My Town

MY TOWN

It was a fine hot day today. One of the kind of days we would have snuck up to the old boat dock and went swimming in the Chattooga river. That water was nice and cold, even in July because it had spring water running in it not too far back up stream. A lot of us boys spent time there. From the time I could swim at ten years old, until I left to go to college I went there once or twice a year.

We practiced baseball twice a week and had two games a week to play. I hated Saturday practices after I started playing golf. By the time morning practice was over…You were hot and sweaty, thirsty and tired. We still hiked up to the Trion Golf course and played nine holes though. Our Daddy’s were members through the mill and we got to play for free. We’d come back home…most of the time one of our Dad’s would come and get us…as it was usually after four when we finished.

On the weekends, we went to Chamlees Skating rink. We hung around, listened to the music and tried to get the girls. Sometimes we did something right and ended up skating holding hands with one of the girls. I so remember the songs on the “box” “Runaway”, “Tellstar” ,”Teen Angel”, “Leader of the Pack”, “It’s my Party”‘ and on and on. Songs which, if I hear them now transport me directly back there in time and space. It was a wonderful place…a refuge for kids in a small town with nothing else to do.

I would go fishing in the mornings at the river and sometimes stayed all day. We dug our worms from under the wagon bridge, big old juicy green colored worms. We fished for catfish and carp….My Uncle called them “bugle mouth bass” We took our catch up to the black folks in town and sold them. I know several of them told us they loved the carp. They loved us boys, and we loved them. There was no animosity or fear and hatred…just kids selling their catch to somebody who wanted them.

All the yards in our little town were cut neatly, with neatly trimmed bushes and flowers, and well cared for vegetable gardens in the back yards. The men would be out in their yards in their sleeveless t-shirts cutting that grass every day. They used to run a contest called “The yard of the month” for the neatest, most well kept yard. It was an honor to win…not a joke. My Dad won it one time in the years they ran it. He was happy as a pig in slop, and hung that little metal sign right out in the front yard. “YARD OF THE MONTH” emblazoned in blue letters on a white enamel background.

Summer seemed to go on and on….catching fireflies, chasing low flying bats with sticks trying to knock them down. Neighbors actually sitting on each other’s porch and talking…getting to know each other…their troubles, their joys, their hope for the future.

Fall would eventually roll around, and I was excited about going back to school, seeing friends I’d missed all Summer. We’d take a special trip yo Rome so I could pick out new school supplies. One big multi subject notebook, pencils, one or two good pens, some three ring notebook paper. The tension was palpable the night before the first day of class. Who would be the teacher for my classes, who would be in the classes…especially which girls. How would life be for that school year? Truth is…I loved trekking up and down those old wooden halls. I loved the camaraderie of my close friendships. The hard day’s, the easy days…I loved them all.

I think about my friends and classmates who have passed on. I miss them, even though I seldom saw some of them. We all shared something very special during all our seasons here in Trion. Most of us started out together in first grade, and went all the way through graduation. You don’t see that much. We were brothers and sisters, best friends, worst enemies, boyfriends and girlfriends…And most of all kindred spirits of what it was like to grow up in a little cotton mill town in Southern America, USA.

Spring Lizards on Summer Days.

Spring Lizards and Summer Days- 2007 (re-edited today)

Nowadays at my age, the long hot summer days are just not as much fun as they used to be when I was a kid. Back then we really had nice long breaks from school. None of that six or seven weeks out, and then right back in the school building. Back in “the old days” we had three FULL months out for summer break.

None of that year round school for us old timers! May 31 rolled around, and it’s see ya’ later to the teachers until the first week of September….Yahooo!! Heck, that was so long, I forgot most of what I’d learned the year before in school! I think that’s why the first six weeks every school year back in the good old days were “review” weeks. “Reteaching” weeks for some pretty good school teachers. But, we made it through, and I wouldn’t take anything for the memories of those long, hot summer days back when I was young.

I tell you, spring and summers were the best back in the 50’s and 60s’.

I would go to the old wooden toy box back in my room, and starting digging down to the bottom, looking for my old worn out, smelly leather baseball glove with “Pee Wee” Reece’s name engraved in it. I don’t know how I ended up with Pee Wee, as I never played a lick of ball in the infield. I was always an outfielder.

I tried out for third base once, but after I had stopped the first four hard bouncer’s that came my way with my face instead of my glove, the coach thought it might be safer to put me in left field. I agree with his decision.

I liked left field. It was one of those positions where you could kind of day dream a little. Most everything that came out that way was either an easy pop fly, or a one bouncer. I was a cinch at catching those. None of that “hot corner” stuff for me.

I once was standing out in left field during a game and looking down at the ground trying to spot any four leaf clovers that might be growing there. I heard the loud crack of the bat, and looked up to see the baseball headed over my head. Way over my head. I didn’t want to look completely stupid, so I turned around and stuck my old glove out and ran as fast as I could towards the fence. The ball dropped right into the webbing of my glove. I never saw it until it did. I heard a cheer go up from the stands, and when we came in, I got more pats on the back, and attaboys then I had ever gotten before. I just said “I had it all the way”

I could never bring myself to disappoint all those people by telling them it was just pure luck.

The other great thing about warm weather was spring lizard and craw dad hunting at Grandpa’s and Grandma’s house. When warm weather hit, we would go up there a lot more often. It was difficult during the winter time, because there were only two bedrooms downstairs at their house, which meant the remainder of the guests, had to sleep upstairs. During the winter time, sleeping upstairs was just like sleeping outside. There was NO heat. I spent many a winter night with 10 quilts piled on top of me, unable to turn over, but desperately trying to conserve what little body heat was emanating from me in order to be alive the next morning. I always managed to do it somehow.

So, besides at Christmas, I didn’t like Winter time visiting at the old folk’s house!

But with spring and warm weather coming, there was the promise of fishing, and in order to fish there had to be bait. This meant my favorite activities of digging in the dirt for worms, and turning over the rocks down in the little fast running creek in front of the folk’s house for Spring lizards and Crawdads.

The only draw back to trying to catch a bucket full of these water dwelling creatures was that they were also favorites of the snakes that prowled the banks of that same creek. I was never really too afraid of snakes when I was a kid until after my Grandpa’s Uncle “Lark” Davenport killed a rattlesnake one day that he stretched across the old dirt road leading up to Grandpa’s house.

He stuck its head end in the bank on one side, and its tail end in the dirt bank on the other side. Now, that little old road was narrow, but I estimate it was at least 7 feet across, so my respect for the snakes in those parts increased tremendously after that. I asked Uncle “Lark” how he killed it, and told me he cut its head off with a hoe while he was out in his corn crib. Apparently the rattler was stocking up on some of the rats that always frequented that place. “If he hadn’t been a rattler I’d have let him be,” said Uncle Lark. I’d have let him be anyway, I think. He would have owned the corn crib after that. Rats and all.

Some of those spring lizards that we used to catch back then were as big as small snakes. Imagine turning over a big old rock, and seeing something black wiggling around that’s about a foot long. Would you stick your hand down in there and grab it? I sure did, and laughed about it the whole time. “If the bass don’t bite that,” I thought “then it might bite the bass!” Either way, we get the fish.

The crawdads were harder to catch then the spring lizards. Have you ever seen one of those little boogers take off? They are like a backwards rocket! I don’t know how they do it, but when they get scared they shoot water out their rear ends, start flapping their tails and away they go. You had to be good at estimating where they were GOING to be, not where they had been, in order to catch them. I never had the least idea that humans ate those things when I was a kid. The first time I went to Louisiana as an adult, and someone tried to serve me a dish made with Crawdads, I got kind of nauseated. After I tasted it though, it wasn’t half bad. I kind of like Etouffe’ now.

Yep, that’s how I feel today with all this heat in the air. I remember how cold that creek water was, even on the hottest of June, July and August days. I remember how I would even dare to reach down and bring a handful of that pungent water up to my mouth and drink it in deeply.

My blood is partially made from that creek water, and my soul is partially lodged in that mountain land.

That little old creek is still there, but I don’t know what the new owners of the land would think about an old man tromping down the middle of their creek with a Styrofoam bucket and yelling yahoo every time he came up with a lizard.

I wonder if there are even any left?

Survivalist

Instead of College degrees are our young ones going to have to go in a different direction in the future? Do we need courses or degrees in self reliance, self sufficiency, and how to live off the land? Do we need more carpenters, plumbers, electricians, beekeepers, farmers, midwifes, loggers, lumberworkers, animal husbandry experts, surveyers, builders, masons, etc., etc., and fewer people in all aspects of “technology?” I believe we are at a crossroads in our country…perhaps in our world. Seven billion human beings are a LOT of people for this world to support. Nature tends to notice when things are terribly out of balance and acts to correct the imbalance. No…I’m not a “nutty” survivalist, I just try to be a practical thinker. I also do NOT hate chickens…I love them in a crock pot with some potatoes and onions, but I don’t particularly care for them as neighbors….especially at 6 am in the morning.

Touch

Touch…..from 2006

Since I wrote this piece, I lost the ability to touch my parents. I last touched my Daddy on May 21, 2010 at about 11:45 p.m. I rubbed my hand across his forehead and asked if he needed anything. He asked for a drink of water and I got one for him…and touched his hand as I took the glass back from him.

I last touched my Mom late in the evening on December 10, 2010….holding her hand as she drew her last breath. My Daddy died early on the morning of May 22, 2010 just minutes…perhaps just a couple of minutes before I could get to where he was….his forehead was still warm. But, I was too late to be there at the very last…which I deeply regret.

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Touch….from 2006

Out of all the senses that we as humans possess, I believe that touch is the most important.

For over 37 years now on most nights, I rub my wife’s back while I read and she is going to sleep. It’s sort of a habit now, but many times I do consciously think about it. I don’t think anything symbolizes love between two people more than touch does. I feel very grateful that I have been allowed during my lifetime to touch so many people that I love. I feel incredibly sad sometimes that one day I will not be able to touch those people any longer. Either I will move on, or they will and that ability, that privilege will be lost.

All three of my kid’s were touched a lot by my wife and me. I can’t count the times I heard people say: “You’re going to spoil that child by holding them so much!” Not so. I don’t think you can hold a child and love them too much. You can figuratively hold ON to a child too much and do it for selfish reasons, and cause problems. But to hold and lovingly touch a baby or small child? Nah. I don’t believe that. I think (I hope) our three children are well adjusted. Sometimes if you can’t even bring yourself to say the words “I love you” a touch will suffice. It will communicate that love. Don’t get me wrong though, I think it should still be said with words. The people you love NEED to hear it, for confirmations sake. But at the very, very least give them your touch.

Now, our grandchildren have also been given the same treatment as our children. Both by us, and by their parents. I still sometimes hear “You’re spoiling them” but at this point I don’t care.

Even if they had been blind and deaf like Helen Keller, they would have known, someway, somehow that they were loved. They would have known by touch. That’s all that Helen Keller had to go with, and look what a human being she turned out to be! Just through touch and touch alone.

Many times we look but we don’t see, and we hear but we don’t listen. We taste this wonderful life and then never give it a second thought.

Our other most powerful sense, the sense of smell we reserve for our subliminal memories most of the time. We catch a sniff of something and a memory automatically pops into our heads. Sometimes pleasant, sometimes not. But touch is the one that we have to consciously associate with things. It serves us well as a protector when things are too hot or too cold, and we might remember when it saved us from getting badly hurt because of that. But, to associate touch with love is something we don’t often do. It’s something we have to learn to do.

Even when we are touching someone in an act of love, with love, we have to teach ourselves that that is the reason we ARE doing it. We have to teach ourselves that touch is best.

Michelangelo painted God with his hand reached out towards Adam in an effort to touch him. That is the most poignant scene of the entire Sistine Chapel ceiling to me. God reaching out to touch us, to imbue some of his spirit and his soul to us through his all powerful touch. I think he touched us, but do we appreciate it? He reached us, but do we think about it? That touch made us what we are. It elevated us above the state of being just an animal and imbued us with a spark and a soul that will never die. Wasn’t that a wonderful gift?

I really believe that when we die that our sense of touch is the last thing to go. I can’t say for sure, I haven’t died yet and hope not too for a while longer. I HAVE seen many people lying in a hospital bed unconscious and seemingly oblivious respond to a slight squeeze of the hand, or a brush to the head. I know that they know that someone they love is reaching out for them, and touching them. I think as people slip out of their human costume and into their next form, that when that last vestige of touch leaves them, that last connection to everything they have been and are leaving behind, that there is just a moment of sadness that is felt before the call of the next form of existence takes over.

I don’t think that touch will be a part of our next path….a least not the way that we know it in this life.

Think about it next time you touch someone you love, and revel in that moment. You never know when those moments are going to run low…..and then run out. You might regret that lost opportunity. I don’t want to.

My Dad

My Dad was my best friend. He did so much for me during my lifetime that I could never list it all if I tried.

He was an encourager when I needed it, and a disciplinarian when he had to be. He helped me cut wood to keep my family warm. He gave me vegetables out of his garden when we needed food.

He loved my children very, very much. He loved my wife like she was his own daughter. He was not perfect, and neither am I…so he taught me that you don’t HAVE to be perfect to be a good Father, just be there.

The last time I heard his voice was on May 22 2010..about 6:45 a.m. I wish almost every day that I could talk to him just one more time. I try to be half the Daddy that he was to me.

Miss you Dad, you were a good one. I’ll be thinking about you tomorrow, and wishing I could catch a fish, or whack a golf ball in your memory…or make somebody laugh like you always could.

If I had the chance…I put this arm around you….then the other arm around you….and squeeze hard!!

Honeymoon

Paula and drove to Blue Ridge today for lunch and a quick drive to some places we went during our “honeymoon” 50 years ago. It was a simple week, staying in a little suite we thought would have long ago been torn down. To our surprise the little cottage units were still there, albeit a little careworn. I’m not sure what they called them back then. “Something” cottages. It was somewhere close enough that we could drive there in a couple of hours. It was right next to the lake. It was close to Cherokee N.C., which was going to be one of our main “trips” while we were there.

Paula reminded me that the cabin with the car parked next to it was where the National Forest ranger lived back in ‘69. We had driven our old ‘64 Ford Galaxy over onto the dam and it went dead. Had a bad alternator. We walked back to the ranger’s house and he gave me a ride to my Uncle’s house where I could get his help with the car. Paula stayed with the Ranger’s wife and kids.

Turns out, the car would have to be pushed off every time it needed starting…no much of a problem, just a little push. We lived with it while we were there. But, the day we were going to leave, I couldn’t get the locking gas cap off the car to put gas in it. We started back home from Blue Ridge with a half a tank of gas in a 350, 8 cylinder Ford…praying it would make it the 90 miles home. I coasted down from the top of Fort Mountain in neutral…could not turn the engine off because there would have been no brakes or steering, since they were power brakes and power steering.

The engine was running on fumes when we coasted into eighth street. Turns out, the gas cap was cross threaded onto the top, and we needed a new alternator. (And battery)

Fortunately, we had a luckier day today and had a nice lunch and a quick drive through some of the places we remember. Wish we’d had time to visit.

A Father’s Love

A Fathers Love, written in 2010.

I did a lot of writing before I got sick with heart disease and had bypass surgery. I’ll share a few of these little “essays” over the next little bit of time. Nobody has to agree or disagree…or even read them for that matter.

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I know a Father’s love is advantageous, if at all possible.

With Fathers Day coming up soon, we all tend to want to pay respect to, and honor our Fathers.

Most of our Fathers are or were very precious to us. Most gave us unconditional love, and they gave us discipline when we needed it. They gave us guidance and advice. They raised us.

I also know sometimes Fathers totally mess up their kids. I watched Forrest Gump again the other night and pondered on how glad I am that there are not too many Daddies like Jenny’s Daddy.

I’m so glad my Dad was good to me, and I have tried my best to be good to my children. My wish is that all children have good role models and tight family units, but most of all that children have parents…People…who love them, and show them so, and tell them so. It’s of the utmost importance that the love is there.

I also remember reading that when his disciples told Jesus there were 5000 people following him, some of them sick…the first thing he did was walk among them and heal them, and then he took a small amount of food and multiplied it many times over …miraculously, and fed them all…with baskets full of food left over.

Bread and fish.

He did not “qualify” these people, nor did he care what class they were, what color their skins were, what their sins were, what country they were from, or who they loved and why. At least I didn’t read that anywhere.

He didn’t even really preach to them at that point…simply ministered to their physical needs, healed them, “taught them” and sent them away. He wasn’t mad because they senselessly followed him far away from civilization. He didn’t berate them. He dealt with them all equally with compassion . He was good at that. He acted like a good Father would act.

If you’re a Christian, or if you are some other religion, or no religion at all…It’s good to remember to treat all people with love and respect, but if you have responsibility for children…you must go even further because the need of children is far greater than adults.

If we are using Jesus as an example we must remember that he did not put himself above anyone…

except for that one last time.

My Life

It’s hard to fathom, impossible to describe, how much the world has changed in 50 years. I can’t begin….

I asked Paula, if she could go back to this day 50 years ago…would she? She answered just like I did. Yes, yes we’d go back again and do it all over, live it all over again, and not change a thing. Not one thing, for if even if one little thing was changed…everything would be changed, and there’s nothing I would want to be any different than it is now.

Oh, there have been hard times for sure, sorrows…pain. There’s been some days that I was a little bit like Jimmy Stewart in “Its a Wonderful Life”. But, things change. If you believe in life, and believe in those you love, things change. My life really has been a wonderful life. I couldn’t have asked for anything any better.

The world does not owe us anything. Life didn’t owe me anything, but it has given me so much. I’m grateful for every bit of what I’ve had , and I’ll take whatever I have left.

Moving out into the Universe

Without a doubt, much of what we think we know if false. Even being as “smart” as we humans think we are we don’t even know everything about our own bodies! When we move out from there, into the world around us, and eventually into the Universe that surrounds us, our knowledge becomes exponentially less and less.

There are SO many theories on how the Universe started, where it’s headed and how it’s going to end. Some of them are theological in nature, and some are scientific. None of them are right, probably not even near right. I’m talking all the way from St. Stephen, to Stephen King, to Stephen Hawking here.

I shudder when I think about how little I know. I have to take most things I do every day on faith. I have faith when I plug in the coffee machine that it is going to make me a cup of coffee. If it didn’t, I don’t have the knowledge to tear it apart and remake it so that it would. If I put my key in the car, and turn the switch and it doesn’t start, most of the time I wouldn’t know what to do. When I had my heart attack, I couldn’t fix my arteries. Of course there are people who DO know how to fix these things, and it’s a good thing too! Otherwise, most of us would be in a heap of trouble.

But, even those people who are “technologically” smart, don’t have all the answers. Every few years or so, a new theory comes out about how the Universe began. Of course, all religions would acknowledge that it was ‘created’ if you will, by God. A thinking consciousness started the ball rolling and made us what we are today. Makes sense to us as humans, because WE are conscious thinking creatures. That’s what separates us from the rest of the creatures….at least so we “think” (I am not so sure sometimes, when my little dog plays me for a sucker that she is not “thinking” about what she is doing) I guess there is all different levels of thinking, and I am SURE that we are not in ANY way close to the “thinking” if that is what it is, of a consciousness so powerful it could create the Universe.

Now scientists also have a hard time trying to explain how something like the Universe started on it’s on. I read somewhere a few weeks back that they think all the “matter” that it took to get the Universe started, could be compressed down into a ball the size of a basketball, but that it would weigh some astronomically heavy weight. Some basketball! When this thing decided to explode and start the Universe, it continually spread from a central point and made us what we are today. The scientists can look at light coming in from outside our Galaxy that took billions of years to get here. That’s cool. When we look up in the sky at night, and see the stars, we are not really seeing what is happening at the moment we are looking, but what happened years and sometimes hundreds or thousands of years ago and is just now reaching us. For all we know, some of those stars could be, and probably are, gone. Mind boggling ain’t it?

Well, I just don’t believe that either group has ALL the right answers. I personally believe the Universe was created, and didn’t just happen, but I don’t even PRETEND to understand the type of intellect it would take to do it.

I know that we have had books and bibles, and documents from the beginning of the time that man learned how to write, with all the theories about how things happened. All of those came from the minds of man, and have been shaped by the mind of man down through the centuries. None of them are totally accurate. I don’t think that we know accurate.

Now, don’t go all funny on me, and think I am being sacrilegious. I’m not. I don’t go around telling people what to believe, OR that what they believe isn’t right. I don’t have the right to do that, and neither does anyone else. There are, however, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. who would disagree with me. All of those religions consider that they have been given the innate approval, by the being that created the Universe to tell everyone that their way of thinking is the only one that is correct. I happen to disagree with them. There may be some correctness in all of them. Being a type of Christian, I personally believe in that philosophy and some may think it is a conflict of teaching that I would state I don’t believe in telling OTHER people what to believe, but I don’t. Everyone has to decide for themselves, and I think on that particular point that the being that created us, God if you will, has been totally succinct. You choose for yourself whether to be good or bad, light or dark. This choice is yours no matter what your religion or philosophy.

It’s my personal opinion that we will all find out one day, of course. I think that God would be totally unfair to just leaving us hanging about the answer to things. Of course, I could be wrong about that too. We may go to Heaven, or we may lay unconscious of the passing of time until we come back around in the endless cycle of the Universes coming and going. We MAY know nothing, and that’s that. At least there would be peace in that, wouldn’t there? I highly doubt this to be the case, but….

The Orlando Massacre- 2016

If we are to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks, somebody must go first. Somewhere, sometime, somebody must take the first step.

And yet I see nobody headed towards the anvils. I see nobody headed to the fields to plant their crops. I only see humanity continue to sew the seeds of hatred and discord.

I could have very well gotten into a fight this morning. Yet I did not. I sat and held my tongue as a table of “fine” men laughed about the killing of innocent people.

I bit the sides of my mouth as another table of younger men, with bible verses on the back of their shirts, looked up at the tv on the wall in the front of the restaurant and one big healthy, young bearded good old boy in that group laughed and said that they “got what was coming to ’em'” and then got up shortly and left…perhaps to “get ready for church”.

And I know fair well that while many expressed shock and sympathy at the murder of these innocent people, deep down in their secret heart of hearts, where nobody can see, they were not all that sympathetic.

I don’t say all…God knows that I do not say that.

I know hundreds of families in this country right now are suffering and grieving, and I know there are good people from all walks of life and of all describable characteristics who are helping them and grieving with them.

All I do know is that the more “swords and spears” which exist, which people willingly take up in order to harm others, not for protection…or as old Jed Clampett said: “to keep his family fed”…..the more of those which are taken up and used in hatred and anger…the harder, and harder, and harder it’s going to be to beat them into plowshears and pruning hooks.

I’ve already read all the same old arguments out there, read the same old lines of hatred, directed towards the same people about this murderous spree in Orlando. Same things were said at Sandy Hook, and Charleston. And tomorrow the sales of swords and spears will again spike.

So it’s going to be hard for peace to come. It’s going to be hard for love to prevail, when there is so much hatred out there, so much hatred…and a lot of it coming from the places and people who are supposed to be the emissaries of the words of life.

How are we going to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks when they are so blood soaked that the blacksmith will not even touch them.

We cannot walk together in harmony when we are so many miles apart, and nobody will take the first step towards healing.