Taking  a Chance on Love

Taking a Chance on Love

When my daughter, Laura, was in kindergarten in Homewood, she was already the lovely, effervescent, athletic, focused, kind, intelligent, fearless, and spirited lass that she is today as Laura Owens Barfield, wife of  Clay and mother of the incomparable Elizabeth.

The essence of Laura is her humor and pluck. She has grit, can take a punch, or, in her case, a fall off the beam in gymnastics where she excelled on her team at the Joel Inman Gymnastics Academy.  Laura practiced long and hard in the gym, then delivered splendid performances when it counted.  Though wiry and slight of build like Elizabeth, every inch of Laura was made to last and to excel. I could not contain my pride in her then. I still can’t. She is my hero.

One day Laura came home from school deep in thought. Something was up. I asked her what is was. She explained that she liked a boy at school who was not paying any attention to her. She wanted him to notice her. “Here’s what you do,” I said. My wife Pat shot me an oh no look. “When recess starts,” I told Laura,  “I want you to calmly walk up to this boy, give him your best smile, say hello, then tackle him without warning. Take him straight to the ground.” Pat’s face froze in horror. “Don’t do it Laura,” Pat advised. However, Laura was ablaze with enthusiasm.

I could not wait to see Laura the next afternoon. “Did you tackle him?” I asked. “Yes”, Laura said in triumph. “What did he do?”                                                                 “He ran away from me as fast as he could and never looked back,” she said with a grin.

Which was to be the story of Laura’s non-relationship with this boy for the duration of their years in school at Homewood, graduating in the same H.S. class, then four years together at the University of Alabama, where he never looked back or came near her. He kept his distance and has not looked back to this day, afraid no doubt of being tackled when he least expects it.

Laura took it all in stride with her usual humor, now gleefully teaches her daughter, Elizabeth, how to tackle.  A girl has to be prepared to take a chance.

Beer for Breakfast

Beer for Breakfast

The Cold War expired when I was an FBI agent, transforming the USSR into the UFFR, the Union of Fewer and Fewer Republics. At the time, Vladimir Putin was a baby faced KGB second fiddle who had not yet learned to ride a horse with his shirt off or win at ice hockey against no opposition.

In the aftermath of the Cold War’s bloodless death, I hosted two Moscow cops who came to Alabama as guests of the FBI to beg insights and advice about coping with conflicts between freedom and law enforcement in the new Russia. How were local police supposed to behave in the  upstart Russian Federation? Democracy had brought organized crime, defense attorneys, unruly teenagers, drugs, and  loud music the two cops told me. Police morale was low. They could no longer round up people and have them disappear. They wished that things were like the old days under communism, when everyone got drunk and did what they were told.

I had just the tonic to make the two Russian policemen feel better, a down home Southern breakfast in a mom and pop place called the Ranch House, owned by a family descended from Greek immigrants. What could be more American that Greeks running a grits and barbecue eatery in the Heat of Dixie? The year was 1994.

I ordered scrambled eggs for three, with home fries, sausage, ham, gravy and biscuits hanging with grits, jelly, and tomatoes on the side, plus a whole pot of coffee. The waitress brought our food and spread it around a large round table. Before eating, the two Russians had a question for me. Did this American restaurant serve beer?

Several hours later, after we had pledged not to let bosses stand in the way of good police work, and to continue the quest for the perfect donut, the table was covered with empty long neck Budweisers standing mute like dormant smokestacks in the old USSR.

P.S.  What’s In A Name Revisited.  Over the Christmas holidays, good wishes were  sincerely addressed to me as Mr. John Jackman.



Back when I had hair and two good knees, and the moon over Alabama ignored Daylight Savings Time, Celine Dion came into my life and into the life of my wife, Pat. Celine was set to appear at the 17,000 seat Civic Center in Birmingham. Pat did her usual end run around the throng fast breaking for tickets at Ticket Master and secured terrific seats close to the stage. There is something divine about the way Pat calmly stiff arms the competition for tickets. She learned these tricks while attending mandatory Chapel as an undergraduate at Samford University.

The date arrived for the concert and we had visions of Celine’s Titanic soundtrack soaring in our heads. Pat dressed for comfort but still looked sharp and chic. Me? No one looks at me when Pat  is on my arm. I happily feel like the dude in pairs figure skating.

It was time to leave for the evening concert and we were stoked. We drove downtown and parked in a lot near the Civic Center. Much to Pat’s dismay, I motor to football games and concerts far ahead of kick offs and stage lights coming to life. We parked and waltzed into the Civic Center with a light crowd and eagerly presented our tickets. The clerk looked down at the tickets, blinked,  looked again and came up for air. “You’re early,” she said, not quite stifling a laugh. Pat and I looked at our watches. “What do you mean?” “Celine does not appear until a year from now.” Pat stared at her ticket. I stared at my ticket. We were exactly 12 months early. Not ready to surrender, I asked, “Well, what’s going on tonight?”  “Monster trucks,” the clerk said. “Monster trucks.”

Before you judge, remember this. Pat is married to me. Nothing is without challenge. We saw, and loved, Celine a year later to the hour. What a country.

My First FBI Speech

My First FBI Speech

I have always been lucky, lived an “Every Day is Friday Night” kind of life. A four leaf clover guards my shoulder. For example, the FBI, under the leadership of Director J. Edgar Hoover, hired 1000 new agents beginning June, 1969, the month that I graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law. I had already been accepted into the Bureau and took my seat in New Agents Class #17, June 23, for 4 months of training in Washington and at Quantico, Virginia.

After training, my first field assignment was Denver, another stroke of good fortune. I had never been to Denver or even Colorado and was eager to get there. I drove to Denver with relish, joining experienced agents and several dozen other bushy tailed first office agents to begin my career in earnest. My wife and two sons joined me for the year I would be in Denver.

A Denver FBI tradition was to have rookie agents serve as guides for public groups touring the office. My turn came and I reported to the reception room to give a short speech to a bright eyed group of about 20 adults before the tour began. I had mostly avoided giving speeches during college or  law school, and was nervous.  However, I was an FBI agent feeling my oats and fearlessly plunged ahead. “The Director of the  FBI is HERBERT HOOVER,” I said with gusto, thereby bringing back to life the 31st President of the United States.

Oblivious and clueless,  I charged the next hill in my speech. “FBI HQ is the central SUPPOSITORY for all fingerprint records in the U.S,” I beamed. Thus ending the very first and the very last public speech of my career in the Denver FBI.


Calling the FBI

Calling the FBI

My middle son, Duane Robert Owens, is a 28 year veteran of the FBI. I’m most proud of him for many, many reasons. His sense of humor is renown, a treat for all of us since he was a wee lad and burst forth with spontaneous jokes, impersonations, and hilarious stories.  If he had so desired, I’m confident that Duane would have landed on the writing staff of Saturday Night Live. He is the most loving, selfless, and  giving person I know, a gentle Teddy Bear adored by his wife, two daughters, extensive  family, colleagues and friends. I marvel that I have such a son.

Duane has served in three FBI field offices. He exudes a smiling self confidence with a bubbly, endearing personality, and thoroughly enjoys the night action in the Bureau, the vigils of manning the communication centers in a field office, the radio traffic from  agents out in FBI vehicles, and the many and varied telephone calls, many of which regularly come from the same persons who feel the need to reach out to the FBI at night with, at times, bizarre stories. Duane has compassion for these apparently lonely people and knows their voices.

One night, early in Duane’s Bureau career, he had an idea. When a regular called in, followed immediately by another regular, Duane “patched” the two calls together and let them talk to each other alone. They talked and talked while Duane handled other business. After the patched lines went dark, one of them called back.  “Who was that guy I was talking to?” he asked Duane. “He’s crazier than hell.”

The FBI Shoots the Chattooga

The FBI Shoots the Chattooga

Spring, 1984. The Birmingham FBI SWAT team joined teams from around the southeast to spend a week shooting rapids on the Chattooga River in northwest Georgia, the river where the movie “Deliverance” was filmed. Think banjos and ….never mind. This was my first experience in rapids. My SWAT partner was  Ashley Curry, who would one day be elected mayor of Vestavia Hills, Alabama, and who had no rapids experience either.

Ashley and I were first paired in a canoe, then later in rafts that held six agents for the class 4 rapids.

I did not wear my glasses, fearing I might lose them in the river. We agreed that I would be seated in the front of the canoe, Ashley steering with his paddle in the back.

Ashley and I paddled our way through the first sets of uncomplicated rapids, gaining confidence and bravado. After lunch we were cruising and cocky when I heard a roar up ahead that grew louder by the second. Squinting, I hollered back to Ashley, “I hear something.”

“What is it?” he shouted. “Sounds like a falls,” I yelled.

I did not hear Ashley’s reply as our canoe suddenly went over a screaming water fall and dropped 10 feet into the river. Ashley and I were thrown out of the canoe into the cold water. I experienced loss of control of my body in water for the first time in my life. I fought to gain a foothold to stop my rush into oblivion. I grabbed a large rock and held on for life, seeing through my myopically blurred eyes the future major of Vestavia Hills swiftly spin by me down the rapids choked Chattooga River.


Bible Verses

Bible Verses

Leon Sizemore has been my friend and FBI colleague for decades. We were on the Birmingham FBI SWAT team together and partnered on many arrests. He saved me from being bitten by a snake during SWAT training in the dense woods and tank dirt trails on  Marine Corps Base, Quantico. I knew that Leon had my back if I was ever again attacked by a rooster.

I admire Leon for many reasons, one being his genuine devotion to his Christian faith. He is a biblical scholar.

Leon’s sense of humor is ever present. He once invited me to a prayer breakfast during which everyone was asked to recite a Bible verse, going around the room. As I awaited my turn, I was dismayed to hear my choices being taken by others. I panicked and leaned into Leon for help. “Jesus wept,” he whispered.

Leon and I were sitting together and he spoke right before me. “Jesus wept,” he said, his mischievous smile widening. All eyes turned to me. I drew a blank.

Damn you Leon.