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  • Uncle Dave Griffin

Tail of the Weak 2.1

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.

Griffins enroute to Tripoli. L-R: Joseph, Gary, Syveta, Uncle Dave, 1958
Griffins enroute to Tripoli. L-R: Joseph, Gary, Syveta, Uncle Dave, 1958

Tripoli, Libya, in the late Fifties, was a magical, memorable place. I was all of four years old when we moved there in 1958.

Following the liberation of Libya from German occupation during WW II, the United States leased Wheelus Air Base from the Kingdom of Libya, ruled by King Idris. Daddy was stationed there a year and a half and brought Mama, me, and my older brother, Gary, along.

Up on the roof. Tripoli, Libya, 1958
Up on the roof. Tripoli, Libya, 1958

We lived off base in an apartment compound, filled with a melting pot of exotic people, sights, and sounds. From the rooftop of the two-story apartment building, where Mama hung the clothes out to dry and our birthday parties were celebrated, you could look north and see the gold dome of King Idris's palace, gleaming in the African sun.

To the east, over the wall that surrounded the compound, there were palm trees scattered in the sand and a small railroad track that carried a little diesel train, blowing thick black smoke as it went. From our balcony, we would also see Arab citizens, going about their daily routines, drop to their knees in prayer several times a day.

On the west side of the compound was a main street lined with horse drawn carriages called gharyans, parked along the curb and used as taxis in the city of Tripoli, where Old World and New World collided.

Daddy had a handheld 8mm camera that stamped in my brain forever silent movie memories of our time in North Africa—an Arab lady named Fatimah, dressed in colorful, flowing garments and beating on the goatskin head of a ceramic drum—picnicking and hunting Easter eggs in Banana Village, just outside the walls of Mussolini's summer home—stranded visionless on the base highway, while a Ghibli (jee-blee), thick clouds of windblown sand, pelted our station wagon.

We traveled a lot on the weekends, taking in the Roman ruins at Sabratha and Leptis Magna—beach trips to the aromatic blue-green waters of the Mediterranean Sea—rolling down the majestic sand dunes of the Sahara Desert.

Uncle Dave lolling in the sands of the Sahara, 1958
Uncle Dave lolling in the sands of the Sahara, 1958

Despite the foreign culture and ancient history surrounding me, it all seemed like a fairly ordinary life to this little south Georgia boy. We still had our cowboy outfits and wild west imaginations—Mama still fried chicken, southern-style—the record player in our apartment still played Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, and Hank Sr., and we added to the family when my sister, Deb, was born there on January 7, 1960. Her birth certificate was issued in Souq Al Jum'aa; and, remarkably, to this day, she's as white as I am.

Main entrance to Wheelus Air Base
Main entrance to Wheelus Air Base

The most American thing about Tripoli was Wheelus Air Base. As an airman attached to the Strategic Air Command, Wheelus was where Daddy would go to work and earn a living everyday.

Halloween carnival, 1958
Halloween carnival, 1958

Mama shopped at the Commissary and the Base Exchange there. Gary and I picked out Dinky's, matchbox size toy cars, at Toyland. Halloween carnivals were held inside a huge airplane hanger on the base. Trips to the Oasis Ice Cream Parlor were regular. We ate American cheeseburgers at the Mirage; and, the NCO club served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But, it was the base movie theaters that captivated my young heart.

Base Theater and Oasis Ice Cream Parlor, 1959
Base Theater and Oasis Ice Cream Parlor, 1959

The Base Theater was your standard movie house with theater seats and sloping aisles. The other was simply an Air Force hanger with folding chairs, where I recall seeing Jerry Lewis in Sad Sack. It was the movies at the Base Theater that stand out most in my mind.

I was pissed off to no end at 'MAN', who shot and killed Bambi's mother, not realizing that I was the adversary. I was moved by the audio-visual combination of the King of the Cowboys, Roy Rogers, on the back of Trigger, leaping right out of the big screen, as the Sons of the Pioneers sang “Don't Fence Me In”.

I was frightened to death when Kirk Douglas's left eye was clawed out by Tony Curtis's falcon in The Vikings. I was thrilled by the high speed chases between Robert Mitchum and the revenuers in the moonshine epic, Thunder Road. I was hanging on every word and each note of the unforgettable movie theme songs in The Hanging Tree and The Legend of Tom Dooley.

But, the one that appealed to me the most was a Walt Disney film, Old Yeller, the story of a boy and his dog. The movie starred Fess Parker, who I recognized from television as Davy Crockett—Chuck Connors, The Rifleman—Tommy Kirk as Travis—and Kevin Corcoran as little Arliss. Over the years, I've shared this classic with my children and grandchildren.

Old Yeller was my childhood favorite. It dealt with the responsibilities of growing older and the loss of something that you love.

Filmed in beautiful Technicolor, the movie was much like growing up in Tripoli, Libya, where the blues were bluer, the greens were greener, and real life never paled in comparison.

7th Annual Swamptown Getdown Music and Arts Festival

March 17-18, 2017

Okefenokee Fairgrounds

Waycross, Georgia Advance Weekend Passes:


Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin

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