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’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.


The brouhaha over Knox County Schools just keeps going. The school is led by a superintendent who has minimal experience in the classroom and is a numbers guy who cares most about the bottom line. The board
of education seems unable or unwilling to put an end to the discord that runs throughout the system.  In fact, most of them seem to just rubber stamp whatever the superintendent decrees. It’s amazing just how out of whack this school system is.
My wife lost her job last year, and although I vowed never to work in schools again, I swallowed my pride and applied to substitute in high schools close to home. Hey, I knew how to teach; after 30 years of working in a Knox County classroom, I figured I could babysit kids for a day every so often.
I completed the on-line application, and after some time, I completed some kind of profile test on the computer. The system’s website informed me that I would be contacted if I met the criteria, or something to that effect.
As of today, I’ve never heard a word from Knox County Schools, its website, or its human resources department. Now, most companies will send out a “thanks-but-no-thanks” letter to let applicants know they’ve been turned down. That’s not the way it goes with our local school system. I suppose the powers that be have decided that ignoring candidates is the best way of letting them know they’re not wanted or not qualified.
Not qualified—that’s a sore spot with me. As I said, I spent a career in high school classrooms at Doyle High School and Karns High School. Over the years, I worked hard and demanded much from my students. I don’t fool myself into thinking that every student, parent, teacher, and principal liked me. The truth is that I wasn’t in teaching for a popularity contest; I wanted to prepare students for what lay before them in college.  
My evaluations were all good. I never cared if “big dogs” visited my classroom. I managed to complete the dog-and-pony shows when evaluators dropped in. That meant filling out the forms using my best educational jargon and making sure I covered each area of the teaching process that administrators and supervisors deemed important. When the whole thing was finished, I went back to teaching in the way I knew worked.
God makes sure we humans don’t make too many mistakes, and I give thanks He made sure I didn’t return to the schools in a substitute role or any other position. Still, it’s flabbergasts me that I now am not qualified to substitute teach, even though I was a teacher in the system for so long.
More prayers of thanks are sent above for my leaving the profession before this superintendent and others screwed up the profession. Testing, whether it’s demanded by an out-of-touch head of schools, windy politicians, or governing school boards, is ruining education. Yes, student progress needs to be assessed, but the main function of education is to teach children how to think, read, and express. At the same time, things like band, choir, and art are important components of a well-rounded education and individual.
When 6.5% of the workforce leaves, it might be self-serving to say it’s normal turnover in the organization. However, when teachers resign because they can no longer put up with the absurd demands of testing and evaluations and impossibility of performing their duties, the times has come for the public to demand answers and changes from the board and from the incompetent leader. Of course, these folks will only spread the manure about how great schools are, how committed to excellence they are, and how willing they are to listen. Don’t believe it for one second.
So, I am lucky that the school system decided that after 30 years I wasn’t worthy of substituting. I am thankful that my children have gone through the system already and have managed to earn college degrees and enter the workforce. Were shortcomings present then? Yes! Even so, many students received quality education from teachers who enjoyed their jobs. These days, the teaching profession is something to avoid. That’s because the leaders think they know better what schools should do, even if they have no field experience. It’s a situation that grows sadder and sadder.


A couple of weeks ago, I visited a friend on Saturday morning. After a good visit, I hopped into my car and felt as if I’d just exited a time warp. It brought back some memories about the weekends that weren’t all that exciting.
            The woman met me at the door that Saturday with her hair rolled tightly into curls and set with a combination of small rollers, “spoolies,” and bobby pins. Her appearance brought back visions of my mother
on that first day of the weekend. She, too, spent some part of the day “fix’n her hair for next day’s church. Her gray hair was pinned tightly to her head with so many pins that they must have added a pound or more of weight. All day long she completed her list of responsibilities with her hair held in tractions. She removed them the next day and brushed out the ringlets until her hair fell exactly as she’d planned. The entire process seemed to require too much work for short-term results.
            Saturday for us boys began with breakfasts of pancakes and bacon. We’d gobble the food down and wait for the sugar high to hit in front of the television. There we watched cartoons and waited for commercials that previewed the most popular toys for the year. The sugar soon burned off and left us lethargic and sleepy.
            Before long, Mother lost patience and heavy footed it down the hall. We knew house cleaning time was at hand. The house was divided into three areas, and each of us was responsible for vacuuming, dusting, and cleaning every inch of those places. We boys took turns with the vacuum; every one of us hoped that we wouldn’t be last because that meant we had to empty the tank that contained water and yucky stuff that had been sucked into it.
       By mid-afternoon, we’d finished, and the rest of the day belonged to us. Most often, Jim and I found something outside to keep us busy. Board games never had any appeal because they required sitting still. Not much went on in Ball Camp, and many times we were bored. It was during those times that we took shovels to dig for treasure, or we loaded our arms with tools and found scrap boards to build something. Not a single project ever worked out, even though we hammered and bent a keg of nails in putting it together.
            At some time during the afternoon, Daddy summoned us to the house. It was time to shine our shoes for church. We first used liquid polish before graduating to the small, thin containers whose contents were spread with a rag and then buffed with a brush. Daddy demanded that our shoes look good because he didn’t like boys with “long hair and dirty shoes.”
            As evening arrived, we took turns taking baths. I still marvel at how a family of five survived with one bathroom and a bathtub without a shower. That done, everyone gathered in the living room for an evening ofDinah Shore” and “Perry Como” were Mother’s favorites. Then all the males got set for the weekly installment of “Gunsmoke.”
television watching. “
            Throughout the shows, Mother stood at the ironing board and finished a basketful of items. She wilted in the heat of the steam and late hour of the day. Spread in the room
and halls were pairs of jeans on stretchers. Not until permanent press came on the market did she quit ironing, but the day the material came on the market, Mother retired her iron for good.
            By the time I’d driven home from the neighbor’s house that day, I felt the sting of losing both parents and an older brother. While memories of that time are vivid, I admit to liking Saturdays with their offerings for activities and chores much more now. Still, it was nice to experience a bit of déjà vu in the same neighborhood of my childhood.


Some weeks are rougher than others. The bad ones take a toll on us both physically and emotionally. Sometimes it’s work that causes us ill; at other times, it’s money concerns that drive us into funks. For me, death has been at to root of my low mood. Three of them occurred in the week, each different but all stingingly painful.
Willie Ruth passed after a long, full life. She was on the north side of 90; for the last ten years or so, she’d been in assisted living or nursing home settings. Her family was with her every day, and they made sure she was comfortable. Willie Ruth was a woman who was particular. She had a way of doing things and a place
for everything. During her funeral, the minister discussed how he’d tried to move a picture for her to a correct spot. After several attempts, she finally told him to forget it. During her life, her home was always clean as a whistle; you know that kind of house that is so spotless that eating off the floors wouldn’t be a bad experience.
Willie Ruth lost her husband years ago. She was left with her daughter Melinda in Georgia. Before long, she moved back to Cookeville where her husband’s family lived. She fit right in and became a frequent guest at holiday meals and festivities. Melinda and her husband Howard gave her a granddaughter whom she adored; the feeling was mutual, and Sarah visited her often and spent time loving her and just being there.

The sting of her loss is tempered by the fact that she’d been in declining health for several years, and the last 10 days of her time weren’t pleasant for her or family. A sense of relief that she wouldn’t suffer anymore came, and although mother/grandmother/friend will be missed, folks are happy for her return to the loving arms of a God who loves her.

Wayne Perryman was a high school friend of mine. I still can close my eyes and watch him play linebacker and running back. He was a muscular, tough guy who delivered hits with bad intentions to players on the other side of the ball. Wayne went on to play ball at Mars Hill before finally arriving home.
His smile brightened rooms and his laugh was infectious. Wayne enjoyed life and took an active role in it. He never met a stranger and went out of his way to make any person feel comfortable. His politics were conservative, and I used to tweak him through Facebook with “liberal” comments that led him into a diatribe that lasted for days.

Wayne’s younger brother Steve died in a car accident when he was in high school. It was an event from which Wayne never recovered. He battled that loss with all sorts of things, but still, the loss gnawed at his soul.

Not long ago, he lost his job, and that began a downward spiral for Wayne. Friends have speculated that work was his way of connecting with a world for companionship and friendship. Without it, he was alone. Demons from the past were resurrected, and before long, the low was too deep to escape. Wayne must have felt his only relief would come through ending his time here.
We friends failed Wayne Perryman. We should have better read the signs so that we could have offered him the help and connection he so craved. I hope we all will do better from now on.

Bruce Roach equaled my father-in-law Vaden Netherton in being a good person. He was a quiet man who stood in the background. Bruce wasn’t much for crowds and preferred to spend time at home. However, that didn’t mean he ignored others. Bruce always looked for ways to help folks. He’d lend a hand to anyone who was in need. He took over one sister-in-law’s finances when her health began to fail. Bruce never took a dime and never expected even a simple thank-you. Like Vaden, Bruce didn’t speak ill of others. Instead,
he tried to understand why an individual acted badly and he was quick to speak up that “perhaps he/she was going through something we don’t know about.” In so many ways, he was a true hero.
His wife Frances and two sons, Tim and Scott, were stunned when he died without warning. Even then, he was on an errand at a cousin’s house when he passed. The pain of knowing saying goodbye to a husband and father is almost unbearable, but maybe the outpouring of love for Bruce by the many people who knew him will in some way be a balm for the wound.

Death is a part of our existences, something none of us will escape. It comes in many ways, but the impact on those of us left behind is always immense. For Willie Ruth, Wayne, Bruce, and all others, I pray for a sense of peace and a joy of a new life. Rest well.