The miracle of a migraine

With each passing year all of us have dates that we mark in our minds or hearts as important.
As I reach the end of August each year my thoughts reflect on the last days of my late father, Floyd, who passed on Aug. 30, 1987.
In his last days, Dad faced a fierce but short battle with lung cancer. Years of smoking had led him into a skirmish I know he did not want to face at the young age of 54.

On Aug. 29, I arose early to take a school exam. Upon returning from school my father asked me to drive him about 30 miles away to look at a used riding lawnmower.

It had been just six weeks since he had been diagnosed.

They told him if treatments were successful he could have five years more to share with us. As with most people who undergo chemotherapy, he experienced a rough six weeks. His once perfect hair, which as a child I had so many times seen him carefully take his black comb from his pocket and straighten the ridge at the front of his head, now was gone and his body was almost a shell of the strong man I had grown to love and depend on in so many ways.
Dad used the trip for the lawnmower to tell me how proud he was of me and shared some hopes for my future.

We drove and I listened.
He said that he enjoyed the years of helping me as road manager as I traveled on the road playing music. He and Mom took care of the countless details which were needed out there that we never even knew about.
I wish I could remember every word, but I can’t.

Perhaps in many ways I was trying to block what he said because in my heart I knew this was his way of telling me goodbye.
I do not know how he knew his time was nearing. I later found out he had spent much of the previous day doing the same with my Mom. He was anxiously awaiting the arrival of my brother, who lived out of town, so he could also speak with him.
We checked out the mower and of course we did not buy it. We went on our way back to the house.

Upon returning, I prepared to leave for a show. I was performing at the annual Gospel Gold Festival with the Marksmen quartet in Dahlonega.
We did our show around 7 p.m., then I visited with folks around the record table signing a few autographs. The Florida Boys, one of my early TV heroes, were scheduled to perform at 10 p.m., so I was going to wait to see them for the first time.
As I sat at the table, I began to develop a tremendous migraine. As nausea set in, I knew I had to leave and make the two hour drive back home.
I turned to the Marksmen leader, Earle Wheeler, and said “I’ve got to go now, if I don’t I will not be able to make it.”
The symptoms progressively got worse on the trip home but I pressed on through the darkness.
As I pulled onto Warwick Circle, all the lights in my house were on. I rushed in to find nobody home. There was a note on the kitchen table from my mom, which said “Gone to Hospital.” On the phone were two urgent messages from her. I jumped in my truck and rushed to the hospital.

As I entered the hospital I was ushered quickly to the seventh floor. I saw a lady in the distance near the pay phone. I did not even recognize her as my mother. The weight of the circumstances were heavy on her shoulders.

My father insisted on spending his time not in a hospital room but in the patient’s day room.
I arrived just in time to share my father’s last hour before God called him home. Mom and I held his hands as he literally walked into that good night. And he did walk straight into God’s arms.
When I reached the door to our house earlier that evening, that headache and all the symptoms which had beckoned me home were gone.
I was sent a message to come home through God’s telephone.
If God had not placed upon me that affliction, I would have stayed and enjoyed the show and would have missed being with my Dad in those final moments.
That migraine was a miracle to me that helped me to experience what life and death is really about; it’s about the people we love and how we share our time together.

The choices we make touch other lives

In life we are constantly faced with choices. We are blessed or cursed with the gift of free will, depending on your perspective.

From the smallest detail of “Do you want fries with that?” to “Do you take this woman to be your wife?” in America, we have endless choices.

People can choose to work hard and by doing so achieve great success and accumulate wealth. Some choose to dedicate their energies to benefiting humanity.

Each choice we make sets us upon a path. Even the simplest thing like having one extra cup of coffee in the morning could change your schedule enough to prevent you from being involved in an auto accident.
As I look back on my choices, there are some I would like to change in spite of the fact I do not know what path changing them would have brought. Nevertheless, I cannot change them; I only have the power over what lies ahead, not behind. I can only try to learn from those past choices.

Using my television exposure as a podium, I have spoke to youth about living a successful drug-free life. My work 20 years ago yielded the attention of the National Drug Abuse Resistance Education Officer’s Association. Consequently, they made me an honorary D.A.R.E. officer. I have encouraged thousands across the country to make the choice not to use drugs. I do not know if any made that choice. I can only hope that at least one did.

No matter how you try to influence others, the ultimate choice lies with them. With that choice also lays consequences. When you make a choice that affects you, your family or even others you do not know, it is up to you to take responsibility for what that choice brings.

Many times people try to shift the blame if things are not going as they planned. I think we pick up this behavior as a child. It is the old “He did it” approach to avoid punishment. I do not know about you but that never worked for me. It only made the punishment worse.

I’ve attended teen/parent forums that included discussions from both parents and teens on the issue of parents making choices for their children that affect other children. Choices such as providing alcohol for teen parties or even adults turning a blind eye to drug use by not being vigilant supervisors, as they should.

Some parents may say “I’d rather have them doing it where I can keep an eye on them,” but when other children are involved I imagine their parents might like to have a say and an eye involved in the situation as well. At least that is what I have heard parents say.

Each choice we make, in some way, affects someone else — sometimes people we do not even know, such as that driver who might be injured by a teenage drunk driver coming from a supervised party where alcohol was served.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not focusing on these parents exclusively. The teenagers admit that even if parents are not providing, some of them will find a way to get alcohol themselves from older siblings, buying it themselves at establishments that do not request ID or by sneaking it from a parent when they are not watching.

Unfortunately, these teenage actions expand to various types of drugs, including prescription pills out of medicine cabinets as well.
No matter what choice you make, they are your choices. You ultimately have to live with what results from them. So if you are making a life-changing choice, become informed about what may happen depending on which path your choice leads you.

Even if it turns out to be the wrong choice, at least you did not go down that path with blinders on.

Reaching and Reevaluating goals

Reaching lifetime goals often means it is time to reformulate your life and create new goals.I reached a career goal in 1993 that I had pursued since I was a little child.

Since the first time I watched Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs sing “Little Girl of Mine In Tennessee” to “Granny” and “Uncle Jed” on “The Beverly Hillbillies;” since the first time I saw Wayne Newton play a down home country boy who could really saw the fiddle; or since the first time I watched Doug Dillard and all the Dillards entertain “Sheriff Andy Taylor” as “The Darlings” on the “Andy Griffith Show” with his up tempo banjo tunes; I dreamed of walking on network television to pick and grin.

I always figured that such national exposure for a young boy from Georgia had to come through music. There were just not that many other avenues at that time. So I worked and studied to improve my music, working to create and market our youth group, The Peachtree Pickers®, by working flea markets, churches and schools. We began competing at fiddler’s conventions and then moved up to entertaining larger and larger audiences at bluegrass festivals and fairs. The support of my late parents Pearl and Floyd Franks and those of the other group members helped to move our joint goals forward. We reached network cable in its infancy with a children’s show called “The Country Kids TV Series,” essentially a children’s “Hee Haw” which aired in the United States and abroad. Our growth would eventually lead us to performances for the Grand Old Opry ® and some acceptance by the more mainstream music industry.

In 1987, members of our youth act decided to go their separate ways, partially due to new college obligations. I was at a new point in my life, trying to decide what is next. I had not yet reached my childhood goal, but without a group, which was still the foundation of bluegrass and southern gospel music at that time, I did not know what my next step would be. I decided to make some solo appearances pulling together musicians when needed and continued appearing with other acts such as The Marksmen Quartet and Doodle and the Golden River Grass.

I began work at the Atlanta-based MBM records in 1987 helping to guide the careers of several artists signed with the label while still performing every opportunity I had. In 1988, the label changed hands and my job was eliminated. So, once again, I found myself searching. While I had enjoyed doing some minor acting in school, I decided in order to reach my television goal, I would have to begin a more intensive study of acting and take any opportunity, which were not many at the time, I could to get to be on screen in Georgia.

But God seemed to immediately open the doors, giving me opportunity after opportunity. The music talents God gave me seemed to put me where I needed to be. It would not be music that landed me my role as “Officer Randy Goode” on “In the Heat of the Night,” but it would be the many friends I developed from years of touring and recording that would share their exuberance about my presence on the show. After countless requests from those who cared about my music asking for me to perform on the show, Carroll O’Connor wrote a uniquely designed scene in an episode entitled “Random’s Child” which would set up a reason and purpose for “Officer Randy” to be pickin’ and grinnin’ just to frustrate the bad guys in that episode. One of those bad guys was Robert O’Reilly, “Gowron,” leader of the Klingons, from “Star Trek, Deep Space Nine.” I bet that is the only time in my life I will get to aggravate a Klingon.

Anyway, Carroll wrote a little piece entitled the “Sparta Blues” for actor Thomas Byrd and I to perform at the Sparta Police impound yard when the bad guys came to claim their car.

I have always jokingly called it my biggest hit since millions saw and heard it on CBS and millions more around the world have heard it since. I’ve often wondered what it sounded like when translated into Chinese or Italian. Recently, one of our Italian fans actually sent me some Italian performances, they were interesting. I didn’t know I spoke Italian so well.

It took years but the childhood dream was reached, and the goal I had chased for years was accomplished.
Then I had to decide what was next. Life is a constant re-evaluation of where you are and where you are going. We can’t just simply drift or what service will that be to God and our fellow man? He has a purpose for everyone’s life. It is up to us to make His vision for us happen. He will open the doors; we must simply study and be prepared to walk through. But at the same time, as we walk with the confidence He gave us we must always be mindful of whether what we are reaching for is His will or one we have created. Only time will tell.

Family ties won’t be broken

The importance of one’s family connections is something that I believe we are losing in America.

With each generation there are fewer individuals who live close to their extended families, unlike the days when grandma and grandpa lived just in the next room or uncles, aunts and cousins were a short walk down the road.
Many Americans today do not really know the members of their extended family. We spend a few awkward moments together at funerals, family reunions, Christmas and Thanksgiving gatherings and then off we go back to our own lives.

As families build lives miles away from their home many grasp the anonymity of their new surroundings with fervor, often dreading when a distant family member might drop in, disrupting their lives.

Despite the fact that my parents chose to move away from their homes to build a life for themselves in Atlanta, I grew up in a home where our door was open to members of both my mother’s and father’s families. It was not unusual for there to be cousins stretched out on quilted pallets sleeping on the living room floor; uncles rummaging through the refrigerator for green dill pickles as a late night snack; aunts blanching red tomatoes from the garden in the kitchen; or distant kin moving in for an extended stay while they looked for a job or planned a new start.

Because of the time I spent with these people growing up, I feel a much closer connection to them; the shared experiences make chance meetings and gatherings less of a strain today.

It was not unusual for my Mom to get up and start cooking a batch of turnip greens, cornbread and some fried chicken, while cleaning the house from end to end. When asked why she was doing it, she would say “so and so” will be here directly. Sure enough, after a while they would knock at the door. My Mom has a second sense about that. With no forewarning she knew some relative was on their way.

Sundays were a big visiting day. It was not unusual for Uncle Harvey, Aunt Lois and all their kids to load up in the car and be knocking at our door before dinner. Sometimes Grandma Allie and Grandpa Jesse would come along for the ride.

Us cousins would spend the afternoon playing as the folks caught up on all the family news. We might ride over to the airport to watch the planes land or go downtown to sight see. We would eat dinner, and then they would load up in the car and head back up to Tunnel Hill.

I remember one trip when they came down to see Joe Don Baker in “Walking Tall.” Of course, us kids were not old enough to go to the drive-in and see it so we had a sleepover instead, while most of the adults took in the hit movie.

Just like their visits there, we also visited regularly. Despite the distance it was like we were one family experiencing life together rather than living separate lives and putting up with one another for a few hours at the holidays.

God has called many of those family members for an extended stay at his house. While they are absent here, the experiences still live within me, giving me a sense of the extended family even if there are fewer of them now than there once was.

The stories they told of relatives I never knew made those people alive to me. Through those stories many of my characters come to life on the page in columns and in scripts.

As each holiday rolls by, take the time to experience more than just the ordinary. Help create an experience that will last for yourself and your children throughout the lifetime. It is the shared moments of life that will make the basis for what we know as family.

If we as a country do not work to strengthen our families individually what will the future hold for the American family as a whole? I guess we will be a country of individuals seeking a group in which to belong.

The night I will never forget

When I was a little boy I remember my Aunt Sis and Uncle Waymond losing their home as tornadoes ripped through Xenia, Ohio.

Tornadoes for me with that exception were something I saw on television news or in movies but they were not something that I had a first-hand experience with.
As I went to a meeting on the morning of April 27 in Rossville, Ga., it was apparent to me that I was on the heels of a tornado or very high winds that knocked down trees and stole the power source from the traffic signal lights and of course the government building where I was to meet with representatives from around the area relating to transportation planning.

Read more

A superhero extreme makeover

For many years I have been amazed by the enthusiasm and energy of one boy. His name is Patrick Sharrock.
He is now 9 years old and he has lived his life with those qualities and many others including a desire to encourage others and a great sense of humor despite facing the issues of growing up a rare bone disease called osteogenesis imperfecta or O.I.
Read more

Finding “The Way Home”

I was recently honored to host a special evening in my hometown featuring showings of the new film “The Way Home.” I had originally attended a star-studded premiere of the Lionsgate and Red 5 Entertainment film at Atlanta’s Fox Theater.
I became familiar with the movie filmed on location in Carroll County, Ga. because one of my closest friends, Sonny Shroyer, “Enos” from “The Dukes of Hazzard,” joined Dean Cain and Lori Beth Edgeman in the project. Cain and Edgeman portray Randy and Christal Simpkins.

Read more

A little funny never hurts

One of my readers said that I needed to share a bit of comedy in my column to raise the spirits of the folks back home. Well I don’t know if I can do that but I’m willing to take aim at it. So wherever you call home, I hope this uplifts your spirits!
One of my favorite places to find funny comments or situations is in church and sometimes the funniest thing you find relates with youngin’s and church thinkin’.

Read more

Tim McCoy, America’s authentic western star

When you think of western films even thirty plus years after his passing the legendary John Wayne is who comes to most people’s minds.

Who can ever forget his greater than life presence on the screen no matter what film was rolling through the projector like “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “ The Sons of Katy Elder,” “True Grit,” “Rooster Cogburn,” and “The Shootist.” Read more

Ugh….computers

Computers truly have changed the world. Whether you like them or not, unfortunately they are part of our lives at least until the lights are turned out permanently.
My first experience with computers came when I was in high school. There was only one computer terminal in the whole school and there was no such thing as the Internet.

Read more