I walk behind the mower, therefore I am

When I began my working experience, I always looked forward to the arrival of warm weather.
I could hear my wallet growing exponentially with each inch rise of the green, green grass of home.
Well, maybe more like the neighbors’ grass since I didn’t get paid for mowing our yard.
When I was about 10, I saved enough money from my allowance to buy a second hand push mower and then set out to find willing partners in my desire to become a millionaire before age 11. Well, that is a slight exaggeration, I was mainly hoping for a few neighbors who would give me $10 every couple of weeks to mow their yards.
I amassed a pretty good list of clients which kept me busy as long as my allergies didn’t get the best of me.  Al Weidenmuller was the first I think agreeing to my business proposal, but I had to learn how to deal with raking magnolia leaves prior to each mowing; next was Ed Mikell – with more Magnolia leaves.
Then as I progressed down the street, I picked up the Neils, occasionally the Reeds, who had Zoysia and I learned to hate that type of grass because it was so hard to push. Also sometimes the Grosses.
The list grew overtime and eventually I had to enlist my father to help get me to and from in his truck as I press on beyond walking distance.
I found the time behind the push mower a time to think, dream, write songs along to the rhythm of the engine in harmony with hits hum.
As I look back, sometimes I wonder where that youthful exuberance went for the activity. I kept up the business until I finished college, even adding other landscaping tasks and working sometimes miles from my home. Eventually though, I slowly weened my customers off my services as I wanted to focus on finding my fit in the professional world after earning my degree.  Leaving me with just the task of mowing my own yard.
Through the years, I have liked the task less and less, giving me the understanding of why so many were willing to accept my eagerness to mow. My late mother use to draw great joy from hopping upon the riding mower and going full speed around the task as I weeded and pushed. She looked forward to it, possibly because it was something she could accomplish with her failing health and see a positive outcome.
Sometimes now I am even blessed by the kindness of a neighbor who will knock mine out with his. I am so happy when I see his kindness and as happy when I return the favor to him.
Sometimes I miss that young boy and young man who looked forward to the inch by inch progress of the green growth, as I sit on my back porch, I look more forward to the end of the growing season and often quip, I should do like Hollywood – just kill it and paint it green so it stays the same.
No matter where you are in your synergy with the mower and the grass, I hope you find your bliss with the endeavor and make joy in the fact that I walk behind (or ride upon) the mower, therefore I am.

Are you the player or the pawn?

Through out history people have often enjoyed classic games of thought and strategy such as chess.
It was one of the many games that fascinated me as a youth and how many hours were enjoyed with fellow enthusiasts in competition with each other.
It was a good training ground for many of the experiences which we face in life. These may include strategizing for success in life, business, relationships and of course in battles.
Prior to the presence of the internet, there were only a handful of players in most people’s lives – family, co-workers, bosses, and friends. On average the close circle for most were less that 20 with another 30 folks who might float in and out. This allowed most of us to keep a good handle upon the interactions and impact others might have upon us and on those we might affect.
With the advent of social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others we now extend our circle. The sky is the limit. However, many folks follow or friend us get the opportunity to cross our welcome mat and sit down with us metaphorically in our living room. They see what we want them to and we see what they want us to. We build relationships without ever actually shaking hands or being in the same room.
I want to pose a question for you. When looking at those that you regularly allow to engage with you in social media, are they folks you would bring into your home? Introduce to your family? Trust them to watch your children, or anything that you value in life?
Does your presence in social media allow you to be a pawn for others or is it allowing you to be the player using others as pawns? Neither situation is ultimately a good one. If other’s postings make you depressed or move you to an action or an emotion which you would have not otherwise experienced, you may be acting like a pawn in someone else’s game.
Do you spend your time creating posts with an attempt to move people to do something, react or say something outside their character? Then you may be a player helping move people on the social media board in a way that fuels the negative abyss often seen scrolling past in one’s feed.
There are people out there who gain joy by pitting other people against each other and simply watching the outcome. These are the players which we are inviting into our lives. Sadly, I know some of these people and often see through the cloaked attempts claiming good which ultimately creates something bad. So, sometimes I have fell victim becoming someone else’s pawn in a battle against someone I would have not otherwise impacted.
Don’t let yourself be a pawn for a person, a cause, or a debate without taking your blinders off. Choose carefully who you allow to become the players in your life and temper your choices on your movings in other’s lives. Don’t treat other as pawns in some mind game you are playing. The game of life is so much more fun when everyone knows that a game is underway and we are all playing knowing the rules.  So, shake hands, make the first move, hit the timer and love life.

The seeds of wisdom spit forth

As I sat on the back porch watching the grass die, I could not help but find myself in my mind’s eye sitting similarly on my grandmother’s porch. It was a summer where I spent a lot of time with my Grandma Kitty and Aunt Norma Jean. Flossie, the milk cow, was meandering through the yard headed for a shade tree where she laid down and tried to create a bit of a breeze using her tail to move an almost non-existent breeze.

Read more

Low, I will be with you always

God is so good to Christians. All we have to do is just ask and there it is.

I’m not talkin’ about things we want. I am talkin’ about things we need — like pontoon boats and big screen TVs.
I prayed and I prayed for God to give me those and sure ’nuff he did. Of course, I have to keep them at my neighbor’s house.

I can use them anytime I want to day or night, but I think they are starting to see through the sleepwalking routine.
One thing He does bless us with is travel mercies, especially preachers and singers, maybe it’s because we ask for them more often.

Now I have traveled every way possible except dog sled. I have always traveled in the finest cars money can buy — Ford Pinto, Fairmont Stationwagon, Chevy S-10.
I have never been much for heights — this really came to me on my first plane flight. It’s not the heights that bother me so much — it’s the fall followed by the splat.
I was working for Bill Monroe and had to change planes four times on a trip across country. Each time I changed, the plane got smaller and smaller and smaller. They folded me into that last one.

I’m glad I didn’t have to go any further on that trip. My next step would have been flapping my arms with red birthday balloons tied to my back.

On another fateful flight, I was on what I call a puddle jumper — when you first see those planes you’re not sure if it will get across a puddle before falling. I was returning from the Michael Jordan Celebrity Golf Tournament in North Carolina. The plane seated about 16 people and we could not have squeezed in one more. We had wall-to-wall soap opera stars, prime-time actors, comedians, football and basketball players and their folks.

What none of us knew was a series of tornadoes was about to welcome us to the not so friendly skies.

It was a few minutes into the flight when we suddenly fell. After collecting everything that was once below our belts from around our ears, everyone released their held breath.
One friend, Chris Castile, from the sit-com “Step by Step” seemed unscathed by the sudden change. Flying fascinated him, and he was watching closely as the pilot compensated for the problem.

The wind whipped us every which way right, left, up and down. I looked around, saying a silent prayer through my gritted teeth as I held the arms of my seat for dear life.
I have never heard screams like that in my life.
After I stopped yelling I realized I wasn’t the only one. You would never imagine football players could make that much noise.

I believe with the Lord’s intervention through the pilot’s skill we sailed on through the bad weather. The Lord blessed us and we all made it to the ground safely. We could not have had a better ride at Disney. That is probably why we were all smiling when we set our feet on the ground.

That is one reason I am not that fond of flying. Besides, it says right in the Bible we should keep our feet firmly planted on the ground. It says “Lo(w), I will be with you always.” It does not say a thing about high.
From the comedy routine “Travel Mercies,” by Randall Franks, used by permission of Peach Picked Publishing.

Cleaning out the goop

I walked to the top of the ladder, climbed up on the roof, turn around and sat down looking down. I pulled another scoop of goop out of the gutter and placed it within the bucket I had hanging on the hook below me.

The long row of gutter ahead was scoop by scoop being cleaned out and the bucket was filling up.

With every couple of scoops, I looked out upon the neighborhood seeing it from a totally different vantage point. On one look up, I could see one neighbor cutting hedges with clippers wearing a large triangle hat often seen in films of the far east. I watched a moment as she carefully sculpted the shape she desired. The care she placed in the task was evident.

I returned to my scooping and soon my attention was grabbed as a lawn mower engine roared in another direction. Another neighbor in a t-shirt and a pair of overalls was riding his lawnmower carefully creating diagonal lines, which shined in an amazing coordination from my view.

Far in the corner away from his work, his wife stood by the fence talking with a blonde lady in red exercise clothes who had stopped her walk.

I returned to my scooping as I inched foot by foot around the house until I spied two kids crossing the street, across their shoulders were fishing poles, and in one of their hands was a string of fish they had pulled from the creek.

I returned to my scooping and soon I realized I had matched my rhythm of work to a beating pattern which was coming from down the street.  I looked closely to see what it was and I saw a group of kids were playing a game of basketball on a nearby driveway.

Once again, I returned to my scooping, and as I ended of my task, I cleaned off the tools and disposed of the goop in the bucket in the trash can. As I prepared to shut the lid, a loud noise with no specific purpose except the deafening of those that could hear the sound of a bass that bounced from a car passed by.

I thought how the hour or so spent doing something productive allowed me clear my mind of thoughts of everyday problems as I saw some of the best moments in my neighbors lives. Did they see them as the best? Probably not. But within those moments, I saw people, living side by side, in all facets of everyday life from pure sport, intense horticulture hobbies, passing the time of day to the victory of achieving one’s goals. And like the departure of the raucous bass line as the vehicle cleared the neighborhood and the goop was tightly shut away in the waste bin, all was well in our world. And that is really what is important, how we are with one another in our neighborhood and our town. That is where we can make things better for all of us.



Carefree days of youth

I opened the door and the thickly painted white screen door slammed behind me. I seldom noticed the sound it made as I bounded down the three steps from our front stoop. Once down on the sidewalk, I was hidden from the street behind the huge green box hedges fronted by azaleas.

Once I was big enough to roam outside on my own, this is how most summer days began. Once I hit the sidewalk, I was making my way around to the utility room to pull out my green bike to open up the doors of freedom. Sometimes, my mom would be standing there by the washing machine loading in a load of clothes that she would later take out and hang upon the line for drying.

As I stepped up on the pedals, rested myself on the banana seat, and from behind me, I would hear “Be back by lunch, we are going to town for ‘looking and feeling’ this afternoon.

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied as I gained speed going down the driveway and turned to the left headed for adventure.

You might ask what is ‘looking and feeling?’ That is what ladies from our area called shopping when they were aiming to get out and not buy but enjoy the air conditioning in the stores in the hot summer months.

We did a lot of that which could seem to be a terminal situation when you had something else on your mind to do as a kid.

But for the morning, I was off to create some adventure, so, my first stop would be banging on a couple of doors to raise some other kids to play. Before you could say Hank Aaron, there would be about five or six of us on our bikes riding down suicide hill.

Soon we would move on to the woods where we had built a series of forts fully stocked with pinecones.

We would pick sides and we were battling the other team to ensure the survival of our clan over the other. Sometimes we were Yankees and Confederates, sometimes Cowboys and Indians, sometimes Germans and Americans, British and Colonists, it really depended upon what movie we recently saw or what history lesson was near at hand.

Either way, and no matter who we were representing the battles took form until we ran out of ammunition and the other team overran our stronghold. We would then restock the forts for the next battle day then we would be off for maybe wading in the creek and then back home in time for lunch.

Usually a bologna sandwich with a slice of tomato from the garden, a wedge of cucumber, some barbeque Charlie’s chips and a big glass of cherry Kool-Aid. Then I would go was off the and change from my play clothes and be ready to climb into the passenger side of our Chevy Malibu to head to the stores.

Often, I would be moved to the back seat, if we picked up another mom and kids. The children were sent to the back seat and we made our way to Woolworths, J.C. Penney, Sears or even Rich’s. Of course, in those days there were no special youth seats, we didn’t even use the seat belts. We sat still though or we would feel the long arm of the law from the ladies in the front seat.

We were expected to behave no matter how many hours the excursion was. Especially when we were in public – in the stores. If we ever forgot ourselves, which I did on a couple occasions and turned the women’s and men’s department into a playground and the underneath areas of the hanging clothes and good places with hide and seek with whichever other kids were on the outing. We soon felt the sting of our mistakes upon our posteriors, and it would come sooner than later if we disturbed other folks.

As I hear kids screaming at their parents and see them acting out in public today, I fondly remember the tough lessons my parents gave me. I remember those days of imagination, the hours of fun and I wish that children today could have those experiences, rather than a childhood attached to screens of various types and parents who look the other way when they act out.






When life hurts

When life hurts, how do you find your way to around the pain?
I have communicated with numerous friends of late who have expressed that they were going through some painful moments in their life.
Some moments were personal emotional issues, some were related to career elements, some were relationship connected, and some were rooted in medical problems. No matter the source of the pain, it is very real to those who are experiencing it. Thus, we should never try to minimize to the speaker what one tells us about their own issues.
What do we do? How do we share comfort? Often times all we can do is just be there. We can hold a hand, lend an ear, share a word of encouragement.
Pain is sometimes a way of tempering our internal steel in hopes we can stand against the storms that are yet to come. We can only pray that when it hits us, we have the ability to weather the gale force winds of pain upon our soul or body.
It is those who share our lives, whether in passing or day-to-day who often provide the extra measure of hope needed to overcome the darkness that rise from within in various circumstances that confront us.
I would say most of us, no matter how much we have been blessed to do in following life’s dreams have thoughts and concerns that can cause us pain.
I know I do. The pain of what if’s can swallow time, happiness, and hope when we should be focusing on what will …
The only thing that gets beyond the bending of that weight is redirecting my thoughts: What will I do today to encourage some one? What will I do to find my path?
Obviously, we all have the same basic needs. Once we have the path in place that meets those needs then we can spend the rest of our time fulfilling the promise of the dreams that God provides us.
However, pursuing dreams does not equal achieving dreams. That is not in our hands, we simply must draw our satisfaction in the pursuit. Thus, the wisdom of our founders giving us the ability to live in a country where the pursuit of happiness is possible.
Use some hours to make the world a better place, if you are in pain, find someone who is suffering also and help uplift them and you will find your pain less severe.

Fishing and the one that got away

Grandma Kitty pulled her shiny case knife from the pocket of her blue apron. She reached down far to the bottom of the cane pole and cut it.
“This will make a good one,” she said, as she handed it to a three-year-old me. Then she cut one for herself.
As we walked to her favorite spot along Frogleg Creek, I could not help but take a peak within the small metal pail she had given me to carry. I knew it would have something good for us to eat, like some chocolate pie or a piece of coconut cake.
I almost fell down when as I looked beneath the lid, only to have my hopes dashed by a bucket of dirt filled with red wigglers.
“Granny, what are we going to have to eat,” I said. “I thought this was our food.”
“It is food, but it is for the fishes,” she said.
“You will have to wait till we find some berries or maybe a plum tree,” she said.
“What are we going to do with these poles?” I said.
“I am going to tie some string on them and you and I are going to spend the morning fishing,” she said.
As we walked along the trail, I noticed a stick lying across the trail. I rushed ahead to pick it up.
“Hold your horses, boy,” she said, as she took her cane pole and popped on the back of what I thought was a stick. The stick slithered away like a bolt of lightening.
“That’s your first rule of being in the mountains, son — be careful where you put your hands,” she said. “We share this space with all kinds of critters. Some don’t care much for sharing.”
As we reached the spot along the banks of the creek, she said. “This is it.”
Conveniently, a huge oak log had fallen there. Upon it we sat.
“All you need to do is put one of the wigglers on the safety pin and drop your line in the water like this,” she said.
She handed me the pole. Then she fixed the other one, carefully attaching the string, safety pin and adding the worm.
As we sat there side by side with our poles in the water, I know I probably asked her a million questions about the leaves, the trees and the little green frog which hopped on my shoe.
She patiently answered every one. We sat there for what seemed like hours enjoying the mountain breeze which flowed over the Gravelly Spur and along the Frogleg Creek.
“Well, we better be getting back,” she said as she pulled her line out of the water.
Just as her pin touched the top of the cold waters, the biggest fish I ever saw jumped by her line.
“Granny, did you see that?” I said. “We can’t leave, we have not got that fish yet.”
“Yes, we did,” she said.
Close your eyes, “Can you see it?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Then you will carry that fish with you everywhere you go,” she said.
“So we did catch a fish,” I said. “Today, we caught the biggest fish of all.”
“We caught something much better,” she said. “We caught each other.”
From Randall Franks’s book “A Mountain  Pearl.”

America – a reality show?

I grew up in a politically active family. My parents supported various local, state and national candidates and then became influencers encouraging neighbors, friends and strangers to support their bids for the office they were seeking.
This was done by ringing doorbells, hosting social gatherings, attending rallies, placing signs and a lot of talking. I could barely walk the first time I remember standing at a door with my mother as she shared the qualities of a local candidate running for county commission.
I was scrolling through social media the other day reading opinions on the shifts in Southern politics from one party to another based on the passage of the Civil Right Amendment.  I came along after that monumental legislation and watched the continuing struggle to live up to those standards and heard the thoughts of whites and blacks from the city too busy to hate – Atlanta in the 1970s. My greatest template of course came from my parents, and especially from the point of view of my mom – a business woman, who began her own business in the 1950s, and in the 1970s supported the Equal Rights Amendment.
During those years however, I never once heard the topic of race discussed in my parents’ personal political conversations.. There were  no dog whistles used, just finding candidates that had a desire for equal opportunities for all, good paying jobs, potential for education, and rising out of poverty. Those were the priorities for a family fighting its way up from the farms of Appalachia to a successful life in the city.
Many city folks looked down upon the rurals that migrated into the cities to find better jobs and opportunities. Often times we found ourselves segregated into mill villages or the neighborhood remnants of the former because that is where the housing was most affordable. Some quickly worked to conform and cloak their origins by adapting to fashions, norms, speech patterns and doing everything to make opportunity more likely and climb the social ladder. When one could afford it, families moved to nicer neighborhoods and melted into the city landscape leaving the cotton, corn and hayfields behind.
These were the steps that my folks walked and succeeded in working their way up through the economic class barriers. Was there racism? Of course, there was. Even if families didn’t see it in their own lives, the worst of it was piped into our homes through the evening news. Was there discrimination based on class, sex, ethnic background, area of origin? Of course, there was. But then we went out into the streets from our homes and found a way to live, work, play, attend school, and survive together.
Was it easy? No. People struggled. People argued and fought. People disagreed. In the 1970s, I saw my folks and many others like them began a shift from FDR Democrats towards Republicans largely because of the news media pumped into our homes. The endless coverage of long haired, unkept people who were protesting against America and all that my parent’s generation held dear – a country where someone could come from nothing, work hard, and create a better life for the next generation. A land where people are self-reliant and aspire to greater opportunities. That is what our family has known since before the country’s founding.
My mother looked at women who like her desired the passage of the E.R.A. sharing other more radical points of view that she could not support, so she walked away. My father and she moved to being more Independents, sometimes supporting Democrats which did not seem to align with any of these hippie notions and choices and sometimes supporting Republicans.
The radicals and the alignment eventually of Democrat candidates to their causes shown on television caused that shift. Until those days, my folks and theirs before them would have been described as yellow-dog Democrats since the days of the Civil War.
Today, I see similar images and thoughts as seen in the 1970s of those who wish to tear down all that my parents taught me to hold dear about this country. Since the Twitter and Facebook feeds and the 24-hour news media floods our phones, TVs and computers, with images of protests, raucous rhetoric, and violence targeting authority figures, another shift is coming. Just like it did for my folks, these images and philosophies will likely move more people to walk away and aspire to the ideals which gave us the American experience.
I grew up in a South where opportunities were opened up by the struggle for civil rights for blacks and for women. These peaceful protests sometimes marred with violence from the opposition were ones my folks did support. Many today wish to act like that struggle did not succeed and once again our nation’s citizens are fighting for similar rights. I witnessed the changes effected by the struggles of the blacks and women of greatest generation and the oldest baby boomers, they changed the world and it is a better place because of their actions. To try to throw us back to that place again and erase all those gains, does a disservice to generations who struggled to lift us out of the depths of that past.
What is the reality show of America? We do our best as a country when we all come together and find middle ground, compromise, and push the American experiment forward. While some may not agree with where we are going, we are now finding the new middle. The question is will the middle be closer to the left or the right. Will everyone find their way there or will some be so lost that it causes our country to split down the middle. Only time will tell.


I am coming to the conclusion that the art of visitin’ is now a thing of the past for much of America.

I can remember as a kid, as dinner time came near, a neighbor or family friend would just happen by and mother and dad would ask them to pull up a chair and mother would set another place at the table.

Read more