SINGING IN CHRISTMAS

It’s that time of year again when folks are spread too thin. So many events pull at them—school programs, shopping, get-togethers, and parties. For many, Christmas pageants or performances by children are staples for a complete holiday season. I remember a long time ago when Jim and I were involved those productions.
Beaver Ridge United Methodist Church always put on a big children’s program at Christmas. Two women, Mrs. Kirkland and Mrs, Marr, worked for weeks to put the show together. Children met
weekly to practice the songs for the program. The women found patience with squirming children who would have much rather been expending after-school energy playing touch football or riding bikes.
Mother worked to produce capes for the children. They looked like the ones that are wrapped around the shoulders of Christmas statues of carolers. She was a stay-at-home mother back until we started school and spent hours at the sewing machine making more capes to accommodate growing numbers of children who would perform.
On Sunday morning, we children faced a combination of excitement and nervousness. Standing in front of a packed church brought about butterflies, and some kids decided at the last minute that they wanted no part of the program. They burst into tears, and after efforts to comfort them failed, someone hustled them off to parents.
Most of the songs were familiar carols of the season. We stood stick straight and kept our eyes fixed upon Mrs. Kirkland, who led us in song. Moms and dads and grandparents oohed and aahed as smiles spread across their faces. The entire thing seemed to have lasted for hours, but the truth is that no more than twenty minutes were devoted to the program.
Jim and I, on occasion, sang solo parts. I’m not sure that we sang that well, but we were volunteered, and folks must have thought a set of twins singing was cute. As we grew older, we joined Mike Guinn in special songs. One I remember best was our singing “We Three Kings.” Nerves kicked in and voices choked as we stood in front of the congregation and performed. Yes, we made it, but all three of us stood there red faced and anxious.
Some of the best friends I ever had were included in that children’s choir. In addition to Mike Guinn, Jimmy Love and Mike Hill were there. All the boys fell over themselves as they tried to gain the favor of girls like Randy Butler and Nancy Marshall. As it turned out, all of us attended high school at Karns and remained friends, at least until graduation.
My children participated in Christmas programs at First Christian Church. I remember Uncle Tim sitting with a group of little ones as he related the Christmas story. The kids sang, hung christmons on the tree, and placed greenery throughout the church. My pride gushed as they completed their parts and as the program ushered in the Christmas season for the congregation and our family.
I miss the times when I was young and enjoyed participating in those programs. These days, my voice is just about gone, and I struggle to sing without it cracking. I miss being with my twin brother much of the time and long for family members who have passed. I would love to go back for one Sunday to watch my own children sing and read during a Christmas service. Too, I miss the friends from Beaver Ridge. I’ve not seen most of them in too many years.

I’ll listen to children sing again this year, and maybe I’ll even bribe my grandson Madden to sing “Away in a Manger” or “Silent Night.” The Christmas spirit stirs within me when I just begin thinking about those long ago times and the songs that we sang. Even this many years later, the child in me sometimes tries to sneak out. It feels good. 

O Christmas Tree

The other evening, Amy sent me to her car to lug in the new Christmas tree for our home. The one we have now is so large that it takes two tree bags to store, and the darn thing weighs a ton, too much for me to wrestle in and out of the house. Just like for most folks, however, a Christmas tree is an integral part of our holiday.
The best trees came when I was a boy. Mother would decide the time had arrived to put a tree up, and we three boys, along with her for the first few years, traipsed over the fields that our neighbor owned. After searching for a while, we’d spy the perfect one. Dal would saw the thing down and we’d take turns dragging it back to the house. With a great deal of effort, we trimmed the bottom limbs and leveled the trunk into the stand.
The scent from those cedar Christmas trees filled the house. We decorated them as a family and then, when the job was finished, we turned off every other light in the house and plugged in the lights. Something magical happened as if lighting the tree also jump started the Christmas season. The cedar stayed until after New Year’s Day, and then it was stripped and taken to the burn pile in the back yard. For the next year the tree remained in our thoughts as we stepped on burr-like fragments that were trapped in the carpet.
When our children arrived, the family would drive to Topside Road for our Christmas trees. We’d hunt acres of greenery to find one that was full enough, tall enough, and cheap enough for us. A helper would dig around the tree and wrap burlap around the dirt ball. I’d rupture myself loading the thing into the car and then transporting it into the house. Lacey and Dallas decorated the tree with special ornaments they’d made at daycare or school. Just as in my childhood, I made them wait until the tree was decorated before turning on the lights.
After the season, I once again hoisted the tree and headed outside. We planted one tree in the front yard, and it thrived and grew large. However, at some point, its roots began to infringe on the water line. I took a saw and, with a heart full of regret, cut the tree. It was too much like losing a good friend or family member because it always sparked holiday memories.
At some point, we gave in and bought an artificial tree. It seemed easier than always searching for a tree and then worrying about keeping it watered enough to prevent a fire. I thought that such a fake tree would smother Christmas, but to my surprise, our Christmases were every bit as merry and joyful. Yes, I missed the smell of cedar and pine in the house, but we stacked presents under that tree and watched as our excited children tore open boxes from Santa.
Now we spend time in Nashville during Christmas. That means we must also put up a tree in the condo where we stay. It’s one of those small ones from Dollar General Store. Guess what! It works just as well. We put gifts in the floor under the table where the tree sits. The entire family doesn’t seem to mind the pitiful “Charlie Brown” tree.
Yes, we have a new tree at home this year. It’s smaller and more manageable, but it still helps usher
in the Christmas season. One year not long ago, I declared that we wouldn’t put up a tree in Knoxville since we would be out of town on Christmas. It was another one of my bone-headed dictates. That year, Christmas never quite managed to work its way into our home, hearts, or lives.

From now on, a tree will be set up in our home during Christmas. We’ll decorate it, even if we only can enjoy it for a couple of days. Just like a nativity scene, a Christmas tree seems to be a focal point of the special season and something around which family and friends can gather. My only hope is that Snoop doesn’t take it upon himself to water this artificial tree while we are at work. 

THE OLD PLACES ARE GONE

We Baby Boomers continue to age, some of us gracefully, some of us kicking and screaming. Either way, the years click by, and most of us at some point reminisce about “better” times. Part of that recalling includes ruing the fact that some of our favorite old haunts are no longer around. In an instant I can list several of mine.
The most obvious places are where I spent much of my youth: schools. Ball Camp Elementary
The 1950 Ball Camp basketball team on the front steps of the old school.
School remained the same for years until 1962. I was in the sixth grade that year, and one fall evening we heard the sirens and watched fire trucks race down the road to the school. The front classrooms, office area, and gym all went up in flames.
Two sixth grades and one fifth spent our year in a converted hardware store across Middlebrook Pike. The place had one bathroom for girls and one for boys. We ate bag lunches at our desks, took hikes to the school under construction on occasion, and tried to keep warm with a huge ceiling heater that strained to make the makeshift classrooms with concrete floors marginally comfortable.
When the new Middlebrook Pike first began construction, that building was razed. I’m not so sure anyone has a single photo of what it looked like back then. Even the school building looks different than it did when the building was completed. The place has been extended and the front entrance moved to what used to be the back.
Movie places used to be important to us as kids and teens. At least once a month, we boys climbed into the car with Daddy on Friday nights, and off we’d go to a drive-in movie. We visited several of

them around the area and found movies that we all wanted to see. In the summer months, we could spend time on the playgrounds until the show began. Rarely did we stay awake for an entire movie, and that’s why Daddy insisted that we wore our pajamas.
As teens, our dates included trips downtown to watch a movie. The Tennessee, Riviera, and Bijou Theaters offered different genres for moviegoers. I remember watching Disney movies, Elvis classics, and Hercules epics at those places. At that time, the price was still affordable enough for teens with limited funds.
These days, two of the theaters are venues for special productions, and one no longer exists. Movie theaters have located toward the suburbs and have lost some of the special qualities of the older ones that were located on Gay Street. Drive-ins are all but gone now. Some have been turned into shopping centers, and one has become home to a flea market.
As teens, part of our weekend activities was cruising. We’d hop in our cars, put a couple of dollars of gas in the tank, and just drive. My friends and I made our first stop at the Copper Kettle on Western
Avenue. It was located just west of where I-640 ramps are now. Beside the place was a small package store, and a steady stream of cars circled the drive-in for hours. Occasionally, a vehicle would pull up to the window at Quincy’s, and the driver would present a fake i.d. so that he could purchase alcohol.
Next, we’d drive up the road to the Jiffy and the Blue Circle. Sometimes a convoy would drive just over the ridge to the Hollywood Drive-in on Papermill Road. Then it was time to make our way to Broadway to circle Shoney’s. Most of us were looking for cars filled with girls, although few guys would ever have enough nerve to actually stop and strike up a conversation. 
Fast forward to today. The Copper Kettle is long gone and has been replaced by a Marathon gas station. Jiffy’s and Blue Circles no longer exist. Shoney’s is now only a restaurant where only the bravest patrons dare to eat a meal. Those guys who used to cruise are now senior citizens who drive Buicks. My how times change.
I miss the old haunts and the folks who visited them. Of course, tastes in popular places change with generations. Our fondest memories are about all we have left. Today, the new places that we Baby Boomers will find most interesting are being constructed all over the area. They’re called assisted living facilities. They might be our last stopovers on this journey through life.


FINDING FOOD FUNDS IN FT. LAUDERDALE

Yes, like so many others, I’m going to jump on Fort Lauderdale, as well as other cities, that have
passed ordinances that forbid the feeding of homeless folks. The fact that I have to even address such a subject is a sad commentary on the world as it exists today.
First of all, let’s take a look at some facts. The HUD Exchange, in its 2013 annual report, estimates that 610,042 individuals are homeless, and of those 109, 132 are chronically homeless. The individual who was ticketed for feeding the homeless was attending to no more than 100 people.
Speculation is that the leaders of Ft. Lauderdale want to get rid of the homeless, especially the ones who hang around the beaches. They are afraid that such a sad site will keep tourists away, something that would cut deeply into their coffers. I suppose that most of us can understand the concern over commerce in this fair city by the ocean.
The median income for residents of Ft. Lauderdale in 2012 was $50,997. The population is given a 170,747. So, the big threat to the way of life and healthy economy of the area comes from 100 people who are homeless and hungry. As I figure things, they represent .0006 percent of the population. WOW! I’m not so sure that such a tiny group can bring so much misery on a thriving, robust area.
How difficult would it be to take a different approach toward the homeless who are hungry? Instead of ticketing people who feed them, the city could undertake a program to provide food. The national average cost for a meal for the homeless is $2.52. If Ft. Lauderdale fed all 100 persons three meals a day, it would cost $756 a day, $275,940 a year.
A quarter of a million dollars isn’t chicken feed by any stretch of the imagination, but let’s break it down a little more. That cost would equate to $1.61 per resident per year. It doesn’t sound like such a big expense that way. Still, it is an expense that the government must take on, and we all know how tough times are for cities and their programs. Too, many people resist any further intrusion by governments of any type.
Ft. Lauderdale took in $691,000 in pool fees in 2012. The city also added $2 million to its coffers from fees charged for yacht dockage. During the same period, $700,000 in traffic fines were collected. Common sense would suggest that the cost to feed the hungry could be covered through such large pools of money that pour in.
In the end, the simple fact is that this country, the greatest in the history of civilization, should be able to take care of its homeless and hungry. It’s true that some individuals resist permanent housing, and many are plagued with mental issues. Still, we owe them a place to sleep and three meals a day. No, it’s not encouraging people to become homeless. I doubt that any competent person would ever wish to exist like that.

We profess to hold religious beliefs; we praise the lord and pass the plate. Some of our churches are extravagant complexes. So, why in the name of all that’s holy do some folks balk at giving to those who are less fortunate? That flies in the face of the Christ’s teachings. Ft. Lauderdale residents and any others in cities throughout this country should dust off their bibles and re-read Matthew 25:35. It calls us to action and defines our duty to our fellow men and our God.