This time of year always makes me sit back and think about times gone by. I grow a bit nostalgic, and just a fleeting thought can fill my eyes with tears.

The weather cools too quickly for my aching joints, but years ago, it never bothered me a lick. We boys in the neighborhood would arrive home from school, change into our old play clothes and shoes, and let the screen door slap the jam as we ran to the side yard for a game of tackle football. Games lasted until dark. We’d stop only when the call “Supper” drifted out of doors in the neighborhood. We swept off the dust with our hands and rubbed grass-stained knees before turning toward our houses. It was a sad time because we knew that night would swallow the rest of the day and deny us more plays of glory until the next afternoon.

Even though fingers and toes numbed from the drop in the temperature, we boys were covered in sweat from the game. The smell from a young boy is a mixture of dirt, exertion, and hormones. Feet proved to be so smelly that shoes were required until bath time. We quenched our thirst during those epic football battles with water straight from the hose. The taste of plastic flavored the water, but no one care; it still revived us enough to continue the game.

When Jim and I walked toward the door that opened into a hall next to the kitchen, we noticed that the windows were steamed. That was the sign that supper was cooking and almost on the table. No matter what the menu included, we were always ready and willing to eat. To the right of the door was a huge oven, an oversized appliance that could cook six pies at a time. The same pots with which Mother began housekeeping sat on eyes of the stove. They’d hold such things as stewed potatoes, hominy, soup beans, and corn. Another vessel would be filled with meat or spaghetti and sauce.

At the far end of the room sat a large round oak table. Chairs surrounded it, and as soon as we sat, the warning not to lean back in them greeted us. Plates and silverware were set and ready for the onslaught of three brothers who could devour all the prepared food and still be hungry. A large glass of milk was poured for each of us, and they would be filled again midway through supper. Mother warned us to hold our forks correctly and not to use them as shovels.

The best thing in that kitchen was Mother. She sat upon her S&H green stamp stool, and in front of her were a cup of cold coffee, a pack of cigarettes, and a pad and pen. While she
yakked on the phone, her right hand pushed a pencil as she drew doodles that covered the page. On that stool, she found the first rest she’d had after a day of teaching, cooking, washing, and cleaning for her family. She never uttered the first complaint.  

After supper came time for homework and baths. We’d sit on the edge of the tub as the water ran and splash it in an effort to make Mother believe we were washing ourselves. Sometimes we were caught and sent back to “do it again.” We donned pajamas, watched a little television, and then made our ways to bed.

The outside temperatures quickly cooled the block and plaster walls. We curled up underneath quilts that our Mamaw had made. They warmed our bodies, and we drifted off to sleep.

Those were good times, but I don’t want to go back. I love my life now, my wife and family and friends. Still, I miss those carefree times. I also miss Mother and my brother and several of the boys with whom I grew up. This evening I’m going to walk down to the yard where so many football games took place and just spend some quiet time remembering. I’ll look on my way back inside my house to see if the windows are steamed.


Yes, it’s Thanksgiving time again. The world has spun around the sun and brought us once again to a day during which we count our blessings. We are supposed to pause for a moment to reflect upon the things for which we are grateful. This year, however, I’ve decided to list what I’m thankful NOT to have.
First off, I am immensely thankful that I no longer have the presidential election with which to keep up. You see, I’m a political junkie, and for the past two years I’ve had a daily fix of the lead stories from both sides. I rise early to view the latest news on “Good Morning Joe” and CNN. Now the election has been held, and a selection has been made. I’m now free to turn my attention and concern to much more important things, such as spending time with my wife, catching up on my reading, or raking and mowing mountains of fallen leaves.
Along the same lines, I’m thankful that I don’t have to run this country. Why anyone would want to be the President of the United States is beyond me. The decisions to be made come in waves each and every day. It’s a job where the person is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t take a certain action. I have enough difficulty taking care of my life; being responsible for the well-being of millions more is too much. Look at presidents when they take office and then leave it. In a short time, they’ve aged far too quickly. Besides, the pay scale for the job isn’t that grand.
I am thankful not to have to worry about my children’s education. Lacey and Dallas have graduated from college and are established in their careers. I am glad that they aren’t part of the public school system as it exists these days. The pressure on students to excel and make all A’s is so intense. Many young people suffer from anxiety and depression over school and future admissions to colleges. They also fret over the escalating cost of higher education and the mountains of debt with which they might graduate. My children worked to help with college expenses, and Amy and I paid for their studies toward a Bachelor’s degree. I’m not sure we could do that today.
I am also glad that I do not teach in today’s schools. I now substitute for teachers in high schools, and my sympathies are with them. The demands on them to meet each item on an evaluator’s checklist
many times keep them from being effective teachers. Sure, some teachers play the game, and then teach what they know students need. I would never achieve a passing evaluation grade these days.
I’m thankful that I no longer must work every day. At this point in life, I choose when I want to substitute. Most of the time, three days a week is plenty. The rest of the week is mine to complete “honey-do’s” and other jobs around the house or on my computer. My stamina isn’t enough so that I can put in a full work week, and I’m glad not to have to.
I am thankful not to have any serious health condition. Friends are now facing difficult times as they battle illness. Some family members slowly drift away from us as Alzheimer’s takes them over. My life is filled with aches and pains in joints and muscles. I don’t enjoy dealing with them, but they do serve as a reminder that I’m still alive and kicking, even if my pace is somewhat slower.
Last of all, I am thankful that I don’t have hundreds of thousands of words trapped on the computer’s hard drive. The Knoxville Focus has for several years allowed me to publish my thoughts and opinions and recollections and to share them with folks. Whether or not readers agree with me, I love to write and have them react. Writing is a supreme gift from God, and I am blessed to be able to have a forum for presenting them to the public.
I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with family and good food. Give thanks for your what you have and don’t have. Blessings are bountiful in both areas.


Life is full of surprises. Most of us like them, but sometimes they are too overwhelming to take in. When that happens, we run into problems.

This presidential election took many folks’ including me, by surprise. After all the vitriol that President-elect Trump spewed for two years, I thought for certain he would be crushed in the election. I’ve never been so wrong about anything. In fact, I still find it incredible that the man was chosen to run this country.

No, I don’t like him. I don’t like his entourage, and I am none too fond of his choices for cabinet posts. I fear his policy decisions will further sink this nation in a swirling sea of debt. The rich will get richer, and the rest of us, well, will be left to gather scraps that are thrown to us. The environment will be under attack as regulations are rolled back or dumped; alliances with long-standing friends will be bruised or severed.

Right now, many of us who were stunned by the election results are playing Chicken Little; we fear that the sky is falling. Perhaps such a feeling is just one step in the process of grieving. Yes, folks are grieving over their losses, and it is not all right for winners to poke fun of them. I don’t suspect anyone would be so cruel if a person were upset over the loss of a loved one. So, let’s hope that the folks who supported Donald Trump will knock it off.

At the same time, it’s time for protesting groups to accept the fact that this election is over. No amount of marching or rioting or looting will change the results. Those who call for the electoral college to vote contrary to what is right need to hush. Trump and his supporters whined that the election was rigged. They were wrong; however, you are calling on folks to rig an election by changing their votes. Give me a break about holding sessions for young people who are distraught over the outcome. From news reports, at least half of the protesters didn't even vote.

The time has come for us who suffered a loss in this election to stop sniveling and get on with life. It’s time to get over it. Let's say our prayers and give this duly elected individual a chance. Let's see how he performs. Yes, we must stay ever vigilant. At the same time, let's see how much the members of congress stand up for us in the middle. Donald Trump said he would work to help us; let's keep his feet held to the fire of that promise. If he fails to follow through on his promises, then his constituency will see him for what he truly is.

The simple fact is that democracy worked. No, it did not come up with the candidate I supported, but the process is much more important than any single person. The people have spoken, the election is over, and it is time to turn our attention to the actions and events that are to come. We might just be surprised how this presidential choice might lead to a congress that finally works together. Let's hope so at least.


Thwack! Thwack! Thawck! The sound grows louder as the sky fills with the same sound coming from hundreds or even thousands as they hover. What can it be? Helicopter parents are either constantly present or on call to sweep into any situations that might arise. It’s a different world from the one in which most of us grew up.

The smothering by parents begins early. Take a look at any sporting event. For instance, t-ball fields are loaded with players. Ringing the field is an army of canvas chair toting parents. Most of the participants have little knowledge of the game and even smaller attention spans. They dig in the dirt, sit in the outfield, or chase each other.

Moms and dads are steely eyed spectators. They expect to see their children on the field, not in the dugout. Dads are convinced that their offspring are superior athletes and should always be in the line-ups. They won’t hesitate to corner the coach to give him an earful about his incompetence. All parents are keenly aware of the score and urge the coaches to play to win, even if that means leaving someone else’s child on the bench for the entire game. Meanwhile, the most important thing to those little ones is finishing the game so that they can claim their snacks and drinks.

Parents circle the classroom and wait for something negative to occur. Then they dive
bomb teachers;.the attacks come in the forms of emails, phone calls, and principal visits. An assigned low grade on a report card is viewed as a declaration of war by moms and dads. They demand to know what the problem is. Before long, the line, “My child has never made a grade below an A or B” booms from the parent. They also declare that a bad grade keeps their young scholars from obtaining scholarship offers from colleges. And even when kids go off to college, some parents continue to hover and will attack over low grades or make-up work policies .It’s not unheard of for parents to call or visit professors to discuss material content and grades.

The blame for such unacceptable grades is laid at the feet of the instructor. She is too hard; she doesn’t explain the material well enough; her classroom management prevents the child from learning. Nothing is ever the fault of students, those who refuse to pay attention in class or those who simply refuse to turn in assignments. If these two things are the reasons for low grades, moms want to know if their children can make up the work they’ve refused to do in the first place.

Even when young folks enter the workforce in permanent jobs, some moms and dads are sticking their noses where they don’t belong. They contact employers with concerns about their policies. Reports have aired that describe situations where parents come into businesses
to argue with bosses over the disciplinary actions they’ve meted out to children, even though the “child” is a college graduate and an adult.

Some young adults can’t escape parents at all. It’s especially bad when they can’t afford to pay rent and end up in the basement of their parents’ house. Some moms snoop in their children’s possessions. They critique wardrobes and nag about personal hygiene. Dads still shotgun questions about groups and boyfriends or girlfriends. Both parents inappropriately inquire about finances. They want an accounting of every dime spent. Sometimes they contact bosses to plead for a bump in salary for their children.

Things are surely different from how most of us grew up. Our parents sent us to school with warnings that we’d better complete our work and behave. Trouble at school meant trouble at home. Moms and dads worked hard; they had little or no time to fit in our ball games that were nothing more than play. If we made it to college, already we knew not to mess around or any financial help that came from home would dry up. The last thing we wanted was to live at home again. Our time had come to spread our wings and fly. Parents felt the same way, and, as Bill Cosby put it, they wanted us out of the house before they died.  

Life would be better all-round if parents quit over-protecting their children. The best way to survive in this world is to meet it head on. Mistakes become invaluable learning tools. They will never happen, and children will be forever handicapped in adult life if helicopter parents hover over their children.


By the time this piece appears in the paper, the national election will begin in less than a day. Plenty of people are saying, “Thank God!” Others, like me, who are political junkies, will pace all day long and fret until the final vote counting is finished. In the end, a new president will be elected, and a void will exist where, for the last two years, campaigns, ads, debates, and bad news have flowed. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the entire country could take a two-week vacation to recover?
One of the first things we’ll all want to do is take a long, hot shower. Over my adult life, I’ve seen
some dirty campaigns. Candidates typically throw jabs at each other, but this cycle has seen both sides fling mud and other nasty substances on the walls and hope that they stick. What I wonder is whether we voters will use common sense and the intrinsic knowledge of right and wrong in making our choices. Name- calling and has done little to help us know what the truth about each candidate is.
I don’t recall an election when both candidates were so disliked. One has no experience in government; he defames minorities, berates immigrants, and disrespects women. He has questionable business ties to governments that don’t espouse democratic values. The other candidate is barely keeping her head above the flood of emails. She’s battling investigations and accusations of improprieties with the foundation she and her family have been involved.
The electorate is divided, even polarized, more than at any other time I can recall. Sure, being for one candidate is fine, but folks have gone beyond that. Rallies are rife with fights and hecklers, and those in attendance chant slogans that reflect more emotional bias than intellectual discernment. An underlying anger bubbles just below the surface, and it has little to do with the issues. It comes more from fear mongering. The idea seems to be to whip up those fears so that people no longer can use common sense to make decisions. Votes are cast not for an individual but against those things and groups that are claimed to be taking away freedom and security, even if such thinking is irrational. 
My concern is where our country is headed after the elections. So many people are deeply entrenched in their beliefs, and I don’t see how in the world they will accept results that don’t fall in their favor.
Some have been told that the process is rigged, even though only a few examples out of billions of votes have been recorded. Anything other than victory will occur because the election was stolen. The other side warns that the opponent is not fit to be the leader of our country. They swear that we will “go to hell in a handbasket” if he is elected. Forget the fact that he must have the support of both sides in the government; his own party has thumbed its nose at him and refuses to stand up for him.

What might well be the probable end to this election is that our government remains gridlocked. The good of the country will take a backseat to partisan politics, demagoguery, and hypocritical principles. Many of us who have been around a while view this election as a defining one. The choices that we make might well spell the end of our democracy as we know it. The two-party system is so broken and dysfunctional that new models might be created, ones that none of us want.
Yes, the election will be over soon. Its results won’t make everyone happy. However, for the sake of our country, citizens, and children, let us hope that our so-called leaders will decide the era of partisan politics is over and that they will replace it with a new commitment to working for the good of our country and a better life for all citizens.

One last thing I will add. Voting is a privilege and a duty for each citizen in the U.S. You are defending this country when you cast a ballot. However, anyone who chooses not to vote HAS NO RIGHT TO COMPLAIN ABOUT OUTCOMES OR POLICIES. Make your voice be heard tomorrow. VOTE!


As soon as October arrived, folks were decorating houses and purchasing costumes for the celebration of Halloween. I’ve always been amazed at the keen interest poured out for the day. It wasn’t like that in my world.

Halloween was simply a time each year for kids to get out of the house and walk around the neighborhood in efforts to rustle up candy and treats. No one had hordes of cash, so many
of the things that fell into our trick or treat bags were either homemade or items that were grown there. One neighbor passed out apples and pears. Those weren’t so well received by kids. The pieces of fruit became missiles boys hurdle at cows in pastures or cars cruising down the road. Other adults passed out popcorn balls glued together with molasses. It was a good treat for children who many times ate the balls so that they wouldn’t be squished in the bag.

Back then, no one ever thought about whether or not treats were tainted. Neighbors knew each other. Many of them watched over other families’ children. In fact, they would fuss at youngsters and try to keep them from finding their ways into trouble. To harm one of those young people through treats would be too much like harming the adult’s own children.

Costumes were simple. Old clothes sometimes turned into outfits for hobos. Shoe polish outlined scruffy beards to go along with the clothing. Other children used bed sheets. They cut two holes for eyes and left the house as ghosts. The costume was a hindrance to trick or treaters because they too often hung low and tangled in little shoes; falls were bound to happen, and spilled candy was difficult to find in the dark. Sometimes, children wore a simple mask like the one the Lone Ranger wore.

Moms and dads didn’t accompany their children most of the time. The searchers for treats left home in groups or, in the case of boys, packs. They started walking to houses which were separated by large yards. That meant long hikes to secure enough candy that might last at least for a couple of days.  No subdivisions were located in the area, so a Halloween night’s walk could add up to several miles. The dark made that walking difficult, and missteps led to slips and falls into ditches. Kids would arrive home and soon fall into bed from exhaustion. They knew that the next day would bring a full day of school and class work.

The only decoration for most houses was a jack-o’lantern. A parent would carve eyes, noses, and mouths. A candle was placed inside the pumpkin to light up those features. For
older children, those orange orbs became highly desired things. Kids would steal pumpkins, and then they’d smash them in the road. If one survived, a mother might scrape it and cook the content so that it could be used for pumpkin pies.

Other simple acts of vandalism occurred as well. Egging houses of hateful neighbors or soaping windows took up some of our time. Community store owners refused to sell those items to packs of boys, so we sneaked them out of our houses. Eggs landed on roofs and soap was confined to the windows, not the screens.

The biggest efforts of vandalism called for several rolls of toilet paper. We boys would work on a yard until it looked more like a snowscape than a fall, leafed-covered one. Most of us arrived home to discover our yards were in the same condition. Our parents sent us the following day to clean up the mess, but we were to roll the paper up for our families’ use in coming months. Adults didn’t believe in wasting anything.

Halloween is a big deal these days, much more so than in my younger years. I just can’t get into the swing of it, nor do I feel the same spirit that comes with true holidays like Christmas or Easter. If kids today had to work as hard for their treats as we did, perhaps they wouldn’t think the Halloween was such a grand time. As it is, trick-or-treaters will pile up huge stashes of candy and never walk far at all from home.