SINGING IN CHRISTMAS

It’s that time of year again when folks are spread too thin. So many events pull at them—school programs, shopping, get-togethers, and parties. For many, Christmas pageants or performances by children are staples for a complete holiday season. I remember a long time ago when Jim and I were involved those productions.
Beaver Ridge United Methodist Church always put on a big children’s program at Christmas. Two women, Mrs. Kirkland and Mrs, Marr, worked for weeks to put the show together. Children met
weekly to practice the songs for the program. The women found patience with squirming children who would have much rather been expending after-school energy playing touch football or riding bikes.
Mother worked to produce capes for the children. They looked like the ones that are wrapped around the shoulders of Christmas statues of carolers. She was a stay-at-home mother back until we started school and spent hours at the sewing machine making more capes to accommodate growing numbers of children who would perform.
On Sunday morning, we children faced a combination of excitement and nervousness. Standing in front of a packed church brought about butterflies, and some kids decided at the last minute that they wanted no part of the program. They burst into tears, and after efforts to comfort them failed, someone hustled them off to parents.
Most of the songs were familiar carols of the season. We stood stick straight and kept our eyes fixed upon Mrs. Kirkland, who led us in song. Moms and dads and grandparents oohed and aahed as smiles spread across their faces. The entire thing seemed to have lasted for hours, but the truth is that no more than twenty minutes were devoted to the program.
Jim and I, on occasion, sang solo parts. I’m not sure that we sang that well, but we were volunteered, and folks must have thought a set of twins singing was cute. As we grew older, we joined Mike Guinn in special songs. One I remember best was our singing “We Three Kings.” Nerves kicked in and voices choked as we stood in front of the congregation and performed. Yes, we made it, but all three of us stood there red faced and anxious.
Some of the best friends I ever had were included in that children’s choir. In addition to Mike Guinn, Jimmy Love and Mike Hill were there. All the boys fell over themselves as they tried to gain the favor of girls like Randy Butler and Nancy Marshall. As it turned out, all of us attended high school at Karns and remained friends, at least until graduation.
My children participated in Christmas programs at First Christian Church. I remember Uncle Tim sitting with a group of little ones as he related the Christmas story. The kids sang, hung christmons on the tree, and placed greenery throughout the church. My pride gushed as they completed their parts and as the program ushered in the Christmas season for the congregation and our family.
I miss the times when I was young and enjoyed participating in those programs. These days, my voice is just about gone, and I struggle to sing without it cracking. I miss being with my twin brother much of the time and long for family members who have passed. I would love to go back for one Sunday to watch my own children sing and read during a Christmas service. Too, I miss the friends from Beaver Ridge. I’ve not seen most of them in too many years.

I’ll listen to children sing again this year, and maybe I’ll even bribe my grandson Madden to sing “Away in a Manger” or “Silent Night.” The Christmas spirit stirs within me when I just begin thinking about those long ago times and the songs that we sang. Even this many years later, the child in me sometimes tries to sneak out. It feels good. 

O Christmas Tree

The other evening, Amy sent me to her car to lug in the new Christmas tree for our home. The one we have now is so large that it takes two tree bags to store, and the darn thing weighs a ton, too much for me to wrestle in and out of the house. Just like for most folks, however, a Christmas tree is an integral part of our holiday.
The best trees came when I was a boy. Mother would decide the time had arrived to put a tree up, and we three boys, along with her for the first few years, traipsed over the fields that our neighbor owned. After searching for a while, we’d spy the perfect one. Dal would saw the thing down and we’d take turns dragging it back to the house. With a great deal of effort, we trimmed the bottom limbs and leveled the trunk into the stand.
The scent from those cedar Christmas trees filled the house. We decorated them as a family and then, when the job was finished, we turned off every other light in the house and plugged in the lights. Something magical happened as if lighting the tree also jump started the Christmas season. The cedar stayed until after New Year’s Day, and then it was stripped and taken to the burn pile in the back yard. For the next year the tree remained in our thoughts as we stepped on burr-like fragments that were trapped in the carpet.
When our children arrived, the family would drive to Topside Road for our Christmas trees. We’d hunt acres of greenery to find one that was full enough, tall enough, and cheap enough for us. A helper would dig around the tree and wrap burlap around the dirt ball. I’d rupture myself loading the thing into the car and then transporting it into the house. Lacey and Dallas decorated the tree with special ornaments they’d made at daycare or school. Just as in my childhood, I made them wait until the tree was decorated before turning on the lights.
After the season, I once again hoisted the tree and headed outside. We planted one tree in the front yard, and it thrived and grew large. However, at some point, its roots began to infringe on the water line. I took a saw and, with a heart full of regret, cut the tree. It was too much like losing a good friend or family member because it always sparked holiday memories.
At some point, we gave in and bought an artificial tree. It seemed easier than always searching for a tree and then worrying about keeping it watered enough to prevent a fire. I thought that such a fake tree would smother Christmas, but to my surprise, our Christmases were every bit as merry and joyful. Yes, I missed the smell of cedar and pine in the house, but we stacked presents under that tree and watched as our excited children tore open boxes from Santa.
Now we spend time in Nashville during Christmas. That means we must also put up a tree in the condo where we stay. It’s one of those small ones from Dollar General Store. Guess what! It works just as well. We put gifts in the floor under the table where the tree sits. The entire family doesn’t seem to mind the pitiful “Charlie Brown” tree.
Yes, we have a new tree at home this year. It’s smaller and more manageable, but it still helps usher
in the Christmas season. One year not long ago, I declared that we wouldn’t put up a tree in Knoxville since we would be out of town on Christmas. It was another one of my bone-headed dictates. That year, Christmas never quite managed to work its way into our home, hearts, or lives.

From now on, a tree will be set up in our home during Christmas. We’ll decorate it, even if we only can enjoy it for a couple of days. Just like a nativity scene, a Christmas tree seems to be a focal point of the special season and something around which family and friends can gather. My only hope is that Snoop doesn’t take it upon himself to water this artificial tree while we are at work. 

THE OLD PLACES ARE GONE

We Baby Boomers continue to age, some of us gracefully, some of us kicking and screaming. Either way, the years click by, and most of us at some point reminisce about “better” times. Part of that recalling includes ruing the fact that some of our favorite old haunts are no longer around. In an instant I can list several of mine.
The most obvious places are where I spent much of my youth: schools. Ball Camp Elementary
The 1950 Ball Camp basketball team on the front steps of the old school.
School remained the same for years until 1962. I was in the sixth grade that year, and one fall evening we heard the sirens and watched fire trucks race down the road to the school. The front classrooms, office area, and gym all went up in flames.
Two sixth grades and one fifth spent our year in a converted hardware store across Middlebrook Pike. The place had one bathroom for girls and one for boys. We ate bag lunches at our desks, took hikes to the school under construction on occasion, and tried to keep warm with a huge ceiling heater that strained to make the makeshift classrooms with concrete floors marginally comfortable.
When the new Middlebrook Pike first began construction, that building was razed. I’m not so sure anyone has a single photo of what it looked like back then. Even the school building looks different than it did when the building was completed. The place has been extended and the front entrance moved to what used to be the back.
Movie places used to be important to us as kids and teens. At least once a month, we boys climbed into the car with Daddy on Friday nights, and off we’d go to a drive-in movie. We visited several of

them around the area and found movies that we all wanted to see. In the summer months, we could spend time on the playgrounds until the show began. Rarely did we stay awake for an entire movie, and that’s why Daddy insisted that we wore our pajamas.
As teens, our dates included trips downtown to watch a movie. The Tennessee, Riviera, and Bijou Theaters offered different genres for moviegoers. I remember watching Disney movies, Elvis classics, and Hercules epics at those places. At that time, the price was still affordable enough for teens with limited funds.
These days, two of the theaters are venues for special productions, and one no longer exists. Movie theaters have located toward the suburbs and have lost some of the special qualities of the older ones that were located on Gay Street. Drive-ins are all but gone now. Some have been turned into shopping centers, and one has become home to a flea market.
As teens, part of our weekend activities was cruising. We’d hop in our cars, put a couple of dollars of gas in the tank, and just drive. My friends and I made our first stop at the Copper Kettle on Western
Avenue. It was located just west of where I-640 ramps are now. Beside the place was a small package store, and a steady stream of cars circled the drive-in for hours. Occasionally, a vehicle would pull up to the window at Quincy’s, and the driver would present a fake i.d. so that he could purchase alcohol.
Next, we’d drive up the road to the Jiffy and the Blue Circle. Sometimes a convoy would drive just over the ridge to the Hollywood Drive-in on Papermill Road. Then it was time to make our way to Broadway to circle Shoney’s. Most of us were looking for cars filled with girls, although few guys would ever have enough nerve to actually stop and strike up a conversation. 
Fast forward to today. The Copper Kettle is long gone and has been replaced by a Marathon gas station. Jiffy’s and Blue Circles no longer exist. Shoney’s is now only a restaurant where only the bravest patrons dare to eat a meal. Those guys who used to cruise are now senior citizens who drive Buicks. My how times change.
I miss the old haunts and the folks who visited them. Of course, tastes in popular places change with generations. Our fondest memories are about all we have left. Today, the new places that we Baby Boomers will find most interesting are being constructed all over the area. They’re called assisted living facilities. They might be our last stopovers on this journey through life.


FINDING FOOD FUNDS IN FT. LAUDERDALE

Yes, like so many others, I’m going to jump on Fort Lauderdale, as well as other cities, that have
passed ordinances that forbid the feeding of homeless folks. The fact that I have to even address such a subject is a sad commentary on the world as it exists today.
First of all, let’s take a look at some facts. The HUD Exchange, in its 2013 annual report, estimates that 610,042 individuals are homeless, and of those 109, 132 are chronically homeless. The individual who was ticketed for feeding the homeless was attending to no more than 100 people.
Speculation is that the leaders of Ft. Lauderdale want to get rid of the homeless, especially the ones who hang around the beaches. They are afraid that such a sad site will keep tourists away, something that would cut deeply into their coffers. I suppose that most of us can understand the concern over commerce in this fair city by the ocean.
The median income for residents of Ft. Lauderdale in 2012 was $50,997. The population is given a 170,747. So, the big threat to the way of life and healthy economy of the area comes from 100 people who are homeless and hungry. As I figure things, they represent .0006 percent of the population. WOW! I’m not so sure that such a tiny group can bring so much misery on a thriving, robust area.
How difficult would it be to take a different approach toward the homeless who are hungry? Instead of ticketing people who feed them, the city could undertake a program to provide food. The national average cost for a meal for the homeless is $2.52. If Ft. Lauderdale fed all 100 persons three meals a day, it would cost $756 a day, $275,940 a year.
A quarter of a million dollars isn’t chicken feed by any stretch of the imagination, but let’s break it down a little more. That cost would equate to $1.61 per resident per year. It doesn’t sound like such a big expense that way. Still, it is an expense that the government must take on, and we all know how tough times are for cities and their programs. Too, many people resist any further intrusion by governments of any type.
Ft. Lauderdale took in $691,000 in pool fees in 2012. The city also added $2 million to its coffers from fees charged for yacht dockage. During the same period, $700,000 in traffic fines were collected. Common sense would suggest that the cost to feed the hungry could be covered through such large pools of money that pour in.
In the end, the simple fact is that this country, the greatest in the history of civilization, should be able to take care of its homeless and hungry. It’s true that some individuals resist permanent housing, and many are plagued with mental issues. Still, we owe them a place to sleep and three meals a day. No, it’s not encouraging people to become homeless. I doubt that any competent person would ever wish to exist like that.

We profess to hold religious beliefs; we praise the lord and pass the plate. Some of our churches are extravagant complexes. So, why in the name of all that’s holy do some folks balk at giving to those who are less fortunate? That flies in the face of the Christ’s teachings. Ft. Lauderdale residents and any others in cities throughout this country should dust off their bibles and re-read Matthew 25:35. It calls us to action and defines our duty to our fellow men and our God. 

ROLL AROUND HEAVEN ALL DAY

Last Sunday, our church celebrated All Saints Day. It’s a time to remember those who have passed over the last year. The minister did a good job of talking about those individuals, and he suggested that we all are saints in the making. I don’t necessarily agree that I’m a saint, and plenty of folks might quickly tell you that I’m closer to the devil’s minion. Still, the service set me to thinking about just what life on the other side is like.
Some folks believe that our eternity will be spent singing hymns and worshiping God. They think that means attending a never-ending church service. I might like singing some of the old hymns; they’ve always been special to me, and other folks hum or sing them as they go about their daily routines. However, I’m not so sure how appealing church services would be. Would many of the folks there nod off or fiddle with the same kinds of things they now do on Sunday mornings?
I’m hoping, first, that I make it to heaven when my days are over. If I do, it will be through the grace of a loving God who knows all my faults, sins, and shortcomings, but who loves me in spite of them and who shrugs them off. I feel certain that Heaven would offer the overflowing contentment that comes by being in the presence of God and enjoying an eternal existence.
I have some questions that I want to ask God when I arrive. On so many occasions, life has presented problems and disappointments and confusion. I would like to sit down with Him and listen to His explanations about why things worked as they did. No, I’m not about to argue with the good lord, but I just want to understand the how and why of things that occurred during my time on Earth.
Arriving in heaven, I would hope to see those folks who have been so special in my life. It would be
wonderful to sit at the kitchen table with my mother, dad, and brother. A pot of coffee could be brewing on the stove, and we could share time just being together.
I’d also like to meet my in-laws, as well as relatives. At the same time, I’d like to spend time with some of my heroes in life, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robin Williams, Dan Fogelberg, and Ray Charles. And yes, I’d like to spend a long time with Jesus and listen to him. We all could sing some songs, not necessarily hymns but ones that bring happiness and spark good memories, tell jokes, and hold major discussions on topics.
Many of us will probably will be surprised at the folks who are present in heaven. We’ve all passed judgments on people and decided they weren’t were a dime and were “going to hell in a hand basket.”  I’m pretty sure that God is much more forgiving than we are and will pour His grace and mercy on those who most need it. It stands to reason that He is much better at judging than we are, so I’m prepared to be surprised at who’s there. At the same time, my presence will also stun plenty of people there.

To be honest, I hope I make it to heaven, but I’m not in a big hurry to get there. I want to spend as much time on this planet with the ones whom I love. The line to heaven is only one that I will gladly
allow anyone to cut in front of me. The best way to give praise right now is to live each day fully and to enjoy being in the presence of God in this world that He has created for us all. That is good enough for me; I hope I see you and you see me in a wonderful place after this life is over.

THE AXE MAN AND JEWEL TEA

Weekends at our house in the 1960’s took on a routine that included work, play, and family. Back then, our parents managed life on a small income and herded three boys along the way. We had jobs to complete, church to attend, and Sunday dinners to enjoy.
On Saturday, we boys were charged with cleaning the house. Daddy wasn’t a skilled mechanic, carpenter, or plumber, so we boys didn’t learn how to do those kind of things. However, mother was a stickler for a clean house, and she made sure that her sons would never live in “pig sties.” Sometimes we tarried too long before beginning the cleaning, and Mother would show a bit of anger to urge us toward our tasks.
We divided up rooms in the house. Somehow, I managed to get the living room and a hallway. It was the biggest room in the house and held the most pieces of furniture.  The first step was to drag out the old vacuum cleaner. The contraption had a removable base in which water was poured. The machine was heavy and bulky and had no wheels to make it easier to handle. The wood floors were cleaned, and furniture was moved to vacuum in every nook and cranny.
The next job was dusting, something that we all hated. Mother insisted that every item be moved and dusted. The furniture in the living room included an old pump organ with ornate carving and shelves.
On one occasion, I lifted a small statuette of a man wiping his brow and holding an axe and dropped it. The axe broke into several pieces. Mother was disappointed and swore that she owned not one thing that we boys hadn’t chipped, dented, or destroyed.
The rest of Saturday was filled with washing cars, pulling weeds in the garden, or polishing shoes for Sunday. Jim and I always sneaked in enough time for playing outside or just goofing off. By evening, we had taken baths, and the family settled in the living room to watch favorite television shows that included “Perry Mason” and “Gunsmoke.”
Sunday mornings began with pancakes or waffles for breakfast. We finished and put on our “good clothes” for Sunday School. If Daddy weren’t working, we all attended church. Neither parent put up with any nonsense at church, and failure to behave would lead to swift punishment upon our arrival back home.
After church, we boys hung up our clothes and put on our old ones and headed outside. Mother worked to complete the feast that we called Sunday dinner. Usually, a plate of fried chicken on a pot roast was served with vegetables, biscuits, gravy, and some kind of homemade pie. Another special treat was iced tea. On Sunday and holidays, the tea was poured from a Jewel T pitcher. It was sweet and thirst-quenching. After the meal, the pitcher was again placed in the dish cabinet in the hallway where it stayed until the next “dinner.” Weeknight suppers just didn’t warrant the use of this special vessel.
The rest of the day was spent in play. Mother and Daddy cleaned the kitchen and then sat down in the den. Mother would read the paper until she nodded off to sleep, and Daddy would take a nap or get ready for his next shift of work. In the evenings, we made the trip to church where they were leaders of the MYF group, and then we’d race home, pop a big bowl of popcorn, and sit down to watch “Bonanza.”

It’s more than fifty years later now. I miss my parents and my older brother too. I’ve been blessed with my own family, but now the kids are grown, and Amy and I are on our own. Still, I think about how enjoyable those weekends were way back then. The memories become even more vivid when I clean my own house and dust an old statuette of an axe man and a pitcher with a cracked lid. Those items probably aren’t worth a dollar each, but to me, no amount of money could ever buy them and the memories they conjure up. 

THE MORAL IMPERATIVE

EBOLA—the mere mention of it brings on waves of panic, fear, and anger. The onslaught of the disease also vividly highlights the failures of governments throughout the world to combat the disease. What we’re left with is a scary, uncertain situation.
Most of us in this country hadn’t heard, nor had we much cared, about the disease until the last few months. Only when Americans fell ill with the outbreak did our ears perk up even a bit. The two individuals returned home and were cured; that’s what all expected, and so, unaffected, we returned to the more important things in life like  paying the mortgage, planning football parties for the weekend, and looking forward to our next “toy” purchases.

This Ebola thing proves to be a stubborn disease that seems to enjoy tormenting us humans.  To recap, it is defined by the World Health Organization as “is a severe, often fatal illness in humans. It is s transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission via direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids.. The average EVD case fatality rate is around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks.”

The world has sat by as the disease has raced across borders with not concern for the age of its victims. Guess what: there is as yet no proven treatment available for EVD. This present outbreak is the largest one to occur since the discovery of the virus in, surprise, 1976! How can that be? This disease is projected as more deadly than cancer or heart disease. It claims an average of 1 out of every 2 persons infected. So, if this virus spreads throughout the world as an epidemic or pandemic and wipes out 50 percent of the population, 3.5 billion people will die. That’s effective population control. The Black Death of the 1300’s killed 20 million, about 3 percent of what this disease could kill.

Readers might be sufficiently scared now. Let’s hope for a few things that must begin now. First, we can keep our fingers crossed that the leadership of this country proves itself more effective in dealing with a possible epidemic than it has been in dealing with a sick economy or dragging war. This is the time for political ideology to take a back seat to the health of the country and the world. Arguments over healthcare might become moot if they don’t make decisions that can save the population of our country and planet.
Second, send prayers up that our best minds can come up with a cure and immunization to combat this disease. Maybe pharmaceutical companies will forego the opportunity to cash in on the current crisis and, instead, provide medicines at break-even costs so that people can be safe. They can look at doing so this way: saving folks now will keep them around to buy billions of overpriced drugs in the future.
Last, let us hope that the “civilized” world finally decides that it is its brother’s keeper. Much of the cause of deadly diseases is the result of living conditions that are abysmal. We who have much must make sure that every person is this world has access to clean drinking water, adequate disposal of garbage and sewage, and basic healthcare. Our failure to provide such fundamental things for all people will eventually lead to an illness that might wipe humanity from the face of the earth.

I worry about Ebola, but I worry more about the people who live in conditions that promote disease, starvation, and death. The US cannot be policeman of the world, but those countries that have much must accept the moral imperative to make sure the minimum essentials are available to all people. If that much can’t be accomplished, perhaps we deserve the catastrophic effects of a killer disease. Let’s just hope we’re not too late. 

BAD COMMERCIALS

I’m an old television fan who’s spent plenty of time watching programs over the years. Some have become favorites, a fact that seems to doom them to cancellation. What I’ve also viewed are some ridiculous commercials. They challenge the patience and intelligence of we who sit in front of the screen.
One of the first goofy ads that I remember is a bra commercial. Back then, the “cross your heart” bra aired on television. It was displayed across a woman’s chest. She wore a long-sleeved turtle neck top. The viewer was supposed to get the idea of what the article would do without having to seeing how it
would actually look. I can only laugh when I remember those commercials, especially when Victoria Secret commercials air. Models spill from their bras in a sexy ad that tries to convince women that they can look the same if only they buy bras from this company.
Other commercials today suggest that people will celebrate wildly when they choose certain products. One shows office workers eating candy and then dancing wildly on desktops and around cubicles. Another shows how a person changes from a celebrity to himself with just one bite of a life-saving candy bar. Of course,
M&M’s talk, and Reese’s becomes the product of a steamy relationship between chocolate and peanut butter. I like candy, but these commercials are enough to stop me from buying any.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m OVER insurance commercials. Flo might be a fine person, but I am not amused by her endless commercials and silly behaviors. Her company isn’t one that has the best of
reputation with some customers. Perhaps the business should spend more money improving its coverage and less on annoying commercials.
The insurance commercials that always drive me to distraction feature gecko. On top of that, the darn thing talks and has an Aussie accent. How does that figure with a company that is the “Government Employees Insurance
Company?” I’ve yet to find one person who finds these wastes of television time funny.
Some things are better left off television. Once upon a time, discretion was used when sexual relationships were topics in programs. Things might have been suggested, but nothing else happened. Turn on any of the hundreds of stations available now, and before long, commercials abound about sex. Some discuss female concerns, but the most often aired ones discuss the blue pill and end with a man and woman holding hands while
sitting in bathtubs and viewing some beautiful vista. You know the ones.
Of course, medicines for every malady are advertised on the tube. They promise wonderful results; however, the warning labels should scare any person from taking them. I don’t want to take the risks of terrible side effects to cure my problem. It’s safer to stick with aspirin.
While I applaud the creative efforts in commercials of a local lawyer duo, I suspect the general public is tired of others that tell how they can be helped to win personal injury claims or to receive their social security benefits. Many lawyers prey on the public as they scare the hell out of them in regard to some medicine they’ve taken. Don’t get me wrong; I know some excellent attorneys who work hard and help their clients, but most of the television ambulance chasers only further smear the profession.
Maybe the worst commercial of all deals with toilet paper. The fact is we all need a little paper for special jobs, and yes, we want the product to be soft and several plies thick. However, I don’t want to watch toilet paper ads where bears are always excited about how well their paper works. It’s also disgusting to see baby bear appear on the screen with bits of toilet paper stuck in the fur on his
bottom. Good grief, how much more ridiculous commercials be?

It’s time for companies to do a better job of promoting their products. That means they no longer have to pay wads of money for terrible commercials. If this happened, two things would occur. First, more time could be devoted to the programs we want to watch. Second, we’d once again be sure exactly what bears do in the woods, and it wouldn’t be accomplished with a roll of toilet paper. 

DIVVYING UP

The other day a friend told me that her dad’s house was up for sale and that the hardest part of all was divvying up the contents between brothers and sisters (I refuse to use the word “sibling”). It’s a job that most of us never want to undertake, but because that’s the way life’s course runs, we must complete it at some time.
My mother passed almost twenty years ago. She’d fought the good fight against the cancer that ate away at her body until she just grew too tired. In the end, she let go when she knew that her children would be okay without her. The Saturday before she died, the six of us sat around her bed at home and sang some of her favorite songs while my brother Dal played the guitar.
She was gone, but her house was still there. Daddy and she built the house in the early 40’s. After work each day, they traveled to “the country” to make the blocks for the house. Inside that house were more than 50 years of treasures and other things not so special. Not a single argument between us three boys occurred. Mother had given most items to us throughout the years and had taped our names to the backs of most things. With reservations, we moved those pieces to our own homes. Doing so made our hearts ache because we realized the house was being emptied for the last time by our family.
A few items were harder to divide. A large box held years of photos of our family and other relatives. We managed to share them so that each of us had some pictures of times when those we loved were all still alive. Other special items were distributed according to whom they were most important. We now use some of them and put others on display on shelves.
What was left was an assortment of things. We decided to hold an estate sale on our own. Actually, the sale was more like a garage sale, but tables of things were lined up along the driveway. Some larger items were left inside, and interested buyers were welcome to browse.
We sold a large armoire that was located in the bedroom upstairs. The buyers and I worked for a couple of hours but never figured out how to get the bulky item down the stairs and through the door on the right. Disappointed, they toted the piece back up the stairs and left it there. I also sold a metal building that could have served as a small home or office for someone. It was hauled off and converted into a concession stand at a high school football stadium. 
My family still laughs at my actions that day. They swear that every time someone asked the price of an item that I held up three fingers and squawked “three dollars.” All I know is that things that looked to be nothing more than junk were bought, loaded up, and hauled away.
Not everything was sold, however. Mother was a packrat, and she squirreled away things that no one wanted. Stacks of National Geographic magazines filled one corner in the attic. She also kept piles of school materials from her years of teaching. A mountain of fabric, most of it polyester, was heaped in her sewing desk and in drawers of other dressers. We worked up a sweat as these loaded the unwanted things for a trip to the dump.
Noting is much harder to do than pack up the place that we called home as children. It’s difficult to admit that the time has come to let go of the old home place. However, what my brothers and I discovered through the process of closing down the house was that we had a chance to remember good times and become closer. Today, Rick and June live in Mama’s house. They love it and have made it their own. I’m glad to know that the place has undergone a rebirth and will house another family’s wonderful memories.

So, to my friend I can say I know the hurt that comes with closing down your dad’s house. However, I also know that you and yours will have the chance to “REMEMBER.” That alone can bring plenty of smiles and sighs and tears. Embrace the task; it is another wonderful part of life. 

FRIENDS

I know that most of us have few friends but many acquaintances. However, for the sake of argument and the development of this piece, I’m going to talk about “friends” in a larger context. It’s been my good fortune over the years to have come into contact with plenty of folks whom I consider friends.
School brought many friends. Especially in high school, I enjoyed being with lots of teenagers with whom I had a common interest. Sometimes that shared interest was the music of band and choir. At other times, the bond existed around a case of beer and a drive-in movie. In all cases, we lived out our high school years and enjoyed some events that are still glowing memories after several decades.
I didn’t think I’d made friends in college. My efforts were turned toward making good grades while competing with two brothers and a sister-in-law who also were taking classes. I also wanted to make sure I didn’t screw up and get drafted into a war where I surely would have been killed in a relatively short time. Upon thinking back, I recalled that I had made at least a few friends. Two girls, Sandra Denny and Sharon Phillips, were also English majors, and we developed a close relationship. A student named Jamie Cotton and another named Paul Godwin were pals that I liked much.  No, I haven’t seen any of them in years, but I still think about them every once in a while.
During my teaching years, I developed some strong friendships. At the old Doyle High
School, a band of us teachers stayed close. Jim Pryor, Bob Shoemaker, Ray Garner, Jim Talley, and Bill Rickman used to walk to the baseball field during lunch to smoke and “chew.” Rob Howard and I became good friends as we coached freshman football. John Gilbreath and I were good friends who carpooled from West Knoxville for some time. We sang two-part harmony to songs on the radio and talked about every imaginable subject. I also had female friends in the English department, and they helped me through plenty of times.
At Karns High, more friends came. Dwight Smith, Glen Marquart, Geoff Davis, Spencer Riley, Dowell Bales, Rick Cathey, Lee Henson, and a bunch of others made my years easier as we enjoyed a variety of topics that hand nothing to do with school. Mona Beverly, Marilyn McClain, and Terry Runger were pals as well. For just a few years, Amy Jennings was as close as any friend could be, and she was also like a second daughter.
At church, I’ve met so many wonderful folks who have made my life fuller and happier. At First Christian Church, people accepted us and included us in all things. We not only had a church home but also a family that shared years of our lives. Then we moved to Beaver Ridge United Methodist Church. Once again, people took us in, and in no time, we felt that same kindred spirit that we’d shared at FCC.
Over the years, the closest friends still are present. Doug Meister and I have been tight for about 30
years. We’ve played softball together and discussed religion and philosophy over that time. When we touch base, it’s as if nothing had separated us over the last 20-plus years. Billy Hayes is another special friend. How could he not be
after we spent all those years coaching our sons in baseball and reliving each and every game and play under the carport at my house? Today, Joe Dooley and I are good friends who enjoy working together on yard projects or mission trips. It’s funny how we taught in the same school for so long but didn’t become friends until Amy and I
moved to BRUMC. The last good friend is probably Catherine Nance. She and I sort of understood each other the first time I met her for an interview for a news story. I suppose we just connected, and to this day, I consider her a close confidant and fantastic minister with a special gift of delivering a message that we all need to hear.
These days, my new friends are found in a bunch of older guys with whom I work. The definition of a friend includes the qualities of being nice and being helpful. Both fit these men who have taken me in and explained how things are done. They make each day a work a pleasant one, and I enjoy their company.
Friends come and go out of our lives, and it’s true that only a handful are truly close friends. Still, I feel fortunate to have been in touch with so many good people over the years. They’ve all made my life a little better.


A NICE DRIVE NOT TO TAKE

The cool weather arrived this week, and before eyes blinked, leaves began coloring and skies turned “fall” blue. The time has arrived to think about taking those drives to places where the scenery is breath-taking and offers a welcome relief from work, football, and world crisis.
I took such a drive the other day. At work, shuttlers were needed to travel to Atlanta. Seven of us left and traveled down Highway 411. It leads to Chatsworth, Georgia, and delivers cars less than fifty miles from the big city. The morning drive began in chilly weather that soon moderated to a comfortable enough temperature. Yep, that meant the air conditioner was turned off and the windows were rolled down.
Now, many folks would think that the worst part of a trip like this would be Atlanta traffic, and the truth is that I hate driving somewhere that has too many lanes filled with vehicles all moving at break-neck speeds. However, that’s not how I see it. The most trying section of this trek to the big city is Highway 411.
The route is dotted with several little towns. We know many of them by name: Maryville, Vonore, Tellico, and Madisonville. Others aren’t as familiar: Etowah, Englewood, Ocoee, and a dozen townships that are not much more than wide spots along the way.
The road itself is excellent. Much of it is five lanes, and even the two lane sections are in good shape. Plenty of side roads lead back to the Interstate for travelers who grow weary of Americana. Drivers can also find gas, restrooms, and food along the way as well.
With all these wonderful attributes, why would anyone choose to drive down I-75 instead? The answer is simple: SPEED TRAPS. It’s evident that folks who live in these little towns are still furious with the government for constructing Interstate highways. The parade of vehicles that once passed through their towns long ago disappeared. Businesses closed with the loss of travelers, and little towns struggled to make enough money to keep themselves afloat.
The solution to the money flow problem, as well as the perfect scheme to get back at drivers who abandoned them, was to slow down every vehicle that approached and drove through these fair cities. All the little places begin speed zones miles outside the center of town, and they send out police officers to prey on speeders. It’s all right to want cars to slow down as they travel through business districts and school zones, but these places go to extremes. They begin the reduced speed areas in places where the only things motorists might see are acres of fields with corn or soybeans, cattle, or absolutely NOTHING. Planting city limit and reduced speed signs is nonsensical and spiteful.
Even when folks obey the speed limit, some of these little towns employ more devious approaches. One place slows traffic down to 45 and then 40. Just when drivers think they are being law-abiding citizens, the limit once again changes to 35 and even 30 MPH. Yes, it’s all designed to catch as many drivers as possible and to make them pay for tickets. I suppose that’s the way these places fund their towns, but “it still ain’t right!”
Driving south on Hwy. 411, the Cherokee National Forest is to the left. The mountains tower over the valley below, and I’m sure that the view of fall leaves is spectacular. Side trips take cars along the
Ocoee River and to more beautiful spots. It’s a trip that could be a wonderful way to spend a day. Motorists can avoid the bumper-to-bumper lines of traffic that crawl along the roads of the Smoky Mountains during the fall.
The fact is that Highway 411 will continue to be a lightly traveled route. Speed traps that impede traffic serve as “no-trespassing” warnings to folks. No one wants to journey to a place only to return home with a speeding ticket for driving 46 MPH down a five-lane road wider than most similar roads in the area. Evidently, the residents along this road haven’t yet figured out that such speed traps cause even more folks to avoid their towns and the special things they might offer.

If I were asked, I tell the town leaders to pull in the speed zones to reasonable area and to stop changing them several times as a way to trick people. I’d also let them know that their policies sure don’t say, “Y’all come back now, ya hear?”

DON'T WHINE OF SELF-STUPIDITY

Oh my, folks have such little sense these days. They also seem to be looking for something over which they can throw a conniption fit. Many of these individuals remind me of whiny little children who throw fits when they suffer for the acts that they’ve committed.
Take, for instance, the recent rash of misbehaviors by plane passengers. Sure, folks have plenty over which to complain: soaring ticket prices, surcharges for luggage, charge-for-everything plans, and overbooking. Still, no one can condone the fights that break out during flights. One man took to fisticuffs when the passenger in front of him crunched his knees with a reclining seat. A simple
“Please move your seat up might have worked much better than a brawl. In the end, the goofball wound up being jerked from the flight and now faces possible legal problems.
Even more recent is the brouhaha that occurred on another flight. Some woman decided to snooze during her flight. She laid her head on the serving tray on the back of the seat in front of her. The woman’s rest was abruptly interrupted when the person in front of her decided to recline the seat, an act that bonked the female I the noggin. She comes up fighting and throwing a fit. Her demands were soon honored as the plane landed. However, I don’t much think she expected to find authorities waiting for her at the airport.
The world is going to hell in a hand basket in many places, but one of the major stories the last couple of days is the stealing and publication of celebrity photos. In case you’ve been comatose or shipwrecked on some remote island, the story is about how nude or compromising photos have been illegally taken from iPhones, as well as other electronic devices. Then these photos have been posted on web sites for others to view. The subjects of these photos are raising a stink about having their likenesses stolen and then distributed for anyone and everyone to see.
I don’t know about you, but the last thing I do is place my trust in an electronic device. Too many individuals smarter than I am can always figure out a way to steal information. In this case, the “iCloud” seems to have been hacked and nude photos (selfies?) were taken. HMMMMMMM! The victims are shocked that such a thing could happen. I look at the situation in a different way.
Years ago, Lewis Grizzard did a comedy routine about Vanessa Williams and her loss of the Miss America title. Williams said of the nude photos that appeared in Penthouse that she was young when she’d posed for the magazine. Grizzard didn’t miss a beat and quipped,

“I don’t know about you, but where I’m from, nineteen is old enough to know not to take your clothes off.”
Okay, let’s follow this same logic. These celebrities, as well as all other folks, probably would never stand nude in front of a crowd. Oh, yes, some celebs would if it were in the context of a movie. At any rate, these people strut around their homes and other places and snap selfie after selfie of themselves in compromising poses. Then they share them with some friend or loved one. Go figure. I contend that that, like Vanessa Williams, these individuals are old enough to know not to take off their clothes.
The problem is not with the “cloud” or any technological thing. The dilemma lies squarely with people who don’t have any filters. They simply do what they want and post anything they choose. Then, when something goes wrong, these half-wits cry foul and immediately blame someone or something else for their simply stupid choices.

The key to solving the hacking of nude photos is to quit taking them and then sending them into cyberspace where hackers wait to grab them. Just a little modesty, common sense, and forethought can quickly stop this so-called injustice. If people choose to continue taking such photos, then I ask them to please hush the whining and outrage. The world has more pressing issues than your right to take nude photos that are stolen and shown around the world. 

CANNING AND FREEZING

Amy and I moved into our house in December 1978. This year, for the first time, I put out tomato plants. The funny thing is I’m not that much in love with them, but in the summer the produce does taste good. I’ve babied the plants and staked them and then tied them up. To date, about 6-7 green orbs are hanging on the vine, and I’m in hopes they turn red and are ready to eat before rabbits or insects devour them.
All this leads to my missing the foods that Mother used to “fix” when I was a boy. She had a green thumb with all sorts of plants, and maybe she was more successful with them because she stuck them in the dirt, tamped them in with her tennis shoe, and left the alone. Whatever the reason, she used the bounty from Mother Nature to make some of the best tasting things I’ve ever had.
Every summer, she loaded us boys up, and we traveled to one of several blackberry fields. For some
time we picked berries and suffered sticks and scratches from briars. The juice stained our fingers, and unfortunately, chiggers burrowed under our skin. At home, Mother washed the berries and then took most of them and began the process of boiling the juice out to make jelly. She kept a few back to make cobbler. It arrived to the table hot from the oven and disappeared quickly.
In the back yard we had several grape vines. Mother would send us out early in the morning to pick grapes. We dodged wasps that dive-bombed us and grudgingly carried out the chore. Of course, after delivering the grapes, we were more than willing to eat the grape jelly that she made.
We also had a cherry tree, peach tree, pear tree, and apple trees. Mother took the fruits from all those trees and made pies and jelly. She made the dough and layered fruit with butter, brown sugar, and spices before topping the pies with more dough. Then she placed 4-6 pies into an oversized oven, and the aroma filled the house.
Mother’s garden was filled with vegetables for canning or freezing. She picked beans until her back and hands ached. We’d sit outside or in front of the television and break beans by the bushels. Then she would wash them and sterilized dozens of Mason jars before stuffing them with “half-runners” or “bush beans.” If the garden didn’t produce enough, she’d make a trip to the market on Dale Avenue
for a couple of bushels. Ears of corn were picked and shucked. Kernels were cut from the cobs and packaged into bags before being placed into a freezer that looked too much like a giant coffin.
Other things were prepared as well. Green peppers were cut and frozen; hot peppers were sewn on strings and hung for future use. Potatoes were grubbed, scrubbed, and stored on the ledges in the basement. Squash was also gathered and frozen.
Cucumbers were plentiful. Mother cut many for supper, but I never ate them. My father-in-law said that they were the only thing that a hog wouldn’t eat, and I agreed with the assessment. However, many of them were gathered and put into jars. Then what I call “pickle water” was boiled and poured over them, and the jars were sealed. Dozens lined a shelf in the basement until they were properly aged. I had no problems eating those.
Heads of cabbage were chopped, and Mother prepared the stuff in some way before filling a five-gallon crock. The entire thing was set outside under our bedroom window and allowed to “perk.” Jim and I sneaked to the crock and lifted the lid, an unfortunate action that allowed the foul odor escape from what would at some point be kraut.
All of the food that Mother prepared was eaten during the winter months. By the time the next spring arrived, the freezer was nearly bare, and empty jars cluttered the basement. One of the certain things in life was replenishing of those foods would occur each year.

Mother passed in 1996, and for nearly 20 years, I’ve longed for a jar of blackberry jelly and a Dutch apple pie, and a cherry cobbler. When the time comes when I leave this world, I hope to meet up with her and ask her to fix some of those wonderful foods once again. 

AN ANGEL AMONG US

Our lives are sometimes difficult. All of us experience problems, but a few have much harder times than others. That’s when angels appear. Yes, I firmly believe that God brings folks into our lives who serve as angels and who make our lives better. One of them is a well-known figure in Knoxville, and although she’s put off her original plans until the end of the year, Ginny Weatherstone is retiring as CEO of Volunteer Ministry Center.
I met Ginny years ago. Her daughter Anna was a student in my English class.
When she fell ill with “mono,” I taught her through the homebound program. Now, I already loved Anna and enjoyed teasing her and exchanging verbal jabs. In no time, I came to feel the same way about her mom.
My first encounter with Ginny came when she returned home from work. It was late, as usual, and her husband was in the kitchen; I suppose he was starting the family’s dinner. Ginny breezed in and immediately pitched in to help. The couple talked about her work, and from the sounds of the conversation, it was apparent she was involved in a thousand things that were going on all at once. 
When I finished my work with Anna, Ginny presented me a poster with a quote from James Agee’s A Death in the Family that described Knoxville. In some way, that poster and its words prodded me and encouraged me to start writing, and the poster still hangs above my work desk.
A few years later, she spoke to the congregation at First Christian Church, where my family attended. She brought a different message to us about our interactions with the homeless. Ginny encouraged us not to give money to them. Instead, she asked us to send individuals to VMC, where they could receive sustained help in many areas. The best way we could help the needy was to support VMC and the programs it provided.
Ginny Weatherstone has a bulldoggish tenacity. She does not take “no” for an answer. Nothing is impossible to her, and her positive outlook is infectious. The new VMC building offers food, counseling, and housing information to its clients. Ginny has encouraged community involvement, and churches and other groups serve meals and spend time with residents at the complex. Those who have done so have developed relationships with the men that will continue for years.
She preached the gospel of sustained affordable housing for years, and she made it a reality with the completion of Minvilla Manor. In place of the eyesore Fifth Avenue Hotel that sat vacant for years are apartments for 57 individuals. Other places in the city also offer homes for those in need.
Ginny made sure that clients had meals, but she and the VMC staff also managed to provide dental care through the volunteer efforts of local dentists.  Her commitment has been aimed toward making sure those in her care are afforded the same services that more fortunate receive. She serves as their angel, and in so many ways, she also watches over them as a mother; she protects, defends, goads, and scolds. In the end, Ginny is respected and loved by these people who have received a hand up, not a handout.
 The success of VMC is the result of efforts from many people. One is Bruce Spangler, Chief Operating Officer and resident wit. Mary Beth Ramey and the dedicated board of directors also work endlessly to make VMC a success. However, it is Ginny Weatherstone who sits in the driver’s seat and steers the course for the program.
The VMC is established and will continue to serve those in need of housing and guidance. With a little luck and donations from local, state, and federal governments, homelessness can become a thing of the past. Still, I’m going to miss Ginny Weatherstone, seeing her at events and hearing her speak to groups and committees to promote the organization that she has loved like a child. The fact is, however, no one will miss her more than the folks that she works beside and the people she has helped find a second chance.
Ask hundreds of people in the area about the influence that Ginny Weatherstone has had on their lives. It’s a good bet that most of them will at some point refer to her as an “angel.”

Here’s hoping that you enjoy your retirement, Ginny. The clients at VMC and the many friends you’ve made will forever remember your contributions to others. “Well done good and faithful servant.”

ROBIN WILLIAMS...THE LOSS HURTS

How many lives will you touch during your time on earth? Yes, that’s a question without an answer. We all hope that our contact with others will leave positive things, but most of us aren’t really sure of the impact we have. Robin Williams is one of the exceptions. I’ve waited for a while until all the news and television folks poured out their stories and condolences. Now I’ll talk about an individual that was a part of my life for years.
When “Mork and Mindy” came on television, Robin Williams immediately hooked me. Never before had I experienced the rapid-fire comedy that he presented. Most viewers were awed by the way he could take any situation and then ad-lib hilarity into the entire scene. Such an ability was even more impressive when it was pointed out that Williams was at one time a Julliard Shakespearian actor.
Over the years I kept up with Robin Williams. I viewed his early movies, and my good friend Glenn Marquart and I watched “Good Morning Vietnam” over and over. “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Goodwill Hunting” won over millions of fans. “What Dreams May Come” is another one of my favorite movies. It delves into the world of depression and death and resurrection. Many won’t like the road the movie travels, but it might very well be a glimpse into the agony that Robin Williams might have encountered.
One of the things of which I am proudest during my teaching career is having introduced students to “The Dead Poets’ Society.” Robin Williams played an English instructor in an all boys’ private school. He reached those boys with a message that they needed to seek their own interests and life’s callings. He quoted my favorite authors, from Emerson to Thoreau to Whitman, and his performance captivated audiences. I have often wished aloud that in some way I could have had the same kind of impact on my real-life students that this actor did on the movie set.
Williams’ stand-up act was a smorgasbord of topics from politics to child rearing to sex. It was raw, not things for the faint of heart or the easily offended. Still, I watched his recorded concerts, and after the tenth time, I’d mastered the lines from most of his routines. What was lacking was the energy that he infused into every concert and the perfect timing he employed in telling a joke. I shared those recordings with my brothers and others, and everyone laughed until he or she hurt.
In 2001, Robin Williams scheduled a concert date in Nashville. I wanted desperately to see him, but the cost of a ticket was much too high for a teacher with a daughter in college and a son in high school. I’d talked with my brother Dal, who lived in Nashville, about the concert, and a couple of days later, he called me to tell me that he’d bought two tickets and that we were going. I almost cried with excitement.
I traveled to Nashville on Saturday before the Sunday concert to spend time with Dal and his wife Brenda. In the evening, he began to feel ill and complained about begin dizzy. He went to bed that night and slept through most of Sunday. Dal got up with full intentions of going to the concert, but he never felt better. I drove to the Grand Ole Opry House and watched Williams alone. For two-plus hours he performed and kept the audience in agonizing laughter. At the same time, he went through a couple of cases of water as he drank and poured and doused the stage and audience. The only downer was the empty seat where Dal should have been sitting and laughing with me.That was an enormous night in my life. It marked the day I first watched an idol perform live. It also marked the first day of a short, brutal, and deadly battle with cancer that my big brother went through.
Now Robin Williams is gone. He spent a career making others laugh and feel happy, all the while battling depression and other problems that eventually consumed him so much that death was preferable to living. I’m going to miss him for a long time. It’s just another blow in this year, which has been less than special. I hope that Robin Williams finds some peace from the torment that broke him. He will be missed by many of us. I also hope he will tell a couple of jokes to Dal.

Many will understand it when I wish him eternal rest, peace, and happiness, “O Captain, my Captain.”

A WELCOME END TO ELECTIONS

By the time this column is printed, the primaries will be finished. I say, “Thank you, Lord!” Like most people,
I’m tired of the endless television commercials, recorded phone calls, and colorful junk mail that have bombarded my home for several months.
I no longer want to receive recorded phone calls from candidates who are begging for my vote. I especially don’t want to hear from Laura Ingram again. I despise the woman and have no intention of listening to anything she has to say because it’s laced with hateful venom and half-truths. Supposedly, my phones are on a no-call list; however, blocking must not include inane political calls from politicians.
I’ve grown weary of watching ads about candidates for whom I can’t vote. That’s Zach Wamp vs Chuck Fleischmann. Those commercials are on local television due to the gerrymandering of districts borders by individuals and groups who are determined to make sure their candidates are chosen over the other party’s. How else can you explain the commercials for politicians whose home bases are Ooltewah and Chattanooga?
What drives me to the edge of irrational anger are the constant PAC-sponsored commercials that air both
day and night. I woke up this morning before 7 a.m., turned on the television, and saw one of them within ten minutes. One PAC is named Character Counts. Most folks might associate it with the program that is used by public elementary schools, but that’s a wrong assumption. To the contrary, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that “The Character Counts Political Action Committee is funded solely by one of Wamp's bosses at the Lamp Post Group where Wamp works.” The Lamp Post Group is an investment company run by three millionaires who graduated from Samford University in Alabama and gave birth to Access America. Their commercials call out the opponent and praise the skills of Zach Wamp and his ability to help the country get back on the right track.
Chuck Fleischmann has his own supporter. It is called Americans for Prosperity. This PAC has a mere 29,000 members from Tennessee, yet their commercials would have us think they speak for the entire state. Its stated goal is to educate citizens about economic policy. I suspect the PAC is more bent on preaching a specific economic principle and then turning its advocates loose on communities.
A whopping $425,000 dollars donated toward defeating three Tennessee Supreme Court justices has come from State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey’s own PAC. The commercials accuse the justices of all sorts of terrible things, which records show simply aren’t true.
Many in the federal government lament President Obama’s blurring the separation of powers of the three branches. It would appear that Ramsey is doing the same thing on the state level. Isn’t his job to lead the senate in drawing up legislation and enacting it?
What I’ve noticed most about the 2014 campaign is that it’s strong on personal attacks and half-truths and short on ideas. Most of the time, commercials slam opponents. I, for one, am “sick and tired” of candidates claiming they are “true conservatives” who have fought Obama and his liberal agenda. The truth is that most of them have had no real involvement with any such things.
Instead of telling what they WILL DO, they tell what they WON”T DO. Our country has witnessed a congress that has done less than any other. We need folks in office who present ideas, work to compromise, and enact legislation that helps ALL people.
I’m numb from the avalanche of ads and attacks and demonizing that has gone on. It’s too bad we can’t oust them all and start over again. Perhaps the best representatives are unable to run because they must make a living to support their families. Maybe they don’t have a PAC that will pour money into attack ads and empty campaign promises. I just want all of this to be over for a while. How about you?


SEWING DESK

My work desk is an antique sewing desk. Its top is more than five feet long with a cut-out section to place a sewing machine. Both sides have drawers and pullouts on which to place a variety of things. One small drawer under the top is designed to hold spools of thread.
This piece of furniture is one that Mother left, and for a long time, no one wanted the thing. Once, I almost sold it, but something tugged at my conscience and urged me to keep the desk. I’m glad I took that advice.
Mother didn’t begin her teaching career until Jim and I entered first grade. Daddy’s paycheck stretched as far as possible to cover bills and needs. To help out, Mother sewed for other people. It was something she had mastered, and her customers were never is short supply.
A parade of folks arrived at the house with requests. Over the years, she put together women’s casual and formal dresses, blouses, and slacks. She also undertook projects to whip up wedding dresses. A couple of her clients had daughters, and Edna sewed countless dresses for them. At other times, she became an interior designer and sewed curtains, drapes, and table cloths.
Mother kept us boys in shirts for school. She would sew up several of them for each of us to begin each school year. They didn’t have store-bought tags, but they looked just as good, and those articles outlasted anything that came from the store. When we were in high school and needed winter coats, she bought fabric and worked for hours to make ones that were warm, comfortable, and stylish. I remember one shirt-jacket that she made for me. It was a small plaid pattern with reds, yellows, and greens. Mother referred to it as “my coat of many colors.”

After some years, Mother’s sewing business ended. She devoted her attention to teaching school. Still, she made every stitch of her own clothing. She also made curtains and other things for the household, and on occasion, Mother still made clothing for friends or her daughters-in-law.

After retirement, Mother continued to sew, but not with a machine. She put together more than a dozen intricately designed quilt tops, and then she sewed them to the batting and backs. Hour upon hour was spent watching episodes of “Matlock” or “Heat of the Night” while she sewed those quilts for us. During the last months of her life, she sat on a patio couch on her back porch and worked feverishly to complete a hobnail quilt before her strength was sapped.

When mother passed, we went to her sewing desk to clean it out. The drawers were stuffed with pieces of material from past or for future sewing projects. Almost all of them were polyester, a favorite of hers. A couple of drawers also held patterns, and a box beside the desk was also packed with those old things that she used to spread out on the kitchen table to cut material for the items she would make. She owned enough spools of thread to keep all of us supplied for years to come.

I use that desk now. The hole for a machine is sealed; instead, my computer sits on top, along with speakers, a printer, and a half dozen remote controls for televisions and radios. The drawers are now loaded with a collection of writings, office supplies, and electronic cords. It is a center for a different kind of work: my writings. I enjoy the use of that desk as much as she did. Her efforts brought joy and comfort to friends and family alike. I’d like to think that the pieces that I put together on the computer do the same thing. Sometimes when I sit at my desk, I close my mind and see my mother working there. It’s a good way to bring back good memories of a woman who loved to use her hands to create wonderful things. 



BICYCLE MEMORIES

A friend of mine related the story of how his son took a short bike ride not long ago. Daniel Dooley hopped on his bike and rode from Tellico Plains to the Dragon, into North Carolina, and back home. Oh, It was just a short trip-- only 114 miles. Another friend, Brad Pearman, has taken up biking in the last couple of years. Now, he’s a hardcore enthusiast who sometimes pedals from his home in west Knoxville to his office at UT Hospital. I’m impressed with both of these guys and their dedication to the hobby.
I used to ride a bike myself. It was no more than 50 years ago. Jim and I rode the wheels off second-hand bikes that we got for Christmas. We circled them in the basement, a feat that seems possible in such a tight space. . When warm weather arrived, we were in the yard, and our bikes made ruts as we ran our course. More fun came as we rode over mounds of dirt that had been piled in the back yard during the excavation of the basement a couple of years earlier.

We played games of pretend. On our hips were six shooters or across our shoulders we strapped on rifles. Jim and I became soldiers in some war and we pedaled into danger. Sometimes enemy forces (neighbor Gary Gillespie) lay in wait for us and then pummeled us with dirt clods as we zipped over the dirt mounds of the battle field. At other times, we imagined that we were race car drivers who pushed the limits of our motor-less vehicles on the way to a finish line.
When the subdivision road next to our house was cut, we spent hours climbing the hill and the coasting down to our starting point. Before long, the boys in the neighborhood began to come to the house, and Mother and Daddy relented so that we could now ride on the roads with them. We were never in danger of vehicles; we could ride all the way to Hardin Valley where the high school is now located and never see more than two or three cars. More of a threat were dogs that chased us down the road. On an occasion or two, one of us boys would wreck pedaling away from the mutt, or someone might be nipped by the canine’s teeth.
Those bikes were basic models. The only speeds were determined on how fast our legs could peddle. Going up steep hills required some zig-zagging, plenty of grunting, and when failure set in, pushing the two-wheelers to the top. Our brakes worked to the degree that pressure from our legs pushed on pedals. We didn’t have any banana seats or extended handle bars. Still, we loved those bikes and took good care of them. When our older brother washed and waxed the family car, we’d clean up our bikes and put a coat of wax on before polishing the frames and fenders.
Those bikes gave us independence back in the day. Parents didn’t ferry their children to every event; besides, there weren’t that many. We pedaled to baseball practice, games of football in somebody’s yard, and to games of 21 at a basketball goal in a boy’s driveway. We always asked permission to go places, and we made sure we arrived back home on time. Only a couple of times did we push our boundaries, and somehow our parents found out and dropped the hammer on us. A flat tire was a disaster because we had no patches for tubes and no money for new tires. Grounded in those days meant being without a bike.

We grew up too soon and began traveling behind the wheel of a 1954 Chevrolet. Our trips covered more ground, but we still found the best times with an old, basic form of transportation With a three-speed on the column and a motor so small that a person could almost climb in under the hood to make repairs, the ol’ Chevy didn’t go much faster than our bikes. Still, we loved that car as much we had our bikes. These days, I’d give almost anything to have both means of transportation back. Of course, I suppose they could never be as good in reality as they are in my memories.

I LIKE MY JOB

I’m around all makes and models of cars in my job. It’s fun to drive them without having to make a monthly payment or haggle with a salesperson. I’ve learned some surprising things about the rental car business during my nearly 3 month time at Avis/Budget.
First, the rental car business is a much more complex business than I ever thought possible. Knoxville is a small market, yet we still handle hundreds of cars each and every day. Vehicles are staged at the Avis lot near the airport. There, workers clean the insides and wash the outsides. Then they are filled with gas.  A set routine is demanded for the completion of each job, and if a car doesn’t pass muster, Mike sends it back for a second cleaning. That, however, doesn’t happen often since folks like Charlie have spent years making sure things are done right the first time.
Across Alcoa Highway, the Budget service center is located. It is there that all vehicles are serviced. Cory and Neff work on cars with surprising speed, and Hal oversees all the cars that arrive there. Most folks think that rental cars are driven until they simply fall apart. The truth is that the company takes care of them better than most private owners do. Part of each day is spent shuttling cars from the Avis to Budget lots for regular maintenance, replacement of some damaged parts, and recall orders. Then the vehicles are returned to locations in Knoxville for rental.
The workers are what make the job so enjoyable. During my teaching career, I was on my own when I closed my door. Contact with other teachers occurred during class changes, lunch, and planning period. On this job, I am with fellow workers for much of the day. We deliver cars to locations and then wait for a van to pick us up for another trip. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, especially during the first week. Guys like Jack, Ron, and Jim told me not to feel bad because they’d committed the same errors. On other occasions, they gave advice about the best way to complete a task. Such kindness from them shocked me.
Sometimes we have traveled to other cities to deliver cars, and then we pile into a van for the return trip. Friendships develop and grow as stories, jokes, and discussions arise. It’s crowded sometimes when eleven men try to fit into a twelve-passenger van. (Manufacturers calculate seat size the same way folks at Neyland Stadium do.) Still, we make the trip home tired, but not much worse for the wear.
If a person just walked into the Budget service center, he’d declare that havoc reigned. Yes, it turns hectic sometimes, but Nadine, John, and James, most of the time, manage to work out a way to get cars to the vendors in time for reservations. Even in all the chaos, I’m amazed at how they remain calm, something I could never do.
The offsite Budget rental centers are run by friendly folks. Sam, Fred, and Ted run the Clinton Highway store. Dave and Deborah are at Kingston Pike, Chris is at West Town, and Tony is at East Town. Every one of them is dedicated to helping customers. At the same time, they go out of their ways to be kind to us shuttlers. At one place we always look for a cookie or Rice Crispy square; at another we are offered bottles of cold water. Such kindness is appreciated and makes us want to meet their needs as best we can.

I work a couple of days a week and wake up each morning still enjoying the job. That has nothing to do with the employment but everything to do with the people with whom I work each day. Learning something from a vocation other than education is fun. Sharing the day with folks like Roy and Pat and Ray makes it even better. Sure, I’m tired at the end of the day, but I’m ready to go after a night’s sleep. All I can say is “thanks” to all who have made working a positive experience.