If you were out and about early on Wednesday of last week, the chances are you were stuck in a major traffic jam. Yes, friends, schools opened in Knox County on that day, and for the next year most of us must acclimate ourselves to the travel woes that go with education. Plenty of things contribute to the inability to easily travel from Point A to Point B.
I’m all for growth and progress. Knoxville and Knox County are sprawling more each year. A drive in any area of the county will reveal how many subdivisions and apartment complexes are sprouting up. The problem with those developments is that they all dump traffic onto the roads. A recent survey indicates that the average household has 2.28 cars. So, even if a small development has 40 units, it unloads about 90 more vehicles on road surfaces.
Taking into consideration that most new developments are built on side roads, the problem grows even stickier. For instance, I live in the Ball Camp area. Every morning, a line of traffic backs up from the railroad track below the house and snakes its way up Ball Road in one direction and across another set of tracks on Ball Camp Pike. When a train comes each morning, the back-up makes sure that students are tardy to work, parents are late to work, and drivers lose their patience and tempers.
I attended a hearing on allowing a nearby development to proceed. One individual who would determine its fate answered a concern about inadequate roads by saying, “There are a lot of narrow roads i
n the county. That’s just something people have to deal with.” Really? Wouldn’t it make sense to develop the infrastructure before allowing hoards of new developments to begin?
Another factor causing traffic problems is parents. For some reason, moms and dads insist upon driving their children to school. They load up the kids and hit the roads. School zones are clogged like sink drains. Other vehicles trying to maneuver through the quagmire to reach other places are unable to move at all.
I passed the Cedar Bluff school zone just before students got out at noon on the first day. Even though schools wouldn’t end for about forty minutes, cars were lined up going both directions on Cedar Bluff Road. Even worse, some jerks had zipped down the line of waiting cars and then tried to cut
line. That blocked another lane of traffic. Don’t these people have better things to do than to sit in cars for long periods of time and snarl traffic?
Buses run throughout the county every morning of school. They stop to pick up students, and such frequent stops can back up traffic for a mile. The sad thing is that many of these big yellow limousines carry too few students. Parents won’t allow their children to ride buses. They believe that buses aren’t safe in so much traffic. Hey, if these folks would put their children on school transportation, the number of vehicles swamping roads and school zones would significantly decrease. Folks, tax dollars are paying the contracts for these buses. Not using them is a waste of money. Think about that the next time you have a conniption fit about how your tax dollars are spent.
Yes, school is back in session, and the traffic will be crazy. My suggestion is that any of you parents who can should put your children on buses that drive right to the schools. Of course, I know that’s not going to happen, so my best advice is that you all drive carefully, obey the traffic laws in school zones, and be patient. Summer will return a few months. 


While I was sitting poolside the other day and pondering life in general, I was struck by the fact that my generation, the Baby Boomers, are unique. Oh, I know we’re old now and should be given patronizing smiles and then be ignored. Those of us in this generation, however, are the last generation to have experienced so many things. Here’s just a short list of them.
We’re the last generation to have experienced the early years of television. During that time, many of
our families didn’t even own a tv, and when we finally got one, it was a black and white set that weighed as much as the kitchen stove. Those old sets received three stations; around here, they were 6, 10, and 26. Rabbit ears on top of the set could bring in two of the stations, but an outside antenna mounted on the roof was necessary to pick up the ABC affiliate Channel 26.
We are also the last generation to have to rise from the couch, walk across the room, and change the channel. No remote control was available. In fact, we often declared that our parents had us so that we could serve as human remote controls.
Our age group is the last consumers to enjoy the sounds from an 8-track tape player. I f we were lucky, one of the machines was wired into our old cars, and we popped in tapes to play music by Chicago, Iron Butterfly, or Three Dog Night. Holes were cut into door panels to insert speakers that worked until a wire shorted or a solder gave out.

Another thing that’s gone by the wayside is the cassette tape player. It proved to be more compact and allowed us to have a Walkman player to listen to music anywhere we wanted to go.
No other group will ever have to deal with rotary phones or party lines. Folks won’t have to listen to a ring to know if a call is for them or their neighbors. Nor will teenagers be embarrassed as
they talk to boyfriends or girlfriends while standing in front of parents or younger brothers or sisters. Today, some of us don’t mind leaving the house without a phone stuck in our pockets to be in touch with contacts or to connect to the Internet.
Just recently, I heard that car makers will phase out straight shift cars. If that’s so, we’ll be that least generation to learn to drive a vehicle with a stick shift. Sure, changing gears might hang around for a while, but Baby Boomers are the last folks to have cars with gear shifts as standard equipment. We had to pay extra for an automatic transmission. Those who learned to drive a car with a clutch and shifter were always able to drive any car that might be
available. Today, young people are limited to vehicles that have automatic transmissions, and they miss out on some of the fun of driving other types vehicles.
Baby Boomers are today’s senior citizens, and we will take with us many marvelous creations and inventions…for our time. Younger generations have developed their own items that are considered second nature—cell phones, video games, laptop computers, and Bluetooth devices. They will never know the joy of banging out a letter or term paper on a typewriter or spending hours in a library while they search for information on a topic. In a blink of an eye, however, these youngsters will be oldsters, and their toys that they hold so dear will be relics. I just hope those things are as important in their memories.
I’ve only scratched the surface of the out-of-date things we Baby Boomers used. Let me know if you think of others. I’d appreciate the memories that they bring back.


Mildred Simcox, my wife’s aunt, passed away recently. She’d suffered the cruel effects of dementia for several years and finally found relief and release from a life trapped in a mind that faded away. What hurt so much was the fact that this woman loved to laugh. She taught all of us in her life that
laughter is one of the best things that we can experience.
During the celebration of Mildred’s life, her nieces and nephews shared stories about her levity. A particular time that brought on ripples of laughter from family occurred at someone else’s funeral. One account recalls that shouting began as the spirit moved mourners. Another declares that Mildred broke out in a smile and then a guffaw after an individual tripped and fell.
Mildred was like at least one person in every family. She was prim and proper most of the time, but on occasion, she let down her guard and allowed her true being to shine. She’d been a school teacher, so God had granted her “the look,” the one that seared the very soul of the person at whom it was directed. When something amused Mildred, the teacher façade evaporated, and a smile, devilish grin and cackle replaced it.
We all could use a bit more laughter in our lives. I don’t ever laugh at folks who fall because my first concern is whether or not they are hurt. I’ve also experienced those times when I found myself sprawled on the ground or at the bottom of a set of steps and never found the situation particularly funny. I find humor in the things that people say. Expressions can set me off, and when a person spews ridiculous lies that are beyond belief, I lose it. Some comedians and a small number of goofy movies can bring on belly laughs. Those times always help me to realize that life truly is good.
We need to stop taking our lives and our situations so seriously. Sure, times arise when our attention to events requires our full concentration, but for the most part, life is just a casual thing. In a few hours or days or years, the things over which we stress so much will be the stuff of funny stories or won’t be important enough to remember. When we laugh, even for a minute, our bodies produce endorphins that relaxes us and allow us to simply breathe.
Right now, our country is fractured. Folks are divided into polarized camps and refuse to budge an inch from their beliefs. Our lives are “hard” because every event becomes another battleground for sides. No one smiles; instead, we squawk against the stupidity of our opponents. A much more effective act in those instances would be to consider the absurd contentions and then laugh loudly at them.
I’ve missed Mildred and her laughter since that vile disease struck. She became one of the persons whom I most liked in this world. Her silence will leave me sadder. What this former school teacher, aunt, and friend leaves behind is the image of a smiling face that reveled in moments of life and expressed that joy through a hearty laugh. That’s a legacy we could all wish to leave behind.


HBO aired a documentary about Robin Williams last week. Anyone who knows me well can quickly assure folks that I watched it. Since the beginning of his career, I followed him and lauded his creative and comedic abilities.
Williams hooked me with the first episode of “Mork and Mindy.” I’d never seen anyone who could
fly through jokes, change personalities, and keep his audience laughing hysterically. The Orkian handshake and catchphrase “Nanu-Nanu” spread throughout the nation’s population. I remember using both during my teaching days at the time. Some students thought I’d lost my mind, but others who’d viewed the show smiled politely or laughed aloud as they recalled a skit from the show.
Other comedians became favorites of mine over the years. Tim Allen and his shtick had me rolling in the floor with laughter. I loved the way he grunted like a pig in his imitations of men. The irreverent comedy of the Punk Magician shocked everyone, but his warped sense of humor kept viewers laughing. Lewis Grizzard transformed his newspaper columns and books into stand-up acts that sold out as soon as they were announced. Yes, I was a fan of Bill Cosby and his “Cosby Himself” routine. His spot-on comments on parenthood had those of us with little ones realizing that we were normal.
Still, Robin Williams remained my comedy hero. When his “Live at the Met” video came out, I
watched it and copied it to watch time and time again. Sure, Robin Williams was sometimes vulgar; at other times, he was crude; and on occasion, he bordered on disgusting. Even so, I always understood where he was going, which might say volumes about my own moral compass, but more than likely, it says that I could see that his intent was the humor, not the offense. In it all, he managed to keep fans laughing during his 2-hour long concerts.
I always wanted to see Williams, and in 2002 he scheduled a concert in Nashville. My older brother Dallas called and asked if I would like to see the show. I responded “yes” but that I couldn’t afford the ticket. He told me to be in Nashville the weekend of the event and that he’d get two tickets for us.
I made the trip on that weekend and spent some of Friday night sitting with Dallas on his screened porch. We talked for a bit about the concert, but then he uncharacteristically said he was going to bed. The next day he didn’t feel much better; his head was spinning, and he felt nauseated. The show was on Sunday evening, and Dallas rose that morning but didn’t stay up long. He stayed in bed all day, and when he was up for any reason, he apologized for not keeping me company. Closer to the concert time, he told me that he just didn’t feel well enough to go. I told him that was okay and that I could go by myself.
I saw my long-time favorite celebrity that August night, and he left the crowd at the grand Ole Opry House screaming for more, I saved the ticket stub and put it in a frame. It was a wonderful night.
That weekend also turned out to be the first inkling that my brother was seriously ill. On Labor Day, his wife Brenda called to tell me he was in the hospital. Dallas had developed lung cancer that had metastasized to his brain. By January 2003, he was gone. I placed a photo of the Dallas in the frame that held the ticket stub to remember the entire circle of events.
I miss Dallas and thought about the concert and his illness as I watched the Williams’ documentary. My heart broke when I learned the comedian had committed suicide. The one hope I have is that these two men have had the chance to meet in heaven so that my brother can laugh as I did all those years ago.


As Amy and I ease toward retirement, we make changes to things that have been fixtures in our lives. We’ve meted out some of the items that Mother kept in her house. Amy gave herself permission to clear some possessions that she thought might be essential in earlier years. Maybe the biggest change to come is our choice of a new bed.
After we married, we slept in a full-sized bed for years. Over that time, we had several different frames and headboards. One of the first was an antique that I discovered. For several days, I worked to strip the coats of paint that had baked onto the surface by the heat of the barn in which it had been stored. The headboard was approximately six feet tall and rickety. We never knew if the thing would collapse in the middle of the night.
Mother gave us the bedroom suite that she and Daddy first bought. The headboard and footboard mirrored each other, and two dressers and a night stand completed the set. I remember as a small boy that I climbed in that bed when a scary dream woke me and sent me hustling to their room. Our children lay in that bed when they were little as well. Dallas especially enjoyed piling in the bed in the mornings and cuddling with his mom for a while. His fitful sleeping sometimes sent me in search of a place to finish a night’s rest.  At some point, we fitted that bed with a queen-sized mattress and rigged the headboard to fit the frame.
A few years ago, Amy bought a new bedroom suite. The old set was moved to Dallas’ empty room. It included two nightstands, one dresser on which the television sits and another monstrous dresser with a mirror mounted to it. Our bedroom seemed to have shrunk. The headboard was oversized, and not long ago, we moved the bed to Lacey’s vacant room.
We next bought a headboard and footboard from a Habitat Re-store. They had a much lower profile and didn’t overpower the room. Again, I tried to fix them to fit the frame for the bed, but the pieces jiggled and shook, and I was sure that they’d fall or break.

After more than forty years of marriage, we’ve bought a king-sized bed. Our decision was that both will sleep better if we have a bigger bed that doesn’t ripple with movement every time one of us rolls over. The real reason for a new bed is the dog. Sadie sleeps with us. She might start at the foot of the bed, but before the night is over, she’s moved between us or has stretch across the bed so that we cannot straighten our legs or pull up the covers.
Maneuvering in the room will become even more difficult, and my main worry is that I’ll stub my toes on the frame. Amy will eventually find the right kind of headboard for this new bed, and of course, new sheets, blankets, spreads must be bought. However, my tired, worn out body is looking forward to having enough room in the bed, unless our third sleeping companion still chooses to stay in close contact.


When I was a little boy, I had one friend. My twin brother Jim and I were inseparable. We played together, fought together, and took up for each other. Sixty years later, we’re still “tight” and try to spend time with each other as often as possible. Other friends came later as I grew up and extended my world passed the front yard.
Back in the day, kindergarten was something that rich kids attended. The first educational experiences for most of us came the opening day of first grade. Jim was in a different classroom, so I was on my own. Little by little, I ventured out. Even today, I remember some of the first friends I made. Steve Buffalo and Steve Cox were buddies. We played together during recess and sometimes sat together in lunch.
Throughout elementary school, other boys became friends. Joey Wallace, Bill Jones, Pat Wright, Tommy Robinson were just a few of them. Our yard was home for football games and baseball games after school. We visited each other’s houses and even spent the night. Oh, fights broke out; in fact, every game we had at some point was interrupted by two boys throwing punches. Then it was all over, and we returned to the games.
High school introduced other new friends. Many of them were in band. Ken Mills, Mark Large, and Randy Allen were just three of them. We had good times after practices and on the weekends. Some of us managed to drink alcohol that wasn’t legal for our age. It’s a wonder that we lived through those times.
Unlike most folks, I didn’t make many friends during college. My time was spent studying to make up for a lack of educational dedication in high school. I met a couple of girls in English classes who became friends. Not until I began dating Amy my senior year did I meet my best friend Doing so has proven to be the most defining thing in my life.
I’ve made a friend or two during my adult years. Most are folks I met on the job at school. Bob Shoemaker was a good friend for years; Glenn Marquart was another buddy of mine, and Joe Dooley is now a solid friend. Others were Jim Pryor, Bobby Campbell, and Frank Kennedy, and we spent plenty of times shooting the bull and laughing during planning periods, before, or after school.
I also made some friends as I worked part time jobs at Budget and Knoxville Toyota. We worked hard and eased the times teasing and laughing.
My two best friends, yes, I have two of them, are Doug Meister and Billy Hayes. I’ve known both of them for over thirty years. We’ve played ball together and coached ball together. I can sit with them today, and it’s as if we’d never been apart.
What I do know is that most of the people with whom I made friends are still special folks to me. I might not see them for long periods of time, but all I would need to do is call them, and they would respond instantly. Some of those good friends have passed, and I miss them. The ones still here make the void smaller.
It might do this world well to recognize that we have only a handful of good friends in our lives. They are the ones who accept us even with all of our faults. No one should ever take friendship lightly; no person should set out to shame or degrade any friend. Losing a friend is a terrible thing because replacing him might prove to be impossible. To have a friend means to be a friend. That is a good motto by which folks and countries should live.


I intentionally waited to write this until the day of July 4th. It’s not so much because I am lazy, but in the world today, things occur so quickly that I’m never sure whether the events on which I comment will prove to be true or false. At this point, however, I feel safe thinking that these things are real, at least for today.
To begin with, it’s hotter than a $2.00 pistol. The whole week has been crammed with days in the 90’s, and someone said yesterday the temperature, not just the “feels like” temperature, hit 100 degrees. Here’s a new flash: it’s summer and supposed to be hot. Humidity can also be added to the
mix here in East Tennessee, and that makes for sweltering summer days. That’s why plenty of folks spend their days on at pool or lakeside. Some are even lucky enough to make it to a stream in the mountains where the real cold water is located.
We’re celebrating Independence Day, and the economy is humming along. Employment is at record low levels, and companies are beginning to run out of folks to work. It wasn’t too long ago that people had to scramble to find part time work, but now things are much brighter for Americans who need a job.
I’m not so sure how the economy will be affected by the dump truck load of tariffs that we are imposing on friends and enemies alike. Those measures are being met with tariffs by other countries, so the prices of goods will begin to climb. That means the tax cuts that we might have seen in our paychecks won’t offer extra savings or more purchasing power; instead, we’ll wind up shelling out the money in an effort to at least keep even. It seems to me that we might aim any tariffs at enemies and not at our friends with whom we have small or nonexistent trade deficits.
Immigration is causing problems for the entire country. I certainly agree that we need to develop a workable immigration policy. That would include an orderly flow of immigrants into the U.S. and a workforce to fill some of the positions that are dependent on migrant workers. However, this country cannot continue to take children from their parents when families cross the borders. Yes, in some situations, those folks are breaking the law, but we are a nation founded on immigrants. Taking children from moms and dads is an immoral act that defeats the ideals upon which the U.S.A. was built. In short, we are better than that.
The news outlets of the nation are not enemies of the state. If that were true, then the Knoxville Focus would be your enemy. Do you feel that way about this paper? Sure, some outlets report things I don’t like, and I’d rather not see the spin put into news stories. The reason for so much conjecture and opinion in some places is 24-hour news cycles. Really, how much can a cable news say about the same story? To keep the cameras on and the ads selling, networks must add stuff. Hey, we’re supposed to be an intelligent citizenry, so we should be able to tell the difference between fact and opinion. However, we need a free press; it’s one of the most crucial elements to a democracy. If you don’t like what an outlet says, don’t listen or watch, but at least recognize its right to exist.
I’m worried about the days ahead. We are fighting with friends, dealing with countries that tried to influence our elections, and cutting deals with regimes that have lied for years. Polarization stifles the government’s ability to work for the people. My wish for this Fourth of July is that common sense and love of country replace such adversarial roles. How about we all try to meet in the middle and moderate our views for what’s best for the country? It might work since nothing else seems to have.


It’s vacation time, and Amy and I’d saved for ours for a long time. My organized and savvy wife hit the Internet and booked our trip. It ended a couple of weeks ago, and we are back to the grind once again; however, the break refreshed us and gave us a chance to rest for a while. Based on what we experienced, I’ve decided to offer a few tips to those who are traveling over the summer.
First, make sure you understand booking flights on line. Over the years, we’ve grown accustom to standing in line to check bags and receive boarding passes. Checking in electronically takes away that pass. I was more than a bit confused as to where I would sit. A hateful Delta worker met us at the gate and offered no help. We eventually understood that a seat would be assigned at the gate, but ours weren’t together.
If you travel often, buying a TSA Pre-check pass. It allows purchasers to go through shorter security lines where they can keep their shoes on. Most importantly, folks with passes don’t stand in lines for long times. In the Panama City Airport, we stood in a holding area for several minutes before we were allowed proceed to the security clearance lines. All of these points lead to the biggest piece of advice: arrive earlier than you think is necessary or take a chance of missing you flight.
Make sure to check the rating of the establishment where you stay. We booked place at a Wyndhamrd floor abode was magnificent.
spot through Resort Quest. It was 30 stories tall. The condo in which we stayed was nice. The amenities were also nice. Our view from the 23
The problems were multiple. We arrived at 10:30 a.m. because of our flight schedule. Yes, we knew that check-in time was 4:00 p.m. However, we hoped that the staff would be able to get us in our room before that time. We sat for a while and then decided to visit the beach. Chairs and an umbrella
were included in the booking, but we encounter trouble with that because we had not been assigned a room. The attendant allowed us to use the facilities any way. I checked at the front desk for our room number. Our paper work lay at the same place that it had when we arrived; it was now about 1:00 p.m.
A storm hit and scattered folks on the beach. We had no place to go, so we sat in the lobby across from the front desk. At about 3:45, we received a text with our room number and key pad numbers. I  
had to then go to the second floor to get a cart to load our luggage. One wasn’t available. When I finally loaded our belongings and returned from the garage, Amy and I discovered the worst problem. The elevators were slow and too few were available for 500 units.
All of this is to say that I suggest that you don’t stay in large facilities. I won’t book again a place where I can’t walk the stairs if the elevators are too slow or busy. I also will make sure that early check-in is available when our flight causes us to arrive before time. I’ll also make sure the staff cares about customer service and takes steps to get vacationers in their rooms in a timely fashion. That means they might have to send someone from the cleaning staff to clean a room instead of one where no one has been waiting for hours.
I’m not a griping, old man who finds fault with everything. Amy and I had a wonderful time after we finally broke through to our room. We filled our days sitting on the beach and reading. When rain came, we sat on the deck and watched the clouds and rain blow in. I do, expect, however, better customer service from those who are making a living on the travels of others. Make sure you check every step of your trip, but still expect problems to arise. They must be a part of vacations.


Okay, folks, I’m scared and worried. No, I’m not afraid for myself; my concern is for my children and grandchildren and this country. What is going on is the destruction of the U.S. by a man who is unfit to be the president.
Supporters say Trump is “draining the swamp,” but a quick look at the actions of those in his own cabinet prove that he’s swapped one type of swamp monster with another kind that answers to him. This man is a danger to our nation, and his giving power to corrupt individuals is criminal.
Immigration is a sticking point for this man. Remember when he vowed to build a wall for which Mexico would pay? It’s not started, so now President Trump wants American citizens to pay for the boondoggle. At the same time, he’s had the Department of Justice wage war on immigrants who come from the Mexican border. Children are ripped from their parents when families cross the border. Just today a baby was taken from a mother as she breastfed the child. I’ve heard the lines that they broke the law and must pay the price. However, should that ever include losing children and breaking families? What would you do if someone took your child from you and placed him or her and foster where you would not be able to find the young one? Nazi Germany did the same thing to families heading for the concentration camps.
Trump’s war continues against most elements of press. Fox News and the conservative media are spared haranguing. However, so-called “liberal outlets” are damned and condemned by this president and his minions. Kellyanne Conway called their convoluted stories “alternative facts,” and Rudy Giuliani said the same thing. The truth is not a variable. It is based on facts. The truth never waivers. Statements that don’t say the same things as the truths are lies, plain and simple. The Constitution is quick to defend a free press and states its importance. This temporary resident in the White House should understand that the truth will outlast his lies and those of his followers.
Twitter attacks by this president are daily events. Most of them are complete with misspellings and grammatical errors, but that’s not as concerning as the lies and attacks and misinformation that he unloads. His limited vocabulary always includes simple words, sometimes misused. Trump believes that if he says something in those Tweets enough times that all people will believe it. Only the 38% that has always blindly supported him will swallow the line of bull he shovels on social media.
President Donald Trump has turned his back on our allies. Those folks are the ones with whom we’ve had steadfast relationships for fifty years. This man swats them away as if they were flies. In their places, he puts our enemies and other countries run by thugs, murders, and miscreants. Each day the president sides with these evil folks he destroys the United States’ leadership role in the world.
So, yes, I’m scared, but at the same time I’m mad. I’m furious that this incompetent man has been able to hijack the GOP and turn it into a disgusting political party. My anger is also aimed at the cowards who represent the people in Washington. Keeping their jobs is more important than standing up to the lies and misdeeds from this administration. Last, I’m furious with those people who refuse to see that this president is destroying our country. It’s no longer a Democrat versus Republican thing; it’s a defining moment for the survival or destruction of the U.S.A. God help us and guide us because we aren’t capable of steering the country in the safe direction.  


Another birthday has come and gone, and another year is in the books. I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful family that chooses to gather on a weekend around that date to celebrate that day. We sit
around the pool, cook hamburgers and hotdogs, and laugh and talk until we’re exhausted.
Growing old isn’t that difficult for us. If we are lucky enough, time slides along and takes us with it. Birthdays when I was young left memories and warm sun, honeysuckle, and Mother’s sixth grade class picnic at our house. The smell of leather always reminds me of that birthday when Jim and I received new ball gloves as presents. Neither of us were skilled at using them, but that never kept us from throwing ball in the front yard or trying to play on the team Mr. Wright coached. Melt-in-your-mouth always set center stage on the birthday table.
Teenaged birthdays were different. Sure, presents were nice, but more important was having a few friends at the house for a while. After celebrating there for a while, everyone left for destinations such as the Copper Kettle or another hangout. Yes, we bought alcohol with fake drivers’ licenses and sipped on the stuff. Cigarettes weren’t taboo then, and many of us started the habit during those high school years. When a couple of birthdays rolled around, I even had a girlfriend with whom celebrate the day. Mother was always home on birthdays and made sure they were special.
Adulthood changed those birthdays. Amy did more than she should have to spoil me. We always managed to meet up with Jim and his clan at Mothers. On that 40th celebration, she and my sister-in-law Brenda planned a party at the Karns community center. A crowd of friends attended and listened to tales on the two of us. My older brother sent a cassette tape that recalled all the horrible events that we caused over the years. The get together was highlighted by the appearance of a large, friendly dancer.
Lately, birthdays are more about just spending time with the folks I love. Lacey and Nick bring Madden with them from Nashville, and Dallas travels home from Chattanooga. They insist on giving presents, some of which are rather strange. I’d as soon they saved their money and just came home for a couple of days. Years earlier, the family stayed up late to watch movies or television shows or just to talk. My bed time comes much earlier now, and my eyes slam shut too soon to suit me.
For the last few years, Madden has stayed the week after my birthday. We find things to do to keep a young boy busy. This year was to be partially spent swimming in the river in the mountains, but days filled with rain caused us to change plans. Just having him stay here willingly is nice, and I try to keep him from being too bored.
This year, I greeted the anniversary of day of my arrival with more aches and pains. Knees and
fingers ache, and a limp caused by inflammation of my Achilles tendon puts a crimp in the activities I want to enjoy. It sounds as if a case of the “gripes” is also present, but the truth is that I am thankful to be here each and every day. I love my wife, children, and grandson. Jim and I still hang out and find projects to keep us busy. I’ll take as many more birthdays as the good lord gives me because I want to share the days of each year with the people I love, even if I have to do so a bit slower.


I arrived at the Knox County Clerk’s office about five minutes before it opened. A man in front of me said the last time he completed this chore, he was number 50 in line. However, at that early hour, I walked in and immediately met one of the workers there. Her cheery voice and kind attitude made renewing my tags easy and pleasant. The fact is that we need more of this kind of behavior in our world.
The clerk’s employee unarms visitors with her friendly demeanor. In return, others relax and return the kindness. Everyday, those workers at that office face throngs of drivers who want to renew
licenses or registration stickers. The job demands patience and efficiency. For them to be kind also to folks, especially the ones who are more than a bit annoyed by the wait, is a credit to them. I didn’t get the name of the woman at the Cedar Bluff office, but if she sees this column, I want to make sure to thank her for being nice.
Fast food businesses are other places filled with stress on employees. Hungry customers are in a hurry to get their food and eat it or take it home to families. True, sometimes those workers at the businesses have no regard for customers and never worry that the line through the drive-thru wraps around the building. However, most of the folks on that side of the counter are concerned about processing orders as quickly as possible. We who are ordering food might make the day a bit easier
for them by being nice. That means saying thank you and foregoing our first instincts to tear into a teenager for having to wait a long time for a burger, order of fries, and drink.
Nothing tests the limits of our temper as does a phone call to a major corporation. Whether the help is with our cable, computer, or health plan, most customers fume when the first thing they hear is a
recording. If the wait is long, company representatives are in trouble when they finally answer calls. Our first tendencies are to blast workers for failing to answer quicker. Never mind that the phone lines are jammed with customers; we want help now. A kind person on the other end can quickly diffuse angry customers. If that person can quickly take care of our problems or questions, we are a bit stunned. In the end, we change our tunes and become kinder, gentler people.
Now, I’m the first to admit that my patience wears thin quicker than most people, and I’ve been a surly S.O.B. at times. However, when people are automatically pleasant, I become a calmer person as well. In fact, I enjoy talking with the worker and tell her how much I appreciate the kindness and help. That’s the way the world should be. More consideration for others makes everyone feel a bit better about life. One thing is for sure: we need to remember what our parents told us when we were children—be nice!


The legend regarding the father of the country tells us that he “could not tell a lie.” As children, we are taught to tell the truth or otherwise suffer the consequences. As witnesses in court, we “swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help us God.” What happened to the commitment to the truth?
Every day, television ads blast us with promises and results. However, the fine print at the bottom of the screen tells the real story. Companies advise viewers not to take on the IRS by themselves and scare them by saying that the agency is taking homes, cars, and all other possessions of those owing tax moneys. However, few folks can qualify for paying the IRS less than they owe. They might still might have to pay just as much in taxes after working with one of these businesses, and then they pay fees for services to that company that promised to help them so much. That sounds like a lie to me. 
Buying new cars are nerve-racking experiences for most people. That time only worsens when they face salesmen. Customers are taken to small offices where they bargain with the dealership representative. It’s surprising that the salesmen are unable to accept or reject offers by buyers.
Instead, they must discuss offers with the sales manager. On many occasions when a seller leaves the office, he stands around for a while without ever asking permission before returning with a counter offer. I don’t need games, nor will I play them when buying a car. No customer appreciates the string of lies and deceptions with which car dealers beset them. All of us know that there’s no such thing as a deal on a car.
People don’t know what is true in the news. Sometimes reporters inject their biases into news stories; at other times sensationalized and exaggerated statements turn what should be solid reporting into yellow journalism. Even when stories are factual, they can be pooh-poohed by an opposing
media outlet. In the end, we can only go with our gut feelings as to determining what is true, and all too many have irritable bowel syndrome that colors their best guesses.
Worst of all, our government is lying to us. Polarization has taken over both parties. Instead of working together for the common good, politicians in two of the branches of government are more interested in promoting their viewpoints than in digging for the truth and giving it the light of day.
New lies bombard us daily, and citizens turn deaf ears to anything that doesn’t agree with their thinking. The country feels as if it is in a tailspin, and the pilots have parachuted to safety. Telling the truth offers no advantage to individuals who hold office.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” All of those who sing Jefferson’s praises might do well to take that statement to heart. In fact, all of us would do well to be more honest in all of our dealings in this world. The return to the truth should start in the hallowed halls of our government. Elected officials becoming role models for the citizens of this country could turn the tide toward better days. Otherwise, I fear that we are watching the crumbling of our country and its rightful place in this world.


All over the country, folks are assembling at churches, school gyms, and larger facilities to hold graduation ceremonies. Whether the event is for a high school or college, moms, dads, husbands, wives, and children are celebrating the educational accomplishments of students.
Some historical accounts report that the traditional cap and gown were worn during the 12th th century to differentiate the students from the townspeople at the university where they attended. Others say the garb was worn to keep students warm in the unheated classrooms where they studied.
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These days, the cap and gown outfit is a sure signal that a person has completed a course of study. Now, whether that individual has exceled in his studies or has sneaked through them isn’t necessarily indicated. Only those with the highest academic successes are labeled with cum, magna, or summa laude. The rest of the graduating class is a hodgepodge of grade point averages.
Some students have been diligent in their pursuits of knowledge. During my high school years, I never let classes interfere with my education. Instead, I poured more of my energies into friends, events, and mischief. That’s not to say that I squeaked by to graduate, but a 2.6 grade point average and a score of 18 on the ACT were nothing about which to brag. Some of my friends spent little time in study but managed to make A’s in their classes. One individual even scored a perfect 36 on the ACT. However, in looking back, the people I most admire are the ones who worked for their good grades.
In college, things are a bit different. Many students arrive on campus with dedication and determination to succeed. I was one of them. It was in those classrooms where I paid the price for not working hard in high school. For my entire college life, I studied long, hard hours; “all-nighters” came before exams. So much of the material made little or no sense to me the first time I read it. Only after reviewing things did I “get it.” That studying hard continued even as a worked on a graduate degree. However, most of the materials in that program was stuff with which I disagreed, but to make it through the program, I played the game and regurgitated the stuff for professors during test and in papers.
A large group of students leave homes for college for different reasons. They are there to make friends, engage in parties, and meander through their lives free of home and rules. Last on their lists are attending classes or studying materials. Consequently, their stays at universities don’t last more than a term or two. Then, they return home to figure out what will become of them for the next several years.
College is not for everyone; I’ve said that for years. However, a basic education is essential in today’s world. The old manufacturing jobs of the past that once paid so well either aren’t coming back to the U.S. or aren’t paying sensational salaries. Having a skill or continuing an education to develop one is essential. Otherwise, individuals are doomed to a life of struggle.
Congratulations to all those who walk across the stage with a diploma in hand. If you have worked to earn it, know that your efforts will be rewarded. If you have done as little as possible and narrowly made it through with an attitude that “D stands for diploma,” realize that such an outlook will lead you to disappointment. Each day is new, and with it all of us have opportunities to learn something new. 


I’ve always said that high school students have remained the same over the years. One of my classes proved me wrong the other day. We were studying humor, and I showed the old routine by Bill Cosby about being a parent. Yes, I know Cosby stands convicted of terrible crimes, but these students don’t read or watch the news enough to know what’s going on. The comedy that Cosby presented is still excellent, regardless of the type of person he’s become. What is upsetting is that the world we’ve created has stifled many admirable qualities of too many children.
Plenty of our children don’t have much curiosity. Information bombards them all day long. The
Internet and social media broadcast all sorts of materials, and young folks aren’t always sophisticated enough to tell what is true. In the end, they begin taking what is dished out without ever wondering first about a topic and then investigating it.
At the same time, children are rarely excited about anything. We’ve given our offspring so much that not much is left to be called special. Christmas and birthday gifts don’t surprise them. In many cases, our offerings pale in comparison the things we have given
children on a daily basis. A car isn’t a special thing to a child unless it’s a new model. How dare parents try to pass off used vehicles as a wonderful presents to teenagers. A vacation isn’t such a big deal unless it includes swank settings and plush accommodations.
Today’s young folks are too quickly offended. Our society sanitized everything in life. Too many things are politically incorrect, and as such, they are either taboo or have been assigned “kinder, less offensive” names or titles. We all recognize that some labels are simply
wrong, but that doesn’t mean all of them are. Words we used just a few year are no longer acceptable because someone decided they demeaned another person or group. Our children live in a world where they are taught to use “he or she” so that no one feels left out. Double-speak continues to spread like a virus in our language. I’ve often said that such politically correct language reminds me of the movie “Demolition Man,” where uttering any word identified as offensive resulted in a ticket.
Worst of all, adults have wiped out children’s senses of humor. Some might ask how that has happened. On too many occasions, parents have failed to pass along what constitutes a funny situation or action. The absurd is the standard for humor these days. Of course, it might help if moms and dads shared some of the adventures they experienced as young people. Also, children fail to understand subtlety or nuance in humorous situations.
Perhaps what occurred today is further indication that my time has come and gone. Still, this is the first time in over 30 years that I’ve showed this video to a class without a single laugh coming out at some point. If children don’t see the humor in being a parent or going to the dentist, I feel sorry for them. Their futures are going to be filled with angst. I like my life up to this point and wouldn’t change it with a teenager. They have already missed too much.


Barbara Bush passed away this week at the age of 92. She had a full, wonderful life that was filled with a stint as First Lady of the U.S. She also had a son who later became president. A second son was governor of Florida. Her husband was with her when she died, and her family now grieves for her, even though she’d had a long and full life. The fact is that our mommas are the individuals who mean most to us in this life.
Dads, don’t despair. Our children love us completely as well. They look to us for protection against the scary things under the bed; we’re the ones who serve as bucking bronco rides in the living room
floor in the evenings. Our sons look to us as the role model for their lives. If something breaks, it is we dads who puts the item back together with glue and duct tape.
Still, the moms of this world are the folks who make life all right. When we were small, moms took care of us when colds or earaches or stomachaches attacked. They administered doses of medicine, and supplemented them with long hugs. Soothing hands rubbed our backs or heads, and laps provided comfortable places to ease the throbbing in our heads.
Mothers are the ones we went to when problems in school arose. Dads would more often prepare for war with anyone who troubled their children, but moms had a better tactic. They simply listened without saying a word to our woes, and let us tell all the horrible things details. Then, those women assured us. What followed were either words of sympathy or suggestions for dealing with the problem. On some occasions, moms traveled to the school, and there they expressed in the clearest of terms what they expected to be done to resolve any bad situation.
We men take home our girlfriends or fiancées to meet the family. Many times, those visits are made so that that our mothers can conduct the “smell test.” We want our moms to like the girls we’ve fallen in love with because, no matter what is admitted, what the women of our homes like matters to us. The lasts thing men want is to live in the middle of a mother and daughter-in-law battle. It’s a no win situation.
Most of all, children want to make their moms proud. Through so many years, those women worked to teach us what is wrong and right. They instructed us about making our lives full with a balance of
work and fun. Most of all, moms tried to encourage us to live life on our own terms and never to let someone else have sway over our thoughts or actions.
Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my mother. I wish I could have just one more time to sit with her and hear her voice. I’d tell her “thank you” for all the sacrifices that she made for my two brothers and me, especially after our dad died when we were teens. My dear wife has sometimes wondered if she has been a good mother, but that question is always answered when Lacey and Dallas parrot the words that she spoke. At other times, they let her know that she has been successful by the way they make decisions and live their lives.
Our moms are blessings from the good Lord. I hope everyone takes a minute to remember them or to tell them how much they mean. Mothers deserve such high and worthy praise.


I listened as Speaker Paul Ryan talked about his tenure as a U.S. representative He regretted that he’d not been able to tackle the problems with “entitlements.” The more politicians talk about entitlements, the more my hackles react. Yes, that means I am growing angrier about the rhetoric that the folks in Washington spew.
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, entitlement is defined as “a right to benefits specified especially by law or contract.” Most often, they are identified as Medicare and Social Security. The
fact is that all of us have been paying FICA (Federal Insurance Contribution Act) taxes from each and every paycheck we’ve received over the years. These two things are considered entitlements, but they shouldn’t be viewed in negative ways.
A bit of research provides some interesting data. The average employee pays 7.65% of his or her paycheck into FICA. Employers pay another 7.65%. So, that equals a hefty 15.3% is going to Social Security and Medicare. If we calculate the average salary for an individual is $35,000 over his work life and that he works from ages 18-65 ( total of 47 years), then the total contribution to the system is $5250 a year and $246,750 over that 47-year period. The average employee in this country has contributed one quarter of a million dollars toward retirement and Medicare.
If the money were invested in typical financial planning products with a return rate of 10.3% (the average since 1970), the total contribution per individual would equal $4,516,150. That is what the government would have for the average person when he or she reaches the age of 65. I’m confident  Now, many of us don’t count on entitlements for our sole income. We’ve scrimped and saved to put away and invest just a little each month. If over our work life we have managed to average $100 a month, then we’ve amassed another $1,031,083 at 10.3% return. (
that most of us could survive on that amount over the golden years of our lives.
No senior citizen wants to feel the sting of congressional comments that “entitlements are killing our country and will lead to its ruin.” Better management of collected funds could have and still can lead to better returns on investments of FICA taxes. Don’t say payments to citizens are entitlements in a negative way. As I understand it, the money that the government pays out is what we paid in. It is not citizens’ faults that our government has been such a poor steward of the money we entrusted to it. Yes, life expectancy has increased, and perhaps a rise in the FICA taxes are necessary to cover the shortfall that is occurring because the government hasn’t handle the money in our best interests.
A word of advice to those younger folks who don’t believe they will ever see a dime from Social Security payments. Take some amount of your income right this minute and invest it. Each time you receive a raise, put a percentage of it with the monthly investment. Make sure you are getting the best
rate of return on your money and DON’T touch that money unless a catastrophe befalls you.
Elected leaders, stop whining, complaining, and belittling and start making better decisions for everyone and the country. The funds we send for FICA should be more wisely used so that Social Security and Medicare can remain solvent for future generations.


One of our church’s new stained glass windows made by Leslie Little reminds my wife of a quilt. The patterns on it are similar to those used for generations by women who have sewn the covers. I’ve never met a person who didn’t love quilts or who didn’t want one or more.
When we were young, Mother covered our beds with quilts that her mother or grandmother had sewn. Back then, quilts weren’t considered art. Instead, they were necessities for families. Cold weather arrived; money was tight; the best way to keep beds warm was to take scraps of cloth and
bind them together on a backing and then stuff the whole thing with some kind of material that might knock off the chill.
We all had quilts and never thought much about them. Sometimes, we would strip them from the bed and use them as mats for wrestling matches in the living room. We also drove our toy cars across the terrain of the quilts and made believe we were in the desert or some other wild place. My brother Jim wrapped himself in his quilt before slipping into a night of violent sleep where he stretched and kicked and yanked the material.
My mother made quilts for years. It seemed to us to be a torturous activity, but the projects provided her hours and days of entertainment. She’d spread out the batting and material and scraps and put them together while watching an episode of “Matlock.” Her bony, crooked fingers worked needles through layers of cloth in intricately created stitches. She wore a thimble on the one finger that was most in danger of being stabbed with those needles.
Even in her last months, Mother sat on the enclosed porch off the kitchen. She worked on a hobnail quilt that was the most intricate pattern she’d ever tackled. Sometimes, her shortness of breath forced her to put down the work, but she never quit for long. Many evenings Mother sewed until she was exhausted, and at that point, she’d pull the project around her, lie her head on a decorative pillow and
sleep until the next morning.
By the time Mother passed, she’d made a trunkful of quilts. She made sure that each of us boys had one and that her grandchildren had the chance to choose one. They are special items to us all. More than anything, those covers represent the love Mother had for us and the dedication she gave to making these special items. Hours of her life poured into the making of the quilts we now have, and in some small way, they keep her a bit closer to us, even though she has been gone more than twenty years.
Today, folks shell out piles of cash to purchase a handmade quilt. At any estate sale, the first things that are sold are those patterned bed covers. Yes, quilts are special to most folks. They are even more important to family members who have one made by a mother or grandmother.
We probably should use them for everyday use like the one Jim did years ago. That might be the biggest compliment we can give to the maker of the quilt, but doing so might wear them out and leave us wishing we’d have preserved that special item produced by our loved ones. So, many quilts are hung on racks for decorations or are stuffed in chests for safekeeping. I suppose the main thing is to enjoy a piece of artwork that can even be used in a utilitarian ways.


Polls show that more and more Americans believe in the theory that the government is being influenced by “the deep state.” Those same polls show that nearly 3 out of 4 individuals don’t know what “the deep state” actually is. The situation is just another example of citizens surrendering their God-given ability to think. That failure to think can have serious consequences.
Most of us have simply become lazy. Instead of researching a topic through reading and exploration, we allow all sorts of electronic media to do our thinking for us. How many of us are guilty of watching 24-hour news stations and blindly accepting what its commentators, whether liberal or
conservative, say? If a person is a Fox Network fan, he isn’t about to listen to a different point of view that airs on CNN. The same holds true for those who choose CNN as their news deliverer.
Social media delivers too many individuals’ news. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all shotgun news bites and ads and links with information we might find interesting. Of late, the discovery that Russians and even some political factions in our own country have corrupted those outlets with misleading stories has come to light. Still, too many people take the bait and swallow made-up lies as gospel.
Even more of us unquestioningly accept information from the Internet. I’ve heard so many times individuals say that something is a fact. When I ask how they know that, folks reply, “It says so on the Internet.” People have assigned the same divine qualities to the Internet that they give to the Bible or the Koran.
The simple truth is that too many of us have grown intellectually lazy. We don’t have the desire to discover for ourselves. Reading isn’t on the top ten list of activities. As children, most of us found great joy and entertainment as we delved into a topic to find as much information as possible. As little ones, we made buttercup flowers from egg cartons and painted them a beautiful yellow to celebrate spring and the coming of Easter. In fourth grade, we students worked in groups to build replicas of the Matterhorn and report on Switzerland and the Alps. In 6th grade, Mr. Fowler instructed all of us to make a scrapbook of the events of John Kennedy’s assassination, which had occurred in the fall of that year. I still have pieces of that project in a drawer somewhere.
The safeguards against foreign intrusions and subversion are continued pursuit of the truth. That comes when people invest in reading and examining information for themselves; they never merely take the word of a third-party source. At the same time, a well-informed person listens to both sides of an argument and finds the salient points from both.
Our country is more polarized each day. Folks buy into the side they like and close their minds to anything the opposition proffers. Such single-mindedness leads to a loss of moderation, and in the end, paralyzes leaders from acting in the best interest of the entire country. The time has come for each of us to reclaim our intellectual curiosity so that we no longer can be blindly lead to believe that only one answer is the right one. We owe this to ourselves and to our children. Otherwise, an authoritarian form of government will take over because of our laziness and lead us far from the democratic principles that Americans love.


Well, March Madness became just that for Tennessee fans. In the span of 24 hours, both of our favorite teams exited the NCAA tournament. During the same timeframe, the Vols baseball team lost two games to Ole Miss. Ouch, it was rough weekend and a terrible way to end Spring Break week. Like most fans, I wavered from disappointment to anger. I wanted all of these
teams to continue to succeed.
What hit me squarely in my conscience is how terrible I act in the face of losses. The men’s basketball team seemed not quite so inspired in their game against Loyola. Of course, that could be in part because the opponent played well and defended closely. I tried to call out the refs for glaringly
incorrect calls, but that fact is becoming part of the game now. I fumed about the breaks to review plays and swore that they killed UT’s momentum.
I turned on the Lady Vols game at half time, and before long, I watched as Oregon State shredded the defense for easy lay-ups. I questioned offensive sets that had players making ill-advised passes and
attempting shots that were sure to be blocked. On some plays, I growled about the lack of hustle of some players who couldn’t get up and down the court like the others. At the end, I changed the channel because I couldn’t stand to watch the women’s first NCAA tournament defeat on their home court.
The baseball team took a stunning win from the Rebels on Friday night. They had timely hits and good pitching and defense. On Saturday and again on Sunday, Tennessee bats went silent. I wondered where Friday’s aggressive at-bats had disappeared. On several occasions, I begged batters not to give up on pitches or to
catch up to fastballs. The weather for the weekend series was as gloomy as the performances in those last two games.
At some point, I took a deep breath and saw things more clearly. The men’s basketball team proved all the prognosticators wrong by sharing the SEC title instead of coming in 13th. That team has the finest collection of players that the school has had in years. The athletes play hard and never give up. Even more impressive is the way they speak and conduct themselves. They are my favorite UT athletes, and I thank them for the thrills they gave us fans during the season. I can’t wait to watch next year’s team.
I’m not as sure about the women’s team because I’ve not watched them that often. Some say the team is young; others state the coaching isn’t up to par. What I do know is that these women want to win. They have the talent to do so, and in most games, they performed well. Because the season is a grind, on some occasions I suppose they were tired and their want to was more than their abilities to do. The team did have success, and a year’s maturity will make them better.
The baseball team is young, and its coaching staff is new. No, those aren’t excuses for losing games, but they are factors in success. Not a single player goes to the plate intent on striking out. They want to hit the ball, round the bases, and score runs. The ability to hit a small white sphere traveling 90 mile per hour with a rather slender metal instrument is impossible for most of us. When an off-speed pitch follows, it’s a wonder that batters don’t screw themselves into the ground going after it. These players are gifted athletes who do their best to win games.
I’m going to remain a fan; however, from now on, I’m going to give the players a break. I’ll cheer their successes without bad-mouthing their shortcomings. After all, only a handful of them are old enough to be called adults. A true fan’s job is to encourage players, not rip them to shreds with negativity. I apologize for having been so critical. I’ll do better from now on.


My two grandmothers were as different from each other as were their families. They’ve both been gone for a long time, but their memories linger.
Mamaw Balch was a small woman. She bore three sons and a daughter. She was a Cureton, and as such, her approach toward life seemed to have been on of no-nonsense. Mamaw worked hard just keeping up with cooking food for hungry boys and her husband. They lived on a large farm in Ball Camp for a while. The boys were up early to milk the cows, and when they returned home, the table was covered with eggs, bacon, biscuits, and gravy. As soon as the meal was finished, she jumped into the middle of her daily chores and preparing lunch.
I don’t remember the woman smiling. She wore a permanent scowl. It seemed that her joy came from her bible and the radio located in the small living room of their house. She read that bible each day, and she studied the words that it offered. Although I’ve not spent anywhere near the amount of time that she did in reading the “good book,” I have taken a different meaning from it. Mamaw saw life as something hard; people endured their time on earth and kept their fingers crossed that the next life would be better. Her religion was hard as well. Christianity was filled with guilt and self-deprivation. Woe unto those who enjoyed life too much because they surely must being doing something sinful.
This small woman suffered with heart trouble and passed in the early 1960’s. I was sad when she died, but that was more because my own mother was so grief stricken. Mamaw’s death left my grandfather lost, and I realize that small woman was, in fact, the strongest person in the family.
Mamaw Rector was much different. She wasn’t as short as my other grandmother, and she was heavy. Her frame supported generous amount of flesh, and I recall that her arms were round and flabby. Her nose was in a shape that the Clevengers (her maiden name) passed to each generation. Mamaw wore a frown most of the time, but she was apt to be talkative when company came calling. Her stockings reached only to her mid-calf where she neatly rolled the rest of them.
I’m not sure just how much work she did. At one time, Mamaw worked at the porcelain factory at the edge of Lonsdale, where she lived, and yes, she cooked. Other than that, I ever saw her do much of anything. From what I heard from other relatives, her family had tough times. My dad quit school after the sixth grade to help make ends meet. Maybe she’d worked so hard for so long that she didn’t have the energy to do anything else.
This second grandmother was a bit more fun. She had a sense of humor and loved to tease with us boys. On a couple of occasions, she traveled out to the country to babysit. For the whole day, we sat at the kitchen table and broke beans. She’d tell stories and listen to our silliness with the patience that I’ve never mastered. Mamaw knew my older brother smoked, and she gave him money so that he could walk to a nearby store to buy cigarettes.
Mamaw Rector watched her soap operas every day. She would sit in her chair and watch for hours. Beside her at all times was a gallon tin can. In it she spit the makings from a lip loaded with Bruton snuff. With her lips coated with the dark liquid, she always demanded a kiss before we left. She also made a point of always complaining. We rarely asked her how she was because the question caused her to recite a litany of ailments.
It’s been fifty-plus years since my Mamaws were alive. I see them much differently now and have more admiration for them. They were women who loved family and did the best. I hope my grandson will remember me fondly fifty years after I’m gone.


At some point in January, the local weather forecaster on one station declared that Tennessee was experiencing a drought. I hope that after the last month that he will now declare we’re caught up on the needed rainfall. Downpours have made yards soggy and floors muddy. Most of us are over it and ready for at least a little dry spell.
When we were children, the rain rarely proved to be a bad thing. We found indoor activities to keep us occupied. Jim and I would flop on the floors and play cars for a while. That activity was followed by attempts to build cabins with Lincoln logs. We’d spend long periods of time trying to construct things, but those attempts always ended in frustration. One reason for the bad feelings was that we just didn’t have the natural talents to put together what was in our minds with what lay before us on the floor. Another cause for consternation was the discovery that vital pieces of logs were missing. We always assumed that someone had stolen the things without considering the possibility that our own failure to pick up the toys and put them back in the can led to their disappearance.
In warmer weather, we took up residence on the front porch. Our arms were filled with toys, and we also had our guns. Those items ensured we’d have plenty to do. When the toys bored us, we took up six shooters and played cowboys. As “Hank” or “Tex” or “Bart,” we took cover behind columns and mowed down outlaws or Indians. Each shot was accompanied by sound effects to imitate the firing of the guns.
In summer, a steady rain offered cooling relief from the heat. No air conditioning was available in our house, so playing in the rain substituted for it. Jim and I often found a mud hole. We scooped the stuff up in our hands and then patted it out on the grass. Before long, we had a dozen of the things laid out, and we’d pretend they were pies or cookies but never sampled any of our own creations. Before long,
that game bored us, and those mud patties turned into mud balls. We hurled them at imaginary enemies or separated and threw at each other.
The rain wasn’t always welcome. Summer swimming meant trips to Concord Pool. The trip was planned several days in advance, and because adventures like this were infrequent, we stayed all day. Picnic baskets were gathered, and we boys readied our swimsuits and any toys or water masks that we might need. If rain wiped out our trip, bottom lips hung low with pouts and moods were less than merry.
The same ill attitudes occurred when our baseball games were rained out. Mr. Wright hauled all of us to the old ball fields beside Karns Elementary School for contests. I visualized my catching fly balls or smashing a homer and rounding the bases, both things that were mere pipedreams. A sudden shower would steal my delusions of heroic performances and leave me having to until the next week.
I don’t mind some rain. In fact, sitting on the screened porch and reading a book is especially nice on some sweltering summer days. However, I still pout like a six-year-old when precipitation pre-empts my plans for mowing the yard or swimming in our pool. Yes, I know that it’s somewhat ironic for rain to postpone an activity that includes dunking my body in water, but keeping towels and books and snacks dry is impossible in a downpour. No one ever wants to experience a drought, and I’m thankful for the rain; it’s just that too much of it at one time drowns plans and spirits.


Another day brought another massacre of young people. Douglas High School suffered from the maniacal acts of a former student. In the end, seventeen persons are dead and as many have been wounded. The weapon of choice in the crime was an AR-15 rifle, a semi-automatic version of the military’s M16.
The use of this weapon in no way protected anyone’s family. Instead, the gunman used the assault weapon to mow down as many innocent students and teachers as he could in a limited amount of time. Perhaps he had a grudge against a teacher who had been in some way responsible for his expulsion from the school. Maybe he had felt bullied by another student, or maybe he just felt that the school had disrespected him in some way. So, instead of dealing with such difficulties with the help of someone else, the killer decided to wreak havoc and slaughter as many individuals as possible.
Guess what! No excuse for killing is acceptable in this instance. What is even less acceptable is that his buying an assault rifle was easier than buying a handgun. Yes, he bought this weapon legally. The question is what in the name of sanity is this country doing by allowing an 18 year-old to buy an assault rifle.

I defend the rights of individuals to own guns to protect their families or for hunting purposes. However, I will never believe that any person has the right to have possession of an assault rifle. The logical question is for what purpose does anyone use such a killing tool? Hunting with it destroys the game that would be food. Target practice isn’t much of a challenge when a weapon can disintegrate the object so completely. The only reason for owning a gun is that an individual is ready and willing to kill another human. The kicker is that a handgun or shotgun or single shot rifle can bring about the same results in the hands of a trained gun owner.
Yes, we need better mental health services provided for people. Of course, with the cuts in social services that have been proposed, giving that help might be difficult. Comprehensive background checks can help stem the flow of weapons to those who are not well enough to responsibly own one. Implementing stronger background checks is not an invasion of privacy. It’s time for this practice when 97% of the American people are in favor of it.
At the same time, this country needs to look seriously at taking assault weapons out of circulation. This is not an invasion of anyone’s rights to bear arms; it’s action to remove guns from our society that serve no purpose other than to kill. America represents about 4.5% of the world’s population, but we own nearly half of all the guns on the planet. Removing one type of weapon and the kits that can be used to make weapons semi-automatic will still leave plenty of guns for self-defense and sport.

The NRA would have us all believe that any attempt to limit guns is the first step in taking away all guns and our sacred rights. Logic tells us that simply isn’t true. Trying to remove assault weapons from circulation and doing a better job on background checks are steps to make our world a safer place without firing a single round. We have nothing to lose but much to gain?