The ferris wheel

As I held tightly to my mother’s right hand, I gripped the striped-red string that held my blue, green and yellow balloon we bought from the bright-colored clown. I knew if I didn’t hold on to both with all my might they might get lost amidst the crowd moving between the fair rides. I never saw so many people bumping into each other in my life. It was wall to wall people.

We waited in line to get a chance to ride the huge, white, wooden roller coaster. Burt Reynolds later blew it up in one of his movies, but today it was one of the biggest rides I had ever seen, and I want to tell you I was a little scared and excited at a chance to ride it.

I was not sure if my stomach would keep down the combination of cotton candy, popcorn and hot dogs that had been the diet I pleaded for from my parents. Only a candied apple remained on my list of items I just had to have.

My mother told me I had to wait.

I watched as Dad pointed the gun at the ducks, knocking duck after duck down. He was a very good shot. Then I watched my mom take a turn, and she out-shot him. My dad helped me hold the gun and use one of his turns. I was so excited when I hit the bell. I am sure my dad played a big part in guiding the aim of my intentions.

We walked away with an arm full of odds and ends as prizes. I am sure they were glad to see us move on to the game where you try to get the rings on the bottles. We did not do as well at that.

There were judgings for pies, preserves and all kinds of foods. We moved from building to building, where farmers young and old brought their best livestock hoping to score a blue or red ribbon.

Throughout our visit to the Southeastern Exposition at the Lakewood Fairgrounds near Atlanta, Ga., I knew one thing — whatever we did, we had to wait. Patience for a four-year-old like me was not something that came easy. I gave it my best shot, but I am sure there was some squirming and squealing involved.

Of all the experiences at my first visit to a fair, it was the bright colors of the rides; the musical sounds and all the people smiling that stick most in my memory.

Over the years as an entertainer, I have been to many fairs, but for some reason in my mind, none of them ever quite measure up to my first one.

Throughout my youth, I was a regular rider of the rides that spin you around faster and faster. I saw a photo circulating of it recently on Facebook. I remember getting on one of those rides 18 times in a row. For some reason in my late teens, my constitution changed. After my date and I got off the short ride on a large ferris wheel, lets say that cotton candy, hot dogs and popcorn I ate when I was four finally caught up with me. Since then, I have not been able to enjoy many rides, but I still enjoy the sights and sounds.

We all now can only dream of the day when we will gather again on the midway or enjoy large events. One day, we will again. Just remember, patience and courtesy will see us through what is ahead. I am sure there will be some things that might not move as fast as people would like but one thing is for sure — there is nothing quite like the thought of a fair to put a smile on your face.

Uncle Dud Doolittle and the rickety ladder

I am sitting on experience overload as we all are dealing with the nationwide pandemic shutdown and my local region is reeling due to tornadoes and flooding. So, I am turning us to a bit of levity to raise the spirits:

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.)

Kin folks as far as the eye can see

Have you ever really wondered where it is you are from? How did your folks come to be in this place or how did you get to where you are? Can you point to some place and say that there is home?
When I think of home its not the house I live in, in my waking moments I think back to the valley below the Gravelly Spur, or the little house my grandparents lived in near Tunnel Hill. In sleep it’s the little brick house in Northeast Atlanta where my childhood adventures brought great pains to my parents.
It is really amazing how today thanks to the internet, we can know more about the people that came before us, honor their contributions or learn from their mistakes.
Have you considered that upon your back you carry the hopes and dreams of generations of people who struggled through famine, disease, war, oppression, endless hours of labor? All of their years of faith in God, effort, sometimes sacrifice, in some cases even martyrdom is now upon you to carry the family’s banner passing it to the next generation.
That is a heavy weight to consider as we lean back in our leather recliner grasping tightly to the remote flipping through the channels hoping for something to watch. Oh, look there’s “Braveheart,” so you watch a few minutes of the carnage depicted that some of our ancestors endured; flip a few more channels and there’s “Dances with Wolves.” Then you watch some of the cruelty some of our ancestors inflicted upon others. A couple of more channels over is “Gettysburg” and there we see brother against brother fighting for their lives in the War Between the States.
There are so many epic struggles in history upon which our peoples stood on one side or the other, sometimes taking up arms, sometimes just trying to survive as the world careened out of control around them.
Family experiences help to shape us into whom we become in life. Sometimes we choose not to pay attention to those stories dismissing them as useless nonsense. It is amazing how each generation struggles through the same issues: putting a roof over one’s head; clothes on one’s back, food on the table and paying the bills. Most of this is accomplished by one simple teaching — work hard and with God’s help you will succeed.
These are the basics in every generation’s experience, its what we bring to the table beyond these basics that help to give a family a sense of accomplishment.
Families are forever linked together by blood but they also share a history, they may not always see eye-to-eye but as time marches on from one generation to the next, the question is what are you passing along.
In some families, they see this as a gift of property; in others, it’s simply the gift of love and caring that stays with one’s family long after you have stepped through to meet God.
Does blood alone make one family — no, not always, in order to be family, there are other attributes that must be there. A sense of caring, love, fair play and mutual respect are a start. But as a basis the shared experiences of those that came before will always connect those who carry a bit of their ancestors within them.
I was raised in a family where kin folks cared about each other, they helped all they could, didn’t always agree but usually ironed out those differences especially following a gentile tongue lashing by the most senior member of the family reminding them that differences are usually petty compared to the big painting that reaches back through the years.
Hardly a month goes by that I am not blessed with talking with a relative I never met before. Someone who in days past might be called second cousin or third cousin, twice removed. If my Grandma Allie were still here, she would tell me exactly how we were related and then share some bit of family memories about their folks. Of course, she came up in a time that really all kinfolks had been each other and the times they shared.
In this world where everything moves so fast, I encourage you to pass along the wisdom of the generations in every way you can find because we are the standard bearers for all those behind us but more importantly for those ahead of us. We are in a unique time when families are together, hopefully checking on older relatives by phone or computers who are isolating. This is a perfect time to pass the time by collecting the family stories and setting them down for generations to come.

The show must go on

Social media outlets these days are filled with living room concerts, musicians pickin’ away to empty performance halls, one-on-ones from their decks and every corner of performers’ spaces.
The current pandemic has resulted in performers’ slates of appearances being cleared for months to come. I am in that same boat. Many performers are now struggling like everyone else, founding themselves sheltering away from work.
People are often impressed by the glamour they think makes up such a large portion of stars’ lives, but like your hometown businesses, often performers are struggling to keep the doors open behind the scenes, and their employees paid. I encourage you, if you are able, and see these online concerts, and if they are asking for donations, or sharing merchandise that you can buy, please do. We are all in this together but even despite these cancellations, it reminds me of the old adage – the show must go on. Here is one of my stories of just that kind of fortitude.
As I drove into the McReynold’s farm outside Nashville, in my mind I was preparing for another weekend out on the road with Grand Ole Opry stars Jim and Jesse. Jesse and his late wife Darlene opened their home to me and I often stayed overnight in the two-story farmhouse where they raised their family. When the brothers joined the Opry, they bought a farm which they both continue to live on.
In many ways, I became an extended member of the family. When I drove into the driveway, I noticed the back of the bus opened up. Underneath the bus, I found Jesse tangled between what makes a diesel engine tick. Folks who are used 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 were joking backstage. “I said it is liable to blow when I go out there.”
As the audience laughed at my first punch line, I hit the first chord. The sound system blew. I was standing there with some of America’s most talented musicians ready to play and no way for the audience to hear us. Thanks to the fast work of Travis, Little Roy Lewis and a couple of others, they got the system up and running. Needless to say, for any entertainer, standing in front of audience, trying to keep them entertained as the sound system is being fixed is less than a glamorous situation.
When the show is over, after visiting with the folks in the audience, the groups have to tear down the equipment, load up and hit the road for the next gig and do it all over again.
What I have found through the years is that stars who tend to take care of things themselves have the longest and most productive careers.
I’d rather be more like Jesse, putting on the grease covered coveralls to keep things going than having everything served on a silver platter.
But I’ll never again joke about blowing out the sound system again. You don’t reckon it was my singing, do you?

My Own Chicken

When I was just a little boy on the farm, I spent much of my time fascinated by the baby animals — a young colt, a calf, baby chicks and ducklings.
When I was big enough, my grandmother said it was time I had my very own chicken.
Since becoming an adult, I have learned to appreciate the importance of chicken — fried chicken, baked chicken, chicken fricassee or chicken casserole. While traveling as a singer from church to church, you can’t help but become accustomed to it.  Everywhere you go some nice lady always comes with a great big platter of Southern fried chicken for you to eat.
But as a child, I had not really connected the fact that little baby chicks grow up to be dinner.
Since we lived in the suburbs of Atlanta, Grandma said when I was ready she would give me three eggs and hopefully one would hatch.
To get ready, we had to order an incubator by mail to replace the warmth of the hen. The little yellow hatchery looked like a small spaceship.
After getting set up, Grandma picked out three eggs for me on our next trip to the farm. I remember coming in each day and gently turning the eggs so they would be heated evenly on both sides from the bulb in the bottom.
I watched those little eggs patiently, knowing that one day soon I would have my very own baby chick.
After a while, two of the three eggs decided it was time to get out of that spaceship and began to break through the egg.
I will never forget my excitement as each little yellow being came into a new world. Of course, for me it was hard to tell what they were going to be when they grew up. With the names I gave them, “Roscoe” and “King,” it worked out well since they both turned out to be roosters.
I did my best with the help of my folks to nurse those little chicks into adulthood.
They stayed in a little box in the kitchen and were fed and watered until they got big enough to go outside.
In our back yard, they made friends with my dog “Track,” and the trio had a fine old time running about. Of course, I think Track had more fun than Roscoe and King. He always seemed to be doing the chasing.
I am sure the neighbors were not overjoyed by the addition of the chickens to our subdivision, but as long as they were quiet, the chickens were welcome.
As roosters will, eventually they began to raise the sun with their crowing.
While we never had any complaints, I know the neighbors would eventually tire from their early morning alarms. So, Roscoe and King got to go on a trip to Grandma’s farm.
It was tough to let them go, but I did, and they seemed much happier running around the barn yard with all the other chickens.
I did get to visit them from time to time. Of course, I did receive some ribbing from my aunt Bessie in her letters on how good they were at last Sunday’s dinner.
It was much later when my mother Pearl and her friends, Mary Burgess and Nettie Fischer, decided that they would cut some corners and save money on the food budget. They decided to buy a bunch of chickens for a dime a piece, kill and clean them and put them in the freezer so we would have plenty to eat. As a little kid, I watched all the hard work the ladies put into this process. I watched as the chickens did their dance as they lost their heads. After seeing the little critters running around the yard, I just did not have the heart to eat a one of them. I guess I just pictured them as being Roscoe and King.
The experience taught me a tremendous amount about the responsibility of taking care of little ones. Perhaps the same is true of people.
Wouldn’t it be a nice world if everyone realized the importance of providing constant care and guidance to their little ones until they can run with the other big people and take care of themselves?