Thanksgiving retrospect from 2019

Thanksgiving in 2019 will be familiar, yet very different. Our family will get together, and we will have a meal. I’m so happy we can do this. I’m happy to have a good family populated with people I love dearly and who tolerate, and perhaps even love me.

I experienced my first Thanksgiving in November of 1950 as barely a one month old baby. I think I was still in Trion at that point and Daddy was still home on leave from the Navy. I’m not 100% sure though. I know that by Christmas of 1950, Mom had gone back to Blue Ridge to live with her parents until Dad finished his Naval service in late 1952.

Once we were all back together as a family, and as far as I can remember…which was probably around 1955-56, we celebrated around our table together as a family of four. Mom, Dad, me and my brother. I don’t remember anybody else being there. No Aunts and Uncles or cousins. No grandparents, except my Dad’s Mother Laura, perhaps once or twice. There were no huge family gatherings as a child. They were smaller and much more intimate. The turkey or ham we had in those days was small, the vegetables were few, perhaps mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls and a deviled egg or two. Those deviled eggs. My Mom made the best. Perhaps a sweet potato pie for desert.

The years progressed and I grew up and married and had kids, as did my brother, and the Thanksgiving meals grew. There was suddenly, before we knew it, my family of five, and Mike’s of four. Nine plus Mom and Dad made eleven. I remember my Dad had a shirt made which said something like “family of eleven”. (He also had one that said “old as dirt” which I have, but I ain’t wearing!) He was proud of the family he and Mom had helped create. He was a proud Dad and even prouder Grandfather. (As was Mom, though she want the demonstrative type)

The turkeys got much larger to accommodate a large family. The vegetables multiplied. The desserts showed up, and became more complex. Cranberry sauce AND whole cranberries appeared. The celebrations were noisy, punctuated with the sounds of football games in the background and footballs being thrown around outside. Cars were washed. The noisy voices of our little kids, running, singing, fussing. All of it happened in real time! Time which passed so very quickly, like a storm front screaming across the landscape through those years. Such were the mid 70’s through the mid 90’s.

As my parents grew old in the late 1990’s or so, they couldn’t host Thanksgiving any longer and started coming to our house, or to my brothers. One or both most years. Double the turkey!

We had children who were married by then and had kids of their own. The numbers of family had grown large. My folks got to know and love most of their “older” great grandchildren. They had Thanksgiving at our house last in 2008. Frail and gray, but still hungry for Turkey. As I posted the other day, I took my Mom Thanksgiving leftovers to the “Cozy Manor” in 2010. She passed away in early December. Dad had died in May of that year. Thanksgivings were over for them.

I’m grateful to my parents for the life they gave me. The chance to be a human being, live a life, find love and have a family of my own. There’s a lot of us now. My wife and I last hosted Thanksgiving at our house in 2016. Now, tomorrow…we are going down to my son’s house for our celebration. It’s a circle of celebration that my folks started back in the mid fifties, and one which I hope continues a few years longer.

Certainly of all the things I treasure the most, time with my family ranks at the top. I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving day tomorrow.

The World to Come?

Once many years ago, back in 1974, I walked into the computer room of a large corporation. Back when computers were huge, bulky machines the size of Volkswagens. It was cold in there, I guess in order to keep the computers cool. It was sterile, lifeless and slightly scary, with only the faint humming of the machines in the background. I shuddered and left that room as quickly as I could. 1974 was a lifetime ago, and things have kept forward several lifetimes as far as our computer technology goes. Yet……..

With each and every year we have fewer Monarch butterflies, fewer honeybees. Fewer birds and now Koala bears. Sixty percent of the species which were alive in 1974 are now…..gone.

We have fewer of everything except for humans.

We humans have to recognize that we are losing our world, the world of nature, the natural world. The world which built us, and nurtured our species. The world which furnishes our food, and the beauty which exists all around us.

As we continue to become machine dependent, we will become less dependent on the natural world. As man evolves and becomes partially or semi totally an entity of wire, diodes, microchips and bytes the world around us will become cold and devoid of natural life. It’ll be just like that sterile, cold and dead computer room I visited in 1974.

What use does a sentient machine have for a butterfly or a bee? Why would an Android care for a waterfall or a sunset.

I’ll be long gone before that (perhaps)and thank God for that. My heart cries for all who are left, unless our course drastically changes.

We are someone’s ancestors

I believe when I first became conscious of being an individual human being, and of having a responsibility to become “something” to the world….something of consequence, I was very afraid. I was not even a teenager when I first had these thoughts. “What will I be?” “What will I do?”

I wasn’t obsessive about it, just concerned.

I dabbled around with music. I have played guitar and sang. I sang at schools and churches. I sang and played at functions, at skating rinks and at dances. But, I never became a “singer” for a living, or a writer. I tried, but I couldn’t quite get it done. I couldn’t drive the nail into the center of the board. I couldn’t quite close the deal. I wasn’t in the right place at the right time. Lord, I wish there had been a “Voice” or an “American Idol” show around in the seventies, or even the early eighties. I’d have sure tried to get on. I’m not sure if I would have gotten in, but I’d have tried.

I thought about sports too. Baseball mostly. I had some talent there, and just didn’t pursue it past my teenage years. I became enamored of golf, and although I never was nearly as “good” at that game as I had been at baseball, it suited my goofball nature better than baseball.

I thought about these things this morning while I was sitting on the couch, drinking a cup of coffee and looking over my “” account. If you have ever dabbled with that site, I don’t have to explain what it’s all about. It’s a place where you can plug your name and some dates into a spreadsheet of sorts and from there you plunge headlong into your ancestral past. I’ve been playing with it for a long time now. I’ve traced ancestors from my Dad and Mom all the way back to nearly the Middle Ages. It’s amazing how the information has evolved over the years since I first started meddling with it. I have found everything from Civil war soldiers to ancestors who were on the Mayflower, to Kings of England. Most of my ancestors are more mundane, however. Farmers, mill workers, lumberjacks and jacks of all trades. I was working on some clues for one of my ancestors who was born in 1840 and died in 1907, when it hit me. That’s the same exact number of years I have been on this earth. Then the rush of time hit me hard in the face, like a tractor trailer going seventy five. The lifetime of that particular ancestor of mine is my lifetime. My years. My current number.

I wondered what their dreams were when they were 12, or 15 or 18. I wondered what their goals for their life had been. I wondered if they had achieved them. I cried in my coffee because all this time I have been looking at these ancestors, it has been from a cold, impersonal and technical way. It’s been purely from an informational standpoint, and never from a human relations one. They were not, and are not just a name and some numbers on a page. They were people. People who lived and died, loved and cried, built and tore down, sang and danced, worked and played. People who did everything I have done, and will do. Just in a different setting and a different format.

I wonder if someday there will be a man or a woman sitting around and looking at the research which I have done on this site and thinking: “What the hell was he thinking?”

I hope perhaps instead, that the memories I have tried to instill in those loved ones around me will be remembered, as my Grandma used to say, “until I pass out of memory” Once that happens, I’ll be just like my dear relative who lived 67 years, during the Civil War and much strife and pain in this country…..I’ll be just a name and a number on a page somewhere, or on a stone perhaps.

The Home Within Us

The Home within Us

Does anyone else ever feel it? Even when you are sitting in your own house in your favorite chair, it sometimes sneaks up on you. You may feel comfortable, got your slippers and your robe on, and then you just get a feeling that you’re in a strange place…you are not home. You’re at your house, but you are not…home.

I get that feelings sometimes, and it’s a strange thing. I go outside and look up at the stars sometimes and I wonder, why am I here and not there? I saw a gorgeous, unbelievably beautiful panorama photo of the night sky that someone had taken with a special HD camera. As far as the eye could see into the photo, were the little specks of distant stars. Millions and millions of them. I felt out of place just sitting here in my chair and looking into that photo on my computer screen. What is out there? Is there a heaven out there somewhere? Are there millions of other worlds out there which are “Earth like” with life on them? The scope of my existence sitting here looking at that became so tiny…so insignificant. How does it really matter what I am doing here on this little speck of dust? Is this really my home, or is my home somewhere out there?

Based on that line of thinking, one could become quite depressed if one were inclined in that direction.

But then I pulled myself back into this world. Into this existence. Into my existence. I took a deep breath and got up and went and looked into the mirror. I looked as deeply as possible into my own blue eyes. At first nothing was apparent, but then I looked again. Deeper and deeper I looked and then I saw some tiny specks glowing deep within…like stars. I knew I was home. I knew I am home. I am home to the spark of life that resides within me, perhaps even more.

I knew that no matter what happens or when, I will always be home.

The Double Edged Sword of the Holiday Season from 2015

The holiday season is a double edged sword. Oh how I love these days between now and the new year. These are times of the gatherings of family. These are the times of great meals and food…familiar dishes and recipes send wonderful, memory jogging smells through the air.

They pick me up and take me back once more, to the place in time where old memories are stored.

I’m at Grandma and Grandpa’s old clapboard house, and Granny has the table ready. Most of the Aunts, Uncles and cousins are already there, but there’s always a late comer or two. It might be Uncle Jack, and Aunt Kay and their boys this year….but everyone finally makes it there. We all gather round that big old wooden table…so many of us. All scattered now, and so many gone, but the memory lives.

Then I think of the days when my family was young. I had never heard of stuffing a turkey before Paula and I got married, but oh how delicious that stuffing was…and is still. I like a pan of cornbread dressing too, but I can’t wait for that delicious stuffing…my dear mother in laws recipe….I cannot believe she has been gone so many years now. It doesn’t seem possible…

I think of the times with Mom and Dad, not particularly the days when Mike and I were kids, but their very last Thanksgiving meal with us, over there in their own house on 7th street in 2009. We had moved into their house and they were in Assisted living. We went up and brought them down for the meal. Momma kept asking where their stuff was. She couldn’t understand that things had not been left the same as when they had moved out. She was always planning on coming back! Daddy just ate like he was starving, and asking for more sweet tea. Then 2010 came and we lost them.

And so there is the bittersweet of this time of year. Time passes by and people pass on, as the old Kathy Mattea song says.

So as my wife and I walk through this 65th year’s holiday season I will rejoice in all that we share together, my wonderful family and good friends! Let’s eat some turkey, and open some presents and pass the love around and back again. Let’s make some great memories together. After all that is what makes us who we are.

Over the Rainbow

“Someday I’ll wish upon a star, and wake up where the clouds are far behind me”. Yip Harburg

Judy Garland sang “Over the Rainbow” in the movie “Wizard of Oz”. She was the first person I ever saw sing the song on TV. I was probably nine years old. That would have made it 1959. I believe it was broadcast every year, once a year for many years after that.

I’d heard my Dad sing the song….probably had heard it on the radio before 1959, but I wasn’t prepared for the movie, or for Judy Garland’s version. I fell in love with the movie, and the song on that Fall night in 1959, and I’ve never stopped loving it. But it’s that one line I quoted above that is my favorite.

I’ve wished upon a star many times, for many things. I can’t remember ever getting anything I wished for. All my wishes were the pie in the sky, far flung dreams of a kid.

I should have wished for a great family when I grew up. I’d have gotten that. I should have wished to grow up in the greatest era in American history. I’d have gotten that also.

This year when I watch Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life” I’ll have to agree with him that the most important things in life are the things we often take for granted. It’s not the one great and wonderful, momentous day that counts, but the thousands of “ordinary” days that really truly count. All of those days with their wonderful and sometimes bittersweet script. Laughter and tears. Joy and sorrows. Napping with the babies in your arms, all the school activities,the birthday parties, the holiday celebrations…and yet also the days you just sat around and read a book, or watched movies all day. Life, and living life. It differs a little from person to person, but it’s mostly always the same formula.

All so that when that day comes when we get our fondest wish, and wake up where the clouds are far, far behind us, we won’t have any regrets that we didn’t live life to the “fullest”. As long as we’ve lived it to the best of our abilities, with mostly love and kindest, then we surely won’t have any regrets.

Being Thankful in Chaotic Times.

Do you think we have things to be thankful for during our current times? The Pandemic is decimating our country. Political divisions have made enemies of lifelong friends, and have torn families asunder. The affects on all of us are real, and have left many of us anxiety filled, angry, misunderstood, and searching for answers. My answer for myself tonight, at this time, and in this place, is to search my heart to see what is still there. Am I capable of love, compassion, forgiveness and contrition? I have been thankful….I am still.

I’m very thankful for my family…my wife, children, grandchildren. My Mom and Dad, my brother. (And all of my other loved ones who are connected to the ones I have just named. I could name them all, but they know who they are! ) I believe my one major goal in life, starting way back when I was a teenager, was to have a family and to do the very best I could to be a good Father. I could have chosen baseball, or golf, or music, or a career of some other sort to be my main life goal…but I had a different scenario in mind. I am thankful for being able to experience so many fulfilling things through my wonderful, supportive family.

I give thanks, or course, for all of the other things most everyone else does. Life and a chance to live it. Thankful for modern medicine, it saved my life. Hopeful that this same scientific community can save us from our current critical medical crisis. Thankful for the advances in technology, which allows me to communicate with you! Thankful for so, so many little things: running water, books, refrigeration, friends, classmates, prescriptions, underwear, automobiles, you name it, and I’m probably thankful for it.

I am thankful for music and the influence it has had on my life. I haven’t been a “commercial” success like I thought I wanted to be, but I have enjoyed the love of music just for the sake of its beauty and the satisfaction it gives me to “make” it and to listen to it. Thankful for guitars too!

I am thankful for growing up in the small town of Trion, Georgia. I am so thankful that I went to school with the people who were my classmates. That small group are like brothers and sisters to me. All of us went through so many things together. Butt whooping’s, schoolyard fights, proms, dances, football season, band, term papers, tests, Ms. Roberts, Mr. West, playing basketball in the old gym, eating at the “Y”, having plays in the old theatre, fishing in the river, sneaking out of class, loving each other, and hating each other (sometimes, but not for long) Although we have diverged in many cases on our personal philosophies, I hope that we can still love each other.

Living in a small town meant being able to walk from one side of it to the other without having to take food and water to survive. It meant spending the night at your best friend’s house so much that their parents threatened to claim you on their tax returns. It meant playing “pick up” baseball every day during the summer, and “choose up” football every day during the winter. It meant watching the river flood our beloved school to the point of uselessness. It meant the Skating rink, and the one theatre in the Country were all the places you had to go for “proper” entertainment. It meant knowing which guys had the most “bad ass” cars in town. I’m thankful I got to play baseball and then golf. I had two or three of the best coaches a boy could have in Dugan Peace, Jesse Emory, and J.W. Greenwood. J.W. taught me that it’s better to be lucky than good any day. Ha! It was good, and I am thankful for all of it.

I am thankful I got to go to college for five years, and although I didn’t finish, the knowledge I received has served me well. I went to both West Georgia College and the University of Georgia. I am thankful I met my future wife there, and very thankful she decided she wanted to spend time with me. (And still is, up to 51 years now!) I am not proud that I didn’t graduate. It’s been a thorn which I and nobody else, put in my side and has stayed there for almost 46 years now. But, I am thankful it still pricks me at times when I start something and I am tempted not to finish it. It has helped me finish a lot of things I would have not have, otherwise. It helped me to encourage all of my children to finish…which they all did pretty much on their own without much help from me at all!

I’m thankful I took Typing II in High School instead of Shop. I made a lot of money typing College papers for other people, and learned about as much from that as I did from my classes. It also helped tremendously my ability to edit for incorrect grammar and spelling. Makes it easy to write these epistles on Facebook too!

I am also thankful for some of the things which I have experienced in life, for which others may think to be a little odd. I experienced the death of my first child, and though it was heart wrenching, I am thankful for her, and the fact that she lived and she was ours…mine and Paula’s. She paved the way for our other children and a deeper appreciation of them for me, than I might have otherwise had. I looked at them many times and thought of her and was extremely thankful that I had three other chances to be a Father. (For as I have previously said…I think it’s my purpose in life) Her death prepared me at a very young age for the realities of life, that bad things happen and you must overcome them lest they overcome you. I am thankful that even after 50 years I can still sit here and have tears fill my eyes when I think of her. It proves to me I’m still human.

I am thankful I had some hard, manual labor jobs at the beginning of my working career. They made me determined to look for better ways to make a living. They (along with my wife) shook me out of a rut I was in and might have stayed in, and gave me impetus to go on to better things. I am thankful that I eventually found some very good people for whom I enjoyed working. I am thankful for the people I worked with, both good and bad. The good ones confirmed my philosophy that there ARE more good people than bad in this world, and the bad ones helped build my character to withstand and persevere against things which are wrong, and to have some ethics in life. I am thankful for the very hard and nerve wracking battles I had against unethical peers, who only cared for themselves and not others…who only cared for the numbers and the money, and not the people, and that most of the time I won…though not always, and sometimes at a heavy personal and financial cost. Those battles steeled me, and cemented my philosophy for the rest of my life, that it is better to want to help people, be tolerant and acceptant of those who are different than me, to have an open mind towards ideas which were different than mine.

I am thankful that I have had enough financial resources to live life at a “good” level, though never at a “super-secure” level. (I am not anywhere near rich…and never will be) It has taught me that envy is never a good quality. It has taught me that some of the things I coveted turned out to be unnecessary, and that the wealthiest people are not always the happiest. It has taught me that I should have paid better attention in “Economics 101” at West Georgia. It has taught me to be innovative in order to survive, and to try and help others who have even less. (And there are many, many of those out there, believe me…I feel blessed for what I have in comparison to a lot of people in this country and in this world, especially in our current turmoil)

Finally, I will end up by saying I am thankful that our Creator (and I do believe in one, although not in the same way as most of you) has allowed me to enjoy all these things and allows me to continue to be here and enjoy them. My fervent wish and hope is that we all come through our current national turmoil and medical emergency with the attitude that we must…we must start communicating on a personal level again. Enough with the outlandish conspiracy theories. Enough with the unwarranted hatred of each other, which we are being baited by from politicians, pundits and false prophets! Enough. It’s time to once again be thankful for our lives and for one another and time to force the demagogues and dividers out for good. Start with an open mind, follow up with logic, and believe that it can be done. Be thankful we still have a chance….albeit a slim one, to save our world.

The Train and the Dream

I used to lay in bed when we lived on eighth street in Trion and listen for the freight trains to roll into the rail yard at the mill. We lived just up that steep hill from Riegel textile. Back then, I had a rocket arm and I could stand in my front yard and throw a rock almost to that railroad track.

I listened for the train because the movement of it as it came in and out with loads of cotton and coal, was comforting. Strange isn’t it, what we become used to? I could tell when the cars were being coupled and uncoupled, and whether the engineer was new or experienced by how loud the “clang” was when the cars hit together or pulled apart. A lot of times I would fall asleep dreaming of riding one of those trains out of town and right across America.

I dreamed of the things I would do: cross the Mississippi River, or maybe jump off at Memphis and get a job on a boat heading towards New Orleans. I’d take my guitar with me, and make some money singing in clubs. But then, maybe I’d ride those trains all the way to California, and go into acting….become a star. I loved music so maybe I should go to New York City and try out for Broadway. I knew all the old Broadway songs because I was able to afford those types of .33 rpm records at Redford’s five and dime. They were the cheapest ones. The new popular records were usually 3.99, while “My Fair Lady” and “Broadways Greatest Hits” were .99 cents. More music for the money, and besides, I could hear the hit songs on the radio.

I dreamed and schemed the world of a twelve year old boy, laying in my bed underneath that wide rollout window. The one I could crane my head back, and look up out of at the night sky and get a glimpse of the moon, and some stars, and the occasional plane flying overhead.

Those years on eighth street went by quickly. Looking back now, way too fast. From age twelve to seventeen I lay there and listened and dreamed.

I am reminded many mornings lately of those days because as I walk around the neighborhood in the early morning, the sound of the CSX going down the tracks parallel to highway 41, drifts up from downtown Ringgold. I can easily discern it off in the distance, and having walked the paths right next to where it runs, and having taken pictures of it, I know it’s the same type of train that I remember from my childhood.

My hope is, that somewhere downtown close to the tracks, there’s a twelve year old boy laying in his bed and listening as the train passes by, and dreaming of where it could take him. He may not get there. He may follow a totally different path from what he dreams, and be as happy as I am with where he ends up. But the dreaming will do him good, and give him some happy memories. And sometimes memories are worth more than gold.

Why I walk

I walked this evening in the rain, hooded sweatshirt draped loosely over me. My wife told me it was raining before I left and I asked “don’t you remember last winter?”

I walked in the rain and I walked in the snow. This past summer I walked in the blistering heat and sweltering humidity. The only time I refuse to walk is during a lightning storm.

I walk to exercise, but I also walk to think. I think of the past and the special times I have had with loved ones who are gone. I think of friends who are still alive and well when I walk past spots where our lives have intersected. I am thankful for all of them. They have shaped me. For good or bad? Who knows? Who judges?

I walk in places where my children and grandchildren exist and live their lives. Down by the river, and up the steep hill. I see their past and their present. They must see to much of their future.

I walk in the cemetery not because it is quiet and there is no traffic, but in order to pay my respects to people I have known. Our paths have crossed and I honor them. There are always new people there. There have been three or four this week.

You see, a walk is not just a walk to me. It’s a different experience each day. It’s a different choice of memories every day. It is cathartic.

As long as I can physically put one foot in front of the other I will continue my trips. I expect if you ride around town much you will see me. Smile and wave if you can.