Unlike many people, I’ve never moved far from the place where I grew up. Mother gave us a parcel of land behind her house on which to build the house where we live. Since then, 1978, Ball Camp has changed in so many ways. Subdivisions galore fill fields where we played and boys hunted. Some roads have grown to four lanes while others remain narrow; Ball Camp Pike daily carries thousands of vehicles that race toward destinations but
come to standstills when traffic becomes too heavy or when a school bus stops to pick up or deliver children. Even with all of the changes in this rural community, the constant throughout the years is the train.
My first memories of the trains that ran through our neighborhood came as my brother and I played outside. The tracks were across the street behind a field and house, but we always had an unobstructed view. We’d run to the edge of our driveway and watch as the train passed. Our hope was that the engineer in the engine and the conductor in the caboose could see us and return our waves.
Seeing special cars was common. Many trains pulled passenger cars, and Jim and I wished we could take just one trip in them. Cargo of all kinds followed the engines tugged them up the hills or zipped them down straightaways. Coal was on many of them, but the most exciting items were the new cars. Back then, the new designs for cars were kept under wraps until September. Trains ferried new automobiles in partially veiled cars, or the vehicles were covered with tarps.
As we grew older, our friends met us, and we camped out in Chuck Mier’s back yard, which was close to the tracks. We’d set up tents, build a fire and knock around for a while. Eventually, we’d settle in for the night, but no matter how tired we were or how ready we were for sleep, the continuous roar of trains not more than fifty feet from our campsite kept us awake.
Sometimes, people would dare to challenge trains. They’d try to “beat” the train in cars. On too many occasions, drivers lost the challenge with devastating results. One tale tells of a car that raced to the tracks, hit them, and became airborne. It flew toward a store on the other side and clipped a huge sign on a pole. 
A moving van tried crossing the tracks, but its trailer’s bottom scraped and then caught on the tracks. A group of us was waiting for the school bus to high school, and we ran up the tracks trying to stop the approaching train. It was a foolish attempt, and the engine plowed into the van and pushed it a quarter of a mile down the track. Along the way, someone’s worldly possessions were scattered and broken in all directions.
At some point, residents of the community stopped hearing the train. It became so much a part of daily life that the conscious mind didn’t register the arrival or the blaring horn that preceded the
snaking line of cars. That wasn’t the case with visitors to our home. My in-laws made regular trips to our house when Lacey arrived. Our house was small, and they rested on a sleeper sofa. Each morning my father-in-law swore that he didn’t sleep at all. The reasons for his insomnia were trains he declared sounded as if they were coming right through the middle of their room. He never got used to the noise of trains.
Today, the trains that run through Ball Camp are more of a nuisance to folks. They run on schedule, but those times coincide with the ones when schools let out or when folks are trying to get to or arrive from work. A long line of traffic runs both ways on Ball Camp Pike, and clearing the intersection can sometimes take several minutes. Tempers flare as people wait to move and resume their trips.

I don’t hear the trains anymore. In some ways, that’s sad because it signals that my awe over the simple wonders in life is dulled. When I do wake up and take time to listen, I can hear a train’s horn echoing through the hills of Hines Valley. It’s just one more thing that offers security and contentment to this small corner of the world.  


Most folks work for a living. It’s time-consuming and demanding each and every day of the work week. Some people also must put in overtime to complete assignments, often without extra pay. However, of all the jobs, nothing is more intense than being a parent. It’s an even worse chore when children must be disciplined.
I dreaded having to correct my children, but the fact is that they were human and, therefore, made
Dallas and Lacey survived childhood punishment. 
mistakes. They also tested the waters. When they did, the gauntlet was dashed and a war of wills ensued. I simply had to punish them if I planned on maintaining order in our household.
My approach to punishment was swift and just. I’d go to Lacey or Dallas and administer spankings. Amy said the kids knew they were in trouble when I frowned and put on my “Rector lips.” Those spanking were administered with my hand, although I might have used a fly swatter or something on occasion.
Lacey figured out early that the best bet was to act contrite over any transgressions. With my first step into her room, she began to bawl and beg me not to punish her. I’d like to say it had no effect on me, but that would be a lie. Oh, she still received the spanking, but it was usually much lighter.
Dallas was defiant. His stubborn streak kept him from begging or crying. In fact, the boy refused to shed the first tear in front of me. He saved them for after I’d left the room. If I re-entered, he sniffed and set his jaw in an act that said I won’t bend.
My two children seemed to relish the idea of arguing and scuffling in the car. One would call the other a name or begin teasing, and that drove the other child into a frenzy. Then something would happen and one would squeal and retaliate. By then, I had put up with enough. That meant I reached across the front seat and attempted to thrash both of them. Suddenly, the two of them forgot about their differences and delighted in a game of dodging my swats.
Amy was a more masterful disciplinarian. I bellowed and stomped and threatened. Before long,
Lacey and Dallas tuned all the commotion out until I left the room. My dear wife is a quiet person, but when she reached her limit, the kids feared her. On one occasion, they began a backseat argument as soon as the car pulled out of the driveway. Amy had warned them in advance that no such behavior would be tolerated. Not more than a mile down the road, she whipped the car into a subdivision road, took off her flip-flop, and flogged the two children. From that point, all Amy had to do was step on the brakes and all misbehavior ceased.
I admit that I’m one of those parents who suffered with their children when I punished them. My stomach knotted and tears flooded my eyes. I didn’t want to spank my kids, but it was necessary. So, I felt terrible after the fact.
Grounding worked better for Dallas. He hated to be confined, so Amy would place him in a chair in our bedroom and dare him to get up. With nothing to stimulate his mind, he’d grow bored in a matter of minutes and would begin calling “Mom” to seek forgiveness and release. Lacey didn’t care if she were grounded for life. She’d close her bedroom door and dream of the day she could leave home. I have to admit that during her teen years I offered to help her pack her bags.

My generation is probably the last one to use spanking as a means of discipline. Other generations have decided that striking a child sends the wrong message. Instead, parents use time-out, one-on-one discussions, and other creative ways of getting points across. Perhaps that all works, but I still stand by the belief that a quick swat to the behind is an acceptable way of correcting behavior and teaching children the correct ways to act. By the way, neither I nor my children suffered any long-lasting debilitating effects from the spankings we earned. 


I witnessed my daughter’s disciplining of my grandson the other day, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Oh, I took plenty of corrective measures as far as Lacey and Dallas were concerned, but this was different. For some reason, just being on the sidelines and watching made me anxious and returned that old familiar knot in my stomach. At the same time, I understood how both mother and child felt during this tense moment.
Discipline when I was young came in swift, thundering actions. A warning was given and followed
by a spanking if my attitude didn’t change. Daddy or Mother would enter the room and grab us one-by-one. They’d secure a hand around our upper arms and then begin thrashing us. We’d squall and cry, but all we’d hear is,
“Stop that crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about!”
I always found that confusing. First off, their job was to administer punishment; my job was to dance in a circle and try to avoid the blows. Second, I cried because it hurt, and I figured that was why my parents gave this punishment. If I hadn’t screamed like I were dying, I feared the spanking would continue forever.
One time, Mother discovered that holes had been cut in a pair of pajamas-mine. She and Daddy went ballistic, and they questioned which of us had done it. Somehow, I was designated as the culprit. Before the spanking began, they told me that I was being punished not because I’d supposedly cut the pajamas but because I lied about it. Sometime later, about fifteen years, my brother admitted to Mother that he’d been who’d done the deed. That was a little too late to save me.
In my younger years, my temper was volatile. When things happened, I felt as if the top of my head would explode. My anger raged so strongly that I began to cry, the signal that I didn’t care what happened to me or what I did. All this angst can be traced back to my having been teased about being fat and “buck-toothed.”
Mother would catch me in the early stages of a fit. The punishment was to make me sit in a chair at the kitchen table until she determined I’d cooled off. I’d pout and be silent for one of the few times in my life. Eventually, I would calm down, and at that point, she would talk to me about why I was so mad and how I should handle it.
When we were 13, Daddy died, and Mother was left to ride herd on us. By then, we were too big to spank, or so we thought. Jim came home hours late one day during his freshman year. Mother was scared witless about his well-being. When he walked through the door, she calmly told him to pick out a belt. Then she walked into our bedroom, laid Jim on the bed, and flogged his bottom. He wasn’t thinking straight because he came up mouthing off. She laid him down again and administered more. After the third time, Jim either got the message or was so weak he was unable to continue.
For most of our discretions in high school, we were grounded. I couldn’t make better than a “D” in geometry. Mother taught middle school math and couldn’t understand my poor performance. She grounded me until my grade came up. That meant going nowhere and doing nothing. After 26 weeks,
she came to me and stated,
“You aren’t going to bring that grade up, are you?”
I told her that I would already have done so if it were possible. She released me from that punishment, but by then, a story to tell in my adult years had been created.
I fought battles with Lacey and Dallas about punishment, and that’s another column for another time. I don’t think I could go through it again. Today, I sat on the sidelines and thanked God that I no longer needed to discipline anyone else but myself.


A trip to middle Tennessee showed just how much damage the recent snow and ice storms have caused. The roadsides along Interstate 40 were littered with limbs and downed trees. For some reason, the sight of such damage brought on sadness.

Trees are one of the few things in our lives that we associate with strength. They reach high into the sky as their limbs stretch toward the sun. Huge trunks offer support during some of the toughest conditions. Trees hint at permanence in our otherwise temporary existence.

When I was a kid, one maple tree stood at the side of the driveway. Even then it was huge. One limb crooked at just the proper angle and lent itself to climbing for any children who were adventurous enough. I never could make it up there for two reasons. First, I was a large child; ah, heck, I was FAT. My skinny arms and legs couldn't produce enough muscle power to pull my girth up toward the limb. Even if I'd been strong enough to heave myself up to the limb, I'd never have done so. The other sad fact that I was afraid of heights kept me from enjoying an adventure in that tree. Even being a few feet off the ground terrified me. So, I stayed grounded as my older brother and boys in the neighborhood shinnied up the tree and spent hours in it.

More than 50 years later, that same maple tree is alive and thriving. It’s lost a couple of limbs over the years, but it still stands strong and offers its branches to any children who might come visit. The tree’s leaves offer dabs of color to fall days before avalanching to the ground. Even during the cold days of winter, the tree stands strong against snow and ice and brutally cold winds.

In the back yard, a maple sapling continued to thrive until it was a strong, healthy tree. Amy and I were married and living behind my old home place. By then, I could chin myself, and one particular limb served as the perfect bar for the exercise. My mother, brothers, sisters-in-law, and children escaped to the tree in summer months to enjoy its shade and the cool breezes that came to ease the heat.

That tree succumbed to some kind of disease a couple of years ago. Large limbs and sections of the tree withered and died. When nothing else could be done, the tree was cut. I watched and almost cried as it was cut into sections. It stung as I watched and remembered all those good times that my family enjoyed.

In high school, I rode the bus on occasion. One tree sat in the middle of a field on Oak Ridge Highway. It was the most perfectly shaped tree I’d ever seen. Its beauty was more apparent when golden leaves covered it during October. I dreamed of building a house in that spot and enjoying the tree each and every day of my life.

At some point, developers scraped the land and turned a vast hay field into a dud of a commercial park. During the site preparation, the roots of the tree must have been damaged because it lost its leaves, and before long, the grand tree died and was unceremoniously cut and piled up as if it were garbage. I suppose that was the first time I resented the unchecked abuse of land and nature’s creations.

I’ve seen trees take serious poundings on several occasions. In 1974, the same storm system that hit Xenia, Ohio, roared through Cookeville. I was a student at Tennessee Tech then, and I surveyed the damage caused by tornadoes that tore through the area. A swath had been cut up and down the hillsides and of Monterey Mountain. In 1982, an ice storm paralyzed the Knoxville area for a couple of days. It slammed trees and bent many of them with a weight over which they could not recover. They remained stooped and resembled old folks whose spines had curved. Crews came to end their miseries and left nothing more than chips from ground stumps. The landscape was barren.

Now we’ve had another ice storm that waylaid thousands of trees, especially ones in the Crossville area. Some of their limbs snapped and hang loosely until winds or decay bring them down. Others lie, dozens at a time, side by side on the Interstate road shoulders. Crews work quickly to remove them from the area, but once again, the landscape shows the savage attacks it has endured.

Trees are one of our grandest features from nature. They offer beauty to our yards and fields. It’s up to us to take good care of them. At the same time, losing them brings about sadness that mirrors that from the death of a loved one. No, I don’t suggest that you hug a tree, but you might look at those special to you and send up a word of thanks for them.