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.