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It Happened at the Inaugural Ball

21 Apr

In 1986, Ned Ray McWherter was elected governor of Tennessee. That probably did not mean much to most of the state’s high school students, but it turned out to be a big deal for me.

My best friend’s family was good friends with Ned Ray, and he worked in hard on the campaign trail. When victory was obtained, my friend was ecstatic. He was also fired up because he was invited to the Inaugural Ball. In fact, I heard over and over and over about how he was going to the gala.

On top of that, he kept talking about the hot girl that he was taking. It is all I heard.

“I am going to the ball, and I am taking this hot girl.”

I was getting sick of it and could not handle it. One day, I told my dad how tired I was of hearing my friend brag about this big date to this big event.

A few days later, my dad came home with a surprise – two tickets to the Inaugural Ball. He told me to get a date and go. However, I could not tell my friend. My dad wanted me to show up at the celebration and surprise him.

I handled the plan perfectly. I got a date. We got dressed up and went to the ball. It was held in a bunch of ballrooms at the Opryland Hotel, which meant that we would have to search.Opryland Hotel

Finally, we saw my friend across one of the big rooms.

As we walked up, my friend was in a state of shock. He could not believe that I was there. After all of the bragging, we were in the same room and him and his date. However, I must admit that he was right about one thing. His date was hot.

That is one reason why I married her.

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The Boys of Summer

3 Apr

When people think of slow pitch softball, they probably envision a bunch of non-athletic people in a park drinking beer. However, there is a completely different type of slow pitch softball. It involves athletes who travel around the country playing in tournaments. They are sponsored by sporting goods companies that capitalize on their home run hitting abilities to sell bats.

It is not a game played in church leagues or on sandlots. It is played in baseball stadiums.

I write those words because my dad sponsored one of those teams, the Le-Al-Co Storms. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was one of the best teams in the country. The men on the team played for the love of competition and a bigger love of winning.

Like all kids, I knew that springtime brought the end of school, but it also brought a summer full of adventure. Every weekend, we drove or flew to a different city to bring together my second family – the softball team.

When I say second family, I really mean that. The players were my crazy uncles who taught me the ways of life. Of course, a lot of those things were probably not good for a kid to hear. They helped me grow up and become who I am.

They also made me part of the gang. At school, I was a nerdy kid who did not fit in with everyone. On summer weekends, I was cool because I hung around these guys. When they walked into a park, everyone knew who they were. As a result, they knew me, too.

The games were fun, but I mostly remember the other parts. The long drives. Hanging out in the hotels. Eating at a restaurant and cleaning out the buffet.

I cannot imagine growing up any other way.

Last week, Tommy Everette, one of those players, passed away. We went to the funeral and heard a lot of people say a lot of great things about him. It was interesting to listen to people who knew him from his life outside of softball. He was a principal and a valued member of the educational community. In my world, he was one of the greatest home run hitters who ever picked up a bat. He hit balls that no one ever saw come down.

There were several team members at the service, and we all gathered to take a picture.image-28

From left to right:

Allan – manager, general manager, recruiter, uniform designer. He did it all.

My dad – sponsor of the team and the softball version of George Steinbrenner.

Me – batboy, bookkeeper and a kid who learned more than he should have.

Sam – great hitter who was the only local guy to make the move to the big time.

Jimmy – suffered a gruesome injury at the state tournament in Cleveland, Tennessee.

Eddie – played with us in the summer and with the Los Angeles Rams in the fall.

Kenny – could hit a ball a country mile.

Brian – another kid who grew up in the world of softball. Tommy Everette was his dad.

Mac – the only player to be on all of our championship teams.

It was great to have some of them together again. Old stories were told, and there were handshakes and hugs all around. However, I realized something. I am older now than they were in those days. That is a strange feeling because I looked up to them, and it is hard for me to realize where I am in my life.

When we were together, I still felt like that kid in the dugout watching them beat some team. We are all getting older, but, in my heart, they will always be the boys of summer. And, I will always be part of that team.

The Best History Teacher I Have Ever Known

14 Mar

When the news came, I was going through a stack of documents in a local history museum. At first, it felt like the appropriate place to be.

Monty Pope – my friend and my mentor – had passed away.Monty Pope

Several months ago, I wrote a post about his influence on my life. It did not nearly say enough, but I hope you will read it. Hopefully, it will give you some idea of how great a man he was.

A few days ago, my colleague wrote a heartfelt tribute to Monty. I hope you will also read his thoughtful words.

After hearing of Monty’s passing, the feeling hit that I needed to be somewhere else. Yes, I was surrounded by history, a subject that Monty loved, but, selfishly, I needed one more moment with him. This was not the place for that.

That is when I decided to go to school, the place where Monty positively influenced thousands of people. I went to one of the classrooms where we both have taught dozens of classes and sat in one of the chairs.

That is where the realization came that future students will not have the good fortune of those who came before. We will tell them the same history that they would have heard from Monty, but they will not be recipients of his kindness, his caring and his devotion.

I, like thousands of others, am fortunate to have known Monty and been taught by him. Hopefully, I can honor him by being the best history teacher that I can possibly be. However, I will never reach my goal of being as good as him.

Monty Pope was the best history teacher and one of the best people I have ever known.

A Loving Reality

7 Jan

I had a medical procedure that required going under anesthesia. Before all of the action took place, I was looking out the window. Cars and trucks were going down the interstate. Flags were flying in the wind. The world was moving as I sat with tube and wires hooked to me.

Then, a scenario formulated in my mind. What if someone was put under anesthesia and they woke up in an alternate reality. Not one of those realities where the world is turned upside down. I mean an alternate reality with changes that are not immediately noticeable.Flag

A flag with 53 stars.

20-wheelers instead of 18-wheelers.

As the person goes along for a few days, they begin to notice these slight differences and realize that they add up to one big alternate reality. I am sure there are Twilight Zone and Star Trek episodes that deal with such things.

May years ago, I started writing a story about a guy who had a wreck and ended up in a coma. When he woke up, his life was completely different from the one he remembered. He was totally confused and had to figure out what was going on. Was this his real life? Was he still in a coma? Were the memories he thought were real only figments of his broken imagination?

I never finished that story. Other things in life gobbled up the time, and I put it away for a while. You know how it is when that happens. The thing you put away is lost forever.

There was a time in my life when I wished I could transfer to an alternate reality. I was lost in a lot of ways and was in psychological shambles. I no longer wish for alternate realities because this reality is the one I want.

When I woke up, they called my wife into the room, and she was by my side when the doctor came in for his consultation. She has spent the rest of the day taking care of me.

I am happy with this reality because I am loved, and there is nothing more real than that.

The Ghosts of Posts Past

21 Dec

A long time ago, I published a post called “Only the Rocks Live Forever.” You can read the link, but the title kind of speaks for itself. Unfortunately, that title is wrong.

Let me explain.

This blog began as a suggestion by my therapist. My mind would become overwhelmed with all manner of thoughts that dealt with all manner of issues. It was great to relieve some of that psychological pressure in her office, but she felt that something else would help. Hence, this blog was born.

In the beginning, this thing was anonymous, and I railed on anything and everything that brought frustration. This ranged from the ridiculousness of everyday life to complaints about the people around me, from family to friends.

One day, I realized that the blog was no longer anonymous when I received a negative comment about one of the posts. It was a cruel post based on a scene from a movie. The post was deleted and rewritten in a nicer way. However, I knew that the blogging experience had changed, and the blog would have to change with it.

I read through the posts and deleted all of the ones that I felt would be harmful to the people around me. The frustrated, cynical, therapist induced blog was dead, and a new one was born. I began publishing posts on Twitter, and the page views shot up. People all around me started reading posts about travel, concerts, and any dumb thing I could think up.

A few minutes ago, I learned that it is not just the rocks that live forever. Blog posts live forever, too. The task of deleting all posts that would hurt people proved impossible. On December 21, 2011, I wrote a post about my terrible day. I blasted just about everything and everyone that I encountered. It was a full-blown therapy post from the time of blogging anonymity.

One of the people in the post just read it and asked me to delete it. That post no longer exists, and I am sorry for hurting them.

The post came a few weeks after the blog began, and I was only averaging 5 readers a day. Essentially, I was writing for myself because I was the only one reading it. I had to get that day out of my mind.

Those are not excuses. I knew that the Internet was a public forum and decided to put my thoughts into its tangled web. Then, I naively thought I could get rid of everything negative and turn the blog into something else. It did not work.

Today is December 21, 2014, and I am a completely different person than I was when this blog began. Back then, I was working my way out of a bad place and needed an outlet to help me crawl out. Today, I am in a wonderful place and am happier than I have ever been. There are a ton of real life reasons that have put me into this place, but I am convinced that this blog has played a large role. In that way, it worked.

For everyone that has read this blog and been hurt by it, I apologize.

For everyone who has read this blog and enjoyed it, I am glad that you have.

For everyone who has read, liked and commented, I say thank you.

“Too Tall” Tree – The Story of My Eccentricities

27 Jun

When I was a kid, my mom always tried to get me to have other kids over to play. She talked about calling the kid down the road. She hosted birthday parties. She threw a Halloween party that became a famous event in our family’s history. All the time, she tried to figure out ways to get kids to the house. She even told me that she was shy as a child and never had other kids over. It was a regret that she did not want me to have.

Yep, my mom tried to guilt me into having kids over to play.

Sometimes, I agreed to it. However, most times I was comfortable playing alone and using my imagination. There were Hot Wheels that could be crashed or turned into a miniature NASCAR race. There was this awesome football game where you put a disc into the player, and the radio announcer told you what happened on the play. There was also a basketball goal where imaginary last second shots could be hoisted.

One of my favorite games was “Too Tall” Tree.image-2

I got a football and pretended that the trees were defenders. I had to get through them to score a touchdown. I did the play-by-play at the same time. Being a Cowboys fan, I named one of the trees after Ed “Too Tall” Jones. It was years later that I learned that Jones played college ball at Tennessee State University in Nashville.

Anyway, I took the ball from center, and, when “Too Tall” Tree blocked my ability to pass, I took off down the field. It sounds weird, but it was a lot of fun when I was little.

I think my parents and other people thought it was weird way back then. I overheard people saying that I was selfish and did not want other kids playing with my toys. I guess that was the only reason they could think of why a kid did not want other kids around. Well, there was another reason. I was not comfortable around people.

All of this came to mind during a conversation with my wife. At some point, she asked, “You don’t like people do you?”

That is absolutely not true. I like all kinds of people, but, at times, I am still not comfortable around them. This is really true when it comes to strangers. I have never been good at starting a conversation with a complete stranger. I cannot think of anything to say. No witty comments come from the back of my mind. Simply, it is something that brings a lot of discomfort.

I do not start conversations with people sitting next to me on a plane. I do not start conversations with somebody at a bar.

Certainly, this has caused me to miss out on meeting some great and interesting people. I know that more than anyone.

During that same conversation, my wife asked how I have met people. That is a good question. I have met a lot of great people, and many of them have become my friends. Mostly, I have met new people through people who I have already known. That way they are not a complete stranger. In the modern business vernacular, that is called networking.

Of course, some people who have no problems approaching a stranger have started conversations with me. I met one of my best friends that way.

This is an issue that I have fought through all of my life. It was discussed in therapy, and it is something that I try to overcome. It is something that has hindered me through the years.

During my teenage years, I felt sorry for myself because I was not part of the cool kid groups. I did not get the messages that there were parties going on. There was this feeling of being left out. Another reason this post came to mind is because that feeling came back several days ago. There was an event that took place which I was not invited to. Internally, I acted like a child for a few hours, but it helped me put this post together.

I realize now, and knew deep down back then, that I was at fault for not opening myself up to people. If I had been more outgoing toward people who I did not know, then those people would have been more welcoming to me.

I have no idea if this post makes sense, and I have no idea how to end it. I know that I have missed out on some great people and some great opportunities. However, I know that there are a lot of great people in my life who would do anything for me just as I would do anything for them.

Am I still uncomfortable talking to strangers? Yes. I can barely do it, and I admire those who can. However, I have met a lot of people, and I like most of them. Like everyone else, there are some people who I can do without.

 

 

Kingsport, Tennessee

17 Feb

One of the people I follow on Twitter mentioned that his hometown is Kingsport, Tennessee, a city that was the site of a major event in my family’s history.

The summer of 1991 was going along like any other. I was spending my summer break working on the loading dock at my dad’s business. My brother was running the manufacturing side of the business. My mom was handling things around the house. My dad, who we all leaned on, was overseeing it all. Then, the situation changed.

My dad drove to Kingsport for a meeting of a bank board of which he was a member, while we went through a typical day. Work was long and hot, and I was glad to get home to take a shower. I was in my closet getting dressed when I heard the phone ring, and I was still in my closet when my mom told me the news. My dad had a stroke after his meeting and was being taken to Holston Valley Medical Center.

After that moment, my memories become hazy. I finished getting dressed while my mom called my brother. At some point, we were all together with my grandparents waiting for a call from the doctor. We were under the impression that it had not been a serious stroke, but that impression vanished when the doctor explained that we needed to get there as fast as possible.

I cannot remember anyone talking on the drive to Kingsport, and it is not a short drive. I sat in the backseat as my brother drove. It AC was cranked up, but no one mentioned changing it. I stared out the window and remember thinking that we were going through downtown Knoxville pretty fast.

We arrived at the hospital and took the elevator to the Intensive Care Unit. That is when the gravity of the situation became apparent. All of the bank board members were lining the hallway in the suits. It was the most somber looking group I had ever seen. One of them took us to the ICU desk, and the nurse immediately got the doctor.

It was a conversation that I will never forget. My dad would probably die within the next three days. If he did not die, then he would remain in a vegetated state. Before going in to see him, the doctor explained that they were going to freeze his brain to stop the bleeding. If that did not stop the bleeding, then there was no chance.

My dad was hooked up to every machine imaginable. Wires. Tubes. It was as if the machines were keeping him alive. We talked to him without knowing if he could hear us or not. When we left, there was no plan. We had nowhere to stay and nowhere to go. My mom and I tried to stay in the hotel room that my dad had booked, but she could not stay there. That is when we were given a room in the family area of the hospital. The bed was terrible, but it did not matter. None of us could have slept.

That began our two weeks in Kingsport, Tennessee while my dad fought for his life. Most of that time was spent in the ICU waiting room with other families who were facing similar circumstances. In the days before cellphones, people could only call us at phone in the room. It was constantly ringing. Businesspeople. Politicians. From all over the country, people were calling. It got to the point where other families were mad because we were tying up the phone line. That is when we started taking calls at the nurse’s desk.

I can remember being hungry all of the time. There was a hotdog stand outside, and I ate more hotdogs than I could count. When the going gets tough, I eat. I can remember my mom promising God that she would never get mad at my dad again if he came out of this. We laughed and said that she should not lie to God during a time like this. I can remember my brother going back to work because somebody had to run the business. Our competitors were already lurking around our customers.

A lot of people made the long drive to visit us. My grandparents came up. My friend Chris came up with his new wife. My friends Robert and Dallus came up. I think they got lost on the way. I feel bad because after that long drive I wanted them to ride me around town. I wanted out of the hospital. We found an abandoned bridge, and I just sat on it for a while.

We also got a visit from Sister Stafford, a pastor and missionary from our town. My mom asked if she had driven all that way by herself. Sister Stafford replied, “No, God came with me, but God didn’t tell me how far it was.” She brought food and showed my mom how to bless him. She took my mom’s hands and told her what to say. By this time, my dad’s brain had stopped bleeding, and he was out of ICU. When my mom went to his room, she did as she was told. She laid hands on him and said the words. He looked at her like she was crazy.

After that, my dad starting getting better, and the doctor scheduled a transfer to Vanderbilt Hospital for further care and rehabilitation. Our time in Kingsport ended, but my dad was just beginning a long journey. He did not die, and he did not stay in a vegetative state. Through years of rehab, he learned to walk and do things with his left hand. His right side is paralyzed, and his speech is affected. However, everything else is great.

Since 1991, he has seen my brother have two sons. He has seen me get married. He has traveled throughout the country. He has become a member of another bank board. He was there when the University of Tennessee won the national championship in football. He has been inducted into the Tennessee Softball Hall of Fame.

My dad with his sons and grandsons at the Little Big Horn Battlefield

My dad with his sons and grandsons at the Little Big Horn Battlefield

Since 1991, he has overseen the sale of the business that he started. He saw his sister pass away from a stroke. He saw his in-laws, who spent a lot of time in Kingsport, both pass away.

Since 1991, my dad has seen happiness and sadness. However, the important thing is that he was there to see it. That is because of the hard work that he, my mom, the doctors and the rehab specialists put in. It is also because of the work that the people at Holston Valley Medical Center did for those first two weeks. That time was critical.

There is one more thing that my dad has seen. When he was able, my parents went back to Holston Valley to see the people who took care of him. He walked through ICU and hugged them all.

None of us will ever forget our two weeks in Kingsport, Tennessee.