OLD WHITE MEN

As of a few days ago, Elizabeth Warren ended her bid to become the Democratic nominee for president. Except for Tulsi Gabbard, who hangs on with a whopping 1 delegate won from the primary in America Samoa, the surviving candidates are two old white men, one 77 and the other 78. The complaining has already begun, but is all the carping baseless? The simple answer is yes. 
The Democratic field began with 28 individuals, a couple that even I didn’t know existed. It was a diverse group comprised of both sexes, several races, and a wide range of political views. Some were conservative, and others were more liberal than the country has ever seen.  
The field narrowed as money issues and name recognition took their tolls. Some candidates never hit markers for appearing on the debate stage and realized that their chances of going the distance was improbable. Primary caucuses and elections further cut the field, but as I said, the result to this process is that plenty of objections are being raised. 
The simple fact is that two old white men are left standing by virtue of the will of the people. This democracy
is oftentimes messy, but it still works, in spite of Russia’s attempts to corrupt it. Going into Super Tuesday, the pundits had determined that Sanders would be the big winner, and the only question was whether his lead would be so large that no one could derail his campaign to becoming the Democratic candidate. The resurrection of the Biden campaign changed that. Now it’s a two-man race. 
I agree that the times demand that new candidates arise. We need a new group of leaders to guide the country. Those individuals should be diverse; they should be younger than the men who are running; and they should be filled with new ideas of how to make this democracy and the world better. 
What stood in the way of that happening this time? It simply was the will of the people. The voters on Super Tuesday and in elections before narrowed the field by their votes. What they said clearly was that the best candidates for this election are the two men remaining. How else can the lopsided results be explained?
Democrats see that one of these two men will be the best person to run against and defeat the sitting president.  
If supporters of other candidates don’t agree with that analysis, then they should make sure their choices are selected the next time. However, the whining about old white men leading the party is a pitiful cry of sore losers. Those who are upset should remember that we still have majority rule in our elections, at least until the general election when the electoral college enters.  
I call upon the younger generations to develop candidates with the experience to run the country and then to build a following that will propel those men or women into the White House. Some such individuals were running this time and only need a bit more seasoning. I would love to see that happen before my time on this earth is finished.  
Until young folks present us new leaders, I ask them not to complain about old white men running the country. Do the work necessary to put yourselves in charge and my generation into retirement. Remember that nothing is free; those things you most cherish often require labor and devotion. Make them happen.  

A BAD PHONE CALL

Amy and I recently attended the funeral of a long-time church friend. Herb Allender was a 98-year-old World War II fighter pilot. He’d served his family, community, and God well for all those years. A standing-room only crowd arrived to honor Herb and to support his children and wife, Mary Beth, to whom he’d been married for 73 years.  
A Marine honor guard presented a flag to Mary Beth, and “Taps” was played. Just as the final note ended, the tune “Bad to the Bone” chimed from a cell phone. An uneasy crowd, hoping that the phone would be silenced, bowed heads and fidgeted in seats, but the ring tone continued for several more seconds.  
Silence again filled the room, but not more than a minute later, the same “Bad to the Bone” ring tone blared again. A woman eventually stood, reached into the row ahead, and helped an elderly lady,
who didn’t seem to know it was her phone that was the sounding off, mute the device.  
Folks reacted differently when this breach of solemnity occurred. Many made that same grimace that one makes when he observes an accident. Others frowned in disgust or shook their bowed heads. Still, some people grinned and covered their mouths to keep from laughing at the ridiculous situation.  
If Herb were watching from above, I’m sure he might have laughed heartily at the whole situation. He never wanted folks to make a fuss over him, and such a humorous interruption to the proceedings he would have thought was a proper way to punctuate the life he lived, loved, and filled to the brim.  
With that said, I’m not quite so understanding. My dislike for cell phones has been stated on several occasions. They have overtaken our lives. Adults are afraid that they might miss a phone call, but for most of us, those contacts are rarely, if ever, emergencies. Too often, calls inform us that our cars need warranty coverages, our credit might be in danger, or the government has issued warrants for our arrests for tax evasion. Other phone calls are of the chit-chat variety. Still, we hold onto the devices as if our lives depended upon them. 
Young people, who are much more savvy users, are even more addicted to their cell phones. Their bowed heads are not prayerful. Instead, they are intensely watching video games on the screens. Constant attention to Instagram, Twitter, and text messaging keep the younger generation from looking at each other or observing the world events around them.  
Yes, we love our phones, but we need to reclaim our freedom from them. At the least, we need to disconnect from them at certain times. A funeral is one such occasion. A church service or family discussion might be another time.  
Let’s admit it: we’re hooked on our cellphones. That’s a sad statement. Even if our addiction is there, we can turn off the ringers at times that matter. Of course, that might demand that we become more aware of the world around us and our presence in it. If we don’t take command of them, they will continue to suck our time and energy from more important things of life. 
  

PAY THE PIPER

By now, millions of Americans have filed their tax returns; usually those folks are anticipating a refund. Citizens who might owe more taxes are a bit slower to file, and some request extensions to push back the
dates that they must make the final accounting. For most of us, the three things that are for sure in this life are life, death, taxes.  
As a teenager, I worked in the summers and during high school years. The pay was low, but money was in short supply, and any little bit helped. Each pay period, I’d receive a pay stub that told the total I’d made and how much was withheld for social security and for federal income taxes. The first of these checks came when I was 15 and working at the Copper Kettle.  
Over the years, I continued part-time jobs, and as the pay grew, so did the amount of taxes and social security deductions. My understanding of the whole system was minimal, but when a refund check arrived sometime after the first of each year, I excitedly put the funds into savings.  
I began teaching in 1974 for $7200 a year. My goal was to make $10,000 a year, a sum that I thought would make me rich. Amy and I also married that year. So began the life of filing as a married couple. Most years, our return was small, but any extra cash that came in was welcome. 
Our family grew and so did our income. We were by no means rich, but we lived a comfortable middle-class life. Our daughter was born on April 15, and I immediately dubbed her “our new little tax deduction.” Dallas came four years later, and again we claimed another deduction 
Like other families, we had a mortgage and other things that could be claimed as deductions. For most of our lives, Amy has completed the forms and filed our taxes. Any refunds we received were either put into savings or applied to outstanding bills that we had.  
Eventually, our children went on their own ways and no longer were helpful to our tax liability. Thankfully, we had paid off our mortgage. All of a sudden, Amy and I stared down the barrel of a tax system that failed to reward “no debt” filers. A few years back our income dramatically dipped. We made less but had to pay more taxes; how is that right?  
The rich folks in our country pay less (as a percentage of income) in taxes than most of us. Go figure! I know some people have done somewhat better on paychecks since the Trump tax cuts, but many are surprised that their refund checks are smaller than they’d expected. According to the Tax Policy Center study, the lauded tax cuts we lesser earners receive will end in 2025, and by 2027, only the top 1% tax filers will receive 82.3% of returns.  
I have never minded paying my taxes. If citizens want services, they must be willing to pay for them. It’s like paying the piper. Yes, too much of our tax dollars are wasted; too many sectors take a disproportionate share of those dollars. I also think that people should be allowed to enjoy the fruits of their labors. At the same time, those who are wealthy should pay a fairer share. Companies should not thrive while not paying a dime in taxes.  
Don’t forget that April 15 is the tax deadline. I hope you receive a nice check in the mail. As for Amy and me, we’ll keep our fingers crossed as the forms and W-2's are figured. Good luck!  

HOUSE ARREST

I hope that everyone has survived another soggy February. It was only a year ago that the rains inundated the area and left us struggling to dodge standing water puddles and pray that roof leaks didn’t suddenly appear. I, for one, have never done well handling being trapped inside.  
When Jim and I were little boys, we’d pout the day away when rain came. In summers, we’d stand on the front porch and watch the water pour from the sky, at least until a bolt of lightning streaked across a summer sky. We would hang around inside and try to find things to keep us busy. Lincoln Logs presented chances for
us to test our creative abilities, but neither of us was destined to be architects or house builders. We’d erect crude structures and then push toy cars around them as if they were our homes.  
We tried board games and cards. Monopoly took too long to complete. A game of checkers might have interested some children, but Jim and I were sore losers; one of us would eventually sweep an arm across the board and send red and black circles flying across the floor. Card games ended in one of us declaring the other a cheater or quickly losing interest in playing.  
Television wasn’t much help either. Sure, “Birthday Dog”, “Romper Room,” and “Doctor Bernie” aired in the mornings, but back in the 1950’s and 60’s, the afternoon programming consisted of two channels of soap operas or game shows. If we’d have been able to receive the ABC signal, even more of those programs were available. Children could only take so much of Bill Cullen and Bob Barker.   
The rain put an end to the limited activities to which we looked forward. Our Ball Camp community baseball team played only a half dozen games at the elementary school in Karns. A rain shower turned a cinder-filled field into a watery mess and kept us trapped in the house.  
On occasion, Mother planned trips to the pool at Concord with another family. A day of relief from summer heat was always welcome, and a pool sure beat running through a water sprinkler or hose sprayer. Excitement turned into disappointment when the sun revealed morning skies filled with gray, sometimes ominous-looking clouds that were accompanied with downpours of rain. The only way we had to get wet on
those days was to stand in the rain in our front yard, something that lacked the fun offered at the pool.   I’m still an “antsy” person, even in my senior years. I don’t like being trapped inside by weather. The rain is the worst. Snow still lets me burn piles of brush that accumulate over the year. Rain just makes everything yucky. I sit in the house, and although nearly a hundred channels are available, I can’t find anything to watch. I can peck on the computer (as I am doing on this nasty day), but my creative juices eventually dry up or my hands begin to ache from all the typing.  
We’ve had precious little winter weather this year, and although I don’t do cold that well, I know this summer the bugs and pests will be even more prolific. It’s the rain that wears me out. Even if temperatures are moderate this time of year, I can’t enjoy them with the flooding streets and squishy, shoe-swallowing soil. Nope, I’m stuck until the skies clear.  
Some optimists will say that I should welcome the rain because it will help the water table, or they’ll scold me and tell me I’ll wish for the rain during the dry days of summer. I do appreciate the water table level, I hope we don’t have a drought. However, when the daily weather forecasts include rain for weeks on end, I grow more than a little grumpy. I’m ready for the sun to show its face for a while. Until then, I’m under house arrest.  

NOT PERFECT

We hear that things are “perfect” all the time. Of late, that perfection has centered around a telephone call, but over the course of our lives, many claims of perfection are proclaimed. In truth, we all know nothing is perfect.  
Amy and I discovered soon after we began dating that we loved each other. Over a few months, our time was spent together when we weren’t in classes at Tennessee Tech. At some point, we just knew in our bones that we were meant to be together.  
I was a student who earned a little each month for serving as a dorm head resident. That meant money was tight, but I still wanted to buy an engagement ring for Amy. I’m not sure exactly when we traveled to the jeweler to pick out a diamond and setting, but I remember the owner presented several stones. One diamond that the jeweler finally showed us was not his best. He said it had a flaw in it, nothing that was visible to the naked eye but still a little cloud on one spot. Amy okayed it, and we waited for the rings to be made and sized. That diamond was imperfect, but it was good enough to present at the altar on our wedding day.  
Amy and I have worked since our teens. Part time jobs and full-time ones have provided living wages. I spent 30 years teaching high school English, and I enjoyed that time. However, no year was ever perfect. Some years, the classes I taught weren’t much fun. Sometimes I struggled with misbehaving students and even a couple of future criminals. However, for the most part, I loved what I did, and I have good memories of hundreds of students. Still, the job was far from perfect.  
Amy’s work experiences haven’t been perfect either. She’s been a “worker bee” and a “boss” in jobs. She’s worked long hours and fretted over things that I didn’t understand. All the while, she made good friends and memories at each job. My wife can always find positives in any situation, but she would never say her work life has been perfect.  
Amy and I are working on our 45th year of marriage. That’s a long time, especially for a woman who married at the age of 19. We are still in love and devoted to each other, but the road hasn’t always been easy. That first year was tough as we learned to live with someone new. Finances sometimes have sparked some angry words, and too often through the years, I’ve been hateful and gruff, and my words have been hurtful. Adding children to the mix brought about some tense moments, and, yes, some dark times have tested our love and dedication. Even so, we’ve come out on the other side stronger and closer. Our marriage has not been perfect, but It’s stood the test of time. 
A fewer years ago, we brought Sadie into our lives. She was a rescue dog, and I knew she was the right one when I saw her face on a website. Unfortunately, another family had already adopted her, but they brought her back within a week because she had “accidents” in the house. She’s ours now, and we love her completely. She’s made some of the hard times over the last 6 years easier to bear, and we’re sure she was sent to us. This past spring, we discovered that Sadie has a cancerous tumor growing in the roof of her mouth. It’s inoperable, so we watch and wait and pray. Sadie comes as close to perfect as any pet could ever come, but she isn’t. That just makes us love her more. 
Life is filled with opportunities and events and people that make existing richer and fuller. However, bumps in the road and natural flaws keep it from being perfect. I’ll take the imperfect any time. For one thing, it makes living much more interesting. For another, I can’t compete with perfection.  













VALVE OIL

As soon as I unzipped the bag, that familiar smell wafted out. It was as strong now as back in the 1960’s. I’m not sure what’s in the backpack that I carry to school, Gallatin, and any other traveling destination created the same odor. Perhaps it’s the laptop and devices that go with it. Maybe it’s the mid-morning snacks crammed into the bag.  It also might come from more than 10 years of wear from carrying this thing with me. At any rate, that smell hit me and beamed me back almost 50 years ago. What was that powerful essence that filled my nose and flooded my head with memories: valve oil. 
Ball Camp School fifth graders had the chance to join beginning band. My older brother was in the high school band, and Jim and I couldn’t wait until we also could begin playing instruments. My twin
brother started on an old clarinet that I think belonged to an older cousin. He might not have been excited to play that instrument but accepted it and set out to work conquering it.  
I wanted to play the trumpet because the screeches from a reed instrument always made me think of scratching a blackboard. Mother and Daddy traveled to Hewgley’s Music Store and purchased a coronet. It’s a shortened trumpet, and I suppose they
bought it because the thing was less expensive. I didn’t care; the horn was shiny and new. 
At first the only things I could get out of the horn were sounds that resembled wounded animals or wildlife bellowing for a mate. Charles Scott, the band director, worked with his new crop of musicians, and before long, we belted out such popular tunes as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” 
Lots of slobbering occurred as novice musicians struggled with instruments. Mr. Scott showed me where the spit valve was located and how to blow through the horn to clear the stuff from it. When a bubbly sound came when playing the horn, I knew it was time to empty it out.  
After playing the horn for a while, the valves would also become sticky. They no longer glided in the tubes in which they were housed. That meant the time had come to unscrew them, remove them from the horn, and apply a few drops of oil. Bingo! The valves once again worked perfectly. 
The downside was at the end of each class, a puddle of spit covered the floor at my feet, and the smell of the oil was trapped on my hands and in my nostrils. It never seemed to fade, and the smell oozed out of the horn case any time I opened it.  
I played that horn through my freshman year in high school. No, I wasn’t the best, but neither was I the worst. I practiced, on occasion, at home, but the music never sounded good. I wore braces at the time, and the mouthpiece pressing against that metal on my teeth proved to be uncomfortable. I had reached the pinnacle of my musical instrument abilities and decided to leave band.  
The next year, Mother sold my coronet so that she could purchase a new clarinet for Jim, who went on to become a music major and a band director. Even though the horn is gone, any time I smell anything that resembled that valve oil, plenty of good memories come back. My best friends from high school were in band also, and I enjoy seeing them and talking about those good times a half century ago. To some, valve oil reeks, but to me, that strong smell is mixed with some sweet thoughts of another time.