Fear itself

“The only thing we have to fear is, fear itself” were some words that the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt shared with the nation at a time when the people were in need of comfort.
Have you found yourself afraid with the recent pandemic?
Fear manifests itself differently sometimes depending on the circumstances.
In some folks their insides curl up and squirm; the heart beats faster; there is and increased sensitivity to everything in their environment, while others feel trapped within themselves sinking into crying or freezing from dread.
In the recent nationwide experience, it seems to have kicked off a passion for collecting toilet paper. I am sure one day we may understand that response, but I have to admit it eludes me presently.
I have felt fear several times in my life. There is what we may consider good fears – those spurred from watching a scary film or TV show or going through a haunted house. I did that quite a bit as a youth but find myself steering away from that now.
There are also fears that tell us when we are steering from the path we should be on whether physically or spiritually.
I know that I have felt this in both cases, it is sort of a sixth sense that you need to be cautious and aware.
Do we always listen to the fear? No, at times we don’t and sometimes that is to our detriment and other times it is to our benefit.
I personally feel that in this time, it would be to benefit to not give in to the fear. That does not mean however we should not protect ourselves, our family and loved ones during this time by proper planning and prudent actions.
I am sure that many people who serve and protect us experience a sense of fear as they do their various jobs as police, fire fighters, military and medical professionals – doctors, nurses, technicians, but they must overcome those to help others.
As individuals we can sometimes allow our fears to become so pervasive that they dominate our lives.
From childhood I have fought to overcome fears – fears of being bullied by others, fears of failure, fears of not being good enough. I have awakened in the night in a cold sweat, heart beating fast, stomach in knots, simply afraid. I fear the consequences of something I have said; some perceived error in judgment, failure in character, shortcoming that makes me feel inadequate in the goals I have set for myself or in the expectations of others.
These have not all brought on the extreme fear reaction mentioned above but they are all concerns that I think each of us face in our own way at some point in our lives.
Fear can be an all-consuming force that will destroy our lives if allowed but if recognized for the barometer it is meant to be, fear is there to help protect us.
At this time, find ways to redirect the fear towards creating opportunities to accomplish great goals in your home, your yard, with your internal spirit, and within your family. Find ways to helps others without triggering your fears or theirs and support your local businesses in the time of uncertainty. Respect one another and be kind. We are not the first generation to experience widespread disease, just be thankful that we are more prepared and able to respond better than those before us.
For me, when I find myself with a spirit of fear invading my well being when it is especially unwarranted, I stop and pray for God to ease the fear and forgive me for whatever known or unknown action may have brought it about.
While this does not eliminate the ultimate possibility that whatever was feared may come to pass, it does help center my mind, body and spirit back to where it needs to be – on God.
Everyone makes mistakes that can throw our lives into unanticipated turmoil and bring on that sense of fear for the consequences, the measure of each of us, is how we face those fears.

Family ties won’t be broken

The importance of one’s family connections is something that I believe we are losing in America.
With each generation there are fewer individuals who live close to their extended families, unlike the days when grandma and grandpa lived just in the next room or uncles, aunts and cousins were a short walk down the road.
Many Americans today do not really know the members of their extended family. We spend a few awkward moments together at funerals, family reunions, Christmas and Thanksgiving gatherings and then off we go back to our own lives.
As families build lives miles away from their home many grasp the anonymity of their new surroundings with fervor, often dreading when a distant family member might drop in, disrupting their lives.
Despite the fact that my parents chose to move away from their homes to build a life for themselves in Atlanta, I grew up in a home where our door was open to members of both my mother’s and father’s families. It was not unusual for there to be cousins stretched out on quilted pallets sleeping on the living room floor; uncles rummaging through the refrigerator for green dill pickles as a late night snack; aunts blanching red tomatoes from the garden in the kitchen; or distant kin moving in for an extended stay while they looked for a job or planned a new start.
Because of the time I spent with these people growing up, I feel a much closer connection to them; the shared experiences make chance meetings and gatherings less of a strain today.
It was not unusual for my Mom to get up and start cooking a batch of turnip greens, cornbread and some fried chicken, while cleaning the house from end to end. When asked why she was doing it, she would say “so and so” will be here directly. Sure enough, after a while they would knock at the door. My Mom has a second sense about that. With no forewarning she knew some relative was on their way.
Sundays were a big visiting day. It was not unusual for Uncle Harvey, Aunt Lois and all their kids to load up in the car and be knocking at our door before dinner. Sometimes Grandma Allie and Grandpa Jesse would come along for the ride.
Us cousins would spend the afternoon playing as the folks caught up on all the family news. We might ride over to the airport to watch the planes land or go downtown to sight see. We would eat dinner, and then whomever was visiting would load up in the car and head back up to the mountains of Georgia or Tennessee.
I remember one trip when Uncle Harvey and family came down to see Joe Don Baker in “Walking Tall.” Of course, us kids were not old enough to go to the drive-in and see it so we had a sleepover instead, while most of the adults took in the hit movie.
Just like their visits there, we also visited regularly. Despite the distance it was like we were one family experiencing life together rather than living separate lives and putting up with one another for a few hours at the holidays.
God has called many of those family members for an extended stay at his house. While they are absent here, the experiences still live within me, giving me a sense of the extended family even if there are fewer of them now on this side than there once was.
The stories they told of relatives I never knew made those people alive to me. Through those stories many of my characters come to life on the page in columns and in scripts.
As each holiday rolls by, take the time to experience more than just the ordinary. Help create an experience that will last for yourself and your children throughout the lifetime. It is the shared moments of life that will make the basis for what we know as family.
If we as a country do not work to strengthen our families individually, what will the future hold for the American family as a whole? I guess we will be a country of individuals seeking a group in which to belong. We can only hope those groups aren’t exclusively on social media.

Feudin’ — it’s all in the family

A few months back I met a new friend at a political rally, when I heard the name, I found myself just having to share with him that unfortunately, we could not be friends because we were feudin’.
The young man, of course, had no clue of what I was talking about, so I went on to share a bit about my family history and one of the many historical feuds within the family tree.
When we hear the words family feud, we think of the game show, but in many areas of the mountains the words had a much more serious and sometimes violent meaning. Folks around the world have heard of the Hatfield and McCoy Feud but what about the Swafford Tollett Feud?
I have written many a column about the idyllic happenings of my mother and grandparents in the valley below the Gravelly Spur Mountain. The now peaceful Sequatchie Valley north of Pikeville, Tennessee was the scene that a feud carried on from the Civil War until the 1890s and by some accounts truly did not completely end until the Great Depression.
Many years ago, I met a distant cousin, the late cousin Thomas V. Swafford who had written a book entitled “The Swafford-Tollett Feud.” I learned so much from he and his book shooting straight about the good and the bad, the positive and the negatives of more than 50 years of ill will, court battles, moonshining, gun fights, beatings, burnings and intimidation.
Swafford said in 2007 that many might not wish the stories told.
“A few people may say this book should have not been written,” he said. “They may say it opens old wounds and even that should be swept under the rug and hidden from future generations.”
Several in the previous generation probably preferred to let the tales die in the dust and be washed away by time. That is understandable, many of us prefer to gloss over the misdeeds of those behind us and polish the tarnished memories away.
At the root of the feud is often what we see in the movies and on television, money, revenge, property rights, and even a difference in beliefs. Swafford’s research points many of the early differences to one family aligning with the Confederacy and the other aligning with the Union. What makes it more difficult is the families were intermarried so cousins were feuding with cousins.
Some tales credit the beginning of the feud to be the 1863 murder of John Tollett, Jr., 72, who was tortured and killed by raiders supporting the North during the Civil War of which Aaron Swafford was believed to be amongst. Tollett was said to have a large amount of gold stored away and the raiders tried to make him give it up.
From this one Civil War period murder came decades of fighting.
I could tell you about the big election shoot out led by the Tolletts against the Swaffords and how many people were killed and injured or the logging incident lead by the Swaffords against the Tolletts.
There were many others featured in the book that show the violence moving from one generation to another and affecting other valley families and the law as it begins to take a more active role in trying to control some of the unruly behavior of its participants or their descendants right up into the Great Depression.
Of course, feuding killing wasn’t like regular murder in those days. Swafford quoted one lawyer’s comment that: we take into account whether the victim deserved killing, when he was asked why so many murders go unpunished.
It apparently was very difficult to yield a guilty verdict when the death occurred between two well-known feuding families.
Swafford wrote back then that “I am happy to report today the Tolletts and Swaffords are not only neighbors they are truly friends,” he said.
Personally, I was glad to hear this from my distant cousin. You see I am neither a Tollett nor a Swafford descendant, but I am cousins with both families with our family leaning towards the Tollett side in the feud as best I can tell. Those old suspicions and distrust flowed so deeply into the family beliefs, even I knew of them as a boy and was cautioned as a man to be cautious of dealings with the other family. I really never understood exactly why until I read his book because the stories were kept quiet. I was glad to bury the old feud in my mind by learning more but it never hurts to remind folks that it happened, so we can learn not to repeat the old mistakes.  I am pleased to say, my new friend and I didn’t restart it either.
Besides, I only have one bullet in my shirt pocket left from “In the Heat of the Night,” no need to waste it a feudin’ — you never know when Bubba might need a hand again.

A shave and a haircut

As I sat and squirmed in my chair trying to scratch a place in the middle of my back, I wasn’t very happy that I made a trip to get a haircut. Have you ever noticed when you go to the barber that those little hairs that fall inside your shirt collar can make you itch for the rest of the day?

It kind of makes you understand the “hippie” movement, at least the hair part of it. Although I never understood my middle brother Alan’s desire to have a six-inch afro, it must have been somewhere in the early 70’s, I ran in from playing down the street to find my brother sitting in the living room looking like he had a fight with an electric toaster and lost.

One thing that makes me wonder is why folks go to a salon to get their hair styled. They can do most anything there from your hair to your nails. They even got them places where you can get a full body wrap.

Now when I was growing up, men didn’t go to a salon. A salon was for women. That’s where women folk went to get their hair glued in place before they went to church on Sunday.

Back then, men folk went to barber shops. If a man was caught going in to a beauty salon, it took a month of Sunday’s to live it down.

While memories of my first haircut have faded, I am told that I was really not too much of a squirmer in the barber’s chair. I knew that if I didn’t behave that would be my last time sitting down for a while.

After our family moved from the big city of Little Five Points out to the country in Chamblee, my Dad and I settled on going to a barber named Mr. Saxon. I don’t believe I ever knew his first name, but Mr. Saxon cut my hair from my third birthday all the way through my senior year in high school.

One thing I have learned in my life is that loyalty to a barber is one of the most important choices a man can make. No matter where Mr. Saxon moved his practice through the years, that is where we went to get our hair cut.

Haircuts back then didn’t cost an arm and a leg either. It took me years to not cringe when pulling more than $2 out of my pocket for a haircut.

Initially, the old barber shop had been in business since the days of Civil War reconstruction. As I sat in a red leather swivel barber chair, I would look up above the mirrors on the wall at the shotguns which were mounted above each barber chair in case some restless mountaineer needed to be reminded that he was in town.

Hill folk would ride into town and not only get a haircut, shave and a boot shine, but  take a shower and house their horse out back while they were in town.

Mr. Saxon always managed to keep my Dad and I properly trimmed. After my cut, I would always help out by sweeping up the hair clippings on the gray tile floor. Through the years, it was amazing how I always seemed to sweep up a dime or two to put in the old red carousel Coca-Cola machine when I was done.

Through the years, Mr. Saxon imparted many words of wisdom on this impressionable lad. Probably the one that stuck the most was “Always remember, no matter who you meet in life, your mom and dad will be the best friends you will ever have.”

By the time I had reached my senior year, Mr. Saxon was growing near retirement. While he was once a whiz, time was taking its toll. The loyalty within me insisted that he would be the one to cut my hair before my senior photos were taken. Unfortunately, that haircut left a lasting memory and was not a great testament to his many years of talented barbering.

By the time I reached Georgia State University, trends in the outside world were making franchise style shops the place where people went for a trim. It was difficult for me to take my first steps into such a place, but eventually I did. Unlike the old barber shop, almost every time you went in there would be a different butcher on duty.

As my musical star began to rise, a fellow musician from Chicago, Sue Koskela, had taken up the trade and become an award winning stylist. Thankfully for me she was kind enough to take me on as a client and would always travel in to handle photo shoots and album covers. She settled near Knoxville for many years, and I would regularly make the six-hour round trip from Atlanta to have her work her magic. I am not exaggerating; what she did was magic. I knew when I walked out of there, I would not have to do anything to my hair and I would be sporting whatever latest style suited my look and shape of my face. Every time I went elsewhere, I usually looked like a cross between the Frankenstein monster and “Mo” from the Three Stooges.

When I joined the cast of “In the Heat of the Night” as “Officer Randy Goode,” my head and hair became the responsibility of whichever hair and makeup artists were assigned to oversee my look. They had to make sure that we actors looked consistent throughout scenes that were filmed out of sequence. In one of those happenstance moments, we got a new and short-lived hair artist who decided to give me a different look for an episode entitled “Heart of Gold.” I had one of my largest feature appearances of the early series. It was amazing to me how detrimental that look on camera was for me. I never realized until that point how much a person’s hair style has to do with how they are perceived by other people.

Good grooming is something we can all do to make the world a better place, but finding a good barber these days can be as hard as finding a six-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola for a dime.