Dear Smiley: Why is it that prior to so many sporting events the guest artists feel they have to make up another melody for the Star-Spangled Banner?

They seem to feel that they have to embellish their “rendition” with up and down modulations, or in and out of falsetto.

On such occasions, were I present I would have a problem standing at attention with my hand over my heart, as I would feel I was listening to some abomination rather than our national anthem.

I have noted that the best renditions are those sung by some group, such as a military choir.

The performance in New Orleans before a Women’s Final Four basketball game was one of the worst I’ve heard in some time.

I’m sure there are those with a different taste in music who will disagree with me — to which I reply “To each his own.”



Dear Doc: I have to respectfully disagree slightly. Indeed, there have been some pathetic attempts to reinvent the song. But the nontraditional version of the national anthem sung by Aaron Neville before Super Bowl XXIV in the Superdome in 1990 was one of the most moving I ever heard. That unearthly voice of his gave me chills, and although he caught some flak about his version of the song, I still remember it as one of the best.

Long trip made short

Dear Smiley: A story about progress:

I grew up in Big Island, Louisiana.

My mother (God rest her soul) told me when she was a little girl and they needed to go to town (about 20 miles to Alexandria) they would leave on a Friday morning.

They would hitch up the wagon and ride all day Friday.

The road to Alec was a dirt road through the swamp. It was muddy at “low point crossings” and was “a hard row to hoe.”

They would get to Alec Friday evening and camp outside of town.

Saturday morning they would dress up and go into town, spend the day doing their business, and camp again Saturday night outside of town.

Sunday morning they would hitch up and start the 20-mile trip back to Big Island. The whole trip took three days.

When I was a little boy, the road had improved somewhat — it was gravel, and still could be muddy in low spots.

Seems like Daddy would always have a flat at least once on the trip, and get stuck once or twice. The trip usually took 2-3 hours each way.

Now there is a blacktop highway. It’s a 20-minute drive from Big Island to town. People have been known to drive into town after supper for an ice cream cone.


Bay City, Texas

Love and coffee

Dear Smiley: During World War II both my parents proudly served in the military.

My mom, an Army nurse from Avoyelles Parish. My dad, an Army Air Corps airplane mechanic from Clark County, Wis.

Peacetime found them both stationed at Williams Field near Chandler, Ariz.

Many years later, after both had died, I came upon a stack of letters he had written to his mother, generally filled with accounts of the weather (HOT!), his health and work.

However, one brought on tears as I read that he was ending his letter because he had “a date with a little nurse from Louisiana who makes the best cup of coffee I ever tasted.”


Baton Rouge

Some like it dark

Dear Smiley: In 1963 my dad took a position at the Public Health Service Hospital in Carville, and we moved there from Kansas City.

On one of the first trips to the grocery store — the National Food Store on Perkins near College — Mom asked, “Where is the Maxwell House?”

Needless to say, she got some very strange looks. I think that was when they started drinking Cafe Du Monde.

When a chlorine barge sank between Baton Rouge and Plaquemine, it fouled the Mississippi River, the source of drinking water for the Carville hospital.

I think it was the first (and last) time I remember seeing a jug in the refrigerator marked “for coffee only” — generously provided by Baton Rouge friends during the ordeal.


Little Rock, Ark.

Famous last words

Dear Smiley: Glad to see you have taken up the cause of lively obituaries.

Let’s face it, most obits are deadly dull.

So, upon my retirement from lawyering, I became a freelance obit writer.

But I only write them for people who are still alive.

I call them “pre-need obituaries.”

I’ve discovered that lots of people don’t want their kids to have the last word, and that I can be their ultimate ghostwriter.

I’ve got several marketing slogans:

“Are you dying to write your own obituary?”

“Making the dead come to life.”

“Breathe some life into your obit.”



Write Smiley at He can also be reached by fax at (225) 388-0351 or mail at P.O. Box 588, Baton Rouge, LA 70821.