Monday, September 15, 2014

Letter in the mail ~ my column from Sunday's paper

I got a letter in the mail from the Mountain Eagle today. Normally, they send my check each month in a regular envelope, but this one was larger. It looked a little suspicious to me.

My eyebrows furrowed. Scrunching up my bottom lip involuntarily, I flipped the envelope front to back. Cautiously I shook it a little, and then held it up to the light to see if I could see anything pink in there.

I’m paranoid that the bossman will one day realize I’m a hack who has problems spelling his
own name correctly. I can almost hear him rail, “We’ve wasted enough ink on this hillbilly.” Sometimes my imagination spanks me like a naughty child.

To my relief a check was there when I tore open the envelop, and luckily there was no pink slip. I shook it twice to make sure. The envelope did contain a letter to the editor, from a nursing home in Florence.

I frequently get emails from readers or Facebook messages, but it’s not often that people take the time to write a note by hand and send it through the mail.

I was flattered by the kind words, but it was the signature that put a lump in my throat. It was from Mrs. Dorothy Ellison, my senior homeroom teacher in 1968. I haven’t seen her in years.

She lives in a senior living home in north Alabama and has the newspaper mailed to her there. It seems she reads my column each week, and that I often make her smile. Reading her words made me smile too.

Closing my eyes, I could picture her standing posture perfect in front of the class writing instructions on the blackboard, the chalk softly squawking. She had a lilting voice, and I never heard her raise it.

Mrs. Ellison was the kind and caring teacher that everyone who’s ever attended high school wished for. Those lucky enough to have one like her, will never forget them.

She was a brilliant teacher who had a knack for making the material understandable. One former student said she made science fun. She intuitively knew that fun was an essential ingredient in the learning equation.

Another student said, “She was a teacher that made a difference in my life.” That says a great deal in my book.

I can honestly say I’ve had some great teachers in my life.

In looking back, my path to becoming a writer has been a long a squirrelly one. Like everyone else trying to find their way, I’ve been discouraged at times. But it seems whenever I’m feeling down, a teacher will appear and steer me in the right direction.

I’ve invested a lot of time these last few months studying the craft of writing. The authors, some long dead, are teaching me a great deal.

Most say never use big words when small ones will do the job. That’s fortunate for me, because I don’t know a lot of big words. But they also say using short sentences, and short paragraphs is better than long ones. My style is evolving.

I would not be where I am today without teachers.

So thank you, Mrs. Ellison, and all the other teachers who have helped me along the way.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rainbow egg

The sky was remarkable today. I knew before sunrise that it would be. A few feathery clouds to the south were drifting casually as if they had no where in particular to go on this Sunday morning.

A jet smaller than a mosquito raced off toward the west leaving a thread of vapor across the sky.

Flipping out my mat and punching the play button on my player, I started breathing slowly. Intentionally.  

As I flexed and stretched, the morning came alive around me. 

After finishing, I punched the brew button on the coffeemaker, and sat on the couch reading. I heard Jilda stir. The aroma of the coffee had brought her to life.

This afternoon I had a meeting with our songwriter group to discuss out gig next Sunday. 

Heading for home I saw an oval in the sky. The sun played on the moisture in a cloud making an egg-shaped rainbow.

Pulling to the side of the road, I snapped a photo out the window of my truck. The picture doesn't do the scene justice, but it will remind me that I saw something remarkable.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


I mentioned last week to our friend Asa Faith that I had been reading books about writing. "I think I have one you might enjoy," she said.

Later she sent a text saying she had some books for me. Jilda felt well enough today so we went down to fetch them.

One of the books in the pile was F. Scott Fitzgerald on writing. Flipping through the first few pages put a smile on my face. It looks like another good one.

Jilda also shared an interview by Oprah with  Paulo Coelho who wrote The Alchemist. I've read that little parable more times that I can count. Jilda has read it more than me. It always gives me hope.

Pulling the dog eared book from our shelves, I put it on the pile to read again.

Jilda has read all her life, but I wasn't a reader at first. I high school, I only read required reading. I wasn't much better the first few years of college, but somewhere along the way something changed.

These days my desk has a stack of "currently reading" books, and I've listened to 480 books on Audible. I couldn't tell you how many others I borrowed from the library.

Reading a good book has a way of lifting my spirits when I'm feeling down.

So, are you reading any good books? Care to venture a guess of how many books you've read in your life?

A host of hot habaneros

Friday, September 12, 2014


When I was a kid I heard that if the sun shines when it's raining that the devil is beating his wife. 

Yesterday I heard the rain coming before I saw it. Looking outside, the sun was as bright as a flash on our garden not 30 yards away, but buckets of rain was pouring off the tin roof.

I thought about the old saying and smiled.

Had I found a clearing that let me look off to the east, I would have seen a rainbow, but lightning crashed too close and going outside would have been unwise.
After a few minutes, the clouds raced off to the east leaving the sun to do its work.

I hope you all have a remarkable weekend.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A silence you can hear

I know within a few feet of where I was standing at 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001. I'd just poured a cup of coffee and was getting ready to go into a training class.

I remember a classmate saying, "A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center." I stood there trying to wrap my mind around that fact. 

Was it a small plane?
Had the pilot had a heart attack?
When we found a television and the pictures began pouring in, I was shocked.
We continued with the class but our minds were elsewhere as each story more tragic and horrible than the last.

All I could think was, "The world will never be the same." And it hasn't been.

The thing I remember most about the following days was the silence. I live in rural Alabama, but even here, there is rarely a time when you look up that you don't see a plane overhead. They are so common, that we've suppressed the sounds and pay no more attention to them than cicadas or treefrogs.  

But when that sound disappears, you can hear the silence.

Today was a beautiful day. We had rain in the afternoon, but on the way to a meeting this morning, I snapped a picture out the window of my truck.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Things we give

There are things we give that will outlive us. This train of thought pulled into my mental terminal this afternoon while sitting on the back deck watching our great nephew Jordan play in our back yard.

His mom had to work late and his nana had a doctor's appointment, so I picked him up at school.  

I asked him if he'd eaten. "I had a little fudge bar, but I'm pretty sure that's not really food," he reported. I snickered at this observation from a six-year-old kid from rural Alabama. So we headed out in search of some chicken.

Back at our house, he headed outside after he'd eaten. He loves for me to give him challenge runs and time his efforts. 

OK, you have to run down and touch the gate, circle the hemlock tree three times, rattle the chicken pen fence, touch the rotting stump and then back to the steps before I count to ten.

Then he's off like a shot. I adjust the speed of my counting so that he is always barely successful.  He will do this until his legs are rubbery. 

When the self competition was over, we sat on wrought-iron chairs, and drank cool water. The shadows were getting longer with dappled sunlight falling on plants at the end of the deck.

A hummingbird buzzed in to drink nectar from the bleeding heart that is still blooming. Without saying a word, we both stood statue still, watching the tiny bird feed.

When it zipped off, Jordan stepped over and leaned in to smell the tiny white flowers with red tongues. 

I told him Jilda's grandmother Mammie gave her that plant long before his mommy was born. He had to turn that over in his mind a while and I could tell it was hard for him to reconcile how old the plant was.

I know that Mammie is somewhere smiling down on the gift that keeps giving long after she was gone. 


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

At the end of the day

I wrote on the screen porch this evening. Clouds had moved in from the south blocking out the baking sun, so the porch with its ever-whirling ceiling fan kept things real.

The 30-minute Tibetan bell donged letting me know it was time to stand and stretch my legs.

A cup of ginger tea seemed like the right thing to do so I stepped into the kitchen and punched the hot-water button on the coffeemaker and drew a cup hot enough to scald the hair off a pig.

While standing there, a doe peered back at me from under the apple tree. She seemed to be saying - "Hello! It's suppertime." 

Putting on my flip flops, I walked down and fetched a few cups of corn and headed down to the feeding spot.

She huff her displeasured and ran to the end of the field and stopped to watch me.  I dumped out the corn, and headed back to the gate.

On the way back, the sun was having fun with our Zinnias which are surrounded by weeds now.

I snapped this picture with the Hipstamatic app on my phone and walked back inside so the deer could eat supper in peace.

 So, that's pretty much how my day ended. Hope you all had a good one.

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