Thank Your Lucky Stars

Webster describes a star as a celestial body with twinkling points of light. The wise men of old followed a star to the baby Jesus. Centuries ago, sailors learned to navigate themselves around the world by the stars.
Today, many look at people who have reached a certain status in their field as stars.
Do we look at these people as twinkling points of light? I imagine some do. Many stars use their celebrity to accomplish great works of charity.
The late Danny Thomas and his St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital is a wonderful example. Now, many years after Mr. Thomas left us, his work lives on in the children they help each and every day.
I have been blessed to know many stars in my life. People who I have admired. People who have been guides to me in the darkest of night, or the brightest of day.
First and foremost, one of the greatest stars I have ever come to know is Jesus. His light has lead millions now for 2000 years. For this Georgia boy, he is always there to lean on, or to guide me through whatever comes my way.
My parents were stars to me. No matter what they faced, the great depression, war, meeting the needs of my brothers and I, they were always there doing what had to be done.
Many teachers were stars to me. At any given point in my schooling, I can find one teacher who stood out in giving me more than what was required. They would make whatever I wanted seem important. No matter how dumb the question was, they made it seem intelligent. One teacher in particular, because of his love of music, changed the direction of my life. Dr. Donald Grisier brought the fiddle into my life and set the stage for God to open so many doors.
My first employer, Joe Wyche, ran the local Dairy Queen near where I grew up outside Atlanta. He and the managers, David and Ed, gave me a chance to earn a little money. I was able to learn responsibility and how to deal with customers. Thanks to their guidance, I soon became one of the youngest managers in the Dairy Queen system. But before that I could make the best cone curl in the business. All the people I worked with there were stars to me.
Now I have mentioned parents, teachers and a restaurateur as being stars. Now I’ll mention a couple of people who you may consider to be popular stars.
When I was still in my teens, Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music, took interest in this young fiddler. He spent many hours sharing his music with me. Grand Ole Opry stars Jim & Jesse also become huge advocates and mentors in my life. They were my guides, my teachers, my friends and some of the highest stars in the musical heavens to me.
Carroll O’Connor, TV’s “Archie Bunker” and “Chief Gillespie,” and Alan Autry, TV’s “Bubba,” both took an interest in me as a person and in my work. They took the time, along with many producers like Walt Dornisch, directors like Peter Salim, Larry Hagman and Leo Penn and other actors to encourage me, teach me and give me opportunities to go where a boy from Georgia could not even imagine — on “In the Heat of the Night.” These and so many others are stars to me from that period in my life.
So many stars touch our lives every day. To me a star can be anyone who does what they do well. Then they share that God-given talent with others. They may be a good cook, a great mechanic, a successful salesperson, an inspiring clergyman, a visionary statesman or a cone-maker. They are all stars to me. Why don’t you take a look at the stars in your life? and let them know that your life is better because their light is shining on you. Is your light shining on those around you? If so, you can be a star too.

Animals are Christians too — aren’t they?

When there was no place among people for Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, the animals made room for the birth of Jesus in a stable. Donkeys and horses were probably among the first to look upon the Son of God.
Isn’t it only appropriate that there be a place for them in the Kingdom of God? I am reminded of an old farmer, Jebadiah Cross who had worked his fields side by side with his old gray mule named Flossie for many years. When Flossie died, he called the Presbyterian preacher to come and do the funeral for his Flossie.
Upon arrival, the elderly preacher stepped down from the buggy, dusted his long black overcoat, and straightened his black stovepipe hat. He prepared himself for comforting the family. He was shocked when Jebediah led him to the barn and he discovered the dearly departed Flossie was only a mule. He popped on his hat, said there was no way he would ever preside over a service for a mule and sped towards his carriage.
So Jebadiah called on the new Methodist minister. Just in his twenties, he had arrived from seminary to serve an established congregation. This was to be his first funeral. Nervously, the young man came out to visit Jebadiah. After discovering that Flossie was not a member of the family, the minister had to break the news that he could not do it because he was worried about how his new congregation might react.
Finally, he called a Baptist pastor. The pastor arrived in a Ford Model T. It almost sighed with relief when the middle-aged well-fed pastor stepped to the ground. Again, Jebediah led the clergy through the house and then back into the barn where Flossie lay in state. He concurred with his fellow clergymen that he couldn’t lead a funeral service for a mule.
As the pastor headed for the barn door, Jebadiah looked down at his faithful companion, stroked her mane and said, “Well, Flossie, I guess I’ll just have to keep that $10 for the preacher.”
The Baptist pastor turned and said, “You should have told me Flossie was a Baptist.”
Animals are sometimes better friends than most folks are. Cats, dogs, fish and birds can all make differences in our lives.
Some folks are cat people — I am not a cat person. Not that I have anything against them. It is just when I am around them I sneeze, itch, scratch, turn blue and eventually die. But if there is a cat anywhere to be found, nine chances out of 10, it is rubbing up against my leg.
When I look at a potential date, one of my first questions is: “Do you like pets?” If they have a dog, I know that I am safe — well sort of. Some of them can leave a permanent impression. I have one of those on my right leg. Boy, old Bugar sure could bite.
Ever since I was a little boy, I have been a dog person. You can do so much more with a dog.
What can cats do anyway? They lay around the house and eat. That is a man’s job isn’t it? Might explain why so many women have cats instead of men. Most women probably want only one animal laying around the house anyway; at least cats don’t talk back.
But dogs, they can hunt, play Frisbee, scare off bad guys. I remember one of my first dogs when I was little, Brutis. I couldn’t have been more than three-feet tall. He was six feet if he was an inch. I am not kidding. He could stand on his hind legs and look my dad in his eyes.
Often my dad would say after supper, “Why don’t you go out and play with Brutis.”
Play with Brutis? That dog played with me. I was like a big, squeaky toy for him.
He had this little game he would play — let’s see how many times we can knock Randall to the ground. He was a good trainer; eventually I learned how to play dead.
I will say this: Brutis was a cultured dog. He had the finest taste in clothing. One time he felt that I was not dressed quite right, he held me down and tore every stitch of clothes off me.
I think it was his way of saying, “My mommy dresses me funny.”
My mother did not care for his fashion advice and he was soon on his way to destination unknown.
I sort of envision him on the defensive line of the Bulldogs. He sure knew how to tackle.
From the comedy story “Animals are Christians Too — Aren’t They?” by Randall Franks, used by permission of Peach Picked Publishing.

Chicken in the country and a Tennessee Moon

Great Country Moments is a special internet production of Springer Mountain Farms® that in January will feature episodes with Janie Fricke, Oak Ridge Boys, Rex Allen Jr., Mark Chesnutt, Bill Anderson, Jeannie Seely, Confederate Railroad, Charley Pride and Ronnie McDowell. The program is available online at
Through the one-of-a-kind story segments, the featured country stars will take viewers through some of the best times of their career and reveal emotional, exciting, and memorable moments that fans have never heard first-hand. Along with the videos will be trivia questions that viewers can answer to enter a contest to win a variety of prizes. A grand prize of a free freezer full of chicken will be given away to one lucky winner who participates in the trivia contest.
The “Great Country Moments” series features a new video being released each week. The recipe segments will reveal the artist’s favorite homemade recipes using Springer Mountain Farms® chicken, along with a written recipe that will be available to viewers. Some of the stars featured in the series include Charlie Daniels, The Oak Ridge Boys, Tanya Tucker, Ronnie McDowell, Deborah Allen, Jimmy Fortune and many more.
“Springer Mountain Farms enjoys many wonderful partnerships with the country music community. Great Country Moments is another great outlet to feature some of country music’s finest with an added bonus, their favorite chicken recipe! We have created a living cookbook that fans and Springer Mountain Farms® chicken lovers can follow along with. I can’t wait to try the recipes out in my kitchen!” said Gus Arrendale, President of Springer Mountain Farms.
On the bluegrass front, check out the new Pinecastle release Jan. 17 from Ray Cardwell called Tennessee Moon
Tennessee Moon has a clear New Grass influence in producer Pat Flynn. However, with nine out of twelve tunes written by Cardwell, the album is his own take on that classic sound.
“I feel my music is based upon the traditional style of bluegrass and old timey music my parents raised me on, and the collection of musical experiences I’ve had in my journey through life, Cardwell said. “My songwriting is a direct reflection of new ideas balanced with the traditions of the past.”
Flynn also adds his talents on guitar and harmony vocals to the album along with fellow New Grass Revival alum John Cowan lending tenor and harmony vocals on many of the tracks. Cardwell has already built a touring band of incredible musicians to take his music on the road as Ray Cardwell & Tennessee Moon.
Ray honed his musical chops playing in The Cardwell family bluegrass band in the late 1970’s. In the ‘80s he spent time playing rock and reggae before moving to Nashville in the ‘90s to be a member of the bluegrass band, the New Tradition. He returned to his home state of Missouri a few years later to raise a family while teaching vocal and instrumental ensembles. Along the way he has had experience with an eclectic mix of musical genres from bluegrass and Americana to musical theater and Motown. Now living in Nashville,  Cardwell has returned to his musical roots while blending in his varied influences to create a style all his own. For more information, visit

Reaching back to push forward

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.
This morning I have pondered along with some of my fellow writers what common ground there is 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.
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 much of farming shift to larger business concerns and there has been a generation, possibly two, of individuals which have no close connection to the land, they didn’t grow up on the farm or even spend days helping their grandparents haul hay, cut okra, pick tomatoes or pull corn.
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? What values of history are we giving the current generation? Will they look back at a tractor and ask, “What’s that?”
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 our ancestors’ custom. What will happen to a generation with no food because there will be no way to move it 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 disaster, had some amount of food to eat. Thousands of people who lived in the cities were able to receive 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?
While I’ll say that I believe that many leaders have considered the possibility, I do not think that we have a plan in place that could keep our state or county functioning on its own. 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 such a 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 and 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.
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 a 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 its 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 rather than what the public wants to hear. 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, it’s not just the job of Washington, Atlanta, Chattanooga, the guy next door, it’s not just the job of 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 roots? I think as long as our society continues to head in the same direction, each generation will make their way into the brave new world but it’s the what ifs that sometime worry me and make me thankful that God is in control. But even with God’s control He expects all of us to do our part. Perhaps getting closer to and understanding the role that the land plays in our lives and making sure that that role never vanishes might be one way we can improve our little corner of the world.