Restless Native

Holbert’s

 

By Chris Wohlwend

 

Holbert’s Cash Grocery was one of those neighborhood spots that were common before supermarkets and fast-food behemoths drove them out of business. You could get a bottle of milk or a loaf of bread or a can of beans without having to drive to the business district.

 

There was Nelson’s, which was only a block east of Fair Garden School, close enough to get a Grapette after the final bell, or, if you lived in Park City, Pinkston’s on Olive Street, easy walking distance from Park Junior High School. Many also served hot dogs, hamburgers, or, sometimes, fried bologna sandwiches.

 

A hot dog could be had for a dime, a bologna sandwich or hamburger for a quarter. A couple of chili dogs, a bag of chips and a cold drink – what else was needed for a meal that was long on taste if short on nutrition?

 

At Holbert’s, I would take whatever empty soft-drink bottles I could round up and turn them in for two cents each. If I had enough empties, I had the price of a cold Grapette.

 

But the bottles had to be damage-free. The man who ran Holbert’s would sometimes refuse to accept a soft-drink bottle, pointing out a small chip that he said made it worthless. Once when I was in his store, he caught a kid trying to cheat him out of a penny gumball. I don’t remember the details – it might have been a penny-sized slug. He told the perp that if he ever saw him in his store again he would call the police.

 

His attitude was understandable given his clientele. His store sat on top of the ridge that defined Burlington’s southern boundary, at the corner of Fern Street and Skyline Drive.

 

The south side of the ridge was peppered with small, run-down houses, some of which had never gotten beyond tar-paper siding. I sometimes delivered the afternoon paper on that side of the ridge, helping out one of my neighbors who had the route. Scruffy dogs could make the job chancy. Collection days often meant payment in pennies – if there was payment at all.

 

It was the neighborhood of a couple of boys I first met at Holbert’s – Foxx and Crowder. I didn’t know them from Fair Garden; they apparently had decided to forego formal schooling.

 

I never knew where Crowder called home, but Foxx lived a few doors beyond Holbert’s. And he joined us when we decided to dig a hideout into the side of a hill in the woods between our house and Holbert’s. There we could escape younger siblings and the neighborhood’s nosy old ladies.

 

A meeting at the hideout featured a lot of big talk, and Foxx would sometimes demonstrate how to smoke cigarettes. I don’t remember any of us taking up his dare on the fags, but I do remember that he confessed that his old man was in prison for selling marijuana.

 

Of course he had to explain what marijuana was. He went on to helpfully tell us how his dad would empty half of the tobacco out of a Lucky Strike and replace it with pot. He was caught, Foxx said, with an entire carton of Luckies that he had meticulously loaded.

 

Once I started high school the hideout was forgotten and I only saw Foxx occasionally. He and Crowder were boxing fans and I sometimes ran into them at Golden Gloves matches at the Jacobs Building in Chilhowee Park.

 

But the last time I heard anything about the pair was several years later, when I was living in Kentucky, working for The Louisville Times newspaper.

 

I had picked up a copy of The Knoxville Journal and discovered a story that featured Foxx and Crowder and the East Knoxville area where we had lived.

There had been a middle-of-the-night gathering in a wooded section alongside the Holston River behind the country club golf course. I knew the spot – I had camped there when I was in the Boy Scouts.

 

There was a bonfire and a lot of alcohol. Crowder had either jumped or was thrown into the river. He didn’t surface – his body was found the next day.

 

I called a Burlington acquaintance for details. “There were quite a few of them partying,” he told me. “And they’d been going since the middle of the afternoon. It was well after midnight when he went in.”

 

“I’ve heard,” he added, “that they think Foxx may have shoved him in, either just horsing around or on-purpose.”

 

Given the alcohol, the time of the night, the reputations – and rap sheets – of those present, the authorities eventually ended their investigation and Crowder’s death was ruled an accident.

 

By then, the site of Holbert’s, which had closed decades earlier, was a trash-strewn lot.

Holbert’s Grocery

Holbert’s

Holbert’s Cash Grocery was one of those neighborhood spots that were common before supermarkets and fast-food behemoths drove them out of business. You could get a bottle of milk or a loaf of bread or a can of beans without having to drive to the business district.

There was Nelson’s, which was only a block east of Fair Garden School, close enough to get a Grapette after the final bell, or, if you lived in Park City, Pinkston’s on Olive Street, easy walking distance from Park Junior High School. Many also served hot dogs, hamburgers, or, sometimes, fried bologna sandwiches.

A hot dog could be had for a dime, a bologna sandwich or hamburger for a quarter. A couple of chili dogs, a bag of chips and a cold drink – what else was needed for a meal that was long on taste if short on nutrition?

At Holbert’s, I would take whatever empty soft-drink bottles I could round up and turn them in for two cents each. If I had enough empties, I had the price of a cold Grapette.

But the bottles had to be damage-free. The man who ran Holbert’s would sometimes refuse to accept a soft-drink bottle, pointing out a small chip that he said made it worthless. Once when I was in his store, he caught a kid trying to cheat him out of a penny gumball. I don’t remember the details – it might have been a penny-sized slug. He told the perp that if he ever saw him in his store again he would call the police.

His attitude was understandable given his clientele. His store sat on top of the ridge that defined Burlington’s southern boundary, at the corner of Fern Street and Skyline Drive.

The south side of the ridge was peppered with small, run-down houses, some of which had never gotten beyond tar-paper siding. I sometimes delivered the afternoon paper on that side of the ridge, helping out one of my neighbors who had the route. Scruffy dogs could make the job chancy. Collection days often meant payment in pennies – if there was payment at all.

It was the neighborhood of a couple of boys I first met at Holbert’s – Foxx and Crowder. I didn’t know them from Fair Garden; they apparently had decided to forego formal schooling.

I never knew where Crowder called home, but Foxx lived a few doors beyond Holbert’s. And he joined us when we decided to dig a hideout into the side of a hill in the woods between our house and Holbert’s. There we could escape younger siblings and the neighborhood’s nosy old ladies.

A meeting at the hideout featured a lot of big talk, and Foxx would sometimes demonstrate how to smoke cigarettes. I don’t remember any of us taking up his dare on the fags, but I do remember that he confessed that his old man was in prison for selling marijuana.

Of course he had to explain what marijuana was. He went on to helpfully tell us how his dad would empty half of the tobacco out of a Lucky Strike and replace it with pot. He was caught, Foxx said, with an entire carton of Luckies that he had meticulously loaded.

Once I started high school the hideout was forgotten and I only saw Foxx occasionally. He and Crowder were boxing fans and I sometimes ran into them at Golden Gloves matches at the Jacobs Building in Chilhowee Park.

But the last time I heard anything about the pair was several years later, when I was living in Kentucky, working for The Louisville Times newspaper.

I had picked up a copy of The Knoxville Journal and discovered a story that featured Foxx and Crowder and the East Knoxville area where we had lived.

There had been a middle-of-the-night gathering in a wooded section alongside the Holston River behind the country club golf course. I knew the spot – I had camped there when I was in the Boy Scouts.

There was a bonfire and a lot of alcohol. Crowder had either jumped or was thrown into the river. He didn’t surface – his body was found the next day.

I called a Burlington acquaintance for details. “There were quite a few of them partying,” he told me. “And they’d been going since the middle of the afternoon. It was well after midnight when he went in.”

“I’ve heard,” he added, “that they think Foxx may have shoved him in, either just horsing around or on-purpose.”

Given the alcohol, the time of the night, the reputations – and rap sheets – of those present, the authorities eventually ended their investigation and Crowder’s death was ruled an accident.

By then, the site of Holbert’s, which had closed decades earlier, was a trash-strewn lot.

The founding of the zoo

 The founding of the zoo

Two of my uncles, with assistance from a couple of baby alligators, founded Knoxville’s zoo. At least, that’s the story my mother told me. But I don’t want to mislead – the founding came about not as a noble act aimed at educating the general population. It happened as the result of a prank.

My mother and her four brothers grew up in Burlington, on Lakeside Street, the short thoroughfare that forms the eastern boundary of Chilhowee Park. So they had a vast playground, complete with its own body of water, Lake Ottosee. The park had wildlife – songbirds and ducks and fish. So my uncles can be forgiven for thinking that alligators would be a natural, if not altogether welcome, addition.

One summer in the late 1930s. as my mother told the story, Uncle Kenneth and Uncle Maynard, then in their late teens, made a trip to Florida. There, they discovered tourist stops that sold live baby alligators. And they decided that alligator mississipiensis would be right at home in Burlington. Their motives, as my mother related them, were completely innocent. She contended that they did not think of introducing them into Lake Ottosee, that they believed that my grandmother would welcome them into the household. Besides, she said, they were not thinking about the gators multiplying – they thought both babies were male, even naming them Kenneth and Maynard. Or maybe it was my grandmother who bestowed the monikers. My mother said she could not remember for sure.

But conversations that I had with my uncles when I was a teen-ager made me think that their intent was more devious, that, from the beginning, they saw the lake as the natural home for the pair.

Understandably, my grandmother wasn’t enamored of the horny new arrivals. A dog and a cat were pets enough, she reasoned. (The chickens that had the run of the backyard were not pets – they were there to supply food.) So, before they had time to make friends with the dog and cat, before they had grown enough to take more than a passing interest in the chickens, the gators were transported to the lake and set free.

Initially, it being summer and the water being studded with fuzzy ducklings, Kenneth and Maynard had easy pickings at mealtime. But as the ducklings – and the gators – matured mealtime became noisier, with whipping tails and panicky squawking and feathery splashing. Children fishing from the banks for sunfish took notice. Soon, Kenneth and Maynard were well on their way to becoming the stuff of urban legend.

Children and their parents informed park personnel, who were at first skeptical – until they witnessed snack-time themselves. Traps were set and the pair soon imprisoned.

But then the park’s overseers faced the problem of what to do with a couple of fast-growing alligators. An idea was hatched, and, on the hill facing the lake from the west side of the park, a pen was constructed, with a small pond and a few rocks. The alligators, at least, could view their former home, with its duck population, from their new digs.

Later, they would be joined on the hill by a pair of lions (named Romeo and Juliet), a troop of monkeys, fowl ranging from noisy guineas to showy peacocks to pushy pigeons taking advantage of the park-provided food intended for the official residents. Eventually, Ole Diamond, the elephant generally credited with being the catalyst of today’s first-rate zoological garden, would join them.

But, in my family, Kenneth and Maynard, two scaley Florida fugitives named for their rescuers, were the true founders of the zoo.

The founding of the zoo

 

Two of my uncles, with assistance from a couple of baby alligators, founded Knoxville’s zoo. At least, that’s the story my mother told me. But I don’t want to mislead – the founding came about not as a noble act aimed at educating the general population. It happened as the result of a prank.

My mother and her four brothers grew up in Burlington, on Lakeside Street, the short thoroughfare that forms the eastern boundary of Chilhowee Park. So they had a vast playground, complete with its own body of water, Lake Ottosee. The park had wildlife – songbirds and ducks and fish. So my uncles can be forgiven for thinking that alligators would be a natural, if not altogether welcome, addition.

One summer in the late 1930s. as my mother told the story, Uncle Kenneth and Uncle Maynard, then in their late teens, made a trip to Florida. There, they discovered tourist stops that sold live baby alligators. And they decided that alligator mississipiensis would be right at home in Burlington. Their motives, as my mother related them, were completely innocent. She contended that they did not think of introducing them into Lake Ottosee, that they believed that my grandmother would welcome them into the household. Besides, she said, they were not thinking about the gators multiplying – they thought both babies were male, even naming them Kenneth and Maynard. Or maybe it was my grandmother who bestowed the monikers. My mother said she could not remember for sure.

But conversations that I had with my uncles when I was a teen-ager made me think that their intent was more devious, that, from the beginning, they saw the lake as the natural home for the pair.

Understandably, my grandmother wasn’t enamored of the horny new arrivals. A dog and a cat were pets enough, she reasoned. (The chickens that had the run of the backyard were not pets – they were there to supply food.) So, before they had time to make friends with the dog and cat, before they had grown enough to take more than a passing interest in the chickens, the gators were transported to the lake and set free.

Initially, it being summer and the water being studded with fuzzy ducklings, Kenneth and Maynard had easy pickings at mealtime. But as the ducklings – and the gators – matured mealtime became noisier, with whipping tails and panicky squawking and feathery splashing. Children fishing from the banks for sunfish took notice. Soon, Kenneth and Maynard were well on their way to becoming the stuff of urban legend.

Children and their parents informed park personnel, who were at first skeptical – until they witnessed snack-time themselves. Traps were set and the pair soon imprisoned.

But then the park’s overseers faced the problem of what to do with a couple of fast-growing alligators. An idea was hatched, and, on the hill facing the lake from the west side of the park, a pen was constructed, with a small pond and a few rocks. The alligators, at least, could view their former home, with its duck population, from their new digs.

Later, they would be joined on the hill by a pair of lions (named Romeo and Juliet), a troop of monkeys, fowl ranging from noisy guineas to showy peacocks to pushy pigeons taking advantage of the park-provided food intended for the official residents. Eventually, Ole Diamond, the elephant generally credited with being the catalyst of today’s first-rate zoological garden, would join them.

But, in my family, Kenneth and Maynard, two scaley Florida fugitives named for their rescuers, were the true founders of the zoo.

Resume

 

EXPERIENCE
August 2005-Present – Teach journalism on an adjunct basis at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville: news writing, feature writing, public affairs reporting, magazine writing. All classes include a web-publishing component.

June 2003-July 2005 – Graduate teaching assistant/associate at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville while working on Master of Science degree in Communication/Journalism, teaching news writing, reporting, magazine writing.

August 1996-May 2002 – Taught journalism on an adjunct basis at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville: news writing, feature writing, magazine writing.

January 1994-Present – Freelance writer/editor/photographer: stringer in Tennessee for The New York Times, with most recently bylined stories in the sports section and the arts section; contributor to The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Spirit (in-flight magazine of Southwest Airlines), People, Likethedew.com, other publications.

February 1990-December 1993 – Writer/editor, features department, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, primarily for daily and Sunday feature sections and food and travel sections. Created and was responsible for assigning and editing entire contents of two special Sunday magazines in 1991. Regularly reviewed books, specializing in literary travel, photography, Southern fiction.

January and February 1990 – Consultant for the start-up of an editorial automobile section for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

May 1987-October 1989 – Executive Editor, Atlanta Magazine. Responsible for the front of the magazine, called Insider; back of the magazine, called Modern Life; plus approximately half of the features and columns each month. Also wrote, over the name Wayward Boye III, most of the magazine’s editorials, and was responsible for periodic books column.

June 1965-May 1987 – Various writing and editing positions, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Kansas City Star, D Magazine (Dallas), The Dallas Times Herald, The Louisville Times, The Charlotte Observer, The Miami Herald, and The Knoxville Journal, where I began my career while an undergraduate. (Details on request).

Earlier – Camp counselor, bread salesman, house painter, farmhand, professional Santa Claus, carnival worker.

EDUCATION
Master of Science degree in Communication/Journalism from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, spring 2007; Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville; Knoxville public schools; summertime postgraduate courses at the Louisville, Ky., School of Art.

AWARDS AND HONORS
Named Outstanding Master’s Student in College of Communication and Information at University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 2003 and again in 2004.

Atlanta Magazine staff writer Emma Edmunds won a 1989 National Press Club Headliner award for magazine writing for a body of work. I was the primary editor on most of that work.

Atlanta Magazine story, Surviving High School, by Tom Junod and Melissa Harris, in 1988 won the national Sigma Delta Chi Distinguished Service Award and was a finalist for the Public Service National Magazine Award. As executive editor, I had a hand in the
story’s conception and execution.

Served as a judge in the PEN Syndicated Fiction Project for 1984, the only non-novelist among four judges.

STAR magazine (Kansas City Star) staff writer James Kindall was winner of American Society of Newspaper Editors Award for best non-deadline writing in 1983 for work done while I was his editor.

Westward (Dallas Times Herald) won several national and statewide writing and design honors, and received the National Press Club’s Headliner award as the best Sunday magazine in the country for 1980, while I was second-in-command.

A story for which I was responsible while at D Magazine (Death of a Poet by Michael Berryhill) won the Stanley Walker Award from the Texas Institute of Arts and Letters.

Six of my photographs are in the United Nations Archives in Geneva and another was exhibited at an international show in Cholet, France in 1979. In 1999 the Susan Key Gallery in Knoxville held a one-man show of my photographs.

OTHER
Writers I have worked with include: Garrison Keiller, Cormac McCarthy, Edward Hoagland, Tom Junod, James Kindall, Susan Stewart, Roy Blount Jr., Susan Faludi, Florence King, C.W. Smith, and David Madden. Photographers, designers and illustrators I’ve worked with include: Fred Woodward, Skeeter Hagler, James Noel Smith, Mike Smith, Michael Maurer, Jay Dickman, Elwood Smith, Alan Cober, Marshall Arisman, Dagmar Frinta, Vivian Fleischer, Jan Bryza, C.F. Payne, and Santa Choplin.

Held a two-year appointment as Visiting Scholar in the University of Tennessee College of Communication and Information, 1997-1999.

Conducted exit polls for Voter News Service in 1996, 1998 and 2000 elections.

Cartoons, in collaboration with illustrator James Noel Smith, published in April 1988 Southern Magazine.

Have traveled extensively: Europe several times, the Soviet Union (in 1977), Chile, Australia, Israel, Mexico, the Caribbean. Personal website is ridgerunning.com.

REFERENCES
Dr. Paul Ashdown
Journalism and Electronic Media
The University of Tennessee-Knoxville
333 Communications Building
Knoxville, Tennessee 37996-0333
Telephone: 865-974-5106
email: pashdown@utk.edu

Michael Larkin
Deputy Managing Editor (retired)
The Boston Globe
39 Martin Road
Milton, Massachusetts 02186-4419
Telephone: 617-698-5685
email: mjlarkin@comcast.net

Edgar Miller
Associated Press, United Press International, The Chattanooga Times (retired)
3636 Taliluna Avenue
Knoxville, Tennessee 37919
Telephone: 865-521-6835
email: edgarmiller25@comcast.net

CONTACT  INFORMATION
216 Sarvis Drive
Knoxville, Tennessee 37920
865-974-3864; 865-356-4449
email: cwohlwen@utk.edu

Reunion photos from Missy Albright

Nancy, Sherry & Missy

Nancy, Sherry & Missy

Jay Nelson & Chris Wohlwend

Jay Nelson & Chris Wohlwend

Becky Lathem

Becky Lathem

Brenda Wright & Charlie Jenkins

Brenda Wright & Charlie Jenkins

Phyllis McDaniel & husband

Phyllis McDaniel & husband

Mary Lou & Vincent Kanipe

Mary Lou & Vincent Kanipe

Kaye Williams

Kaye Williams

Missy Albright, Donna Dixon, Carolyn Miller, & Pat Lynch

Missy Albright, Donna Dixon, Carolyn Miller, & Pat Lynch

Lynda Bolt, Clint Brewer & Pat Lynch

Lynda Bolt, Clint Brewer & Pat Lynch

Danny Meador, Jay Nelson, Larry Leibowitz & Jim Britton

Danny Meador, Jay Nelson, Larry Leibowitz & Jim Britton

Pat Maynard, Martha Sanders & Nancy Snoderly

Brenda Wheeler & Vonnie Easterday

Brenda Wheeler & Vonnie Easterday

Loretta Harris, Judy Trivett & Nancy Snoderly

Loretta Harris, Judy Trivett & Martha Sanders

Deanie Jenkins & Betty Jo Doane

Deanie Jenkins & Betty Jo Doane

Missy Albright & Jim Britton

Sherry Wright & Chris Wohlwend

Sherry Wright & Chris Wohlwend

Missy Albright, Linda Cullop & Jim Britton

Missy Albright, Linda Cullop & Jim Britton