The differences within 100 years

The other day I realized I am now living 100 years beyond my grandparents’ key time in their lives.

In 1920, my grandparents Bill and Kitty Bruce had been married for four years.

My grandfather had spent his youth in the west, returned to Tennessee and found himself a bride half his age, bought land with the money he earned out west and started farming raising corn, tomatoes, running cattle and hogs.

They watched Bill brothers Tom and James, cousins and friends go off to WWI among the 130,915 men and women from Tennessee who did. Tom died, while James returned a shell of his former self and died within a couple of years.

They survived the Spanish flu epidemic that killed other family and friends as it savaged community after community infecting 500 million in 1918 around the world.

In this year my grandmother would become pregnant beckoning my first aunt Minnie Lee, named for her aunt, who would pass as a toddler in 1923.

My grandmother for the first time in her life was allowed to walk in a polling place and cast a ballot as women gained the vote. Grandpa would vote for Democrat James Cox while my grandmother always proudly said she voting just the opposite just to cancel out Grandpa’s vote meaning she voted for Republican Warren G. Harding. Not sure if she ever told grandpa though, she told me long after he was gone.

They rode horses, buckboards, buggies or walked where they went. There were no automobiles. They chopped down trees to build what they needed and cut wood to cook on and to heat from the cold. Harvest time meant canning vegetables to eat throughout the year. Meat was smoked in the smoke house, salted and cured to sustain meats to eat when hunting was slim.

As I look around at what I experience each day. I make much of my living in mediums that were not even existent – radio and television. Buying musical recordings was still in its infancy in those days with 78s and Victrolas being the source. Not one of those were within miles of them and it would be many years before a battery-operated radio would make its way to the valley.

If I get hungry, I go out, get in my SUV, drive to a restaurant, or to the store and buy something a farmer somewhere put into the food supply chain to fill the need. If I cook it at home, much of the time I pop it into a microwave oven and in a few minutes, I am seated in front of my favorite TV show eating away. That experience would have taken my grandmother hours in addition to the months it took my father to cultivate and/or hours to hunt or raise, slaughter and preserve.

I look up in the sky and I see jet planes, they looked up and saw only the birds for a few more years. Thanks to the advantage of science, and communication, we can anticipate the weather while they reacted daily to what occurred.

I communicate on a phone I carry in my pocket, they had to holler up the holler or send someone walkin’ to spread any news for quite a few more years to come. I can look at a computer and catch up on the news, they had to wait for a newspaper to come through the area at the general store.

It is amazing what 100 years has brought us. Is it better? It is more convenient. I do not know if it’s more healthy for us. It is definitely different and I imagine if my 1920s grandparents were dropped into what I see daily, I imagine they would feel we have a strange and foreign life.

Both lived to see the transition to automobiles, the advent of television and grandmother lived well beyond man reaching the moon and folks thinking of flying as a real form of transportation.

Such amazing things they saw… I don’t know if what we have in store ahead of us will compare but I certainly hope it will be and I realize how amazing it really is!

Is 2020 the year I dreamed upon?

OK its 2020, that is suppose to be significant in our lives right.

Well, we are here, breathing and have every opportunity that life within the United State of America affords.

There are so many significant dates that have passed in my life. Let’s see, when I was in school, we read a book called 1984… I don’t recall that year being anything like what was described by George Orwell in his classic, but he did write it 70 years ago. Perhaps he should have named it 2024, as with the advent of the internet, it seems more of what was described by Orwell is at hand today.

When Stanley Kubrick created the 2001 Space Odyssey in 1968, the country was in a race to the moon, so the setting for a battle between man and machine in space was a plausible notion, but we didn’t get there by 2001, and it looks like it may be another 50 or 100 years before we come close.

One of my favorite childhood cartoons was “The Jetsons,” where there was a robotic maid, all types of amazing gadgets, and the family flew around in what looked like a flying car with a bubble on top. According to the promotional material the cartoon showed our future in 2062, and here we are in 2020.

Will we make it? We certainly have more interesting and amazing gadgets. We have vacuum cleaners and mowers which will map our space and perform the task on their own something I would have loved as a kid. I pushed endlessly with a push mower and vacuum.

Are we as ordinary human beings, and young enough, going to experience great leaps in the coming 50 years that will reflect the imagination of the past creators of books, movies and television shows? I don’t know, but it certainly is amazing to think about. Many of us, now have our lies and pastimes rotate around items that did not even exist to consumers in the year 2,000. So, I guess conceivably, some of us will see some amazing steps in front of us.

I often wonder though is our race toward greater technological advancement will simply move us farther away from one another. As I look around at restaurants and see people staring at social media, or texts on their phone while their loved ones at the table do similarly. What happens as we perfect our abilities to communicate with other through something in our hand but can’t look them in the eye and do the same.

Is 2020 going to be what I hoped and dreamed of as a child or younger adult, probably not. But then again, no one put me in charge of what our lives should be. All each of us can do, each day the Lord allows us to awaken, place our feet on the floor, and walk in a forward motion, is do the very best with each step we take, each decision we make, each word we share, and each act we play out.

Use 2020 to reach for the stars in your life while helping others do the same. Who knows maybe we are living the dream that no one in history could even imagine.

The Christmas Doll

The winter of ’34 in the valley below the Gravely Spur was an especially hard one. A Christmas snow had blanketed the valley, making travel through the mountain passes treacherous, even if taken by foot.
With one false step, even those who knew the routes by heart could find themselves slipping into a snow drift hiding a potential fall.
However, for most of the children of the valley the snow turned it into a winter wonderland. Pearl, Ruby and the Wood boys were finding whatever they could ride to go sledding down Turner’s gorge. At the bottom of the gorge lay a pond formed from Frog Leg Creek which was covered in a thick coat of ice almost strong enough for skating. No one had any skates so they would simply slide across on the soles of the new shoes they received when the crops were sold.
While the children were unaware, most of the parents of the valley knew that the reality of the year had left them all in dire straits.
Toys at Christmas were largely a luxury in the valley. Even the well-to-do families were having trouble this year. The customary apple, banana or piece of peppermint stick candy that most of the children found in their stocking might be missed this year.
Pearl had sensed the concerns of her parents and with six children and four share-cropping families to help, she knew her father was doing all he could that year.
The unexpected snow however made it difficult for anything not already on hand to be brought into the valley.
Still Pearl hoped that she might find a little something for her Christmas morning that she could call her very own.
As she was sliding on the ice, she listened as the Wood boys laughed about what happened to what they got the year before.
“I can’t believe what George did to our present last year,” Woody said. “We got a whole string of firecrackers to split between us boys and he nearly run us out of the house with them.”
“He got up early Christmas morning and found them. They had this long string running through connecting them, so he took that loose and was counting them and splitting them up so we all had the same amount,” he said. “He threw that long piece of string in the fire. That thing jumped back out right in the middle of his pile. You should have seen George when those firecrackers started going off in every direction. They even jumped up in the bed with the rest of us and got everybody up in the house.”
But in spite of the snow, Santa would be making his usual stops at the Gravelly Spur no matter what. Because of the terrain, this year he would only make one stop in the valley and all the neighbors would go by Christmas morning and pick up what he had brought for the valley children.
Santa’s helper in the valley was Rev. Ben Smathers, who waited patiently Christmas Eve for Santa’s arrival. As the families came to Big Lick Church Christmas morning, he would then, one by one, distribute the gifts and the community would then gather for a celebration of Christ‘s birth.
Christmas morning, Pearl was up early, anxious for the trip to the church. In her stocking she found an orange and a stick of candy. When the family arrived at the church, she joined the other children in line at the tree and stepped up to Rev. Smathers. He placed in her arms a little blonde doll in a woven basket lying upon a blue cotton pillow.
“It is so beautiful,” she said. “Is she really mine?”
“Yes, just for you my dear,” he said. “So you take good care of her.”
As she looked in the eyes of her new friend, Pearl beamed with the joy of Christmas.
It was not stacks of gifts which made her eyes glimmer and her face shine with the light of the season. It was one simple gift of her very own given by the heart of a pastor who knew without his help many children would do without that Christmas.

Artist/Actor Randall Franks inducted into America’s Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame

Actor/Artist Randall Franks was inducted recently into America’s Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame in November 2019 alongside Jimmy Bowen, Gail Davies, Jeannie C. Riley, and Grand Ole Opry star Jeannie Seely. Franks is best known for his role as “Officer Randy Goode” in the award-winning series “In the Heat of the Night.”  Franks will join the ensemble cast of “A Cricket’s Dance” adding his talents to the upcoming 2020 feature film.

“I am deeply honored to be included in such company,” Franks said. “I never imagined as a Georgia boy who just loved to play my fiddle and sing, that one day my efforts might be heralded alongside those of so many of my musical heroes.”

Ceremonies were held at the 44th Annual Old Time Country Music Festival in Fremont, Nebraska where the native of Georgia also entertained the audience supported by the Kenastons – Vanessa, Sharon and Roger, who often appear on RFD-TV.

Franks joins honorees who have received the distinction since 1977 from the National Traditional Country Music Association including legendary acts such as Loretta Lynn, the Carter Family, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Grandpa and Ramona Jones, the Morris Brothers, Fiddlin’ John Carson and others. Many of the former honorees are included among those Franks highlighted in his “Encouragers” book series as those who helped him along his way.

“What a pleasure it was to induct a man who has so much at stake in ‘real’ rural music, and who does so much to keep America’s very own ‘rural music’ intact,” said Bob Everhart, President, National Traditional Country Music Association & Smithsonian Institution Recording Artist. “Randall not only plays a magnificent traditional country fiddle, his standing ovation proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt, he’s also one of the most keen and strongest musical voices for traditional country music I’ve personally ever heard in today’s music world, and in 44 years of doing a traditional country music festival, I just might have a ‘sense’ of what that is. Our ‘rural-country’ audience was profoundly impressed with Randall Franks, so was I.”


He began his rise in Nashville’s country music scene as a youth when Rock, Country, Bluegrass and Songwriter halls of fame member Bill Monroe recognized his talents and arranged the first of many repeat guest star appearances for the Grand Ole Opry 35 years ago. The Music City News was one of country’s first publications to acknowledge his talents alongside fellow 1980s country stars such as Reba McEntire, Alabama, and Lee Greenwood.

Franks soon expanded to musical appearances in movies and then landed a five-year role as “Officer Randy Goode” in the TV drama “In the Heat of the Night” as one of the police officers supporting the legendary Emmy winning actor Carroll O’Connor, Academy Award nominee Howard Rollins and Alan Autry. After leaving the show in 1993, while starring in movies, he returned to Nashville hosting concerts including at the Ryman, appeared for the Grand Ole Opry, and toured among the 1990s era country music stars.

While acting broadened his worldwide audience, music remained his passion yielding him appearances across the U.S. and Canada at fairs, festivals, concerts, and churches crossing genres from country, bluegrass, folk, Christian and most recently Americana.  He shared his Hollywood Hillbilly Jamboree at fairs and concerts around the U.S. and also made special appearances with his mentors Grand Ole Opry stars Jim and Jesse McReynolds.  

His musical creativity produced chart topping sellers such as the 1990 “Handshakes and Smiles” and the 1991 “Christmas Time’s A Comin’, ” 1992 “Sacred Sounds of Appalachia,” and critically acclaimed releases such as 1989 “Golden River Fiddlin’” and the 1995 “Tunes and Tales from Tunnel Hill,” and 2000 “God’s Children” with David Davis. With popular recordings within in numerous genres, his music was released by record labels including MGM/UA, Atteiram, Benson/Riversong, Sonlite, Zion, Lamp, Share America and Crimson.

Franks scored a number 1 Americana CD in June 2019 with “Americana Youth of Southern Appalachia” and currently holds the #3 spot on the Top 50 APD Americana / Grassicana Albums for October 2019.

His numerous awards and recognitions span from Male Vocalist of the Year to Songwriter of the Year and in 2011 he was honored by the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum as a Legend.

Franks is a mainstay as a celebrity host and entertainer at the Grand Master Fiddler Championship held at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum each Labor Day weekend. He also presents the Randall Franks Fiddle Trophy at the 1890s Days Jamboree Fiddle Contest on Memorial Day Saturday in his hometown of Ringgold, Ga.

Fans may download his music at Radio may find links to music from throughout his career at .

For more information like him on Facebook, follow @RandallFranks on Twitter, Instagram, or subscribe to Randall Franks TV on YouTube.

Finding choices for a positive life

If circumstances have set out a path for you in life, sometimes your senses become dulled to the cherished moments that surround you.
You might become busy with meeting the demands of the day – keeping a family fed or meeting the demands of one’s job. You may find yourself in a race to achieve something more. You could be seeking to take yourself away from what you see as a sadness in your world or a darkness in your soul.
The holiday season can be a period when the weight of these circumstances is heavy upon the shoulders. We often cannot see the great blessings that fill our lives, the moments of kindness that folks share with us to brighten our day. The note, the e-mail, the call from out of the blue, the funny dog video someone sends on Facebook.
They are small but meant to share a sense that we are all in this life together and only through each other’s encouragement can we overcome the tough moments created both within our minds and without in our circumstances.
Sometimes we make decisions drawn to a choice because we seek a respite, we desire something different than we have, and we later realize that the diversion or the shiny new thing was not really what was best for us or our love ones. Then we must face the consequences of our choice.
Hopefully, these will be light upon our shoulders. But no matter the weight or the duration of the self-inflicted pain, we have the opportunity to carry the burden to a better place in life.
That can come from within ourselves, the love and encouragement of friends and families, and for me, from my faith that God can carry me through whatever comes and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
So, as we stroll through the lights, see the smiles, hear the laughter, let’s remember that joy is shared for all of us, and while the darkness may creep in momentarily to shadow our circumstances, the greatest gift of the season came to earth for the lonely, for the broken, for the sinners, to give us all the opportunity to realize that we can make a difference and the smallest joys of this world were put here for us all.

Warsh and wear

Today most folks don’t give a second thought if they get their clothes dirty to go and change into another outfit.
In the valley below the Gravelly Spur, an abundance of clothes in the closet was not something that most folks experienced.
The Woods boys, like everyone, were often faced with limited things to wear. Little Woody had only two pairs of overalls and two shirts.
After working in the fields two days in a row, both pairs of his overalls and his two shirts were stained with red dirt and mud. He came to his older sister and said “I haven’t got anything to wear to school tomorrow.”
She took him into the bedroom reached into the closet, pulled out her extra dress, and laid it on the bed.
“Get that on and I’ll wash up your overalls.”
Little Woody didn’t have much choice in the matter it was either put the dress on or run around in his all together. So out of the clod covered overalls and into the gray colored dress he slipped.
So even though it was late in the day, she pulled out the washtub and the warshboard and scrubbed them overalls from rusty brown to a faded blue.
She took them out and hung them to dry on the clothesline, as one would normally do.
As the family went to sleep that night, the temperature dropped way below freezing. When the family slowly made their way out into the kitchen wiping the sleep from their eyes with the rooster’s crow, little Woody’s older sister sent one of the other boys to fetch the overalls while she cooked.
He brought them in frozen solid, straight as a board. He stands them in the corner taking a bit of delight in the feat.
Woody is standing there in her gray dress and says “What are we going to do, I can’t were those to school and I am sure not wearing this dress.”
She took the overalls and shirts and placed them on chairs by the fireplace and within just a short time the overalls and shirts had melted into something looking like the occupants had simply disappeared. She quickly ironed one of the shirts.
Woody could not wait to get out of the dress and as soon as the overalls were warm enough and before the iron had hit them, he was into one of the pairs and out of that dress.
While the experience might not have been so bad for little Woody if his older brothers did not see the whole thing as an opportunity for some good old fashion ribbing once they got to school.
When the Moss brothers asked the Wood boys what they had done the night before each mentioned some adventure they had but one of them had to say, “Woody didn’t do anything. He was afraid to come out of the house cause someone might see him wearing sister’s dress.”
Needless to say this was enough to get Little Woody’s blood to boiling and with a little more agitation its safe to say that clean pair of overalls picked up a little schoolyard dirt as the kidders found themselves on the receiving end of his frustration.
Good thing his sister washed both pairs of overalls or he’d been back in that dress all over again.

A leaf  of strength

The leaf swayed hanging on to the lonely limb tightly.  As if, to say to the world “I am not done and you are not going to make me fall down no matter what you throw at me.” All of its fellow leaves had given up the ghost blowing in whatever direction the wind desired them to go. Some managed to find a resting place at the foot of the majestic oak tree to spend the winter becoming the woodland blanket upon which the rain would fall before soaking into the ground.
My Grandad sat quietly on the porch staring at the leave bobbing in the wind.
He had come back from a tremendous stroke that took the wind from his earthly sails. The man who seemed would not bend to nothing could now barely lift himself from the chair in which he sat.
On this fall day though spying that lone leaf seemed to fortify him more than anything that anyone had to bolster his spirits. He stared endlessly watching its fight and as the fight struggled on from one day to two, to a week, his personal strength seemed to grow.
He managed each day no matter how the wind blew or what elements forced themselves past the mountain homestead, he walked himself out to the porch to spend some time sitting, later leaning against the porch post, and then standing as upright as the years would allow. He was always looking off towards the oak tree and its one hold out to the whims of the world saying nothing that revealed the focus of his internal thoughts.
As the winter came on strong, he would rise up and with his cane in hand, he eventually walked off the porch and towards that mighty oak tree going as far as he felt comfortable then returning to the porch. With each trip he got closer to his goal and he soon reached the tree looking straight up towards the hanging leaf.
There were a few times he would take one hand lean against the trunk of the tree and with the other lift his cane as far as he could trying to hit the leaf that centered his focus. He was just shy of reaching it and he would eventually tire and return to the warmth of the fireplace inside.
The light covering of snow did not even dissuade him to making his trek to the oak and returning home and with each passing day he grew stronger.
By the first signs of spring, he no longer limited his walking to just the tree and he was taken on even more of the activities that made his day sing around the farm.
It was on a spring day that the tree had refilled all its limbs and the greenery made it full and majestic. Grandad could no longer see the lone leaf from the porch so he decided to make another trek to see what had become of his now old companion who he fought alongside against the world’s elements.
As he reached the tree, he looked upon the ground to find it to no avail so he turned his gaze upward and amongst the lush green leaves there it was – one brown leaf still holding on to its place amidst the green youngsters around it.
Grandad’s face seemed to change as his face fought back the effects of the stroke moved to show a smile.
He raised his cane, almost in a sense of a salute to the lone leaf, then turned and walked down the trail towards the valley store. Emboldened by the lone leaf, he was figuring to hold on to his place in the world and stand as the man he was inside, no matter what nature threw against him.
We need more people in this world who work to overcome what they face finding the inner strength that God placed within each of His creations.

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 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.