Young folks have always faced plenty of temptations in life. They are things that help individuals to live and choose and learn. Sure, not having to face temptations would make existence easier, but without them, persons don’t have the chance to mature and strengthen themselves into the solid individuals that they become. I won’t advocate for any person to fall prey to these temptations, but I acknowledge that most people will at some time in their lives experiment with them.  
Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the most common tempting agents were tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana. For many of us, the third one was too expensive, and we didn’t have any idea where to get the stuff if we had wanted to. Also, some of us were so afraid of being imprisoned for smoking weed that we chose to stick other things.  
Lest anyone forget, cigarettes are things that stimulate. Nicotine acts as both a stimulant and depressant. Anyone who’s tried smoking quickly discovers that it is “an acquired” habit. The first few puffs from a cigarette provide a hit that quickly enters the body and makes the person dizzy-headed and nauseated. Only with practice can a teen become a good smoker who inhales smoked filled with all sort of nasty stuff that will lead to a variety of health issues. In only a short time, however, a smoker is hooked and becomes a slave to nicotine, so much so that he can go only short periods of time before having to have a smoke break.  
Back in the last century, many of us smoked. I don’t know why we started, other than to look cool, but we did. I rarely ate lunch in high school. Instead, I bought a 30-cent pack of Winstons and filled my lungs instead of my stomach. The smoking pit was a rough place sometimes, but that didn’t cause us hardcore smokers to avoid it. Even in the rain, we dashed there between classes to get a couple of hits from a smoke.  
Beer was another big temptation for us back then. Schlitz, Budweiser, and Miller were around. However, we had limited funds and looked for bargain beer. For us Pabst Blue Ribbon, PBR, fell within our budget. We’d pool our money, buy a case, and put it in the trunk. Many were the nights that friends spent sipping on lukewarm cans of beer while sitting at the drive-in movie. We drank, looked over at cars with fogged windows, and wished that we, too, could spend time with a date instead of a beer.  
At some point that I don’t quite remember, some of us became wine connoisseurs. Our attention turned from drinking the swill that always bloated us and eventually had us “howling at the moon.” Our mature and discriminating tastes turned to those blends that pleased the palate. Yes, friends, I’m talking about none
other than Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. Oh, other flavors, such as Apple Blossom and Mellon Ball might have been available, but we wine snobs chose what we considered the original, and it only cost about a dollar and a half.  My first encounter, and my last, with that wine came as I sat in the backseat of a Ford Fairlane at the Twin Aire Drive-In Movie that was located on the property where the Clinton Highway Walmart now sits. As I watched “Alice’s Restaurant,” I sipped from the bottle with a screw-on lid, and before long, it was empty. I made it through the first half of bottle two before experiencing a life-altering event.  
The world around me began to spin. Waves of nausea rushed over me. The rest of the evening found me yacking up my stomach, liver and small intestine. The next day I awoke with a headache that must paralyzed me. Not until the following day did I have enough energy to do anything but lie around.  
The wine adventure ended my alcohol consumption and lasted throughout my college years. Yes, I know that sounds strange, but I had no desire to ever be that sick again. Today, I might drink a beer with a meal, but I’ve forever sworn off wine...of any kind. I learned my lessons and have done away with the temptations of smoking and becoming inebriated. I sure don’t miss the spinning bed and a hacking cough that came with those cheap temptations.  


Okay, Thanksgiving is over, so it is now permissible, maybe even legal in some states, for folks to put up Christmas lights, inflatable characters, and trees. Of course, places like Walmart and Home Depot stocked their shelves with these things around Halloween. It seems that every year, businesses are pushing folks to fire up the Christmas season earlier. I’m not a biblical scholar, but I think some scripture in the New
Testament tells readers that such early indulgences are against the rules.  
Christmases for us Baby-Boomers were much different. Our parents had no intention of pulling out things from attics or closets until the Friday after Thanksgiving, at the earliest. The season wasn’t officially kicked off in Knoxville until the conclusion of festivities in downtown Knoxville. 
On that Friday, Henley Street was blocked in the evening. Crowds gathered in the street and watched the staircase windows of the Miller’s building light up one at a time as choruses sang a special Christmas song. The performers were a mixture of high school and church choirs.  
After each area was illuminated, a soloist would sing “Oh Holy Night.” The conductor stood on the top floor of the parking garage across Henley, where a hotel in now located. He led the choruses with a flashlight, and when all joined in at, “Fall on your knees,” a giant Christmas tree would light up. Ooohs and aaahs” erupted, and some in the assembled crowd sang along. That was the official beginning of Christmas in Knoxville as I remember. 
Few people strung lights outside. Those who did use them put out only a couple of strands. Not a single house in the Ball Camp neighborhood was decked out like a “Clark Griswald house. For the most part, folks in the country didn’t waste much time with “outdoor illumination.” 
 Few families had “store-bought trees. I always thought that the solid silver trees with the color-changing wheels were beautiful. However, buying a tree like that was a waste of money for most families who eked out lives on weekly paychecks. In Ball Camp, as well as most communities outside the city limits, yearly Christmas trees came from pastures and wooded areas. A hand saw or an axe was used to cut a tree. Then it was dragged back to the house where parents and children struggled to cut the lower limbs from cedar trees and level the trunks so that they would fit into small stands. At the end of the task, “a lot of sap” covered hands and clothes. The stuff eventually wore off little hands unless a little gasoline was used to scrub it off.  
Sometimes, a prop was needed to keep the tree upright in the living room. Regular watering kept trees from drying out, but cedar spikes still managed to fall to the floor and await a barefoot. Some of the family busied themselves with placing decorations on the trees, and the final touch was the “shiny icicles” that were strategically placed on the tips of branches. Soon after Christmas, trees were stripped of decorations and unceremoniously dragged to burn piles until the next garbage fire was ignited. My mother would have had a stroke if she thought a tree would stay up for weeks afterwards.  
Christmas was a shorter season for us old folks. That doesn’t mean we enjoyed it any less. We just went on with our lives and set out to complete other things that need our attention. These days, folks are exhausted well before Christmas Day. They’ve expended their supply of energy so that relaxing and enjoying things are much harder. Pushing back the official Christmas start makes more sense these days. Doing so shouldn't make a huge economic impact on stores. Gifts won’t be forgotten or misplaced if people buy them a bit closer to the big day. 


If a person lives long enough, he can find himself smack dab in the middle of bunches of different folks. With a little luck, he might even build relationships and friendships with folks in those groups. From first grade to retirement, those people make meaningful impacts on our lives. 
Elementary school was a scary time for lots of us, especially those children who had spent most of their early years confined to their yards with occasional trips to church. My first cousin, Brenda Balch, was in my classroom that first day, and I was glad to see a familiar face. Before long, I’d made friends with Steve Buffalo, Cathy Prater, and others. Those three were much smarter than I was, and they always sat in the advanced reading group. However, at recess, all of us were equal.  
A group of grubby boys formed in our Ball Camp neighborhood. My brother Jim and I spent hours playing football and baseball in one of the yards. Among those boys were Joey Wallace, Pat Wright, Tommy Robinson, Clebert Roberts, and Steve Ritter. It seemed that part of each game was spent with a couple of boys fighting, but no one ever held a grudge too long. Regardless of the fits of anger, we were good buddies and stayed that way for years.  
Of course, high school is where some memorable groups were formed. I was never an athlete, so, for a couple of years, my time was spent as the manager for the football team. Wayne Pearman, Carl and “Spud” Weatherspoon, Wayne Norman, Mike Hill, Mike Guinn, and Joe Kennedy were just a few of the players that became friends. Those guys were heroes back in the day as they won plenty of ball games and county championships.  
During my senior year, I left football for band. Since my mother had sold my cornet to buy a better clarinet for my brother (he was a serious musician), I became a band manager. We went to football games and marching competitions. In that organizations, I made some of the best friends of my life. Ken Mills, Mark Large, Randy Allen, along with Jim, formed a close-knit group that enjoyed hours of fun, legal and illegal, during that year. Today, I still count them as close friends, even though we see each other rarely.  
I made no real friends in college, other than my wife, whom I began dating my senior year. However, during the year I began my first teaching job, I developed friendships that still are precious. Bob Shoemaker was the closest friend, but plenty of other folks were in that circle. Linda Lyle and John Gilbreath were two fellow English teachers. We ate lunch most days in the tea room where culinary arts students prepared and served food. Jim Pryor, Bobby Campbell, Jim Talley, and Robby Howard walked to the baseball field every day during lunch. There we smoked or chewed tobacco and “shot the bull.” 
At Karns High School, I joined an even larger circle of friends. Terri Runger was my next-door friend for more than twenty years. Amy Jennings became like a daughter to me. Dwight Smith, Dowell Bales, Geoff Davis, Lee Henson, and a whole bunch of other guys sat in the commons area each morning. There we talked about sports and funny stories from classrooms. The major topic of discussion one day each week was the matches that aired on WWE.  
Yes, this column has listed lots of names, but I’m sure I’ve omitted some important ones. The point of the whole thing is that I’ve been blessed with being a part of several groups over my life. The people in them have made my life fuller and for that I am eternally grateful. Yes, I have much to be thankful for this and each Thanksgiving.