LOOKING AT THE BEGINNING 40 YEARS LATER

I received a message on Facebook not long ago. Bill Fogarty contacted me with information that his class was holding a reunion and that I was invited. Just being thought of was enough, but this class is a special one; it’s the first one I taught. Yep, the class of 1975 is getting together to reminisce and renew old friendships. To be honest, I’m a bit nervous about the whole thing.
In August of 1974, I received a phone call from Knox County Schools telling me I should be at Doyle High School for an interview. It was another one of those times when God takes care when I can’t do it myself. I showed up for the meeting with the principal, Billy K. Nicely. The man intimidated me mightily, even though he stood only about 5’5”. You see, Mr. Nicely had been my high school principal, and on more than one occasion, I fell out of favor with him during those years. To my astonishment, I was talking with the man about a job as a teacher. He hired me, and for the first year, every time he called my name over the intercom, I panicked at the thought of going to the office for a paddling.
On that first day, I was all nerves. My classes included senior English. The students that sat in my classroom were no more than four years younger than I, and one, Bill Fogarty, was 19, the same age as the girl I was dating and would later marry. Some of the teaching genes passed on by Mother helped me get by. The rest of the time, I simply bluffed my way through. Oh, I knew the material, but I wondered how much kids who were almost my age would listen to me.
That first year, I served as a chaperone on a band trip to Kingsport. V.C. Adcock asked me to help, and it served as a good way for me to be a team player. I made friends with teachers Bob Shoemaker, Jim Pryor, Jim Talent, Bobby Campbell, and Frank Kennedy. Fellow English teacher John Gilbert and I carpooled toward the end of the year, and we sang John Denver songs coming home from school. Linda Lyle was a rookie that year as well, and we became friends and colleagues. It was a good faculty that year, and I felt blessed to be a part of the DHS family.
That December, I was to marry Amy in Cookeville. My classes sent me off with parties and presents. Back in those days, I smoked, and one group bought me a carton of cigarettes. Another class presented me with two pints of pure-grain alcohol. The third class embarrassed me with items that I cannot mention in this column without blushing.
The evening of my wedding, things were hectic. The church was crowded, but I spied something especially heart-warming. On the last pew in the middle section of the church, three of my students sat. Mike Lowe, Randy Massey, and Cindy Fleming had driven 100 miles to Cookeville to be there. After all these years, I still consider that one of the kindest things any students have ever done.
In January, my life was once again filled with chaos. Amy and I lived in married student housing on Sutherland Avenue, she attended UT and worked part time, and I was driving to Doyle and learning how to be a teacher. All the while, those students kept me going with typical teenaged things. We laughed, argued, and debated enough to keep class interesting much of the time.

Now, forty years later, I’m old, or at least I feel that way. This invitation to reunite has added just a bit of excitement in life. The anticipation of the event is mixed with nerves. Hey, I’ve not seen most of these folks since they were 18 years old. Now they’re 58 or more. I hope they have aged more gracefully than I have. I also hope that name tags are passed out so that I don’t have to put a teenaged faces and names to people who are now closing in on social security checks. By the time the evening  finishes, I’m sure an assortment of emotions will have come and gone. What I know most of all is that I am honored to have been asked to attend this reunion of the graduating class of my teaching career. It’s nice to be remembered—good or bad. 

A NEW APPROACH

I watched the U.S. women’s soccer team work their magic and claim the world championship before the first half was over. The stadium was filled with ecstatic fans who had dressed in their creative costumes and waved  flags as they chanted, “USA! USA!”
Saturday evening was filled with flashes of light and booms galore as families and friends gathered to enjoy the July 4th  festivities. Many folks dodged rain and storms to spend time on the water or in the back yard. The day once again proved to be a true celebration of this country and the freedoms that it offers.

With such a grand display of celebration in so many places throughout this country and neighboring ones, I wondered just what in the heck is wrong with us. Our schizophrenic behavior worries me. Just a couple of weeks before the big holiday, a maniacal, evil-spirited person sat with others in a Bible study for an hour before executing them. His acts were fueled by an intense hate for black people. How in the world could he have filled his heart with so much hate in so few years of life?
In other parts of the country, a return to the burning of black churches has occurred. Speculation is that individuals who despise another race of humans are hell-bent on causing as much grief and pain for them as possible. What makes them hate others so much?
The Supreme Court passed down a decision that okays same-sex marriages. Scores of supporters marched in parades of celebration. Those opposed declared that the court had lost its moral compass and should never have given its blessing to such a horrible thing. They are the same people who earlier praised the court for more conservative decisions.
The country is divided by political ideology. Half of the citizens despise the current president. In their vitriol, claims of President Obama’s affiliation with the Muslim religion and his lack of citizenship fill the air. Many have said he’s the worst president that has ever held office and that he is leading our country to ruin.
All in all, it appears a couple of days after this latest Fourth Celebration that our country is in sore need of a bit more patriotism and a lot less partisan politics and hate mongering. No, I’m not talking about caving in to things that people can’t accept. Instead, I’m suggesting that each of us learns what tolerance is. While I might not like one bit what another person or group believes or does, I owe it to them and to this country to be tolerant. Yes, I can express my opposing views on any topic, but that opposition should never include acts of violence or attacks on character.
This country was established by people of all sorts of nationalities and philosophies. Some wanted to remain tied to England’s apron strings while others insisted that the country determine its own path. Throughout the years, the rich history of the U.S. has been created by persons of all races and religious beliefs. We’ve managed to look past those things while praising the contributions they made.
Again, no one has to approve of another’s actions or beliefs. However, none of us is given the right to judge others. If I’ve read my Bible correctly, Jesus told those who were without sin to cast the first stone. So, I suspect that God-fearing people would never condemn people who think differently.

July 4th was another spectacular day for Americans. We celebrated what this country symbolizes: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It doesn’t mean “as long as you think like me.” We face many challenges in the years to come. Some of them arise from forces that are set on destroying our way of life. Those are the ones we should set our sites on corralling. That means the time has come to quit attacking our own. Let’s decide this year that we will do those things that lead to all of us chanting, “USA! USA!”

BACKYARD CRITTERS

I like the outside. Nothing depresses me more than being trapped in the house as the rain or snow falls. Working in the yard is a blessing to me, and I’d stay there all the time were I given the opportunity. The only drawbacks to being in the yard or the wooded areas at the side our house are the critters and creatures that I’ve encountered.
The first spring after we moved into the house we’d built was spent getting the yard in shape. I threw out grass seed after one snow covered the land in February, and to my surprise, I had a thick, lush stand of grass out back. When enough time had passed to give the grass a chance to take root, I pulled out the lawn mower and prepared to complete my first mowing.
The grass was high, and the mowing was slow to prevent the mower from bogging down. I watched to make sure no roots or sticks were in the path. All of a sudden,
I saw a wiggle in the grass. Such quick movement startled me, and I almost lost my left toes to the lawn mower blade. The movement continued for a couple more feet and left no doubt that a snake was the creator.
I hate snakes with a passion. In fact, the only good snake is a dead one that has been squished flat by the wheels of a semi-truck. My first act was retrieving a hoe from the shed, and I stalked that critter and chopped him into several pieces. Then I went inside and replaced flimsy shoes with work boots. A person can never tell when one of those giant snakes will try to take a bite out of a foot or leg.
One evening a few years later, I met up with another of God’s creatures. Our house has a one-car garage. My vehicle is parked under a carport at the end of a second driveway. I used to smoke but wanted to hide doing so from the children. (I convinced myself that the smell of smoke was easily hidden and that the kids would never know of my terrible smoking habit.) My favorite place to “burn one” was under that carport, and on a spring evening I exited the house to do that. Night had already arrived, and darkness swallowed up the carport and my car in which the cigarettes were placed.
I reached for the door of the car as my foot nudged something. I supposed it was a cat that cuddled around
the car for warmth. Along with my cigarettes, I retrieved a flashlight and shined it on the creature below. Instead of a cat, a possum stood only a couple of feet from me, and it was not happy about being interrupted. I got a good look at those razor-sharp teeth and heard a warning hiss. I broke into a full run back to the house and suffered a nicotine fit the rest of the evening. There was no way I was going back out where that menacing little marsupial might attack.
Snoop was just a pup still, and he loved to go outside to walk the yard and protect his territory. On this occasion, he began yipping before I could get the door open. I told him to relax until the door opened. With just a slit to get through, he shot outside and tore around the corner. I was behind him when I heard a yelp, not an attack bark, and immediately smelled the fragrance of a skunk that had been annoyed.  I prayed that Snoop hadn’t been sprayed, but he met me
quickly with his tail between his legs and a yellowish substance on his face and back.
The skunk hit the dog dead center, and for the next two or more hours, I washed Snoop in shampoo and tomato juice. By the way, it’s a lie that tomato juice kills skunk smell. Time does, not tomato juice. In about six weeks, my little dog was tolerable to be around.

My yard is my retreat. Evidently, it serves the same purpose for critters in the Ball Camp area. I’ll tolerate the four-legged ones, but snakes will have to find another place to nest unless they want me to cultivate them with a hoe. 

FIRST CHRISTIAN SURVIVES THE PAIN OF LOSS

Not many eyes were dry in the congregation. No, the minister hadn’t just delivered a hellfire and brimstone sermon. Instead, folks were gathered to grieve their loss, and it was one that cut to the quick of each person’s heart.
First Christian Church not more than a month ago celebrated the 100th anniversary of being located at the corner of Gay Street and Fifth Avenue. It’s that church with the giant columns that passersby can see from Interstate 40. On Sunday, June 21, the members held their last church service in that structure.
For 30 years, which is a relatively short time in comparison to some members of the church, Amy and I were members of FCC. It was after being adopted into that family that we began our own. The memories of that church are many.
I remember the day that Lacey was christened at FCC. She squalled with full voice throughout the service while my mother and Amy’s mother and Papa stood with us. Not long after, Dallas, too, was christened. It was a fitting place for my children to first be introduced to the love of God and those who call themselves Christians.
Doug Meister came to First Christian Church, and before long, we became best friends. Somehow, we gee-hawed well enough. After a few years in Knoxville, Doug moved to accept a position with a church in Louisville, KY, but we are still close. If I call or he does, we fall into the same easy rhythm that our friendship has always held, and it’s as if we saw each other daily.
I was a terrible athlete…no, I wasn’t even good enough to be called and athlete, but FCC gave me the first chance to participate in softball on a men’s team. In fact, I played first base and didn’t commit too many errors. The teasing was brutal, and my best buddy Doug commented that I was the only person he’d ever seen turn a homerun into a triple. After those games, several of us would retreat to Roger’s Place for hotdogs and beer. As a group, we licked our wounds in defeat of exaggerated our heroics in victory.
Christmases were special at FCC. For years, “Uncle Tim” told children the story of Christ’s birth, and our family was chosen a couple of times to light a candle on the Advent wreath. The youth decorated the sanctuary with garland, wreaths, and Chrismons. Christmas Eve services made the holiday even more special to folks.
Nothing compares to memories of Lacey’s wedding at First Christian Church. The service was breathtaking in the beautiful old sanctuary. What better place could there be for me to walk my little girl down the aisle than the in the place where our family had grown in our love of God and for each other? To this day, I can close my eyes and see each moment of the wedding, and I especially love the photo of Lacey standing outside close to the historic tree in the front lawn.
A few years ago, the membership began to dwindle, mostly due to deaths and families moving. The old building began eating more and more cash as roofs were repaired, HVAC systems were replaced, and wall plaster was reapplied. At that time, the recommendation came to move, but many life-long members weren’t ready to take that step.
Now, the remaining congregation knows it must leave. Doing will be difficult at best. They feel a sense of abandoning the building, its history, and the souls that poured so much into the energy of First Christian Church. So, they mourn the loss of an old friend and familiar place.

Still, the wonderful message of Christianity is resurrection. In this case, First Christian Church has its new life in a church at 3801 Basswood Road. That’s in the West Haven community. The congregation’s rebirth began with a Neighborhood block party this past Saturday. The doors to the new location of FCC swing wide open to those in the neighborhood and all others who seek a loving, caring church. Maybe you should give them a trial visit.