My wife Amy is growing more and more excited about the coming birth of our first grandchild. The boy will make his debut appearance during the second full week of May. The exact date depends upon the doctor’s schedule. Births and babies make us all go a little whacko for some reason.
The child’s name will be Madden. It’s a family name from our son-in-law’s side. Both Nick and Lacey want a name that isn’t too common. I figure they hit the “motherload” with the one they picked. “Madden” is definitely a different handle for a child; the only link most folks can make to it is John Madden of NFL football. I personally think the name is appropriate for the events that are to come over the next eighteen or so years. In so many ways this boy will, in fact, “madden” his parents with some of the stunts he pulls.

Newborn humans bring plenty of neat things to a household. Amy needs only to turn on my memory, and she can recall the good things. The smell of baby powder and shampoo are two things. Those are smells that scream little ones. The overall fragrance of a baby is unlike any other thing. All are soft smells that stay embedded in parents’ minds even after their children are grown. Another thing is softness. A baby is a soft creature. The child must be held gently. As a result, the gruffest of men learn to be careful when they hold an infant. Somehow, a little person like this can melt away even the meanest edges of most humans. Last, a new baby in the house brings with it a quietness that rarely existed in a home. Parents walk a bit more gingerly through the house. The family dog is quickly chastised when he barks. Televisions and radios are turned down several notches. Conversations are much calmer sounding with a baby in the house.

Those are the things my dear wife associates with a new life. I’m not so idealistic. Instead, I recall the not-so-grand parts of bringing home a new baby. The first thing that comes to mind is fear. Nothing can break down a mom or dad like being afraid that something is wrong or that they don’t know what to do. Kids don’t come with instruction manuals, so most of us learn on the job. Plenty of mistakes are made, and even though infants are tougher than we acknowledge, parents fret over every single so-called crisis. Pediatricians earn every dollar because they must listen to and calm the nerves of hysterical parents.

I grant that a small child is something wonderful with which to cuddle, at least until an arm fall asleep. I also accept that they at times can smell wonderful. However, on too many occasions, the smell which emanates from a baby is far from pleasant. A loaded diaper can bring tears to the stoutest of humans. The source of the smell scares people as much as radioactive waste. The stuff is like Velcro too; it’s nearly impossible to get off. The stuff that comes out of the other end is every bit as bad. Baby spit up invades the nose and refuses to leave. My kids were half grown before I no longer caught whiffs of the stuff.

Babies turn all of life upside down. Before Amy and I became parents, we’d decide on the spur of the moment to travel to Nashville on a Friday night. When the kids came, our lives were altered to fit infant schedules. There were times for meals, baths, and naps. Bedtime was strictly enforced, not so much because the baby needed it but because Mom was at the point of exhaustion each evening. Lacey didn’t cooperate at night. She did her best sleeping in her car seat, and on too many occasions we drove around neighborhoods in hopes that our daughter would slip off to dreamland. She cooperated until we arrived home and lifted her from the seat; then she squalled again.

Amy’s excited about Madden’s arrival, as are Nick and Lacey. I’ll be fine when the event takes place. What I am most excited about is the fact that when the stink bombs occur, the feeding times arrive, and the crying jags begin, I’ll be fast asleep either in a motel room close to Lacey’s house or at home. I’m finally beginning to understand all the good things about this grandparent thing.


Anytime I need to get somewhere, it’s a simple task: I hop in my truck and drive to the location. Millions of Americans do the same thing daily. There was a time, however, in the earlier years, when guys reached their destinations by a different means. During my high school and college days, hitchhiking was a common practice.

By the time my brother Jim and I had reached our high school years, we were finished riding school buses except under the direst circumstances. The fact that we had taken up the cigarette habit contributed to our dislike for the “big yellow limousine.” We’d leave home each morning and begin the two-mile trek to the school. Along the way, we’d stick out our thumbs as cars drove down the narrow two-lane roads. Most of our rides came from upperclassmen who’d stop and yell at us to “Get in.” On some occasions, however, the parent of a friend would offer us a ride. If the car looked too crowded, we say “thanks” but decline. During the time we hoofed it to school, only a few mornings did we have to walk the entire distances. Even then, Jim and I managed to arrive at school well ahead of the bus that hauled us.

Both my brothers were deeply in love when they left home to attend Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville. That one hundred mile distance from Knoxville kept them from their girlfriends, who later became their wives. Without hesitation during their freshmen years in college, the love-struck guys made it home nearly every weekend. The university was three or four miles from I-40, but they’d find someone who would ferry them to the interstate from their dorm rooms. Then, these two intelligent humans walked up the ramp to the eastbound side of the interstate and began to walk. When cars approached, they tried to thumb one down. From their stories I learned that neither traveled far before someone picked stopped. On Sunday evenings the boys began the journey back to Cookeville for the week. Jim was music major and a member of the marching band. During football season, he had to stay on campus for Saturday games. Some of them were evening games, but regardless of the time, Jim always struck out for Knoxville. He’d catch a ride that might not get him home until the early hours of Sunday morning. Still, Jim would spend a few hours with Brenda and then make the return trip.

I made one hitchhiking trip home from college. A friend and I walked no more than a mile along the interstate highway before we flagged down a ride. The driver was a G.I. who was traveling from Texas to the northeast. He talked to us the entire trip about fireworks. He was obsessed with them and stopped at every stand along the way to add to his supply. The soldier spent hundreds of dollars and later told us he could sell them for twice the price in New Jersey that he’d paid. The guy gave me the willies, and I was thankful when he let us out at the Cedar Bluff exit. Right then, I swore I’d never hitchhike again.

I eventually got our old 1954 Chevy in running order, and I’d come home only occasionally since I had no love interest in Knoxville. Call me a sucker because I was forever picking up hitchhikers along the way. I empathized and sympathized with them, and picking them up in some way seem to be paying back for all the trips my brothers had taken. Usually, a hitcher was a bit scary, so when another came into view, I’d pick him up. One time, I picked up four men by the time I reached Crossville. Logic told me that there was safety in numbers.

These days, hitchhiking isn’t safe. For one thing, cars zip down the roads so fast that walkers take a risk of becoming new grill ornaments if drivers aren’t paying attention. A second reason that hitching a ride is no longer acceptable is that too many “crazies” have attacked and murdered kind-hearted souls who pick them up. Drivers ignore thumbs stuck in the air and turn a blind eye to hitchhikers. Still, the romance of walking the open roads and meeting all sorts of people along the way appeals to some of us who remember when a thumb led to a reliable means of transportation.