JUST ONE MORE TIME

Mother Nature discovered that we humans were much too happy with the balmy temperatures occurring in January. She sent a surge of cold air back through the south the next month just to remind us what season it actually was and to dampen our spirits. It’s on these cold mornings that I remember life as a child. More to the point, I recall the breakfast menus that we had at home.

Mother had a job each day of making sure three boys were out of bed. Jim was not such an easy one to awaken, so Mother would speak to me and and instruct me to “wake up your brother.” During our early years, we ran barefooted across wood floors to the coal stove in the living room. There we would dress quickly because the house never warmed by that one stove.

We’d make our ways to the kitchen afterwards. Most mornings the only light that was on was the one on the top of the stove. The oven was warming, and we stood in front of it to thaw out just a bit. Before she went to the one bathroom in our house to get ready for work, she’d made breakfast of some kind.


Oatmeal was always good to start the day. We dumped half a truckload of sugar and a boulder of butter into the stuff and stirred it together. Before long, the sugar rush hit, and we bounced around the house for the rest of the morning. Little did we know that in a short time the sugar would be gone and that we’d crash and burn.

Sometimes, Mother made cream of wheat for breakfast. No matter how hard she worked, the gruel always had lumps. We’d dish out a helping of it and once again add
sugar and butter. However, no amount of additives ever dissolved the clots in our bowls. We ate around them or held our breaths before biting into one of those disgusting things.

The best weekday breakfast item was cinnamon toast. Mother spread butter on each slice of white bread and the topped them with cinnamon and spoonfuls of brown sugar. After a few minutes under the broiler, the toast was ready. I still remember the taste, but for some reason haven’t been able to recreate it during my adult years.

On weekends, breakfast became a feast. Mother took the time on Saturday mornings to fry bacon or link sausages. Then she’d mix up a bowl of batter and cook stacks of pancakes. Even better, sometimes she pulled out a big, heavy contraption and make waffles for us. The taste of those waffles has never been reproduced anywhere.

We’d take our mounds of food to the table and “doctor” them. Sometimes, we turned the bottle upside down
and wait as a small river of white Karo syrup oozed over the pancakes. Not until a few years later did we ever taste dark syrup. On occasion, one of us would retrieve a jar of homemade blackberry jelly from the refrigerator. Globs of the stuff were dumped onto plates, and then they were slathered over every inch of pancake.

These days, breakfast is much healthier. Amy and I eat eggs with a couple of slices of bacon. On some mornings, we simply grab a bowl of cereal before heading out the door. Yes, on rare occasions, we even make a run to Hardee’s for something. None of it equals the wonderful tastes of things Mother prepared that remain in my memory. I suppose the dash of love that she added to breakfast items made the so good, and maybe one day, I’ll see her again and ask if she has time to make me a stack of waffle...just one more time.  

DO THEY UNDERSTAND THE COMMON MAN?

As I’ve stated before, I’m a political junkie. For a week, my attention had been directed toward the committee hearings for those individuals who had been selected to become heads of the various agencies. Those sessions were spectacles that left Americans all the more troubled about the future or our country.

For one thing, the nominees are wealthy folks. For instance, Betsy DeVos, the candidate to
head up the Department of Education, has a financial worth of approximately $5 billion. Rex Tillerson, the State Department candidate, has approximately one-half billion dollars in assets. Even the Treasury nominee, Steven Mnuchin, is wealthy beyond what we regular folks can fathom. Now, wealth isn’t a bad thing, but it does bring up some questions.

I thought President Trump was going to “clear the swamp.” Instead, he’s merely replaced one set of rich people with another. I’ve yet to see a single candidate who is what I call an “average Joe.” These people have worked hard; I grant them that. However, I’ve worked hard all my life as well but haven’t come close to making a fraction of the fortunes these candidates have. No, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but like you, I’m not the dullest either. These proposed leaders have tricks up their sleeves for making huge sums, and they aren’t about to let us know what they are.

The problem with these leaders is that they just don’t understand the struggles of middle class folks. How could they? You and I work hard to pay for a home; we fret when a new car has to be purchased. Our depression deepens when we see the cost of health insurance. These department heads have no such concerns. They have the best healthcare; they live in mansions that would house our humble abodes multiple times; chauffeurs ferry them from place to place. Their children attend the best private schools and then go on to any college that they choose without fear of not being able to cover tuition. Their lives are so far different from ours that they can’t conceive of the daily worries that we face.

Many of these folks also have conflicts of interests. DeVos has long been a proponent of vouchers and charter schools and private schools. Neither she nor her children have ever attended a public school. She wants to take moneys from public schools so that children can use it for admission to a private school. In case you hadn’t thought of it, that money is taken from the funding of public schools. They will have a shortfall, and guess who will have to make up the difference: taxpayers. Your fair share will increase so private schools and charter schools can make money off students.

Steve Mnuchin owned a bank that foreclosed on thousands of homeowners who found themselves upside down after the economy went south in 2007. His bank foreclosed on one
elderly woman who had a short payment by 27 cents. Another homeowner was faced foreclosure because it was said she didn’t live in the house. However, when she was served with those papers, the processor handed them to her at the door of that residence.

Health and Human Services candidate Tom Price bought stocks in companies and then voted on legislation that proved to be advantageous to them. He denied that he’d done it directly, instead saying that a broker of his trust made the purchases. Then, under further questioning, he admitted that he contacted the broker with instructions to buy the thousands of dollars worth of stock.

Do these folks have our best interests in mind? I just don’t know. DeVos is dead set on crippling public education. She champions the use of vouchers that allow students to attend schools that have the same or less success rates with students. Rex Tillerson was
awarded a friendship medal by Russia’s Putin, and it’s not clear if he is in favor of continuing sanctions against the country for its hacking of our election and invading Crimea. Tom Price has long advocated the end of Obamacare, even though his new plan does not insure coverage for all people. Instead, he pledges to make coverage “available” for everyone, not assuring that anyone will be able to afford it. He also has pushed for cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. His plan is to cut $1.7 trillion from Social Security and Medicare.

Most probably, these rich folks will become leaders of the major departments. What they do might well affect the welfare of us common folks. I’m more than a little worried about the future. Some might say we must cut entitlements, and to that I say Social Security is not an entitlement; we have paid into the fund every time we drew a paycheck. It is a savings account that the government declared that we have. If our contributions had been wisely invested over the years, we’d have more than enough to see us through our senior years.


This is not a Democrat versus Republican issue. It’s a matter of qualified individuals leading the departments of government in such a way that takes care of ALL Americans, not just the wealthiest of us. Be vigilant and call them out when their actions aren’t in the best interests of the common man.

TAKING A LONG NAP

I watched the NFL/AFL playoff games and was disappointed with both outcomes. With the exception of the years that Peyton and Eli won the big games, I’ve managed to be on the wrong side of the score most years. What shocks me is that this year is Super Bowl 51.
How’d that happen? I’ve been around for everyone one of the championship games, but I’ve not always watched them.

I saw the first super bowl. Green Bay took on the Kansas City Chiefs. I wasn’t a fan of the Packers then, so I cheered for the Chiefs. Hank Stram was a good coach, but he went up against Vince Lombardi, whom some say is the best coach to come around, he discovered that winning wasn’t always so easy. My heart sank as his team went down in defeat 35-10.

The second super bowl was anti-climactic. The most memorable game of the season occurred when Green Bay and Dallas battled in the “Ice Bowl.” Again, the Packers broke my heart when they beat “Dandy Don Meredith” and the Cowboys. That roster listed some of the best names for players: Jethro Pugh, Bob Lilly, Lee Roy Jordan, and Lance Rentzel. Bob Hayes, known as the world’s fastest human, streaked down the field. When they fell short, my heart wasn’t in any championship game.

The Sunday of Super Bowl VII began with the funeral of my paternal grandmother. The weather was frigid that day with a low of 1degree. We came home afterward, and the men tried to watch the game, especially since it featured the Miami Dolphins, who were undefeated throughout the season and won the big game. However, the gloom that filled the air took away any excitement.

I pulled for the Cowboys until I couldn’t take it anymore. My favorite players had retired or moved to other teams, and I just never like Tom Landry. Watching them lose each year hurt too much.

For a long time, I was tired of watching the Steelers play in super bowls. Besides, most of the plays in games never lived up to the “immaculate reception” by Franco Harris. The only other play I recall during those games was the stretching pass reception made by Lynn Swann. I can still see that toothless grin of Jack Lambert as he prepared to diagnose a play and destroy a running back or crossing wide receiver.

During many seasons, the super bowl was a game that featured two teams about whom I was only lukewarm in interest. Yes, some great players participated, and some of the games were exciting, but they lacked one thing: a team I cared about on either side. If the game was on my television, I ho-hummed my way through it. On occasion, as when Janet Jackson took center stage, the halftime entertainment was better than the game.

As I mentioned earlier, my interest piqued when super bowls featured the Manning boys. Both are favorites of mine, which is funny since I never liked their dad after the “Archie Who”
butt-kicking he administered to Tennessee in 1969. His boys, however, were favorites of many Vol fans, and a championship game featuring either of them was something to look forward to.

This year, I might skip the whole event. Atlanta is all right, but I am sick of watching the Patriots in the final game of the season. Yes, they are a good team, but just like some other teams, I’m tired of watching them. Before long, their players will retire, and hopefully, fans won’t have to watch them hoist super bowl trophies for a while. I won’t even be able to watch the halftime show since Lady Gaga isn’t an artist whose songs take up a single byte on my iPod.


Winter is a terrible sports season. I hold my breath, close my eyes tightly, and pray for spring training and baseball. When the super bowl is lousy, the wait is even more excruciating. If your favorite team is playing football on February 5, good luck. I’ll be taking a long nap that day. 

LOSING ANOTHER PIECE OF THE PAST

I checked my Facebook page the other day to see what was going on in the world. As usual, plenty of posts discussed the brilliance or ignorance of the president-elect. A passel of recipes showed up as well. Of course, birthdays were listed for all my friends who survived another trip around the sun. The most upsetting post appeared on Sunday evening. It announced that one of my childhood friends had passed.

Ray Claiborne was an amazing boy. He was wiry and strong even at ten years of age. Ray played on our neighborhood ball team. He filled in at first base, the position I always wanted to play, but where I couldn’t stop a hard-hit ground ball or stretch to snag a high throw, Ray managed to play the position with agility and confidence. He could hit the ball as well, and most of the time he would wind up on second base by stretching a single into a double that was capped off with a slide into the second.

Ray’s most amazing talent was his ability to run. He not only ran; the boy cruised at speeds about which most of us only dreamed. Ray would take off, and within a couple of strides, he was zipping down the field or road. Much older boys challenged him to races, and Ray silently accepted. When the contest ended, he trotted back to the start line after having smoked his competitor. Sometimes the other runner would demand another race; at other times, a different person would be waiting to test Ray. He always accepted all the demands for races, and he defeated all comers. No, he never bragged or said a mean word. Ray let his legs do his talking.

In high school, Ray ran on the track team. He and three others set the school record in the 440, now known as the 400. They blew passed other school teams and notched victories. A couple of team members played other sports, but Ray didn’t. I never knew if he wasn’t interested or if he had work to do at home that kept him from joining playing other sports. Still, his running abilities were grander and more developed than those of most other athletes who had chosen one or more sports.

I lost touch with Ray after high school. I went to school out of town, and I think Ray stayed in Knoxville to help his family operate their fleet of school buses. For some reason, I want to say that he took up smoking, something that surprised me greatly. The rest of us were never quality athletes; most of us were average at best. We smoked because it was the cool thing to do. Why Ray would pick up a habit that might jeopardize his running always puzzled me.

Ray Claiborne isn’t the first boy from that neighborhood ball team to have passed. Over the years, several have gone before him. Tommy Robinson died in a car accident as he traveled to pick up his date for the junior-senior prom. Pat Wright passed several years ago. He became a carpenter and always was as laid back as any person I’d ever known. Steve Turpin died not long ago after a battle with cancer.

Each year, more of the childhood friends that I had end their times on this earth. I know that we are reaching the age where death comes much more often to folks of our generation. The problem is understanding that. You see, in my mind’s eyes, I see these senior citizens as the young boys who they were so many years ago. Their passings leave me sad and more than a bit unsettled. No, I am not afraid of death, but neither am I in a hurry for it to arrive. With each death of an old friend, my history shrinks a bit. My past world loses another piece.


Ray Claiborne was one of those boys who made my childhood good. I appreciate his talents and the memories he created for me. I’m sure that now Ray is in a better place where illness no longer smothers him. I hope to see him some day and watch him run like the wind.