Tag Archives: Family

How to Plant Your Garden

28 Dec

We had a busy Christmas that included four stops in four counties. We ate a lot of food; opened a lot of presents; and visited with a lot of family members. One of our stops was at the home of my wife’s grandmother.

I always like visiting with my wife’s grandmother because of my respect for her. Early in life, she faced tragedy when her husband was killed in an automobile accident and left her with three small children. She worked at a garment factory to support her family and provide for them. They went on to have families of their own, and those families surrounded her on Christmas Eve.

A few years ago, my wife’s grandmother faced the death of one of her sons. It was another time that she needed the strength that she has shown for her entire life. We tend to measure success in dollars, but I consider my wife’s grandmother to be successful. It is proven in her hard work and strength. It is proven in her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

This Christmas, she gave everyone a copy of “How to Plant Your Garden.” In honor of Mama Ray and the holiday season, I offer it to you.Garden

For the Garden of Your Daily Living,

Plant Three Rows of Peas

  1. Peace of Mind
  2. Peace of Heart
  3. Peace of Soul

Plant Four Rows of Squash

  1. Squash Gossip
  2. Squash Indifference
  3. Squash Grumbling
  4. Squash Selfishness

Plant Four Rows of Lettuce

  1. Lettuce Be Faithful
  2. Lettuce Be Kind
  3. Lettuce Be Patient
  4. Lettuce Really Love One Another

No Garden is Without Turnips

  1. Turnip for Meetings
  2. Turnip for Service
  3. Turnip to Help One Another

To Conclude Our Garden You Must Have Thyme

  1. Thyme for God
  2. Thyme for Each Other
  3. Thyme for Family
  4. Thyme for Friends
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D.C. Road Trip – A Long Day at the Museum

25 Jul

Going into the trip, we had not settled on what day we would visit the Smithsonian, but the decision was made on the road to Lynchburg. Through social media, my wife found out that some old friends were going to be in Washington, D.C. on Saturday and were planning on taking their daughter to a couple of the museums. It would be the perfect day to see them and see some artifacts.

It turned out to be, in my mind, an imperfect day. We started with a visit to Starbucks and a cab ride to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, a place that we definitely wanted to see. Then, we were informed that it would take almost two hours to get in. I could sense that, by this time, my wife had tired of getting tickets and hanging around for a while to see something. When she asked if we should stay or go somewhere else, my gut told me that we should go somewhere else. It would not be the last time that my gut spoke to me that day.

With plans to tour the National Museum of American History with our friends, we bypassed that one and went to the one next to it, the National Museum of Natural History. This is one of the most famous Smithsonian buildings and begins with the iconic stuffed elephant.image-23

That proved to be the first of many stuffed animals. It was cool to see, but, honestly, I thought it was kind of creepy. We have a collection of stuffed animals on campus that I do not find creepy, and I kept trying to figure out the difference. It could be because the Smithsonian is in the business of protecting information about the world, and these animals were far from protected.

The Hope Diamond was the highlight of the museum. I thought it was cool and could tell that my family thought it was more cool.

When we walked out of the building, we were looking straight at the Smithsonian Castle.image-24

I could only think that the secret headquarters for Sigma Force were underneath. Never heard of Sigma Force? It is a team of government agents whose exploits are chronicled in a series of books by James Rollins. I have been reading them forever.

I do not need to be a secret agent to know that my next decision was my worst. I already had the feeling that my wife was done walking and sightseeing, and I suggested going to the National Museum of the American Indian. The decision was made for two reasons. First, I thought it would be a cool museum. Second, it was time for lunch, and the restaurant in the museum was supposed to be the best around. I had seen it on television, and our contact in our congressman’s office said it was great.

As we walked toward the museum, my gut spoke up. It told me that this was an awfully long walk, and no one else was happy about taking it. It also told me that we were next to the National Museum of American History, and we were getting further from it by the minute. Funny thing, my gut was speaking to me more than my wife. In fact, she was not speaking to me, at all.

We get to the museum, and the restaurant is packed. Apparently, everyone was the same television show that I had watched. On top of that, it was all traditional food of the American Indian. I do not think my family found it very appetizing. Luckily, our friends arrived as we finished eating. Hopefully, that would make the day go better.

We toured the museum, and, to me, it was a disappointing experience. There were not as many artifacts as I expected, and there looked to be a lot of wasted space. The worst part? They displayed pottery from the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico. Everyone knows that they should have displayed pottery from the San Ildefonso Pueblo.

Then, we made the trek back across the Mall. I must say that it went quicker because we had more people to talk to. However, it did not make it any shorter. By the time we got to the museum, my family had done enough. They went through a few rooms but, eventually, found somewhere to sit. We saw some cool stuff, though.

Dorothy’s ruby slippers.

Archie Bunker’s chair.

Abraham Lincoln’s hat.

Thomas Jefferson’s writing desk, which we heard about at Monticello.

However, it was not enough. At some point, my wife and I discussed the idea that we should have left some things out. In my book, those things would have been the museums of the Smithsonian. Look, the Smithsonian is a national treasure, but it does not rank with the other places we visited. That could be because I am not a big fan of museums. I would rather visit the places where history happened rather than a place that holds objects. Sure, they have some interesting items, but George Washington never walked through their halls.

Also, we went to the Smithsonian after a couple of days of continuous activity. We were all tired and ready for something else. If I had it all to do over, then I would skip the Smithsonian and continued our trip to Virginia Beach. However, we live and learn. That is what history and historic sites are all about.

D.C. Road Trip – Peanuts and Whiskey

21 Jul

Last week, my family left on the grand Washington, D.C. adventure that we had been planning for a long time. I wanted to go on a road trip like the ones my family took when I was a kid. My wife did not want to go too far because she and my stepdaughter had never done anything like that before.

Originally, we were driving to D.C. before going north to Pennsylvania to visit some of their family. As it turned out, they were going to Washington for a conference, and we all decided to meet there. With that change, my wife and I decided to skip Pennsylvania and go to Virginia Beach. That way, we could spend some time in the sun before heading home. Oh yeah, Williamsburg and Jamestown are close by, as well.

During the days leading up to the trip, I was nervous about a couple of things.

First, I did not know much about the area. Driving west, I know the distances, the things to see and, generally, how to plan an efficient and easy trip. While I have been to Virginia, it was not to see something. Basically, I was not sure where we were headed.

Second, I had never spent three days sightseeing in a major city. Most of the road trips in my past avoided major cities and focused on the smaller places in the country. We booked a room downtown because we thought walking to some places would be the best option.

Third, I wanted my family to have a good time. Growing up, I loved these kinds of trips because they felt like an adventure. I knew that they had never done anything like this, and I wanted them to have a good experience.

We left Tuesday morning and hit Interstate 40. Everything was great. My stepdaughter was reading and listening to music. My wife was looking at Facebook. I was cruising down the road. We had packed some snacks to eat along the way. It was fun. We made fun of my wife because she had to stop to pee every few miles. It came a flood in Knoxville, but that was the only downer.

When we got close to the Tennessee/Virginia border, we decided to stop for lunch, and that is when we saw the first cool sight of the trip.image-7

Seriously, how often do you see the Peanut-Mobile. This is one of the reasons I like road trips. If we had flown to D.C., then we would have never seen the big peanut. That may sound dumb, but it represents a lot of stuff. Flying from city to city means that you miss the landscape of the nation. It means that you miss the laughs along the way.

After lunch, we made our way into Virginia and to our destination for the night – Lynchburg. I chose this town for a couple of reasons. First, it set us up for our first stop the next day. Second, it got us off the interstate. The worst thing anyone can do is stay on the interstate the entire time. It is designed to get vehicles from place to place quickly. It is not designed as a sightseeing road. If you want to see real America, then you have to get off the interstates. Every exit looks the same.

We got off the interstate and drove toward Lynchburg. At some point, we had the following conversation.

Me: What is Lynchburg famous for?

My Wife: I know! Whiskey!

Me: That is Lynchburg, Tennessee.

We laughed about that for the rest of the trip. Actually, Lynchburg, Virginia is famous for being home to Jerry Falwell and Liberty University, the school that he created. Believe me, the university dominates the town. I do not know what the people in Lynchburg think of Falwell, but they had better be glad he put the school there.

When we checked into the hotel, we asked about a good place for dinner. My stepdaughter decided to stay in the room, but my wife and I needed to find a good place to eat and relax. We were told to go to a place downtown. It turned out to be a casual place that specialized in burgers. It was a great place for college students to hang out, and, surprisingly for summer, there were a lot of them hanging out.

They struck me as students who are into the arts – both Fine Arts and Liberal Arts. That may sound like profiling, but, after all these years, I am pretty good at determining who majors in what. Anyway, they were eating, talking and drinking. That made me think about Jerry Falwell. He was famous as a televangelist and the leader of the Moral Majority. I wonder what he would think about students at his university sitting around drinking in a bar.

After dinner, we drove through downtown and found a cool little city. They had done a great job with historic preservation, and there were shops and restaurants scattered out. There was also a children’s playhouse and other cool stuff. That is one of the other good things about going on a road trip. You get to discover towns like Lynchburg – both this one and the one that makes whiskey.

On Twitter, I asked a Lynchburg trivia question that no one answered. What movie moved our nation’s capital from Washington, D.C. to Lynchburg, Virginia? Does anyone know?

The Last Harrah

5 Apr

Harrah’s Casino in Tunica is closing. There are probably a lot of reasons for that, but I am not here to write about the economic condition of the gaming industry. I am here to write about why I am saddened by the news. It may sound strange, but I have great memories of Harrah’s Casino in Tunica.Harrahs

I have been going to Tunica with my family for many years. Most of that time was with my parents and my aunt and uncle. We have all liked the comped rooms, comped food and the gambling that you have to do to get those things. We have also liked the laughs on the drive down and the good times when we arrived.

Early on, we stayed and played at other casinos, but, at some point, we settled on Harrah’s as our stomping grounds. As I write this, I can picture being there with all of them.

Playing video poker at a machine next to my dad.

Checking on my mom and finding out that she won a few hundred dollars at the penny slots.

Sitting in the third base seat of the Blackjack table while Johnny, my uncle, sat at first base. We liked playing the $25 tables and watch the green chips come and go. When he was losing, he would buy more chips so my aunt would not know how much he had lost. Of course, she always knew. I must admit that I got a little nervous when my parents came around to check on how we were doing.

My uncle passed away a couple of years ago. He fought cancer for a decade, and Harrah’s was a place where he could get away from the struggle and have fun for a while. Each time we walked in, he said, “I am getting well.” That is the reason we went to Tunica so often.

I always drove and would drop everyone off at the front door. I can see everyone walking through the front doors and knew where I could find them once I entered the casino. Everyone would be at their games. I always made my way to Blackjack but would stop at a slot machine first. The movie themed ones were my favorite. Star Trek. Ghostbusters. If it was a movie I liked, then they were guaranteed to get my money.

Food has also been one of the great things about Harrah’s. There was nothing like eating a hoe cake at Paula Deen’s buffet. It was upstairs, and, honestly, the upstairs has always been my favorite part of the casino. Quiet. Away from the smoke floating around the tables. I could always find an oasis of calm up there.

A few years ago, I took my girlfriend, who is now my wife, to Harrah’s with my parents. She got to experience all of the things that I have written about. However, she never got to meet Johnny. Our trip to Tunica was great, but my favorite part was sitting and talking with her in the hotel lobby. That beat winning a$500 chip at Blackjack.

Not long ago, my parents and I went to Tunica. We did not stay at Harrah’s, but we gambled there for a while. We did not know then that it would soon close. However, I still got a nostalgic feeling. I missed having to old gang talking about when we were going to head up to the buffet or hiding how much we had lost.

The last time I went to Harrah’s with Johnny, it was a guy’s trip. Me, my dad and him. This time Johnny wanted to eat in the steakhouse. My aunt and mom would never agree to eat there. We gambled enough to get a free meal and got the biggest steaks they had. We ate, talked and laughed.

That is what I will miss about Harrah’s Casino in Tunica. The talking and the laughing. We went to gamble, but we really went to spend time together.

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.

Tennessee, Alabama and Me

24 Oct

This weekend, the University of Tennessee plays the University of Alabama in a football game, and this is the one I look forward to the most. Younger fans may think of other games as bigger, but, for me, nothing is bigger than when these two teams get together. My dad started taking me to Tennessee games when I was 6 years old, and I have been to every Tennessee/Alabama game since then. There have been a lot of wins. There have been a lot of losses. There has also been a lot of memories.

When I was a kid, it was always me, my dad and my grandfather, who we called Daddy J. Most times Larry would be with us. You’ve read about him before. My dad would drive while Daddy J sat in the passenger seat tugging on a big cigar. Being in the backseat, I would lean up to hear the adult conversations that were going on.

Obviously, we went to Neyland Stadium all of the time, so I considered it special to attend a game at Legion Field in Birmingham. For the younger folks, that’s where Alabama used to play all of their home games. If the timing was right, then we would eat the All Steak in Cullman. Once in Birmingham, we would park in someone’s yard and walk to the stadium, where they had the greatest hot dogs I have ever eaten.

Legion Field was different from a lot of stadiums because it had a walkway around the field. Fans could go up to the fence and ger close to the players and coaches. I can remember my dad telling me about Bear Bryant and pointing to the man standing under the goalpost.

He had a program rolled up in one hand and a cigarette hanging in the other one. Of course, he always had on the houndstooth hat. These days houndstooth has become a fashion statement in Alabama, but I always wonder how many of the people wearing it actually saw Bear Bryant coach a game.

All of that was cool, but it has always been about more. On Saturday, I will attend my 39th game between these teams. I have forgotten the details of a lot of them, but a few games stand out.

1982 – Tennessee came into the game in full rebuilding mode under Johnny Majors. Alabama came into the game rank second in the nation and with eleven straight wins over Tennessee. Shocking everyone, Tennessee intercepted a pass in the end zone to preserve a 35-28 victory. No one was more shocked than me because it was the first time I saw Tennessee beat Alabama. Honestly, I never thought it would happen. More honestly, I shed a tear or two.

We were staying in Gatlinburg that weekend, and I wore orange the rest of the night. As we sat on a street-side bench, people who walk by and say “Go Vols!” Crimson couldn’t be seen anywhere as Tennessee fans celebrated.

It turned out to be the last time that Tennessee played against Bear Bryant. He retired at the end of the season and passed away a few weeks later. Most Tennessee fans know the photograph of Johnny Majors and Bear Bryant shaking hands after the game.Johnny Majors

1983 – The rematch in Birmingham was an offensive explosion. The teams traded blows until Johnny Jones scored on a 66 yard run to make the final score 41-34. It was electric, but things got better. Larry and I snuck into the Tennessee locker room and joined in the celebration. I got wrist bands from Charles Davis, one of Tennessee’s players. However, the best souvenir was a pair of socks from Clyde Duncan. Those socks scored on a long touchdown pass that day, and I wore them to every game for many seasons after.

1985 – This time we didn’t drive to Birmingham. Some people who my dad did business with flew us down on their private jet. On Friday, we toured their factory and had dinner at the fanciest restaurant I had ever been to. We had to wear coat and tie, which I didn’t have. I had to wear what the restaurant gave me. There was a piano player, and my dad paid money for him to play “Rocky Top.” The other diners were not pleased.

The next day, Tennessee, ranked twentieth in the country, won 16-14 as Alabama, ranked fifteenth in the nation, barely missed a last second field goal. The game was full of drama as Tony Robinson, Tennessee’s starting quarterback, went out with a knee injury. The defense had to hold on, and Dale Jones did his part my making an impossible interception.

The flight home was quiet because we were the only Tennessee fans on the plane.

1995 – We had learned a couple of months before the game that Daddy J had an inoperable brain tumor. On the morning of the game, I visited him at the hospital and talked to him about football. He probably didn’t understand, but I like to think that he did. After this visit, I met Larry and the other guys to drive to Birmingham for a game between two highly ranked teams.

Tennessee was ranked sixth in the polls and was led by Peyton Manning, who was just a sophomore. Alabama came in eleventh in the nation. Like in 1983, Tennessee had not won in a while, and fans were anticipating a change in fortunes. We didn’t wait long as Tennessee scored on the first play and went on to win 41-14. Tennessee found a favorite son and started a seven game winning streak over Alabama.

After the game, fans tried to storm the field, but the Birmingham police would have none of it. They brought out the pepper spray and got a few journalists in the process. It was an eventful night, and it was a terrible day. My grandfather passed away that morning after I left the hospital.

At the visitation, I told Larry that I wished Daddy J could have seen that game. Larry replied that God let’s us see good things when we are in heaven.

I have been to many Tennessee/Alabama games, but those are the ones that I remember most. So, what’s the record between the two teams since I have been going.

Tennessee has won 15 games.

Alabama has won 22 games.

There was one game that didn’t count. You’ll have to ask an Alabama fan about that.

I Didn’t Intend To Write a Post About Trees

2 Oct

During this late afternoon, I rode with my stepdaughter as she drove the Gator. For those who don’t know, this is a Gator.Gator

She is 11 years old and loves to drive. In fact, she asks for a golf cart every time a birthday or Christmas comes around. She’s a good driver and watching her smile is the best thing about riding with her. I rode with my nephews when they were kids, and taking a spin with her brings to mind all of those fun times.

The Gator belongs to my parents, so we took off from their house. Then, we went into a neighborhood behind their farm. The neighborhood is filled mostly with older people who have been living there for decades. It has large lawns that are neatly kept, and, as we drove, I noticed a few people in their yards.

One man was on his mower. His next door neighbor was checking his driveway that had just been paved. A lady was watering her plants, and another lady was on her way to do the same thing. At another house, a brother and sister, who were probably visiting their grandparents, were playing basketball. I waved at them all, and a few of them waved back.

The people were interesting, but I noticed something else when we went into another part of the neighborhood. In one yard, a large tree stood. It was perfectly shaped, and the yard around it was perfectly kept. Obviously, the people who own the land around the tree take great care of it and noticing this made me begin to wonder. Did they plant the tree, or was it there when the house was built? Have they lived there long enough to watch it grow to its current majesty? Have they helped it along?

I began to think about a tree in the yard where I grew up. There was a notch in it that fascinated me. It had this strange shape and stuck out far enough that I could almost use it as a seat. When we played backyard football, that tree served as the goal line. Making it to the tree meant I had scored a touchdown. The notch that I tried to sit on is now over my head. The tree grew along with me and stood watch over my family.

It saw me ride a minibike as a kid and drive a car when I turned 16. It saw my dad walk up and down the driveway to get his mobility back after a stroke. It watched my mom work in the yard. It guarded my brother as he and his friends played basketball in the driveway. Heck, it watched my dad hit free throw after free throw as he beat me at H-O-R-S-E. I guess you could say that the tree and the other trees in the yard witnessed our family history.

Trees are like that. They have stood as sentinels over the events of our past. My parents now live on a site that used to be a hotel. When I walk through their yard, I wonder about all of the different things that have taken place under their shade. In the Victorian Era, they saw hotel guests strolling underneath and while other played croquet in their shade. They saw the hotel burn and remained as my parents built their home. They also served as decor for our wedding reception, and I bet that was not the first wedding that took place around them.

I am not sure what made me think of all this, but something hit me while we rode the Gator. People and trees grow old, but the trees last longer than we do. They are there for us, but they are also there for past and future generations. I have never considered myself an environmentalist and do not get overly wrought when I see a load of logs go down the interstate. However, when the trees that I have grown up with go away something in me goes away as well. I bet the people we past by this afternoon feel the same way.