The ferris wheel

As I held tightly to my mother’s right hand, I gripped the striped-red string that held my blue, green and yellow balloon we bought from the bright-colored clown. I knew if I didn’t hold on to both with all my might they might get lost amidst the crowd moving between the fair rides. I never saw so many people bumping into each other in my life. It was wall to wall people.

We waited in line to get a chance to ride the huge, white, wooden roller coaster. Burt Reynolds later blew it up in one of his movies, but today it was one of the biggest rides I had ever seen, and I want to tell you I was a little scared and excited at a chance to ride it.

I was not sure if my stomach would keep down the combination of cotton candy, popcorn and hot dogs that had been the diet I pleaded for from my parents. Only a candied apple remained on my list of items I just had to have.

My mother told me I had to wait.

I watched as Dad pointed the gun at the ducks, knocking duck after duck down. He was a very good shot. Then I watched my mom take a turn, and she out-shot him. My dad helped me hold the gun and use one of his turns. I was so excited when I hit the bell. I am sure my dad played a big part in guiding the aim of my intentions.

We walked away with an arm full of odds and ends as prizes. I am sure they were glad to see us move on to the game where you try to get the rings on the bottles. We did not do as well at that.

There were judgings for pies, preserves and all kinds of foods. We moved from building to building, where farmers young and old brought their best livestock hoping to score a blue or red ribbon.

Throughout our visit to the Southeastern Exposition at the Lakewood Fairgrounds near Atlanta, Ga., I knew one thing — whatever we did, we had to wait. Patience for a four-year-old like me was not something that came easy. I gave it my best shot, but I am sure there was some squirming and squealing involved.

Of all the experiences at my first visit to a fair, it was the bright colors of the rides; the musical sounds and all the people smiling that stick most in my memory.

Over the years as an entertainer, I have been to many fairs, but for some reason in my mind, none of them ever quite measure up to my first one.

Throughout my youth, I was a regular rider of the rides that spin you around faster and faster. I saw a photo circulating of it recently on Facebook. I remember getting on one of those rides 18 times in a row. For some reason in my late teens, my constitution changed. After my date and I got off the short ride on a large ferris wheel, lets say that cotton candy, hot dogs and popcorn I ate when I was four finally caught up with me. Since then, I have not been able to enjoy many rides, but I still enjoy the sights and sounds.

We all now can only dream of the day when we will gather again on the midway or enjoy large events. One day, we will again. Just remember, patience and courtesy will see us through what is ahead. I am sure there will be some things that might not move as fast as people would like but one thing is for sure — there is nothing quite like the thought of a fair to put a smile on your face.

Uncle Dud Doolittle and the rickety ladder

I am sitting on experience overload as we all are dealing with the nationwide pandemic shutdown and my local region is reeling due to tornadoes and flooding. So, I am turning us to a bit of levity to raise the spirits:

My great Uncle Dud Doolittle was an entrepreneur extraordinaire who operated the little general store at Flintville Crossroads.

Now Uncle Dud was as swift as could be. He stood about five-foot-five and was wiry as a well-strung bed frame.

His circular Ben Franklin spectacles offset his gray hair, and he was seldom seen outside his wool, dark green-striped suit and favorite gray beaver hat.

When working in the store, he also wore a black visor on his head that looked odd because it made his bald spot shine as he worked below the store’s light bulb.

With the variety of folks who made his store a regular place to be, he was always finding himself in unique and unusual situations.

Folks were always eager to give a hand, especially Cousin Clara who made a drop by the store a daily ritual.

It was a quiet Friday afternoon in July of 1948. Uncle Dud stood on a rickety wooden ladder putting a shipment of canned peaches in his favorite pyramid display. As he drew his task to close Cousin Clara came in saying, “Sure is hot out there.”

She noticed a can lying below the ladder so she walked over and stepped under the ladder to pick it up. As she raised up, she knocked over the ladder sending Uncle Dud to the floor.

“Doggoned it,” Dud said. “I told you before to stay away from that ladder. Don’t you know it is bad luck to walk under a ladder?”

“I didn’t know you were superstitious,” Clara said.

“About the only time I am superstitious is when somebody like you walks under a ladder and deliberately sends me to the ground,” he said.

“Do you believe it is seven years bad luck to break a mirror?” Clara asked.

“No sireee! My Uncle Corn Walter broke a mirror, and he did not have a bit of bad luck,” Dud said.

“Why didn’t he?” Clara asked.

“He got bit by a rattlesnake and died two days later,” he said.

Throughout the conversation, Dud remained as he had landed on the floor — standing on his head.

“Why are you still like that?” she asked.

“When I stand on my head the blood rushes to my head, but when I stand on my feet the blood don’t seem to rush to my feet,” Dud said. “I didn’t know why, so I wanted to just stay here and think about it a minute or two.”

“Why, that’s easy to figure out in your case Uncle Dud,” Clara said. “Blood can’t go in to your feets because your feets are full, but it can go into your head cause your head’s empty.”

(The characters of Uncle Dud Doolittle and Cousin Clara are the property of Peach Picked Publishing in association with Katona Publishing and are used by permission.)

Kin folks as far as the eye can see

Have you ever really wondered where it is you are from? How did your folks come to be in this place or how did you get to where you are? Can you point to some place and say that there is home?
When I think of home its not the house I live in, in my waking moments I think back to the valley below the Gravelly Spur, or the little house my grandparents lived in near Tunnel Hill. In sleep it’s the little brick house in Northeast Atlanta where my childhood adventures brought great pains to my parents.
It is really amazing how today thanks to the internet, we can know more about the people that came before us, honor their contributions or learn from their mistakes.
Have you considered that upon your back you carry the hopes and dreams of generations of people who struggled through famine, disease, war, oppression, endless hours of labor? All of their years of faith in God, effort, sometimes sacrifice, in some cases even martyrdom is now upon you to carry the family’s banner passing it to the next generation.
That is a heavy weight to consider as we lean back in our leather recliner grasping tightly to the remote flipping through the channels hoping for something to watch. Oh, look there’s “Braveheart,” so you watch a few minutes of the carnage depicted that some of our ancestors endured; flip a few more channels and there’s “Dances with Wolves.” Then you watch some of the cruelty some of our ancestors inflicted upon others. A couple of more channels over is “Gettysburg” and there we see brother against brother fighting for their lives in the War Between the States.
There are so many epic struggles in history upon which our peoples stood on one side or the other, sometimes taking up arms, sometimes just trying to survive as the world careened out of control around them.
Family experiences help to shape us into whom we become in life. Sometimes we choose not to pay attention to those stories dismissing them as useless nonsense. It is amazing how each generation struggles through the same issues: putting a roof over one’s head; clothes on one’s back, food on the table and paying the bills. Most of this is accomplished by one simple teaching — work hard and with God’s help you will succeed.
These are the basics in every generation’s experience, its what we bring to the table beyond these basics that help to give a family a sense of accomplishment.
Families are forever linked together by blood but they also share a history, they may not always see eye-to-eye but as time marches on from one generation to the next, the question is what are you passing along.
In some families, they see this as a gift of property; in others, it’s simply the gift of love and caring that stays with one’s family long after you have stepped through to meet God.
Does blood alone make one family — no, not always, in order to be family, there are other attributes that must be there. A sense of caring, love, fair play and mutual respect are a start. But as a basis the shared experiences of those that came before will always connect those who carry a bit of their ancestors within them.
I was raised in a family where kin folks cared about each other, they helped all they could, didn’t always agree but usually ironed out those differences especially following a gentile tongue lashing by the most senior member of the family reminding them that differences are usually petty compared to the big painting that reaches back through the years.
Hardly a month goes by that I am not blessed with talking with a relative I never met before. Someone who in days past might be called second cousin or third cousin, twice removed. If my Grandma Allie were still here, she would tell me exactly how we were related and then share some bit of family memories about their folks. Of course, she came up in a time that really all kinfolks had been each other and the times they shared.
In this world where everything moves so fast, I encourage you to pass along the wisdom of the generations in every way you can find because we are the standard bearers for all those behind us but more importantly for those ahead of us. We are in a unique time when families are together, hopefully checking on older relatives by phone or computers who are isolating. This is a perfect time to pass the time by collecting the family stories and setting them down for generations to come.

The show must go on

Social media outlets these days are filled with living room concerts, musicians pickin’ away to empty performance halls, one-on-ones from their decks and every corner of performers’ spaces.
The current pandemic has resulted in performers’ slates of appearances being cleared for months to come. I am in that same boat. Many performers are now struggling like everyone else, founding themselves sheltering away from work.
People are often impressed by the glamour they think makes up such a large portion of stars’ lives, but like your hometown businesses, often performers are struggling to keep the doors open behind the scenes, and their employees paid. I encourage you, if you are able, and see these online concerts, and if they are asking for donations, or sharing merchandise that you can buy, please do. We are all in this together but even despite these cancellations, it reminds me of the old adage – the show must go on. Here is one of my stories of just that kind of fortitude.
As I drove into the McReynold’s farm outside Nashville, in my mind I was preparing for another weekend out on the road with Grand Ole Opry stars Jim and Jesse. Jesse and his late wife Darlene opened their home to me and I often stayed overnight in the two-story farmhouse where they raised their family. When the brothers joined the Opry, they bought a farm which they both continue to live on.
In many ways, I became an extended member of the family. When I drove into the driveway, I noticed the back of the bus opened up. Underneath the bus, I found Jesse tangled between what makes a diesel engine tick. Folks who are used to seeing stars with their hair slicked back in the sparkling stage attire would not have recognized this Bluegrass Hall of Famer as he climbed from beneath the bus in his ragged baseball cap and gray coveralls covered with grease. Jesse is a mechanical whiz.
Country Music Hall of Famer Charlie Louvin and I became acquainted while I was still in my teens. I remember one time he and I sat down and discussed the merits of a career in music. He told me then that he had spent most of his life working for a bus and a band. Keeping those two things on the road had taken most of what he made. He reflected on an early decision to select music over a job at the post office. At the time he said if he had taken that post office job, he would be retired and drawing a pension now. I have not had the chance to talk with him since he and his late brother Ira’s induction in the Hall of Fame. I know if he had made the other choice it would have been a great loss to the world but it goes to show that even stars sometimes wonder about their life choices.
Concert goers don’t often realize what is involved in putting on a stage show. The performers in many cases gather at their home base and load the bus or van with equipment, sales material, personal effects and enough snack food to tide them through the trip. It is not unusual to climb aboard and ride for 10-12 hours to the venue. After arriving, they figure out where things go and then unload sound equipment and sales material.  After setting everything up ready for the arrival of the audience, performers then go and throw a little water on their face, slick back their hair and put on their stage clothes.
We arrived somewhere in Ohio.  Bellevue, I think. Members of Jim and Jesse’s band, the Virginia Boys, and I had went through the set-up process with Georgia Music Hall of Famers, The Lewis Family, who were sharing the bill that night. Everything was set and we were all ready to go on. I was standing back stage waiting anxiously as Jim and Jesse went through their first set. They would usually bring me on about 10-15 minutes into the show. The Lewis Family’s sound equipment was on the stage. I don’t remember the exact conversation that led up to it, but Travis Lewis, who usually watched the controls, and I were joking backstage. “I said it is liable to blow when I go out there.”
As the audience laughed at my first punch line, I hit the first chord. The sound system blew. I was standing there with some of America’s most talented musicians ready to play and no way for the audience to hear us. Thanks to the fast work of Travis, Little Roy Lewis and a couple of others, they got the system up and running. Needless to say, for any entertainer, standing in front of audience, trying to keep them entertained as the sound system is being fixed is less than a glamorous situation.
When the show is over, after visiting with the folks in the audience, the groups have to tear down the equipment, load up and hit the road for the next gig and do it all over again.
What I have found through the years is that stars who tend to take care of things themselves have the longest and most productive careers.
I’d rather be more like Jesse, putting on the grease covered coveralls to keep things going than having everything served on a silver platter.
But I’ll never again joke about blowing out the sound system again. You don’t reckon it was my singing, do you?

My Own Chicken

When I was just a little boy on the farm, I spent much of my time fascinated by the baby animals — a young colt, a calf, baby chicks and ducklings.
When I was big enough, my grandmother said it was time I had my very own chicken.
Since becoming an adult, I have learned to appreciate the importance of chicken — fried chicken, baked chicken, chicken fricassee or chicken casserole. While traveling as a singer from church to church, you can’t help but become accustomed to it.  Everywhere you go some nice lady always comes with a great big platter of Southern fried chicken for you to eat.
But as a child, I had not really connected the fact that little baby chicks grow up to be dinner.
Since we lived in the suburbs of Atlanta, Grandma said when I was ready she would give me three eggs and hopefully one would hatch.
To get ready, we had to order an incubator by mail to replace the warmth of the hen. The little yellow hatchery looked like a small spaceship.
After getting set up, Grandma picked out three eggs for me on our next trip to the farm. I remember coming in each day and gently turning the eggs so they would be heated evenly on both sides from the bulb in the bottom.
I watched those little eggs patiently, knowing that one day soon I would have my very own baby chick.
After a while, two of the three eggs decided it was time to get out of that spaceship and began to break through the egg.
I will never forget my excitement as each little yellow being came into a new world. Of course, for me it was hard to tell what they were going to be when they grew up. With the names I gave them, “Roscoe” and “King,” it worked out well since they both turned out to be roosters.
I did my best with the help of my folks to nurse those little chicks into adulthood.
They stayed in a little box in the kitchen and were fed and watered until they got big enough to go outside.
In our back yard, they made friends with my dog “Track,” and the trio had a fine old time running about. Of course, I think Track had more fun than Roscoe and King. He always seemed to be doing the chasing.
I am sure the neighbors were not overjoyed by the addition of the chickens to our subdivision, but as long as they were quiet, the chickens were welcome.
As roosters will, eventually they began to raise the sun with their crowing.
While we never had any complaints, I know the neighbors would eventually tire from their early morning alarms. So, Roscoe and King got to go on a trip to Grandma’s farm.
It was tough to let them go, but I did, and they seemed much happier running around the barn yard with all the other chickens.
I did get to visit them from time to time. Of course, I did receive some ribbing from my aunt Bessie in her letters on how good they were at last Sunday’s dinner.
It was much later when my mother Pearl and her friends, Mary Burgess and Nettie Fischer, decided that they would cut some corners and save money on the food budget. They decided to buy a bunch of chickens for a dime a piece, kill and clean them and put them in the freezer so we would have plenty to eat. As a little kid, I watched all the hard work the ladies put into this process. I watched as the chickens did their dance as they lost their heads. After seeing the little critters running around the yard, I just did not have the heart to eat a one of them. I guess I just pictured them as being Roscoe and King.
The experience taught me a tremendous amount about the responsibility of taking care of little ones. Perhaps the same is true of people.
Wouldn’t it be a nice world if everyone realized the importance of providing constant care and guidance to their little ones until they can run with the other big people and take care of themselves?

Fear itself

“The only thing we have to fear is, fear itself” were some words that the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt shared with the nation at a time when the people were in need of comfort.
Have you found yourself afraid with the recent pandemic?
Fear manifests itself differently sometimes depending on the circumstances.
In some folks their insides curl up and squirm; the heart beats faster; there is and increased sensitivity to everything in their environment, while others feel trapped within themselves sinking into crying or freezing from dread.
In the recent nationwide experience, it seems to have kicked off a passion for collecting toilet paper. I am sure one day we may understand that response, but I have to admit it eludes me presently.
I have felt fear several times in my life. There is what we may consider good fears – those spurred from watching a scary film or TV show or going through a haunted house. I did that quite a bit as a youth but find myself steering away from that now.
There are also fears that tell us when we are steering from the path we should be on whether physically or spiritually.
I know that I have felt this in both cases, it is sort of a sixth sense that you need to be cautious and aware.
Do we always listen to the fear? No, at times we don’t and sometimes that is to our detriment and other times it is to our benefit.
I personally feel that in this time, it would be to benefit to not give in to the fear. That does not mean however we should not protect ourselves, our family and loved ones during this time by proper planning and prudent actions.
I am sure that many people who serve and protect us experience a sense of fear as they do their various jobs as police, fire fighters, military and medical professionals – doctors, nurses, technicians, but they must overcome those to help others.
As individuals we can sometimes allow our fears to become so pervasive that they dominate our lives.
From childhood I have fought to overcome fears – fears of being bullied by others, fears of failure, fears of not being good enough. I have awakened in the night in a cold sweat, heart beating fast, stomach in knots, simply afraid. I fear the consequences of something I have said; some perceived error in judgment, failure in character, shortcoming that makes me feel inadequate in the goals I have set for myself or in the expectations of others.
These have not all brought on the extreme fear reaction mentioned above but they are all concerns that I think each of us face in our own way at some point in our lives.
Fear can be an all-consuming force that will destroy our lives if allowed but if recognized for the barometer it is meant to be, fear is there to help protect us.
At this time, find ways to redirect the fear towards creating opportunities to accomplish great goals in your home, your yard, with your internal spirit, and within your family. Find ways to helps others without triggering your fears or theirs and support your local businesses in the time of uncertainty. Respect one another and be kind. We are not the first generation to experience widespread disease, just be thankful that we are more prepared and able to respond better than those before us.
For me, when I find myself with a spirit of fear invading my well being when it is especially unwarranted, I stop and pray for God to ease the fear and forgive me for whatever known or unknown action may have brought it about.
While this does not eliminate the ultimate possibility that whatever was feared may come to pass, it does help center my mind, body and spirit back to where it needs to be – on God.
Everyone makes mistakes that can throw our lives into unanticipated turmoil and bring on that sense of fear for the consequences, the measure of each of us, is how we face those fears.

Family ties won’t be broken

The importance of one’s family connections is something that I believe we are losing in America.
With each generation there are fewer individuals who live close to their extended families, unlike the days when grandma and grandpa lived just in the next room or uncles, aunts and cousins were a short walk down the road.
Many Americans today do not really know the members of their extended family. We spend a few awkward moments together at funerals, family reunions, Christmas and Thanksgiving gatherings and then off we go back to our own lives.
As families build lives miles away from their home many grasp the anonymity of their new surroundings with fervor, often dreading when a distant family member might drop in, disrupting their lives.
Despite the fact that my parents chose to move away from their homes to build a life for themselves in Atlanta, I grew up in a home where our door was open to members of both my mother’s and father’s families. It was not unusual for there to be cousins stretched out on quilted pallets sleeping on the living room floor; uncles rummaging through the refrigerator for green dill pickles as a late night snack; aunts blanching red tomatoes from the garden in the kitchen; or distant kin moving in for an extended stay while they looked for a job or planned a new start.
Because of the time I spent with these people growing up, I feel a much closer connection to them; the shared experiences make chance meetings and gatherings less of a strain today.
It was not unusual for my Mom to get up and start cooking a batch of turnip greens, cornbread and some fried chicken, while cleaning the house from end to end. When asked why she was doing it, she would say “so and so” will be here directly. Sure enough, after a while they would knock at the door. My Mom has a second sense about that. With no forewarning she knew some relative was on their way.
Sundays were a big visiting day. It was not unusual for Uncle Harvey, Aunt Lois and all their kids to load up in the car and be knocking at our door before dinner. Sometimes Grandma Allie and Grandpa Jesse would come along for the ride.
Us cousins would spend the afternoon playing as the folks caught up on all the family news. We might ride over to the airport to watch the planes land or go downtown to sight see. We would eat dinner, and then whomever was visiting would load up in the car and head back up to the mountains of Georgia or Tennessee.
I remember one trip when Uncle Harvey and family came down to see Joe Don Baker in “Walking Tall.” Of course, us kids were not old enough to go to the drive-in and see it so we had a sleepover instead, while most of the adults took in the hit movie.
Just like their visits there, we also visited regularly. Despite the distance it was like we were one family experiencing life together rather than living separate lives and putting up with one another for a few hours at the holidays.
God has called many of those family members for an extended stay at his house. While they are absent here, the experiences still live within me, giving me a sense of the extended family even if there are fewer of them now on this side than there once was.
The stories they told of relatives I never knew made those people alive to me. Through those stories many of my characters come to life on the page in columns and in scripts.
As each holiday rolls by, take the time to experience more than just the ordinary. Help create an experience that will last for yourself and your children throughout the lifetime. It is the shared moments of life that will make the basis for what we know as family.
If we as a country do not work to strengthen our families individually, what will the future hold for the American family as a whole? I guess we will be a country of individuals seeking a group in which to belong. We can only hope those groups aren’t exclusively on social media.

Feudin’ — it’s all in the family

A few months back I met a new friend at a political rally, when I heard the name, I found myself just having to share with him that unfortunately, we could not be friends because we were feudin’.
The young man, of course, had no clue of what I was talking about, so I went on to share a bit about my family history and one of the many historical feuds within the family tree.
When we hear the words family feud, we think of the game show, but in many areas of the mountains the words had a much more serious and sometimes violent meaning. Folks around the world have heard of the Hatfield and McCoy Feud but what about the Swafford Tollett Feud?
I have written many a column about the idyllic happenings of my mother and grandparents in the valley below the Gravelly Spur Mountain. The now peaceful Sequatchie Valley north of Pikeville, Tennessee was the scene that a feud carried on from the Civil War until the 1890s and by some accounts truly did not completely end until the Great Depression.
Many years ago, I met a distant cousin, the late cousin Thomas V. Swafford who had written a book entitled “The Swafford-Tollett Feud.” I learned so much from he and his book shooting straight about the good and the bad, the positive and the negatives of more than 50 years of ill will, court battles, moonshining, gun fights, beatings, burnings and intimidation.
Swafford said in 2007 that many might not wish the stories told.
“A few people may say this book should have not been written,” he said. “They may say it opens old wounds and even that should be swept under the rug and hidden from future generations.”
Several in the previous generation probably preferred to let the tales die in the dust and be washed away by time. That is understandable, many of us prefer to gloss over the misdeeds of those behind us and polish the tarnished memories away.
At the root of the feud is often what we see in the movies and on television, money, revenge, property rights, and even a difference in beliefs. Swafford’s research points many of the early differences to one family aligning with the Confederacy and the other aligning with the Union. What makes it more difficult is the families were intermarried so cousins were feuding with cousins.
Some tales credit the beginning of the feud to be the 1863 murder of John Tollett, Jr., 72, who was tortured and killed by raiders supporting the North during the Civil War of which Aaron Swafford was believed to be amongst. Tollett was said to have a large amount of gold stored away and the raiders tried to make him give it up.
From this one Civil War period murder came decades of fighting.
I could tell you about the big election shoot out led by the Tolletts against the Swaffords and how many people were killed and injured or the logging incident lead by the Swaffords against the Tolletts.
There were many others featured in the book that show the violence moving from one generation to another and affecting other valley families and the law as it begins to take a more active role in trying to control some of the unruly behavior of its participants or their descendants right up into the Great Depression.
Of course, feuding killing wasn’t like regular murder in those days. Swafford quoted one lawyer’s comment that: we take into account whether the victim deserved killing, when he was asked why so many murders go unpunished.
It apparently was very difficult to yield a guilty verdict when the death occurred between two well-known feuding families.
Swafford wrote back then that “I am happy to report today the Tolletts and Swaffords are not only neighbors they are truly friends,” he said.
Personally, I was glad to hear this from my distant cousin. You see I am neither a Tollett nor a Swafford descendant, but I am cousins with both families with our family leaning towards the Tollett side in the feud as best I can tell. Those old suspicions and distrust flowed so deeply into the family beliefs, even I knew of them as a boy and was cautioned as a man to be cautious of dealings with the other family. I really never understood exactly why until I read his book because the stories were kept quiet. I was glad to bury the old feud in my mind by learning more but it never hurts to remind folks that it happened, so we can learn not to repeat the old mistakes.  I am pleased to say, my new friend and I didn’t restart it either.
Besides, I only have one bullet in my shirt pocket left from “In the Heat of the Night,” no need to waste it a feudin’ — you never know when Bubba might need a hand again.

A shave and a haircut

As I sat and squirmed in my chair trying to scratch a place in the middle of my back, I wasn’t very happy that I made a trip to get a haircut. Have you ever noticed when you go to the barber that those little hairs that fall inside your shirt collar can make you itch for the rest of the day?

It kind of makes you understand the “hippie” movement, at least the hair part of it. Although I never understood my middle brother Alan’s desire to have a six-inch afro, it must have been somewhere in the early 70’s, I ran in from playing down the street to find my brother sitting in the living room looking like he had a fight with an electric toaster and lost.

One thing that makes me wonder is why folks go to a salon to get their hair styled. They can do most anything there from your hair to your nails. They even got them places where you can get a full body wrap.

Now when I was growing up, men didn’t go to a salon. A salon was for women. That’s where women folk went to get their hair glued in place before they went to church on Sunday.

Back then, men folk went to barber shops. If a man was caught going in to a beauty salon, it took a month of Sunday’s to live it down.

While memories of my first haircut have faded, I am told that I was really not too much of a squirmer in the barber’s chair. I knew that if I didn’t behave that would be my last time sitting down for a while.

After our family moved from the big city of Little Five Points out to the country in Chamblee, my Dad and I settled on going to a barber named Mr. Saxon. I don’t believe I ever knew his first name, but Mr. Saxon cut my hair from my third birthday all the way through my senior year in high school.

One thing I have learned in my life is that loyalty to a barber is one of the most important choices a man can make. No matter where Mr. Saxon moved his practice through the years, that is where we went to get our hair cut.

Haircuts back then didn’t cost an arm and a leg either. It took me years to not cringe when pulling more than $2 out of my pocket for a haircut.

Initially, the old barber shop had been in business since the days of Civil War reconstruction. As I sat in a red leather swivel barber chair, I would look up above the mirrors on the wall at the shotguns which were mounted above each barber chair in case some restless mountaineer needed to be reminded that he was in town.

Hill folk would ride into town and not only get a haircut, shave and a boot shine, but  take a shower and house their horse out back while they were in town.

Mr. Saxon always managed to keep my Dad and I properly trimmed. After my cut, I would always help out by sweeping up the hair clippings on the gray tile floor. Through the years, it was amazing how I always seemed to sweep up a dime or two to put in the old red carousel Coca-Cola machine when I was done.

Through the years, Mr. Saxon imparted many words of wisdom on this impressionable lad. Probably the one that stuck the most was “Always remember, no matter who you meet in life, your mom and dad will be the best friends you will ever have.”

By the time I had reached my senior year, Mr. Saxon was growing near retirement. While he was once a whiz, time was taking its toll. The loyalty within me insisted that he would be the one to cut my hair before my senior photos were taken. Unfortunately, that haircut left a lasting memory and was not a great testament to his many years of talented barbering.

By the time I reached Georgia State University, trends in the outside world were making franchise style shops the place where people went for a trim. It was difficult for me to take my first steps into such a place, but eventually I did. Unlike the old barber shop, almost every time you went in there would be a different butcher on duty.

As my musical star began to rise, a fellow musician from Chicago, Sue Koskela, had taken up the trade and become an award winning stylist. Thankfully for me she was kind enough to take me on as a client and would always travel in to handle photo shoots and album covers. She settled near Knoxville for many years, and I would regularly make the six-hour round trip from Atlanta to have her work her magic. I am not exaggerating; what she did was magic. I knew when I walked out of there, I would not have to do anything to my hair and I would be sporting whatever latest style suited my look and shape of my face. Every time I went elsewhere, I usually looked like a cross between the Frankenstein monster and “Mo” from the Three Stooges.

When I joined the cast of “In the Heat of the Night” as “Officer Randy Goode,” my head and hair became the responsibility of whichever hair and makeup artists were assigned to oversee my look. They had to make sure that we actors looked consistent throughout scenes that were filmed out of sequence. In one of those happenstance moments, we got a new and short-lived hair artist who decided to give me a different look for an episode entitled “Heart of Gold.” I had one of my largest feature appearances of the early series. It was amazing to me how detrimental that look on camera was for me. I never realized until that point how much a person’s hair style has to do with how they are perceived by other people.

Good grooming is something we can all do to make the world a better place, but finding a good barber these days can be as hard as finding a six-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola for a dime.

Could you please stop that cat scratching?

Have you ever watched a child cast one toy aside and reach for something else? A friend of mine once told me he had watched his grandchildren open gifts and cast each one aside looking for the next one while spending no time with the one they just opened.

He shared with me that at that point he knew his grandchildren had come to expect too much, wanting more and more — rather than being satisfied with one gift, they wanted to rip through dozens and then simply cast them aside.

I looked at my watch as mother drove by the old Colonial Grocery Store saying, “Hurry, Mom, we are going to be late.” Of course, we were not going to be late. The piano store was just next door. I picked up my books and rushed inside. I was always amazed at a store filled with pianos — I really wanted to get there early so I could go through and try out several of them while I waited my turn with piano teacher Jean Stiles.

I do not know what made me want to go from instrument to instrument playing. Perhaps it was the same desire that made those children my friend had described ripping through more and more presents. Although the pianos were not mine and would not be.

I was intrigued by the talents of gospel pianist Hovie Lister, Eva Mae LeFevre and classical pianist Victor Borge. Several of my cousins had the knack to play piano along with their singing, so I had hoped the gene passed to me as well.

Of course, as a child of eight, my repertoire was a bit slim. In spite of the best efforts of my teacher, I was not the most proficient student who worked through “The Minuet” and “The Entertainer.”

No matter my deficiencies, I had a true desire and my mother supported that to no end. She worked overtime to afford a walnut Currier Spinet piano and pay for my lessons.

One day while sitting in my elementary school room, the entire course of my life changed. Dr. Donald Grisier, DeKalb County orchestra teacher, came into the room and played Chubby Wise and Ervin Rouse’s “Orange Blossom Special” on the violin. I have not been worth shooting since.

I had heard my great Uncle Tom Franks play the violin like his father had done before him at family gatherings, but now there was someone willing to sit and teach me.

After convincing my parents that I wanted to learn violin, I signed up. My mother once again went out of her way to see that I got the opportunity by renting an instrument. I also continued my piano study, but eventually it did fade away in the shadow of the fiddle. I realized I was not going to be the next Hovie Lister or Victor Borge. The fiddle would stick and lead me to some amazing places. Although, early in the process there was enough sounds like a cat scratching coming out of it to run any sane person out of the house.

While I would never consider myself a pianist, the knowledge I gained while learning about the instrument has served me extremely well in every musical endeavor. The experience prepared me for a lifetime of lessons in almost every pursuit I’ve chosen to follow.

So, while at times children may be spoiled by piles and piles of material gifts that simply get laid aside, if a child shows interest in music, even if the child has absolutely no talent for it, and may someday lay the expensive instrument aside for other pursuits, remember as the child’s practicing causes the paint to peel in the family room, love of music is a gift that will last a lifetime and can span the generations.