Finding choices for a positive life

If circumstances have set out a path for you in life, sometimes your senses become dulled to the cherished moments that surround you.
You might become busy with meeting the demands of the day – keeping a family fed or meeting the demands of one’s job. You may find yourself in a race to achieve something more. You could be seeking to take yourself away from what you see as a sadness in your world or a darkness in your soul.
The holiday season can be a period when the weight of these circumstances is heavy upon the shoulders. We often cannot see the great blessings that fill our lives, the moments of kindness that folks share with us to brighten our day. The note, the e-mail, the call from out of the blue, the funny dog video someone sends on Facebook.
They are small but meant to share a sense that we are all in this life together and only through each other’s encouragement can we overcome the tough moments created both within our minds and without in our circumstances.
Sometimes we make decisions drawn to a choice because we seek a respite, we desire something different than we have, and we later realize that the diversion or the shiny new thing was not really what was best for us or our love ones. Then we must face the consequences of our choice.
Hopefully, these will be light upon our shoulders. But no matter the weight or the duration of the self-inflicted pain, we have the opportunity to carry the burden to a better place in life.
That can come from within ourselves, the love and encouragement of friends and families, and for me, from my faith that God can carry me through whatever comes and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
So, as we stroll through the lights, see the smiles, hear the laughter, let’s remember that joy is shared for all of us, and while the darkness may creep in momentarily to shadow our circumstances, the greatest gift of the season came to earth for the lonely, for the broken, for the sinners, to give us all the opportunity to realize that we can make a difference and the smallest joys of this world were put here for us all.

Warsh and wear

Today most folks don’t give a second thought if they get their clothes dirty to go and change into another outfit.
In the valley below the Gravelly Spur, an abundance of clothes in the closet was not something that most folks experienced.
The Woods boys, like everyone, were often faced with limited things to wear. Little Woody had only two pairs of overalls and two shirts.
After working in the fields two days in a row, both pairs of his overalls and his two shirts were stained with red dirt and mud. He came to his older sister and said “I haven’t got anything to wear to school tomorrow.”
She took him into the bedroom reached into the closet, pulled out her extra dress, and laid it on the bed.
“Get that on and I’ll wash up your overalls.”
Little Woody didn’t have much choice in the matter it was either put the dress on or run around in his all together. So out of the clod covered overalls and into the gray colored dress he slipped.
So even though it was late in the day, she pulled out the washtub and the warshboard and scrubbed them overalls from rusty brown to a faded blue.
She took them out and hung them to dry on the clothesline, as one would normally do.
As the family went to sleep that night, the temperature dropped way below freezing. When the family slowly made their way out into the kitchen wiping the sleep from their eyes with the rooster’s crow, little Woody’s older sister sent one of the other boys to fetch the overalls while she cooked.
He brought them in frozen solid, straight as a board. He stands them in the corner taking a bit of delight in the feat.
Woody is standing there in her gray dress and says “What are we going to do, I can’t were those to school and I am sure not wearing this dress.”
She took the overalls and shirts and placed them on chairs by the fireplace and within just a short time the overalls and shirts had melted into something looking like the occupants had simply disappeared. She quickly ironed one of the shirts.
Woody could not wait to get out of the dress and as soon as the overalls were warm enough and before the iron had hit them, he was into one of the pairs and out of that dress.
While the experience might not have been so bad for little Woody if his older brothers did not see the whole thing as an opportunity for some good old fashion ribbing once they got to school.
When the Moss brothers asked the Wood boys what they had done the night before each mentioned some adventure they had but one of them had to say, “Woody didn’t do anything. He was afraid to come out of the house cause someone might see him wearing sister’s dress.”
Needless to say this was enough to get Little Woody’s blood to boiling and with a little more agitation its safe to say that clean pair of overalls picked up a little schoolyard dirt as the kidders found themselves on the receiving end of his frustration.
Good thing his sister washed both pairs of overalls or he’d been back in that dress all over again.

A leaf  of strength

The leaf swayed hanging on to the lonely limb tightly.  As if, to say to the world “I am not done and you are not going to make me fall down no matter what you throw at me.” All of its fellow leaves had given up the ghost blowing in whatever direction the wind desired them to go. Some managed to find a resting place at the foot of the majestic oak tree to spend the winter becoming the woodland blanket upon which the rain would fall before soaking into the ground.
My Grandad sat quietly on the porch staring at the leave bobbing in the wind.
He had come back from a tremendous stroke that took the wind from his earthly sails. The man who seemed would not bend to nothing could now barely lift himself from the chair in which he sat.
On this fall day though spying that lone leaf seemed to fortify him more than anything that anyone had to bolster his spirits. He stared endlessly watching its fight and as the fight struggled on from one day to two, to a week, his personal strength seemed to grow.
He managed each day no matter how the wind blew or what elements forced themselves past the mountain homestead, he walked himself out to the porch to spend some time sitting, later leaning against the porch post, and then standing as upright as the years would allow. He was always looking off towards the oak tree and its one hold out to the whims of the world saying nothing that revealed the focus of his internal thoughts.
As the winter came on strong, he would rise up and with his cane in hand, he eventually walked off the porch and towards that mighty oak tree going as far as he felt comfortable then returning to the porch. With each trip he got closer to his goal and he soon reached the tree looking straight up towards the hanging leaf.
There were a few times he would take one hand lean against the trunk of the tree and with the other lift his cane as far as he could trying to hit the leaf that centered his focus. He was just shy of reaching it and he would eventually tire and return to the warmth of the fireplace inside.
The light covering of snow did not even dissuade him to making his trek to the oak and returning home and with each passing day he grew stronger.
By the first signs of spring, he no longer limited his walking to just the tree and he was taken on even more of the activities that made his day sing around the farm.
It was on a spring day that the tree had refilled all its limbs and the greenery made it full and majestic. Grandad could no longer see the lone leaf from the porch so he decided to make another trek to see what had become of his now old companion who he fought alongside against the world’s elements.
As he reached the tree, he looked upon the ground to find it to no avail so he turned his gaze upward and amongst the lush green leaves there it was – one brown leaf still holding on to its place amidst the green youngsters around it.
Grandad’s face seemed to change as his face fought back the effects of the stroke moved to show a smile.
He raised his cane, almost in a sense of a salute to the lone leaf, then turned and walked down the trail towards the valley store. Emboldened by the lone leaf, he was figuring to hold on to his place in the world and stand as the man he was inside, no matter what nature threw against him.
We need more people in this world who work to overcome what they face finding the inner strength that God placed within each of His creations.

Let’s turkey trot through November

It is always heartwarming to me as the calendar turns to November!
For me, my favorite holiday is always Thanksgiving. Perhaps it was all the great food that my late mother prepared while I was as a kid that solidified the experience at the top of my list.
Perhaps, it was the neighbors who would drop by bringing some little sweet to join in the festivities.
Maybe, it was the carloads of cousins that would fill the driveway and provide and endless array of opportunities for fun and games. Whether it was an afternoon football game, hide and seek, or a full selection of board games, the collection of various ages of uncles, aunts and cousins looking for something to occupy our times before the internet and cable had stolen our focus gave a lot of options. When the kids were run out of the house to keep from disturbing the men folk gathered in the living room, or the womenfolk toiling away at food preparations.
The table was set with the best we had, the finest linens, the nicest china service, the best silverware, the newest coordinated glasses. The table leafs were added to make it bigger and chairs were brought in from every nook and cranny in the house. A small children’s table was made up with items that could survive their rambunctious approach.
By the time folks were seated and grace was said, the race was on to pass every dish around giving a chance for a spoon full of each delicious dish – turkey, stuffing, cranberries, green beans, yellow corn, deviled eggs, mashed potatoes and gravy, and rolls. Of course, the speed of appetite had nothing to do with a table filled with pumpkin pie, chocolate pie, coconut cake, zucchini bread, and cookies of all kinds that awaited a full ravaging by the hoards of guests and kin.
When the feast was over, then there would be music, and stories told filled with moments of laughter, and youthful presentations of talents as we slowly fell into a quiet time that comes with full bellies and smiling faces.
As I look around the room today, I see the shadows of those smiling faces, though many are now gone. With every shadow, my heart warms upon the fires of love that burned within all our souls so many years ago within our home. It warms each passing Thanksgiving. I hope yours is filled with love and creating memories.

The colors of things yet to be seen

As I drove through the mountains of Arkansas looking at bright yellows, deep reds and variety of greens and browns, I felt a warmness coming over me beckoning back to my childhood riding in the back seat of my parents blue 1964 Chevy Malibu as we made our way through the mountains heading to who knows where.
The adventure of travel was something that we all enjoyed, trying to find something we had not seen, something that would be an experience we could share throughout our memories.
I don’t know what it was that made those trips through the hills and hollers in full color that drew me into a sense of security while yet being awed by the change of the seasons enveloping us.
As we drove I would watch the leaves whisk around in our wake as the car sped through the countryside, often as we would unexpectedly swoop over a hill I would feel my stomach jump like being on a roller coaster.
If we travelled into the night and the temperature began to drop, I was allowed to curl up in the floorboard near the heater vent and I would drift off to sleep until my father scooped me up in his arms and took me into our destination for a night’s rest. Today, I know that is something children will never experience and probably for safety reasons for the best.
We would roll through small town after small town sometimes stopping for a visit, sometimes not, but eventually our journey would take us to somewhere we had never been before.
In a way, I guess in the modern sense this was the pioneering blood deep within our spirits that inspired the need to see something new. Unlike a generation before when travel meant horses, wagons or even train trips, if you could afford it, we were blessed with affordable gasoline and the advantage and freedom of travel by automobile as far as the roads could take us.
Unlike our forbearers, we weren’t the first to see a thing unseen by previous frontiersman, but still there was a sense of the unknown especially for me as a child.
I guess that has never left me, even as I pour over faded photos of those trips, sights that are now just a memory, I still feel that exhilaration, I see the sights through the window of that Malibu.
Even today with the higher cost of gas and travel, I still feel an excitement when I slip behind the wheel and head off to some place I have never been before. Although after years of travel as an entertainer, I have to travel much farther away to see those unknowns but I still seek the sights.
As you travel in the coming weeks, I hope you and your family and friends, find new sights, make new memories, and are blessed with the beauty of the season.

103 Years and counting – an American treasure Violet Hensley

I just got off the phone doing something that only a handful of folks get to do in life. I wished “Happy Birthday” to a friend – Violet Hensley – who was celebrating her 103rd birthday.
There are moments just such as these which bring people together. Common experiences such as championship wins of athletes or sporting teams, pivotal events which shape our nation or the world, iconic performances or awards by those who inspire us through performance.
I spent a couple years of my life helping Violet bring together her life story for the book “Whittlin’ and Fiddlin’ My Own Way: The Violet Hensley Story” a few years ago.
She has entertained countless millions both live and on television through appearances on American standards such as “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Captain Kangaroo,” “To Tell the Truth,” “Regis and Kathie Lee” and countless other shows through decades of performing. She even reached her dream of playing the Grand Ole Opry, a show that came on the air when she was 9 years old and was initially heard on a battery powered radio in the rural Arkansas farm area of Alamo where she grew up. She has appeared three times since her 99th birthday.
She is one of America’s first nationally known female fiddlers and fiddler makers who had inspired generations of girls and boys on every imaginable children’s show from coast to coast to know they could play American music and even learn to build a fiddle if they desired. Someone who became the image of one of America’s most iconic theme parks and thus an American folk legend.
Much like Dolly Parton for Dollywood and Mickey Mouse for Disneyland – Violet Hensley’s smile, laughter, wit and uplifting spirit, helped shape the family memories and experiences that fueled Midwestern American culture. As she continues the path before her, this season she is working at Fall Festival in Branson at Silver Dollar City where folks have seen her for 53 seasons. They are still giving love back to her for a lifetime of entertaining, teaching, and encouraging and thanking her for all the struggles and hardships that went along with it and fueled her life experience.
Last year, the Arkansas Living Treasure was inducted into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame. Thank you, Violet, for touching America and the world with your talents, your strong-willed work ethic and never-faltering faith! To learn more about her visit VioletHensley.com or like “Whittlin’ and Fiddlin’ My Own Way” on Facebook. There is much to learn about life from someone who lived 103 years, who raised a large family while living as a farmer/migrant farm worker, and all the time keeping the tradition of Ozark music alive and thriving.

Rawel and the dreadful snake

As Rawel reared up, the buckboard came to an abrupt halt, tossing Pearl and the other children riding in its back to its bed.
Rawel, a gentle-natured red mule, seldom became agitated, but in this instance he just couldn’t help but get his back up as a rattlesnake coiled up in front of him tried to strike at his legs.
Rawel used all he had to try to land on the snake’s head as he bucked, but it was a shot from Grandpa Bill’s Colt .45 that laid the snake flat.
Grandpa quickly jumped down to comfort Rawel and see if any of the rattler’s strikes had hit their mark.
He carefully followed up and down Rawel’s legs, and thankfully the snake’s aim was in vain.
Grandpa then went over and checked out the snake, and found he had not lost he touch as the bullet had passed gracefully through the snake’s head.
He walked back to the buckboard and pulled out a burlap sack, he then carefully placed the snake inside and told Pearl and the other kids to keep their arms and legs away from it.
“Why?” Pearl asked.
“Well, those critters have a way of biting you even after they’re dead. Once we get home and I get him skinned and cleaned, I’ll bury the head so it will no longer be a trouble to anyone,” he said.
“They’ll bite you after they’re dead?” Pearl asked.
“I guess that has something to do with the fact that it was the serpent that the old devil used to trick Adam and Eve,” Grandpa said.
“How’s that?” she asked.
“I reckon that those poor critters are meant to be as mean in death as they were in life, and they just never get a chance to be nice to no one,” he said.
“Oh,” she said. “There sure are a lot of folks that are like them critters. I mean they are mean. Just take Wendy Sue McAllister up in seventh grade. She is always picking on all the girls who wear homemade clothes, making fun of us and calling us Homesewn Sallies.”
“Now Pearl, you got to realize that some folks just aren’t as well off as we are,” he said. “They don’t have someone who can take a few pieces of pretty cloth and some string and make a tailor-made outfit as beautiful as you have on. They have to go all the way to town and try on clothes right off the rack. Why them things don’t have a stitch of love sewn in them anywhere cause the people that sewed them didn’t know who they were for.”
“So, I have a better dress than what she has?” Pearl asked.
“Much better,” he said.
“Does this mean that Wendy Sue McAllister really isn’t like one of them there mean, creepy-crawly snakes?” she asked.
“Just cause her folks don’t care enough about her to make her clothes, she wants to take it out on all you that do. I would say that makes her a little mean, but there is always a root to every bit of meanness. If you work hard enough to overcome it you can find that there is some good down in there, too,” he said.
“It must be way down there,” Pearl said.
“Maybe, Maybe,” he said as Rawel’s hooves guided the buckboard back towards the old farmhouse that sits below the Gravelly Spur Mountain.
(A story from Randall Franks’s book “A Mountain Pearl: Appalachian Reminiscing and Recipes”)

Old time country music is alive and well in Nebraska

Many across America recently sat watching PBS as Ken Burns walked us through his perspective of the history of country music. It was an amazing effort in taking a wide-ranging American experience that encompasses more than a century of talents who shaped music locally, regionally and ultimately those who shined nationally and internationally. He shaved it down to a multiple-hour documentary which reflects greatly upon our genre.
But for me, I recently traveled across 7 states to attend the 44th Annual Old Time Country Music Festival in Fremont, Nebraska. I was among fans who traveled from around the world – Australia, New Zealand, Canada and all across the United States to hear and see artists of all types.
The performers shared folk songs and tunes brought by Irish, English, German, Scottish pioneers as they settled in the Americas. Songs and tunes created by the cowboys and cowgirls, from the deserts, from the mountains, performed by old and young. Bluegrass, folk, Americana, gospel, western, country, blues and even a touch of country-flavored rock and roll encouraged attendees to clap their hands, mouth the words, and kick up their heels.
Performers from around the world who also perform traditional country were part of the lineup. From the earliest fiddle tunes to the country songs the audience sparked to in the 1950s to the 1990s, no attendees went away without a musical memory to make them smile.
The event offered three stages from the intimate acoustic stage where artists performed for an elite group of 40 fans to stages to the main stage which featured well known artists from all the genres. Youth performed alongside legendary stars reflecting a tradition of its long history perpetuated by organizers Bob and Sheila Everhart and the National Traditional Country Music Association exposing new talents to audiences who seek to see their favorites.
As part of the event, the association presented its music awards and inducted America’s Old Time Country Music Hall of Famers which they have done since 1977.
Some among this year’s honorees were Grand Ole Opry star Jeannie Seely, and country singers Jeannie C. Riley, Gail Davies, Jimmy Bowen, and Doreen Brown of Canada. Arizona Hall of Famer Ed Gary was given a Lifetime Achievement Award. I was also privileged to be in this year’s class of Hall of Fame inductees.
I encourage you to visit https://www.music-savers.com/hall-of-fame to see a full list of inductees and their CD awards for this year and learn more about how to support the organization, its Iowa museum, and when and where you can support future events. Check out some of these amazing acts and get their music.

The trip to town

I remember as a boy, I always looked forward to Saturday when I was visiting with my grandparents. That meant we would be taking a trip to town. It could mean some time in the 5&10, the grocery store or a stroll around the Courthouse Square or visiting with folks at the farmer’s market.

Going to town was special and meant the folks would put on their best clothes and their best manners.

Read more

Candidates around the cracker barrel

It is the time of year when towns across America find political signs for local campaigns filling the right-of-ways and yards as fundraising barbeques and door-to-door canvassing is in full swing.
For many years, I have had the pleasure of living in small town America, in a community that up until this decade enjoyed amiable competition on occasion for the available council seats. You had men or women give their vision of what they wanted to do and then the voters came out at the polls and picked the vision they preferred.
Our little town was even less competitive than Mayberry in the episodes where “The Andy Griffith Show” centered around the council and sheriff’s races. I remember years ago as a newspaper reporter gathering three council candidates with bottles of Coca-Cola in or near their hands as two faced each other off in a game of checkers on an old cracker barrel while the other one watched. All laughing and joking throughout. That is the way it was for decades of our history.
Sadly, the advent of social media and those that use it has transformed many uplifting positive communities into a sea of dissatisfaction fueled by the egging on of candidates who are seeking any opportunity to gain a bit of attention for their campaign. Negativity, slights, one-up-man-ship seem to now be the approach of this decade’s group of candidates.
There was a time in our community, if a candidate went around bad-mouthing their opponent, that was a sure loss in the making for the bad mouther. Our great folks were just not going to stand for it and did not wish to be led by those who would do it.
Now though I am seeing candidates who make a sport of trying to destroy or hurt others through social media or other means who are applauded for their efforts. They are given pats on the back for the evil done. While this is certainly a norm in national and even some state elections, our small towns do not need this type of behavior among our leaders.
We should be the beacons of civility, the populace of principles, the sages of political strategy, by allowing only the best to serve us. Small town offices often are little more than volunteer positions that require hours of dedication, training, reading, creating relationships all to benefit our communities. Other leaders want to partner with leaders they can depend upon to follow through with regional and state led efforts at the local level. That takes character and solid leadership.
I have heard said “Well. it’s just campaign rhetoric,” but it seeps into governing as well.
As the elections are in full swing, and you pick the candidates you want to lead, look beyond the nice family photos, the slick election mailers, and look to the actions and the heart of the candidate not as they portray their actions in social media and commercials but as they conduct themselves in real life.
I long for the day of three men or women who state their visions and let us decide without running the other candidate down.
I lived it before not so long ago. I miss it. If I could trade this social media world for that again, I would flip the switch in a heartbeat.
Maybe we all can flip the switch ourselves in our respective towns by earnestly choosing the candidates that are not trying to win a social media popularity contest but will actually do the job to serve. When we go in our voting booth and cast our ballot for good decent civil people who have our interests at heart, maybe in our little way, that will be taking us all to a better small-town experience, no matter the size of our community.