Photo by Sherry Harris Phelps
Cheetah was a real good friend and still is. And we learn something from one another each time we talk.
All right, I want to tell you just a little bit about him. I‘ll get nervous and watery-eyed and all that good stuff. I took some notes down but I believe I’ll leave them setting there.
Back in, I believe it was 1971, I was a seventh grader at Cliffside Elementary, Mr. White was principal. My dad was expanding his photography studio. This is my sister Sherry, here too. And we learned a few things from Cheetah, or Mr. Lipscomb, as we were told to call him, but we finally got to call him Cheetah after awhile.
We [the Society] decided back in July to try to present somebody with a plaque, an appreciation for somebody still living today who we knew, and I brought Cheetah’s name up and it was an instant hit, so many people know Cheetah. I really wish he had been able to come here tonight. I got to talk to him yesterday for a couple hours and it just blessed my heart.
But my dad decided to build a new studio. He’d always done his business out of the house, as some of you know here. Us kids got pretty rowdy and I reckon we embarrassed Mom and Dad quite a few times. We were getting older and Daddy needed to get out so we could live. After he drew his plans up about a year’s time and got the foundation and all done he incorporated Cheetah into the process. We were going to build this studio building ourselves, a family project. And, it turned out, we got it done with Cheetah’s help. I remember a couple incidents after we had dug out the foundations with the garden tiller, shovels, wheelbarrows and, after we had laid the foundation, Cheetah came in and started laying the concrete blocks. Well, I had a nice kitty-cat called Frisky, a calico cat. And Cheetah did not like cats that well. And Daddy had a cat and I reckon Bruce was part owner of it too. Her name was Sampson. She was a calico, real dark in color. And Cheetah would lay a few blocks and that cat would go down in the blocks and hide from him, I reckon. And Cheetah would get up there and start to lay a block and it would come up backwards out of the blocks and scare him. You know, he was a little skittish on things for he was having to hang upside down in the foundation to get them bottom courses of blocks and bricks laid.
We learned a lot from each other. I had some poor ethnical treatment in school. We only knew a few black people, Mr. [Robert B.] McEntire and Louise McEntire, and the lunch room lady, Miss Camp, and a few other students, Donald Saratt and of course, Bruce McEntire, the janitor’s son and a couple, Ruth and Edna Hill. We were unassociated with black people. You would see them on TV and we heard about these race riots and things going at Chase. Mr. Hunt had several problems with them. Working beside Cheetah, we found out he was totally different from what we had been hearing about adult black people.
There was a construction project there for about two years and he would bring in, I’m not sure, it was Robert and another person would come in on Saturdays, and we [James and his brother Bruce] would work through afternoons, after we got out of school. We’d watch Gilligan’s Island, and do a few things and eat something before Cheetah got there about 15 after four each afternoon.
He’d come driving up in that blue and white Chevrolet truck. (He had a couple of different trucks while he was working there on the studio building.) It was all beat up and the bed was stoved in on it. He told us a story: he would buy his trucks from Monk’s up in Forest City, off South Broadway. When Monk’s would get so many thousand miles on a truck, Cheetah would buy it from him and wear it the rest of the way out. You have probably seen him in these trucks riding around Cliffside and place to place. He’d just load up all his materials, wheel barrows and whatever and go at it.
Well, this studio building, I inherited it last year—it is a little difficult, Mom died from Alzheimer’s—but
we were out digging ditches, digging into the side of the foundation, putting in air conditioning and things of that nature, and digging through this hard mortar mix, and I remembered back about the busted knuckles and scratched elbows. I mixed most of that mortar except when they came in on Saturdays and mixed the mortar for it.
Like Wayne said, if you got it a little too soupy, Cheetah didn’t like it, and he’d come back and whip it up, stiffen it up with some mortar mix. You had to have it tempered just right for Cheetah to go at it. But every afternoon [when] we’d get out of school, I’m figuring [he’d lay] maybe a couple hundred bricks. That’s on a good afternoon when we weren’t aggravating him, or days got shorter in winter.
But we had some good experiences. He brought barrels in. Once we got on the inside project, he brought barrels in. And we wanted to trick him a little bit, we’d put bricks on there and make ‘em shaky. But he was a steady, determined man, and he would get up there. Dad would hook up some lights inside and run a drop cord.
And we’d talk a whole lot dirty around him. He called me Big Boy, well, Fat Boy for awhile, but Big Boy. I was a big boy and I was disrespectful. But I owe it to him for not letting me get my rear end tore up. If Dad had known some things we said around Cheetah, and he had told Dad, we would’ve got wore out real good. I think Dad caught us a few times, and Cheetah heard us screaming the effect of it. And we exaggerated some of it anyway. But Cheetah felt compassion for us and wouldn’t tell Daddy, but he would try to temper us down a little so we wouldn’t be so foul mouthed. And he warned me about high school and said somebody’s gonna whip your butt. And that is the worst dirty word I ever heard Cheetah say, was whip my butt, you know. And so, that made me respect high school a little better when I got started over at Chase.
But in the process of building the studio building, Dad, you know, conservative, I don’t think he borrowed any money (unless Mrs. Hamrick knows). I don’t think he borrowed any money to build this building. And me and Bruce hadn’t expected any pay. You know, we just figured it was our job as kids to go out there and do what Daddy said.
I think it was about $300, our first check, I don’t remember, but we went down to King’s Department Store in Shelby and bought a mini bike. We just enjoyed ourselves on the mini bike, and Cheetah would have to holler for us—we’d take turns riding it. We’d mix up mortar, throw it up there sloppy, and get some bricks piled up and we be off riding the mini bike on grandpa’s farm there, and come back and Cheetah had done run out of mortar and bricks both.
But we ended up with about 30,000 bricks in that building. And, good gracious, I don’t remember how many blocks, two chimneys, one huge with a fireplace and upstairs flues going in it. And I learned a whole lot about life through Cheetah.
You can be a mean person and treat people bad or you can be a nice person and help people that are mean to get them converted. Several things that Cheetah lived by, I believe, you know he had to use a level, had to use a string [and a] plumb bob, to get everything going right. You do a sloppy job and you get sloppy results, and you don’t please anybody. I think that is the way Cheetah lived his life—so far—that he lived a level life, you know, through God, his work through the church, and helping people by giving them a fair shake for the labor he done.
I don’t think anybody in here would complain about the price he charged you on doing your concrete work or masonry work. And if you’re here tomorrow in the daylight, and get to walk around some, you will see a lot of the rock work around here, a lot of the buildings, one of the buildings up at the Haynes plant is still standing. He stuccoed the whole building by himself. And built all the wooden scaffolding to do the stuccoing .
He told me a tale one time about in these manholes; someone would hold him by his feet while he smoothed the concrete out in the bottom of these man holes.
We talked a few times--I had to go in these man holes up at Avondale sometimes and do some work to unstop pipes. I remember the biggest cockroaches. You pull off a manhole cover and cockroaches would just crawl out all over the place. And Cheetah said they bothered him too. You went into a lot of manholes here in Cliffside, but there was some huge cockroaches in them manholes.
I just feel like we needed to honor Cheetah for this tonight and I appreciate Bird and Martin coming here, Martin is a school bus driver, here in Cliffside now, right? And Bird’s been a minister for the past 20 years. I ask Robert and Martin to come up here if you would.
Recorded at the Society's 3rd annual Gathering, October 9, 2009