Thursday, February 23, 2006

Influences for Life

My experiences have taught me that you can never be quite sure when you are actually influencing someone and possibly sharing a life changing experience. Most people who know me know my love for music. My parents provided every opportunity they could for my exposure to various forms of music including piano lessons and guitar lessons. Mrs. Keeton was my piano teacher and I believe just about anyone my age in western Colbert County took piano lessons from Mrs. Keeton. She had that special patience to guide each of us into the world of music.

Later my interest turned to singing. While I may not be the next star on American Idol I have done my fair share of singing. But singing is a little different from the piano or the guitar. You must learn to hear the music. To sing harmony you must be able to find where you fit into the combination. Most of us growing up in Cherokee regularly attended church and most churches have some form of music. I happened to attend First Baptist in Cherokee where for some reason I was invited at a rather young age to sing in the choir. Mr. Brown, our music director, and the choir decided to let me join. To this day I still hold that there is a purpose for everything that happens in life and here is one of the finest examples. At the time I know I was the youngest member of the adult choir. Here is where I found the mentor that would teach me the fine art of harmony.

I joined the men on the back row of the choir and most Sundays I took my place right between Mr. Lyle and Mr. McManus. Mr. Lyle was my elementary school principal and a very good one at that, but I don’t think he realized where he would actually influence me the most. Each Sunday we would have our regular list of songs to sing and maybe the choir would sing something special. For some reason Mr. Lyle took an interest in sharing his book or sheet music with me. As we stood back there I could hear Mr. Lyle singing the bass harmony. While I knew about the various notes played together on a piano and I had heard the various instruments play their part in the bands, it was on that back row of the choir that I first learned how individual parts blended to become a song.

Mr. Lyle was quite patient showing me what notes we were singing in the books. Most people might not have noticed his guidance because we were in the back row. While I couldn’t necessarily reach the low notes that Mr. Lyle would, I learned to follow his lead and hear where we fit within the harmony. Now one of the most sung songs of our church was that famous hymn, “Just As I Am.” After singing it with Mr. Lyle I was soon able to sing the bass line for that song without even looking at the music. To this day I can sing the bass line for at least the first three verses totally from memory. In fact, it would be almost impossible for me to sing the melody since the harmony is so engrained in me.

From that time spent with Mr. Lyle I went on to enjoy other moments of song including a brief stint in the high school choir. My senior year I was the only boy in the school choir. I don’t think the other guys in my class realized the benefits. I keep telling my sons they should be so lucky. Every time a duet or male part was required I was the sole choice. That situation gave me the opportunity to sing quite a few songs with some of Cherokee’s finest young ladies. After that I spent time in various other choirs including the annual Christmas presentation of a portion of George Handel’s oratorio “Messiah” at the University of North Alabama. I also have taken leading roles in music at various churches as I have moved around the country.

I don’t think Mr. Lyle ever really knew what he actually did for me. I do know that Mr. Lyle’s actions had a more important lesson than learning about the harmony of music. Never forget to take time with the younger ones of our community. Be patient. Show them what you are doing whether it is singing, fishing, reading, or just mowing the yard. You will never know what flame that small spark actually created.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Alabama’s Best of Show [CCR]

Recently the sporting headlines included the famous Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. This show features what people consider the best of all dogs everywhere. Those people need to become a little more familiar with our Alabama dogs. It would probably be a sure bet that none of those dogs could meet the requirements for burial in the Coon Dog Cemetery. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against those dogs in the show. But, folks, we have a bit of our own “best of show” in Alabama.

When I was a fairly young child my Dad got us a dog that carried me through a good bit of my teenage years. Butch wasn’t one of those fancy looking dogs you see on the dog show. He did have a stub tail. Not docked. It just grew that way. He wasn’t a big dog, but he wasn’t exactly small either. Mom and Dad tell me that as a young child I loved to sneak up on Butch and stomp that stub tail. I guess Butch just knew I was a unknowing small child because he ignored it and never complained.

But just like most of us humans, Butch had one weakness. He loved to chase and tree other animals. That chase would include squirrels, raccoons, or whatever was available. And in our case we lived near cattle. Dad made a decision that was brilliant and filled the needs of everyone including Butch. Butch moved to my Granddaddy’s house in Mountain Springs. Our dog now had a cornucopia of critters to chase.

As most dogs who roam the woods around home you can imagine Butch had some run-ins with snakes. Rattlesnakes and copperheads for sure. I can’t recall when Butch first got bit. But, with exception to his annual rabies shots, my folks could take pretty good care of the pets. So Butch was nurtured through those first few encounters. That nurturing was very unfortunate for the snake population. Ever watch one of those shows when a fighter hits someone and the big guy just shakes off the hit? Well, Butch somehow got immune to those snake bites. All a good snake could do was make Butch mad. I couldn’t count the number of snakes Butch killed that we knew about and could only guess the number of ones we didn’t see. But, I can remember Butch chasing snakes to a hole and digging them out for their encounter. For many years the snakes in Mountain Springs lived in fear of the famous snake dog, Butch. If you were wandering into the local woods you wanted Butch in the lead. He always cleared the path.

Snakes weren’t the only fare on Butch’s menu. He joined us for just about every squirrel and deer hunting trip we made. At night he treed his fair share of coons and possums (that’s raccoons and opossums for the city folks). I can remember spending the night at Granddaddy’s house and hearing Butch make a run in the middle of the night. Granddaddy would wake me up, grab the old double barrel shotgun and we were on our way out to give Butch the satisfaction of completing the hunt. Granddaddy and Butch grew one of those special relationships where each knew what the other was thinking. Butch knew his place was not on the porch until Granddaddy went to bed. He then took his place on the wood box by the door to guard his family.

I can’t count the number of hunts Butch made, but he kept the pace all the way through most of my teen years. As he got older Granddaddy got Butch a companion, Guard, and Butch taught his apprentice the tricks of the trade. For a short while Butch held the top of the wood box and Guard lay at the foot of the box. Age caught up with Butch along with an illness he had carried since a pup that we just couldn’t fix. As a dog of about 15 years age Butch was having a very hard time getting around, but he always perked up when Dad or one of my uncles would take him out to the woods around the house. Then one day Dad took Butch out and Butch never came home. Guard took his place on the box as if it were a passing of the torch and he continued to guard Granddaddy’s house through the rest of Granddaddy’s years.

Now folks, you may not see Butch or some other kid’s local dog on that dog show. But I can bet each of us had a pet that we feel holds the “best of show” for us. I, for one, nominate Butch. If you make it out to Mountain Springs one evening in the summer take a drive around Daily Loop. Drive slowly and roll your window down. If you listen quietly you may hear old Butch giving a coon a run for his money. And then if you hear that old double barrel shotgun blast you know Granddaddy finished another hunt.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Sounds in the Night [CCR]

In my career I have moved around the country quite a bit. In each place I move I find different sounds in the night. Some are very helpful and send you into a deep sleep. Other locations, such as when I lived near the Atlanta airport, can be irritating at best. Nothing can be more disturbing than the approach of a jumbo jet combined with the modern sub woofer pulsing the air harder than a wave pool. Here in Galion, Ohio I live near one of the old railroad crossings of the Pennsylvania and the New York Central, now split between CSX and Norfolk Southern. So you can imagine the sounds of the night here, double tracks in four directions with multiple trains. But, I still travel out of town, look up at the stars, and remember the sounds of home.

Living near Cherokee meant living near the fertilizer plant, the river, and, of course, the railroad. Only a single train came each night on a regular schedule so the rhythm did not change the cycle of the night. On many nights you might hear a barge softly chugging down the river. The sound I miss most is the steam whistle announcing the shift changes at the fertilizer plant. Many people at home remember the days before the plant was built so that sound is not so deeply implanted. My parents built our house and we moved in when I was about six months old. As a child I could hear all the sounds of the plant and they became a part of my life. Can you believe I miss those sounds? Sometimes it seems it would still be comforting to hear the whistle mark the midnight shift change. And I never can forget the cycle of the afternoon whistles. When Dad moved to day shift I knew exactly which one meant he was near the end of his shift and which meant the day of work was done, unless he had to work overtime.

Nights at my Granddaddy Daily’s house had its own rhythm. In the summer you had a combination of two nightly sounds. First, the sound of the pumping station, Texas Eastern, which was also built prior to my entry into the world. For those that lived there before the station was built it probably initially disturbed their nights. But for me the consistent sound of that pumping station had multiple benefits. It could lull you to sleep but it could also mean finding your way home. If you were hunting at night you could locate the direction of the sound and find your way home.

But, for me the most compelling sounds at my Granddaddy Daily’s house were the various bugs or insects. It was a practiced pattern with a consistent beat. I’m still not sure how the bugs worked it out or maybe I just heard it that way. But it is a pleasant beat that accompanied me not only on my many nights at their house, but also on many of our overnight camping trips. Now for the bugs it meant they were looking for a girlfriend or boyfriend, but I never understood how that a single bug among the millions made himself or herself the more attractive.

Another special treat was the sound of the rain. A thunderstorm at my Granddaddy’s house meant a virtual day of relaxation and a cleansing of the air. In contrast, today it means you better turn off the computer and video games or you will be making a trip to the big box electronics store to check your credit line.

Recently, before winter set in, my wife and I took a trip out to visit my Dad’s first cousin, which means my second cousin, Ed Hodge. Mr. Hodge lives in the vicinity of the Daily home places so it took me back to those home sounds. On the way home we took the route by Granddaddy’s old house. I told my wife about the many stories Granddaddy shared on the subject of wandering home in the dark after a long day of work. Wandering mostly meant walking. So as we neared the top of the hill on Mt. Mills Road we talked about how it must have felt walking those trails at night with little light and maybe nothing more than the moon. So I stopped on the road, turned out the lights on the Jeep, and we just sat and listened. I guess the total darkness without the moon may have made it frightening, but there it was. Those sounds. Without the engine of the Jeep and the modern disturbance of the radio you could hear home.

Take a trip out one night to where the sounds of today cannot interfere with the special sounds of nature and listen. Folks, those sounds and sights are something our friends in the big cities such as New York and Chicago just don’t get to share in a natural fashion. The next time you go into one of those highfalutin electronic stores in the big city you will find a special gadget that can be very expensive. Turn the display machine on. You know what you get? Those sounds. The very sound you can get for free just by either living a few miles out of our local towns or taking an overnight trip. Need a mixture of the availability of civilization and those sounds? There are some awfully nice camp sites down at the Colbert County Park on Riverton Rose Trail that have openings all summer long. Then you too can share in the sounds of home.