Friday, May 25, 2007

The Jeep and the Tree [CCR]

During my later high school years Dad purchased a 1966 CJ6 Jeep. I probably spent more of my waking hours in that Jeep than I did at home. We roamed over all the back roads, hills, and hollows of western Colbert County. It wasn’t a fancy Jeep but it did have a metal top. Somehow I convinced Dad to let me take the top off in the summer. I know he worried, but I survived and created some memories that will never leave me.

The Jeep didn’t use much gas, although gas prices were much cheaper then. I kept a hoe handle behind the driver’s seat for my gas gauge. Dip the handle in the tank and you could quickly read the fuel level. Dad bought a new set of tires for the Jeep which lasted until he sold it less than ten years ago.

On Saturdays you could find me wandering some back road enjoying the sun and cool breeze when there wasn’t work to be done at the house. But sometimes we took the Jeep out for some of those tasks. One of those missions gave Dad a new trust in me. We were out gathering pine stumps, also known as rich pine for some of you folks back home. Dad liked to keep plenty at the house for building fires. Our knack for gathering rich pine resulted in numerous piles of the treasured wood in our pasture.

On the day in question we had driven to the point of a long ridge where we had looked both for pine and ginseng. It was time to go and Dad told me to turn the Jeep around. I simply replied that the Jeep didn’t have any brakes and I didn’t think it was a good idea to turn the Jeep around on the edge of the hill. I’m not sure why Dad didn’t believe me, but he decided to show me it was fine.

I was both amazed and scared to death as I watched that Jeep begin its unrestrained journey backwards down the hill. I could hear Dad pumping the brake pedal faster than a loaded steam engine. But since most of you know my Dad today you already know our escapade did not result in disaster. Luckily a small tree impeded the path before the Jeep gained enough momentum to become unstoppable.

With the tree using all the strength of its root system to hold our Jeep on the hill we began to examine the situation. Dad was fine. But the tree and the back bumper on the Jeep didn’t fare as well. Dad had built the bumper and it wasn’t really a concern. In fact we never really straightened the bumper. The tree would have to recover on its own.

I bet you’re wondering how we got out of this pickle. Dad always carried critical tools and supplies for emergencies. We basically opened our toolbox to find a wrench and a bottle of brake fluid. A small panel in the floor of the Jeep gave access to the brake fluid reservoir and the problem was solved in a matter of minutes. We saw no massive leak and decided the fluid had left the system slowly over a period of time. We could make permanent repairs later.

Dad and I climbed back into the Jeep, placed it in low gear, and crawled back up the hill. I think Dad may have thought I hadn’t pumped the brakes to build pressure as you would in older systems. But today we both still laugh about the time Dad rolled down the hill. And if you look in the back of Dad’s car you will find that stash of supplies. But don’t fret, there is a red box in the back of my van with some of the same supplies.

Dad and I have a fond recollection of that day and the many other days we spent roaming through the woods of Colbert County. There are many more adventures involving the old Jeep, some Dad probably doesn’t know to this day. Maybe when I travel home we can meet down at the local store, sit a spell, and summon up those tales. If it brings a smile to your face then it is worth having my own surreptitious exploits revealed.

Friday, May 18, 2007

It’s All Hooey [CCR]

A couple of weeks ago I traveled down to Murfreesboro, Tennessee for some business. My company has a large facility there which is conveniently located near home. In fact Murfreesboro isn’t that much different than the Shoals. I enjoy visiting the folks there and hopefully they enjoy me dropping by for a spell.

Mom and Dad came up during my trip and visited with me in Murfreesboro. We hadn’t seen each other since our visit at Christmas so it was a nice extravagance for my business trip. They joined me at the hotel and we ventured together checking out the town. We stopped by a hobby store for Mom to find some stuff and, as things would go, it was Dad and me who found something. We came upon some simple pine sticks and dowels. It brought back a memory that we both forgot. About three dollars later we headed back to the hotel to experiment with our memories.

Dad got out his knife to begin whittling as I described the details of what we were about to build. Our first attempt wasn’t exactly as we expected, but each revision got us a little closer to perfection. Dad studied each whittle on the wood as if working on a fine piece of furniture. He then handed the prototype to me for our trial. After our third attempt we found success. Now we needed to duplicate our efforts for mass production.

Again Dad whittled at the pine sticks while making sure we didn’t drop any shavings on the hotel room floor. Mom sat over in the corner reading a book and I’m sure she was questioning our sanity at one point or another. Pine shavings flew and we found success with the second test of our second unit. We closely examined our work to compare how we found success as multiple attempts would not be acceptable quality control for future production.

Dad whittled away at the third contraption and it worked with success on our first trial. I think both of us were as happy as a young child opening presents on Christmas morning. Success was ours. Dad wanted me to take our three prototypes home for my own children. He planned to whittle some more back home and build some contraptions for himself.

And with that visit Dad and I created our own version of the hooey stick, also known as a gee-haw stick. My first exposure to the hooey stick was at the craft fair in Hohenwald, Tennessee. There it was called a hooey stick and so we used that name. It is a simple stick of pine with notches and a propeller on the end. If you rub another stick along the notches the propeller will turn. Say “hooey” and the propeller changes direction. I’m sure many of you have seen one. If not, look Dad up and ask to see one of his.

Our visit was pleasant, but I had to return to Ohio. I packed my three hooey sticks and headed to Galion. At home my children were astounded, but it was my demonstration at work that was more interesting. Want to know how to keep these folks up here busy for hours? Show them a hooey stick and then let them play with it. I guarantee it will bring hours of entertainment for you and a lot of wonder for them. Of course, I ran into one or two who had seen it before. Next thing you know they’ll be claiming it isn’t a Southern thing. No matter. It gave me time to spin some yarns and spread some Southern goodwill. My job was done.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Graduation [CCR]

Graduation is just around the corner and I keep looking in the mirror for a reality check. My little girl is leaving for college. It seems only yesterday that Mom and Dad packed up our old 1974 Chevy truck and I left for Auburn. I have pictures of me sitting on the old couch in my efficiency apartment after arranging my furniture and posters.

Our seniors are approaching a time to make some very important decisions if they haven’t already made those choices. It seems once you make that walk to receive your diploma the rest of your life is abound with life changing decisions. You look back to the previous year as excitement towards independence and then you drive by the old school the next year longing for the security, but proud of your accomplishments.

It hasn’t been much more than fifty years ago that many young people were not able to complete school because they needed to start work early and help make a living on the farm. We have come a long way. But we have a long way to go. In those fifty years we have moved from a time where a high school education would guarantee a long term secure job. Technology and time have changed that paradigm. Today you need to develop a foundation in either technology, additional professional training, or additional education to acquire a seemingly secure job. Our young people’s decisions have a more profound affect on their lives today than they ever have before.

It hasn’t been more than fifty years ago that most young people were getting married soon after high school graduation if not before. The young couples were quickly forming relationships and looking for opportunity to promptly build their own family. Over time we have seen the average age of marriage shift upwards to near thirty years of age. Society’s pressures for working couples shifted the model. Our young people need to build a personal foundation rather than a joint one and then join the foundations to earn a living.

It hasn’t been more than fifty years ago that most young couples started a family early. The children were a necessity to assist the family in earning a living, mostly tending to the crops. Today children are a luxury that consume a majority of parental influence to prepare the children for life.

One may scrutinize my thoughts and proclaim dismay at the outlook. I think you need to examine the foundation of change to understand the improvement. With time we have better healthcare and we enjoy luxuries only imagined by my grandparents. In that answer lies the catch. Good choices provide the means for enjoying today’s successes. Having a work ethic, making yourself desirable, and building relationships places you on the correct road. “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” Proverbs 22:1 withstands the test of time.

If you are among those about to embark on independence, the world is being handed to you with a clean slate. Look around you for guidance from those who have gained wisdom from their own choices. Take advantage of this new world to make yourself known. Find your contribution to the triumph of others and there you will find your own success. Most of all, celebrate your success in approaching this new venture knowing that coming this far only means you have what it takes to finish the journey.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Thank You For Another Year [CCR]

We have shared stories and memories together in the Colbert County Reporter for over a year now. My first article, Barbershop Memories and the Comforts of Home, had been written for quite some time when I first submitted it to the newspaper. It is my desire to divulge the memories that bring me back to the place I love, my home.

Thirty years ago I would have laughed if you had told me I would be sharing these stories with you. Yet, we never know where the future will take us. Each decision we make means we have renewed ourselves in one direction or another. As we approach the end of another school year our graduates are excited with anticipation of their “release” into our world. Over twelve years our schools attempted to provide the tools needed to be successful. Hopefully they received eighteen or more years learning the morals needed to survive in our society.

But now the true test has arrived. Some will search additional educational degrees while others proceed directly to contributing to society and earning for themselves or a family. While they may think it unfortunate, no matter which direction they choose the schooling does not end. Now begins the lessons of wisdom so rarely absorbed while under the watchful eye of teachers or family members.

My graduation night seems like yesterday. I strolled across that high school stage with the fans blowing the tassel in my face. My photograph still shows the feeling of relief on completing this stage of life not realizing it was one of the easier stages for me. My friends and I gathered after graduation and went to celebrate. It was a simple celebration, a slice of pie at a restaurant in Muscle Shoals. But it was an important celebration. For while I have seen a few of my friends, some I have not seen since that time together.

Today I watch my own daughter approach the same gateway into the next phase of life. She is attending her prom and then preparing for her own move out of the house. I remember her tiny body exasperated from its first cry and laying impatient on the warming tray after her birth. I can still remember when she told her Granddaddy “I am no squirt” at her first birthday celebration. We’ve shared many good memories and a few sad ones, but together they have formed a set of memories that I hope give her the same comfort I find in my writings.

I chose to start my visits with you sharing my memories of a barbershop, a simple innocent time. Entering the barbershop meant leaving your worries at the door’s threshold. The shop was a safe zone where you could drop all defenses and just be yourself, share a joke, or spin a yarn. It was an obvious choice because retreating to that comfort zone is a very recuperating time of thought.

The Colbert County Reporter has been very kind to provide a means to share those memories and hopefully bring a cheerful thought to you, my home family. I hope to continue sharing those stories and I thank you for inviting me into your home each week to sit a spell, share a smile, and hopefully spark similar comforting memories.