Through the eyes of a neighbor

One of the greatest men of God of our time is undisputedly Billy Graham. The reach of his ministry has touched the four corners of the earth.

I remember watching a message he delivered in Louisville, Ky. some years ago. He shared his realization that he was finally old, when not too long ago he thought of himself as young. He went on to say that this point in life was “definitely not the golden years.” But he feels it is a good time to look back on life and come closer to God.

If we are blessed with long life, aging is something we all will face either in our own lives or that of our family members.

My first experiences with the effects of aging came from a childhood neighbor, Bessie Yarbray.

Bessie was a regal lady who found strength in self-reliance. She was born at the turn of the last century in a farmhouse less than five miles from our subdivision. She married and raised a family of (I think) five children.

When I met her as a toddler, she and her new husband Homer moved in across the street to begin their new life together near the age of 70.

She stood around five feet, and if a strong wind blew through, it seemed she could catch hold and fly along.

She and Homer stood fast against the tide of concerns shared by both of their families over their late marriage.

While my memories of Homer are sketchy at best, I am told we had a fun relationship as he and Bessie treated me like a grandchild. My strongest memories fade-in after Homer was called home.

Bessie once again found herself starting over in a place that she and Homer hoped to share.

Bessie never learned to drive. She eventually sold Homer’s car and relied on the kindness of friends and distant kin to get her to the store, doctor and church. She would always find ways to repay their kindness so she would not be beholding to them.

She was a constant presence in the lives of all my friends throughout my childhood.

Some days the smell of fresh-baked oatmeal cookies would permeate the street in front of her house. This would always be an excuse to stop in to check on her and, of course, have a cookie or two or three.

She enjoyed watching her afternoon soaps and volunteering at Sardis United Methodist Church. She became a regular fixture among my mother’s circle of friends as she helped with school events and attended graduations and scouting award banquets.

Since we lived closer than any of her children, many of the first decisions concerning her care often would fall to my mother.

In the 70’s, doctor’s told her she had colon cancer, which required surgery to remove or she would die. While in the hospital, she changed her mind, and when the nurses came by to give her a sedative before surgery she pretended to take it. She then left the hospital never to return. It was more than a decade before she would again see a doctor. She would live another 20 years, and to my knowledge, any doctor never again mentioned cancer.

Well into her 80’s and 90’s, Bessie cared for her yard by trimming hedges; raking and mowing every week it was needed.

“If I don’t mow my yard you know something is wrong,” she would say.

She planted a garden each year, which provided all her favorite, fresh vegetables.

With the bounty of her garden, she created dishes you would not believe. Thinking of her homemade soup makes my mouth water. The soup would not be complete without a slice of her piping-hot cornbread.

With the exception of an occasional change of a light bulb or flagging down the mailman or a neighbor to have them pull the cord on her push mower, Bessie didn’t ask for much help.

Whenever sickness loomed, she always stressed to us: “No matter what, I do not want to leave my house.”

As we became busy with illnesses in our own family, other neighbors kindly stepped in to help Bessie whenever needed.

A broken hip which came while working in her yard in her mid-90’s would finally begin a short period when she had to look to others for her day-to-day needs. She even regained her strength once again and stood on her own feet.

One of the last calls I received from her came at a time when she had missed taking her medicine properly and asked me if I saw the house going down the road? I stopped and looked to see if perhaps there was a house going down the road. There was not. We followed up to make sure that she was taking her medication properly.

About a year or so later, Bessie passed away.

She never moved away from her home except for a few weeks following her broken hip. She was blessed with a strong, self-reliance that made her keep pushing forward no matter what.

She reached the finish line her way, and with her faith in God still straight and strong.

Childhood friends from far away

I crowded into the MARTA bus headed towards downtown Atlanta. I grabbed a seat as the bus filled up. A black lady in gray dress and heels got on and I noticed that there was no available seat, so I rose and moved towards the back giving her my seat. As I got situated near the rear door, I wrapped my arm around the rail of the bus and placed my feet appropriately to keep me steadied as the bus stopped and started along the rest of the trip to Central City Park. As I sat there I started looking at the man sitting near me and realized it was Mr. Olivares. He was heading to his job downtown. I had not seen him in years and initially he did not recognize me.

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Grandpa’s Lessons

As I stumbled along the dirt road, occasionally I would reach my hand up and slip it into that of my Grandpa Jesse’s. As an independence streak struck, I would then pull it back managing my steps all on my own at least for a few feet then I would once again find myself repeating the process.
No matter which action I took, I could look up into his face and see a smile beaming back at me. What an amazing gift is the special bond that grows between a loving grandparent and a grandchild.
They can give so much love and many like mine at times had the desire to share a lifetime of experience. I thank God, mine gave me the insights at a young age, to listen and learn.
I think one of the greatest lessons shared with me was how to handle yourself when you realized you have wronged someone in some way. It could be a simple as a misunderstanding or a downright disagreement.
From their example, I saw that one should admit a mistake and apologize to move the relationship forward. If you are the injured party, take the first step, express your concerns and allow the other person an easy opportunity to make amends.
If they choose not to do so, then you have done all you can to mend the fences.
Unfortunately, folks are not always in the same place at the same time.
Although Christianity teaches to forgive, that was an area that I have seen loved ones and friends struggle with throughout my life.
I struggle with it myself, often times I fall back on hardened lessons shared through the generations based in centuries of tribal or clan conflicts and feuds.
I have watched loving, caring people who would give you the shirt of their back, get up on their back legs and growl when a situation involved and ancestral enemy or a ostracized family member or former friend.
While I received lessons through oral stories, I have worked to distance myself from continuing such disputes into my life. Some even go back beyond written records. They do often add color to stories I share but for me the feuds are long past.
I find as time passes in my life, I have to work harder not to add to the list with my own experiences with other people.
It would be easy to simply write someone off, as often was a practice, and have no more to do with him or her, once they have done you wrong, will not apologize or admit a mistake.
But unless continuing that relationship is destructive, I am striving to make an effort to not fall into some of the footsteps left by my mountain highland kin through the centuries. But that’s not to say there might not be a situation that calls for their approach but I don’t know if I am up to a good sword fight, pistols at ten paces, or gathering the clan for feudin’ at any time in the near future.
So, I think the approaches mentioned earlier, might be the best for all concerned. Of course, the other person does have to be concerned. If their not, they probably shouldn’t be that important to your life anyway.

Numbers, what are all these numbers?

A previous year ends, a new year begins and then like an avalanche of snow in winter, there they come – numbers.
All kinds of numbers begin covering me from head to toe. At least that is the way it seems to feel. Slowly, paperwork trickles in over the month of January telling me what I must report to the government and the state. Piles of receipts must now be sorted, itemized, added, subtracted, multiplied, and divided.
As I pour over the numbers, I come to realization that the height of enthusiasm that helped me ring out the old year was somewhat taller than it should have been.
My father use to have a sign hanging by his dresser saying “Why is there so much month at the end of my money?”
His humorous sentiment means more to me with each passing year as I glide through the rest of winter anticipating what is ahead for the coming year.
Each year as I go through this process, I promise myself to organize as I go. I have great intentions, but as time passes, the will becomes weak and the pile become taller.
Take heed my friends, take the advice of someone whose desk has Mount Everest and three volcanoes sitting side by side upon it. I say volcanoes because I never know which one is going to explode first scattering across the room extending my adventure into another day.
Take a few minutes each day, put away your receipts in a pre-organized file. Set aside a little time at the end of each quarter to organize and add up what you have so far in the important categories that are usable in your profession.
With just a bit of planning, you will enter the New Year and in no time everything will be ready to go to your accountant or tax preparer and you will miss out on all these piles of paper.
Let’s see, what did I spend $3.67 for in Louisiana? Was I even in Louisiana this year? I must have been. Guess it goes in the “Your guess is as good a mine” pile. I wish they had a line item for that on the tax form.
Well, in any event, may the whirlwind of numbers headed your way in the coming weeks find you in the black and hopefully the list will not string you along as everything adds up, as it should.

Visitin’

In the past, I concluded that the art of visitin’ is a thing of the past for much of America.

With the onslaught of the pandemic and its various restrictions, I fear that this traditional pastime of folks across the U.S. has now seen its end.

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A drive that made my heart beat faster

I pushed on through the mountains, my Lumina maneuvering the curves with great accuracy. Snow lay along the roads as I watched diligently for patches of black ice on the interstate.
I had hit a patch of black ice before when I was about 20. I exited Atlanta’s 285 at Doraville returning home from a concert in Marietta. About 20 feet into the circular ramp I found myself spinning out of control. Using every bit of knowledge gained a few years earlier in driver’s ed, I simply did all I could do to not fight it, giving in to the scenario, allowing myself and the car to be out of control by turning into the spin and praying as it eventually came to rest facing the oncoming traffic.
I was blessed that it was about 2 a.m. and no other car was coming off behind me, so I slowly allowed the car to slip backwards off the ice until I was able to turn around and continue my journey feeling like I had just walked out of the scariest scene in a horror film.
I looked in my rearview mirror and headlights seemed to be on top of me. My heart began to race as I realized that the Jim and Jesse song I once recorded – Diesel on My Tail was becoming a reality. As I hugged curves, speeding along trying to stay out of its way, I was not going fast enough in the dark icy conditions to suit the trucker.
I looked at my alternatives and decided to get into the other lane, though there seemed to be a higher probability of hitting ice there.
It seemed in my mirror, no matter where I was, the truck was behind me in my lane. Maybe it was an illusion of the turning roads but needless to say, I continued to do my best to get out of this stretch of the mountains and make it to the flatlands as quickly as I could.
Finally, as we cleared the Appalachians, the truck passed me and sped off into the night.
I continued on the journey home from North Carolina now much more relaxed as the icy conditions were behind me and my greatest concern was keeping my mind occupied and my eyes open.
Before I faced the potential perceived metal peril of tons of truck careening out of control with me in it’s wake, I was thinking of how my ancestors had crossed that same section of mountains making their way westward without the advantages of modern travel.
I am sure that my heart pounded much as that of my ancestors as they perceived the danger of a bear coming close or as they avoided a party of Native Americans out hunting through the area.
I guess the passage of time and the advantages of technological advancement do not change the basics of the human condition. We still find ourselves facing fears, sometimes simply imagined, sometimes real in nature. What makes that experience worthwhile is it reminds us that we must never forget that while the world is beautiful and filled with God’s amazing creations, we can still find those moments and situations that make our heart beat faster, and our mind rush to fear.
It is how we react to those moments knowing that God is with us in every thing, that shows whether we have the ability to continue on that brave path my ancestors walked one step at a time pushing forward into the unknown.

Grandmothers don’t always have to be kin

I opened the can and took a big breath through my nose. There was nothing quite like the smell of barbeque Charles Chips. I sure loved those chips as a boy; they were delivered like milk to the house and replenished into that metal can kept in the pantry. I took just one and placed it on my tongue and let the seasoning dissolve.
Then I took out a handful and placed them on my plate and on Millie’s plate beside the sandwiches with thinly cut beef, brown mustard, tomato and lettuce.
It was lunchtime and I was on a stay over with my adopted grandmother – Millie Dobbs.
Millie was our next-door neighbor when I was a youth. When I was about six, our neighbors the Bounds moved to Florida and to the initial disappointment in moved a family with no children – Fred and Peggy Gross and Peggy’s mother Millie.
I am sure in many respects especially early on; I became a Southern Dennis the Menace to the Grosses as they settled in to their new home. Despite the lack of someone my age to play with, I soon found myself the focus of Millie, a retired nurse from New York City. On a side note, she told me about assisting Marilyn Monroe on a hospital stay. In just a short period of time, we had both found our way into each other’s hearts.
Millie was what I would describe as puffy when I hugged her.
Since my folks had relocated to Atlanta for business, I was hours away from my grandparents, so it was wonderful having Millie in my life.
Often when Fred and Peggy went out of town, Millie would invite me to stay over. I would get to stay in the master bedroom suite. It was always an adventure. I remember on one of my earliest visits, I opened the wrong door by mistake and began a head over foot tumble into the basement. I didn’t get hurt though. I landed on my head. So if you wonder why I am still a bit off, that would be the reason. Actually, I limped away from the fall with a stumped toe.
Later I would learn the basement was Fred’s domain where he kept his model train and 78 rpm record collections. I seldom got the chance to see those things, although it was a treat when I was allowed.
Millie was an amateur artist who loved painting and making crafts with her hands, and she often brought me into what she was doing helping to teach me and giving me a try at it. She loved to play cards and she taught me as well – solitaire and gin rummy. We would often pass hours playing especially when my Uncle Waymond came to visit, Millie would always join our family for evenings of card and game playing.
Another one of her passions is still part of my life – mysteries – Agatha Christie among others.
Every few months, Millie would treat us both to a lunch out and we would walk a little more than a mile to Brannigan’s Irish Restaurant and have lunch. I would get this huge hamburger covered with mushrooms and everything imaginable.
As I grew and our family celebrated the milestones, Millie was there, birthdays, elementary graduation, Eagle Scout ceremony, and awards until one day, Fred, Peggy and Millie moved to Florida. I was in my teens by then and our connection remained via letters, cards, and holiday greetings.
One day mother received a call from Peggy to let us know that Millie had died. My initial impulse was to go and be there with them. That is after all what we did in our family, we gathered, sat up with the dead, ate a lot, remembered and cried as they were buried.
Peggy thanked me for the thought but there was no need for us to make the trip down. As best I recall Millie was cremated.
My adopted grandmother Millie was gone. My mom encouraged me to put away the things that she had shared with me, some paintings, needlepoint, an afghan, her letters, a handmade bell she had gotten from her friend Willie. So I did. You know I am still saving them, like I simply put Millie’s things away where I could keep my memory of her just the way it was.
I know that my childhood would not have been as full without the New York prospective that Millie brought to me – an appreciation of seeing more than what was just at my fingertips.
Millie gave me something no one else had before outside my family –  she taught me that unconditional love didn’t have to be born in blood. She became part of my family and shared time, encouragement, some of my greatest childhood moments, and an amazing love for life.

A little Goober each day is a must

As we watch television classics, there are many character actors that have made their marks and found niches that have allowed them to keep in front of the American public for years and years.

One of those actors was introduced to the American television family in the 1960s.

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Brighter days are coming

A new year brings the promise of starting over. After 2020, we could all use that!

Many folks see it as a point to make a resolution to complete or change things in their life. Perhaps coming out of the Christmas season gives them hope to make their lives better.

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Lights are flickering and the halls are decked

Flickering lights shimmered in the breeze hanging from trees, light poles, porch eaves and buildings as I drove around my hometown last week.
It is such a heartwarming sight to see the efforts made both by our city staff and individual property owners to raise people’s spirits during this Christmas season. For me the warmth generated within by the beautiful decorations helps to make my hopes swell watching to see the goodness and kindness that so many exhibit during the season.
Many years ago, I wrote a song called “Let’s Live Every Day Like It Was Christmas.”
The sentiment for me still rings true today. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the charity and good will that we see shown in the weeks around Christmas were part of our lives each and every day?
I have been blessed to know so many people in every walk of life, rich and poor, well known and unknown, mean-spirited and generous beyond measure.
I have seen some of the greatest of charity come from those who have the least to give.
I have seen some of the kindest actions given by those who are otherwise detestable.
Each year I watch countless individuals gathering toys to change the lives of children in our community. I saw my parents do this time and time again trying to encourage families who needed more than we did.
I have watched our church family gather to provide food and supplies to hundreds of families that would otherwise have a less merry season.
I see people smile more by the twinkle in their eyes; they stop to open a door for someone with an arm full of packages, or allow another driver an opportunity to go before them.
Now that is not to say, there aren’t those who selfishly push their way around the season trying to get what they want without consideration for others. Many times, unfortunately,
these folks do live that way all year around.
It would not only be nice to live every day like it was Christmas but to remember that the greatest gift shared with us during the season was God’s love for all of us through the gift of His son, Jesus Christ.
Peace, love for one another and hopes for a greater tomorrow is within our grasp if we only strive for it within our own lives, our own families and our own communities. When we put them all together, wouldn’t the world shimmer in the glow of Christmas lights that each of us might hang to raise spirits.