Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dark Song

Sleet is ticking off my front windows tonight but the weatherman says it will be a non-event. I guess we'll know in a few hours. I know that it was cold this morning because Ol' Bessie (my truck) turned slowly before springing to life.
The sky was clear and when the morning sun rose over the hills, I had to use my hand to shade the blinding light from my eyes with my hand.
We wrote a song tonight with our young friend Josh Clark. I think I mentioned a few posts back that he asked us to help write some material for a play. We got the script and it is dark and full of fear and angst. He knows the playwright well and we took our queues from him as to the tone of the song we wrote. It's unlike anything we have written before. It's darkly poetic with a haunting melody. He seemed pleased so we'll see if the playwright likes it. If so, I guess it's in the play.
I found it interesting working with this young man. He saw things in the play that I had missed. We usually write songs that are like telling a story. One line leads into the next and it leaves nothing to the imagination. But Josh wanted the piece to be more enigmatic.
I think we met that goal.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


I'm not very curious by nature. Some things interest me, but for whatever reason I'm just not curious about most things. An alien with five legs, three arms, and a hand protruding out of his forehead could sit down beside me and ask for an aardvark sandwich and I would respond "sorry dude, I don't have one just now."
My wife Jilda, on the other hand could be an investigator. In three minutes while standing in the checkout line at Foodworld, she can meet a total stranger and get their life story from birth which includes their marital status, how many kids, their names, where they live, what they drive, where they went to school, where they work, their annual income and any recent surgeries. It's a gift.
I'm more of an observer. I take in information through my sense of smell, taste, sight, sound and touch. I let life wash over me like warm waves from the gulf of Mexico and I take it at face value rather than asking probing questions or wondering why. I like taking mental pictures and putting my own meaning with them. I know that's not very scientific, but my pictures are much more interesting to me.
I probably shouldn't mention this now but as a kid, I used to add captions to the pictures in our school books. My fifth grade teacher would whack me with her walker if she knew. But I looked at the pictures and imagined what they were saying instead of reading the text. I came across one of my old books some time later and howled when I read what I had written so long ago.
As I study writing and writers, I'm finding that I've become more curious. What makes a piece of writing good? I've come to understand that some things can't be taken lightly and that it takes a deep dive to bring understanding. If I want to improve, I have to look more deeply and develop a sense of curiosity. Only time will tell if I am successful.

Monday, January 29, 2007


I went to see the doctor this morning for my annual physical. He said I was in great shape, especially for a 65 year old. I told him he had transposed the numbers that I was actually 56 so he quickly changed the subject. I did get the distinct feeling that he thought my head had worn out two bodies.
I feel great, I explained but I told him my joints creak when I first stand in the morning, but they do much better after some of the bone grinds down and I have a cup of coffee. He stared at me intently as if he expected a third eye to appear in my forehead. I mentioned that I was also experiencing pain in the first joint of my left index finger. He suggested some medicine. I asked him if I would be able to play the piano. He said well sure that should not be a problem. That's a miracle I said because I could not play before. He quickly looked at his watch and said my gosh, look how late it's gotten and scrambled out of the room. The nurse came in a while later holding my prescriptions out to me at arm's length as if I were the UniBomber. I love it when my company changes our insurance and I get to break in a new doctor.
That reminds me of a doctor joke that I just love:
A man calls the doctor for an ailing uncle
MAN: Dr. my uncle needs to set up an appointment ASAP because he is very sick
DOCTOR: No I'm familiar with your uncle's case and I can tell you without a doubt that he's not sick, he just THINKS he is.
A few weeks later, the doctor sees the man on the street corner:
DOCTOR: How's your uncle?
MAN: He's much worse, now he thinks he's dead.

I heard that joke years ago and I just love it. Here's one more doctor joke before I sign off for the night:
A doctor needs a plumber to fix a problem with his toilet. When the plumber presents him with the bill the doctor exclaims "I'm a brain surgeon and I don't make this much money per hour!!!!"
The plumber said: "I know, neither did I when I was a brain surgeon."

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Promise Made

Yesterday evening for Jilda and I was as close to perfection as you can get. We invited some of our best friends over for dinner and spent a few hours together. But in retrospect it was almost like a vacation.
It seems like the older we get, the busier we have become and the same is true for most of our friends. We all recognize that carving out a little quality time with our friends is important, but getting our schedules together is much easier said than done. We succeeded last night and it was magical.
Jilda had to work a few hours yesterday so she got up early and put on the sauce for her famous spaghetti. It simmered in the crock pot all day and it was all I could do to keep from getting a big ol' spoon and eating it right from the pot. While she was at work, I finished straightening up the house and afterwards I went to the store to get wine, fresh bread and for the antipasto I got salami, cheese and green olives. I also picked some ice cream for the raspberry crumb cake which we had for desert.
When our guests arrived it was like a breath of fresh air was breathed into our humble abode. We sat around for hours eating, sipping wine, laughing and talking.
Had you told me when we were younger how much pleasure we would get from sitting around with friends and simply enjoying each other's company, I would have thought you insane. Reflecting back on last night, I can't imagine a better way to spend an evening.
I got an email from guy who graduated from Dora High in 1969 and he was lamenting the fact that he had lost touch with so many of his friends. He asked me if I knew how to contact several people. I was saddened as I read his note because two of the five people on his list are now deceased.
The last few years both Jilda and I have spent a great deal of time on family matters and we too drifted away from our friends. The our situation has changed now and we both made a promise to ourselves this year, that we would spend time and energy reconnecting with friends and family that mean so much to us.
Life is fragile and time slips by fast. If you tarry too long you could miss your chance of letting someone know just how much they mean to you. It is our intention to not let that happen with us. There is a line in the poem "The Ballad of Sam McGee" that goes "a promise made is a debt unpaid" Last night was just the first installment toward paying the debt we owe ourselves.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

For What It's Worth

The nights have been cool here in Empire, Alabama. I went out on the deck this morning to dump the old coffee grounds into our flower bed and as I looked southward toward the barn, the trees had a satin sheen from the heavy morning frost.
As fresh coffee brewed, I looked through a Stark Brother's catalog at all the fruit trees. It was all I could do to keep from getting on the phone and calling their operator -- "Yes ma'am I'd like one of each please....yes and send them to me at.......and is it possible for me to get them tomorrow?????"
We have a lot of fruit trees in our yard, but I don't think you can have too many. Each year in January when the winter weather chases us indoors, I turn to these seed catalogs and daydream about that time in early spring when the fruit trees bloom.
I know that gardening is in my blood. I love the smell of fresh turned earth and how it feels to walk over with bare feet. Planting and tending a garden is not easy work. It would obviously be much easier to run down to the farmer's market and snap up all the fresh fruit and vegetables you want. And if I ever really put a pen to paper and did the math, it would probably be cheaper too. But we would miss the experience of planting and harvesting. The need to garden comes from somewhere deep inside and impossible to explain here. I do know this: working the soil and watching things grow and eating vine ripe tomatoes on toasted bread in the summertime is one of life's pleasures that is important to us.
Gardening has been often used as a metaphor for life:
"As you sew, so shall you reap"
"Our Mind is a garden, our thoughts are the seeds
You can grow flowers or you can grow weeds."
There are many more.
I know that having a big garden is not an option for some folks. But do youself a favor and get a small round pot...fill it with potting soil....put in a few lettuce seeds and watch them grow. Let's have a conversation after you've had your first FRESH salad and you tell me what it's worth.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Head Full

I've been at my desk on a conference call for over twelve hours. There was a computer problem in Jackson, Mississippi that was spiraling out of control. We got the system stable enough to allow us to continue on Monday.
My head if full. I'll get back to the important stuff....writing in my blog, tomorrow.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

My Two Cents

The weather was great today. Even though the air was cool, the sun was warm and the sky was clear and blue. I say this not from first hand experience because truth be told, I spent the day in the bowels of an electronic data center chasing the elusive cause of computer glitch. My ears are still ringing from the din of clattering disk drives, cooling fans, and air conditioning.
I don't really know how all this stuff works, but I know how it all fits together and I know who to call when one of the individual pieces breaks.
In fact, the secret to how I've survived in this ever changing environment is in my relationships at work. I'm naturally curious about what people do. And instead of sending emails, voice mails or other forms of communication, I find out where people sit and I go to their desks. I put a face with a name and I show genuine interest in their work. I tell them what I do and offer my assistance if they ever need me. If they call, I do my best to deliver. When I need their help, I go to them and explain my problem first hand and ask for their help. It is rare that people don't help when I ask.
It is important to understand that you can't continue going to the well (asking the same person for help) without some kind of payback. If someone helps me, I always say thank you. I send a formal note to their boss. I usually recommend that the boss double the salary of the person who helped me. Obviously the boss doesn't give them a raise based on my recommendation, but an at-a-boy often produces equity that does figure into job performance evaluations which can mean the difference in whether someone gets a raise or not.
I've said all this to say: you don't have to be the smartest person in your field to do well. It does pay to learn as much as you can. It also pays to learn who the smart people are and befriend them if possible. If you can be of service to these people, do it without strings attached....without asking for anything in return. If the day comes when you need their help, ask them without mentioning the favor you did for them...they will remember without you having to remind them. NEVER take credit for the work of others and lastly, ALWAYS say thank you.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Missing Muse

This is one of those nights. The Muse is Missing in action. I've been staring at my screen with my fingers poised over the keys now for twenty minutes now ready to spring into action at the first sign of inspiration. I put on some of my favorite music and looked at some old photographs but nothing.
I've learned the past year that some days are like this. So tonight, I'm going to pick up my old guitar and practice for a while. I know it's not getting a story written, but time spent playing a guitar is never wasted.
Maybe tomorrow the words will come.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


I've got a small hourglass on my desk at work and often when I'm on an unending conference call I will flip the glass and watch the sand pour through. It's a graphic reminder to me that life is slipping silently by.
It's a simple device that has been used for hundreds years. The ancient Greeks had the technology to build an hourglass, but there is no historic record that they did. The earliest record is in a painting by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in 1328.
In earlier times before watches and clocks were widely used, people used the hourglass to measure time. Some historians believe that ancient mariners used the hourglass in conjunction with the magnetic compass to improve navigation.
They are rarely used today except to measure short durations of time such as a three minute egg timer for boiling eggs and in some board games. I read where the Australian parliament uses an hourglass to time certain procedures but I use the hourglass to keep me mindful of time.
While we go about our daily routines, it's easy to slip into a mindless state not unlike sleepwalking. You go to meetings, take notes, return phone calls, and meet people as you walk down the halls and later as you reflect on the day, it's hard to recall where the time went.
When you think about it, eight hours is a pretty good chunk of time and if put to good use, you can with enough help, raise a can write a song or short can read a good book or learn to cook seafood gumbo or experience something exciting and new.
The older I get, the more mindful I am with my time. A very good friend of mine who recently learned she has cancer told me that she no longer spends time with people she doesn't like. She has been married to a professional man for many years and she has attended functions and gatherings with people she didn't know and after spending only a short time with them, decided that she didn't want to know them. "It's not that they were bad people," she explained "they were just after different things from life. I made a decision not to spend time with people I don't like," she said. Instead she spends her time tending her garden and her animals. She talks to her friends, and reads. She drinks green tea in the afternoon while watching yellow and purple finches on the feeders in her yard.
I thought about my friend as I watched the sand slipping through the hourglass today and realized the value of each passing moment.

Monday, January 22, 2007


When is the last time you received a letter? I mean a real letter in your mailbox. I'm not talking about a Christmas or Birthday card, but a hand written letter. It's almost a lost art in this modern day of electronic messaging. I get stuff forwarded to me all the time...a joke from my sister, a link from a co-worker, a short video from a friend but usually the words are scarce..."You'll Love This!!" or maybe "An Oldie But a Goodies." We find the time to check our email and forward on what's amusing, shocking, interesting and sad but we rarely find the time to jot a personal note to go along with it.
Most everyone you speak with about this practice says "I'm just so busy, I don't have time to write." Sometimes that may be true, but I'm not sure sure that we haven't become a little lazy.
I wrote a letter to a friend of mine a few years ago on stationary with a blue ink fountain pen. It was her birthday and I wanted to let her know how much she meant to my wife Jilda and me. She later told me that she cried as she read the letter. I've since heard another person say how moved they were when they received a letter from a friend. I know that I personally enjoy getting letters but I never realized that receiving one could be so moving to someone.
As I sit here and consider my words, it occurred to me that it's because the act of writing a personal letter to a friend or lover takes time, thought, and effort. When I write letters, I search for the right words that convey what I'm thinking or feeling. I keep a dictionary and thesaurus handy for reference. My brain is not a good spellchecker.
I made a decision at the first of this year that I would write letters to the special people in my life. To do it up right you need some stationary and a good pen...I prefer a fountain pen. When I looked for stationary I had no idea how much it costs these days. Office Depot had some nice stationary with envelopes for twelve dollars. I'm sure you could spend a great deal more at specialty shops but I'm pretty sure that if you want to write a personal letter to a friend, they would not be offended if it was written on yellow legal paper.
In years past, letter writing was the preferred method of communication. In fact I've learned during my studies of history that most of the really interesting facts and stories that show up in the historical record come from personal letters. The letters of poets, authors, musicians, scientists and politicians often make up the most interesting body of their work because it provides a window through which you can glimpse something deeper and more personal than what you get from more official communications.
Let's all make a commitment to write more personal letters this year. Feel free to send one to me at:
Rick Watson
310 Stacks Bottom Rd.
Empire, Alabama 35063

I will post the letters I receive on this blog.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Elvis Has Left the Aquarium

We bought a Beta fish a few years ago and we named him Elvis. We were trying to come up with a suitable name but none of them seemed to fit. Jilda pointed out that he was the color of blue suede shoes, so after that the name was obvious. Well, not that obvious to some because Carl Perkins wrote Blue Suede Shoes and also recorded the song. But it was Elvis who made the song popular so we named our Beta Elvis.
He had the big old aquarium to himself for a year or so because Beta fish are like the Pit Bulls of aquariums. If you put another fish in with a Beta..... it's usually curtains for the new fish. I learned that the male Beta won't fight with a female Beta so off to Wal-Mart I went. I bought a red female and of course we named her Priscilla.
They have lived in wetted (yes I meant to misspell it) ever since....until a day or so ago. When I fed them on Thursday, Elvis looked as if he'd eaten too many cheeseburgers. He was in the bottom corner of the aquarium and he did not look well. I took a wooden pasta spoon and encouraged him a little and he did swim around some but when I stopped prodding, he headed back for his corner.
This morning when I looked in the tank he was lying on his side. Either he had over slept or he was a gonner. When I got the wooden pasta spoon to wake him up, he drifted to the top. Priscilla was devastated and inconsolable. Jilda tried to distract her with fish food while I snatched him from the tank and whisked him off to the bathroom for a Tidy Bowl burial.
I know we'll miss him, but it's Pricella that I feel for. When I check on her a while ago she was swimming around despondently. I put on an Elvis CD to keep her company. As I walked out "Are You Lonesome Tonight" was playing the could almost hear her weeping.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Turn the Page

My Aunt Edith passed away last night. It occurred to me as I write that I no longer have any aunts or uncles. My mom came from a family with 13 kids and she was the middle child. Her baby brother Marvin Lee Ferguson was the first soldier from Walker County to die in WWII. He was on the USS California, one of the ships that went down when Pearl Harbor was attacked in December 1941.
Three of her siblings died before I was born and the others passed away through the years.
Aunt Edith lived on a farm up in Saragossa which is a community up above Jasper. She had two sons that were near my age and I spent several summers at their house. The work was hard but I got to ride horses and each afternoon we would go to their farm pond which was stocked with bream and bass and we'd fish until dark.
We used to celebrate the 4th of July at Aunt Edith's house and there would be a yard full of firecracker toting hair brain cousins. You had to be very careful because one misstep and someone would put a bottle rocket down your pants. Believe me, I've seen it happen more than once.
She always had a crew of kids turning hand cranked ice cream freezers full of peach, butter pecan, black walnut, strawberry, and of course vanilla ice cream. If you ate it too fast, you'd get brain freeze and stand there dazed.....if you were immobilized for too guessed'd get a bottle rocket down your pants. So I was always mindful when I ate ice cream there.
Aunt Edith grew frail several years ago and she spent the last part of her life in a nursing home. The last time I saw her she didn't recognize me.
She loved to hear Jilda and I play and sing. Many years ago, Jilda and I were asked to play at an event in the parking lot of the hospital in Jasper. Don't ask me why because I cannot recall for the life of me why were were playing there. It was in August and hotter than a skillet on that flat bed truck stage, but when we looked out in the audience, Aunt Edith was there cheering us on.
She had asked us to come and play for her but for one reason or another we could never work it out. I regret that now.
The photo above is of Aunt Edith, Uncle Howard, Chubby (the little kid), Jimmy, and Junior. It was taken almost 40 years ago.
I'm saddened by her passing and the realization that this chapter of my life is now closed....forever.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Some Good News for the Rickster

I love days like today. The sun is warm but the breeze out of the north keeps my black truck from singeing my eyebrows when I get in. My cell phone is acting up so I went to the phone store to see what was available for replacement. Even though I did not find a suitable phone, I did get out of the office and enjoy some fresh air.
In the past, air quality in Birmingham would never have been described as fresh. I can remember back in the sixties when U.S. Steel was blowin' and goin', those stacks spewed tons of smoke and ash into the air. Some mornings when fog rose over the city, it mixed with the haze to form smog and it hung over the city like a dirty blanket.
There is still a good bit of industry in the city and the fact that mass transit is almost non-existent causes problems on some days but for those of us who remember the old days, it's nothing.
I did get some good news today. Last week I approached the local newspaper about publishing some of my blog entries. I put together a portfolio and ran by to pitch the idea to the managing editor. I got a call back today to say they want to print the stories.
We also got a call from our young friend Josh Clark and he wants Jilda and I to collaborate with him on music for the stage. A friend of his has written a play that will be performed in the spring. He wants us to work with him on some original music for the production. We've never tried writing for the theatre before, but we are excited to have an opportunity to try.
I'll keep you posted.
Take care and have a great weekend.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Heading West in August

We haven't been to California in a few years so we've been missing the left coast. Jilda called me at work today with good news. Paul Thorn, the blues artist that I've mentioned before in this blog, will be playing at the Monterey County Fair in August. Bingo! We have enough frequent flier miles for free airplane tickets and enough hotel points for at least one night's stay so we put it on our calendar in ink.
We made a friend a few years ago when we played the Wind & Cheese Songwriter festival in Napa Valley, California. Don McCartney was one of the arts council people who helped with the festival. As it turns out, Don is from the south too and we hit it off. He is a fabulous freelance graphic artist. He does commercial work and also sells some of the most beautiful water colors you have ever seen. Visit his site at
In an earlier blog entry, I mentioned that I had heard one of Paul Thorn's CD and was blown away. After listening to the loaner CD a few times, I logged on to Paul's site and bought the CD we had borrowed and another one as well. Since then, we bought his live CD. I cannot tell you how good this guy is. His lyrics are intelligent, and his melodies are strong. I'm not sure why this guy is not a superstar.
Visit Paul's site and see for yourself
We can't wait to head west in August.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


I worked late tonight and by the time I started home, lite rain had begun to fall. The temp hovered in the high 30's and when I called home, Jilda said it was sleeting.
The further north I drove that I could see a flake of snow every now and then. I had an irresistible urge to whip into Wal-Mart and buy milk and bread. Every time there is even a remote chance of snow, the folks here in Alabama always swarm stores and strip the shelves of milk and bread like locusts. Sometimes we extend the frenzy to flashlight batteries, string cheese and potted meat. As I sit here and consider these items, I can't help thinking the batteries might actually be more tasty.
I know first hand that it's no fun being caught in a snow storm. I remember back on March 12 of 1993. It was a Friday and I was working in Hoover, Alabama. Jilda started calling before lunch to say they were predicting snow. I'd been there before. Jilda always gets excited at the mention of snow and so I didn't put a lot of stock in her forecast. But as the day wore on, people started leaving early and so I got my stuff and headed home. Had I waited another hour to leave, I would have been stranded on the highway. But I did make it home and it was a winter wonderland. We got out in the yard and played for hours in the snow with our neighbors and our dogs.
A typical Alabama snow will have a few inches on the ground in the morning and by the afternoon the sun comes out burns off all the snow and by sunset it's warm enough to swim.
But 1993 was different. The snow continued to fall hard driven by forty mile and hour winds and by morning not only were we without electricity, but I couldn't see our cars.
The power was off for days which was unfortunate for us, because we lived in a total electric home. I know that looks good on paper, but it stinks when the power stays off for a while. Had it not been for the fact that my brother-in-law who lives next door had a gas stove, we would have had nothing to eat....not even potted meat....or batteries.
On day three of the ordeal the clouds broke and we were huddled by the garden doors at the back of the house accepting what little warmth the afternoon sun could provide. Neither of us had bathed in days and I said to Jilda "we look like street people."
A few days later all the snow was gone leaving nothing but a bad memory and a deep resolve to never be caught like that again.
We still depend on electricity, but we got a propane heater and a gas stove. We also got a generator and other things that will help us weather the storm in the event we have a blizzard like the one of March of 93.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I Stand Corrected

In my blog entry yesterday I mentioned that Mick Jagger had written Wild Horses at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, but a reader set the record straight. The studio where the song was written and recorded was actually Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield and not Fame Studios. In fact most of the songs I know and love from the time I was a senior in high school until disco became the rage, was recorded in that little studio.
Muscle Shoals Sound Studios was the home of "The Swampers" who are world famous musicians. The Lynyrd Skynyrd anthem
"Sweet Home Alabama" mentions them:
"Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they've been known to pick a song or two
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I'm feeling blue
Now how about you?"

The reader went on to post the link in the comment section for Muscle Shoals Sound which I learned is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Here is a brief history as recorded on their website:
Welcome to the original location of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio at 3614 Jackson Highway Sheffield Alabama
On April 1st 1969 Muscle Shoals Sound Studios Opened
On January 1st 1999 Noel Webster purchased the studio
On April 1st 2000 the studio was fully restored to original condition
On June 2nd 2006 Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was placed on the
National Register of Historic Places

The website
says that the studio which is located at
3614 Jackson Highway
Sheffield, Alabama 35660
is open for tours Tuesday through Saturday from Noon till 6:00 p.m.
I just wanted to thank the person who left the comment. I also now know the exact location of one of the landmarks we want to visit soon.
I love Alabama.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Birthday Boy

We had a pretty good trip up to Joe Wheeler State Park. We went up for my birthday. The park is quite this time of year. I counted seven cars in the parking lot for the lodge. We got a room on the end near the hiking trails. Last night we kicked back and Jilda read while I practiced on the guitar.
The room had a jacuzzi tub and so I filled it up with extremely hot water and let the jets work the kinks out of my back....very relaxing.
This morning I brewed the coffee just after daybreak and sat on the front deck facing the water with my new mini disk recorder. The morning was overcast and dark and a light mist filled the air. I managed to captured the sounds of Canadian Geese that winter on the Tennessee River, and a type of white bird that looked like Egrets. A few of the geese went for an early morning swim, but the Egrets circled around in search of bream and minnows for breakfast.
I started out to the car to get my hat because I was having a bad-hair day and caught two small deer trying to pick the door locks of the Volvo. I could imagine that conversation "It's my time to drive," one would complain "get back fawnface," the other one would snarl, "I've never driven a Volvo before!!!!"
After breakfast, we headed out on one of the short hiking trails. We opted for the short one because it had begun to rain. I grabbed a plastic bag for the camera and we set off on about a two mile hike. Jilda looked as if she'd gone swimming when we returned.
On the way back to Empire, the rain picked up as we took the long way home. We were looking for things of interest in that part of the country. We found signs pointing to several places we wanted to see, but the weather was nasty and we decided to come back when the sun was warm. We filed these places on our list future adventures.
Here's what we put on our list:
The birthplace of W.C. Handy the "father of the Blues" was born in Florence. The arts council there has an annual Blues and BBQ festival in his honor.
Helen Keller, the remarkable woman who overcame being both blind and deaf and went on to do extraordinary things in her lifetime.
In Muscle Shoals we want to visit Fame Studios, the recording studio that made famous the Muscle Shoals Sound. The list of artists who recorded a Fame is legendary. Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones wrote "Wild Horses" while lying on the floor in the studio.
Finally, we want to visit the home place of Jesse Owens of Oakville, Alabama. Jesse, a black man, won four gold medals in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin Germany and shocked Adolf Hitler and his cronies who believed so dearly in white supremacy. I can guarentee that old Jesse spoiled Adolf's weekend.
I've decided to make these and other attractions the subject of future blog entries. Stay tuned.
All and all it was a good birthday today. I'm 56 today....I know, when you look at my profile photo it looks like my head has worn out two bodies but I feel great! I'm excited about life and the promise it holds in store.This old tree is the only thing I came across today that was older than me.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Off to Joe Wheeler

We are about to head out to Joe Wheeler State Park. I'm not sure if they have Internet access so I figured I might better do an entry this afternoon.
We ran down to the store before lunch to get some bird seed and dog food. The weatherman is saying we could have some nasty weather early this week so we don't want our critters to go hungry. I could do without a few meals myself, but I'd prefer they not go hungry.
We took Ol' Buddy with us to the store as a peace offering because the state park doesn't allow pets and he'll be left home with the other dogs (he hates that) until tomorrow afternoon. The sun was warm so me and Ol' Buddy sat in the grass next to the parking lot and soaked up the sunshine. It felt good but the warm breeze out of the south usually brings rain and turbulent weather. We watched people come and go and when Buddy saw Jilda exit the store, it was all he could do to stay put. He knows he can't run across pavement so he kept look at me and squirming as if to say "there's mama, let's go get her!"
If there is an Internet connection at the park, I'll make an additional update tonight. If not, it will be tomorrow. By the way, if there are any buglers who read my blog, I'd think twice before burgling my house while we're gone. We are leaving Astro (seventy pound Doberman/Lab mix) in the house and he takes a dim view of visitors.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

There's a dead chicken in my yard. I saw it as I drove up this evening. Our neighbor keeps chickens pinned up in his back yard but anyone who has ever owned chickens knows, that keeping chickens in a fence is easier said than done. After all, they have wings. They don't fly south for the winter, but if they can work up enough speed and drag to lift off, they can often get over a fence.
This poor bird made the unfortunate decision to fly into my yard. Perhaps he thought my big ol' dogs were statues or maybe real thick shrubs. But his thinking was flawed which is the case with most chicken thought....with the possible exception of Foghorn Leghorn (the cartoon rooster).
At any rate, I fetched a shovel and buried the poor creature.
I had chickens myself several years ago and I kept their wings clipped.....just enough to keep them earth bound. I love fresh eggs and ten or twelve hens throw off some eggs. We were sharing eggs with our friends and selling a few dozen a week to help offset the price of feed but one summer they started disappearing. I though perhaps I had been remiss in my wing clipping chores but when I checked, they were all clipped.
Not only were chickens disappearing but egg production dropped dramatically.
I was perplexed. One night the neighbor next door called me about 9 p.m. to say that he could hear my chickens. They are always long retired by 9. In fact, there is an old saying "he goes to bed with the chickens." Now when I re-read this last line it sounds a little kinky, but what this old saying really means is that chickens go to roost shortly after the sun sets. So I when my neighbor called I knew something was up. I grabbed my flashlight and shotgun and hustled off to the barn. When I turned the light on in the barn, there was a possum chowing down on the eggs and he had his eye on one of my Dominecker hens. He was surprised by the light, but before he could make his retreat, I sent him to possum heaven with a belly full of eggs.
I'm a live and let live kind of guy, but as a farmer, you can't allow an animal to come into your chicken house and eat your chickens....especially an ugly animal. Possums look like big ol' rats and they aren't playing with a full deck either. In fact, the only thing more stupid than a chicken is a possum.
Do you know why the chicken crossed the road? to show a possum that it could be done.
This is a southern joke because you can't drive a hundred yards in the south without seeing a dead possum.
OK, I admit that this was a strange entry tonight, but I write them as they come....just so happens this one involved chickens and possums.

Friday, January 12, 2007


I'm a big fan of positive thinking and positive attitudes. Anyone who has ever ridden with me would attest either by what comes out of my stereo speakers or by the CD covers that are always strewn on my seats. But lately we've taken it a step actually visualizing the desired result.
For example, we have been trying to sell the home of Jilda's deceased mother. It's been on the market for about a month and she selling if for a song, but we had no serious offers. Last week we both spent a great deal of time visualizing the house being sold to a nice family who would love and care it and make it a home.
Earlier this week we began to doubt our strategy and worried that the price would have to be lowered. On Tuesday Jilda had called me crying because the montly light and water bills had come due. It takes a chunk of her money each month to pay the bills and a small payment on the house. I reassured her that the house was fairly priced and that it would sell. She hung up the phone crying. Ten minutes later she called me back to say that the phone rang as soon as she hung up from talking to me. A young preacher and his wife were definitely interested in the house. She showed the house on Wednesday and he made an offer. There is still some paperwork and the legal stuff has to go through, but we feel really good about the house. Another buyer who had looked at the house a few weeks ago but said that she couldn't come up with all the money called today to say she had gotten the cash and wants the house. Two others called this evening to inquire about it. Did the visualization do this? It's hard to say and impossible to prove but we're really encouraged.
Visualization example two: I've been looking for a small portable mini disk recorder that will allow me to record interviews, jam sessions and sound rain on a tin roof. I also wanted to simplify the recording of meditations for Jilda. I have been looking for a few months now, but all the recorders were out of my range. The good ones were $400 and up. I had saved $200. I kept looking and never got discouraged. I visualized myself finding the perfect recorder for the amount of money I had saved. I went to a music store near where I work today during lunch. I asked to see the recorders. The clerk showed me a few recorders but they were all more than I could afford. He looked into the computer and said, "we have a couple in the back, let's have a look at them. When he returned, both recorders had price tags that were out of my range. The most expensive one listed for $435. When he scanned it, the computer said $199. I kid you not. It was so much below retail that he had to get a supervisor to approve the sale. I walked out of that store smiling.
Not sure if the visualization is a bunch of hooey or not, but I'm not taking any chances. I'm visualizing me and my lovely wife healthy and at our ideal weight. I'm visualizing all my friends happy and healthy. I'm visualizing my party barn and a nice European vacation. I'm visualizing world peace.
I'll keep you posted as to how these turn out.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Old Stuff

I saw a claw-foot bath tub in a pasture as I drove to Jasper this morning. It was being used to water cattle. It's funny how things trigger memories.
When I was no more that five years old, we lived in Whiting, Indiana for a short time and our apartment had a claw-foot tub. That old tub held enough water to float a bass boat. I guess I remembered the tub because none of the houses in which we lived prior to that had indoor bathrooms. It had chrome and white porcelain handles that looked like X's.
Both of the bathrooms in our house now have fiberglass bathtubs and showers. When I saw the claw-foot tub today I wondered how hard it would be to clean up and install in our bathroom. Of course we would probably have to knock out a wall and rent a crane to pick the old tub up but I think it would be worth it.
The older I get, the more I think about the old stuff. Things that were built to last even if you use them a great deal. Newer, shiny-er, smaller, rarely means better.
Call me old fashion, but I love the old stuff. Anyone who visits our house would have to agree.
Now, can someone tell me where I can rent a crane?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

It's the Yoga

Our friend Fred came over this evening and we had dinner. Afterwards we wrote a new song. Fred already had a good bit of it written and just needed some help with the chorus. We knocked it out in record time (pun intended).
Fred and I hit it off from the start. He likes to eat almost as much as I. Today Jilda put a pork tenderloin in the crock pot with all her special ingredients, whipped up some brown rice. She also did a new broccoli and English walnut dish. For desert she made a peach cobbler with Briar's vanilla ice cream.
I thought we were going to have to roll Fred out to his truck when he got ready to go. "How do you NOT weight 400 pounds?" Fred asked. It's the Yoga, I explained. "Dang, I'm gonna have to get into Yoga," he lamented.
I'm going to cut this entry short and grab another hit of that cobbler before it goes into the fridge.
More tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Playing Hooky

Have you ever played hooky from work or school? I felt like ditching work today. My older brother Neil played hooky for about the first three weeks of first grade. He would take his little sack lunch and with several other kids from the camp, head off to school down the old railroad spur line that ran through Sloss Hollow. But a few hundred yards from the elementary school, Neil peeled off from the crowd and spent those first few weeks of warm September sunshine under the train trestle, fishing in Horse Creek. He thought it was a grand plan. After school, he would fall in with the rest of the kids and walk back home. No problem. He might have spent the entire school year under that trestle had a neighbor who was walking back from Harry Shaws Drug store via the old spur line not spotted him under the bridge. He was sleeping when she saw him down there and she started to crawl down the steep embankment to go check on him to make sure he hadn't been been killed by some kind of wild animal but just then he woke up long enough to fetch a sandwich from his lunch sack.
The neighbor went straight to the house and ratted him out to mother who was washing clothes on a rub board on the back porch.
Now this is before I was born, but I can picture what happened next. Mothers' story and Neils' story varied somewhat. Mother says she walked the mile and a half down the tracks locating a keen hickory on the journey. "I striped his legs just enough to emphasize the importance of attending school," she explained. Neil on the other hand swears that she wore him out with a rose bush.
Now mind you this was long before Dr. Spock wrote the book about the perils of corporal punishment and in those days a parent could lash off a limb of a misbehaving child with a paring knife if the infraction was bad enough. I know for a fact that my brother would have preferred verbal punishment, but I honestly doubt that it would have had the same impact (no pun intended). In fact, I don't think Neil ever missed another day of school in his academic life.
I would not advocate playing hooky for extended periods of time as most bosses take a dim view of people who don't show up for work and most of us are fond of eating. But sometimes when you're fed up with meetings, memos, and conference calls, I think it's OK to play hooky and do something that gives you joy and makes you feel alive.

Monday, January 08, 2007


I could smell baking cornbread when I got out of the truck this evening. Jilda's desire for soup is directly proportional to the drop in temperature. I just didn't know what kind until I opened the door. Once inside, the aroma made it perfectly clear that it was vegetable with a beef.
In years past when Jilda's mom Ruby was alive, we worked all spring and summer in the garden to grow fresh peas, green beans, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, squash, and okra. Ruby and Jilda would can (preserve) the bounty in quart fruit jars and when we ran out of jars, they would put, what we couldn't give away, in the freezer.
In the cold of winter, we would retrieve a jar of those mixed veggies and make the most remarkable soup you have ever tasted. We gave a few jars to very close friends as Christmas presents. Our phone would always ring a few days after the gifts were given and the question was always the same....."where can we buy more of that soup?" "Well, you can't buy it anywhere that we know of," we'd say.
The last few years we've had to make the soup with store-bought ingredients. It's still really good, but we both miss the soup made from the vegetables we grew.
It's our intention to have a real garden this year. We are already pouring through seed catalogs and we're drawing out rough garden designs on construction paper. I put the old Troybilt tiller in the shop for repairs and it should be in tip-top shape by the end of the month. We're excited.
With any kind of luck at all, this time next year we'll be savoring some of "the good stuff."
3 red potatoes
1 can of diced tomatoes w/onions
2 cups of frozen mixed vegetables
1 beef bullion cube
1/8 teaspoon of pepper
1/4 teaspoon of salt
5 cups of water
1/4 pound ground chuck
Cook it all together in a big pot.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Have you read any good books lately? I've read a couple. My reading tastes are all over the board. I read fiction, non-fiction, biographies, history and self-help. I probably average a book a week unless it's a really big book.
This past week I read Hannibal Rising. It's written by Thomas Harris, the guy that wrote Silence of the Lambs. They made a movie out of this one and I had nightmares for days after I saw it.
Hannibal Rising is about the childhood of Hannibal Lecter and what caused him to be so disturbed. If you like thrillers, I highly recommend it.
This past year I have read a number of books that I have really enjoyed. Here is a short list with a brief description:
On Writing by Stephen King a very good non-scary description of the writing process
Chronicles by Bob Dylan and interesting slant on the folk music icon from the early 60s
Tuesdays with Morrie this one is a killer story about the final days of a real made me cry
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd about an abused child that finds her way
Memoirs of a Geisha - a very interesting story about a young Japanese girl....I had no idea
#1 Ladies Detectives Agency - a beautiful story about a lady who became a detective in Africa
Pegasus Descending - a detective story by James Lee Burke one of my very favorite authors detective story extraordinaire
Nature Girl by Carl Hiaason a south Florida writer another of my favorite authors. My absolute favorite book by Carl is Double Whammy about real estate developers, pro bass fishermen and'd have to read it.
I also read a series of books by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston that were really good.
Reading is one of those pleasures in life that I treasure. It doesn't cost that much either. With a library card, a little light and a quite evening you can travel anywhere in the universe and experience exotic things.
What have you read recently that you would recommend?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Slow Day in Empire

The sun burned the clouds off after lunch today and it felt good outside. I cleaned a truckload of leaves out of the gutters then swept the mess off the deck. I retrieved my mat and did about an hour of slow yoga in the afternoon sun. It felt good.
We were going to a party tonight, but Jilda was not feeling well when she came home from work so we decided to stay in.
I made reservations for next weekend at Joe Wheeler park in north Alabama. We've stayed at several State Parks, but this will be a first for Joe Wheeler The park is situated just off the Tennessee River and it's supposed to have some nice hiking trails that meander near the water.
We try to do something special for our birthdays. My birthday is January 15th so we'll be at the lodge and celebrate there. I will shoot some photographs for the blog.
It's a slow day in Empire so I'm signing off tonight.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Not Afraid of Heights

We were having a disaster drill in the spring of 1972. Battery Pratt, a fortified communications bunker on the Atlantic coast of Panama, was on full alert. When we toggled the switch to point the directional antenna toward the north, nothing happened. Usually you could hear frequencies come and go like dialing the tuning knob of your car radio but all we got was unchanging static. A group of us led by Sgt. Tracy walked outside and hacked our way through the ever encroaching jungle toward the cliff overlooking the ocean. Near the edge of the cliff stood a directional antenna and dangling from the turning motor was the chain. "Dang, we'll have to scrap the exercise" Sgt. Tracy lamented. "We'll have to call in the tower guy from Coco Solo to fix this." I walked over and stood at the base of the antenna and looked up into the aqua sky and billowy white clouds to study the antenna. "Sargent, I can try to fix the chain," I offered. He was hesitant, but he also didn't want to call the colonel and tell him we had to scrap the drill.
So I put a crescent wrench and a few other tools in my pocket and started my slow accent up the shaft of the structure.
Once on the top, I hooked my legs through the support beams and replaced the chain and tightened the motor assembly to hold the chain tight.
I hung on up there for a long time....the breeze off the ocean felt warm on my face. I could see ships that were not visible from the ground, heading into the Bay of Colon for their journey through the canal and on towards the west. It was peaceful up there. I would have stayed longer, but Sgt. Tracy was on the edge of a coronary fearing that I would plunge to my death on the rocks below. So I reluctanty climbed down.
I was surfing the web tonight and came across this photograph of the very antenna I climbed. I'm guessing it was taken by the tower guy from the other omnidirectional antenna there at Battery Pratt.
Not being afraid of heights gave me an opportunity for a view that very few people have ever seen.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Traveler at Heart

This past weekend I was driving near our old home place. Off in the distance I heard the mournful sound of a freight train blowing the horn for the Old Dora crossing. I think it was in the key of C. It reminded of my childhood in West Pratt.
My dad did hard work all his life and often in summer after the sun set but before the shadows gave into darkness, he would sit on the front porch in an old handmade rocking chair and listen for the trains.
He married my mom when he was fairly young and soon my older brother came along. Not long after that, my older sister was born. He had a young family to feed and didn't have much time to think about life outside rural Alabama or what it would be like to ride the rails to places he'd never been.
We had an old tube radio that sat on a dresser in the living room and on some Saturday nights when the stars were lined up just right we could pick up WSM a.m. radio from the Ryman Auditorium. On those nights, my dad was in heaven.
In later years my dad did get to travel a little. As a welder his company sent him to Louisiana a few times and to Texas once or twice. When he returned he seemed a little taller and his spirit was lifted for a time. But then it was back to the daily grind.
I feel like he sometimes wondered to himself about what he had missed out on getting married so young and having a family. But leaving was not an option to him. So he worked on. I know he loved us all, but he was a traveler at heart. He passed away in 1986.
This past weekend as I listened to the sound of the train, I tried to imagine him sitting up front by the engineer riding the rails to Memphis and points west.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Thirty Year Service Anniversary

The moon setting on the western horizon was almost full this morning. It's easy to forget when you look at that little one dimensional pearl disk floating across the sky that it's about 1/4 the diameter of earth and is around a quarter million miles away. A big chunk of rock orbiting around the earth. I'm not sure if I've ever actually seen this before, but the moon was on the horizon to the west at the exact same time as the sun was rising to the east. It probably happens frequently, but like I say I don't recall seeing it before.
Thirty years ago today, I started to work for South Central Bell. I was fired from my newspaper job a year earlier on January birthday. After almost a year of drawing my pennies (unemployment), bootlegging, shooting pictures, and other freelance work, I was hired by the phone company. Wisely, I didn't mention the bootlegging in my previous work history.
It was cold that January morning. I started to work at 4 a.m. gassing up the trucks for the installer/repairmen. It didn't pay a lot starting out, but the checks came in regularly and I was thankful.
After a short time as a garage man, I got an opportunity to be an installer/repairman and it paid a lot better.
The phone company had excellent benefits one of which was a tuition assistance program. So they paid to complete my two year associates degree. A few years later, I got my bachelors and in 97 I completed my masters in business. I might still be in school, but the phone company outsourced my job to EDS. My desk remained the same but the color of my check changed. My years of service bridged which means as of today I have 30 years service.
Looking back over the years, I've met some wonderful people. The nature of my work allowed me to travel extensively and often Jilda went with me. (Photo to the left taken in Mobile, Alabama in 1980)
Even though I whine every now and then, this job has been a blessing for which I am grateful.
The nature of work is changing now and the days of staying with a single company for 30 years is rare. I was lucky enough to find something that I enjoyed doing.
For the younger folks who happen upon this blog, I encourage to take the advice of the motivational speaker Jim Rohn who says "work harder on you skills than you do on your job. If you work hard on your job, you'll make a hard on yourself and you can make a fortune." I hope you all make a fortune.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


There's a farmhouse near Corner School that I pass each day. This morning a white horse with brown patches was walking through the pasture. A Palomino in sage. It looked like a Georgia O'Keeffe painting...a beautiful sight indeed. I know you must think I'm making this up, but a moment later I also saw a Great Blue Heron standing as still as a statue near the edge of a small farm pond.
As I drove toward Birmingham, I completed "The Rise and Fall of Alexandria" . It was a massive book (audio) which took me several weeks to complete. According to the authors Justin Pollard and Howard Reid, the great library of Alexandria was not sacked and burned by the Islamic armies as some history books relate, but died a slow death at the hand of Christian fundamentalist a few centuries after the death of Christ.
Most historians agree that the political climate around the city which was built on the minds of some of the greatest thinkers who have ever walked this earth, turned harsh towards anyone who believed or studied anything math, astronomy, philosophy or science.
It is probably true that the Roman Julius Caesar made the first scar in 47 A.D. when he invaded the Egyptian city in pursuit of his rival Pompey. He was burning the docks but the wind swept embers inland and several of the library's many buildings burned as scholars watched helplessly. Priceless books on geography, physics and medicine were forever lost.
I'm a lover of books and it pains me deeply just thinking about all the knowledge that went up in smoke or was destroyed by book burning mobs who somehow got the idea that feeding the mind was somehow un-Christian.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Years Lunch

We had our traditional New Years lunch today. Black eyed peas, collards, cornbread, sweet potatoes, and sweet tea. The combination of black eyed peas and greens bring you financial good fortune the coming year. There are those from outside the south who laugh and scoff at such a tradition, but we "ain't takin' no chances." So we loaded up today. I expect we'll need a Brink's truck by the end of the year to manage all the money we'll get.
The weatherman must be smokin' crack again because it was much colder here than was predicted. The deck, still wet from all the rain, was like an ice skating rink this morning. We had birds gathering at our windows at daybreak looking is as if to say "hey guys, when will our food be ready." I put on my shoes and filled up all the feeders. I also scattered several scoops of sunflower seeds which brings out the cardinals and the blue jays. We also filled our thistle feeder in anticipation of the impending arrival of the finches. It is my intention to get some photos when they come a-knockin'.
It's back to work full time tomorrow so I plan to enjoy my last holiday night off.

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