Getting in the Christmas Groove

The Christmas season has officially begun. For millions of shoppers, Black Friday and Monday signaled the race toward the holiday. I kicked off with mine by suffering in bed for a week with a respiratory ailment. Two days before falling ill, I went to the doctor for an annual physical and flu shot and later called the nurse to blame her for giving me the shot that made me ill. A week later, all that’s left is the constant hacking cough that sources tell me should be gone sometime before the spring thaw.
            This year I dragged the Christmas tree and outdoor lights out early. Amy came to the rescue to adorn the tree with something more than ornaments not necessarily hung in the correct places. By the time she finished, the entire house took on a holiday glow. Outside, the lights ran along the front and wrapped around the screened porch. I never hang too many, just enough to cast that glow of Christmas colors that look nice both outside and in.
            One of the first things I did this season was download Christmas music to my iPhone. All was on an iPod, but the battery is dead, and I don’t have the small fortune necessary to replace it. The collection includes old favorites by Bing Crosby and Andy Williams, as well as plenty of traditional songs by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and The Gaither Vocal Band. Of course, what music library would be complete without Alvin and the Chipmunks, barking dogs performing “Jingle Bells” and Porky Pig singing “Blue Christmas?” Nothing is more enjoyable than sitting back, looking at a lighted Christmas tree, and listening to carols.
            The shopping was easy this year. Amy and I agreed to back off on our spending. We’ll save our money to take a trip sometime before long. Still, she needs gifts, and the challenge becomes finding nice things on a much smaller budget. I’ve chosen several items and am keeping my fingers crossed that she will like them.
            My dear wife is a practical shopper for the kids. She wants to get them gifts that they’ll like. I, on the other hand, want to shower them with all sorts of stuff. Over the last few years, my job has been to shop for stocking stuffers. That’s had me searching the shelves at Dollar General or Big Lots for “unique” things to cram in those stockings. In addition, I buy bags of candy to pour in as well.
            I’ve always said that the real fun of Christmas morning doesn’t come from the gifts. Instead, it’s the simple act of opening presents that brings on joy and excitement. Most people look forward to attacking presents and ripping festive paper to shreds. Oh, we are hoping for all sorts of things, but most of the time, we like what has been given to us. Even the smallest toddlers break into smiles as they destroy the wrappings hiding gifts, and many times they enjoy the boxes in which the things have come most of all.
            Another thing I always enjoy is visiting the malls and shopping areas during the last couple of weeks of Christmas. People are frantic in their searches for those last couple of gifts or are still looking for the perfect present for a loved one. They sometimes are panic stricken as they move from one store to another, and some folks have short fuses when it comes to dealing with crowds. For the most part, though, it’s this one time of the year when most everyone is a little kinder to others, when each person’s  awareness of blessings are keenest, and when spending time with family and friends is most enjoyable.
            I’m “psyched” about Christmas. Before long, the family will assemble and we’ll laugh and talk and eat and exchange presents. Then the time will come for us to return to our busy lives. We will do so, however, feeling a bit warmer in our hearts. That glow of love is what the season is all about anyway. 

Heroes Are Regular Guys

            We in Big Orange country love our football. Okay, for the last few years our love affair has taken on a love-hate characteristic, but all we need is a little hope, and the cheers and support return. Something else that thrills us is running into a former football hero.
            During my teaching career, I worked with Spencer Riley. He played for UT from 1996-2000. During that time, he was selected for the All-SEC freshman team and played in the 1999 Senior Bowl. Riley was the center on the 1998 championship team.
            Spencer and I taught at Karns High School. What I discovered was an individual who was at the core a “good ol’ country boy.” He loved to joke and laugh and have fun. In the classroom, he was all business and brought the same kind of passion that he showed on the football field. Spencer never allowed his UT star status to change him one bit. He was too wise and knew that time had passed. Instead, Spencer worked on cultivating friends and perfecting his teaching and coaching skills.
            Bobby Gratz played fullback for UT from 1962-65. He was a tough football player from Morristown, who had a dedicated work effort and played much bigger than his 200 pound size. We worked together at Doyle High School. Legendary principal Billy K. Nicely had passed, and Gratz was dubbed the new principal. He jumped into the position with all the energy he had displayed on the football field. Sometimes, however, students, teachers, and parents didn’t appreciate the job he did, but he continued to give his best efforts.
            A few years back, Vince Kanipe retired from the UT police department. Most folks recognize him as the officer who accompanied Coach Phil Fulmer and his family on game days. During the reception, the door to the hall opened and in came the UT coach.
            Any UT fan worth his salt knows that Fulmer played line for UT from the end of the 60’s and into the 70’s. He began his coaching career as head coach in 1992 and led the Volunteers until 2008. Over that span, Fulmer’s teams compile a record of 152-52, finishing 100 games over .500. Recently, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
            I introduced myself to the coach, and he greeted me as if I were an old friend. I talked with him for quite a while. He was a gracious man with a kindness not often found in celebrities. Even with all his success, this man from Winchester, TN has managed to keep his down-home personality.
            A couple of weeks ago I bought a car to replace one I’d sold my daughter. My wife found a used Altima at Cadillac of Knoxville, and I dropped by the dealership to take a look. The salesman was Danny Spradlin. He came from Maryville and played linebacker for UT from 1977-80 and then went on to an NFL career for five years.
            Danny surprised me with his soft-spoken voice. He was more than kind and helpful. We chatted a little about football, and then I test drove the car. When I left the business, he said, “God bless you.” Later, we returned to purchase the car, and again, Danny said that with no embarrassment in his voice. Doing business with a man with such a friendly nature was a pleasure.
            We make heroes of our athletes. What sometimes gets lost in the hype and glitz is the fact that they are all normal folks who are blessed with a talent and who have developed it to its highest degree. In the end, however, these heroes are regular guys who have good days and bad day; they work to make their lives better each day and sometimes make mistakes. Still, we appreciate them and the joy they’ve brought to us as we’ve watched them on the playing field. When a fan sees one of these heroes, he should take time to discover what good folks they are.


            We’re a blessed nation. Even truer, we’re a spoiled nation. No other country has it quite as good as we Americans do. Part of that has to do with our personal possessions and how we deal with them. Nothing seems to last anymore.
            At one time in another universe, folks got along with one pair of shoes. As kids, Jim and I wore orthopedic shoes. Mother and Daddy scraped up the money for them with the understanding that we boys took care of the shoes. Our clodhoppers were polished on Saturdays for church the following day. Woe unto the boy who tramped through water or mud that stained or damaged the leather.
            Oh, we had canvas tennis shoes, and when they became too worn or short, the toes were cut from them so that they could serve for summer. Older pairs of shoes saw after-school duty.
            These days, we throw shoes out like empty tin cans. If they aren’t in style or don’t feel good, out they go. I’m ashamed to admit how many pairs are in my closet. Perhaps I could have them re-soled when holes appear, but shoe repair stores are rarer than hen’s teeth.
            The same holds true for clothes. As a kid, I had a couple of pairs of jeans, maybe a pair of dress slacks, and a few shirts. I’d wear those clothes until the next school year. If a hole in the knees developed, a patch was sewn over it.
            These days, most of us have more clothes than we need. I’m no different. A dozen pairs of slacks, four pairs of jeans, and shirts for all seasons stuff my closet. Do I need all these things, especially since I no longer have to show up at a place of work? NO! Still, I buy at least a couple of new shirts each year, just for a change. The old are thrown out or given to a charity.
            I bought a Pathfinder in 1987. To this day, it still sits in my driveway and hauls me to the golf course and to the home improvement store. The interior is rough, and just the other day, the headliner came loose. I drive that old vehicle because it runs well, and since it’s filled with so many memories, I simply can’t let it go.
            I’ve also owned a second car…several times. I believe I’m on my fourth one. Just like lots of folks, I change cars too often. One was a truck that guzzled too much gas. Two others I passed along to my children, and just recently, I replaced one give away with a sedan. Somehow, we Americans think it’s okay to just throw away cars when they no longer appeal to us and trade them with for newer, flashier ones. 
            Amy and I built this place we call home back in 1978. Over the years, we’ve added rooms as our family has grown and porches as our desire to sit outside has increased. It’s home to us, and although the place isn’t stylish or filled with the most updated items, we love the way it fits us like a favorite pair of shoes.
            My parents built their home in the early 1940’s and even made the blocks for the house after a day of work. They planned to stay there forever and did until their time on this planet was up. Today, people buy starter homes with every intention of buying at least a couple bigger ones in the future. It’s hard to sink roots deep when folks move so often.
            We throw away too many things. It makes our lives more complicated and eats up resources. That worries many people. What concerns me even more is the having the same attitude about our relationships. We jump into them much too quickly, only to find ourselves discarding them when they don’t work or fail to live up to expectations.
            Our existence in this life can be more pleasant and more meaningful if we just quit throwing things away. Keeping them, taking care of them, and being thankful for