CHRISTMAS TWISTS

In just a few days, Christmas Day will once again roll around. It’s perhaps the day that brings the most happiness for all, but for some it’s a day that elicits sadness and loneliness. Those feelings are never more stinging than that first Christmas when a loved one is no longer there.
More than fifty years ago, my brothers, mother, and I agonized for more than a year as Daddy struggled with his health. For months he was treated for allergies, as our family doctor and then a specialist misdiagnosed his ailment. The following April, another doctor visited his hospital room, looked at him, and announced that he suffered from lung cancer. The disease proved terminal, and Daddy died the last day August, which happened to be the first day of school.
That first Christmas was smothered with feelings of loss and loneliness. Jim and I got new bicycles, but they did little to bring much joy. In every direction we turned and every thought we held, our dads absences screamed at us. Only because extended family came on that day to share dinner did we manage to survive the day.
In 1996, Mother gave us an almost year-long battle with the same disease. She died in June. We boys, our wives, and children, met at her house on Christmas morning to exchange gifts. It was another dark time for us. We went through the motions of the season that day, mostly to make Christmas enjoyable for the younger ones, but they, too, dealt with their own feelings of loss and loneliness.
The death of my older brother brought another dose of pain. His battle lung cancer officially began on Labor Day and ended only a few days into the following January. Jim and I didn’t have Christmas with Dal that last year because he was too sick to travel from Nashville. We knew where things would end, and that crushed Christmas. The following year, Dal’s wife Brenda and her young’uns stayed at home. We celebrated with our families amid bouts of loneliness and loss.
This year, Amy and I traveled to Cookeville to spend a day with some of her West relatives. Michael and Janice hosted of large crowd of relatives, and they exchanged gifts. Amy and I always go so that we stay in touch with folks that we love. The West children, now all closing in on senior citizen status, lost their mother Nellie only a couple of months ago. This year’s celebration was filled with plenty of laughter and fun, but the West kids, their children, and Amy and I felt the ache of Nellie’s presence.
All of us will experience this same loss of a loved one and will grieve a bit more on that first Christmas that a mom or dad or brother or sister or cousin is absent. What makes the day all the more difficult is that the roller coaster of emotions takes us through the love of those who are there to the lows of gut-wrenching sadness of the absences of that loved one. Yes, we manage to get through, but the pain and loss is sometimes unbearable.
What all of us must remember is that Christmas is the celebration of the coming of a savior. Because he came, all of us are free from the chains of death. At the end of this life, our spirits will be reunited with all those whom we have missed. Let’s celebrate the lives our loved ones and rest assured that they are alive in the arms of the very person whose birthday we love to recognize.

Merry Christmas!

FILLING OUR BRAINS

For most of our younger years, we are required to remember things. Children wonder if enough room exists in their heads to store all of this stuff. Of course, our super-computers manage to process the information and keep it for the rest of our lives.
Many of us memorized things at church. We learned to put our hands together and then to recite the Lord’s Prayer. Before long, that recitation was one way we could participate in “big church” since no such thing as children’s church existed back then. Unfortunately, we sometimes uttered the words without thinking about their meanings.
 We also plugged away at the “23rd Psalm.” Some parts were scary, such as “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Still, we finally “got” all the words, and over the years, the psalm has comforted us in difficult times.  
In big church, we doodled on bulletins as the grown-ups recited such things as the Apostles’ Creed. Even without knowing it, our brains were absorbing those words, and much to our surprise, we could regurgitate them.  Never mind the fact that we understood none of it. For years, I wondered why we professed belief it the Catholic Church and didn’t get at all “the commune of saints.”
In school, we students were bombarded with things to memorize. Math teachers stood over us like taskmasters and demanded we learn our multiplication tables. We also had to keep straight the
functions of division. In high school, teachers demanded that we memorize theorems to apply to geometry. I managed to master multiplication and even division, but algebra and geometry baffled me. I certainly didn’t understand how a letter from the alphabet could, in any way, hold numerical value. I still don’t get it.
English was no less demanding. I remember committing to memory long lists of conjugated irregular verbs, “er” and “est” rules, and pronoun cases. I understood those things much better. In fact, by the time I’d finished 8th grade, the only new things I added to my grammar knowledge covered  were gerund, infinitives, and participial phrases. Sadly, too many folks didn’t learn these rules because they say such things as “I seen you yesterday” or “I done my work in class.”
 I also caught on to spelling rules, such as “i” before “e” except after “c” or when with they sound like a long “a” in “neighbor” or “sleigh.” What always made things difficult were the exceptions to the rules. They defied logic.
At home, we also learned many things. We recited our addresses and phone numbers before ever attending school. Another must was saying “please and thank you.” Moms reminded us nightly to take baths, use soap, and wash our ears. At the supper table, we grabbed a spoon and made ready to shovel in the food. However, parents corrected us and demanded that we hold utensils properly. Today, my mother would have a hissy fit to see so many incorrectly holding a fork or spoon.
As adults, we reach a tipping point of memorizing and learning. We concentrate on things that help make us successful in our jobs. Luckily, we have those things our parents taught to pass along to our children. At least that makes a small part of life a little easier.
As we get a bit older, learning takes a backseat to forgetting. I struggle to remember where I’ve placed my wallet or keys if they aren’t in the normal places. I fail to recall the reason I walk into the room. When the kids come home, I call roll instead of speaking the one name I need.

Our minds are amazing things. We can fill them for a lifetime and never need an external hard drive for overflow knowledge. On too many occasions, we fail to learn the things we need for success in areas. On other occasions, we fill our minds with too much useless information, things that won’t make much difference in 50 years. Still, I believe that memorizing some things and learning some other important lessons are worthy pursuits.

WHO KNOWS WHAT IS GOING ON?

The UT coaching search appears to be run by amateurs. AD John Currie originally announced that he would conduct a thorough search without the aid of a search firm. I applauded the move because it seems that a coach can be found without having to fork over thousands of dollars to a company.

Perhaps I was wrong. Evidently, Currie didn't vet his first choice well enough. I don't know what Coach Schiano knew about the scandal at Penn State. However, he was a member of a staff that was at the school when the horrible things were going on. It defies credulity to believe that those on the staff had no idea what was going on in the showers.

So, Currie, red-faced, takes the offer to Schiano off the table and runs someplace to hide. Before long, Mike Gundy's name circulates as the probable new head coach. Excited fans began to look forward to landing a proven coach who could bring a staff with him who would develop the rich talent that comes to UT to play. But wait! Gundy, for the second time, turns Tennessee down, and Currie once again limps home without a coach.

At this point. the head coaching job at Tennessee looks more like a venomous snake than like a coveted job at a premier football program. Fans wonder if the school is able to find any coach who might repair the damage that has been done by coordinators who failed to accomplish anything other than making the football program look like a joke.

Now, UT fans are holding their breaths as Currie courts Purdue coach Jeff Brohm. This man has performed well during his college coaching career, but he is a far cry from the "sexy" hire that UT fans expected. I'm not as worried about the head coach hiring as about the coordinator positions. If Brohm does become the next coach, let's hope that he will recruit quality players and then develop the talents that they bring with them.

It's been a long, frustrating year in Knoxville. This year's team wasn't expected to be as good as last year's squad, but no one foresaw the team losing the most number of games in UT football history, having an offense that was so anemic that it couldn't score for multiple quarters or a run a defense that allowed the worst teams in the SEC to run roughshod over them.

I will give the new coach my support, but I'm not about to get excited yet. For too long, we UT faithful have begun seasons with excitement, only to have our spirits dashed upon the rocks of mediocrity. Perhaps before long, Tennessee football will return to relevance. That would be a nice surprise for a weary fan base.

HOW TO SURVIVE THE PROBLEM

I keep hearing from news outlets that we have just crossed into a new world, a new time. The revelations of sexual harassment by some famous men has our world spinning. At the risk of
offending some people, I have a few thoughts on the subject.
To begin with, shame on the men who have taken advantage of women. I’m talking about such people as Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Roy Moore, and Al Franken. These high profile men made
advances at women that were at least misguided and at most disgusting.

All of their actions of harassment have been brought to light by the women whom they offended, but in some instances, the men have doubled down in their professions of innocence. They have thumbed their noses at such accusations with ridiculous attempts to turn victims into guilty parties.
Let’s hope that such convoluted acts to turn the tables don’t work. The simple fact is that the men who have attacked women or harassed them should be brought to the public spotlight. The first thing is to acknowledge their inappropriate actions. Next should come an apology. Last, if cases justify them, trials and penalties should come.
All assaults and harassment are bad. However, the degrees to which these things occur must be taken into account. In many cases, multiple women have come out to expose a single man, while in other instances, a single act has occurred. Should they be treated the same?
Something of which we all must be aware is that sometimes the pursuit for justice can lead to a feeding frenzy. How many more accusations will come flooding out? How many are true? How many are spawned by persons who hold vendettas or seek payment?
A few men have made life difficult for the rest of the male species. To be honest, most all of us are guilty of the same acts. As teenagers, we pushed as far as possible when we parked on dimly lit streets or sat on couches with our dates. The scenes looked more like a wrestling matches than times for a bit of innocent “making out.” Do those teenaged, hormone driven acts make us guilty of the same things as the men who are accused today?
What is the outcome of this new awareness of the inappropriate behaviors of some men? Are we going back to the days when a man had to ask permission before kissing or hugging or cuddling with a woman? If so, then men should be afraid of every encounter they have with women because at any time they might be accused of sexual harassment.

I, too, want a safe world where my wife and daughter don’t have to worry about being prey for jerks. At the same time, I want a world where relationships aren’t stilted because a man is scared to death hold a woman’s hand or put his arm around her. The answer for all of this lies in the middle; both sides have to use some common sense in dealing with each other. The other part of the answer comes with the warning that from this day forward sexual harassment or assault will not be tolerated at any time but will be prosecuted swiftly and harshly.   

RESPONSIBILITY

Too many students fail to complete assigned work. Heck, some of them don’t even take notes on information given either orally or written, even though they receive a grade for doing so. It’s enough to make any teacher’s blood boil. The bottom line is not enough young people are being held accountable for their actions or inactions. The key word is “responsibility.” I learned this quality early in life, and it’s stuck with me, for the most part, throughout the years. The lessons were usually hard ones, but they impressed upon me the importance of the personal characteristic.
On Saturdays when my brothers and I were young, Mother required us to clean the house. Each of us had rooms that we were to take care of. The work included vacuuming, dusting, and scrubbing.
We began the day with a big breakfast. Mother made pancakes or waffles and bacon. Afterwards, we waddled back to the television set to watch cartoons or, as we grew older, “American Bandstand.” Bellies full of carbs and sugar made us sleepy and lazy. That lasted for only so long.
Mother would call through the house for us to get busy cleaning. It wasn’t as if she were sitting around; a full list of jobs awaited her as well. We boys yelled back, “OK,” but our acknowledgements weren’t followed by any movements.
Before long, my dear mother lost patience with us. She would come to the den, stick out a crooked index finger, and warn us that beginning the cleaning would be in our best interest. The term “or else” was enough to send three boys scurrying.
On one occasion, we ignored Mother’s request so long that she chucked a container of Vaseline from one end of the hallway to the door that led to the basement. Realizing how much that object would have hurt if it had made contact, we boys jumped to attention and got busy.
The summer before my senior year, I was involved in an auto accident. A car nearly ran me into a ditch, so I decided to chase him. I pulled into a driveway, looked both ways, and pulled out into the road. A sheriff’s deputy was chasing the car, but he had no lights
or siren on. He hit the back fender of the car and found himself in the same ditch I’d nearly been run into. I took responsibility for the accident, but the sheriff’s investigation determined that the officer was, instead, at fault. I shouldn’t have tried to chase down the other car in the first place.
As teens, Jim and I needed to work to earn spending money and savings. Our first jobs were at the Copper Kettle. There we worked serving curb-side orders. The work wasn’t too difficult, but the
hours were brutal. We worked until 11:00 p.m. and then cleaned the curb and serving area until midnight. Our next job was with the City of Knoxville. A group of teenaged boys were hired to cut weeds on rights-of-ways, clean alleys, and pick up garbage. Other jobs included working at Burger King and at the UT farms.
At the end of the summers, we had saved enough money to use for activities and other things throughout the year. We gained a sense of pride from working; neither of us ever wanted to ask Mother for money since she had so very little of it to spare. To this day, Jim and I stay busy at some kind of work, and we still believe in working hard for the money that we earn.
I hope that the youth of today learn the same kind of responsibility. No, my brother and I aren’t special. Many of our friends learned the meaning of responsibility during those early years. We appreciate the lessons. Amy and I instilled the same quality in our children, and they have proven to be responsible adults. That statement would make any parent proud.



HOW DO THEY AFFORD THAT?

Money—it’s something that most of us are short on. It is the means by which we can gain things that we need and want. What amazes me is how prices of things have gone up so much over the years. I often wonder how folks manage to pay for the items they buy.
During my sophomore year in college, the old ’54 Chevy gave up the ghost and died in the dorm
parking lot. My older brother talked to my mother to convince her to borrow money to buy me a car. I selected a Volkswagen Beetle. It was brand-spanking new. The cost for that vehicle was $2600. Excited to own a new car but embarrassed that I had to ask my mother to purchase it, I drove that Bug off the lot.
Today, the cheapest model of the VW Beetle averages $19,995. That equates to an increase in price of almost 8 times what the car cost back then. Yeah, I get that these are different times and that cars are much nicer than they were; however, the fact remains that a Beetle is still a Beetle. I watch men who are mad with desire for trucks plunk down $40-50,000 to own them. They finance the things for 7 years, which is much longer than the life of most heavily used vehicles.
Amy and I bought a house after we’d been married a couple of years. It was one built by the vocational building trades class at Doyle High School. We bid $32,000 for a house that had a living room, kitchen and eating area, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a half-basement.
A couple of years later, we built a house in Ball Camp. It had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large living room and kitchen, eating area, garage, deck, and screened porch on a one-acre lot. We finagled our finances to afford this $36,000 house. The $241.00 a month payment came with 9% interest. It also included escrow for mortgage insurance and taxes. We tightened our belts and did without some things to be able to afford this house. In fact, we still live there, although the place has undergone two additions and renovations over the years.
At the present time, the median listing price for a house in Knoxville is $185,000, and the price per square foot for construction is $114. That means for a 2400 square foot house, the size of my residence, a person would pay $266,400. For a 30-year loan with a 3.92% fixed rate, the payment for the house would be $777.31.  That doesn’t include taxes and mortgage insurance.  The payments
alone equal $9400 a year, only $600 more than I made each year when we built our home.
Surprisingly, the cost for renting an apartment isn’t much better these days. Amy and I rented a three-bedroom house for $125 a month before building our house. The average rent in Knoxville in 2015 was $723. How in the world do families find enough money to pay for a place to live?  Things worsen when the cost of utilities is included. A 915 square foot apartment has an average monthly utility payment of $145.00. So, just to secure housing costs an individual $11,000 a year.

I could go on about other skyrocketing price for such things as food and gas, but the costs for vehicles and housing produce enough sticker shock for me. I suppose folks must be raking in huge hunks of money these days. If not, they are treading water fast just to keep their heads above the currents of debt. I don’t see how a young family makes it, and I worry that prices in the future will only go higher. Sure the wealthy won’t have problems with cash but we who are middle class are that lucky. So, my question, once again, is how do folks afford those things?

PHOTOGRAPHS AND MEMORIES

Amy and her cousins met on a recent Sunday in Cookeville. They shared a wonderful spread of fried catfish, hush puppies, and French fries, accompanied by sweet tea and banana pudding. After all pushed back from the tables and patted full bellies, they attended to the business of the get-together: sharing family photo albums.  For the next couple of hours, the crew looked at photos, asked questions, and related stories. By the end of the day, all left with smiles on their faces and memories overflowing in their hearts.
All of us should take some time every so often to pull out the albums and boxes of photos. Something
magical happens. Looking at those old pictures puts smiles on our faces. We remember those vacations with family. In others, we recall the monumental birthday party or a graduation day. More recently, some of us can look at hundreds of pictures of newborn babies. Most of them are ugly little creatures, but in our minds, they are the most beautiful creations that have ever drawn breath.
Some of my favorite pictures are from childhood. Frozen in time are grandparents, cousins, parents, and brothers sitting in our front yard. Black and white photos have tinges of yellow from age, but being able to see once again everyone together is comforting. Several photos are of my parents and brothers on Easter. The camera always came out on that day; we boys had new outfits, and Daddy put on his best suit. He rarely smiled in pictures, but it was easy to see how pleased he felt to be with his family.
For some reason, my favorite old pictures are of Jim and me as we grew up. Both of us were unfortunate looking little people. Our heads looked too large to have been supported by slender necks. In later pictures, our stomachs grew so that we wondered how such skinny legs could prop them up. Pictures of us riding bikes in circles in the basement or wearing cowboy outfits complete with holsters and guns bring back smiles. So do the ones Mother snapped of our friends and dates before proms or during our 18th birthday party. It all seems to have taken place just a snap ago.
Maybe what we all would like is to be able to jump into some of those photos and hit the “run” button. For the next while, we’d be able to once again have time with the folks in those photos. I’d like another chance to sit on the towel atop the ice cream freezer as some adult cranked the handle. Then I’d spend a few minutes running and playing with cousins in the yard. It would be wonderful to have a family photo come to life just long enough
to give special hugs to Mother and Daddy and my brother and to tell them how much I love them.
My goal is to pull out those pictures and share them with them my children. I want them to know who the people are in the photos and then share some tales or information about each of them so that they
don’t die with me. I’m sure a couple of tears will fall and smiles will spread across my face as I look at fade photographs. Most of all, I just want to remember-good and bad times, all the things that have made this life of mine be such a glorious adventure to this point.


OLDER IS BETTER

Okay, I’m about to pour out some of my “gray panther” rage. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s one used to identify us of the older generation. Not all are senior citizens are retired; some gray panthers still are alive and well in today’s workforce. It’s for those folks whom I write.
Many of us turn toward retirement when we reach our 60’s. With just a little luck, our planning and savings offer us enough on which to live and pay monthly bills. However, not every person chooses to retire early or even at the regular retirement age. Some folks continue in the workforce because they simply need the money to exist. Their bills exceed what retirement income provides. Others are still vibrant folks who enjoy working and producing. They simply wish to continue plugging away in careers that have brought them personal fulfillment, in addition to a paycheck.
Those who remain in the world of work find life difficult. For one thing, they discover that others look at them as dinosaurs; they are considered too old to still be occupying a desk in some company.
Younger workers doubt that older folks can contribute to the bottom line of a company or in any way offer creative ideas that will benefit clients. Too often, these younger people doubt that oldsters can grasp the concepts of using technologies that make work easier and more efficient.
When workforce cuts are made, all too often the lion’s share of layoffs and RIF’s are laid at the feet of older workers. Companies can cut costs by ridding themselves of dedicated employees who have given years to their employers. The idea is that an old guy can be let go and replaced with a younger person whose salary will be much less. What bosses fail to realize is that the old guy in the corner is the one who knows how the entire machinery of a business works. Yes, he might make more than a rookie, but his knowledge is something that the new person can’t provide. That valuable information makes the business run more smoothly, and the shortcuts offer speed to the operation. Those things have been learned over time and won’t be around anymore. The replacement of old for new comes at the expense of productivity.
When job openings do occur, older workers don’t have a snowball’s chance of being hired. Employers look upon seasoned workers as folks who are washed up and worn out. They doubt that an older person can bring anything to a new, fast-paced business. Many bosses view older workers as
poor fits in today’s office environment. They assume that the veteran just won’t fit the culture of the office when it is staffed with younger workers; old is equated to slow.
What is ironic is that businesses often look for retirees to work on part-time bases. Employers prefer older people for such jobs for several reasons. First, people who return to the workplace actually show up to work every day, and they somehow manage to arrive either early or on time. Once they clock in, these undesirable folks work a full day and complete their assigned tasks; if they don’t, they clock out and then complete the work that they’ve been assigned. The whining and complaining that young workers too many times let fill the air are absent with a “retread worker.”

More workers are reaching the age of retirement; however, many of them choose to continue working. The question is whether employers will recognize the value that these older Americans offer. Wise business owners will choose to keep veteran workers and to take advantage of the skills they have and the work ethic by which they live. Sometimes, older is better.  

The End

One of my classes read poems by Emily Dickinson. Some were light-hearted while others were much more serious. Students decided that Dickinson was obsessed with death; I didn’t disagree with them. However, her obsession caused these young folks to think about death and the things about it. I could see them considering the topic as their eyes held far away stares that took them back to times when death directly affected them.
I, too, gave pause to muse over the ending of life here on earth. Over the years, I’ve had too many personal interactions with death. I was there when my mother and brother passed. I was with Amy just after her mother died. High school friends died in their teens; other friends have died in later years. The one thing in common with all these passings is that they were difficult. In fact, I’m sure that death has always been much easier for the dying than for the living.
Age brings on more thoughts about death. We who have fewer days left than we’ve already lived think about the end of things. That doesn’t mean we fret about it, but we do have it on our minds more often than when we were teens. In fact, back then we considered ourselves invincible. Our antics proved dangerous and moronic. Yet, we survived foolish stunts, even though some of them were severe and the worst we ended up with were a few stitches or a broken bone.
In those early years, death visited only rarely. Some of us lost parents, and others ached with the passings of grandparents. The jarring quake of death hit hardest when one of our own died. Car wrecks took good friends on their ways to pick up dates for the prom; drownings in nearby lakes shook us to our cores. The worst of all were the deaths of young people after wars with cancer. Leukemia claimed the lives of two friends before we’d reached fourth grade. The viewing of a dead child haunted us for years. When a lifelong friend who was a gifted athlete died not long after graduation from high school, young teens struggled to find a reason for such a loss.
These days, my generation spends too much time making trips to funeral homes or cemeteries. We are at that age when friends and family pass much too frequently. Visitations look much like a class reunion. All of us shake our heads in disbelief that another friend is gone. After a few minutes, the awkwardness of expressing condolences and shock eases as we share stories with others about the person who has died. Before long, we’re laughing and chatting maybe a bit too loudly. Some folks think such acts are disrespectful. My belief is that nothing shows more respect than a large crowd’s sharing the joys and memories that the person has left behind.
Thinking about death and all the things that it brings and takes away can sometimes lead to nothing more than depression. That’s when a belief in something stronger than ourselves is in control. A belief in a life after this one comforts us, especially when thoughts or reuniting with loved ones who’ve gone before us are included.
William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis” gives us the best advice about the end that each of us shall reach:
“So live, that when thy summons comes to join
That innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Though go to not, like the quarry slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch

About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.”

PAYING WHAT WE OWE

In Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” he says that he meets the U.S. government once a year in the form of the tax collector. He refused to pay those taxes as a means of protesting the Mexican War, which he said enlarged the Southern lands that promoted slavery. I’ve always admired his resolve and acts of nonviolence protest. Things are different nowadays.
Television commercials tell us that help is available for those who have troubles with tax and credit card debts. Companies invite potential customers to contact them to discuss their problems and to discover whether or not solutions are available. One such ad has a woman lamenting the fact that she owed the federal government $80,000 in back taxes. Another man says that he owed a mere $18,000. In both cases, these people say the company with whom they worked managed to cut their taxes to where they paid only a fraction of what was owed.
A thirty second spot tells people who have overwhelming credit card debt to call them. They assert with their help that people can debt cut to a small percentage of what is due. At the end, the spokesperson says, “Don’t file bankruptcy; give us 10 minutes and learn how you can pay only a fraction of what you owe credit card companies. It’s a secret that credit card companies don’t want you to know!”
These things aren’t what I was taught by my parents. My dad filed bankruptcy as a young man. After he and Mother married years later, Daddy worked on those debts he had until every single dime was repaid. To him, bankruptcy was an embarrassment, and he was committed to making whole folks whose services and goods he had purchased.
Today, it seems that folks are told to live far above their means. They can purchase a
$50,000 truck, live in a house that requires more that 25% of their monthly income, and buy every new toy with all the bells and whistles, things like the new $1000 iPhone. When they wind upside down financially, all that has to be done is to call on someone to “fix” the problem without their having to pay what they owe.
Citizens are obligated to pay a portion of their incomes to the government in the form of taxes. Those funds go toward providing the things that citizens need and want. Sure, plenty of waste occurs in the government, but that fact does not excuse anyone from paying his share. Shirking one’s obligations only makes the load much heavier for others. I’ve paid more taxes than I’ve wanted to over my life. However, I like having schools, roads, and other benefits that come from those tax dollars. Instead of resenting the government for taking our money, we should aim our anger at those who would simply refuse to pay taxes or lie in order to evade paying them.
Most of us have credit cards. We use them for large purchases or for unseen emergencies in our lives. With luck, some are able to pay off the balance each month. That’s the ideal way to use these lines of credit. The problem is that too many people whip out credit cards to buy anything they want, regardless of their ability to pay off the things. Exorbitant interest rates on cards lead to rising amounts of debt if the cardholder only pays the minimum monthly amount each month.
Failing to pay the taxes one owes is cheating the country and all other citizens. Making America great again, in part, requires that folks pay their fair shares. It also demands that individuals learn to be financially responsible by paying the debts that they’ve incurred. Finding ways to dodge those payments leads to higher prices for all of us and making end meet more difficult. Yes, I’m disgusted with those commercials that encourages people to not pay taxes or to run up their credit card bills. That preaches and teaches the lack of personal responsibility. No one is entitled to a free ride by doing these things.

SMALL WOMAN, LARGE CONTRIBUTIONS

Nellie West passed away Sunday, October 1, 2017. No, most folks won’t know who she was, but her family certainly will. The following day, Tom Petty, rock legend, died after suffering full cardiac
arrest. Probably, millions knew of him. Which death is more devastating?
I keep hearing when persons of fame die that their passings are tragic. The sense of loss is supposedly greater because these individuals made impacts in the world on grander scales. The truth is that I just don’t buy that line.
Let me tell you about Nellie West. She lived a full life of 92 years. During that time, she married, had three children, and doted over a passel of grandchildren. She married Earl West but lost him to lung cancer in the 1970’s. She grieved for him but eventually returned to life and the adventures that it offered.
Nellie had a dry sense of humor. A cutting of her eyes and a slight smile belied her supposed serious tone when she told a story that folks believed to be gospel. For years, people thought of her as a quiet, demur woman, but after Earl passed, Nellie blossomed in many ways; she became a more talkative, outgoing person who allowed her full personality to shine.
This small woman, at times, had a huge temper. I’m not privy to all the details, but family members have related incidents where a fit of anger led to the throwing of a bowl across the kitchen and where a cooking mishap ended in her throwing a skillet out the back door.
What Nellie West offered folks most were kind words and sweet smiles. She asked me every time I saw her if I had written more pieces in Chicken Soup books. Then she’d follow that up by saying she picked up those books and sifted through the list of authors to find my name before buying them. I don’t know how much truth is in that, but she made me feel good. That’s the effect she had on all folks with whom she made contact.
Nellie passed on to her children the qualities of kindness, fairness, honesty, and empathy. Then they passed those same qualities to their children, who then passed them on to grandchildren. The actions of family members were noticed by people with whom they worked or socialized and impressed others so much that they adopted those qualities and passed them on “world without end.” So, I suppose that it’s safe to say that Nellie West touched or will touch the lives of thousands of people as they try to emulate her. In the end, this small woman in Cookeville, TN will have help to make the world a better place.
Tom Petty’s music will continue to touch his fans now and in the future. I have no idea what kind of person the man was in this world. While his musical talents will be his legacy, the impact of the way he interacted with others and the lessons that he passed along is in question. He became a rich man as he  earned about $95 million from his music.

Nellie West didn’t earn a dime from her musical talents; she told me her singing was more like croaking. Neither did she make any money off the joy and love that she brought to so many people during her life. However, I’m here to declare that what she offered her fan club is much more valuable than any song that any person produces. I’m glad that Nellie lived so long and had so much impact on so many lives. I’m also glad that she now is reunited with those loved ones who went before her. No doubt, the good lord met her with a hug as he said, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

ESCAPE IS FUTILE

The announcement just came over the intercom, “Teachers, the Internet is going to be disconnected. Don’t panic!” I laughed to myself and thought, “How ridiculous is that?” The smile on my face lasted only a brief time. Then, the feelings of discomfort creeped in until I, too, fretted over having no connections.
The other day I checked in for my six-month check-up for skin cancer. The office lost its Internet connections, and the “system was down.” Things slowed to a crawl, and the silence there was akin to that of a funeral home. Receptionists and bookkeepers lamented that they couldn’t do their jobs; the records that were available for my visit were half-printed, having ended with the shutdown. The nurse
asked if I knew what I was there for, and I told her a check-up, but she had no idea what typing on my chart indicated since it stopped halfway through.
When I think about such events, the fact that we’ve turned over too much of our lives to technology is apparent. Most of us walk around with a cell phone either tucked in our pockets are squeezed in our hands. Should cell service temporarily go out, the conniption fits and profanity-filled tirades
begin. For some reason, we think that having no cell phone is a danger to life. As much as the folks in Houston might dislike it, most of them have discovered that they can survive without a cell phone. It wasn’t that long ago when owners of these wonders of technology were few and far between. Now, even elementary school students have them. What in the world is so important to a seven-year-old that he needs a phone? If illness occurs, the office has phone service available.
Because the Internet service is out at school, my students weren’t able to type final drafts of essays they were writing. I told them to use blue or black ink and to write them. One student commented, “We’re going old style!” So much work is pecked out on computers that some students have lost the ability to write in a manner that can be read. They don’t worry about grammatical mistakes because the “checker” warns them of grammatical and spelling errors. It’s as if they have turned over thinking to a machine.
Even our appliances at home run on what I call “high technology.” I don’t mind at all looking in the refrigerator to discover what items should be bought at the store. Having some screen come up on the door of the appliance where items can be listed and synced to my phone is overkill. No matter how
many buttons I push, the dishwasher never runs, and to answer questions, yes, I push the start button. These days, if a sensor or “board” goes out on a washer or dryer, buying a new appliance is almost cheaper than buying the part. If the power goes out, nothing works, and when it returns, resetting clocks and cable boxes and timers can take an eternity.

Don’t get me wrong. I think technology is a good thing. Being able to type up a column, attach it to an email, and deliver it to the editor beats banging on an old typewriter and lickings stamps and envelopes. My complaint is that we humans have turned over too much of our lives to technological advances. Kids don’t play outside as much anymore; we have so many television channels but still can’t find anything to watch, and we receive contact from all sorts of people and organizations, even while we sleep. Just unplugging for a while would do all of us a favor. That being said, I’ll sit and wait for the Internet to come back so I can send this column in. Escape in futile. 

NATURE IS THE BOSS

The end of August and the beginning of September haven’t been the kindest of months to many folks in the country. Hurricanes in the east and infernos in the west displace families and destroy business.
Our feelings go out to all who have suffered such losses, and in the American spirit, volunteers, supplies, and money are pouring into those areas. Still, folks wonder what the world is going on.
I don’t have a special line of communications to the good lord that is different from all others, but I’m pretty sure that these events aren’t His doings. He created things and now lets the world spin and “do its things.” I don’t believe for one minute that these storms and fires are sent by His hand to punish people for their misdeeds. As I see it, His doing so would negate the loving character that is evident in the New Testament.
The more likely cause of these events is nature itself. A system glides over the ocean, and fueled by warm air and water, it begins to spin and churn and grow. At some point, it produces enough force to
be labeled a hurricane. The fierceness of a hurricane depends upon the route it takes over time.
Traveling over more and more warm water adds to its fury. That’s the way nature works.
The fires in the west sometimes result from careless campers or arsonists. However, nature is also the culprit of many of these fires. Lightning strikes spark fires that in ages past cleared the undergrowth of forests. I compare it to a dentist cleaning teeth. He digs out the trapped particles and built-up plague to ensure healthy teeth. A fire can also bring about healthier forests.
Another reason exists for the fires. Folks have moved out from the cities, and their homes sit in those very areas where underbrush is thick. When nature does her thing, man’s abodes are no more important than other things in the paths of fires. The effects of global warming causes droughts that fry lands that historically have received much more rainfall than at present. When a fire does break out, the dry conditions exacerbate the tender box forests and grasslands.
Hurricanes are also affected by the conditions of the planet. Warming has caused polar caps to melt, something that raises sea levels. That same warming increases the temperatures of waters which feed those storms. Those environmental problems create monster tornadoes and widen the paths of tornado alleys.

Arguments over global warming in no way helps solve the immediate problems that folks of Texas, Florida, and California face. As Americans and humans, we have a responsibility to help them in multiple ways. However, we also might be wise to study man’s effects on the environment and to understand how they negatively contribute to the disasters that will come in the future. Nature is the boss. Her power can somewhat tamed with a change in the way we go about our existence. 

NOT SO FAST

Well, I’m sure of it. We’ve lost our minds and our ability to use common sense. If anyone doesn’t believe it, just look at what is going on in our country. We don’t need to act so fast sometimes. Knee-jerk reactions never help situations.
In Charlottesville, Virginia, groups go after each other during protests. That’s not so different from years past. However, several things involved in it are what leave most of us scratching our heads and uttering “Huh?” For one, what in the world are we doing when we allow Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other racists to march in the streets? Yes, citizens have the right to free speech, but when groups take advantage of that right with the intention of causing friction, we have to use some
common sense in passing out permits to them. These very groups are ones against which our country has already waged wars. They lost but seem hell bent on reviving and going for round two. The very mention of “Nazis” and “KKK,” and “racists” sickens me. Those words and groups associated with them should have no places in our country.
All of a sudden, it seems, the removal of statues from cities around the country has become a priority. Many of them have been in place for as long as a century, but for some reason, they now are eyesores. I do realize that many of the monuments in the South memorialize Confederate generals and political figures. Yes, I also know that the war waged by the South to continue slavery was especially despicable because it shed blood because the mistreatment of an entire race of folks. However, removing a few statues and memorials won’t change what happened. In fact, the leaving of those things should be a constant reminder of man’s inhumanity to man; their existence should keep us from ever again allowing slavery to exist.
In Memphis, the yearly showing of “Gone with the Wind” has ended. According to news accounts, The Orpheum Theater decided to end a 34-year tradition of showing the film because it offended some viewers with “its racist content.” A big “DUH” goes out to those who complained. The movie
has contained the same material since its premier. It is set during the Civil War in the South. Of course it has racist material. However, far beyond that, “Gone with the Wind” is a classic movie that presents the struggles of a woman who has been displaced by the war and who watches her entire life and culture destroyed as the Union sweeps across the Confederacy and eradicates slavery. That’s the beauty of the movie: it disparages those who were misguided and puts to shame mistaken lifestyles of slaveholders and Southern sympathizers.

I never want anyone to feel oppressed because of the color of his skin. Shame on every person who espouses such disgusting ideas. At the same time, it is important to keep in mind, in some form or fashion, the South that held people in chains and treated them no better than livestock. The old saying, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” applies in this situation. One question I ask is how many folks have ever given a second thought to the monument at Fort Sanders? Another is do folks know that “Gone with the Wind” was responsible for a Hattie McDaniel receiving the first Academy Award given to a black actress? It seems that something good can come from something bad on occasion. A little more insight into things might just prevent violence, hatred, and destruction.  

REMEMBERING SOME OLD FOLKS

I’ve been reading J.D. Vance’s book “Hillbilly Elegy” the last couple of days. Putting it down is difficult. While I’m not from the hills and backwoods of Kentucky, our families have similarities, and his words spark plenty of memories of my childhood with extended family members.
The most important person in Vance’s life seems to have been his Mamaw. First of all, I’m glad that he expounded on the special names for his grandparents. My parents’ parents were also called Mamaw and Papaw, and we distinguished between the two sets by adding their last names, Rector and Balch. It must be a hillbilly thing.
Those folks were important parts of our family. Mother’s parents lived just over the hill from us. Sometimes, Papaw Balch would walk to our house to visit, and on a few occasions, he traveled with his horse and plow to turn the ground for a garden. My brother Jim and I shared a case of the mumps with Mother before we entered school. Mamaw and Papaw came to our house to take care of things until Mother recovered.
My other grandparents lived in Lonsdale. Daddy worked at the paper mill there and visited every day. We usually traveled to their house on Sunday afternoons. Papaw Rector died when Jim and I were six, and what little I remember about him wasn’t good. His hateful disposition kept us at arm’s length. Mamaw was different. She came to stay with us boys a couple of times, and I best remember sitting at the kitchen table as we broke a bushel of green beans. Believe it or not, we had a good time, and I liked her a great deal more afterwards.
Like Vance’s grandmother, my grandparents weren’t ones who gushed with emotions. They went about their lives and “tolerated” their grandchildren. I understand that more now. These folks were born before the turn of the 20th century. Life had been hard, and money was most always short. They had little education, and the prospects of ever getting rich were less than slim.
I suppose they loved us, but that love was much different from the kind that we seniors display for our grandchildren. The old saying, “Children should be seen but not heard,” applied. We young people were second-class citizens, and our mamaws and papaws just didn’t have the time nor the energy to engage us. They were there to make sure we didn’t kill ourselves and to provide aid if we nearly did.
As I grew older, my respect for those hoary haired seniors grew. I understood their wry senses of humor and noticed that childlike spark in their eyes as I struggled with witty comments they uttered. I learned about past generations of family as they told stories from their childhood. Most of all, I appreciated the hard work they gave to support families and the sacrifices that they made.

J.D. Vance’s mamaw and papaw played greater roles in his life than mine did. However, even he probably cringes at the way today’s grandparents interact with their heirs. I doubt that his grandmother would have traveled great distances to watch him play some sport or ventured out in the evening to watch a child perform in some dance recital. Yes, we baby boomers go a bit overboard; perhaps that’s because we want to make sure that in some way we contribute to the making these young ones better people. I’m not sure that we are any more successful than past generations. 

A GOOD WAY TO SPEND TIME


Like Gene Autry used to sing, “I’m Back in the Saddle Again.” The school year has begun, and I have more students than last year. The feeling of being overwhelmed hit when the rolls indicated that both classes had multiple students. Before long, however, a sense of comfort came. Being back into a routine has its benefits.

Amy and I are just a bit helter-skelter during the summer. Most of our free time is spent sitting by the pool. We grudgingly go inside when supper has to be prepared. With the return of the school year, a familiar and easy pace returns. Both of us get up in the morning, get ready for work, and then leave for the day. My work day ends at 11 a.m. (Don’t make fun of me for that. I put in 30 years doing this job, so I’m ready shorter hours.) Then I make my way to the YMCA for a workout three days a week. Upon my arrival home each day, Sadie is looking up at me with those brown eyes that seem to beg for a walk. Afterwards, the rest of the day is spent mowing the yard, cleaning house, or running errands. Evenings are spent sharing our days around the pool or in the den. Early bedtimes arrive to signal the days’ ends.

I must admit that being around high school aged folks still is fun. The world is different from the one I experienced during my teaching years. However, for the most part, kids are still the same. They have the cock-eyed notion that they’re ready to take on the world. Most of them have no intention of lugging a ten-pound literature book home every night. The majority have no idea what the day’s top news stories are, nor do they care one iota.

I’m not so sure I have much to teach them nor can I offer them much that they will keep for years to come. Each of these young’uns will learn to write an essay the correct way, even if it kills me teaching them. More important, though, is communicating with them. Folks, we have a generation that can’t look up. Their necks are permanently bowed as they look down at cell phones. Kids peck away on screens to send messages to friends and family. The information is filled with “phone speak” and emojis. The sad part is that they bring the same language to essays that they turn in. It is my job to break them of that bad habit.

Nothing is more fun than “messing” with teenagers. They are so easy to fool. An authoritative voice is all it takes to convince them that almost anything is true. On a regular basis, I tell my students things that are ridiculous or simply untrue. Then, I wait for the lights to go on, the grins to cross their faces, and the looks that ask “Are you crazy” to appear.

My goal is to help them learn to think. I want them to weigh the evidence before making decisions. I stress to them the importance of education after high school. No, not all of them must go to college. However, I preach to them that they simply have to learn a trade or a skill that will help in the search for jobs that pay more than minimum wage.


I don’t know how much longer I’ll do this. When Amy can retire, we are out of here. Trips to see our children and to visit those places we’ve dreamed of will fill our time. Just knocking around home and Knoxville together will be fun. I can’t wait, but for the time being, I’ll enjoy teaching kids. It’s a good way to spend time. 







TWO MINUTES

Well, thousands of folks prepared for the upcoming eclipse by purchasing protective glasses that allow them to look at the event without fear of damage to eyes. Then, Amazon sends out an email to tell them that the glasses that they bought are fake and not compliant with standards for protection. Now, either it’s too late to get new pairs or the ones available cost more than a small fortune.
Businesses and schools are closing their doors to accommodate people who wish to share the big event with their families and friends. Cities are planning activities throughout the day. The predictions are that thousands, perhaps even millions, are hitting the highways to find perfect viewing places for the eclipse. Some motel rooms have been reserved for years; the few that are left are going for as much as $800 per night. People in neighboring counties are renting houses for thousands or RV spaces in their yards for $200. As someone said recently, “This reminds me of the expected flood of people who were going to descend on Knoxville during the ’82 World’s Fair.”
Amy and I thought about traveling to Gallatin for a better look at the eclipse for about a second and a half. We, too, bought eclipse glasses several weeks ago, and yes, we received the Amazon email warning about them. Reports that as many as 100,000 visitors would invade the town kept us from doing so. The Interstates will be packed, and the smallest fender bender will cause gridlock and leave folks fuming and sitting in their cars as the sun and moon cross paths. Amy has a doctor’s appointment in Lenoir City in the morning, so we are leaving early and hoping that we can get back home before traffic snarls.
We’ve made the decision to stay home during the eclipse. My plan is to sit by the pool for the day. I’ll experience the eclipse by floating in the water as the darkness comes, or I might watch it on television since I don’t have safe eye protection and have no intentions of making milk carton viewers. Yes, I’m a spoilsport, but the fact is that I’m not good in heavy traffic. My road rage is too likely to rear its ugly head to the point that I curse someone who cuts me off or drives like a moron. Besides, the way the weather has gone the last few weeks, it would be my luck to fight my way to a better viewing place only to have clouds and rain sweep in and obscure any view.

The next eclipse that will pass close to Tennessee occurs in May 2078. It’s a sure bet that I won’t be around for it since that year would put me well over 100 years of age. Still, I’m not interested in spending a day trapped in crowds of people. Besides, let’s be honest; the eclipse lasts about 2 minutes, give or take a few seconds. When the next one occurs, maybe I can look down from heaven at the event without worrying about my eyesight or traffic jams. Alternatively, I might look up from another place that will make the solar eclipse look pale. Regardless, I’m going to forego this eyewitness opportunity. 

CAR SINGING

I took grandson Madden home after a short visit with us. After a few hours of babysitting, I crawled back into my little Nissan Sentra for the return trip. Radio stations fade out quickly as I drive home on the interstate, so, I plugged in my iPod and have access to hundreds of songs. That’s when I relaxed, forgot about the cars and trucks passing by at 90-plus miles per hour, and belted out the lyrics to song that I knew.
Something happens to most of us when we sit behind the wheel of a car. The itch to listen to music to help pass the time hits, and we scratch it by tuning in stations or our own collection of music. We also have a tendency to sing along. Even if a person is much too shy to sing in public, he or she will lift a voice to the heavens and let the sounds come out. Some folks sing well, but others would have difficulty carrying a tune in a bucket. In a car, however, all of us seem to think we sound like fabulous entertainers who could wow concert crowds.
Proper singing position in a car requires a driver to lean back ever so slightly. As the song begins, the head must turn upward just a bit so that the words and melody escape toward the heavens. On some dramatic, heart and gut-wrenching song, the eyes have to close briefly for emphasis. The grasp on the steering wheel tightens and loosens depending on the emotion of the lyrics.
What singing drivers don’t often realize is that other motorists are watching. They see us performing as we speed down the highway. Sometimes, other drivers fear that we are experiencing a serious health problem and that our pained expressions indicate
the need for help. Other times, they laugh aloud at our head bobbing or facial expressions. The biggest guffaws are reserved for the car singers who project their voices into imaginary microphones that they hold.

By the time a singer arrives home from a long trip, his throat feels raw, his muscles ache, and his body is sweaty. He’s given one of the best performances of his entire driving life, and he walks into his house, dumps his stuff, and plops into the recliner for the rest of the evening. Singing on the road is tough work.
I used to be an okay singer. Somewhere along the line, acid reflux and age crippled my vocal chords. My greatest joy used to be singing harmony to songs. However, these days I can’t even carry a tune for long before my voice fades into nothing more than a whisper, something that might possibly be a blessing to riders. I mouth the words to songs when that happens, and yes, like others, I make up words to some songs with which I am not so familiar. The music does soothe the beast that rages in me when other cars cut in front of me in dangerous manners or when I am trapped behind a semi-truck that is rolling at slow speeds up long grades.
My taste in music includes oldies, country, and religious songs. I also have a few comedy recordings on my iPod. When they shuffle, sometimes an old favorite hymn is followed by a routine by Robin Williams or Rodney Carrington. I hope the Lord forgives the mixture.
Everyone should enjoy those favorite songs that play over devices, and singing along is just a natural thing to do. It is important to remember, however, that others are watching your performance and might enjoy a laugh at your expense. Also, remember that your main job is to drive safely so that you reach your destination.

WHAT WILL THEY SAY

I just arrived in Hendersonville, TN, to return my grandson Madden to his home. He’s graced us with his presence for the last three days. During that time, we made whirlwind trips to places where the boy could enjoy himself. Madden is a wonderful boy who was stricken with the same problem that my brother Jim and I experienced. In my mother’s words, “[he] talked incessantly.”
Madden spent the prior week with his other grandparents. Now that he’s home, the opportunity to tell Mom and Dad about us exists. I’m curious about what he will say. I’ve talked about my mother since she passed, and I sometimes wonder what my own children will say about me when I’m gone.
One thing for sure is over the years I’ve uttered plenty of things that have stuck in their minds. When they’ve misbehaved, the words “Don’t make me spank you” has been yelled through the house. How ridiculous is it to think that my children would purposely do something to bring about swats to their back sides. Sometimes, I threatened to “wear them out.” Yeah, right! Spanking Dallas or Lacey always left me upset for a long time. It was more like punishment for me.
I wonder how I’ll be remembered as a dad. My intent was to always do the things that would help my children grow up to be good people who knew how to treat others, who obtained a good education, and who built productive lives. Maybe they might comment on my insistence that they played sports on teams and refused to allow them to quit until seasons were over. Of course, during those years, I made plenty of mistakes; perhaps they won’t remember too many of them.
How many of the “lectures” that I subjected them to will be remembered? I’ve delivered hundreds of them over the years. Not using drugs or driving drunk was one such topic. Another was showing respect to their parents, even when they didn’t agree with us. I know that the threat to remove slammed doors from bedrooms is burned into their memory banks. Of course, the one I delivered about the demise of the Egyptian civilization due, in part, to excessive concern with looks and self-adornment will remain long after I’ve gone to my reward, whatever that might be. What others might be recalled is anybody’s guess.
What I hope most of all is that my “young’uns” will recall just how much I loved them. They have been the center of my world, along with Amy. Over the years, they’ve given me so many times to be proud of them, and the hugs and kisses that they gave as little ones and, though less often, as adults, have made my life a good one. I’ve watched them learn to love others and allow them to become parts of their lives, and with luck, they will always find the same kind of love that I’ve experienced with Amy. Lord knows she’s put up with my goofy, too often hateful ways for more than 40 years.
I certainly hope that Madden will have kind things to say about me. He said today that I was like his mom, who also sometimes becomes miffed with his behaviors. If I’m lucky, he’ll remember that I told him I was proud of him. I hope he can say that his grandfather loved him completely and tried to make our time together fun. I further hope he will say that I passed along a couple of good pieces of advice.

I’m not sure the good lord allows us to look down on the ones we leave behind. If that is the case, I only hope that what my family says about me will be mostly good, along with some of my many shortcomings. One things for sure: I won’t be remembered as having been saintly. 

COUNTRY ROADS

Sadie and I took our morning walk before the heat enveloped the area. The circuit takes us through the subdivision, up and down Fitzgerald Road, and down a private driveway on which we have permission to walk.
The ditch line on Fitzgerald Road hasn’t been mowed by the county for a while, and the weeds have grown so tall that they bend over so that cars brush against them as they pass. Poison ivy, honey suckle, and Virginia Creeper vines have crossed the ditch and now encroach on the asphalt. A bit of dew still appears on reedy leaves as the sun dries the countryside.
That ditch line reminded me of the walks that six or seven kids used to take on vacation. My brothers,
the Burns children, and any other kids that were invited spent many hours of that vacation walking. Sometimes we headed to the main store on Highway 321. The route took us up a country road and then along the highway until we reached the store and ran across busy lanes of traffic to buy items that we’d used up or ice creams that were eaten or melted long before we completed our return trip.
At other times, we walked the opposite way. That took us over a wooden bridge where cars poked as the boards creaked and clopped with their weights. I think I correctly remember that some of us jumped from that bridge at least one time and landed into deep areas of the river below. Then we shuffled into the little country store that sat beside the bridge. We’d buy something or just look around for a few minutes.
A few walks took us to a camp ground across the river. Each year, a wagon train that set out from some far away state set up camp there for a couple of nights. We’d mingle with those folks and kids that were resting from their travels. On some occasions, we made the walk at night and traveled the road without flashlights; instead, we relied on our memories of the road and the help of each other to make our ways.
Some of our walking trips took us up the gravel Greenbriar entrance to the Smoky Mountain National Park. Most of the time, we traveled to a point where the rapids spewed over the rocks like a waterfall before calming and flowing down stream. We’d enter the water at that point, slip over the falls and then ride the river and rapids back to our swimming hole downstream. Those trips wore out the bottoms of our cut-off jeans and bruised our backsides, but the fun we had on the ride down that cold water was worth a little pain.
All these memories finished, the things that all the roads back then and this morning hold in common are creeping weeds and vines that ran up to and on the roads. The sounds of scurrying mice or the croaking of frogs were ever-present. A few times, snakes came slithering from the weeds to cross the road. I’ve never liked snakes and jumped or ran in the opposite direction whenever one of the things appeared.
It’s nice to still be able to walk along roads that are similar to those that I traveled as a boy. More cars pass on today’s roads, and just beyond the ditch where a beautiful hay field once existed are dozens of houses that were slapped up in quick order in subdivisions that seem to be spreading like a plague. Even so, Sadie and I will continue our walks as long as our legs allow us or until cold weather runs us inside until spring.


OUTDOOR TOYS

I “had” to buy a lawnmower the other week. Oh, it wasn’t because I didn’t have one already. In fact, two riding mowers are in the basement.
 My older brother and his wife bought the first one a year after my mother died; they did so that I could keep the nearly 2-acre yard mowed. That was 21 years ago. The mowing deck is worn out and
pulleys scream as if they are being tortured.
 The other one is much younger, perhaps 6-7 years old. It is a zero-turn mower, and I loved it…for a while. First, something went wrong with the deck. The John Deere store owner who sold me the machine told me the deck was damaged because I ran water on it when it was still hot. DO WHAT? I asked him how that could be since a built-in nozzle is located on the deck for cleaning. After a tirade laced with profanities, he told me he would take a few bucks off the price to fix this deck that had only gone out of warranty one-month prior. Rest assured that I won’t buy another mower for this business.
A little after that, the motor began smoking. I took it to a couple of mechanics who either couldn’t figure out why it was losing oil or said the motor was faulty. I can’t say that I was too surprised after the debacle with the mowing deck. For the last couple of years, I’ve survived by pouring oil into the motor before every use. The other day, however, it sputtered, coughed, and died. Since then, the mower hasn’t started.
So, I was forced to go buy a new mower. Sure, I have a push mower, but it’s not the machine of choice to mow my 2-acres. The struggle deciding on purchasing another zero-turn mower or a regular lawn tractor was difficult. The determining factor was price. A zero-turn mower with a comparable engine and deck size was $2000 more than the tractor. You can bet that I looked at every possible zero-turn make and model that might have done the job, but in the end, I just couldn’t afford one.
This new lawn tractor has a 25-horsepower engine with a 48-inch cut. It sits me up as if I’m the king of the neighborhood. Still, it has some items that are useless. A cup holder is one. I’ve never put a drink in one of those things without having most of the liquid splash and spill. Another little compartment appears to be for holding sunglasses or small tools. Two lumbar support buttons are on
the sides of the seat. Really?  I’ve discovered over the years that nothing is going to stop the beating that my butt and back take as I mow some parts of my yard. Much of the machine is made of plastic.
I’m pleased that I once again have a mower that will handle the demands of my yard. I hope that the deck holds together since it, too, has a nozzle for connecting a hose for cleaning. I also am keeping my fingers crossed that the motor will hold up as long as the one on my old mower.

I’m keeping the other mowers. At some point, I’ll replace the motor on the zero-turn since the deck is not too old. Then I’ll have two mowers to handle all my mowing chores. When the oldest mower’s deck gives up the ghost, I will use the tractor for pulling a cart, de-thatcher, and aerator. Every man understands this strategy because we all love our outdoor toys.