Refilling the well with love

Over the past few weeks, I have said goodbye to many friends and family, and I share this story in honor of each of them and those who gave tirelessly to care for each of them as they prepared for their final steps. Perhaps it will give us all something to carry throughout the coming year – to always remember that we are here to love one another.

As Pearl looked into the eyes of her father, Grandpa Bill looked back with a stare that was almost empty.

There was nothing more scary, more disheartening than looking into those deep blue eyes that had given so much throughout life, such caring, such love and on occasion a stern glance that made you know you were on very thin ice.

But now as he looked upon you there were moments that he did not know who you were.

Pearl longed for a chance once again to hear his gentle voice speak her name for no other reason except to be sure that he knew her.

Fear overcame her worrying that such a moment might not come again or perhaps his thoughts might land in a place of anger and frustration making him want to strike out at her and those who love him so much.

The family had seen the cycle again and again as the older generation slowly yielded its control to the next, albeit sometimes kicking and screaming along the way.

But that is only appropriate not to go quietly into that good night.

In the valley below the Gravelly Spur Mountain there is no such thing as a nursing home or assisted living. You found your assistance at home among your family and friends.

No matter your age or disability there was always some series of chores you could perform to keep a daily routine until you body rebelled and no longer allowed you to do them.

Then if your hands remained active, a chore that required only slight movement might be shared, peeling potatoes, breaking green beans, sewing on buttons.

But Grandpa Bill had reached the point that those days were behind him and he was giving comfort only in the brief moments of clarity as they came and went within him.

Pearl wondered what she might do to make the situation better, alas there was little she could do except be there leaning back in the woven seat oak chair holding his hand as it lay upon the blue and white cotton patchwork quilt. She tried to make each day as close to what he wanted as possible.

There was no doubt of the love shared between the father and daughter and yet that did not ease the fearful moments when the ravages of time seemed to wipe it clean like the swipe of an eraser across a school blackboard removing the chalk so no one could see it.

But she found her solace waiting for that next moment when the writing once again appeared on Grandpa Bill’s class slate perhaps not in all its detail but enough to hold on to. Enough to sustain until there was no more.

It makes one wonder where love goes when the board is wiped clean.

Perhaps that is the purpose of family caring for family. The well of love pours out throughout the lives of those contributing filling the hearts of those around them. When the well begins to dry up does that mean that the love is gone? Of course not, the love still remains within all those who have shared in it throughout that person’s life.

As the level of one’s well begins to diminish it is simply the job of all of those who have drank from that well to now bring some of that love back to that person.

Just because they may not be able to drink it in fully does not make the gift any less valued.

From the book “A Mountain Pearl: Appalachian Reminiscing and Recipes

His steel could really sing

Barney Miller on the set of Lawless in 2011. (Randall Franks Media)

Barney Miller performs on the stage of the Ringgold Depot in Georgia in 2007.

From my earliest memory of country music, the sound and mix of fiddle
and steel working together to augment the vocalist has electrified my
interest in what some call classic country.
From the 1940s until Nov. 2, a talented Alabama steel and resonator
guitar man named Barney Miller has shared his talents alongside some
of the greats in Country and Western music, TV and film. He
eventually became a Georgian, where many of his musical recognitions
were achieved.
It was the early cowboy sidekicks Dub Taylor and Al “Fuzzy” St. John that took him from walking rows of crops on the farm to standing in
the footlights of stages across America. They put him in the ornate western costumes and helped him learn the inner workings of Hollywood stardom and Country & Western music touring.
Though his life and career carried him to be field engineer, construction company operator, deep-sea fishing charter boat captain, music teacher, and heating and air technician, just to name a few, his music carried him to contribute to the legacies of Grand Ole Opry stars such as Billy Walker and Ramblin’ Tommy Scott, TV personalities such as Claude Casey, and to appear in numerous films and TV shows himself. A major auto accident sidelined his musical efforts for a
time in the height of his demand as a musician, but he overcame the injuries to regain his ability to play the instrument he loved.
I was honored to be one of those artists who benefitted from his experience, his talents and his amazing storytelling. I knew him since my youth when he supported my young Peachtree Pickers. He loved to share a story about my mom and dad and one of our early performances for Buckner’s Restaurant where we both performed.
Later as my career moved to TV and country music notoriety, he became part of my musical legacy. I can’t put a finger on when it happened exactly, but one day, there was Barney and after that, he was always there, ready to go perform – county fairs, music festivals, and concerts, or a film or TV appearance whatever the opportunity. You can catch him performing from the set of Lawless with my Cornhuskers String Band on Randall Franks TV on YouTube. When I started our Share
America Foundation ( encouraging youth in Appalachian music, he became one of our
strongest musical contributors, helping us send numerous youth to college.
Barney left his slide and steel behind Nov. 2 for a brighter stage alongside many of the artists he knew in life, he was 87, though to me, I never thought of him as anything but eternally young, because of his uplifting spirit and amazing outlook on life. I can still hear his voice, see his smile and feel his steel meshing with my fiddle as we gave what is now considered a classic country feel to one of my songs – I’d just look over from center stage and say “Here’s Barney
Miller on the steel guitar” and the audience would come alive as he wowed them and me.

Could I borrow a cup of chiggers?

That may sound like a strange question but after you already have a whole hoard move in on you, what’s a few more?

I was filming a movie outside Nashville when I noticed that I had an extreme need to reach down a scratch my leg again and again. I wasn’t even filming outside where you might expect them to pay a call. I just had picked the critter up along the way.

I had forgotten what a hair raising experience it is to find oneself as the battle ground upon which these critters wage war.

They are like an army quietly waiting for a battle front to move into their theater of operations and once they do the chiggers slowly advance surmounting the shoes, the socks making their way as if they were advancing towards the German front leaving behind little command posts as they go.

The memory of childhood scrubbings, dousing the shoes in sulfur powder, and covering those command posts with calamine lotion are all etched in my memory.

Thankfully there was just one lone scout that caught me in Nashville, there was one time when I sat at my newspaper desk a few years ago, I noticed that I seemed to have itches popping up in places I didn’t even know I had. Later that evening, the plain truth became apparent.

In the fulfillment of my patriotic journalistic duties, I had crossed over into the sovereign nation of Chiggerland. They were so put out by my invasion, they sent out their best commandos to repel my attack and wouldn’t you know it, I left before those critters found their way back home.

In any event, by suppertime they had built new outposts from head to toe.

In trying to thwart their assault, one simple remedy came to mind — fight fire with fire. No, that wasn’t it. To scratch or not to scratch, that is the question. It wasn’t that either but I think the affirmative won.

I got up and rushed into the bathroom as the stroke of memory from childhood hit me, the way to handle this was to find a bottle of fingernail polish and paint the white flag of surrender on each fortification so they knew I was giving in.

The only negative thing is the one remaining bottle I found left amongst my late mother’s things was red. I just could not quite bring myself to painting myself all over with red fingernail polish. So, I decided, first thing in the morning, I would get what everyone needs in their fight against dem critters, clear fingernail polish and some benedryl.

What dem critters do not really know is when you paint those little flags of surrender you are really attacking dem with your own little secret weapon and slowly they give up.

So in any event, I am happy to report that on almost all fronts, the chiggers lost the battle, although I made every effort to steer clear of any opportunities for them to bring in reinforcements.

Just remember a scratch in time saves nine, no, that’s not it. One good scratch deserves another, that’s not it either. Well there must be some lesson learned here. If I figure it out, I will let you know for right now I had better run I think that one little critter from Nashville is acting up again. Now where did I put that furniture polish, no that’s not it.