A laugh with Rufus A. and Madeleen Doolittle

One of the more interesting characters I have met in my life is my second cousin twice-removed Rufus A. Doolittle. No matter how many times the family removed him he just kept coming back. If you meet Rufus on the street, he will always have on his old blue Bibb overalls covering nearly 300 pounds of his favorite dishes. He always said he was built more for comfort than for speed.

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Helping us laugh all the way to the Hall of Fame

Hearing great news often makes me smile, a joke can bring a chuckle, a funny sight can bring a belly laugh, but the writing, singing and antics of the consummate entertainer Ray Stevens, for me, brings all of the above.

I was smiling ear to ear when I heard the news that my fellow alumni from Atlanta’s Bill Lowery Music and Georgian was to be inducted into the CMA Country Music Hall of Fame this fall.
As part of the Country Music Hall of Fame Class of 2019, Stevens will be inducted in the “Veterans Era Artist” category, alongside Brooks & Dunn in the “Modern Era Artist” category and Jerry Bradley in the “Non-Performer” category.
“I am seldom at a loss for words but when they told me I was going to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, I was thoroughly caught by surprise,” Stevens said. “What a great honor to be included in the company of the people who are already members. When I heard the news, I was speechless and all I can say is, ‘It don’t get no better than this!'”
The formal induction ceremony for Stevens, Brooks & Dunn, and Bradley will take place at the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum in the CMA Theater later this year.
CMA created the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961 to recognize noteworthy individuals for their outstanding contributions to the format with country music’s highest honor.
During his six decades in the music business, he has been a session musician, a TV celebrity, a song publisher, a singer, a record producer, a real-estate magnate, a label owner, a nightclub entrepreneur, a music arranger, a video director, a studio builder, a pop-music hit maker, a comic, a gospel artist and a country star.
Stevens is renowned for recording both novelties like “The Streak” and serious fare such as “Everything Is Beautiful.” He was elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1980.
Born Harold Ray Ragsdale in Georgia in 1939, Stevens was a piano player from the age of seven. He grew up in Albany, Georgia, where he formed his first band and became a teenage disc jockey.
When he was 17, the family moved to Atlanta. He met his music mentor there, publisher/entrepreneur Bill Lowery. The mogul took him to Nashville to record and arranged a contract with Capitol Records. The company issued his self-composed teen tune “Silver Bracelet” with his “Ray Stevens” stage name in 1957.
Stevens majored in music in college. But he truly received his education from Lowery, as did his peers Bill Anderson, Mac Davis, Jerry Reed and Joe South.
Lowery began using Stevens as an instrumentalist, backup vocalist and producer on recording sessions. The youngster also continued to make his own records. He first made the pop hit parade in 1960 with his novelty ditty “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon,” issued on Lowery’s NRC label.
Stevens next signed with Mercury Records. He moved to Nashville in early 1962 and hit the ground running as a session musician on Leroy Van Dyke’s “Walk on by” and Joe Dowell’s “Wooden Heart.” Those hits were recorded on the same day. So was his own comedic smash “Ahab the Arab,” which exploded on the pop charts later that year.
He also continued to work as a Music Row session musician. Stevens backed Brook Benton, Ronnie Dove, Brenda Lee, Patti Page, Elvis Presley, Charlie Rich, B.J. Thomas, and hundreds of others.

He roared back into the pop Top 10 with 1969’s wacky “Gitarzan,” but later that year introduced Kris Kristofferson’s somber “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.”
When pop superstar Andy Williams went on hiatus from his network television show in the summer of 1970, Stevens was tapped to host the temporary replacement variety series. For its theme song, Stevens wrote “Everything Is Beautiful.”
Released on Williams’ Barnaby label, “Everything Is Beautiful” became a No. 1 pop smash. It also earned Stevens his first Grammy. The song has since been recorded by more than 100 other artists.
In 1971, Stevens scored his first Top 20 country hit with the gospel standard “Turn Your Radio On.” In 1972, his recording of “Love Lifted Me” earned him a gospel Grammy nomination. “Bridget the Midget” became a massive British hit in that year as well.
Released in 1974, “The Streak” topped both pop and country hit parades and became a five-million-selling phenomenon. The following year, Stevens created an ear-tickling, bluegrass-jazz arrangement of the Johnny Mathis pop standard “Misty.” It became his biggest country hit and earned him his second Grammy.
Stevens emphasized his funny forte in the 1980s with such country hits as his self-composed “Shriner’s Convention” (1980) and the Kalb-penned “Mississippi Squirrel Revival” (1985). “I Need Your Help Barry Manilow” (1980) and “Would Jesus Wear a Rolex” (1988) earned him comedy Grammy nominations.
The fan-voted Music City News Awards named Stevens its Comedian of the Year for nine consecutive years from 1986-1994. His humorous efforts for MCA earned him a string of Gold and Platinum albums. He repeated these feats during a stint at Curb Records.
In 1991, Stevens opened his own theater in Branson, Missouri. He launched his own television series on RFD-TV in 2015 and then Public Television. Stevens opened CabaRay in 2018, a 700-seat dinner theater is Nashville’s most sophisticated and technologically advanced showroom.

For more information on Ray Stevens, visit raystevens.com.

Peeking through a keyhole into the past

I will never forget when I was about 9 years old, I began a fascination with learning more about family history.
It began with a third-grade book report on World War I hero Sergeant York. As I read his story, I was taken by the similarities between the area of his living in the Valley of the Three Folks of the Wolf near Jamestown and ours in the Valley below the Gravelly Spur. I had a cousin who also shared that name, so I soon discovered a loose family connection.
This was the spark that drove me to a greater desire of learning about our family experience and gathering the available data and thus I became an amateur genealogist. Back in those days, there was no internet, so you went from relative to relative, graveyard to cemetery, courthouse to courthouse, and library to state archives in search of the pieces.
My parents were supportive within the reason of affordable travel in helping me on my quest. Coming from two Appalachian families, I did however pose some problems. The stoic nature of our peoples, led to there being a limited desire to talk about the past. I attribute this mainly to not wishing to relive the hardships which tended to interweave each story. Much of the oral tradition of sharing great tales of past family heroes had faded and many stories had been lost. I was able to gather nearer in time information and find many clouded tales of past ancestors that were on shaky ground. Many of my older relatives were contemporaries of Sergeant York, and their husbands or brothers went along as well training, fighting and some dying in World War I. A few stories of the Civil War, trips to the western frontier, and early settlement days did manage to find spots in different folks’ memories.
I did so much of this, at about 13, I was able to publish a short book highlighting what I had discovered at that point which many of our relatives purchased. Though I stopped the serious aspects of documentation and collection in my late teens, I have never stopped the pursuit of greater knowledge of my ancestors.
The advent of the internet has proved to be a wonderful resource to break barriers that came into my path at 12. That has it challenges as well, the information is only as good as the person who put it into the system. I always seek to find the correlating source materials that confirm their conclusions.
In recent weeks I have been blessed to make break throughs on several family lines that have had me stumped for decades. Often times locating one name or one location can open a door that allows you to peer deeper and deeper into the past.
I have managed to break down some of those blocks of late. One line which halted in the Civil War era had stood with no hope until I found some old notes I took from my grandmother and one of her sisters which gave me some potential siblings names. The combination of names in an internet search helped me in two different cases to open the lock and find the lines. I have located new cousins, I never knew and found photos I didn’t know existed of my ancestors.
One was such an amazing key that it opened up a door and walked me back before the time of Christ. Two millennia, I could not believe what I was finding and learning about each subsequent generation. Much of this was compiled by other genealogists, while some was new data, I was finding thanks to search engines. As I mentioned, I am always cautious about conclusions unless I can check the support documents. With that in mind, I traveled back to the founding of Jamestown, and across pond to England, Ireland, Scotland and through the centuries back to the Druids, the Saxons, the Welsh, the Normans, the Vikings, the Franks, the Jewish, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Egyptians just to name a few. I learned of ancestors who walked beside Popes, fought in the Crusades or alongside conquerors, ruled over principalities and dukedoms that I never heard of. I learned of ancestors whose lives ended in execution, mysterious murders or in battles with the goal of consolidating ruling power.
To many such history is of no interest to their daily lives, but to me and many like me, it brings our heart joy to know the names, see the images or depictions of those whose shoulders we stand upon. More than all that though knowing their stories.
Today, I am much richer within my heart because now I can literally travel across modern-day Europe and when I am in a country I have never been in before, there is likely a place, assuming they survived time and wars, where there’s may be a surviving house, castle, historic place, a graveyard, a monastery or convent, a statue, or museum containing artifacts that I can visit, point to and say ‘This is part of me and my story.’
I hope you always carry in your heart a bountiful number of family stories and history, and if not, you could with a bit of effort.

The page turns and the story continues

All of us are blessed with lives that within our days are the moments which make up our story.
From our personal perspective, we might see our lives as something which would not warrant the pages of a best-selling biography or novel but the minutes of each passing day make up our story.
In the last few days, several dear friends of mine have turned the final page in their story – Country and Bluegrass Hall of Famer Mac Wiseman, Gospel Hall of Famer Lou Wills Hildreth and Mississippi bluegrass promoter Bertie Sullivan.
Many great words have been shared about their lives since the news spread of their crossings. They were part of my story and as a result we will ever be intertwined until I turn my final page.
Another generational icon also turned his final page, TV star Luke Perry. Luke was an amazing talent who inspired many, me included!
I never had the opportunity to meet or work with Luke though we starred in network TV shows that aired in the same time slot, and we tried to appeal to the same adoring group of youth fans. There were many talented performers in the boat with us but I personally always placed great store in the story I perceived that Luke was writing back then. While my friends mentioned earlier were able to write on their stories for years, Luke’s unexpected passing, unfortunately, has left way too many blank pages in his.
Each day we rise from bed, we have the opportunity to write another page in our story. Our stories don’t have to be amazing. They don’t have to warrant a movie of the week be filmed. Our stories can simply be…. Life is a gift. That is never more apparent than when someone who makes our world better reaches the page that says “The End.”
At that point, we pick up their book and carry it with us, sharing our favorite bits with others and remembering what made them special.
Today is your chance to be special to someone else. Write a page that changes a life, or even the world.
Don’t leave pages blank while you are still here to fill them! Turn the page and make the story continue.

Don’t watch the world go by, use your imagination

The water whished over the rocks below creating a gurgling sound as I sat dangling my feet off the bridge. I was just high enough above the water where if I could stretch out as far as I could I still couldn’t touch the water but I dreamed of the day when I would be big enough to do so.

As I sat there I counted the leaves that floated beneath the bridge imagining that each one was a ship heading out to an adventure at sea.

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Communication is the key

Communication – the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, signals, writing, or behavior.
Most of us begin this process from the first time we point at something to indicate we want it. After we slowly master “Mama” and “Dada,” we eventually grow our vocabulary and with the right training we become equipped for life.

Over time we gain experience and add to the tools that help us establish the ability to in some cases to communicate clearly with a minimal amount of effort.

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When morning comes

When the morning comes, we will start a new day.

The sunrises up to greet us pushing away the darkness that flooded the night.

The worries we had in the depth of black time fades away with its first rays.

Oh, the pain and grief that we shared, that enveloped the river of thoughts that streamed through our minds float away on the morning breeze.

When the morning comes, we will find a new way.

Our weary feet will hit the floor, though timid at first, their strength will swell with the drawing deeply of the sweet wisp of fragrance on the morning breeze.

The ticking clock reminds us that the day is precious and each moment should be filled with the hope of appreciating the grace gift of life.

An early morning shower like a dip in the baptismal pool washes away all concerns and focuses life upon the path that is ahead.

When the morning comes, we will be blessed with what to say.

Our feet step out into the morning sun and the feel of it upon the face warms the soul to its depth.

We meet our neighbor on our way, he seems lost in the shadow of his day, so the words we share uplift him there and make his steps lighter upon his way.

A little further along the path, there stands someone from our past, a bit of hurt still looms within, but with the word forgive, a future sighting will make us live.

When the morning comes, we will live life to the full.

We will go somewhere we have never been.

We will learn a skill that could help us win within our hopes, dreams and desires.

We will set the world on its edge and spin it with a solemn pledge.

When the morning comes, we will give it to God

He will use us wherever we trod to be His hands, His feet and share His heart with all we meet.

 

On which side do I sit

I recently found myself sitting in the doctor’s office for an annual test that I take. This was the first time that I noticed that the waiting room had been divided into two. On one side it was marked well side and on the other side it said sick side.
I figured that I should sit in the well side and before long I noticed someone else sitting in that side coughing.
I am sure this new division is to try to keep germs from spreading but since they are both sitting in the same room; I wonder about how effective the practice really is.
Why do you think folks that are well are going to the doctor?
I like my doctor, but I just don’t decide that he is lonely and go visit him and the pay for the
privilege of seeing him.
I really wonder if this division will soon bring on a new class action from one group or the other claiming they are being discriminated against because they can’t see the TV in the waiting room  as well, or the well folks have to walk further when having to go to the bathroom.
Maybe the Census department will add a couple of new categories upon which to divide us up, sick and well.
We may find the politicians working to curry favor with each of us to gain our votes by legislating more benefits to one side or the other.
As I sat there pondering the potential of these two new political powers, I wondered what would be the real defining criteria of membership?
I am in the well side because I am there to get an annual test. I get an annual test to make sure medication is not making me sick. I take medication because I am not well. So I really don’t qualify to be on the well side or I wouldn’t be taking meds in the first place.
So now I should be sitting on the sick side, but those folks might give me something, so I refuse to acknowledge that I should be there instead.
In reality, all of us must be sick in some way or we would not be there, maybe the signs should read somewhat sick side and sicker side. That way we are all in this thing together.
Really considering what our country is currently facing – the divisions that seem to be widened by the media and politicized by elected officials, maybe creating some new groups is not the best idea.
Maybe the best idea is to eliminate the divisions, create better understanding, foster cooperation and work together to make sure we are all along for the ride. Ultimately, whether we are well or sick, old or young, rich or poor, one color or another, one religion or another, one political party or another, one ethnicity or another, we must remember that within the borders of the United States of America, the goal is to be one people – Americans. The divisions we choose to align with or are born into must not prevent us from being that!

Are you sure you want to answer that?

Sometimes in life we have a sense of foreboding, a phone rings and we know there is bad news on the other end of the receiver.
Do we pick it up and find out the feeling is true?
If we don’t, we will never know. If we do and it’s not what we expected, we are worried for nothing.
Perhaps there is the feeling at the pit of our stomach when we are speeding down the highway that makes us place our foot on the brake.
Have we averted a disaster, we wonder?
The answer may never be revealed or it can be bolstered in our mind when we find an accident just ahead of us.
We have been equipped with such feelings, some are innate, some are learned, some are simply inspired by God’s messengers speaking to our soul.
I know there was one night I was driving through the mountains on a road I knew like the back of my hand. Audibly in the cab of my truck I heard “Slow down!” There was no one to say it either in my vehicle or outside in the early morning hours in a sparsely inhabited area of the mountains.
As I rounded the next curve, just after slowing, there standing in the road were more deer than I had ever seen in one place in my life. I would have likely been killed at the speed I was going before, but the audible voice – changed the potential of my future.
Was it only in my head? Perhaps. Was it a woodsman whose voice cut through the speed, the radio, and the closed windows to be so audibly clear? Perhaps. I think it was one of God’s angels helping me thwart disaster.
There are many points in life an inner voice or an outer one could help us to steer clear of a place which will change the life we know in a negative way. I pray that we all hear it, heed it and hopefully make the appropriate choice.
Should you answer the phone? As Franklin Roosevelt said “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Fear is simply – False Evidence Assumed Real. So, answer the phone, it may be good news.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

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

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