A laugh saves us every time

When I find myself frustrated with the things that come my way, there are always two places I go. First, I go to the word of God; secondly, I go 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, ‘til it hurt, at the routines and characters of this master entertainer.

As a musician, the craftsmanship of musical comedy by 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 that 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 all these 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 that 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 the entire 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 enjoyed “Frazier” too; those actors truly are superb with the material the writers give them, but I still would rather see Andy, Opie and all the gang.

I was once told that as an entertainer it is our job to take folks away from their problems, whether with 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.

Your word is your bond

I have been told there was a time when a person was judged upon the words which emanated from his mouth.
A person’s character could be seen in his deeds and by what he would say and sometimes what he would not say.
I have met many people in my life. Some, I would not trust them as far as I could throw them, while others — if they say it, it will be done.
When two people struck a bargain and shook hands there was nothing else to do.
Today, however, we are in a world filled will reams of contracts, agreements and endless disclaimers and visits to a lawyer.
My grandpa Bill was a man of his word. If he said he would help with something, no matter what hardship it placed upon him, he would do it.
In my association with music legend Bill Monroe, I learned quickly that his honor was paramount in his image.
There was never a bargain struck or a promise made between he and I that he did not make come to pass.
I remember visiting with him before his final illness. He walked up to me and with the strength of a 20-year-old he squeezed my hand. He looked at me dead in the eye and said, “I tell you man, there are not that many good men left any more. Men like us need to stick together and help each other out.”
More than his praise of my musical ability or all the things he had done for me in my life, those few words conveyed to me that he thought of me as a man of my word.
Working in the world of television and film, I quickly learned the lesson that many Hollywood movers and shakers tend to be the opposite. Most of these trendsetters simply tell you what you want to hear rather than the truth. This trend relates more to the stars and executives of the last two to three decades.
There are and were what I call “class acts” such as the late stars Gene Autry, John Wayne and Roy Rogers whose word was their bond. I wish there were more people like them today.
I cannot tell you how many times someone has promised me they would use me in a movie project, and then when the project came along that promise was forgotten.
I am afraid I have found the same to be true in the “real” world as well.
Sometimes it just makes you want to lose faith in the entire human race when a person tells you he will do one thing and he does another.
In my own life, I have never broke a promise or not followed through with an agreement. Being a man of your word also carries through to fulfilling the everyday tasks that we all do. Returning phone calls, fulfilling requests, replying to mail are just a few of the little things that some folks might miss.I know that I have probably misstepped by not doing a few things that I have said I would do in my life. For those touched by such an action, I ask for forgiveness.
But I also know when I have told someone I would do something, usually such an assurance has popped up in my memory over and over again until I finish the task. There have been times I have carried one of those little things around in my head for a couple of years until I could do something about it.
But no matter what, I always did it.
Despite trends to the contrary and those who we discover are not honorable by their deeds and words, I believe it is the responsibility of every individual to make every effort to rise above such people to make our community a place of honor. It is what we owe our forefathers who built this land, and what we owe those who fight and die for our continued freedom.

Fear not

Fear is something that hides deep within each of us as we walk through life.

I remember as a child, as many of my fellow youth gleefully looked to getting their first bicycle, within me was a sense of dread. I was comfortable with the tricycle and the insecurity of falling and losing my balance as I moved to the bike was such a hurdle to overcome. My father graciously added training wheels to the bicycle which I use for a brief time until the fear and dread faded and then one day, I asked him to take them off. I through my leg across and soared down the driveway looking back over my shoulder at my smiling father.

The fear was gone. Of course, that did not stop the future mishaps, being thrown over the handlebars head first and sliding down the pavement several yards. Even that did not dissuade my return to the seat of my green speedster.

As we age fear remains but takes different aims. As a teen the fear was of relationships. Not of girls, I liked them plenty but I just did not know how to ask one out for fear of rejection. And boy, did I get rejected. My heart became a revolving door of turndowns. With each and every one that fear of hurt just grew and grew into a monster. One day though, the answer was yes, and off to the races I went.

The fear was gone, until the day that she decided she no longer liked me and wanted to move on.

Then the fear of rejection took on a different form, it wasn’t immediate, it waited a few weeks into the relationship, so I could be vested and feel the rejection with greater amplitude. What a monster that was that I saw grow year by year. Eventually though, I cast even that monster aside with a battle worthy of knighthood.

But fear was not gone, it came forward in the search for success, after failure here and there mounted, the concerns were growing within, “Will I ever find a place in life that I will work and serve and find contentment?”

That fear has been present throughout my life and no matter what successes others may see within my walk in life, I am always that youth out of school trying to find my place in the world that will make me, and others happy. Will I overcome it before I reach check out? I doubt it. But I will keep picking up my sword daily and beating it back as I serve my way through to the Pearly Gates. God has a purpose and reason for what is behind and ahead in my work for Him.

Fear manages to creep into the corners of our life and sit there waiting to pounce. I remember at points in my life, I sat fearful and immobilized by things that were ridiculous, but at the time, they consumed me and my thoughts. I let other influences control my being by their actions, their deeds, their words. Then I realized that I am not their plaything. I am in control of my life and as long as I am able to conduct what I do in an honorable, consistent, lawful, and faithful fashion, I should not be afraid.

I am thankful to my closest friends and relatives who have helped me through the years as I have struggled with various areas where fear has gripped my life, they have been God’s angels walking through my life steering me in the right direction.

Now, though I have seemed to be negative on fear in the words thus far, I am thankful for the spirit of fear that God sends to warn us away from impending disaster, from making the wrong decision, or doing something that might alternatively change the course of our life in a negative way. In those senses, fear is welcomed and in another way comforting.

“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10)

 

 

Is today the first day of the rest of your life?

Folks often see the change of a new year as an opportunity for renewal.

“Let’s get rid of the old habits that plaque our existence,” is often what drives this sense of new found opportunity.

We will shed those unwanted pounds, stop smoking, be kinder to those who irritate us, make up with friends or relatives with whom we are estranged, be a better employee, make church every Sunday.

All these seem like valued opportunities and goals and I wholeheartedly support any efforts your desire to make to fill your life with joy, happiness and a daily dose of goal-oriented focus!

Let’s see I will start off with setting my alarm at 6 a.m. and off to the exercise machines I will go.

One. Two, Three, Four, Five…. Well that’s enough of that, boy I feel better, now for a few minutes riding the bike while watching the news and 30 minutes later I hop off the bike, feeling a great sense of accomplish all the while angry over something I heard on the news. Well next time no news watching.

OK, next day… set the alarm… it goes off… I reach to hit snooze as I realize my well exercised arm now hurts… goes off again… I move my legs which now hurt also. Oh, I’ve got to exercise but my legs and arms are revolting.

I pull myself out of bed and make my way to the equipment sit down and give it my best … one, two, two… two… I guess my best is not so good. Well to the bike, OK, remember no news… what am I going to do while peddling? Ow, that hurts… Well maybe I skip the bike today.

Third day… snores fill the room as I forgot to set the alarm. I awake refreshed but later than normal, look at the clock and realize I am late for an appointment. Rush to get ready and out the door not even noticing the pain from the day before in my haste.

Isn’t the splendor of living better such an uplift? Well it really is once you get past the realization that anything you decide to do out of the norm, is generally not easy. It takes dedication, and a willingness to stretch yourself into where you desire to grow towards.

I hope that you find great success in every goal you set aside this month for 2020. I know that is my aim, if I can just get the legs to stop acting like spaghetti when I try to walk after all this amazing joy, I am filling them with.

 

The differences within 100 years

The other day I realized I am now living 100 years beyond my grandparents’ key time in their lives.

In 1920, my grandparents Bill and Kitty Bruce had been married for four years.

My grandfather had spent his youth in the west, returned to Tennessee and found himself a bride half his age, bought land with the money he earned out west and started farming raising corn, tomatoes, running cattle and hogs.

They watched Bill brothers Tom and James, cousins and friends go off to WWI among the 130,915 men and women from Tennessee who did. Tom died, while James returned a shell of his former self and died within a couple of years.

They survived the Spanish flu epidemic that killed other family and friends as it savaged community after community infecting 500 million in 1918 around the world.

In this year my grandmother would become pregnant beckoning my first aunt Minnie Lee, named for her aunt, who would pass as a toddler in 1923.

My grandmother for the first time in her life was allowed to walk in a polling place and cast a ballot as women gained the vote. Grandpa would vote for Democrat James Cox while my grandmother always proudly said she voting just the opposite just to cancel out Grandpa’s vote meaning she voted for Republican Warren G. Harding. Not sure if she ever told grandpa though, she told me long after he was gone.

They rode horses, buckboards, buggies or walked where they went. There were no automobiles. They chopped down trees to build what they needed and cut wood to cook on and to heat from the cold. Harvest time meant canning vegetables to eat throughout the year. Meat was smoked in the smoke house, salted and cured to sustain meats to eat when hunting was slim.

As I look around at what I experience each day. I make much of my living in mediums that were not even existent – radio and television. Buying musical recordings was still in its infancy in those days with 78s and Victrolas being the source. Not one of those were within miles of them and it would be many years before a battery-operated radio would make its way to the valley.

If I get hungry, I go out, get in my SUV, drive to a restaurant, or to the store and buy something a farmer somewhere put into the food supply chain to fill the need. If I cook it at home, much of the time I pop it into a microwave oven and in a few minutes, I am seated in front of my favorite TV show eating away. That experience would have taken my grandmother hours in addition to the months it took my father to cultivate and/or hours to hunt or raise, slaughter and preserve.

I look up in the sky and I see jet planes, they looked up and saw only the birds for a few more years. Thanks to the advantage of science, and communication, we can anticipate the weather while they reacted daily to what occurred.

I communicate on a phone I carry in my pocket, they had to holler up the holler or send someone walkin’ to spread any news for quite a few more years to come. I can look at a computer and catch up on the news, they had to wait for a newspaper to come through the area at the general store.

It is amazing what 100 years has brought us. Is it better? It is more convenient. I do not know if it’s more healthy for us. It is definitely different and I imagine if my 1920s grandparents were dropped into what I see daily, I imagine they would feel we have a strange and foreign life.

Both lived to see the transition to automobiles, the advent of television and grandmother lived well beyond man reaching the moon and folks thinking of flying as a real form of transportation.

Such amazing things they saw… I don’t know if what we have in store ahead of us will compare but I certainly hope it will be and I realize how amazing it really is!

Is 2020 the year I dreamed upon?

OK its 2020, that is suppose to be significant in our lives right.

Well, we are here, breathing and have every opportunity that life within the United State of America affords.

There are so many significant dates that have passed in my life. Let’s see, when I was in school, we read a book called 1984… I don’t recall that year being anything like what was described by George Orwell in his classic, but he did write it 70 years ago. Perhaps he should have named it 2024, as with the advent of the internet, it seems more of what was described by Orwell is at hand today.

When Stanley Kubrick created the 2001 Space Odyssey in 1968, the country was in a race to the moon, so the setting for a battle between man and machine in space was a plausible notion, but we didn’t get there by 2001, and it looks like it may be another 50 or 100 years before we come close.

One of my favorite childhood cartoons was “The Jetsons,” where there was a robotic maid, all types of amazing gadgets, and the family flew around in what looked like a flying car with a bubble on top. According to the promotional material the cartoon showed our future in 2062, and here we are in 2020.

Will we make it? We certainly have more interesting and amazing gadgets. We have vacuum cleaners and mowers which will map our space and perform the task on their own something I would have loved as a kid. I pushed endlessly with a push mower and vacuum.

Are we as ordinary human beings, and young enough, going to experience great leaps in the coming 50 years that will reflect the imagination of the past creators of books, movies and television shows? I don’t know, but it certainly is amazing to think about. Many of us, now have our lies and pastimes rotate around items that did not even exist to consumers in the year 2,000. So, I guess conceivably, some of us will see some amazing steps in front of us.

I often wonder though is our race toward greater technological advancement will simply move us farther away from one another. As I look around at restaurants and see people staring at social media, or texts on their phone while their loved ones at the table do similarly. What happens as we perfect our abilities to communicate with other through something in our hand but can’t look them in the eye and do the same.

Is 2020 going to be what I hoped and dreamed of as a child or younger adult, probably not. But then again, no one put me in charge of what our lives should be. All each of us can do, each day the Lord allows us to awaken, place our feet on the floor, and walk in a forward motion, is do the very best with each step we take, each decision we make, each word we share, and each act we play out.

Use 2020 to reach for the stars in your life while helping others do the same. Who knows maybe we are living the dream that no one in history could even imagine.

The Christmas Doll

The winter of ’34 in the valley below the Gravely Spur was an especially hard one. A Christmas snow had blanketed the valley, making travel through the mountain passes treacherous, even if taken by foot.
With one false step, even those who knew the routes by heart could find themselves slipping into a snow drift hiding a potential fall.
However, for most of the children of the valley the snow turned it into a winter wonderland. Pearl, Ruby and the Wood boys were finding whatever they could ride to go sledding down Turner’s gorge. At the bottom of the gorge lay a pond formed from Frog Leg Creek which was covered in a thick coat of ice almost strong enough for skating. No one had any skates so they would simply slide across on the soles of the new shoes they received when the crops were sold.
While the children were unaware, most of the parents of the valley knew that the reality of the year had left them all in dire straits.
Toys at Christmas were largely a luxury in the valley. Even the well-to-do families were having trouble this year. The customary apple, banana or piece of peppermint stick candy that most of the children found in their stocking might be missed this year.
Pearl had sensed the concerns of her parents and with six children and four share-cropping families to help, she knew her father was doing all he could that year.
The unexpected snow however made it difficult for anything not already on hand to be brought into the valley.
Still Pearl hoped that she might find a little something for her Christmas morning that she could call her very own.
As she was sliding on the ice, she listened as the Wood boys laughed about what happened to what they got the year before.
“I can’t believe what George did to our present last year,” Woody said. “We got a whole string of firecrackers to split between us boys and he nearly run us out of the house with them.”
“He got up early Christmas morning and found them. They had this long string running through connecting them, so he took that loose and was counting them and splitting them up so we all had the same amount,” he said. “He threw that long piece of string in the fire. That thing jumped back out right in the middle of his pile. You should have seen George when those firecrackers started going off in every direction. They even jumped up in the bed with the rest of us and got everybody up in the house.”
But in spite of the snow, Santa would be making his usual stops at the Gravelly Spur no matter what. Because of the terrain, this year he would only make one stop in the valley and all the neighbors would go by Christmas morning and pick up what he had brought for the valley children.
Santa’s helper in the valley was Rev. Ben Smathers, who waited patiently Christmas Eve for Santa’s arrival. As the families came to Big Lick Church Christmas morning, he would then, one by one, distribute the gifts and the community would then gather for a celebration of Christ‘s birth.
Christmas morning, Pearl was up early, anxious for the trip to the church. In her stocking she found an orange and a stick of candy. When the family arrived at the church, she joined the other children in line at the tree and stepped up to Rev. Smathers. He placed in her arms a little blonde doll in a woven basket lying upon a blue cotton pillow.
“It is so beautiful,” she said. “Is she really mine?”
“Yes, just for you my dear,” he said. “So you take good care of her.”
As she looked in the eyes of her new friend, Pearl beamed with the joy of Christmas.
It was not stacks of gifts which made her eyes glimmer and her face shine with the light of the season. It was one simple gift of her very own given by the heart of a pastor who knew without his help many children would do without that Christmas.

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.