Simplicity

One of our grandchildren, Megan, had a school assignment in April to make a toy from items that could be found around the house. She made a little truck that was pulled by a string. It reminded me of such things from my childhood. The toys I had in the 1950s mostly came from the store, but I learned about a few homemade gadgets from my father. There’s a lot to be said for simplicity.

When I was small Daddy made a tractor for me from a wooden sewing spool. Mama had used all the thread, probably to put knee patches on my blue jeans. Daddy cut notches on the two raised sides to give the wheels more traction, then ran a rubber band through the middle. He attached the rubber band on one end with a short stick held in place by a thumb tack.

On the other end he used a kitchen match to twist the rubber band and give it tension. With twenty or so turns the tractor was ready for the lower forty. A little soap on the side of the spool reduced friction to help it run faster. I broke several matches and rubber bands in a quest for more horsepower. As Detective Harry Callahan said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

I can’t claim that tractor was an exceptional toy. It paled in comparison to a cap pistol with a fresh roll of ammo. The tractor was special though because Daddy spent time with me as he made it. When it dropped out of sight while I was plowing a soggy bottom, he handed me his pocket knife and helped me make another one. Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination.

There were marbles, yo-yos, and tops during my childhood, the same simple toys that Daddy had played with in the 1920s and 30s. Paddle balls, sling shots, and light weight airplanes were always a hit. Mrs. Lillian Lewis had a variety store in downtown Unadilla stocked with items that were perfect for a child’s budget. I never bought toys on credit there, but I’ve been told that you could. Miss Lillian was a kind-hearted lady who helped make life a little sweeter for her young patrons.

Strings were an occasional source of entertainment. In the spring Daddy’s pickup would often be loaded with bags of peanut or cotton seed. The tops of each bag were sewn together. He showed me how to pull the string so it would easily unravel. Daddy would make a seesaw, boxing ring, or crow’s foot, while patiently teaching me how to make my own.

I was thrilled when I mastered the crow’s foot. I made my share of them over the years, but I’m not sure that I still can. I’m a little reluctant to try, unsure whether I prefer to know or to wonder. With knowing there is certainty and with wondering there is possibility. There are times when it’s not clear which is the better choice.

My first bicycle was a used one. I don’t know where Daddy found it, but he spruced it up by brushing on a coat of red paint. I didn’t need the training wheels very long and I quickly outgrew the little bike. I barely remember riding it, but I realized at some point that red paint was Daddy’s way of saying he loved me. He sometimes painted memories that took me a while to appreciate.

We’d go to the beach for two nights every summer, first to Jacksonville then later to Panama City.   Daddy would float on his back and talk about the training he had as a young man in the Navy. He showed me how to relax with my face above water, and how to trap air with clothing for an improvised float. He said that currents hidden beneath a smooth surface can take us where the water is over our head. In the safety of the shallows he taught me to prepare for deeper places.

Daddy bought some nice things through the years that made life easier and more fun for our family. But it’s the simple things I value most, those times that still remind me he always cared.

June 16th is Father’s Day. It’s a good time for fathers to reflect on how our children will remember us. Instead of adding to my collection of shirts, I think I’ll ask Erin, Seth, and Carrie to each give me a piece of string. I’d like to teach them to make a crow’s foot if it’s not too late. There’s a lot to be said for simplicity.

Posted in 2018 | 9 Comments

Pumping Iron

I never dreamed I’d be able to lift 300 pounds, and certainly not of attaining such a feat as I’m approaching middle age.  On a family vacation to Tennessee many years ago, my father told me about some mountain curves that are so sharp the back end of a vehicle will pass the front.  I think he wanted me to slow down.  My road to pumping iron was not quite that crooked but it was close.

My earliest inspiration for body building came from Charles Atlas.  His ads were everywhere during my comic book addiction days in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  On the inside covers were his cartoon character ads.  They featured a skinny young guy at the beach being berated by a muscular bully.  It was even more humiliating because his girlfriend heard every word of it.

The poor fellow was depicted as a 97-pound weakling having sand kicked in his face.  I didn’t have a girlfriend, and no one had ever kicked sand on me, but I identified with that hapless string-bean of a guy.  His physique reminded me of a toothpick, and I needed twenty pounds to have that much shape.

I didn’t start off skinny.  I was a big kid with more than my share of muscle until about the third grade, then things suddenly went uphill.  Mama ordered some Levi blue jeans from Sears & Roebuck that were two inches too long.  By the time they came they were closer to my knees than my ankles.  At nighttime I could lie on my bed and see the sheet move as my feet slowly inched toward the footboard.  I slept sideways to make sure I didn’t get stuck.

Daddy made me what he called Super Dupers.  It was a glass of whole milk with two raw eggs, generously sweetened with sugar, nutmeg, and vanilla flavoring.  Daddy was so skinny as a kid that he had a floating kidney.  I don’t know if that’s a real thing or something his doctor made up, but they put bricks under the foot of his bed so his kidney would reposition itself.  And they told him to drink a lot of raw egg milkshakes.  He turned out quite solid, so it seemed like a good plan.  But I just kept growing taller and thinner.

Charles Atlas had a sculpted body and a case full of trophies.  He credited his success to “Dynamic Tension,” a sort of one man arm wrestling contest.  The picture I remember showed his left hand pressed against his right with his biceps bulging during their friendly competition.

I sent a dime in with the order form and I sure got my money’s worth.  I tore into that brown envelope and found a bounty of information explaining how to get the actual life changing workout program.  I don’t remember how much it cost, but it was more than my budget could stand.  I shrewdly developed my own Dynamic Tension routine but quickly tired of fighting with myself.

I put body building on hold until I went to college.  The weightlifting physical education class under Coach Arnold seemed like a good way to get a muscular body, but something went awry.  I began the quarter looking like a pencil and ended the same way.  The one thing I was good at was chinups.  It was a low ceiling in an old gym.  When I stood on my tip toes the bar was at eye level.  I probably hold the record for consecutive chinups at Valdosta State College, but I don’t think it was documented.

This past Christmas, Jane found some exercise equipment in our attic.  I had bought it on sale a few years earlier and had forgotten about it.  Over the next two months I gained a great appreciation for “Some Assembly Required.”  Once I figured out where the cables went it looked almost like the picture.

In early April I began pumping iron with enthusiasm.  On the tenth of May I reached a milestone by lifting 300 pounds.  Instead of taking a shortcut to success, I lifted 20 pounds for 15 repetitions.

I’m no longer the poster child for Skinny Kid Syndrome either.  A regimen of two buttered homemade biscuits with pear preserves five days a week has completely cured me.  I’m thinking it should only take a month or so to convert this newly acquired bulk into well-defined muscles.  I’m planning to buy a new swimsuit and take my girlfriend to the beach before long.  If anybody kicks sand in my face, it better be one of our grandchildren.

Posted in 2018 | 3 Comments

My Name Is Ned

Ned Baynham is a member by marriage of my wife’s family.  He lives in North Augusta, South Carolina with his wife Kay.  Ned is a big affable man with a delightfully subtle sense of humor.  We were somewhere together years ago when a woman within earshot was chatting fast enough to break the sound barrier.  Ned leaned over and said, “I think that lady may have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle.”

A co-worker, who was much younger than Ned, made a comment one day bemoaning that he was growing old.  Ned put things in perspective by telling the man, “I have socks that are older than you.”  He has a natural talent for quietly saying amusing things.

Ned grew up digging clay from the banks of the Savannah River for their family business.  His great-grandfather started South Carolina Pottery in the little town of Eureka in the late 1800s.  Ned’s grandfather and father continued that process of turning that wet river clay into pottery.  Antique pots from their kiln still surface occasionally with the company name inscribed on the bottom.

When Ned was a child their family made red clay pots as small as two inches in diameter to as large as ten inches.  He got his driver’s license at age 14 and would sometimes take their truck, loaded with thousands of pots packed in straw, to their buyers in Florida.  He and one of his brothers spent an unscheduled night in Daytona because of some trouble with the truck.  Their daddy told them not to use that line again.

On his first day of grammar school Ned’s teacher called roll.  “George Edward Baynham,” she said, to which no one responded.  “George Edward Baynham,” she repeated.  After a brief pause, she said, “That’s you Ned. You’re George Edward Baynham.”  He said, “No mam.  My name is Ned.”  It was the first time he was made aware of his given name.

Ned went to North Augusta High School.  He and his four older brothers were an integral part of North Augusta football teams for many years.  Football was the one sport their father would excuse his sons from work to participate in.  The most grueling practice was better than digging clay by hand and firing kilns to 3000 degrees.

The Shrine Bowl is an annual event that matches 33 of the top high school football players from South Carolina against 33 from North Carolina.  Ned, two of his brothers, and a first cousin were selected at different times to play.  During his senior year trip to Charlotte, Ned learned that toughness has its limitations.  Both teams visited the Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Greenville.  They were told that it could be an emotional experience and asked not to cry in front of the young patients.  Ned felt the water pooling in his eyes and excused himself to the hallway.  He found about half his teammates and coaches already there.  Some moments stay with us for a lifetime.

Ned played tight end well enough to attract the attention of Coach Warren Giese with the University of South Carolina.  In the fall of 1960 Coach Giese made a recruiting trip to meet with Ned and his good friend, Jerry Priestly, the quarterback for North Augusta.  Their high school coach, Cally Gault, went with them to Town Tavern, a fancy restaurant unlike any place Ned had ever been.

Ned and Jerry stared at the menu but had no idea what to order.  Coach Giese asked them, ”Do you boys want a shrimp cocktail?”  They looked quizzically at each other, unsure how to respond.  Jerry whispered discreetly, “You better say no, Ned.  He’s trying to find out if we drink.”

Coach Giese signed Ned to play with the Gamecocks and turned him into a linebacker.  Jerry Priestly went to Georgia Tech to be their quarterback.  Jerry lettered in three sports for three years, football, basketball, and baseball, and is in the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame.

Those two coaches have left the stadium, but Ned and Jerry are still laughing about shrimp cocktails almost 60 years later.  Some moments stay with us for a lifetime, and George Edward Baynham has more than his share.  Maybe it’s because he got an early start.  “No mam,” he said to his first-grade teacher.  “My name is Ned.”

Posted in 2018 | 1 Comment

A Very Lovely Lady

I had a pleasant conversation in early April with a very lovely lady from Butler.  We had not met before and will likely never see each other again.  I don’t know her name, but maybe she’ll read this column and I’ll find out.  She was in Warner Robins for a six-month checkup with her cardiologist.  I had taken my mother there for the same thing.

The waiting room had almost reached capacity, so I went outside to stand on the small porch.  It was a beautiful spring day. The porch would have been ideal with a couple of rocking chairs.  A petite silver haired lady was standing by the door.  She and her walking cane were waiting for a ride home.

We made small talk for a few minutes, then were joined by a somewhat younger woman whose husband had gone to the car wash.  I learned that her spouse has ties to my home county of Dooly.  She told me that his father is buried in a big cemetery at a country church which holds services once a month.  It was easy for me to identify Mars Hill Baptist Church as I travel that way quite often.  I let her know that the congregation no longer meets but the cemetery is nicely maintained.

“My husband has taken the car to get the pollen washed off,” she said, noting that pollen shows up more on black cars than others.  He soon arrived in a sparkling sedan and had obviously paid extra for the protective clear coating.  She headed for the car and said she would give him an update on Mars Hill.

The lady from Butler and I resumed our conversation.  I offered to get her a chair from the waiting room, but she politely declined.  Ten minutes later I offered again.  She smiled as she steadied herself on her cane.  “It’s easier to keep standing than to get up and down,” she said.

A man of maybe 60 spoke to us as he walked out of the office to leave.  “There are some empty seats inside,” he said.  I told him the lady was waiting for the bus to take her to Butler.  “If I were in my clean truck,” he said, “I’d be glad to take you home.  But I’m in the truck that my dogs ride in.”

“Chivalry is not dead,” I thought to myself, “just sometimes harder to find.”  Normally it’s not a good idea to accept a ride from a stranger, but I tend to trust people who let their dogs ride in the cab.

I wasn’t planning to write a story about that lady, so I didn’t take notes and I may not have everything exactly right.  Hopefully it’s close enough.  We talked for about twenty minutes.  She never complained about having to wait on the Taylor County Transit.  “He’s over at the hospital with another rider,” she explained.  “He’ll be here as soon as he can.”

She and her husband had lived in Columbus in the early years of their marriage.  He had some health issues that he thought country air might help, so they moved to Butler where he had spent his childhood.  He died twenty years ago but she stayed on.  I asked if she ever considered going back to Columbus.  “We had good friends there,“ she replied, “but I’m 79 now and most of them are gone.”

I privately wondered why she needed public transportation, so I asked about her family.  “We had two children,” she gently responded, “a son and a daughter.  Our son died at 52 from lung cancer.  Our daughter had a heart attack last year.  She’s 40 and dealing with congestive heart failure.”

The lady didn’t share her story with any hint of complaint.  She gave me a glimpse of her life because I asked.  When our visit ended, I understood better why she was standing alone on a porch waiting for a ride.  And I understood a bit more clearly that I have a lot to be thankful for.

If you read this column and recognize that lady, I’d appreciate you taking her a newspaper.  A flower from your garden would be nice if you have something blooming.  And maybe in early October someone could offer her a ride to Warner Robins for her six-month checkup.  She’ll probably politely decline, but gestures of kindness are never out of season.

She was at the doctor’s office to have her heart checked.  I didn’t know it at the time but that’s why I was there too.  No one listened to my heart that day, but my heart listened to a very lovely lady from Butler.

Posted in 2018 | 6 Comments

Tales From Georgia’s Gnat Line

On Thursday, April 18th, I stood in a long line of people waiting for Larry Walker to sign his latest book “Tales From Georgia’s Gnat Line.”  This was the second offering in his gnat series, following “Life on the Gnat Line.”

You don’t have to worry about me doing many book reviews, because I don’t read many books.  I like to read but there are several things I enjoy more.  This year, however, I’ve completed two books in the first four months.  At this pace I will easily break my previous record.

I’m not sure what that record is but it’s low.  “Call of the Wild” and “The Old Man and The Sea” are the only two books I clearly remember reading in high school.  I made two reports on each book between ninth and twelfth grade.  That was all that our English teacher, Mrs. Collins, would allow.

My friend, Smitty Dennard, wrote a report in the ninth grade on “Beneath the Bleachers” by Seymour Hiney.  He told us at recess that he got a B plus.  I tried to check it out from our school library, but apparently Smitty didn’t return it on time.  I asked about it weekly until our librarian told me not to ask again.  There’s no telling how many overdue book fees are on Smitty’s permanent record.

Standing in line to buy an autographed book was a first for me.  I went to the Perry Arts Center with a clever acquisition plan, but it fell through.  Larry’s wife, Janice, wouldn’t take a check on the Bank of Elko.  My friend, Don Giles, had recently recommended that bank to me.  It didn’t work, but that’s probably because I looked nervous.  I think I’m going to shred the rest of those blank checks.

The first book I read this year was also by a Perry native, Billy Powell, who now lives in Peach County.  Many of you have read Billy’s books and his thought-provoking weekly column.  In “Pride of the Panthers” Billy gives a splendidly detailed account of a Perry basketball dynasty that is without peer.

It’s interesting that Billy Powell and Larry Walker both give Coach Eric Staples credit in helping shape their lives.  Senator Sam Nunn was another of Coach Staples’ basketball players.  The unparalleled wins of Coach Staples’ teams prove that he was an exceptional coach.  But his exemplary character and faith seem to be the common threads among numerous men who excelled far beyond the ball court.

A recent story in The Macon Telegraph said that Larry’s latest book would help answer the question, “Where is the gnat line?”  It does that and much more.  I had, for example, forgotten about lockjaw until Larry wrote about it.  Although I never knew of anyone afflicted with lockjaw, it was a dreaded malady of childhood often touted by our protective mothers.

The thoughts of stiffened jaws leading to inevitable starvation were horrendous.  It was even worse to think that it could happen on a day when we had peach ice cream.  Hand churned ice cream on a hot summer day was a tad sweeter than anything that comes in a carton.  I guess turning a crank made me appreciate it a little more.  Reward that comes too easily is often not as fulfilling.

Larry’s book reminded me of things that have faded from current conversation.  Traveling old roads can revive all sorts of memories.  He also addresses some serious matters, such as changing the Georgia state flag years ago.  Larry took a stand that was unpopular in many circles, because he believed it was the right thing to do.  There’s a lot to be said for a man who will stand up for his convictions.

When Larry was born in 1942, Perry was still a small town.  His years as a Southern lawyer and state legislator give him a unique perspective, but it’s his everyday stories that I enjoy most.  He tells about having a minority ownership interest in a dog named Tux.  He talks about boiling peanuts and selling them for ten cents a bag, and how his father taught him to make certain the bags were full.  And he shares stories of old friendships that remind me to savor such moments with special people.

I plan to read Larry’s book a second time, but I don’t guess I should count that in my annual total.  I hope he’ll take another swat at his Gnat Series.  His stories have warmth, humor and charm.  When it comes to sharing tales of the South, Larry Walker has a gnatural talent.

(“Tales From Georgia’s Gnat Line” is available at Gottwals Books and many other fine retailers.  For a signed copy you may email the author at lwalker@whgmlaw.com.)

Posted in 2018 | 2 Comments

Mother of the Year

In 2006 Mrs. Ruthel Andrews Patrick received the Mother of the Year award for the state of Georgia.  It was presented by the Georgia Mother’s Association and was based on a detailed process that included recommendations from community leaders.  She was sponsored by the Cordele Woman’s Club.

The front-page story carried by The Cordele Dispatch mentioned Crisp County as being her home.  She and her husband, Mr. Bo Patrick, are long-time residents there, but her roots run deep in the same place as mine, the Third District Community in Dooly County.

Miss Ruthel was born April 15, 1930, less than a half mile from Joiner’s Store which my grandfather owned.  She was a student at Williams School, a one-room building that was abandoned long before my childhood in the 1950s.  Her cousin, Faye DeLoach, salvaged an unpainted board from there and gave it to her as a keepsake.  That old piece of wood is quite valuable because she measures its worth in memories.  Miss Ruthel later attended Union High, a larger country school in that same area, then graduated from Pinehurst High School in 1947.

That background may not have much to do with her being named Mother of the Year.  I’m a bit partial toward Third District, so maybe I was just looking for an excuse to brag a little about one of our own.  But those formative years in rural Georgia no doubt influenced her approach to raising children.

When I asked about her mother, the first thing she said was that faith was important in their family.  She and her six siblings were brought up in church, a practice that Miss Ruthel and Mr. Bo followed with their three children.  Their commitment to an active faith was passed on to eleven grandchildren and is now being taught to nine great-grandchildren.  They keep adding links to their chain of faith.

Solomon said in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  A proverb is something that’s likely to happen but not guaranteed.  The extended Patrick family, however, gives evidence of Solomon’s wisdom.

While faith is the foundation of her parenting, Miss Ruthel says her philosophy is best summed up by the word love.  “Our children have always known that we loved them unconditionally.”  Love, coupled with a strong faith, seems quite enough for successful parenting.  Miss Ruthel, however, has one other aspect she considers vital, which is to teach your children to set goals to work toward.  Her three-pronged approach reminds me again of King Solomon, this time from Ecclesiastes 4:12, “A strand of three chords is not quickly broken.”

May 12th is Mother’s Day, a good occasion to thank our mothers in some special way.  Having a godly mother is a blessing that’s easily taken for granted.  I have an exceptional mother whose manner of parenting has been much like that of Miss Ruthel, one of love, faith, and encouragement.  Many of you have been blessed and have blessed your own children in similar ways.

Perhaps Mother’s Day is also an appropriate time for inward reflection on the role of a parent.  Mothers have an unsurpassed ability to love and to nurture, but a growing challenge is to impart a vibrant faith to the next generation.  While faith is constantly under attack in a secular world, a more severe issue may be the increasingly dispassionate efforts to instill the tenets of Christianity in our children.  If we choose to embrace a casual faith, we’ll fail to convey the depth of His grace.

For those mothers who are shaping the lives of future generations, I hope that you’ll give Miss Ruthel’s three-point philosophy a try.  Unconditional love is powerful beyond measure.  Encouraging our children to set worthy goals is a tremendous practice.  But a cord of two strands is not enough.  The strand of faith is essential if we are to be the parents God intended.

Some of you may be thinking that I’m not qualified to give advice to mothers.  I’ve been thinking that exact same thing.  So, don’t take this advice from me, take it from the Mother of the Year.

Happy Mother’s Day to all.  May God bless and guide every one of you.

Posted in 2018 | 3 Comments

A Song in My Heart

Valori Moore is the owner-editor of The Taylor County News, one of the papers that carries my column.  She wrote an editorial in March of 2019 about having a song stuck in her head that wouldn’t go away.  I think most of us have that happen on occasion.

Valori’s column led me to reflect on a few songs that I often recall from the distant past.  They are perhaps no better than many others, but to me will always be among the best.

Larry G. Hudson was the lead guitarist in the state champion Unadilla F.F. A. String Band.  He graduated from high school the year before I joined the band to play piano.  I enjoyed listening to Larry and the band as they practiced in the auditorium or on the lunchroom stage.

When I was in the eighth grade and Larry was in the twelfth, the band was playing a slow song one day called “Sleep Walk.”  It had a tender and somewhat ethereal quality.  As Larry picked out that soulful melody, it made me wish I had a girlfriend and knew how to dance.  Sometimes I play “Sleep Walk” on my piano, but the sweetest sound is the one I remember from Larry’s guitar on a lunchroom stage a long time ago.

Another Larry played rhythm guitar and sometimes took the lead in that same band.  Larry Hamsley came from the most musical family that’s ever graced Dooly County.  He was one of 15 siblings whose cradles were rocked to country tunes.  Larry H. was also ahead of my band playing days, but he joined in with our group one night in Vienna for a session at George Forehand’s house.

George was a disc jockey at a radio station in Montezuma, and he had a recording studio in his home.  Larry H. played lead on a song that I think he called “Bulldogging.”  I don’t know if it was a tune he had heard or if he made it up, but it had a bluesy sound that stayed with me long after the party was over.  I tried to learn it on guitar, but my talents are nominal.  I can stumble through just enough of it to bring back a good memory.

After the two Larrys graduated, I began playing piano in the band.  I was a freshman learning the ropes from four juniors, Michael Sullivan, Jerry Pickard, Charles Jones, and Jerry McIntyre.

Michael Sullivan had a smooth-as-silk baritone voice.   “The Green Green Grass of Home” was a hit for Porter Wagoner and was covered nicely by a lot of other good singers.  But Mike Sullivan’s version will always be my favorite.  The grass seemed a little greener when he sang about it.

Jerry Pickard sang a gospel song with conviction titled, “The Wings of a Dove.”  It’s the story of God sending Noah a sign after the waters receded.  “On the wings of a snow-white dove, He sends His pure sweet love, A sign from above, On the wings of a Dove.”  It didn’t surprise me when God called Jerry to be a minister.  I believe he would have been on the ark if he had been around back then.

Charles Jones rocked the stage singing “Johnny Be Good.”  Charles could play anything with strings on it and enjoyed music as much as anyone I’ve ever known.  When he hit the pounding chorus singing, “Go Johnny Go,” everyone in the audience would be grinning at full speed.  If you saw someone with a somber expression, it was probably too late to call the ambulance.

Jack Greene’s recording of “There Goes My Everything” played well on the radio, but Jerry McIntyre’s rendition was about two notches better in my young opinion.  Jerry had a clear voice that resonated with confidence, the same confidence with which he played basketball and approached life.

VeEsta Brown joined us when we performed as VeEsta & The Country Gentleman.  She belted out a string of country standards with a voice that was good enough to headline a much bigger stage.  My favorite was an old Kitty Wells number, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honkytonk Angels.”  Every band needs a star.  VeEsta was ours.

I planned to write a column about songs that are stuck in my head, but I realize now it’s more about songs in my heart.  The music was good, but it’s the memories that I cherish most.  If I ever forget those treasured moments from long ago, it’s probably too late to call the ambulance.  Just take me back to the green green grass of home.  That’s the place where I’ll always have a song in my heart.

Posted in 2018 | 9 Comments