Summer jobs — life lessons

As the school year comes to a close, my mind always wanders to days at Dairy Queen No. 8 on Clairmont Road near Chamblee. I spent my entire teenage life and college years working at that establishment.
For a youth growing up in my community, the Dairy Queen was the place to be. Joe Wyche, a Georgia Tech graduate, who had spent several years with the Dairy Queen corporation building Dairy Queens all over the world, owned it. He was there in the late 50’s as the company laid the blocks for this neighborhood walk-up ice cream store which would
later feature the Brazier burgers with all the fixings, tenderloin sandwiches and onion rings. He later decided to purchase the
franchise area.
Joe was a boss that gave many youth a chance they may not have gotten elsewhere. I know there were many times he kept teenagers on the payroll not because he needed them but because he thought they needed something stable in their lives.
He is an avid sports fan, happily watched his sons, Sam and Bubba, go on to play college and professional football. Sam would eventually be the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals and a network sports commentator.
Joe and his late wife Barbara ran the store. Of course, they had several able-bodied managers and adult employees.
Manager David Payne originally hired me. It was the first summer I was old enough to qualify for working. I’ll never forget how nervous
I was at the interview but David hired me anyway and I was flung to the wolves. What I mean is, I jumped in feet first with the able
assistance of another experienced Dairy Queen worker, who happened to be a long time friend and just slightly older than me, Rhonda
Fischer.
One of my first duties was cleaning out the storage refrigerator in the topping cooler. Much like Andy Griffith in “No Time For
Sergeants,” having the honor of such a duty elated me. It would be much later that I would find that cleaning that refrigerator was a
close second to Griffith’s latrine duty.
Slowly, I was taught how to make each of the Dairy Queen favorites, “The Peanut Buster Parfait,” “The Banana Split,” “The Strawberry
Shortcake,” three sizes of cones and every imaginable flavor of milkshake from pineapple to peanut butter.
It was not long before I mastered the Dairy Queen cone curl. Even though it has been years, I think it is like riding a bicycle. I
believe I could still draw a cone pretty close to its exact weight and proportions. Yes, everything we made was to meet certain
specifications.
I began my job at $1.65 an hour, which I am sure seems like not much by today’s standards, but it was for me and I was glad to get it.
After David left, Ed Cross replaced him. Ed arrived his first day on his Harley Davidson, dressed in black. He had long hair and tattoos.
While the biker images had influenced a state of caution in my youthful thinking, through the years, I got to know Ed. He changed
that image as I found him to be someone you could depend on with your life. One thing about it, the teenagers who passed through would not even attempt to pull any shenanigans on Ed or Joe. I learned a lot about how to be a leader and a boss from both of them.
After several years on the job, at various times, I moved into the position of assistant day manager and night manager. I was told I was
one of the youngest in the system. I even worked the early shift with morning manager Ellen Hawley as she rolled out the biscuits for
breakfast and Becky Pirkle who sizzled the bacon and ham on the grill. What I learned about hiring, firing, working with and managing
32 employees of all ages is still part of me.
As my music career grew, Ed, Joe and the late Virginia Sapp, who also was a manager, all accommodated my touring schedule, allowing me to be on the road. I seldom worked a Friday or Saturday night, which was unusual in the fast food business since those were the busiest times.
But I was usually on stage somewhere pulling my fiddle bow across the strings.
When Joe decided to retire, he sold the store. It was a sad day for all of us. I stayed on for a while, as did several of the employees.
When I finally left Dairy Queen, it was like leaving a family.
I still find myself waxing nostalgic about early morning suppers with Joe, Barbara and Virginia at Denny’s after closing, midnight movies
with all the crew, handing a well-curled cone to a little kid to see it gobbled up in one bite and the exhaustion following a 99-cent
special on banana splits.
I would not trade one hour I spent at the Dairy Queen for the finest job on Wall Street or one cent more than I earned.
So teens, don’t be afraid to take those summer jobs which you think are low paying, you might just learn something that will change your
life.

America, do we got a tiger by the tail?

Two boys in Illinois took a shortcut across an orchard, and did not become aware of the presence of a vicious dog until it was too late to reach either fence. One boy was spry enough to escape the attack by climbing a tree, but the other started around the tree, with the dog in hot pursuit, until by making smaller circles than it was possible for his pursuer to make, he gained sufficiently to grasp the dog’s tail, and held with a desperate grip until nearly exhausted, when he hailed his companion and called him to come down.
“What for?” said the boy.
“I want you to help me let this dog go,” he said.
President Abraham Lincoln relayed this story after a messenger ended his report of Union losses at the battle of Fredricksburg by saying, “I wish I could tell you how to conquer or get rid of these rebellious states.”
He concluded: “If I could only let them go, but that is the trouble. I am compelled to hold on to them and make them stay.”
America has many times sent men and women into the field of battle. In our history, we have faced off against many of our current allies.
Currently, we are waging wars on many fronts against terrorism.
Like an octopus, its tentacles reach across borders and find their way into dozens of countries — including the U.S. mainland.
It has been well over 100 years since Americans faced a battle on the mainland. Of course, there is no one here today who can share firsthand the experience of watching thousands of Americans stand against one another on fields in Gettysburg or Chickamauga, but there are gallant survivors of battles in Germany, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, Kuwait Iraq, Afghanistan, and countless other countries where our troops have served.
The basis of any fight is often a struggle between ideas. One party thinks one way. The other party thinks another. Without middle ground, a battle ensues.
Now our country finds itself on the home front in a battle of ideologies, we have those who wish to pull the country away from its founding documents which set us as a republic bringing together a collection of other smaller republics, now called states under one umbrella called the United States of America and those who wish us to hold tightly to them. Some desire to change our economic system which coupled with the principles of our founders created the greatest model of freedom within our world’s history. A system which allows any man or woman with drive, and an idea to raise themselves up from the depths of poverty. I know this because I experienced that within my own family.
There are those who want to move from capitalism to socialism or communism or any shade in between. Folks desire to take from those that have and give to those who have not. Speaking as someone who participated in the upward momentum from have not to have. Our family’s have came from hard work – endless hours of hard work. From that hard work, we have helped many have nots move from poverty to success by also doing hard work. We have also helped put monies into charities and projects that help those unable to do the hard work, or give others the ability to help themselves. There is no better system in the world.
The battle is now being waged at the highest levels of our country’s leadership. I am seeing and hearing thoughts and desires that I could never have dreamed would be uttered by elected officials in my life.
I pray that God continues to stand with our leaders who are trying to preserve our republic, our servicemen and women who fight and die to protect it, and all our citizens as we march forward serving our country and communities.
I wonder if our myriad of leaders wishing to pull us in so many directions feel now as Lincoln’s boy chasing the vicious dog — if we ever catch it, and have a hold of the tail. How are we ever going to let go? I am afraid in the case of America, our bite will be worse than our bark so they better hang on tight.

The sadness of social media

While the effort began innocently as a way to connect college students and others together.
The world which includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and dozens of other companies which seek to build an audience. They bring us together for communication, use us as an audience for their advertisers, and collect information about our computer habits so they can gain money by using or sharing our data.
Now they are being scrutinized as private companies for judging what we say and hindering our ability for our opinions to be seen by others by shadow banning and or creating algorithms that prevents everything from being seen by everyone who chooses to follow or like an individual.
Social media is now taking over as the medium of delivering news and information which creates an unusual problem. Now real news comes to us right beside the opinions of anyone and everyone.
Anyone can state their opinion, form it as a news article and get people believing their false or slanted information as the gospel truth simply because it floats through next to legitimately prepared, reviewed and presented information.
Whether it’s a small or big town social media bully attacking a volunteer, a business person, or public servant, to create a fervor against them, or a child telling a tale about a fellow student in their school, the result is the same. Someone is being emotionally harmed by the actions of someone else for their own gratification or gain while others are fooled into believing the falsehoods.
Many of the companies claim their staff are policing such, but it seems many of their actions that are exposed reflect the old saying of “Straining at a knat while swallowing a camel.” They spend more time on restraining legitimate free speech while not dealing with individual abuse and bullying.
Realizing that they are not going to protect us. We must be the real police of such behavior. First and foremost, we should be cautious of inflammatory statements about individuals no matter their source.
Seek more information. If you know the person, do the courtesy of contacting them to alert them of the offense. If you feel the information is untrue or see it to be bullying or an attack, report it to the social media company. The main action, if you are a close friend of the author, then call it privately to their attention that you disheartened by their actions.
In the past, our personal negativity generally passed to a circle of six to 12 people and stopped. But today, we all have the ability to share a statement and potentially hundreds to thousands see it, and have the potential to believe it and share it further. That makes our job as a human being even greater than ever before. We must take responsibility for what we say, post, share and promote on our social media pages.
Social media is an amazing tool which if used well can bring us together, if used for evil purposes, it can bring us and our civilization to destruction.
I urge our federal and state authorities in taking a greater interest in how these companies do their business to make sure that they provide a fair space available to all, and that their efforts to protect us from ourselves, do that while not destroying the freedom of speech we all rely upon.

Truth, nothing but the truth

The importance of truth in everyday life is something that each of us are responsible for upholding.
When thinking on the topic of honesty, I fondly remember back on the Andy Griffith Show episode where “Opie” wants to sell his bike without mentioning all the little things that are wrong with it. “Barney” decides to take on selling real estate and the Taylors are considering selling their house and buying another in the same episode.
Andy neglects to mention the little odds and ends wrong with the house until Opie brings these things to the attention of the buyers. While Andy becomes frustrated by Opie’s honesty, Opie is confused by Andy’s separate rules for adults and children. Andy finally realizes that Opie is right.
When we are in our late teens, we sometimes add a few years to our age so we can do things adults do. As we get older, we tend to shave years off our age so we can appear younger. Are these lies?
When attorneys are faced with defending people that they know or suspect are guilty, does this strain their ability to be honest when they stand in front of a judge or jury to defend a not guilty plea?
While extreme situations like war can sometimes bring on the need for good people to be faced with challenging choices concerning their convictions, it is often on faith and truth that they must rely to get through the bad times.
But there are, no doubt, times when honesty may be strained.
Members of a generation of Americans were disenfranchised by the feeling that our government was lying to them in the 1970’s during Watergate and the latter part of the Vietnam War.
Were they lying?
There is an old joke about how you can tell when a politician is lying — their mouth is moving.
I wonder sometimes what happened to good, old-fashioned honesty.
Honesty does exist in each of us. All we need to do is remember each and every falsehood we utter has an effect on someone else.
It may only be ourselves we hurt as we build a house of cards trying to remember each and every white lie we have told so as not to be caught.
What is the point of being dishonest? Do we gain anything?
There’s an old song called the “Royal Telephone” where the singer asks the operator to get Jesus on the line.
Would you tell a lie in exchange for a conversation with our Savior, Jesus Christ himself, on the phone? I wouldn’t. If I did, what would we talk about?
Remember: “From your lips to God’s ears.”
If you remember that he is listening, it does make you think more heavily about what you do and say each and every day.

Overcoming adversity

Often in life there are obstacles which we can never foresee coming our way.
It is often during these times we really come to know what we are made of, whether we can overcome adversity or simply crumble beneath the weight of whatever is thrust upon us.
In the valley below the Gravelly Spur, the prosperity of the 1950s had given way to most folks living comfortably. The desperation faced by many during the Great Depression was long since a memory. The faces of those lost in World War II were slowly moving from being ripped from presence to fondly remembered family members.
Granddad Bill was in his 70s and had given up full-time farming just to keep a few head of cattle and plant a light garden with some of his favorite vegetables.
He rose early one morning, and as usual placed the black cast iron pot on the wood stove to heat water for some coffee.
He turned on the radio to listen to the price of stock as he made his JFG coffee.
He took last night’s biscuit out of the breadbox over the stove and put some homemade strawberry preserves on it. As he reached it up towards his mouth, he dropped a bit of the preserves down on his faded blue overalls that showed more than 20 years worth of trips down to the old barn and hundreds of boilings in Grandma Kitty’s cast iron wash pot.
He took the kitchen towel and wiped it away. He sat with his coffee, sipping it from the cup saucer,and finished his biscuit as he listened to the Martha White Bluegrass Show on WSM.
He then pulled on his old brown work boots, put on his hat and headed off towards the barn.
It was not unusual for him to be gone for quite a spell when he was out with his cattle in the morning. Grandma Kitty had gotten up and prepared a full breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs, fresh biscuits and sawmill gravy. When he did not return after a while, she became worried, slipped on her green coat, pulled on her bonnet and took off down to the tattered barn.
As she called to him, she heard no answer; her worries intensified as she called louder and began looking more quickly through each stall.
As she reached the last stall with no luck, she heard a banging coming from outside. She raced towards the sound and found Granddad Bill lying next to his old Farmall tractor. He was banging on it with an old board.
When she found him, it was apparent he had suffered a stroke; his face was drawn, and he could not speak or use his right side. He could only look up at her in desperation.
This man who left home in his teens on horseback to go west wasn’t even able to pick himself up off the ground.
Grandma helped him to his feet and got him to the house. She laid him in the bed near the wood stove and sent to town for the doctor.
Old Doc Lawson said there was not much that could be done except keep him comfortable. Everything was up to God and Bill. The doctor suggested calling all the family in just in case.
When Pearl arrived, she could not get in her mind that her father — the pillar of strength she adored — could be leaving soon. She joined the family vigil around his bed, providing constant care, massaging his affected limbs, helping him eat and coaxing him to speak.
She stayed with him night and day, lending him her strength until he could use his own.
She had dozed off by his bed when she was awakened by the sound of her name: “Pearl, Pearl… water.” She knew then that Granddad Bill was on his way back.
And he did come back, regaining his speech and the use of his arm and his leg, although he did walk with a cane after he recovered, returning to doing what he loved — tending his cattle.

A story from the Randall’s book “A Mountain Pearl: Appalachian Reminiscing and Recipes.”

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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