On “60 Minutes” the other Sunday, a young boy played jazz piano with the stars of the genre. He amazed even the pros with his abilities to understand the music and to include his own interpretations, something difficult for most seasoned veterans. Last weekend, I traveled with other church members to Marion, VA, to work for Project Crossroads. The skills that my friends possessed amazed me and led to the construction of a large shed that was almost perfectly level and plumb. What I realized is that each of us has talents that wait to be developed.
The first part of the task is to identify exactly what our talents are. My wife Amy is a born problem solver. Our daughter is a creative person whose abilities have served her well in working in the music industry. Our son Dallas is a kind, sincere, and dedicated person whose leadership abilities are evident to all.
Each person has a special talent; no arguments about that can convince me otherwise. The good lord blessed us with those talents; one person might be a good listener while another might be good at fixing things. A quick inventory of self and the things which spark excitement in us leads to identification of the special skills that we have. A passion for something is a sure indication that we need to give it more attention. It is a gift that we’ve been given.
The next step is to take those infant talents and to mold them. That means devoting time to them and building on them with practice and simple hard work. All of us will to some degree have success if we pay attention to the gifts we’ve been given. No, not all of us can be the best in an area. Maybe baseball talents don’t translate into a pro career, but perhaps they lead a person to coaching young players. The ability to play piano might not be good enough to become a professional musician, but it just might be the very thing that a church or assisted living facility needs to reach people. I’d like to say that I’ve become a world-class writer. The truth, to the contrary, is that I’ve been blessed to write for this paper for several years and to publish some books, articles, and other short pieces. One person told me in the beginning that I should forget about ever writing for a paper or anything else. No, I’m not rich or wildly successful, but I love what I do each week.
The next area is the hard part. If a talent is a gift, it is important to share it with others. That means that our jobs are to reach out to others and to help them as we use these talents. Being able to budget well is wonderful for personal finances, but it’s also a talent that can serve to make others’ lives more successful. Perhaps teaching how to budget to a group at church is the way to share. Using the talents that involve construction or plumbing or electricity might best be shared with the many who live in substandard housing. The ability to teach should be used to reach children struggling in school and adults looking for a way to better their lives through education.
Finally, sending up words of thanks for the talents from God should become a daily thing. Yes, we might develop talents, but they were instilled in us by something larger than ourselves. Only after giving thanks can we find joy in those special skills and double their values by sharing them with
others. In the end, the world might be a better place simply by your one act. Never fail to use your talents; it’s an important step in fulfilling your destiny.


Congratulations, graduates! You’ve reached milestones in your lives. Some of you have survived or even thrived in a high school setting, and now are ready to receive your diplomas and turn toward what lies ahead. Others have put in long, arduous hours studying for classes or partying with friends
, and you are now ready to receive specialized degrees and find jobs which offer the work for which you’ve prepared. After the hoopla is finished, you graduates can take a peek at what real life is about to offer you.
Now that you’ve finished your formal education, it’s time to begin your education in the real world. First off, you’ll need to find a job. Yep, it’s time to cut the apron strings and jump into your own life. Now, it might come as a surprise, but most of you have no chance of becoming the boss of a company unless you start one up yourselves. For the most part, you are entry-level employees. That means you now must spend a few years learning how businesses “really” run. Yes, theories are wonderful, but too often they bear no resemblance to reality. You will begin at the bottom, so don’t think for a minute that your salary will be equal to what you think you’re worth. Promotions come as the result of employee production and
value to the company. No longer do you live in a world where “everyone gets a trophy.”
 Also, you no longer can rely on parents to help you at work. Helicopter parents are never welcome at companies. No matter how much your mom calls to protest your pay scale or delivers excuses for your misbehaviors, you alone are held accountable for your actions. Most companies aren’t interested in how you feel about yourselves. They follow the logic that an employee can feel good about himself or herself after working and succeeding in a job. Yes, they want their workers to have a good outlook, but for the most part, that is something that comes from within the individuals.
The world runs on a set of rules, especially in business. It is incumbent that each of you learn those rules and follow them. For example, it is no longer acceptable for you to arrive tardy on a consistent basis. Doing so will lead to your dismissal. At the same time, not showing up for work too many times will lead to your firing. Some companies have dress codes, and you are expected to follow them, even if you don’t agree with them. Your boss has the right to tell you what to do; the subject is not up for negotiation unless the request is for doing something illegal or unethical. If you don’t like these things, that’s tough. Someone once said that what makes America great is that if you don’t like your job, you have the right to find a new one.
Responsibility falls on you like a ton of bricks now. That student loan that too many used to buy cars and rent plush apartments and purchase all sorts of toys is now due. No amount of complaining will make it go away. Your borrowed the money, and now it’s time to pay it back. That’s how loans work.
Develop with institutions a workable payment plan and stick to it.
It might be wise for you to set aside a portion of your income for retirement. Folks, social security might not be around for you, and if it is, it won’t come close to covering your expenses. Don’t become someone else’s problem. Take control of your future by preparing in the present.
Politically, it’s time to use more head than heart when choosing candidates. Usually, extremes on both sides should be avoided. This election cycle we have a man who is an avowed socialist trying to “start a revolution.” For those of you who have become enamored with this revolution, here’s a definition of socialism:
“a system of society or group living in which there is NO private property: a system of condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state.”
I’m not sure that such a revolution is one that American democracy favors. Realize that in most socialist states that tax rates take a majority of your income. The individual desire to succeed is blunted. Think about how such a revolution might impact your lives.
The other side offers a man who seems to be in love with himself. He would rather hurl insults and buy opponents with dirt. All the while, he presents a hodgepodge of ideas about which he changes his mind daily. Be careful what you believe and whom you support.

So, I hope you celebrate and enjoy your special graduation time. Life is about to get much harder; it’s a good ride, but it’s not easy. Buckle up and get ready for adulthood and the real world. 


Holy Cow! In about a week, my twin brother will turn 64. I can’t believe he’s that old. Jim hasn’t changed much over the years, and I hope he stays constant for many years to come. It is, however, a bit upsetting to realize that my brother is that old. How’d it happen? I am concerned about several things that swirl around his arrival at the age of one year short of Medicare. Actually, all the fretting is about me.
First and foremost, I’m worried about running out of time. In my teens and even into his 40’s and 50’s, I was focused on the things I enjoyed. I truly loved my teaching career, especially when it concerned the students and not a bunch of ridiculous tests that measured systems’ abilities to administer them. Now I am more than halfway down the hill, and so much needs to be done in such a short time.
I retired, but that didn’t mean I quit working. Part time jobs have kept me busy while providing a supplement to my monthly retirement income. What is so rotten about part time jobs, or full time ones for that matter, is they tie retirees to schedules that they hate. I’ve always liked staying up late at night, but when I must rise at 5:30 a.m. to be at work at 6:30, early bed times are required, and “The Tonight Show” or late ball games are things from the past.  
Like many people my age, I have a bucket list. Unfortunately, it’s much too long to cover. Many want
to travel abroad to see the wonders of other countries. I much prefer making my way to the breathless sites of this country. Years earlier, taking such trips wasn’t possible because we had small children. These days, they still are on the back burner until I can quit work. I hope my body isn’t worn out by that time so that I can’t enjoy the sites.
That’s another thing. I’ve noticed more and more that I can’t do what I used to do. Even with a moderate amount of work or activity, every part of my body is attacked with aches and pains. My hair line more closely resembles my maternal grandfather’s. My crooked, sore fingers remind me of my maternal grandmother’s. Joints don’t squeak, but they do keep me awake some nights, and walking all day at my job doesn’t help a bit.
My biggest concern is about the time I have to spend with my children and grandson. After what seems like a blink of my eyes, Madden has become a rambunctious boy; he’s lost those toddler characteristics that I loved so much. He’s already become a polite, patient young man who tolerates
his grandparents. Before much longer, he’ll not want to spend much time with us at all. The older we grow, the harder it will be to provide fun things for him to do when he comes to visit.
I love Dallas and Lacey, but sometimes they remind me of adult children who are keeping protective eyes or their parents. I’m not yet to the point where I am unable to do things for myself, but I can see my children’s minds wrapping around that eventuality. To be honest, I want to be their hero, not their burden.

So, another year is passing. I’m thankful to be here and to have so been showered with so many blessings. My prayer is that I can stay vibrant and healthy for at least another 30 years. We’ll see how that plays out.


Mother’s Day has come and gone. I purposely didn’t write about it then because I needed time to think. Moms across the country celebrated with families either with visits or long distance phone calls, Facetime, or Skype. All of us agree that those women who are mothers are a special group.

In the 1950’s, Mother’s Day was also a special time. My mother always took the day to heart. Her mother lived about a mile from us, and Mother seemed to be inspired and awed by her. I never understood that because Mamaw Balch always seemed to be a stick in the mud. She smiled rarely and spent her days listening to radio preachers and reading her bible. Still, she brought four children into the world. She worked to provide for her brood during the Great Depression. Never did the family go hungry, although they had little cash. She made sure their home was clean and warm, and her meals were the kind that gave energy that was needed for completing all the jobs on a dairy farm.

Mother celebrated her mother’s love with visits and with acts of kindness. Both women were small in stature, but they were stronger than most in attitude and grit and determination.

Mamaw Rector was a complete opposite. She was a rotund little woman who worked outside the home for years. By the time we boys came around, she’d already retired. At home in Lonsdale, she cooked and doted on my grandfather, whom some say was far from a warm, engaging man. Her daughter and two grandsons also lived with her at some point, and later she opened her home to a great grandson. Mamaw was filled with the “Rector” pessimism. We carefully asked how she was because most of the time the answer came back with a litany of woes. Still, she loved her children and patted on them and spoiled them as much as possible during their early years.

Daddy called her “Momma,” and he never failed to check in on her after his shift at Southern Extract was finished. He’d make sure the house was in order and that food was plentiful for the family. Even as he grew sicker with cancer, he dragged himself to her house until he no longer could drive.

Mother loved us boys. She stayed at home until we began school, at which time she began teaching and returned to college to earn her Bachelor’s Degree. We made her Mother’s Day gifts at church or school. One I remember was a potholder made with pink and yellow strips. The presents weren’t much, and I feel sure the moms today would feel slighted with such trivial things. Still, Mother took them as if they were treasures.

On Mother’s Day, she walked into the yard. We followed her to the rambling rosebushes. There, she searched for five perfectly formed roses. After cutting them from the branch, she pinned them to our
collars, as well as to hers and Daddy’s. Then we traveled a short distance to the old Beaver Ridge Methodist Church. During the service we sang “Faith of Our Mothers” (a small adjustment to the familiar hymn), and the minister spoke of the importance of all mothers, always giving special praise to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

As the years past, Mother made the same trek to the rosebushes to select buds for us. However, she made a second trip to pick a white rosebud for herself. It symbolized the loss of a mother. A tear
would come to her eye before she turned herself back to the daily grind of her own life and responsibilities as a mother.

I still shake my head when I think of those old Mother’s Days. Edna Rector rose before the rest of us on that Sunday, just like all of them. She’d get ready for church and then don her housecoat before making pancakes and bacon for breakfast. She’d already put a roast with potatoes and carrots in the oven or cut up a chicken for frying. When we returned from church, Mother changed clothes and returned to the kitchen. She’d finish cooking up a Sunday feast, and our family would sit together for at least a while. When it was over and we all waddle to other activities, Mother cleaned the kitchen. Only then did she sit down in her chair to read the Sunday paper. Sometimes she’d nod off for a while.

She’s been gone for a long time. I miss her and wish I could give her a hug, a kiss, and a “thank-you” for all she meant to me. A single rosebud just doesn’t seem big enough to say those things, but then again, it is a beautiful flower that grows and brings joy, just like mothers.