Author, Journalist and Syndicated Columnist
If you are one of the close to 1.5 million readers, be sure to read Randall's cover article
"Making Films in Georgia" in the
January 2010 Georgia Magazine.
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of the Fiddle
Actor, Entertainer and Columnist
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The show must go on
People are often impressed by the glamour they think makes up such a large portion of star’s lives. There is often not glamour and in some cases each evening of performing can hold its own challenges as I recall from a performing adventure from 20 years ago.
As I drove into the McReynold’s farm outside Nashville, in my mind I was preparing for another weekend out on the road with Grand Ole Opry stars Jim and Jesse. Jesse and his late wife Darlene opened their home to me and I often stayed overnight in the two story farmhouse where they raised their family. When the brothers joined the Opry, they bought a farm which they both continue to live on.
In many ways, I became an extended member of the family. When I drove into the driveway, I noticed the back of the bus opened up. Underneath the bus, I found Jesse tangled between what makes a diesel engine tick. Folks who are use to seeing stars with their hair slicked back in the sparkling stage attire would not have recognized this Bluegrass Hall of Famer as he climbed from beneath the bus in his ragged baseball cap and gray coveralls covered with grease. Jesse is a mechanical whiz.
The late Country Music Hall of Famer Charlie Louvin and I became acquainted while I was still in my teens. I remember one time he and I sat down and discussed the merits of a career in music. He told me then that he had spent most of his life working for a bus and a band. Keeping those two things on the road had taken most of what he made. He reflected on an early decision to select music over a job at the post office. At the time he said if he had taken that post office job, he would be retired and drawing a pension now. I have not had the chance to talk with him since he and his late brother Ira’s induction in the Hall of Fame. I know if he had made the other choice it would have been a great loss to the world but it goes to show that even stars sometimes wonder about their life choices.
Concert goers don’t often realize what is involved in putting on a stage show. The performers in many cases gather at their home base and load the bus or van with equipment, sales material, personal effects and enough snack food to tide them through the trip. It is not unusual to climb aboard and ride for 10-12 hours to the venue. After arriving, they figure out where things go and then unload sound equipment and sales material. After setting everything up ready for the arrival of the audience, performers then go and throw a little water on their face, slick back their hair and put on their stage clothes.
We arrived somewhere in Ohio -- Bellevue, I think. Members of Jim and Jesse’s band, the Virginia Boys, and I had went through the set up process with Georgia Music Hall of Famers, The Lewis Family, who were sharing the bill that night. Everything was set and we were all ready to go on. I was standing back stage waiting anxiously as Jim and Jesse went through their first set. They would usually bring me on about 10-15 minutes into the show. The Lewis Family’s sound equipment was on the stage. I don’t remember the exact conversation that led up to it, but Travis Lewis, who usually watched the controls, and I were joking backstage. “I said it is liable to blow when I go out there.”
As the audience laughed at my first punch line, I hit the first chord. The sound system blew. I was standing there with some of America’s most talented musicians ready to play and no way for the audience to hear us. Thanks to the fast work of Travis, Little Roy Lewis and a couple of others, they got the system up and running. Needless to say for any entertainer, standing in front of audience, trying to keep them entertained as the sound system is being fixed is less than a glamorous situation.
When the show is over, after visiting with the folks in the audience, the groups have to tear down the equipment, load up and hit the road for the next gig and do it all over again.
What I have found through the years is that stars who tend to take care of things themselves have the longest and most productive careers.
I’d rather be more like Jesse, putting on the grease covered coveralls to keep things going than having everything served on a silver platter.
But I’ll never again joke about blowing out the sound system again. You don’t reckon it was my singing do you?
The hot summer sun beat down on the back of our necks as we moved along the rows of okra with a knife in hand stepping inch by inch between each stalk and cuttin’ off the pods from the bottom up and placing them it in our tow sacks.
My mom was up ahead in the next row and dad was a few rows over as we worked to harvest the pods before they grew too hard to eat.
Cuttin’ okra was never one of my favorite things to do largely because of the itch brought on by the hair of the deep green leaves of the plant but it had to be done every few days.
As the day sun was high in the sky, my mother moved towards our light green Chevrolet truck opening up the door to the camper and pulled out a cooler she had prepared the night before.
Inside were chicken salad sandwiches, fresh tomatoes, some deviled eggs and ice-cold bottles of grape and orange Nehi. She spread out the red and white tablecloth on the ground and set up a picnic calling us from the rows.
We didn’t need any coaxing to drop our tow sacks and make our way to the sound of her voice.
As we pulled up a piece of ground and gathered around the cloth, we bowed our heads to pray, the prayers echoed in the wind reaching towards the sky and before I knew it we were feasting on the items spread across the cloth.
I don’t know what it was about eating outside, but it always seemed like the flavors in the food were more satisfying. Perhaps it was the labor that intensified the taste.
The grape in the Nehi seemed to be so good as it washed down the food.
I can still hear my mom’s laughter as my dad told a joke or pulled some free time shenanigans in the shade of the tree. Her smiles were so big they almost invited the breezes to blow past to dry the sweat the sun placed in our garments.
No matter how much fun we shared in those few moments, we knew that more work was to be done and we soon placed our hats back our heads and walked back amidst the rows.
As I write today, I can still feel the heat from those days on my skin, and the thought of cuttin’ okra makes an itch that is more than skin deep, but I long for those moments when worked was shared and lessons were taught.
As I see the ills we face in our country and the dysfunction of families, I sometimes think that is more families were working together, toiling over the dirt in the heat of the day to put food on their table, there would be less energy to argue around the table, and more ability to share understanding.
I pray your world is filled with moments of shared experiences and great joy that brings a love beyond understanding.
One of the early influences that impacted my musical and spiritual life were those emanating from the legacy of the Sullivan Family of Alabama.
When my career in bluegrass was beginning I often found myself appearing on shows with Jerry (1933-2014) and Tammy Sullivan, carrying on that legacy but forging a new path of their own in the gospel and bluegrass music scenes.
The news of Jerry’s passing on May 31, yielded in my mind many wonderful hours of sitting and listening to he, his daughter Tammy and their band as they shared their talents in front of the many fans that gathered at the festivals and shows we frequented. Jerry sang and played guitar while his daughter Tammy sang lead and played upright bass.
Jerry was a prolific songwriter creating gospel songs such as “God’s Mighty Power,” “From the Manger to the Garden,” with words that could reach right down into your soul and pull you to your knees with a desire to know Jesus, and nostalgic titles such as “Old Brush Arbor Meetings,” whose sentiments leaves you longing to be there.
We both hit a good stride in our careers in the early 1990s and I was so pleased to see the great opportunities coming their way.
Jerry and Tammy recorded “A Joyful Noise” for Country Music Foundation Records produced by our friend -- country artist Marty Stuart. Marty worked with Jerry early in his life and returned to do some shows in the late 80s. This collaboration became one of the top ten albums of 1991 by many sources and included songs co-written by them: "Get Up John," "He Called My Name," "Soldiers of the Cross," "The Gates of Zion," "Think About that Promise," "When Jesus Passed By," "Brand New Church," and the "Gospel Plow."
Another Sullivan-Stuart collaboration “At the Feet of God” in 1996 yielded the duo a Grammy ® nomination. Amy Grant even shared harmony vocals on that project.
Jerry became a special part of the Silent Witness Video series both appearing musically and co-hosting volume 4 with Marty Raybon.
Through the 1990s, the duo became a regular feature on major television shows highlighting the traditional sounds of country music including ABC-TV's In Concert and People's 20th Anniversary, CBS-TV's Roots of Country Music - The Ryman and Opryland Country Christmas, TNN's Music City Tonight and Legends of Country Music with Waylon Jennings. They often appeared on the Grand Ole Opry.
I encourage you to seek out some of their great music or visit their Facebook page.
In a way, as I think fondly of those days gone by while praying for Tammy and all their family, I almost feel like writing a song. Thank you Jerry for all those you wrote and all the souls you touched on your journey.
The honeysuckle pull
The sweet smell of honeysuckle lightly drifted over the back porch steps as I sit at the top of a thirty-step descent to the ground below. At three-years-old this was a surmountable achievement to navigate these without tumbling to the bottom. And in reality my mother was always watchfully standing by looking through the porch door as she ironed to make sure I did not rush beyond my abilities and go scampering down the steps.
At this time of year though it was like the smell of the honeysuckle was placed there to tempt me to do it. To go barreling down the stairs and rush towards the back fence where a long run of honeysuckles were draped. They sat there fluttering in the breeze that carried their aroma.
It was like they were calling out to me, hundreds of the them just wanting me to come and pick them, break off the end, and suck out the sweet between the petals of the blossom.
As I sat playing with my match box cars, the pull within me built, I watched cunningly like a convict on an outside work detail anxiously awaiting a distraction to take his guard’s glance away, so he could slip out of site.
The phone rings. There it is I think. Grabbing the chance, I begin the trek down the stairs and across the yard.
I move as swiftly as my little legs would carry me jumping towards the bottom of the stairs to speed my descent and then carefully moving across the back yard using the trunks of the pecan trees as cover.
When I reached my goal I began pulling at the low hanging fruit and enjoying the rewards of my effort.
In my mind, I was only going to pull a few and then quickly move back into position before my mother returned from the call.
The sweetness took me away though and I kept pulling as the time slipped away until I heard “Randall Lee Franks” in a stern loud voice. I knew that I was in for it now. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, I had succumbed to the lure of the season and the desire within me had led my heart astray. Now it was time to pay the piper.
The trip back across the yard and up the stairs was not as gleeful. As I went I heard, “You have to the count of five. One. Two. Three…..”
I made it just in the knick of time. Who knows what would happen if I got the beyond five. It was bad enough when I made it in time.
“This is going to hurt me more than it does you,” she said as she introduced my backside to the palm of her hand. Before I knew it, I was standing on the back porch again playing with my matchbox cars feeling stupid for the mistake that I had made.
My mother had punished me, forgiven me, kissed me on the forehead and sent me back to play with the full knowledge that in all likelihood the experience would prevent me from straying the next time.
You know what? It worked.
Sure I did things again that would require some discipline, but I never again would succumb to the desire to traipse down the stairs out of mom’s reach doing something I was not suppose to be.
The sweet taste, a pleasing aroma, beautiful flowers, these are things that created a desire within me that pulled upon my better judgment. The experience that followed taught me that one does not need to succumb to these pulls upon our senses. In fact, the ability to choose not to walk down an attractive path can save great pain in life. I know it has for me. Do you smell that? There is nothing quite like the smell of honeysuckle….
A moment in the mountains
I stood at the edge of the mountain and looked down at the green of the fields below.
The fields were cut neatly into the shapes that the farmers had cultivated them in for years. The blue sky around me seemed to almost envelope me as I stood amongst the rocks and trees listening to the wind whipping the bark of a pine tree nearby creating a faint whistle.
As I have walked my path since boyhood, I have always felt a special kinship almost in a sense, a tether always drawing me back to the mountains.
It seems they are God’s gift to me to help rejuvenate my soul when it is beaten down by the waves of daily rhythm of rigor that each of us face.
I travel a lot and often times if my choice is a fast, flat interstate or a curving road through the foothills of the Appalachians, I will choose the curving road.
I was once told one thing that sets a person from the Appalachians a part from others is we are taught from birth the importance of the land and our connection to it; so much so, throughout our lives we know where we will rest through eternity. For our slumber will be found beside generations of our people who cultivated a place for life and for death in the shadow of the big trees and the mountain on which they grow.
In today’s fast pace that seems to push us ever forward in a long list of tasks that never seem to end, I long for that moment of play in the creek. I look up from my attempts to catch tadpoles as the water flowing up from the spring cools my feet.
On the porch I see my mother Pearl and my Aunt Norma Jean sitting on the porch swing slowly moving back and forth. My Grandma Kitty sits in a rocker fanning with a funeral home fan with the last supper upon its front, while my dad leans against the porch practicing for a game of mumbley-peg.
As I stand there gazing at the moment long past in my mind, the call of a hawk pulls me back, back to the blue sky, the green fields below, the whistle of the wind in the pines.
Though I wish to stay in that moment from long ago, it is that scene that propels me forward knowing that it was their desire that I build upon what they built and carry them with me where I go.
No matter where I find myself, with the mountains within me, I have the fortitude to press on up until I reach the top, so I can look down at what lies ahead.
I pray your path in life gives you the opportunity to reach the top of your mountain and refuel with the blessings of God’s gifts in your heart and soul.
I went to the garage and I grabbed the shovel, re-entered the living room and began moving through the room picking up a shovel full and dropping into a heavy duty garbage bag.
I am exaggerating the extent of my efforts to clean the house, but at times, I feel like that is the only way to find my way through.
It amazes me more everyday how much stuff I seem to accumulate despite every attempt not to bring anything else home I do not need.
Papers endlessly flow in through the mail, and from various meetings, and they seem to create endless piles.
Looking over my computer screen I see my treadmill. It makes such a wonderful addition to the living room holding up a pile of shirts waiting their turn on the nearby ironing board. I ironed half a day yesterday and there are still 25 or so piled there.
In preparation for a recent family visit, I managed to get everything spic and span at least in the areas accessible. I have so much more to do to get things in order.
I don’t know about you but when things are in disarray, it makes me feel like I am standing underneath a huge pile of stuff sitting on top of a rickety ladder just waiting for it to drop on top of my head.
It can become overwhelming at times, but such is the nature of life. We all have things that tend to pile up around us as we take each step forward.
We can let those things become a burden and bog us down in the tedium of everyday or we can systematically take them in stride making sure things remain caught up and life doesn’t become mired in mundane tasks.
Each day should be a balance after sustaining our existence with work, some time for family and friends; some time to those everyday tasks; and finally some to activities that allow our spirit to soar blessed by the creativity of the Lord’s gifts for our soul.
Many people soar by sharing their energies and talents with others through great organizations that help change the community around them. Some serve their fellow men through service in government while others create things that uplift the soul through various art forms.
Yet no matter what we choose to do to balance our lives, we must strive to never forget that what we do comes from the strength within us. The choices we make must also help fuel that strength and feed our souls. An empty vessel cannot fill another.
I pray that you are taking the time to balance your life, feeding your soul in God’s words and using His gifts to uplift those around you.
What’s in a dream?
I am walking across what seems to be an endless stretch of desert, with each step I hear my feet sink further and further into the sand. Each step is harder to make. The heat is unbearable as I stop and wipe my brow and replace my hat as I look up at a cloudless sky.
I am walking towards a mountain range. I don’t know where I am headed but I know the journey is one of life and death. If I don’t make it to where I am going I will simply fade into the sand that envelopes my feet never to be seen again.
It is amazing where dreams can take us as we lay safely in our beds. Sometimes the dreams are pleasant and paint pictures of hopes we have ahead of us. At times they carry us back in time to visit people and places that only now reside in our memories.
So many times in a dream I have reached my arms around my grandmother on the front porch of the mountain homestead in the valley below the Gravelly Spur Mountain or sat around the dinner table with my dad and mom in Atlanta.
After such a fond dream experience, I wake so refreshed almost smelling the pork chops, green beans and fried squash that were on my plate on the dinner table.
Just the same after the trek through the wilderness of the desert, I have awakened feeling as if I lost the middleweight boxing championship after 20 rounds.
The Biblical story of Joseph tells us how he was able to define what was ahead by the dreams that were presented to him.
I do believe that in dreams, God will sometimes share with us His vision for some aspect of our future and allows us to revel in the comforts of the past when they are needed.
So why was I in the desert trudging along in the heat. I am guessing that some task that I am focused upon is pulling me on a long arduous journey taking me away from something of greater importance.
Whether that is the best interpretation, I don’t know, I am not gifted as Joseph but I do know that in my youth dreams afforded me some unexpected guidance that yielded some of God’s gifts in my life.
That does not mean that I think every dream that we experience includes wisdom about our life, some of them simply reflect the whimsy within us allowing a little hop, skip and a jump down the yellow brick road within our head.
Sometimes we will meet those who have impacted our lives; sometimes we will see circumstances imprinted there by the media that we see; sometimes we just take a journey that we cannot take in real life.
No matter what you may think of your dreams, I pray that they are always pleasant and fill your life with warmth, comfort, joy and the blessings that will extend beyond many lifetimes.
And the rain blew
Lightning flashes streaking across the sky eerily lighting the night. The wind blows swaying the tree limbs whistling as the rain beats intermittently in rhythm against the wall outside the window.
The sounds and sights beckon the opening scene of a television mystery or an old black and white horror film.
No matter how once I saw these innocently as set ups for a good book or a story yet to be told on the screen, the fear they are meant to evoke in fiction, is even greater to me these past three years.
I think that would be true of anyone who has survived a major weather calamity such as a tornado or hurricane.
Three years ago my small town of Ringgold, Ga. was one of many Southern communities that underwent a massive night of tornadoes that changed the face of our town and reached into the lives of hundreds of families as they worked to overcome the devastation of property, loss of life, and the changes brought by the wind.
As I sit and type tonight, I do see the things mentioned above outside my window. On the television, the meteorologists are watching closely trying to predict the impact of a new series of storm systems coming through the area. Ironically, this is one day after the April 27 anniversary of the tornado, bringing yet a little more emphasis and attention because of its timing. Tornadoes have ripped through other communities tonight in Mississippi and Arkansas.
As I sit here, I realize that I will never quite look at storms the same way. I think now of those in its path; the emergency workers that respond to its wake; and the endless hours put in by workers and volunteers to initially search for and assist those affected. Then they begin the clean up the aftermath. Then comes the rebuilding. First hours, then days, weeks, months and finally year will pass.
I wish that I could give a magic wand which could wave away all the issues, but the only thing that I can offer are the prayers that all will be safe when facing storms.
I urge families to prepare for emergencies by having an emergency kit in their home with things that are needed – this means having enough food, water and other supplies such as prescription medicines for 72 hours.
Other items needed are battery-powered or hand crank radio, flashlight with extra batteries, first aid kit, whistle, dust mask, plastic sheeting, duct tape, moist towelettes, garbage bags, plastic ties, wrench and pliers, manual can opener, local maps, cell phone with solar charger.
Please pay attention to warnings and when advised to seek shelter, do so.
As someone who has been through it, there is light after the darkness. Survivors will be able to find a new normal in time. Buildings will be rebuilt. Things will be replaced.
The hardest part is the mourning that comes with the losses – losses of friends and family, and the places that we consider part of our lives and the history we hold dear.
If you are in such a situation, remember everyone around you is there too. You are all in the same boat, so the best way to keep afloat initially is to help each other.
May the Lord bless and keep us all!
Are we too clean?
How many times a day do I reach over and hit the squirt top of an antibacterial and rub down my hands?
As I think on this practice, I wonder sometimes how I ever survived my childhood? How did any of us?
We didn’t have the throw away wipes and all these other things that we use so readily today.
As children, we left home in the mornings in the summer and we played. Our imaginations guided us through game after game with our friends no matter where they took us - storm ditches, creeks, back yards, fields, woods, - wherever and adventure was to be found and the owner was amenable to our presence.
I remember one time sitting at the bottom of the drainage ditch as we had been coaxed by one of the girls in our group to make mud pies. Of course, at some point one of the kids decided it was a waste of effort and we needed to create something edible. I don’t remember what they brought from the house cupboard but we created something and believe it or not we ate it. It didn’t kill us, although it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to be eating.
It is amazing though the precautions that we now make commonplace in order to avoid gaining some type of infection.
When I was little and I got sick, I knew it meant a run to the doctor and there would be a big needle in my future. I remember while visiting my grandparents one time, that happened and Dr. Stephenson had a needle that looked as long as a pitch fork prong.
It seemed that way when it was stuck in too.
I reckon though we are facing different issues today. Pharmaceutical companies and doctors had not permeated our lives with medicines to the point that we reached a major level of over medication. Today, we face diseases that the arsenal of medicine just can’t touch and largely because we have medicated too much at many levels including the food we eat has had its share.
In many ways to make ourselves safer, we are actually making our systems weaker.
When we got sick, overcame it, our bodies were more likely the next time to fight off the same strain of bug with less effort if we got it again.
Now we spend our time trying to make our environment semi-sterile for the children around us and ourselves.
Are we healthier? Perhaps we avoid more illness, but I don’t know if we are healthier. I am afraid with every squirt, rub, and pill, we are making our systems more dependent on something from outside to keep our bodies in good shape.
The obsessive compulsive person within me has managed to overcome a lot of the habits which once found me compared by my family as the TV character “Monk.”
Despite my concerns, though, I still find it hard not to use an antibacterial. Would you look at how dirty this computer keyboard is? Where is that rubbing alcohol? I bet I left it in that drainage ditch.04/23/14
A reflection that shimmers in the glass
I walked up the street around the Square in Covington, Ga. looking in the windows at the items on display in the store windows.
It was warm that September afternoon as I took a few minutes from the set to find the peace in my mind away from the sounds of the assistant directors calling over their radios “Quiet Please, Rollin’, Background” and the booming voice of whichever director was guiding an episode saying “Action,” as the actors emoted and conveyed the story the screenwriters had placed on the page.
It was nearing the end of lunch, so I made my way back to my chair to close my eyes for a few minutes in the afternoon sun across the street from the Covington Library where we were filming exterior police department scenes. The building served as the Sparta, Miss Police Department.
The shade trees with rays of sun gleaming through the leaves always made a nice place for a short snooze before returning to our positions around the camera after lunch.
From the moment the assistant director called over the radio saying, “We are back from lunch” everything was once again hustle and bustle as the film artisans began applying their specialties to prepare the next shot defined by the director. If the actors did the walk through the scene before lunch, then the set up would begin, but if not, the actors would arrive on the set for a rehearsal and walk through and then step away, as the set was prepared.
The second team of stand-ins would take their positions as the lighting technicians, electricians, director of photography, camera operators and assistants brought the scene to life with equipment moving to make the street, sidewalk and steps already enhanced by set decorators to come to life as a small Mississippi town.
As I look back now 20 plus years on what was then so common place to me, 10-13 hours per day, six days a week during filming season, I was part of this amazing crew who created one of the pivotal Southern dramas in television history – “In the Heat of the Night.”
It seemed so simple at the time, but what it was, was professionals doing what they had spent their lives perfecting their skills to do. They made it seem simple as we moved seamlessly between sets and locations with a disjointed sequence of scenes and create art that editors, musicians and Foley artists took through the next phases before the final show made its way to television.
To this day when I walk around a town square or down a main street looking in the windows, sometimes I find myself looking deeply into the glass hoping to see a reflection of that crew from the show I knew shining from over my shoulder across the street in the town square.
For you my regular readers, I know that meandering words here may seem to have no point, but I guess what I am driving at, we all have windows or mirrors that in which we seek life’s reflections, we see what is behind us. For me among the shadows that shimmer in the glass is those days long ago with whispers that helped to shape my life.
If there is a lesson among these words - it is that it is OK to longingly look back fondly on the nostalgia of what has come and gone, but let us also find in those reflections the wondrous opportunities of what those experiences can bring in the days ahead.
I am thankful to have played “Officer Randy Goode” alongside some great people in this show and been allowed to serve in many capacities behind the scenes with my fellow crew members. Be sure to catch one of reruns on cable or purchase a DVD for your collection.
Southern Gospel Hall of Fame marks 15 years
It seems just like yesterday that I was assisting historian/author James R. Goff, author of “Close Harmony: a History of Southern Gospel,” and retired Singing News Magazine editor Jerry Kirksey in their search for artifacts and film reflecting the earliest years of Southern gospel music.
While performing music is a focus of mine, I have always cherished the history and the lessons shared with me by those who traveled before. As a result, I have assisted numerous museums in adding to their archives artifacts that reflect the vibrant colors of the accomplishments of our musical artists.
I was honored to help add to the collection of the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame & Museum. It is amazing to me that the culmination of our endeavors is marking its 15th anniversary this April at Dollywood.
“The museum currently houses more than 3,000 artifacts and honors 155 members of the Southern Gospel music community,” said Southern Gospel Music Association President Arthur Rice. “The museum continues to grow.”
The Southern Gospel Music Association is a non-profit organization that maintains the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame, for the historic preservation of the accomplishments of the music and its people.
Since April 17, 1999, the museum just inside the gates of Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. has provided a wonderful opportunity for the park’s average 30,000 visitors per month to learn more about Southern gospel music.
Gospel legends Dr. Jerry Goff, James Blackwood, Eva Mae LeFevre, Eldridge Fox, Les Beasley, J.G. Whitfield and Bill Gaither cut the ribbon 15 years ago to open the only facility of its type solely dedicated to honoring a specific genre of Christian music.
“That was the day that the dreams, hard work and prayers of hundreds of people came together,” said Danny Jones, SGMA executive director. “Cherished memories are kept alive through the work of the SGMA staff. While the Hall of Fame does bring back some great memories, the museum is also a vital part of building the future of our music as we honor the legacy of artists and promote today’s music through an expanding marketplace and a new generation of music lovers.”
Museum hours match those of Dollywood and admission is included with park ticket.
“We’re honored that Dollywood continues to recognize the significance and importance of Southern Gospel music, and as both the SGMA and Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame & Museum we are grateful for their support and willingness to showcase this great music,” Rice said.
You know better than any if the artists of Southern gospel music have touched your lives or that of a loved one - visit www.sgma.org to look through the list of inductees and read their stories.
If you are inclined help buy a special bronze plaques displayed in the Hall of Fame for an inductee who has not yet received theirs. You might just want to become a member of the SGMA and support the organization. Donations are tax-deductible and individuals or businesses may also donate.
If music has blessed your life, I encourage you to find the museum that honors the legends that you admire and help them with their goals by volunteering, donating or becoming a member.
Loving beyond worldly measure
Some of the most difficult times to watch are when someone we know is trying to be there for a loved one when he or she is coming to the end of his or her journey. As I think back through the years, I remember watching my mother and father as they reached out to support friends or relatives in such times.
If the loved one was elsewhere, they would close up the business, and off they’d go for an undetermined amount of time to just be present. There to be called upon if needed for and extra pair of hands and legs to: run errands, do day-to-day tasks, cook, just simply sit, talk, laugh, console, remember, and pray.
I saw my mother and father do this time and time again. I know they drew no financial benefit from what they were doing. Their only requite was in knowing they were serving Christ with their actions.
Sometimes their presence reached beyond the caregivers to the patient and I know that brought a peace over each of them when they knew they comforted someone as they prepared to cross over.
As a small boy, I watched this routine many times as they said goodbye to former co-workers and neighbors, friends from throughout their lives, and of course, relatives of every description who impacted their lives.
I vaguely remember one period in my childhood when I felt I was spending more time in hospitals and funeral homes than at school but death comes at God’s appointment not on our timetables.
I am now at a similar point in time of my life as they were when they were saying goodbye to so many. So, I have become readily cognizant that like my folks, many of those I know are being called, some old, some young, but its seems more with every passing year.
As I reflect on what can I do to support their loved ones, I think back on the model that my parents gave me. I try to simply be present whenever possible to offer support and help them walk down the path I have already walked. I know that hope, comfort and strength should be offered along the path and I only pray that I can be an instrument to provide some aspect of these to all concerned along the final journey.
Most of us know someone who is facing this point in life, what are you doing to support he or she, and his or her circle of caregivers?I encourage you to find some way to make a difference; you may be able to leave a message of love that changes a life forever and passes a legacy of love to your children as they see how you help others in a time in life we all must face.
How do you get started in television?
That is a question that I have probably answered two or three times a week over the past 30 years. Wow, it wasn’t until this year that I really got to thinking about how long my entertainment career and that of the television medium have intersected.
While I personally do not start the clock on my first comedy appearance as a six-year-old on the set of Atlanta’s children’s TV show - “Tubby and Lester.” That was the beginning though. From there I moved to appearances in school plays, choral and music productions and performances, helping to entertain the mass of parents who wanted each of their little darlin’s to excel and be something special. One of my favorite roles was a pint size Harold Hill in “The Music Man.” I still joyously remember singing and dancing or let’s say moving to “76 Trombones” over and over again as I prepared. I am sure my loving parents got their fill long before the ultimate performance.
As I grew and my musical talents expanded, I chose a variation in the conventional path of community dramatic and musical productions to organizing my own band.
Rather than Rock and Roll, I chose country and rather than mainstream country I leaned towards the then growing genres of bluegrass and gospel. Within a short period of time, our fledgling children’s novelty act with its comedy routines, musical numbers and cute just flowing in every direction was becoming a favorite at fairs, festivals and churches.
That opened the doors for me once again to television. Television stations and producers loved to have uplifting things to show on news, variety and entertainment shows. What is more uplifting than a bunch of youth musicians ranging in age from 8 to 13? Well, before long my Peachtree Pickers were doing news features for our concerts and festival appearances and then we began appearances on variety programs and musical productions for PBS. After a trip to Nashville in 1983 to appear at Country Music Fan Fair, I landed a regular role for the group on “The Country Kids TV Series,” a children’s “Hee-Haw” which was an early cable TV offering that aired internationally. Guest starring regularly for the Grand Ole Opry came within the year. So began a regular presence on cable and television that has now lasted for 30 years. With each year that passed, I continued doing special music, variety and guest appearances for various entertainment shows on PBS, TNN, CMT, and local network affiliates throughout the South and mid west.
With popularity in the music field, I was able to cross over into acting, in a way exactly where I started years before but now on a larger scale, this time in front of millions on silver theatre screens and on network television. My initial roles were small and probably unnoticed by the masses except for the country music fan base that I had accumulated. A choral singing role as a teen in the 1988 film “Desperate for Love” with Christian Slater, Brian Bloom and Tammy Lauren was really what I consider my movie start.
After that it was the producers, directors, writers and a couple of actors – Carroll O’Connor and Alan Autry of “In the Heat of the Night” which helped to forge my next five years on network television as “Officer Randy Goode.”
Since then, more movies, more entertainment shows, more news shows and another TV series.
I have not missed a week and in some periods a day without being on someone’s TV screen somewhere in the world – acting, talking, sharing comedy or performing musically.
With 30 years now behind me as people ask me that question – “How do you get started in television?” I reflect and wonder how exactly to answer it. If they are wishing to act, I tell them study their craft, participate in school and local play productions and then seek out opportunities to show what they can do in front of those who can help them. If they want to be a musical performer, the answer is much the same although the locales where they can excel at a professional level are different depending on the genre. Today, we also have reality shows and celebrities created simply by being on television in these types of shows. I can offer no advice there except just being famous is no reason to do or be seen doing the absurd or the unusual, just to be on television. Don’t give up your morals or whom you are in your soul to get such a chance.
As a kid, I often thought I would be a weatherman and even took a trip to a local station to visit with Atlanta weatherman Guy Sharpe to learn about it. As my TV career began to take off, my father, then my manager, called on Guy again to gain some needed advice about my future. So, TV news is another avenue for those who have the knack and talent and the integrity to be a good journalist.
“How do you get started in television?” – the answer today with the advent of the web is just start. When I started, you couldn’t produce a video segment that showed your talent and put it anywhere that millions of people might find it, see it, like it. Today, you can.
That’s where you start once you have found your talent, studied and can compete toe-to-toe with other people with similar talents, maybe then the doors will open. Even after 30 years, I am knocking on doors every day trying to get another opportunity to share mine. You can see some of my knocks on Randall Franks TV on YouTube. Break a leg in what you do!
Childhood friends from far away
I crowded into the MARTA bus headed towards downtown Atlanta. I grabbed a seat as the bus filled up. A black lady in gray dress and heels got on and I noticed that there was no available seat, so I rose and moved towards the back giving her my seat. As I got situated near the rear door, I wrapped my arm around the rail of the bus and placed my feet appropriately to keep me steadied as the bus stopped and started along the rest of the trip to Central City Park. As I sat there I started looking at the man sitting near me and realized it was Mr. Olivares. He was heading to his job downtown. I had not seen him in years and initially he did not recognize me.
I had grown tremendously since I use to run through his living room alongside his children that were near my age – Paul and Vivian.
I met Paul in about third grade after his family emigrated from South America. The family included at least two youth near my age and included some older siblings as well. I don’t know what drew me to Paul initially. Through most of my elementary school experience, all the students were white. Despite going to school after integration, and during a program referred to as M to M transfer where the county would bus students to schools that were demographically different.
As best I recall, Paul was the first student from a different country or culture that I met, especially, someone speaking a different language – Spanish.
We became fast friends and began playing during recess together at school and soon I would start visiting his home and joining his family for dinner and he would visit ours as well. I began learning enough Spanish to get by as I visited his home or as I spent time among his siblings.
I guess it was my parent’s open and caring attitude about people that some Southern whites of this era may have held different attitudes about because of color, culture or faith that allowed me the freedom to reach out and not feel I was doing something out of the ordinary.
In fact, perhaps it was those early boundaries that my own parents’ faced as they overcame the “hillbilly” stereotypes as they migrated from Appalachia into the city and sought acceptance in Atlanta society that helped them later form the attitudes that shaped me.
So the fact that Paul was from somewhere else never fazed me as a child, it just made our time together of greater interest to me.
At some point, I lost my friend Paul, as his parents were able to move him from public school to private school.
I still remember the conversation when he asked me to see if my parents would consider moving me as well. We did discuss it but my folks stuck with the public school route, so our diverging paths forced us to focus on new friendships. Sadly, I had no need of speaking Spanish anymore until I reached my studies in high school and by then, it was like starting over completely.
It would be a while before Dresden Elementary would see another student that was not white; the next family would be Chinese from Hong Kong. In my grade was Nin Chung Szeto, and once again, I found another friend. In this case however, I didn’t learn Chinese, but in two years time, I certainly had an impact as I helped teach Nin Chung English. I am sure he was handicapped with my Southern accent for years. Like Paul, his path also diverged as his family moved west. We kept in touch by letters for some time but eventually the practice faded but I knew that Nin Chung, by then he had chosen the name John and was carving out his own future in America.
When the seat next to Mr. Olivares opened up, I sat down and re-introduced myself and explained that I was on my way to classes at Georgia State University. He caught me up on Paul and Vivian and his family. I asked him to pass my greetings to them and Mr. Olivares and I would regularly exchange greetings as we both commuted. It would be years later in a Winn Dixie grocery line when Paul and I would next meet. Now, both out of college and making our own lives, we were miles away from those young boys we were when our friendship started. Though we said we would get together sometime, we were in different places and did not follow through.
While the path that life had in store for Paul, John and I were not ones that would keep us connected, for me those youthful experiences enriched my life and allowed me to continue to expand my opportunities to know more about people I meet, whether from a world away or just down the street.
The trip to town
I remember as a boy, I always looked forward to Saturday when I was visiting with my grandparents. That meant we would be taking a trip to town. It could mean some time in the 5&10, the grocery store or a stroll around the Courthouse Square or visiting with folks at the farmer’s market.
Going to town was special and meant the folks would put on their best clothes and their best manners.
Today, such excursions are really taken for granted; we hop in the car and run about like gasoline comes out of a water faucet sometimes. I do reminisce fondly about those days, the ice cream sundaes at the fountain, the folks smiling and waving as they go by. I want to share with you one of my favorite goin’ to town stories
I do not know if I have ever told you about my great-uncle Elige Doolittle. Elige has two twin boys, Will Doolittle and Won’t Do-alot.
I really believe that Will was blessed with all of the smarts in that branch of the family tree.
When they were boys the county was so impressed by them, they had a special ceremony out by their house to honor them. They put up a big sign out by where they lived commemorating the event. It’s still there today. It reads “Slow Children at Play.”
One time Uncle Elige decided to take the boys on a trip. They had not been too far away from Tunnel Hill in their lives so Uncle Elige figured he better start small with a drive through the mountains towards Dahlonega.
Won’t just had a notion he wanted to pan for gold even though Will assured him that he couldn’t actually find any gold there.
The boys had a full day and sure enough Won’t did not find any gold. On the way back, though, he kept seeing some signs on the side of the road, which said “Take Ex-Lax and Feel Young.”
Uncle Elige pulled off in Dawsonville to get a Moon Pie and RC Cola. The boys joined him, getting a Grape Crush each and two pieces of Beef Jerky. Won’t saw one of them little boxes of Ex-Lax and added it to his order. After their meal, the boys decided they would see if the signs were true. They split the box between ’em and had those chocolate bars as dessert.
They rode a while. Will looked at Won’t and asked, “Do you feel any younger?”
Won’t said, “No.”
They rode a while longer. Won’t asked Will, “Do you feel any younger?”
Will said, “No.”
As Uncle Elige neared the apple country of Ellijay, he started wondering himself, turned and said, “Well, boys, do you feel any younger?”
Will said, “No.”
Won’t agreed and said, “I don’t feel any younger, but I sure did do a childish thing.”
The characters and antics of Elige Doolittle, Will Doolittle and Won’t Do-alot are the sole property of Peach Picked Publishing and are used by permission.
I recently featured a television father who impacted my childhood tremendously on “The Waltons.” We lost another television father a few weeks ago who I always tended to feel sorry for as I watched his portrayal as “Nels Olesen” on “Little House on the Prairie.”
The long-suffering dad of the mischievous Nellie (Alison Arngrim) and Willie (Jonathan Gilbert), and husband of town busy body, better than everyone Harriet Olsen (Scottie MacGregor).
Despite his constant status of being hen-pecked, in his portrayal of the character Richard Bull (1924-2014) managed to take a relatively small presence early in the series and brought all of us to know that Nels was an upstanding, caring individual who loved his family and worked to bring out the best in them despite their own shortcomings. That caring reached out across Walnut Grove as he operated the Oleson Mercantile leaving no doubt in the viewers minds that Nels stood on equal footing with Charles Ingalls (Michael Landon 1936-1991) and the other community pillars.
As the series continued over the next decade, Bull became another stable father figure on television who imparted wisdom, encouragement and caring, sometimes in the face of some of the greatest comedic opportunities shared within a drama series.
Bull was a seasoned television veteran when he landed the role on Little House with nearly 20 years of work sharing his talents in roles in many classic TV shows including “My Three Sons,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” “Bewitched,” “Bonanza,” “Gunsmoke” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”
While he often played several different roles in the same series over time, Bull found recurring roles in series such as the doctor in “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” “Judge Thatcher” in “Nichols,” and “Mr. Ryland” in “Apple’s Way,” it was “Nels Oleson” that made his face and name known to millions around the world.
He continued appearing in film and television as opportunities arose until his role in the series “Boss” in 2011.
He and his wife of 65 years plus actress Barbara Collentine both starred in the film “A Day in the Life” in 2000.
While as a child, I often thought of Little House as a show for girls because there were so many girls on it. Even though Laura Ingalls (Melissa Gilbert) was a bit of a tomboy, it was the antics of Willie and later after the adventures of Albert (Matthew Labyorteaux) that drew me to watch the show as kid.
Like the lessons shared on "The Waltons," I learned a great deal as Charles and Carolyn (Karen Grassle), Nels, Isaiah (Victor French 1934-1989), Jonathan (Merlin Olsen 1940-2010) and Rev. Robert Alden (Dabbs Greer 1917-2007) guided through the ups and downs of prairie life in the 1800s.Among the cast, I was only honored to know Dabbs and like Richard, though he had many roles he played it was Rev. Alden that endeared him to millions.
Some years ago I saw a TV commercial where a mother is driving her car following her young son traveling on foot with a teddy bear in one hand and suitcase in the other trekking down the sidewalk to run away with the circus.
When you were a little boy or girl did thoughts of running away with the circus ever cross your mind?
Did you ever take out that little brown leather suitcase from the closet and fill it full of your small plastic army men, bag of marbles, matchbox cars, catcher’s mitt and anything else you thought you just could not live without; then took your peanut butter and jelly sandwich and hit the road looking for the nearest circus big top?
While I will say that the thought of working with Lions, and Tigers and Bears, ‘Oh My,’ did run through my head, it was the clowns that struck my fancy. I recall one trip to the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus; I even got a chance to take a crash course in elementary clown. Grease paint and all. I still have my certificate packed away in a trunk.
I have come to know a number of bonafide circus performers through the years.
I recently learned of the passing a few months ago of one young Texas girl who decided she would do just that in 1948. Geraldine “Gerry” Philippus Riley (1929-2013) left the little town of Cost, Texas where her father was postmaster and her mother was a music teacher to make her life as a circus performer at the age of 18.
“I think back now on just how mean I was to say to my parents ‘I am going to run away with the circus’,” she said by telephone August 22, 2005. “I mean it was just a total shock to them. My mother came to see the shows but my dad never did.”
She went to school with Norma Davenport, daughter of Dailey Brothers Circus owner Ben Davenport, who in 1948 moved his winter quarters from Yoakum, Texas to Gonzales after purchasing the fairgrounds. The show traveled on 26 railroad cars.
She learned to work with the elephants; perform an aerial acrobatic act on the trapeze bar; and performing with the Riding Martinis in a bareback horse act as well. She stayed with the show until 1955 performing in a different little town every day. She fell in love on the show, married and had her first two children while with the circus.
“I think we worked hard. We were the real circus people. We knew what working the mud lots were and we knew why they made saw dust and we waded through it to work,” she said. “For these people now its glamour and glitz. I remember how hard I worked to perform with those elephants.
“I always went in the ring and styled,” she said. “The elephants wore beautiful headgear with big brass studs on their heads. I’d get up on top and they’d dance and I’d ride their backs.”
She also remembered the day the elephants got spooked and stampeded through the fairgrounds and when around 30 baboons escaped their cage and made Gonzales, Texas their new home. A well to do lady found three lounging on her front porch when she went to get her morning paper. Many were never recovered.
The circus featured numerous star attractions, one season in 1949 she worked with Doug Autry, Gene Autry’s brother, the next season heavyweight champion of the world (1937-48) Joe Louis toured with the show and then two years with who she called the Gene Autry of the circus circuit the late Ramblin ' Tommy Scott.
“Joe Lewis was the nicest kind of guy you could ever want to meet,” she said.
She recalled the former boxing champion received $1,000 per day for appearing at the end of the show in a ring, sparing with a towner (attendee), and posing for photographs with the audience. He was low key and definitely not a braggart, she said.
Beginning in 1951, the circus changed its name to the Wallace Brothers Combined Circus reducing from five rings to three. They purchased 31 new trucks to transport the circus from town to town rather than the rail cars, she said.
When Ramblin’ Tommy Scott and his Hollywood Hillbillies arrived to join the circus in 1951, their arrival stays vividly in Gerry’s memory.
“When Tommy Scott and his crew came in that park gate in Gonzales, Texas,” she said. “My, honey we thought they were celebrities. They had the finest kind of trailers, finest kind of cars. We said they are not show people they are rich people. Tommy is a fantastic guy.”
Scott not only toured with the circus but co-owned circuses and employed numerous circus acts on his show.
“The circus was always a hotbed of excitement, probably because of the many different personalities who lived and worked in what was actually a community of animals and people,” he recalled.
Scott is still revered by many circus performers and workers as one of the legends in the business. He received the honor of being named one of the all time greatest Circus Showman.
His daughter Sandra even had the chance to spend some of her childhood years on the circus.
“Kids have been saying for generations they would like to run away and join the circus,” she said. “Well, I was in the circus without having to run away.”
Sandra learned to ride elephants; she danced, sang, and became very good in aerial acrobatics, performing with great precision except for one day when the apparatus malfunctioned. Despite the problem Sandra completed her performance with the main mishap being knocking her mother Frankie, who was assisting her, off the stage into a piano.
Boys who returned that evening for the second show asked why she did not repeat the same act as earlier, they wanted to she Frankie take the dive into the piano again, Scott said.
But the circus was not all fun and games. A reminder of this came when one of Sandra’s playmates, another child performer on the show lost her life at the hands of a presumed gentle young lion.
If you would like to read more about Riley or the Scotts, I suggest “Snake Oil, Superstars and Me” by Ramblin’ “Doc” Tommy Scott, Shirley Noe Swiesz and me, you can find it at randallfranks.com.
From my visits with these circus folks, I have learned that running away with the circus is hard work and is not all clowning around, I think I’ll just unpack my little green army men, and my catcher’s mitt and sit on the porch and finish my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Hey, has any body seen my marbles? I know I packed them, I don’t think I lost them.
Remembering John Walton
I have often wondered what makes an enduring television show. One of my all-time favorite shows was “The Waltons.” I was saddened recently to hear of the passing of Ralph Waite who played “John Walton.”
Growing up, that show reflected most closely the South of my parents and grandparents. I related to John and Olivia, John-Boy, Jason, Mary Ellen, Ben, Erin, Jim-Bob and Elizabeth, Esther and Zeb as if they were part of my own family. Earl Hamner Jr. created this masterpiece of Americana based on his life growing up during the Depression and World War II.
I remember mourning the passing of Will Geer (Grandpa Zeb Walton) as if I had lost my own grandfather. I struggled along with Ellen Corby (Grandma Esther Walton) as she performed through her real-life stroke.
I know that it was a drama and the participants were actors but the characters seemed real to me and made me feel that, the first chance I got, I should move to Walton’s Mountain.
Ralph played the character in a way it reflected many of the men of my family. I could not help but take a moment and remember his portrayal fondly when I heard of his passing. Of course, this was not his only role, just the one that endeared him most to me. I had most recently seen him working on “NCIS” and “Bones.”
Among his many roles were appearances in the mini-series “Roots,” "Cool Hand Luke" and "Five Easy Pieces."
I always enjoyed the various characters who gave his hit show “The Waltons” a bit of the out-of-the-ordinary —such as the Baldwin Sisters, who brewed up the Recipe, not realizing it was illegal; or Corabeth Walton Godsey, the always-starched well-educated cousin who tried to bring a bit of class and culture to the mountain at Godsey’s General Store. Of course, John was known to imbibe on occasion, as were some of my mountain kin.
I had the pleasure of working with Ronnie Claire Edwards, who portrayed Corabeth, while working on “In the Heat of The Night” in an episode titled “Perversion of Justice” and directed by Harry Harris, who also directed “The Waltons.”
For me, getting to spend a few days visiting with her took me back to all those nights waiting to hear that mountain-style theme music emanating from the television speaker.
Like a good Mark Twain story where you just want to pull off your shoes and jump the next raft down the Mississippi, I wanted to pull off my shoes and walk down the old dirt road with all the Walton kids.
I know that Ralph as John will always be watching over those memories for all of us who grew up watching the show that gave us a hope for a loving caring place where people worked together to overcome adversity and injustice.From what I have learned about Ralph in his later life, this may be the greatest epitaph to his body of work. He made us feel at home wanting to rest our feet under his table knowing we were always welcome. Thanks Ralph!
Learning to cookWhen I was growing up one talent that both my parents stressed I should acquire was learning to cook for myself.
A divide can be crossedWhile time passes, struggles change, but memories of lessons learned long ago can touch and shape the hearts just as easily today if given the opportunity. People can live side by side but create divides over philosophies, beliefs or simple concerns that will pass with the blowing of the wind.
When the rain wouldn’t come
Friends, here's a story that will hopefully warm your
As the water trickled down the rocks of Frog Leg Creek, the girls and boys gathered at its bank dangling their feet in the cold waters.
Summer days always meant early rising and chores finished before the heat of the day scorched the back of the neck. Often the children were free to find other summer diversions like swimming in Wilson’s Pond or cooling their toes along the Frog Leg.
There along the banks were the red-headed Scaley Wilson, he was called that because he shed his skin a lot sort of like a snake but in smaller pieces, the almost-always-mean Matilda Morris, who was generally to good to play with the other children because her folks didn’t want her to mess up her store-bought clothes, Jump Jemison, who could climb high up in the old oak tree beside the creek and hit the swimming hole every time and Pearl, who generally sat and played with her doll Maggie given her by the Rev. Smathers.
On this hot day much of the valley below the Gravelly Spur had succumbed to a drought and the fields and hillsides just weeks before green and teaming with life were brown. All of the farmers worked hard to irrigate their crops from the creek so not to lose them completely but the fields of the farms nearest the water were the only ones holding on despite all of the farmers banding together to haul barrels of water to the outer most farms in the valley on wagons.
The next greatest adult fear was that the wells might begin to dry up in the valley but this did not phase the effervescent play of the children around the swimming hole as they simply tried to wash away the heat with a little fun.
But even the kids noticed that the things were harder, their parent’s faces were not breaking with even the occasional smile.
Pearl had overheard her parents Bill and Kitty talking the night before about the Jemison's maybe pulling up stakes and leaving in hopes of making it somewhere else.
She didn’t mention it to Jump at first thinking he might not know. She had always liked Jump because he was full of life. He was the type of person who could find adventure in any situation and make even the most mundane task fun.
The kids often found themselves following behind him as if he was the pied piper to some mysterious location on the mountain where he concocted some tale of buried treasure left by pirates, an old Indian ceremonial ground filled with spirits, or just some game which could test the patience of any parent if they actually saw what the children were doing.
Pearl was saddened with the thought of Jump leaving and as she sat there retying the bow around Maggie’s neck she decided it was time the kids do something about it.
She stood up and called them all closer and said, “Jump, I hear you might leave us.”
“Yeah, if we don’t get rain soon, Pa says we will lose the crop and we’d have to move on,” he said.
“Well instead of playing in this water why don’t we spend this time trying to get some water to Jump’s farm to see if we can keep him here,” Pearl said.
“That’s a great idea,” Scaley said. “But how do we do it?”
“Well Dad has an irrigation ditch that runs from the creek to Scaley’s farm, that connects to one on Matilda’s farm, the problem is that Jump’s farm is uphill from there so what can we do?” Pearl asked.
It was Jump that had the idea. “What if we build a water wheel with buckets that puts the water higher so it runs down onto the farm. We could use the mules to turn it sort of like a cane press.”
It didn’t take much convincing before the group started enlisting every kid in the valley, scrounging buckets, looking for planks and nails, and cutting cane poles to put together a water wheel. Old man Johnson wondered for years where those big planks from the side of his abandoned barn went.
They didn’t even tell the parents what they were doing; they just spent all their time away from chores working on the project until about a week and a half later they had finished and borrowed Grandpa Bill’s mule Rawel to see if it would work.
As Rawel began going round and round the buckets turned filling with water from the irrigation ditch pouring into the elevated wooden ditch they built sending the water into a new earthen ditch they dug onto the highest portion of the Jemison field. The water began to flow down the ditch and slowly moved across the rows of corn down the hillside.
As the water flowed the children screamed in elation. You may wonder where Jump’s father had been all the time the kids were building this mechanism, he went ahead to visit with some relatives and see if there was a new place for the family with them in the west but as the kids were carrying on, he rode up on his chestnut mare, Elihue.
“What’s going on here?” he asked.
Jump came forward telling his father what all the neighbor’s children had done to make the water flow on their crops.
He put his arm around the shoulder of his son as the others gathered round and they watched their contraption turn around and around as the water kept flowing giving the corn a new life to fill the Jemison family with a new hope and the valley with a glow of success that was shared with the other hillside farmers as the men and children worked to keep all the crops from floundering in the heat.
It is amazing what can come even from the minds of a child when sometimes simplicity is the best approach to solving a problem, that is what the people of the Gravelly Spur found the summer that the rain forgot to come and they held on to a Frog Leg for dear life.
The energy within one’s home
As I walk in the porch door the golden chimes hanging on the door jingle, in my mind I think back to when I said, “Hi Mom, I’m home,” of course, there is no one physically there to hear me. It was simply a greeting that I grew accustomed to uttering for so many years and it took me quite a while to get over the mechanical habit after her passing. I knew in time uttering the words would simply fade as my mind gave in to the fact that I was doing something which could be perceived as silly if heard by another living human being.
I drop off the work I am carrying on the kitchen table, hearing in my head her saying “don’t mess up the table,” I pick it up and put it on the desk as I check the answering machine to find it blinking. I hit the machine and it sends out a recorded message from a company wanting to sell me something. In a way that little blinking light is comforting when there is a message from a friend but when that light is still, it sometimes brings a sigh.
I sit on the beige leather couch, kick off my black leather shoes, lean back and look around the living room.
Though years have passed, and I have made it my own space, at times, there are still moments when the house feels empty, although there is furniture from wall-to-wall and each closet is filled; there is an emptiness that just covers me.
“M*A*S*H” is playing on the television and I lose myself in the hilarity of the artistry of Alan Alda and company and for a while the emptiness is filled with a fictional world provided by those characters.
But soon reality must once again set in as I take on some mundane household chore such as sweeping the hardwood floors or dusting the seemingly endless surfaces. Although time has made the desire to do those things a little less high on my priority list, now I do them for me.
When someone has brought the vigor, the juice, the energy to a family’s life and that person leaves, how does one carry on in the wake of their departure?
No matter how strong your faith, no matter how many cards or calls you receive, no matter how many times you find yourself with a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye, nothing can be done to ease the absence of that life’s energy that is now missing from the house.
It is finally up to you to rebuild a new life’s energy for your home, so when you walk in, you are not enveloped by the quiet emptiness. You must become the energy of the home, so when someone else walks in they find a feeling of warmth and welcome. There must be a way to reach that within oneself to make such a thing possible.
It has been several years since I initially faced these feelings and I charged myself with defining the energy in my home while not taking away loving imprints of the shadows left on each and every room.
With the passage of time, I have been able to change the flow of energy that I feel as I enter the home, focusing now more on my faith to bring the space alive for me.
I know that those of us that are Christians carry within us special warmth given us by our faith in Jesus Christ; and I know that as I do my daily tasks, I work to allow that warmth to permeate what I do and shine out. I lean on Jesus to come with me wherever I go and I know God’s angels are smoothing the way ahead of me and hopefully doing a bit of clean up in my wake.
Perhaps, however, the warmth that God shares with me is not meant for me to transfer to a place like a house or more simply the warmth that each of us brings cannot be seen by us in our own reflection.
We cannot see our own warmth imprinted on a home. Yes, we can see the physical changes we make but others can only see the warmth. So while I initially looked to try to fill the emptiness for myself, in a way I was pouring my attempt for warmth into a bottomless pit that I will never fill. Only God can fill it in His time.
Do I feel warmth today when I walk in the door? Yes, but I realized as I went through the years that God allows me to carry that within me everywhere I go.
Isn’t it wonderful that God’s love is endless and no matter
what I pour my inspired energies into as long as this vessel of clay holds out,
I can continue sharing His warmth with others and depend on Him to warm my
heart, soul, mind and home with His love?
No matter how close or how distant in time you are from the warmth of light shared in your life by a loved one, one only needs to look to the source that provided that warmth that beamed out from within them to touch them again.
God’s favorite postmanThroughout history, God has used many ways to send messages to us, angels, Moses, Jesus and others. I find one of his most interesting messengers is the weather.
What does it mean?
There are many times in my life when I have searched for the reason someone that I care for becomes ill or suffers through some series of events.
I have sat by the bedside looking at tubes connected to someone’s body; and watched people struggle to find a new normal while coming back from a change in health.
I have seen emotional strife as relationships and family issues bring such pain that suffering can only be the description applied to some of the parties involved.
Often we look to God and say “Why?” They are so good. They give in so many ways. Why do they have to suffer?
Then I come to realize that it is the nature of life that some suffering may be part of our existence. It does not matter how good we are or how bad. Suffering comes when it comes.
Although our choices in life can exact a certain amount of self-inflicted strife, everyone gets a piece of that experience at some point.
It can come through heartaches, illness, unexpected accidents, loss or even the simplest of occurrence.
The key I think is how we handle such happenings. Do we relish in the suffering?
Do we use it to evoke the sympathy of those around us? Creating an opportunity that feeds a sense of entitlement related to the suffering.
Everyone carries some bit or piece with them of the huge hewn rock that we all pound our lives upon yielding pain. Some are able to lay it down and walk away while others carry it with them everyday.
Should we suffer gracefully? Is that possible? I think for some it is. I have seen those, who have endured such devastating circumstance, walk through it as if they were made of steel. Yet they become that much stronger when they reach the other side.
I have seen others gracefully walk into that good night trying to lighten the load of those they love around them.
Do my sufferings compare to yours? Don’t let yourself get into such a discussion. If someone is hurting, try to lift their load and let them move on rather than matching yours to theirs. Hopefully, they will not find the need to offload it upon another.
We must make every effort to uplift those around us who are sent our way but we are not to enable them so that self-pity envelopes their existence.
Does God play a role in these life experiences? While some tend to blame God when they find the worst the world has to offer, others reach out to God for comfort against the greatest storm.
For me, I can only say that God provides me the comfort in His time when I seek it in those moments when I have suffered.
What does it mean? The answer if found must be searched for within each of us as we experience what life shares with us and those we love. I pray your days be many and your painful moments be few.
Life is something that we should cherish with every passing breath. Often times we do not appreciate the simplest things like the feel of cool breeze on a hot summer day; the taste of a fresh glass of homemade lemonade so cold that the outside of the glass drips; the deep red color of a vine-ripened tomato as its thinly sliced for a tomato sandwich slightly smeared with JFG mayonnaise.
I am pondering the common ground between the generations of Americans that now bind us as a people. At one time it was our country’s deep agricultural heritage, the connection to the soil and what through sweat and hard work it could provide for both the sustenance and financial gain of the family. Military service in war after war, generation after generation which itself found its origins and its battles in the farm and pasturelands that the battles were fought upon.
Generations of Americans even those that lived in the cities, depended upon family farms to provide what our country needed to survive. In my lifetime, we have seen farming shift to larger business concerns and several generations of individuals never walked behind a plow or rode upon a tractor. They didn’t grow up on the farm or even spend days helping their grandparents haul hay, cut okra, pick tomatoes, pull corn, put up cans and churn butter.
So what does this mean for the future of our country, for the preservation of our lifestyle and the heritage of our communities? Are we destined to one-day build museums dedicated to the preservation of subdivisions and shopping malls? What values of history are we giving the latest generation? Will they look back at a tractor and ask, “What’s that?” Or better yet not know that those chicken nuggets you buy at those fast food restaurants actually come from chickens.
With generations of Americans who have little or no practical daily connection to the land, how will they sustain themselves in an emergency? What happens when milk can no longer be sent from the far off mega-farms of the west? I bet there aren’t many households that have shelves lined with canned goods enough to get the family through to the next growing season, as was my parent’s and grandparent’s custom. What will happen to a generation if there is no way to move food from place to place?
During the worst period in this country’s history, the Great Depression, even the poorest farmer, who was not devastated by natural disasters such as the dust storms, had some amount of food to eat. Thousands of people who lived in the cities eventually received food in soup lines because many farmers were able to keep working the land and caring people were willing to help those in need. They all had a connection to the land.
If our state, our county, our community was totally cut off from the outside world could we survive? Do we have a plan in place to feed and meet the needs of our population? Could we create the items needed for day-to-day life? Do we have the people who have the knowledge to do that?
It will take a joint effort at a local level, community to community, neighbor to neighbor, to see that each family or person makes it through in any emergency situation.
Will America ever face some catastrophe that will throw us backwards in time wishing that we had a few acres to plant potatoes and a milk cow to provide some milk and a horse to ride to town?
I don’t know but even if it didn’t, it probably wouldn’t hurt if everybody knew how to dig taters, which part of the cow the milk comes from and how to get it to come out. By the way, just how do you get the key in a horse’s ignition and more important where are the brakes on one of them things. Just kidding, of course I know where the brakes are… Whoa, Nelly.
Do I have the answers as to what the future will be like, of course not, that is only in the Hands of God. Do I have hope as to what I would like it to be? I certainly do.
I see an America that is covered with strong communities of caring and loving individuals who give their neighbors a helping hand when it is needed. They go out of their way to help pick up a man when he is down, brush him off and help him along life’s road.
I see an America where greed and crime is something that exists only in the minds of creative novelists and film directors instead of the eyes our fellow man. I see an America where you make choices that are good for all the people not just a chosen few. I see an America where when a leader actually stands up and says something, he or she actually believes it, rather than assuming it is what the public needs or wants to hear. I see an America where his or her words of inspiration can actually mobilize this country towards a common good of creating a world that will be something our future generations can build from rather than have to pay for.
I see an America where each community is capable of standing on its own using the talents of its citizenry and the abilities of its businesses and industries no matter what the country as a whole may have to withstand in its future.
My friends the future of America is up to each one of us, its not just the job of people in Washington, DC, the state capitol, the county seat, or even the guy next door or the woman down the street, it takes each of us working every single day improving our community as a whole by stepping outside our comfort zones and reaching out to make a difference.
It is up to us to have our own lives prepared for emergencies and to work with our local leaders to make sure that plans are in place. It is only through preparation that we as individuals or communities can reach out and help others, secure in the knowledge that our own families and communities are safe and adequate supplies are available to meet the needs at home.Will this generation and those that follow be less because they are further removed from America’s rural roots? I think as long as our society continues to head in the same direction, each generation will make their way but it’s the ‘what ifs’ that sometime worry me and make me ever thankful that God is in control. He expects all of us to do our part though. Perhaps getting closer to an understanding that the role farming plays in our lives and making sure that that the local family farmers never vanish from our history might be one way we can improve our little corner of the world.
That pair doesn’t fit. OK, maybe this one fits. Ugh! I know these pants went all the way around me the last time I put them on. Now let’s see, when was that, it had to be this year. Or was it?
What about these jeans? Now I just bought those, I knew they were a little snug but I never realized washing them in cold water would make them shrink this way.
It has to be the laundry detergent I have been using.
Well I’ll keep looking; I am going to find something in this closet that fits.
Now that’s the ticket - sweats. But maybe not for a business casual event, it may be a little too casual. At least they do go all the way around without having to button or hook.
Maybe that’s the way all pants should be. You put them on and they conform to your size. Just hit a button on the side and they fit perfectly.
Of course that would put the belt and suspender companies out of business. They probably have a pretty strong lobby that would kill any innovation like that.
I imagine the shelf lobby would come out against them too. All the stores wouldn’t have to stock all the different sizes – one size fits all.
I guess there must be something in here that I could wear. Here we go, these fit perfectly, if I was just two inches shorter. How did I get pants that look like I need to wear them in a flood? They must be left over when I thought I was shorter or it’s that detergent again.
Well, let’s look for a shirt and maybe a sweater to wear, the pants will work themselves out.
OK. Have you ever noticed how most sweaters that folks tend to give you really are sort of ugly? The ones I have, I bought, and they are not much better. I guess I won’t wear a sweater.
Shirts, that’s easy. OK, Hmm. The points of the collar are blown on this one, and this one has that stain from the spaghetti I ate on tour earlier this year. This one looks good. There’s a tear. Where did that come from? Finally, this one will work, button down, neat, but why does it have to be such a terrible color of pumpkin. I must have got this as a present. I would have never bought this.
I’ll choose a shirt later. Let’s shine up my dress shoes. Hmm. These soles are starting to wear pretty thin. What is this thread sticking out? Don’t pull the thread. I said, ‘Don’t pull the thread.’ No!! I just couldn’t help myself. I pulled the thread. Who needs two shoes with soles any way? One will do. I can just polish up the tops and I am sure no one will notice there is no bottom to it especially if I wear black socks that match.
OK. Let’s see, where am I. I have no pants that will fit. Sweaters that only someone would wear to an ugly sweater contest, a shirt only a jack-o-lantern would love and two shiny shoes, one with no sole. It looks like I am almost ready to go – shopping.Or at least ready to make a new year’s resolution that will get me back into the pants I use to wear and buy a pair of shades dark enough that the sweaters and the pumpkin colored shirt won’t bother me anymore. I do think I will get a new pair of shoes though, that ground outside sure is cold on that foot. Happy New Year everyone! I hope you keep all your resolutions and find 2014 to be the greatest year you have ever known.