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. 


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. 


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.  


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. 


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.