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.

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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.

Just some good ol’ boys

When I think back to Friday night in my youth, much of those were spent sitting in front of the TV watching “The Dukes of Hazzard.” It allowed me to see what was then, other than “The Waltons,” a current show with a Southern or rural feel to it.
The adventures of Bo and Luke with Daisy, Uncle Jesse and Cooter along for the ride always trying to outwit Boss Hogg, Roscoe, with Enos doing his best for both sides, intrigued me. Those kept me enjoying some of the finest in Americana in stories, music and just clean fun.
I was catapulted back to those memories this past week when I joined my friends Smith & Wesley, Cody McCarver, and John Schneider in concert for the Smith Charitable Endowment (Find them on Facebook).
The moment really became real when we all walked out on stage to join John in singing and playing the theme song “Good Ol’ Boys,” and I thank John, Cody, and Scott and Todd from Smith & Wesley for the opportunity.
I have been blessed in my life as an actor to work or appear with most of the cast from the show including James Best, Sonny Shroyer, Tom Wopat, Ben Jones and even John in the film “Lukewarm.”
However, this was the first time that I appeared with him in concert and thanks to my friends Smith & Wesley, I was able to bring along a few of our “Americana Youth of Southern Appalachia” from my #1 Americana CD.
As a youth, I was blessed with a number of great entertainers who invested by allowing me to perform on shows in front of crowds of people who came to see them. I featured dozens of these in my book series “Encouragers.”
Now that I stand in their shoes, it is a privilege to encourage our upcoming generation of musicians and singers as they begin sharing their talents – this show including Ryan Stinson, Colton Brown, Trevor Holder and Wally O’Donald. While many of the heroes who ushered me into stardom are now are playing to heavenly audiences, it is especially gratifying to connect these young people with new heroes. Like me, I am sure they will likely embrace them in their lives and look back fondly on the chances given them in their beginnings.
If you are not familiar with these acts mentioned above, I encourage you to visit their websites and learn more about the great country and gospel music they share: www.SmithandWesley.com,  www.JohnSchneiderStudios.com , and www.CodyMcCarver.com . Stop by mine too, at www.RandallFranks.com .
If you would like to encourage the youth musicians who joined us visit www.ShareAmericaFoundation.org to donate for a CD or visit Google, iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby, and enter Americana Youth of Southern Appalachia to download all the songs and support Appalachia music scholarships. Radio friends can find it here: AirPlayDirect.com/RandallFranks-AmericanaYouthOfSouthernAppalachia

Reaching back to push forward

Life is something that we should cherish with every passing breath. Often times we do not appreciate the simplest things like the feel of cool breeze on a hot summer day; the taste of a fresh glass of homemade lemonade so cold that the outside of the glass drips; the deep red color of a vine-ripened tomato as its thinly sliced for a tomato sandwich slightly smeared with JFG mayonnaise.
This morning I have pondered along with some of my friends what common ground there is between the generations of Americans that now bind us as a people. At one time it was our country’s deep agricultural heritage, the connection to the soil and what through sweat and hard work it could provide for both the sustenance and financial gain of the family.
Generations of Americans even those that lived in the cities, depended upon family farms to provide what our country needed to survive. In my lifetime, we have seen much of farming shift to larger business concerns and there has been a generation, possibly two, of individuals which have no close connection to the land, they didn’t grow up on the farm or even spend days helping their grandparents haul hay, cut okra, pick tomatoes or pull corn.
So what does this mean for the future of our country, for the preservation of our lifestyle and the heritage of our communities? Are we destined to one-day build museums dedicated to the preservation of subdivisions? What values of history are we giving the current generation? Will they look back at a tractor and ask, “What’s that?”
With generations of Americans who have little or no practical daily connection to the land, how will they sustain themselves in an emergency such as a worldwide medical pandemic sometimes heralded by the media? What happens when milk can no longer be sent from the far off mega-farms of the west? I bet there aren’t many households that have shelves lined with canned goods enough to get the family through to the next growing season, as was our ancestors’ custom. What will happen to a generation with no food because there will be no way to move it from place to place?
During the worst period in this country’s history, the Great Depression, even the poorest farmer, who was not devastated by natural disaster, had some amount of food to eat. Thousands of people who lived in the cities were able to receive food in soup lines because many farmers were able to keep working the land and caring people were willing to help those in need. They all had a connection to the land.
If our state, our county, our community was totally cut off from the outside world could we survive? Do we have a plan in place to feed and meet the needs of our population? Could we create the items needed for day to day life? Do we have the people who have the knowledge to do that?
While I’ll say that I believe that many leaders have considered the possibility, I do not think that we have a plan in place that could keep our state or county functioning on its own. It will take a joint effort at a local level, community to community, neighbor to neighbor, to see that each family or person makes it through in such a situation.
Will America ever face some catastrophe that will throw us backwards in time wishing that we had a few acres to plant potatoes and a milk cow to provide some milk and a horse to ride to town? I don’t know but even if it didn’t, it probably wouldn’t hurt if everybody knew how to dig taters, which part of the cow the milk comes from and how to get it to come out and just how do you get the key in a horse’s ignition and more important where are the brakes on one of them things. Just kidding, of course I know where the brakes are.
Do I have the answers as to what the future will be like, of course not, that is only in the Hands of God. Do I have a hope as to what I would like it to be? I certainly do.
I see an America that is covered with strong communities of caring and loving individuals who give their neighbors a helping hand when its needed. They go out of their way to help pick up a man when he is down, brush him off and help him along life’s road.
I see an America where greed and crime is something that exists only in the minds of creative novelists and film directors instead of the eyes our fellow man. I see an America where you make choices that are good for all the people not just a chosen few. I see an America where when a leader actually stands up and says something he or she actually believes rather than what the public wants to hear. Where his or her words of inspiration can actually mobilize this country towards a common good of creating a world that will be something our future generations can build from rather than have to pay for.
I see an America where each community is capable of standing on its own using the talents of its citizenry and the abilities of its businesses and industries no matter what the country as a whole may have to withstand in its future.
My friends the future of America is up to each one of us, its not just the job of Washington, Atlanta, Chattanooga, the guy next door, its not just the job of the woman down the street, it takes each of us working every single day improving our community as a whole by stepping outside our comfort zones and reaching out to make a difference.
It is up to us to have our own lives prepared for emergencies and to work with our local leaders to make sure that plans are in place. It is only through preparation that we as individuals or communities can reach out and help others, secure in the knowledge that our own families and communities are safe and adequate supplies are available to meet the needs at home.
Will this generation and those that follow be less because they are further removed from America’s roots? I think as long as our society continues to head in the same direction, each generation will make their way into the brave new world but it’s the what ifs that sometime worry me and make me thankful that God is in control. But even with God’s control He expects all of us to do our part. Perhaps getting closer to and understanding the role that the land plays in our lives and making sure that that role never vanishes might be one way we can improve our little corner of the world.

 

The one that got away

Grandma Kitty pulled her shiny case knife from the pocket of her blue apron. She reached down far to the bottom of the cane pole and cut it.
“This will make a good one,” she said, as she handed it to a three-year-old me. Then she cut one for herself.
As we walked to her favorite spot along Frogleg Creek, I could not help but take a peak within the small metal pail she had given me to carry. I knew it would have something good for us to eat, like some chocolate pie or a piece of coconut cake.
I almost fell down when as I looked beneath the lid, only to have my hopes dashed by a bucket of dirt filled with red wigglers.
“Granny, what are we going to have to eat,” I said. “I thought this was our food.”
“It is food, but it is for the fishes,” she said.
“You will have to wait till we find some berries or maybe a plum tree,” she said.
“What are we going to do with these poles?” I said.
“I am going to tie some string on them and you and I are going to spend the morning fishing,” she said.
As we walked along the trail, I noticed a stick lying across the trail. I rushed ahead to pick it up.
“Hold your horses, boy,” she said, as she took her cane pole and popped on the back of what I thought was a stick. The stick slithered away like a bolt of lightening.
“That’s your first rule of being in the mountains, son — be careful where you put your hands,” she said. “We share this space with all kinds of critters. Some don’t care much for sharing.”
As we reached the spot along the banks of the creek, she said. “This is it.”
Conveniently, a huge oak log had fallen there. Upon it we sat.
“All you need to do is put one of the wigglers on the safety pin and drop your line in the water like this,” she said.
She handed me the pole. Then she fixed the other one, carefully attaching the string, safety pin and adding the worm.
As we sat there side by side with our poles in the water, I know I probably asked her a million questions about the leaves, the trees and the little green frog which hopped on my shoe.
She patiently answered every one. We sat there for what seemed like hours enjoying the mountain breeze which flowed over the Gravelly Spur and along the Frogleg Creek.
“”Well, we better be getting back,” she said as she pulled her line out of the water.
Just as her pin touched the top of the cold waters, the biggest fish I ever saw jumped by her line.
“Granny, did you see that?” I said. “We can’t leave, we have not got that fish yet.”
“Yes, we did,” she said.
Close your eyes, “Can you see it?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Then you will carry that fish with you everywhere you go,” she said.
“So we did catch a fish,” I said. “Today, we caught the biggest fish of all.”
“We caught something much better,” she said. “We caught each other.”