Friday, December 28, 2007

Fireplace Warmth [CCR]

Winter’s chill is upon us and has reached down to Tennessee and Alabama to give us a taste. As I stepped out the back door this morning I could see a glimmer of ice just to remind me of what could be happening. The newspaper tells me my home of last year in Ohio is plummeted in snow. I guess I should be thankful I didn’t actually invest in that mechanized snow blower.

Today many people enjoy the warmth of their fireplace as they look out the window and watch the winter wind cast its chill on anyone who dare confront it. They reach to an electronic gadget and push a few buttons. Soon the heat is blasting again. The unlucky few who do so may be missing out on more than they think. Yes, they avoid the chores of hauling the wood to the fireplace or even emptying the soot. But why do you think some of those fancy restaurants still burn wood?

When I step outside I can still catch a whiff of the lucky few who have placed a hickory log upon the fire. The fluffy smoke billows from the chimney and spreads its cheerful fragrance upon the neighborhood. Maybe you consider that smell an annoyance. For me it symbolizes warmth in a season of frost.

Dad and I spent much of the summer and most of the fall weekends gathering wood for the winter. As a boy it seemed more of a chore than a pleasure. We loaded the wood high upon the old truck and carried it home where it some would dry for the future season while the larger green logs might become the main stabilizer for an overnight flame.

Many times Mom would push a pot of beans over the blazing fire on the rack Dad had made to hold the iron pot. A few chunks of ham might give the beans some flavor which added with the wood smell to memorialize a scent of home. Mom would place an iron skillet of cornbread in the oven after the beans had simmered most of the day. It might even be after Dad and I returned with a load of wood that we sat down at the dinner table to a large plate of beans, cornbread, and Southern sweet tea.

The years bring change and today even Mom and Dad’s fireplace no longer sports the smell of hickory. The glowing embers have been replaced with the high efficiency of propane gas. I never knew I would miss those trips to the woods with Dad. But tonight Cindy prepared a large pot of beans with chunks of ham. She brought a large skillet of cornbread to the table. The doctor has forbid caffeine so water must substitute for the luxury of tea. I just can’t stand the thought of any substitute for true Southern sweet tea. But nobody can stop the memories.

So I sit to a plate of beans and cornbread, watching the cold wind blow its icy best upon our yard. The dogs have found their warm place in the barn while the cat snuggles in some unseen corner. In the distance I can see an old farmhouse where the smoke gently curls up and disappears into the evening sky. It is nice to be home.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Cheer [CCR]

The holidays are upon us and with it comes a time of giving. Most of us with children or grandchildren are almost more excited than the children themselves. Many may think the holidays have become too commercialized, and I must agree in some manner. But giving the matter some thought reminds me that while the holidays give something to everyone, the greatest gift to us are the children. Just as one small child represented the entire future of Christianity, children represent our future and in that respect we celebrate.

Every year it was almost impossible to wait to open gifts, whether at home or at one of my grandparents’ homes. We were always eager to see what might be wrapped and couldn’t wait to shred the paper and discover its secret. For most children it didn’t matter if the secret were big or small, the whole idea of receiving something sufficed.

At Grandmother Smith’s house we often drew numbers or names to exchange gifts among the grandchildren. And my grandparents often placed their own gift under the sparkling magical tree. I guess we didn’t realize the parents were watching us more than looking for their own gifts. It would be years later before I understood what they saw in those celebrations.

On one magical Christmas Grandmother and Granddaddy Smith gave us cameras. But these were not ordinary cameras. They were Micky Mouse cameras. The nose was the lens and the ear was the trigger. I haven’t seen a camera with as much charisma since then. I doubt, with today’s electronics craze, I ever will. It bore so deep into my memory that my cousin Pam and I discuss our cameras at every family gathering with the Thanksgiving gathering this year being no exception.

Each year we gathered the family grew a little more and so did the celebration. By the time I reached my teen years the grandchildren were numerous and the older grandchildren brought guests. I guess the interest in the opposite sex began the initial downfall to the childhood magic. But it brought the second celebration of Christmas, the fellowship of family.

By the time we reached adulthood we realized the need to celebrate another year together. In these times we look at the past and remember the struggles and victories together while anticipating the future. Stories are swapped while the younger children eagerly anticipate the moment to rip open the gifts.

Today we have children of our own and we now watch them fervently open their prizes while we cherish those memories being made. It reminds each of us of the three Magi in the traditional Christmas story, who bring their own gifts to celebrate their future. They looked upon a small child and saw a great future that will be celebrated for all future generations.

It is my wish that each of you have a wonderful holiday season while celebrating your gift of life by bringing light to the winter solstice. No matter how you celebrate look at the true magic of the future in your children. Give them the best gift you can, memories that will carry them through many seasons into our own future and for generations to come.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Rocking Chairs and Southern Porches

We dropped by the big box building supplies store last week to pick up provisions for some work at Dad’s house. On the way out we paused a moment to examine some rocking chairs fastened firmly to the building with a steel cable. I sat a moment and rocked in the chair while we debated their worth for our new front porch. Right now we have our porch furniture we purchased in North Carolina before moving to Ohio. As good as those chairs are, they don’t match up to a good old fashioned rocking chair on a Southern porch.

Granddaddy Daily’s porch had an assortment of rocking chairs and swings. The porch on the Southern country home was as long as the house itself. After all, the porch was the primary gathering point after the evening meal and before bedtime. At the end of the porch was a long swing suspended by chains. The grandchildren, including me, seemed to take pride in finding how high we could take the swing up in the air. But little did I know it was the rocking chairs that would mean more to me in later years. Some of those chairs were handed down through generations and carry much sentimental value today.

Granddaddy Smith’s porch was a little different, but the furniture was just as exciting for grandchildren. Granddaddy Smith had a metal glider that moved as you sat in the summer breeze watching the vehicles pass on the road across the cotton patch. In the middle of the front yard was a tree with many limbs, perfect for climbing. As young children we crawled all over that tree. In late fall, with the trees bare of leaves, you could look across Mr. Harris’s pasture from the porch and see the mighty Tennessee River.

Mom and Dad have extended their porch since I was a child. Dad went a step further and placed a swing at both ends of the porch. The chairs provide cool comfort in the hot summers and a nice place to watch the kids play in the yard. But they haven’t placed the rocking chairs on the porch. My children will build their own special memories of “Granddaddy’s porch.”

We paused a moment as I sat in the chair at the mega store. It rocked on rather smooth rockers, but the slats of the seat and back just didn’t have the same homemade feel of those at Granddaddy Daily’s house. Maybe a cushion would help. I really want to add some memory to my porch. I didn’t see a metal glider for sale anywhere and, now that I think about it, I don’t know when I’ve seen one since Granddaddy Smith’s glider sat on his porch.

A purchase was not on my agenda for today. Maybe the North Carolina green metal framed chairs on flexible steel would make a satisfactory memory for my children and grandchildren. It isn’t a good time to make such a selfish purchase so near Christmas. I must look further for the perfect match to my porch. I tried to conjure every excuse I could muster. Truth be told, the memory has become so perfected in my mind I am not sure the chairs I remember can be replicated.

Tomorrow morning I will wander out to the front porch and lace my shoes as I watch the boys catch the bus for school. The sun will be start to blaze over the tree tops and gleam in my face as the neighborhood animals will be greeting the morning. Hopefully these events will bring the same satisfaction and comfort to my family as those porch breezes of rural Alabama brought me years ago.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Turkeys In The Road [CCR]

Yesterday an entire flock of turkeys brought traffic to a halt on the road by our house. I was driving along minding my own business when we first saw the cluster of about twenty turkeys lined up beside the road. As I slowed four of the giant birds entered the road. Twenty years ago I would have had dinner on my mind, but today dinner is the last thing I think about. Today a simple fender bender can easily mean a total loss of your vehicle so I could not take any chances. If I only had that 1951 Chevrolet truck or even the 1966 Jeep we once owned. In those days it would be foolish for any turkey to spend any time in front of my bumper.

Driving home from Granddaddy Daily’s house after dark in the old truck meant keeping a watchful eye on the road. Rattlesnakes were our prime target. Our old truck meant certain death for a rattlesnake warming itself on the retentive heat of the pavement in the cool night air. I can only imagine a turkey would be an even better catch.

Rain didn’t help when watching through the windshield. The truck used a six volt battery system and did not have electric windshield wiper motors. As most of our older generation may recall, our wipers ran off the motor vacuum. The only way to speed up the wipers was to let off the gas and allow the motor vacuum to momentarily pull harder. It wasn’t always an option on hills such as the one at Mt. Mills. Of course not many rattlesnakes lay out on the road in the rain either.

Later, in my teen years, driving the Jeep was slightly different. We did have the electric windshield wipers, but the heater didn’t necessarily blow strong air to defog the windshield. The combination of summer heat and rain often meant humid air in the Jeep and many swipes of the windshield with a cloth to clear your vision. The Jeep, with its homemade iron bumpers, didn’t fear many objects along the road. It was built before we engineered the minimum amount of steel to keep the occupants safe without allowing for extra expense in building the vehicle. Yet no turkeys crossed my path. Maybe they understood.

While I didn’t see the incident with my own eyes, it has been said that my Uncle Ezell did hit a turkey with his truck. I don’t have the details, but I understand the turkey bounced over the sideboards used to haul cattle and landed on the bed of the truck. According to the legend he didn’t have to slow down to carry the turkey home.

The flock we saw yesterday didn’t budge from the highway. I debated on sounding the horn, but I sat in amazement that these birds didn’t fear my presence. It reminded me of the time I lived in Georgia and a turkey hen attacked me for stealing her blackberries. The gobbler waited at the edge of the trees and egged the hen on while she actually pecked at my hands.

Three cars lined up behind me before the flock decided to move on. I then continued along my way wondering if these turkeys comprehend the human fear of damaging our modern vehicles. Later we saw another flock gathered in a pasture. Maybe they gather and laugh at the over protective humans who dare not disturb their walk across the road. If only I could find that old Jeep or the old truck. I would restore honor to the human race and once again reclaim the road for my drive to work. But for now I wait patiently and use the time to recollect earlier times and other places.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Holiday Warmth [CCR]

Thanksgiving was a little colder this year in Alabama than in the last few years. Saturday the Smith family gathered at Tishomingo State Park. By the time we turned off the Natchez Trace the mist had thickened. The leaves squished instead of crunched and the dampness allowed the cold to penetrate to the bone. Inside the lodge Uncle Doug was sitting by a glowing warm fire. We were coming home to celebrate our family in our annual tradition.

The next day I sat with Mom and Dad to reminisce after seeing all the relatives. Dad told of a colder holiday season. Christmas 1957 Mom and Dad had returned from Chicago and were celebrating their first holidays together. Their car plowed through the snow making its way to Granddaddy Daily’s house. Having not quite reached their destination, the car could no longer overcome its icy path. Dad would have to find a way to get the car to the house. The next day Uncle Ezell and Dad removed the starter from the old car and placed it near the fireplace to thaw. It had frozen beyond use overnight. The return trip to Tuscumbia proved almost as difficult and included a tire repair.

Listening to their struggle made me think I would have been ready to give up. But in their eyes you can still see the glow of a couple in love. I’m not sure if their life had seasoned them for the experience or if time has allowed them to resolve the struggle. The story was much more than a story for me. It is a lesson that no matter what life throws our way we will continue. In their fifty years it seems they found the secret to taking the difficult wool and spinning a web of good thread.

Mom continued the story of their early holidays and one of their first Christmas trees. She had walked down to Elmore’s Five and Dime to purchase a small collection of Christmas ornaments to adorn their small tree. As Mom mentioned they used those ornaments over many years I remembered them hanging from the tree when I was a child. There is something special about older Christmas ornaments. They have an offset sparkle, dimmed but not tarnished. It gives the ornament a warm, sentimental glow. If you look in the big box discount stores many new ornaments try to copy this look. The more expensive stores attempt the look and try to sell them as future heirlooms. Nobody can duplicate the love built into a sacrifice purchased for a first holiday memory.

As a child our annual Christmas tree was topped with a bearded Santa with a light inserted to make his cheeks glow cheerfully. As each year passed Santa lost of little of his beard, but he still looked special to me. He was an emblem of Christmas magic. But alas the year came that Santa was replaced with a Christmas angel. The angel had the new fangled miniature lights. The angel heralded our way through my teen years, but that tin and plastic Santa still holds my heart from childhood.

This year we exchanged tree ornaments at the annual gathering again. Many of the family now include items that aren’t necessarily ornaments, but are desirable for Christmas decorations. Aunt Donna brought a tree ornament painted with an image of Granddaddy Smith’s house in a winter scene. I look into the ornament and can see Granddaddy waving from the porch as we all arrive for Christmas. Luckily, and probably to the envy of other family members, we were the recipients of the ornament. I’m sure anybody else would have treasured the ornament. I am not sure if it could reach nearly as deep into their soul as it does mine. That ornament will be in my treasure case as another way of keeping Granddaddy and Grandmother with me all year long. If you drop by the house, take a moment and gaze into the ball and there will be Granddaddy smiling, ready to welcome you home.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hunting Season [CCR]

The beautiful colors of the leaves finally revealed their fashion statement this past week, revealing their most vivid colors. Mother Nature’s show was modishly late this year but the display struck deep chords within my being as always. No matter where I have lived I have a common memory of looking out the window at the trees. Trees have a way of becoming landmarks in my memory forming a common thread between each place we move. I only hope we found the end of the thread as I am not sure my grandfather clock wants to be crated again.

The twist of a falling leaf in the wind and a breeze in my face takes me back to the many years of hunting in the woods around Mountain Springs. We often gathered at my Granddaddy Daily’s house where we planned the hunt for the day or even the next day if we planned on camping. Many times each family member brought a contribution and we prepared a chicken stew the night before the hunt if we were camping. The stew was a necessity to warm your soul in the fall’s cool night air.

The next day we rose before daylight and consumed any breakfast we may want before heading out. Dad would make sure we reached our assigned post before the sun peaked. Some might think we cheated, using dogs to run the deer through the hollow. But hunting for us was more than a sport. The meat would definitely offset some grocery costs.

For some reason it seems Uncle Ezell was always elected to be in charge of the dogs and making the run. He began the trek at the upper end of the hollow while we all waited along the ridge for the opportunity that would soon come our way. After a short wait we could hear the dogs strike a scent and it wouldn’t be long before they came down the neck of the ridge, hopefully with a large buck in the lead. We didn’t have fancy radios to tell us what others saw. We didn’t carry large guns with scopes. A simple shotgun and a sure sight were our tools.

I reckon we traveled home many times without the prize we expected, but if luck were with us someone landed the trophy. We carried our catch either to Granddaddy’s house or sometimes an uncle’s house to clean and divide the spoils. Of course we took the obligatory picture like the one I have with Uncle Ezell, Uncle Buford, Dad, and Granddaddy.

The years have made me slightly citified and it seems most of my hunting days are past. Today the robots and machine constantly beg my attention so most of my hunting trips mean rambling through the freezer at the oversized grocery store. It doesn’t compare to the local market butcher helping select the best slab of beef and slicing it for you, but that is a story for another day. Today I watch the colorful leaves flutter into the yard awaiting my rake and I draw a breath of cool Southern air. Driving to work isn’t quite like driving out the ridge for our hunting trip, but the memories will comfort me during the hustle and bustle of the office.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sun Dried Linen [CCR]

Last week I attended a conference in Minneapolis. During the introductions one of the speakers asked, as an icebreaker, how many of us attendees hung our clothes on a clothesline. I was actually embarrassed not to raise my hand. Back home in Cherokee we actually kept a load of clothes on the line from dawn till dusk most days with exception to bad weather. For the family we were saving the costs of electricity, and unknowingly being environmentally conscious.

The smell of fresh sun dried towels lingers in my senses. After a shower you held the towel to your face and took a breath before drying yourself. Newly dried bed sheets that recently flapped in the summer breeze naturally odorized the room with the quality aroma often purchased by city folks in the fragrance departments of fancy stores. Just recently I noticed you could buy a candle labeled “sun dried linen.” For a mere twenty dollars you too can fill your house with that memorable fragrance.

It was always a challenge for me to figure out how to hang the various garments and laundry items on the line. Everyone had an opinion on the proper way to hang a shirt and it seems a shirt hung differently from a blouse. Sheets were my favorite to hang since you simply lay them across two lines and applied the pins, not very difficult. On a good summer day I don’t believe it took any longer for clothes to dry on the line than it does in a modern dryer today. Maybe the memory has distorted my internal clock.

Mom would send us out to gather the clothes soon after they were deemed dry in fear of a frequent Southern summer shower. As I gathered the clothes into the basket I would spread the clothes pins out to have them ready for the next round. It wasn’t fun to try and hold a garment while reaching down the line to find a clothes pin.

Today Mom continues to use her clothes line no different than my early days in Cherokee. I am willing to bet Mom’s clothes dryer doesn’t spin a half dozen times each year. Those of you who seem appalled at exposing your clothing on a line today probably haven’t really experienced the pleasure of sun dried linen.

Back at the conference I glanced around the room to see who would raise their hand in an auditorium full of engineering professionals. Two people raised their hands to the snicker of others in the room. Later that day we discussed the benefits of solar energy and how we can implement cost savings. If only they realized we already discussed one of the best uses of solar energy that began long before we even discovered the oil that fuels most of our vehicles.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Setting Lofty Goals [CCR]

The relationship of siblings is a very unique relationship. The children share experiences, both good and bad, that can form a lifetime supportive bond. My children get this speech every time I find them in a traditional sibling squabble, especially my two boys. I remind them that, if groomed properly, sibling relationships can develop a support system that will not fail. To me it is a more powerful message than any punishment I delve out, especially getting to listen to my sermon again.

Susan and I somehow formed one of those bonds growing up in Cherokee. We had our usual disagreements, but I don’t remember ever getting angry. If nothing else, we shared enough secrets and devilment to prevent a wedge from forming. Personally I would rather think we can attribute our interactions to trust rather than fear of being ratted out, but either method must have worked.

As the younger sibling I always looked up to Susan. She kept setting lofty goals for me to reach and it took all I had to hang on. I can remember Susan sitting up at night reading books by any light she could find while I avoided reading, something that I do not recommend to any growing young mind. The work of some very good teachers and Mom didn’t let my aversion to reading stymie my ability to become educated.

It all started when Susan left for school while I remained at home. It is hard to imagine that my memories carry me back that far. Somehow I knew when the bus would bring Susan home with stories of school and all the friends she met there. I can remember one lucky day I got to travel to school with my sister and sit in her classroom. I am not sure why the teacher agreed, but I remember each of Susan’s friends wanting to be the one to watch out for the young visitor.

Her influences carried way beyond the foundations of my education. She brought a new realm of music into my life. Many people find the decision of what instrument to play in band difficult. Mine was simple. Susan decided the band needed a Sousaphone and her brother could fill the need. With her coaxing, I marched out onto the field as a sixth grader toting that oversized instrument. Dad fashioned a pad that lay on my shoulder and cushioned the weight of the instrument.

The day she left for college probably gave more excitement to me than anyone else in the entourage traveling to Birmingham. During her days at school I would often travel to visit. Sometimes she carried me down to the college where she studied and I would carry my own homework. Her college days brought me my first Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Chick-Fil-A, and two-story malls.

Today I called Susan, as I do many mornings. She was preparing for another day at the office while I was driving to work admiring the morning sunrise. I knew she would succeed in life, it was unquestionable. I just didn’t realize she would be a doctor who would still influence the lives of many children. This particular day may bring anywhere from thirty to fifty or more patients. It would seem she still presents lofty goals. But I do know that, no matter what I need, she is only a phone call away.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Rain [CCR]

After a long hot summer rain has finally come to our area. Before moving to Tennessee we were deluged in Ohio rainstorms and didn’t really appreciate the true need back home. Today is different. The heavy gray clouds puffed with rain droplets falling steadily are a welcome guest. So far, the rain here has been heavy at times, but without all the wind and lightning.

Alabama has always enjoyed a reputation of having lush green forests spread among our rural areas and the high humidity of the South has always insured that reputation was true. Grandmother Daily’s house sat amid the trees of Mountain Springs and held the wonderful smells of summer flora. But the best smell came with the onset of a summer rainstorm. The falling rain gently cleaned the air and gave some cool relief to the heat even if the storm added to the humidity.

The lucky folks still had tin roofs. Many people today would never imagine having a tin roof on their house. I assure you they are missing out on the pleasures of a summer rainstorm. Under a tin roof the storm begins as a gentle plopping that slowly builds to a steady roar. The continual drumming is just loud enough to lull even the most alert to a lazy summer nap. If you wander into one of those fancy gadget stores you will find fancy noise machines that emulate that very sound to encourage relaxation or sleep.

At Grandmother’s house we could sit in a chair on the porch and watch the heavy clouds empty their refreshment on the ground, trees, and Grandmother’s flowers. The children would sneak out into the rain to play and feel the wetness of the rain while splashing through the puddles. Grandmother didn’t seem to mind.

Then almost as sudden as the rain arrived the steady beat began to slow. The sun would find cracks in the clouds to peak out and once again declare its dominance. On a hot afternoon the steam would rise from the cool wet grass and the humidity rise to the famous levels known in the South. But the refreshing cleanliness of the air hung around to remind us of the blessing we and our plant friends just received.

Today I will drive home in the rain, facing some traffic until I finally break out of the metro limits and onto the country road leading to my house. I may mumble something about the roads and maybe the fogging of my windshield. But then I will remember that the rain is a blessing that brings new life to our wonderful home. Yet again I am reminded that in all things we should give thanks and enjoy the wonderful journey of life.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Outdoor Life [CCR]

My new house in Tennessee restores my enjoyment of rural life and the great Southern tradition of sitting on the front porch. Many evenings my children will be doing their homework or entertaining themselves with the various electronic contraptions located throughout our house when I sneak out to the front porch to sit and listen. From this solitude you can hear the dogs around the area barking or other nightlife. In the hours before dawn you can hear a rooster crowing in the distance. But this particular evening I hear a familiar sound.

As a small child growing up in North Alabama Dad frequently beckoned us outdoors to hear the ever famous hoot owl amidst the nighttime air. For those who wish the more accurate name, the Barred Owl or Strix varia. Either way, the familiar “hoot” is easily recognizable as it echoes through the night.

Alabama folks are lucky to have several varieties of owls populating the area, including the Barn Owl. These owls were very useful in keeping rodents away from our winter barn stash, but they didn’t carry the excitement of stepping outside to hear that familiar call of their relative.

The hoot owl frequently made its presence known on our coon hunting trips or near an evening hunting camp when sharing stories before the glowing embers of a fire. These owls are a familiar accompaniment to the evening sounds of the Alabama nights. Dad always made sure we all paused and listened to the familiar call.

Now I sit quietly on the front porch with the lights out to avoid the onslaught of the insect population. I can hear my familiar sound. Maybe the creature was rustled awake by the dogs or maybe he is calling for an evening meal. I’m not sure the reason, but the sound makes me long to hear the familiar hoot owl. My recognized sound is not that of a hoot owl, or any fowl for that matter. It is the humble call of a simple domesticated animal who has served us for thousands of years, a donkey.

I’m not sure if this donkey jostled my memory of the hoot owl or if the cool crisp air brought memories of hurrying to the front porch and listening intently for the owl. But it is pleasant to know my friend is adding his part for the harmony of the evening and is no less a part of nature. Maybe tomorrow night the hoot owl will join the melody with his rhythmatic call and once again I will be taken back to those evenings on a front porch stoup in Alabama.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Fall [CCR]

Fall is here again and along with that colorful season comes the annual gathering of the leaves that overtake our yards after displaying their multicolored grandeur. Over the years we learn that we can identify the tree by its true leaf color along with the bark. I don’t know if I have met anyone better at that identification process than Dad, but I am sure many people know the secret.

Leaf changing weather often meant rides to Granddaddy Daily’s house because traveling to his house included a trip through the less populated area in the hills we called mountains. Mountain Springs always had a highly diverse population of flora that shared an equal diverse amount of color. Even over the brief time of maximum color the trees presented a show almost unmatchable by Mother Nature’s other annual events. And it signaled a break from the long hot summer days and an avid anticipation of winter celebrations such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. It also meant cooler weather to gather the last remaining needs of firewood for the winter, relieving us somewhat from the summer sweat.

Family gatherings in the fall were not unusual, gathering at Granddaddy Daily’s house for a deer hunt. Yes, we cheated many times, using the dogs to drive the unsuspecting game right through our target area. Uncle Ezell often carried the duty of handling the dog drive while we waited on the hills and ridges, listening as the dogs picked up the scent of our prey. But nevertheless it was a family event that brought an already close family even closer together and giving us young folks a chance to prove ourselves.

One of the more festive events for the younger folks was handling the leaves that filled Granddaddy’s yard. I guess today’s conservationist might cringe at our antics, but the event was worth every moment of a child’s fascination. We first gathered the leaves in piles that meant a soft landing for jumping kids, but after our light scolding for redistributing the leaves, we raked again, placing the leaves in neat parallel rows. An uncle would light one end of the leaves and the children made a game out of avoiding the twist of the smoke plume in the swift fall breeze. The smell was unforgettable and introduced the soon familiar smell of the curling smoke spiral of the resident chimneys filling the air with the scent of winter.

Many family members used the excuse of helping Granddaddy Daily clear the leaves scattered across the yard. But I fully believe each of us sought the event each year as another opportunity to rekindle the family bond and regenerate the spirit that holds the Daily family together today. The grandchildren have grown older now and our parents have grandchildren of their own. Today we build fancy compost piles that slowly rot into fertilizer for those of us maintaining gardens. But few of us can deny the joy of the annual leaf burnings and pre-holiday dinners prepared by Grandmother.

This weekend Chrissie is coming up to visit us during her fall break at UNA. I am hoping the weatherman has missed his forecast of a warm winter and a light leaf season that may cause the leaves to bypass their annual light show. If we are lucky we will venture into the hills around our home and hopefully spark a memory that will carry me back home to another time, another place, a place that rings of comfort memories and simpler times. Maybe you too will get the chance to enjoy the next few weeks as the leaves present their annual show that took a whole year to develop. Take a look and enjoy what Mother Nature prepared just for you and give thanks for those things that make our area one of the greatest in the country.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Fishing at the Blue Hole [CCR]

The sun provides an orange iridescent glow along the edges of the streaked morning sky as I ride to work. To avoid the incoming Nashville traffic I drive along a winding back rode that momentarily takes me away from the hustle and bustle of an ever expanding metropolis. I pause briefly on the aged one lane concrete bridge and look up along the bubbling creek that will accompany a portion of my journey. A rock overhang just a small distance away seems to provide the perfect refuge for bass waiting on an inattentive water strider. These moments provide the morning meditation preparing me for another day of taming the robotic world.

The winding creek isn’t much different than scenes along Malone Creek back home, but the memories of the famous Blue Hole on Buzzard Roost comes to mind. I’ve made many journeys down to that infamous place both sightseeing and wetting a hook hoping to catch that bass or a mess of brim that you might know as bluegill. Sometimes I think the legend outweighed my personal results, but I have been known to catch some fish there.

Getting to the Blue Holes was most of the fun. In my younger years we could make the trip in our old truck, but it was more likely we went in Uncle Garvin’s jeep. Uncle Garvin had one of the old Army jeeps and he often took the jeep to its design task of conquering rough terrain, much to the delight of my cousin and me. I can still remember the last hill before the famous spot as being muddy and difficult for most ordinary vehicles to traverse. But Uncle Garvin’s jeep hummed along, all the wheels pulling us through the squishy mud as we ducked from the overhanging tree branches.

The fishing shows on television always amaze me. The hosts on those shows are constantly using some new fangled artificial bait with a fancy rig to lure a fish. I never understood the thrill of all that expensive gear and I don’t recollect it catching a fish any better than Nature’s perfect bait, a minnow. In fact the only bass I caught down at the blue hole came to me on a string with a cane pole on one end and a hook and minnow on the other end. Of course worms were the bait of choice for the catfish. Either way, you could easily come up with your own bait or, for a small amount of change, purchase enough natural bait for a whole day of fishing.

Dad seemed to always know where the best fishing cane grew. We would head out in the old blue truck along some back road until we found the perfect spot where a wilderness of cane grew. Dad never took more than one or two; just enough to replace any we might have broke on our last fishing trip. He would use his pocket knife to slice the pole and then trim the ends. I reckon the only man made things about our fishing gear might be the hook, line, float, and sinker. Dad had a mold for making our own sinkers. It didn’t get much simpler.

I imagine some young fellow has similar memories about this creek I cross along my path to work. The creek follows the road on one side and an old rock fence lines the other, providing a scenic trail that is only disturbed by us local commuters. It isn’t long before the rock fence is replaced by the modern fence lining the freeway. Maybe a few more years will pass before the metropolitan expansion finds that little section of road. It is the least we owe ourselves for the scenic memories under the ginger radiance of a Southern sunrise.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Signs of Yesteryear [CCR]

This weekend I drove by Southgate Mall and I noticed one remnant of the past that most people, even those working at the mall, may not notice. Yet today that little symbol of the past remains in place speaking of a different time. A time when the area was still growing and Muscle Shoals still had a small taste of rural life. In those early days Woodward Avenue was a divided highway with a strip of light poles down the median.

The mall was new to both Muscle Shoals and the entire Shoals Area. It was a new-fangled neighbor to the bustling Marbro Drive-In Theatre. The lights and sounds of urban growth were threatening an original form of entertainment. But the Marbro survived a few years after being joined by an indoor twin screen theatre before it gave way to the now long gone Kroger store.

As I drove around town I saw many signs of days gone by. The old tower of WLAY stands fearless marking a spot near the original studios that broke new grounds in sound for the Shoals Area. Through the worn paint you can almost discern the shiny modern studio for the early days of Muscle Shoals music.

Continuing northward on Woodward Avenue took me past the infamous TVA intersection. I decided to venture forward past River Oaks. The old building still speaks of grand shopping plans even though I don’t even remember the businesses there. I was now on a mission to see what I might find.

In Sheffield I turned at the city hall and headed down to the old water tank. The black letters proclaiming “Sheffield” to traffic on the river show brightly in the fresh coat of paint. I wandered along the river’s edge through the shaded neighborhood to find Alabama Avenue and make a trip down to Muscle Shoals Sound. The large building still stands with its Navy look and production studio signs adorn the building. If you sit quietly for a moment you can almost hear the hit songs while enjoying the view of the river.

Back up Alabama Avenue I turn and take a ride down Montgomery Avenue. I see the old Belk Hudson store where I bought my Boy Scout supplies. Across the street I picture Walgreens where Mom and Dad might have bought me lunch with the money we saved that week.

Driving towards Tuscumbia I find where Liberty Supermarkets once hosted our regular grocery shopping trips. It was the famous location of my doughnut tantrum. My mother was extremely patient in trying to explain that the store didn’t have doughnuts at the time. I imagine Mom wanted me to have the doughnuts more than I really wanted them. A frequent stopping shop lay across the street where once stood the Sears and Otasco stores along with Big K, where Aunt Rose worked.

From there I drove past several other memorable locations, including Colonial Bread where we bought our bread and took some to the ducks at Spring Park. I didn’t venture down to Spring Park as I needed to head back to Cherokee.

Next time you are at Southgate Mall drive behind the old Rogers store. Look up at the light poles in the parking lot. One fixture sports the shade mounted to shield light for the drive-in. One little light shade sparked an adventurous drive into childhood memories and adventures. Today many stores and businesses have replaced those I mentioned and our home is better than ever. But it is pleasant to know my childhood can still be seen if I just look a little closer.

Friday, August 31, 2007

A Dog's World [CCR]

One would never imagine walking the dog would bring such interesting thoughts. But in the early morning dew your mind is left to wander while the dog hops and skips through the grass chasing butterflies and grasshoppers. I looked down at our Miniature Schnauzer and speculate how the world looks through a dog’s eyes. For some dogs it may be dismal, but for this little dog it should be rosy.

The movers are coming this week and the house is now in disarray as we sort through what precious belongings travel with us while the remainder is relegated to the large tractor-trailer. Wednesday and Thursday our house will be overcome with packers who will box everything that is standing still, so I tell the dog to keep walking. Friday we load the truck, and if all goes well, Saturday we drive to Tennessee. It’s Labor Day weekend so we should have a couple of days to relax since we don’t move into the new house until the next weekend. We should be stuck at the hotel, but not me. I have plans.

On Monday I hope to drive down home to visit the Labor Day celebration at the Coon Dog Cemetery. I haven’t been to the big event since I left home in 1988. There amongst those ancient woods are buried some of the happiest dogs known to man. They spent their entire life hunting the raccoon, a nocturnal animal known to give a hound a run for his money.

I’m sure the cemetery will be bustling with various people I remember from years ago along with new faces I haven’t seen. A fair share of politicians will be present to make known their stand and request for your vote. But most of all there will be festivity and music. We will be celebrating both the working man who built this country and the working dog who gave the working man something to think about other than his troubles. What could be more American?

If all goes well with the movers, who seem to always miss their estimate, you should be able to find me among the crowd. I’ll have my digital camera recording memories for my children and I’ll have a few tales to share. The boys and I will make the walk down to the spring and show them what once seemed a steep hill climb back leaving you wishing for another cool drink of water.

For most city folk the festivities may have little or no meaning. But for the folks back home it is an annual event sharing the significance of many hometown celebrations. But if you leave your mind open, as you walk through those hallowed grounds, you too may see the world through a dog’s eyes. You’ll hear the rustle of the leaves and feel the air pumping through your lungs as you trace the scent of your catch to that old hollow tree and be rewarded for your efforts. Along with your comrades you will announce your arrival to the critter in the tree, offering him the chance to surrender or be taken.

If you have a little extra time on Labor Day make your way out to Freedom Hills. Roll down the windows and listen for the music or follow the signs guiding the way to the Coon Dog Cemetery. Your reward will far exceed your efforts. And if you see me wandering around come on over, shake hands, and share a story.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Experience The Shoals [CCR]

This past weekend I attended a festival in Ohio with mostly food and a little music. I have never seen so many things that you could get “deep fat fried.” Pickles, cookies, store bought snack cakes, and just about anything bad for you before you fry it. While pondering that terrible thought I happened upon a music stage where I was flabbergasted. Someone was singing worst transition of “Sweet Home Alabama” I had ever heard, slinging the words around as if they were mere adjectives to solely enhance the botched guitar. You shouldn’t sing the song if you don’t know the feeling. But how could they know the feeling if they didn’t experience it?

My most recent distraction from my laborious programming has been researching more history about our home. I happened upon some fishing pictures taken near Wilson Dam around 1940. Other research found the antique photographs of construction on the Muscle Shoals Canal. Many times our home has been the focus of national attention. In fact if you look deep enough many people such as Andrew Jackson and Henry Ford saw our little corner of Alabama as the real crossroads of the South.

In 1931 Herbert Hoover vetoed the Muscle Shoals Bill, a bill that would have created the Tennessee Valley Authority two years earlier than its actual charter in May, 1933. Progress would not be denied its opportunity in our area rich with resources. Today few people remember how much effort went into providing this boost to our area. But we do remember the traffic jams on the TVA reservation and the plumes of smoke and sound of industry emanating from the numerous buildings that once populated the campus.

As a child I can remember the busy streets around all the industry that followed the abundant resources made available through this expansion. Who can forget industries in our area like Union Carbide, Ford Motor Company, and the many others who came to take advantage of the opportunity? Reynolds built their first aluminum manufacturing here and it continues today under the watch of Wise Aluminum. I still remember the green buses carrying the shifts of labor to the aluminum plant that supplied the world with this great alloy. We were also the foundation of fertilizer development for the world.

And with all this bustling activity we grew into the “hit recording capital of the world.” Most people don’t realize the vast array of artists who found triumph in our studios. Sound from The Shoals shaped the world and still influence popular music today, including Country, Rock, Pop, and Gospel.

Today we drive along the old reservation road and notice the remnants of manufacturing that do not give justice to the missing expanse of industry. The roads that once carried men and freight to build our infrastructure now make pristine walking trails that overlook the lake formed from their efforts. It is quiet now. The song birds and other wildlife have mostly reclaimed their domain.

Progress for our home cannot be denied. Recently we heard of additional expansion in the community of Barton. I can only imagine the excitement as the community grows again. It probably has more anticipation within its populace than came with the building of the Mountain Mills. Once again the world notices our home and the rich resources of people who understand how to help industry grow.

So now I look at the stage once again. If only this singer knew the strength in one corner of the State of Alabama. His enthusiasm would actually bring him the true feeling of home and he could truly sing of “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Box of Memories [CCR]

The boys and I have started getting the shop ready for moving. It is simply amazing what one finds when preparing for the movers. I found an old box of “Mark’s Memories” with letters dating back to my first year in college, many from my grandparents and parents. By all rights I should throw them away, but there is something special about those memories from old friends and family. Some of those friends I haven’t seen since the letter was written and others have since crossed my winding path in life.

Digging deeper I find a letter from Rebecca Rutland. Rebecca was a dear friend throughout my high school years. Not only did we have many classes together, we marched up and down many footballs fields around North Alabama. By the end of high school we decided to keep in touch as we went our separate ways. I was in Auburn and she went to Huntsville. For a laugh we always included silly notes on the outside of the letters to make people wonder. She might add something like “Test Results” on the letter where I might write “Divorce Papers Enclosed.” The notes were always florescent to capture attention. I am sure the mail carriers wondered what was happening.

Earlier in high school we were always sharing laughs with each other and anyone who would join in on the fun. Mrs. Malone, our twelfth grade homeroom teacher, would always hear the latest from either one of us. I am not sure how we would have survived those years without good friendship and great laughs.

Digging a little deeper into the box I find a letter from my Grandmother Daily. I had forgotten about the letter encouraging me in my schoolwork at Auburn. She shared all the news from Mountain Springs and expressed the love from Granddaddy and her. I found a letter from Grandmother Smith. She wrote many words of heartfelt spiritual support and how God would help me get that engineering degree, and she was right.

There are so many words of love and support in the box it makes me think about how we should always cherish our friends and family. Some are still around, yet I don’t know where they may be today. Others have left in body but not in spirit. Yet I think how we really need to cherish what we have today. In the big picture disagreements mean so little compared to what you might be missing and longing for tomorrow. I look through the box and find each of those who wrote me were real supporters.

One last careful glance through the box. I can’t throw away all those memories, not yet. I guess they will remain for my children or grandchildren to sort through. I carefully place all the aged papers back into the box and tape it carefully shut. With great difficulty I leave the box for the movers to pack. I wouldn’t think it has any value in the overall picture, but it represents who I am today.

Don’t let another day go by where you haven’t called an old friend or family member. Life is too short to neglect a memory for yourself or future generations. I only hope I find the little box in Tennessee and don’t wait as long before I again read about those who brought me a smile, a hope, and a future.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Aunt Bertha’s House [CCR]

A simple sight, sound, or smell can brisk you away by both miles and years. I was passing through Mansfield, Ohio when a smell suddenly took me to Uncle Henry’s garage in Florence. Uncle Henry and Aunt Bertha lived at then end of Cumberland Street and just behind the house was Uncle Henry’s garage. It was always full of cars with various ailments under the watchful care of Uncle Henry.

When Uncle Henry wasn’t in the garage working you might find him either in the kitchen partaking of Aunt Bertha’s cooking or sitting in the den. With the large fish aquarium bubbling in the background he would tell you a story to make you chuckle. Uncle Henry’s horses, mules, and wagons were something of a legend around home. There were many times he would come rescue some poor soul who had taken his motorized vehicle where only the mules dare tread. Often he gave hayrides for birthday parties or other events and you would see the team clopping down the streets of Florence.

Inside the house today you can still find some sort of Southern delicacy on Aunt Bertha’s stove. Southern tradition demands an offering of food upon visits by friends or relatives, and Aunt Bertha has always upheld Southern traditions. She happily invites you to drop by anytime, no need to call. And she always has something cooking on the stove.

Another Southern tradition upheld by Aunt Bertha is providing something to the children on our visits. She sold Stanley products and when we were children she would search through her closet of goods often finding something for my sister or me. We rarely left the house without treasures in our stomachs and our hands.

Today Aunt Bertha’s house sits quietly in the large shade trees. You might find her with her company sitting on the front porch swings enjoying the cool summer breeze and the colorful flowers in the yard. She will ask about your family and listen attentively, sharing a smile of calming assurance. Even the memories of my visits make time stand still there in a place where you relax and enjoy the hospitality.

Once its time to depart, Aunt Bertha will see you to the door and inquire when you might be able to drop by again. You get to catch one more sensual trace of the Southern cooking on the stove from the breeze of the door, providing the temptation to make that visit sooner than later.

As you pull away from the shaded drive and head down Cumberland Street your trip to those simpler times ends when you approach the hustle and bustle of Pine Street. By the time you reach that first traffic light your mind is already longing for the tranquility you left behind at Aunt Bertha’s house. But never fear for you can head down Cumberland Street any time and she’ll be waiting with a pot on the stove and a hug for the weary.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Family [CCR]

My world has certainly changed with my little girl out of the house. As I write she is flying back from Greece and then she will enter college. For Cindy and me it is a mixed emotion that all parents go through because Chrissie is living out plans we set in motion many years ago. I watch the boys interact with their sister gone. They miss her, especially as a third party intercessor in their disagreements. But I think they also remember the many talks we had about the meaning of “family” and they know she will be there.

My sister and I have that sort of relationship. We may not have always agreed, but I don’t remember a real argument. We wrestled, we laughed, and sometimes we even cried as one. We didn’t always hang out together, after all she was three years older than me. But she never abandoned me either. More than once she fiercely came to my defense.

Eventually Susan left home for college, and in this case, the big city. She was moving to Birmingham. I am sure she was anxious, but I was immensely impressed. Susan and her friend, Debbie Keeton, moved into Cripple Creek Apartments on the south side of Birmingham. Together with Debbie’s family we gathered furnishings and supplies, loaded them onto trucks, and struck out for Birmingham.

After unpacking the vehicles we visited a mall just down the street from the apartments. I had never seen a two story mall and certainly not one with a parking garage. I can still see Mr. Keeton standing at the top of the big escalator lighting a fancy cigar he had just purchased in a tobacco shop.

Leaving Susan behind in Birmingham was difficult for me. I didn’t know how Mom and Dad felt, but I assume it wasn’t much different from me setting Chrissie free. We all knew we had given her everything she needed in that big city. But we didn’t have the fancy cell phones, e-mail, or unlimited long distance calling many of us enjoy today. To me Susan was as distant as moving to New York, but it wasn’t really that drastic.

Susan and Debbie made it through those years and now Susan has moved home to Cherokee. We stay in contact with almost daily phone calls. In a month I will be only a couple of hours away. And today we both know we will do whatever it takes to help the other one. Our relationship is the example I wish my children to follow through life.

Through my many adventures I have met people all over the world. I have learned that you can extend your family, an honored status. In my case I was lucky to inherit a family member such as my sister. She sat a high standard for me to elevate others to my family circle. Once someone has reach that plateau it is important that you remember at the end of the day you will always have family.

Today, if I call Susan will answer. She knows I will always be there as well. Such is the desire for my children, to always have somewhere to turn when life’s troubles approach. In life we learn lessons that help us stay sane in our short visit to this existence. The family relationship with my sister is one of those lessons.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Growing Again [CCR]

Last week while I wandered around Rutherford County, Tennessee looking for a house the people back in Ohio got a bit of bad news. Another big box store chain decided it might be cheaper to find their supply of garden hose overseas and hundreds of people lost their lifetime jobs. These individuals, some with twenty years at the facility, are now forced to face the job market and learn how the world has changed. For me the change seems more endangering here in Ohio now than it would back home.

Fifty years ago many folks back home looked north for the prospects of a good job. The South slowly recovered from the Great Depression, even with the boost provided by TVA. Many of my aunts and uncles, along with my parents, sought either permanent or temporary employment in Ohio or Illinois. Some stayed for years while others settled back home as industry built in Colbert County. Companies such as Ford, Union Carbide, and Reynolds brought the families back together as industry expanded.

While I didn’t see the environment fifty years ago, I did see the result of the expansion in The Shoals. I remember seeing the green buses that carried employees to the expansive Reynolds facilities. Industry slowly absorbed the population with a growing hunger for labor and the economy boomed with crowded downtown streets and the newly built Southgate Mall. Southern Railway built one of the most modern rail classification yards in the world with many new innovations.

My memory has me believe those booming years probably peaked some time just before I left home. Maybe my absence gave changes more distinction on my visits home. I sadly watched as several industries withdrew entirely from the region while others downsized. But we persevered.

In contrast to the bad news for the garden hose plant in Ohio, I read the exciting news for my family and friends back home. It seems more industry is focusing on our area. After receiving several new industrial residents such as SCA, our Canadian neighbors are building a large manufacturing facility in Barton. Change is inevitable, but change in Barton is amazing. The old railroad depot has been gone many years. The gas stations and food establishments on the old highway are long gone. Children on the school playground are only heard in whispering echoes of the past. Yet enthusiasm is in the air with new facilities, new jobs, and new faces.

Today modern manufacturing is expanding and don’t blink, you actually did see an overpass in the little community. Once more people are speaking of economic prosperity and the cycle is pushing upward again. As the opulence of Barton gains new roots within the industrial park we are reminded of the mighty Mountain Mills that once reigned supreme there.

The story doesn’t end in this quaint West Colbert County community. Rather Barton is a summary chapter in the prosperity that faces our hometown. People are discovering that our corner of Alabama, rich in history and heritage, is also full of hospitality. Once again people from all over the world are discovering the charmed life in the gentle foothills and rolling valley along the banks of the mighty Tennessee River. Let’s welcome our new neighbors with open arms and prove they are the early arrivers to discover the good life in Northwest Alabama.

Friday, July 20, 2007

House Hunting [CCR]

This week finds me in Murfreesboro looking for a house. They call it “house hunting.” Not exactly the best kind of hunting, but it is required. Personally I’d rather be back home coon hunting with Dad and Mr. Thompson or Mr. Maxwell. In our case it is a special race to look at the maximum number of houses in the fewest days so we can focus on a couple of houses at the end of the week.

Relocating always presents its challenges. You get seven days to find a house that may be your residence for the next thirty years. So far I haven’t had to worry about being in the house that long, but this time I don’t want to move again any time soon. So with teenagers, the family dog, and a real estate agent in tow we wander around Murfreesboro looking for a major purchase.

Mom and Dad are here to provide Dad’s expertise. Dad learned a lot from Granddaddy Daily who built houses all around Colbert and Franklin Counties. In fact one of Granddaddy Daily’s final jobs was helping Dad build the house Mom and Dad live in today. Dad will examine the house from top to bottom giving me a virtual guarantee of buying the best possible house. I couldn’t do better on my own.

Granddaddy always wanted to teach us what he knew. I only wish I could have spent more time learning from him. He kept a stack of scrap lumber beneath his table saw for us to pick through. He also let us borrow tools from his big green toolbox. We gathered the pieces and built all kinds of contraptions from that wood. Our imagination was the limit. I’m not sure what happened to all those whatnots constructed by the grandchildren.

In his later years the family bought Granddaddy a small band saw and some other tools. Even with his arthritis he continued to use his hands extensively. He became quit good at carving small scale tools and equipment used by his generation. He actually built a small log cabin with all the furniture and apparatus for a small farm house. The chimney was built with small rocks shaped very similar to the homemade chimneys of his childhood. I guessed it would draw smoke if one built a fire in it. He was very detailed. I’m not sure where that cabin is today, but it is something both my sister and I will treasure our entire lives.

Giving everything you have is something my Grandparents not only taught us, but showed us as well. Grandmother did her part too. Even when she was 90 and spent most of her day confined to a single room where she continued to crochet Christmas decorations. I dropped by to visit her at Aunt Bertha’s house and she always had a sack full of her creations. I would buy them to provide money for more supplies. Today I still adorn our Christmas tree with many of these homemade decorations which are much more valuable to me than the other decorations we own.

My real estate agent is supposed to call any minute now. We will pile into our rented gas guzzling SUV and begin our trek around Murfreesboro. I keep thinking to myself, “This is the last time.” Let’s just pray this time its for real.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Summer Fruits [CCR]

We are now in the peak of summer and I am in the peak of panic over preparing for my move. The boys helped me clean out around the blueberries, which happen to be fully ripe now. Maybe those berries helped peak their interest in the job. Unfortunately we don’t have the blackberries here in Ohio like we have back home in Alabama. Dad tells me of his blackberry picking stories and I can only look forward to next year.

The roads back home I know are covered in blackberries right now. But my favorite reminiscence is the wild plums. I can remember riding my bicycle up and down Moody Lane and finding a wide selection of luscious sweet plums. You always looked for the plums almost ready to fall off the bush as they were the sweetest. Mom wanted us to pick them for making jelly. But the temptation to immediately partake of the plums overcame the desire for canning in most cases.

Today you can ride the roads of Colbert County and not find any wild plums, at least according to my observations during my trips back home. A few years ago I actually published my thoughts on this problem in some poetry. While poetic the reflection is more melancholy than exhilarating. I can only assume our modern chemicals have eliminated this bounty from the Alabama roadside.

Another summer delicacy were the grapes growing on the vines in our lower yard. Dad had planted three varieties when I was a small child. In my early years you would often find me standing in an old plastic chair picking the sun ripened green grapes, the best in my view. Mom thought the grapes, like the plums, should be preserved for canning. Yet these glistening morsels of fruit were even less likely to survive the trip to the kitchen for canning than the plums.

As you probably already know there is no way I could eat them all and most of the fruit made it to the canning process. As the year waned with the fruit supply so did the amount left for canning until any useful fruit could not be found. Then the cycle began again and I waited another year.

Just as the plums disappeared so have the grapes. The grapevines grew old and withered. Dad planted more grapes but they never really replaced those original vines that spent the growing years with me. One of the first priorities for my new Tennessee home will be the planting of grape vines in memory of those great years. I would plant the commercial plums but they just don’t taste the same as the wild ones I remember. Maybe my memory has dulled.

When I get back home I’m going to take another stroll down Moody Lane. I keep thinking one day I’ll find a remnant of those wild plums. You’ll know if I do. I’ll be standing there without a bucket, parsing through the bush and stealing those juicy morsels just about to drop on the ground. If you hurry I might even share a few with you.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Family Doctor [CCR]

Yesterday we finished our final yard sale and the packing has begun. While we are still 60 days away from my first day in Tennessee it is time to get everything out the door that we don’t want the movers to grab. After about ten moves I have learned if you stand still long enough they will pack you. I imagine riding in that big hot trailer down to Tennessee wouldn’t exactly be comfortable. I leave that job to the television (it’s still upset with me).

I looked through the medicine cabinet last night. I guess I need to schedule one last visit with the doctors to get all my prescriptions updated. I really hate trying to find doctors in a new location. Doctors are sort of personal and you really do develop a relationship with them. Today the shortage of doctors isn’t helping. Between insurance, school loans, and equipment costs the doctor must enjoy helping people to afford to stay in practice. It makes the family doctor sort of special.

Dr. Mims was the first to greet me in this wonderful world. He was Mom and Dad’s doctor from my beginning and after my few short years visiting the pediatrician he became my doctor as well. As such he saw me through scrapes, bruises and even a few sneezes. We woke Dr. Mims in the middle of the night to hear his calm assurance and know our prescription was waiting for us in the morning. Now if you count all those people we saw in his office and figure how many called at night it makes me question when Dr. Mims ever got any sleep.

Early in life I got a curiosity in electricity. It seems every child gets a curiosity in something that points them in some direction. Well, I went from drawing power lines to finding an old television. My entry into engineering had its bumps in the road. One Christmas Eve we bounced over a big bump when I found an old television. I gutted all the parts (of which I still have some I think) and then looked at what was left. Dad was working in the shed when he heard me. I punctured a hole in the picture tube. The gas in the tube quickly entered my body and the muscle spasms ensued. None of us really knew what had happened other than I felt terrible. Mom left a message for Dr. Mims and we headed to the hospital. Dr. Mims walked into the emergency room and gave me something to drink. As always his wisdom prevailed and he already knew I would be fine with something to settle me. He told Dad that after a few hours working on his farm I would be fine.

Dr. Mims spent many years watching our family grow. Today he is retired and enjoying life in Tuscumbia. It was a melancholy day to see him hang up his stethoscope. I’m sure such a doctor misses all of us as much as we miss him. But he still drops by to see the family. Mrs. Mims and he are always ready to share a smile and a story. I’m sure they both proudly look around at all the lives they touched in the The Shoals.

Such is the story of many doctors in the area. I could tell about many others who patched me up. Today my family strongly depends on Dr. Taylor who picked up in their lives where Dr. Mims left off. It would be extremely difficult to mention all the specialists who help us too. It is simply amazing that in this increasingly complex world the family doctor still maintains a seemingly unwearied watch over his fold. Take a moment and show your doctor appreciation for all the years spent preparing next time they patch you up, reassure you, and send you on your way. Thank you Dr. Mims for introducing me into this great world. Hopefully we can sit and share a story when I come home.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Surplus Profit [CCR]

Yard sales are interesting events. You simply place everything you bought for the last five to twenty years in your yard and watch other people buy it at a bargain. For an engineer, the math is somewhat confusing. I visit the local big box discount store and buy some useless item or toy. I then wait a number of years and sell it at a fraction of the cost. Then you quickly run your hand through the bag of quarters and proudly proclaim the profit you made. You just made about a hundred dollars selling three hundred dollars worth of stuff.

Well I guess it becomes necessary when you know you are about to pack everything and move across the country again. Each time I move I promise myself it is the last move and then I find myself moving again. This time I think it is for real. Murfreesboro, Tennessee may be stuck with me for a long time.

We didn’t have a yard sale growing up out on Moody Lane. I guess the Daily and Smith families were large enough to find a use for everything. Any item ready for disposal always found a home at some cousin’s house. If you needed anything then you checked with the family and usually you found what you needed.

For me the definition of a smokehouse never quite fit the definition you might imagine. In the later years Grandmother Daily no longer needed the smokehouse for the original intended purpose. For me the smokehouse meant the surplus store. You simply went out to the smokehouse and picked out the clothes you needed or whatever surplus items you might find.

Mom and Dad didn’t have the bigger families like my grandparents. It was just my sister and I and now between the two of us we have four children, three boys and one girl. The boys get to swap clothes, but it just isn’t the same as exploring the smokehouse to see what treasure you may find. All the same I do enjoy going home to find some fortune Mom and Dad kept around the house to trigger a pleasant memory.

This year Mom and Dad are celebrating fifty years of marital bliss. Forty five of those years have been at my childhood home on Moody Lane. While they have modernized the house and spiffed up the yard, the old buildings still show signs of children at play. And now the grandchildren have left there marks as well. Writings on the wall of the old shed tell tales of playing store. Toys in the playhouse Dad built speak of a grandchild’s imagination.

These relics make me question what I should keep for my own children’s memories. I guess I don’t really worry because we have enjoyed the pleasures of moving around the country and meeting people from all walks of life. Thus my children have taught me something valuable. It really isn’t the remnants that make the memories pleasant. The memories themselves are the real treasure. Things can be sold. Homes will age. But memories are the foundation for sanity in an insane world. I only hope I can give my children the same “treasures” my parents gave me. Happy anniversary Mom and Dad and thanks for all the memories.

Fifty Years Ago [Exclusive]

Nearly fifty years ago a young girl was chopping cotton in the hot summer fields of Alabama. Each summer she worked in the fields to contribute to the family and spent any “spare” time on house chores. She washed clothes, tended the farm animals, and helped take care of the family. These efforts developed a focus on the importance to prepare for the tasks ahead.

Everything she knew about this wonderful world was confined to the books she read and the stories she heard when her Uncle Fred and Aunt Virginia visited. But those stories were enough to spark an interest. Deep inside she desired to see the world she read about, but alas, it was merely a dream for a young girl growing up in the desolation of the rural South.

Nearly fifty years ago a young man spent his days working at a saw mill. From the money he earned he forfeited a share to the family income. After his expenditures little was left. For this young man the future rested in his father’s lessons of honesty and a hard day’s work.

The young man’s world centered around skills to survive a lifestyle slowly escaping the grips of the post depression Appalachian South. Friends and relationships were key to surviving and he had honed these skills well.

Personally I didn’t witness the events of this time, but looking at the evidence suggests the joining of these two souls as inevitable. Each combined traits to carry them from a world of borrowing gas money for a week to growing a family founded on the principals of truth, hard work, and education.

These two souls are about to commemorate fifty years together as a wedded couple. Today’s worldly challenges to both the spirit and the sanctity of marriage prove the decision made sound. The blessings bestowed upon this commitment mean they can now look at the years past and celebrate the trials and tribulations that brought them to this pinnacle in life.

Cindy and I once participated in our church’s premarital counseling program. We attended a seminar to prepare us for the challenge and that seminar revealed a very important secret to marital bliss. Just as life isn’t stagnant, neither is our relationships. Our marriage is not a single commitment to each other, but a living bond requiring daily renewal and adjustment.

This couple didn’t have that training and weren’t privy to this psychological nugget. Yet they discovered through their own adventures that only through this evolving interdependence would they survive.

Congratulations Mom and Dad on your upcoming fiftieth wedding anniversary. Celebrate your success and delve into the rewards of your efforts. You have proven to the agnostic soul that the American dream is still alive if the dreamer is willing to do their share.

Friday, June 22, 2007


Everyone has their opinion about gambling and casinos. The debate of publicly authorized lotteries has plagued almost every state in our great country. I know it has even touched my great home of Alabama. Personally, I am not ready to ponder that subject even though I do have an opinion. I have noticed that each of us appear to be drawn into gambling even when we have not realized it.

An initial reaction to my introduction of today’s chat can be somewhat shocking for some of the home folks. A lot of people dare not speak of betting or casting lots. Unfortunately each of us are participating in a lottery that is starting to really frustrate me.

As a child in Cherokee I can remember gasoline at the incredibly high price of 25 cents per gallon. Many of our friends can remember even lower prices. We pulled into the gas station and filled up with the clinking and clanking of the electromechanical gas pump slowly adding up the final bill. While prices increased, the change was rare. It involved opening the individual pump and rotating gadgets or gears to match up the correct ratio of cents per gallon. Changing the price wasn’t exactly a trivial task.

Twice a year Mom and Dad took us camping. Those trips were exciting because we actually ventured down to the interstate and saw the expansive concrete highways. On the horizon we could see signs reaching to the sky at cluttered exits marking the location of gas stations. The price on those signs were manually changed by climbing a long ladder. Even billboards proclaimed the price of gas at upcoming exits with placards that required human intervention.

Today we gamble. I went by the gas station and the price was $2.77 per gallon. Never mind the 9/10 added to the price, it isn’t noticeable after $2.00. I decided I could fill the truck when I came back by from taking my son to work. By the time I returned a few hours later the price was $2.95 per gallon. I panicked and stuffed every bit of gasoline I could into the tank. The price is on the rise. The next morning I passed and the price was $2.88 per gallon. The answer was clear. The decision to fill your tank is a gamble and the price of the liquid gold in your tank varies faster than a volatile stock market.

An article on one of the big cable news channels discussed the problem for the gas stations. Those poor station owners left with the plastic numbers for gas prices are constantly out at the sign. Most chain stations now install electronic signs that only require a button push to change the price.

A price change at the pump was simplified when we passed the $1.00 per gallon point. I dropped by one day and filled my car. The instant I turned off the pump the price dropped. I shook my head in disappointment. Now, if you have a special card, some of those smartaleck pumps will lower the price immediately.

Regardless of how you look upon other forms of gambling, I think we have found ourselves trapped in a lottery. Depending on the quantity of fuel needed, a considerable amount of money is on the line when you pull into the gas station. I’m pretty sure most people, including the station owners, are frustrated. I will not be shocked to find myself pulling into my local gas station one day to discover the price just changed from what the sign said during my ten second ride to the pump. I only hope it will be a downward spiral. Let’s place our credit card in the slot, pull the lever, and hope we are a winner.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Passing Time [CCR]

Society has become so dependent on the computer and networks. Just as people see electricity in the home as a given when it was once a luxury, the existence of high speed Internet communications is becoming a given. Most of my bills are paid online. My mother always used the postal service. Yet, my granddaddy paid in person. I attribute those differences to technological advances, but it could be contributing to social decline. It has been said that air conditioning was a major cause for the decline of the “Southern front porch” way of life. Maybe other technology helped.

During my youth Cherokee was always a very social community. You could always find people hanging around town at the various establishments just to pass the time. I guess small town traditions contributed to the “neighborly” reputation of the South. Mom has spoke of days when you couldn’t find a place to park a car in Cherokee.

Granddaddy Smith performed his duty adding to the social atmosphere in town. I will never forget that almost every day he wasn’t working he traveled out to town for one errand or another. Many days he was paying the telephone bill, water bill, or electricity bill. But every trip always meant he went around visiting friends and neighbors. You would often find him passing the time with his cousin, Macon Askew. That close friendship maintained itself through their retirement years as you would find Granddaddy sitting on Macon’s porch discussing the weather and waving at friends traveling down North Pike.

The fine folks up at First Baptist and the many other great churches around town often saw a lot of socializing on Sundays. I can remember people hanging around after church discussing the lessons of the day or the events for the week. It was a perfect time to see many neighbors and interact. Now for a small kid anticipating lunch it might not be the best idea, but it was time well spent for the adults. My memory makes me believe life was just a little slower in those days. Some people attribute that paradigm to the passing of time. I perceive it as reality.

Granddaddy Daily had his share of social life. It seems his house out at Mountain Springs was always frequented by visitors from all around. And when they weren’t visiting Granddaddy he was out catching up on their news. Granddaddy would venture out to the store or for some other errand and stop along the road for discussions at a mailbox. I can remember sitting quietly in the old truck with Grandmother as the stories rambled on. Maybe I was a little impatient then, but now I know these visits were an important part of his life and Southern culture.

Next time you recede to your bedroom or office to type out a fast message on a chat window or open an e-mail message think about the culture left behind. You are missing the joy of seeing another face with the emotional impact of the conversation. You may also be missing out on a good tale since the rat race implies sticking strictly to the business at hand. Take a trip out to town, drive slow, and drop by to see a neighbor. You may both be surprised at how much better you feel afterwards.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Home Projects [CCR]

Most folks don’t realize that I am looking at moving to Tennessee. It looks like a real possibility that I may forfeit my unofficial status as ambassador of Southern Heritage to these fine folks in Ohio. My company is providing an opportunity that I just can’t refuse, placing me closer to home than I have been since 1987. So now the television shakes again, knowing it is going to get banged around in another moving truck.

Looking around the house I see nothing but little things I must get done before I move. I have a to-do list that has survived almost four years with little attention. It seems whenever I begin to whittle down the pile it ironically grows larger.

Dad never seemed to have my problem. He is always very creative and energetic when it comes to fixing little problems around the house. I’m not saying it wasn’t hard work. But he always seemed to have the spark and the forethought that I struggle to find.

One day I arrived home from school to find Dad and a sledge hammer hard at work in the living room. I’m not sure Mom knew that we were about to remodel, but evidently the notion had struck Dad. He was knocking down the wall and thus a major expansion begun. Mom and Dad built the house with help of family so I guess they were the best choice to design any modifications. But Dad seemed to have the knack of working designs purely within his head. Eventually the house morphed into a rather interesting large living room, dining room, den, and kitchen combination that has changed a little, but basically kept this expanded design.

Dad started other projects in a similar fashion. He constructed a large shed from the materials leftover from building our house. Later he tore down a log house to build a log barn which housed our farm animals. And finally he built a shop that is housing his most recent projects. Granted I wasn’t old enough to know about the original house plans, but everything built since the original house was genuinely Dad’s idea.

Mom and Dad remain in the house they built with their own labor, yet it looks dramatically different from the original design. Mom called and said they were finishing their application of crown molding in all the rooms. Yet I can look at pictures of the house today and still see the many images of my sister and I in our many adventures around home. I guess Dad’s talent to modify but maintain has given us a token of simpler days which is a comfort.

Now I wander into my laundry room looking at the floor and wishing I had that spark. If it were a robot I would already have tore it down and rebuilt it, providing new programs and animation. But for me it isn’t that simple. If you want me to draw or specify the repair, then you have found the person for the job. But I scratch my head and remember my Dad, who seemed to have a gift for making almost anything without all the formalities.

For Dad I wish a most wonderful Father’s Day. He has definitely gained my admiration. If anything, my Father’s Day wish is to gain a spark of his inspiration so I can get this house ready. Soon we’ll meet in town at the hardware store where I will be puzzling over my next project. It’ll give me an excuse to stop and talk with old friends. Then I’ll be ready to conquer that next big project.

Take a moment over the next few weeks and thank a special inspiration in your life. As I told a friend, anybody can be family. Some of my best friends I now consider my family. And if you get the chance, become family for somebody who needs a little boost. Then take a moment and remember those fathers who have moved on and left their legacy with us. Here’s hoping you have someone special to thank or remember as we celebrate our family heritage.