BIRTHDAY BOY BLUES

So, I recently celebrated my true entrance into senior citizen life. To me, 65 is the correct age for
entering the group, even though AARP mails out membership cards to folks when they reach 50. At any rate, I am a bonafide “senior.” Does this mean I am allowed to fuss and cuss just a little? I hope so because here goes.
I’m now what many in this world call an old man. My hair has been gray for years, but of late, its seems to be racing to the crown of my head much faster than in previous years. I’ve never been a muscle- bound man, but at least things were firm, or at least they used to me. My skinny legs are now matched by my skinny arms. My belly
seems to round out more each day despite the walking and exercise I get. Even my chest is trying to slide to my navel. A gym membership offered through my insurance might stop the atrophy and even provide a bit more tone and endurance. I’m trying to find a suitable time for exercise at the Y, but other things interrupt my visiting schedule.
For some reason, missing my mother surfaced this birthday. That’s a bit silly for a 65 year-old man, especially since mother has been gone for more than 20 years. Still, I’ve thought about her and wondered what she’d think about all that’s transpired. She always wanted the back section of woods cleaned out. These days, the area has a carpet of grass and only a few trees to provide shade. I’ve come up with questions that only she could answer. To be honest, I miss the Melt in Your Mouth cake
that she whipped up for birthdays.  Either plain or iced, the cake was a favorite of our family. A friend asked me the other day for the recipe, but I had to tell her I didn’t have it and now can’t figure out where it might be..
The weather didn’t cooperate this year. Instead of warm temperatures, a mixture of clouds and sun and rain kept us from hanging out at the pool. Oh, my grandson Madden dove into the water, and I got in as well. Upon exiting the pool, I put on a pair of sweat pants, the first time I’ve ever celebrated a birthday in long pants. The blood runs thinner these days.
The biggest birthday disappointment this year came at the hands of Mother Nature, or perhaps it was the result of global warming. The honeysuckle scent never arrived. A few meager blooms on the vines appeared, but that “birthday smell” just didn’t come. I thought that I might have been in the wrong month to celebrate another year, but a check of calendar told me I had the right date. To this day, the sweet honeysuckle smell brings back so many wonderful memories, but it hasn’t been around, and I feel a bit cheated.
This year, the usual birthday excitement didn’t make an appearance. Instead, a satisfying sense of contentment moved in. My children and my grandson again returned home for the weekend to celebrate. Just being with them and Amy is enough to make me happy. So, I suppose the other things that didn’t turn out right don’t really matter after all.

None of us knows how many birthday celebrations we’ll have.  We should enjoy each of them with a thankful heart. This year just didn’t have the same pizazz as previous ones. Still, I am thankful for theth year.
good life I’ve been given and for the many wonderful people who have been a part of my time here. I look forward to the next trip around the sun and pray that I will have the good health and good sense to appreciate it. I’ll do a better job omitting the whining and fussing that have crept into my mind on my 66

A MINISTER'S IMPACT

Although folks might find it difficult to believe, several favorite people throughout my life have been ministers. That’s especially surprising based on how I too often fall so short in living the kind of life that Christ and the bible promote. Still, I love these people who have been important to me along the way.
Bill Menees came into my life when I went away to college. He pastored a small Methodist church in Cookeville, Tn. Bill saw his mission as one that brought Christians into conflict with sets of beliefs that were traditional and too comfortable. He told us that Christ was not the answer; he was the question. Our duty was to discover what answers would come from that question. It’s something that requires years of study and thought and prayer. Because Bill Menees dared me to question and search, I have a profoundly deeper relationship with God.
Of course, “Brother Menees” is also special in that he is the man who encouraged me to talk to a gorgeous 18-year-old girl who later became my wife. Bill’s constant goading led me to ask Amy out for that first date. A year and a half later, we stood before him as he married us.
Bob Landry was a different kind of minister. He, too, had different views, but what separated him was the ability to weave a sermon into a thing of beauty. His command of words often left us in the congregation in awe of the pictures that he painted in those 25-minute musings.
Bob also soothed problems. The Disciples of Christ believe in baptism through immersion, unlike the Methodist who sprinkle. I told Bob that if my Methodist baptism wasn’t good enough for the denomination that I would find another church to attend. Bob smiled at me and answered, “I tell you what. I won’t tell anyone if you won’t.” He recognized that the method of baptism was less important that what it symbolized.
Doug Meister served as an associate minister with Bob. He and I became friends as we played on the
church softball team. That friendship blossomed into one that is still strong after more than 30 years, even though Doug has long since left the area to accept a position in a church in Louisville, KY. His gravelly voice presents philosophical and religious points on which his flock can think, debate, and ultimately accept as wonderful news. Doug is an easy-going man who is slow to anger. His compassion for others leads him to serve tirelessly in a variety of activities and ways. Even though we are separated by the miles, whenever we make contact, things fall into place as if we’d been together all along.
Catherine Nance ministered our church for five years. She was reassigned because, plain and simple, she had become a rising star
. Her Sunday morning addresses are transformative. Not one Sunday during her tenure did I ever leave a service with dry eyes. Catherine’s ability to cut through the extraneous and to reach the heartbeat of a moment left most of us in the congregation breathless. I cherish every minute of my time with her and consider her a good friend. On occasion, I find one of her sermons on line and listen to it to recall the power that she possesses. Yes, it was time for us to let her go because her destiny is toward greater things and teachings. I’m glad to have had her in my life for just a while.
At present, Larry Dial is our minister. He’s a larger-than-life character.
Larry’s approach to relationship with God is a bit less formal. Larry loves people, food, and color. From the pulpit, he delivers a message that is sprinkled with personal accounts and interesting facts and a point at which we all can aim to mature in faith and service. What makes Larry such a wonderful preacher and person is his ability to laugh and make others laughs. Sermons include several asides that feature humorous comments covering all aspects of life. He ends each service by delivering a charge to parishioners to go into the world and spread the love of God for each person and the world. What better way is there to leave a Sunday worship service than with a smile? Larry is a new friend with whom I plan to spend many years, and I look forward to the conversations and laughter that we will share.

Ministers should make impressions on those under their care. I am thankful for them all. From those individuals I have developed a deeper understanding of relationship not only with God but also with all individuals. 

IT'S HERE!

The assignment was to read poems and prose about Knoxville and summer. Before long, I realized that neither piece of literature would impress my two students for one’s family roots were buried in Florida and the other’s ran deep in the soil of New York. The importance of words were lost on them. Still, I was hell bent on their reading and understanding just a bit better this season that is fast approaching.
I don’t often preach to parents because the good lord knows how often a goofed with my own children. However, I implore folks to introduce their little ones to the poem “Knoxville” by Nikki Giovanni and the introduction of James Agee’s A Death in the Family. They paint beautiful pictures of summer in our hometown and, at the same time, usher in so many memories of summers from the past.
This wonderful place gives us a summer that exudes contentment. Much of that peace of mind is spiked by the smells that accompany warm weather. Honeysuckle blooms decorate barbed wire
fences and post. The sweet perfume fills the air and causes us to close our eyes, breathe in the fragrance, and allow a smile to spread across our lips and light up our faces and souls. The scent of freshly cut hay from fields far from our homes ride the breezes to reach us. Even the recognizable smell of mowed wild onions spread throughout the neighborhood. They grow in yards, not lawns, for the latter have been fertilized and sprayed to feed grass and kill all other forms of wild green plants.
The light of day is a plentiful commodity in the summer. Daylight sidles up before 6:00 a.m. It lingers with us well into the evening, and at some points, holds on with the last rays until nearly 10 p.m. Our lives seem fuller since those extra hours of daylight are crammed full of a variety of activities such as playing sports, enjoying water activities, or simply mowing the yard. The night delivers the best hours of sleep to weary souls that made the most of each moment of the day.
For us with graying hair, the hot days and warm nights of the season were much different in the previous century. We lay in our beds at night and prayed for the slightest breezes to blow through every opened window in the house and offer just a bit of coolness. A monstrous floor fan sat in the
hallway, and it sounded much like the propeller of a piper cub on a flight to some far away destination. Even with so much power behind it, the fan merely circulated the air without ever cooling it by even one degree.
I’m afraid that some of today’s parents are neglecting their children as far as summer is concerned. They allow young’uns to sit in a air-conditioned houses instead of insisting that they go outside and learn what it feels like to sweat. Weed and feed products and killers keep children from inhaling those sweet scents that come in the summer. I’ve recently discovered that some poor youngsters have never experienced
the first bite of homemade ice cream. How can they fully understand what a “brain freeze” is if such a wonderful treat has never passed their lips? It’s shameful!
Perhaps this piece is more of a hodge-podge of thoughts, but summer excites me so much that keeping them in a logical order is sometimes difficult. I loved my years as a teacher, but I suppose that part of the reason I chose such career is that it offered the chance to be off in the summer. I hope that this year all of us enjoy each and every minute of the season. The memories that we make will stay with us until our time on earth is finished. Get an early start on summer fun. It’s here!



GREAT OR SECOND-RATE

I gave President Trump an “atta boy” for his swift response to the Syrian gassing. That’s the first and only time I’ve done so. The thing is that I’d like for this administration to be successful, but too many
of the decisions already made show too little regard for the good of the country and too much attention toward adding to the fortunes of the wealthy. I worry about what their formulated plan is.

At the State Department, multiple positions remain unfilled. Included are some that are vital to the smooth running of our diplomatic efforts around the world. The halls have been stripped of any photos of past speakers, a move that seems to be an attempt to purge history. Secretary Tillerson only recently stepped out of his office to travel to other countries, unlike past secretaries who spent much of their time meeting and bargaining with leaders of other countries, both friends and foes. Even worse, he refuses to allow even a small press pool to travel with him. Is that because he doesn’t want the American people to know what is going on or is it because he is hiding something?

The EPA is a shell of what it once was. I suppose that some of the regulations that have been imposed might be excessive. However, our planet is being irreparably damaged by man-made emissions and mishandling of the earth. Naysayers proclaim that the evidence of such destruction is questionable. In fact, the new leader of the agency, Scott Pruitt, carried on a crusade against the very organization that he now heads. He doubts scientific data about the effects of greenhouse gases on the environment. If this administration continues with such blind disregard to changing conditions, the president might rue those decisions when his Mar-a-Largo resort slowly sinks into the rising waters of the Atlantic. Of course, by then, any change of mind will be much too late.

The same problem exists at the Department of Education. Sure, plenty of problems are present in today’s educational system. However, appointing Betsy Devos to head the place is the same as sending the fox to guard the hen house. Devos makes no excuses for her dislike of public education. Neither she nor her children have attended such “terrible places” for schooling. She now pushes for charter schools funded by taxpayer dollars. That move will only take more money from public schools and plunge them into more problems. Maybe this administration doesn’t want the citizenry to be educated. An ignorant population allows itself to be ruled by dictators. Besides, the Trump crowd assumes that no education is necessary for individuals whose jobs are creating more wealth for them.

The in-fighting in the White House tells us much about the folks who have been elected to lead us. On one side is Jared Kushner and his merry band. He has been included in all-important areas of our government. At the same time, he still has a fortune from his family’s company from which he should have divested himself. He meets and deals with countries with whom his businesses have dealt. That sounds too much like a conflict of interest to my simple, middle-class mind.

On the other side are Steve Bannon, Steven Miller, and Kellyanne Conway. This radical bunch is determined to tear completely apart the government. In its place, they want a limited one that has little power to direct the country or
states. Bannon and his ilk also want a select few who think as they do to have free reign to do whatever necessary to reach their goals. This group of extremists seeks change through fear tactics and made-up stories. Less government means they can scheme and plot with little fear of reprisal.


Yes, I am hopeful that President Trump will realize what is best for the “entire” country, not just his small group of friends and associates. I would be willing to say that I’ve been wrong about him. The present facts, to the contrary, point to an administration that flies by the seat of its pants and has no direction. We will pick up the pieces of this destructive four years and hope to put America back together again. Whether America remains the same guiding light and leader is questionable. This might well be the beginning of the end for the greatness of our country. Our children will inherit a second-rate homeland that destroyed itself.