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LeRoy "Tuck" Tucker: Lifelong storyteller puts some tales on paperPosted Wednesday, May 11, 2011, at 10:07 AM
Tuck Tucker, always a voracious reader, has become an author at age 80.
One question from me ('where were you born?') and LeRoy "Tuck" Tucker is off and running.
Interviewing a man with a low, mesmerizing southern voice that rumbles up from deep within and erupts with a torrent of words, pouring out and mixing up and eventually making a point, is easy work, if you're a good listener.
"As a kid, I lived in Fulton (County), at Kittle, a half-mile off 62 on Highway 289..."
Tucker was always observant, although he admits to remembering the "colorful characters" of his childhood and "the little mundane, absurdities of life," as much as the big events that have passed before his eyes.
In his 1930's Ozarks' corner of the world, "People were poor. Absent of any hope of substantial gain, they were content. Content and happy."
A man with that kind of gift of language and expression should be a writer.
And, at 80 years old, that is what Tuck Tucker has become.
You could call his book of short stories, Climax I: Cotton on the Rocks, an event that has been in the works nearly a lifetime.
"I have always wanted to write," said Tucker, "it just took a while to get the time to devote to it."
Tuck and his family first left the Ozarks for Hook, Texas and jobs in a munitions plant. "The very minute the war ended" the family headed back to the Fulton/Sharp region.
Married at 18, Tuck and his wife, Pat, followed her sister to Michigan where he got a job at General Motors.
At 21, Tucker was drafted and found himself headed for "Marine school."
After doing his duty, Tucker and Pat and their daughter wound up back in Michigan. But, like many, he found it hard to stay away from home. So Tuck returned to try his luck at selling real estate in a new town under development, Cherokee Village. Several years later, it was back to Michigan, where Tuck worked his way into a job as a foreman and rose in the management ranks at GM. In 1982, after 30 total years of service, Tucker retired.
"Within 12 hours, I was back in Sharp County, Arkansas," he remembers.
Next came his career in retail sales, owning and operating an Army-Navy Surplus Store in Highland.
That is where many of you crossed paths with Tucker, or heard his voice on radio commericials for his store. "Hello, folks! This is Army-Navy Leroy..." was his familar greeting.
"The business was quite successful, but time caught up with me, health wise. It was time to go," Tucker said, explaining his move to Jonesboro five years ago, where advanced medical care, shopping and other city amenities are available.
It was in Jonesboro that Tucker could finally scratch that longtime itch to take writing seriously.
"While I've always wanted to write and could fire off a good memo at work, I had a family to support and wasn't in a position to become a starving writer," Tucker laughs.
But Tucker was always a story collector and storyteller.
A couple times a year, he still hangs out at former Sharp County Sheriff Ray Martin's deer camp with old buddies, "real good friends," where he serves as camp poet.
"We were once a group of bright young people and now we're a group of bright old men," explains Tucker. "Most of us don't hunt anymore. We just go to deer camp because it's an excuse to get together. Anyway, about 15 years ago, I accidentally did a little lewd poem for them. They got a good laugh out of it and learned I have a lot of stuff stored in my head, so now they expect me to tell a story or two to entertain them."
The story of how Tucker first began putting his tales on paper begins with a family crisis.
"Around 1990, my daughter in Michigan, with four kids, was in a difficult position," Tucker remembers. "Those kids needed support and I was back here in Arkansas, so I started writing them letters. They evolved into fiction stories that were serialized. I would tell a little and stop until the next letter, to keep them interested."
The kids loved the stories and LeRoy enjoyed writing them.
"Before the Kittle community, where I grew up, came to be, there used to be a store and post office, combined. It was called Climax, Arkansas. It was closed as a business in 1918. I heard about Climax but never saw it in my lifetime."
"Something caused me to take over Climax in my mind," Tucker continues. "Climax was reborn when I moved to Jonesboro. I re-did two stories I'd written and put them in Climax."
If Climax was back in business, it needed townspeople, so Sheriff Bulldog Martin began patrolling and Doc Cliff began doctoring and Johnny Frog began gambling.
"There was no shortage of colorful characters in my life," Tucker says. "I base a lot of my characters on real people. Bulldog Martin comes from my uncle, Albert, who was a big, handsome man. He was pretty tough as a boy. The story is, he pretty well whipped, won all the wrestling matches that took place where young men around here lived. He left in the early 30's and became a farmer in central California."
Another inhabitant of Climax is Bunk Lumm. "I remember an old boy from Agnos. He will remain nameless, Tucker confides. "He was incredibly stupid, but could throw a ball about the speed of a bazooka."
In one of Tucker's stories, a radio announcer, Missioner Tox, interviews Lumm:
"Could you describe Climax for the folks out there in radio land?"
"Hit's ugly, real ugly. Every store built outa rocks, ugly brown rocks," said Bunk.
"A nice town though?" asked Missioner Tox.
"No, I wouldn't hardly go that fer," was the reply.
"May I ask exactly where you live?"
"Shore, shore, I'm from Agnos.
Tox was loving it. "Would that be Agnos, Arkansas?"
"Hit shore ain't nowheres else."
Tucker says his writing is "fiction based on reality." For example, the 1939 Ash Flat boy's basketball team won the state tournament. That memory was the starting point for his story about the 1937 Climax Wampus Cats basketball team. In his fertile imagination, the Wampus Cats have a lot of talent, but have to play in cut-off overalls, since they can't afford "basketball suits." The scheming that leads to uniforms for the big tournament takes a few unfortunate, hilarious twists.
Tuck Tucker's stories would still be stuck in his computer or stacked in a box in his closet had it not been for a main character in the story of his life.
"I married my love in Saddle 62 years ago. Patsy was 16 and I was 18," Tucker recalls.
After 62 years of listening to his endless stories, it was Pat who told him, about a year ago, he needed to get his writings together and do something with them.
According to Tucker, "She said you need to get this in book form, to have a book to give your kids."
That set Tuck to thinking about how a bunch of short stories, mostly about people and events in Climax, could be tied together with a common thread.
The tie that binds turned out to be a 1912 model steam tractor.
"In the first story, a man drives into town with a Big Huber Steam Tractor, which he won in a poker game and wants to sell," Tucker explains. "He gets distracted when he meets a Climax girl and they wind up in the bushes, and Sheriff Martin enters the picture and invites the man to get out of La Clair County. He does, leaving the tractor but taking the girl with him."
The tractor shows up, like a bad penny, in other stories in the collection.
Tucker admits he is no expert in putting a book together and was struggling with the project when, magically, his online blog "Folk Liar of the Ozarks" produced some expert help in the form of a college professor in Seoul, South Korea.
The professor is Horace Jeffrey Hodges, a Salem native, who came across Tucker's writings as he scouted the web for postings about the Ozarks.
"Tuck is a funny, creative and enthralling storyteller," Hodges writes on his Web site, The Gypsy Scholar.
In an exchange of e-mails, Hodges found out about Tucker's book project and offered to help edit it.
Hodges is most impressed by Tucker's ability to "capture the Ozark dialect that was already fading in my childhood" and his "gift for storytelling."
Hodges made no effort to "clean up" or lessen the thick backroads, "hillbillyness" of Tucker's dialog or descriptions.
He saw his job as organizing and punctuating, so that the stories flowed smoothly.
An example of the finished product is a story in which the men in town get nervous when the best moonshine producer in Climax is seen in church:
"You don't suppose he got religion over in Hardy? That don't hardly seem possible. Quiten' cussin' will spile his personality. He won't be his self no more. I reserves my opinion. Us give this a little time. They is somethin' unnatural about it."
"He pays his debts. Not in money if he can 'void it, in whiskey, an' he makes the best homemade I've found. I hope he don't ketch too bad a case. Whiskey makin' is an art. Not many of 'em ever learn how to do it right," observed B.D. (Bulldog).
Tucker sees it as good fortune that "a homesick Ozarks boy on the other side of the world" found his blog and offered his help.
"That guy has helped me a lot," says Tucker. "I begged him, 'you don't have time to edit my work,' but he insisted. I need to find some way to reward him."
Hodges says his reward would be for people to discover the 80-year-old new author.
"Tuck deserves a strong following, a readership that appreciates good storytelling. So read his book, and spread the word."
Tucker paid Xlibris to publish the book and quickly butted heads with the publishing world.
"There is no way to speed the publisher up," Tucker groused in March on his blog. "Next week, I will receive my one single book to examine and if I say grace over it and face mecca every morning, after a few weeks passes, I'll have books for you."
Well, the wait is finally over. Tuck has his books and is ready to sell them.
He is also working on Climax II: A Blasphemy in the Ground, "a regular book with chapters and stuff like a real writer ought to do."
It will be set in Climax, decades later, when Bulldog Martin and other characters are old men, looking back to when developers came in to build a whole new town nearby, a retirement community called Osage Village.
According to Tucker, it's a project where dirty dealings were common and there's disagreement over whether the town and the city folk who move in are an improvement.
"I worked at Cherokee Village in the early days and I could not sell lots to those poor people. It's hell to be an ethical human being," Tuck pronounces.
"I'm at 15,000 words and going," he adds to the status report about his first novel.
Look out world, author "Tuck" Tucker is just getting started.
Climax 1: Cotton on the Rocks can be ordered online through Amazon Books. Author listing: L. "Tuck" Tucker.
Signed copies are available by contacting Tucker at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I used to call this blog "Stranger In Town" but time goes by quickly. After a year in these parts, I realize people will still say, 'he's from off' but I now proudly claim I am a "Stranger No More"! After a lifetime in living in big cities, small town life has produced surprises, good and bad but, after more than a year, I love it (most of the time!). I promise to keep on writing about stuff that interests me and things I think of to complain about. I hope you will continue to check in occasionally to read and comment.
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