Thursday, June 21, 2018

Fun day at work

I lunched with a colleague today. He's been helping me navigate the way the stories and pictures flow through their system. Before now, I was simply sending stuff in and hoping it got to the right person.
The colleague has been patient and very helpful. The least I could do was buy him lunch.

He's been in the business. When I asked him the question I ask most people at some point, is: "What do you want to do when you grow up?"

He smiled and said, "This." Meaning, working in media writing stories about politics and the inner workings of government. He's good at it.

I told him about something I'd written on my New Year's resolutions for years which was, to take pictures and tells stories. I told him I'd worked for years at a job to make a living. Now I'm doing work that I love.

Yesterday, a guy that does the county's chamber of commerce Facebook page asked if I'd be interested in letting them interview me. I said sure. So after lunch, I spent an hour or so talking and posing for pictures. I'll share the post once it goes live.

On the way home, I swung by the lake that's not far from here. I've posted similar pictures in the past, but the sky was beautiful after a morning rain. So I took a picture.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The arrangement is a gift

Jordan and his cousin Breeze spent the day with us today. I wrote my column a few days ago so I had the day off. Jilda and I had a hoot with them.

We went for an early morning walk, and of course, they had to do the obligatory thinking pose. I wanted to smack them both. Later when we got back from our walk, Jilda started making waffles with fresh blueberries. She also baked some bacon.

While the food cooked, I picked berries a while until the sun came from behind the clouds and super-heated my hat. I'd only picked a little more than a gallon but I was sweating buckets. I left ripe berries on the bush to go in for water. That hurt.

The back door had accidentally been locked, so walked around front through the side gate. On the screen porch, the music was blaring. Jordan and Breeze were dancing some dance I'd never seen. I think they made it up on the spot. I stopped a distance away and watched. Seeing the two of them dancing with wild abandon made me smile.

I love that our nieces and nephews allow their kids to spend time with us. I know it's convenient for them to have a place where they know the kids will be fed and watched after, but we enjoy it. The arrangement is a gift.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Productive day

I slammed and jammed today. Before I headed home just after 1 pm, I'd covered a city council meeting and done four interviews.

The meeting was routine, but I felt at home doing the interviews. Summer reading programs for kids, and a lady promoting the area around the Forks which is one of my favorite places on the planet.

Then I interviewed two teachers in an effort to find the answer to the age-old question that kids ask: "I wonder what teachers do in the summertime."

I can't share much about the pieces, but once published I might post them on my blog.

So today was productive. I hope your day was a hoot too.


Monday, June 18, 2018

LIfe on my front porch

Some of my favorite memories from childhood revolve around our front porch.

Our camp house stood on a hillside next to Sloss Hollow Road. The pine boards on the outside walls were covered with imitation brick siding. That’s a fancy way of saying tarpaper with grit on one side was made to look like bricks.

The place was unremarkable, except for the front porch that spanned the width of the house. On one end was a squeaky swing that hung on chains attached to the rafters. From early spring to late autumn, I entertained myself on that swing each evening while waiting for my dad to get home from work.

I could hear him coming before he came into view. The hubcaps on the old Pontiac station wagon made a whistling sound as he approached. When I heard the whistling, I stepped off the porch and waited for him on the front steps. Inside, I could hear the clatter of forks and spoons on plates as my mom set the table for supper.

After stepping out of his car, he’d stand there and stretch the miles off his legs before heading inside. He’d act like he didn’t see me sitting a few feet away. When he did, he’d snatch me up under his arm and carry me into the kitchen like a “sack of taters.” That short jiggling journey made me giggle uncontrollably. 

Our whole family sat down and ate supper together every night.  

After supper, Daddy usually went to the front porch and smoked a few cigarettes while watching lightning bugs and taking stock of the day. Sometimes neighbors would holler from the next yard or from across the road to share some hometown news or get a garden update. I miss those times on that old front porch.

Life moves fast. These days it seems we have little time to spend on front porches. In fact, a lot of folks don’t have front porches. Instead of unwinding before bed to the sound of whip-o-wills and train whistles, we’re glued to TVs, computers, and smartphones. Our bliss is stolen by the harsh glow thrown off by electronic light.

When we built our house in 1983, the floor plan we chose included a stoop, but the old folk would have chided me: “There’s barely enough room out there to put a comfortable chair. Where will you shell your peas? And where are you going to put your swing?” 

At the time I was too busy working at a job, going to school, and climbing a career ladder that leaned against a wall somewhere in the city. When I got home in the evenings, there was little time for front-porch sitting.

After I retired, we built an arbor over our stoop and planted jasmine. Beside the stoop, we put a garden bench in the shade of the water oak. These days you can often find me sitting on the garden bench reading or watching the birds and squirrels. There aren’t that many cars that come down our dead-end road, but when they do, I always wave as they pass. Sometimes a neighbor will pull into the drive and sit with me long enough to share some news. 

It’s not a front porch, but it’s the next best thing.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

I miss my Pop

My dad could out-weld your dad and he could nap longer in a boat floating down the Warrior River. 
He also holds the world record for longest string of profanity uttered while working on a car. He was an artist when it came to putting together interesting combinations of cuss words. 
Farm animals, common hand tools, and body parts were all part of his cussing palette.
I miss my Pop.



Saturday, June 16, 2018

Day of rest

Today was a day of rest. I slept until after 7 this morning which is unheard of for me. After coffee and reading the paper, Jilda and I picked up a few groceries for a small dinner we're having tomorrow. Other than that, I've been slothful. The blueberries need picking, some of the grass needs cutting, and so on. but I took a two-hour nap and woke myself up with a snore.

This evening I did drive to Lowe's to pick up some things I need for tomorrow to repair an outdoor bench. But on the way, I stopped for gas and picked up a cup of boiled peanuts. When I opened the styrofoam container in the truck, steam rose from the lid. They are messy and make my steering wheel sticky, but that's a small price to pay. 

Rolling down the windows, I punched in a CD of Jason Isbell and cranked it up. I ate sloppy peanuts and tossed the biodegradable shells out the window. 

Tonight, it's only 9 p.m. but both of us are yawning. It will be an early bedtime.

Happy Father's Day tomorrow.



Friday, June 15, 2018

Wrung out

We had fun on our gig tonight, but it was hotter than Satan munching habaneros. Thankfully clouds covered the setting sun about 30 minutes before showtime which allowed the temps to drop. A breeze out of the west was a godsend.

The only pic I have tonight was from five years ago today. It is a Rose-a-Sharon. They're blooming in our yard now. The white and purple.

I feel like I've been wrung out. Adios.


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Intoxicating aroma

We knew the sun would be hot today so we shoe'd up earlier than normal. While Jilda put the walking harness on our Yorkie Taz, I flipped to the weather app on my phone to look at the forecast. The temp here was 79 degrees with 80 percent humidity. That's thick enough to lick out of the air.

When I rounded into the driveway on the last leg of the lap, a hedgerow of gardenias greeted us. The flowers look as if they were carved from ivory. It's a beautiful welcoming committee this time of year. I snapped one off and held it to my nose. The fragrance sends me. 

I covered a city council meeting tonight and I didn't get home until just before 8 p.m. When I stepped from my truck and began gathering up my computer, camera, and water bottle, the scent of the blooming gardenias was intoxicating. The fragrance hung on the air like a promise. I wish computers had a scratch n' sniff feature so that you could get a sense of their aroma.

I'm off tomorrow.  We have a gig tomorrow night with our friend Joe Greg Winsett. We're excited. Several friends say they plan to be there. It should be fun.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Blueberries

After our morning walk, Jilda and I fetched our blueberry buckets and headed to the field. A few bushes ripened early so picking those berries was simple. Now the other 15 plants are blue with berries and it takes much longer. We picked for over an hour today. Jilda picked a gallon and I picked almost two. By Friday, there will be that many more. 

I pick the fattest berries from each bush to gauge the sweetness of the fruit on each bush. One of the oldest plants is by far my favorite. We planted it so long ago that I don't remember the variety. If I did, I would order more. 

By seasons end, we'll have enough blueberries to last us through fall and winter...and we eat a lot of blueberries.

If you've never tried to grow blueberries, they are quite easy. Just look at a supplier like Stark Brothers and on their website, they will show berries that will thrive in your area.

Plant them shallow and mulch them with pine bark. Make sure they get water in the summer. We usually get berries the second year and by year three, they will make you very happy.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Do what you love

I interviewed a couple today who are living their dream. Both of them commuted to Birmingham daily for over 20 years and worked jobs that weren't a fit for them. She'd attended culinary school and wanted to work with food. Her father kept discouraging her. "There's no money in what you want to do." 

A few years ago, her mother died unexpectedly. Even though he mother was not a spring chicken, she died before her time. 

The couple looked at each other and said, "Life is too short to wasted time on things you don't love."

They bought a big truck and converted it into a rolling kitchen. I won't say much more because the story hasn't appeared in print yet, but I think it will be a good one.

As I drove home from the interview and thought – I should play them the song we wrote called "Do What You Love." I know they'd get it.

Below is another picture I took a few days ago at the Sipsey Forks.


Monday, June 11, 2018

Love of songwriting

Putting words to music is something I’ve done for most of my life. Even before I learned to play the guitar, I made up ditties to familiar tunes. I had Old McDonald doing things that had nothing to do with animal husbandry. Looking back, I’m sure they were lame, but now and then I’d have one so funny my friends would snort Grapico out their noses. I lived for those gems. I knew then that songwriting was in my blood.

One summer Saturday my friend Donnie Pinion asked if I’d like to go camping down on the backwater down below Dora. The backwater is a natural lake that flows into the Black Warrior River. 

Never passing up an opportunity to spend time near the water, I agreed. We took my dad’s old pickup. I wasn’t old enough to have a license then, but my folks let me drive the pickup as long as I stayed on the backroads.

By the time I picked up Donnie, I had several other guys that wanted to go too, so they rode in the bed of the truck. Donnie tossed in his pack, his fishing gear, and an old guitar. The old ax looked as though it had seen it’s better days, but when he pressed the strings hard enough, it sounded pretty good.

We fished until dark before building a campfire. It was then that Donnie took his guitar and started to play. After a few songs, he asked if I wanted to give it a try.  The neck of the guitar felt awkward in my hand. The strings left indentions in my fingers when I tried making the chords, but I liked the buzzing I heard. 

The first song he taught me to play was "Green Green Grass of Home" sung by Porter Wagner. After a few hours of instruction, I was able to stumble my way through the song. 

When I got home, I borrowed an old Silvertone guitar from my cousin Mickey and practiced until my fingers bled. The Porter Wagoner hit had been one of my mother’s favorite songs. I played the tune so many times that afterward, she’d punch the station button on the car radio whenever the song came on. 

I learned three chords, and with those, I could play any country song written. 

It was only a matter of time before I started writing songs of my own. They were sappy songs about dogs, hunting, and fishing which were the important things in my life at that time. Thankfully, none of those early songs survived. 

But here’s the thing – the more you practice, the better you get. The same was true for songwriting. Fortunately, I married someone who loves music and writing songs as much as I do.

This past weekend, we invited one of our songwriting buddies over to write a new song. Joe Greg Winsett showed up at 2 p.m., and we began writing an idea I’d been kicking around.  For the next two hours we wrote and laughed, but the words flowed.  We haven’t had that much fun in a long time. The title of the song was, "Coffee."

Joe Greg will join Jilda and me along with Joe’s friend Dave on the patio at Lavish Coffee in Jasper on June 15 at 7 p.m. if you’d like to come by and hear the new tune. 


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Decoration Day

Today was decoration day at Davis Cemetery where my people are buried. Digging back through the archives a few years ago, I discovered that my grandmother was a Davis.

I tried several times to run my family tree, but there seemed to be some broken limbs. Then by pure coincidence, I bought an old copy of the City of Dora Centennial book that came out in the 80s. It mentioned that the property for Davis Cemetery was donated by a woman and it detailed the family history back to the Spanish American War. 

My everyone called my grandmother's father Colonel Davis. She was in the nursing home when I asked her if she remembers his real name. She didn't. But she did say she thought she'd written it down in her bible. When she went into the nursing home, someone in the family got her bible as they were cleaning out her old house. Everyone I asked had no idea. 

Then as providence would have it, just after I read the Davis family history in the Centennial book, I happened to talk to my cousin. I asked her if she had Mama Watson's bible. she said that she'd gotten it to keep it safe. I asked if I could see the front pages. 

Later, I went over to her house and flipped the cover open. It gave her father's name and her grandfather's name.  BAM! These names were mentioned in the Centennial book. I've since gone to the cemetery and taken pictures of all of their gravestone. 

This morning as I sat under a tent collecting donations. The money we collect goes into a fund used to keep the old cemetery maintained.  We rarely collect enough money and we wind up scrounging around to make up the difference. But it's rewarding work.

The picture below has nothing to do with this post. I shot it yesterday morning at the home of Jilda's brother.

I hope it's been a good Sunday for you all.


Saturday, June 09, 2018

No mystery

For a month I've been trying to track down my friend Leo who hangs out at the Sipsey Forks. Each time I stopped by, the guys would say, "You just missed him. Or "He’ll be back after while." For Leo, after while could mean in 20 minutes, or in November.

Today, I took a chance that he'd be there even though it was in the mid-90s here. It was after 4 p.m. when I wheeled into the lot. Leo was there holding court. There were six other guys sitting around telling lies and watching the river flow.

I asked a few questions to get things started but the light was wrong to get a good picture of him and the guys. So I made an appointment to be back Monday at 7 a.m. If the forecast doesn't call for a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, or swarms of locusts, he'll be there.

Packing up my camera to head out, I heard one of the guys say, "There's old blue." When I glanced toward the water, I saw a Blue Heron sitting on a log looking for supper. He was about 30 yards away. Clicking the lens cap off my camera, I stepped over to the water's edge. The heron looked at me curiously for a moment, and then went back to fishing. I snapped off several frames before he got bored and flew further up river.  I have an incredible picture of him taking flight, but I want to include it in the story I'm writing about the Sipsey Forks Boys.

It's no mystery why  these guys return to this place every day.


Friday, June 08, 2018

Friday fun

The mimosa trees are blooming here. We noticed them a few days ago when driving to Birmingham. The hillside beside the Interstate was a pink cloud that changed color from fuschia to almost white.

We had mimosa trees in our yard in Sloss Hollow when I was growing up. The blossoms are tiny pink
stems smaller than a thread. They look ethereal.

When those trees are in bloom, the hummingbirds are in heaven. Each tree has thousands of blooms. The only downside to them is they are invasive. The pods they produce look like green butterbeans. Apparently, birds find them tasty, because they gobble the seeds and their digestive system doesn't consume the seeds.  When the birds poop, a new mimosa is born.  And so on.

We had a few growing along our garden several years ago. And then we had a grove. Before long, we had a forest. A guy came. He had a bobcat with a grinder on the front. It made short work of those mimosas.  Now we can grow things in our garden. But, the mimosas are still beautiful.

Fast forward to this evening. Our neighbor called and said I have something I want to show you. He was cryptic on the phone. He owns proper not far from us that goes all the way to the Mulberry River.

I went to get the scoop. When we were on his Polaris (an all-terrain vehicle about the size of a golf cart), he said, "There's an eagle's nest down here with two eaglets in it." All of a sudden, my interest spiked.

We wobble down an old fire lane road toward the river. About a half mile from his barn he cut the engine and pointed into the pines. "There, in the forks of the pine. See it?" he said. I did.

We sat for a long time looking at the nest to see movement from the chics, but nada. I made my best eaglets sounds. OK, I have no idea what an eaglets sound like, but I tried. Nothing. My friend said he'd had the best luck early morning. He said if I was an early riser, we'd head out one morning and see if we could see the mama and her chics.

I told him I would be back. And I will I'd love to get some pictures of an eagle and her babies.


Thursday, June 07, 2018

River duck

I've been trying to track down my river buddy Leo. We discussed doing a story about fishing and whatnot back in early spring. He was all for it, but even though he's been retired for 20 years, he's a busy man. He cuts the grass of all the widow-women at his church, and he fishes every chance he gets. He ain't got to time for no stinkin' story, there's fishin' to do. I get it.

I haven't stopped by the Sipsey Forks all week because I've been busy but I had some time today. On the way down there I leaned close to the steering wheel to get a better view of the sky through my windshield. It was in the mid-90s but the clouds were stunning. 

When I got to the Forks, there was not a car on the lot. Apparently, the old guys bailed to spend more time in front of the AC.

I pull up close to the end of the parking lot to take advantage of a narrow strip of shade. Stepping out of the truck, I saw two water bottles someone had thrown on the ground. I knew the regulars would pick them up in the morning, but I decided to grab them and toss them in the back of my truck. I'm recycling plastic now, so I'd put them in my bag.

When I stepped closer to the water, I saw three mallards sitting on the bank watching the river flow. They must have become regulars because they barely gave me a glance.

Stepping back to the truck, I fetched my camera and snapped off a few frames. 

I thought to myself, even though I didn't catch Leo, the stop wasn't wasted.




.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Practice makes....

The new camera I bought last week has so many features it's taking time to get used to them. Using the settings that were useful on the old camera comes up short on the new one.

But practice time is paying off. The pictures are looking better. It will still take a while to get where I want to be. 

Today, as I drove by the small lake not far from our house, I saw Queen Ann's Lace growing on the banks.  Glancing in the rearview, the coast was clear. I hopped and snapped a few frames. I was hoping to catch the geese, but they were hiding in the shallows under the shade of some willow trees. They glanced over as if to say, come back this evening when it's cooler. I get that.

I hope you have a great Thursday.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

I voted

Today was election day here in Alabama. I covered a city council meeting this morning, but just after, Jilda and I drove to Birmingham for the visitation of one of our songwriting buddies. 

He was 80 but he lived large. He was a Vietnam vet and a decent human being. It broke my heart to see him go.

On the way home, we swung through our polling place and cast our lot. State elections can be a little sad. Turnout is expected to be around 26 percent. So a very few people decided on the decisionmakers for the state.  It's hard to believe that everyone is not invested in the political process. It's easy to bitch (excuse my French) on Facebook about what's going on locally, but apparently, it's much harder to drive to a local polling place and cast a vote for change. It's a mystery to me.

I would never do it, but by voting today, I feel I have a right to complain on Facebook if I wanted to.



Monday, June 04, 2018

Horse tale

We had some things that needed to go to the post office today, so after lunch when Jilda headed to work, I went.

About a hundred yard from our driveway, I saw someone on a four-wheeler speeding onto the road. I keep a close eye on the kids around here. Slowing down, the road ahead and behind was clear, I saw a young girl waving her arms to get my attention and she needed me to slow down. I did.

After she sped onto the road, I eased in behind her and I saw what was going on. One of her horses had escaped and was running down the middle of the road. She was afraid a car would hit her beloved Sissy.

In a few moments, she had the critters bridle, and she was walking him back to their pasture. I rolled down the window to see if she needed help but she said she had it. She thanked me for catching on to what was going on with her horse. No need, I told her.

I watched her in the in the rearview mirror to make sure she was managing. She was. I should not have been surprised because she's ridden horses for most of her life.

On the way to the post office, I got to thinking that she and her horse would make a good picture. I called her grandad and asked if he thought it would be OK to do a brief interview for the paper. He asked her and she said she'd love to.

I ran by their house on the way home and got a few good pictures and did a short interview. It will probably run one day this week. When it does, I'll post the pics.

But tonight, all I have is a gardenia. This one is among the thousands blooming along our driveway.









Sunday, June 03, 2018

Some days are funner

Jilda and I have been looking forward to today for weeks. We'd contacted our songwriting buddy Joe Greg and invited him over to write a song.  

He works at a steel mill, and the company has punched his dance card. He rarely gets a day off, but he took a vacation day today to write with us.

When he arrived, we took a while to catch up before we started on a bluesy song idea Jilda and I had been kicking around. We had the riff, but the lyrics didn't resonate. 

Five minutes in, and I knew we'd nail it. 

The next hour and a half zipped by.  We laughed, so hard I snorted water out my nose. When Joe Greg packed up his guitar and walked out, we'd finished a song. It's entitled Coffee. 

When we get a decent recording of it, I'll post a link. It needs some killer lead from Joe Greg's friend Dave, some harp from our friend Andrew, and the recording magic of our friend Fred.

We have fun most days, but some days are funner. 

Today was one of those days.


Solar jars charging on the deck. Pic was taken with my new camera

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Yard full of young'uns

We hit the ground running this morning. After swilling a few cups of coffee, we walked the dogs. The weatherman said it would be beautiful today. He was right. He also said it would be hotter than Satan slamming jalapenos poppers. 

The thermometer at 10 a.m. was on 82 with 79 percent humidity.  My teeshirt was like wearing an aqua sweater and I'm not talking about the color.

After the walk, the dogs collapsed in front of the box fan in our bedroom. We grabbed baskets and headed out to pick blueberries. We were on a roll.

While Jilda designed decoration flowers for the graves of our loved ones, I cut grass. By day's end, I'd cut about 8 acres. The place looks like a golf course without out the flags and holes...sort of. 

This evening, Jilda was about to throw on some salmon steaks for supper when we got a call from the misfits in the picture below. My niece Samatha was babysitting for her brother. His four girls were at her house. Her son Jordan was ricocheting off the walls. She wanted to put up a badminton set in our field down by the apple tree. 

It was a change of plans. I helped Sam put up the net and get everything set. We snapped a picture during a Kool Aid break.  We left them to their fun but not before snapping a picture.


Friday, June 01, 2018

Mad Money

Most of the money I earn goes into the family till. We're both fond of eating, having lights that come on when we flip the switch, water when we turn to the spigot, and so on.

I do work on the side writing newspaper columns, taking pictures, doing websites, and other things to make my MadMoney. That's the money that goes into the hidden stash. I buy larger-ticket items with my MadMoney.

When I started working part-time at the paper, one of my duties is to take photographs. I had an old digital camera that was great back in the day, but it was acting wonky at inopportune times. I could check out a camera from the press room, but all the reporters use those cameras, and I wouldn't be able to keep one with me to use.

I'd been saving my MadMoney since the first of the year. I'd spend a little here and there, but for the most part, I let it grow.

I decided to spring for a new digital camera. Months of research and comparing models, features, and prices were exhausting. I'm partial to Canon because the first REAL camera I bought while I was in the Army in 1972 was a Canon FTb. That was a great camera. The next camera I purchased was a Canon F1. It was state of the art when I bought it in 74. I paid for it on the installment plan.

About 10 years ago, I bit the bullet and went digital. I bought a used Canon EOS 10D. I used it to shoot football, festivals, and other web-related work.

Then, the iPhones camera made incredible strides. I use my phone a great deal because it's always in my pocket. But when it comes to shooting pictures for the paper, it's not a fit.

Which brings me to this week. I dug up my MadMoney from under the sycamore tree (not really) and ordered a new Canon 80D. The UPS guy delivered it today. It's markable device. I spent the afternoon watching training videos and learning how it works. I'm excited.

I walked outside in a thunderstorm to shoot a picture of our butterfly bush with my new camera.

Stay tuned.


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Time Scoots

Tomorrow is the first day of June. It's hard for me to wrap my mind around that flip of the calendar. I feel like I still have confetti in my hair...or beard...you get the idea. time scoots. 

Then, I realize I haven't taken a picture for my blog today. We walked hard and fast this morning. With air thick as pine sap, I was sweating buckets before I reached the garden. It didn't get any better for the rest of the walk.

So tonight, when I looked back through pictures for one top post, I scrolled back to when we took our first and only cruise. That was last year right. When I looked at the date on the photo, my head slumped. It was from June 1, 2013. Five years ago tomorrow. As I said – time scoots.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Redneck Flower Pot

The weather this spring has been wonky. It stayed cold longer than usual and when the sun decided to make an appearance, early May was more like late August.

Then the tropics began to change the atmosphere. This past weekend was seasonal. We took that as a sign.

Heading to Lowe's, we loaded down two carts full of plants. When all the charges were tallied and I swiped my credit card, the lights dimmed. I could have sworn I heard a cheer from the back office. I'm guessing we single-handedly help the corporation hit a sales target for the quarter.

One of the flowers we bought was flowering moss. I love that plant. I learned about it before I started to school. My great-grandmother Liddy Watson had flowering moss on the porch of her tarpaper shack. 

The house itself would be condemned this day and time, but she kept that little house spotless. And her yard would have made Southern Living photographers giddy. She would have made fun of people who "bought flower or garden seed."  Everything in her garden and flower beds were heirloom flowers she'd had since before WWI. 

Between the posts were homemade hanging baskets made from car tires. The bottom part of the tire was left which is where she planted the flower flowers, but the top half of the tire had been cut away leaving just the inner ring which she used to hang the flowers. Some people these days call those redneck flower pots. That may be true, but filled with flower moss cascading over the edges with blossoms that look like bubblegum, I think the "redneck flower pots" are beautiful and I wish I had some to hang on my porch.

Our plants haven't started blooming yet, but when they do, they are prolific. It may be one of my favorites. 

The picture below is one I shot last summer.


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

I love this time of year.

I went to my nephew's house yesterday afternoon to have a grilled hamburger. Jilda was working. I had his cooler and he needed it to store ice for those coming. 

There were several errands that I needed to run, but it took no time to realize that everyone had taken Memorial Day off. 

Finishing up early, I decided to take the long way to my nephew's house. On a backroad seldom traveled, I came to a place with yellow daisies on both sides of the road.  I slowed to a crawl and took it all in.

It seems every day is a new show.  The green is so lush, and the blue of the sky doesn't have an assigned color.

I know I say this about every season, but I love this time of year.



Monday, May 28, 2018

Blueberries are a joy of rural life ~ my column from Sunday's paper

We have a row of blueberry bushes at the edge of our garden. Through the years we’d plant one here and there.

Now, they dot the crest of a terrace row and they curve almost 90 degrees from one end to the other. The older ones are taller than my head. Right now, the branches on all the bushes are laden with fruit. When the sun is right, the basket of berries looks like it’s full of obsidian. After the picking is done each day, the tips of my fingers look bruised. Not only are they beautiful, they taste like little lumps of heaven.

Last Sunday, we had blueberry waffles for breakfast. Blueberry smoothies were on the menu almost every morning. Before long, we’ll make a batch of blueberry ice cream and I can promise you that a blueberry pound cake figures into the future. Jilda has mastered a recipe that “will make you want to slap your mama.” I’m not sure where that saying came from. But that means that something is really good.

There’s an art to picking blueberries. I can’t go out in a hurry because the berries can be elusive. They have some kind of cloaking device when you try to pick too fast. I’ll pick for a while and then step back to survey the bush and find ripe blueberries everywhere. After I’m satisfied that there are no more ripe berries on the bush, Jilda will walk up and say, “You missed one,” and pick a fat berry.

This morning after coffee, I took a basket out to pick. After a few minutes, hands fell into the gentle rhythm. Off in the distance, I heard crows and two owls courting. A squirrel sat on the back gate and evaluated my style. 

The morning was warm. When I took off my hat to wipe sweat from my brow, the sky overhead was scattered with clouds. An airliner so high that its whispering sound was almost inaudible. Picking blueberries can be as relaxing as deep meditation. I could come off blood pressure meds if I picked blueberries for a living.

The bliss was broken by the sound of laughter coming from the house. Just then, my great nephew Jordan darted through the backyard with a basket in hand. He was the cavalry coming to help on berry duty.

I’d finished one bush and about to start on another one.  He stepped up beside me as I surveyed my handiwork. He said, “You missed one.” He leaned down and picked a blueberry as fat as a plum and popped it in his mouth. He then dropped down to his knees and picked a pint of blueberries that I had missed. A fresh perspective is just what this chore needed.

After the picking was finished, we sat in the shade of the pear tree to cool off before taking out bounty inside. He snapped a small branch off the pear tree and created what looked like a toothpick. He then picked a half-dozen fat berries from his basket and made a blueberry kabob. Holding it up proudly, he said, “I love these things.” With one swift move, the berries were in his mouth and his stick was clean. 

People sometimes ask me why we live in the sticks. If they’d ever picked and ate warm blueberries off the bush or had a slab of Jilda’s blueberry pound cake, I wouldn’t have to explain.

A crew of blueberry pickers came in to help with the harvest.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The owner paid a lot more than a dollar


Posted Sunday, May 27, 2018
BY RICK WATSON
SUMITON - Robbie Soles of Birmingham was rummaging through booths at a flea market in Birmingham last month when she came across something interesting. It was an Army medal. She bought it for her grandfather, Billy Manning of Sumiton.  

One look at the medal and Manning, who is a 90-year-old veteran, knew what it was. When his granddaughter told him that she’d bought it at a flea market for $1, he shook his head. “I
knew the instant I opened the case that the original owner had paid a lot more than a dollar for the medal.”

It was a Purple Heart. It turns out, he was right.

Manning, who served in the Army from 1948 to 1955, had no idea how the medal wound up among pocket knives, garden tools and handbags. “I knew I didn’t deserve the Purple Heart,” he said.  

He decided to contact Bill Fowler of the Sumiton Area Veterans Memorial to get some help tracking down the owner.

Manning asked Fowler if it would be possible to display the Purple Heart in the Veterans Memorial case at the Sumiton Community Center. 

“Maybe we could put it in there and put a tag that said “Lost Warrior” or something,” Manning remembered. “I just knew it didn’t belong in a bin at a flea market. Something must have happened to the man this medal belonged to, or maybe someone stole it from him."

Fowler told Manning the least he could do would be to display it in the Veterans Memorial case, but he wanted to do more. Fowler examined the pin trying to find a number that would give some clues about its owner. When he flipped the medal over, “For Military Merit SSG Lawson,” was inscribed on the back. SSG stands for staff sergeant. 

“Most people call the Purple Heart a medal, but recipients and their families don’t call it a medal,” said Fowler. 

He explained that this medal is not for good conduct, or for marksmanship, but a recognition for the price soldiers paid in service to their country. The U.S. Military awards Purple Hearts to soldiers killed or wounded in combat.

Fowler enlisted the help of Sumiton Police Department. Communications Supervisor Nick Key went to work trying to track down information on Lawson. Fowler also contacted the Daily Mountain Eagle to get some publicity and maybe help track down Lawson. 

Fowler thought the Purple Heart came from one of the conflicts after Vietnam. 

“We have Alfred and Wayne Phillips’ Purple Hearts on display at the Sumiton Veteran Memorial,” Fowler said. “Alfred’s is from WWII and his son Wayne’s is from Vietnam. Both of those Purple Hearts were a little different,” according to Fowler. Neither of those had a name inscribed on the back. 

A Google search using the words inscribed on the back got several hits. The first link led to a document about SST Eric Lawson from a memorial service in Stockbridge, Georgia. Lawson, who was born in Birmingham but raised in Stockbridge, died July 27 in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their vehicle with an improvised explosive device (IED) and small arms fire. 

A subsequent Google search found an obituary for the soldier, who left a wife, son, mother, father, and siblings.

Research turned up a Facebook page entitled: Wall of Honor for Lawson. One of the comments on that page was from Staff Sgt. Matthew McCall of Sanford, North Carolina. McCall had been a personal friend of Lawson. A private message sent to McCall prompted a response. McCall said that he would contact the family to find out if his friend's Purple Heart was missing. 

Victoria Freeman, Lawson’s sister, responded. She said the family received four Purple Hearts when her brother died. One went to Lawson’s widow, one to his mother, one to his sister (Victoria), and one to his father. The wife, mother, and sister had their medal medals. When Victoria contacted her father in Birmingham, he said his medal had been stolen.

Attempts to contact Lawson’s father were unsuccessful at press time. Fowler said that as soon as he can make arrangements he will personally ensure the father receives the Purple Heart.

In the meantime, Fowler will display the Purple Heart in the Sumiton Veterans Memorial case.



Saturday, May 26, 2018

Company's a-comin'

We have company coming tomorrow. It's mostly family and a few friends, but we still clean like the Pope is on the guest list.

Our deck furniture was still in the yard. We'd taken everything off to water seal the surface. We had every intention of repainting it before bringing it back onto the deck, but both Jilda and I have been slammed the last few weeks so the fresh coat of paint on the Adirondack chairs and the wrought iron table didn't happen. 

The next best thing to a fresh coat of paint is to spray it off with the pressure washer. I did that and it looks good.

Jordan helped us put all the furniture back on when here was here yesterday. Today, we spotified the house. My bathroom is now as clean as an operating room. Yaya, you can come and inspect it. 

We went to the big-box hardware store and garden center to buy some wood to fix the chicken pen. Rain clouds to the east and south looked as though they could sweep in at any moment and drench the truck. The lumber could get wet, but the plywood, not so much. 

Instead, we swung through the garden center and picked up some flowers for the deck. Back toward the back was a pot of jasmine. The plant was seven-feet tall and coated with white flowers. We were on a tight flower budget, but jasmine is a lifetime investment. If you care for it, it will come back and bloom year after year. I reached for my wallet and pulled out my mad money. That's the money I make writing my column and from playing music. I pulled a C-note from my wallet and bought the jasmine.  It smells like heaven on a vine.

Tonight will be an early night. We both feel as though we did a marathon walking on our hands.

Happy Memorial Day weekend.




Friday, May 25, 2018

Mistake

I made a mistake.  When I took Cailou to the vet a few weeks ago, she suggested I take him to a pet grooming place and get him a summer cut. "He'll be more comfortable in the summer months," she said. I'm always mindful of the health of my friends, so I decided to get him a trim.

I took him in early Thursday morning. They said they'd call when I could pick him up. It was almost 4 p.m. when my cell buzzed in my pocket. I drove over the pay the tab and pick my pup up.

When they brought him out, I didn't recognize him. A summer cut apparently means they shave off his coat. He is a proud dog. I never realized it, but I think he was almost embarrassed.

When I got him home, our other dogs thought he was a new animal here. It took them a while to adjust.

His coat grows fast and I know he will be more comfortable in the months to come, but I can tell you I won't do this again. He can stay inside in front of the fan and we'll walk him in early mornings and late afternoons.

I'm finally getting used to the way he looks, but I miss my Cailou.




Thursday, May 24, 2018

Enjoyable afternoon

My old partner in crime a the college sent me a text yesterday and wanted to meet me for lunch. I had business in Jasper, so I told him I'd be glad to break bread.

His boss from one of his part-time jobs was with him. He chose Johnny Brusco's New York Style Pizza. Had I laid money on my guess for Danny's pick, I would have walked away with the money. He LOVES Italian food. 

He and his boss chose Stromboli sandwiches, but I went with the Calzone. Mine was scrumptious. They said theirs were too.

After lunch, Danny wanted to find a place to have a music festival. I told him about a bluegrass venue that my accountant own. He wanted to see it. I cleared the visit to the park with my accountant and then we headed out.

The park is a few hundred acres on Blackwater River. It's some of the most beautiful property around here. He took pictures of the stage, concession stand, restrooms and other park features. We then walked down to the water's edge. 

My accountant installed about 30 RV parking spots on the edge of the river. Danny and I walked down to the water and onto the deck built over one section of rapids on the river. The roar of water rushing over the rocks was intoxicating. We stood there for a long while leaning on the wooden rails. Mockingbirds must have had a nest nearby because one was telling us the news.  

On the ride back to the city, he said I think this place will do. I think he's planning on a retro band festival with groups that were on top of the world when we were younger. Classic Rock is huge around here and I'm guessing it will do well.

Even if nothing comes from it, we had an enjoyable afternoon.




Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Memorial Day teaser

I'm working on a story for Memorial Day.  It's one that started as a mystery, but with some research and a little luck, it turned out to be an incredible piece. A few more things have to fall into place to really make it soar, but there's a good chance that will happen tomorrow. I can't say much about it because one of the local networks would jump all over it and that would break my heart.

I won't leave you in the dark. It's supposed to run in the paper on Sunday. If it does, I'll posts it Sunday evening. I think you'll like it.

We're inviting a few folks over on Sunday for BBQ ribs. Jilda will whip up a vat of potato salad, and we'll enjoy some time with family and friends.

I've written this week till my fingers are tired. The bossman says things should slow down a bit after May.

I hope your Memorial Day weekend is special.




Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Guest Post ~ Dee Ready

Prayer Wasn’t Enough: Guest Posting

Recently I published Prayer Wasn’t Enough, a memoir about the eight-and-a-half years I spent in a Benedictine convent in the 1960s. Rick has graciously invited me to do a guest posting today about that memoir. So “Thank you” to Rick, and “Hello” to all of you reading this post. 

After leaving the convent in 1966, fifty years passed before I began to write this memoir.
During that time, a question haunted me: “Why had so many women whom I admired been able to live the life and I hadn’t?” I left the convent feeling a failure. That feeling never left me.

Then, in 2016, a friend said, “Dee, you love to write. Write about the convent. Maybe that’ll bring an answer to your question.” 

Prayer Wasn’t Enough did become an answer. Writing the memoir helped me get in touch with that twenty-two-year-old, idealistic, young Dee Ready who joyously donned the Benedictine habit as well as the thirty-year-old who left the convent almost catatonic. 
As I sat at the computer for eighteen months, sometimes crying, often laughing, I remembered it all: the prayer, the obediences, the teaching, the clothing, the silence, the rules, the traditions, and my own mistaken notion that I had to be perfect to be a nun. That, I discovered, had been my stumbling block. My own emotional and spiritual immature had sent me over the edge.

Writing the memoir finally freed me from the guilt I’d felt for walking away from a vowed life of prayer and teaching. 

If only during those years of feeling a failure, I’d remembered that in 1989 writing helped me with the grief of losing Dulcy, the cat with whom I lived for seventeen-and-a-half years. Dulcy helped me through that grief by giving me two books: A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story and A Cat’s Legacy: Dulcy’s Companion Book. 

I’m busy now polishing a novel that takes place in first century Palestine. It has two main characters: a Pharisee and Yeshua—the Hebrew name for Jesus. Without the convent experience I don’t think I ever would have conceived the idea for this book, which will be published this September. The memoir has given me the confidence to share the crisis of faith that is the thread running through that novel.

One last thing: Please consider writing when you want to work through a past trauma or when you fear that the road ahead will be daunting. Writing may help you, too, embrace the thoughts, fears, and feelings that lie deep at the center of your being. In that center all of us find our true selves. Trust me on this—we all have a story to tell. I encourage you to tell your own unique story. Telling mine brought liberation.



NOTE: Dee's book is available HERE.
Rick



Monday, May 21, 2018

Telling Stories

Ever since I was a kid in Sloss Hollow I’ve enjoyed stories. I remember sitting on my grandmother’s front porch listening. She could talk for hours about her life with my grandpa
in the early years when times were hard.   I’m glad I recorded some of the pieces of our family’s history. Mr. Plunkett who lived next door could spin a good yarn too. Sometimes it was hard to tell if he was pulling your leg, but when he said “This is the God’s Truth,” you knew he was shooting straight. I’ve learned that everyone has a story.

Many people when asked say, “There’s nothing interesting about my life.” But if you start a conversation and listen, you often hear something remarkable. Some people overcome hardship, others have rare talents, and some of them do unique things. “Oh, that. It was no big deal,” they might say. When in fact what they did was extraordinary. Trying to coax the facts out of these folks is like pulling teeth. 

Storytelling is an important part of our culture. It’s a way to share experience, education, and history. Oral history gives insight on events from our past. A good story can make you feel as if you were there. 

My grandmother told a story once about when my grandpa was making moonshine in Kershaw Hollow. The authorities got wind of the illegal operation and showed up at dusk one evening to arrest him. One agent got the bright idea that he would try bluffing my grandmother into telling them the location of the whiskey still.  “We had to shoot him,” the officer said. Mama Watson wasn’t fooled. As she was standing at the edge of their garden, listening to the officer, Pap, who was hidden under sweet potato vines, reached up and gently wrapped his hand around Mama Watson’s ankle. “I almost jumped out of my skin,” she said. She realized that it was Pap and that touching her ankle was his way of telling her he was OK. The agents went away empty handed. Stories are treasures.

When my job at Bevill State ended, I approached The Mountain Eagle about writing more features. Through the years, I’ve written a few stories for the paper in addition to my weekly column.  The idea of capturing stories from the people in East Walker County appealed to me. The publisher agreed. It took some time before I got the call but I started the first of May.

So far, I’ve written about an 80-year-old gardener in Sumiton, and a piano teacher who received national recognition for excellence. This week I interviewed three high school seniors, an 87-year-old golfer, and a man who was on the mining rescue team that helped in the aftermath of the Brookwood Mine accident in September of 2001 that claimed the lives of Alabama miners. 

The stories I’m hearing are amazing and I can’t wait to hear more. At the bottom of this column is my email address. If you know someone young or old who has an interesting story to tell, feel free to drop me a note with contact information.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Blueberries

Our dance cards have been punched these last several weeks. We had nothing on our calendar for today. So, we sipped coffee and read the papers this morning. It felt good to veg out.

Yesterday, before heading out to the wedding, we walked down and surveyed the garden. The tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes are coming along nicely. 

When I checked the blueberries, they were hanging full. The wasn't enough time to pick them so I made a mental note to do that this morning.

While Jilda did a few chores, I took a basket and headed to the berries. You can't get in a hurry while picking blueberries. They play hide-and-seek with the limbs and leaves. I picked about an hour and took over a gallon of blueberries inside.

We'll eat some and start putting bags in the freezer. We can use the frozen berries in the protein shakes we have in the morning. Jilda also tosses some in her pancakes and waffles.  Before the end of the season, she'll make a blueberry pound cake.

We once had casualties here at a party when two people went for the last piece of her blueberry pound cake. Fortunately, the injuries didn't require medical attention and the two people involved began talking to each other again a few months after the altercation :)

NOTE: On Tuesday, my blog friend Dee Ready will do a guest post on my blog. Dee recently published a book, Prayer is Not Enough, about her eight years in a Benedictine convent in the 1960s. 
I enoyed this book. I hope you'll tune in on Tuesday.


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