From the e-mails and voice mails:
HOLD THE OLIVE Oakdale reveres its cowboy heritage and its high school football program. But who, at least since Prohibition ended in the 1930s, would have considered the city one of the nation's premier gin mills?
Oakdale native Greg Anderson traverses all three. He owns Greg Anderson Livestock, purveyor of cattle. He's an assistant coach for Oakdale High's sophomore football team. And he's the only person in the history of the Gin Rummy Association to win Player of the Year honors in consecutive years, awarded to the player who compiles the most points earned during various tournaments throughout the year.
Anderson, 58, began playing gin rummy with his parents.
"I was 7 or 8," he said.
By 9 or 10, he was extremely competitive. Nine years ago, the Gin Rummy Association began its rating system, in which players compile points at various tournaments with the idea of being among the top eight players who compete in the champions event each year.
"This year, there were three guys who made it for the third straight year," Anderson said. "I've made it all nine times."
With huge pots up for the taking in televised Texas Hold'em and other poker tournaments, why play gin rummy for much smaller payouts? The World Series of Poker winner took home $8.3 million in July.
In one recent gin rummy tournament, Anderson and three other finalists split $25,000, with each winning $5,000 and the overall winner claiming the remaining $5,000.
"It's like checkers," Anderson said. "Anybody can play checkers. But only a handful play chess."
Fewer players, along with the fact that gin rummy is a slower game that doesn't translate well to TV, means smaller purses.
"Gin is like chess," he said. "It's a game where you use your mind. A guy who just had his 90th birthday won a tournament. His brain still works. The rest of his body isn't so good, but he's been able to compete all of his life."
DUST BOWL Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns' newest series on PBS hit home for many valley residents, among them Ruthie Gerringer and Kay Sprague Ham, both of Modesto.
Gerringer, now 90, remembers being a young girl living in Colorado during the Dust Bowl. Every afternoon, she said, the ominous dust clouds would engulf their home in the southwest corner of the state.
When it passed, they'd sweep the dust off the wooden and linoleum floors and from the window sills.
One day, she said, her mother decided to see exactly how much dust collected during a single storm.
"We swept up 47 pounds of sand," Gerringer said.
Ham, meanwhile, is in the process of editing the book written by her first husband, Roger Sprague. He died of cancer in 2004, but not before he compiled 400 pages in a book about his grandmother, Dust Bowl refugee Florence Owens Thompson.
Sprague's mother, Ruby, was one of the young girls with Thompson depicted in the iconic photo taken by Dorothea Lange at a migrant camp in Nipomo, in San Luis Obispo County.
Ham, also a descendent of Dust Bowl migrants, helped Sprague do research.
A retired elementary school teacher, she offered presentations about the photo and the era to schoolchildren until Sprague's death and wants to resume the practice.
They'd made presentations at the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
Before she completes "The Second Trail of Tears: The Migrant Mother Story," she plans to publish an e-book detailing the circumstances and work that went into telling the story. The "Second Trail of Tears" element of the main book's title refers to Thompson's Cherokee Indian heritage.
VETS' BOOK REDUX A week ago, I mentioned the book co-written by 19 Modesto-area veterans who detail their experiences in the Vietnam War, available through most online bookstore sites at $18.99.
And guess what? It has a title and everything "A Conflict That Was a War" which I failed to include last week. Hence the do-over.
Some of the authors will be available for a book signing Dec. 8 at the Modesto Vet Center, 1217 Carpenter Road, beginning at 9 a.m. Proceeds will benefit the center.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.