Memory musings: The stories of strangers


I meet them. I don’t know them. But I listen to them. Their words have kept me in business.

By Caleb Pirtle III

He was a man growing old before his time and facing death.

It was inevitable, and Harold knew it.

I sat with him on death row in the Texas prison.

He couldn’t remember the crime.

It was murder.

He couldn’t remember the time.

It was night.

And he figured he was guilty.

Harold was a stranger.

He intrigued me.

So I wrote about him.

I met Porter Waggoner on a tour bus heading south.

Mornings were always the same.

Porter Waggoner at the Grand Ol’ Opry in 1999. From Wikimedia.

Nights were always in a different town.

He and his band had already made over two hundred one-night stands for the year, and the miles were still rolling past him.

He wrote songs.

He sang songs.

He was addicted to the spotlight.

He loved to night fish when he was home.

He was on the lake at the end of a long tour.

He had drifted off to sleep.

A boat came around the bend, and the spotlight hit him in the face.

Porter grinned.

“I woke up singing “Carroll County Accident,” he said.

He was a stranger.

He fascinated me.

So I wrote about him.

The old man had lived the blues.

He was blind.

He didn’t have a lot of money.

He sang for tips.

He sang in a little bar at the end of a dead-end Mississippi road.

He had been in love, he said.

She had loved another.

And every night he sang about them.

Lost loves.

Shots in the night.

Unmarked graves.

What did he know about their deaths?

I asked him.

He winked.

He kept right on singing.

The blind blues singer was a stranger.

His story snared me.

So I wrote about him.

He ran a late-hours Fort Worth nightclub he called The Cellar.

Live music.

Loud music.

Waitresses floating from table to table in their underwear.

Bring your own bottle.

Bring as much as you want.

Pat Kirkwood supplied the ice and the cokes and the tonic.

Pay a cover charge.

Drink all night.

Kirkwood didn’t need advertising.

He simply called the law.

Women are taking their clothes off, he said.

Then he called the newspaper.

Police are raiding me at midnight he said.

The next morning, his name and photograph were plastered all over the front page.

Can’t get page one advertising?

Pat Kirkwood did.

Other nightclubs sold booze.

Kirkwood sold sin.

And he was good at it.

But he would never forget the night the Secret Service agents sat all night and drank all night, and by one o’clock the next day, a President lay dead in a trauma room.

Pat Kirkwood was a stranger.

But he was always a person of interest.

So I wrote about him.

And that’s the reason I wrote my Memoir of Sorts.

The book’s not about me.

I’m just the man with the notepad and the nineteen-cent ballpoint pen.

But I talk to strangers.

And every stranger has a different story.

Caleb Pirtle III published his Memoir of Sorts in 2017. Find it Amazon.

Caleb Pirtle III

began his career writing about history and travel. He learned quickly, however, that what happens is never as important as those who make it happen. Many of those people have made their way into his novels.

He is the author of more than 65 published books, including the new noir suspense thrillers, Golgotha Connection, Secrets of the Dead, Conspiracy of Lies and Night Side of Dark. His other novels include Back Side of a Blue Moon and Friday Nights Don’t Last Forever

He has written such award winners as “XIT: The American Cowboy,” “Callaway Gardens: the Unending Season,” “The Grandest Day,” “Echoes from Forgotten Streets,” and “Spirit of a Winner.” His nonfiction works include Gamble in the Devil’s Chalk and No Experience Required.

Caleb earned a journalism degree from The University of Texas and became the first student at the university to win the national William Randolph Hearst Award for feature writing. As a reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he received both the Texas Headliner’s and Associated Press Awards.

He served as travel editor for Southern Living Magazine, and his travel writing was given the National Discover America Award three times. For more than two decades, Pirtle was editorial director for a custom publishing company in Dallas.

He has also written teleplays for network television.

Find more about Caleb at his:

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