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!

We don’t do that here anymore

Have you ever taken your shoes to be worked on? Does anyone do that anymore? I remember when fixin’ shoes was cheaper than buyin’.
Of course, back then they were quality made and lasted a long time if cared for properly. I’ve been looking for a brand-new pair of blacks and a brown for about a month now. Every where I look, they are just not quite right. The pair I am trying to replace is about new but they are worn out with a few holes. I was looking at them and found that a percentage was made in one country – Mexico, another percentage in the European Union and then assembled in China.
I am sure the store that sold them made a profit, as did the various companies who manufactured the pieces. The sad part is after just a couple of years later and I am searching for a new pair. I still have shoes in my closet passed to me by my late father that were worn day after day for years and they are still as strong and shiny as they were when I was a child. I often wear them to dress events. Amazing how they have held up but of course, they were made entirely in the United States and whenever there was a problem, the shoes were taken to the shoe repair shop to strengthen them for a few more years of service.
I have always heard that the only way to avoid repeating the missteps of history is to know history and then use that knowledge to avoid the same fate.
If I understand one underlying reason that the South lost the Civil War, it is that the North held the best hand when it came to industry having a better ability to manufacture and keep manufacturing both the tools of war and those items needed on the home front.
Not having the same ability, the South was doomed to eventually simply run out of supplies.
Our country’s status over the last few months as the pandemic was thrust upon us has reinforced the need for concentration upon our all of our essential supply lines – medicine, food, technology, transportation, military and otherwise to not only encourage but ensure that our country will not be left wondering what happened if the rest of the world is shut down or we or isolated by any unexpected catastrophe.
I have heard President Trump stress the importance of building in and buying American over and over, and I hope that his administration and our congress will use this experience as a wakeup call. We may exist alongside our neighbor countries, but we are our own country with over 300 million people whose needs must come from some where and that somewhere plain and simple should be in the U.S.A.
Many times I heard my mother comment when the neighbors were selling scrap metal bound for Japan before WWII, that her father said that America would get all of it back one day.
It did begin Dec. 7, 1941, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent battles.
I mention this and my earlier example for two reasons.
Like those selling scrap iron, Americans have often looked to the best deal to make some extra money right now. Thousands of American businesses benefit financially by sending jobs overseas or over the border, or simply purchasing items they need from foreign producers. I am sure that these decisions are making their bottoms lines more profitable.
Companies are not totally to blame. As consumers, we want the cheapest whether it comes from China, India or wherever rather than purchasing something that will keep an American on the job making something and keeping an American company afloat.
There was a time when almost every component of every item we had in our homes and businesses or used in everyday life was made here in the U.S.A. — every automobile, radio, television, fan, telephone, refrigerator, stove, iron, vacuum cleaner, etc.
Today you would be hard-pressed to find any of these, which do not depend on a foreign-produced part to make them work. Of course, some of these manufacturing companies are American in origin but not in loyalty when they choose to build factories elsewhere, reducing America’s industrial might.
I understand that American manufacturing is to the point now that many elements needed to construct even some of our most sensitive military systems now must be manufactured overseas because no one does it here anymore.
We no longer need to hear a mantra for America to be: “We don’t do that here anymore.”
It is simple to see that we did not learn from history. If we do not right the ship, America will one day soon be no longer able to make anything without the industrial machine and labor force of China and other countries.
Now instead of scrap metal, we are sending our cash, boatloads of cash each and every day that Americans flood the stores.
If like our current experience and America was even more cut off from the rest of the world, do we have the wherewithal to survive on our own anymore? Can we build or produce what we need for our population? It was not so long ago, just 40-50 years, that the answers to these questions were yes. I would say the answer now is no.
When so many of our former factories are dormant, our skilled workers gone from lack of jobs, America may go the way of the South or to paraphrase my grandfather before WWII, America is going to get all those great bargain buys and cheaper jobs thrown back in our faces.
Think about that the next time you go out to shop. Think about that the next time you talk with you senator or congressman. Think about that when you visit the polls this November. If we don’t wake up, my friends, we will all be singing someone else’s tune and possibly in a different language.

A new norm?

As our country moves forward from the plan of flattening the curve, we all find ourselves in a new normal.
Perhaps new to us, but not to our ancestors. Just as we endured the Swine Flu as a nation a decade ago without any of the approaches, we have tried this time around, prior, we can reach back through the years to see our country and our ancestors pull through epidemics. The Hong Kong flu of 1968-1970 saw us not slow a step in our approach to life, doctors and families just did their best to care for those who contracted the disease.
Regionally and locally, our forefathers dealt with outbreaks of polio, measles, Spanish flu, and before that, smallpox, pneumonic plague, bubonic plague, yellow fever, cholera and other diseases.
Many of those outbreaks came when there was little medicine could do to aid in the situation. Just keep a person comfortable with hope people’s constitutions, wills and incessant prayers either brought them through an illness or not.
While I thus far I have not endured the latest disease thrust upon the world. In my past, I have endured the attack of a virus which brought about the doctors saying “There is nothing we can do, it’s up to him and God.”
That is a very scary place to be, both as the patient or a loved one. I feel deeply for the thousands of families who have faced those moments in recent months and pray deeply for those who are yet ahead facing this latest battle of survival.
These past few weeks, as we have all seen a time that we have not seen before, it makes me wonder what is yet ahead for all of us. Advances in medicine have possibly given us to high of an expectation that there is always something that can be done. I can remember a day in my own lifetime when we assumed a diagnosis of one type or another was essentially a death sentence.
Today, we take many of those diseases in stride, maintained by drugs, operations, treatments that allow people to live long lives, where just decades ago, it was not even a hope. Cancer is still one that scares us all individually, though even within certain types of cancer, survival rates are tremendously better.
I am sharing all of this to say, a few decades ago, any infection that could overwhelm our system, broken bones, heart failure, diabetes and so many other diseases meant our clock was now running on borrowed time. As a society, though it did not make the individual situations less painful or less important, we took the reality of what was possible in stride.
I am wondering now, are we are no longer capable of that strength within ourselves? Can we take in stride that medicine can’t always fix us? Can we take in stride that government is not there to save us and we must be self-reliant? Will we now feel the need that big brother government will have to tell us what we have to do to survive? If everyone does not do what is said to the letter, are we now going to be the watch guards trying to get someone arrested?
My parents and grandparents lived through many epidemics in their lives with no medicine to treat and little hope of survival. They cared for each other, they prayed, they kept working because the family had to survive no matter what came. Loved ones passed, the family mourned, remembered, and struggled through. That strengthened the importance of the survival of all who went on. I and my siblings lived through many epidemics as well, some saw friends fall to polio, we endured measles, and all types of influenzas. I survived some of those when the outlook was bleak myself as a child.
As a country, we will come through this pandemic. As families, we must learn from this experience and come to realize, we must rely upon our own abilities to remain safe and healthy. We cannot put outrageous expectations on medical professionals or government to save us from some new virus or even an old virus which could run rampant across the earth. Our government also should not come to think that the American people are going to allow the shutdown of civilization as they prescribe with each and every epidemic that comes in the future. What we are enduring, I pray is not what we allow to be a new norm.

A comb, a mirror and a brush

As young Pearl sat quietly on the edge of the bed, the red, white and green patchwork quilt wrapped around her feet to ward off the chill of the January frost laying heavily upon fields of brown grass around the homestead below the Gravelly Spur mountain, she stared endlessly over the shoulder of her mother Kitty into the dressing table mirror.
Kitty worked carefully and diligently to take down her long reddish brown hair from the bun she had placed on her head before the rising of the morning sun.
She spread its length down upon her shoulders and towards the floor performing a nightly ritual that her mother Rachel taught her to do before the Scarlet fever came and took her red hair.
From the dark oak dressing table she picked up a brush left her by her mother, encrusted upon it in gold were lightly lilting engravings that surrounded the initials RMH. Beside it lay a matching comb and hand mirror. Kitty took the brush and slowly ran it through her hair as Pearl began counting “One, Two, Three….”
With each stroke Pearl quietly continued her mathematical exercise as Kitty moved from one side of her head to the other not missing a single strand of hair.
As the process continued, Kitty began humming the “Wildwood Flower” gathering momentum as she pulled each stroke.
What to some might seem like an eternity passed for these two in an instant as this quiet time the two shared as Kitty reached her 100 strokes.
When Pearl reached 100 in her count, Kitty turned and said its your turn now and Pearl sat upon the dark green upholstered stool in front of the dressing table and her mother took the golden comb in hand and pulled it through the reddish brown hair removing the tangles brought on from her day’s work around the farm.
She then reached for the brush that Pearl already had in her hand admiring the engraving upon its back.
“When I was just a little one, I watched Momma do this every night. Her hair simply stacked on the floor it was so long,” Kitty said.
“Why do we do this?” Pearl asked
“So that our hair will always be beautiful,” Kitty said.
“Why do we want our hair to be beautiful?” Pearl asked.
Kitty thought about this for a while before answering as she continued to run the brush through Pearl’s hair.
“You remember last year when we took that pony you are so fond of to the fair?” Kitty said.
“Yes,” Pearl replied.
“We’ll didn’t you spend nearly three hours brushing Roscoe down and trying to make his mane look just right?” Kitty asked.
“Yes, I wanted him to look good when everybody saw him and maybe win a ribbon,” Pearl said.
“That’s why we do this each night. We want to look good when everybody sees us,” Kitty said.
“Most of the time the only things that see me er Roscoe, the chickens, and our cow Flossie,” Pearl said. “And that old Stephens boy that’s always hanging around. I don’t much think they care how I look.”
“What about all of us, me and your dad, your brothers and sisters?” Kitty said.
“Well y’all don’t count, y’all have to like me no matter what I look like,” Pearl said.
“Yes, that’s true we will always love you no matter what you look like but even with those who are suppose to love us no matter what, its best to always put some effort into being someone to be proud to be around,” Kitty said.
“Then we better get to work on the twins Wilson and Woodrow, they were wollering in the mud all day and I shore ain’t proud to be around them,” Pearl said. “We better get the washtub out and start boiling some water to give them a bath.”
“I think we will pass on giving them a bath tonight,” Kitty said.
“Tomorrow?” Pearl said.
“We’ll see if there isn’t too much else to do,” Kitty said.
“Can we use some of your fancy perfumed water on them?” Pearl asked.
“I don’t think they will like that very much,” Kitty said.
“If you put a little on me, I’ll let them smell it and if they don’t run away we’ll know,” Pearl said. “I got some nice blue ribbon we can put behind their ears.”
As Kitty pulled the last stroke with the brush through Pearl’s hair, she sat the brush down upon the dressing table and said, “OK, now scoot off to bed.”
“May I go out and tell Wilson and Woodrow they are getting a bath tomorrow?” Pearl said.
“I have to go by the pig pen when I gather eggs in the morning. I’ll be sure to tell them what you have in mind although I think you are going to have an awfully tough time convincing them about your notion,” Kitty said.
As Pearl ran from the room, Kitty picked up the hand mirror and looked more closely at her hair, in one side of the mirror she noticed a portrait of her late mother hanging upon the wall and as she glanced to the other side of the mirror she saw Pearl peaking around the corner. Rather than chastising her for not going right off to bed she reflected on how interesting it was that all three of them were in her mother’s mirror.
(A story from Randall’s book “A Mountain Pearl: Appalachian Reminiscing and Recipes”)

The trip to town with country kin

I drove through my town today and saw our shop owners with their doors open with some sitting outside anxiously awaiting customers to stop in. It is an unusual time in all our world. As many communities prepare to open in stages, I think back upon a funny story about some of my country kin. Hope it raises your spirits.

I do not know if I have ever told you about my great-uncle Elige Doolittle. Elige has two twin boys, Will Doolittle and Won’t Do-alot.

I remember as a boy, I always looked forward to Saturday when I was visiting with my grandparents. That meant we would be taking a trip to town. It could mean some time in the 5&10, the grocery store or a stroll around the Courthouse Square or visiting with folks at the farmer’s market.

Going to town was special and meant the folks would put on their best clothes and their best manners.

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The ferris wheel

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

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

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

My mother told me I had to wait.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncle Dud Doolittle and the rickety ladder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why didn’t he?” Clara asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kin folks as far as the eye can see

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

The show must go on

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