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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member Archie Watkins perform
Randall Franks hosts and directs
Still Ramblin' plus Trail of the Hawk
The story of Ramblin' "Doc" Tommy Scott
America's Last Real Medicine Showman
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Visits with David Davis, The Watkins Family, The Crowe Brothers, The Marksmen Quartet, Archie Watkins and Carol Channing
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.
I remember having my nose pressed squarely against the windowpane. It was cold outside and frost had formed around the edges of the panes near the white wooden stiles separating each of the three windows in the living room into six sections.
I was watching for my father to return home from work because I knew that evening we would begin decorating for Christmas. We would get into the green Chevrolet truck and take a drive to the Boy Scout lot to buy a freshly cut Douglas fir and bring it back home. This was always an adventure to me especially as a boy trying to pick the perfect tree for the living room.
This tradition would go by the wayside for several years as I overcome health issues that precluded live trees in the house.
But for this year, it was going to bring that aroma of fresh pine throughout the house.
We brought it back home cutting the end off slightly so it would slip into the red and green metal stand and tightened the silver bolts into the trunk.
After a little water was placed in the holder, we were off and running. From the attic came down the two brown cardboard boxes of Christmas ornaments wrapped in a white cotton material that we used around the bottom of the tree to cover the stand.
There were big red ones, and yellows, greens and blues; many were round like a ball while some were shaped in various forms.
Mother would begin placing the ornaments while my job was placing the silver strands of icicles around the tree in a systematic yet strategic approach trying to bring some sense of symmetry to the endeavor.
As we progressed on the tree, my father was hard at work placing the exterior lights around the evergreens that lined the walk in front of our house and all along the hollies and azaleas in front of our house.
This was all culminated by the placement of a large lighted Santa Claus face that had more of a bluish gray tint than the customary red just by the door in the sticking vine that ran up the trellis there.
Mother would add little accents around the room bringing a spirit of Christmas here and there but the main focus was the tree.
This year we had the added bonus of a fireplace bought at G.E.X. This cardboard fireplace featured red bricks printed on it face and once put together placed within its middle was a lighted long which flickered and glowed whenever it was plugged in.
Across its top, we strung a string and hung all the Christmas cards we received from friends and relatives.
Over the next, few weeks underneath the tree would appear the gift that we were sharing with one another and then on Christmas morning when I rose, I’d find the ones brought me by Santa.
One of my favorite evenings of the season was when one of the versions of “The Christmas Carol” would play on television and we would all settle in with cups of hot cocoa and holiday popcorn and gather around the television.
We always had a Christmas dinner; whether big or large it was a tradition that brought stability and a sense of order to lives which to a little boy sometimes seemed chaotic. Of course, I caused my share of chaos. My dear mother use to say I could be a little angel for everybody else but for her I was often her holy terror. She was probably right. I was quite a handful for her and dad both at times.
In looking back now though it’s safe to say we all had our moments throughout the year, at Christmas they seemed to fade away into a sense of peace and love that wiped away the rough edges of life. The hurts, the pains, the sorrows, the angers were covered over by God’s gracious gift to us of that little boy Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths in a manger in Bethlehem who came to give us a chance at everlasting life.
As we prayed for something better for all our family, as we shared in the giving to one another, as we looked more deeply into each other’s eyes, said “I Love Yous,” we found ourselves closer to each other and closer to Him.
While life was not always easy for my late parents, they gave me all they could to make it possible for me to not only live through health issues that kept them financially drained and emotionally taxed, but to encourage me and make it possible for all that has come since in my life.
Through ups and downs, Christmas was not a day that centered around the decorations, the gifts, the TV shows, parades, or sporting events, it was about each other and what we could do to be more caring as a family. Now that time has moved on, that is what I remember most about Christmas. Why don’t you use this Christmas to show how much you care with your presence not your presents.
In the valley below the Gravelly Spur Mountain there was a partnership of sorts between the humans and the animals that worked the farms to create the crops that helped feed them all.
There was no more needed partner than the mules that helped to cut the furrows straight along the curves of the mountainsides near the old apple, peach, pear and plum orchards that bore the fruit for summer canning of preserves and drying for the special Christmas cakes that helped make each season a little more fun for each family.
Young Pearl had a knack with the animals and especially the mules around the valley. No matter whose they might be, she always seemed to be able to get them to like her too.
On the Wood farm nearby it was old Pete that helped to make each workday that much easier.
All the kids loved old Pete, though he wouldn’t let anyone ride him. It was like he was a kid himself especially in the summer time. As all the kids rushed towards the swimming hole once released from their chores, you would see Pete traipsing behind them headed there too. He would be the first to climb to the leap overlooking it, jumping into the waters below as his black coat shimmered in the summer sun until he plunged deep into the waters below.
This was the only time that anyone had a chance to climb up on old Pete’s back as the kids swam along. While keeping a float himself, Pete had no power to buck them off.
One time the Wood’s hired man Richard decided he was going to teach Pete a lesson and break him. Richard was a big man, so Pete seemed small as he climbed up on him, and wrapped his long legs below Pete’s belly and twisting his toes together so Pete could not buck him off.
Pete finally got tired of trying and instead of being broke; he simply lay down and rolled over with the hired hand still attached. Needless to say, it wasn’t Pete who got broke in that maneuver,
While it was hard to realize, Pete was getting to old and weak to continue his tasks around the farm and Mr. Wood had grown so fond of him, he couldn’t bring himself to take him out and shoot him as many did when their usefulness had faded, so he decided to trade him in on a new mule.
He took him up to Shirley’s Trading Post and with the addition of 15 dollars U.S.; he traded Pete for a light brown mule named Mary. She had all her teeth and appeared as though she had many years of plowing and hauling in her.
As Mr. Wood began at first light hitching the plow to Mary, he could see that she had a reluctant streak that was deep and wide within her. It was a fight to get her moving and keeping her on the straight and narrow pulling each furrow.
As an experienced worker with mule, he did all he knew to get Mary in line but to no avail.
Finally, he went back to the house and called to his five-year-old boy Bryant to come and assist.
He told him to climb up on her back facing backwards; he cut a peach limb and handed to him.
“Boy, you just hit her with that if she starts to balk,” he said.
Mr. Wood hated to hurt any animal; he knew that young Bryant’s coaxing would be more like a nuisance than a whipping to Mary. So it began a long day of getting Mary accustomed to her duties.
By the next day, things were no better except this time after a night of rubbing cornstarch on the inside of his legs, Bryant got a piece of broken machinery belt that came from the valley saw mill to serve as a shield between he and Mary’s back and the process continued.
By the third day, Mr. Wood decided that Mary was just not the mule she should be, and he proceeded to take her back to the trading post to renegotiate.
Somewhere in the discussion with Mr. Shirley the word liar aimed at Mr. Wood brought forth a flow of anger not often seen in a man such as Mr. Wood. Bryant just barely big enough to get away from his brothers in a game of tag, saw the sawdust from the floor begin to fly as the two men exchanged blows. The flying fists stirred the shavings while Mr. Wood gained ground with each swing.
Before long the ice man cometh and before you could say winter freeze, he had pulled the two up. Showing his special deputy badge he brought the match to an end.
He told them both to settle their disagreement peaceably so the sheriff didn’t have to be summoned.
The iceman asked Mr. Shirley if he wanted to give Mr. Wood back his mule and the money or give him a new mule.
Shirley agreed on a new mule; so the threesome headed back home, with yet another helpmate for the farm.
This time, the white mule named Ada was one that actually wanted to participate without Bryant sitting astride whipping him along the way.
While he was no Pete, it was not long until the kids loved him too.
The moral of the story is simple, if you plan to trade a mule, be sure he or she is willing before you have to see the shavings fly.
A hand behind the belt
You ever noticed after eating a big meal, and then sitting down or laying down to watch a little TV, men folks seem to find it a comfort to place their hand on their stomach.
Sometimes they latch it in place by putting the ends of their fingers just beneath the belt.
As a child, I often noticed the men folks doing this after holiday meals. It is almost like it was something they did not have to be taught, it was like walking. At a certain age, they just started doing it.
The other day, I knew I had finally reached that point when I looked down realizing that is where my hand was.
I thought about this, I didn’t even remember doing it. It was just there.
I analyzed the situation, trying to figure out what had prompted this action that as I youth, I associated with my father and my grandfather.
I realized as I moved my hand, sure enough the belly protruded beyond my belt. OK, after a few minutes, I realized the full stomach just did not like overtaking the belt, so the hand was like a dam preventing the overflow.
So in essence, there must be an innate tendency to try to prevent the overflow of your belly over your belt when you relax after a meal.
This must be what came to pass. That’s why I didn’t even realize it at the time.
It obvious this is something that you primarily only do in the privacy of your den among your family and not out in public.
It would definitely be a striking trend like Napoleon Bonaparte, who kept his hand tucked inside his uniform top, somehow though, it does not seem it would look as distinguished.
Maybe the action helps pack the dinner down more so that a second piece of dessert could come even more quickly. I could see that as a check in the plus column for continuing the practice. Who would be against that second piece of pie?
I experimented a bit to see if there were other alternatives that I found a natural. So, after the next meal, I loosened my belt.
It was comfortable, but I still had the urge to rest my hand there.
Next time, when by myself, I tried just unbuttoning the top button on my britches.
It was comfortable as well, but I still had the urge to rest my hand there.
Maybe it is something about the body’s center of gravity. Maybe the center of gravity simply draws our hand to it and somehow that brings us comfort.
I am planning to try one big experiment after Christmas dinner comes. I am going to see if I can get through the whole experience without looking like my father with his hand latched in the top of his belt after the meal.
I am sure there is enough will power within me to hold back on this need to ease the stomach from its tendency to overflow. I know I can make it work; perhaps it will take some ingenuity. I wonder if I have any of my father’s old pants with the elastic waste in the attic? Come to think of it, that didn’t work for him either.
Well, as you prepare for the Christmas eating marathon, maybe take a moment and think about those less fortunate. Give to a charity that helps feed people year round in your town.
Christmas Time’s A Comin’ for a purpose
I rushed from the back of the house to catch the phone. “Good Morning. This is Randall Franks,” I uttered as I heard a familiar voice on the other end. A voice so distinctive it inspired my musical dreams so many times as I heard him perform – it was the amazingly talented folk singer and International Bluegrass Music Hall of Famer Mac Wiseman.
So many times we shared the bill on package shows or bluegrass festivals, I was so honored to hear his voice and at 88 years young, he is still going strong. He just appeared on a new TV special for RFD-TV and recently went in the studio to record with Merle Haggard.
As we talked I was carried back to that little barefoot kid sitting on a stump at a summer bluegrass festival looking up to see him take command of the stage.
I checked a few items for my upcoming book “Encouragers” and our conversation weaved around to our work in the studio with he and Grand Ole Opry stars Jim & Jesse McReynolds as we added them to the “In the Heat of the Night ‘Christmas Time’s A Comin’ ’” CD alongside TV legend Carroll O’Connor and most of the cast. For me, producing the title cut with so many of my music heroes alongside of my fellow TV cast participating meant so much to me.
Thanksgiving is worth all the work
The rain slowly dripped on the windowpane as young Pearl watched through the glass. Sometimes bad weather could create what seemed like a prison to a small child use to roaming at will along the creek banks and up through the mountain meadows.
Counting the raindrops as they beat out a rhythm sometimes passed the time of day until Grandma Kitty called out reminding her that there were chores that needed her attention.
She knew not to dawdle as she quickly moved to the pantry and picked up the broom and began her cleaning chores.
The other children were already hard at work making preparations for the upcoming holiday meal.
One of the other girls was assigned making the piecrusts and on the tabletop she was rolling out the dough.
The boys were cleaning the feathers off the three chickens that would make up the entrée while Kitty carried out bottles of green beans, beets, carrots and tomatoes that would help round out the meal. Rufus was toting an armful of sweet potatoes from the root cellar.
A peck of apples were in the process of being peeled, cored and sliced to make a passel of pies not only for eating but also for sharing with neighbors.
It would seem this kind of effort would be something just set aside for a special event such as Thanksgiving but in fact there was little change from day to day routine except that Grandma Kitty was adding a few more dishes and cooking a little extra in case a few kin dropped in.
Pearl swept herself right into the midst of the activity and under Kitty’s feet as she coughed at the rising of the dust she was raising.
“Pearly blue, set the broom aside and help you sisters with the apples,” she said. “You are cleaning so well nobody will recognize the floor, you can almost see the wood.”
Then she giggled and went back to her task pouring water from the bucket into the cast iron pot that she was preparing for the green beans.
“Pearl, I changed my mind, go out to the root cellar and get me a can of those little onions,” she said.
“But it’s raining, maw,” she said.
“As far as I know you won’t melt, so get to going,” she said.
“Boys, I need several buckets of water, get those extra buckets and head to the crick,” she said.
They had finished their other work and Grandma Kitty took over to prepare the chickens for the oven.
Pearl was now deep into peeling and coring while her sisters were slicing.
“So, momma, why is it we have Thanksgiving,” she asked.
“What’s that child?” she asked.
“Why do we have Thanksgiving,” Pearl said.
Kitty stopped what she was doing and called to all the children.
“All you come over here and sit down, I want to tell you something,” she said.
“Look out that window. You see that mountain there. Our folks climbed to the top of that mountain from the other side and looked down on this valley more than seven score ago seeing a place where they could live and raise their families, believe on the Lord, and sustain themselves in knowing they had fought to make this land free,” she said. “Since then our folks have love and lost, bled and died to make more of this place.”
“You hear that sound,” she said. She paused.
“What sound,” Pearl said.
“The rhythm of the rain on the window pane,” she said. “That the sound of God washing away all the bad things that come our way helping to refresh this land he lets us live upon and prepare it once again to give us food in the new year.”
“Aren’t those all things we should be taking the time to say thanks about,” she asked.
Almost in unison the children all said “Yes, Ma’am.”
“Well, that’s enough rest, let’s get back to work,” she said as they all returned to the chores that helped to make Thanksgiving more than just another day in the Valley below the Gravelly Spur Mountain.
Remembering one of America's greatest heroes
As the people of our little town
slowly gathered into the old
stone railroad depot that 150 years ago this month was itself
the center of a life and death struggle between soldiers for
North and South, we anxiously gathered to celebrate
A talented brass band – the Jericho
Brass awaited making
final tunings for the evening concert of patriotic music.
As the first notes rang out I
thought back to the old movies
where often at the train station an arriving hero was greeted
by the strains of a brass band. One of my favorite old movie
heroes was one depicted by Gary Cooper – Alvin C. York.
A hero of World War I whose heroism made him the most
decorated soldier of the war.
As a child, little Alvin did what
other boys from the country
did. He hunted for rabbits and squirrels, fished for trout and
walked barefoot behind the plow feeling the earth between
his toes on the family farm. After his father’s death, being
the oldest left at home, it fell to him to look to the family’s
He pushed to keep the farm going
and grew up keeping the
family together. As a young man, Alvin enjoyed spending his
free time out having a good time with his friends — raisin’ a
little ruckus with some drinking.
At a certain point, he realized
that he needed to change his
way of life and dedicate his free time to better, more
productive pursuits. Depictions about how this
metamorphosis took place show a bolt of lightning knocking
him off his horse while he was in a drunken stupor.
Supposedly, he heard the sound of his mother singing in a
church service nearby and made his way toward the voices
until he fell at the altar and dedicated his life to Christ.
Apparently in real life, it was his mother’s pleas and the love
of a young girl, Gracie Williams, that would straighten his life
Some months later, the Army called
Alvin to serve his
country and fight overseas.
At the urging of his mother and
Pastor Pile, he shared his
view that killing was wrong and against the teachings of the
Bible by sending a written request for exemption as a
conscientious objector. The request was denied.
He struggled between his faith and
patriotism. His trainers
pushed him harder to try to make an example of someone
who did not want to fight for his country.
As an accomplished backwoodsman
whose talent with a gun
meant the difference between having food on the table or not,
he could shoot straighter, run faster and endure more than
most men in basic training. Because of his expertise with the
rifle, he was soon enlisted to help his fellow soldiers learn the
skills they would need. He built strong friendships with men
from the streets of Brooklyn to the shores of Lake Michigan.
In spite of his success in basic
training, he still did not want to
kill in battle. As he lay on the dirt on a battlefield in France,
with German bullets hitting around him, killing and wounding
the men he had grown to know as friends, something within
him pushed him from cover. As he worked his way through
a hail of bullets from machine guns and rifles to get to a
vantage point where his marksmanship would save the lives
of his fellow soldiers, the concerns about killing were washed
away in the need to save his friends. Practically unassisted,
he captured 132 Germans, including three officers,
confiscated about 35 machine guns and killed no less than 25
of the enemy.
He always played down his heroic
acts. He described the
incident by saying: “So we had a hard fought battle.”
In the battle between his belief in
God and his belief in
country, I believe both won that day.
No greater gift can a person give
than to lay down his life
for another. He certainly could have lost his life that day as
many of his friends did.
Two thousand years ago, one man
gave his life so millions
could be free of the sins of this world. Even young Alvin C.
York, World War I’s most decorated soldier, looked to God
to guide him in his darkest moments and brought him beyond
a day where he reluctantly killed the enemy. God gave him
the strength to face the bullets and save hundreds, if not
thousands, of lives that day in France.
As I looked around the room as the
representatives from the various branches of service to stand
and be recognized, I could not help to think what they had
faced in their service and the tremendous thanks that we
owe each and every one of them that stood and are currently
standing in harm’s way so we might live free. While the
music and moments uplifted my soul, I was saddened that
fewer people turned out to honor those that serve and served
than in previous years. I pray if your community reaches out
to honor veterans, take the time to participate. We owe
them our best!
Turkey, I can almost smell it
Well, what do you know? We have made it past the annual ritual of candy distribution and costumes and now we are on the way to turkey with all engines full speed ahead.
I can already smell the stuffing cooking in the stove, it’s aroma of sage floating through the house.
The cranberry sauce is prepared and set aside in the refrigerator. The nutmeg is put away as the pumpkin pie cools on the counter.
There are fresh mashed potatoes smothering in butter on the stove and gravy is warming in the saucepan.
Some greens beans canned this summer from the garden are simmering in the oven in a mixture of cream of mushroom soup dotted with fried dried onions.
Some fresh cut and mixed salad waits on the table.
Now, all that is needed is folks sitting around the table, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the guest of honor - the Thanksgiving turkey, golden brown, tender and juicy.
Wait a minute; where is it? All the smells - I don’t smell turkey. There’s no turkey in the oven! I forgot the turkey! Oh, no, there it is – still a solid block of ice.
Well folks, how does fried Spam sandwiches sound?
I hear its good with all that other stuff I’ve prepared.
Obviously, this scenario is simply a figment of my imagination. But it won’t be long though until you will be headed to the store to pick up all the things that you will need to leave the family smiling on Thanksgiving.
I hope that will not let the preparations, the planning, the gatherings and the activities, elude the reason that we are pausing for this opportunity once again.
Whether you look all the way back to the Pilgrims, the need for prayer for the country that yielded Washington and Lincoln’s proclamations or ultimately the creation of the law which settled the date for the national event, it is a day for us to give thanks.
What are you thankful for? As you prepare your shopping list, maybe you could have your families prepare their own list, a list of those things they are thankful for.
Then when the day arrives, each can share the top three from the list as they sit at the table prior to cutting into the turkey.
They would make a wonderful addition to the family prayer for the health and happiness of your family, the growth of wisdom and strong character in our leaders and the prosperity of our country, our communities and our local businesses including those businesses that put the food on each of our tables by providing employment.
May we all be ever mindful of who we are sharing our thanks with in this amazing time when we pause for food, family and what is that other “f” word? Oh, yes, football. Let us be ever thankful.
Now let’s eat.
Frog Leg Creek
In the valley below the Gravelly Spur Mountain, twining itself between the cabins and the farmhouses is a small waterway called Frog Leg Creek.
This is where my grandparents stored butter and milk to keep them cool. My Grandpa Bill built a beautiful rock storage area through which the cold water of the creek flowed.
While many say that the old creek is named for the way it tends to bend over and over again through the countryside, there is old wives’ tale about how the creek actually got its name.
One of the earliest settlers to the area was a French trapper named Louis Tatturn.
Louis was a conventional, small Frenchman who wore a coon skin cap and could shoot with accuracy that was mind boggling. He could hold his own with a den of rattlesnakes or a grizzly bear and walk away with nary a scratch, at least that is how he told it.
While today few frogs can be found in Frog Leg Creek, at that time, they were as free flowing as clover in the meadow.
Louis would often pull out his gig and meander quietly down to the creek to collect a few to cook up some frog legs.
One night Louis sat up late in the evening by the fireplace, drinking whiskey from an old pottery jug for which he traded three muskrat skins.
As he lingered there somewhere between sleep and being awake, he gathered the desire and taste for some freshly cooked frog legs but had none to prepare.
He pulled out his gig and headed with a lantern in hand down to Frog Leg Creek.
It is amazing that he made it at all considering the way he weaved in and out of the trail.
As he shined his light into the waters, he spied a large, green frog sitting perched upon a rock. He thrust his gig toward the frog and it jumped.
As it jumped, the Frenchman heard: “Hé, la montre que vous faites Bonaparte, cette chose est la tranchant (Hey, watch what you are doing Bonaparte, that thing is sharp).”
Louis paid it no mind, thinking what he was hearing was in his head, so he once again thrust the gig toward the big, green frog.
“Frenchie, are you deaf?” the frog said, as he leaped straight for Louis and landed on his shoulder.
Louis began to dance around to try to get the frog off him but to no avail.
“I must be farther along than I thought,” he said to himself. “Frogs cannot speak.”
“Oui, I can,” said the critter on his shoulder. “My name is Parmoneous Quentenonis XII. You have a lot of gall trying to stick me. I’ve never heard of such behavior since the French Revolution.”
“Sac Re Bleu, je dois être malade avec la fièvre (I must be sick with the fever),” Louis said.
Louis brushed the frog off his shoulder, dropping his gig, his lantern and running back towards his cabin in the darkness.
When he awoke the next morning Louis decided the only way to rid himself of his ailment was to gather up all the frogs from Frog Leg Creek and trade them off to another trapper.
If all the frogs were gone, none of them would talk to him.
He spent the next few weeks building crates and gathering every frog he could find from the creek.
As the next two weeks passed and he prepared for the marketplace held 40 miles away, he loaded all the frogs and started on his trip. With no comments from a frog, he believed he was successfully ridding himself from the fever.
The marketplace is a bi-annual meeting of traders who gathered to swap goods, dance and enjoy themselves. Louis was not looking for fun; he had one objective: get rid of the frogs and head back home as quickly as possible.
After much haggling, he finally struck a bargain with a trapper named Joseph who lived amongst the Native Americans who lived along Chickamauga Creek. Glad to be rid of the frogs, he turned and heard: “Adieu. Frenchie, Adieu.”
Louis jumped on his horse and galloped away, leaving his newly acquired goods. He never returned to Frog Leg Creek. Some say Louis was simply pixilated. Who ever heard of a talking frog anyway?
(A story from A Mountain Pearl: Appalachian Reminiscing and Recipes, For more information, visit randallfranks.com)
A leaf falls in time
The sun's rays offered a great warmth to my cheek as I began my walk along frog leg creek. It had been many years since I eased my feet along the path I had run along so swiftly as a boy. The water in the creek churned up a froth as it swirled over the rocks aiming its strength at forcing the water south ward. A large brown leaf fell with a thump upon my head. Perhaps it wasn't quite a thump, more like quick poke.
As I picked it up and examined its stem and structure, upon it's smooth surface my mind glided back to childhood. I was watching a young boy wearing a blue jacket, pumpkin shirt and blue britches, swinging a rake above his head. A voice rang through my head saying, "the leaves are already on the ground, you don't have to knock more from the trees."
"Yes, ma'am," I said as I returned to my task of making the largest pile of leaves in the history of our neighborhood . Beneath that oak tree that must have seen the passing of Sherman as he prepared to burn Atlanta, the leaves seemed to gather a endless volume that enveloped my afternoons as I worked to collect them.
The only advantage to the adventure was the opportunity to take a running jump and land in the midst of the pile, of course, once again sending the leaves flying through the air spreading them across that section of the yard again.
It was worth it though, the freedom of flight and the softness of the landing in a way made all the hours of raking and piling worthwhile. Of course, there would usually be a small payment at the end from my neighbors who owned the big tree. I think I got 10 dollars.
I forget how many bags of leaves the tree usually produced but I remember once stretching enough bags across the yard to paint "Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas" using one bag for each letter and still having that many again.
Sadly, my desire to delve into raking duties waned after my body weight exceeded a satisfactory soft landing in the pile.
By then the falling of the leaves brought more dread than enthusiasm.
Although I never lost my admiration for that tree or looking at the fall colors as they turn. But when I moved into my latest home, it did not have trees with leaves . Evergreens is all that I have planted and if I keep it that way, I will never miss raking another leaf.
They are beautiful when they are someone else's or simply bringing beauty to the countryside.
Uncle Dud Doolittle and the rickety ladder
My great Uncle Dud Doolittle was an entrepreneur
extraordinaire who operated the little general store at Flintville Crossroads.
Now Uncle Dud was as swift as could be. He stood about five-foot-five and was wiry as a well-strung bed frame.
His circular Ben Franklin spectacles offset his gray hair, and he was seldom seen outside his wool, dark green-striped suit and favorite gray beaver hat.
When working in the store, he also wore a black visor on his head that looked odd because it made his bald spot shine as he worked below the store’s light bulb.
With the variety of folks who made his store a regular place to be, he was always finding himself in unique and unusual situations.
Folks were always eager to give a hand, especially Cousin Clara who made a drop by the store a daily ritual.
It was a quiet Friday afternoon in July of 1948. Uncle Dud stood on a rickety wooden ladder putting a shipment of canned peaches in his favorite pyramid display. As he drew his task to close Cousin Clara came in saying, “Sure is hot out there.”
She noticed a can lying below the ladder so she walked over and stepped under the ladder to pick it up. As she raised up, she knocked over the ladder sending Uncle Dud to the floor.
"Doggoned it,” Dud said. “I told you before to stay away from that ladder. Don't you know it is bad luck to walk under a ladder?”
"I didn't know you were superstitious,” Clara said.
“About the only time I am superstitious is when somebody like you walks under a ladder and deliberately sends me to the ground,” he said.
"Do you believe it is seven years bad luck to break a mirror?” Clara asked.
“No sireee! My Uncle Corn Walter broke a mirror, and he did not have a bit of bad luck,” Dud said.
“Why didn't he?” Clara asked.
“He got bit by a rattlesnake and died two days later,” he said.
Throughout the conversation, Dud remained as he had landed on the floor — standing on his head.
“Why are you still like that?” she asked.
"When I stand on my head the blood rushes to my head, but when I stand on my feet the blood don't seem to rush to my feet,” Dud said. “I didn’t know why, so I wanted to just stay here and think about it a minute or two.”
“Why, that’s easy to figure out in your case Uncle Dud,” Clara said. “Blood can't go in to your feets because your feets are full, but it can go into your head cause your head's empty.”
(The characters of Uncle Dud Doolittle and Cousin Clara are the property of Peach Picked Publishing in association with Katona Publishing and are used by permission.)
Stars from Red Skelton
to Roy Acuff got their starts performing on a show where a medicine show “Doc”
gathered folks around to sell a sure cure.
It was this same circumstance under the watchful eye of “Doc” M.F. Chamberlain that a youthful Tommy Scott got his start as a professional touring musician in 1936. By that time the show was already 46 years old and the 19-year-old Scott tossed his guitar over his back and left the farm to sleep in a wagon and earn $6 a week.
After two years at the age of 21, he owned the show lock, stock and medicine formulas including the laxative Herb-O-Lac, also called Man-O-Ree and Katona and a liniment that Scott sold as Snake Oil. The adventure that was ahead would find him to come to know the two men mentioned above and so many others that the world looked to as stars and he would stand side by side with them.
He moved the medicine to radio to the powerhouse stations such as WWVA, WHAS, WSM and others as well as the powerful stations from Ole Mexico. During the waning days of the Great Depression, through innovative partnerships, Scott transformed the company pitching it through radio moving up to 10,000 bottles of the medicine weekly.
Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, he continued innovating his live touring shows moving into auditoriums, theaters, and under circus tents appearing coast to coast.
His tenure at the helm of what the Smithsonian Institute folk life historians considered as last real old time medicine show, America's second oldest show next to Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, came to an end Sept. 30, 2013 as Ramblin’ “Doc” Tommy Scott passed away at the age of 96.
Byron Berline, music, movies and fiddlin'
Fiddlers tend to find a kinship in what they do and manage to stay connected through the love they have for the music we play.
One fiddler who for me became a friend so many years ago is Byron Berline.
Of course, we also share the connection of both being Blue Grass Boys for Bill Monroe and working with Doug Dillard of the Dillards, also known as “The Darlings” on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Byron performed with the Dillards in the 1960s and worked in the early 70s in Dillard & Clark and the Dillard Expedition.
“The first thing that was significant was when I met the Dillards,” he said. “I met them on the same day President Kennedy was killed - Nov. 22, 1963 at the University of Oklahoma.
“I got to play with them and that’s when they invited me to record the first album with them,” he said. “That is a big fond spot in my memory. The recording was at Los Angeles at World Pacific Studios in Hollywood for Electra.”
He said they were working on their second album “Live Almost” when he went out and did the “Pickin’ and Fiddlin’” album.
He points to his next significant moment as meeting and working with Bill Monroe.
“From that (work with the Dillards), I was invited to Newport Folk Festival the next year. That is where I met Bill Monroe. That is when he asked me to join his band, which I did not do until a couple of years later. I was in college at the time and didn’t want to leave that.”
He would work with Monroe after college from March until September of 1967.
He then had couple of years in the army to complete during which time he married his wife Betty.
“We figured we would go back to Nashville and hook up with Bill or Roy Acuff,” he said. “Roy had asked me to join his band. Kenny Baker was playing with Bill, so I knew that was not going to happen.
“The day before I got out of the army, I got a call from Doug Dillard,” he said. “He said ‘I want you to come out and record with Dillard and Clark.’ It was their second album. I went out in June ‘69.”
He said in a span of four days he recorded with them, did a couple of sessions with the Dillards, did a movie score as well as other recordings.
“I did all this work. I went jiminy this is amazing,” he said. “Then (Doug) asked me to join the band, and I thought, I think I will. I just made up my mind we were going to go to LA.”
He and his wife Betty made it their home for 26 years opening endless opportunities for Doug.
“The next big thing was to get to record for the Rolling Stones in Oct. 1969,” he said. “That was a feather in my cap to get to do that so early on. That opened the door for a lot more sessions.”
Byron became the fiddle presence in California and as such producers and directors often called him upon when something traditional was needed on camera or off. He appeared in films such as “Back to the Future III” and even “Star Trek: The Next Generation” while his talents graced some of the biggest movie soundtracks.
“The movie “Stay Hungry” with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sally Field, and Jeff Bridges that was in ’75,” he said. “I ended up doing all the music for it but there were quite a few spots over time I played here and there.
He said Arnold thought he would be perfect for a part.
“He knew I wasn’t going to be, he just wanted me to get in there and talk to the director Bob Rafelson and Harold Schneider - the producer,” he said. “When I got in there, they started laughing cause Arnold said I would be perfect. The part was of an 85-year-old man.”
He also said he enjoyed appearing with Rodney and Doug Dillard in “The Rose” with Bette Midler.
“You don’t think much about it at the time,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to do all that, it is kind of another day at the office but it was fun to record with all those big stars. I was lucky to be at the right place and right time I guess.
Among his other bands were the Country Gazette, Sundance, Berline, Crary & Hickman, L.A. Fiddle band, California, and the Byron Berline Band.
“All the bands I played with had great moments,” he said. “Even when Vince Gill was in my band Sundance, we had some really great times. You know how it is when the music just clicks and everything works great. You remember those times.”
Byron makes his home now in Guthrie, Okla. Where he operates the Double Stop Fiddle Shop and continues performing with his Byron Berline Band.
“We have a music hall above the fiddle shop,” he said. “It seats close to 200. We've been doing that with the same band for 17 years. It is a lot of fun. We go up turn the lights on and sound on and play. People come to you.”
Friends often stop by as they visit town to join in from Vince Gill to Munford and Sons.
Byron’s latest CDs are “Jammin’ with Byron,” and “Thanks to Bill Monroe.” And he has a new book “Fiddler’s Diary” by Jane Frost that highlights his unique career among the stars. For more information visit http://doublestop.com.
Computers, what would we do without them?
As I stumble sleepily from the bed, I weave up the hall to my office. I
swing by my computer hitting the on button as I head to the kitchen to pour a
bowl of raisin bran.
I grab an apple as well and head back to sit down at my desk as I take the first bite of my apple, and type in my e-mail account password to check what has accumulated over night.
Before I went to sleep, I had spent at least an hour following up on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts among others.
Computers truly have changed the world. Whether you like them or not, unfortunately they are here to stay at least until the lights are turned out for good.
My first experience with computers came when I was in high school. There was only one computer terminal in the whole school and there was no such thing as the Internet.
In Ms. D’Orazio’s room, we called up a larger mainframe computer over a telephone modem. We were able to play games and create programs by running punch cards including the basic codes through a key punch card reader.
I always enjoyed spending time after school coming up with interesting ways to get the computer to do unusual things.
Of course, as I entered college this gave me a leg up on many of my fellow students.
As a whole though, while I was ahead of the curve on the basics as the innovation of the personal computer stormed across the land, I largely resisted its infiltration into mainstream America.
I knew as each business and home adopted their own personal computer for the center of their bookkeeping and transactions, the business world would change and without electricity, many businesses and services could grind to a halt.
With the Internet connecting all of these individual computers, providing a way for communication, I saw the medium as an innovative way to market almost anything if you could only figure out a way to get computer owners to come to your website.
We have seen companies spend large amounts of money to get their web addresses in front of millions on the Superbowl and other television events.
Of course, many have went bust trying to get people’s attention.
Whether you find success selling something over the Internet or not, the Internet, like any resource, can provide you with good or bad information.
As a writer, the Internet provides endless opportunities for research at the click of a button and to share my thoughts with others. Information is only as good as the source, so users beware. Unlike a printed encyclopedia like my parents bought for us to write our reports, the so-called facts have not all been checked and rechecked.
One person told me it is a relaxing form of entertainment. “I can just get lost in the endless stream of information.”
It perhaps is just that, it is another form of entertainment. We are already to the point many Americans watch television on their computers and similar devices. The latest televisions are created to receive Internet programming as well.
Type in a word and you can just keep on reading, learning and watching.
You can type your own name in a search engine and discover that there are many others who share your same name.
Some may be doctors, lawyers or even actors.
In my case, I discovered myself listed on websites originating from all over the world in numerous languages referencing my work in television, film and music.
I’ve found preachers, athletes, and other writers who also carry a similar name.
I once received a call from a person who followed my career when I was a child. That person tracked me down after calling three other people by my name found on the Internet, one of whom recently passed on. While I was not found via that route, they eventually did locate me and the fan was glad to discover that I was still alive and kicking.
The computer is a wonderful resource, but it can be a negative influence because, much like today’s television, you never know what you are going to find when you turn it on and begin to “surf” the web.
Even the most self-controlled individual might find themselves drawn into things on the net, they wouldn’t even consider looking at if it was in front of them on their desk or a magazine shelf.
Is the Internet a good thing or a bad thing?
Like anything else, it can be used for a tool for good or a tool for evil. It is truly up to the user which master it will serve.
Clearly, when applied to improving your ability to get a job; achieve a better education; learn about the world we live in; further your faith through study; keep up to date on happenings in your community; or connect with old friends, it can be a tremendous force for good.
Now let’s see, this morning I have 150 new Twitter followers, 800 new Likes on one of my Facebook pages, 57 Facebook friend requests, and a 160 new e-mails in one of my accounts. Wasn’t the computer supposed to save me time? I guess I will get started with my work soon. There’s another Facebook message, and someone wanting to talk with me via chat. Maybe, I will get more work done with pencil and paper.
Will anyone join in all the fun, like my various pages on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and subscribe to Randall Franks TV on YouTube. The more the merrier.
Should we grab hold of another country’s tail?
“Two boys in Illinois took a short (cut) across an orchard, and did not become aware of the presence of a vicious dog until it was too late to reach either fence. One boy was spry enough to escape the attack by climbing a tree, but the other started around the tree, with a dog in hot pursuit, until by making smaller circles than it was possible for his pursuer to make, he gained sufficiently to grasp the dog’s tail, and held with desperate grip until nearly exhausted, when he hailed his companion and called him to come down.
‘What for,’ said the boy.
‘I want you to help me let this dog go,’ he said.”
Pres. Abraham Lincoln relayed this story after a messenger ended his report of Union losses at the battle of Fredricksburg by saying “I wish I could tell you how to conquer or get rid of these rebellious states.”
He concluded: “If I could only let them go, but that is the trouble. I am compelled to hold on to them and make them stay.”
America has many times sent men and women into the field of battle. In our history, we have faced off against many of our current allies.
Now once again it looks like we may be called upon by our leaders to reach out across the seas and intervene through aerial strikes on behalf of a people suffering atrocities under a foreign leader. Since I originally wrote this last week, a "peace process" has been underway through talks with Russian leaders and the United Nations representatives.
Are we carrying a directive given us by our forefathers to police the world? For much of the last century, that is what we did, we stepped in expending our people and our resources to end reigns of cruelty. I think every soldier who contributed to the efforts deserve our never-ending thanks and admiration.
As Americans, do we carry that same directive into our future? Can we afford it? Can we afford, if we don’t?
I sure wish we could do a better job of policing back home first. When our people live in fear to walk down city streets or stand in their front yards, why are we concentrating on the well being of people elsewhere?
We are still waging a war not against one country but a movement. Like an octopus, its tentacles reach across borders and find their way into dozens of countries — including the U.S. mainland.
It has been over 100 years since Americans faced a battle on the mainland. Of course, there is no one here today who can share firsthand the experience of watching thousands of Americans stand against one another on fields in Gettysburg or Chickamauga, but there are gallant survivors of battles in Germany, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and countless other countries where our troops have served.
The basis of any fight is often a struggle between ideas. One party thinks one way. The other party thinks another. Without middle ground, a battle ensues.
It is a rather simplistic view of a very complicated matter that in this new engagement probably has little relevance.
Are our leaders right who desire to intervene? Are the foreign leaders who feel we should not involve ourselves right?
I am saddened to see the atrocities that a perpetrated upon our brothers and sisters around the world each and every day. Can we intervene in every case? No. Can we plug our finger in the hole and pray we can hold back the water from the dam? Sure. Will we be successful? Only history will tell us. When you choose a side, you become the enemy of the other side. Sometimes I wonder if we as a country have not created enough enemies in this world.
My cousin Frankie once shared with me a book, “The Popular History of the Civil War,” featuring firsthand stories of Civil War veterans compiled just 20 years following the events. Within its pages, I found descriptions of the battles waged on the ground where my father played as a boy around the home where my grandparents lived. The stories have given me new insights on one of America’s greatest struggles. Following Sept. 11, 2001, a new generation of Americans has memories of the horrors of war on our native soil.
For over a decade now our country has struggled ahead as we set out on an effort to rid the world of terrorism. I pray that God stands with our servicemen and women and all our citizens as they step out in the field whether at home or abroad as this struggle continues.
I fear no matter our choices, we will be like Lincoln’s boy chasing the vicious dog — once we grab hold of the tail, will we know what to do?
Family Reunions, a thing of the past?
I can remember fondly childhood gatherings of almost each branch of our family.
Kids playing every imaginable game in the yard – hide and seek, tag, baseball, and any other activity that would keep us occupied while the adults gathered telling jokes and laughing.
The women folks filled the tables with golden fried chicken, tender barbeque, lean roast beef that made your mouth water, coconut and chocolate cakes and blackberry cobbler that would just bring you to staring wishing you could be the first to taste it.
And the vegetables – fried okra, pinto beans, fresh green beans, fried squash, baked beans, fresh cut garden tomatoes, hot banana peppers and the list goes on and on.
Some of the men folks would bring out their guitars and fiddles and fill the air with music, while others led expeditions outside to show off their latest auto project under their hood of their pride and joy, shoot off a new firearm or brag over a hunting trophy.
As dinnertime neared, the preachers in the bunch would gather up and arm wrestle to see who would say grace. Wait a minute; maybe it was the women folk that were arm wrestling, to see whose dish was first on the table.
I still see the extra skin under their arms waving back and forth with everybody cheering them on.
Perhaps this was in my childhood daydream, but I know somebody arm-wrestled before the day was out.
There was always a lot of praying, a lot of praising and a lot of happy faces on us kids when “Amen” was said.
After the meal, there would be more music, more laughter, more games and usually a little drama sometimes among the kids, sometimes among the adults.
Whatever it was though would pass quickly with a mended fence and another piece of coconut cake or maybe a bowl of fresh made strawberry ice cream or a piece of cold watermelon with a bit of salt sprinkled on top.
It might seem that I am dwelling on the food but really what these reunions did allowed a chance for cousins to connect and build some shared memories to help hold the family together as time went along.
I have the honor to carry on the tradition taking the lead among my family passed from my uncles to me. Though I must admit with each passing year, I see fewer of our relatives take an interest in participating.
For those who don’t attend, others relatives ask why – they say, “I don’t know anyone.”
In some respects it makes me sad. I know how hard the previous generations worked to keep the families together and connected. By those connections, we were stronger.
Families helped each other; did business with one another; and depended on those connections as time became tough.
I spoke with many others who have shared with me similar disinterest among families to stay connected. There was a time in the south when we could look out across a town and tell you how everyone was interconnected. How many times removed they are a cousin.
I pray that this is not a trend reflecting even a greater break down of the family in our country. Although I fear it is.
Families reach across the miles and across time. Each of us stands upon thousands of shoulders. That is a lesson we each need to share with the current generation and continue to tell the stories that make us laugh, learn and respect each other, so connections remain strong.
If you have a family reunion, support it, help make it a success, make it interesting for all ages, so it’s a memory they wish to make with their children when they have them.
Trials often require recovery
I have come to the conclusion that everyone in life, no matter how blessed, finds that there are trials we must face.
Sometimes these are the common trials that everyone faces in life – How do we pay a bill? Where do I find a job? How do I cope with the stresses?
Sometimes they are more monumental. In just the last week, I have prayed for friends and loved ones and their caregivers that are facing heart by-pass surgery, Parkinson’s disease, accident recovery, cancer in various stages, and stroke.
To each of us any of these can seem insurmountable especially when a health condition is labeled by a physician as terminal. I remember sitting and talking with my dad 26 years ago when he faced a terminal diagnosis. He chose a path of treatment that might have yielded him five more years if successful.
I know even though he was facing his own demise, his thought patterns concentrated on making sure his loved ones knew how he felt and hopefully in his absence, they would carry on strongly without him.
Personally, I never accepted the immediate nature of his condition and didn’t deal with the opportunities to share with him as he did with me. Perhaps it was the awkwardness of youth, or not knowing how to openly share the words and feelings I had for him.
His sudden passing did however for a time help me to be more open with others about my feelings, not wishing to allow things to go unsaid. Though as years have passed, I have probably migrated back into the shell that once held those thoughts inside.
My home church is beginning a new ministry reaching out to those who have found themselves within the grip of addiction.
Has there ever been something you wanted so bad your body ached; your mind raced towards it not allowing anything else to populate the space?
Often our thoughts rush to alcohol and drugs when the word addiction is mentioned but the list of addictions that afflict our human condition are vast and sadly they all have the same devastating effect on both the soul of the addicted and on their relationships with everyone in their lives.
I have yet to see a human that cannot be drawn in to some fascination or activity that swallows time, money and energy, often to the detriment of their own well being and sometimes to that of others, usually those closest to them.
You say, how can I be addicted, I am a good person, or I’m a Christian.
Let’s take a look at some specifics and see if you or some one you love is facing any of this.
Have you thought about someone being addicted to exercise, use of a computer, food, gambling, sexual, or limerence (a love obsession)? These are all addictions that could impact our lives.
Addiction usually reflects an impaired control or preoccupation of substances or behaviors, and the continued use despite the consequences, and ultimately a denial.
The patterns associated with the physiological dependence often force the addicted to seek immediate gratification with no regard for the long-term effects. If the person suddenly stops the practice, they might undergo symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, cravings, nausea, hallucinations, headaches, cold sweats and tremors.
In reality, I think all humans have addictive tendencies and if not properly constrained tendencies can become addictions. Is there something you just have to watch or attend forsaking every other priority in life? Hmm, I wonder if football or baseball games count?
I have spent much of my life encouraging youth not to use drugs and alcohol. I have lost friends and family to these addictions. I chose not to use drugs and alcohol, but I know that within me just as within other members of my extended family, an addiction could be waiting just on the other side of that first step in the wrong direction.
I am a tremendous creature of habit, at points in my life I fought behaviors that I feel border on obsessive compulsive disorder and since overcoming that nature, I strive to watch what I do hoping not to fall into an unhealthy pattern or pursuit that could become an addiction.
I encourage you if have a recovery program that your church or a local community non-profit is sponsoring, support it with your gifts, what ever they are. If you have a friend who has a perceived or apparent addiction problem and they need someone to go with them to a recovery meeting, don’t have the fear everyone will think you have an addition, just be there for your friend.
Addiction is potentially within each of us, some are just not as apparent or seen as negatively in our society but they still have an impact on our lives and those we love.
Shades of Wendy Bagwell
One of my favorite people to see, hear and be around as a youth was comedian/singer Wendy Bagwell.
Well, not just as a youth, I still enjoy hearing his wonderful stories that amused and his music with the Sunliters – Jan Buckner and Geraldine Morrison that uplifted.
He always had such a unique way to bring a situation to life as he told a story. Folks just found great enjoyment in watching him tell a story and he had so many of them.
His most famous comedy story was easily “Here Come the Rattlesnakes” where he describes their adventures while singing at a snake handling church.
It is amazing what one runs across while on the road performing. I am sure that was an experience they never expected to have.
As you travel you find an endless run of restaurants, truck stops, and hotels and each performance night you arrive a new venue meeting new folks and finding some amazing experiences.
That is the blessing of life, the experiences that God opens to us as we make our way through life.
Up until to a recent trip to Canada though, I had managed to not visit a church service in which the serpent was taken up.
Now that’s not to say that I have polled every church I visited to know that particular leap of faith was not practiced, but if I have been in one, I just wasn’t aware of it.
I never thought I would see it so far outside the South though, but the experience was in Southern Canada. I guess that counts.
One of my favorite places to go is an old time camp meeting at a campground and I was so excited to gather with folks at the Silver Lake Wesleyan Camp.
I was on a package tour with my friends the Watkins Family and we were finishing a string of concerts.
The tabernacle there was originally a huge rounded top dairy barn that could serve a large congregation. We arrived mid-afternoon to set up and the enjoyed a roast beef dinner with many of the camp attendees before preparing for our show.
Folks gathered in and filled the seats for an evening of worship through music and a short message by a gifted speaker.
As the evening progressed the audience was so engrossed in the music that as the altar call performance of “Pass Me Not” reached its second verse, it wasn’t surprising when a lady named Mary began shouting in the second row.
Well maybe it was surprising, I didn’t know that Wesleyans shouted, in fact our host minister Dave, told me he thought revival was breaking out and expected to turn to see a woman slain in the spirit.
However, it didn’t take long to realize that the shouts came as a result of a serpent which had went unnoticed by the audience or us on stage as it meandered it’s way all the way to the second row of this large building and tried to wrap itself around this lady’s foot. Quickly, Pastor Dave, and others all jumped to her aid pulling the snake from her feet in front of the first row. Dave put his foot on it and tried to pick it up as it snapped at him and another visiting singer - Mark, reached over, took up the serpent by the tail and escorted it out of the building.
Safely, I can say without question that was the first time I ever saw Wesleyans pass around a snake during an altar call song.
Amazingly, unlike Geraldine’s threat in Wendy’s story, none of the Watkins made a new door at the back of the stage, in fact they didn’t miss a word, a beat or drop a note as the tune continued and Pastor Dave made his way up to the altar for the final invitation.
It wasn’t a rattlesnake like Wendy’s, but that garter snake started folks to shoutin’ from surprise but God got them leaving with a smile on their faces.
Look out Wendy, Here Come the Garter Snakes. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it though.
Could I borrow a cup of chiggers?
That may sound like a strange question but after you already have a whole hoard move in on you, what’s a few more?
It is the time of year that many of us find them, or do they find us. I had a number of request to revisit a column I wrote some time ago with the critter in mind – so here you go…
I was filming a movie outside Nashville when I noticed that I had an extreme need to reach down a scratch my leg again and again. I wasn’t even filming outside where you might expect them to pay a call. I just had picked the critter up along the way.
I had forgotten what a hair raising experience it is to find oneself as the battle ground upon which these critters wage war.
They are like an army quietly waiting for a battle front to move into their theater of operations and once they do the chiggers slowly advance surmounting the shoes, the socks making their way as if they were advancing towards the German front leaving behind little command posts as they go.
The memory of childhood scrubbings, dousing the shoes in sulfur powder, and covering those command posts with calamine lotion are all etched in my memory.
Thankfully there was just one lone scout that caught me in Nashville, there was one time when I sat at my newspaper desk a few years ago, I noticed that I seemed to have itches popping up in places I didn’t even know I had. Later that evening, the plain truth became apparent.
In the fulfillment of my patriotic journalistic duties, I had crossed over into the sovereign nation of Chiggerland. They were so put out by my invasion, they sent out their best commandos to repel my attack and wouldn’t you know it, I left before those critters found their way back home.
In any event, by suppertime they had built new outposts from head to toe.
In trying to thwart their assault, one simple remedy came to mind — fight fire with fire. No, that wasn’t it. To scratch or not to scratch, that is the question. It wasn’t that either but I think the affirmative won.
I got up and rushed into the bathroom as the stroke of memory from childhood hit me, the way to handle this was to find a bottle of fingernail polish and paint the white flag of surrender on each fortification so they knew I was giving in.
The only negative thing is the one remaining bottle I found left amongst my late mother’s things was red. I just could not quite bring myself to painting myself all over with red fingernail polish. So, I decided, first thing in the morning, I would get what everyone needs in their fight against dem critters, clear fingernail polish and some benedryl.
What dem critters do not really know is when you paint those little flags of surrender you are really attacking dem with your own little secret weapon and slowly they give up.
So in any event, I am happy to report that on almost all fronts, the chiggers lost the battle, although I made every effort to steer clear of any opportunities for them to bring in reinforcements.
Just remember a scratch in time saves nine, no, that’s not it. One good scratch deserves another, that’s not it either. Well there must be some lesson learned here. If I figure it out, I will let you know for right now I had better run I think that one little critter from Nashville is acting up again. Now where did I put that furniture polish, no that’s not it.
Choices for Living
In life, we are constantly faced with choices. We are blessed or cursed with the gift of free will, depending on your prospective.
From the smallest detail of “Do you want fries with that?” to “Do you take this woman to be…?,” in America, we have endless choices.
People can choose to work hard and by doing so possibly achieve great success and accumulate wealth. Some choose to dedicate their energies to benefiting humanity.
Each choice we make sets us upon a path. Even the simplest thing like having one extra cup of coffee in the morning could change your schedule enough to prevent you from being part of an auto accident.
As I look back on my choices, there are some I would like to change in spite of the fact I do not know what path changing them would have brought. But I cannot change them; I only have the power over what lies ahead, not behind. I can only try to learn from those past choices.
Using my television exposure as a podium, I have spent much of my life speaking to youth about living a successful drug-free life. My work yielded the attention of the National Drug Abuse Resistance Education Officer’s Association. As a result, they made me an Honorary D.A.R.E. Officer. I have encouraged thousands across the country to make the choice not to use drugs. I do not know if any made that choice. I can only hope that at least one did.
No matter how you try to influence others, the ultimate choice lies with them. With that choice also lays consequences. When you make a choice that affects you, your family or even others you do not know, it is up to you to take responsibility for what that choice brings.
Many times people try to shift the blame if things are not going as they planned. I think we pick up this behavior as a child. It is the old “He did it” approach to avoid punishment. I do not know about you, but that never worked for me. It only made the punishment worse.
As an actor/entertainer you face career choices constantly, like “Do I take this movie role?” or “Which song should we single from the CD?” It is much like running your own business, and you are ultimately responsible for every decision. Performers try to keep their options open so if a better opportunity comes along they will be available to do it.
A few years ago I went through a series of auditions for Disney and got a part on a new children’s show, which was going to be their answer to Barney. I was to be a cross between Roy Rogers and Barney the dinosaur. At least I did not have to wear a costume like Mickey Mouse. But I did have to wear an old-fashion, singing cowboy outfit. I borrowed one from my old friend Little Roy Lewis of the Lewis Family that had been worn by a hero we share — WSB Barndance host Cotton Carrier. That choice was a good one because the producers loved that costume. By my third round of auditions for Disney brass, the message through my management was: “Do not forget the suit.” I later joked with Cotton that they gave me the job because I was the only who could fit in his suit.
So I did get the job. I was to co-star in a five-day-a-week children’s show over five years with numerous personal appearances on the road in front of thousands of screaming, adoring fans age two to five. Even merchandising was rumored. Could you imagine me with my own action figure?
I chose to pursue this opportunity. I waited patiently for around six months holding my calendar open. For those of you not in show business, that means not making any money while staying available. After all the auditions and big plans, the show was shelved without a single episode being shot. That choice cost me money, time and other opportunities. From that, I learned never to get excited about possible jobs until after I do the work and cash the check.
Even though you work, you may not make the final product. A working actor’s greatest fear is landing on the cutting room floor. How many hundreds of feet of film of me must have wound up on the floor of MGM/UA when I was doing “In The Heat Of The Night.” I know because of someone’s choices for the finished show some of my work never got seen, but I did get paid.
One time I made a choice to pass on a host position for a new, five-day-a-week live show on a major cable network. For years, I have wanted to do just that. But when I look at where I was in my life at the time, the responsibilities I had at the time for family, I decided it was not the right thing for me at the time.
I decided for me, at this point in my life, chasing carrots that may be taken away a few weeks down the road is not where I am right now.
No matter what choice you make, they are your choices. You ultimately have to live with what results from them. So if you are making a life-changing choice, become informed about what may happen depending on which path your choice leads you down.
Even if it turns out to be the wrong choice, at least you did not go down that path with blinders on.
How long will CDs last?
I found myself in yet another conversation with one of my fellow entertainers recently discussing what we will be selling, as the future becomes the present.
Many performers sell their own products at concerts including CDs and DVDs, that fans buy and often hand to us to receive an autograph.
Since so many people now carry their music collection on their hip, it makes me wonder what they will hand us in future to sign.
The latest generation seems to have returned to a historic practice of their grandparents in a way. As the long play album became the norm, the teens often reached for the 45 rpm with two songs instead of the whole album.
With the demise of vinyl and prior to the download era, with the exception of genres that accepted the one or two song cassette tapes, buyers pretty much had to take the whole album to get the song that appealed to them.
This trend created opportunities for artists to spend based on potential album sales encouraging projects that reflected their musical desires.
Now since many buyers simply buy one song at a time, many artists can no longer afford to pour huge budgets into an album that might produce one 99-cent sale per customer.
So in some respects, artists probably will have to go back to the old formula, producing one of two songs at a time, hoping to generate enough buzz to sell a massive number of downloads to keep creating more music in an environment where so much music is being listened to for free.
Personally, I also sell DVDs of my movies and my music, another product being hit with the decline of sales and questions about how movies will ultimately be delivered in the future. As far as music, now we get it one song at a time on You Tube or whatever source we choose to watch it on that thing we carry around that allows us to take calls, look up things on the internet, etc.
With the passage of years, I wonder if I might be selling a flash drive that will include my latest movie or CD, or I might be standing by a computer delivery system that allows a customer to plug in their phone or Ipad, swipe their debit card and get whatever it is they wish to buy from me, music or visual downloaded directly into their system. What will I autograph? I guess t-shirt and picture sales might increase.
I know it will not be very long until these questions get answered, and to be honest, as a consumer as well, I wonder how quickly I will be willing to embrace the change.
Let’s face it there are people in our country that so much wanted to go back to vinyl that companies found it profitable to start making albums and record players again.
So, I imagine there will be diehard folks who insist that CDs and DVDs remain for a while.
I probably will be one of them clinging to my players until they no longer work. I still have my vinyl and my solid-state record player.
But as an artist, I am worried in the sense that historically in the sub genres of most music fields, we rely upon sales of products to make a profit. With the decline of sales, and no immediate definition of the path, I wonder if we will be able to sustain enough to get by when we are having to rely on those 99 cent downloads on Itunes or Amazon.
After preparing this column, I was pleased to see a report that in the last year there has been an increase in buyers downloading entire albums in the last year, of course, that did not specifically outline impact on specific genres, but maybe the is some hope yet.
But remember, next time you download, it’s spelled R-a-n-d-a-l-l Franks. I am sure you can find something you want to spend 99 cents for, that has my name attached and even if you don’t, go ahead, it’s just 99 cents. If one million of you will go download my latest radio singles (You Gotta Know the Lows or Mississippi Moon), I will have a totally different prospective on this thing next week.
For your ease, here are some links:
American scenes embolden me
I watched this string of youth all under eight-years-old, their hands behind their backs and their faces buried in a green and yellow watermelon rind resting on a white table. They only stopped long enough to spit a seed. Each was trying to win the title and the prize in the contest. This was shortly after hearing the sirens blare, seeing the flags wave as people paraded down main street smiling at friends and those they didn’t even know.
These scenes I experienced, I knew were repeated over and over again across the United States as we celebrated the birth of our country on Independence Day.
As I watched in this mountain town – Pollick Pines, California, where my musical tour had taken me that day, I knew I had found an amazing thing – America.
I saw people smiling, children playing, music uplifting the hearts of all within ear shot, and people stopping in the midst of it all to pray for God’s blessing on this nation and for those who strive each day to keep it free through their service.
No Hollywood director except maybe Frank Capra could have created a movie that evoked in me the pride of being an American and having roots that reach back to those who fought for our original freedom in the American Revolution.
As I saw this scene of youth, I said, ‘What artist Norman Rockwell could have done with this image.’
I recently joined a musical tour that made itself all the way across the United States and back sharing the bill with the talented Watkins Family of Toccoa, Ga. Whether you are traveling by bus or SUV pulling a trailer, when you try to shake off more than 6,000 road miles, you know for sure you have to love what your do.
In my more than thirty years of entertaining, I have appeared and performed in hundreds of little towns, county seats and big cities from small crowds to “where in the world did they all come from?” crowds.
With most I tend to find one common thing at the events – good folks.
People who are doing their very best to encourage their community through their efforts of bringing music artists to the region and fans willing to support events and the performers as they travel.
I wish I could say the same was true along the route of every journey, but unfortunately you find a myriad of personalities as you unfold yourself out of your vehicle and stumble as you get your limbs to wake up into to a truck stop or restaurant.
That is much of what touring is, simply driving from one location to another. Stopping every few hundred miles to refuel and stretch your legs. With the advantages offered now in most travel means, you might watch a DVD; listen to music, read, or sleep as you pass the time. That is, if you are not engaging in a sometimes-endless conversation to help keep the driver motivated. My personal preference is sleep, especially if I have traveled the area before.
Our final tour engagement in California, took us to perform at an inner city church Deliverance House of Prayer in Fresno that is working to serve a community with God’s message through the love of His people. Within the walls of this storefront church, as I looked into the eyes of youth smiling and clapping, adults raising their hands in praise, and coming to their feet as the music moved them, the same thoughts came to my mind that I had the day before. I am seeing America, a different scene, but still one that Rockwell would have painted and Capra would have shot. It made my heart sing and swell with the pride of being an American, thankful for all of God’s blessings shared.
You are the one that decides what America looks like in your community. Do you strive to make it better? Do your local efforts measure up to the sacrifices made by others to create and keep the United States of America free? If they don’t, maybe it is time you consider ways that you might step up and paint a scene in your hometown that Norman Rockwell might have painted or Frank Capra might have shot. Remember “It’s A Wonderful Life,” but it is up to you what you do with it.
Reaching lifetime goals
Reaching lifetime goals often means it is time to reformulate your life and create new goals.
Some years ago, I reached a goal I had pursued since I was a little child.
Since the first time I watched Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs sing "Little Girl of Mine In Tennessee" to "Granny" and "Uncle Jed" on "The Beverly Hillbillies," since the first time I saw Wayne Newton play a down home country boy who could really saw the fiddle, or since the first time I watched Doug Dillard and all the Dillards entertain "Sheriff Andy Taylor" as "The Darlings" on the "Andy Griffith Show" with his up tempo banjo tunes, I dreamed of walking on network television to pick and grin.
I always figured that such national exposure for a young boy from Georgia had to come through music.
There were just not that many other avenues at that time. So I worked and studied to improve my music, working to create and market our youth group, The Peachtree Pickers®, by working flea markets, churches and schools. We began competing at fiddler's conventions and then moved up to entertaining larger and larger audiences at bluegrass festivals and fairs. The support of my parents and those of the other group members helped to move our joint goals forward. We reached network cable in its infancy with a children's show called "The Country Kids TV Series," essentially a children's "Hee Haw" which aired in the United States and abroad. Our growth would eventually lead us to performances for the Grand Old Opry and some acceptance by the more mainstream music industry.
In 1987, members of our youth act decided to go their separate ways, partially due to new college obligations. I was at a new point in my life, trying to decide what is next. I had not yet reached my childhood goal, but without a group, which was still the foundation of bluegrass and southern gospel music at that time, I did not know what my next step would be. I decided to make some solo appearances pulling together musicians when needed and continued appearing with other acts for which I moonlighted when our group was not working, such as The Marksmen and Doodle and the Golden River Grass.
I began work at Atlanta-based southern Gospel music label MBM records in 1987 helping to guide the careers of several artists signed with the label while still performing every opportunity I had.
In 1988, the label changed hands and my job was eliminated. So, once again, I found myself searching.
While I had enjoyed doing some minor acting in school, I decided in order to reach my television goal I would have to begin a more intensive study of acting and take any opportunity, which were not many at the time, I could to get to be on screen in Georgia.
But God seemed to immediately open the doors, giving me opportunity after opportunity. The music talents God gave me seemed to put me where I needed to be. It would not be music that landed me my role as "Officer Randy Goode" on "In the Heat of the Night," but it would be the many friends I developed from years of touring and recording that would share their exuberance about my presence on the show.
After countless requests from those who cared about my music asking for me to perform on the show, Carroll O'Connor wrote a uniquely designed scene in an episode entitled "Random's Child" which would set up a reason and purpose for "Officer Randy" to be pickin' and grinnin' just to frustrate the bad guys in that episode. One of those bad guys was Robert O'Reilly, "Gowron," leader of the Klingons, from "Star Trek, Deep Space Nine." I bet that is the only time in my life I will get to aggravate a Klingon.
Anyway, Carroll wrote a little piece entitled the "Sparta Blues" for actor Thomas Byrd and I to perform at the Sparta Police impound yard when the bad guys came to claim their car.
I have always jokingly called it my biggest hit since millions heard it Nov. 25, 1992, on CBS and millions more around the world have heard it since. I've often wondered what it sounded like when translated into Chinese or Italian.
It took years but the childhood dream was reached, and the goal I had chased for years was accomplished.
Then I had to decide what was next. Life is a constant re-evaluation of where you are and where you are going. We can't just simply drift or what service will that be to God and our fellow man? He has a purpose for everyone's life. It is up to us to make His vision for us happen. He will open the doors; we must simply study and be prepared to walk through. But at the same time, as we walk with the confidence He gave us we must always be mindful of whether what we are reaching for is His will or one we have created. Only time will tell.
Laughter is the Best Medicine
When I find myself frustrated with the things that come my way, there are always two places I go. First, the word of God. Second, to God’s gift to the world, comedy. God must have a sense of humor; just look at all the great things he gives us to laugh at.
When I was little, I always looked forward to “The Red Skelton Show.” When the network finally took it off, I remember being very upset. I remember literally rolling in the floor and laughing till it hurt at the routines and characters of this master entertainer.
As a musician, the craftsmanship of musical comedy of Victor Borge still fascinates me.
These skilled conveyors of mirth made me and millions of others laugh without bad language, lewd comments or off-color humor.
So many people have made me feel better in my life with just a few minutes of their artistry.
The situation comedies which I have seen a thousand times still can take me away and lighten my heart. Shows like “The Beverly Hillbillies,” the network did not envision the impact those characters would have on America and the world. I am blessed to know Donna Douglas “Elly Mae Clampett.” She and Buddy Ebsen, Max Baer, Jr., and Irene Ryan have brought me endless hours of feeling good.
Irene Ryan’s “Granny” became so much a part of my childhood that her real life passing affected me as if she was a member of my family. I still have the newspaper clipping in my Bible after 28 years.
She had worked a lifetime enjoying many successes, but it was not until God opened the door for her to play “Granny” that she lifted millions around the world out of their problems for a few minutes a day. I just have to think about some of the outlandish things she, the Hillbillies and their support cast did to bring me out of the doldrums.
Saturday nights at seven at our house were the “Hee Haw” hour. It would be impossible to list all the wonderful cast members of that show.
Grandpa Jones, Minnie Pearl, Junior Samples, Archie Campbell, Gordy Tapp, Roni Stoneman and all the cast could take the corniest routines and bring them life. They made Saturdays at seven something to look forward to.
I would be remiss not to mention the comedy talent of all the cast of “The Andy Griffith Show.” Don Knotts’ unique ability to take the simplest sentence or reaction and make it funny is an amazement. If there were comedic actors like that today, new television comedies might be worth watching.
I was once told that as an entertainer it is our job to take folks away from their problems. Whether that is in a three minute song, an hour-long television show or a live appearance.
I hope that my walk down memory lane with some of my favorite comedy people may have helped you think of something that makes you laugh and thus makes you feel a whole lot better. I know I do.
Friends, Here is one of my favorite stories for this time of year taken from my book "A Mountain Pearl."
Berry Pickin’ Time
As the sun barely peaked over the Gravelly Spur, Grandma Kitty walked from the spring with a pail of milk. They kept milk and cheese in the cold waters of Frogleg Creek to keep them cold. As she walked towards the porch and the sun’s rays touched the side of the mountain, she noticed that what once was a sea of red berries along the brim had changed to the color of night.
She walked on into the empty house. Even in the early morning, the children were already out gathering eggs and milking the cows and goats. Grandpa Bill was in the fields trying to get ahead of the July heat which settled on the valley floor as the day grew along.
As the children came in one by one finishing their early morning chores, Kitty gave them each a special task for the day that would keep them busy and away from the house. Eight-year-old Pearl came in balancing around eight dozen eggs from the chickens that she treated like her own.
“They did real well today,” Pearl said. “Mr. Parham should be able to get some good money for these.”
The eggs she gathered each day were sold to the local mercantile and dispersed around the valley.
“Pearl,” Kitty said, “Bertha could use some help today with some chores; why don’t you head over there and see if you can help.”
“Awe,” Pearl said.
“I think she is going to be doing some baking,” Kitty said.
Pearl now jumped at the chance ‘cause she always got to lick the pan.
She was almost grown. She would be nine tomorrow, Independence Day.
In the depths of the depression South, it was often difficult to make a birthday something special. But Kitty and Bill tried to give each of their children something different.
As Pearl flew out the screen door, Bill caught it with his hand.
“See you, Dad,” she said.
“Where are you headed in such a rush,” he said.
As she ran down the holler, her voice faded as she explained.
“That was a good idea,” Bill said to Kitty. “We better get up the mountain before the sun gets too high.”
Kitty reached down in the drawer of her mahogany china cabinet which had been brought in on wagon to her when the couple married twenty years before. She pulled out a couple of flour sacks and dropped in some buckets and gave them to Bill.
She pulled on her light-blue sun bonnet with daisies all around. With the screen door making its second closing bang, the two rounded the barn headed up the mountain side.
“I got a new recipe that came with the cookbook for that wood stove we got,” she said. “I hope it will be good.”
“Anything you make gal will be great,” he smiled.
The pair leisurely walked to the sea of black berries and started filling their sacks.
With a few feet between them, Bill said, “Don’t move.”
As Kitty looked up she could see Bill had his 32-caliber sidearm drawn pointed at her and ready to fire.
Kitty never flinched.
As he picked up the rattler which was also enjoying the berry patch, “Well that might make a nice belt, could be worth a trade,” he said.
He folded it in one of the flour sacks and they continued their picking.
Before long Kitty said “That will be enough.” And the pair headed back down the mountain.
As Bill headed back to the fields, Kitty carefully lined up the ingredients for Pearl’s birthday surprise, a blackberry pie.
As she mixed in each and every ingredient, she thought about where she could hide it from the cavalcade of children who would soon be returning from their assigned tasks.
She finally decided to bury it deep in the mahogany china cabinet where it remained untouched till the moment of the birthday surprise after dinner on Independence Day.
Sometimes the greatest gifts do not come from what we can buy but from the hands of those we love and those who love us.
As I stood upon a chair hearing my friends play outside, I just knew that I was going to miss something.
Every fall, I always knew that some of my time would be spent standing on a chair as my mother knelt with straight pins gripped in her mouth measuring the cuffs in my new pants. I know I drove her crazy fidgeting as she tried hard to make them just right. Without failing, she would eventually take the pins from her mouth, look up at me and say “Can’t you stand still for just a minute?”
I would for as long as I could, and then without realizing it, I would be moving yet again. I am thankful for her patience.
Now as an adult, I look around at events or restaurants, I can see children being unsuccessfully corralled by their parents. At a restaurant the other day in South Carolina, I heard some comments out of kid that would have gotten me a semi-permanent place standing at the dinner table.
As I went to the restroom, I overheard that boy’s father introducing him to some of the finer points of understanding how to behave in a restaurant.
Needless to say, I imagine by the time he was done, there was a much calmer, more reserved youth returning to the table.
I am sure that my parent’s had some similar experiences with me, you know its funny though, and I don’t remember any of them. I just remember that I was supposed to behave. The tendency has continued even now that I am self-governed.
After spending several years as a journalist, I realized were are often like children. This assumption is especially true when covering an event like a memorial service or prayer vigil. I often wish to be a participating member of the event — joining in the songs and prayers.
Then I remember what I am really there for.
I am there to find an image or words that will convey the emotion of that event to the readers who are at home and unable to be there and to the families and friends of those being remembered.
I must evoke a keepsake.
The search for the sight of a grandmother wiping away a tear, a fireman bowing his head in prayer or a child singing the “Star Spangled Banner” as she waves the flag above her head often kept me constantly in motion, afraid I will miss something that will touch someone.
I remember at one event some years ago, someone said the same words to me my mother said years before as the crowd was singing the “Star Spangled Banner.” Out of respect for his wishes, I stopped for a moment and then went about my business.
So, yes, I can stand still for just a minute.
But if I did, someone’s story will not be told. Someone may not be moved emotionally by what they see their fellow Americans doing. Someone years down the road may not have a newspaper clipping to bring back a fond memory.
The show must go on
This past weekend I thought I was over the worst of dealing with several days of fever with no other symptoms.
Of course, I had committed to be in North Carolina, so I crawled in the car and away I went praying for the strength to do His work. Thankfully He did, getting me there and back and giving me the ability to do the show. It just reinforced to me the old adage, the show must go on. People are often impressed by the glamour they think makes up such a large portion of a performer’s life.
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 that 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.
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 was 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 that 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?
With my nose pressed against the window, I anxiously watched for the arrival of my father from work. With him he would often carry a large, black leather tool bag which, for a little boy like me, held a world of adventure.
After dinner, Dad would spend time at the kitchen table working on various fix-it projects.
I would walk by the table where he was working on some gismo. It is amazing how many little parts would be meticulously set out where they could be cleaned, re-worked and replaced. Every tool had it’s purpose.
“Can I help you daddy?”
“Yes, son. Get me my pliers out of my tool bag,” he said.
I would search through the bag to find the pliers. With each odd looking tool I would say, “Daddy, what do you do with this?” He would tell me, even though he knew I would ask again the next time. Finally, I would find the tool he asked for and hand them over.
He would say, “Just in time.” He would do some little something with it and then set it neatly with the other tools.
Thinking back, he probably did not need those pliers, but he found a use for them anyway just so I could say I helped him fix whatever it was.
Usually as he was nearing the end of his project, I’d run in and ask, “Dad when will you be done?”
He’d say, “Soon son, soon. When I get these tools cleaned up.”
My father was a man of tools, and with them he accomplished great things. The tool bag to him was like a doctor’s stethoscope or a preacher’s bible — it helped to solve the mysteries in his life.
He had the ability to fix almost anything. I am sad to say the mechanically-minded trait did not pass down in my genes.
Much of what my father did for a living rotated around his ability to fix things.
During his life, he worked for several companies fixing everything from Singer sewing machines to Royal typewriters. The job he retired from spoke highly of his abilities to adapt to new technologies. He was responsible for keeping the computers at the IRS running. I’m not talking about these little personal computers. I’m talking about when super computers ruled the world, and they took up the space of nearly a football field.
When he passed years ago, many of his tools came to me. Some are still packed away as he left them. Many of the tools I have no idea for what they could be used. I keep them simply because they were his.
More and more, I find myself doing various jobs around the house. While I am still not mechanically inclined, with patience I usually manage to figure out how to fix whatever it is. Many times I find myself looking through his tool bag for tools that might be put to use in my objective.
The late Carroll O'Connor and I were once standing in a pawn shop set looking into a case of tools and knives. We talked about how you can often judge the character of a man by how he cares for his tools.
If he has respect for them, that will be reflected in his life. My Dad took care of his tools and he shared that respect with me.
Today we often depend upon others to fix things we cannot. Oftentimes this tendency carries over into other aspects of our lives as we look to others to fix things which are broken.
Patience and respect will lead you to solutions that can solve many problems.
The tools to fix them are often just inside your own tool bag; you just need to take the time to look.
Leaders, are you one?
Have you ever wondered who your walk each day impacts. Are you a leader in your community or your church? How about in your family?
Do you set the pace that everyone else follows?
What does it mean to be a leader?
As I look back at those in my life who have inspired me to follow them, there have only been a handful of people who have impacted my life in the way that has made a lasting difference.
Throughout my education, there were specific teachers who through their talents urged me forward in my studies, but as I think back, I don’t remember a specific one that became a leader to me. I am sure however many were leaders in their right, among their peers, groups and families.
Among my childhood peers, I know there were those who attracted others to march to the beat of their drum. I never really found their beat; instead I walked my own path.
As I grew, I watched the national and international leaders who mustered legions to their inspiring speeches, lofty goals and hopeful aspirations. I imagine at times, my heart beat with the excitement and prospects of their visions of what was ahead.
Even as I found my footing as a Christian, and dedicated my childhood efforts to following Christ, the were Sunday School teachers, pastors and youth leaders, who made the effort but it was hard to find a worldly leader that I could look to who furthered my faith.
I have always heard that hindsight is 20/20. When I look back at my life, the greatest leaders within it were my father and my mother.
Through their examples, I learned about caring for others, compassion for those less fortunate, following a path that cannot be questioned, living a life that focuses on raising other's needs above your own.
Problem after problem, trail after trail, seeing their steady and true approach to living life provided me a pattern upon which leadership flourishes.
There were others that also stepped forward in my life; my scoutmaster was a tremendous example of leadership. My first employer was a great leader who helped me understand how to encourage loyalty from those who you seek to inspire to be greater in what they do.
I saw great leadership skills in some of my musical and entertainment mentors who fostered my talents.
No matter whom you have looked to in your life to learn how to lead your family, your church or your community, are your choices reflecting the best that leadership can offer.
Jesus provided a wonderful template upon which to base being a servant leader and inspiring us to pass the legacy of leadership from generation to generation.
What are you passing on to your children, your community’s children?
Will they look back and remember you as a leader or an example of what not to be?
Jason Crabb - new movie, new children’s book “One God, One You”
We often see people in the music industry that have the ability to touch us when they sing.
But it is seldom that I find someone that touches me also when they speak; I mean when they share the words that God has empowered them to say.
It was after the passing of my late mother in 2006, that I attended a concert featuring the Crabb Family in Chattanooga, Tenn.
I was carrying with me a heavy feeling of guilt that had come upon me after her death. I had been a diligent caregiver for several years. In her final hours, after doing all I knew to do to comfort her, I retreated within myself. I was running away from what I was experiencing; not able to face the fact that she was dying and there was nothing I could do.
Though this only plagued me for a little while and I returned to her bedside to hold her hand and comfort her for hours until the angels carried her away, the devil used that period of inability to act to mire me in the mud of immobility and steal my peace. He made me feel that my inability to act made mother’s situation worse. Of course, that was not true, there was nothing for me to do but no matter how many times I placed it on the alter giving it to God, I kept picking that guilt back up.
At their concert God gave Jason Crabb a short message that allowed me to release that guilt that was holding me in that bondage, it allowed me to move forward, never again to burden my soul.
Recently, I shared the stage with Jason Crabb and my friends Jeff & Sheri Easter, Little Roy Lewis and Lizzy Long. Though my path has crossed with Jason in the years since, this was the first time I was able to spend a little time with him as a fellow performer. Since I am also an actor, he shared his excitement with me about doing the film "Inspiration Pop 2929"
I am so pleased to see the success that the Lord has brought Jason including a Grammy® Award and 17 GMA DOVE Awards. His words encouraged me when I needed it most, so I wanted to share his words aimed to encourage youth in his new children’s book “One God, One You” available online at www.JaseCrabb.com.
One God, One You follows the story of Evan, a young boy who loves to sing and play his ukulele. At a Jason Crabb concert, he receives an unexpected present - his very own Jase the Crabb®. In his dreamland adventure with Jase®, Evan learns just how special and important his love of music is. He discovers that the things he enjoys doing most are gifts from God — gifts with a purpose and a perfect plan, straight from heaven.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write a children’s book. This has been a dream of mine – to impact the lives of our most precious gift, our children,” says Jason. “As a father, I know how important it is for those little eyes to read good, positive, material. This book lets the reader know they are something special and that God created them with a purpose! I hope this will touch the hearts of children, parents, grandparents and anyone with a child in their life. All children need to know they are special!”
The name of the character, Jase®, holds a special meaning to Crabb. Derived from the initials of his family - J(ason) A(shleigh) S(hellye) E(mma) – the name is also what his late Grandfather would call him. “I would visit my grandfather in the summer months and help him around the farm. I can’t even remember how many times I heard him call out to me – “JASE, come on over here and help me out!” – it just seemed like a natural fit to name this character after my grandfather.”
Jason Crabb has partnered with award-winning illustrator Anita DuFalla to bring Jase® and his friends to life.
This book launches a ten-book Jase® Series, as Evan learns just how special he is and more lessons that come straight from the Bible – stories that reveal the goodness and love of God to children, families and caregivers from all walks of life. Children, parents and teachers can log on to www.JaseCrabb.com where they can print off curriculum, coloring pages, certificates of completion, learn about Jase® University and comment on the books. In addition to Crabb, a creative team including Donna Scuderi and Philip & Tina Morris contributed to the overall foundation and direction of the book series.
Jason lives with his wife Shellye, and daughters Emma and Ashleigh just outside of Nashville, TN. You can find out more about his music at www.JasonCrabb.com.
So, you want to have a show in your town?
“Where have all the people gone?” is a question that I often find myself discussing as I visit with other musical performers and event promoters.
What they mean is where are those who once came and filled the seats in a thousand seat auditorium and helped the promoters make enough money to pay the entertainers, so they could pay their staff, fill the bus with diesel and move on to the next town.
Now it’s not that way in every genre of music or in every type of entertainment. You can find sports arenas crowded, car races flowing with lines, even some of the high dollar music concerts with the latest hit maker filled to capacity, and of course the city clubs teaming with followers of the latest music that is desired by the teens and twenty-somethings.
From the late 1800s, shows criss-crossed the country, playing the small and medium size towns bringing entertainment to those who normally didn’t have access like those who lived in the cities. Among these offerings were medicine shows, circuses, touring plays, and musical acts based from various radio or TV powerhouses. These filled civic auditoriums, legion halls, and schoolhouses, and even tents on fairgrounds around the country.
Through the years the venues changed, at one time in the lifetime of many of my readers, it was normal to have a live musical show on Saturday before the movie at the theaters. Through the years county fairs also became a big focus for musical acts.
I have spent my life touring the back roads, playing the small and medium size towns across this great land and in Canada.
One of the realities of today’s dissected audience, split between countless cable channels, internet viewing, freedom of movement, and variety of choices of entertainment, is that folks just don’t attend shows in the small and medium towns like they once did.
I have often heard entertainers say, “We could be at the high school auditorium, drive the bus through town and park it out front and folks would be hanging from the rafters.”
I know this to be true because I’ve seen it in my life, but unfortunately today, often all that is hanging from the rafters is the cobwebs.
So what is the answer to the question? Where have all the people gone? All I can figure is they are sitting at home or travelling out of town to see something else. What is it going to take to keep alive the arts in small and medium size towns across our great land?
Friends… It’s plain and simple. You are the only one that can make it happen.
If there is a promoter in your community creating a quality show bringing in professional talent to entertain, support that promoter. Buy tickets, go, sit in the seats, applaud, make the show a success, then go talk about it with your friends and get them to go the next time.
You might say, “I don’t like the music.” Well, how will the promoter know that if you do not go and support what he or she is doing and encouraging them to try to bring some of what you like to the community as well. It could be a gospel music concert, a bluegrass show, a country show, big band, polka, Cajun, blues, jazz, classical, folk, a touring stage play, or any other type of show that might appeal to you. If the promoter or organization sponsoring the event can’t make money then eventually it has to end.
Don’t sit home and watch TV or go out of town every week to a professional sporting event.
Support the local shows with your money and your volunteering. Do you think the folks you watch on TV or those professional athletes are going to come to your town and help a local charity raise money?
Maybe, if your town is very lucky, but most likely, its going to be singer, musician, circus, or play, who is out there every week in a different place sharing their talents and trying to pay the bills.
Also, when you go to the shows, spend some money with the entertainers too. Buy their latest CDs, DVDs, photos, t-shirts to help them in their efforts as well. And don’t forget the show sponsors as well. Tell them you appreciate their efforts.
Friends, if we don’t make a difference where we live by supporting the arts, one day soon, there will be no more professional traveling shows and entertainers that we can afford to see in our own communities because they will not be able to afford to come anywhere near us.
I took the antique cedar box and polished it until it had a shine like a brand new nickel. In the inside of the upper lid, I pasted a photo of me playing the fiddle on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium. It is amazing what we might think will serve to convey the feelings within our hearts. I was still in my teens and this was meant to win the heart of a young lady that I thought had hung the moon. At least she did a pretty close job of it for me at that time. But once again I found myself on the end of a spear called rejection.
I spent so much of my youth punctured with that thing; I thought I was a ready made shish k bob ready to be cooked on the grill of life.
I always thought I peaked early. I had a beautiful girlfriend when I was in kindergarten but it was all downhill from there.
Overcoming rejection though took a great deal of toughening. As a pre-teen, I sometimes found myself sitting on the back porch with my dog Track resting his head on my lap and me resting my head on his crying my eyes out over some girl who wouldn’t have anything to do with me.
The names of most now not even a memory, but at the time they made such an impression in my world.
As the boy moved towards manhood, I realized such a reaction was really not manly,
and the pain seemed to move from the outside in. Of course, my dad taught me some lessons as well as he introduced me to the stories of two young men whose rejections pushed them into reacting desperately - one harming another and the other harming himself. Those lessons early in life helped me put things in prospective, that no situation warrants such a response.
While some found high school and endless trial period for relationships, that was not my experience, even my prom dates thought coming with me was just a slightly better option than staying at home and washing their hair.
Unfortunately, even as I reached the world of adult dating, I still managed to always pick someone who would – to steal a line from Lewis Grizzard – “tear out my heart and stomp that sucker flat.”
One of the first made such an impact that totally restructured my life, body, appearance, and wardrobe, to win her back. It took over a year but I did win another chance, only to discover that what I was trying to win was no longer part of my heart. I had moved on in the effort to change.
I guess it was another phase in the toughening.
I think years of rejection prepared me for my life in entertainment. Acting and music is nothing but a string of rejections that build you to the point that you understand that it often takes 99 negatives responses to receive the positive that will change your life. At least that is sometimes how it feels, trying to get a role or another opportunity to perform musically.
Does rejection get any easier as life progresses? That has not been my experience. I have found that God does provide us the ability to better cope with experiences that impact us negatively. By a closer walk with Him I have been able to understand those challenges no matter whether the rejection came in my professional or personal life.
The greatest lesson I have learned on the personal side is people are often not on the same path and rejection simply is directional sign to send us another way in life. The same I think is true on the professional side.
Does that make it easier? No. Does it make us better and stronger? If we desire it.
Former CBS star Sonny Shroyer "Enos" returns to television in Sundance Channel's "Rectify"
When I was in school like so many of my counterparts, we wished to have the fun exhibited by the Duke boys running around the county being heroes in the General Lee on “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
In many ways though, I better identified with Sheriff Rosco’s dipstick deputy, as he called him, “Enos,” played by Sonny Shroyer. He starred in that role in two CBS series from 1979-1985 including “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “Enos.”
Sonny came into my life in the 1980s becoming a tremendous friend and encourager.
We were managed by the same company and often we appeared on TV shows together, or on personal appearances. Despite our friendship and that now my entertainment company manages him, I am still a fan of his endless ability as an actor proven in role after role in his 46-year career.
I was excited when he landed the role returning to television in the critically acclaimed Sundance Channel original series “Rectify.”
“It was a lot of fun working with director Ray McKinnon as he was bringing his vision for this show together,” Shroyer said from his home in Valdosta, Ga. “He combines a gothic sense of storytelling, amazing actors, and artisans to bring to life a series that is sure to engage the viewers and challenge them to think in ways they have not done before.”
McKinnon tapped Shroyer to play “Mayor Johnny Daggett” in the small Georgia town where his constituents must face the return of a convicted rapist and murderer Daniel Holden, who after 19 years on death row is released by DNA evidence.
Actor Aden Young portrays Holden and his character is surrounded by his sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer), his mother Janet (J. Smith Cameron), stepfather Ted Austin, Sr. (Bruce McKinnon), stepbrother Ted Jr. (Clayne Crawford), Ted’s wife Tawney (Adelaide Clemens), stepbrother Jared (Jake Austin Walker), and attorney John Stern (Luke Kirby).
“Of course, so far Mayor Daggett is not very excited about Daniel’s return to his town and he is aligning himself with those who are looking for what to do about it,” Shroyer said.
“Ray’s ensemble of actors including Michael O’Neil as Sen. Foulkes, J.D. Evermore as my son Sheriff Daggett and Frank Hoyt Taylor as former Sheriff Pickens give me a great group of cronies to spin my web of concerns,” he said. “I don’t know what the future holds for Mayor Daggett but I hope he does return with something serious on his mind.”
Though Shroyer is best known for his innocent and trusting People’s Choice nominated role as “Enos Strate, ” his career which took off alongside Burt Reynolds as the quirky character “Sonny Tannen” in “The Longest Yard” has been filled with numerous mean and sometimes despicable characters such as “Gage Temple” in “American Gothic” or the abusive father “Bobby Slocum” in “I’ll Fly Away.”
“I love to play characters which have a lot of depth, color and reflect the frailties of the human condition,” he said.
Shroyer’s resume is filled with appearances in classic shows from “Alice,” “Knots Landing,” “Matlock,” “Love Boat,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “The Adventures of Superboy,” “Today’s F.B.I,” “Movin’ On,” and “Hee Haw.”
He appeared in blockbuster films such as “Forrest Gump” playing Alabama coach “Bear Bryant” and “Smokey and the Bandit,” the mini-series “Roots,” and classic Disney films such as “The Million Dollar Dixie Deliverance.”
“It is amazing the doors the Lord has opened for me,” he said. “I still enjoy acting and visiting with my fans. My most recent films were “Unconditional” and “The Way Home.” I do numerous personal appearances each year, many with my cast mates from ‘The Dukes of Hazzard.’
“My manager and the Avenue Agency of Nashville keep their eyes open for film projects that I might want to do,” he said. “I have some other projects coming up, one is a wonderfully written western by Thomas E. Kelly called ‘When the Storm God Rides’.”
While Shroyer said his favorite role is the next one he will play, he will always be “Enos” to millions of folks around the world.
“That was an amazing show,” he said. “We had so much fun then, and still do when we get together. Who would have ever thought after all these years folks are still chasing the Duke boys right alongside of me and Sheriff Rosco.”
“Rectify” is not a family hour show, it deals with serious themes and topics and viewers should weigh that when choosing whether to watch and who in the family should watch. It airs on the Sundance Channel on Mondays at 10 p.m. EST with previous episodes airing at 9 p.m. and other times. For more information, visit http://www.sundancechannel.com/series/rectify.
With the passing of George Jones on April 26, 2013 at the age of 81, stories about him have been shared left and right.
I have stood and listened to several since then and each one was such a wonderful link to this man who blessed us with his amazing talents.
Well here is my George Jones story – One morning, I arrived early at my agent Joe Taylor’s office in Mel Tillis’s building on Music Row in Nashville.
Joe allowed me to use the office as my own when I was in town on business.
After driving overnight, I was in the second floor bathroom with my face lathered white, shaving after coming in from some tour dates and preparing for some meetings that day.
There was a knock at the door to which I responded, and there stood this beautiful young lady who proceeded to explain that her father was a big fan of mine and never missed our television show (In the Heat of the Night). She then asked if it would be possible to get an autographed photo for him. I think it was Tex Ritter who said that what made country music stars different than others was accessibility. I wouldn't want to let old Tex down, now would I? so I said, “Sure, Let’s go to the office and get a photo.”
I went down the hall, still with white on my cheeks, pulled one out of my briefcase and turned to her and said, “What’s your dad’s name?” She replied, “George Jones.” I repeated what she said just to make sure my ears didn’t fail and she said “Yes, George Jones.” I signed the photo smiling the rest of the time, gave it to her. She thanked me and went on her way as I returned to my shave and I am sure she was excited to take it home to him. Probably no more excited than I was to sign it for him.
I will have to say I have signed a lot of autographs in my career, but I could have never imagined signing one for George.
I knew George kept an office in the building, as did many other performers. It just so happened on my next visit to the office, George and I met on the stairs and we spent some time visiting which I am thankful for. Thanks for the encouragement you shared with me that day, George. Thanks for the music you shared with all of us!
A bucket of chicken and an airplane
It was Saturday morning and I had risen early in anticipation of a family outing.
I couldn’t have been more than seven and of course to me the adventure should start right then despite the fact it was an afternoon picnic that was planned.
Disappointed, I had to fill so many hours, my parents managed to usher me outside saying find something to do until it was time to go.
It was amazing how imagination allowed me to create amazing scenarios of play with little more than sticks, rocks, and dirt. I had a couple of vehicle toys, a John Deere tractor and a dump truck and a few matchbox cars that I intermixed with my plastic army men and some cowboys and Indians.
I am sure I never create any historically accurate battles with these pieces but I soon found myself engrossed in whatever scenario my mind created and the time would fly by.
Before I knew it mother had come out saying, “Look at you, you look like you ate have of the dirt in the back yard. Get in here and get changed and wash up.”
Usually, this request yielded a half-hearted approach, but I knew this time that the faster I was ready the sooner we would be on a picnic.
Mother had packed away some potato salad, made up a container of tea and some coffee, and on the table in a Tupperware tote was a coconut cake. Dad the night before had made some fresh strawberry ice cream and placed it in the freezer for our outing.
Once I was ready, we climbed into the blue 1964 Malibu and headed towards town where we stopped at the Kentucky Fried Chicken. I always enjoyed going there because you got those little towelettes that smelled like lemons.
We would order a bucket of chicken to go with what mother had made and off we would go to the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, we would back up to the fence near the runway and mother would open the trunk, spread out a table cloth, sit out some lawn chairs and we would have our picnic. Usually some friends who did the same joined us.
As we shared the time together, we would watch and occasional prop plane arrive and take off. There really weren’t jets using it much at that time.
I was fascinated at how the planes achieved the miracle of flight, I would often reach my arms out on both side mimicking their take offs but, of course, I never managed to rise into the blue. Of course, I did repeat the process many times at home and gave it a better try when there was a coach or a bed to ease my descent.
While watching the planes come in and go out gave us a reason to be there, now so many years later, I realize what my parents were giving me then. We were sharing life, eating, talking, laughing, and creating a memory that could last beyond the moment. A few hours on a Saturday afternoon gave me something to look forward to and an adventure to remember and talk about with my friends. It may seem simplistic in this time where we try to fill every minute with something.
I remember those picnics, I remember the trips to walk in the restaurant with dad to order the chicken and waiting for them to put it in the bucket. I remember the anxious time of getting there and mom setting everything up. I remember no matter what I might have in my hand to eat, dropping it and rushing towards the fence each and every time a plane would taxi by. As we finished all to eat, I remember opening the towelette and holding it to my nose to smell the lemons before using it.
More than anything, I remember the smiles on my parent’s faces, and the love I felt as a kid knowing they loved me. Have you done something special with a child you care about lately? Have you made them feel loved? There is more to life than the noise around us, the never ending things to do, and that feeling there is not enough time. Make the time and a memory.
Sledge and the rustling run
As a youth my Granddad Bill made his way west and when he returned to the Gravelly Spur, he brought with him the stories of the Old West, gunfights, cattle rustlers, ranchers who ran large ranches like kingdoms.
Join me as I walk through the dusty trails down the old western road in my mind’s eye.
Granddad Bill galloped across the Rattle R Ranch almost in perfect synergy with his chestnut brown horse – Sledge.
In one hand he held Sledge’s reins and in the other he gripped tightly to his Colt 45 aiming towards a man galloping ahead of him.
Bill was returning fire with the cattle rustler that he had stumbled upon while checking fence along the eastern boundary of the ranch.
Bill was gaining ground but neither had yet hit their mark. He had expended his last bullet and holstered his gun and he and Sledge gave their all to catch up to the other cowboy.
Bill saw his chance to overtake him as the rustler took the lower trail around Buzzard’s Roost, so Bill and Sledge zigzagged on the mountain trail and Bill brought Sledge to a stop and then climbed on a rock that hangs out over the lower trail.
Just as the rider neared the rock, Bill leaped towards him knocking him from his horse and the two twisted and turned as they rolled down to the bottom of Buzzard’s Roost, exchanging hits.
As they came to a halt Bill gained the upper hand landing a blow that subdued the man which towered over him. Seeing that he was out, he pulled the galluses from his pants and tied the man’s hands together behind his back. In the rolling both had lost their guns, so Bill recovered them and then walked over and picked up his hat, dusting off the brim. He whistled loud and soon Sledge had made his way down to him.
Bill took his rope from the saddle and finished tying up the rustler, tying the other end to Sledge’s horn. He then bent down and poured some water from his canteen on the man.
As he came around, Bill climbed up in the saddle, pointing his now loaded gun at him and said, “I think it’s time for you to get up and take a little walk. You have a choice, you can take a leisurely walk ahead of me or see how well you can gallop behind me, which will it be?”
The man chose the leisurely walk and Bill took him in to the main house. Abel McKinsey locked the rustler up in the smokehouse until they could take him into the sheriff the next day.
Abel gave Bill the rest of the day off, so he whistled and Sledge came and nuzzled up next to him and Bill climbed up and they galloped off towards the sun to find another adventure in the shadows of the Texas sun except this time there would be a fishing pole and a creek involved.
A view from on high
I slid around the edge of the roof of the house removing the gunk that had collected in the gutters. Being a musician my hands were such a vital part of my life, I always came away with them skinned up from the adventure.
Cleaning out gutters didn’t phase me at that time and I often hopped right up there no matter how high it was moving around easing the path for the rain water.
It had become a nice supplementary business to the lawns I mowed as a kid. I started those when I was around 10 and pretty much continued through college.
Even as I had achieved some notoriety performing for the Grand Ole Opry and major concert events around the country, I still mowed, raked and cleaned gutters for those long established clients I had built up through the years.
I once heard Tennessee Ernie Ford say as his career was developing, one of the criteria he looked at before moving on from something to bigger pastures, was to make sure that there was more cows in that field than the one he was already in.
I don’t think that is what kept me doing for those folks. Many of them were like family, some older and I knew it would be hard for them to find someone to replace me after so many years of my helping them. But eventually I did have to phase out of all those extra jobs and move on in life.
I even recall feeling a bit of guilt in leaving a couple in particular to find someone else to meet those needs.
While I think back fondly on those times sitting up on the roofs working with my thoughts about what I would do with my life flooding through my mind as I looked out around the neighborhood, unlike my younger self, I am no longer anxious to jump up on the roof to think.
However, I still spend time each day, thinking about what God has in store for me in life.
Dreams never seem to fade; there is always something new that is just over the horizon.
A new record, a new book, a new job, a new friendship, a new way to serve and accomplish something for someone else.
These days I still like to look out over the neighborhood as I think. Instead of sticking my hands down in the muck and filling up a bucket with it, now I find a high point on a mountainside, sit there with God’s word and take in the beauty all around me as I read, think and pray.
Perhaps it is something in the genes that I discovered as a kid looking out from those roofs, that there is an almost innate desire within me to be high up - in the mountains looking out and drinking deeply from God’s creation. It seems to renew my soul and provide a perfect backdrop to dream and ask for God’s guidance and His inspiration to know how to illuminate the path that He has in store.
Have you found your rooftop? Do you know where you can be inspired to make a difference?
If you do not have a place, I hope this week you will take some time and find a place to restore your soul as you dream for your future and what you can make happen in your family and community that will make our world a better place.
Investing in others - Cotton and Jane Carrier
As I shifted through the box of photos and newspaper clippings, it carried me back to days sitting in a room of young people playing “The Wabash Cannonball.”
Often in those gatherings, two ardent participants who took the time to encourage these young musicians of whom I was one were Cotton and Jane Carrier.
Their names were synonymous with country music in Atlanta, Ga. You say country music in Atlanta, Georgia, now the capitol of Hip Hop.
Yes, even before Nashville was music city, Atlanta was where many country music stars came to get their start.
In fact, much like Roy Acuff at the Grand Ole Opry, Cotton found a similar stature at the WSB Barndance while Jane became one of the regulars on the show sharing her musical and singing talents for nearly a decade.
Today, when we think about radio, we think about the local station, but in those days there were some powerhouses that could be heard on clear channels as far as the signals would carry taking these shows into every portion of the United States.
So during the 1940s, to radio listeners, they were as big a radio star as Jack Benny, Bob Hope or a long list of others that they tuned in when they were not working.
Cotton moved on into local television as the focus of radio shifted away from the live programming. Of course, he continued in radio as well spinning the latest country platters for Atlanta listeners.
As the country music culture shifted almost totally to Nashville, Cotton and Jane decided to stay in Atlanta and help build the music industry there. Cotton joined Bill Lowery and Lowery Music Group and through their music helped artists on the route to become big country stars finding such as Lynn Anderson, Ray Stevens and others.
Cotton also had a hand through his work ushering in the Rock and Roll sounds of folks like Tommy Roe, the Tams and the genre crossing Joe South.
No matter what they did behind the scenes, they would always be part of the 1930s and 40s generation of country music radio stars which found their way into the hearts of America.
In Atlanta and in Georgia, they were music royalty and time and time again, they made their way to our house with guitar and accordion in hand and found their place in the circle for the jam session.
When it came their time they would often share a song they thought we should learn that listeners use to hear them do 30 or 40 years earlier on radio.
Country gold was shared in those nights and I still mine those memories as I entertain.
But the encouragement they shared went far beyond the music and into business as I went on to college and started in the music business world. The lessons for on stage and off helped to shape me.
As I closed the lid on that box, I felt so much better. A warm feeling of love had filled my soul as I thought back on these wonderful people who invested in me.
Do you have those who invested in your life not related to you? If they are still in this world, why don’t you take a moment and let them know what their efforts meant to you.
Knowing might give them a feeling of love that uplifts their spirits.