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A Walk Down Memory Lane



The Walking Horse industry is in so many ways another family for its members - the people involved in it are there for you no matter how long you've been away or how infrequently you attend events. Even if a person is permanently out of the business, you long to know what's going on with the horses and people you have known so long and well.

Many long ago industry's notables have simply "disappeared"...in countless cases, few of us know where these beloved people are. P. H. "Buddy" Payne, Jr. has done a heart warming thing very recently, locating a fine gentleman many will remember, for to have known Erskine Falls and his lovely, late wife Miss Ann, is never to forget them. 

Buddy e-mailed several friends whom he thought would be a good start towards passing this news onto others, and rallying around Erskine. In this e-mail, he eloquently wrote: "I have a heartwarming story to share with you, and maybe collectively we can make it so much better. Many of us have reached the stage where we have more yesterdays than tomorrows, and this type thing means more as the years pass." 

He continued, "Around the beginning of the Celebration, I received a phone call from my 90-year-old aunt, Agnes Dyer, who lives in an assisted living facility in Memphis. She had mentioned the fact to an older man there that her nephew was in Shelbyville at the horse show. He responded that he and his wife used to show there, went to his living quarters, and returned with pictures to show her. After reminiscing for a while, he remarked that he would give anything just to have a program from the show. That was the purpose of my aunt's call to me and I told her I would certainly obtain one for him." 

"Towards the end of the show, I picked up a program and Blue Ribbon magazine and called her to tell her I'd mail them as soon as the show was over. She immediately told this as yet unidentified gentleman what was coming...they receive mail at this facility thrice daily and he began coming to her three times a day to see if the package had arrived. I was sick, however, for over a week after the show's conclusion, and therefore wasn't able to get to my office and mail it. As soon as I was back in my office, I did mail the package, along with a personal note." 

"It seems this man's anticipation was so great that it became a topic of great conversation throughout the facility. When the package arrived, word spread and everyone came to a central location to watch this man open the package he wanted so desperately. They took pictures and the whole nine yards." Payne said, "My aunt called afterwards and said she had never seen a person so thrilled. He even called his daughters and told them about this. Can you imagine two minutes and $12 bringing that much happiness?" 

Buddy's e-mail continued..."And now, as Paul Harvey says, 'the rest of the story.' That man is Erskine Falls, formerly of Wynne, Arkansas. He has Parkinsons and now requires round the clock care. I was told that prior to this, he seldom left his suite except for meals. I can only imagine the loneliness. And the best of the story is that now he is asking to be wheeled around the facility to show everyone the pictures and talk about the wonderful times he had years ago when he was showing." Isn't this remarkable, that Buddy's $12 purchase brought Mr. Erskine back so many joyous memories...memories that he delights in re-living, and now sharing with other patients at the facility? 

Buddy's idea was to make the rest of the story even better...he wrote to us "Here's where all of you come in. I would like your ideas on how we can bring Mr. Falls more happiness. Towards the end of our lives, most of us will be in a similar situation. Maybe in a nursing home, a retirement village, a child's home, or with live in care givers...but we will, for the most part, be alone. Will anyone, if this touches your heart even a fraction of the way as it has mine, take just a few minutes to do something that will bring joy to Mr. Falls?" 

You'd better believe we will, Buddy! PJ Womble immediately comped a subscription to the Voice magazine for him. Kay Dennis took a Billie Nipper print of 2001 World Grand Champion PRIDE'S JUBILEE ENCORE to Allan Callaway to autograph (and Callaway, who has known Mr. Erskine since the 1960's when he was training for Jeffcoat Stables, and Kay both wrote personal notes on the back of the print), Priscilla Talley and Becky Beacham (who formerly worked at WHR) are gathering up back issues of WHR and VOICE to send him. Jane Hardy Meredith is getting him a copy of the TWHBEA video and has already sent some of the wonderful articles she's written in Voice. As soon as I got Buddy's e-mail, I ordered Erskine a subscription to WHR and printed out copies of articles I'd written, and sent with a letter and recent picture of myself...with the promise of more to come...and from many.

And after talking with Buddy recently, the above is just the barest tip of the iceberg of what people whom him e-mail has circulated to are going to do - he's had over 50 responses in less than a week since he first sent it. 

Several of us old timers - Priscilla, Becky and her lovely 19-year-old daughter Kaye, Buddy, Billy Randall, and myself got together recently to visit Steve Aymett's and Buck Williams' barns. Afterwards, we had a three hour lunch, with a large part of our conversation centering around Mr. Erskine. There is so much more we can all do for him, even if you don't know this man, ask any trainer in west Tennessee about the Falls, and you'll be told folks just don't come any finer than Erskine is and Miss Ann was. They had many fine horses for years with the late Charlie Weddington...the ones I remember best are Miss Ann winning a plethora of ladies classes on a big, high headed, glorious chestnut gelding named SHAKER'S WIZARD, and Erskine taking home many, many blue ribbons on a headshaking bay 15.2 mare named THREAT'S AUTUMN DAWN. They were always very gracious winners...as well as having been equally, if not more so, gracious when they did not win.

The Falls were known and loved by Robin Edwards for more than 20 years. When asked about him, she said, "Mr. Falls is a true southern gentleman; he always had something nice to say whenever I saw him. And he was the most loving and devoted husband to Miss Ann." 

Directionally dysfunctional as I am, after lunch, I followed Becky and Kaye to Shelbyville where we stopped at Dabora. We picked up a copy of World Champion's catalogue to send him, and got World Champion staff members Brenda Upton and Jane Bradford to sign it, as well as ourselves. Then Becky and I had a wonderful visit with Christy Howard Parsons, and that is when it hit me, that the first "Walk Down Memory Lane" should be about Mr. Erskine. 

I have so many memories of Mr. Erskine and the late Miss Ann...all of them wonderful...in all the years I knew this couple, never once did I hear them say a single word derrogative about any one or anything in the industry...and positivity is always needed. They were among the jumpstarters and revitalizers of the great old Razorback Championship horse show, which sadly no longer is part of the circuit. That was always one of my favorite shows to go to for WHR, because besides being a great, great gathering of the finest of horses in the fall, there were so many delightful Arkansas people who made sure everyone felt completely at home...and the Falls' were certainly at the head of the welcome committee, along with other super people such as the late Joe Webb, Ruby Nell Moye, Mr. and Mrs. Harrell Brawner and son Eldridge, Bill and Barbara Brazel...and so many more. 

In fact it was at the Razorback Championships, a 3 day showcase, that I first made acquaintance with the Falls. It must have been in like 1971 or 72, as I was either a freshman or sophomore in college at MTSU, occasionally writing for David Howard's then very new Walking Horse Report. At the last minute, David himself was unable to go to Little Rock and called and asked if I would cover the show - my very first time to do so at anything other than one night shows - in his stead. And of course I jumped at the chance. David made my airline, hotel, and rental car arrangements for me...and I was joyously headed to Little Rock. The Falls happened to be staying at the same hotel (as were the Mohons from Covington, TN) and between the Falls and the Mohons, they not only made sure I made it to and from Barton Coliseum without getting lost, and one family or the other invited me to every meal with them...kindnesses I never will forget. 

My next trip to Little Rock came in 1974, when legendary trainer J. T. Leech, assistant trainer Ronnie Williams, and I put the nigh onto impossible to haul MY FAIR LADY in a two horse trailer, with bales and bales of hay behind her to prevent the kicking while being hauled synonymous with FAIR LADY, who'd just won her third consecutive 15.2 and Under Mare World Championship with Marianne Leech riding and reserve world title in the amateur mare division with myself in the irons, to Little Rock. I'd loved my first time at the show so much that I desperately wanted to show her there. The Falls were among the first to greet us on the when we arrived at the show grounds the day before the show, and the next day, just before show time, when my late, beloved father, Fred D. Coffee, showed up as a great surprise to me, the Falls made sure we had box seats. Back then, not many middle Tennesseeans came to Little Rock (although this soon changed), but the competition with AR and west TN, and Louisiana horses was tremendous.

  The Falls were instrumental in getting some local television coverage for the show, and I was so very, very honored when they asked if I would mind being interviewed...and of course I was delighted to participate in anything to spread the word of Walking Horses. And of all the great shows MY FAIR LADY made for me, that was the very best of them, and we won the almost 20 horse Ladies Class (my first time to ever beat the virtually unbeatable Miss Dixie Parnell on her many times WC and WGC EBONY'S BEST CHANCE). Miss Ann was in the class on WIZARD, and she and Mr. Erskine were the first to congratulate us. There was a fantastic exhibitors party afterwards, and I remember dancing with Mr. Erskine and others and my Daddy and J. T. dancing with Miss Ann. We had a blast...to put it mildly. 

Jackson, MS was not one of my personal favorite shows, but I always had a great time there because the Falls were there, as well as so many others I love dearly but did not get to see often, such as Jimmy, Bernice, and Randy Holloway, Jimmy Lackey, Udell and Jeanine Stubbs, Percy Moss, and of course the horse show regulars who went everywhere. Also, after I started working at WHR full time, one year I flew out in the winter to Little Rock for the Arkansas awards banquet. The Falls, such loving, caring people, escorted me to my room every time I went to it, to make sure I was safe. And when we all awoke Sunday morning after the banquet's end, it was too see Little Rock had received a tremendous amount of snow overnight. That meant I could not fly home until the next day...and because they were such caring and protective people (I was quite young then), the Falls, Joe Webb, and Ruby Nell Moye all stayed an extra night and until they knew I was able to get a flight back to TN and to the airport safely...again, kindnesses such as these one does not forget. And kindness was the personification of these great people.  

Until one has a member of their immediate family in a nursing home or assisted living facility, you often do not realize what this kind of life is like. No one knows this better than Jane Hardy Meredith, who's family has for decades operated the finest nursing home I've ever visited, La Rocca, in Tuscaloosa, AL, which cares for 100 patients. Jane has been surrogate family and very great friend to hundreds of La Rocca patients all her life. She and I have talked about this a lot, as my own late Mother, Xan Coffee, was an Alzheimers' victim, instititutionalized for more than 13 years. and what broke my heart every time I visited her at Life Care Center in Tullahoma, was that so many people visiting their own family members, acted as if the other patients there simply did not exist, even their loved ones' roommates...and Jane has seen this all her life, which is why she has done so much for those at La Rocca. I took my Mom treats every visit, and would always bring plenty of extras to give other patients there...and you simply would not believe how good it made these people feel to see a smiling face on someone who loved talking to them, and how much they appreciated the cookies, brownies, or muffins I made sure everyone got. 

My own Mother's circumstances were very sad, Alzheimers had robbed her of everything that made her the peerless woman she was and the last decade of her life, she was a living vegetable. But sadder to me still, were the patients who were sound of mind, but not of body, as they knew but could not do. And that is the situation Mr. Erskine is in. 

Walking Horse family, let’s unite and give this fantastic man a spotlight, World Grand Championship calibre walk down memory lane. Let's send him cards, letters, pictures of our horses and ourselves past and present (for he will remember those who were showing when he still was and delight in "meeting" those who have come into this fabulous industry since he left it). Send him copies of videos you have, of your horses in the showring and at the barn, and if you have videos of other breeds in action, I am sure that he would love those too. I have become madly in love with polo, last year and this, flying to Miami to visit my wonderful biological cousin John Jelke IV whom I connected with late in 1999...and one of the highlights of these visits (which I intend to make every second weekend in January for the rest of my life) is going to a polo match at Royal Palm Polo Club in Boca Raton, that is in memory of my biological father, Charles Jelke...whom even though I never knew, feel that I do, having absorbed the stories my cousin has told me about him, making John's memories my own. I have tapes from these matches and will be copying them to send Mr. Erskine...with pictures and a polo program as well.

Send him the great promotional giveaways of buttons, T-shirts, and caps that so many of you have for your horses and barns (I remember how Mr. Erskine always loved wearing ball caps with horses's names on them), but most of all, lets send him an outpouring of love...for without love we are nothing. 

His address is: Mr. Erskine Falls; 1645 West Massey Road; Brighton Gardens - Suite 223; Memphis, TN 38120. It will take very little to do something that will brighten the days, everyday, for this legendary southern gentleman on our parts...and will put a smile on his face that will never be erased, because he will know he is loved, that he has not been forgotten. 

But, as Buddy and Paul Harvey say, now for the rest of the rest of the story. There are other former Walking Horse lovers and exhibitors in situations the same as or similar to Mr. Erskine. If you know of them, please write letters to the editor at WHR of their whereabouts and circumstances so that we can all rally around them too. These people, like Mr. Erskine, will be overjoyed to know they are loved and always will be by their Walking Horse family, and in bringing happiness to them, you will bring happiness to yourselves as well.  

We all need to do for our Walking Horse family members who are "missing in action"...as we would all be so very blessed to have someone do these simple things for us, should we end up in the same such circumstances. Like I wrote earlier in this column, it takes nothing to show love...and means the world to KNOW love. 

Thank you, you wonderful Walking Horse people for the love and care I know so many of you are going to show Erskine Falls...and thank you, thank you, thank you, Buddy Payne, for spearheading a movement that is going to be so great and mean so much to so very, very many.

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