Awkward Moments

The February issue of Reader’s Digest included an invitation to share a memory which always brings a smile. I submitted one from late in the summer of 1974. It happened shortly after I graduated from college and had begun working with Burroughs Corporation in Tallahassee, Florida. The occasion is easily recalled because it was a rather awkward moment.

Burroughs was a leading manufacturer and seller of computers. They had an innovative array of products which I would soon be learning to market. Before joining Burroughs, the only computer I’d been close enough to touch was in a programming class at Valdosta State College. It was bigger than a Volkswagen Beetle, used punched cards for processing, and required Arctic like conditions to avoid a meltdown of the vacuum tubes. The heat-spawning behemoth was housed in a walk-in cooler amidst cardboard boxes of an unidentified substance served on Thursdays in the cafeteria.

Similar massive systems were offered by Burroughs, along with a line of desk-size mini-computers for less demanding business needs. Those were the ones I was to be taught how to sell at a company facility in Tampa. Meanwhile, I had a few days with nothing pressing to do.

A staff of highly capable technicians took care of software and equipment matters. The sales force was strongly encouraged to stick with marketing and leave technology issues to the folks who had graduated with honors. Burroughs implemented that policy before my name was on payroll, but there’s no doubt my single venture into the tech world gave credence to their decision.

The Decatur County Sheriff’s Department bought a computer system about the time I began my career. One of the Burroughs’ technicians, an extremely capable man named Denny, oversaw the installation. After he returned from Bainbridge to Tallahassee, Denny realized a data line needed to be connected to the modem. His plate was loaded, so he asked if I’d mind driving up to Georgia to attach it.

“Be glad to,” I said, tickled to have a reason to get out of the office, astutely asking as I headed towards the door, “What’s a modem?”

“It’s a little gray plastic box near the computer. After you take the cover off, you’ll see a small wire that needs to be secured. Call me when you’re done so we can test the system.”

The poet Alexander Pope once wisely wrote, “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” An outing to Bainbridge, Georgia, helped me understand more clearly what Mr. Pope meant.  

Sharply dressed in my black suit, white shirt, and silk power-tie, I strolled confidently into the sheriff’s department, knowing they would be impressed by the wet ink on my business cards showing I was a bona fide MARKETING REPRESENTATIVE. The chief deputy escorted me to an office where I immediately spotted the modem on a little table by the computer.

I didn’t have a screwdriver, so the deputy borrowed one from a prisoner, a trustee I assumed. It was a bit surprising to see how many screws were holding that cover in place. My work had hardly begun when the deputy inquired, “Are you certain that needs to be done?

“Yes sir,” I assured him. “It won’t take but a minute to fix this once the cover is off.”

Denny called to check on my progress, wondering why he hadn’t heard from me. I told him a dozen screws had been removed with just a few to go. He paused, probably in hopes I was kidding, then whispered so no one could overhear, “I don’t know what you’re taking apart,” he said, “but the modem cover only has one screw.”

That’s when I saw a familiar pattern of letters that gave me a queasy feeling. Z E N I T H. As soon as I put the screws back in, the deputy picked up the tiny television and spoke in a polite but non-negotiable manner. “I’m going to move this out of your way,” he said, while slowly backing out the room.

I quickly found the real modem, attached the data line, returned the screwdriver to the prisoner, and grabbed my business card off the front desk. Sometimes I wonder what that deputy told the sheriff, but it may be best not to know. I can’t speak for him, but for me it was a rather awkward moment.   

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Following Mug

I followed Mug, our brown boxer, into a field of wheat when I was almost four. She was probably past seventy in people years, but may have seemed older than she was because of her limp. Mug’s hobbled gate went as far back as I remember, the result of having too much success in catching a passing car. Success can come with a heavy cost, especially if we chase the wrong things.    

In the winter months Mug noticeably favored her injured leg. On the coldest mornings Mama would let her come inside to warm by the gas heater in the kitchen. She doctored Mug with Bayer aspirin tucked in a biscuit flavored with warm bacon drippings from her cast iron skillet. Sometimes I wondered if Mug exaggerated her limp just to get a treat.

Warm weather was much kinder to Mug’s bad leg. The sunny spring days of 1956 inspired her to wander into the ripening wheat growing on the farmland beside our home. She was probably tracking a rabbit’s trail but didn’t explain her intentions that I recall. 

Mug led the way far into the field of tall wheat, two adventurers exploring uncharted territory. Even when I couldn’t see her, I knew where she was from the limber stalks moving as she parted them to make a path. But I ambled along too slowly or maybe she ran too fast. With Mug out of sight the wheat seemed less inviting as it towered menacingly above my head. I called her name as loudly as I could, but she didn’t come.

I walked on for a while, hoping to find Mug or the edge of the field. No breeze could be felt in the jungle and once pleasant sunlight became stifling heat. Prickly heads of grain scratched my face and arms and made me wish I had stayed in our yard under the pecan tree. But Mug had grown tired of making mud pies and we already had more than enough for supper.     

The sun grew hotter and the wheat more foreboding as misery and fear enveloped me in a way I’d never known. So, I did what my muddled thinking suggested. I sat on the ground and cried. 

Mama looked for me in all the likely places. She checked both shelters and the barn and the pasture with its ancient persimmon tree. She shouted my name, but I didn’t hear. It’s hard to listen while crying I’ve since learned. But when Mama paused to pray, she heard my distant sobs.    

She carried me to our backyard faucet and washed my face and arms. Mug lapped at the dripping water, not waiting for it to fall into her bowl. As Mama dried my face with her apron, I scratched Mug gently behind her ears, knowing she wasn’t to blame. 

Daddy later taught me what to do if I ever got lost again. He said to look up and fix my eyes on something in the distance, like a treetop, a light pole, or the shiny tin at the top of the barn. He told me to walk in a straight line toward the place I wanted to go, that if we focus on what’s close to us, we can end up going in circles.     

It took a while for me to realize the tall wheat wasn’t the cause of my woes. My problem was looking at where I was rather than where I wanted to go. I’d been staring at ground level obstacles instead of searching the sky for direction. And even though I now understand that’s a foolish approach, there are times it still happens.

When my focus is on troubles more than solutions, I sometimes think about Mug and the lessons from that day. And I find comfort in what a man after God’s own heart wrote long ago.    

King David, in Psalm 121:1, said, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” I hadn’t yet memorized any scriptures back when Mug led me into the field, and I can’t quote many verses today. But I know the One who inspired the psalmist to look upward, and I’m thankful He knows me.

Several decades ago I wrote an early version of this story. That’s when it first occurred to me that getting lost in our wheat field was a blessing. I’m glad an old dog with a limp reminds me of something I find tempting to ignore. The best way to stay on the path that leads home is to keep looking upward. Perfect guidance can only come from above.    

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Silver Linings

A January column, “The Blessing of Light,” reflected on how the overcast days of winter are pleasantly interposed by the radiance of sunshine. Cynthia, a good friend since grammar school days, aptly related that sentiment to an old adage: “Behind every cloud there’s a silver lining.”

I don’t know if that saying is always true, or if like the wisdom quotes in Proverbs it’s a premise not a promise. Either way, the concept of searching for silver linings seemed worthy of a closer look.

Everyone who reads today’s musings probably has a silver lining story somewhere in their past. Sometimes, though, it takes effort to see it. Silver, I suppose, is just a lighter shade of gray. I’ll share one of my personal stories with you that’s still evolving. Then I’d love to hear one of yours.

My sense of direction is nil, a word which I believe is not coincidentally pronounced almost like my name. If you’ve read Joiner’s Corner for a while, you know I’m not opposed to exaggeration, but when I say I have no sense of direction, that’s quite factual. And in my case, it’s not a problem which is confined to unfamiliar highways or walks in the woods. It accompanies me wherever I go.

When I leave one of the exam rooms at Dr. Ricky Stevens’ office, I’m usually unsure whether to turn right or left in the hallway. If they blindfolded me and spun me around a few times, I could be trapped there forever. And if I am compelled someday to take a cognitive test with directional challenges, I may as well wave the white flag of surrender. Or run for the exit and pray I can find it.

Several years ago, my brother, Jimmy, and I went to see a resident in a Perry nursing facility. Our longtime family friend, Julius Bembry, was in the memory care unit at Summerhill. We punched in the passcode on the keypad to access that secured part of the building.

After our visit we headed to the same door, positioned near the nurses’ station, which we had entered through earlier. I tapped in the passcode, pulled the door wide open, then motioned for Jimmy to walk ahead of me. Our mission would have been successful had we been sent for fresh towels.

It took a moment to fully register I was staring into the linen closet. A few feet to our right was the door with no prizes behind it. “We better run,” I said to Jimmy, “or they’ll try to keep us.”

Highways are even worse than hallways. I’ve been lost in more places than I can remember. Back in my days with Burroughs Corporation in Tallahassee, I sometimes turned in less mileage than I’d driven. My thinking was it might appear I was padding my miles for extra reimbursement, so I’d shave off what I estimated was due to my own faulty wiring. That practice cost me a few dollars as my gas guzzling Malibu only got eleven miles per gallon. To break even I would have needed an Allstate moped.

One of my more memorable detours came in 1989 when our triplets were ten years old. Our family of five flew from Georgia to California and back by way of Atlanta. After we returned to Hartsfield International Airport, Jane and our daughters, Erin and Carrie, stayed with our luggage. Seth backpacked with me on the long hike to the ultra-low budget parking lot to see if our van still had wheels.

We made three loops around the airport in heavy traffic as I tried to maneuver our blue Chevy Astro into the right lane. On our third pass I managed, without effort or intention, to leave the Hartsfield property. Twenty minutes later a big green sign was pointing us toward South Carolina. Seth, his eyes brimming with unshed tears, inquired rather anxiously, “We’re lost, aren’t we Daddy?”

Feigning all the confidence I could muster, I answered cheerfully, “Oh no, Son, we’re not lost!” Then I pointed toward the sky and asked if he could see the plane that was passing over us. He nodded he could, so I continued. “We’re not lost,“ I assured him again. “All we have to do is figure out where those planes are landing and drive over there.”

You may be wondering how a silver lining can be found in having no sense of direction, and I’m not certain I can readily explain. But I know that a flaw, which can be frustrating at times, has taken me down some roads I’m glad I traveled but would not have chosen.

I believe it’s true that behind every cloud there’s a silver lining, but I can’t say for sure. A single story that’s only mine doesn’t really prove anything. That’s why I’d love to hear your story too. 

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A One-Winged Angel

It’s hard to know what to do with a one-winged angel. She’s just concrete molded into yard art, but I don’t feel right about discarding her. The serene young lady faithfully watched over my wife’s flower garden for years, standing with her head slightly bowed and hands pressed together in prayer.

How she lost her right wing has escaped me if I ever knew. Maybe she was toppled in a storm and had an awkward landing. Or there may have been a hairline fracture which time and weather exploited. A tiny crack left unattended can become a gaping hole.

Last summer I took the angel to the farm, planning to toss her into a gulley which rain has patiently dug. But I changed my mind and put her under the shelter instead. I’ve left her there because she helps remind me that we’re all broken to some extent. Sometimes the breaks are insignificant and only minor inconveniences. In other situations, they’re severe and not always repairable.

As I was writing this column three areas came to mind where brokenness is frequently manifest. The first and sometimes most obvious is physical. Just like the one-winged angel, health issues can leave deep scars or even wounds that won’t heal.

COVID-19 has viciously demonstrated how quickly life can change. Countless other illnesses, diseases, and physical problems were here long before this pandemic and will be around after it’s no longer front-page news. Physical brokenness ranges from the invisible to being highly pronounced.   

In the latter part of 2020 I had some sporadic foot pain that was quite annoying for a few months. Then I saw a picture of a group of ladies who had lost one or more limbs while serving our country. Despite their tragedies they were all smiling. I don’t know the stories behind their smiles, or how readily they cope with ongoing challenges, but that photograph helped remind me I don’t really have any problems, just small nuisances that don’t merit complaint.

Emotional brokenness is another area that’s common yet sometimes unseen. Jane and I have been reading daily devotionals in Guideposts for decades. She read them several years before finally convincing me to give it a try. One of the longtime writers is a lady whose husband and children suffer with depression and other mental health issues. I read her short biographical sketch in the 2021 book which said she enjoys the “solitude” of taking the subway to a new job. Finding gratitude in subway trips to work is almost more than I can fathom. I hope on the days when there’s standing room only, someone will offer her a seat. Opportunities for much-needed kindnesses are all around us just waiting to be claimed. 

A third area of brokenness is spiritual. It continues to worsen, even though a cure is available to all who will accept it. A primary difficulty in resolving spiritual brokenness is our tendency to put our own desires ahead of everything else. Some say there is no God, so self-gratification in the present moment is all that matters. Others acknowledge the possibility of God but have no interest in knowing Him personally. 

But perhaps the most troubling are those of us who comfortably tread in lukewarm water. We believe in God and may even profess Christ as our personal Savior, but then we settle for the tepid waters of personal preferences, offering God only a small part of ourselves.   

In Revelation 3:15 Jesus told the church at Laodicea, “I wish you were cold or hot, but because you are neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Spiritual brokenness comes in many ways, but a half-hearted approach to our faith is among the most problematic. Lukewarm water is inviting. It tempts us with the allure of temporary comfort and safety.   

Someday I’ll probably do something with that one-winged angel, but for now I’ll just leave her under the shelter. Her missing wing reminds me to pray about the brokenness around me and within me, especially about that which is of my own making. Too many times I’ve chosen the lukewarm water, venturing only to the edge of unfettered service.   

I don’t know what to do with a one-winged angel, but my faith is in the One who does.

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The Sears & Roebuck Catalog

My friend Cletus has a gift for plausible explanations. I guess that could come in handy at times, but I can’t say for sure. A few weeks after Christmas he stopped by to show me his lump of coal. Then he told me a story from childhood which may be true but seems a tad unlikely.      

Cletus was born in 1952, as was I, so we have some memories in common. We both fondly remember the thrill that came when the mailman delivered a new Sears & Roebuck catalog. From little boys wanting Roy Rogers outfits to grandmothers shopping for pressure cookers, the possibilities were as limitless as their dreams.   

For Christmas of 1959 seven-year-old Cletus surprised his mother with a gift from Sears & Roebuck. The 50-foot rubber water hose was jet black with light gray stripes and guaranteed never to kink. The high-end water hose was impressive enough that Cletus had little doubt it was the finest one in their community. He was, however, concerned his thinking was a sign of having too much pride and considered asking the preacher’s opinion. But Cletus remembered a sermon about being accountable for what we know, so he decided it might be safer to live with uncertainty.

The other water hoses his family had were cheap, old, and too stiff to loop into a tight circle. They were all the standard green color but generously accented with black electrical tape wrapped around pinholes. When a leak was too big to tape, his daddy would shorten the hose. He’d cut off a section right above each major trickle until what was left was not long enough to reach from the barn faucet to the cows’ water trough. 

At that point his father would save the little hose remnant on the back wall of the shelter by wedging it between the corrugated tin sides and the tall creosote poles. Cletus’ daddy often said, “As sure as you throw something away that’s when you’ll need it.” He didn’t know when or why they might have a use for those miniature hoses but figured It didn’t cost anything to keep a good supply on hand.

Cletus’ mother was tickled about her fine new water hose with the lifetime guarantee. She mentioned to Cletus it would last longer if it was protected from the weather, knowing he might think it odd she was putting it on the front porch. Cletus wondered if she placed it there so the neighbors would see it but thought it best to explore that matter discreetly.

“Do you think we’ll ever get a faucet in the front yard?” he casually asked. His mother didn’t answer but began beating the creamed potatoes more aggressively than usual. The clanging of the masher hitting the sides of a metal pot prompted him to leave the matter alone. The next day she moved the water hose to their backyard faucet.   

About a month before Christmas of the following year, Cletus was stretched out on the den floor in front of the TV watching Superman. He was flipping through a Sears & Roebuck catalog and paused where he had no business in the women’s lingerie section. He sensed a presence in the room which he thought might be the Holy Spirit. Then he wished it were. 

“Mama,” he said without looking up, “I had planned to order you something nice for Christmas, but it might be best for you pick it out.” He closed the catalog, stood up, and handed it to her. “You can have that ten-dollar bill y’all gave me for my birthday,” he said, knowing she wouldn’t spend over five.

“So how did things turn out?” I asked, after he paused as if the story was over.

“On Christmas morning Mama unwrapped what she’d ordered and acted totally surprised. She said, ‘Oh my goodness, Cletus, you shouldn’t have spent so much!’”

“All ten dollars?” I asked.

“Every penny,” he responded with a hint of lingering remorse.

“I’ll bet she ordered lingerie,” I said with a grin.  

“Nope,” said Cletus. “She got another top-of-the-line water hose plus a decorative metal hanger. It looked so good on the front porch that when Valentine’s Day came around Daddy gave her a faucet.”

Cletus’ story seems a bit improbable, but I’ll admit he has a gift for plausible explanations. I guess that could come in handy at times, but I can’t say for sure.                 

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Wish List 2021

The great thing about a wish list is it doesn’t have to be realistic. Maybe it’s better if the entries have some reasonable chance of occurring, but I placed no such restrictions for my 2021 submissions. These aren’t in any sort of special order.

I wish our country would more closely resemble the one I pledge allegiance to – “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” If we get the “under God” part right, the rest will take care of itself. A change in politics is far less important than a change in our hearts.   

I wish that COVID-19 would be eliminated, not just controlled or managed but totally destroyed so the only evidence remaining would be in the history books. The eradication would be so complete there’d be no need for vaccinations. Everyone would wonder what to do with their unused masks.

I wish the Class of 1970 would be able to have the 50-year reunion we had to postpone. My friend and classmate, Smitty, had everything ready to go in 2020 when the pandemic interfered. Reunions are not fulfilling if hugs aren’t allowed. Surely social distancing is almost over. 

 I wish that Operation Warp Speed, which resulted in effective coronavirus vaccines in an astonishingly short period, would be expanded to seek cures for cancer, Parkinson’s, ALS, Alzheimer’s, and other devastating conditions. We all have people dear to us who need a bold effort without delay.    

I wish that Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons would be on their way to the Super Bowl. Football is not something I have much interest in, but I admire Matt for not complaining even after games when he has set records for getting sacked. He keeps getting up off the ground and putting forth his best effort while not pointing fingers at others. He’s an honorable man with a lot of talent. It’d be nice for him to wear the ring of a champion.

I wish that reliable research in the medical field would establish solid evidence there’s no such thing as too much chocolate. It would be terrific to make similar discoveries regarding many other foods, such as my wife’s insanely delicious apple nut cake, but that might be expecting too much for a single wish.  

I wish Dude, the mongrel dog with the gentle heart who helped drive our son home from California, would be healthy again. He has a mass in his stomach and the prognosis is not good. If life eludes him as expected, my other wish is for a peaceful departure.  

I wish Miracle Grow would announce a hair product line. It already works remarkably well for plants so probably with a little tweaking would be effective for scalps. I realize, however, that growing crops on barren ground is challenging. Scattered footlong hairs won’t improve the look of the landscape.

I wish someone would discover a use for Bahai grass that would make it so valuable people would begin stealing it from yards and right-of ways.

I wish the armadillos that keep destroying our flower garden would move. Thanks to two traps and a long barrel 22 caliber pistol, dozens of them are no longer a nuisance. But I don’t enjoy shooting any kind of critter and would gladly leave them alone if they would do the same for me.

I wish for inspiration for future columns. My tank has been running on fumes lately. Hopefully, there’s a fueling station over the next hill. If you have an idea feel free to email me at gneiljoiner@gmail.com or send a letter to 64 Coley Crossing Road, Vienna, GA 31092. You can even share something from your wish list if you don’t mind it being passed along. I may not be talented enough to figure out how to use your comments in a column, but the analysis is absolutely free. 

Finally, my wish for each of you is that you experience a year filled with blessings too many to count, joy beyond measure, and peace that surpasses all understanding. My list isn’t in any sort of special order, but I saved this one for last because it’s both important and realistic.

The abundant life is ours for the asking. If you haven’t already asked, I wish that you would take care of that right away. That’s why I’m adding this wish to my prayer list as well.

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The Blessing of Light

December can be a troubling month if we let it. None of us, I think, are fully immune to the occasional toll of winter’s doldrums. In the year just passed it seemed more tempting than most to let overcast skies on cold days dampen my outlook. Optimism was harder to embrace than before.

I’m not dealing with any devastating struggles, the kind that make each day a challenge and warrant being on a prayer list. Yet even though I realize I’m blessed beyond measure, there were some days in December when I felt a bit out of sorts. Maybe part of that feeling is because of the disquieting events and atmosphere in the world around me.   

Political, racial, and societal divisions are uncommonly vicious and unsettling. COVID-19 continues to forge a path of devastation that will be felt for years. A plethora of problems without easy solutions dominate headlines across our country. And we don’t have to look far down the road to find a friend who is carrying a heavy load.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when the heavens are painted solid gray. But every now and then a moment in the sunshine reminds me the dreary clouds of winter are only temporary. They don’t diminish our blessings; they just make them a bit harder to see.

Several days in mid-December were cold and damp, unfit for doing much of anything outside. It’s not hard to fall into the trap of feeling like that’s the norm, of focusing on the clouds as if they were permanent fixtures. It’s easy to forget how good the sunshine will feel when it returns.

One morning at our farm I stood near the rusty tin walls of an old shelter. The day was cold and windy, but the sun was shining brightly. On the south side of the building the wind was completely blocked, and the radiant glow of the sun was perfect.

I leaned against the warm tin for a few minutes, remembering how much I enjoyed that place and others like it during my childhood. There were times in those long-gone years when I had briefly paused in such places while alone. The best memories, though, are of leisurely sitting on the grass with a canine friend beside me. There’s something wonderfully comforting in finding a cozy spot outside on a blustery day. Sharing that experience with a good dog makes it even better.

There were other days in December that were much the same, cold and windy but having the advantage of sunshine. More than once I took a break from doing something that had no urgency just to sit for a few minutes in my truck. It’s remarkable how the sun can warm a cab by shining through the glass. Sitting in my pickup didn’t change the weather, but it changed how I felt about it.

That’s not so different, I believe, than how God works in our lives. My tendency is to ask God to take away whatever may be bothering me, to calm the storm like Jesus did on the Sea of Galilee. (Matthew 8:23-27) There are without doubt occasions when God intervenes in a magnificent way. More often, however, I believe God leaves the circumstances as they are and changes us instead. Rather than calming the storm, He offers us the comfort of His shelter.

If every day brought sunny skies and gentle breezes, they would easily be taken for granted. Routine perfection might even become mundane. It’s the cold days of winter which help us better appreciate the warmth of sun and shelter, which cause us to look forward to the arrival of spring.

I’m trying to take a better approach in how I view things that concern me now, especially those matters which are beyond my control. Instead of dwelling on clouds that darken the day, I’m reminding myself that the One whose birth we just celebrated is The Light of the World. It’s comforting to know that He invites each of us to walk with Him in that Light.

On a wintry day in December, I leaned my back against the side of an old shelter, looking for a place to escape the cold. The sunshine warmed my body as I knew it would. And quite unexpectedly it soothed my soul as well. Blessings abound, I was reminded, if we look for them in The Light.

December can be a troubling month, but only if we let it.    

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A New Memory

Isn’t it wonderful when good news greets us unexpectedly? That’s what happened to me a few days after Thanksgiving.

The day began like many others with slices of fresh strawberries topping my Honey Bunches of Oats. Not long after breakfast a message popped up on my phone stating, “You have a new memory!” That was thrilling to learn as my old memory may be beyond repair.

It does, however, concern me that my phone has access to so much personal information. If my phone knows I need a new memory, it’s probably obvious to others who are just too polite to mention it. Several of my more senior friends have told me that Memory Depletion Syndrome doesn’t get any better. That was my thinking too until I read that delightful phone message.

A few years ago, I was in a small boat fishing for big bass with Groves Jeter and Ronnie Kitchens. We caught several lunkers, any one of which would have easily broken the longstanding Georgia record had they been weighed instead of fileted. I don’t recall why, but our jovial banter slowly drifted from fish tales to memory issues.

We discussed the frustration of being unable to call the name of someone familiar, or of struggling to find a word that’s needed to complete a sentence. Groves shared with us that he’d recently bought a bottle of Prevagen, the highly advertised jellyfish supplement which claims to boost mental health. I asked Groves if he thought Prevagen was helping him. “I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t remember to take it.”

An appendectomy, when I was almost eight, may have led to some of my memory issues. Dr. Baker in Hawkinsville removed my appendix just before the start of third grade. He sealed it in a bottle of alcohol which stayed under our farm shelter until the day we ran out of fish bait.       

Prominent medical experts maintain that the appendix serves no function. My opinion, however, is that its purpose is like that of a book appendix which provides additional information. Not every book has an appendix or needs one, but for complicated matters it can offer clarification. It seems quite unlikely that a dual use of the word appendix evolved by coincidence. Sound reason almost dictates we assume there is a connection.  

It’s comforting to know I’m not entirely alone in dealing with memory challenges. A decade or so back I was one of five pallbearers who kept watching the church doors for our sixth man. Our good friend had been distracted by something that day and had forgotten the funeral. I’ve admittedly had worse lapses but have been fortunate to escape unnoticed most times.

During my early days of banking I kept a small calendar in my back pocket and wrote down appointments and other notes. That crutch was paired with another one in the form of a giant monthly planner on my desk which was further enhanced by tons of scribbled notes on slips of yellow paper.

In the latter part of my career I sent a daily email to myself with a to do list that was updated late each afternoon. The most pressing matters were at the top with intermediate ones in the middle. Near the bottom were those which often died from negligence.

There aren’t many things which are critical that I keep up with since retiring and that’s a blessing. When I leave home in the mornings to head to the farm, I try to remember to take the four Ws – water, watch, wallet, and walkie talkie. The 4W system works terrific as a memory prompt except when I forget to review the list.  Or on those mornings when I can’t remember what all the Ws stand for.

I’m beginning to suspect the new memory I got so excited about isn’t coming. That same phone message has shown up several more times with no instructions, just pictures. Apparently, the new memory is created by looking at old pictures. I’m fine with that too as I love good memories both old and new.

At first it was a little disappointing to realize I’m not getting the new memory I expected, but a little time will no doubt take that off my mind. My memory may be less than stellar, but my forgetter is working better than ever. Isn’t it wonderful when good news greets us unexpectedly?   

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New Year’s Resolutions

I don’t recall ever making a list of New Year’s Resolutions. If I did, the goals were not memorable enough to stay with me. The year 2020, however, has left many of us wanting a fresh start.

COVID-19 has taken a great toll on families, friends, and people around the globe. It’s affected our neighbors across the street and those we’ll never meet. Political divides are severe and lacking civility, with the bridge to connect that widening chasm in great need of repair. And those are just two of many concerns that beleaguered the year to which we’re saying goodbye.

The problems looming before us are massive, numerous, and not easily solved, but dwelling on such difficulties can be debilitating, robbing us of our collective faith in a more promising future. So, for 2021 I’ve decided to focus on a few personal areas where change is both needed and possible.

My initial thought was to find easy targets such as eating more dark chocolate for its potential health benefits. There are days when I only have a couple of bite-sized square shaped Dove dark chocolates that come in the red wrapper with the upbeat quotes inside. But this didn’t seem like the right year to aim at low aspirations so I’m looking upward instead.

There are three resolutions on my current list which will require significant effort. I can’t say with confidence that I’ll follow through, but maybe writing them down will help me stay on track.

First, I resolve not to rush through my daily devotions. Sometimes I read without reflecting as my eyes race toward the bottom of a page or I hastily scroll down my computer screen. It’s easy to slip into a routine of going through the motions without absorbing the message, of being content to scan a formation of words rather than seek a transformation of heart.

Denison’s Forum sends a daily email devotional titled “First15” which is consistently worthwhile. The name suggests that we give God the first fifteen minutes of our day. That may not always be practical, and fifteen minutes isn’t a formula for the perfect amount of time, but the concept is solid. Morning, noon, or night will work if it’s a priority and not something we reluctantly squeeze into our schedules.

Secondly, I resolve to improve my prayer life by asking less of what I want from God and more of what God wants from me. And I’ll try to stop talking long enough to listen. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” It’s hard to still my wandering mind.

Selling computers with Burroughs Corporation in Tallahassee, Florida, was my first job after college. Burroughs provided quality training, which admittedly I often ignored. One thing I recall being emphasized was how to close a sale. Their mantra was, “Ask for the order then shut up.”

When we ask for an order but get no response our tendency is to break the awkward silence by restarting the conversation. That’s also my tendency in prayer, jumping ahead with my own solutions rather than giving God the opportunity to answer. There’s no doubt I’ve interrupted His replies with my own suggestions. And there have been too many times when I asked for His input, but what I really wanted was His blessing on plans I’d already made.

Resolution number three is to do more for those who can’t pay me back. Mr. Heard George, son of United States Senator Walter F. George, was a member of Vienna First Baptist Church when Jane and I joined in 1976. Someone, I don’t remember who, told me that he regularly prayed, “God help me to help someone who can’t do anything for me.” That prayer captures the essence of what Jesus taught. He even said that when we help the least among us, it’s like we’re doing it for Him personally. (Matthew 25:31-46) When we think in those terms, serving others is not a burden but a privilege.   

My approach to accomplishing these resolutions has changed while I’ve been writing today’s column. I thought these were goals I could reach on my own but realize now I can’t do it alone. So, I’ll ask for some help, then try to be still until The Helper speaks. And occasionally, if my progress is substantial enough to warrant some reward, I may have an extra piece of chocolate.  

Happy New Year and God bless.            

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Biscuits

A week before Thanksgiving my pastor, Brian Leverett, sent a churchwide message about the approaching holiday. He invited us to text him a brief recording about things we are thankful for. The short clips were to be compiled into a video for further sharing.             

I promptly decided to procrastinate, a technique I’ve become adept at through years of practice. Thanksgiving is now in the rearview mirror and the radiant light of the Christmas Star is at its yearly peak. It won’t be long until 2020 is left behind as the midnight band plays Auld Lang Syne. The time has passed to submit the video Brian wanted, but it’s never too late to reflect on life’s blessings.

There are several reasons I didn’t get around to making a recording. One factor is that the camera on my phone causes my hair to look thin and gray. I’ve had this phone for a while, so hopefully the newer models have resolved whatever technology issue this may be. The uncanny thing is that Jane’s phone camera does the same thing. It’s baffling how a kid like me sometimes resembles a senior citizen. 

The main reason for my procrastination, however, was that I couldn’t decide on what to say that was more personal than generic. There’s much in the way of broad topics for which I am thankful. Faith, family, friends, health, and freedom come quickly to mind. But I wanted to say something more specific, so I delayed for a while and just now got around to starting a list. 

One thing I’m thankful for is that my mother, who recently turned 94, is still making biscuits. If someone tells you that frozen biscuits are just as good as homemade, don’t believe them. Those are the same people who claim yogurt tastes like ice cream and serve stuffing instead of dressing. They rave over seven bean salads and broccoli casseroles. Some have even experimented with tofu.

Special circumstances, I will acknowledge, may cause bought biscuits and those made from scratch somewhat challenging to differentiate. I learned that at a noontime get-together hosted by the late Murphy Head a couple of decades ago.

In addition to keeping a few cars on his lot, Murphy had a furniture store packed wall to wall with new and used items. About twice a year he’d invite eight or ten friends to join him for fried rabbit. I guess you could say there was a hare in our food. We’d sit around showroom tables and enjoy mounded plates of tender meat with grits, gravy, coleslaw, and biscuits.

Joe Smith, a part-time employee of Murphy’s, did the cooking and consistently served outstanding fare. It was at one of those dinners when Joe’s biscuits, always excellent, were even better than usual. I complimented him as we were eating and wondered aloud if he’d used a new recipe. He didn’t have much to say in response and seemed a bit grumpy, which struck me as odd.

As I was about to leave, Joe was cleaning up the small kitchen area. I told him again how much I enjoyed the meal. “Everything was delicious,” I said. “Those biscuits may have been the best you’ve ever made.”

Joe’s manner was rather subdued. He didn’t look up from the stovetop he was cleaning as he replied. “They were bought biscuits,” he mumbled.

That’s when I noticed a stack of Styrofoam trays. There was a sinking feeling in my gut for a split second. But then, perhaps by divine intervention, I found a glimmer of hope to escape an awkward situation.

“Well, Joe,” I said, “it must have been your special gravy that made the biscuits taste so good.” Joe nodded and offered a forgiving smile. And I left Murphy’s place that day with a story and a lesson.

I had planned to include several things for which I’m thankful in this column, but I took a detour on a one-lane road and decided to enjoy the scenery. Maybe I’ll expound on other blessings later. Meanwhile I’m thankful for the thousands of biscuits my mother has made. Lord willing, I’ll have two more tomorrow with melted butter and pear preserves.

Happy belated birthday Mama, and Merry Christmas too. I’m glad you’re enjoying your gift. Let me know when the supply gets low and I’ll bring another bag of White Lily self-rising flour.

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