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The Life, Death and Legend of Butch Canary

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The Alfordsville High School basketball team

By David Hudson with Joe VanHoose

Alfordsville, Indiana is a town of 112 people today, tucked in the southern swath of the state east of Interstate 69, west of U.S. Highway 231, and far away enough from either to enjoy much economic development. 

But this place is not insignificant. It is in the middle of a region that has lived and breathed high school basketball for decades. Thousands of basketball players and coaches have roots and connections to southwestern Indiana. Larry Bird grew up in nearby French Lick.

Bob Knight was slinging chairs just down the road in Bloomington. Steve Alford, an Indiana icon, perfected what would become a championship-winning jump shot in New Castle. Before becoming an All-American, Calbert Cheaney was starring in Evansville.

John Wooden, Jack Butcher, Junior Gee, Damon Bailey and the Zeller brothers have all lived with the passion of basketball in Southern Indiana.

The list is made up of famous players and coaches, national champions and Olympic gold medalists, many of whom played in the NBA. 

Clifford “Butch” Canary isn’t on the list. Playing for Alfordsville High School in the late 1950s, Canary never won any state basketball awards or state championship. There aren’t any old statues with his likeness or any old gyms with his jersey hanging from the rafters. 

More than simple

It’s just sugar, water and fruit with some lemon juice.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Yet, such simplicity is deceiving. 

At the end of the day, the only one it’s simple for is my paternal grandmother, who has been making jars and jars of pear preserves since the 1940s. For years, various members of my family have attempted — and failed — to replicate what, on the surface, would seem to be the most basic of recipes. We’d look up methods in cookbooks, pick her brain and give it a go only to wind up with the same result.

It’s good, but it’s not quite there and I don’t know why.

The silence of Augusta

It’s the sound that truly defines Augusta.

An ambient hum that is constantly radiating in the background, magnifying the energy and intensity of the place and the moment. A cacophony of chatter, laughs and cheers that ripple from one corner of course to another. 

For those four days in April each year, there’s a buzz that permeates Augusta National Golf Club. It’s a sound — a “something” — that is hard to describe unless you’ve set foot on the historic course. It ebbs and flows, rising up to deliver celebratory roars that shake the earth before settling back down into that steady, dependable hum.

In 2020, however, the grounds fell quiet. 

No laughter among patrons shuffling through the concession stands. No greeters welcoming you to The Masters upon entry. No groans over missed putts that just slide by the hole. No roars reverberating throughout the course to signal a player making a charge.

Instead, there was just silence.

Thanks for being a friend Superstore

So, let’s talk a little about Superstore.

Tonight, this sweet, hilarious and incredibly reflective show ends a six-year run with a little bit of fanfare but none of the awards it so richly deserves. 

There are countless, thoughtful takes on this show that promise to be exceedingly more well-written than this, and I encourage you to go find them. For instance, this piece by Scott Tobias for the New York Times is great, while this essay in Vulture by Kovie Biakolo is a brilliant take on the importance of representation in Superstore. They’re both wonderful reads.

More than that, if you haven’t watched Superstore, I strongly encourage you to add it to your viewing list and catch up on one of the most clever and charming sitcoms to be released in quite a while.

Given that my storytelling skills likely are not as artful and nuanced as others who can tackle the social importance of the show, I’d instead like to tackle why Superstore has made a lasting impression on my family this past year. That’s because, if I’m being honest, it wasn’t a show we were naturally drawn to. Sure, we had seen promos for it since its debut in 2015, but the promise of The Office set in a big-box store just didn’t do much for us.

That, of course, was our error. 

Leaving our Mark

This is a guest essay from “Sarah G.” We are keeping her identity, as well as the identity of the family involved confidential per her request. It’s a powerful, personal read, and we’re grateful for her allowing us to share it.

I first met Mark in 2016. The first thing I noticed about him was that he was strikingly tall, quiet, and gentlemanly. According to Mark, I was a little bit too extroverted for him but weirdly happy to discuss gap schemes in an air raid offense on date night, so he was in. Almost immediately, our relationship was sweet, easy, and natural. And soon, it was hard to hide that we fell in love quickly. Except for perhaps the number of dirty socks I’d find on the bathroom floor, I truly could not have been happier.

As I said, Mark was always a bit socially anxious, but I was the one who could small talk to a wall when we were out, so it worked fine. I naturally became his gatekeeper in a crowd of people. However, Mark did tell me that he had sometimes struggled with more generalized anxiety over the recent years but thought it was probably just his nature. He grew up in a fractured family and was the youngest kid who was shuffled around the most. So, it was probably him just not feeling comfortable around people he guessed.

Because it was undisputed that Mark felt most comfortable, not talking, but on a football field. He was the epitome of a gentle giant. He was 6-foot-5, over 260 pounds, and could block as well as anyone. He loved football. He played all his life. As a kid, whose home life was a tad chaotic, football was steady. And Mark immediately excelled at it. When I asked him why he loved the sport so much, I expected something about playing or the game. But no, for Mark, it was that he loved being a part of a team. He always just wanted to be apart of a team.

Balancing busy with passion

Insomnia is a funny thing.

You see, I haven’t slept terribly well since the beginning of the pandemic. Unending anxiety and existential dread can do that to you. And, while the restless nights often left me dragging in the morning, those middle-of-the-night hours where I’m awake do wonders for helping you think creatively and get organized for the day ahead.

It was one of those sleepless nights last June that I got the idea for this website.

Having returned to my writing roots as a freelancer, I was busy thinking of all the stories I wanted to tell but hadn’t been able to for so long. At the top of the list was compiling an oral history of a 1995 boys high school basketball game between Thomson and Westside. For 25 years, I have relished in being able to share that story with folks, talking about how I was one of 5,000-plus people to watch four future professional players duel in a double overtime game with a berth in the state tournament on the line between two nationally ranked teams.

One wins and makes it in. One loses and the season is over.

Food for the Soul and Spirit

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Photo of Shirley Combs courtesy of Joe VanHoose

By all accounts, Shirley’s Soul Food shouldn’t work.

No customers showed up to the grand opening. The restaurant is run by Shirley Combs, whose main career is driving a Stephens County school bus every day. It’s all she can do after her morning shift to come in and cook everything in time to open by 11:30, only to be back on the bus at 2. 

The 66-year-old Toccoa native says she hasn’t been anywhere — save for regular trips to the Chick-Fil-A down the road in Lavonia to get ice cream. 

But the Lord works in mysterious ways, and Combs’ story has reached across the country. After an opening in 2000 where her only customers were homeless, Shirley’s Soul Food has become a Northeast Georgia institution over the last two decades.

A Florida family affair

This is a guest essay from Matt Boedy, a professor of English at the University of North Georgia who teaches in its First Year Composition program, as well as upper-level courses in writing and publication. He is the author of Murder Creek, chronicling the story of the last man to die in Georgia’s electric chairand Speaking of Evil, an examination of the question of why God would allow for the existence of evil through a rhetorical prism.

There is a picture somewhere lost, but always in my mind. It is a Saturday morning in the fall in the South and like many of you we are dressed up in our team’s colors. It’s the 1980s, and we are standing outside a Knights Inn in Gainesville, Florida, a medieval-style rent-a-room with purple bed covers and coats of arms on the wall. 

There is my family — two parents, three kids — and my mother’s parents, all dressed in some shade orange and blue. Visors and hats and some with jackets. Some also with Gator icons rubbed on their cheeks. 

There is also in the photo the other half, my mother’s brothers and their children, dressed in garnet and gold. All dedicated to a school which these are directions to find it: drive north from Gainesville until you smell it and then left until you step in it.

We would chomp, and they would do that stupid arm motion and sing that stupid song where they spell the name of their stupid school like they are hooked on phonics. 

And win or lose, we all the next day would go to Shoney’s for breakfast. I loved that place.  

Still in Dale Earnhardt’s shadow, NASCAR leans into future

Photo courtesy of Joe VanHoose

It’ll be 20 years Thursday since Dale Earnhardt, the greatest NASCAR driver of his generation, died on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. 

No, that can’t be right. 

How can it be 20 years since my greatest hero was found to be mortal? I can still remember being bummed with my mom at Daytona International Speedway the Thursday prior when Earnhardt lost the lead on the last lap of his Daytona 500 qualifying race. I can still remember racing off to my job at Baskin Robbins as FOX left the air that Sunday, my mom saying to me, “I don’t like this” as I walked out the door. 

Me neither.

I remember the phone call from my brother at work. Fortunately, the ice cream parlor was empty. 

“Dale’s dead,” my brother’s voice told me directly. That’s when I found out, but I already knew. 

NASCAR changed forever that day, and it’s been changing ever since. An entire generation of drivers have come and gone since Earnhardt helped steer it to national prominence. It’s hard to say what he would think about NASCAR’s path it has been on since he left us. 

Is Twitter the new AM radio?

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Photo by Tracy Le Blanc via Pexels

Part of the challenge, you see, was trying to get a clear signal.

Really, it was an artform — shifting the knob ever so slowly, ever so softly, a degree to the right or left, hoping to boost the volume a bit while tamp down the static just enough to make out what was going on. 

I’d squint and sigh, inching the dial back and forth in what all too often was a futile attempt to secure an unfettered, unhindered reception. It didn’t really matter. The crackle that would accompany Larry Munson’s voice as he fretted his way through a Georgia game only heightened the experience.

For generations of sports fans, the radio was the only way you could connect with your favorite team week in and week out, ensuring you didn’t miss a single play. From Munson urging Lindsay Scott to run to John Ward correcting himself after a Notre Dame field goal slid by the goal posts to cap off a Tennessee victory, it was these voices that brought our favorite teams into our living room.

Today, we don’t need the radio. 

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