A LITTLE LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

It’s been another hard week for us in the USA. Impeachment inquiries continue, Mick Mulvaney confirmed the “quid pro quo” before trying to deny it, and US troops abandoned the Kurdish allies in Syria. We’re reeling from the bad news, and some feel downright depressed at the way our country is going.  
I’m one who has serious worries about what is going on. To my detriment, much of my time is spent watching news; that always leads to feeling down and out. However, sometimes something occurs that makes things just the least bit brighter. 
Some programs on television include a “feel good story” with each airing. Just the other day, “Sunday Morning” showed a segment about a stepdad and son. The man had been a part of the son’s life from age five. Now he plays college football, and to honor his “dad,” the athlete had the man’s name sewn on his jersey in place his own. The stepdad was speechless, and the embrace and the tears that followed had viewers every bit as teary-eyed.  
Former NFL player Warwick Dunn has quietly given 145 single parents houses. His charity works with Habitat for Humanity to reward deserving folks, but the entire program is kept below the radar. It’s refreshing to hear about someone who performs large acts of kindness
without making sure the press is covering it. Just being interested in giving to others and sharing his wealth seem to be Dunn’s motives. That reinforces my faith in humanity.  
An Oregon high school coach saved the life of a mentally-disturbed student who brought a gun to school. Keanon Lowe grabbed the weapon from the student, but instead of attacking the boy, the man hugged him and later sat down in the hallway with the boy until law enforcement officers arrived. In short, the coach probably saved the life of the student. He also kept an officer from having to choose whether or not to take the life of the boy.  
Somehow, our pets seem to know when our hopes are low or our moods are blue. I can fret about the direction our country is traveling and can let foul feelings take over my mood. My dog Sadie senses those “down times” and takes action. She’ll jump up on the couch and nudge her head at my legs until I raise the recliner. Then she curls between my legs and lays her head on my shin. I begin to pet her, and before I’m aware, the low tide of feelings is gone. An even keel and contentment with being quiet and still takes over. Just being with Sadie is enough.  
The coming weeks will be filled with more news about bad things in our country and in the world. We’re in that kind of cycle right now. However, I still believe that more good people than bad people exist in this life. We all need to put more effort into performing those acts of kindness that uplift others and ourselves. That can be called finding “our better angels.” At the same time, we can learn from those animals who are like family members to us. They teach us to just live and love unconditionally. If we can do those things, a little light will shine in the darkness.  

CORN STALKS AND HAY BALES

After an extended summer, something which I thoroughly enjoyed, fall arrived in East Tennessee. Cooler temperatures, along with much needed rain showers, replenished the area this week. With the new season’s arrival, people began stocking up on a variety of decorations for special days.  
I’ve noticed houses in some of the newer subdivisions have decked out their facades and yards with fall items. I understand the desire to make places look more festive. Still, I’m not sure why people are paying good money for corn stalks, bales of hay, and, in some cases, colored leaves. All my life, fields of corn have been scattered throughout communities in Knox County and surrounding areas. Isn’t it possible that the farmers who own these plots might give away a few stalks? Surely to goodness decorators can find hay bales
that cost less than those at big stores, where prices range from $8-$20.  
Those stalks and bales might look nice, but by the end of the season, they’ve lost their appeal. Corn shucks litter the yard, and stalks have melted into sticky, gooey messes. A bale of hay is easy to toss into the front yard, but after it’s sat in the rain and cold for a month or more, the darn thing is so heavy that it takes a Bobcat to heave it toward a final resting place. Most often, that area is some side part of the yard where the rotten hay will slowly decompose. The string around the bale will lie on the ground until spring when mowers will wrap them around blades.  
Neither do I understand the contemporary craze over Halloween. Stores are packed with all sorts of decorations. Spider webs and paper bats are offered for doors; scrolling images of ghosts or witches can be projected on the sides of houses. Some people spend days constructing decorations throughout their yardthat carry out themes of death, fear, or ghosts. 
Costumes are also a big deal. Okay, I understand that small children enjoy dressing up as their favorite super heroes or as cartoon characters; however, I fail to comprehend why adults do the same thing. The costs of outfits are enough to have kept me from ever participating. At the same time, I’ve always considered Halloween as a child’s celebration. Moms and dads don’t need to join in.  
Of course, much of my lack of understanding comes from my childhood. The only yard decorating that we did included rolls of toilet paper. With them, we “rolled” the yards of friends and enemies alike. Some folks would carve a single jack o’lantern, stick a candle in it, and set it on the front porch. That orange orb might last the night without being smashed on the road out front.  It was cheap fun that was over quickly. 
We never bought a costume for Halloween. Old clothes or bed sheets and a little shoe polish and lipstick were all we needed to make ourselves ready for trick or treating. The biggest expense I ever remember was one for a mask like the Lone Ranger wore. We walked miles for modest amounts of treats. Halloween was confined to about a 4-hour window, and then it was over. Period. 
This is just another example of how I don’t get things anymore. My ways are no longer the ways of the world. Younger folks have different interests, and I accept that. I suppose spending money for things that I consider common around here is what baffles me most. Other families don’t care what I think, so I’ll just let things be and wait for fall and winter to give way to the seasons which I enjoy much more. Of course, then Easter will be another event that is filled with extravagant decorations and will be more about bunnies and eggs and candy than the resurrection.  

50,000 MILE CHECK-UP

Every so often, the times arise to have what I call a “50,000-mile check-up performed.” It’s not much fun, but the process is necessary. For some reason, I always expect bad news from the doctors whom I see. That makes for a few rough days on the nerves. 
Most of the children of my era spent a majority of our time outside. We played from morning until evening and rarely went inside unless parents forced us to do so. Fast forward to now, and dermatologists’ offices are filled with us older folks. We’re having check-ups for damaged skin that spent years exposed to the sun. Sun tan lotion was used at pools sometimes or if a family vacationed at the beach. Otherwise, kids suffered through that first sunburn of the season, and then tanned as the summer went along.  
Now, we have pre-cancerous spots that must be monitored. I’ve used creams that peeled the skin off my face, and it led to painful cracks in places. On another occasion, I stuck my head inside something that resembled a toaster oven. After 16 minutes, the process was over, but the healing process lasted for several days. Most of the time, I choose freezing places. Thlast visit ended with 24 such spots being frozen.  
After a trip to the dermatologist, I scheduled a visit with a gastrointestinal physician. He recommended an endoscopy, as well as a colonoscopy. Of course, both procedures aren’t that bad because the patient is asleep. The preparation is the painful thing. I swigged down both bottles of a mixture of oil, salt, and
lemon, or that’s what the concoction tasted like. They were topped off with oceans of water, and before long, the“fun” began. The second round had to be started at 4:00 a.m. To have that much entertainment, I was required to pay a chunk of money for the product. The day after found me a bit lethargic, either from the anesthetic or the procedure or the preparation.  
In a couple of weeks, I have an appointment with the optician. My eyes don’t seem to see as well as they did only a year or so ago. Maybe my glasses are cockeyed, or maybe
things are changing at a much faster pace these days. Either way, I’ll have my eyes dilated, I’ll read charts, I’ll sit as lights blind me, and then I’ll discover if a new pair of glasses must be purchased.  
At the end of the year, I’ll travel to my family doctor for a physical. Doctor Cathy Mathes is the best, but I still don’t look forward to the visit. Neither am I a fan of having blood drawn or leaving a sample in a small cup. Aches and pains multiply over time, but I hate whining about them every year. Dr. Mathes is a saint to listen to me, along with all the other older patients, as we name every symptom that hits us.  
So far, I’ve received good reports from all tests that have been performed. It appears that I am good to go for another year or two. That’s good news. Amy and I would like to take a few trips and enjoy a few places around home in the years to come. I don’t know what tomorrow brings, but I do know that right now this old body is still working pretty well, even with hitches in my “giddy up.” I’m not “purring like a kitten,” but my motor hasn’t blown a head gasket yet. 

WATCHING UNPLEASANT NEWS

I admit it. I’m addicted to coverage of the political drama that is playing out on the cable networks. No, I’m not a fan of the president, but rest assured that neither am I a fan of those Democrats like Warren and Sanders. I’m more of a middle-of-the-road guy who eschews the calls from either extreme wing. With that said, the constant airing of information about the fights between parties draws me in. It’s not the first time such a situation has captured me.  

On January 8, 1973, the Watergate Hearings began. I was in college and too busy to spend much time keeping up with events. That changed on July 23, when President Nixon refused to turn over taped conversations. I was sucked into the coverage and spent as much time as possible watching the televised hearings.  
At the time, I was working a summer job with a construction contractor. He sent me to a house in West Hills where my job was to use a steamer to strip several layers of wallpaper from kitchen walls. On one counter sat a small television. For days, many more than were required for the job, I pulled paper, scalded my forearms with water droplets from the steam, and watched such notable personalities as Sam Ervin, Howard Baker, and Fred Thompson uphold the laws of our country and expose the corruption of the Nixon White House. In the end, I sadly watched Nixon resign from the office and even felt a bit of pity for the man as he waved “V’s” to the crowd before boarding the helicopter that would take him off to infamy.  
All too soon, the country returned to impeachment inquiriesBill Clinton, a brilliant politician with a weakness for women, was in trouble for his actions with Monica Lewinsky. Although these indiscretions didn’t lead to an impeachment trial, charges of perjury and obstruction of justice did him in. He remained president when the Senate failed to vote to remove him from office.  
I watched the hearings on a limited basis since I was teaching school at the time. I worried what another ouster of a president would do to our country. In disbelief, I watched as Clinton verbally sparred with investigators and hedged answering a question with that infamous line: “It depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is.” Anyone listening knew that the man was playing games to try to save his skin. He survived the process but has since carried a rather unwanted reputation. 
We’re back at it. President Trump is now the subject of an impeachment inquiry. Information has come to the forefront just in the last couple of weeks that paints the actions of the present administration in a dim light.  
I’m engrossed in the entire thing. The newest information centers around a phone call. It also has tentacles that ensnare the Secretary of State and the Attorney General of the Department
of Justice, and the president’s personal attorney. The president sets off
a tweet storm that includes plenty of name-calling and half-truths or lies. We citizens are stuck in the middle to watch the impeachment exercise play out. I suspect that the coming days will produce facts that will seal the fate one way or the other. 
I’ll watch this debacle until the end. The best outcome will be one that restores the U.S. to its former glory and place in the world. The individuals that loses this debate will retreat to lick their wounds and figure out what went wrong. The truth of the matter is that folks like me who have lived through 3 of the 4 impeachment proceedings are ready for honest, patriotic, qualified leaders in all branches of government. 

TALKING POINTS

A few weekends ago, I traveled with my brother and two high school friends to play in a golf tournament. It was held by a church that another high school friend pastors, and we’ve tried to support the man and his cause for the last few years.  
The course is located in the mountains in Lafollette, and the drive there is as twisty and curvy as a road through the Smoky Mountains. By the time we’d registered, eaten lunch and loaded our carts, the day was half gone. Sometime around 7:00 p.m. I arrived home. The day was long, our golf games were mediocre, and old aches and pains resurfaced. What was best about the day was the time spent with friends.  
What we realized about half-way through the day was that the four of us have changed our topics of conversation. In high school, our conversations were varied. Because we were in band, much of the time we
discussed the trips we would take to competitions or ball games. That included who we would sit with (female), and what we might try to get away with. We also worked out how in the world we were going to sell our quota of socks and wrapping paper, items used in fundraising campaigns.  
Like most teen-aged boys, we had our discussions of weekend plans. Before dating became a real thing in our lives, we found our fun by “running around” with groups of boys. We had a standard plan for each weekend outing. It included, shooting pool at the bowling alley or skating at the rink at the edge of the county. We also laid plans for fights that might break out and how we’d help each other. For most of us, those brawls were limited, but we talked about them as if they occurred every time we stepped foot outside. Of course, a few guys actually did participate in fighting as if it were a sport. They planned their strategy for where they would meet, whom they would fight, and when they would leave. 
Another big topic included alcohol. Individuals had fake identifications that were accepted by most liquor stores and beer sellers. We’d talk about what we’d buy, who had the money, and who would make the


purchases. Many were the nights we engaged in half-drunken babble and bravado as the effects of that illegal liquid coursed through our bodies.
The subject of girls also arose. Hormone-driven teens were constantly talking about females to whom they were attracted and how much they wanted to go out with them. We exchanged ideas of the best places to go on dates and the best places to “park.” We knew in our hearts that the discussions were more dreams than realities, but they continued.  
Fifty years later, our topics of conversation have changed. These days, guys exchange tales of doctor visits. We discuss how much joints ache and how we dread the next procedure that encompasses drinking some kind of goop that will keep us trapped at home for hours. All are quick to share experiences with maladies that others might be experiencing.  

Politics is also a major conversation area. We don’t necessarily agree with others, but our debates are always civil. Each side can’t understand the other’s rationale for their beliefs, and on occasion, one person will try to convince an adversary to swap sides. It doesn’t happen.  
No conversation is ever complete without spending a few minutes wondering what the world is coming to. It’s the same story for every generation; our concerns now are that young folks don’t know how to work hard and that they spend too much time playing video games instead of games outside.  
I remember my grandparents and the conversations they had. Surprisingly, they were similar to those my friends and I have now. The realization that we’ve become like the people we considered old and boring is upsetting. I suppose that aging automatically brings about changes in conversation topics. Before any young person laughs, let me assure you that your time is coming. Before you can blink your eyes, you’ll be complaining about aches and pains and young people. It’s the natural course of events.