Fishing and 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.”
From Randall Franks’s book “A Mountain  Pearl.”

America – a reality show?

I grew up in a politically active family. My parents supported various local, state and national candidates and then became influencers encouraging neighbors, friends and strangers to support their bids for the office they were seeking.
This was done by ringing doorbells, hosting social gatherings, attending rallies, placing signs and a lot of talking. I could barely walk the first time I remember standing at a door with my mother as she shared the qualities of a local candidate running for county commission.
I was scrolling through social media the other day reading opinions on the shifts in Southern politics from one party to another based on the passage of the Civil Right Amendment.  I came along after that monumental legislation and watched the continuing struggle to live up to those standards and heard the thoughts of whites and blacks from the city too busy to hate – Atlanta in the 1970s. My greatest template of course came from my parents, and especially from the point of view of my mom – a business woman, who began her own business in the 1950s, and in the 1970s supported the Equal Rights Amendment.
During those years however, I never once heard the topic of race discussed in my parents’ personal political conversations.. There were  no dog whistles used, just finding candidates that had a desire for equal opportunities for all, good paying jobs, potential for education, and rising out of poverty. Those were the priorities for a family fighting its way up from the farms of Appalachia to a successful life in the city.
Many city folks looked down upon the rurals that migrated into the cities to find better jobs and opportunities. Often times we found ourselves segregated into mill villages or the neighborhood remnants of the former because that is where the housing was most affordable. Some quickly worked to conform and cloak their origins by adapting to fashions, norms, speech patterns and doing everything to make opportunity more likely and climb the social ladder. When one could afford it, families moved to nicer neighborhoods and melted into the city landscape leaving the cotton, corn and hayfields behind.
These were the steps that my folks walked and succeeded in working their way up through the economic class barriers. Was there racism? Of course, there was. Even if families didn’t see it in their own lives, the worst of it was piped into our homes through the evening news. Was there discrimination based on class, sex, ethnic background, area of origin? Of course, there was. But then we went out into the streets from our homes and found a way to live, work, play, attend school, and survive together.
Was it easy? No. People struggled. People argued and fought. People disagreed. In the 1970s, I saw my folks and many others like them began a shift from FDR Democrats towards Republicans largely because of the news media pumped into our homes. The endless coverage of long haired, unkept people who were protesting against America and all that my parent’s generation held dear – a country where someone could come from nothing, work hard, and create a better life for the next generation. A land where people are self-reliant and aspire to greater opportunities. That is what our family has known since before the country’s founding.
My mother looked at women who like her desired the passage of the E.R.A. sharing other more radical points of view that she could not support, so she walked away. My father and she moved to being more Independents, sometimes supporting Democrats which did not seem to align with any of these hippie notions and choices and sometimes supporting Republicans.
The radicals and the alignment eventually of Democrat candidates to their causes shown on television caused that shift. Until those days, my folks and theirs before them would have been described as yellow-dog Democrats since the days of the Civil War.
Today, I see similar images and thoughts as seen in the 1970s of those who wish to tear down all that my parents taught me to hold dear about this country. Since the Twitter and Facebook feeds and the 24-hour news media floods our phones, TVs and computers, with images of protests, raucous rhetoric, and violence targeting authority figures, another shift is coming. Just like it did for my folks, these images and philosophies will likely move more people to walk away and aspire to the ideals which gave us the American experience.
I grew up in a South where opportunities were opened up by the struggle for civil rights for blacks and for women. These peaceful protests sometimes marred with violence from the opposition were ones my folks did support. Many today wish to act like that struggle did not succeed and once again our nation’s citizens are fighting for similar rights. I witnessed the changes effected by the struggles of the blacks and women of greatest generation and the oldest baby boomers, they changed the world and it is a better place because of their actions. To try to throw us back to that place again and erase all those gains, does a disservice to generations who struggled to lift us out of the depths of that past.
What is the reality show of America? We do our best as a country when we all come together and find middle ground, compromise, and push the American experiment forward. While some may not agree with where we are going, we are now finding the new middle. The question is will the middle be closer to the left or the right. Will everyone find their way there or will some be so lost that it causes our country to split down the middle. Only time will tell.


I am coming to the conclusion that the art of visitin’ is now a thing of the past for much of America.

I can remember as a kid, as dinner time came near, a neighbor or family friend would just happen by and mother and dad would ask them to pull up a chair and mother would set another place at the table.

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The day that follows sleep

I got up this morning and wondered what will the day bring.

Each morning that I awake, I push myself from the bedclothes, I shake off the grogginess left by sleep.
I move my legs towards preparing myself for the day – wash, shave, brush, comb, fresh clothes and so then it begins. What will the day be?

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A daisy for Momma

The old T model Ford chugged and stammered its way along the thin pig trail that crisscrossed up the side of the Gravelly Spur Mountain.
On one side looking down was a shear drop, while the other side was straight up.
As Pearl looked off the mountainside, in the valley below the farmer’s new crops of corn were beginning to show some strength in the neatly planted rows they laid off earlier in the year traipsing behind their best mule teams.
The mountain laurel dotted the side of the mountain and a faint smell of wild roses occasionally whisped through the open car.
This trip up the mountainside would eventually reach a point where the car would stop because there was no more passable road and Grandma Kitty, Grandpa Bill and little Pearl would get out and walk the rest of the way.
Their goals were three fold — Grandpa Bill was scouting the mountainside for any usable timber, Grandma Kitty was planning to hit her favorite spots to gather remedy roots, barks and berries, but the main goal involved a tremendously large bouquet of daisies tightly grasped in Pearl’s hand.
You see this was Mother’s Day weekend and for Kitty and Bill their mothers were both in heaven.
Grandpa Bill’s mother lay in a green patch of ground nestled between stately cedar trees on the side of the mountain where generations of the family rested, while Grandma Kitty’s mother was buried miles away in another county.
Through the years they had created a tradition of alternating between the locations on days like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Memorial Day.
As the T model hit the end of the road, Grandpa Bill shut her off and picked up the lunch pales sitting neatly in the back seat. Grandma Kitty pulled her burlap sack from beneath the seat and Pearl jumped out without losing a single daisy from her bouquet.
As they walked up the old mountain trail Grandpa looked over at an old cabin and said, “Pearl, that there is where your great, great, great grandpappy built his home after beating them there Red Coats.”
Though abandoned the lonely the cabin still held its position strongly on the side of the mountain creating a natural fortification against potential attack from indians.
Grandma Kitty spied a bit of wormseed and she strayed from the trail to gather some to grind. Some of the neighbor’s kids had needed a batch of her remedy to rid them of worms.
The canopy of the dogwood trees almost hid the entrance to the little cemetery.
As you walk between two majestic oak trees, in a clearing high on top of the mountain, was this lush green field with lines of stones marking departed loved ones. Some stones were store bought with fancy writing on them while some were simply mountain stone where someone had chiseled in the name of those gone on.
Pearl had made this trip before and knew the ritual just as if it was a part of daily life.
As they stopped near the edge of the cemetery, Pearl gave half of the daisies to her father ‘cept six.
He took them and walked over to where his mother slept. He sat down on the grass next to the stone and started talking with her. He told her about how the crops were last year, how the children were, and anything he thought might interest her.
As he did this Kitty took Pearl’s hand and they walked to the graves of the other six mothers who came before her and placed one daisy on each plot of mountain ground.
When they finished Bill had placed his flowers on the grave, told his mom how much he loved her and said goodbye once again.
He joined Kitty and Pearl and they walked slowly to the edge of the cemetery that went up to the very edge of the mountainside.
Pearl still tightly gripped the other half of the bouquet and when the time was right she gave it to Kitty ‘cept one.
Kitty quietly held the bouquet and looked to the east to her ancestral home, she called out to the four winds to carry her love to her mother dear and she tossed the daisies across the sky and they flew through the air off the mountainside.
As Kitty walked back to join Bill and Pearl, Pearl looked up at her and handed her the one remaining daisy she would not relinquish earlier.
“Mommy, I want you to have my love now. I don’t want to wait until I have to talk to a stone or to the four winds.”
Kitty put her arms around her and Bill put his around Kitty’s. They stood there and gazed off the mountainside watching the four winds carry the daisies across the sky.
For more stories of the Gravelly Spur, see the book “A Mountain Pearl.”

True Blue

With the recent changes in direction in the automotive industry in our country, I don’t know what the future will hold for the brands that our family stood by ever since they traded in their horse and wagon. I would like to say that I am hopeful that some of the great traditions and loyalties will remain despite what the future may hold.
When I was in my youth, there was a bit of variety in choice, but for most it came down to two choices. The division begins at early age and you figure out that you are either on one side or the other pretty soon.
Do you drive a Chevrolet or a FORD, Fix Or Repair Daily?
Now in our household we were a Chevrolet family. From the early blue Malibu to the golden Chevy pickup to the candy apple red Monte Carlo. Everything my parents drove at that point was a Chevrolet.
I do have a faint remembrance of my brother driving a Volkswagen bug when he was in service. He wore out two motors hauling sailors back and forth from Norfolk to Atlanta. I will say one thing about those bugs — they didn’t use much gas. But one thing about it, you sure could not tell how to operate one. All the little buttons had funny little symbols on them. I remember right after he first got it, we went for a ride. We nearly froze to death trying to figure out how to turn on the heater. After we got back, sporting two different shades of blue, my mom jumped in and drove it around the block. When she got out, she said, “Boy, that thing has a dandy heater in it.”
I still wonder where that heater knob was.
By the time I got to driving age, it was time for me to make my decision. Will I be a Chevy or a Ford man.
My dad and I went to the government auction and looked over a variety of cars. With my limited funds, in spite of the fact I wanted a Chevy, I got my own Ford Pinto. Now, I grew to love that car until it perished in a collision with a great big Chevy.
I then graduated to a Ford Pinto station wagon, and later a Ford Fairmont station wagon.
Now, if this is looking like a trend, it isn’t. It just seemed like that’s all those folks at the government auctions wanted to get rid of. Guess they wanted to keep their Chevys.
Finally, since I was traveling so much on the road between music appearances, my mother convinced me to invest in a brand new Chevy S-10, metallic blue with an extended cab. Boy, was I proud of that truck, even though it cost more than my parent’s first house.
Why is that you reckon? There is something wrong when to buy a car, you have to pay what someone paid for the house they live in.
“Blue,” as I called my Chevy, served me until 2004 when I retired it with over 330,000 miles on it. I had no major problems in 15 years of driving. We drove through ice, snow and through the depths of the August southwestern deserts. Of course, there were often prayers in the desert to God above to help us pass safely through.
I guess I did have one problem with Blue.
Blue had a star complex.
Several years ago I made my acting and singing debut in a film for CBS titled “Desperate for Love.” The director selected my truck to use as a set for one of the major scenes.
The teen-age theme was set around a high school choir and a love triangle that results in one of the leads dying. The film featured Christian Slater, Brian Bloom, Tammy Lauren and Veronica Cartwright. In one scene, Old Blue co-starred with them all as they danced, joked and cut up in Blue’s bed. After everything was said and done, the truck earned more money than I did that day.
Which I really did not mind. After all, I was the one who had to feed Blue.
After that I just couldn’t keep Blue out of episodes of “In the Heat of the Night.” Almost every week you could see that metallic blue pickup passing by in one scene or another. Blue just had a need to be on camera.
That was one of the reasons it was so hard to let the reliable friend go some years ago. I had always envisioned Blue well polished, sitting in a film and television museum somewhere stuffed like Roy Roger’s “Trigger.”
In all the years Old Blue and I hit the trail, Blue only failed me once, when I was on my way to do a commercial audition in Charlotte, N.C.
Just as I came out of the mountains in the dark of the wee hours of the morning, Old Blue began to balk. I pulled off and as I made it under the bridge, Blue died. Conveniently he carried me with his last breath to a sheltered area where I would not be standing in the rain that had just started coming down. Before long a police officer came by and helped me get pulled to a local garage, where after about five hours and a reasonable payment for the replacement of a coil, I was back on my way to the audition. I arrived a bit late but still ready to roll. After ten minutes, I had rejoined Old Blue for the trip home. I did not get the commercial. And you know Blue never gave me one more bit of trouble.
Somehow I just know that Blue figured out I was auditioning for a Ford commercial.

A little funny never hurts

One of my readers said that I needed to share a bit of comedy in my column to raise the spirits of the folks back home. Well I don’t know if I can do that but I’m willing to take aim at it.
One of my favorite places to find funny comments or situations is in church and sometimes the funniest thing you find relates with youngin’s and church thinkin’
I remember a few years ago my nephew asked me if he had a guardian angel. I told him ‘Sure you do. Your guardian angel is always with you.”
“Does he eat with me?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said.
“Does he sleep with me?”
“Sure,” I said.
“That must have been who kicked me out of bed last night,” he said.
Now I won’t take credit for this next one, its one I heard from an older feller which will remain nameless:
Do you know where radio was invented?
The Garden of Eden.
God took Adam’s rib and made the first loudspeaker.
A little known fact about Noah’s Ark:
There were three camels on board.
The first was the camel many people swallow while straining at a gnat.
The second was the camel whose back was broken by the last straw.
And the third was the one who shall pass through the eye of a needle before a rich man enters the kingdom of Heaven.
Farmer Jud and his wife Jeweldine, a childless farm couple prayed to have a child.
As an answer to the prayer, the couple received the blessing of triplets.
The preacher commented as to how their prayers were answered.
Jud said, “Yep, but I never prayed for a bumper crop.”
A lady searched endlessly to find the love of her life with no success so she finally turned to prayer:
“Oh Lord, I am not asking for a thing for myself but please send mother a son-in-law.”
A father asks a prospective son-in law “Can you support my daughter in the manner she is accustom to?”
He replies “ She ain’t gonna move is she?”
I have always heard that bread cast on the water always returns. Bread cast on the water, may return but all the bread we send overseas sure doesn’t.
Laughter has always been an important part of life in our family mainly because of the nature of our ancestors to lean towards being stoic in their approach in life. That approach comes even more naturally to me than laughter does. I am often asked “Why don’t you smile more.” My answer is sometimes “I am smiling on the inside.” Moments of joys and laughter are even more cherished to me. May laughter always fill your days because God does have a sense of humor otherwise, he would have never made someone quite like us, would he?

Faces from the past and present

Have you ever sat down and looked through your photo albums or boxes of photos and not known whose face you were looking upon?

Just the other day I was looking at images from my kindergarten.

You would think I would be able to name every one of those kids; I mean it was just yesterday that we were sliding down the stair banisters at the Presbyterian Church, fighting in the church playground and arguing over who got to sit with Julie Badger, my kindergarten sweetheart.

Other than Julie, the rest of those kids’ names have just faded away. As I looked at photos of birthday party after birthday party, I saw so many classmates I could not even begin to remember.

You would think I could easily remember when, while blindfolded, I accidentally pinned the tale on the wrong donkey.

I never liked Jamie Winston much anyway. He was only invited because of diplomacy. If I left him out, then I wouldn’t get invited to his house. There would have been a crushing domino effect which could have set my second-grade social life on its ear.

I often sit and peruse photo albums that feature faces of people who I do not know. The photo had or has some significance to my late mother and father, or grandparents or another relative, so it found its way into the family collection.

In my room hangs the portrait of a great, great, great grandfather that meant much to my grandmother.

I will say it was not a favorite of my mother’s, as she sees this stern man whose eyes almost follow you as you enter the room. It reminds her of the haunted house paintings that scared Don Knotts and Jim Nabors to death on “The Andy Griffith Show.”

It took me years of coaxing to finally get grandma to part with it and let me be its caretaker. The same is true of so many other images I have gathered through the years.

I recently forwarded a photo from the collection of my grandmother Allie Bunch Franks to a distant cousin via e-mail.

I was hoping it may be one of her ancestors. All the information I had was that it was my grandmother’s cousin Dave Bunch, who had an affinity for building different creations inside bottles. Three were featured in the postcard. Grandma even had one that sat upon the mantle.

I always remember marveling at how he could have gotten his creation inside that bottle when I peered in it as a child. I thought he must have had very small fingers to reach up in there and do that.

Beside him in the photo were two girls, one younger than the other, and unfortunately paint had covered the older girl’s face years ago.

From my cousin’s review, she made the educated guess that due to clothing styles, it was likely her great uncle rather than her great grandfather who shares the same name.

I have recently been going through many of our family photos and posted numerous unnamed ones to Facebook as well as hundreds from my father’s time in Germany sharing them in hopes someone will recognize and appreciate them, thankfully several were. It is amazing how we can easily forget the names of those kids who were at our birthday parties or the cousin we seldom see. It is so important to take the time to mark your photos in pencil not pen as to the details of who, what, when, and where.

Through the 60s and 70s, many film developers were kind enough to put the date of development on the photo, which helps. I think many of those new developing machines may include that info in the code it leaves on the back of the image.

As I look at the fading images, it is amazing to me how older images from the 30s, 40s and 50s endure literally unchanged while those of the 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s are already fading into obscurity.

It is hard to imagine birthdays and Christmases simply gone because of poor film or film development, but that is much like our memories, they will likely fade with time as well.

I encourage those of you who have moved into the computer era, to scan your photos from every era into a computer database. Generally, you can include information about the photo right in the file in many programs. Make several CDs of the completed photo files and disperse them to your children, grandchildren. Put a copy in your safety deposit box.

Many even take the time to create little photo documentaries of the family history and their lives. Sit down and share these with your young grandchildren at the computer.

The main reason to disperse the copies is to make sure that many people have them in their collections in case of a natural disaster or fire. Then you might have a better chance of rebuilding your family photos.

When you consider all the time and money we spend on photos, you would think we would take the time to document the events that surround them. Now that we all create hundreds of digital images as part of daily life on the devices we carry, we still are letting them go unidentified unless posted in social media. I do wonder what will survive from our era for archaeologists to catalog a thousand years from now. Families have largely given up great paintings of their leading members that once lined great halls. Photos whether printed or digital will likely not survive as we know them.

Whenever I go into Cracker Barrel, I look up at the large portraits hanging on the walls and wonder if only someone had taken the time to write down a little about that person and put it with the portrait if they would now be staring out at thousands of Cracker Barrel customers or on the wall of a relative who knew they had an important life.

Like a newspaper documents the story of a community through its coverage, a well-kept photo collection documents the story of your family’s life. Will your teenage children or grandchildren care you took the time to do this? Probably not until they have children of their own, but who knows, the effort may prove beneficial to each of us as we look back later and get the benefit of knowing who is staring back at us.

I am still wondering who that blonde kid with the flattop, big ears, with my birthday cake on his nose is, oh wait, that’s me.

The honeysuckle pull

The sweet smell of honeysuckle lightly drifted over the back porch steps as I sit at the top of a thirty-step descent to the ground below. At three-years-old this was a surmountable achievement to navigate these without tumbling to the bottom. And in reality my mother was always watchfully standing by looking through the porch door as she ironed to make sure I did not rush beyond my abilities and go scampering down the steps.

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Get the shovel

I went to the garage and I grabbed the shovel, re-entered the living room and began moving through the room picking up a shovel full and dropping into a heavy duty garbage bag.
I am exaggerating the extent of my efforts to clean the house, but at times, I feel like that is the only way to find my way through.
It amazes me more everyday how much stuff I seem to accumulate despite every attempt not to bring anything else home I do not need.
Papers endlessly flow in through the mail, and from various meetings, and they seem to create endless piles.
Looking over my computer screen I see my treadmill. It makes such a wonderful addition to the living room holding up a pile of shirts waiting their turn on the nearby ironing board. I ironed half a day yesterday and there are still 25 or so piled there.
In preparation for a recent family visit, I managed to get everything spic and span at least in the areas accessible. I have so much more to do to get things in order.
I don’t know about you but when things are in disarray, it makes me feel like I am standing underneath a huge pile of stuff sitting on top of a rickety ladder just waiting for it to drop on top of my head.
It can become overwhelming at times, but such is the nature of life. We all have things that tend to pile up around us as we take each step forward.
We can let those things become a burden and bog us down in the tedium of everyday or we can systematically take them in stride making sure things remain caught up and life doesn’t become mired in mundane tasks.
Each day should be a balance after sustaining our existence with work, some time for family and friends; some time to those everyday tasks; and finally some to activities that allow our spirit to soar blessed by the creativity of the Lord’s gifts for our soul.
Many people soar by sharing their energies and talents with others through great organizations that help change the community around them. Some serve their fellow men through service in government while others create things that uplift the soul through various art forms.
Yet no matter what we choose to do to balance our lives, we must strive to never forget that what we do comes from the strength within us. The choices we make must also help fuel that strength and feed our souls. An empty vessel cannot fill another.
I pray that you are taking the time to balance your life, feeding your soul in God’s words and using His gifts to uplift those around you.