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.