The loudest whistle Brian ever heard, pierced the air six feet from his head, shattering his turbid dreamlike state.


“Okay, you Gooney Birds, off your butts and hit the deck runnin’. You’ve got ten minutes to impact with the asphalt in front of this building.”


Brian rolled over, amid coughing, yawning, mumbling, and vocal sounds of muscles being stretched into action. He rubbed at his eyes, trying to get his bearings, and focus on a figure at the side of his bed. He could only see two legs and a belt. Easing his head out from under the upper bunk, slowly the body emerged into a tall Sergeant, standing there, his hands on his hips, a Boy Scout type hat centered one inch above his eyebrows. His eyes were penetrating, glancing side-to-side, scanning the room. The eyes stopped their search pattern and centered on the fellow in the bunk above Brian, who had made no effort to change his prone position.


“What’re you waiting for, Mister, a personal invitation?”


Groggily, a reddish face rose from the top bunk, looking at the face in the funny hat.


“You must not have had a very good night, Sergeant. You seem a little cross this morning.” He peered at him, almost eye-level from the upper bunk, a sheepish grin extended across his face.


“Let me tell you something right now, Mister.” The Sergeant moved to within three inches of Joe’s face.


“You aren’t funny and this program’s no place for a goddamn comedian. Get your act together quick or you’ll be on the next bus outta’ here. You read me loud and clear?”


“Yeah!” The voice in the upper bunk responded with only slightly more humility than before.


“Yes Sir, Sergeant. Not ‘yeah’. You . . .” He abruptly halted

the remark, shaking his head as he spun in place and moved toward

the door.


A large red glob of hair, with a face attached, suddenly leaned over the edge of the top bunk. “Hi there, I’m Joe Tanner. Welcome to Dog Patch Airport.”


“Brian Brannon.” He was startled by the encroachment while he was contemplating his new environment.


“You don’t sound too happy with this place,” he responded, as he swiftly assessed the owner of the booming voice, who had now dropped down and was standing beside him. Joe Tanner was a commanding presence; standing six feet four, square-shouldered, topped with flaming red hair that hung loosely over a forehead dotted with more than a few indistinct freckles. His probing green eyes were mesmerizing. A ready smile quickly disarmed any thoughts Brian had regarding the impertinent intrusion.


“I’ve been here about ten hours and I’m already wondering what the hell I’ve done to myself.” Joe was overemphasizing his disgust in his inflection.


“Where’re you from?”


“Ruston, Alabama. How ‘bout you?”


As Joe explained details about beginning life somewhere in Sumpter, South Carolina, and a brief family history, Brian half listened as his thoughts skipped away to Ruston.


Ruston , Alabama was typical of most small towns, composed of two drug stores, three grocery stores, one bank, one theater, and three traffic lights. There were few diversions in a town of 2,230 people, where folks preferred front porch rocking to the more cosmopolitan goings-on in nearby Birmingham. There was nothing geographically to distinguish Ruston from any other small town. Its most distinctive characteristic was in its eclectic inhabitants and their imaginative array of personalities. A harmonic blending of unusual backgrounds and ideologies turned potential discord into a pleasing melody. Some of the more eccentric, found on the faculty of Agnes-Baines State College for Women, provided the counterbalance to the ordinary. The subtle merging of these complex personalities, surprisingly, afforded a bonding and cohesive loyalty to each other and their town. It was this viscose blending of its inhabitants that provided Ruston its unique quality. It was comfortable growing up in a town where he always felt in control of his environment. It was home.