Saturday, December 31, 2005
I miss my Dad….As I sit here alone in my office at home working, there are squirrel’s outside doing an acrobatic circus act just for me. Dad loved the outdoors. He spent every possible moment outside fishing, hunting, or simply hiking. Catching fish or “getting a buck” really was not that important to him because being outside communing with nature is where he found peace.
He could read, but with only a 5th grade education, he never acquired a love of books, and traveling was rarely an option unless it was work related so he spent his spare time on the Warrior River, or in the Sipsey Wilderness, or up on Smith Lake. Later in life, he had the opportunity to buy a small lot on the Warrior where he built a cabin. Our family spent many enjoyable weekends there. He taught me to water ski and to handle a boat and how to fly fish.
Before he died, he gave me his fly fishing rod and reel. I kept them in the barn until this past summer. For some reason I got fed up with technology so I got out the fly fishing gear, cleaned and oiled the reel and put on new state of the art fishing line. The spillway just below Smith Dam is only about fifteen minutes from my house so Buddy (my fearless K9) and I went there to wet a line. The water coming out of Smith Lake is cold as an iceberg but in August, it felt great to be standing there waist deep in crystal clear water. I promptly feel on my butt on a slick rock and soaked my old digital camera, my cell phone, my pager and my watch. Oh well, every day’s a school day. I laid the stuff on a rock to dry in the warm sunshine. I heard some old timers just down stream in a boat chuckle at my mishap, but I didn’t care. It was almost as if my father was there with me….he would have said “don’t mind them every fisherman worth his salt has busted his ass on a slick rock.” I smiled at the thought and waded further into the water.
As I fell into the rhythm of casting the weightless fly, time seemed to stand still. I looked up and saw a great blue heron glided effortlessly down the stream and all was good with the world. I didn’t catch any trout, but that didn’t matter to me because for those few hours out casting in that stream made me feel close to nature.....and closer to my Dad.
Friday, December 30, 2005
Thursday, December 29, 2005
I’m reading some books on how to become a better writer and one of the assignments is to observer what’s around you. In doing this exercise, it feels almost as if I have been living in a fog. It occurred to me that I’ve got to do a better job if I ever hope to be a decent writer.
I just read Crusader’s Cross by James Lee Burke and his descriptions of the scenes and the people are incredible. He describes the way things look, the smell, the sounds and tastes. Whenever Burke describes a scene, you feel as if you are there. James Lee would know where my lamp came from and he would know what kind of wood my box was carved from, who carved it and what kind of knife he used. He would also know the name of the printer that printed the City Stages passes.
So here goes the awakened writer; a circle of incandescent light cast by the hand-painted antique ceramic and brass lamp cast a soft glow over the sparsely furnished oak desk. In the circle of light was a small cedar box hand carved forty years ago by an introspective Tibetan Monk with a bone handled carving knife that was as sharp as a barber’s razor. The box was filled with souvenirs from a life unnoticed.
OK, maybe that was a little overboard, but I’m going to pay closer attention to things, that’s for sure.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
I was hooked. Joe and Allen were actually very cool. They let me strum on the Telecaster and even showed me a few chords. As I stood there on the front porch of that row house in that tiny mining community in rural Walker County, I made up my mind that I would play guitar.
I started the campaign immediately. I badgered my mother unmercifully. I whined, cajoled, gave her the silent treatment but she wouldn’t budge. There simply was no money in the budget for a guitar. Case Closed.
Not having a guitar of my own was made worse by the fact that both of my cousins who lived nearby got guitars for Christmas the year before and they never played them.
My friend Donnie Pinion asked me to go camping down at the Backwater which was a slough (pronounced Slew) that back up off the Warrior River below Dora. It was late in June and the days were warm and at night, skeeters big as bats swarmed like buzzards on road kill. You also had to watch out for Cottonmouth Moccasins that made their home in the warm shallow river water.
I met Donnie down there late that afternoon and we set out trotlines and baited them with night crawlers and crawfish. We were hoping to catch some big ol' honkin' catfish for supper.
We built a fire at dusk and he pulled his old flat top guitar out of his truck and we sat around the fire, and he played them old country songs. I asked Donnie if he would teach me how to play. Unlike the guys from up north, Donnie had a lot of patience and he showed me the chords over and over until I could crudely make them. He taught me “Green, Green Grass of Home.” I was fascinated by the sounds coming from that old cheap guitar.
I went home after a few days on the riverbank and I borrowed my cousin’s guitar for a few days and I practiced what Donnie had taught me.
The next Christmas, I asked my mom and dad for a guitar, but things had not improved that much for our family and I had little hope of getting one, but I did what the Bible told me to do and I asked. On Christmas Eve after I opened my presents which were school clothes and a box of shotgun shells, my mom brought out a large box. My spirits lifted dramatically. When I opened the box, I found inside a Tesco DelRey electric guitar from Sears and Roebuck. Looking back I realize that the guitar was not expensive as guitars go, but my mom had ironed many, many shirts to buy it for me and I was truly grateful.
For the next six weeks I played it every waking moment and promptly made poor grades in school. Punishment was quick and harsh. No guitar until the grades come up. I would have preferred a whipping with a rose bush but my mom was smart. That was the longest six weeks of my life (except for the Army).
I brought my grades up and was allowed to play the guitar but I never made the mistake of making bad grades again.
I learned to play the guitar and I am actually pretty good. I had the good fortune to marry a woman that loved music as much as me. We started playing together soon after we met and we continue to play today. Playing guitar is one thing I learned that has given me the opportunity to do things I would never have gotten to do.We have played all over this country as well as in Ireland. We have met remarkable people and we always get invited to fun parties…”by the way, y’all bring the guitar,” they always say.
Although I started playing young, it’s never too late to get started. I have taught people in their 50 to play. All it takes is a burning desire, a guitar and time each day to practice. If you’ve ever wanted to play, why not make it a New Year’s Resolution. I promise you will not regret it.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
This past year has had its challenges, but there were many good things that happened as well. It’s easy to forget the good things and remember only the bad, but I keep a private journal and looking back through the entries for 2005 some very interesting things happened. I made new friends and I renewed old friendships that I had neglected. While I made progress in some areas of my life, I let other areas slide. It’s a matter of focus.
This coming year there are a number of areas of my life on which I intend to focus. My health is good, but I have let my waistline slowly expand. This year I had a goal to “improve my health by exercising more and eating/drinking less”. It’s a great goal, but not very specific. In order for a goal to be effective, you have to be very specific and place a time by which you intend to see improvement. I currently weight 215 pounds so my goal for the New Year is:To improve my health by losing from 215 pounds to 195 pounds. I will do this by reducing my caloric intake and increasing my activity level so that I drop about a pound a week. I didn’t gain the weight in three weeks so it will take a while to knock it off.
In order for goals to be effective, they must be specific, they must have a time associated with them and they must be measurable so that you know if you are making progress.
I have also been saying for years that I am going to write a book. You can say you’re going to write a book until you are blue in the face, but until you schedule time, sit down, draw an outline, sketch out the characters, and begin to write, the book will never come to pass. This blog has helped tremendously. It takes discipline to write daily, to play guitar, to sing, to get you real estate license, or to become a nurse. Anything worthwhile in life requires that you trade your life force in order to make it happen.
It all comes down to wanting to do something in life. You can go with the flow and get by fine, but at the end of your life, how will you be remembered? As someone who “got by just fine,” or “someone that did something remarkable”?
I believe that we all are blessed with creativity, talents, and abilities that enable us to do things. The question is, what do you want to do?
Monday, December 26, 2005
Sunday, December 25, 2005
The sad part for me is that I’ve always loved Mrs. McMichen. Her mother and father lived across the road from my family in West Pratt and they were the neatest people. I often went across the road in the summertime and sat on the porch and drank lemonade with Mr. and Mrs. Galloway. The house was always white as a church and the floors had a fresh coat of grey paint. The hedges were always trimmed to perfection and their yard looked like it was kept by the grounds keeper at Augusta Country Club.
Later when I got old enough to drive, I cut grass for people in the area. One of my clients was Mrs. McMichen. She had a small yard, but it was steeper than the ski slope in Gatlinburg. I cut the front with a rope tied to the handle of the lawnmower…pulling it up and letting it down with the rope. Mrs. McMichen would always say “I can’t wait to have you in my class.” She was a petite and gracious woman who spoke impeccable English. I never heard her raise her voice. When she would have to put someone in line, her voice would get stern and you knew she meant business.
I had the good sense in later years to visit with her mom and dad before they passed away and record them talking about how they met and how they come to live in West Pratt. I later gave that tape to Mrs. McMichen and she thanked me every time she saw me for that simple act.
In thinking about the past, I have very few regrets. The decision to take senior English in summer school and dodge her is one I do regret because I truly believe she would have made my path easier.
Mrs. McMichen passed away on December 24th 2005. As her spirit ascends to that higher place she can go with the knowledge that during her time here on earth she made a profound impact on my life and the lives of countless others who knew and loved her.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
When I got drafted in April of 1971, it almost killed my mother. Vietnam was still a hot spot and likely destination for Alabama boys with limited "pull". She asked me as I was getting ready to leave, "do you think they'll let you come home for Christmas?"The first year I was stationed at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey and I was able to come home, but the second year I was in Panama and coming home was not an option. She sent me boxes of candy, gifts and Christmas cards from all ofmy family and friends. When I called home on Christmas eve I could hear all the commotion in the background, but the noise did not drowned out the sadness in her voice. She said it sounded like I was a million miles away.Last year when mother fell in early December and broke her hip, the pain was almost unbearable. I came in after work a few days after the accident and she was crying. I asked if she was in pain, she said her hip was hurting but that was not why she had tears in her eyes. "I won't get to be home for Christmas." I was crushed. I was so distracted by her accident that it had not crossed my mind that she still might be in the hospital for Christmas.She has ALWAYS been home for Christmas.As it turns out, we got to spring her on Christmas day and we had afew hours to be together and sang Christmas carols, opened gifts and ate turkey till we spewed. Mother got to come home for Christmas and for this I was grateful, but there are thousands of men and women in the armed services who will not enjoy this gift. My heart goes out to them all, and to their mothers who undoubtedly feel their children are a million miles away.Merry Christmas
Friday, December 23, 2005
I am late updating the blog today. I had an early appointment to get my eyes checked. I haven't had an eye exam for many years. They have all kinds of new fancy equipment now. My intention was to get one of those new MonoVision contacts so that I can read without glasses. The doc said while checking my vision "dang, did you drive here?" sounding glad that she had not been on the road at the same time. Yes, why? "Well, it looks like you've been in a fog for years.” She fitted me with some of those new fangled soft contact lenses and SHAZAM as Gomer would say; I could see things I had no idea I was missing. Why didn't somebody tell me I had hair growing out of my ears.
Getting older is interesting. There are a lot of things that don't work like they used to. Besides my eyes and my sense of smell, my hearing is drifting away too. Sometimes the latter can be considered a blessing when I'm trying to tune out the spousal unit. When she says "You need to take out the garbage and change the light on the front porch," I can honestly say "I didn't hear you say that." I can't lie to her...she can smell a lie from the next room so I stopped trying to do that years ago....but the hearing angle works.
The thing is stuff starts to fade away. If it happened more quickly, you'd be alarmed and you'd get things checked sooner but it's like a lobster in hot water. If you dump a lobster in hot water, it flails around but if you put him in and let the water slowly come to a boil, he never sees it coming.
I'm really not bitter about aging nor do I want to sound as if I'm complaining. I love my age. I feel more alive now than when I was twenty. I know for a fact I'm more interesting and have more interesting things to say. I really like the quote by Samuel Ullman that goes like this:
Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting out ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
My wife Jilda is a certified Yoga instructor and she is very good. She teaches at local gyms, community centers, corporate facilities, and substance rehabilitation centers in the area. She has been doing yoga for a long time and she finally convinced me to give it a try.
I resisted for a long time because I thought it was a bunch of hooey. But I'm man enough to admit when I am wrong and I WAS wrong.
I took the first class and what looks like gentle moves and stretches are a lot harder than they look...especially when you hold the position for eight or ten breaths. Within the first ten minutes, I was sweating rivers. I had to hose off the mat after class. I learned to focus on breathing and trying to do the poses as good as I can. As Jilda says, "it's a journey." If you don't do the poses just right, you do them better next time.
When I told the guys at work that I was doing yoga, they thought I had lace on my underwear but I've been practicing for over a year and I discovered some remarkable things: I can look back over my shoulder at yield signs without turning my body around like grandpa did. I can walk up stairs without getting winded. I can bend down and tie my shoes without sitting down and the treadmill test I took in September was the best one ever. I stayed on the treadmill 50 percent longer than the test I had the previous year and the only thing I've done differently is yoga.
Your body is an amazing machine and the most important thing you own. If you do not take care of your body, you cannot enjoy other things in life. Money cannot buy you good health.
Do yourself a favor and attend a yoga class. If you are afraid of what others might say, buy a yoga tape or DVD and practice in the privacy of your home. Try it for about six month and see for yourself.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
What I've learned is this: you do not exist except in the "Now". The past is a thread to what you experienced in the past - one moment at a time. The future is a "now moment" yet to be experienced. All you have is Now. You cannot go back and change the past nor can you go forward and change the future. All you have is Now.The author suggests ways to get to "Now" by using meditation and other techniques and by doing so, filter the chatter of the mind. I've experimented with the techniques and have had some success though it is not easy, it has been rewarding.Yesterday I went for a walk to get my daily exercise. I focused on my breathing and my steps. Each time my mind tried to wander to something I need to do, or something I should have done, I forced it back to the task at hand...which was walking. I struggled at first, but then my mind acquiesced and allowed me to focus on walking. Somehow the sky seemed bluer and the clouds appeared to be 3-D rather than the flat uninteresting picture you get with a cursory glance. I saw birds scurrying through bushes and trees and heard them more clearly than ever before. I also jumped a herd of deer and I stood for a long time as they scampered out of sight. It all appeared like a movie unfolding just for me. All this and no drugs were involved. Deep down I already knew that it is better to focus on the now. I've heard the saying "where ever you go, be there." This is really important because you cannot fully appreciate your family, your friends, or your surroundings if you are constantly bombarded with memory reruns from your mind. So, it is my intention to spend more time in the "Now." I'll give updates as to my progress.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
There was always the game of keep-away…this is where you grab somebody’s hat and run them ragged. The group would torment the kid and when one of the mean kids got the hat, it was usually kicked around like a soccer ball. The life span of a hat in those days was painfully short.
When the weather warmed up, we would always play softball right there in the road. Morning traffic in West Pratt was pretty much non-existent and if a car or truck did come by, you could see it for a mile in either direction. One morning when I was in about the second grade we were playing softball. My older sister was tall and gangly in those days and she was one of the most feared hitters in the bunch. She could knock the cover off of a softball and send an outfielder scurrying to the high weeds for the ball. The count on her that morning was three balls and two strikes and she hated to strike out. The pitcher lobbed one right over the plate but a little high. She stepped back to get a better angle on the ball and when she swung, she clipped the catcher in the back of the head. The bad thing was, I was the catcher. The last thing I remember was thinking I might be a little close then wham…I’m laying face first on the gravel pavement.
My sister freaked and snatched me up quickly dusting off my clothes. I was conscience but I was acting quite loopy and my sister pronounced me fit as a fiddle. She really didn’t want me going back in the house because she knew my Mom would have a fit and that usually didn’t turn out well for the one that had crossed her.
Just at that moment someone saw the bus come into view and the crew of kids started chanting BUUUUSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS in a sing song voice. I’m not sure why we did that. Anyhow, when the bus arrived, my sister dragged me on the bus and when the feeling started coming back in my head, it started to hurt like crazy. I wanted to go back in the house and let my Mom have a look, but my sister snapped “SHUT UP YOU LITTLE WUS”. All my friends looked at me as if to confirm….well are you a wus? The peer pressure was great so I sat down and went to school. I acted goofy all day, but as I usually acted goofy, no one really noticed. On the ride home, my sister had thought about the situation all day and knew she was in a fix. I could tell mother about the incident and she’d be in trouble so her attitude was all sugar and spice. How are you feeling? She asked. I had been scheming all day too so I told her I’m OK, but I’d feel a lot better if you’d let me listen to your radio. The Sylvania transistor radio was her most prized possession. These radios were rare in those days and were admired by all. She thought long and hard about the proposal but knew I had her over a barrel. She agreed. When we got home and my mom asked about our day…my sister held her breath. Mary Lois…..I paused for effect…..knocked a home run this morning, I reported and my sister did a sigh of relief as my Mom went about making the cornbread.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Sunday, December 18, 2005
A few years ago, our friends at Christ United Methodist Church bought some toys for us to give to some neighbors who were having a hard time. As it turns out, our neighbors had moved away sometime back and we did not have anyone who needed the toys. We called the local fire department and the dispatcher said that they had already made their deliveries for Christmas....but she said that she had just learned of a family in Cordova who has 5 small children and the father had recently lost his job. They had a baby 3 weeks old.
We left the toys and the lady dispatcher said that she would personally take the toys to the family. Jilda and I had another errand to run and as we drove, we decided to drive back by and give a little money to the family as well. I had a hundred dollar bill that I have carried in my billfold for years..... I saved it just in case we ran into hard times......as it turned out, we did run into hard times.... but they were hard times for someone else. Jilda ran in and gave the dispatcher the money and turned to walk out and the lady "asked who are you, please give me your address so that they can send you a thank you." Jilda told her to tell the people Merry Christmas. She said the lady's eyes filled with tears....which put tears in our eyes.
There will always be sad stories which are made more so by the fact that they happen at Christmas, but there are also happy stories. We ran by my niece's house yesterday and her little boy was so excited, he was beside himself. He was showing me some things in his room and he slyly asked....do you know who comes tonight? I said, yes of course, the tooth fairy...He said "well NOOOO". The Easter Bunny? "Did you get bumped on the head?" he asked. He finally said SANTA!!! I said Oh, I remember now. He looked as though he felt sorry for me. The look on his face was remarkable.
This year I am happy and thank the Good Lord for all we have, especially those things we take for granted. I am joyful for all our family and friends.
Rick & Jilda
Saturday, December 17, 2005
I read in a self-help book by Jim Rohn that “it’s not about what happens to you, but what you do about what happens to you.” That way you are in control and you are not relinquishing control to “IT”. Victor Frankel was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp and underwent unspeakable treatment by his captors, but he never relinquished control over his reaction to their actions.
I’m not sure about you, but that puts a slightly different spin on how you feel about being stuck for an hour in Birmingham traffic. In the context of what some people must endure, being upset by a traffic jam or working for a boss that is a goober is a little bit petty .
I have lived a gifted life. I was born in what would now be considered poverty but I never felt poor. My mom and dad were both proud people and they worked very hard to provide the basics for our family and I cannot remember going “without”….ever.
I’m not sure when I made my decision to be happy, but it was fairly early on. One situation comes to mind. Back in 1980, I worked as a repairman for South Central Bell. I came in one day in April and they told me they needed me in Mobile, Alabama to help with cleanup efforts after Hurricane Fredrick. They said I would be there at least 6 months living out of a Howard Johnson’s motel. Many of my co-workers complained and resisted. I headed home and threw a suitcase and a cooler in the back of the truck…I loaded up my wife and and my German Shepherd Duke and set out on an adventure.
We worked hard, but we played harder. On the weekends, we went to Biloxi, New Orleans, Panama City and all points in between. I met lifelong friends there wrote stories in my journal that are a scream.
As Danny Kay says “Life is a Big Ol’ Canvas so throw a lot of paint on it.” If you’re not happy with you life, change it. Meet new friends, go to the library, go to a new bar, a new church, or go somewhere you have never been….but go expecting the best because I have also learned that if you go expecting the worst, you usually find it. Be Happy.
NOTE: The photo above is from 1980 - when I had hair.
Friday, December 16, 2005
There is something magical about mornings. My desk sits in front of an east facing window in my office and I can sit here and watch the morning come alive. The first indication is the black night sky turns a deep indigo and then a million shades of blue, orange, rust and silver....and that's before the sun even peep up over the horizon.
The birds are the first to get in on the action. They are zipping from bush to bush making sure all their friends made it safely through the night. They are cranked and anxious to get on with the day.
Next come the squirrels and chipmunks out foraging for an early morning snack.
I do my best thinking this time of day. My mind is more clear and the thoughts unhampered by pressing business that keeps bankers hours. This morning time is all mine.
My wife Jilda and I do not buy expensive cars and our house is modest by today’s standards, but we do not scrimp on coffee. We buy Gevalia coffee and I brew it up fresh each morning in a European coffee press. The smell is intoxicating.
The greatroom in our house has floor to ceiling windows from end to end. We don't use curtains so we have an unobstructed view of the morning's activities as we drink our coffee. This morning I counted over 20 different kinds of birds at our feeders.
Every evening I start winding down early and I'm ready to go to bed while most people are getting ready to watch the evening news and Leno. That's OK because that leaves the magical mornings for me.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
When she started to school, it was almost like the empty nest syndrome I've heard people speak of. We still saw her a great deal but not like before she started to school.
She still went to plays and concerts with us. Jilda and I are in an acoustic band and every time we played a show or festival, she would usually go.
But as she grew older, her life got much more complicated and the times we saw her became infreaquent. She got new friends and both Jilda and I realized we were no longer cool....which was a hard pill to swallow.
We should have seen it coming, because we also kept her older brothers when they were young and the pattern was similar with them but when they got a little older, we came back in favor. I have to believe that Samantha will think we are cool again. I'd love for her to give me a pop quiz.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
I bought my first good camera when I was in the Army. I was stationed in the
When I got out of the Army, I was lucky enough to get a job at The Community
The things Dale taught me have served me well. One thing he told me is that Photographs are like a window to the past. I know this is true because I've experienced it first hand. I have software that does a constant slide show on the side of my computer screen. I can be working away and a photograph will pop up that sends me back through the years.
I have photographs of my mom and dad when they were 25 and they looked like they were having the time of their lives....they weren't elderly, they were frail or sick. They looked happy to be alive.
I also have pictures of my wife of 32 years and I at various stages of our lives and I cannot look at them without getting a smile on my face.
One thing that I have experimented with in recent years is photographs and music. There is something about those two elements that is so powerful. I did a slideshow a while back of my old high school and put it to music. I co-worker saw the show and he told me it put tears in his eyes and he did not even know any of the people in the photographs. Here is the URL if you'd like to see for yourself http://www.dorahighschool.com/SlideShows/SlideShow2.html
The link above is a fairly large file so it will take a while to load if you're using dialup, but I think it's worth your time. I think you'll see what I mean by Words, Pictures & Music.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
This is a note about a chicken and some very bad life decisions. I have several neighbors that have chickens. One of the chickens escaped and come to live in my front yard. We have tons of birds in our yard and I'm a live and let live kind of guy so I let him stay yesterday.
I did not feel well yesterday. I had the crud so I decided to work from home. Last night when I went to bed, I felt even more rotten than I did yesterday morning. I was restless and irritable so that's what made Mr. Chicken's first poor life decision so bad. When he started crowing at I thought it was a neighbor calling for help. I sprang up in the bed and wiped the sleep out of my eyes and listened. I thought to myself, could that have been a dream. I had just dozed off when I heard it again and I knew at once that it was the rooster in my front yard. I was madder than a hornet so naturally I put the dogs on that bad bird. The first dog out of the shoot was Astro. He is a Lab, Doberman, Cheetah and Shetland pony mix breed. He is a magnificent animal with muscles like the California Governor. Poor life decision II for Mr. Chicken was that he roosted on a low limb. Astro was out the door like a shot and was at the base of the tree in a heartbeat. I was a pure miracle that the tree had low limbs that slowed Astro's pace just long enough for the Rooster to scramble up several more limbs to safety. I got the dogs back in the house and I haven't heard another peep out of the bird.
You may ask what this little story was titled Life Decisions has to do with me....well, it's because we are faced with Life Decisions almost every day: should I bother going to night school to improve my skills...should I look for a job where I would be more happy.....should I visit my mom on her birthday or miss a great opportunity to go to the beach? Life is about choices so try to make choices that help you to become a better person; a better husband; a better son. There are just a few things in life that make the most difference, some of which are your education, your relationships, your attitude, and your health. There is one thing I would recommend that I think is key....never roost on a low limb.
Monday, December 12, 2005
I looked out at last year's tree and though it had grown about 2 feet, I decided to use it again this year so I dug that puppy up and bought a big honkin' flower pot and it is beautiful. I thought I was going to have to cut a hole in the roof to accomodate, but luckily it fit.
We turned the tree on this morning and turned off the room lights and drank our coffee by the light of the tree. I love this time of year.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Lives of great men all remind us
We can live our lives sublime
And in passing leave behind us
Footprints in the sands of time
Have you ever given thought to what people will say about you when you leave this earth? I think about it now and again. How will I be remembered? I've tried to live my life by the golden rule, but there is always a chance I could have wronged someone along the way.
Being a writer, there is a chance that my words could live on.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
My granddad was a charecter. His name was Charlie Watson and he lived in West Pratt until he died in the late 60's. He had worked many years in the coal mines of Sloss, Hull and Kershaw.
He moved to Indiana when the work in the mines played out in the late 50's and lived there for about 10 years where he worked in the city garbage dump. I thought that was the coolest job in the world when I was a kid. One time when we went to visit him he gave me a gallon jug full of marbles. He had collected them at the dump. He found other stuff too, but the marbles stand out in my mind.
When he and my grandmother moved back to Alabama they built a small Jim Walter house next door to us. It was great having them home and living next door. I would run to their house every morning and eat breakfast. He had a parakeet that they let fly free in their house. It would lite on his glasses and watch him eat. I thought that was a hoot.
I helped Pap build a flatbottom fishing boat and we took it to #11 (the Backwater off of the Warrior River) in the back of his old Chevy truck. He taught me to fish for bass. We put out trotlines and caught boat loads of cat fish.
He also shoed mules for the small mine operators. He had a little blacksmith shop behind his house. An old anvil was mounted on a sycamore stump is where he pounded shoes into the right shape and size.
He taught me a great deal. As he went about his work, he would tell me to "focus on what you're doing and do the task the best you can". It might not always be perfect, but you will finish knowing that you did your best. I took those words to heart and I've always tried to live by them.
Friday, December 09, 2005
WordsWhen I was about 10 years old, an aunt was visiting our family. She drove an old blue 53 Chevy pickup truck. As she was leaving, her truck would not crank. She tried and tried but it would not start.
It was during the day so my dad and brother were at work. My aunt was about to panic. She opened the hood and peered in but she might as well have been trying to read Chaucer in Sanscrit.
I hopped up on the bumper and surveyed the engine. I looked very closely for anything that appeared out of place. I saw a wire that looked as if it had come loose. I asked my aunt, could that be what's wrong? She said I don't know but I'll connect it back and try. When she tried again, the old Chevy fired up.
She got back out of the truck and hugged my neck and said you are a really smart boy. I'm not sure how smart I was at that time in my life, but I chose to believe her.
I think that those words had a significant impact on my self esteem and how I think about myself now. At work, I am a problem solver. That's what I get paid to do. Look at situations, evaluate root cause, and formulate solutions. But further, it's how I approach life. I feel like I can do anything I sent my mind to do. Obviously I do some things better than others, but I can do a lot of things.
I have said all that to say this: the mind of a child is like a sponge. They seek approval from people they love and trust. If you are helping a child with their homework and they are having problems with math be mindful of what you say. A statement as simple as "you are just not good in math" could have a profound impact on how that child views himself/herself.
I've heard parents say within earshot of a roudy child "I can't do a thing with him." That sends a message to the child that could cause very serious problems in the future.
I'm not a phychietris but I have seen first had what words can do. So I am very mindful of what I say not only to kids, but to anyone with which I interact because you never know if they will believe what you say and take it to heart.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
I got a note from my young friend Will Justice today. He had been so excited because they were going to do a Christmas play at Dora. He had become interested in acting and theatre and was ready to jump in with both feet but he sent me a note last night saying that the play would not happen. I'm not sure if it was a funding issue, a lack of commitment or what, but Will was disappointed.
My advice to Will was that when you depend on others, you are sometimes disappointed. What's important to you might not be a priority for someone else. I suggested that Will get a Black and White art newspaper (printed and distributed in
There is one thing I've learned: life is about focus and energy. If you want something you focus on it and put energy into making it happen. I've see people do incredible things, but sometimes you have to make up new rules as you go.
Good luck to you Will. I hope you do something remarkable.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
My Dad never saw the value of music. He was a welder by trade and spent thirty years in an open-air tin shed in North Birmingham welding fans as big as Rhode Island. In the winter it could get freezing cold and in the summer it got as hot as Haiti. He wasn’t a whiner so I never really heard him complain. When I started playing guitar at thirteen, I was hooked. I played every moment I could play. In fact, the only six weeks of school I ever failed was when I got my first guitar. My father and mother took a dim view of that failure and seized control of the guitar until my report card improved. Those six weeks were an eternity. The next report card, I was back on the A B Honor role. I got my guitar back, but I was mindful of the books.
My Dad could see that I loved music, but he never understood it. Even when I began to improve and started playing local bands, he would say “boy, if you spent as much time learnin’ a trade as you spend foolin’ with that guitar, you could make something of yourself.” I’m not saying that he didn’t like music. I still recall my Dad sittin’ in our old Ford in the driveway listening to Ernest Tubb’s “I’m Walkin’ the Floor Over You”.
My Dad is dead now, victim of some weird form of cancer that I’m betting was related to inhaling welding rod fumes for all those years. The sad part to me is that he never saw how playing music enriched my life. He never knew all the people I’ve met, the places I’ve gone and the things my wife Jilda and I got to do. I’ve always instinctively known that music was important, but I had a situation that happened to me that drove that point home.
Several years ago, Jilda and I did volunteer work at a local home for disadvantaged youth. We helped with their homework and with computer work and other things. But there was this one boy about 14 years old that was hyper and he was driving the counselors up the frigging wall. He was in to everything. I had an idea….I asked the director if it would be O.K. to teach guitar lessons to those kids that wanted to learn. He reluctantly agreed so we went out one Sunday and took my guitar and played a few songs for the kids. Most of them were captivated. When I asked if anyone wanted to learn, they all raised their hands.
We needed a practice guitar and that proved to be a challenge. The local music store declined to help, but I called around Birmingham to music stores without success until I got Herb Trotman and Rickey Stone at Fretted Instruments. They thought about the request for a short time and then agreed to donate a practice guitar. This was an act of generosity that I have never forgotten and I’m pretty sure they’ve made their money back on the many instruments that I have since bought from them. But I digress…..We set up lessons for several of the kids at the home, and the one hyper kid was drawn to the guitar. He caught on really fast. He directed all his hyperactivity towards learning guitar. The councilors were amazed. In fact, they were able to use access to the practice guitar as disciplinary action. If the kid misbehaved, he couldn’t practice on the guitar for two days. The kid turned into a model resident. Less than a year later, he was much better than me. He could play country, heavy metal, and jazz and most any other type of music.
As time passed, we went less and less to the home and the kid reached an age and he went out on his own and we lost touch completely.A while back, my phone rang and when I picked up. The voice asked, “Do you know who this is?” My mind raced…it sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it. “It’s Jimmy (not his real name).” After he left the home, he went on to college, got a job and recently got married. I asked if he still played music, and he said “every day”. He’s currently in a Gospel Heavy Metal band playing all over. “I’m not sure I ever thanked you for teaching me how to play,” he said “it gave me direction during a time in my life when I needed it most.” We talked for a while and I wished him well and we promised to stay in touch and as I hung up the phone, I would have given anything if my Dad had seen the impact music had on Jimmy’s life and realized the worth of music.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
The book is more about two guys that wanted to have the best Search Engine on the web. They worked to perfect it first without regard to making money and in the process, they both have become very wealthy. I believe that had they set out to make money first, the result would not have been the quality of service we have.
If you have never had a chance to check out Google Earth, do yourself a favor. You can go to Google and on the page click More and then go to Maps and type in and address. I think you will be impressed with the results.
What strikes me is the notion of pursuing your dream, doing work that you love. When you do work you love, its not really like work. When you work, you are "in the moment" and you never watch the clock.
For kids starting out, I highly recommend that you give a lot of time thinking about what fascinates you, what you are passionate about.... what you love doing. Then do that work...the money will follow.
Monday, December 05, 2005
Now I'm all for saying the blessing, but on Thanksgiving, the shorter the better..."Good food, good meat, thank you Lord, now let's eat" is perfect for me. But on Thanksgiving, Sharky Phillips would start thanking the Lord for everyone and everything starting with the president of the United States (unless of course there was a republican in the White House) and would move right on down the list until he had thanked the Lord for the makers of the plastic forks and plates. He did this of course to torture us. I caught him looking around once during a particularly long Blessing. Everyone else had their heads bowed and eyes closed. I had my head bowed, but I had an eye on him. He had his head bowed, but opened an eye to scan the crowd to watch us squirm. As our eyes met, he grinned a little and then trudged on thanking the makers of the beautiful table cloth and the tea kettle. I loved those Thanksgivings.
Sharky passed away in 1991 and things changed. The food was still good, and the tea as sweet but there was an empty spot in our hearts and at the dinner table. Our food has never been properly blessed since then.%0
Sunday, December 04, 2005
My daddy, rest his soul, taught me how to cuss. Not that he sat down with me and discussed the different ways in which to use profanity, but I learned from him just the same. You see, he had a 1955 Ford Fairlane with a beautiful two-tone paint job. It was dark green on the bottom and the light green on top was the color of lime sherbet. In those early years, Ford hadn’t yet perfected the automatic choke. That’s the mechanism in a carburetor that helps the car start properly in all kinds of weather. During the warm spring, summer and fall months, the car cranked perfectly. But come the first cold days of winter it turned into a big ‘ol boat anchor.I remember one morning in particular we had an early freeze and the frost on the ground looked like a young snow. My daddy slowly approached the Ford, which sat in the driveway just by my bedroom window, and I could hear him say, “O.K. baby, I know it’s cold, but I know you would never let me down.” He sat down, patted the gas pedal, and turned the key…AR AR AR AR AR AR AR. “Come on baby, he coaxed.” AR AR AR AR AR AR AR AR. Nothing. He patted the gas and tried again. A few choice word with which I was unfamiliar came out of his mouth. AR AR AR AR AR AR AR. Then the sound of his voice got a little louder and the expletives became more creative. AR AR AR AR AR AR AR AR AR AR AR. He stepped out kicked the wheel and let out a stream of language that had the meter and pacing of a Beat Generation Poet - except with x-rated words. He assembled creative new word combinations never heard before. He made use of body functions, sexual deviation, and barnyard animals. He also talked badly about the linage of the people in Ford Motor Company who had designed and built the Fairlane. I’m telling you, his tirade would have made a Rap star blush.At 5:30 a.m. even in rural Walker County, Alabama people began to notice and lights in the neighborhood started coming on. Mother walked from the kitchen wrapped up in her housecoat and offered to give it a try. Daddy, in a colorful way told her to give it a try. She stepped in touched the gas pedal one time turned the key and the Ford sprung to life. I know that it was by the Grace of God that daddy had forgotten his pocketknife that morning because I am certain that he would have carved her into little pieces and left her twitching on the driveway.He jumped into that car, slammed it into reverse and backed into the gravel road that ran by our house. With the gas pedal to the floor he jammed it into low gear and roared off full throttle…still in low gear. That motor was wound as tight as a weed-eater and he drove it that way all the way to the Dora junction which is three miles away. That motor got so hot you could have cooked breakfast on the hood.A few days later, we had a new car. It was a 1957 Plymouth and it cranked like a champ even when it was cold.There have been a few times (very few) when I have been angry enough to use the cussing skills my dad taught me, but they are there just in case. Every day is a school day.http://www.dorahighschool.com/
Saturday, December 03, 2005
When I was very young, my daddy lost his job in the coal mines and we moved up north to Hammond, Indiana. He went to work in the Goodyear tire factory and we lived in an apartment next to a field of oil tanks. I'm not talking about tanks the size that gas stations use, I'm talking about tanks as big as 3 story buildings. I can remember the constant smell of bus exhaust fumes and unrefined oil.
I was in kindergarten there and a hell kid that lived a few doors down from us tormented me relentlessly. His name was Jimmy Miller and he was in junior high and took particular pride in picking on little kids. My sister Mary Lois was his age and she kept telling him that if he didn't stop bothering me that she was going to kick the crap out of him. He just laughed. One day the weather was brutal with snow about 6 inches deep, he came running by and pushed me down face first in the snow. Mary Lois helped me up but then looked around for a weapon. She spied an icicle on a nearby fence which was about 4 inches in diameter. She broke off about a 6 inch section and chunked it at Jimmy. The earth must have been in perfect alignment with the stars because that icicle sailed high and true and whacked the running Jimmy on the back of the head and he went down hard. I looked up and Mary Lois and said "dang, you've killed him." We both bolted from the scene post haste. We saw him a day or two later and he had a big ol' bandage on his head. He gave Mary Lois a lot of room after that and he never bother me again.
We lived there for about a year before my dad started longing for the hills and hollows of Alabama and we made our way back.
I started to Dora Elementary school the next year.
Friday, December 02, 2005
It was cool this morning here in Empire, Alabama. I cranked up the fireplace as we drank our morning coffee. Squirrils scampered around in the yard in search of the birdseed we put out each day.
Thanks to Will Justice, a student at Dora, for shooting a photo of this years Mr. & Miss Bulldog. I thought the picture was really good. My hope is that I can get others to start submitting pictures and announcements. It is hard keeping the content fresh by one's self.
If you have a new addition to your family: a new child or grandchild, a new pet, or a new car please shoot a photo to me and let's post it.