March 17, 2022

Today, March 17, is Saint Patrick's Day. Which means that it is once agan time for my annual holiday-themed public service announcement:

REAL Irish folks don’t care whether or not you wear green on Saint Patrick’s Day, and they don’t go around pinching those who don’t. So stop it!

I don’t have to wear green every year on March 17, or eat a bowl of corned beef and cabbage, to prove that I’m Irish. My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Murphy; you just don’t get any more Irish than that!

So there.

Now, where was I...?

When you grow up in a household where the mother is of Irish descent and the father is particularly proud of his Scottish lineage, there’s bound to be a certain amount of Celtic and Gaelic influence in your upbringing. That was certainly true in my case.

I have written in the past about my father's large and incredibly eclectic music library. Dad's record collection contained what I’m still convinced was the most Scottish bagpipe albums outside of Glasgow and Edinburgh - but it also included nearly as much Irish music, as well.

And I’m not just talking about some of the so-called standards like “Danny Boy” or “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” Thanks to my father, when I was very young I developed a love for the work of such Irish folk groups as the Irish Rovers and the Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem. 

The famous Clancy-Makem concert album In Person At Carnegie Hall was a special favorite of mine; I put it on Dad’s turntable so often that he became concerned that the record might get worn out, so it became one of the first albums he recorded onto cassestte tape so that I would have a copy of my own.

A few years after that, Dad became enchanted with another Irish folk group - the Chieftains - and began buying every album of theirs he could find. Consequently I, too, became a fan; their tune “Boil The Breakfast Early” still holds a special place in my heart - for reasons that are probably best left to be explained another time - and their group’s several albums of duets with such acts as Van Morrison, Mick Jagger and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band demonstrate in a most entertaining manner how the traditional folk songs paved the way for country and rock music.

Dad and I also developed a love for the solo work of the Chieftains’ founder and front man, Paddy Moloney, the virtuoso performer on the tin whistle, uilleann pipes and bodhrán. As the band leader, he was the primary composer and arranger of much of the Chieftains' music, and composed for such films including The Grey Fox, Braveheart and Barry Lyndon. But Moloney also performed as a session musician for a number of artists, ranging from Paul McCartney and Sting to Don Henley and Stevie Wonder. 

When Dad found out that it was Moloney who played the uilleann pipes on McCartney’s 1984 song “Raindrops,” which appeared as the B-side of the McCartney-Michael Jackson single “Ebony And Ivory,” he went out in search of a copy of that record. As far as I know it was the only Jackson song in Dad’s otherwise extensive collection.

Dad so loved all things Irish that one would have thought that it was him, not Mom, who was the one of Irish descent. His favorite addition to a cup of coffee was Irish cream liqueur, and he always made sure to drop hints to buy him a new bottle every year when Christmas rolled around. His bookshelves were lined with volumes about Irish history and folklore, and some of my favorite childhood memories revolve around Dad reading bedtime stories about the Tuatha Dé Danann, a race of mystical beings from Irish mythology who created a magical storm to drive away Milesian invaders and brought four magical treasures with them when they first came to Ireland. 

As I grew up and became a fan of Star Wars, I often found myself thinking that George Lucas could have made a heck of a movie about the Tuatha Dé Danann; years later, when Lucas developed the story for the fantasy film Willow, I wondered if perhaps those Irish tales might have helped to inspire him after all…

As for Mom - the true Irish scion in the family - she demonstrated her love for that heritage in other ways, particularly in the kitchen. 

As noted earlier I was not - and still am not - a fan of corned beef and cabbage. (I like the corned beef well enough; it's the cabbage that I can’t abide.) Thankfully, that wasn’t the only arrow in Mom’s culinary quiver. I remember she would occasionally make an Irish stovetop potato dish topped with Cheddar cheese that was absolutely incredible.

And then there were the Irish desserts in her recipe box. One, for something she called “Murphy’s Tea Cakes,”  involved combining blueberry muffin mix with cornstarch, sour cream and grated lemon peel, and topped with a simple glaze made from  one egg and one teaspoon of water. 

She made these for a school party one year - I think I was in the first or second grade at the time - and a couple of my buddies liked them so much that they would sometimes beg Mom to make them again even when we were in high school. 

And then there was the time Mom tried a recipe for an Irish cream chocolate tart that proved to be especially a hit with Dad - until he found out that she had raided his stash for the third of a cup of Irish cream liqueur that the recipe called for. 

There was no real argument or the swinging of an Irish shillelagh, but Dad did make sure from that point on that Mom always had her own supply of the liqueur for her baking. 

Mom loved telling stories about her family - and because Grandma’s Murphys were such a big clan, they tended to be the focus of many of those stories. She also loved a good Irish joke, and shared a few of them with me over the years as I was growing up.

One of her favorites involved a rich oilman from Texas who is traveling overseas and includes a visit to Ireland in his itinerary . One night while visiting a town in County Cork, the Texan wanders into one of the local pubs and proceeds to issue a challenge to the local drinkers.

“I’ve always heard that nobody can hold their liquor like an Irishman,” he proclaims. “So I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll give $500 in American money to anyone who can drink 10 pints of Guinness back-to-back.”

Nobody takes him up on the challenge - one fellow even gets up and leaves - and the Texan decides that the Irish reputation for hard drinking was undeserved. 

But half an hour later, the fellow who left - named, you guessed it, Murphy - returns and asked the Texan if the bet is still good.

“Why, sure it is,” the Texan drawls as he asks the bartender to line up the 10 pints. When Murphy downs them one right after the other, the Texan expresses amazement and pays up. 

Then he asks, “By the way, if it’s any of my business, where did you run off to after I made the challenge?”

And Murphy repsonds, “Oh, I just went down the street to the other pub to see if I could do it first.”     

(Copyright © 2022 by John A. Small)



January 5, 2022

I’ve been taking part over the past day or so in some interesting discussions on a couple of different FB sites regarding the nature of the Batman character, initiated by an article in which Michael Keaton - in my mind still the BEST cinematic Batman, and that is not a subject which I care to debate - decided he did not want to return for a second sequel after the franchise was turned over to Joel Schumacher. At some point I decided perhaps I might distill my thoughts in those conversations...

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December 23, 2021

December 1995. 

I was not quite six months into my two-year sojourn as News Editor for the Durant (OK) Daily Democrat, commuting back and forth each day from our home near Tishomingo and wondering during the drive each direction what I was going to get my wife for Christmas. Seems I have that problem every year, but this particular year it seemed especially difficult to decide.

Hoping for some guidance, one evening at supper I threw caution to the wind and asked Melissa point-blank: “Is t...

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December 22, 2021

Well, it's that time of year again.

I refer, of course, to the perpetual hullabaloo that has been raging for a number of years now over the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays.” 

To the best of my memory (which I’ll be the first to admit is quite often questionable at best), the brouhaha began when some well-meaning Christians started voicing their displeasure over the use of “Happy Holidays” by retailers during the gift-buying season. 

Their argument, as I understand it, was that ...

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December 15, 2021
(Micky and Mike: The Final Concert)

Looking back on it now, a little over half a century after the fact, I suppose it does seem a little.. well, okay, silly.

But at the time it made perfect sense to a seven-year-old boy hoping to get even the quickest glimpse of one of my childhood heroes. Because that’s the way a seven-year-old boy’s mind works.

Or, at least, it was the way this seven-year-old boy’s mind worked. Given that I was rarely if ever accompanied by any of my buddies from the...

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November 11, 2021

Like a lot of other Americans, he gets a lump in his throat every year about this time.

Unlike most of them, however, pride has little to do with it.

He hadn't actually wanted to go into the military in the first place. He rebelled against it for a long time, mainly because it had been his parents' idea at a time when he - like all teenagers - spent most of his time thumbing his nose at his parents' ideas. 

It was his life, by golly, and he was going to live it his way... even if it meant ...

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November 11, 2021

It occurred to me today - as I listened to the one embarrassingly over-politicized moment in an otherwise moving and respectful Veterans Day ceremony here in my community - that the thing that makes America possibly the greatest nation on earth is not the things we have already accomplished. 

And it is certainly NOT the status quo. If the past few years have taught me anything, it is that Peter Tork of the Monkees hit the nail on the head when he questioned the validity of the old saying "my...

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October 15, 2021

I've been a fan of the 1966-67 television version of the Green Hornet and Kato for literally as long as I can remember; some of my earliest memories are of sitting on my father's knee watching the show with Dad during its original ABC-TV run when I was 3 years old in 1966. That being the case, I like to think I know a little bit about the character portrayed by Van Williams, and for that reason have followed Moonstone's series of Hornet tales with great interest. (I even had the great good fo...

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September 27, 2021

Today - Monday, Sept. 27, 2021 - would have been my father’s 83rd birthday.

A little more than three years later, it still feels strange to put it that way: “would have been.” Dad died roughly a month before his 80th birthday, and almost a year and a half after the passing of the woman he promised to love, honor and cherish on a warm August day in 1962. 

He kept that promise, and so did she, and they made doing so look so easy - a fact that I probably took for granted for most of my chi...

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September 24, 2021

Many moons ago - when I was still a young nipper, filled to the brim with optimism and idealism and probably one or two other positive “isms” - my standard answer whenever someone would ask me if I had any pet peeves went something like this: “Oh, good heavens, no. I have no pet peeves; I wouldn’t know what to feed them.”

Later, after I became a husband and the father of two young boys (yes, in that order, even though it wasn’t necessarily the norm at the time), I would typically...

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About Me

John Allen Small John A. Small is an award-winning newspaper journalist, columnist and broadcaster whose work has been honored by the Oklahoma Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Press, the National Newspaper Association, and the Oklahoma Education Association. He and his wife Melissa were married in 1986; they have two sons, Joshua Orrin (born 1991) and William Ian (born 1996). Mr. Small is the News Editor and columnist for the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly newspaper headquartered in Tishomingo, OK. He obtained his nickname, "Bard of the Lesser Boulevards," from a journalism colleague - the late Phil Byrum - in recognition of the success of his popular newspaper column, "Small Talk." (In addition to the many awards the column itself has received over the years, a radio version of "Small Talk" earned an award for "Best Small Market Commentary" from the Society of Professional Journalists in 1998.) John was born in Oklahoma City in 1963; lived in the Bradley-Bourbonnais-Kankakee area of Illinois for most of the next 28 years (with brief sojourns in Texas and Athens, Greece, thrown in to break up the monotony); then returned to his native state in 1991, where he currently resides in the Tishomingo/Ravia area. He graduated from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in 1981, and received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais in 1991. The years between high school and college were a period frought with numerous exploits and misadventures, some of which have become the stuff of legend; nobody was hurt along the way, however, which should count for something. In addition to his professional career as a journalist he has published two short story collections: "Days Gone By: Legends And Tales Of Sipokni West" (2007), a collection of western stories; and "Something In The Air" (2011), a more eclectic collection. He was also a contributor to the 2005 Locus Award-nominated science fiction anthology "Myths For The Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe," edited by Win Scott Eckert. In additon he has written a stage play and a self-published cookbook; served as project editor for a book about the JFK assassination entitled "The Men On The Sixth Floor"; and has either published or posted on the Internet a number of essays, stories and poems. He has also won writing awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Library of Poetry. He is a past president of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce in Tishomingo; was a charter member and past president of the Johnston County Reading Council, the local literacy advocacy and "friends of the library" organization; served as Johnston County's first-ever Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator in 1994-95; served two terms as chairman of the Johnston County (OK) Democratic Party; and has taught journalism classes for local Boy Scout Merit Badge Fairs. He is a member of the New Wold Newton Meteorics Society.


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