for firefighting equipment here in this tiny community. But Don tells me the name alone has a lot of pull. - We've been able to play on the name Nameless throughout the country. And we've gotten over $25, $30,000 worth of equipment given to us by five or six various departments around the country because they think Nameless is a joke. Then when we show them pictures of this converted school bus into a firetruck, they go crazy and they say, we gotta help these guys and they do. - Don and his wife, Lisa, were the first outsiders to move here in quite a while, but they couldn't name a better place to live. - I guess the main reason is because I'm a bit of a hermit and I like to be someplace where people will leave me alone. I have land here. I have seven gardens, two orchards, a vineyard, a greenhouse. And if I lived in a lot of other places, I couldn't have all that. And I like it here. - Lisa's the Nameless artist. She's making a name for herself with drawings of local flowers and Nameless citizens. Her favorite is this one of the late Bernis Burgess. - They called him the Nameless Whittler. And he just sat out there. He would never wave to anybody or talk to anybody. But if he knew you real well, while he was sitting there doing that, if he knew you he'd go, and that was all you got, and then you knew you were accepted. And he accepted me cuz I used to get the finger, but getting finger from Bernis was good. - Another Nameless attraction is this ridge that's literally loaded with geodes. They are strange round rocks that hide an abundance of quartz crystals. - Okay. - There you go. That's a beautiful geode. That one cut and polished would be gorgeous. - Well, whether you come here for geological oddities or just plain curiosity, you'd be hard pressed to name a quieter, prettier place or one with nicer, friendlier people. Nameless has received national attention for its name or lack of one. Don't expect that to cause any changes. Why, it's fine just the way it is. At least for the hundred or so Nameless people who call it home. - Well, Nameless was 250, population wise, back in its peak. Now it's less than 100, but there still are some hearty Nameless residents. - Oh, you know what? I love that little community. - You've been through there. - Absolutely. In fact, I was just past there not long ago and some good friends of mine own that little country store and you know, you popped in there to get some direction. - Yeah. - I love that. I love that you can discover little places along the road and make a story out of them, Joe. - Well, that was just a, a rare treat. We just came together. It was fun. - Absolutely. I have to ask you though, where'd you get those stone washed jeans, that. - That's a wardrobe secret. I can't tell you. - Okay. Well I gotta hate that cuz I, you know what they're probably coming back. - They probably are. Should have saved them. Yeah. You know, one Saturday back in 1988, Jerry Thompson was armed and ready for battle. You see, the arms were paint guns and the battle was a survival championship, deep in the woods of middle Tennessee. - They're everywhere. People in camouflage uniforms and sophisticated weapons, despite their appearance, enthusiasm, they're actually just playing a game. Last weekend, the World Survival Game Championships were played right here in Nashville at Hermon's landing. And just what is a survival game? - Basically, what we're doing here is we're playing a grown up version of capture the flag. There's two bases with two 15-men teams at each station. The object of the game is to go to the other's flag station, take their flag away and bring it back to yours, while you shoot as many of these people with paint balls as possible. - Steve Sermonette, captain of the Nashville Ridgerunners, said 900 people were here for the competition. And the number of participants are growing at a steady rate. - About half a million people participate every weekend. It's a lot bigger than people realize. - I notice you folks use all the same weapons, the same type guns, and they look pretty sophisticated. Tell me a little about the gun. - Well, it's um, all the guns that we use in the tournament games that we played are CO2 powered. Our particular model uses a 12 gram CO2 cartridge like you'd use for a little BB pellet or pellet pistol. It's loaded in the back end of the gun. And it shoots a .68 caliber paint ball. The paintball is, these are orange. They come in all different colors. It's got a gelatin shell so that when it shoots, it's tough enough to make it out the barrel of the gun, but it's soft enough that it'll break when it hits a person. It leaves a great big stain on their, on their clothes when you hit 'em. - I didn't know what kind of people I'd find at the competition, but I was curious, curious as to what type of people are attracted to survival games. - We are not people who have guns buried in our backyards and oil drums and food stored in our basements. We like to call it a chess game in the woods. People have a picture in their minds of a bunch of maniacs, you know, wild killers running around that takes a very demented person to do what we do. But actually it's just a bunch of grownups who, who like to go out and act like a bunch of kids and have a lot of fun out on the weekend. - Number one! - 48 teams from the United States, two from England and one from Canada, all competed in the championship game. Markstud Squad from England provided a little pageantry. It was almost like they wanted a rematch of the Revolutionary War. Incidentally, they lost this one too. - We win. - We win at home, yeah. We've learnt a lot though. We really have Next year's gonna be a whole different story. - Jenny Brown played her first game a year ago. Knew right away she was hooked. - I just had my first game and I couldn't stop playing. And it's a great day out and it, you're so equal out there, cause you both have a gun in your hand. It doesn't matter who or what you are. It's great. - Do you get a special thrill out of killing a man? - No, no special thrills. It's just same as everyone else. Yeah, it's a good thing to do. You don't kill anyone anywhere. You paint them. - You paint them. Everyone knows a game must have a referee or a judge. And the judges in the survival game are clearly marked. But sometimes even the clearest marking, there's no assurance you won't get hit. After talking with everyone about how much fun they were having, I decided I'd try it myself. Nashville Ridgerunners provided my equipment and Sermonette had me get ready. Well, I'm all suited up and I'm ready to go. I'm gonna go into woods and see if I have the courage and the skill to survive. I have my doubt. I'm sure glad I found this tree. It obviously attracted a lot of ammo. How's this for a combat stalk? I learned it in college, stalking from one bar to another one. When I'm getting shot at I'm gonna make myself pretty thin. Where are all the fat trees when you really need them? The action gets fast and furious, as a team closes in on an opponent's flag. - I came up running, they were coming along the top side of the bar, the boundaries there. I jumped behind a barricade and I just looked up and wham, right between the logs, there was a dang good straight shot. You know, 30 yards away. Not much you can do, you know. That's the, that's the game. - There's dejection and frustration when a person gets hit. In jubilation at a successful battle. And then there's no doubt. It's a game. The winners go over and congratulate the losers, and I, for one, am thankful it is just a game. You know, when you play this game, you learn a lot about yourself. For instance, I know now how much courage it takes to face death square in the eye. And it takes more than I have. - I've never played that game before, have you? - No, well, no, I haven't played, I have played paintball, but I've never played this kind of survivalist game. And that is pretty crazy. - Did you get shot? - Yeah, I was not very good. Not, but this was an entertaining story. - Well, how about another one? All right, I'm ready. During the fall of 1991, we went to a farm outside of Canton for a special harvest. The farm we visited turned out to be the last sorghum operation in Benton county. Here's what we found. This is Benton county, Tennessee sorghum. Probably some of the best you'll ever find. Now getting it from this stage to what's in this jar is quite a painstaking ordeal, but it's a fall ritual that's been in Madison Fir's family for a lot longer than he can remember. Madison grows cane on about 30 acres of his land here in Benton county. This fall for the first time, he's harvesting it with a machine he made himself. It's a contraption that whacks off the tops as it also cuts the cane at the base, it then throws the cut cane back into here where it's even mashed into juice. As he rides along, he sometimes reflects on childhood sorghum cane harvest back when horse or mule power helped to mash it after workers cut it by hand. But now as always, it just wouldn't be like fall around here without sorghum in the making. - I just growed up with it and I just hung on. Just like to do it. That's all I know. - Madison and his wife, Donnise, operate the Tennessee Sorghum Company. And while the actual making of it is Madison's job. Well, Donnise has her job too. - I guess I'm the boss. - The boss? - Yeah. - What does the boss do then? - Well, I tell everybody else what to do. Of course, I help some. - Nowadays, Madison stores the raw juice in tanks where it awaits the transformation into delicious sorghum, down here in the kitchen. Now they used to cook it outdoors over wood fires, but no more. Now they use gas indoors. Although the process itself is pretty much the same as always. It comes in as thick green liquid. Then it's heated to 260 degrees. It runs left to right through a series of baffles while along the way, the slime residue is raked off, which by the way is later recycled for animal feed. Madison constantly skims the liquid to remove any leftover impurities. Then with a close keen eye on the process, he watches for a color change. A nice yellow. - See, how yellow. - This is starting to look awfully yellow here. That's- - That? - That's the way you want it. - That's the way you want. That's when these skimmings is cooked out, I would say, when it's yellow. You're green, green skimming cooked out, what we call green skimming. It's cooked out. You get up here, you got the yellow syrup, both types. The way you want it. Them horse hairs there, what we call, granddaddy used to call a horse hair, - Horse hair? - Means he said he is done. - Then it's done. - No it's done. I save that, right there. It just - Okay. - Finally, after two hours, the fresh hot sorghum is ready, ready to be barreled, bottled and sent to market. Since sorghum is a natural and nutritious product, Donny says people are using it in many more ways than ever. - Well, the way we like it best is with hot biscuits and butter, of course. But of course you can cook with it. Baked beans, gingerbread. There's just numerous recipes. The sorghum association has a cookbook out, with, that has recipes have been converted to sorghum from sugar and using sorghum in it. - Madison showed me several rusted relics of yesterday's family harvest, perhaps they're reminders of how it used to be. Although he says it's still hard work, especially for only a part-time profit. And after a bad season, well, he harbors thoughts of quitting this family tradition. - Yeah. I've thought about that several times. And then again, planting season come. We're ready to go again. So, you know, it's. - I guess sorghum maybe get, just gets in your blood a little bit. - Yeah, just like anything. I like golfing or fishing or something, you know, it's worth, a lot of 'em do that. I like fooling with sorghum. - What's more, this year's sorghum is exceptionally good and that alone makes it all worthwhile. Now the final step in this process is one in which I'm an expert, it involves your basic biscuit here, some butter and a procedure we call in the south, sopping. - Man, you made me hungry, sopping up those. - You've been sopping lately? - You know what? I just sopped some sorghum about a week ago. - Really? I'm jealous. - I'm telling you there's nothing like Tennessee sorghum and - Yeah, and Muddy Pond of near Cookville has - That's right. - An operation that's still going. - It is! And you know, the Gunther family up there, a number, number of people still make sorghum. And I love it. I love going up there. I love watching them make it. - Yeah. - It's just such an, an old art, truthfully. And what a delicious story this was Joe. - Oh, thanks. - Thank you so much for sharing. - You know, that stuff is good for you too. - It is. It's high in iron. - Iron, iron, and other essential vitamins. - That's right. Here you go. That's your tip for the day. - There you go. Well, back here in modern times, it's time for us to say goodbye, but we will revisit the past again. The first Sunday of next month at 6:30, I hope you'll join us. See you then.
Retro Tennessee Crossroads
September 04, 2022
Season 01 | Episode 03
This time on Retro Tennessee Crossroads, we’re going to the circus in 1987. Then we’ll visit a town called Nameless. We’ll witness a survival championship game. And finally, we’ll cover some sweet memories of sorghum making in Benton County.