NEW FANGLED THINGS!

I made a run to Costco the week before Christmas. My goal was to pick up a few things that Amy had on her list. I arrived before the place even opened, quick-stepped it through the entrance a few minutes later and arrived back at the car in about 10 minutes. Leaning on the vehicle beside me was folded stroller. As I began to inform the driver, he rolled down the window and told me that his wife was on the phone with their daughter to get instructions on how to open the thing up.
I thought to myself, “How hard can this thing be?” The answer came much too quickly. Two men looked at the stroller for a minute and tugged at the joints and pushed button and pulled knobs, all to no avail. The man shook his head and stated,
“I have two Master’s degrees; you’d think I’d be able to open a stroller!”
It let him know that I had one such degree, and then we chuckled. What else could we do? The next moment I spied a woman putting things in the back of her SUV. “Ah ha!” She looks to be someone who can help. I walked over to her, excused myself for bothering her, and then asked if she could help two men open a stroller. She began laughing and shaking her head.
“I can’t help at all. I’m a grandmother, but I’ll be darned if I can set one of those things up.”
Feeling defeated, I returned to the car. We again looked at the contraption and performed the same actions. Then my hands discovered a lever on one of the side rails. I pulled it and voila, the stroller opened. My compatriot jerked his head up and looked at me to ask what I had just done. I pointed to the lever, and he shook his head. I know that he had the same four-letter word knocking around in his head that I had. His wife opened the car door and informed us that she’d found 2 YouTube videos on how to close the thing but none to open it.
A few years before, we were visiting our grandson in Nashville. He wanted to watch a video, and I popped it in the machine. For a couple of minutes, I punched buttons without ever hitting the right one. Madden got off the couch and walked over to me. He asked, “Can I try it, P?” I handed the remote to him, he hit a couple of buttons, and the video started. The boy never said a word of teasing
or let a snicker pass from his lips. I suppose he knew how dumb I already felt.
I enjoy technical gadgets, and I spend plenty of time on computers as I write, research, and check email. I have a smartphone, not the most recent version but one that does more than I thought possible. However, some functions on these things baffle me. Why are so many steps included in
their use? What kind of language is spoken in regard to use and operation: RAM, byte, app, etc.? Yes, I know what those things mean, but most folks my age don’t speak “technicaleze.” We aren’t mentally challenged. We just don’t get it.
I hope to have several good years left. However, what concerns me is that the world will continue to change and leave me behind. My generation probably feels more obsolete than any past one. Advancement in so many areas occur much faster than in years past. We struggle to keep up, and most of the time, men and women just give up and say “to hell with it.”
As this new year begins, my fellow baby-boomers, enjoy each and every day that you live and every breath that you draw. Don’t worry about not being a pro at using “new-fangled” machines. However, if you have grandchildren and plan to spend time with them, you’d better learn how to open a stroller.

Happy New Year!

CHRISTMAS OFFERS HOPE

Well, it’s here. Little ones thought the time would never come; some adults wished it hadn’t. Either way, Christmas is upon us. The year has been a tough one for us, but in spite of the bad, something magical occurs when this time of year arrives. Our challenges in life are many, but maybe we have a way of dealing with them a bit better.
The weather has made life more than a little unpleasant for millions. Drought in California made
wildfires all the more destructive. Snows along the east coast during the first of the year posed problems for residents, something we who live in the south can’t even imagine. The yearly crop of tornadoes swept across areas of the country and wiped out communities and smashed many dreams.
Guns still continued to cause consternation and polarize people in this country. Approximately 270nd amendment as their battle cry. All the while, more guns are sold, and too often the wrong people get their hands on them and commit unspeakable acts that leave us stunned and confused.
million guns are owned by people in the US. If things keep going, before long we’ll have as many guns as people in the country (319 million in 2014). The fight goes on every time another mass shooting jolts us. One side says the time has come to stop the sales of assault weapons and to demand stricter laws on the possession of firearms. The other side dares anyone to put restrictions on guns and cites the 2
Terrorism has reached new heights of absurdity and brutality. Al Qaeda attacked 15 years ago and scared us as we realized that our country no longer was out of reach of our enemies. Now, ISIS has
reared its satanic head to spread pure evil, along with fear and destruction, in an effort to drag the US into a war. We fret about again sending young men to the desert to fight an enemy whose only goal is to kill as many as possible with whatever weapon they can get their hands on. The smartest bet is to establish a fighting army comprised of soldiers from countries in the immediate area who stand to lose everything to that murdering bunch.
Politics cranked up this year in preparation for the next presidential election. Already the GOP has sponsored several debates, and the Democrats have also held a couple. What seems to be most obvious is that the candidates are long on talk but short on common sense. They’ve managed to whip up emotions with one-liners and promises that they can’t keep. Many individuals already suffer from political fatigue as the never-ending commercials and news reports are dumped on them.
So, Christmas is here, and even in spite of all the bad things that have occurred, it is a time that brings out the best in folks. We’re a little kinder, more patient, and loving. We take deep breaths and just enjoy the company of others and the festivities that come with the time. Families gather for the special day, and more important than the presents or the food is just being together.
I know that some people don’t agree with my take on Christmas and Christianity, and I respect their viewpoints. My heart goes out to those who have no belief in a power higher than themselves. It is faith in God and a belief that we are not alone that makes even the toughest thing easier to bear. During this season, I plan to ask the good Lord to guide us and our leaders so that we can make wise decisions that lead us to safety, security, and peace. We can find comfort in the things that Jesus taught us and asked of us.
I wish you and your families the best Christmas possible. Please say a prayer for the less fortunate and for peace in this world. For those who practice the faith, know that our hope began with the Christmas season and the birth of Emanuel. Let that guide you throughout the years of your life.

Merry Christmas! Thank you for allowing me the chance to write something that might strike a chord with you in some way.

DIVERSITY AT WHAT EXPENSE?

Everyone seems to be piling on in regard to the UT situation and Chancellor Jimmy Cheek’s handling of it. I’ve read the clippings from most of the major players involved, and after having done so, I’m adding my “two-cents worth, whether it’s needed or not.

Folks, we all do dumb things in our lives. Too often, I’ve done something and then wondered wha
t took possession of me and produced such a goofy, moronic idea. I’d say the same thing happened with Chancellor Cheek. He has the best of intentions but put into action some things before thinking them through. I believe the man has the success of UTK at heart, and he wants to make it a top-ranked institution. Cheek also wants the university to be one that draws students from all walks of life. That means that it must actively acknowledge differences in cultures and belief sets of thousands of people. The question is how to do it without creating a firestorm of criticism.

I’d say that the source of the problem might well be in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Vice Chancellor Rickey Hall’s ill-advised approach to Christmas parties has created plenty of angry feelings. The man’s background screams that he is not necessarily an ideal fit for UT. Whether or not
those in power agree, an individual who has spent his time in Minnesota and Iowa is not equipped to deal with the culture of the area. No, I’m not saying that “foreigners” aren’t welcome. I’m just saying that it might be better if Hall had taken time to understand that some ideas have been pushed too hard for people here.

Now, what I won’t do is in any way agree with Scott Desjarlais or Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. Their knee-jerk reactions are typical from them. “Throw the bums out” is their standard answer. What about working out a compromise instead of threatening to withdraw funding to the university? Oh yeah, they pride themselves on never compromising We know that’s not going to happen; it’s just grandstanding in an attempt to garner support. Some of these folks are quick to condemn, even though they aren’t without their own mistakes.

As for the Christmas dilemma, I am not so sure what diversity proponents are expecting. This is one of the two most special seasons for Christians. The coming of Christ is only surpassed by his resurrection. For the most part, this country is a Christian nation. It has been that way for most of history and has overcome attempts to remove Christmas celebrations. It is absolutely ridiculous to ask the Christians to forego their Christmas celebrations so that others don’t feel excluded. If the Jewish people want to celebrate Hanukah, they have every right to do so. If Muslims want to celebrate Muhammad’s birthday, I encourage them to do so. However, I feel sure that in either case, the groups have no plans to alter their celebrations to include those outside the faiths.

How ridiculous it is to suggest that Christians change their celebrations to include those who don’t want to be part of them. I say all are welcome, but that doesn’t mean traditions and other important parts of our celebrations should be abandoned to please others.

Perhaps what all of us are weary of is the political correctness that is growing like a cancer in the US. Folks are scared that the slightest act will offend some individual or group. We have to use the correct words, act in the correct way, and refrain from anything that might hurt another’s feelings. The fact of the matter is that what makes our country great is the diversity that already exists. We should celebrate the ability to believe what we choose and to act accordingly. My rights end where another person’s begins, but that doesn’t mean that I must change my beliefs to avoid offending someone else. Of course, this doesn’t include acts of racism from any and every group.

Let’s hope that all involved with this latest brouhaha take a few steps back to rethink their positions. Then perhaps they can be more accepting of the other’s views. Otherwise, we’re in for plenty of arguing and demagoguery. As for these suggestions not to disguise Christmas parties, I can only say a
Christmas party is not ever intended to exclude; all are welcome. That message came loud and clear from the sad stories of Jesus’ exclusion by others and his ability to continue forgiving and loving in spite of it.


One last thing: MERRY CHRISTMAS!

BROTHERLY PROJECTS

Thanksgiving weekend offered most of us the chance to sit back, kick our feet up, and spend the time watching football, eating leftovers, and taking naps. However, that’s not the Rector way. Jim and I had jobs to do and set out to complete the “to-do” list before the work week began. It’s not so different from what we’ve always done.

As boys, Jim and I spent some of our time with jobs our parents meted out. They were afraid that we’d cut our feet off with the lawnmower, but that in no way kept them from giving us pointed clippers with razor-sharp blades and instructing us to cut the high grass and weeds around the house, flower beds, and trees. At other times, Daddy dispatched us to the garden to pull weed from the strawberries. In either case, we worked side-by-side.

Sometimes we undertook projects that required a variety of tools. We’d carry shovels and hoes, along
with wrenches and screwdrivers to the edge of the yard. There Jim and I dug holes or attempted to build “cool” things with a collection of old boards, marbles slabs and assorted items retrieved from the old chicken house.

When we became adults, our commitment to helping each other continued. Most of the time we joined forces to pack U-Haul trucks with possessions for moving. Back then, we substituted skillful packing with strong backs and determination. The work was long, and sometimes our tempers flared, especially when we had different ideas about the best ways to fit everything in a truck that was too small.

When mother fell sick, we took turns staying with her at night. After she passed, we spent time going through a lifetime of collecting to separate the wheat from the chaff of mother’s belongings. Arguments were few, and those that might have occurred came more from grief and loss than from anger.

Neither of us is an expert in things that require the use of hands. Daddy didn’t know much about fixing things, so he didn’t pass along any information to his three sons. Over the years, Jim and I have attempted repairs with our limited skill sets. Too often, the results were so poor that professionals had to come in to fix the messes we had made.

One memorable time, our attention turned to patching sheetrock in a house Jim was going to buy in Powell Valley. We sanded the areas and applied tape and mud. When we finally stopped, that section was so thick with mud that it looked as if something behind the sheetrock were trying to pop out.

Both of us like to mow our yards. Family and friends declare that we cut the grass if it looks as if it might grow. The problem is that neither of us is able to work on mowers, weed eaters, or blowers when they no longer run. If new plugs or clean filters won’t fix the problems, we utter curses and take those items to repair shops.

The arrival of YouTube has been a saving grace. We’ve learned a little about how to correctly do things. That doesn’t mean that our projects aren’t without flaws; it just means that we can do things well enough to get by. Jim can do some simple electrical work, and together we’ve replaced sink fixtures and hung lights.
Thanksgiving weekend, Jim and I built a new ramp for his outdoor building. We managed to use a skill saw without losing fingers and also learned how much better the thing cuts when the blade is tightened. Our attempts to level the thing proved futile due to unexpected problems with the slope of the land from left to right. That kept us from staying completely inside the bubble. After struggling with attaching the supports to the building, we figured out how to cut the right angles to reach success. Eventually finishing that job, which Jim said took much too long to complete, we jumped in his truck and hung Christmas lights on the eaves of his daughter’s house.


Learning how to do things is fun; I only wish I’d have had the nerve to do it earlier in life. The best thing about projects is spending time with my twin brother. He’s the one person who has always been around. I’m glad we can still find way to be together.

A RARE NIGHT AT THE THEATER

Amy and I had the opportunity to see “White Christmas” at the Tennessee Theater not long ago. I’m not much for musicals, but this show is different. The cast and orchestra did a commendable job of presenting one of the most loved shows for the Christmas season. Other sights during the evening
made the event even more enjoyable.

As is the case with many events at the Tennessee Theater, the audience was overpowered by heads of gray hair. Some folks had poured the dye to their heads to hide the gray, but the fact is that most of us “older folks” were the ones who put behinds in the seats.

It’s always interesting to watch senior citizens at an event. Some come in gangs and keep together during the evening. They enjoy the ride to the show as much as the event itself. Many times, the group is dominated by women who must have outlived their husbands; maybe their mates chose not to attend the show, but whatever the reason, women are there in bunches. They seem happier than most others. The secret to that is they have learned to relax and enjoy life more than the rest of us.

The hallways of the theater don’t accommodate many folks at once. Dodging people is necessary to reach the right entrance and seat. Every time I found myself in the foyer, the place was packed. What’s so exasperating is the some just have no regard for others. They dawdle and make no move to get out of the flow of traffic. Groups that decided to meet after the show clogged the traffic flow by standing in the middle of the hallways. They waited in the same place until the last member of their group arrived.

At intermission, two things stood out. First, patrons acted like gunslingers and were quick on the draw to retrieve their phones. They sent texts, checked emails and phone messages, and snapped “selfies” that Amy said helped them to memorialize the show. I can do that by just remembering the evening and letting my mind fill in events any way it wants to.

The second thing I noticed was how many folks yawned. The show began a little after 7 p.m. and ran about 2 ½ hours. I suppose that many were sitting through their bed time as the show ran. I yawned,
and that made Amy yawn, which in turn made me yawn again. By the time we got home, I was well past bed time and dreaded having to rise at 6 a.m. to get ready for work. However, losing a little sleep was a small price to pay for such an enjoyable.

The best thing I saw that evening was my wife. She makes no effort to hide her love of musicals. This one was special to her. Her face lit up with a smile when she heard the orchestra warm up. When the dance numbers began, she changed; the little girl in her came out as she sat mesmerized. Right then, I knew the night had been a success, no matter what else might have been a distraction.

Amy and I enjoyed one of the few nights that we go out for a special event. I admit that during the show I looked for Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney. Still, “White Christmas” was a wonderful musical for Knoxville folks. It brought out the holiday spirit a bit early, and more importantly, it brought out the little girl in my wonderful wife. Bravo!


THANKFUL FOR IT ALL

Yes, I know that Thanksgiving is still three more days away, but I wanted to get a jump on it and make my list of all the things for which I am thankful and for the blessings poured out to me.

I’m thankful for the job I have. The previous one that I had for 1 ½ years gave me the opportunity to
make friends that I think about almost every day. My new job is ripe with the same opportunities, and I have already developed good relationships with at least some of my new cohorts. Best of all, I’m back with one of my two best friends. Billy Hayes is the person in charge of the department and the one who asked me if I’d like to work there. Billy and I coached our sons in baseball for years; only the two boys growing up and going their ways stopped the meetings under my carport that Billy after most ball games.  A bonus to this new job is that Billy’s son William runs another department, so I see him regularly as well.

I’m blessed beyond words with a wonderful family. My two children are grown now; they’ve built lives that seem to bring them happiness. A grandson who has been a marvel every day is another blessing. However, family doesn’t stop there. My twin brother Jim and his family live close by, and the two of us manage to stay in touch and spend time completing projects or swatting at golf balls. My late older brother’s wife lives in Nashville, and although we don’t stay in touch as often as we should, our love for each other spans fifty years. How wonderful it is that so many folks are a part of my life and mean so much.

I’m also thankful for a group of writers with whom I’ve stayed in touch over the years. Lucy, Mary Anne, and Bob were classmates in a writing class taught by Don Williams. We read our prose and poetry each week in that setting and then moved to a restaurant off the Strip to share more personal parts of our lives. I know that they encouraged me to keep writing when all those rejection letters came in the mail. For their support and friendship, I am grateful.

Most of all, I am blessed to have shared the largest part of my life with Amy. I still don’t know how I was lucky enough to win her affections; I’m thankful that she did say “yes.” Over the years we’ve shared plenty of events that have made this life full and rich and good. A couple of years ago, the acts of some people left us on the outside looking in. Amy lost her job, I went to work part time, and Amy found a new job. Over this time, we have grown closer, more so than I could ever imagine. I’m thankful each day for home and for spending evenings with my girlfriend.

Last, but in no way last, I am thankful for the Knoxville Focus. The paper is the first place that accepted my musings. Charmin Foth  and Steve Hunley gave me a chance to ramble about all sorts of topics. Now, Marianne Dedmon and Rose King take my pieces and somehow find places for them in the paper. I dare say no one is luckier or more blessed to have been associated with such kind folks.

Along with the paper, I am forever indebted to those people who take time in their busy lives to read my weekly take on things. I’m flattered that you do so. I fully believe that God has given the ability to write, no matter how good or bad it is, and it’s been up to me to develop it. I know that in some small way I have done so when you read and comment. Thank you! You’re the best!



I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving. No, you don’t have to post the things for which you are grateful on some social media website. However, take a couple of minutes to think about the good things in your life, and then utter a “thank-you” to the creator who from whom all things flow. 

START AT HOME FIRST

I listened to the Democratic Debate a couple of weeks ago. No, it didn’t have the flair for dramatics that came from the earlier GOP gatherings, but some of the answers that the Dems gave for questions were every bit as frustrating as Republican comments.
Over the years, I’ve heard plenty of solutions for the poverty and disadvantages of so many in our country.  The 2014 federal education budget skyrocketed to 85.8 billion dollars. That doesn’t include the mountain of money spent on other things such as school nutrition programs or education tax expenditures for individuals. The entire budget of $141 billion represents 4% of the total US budget. That is dwarfed by the defense budget for the same year, which was a whopping $520 billion. The defense budget took 14.85% of the budget. Does that say to where our country’s priorities are aimed? Maybe so, but this isn’t about education versus defense.
According to  www.choice.org, 7000 teenagers drop out every school day. In addition, 26% percent of students don’t graduate on time. That sounds pretty much like an educational crisis. In any other business, such numbers would lead to restructuring, downsizing, or bankruptcy. However, two difference can be found with education. First, schools deal with people. By the way, students are NOT  products that can be molded and consistently reproduced with a predictable standard deviation. Second, we cannot allow the education of our children to fail as we might let happen to a poorly run business.
The leaders of our educational system have decided to institute “rigorous” curricula that spend more time on testing with asinine methods than learning. Teacher morale is at an all-time low as pressure to meet arbitrary goals increases. Students not only have to come up with 2 + 2= 4 but also have to explain “why” that answer  is true. HUH? Any time a “bean counter” is in charge, the bottom line of success is measured in some kind of number. Forget what kids learn.
Democratic presidential candidates urged that more money be designated to education. They declare that the best way to find success in education is to invest more cash in programs, regardless of their effectiveness. In 2011-2012, a total of $12,042 was spent on each US child in elementary and high school.  That’s already a bundle of money.
No, not every child is going to college. In fact, college is NOT for every person. However, each student needs to learn and to develop a skill that will help him or her to earn a living. We need to commit to academic and vocational education to meet the needs of all students. Doing so might prevent some of the dropouts from leaving school.
The best way to address the problems of education and the performance of students is much simpler than what the “big dogs” would have us believe. It’s as simple as developing a family approach to education. That has several steps. First, parents demand excellence from their children. That means that parents demand, not beg or ask, that children GO TO SCHOOL, perform at school, and complete homework in the evening. The might place limits on the use of phones, iPads, Xboxes, and televisions so that more important things can be accomplished, things like reading or art or simple conversation.
Moms and dads can bring about dramatic improvements if they place as much interest in their child’s classroom room performance as they do in their athletic endeavors. That means encouraging them, getting them extra coaching from some source for difficult subjects, and visiting school when parent meetings are held. Involvement is the key to the woes of education for many families. Parents need to parent and not allow children to quit education. Any child who drops out of school is dooming himself to a life of poverty and struggle.

Right now, the U.S. does have a crisis in education. It’s only cure will come when parents recognize the value of education, whether it be academically or vocationally centered. Even if a parent himself was a dropout, he owes it to the future of his children to demand that they complete school and go on to develop skills that will lead to brighter futures. Let’s start at home first in our efforts to improve education before spending piles of money or offering voucher programs that won’t guarantee any more success.

AWFULIZING

Walt Whitman, one of my favorite poets, said, “Do anything, but let it produce joy.” I can only wish following that advice has been easy, but the opposite is true. It’s the way I’m turned. Heredity probably has much to do with it as well. Whatever the cause, too often my view of the world has been gray.
Both of my grandmothers spent plenty of time wringing their hands and expecting the world to bring about the worst possible events. One toted her bible with her and darkened the doorway of Valley Grove Baptist Church if even a hint that they might open came around. During the day, she listened to gospel music and “air-sucking” preachers who railed against people and predicted the end of the world was at hand. That was in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s; she would never believe that this world is still in one piece today.
I don’t recall ever seeing this grandmother smiling. She was a serious person who seemed to think that fun and laughter were best left for others. I suppose I loved her; after all, she was family, but she would cast a pall over every event or visit that we made to her house.
The other Mamaw loved company. She sat in her favorite chair and held court whenever we dropped by. Beside her chair sat a gallon can into which she deposited dark brown liquids colored by the dip of Bruton that was ever-present in her mouth. Sundays served as the day when we visited her.
The one thing that the entire family knew to avoid was the following question: “How are you, Mamaw?” When one of us forgot and uttered those words, a cloud of doom settled in the room as she began to vocalize every ache and pain and trouble in her life. All we could do was get comfortable and allow our minds to wander; otherwise, we’d have been too depressed to go on. If we did a good job and watched what we said during a visit, Daddy might stop to buy ice cream cones at Well’s on Clinton Highway.
Daddy, too, was a gloom-and-doomer. He worried about money and about groceries and about the future. As it turned out, he saw into the future that he would not be with us long. His life was spent trying to make provisions for us after he was gone. Many times he’d sit at the kitchen table and “figure” on paper. He might softly hum “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” or take deep drags from his Winston and chase it with a swallow of black-as-coal coffee.
I have too long been a pessimist. Behind every cloud isn’t a silver lining; a raging storm is coming. My wife says that I deflate even the grandest plans or events with such words as “but,” “if,” “maybe.” I use them to qualify statements that are made. To my way of thinking, qualifying things prevents disappointment should events occur or be less than pleasing.
It’s a habit that includes worrying. Even when we completely plan something, I worry that events or others will in some way ruin it. To tell the truth, I even worry when I have nothing about which to worry. Not only is the glass half empty, what’s in it is probably unfit for consumption.
I am working to stop my lousy outlook on things. My age has mellowed me in many ways; Amy also helps by pointing out my constant negativity. Whenever I begin spreading a blanket of gloom and worry, she pulls out her razor-sharp wit and makes fun of me until I lighten up. Her most effective tactic is to say,

“STOP AWFULIZING!!!!” It’s not a real word, but I know its meaning. My advice to all pessimistic folks is to enjoy life and quit AWFULIZING! I’ve discovered that existence is much nicer with a better attitude.

BALONEY!!!!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but the WHO’s latest proclamation turned out to be one big bummer for
me. Processed meats, those wonderful things like bologna, ham, sausage, and bacon, are now declared

cancer causing. Are you kidding?
For years I’ve known that eating hotdogs and bologna and other meats in this group weren’t especially good for me. Still, I grew up eating this stuff, as did my grandparents and parents. It’s part of what the lower middle class and middle class have eaten for years. My mother fried bologna and Spam for supper on more than one occasion. Cub Scout gatherings, as well as picnics and cookouts, always served up hotdogs and hamburgers. Chili was available for those who wanted to douse a dog with something other than mustard. The processing of those foods certainly helped make them tasty and become favorites for millions of folks. Now, we’re told that eating the stuff increases our chances of developing cancer.
Before this, we were warned about the dangers of red meat. It will choke the life from us as it clogs arteries and causes heart attacks and other threatening conditions. The ones who know what’s best for us implored us to turn our backs on red meat in favor of chicken, turkey, and fish. Hey, I love all those as well, but at some point I swore that if I ate one more piece of chicken that I’d start spitting feathers.
How in the world are people supposed to patch together a diet without a pound of hamburger? Meatloaf was a once-a-week meal when we grew up. Spaghetti with meat sauce still is a favorite in our house. I guarantee you that I am not a fan of pasta topped only with tomato sauce. Nope, just give me hamburger mixed with garlic, cumin, chili powder, and tomato sauce crowning my plate of noodles. Too, a weekly menu without hamburgers and tater tots violates my sense of what is right, what’s normal.
I understand that the WHO and all medical groups are trying to make recommendations that will help our lives to be healthier. Yes, we must watch for too much cholesterol-laden foods that might adversely affect our blood pressure, hearts, and arteries. At the same time, I remember at one point such groups warned of the dangers of eating chocolate. Then, they cautioned us that coffee would kill us. Not long after those announcements, professionals changed their minds and told us that the two things were okay to consume.
It seems that if the medical community had its way, we’d all live on a diet of leaves and twigs. If something
tastes good, it’s bad for us and will kill us. I don’t eat all the right foods, but I do try to make some right decisions. With this new report out, I will cut back on the bologna sandwiches that I eat for lunch each day. Hey, I offset the sandwich with a baggie of raw carrots, and I eat apple sauce or an apple as well. Seaweed and artichoke hearts and Brussel sprouts are NOT claiming space in my diet. Instead, I’ll eat cooked cabbage, broccoli, and fresh asparagus. Isn’t that a good compromise?
Before long, other studies will come out that tell us that the evils of processed meat are not so grave. I doubt already that these foods are as bad as cigarettes, something that the WHO stated and which immediately discredited much of what they claim. Moderation might creep into my consumption of these new taboo foods, but I’m not giving them up completely. I gave up cigarettes several years ago; I’m not about to give up hamburgers. What’s that old saying:  “live well, eat healthy, and die anyway?” To this latest report, all I can say is “Baloney!”


LOOKING FOR THE ARTIST IN ME

I love art. No one would ever call me an expert or critic, but as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography, “I know it when I see it”—art that is. Jim Gray pieces inspire me; just down the road from my house, Ruby Dayton’s home and gallery are filled with beautiful paintings of nature scenes. I’ve tried to figure out which niche best fits my taste, but none seems to include only the things that I consider beautiful.
I wanted to be an artist, but the cold world of second grade dashed that desire as Mrs. Garrett stifled any
creative abilities that I might have had. Our class undertook a project. A girl our age was at home and suffering through the agony of leukemia. The teacher passed out red piece of construction paper, along with white sheets of paper. Our task was to fold the white paper several times and then cut designs in it. However, we weren’t supposed to cut too deeply because doing so would ruin the design on the page when it was unfolded.
I struggled with the task; for some reason, my being left handed made cutting with regular scissors difficult. I goofed on the first cutting. Mrs. Garrett took the failed project and handed me another piece of white paper. Another goof and another goof and another goof kept me confined to the project while all the other students went about other things. I never did cut the darn thing right, and the cards were sent from the class minus one: mine.
Through the years, I tried to sketch things. My cousin Charlie could free-hand the coolest hotrods on paper. Mine looked too much like blocks with acute angles that in no way looked as if they belonged on the vehicle. Even drawings with mountains in the background of a green field looked more like bruises across the landscape. My trees appeared as lopsided triangles without any limbs.
Once I tried to draw a profile of a person like the ones that used to appear on art school ads. My generation remembers these things because they declared that anyone who sent in a drawing was a budding artist who only needed a few lessons to become a world-class painter or sketcher. In my case, the company might have sent regrets that it could do nothing to improve my abilities. Faces on my paper always looked flat; not a single feature was natural.
I wasn’t much better with crafts. Our fifth grade class made leather wallets. First I struggled to put imprints on the leather with tools. Then I never seemed to be able to weave the plastic strand through the holes that tied the pieces together. One year we made potholders for Mother’s Day. Mine was pink and yellow.
However, I kept skipping places that caused the woven strips to look broken.
One year our class made bookends. With hammer and woodcutting tool, I jumped into the project. As for the end result, let’s just say that the “R” on both ends lost important details as I couldn’t keep on the correct side of the line. I still have the wallet and bookends. Each time I look at them, the mistakes pop up and remind me of my lack of skill.
Now, I sometimes attempt woodworking projects. I’ve managed to put together a seat made from a twin bed head and footboard. I recently completed a table with a chevron top. Another table I built even sits at my bedside. None of the projects is perfect; the chevron table isn’t quite flat on top or level on the floor. A piece of Plexiglas on top and a folded piece of cardboard serve as fixes for each faux pas.

I used to watch Bob Ross and say prayers that I could paint as he did. The most success I ever experienced with paint came with a roller and brush as I attacked walls in bedrooms and dens. In other areas, giving up isn’t about to happen. Woodworking projects might never be perfect, but trying to complete them is a fun challenge, and it keeps me from taking up less honorable hobbies. These days, I even have moderate success with undertakings, especially when a You Tube video offers step-by-step instructions. I’m still looking for the artist in me. 

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF

For some reason, I feel as if my writing has been more on rants than lighter topics. I’d like that to change, but too many topics cry out for attention. The most recent topic deals with the latest Holocaust news. It seems that history repeats itself.
 According to CBS’s “Sixty Minutes,” Father Patrick Desbois has taken upon himself the task of discovering unmarked mass graves of Jews who were slaughtered at the hands of German death squads. For thirteen years he and his team have traveled to meet with villagers across Eastern Europe. There, he listens as they tell the tales of mass murder with all its horror. 
The priest said that the witnesses were children at the time, and some were even chosen by the Nazis to dig up graves to retrieve gold from teeth, jewelry, and clothing. Debois also made the observation that people can act differently in the most deadly situations. He said,
I learned that you like to see other people dying in front of you, killed by other people, when you are sure you will not be killed.”
Thousands upon thousands of butchered individuals are being added to the 5-6 million Jews who were recorded as being murdered by the Nazis. To my surprise, research indicated that the entire Jewish population living in Europe at the time was only 9 million. Had Hitler’s hate for Jews not been stopped, the entire Jewish people would have been eradicated from this world.
I think of all the soldiers who gave their lives in the war against the Nazis, and have in the past, I’ve wondered if such a huge sacrifice was worthwhile. We eventually entered World War II when it became clear that Europe could not defend itself. Young men traveled across the ocean to fight on land that wasn’t their native soil. So many of them never made the return trip and left heartbroken families.
After learning more about what Germany’s maniacal leader and blood-thirsty killers did, the answer is clear that the sacrifice was honorable and right. We in the world owe those men all of our gratitude, for they stopped a man hell-bent on racial cleansing.
Today, the world faces the same kind of threat. ISIS, which stands for Islamic State, is intent on once again cleansing the world of all who don’t measure up to the strict standards of the group. They’ve begun the same kinds of activities that the Nazis used: overtaking cities and killing all who oppose them. This time, Christians are major targets. We’ve heard horror stories of the indiscriminate killing of people. The Internet and some
television stations air the beheading of individuals who were innocent of any crime. As bad as this, the terrorists in ISIS vow to destroy all relics and historic sites as they aim to erase the past accomplishments of great civilizations.
So far, the world has stood back and allowed ISIS to have free reign in Syria and other areas close to it. The flood of refugees continues as the strength and power of the organization increases. Leaders call for summits to discuss the problem, but they seem not at all committed to putting an end to things. Russia’s Putin pledges 150,000 troops to stop ISIS for good, but his bombing runs have done nothing but attack groups opposed to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad without touching ISIS forces.
The rest of the world must find the courage to confront ISIS. That means sending troops, arms, and supplies to the region. It also means being as ruthless as the enemy when battles break out. The threat that the terrorist organization brings must be ended, and that means that all countries opposed to the spread of such radical violence and intolerance must willingly send soldiers and money to cause.

If our world is too afraid to fight or if countries aren’t willing to fight to the fullest extent to exterminate the evil known as ISIS, then we might again see the rise of another group that believes all who don’t agree or don’t have the right genetic make-up must die. I hope our leaders have the backbone and resolve to stop a growing cancer known as ISIS. The balance of history might well hang in the decision. If we haven’t learned from history, we surely will live to repeat it.

WHAT WE REALLY NEED

Somehow UT managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in its latest game against Florida. Plenty of social media buzz spewed forth, and many of us are plenty disgusted enough with the entire thing to stop putting ourselves through such anguish. We’ll pray that a more creative offense evolves sooner than later to take advantages of all the talent available.
I stomped through the house and even uttered a few expletives when the game ended with a Florida touchdown. My mood was fouler than a wounded bear’s, and for a while, my entire week looked to be a rather sour one. However, I had a few seconds of clarity that allowed me to put things into perspective about life in general.
Sure, a UT win was important to me, but something much more important this past week caused it to be a wonderful one, and it made most everything else trivial. I’m talking about the visit to the U.S. by Pope Francis.
First of all, no, I’m not a member of the Catholic Church. The fact is that I’ve never cared much for the institution or its rather restrictive set of beliefs and dictates. Neither have I had an affinity for past popes.
They seemed too far removed from life and too tired to bring energy to the church.
Pope Francis has changed all of that, not for just me but for all the world. The man loves people and refuses to allow his position to keep them from him. His passion for all folks is a bright light in a world where selfishness prevails.
The man came to this country with a message. It was one that stressed loving others and taking care of the earth. With unapologetic, yet loving, frankness, Pope Francis spoke to swells of people in churches, world organizations, and even the hallowed halls of our own federal government.
I suspect that one of his greatest accomplishments was the influence he had own John Boehner, Speaker of
the House. Boehner resigned following the pope’s visit, and many suspect that he did so after heeding the advice of the pontiff to do something positive. Perhaps the congressman no longer had the stomach for the divisiveness that characterizes our federal government.
Pope Francis brought with him more than just masses and speeches. He brought a presence of God that too often goes unnoticed in our world today. The man’s smile and his eyes pierced even the most hardened hearts. His simple goodness was infectious, and he won over millions of folks during his visit.
As I understand it, the pope is God’s representative here on earth. I’m not sure about past men who held the position, but I feel sure that Pope Francis fits the bill. He brightens those in his presence; his humility and accessibility to the common person endears him to them.
Best of all, Pope Francis is someone who is able to show us what is good and inspires us to begin living by it. He gives a glimpse into what joy and peace can be discovered by living a life faithful to our God and His desires for us. Look at the faces of those who stood for hours to get a glimpse of the man. They shunned the cares of this world and focused instead on the excitement that being in the presence of someone who lives a Christ-like existence.

I’m not happy that UT lost to the team from Florida for the eleventh straight time; the Vols should have defeated them and gone about their business. However, when I compare that “game” with a visit from the most popular pope that the Catholic Church has ever had, the importance of that college contest dulls. I am glad that Pope Francis visited our country and that he touched some many lives. For one week, he gave us a glimpse at what we can be and what we can have. I only hope that our leaders can take lessons and become such wonderful, inspirational leaders. I also hope that each of us can live lives that center of kindness, love, and charity. Heaven knows we need it.

WINTER HOUSE ARREST

Summer wound down much too quickly for me. If I were in charge, the hot days of the season would bleed into those colder ones of winter. I just don’t much care for cold weather and never have, nor do I like being under house arrest when it hits.

Others can have all the snow they can handle. I only wanted a couple of inches of the stuff during my teaching career. That way the schools would close, and I could enjoy an unexpected day off. Even if the snow fell overnight, my preference was for it to disappear by 10 a.m. Then I could go outside and complete any projects and feel safe in running errands.

Nothing drove me straight up the wall more than being trapped in the house after a heavy blanket of snow had made travel hazardous. I recall on one evening during my high school years that Jim and I set out on foot to visit Jim’s girlfriend who lived in Karns. We trudged to her house and arrived with nearly frozen feet, hands, and noses. Still, that condition was preferable to being stuck in the house.

I entered graduate school to earn a Master’s degree and become a principal. I attended summer sessions and took night classes at UT. On one winter evening snow and sleet began. Students looked at each other and wondered if Dr. Harris would release us early to begin our trips home. He did end class, but by then, the conditions were too bad. An ice storm hit Knoxville with vengeance; it crippled the entire area. We students found it impossible to move our cars on the icy surfaces, and walking also proved tricky and dangerous to our health.

I shuffled my feet down the sidewalk and arrived at a nearby motel. It seemed as if everyone had the same idea. The bar stayed open to serve food and drinks. At some point, pillows and blankets were passed out to folks, but the stockpile ran out before I reached the front of the line. The rest of the night, I traveled from the motel to Henson Hall to Krystal. On one trip in the early morning, I watched a UT student ski down the hill on 17th Street. He made a sharp turn west on to Cumberland Avenue and continued the entire length of the street with no fear that he would encounter a single car. At 3:30 that next afternoon, I finally maneuvered my car out of the parking lot and headed home.

In the early 1980’s, I left teaching and took a job as a school fundraiser. My territory stretched from Cookeville to six counties in North Carolina and from Chattanooga to the Tri-Cities. Kirby was the regional manager, and during the winter of 1983, he decided that every representative should meet. We drove to Eden, North Carolina, and spent time eating, playing golf, and plotting strategies. On the final day of the get-together, snow was predicted, and all of us begged him to leave early and get ahead of the storm.

By the time I started home, fine granules of snow pelted the windshield. Worsening conditions moved in, and sleet fell. I drove down the Interstate in Winston-Salem and glanced up in my rearview mirror in time to see two cars spinning in synchronized circles. I exited and found a room at the Holiday Inn. That night, an inch or more of ice covered everything outside. For two days I was held captive. Even after the roads cleared enough to travel west, traffic stopped for 4 hours as a wrecked semi that crashed into a bridge was cleared. I held my breath across the mountains and finally breathed easy when I reached the Newport exit on I-40.

The blizzard of 1993 caused plenty of headaches for folks, but my old ‘87 Pathfinder and I braved roads as we rescued my brother and his family from their home that had lost power. The deep snow made driving nearly impossible, but that old reliable 4-wheel drive vehicle allowed me to get out of the house. By the time the snow melted, parents were begging for school to open, and kids were, for a change, also ready to get back in the routine.

Predictions for the coming winter include colder, wetter weather. That sounds as if Knoxville is in for plenty of snow and blustery conditions. I hope the prognosticators are wrong. I know this much: summer weather rarely keeps me stuck inside the house. Folks can take all the cold weather they want; I’ll always take hot temperatures and sunny days.


The Wisdom of Dads

I recently changed jobs, but my duties still revolve around moving vehicles. In this new position, my travels are confined to the parking lot of the business. I’ve met some new folks and talked with them about a variety of things. It’s during one of those workdays that I discovered some wise words.
Most of the men are dads; they’ve been through the wars with their children, and from those experiences they have come up with several pearls of wisdom which have been shared with their children. I contributed some of mine during the conversation. In the end, we smiled, shook our heads, called to mind personal memories, and then sent up small prayers of thanks.
Every dad, as well as every mom, knows that at some point a verbal sparring match will commence. It begins around the time the first offspring becomes a teenager. What were once a pleasant home environments turn into a war zones where dads and the children lob explosive barbs at each other.
My daughter loved me dearly, at least until she entered high school. Then we argued and engaged in a battle
of wills. At one meal when she was only 14, Lacey said,
“I wish I could leave here and never come back!”
My reply: “I wish I could help you pack your bags!”
Four years later we followed Lacey to MTSU to begin college. After 45 minutes, Amy, Dallas, and I hopped back in the car and headed home. That night, my daughter called home and cried that we hadn’t spent any time with her. I was confused and told her that I thought she wanted to get away. A transformation occurred right then, and nothing better came from her college years than the return of the daughter who I love so much and who loves me.
Most dads set limits on their children. They set times to be home and limits as to when and where the children can go. The age-old complaint from the teen is,
“All of my friends can…, so why can’t I?”
A fellow employee told me how he answered the question. He simply stated,
 “I don’t feed your friends, but I feed you. I don’t care what they do.”
Sometimes our teenaged children are under the mistaken expression that they are brilliant; they are sure that their parents are drooling morons. This same friend had a serious discussion with his daughter. He told her that she needed to find something big to be in charge of while she knew everything. He added that it was important for her to do it immediately because her gift of knowing it all wouldn’t last too long.
Of course, sometimes dads allow quips to roll out of our mouths before they think. I’ve responded to some unbelievable stories from my children with,
“I was born at night, but not last night.”
Bill Cosby, before he fell into total disgrace, recalled that his dad threatened his misbehavior with the line,
“I’ll take you out and make another one that looks just like you!”
Perhaps the best comment that my new friend made to his daughter summed up the situation and what dads are trying to do. He once told his daughter,
“As far as life is concerned, you can see just to the top of the hill. I can see what’s on the other side. I can help you prepare for what lies ahead if you’ll take advantage of my experience.”

That’s what we dads usually are trying to do: guide our children toward the right decisions. If we are successful enough, our kids turn out to be good persons who seem to have listened to our unsolicited pieces of wisdom. The greatest compliment my daughter has given came after she’d disciplined her son Madden. She said she stopped talking and immediately realized that she sounded just like me. That’s good enough for me; maybe our “young-uns” are listening and will pass on the wisdom of dads.

SERIOUSLY?

The world faces continuing problems: assaults by extremists groups who seek to destroy anything or anyone that opposes them, threats of war from countries with chips on their shoulders, and natural disasters that leave millions homeless and helpless. With all that goes on each day, it’s hard to believe the petty, ridiculous things on which individuals waste time and energy.
On television, I recently viewed a commercial for vitamins. I believe in taking them daily, no matter what the newest studies say. What made me roll my eyes is the fact that now adults have gummy vitamins. Our adult population has become a bunch of wimps, so much so that now many have to have a “taste good” product. What’s the big deal with having to swallow a pill? Okay, some individuals have throat problems that keep them from taking a tablet, but most of us can half-chew and then swallow most anything we want. Is it that important to the world to have a chewy vitamin that takes young adults back to their childhood?
In the last week, one big news story concerned illegal immigrants. Many people took offense to the term “anchor baby.” In fact, calls for apologies for the use of the term came swiftly and loudly. What’s the big deal? The definition of anchor baby is, “a child born to a noncitizen mother in a country who has birthright citizenship, especially when viewed as providing an advantage to family members seeking to secure citizenship or legal residency.”
Too many times, the noncitizen is someone who has illegally crossed the border into this country. The fact that plenty of individuals actually cross over so that their newborn is a citizen of this country is well documented. Even rich people from other countries fly pregnant women to the US to have their babies so that they can have citizenship.
If that does occur, then isn’t that newborn child, in fact, becoming an “anchor baby?” It would seem that being born here and automatically becoming a citizen serves as an “anchor” for the entire family of “noncitizens.” Perhaps eliminating automatic citizenship of babies born to noncitizens would end the term and also clear up many of the problems with illegal immigration.
The most absurd thing to come around of late has its origins here in Knoxville. The Office of Diversity at the University of Tennessee has encouraged students, staff, and faculty to begin the use of gender-neutral pronouns. New pronouns for “he, she, and they” would be “xe, xem, and xyr.” Heaven forbid that we offend or fail to recognize any minority group that raises hell about being excluded. Here’s a news flash: most folks don’t correctly use the pronouns that we now have (“THEM boys sure have a good team!”)  I, for one, never plan to use these absurd words so that some group feels better about themselves. We have masculine and feminine pronouns in our language. No matter how some might protest that they are gender neutral, the fact remains that they are one sex or the other. If they choose to change that designation, I say fine. However, don’t expect me to screw up an already difficult language to make them feel better.
This country faces many obstacles. Murders in major urban areas continue to increase each year; distrust between minorities and police fuels riots and violence; politicians are more interested in solidifying power than in working together to find solutions to problems. Those are things on which all of us should focus our attention. That includes those at universities that allow even a second of consideration for such trivial subjects as new pronouns.

 “Xe, xem, xy”—SERIOUSLY?

SNEAKERS

I just watched a news story about the re-birth of Converse tennis shoes. Such things as this give me confidence that our country is still clinging to the goodness that has been around for years. Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, but I did feel good hearing that a 98 year-old product is still hanging around, even though the new model is sleeker and more expensive. They served a generation of kids well before today’s bigger name brands existed.
Each year, Jim and I got a pair of orthopedic shoes to wear to school and church. Our feet were as flat as boards, and mine were wide, about a 4E size. At some point, we also got a pair of tennis shoes. They were canvas with rubber soles. Each day, we were to come home, change into our old clothes, and put old pairs of regular shoes or those tennis shoes on. They were our play shoes. Woe unto the boy who chose to keep his newer shoes on to play. One time, I clomped around a muddy area at school while Mother served bus duty. I walked into that room, and she zeroed in on my shoes. The next thing I knew, I was standing in front of a room filled with kids as Mother administered a quick spanking to my backside.
Those tennis shoes held up as we played baseball, football, and basketball, all in our yard. Grass stains turned the once white soled a septic tank-grass green color. Every so often, we’d dunk them in water and scrub the canvas with a brush and cleaner. No, the shoes didn’t look brand new, but at least they were free of stains and dirt, and that meant they didn’t smell like little boy feet anymore.
By the end of the school year, our old Keds or Converse shoes gave up. They were tired of the wear and
tear to which we boys exposed them. The soles were thin and sometimes filled with holes. Even the insoles were frayed or thin as tissue. However, no shoe ever left our house so quickly. In the summer, Mother took her scissors and reconstructed the tennis shoes. The toes were cut from the tops of the canvas, and Jim and I wore them as summer knock around shoes.
When my kids arrived, so did the beginning of the tennis shoe wars. Nike, Adidas, and Reebok all poured new models into the market. Kids begged for the latest pairs, even before the old ones were worn out. The prices also soared, and sometimes I worried that we’d have to take out a loan to afford the shoes that they needed, although the brands weren’t the most popular or expensive.
I wore new types of shoes as I began coaching football. The program purchased pairs for us coaches, and I proudly wore them on game days.  The only problem was that the shoes didn’t come in wide sizes, and by the end of a game, my feet hurt so badly that I could barely walk.
These days, I wear New Balance products. They are comfortable and, most important, they come in 4E sizes. Each year, I buy a new pair of discontinued styles. Just like during childhood, the old shoes go outside and are used to mow grass, work in muddy conditions, or walk around in wet, sloppy weather.
All of my life, I’ve called shoes like Keds, Adidas, and New Balance “tennis shoes.” I don’t know why so many people call them sneakers. They squeak too much to be quiet enough to “sneak” up on someone. The name “sneaker” comes from some section of the world other than the south. I’d also bet that those who wear sneakers never cut the toes out of them for summer wear or had only one other pair of shoes to do them for the entire year.

I might try to buy a new pair of canvas tennis shoes, but they must not cost too much, and they’d have to have that same new smell that the old ones had. I will never, however, own a pair of “sneakers.”

OPENING DAY EXCITEMENT

The other morning, Facebook filled with photos of children posing in new clothes and shoes and with the latest back packs and lunch boxes. The official first day of school for Knox County and some other area schools brought in hordes of kids and teachers. I still don’t understand why the school year begins in the hottest month, but most students don’t know of a later starting time. Looking at those little ones on social media conjures up plenty of memories of the good things of school.
Because Ball Camp was a small school, only two classes for each grade were necessary. We children were
1st grade--yes, I look like a toothless beaver!
interested in whose classroom we would spend the next year. Some teachers were caring and understanding; others were tired, fussy, and, at times, downright mean. A couple of times, I landed in the classrooms of the hateful teachers, and the years were long and hard. One of those ogre teachers did step in a hole and break her ankle during a fire drill, and that brought welcome relief to we second graders.
Although they were infrequent, new items at Ball Camp did arrive. Years when the county bought new textbooks were special. The smell of a new book and the feel of the crisp pages almost made learning fun. Desks used for years were replaced with newer ones. Seats were plastic, and the storage shelf underneath was made of metal bars. I always felt the disappointment of having to put my bottom in an old desk when a few lucky students got the new, sleek models.
The Ball Camp community consisted of houses spread out over several miles. I don’t recall a single subdivision in the area until 1962. Summer break meant not seeing most classmates for the next three months. Oh, a gang of boys rode bikes up and down the roads to join in games of baseball or to fish, but most of our school friends lived too far away to visit. So, the first day of school always meant renewing friendships and meeting a few new children at the school.
As unbelievable as it might seem, children were heartbroken when a large portion of the school burned. We
were sent home until a plan for holding classes in a nearby abandoned hardware store was finalized. The returning to school proved to be much like a second beginning day that year. We settled down in cramped quarters with one small bathroom for boys and one for girls. We spent our lunch periods in the rooms and ate sandwiches and other things we’d brought from home. To some it might have seemed a hardship; to us students, it was an adventure.
Back in the good ol’ days, schools consisted of classes from 1st through 8th grades. Our last year was a time when we could be the “big men and women on campus.” By then, Ball Camp had been rebuilt, and our class ruled new classrooms, cafeteria, locker rooms, and gym with parquet floors. The first day and every other day brought wonderful times when we were on top of the world.

By the time that we reached high school, the excitement had waned. Over the summer, our class had gone from ruling the school to being the lowest life form in the high school halls. By then, my friends were much
more interested in girls, sports, and cars than in new school items. Classes were something that most of us attended but never let them interfere with our education. For some, the excitement of a new school year never returned. Only when the first day of college came did those exhilarating feelings return for a smaller number of students.


I’m glad that kids still feel the excitement, mixed with just a dab of apprehension, at the coming of another first day of school. I’d like to have that excited feeling for the year to come, but these days, I experience those emotions for few things, none of which involve school, new clothes, or classrooms.  

DAY OLD BREAD

Each day that I sit down at the table to eat, I am thankful for the bounty which God has provided. I realize that too many in this country, the place supposedly where abundant food is available, go hungry every day. Though we never went without food, Mother and Daddy had to make some adjustments as we three boys and our appetites grew.
Mother made our lunches for school. She’d spread potted meat or egg salad on slices of white bread, and the only way to tell that anything was on them was by the pink or yellow tint. She’d also include crackers smeared with peanut butter. The lunches were meant to fill us without breaking the bank; they were much cheaper to serve than school lunches, which we ate only on special days when turkey and dressing were served.
Like most every family in Ball Camp, we had a garden. The darn thing took up most of our back yard, and it was filled with standard vegetables: corn, potatoes, green beans, and onions. We boys pitched in to break beans under a shade tree in the back yard or around the kitchen table. My fingertips sometimes would be sore from the task. Mother cut corn from the cob and froze packages, and she canned dozens of jars of beans. She also canned tomatoes to use for soups in the cold weather months.
Daddy bought two calves one year. He installed an electric fence around a section of the back yard and put the animals there to graze. We boys named them Blackie and Brownie, not necessarily creative names, but accurate enough to identify them. For some time, the calves grew and would come to us at the border of the fence. We’d give them clumps of hay and pats on their heads.
One day, we arrived home from school to discover that Blackie and Brownie were gone. We ran to Daddy to find out where they were. He knew how fond we were of the two animals, so he let us down easy. He told us that he took them somewhere to trade them for an equal amount of frozen meat. The freezer was filled with packages of hamburger, roasts, and a few steaks. Over the months we feasted on the meat, never once realizing that what we consumed were our two former pets.
Every month, Daddy made a trip to the Merita Bread Store. He stocked up on “day-old bread.” The store’s
stock consisted of the loaves that had been returned from grocery store shelves. It was a nicer name for the items than “stale bread.” He’d bring home 10-12 big loaves of white bread and place them in the freezer. One by one, they were removed, thawed, and turned into sandwiches or ingredients for such things as dressing. Sometimes the stuff was dry and coarse, and I still can recall the taste of freezer-burned bread.
Daddy also stocked up on other items from the Merita Store. He’d buy fruit pies, usually apple or cherry. We boys sometimes would sneak some out and try to eat them. They were harder than a brick and impossible to bite until they’d thawed just a bit. We also had raisin-cream cakes and devil’s food cream cakes. Mother would toss them into our lunch bags still
frozen. We’d try to remove the wrappers at noon, only to watch the top layers of the cakes stick to the cellophane. Still, we were grateful for a treat like that.
On occasion, I still like to drop by bread stores, and yes, I purchase cakes and pies. However, buying a loaf of that bread is a different matter. Besides, these days, nutritionists tell us that white bread isn’t healthy for us. So, I pay a king’s ransom for a loaf of whole wheat bread at the grocery store.

I am thankful that my children have always had food to eat. Maybe we didn’t serve steak every night (unless hotdogs are known as tube steaks), but Amy managed to serve good things that we all ate. I also am thankful that my parents loved us enough to make sure we had food on the table, even if it came from the garden out back or from the day-old bread store. 

HOW WE USED TO DO IT!

This world doesn’t look too familiar to some of us older folks. From music to technology, the dramatic changes leave us puzzled and asking, “Huh?” Even relationships between boys and girls are different. In another century, teens who liked each other began dating. This is how we used to do it.
Boys were the ones to make initial moves for girls. After spotting the right females, we agonized over garnering enough courage to speak to them. Many guys would wait until no one was home to use the phone
in the kitchen or den. On hearing the phone ring, some of us would panic and hang up. We’d again dial the number and hyperventilate when the girls answered. Our hemming and hawing made conversations awkward, but with just a little encouragement from girls, boys would eventually ask them to go out.
With a little luck, dates were set, and the boy would prepare. That meant washing the care and cleaning the inside. Long hot showers calmed nerves, and “peach fuzz” beards were shaved and followed by splashes of English Leather, Canoe, or Jade East colognes. The stuff almost choked anyone who came too close to the vapors.
Knocking on the doors also brought on nervousness. Fathers who opened the door struck fear in boys.
Dads didn’t trust them because they, too, were once young teens and they know what things were on their minds. If the situation worsened, the fathers might ask the most dreaded question: “What are your intentions toward my daughter?” Only the daughters could rescue their dates and sweep them out of the houses and away from such interrogations.
Date destinations back then usually were ballgames and movies. Couples would struggle to converse at first, but eventually, things thawed enough to let the teens feel a bit more comfortable. After events, they went some place to eat. Either drive-ins like the Copper Kettle or restaurants like Shoney’s were popular places. Males ate to settle nerves while girls refused to eat or picked at food to give the impression that their appetites were small.
At some point in the dating cycle, boys would drive from restaurants to deserted areas. There, maybe half a dozen cars lined the sides of streets in subdivisions like Crestwood Hills or Camelot. The windows of the vehicles were fogged, and everyone knew that some heavy “necking” was going on. Girls might announce
that they would prefer to go home, but most often, the two had been dating long enough so that a little hugging and smooching were acceptable acts.
Boys would eventually decide that their girls were special. They would want to have an exclusive relationship with them That’s when class rings were offered and the proposals for going steady were spoken. Those pieces of jewelry always looked monstrous in female hands. Girls would put wax around the inside parts of the rings
so that they fit delicate fingers,or they would put them on chains and then wear them around their necks. If the boys played sports, their girlfriends suddenly took possession of letter jackets.
Relationships became much more relaxed. Dates might occur at the girls’ homes where the teens watched television or listened to music. For some reason, couples became comfortable with each other, and they stopped being quite so polite or thoughtful.
Before long, the excitement of the relationship fizzled, and one of the couple decided to “break up.” The pain was almost too much to bear. Personal items were returned. The phone calls stopped, and meetings in halls of school or at public places were awkward.
Males and females were once again free, not something they necessarily liked. The dating game began once again. Individuals acted slowly to jump into other relationships for fear of being hurt once again. Before long, however, old memories faded and new adventures were waiting. Teens again jumped on the dating carousel and hoped for better results.

With a little luck, high school couples held on tight to each other and developed a strong love that lead them to marriage. My brothers and their wives dated and went steady in high school. Dal and Brenda stayed together until he passed; Jim and Brenda have been married for 44 years. It’s nice to know that sometimes “love lasts.” That’s how we did it, and in many instances, it seemed to work out just fine.