Tenacity is within the genes

My recent experience of struggling each day to work my way back from a hip injury is giving me such an amazing respect for the profession of physical therapy and the process the put the patient through to awaken the various muscles back into performing their previous automatic duties. The experience made me reflect on a story of the tenacity of my grandfather and inspires me each day to press on.

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.

I have fallen, but I will get up

Writer’s note: Friends, As a public personality for decades, I am always reluctant about sharing about any of my health concerns until I feel others may in some way gain an insight which may benefit them in future by my writing about it. Thankfully, this column is not about the pandemic.

It has been many years since I had looked so closely at the dirt, I thought, as my head pointed face down in the dark green grass. It’s amazing how “big” ants look when they are crawling around at the end of your nose.

If I had just took a hit and fell while filming a scene in a movie, I would not have given it a second thought. But instead, I had rolled over twice after a crushing blow to my left side while losing my footing working outside my home.

After a ten-foot attempt to keep on my feet while carrying a large bag of rocks, I failed, only to meet the concrete up close and personal.

Despite my best attempts, I was not bouncing back up in the wake of my close-up examination of the quality of my yard’s root system.

After realizing I was auditioning for one of those old late-night TV commercials where the lady often pitched “I ‘ve fallen and I can’t get up.” I maneuvered my phone from my dirty blue jeans pocket and called my friend Dan Wright to check and see if he could come over and see whether he might think as I did, that I had broken something while doing my driveway dive.

He made it over in a short time and we soon realized, I was dealing with more than just a bruised ego.

We confirmed that my leg would not work properly and were quickly evaluated by the Catoosa County Fire Department emergency medical care response who got me stabilized. They did a superb job while awaiting the ambulance who with all hands got me moved to an ambulance gurney for transport. By now several neighbors had gathered around to check in on what happened, I told one as I rolled by that my guess was, I broke my hip and thus began my medical adventure to Chattanooga.

It’s been about 20 years since I had a need to be in a hospital as a patient, so going during a global pandemic was not within my hopes for this year.

Upon arrival, the ambulance folks shared there might be quite a wait based on the number of ambulances in the delivery area. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. I was pushed to the first spot in-line at CHI Memorial and within about 8 minutes was wheeled into an exam room with the nurse looking after me getting all needed info. About five minutes more, the ER doctor stuck in his head and before I could blink, I was being whisked off to x-ray.

The experience was different, the personnel were wearing various levels of protective gear depending on their jobs and of course all in masks including me.

The x-ray went quickly and I was returned to the exam room with info that the doctor already had the X-rays and would be in soon. A moment passed, he was in the room, saying that I really did a job on my hip. So, within a few more minutes, I was headed to a room to await an orthopedic consultation in the morning.

I had no more than been transferred to a bed when the orthopedic Dr. Bernard was standing over me in his mask saying I can’t operate on you tonight, I have a full schedule but you will be first up tomorrow as he outlined the choices and best outcomes in the list.

I would like to say that the next 21 hours or so were a walk in the park, but they were more like laying on a dirt road and every few minutes a team of horses and a stagecoach rolled over just to make sure I was still aware that my hip was broken.

However, the team of nurses and CNAs that alternated with my care were outstanding and before I knew it I was headed to surgery earlier than scheduled, laughing with the surgery team, even as the Doctor initialed my left hip with a sharpie after asking what it was I knew him to be doing. I was actually enjoying the experience until they rolled me towards the operating room as I faded off into anesthesia bliss until awakening in recovery.

When I returned from surgery, thankfully, I once again was well cared for as I worked to find new comfort levels, and soon began in hospital rehab and other staff as we worked towards the future of my recovery relationship.

In all, three days in and home with a transition to out-patient rehab that is ongoing for several weeks.

I wish I could say I came home picked up my bag of rocks and finished my project in the yard, instead, I was more like the man who was told to pick up his bed and walk in the Bible minus the healing. In the first night, I tried every chair, every bed, every place I could imagine to just rest and stop hurting. None worked and luckily for my neighbors my walker didn’t have a motorized attachment to aide me in checking outside my own home. Though my efforts were a slow start, each day improves.

Hopefully, transitional success will come eight weeks down the road as they release me back to regular routine and hopefully any of the lingering pain is subsided.

Key Lesson: Life can change in a moment’s notice and I am not sure-footed as a mountain goat.

Key Blessings: God’s gifts through Community Friends, my Ringgold United Methodist Church family, and Extended Family, make life easier by their prayers and support when you find you cannot do for yourself.

Greatest Stride: Each day, I am stronger and I see small improvements.

Greatest Challenge: Financial uncertainty for meeting uninsured medical expenses with music and film/tv industries being shut down for pandemic.

Greatest Promise: I am all in God’s Hands and with His guidance, strength and healing, I will be better and all needs will be met.

I want to thank every medical professional, friend and family member who has played a role in getting me on the road to recovery! When I started my career as an entertainer, I moved my legs a lot in rhythm to what I was playing, so hopefully, I will be back to shakin’ a leg again while fiddlin’ around before too long. But I know for sure, it is only possible by God’s blessings and the intervention of those who He sends to make a difference.

So, for the next few weeks, you may see fewer columns, fewer episodes of my various web series as I make my way back to full capacity but don’t worry, I may have fallen, but I will get up again!

Is the richness of debate a dying art?

I am learning that the field of earnest debate between people is becoming an art that is no longer appreciated nor desired by many.
I will never forget the joy as a youth of learning the skills of debate, of working to bring someone who was on the other side of an issue into your interpretation of the situation.
Often as a youth, I was able to see two intelligent individuals with differing opinions, sometimes different philosophies, sit down and revel in the joy of presenting a well-thought-out position sometimes shifting to think on their feet as their opponent took a different approach.
In recent months, I have looked on so many online discussions on various topics facing our country, our communities. Many are so entrenched in their beliefs at an emotional level without any foundation of reasonable facts to debate or an ability to articulate their thoughts so others might be persuaded to their way of thinking.
If you have taken the time to read the writings of our founding fathers, you would know that often their debates were lengthy, with participants arguing points endlessly in hopes of winning others to their point of view.
Some among my family forebearers were party to these debates: my cousin John Adams was known for saying one should “Always stand on principle even if you stand alone.” His lengthy heated discussions with Thomas Jefferson helped create our founding document.
A few years later another family member James Madison fostered into our American system, the representative government we have. He said that “it is much more convenient to prevent the passage of a law, than declare it void after it is passed.”
So, in some respects, the representative form of government is an opportunity to put forward all potential sides, discuss potential problems that might arise from the approach and make the best decision to act or not to act which will best benefit all those concerned. In our form of government often an elected official must bring a long list of fellow elected officials on board to carry an idea forward into fruition.
Sadly, today, we see very little desire to do so, those elected seem to be singing to their own choir rather than working towards bringing others on board to their way of thinking.
The ability to present a good case and the ability to debate any challenges is a strong set of skills.
Unfortunately, I am coming to the conclusion that these abilities are becoming something which is no longer taught and no longer appreciated. It is so much easier just to eliminate someone that does not think like you from your friend list, cancel them, rather than possibly learning something from them.
The richness of the American experience is one that allows people of differing backgrounds, thoughts, beliefs the opportunity to come together discuss ideas and all learn something from one another. That was what our education, journalistic and political systems, and even the spice of community lives and friendships were about – growth through debate, new choices through learning from such exchange, and often a new selected path forward whether individually or collectively.
Though I am always hopeful, I do wonder whether we may ever see the vibrancy of what we once shared as an enlightened society ever again.

A fiddle and a fireplace

I don’t know much about my Grandpa Harve’s childhood, although I am told his tales of life on the Tennessee River rivaled those of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn.”

When my dad was a boy, Harve gathered the children around the fireplace and before bed told a story of an orphaned boy named A.J. (his real initials), filled with intrigue of riverboat gamblers and the dangers of riding the rapids on a handmade raft.
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The day that follows sleep

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

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

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Learning can last a lifetime

One skill that has come in very handy for me since March is one that came into my life as a youth – cooking.
While my normal routine in recent years has been a lot of meals out, the stationing at home the past few months required me to break out skills learned when I was growing up. Both of my parents stressed I should acquire the skills.
Perhaps it was their foresight that it would not be likely to find a woman of my generation willing to dedicate themselves totally to cooking, cleaning and raising children, or perhaps it was my mother’s independent spirit as someone who was before her time.
My mother began operating her own restaurant when she was in her 20s, so needless to say she was a career woman long before I entered her life.
I think she knew that more and more women in my generation would be entering the workforce and spending more time in the workplace.
However, with my arrival and due to some of my unforeseen health issues, she left the business world to look after me until my health improved enough for her to work again full time.
As I grew, I helped out all I could, and one of my chores once she returned to work was to help with evening meals.
With her help, I learned to cook a variety of dishes from Hungarian goulash to Southern style meatloaf. My favorites were the sweets, pineapple upside down cake, pecan and sweet potato pie, which of course barely lasted to the table.
When I was around 13-years-old I had the opportunity to solo on my very first holiday meal — turkey, cornbread dressing, sweet potato yams with marshmallows, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and turkey gravy, slaw and pumpkin pie. Of course, like any good teacher she quietly coached and helped with some of the odd jobs like peeling potatoes, grating the cabbage and carrots, opening cans, and of course getting the turkey started soon enough to be done by meal time. You know, if you do not take that thing out of the freezer a day before you’ll be having fried Spam instead.
One thing that to this day I just cannot deal with is those little turkey giblets you put in the gravy. I think gravy is just fine with them swimming in the gravy boat.
For the occasion we invited our neighbors, Millie Dobbs and Bessie Yarbray, to join us.
I was also in charge of setting the holiday table with our finest linens, bone china, crystal glasses and silver ware. These were always reserved for special occasions and guests.
I will never forget my excitement as the meal was set on the table and the guests arrived to see what I had done.
The image looked like it could have come right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
I am pleased to report that everyone said they enjoyed the meal and the portions evidenced that. As far as I know there were no late-night visits to the emergency room, so I guess you can say the event was a success.
I also may have been inspired to pursue this endeavor by the fact that my brother’s wife could not boil water. They spent many evenings sitting around our table.
As an adult these lessons have served me well, and while cooking is no longer what one might call a passion for me, I do know how. As long as food is available in the absence of someone desiring to cook, I won’t starve. Although I have discovered over the years that my food choices are becoming what we perceive today as healthier and as a result over the last few months I was blessed with losing weight – about 30 pounds.
But as years go on, I am sure that will be plain to see as I develop an ailment, which afflicts many of my kinfolk – Dunlap disease. My belly dun lapped over my belt. Bon appetite!

Soap, a brush and a baseball bat

I held the Ivory soap close to my nose and breathed in deeply. There was nothing quite like the smell of a fresh bar of soap out of the package. The smell carried me back to my days of late summer evenings of avoiding my bath as a boy.

Needless to say I would always need one after playing ball in the light of the street lamps.
Around the bases were Charlotte, Clay, Bubba, Charlie and Jennifer. Some were on base while others anxiously awaited me as I prepared the swing the bat on Bruce’s pitches.

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God’s favorite postman

I was needing a laugh, so I hope you will join me as I recall an early music experience.
Throughout history, God has used many ways to send messages to us, angels, Moses, Jesus and others. I find one of his most interesting messengers is the weather.
When I was a child, I once appeared at a little Church of God tucked into the suburbs of North Atlanta.
This particular evening a guest minister was on the pulpit just preaching up a storm. That preacher began a sermon on the sacrament of baptism.
I always loved to see the late Hee Haw star the Rev. Grady Nutt. He is one of the funniest preachers I ever had the pleasure of watching.
On baptism, he would say there are “no instructions in the Bible about how to baptize” but from his descriptions, there are endless lists of things that can go wrong in the process.
Baptist preachers — they get right in there with ’em. About all Methodists can do is drop the cup.
The definition of baptism is to immerse or dip in water.
Nutt used to suggest using the word “dip” interchangeably with Baptist. Then millions would be members of the Southern Dip Church, the Southern Dip Convention; the group president would be the Big Dipper.
Baptising is no easy task; I had a friend who volunteered for new preacher duty at a Bible college one time and those fellers who were anxious to show they knew how to baptize nearly drowned him.
Nutt would say one thing to remember when baptizing in moving water is always point the person’s head upstream. You tend to lose them the other way.
Some folks tend to hold them under until they bubble — this might explain the number of Methodists.
Anyway, the visiting preacher began berating Methodists and the denomination’s approach to baptism through sprinkling. I could almost see the static electricity making my mother’s hair stand up on end as she listened.
Just about that time a bolt of lightning came down from the heavens, striking the transformer outside the little church and knocking out the power.
That preacher jumped three feet in the air, came down, hit the ground and without missing the rhythm of his message, “But no matter how they do it, those Methodists are good folks, too.”
He did not say another word about Methodists. My mom just could not keep from laughing.
I think God sometimes likes to send us a little postcard by airmail just to remind us he is listening.

The good news will outweigh the bad

If you’ve watched a lot of news reports, especially since many stories air over and over again at noon, 5:00, 5:30, 6:00 and 11:00, and every hour in between, you may soon come to believe that the world is in terrible trouble. Violence, crime and tragedies permeate everywhere you look. How many of you have asked, “What is the world coming to?”
I know I have in the last couple of weeks.
I have heard one of the first things some therapists do to treat depression is to encourage the patient to stop watching the news. Amazingly, it often helps.
People often carry the weight of what they see and hear in the news with them. They worry about the family or business person who lost their home to a fires, the child who disappeared from his home, the children of a mother killed by a drunk driver, the elderly woman who was a victim to a robbery, a man losing his life by the actions of another, the victims of riots, a foreign plague creeping across our land, or violence of war.
Have you ever heard someone say, ”People just don’t care about others anymore.” I think it’s obvious there are some that some do not, they care only for themselves, but the majority do care. I think people earnestly care, but often do not know what to do about it or do not think they have the time to show it.
Each week, I have an opportunity to read through a volume of news, good and bad. There are a number of tragedies in the pages and on the screens, sadness because of loss of family and friends, crimes throughout our country and the like.
But also within the pages are stories of people who do care. People who go the extra mile to make a difference. People who are being honored for their service by awards. Politicians and public servants who try their best to serve the people to the best of their abilities.
Within your local community calendars each week are organizations needing volunteers to help relieve many of the horrors which are reported on the evening news. I would like to encourage you to take the time to read these. You can make a difference right in your hometown. It might be something as little as buying a suitcase to donate through a local organization for a new foster child so he/she will have a place to keep belongings rather than in a paper sack. It might be giving time at your local Literacy Center to help someone read, or just to watch their children while they learn. It might be giving blood to help an accident victim. It might be cleaning out your closet to donate items which can be used by someone else through your local thrift store which provides help to area families in need. These are just a few of dozens of groups and organizations that are in the good news. By sharing a few hours a week, or just a hour every now and then, you could really make a dent in making our world a better place.
I cannot explain the sadness, and the unjust actions we have seen in the last weeks, but I am sure that there are ways each of us can rise above it, make a difference in the communities we love, and show the world that those who try to divide our country and destroy what we are will not win our souls, our minds, our hopes and our dreams. We can send them packing, if simply by turning off the outside world and focusing on our neighborhoods, our towns, and uplifting all within our arm’s length.
I hope all of you can find something here that makes you feel good. Strive to find the good news that always outweighs the bad.

Are you as tired of cleaning as I am?

Yesterday, I laid down on the floor to clean underneath a desk and I am almost sure the dust bunnies were conducting a performance of “Richard II.”
You would have thought considering their namesakes at least they would have been doing something from the writings of Beatrice Potter or “Alice in Wonderland.”
But the battles waged to try to get them out and into the dust bin was monumental.
In the last few weeks, though I have motivated myself, keep doing a little each day, clean this, wash that, box this up, throw that away.
You know, I never realized how much I have accumulated in the course of day-to-day life and how much each and every piece accumulates dust. There are vases that never see a flower, candy dishes which never hold a sweet, bric-a-brac of every shape and describable size and substance and all of it wearing a patina of dust. There is so much that needs to be sold or simply thrown away. Even the house and drive needed washing.
Why is it so hard to let go of some items? I looked at some fifty-year-old documents that I held onto from my folks, could I throw them away? No… They were refiled. I found a big bag of documents not touched in 10 years but could I throw them away? No… back into the cabinet. How do I break this cycle of hoarding?
Many pieces I can easily let go of while others seem to be tied to my heart, my mind, and even my reason for existence as I hold them. I dusted off a Nina ship pen desk set which was a gift from neighbors when I was about 11. It has set on my desk ever since, you know though, I don’t remember ever taking the pen out to use it, but I still hold onto it, as a remembrance of those two neighbors.
Now, I understand holding tightly onto heirlooms, my late father’s razors, cuff links, and ties. I am still using his ties, tie clips, handkerchiefs. I actually bought many of them as father and birthday gifts when I was a boy. I have been debating shedding my late mother’s toy horse collection, while I appreciate it, having a mass number of horses around in the guest room, seems a bit much. I am getting closer to letting those gallop into the sunset, maybe one will stick around the corral to keep me company.
The furniture, lamps and other trinkets passed down the generations hold their places of honor, as my career memorabilia eases its spots in between. One thing I have learned during this time at home, things need to be combed through, cleared out and cleaned up even when there isn’t a reason to be stuck at home, its just, I have never sneezed so much when everything was dirty. I hate chasing these dust bunnies. Hey, come back here!