Christmas Nice

It’s that time of year again. Christmas is around the corner, a fact that is surprising to lots of folks. We blinked our eyes and a whole year passed. I never mind too much because this time brings out the best in people, me included.

Is it my imagination or do kids get just a little sweeter around Christmas? I stopped by the library to take a picture of children creating items at craft tables. When I exited the car, a little girl with dirty blonde and a pink outfit was standing on the sidewalk as she waited for her mom. I took two steps by her and she said, “Hi.” Her voice must be close to that of an angel. I turned, smiled, and returned the greeting, all the while feeling the warm fires of the season glowing.

Grandson Madden is just a bit sweeter at this time of year. He’s talking constantly, just as his mother and grandfather have done all their lives. The boy is at that point in life where he looks at folks in their eyes as he speaks. These days, what also come with that look are buckets filled with sweetness. The boy even garnered enough courage to climb is the round, red-suited man’s lap and tell him what he wanted for Christmas.

The retails sales forces are especially nice the last shopping days. Selling products might insure their jobs for the next year, something that is important during such tempestuous times. They are more willing to help customers and give the time and attention that ring up sales.

Many customers are in a much kinder mood as well. They don’t mind so much standing in a checkout line of a department store. Smiles and warm wishes are passed out to strangers who would normally receive a cold shoulder and laser stare. On some occasions, an individual might allow an elderly individual with only a couple of items to cut line and check out in front. We shoppers aren’t so worried about money or bills or our lives circling the bowl before they go down the hole. For just a little while, we enjoy each day and find some good in others who shop and sell. Of course, when the bills come in January mail, those once happy moods will melt like winter’s snow in the rain.

Christmas certainly brings out the better person in me. I find that patience, which is usually in short supply in my life, is more plentiful. That means I can stand in line a little longer to wait my turn. Finding a parking space in a mall lot isn’t easy, but I just shake my head, laugh, and drive to the outer reaches of the county where I can park my car and then walk ten minutes to the front entrance.

Where my Christmas spirit is most evident is on the Interstate. I drove to Nashville recently, and during the whole trip, close to two-hundred miles, I never once cursed another driver nor did I flip any other motorist off. I drove the speed limit during the trip unless I was caught in the passing lane and needed to step on it to get out of the way of others behind me. When the coast was clear, I moved to the right lane and graciously allowed speeders to zip by me.

Christmas season makes us want to be nicer; maybe it’s because for at least a few weeks we remember what miraculous thing happened on that date. What is unfortunate is that most of us will go back to our former obnoxious, intolerant selves after Christmas is passed but still in the rear view mirrors. We could use work on keeping the nice side showing a little longer. Doing so takes lots of practice and awareness. Maybe I’ll try harder. It couldn’t hurt.

I Miss My Wedding Ring

Today is special for Amy and me. It’s our 36th wedding anniversary. Yep, I wonder too why she’s stayed with me all these years; she surely married way beneath herself, and she’s too pretty to have married a frog like me. Anyhow, we’ve been married a long time. I’m glad my wife is with me. I looked at the a bare digit on my left hand the other day and realized that I miss my wedding ring.

My first ring took a beating. It never came off my finger. I wore it to mow the yard, split wood, and dig holes. Even when Dallas and Lacey practiced ball in the yard or on a field, I hit grounders and threw batting practice with that ring on my finger. Over the years, the rough treatment put nicks and scratches on the ring.

Amy bought me another wedding ring for Christmas one year. She took the old one and had the jeweler to melt it and then make a piece of jewelry for herself. The new ring was much more comfortable. It had rounded edges that kept the ring from digging into the flesh of my finger and hand. By the time I got that ring, I was accustomed to wearing a ring, and when I took it off for any reason, my finger was naked. Something about not having that ring on felt strange and out of place.

Like the first ring, I wore the new one at all times. It too had a few scratches on it, but no nicks had been cut into the ring. By then I’d learned to wear gloves to prevent too much abuse to it.

A few years ago, the joints in my ring finger began to lock. The problem worsened until I had to use my right hand to straighten the finger when I grasped something. Before long, my finger began to swell, and my ring began to squeeze the circulation from it. With a wheel barrow of regret, I removed my wedding ring and placed in a jewelry box. A couple of weeks ago, I retrieved it and handed it to Amy. I told her to take it somewhere and trade it in for a piece she liked.

I miss that ring. After so many years, it felt natural. Sometimes I’d turn it on my finger as I contemplated something of importance. And yes, it was a true symbol of a marriage that’s survived the test of time. Each of those scratches and nicks in the first ring were symbols of the sometimes rocky road Amy and I traveled. It’s true that a couple needs at least five years of work to smooth the wrinkles from a marriage. Most of the time it was I who “screwed up,” but Amy was patient enough until I got things right.

The second ring was a symbol as well. Its edges were rounded and that made the ring more comfortable on the finger. The years wore away the rough edges of our marriage as well. We’ve learned lessons about living together. I am still working on patience, and Amy still works on tolerance (of me). What we both agree on is that we love each other more now than we did on that December 20th evening in Cookeville when we exchanged vows. It’s also a deeper, more profound love than in our youth.

So, I’ll be naked-fingered when we celebrate this year’s anniversary, but maybe by the next anniversary I’ll have a third ring. Surgery fixed the problems I had with my finger, so a new one might slip on as comfortably as the other two. It’s for sure that another ring will have its share of symbolism. Even if I don’t have a ring, I’ll still have my bride. For that I am most grateful.

A Clean Man Zone

During Madden’s last visit, he lay down for a nap and had an accident. Our washing machine was too small to wash the soiled comforter, so I “manned” up and volunteered to take the thing to the laundry mat. This is the second time I’ve performed this chore, but it’s not something to do on a regular basis.

When I arrived, the place was empty except for the woman who worked the desk. She greeted me and asked if I needed any help. Of course I needed help. She explained to me that I should use only a quarter cap of detergent since the machine produced a lot of suds. I remembered my first trip and how I used an entire capful of the stuff. The suds began overflowing, and had it not been for the attendant that day, I’d have made a mess. She brought out her personal bottle of fabric softener (I’d not brought any) and poured it into the machine. The suds ebbed almost immediately, and the day was saved.

I crammed the comforter into the machine and fed it $4.25 in quarters. I suppose that such high prices could account these days for so many people wearing clothes soiled with stains and smelling like old bowling shoes. Next I found the most comfortable seat in the place, an end couch cushion that had a sunken spot from too many behinds and wrinkles like a wadded cotton shirt. My Kindle kept me company for the next couple of hours as the washer ran through its cycles and then the dryer, which swallowed another $2.00 in quarters, did its job.

Before long, other customers dropped in. First was an older man in a red sweat suit. His hefty paunch separated his top from the pants and looked like a gaping mouth. Another man entered quickly, set his loaded basket down and made a b-line for the restroom. He planned to be in there for a lengthy period because he had a novel in tow.

One by one, customers toting laundry baskets or stuffed bags entered the establishment. What surprised me most was the fact that everyone who walked through the door was a man. In no time, thirteen men had joined me. These guys were pros at laundry and politely declined the offers of help from the clerk. I marveled at how they separated articles into piles and dispatched them with speedy efficiency into machines. Most of them had their own stash of quarters and loaded up machines, pushed buttons, and added detergent and softener without giving the acts a second thought.

Two women entered the laundry mat, but for some reason they looked out of place. It’s a funny observation because for years the job of washing dirty clothes had been left for women to do. No commercial was ever made where a son brings home from college a load of laundry for Dad to complete.

Now, men are invading what was once sacred female territory. I don’t imagine there’s much complaining coming from women. Their jobs have changed over the years. Many of them are now the major source of income for families. Husbands are secondary earners. That might be the reason the numbers were tilted toward men during my visit.

Men are spotted more often in lots of places once thought to be habitats for women. We are pushing grocery carts, lugging clothes to the cleaners, and even chaperoning day trips at children’s schools. Some of us have been wielding a vacuum cleaner wand, mop, and dust rag for years. I wonder if our male ancestors are looking down and shaking their heads at the change. I hope not. It’s a different world, and it takes both husband and wife to complete a long list of chores. Sharing the load is fine; I just hope we men don’t permanently take over clothes washing, grocery shopping, and other tasks, not unless women are prepared to take over such jobs as mowing the lawn, washing the car, and hauling the garbage.

Guys used to meet up at the bar for a drink and the company of friends. Now they share stories and jokes while they fold drawers, towels, and t-shirts. Some changes just don’t seem right to me, but hey, I’m from a different time.

Blackberry Hell

Not long ago, I decided that a new cell phone was in order. No, nothing was wrong with the one I was carrying, but commercial campaigns had me aching for a “smartphone.” The results of that ownership have put me in Blackberry Hell.

Part of the problem is that I’m a functioning illiterate when it comes to using technology. I live on the cusp of a new world that is dominated by all sorts of gadgets—cell phones, pocket computers, GPS systems—and don’t understand even their basic functions. Some of my problem is that I fight these new “advancements” tooth and nail. For instance, my sense of direction and my ability to read are good enough to get me to places toward which I am traveling. Okay, I’ll admit that on every trip Amy and I have made that I navigate our car to the worst sections of the cities, but at least I had enough sense to get us to the location to begin with. I’ve yelled at and cursed the voice that comes over a GPS system and tells me to “turn left” when I want to go right. Then the darn thing repeats “recalculating” half a dozen times.

I’d like to torture the individual who came up with the idea of texting. In the first place, “texting” is a new word in our vocabulary. I hate making up new words that go with our inventions and actions. At any rate, I try to text on the phone. One of the selling features of the Blackberry is the QWERTY layout. That’s all well and good, but the buttons are smaller than bumps on a gnat’s ass, and I’m forever hitting the wrong key. Messages come out saying, “I widh yiou were hrer,” instead of “I wish you were here.” My children are always texting me, and I poke at keys, backspace, delete, and poke again to get out a readable line. Before I can blink, they’ve replied with paragraphs. How’s that happen? I don’t see the need to text. If I have something to say, I can just call the kids on this cell phone I have. Isn’t that why it was invented? Some people text each other across the room. Why the hell are they doing that?

On too many occasions folks have rung me up to say they were answering my call. I tell them I didn’t contact them, but they insist that I have. The answer to the mystery is pocket dialing. Carrying my phone in my pants pocket leads to that act. It also led to my accidentally locking the keyboard one Saturday. I didn’t have a clue how to unlock the thing and checked the owner’s manual and sites online. Discussions about hitting the “*A” key were written, but nothing happened. In a desperate attempt to figure out the problem, I began pushing things and discovered one on top of the phone that was the golden key.

I downloaded an “app” that helps me keep lists of things since my memory is failing. On one were no less than 25 writing topics. I plugged my phone into my computer to sync it, and when the process was finished, that list had vaporized. My searches on the phone and computer have proven fruitless, so now I’m left wondering what those items were and if they’ll ever be recovered.

The problem with all of us is that we feel the need to be connected at all times. I want to be able to have a phone in case of emergencies and it’s neat to be able to talk with friends and family on the same plan without being charged any kind of fees. I also want to check my email at any time since messages come in about new stories and changes of meeting times and places when I’m away from my computer. What this connectivity steals is peace. None of us rest any more. Kids sit down and immediately begin texting, listening to music, or watching television—all from their cell phones.

Perhaps the biggest problem I have with my new phone is it is smart, smarter than I am at least. Competition against other humans is how folks have lived most of the years before. That meant individuals matching wits or physical abilities. I’m neither ready nor able to compete with a handful of chips and SIMS and megabytes and circuits that are programmed to do everything. Maybe the best move is to go back to a phone that makes calls and nothing else. Maybe I could handle that.

Ghosts at Church

We walked into the sanctuary after greetings from several members. The pews were padded, a good thing for someone with a fanny as flat as a fritter. A quick glance at the morning’s bulletin failed to reveal any hymns that I knew, but the Gloria Patri and Doxology were old friends. Little did I know this church held as many ghosts as a haunted house at Halloween.

I turned my attention to the front, and the second from the front pew drew my attention. That’s the same one where our family sat each Sunday for years. Daddy died in 1965 and never got the chance see the completion of the church’s new building. Jim, Mother, and I occupied that seat, and Dal, who was away at college, and his wife Brenda joined us on occasion. Mother ached for Daddy. Only in the last little bit have I come to understand her plight. She was only 49 when her husband died. He left her with three sons and not enough money with which to feel comfortable. She took care of him through the roughest parts lung cancer in April until August 31, the day she became a widow.

So, it was in that pew that she silently wept. I’m sure she took turns talking to God and asking for strength and talking to Daddy to chastise him for leaving too soon and to mourn his absence. That pew became Edna Rector’s personal prayer bench.

Daddy was there as well. The pianist played “Sweet Hour of Prayer” during the congregational time of prayer and reflection. The flood waters of the past swept me back to the kitchen in our home. Daddy was sitting at the table with a pack of Winston’s and a green mug filled with coffee as thick as maple syrup. As smoke wreathed his head, this man who worried about not having enough money and who was sick for many years before his cancer knocked him to his knees “figured” in a pocket spiral notebook and sang that song.”

This is the same sanctuary where both Dal and Little Brenda and Jim and Big Brenda marched down the aisle toward matrimony. The four of them were 19 when those weddings took place. Dal’s death ended his marriage, but Jim and Brenda are in their 39th year together. Mother sat in her pew and smiled and then cried as both couple exchanged vows.

A child walked to the front to light the altar candles and extinguished them at the end of the service. Katherine, the minister, began her message with “The Lord be with you,” to which the congregation responded, “And also with you.” Those things echoed parts of the services at First Christian Church, the place where we had attended and raised our children. My family and plenty of others mourn the passing of that great church.

Other spirits were present. Katherine talked about the power of God with which all people connect. Amy and I could feel that connection as we sat there. Something just seemed right. The sermon was one that touched the hearts of congregants. A mom in front of us dabbed her eyes with a Kleenex. Sniffing that accompanies leaky eyes came from other sections of the church. The minister had hit a homerun with her sermon and delivery, but they combined with something else. A strength, a joy, a peace—whatever folks might call it—a sense of God’s presence struck at the hearts of every person there.

I’ve known Beaver Ridge Methodist Church all my life. I was baptized, became a member, and shared celebrations and losses there. My mind recalls hundreds of memories at that place. Now, it appears that the spirits from individuals who have played major roles in my life sometimes dwell there. More than likely, the spirits are memories. However, any church that houses the spirit of the Lord like this one is a good place to be sitting come Sunday morning.

Not Many Needed to Have A Church

This is a short piece that becomes part 1 of a discussion about church.

In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” It was his way of describing to us exactly what “church” is about. Monday night I spent church time with three friends, Ron, Scott, and Tony. For a couple of hours, we held services at Rafferty’s. We sat around the table, something important to all members of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ, and there we basked in the light of friendship.

All of us are members of First Christian Church, located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Gay Street. The last few months have been nothing short of agony for us as we’ve watched it slowly become emaciated and linger on the edge of death. We no longer go to the church because witnessing that slow death is too depressing to bear.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t share time with each other. Every so often, one guy or another puts out the call for a “man’s meeting,” the code words for a get together at a designated establishment. The date is decided, and we meet somewhere around 7:00 p.m. The first order of business is ordering frosty, cold mugs of our favorite beer, and then we place orders for hamburgers, wings, sandwiches, and desserts.

Over that food, we discuss all the important things in life: family, work, church and whichever sport that is in season. The four of us sometimes agree to disagree, but we always respect each other. Ron and Scott have young children, and questions come about them. The stories of their exploits entertain Tony and me, who have grown children and grandchildren who are as young as the ones about whom we are hearing.

On three separate occasions, I answered the question of how Dallas was doing. Those three men always are concerned with him and his status. I suppose it’s because they watched him grow and spent time with him in church activities and on mission trips. They always make me promise that I will tell him hello and inform him that they care about him and how he is doing.

We’re all searching for new church homes at this point. The decision to do so isn’t something that any of us wanted to do but knew was inevitable. At some point all will find a new church to call home, and we will be involved in new denominations. We’re leaving behind a church where we celebrated our own or our children’s weddings, baptisms, and memberships. We’ve also celebrated the lives of many members who have passed.

The future is uncertain as far as what churches the four of us will choose. What remains a constant is that we will remain close friends who will continue to break bread together and to join in being church several times a year. No Christian can ask more than that.

Surviving Together

I woke up as sore as a stubbed toe. Somehow, I pulled a muscle in my lower back; at least I hoped it was a muscle instead of something worse, which wouldn’t be out of the ordinary given my past medical record.

That’s not the only thing that was sore when I hit the floor sometime around 6:30 a.m. That day, brother Jim was scheduled to undergo a heart catheter procedure. His doctor had decided that a peek was necessary to make his heart could take a licking and keep on ticking. To say I was concerned would have been an understatement.

Jim and I have been through all sorts of things together, many of them tough. When we were still babies, chicken pox visited our house, and both of us were covered in splotches. Mother said that we squalled for days as the yucky welts erupted, itched, and finally disappeared. The only upside to the situation was that we were too young to scratch them, thereby keeping away some of the nasty scars that older children had when they clawed away for relief.

When we were still pre-school age, the mumps settled in our house. Jim and I awoke with “chipmunk cheeks.” What I remember most about the illness was that it zapped our strength and made swallowing food almost impossible. Unfortunately, Mother came down with a case at the same time. She took to her bed and felt too bad to much care if her brood survived.

Jim and I shared the measles. Whew! They knocked us for loops as fevers spiked and red dots covered every part of our bodies. We missed a week of school and didn’t regain our energy for awhile, but eventually, we were back. Our parents told us watching television while we were infected could damage our eyes. That worsened our condition by adding boredom to the mix.

We went through the illnesses of others. When we were thirteen, it was Daddy, who had several doctors give him differing diagnoses before learning that he had lung cancer. From April until August 31, he hung on through the ravages of the disease. Mother was diagnosed with the same thing and spent a year battling, only to finally be consumed by the cancer. Jim and I watched as the same damn stuff ate up our brother Dal, who had served as our surrogate dad and real-life hero. A couple of weeks after he turned 54, Dal quit fighting and found relief.

Jim and I have tended to nurse each other through other health problems. He visited me and did things around the house when I had back surgery. I played taxi and drove him to physical therapy after his knee replacement surgery. Both of us try much too hard to be helpful when an injury or illness rears its ugly head; that’s what brothers, especially twins, do for each other.

Jim was all right. However, any time a person has his heart checked, plenty of things can be found. Amy had this same procedure, and a blockage that required a stint was discovered. The good thing was that taking a look prevented a serious condition from worsening. In the end, the doctor pronounced Jim fit with the heart of a teenager. He told Brenda the bad news was that she’d have to live another thirty years with Jim.

I worry about Jim because he’s the last family member I have left. He’s also my lifelong best buddy. He needs to be okay for his family and for me. He told me there was no reason to be at the hospital during the procedure, but I told him to be quiet. I arrived, sat with Brenda, and when the doctor said all was well, I left for home knowing that we’d survived another event together.

Watching Out for Each Other

I woke up with a sore back. Somehow, I managed to pull a muscle in my lower back; I hope it’s a muscle instead of something worse, which wouldn’t be out of the ordinary given my past medical record.

That’s not the only thing that was sore when I hit the floor sometime around 6:30 a.m. Today, brother Jim is scheduled to undergo a heart catheter procedure. His doctor has decided that a peek is necessary to make sure all is okay with his ticker. To say I’m concerned is an understatement.

Jim and I have been through all sorts of things together, many of them tough. When we were still babies, chicken pox visited our house, and both of us were covered in sores. Mother said that we squalled for days as the places erupted, itched, and finally disappeared. The only upside to the situation was that we were too young to scratch the places, thereby keeping away some of the nasty scars that older children had when they clawed away for relief.

When we were still pre-school age, the mumps settled in our house. Jim and I awoke with “chipmunk cheeks.” What I remember most about the illness was that it zapped our strength and made swallowing food almost impossible. Unfortunately, Mother came down with a case at the same time, and she was a much sicker individual.
Jim and I shared the measles. Whew! They knocked us for loops as fevers spiked and red dots covered every part of our bodies. We missed a week of school and didn’t regain our energy for awhile, but eventually, we were back.

We went through the illnesses of others. When we were thirteen, it was Daddy, who had several doctors give him diagnoses before learning that he had lung cancer. From April until August 31, he hung on through the ravages of the disease. Mother was diagnosed with the same thing and spent a year battling, only to finally be consumed by the cancer. Jim and I watched as the same damn stuff ate up our brother Dal, who had served as our surrogate dad and real-life hero. A couple of weeks after he turned 54, Dal quit fighting and found relief.

Jim and I have tended to nurse each other through other health problems. He visited me and did things around the house when I had back surgery. I played taxi and drove him to physical therapy after his knee surgery. Both of us try much too hard to be helpful when an injury or illness rears its ugly head; that’s what brothers, especially twins, do for each other.

I’m sure Jim will be all right. However, any time a person has his heart checked, plenty of things can be found. Amy had this same procedure, and a blockage that required a stint was discovered. The good thing is that taking a look can prevent a serious condition from worsening. It also might prevent a heart attack or worse.

I worry about Jim because he’s the last member of our family that I have left. He’s also my lifelong best buddy. He needs to be okay for his family and for me. He told me there was no reason to be at the hospital during the procedure, but I told him to be quiet. I’ll be there with his wife Brenda,and when the doctor says all’s well, I’ll go home and know that we’ve survived another event together.

Who Needs Safety Equipment?

Amy says we’re a safer nation these days. I say we’re too cautious. Americans are afraid of everything, so much so that we’ve quit some activities. That’s not quite how things were in the 60’s and before.

Children today ride bikes just as we did. However, they are outfitted with all sorts of safety equipment: helmets, reflectors, rear view mirrors—accessories to protect young’uns from being hurt. Our bikes were regular ones. Only the richest kids had three speed bikes. Most bikes went only as fast as two pumping legs could propel them. Just riding bored us, so in no time at all we were practicing riding without using our hands or we were jumping bikes from ramps constructed with blocks and two-by-fours.

We had our share of accidents. On one occasion before I was big enough to ride a bike, one of the neighborhood boys sat me on the frame in front of the seat and rode me around the yard one and a half times. Then my bare toes were caught in the front wheel spokes. Yikes, it hurt, but I didn’t die from it. Neither did we succumb to other wrecks when we hit things or when dogs chased us. Sure we left plenty of hide along the asphalt paths where our knees and shins and bottoms slid, and sure, we shed plenty of tears when those unfortunate things occurred. The cure for all that was merthiolate or mecurochrome. Those products burned like the fires of hell, but they healed abrasions and cuts on all us boys. Having the orange-red medicine on a scrape was a badge of courage.

One thing’s for sure: we didn’t wear helmets. Back then, getting to most places meant kids rode bikes. Jim and I logged plenty of miles on trips to Hardin Valley, Karns, and Ball Camp. All the while, we never wore a helmet, unless we had one for football and were going to a back yard game. Some of us took a couple of blows to the head, something others might say accounts for our abnormal behavior. I’ve also known some guys who were separated from their bikes by riding into a clothes line at dusk. Still, not a single one of us had a helmet.

Skate boarders and in-line skaters spend hundreds of dollars on equipment that will keep them safe. When we were ten or eleven, Jim and I got skateboards for Christmas. Yes, they had them back that far. The ones we got were made of a piece of wood with a rounded nose and square back. Metal wheels like the ones on old skates were placed in pairs in front and back. Right outside my front door today is where we began our rides. The course took us down the hill to the cul-de-sac or, if we were daring enough, around the turn to another street.

Those metal wheels didn’t turn particularly well, and they were susceptible to object on the road’s surface. The smallest rock or even an acorn could stop the wheels from turning, thereby launching the rider forward. With luck the person could hit the road running. Otherwise, it was again time to paint body parts with medicines. My older brother broke his Christmas watch riding one of our boards; I never felt sorrier for him than when he did that.

What we didn’t have were helmets, knee and elbow pads, and gloves. Sure, we would have been safer, but being covered with those items took some of the adventure from the whole thing. Of course, we were smarter than today’s kids because none of us ever tried to ride a board down a hand rail or along the edge of a brick wall, nor did we try to complete tricks like jumping from the board, spinning it, and then again landing on it.

Wood Floors

We’re having new flooring put in our place in Nashville. The existing stuff is a mish-mash of laminate, vinyl, and parquet. The combination was horrible looking, and each was a different type of floor covering. Problems like this never surfaced in our house when I was a kid. Mother and Daddy made choices that lasted.

The family home was covered with oak flooring. The boards were thick and hard as rocks, a fact that became obvious years later when holes were cut to insert vents for an HVAC unit. The contractor burned up a circular saw in the process, cursed the floors, and said he’d never seen any wood that solid.

Jim and I knew all about that floor. When we were kids, all that heated the house was a Warm Morning Coal Stove. The floors were ice cold, a fact that caused us to skitter across them as we reached the stove located in the living where we dressed for the morning. These days, my family makes fun of my refusal to go barefooted. One of a number of reasons I’m not a “shoeless Joe” is that I developed a habit of wearing shoes because of those cold oak boards.

The flooring was a source of pride for my parents. Mother spent hours on her hands and knees as she cleaned and waxed them. When she finished, they glowed as sun passed through the windows and reflected off them. One old story had Mother in the middle of cleaning the floors when Jim and I came in the house. Allegedly, our shoes were covered with mud, and the muck from our steps spread across the floors she’d just worked on. Supposedly, she sat back on her bottom and cried over the hard work that had been ruined in seconds by two grimy little boys. I’d more tend to believe that she sprang to her feet and rained down swats to two little bottoms. That sounds more like the mother I remember.

The hallway was a launch pad for us. It ran from a tile foyer to the basement door. We had some fun getting a head start and then sliding the length of the hall. I sometimes worried about picking up a splinter, but not enough to stop the sliding. One hazard of the game was not being able to stop soon enough and then slamming into the basement door. Another was veering off course and crashing into one of the walls. They were plaster with swirls and ridges and as solid as concrete. A run-in with them led to bumps, bruises, and abrasions.

The discovery of termite infestation sent up alarms. Daddy had exterminators spray and survey the damage, which was minimal, and the problem was fixed. One place was noticeable and always bothered Mother. It wasn’t evident to most people, but she knew exactly where it was and what its shape was. One of the few objects that she held pride was marred, and it ate at her.

In later years, Mother covered the oak floors with carpet to keep the house and her cold feet a bit warmer. After she passed, Rick and June bought the house, and they had the floors resurfaced. They came back to life after lying dormant for so long and again brought light and life to that old house.

Wood flooring is the rage again, but many folks of earlier generations already knew how sturdy and beautiful they were. Of course, today’s world needs to be careful over choices that they make so that trees aren’t harvested and lead to irreparable harm to the environment. Engineered flooring can replace wood floors, and they are beautiful. Still, I’m not sure they have the same character or staying power as wood does. My wish is that anyone who installs them makes as many memories on them as we did as kids.

I Was Wrong--He Wasn't Old

I sometimes wonder if most people are like me. What I mean is do they go along with their lives and at points get broadsided when the truth hits. I know it’s happened to me bunches of time, and I got whacked again just the other day.

For some reason beyond my understanding, I was thinking about my dad. Maybe it was because he died on August 31, 1965. It was an event that stunned all of us in the family in such a way that the scars never quite fade. Years of smoking cigarettes, along with working in a paper mill that mixed a concoction of poisonous chemicals in its processing cardboard, eventually caused the cancer that developed in his lungs.

Daddy was 53 when he died. His mom, who survived him, said he was always a serious person and had expressed the belief that his life would end early. To me, Daddy seemed ancient during that part of my life with him. He worked hard and figured all the time how to stretch tool little money across too much month.

Over the years, Dallas Rector, Sr. smiled to little, he laughed too infrequently, and he never relaxed. We boys were scared of our dad. We loved him, but we feared him. I don’t know why because he rarely raised a hand to us; that was left for Mother to do. Still, he was the man of the house, and perhaps his serious manner led us to believe that he wasn’t someone with whom we wanted to “get sideways.” His growl was much worse than his bite.

The epiphany that came to me recently is that my dad died a young man. He was just past 50. People of his generation have lived into their 70’s and 80’s regularly, and some have reached 90-plus. So, the man we called Daddy was just finishing half his life when he died.

I began to wonder what things went through his mind when he realized that his life was being cut so short. Did he think about what would become of this sons, one 17 and two 13? What plans had he made for this life that was so cut short. Did he have dreams for the future and what were they?

I’m 58, and while my body often feels every day that I’ve lived, my mind continues to tell me that I’m a person in my mid-twenties. I carry more pounds than the doctors say is healthy, and my strength is less than it once was. Still, I approach life every day as if no limit on it existed. I’ve completed one career as a teacher for 30 years, and now I’m on to another one as a newspaper reporter of sorts and author. My title of Dad has been supplemented with an additional one as “P” by grandson Madden. I look forward to the next big thing to come in my life.

I’m now 5 years older than my dad was, and with a little luck, I’ve still got plenty of years left. On the other hand, life is a fragile thing, and sometimes a roll of the dice comes up craps. What I know today that I didn’t for most of my life is that Daddy was a young man who met his end too soon. He lost out on dreams and children and grandchildren and Mother.

Life is a blessing. I’m trying to understand that each day needs to be lived to the fullest. That means not lying down in bed and wishing that I’d done something. Too many times, I carp about the terrible things in my life, and then I remember that lots of people never had the chance to be on this earth as long as I’ve been here. I’m not about to reach perfection, but living life with more appreciation and energy and excitement is something that I hope to do from now on. It’s the best way to remember my dad.

An Unwelcomed Holiday

Well, Labor Day, which seems to be a strange name for a holiday when so many people are off, has come and gone. At any rate, folks were busy holding cookouts, sun burning themselves one last time, and attempting to set off fireworks without igniting parched yards or blowing off body parts. For lots of reasons, Labor Day isn’t my favorite special day of they year.

The first Monday in September marks the end of too many things. In fashion, women are supposed to stop wearing white shoes or sandals. I never understood that rule. If a pair of shoes is comfortable, why shouldn’t a female wear them? Is Mother Nature going to pitch a fit or injure the offending party? No, it’s more that some group sits around a table and dictates what is deemed as appropriate clothing for folks.

For some reason, Labor Day is the last day public pools are opened. The explanation used to be that the Tuesday after the holiday was the first day of the school year. I get that, but plenty of adults aren’t sitting in classes. September still has plenty of days with temperatures in the upper 80’s and even 90’s. So, wouldn’t it make sense to leave the pools open at least for another couple of weeks? Of course, that would be going against the long standing traditions.

Labor Day marks the official end of fun for kids. Life returns to the normal grind. School takes back students and swamps them with homework, projects, and evening programs. Children cope with that and the dozens of activities in which they are involved. Parents work all day and then spend the evening ferrying the kids to practices and finding time to fit in an evening meal. Just thinking about the routine makes folks tired.

I have my own reasons for not being fond of Labor Day. For one thing, summer is my favorite season. Bring on the heat like the southeast has experienced this year. I like working outside in sweltering temperatures and a broiling sun. Previous generations worked in those conditions and thrived in them. Pouring sweat has to be good for the body; it removes impurities, and hard work in hot weather probably kept parents and grandparents healthier than present-day folks.

The arrival of Labor Day always points out that falling leaves are on the way. Now, as much as I enjoy mowing the yard, I hate mowing leaves. It’s a job that begins in September and ends in January. I work grinding up the leaves in my yard and then labor in the neighbors’ yards before their bushels of reds and yellows blow across the street. For all the effort I’m rewarded with a sinus infection from the dust and leaf mold.

As much as anything, this fall holiday signals the dwindling daylight and cooler temperatures. I’m a person who suffers from sunlight deprivation, and the shorter days keep me hunting for the light that is so welcomed during the summer months. Too, I get cold and stay cold during the fall and winter months. Knowing before long I’ll be bundled up in layers of clothes is depressing. Sometimes bedtime comes early and is the only remedy to cold feet. YUK!

At times, I just worry that I won’t see another summer. Life is a fragile thing, and none of us is guaranteed a single moment. I’m not sure I lived each day to its fullest this warm weather season, and I’d hate to think there’d be no chance to make amends the following summer. Mother used to dread the onset of cold, shorter days. She wanted to see plants bloom and the sun warm the earth. I guess I’m my mother’s son.

Labor Day is a day off for millions, and they celebrate the free time. However, when they think about the changes that are coming, the holiday isn’t necessarily one toward which we should look forward.

A Different Kind of Scout

Back in earlier times, boys looked for things to do. Lots of us joined Cub Scouts in dens located in the leaders’ living rooms. There, we’d read our scout books and think about ways to complete projects in order to receive arrows, badges, and new titles. We liked being together, wearing uniforms, and trying new things. At some age, the guys moved on the Webelos. I suppose it was designed for boys too old for Cub Scouts and too young for the next step. At some point, a boy could complete the requirements and become a Boy Scout. That’s the way it was supposed to be.

In our community, Jack Chambers was the Boy Scout leader. I don’t recall his being married; he spent a great deal of time with the boys in the troop. Many of us had never completed any requirements for joining, but Jack never let technicalities get in the way. The same held true for Explorers.

My older brother Dal was a real Boy Scout. He went on several adventures with Jack and other scouts. They hiked and camped. Jack brought Dal home from one trip and informed Mother that he’d received a gash on his stomach. It seems that someone didn’t hold a strand of barbed wired while he was crossing a fence, and one of the barbs stuck and ripped Dal’s flesh. The cut was deep, but not too big. For the rest of his life, that scar showed, a true merit badge of scouts.

On one occasion, Jack took Jim and me with the bigger boys to swim. When we arrived, others informed us that we had to jump from a train trestle to the water below. My fear of heights kicked in, and I balked at taking the plunge. To this day, I don’t remember whether or not I ever jumped. Doing so would have pleased Jack, and that was what all the guys tried to do.
Jim and I skipped Boy Scouts. Instead, we moved on to Explorers the same year we started high school, even though we had no idea what the group was. I did know it was an organization for older guys and that Jack Chambers was the leader. That made it all right.

Many of the same boys who’d been Cub Scouts were members of the unofficial Explorer group. We attended weekly meetings. They usually were held at Jack’s house on Friday or Saturday evenings. Oh, we worked hard on projects. They included smoking cigarettes and drinking beer or liquor. Some guys might have even learned the fine art of smoking dope, but neither Jim nor I took part in the last one.

We boys would bum rides with older guys, hitch hike, or walk to Jack’s house. It was sparsely furnished with items that appeared to have seen their better days. For entire evenings we sat in the house as we drank and smoked. Those of us who didn’t like the taste of alcohol held our breaths as we guzzled the stuff.

On more than one occasion, I attended a meeting and discovered that Jack wasn’t there. Evidently, he’d left a key some place, and the other guys knew its location. We let ourselves in and began the session. Jack’s only instructions were that we clean the place up when we left and didn’t create a disturbance. All of us stayed inside while we enjoyed our vices.

My son Dallas made it in Cub Scouts about six months before he was tired of it. He didn’t enjoy the projects and wished to spend his time with other pursuits. If he’d had a leader like Jack Chambers, Dallas might have joined Boy Scouts and Explorers. I’m thankful that didn’t happen. I also realize that the boys who hung out at Jack’s house lived charmed lives because none of us was arrested or injured. The good lord does look out for children and fools.

Homemade Ice Cream

A nightly ritual of eating ice cream is something that I need to stop. Doing so doesn’t help in the battle to lose weight in which I only half-heartedly engage. Giving up a cup of Blue Bell homemade vanilla ice cream is hard, especially when the stuff tastes as close to homemade ice cream as any on the market. Besides, I’ve always had a weakness for freezer ice cream.

Years ago, many of my relatives had birthdays that fell during the month of June. For that reason, Mother used to have a get together at our house each year. On a determined date, she would invite the Rector and Balch clans to the house. Back then, three of the four grandparents were alive, as well as uncles and aunts, and we gathered for plenty of home cooked side dishes and some kind of meat. It was all washed down with a large class of sweet tea or milk.

Adults chased the shade with Adirondack chairs in tow while we kids played softball games, tag, or hide-and-seek. Mother would yell Dinner, and the crowd would circle around the table to load plates and then return outdoors to eat. For the next twenty minutes silence reigned as we stuffed green beans, new potatoes, and corn on the cob in our mouths.

Afterward, adults settled and previous chattering gave way to more subdued conversation. No doubt, several adults with filled stomachs longed for naps. We kids, gobbled the food on our plates and hurried back to interrupted games or turns riding bikes in the yard.

Before long, Daddy brought out a green wooden bucket with a crank on the top. Mother came from the kitchen with a cylindrical silver container that she placed in the middle of the bucket. Daddy, attached the crank, poured in ice and rock salt, and began turning the handle that moved freely and easy. Adults took turns cranking the handle, and the longer they did, the more difficult making a revolution became. More ice and salt were poured in the bucket. At some point, weight was applied to the top of the bucket to stop its movement. That meant one of us kids had to sit on it, and even though a towel was placed on the top, our bottoms still numbed from the cold.

Mother would pronounce the concoction ready, and when the lid was removed, we peered at a container filled with dessert. Everyone received a dish of the stuff, and with a little luck, seconds were available. Ooh’s and aah’s greeted every bite of the stuff. The end of a perfect day was punctuated with home-made ice cream.

I didn’t have much of that ice cream for several years, but then Amy and I fell in love and got married. Summer trips to Cookeville to visit her Mother and Poppa were fun. He enjoyed cooking hamburgers on the grill, and we’d eat meals outside on the covered patio. Sometimes Amy’s Uncle Walter and Aunt Mildred would join us. The women prepared the rest of the food in the kitchen as one male manned the grill the other two kept him company.

With meals finished, Poppa and I smoked cigarettes to cap off our food. When he’d waited as long as possible, Ike would go inside and bring out a white bucket with an attached electrical cord. He’d plug it up and place it in a wash tub; for the next half hour we listened to the motor whine louder as the mixture thickened. The best part was when things stopped.

Poppa would unplug the machine and remove the container of ice cream. My love for home-made vanilla ice cream was matched by his. We’d fill our bowls to the top and spoon it in our mouths so fast that our hands could barely be seen. Suddenly, Ike would set his bowl down on the ground, bend at the waist, and grab his head. Brain freeze! For the next couple of minutes, he’d sat incapacitated. Then he’d shake his head, look up with a sheepish grin, and begin spooning the ice cream in again.

I never eat Blue Bell ice cream that I don’t recall those good times with loved ones who have been gone too long. My son Dallas is addicted to home-made ice cream as well, so maybe soon we can enjoy a bowl together and hope to avoid that freezing pain that shoots through our heads when we eat it too fast.

Sad First Days of School

With day cares and children activities so prevalent now, kids don’t find anything special about the first day of school. For those of us who are just a bit older, that date was something that brought plenty of excitement. We’d get to see our friends after a long summer. The excitement of discovering who our teachers for the year would be was another big part of that first day. However, on a couple of occasions, that opening session was filled with pain and fear.

The beginning of first grade wasn’t particularly exciting for me. For the first time in my young life, Jim and I were separated for more than just a few minutes. He was in Mrs. McNew’s class, and I’d landed in Mrs. Longmire’s room. The place was filled with boys and girls, but I didn’t know any of them. My desk was in the back, and there I tried to shrink from sight. It was an impossible task; no one could miss the burr haircut on a head that looked to big for the shoulder upon which it sat. During that first day of formal education the reality about my “buck teeth” also sunk in.

My nerves were shot by milk break. Names of some kids in the class were called. They left for a while and returned back red, swollen eyes and tear-streaked faces. From the sobbing and murmurings of other students, I heard a word that sent panic and fear through me—SHOTS. Some children had failed to get the required inoculations for beginning school, so they were sent to a room where compliance could be completed. My worry was that my name would be called and I’d be marched to the line where a giant needle would be stuck in my arm. At the end of the day, I sprinted from the room to find Mother, who was teaching an upper grade, and she assured me that I had all my shots.

Ball Camp Elementary School housed students in grades 1-8. By the time my class had reached the final year, we’d experienced the burning of part of the school. Our sixth grade year was spent in a converted hardware store, and during the following year we lined up during breaks outside a large outhouse with one side for boys and another for girls. That last year, the school was reconstructed, and we were the first class to reign over it.

That first day of school that eighth grade year was more than a relief. Daddy had been diagnosed with lung cancer during the spring, and the summer saw him travel between the hospital and home. Our home was a sad one that was unusually quiet. Jim and I refused to believe that our dad would die and tried to do things to ease the burden that Mother already felt.

I was placed in Mrs. Slusher’s class and Jim in Mrs. Taylor’s. My excitement about the school year was tempered with a healthy dose of fear of the meanest teacher in Ball Camp. Still, it was the first day, and eighth graders changed classes, so we had to survive her for only a short period of time. On that first day, Mrs. Slusher instructed us to take out the grammar books she’d assigned and begin work.

Only about ten minutes into that morning class, Mr. Fowler, my sixth grade teacher, appeared at the door and asked to speak to Mrs. Slusher. She stepped into the hall and then came back in. She called my name and asked me to step outside. A bit scared and confused, I did as instructed. When I exited, I looked down the hall and saw Mother. She was crying, and I knew—Daddy died. I walked back into the room to get my things and felt the stares from the curious faces of my classmates.

Most of my first days have been wonderful times that I recall fondly. Those two occasions were exceptions—big ones—but exceptions all the same. It’s a shame that school isn’t an exciting place to kids these days. Those of us with a few years remember those first days as ones complete with new clothes, shoes, and school supplies. I almost wish I could go back myself. There’s still plenty to learn.

Garden Hose League

Sometimes I wonder just how smart we parents are. With the best of intentions we do things for our children, all under the belief that they are receiving the best possible things from us.

Center stage in this is our determination to involve them in organized recreational activities. Kids are members of leagues—football, baseball, basketball, soccer, gymnastics, and a hundred others. Every mom and dad is going to make sure that Little Johnny and Sweet Susie are involved with teams that will allow them to flourish.

Some of us have determined that our kids will excel in a sport, so they need to be on open league teams. They’re the ones that travel all over hell’s half acre in search of weekend tournaments. Parents spend fortunes on motel rooms, bats, bags, gloves, and an assortment of equipment so their children have every advantage. Sports that aren’t in season offer camps, so no one escapes the cash drain or a vacationless summer.

I was as guilty as any parent about pushing my kids into organized sports. I spent too much time and effort coaching teams on which they played, even though my athletic gifts are few, if any. It’s because of my mistakes that I urge parents to unite in an effort to create a new youth sporting experiment---the garden hose leagues.

Actually, this isn’t something new. It was the primary means of games for kids a generation ago. When I was a child, our yard was the setting for football games. On any particular afternoon during the week, a gang of elementary school aged boys could be found in the “lower lot.” In the fall, we played football. Most of the time, the games were tackle. Touch football was for sissies.

Several times a game, play was halted as boys clutched legs, arms, and heads that had been bumped, banged, or bruised. Tears were sometimes shed until the sting of an injuries passed, and then the stricken were back in the game and giving as good as they got.

Usually, a fight broke out between two boys. They’d exchange insults and pushes until one threw a punch. Windmill fists filled the air until the fight went to the ground. After some grappling, the two separated and hurled more barbs, and on occasion, a boy might utter a profanity. We all knew that the next school day the two combatants would be friends again.

Summer time brought the same group of boys to the yard. This time, we played softball as small kids and baseball when we’d reached ten or eleven. We’d set out the bases for the game—slabs of marble that lined flowerbeds or made walks. Teams were chosen after captains’ hands climbed the neck of a bat to see who went first. For the game we’d have one, maybe two, balls, a couple of wooden bats, and no catcher equipment. Boys shared gloves with those who didn’t own one.

Baseball games weren’t usually interrupted with fights. Sure, teams exchanged insults or argued whether or not a batter was out at second base. However, we sometimes halted a game to look for a ball that had been hit into the woods. With luck, we’d find it and renew the contest. If not, the game would be called. When Amy and I built our house, I found some of those old baseballs as I cleaned undergrowth from the area.

Regardless of the type of game, one thing was a constant. We boys would play hard and end up covered with dirt, grass, sweat. Breaks were held, and all of us lined up to get a drink. I’d turn on the water, and each guy would slurp water from the end of the garden hose. No Gatorade or sports drink was available. Neither were energy bars or other goofy snacks that parents brought. Oh, another thing for sure is that not one of us got a trophy because we participated.

The games we played were every bit as competitive as those of today’s league.
Parents need to form Garden Hose Leagues in communities everywhere. It’s time that kids got back to playing for the fun of it. Neighborhood groups of boys and girls can play football or baseball or soccer or basketball at someone’s house. They’ll get plenty of exercise, make plenty of friends, and enjoy being young and pressure-free, and all it will cost parents is the price of a garden hose and some water.

I've Still Got It!

I’ve still got it. Yep, I’m knocking on the door of 60; in fact, I’m close enough to kick it in. That’s all right because I’ve still got it.

What I’m talking about still having is the ability to work like a dog throughout the day. I did it again the other day. When I got out of bed, nothing pressing was on my agenda. It looked as if the day would be one to spend in the air conditioning and pecking on the keyboard or reading a book on my Kindle. By 9:00 a.m. things had changed.

I decided to work part of the morning in my tool shed. Things had been thrown in there to the point that the 10 X 12 space was so crowded that only a narrow pathway was left. I moved my Pathfinder from under the attached car shed and began lugging everything out and placing the stuff on the asphalt.

Only about thirty minutes into the job, I spied my neighbor mowing her yard. She’s in her 80” and has no business, in my opinion, to be fighting a lawn mower. The shed clean up was put on hold. I walked over to her house and told her to hop off the mower. For the next couple of hours, I mowed. It’d been a while since the yard was mowed because the heat had burned up most lawns. However, her yard, like mine, has Bermuda grass, and the hotter the temperatures, the more that kind of grass grows.

After finishing the yard, I returned to the tool shed and continued emptying the place. Brother Jim had called me a couple of times, and I’d returned them until finally we made contact. He needed some help tearing down a structure attached to the side of his house. I drove to his house, and we began taking off siding and separating 2 X 4’s. We removed every nail from the boards and sheets of siding. The pieces that Jim planned to trash we ripped into several sections with a circular saw. With the job finished, I made the trip home.

For the next couple of hours I got stuff out of the building, separate things, placed them into containers, and culled bunches of junk. I moved several items into the basement where they’d be handier. Then I cleaned the floors by using a blower to get rid of the cricket poop that was covering the concrete.

By the time I’d finished, my clothes were wet from the sweat that poured in 90-plus degree temperatures. I took a quick shower and put on clean clothes. Dallas, his girlfriend Diana, and her mom were coming for supper, so I took out the vacuum and quickly cleaned the floors and dusted the furniture. At about 4:00, everything was finished. I retreated to my office to do just a little work, which included this piece.

Yep, I’ve still got it. I can go all day. Tell you what else I’ll have. There’s a sore back that will keep me up half the night. I can’t forget hips that ache or feet that throb. Oh yeah, I don’t won’t to leave out a stiff neck. I’ll be sore in no less than a dozen places for the rest of the day. Some Aleve for my aching back and neck will help. Sometime during the night my calf muscles will cramp, and I’ll jump from the bed and try desperately to unknot them. My hope for tomorrow is that the rain will fall so I won’t be able to tackle any more jobs. I might still have it, but it’s in a much smaller supply and more difficult to muster than as in years before. Perhaps I should learn to use my “I still have it” in moderation so that the well doesn’t permanently run dry.

Summer Night's Song

The temperature is in the upper 80’s even though it’s after 8:00 p.m. My laptop immediately began to “sweat” when I removed it from the house and to the porch, so much so that I had to get a paper towel to wipe it down. The humidity must be near 100%, but it doesn’t deter Amy or me from spending at least part of every evening on our porch.

One thing we like about sitting out here is the sound of insects. It’s July, and that means the lightning bugs have disappeared and been replaced by the cicadas. Their song is hypnotic. The tone is what I think an alien craft might sound like. I’ve not seen these little creatures, but they make enough racket to let all of God’s children know they’re alive and well. Most of them start on their own, but in no time they’ve fallen into a pulsating rhythm.

As kids, we’d hear the cicadas as we lay at the foot of our beds and turned our ears toward the open window. Our hopes were that the constant song would mesmerize us until we forgot about how breeze-starved the house was and finally nodded off to sleep. The woods at the back of the house were thick with a choir of insects, and the trees in the front yard held another group of performers.

One week each August our family and the Burns family made a week-long journey to King Cottages. We’d swim in the icy cold river all day long and sometimes at night. That cabin had a huge screened porch on the back, and we’d gather out there in the evenings to talk, play Rook, or read (only during desperate times). As the effects of too much sun and swimming kicked in, we kids would settle. It was then that we listened to the cicadas. Accompanied by the sound to of the rushing mountain waters that flowed not more than one hundred feet away, they sang to the Smoky Mountains and thrilled audiences.

Mother loved the cicadas as well. At home, she sat in a bench swing under a big maple tree in the back yard. She’d throw her legs lengthwise along the swing, put her right arm on the back, and slowly move backward and forward in her favorite ride. Mother didn’t say much during those times; I figure she was praying or talking to Daddy, who’d left her too early to take care of three boys. Sometimes she would lean her head on the arm and fall asleep until the wee hours of the night. When she woke, the cicadas would still be singing.

Nature’s musicians would be singing on the last night of summer before school. Falling asleep was hard, whether it was the night before elementary or high school, college, or, yes, even teaching. Excitement of a new year mixed with sadness over the loss of summer and the freedom it had given. Those songs continued through the first weeks of football season as well.

Now Amy and I sit on our porch and listen each night. The cicadas are still singing in the trees at the edge of my childhood yard. Now, those oaks, sweet gums, maples, and pines make up our side yard and the scenery on which we look. A little sweat or stickiness is a small price to pay to be able to hear the song of a summer night.

Amy and I travel to bed reluctantly. We’d love to open our bedroom window ever so slightly in order to hear the cicadas as we fall asleep. However, allergies, a dog who parks at the sound of a gnat fart, and our dependence on air conditioning prevent us from throwing open the sash. Never to worry, the cicadas seem to sense our quandary and decide to sing just a little louder.

I hope that I make it to heaven when my time ends. I also hope that the place is filled with lightning bugs, croaking frogs, and most of all, singing cicadas.

Feels Like Temperatures

Several years ago, Lewis Grizzard used to make fun of television folks that covered the weather. He’d discuss color weather radar and how blips were nothing more than “ground clutter.” Grizzard suggested that a weather dog be used instead. The dog was sent outside; if it came in wet, rain was falling. If the dog didn’t come back, Grizzard said it was windy. These days, I’ve got another gripe for meteorologists. It’s about “feels like weather.”

Amy and I spent a few days at Myrtle Beach, SC not long ago. Rain fell on the afternoon that we arrived, but then clear skies arrived for the rest of the time. In fact, the sun broke through with vengeance. When we got up in the mornings, temperatures already were hovering around 80. At the hottest parts, those numbers had gone up to the mid-90’s or higher. However, that was no problem with an umbrella, beach chairs, the Atlantic Ocean, a pool, and room air conditioning.

What confused me was what the television guys referred to as the heat index. According to them, the temperature might have been 95, but the “feel like” temperature was 110. Huh? I don’t get it. If the thermometer reads, 95, then it feels like that. Okay, maybe the humidity is high so that the air needs to be cut with a knife. Perhaps the humidity is low and 95 degrees isn’t so sweltering. In either case, 95 is 95, not 110.

In a time before all homes had air conditioning, we weren’t ever cautioned about the heat index. No one ever said, “Be careful because it feels like 120 degrees although the real temperature is only a toasty 98.” Our parents told us to find some shade and take it easy. At night we lay under a window and prayed for a breeze to cool us. One large box fan was used to cool the entire house. If we ever fell asleep, the perspiration on the sheets cooled us a bit.

It’s the same thing in winter. The temperature is never simply the number on the thermometer. The wind chill has to be calculated in order to give a correct reading. That always drops things at least a couple degrees. Supposedly, the wind makes the temperatures lower because it feels different on our skins. I hate to sound like a broken record, but 20 degrees is 20 degrees. Wind just makes the conditions more miserable.

In the “old days,” we never heard about wind chill temperatures. Oh, it was plenty cold, but on blustery days, a “brass monkey” alert was issued between friends, and everyone knew what that meant. We put on plenty of layers of clothing before going out to play in the snow, we drank hot chocolate, and the entire family huddled around the warm morning stove that burned hunks of coal. One of the greatest days in our family’s life came when Jim and I were seven or eight. Daddy had a basement dug so that a coal-burning furnace could be installed. Our house was warm, even though we arose each morning, grabbed a Kleenex, and blew the pitch dust from our noses. Sure, occasionally smoke escaped through the floor registers and left a haze in the house. The house was dry, so much in fact, that headaches sometimes arose with the morning sun.

Modern technology gives us new toys to redefine most every condition. Heat indexes and wind chills are a couple of examples. I ignore that stuff for the most part. It’s cold outside or it’s hot. I have the thermometer that once hung in our kitchen. It hangs over the desk in my office. I read the numbers to find out how cool or hot it is. The rest of the analyses of condition are for younger folks. The truth is that I still go outside and work or run errands without much concern about the “feels like” temperatures.


BED—it’s simply one of the most popular places for creatures. Wild animals construct them in their lairs and nests. My dog Snoop took over a laundry basket in which Amy had placed an old comforter that had been washed. Some unfortunate husbands who’ve managed to get themselves sideways with spouses discover that couches must serve as places where they can lay down their weary and guilty heads.

Two beds were in the room that Jim and I shared. As toddlers, Jim manipulated the side of his until it slid down and then came to my rescue. Later, we had twin beds that were hand-me-downs from parents and their families and friends. Jim and I spent plenty of memorable times lying on those beds. We sweated through the steamy summer nights as we hoped to catch the whisper of a breeze through the window. Restless nights were spent in anticipation of Christmas mornings. We lay in our beds as the measles and mumps and the temperatures that accompanied them tormented our rotund bodies. Mattresses caught the tears that came the first night we tried to sleep after Daddy died.

I had a room to myself the second semester of my freshman year of college. Jim returned home to marry Brenda. My first act was to scoot the two twin bed frames and wire them together. One guy was sent as a possible roommate but decided against it when he saw that one large bed. The mattresses were thin and lumpy, and sometimes they slid away from each other. Still, it was good to have as much room as I wanted during the night.

Four years later, Amy and I were married, and again, I shared a bedroom. The full-sized mattress didn’t offer much room for us, but we learned to sleep together. Somehow we managed to find a rhythm so that when I turned over, Amy did so as well; when Amy crossed the middle of the bed with feet or bottom or pillow, I’d slide her back across the imaginary divide.

At some point, our bed frame was the same that Mother and Daddy had begun housekeeping in the 1940’s. Mother passed on to us the entire bedroom suite. I remember as a little boy waking up some nights after a bad dream. I’d leave Jim asleep and pad my way to my parents’ room. Then I’d ask to sleep with them. Daddy would help me get in the bed, and I’d lie down between them and feel safe. My own kids spent nights in that same bed. Some mornings we’d all lie in that bed and snuggle before beginning the day.

A few years ago, Amy and I moved up to a queen-sized bed. I’d wanted a king-sized one, but the bedroom wasn’t large enough to accommodate it and the rest of our furniture. Because my back was bad, I thought that we needed an extra firm mattress. For years Amy and I struggle with sleep and woke up with bodies that were sore in every joint. I slept with a pillow between my knees since my sophomore year in high school. It was then that I broke my ankle and wore the first of what would be six casts over the years. The pillow took the pressure off of my bony knees.

At some point, Amy put her foot down (instead of in my behind) and demanded that we get a new mattress. She found the perfect one. It has a pillow top that makes the bed even more comfortable. We now sleep more deeply. Best of all is the feel of that bed after a long, hard day. Sinking into it is almost as good as soaking in a Jacuzzi. Each side is molded to fit the curves and crevices of our bodies, and after we find the right spot, both of us quickly fade into unconsciousness

I’ve told Amy that we won’t ever sleep in separate beds. I’m too used to her lying on the right side of the bed. When we are separated for any reason, the nights are long and sleep is fitful. I’m a light sleeper, and she’s a deep one. I hit the floor at least a couple of times to let the dog out and to make those trips to the bathroom. To return to the bed and have Amy lying there beside me is comforting.

Sometimes we sleep so hard that we have to get up to get some rest. We go about our days, Amy going to her office and me pecking at the keyboard. At the end of each cycle, it’s nice to know that we can snuggle again and drift off to pleasant dreams in a comfortable bed.

Vacation Groups

A week at the beach is a good way to forget everything in life. Amy and I discovered umbrella and chair rentals a couple of years ago, and they’ve allowed us to spend hours reading, listening to iPods, taking short dips into the ocean, and, best of all, watching people.

Everyone knows that the beaches across America are loaded with young people. I’m talking about those who are in their teens or early twenties. Girls are have clad in things they call bathing suits. I spied one girl who had only a small piece of material in the back of her suit; her bare cheeks were pale and exposed. I told Amy I’d have killed her if she’d worn something like that.

I laughed to myself at the courting games that went on with the younger people. A bunch of boys would strut up to a gaggle of girls and eventually one female spoke for the group. They’d all turn to walk down the beach. I wondered how they would pair up later. More than likely girls and boys alike would spy new individuals to conquer the next day.

Another large group of beach visitors consist of people in my generation. Folks appear on the beach, and the main characteristics are protruding bellies and perkiless breasts. Unfortunately, some in this group fail to realize these facts. Too many grandmas wear bikinis. Some papaws wear Speedos. Either of these is a definite fashion faux pas, as well as being hard on the eyes of others.

Younger dads are easily identified. They are loaded down with a ton of items that the family needs for a day at the beach. Chairs, toys, umbrellas, and coolers are tucked under arms and dangling from fingers. These men take the little ones into the water to play and pick them up when waves slam into little bodies. Dads scoop their children up, slap them on backs to clear lungs, and then tell the little guys that they are fine. Dads are also the ones who leave the beach with skin that’s burned to a crisp. They have foregone sunscreen either because they’re too tough or believe previous exposure to the sun will keep them from burning. By the way, the worst place on the body for that sun to fry is the tops of feet. It ruins the rest of the vacation because the men can’t go in the sun and they can’t stand any footwear to touch their blistered skin.

The grandest group on the beach is the one consisting of moms with small children. They all wear the look of weariness throughout the so-called vacation week. These heroines get to pack for the trip for every individual in the family, including the dad. At the rented condo, they cook meals, tidy up the place, and wash clothes. I sat beside one mom who soothed her little one with Spanish lullabies; her time in the sun or water was limited. The only rest moms get is the few minutes when dads have the kids in the water and the time between bedtime for children and their slipping into unconsciousness. Too often, moms’ work continues at the beach as they take care of little children and big ones in the form of dads.

By the time vacation is over, moms are barely hanging on until they can get back home. When the kids go back to school and dads go back to work, perhaps these wonderful females can sneak a few minutes of rest to recover from vacation.

Amy and I enjoyed our time on the beach. I wished Lacey and Dallas were little again so that the four of us could have another week at the ocean. I’m not sure if my wife had the same wish. Amy might miss her “babies,” but I’m sure this vacation was much more restful with adult children.


A friend sent me a line to suggest that I write something about hotdogs. She had no idea that I am an aficionado when it comes to that particular food.

When Jim and I were too young to attend school, we stayed home with Mother. She worked as a seamstress for several women, and one of the hardest parts of the job was dealing with two hungry children. On more than one occasion, I recall her answering our cries for food by reaching into the refrigerator and pulling out a hotdog from the package. She’d half the weenie and hand the pieces to us. Jim and I jammed them into our mouths and walked away satisfied for at least a little while. The thoughts of eating a cold hotdog makes my skin crawl, but then I remember that Jim and I also would eat a half a stick of margarine—no guilt, no shame, no conscience.

During our high school years, Earl’s Market was just up the road from the school. Earl supplied the teenaged boys with smokes when they couldn’t afford a whole pack. Three for a dime would get us through. What the proprietor offered that was more popular than anything were hotdogs. They were skinny little things. Earl slapped them on a short bun on top of a bed of mustard. He smothered them with chili and onions. People bought them by the hundreds every day.

When a part of Karns High School was destroyed by fire, students and faculty no longer had a cafeteria. They had to bring lunches from home. Countless stories were told about kids and teachers sneaking off campus to buy a bag filled with Earl’s dogs. Those items became as much a part of high school memories as did ball games, proms, and graduations.

Meals were sometime lean during college, at least after Dal and Brenda moved to Nashville, and I was left to fend for myself. I ate plenty of bologna and cheese sandwiches and washed them down with tea. However, sometimes I bought a special treat from the sandwich machine. A thick piece of light bread that passed as a bun wrapped a hotdog that was covered with relish. I’d tear the cellophane in which the food was packaged. I could have warmed it up, but the concoction tasted better cold. It was a treat to which I looked forward.

For a few years I coached football at Doyle High School. I was a freshman coach and a spotter for the varsity on Friday nights. Fortunately, the teams the school fielded had plenty of success. When we won a game, Jim Pryor, Mike Wheatley, and I would make our ways down Chapman Highway to Smoky Mountain Market. There we were given free hotdogs as rewards for winning. On those occasions when we fell in defeat, I’d still make the trip for a hotdog to soothe the pain of losing. My nephew wrote and sang the jingle for Smoky Mountain back then. I still hear Steve singing “Smoky Mountain…Market” and can recall how good those little hotdogs tasted.

Ask doctors about those dogs, and they’ll tell you that they’re “heart attacks in a sack.” No doubt, good hotdogs have little nutritional value. However, sometimes we need something that tastes good, whether it might clog an artery or skyrocket HDL, LDL, and EIEIO levels. When I’m eating a hotdog like those I’ve mentioned, my concern is focused on not dropping chili down the front of my shirt, not whether what effects are on my health.

These days, I eat hotdogs at EZ Stop on Oak Ridge Highway. They are good impersonations of those hotdogs from Earl’s and Smoky Mountain Market. I leave off the onions, first because the odor lingers for days on my breath and second because acid reflux is so bad that even Nexium can’t blount an onion’s effects. I hope that when I pass from this world that I go to heaven. I also hope that God allows us to enjoy the foods that we so much enjoy in this life. If so, I’ll have plenty of chili dogs there, and they’ll be smothered with chili and onions too.

Staying Put

I enjoy watching “House Hunters” on HGTV. It’s interesting to see what kinds of housing are available for folks. Most of all, it’s amazing how much or little people can get for their money these days. What I don’t understand is the compunction to move from one place to the next.

Amy and I set down roots here in Ball Camp in 1978. I grew up in this community, and we rented a place after we got married in 1974. She asked if we could move back to the community after a couple of years in South Knoxville. Mother gave us enough land to build a house with the promise that we didn’t wear a path from our house to hers. She made one herself after Lacey was born.

The first project for building this place we call home was to clear the land. It was overgrown with scrub brushes, honeysuckle, and poison ivy. I crawled from the edge of the road and cleaned a place where the house would stand. On one occasion Jim came to help me. In no time, he’d gotten into a yellow jacket nest, and they covered the inside of his jean legs. He stripped his pants off, but not before several of the critters had stung him.

The completed house had two bedrooms and two bathrooms. In all, the place was 1250 square feet. It was plenty of room for Amy and me. We spent time on the small screened porch and deck when the weather allowed, and the rest of the time we watched television in the great room and ate in the kitchen. The little abode had enough room when Lacey arrived in 1981. Our house had officially turned into a home.

When Amy was pregnant with Dallas, we made plans to add onto our house. We converted our bedroom into one for the coming baby and added a huge bedroom and bathroom with an unfinished basement under it. A 600 square foot bedroom was more like a suite. Amy watched the new addition go up as her stomach grew. In February 1985 she gave birth to our son. On the same day, I came home from the hospital to supervise the pouring of a concrete floor in the basement.

Our home was wonderful, and we again added to it when the kids got older. We remodeled the kitchen, divided our bedroom so that Dallas would have a larger room, and added a family room. Amy wanted Lacey and Dallas to have a place where they could bring friends. That 400 square foot room became the place were the family has spent the majority of together time over the years. The screened porch was enclosed and became Amy’s office.

Our last addition was the porch. It covers a total of 900 square feet. The part on the end of the house is screened. Only the family room rivals the porch in popularity. Looking out from the screened section into the woods is similar to the scenery at a mountain cabin. During warm weather, it’s nice to open the door in the morning and listen to the birds, the passing cars, and the neighborhood roosters.

We’ve stayed put for 32 years. No, our house isn’t the sleekest around. It has flaws outside and inside. Still, memories linger in every corner of this place we call home. Our children still like to come home. I understand that. The house three hundred feet away is the only one in which I lived as a child. I only need to close my eyes and recall thousands of things that happened over the years. I plan to spend the rest of my days here. It’s comfortable, it’s familiar, and most of all, it’s home.

Old Friends

It was a good week. I celebrated another birthday, 58 in all, and the fact that I’m that old still amazes me. How can my body be that old when my wife tells me I have the mind of a child? Oh well, that’s another story. Along with receiving so many best wishes from folks, I had the chance to spend a little time with the two best friends that I’ve ever had. Neither is a family member, but each is as special as one.

Brother Jim is preparing for the construction of a new out building at his home. First, however, he needed to rid himself of the old one that sat in the way. He had considered tearing it apart, but the hoarder in me cried “foul,” so I told Jim I’d take the building. His demand was that the mover of the thing wouldn’t destroy his yard in the process. I had no concerns about that. A call to Billy Hayes put all worries to rest. He brought a wrecker to Jim’s weaved it through obstacles, pulled it onto the bed of the rollback, and left. Perhaps one branch was snapped from a shrub, but no ruts were left.

Billy and I used to spend huge amounts of time together in the summers. We coached baseball teams for what seemed to be eons. Over those years, we re-lived games and plays that our teams, in general, and our sons, specifically, made. At the same time, we shared frustrations we had about baseball, work, and family. Tow men can’t sit under a carport for hours at a time as they discuss some of the most important things in life without coming out on the other side as friends.

Billy has done so many favors for me over the years. I wish I could say I’ve done the same, but anyone who knows me is aware of my lack of skill in most things. Oh, I’ve helped here and there when his children needed tutoring for school. I’ve ferried William to some games when Billy was working too late to get him at home and arrive at the ball park on time. Regardless of whose done what for the other, we have remained good friends. Now our time together is short and sporadic. However, we pick up right where we left off at the last visit. Our friendship is still tightly knitted.

On the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Doug Meister and his wife Diane stopped over on their ways back to Louisville, KY after a week at the beach in North Carolina. We sat around the screened porch, ate some barbeque, and toured the changes that had taken place in Knoxville over the years since Doug left nearly twenty years ago.

Doug and I became friends at church. He was the associate pastor. We played softball together for years. A hard as it is for some to believe, we had a good team that won its fair share of games. Doug and I developed a friendship because of our common interests. Too, we both liked to engage in deep discussions about serious topics. We could drink a beer and debate religious, political, social, or sport topics. Our friendship began with sport, but it thrived in more laid back way. Where Billy and I exercised muscles as we coached, Doug and I performed mental gymnastics.

Both friends have been important in the lives of my children, especially Dallas. Doug baptized Dallas; Billy coached him in baseball. Doug developed programs that helped to develop Lacey’s faith; Billy fixed mangled parts of her wrecked cars. My two children are better people for having known my friends.

Yep, the past week has been a good one. I had the chance to spend time with the two best friends I have outside my immediate family members. We didn’t renew friendships; they were always there. Instead, we stirred the embers to allow the flames to burn brightly once again. Seeing Billy and Doug was good, two blessings for the week.


This is just a side note. To all of those of you who sent birthday wishes, I want to say thank you. Most of them came via Facebook. Now, I'm not overly involved in that social network. I've never begun a farm and I don't play other games. Only a limited number of causes stir me into joining. However, I'm astounded at the connections I've established with so many people whom I've not seen in a long time. Many are former students. Others are old friends and family members.

The birthday wishes might not be important to the ones who sent them. To me, they are precious. I am grateful that you took time from your busy days to send a quick line. Doing so reinforces my belief that people are still loving, caring, and thoughtful, even though their lives are more hectic than generations in the past.

Thanks for making me feel special. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to meet so many individuals over the course of my life. I am lucky to have so many wonderful family members. I hope that I can in some way make each of you feel equally loved and valuable.

The Truth about Honey-Do's

A friend asked if I knew the origin of Honey Do’s. He indicated that his spouse has a long list of them for him that continues to grow. We men know all about those kinds of requests.

A quick search of the web gave a definition that seemed appropriate. Honey do’s are chores assigned by one’s mate (usually wife). This list normally includes household chores or errands that typically are assigned at the most inopportune moments.

For some reason, our stronger, smarter, and all-around superior female counterparts catalog the work they want us to do just when we are most interested in other activities such as football games, vacations, and especially weekends. Women have developed a sixth sense that kicks in whenever a man has plans for something he enjoys. Without a doubt, as soon as a man slips off his shoes and assumes a parallel position to the couch cushions, a voice cuts through the air and pierces a his eardrum. With it is a request, actually a thinly veiled demand, for the male to complete a task.

Oh, a man can attempt to ignore the demands of his mate. He can act as if he didn’t hear the beckoning of his bride. He might lie still in hopes that she will discover him asleep and then quietly exit the room to allow him to rest. Some men might sneak out the closest exit and plead ignorance to the fact that she was sending out the latest orders. Those men who’ve lost their minds completely might tell their wives to cool it and that they will complete tasks when they’re good and ready.

Failure to comply with or complete assigned chores leads to a variety of punishments. An angry woman is something most men avoid. “When Momma’s not happy, nobody’s happy.” The silent treatment comes and is accompanied by a coldness that covers the entire home with ice. Along with her not talking comes the treating a man as if he doesn’t exist. He becomes no more than a piece of furniture that receives an occasional dusting.

Perhaps not completing honey do’s hurts a woman’s feelings. Not much is harder to repair than wounded emotions. It leads to apologizing, whether or not a man thinks he’s been in the wrong. Sometimes it can take days or even weeks before the queen of the home recovers from such perceived wrong done to her. By that time, the king of the castle is exhausted from efforts to regain the favor of his lady.

We all know that a man dreads most of all the withholding of affections by his woman. The truth be told, it’s because of those charms that men acquiesce to the demands of females. We are not much more evolved from earlier male creatures when it comes to that. For her attention and love, a man will jump through hoops. It’s that plain and simple and basic.

So men don’t fight or resist. Instead, we grumble under our breaths or wait until a safe distance from the house to curse and throw fits. All the while, we complete the honey-do list, one task after another. Men are the physically stronger sex. Women are the intellectually superior sex. They make the lists, and we use the muscle to accomplish the work. Things won’t change any time soon, so men need to accept their roles and inability to change the situation. Me, I’ve got to cut this off right now because the wife just yelled through the house for me to take some scraps and throw them over the fence. After that, I have to change some light bulbs, clean a mirror, sweep the porch, go to the store for a couple of things…

What? Me Read?

Some people might be shocked to know that I wasn’t the best of students in high school. Others who knew me back in those days have been shocked to discover that I taught high school English for thirty years. Sometimes I’m amazed that I taught, especially when I consider the reading I did in my younger years.

I’ve always been a slow reader. I contribute part of that fact to a borderline OCD condition. I always found it impossible to skip even a single “a,” “an,” or “the.” Doing so seemed to be cheating. Even when I tried to skip words, I eventually go back to where I’d started to re-read the passage.

I recall SRA reading classes in eighth grade. Part of the training in it was to learning how to skim. I took another course for speeding up my reading in college, but it didn’t work either. I never got the hang of skimming. Probably my ADHD characteristics kicked in. Before I knew it had happened, my mind would be wondering, and I’d failed to comprehend even a single idea that the words before me had presented.

As a younger person, I found reading to be boring. Rarely did I find materials that I enjoyed. Reading also meant that I had to sit still, something that drove me nuts. What was more appealing to me was being outside playing. Being active beat the heck out of allowing my mind to take me to imaginary places and situations.
In elementary school, I remember reading only a couple of books. One was polished off during a rainy vacation week in the mountains. The title escapes me, but the storyline dealt with people riding on a bus to somewhere. The second book I remember was Big Red. Yep, it was the book about an Irish Setter. Disney later came out with a movie based on the book. I loved that book because dogs were, and still are, my favorite animals. I wrote a glowing report on that book and handed it in with pride.

In high school, I managed to tackle a few more books and plays. I read Romeo and Juliet and Julius Ceasar. In junior English, I read more than I’d ever done before. Mrs. Anderson was a good looking teacher whom I wanted to impress, so I pushed through the books. Rebecca was all right, but reading it cemented my dislike for historical romances. The Scarlet Letter made no sense at the time, and the wording was an absolute nightmare for a country boy from East Tennessee. One of my favorite books of all time was A Separate Peace. It spoke to me and other teen boys who weren’t athletic or popular. Lord of the Flies also caught my fancy; I identified with the character Piggy because of my weight but probably was more like Ralph. Other books I muddle through included classics like The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye. While I got the story line, I never understood the main characters and their whining about life.

I college, I never read anything that wasn’t assigned. Part of the reason was that I had no time. The other was I was more interested in trying to find female companionship. Until my last year when I met Amy, I’d been as well off plopping my fanny in a chair and reading War and Peace and other so-called great books; I sure didn’t spend any time with females those first three years.

I graduated from college and became a high school English teacher. Before long, I was teaching composition classes. That entailed reading as many as ninety student essays each week. That was in addition to the materials from textbooks. For years, I read NOTHING for pleasure. I chose, instead, to rest my weary eyes from all the strain of trying to read the chicken scratching and grammatical mistake-laced sentences of my charges.

These days, things have changed. I’ve enjoyed reading. I pick up a book, and if it grabs my interest in the first few pages, I tackle it and don’t put it down until I’ve completed it. Most times I can’t give the title or author of a book I’ve read. I don’t care what either is. If I like the book, I read it; if not, I chuck it. I read for entertainment, not necessarily for knowledge.

Now I have a Kindle, and it makes reading even better. It’s especially nice not to fight holding back pages. Most of all, I appreciate being able to increase the font size to accommodate my tired eyes. My consumption of reading material has swelled with the device. Maybe I read so much more now because I can sit still for longer periods of time. I don’t have a great desire to run the roads as I did as a teen. With age come changes in interests, that and a reduction in energy. Reading is less strenuous.

Honeysuckle Memories

I noticed it on Sunday afternoon. Then it was just a faint scent that was so slight it didn’t cause much of a stir. Even as late as Wednesday afternoon, the fragrance was light. However, Thursday morning when I walked to the mailbox for the paper, the air was syrupy with the sweet smell of honeysuckle blooms. If I’d been asleep for months, upon awakening I would know that it was mid-May because of that particular nature’s perfume. It’s one that sparks so many memories from my childhood.

Honeysuckle vines were always thick in the woods behind our house. They were healthy and began producing that sweetness during spring. Getting up in daylight and then smelling the honeysuckle made going to school easier. It reminded us kids that the days were numbered before summer vacation. Softball games during recess and school field days were events we knew would be held during those last days of school. The smell of honeysuckle acted as a drug that made concentration on school work difficult. It called us to come, play, and forget about English tests and science projects.

Mother always held a year-end party for her students during this time of year. Back in the good ol’ days, the kids would walk from Ball Camp School to our house, a journey of a mile or more, and then they’d play in our yard, which was large enough to accommodate a game of softball, as well as allow those who didn’t participate to have room to roam. Mother would have food prepared for the class, and the rest of the afternoon and early evening was spent in play and fellowship. Sometimes Daddy would ferry kids home when their parents couldn’t pick them up.

That honeysuckle sometimes was present during painful times in life. Daddy suffered the effects of cancer in its last stages during that time of year. He traveled back and forth from Ft. Sanders Hospital and home. Jim and I tried to cause as little commotion as possible so that he could rest as we kept our naïve belief that Daddy could get better. Mother lived the very last weeks of her life during the same time of year. She kept the curtain and window open so she could see the blooming mock orange shrub and smell the mixture of its essence and that of honeysuckle. By the end of August and the first of June, both parents were gone.

Most of all, May and honeysuckle bring to mind celebrations. Jim and I recall the smell so much because we spent so much time outside as kids. On our birthdays we received new ball gloves, a baseball, and a bat. For hours we stood in the front yard and threw baseball. Some of that time was spent chasing errant throws or digging the ball out of tangles of thorns in rambler rosebushes. I recall my eighteenth birthday. I’d worked the afternoon cleaning the red trim around the Burger King where I worked. I came off the roof burned to a crisp. As I drove down Ball Camp Pike, the honeysuckle was thick in the air. I pulled into the driveway to discover Mother had planned a surprise birthday party for Jim and me. It was also during the time of honeysuckle that graduations from high school and college occurred. Those were times spent with family and friends.

Somehow, some way, I’ve blinked my eyes and time has flown. I sometimes wonder how I got to be this old. My frame of mind is much the same that it was when I was in my twenties. The smell of honeysuckle is still thick in May. However, I’m gaining on sixty, and it just doesn’t seem possible. I suppose the honeysuckle has again used its power to trick me. It’s for sure that whenever I smell it in the air that I shed years as a snake sheds is skin. In honeysuckle May, I become a boy again and inhale the joys of memory with the sweetness in the air.