Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Lyle: My Perfect Other Brother

*Look for a new posting every Tuesday and Friday*
Easter Sunday 1953

An excellent result from our recent "Request for Memories" posting!:

This past Easter my wife, Marty, and I made a pilgrimage to Tiptonville; my Mecca, since my beloved Mother stills calls this home.  I wrote a posting about this trip called "A Trip To Visit The Easter Bubba."  As often happens I ran into Lyle Lankford during our regular Sunday visit to Lakeview Restaurant.

I have always regarded Lyle as one of my best friends, but in my current "old age" state, I am coming to realize how shamelessly little I really know about those I hold in high esteem.  Lyle lived in Atlanta thirty some odd years ago when he was in the "teaching" stage of his life and I had a little better opportunity to visit with him.  When he moved off to Nashville my visits became less frequent. 

When daughter Jennifer enrolled at Vanderbilt University she was very much impressed that I was able to get a "high ranking" member of the University's Administration to help us carry her luggage up to her freshman dorm room.  I think I at least bought Lyle a Fuddrucker Hamburger for his services that day.  And I must say it was a great feeling to know that my daughter had a family friend on campus just in case she needed some extra "pull" during her four years there.

Lyle with Ms. LeDuke at 50th class reunion
Those of us in the Class of '61 have enjoyed a very special treat every 5 years for at least the last 30 years.  Lyle Lankford was class president for the senior class of 1961 and as such it has fallen on his shoulders to "emcee" our class reunions.  Everyone that has attended these events would agree that the highlight of these reunions has been hearing Lyle's "Special Words of Wisdom".  Each time we have gathered I think that there is no way that he can out-do his previous speech and yet each time he does. 

When I sent out a posting with a new "Request for Memories" I was not in the least surprised to hear quickly back from Lyle.  You can get a glimpse of his wit, charm, caring nature, and humor from the two letters which I am sharing with you now; one is to me with some good "James Neville" stuff and the other is written to Ms. LeDuke dated a few years ago enclosed in a January birthday card.



Good morning, Jimmy,
Hope all is well with you and Marty. Good to see you both on Easter.
Re: your appeal for LeDuke memories, I’m attaching a copy of a letter I sent to your mother on her birthday a few years ago.

James Neville conducting some sort
of experiment involving a sword
no doubt.
Your dad left us before I had a chance to “reminisce” with him. I remember going home from school almost every day with “Mr. LeDuke” stories. I thought he was the funniest, most pleasant, man I ever knew, and I still do. I recall all the “classics”: the day he, in “righteous indignation,” slapped his leg igniting the loose matches in his pocket and the “dance” that followed; the day he – again in “righteous indignation” and for good reason, I’m sure – screamed to us that we were “R – U – D – E!”; the day Tanye’s tropicals turned belly-up; the day we were in Memphis for a Latin tournament, and he “slipped away” to seeSome Like it Hot, which. at the time, I thought wonderfully “scandalous”; the day in Chemistry lab when Rob produced bellows of purple smoke and your dad yelled “WHAT IS THAT?!. To which, Rob, in his own na├»ve, innocent way, replied, “I don’t know, but ‘idn’t’ it pretty!” followed by that priceless disgruntled look which was singularly your dad’s; etc., etc, and so forth!
Best regards, my friend,

And the attached letter Lyle mentioned:
(Originally written January 14, 2006)

My dear Ms. LeDuke,
While contemplating this special birthday message to one of the dearest and most influential women in my life, I recall her sage advice given over forty-five years ago: “Like the girl’s skirt,” she said!
"Huckleberry" Lankford - 1957
And that’s not all she said! After all, you were one of our mothers, offering wise counsel along with firm, but loving, discipline. In addition, you were the “real” mother of my best friend and, therefore, I was introduced to the LeDuke family early in life with one of the “happiest meals” I have the pleasure of remembering! We laughed our way through fried chicken and rice!
Of course, you are English teacher, extraordinaire. Hardly a day passes that I don’t silently sing the praises of one who insisted on endless grammar exercises, diagramming, and writing.  When I am required in my work to edit another’s writing, I think to myself – and sometimes aloud! – “You obviously did not have Catherine LeDuke for grammar!” And, oh, the lovely literature to which you introduced us: reading to us and allowing us to experience the beauty of reading (or butchering!) those words aloud. Your Lady Macbeth still rings in my ears! Of course, you were the only one in the room mature enough to say the word “damn” without snickering!
Also short stories and Christmas stories are pleasantly remembered. I particularly recall the story which ended, “I seen the little lamp” and still get a lump! Was that Katherine Anne Porter?
My love for history goes farther back than American history! But our exploration of our country’s history certainly enhanced my appreciation for what transpired in the past and how it shapes our present and future. Inspired by mentors like you and Mr. James Neville and “Miss” Davy, I spent the first half of my career in teaching: music, drama, and art. I have spent the last half of my career in Public Affairs using other skills so skillfully taught me in a little West Tennessee town fifty years ago: English, Latin, and history! It was with great pride and much pleasure that I could be present at your induction into the Tennessee Teachers Hall of Fame.

"Director" Catherine
And then there was drama! You brought out of a bunch of “country kids” talent they only dreamed of having! And that, I know from experience, takes “talent!” Thanks for teaching me how to “slurp” coffee from a saucer, a valuable lesson in life! And, of course, I shall never forget the night you taught ReeRee how to walk like an “old woman,” another valuable lesson!
Well, since “covering” the subject requires more yards of verbal fabric than I have the time, talent, or space to weave, I’ve opted for “interesting.” That was extremely easy, for your blessed life as a devoted teacher and mother has been, and continues to be, immensely interesting!
I wish you good health and happiness as you continue to enjoy an interesting life and to inspire your countless adoring “children.” Happy Birthday, “Ms. LeDuke!”
Love from one of those adoring “children,”
Lyle Lankford
Thank you, Lyle for your wonderful letters, your long time friendship, and for protecting Jennifer for 4 years on that "Wild and Crazy" Vanderbilt campus.

Now the rest of you "children" put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and send me your memories.  I promise you I won't embarrass you with a "barefoot picture".  I bet Lyle's wondering where I got that from.  Don't forget, among Catherine LeDuke's many talents was photography; I have a whole house full of photos at my disposal.

Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)


  1. Love it! I can relate to everything he said!

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