Whittle: Renewing old friends more enjoyable than signing those books

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Farm Daddy Whittle was right, when he described: "If you want a good neighbor, be a good neighbor."

A recent Saturday started out to be a book-signing party at the fabled Arts Center of Cannon County.

Blessedly, the day turned into a marathon of renewed friendships, including a former newspaper associate, who as a young and stout Cumberland Mountain teen-aged boy, whipped a much bigger and professional wrestling circus bear at the White County Fair in Sparta, TN.

That's why we called him "Bear" Vinson at the old newspaper in Murfreesboro.

"What I did, was plan my assault on that bear in advance," Bear explained in an exclusive interview he gave this reporter back in the 1990s. "Instead of climbing in the ring and going toe-to-paw with claws, I soared through the ropes, executed a body roll into and through the ring, which seemed to puzzle that old bear's mind long enough, that I penned the bear before he knew what hit him."

"Was the bear mad about being pinned?" Bear was asked.

"No, but the bear groaned and growled a bunch, as if being embarrassed that a mountain kid had whipped him," Bear added. "But, the bear's boss man handler was madder than a hornet, saying I cheated by coming in the ring that way."

How did you respond to the bear's handler?

"I told him he'd just have to grin and bare it," Bear shared with a huge mountain boy laugh. "My buddies, who acted as my trainers, cracked up at my little joke.

"Understand, I did this as a strong healthy teen-aged mountain country boy from Cane and Coon Hollers (hollows) near Austin's Store where we all played dominoes on rainy days and where the three counties, DeKalb, White and Putnam come to a point on Center Hill Lake," Bear shared. "I weighed a lot more then, than I do now. The bear's circus manager left town, never to be seen in White County again."

If the Lord grants me enough health and time to write a proposed book about fascinating stories and incidents in Tennessee newspaper history, it's certain Bear Vinson and his "bear whipping" tale will be shared and bared to the reading public.

As an author, I knew Saturday was going to be a special day when one of my personal heroes, Army Col. (retired) James "Jim" Stone, whose family is the namesake of nearby Stone's River, was first in line to buy a book.

Col. Stone showed his under-standing of the Whittle brand of humor: "Col. Jim, since you're retired now and don't have a steady job, I prefer you pay for the book in cash."

And he did, alongside retired notable Cannon County educator Joe Davenport.

More about that "personal hero" claim:

It was a huge honor a few years ago when Col. Stone, as a former Vietnam War helicopter pilot, agreed to share his heart and soul to me as a reporter/columnist for the historic Cannon Courier newspaper which goes back in Woodbury history nearly as long as the Uriah Stone family.

Can you envision the emotions Col. Stone had concerning his wartime remembrances, especially that long, long ago fateful day the Colonel's flying war machine was shot out from under him?

As the helicopter crashed, Col. Stone was thrown out and landed face down and unconscious in a rice paddy.

That's when another U.S. Army soldier exited his own chopper, and lifted Col. Stone's head out of the water, keeping him from drowning and staying long enough until both were rescued out of harm's way.

When Col. Stone returned stateside and finally retired from the military, his service to country and fellow Americans did not cease. Today in his 8th decade of life, throughout the year and through Woodbury's American Legion Post, he quietly serves other veterans in need of special care.

And throughout the year, Col. Stone spends countless hours, days and nights planning his community's annual patriotic military appreciation day to help educate the students at Cannon County High School and citizens about the women and men who put their lives and family life at risk in order to preserve America's freedoms.

My two special, yes colorful and remarkable friends, turned an ordinary book signing day into a day of joy and refreshed valued friendships.

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