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Tough Times Made For Tough Old Men

By Charles Cooper

Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.  My thanks to James Person for the picture of his grandfather, “Pet” Person.  This puts a face to who we’re profiling and I would ask any of you who want us to profile someone to include a photo with your information if you have it.  

In a phone conversation last week with Jack Gurner, he made an interesting point. He said that all the pictures he had seen of old timers showed tall, lanky individuals. I had never really thought about it but, thinking back, he was right. Those people back then worked hard, ate whatever food they were fortunate enough to have and never had to worry about losing weight. Most of them chewed, dipped or smoked, or did all three, and many lived long lives – although some didn’t.  

Today it seems incredible that until the Pure Food and Drug laws were enacted in the early days of the twentieth century that morphine, Laudanum, Cocaine and paregoric could be bought over the counter without a prescription. Patent medicines of every description were sold to an uninformed public who believed the advertising that promised to cure everything from chills and fever to cancer and Tuberculosis.  

Calomel was one of the worst offenders and was believed to cure a variety of ailments. It was only much later that it was realized how much mercury was in calomel and how much lasting damage to people who took it over time. The Chattanooga Medicine company would produce a variety of tonics such as Black Draught and Cardui, and they even printed an almanac that was more popular in the south than the Farmer’s Almanac.

I can remember Papa Badley having a “ladies birthday” almanac hanging on the mantle by the fireplace. It had all kinds of generally worthless information about what time of the moon to plant, and was followed to the letter by many people. The doctors of those days did a superb job considering the limited knowledge and the limited medication available. It’s also interesting to note that at least two of the doctors that I can remember had physical handicaps themselves.  

Dr. D.C. French had an arm that had been badly set and Dr. Matthews, who lived in the Orwood community, had only one arm after a hunting accident. These men and others such as Dr. Cox, Dr. Cooper and Dr. Leo Brown made house calls and saved more lives than they lost. I’ve heard dad say that Dr. Matthews mixed up many of his prescriptions in the home in spite of having only one arm.  

Making the most with handicaps reminds me of a different story.  Last week one of the greatest guitar players of the last seventy years, Les Paul, died at the age of ninety-four. Up until the week before his death he played each Monday in a club in New York. He had his right arm badly injured in a traffic accident in the thirties and he could raise the arm high enough to pick the guitar.

He is credited with inventing the first solid body guitar in 1941 although many people believe that Leo Fender invented the first in the late forties. Fender did build the first “cut away” acoustic guitar for Merle Travis but the idea came from Paul Bixby. However the early Fender Guitars today are priceless collectibles.  

So many famous people overcame handicaps to leave a timeless legacy.  Jimmie Rodgers dead from TB at thirty -five, Jazz guitarist Charlie Christian dead at twenty-eight from TB.  Hank Williams at twenty-nine, Bunny Berrigan one of the best trumpet players of the big band era dead at thirty-three, Mozart dead at thirty-five and Augustus Toplady dead at thirty-eight but he left us “Rock of Ages” for all time.  

Some beat the odds. Bob Hope, Eubie Blake and George Burns made it to one hundred and Les Paul and Artie Shaw into their nineties so we can only speculate if those others had lived long long lives they might have left us.  

As usual I’ve been all over the place but I don’t write anything ahead and start when I sit down at the keyboard, but it’s worked for nearly nine years so I don’t plan to do anything different.  

Let me hear from you at my email address or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, Tn 38101 and have a great week.

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