TALKING POINTS

A few weekends ago, I traveled with my brother and two high school friends to play in a golf tournament. It was held by a church that another high school friend pastors, and we’ve tried to support the man and his cause for the last few years.  
The course is located in the mountains in Lafollette, and the drive there is as twisty and curvy as a road through the Smoky Mountains. By the time we’d registered, eaten lunch and loaded our carts, the day was half gone. Sometime around 7:00 p.m. I arrived home. The day was long, our golf games were mediocre, and old aches and pains resurfaced. What was best about the day was the time spent with friends.  
What we realized about half-way through the day was that the four of us have changed our topics of conversation. In high school, our conversations were varied. Because we were in band, much of the time we
discussed the trips we would take to competitions or ball games. That included who we would sit with (female), and what we might try to get away with. We also worked out how in the world we were going to sell our quota of socks and wrapping paper, items used in fundraising campaigns.  
Like most teen-aged boys, we had our discussions of weekend plans. Before dating became a real thing in our lives, we found our fun by “running around” with groups of boys. We had a standard plan for each weekend outing. It included, shooting pool at the bowling alley or skating at the rink at the edge of the county. We also laid plans for fights that might break out and how we’d help each other. For most of us, those brawls were limited, but we talked about them as if they occurred every time we stepped foot outside. Of course, a few guys actually did participate in fighting as if it were a sport. They planned their strategy for where they would meet, whom they would fight, and when they would leave. 
Another big topic included alcohol. Individuals had fake identifications that were accepted by most liquor stores and beer sellers. We’d talk about what we’d buy, who had the money, and who would make the


purchases. Many were the nights we engaged in half-drunken babble and bravado as the effects of that illegal liquid coursed through our bodies.
The subject of girls also arose. Hormone-driven teens were constantly talking about females to whom they were attracted and how much they wanted to go out with them. We exchanged ideas of the best places to go on dates and the best places to “park.” We knew in our hearts that the discussions were more dreams than realities, but they continued.  
Fifty years later, our topics of conversation have changed. These days, guys exchange tales of doctor visits. We discuss how much joints ache and how we dread the next procedure that encompasses drinking some kind of goop that will keep us trapped at home for hours. All are quick to share experiences with maladies that others might be experiencing.  

Politics is also a major conversation area. We don’t necessarily agree with others, but our debates are always civil. Each side can’t understand the other’s rationale for their beliefs, and on occasion, one person will try to convince an adversary to swap sides. It doesn’t happen.  
No conversation is ever complete without spending a few minutes wondering what the world is coming to. It’s the same story for every generation; our concerns now are that young folks don’t know how to work hard and that they spend too much time playing video games instead of games outside.  
I remember my grandparents and the conversations they had. Surprisingly, they were similar to those my friends and I have now. The realization that we’ve become like the people we considered old and boring is upsetting. I suppose that aging automatically brings about changes in conversation topics. Before any young person laughs, let me assure you that your time is coming. Before you can blink your eyes, you’ll be complaining about aches and pains and young people. It’s the natural course of events.  

FIGHTING FOR SUMMER

Well, summer is officially over; at least that’s what those “in the know” say. Last century (It sounds so funny to say that), summer fun came to an end the Tuesday after Labor Day when schools opened their doors. However, this year, children sat in classrooms the first week of August. By the time the national holiday rolled around, they and their teachers were begging for a day off.  
I fight the end of summer harder than anyone. The mower still cuts the grass, even though the lawn is beginning to look tired and just a bit brown. That happens to Bermuda grass when the season is over. I ignore as much as possible the leaves that have fallen from the trees. Instead, I convince myself that some strong winds that accompanied a thunderstorm ripped them from their branches; those that litter my yard are still green and filled with life.  
Tennessee football must have forgotten that fall was moved up. At least their opening performances seemed to suggest that the games against inferior foes had been forgotten and that “It’s football time in Tennessee”. Oh, and Mother Nature decided that she’d make an already miserable situation even worse by throwing temperatures in the 90’s and a scalding sun at fans sitting on aluminum seats. Dejected folks left the stadium, stunned, disappointed, and sunburned. It wasn’t a good combination for the Vol Nation.  
Public pools close after Labor Day. I heard on the news that even Dollywood Splash Country was closed for business on the Tuesday after the holiday. My pool is still opened and will stay that way until the end of
September or later. Sure, the water slowly gets colder as the month wears on, but I made a promise to myself when we put the thing in several years ago. As long as the temperatures don’t fall lower than mountain streams, I’ll be in water every day that doesn’t have a storm. One of the saddest times in our household is when the cover goes over the water. To us, that’s the end of summer.  
I also fight changes in wardrobes at the end of summer. From the end of March until the first hint of frost on the ground, I live in shorts, t-shirts, and tennis shoes. A bathing suit and flip-flops makup my alternative wardrobe. The only time a pair of slacks or jeans leave the hangers in my closet is when I go to church, attend a funeral, or eat at a nice restaurant. Long-sleeved shirts and pants strangle my body and feel so uncomfortable after all those months of freedom.  
By now, I’ve indirectly announced that I hate cold weather. The days are short, the nights are long, and the weather is raw. I feel trapped inside and unable to freely go about completing projects as I do during warm weather months. I know the end is near, but trust me; I’ll keep fighting for every moment of warm sun and pleasure that comes until the frozen-solid ground and freezing temperatures win the battle.  

WHY Y?

Yes, I’m an older person who at times can get crabby. Hell, I sometimes get downright hateful. This is one of those times. Readers might also grow as angry as I am right now after reading this column.  
An article in the September 18th edition Knoxville News Sentinel reported that the Tennessee State Alliance of YMCAs will no longer participate in the SilverSneakers program. The partnership between the YMCAs and SilverSneakers will end on January 1, 2020. 
 According to the report, the alliance wanted more money, and one spokesman for the senior citizen program stated that, in some in some cases, the YMCAs wanted to hike the costs as much as 140%. So, approximately 10,000 seniors will lose membership privileges at Ys across the state.  
Oh, but don’t worry. The YMCA has said pricing plans will be set before the end of the year. Of course, they fail to acknowledge the fact that senior citizens usually participate in the program because it is included in their Medicare extended plans. Most of us oldsters don’t have the extra cash to join gyms. In fact, the majority of SIlverSneakers members take better care of themselves because they have those memberships included in their insurance coverage.
Other facilities will continue to work with SilverSneakers. A list can be found with a quick search on the Internet. However, for many older folks, the Y is a place convenient to them. Traveling to other places might be too difficult or too far. What are those individuals to do? Many will stop exercising, and that will lead to poorer health conditions. Oh, but it appears that doesn’t matter unless the money keeps coming in. 
I looked up the YMCA’s mission statement. It states the following: “At its core, the mission of the Y is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all. We are more than just a swim and gym.” 
I’ll leave it up to readers to decide how closely the organization follows its own stated mission. I also will point out that cutting out services to a large chunk of folks who live on fixed incomes does not seem to be, at least, “in the spirit” of Christianity, at least not the way I view my religion.  
At the same time, another search revealed that the YMCA receives funds from United Way. That organization’s mission states," We help people by raising funds and supporting programs that
provide opportunity and create lasting change in our community. United Way of Greater Knoxville fights to ensure a good life for all by funding programs that focus in Health, Education, and Financial Stability.”  
I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the Y is failing to uphold the mission of the United Way. Perhaps if it no longer wants to provide services to SilverSneakers, it should no longer share in the funds raised by Knoxville residents throughout the area.  
The actions of the Tennessee State Alliance of YMCAs seem shortsighted. They might be cutting off their noses to spite their faces. Some individuals and families might find another facility to visit. Some organizations might no longer identify the business as a deserving recipient of charitable funds.  
I hope that the YMCA will change the stance it now takes and allows 10,000 senior citizens to continue improving their health and well-being. If it doesn’t, well, we all know what the saying is about karma. 

TRAINED BY DOGS

  Try to recall the countless hours involved in training small children to do certain things.  Remember how difficult it was to have a child simply sit down and complete his business on the toilet? When those little ones accomplished such a feat, we were ecstatic. Little did we know how difficult some of the other training would be in their later lives, and on occasions, we moms and dads would have welcomed dirty diapers back into our lives in place of the problems we faced with teen-aged children. At the same time, think about how much energy we parents spent in trying to teach our children the lessons of life. Just the thoughts of those days tire me.  
What might come as a revelation to many folks is that we, as adults, are trained in much the same way. However, our teachers are our pets. I like cats but don’t own any since Amy is highly allergic to them. We have had dogs, and those four-legged creatures have trained me. It’s been difficult, but my canines have kept plugging away until I learned the ropes. 
Snoop was my Jack Russell Terrier. He and I were inseparable for 13 years. Over that period of time, he taught me how to rehab myself after serious neck and back surgeries. The last thing I wanted to do was walk after those operations. However, a JRT must have exercise to calm its overly energetic body. Snoop started
me out walking to the end of the driveway and back. Little by little, he coaxed me into walking down the street until we were able to complete the walk through our neighborhood that had before surgery been our daily walks. Snoop also helped me recover. Each afternoon at 2:00 p.m., he’d come and sit at the foot of the recliner I slept in. He waited for me to lift the leg rest and then hopped up and stood until I put a pillow across my lap. Then he lay down, and for the next two hours, we slept. He woke me up with the accuracy of an alarm clock.  
Sadie came to us as a rescue dog about six years ago. Her personality is entirely different. She’s a loving, laid-back dog. She must be kept on a leash because if a rabbit is anywhere around, she’s sprints as she runs it. We’ve hunted her down half a dozen times when she tricked us into believing she was trained to stay.  
Sadie has taught me when she needs to go outside. If I’m sitting in the family room, she jumps on the couch, assumes the “downward facing dog” position, and takes my hand in her mouth before giving a slight tug. If I
don’t react quickly enough, she lets out an ear-spitting bark.
If I’m in bed, Sadie walks to the head of the bed and begins licking my ear. If I cover up, she lays her 45-pound body across me and growls lowly. Again, slow reactions on my part lead to that bark, so I’m usually up and headed to the door before that loud demand occurs. 
Sadie’s life lessons are much more impactful. One deals with love. This part Border Collie, part Schnauzer animal loves everyone. She has a gentleness that captures the hearts of anyone who comes up to her. Sadie doesn’t judge. She loves those who are kind to her, regardless of political affiliation, religious beliefs, or sexual identity. She never discriminates based on gender or race. All she wants it to love and be loved. Her beautiful face and piercing brown eyes draw people in, and her openness toward them helps to drop all defenses.  
Saide also teaches contentment. She can be happy anywhere. Sometimes we go looking for her and discover her asleep in her crate, the door still standing wide open. She’s a traveler who can quickly get comfortable in the back seat as we drive toward Nashville or other places.  
Her happiest moments are those spent with the ones she loves. Sadie and Amy are bed buddies. Each morning, Amy scans the paper while Saide lies curled up in a ball at her side. She shares a poolside lounge chair with Amy. When she’s had enough of the day, this pup jumps on the couch and sticks her nose between my lower legs. That’s the signal for me to raise the recliner so that she can curl up on the end and pass out.  
I loved Snoop and thought my life would always have an empty spot when he passed. Sadie came to us and filled that spot. She is a gift from above and came at a time when such a loving creature was badly needed by both Amy and me. Someday, she’ll leave this life, and I’m sure that will be because God has loaned her to us long enough. I also know that both these dogs have had major impacts on the lives they have touched. Maybe, if I can make it to heaven, they both will come running to greet me upon my arrival.