Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

There are not many instances that we today have an application for such a question.

Tunnels are few and far in between in our day-to-day travels unless you live where subways or mountain tunnels are the norm. Read more

Activity helps strengthen each day

Click, click, click, click, emanates from my sneakers as I walk along the hiking path ever hopeful that with each passing mile I am a little more fit and well on my way to losing the few pounds I am seeking to shed.

After opening boxes, and pulling jeans up only to find they will not close and a crowbar will be needed to get them back off. Read more

The mirror reflects only what it sees

Many of us find ourselves each morning at least for a few minutes peering into a silver backed piece of glass which reflects back towards us the mirror image of ourselves.
We see the teeth as we brush, the pores of our skin as we wash our face, shave, and/or trim the hairs which grew out since the day before. Finally, we put each hair left on top of our head in place with a comb or a brush.

Then off we go to dress and then we pop back in for one last look before we run off to meet the day and all that entails.

As the day progresses, we will stop by other bathrooms like a racing car making a pit stop, and once again we will have a moment to peer into the silver backed glass to see if all is still in its proper place.

These are rituals that we have been taught passed from parents, siblings, friends and they are common to most every human being who has access to such an opportunity.

As a child, at amusement parks and fairs, I can remember going through a house of mirrors which distorts the mirror image to make us look short or tall, skinny or fat, oddly shaped in all forms and sizes. It was always a laugh to see yourself or your companions going through the metamorphosis of illusions that the fun house mirrors reflected.

The present day mirror was brought to us from the work of German chemist Justus von Liebig about 180 years ago. For nearly 200 years, human beings found the looking glass a means of self-discovery.

I have often heard people say something to the effect of ‘You won’t be able to look at yourself in the morning.’ I really wonder how many of us take that to heart.

Have you ever really looked in a mirror and tried to see beyond the superficial image of yourself staring back? Have you tried to look down into your own heart, soul and mind to see if what is reflected upon that image is something you really want to see or you want others to see of you?

We all have blemishes, scars, warts, sores and sometimes wounds that can be seen when we look close enough that we want to cover over and hid from the outside world. No matter how much concealer that is used, they eventually once again rise to the surface trying to once again draw your or someone else’s attention.

I guess no matter how hard we try, we must learn to live with those and become comfortable in our own skin allowing all those imperfections not to bother us or anyone else. God did not create vessels of perfection in human beings. He created people who have the opportunity to strive for perfection despite the brokenness within their lives and their souls.
The image in the mirror will never be perfect, to strive for that is an exercise in vanity but to use the mirror to step closer to internal perfection might be an interesting step into the looking glass.


Be resolute

From childhood, I was taught that the arrival of the new year brings tidings of new opportunity.
The process begins with collard greens, black-eyed peas, hog jowls and cornbread ringing in the new year with the potential of good fortune.
After the meal is over then begins the hard work. What are the goals for the new year?
New job? Lose weight? Stop doing something you feel you shouldn’t? Make new friends?
What will make your life better than it currently is.
I will start by looking at my own. I could use some more financially secure work.
Let’s see, how can I accomplish that. Review my skills, study where I need improvement, improve my resume, and find some new opportunities and then apply.
Going through my closet, I find that several of my clothes no longer fit. I guess I should look at my exercise routine and my food intake and figure out how to better fit what I have.
Or I could just go buy an all new wardrobe and be happy with my new sizes.
Either could yield a smile depending my ultimate desired result.
Let’s see, looking around my house, there are several projects that need to be completed – new garbage disposal, paint the refrigerator, clean out all the closets – just to start.
I will make a list and begin plans to accomplish one objective per week until the list is gone.
Next, I need to make better plans for my retirement. But since I will never retire, maybe that’s too ambitious.
I need to finish that book I have been working on and maybe get out that new CD.
This is the year – everybody will buy them, they will both be best sellers! There it is, all the collards and peas I ate will pay off.
No matter what you need, what you hope, what you desire, it’s a new year and with God’s blessings, stick-to-it-tiveness and being resolute in your plans 2019 will be a year to write home about.

And they’re off! Here we go a shop-eling

The Christmas shopping season is in full swing and so has the mad dash to get everything done before all the kinfolk start gatherin’ around the icicle-strewn Douglas fir tree to open presents.
I remember waking to the smell of bacon frying Christmas morning. As I rushed into the living room, the tree would sparkle with what seemed like a thousand stars. I just knew that I caught a glimpse of Santa as the jolly old elf was moving about the house the night before.
There were so many beautifully wrapped red, green, silver and gold packages that my mother carefully placed under the tree, only to see all her handiwork destroyed in a matter of minutes Christmas morning.
My parents worked hard to put inside those packages items we had our eyes on, that we said we just could not live without. I know there were times they sacrificed what they wanted so that we would have a memorable Christmas. It is amazing though, since reaching adulthood I realized that “our wants will not hurt us.” If we do not get something we want, it is not going to be the end of world. In fact, in most cases, it is probably for the best.
I know my parents also were awakened much as I was with the smell of homemade buttermilk biscuits cooking in the oven. I’m sure they and their siblings rushed in to see the tree and their stockings filled with their presents.
Unlike my brothers and I, many in my parents’ generation were lucky to receive an orange, a stick of candy and maybe some small toy that their parents scraped and saved to buy. Toys were usually a luxury, as practical items like shoes or clothes were more likely.
My parents worked to give me and my brothers more Christmas gifts than they knew. Even more than the gifts they shared with us, it was the true spirit of the season that stands in my memory today.
As we push through the crowds of shoppers at Wal-Mart, we see the aisles covered in Barbies and GI Joes, icicle lights, and light-up Santa statues of every shape and size with which we can adorn our homes. When we attend the church plays and school recitals, we should remember really what the spirit of Christmas is, as we recognize the birth of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. In the center of the celebration are our families. We are given the opportunity to pause and remember God’s greatest gift to us, his son.
Children today would probably look back and say what little many of our parents had for their childhood holidays. Back then they did not know they only had a little, because they had as much as any of their neighbors and in many cases more. During the holidays, our family gathered together around a table set with a mouth-watering feast prepared by loving hands with the ingredients available no matter how meager or abundant. The family would make a trip into the woods and select a tree off the farm, which they cut down and brought back home. The family decorated the tree with popcorn strings, construction paper chains and ornaments they crafted by hand.
Like the decorations, many of the gifts they shared were also fashioned by the hands of the parents, grandparents or siblings.
To me more than the toys, I remember what our family did together.
At our family dinners, mother always made it a point to include a neighbor or relative who was alone. While the holiday can be joyous for some, for others who are alone due to distance or the loss of a loved one, the time can be unbearable. Including someone outside the immediate family in your holiday festivities reminds us and our young people the importance of caring about others.
We always worked to gather items for those in need. Sometimes we knew them, sometimes we didn’t. Whether it was clothes, toys, or food, we tried to make someone else’s holiday better. I remember one year my mother and dad worked to gather and repair old bicycles to improve the holiday for the children of a large family.
I learned to cook very early. One of my tasks was to help prepare the Christmas cookies, which we shared with others who might not have them.
I’ll never forget one year. I thought I would help by getting a jump on the baking tasks, so I followed my grandmother’s cookie recipe. What I did not realize is that I had to adjust the mixture for the use of self-rising rather than plain flour. So, let’s just say the salt I added gave a new meaning to the words bitter sweet. But the gallons we prepared were still eaten, with more wanted and needed.
No matter what you plan for the holidays, remember it is not how brightly you decorate your home, the expense or number of the gifts you buy or the volume at which you play and sing the beloved carols that make it Christmas. It is what you do with your family to make it a memory that will stand for a lifetime, not only for you but for all those your family can touch this Christmas season. Take the time to make a difference. God never promised tomorrow, so make sure this holiday counts. You may just change a life —yours!

Alabama’s Randy Owen receives special honor

When I started in country music one of the acts which was taking the
industry by storm was Alabama. Randy Owen, Jeff Cook and Teddy Gentry
left the cotton farms of Fort Payne, Alabama to spend the summer
playing music in a Myrtle Beach, South Carolina bar called The
Bowery. It’s a classic American tale of rags to riches. From humble
beginnings picking cotton in the fields, to international stars that
went on to sell 80 million albums, while changing the face and sound
of country music.

Culverhouse College of Business Dean Kay M. Palan formally inducts Randy Owen into the Alabama Business Hall of Fame / Photo credit: JAMM Entertainment

Recently Alabama frontman Randy Owen was formally inducted into the Alabama Business Hall of Fame. Owen’s induction comes as result of his business dealings in music, agriculture and humanitarianism.

“It’s a great honor to be one of this year’s inductees into the
Alabama Business Hall of Fame,” says Owen. “It’s very special that my
entire family got to share the night together. God bless all the
fellow inductees, their families and our home state!”

Founded in 1973 by the Board of Visitors of the Culverhouse College
of Commerce at The University of Alabama, the Alabama Business Hall
of Fame honors, preserves and perpetuates the names and outstanding
accomplishments of business personalities who have brought lasting
fame to the state of Alabama.

Owen has been the lead vocalist of ALABAMA, the most successful and
awarded band in country music history, for nearly 50 years. When he’s
not writing songs or performing on the road, Owen stays busy in Fort
Payne, Alabama, operating his 3,000-acre ranch, Tennessee River
Music, Inc., where he tends to 500 head of Hereford and Angus cattle.

Much of Owen’s time is spent helping others through his humanitarian
efforts, such as launching Country Cares for St. Jude Kids, an annual
radiothon fundraising event that has garnered more than $800 million
for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He received the Ellis
Island Award for his charity work with St. Jude.

Owen and ALABAMA have played a key role in several disaster relief
initiatives, including organizing and playing concerts to support
rebuilding efforts from tornadoes that struck Tuscaloosa in 2011 and
Jacksonville State University (his alma mater) in March of this year.

Lights, carols and sadness

Christmas for many is filled with favorites – food, music, decorations, and family.

But for many the month of December is filled with reminders of what can be overcome in other months of the year.

Loneliness is a feeling that many manage throughout the year. When Christmas comes around though up goes the beauty of the colored lights and crowds flock to shopping malls to fill their stockings and beneath their trees. Folks are hosting parties, calendars are filled with special events in towns, churches, and at schools and all we see reminds us of the blessings of the season.

You would think that all these activities would make those who are lonely feel better especially if they are able to participate. They are fun while they last and do bring spirits up. Often seeing others having fun together at malls or parties only brings on greater depths of missing loved ones or lost opportunities at love once the lights fade and sounds go silent.

Eventually, the individual must return to their home, to the four walls and empty halls. This is when the sadness of the season sinks in.

Does this mean we should not try to uplift others during this season of love? No, it means we should only try harder to make a difference in the lives of those God sends our way who are alone in life. God made all types of people, some are quite sufficient on their own. But there are those who need us to remind them each day, each week that they are not alone.

Are you helping in this effort? Is there a relative who may be widowed? A friend who is single? A child who is orphaned? Can you make this season better for them? Will you help them when the lights fade and the music goes silent?

We are here to encourage one another. This Christmas season, I urge you to remember that God sent His Son to save us from the loneliness of this world and remind us that we should love our neighbor as ourselves.

If we do anything this season, let’s remember that for life to be better for those around us, it begins with us. If I feel lonely, I think of what I was taught by a now 102-year-old – the advice her father gave to her: “If you want a friend, you have to be a friend.” It’s amazing how uplifting it is to spend your time helping others. It has always made a difference in my life. Go out and be a friend – it’s a wonderful Christmas gift!

I’m a pickin’ and I’m a grinnin’

Throughout my childhood there were two consistent high points to weekends –

Saturday nights at 7 p.m. for “Hee Haw” and Sunday mornings for “The Gospel Singing Jubilee.”

In the course of one week, America said goodbye to key stars of both of those shows which made up a huge piece of the American fabric with the passing of Roy Clark, 85, and Les Beasley, 90.

After I myself became a music artist and TV personality, I was honored to come to know both of them but for a hopeful musically-inclined child, they were the doors through which my weekly energies, enthusiasm and hopes were fueled.

Randall Franks and Roy Clark back stage at the Grand Ole Opry in 1994.

With each passing week, I looked forward to the musical performances shared by Roy, Buck Owens and other cast members who made up Kornfield Kounty. The comedy kept my parents and I laughing but the music raised my hopes and dreams of doing what they did. “Hee Haw” became the longest running syndicated show in history.

The legendary ‘superpicker’, was a Country Music Hall of Fame and Grand Ole Opry member. That is where I met him and he began encouraging me in person. He won Grammys, CMA and ACM awards. From performances on “The Odd Couple” to “The Beverly Hillbillies,” to a frequent guest host on “The Tonight Show” for Johnny Carson, Roy wowed audiences with is greased lightning fingers no matter what instrument was in his hands.

In 1969, Yesterday, When I Was Young charted Top 20 Pop and #9 Country (Billboard). Including Yesterday, Clark has had 23 Top 40 country hits, among them eight Top 10s: The Tips Of My Fingers (#10, 1963), I Never Picked Cotton (#5) and Thank God And Greyhound You’re Gone (#6, 1970), The Lawrence Welk-Hee Haw Counter Revolution Polka (#9, 1972), Come Live With Me (#1) and Somewhere Between Love And Tomorrow (#2, 1973), and If I Had It To Do All Over Again (#2, 1976). In addition, his 12-string guitar rendition of Malaguena is considered a classic and, in 1982, he won a Grammy (Best Country Instrumental Performance) for Alabama Jubilee.

Sunday mornings as the bacon cooked, biscuits baked and we dressed for church, the television was tuned into “The Gospel Singing Jubilee” starring The Florida Boys led by Les Beasley.

J.G. Whitfield hired him in 1953 to sing in his Gospel Melody Quartet, which was later renamed The Florida Boys. After the retirement of Mr. Whitfield, Les assumed part ownership with Glen Allred and Derrell Stewart and leadership of the quartet, and continued those roles until 2007.

During his time with The Florida Boys, he was a key decisive leader in the development, promotion, and expansion of many of the entities that have provided the foundation of the modern era of Gospel music: “The Gospel Singing Jubilee” TV program, the National Quartet Convention, The Gospel Music Association, and others.

Watching the Happy Goodmans, The Marksmen Quartet and so many others on that show helped to further fuel the musical fire and hopes and dreams to perform and share the Southern gospel music stylings.

I came to know Les as I became part of gospel music and he was also a great encouragement to me and I always was honored when stepping on the National Quartet Convention stage knowing it was watching Les and the Jubilee that helped get me there.

America lost two great contributors to the American songbook, though their contributions remain, their presence will always be missed.

Cooking, cleaning and compliments

Thanksgiving is a time in my memory that takes me back to the days of splendidly set tables, endless rows of holiday delights and friends and family gathered with their heads bowed thanking God for his blessings upon our homes.

I can still smell the turkey turning a golden brown, the sage that flavored the cornbread dressing baked from scratch, or the tempting urge to run my fingers through the icing of that double layered coconut cake. Read more

Upon the shoulders of greatness

I have spent some of my most recent months asking my distant relatives for help in honoring our ancestors through the restoration or placement of tombstones of generations past.
It is a small act that we can share to recognize decades of work, tears, blood, and hopes and dreams given by those who preceded our existence. In many cases, we can divide it up at $10 to $20 each to make the costs light upon us all. The price of a meal can sometimes set in stone the gift of life that we were shared by a previous generation. Stones do not have to be fancy, just a simple marker with names and dates.
While some of our family lines were well to do and had the means to mark their passing, in many cases, they scraped out a meager existence on a farm and often found themselves at times of death without the means to buy a store-bought stone. So, a rock or wooden cross was used to mark the grave.
Sometimes their remains were buried in church graveyard, community cemeteries, family cemeteries or simply in the soil where they poured their adult life and strength. I can think of one of my great, great grandparents buried on their farm, which I am told, now rest underneath a building. I never knew just where they were buried and sadly no one alive really would at this point.
No matter where their earthly remains are, their plots still need care, though often its been generations since their names crossed anyone’s lips. There are church, private and public cemetery committees struggling each year to pay thousands to mow and weed eat cemeteries. Have you donated to those? The cemetery for your parents, grandparents or even ancestors further back.
Right now, I am working on restoration or tombstone projects on my great, great grandparents both of my paternal grandmother and grandfather. I hoped to do these since I was a youth beginning to build my genealogy. I am closing in on raising the funds and hope to have these complete soon.
Sadly, in one case, the passage of time has lost the official cemetery plots, so the stone with the direction of the cemetery committee will be in the section of the cemetery where many of our family and their contemporaries were interred. Had it been done when I was little, there were still family members who could physically point to their plots, but they are lost to time.
Our family is blessed that some of our ancestors resting places are cared for by state or national park staff in some areas of the country where our folks were uniquely intertwined with America’s regional or national history.
The key thought I want to share is think of how you want to be remembered? You are working to make a difference oftentimes for your children and grandchildren. Your parents and grandparents did the same as theirs did before them. Each generation has hopes and dreams for those that follow. We stand on the shoulders of generations of men and women who through the centuries contributed to us being here. Learning their names, visiting their graves or places they were in life helps us connect with the lifeforce they passed to us. When we find their past presence is disappearing, we should join with other descendants and help to see it remains.