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Go Ask Alice...Alice Cochran

Go Ask ALICE...



When I first moved to West Main in 1988, it didn't take long to realize I might not have landed in the best of neighborhoods, especially when I observed a fellow living out of an abandoned automobile parked behind what was then a gas station next door. I would notice him going in at night and coming out in the morning. I was quite intrigued with this person, but, admittedly, a bit leary of him. I had young children then, so I was especially mindful of this mysterious man.

Jerry Gribbinswho ran the station at that time, had a particular affection and compassion for this fellow who was allowed to live rent-free and undisturbed behind the establishment, and he filled me in on what this Ronnie Mattingly (originally from Loretto, son of Byrtle Mattingly of Spencer Hamilton Road), better known as "Peckerwood" was like years ago.

As difficult it was for me to fathom then, Jerry remembered him when he was a productive member of society, working hard every day and supporting his family.
But something happened to him during his life with his ex-wife, Jerry said,  that "sent him over the edge", and after that, he developed a dedicated life-long relationship with 'Thunderbird' to the point he became disabled from the frequent consultations with what is apparently the wine of choice among the monetarily challenged.
Peckerwood spent one winter living out of that car. I wonder where that old car(cass) is now? I suspect it was the late Mrs. Violet Browne who was the driving force (no pun intended) behind securing suitable housing for him and lining up a payee for his disability check. He moved into the house on the corner of Mulberry & College Streets, and became one of my back door neighbors in a more permanent way.
I don't remember the day I finally met this 'Peckerwood'  in person, but once I did, I realized there was no harm in him at all and  he became a frequent--and welcome--guest at my house. I have so many fun memories of him!
Once, I paid him $10.00 to haul off my spent Christmas tree. In the chill of a January day, he heartily and confidently tied it to his bicycle and took off with that big old tree (let me tell you---it was HUGE--I do have 14 foot ceilings, after all, and that tree was almost that tall), creating a tremendous cloud of dust behind him as he sped down my gravel driveway! What a sight! Oh, how I would love to have a snapshot of that moment. He reappeared at my door in just a matter of minutes, and I wondered how on earth he'd ever gotten rid of my tree so fast?!
It was then I learned that some unsuspecting Pic-Pac shopper with a nice pick-up truck had just been the random victim of a drive-by Christmas Tree discardment! Ha! Of course, as Peckerwood was laughing as hard as he could laugh over that, I was in a major panic knowing there had to be a clear trail of pine needles leading from my back door to that unfortunate victim's pick-up truck bed.
I'm happy to say, though, that I never had any negative repercussions from Peckerwood's actions that day....only many laughs at the memory of it all.  
I have so many funny memories of him, and since we're speaking of Christmas, I'll just add one more...he would come to me every year for a new string of lights for the miniature tree he would place in his window and that I could view from my kitchen window. Once he had those lights on, he NEVER unplugged them. It was about July every year that those lights would finally give out, and it was a running joke between us from year to year about how long those lights might last this time.
 Ah, Peckerwood...I'm so glad I knew you! And I do so miss your simple, humble, fun-loving spirit!
It was from Peckerwood that I first heard the name 'Alice Cochran', the REAL subject of this sketch .
You HAD to think this was all about Peckerwood, with so much type devoted to his memory.
All this "Peckerwood" stuff was just getting you primed for the main thing....his ex-wife, ALICE.
He told me tales of his brief marriage to Miss Alice, some of which were...well...quite unsavory. He insisted she had 'killed his babies'. I never researched whether or not this was true, but recalling Jerry's synopsis of his life, I  figured that very well could have been the turning point for Mr. Wood, if it were true.
 A couple of weeks ago, I spied a woman sitting in her side doorway on one of my walks through the neighborhood behind me.
I had no idea who she was, but I have been very curious about the row of old tumble-down houses near Benningfield's Grocery on Chandler Street, and hers was one of them. From the wavy glass in the windows, I could tell they were built in the 1800's. I have wondered if, perhaps, any of them might have been built over log cabins.

I passed by the house, then something made me turn back and approach the woman, just to see if she had any information about when her house was built.

I am so glad I stopped.
The woman was the Alice Cochran I'd heard so much about!
Honestly, I don't know when I have ever felt more welcomed by anyone.
I quizzed her about the house, and she at first expressed embarassment---and anger about it, telling me she wouldn't be there forever and that the place ought to be condemned. 
I told her I'd been noticing it and suspected it might be something special...and...

She  brightened up.

She insisted I come in to see how she had improved the house. The outside didn't look like much, she said, but she had worked very hard on the inside, and it was a far cry better inside than out---and way better than when she first took up residence there. (She used to live at 1/2 Hood Avenue. I never have figured that one out. How is a location designated as 1/2, anyway??? Was it so bad it didn't even deserve a whole number??? Seriously...I am not aware of any other residence in the city of Lebanon with a 1/2 designation.)
I liked the outside better.
The ceilings were sagging dangerously, as were the floors. The front section of the house is separated from her three-room living quarters by a sheet of plywood nailed over a doorway, because the house is so drafty that she can't heat the whole thing. She pays $150.00/month to a Mr. Probus to live there.
***********************************************Here is Alice in her living room/bedroom combination. She has a plaque on the wall about the astrological sign "Cancer", but she's not a Cancer. She just liked the plaque. She is wearing a Mannsville School Honor Student tee shirt. She just liked that, too.
What really interested me were the pictures on the wall. Only one was framed--that of her mother and two brothers. Tucked behind it were a few snapshots. One was of a beautiful child. She told me that was her daughter "they took away from me".
I lifted it from behind the framed photo, and walked with it in hand to the light of the open door to get a better look, and I guess Miss Alice thought she should prepare me for something quite shocking, because she cautioned me with, "She's half black". Alice said the little girl is 17 years old now and lives in Tennessee. She hasn't seen her since she was three.
With Alice's obvious sensitivity to the fact that her daughter was "half black", I couldn't help but recall her ex-husband's tale of catching her "in bed with a 'nigger'" (his words). Also, Peckerwood had a dog named 'Snowball' that he would often bring to my home to see me. One would think a dog by such a name would be snow white, but this little creature was almost as black as white. Nothing really "snowballish" about him that I could tell. On the more trying visits (when he'd had too much Thunderbird), Peckerwood would tell me how much little Snowball could not tolerate "niggers".
Below is Alice, posing on her bed. She obviously was enjoying the photo session, and pretty soon she was directing the entire shoot, suggesting
various poses and locations. I gladly complied.
Alice Cochran..in her kitchen. She was very proud of the work she'd done to finally get this kitchen in shape. Martha
Stewart ight be impressed.
Alice got a phone call while I was there. It was her friend at the nursing home she had told me about earlier. I'd asked her how she spent
her days, and she'd mentioned an elderly black male friend she would visit with and talk to daily. I wonder if that man was the father
of the child whose picture is on Alice's living room wall? Plus, I wonder what that sky-blue frock in the corner closet was used for?
If only that frock could talk....
It was time for me to go, but Alice said she wished she could have a picture of us both
together so she could prove to people that I had visited her---especially Mr. John Greenwell (Snarepole).
She had recognized me right away because she had seen my picture at Snarepole's house.
Apparenly, Alice is his "$5.00 woman".
We were shocked at the office with Snarepole's reaction to my visit with Alice. He told us he first met her years ago at the Jane Todd Inn, where he would often clean up after hours. Alice would, according to him, get drunk and disrobe on the bar. She was a good looking woman back then, he said, but I didn't need to be hanging around with her because it would ruin my name.
Anyway, I complied with Alice's request by holding the camera in front of us and snapping.
The first one isn't so great, but I think Alice might like the second one.
What do YOU do in your spare time?
Mary Donna

Reader Comments (8)

THanks Lebanonfan, I really enjoyed this. It makes you think alot about
what you have and makes you realize what to be thankful for. She seems
like a great person. I am glad you got to talk to her about her life.
How can people live like this under these circumstances? It must be
God! You can tell her family does mean alot to her by the number of
framed pics on her wall. Would you PLEASE tell her, if you talk to her
again, one think.... To not be ashamed or saddened by the race of her
daughter. Even though she no longer lives with her I believe that she
cares and thinks about her often. Please tell her to remember that she
is part of her and Love no matter what. I wish I could talk to people
like this and encourage them about life and to just be their FRIEND.
Thanks Lebanonfan and thanks Alice!!!!!

February 12, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterhamdays
Thanks Donna, great story! I even had to laugh at the mention of Violet, she was my hubby's great aunt and he was very fond of her. Seems she had a hand in helping quite a few people out. My late father in law had a wonderful nickname for her that makes me laugh everytime my hubby recalls it. I'm not going to post it here, but it fit very well!
February 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSassyfras

You MUST tell me the nickname for Ms. Brown!!! She was my backdoor neighbor for many years, and I loved that woman! She would bring me a big bouquet of her beautiful peonies every Mother's Day, with a card telling me I was a good mother!!! Someone dug up all her peonies soon after she went to the nursing home. I wonder who is enjoying them now? She told me the secret to them was to never spray them with anything - the more ants you had on them, the better. She had the best ones in town!
February 12, 2006 | Registered CommenterDonna Mattingly
AWESOME!! no other word for it!! this is what i mean when i say, "have you been to find and meet these people?!" absolutely wonderful!!
February 13, 2006 | Registered CommenterBlackberry
Alice doesn't live there anymore. She got sick and moved in with her boyfriend, Jerky Joe, so he could help take care of her. I think she is doing better now. If you like Alice, you might want to read about Jerky Joe.
February 19, 2006 | Registered CommenterDonna Mattingly
February 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterUNKNOWN
Ahh, Donna, you are a hoot and thank you for the recipe! I'll look forward to your visits to my blog! Again, awesome website!
January 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkimmi
Donna, you are such an amazing person. I love your stories, wonderful writing!
January 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMary Ponchio

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