ROBIN WILLIAMS...THE LOSS HURTS

How many lives will you touch during your time on earth? Yes, that’s a question without an answer. We all hope that our contact with others will leave positive things, but most of us aren’t really sure of the impact we have. Robin Williams is one of the exceptions. I’ve waited for a while until all the news and television folks poured out their stories and condolences. Now I’ll talk about an individual that was a part of my life for years.
When “Mork and Mindy” came on television, Robin Williams immediately hooked me. Never before had I experienced the rapid-fire comedy that he presented. Most viewers were awed by the way he could take any situation and then ad-lib hilarity into the entire scene. Such an ability was even more impressive when it was pointed out that Williams was at one time a Julliard Shakespearian actor.
Over the years I kept up with Robin Williams. I viewed his early movies, and my good friend Glenn Marquart and I watched “Good Morning Vietnam” over and over. “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Goodwill Hunting” won over millions of fans. “What Dreams May Come” is another one of my favorite movies. It delves into the world of depression and death and resurrection. Many won’t like the road the movie travels, but it might very well be a glimpse into the agony that Robin Williams might have encountered.
One of the things of which I am proudest during my teaching career is having introduced students to “The Dead Poets’ Society.” Robin Williams played an English instructor in an all boys’ private school. He reached those boys with a message that they needed to seek their own interests and life’s callings. He quoted my favorite authors, from Emerson to Thoreau to Whitman, and his performance captivated audiences. I have often wished aloud that in some way I could have had the same kind of impact on my real-life students that this actor did on the movie set.
Williams’ stand-up act was a smorgasbord of topics from politics to child rearing to sex. It was raw, not things for the faint of heart or the easily offended. Still, I watched his recorded concerts, and after the tenth time, I’d mastered the lines from most of his routines. What was lacking was the energy that he infused into every concert and the perfect timing he employed in telling a joke. I shared those recordings with my brothers and others, and everyone laughed until he or she hurt.
In 2001, Robin Williams scheduled a concert date in Nashville. I wanted desperately to see him, but the cost of a ticket was much too high for a teacher with a daughter in college and a son in high school. I’d talked with my brother Dal, who lived in Nashville, about the concert, and a couple of days later, he called me to tell me that he’d bought two tickets and that we were going. I almost cried with excitement.
I traveled to Nashville on Saturday before the Sunday concert to spend time with Dal and his wife Brenda. In the evening, he began to feel ill and complained about begin dizzy. He went to bed that night and slept through most of Sunday. Dal got up with full intentions of going to the concert, but he never felt better. I drove to the Grand Ole Opry House and watched Williams alone. For two-plus hours he performed and kept the audience in agonizing laughter. At the same time, he went through a couple of cases of water as he drank and poured and doused the stage and audience. The only downer was the empty seat where Dal should have been sitting and laughing with me.That was an enormous night in my life. It marked the day I first watched an idol perform live. It also marked the first day of a short, brutal, and deadly battle with cancer that my big brother went through.
Now Robin Williams is gone. He spent a career making others laugh and feel happy, all the while battling depression and other problems that eventually consumed him so much that death was preferable to living. I’m going to miss him for a long time. It’s just another blow in this year, which has been less than special. I hope that Robin Williams finds some peace from the torment that broke him. He will be missed by many of us. I also hope he will tell a couple of jokes to Dal.

Many will understand it when I wish him eternal rest, peace, and happiness, “O Captain, my Captain.”

A WELCOME END TO ELECTIONS

By the time this column is printed, the primaries will be finished. I say, “Thank you, Lord!” Like most people,
I’m tired of the endless television commercials, recorded phone calls, and colorful junk mail that have bombarded my home for several months.
I no longer want to receive recorded phone calls from candidates who are begging for my vote. I especially don’t want to hear from Laura Ingram again. I despise the woman and have no intention of listening to anything she has to say because it’s laced with hateful venom and half-truths. Supposedly, my phones are on a no-call list; however, blocking must not include inane political calls from politicians.
I’ve grown weary of watching ads about candidates for whom I can’t vote. That’s Zach Wamp vs Chuck Fleischmann. Those commercials are on local television due to the gerrymandering of districts borders by individuals and groups who are determined to make sure their candidates are chosen over the other party’s. How else can you explain the commercials for politicians whose home bases are Ooltewah and Chattanooga?
What drives me to the edge of irrational anger are the constant PAC-sponsored commercials that air both
day and night. I woke up this morning before 7 a.m., turned on the television, and saw one of them within ten minutes. One PAC is named Character Counts. Most folks might associate it with the program that is used by public elementary schools, but that’s a wrong assumption. To the contrary, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that “The Character Counts Political Action Committee is funded solely by one of Wamp's bosses at the Lamp Post Group where Wamp works.” The Lamp Post Group is an investment company run by three millionaires who graduated from Samford University in Alabama and gave birth to Access America. Their commercials call out the opponent and praise the skills of Zach Wamp and his ability to help the country get back on the right track.
Chuck Fleischmann has his own supporter. It is called Americans for Prosperity. This PAC has a mere 29,000 members from Tennessee, yet their commercials would have us think they speak for the entire state. Its stated goal is to educate citizens about economic policy. I suspect the PAC is more bent on preaching a specific economic principle and then turning its advocates loose on communities.
A whopping $425,000 dollars donated toward defeating three Tennessee Supreme Court justices has come from State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey’s own PAC. The commercials accuse the justices of all sorts of terrible things, which records show simply aren’t true.
Many in the federal government lament President Obama’s blurring the separation of powers of the three branches. It would appear that Ramsey is doing the same thing on the state level. Isn’t his job to lead the senate in drawing up legislation and enacting it?
What I’ve noticed most about the 2014 campaign is that it’s strong on personal attacks and half-truths and short on ideas. Most of the time, commercials slam opponents. I, for one, am “sick and tired” of candidates claiming they are “true conservatives” who have fought Obama and his liberal agenda. The truth is that most of them have had no real involvement with any such things.
Instead of telling what they WILL DO, they tell what they WON”T DO. Our country has witnessed a congress that has done less than any other. We need folks in office who present ideas, work to compromise, and enact legislation that helps ALL people.
I’m numb from the avalanche of ads and attacks and demonizing that has gone on. It’s too bad we can’t oust them all and start over again. Perhaps the best representatives are unable to run because they must make a living to support their families. Maybe they don’t have a PAC that will pour money into attack ads and empty campaign promises. I just want all of this to be over for a while. How about you?


SEWING DESK

My work desk is an antique sewing desk. Its top is more than five feet long with a cut-out section to place a sewing machine. Both sides have drawers and pullouts on which to place a variety of things. One small drawer under the top is designed to hold spools of thread.
This piece of furniture is one that Mother left, and for a long time, no one wanted the thing. Once, I almost sold it, but something tugged at my conscience and urged me to keep the desk. I’m glad I took that advice.
Mother didn’t begin her teaching career until Jim and I entered first grade. Daddy’s paycheck stretched as far as possible to cover bills and needs. To help out, Mother sewed for other people. It was something she had mastered, and her customers were never is short supply.
A parade of folks arrived at the house with requests. Over the years, she put together women’s casual and formal dresses, blouses, and slacks. She also undertook projects to whip up wedding dresses. A couple of her clients had daughters, and Edna sewed countless dresses for them. At other times, she became an interior designer and sewed curtains, drapes, and table cloths.
Mother kept us boys in shirts for school. She would sew up several of them for each of us to begin each school year. They didn’t have store-bought tags, but they looked just as good, and those articles outlasted anything that came from the store. When we were in high school and needed winter coats, she bought fabric and worked for hours to make ones that were warm, comfortable, and stylish. I remember one shirt-jacket that she made for me. It was a small plaid pattern with reds, yellows, and greens. Mother referred to it as “my coat of many colors.”

After some years, Mother’s sewing business ended. She devoted her attention to teaching school. Still, she made every stitch of her own clothing. She also made curtains and other things for the household, and on occasion, Mother still made clothing for friends or her daughters-in-law.

After retirement, Mother continued to sew, but not with a machine. She put together more than a dozen intricately designed quilt tops, and then she sewed them to the batting and backs. Hour upon hour was spent watching episodes of “Matlock” or “Heat of the Night” while she sewed those quilts for us. During the last months of her life, she sat on a patio couch on her back porch and worked feverishly to complete a hobnail quilt before her strength was sapped.

When mother passed, we went to her sewing desk to clean it out. The drawers were stuffed with pieces of material from past or for future sewing projects. Almost all of them were polyester, a favorite of hers. A couple of drawers also held patterns, and a box beside the desk was also packed with those old things that she used to spread out on the kitchen table to cut material for the items she would make. She owned enough spools of thread to keep all of us supplied for years to come.

I use that desk now. The hole for a machine is sealed; instead, my computer sits on top, along with speakers, a printer, and a half dozen remote controls for televisions and radios. The drawers are now loaded with a collection of writings, office supplies, and electronic cords. It is a center for a different kind of work: my writings. I enjoy the use of that desk as much as she did. Her efforts brought joy and comfort to friends and family alike. I’d like to think that the pieces that I put together on the computer do the same thing. Sometimes when I sit at my desk, I close my mind and see my mother working there. It’s a good way to bring back good memories of a woman who loved to use her hands to create wonderful things. 



BICYCLE MEMORIES

A friend of mine related the story of how his son took a short bike ride not long ago. Daniel Dooley hopped on his bike and rode from Tellico Plains to the Dragon, into North Carolina, and back home. Oh, It was just a short trip-- only 114 miles. Another friend, Brad Pearman, has taken up biking in the last couple of years. Now, he’s a hardcore enthusiast who sometimes pedals from his home in west Knoxville to his office at UT Hospital. I’m impressed with both of these guys and their dedication to the hobby.
I used to ride a bike myself. It was no more than 50 years ago. Jim and I rode the wheels off second-hand bikes that we got for Christmas. We circled them in the basement, a feat that seems possible in such a tight space. . When warm weather arrived, we were in the yard, and our bikes made ruts as we ran our course. More fun came as we rode over mounds of dirt that had been piled in the back yard during the excavation of the basement a couple of years earlier.

We played games of pretend. On our hips were six shooters or across our shoulders we strapped on rifles. Jim and I became soldiers in some war and we pedaled into danger. Sometimes enemy forces (neighbor Gary Gillespie) lay in wait for us and then pummeled us with dirt clods as we zipped over the dirt mounds of the battle field. At other times, we imagined that we were race car drivers who pushed the limits of our motor-less vehicles on the way to a finish line.
When the subdivision road next to our house was cut, we spent hours climbing the hill and the coasting down to our starting point. Before long, the boys in the neighborhood began to come to the house, and Mother and Daddy relented so that we could now ride on the roads with them. We were never in danger of vehicles; we could ride all the way to Hardin Valley where the high school is now located and never see more than two or three cars. More of a threat were dogs that chased us down the road. On an occasion or two, one of us boys would wreck pedaling away from the mutt, or someone might be nipped by the canine’s teeth.
Those bikes were basic models. The only speeds were determined on how fast our legs could peddle. Going up steep hills required some zig-zagging, plenty of grunting, and when failure set in, pushing the two-wheelers to the top. Our brakes worked to the degree that pressure from our legs pushed on pedals. We didn’t have any banana seats or extended handle bars. Still, we loved those bikes and took good care of them. When our older brother washed and waxed the family car, we’d clean up our bikes and put a coat of wax on before polishing the frames and fenders.
Those bikes gave us independence back in the day. Parents didn’t ferry their children to every event; besides, there weren’t that many. We pedaled to baseball practice, games of football in somebody’s yard, and to games of 21 at a basketball goal in a boy’s driveway. We always asked permission to go places, and we made sure we arrived back home on time. Only a couple of times did we push our boundaries, and somehow our parents found out and dropped the hammer on us. A flat tire was a disaster because we had no patches for tubes and no money for new tires. Grounded in those days meant being without a bike.

We grew up too soon and began traveling behind the wheel of a 1954 Chevrolet. Our trips covered more ground, but we still found the best times with an old, basic form of transportation With a three-speed on the column and a motor so small that a person could almost climb in under the hood to make repairs, the ol’ Chevy didn’t go much faster than our bikes. Still, we loved that car as much we had our bikes. These days, I’d give almost anything to have both means of transportation back. Of course, I suppose they could never be as good in reality as they are in my memories.