A Picture of Faith

I’ve been thinking lately about some pictures related to faith which I’ve seen over the years. Some were framed and displayed on furniture or walls. Others were imprinted only on the canvas of my memory. Most are dated, but one is recent. It’s a picture of faith I won’t soon forget.

The earliest faith-related portrayal I recall is one of Jesus. The depiction of Him was in a small plastic frame on top of the dresser in my grandmother’s bedroom. I think she bought it as part of a school fundraiser, probably from one of her older grandchildren. It was a typical representation of Christ, his long brown hair and beard having a hint of red. He was dressed in white and walking on water, I think, but that’s more of a guess than a fact.

It would make a nice story to share how that little print changed my life, but I can’t claim that’s the case. In that same room, however, was a recurring scene that still inspires me, a living picture I saw on countless occasions. It’s an unframed but precious memory of Mama Joiner reading her Bible.

Whether she followed a plan or chose her own passages I don’t know. What I do know is that she read her Bible a lot. The picture of faith I frequently saw was of her in a wooden rocking chair reading in a soft whisper. Her voice was barely audible, not loud enough for me to distinguish the words. Whispered reading was perhaps just a habit, or maybe it helped her avoid distractions.

Finding Mama Joiner reading her Bible was a sight familiar to most of us who were close to her. She died in 1969, before camera use was common in our family. It would have been a wonderful snapshot – a kind-hearted silver-haired lady with her braid in a tight bun, holding a frayed Bible in her lap.

Years ago, I wrote a song that compared Mama Joiner’s Bible to my own. The lyrics were closer to the truth than I’d like to admit. “Grandmama’s Bible is old and it’s worn. There’s a picture of Jesus, the corners are torn. Mine is still shiny, was a gift from the church. It looks almost new because it’s not read enough.”

A long time had passed since I’d thought about that tune. It’s not an exceptional song by any means, but I need to keep singing it to remind me of a slowly fading scene. The distant memory of her in that chair conveys almost perfectly who she was, a quiet humble lady with a strong faith.

Quite unexpectedly I was reminded of Mama Joiner on the first of May while attending a funeral. A longtime family friend, Mr. W. H. “Finn” Cross, went to Harmony Baptist Church that day for the last time. He was a regular there since well before I came along. If the doors were open, Mr. Finn was present. It didn’t matter if cotton was hanging precariously from the bolls or if peanuts needed picking. Even if heavy rains were only hours away, worship was his priority.

Mr. Finn was an exceptional man in many ways. He was an outstanding farmer and adept businessman. His love for family was obvious and incredible. He enjoyed fishing and hunting about as much as anyone can. A picture of him in any of those elements could have shown some things he did and helped to describe him. But the photograph beside his casket showed who he was and what defined him.

Donna, his daughter-in-law, had discreetly taken the picture. He was in his chair reading, completely unaware of her silent admiration. His open Bible was resting on his lap as he held it with both hands. He was looking down, still seeking at a very late point in life to have fellowship with the One he looked up to.

That photograph has caused me to do some serious thinking. I’ve been asking myself what kind of picture would be most appropriate by my casket. I’m finding it hard to give a completely honest answer. The one thing I know with great certainty is there’s plenty of room for improvement. What I don’t know is if there’s plenty of time.

Mr. Finn’s portrait touched my heart in a couple of places. First, it reflected the godly example I’ve seen in him all my life. And secondly, it took me back to tender memories of Mama Joiner in an almost identical pose long ago. Those two pictures of faith now gently prod me toward something I need to work on. The cover of my Bible looks much better than it should.

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Puppy Love

Several decades ago, one of my hobbies was songwriting. My small collection is aptly titled “Songs You Won’t Hear on the Radio.” Most had a country flavor with a touch of humor, the kind of novelty recordings which Ray Stevens, Roger Miller, and Tom T. Hall were known for at the time. I would have sent those fellows some demo tapes, but they were doing okay without my help.

One of my favorite lines posed a question from a distraught young suitor to the lady of his dreams. He asked his impassive girlfriend, “If this is only puppy love why am I crying like a dog?”

I thought about that song when Jane and I were recently granted temporary custody of a five-week-old long-haired Dachshund. We knew she would be staying inside, a major event for people who are not accustomed to house-dwelling canines. We’ve loved a series of dogs, but they have lived where God first put their kind – in the great outdoors. Our four-legged friends have been fine with that arrangement and quite appreciative of their five-star accommodations and world-class buffet.  

Dude, the gentle mongrel who moved here from California last year, climbed over our chain-link fence multiple times when he first arrived. He would repeatedly ring our doorbell until we answered. Dude had been accustomed to living indoors in Los Angeles, but that was by necessity. His neighbors didn’t appreciate the charm of a dog who barks the same tune for hours without taking a break.   

Once Dude realized how good his situation in rural Georgia is, he stopped climbing. Now there are days he doesn’t even want to leave his shady yard to take a walk. We have to promise extra treats to get him through the gate. That’s partly because Dude is concerned he may miss a FedEx or UPS delivery. Weed eaters, gun shots, and motorcycles also rank high on his list of excuses for incessant barking.

Jane had a look of concern when she told me a tiny bundle of fur would be living in our dog-free zone for a few days. The upside, however, was that Honey was bringing a grandchild with her. A dog in the house is more palatable when the deal is properly packaged.

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t pet several dogs, scratch behind their ears, and tell them how good they are. But it had been a while since I’d held a puppy in my lap. I had forgotten there aren’t many things in life that can compete with such a simple pleasure.

Like a billion other puppies, Honey is irresistibly affectionate. She’d just been separated from her mother and siblings and we knew that had to be traumatic. Her mom had stopped feeding Honey, but I don’t blame her. A full set of sharp pegs had caused a sore spot in their relationship.

That reminds me of something the late Mr. Emmett “Pa” Stephens said about his childhood. Mr. Emmett was Vienna’s resident comedian with his quick wit and easy smile. One of his memorable stories was about being raised as the youngest of eleven children. With a mischievous grin he’d say that his mother weaned him so he could start school. I think he was kidding but I was afraid to ask.            

Honey missed her mother. I guess that’s why she chewed on my fingers hard enough to make me wonder if I’d still be able to play the piano. More than once I was tempted to stop her, but I couldn’t refuse her pleading brown eyes. She nibbled her way right into my heart.   

There’s something magical about taking care of a puppy. It provides a respite from pandemics, politics, and all sorts of trouble. For a while there was nothing more important than helping that sweet little critter know she was loved. People need the same thing but don’t always know how to ask. Or they may not know that anyone cares unless we tell them.                        

We didn’t shed any tears when Honey looked through the car window as she was leaving. I’ll admit, though, it wasn’t easy saying goodbye. Puppy love is a lot more powerful than it sounds.    

My thinking is we’ll probably always have a door between us and our dogs and hide the key where they can’t find it. But it did feel good getting a close-up view of such tender innocence.

Honey will be coming back for a visit before long and we’ll be glad to see her. Meanwhile I’ll keep humming a simple tune while pondering a question that’s not easily answered. If this is only puppy love, why am I crying like a dog?

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Daylight Savings Time

Governor Brian Kemp signed legislation in April to make Daylight Savings Time permanent in Georgia. Federal action, however, is now required for implementation.

One of my regular readers suggested I encourage our elected officials in Washington, D.C. to get busy and make it happen. My other regular reader said he doesn’t care which time we use but he’s tired of resetting his clocks twice a year. That’s my feeling too, so I’ve decided to support the push toward DST, unless there’s an option to split the difference.       

First, however, I should acknowledge the strong possibility that not a single person in our nation’s capital reads my column. There is a high probability that none of the power brokers along the Potomac are interested in my opinions. I shouldn’t complain though, as I feel the same way about them.

I’m kidding of course, except when I’m not. The truth is my confidence in people on either side of the aisle is at an all-time low. There’s a huge leadership void in both parties. Partisan politics have become the norm. The days of eloquent statesmen engaged in meaningful debate toward negotiated solutions are gone. A good referee would throw both teams out of the game. Or maybe he wouldn’t if he saw who’s waiting to play. The benches are full but sorely lacking in talent.   

I don’t know all the pros and cons of DST. Before I retired from banking, I enjoyed having that extra hour of daylight after getting home in the afternoon. It concerned me, however, that small children were waiting for buses in darkness or needed flashlights for their walks to school.   

Someone, I assume, has asked the kids what they think. It might be worth polling their parents too, but the youngest among us give the most honest answers. It takes a while for children to learn that truth has consequences. But they eventually learn by watching us that it’s easier to keep quiet.       

The recent mention of DST reminded me of a lady named Ida Mae Sanders who was dear to our family. She helped my wife keep our home tidy when our triplets were in their formative years. That was several decades ago, but it’s still easy to hear her laugher when she referred to DST as “that fast time.”

“I’ll take you home whenever you’re ready,” I would say. “I got to hurry up,” she’d laughingly respond. “We’re on that fast time now!” Her running comment was funny to both of us although I’m not sure why. Thankfully, laughter between good friends seldom needs an explanation.

“Time is sure flying by,” I’d heartily agree. My affirmation didn’t really mean anything. It was simply a way to extend our grins for a moment longer.

Ida Mae didn’t drive, so Jane or I would usually pick her up and take her home. Sometimes, however, she rode with Mr. Willie “Taxi” Green. Although well into his senior years, he owned and operated Vienna’s sole transportation service. His unmarked car was easy to spot around town at places like Stephens Super Foods and Forbes Drugs. For three dollars more he’d take you to Cordele. Another three bills would get you home.   

Rather than having a meter on his dashboard Mr. Willie used the one affixed to the top of his neck. When I once asked how long he’d been in the taxi business he abruptly replied, “I don’t have a taxi!” Then he spoke with soft caution although the two of us were alone. “I just haul people,” he said.

Having a taxi would have required a permit, extra insurance, upgraded driver’s license, standardized meter, and adherence to regulations written by people who had never driven a cab. Riding in a taxi would have cost folks a lot more than his standard fares. His business model may not have been quite legal, but he took a lot of people where they wanted to go and didn’t charge much to get them there.  

My rambling recollections don’t have anything to do with whether Daylight Savings Time should last all year long or not, but that topic reminded me of Ida Mae’s cheerful disposition. And reminiscing about her led me to think about Mr. Willie’s practical approach to getting things done.

I hope the officials in Washington, D.C. will allow DST for Georgia. But what I wish for most is that they would act more like Ida Mae and Mr. Willie. Cheerful demeanors are in short supply among our nation’s leaders. And practical solutions now seem impractical. If that doesn’t change soon it may be too late because I believe Ida Mae was right. “We’re on that fast time now.”  

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Buried Treasure

I’ve always thought it would be thrilling to find buried treasure. The odds of unearthing a concealed cache, however, are markedly slim. That’s why I’ve never been inspired to do any serious digging. Confucius was right – “Man who seeks buried treasure needs good shovel.”    

Shoveling has never been my strong suit, a limitation I’ve accepted with remarkable ease. Thankfully, some treasures don’t require moving dirt. We only need to take a close look around.

In early March, Jane and I began clearing some underbrush and vines in our favorite woods. A small spring-fed stream runs continuously. Two other branches merge into it but go dry during the summer. Winter and early spring are ideal for leisurely strolls by the gently flowing brooks.  

We love to walk along the bank and see how trickling water gradually reshapes fragments of fallen trees. Nature’s slow chisel can transform common wood into works of art when man doesn’t interfere. No one carves as meticulously as God.

Nandinas, palmettos, and assorted vines are what we’ve been trying to get under control. There’s no telling how the first nandina took root in those woods. Perhaps it was an offspring from a nearby yard since nandinas were once a favored plant. Their bright red berries add a nice touch to flower beds. When little nandinas go play in the forest, however, they tend to run wild.

Years ago, we noticed an increasing number of them growing along the streams. We talked about the need to get rid of them, but our efforts were modest and sporadic. They took advantage of being ignored and now cover acres of land. Some are taller than me and rather intimidating.

We’ve been using hedge clippers, hoping to prevent another crop of berries from drifting downstream. Our plan is to keep cutting, then spray a heavy dose of Nomo Nandina as soon as it’s invented. The challenge is trying to save the wild trillium and rain lilies that keep the culprits company. It’s problematic when good plants and bad plants share a bed. Bad plants won’t leave unless they get a better offer. It’s best not to ever let them in.          

Palmettos are also an invasive species. When there were only a few of them scattered along the streams, their sharp fronds added a Floridian flavor to the forest. But now they are steadily expanding their prickly domain and intent on sticking around.

The vines we’re cutting have been somewhat of a surprise. There’s kudzu around the edges of the woods and occasional runners from poison ivy or oak. The most prolific, however, are the bullises. In my childhood they were already big enough for Tarzan to swing across the stream. Their twisted trunks are now massive and admittedly have a certain charm.

Until this spring, I had not realized what type vines they are. Or maybe what I once knew had been forgotten. Some have reached fifty feet or more in their upward journey on century old trees. Most of the shoots and green leaves are so high they are out of sight. Their tangled canopies are thick enough to block much of the sunlight. I guess we had grown accustomed to walking in the shadows.     

I’ve cut dozens of bullis vines by hand this spring. Others were so big I used a chainsaw. My plan is to give them a second chance. A severe pruning will hopefully result in fruit low enough to pick if we get there before the deer and bears. If we overlap, the bears can go first. Or my wife if she wants to.

As we were working along the stream one April day, I saw an outline of a large wheel in a pool of slow-moving water. Even submerged in silt and barely visible, Jane knew it would be ideal for an outdoor table. I understood my role when she said, “Please don’t hurt your back.”

So, I pretended snakes were not yet in season and waded into knee-deep water. The wheel is solid iron, three feet across, has six spokes, and weighs more than I do. It’s value in dollars is not much but measured in sentiment it’s immense. Moments of joy don’t wear price tags.

Things of great worth are sometimes found by digging. Others are lying in shallow streams or walking beside us yet not always seen. We don’t have to go far to find life’s finest treasures. We only need to take a close look around. No one carves as meticulously as God.                    

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Kinfolk

Kinfolk, a word commonly employed during my youth, is seldom heard in conversations of today. I don’t guess it matters when an old term slides gently toward obscurity, but that one landed on a soft spot in my heart a few weeks ago. It reminded me of something important.      

My 94-year-old mother has a great-niece, Angela, who lives in Florida. She called Mama in late March to ask about coming to Georgia for a visit. Covid has put a damper on seeing family as well as friends, so it had been too long since we had “laid eyes on her” as people used to say. Armed with two shots of Moderna, we were delighted that Angela and her husband, Jack, wanted to make a trip north.

Jack, we found out later, had asked Angela what she’d like to do on her birthday. She had said, “Go see my kinfolk!” She’s seven years younger than me, too young I would have thought to appreciate such an ancient word. Maybe that’s why it triggered a smile that stretched from my lips to my liver.

Mama’s nieces, Ann and Priscilla, joined us for a small version of a family reunion. With my brother, Jimmy, there were only seven of us, but we laughed enough for thirty-five people. That’s about how many family members used to pack into Grandmama Hill’s house in the fifties and sixties.

Every seat was filled as well as the porch chairs and sometimes the steps, yet my grandmother never seemed flustered by the commotion. She was so busy counting her blessings there wasn’t time for worry. I don’t know who deserves credit for the maxim, “Let gratitude be your attitude,” but I was blessed to be a grandson of someone who had those words etched into her heart.       

At our recent gathering we all marveled at how Grandmama could magically squeeze folks into her modest home. The house was literally overflowing yet never felt crowded. I didn’t fully appreciate back then that love easily trumps practicality.     

Mrs. Ethel Nelson, a wonderful neighbor and tremendous cook, was often in charge of the small kitchen. After we were too full to think about taking another bite of anything, she’d bring out some warm egg custard pies. Miss Ethel’s pies were so good it led me to sympathize with Adam and Eve.

When gnats would attack me in the cotton field, I’d become aggravated with that first couple for getting kicked out of Eden. Those egg custard pies, however, helped me understand some things are irresistible unless we have a Helper.   

The seven of us talked and laughed about Angela’s sweet, sassy, beautiful mother, Sara. And we reminisced about Mama’s brothers, Emmett and Jack, plus other family members no longer with us. Someone mentioned the metal pipe which was wedged between two trees in Grandmama’s back yard. Mama’s nephew, Ray, used to grip it and swing all the way around like an Olympic gymnast.     

Ray, almost ten years my senior, let me tag along on some of his adventures. I was with him when he went to get his first car. It was old and Grandaddy pulled it home with a chain behind his truck while Ray steered and braked. A few weeks later, Ray took me on a really fast ride toward Pinehurst that remained our secret until now. He was a hero in my young eyes and still was when leukemia took him away too soon.      

Jackie, Ray’s older brother, raced cars on a Cochran track. Jackie could have been the next Fireball Roberts if he’d had more horses under the hood. His need for speed may be why Uncle Sam found him a ride in the skies. He landed his helicopter in Mama’s yard a few times. That was against Army rules, but the promise of hot biscuits made the risk worth taking. Jackie’s rulebook allowed exceptions for family.      

After our sumptuous dinners Grandaddy Hill would sit in his big porch rocker and relax with an oversized glass of ice water. The men would join him there, as did the boys until we headed toward the woods to follow the spring-fed streams. No one except our friend Spottie was ever bitten by a snake. I’m not sure how we missed out, but a tan dog of mixed heritage deserved much of the credit.         

I’ve rambled along today and not offered much worth remembering. I think what I’m trying to say is we need to spend time with family and friends while we can. Whether we have a full house or just a handful, either way is likely to bring about some laughter and warm our hearts a bit.

Angela helped remind me of something important that’s easy to neglect. Sometimes we need to go see our kinfolk.

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Three Station TV – Part 3

This will probably be my last column about TV shows from childhood unless something later begs to be addressed. Walter Cronkite and Andy Griffith were mentioned in the first two articles. Today I’ll try to wrap things up with a brief look at some of my favorites from fifty plus years ago. It was the best of times for television worth watching.

I Love Lucy has to be on the list of great series along with The Dick Van Dyke Show. I’m not sure if those situational comedies are still available for viewing but they should be. They prove that hilarity doesn’t require vulgarity, crude language, or using “Oh my God!” as a punchline. Their scenarios were based around happily married couples whose amusing interactions gave us ample opportunities for laughter. They also helped us understand it’s okay to laugh at ourselves.

The Danny Thomas Show was another of the clean comedy genre where you didn’t have to wonder if it was okay for everyone to watch. The truth is if it’s not okay for everyone, it’s probably not okay for anyone. My Three Sons, Leave it to Beaver, and Father Knows Best, fit that same category.

A few years later The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Gilligan’s Island captured our attention. On December 31, 2020, actress Dawn Wells died at age 82. She played Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island, the cute and wholesome girl-next-door type that suited her perfectly. It was nice when many of television’s characters were good examples for the rest of us. If that same boat got stranded on an uncharted island in 2021, the crew would no doubt have a much different script. The theme of much of today’s fare seems to be how low can we go. As close as we are to the bottom, I don’t think we’ve hit it yet.

Perry Mason gave us the best you could find in the courtroom. Granted, the judge and the opposing attorney allowed him considerable leeway, but that was okay because the man with the gavel and those in white shirts at the other table all wanted to find the truth. My guess is there were some young men and women who became fine lawyers because they were inspired by Perry Mason’s integrity. He didn’t chase ambulances or compromise ethics. Justice seems to be steadily shifting downward on the list of motives for going to court. Money is at the top, I believe.

There were plenty of cowboy heroes like Roy Rogers, U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon, and The Lone Ranger. Roy showed us how to mount a horse with a running start. He drank coffee with Gabby Hayes instead of hanging out in the local saloon. There was a lot to like about Roy whether on screen or off.

Matt Dillon didn’t seem fast enough on the draw in the opening scene of Gunsmoke, but the other guy fell so I guess he was accurate. Matt was an excellent lawman, a man of courage and compassion. His close friendship with Miss Kitty never advanced to an upstairs bedroom in The Long Branch Saloon. That wouldn’t happen today, except for maybe in a couple of early episodes.

The Lone Ranger intrigued me by how well a hero’s identity could be disguised with a mask. Seems like someone would have figured it out and been able to answer the weekly question, “Who was that masked man?” I used to wonder where he got his silver bullets and how he earned enough money to pay for them. He was a good guy fighting bad guys and taught us to respect Native Americans, Indians as they were called then. Tonto was not only Kemosabe’s capable sidekick, he was also his best friend.

The earliest show I remember watching is The Highway Patrol starring Broderick Crawford. I don’t recall anything about it other than seeing Mr. Crawford on TV and hearing the sirens when someone was in a hurry. My main recollection is of our family going a few hundred yards up the road once a week to watch those patrolmen with my grandparents while we ate popcorn. It reminds me that watching TV can be time well spent when the storylines have value and the entertainment is clean.

It’s hard to say what the most important lesson I learned from early television is, but maybe it’s to be careful with what we watch. A lot of what I saw back then secured an enduring place in my memory bank. That would be just as true if the shows had been trashy.

Perhaps I’m being sentimental, but there’s one thing I can say with confidence about the bygone era of three-station TV. It was the best of times for television worth watching.            

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Three Station TV – Part 2

It’s hard to know where to begin when exploring lessons from television shows of my childhood. I was born in 1952. Middle income families in our part of rural Georgia had one black and white TV which got three channels. Remote controls were unheard of and changing stations required a trip outside to turn the antenna. It was a hard life.  

Now we have four television sets and a thousand programs, yet it’s more challenging to find something worth watching. I love The Andy Griffith Show but even the best reruns eventually need a rest. That’s probably a good series to start with, though, as it’s widely acclaimed for weaving threads of value into the fabric of entertainment. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t believe that happens much today.

Others have written extensively about the many lessons from Mayberry. Our church even had a Sunday night study years ago which lasted several months. Here are some reflections of mine that I hope remind you of a few of your own. If you somehow missed watching that series, then start today and don’t skip any episodes, especially the ones when Barney Fife was the deputy.

There are countless lessons from that beloved comedy, but the consistent theme that most impressed me was how Andy treated others with respect. No sheriff in his right mind would have hired Barney or kept him on payroll. Barney was like a fountain of bad decisions that never stopped flowing. He made puddles of trouble which Andy was constantly mopping up.

Andy was often frustrated by Barney’s failure to use common sense, especially his insistence on enforcing the law exactly by the codes he could quote from memory. Barney had a knack for creating blunders. His performance as a lawman was so precarious he was only allowed to carry one bullet, a single cartridge kept in his pocket. Barney was by any measure a terrible deputy.

Yet Andy kept finding ways to make Barney look more capable than he was, giving him credit he didn’t deserve for solving crimes, helping Barney avoid public humiliation from some of his worst mistakes. Being sheriff would have been so much easier with a real deputy. But what Andy showed us was how to be a real friend.

All of us know a Barney who could use an Andy, someone who loves them just as they are. Or maybe we’ve walked in Barney’s shoes and had an Andy who gave us a boost of confidence. Andy kept on forgiving and patiently coaching, focusing on Barney’s potential instead of his failures. That’s somewhat akin to what Jesus does for us. No matter how often we fail or how far we fall, He offers us a fresh start. He invites us to walk with Him and lights the path we should take.

The other ongoing theme which struck me as notable was the lessons Andy and his son Opie learned from each other. It was usually Andy, the wise father, who helped Opie understand the importance of such virtues as honesty and kindness. Sometimes, however, Opie was the teacher and Andy the student.

One incident that stands out is when Opie was selling his bicycle to a friend without mentioning it had some defects. Andy sidetracked the deal when he pointed out how the chain kept breaking and the tires going flat. Opie paid close attention to his dad. When Andy decided he might sell their home, Opie told the married couple interested in buying it everything which needed repairing.

An irritated father began to give his young son a scolding. That’s when Opie innocently explained he didn’t realize honesty applied just to kids and not to grown-ups. Isaiah 11:6 says, “And a little child shall lead them.” It was Opie’s time to lead that day. Children sometimes do that if we’ll listen.  

Even though he was an exceptionally fine person, Andy had some flaws that showed up occasionally. Maybe that’s why it’s such an impactful series. Andy wasn’t perfect, but we knew his heart was in the right place.

We all stumble at times and need an Andy to help steady us. And sometimes we need an Opie to put things in perspective. There are plenty of good lessons in Mayberry and other shows of my childhood, lessons of value within wholesome entertainment. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t believe that happens much today. There is one thing, though, which I’m sure about. It was a good life.

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Three Station TV

Sometimes I think we were better off when there were only three television channels to choose from. It’s possible, though, I’ve been seduced by the sirens of bygone days. Nostalgia has a way of enhancing old memories. Like southern tea, the flavor grows sweeter with time.  

When I asked readers for column ideas a few months ago, a teenage girl named Megan sent me an email. She suggested I reflect on lessons learned from television shows of my childhood. Her idea immediately struck me as one with great potential. That’s my unbiased opinion and has nothing to do with Megan being my granddaughter.

Also, I was appreciative that her response proved I’m not totally devoid of youthful readers. Megan will no doubt win the Joiner’s Corner Young Reader Award in 2021. Because of her, I can publicly assert that my weekly audience ranges from ages 15 to 99.

Mr. Charles Speight, who turned 99 on April 2, is the column’s most senior reader as far as I know. He was teaching a men’s Sunday School class until COVID hit, plus visiting friends and staying actively engaged around his hometown of Unadilla. Trying to stay safe during a pandemic has changed his routine, as it has for many others. I trust he knows how much his friends miss seeing him. We’re all looking forward to next year’s lighting of one hundred candles.

Three television channels were available to choose from when I was a child. Channel 13 WMAZ, a CBS station based in Macon, was our mainstay. With our outside antenna aimed to the north their signal was as clear as the weather. I don’t remember what time they began broadcasting in the morning or stopped at night, but when leaving the air they showed a cartoon drawing of a cat. It never occurred to me to ask how that kitty found stardom. Now I wonder if there was a story and a name. The cat had a friendly smile, but we were dog people so I didn’t understand the rarity of a feline’s grin.

To see Albany’s WALB Channel 10 NBC affiliate our antenna had to be turned to the west. One person would go outside and twist the metal pole with a pipe wrench, while another would watch the screen for when the picture reached its peak. “Whoa!” we’d shout through the window. “Too far! Turn it back a little. Not that much! Turn it back the other way. Not that much the other way. Stop! That’s it.”  

Channel 9 in Columbus, an ABC station, was our third option. Our antenna only needed minor tweaking to switch between Albany and Columbus, but the Channel 9 station was farther away so the images weren’t as sharp. Macon and Albany had a reliable color spectrum of black and white, except when experiencing technical difficulty. Columbus, however, was often gray with wavering lines of static.

I’m not sure which networks carried the individual shows we watched, except for the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. There aren’t any special moments during his long career which I recall with clarity. What I remember best is how he concluded each broadcast by saying, “And that’s the way it is.” When Uncle Walter said that’s how it is, we believed him. He gave us no reason not to.  

The most trusted man in America brought us the news as it was, not as he or his corporate bosses decided it should be. That’s seldom the case today as most tilt left while some lean right. It’s rare to find reporting without any spin. Some filter the facts with quiet deception while others prove their points with angry shouts. Uncle Walter didn’t need to raise his voice. Truth doesn’t change with volume.

There were several old television series I planned to mention but it’s about time to put the cat on the screen. Maybe we’ll get to them later. What I mostly wanted to do was thank Megan for a good idea. And to let her know that while writing this column, I became aware of a lesson I learned from early TV. Walter Cronkite helped me understand the value of a having a trusted source for news.

Headlines of today are offered in 50 shades of distortion. When a largely unchecked social media platform is added, sometimes truth gets pushed off the charts. There’s never been a greater need for discernment. That’s true whether you’re 15, 99, or somewhere in between or beyond.   

I don’t know if we were better off when there were only three television channels to choose from, but I sure do miss Walter Cronkite. I miss the simple telling of truth. And that’s the way it is.      

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Throwing Rocks

“I threw a rock into the air, tossed with very little care. It hit a limb I did not see, conked my wife who then conked me.”

If you think that’s bad poetry, you should have seen the original version. The first draft was written when I awoke during the night with an idea for a column. Some of my best ideas come when I should be sleeping. Some of my worst ideas come then also. It’s too early to know which category this column may end up in, but it struck me that when a man hits his wife in the head with a rock, their story should be told.

It was a nice afternoon in early March. The weather was still cool enough that snakes were mostly dormant, or at least sluggish enough they’d be slow to strike. Jane and I went to our favorite woods to take a walk by a spring-fed stream, planning to clip some unwanted nandinas and palmettos which keep spreading. We first stopped at the edge to cut a few kudzu vines. Clipping won’t kill kudzu but will at least aggravate it, making the pest renew its quest for more territory.

Jane was leaning over while using a pair of hand clippers at ground level. I had a battery-operated hedge trimmer for vines, briars, and such. There were a few scattered rocks in the area, none of them large, which I decided to toss toward a pile about ten feet beyond my wife. Two perfectly arched pitches sailed well above her head and landed exactly where they were supposed to. The third, however, didn’t cooperate. It ricocheted off a limb I hadn’t noticed and hit her on the head hard enough to bring tears. I think she cried too.

She didn’t really conk me back. She didn’t even pout, go rest in the truck, or agree for me to take her home. We had just begun an afternoon of something we enjoy, and Jane was determined to stay. Her head hurt badly enough it would have stopped me from working, but she kept clipping as I kept apologizing. It’s an awful feeling when your carelessness leads to someone getting hurt. If it’s someone you love, it feels even worse.

The pain of Jane’s headache was slightly relieved by the opportunity to rib me a bit, reminding me then and several times since of the knot I put on her head. For over a week I was on my best behavior and did a commendable job of catching up on long-delayed projects around our home. Then the lump disappeared along with her headache and life returned to normal. It was a good day on Coley Crossing.

No lasting harm was done, so things worked out okay. But our misadventure poignantly reminded me of how quickly accidents can happen, of how tempting it is to throw stones without giving much thought to where they may land.

In early childhood I broke a kid’s tooth by accident. It happened at Lake Blackshear at a joint church social of Harmony Baptist and Smyrna Methodist. Our congregations were separated by fifty feet and a little water but joined by friendships, a love of fried chicken, and a common Savior.

Our group of rambunctious boys was rambling through a pine thicket when I reared back with my right arm to throw an empty drink bottle at a tree. What I didn’t know is that Neal Horne was right behind me. How the bottle missed his lip while chipping off half a front tooth I don’t know. Neal was a forgiving soul who didn’t point his finger in blame or offer to loosen a tooth of mine. He didn’t even complain.

There have been other careless things I’ve done, and I may not be finished yet. But what I’m guilty of more often is recklessly tossing words around. Whether said with intention, such as an angry retort, or purely by accident, like a shot of humor that misses the mark, the pain is still real and leaves scars which are slow to heal. Rocks made of words leave wounds in the heart. Internal injuries are sometimes the most challenging to repair. So, I added more verses to the poem, hoping it will remind me to be more cautious when casting stones of any kind.

“It’s best to look before we throw, to see which way our stones may go. When rocks are thrown into the air, they never fail to land somewhere.

The same is true of what we say, words can make or ruin a day. Before we speak it’s wise to ask, what if these words are my last?”

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The Road to Auburn

“How far is it to Auburn?” I asked my friend Cletus.

“That’s hard to say,” he replied. “Depends on where you leave from.”

Jane and I were heading to Alabama the next day, so I asked Cletus about the trip, knowing he keeps a Rand McNally road map in the glovebox of his truck. Our oldest grandchild, Abby, is a student at Auburn University and was about to move from a dorm to an apartment.

According to a sign the complex was constructed in 1939. It’s still wearing what appears to be the original interior paint but possibly is more recent. The information noted a 1945 renovation. We had a one-day window to splash a fresh white coat on the doors and trim. The realtor said not to touch the walls. I suppose the owner doesn’t want a historical 80-year patina to be disturbed.

I told Cletus his answer to my query reminded me of a story I heard years ago from a fellow named Schuyler Floyd. Schuyler grew up in Camilla, Georgia, and graduated in 1970, the same year I was paroled from Unadilla High. I didn’t know Schuyler back then. It was a long way to Camilla.

A couple of decades have gone by since Schuyler and I first met. My wife and I were in Tennessee visiting her brother, Rick, at Center Hill Lake. Schuyler was among a group of friends who tied their boats together on weekends, dove into the clear waters of the Caney Fork River, then visited for hours while riding blue noodles. Not everyone can straddle a foam stallion all afternoon, but I learned from Rick’s buddies that lake-loving cowboys know how to relax in the saddle.    

Schuyler and I had a splendid time discovering how many Mitchell County friends we had in common. Several people he had grown up with were among those I later met at Valdosta State College. We had different stories about the same folks and enjoyed swapping fading tales of yesteryears’ pals.

After we filled our buckets with memories, Rick asked Schuyler to tell me a story he’d once shared with him about a man selling pigs. I don’t remember the details, but maybe this is close enough to convey the gist of it. My column policy is not to overachieve when it comes to accuracy.

The way I remember it there were two neighbors who lived on small adjoining farms a few miles outside of Camilla in the 1940s. One was named Joe and the other Bill, but I may have the names backwards.

Joe had a dilapidated two-ton truck that could haul about twenty pigs. He had a good load of number ones ready for market and asked his friend Bill to come over and help him run the hogs up the chute. Joe planned to take them to the weekly sale in Camilla on Wednesday. Bill said he’d be glad to assist, but when Wednesday came Joe had changed his mind.

“Hogs ain’t bringing but ten cents a pound in Camilla,” said Joe. “I’m gonna wait until Thursday and take them to the auction in Moultrie. They’re bringing three cents a pound more over there.”

“I don’t blame you,” said Bill. “That’ll be worth the short drive.”

On Thursday Bill showed up ready to help, only to learn Joe’s plans had changed again.

“I found out hogs are bringing 17 cents a pound up in Macon,” said Joe. “I’m gonna take them to the sale barn in Macon on Friday.”

“Whatever you say,” said Bill. “That’s a longer trip but I guess it’s worth it for 17 cents.”

When Friday came Bill drove over and found that Joe had once more decided on a different route. “I’m gonna wait until tomorrow,” said Joe, “and haul these pigs to the Saturday sale in Savannah. Hogs are bringing twenty cents a pound in Savannah!”

“That’s a mighty good price,” said Bill with hesitation, “but Joe, it’s a long way to Savannah.”

“You’re right about that,” Joe agreed. “It is a long way to Savannah. But that’s okay Bill, ‘cause time don’t mean nothing to a hog.”

I said, “Cletus, that’s how I feel about the road to Auburn. Time doesn’t mean anything to a grandfather.”

Cletus carefully folded his map and gently pressed the creases before speaking. “Then it really won’t matter where you leave from,” he said. “What matters is that you go.”

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