My two grandmothers were as different from each other as were their families. They’ve both been gone for a long time, but their memories linger.
Mamaw Balch was a small woman. She bore three sons and a daughter. She was a Cureton, and as such, her approach toward life seemed to have been on of no-nonsense. Mamaw worked hard just keeping up with cooking food for hungry boys and her husband. They lived on a large farm in Ball Camp for a while. The boys were up early to milk the cows, and when they returned home, the table was covered with eggs, bacon, biscuits, and gravy. As soon as the meal was finished, she jumped into the middle of her daily chores and preparing lunch.
I don’t remember the woman smiling. She wore a permanent scowl. It seemed that her joy came from her bible and the radio located in the small living room of their house. She read that bible each day, and she studied the words that it offered. Although I’ve not spent anywhere near the amount of time that she did in reading the “good book,” I have taken a different meaning from it. Mamaw saw life as something hard; people endured their time on earth and kept their fingers crossed that the next life would be better. Her religion was hard as well. Christianity was filled with guilt and self-deprivation. Woe unto those who enjoyed life too much because they surely must being doing something sinful.
This small woman suffered with heart trouble and passed in the early 1960’s. I was sad when she died, but that was more because my own mother was so grief stricken. Mamaw’s death left my grandfather lost, and I realize that small woman was, in fact, the strongest person in the family.
Mamaw Rector was much different. She wasn’t as short as my other grandmother, and she was heavy. Her frame supported generous amount of flesh, and I recall that her arms were round and flabby. Her nose was in a shape that the Clevengers (her maiden name) passed to each generation. Mamaw wore a frown most of the time, but she was apt to be talkative when company came calling. Her stockings reached only to her mid-calf where she neatly rolled the rest of them.
I’m not sure just how much work she did. At one time, Mamaw worked at the porcelain factory at the edge of Lonsdale, where she lived, and yes, she cooked. Other than that, I ever saw her do much of anything. From what I heard from other relatives, her family had tough times. My dad quit school after the sixth grade to help make ends meet. Maybe she’d worked so hard for so long that she didn’t have the energy to do anything else.
This second grandmother was a bit more fun. She had a sense of humor and loved to tease with us boys. On a couple of occasions, she traveled out to the country to babysit. For the whole day, we sat at the kitchen table and broke beans. She’d tell stories and listen to our silliness with the patience that I’ve never mastered. Mamaw knew my older brother smoked, and she gave him money so that he could walk to a nearby store to buy cigarettes.
Mamaw Rector watched her soap operas every day. She would sit in her chair and watch for hours. Beside her at all times was a gallon tin can. In it she spit the makings from a lip loaded with Bruton snuff. With her lips coated with the dark liquid, she always demanded a kiss before we left. She also made a point of always complaining. We rarely asked her how she was because the question caused her to recite a litany of ailments.
It’s been fifty-plus years since my Mamaws were alive. I see them much differently now and have more admiration for them. They were women who loved family and did the best. I hope my grandson will remember me fondly fifty years after I’m gone.


At some point in January, the local weather forecaster on one station declared that Tennessee was experiencing a drought. I hope that after the last month that he will now declare we’re caught up on the needed rainfall. Downpours have made yards soggy and floors muddy. Most of us are over it and ready for at least a little dry spell.
When we were children, the rain rarely proved to be a bad thing. We found indoor activities to keep us occupied. Jim and I would flop on the floors and play cars for a while. That activity was followed by attempts to build cabins with Lincoln logs. We’d spend long periods of time trying to construct things, but those attempts always ended in frustration. One reason for the bad feelings was that we just didn’t have the natural talents to put together what was in our minds with what lay before us on the floor. Another cause for consternation was the discovery that vital pieces of logs were missing. We always assumed that someone had stolen the things without considering the possibility that our own failure to pick up the toys and put them back in the can led to their disappearance.
In warmer weather, we took up residence on the front porch. Our arms were filled with toys, and we also had our guns. Those items ensured we’d have plenty to do. When the toys bored us, we took up six shooters and played cowboys. As “Hank” or “Tex” or “Bart,” we took cover behind columns and mowed down outlaws or Indians. Each shot was accompanied by sound effects to imitate the firing of the guns.
In summer, a steady rain offered cooling relief from the heat. No air conditioning was available in our house, so playing in the rain substituted for it. Jim and I often found a mud hole. We scooped the stuff up in our hands and then patted it out on the grass. Before long, we had a dozen of the things laid out, and we’d pretend they were pies or cookies but never sampled any of our own creations. Before long,
that game bored us, and those mud patties turned into mud balls. We hurled them at imaginary enemies or separated and threw at each other.
The rain wasn’t always welcome. Summer swimming meant trips to Concord Pool. The trip was planned several days in advance, and because adventures like this were infrequent, we stayed all day. Picnic baskets were gathered, and we boys readied our swimsuits and any toys or water masks that we might need. If rain wiped out our trip, bottom lips hung low with pouts and moods were less than merry.
The same ill attitudes occurred when our baseball games were rained out. Mr. Wright hauled all of us to the old ball fields beside Karns Elementary School for contests. I visualized my catching fly balls or smashing a homer and rounding the bases, both things that were mere pipedreams. A sudden shower would steal my delusions of heroic performances and leave me having to until the next week.
I don’t mind some rain. In fact, sitting on the screened porch and reading a book is especially nice on some sweltering summer days. However, I still pout like a six-year-old when precipitation pre-empts my plans for mowing the yard or swimming in our pool. Yes, I know that it’s somewhat ironic for rain to postpone an activity that includes dunking my body in water, but keeping towels and books and snacks dry is impossible in a downpour. No one ever wants to experience a drought, and I’m thankful for the rain; it’s just that too much of it at one time drowns plans and spirits.


Another day brought another massacre of young people. Douglas High School suffered from the maniacal acts of a former student. In the end, seventeen persons are dead and as many have been wounded. The weapon of choice in the crime was an AR-15 rifle, a semi-automatic version of the military’s M16.
The use of this weapon in no way protected anyone’s family. Instead, the gunman used the assault weapon to mow down as many innocent students and teachers as he could in a limited amount of time. Perhaps he had a grudge against a teacher who had been in some way responsible for his expulsion from the school. Maybe he had felt bullied by another student, or maybe he just felt that the school had disrespected him in some way. So, instead of dealing with such difficulties with the help of someone else, the killer decided to wreak havoc and slaughter as many individuals as possible.
Guess what! No excuse for killing is acceptable in this instance. What is even less acceptable is that his buying an assault rifle was easier than buying a handgun. Yes, he bought this weapon legally. The question is what in the name of sanity is this country doing by allowing an 18 year-old to buy an assault rifle.

I defend the rights of individuals to own guns to protect their families or for hunting purposes. However, I will never believe that any person has the right to have possession of an assault rifle. The logical question is for what purpose does anyone use such a killing tool? Hunting with it destroys the game that would be food. Target practice isn’t much of a challenge when a weapon can disintegrate the object so completely. The only reason for owning a gun is that an individual is ready and willing to kill another human. The kicker is that a handgun or shotgun or single shot rifle can bring about the same results in the hands of a trained gun owner.
Yes, we need better mental health services provided for people. Of course, with the cuts in social services that have been proposed, giving that help might be difficult. Comprehensive background checks can help stem the flow of weapons to those who are not well enough to responsibly own one. Implementing stronger background checks is not an invasion of privacy. It’s time for this practice when 97% of the American people are in favor of it.
At the same time, this country needs to look seriously at taking assault weapons out of circulation. This is not an invasion of anyone’s rights to bear arms; it’s action to remove guns from our society that serve no purpose other than to kill. America represents about 4.5% of the world’s population, but we own nearly half of all the guns on the planet. Removing one type of weapon and the kits that can be used to make weapons semi-automatic will still leave plenty of guns for self-defense and sport.

The NRA would have us all believe that any attempt to limit guns is the first step in taking away all guns and our sacred rights. Logic tells us that simply isn’t true. Trying to remove assault weapons from circulation and doing a better job on background checks are steps to make our world a safer place without firing a single round. We have nothing to lose but much to gain?


I admit it; I have a propensity to talk and talk. It’s not that the sound of my voice is pleasing nor is it that I have words of wisdom for the ages. No, I most often talk too much when I’m bored or nervous. In either situation, yapping like a dog is a security blanket for me.
These days, too many people are afflicted with the same problem that I have. Talk shows go on endlessly with guests who yammer about their latest movie or “project.” They bore audiences stiff until folks hit the remote control to find something a bit more interesting. Sports talk shows often
have so-called “experts” discussing topics. Around here, UT football is usually the hot topic of discussion. The prognosticators go on and on with their takes on developing stories. In the long run, many of these talkers have no more sources about things than the rest of us. They just have the hutzpah to act as though they do. I’m always amazed, and more than a little annoyed, at some of these folks who break down games and positions and coaching decisions without ever having played the sport, much less having coached it.
I’m tired of all the chitchat that is inserted into games of all kinds. The announcers do enough jawing; the last thing I want to hear is some piece of trivia from some sideline reporter. It’s even invaded golf this year. A female is now standing in front of an electronic board and showing us the rankings of some unknown player. I don’t care about that stuff. If a player is good enough, he’ll wind up playing for the Fed-Ex Cup. More interesting to viewers are the shots made on the course.
The news is especially irritating when it comes to talking. Twenty—four hour coverage is to blame. Not enough goes on in the world, so the same stories are run through shows. Different analysts are brought in to give their spins on the limited stories. This retread news comes on all news channels, conservative and liberal alike. When a story has been dissected a dozen times, announcing that it is “breaking news” is just a bit over the top, as well as being annoying. I am a news junkie, but sometimes I long for the days when Walter Cronkite gave us the news in 30 minutes. We found other worthwhile stories in the local newspaper. Sadly, Knoxville’s daily paper has little of interest to the general public; that news has been replaced with canned stories that the publisher uses for its collection of papers.
The emptiest talk comes from the mouths of politicians. They are so afraid to utter something that might offend voters that they use vague language that ends up meaning nothing. “Politics speak” enables elected officials to be on both sides of an issue. No, they never admit that they’ve taken a stand on controversial issue. Instead, they are always indicating that “more study and research is needed before proceeding.” Voters want these career government employees to tell what they believe; that way, citizens can decide who best serves them. This mindless, constant babbling is not found only in the hallways of Congress; much of it dribbles from the executive offices as well. Americans find it increasingly difficult to tell what is true and what is false because politicians specialize in never really saying anything.
All of us would do much better if we talked less and listened more. The problems that exist might more easily and quickly be solved. However, I don’t look for much change in the noise that comes from all of our mouths. Instead, we will continue talking without ever making a point.