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
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
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

The day that follows sleep

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

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

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Grandpa’s Lessons

As I stumbled along the dirt road, occasionally I would reach my hand up and slip it into that of my Grandpa Jesse’s. As an independence streak struck, I would then pull it back managing my steps all on my own at least for a few feet then I would once again find myself repeating the process.
No matter which action I took, I could look up into his face and see a smile beaming back at me. What an amazing gift is the special bond that grows between a loving grandparent and a grandchild.
They can give so much love and many like mine at times had the desire to share a lifetime of experience. I thank God, mine gave me the insights at a young age, to listen and learn.
I think one of the greatest lessons shared with me was how to handle yourself when you realized you have wronged someone in some way. It could be a simple as a misunderstanding or a downright disagreement.
From their example, I saw that one should admit a mistake and apologize to move the relationship forward. If you are the injured party, take the first step, express your concerns and allow the other person an easy opportunity to make amends.
If they choose not to do so, then you have done all you can to mend the fences.
Unfortunately, folks are not always in the same place at the same time.
Although Christianity teaches to forgive, that was an area that I have seen loved ones and friends struggle with throughout my life.
I struggle with it myself, often times I fall back on hardened lessons shared through the generations based in centuries of tribal or clan conflicts and feuds.
I have watched loving, caring people who would give you the shirt of their back, get up on their back legs and growl when a situation involved and ancestral enemy or a ostracized family member or former friend.
While I received lessons through oral stories, I have worked to distance myself from continuing such disputes into my life. Some even go back beyond written records. They do often add color to stories I share but for me the feuds are long past.
I find as time passes in my life, I have to work harder not to add to the list with my own experiences with other people.
It would be easy to simply write someone off, as often was a practice, and have no more to do with him or her, once they have done you wrong, will not apologize or admit a mistake.
But unless continuing that relationship is destructive, I am striving to make an effort to not fall into some of the footsteps left by my mountain highland kin through the centuries. But that’s not to say there might not be a situation that calls for their approach but I don’t know if I am up to a good sword fight, pistols at ten paces, or gathering the clan for feudin’ at any time in the near future.
So, I think the approaches mentioned earlier, might be the best for all concerned. Of course, the other person does have to be concerned. If their not, they probably shouldn’t be that important to your life anyway.

Doing nothing is an action, too

Recently I was honored to share the pulpit for a home going celebration of one of my late mother’s friends. Van McFall was among the close-knit group of moms within the circle of my childhood that I remember well. The mothers were Pearl, Van, Mary Burgess and Nettie Fisher. They got into all kinds of adventures from taking jobs as police officers, and bus drivers. They engaged in the midst of every type of civic service from political campaigns, parent teacher associations, boy scouts, girl scouts and everything you could imagine. Their activities threw all of their children and their husbands into the mix together. While we were not related, we spent endless hours entertaining each other while our mothers spent time together. We shared family births, deaths, holidays, school milestones, first jobs – many of which were at the local Dairy Queen, and the passing of endless hours of our youth.

In my neighborhood, we had a great group of children and we all found our place in that larger group.

Getting to share a few childhood stories with her children after not seeing most of them in decades brought back some heartwarming memories. I was reminded of folks I had not thought of for years.

I remember fondly remember hours of play after completing my chores around the house. Of course, as I got older, I took on odd jobs like mowing neighbors’ yards to earn a little money.

We all would gather to play and race our bikes down suicide hill. Van’s son Joe recalled one of his attempts at doing an Evel Knievel type Snake River Canyon jump using his father Joe’s new picnic table as a ramp. With the aid of some other neighborhood boys setting the lighter fluid the table was soaked in a blaze, he rode full speed for takeoff. He jokingly said it did not end well as many of the neighborhood moms realized what was happening, they ran to overt it, but not in time to stop him. Now I was not among that group who had a hand in that adventure but needless to say I found myself in some others.

I’ve had two bikes in my life; my first bike was small and green and well suited me. When I got big enough to earn my own money, I did odd jobs to earn enough money to buy a 3-speed red English racer. I saved all year and it was a Christmas present for myself. Buying that bike meant a lot to me.

I shared in our recollections,

on one of our trips down suicide hill, the new racer decided it wanted to go one way and me another. The accident sent me flying through the handlebars and sliding down the pavement for 20 feet or more. That still hurts just thinking about it. I had sores all over me from that adventure.

My friends and I would get in our share of disagreements with each other. Those would lead usually to some hurt feelings and some rolling around on the ground till someone would say “Uncle.” We always seemed to come through it. There really were no children who caused trouble in my age bracket. A few older ones sometimes got into mischief, but we always managed to keep out of trouble.

Do not get me wrong, there were bullies. We were just blessed not to have them on our street, at least for very long. I remember when I was about seven there were two brothers who took great pleasure in picking fights with me. At least, it seemed that way at the time.

A boy my age named Chris Sands moved in. His parents had just divorced, and at that time it was not as usual as it is now. I’ll never forget one meeting with those brothers that had me at the bottom of a wrestling match that I just could not win. Chris was the new guy in the neighborhood, and saw that I was being unfairly targeted for this fight and stepped in to pull the other boys off me. From that moment on, he was my friend — that is until he later moved away, and I lost track of him.

While time has erased many of the memories of the time we spent together hanging out as kids, that one action by the new boy on the block sticks in my mind. He saw something that was not right, and he did something about it. Not knowing the social lay of the land and the dynamics of the neighborhood hierarchy, he stuck his neck out for me. That is bravery.

Now I’m not advocating fighting as a way to resolve issues for children or adults. I was taught that it takes much more courage to walk away than to actually fight. However, when they jump on you, there are just a few hurdles you have to get over before you can walk away.

It is hard to walk away when you are at the bottom of the pile

I learned a valuable lesson from Chris that day.

Folks often do not like to stick their neck out to help other people, but when someone does, it makes our community a better place.

While that was a childhood lesson which placed something within me. As I reflected back upon the relationship that those four ladies shared, I am reminded that they stuck their necks out for one another and each other’s family again and again. Doing everything in their powers to make life better for each other and subsequently all of us, even though it wasn’t as apparent to us children. There was always something more to do when there was a need.

 Take down the fishin’ pole

Ripples float endlessly across the lake as a large frog croaks in the distance.
The line running from the end of my pole drifts slightly with the light current pulling away to my left as the red and white float moves with the ripples.
I had spent much of my time working thus far in my first fishing adventure to bring the hook with the worm slid upon it into the drink.
My childhood adventures of fishing with my dad, especially early in the learning process reflected the scenarios of the episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” where “Howard Sprague” went fishing with Andy and the rest of the guys only to spend more time with his hook in a tree or his own pants than in the water.
In retrospect, my dad’s patience as he taught me the process and answered the questions the younger version of myself asked was amazing. Why do fish eat worms? Why do we have to put the hook through the worms, can’t we just throw them out and let the fish eat them? Why do we have a float on the line?
Why do I do better throwing the line behind me rather than in front of me?
These are just a few that I recollect in the process.
My father was someone much like myself – outdoor sports were not really his thing – but he felt it was important that I learned them, that we shared the experiences that he had shared with his father and uncles. There are lessons that are shared in the midst of the teaching that settle deeper beyond the immediate task at hand.
The bonds created between a father and son through positive joint experiences; respect for the world around us and the other people and creatures who share it with us; and an understanding about what is expected of you when you are a man.
I am so glad that he did take this time with me, oftentimes, it seemed strategically placed around tough points in my life when I needed the input, the lesson, the hope, the insights that he wanted to share.
Establishing the groundwork at a younger age, when the years passed allowed us a smoother path.
When as an older teen, I wished to push the bounds of our relationship by asserting my own authority on my life, we were able to work through those tense moments when I was spreading my wings, and make them teachable moments in the life experience. They added to our relationship rather than pushing us farther from each other.
Perhaps my father’s early passing set my prospective of our relationship forever in the nostalgia of my youth. We never really got to the good stuff of the best friend relationship that should have happened as time went on because he was still having to spend time being my dad. Not that such a role would have ever ended, but as I was able to take on more of the responsibilities for my life after college, I would have hoped that the lessons could have taken on a different form.
It is in this time of the year, that my father’s memory seems closest to me, because we shared so much in the summer months. I am thankful that God sent me to be in family where I had two parents who were present and participating. So many youths do not, and as the news of the world seeps into my life, I can’t help but wonder if a few more participating, present mothers and fathers would have prevented many of the headlines which plaque our country.
Are you present in your children’s lives? Are you teaching them the lessons needed? Do they respect other people, creatures, and cultures? If they don’t, may I suggest a fishing trip. There is something iconic and idyllic about those opening TV shots of Andy and Opie Taylor walking with fishing poles in hand along a country road. Funny how so many long for the simplicity portrayed. We may never have it, but it never hurts to take the walk.
“So, take down your fishin’ pole.”