Sounds from the Back Seat

Our grandson Madden came for a visit recently. His parents took a short trip to New York to celebrate their anniversary and visit with friends. Amy met Nick on the west side of Cookeville and ferried Madden back to Knoxville. We ate breakfast at Hardees the following morning and then knocked around places that Madden might enjoy. His presence in the back seat sure brought back some memories of the times when his mom and uncle were that age.

First, car seats are much easier to work with these days. Of course, it helps to have a four-door vehicle. When Lacey was small, I drove a Datsun 310 hatch back. Securing her in that car seat was possible only after performing half a dozen contortionist moves. I’m pretty sure that the back and neck surgeries I’ve endured are partly the result of stuffing my kids into car seats that were located in such cramped quarters.

I recall Lacey sitting in her seat located in the middle of the back seat. That allowed me easy viewing of her through the rear view mirror. Sometimes, I could hear her breathing change as she relaxed and fell asleep. Her peacefulness was reassuring, and I would look to see her little head propped on the side of her seat.

Over the course of a few years, Lacey would sing as she rode. As she looked straight ahead, her angelic voice filled the small interior of the vehicle. Her favorite song was Neil Diamond’s “Forever in Blue Jeans.” I can close my eyes and still hear her singing.

The most horrific sounds from that back seat came on Sunday evenings when we returned home from a weekend in Cookeville to visit grand parents. Lacey had a sixth sense that kicked in every time we were still several miles from home. She’d sleep as soon as we left Cookeville, but upon awakening, she let us know the rest of the trip would be pure hell. She didn’t just cry; my daughter squalled. Her shrieks and sobs drove like spikes into the base of my spine. By the time the car pulled into our driveway, Amy and I were both shell-shocked and exhausted. We wanted nothing more than for Lacey to go to bed so we could flop in our chairs and try to regain our composure.

Dallas was a much better traveler. He loved to ride in the car. His time was spent looking out the window, jabbering baby talk to no one in particular, and sleeping. Oh, a couple of times the boy had been confined long enough and would fuss, but nothing like his sister.

I most remember Dallas riding in the back seat of my Pathfinder one Sunday afternoon as he and I drove home from a baseball tournament from Kingsport. My mother was in the final stages of lung cancer, and Dallas began talking about her. It was during that trip that I broke the news to him that his Mamaw wouldn’t get better and that before long she would pass. He lay down in the back seat and sobbed. I could hear him as he tried to choke back the tears. My heart broke at the same time his did. It was painful for both of us.

On a couple of occasions I remember the squeals from two children I was trying to flog while driving the car at the same time. One of our favorite family stories involves Amy and the kids. She was taking them shopping for Easter outfits. Their fussing and fighting with each other had drawn warnings from her. When Amy couldn’t take any more, she swerved the car into a subdivision street. Immediately, apologies and begging for one more chance came from both children, but they knew it was too late. Amy threw the car into park, removed her thin-soled sandal from her foot, and swatted Lacey and Dallas on the bottom. They got back in the car, and all that was heard the rest of the trip was the blubbering of two chastised children.

Madden is a joy to have around for a few days. He is a wonderful little boy. What’s more, he brings back the memories of two children who now are adults and who, in one case, now listen to the same kinds of things that Amy and I did so many years ago.

The Masters

This is a piece that I wrote for the paper. It only made in one edition, so I'm sharing it with everyone. I've also put in a picture.

The Masters Golf Tournament is an event that everyone recognizes. It fills up television screens with some of the most beautiful landscape anywhere on the planet Earth. The behind the scenes planning and the staffing help the week-long tournament to run smoothly.

Huge crowds are present each day. A sea of people covers the course. Eighteen holes cover approximately 6925 yards, and the rest of the property easily dilutes the mob. That’s not the case on the outside. Traffic snarls as early as 6:15 a.m. as people make their ways to the course. Fans come from around the world, so hearing a variety of languages is no surprise.

Every aspect of the Masters Tournament is run like a well-oiled machine. At the gift shop, crowds grab items from shelves and stuff them into small baskets. As soon as an item is taken, an employee restocks the shelf. At the check out lines, several registers are attended with employees who ring up merchandise while others place the items in bags. Many of the better known retail stores could take lessons on providing such service.

In the men’s restroom, as many as ten employees are on hand to help. Two men stand at the front door and make sure the crowds don’t become too large at one time. One instructs, “Squatters to the left, standers to the right.” In one restroom, a leaking sink was fixed by a maintenance worker who made sure not a drop of water hit the floor. Not a single paper towel touched the floor for more than a couple of seconds before it was snatched and deposited in a receptacle. UT fans can only dream of that kind of help in Neyland Stadium.

The costs of items vary for the Masters. Practice round tickets are inexpensive for those who win the lottery. However, scalpers line the sidewalks and are only too eager to charge exorbitant prices to others looking for admission. Like any place that draws large crowds, souvenirs were over priced. I put my hand on one sweater that cost $450 but quickly removed for fear of pulling a thread. Food is cheap. Most soft drinks and sandwiches cost $1.50. Beer was only $2.75. The lines moved at all times since enough registers were opened to accommodate customers. Compare that with prices and slow moving lines at most ball parks.

Most impressive of all was the behavior of patrons. Cheers went up for miracle shots. Yet, when a player prepared to hit the ball, a pall of silence fell. During most of the time, people spoke in low voices. At the same time, folks were polite. A lack of urgency, panic, and anger was evident. Folks were there to enjoy the day, soak in some of the most beautiful landscape anywhere, and be entertained by the world’s best golfers. No one would describe places like Dollywood the same way.

The golfers entertained the crowds. Phil Mickelson won his third green coat. The service was splendid. All those things led to an easy going pace day in the sun on the most famous course in golf.

Breaking Up

Neil Sedaka sang that “breaking up is hard to do.” No doubt he stated the obvious. Of all the things that kick our emotional butts, breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend is the worst. Over the first twenty-one years of my life, I was on the receiving end of female boots as girls unceremoniously dumped me. Like most folks, those times remain vivid in our memory banks.

Suzanne was the first to break up with me. It was in the fifth grade, and I was the lucky guy to be her boyfriend. Suzanne was taller than everyone else in the class. She had dirty blonde hair and a smile that automatically won every boy over. Unlike the rest of the girls in the class, she’d developed “bumps,” but they didn’t seem to make her feel self-conscious.

Suzanne didn’t actually break up. The truth is her family moved. They hadn’t been in Ball Camp for more than a year, and her dad’s work transferred them to Tunnel Hill, Georgia. For the longest time I pined for her. She left me with nothing more but an 8 X 10 black and white school picture. I sometimes wonder what happened to Suzanne and how her life turned out.

Brenda was the next female to kick me to the curb. She came to Ball Camp during the eighth grade with a cute smile and a voice much more suited for a high school senior girl. I never figured out why she became my girlfriend but was glad she made the decision. Brenda was the first girl I talked with on the phone. The conversations were stilted and filled with silence between comments. I remember the Christmas gifts I bought her that year—a bottle of some kind of cheap perfume and a six foot snake. At some point Brenda got tired of me. She called it quits, and the rest of the school year was awkward as we sat in classes together, but separate.

Carolyn was my first high school girlfriend. We got together at an end-of-the-school year swimming party at Inskip Pool. The details are vague, but she left with me and another couple. We were together for a while. At one sock hop, we danced, as I bent over to say something to her over the music, my gum got stuck in her long brown hair. A hunk of it had to be cut out.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that we were through soon after that faux pas. What bothered me the most were the rumors that swirled that Carolyn wanted to go out with my twin. Jim called her to say he’d never go out with her, a valiant act of one brother toward another.

Anda was the first girlfriend after I got my driver’s license. She was a year younger, a cheerleader, and filled with energy. We got together at the Coker’s house one evening after Jim and I had walked in the snow to their house. Two couples were there, and Anda and I were singles. We stayed together through the winter and early spring.

Then the girl dumped me right before junior prom. As it turned out, she wanted to go to the event with Joe Kennedy, the star athlete in my class. I was devastated for quite a while. The girl would stay away for a while and then show up again, as she did one day after I’d had ankle surgery. I saw her at her son’s high school graduation. I’d had him in one of my classes. At last report, she was in the Midwest somewhere.

Jacque was my first girlfriend in college. She was from Nashville, and as I later learned, the girl had her share of problems. She’d supposedly broken up with her high school sweetheart. The guy was a member of the MTSU football team. As it turned out, Jacque hadn’t actually broken up with George. The guy made a trip to Cookeville one night to find me and to beat me senseless. The stars were aligned so that our paths didn’t cross.

Jacque never broke up with me. She simply disappeared after that first term at TTU. She didn’t return to school in January, and I never saw nor heard from her again. It’s my good luck that things worked out that way because I’d never have been able to avoid George forever.

God is gracious. The last year of college Amy and I began dating. That was in 1973. In 1974 we were married. Bless her heart; she’s put up with me for nearly 36 years. I’m sure that there’ve been plenty of times she’s wanted to trade me in for a new one. Lucky for me, it didn’t happen. I know that break ups are gut-wrenching experiences. However, I also know they are just steps that lead to finding the right person. In the end, all the pain is somehow worth the reward.

Making Everybody Fine

Amy and I watched the movie “Everybody’s Fine” the other night. Here’s a hint, especially for parents: don’t watch it. The movie was depressing, and the plot was disjointed and jerky. What the show did for me was jump-start my mind thinking about what parents need to do for their children.

The first thing deals with moderation. In today’s world, everyone has a sense of entitlement. Somehow, too many kids got the idea that they deserve things and that they are rightfully theirs. We parents are the ones who’ve spread this malicious rumor. Our own parents were the products of the Great Depression. They lived through times when shortages made even the necessities of life tough to get. Many people couldn’t work, and they relied upon the goodness of others to help them make their ways. As adults and parents, this generation promised themselves that they would save and work hard to earn what they got and to hold on to it. They gave their children the things they’d been denied, and now we’re trying to do the same thing with our own offspring. The problem with that is that we didn’t do without too much in our younger years. The things we offer our own children are far removed from needs and more like wants. Really, does an elementary school child need a cell phone or an iPhone? What about a laptop computer? Will they die if they don’t have a new car or designer clothes?

We need to teach that less is better. Of course, we need to live by what we preach. Our kids need to know that going through life with well worn items isn’t bad. These young people are bombarded with notions of recycling and conserving. We can extend that to the things they have, those electronic devices, vehicles, and clothes.

Another thing we need to teach our children is the work ethic. It’s surprising the number of young people who graduate from college and have NO work experience on their resumes. Ask them, and they say sports and other types of activities took up the time that could have been spent earning money. These poor people enter the workforce with inflated ideas about earnings and job titles.

Parents need to insist that their children work a part time job. That experience helps youngster learn the value of a dollar and of a budget. At the same time, they quickly learn the feelings of pride that accompany earning their own money. Work never hurt anyone, and be assured, no matter how much children whine, a job isn’t actually “killing them.”

Our greatest lesson to children is about love. It’s the thing most important in life. They need to know that parents’ love isn't measured by the amount of stuff they give. Kids need to know that loving them means making them responsible for their actions in all situations. We must teach them that loving back means sacrificing. If moms and dads change courses and begin to parent differently, then everybody’s fine. Otherwise, our children are in for a whole lot of hurting and disappointment.

Easter Memories

Amy and I traveled to Nashville for Easter weekend. Dallas had to work, so we decided to see what the holiday was like for Lacey, Nick, and Madden. I hope it’s as special to them as it was to us as kids and then as parents.

When I was little, Mother made sure we had Easter outfits. During the younger years, she dressed Jim and me in matching outfits. Bow ties and cuff links were parts of the ensemble. To top it off, Mother bought hats for us. Now, Jim and I had big heads as children. In fact, they probably were the same size that they are some fifty-plus years later. Mother thought we looked snazzy, but today, people would say we looked more like miniature pimps.

In those times, we got Easter shoes. In truth, we got shoes twice a year. They were orthopedic shoes that resembled the ones that Frankenstein wore in the early movies. We’d make the trip to Bill’s Comfort Shoes on North Central in Happy Holler. The things were ugly and unmercifully heavy. After years of wearing them, one would think that Jim and I would have muscular legs. To the contrary, we have what are called “chicken leg” that could be sued for nonsupport.

As we got older, our clothes were often hand-me-downs from older brother Dal or other boys. Most years we had sport coats for Easter. Our bellies grew and dress slacks were husky sized, a euphemism for “fat boy pants.” We graduated from bow ties to clip-ons or string ties. The shoes were still from Bill’s Comfort; they never got better looking, and new style still looked too much like clod-hoppers.

Saturday evenings before Easter were set aside for coloring eggs. Mother boiled several dozen mixed dye tablets in cups of vinegar. We gathered around the kitchen table and began. Some of the eggs were multi-colored. Others were the color of bruises. Names of every family member were written on shells with paraffin crayons. We made eggs for parents and grandparents alike. When we finished, the eggs were placed on racks to dry and we hustled off to baths and bed. All of us had dye-stained fingers for a week, but we were in good company with the kids in our classrooms at school.

On Sunday morning, we boys awoke and made a bee line to the kitchen. The Easter Bunny visited and left baskets that were filled with boiled eggs, marshmallow and chocolate bunnies, and M&M’s. As long as Mother was alive, those baskets were present on Easter morning. She added baskets as the grandchildren came. Her yard was the best place around for egg hunts. Our children hunted in the same places that we’d looked for eggs, and they begged for just one more hunt, just as we had done so many years before. At least on egg was never located—until months later. Then we’d crack it open and hold our noses and gag as the foul smell of a rotten egg filled the air.

Church was a central part of our Easters. Daddy was off on that day, and the five of us piled into the car to attend both Sunday school and church. We heard the crucifixion and resurrection stories, and our young minds tired to wrap themselves around what had happened. We sang “The Old Rugged Cross” and other old hymns that celebrated the risen Christ. As children, we enjoyed the time but looked forward to getting home for more pictures, outside play, and then meals.

Easter dinners were every bit as festive as Christmas. Turkey and ham graced the table. Potato salad sometimes replaced Christmas mashed potatoes. Mother held back some of our colored eggs to make a huge plate of deviled-eggs. We all ate until our sides ached. As children, we were ready for more rounds of hunting eggs. As adults, we preferred naps.

Being with Lacey and her family was a wonderful experience. However, I missed Dallas on that special day. I also missed Daddy, Mother, and Dal, but because of the events that make Easter so special, I know that some day I’ll see them again.