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.

Mall Muscle

Amy’s employer, Y12 Credit Union, held an employee’s day Saturday. For those who wanted to make the drive, free admission to Dollywood was offered to workers and their families. Amy and I wrapped the afternoon get together at the theme park with two, yes two, visits to Tanger Outlet Mall in Pigeon Forge. Again, I was amazed by my wife specifically and women in general as I watched the action.

Women might be the strongest of all living things on this planet. No one could convince me otherwise after seeing them in action at such large complexes. As soon as the car is stopped, women make b-lines for their first destinations. Of course, they have to get all the necessary gear for the day’s work. Pocketbooks the sizes of small luggage are draped around their arms. Jackets, umbrellas, and assorted papers are part of the equipment. Then this so-called weaker sex sets out a day filled with walking miles on concrete, asphalt, and marble surfaces. Some add bags filled with purchases to the things that they tote over the journey.

We men pour our attention to one thing at a time. Women are able to multi-task. Perhaps it’s out of necessity, but I’m always blown away at them when they shop. A female can shop in a store, talk on a cell phone, and read a list at the same time. I saw so many women handle their chores at the mall while tending to little ones in strollers. Some had those papoose sacks around their necks and soothed a small child with pats from one hand while thumbing through racks in search of the right size or color of an article with the other. A woman can try on a pair of shoes and hand a screaming child a bottle or sippy cup without missing a beat. She can tuck a cell phone in the crook of her neck and chat as she punches in the security numbers of her debit card to complete a purchase. Some care for elderly parents or friends and complete their shopping as they patiently make sure the older ones are having good times but aren’t edging toward exhaustion.

What might me be the most admirable quality of a woman as she ventures out on a shopping trip is her thriftiness. Outlet malls are places where prices are already reduced. Men find items they want a pay the stated prices. Women are always looking for ways to save even the smallest amounts. They arrived armed at stores with coupon books or clippings from papers that offer reduced prices. Amy had a booklet, but she also had her AAA card in hand to receive an extra 10% off already slashed and discounted prices. Women also pack foods and drinks so that they don’t waste money on those items that are usually so expensive in malls. Kids can be seen with sandwich bags of Cheerios, fruit roll-ups, boxed drinks. They’ll starve instead of plunking down money for a sandwich. Their only treats usually are cups of coffee or bottles of water.

Back at the car after hours of shopping, our amazing women load minivans and trunks with their loot and jump behind the wheel for the trip back home. Lost in her thoughts, Amy sat beside me as if she’d done nothing all day. On the other hand, I was “stoved up” from a day filled with walking all over Dollywood once and Tanger Outlet twice. My desire was to reach home, get a cool drink, and recover. Amy arrived at home, straightened up the kitchen, and washed a load of clothes. Guys, we play our games and imagine that ours is the hardest road. Our women work jobs, tend to need children and husbands, and still manage to tackle marathons at outlet malls. Look at them and stand in awe.

Wonderful Mothers

Sunday is Mother’s Day. It’s a special time for all children, but I figure it means more to males. After all, the psychologists say we have attachments to our mothers that are more intense than those of the stronger, female population. The day is one about which I’ve always been excited. I enjoyed giving tribute to my mother and to the mother of my children.

Mother never made a fuss about the day. As children, we got up on Mother’s Day Sunday and dressed for church. Her garden had rambler rose bushes with red and white flowers. She’d go outside to get red ones for us and, after her mother passed, a white one for herself. She pinned them to our shirts, and we wore them proudly.

At church, the minister honored mothers with his praises, reminded us of the love Mary had for Jesus, and led us in the singing of “Faith of our Mothers.” We sat as a family on that pew. After Daddy died, we boys sat with Mother on the pew a was second from the front. On too many occasions, Mother spent at least part of the service with tears in her eyes as she missed her mother and the husband with whom she’d had three sons.

In earlier times, Mother returned home from church, changed her clothes, and cooked Sunday dinner. Remember, “dinner” is something that people in the South eat on Sundays and holidays. Supper is the evening meal that they share the rest of the time. Lunch is the meal that comes around noon. At any rate, Mother spent the next few hours of this special day working like a hired hand. For her, the best part of Mother’s Day came after we ate. She spent most of the afternoon reading the Sunday paper and napping in her chair.

As we reached our teens, we ate our Mother’s Day meal at the Copper Kettle. Of course, we boys weren’t working, so Mother paid the tab. I guess it was enough for her just not having to work over a hot stove.

The last year she was alive, Mother was too sick to cook anything. Instead, we gathered at her house and cooked hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill. Mother was worried that we weren’t having a proper meal, but we assured her that spending time together was more important than what we ate. She was gone a month later.

Amy deserves any treasure that I can give her. She gave life to a beautiful baby girl and then to a strapping son. She’s worked to be a good mother all these years and too often fretted that she’s not done a good enough job. Then she sees the accomplishments of Lacey and Dallas and knows that she’s not done so bad. What delights her more than anything is to see some of her personal traits showing up in her children. I’m quick to point out those things.

I sometimes struggle with finding gifts for Amy on Mother’s Day. Most years I spend lots of time trying to find the perfect gift. Of course, I keep receipts, just in case Amy wants to return an item. Other years, I know the best thing I can give Amy is a gift certificate so that she can pick out favorite items. The one thing that’s certain is that nothing I can give her can ever equal the love she’s given our two children and me..

On Sunday, we might go out to eat, or we might come home, eat a sandwich, and thumb through the paper. I might leave her alone to take a nap as well. Whatever it is, I want the day to be special for her. My wife is a wonderful woman and loving mother. Yeah, I know I don’t deserve her, but the Lord knows I need her.

For you moms, just remember that your little boys and grown men husbands adore you. We hope in some way to be able to prove ourselves worthy of all you’ve given. You are God’s best creation.

"Duck Drowner"

I was awakened from my Sunday morning snooze by something that sounded like the shower running. I supposed that Amy had decided to get up early to get a shower. I sat up to discover that the shower sound was, in fact, rain falling outside our bedroom window.

Amy and I traveled to middle Tennessee this weekend to celebrate grandson Madden’s second birthday. We kept him in Knoxville the week before and were to take him home during that weekend. However, the weather was supposed to be severe, so we stayed in Knoxville and traveled west on Sunday, dropped him off, and drove home. I’d have forgone this trip, but missing the only grandchild’s birthday would have been an almost unforgivable sin.

Our trip to Nashville on Friday was made in beautiful weather. We arose Saturday to steady rainfall. Madden’s birthday party was held inside, and he pouted a little about not being able play with his new toys outside. I watched the continuing “ark floater” fall and the backyard turn into a swift flowing creek. The party was a success, in spite of guests being trapped indoors.

Sunday morning, I sat on our covered balcony and watched the storms attack Nashville. Television weather prognosticators warned of wind shears. I discovered they were talking about winds that ripped across the area and drove sheets of rain. At home, we’ve had shears and down drafts, but I’ve always considered them the precursors of tornadoes.

I watched from our second floor condo as downspouts poured gallons of water out past the splash plates and onto the grass. Small streams rushed toward the asphalted drives and carried with them mulch from landscaped areas. Water stood on the road at the entrance and eventually covered both lanes.

Before long, it was apparent that the rain was going to be dangerous in amounts. Swollen creeks looked much more like raging rivers. On one stretch of I-24, a slew of cars and trucks were under water. A mobile home floated by, hung up on a car caught and in the waters, and sank as a second vehicle rammed into it. The structure crumpled before our eyes, and the video was shown nationally before long.

Lacey and Nick live in Bellevue, the community hit hardest by the flooding. Their house is on a hill, and they felt safe. However, by mid-Sunday morning, the waters had begun to creep up their yard, and when it stopped, the flood was no more than fifteen feet from the small fenced area around their house. Amy and I fretted most of the day as we were unable to reach Lacey’s house to check on her, Nick, and Madden. To our surprise, our daughter showed up about 2:00 p.m. She’s enough like her dad to get restless when she’s confined in any place too long. Lacey found a route that was above the waters and then made a b-line to our place. We hugged, and smiles crossed our faces. Then we traveled back to her house for a few hours of togetherness.

By the time the rain subsided, Nashville had reported more than fifteen inches of rain, although in plenty of places the total was recorded as between eighteen and twenty inches. Even the first number is more than the greatest recorded amount for a month in Nashville.

Amy and I had made up our minds to brave the torrential rains and strike out for Knoxville. In the next minute, the news reported that one section of I-40 in the downtown area was closed due to flooding. We were stuck. At last report the section that closed sometime around 8:00 a.m. was still closed at 10:00 p.m. Traffic was backed up for miles. One individual set out for work at one television station at 10:00 a.m. and at 2:00 p.m. was still sitting in traffic on the same Interstate.

On Monday morning, Amy and I once got on the road toward home. We hoped that the roads would have cleared enough for us to make the trip. At least for a few weekends, I plan on being safe and secure in Knoxville. I don’t want to see another “duck drowner” for a while.