Puckett's Practical Joke

September 2003


I have had many wonderful and crazy friends in different phases of my life and I plan never to forget any of them even knowing that I may never see some of them again. In my very early career days as a graduate student working at the USAF Arnold Engineering Development Center, one of my mentors was a brilliant engineer by the name of Jim Puckett. Puckett had an understanding of mechanical things and ideas of how to create new ones that was the envy of most of his peers. He loved to solve problems with gadgets. His love of machinery was such that even in his private life he created unusual devices.

Part of his motivation seemed to be driven by his love of the practical joke. He was infamous for setting up elaborate devices to play jokes on those around him. Some of these tricks included a video recording that he would show at parties. Puckett was also good with words and one would rarely know before it was too late that he was leading you down a garden path that turned into a ridiculous play on words and puns. I give you this background so that you can perceive how I could have fallen for his most elaborate practical joke that he unwittingly played on me.

In addition to learning a huge amount of engineering savvy from Pucket, I also learned to keep up some amount of guard around him, although usually his friends felt flattered when he selected one of them for the focus of his antics. On a Monday morning in the Spring of 1965 I reported to work and headed for the coffee pot for a first cup. As soon as Puckett spotted me he ambled over with that suspicious look on his face that tells you to get ready for the first practical joke of the day. It wasn't a question of if, but who would be the victim. Then he began.

"Jim", he started. "The damndest thing happened this past weekend. My wife and I were driving over in North Carolina and as we passed through a small town we saw banners hanging everywhere announcing a Jim Trolinger Day Celebration." Seeing that it was pretty obvious that I was to be the fall guy of his joke I, without any hesitation, responded, "Oh, of course, they do that ever year. Do you mean you never heard of Jim Trolinger Day?"

Puckett continued to press and asked, "Do you go to it?" I responded positively and went on to explain how a famous relative of mine once lived there and gets honored each year and continued to ad lib as he questioned further. Finally, he gave up and the subject changed to work. For once I had outsmarted Puckett and foiled his practical joke.

About ten years later, after I had left AEDC, I was fishing through research notes that my mother had collected in tracing the Trolinger family history and came upon a copy of a book that gave a variety of personal interest stories about the Trolinger family. One of the stories was titled "White Knight". It went something like this

One of the most memorable characters in the Trolinger family tree was the Reverend Jim Trolinger, whose reputation for helping the people of the town in miraculous ways was so legendary that he was known by the townsfolk lovingly as "The White Knight". So beloved was the reverend that upon his death, a special day was set aside, which, even to this day, is celebrated as Jim Trolinger Day.

I saw Puckett again at a reunion a few years later and admitted to him that I had thought he was joking. He did remember the event and got a great laugh from it. Puckett had unknowingly pulled off one of his most elaborate jokes of all and seemed quite fulfilled by the ending.




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