Green Is the Color this December

Amy and I celebrate our 35th anniversary this December. That doesn’t seem possible, especially when I realize that she and I have spent much more than half of our lives together. The appropriate gifts for a 35th year are jade and coral. The color green perfectly describes the years we’ve spent together.

When we married, I was 22, and my bride was 19. Some might ask what we were thinking. The answer is we couldn’t live without each other. I left Amy in Cookeville in August to begin my teaching career but returned in December to marry her.

We were green horns in our new life together. So many things were waiting to be learned about marriage. We were on our own and had responsibility for paying bills and come up with tuition so Amy could complete her degree at UT. She worked part time and even joined the Army Reserves to bring in extra cash.

I never have understood why Amy married me. I’m only average in looks at best, while she has always been dazzlingly beautiful. The woman had her pick of guys, but in the end, she chose me. Over the years, my insecurity fed a jealous streak. When she left for summer camps with those reserves, I was green with jealousy, even though Amy never gave me any reason to feel that way.

We enjoyed our lives together for seven years before Lacey was born. During the pregnancy, the green came as Amy experienced morning sickness. She lived on crackers for some time before things settled down. When our daughter decided to make her appearance, green was the color of my face in the delivery room.

Dallas arrived a few years later. He and Amy both have green eyes, and they can look into a person’s soul. I’ve never been able to hide much from either of them. Both are quiet persons who are slow to anger and react. It’s that approach that drives me crazy. I’m impulsive; I want something done immediately. On so many occasions, I’ve had to admit that my wife was right. Ouch!

Amy Alice Moore Rector is an incredible woman. She’s been a wonderful mother, as is seen by the devotion to her by Lacey and Dallas. At work, Amy is respected as a caring manager and friend. Her extended family members recognize her as a loving niece and loyal cousin.

I’m the luckiest person of all. I’ve been blessed with a wife who has stuck with me through good and bad. Sometimes our road has been so rocky that we almost stumbled, but together we managed to right the course. Amy has taken care of our financial situation so that we have a comfortable home and dependable vehicles.
Most of all, Amy has put up with me. She’s loved me in spite of myself. She’s ignored my bad moods and sometimes stupid actions. In the end, Amy has stood on the other side of those things with patience and love.

This year is our green year. I hope the jade necklace that I have for her in some way can express my gratitude and love, even more now than on December 20, 1974.

Digging Out the Christmas Tree

I retrieved the Christmas tree from the basement, took the blower out to knock off any cobwebs and dust bunnies, and toted it to the living room. Sometime today, Amy and I will find the time to decorate it for the holiday season. I’m glad to see that old tree. It was absent from our house last year.

For a while, we’ve spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Cookeville. Amy’s mom wasn’t able to travel anymore. Her weakening body, failing health, and dependence upon dialysis made it impossible to her to make the journey to Knoxville. I always swore that Christmas Day would find me at home in Knoxville for at least part of the day. People who know me realize that I’m prone to make such rash statements without giving a moment’s thought to the future.

To them, it was no surprise to see me pack the car and aim our car west. There we met our children, Amy’s mom, and Aunt Mildred. The day was different but okay as long as we were surrounded by those we loved. The food was still good, the presents more than I deserved, and the sharing priceless.

Because our holiday was spent away from home, last year I decided not to decorate the house. I asked myself what was the use to expend so much energy hanging lights, decorating the tree, and scattering knick-knacks throughout the house. The only ones who would see those things were Amy and me. Then they’d be repacked and stowed away for another year. It was time to be LOGICAL, not emotional.

Decorations stayed in their containers, and the tree remained lonely in the basement with mowers, power tools, and wheel barrows. My spirits somehow remained tucked away some place.

The fact is that those festive items are the very things that spark in me the excitement of Christmas. As children, we decorated the tree with our mother as daddy sat and watched. Mother put out the manger scene that now is in my daughter’s home. Wreaths were in the windows. Our house was warm with the excitement of the season.

When the kids were young, we continued the tradition. The family decorated the tree with music or a holiday television special on the television. The strands of lights were never turned on until all the decorations were hung. Every other light in the house was turned off, and then the tree was plugged in. Amy, Lacey, Dallas, and I sat quietly around the tree and let the thrill of Christmas sink in.
Last year a case of “Bah humbug” invaded. My eyes were blinded to the real reason trees and wreaths and Santa figures. That led to a depressing situation. I’d sucked the joy out of Christmas by being too lazy to follow traditions.

Even at fifty-seven, I’m learning about life. This year that Christmas tree will be decorated and brightly lit. The porch is already decorated with lights. Amy will pull out a couple of boxes of doodads to place on tables and shelves. From now on, I won’t complain a minute. I know how my good cheer is tied to those symbols. A Christmas tree is the kindling for happiness during the season.

Getting Acquainted

It’s that time of year for families. Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to be forces that pull all sorts of relatives together. For my brother Jim and me, a Saturday evening served as a reconnections with cousins.

Jim, cousins Charlie and Brenda, and I were born within three months of each other. Our families were close, and holidays were spent together during our childhoods. We played outside in all sorts of weather and made up our own adventures. Sometimes we also tormented each other for sport. It was as if the four of us were brothers and sister instead of cousins.

Brenda lived not even a mile from us in those days. We went to Ball Camp Elementary and Karns High. She was the smartest person I’d ever known. Jim and Brenda were in sixth grade together, and my mother was their teacher. She was amazed that Brenda scored so high on achievement tests that they ran through the roof. In high school, Brenda was one of those few persons who made a perfect score in the ACT. At the same time, she enjoyed all the activities that go with high school.

Over the years, she has worked in law enforcement and has traveled to several areas. For the last couple of years, she has lived in Knoxville and again not more than a mile from the house. Shamefully, we’d seen each other only one time when she was in the hospital.

Charlie, Jim, and I shared plenty of make believe times during our younger years. That included playing army in the woods behind the house and building imaginary cars with bricks and sticks. On weekends, we would spend the night at Charlie’s house and the next day catch a bus to downtown and take in a movie. No adults chaperoned us. In high school Charlie came to live with us for a year. He and I became running buddies then, and it continued until I left for college. During those times we ran the roads, drank alcohol, chased girls, although we were afraid to catch any, and postured for fights that never materialized. Charlie was involved in a car wreck that darn near killed him. His injuries had us all scared, but he recovered and remained the same guy we’d always loved.
Charlie, too, is a brilliant individual. At an early age, he taught himself calligraphy. His drawings were precise and detailed. He worked at Mercer’s Television Shop as a young boy. He learned the printing trade and became a master of the craft. Charlie is no stranger to hard work either. He’s handled marble and now works in Townsend at an RV park where he can do anything.

Facebook reconnected us. Jim brought us together. It had been as many as twenty years since we’d assembled. Amazingly, the time seemed to have melted away. The four of us fell into conversations as if we talked every day. A bonus on the evening was the presence of Charlie’s sister Sherry and Brenda’s sister Sandy. By the time we broke up, our stomachs were sore from laughing and our friendships had been rekindled.

We’re all orphans now. Our parents left us several years ago, and at least one brother/cousin has passed. I had no idea how much I missed my cousins until I sat with them again. Brenda posted pictures of the evening on her Facebook page, and she put things perfectly when she wrote, “The circle is no longer broken.” One thing’s for sure: we won’t wait another twenty years to get together and it won’t have to be a holiday.

Poor Grades

I’m one of those persons that didn’t accomplish much in the classroom during high school. Instead, I majored in having fun. My report cards showed it. Had it not been for chorus, band, and P.E., my dreadful GPA would have been even lower than a underachieving 2.6. I just didn’t get some of the classes that I took.

During my sophomore year, I broke my left ankle during a football game. Saying it happened as I battle an opponent might sound heroic, but the truth is that I was knocked down carrying dry footballs onto the field. The following Monday our biology class had a test, and we were to draw the human heart. Mr. Lynch passed out sheets of paper on which students were to draw. I hadn’t cracked a book the entire weekend. Hey, I had been injured. At least that was the story to which I was sticking. I took the sheet of paper and drew a big valentine heart and pierced it with an arrow and wrote “I love you, Mr. Lynch.” The next day the tests were passed back, and the teacher had replied, “I love you too, but you still fail.” A large F was circled in red.

I can complete the four mathematical functions with little problem. However, when an X or Y is added, all understanding disappears. Algebra I was a pain, and I spent summer school taking it over. Geometry made no sense to me, and my mother grounded me for 26 straight weeks for making D’s in it. During my junior year, Algebra II was my cross to bear. The football coach gave 3 swats with the paddle for F’s on report cards, and I’d received my fair share. At the end of the semester, Mr. Graham took me into the hall. He told me that if I promised to NEVER take another math course that he would pass me with a D. Yes, I took the deal and never looked back.

I thought a typing class would be and easy course. The problem occurred when I couldn’t keep up with others during speed tests. Before long, I was cutting class and spending time in the band room. I did that for 13 days. When grade cards came out, an F was staring back at me. At the end of the school day, I walked to the typing classroom, rolled in the grade card, and typed a B over the F. It was close enough to keep me from being grounded for another long term.

In college, I became a dedicated student and maintained a B-plus average. I earned a Master’s Degree with only a couple of B’s and the rest A’s. I know how important doing well in classes and learning the skills taught in them are. My typing struggles to this day because I never increased my speed. Still, I probably wouldn’t change things if I went back. Sometimes experience is the best teacher.

Parkwest Saves the Day

I don’t remember bringing up our children as being such a tough time. In part, that’s because I left too much for Amy to do. I’ve also been told that my memory isn’t so good. At any rate, dealing with a grandchild is almost more than I can handle…evidently.

Okay, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. My grandson Madden made his first trip to our home without his parents on Thursday. Amy worked on Friday, so that left the boy and me to fend for ourselves.

Most of the day went splendidly. We visited KHS and my daughter’s favorite teacher from her time in school. Next, I took Madden to meet my long time friend Billy Hayes, who runs Quality Body Shop in Oak Ridge. Afterward, we arrived at home, and at some point, I fed the boy.

His parents are health-conscious individuals. I’m not so much so. Madden feasted on a bowl of spaghetti O’s and half a peanut butter sandwich. He was the meal down with a cup of milk. He finally lay down for a nap about noon but was up half an hour later.

We walked the yard and watched the trains going that pass close to our house. About 3:00, I noticed a little bump on his face. Within a minute, dozens more covered his face and neck, and by the time I got him into the house, the boy was covered.
To make a long story short, plenty of phone calls were placed to Amy at work and Lacey in Nashville. The pediatrician said that Madden probably had an allergic reaction to the peanut butter, which I discovered he’d never eaten and wasn’t to eat until after two years of age. A dose of Benadril should have fixed him up, but Madden woke, the rash still covered his body, and now his fingers and toes were a bluish color.

Immediately, I freaked out, and Amy and I rushed our little guy to Parkwest Hospital. The receptionist was rude, and when I complained about a possible anaphylactic reaction and bluish color of his extremities, she informed me that the staff would get to Madden as soon as possible.

THIRTY MINUTES later, we were called back. As soon as I spoke the words peanut butter, the entire staff of the emergency room at Parkwest sprang into action. Nurses and doctors came to Madden’s aid. They checked his vitals, looked at the rash, and asked questions. The genuine concern for our grandson was amazing.
Over the next 2 hours, no fewer than a dozen doctors and nurses stopped by to check on him. The last doctor to come examined Madden and said that his rash was not the result of eating peanut butter. It was some kind of rash that can be caused by a list of things as long as my arm. The bluish color is another symptom, and the doctor alleviated our fears even more when he told us that one of his children had dealt with the same thing not long ago.

We made it back home sometime around 11:00 p.m., and Lacey and Nick arrived from Nashville not long afterwards. Madden got up Saturday his usual loving, active self, and the rash had all but disappeared.

My praise goes to Parkwest Hospital Emergency staff. I’ve never had so much attention and care during a visit to any other place. I told one of the nurses that Madden couldn’t have received better care at Children’s Hospital. Everyone should know that Parkwest Hospital is a good place that offers the best of care from a dedicated staff. The only glitch is getting passed the receptionist at the front desk.

Parkwest Emergency Staff, THANK YOU for taking care of our grandson. We are indebted to you.

Who Was That Masked Man?

The wisest people from years gone by have cautioned us about discussing politics, religion, and war. It’s sound advice, but those who know me can attest that I never have been one to heed the wisdom of others, especially when the topic is the absurd behavior of an elected official who is running for an even more powerful office than the one he now holds.

Yep, I’m referring to the antics of state rep. Stacey Campfield at the UT-South Carolina football game. According to news reports, Campfield was wearing a mask despite announcements before and during the game that doing so was not allowed. Officials at the game said his behavior was bothersome, and he was escorted out of the game.

The representative’s acts should wave a red flag to voters. First, Campfield seems to be defying the rules set by the university. This individual who represents thousands and is charged with enacting laws that will serve the common good seems to think he can pick and choose which laws and rules to obey.

Campfield’s mask was one like some Mexican wrestlers wear. What’s that about? Mexican wrestling is characterized by rapid sequences of holds and moves, as well as high-flying moves. Campfield’s tenure in state government has also been sprinkled with some “high-flying moves.” He tried to introduce a bill that would prevent the mention of anything other than heterosexuality in schools. He then dredged up a bill that would require death certificates for abortions. Another bill attempted to limit which citizens are allowed to buy lottery tickets. All of them are “show” with no go. What seems even more bizarre is these bills have been introduced when such pressing matters as funding the state budget with less money and improving education with fewer resources are on the table.

For some reason, Campfield must not think he’s on the same playing field as the rest of us. He evaded process servers for a lawsuit over a case involving the return of a security deposit to a renter. His failure to address 47 code violations resulted in one of his properties being declared as "unfit for human habitation" and condemned.

Campfield represents a huge chunk of Knox County that includes part of Ball Camp, Ridgedale, Cedar Bluff, Rocky Hill, and Bearden. He is running now to replace Tim Burchett, a tireless worker and popular politician, in the state senate. Campfield has done little to represent his constituents and more to embarrass them with his submissions that gain state and national coverage. Still, he’s been successful in elections. His latest run-in at a UT football game might be one that lands him against the ropes of the political ring. Voters have the opportunity to put a choke hold on this politicians outrageous agenda and to body slam him out of state government. Down for the count, Campfield can return to Knoxville to manage his properties. Who knows? Perhaps he’ll begin a career as Knoxville’s answer to Nature Boy Rick Flair.

No Halloween Ghosts

Halloween night was uneventful at our house. A steady drizzle fell with the dark, and the black-jersey clad Vols game was broadcast on ESPN. That special day has changed in Ball Camp over the years.

When Jim and I were kids, we’d hook up with a gang of boys in the community and begin our search for candy. It wasn’t unusual for us to walk as far east as Lobetti Road and as far west as Ball Camp School. In all, our youthful legs would cover three or four miles. Houses with huge yards were sprinkled along the roads. We had to travel long distances to have even a modest amount of loot in our pillow cases or paper bags.

In those days, we didn’t waste precious time tricking many people. Every once in a while one of the boys would mark a window with a bar of soap. Toilet paper was too expensive to be throwing into trees and lining lawns. Besides, we boys had only a limited amount of time to complete our rounds before curfew arrived.

When my kids were little, their first trip was through the woods to Mother’s house. She loaded their bags with candy and rice crispy treats. Next, we traveled through the small subdivision where we live. Some of the houses were dark, a sign that folks weren’t home. I’d walk with Dallas and Lacey to a few houses on Ball Camp Pike, where traffic had become much heavier than in my time.

My children learned early to hide their candy stashes. I had a habit of raiding their piles of candy and would leave only the yucky stuff for them. Hey, it wasn’t as if they ate the stuff because neither of my children had much of a sweet tooth. One year Dallas hid his goodies and left them there. The result was a mouse invaded his closet and munched himself into obesity on the sweets.

Lacey sent us pictures of Madden in his Halloween costume. He wore a lemur outfit with a long tail. Amy and I “oohed and aahed” over the pictures. We miss our grandson, but two hundred miles is a bit too far for me to drive to see him in a costume. The family says that it’s good to have the distance between us because, if nothing else, Madden’s candy treasures are safe. They will be thrown out since Lacey and Nick don’t allow the boy to indulge in too many sweets.

The past few years, the number of trick or treaters has dwindled. This year, the doorbell rang one time. Neither of us answered since Amy was prostrate with the flu. We had no callers the year before, so I didn’t bother buying any candy. I looked out the window and was that most houses in the neighborhood were as idle as ours.

Ours is an old neighborhood. Once it was filled with kids. Now, younger families live in subdivisions on the far end of Ball Camp Pike and Ball Road. Moms and dads load up the kids in cars now and let them loose on communities that have braced for the onslaught of ghouls and goblins. That’s okay. I have plenty of good memories of past Halloweens to make me smile. Besides, I watched the entire ball game without having to answer the cry of “Trick or treat!”

A Dad's Look

Matt Lauer of the “Today Show” spoke about his son on the air today. He mentioned that the boy was a pro at the hula-hoop. The news wasn’t that striking, but the way that Lauer looked when he began talking about his son was something most folks couldn’t miss. Even a personality of such stature glows when the mention of a child enters a conversation. Something about a child turns on that glow in a dad’s eyes.

My dad died when Jim and I were only 13, so I can only speculate about how he looked at us. However, I have seen photos of Daddy when he held our older brother Dallas when he was a baby. The glow was there. Daddy could see what a beautiful person he’d just been given by the good Lord. He looked at that baby with a knowledge that great things could be reached. Had he lived, my dad would have been beaming as his three sons earned Master’s degrees. Education for his children was most important since he’d only finished the sixth grade.

When Lacey and Dallas were born, the glow came across my face. I couldn’t believe that something so precious had been entrusted to me. Over the course of their childhood, I made plenty of goofs. Sure, I was a task master and much too hard on them for inconsequential shortcomings. That didn’t keep me from being a proud dad when they excelled. Lacey was a tremendous musician, and had she stayed with the French horn, she might have earned a full ride through college. Each time she played that horn, I could feel the tears well up. She chose a different path for her life and was again honored for her accomplishments in college. I brag shamelessly about her awards then and her job with Sony Music now. Dallas made my heart swell with his baseball playing. Just the other day we talked, and I told him how much I miss watching him play. The game isn’t near so sweet now that he doesn’t play. This fall I’ve sat in front of a computer screen on Friday nights and watched via video camera as Dallas worked at WGOW in Chattanooga. He helped announce high school scores for the area. He’s gotten better each week, and I can’t wait to watch and hear him.

These days, I watch another dad glow. He’s Nick Chemsak, my son-in-law. Nick is a wonderful father who gives his attention and time to son Madden. The little guy adores his dad. Nick sits back and watches as new skills and acts come from his son each day. With each new word he says or each motor skill he develops, Nick watches with eyes filled with pride and love. I can assure my son-in-law that things will only get better as Madden continues to grow and learn.

Dads often times don’t do such a hot job of taking care of children. Sometimes they’re lazy. At other times they’re scared. Most of the time, however, dads are confused about what to do. Those men acknowledge shortcomings in so many areas. Still, they are our children’s number one fans. Fathers burst with pride at their children’s successes and try to lessen the pain of their failures. If anyone doubts that, he or she only needs to look into the eyes of a dad as he watches his child. That glow tells it all.

Being Scratched

My dog Snoop is a hateful creature too much of the time. I’ve been told it’s my fault that the dog behaves that way. Folks say he doesn’t know who’s the boss. Since he was a pup, efforts to roll him on his back and into a submissive position have failed. There’s only one way to get the dog to lie on his back. That’s when the canine wants his stomach scratched. I wonder if scratching is a male thing in all species. It sure is for us men.

On a recent Sunday, a couple sitting in the front of the sanctuary caught my attention. The minister was knee-deep in the morning prayer, and because my personal talk with the man upstairs was finished, I opened my eyes and looked around. The man and woman sat with heads bowed, and what I noticed were her actions. Her hand moved gently back and forth as her finger nails scratched the man’s back. Her husband sat unmoving, as if the scratching had put him into a catatonic state.

I admit that one of the greatest joys of my life is having my back scratched. Actually, I’d rather had finger tips gently gliding across my shoulders, but I won’t turn down scratching at all. Even when my brother and I were young boys, we’d sidle up to Mother and lean on her as she scratched our backs. We’d stand in one position for as long as she’d allow us, and those were the only times we stopped for anything.

High school girls learn early the tricks involved in capturing a teenaged males. One of the best is scratching or rubbing their backs and heads. I used to have much more hair in those days, and sometimes a girl would rub my head as we sat with a group and talked in the band room before the school day started. Then the bell for class would ring, and I would walk to the room in a half-asleep state.

My wonderful, beautiful, loving wife Amy is the best of all. She is kind enough to scratch or rub my back on many occasions. The best is at bed time. I lie there while she moves her hand across my back for several minutes. She never lets on if the task wears her out. I also suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome and take Mirapex. However, sometimes the medicine doesn’t kick in or offers only slight relief. On those occasions, Amy will rub my twitching calf muscles for long stretches of time. God bless her!

From conversations with other men, I’ve discerned that we all relish those moments of scratching. Like my dog Snoop, we lose all aggression and become putty in the hands of our women. Maybe that’s why females do it—to keep us mellow. It’s for sure that they don’t have to deal with our griping and arguing, and we guys abdicate any claims to power when our women rub our backs. Probably the real truth of the matter is that women will put themselves out in this way because they don’t have to listen to or fool with us men.

Snoop growls and snaps at everyone but children. Come to think of it, most of us males do the same thing. Snoop’s stops such actions when he’s patted and loved. Ditto for men! I don’t know about you guys, but I’ll sit beside my wife and hope she scratches my back. If she does, Amy will have the most loyal friend she could ever find.

The Woods

The wooded lot on the south side of my house is filling up with leaves again. At one time it separated our yard from my mother’s. After her passing, I inherited an additional plot, so this shady spot now belongs to me. It’s been a place of pleasure for all my years.

During the earliest times of our lives, this tree-covered place served more as a catch-all. Our house was heated with a coal stove first and a coal furnace a few years later. The cinders from the expended chunks of coal were shoveled into buckets. Then my brother Dal had to lug those loads to the woods and dump them. Over time, large piles rose in the area. A fall across them meant painful scratches to any exposed flesh. A ditch of sorts ran along the west side of the lot. Daddy burned the garbage in a fifty gallon drum, and he disposed of cans that once held vegetables in that ditch. They cans have since disappeared after being covered by earth or rusting.

As kids, Jim and I played in this wooded place. We gathered small pine logs and built ourselves a cabin. The two of us also dragged pine limbs on the site to erect a lean-to. Many battles took place between us and evil Japanese or German forces. Cool fall days were spent at our fort. One time we caught a bat and kept it in a cage for a few days. It wasn’t the smartest or safest thing we’d ever done.

When Amy and I first built our house in 1978, Mother said the wooded area was a buffer between us. One stipulation she made for giving us ground on the back of her property was that we not wear a trail to her door. Amy and I kept our word. In 1981, Lacey was born. By the time she was walking, that warned-against path existed. Mother made it with numerous trips to see her granddaughter. Later+ she would stand at edge of the woods and watch as Lacey ambled down that barren strip of ground.

At some point Mother said she wanted the area cleared of undergrowth. I took my axe, shovel, rake, and clippers and began the process. It wasn’t easy. The first chore to complete to build a house here was clearing a spot. The briars and honey suckle and poison ivy runners were so thick that I had to crawl on hands and knees to the place where the house would sit. Clearing the rest of the land for Mother a few years later wasn’t much easier.

These days, a screened porch along the end of the house overlooks that wooded plot. Although the ground is no more than 100 feet in length, looking upon it is much the same as gazing at the national forest in the mountains. Amy and I find peace as we sit in the swing and watch the squirrels play in the tops of the trees and the birds swoop to the ground. Sometimes the neighborhood hawk cries out as it makes a pass over the tree tops.

The rains have washed away plenty of soil this year. I must find some kind of grass that will take root in the shady place to prevent more run off. That labor, however, is a small price to pay to have such a wonderful area on which to look. I’m a lucky man.

Whine about the Swine Flu

I spent that Thursday night fighting back wave after wave of nausea. It was a miserable times that was void of sleep. Evidently, the swine flu had camped out in my body. The experience wasn’t much fun.

Amy and I have been married for nearly 35 years. In that time, I’ve tossed my cookies only 2 times, both the result of inner ear troubles that set my world spinning. On that Thursday night, actually early Friday morning at about 5:00 a.m., the third time came. The dog demanded to be let out, and as I walked to the back door, the signs that things were coming appeared. Snoop went out, and I sprinted to the bathroom just in time. It was a terrible thing for a man who fights throwing up so much.

Another part of the swine flu is the aches. Every joint in my body, right down to my little toes, was sore. My muscles felt as if they’d just completed running a marathon or playing a game in Neyland Stadium. At times like that, no position is comfortable. My throat as just a bit scratchy, and I felt as if I were on the cusp of a cold. At first I wasn’t sure if the throat condition were due to a cold or from the yakking I completed.

The most prevalent part of this flu was tiredness. I spent all of Friday in bed, and I slept most of the time. Now, I’ve been known to take an occasional nap, but my staying flat of my back when the sun is shining has to mean something’s wrong. Amy came home about 6:00 and I’d just gotten up, but not for long. By 10:00, my fanny was again lying in bed, where I stayed until 8:00 the next day.

This attack of flu knocked me out of covering a couple of stories that were on my schedule. One was reset, but the other was a reception to which I’d looked forward. I probably could have attended the affair, but knowing just how much of a kick this flu has prevented me from leaving the house and possibly infecting a crowd of people.

The flu is something strange to me. Over the years, I don’t think the bug has hit me more than one or two times. Years of teaching built my immunities to all sorts of bugs that waylay most folks. However, having been away from school for a couple of years must have done away with it. I’ve now found ONE downside to having retired, but I can deal with it.

I teased Amy about the way I contracted H1N1 flu. For Thursday night supper she fixed eggs, toast, and SAUSAGE! Yep, I told her, the flu was the result of having eaten pork. My dear wife told me I was full of it, but I reminded her of other digestive disorders that I’d suffered which would have prevented me from being full of anything.

Amy left me sitting on the porch Sunday morning as she went to church. She claims I might still have been contagious. She took my greetings to friends there with the message that I cared too much about them to take the risk of spreading the bug. When she left, I grunted and lay back in bed for another nap. I hoped to be back to full strength soon. Then I would travel to one of my morning meetings to make a pig of myself on biscuits and gravy and, maybe, a piece of two of sausage.

The Smoking Pit

One morning last week I made my way to Sims Market and Deli to find out the latest news. The regular group of men was present, along with several Hardin Valley Academy students. Parents drop off their children at the market, which is located in front of the school. Most come in to order breakfast. However, some of the teens never even enter the store. Instead, they sneak around the corner of the store to light up cigarettes, and clouds of smoke billow across the front of the building. Things have sure changed since the times that smoking pits were in available to smokers.

In the old days at Karns High, smokers had a designated area where they could go to puff away. It was located along the wall of the gym and in front of the wood shop area. Guys would pour into the pit between classes to get a quick smoke. I was one of them, and we entered classrooms reeking of stale smoke. By the time the class was over, most of us were ready for another hit of nicotine.

To smoke in the pit, students (males only) were required to have a smoking permit that had been signed by parents and principals. Jim and I almost broke Mother’s heart when we brought those forms home, but she signed them anyway. Otherwise, the two of us would have been suspended from school when we were caught smoking without them.

Friendships were established in the smoking pit that lasted a life time. It didn’t matter that freshmen stood in the same space as seniors. Of course, younger smokers dared not to speak to older ones without being spoken to first. It’s been nearly 40 years since then, but occasionally I run into guys with whom I shared a smoke, and we are as cordial as back then.

Some of the toughest guys in school camped in the smoking pit during any free time. One was feared by freshmen and seniors alike, but once he became a friend, he was one forever and in any situation. My brother Jim developed such a friendship, and this tough guy had his back at all times. I wonder if the two would still be friends today. I’ve been told the guy has spent a bit of time in prison over the years.

A couple of times fights broke out in the smoking pit. One occurred when a big-mouthed freshman irritated a senior to the point that fists flew. The first punch caught the younger boy in the eye with the sound of two cinder blocks colliding, and immediately the orb swelled to the size of a tennis ball. Other times, even nonsmokers met in the pit to settle differences. Pugilists shed their shirts and went to it, most of the time with their heads pulled back and their arms wind-milling. Eventually, the fight went to the ground and the wiriest guy won.

Back then, smokers weren’t outcasts as they are now. All sorts of kids smoked, whether they did so at school or sneaked in restrooms and at home. Today, we’re smarter and know that smoking is a free ticket to lung cancer and all other sorts of illnesses. Still, something attracts young people to the habit, and then they are addicted to nicotine. Instead of having a pit, our country might decide to stop the production of cigarettes altogether. As an older guy, I now see how harmful those trips to the smoking pit and other placed were to my health. You’d think America would be smarter.

Little Hamburgers

It’d be a lie to say that I’m a connoisseur of fine foods and dining. My tastes turn more toward items that are unhealthy. Fast food is my bane, and my cholesterol levels and waistline are evidence of that statement. Still, I love that kind of eating. Throughout my life, I’ve given into the temptations of little hamburgers.

Three joints come to mind anytime I discuss my addiction to fast food during the early years—Blue Circle, Jiffy, and Krystal. All three places served those steaming little hamburgers. A squirt of mustard, wad of onions, and dill pickle meshed with the square, thin patty on a bun that was soggy from steam and grease. On trips to downtown, Mother would sometimes take us to the Blue Circle off Gay Street, and there my brothers and I sat and downed a few burgers along with an order of fries. Back then, the gut bombs didn’t stay with us long as Mother marched us from one end of Gay Street to the other and then down to Henley Street and back.

In high school our preference for buying small burgers was the Jiffy. The establishment we frequented was on Western Avenue in West Haven. It sat across the highway from the Cas Walker store. The night would begin with several circuits that began at the Copper Kettle and stretched to the Jiffy. We’d pull in an spend one buck for enough food and drink to keep us going for the rest of the evening. With a bit of luck, we sometimes encountered a carload of girls with whom we could flirt. Of course, none of us was brave enough to do more than just talk. Then we’d be off to complete another lap of nightly cruising.

Small hamburgers were never better than when my brothers and I were in our twenties and thirties. By then, my older brother Dal had moved to Nashville, but when he and his wife Brenda came home for a visit, a run for food was a sure bet. The evenings always started with hours of talk around the kitchen table at Mother’s house. By midnight, the wives had retired, but the three of us were still going strong. We all smoked like chimneys back then, and the kitchen would be so filled with smoke that a haze hung from the ceiling and the smell of stale tobacco covered our bodies.

Eventually, one of us would call “road trip,” and with that we packed ourselves into the car and drove to the Clinton Highway Krystal. Upon our return we emptied the contents of our bags. As many as three dozen hamburgers with orders of French fries were lined up across the table. We dug in and feasted until the “sliders” were gone or we were full. Those little pearls always lay heavy in our stomachs, and before long, all turned in for the night.

I know how unhealthy those little heart attacks in boxes are. My health is more of a concern to me, and I try to be good. Yet, sometimes a hunger from deep down starts, and no matter how strong my willpower might be, I succumb to the call. I know the next day will be filled with regret as my digestive system rebels against the foul food, but in the moment, the thoughts of a good Krystal conquer even the most logical thoughts.

I sinned again last night. Here in Nashville I drove to Krystal and grabbed a few hamburgers. Next, I drove back to the motel room and devoured them. The night was spent in gastric distress, but sometimes the urge is outweighs the punishment.

Nashville, Vanderbilt, and Northerners

Amy's in the last of a three-day seminar here in Nashville. I've entertained myself by driving all over the city and suburbs. As usual, on one jaunt I took the wrong exit and drove through one of the spicier neighborhoods around the downtown area. For the most part, however, I managed to drive through the areas with few problems.

This morning, we checked out of the room, and I needed to find a place to spend the first part of the day. I ferried Amy to the meeting site and then returned to the Vanderbilt campus area. By the way, our motel room overlooked Vanderbilt stadium. I watched for two days as the field crew battled rain to paint lines and numbers on the soaked turf for the ballgame against Mississippi State. Our room would have been the perfect place to watch the game--see every play and avoid the crowds, drunks, public restrooms and outrageous concession prices.

Upon Amy's suggestion, I drove to Noshville for breakfast. Noshville is the best place in town to eat a morning meal. The food is heaped on the plate, and the building itself is a throwback from a time gone by. I ate my egg sandwich and fruit slowly and sipped my coffee as long as possible. I knew the time to leave had come when a line of waiting patrons stared at my sitting in a booth large enough to accommodate a party of four.

I faced a dilemma of where to go next. A couple of blocks down the road, the answer came. I whipped the car into the parking lot of Panera, ordered another cup of coffee and took a table. Panera is one of those places where a person can spend hours without feeling guilty. My first move at the table was to pull out my computer to check email messages.

Here on the fringe of Vanderbilt, hearing northern accents must be normal. Few folks talking in the place had that southern drawl with which I am so comfortable. At the counter two men in their twenties were ordering. One asked for a "soda," and his friend snickered at him. THe first asked if he'd said something humorous, to which the second said, "You asked for a soda!" The first man looked puzzled, and the expert on language in the South corrected him by saying, "I don't ever say soda. It's strange. Instead, I order a 'POP'!"

I don't dislike people from the North. I do object, however, to some attempts by a few to change our culture and our language. Somehow it's not fitting for them to do so. It's the same thing as someone visiting a friend's home and then re-arranging the furniture and restocking the refrigerator with all healthy foods. Lewis Grizzard called these folks Yankees and said he didn't care how folks used to do things up North. Grizzard also told those whom he called Yankees that Delta was ready when they were if they wanted to move back.

In today's world, the blending of North and South is inevitable. Hey, some good things might come from the land above the Mason-Dixon Line. I'd just like for newbies to the warmer climate to take a little time to do assimilate themselves to our way of life before they redecorate it.

I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong.

What’s Entertaining about Blood and Guts?

Okay, I suppose I’m officially part of the “older generation.” My membership isn’t just because of my age; it has as much to do the fact that I don’t get some of the things that go in this world. For instance, I’m confounded at the need people have for “shock” in their lives.

A new movie is playing in theaters. Its title is “The Final Destination.” Now, from that a person might assume the flick is some “who done it.” Others might think it’s a show about space exploration. However, this movie is about individuals who meet sudden and violent ends to their lives. The ads for it show one woman drowning and another being dragged into what appears to be the machinery of an escalator or some other kind of conveyor. One man is assuring a crowd that things will be all right a couple of seconds before he’s blown to pieces. Still another scene show some kind of pressurized tank zipping at some unsuspecting person who will be mutilated by it in some way.

Folks, I don’t get it. How is this entertainment? It seems not so long ago that an entire population had the wits scared out of them by a little girl who levitated from her bed, spewed green pea soup, and spun her head around. The movie “Jaws” was bad enough to me. Every time that music played, somebody lost a body part.

Young people today laugh at those movies and call them corny. The scare factor isn’t enough for them. They want more blood and guts—in every aspect of their entertainment. The fascination with dismemberment and blood letting is disturbing to an old guy like me. The fact that “The Final Destination” is nothing more than a couple of hours of hideous deaths isn’t enough. The darn thing is shown in 3D. That’s so audiences can “experience” the thrill of being diced and sliced and drowned and blown to smithereens. It’s as absurd an interest as was that for the video clips “Faces of Death.”

The fascination with death and murder are found in video games. I’ve seen some of the ones kids play, and I was appalled to discover so many of them have as their goal the annihilation of an enemy. The cache of weapons includes every horrific one that can be created. Our children spend hours in front of these games and wipe out combatants while their physical health also slips along the treacherous road to obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Somewhere along the way we screwed up. We parents made life too comfortable for our kids. Too many of them are “bored” with commonplace things. They continue to look for activities and entertainment that offers more thrills. The fascination with death—and the kind of death that is punctuated by a brutal and bloody end—is a sure sign that we’ve lost at least some fiber of decency. I equate this desire to witness horrible deaths to the love Romans had for fights in the coliseum and the feeding of Christians to the lions.

Sure, I am probably overstating the seriousness of the situation. I’ll gladly back off this stance if someone can offer a valid and logical explanation of why such a movie as “The Final Destination” can even make it to the theaters. If that can’t be given, then this cranky old guy will stand by his disgust for such boorish trash.

Labor Day Means Winding Down

Labor Day—it’s a holiday that all Americans enjoy and one that has a different meaning to people. It began as a result of the Pullman Strike in 1894. A wildcat strike begun by rail workers in response to cuts in wages, the act stopped travel to the west. President Grover Cleveland sent federal troops to stop the strike, an act that led to the deaths of several workers. The holiday was passed in Congress six days after the end of the strike. That in itself is amazing in that today’s Congress never passes anything expeditiously.

For lots of people, Labor Day marks the end of summer. It’s that one last day to ski or swim in sweltering temperatures. Cookouts and picnics and family get–togethers are standard activities on the first Monday of September. From that day on, fall is fast approaching and temperatures decrease and days shorten.

Families look upon Labor Day as the last opportunity to take a trip before school takes center stage in children’s lives. Once upon a time, Labor Day was the official last day of summer break as students and teachers returned to classrooms on the following Tuesday. More recently, schools officials and politicians trying to win favor with constituents have proclaimed the need to start school earlier so that children can learn more. Remember, American children lag behind all other countries on standardized test scores. Earlier school years are meant to insure that or young citizens perform better on such evaluations. Maybe our children could go back to school the Tuesday after Labor Day if in-service days were eliminated. If teachers are honest, most will admit that those staff development days are wastes of time that do harm by breaking the rhythm of learning. They’ll also tell you that such days are more about justifying some downtown official’s job than about helping teachers.

For some of us, Labor Day is taken literally. Some of the toughest projects I’ve ever tackled occurred on that September holiday. Many years ago Amy and I hung wallpaper in our house on Labor Day. We worked from morning until midnight covering the walls with an assortment of patterns and borders. Over the course of the day, we grew tired and, at times, hostile. We finally retired, but it took a few days before sore muscles and raw feelings eased.

The weekend of Labor Day is the beginning of college football. Folks in this area have whipped themselves into a near frenzy with anticipation of U.T.’s new season. Hope springs eternal, and unwavering fans cant’ wait to celebrate a victory over lesser and greater opponents. Before the season is finished, hearts will be broken with losses to despised foes, but the dedicated fans will continue to swelter in the heat and humidity of early September as the Vols begin another campaign in the confines of Neyland Stadium. Some of us are not so eager and don’t function well in a sea of 100,000–plus fans who re clad in orange.

Labor Day is a winding down of an active spring and summer. Before long, the ground will be covered in leaves, and we’ll chase them around yards as winds whip them in all directions. Before we can blink, summer will melt into winter’s cold temperatures and long nights. Our longing will be for those fun-filled, relaxing days of summer. Maybe Labor Day should be a time for mourning the losses of warmer weather and its good life.

Moronic Motorists

The other day an elderly woman lost her cool. She decided the best way to solve her dilemma was to bump an officer who was directing traffic at Hardin Valley. It’s no surprise to me that the incident occurred. In years gone by, I’ve been locked up with angry drivers at schools.

I always volunteered to take the first tour of bus duty when the school year began. That way it was out of the way, and I didn’t have to worry about forgetting the chore or stand outside in the cold weather. As many as a dozen other staff members and I took positions along the drive in front of the school.

The traffic began snarling a few minutes after 8:00 a.m. Drivers waited until the last possible minute to make their ways to school. The line snaked off campus and sometimes as far as a quarter of a mile. It was obvious that students were going to be tardy and their parents would be arriving late to work. That made already frayed nerves edgier.

We tried to keep cars moving. We waved parents to the far end of the drive, and there they could drop off their children. However, too many moms and dads didn’t want their babies to walk the extra 100 feet. They’d stop smack dab in front of the school, even though doing so was like clogging a sink drain. They didn’t care as long as their children weren’t inconvenienced.

Those people are the ones at whom I’d whistle and wave my arms. Sure, I had a disgusted look on my face when those parents acted so selfishly. Some of the “grown-ups” took exception to my actions. Dads would glare at me; moms would salute me with middle fingers. Even grandparents would mouth words at me as they drove by.
On one occasion, I barked at a mom to pull all the way down so that she didn’t block traffic. She complied, but not without glaring at me when she made the turn to leave. To my surprise, this female had pulled into a parking spot and returned to confront me.

While I don’t remember her exact words, it’s for sure that her sentences were filled with expletives and words that questioned my parentage. I continued directed traffic, but managed to tell this irate female to leave on at least three occasions. Not being able to take anymore virulence, I turned to this she-devil, put on my best furious face and told her to shut up, get in the car and go home. If she didn’t, I told her I would have the school officer handcuff her and haul her sorry fanny to jail.

It worked. The mother left, but not without one last tirade laced with profanities. The rest of my day was shot. Some of the toughest teaching days are due to crazy parents. The incident at Hardin Valley shows plenty of whacko’s are still out there.

If people don’t want to get caught in school traffic, why don’t they put their babies on the big yellow limousines that cruise the roads each morning and afternoon? It’s for sure school would run more smoothly if out-of-control drivers did so. The traffic problems would lessen, school employees wouldn’t worry about being verbally or physically attacked by an individual suffering from road rage.

Retired--Not Dead

Teachers returned to school for in-service training on August 10. I played golf. No, I’m not attempting to rub salt into any open wounds, but it is nice to be retired. Yet, retired isn’t exactly the right word. I’ve taken on other things that keep me busy and much more productive.

During the spring, my time was spent playing golf and sitting in front of a computer and writing columns, working on a book, and answering emails. I was out of bed at 6:30 a.m. when Amy got up. There were some guilty feelings associated with lying in the bed while my wife got ready for work.

It’s not clear to me, but somehow the day flew by, and I’d look up in shock at the time on the clock. Amy would ask what I did during the day, and the answer seemed to scream empty and unprofitable. Sure, I’d write between 2000 and 3000 words, but that shouldn’t have taken up the entire day.

Good fortune smiled on me when I received another chance to write for a paper. Since the first day, I’ve busier than a bird dog. Covering the news in Ball Camp, Cedar Bluff, Hardin Valley and Karns takes plenty of time. I am forever in search of a story. Instead of passing the morning reading the paper, working on the computer and watching “Judge Judy,” I hop in the car and travel to Sims Deli or the Karns Hardees. Groups of people are always there and sometimes give me leads on events in the area. I’ve taken in meetings and events and met plenty of new people, all who are more interesting than television personalities.

The other thing that’s happened is I accomplish so much more during the day. The “honey-do” list usually gets completed. I also can mow mine and my neighbor’s yard weekly without any trouble. Going to the grocery store is something I can do with ease.

The fact is a person has needs to keep busy when he or she retires. The picture that comes to mind with the mention of retirement is one of an older person passing his life away in a rocking chair. That kind of existence will kill anyone. Many people today, me included, are retiring from their careers at earlier ages.
Humans are created to be engaged. That means staying active in life’s happenings. Work sometimes is the key to emotional well being. It keeps people involved in something outside themselves. There’s a reason to get up in the morning. We’ve all heard stories about individuals who retire and go home only to die within a year. I’d say it’s because they weren’t busy enough.

I’m happy and thankful to be working. I don’t want any job to interfere with my golf time, but it’s for sure that Amy is glad to have me out of the house and to have things completed. Retirement should be called “retooling” these days as people find new interests and associations. Keeping active is the key. Hey, I’m retired, not dead!

Trusts Dog Instincts

Dogs are astute judges of character. Most can sniff the air and figure out if an individual is friend or foe. Their actions are based on that sense.

Our first dog was a Dalmatian. Pokey was an adult dog when Mother brought him home from a friend’s house. The dog stayed inside for a few days. When he hiked his leg on one of the plaster walls and flooded the hardwood floors, Pokey was exiled to the outside.

The dog was to be Mother’s pet, but in short order, twin brother Jim and I became Pokey’s masters, probably because we spent so much time outside together. The three of us were inseparable. On one occasion, Mother came outside to administer punishment to our backsides for transgressions we’d committed. She raised her arm to swat one bottom. Pokey stood up, eyed Mother, and growled. He could see that the thrashing was about to begin, and the dog had no intentions of letting it happen. Mother stopped, looked dumbfounded at the dog, and went back inside. It was the first and only time she suspended swift justice, and it was because Pokey sensed the hostility in the air.

Pokey II was another Dalmatian, a pup that a sociology professor at college gave me. He was Mother’s dog completely and fiercely protected her. On one occasion a neighbor stopped at her house to leave a wedding present for Amy and me. No one was home, and when the woman got out of the car, Pokey growled. She paid him no mind and walked to the door. After knocking without an answer, the neighbor reached for the handle of the screened door so that she could put the gift between it and the inside door. Pokey stood on his back feet, took the woman’s hand in his mouth, and pulled it from the knob. Then he again looked at her and growled. The lady decided to leave the present where it was and drive away as soon as possible.

Someone recently told me a story about a politician who unexpectedly stopped by a house in the Karns community. The man evidently knew the residents, and he pulled out of the community parade to visit. The resident’s dog, a usually gentle creature, spied the man, took about a second and a half to sniff the air, and then came after him. He retreated as quickly as possible. The story ended without the man being bitten or the dog being shot.

Perhaps we humans aren’t using our K-9 friends to their fullest potentials. We’ve picked plenty of leaders at all levels who haven’t turned out to be so good. Instead of primaries and campaigns that costs fortunes and wear on the nerves of voters, maybe we should line up those running for office and have half a dozen dogs of all breeds, as well as mutts, sniff each man or woman. If the dogs growl or take a plug out of a candidate, he or she would be removed from the ballot. Hey, it can’t lead to any worse choices than some we humans have made in passed elections.

September Is the Month for School to Begin

On the way home the other evening, I was listening to some of my CD’s when “See You in September” by the Happenings began playing. That group and the song in particular were favorites of mine. In fact, the summer of my freshman year in high school, my twin brother Jim, the boy across the street, Mike Mier, and I walked and thumbed our ways to Chilhowee Park to see them in concert. No, it wasn’t a smart thing to do, but we were young, foolish, and most of all, adventurous.

The song is about a couple who say must say good bye at the end of the school year. The boy sings that he’ll be alone each and every night and that he’ll write. He says they’ll be together again in September unless a summer love takes the girl away.

To me, it’s backwards to lose contact with a girlfriend over the summer, maybe during the rest of the year, but not for summer. Perhaps the song is about a college couple. Regardless, the title belongs to a different era—MINE.

In the good old days, school let out the first part of June. For the next three months, students escaped the confines of classrooms. They hung out at the pools, cruised the drive-in restaurants, and watched movies at the drive-in theater. School opened its doors the day after Labor Day. That’s in September. By then, kids were ready to get back to school. Some had grown weary of the summer activities; others were tired of working a summer job that usually included too much manual labor. It was time to get on with education—football and basketball games, sock-hops, and flirting. Oh, some were actually eager to return to the grind of homework and learning.

These days, summer isn’t much different from the rest of the year. Teens have access to vehicles that allow them to visit with each other all the time. When they are out of town, cell phones and computers keep them in touch with each other through Twitter and Facebook. School functions aren’t so important to today’s teens. The last several years that I taught high school, the only dance after a game occurred during homecoming.

Still, kids need a longer break from school. The demands on kids today are crushing. They are required to know more and score higher than any previous generation. A student must earn more than twenty credits for graduation, and then he or she must pass the state proficiency exam.

With all that’s laid upon their heads, it seems only fair that students be given a summer break that lasts until September. Move the school year so that kids don’t get out of school until June, and then let them escape until the dog days of August have past. That way, they too can enjoy the song “See You in September.”

A Fishy Reunion

Amy and I packed up the car and traveled to Algood, a hundred miles away. Her family was renewing the yearly reunion. After more than ten years, Amy and her cousins realized the need to have a get together.

John Allen and Joy Short became ramrods for the event. Joy is a doer. She makes things happen. John is an amazing, multi-talented man who can cook, clean, and organize better than most folks on the planet. Melinda Bilbrey secured the place for the reunion. It was a family life center owned by her church. All of their efforts led to a day of fun for the group of fifty or more.

As we gathered, the changes that had occurred surprised me. At the last reunion, our children were the young ones. We were the parents and were easily recognizable: sleep deprived, raw nerved, and physically exhausted. Amy’s adult relatives were the seniors. Now, our children have that same look that we wore as they herd their own young ones. We are the gray-haired ones. The aunts and uncles are still present, but their numbers have decreased, and they sit back as the “wise ones” who offer up good advice on any topic from cooking to raising children to investing money.

A plus about reunions is the food. Families brought cakes and pies. One cousin lugged in a bowl of shrimp; he must have known my weakness. Aunts arrived with plates of deviled eggs and other good stuff. John set up two machines that churned containers of vanilla and peach ice cream. The main course was to be fish. Amy had contacted Charles, who’d cooked for earlier reunions. Back then, he set up a grill and cooked for a couple of hours as guests downed pounds of fish, French fries, and cold slaw. My own two children, Dallas and Lacey, were most excited about the fish; it was the thing they best remembered about past reunions. I’d even bragged to son-in-law Nick that it was the best tasting fish he’d ever have.

People began to gather at 10:00 a.m., and lunch was to be served around 1:00. The noise swelled as folks arrived. Plenty of hugs and kisses were shared, and John provided snacks for people to munch until the fish was ready.

The morning wore on, but Charles hadn’t appeared. Amy called his house earlier in the morning but only got a busy signal and later no one answered. Worried looks spread across faces, and at one point, Nellie West and her grandson Brian drove to Cookeville to Charles’ house. He wasn’t there.

Facing a meal with no main course, the decision was made. Michael West and I hopped into his car and drove to the other side of Cookeville. We arrived at KFC and bought a trunk load of chicken mashed potatoes, gravy, and slaw.

Back at the reunion, folks loaded their plates. No one complained. All had too much fun sharing a meal with extended family. One person commented,
“Man, this is good “fish.” It takes just like chicken!”

The day was good. Charles never appeared or called. He’s gotten older too, and maybe the man simply forgot. That kind of thing happens in life. The main thing is the reunion was a success and next year’s has already been planned. Maybe we’ll call Charles every week starting now. We all still want some fish.

Pass the Preparation H

The itch is so bad that I can’t stand it. After a few minutes spent watering some plants in the yard, I’m dotted in insect bites. Welts cover my legs from the knees down, and I’ve scratched the areas until they’re raw and bleeding. I should be able to take this better. My entire childhood was spent dealing with itching.

As a small boy, I learned to identify poison ivy. The three-leafed plant crawled along the ground in the wooded areas of the neighborhood, and it was thick along the path where people walked to an old swimming hole that we frequented on vacations in the Smoky Mountains. No matter how careful I tried to be, at least a couple of times each year my skin would be covered with blister that itched beyond description. Sometimes the stuff got into my eyes so that they swelled shut. One January my brother and I cleared a bank at our house, and I was covered from my waist to my knees with poison ivy spots. For an entire week I was unable to wear clothes. A sea of calamine lotion offered no relief. Hot bath water with plenty of Clorox added helped some, but shots from the doctor proved to be the only sure cure. Not scratching the affected areas prevented possible infection, but it took all my willpower to refrain.

In the summer, Mother took us boys to different places to pick blackberries. We covered up with long-sleeved shirts and jeans, but chiggers seemed to find openings. They’d bury themselves under the skin, and the itch was impossible to scratch. Hard, red lumps rose on our skin, and sleepless nights followed. The remedy Mother used was fingernail polish. She’d paint each blotch with a daub of polish to smother the little critters. We not only itched but were also covered with pink or red dots. I used to wonder whether the jelly and cobblers that Mother made from the berries we picked were worth the agony that the chiggers inflicted. Now that she’s gone and there are no more such foods, I’d put up with a case of chiggers for a pie.

Until recently bug bites never bother me. My wife Amy would go outside briefly and re-enter the house covered with bites on every place that wasn’t covered by clothing. Now, I’m at the mercy of flying nuisances. The wet spring weather has offered ideal conditions for mosquitoes and other bugs. They’re too small to see, but the welts caused by their bites are visible immediately.

The pests have driven us from our front porch, and we’re held prisoners in our own home. Medical creams don’t offer much help with the bumps on our arms and legs. However, Amy discovered that Preparation H does the trick. It reduces swelling and stops the itch and pain brought on by numerous insect bites. Who’d have ever thought that a product like Preparation H could come in so handy in taking care of another kind of itch?

It's Not Easy Being a Good Dad

I spent Father’s Day in town with Amy. Lacey celebrated the day with her husband Nick and son Madden in Nashville, the place she should have been. We traveled to Chattanooga yesterday to be with Dallas for the day. Our return Saturday gave him a chance to rest before beginning the second term of summer school on Monday. Even Snoop was away at the vet’s since we weren’t sure of the time we’d be back from Chattanooga. I enjoyed a low-key day with just Amy, but twangs of missing the kids hit a couple of times during the day.

I’ve also thought about my own dad on this celebratory day. He died in 1965 when Jim and I were thirteen. So, for more than forty years, we’ve not had a father on whom we could shower gifts and “I love you’s.” No, this isn’t a moment of self-pity. Instead, it’s a moment of reflection on the man we called Daddy and on why I made some of the mistakes with my own two children.

Daddy wasn’t “kid-friendly.” He worked too hard and too long. Shifts rotated weekly so that the man rarely knew what time of day it was. He was sleep deprived and in poor health. His pay wasn’t that good, and he attributed that fact to his having only finished the sixth grade, after which he began a life of work to help out his family.

Dal Rector worried. It’s the Rector Curse. He fretted over money, insurance, our education, Mother’s having to work—EVERYTHING! One of the vivid pictures in my mind is of his sitting at the kitchen table. He wore a t-shirt, the kind with straps, and a pair of work pants. To one side sat a green mug with coffee so thick that it must have been spooned from the percolator. To the other side sat his elephant ashtray. A Winston was pinched between two fingers; Daddy’s left hand propped up his head. His shoulders were rounded and slumped from the weight of his world. Before him lay a small spiral notebook, the kind that can be carried in a shirt pocket. He held in his right hand a pencil with which he “figured” how to stretch too little money across to much month.

Survival of his family was the name of the game. Daddy didn’t have time to fool with playing. In the end, I suppose he knew best as he tried to make sure Mother had all possible help rearing three boys alone.

When my kids came, I was determined to be more involved in their lives. I made sure they knew how to hit a baseball, how to dribble a basketball, and how to throw a football. I coached their teams. We went on vacations, and I “made sure” they had a good time. It was important to me that they had Christmases where their most wished for presents were under the tree. I helped with homework as much as I could. Keeping busy with them showed that I cared, or at least I thought it did.

I fought battles with my own children. All too often I pushed my children hard and made mountains out of mole hills on many occasions. They sometimes resented me, a fact that had me thinking of them as ungrateful. To me, if they knew what it was like to live without a dad, my two children would have changed their tunes.

The fact is that they didn’t have to live without a dad. I was there, but I pushed too hard. Kids need plenty of room to grow and learn. Smothering them, the way I did, drove them to a distance where they could breathe. I see that now. I wish that realization had come earlier so that life would have been easier for them and me.
What I can see now is that my dad did the best he knew how to do. He loved in his way. I did the same. In both cases, our ways were far from perfect. I’m lucky because I’ve adapted to be what my children need in a dad. What my dad missed out on most of all were the chances to watch his sons grow into men and to tell him he was loved and respected. I’d love to thank him for all he did for us as well.

Gun Clarification

I've had some emails that have taken me to task for my stance on guns. As a means of clarifying things, I must first say that I don't have a problem with guns and respect others' rights to have them. What I object to is a legislature that passes a law that allows patrons to carry weapons into establishments that serve alcohol. Hey, I have no objections to alcohol either. I just don't believe the alcohol and guns mix well.

I'm not suggesting that anyone's guns be taken away. What I am suggesting is that this law is one that eventually will come back to bite the legislature in the butt. Our representatives don't seem to be able to deal with laws that help society, but they are quick to enact ones that seem to be of little importance. Municipalities won't have to abide by the law, so perhaps local officials will use the good judgment that is lost on the legislature.

As I said before, I don't oppose guns, just dumb laws that endanger the general public.

Guns in Bars? You're Kidding!

A check of statistics from shows that the U.S. is seventh in the world in firearm murders per hundred thousand (3.72). The figures are based on information from 1999, so it’s safe to say that that number has increased over the last ten years. One thing’s for sure: our state legislature has made it easier for Tennessee to increase its yearly average.

An over-ride of Governor Bredesen’s veto means that many residents can now carry their handguns into establishments selling alcoholic beverages beginning July 14. Our esteemed representatives have decided that doing so is safe. Many question their judgment on the matter. Let’s not forget that our elected officials not all that long ago enacted the “Road-Kill Bill.” Remember that one? It gave us the right to load up animal carcasses and haul them home, where we could skin them and have “good vittles for the table.” The rest of the country horse-laughed us, but who can blame them? We’ve worked for years to dispel the perceptions that Tennesseans don’t wear shoes and don’t have indoor plumbing. With the passing of the road kill bill, the hoots of laughter began again and the questions about us poured like rain.

I can’t figure the logic of the gun-toting bill. Okay, a man can carry his gun into a bar. He can get skunk-drunk and turn surly in a New York minute. If another patron crosses him, the ol’ boy can pull his pistol and blow the adversary’s head off. That doesn’t sound too sane or logical to me. What about the innocent bystanders who don’t own handguns? If they are caught in the crossfire of a feud between two patrons, the flying lead might put an early end to their food, drink, and entertainment, not to mention their lives.

Perhaps the legislature is trying to draw more tourists to the state. I remember commercials that used to advertise re-enacted gun fights at some small attraction. With tough times, supporters of the bills are trying to increase state revenues by encouraging folks to witness a live gun fight. People this day and age love “reality shows,” and nothing comes closer than blood and brain matter splatting on walls of our Tennessee establishments.

Businesses that serve alcoholic beverages will become saloons. Let’s see, the waitresses can dress like Miss Kitty, gun toters can imitate Festus. If they become inebriated, they can play the part of Otis from “Mayberry.” When things get out of control and places are shot up, our local law officers can perform the duties of Marshall Dillon or Sheriff Andy Taylor.

I’m not about to deny others’ rights to have guns. However, I’d rather not have them carrying those weapons in places that I frequent. The papers could be filled with stories of battles that broke out at O’Charley’s or homicides at the bars of Regas or Copper Cellar. Owning a gun is much like driving a car. Almost anyone can do either, but only a handful should be allowed. I can see it now. A guy is on the way to his favorite watering hole when he suffers from a fit of road rage on the interstate into town. He pulls out his handy pistol and unloads on the driver with whom he is furious. Then he can reload and spend the rest of the evening sucking down his favorite drinks. Plain and simple, too many individuals lack the good sense that should come with gun ownership.

The men and women in our state government evidently don’t have enough common sense to be in office. They can’t figure out how to fund education, road construction, or health care, so they deflect the attention by passing an asinine bill that lets Tennesseans play cowboy and cowgirl. Mercifully heavens, we need some guidance here before too many people are gunned down.


I don’t put much faith in surveys. They’re forever producing numbers that just don’t reflect the truth of matters. The only reason I care one whit about polls is that they offer plenty of writing fodder.

One recent morning the local news said that the results of a recent survey indicate that people claim they aren’t religious. First of all, I don’t know what folks mean when they say they’re not religious. That might mean that individuals have no affiliation with a particular denomination. Those on the inside of the churches call these people “un-churched.” It’s a label I detest. The sound of it is negative, akin to the “unclean” or the “uncivilized.

Our world has seen plenty of instances where churches become kingdoms unto themselves. They are like country clubs where membership is limited and applicants must follow a strict set of guidelines. (I heard recently of one church that wanted $5000.00 to hold a funeral in its building, and the person who had died was a member of the congregation.) Some churches exclude groups that are “sinners.” I thought that was the whole idea behind church: opening the doors to all people at all time who need to develop a relationship with a higher power. If those surveyed are saying they want no part of that kind of hypocrisy, then I understand. However, they might do well to continue looking for a church that fits their particular style of worship.

I’m not sure I believe that people are turning their backs on a spiritual relationship with a Creator. With that said, I realize that times are tough for many, and then there’s a younger generation that is full of questions and doubting. We have a tendency to turn blind eyes and deaf ears to everything outside of our own little worlds. That’s part of what makes us human. However, most people come around at some point in life. It might be in a personal battle or a war or a tragedy. The saying “there are no atheists in foxholes” applies. Most of us reach the ends of our abilities to do it all. At that point, we reach for something outside ourselves that will give us the strength to carry on. What is amazing is that every time we do reach, something out there takes our hands and leads us. So, I don’t believe for one minute that fewer people are religious. Individuals are just at a place in life where they are trying to do it all themselves.

I’m over all the polls about divisive issues. The origin of the world, right to life versus right to choose, homosexuality—controversies are whipped up by factions that want to be right. Perhaps these sides are more interested in surviving and thriving than in getting along. We spend too much time accusing others and defending ourselves. More tolerance and less judging could make this world a better place to live.

Every day seems to bring a new public opinion poll on hundreds of issues. We’re told about the president’s approval rating, the public’s perception of the economy, and U.S. citizens’ views of ongoing wars. A minute sampling is used for the generalizations that are spread across the headlines. The facts are that President Obama will continue to serve, regardless of how popular he is with Americans, the economy is cyclic and will improve as soon as the poisons administered by seedy financial institutions are removed, and American troops will be stationed in countries to fight wars for the foreseeable future.

We all could live better lives if many surveys were ended. But how would we know which politician to like, which religion is best, or how to invest our moneys? Without surveys telling us what to do, we might make decision by using some common sense. It might be a novel, but welcome, approach.


We’d no sooner arrived at the beach than Lacey took grandson Madden to the beach. None of us were exactly sure how things would play out. It could be either good times or a complete bust. All held our breaths and crossed our fingers as she sat him on the sand. It was a good sign that he didn’t whimper when sand stuck to his hands. He looked at them, moved from sitting to crawling position, and cut a trail toward the incoming wave. They washed over him, and he smiled and waited for next one. We breathed sighs of relief that Madden had fancied the water. I shouldn’t have been surprised. The boy comes from a long list of “waterdogs.”

When I was a young, our family didn’t take vacations to far away places. Only one time did we pile into the car and drive to Treasure Island, Florida. The rest of the time, Daddy stayed home and worked while the rest of us traveled to the Smokey Mountains for a week at King’s Cottages. Our days were spent swimming in the icy cold waters of the river that ran close to our cabin.

Days began with breakfast, and after waiting for an hour for our food to digest, we walked the quarter up a mile dried-up river bed to the swimming hole. Sometimes, all of us slowly walked into the water and allowed it to numb them gradually. On other occasions, we took deep breaths, took off running, and dove under the water. Our heads surfaced as we waited for the pain to subside as our bodies adapted to the water temperature. Entire days were spent in that water. Our only escape was to eat lunch. Kids suffered through sunburned skin, which made the water seem that much colder, toes stubbed on rocks, which felt better as the water numbed them, and poison ivy outbreaks, which were soothed by coolness to skin. We even swam after dark and were surprised at how much warmer the water felt during the nighttime.
When Lacey and Dallas were young, we purchased a membership to a subdivision pool a few miles from the house. Those two loved the water as well. They’d begin begging me early in the morning to take them swimming, and after considerable griping, we hopped in the car and drove to the pool. The kids enjoyed jumping into my arms from the side, but as they grew older, playing with friends and other children at the pool took center stage. I sat in the pool, more to keep from being burned by the sun than anything else. On many summer evenings we made a return trip to the pool and stayed until closing time or until someone got too tired. Sometimes, the kids would fall asleep in the backseat of the car before arriving home. That swimming pool gave plenty of fun and exercise, and it led to many nights of sound sleep to two little ones.

Now Madden is taking his turn in the water. I’m glad he’s not afraid. Children who become scared of the water miss so much of the fun that makes summer complete. Amy and I have discussed building a pool in our back yard. I’m against it because its maintenance would fall in my lap. She reminds me of how much fun it would be to have our children and grandchildren enjoying the water. I’m not sold on the idea yet, but I know that if the pool is built, our waterdogs will come.

An Only Child with a Dozen Brothers and Sisters

My mother-in-law fell in March and broke her hip. For the next two weeks she lay in the bed, and for only a few minutes did she recognize anyone. The times were trying on Amy as she watched he mother slip from this world to the next. For me, those weeks were filled with wonder as I discovered that my wife, who is an only child, has several brothers and sisters.

Amy is blessed with close relationships with her cousins. They came to the hospital to offer their support and help to Amy. At the same time, these folks poured out their affections to “Aunt Mary.” Scott had taken her to dialysis treatments recently, and he developed a closeness during that time. He stood by her bedside, held her hand, and talked to her with a tenderness usually reserved for one’s parents. Tommy and his wife Debbie made several trips during the ordeal. Tommy, too, held Mary’s hand, and he offered prayers for her and the family. His brother Mike made sure to spend some time with his aunt as well. Tim lives in Nashville, but he took a day off in order to make a visit to the hospital. Melinda and her husband Howard frequented the hospital and sat with Amy during some rough times. John, the eldest cousin, brought his mother Georgia Lee and cooked a meal for us one afternoon. Jimmy came by as well.

We were fortunate to have had an area to sit close to the room. Most of the time, no fewer than six people filled the chairs on most days. Frances and Bruce were their almost every day and night. During those times these cousins, aunts, and uncle reminisced about the good old days when they were children. The stories about parents, and grandparents, as well as extended family members, had us laughing most of the time. Hospitals are dreary, depressing places, but that seating area was one of the happiest places of all. One voice would rise over another and then another would take the lead, and before long, Amy had to shush us lest the hospital staff throw us out.

What was so astounding to an outsider looking in was the love that these nieces and nephews had for their aunt. They kissed her and patted her. They cried to see Mary in such terrible shape, and they held hope that just for a minute she could have a clear moment so that they could tell her how loved she was.

After a two-week struggle, Mary passed. It was a blessing for her; it meant no more pain and frustrations with failing health and constant medical procedures. It also became a blessing for Amy. The cousins, as well as aunts and uncles, closed ranks and circled her with love. Their grief was close to Amy’s, and they assured her that all she needed to do was ask and help would be on the way. The nephews served as pall bearers, and they carried Mary to her resting place. They couldn’t have been sadder or more caring in their services if their own mothers had passed.

It’s been nearly a month since Mary died. The cousins have maintained their contact with Amy. I can only equate it with the close contact that Jim, Dal, and I kept after the death of our mother years ago. John and Joy, another cousin, have worked to put together a reunion in July. It will be a day with much food, fellowship, laughter, and tears. They’re all excited to be together.
One night at the hospital, I told Amy that she wasn’t an only child. She had a dozen brothers and sisters in her “cousins.” My thanks forever goes out to them for loving Amy and taking her in as a sister.

A Madden Addiction

We just got home from Nashville. Amy was determined to travel to see "the boy," and I was given the choice to go or stay at home. Right! If I'd stayed home, Lacey would have been none too happy with her daddy. I just couldn't figure out why we were making this trip. Next Friday is Madden's birthday, and we are attending his party on Saturday, so in just a few days Amy and I will again climb into the car are make the two-hundred mile jaunt to middle Tennessee.

It didn't take long to figure out why we made the trip to see Madden. When we arrived, he was eating his supper. His attire for that event was a diaper and nothing else. Lacey loads up the tray of his high chair, and Madden dives in.

I don't recall any child or adult enjoying a meal as much as this little guy, but Amy says that Dallas was the same way. She used to take our son from his chair and call it quits for him; otherwise, he'd have eaten until his stomach exploded. I recall one Easter when Dallas was barely a year old. We ate dinner at Mother's house, and all of us stacked our dishes on a table located in an adjacent sun room. We enjoyed our dessert, and then someone pointed to Dallas. He was standing at the pile of dirty dishes and eating from them. His face was covered with sweet potato casserole, and the look on that mug was one that indicated he'd been caught in the act.

Madden is the same way. He crams food in as fast as possible. He is an indiscriminate eater. So far, he hasn't culled much of anything. Broccoli, chicken, ravioli, carrots--all are fair game for this little guy.

Amy and I walked into the kitchen when we arrived and were met with hugs and kisses from Lacey and her husband Nick. Madden was too busy for such acts, but he did look up and flash a big smile at us. Of course, his lips were rimmed with whatever foods he'd been poking in his mouth, but that smile was enough.

All Saturday, Madden split his time between eating, sleeping, and capturing our hearts. His best trick is reaching for either Amy or me. Of course, we whisk him from the arms of a parent or the carpet on the floor, and the boy can have pretty much anything he wants. However, all that Madden seems to demand is attention, and the supply of that is endless.

Lacey, Amy, Madden, and I went shopping for next weekend's birthday party. While the two women looked for suitable birthday items in the women's section, I pushed my grandson around the store in a buggy. He didn't whimper once, and I strutted around the store like any proud granddad would. We walked through the children's area, and I decided Madden needed a pair of "something" to wear at the beach. I couldn't find mesh shoes that fit, but I did come across a navy pair of crocs. Got'em! I eyed a water sprinkling system for children's play in during the summer months. Got it!

Later Saturday, Amy gave Madden a bath, read him a story, rocked him, and put him to bed. She was on cloud nine. It's amazing how much more enjoyable those tasks are when they are done as a grandparent than as a parent.

We loaded up the car Sunday morning and arrived in Knoxville by early afternoon. Amy commented in the evening how much she missed Madden and Lacey and Nick. I shook my head and told her not to worry; we'd be back in Nashville in only five more days. That'll be fine with me too. I'm ready to see the little guy and my grown kids too.


My mother-in-law fell and broke her hip. After surgery her condition turned precarious, and doctors zipped her from the surgical floor to the heart floor, and finally to the intensive care floor. It was at this last stop that I noticed the families of patients, and to be honest, they were entertaining.

One family had its father/husband in a room. The group numbered as many as ten at times. They sat in the waiting area next to the elevators, although seating was available outside the rooms of patients. The mother of the group was a short, rotund woman who wore glasses and always seemed to have on the same red polka-dotted blouse and matching red slacks. For some reason she sat in a wheel chair, and other relatives pushed her everywhere. The woman seemed to delight in seeing familiar faces and insisting they stop by to see her husband.

The son of the man was memorable. He wore his shirt untucked, and it cascaded over his large belly. His receding hairline ended at his slicked down brown hair. The man was in his twenties, and he spent much of his time sitting in a chair at the desk in the outer waiting room and holding court with other family members. Often, he walked to the nurses’ station to engage in conversation with the staff. After the first day, nurses suddenly needed to take care of a patient when the son ambled toward them.

Another patient’s condition required staff and family members to wear gowns and gloves. For the family, the throw-away yellow gowns were improvements to their wardrobes. Those individuals wore the same clothing every day that they appeared in the unit. Men with grubby faces and mud-covered boots sat in the waiting areas for long spells. One staff member was overheard saying that the group would benefit from being hosed down; at least that would knock down aroma that was a combination of cigarette smoke and sweaty bodies. Another commented that he didn’t need to wear a gown because no germ could live on him.

One woman in this family was of particular interest to all. She must have injured her right knee for she wore an elastic brace each time she visited. The amusing part was that the brace was worn “over” her jean leg. None of us had ever seen a brace worn that way. The woman had a perpetual smile and glassy look that helped to explain the situation.

The group of which I was a part had its own personality. For one, not enough seats were available for every bottom. We had assembled a small crowd, and some of us were too loud. In fact, my wife Amy “shushed” us on a couple of occasions and warned that the nurses would toss us if we didn’t back off. Most of us speculated about Mary Alice’s condition, but I don’t think a single person had a licensed to practice medicine. Amy was reserved, but polite, and the strain of the situation showed most on her and her Aunt Frances. Her uncle Bruce was silent, partly because he doesn’t deal well with sick loved ones, partly because he has little patience with this bunch of big talkers. Mary Alice’s other sister Georgia sat like a bulldog beside the bed and made sure she heard every word that doctors said.

When loved ones fall ill, families and friends unite. They come faithfully to check the status of the sick person. Then they spend much more time catching up on the latest gossip and just enjoying each other’s company. Most of us can do little for the patient, so we hang around and try to figure out what to do next. Waiting room crowds are fun to watch. Some of them, however, can do more harm than good for the ailing person.


I’m a southern boy, born and raised. No one can be prouder of his heritage, and I’ve bragged over and over about living in a small community outside the city limits of Knoxville. With that said, I’ve seen some things of late that disturb me about the south that I love so much.

For one thing, the land below the Mason-Dixon Line is being eaten by suburban sprawl. Once upon a time, the south had few “true” cities. Towns were scattered throughout the states. These days, towns have turned into cities, but folks don’t like living in them, so they flee to the countryside. Before long, the city reaches out to annex areas, which in turn, drives people farther away. This vicious cycle is responsible for the development of Farragut and points beyond. Currently, development reaches all the way to Dixie Lee Junction. I wonder how long it will be until “city” and sprawl, complete with strip malls and subdivisions gobble up the land all the way to Kingston to the west and Sevierville to the southeast.

With the growth of small towns in the south has come the flood of folks from the north. No, I don’t hate Yankees. In fact, I have some friends who were once residents of such places as Chicago, and Minnesota, and Michigan. What bothers me is that this influx of folks is slowly killing the southern accent used by natives to the area. In fact, those who speak in such a manner are dismissed as illiterate or ignorant humans for whom there is little hope. My fear is that one day our native East Tennessee tongue will perish. Already words such as “warsh” (warsh your hands for supper), “poke” (put those groceries in a paper poke), “rat” (“sit rat thar”), and “fixin” (I’m fixin to watch some television) are disappearing from everyday conversation.

I worry that my grandson might never learn to speak the language of the south. In school, he’ll be taught the “correct” way to speak. Never mind that losing the accent from a section of the country in many ways destroys its true identity. I don’t want Madden to speak the same as Midwesterners. They’re good people, but the lack of an accent makes identifying their origins impossible.

Food is another thing that’s disappeared from the south. When I was a boy, Crisco was a staple in every household. Meat was served as often as folks could afford it. Bologna on white bread was what we ate for lunch, and sometimes Mother fried it for supper as well. Now, the health industry tells us that everything we ate then is bad for us. In its place are nutritional foods. They taste like cardboard and are void of salt, another thing that will kill us.

I travel I-40 to and from Cookeville often. For some time now, I’ve noticed an unpleasant site just passed the last exit at Monterey. Some individual has unfurled a confederate flag atop a pole that can be seen by passersby. That flag is not one of the proudest things we in the south have. It doesn’t stand for pride in the area. It doesn’t serve as a unifying banner. Instead, it symbolizes the fracturing of our country that came to a head during the Civil War. For some, that war is still being fought. They still want separation from the rest of the United States. And of course, too many of them want to keep black Americans in second-class citizenship. They might want to look to Washington to see that most of the country no longer thinks that way. No, things are perfect, but huge strides have been taken over the years.

I love the south and always will. I hope that it can keep many of the good things that have come from it—scenic country settings, the drawls that give richness to the language, and the foods that make eating a delightful activity. At the same time, I hope that those destructive things from our south will be recognized as divisive and forever dropped.

Nap Time

Blood-shot eyes felt as if they were covered with sand. Fussiness had replaced what only a few hours earlier before been jovial mood. There was a definite need to lie on the bed and drift off to dreamland.

No, it’s not a baby that needs a nap. It’s a man, a manly man, a dad, or a granddad. It is we who have the right claim to sleep in the afternoons. Those siestas shouldn’t be wasted on youth.

Babies are allowed to stay up for only a few hours at a time. Moms roust them from their cribs long enough to change dirty diapers and serve up bottles. They might even spend a few minutes in play time. Then it’s back to the bedrooms to place the little ones back to bed. On too many occasions, the little ones aren’t ready to return to sleepy land. They cry and scream and otherwise make life more unbearable for their moms. With just a little luck, the little guys might cry themselves to sleep. Too bad that within an hour or two they’ll be back up and the whole routine can begin again.

When I was in first grade, nap time was strictly enforced. What a shame! It was during those beginning years of school that all of us children were most excited about learning—reading about Dick and Jane, writing our letters and names, adding and subtracting our numbers. Mrs. Longmire was the teacher, and she strictly enforced the forty-five minutes that we lay upon our towels. No talking was allowed. Keeping six year old children still for that long is an impossibility. At least one kid usually needed to go to the restroom. Before nap time was complete, at least one of the crew had been jerked to his feet to receive a swat on the behind from the teacher. Kids spent the rest of the period barely breathing as they listened to the whimpering of the one who’d just “had a knot jerked in his tail.”

No, children shouldn’t be exiled to their beds for afternoon naps. They should be reserved for us men. We enjoy nothing better than a couple of hours of sleep. Heaven is stretching out on the couch on a weekend afternoon and letting sleep overtake us. The television blares some kind of ball game or race, and we fall into an unconscious state while maintaining a death-grip on the remote control. The sound might blare from the television, but the slightest noise from a spouse or child awakens us long enough to snap at people by yelling, “I’m trying to take a nap here!”

Naps don’t necessarily refresh men. Many times we wake up grumpy. Sometimes it’s because we’ve slept through the last-minute heroics of our favorite football team or the last lap maneuvering of a NASCAR race. Men sometimes awaken in rotten moods because the deep sleep they’ve enjoyed has ended in a throbbing headache. Maybe a list of “honey-do’s” is waiting to be completed after a nap, a fact that can destroy the very reasons for having gotten horizontal in the first place.

The older we get, the quicker we tire. Adults live much tougher lives than children. We’re the ones who need more rest; our bodies require more time to recuperate from the toil of work or strain of responsibilities. Naps should be included in the daily work schedule. Productivity could skyrocket if the work force was required to sleep for an hour at two o’clock in the afternoon. It’s for sure that few adults would fidget or complain about having to lie still for an hour. Naps are wasted on people under the age of thirty.