A Little Smoke

I went fishing with our grandson, Walt, and some other family members one afternoon in May. A bass that would have likely become the new state record broke my line and my heart. Even with the tragic loss of a trophy fish, it was a splendid outing until my wife called.

“Our side yard is on fire,” she said, more calmly than I would have expected. “I’ve been trying to wet it down, but there’s hardly any pressure. Water is pouring out from where a PVC pipe melted. I don’t think the fire will keep spreading, so you don’t have to come home.” Despite her assurances it was fine for me to keep fishing, my keen perception suggested that might not be a good idea. It was an easy decision because I knew that largemouth bass would have his lips sealed for a while.   

When I got home, Jane was in our side yard flower garden with a hose which was only yielding a trickle of water. The garden is about one third of an acre, a tree-shaded place where my wife has spent untold hours planting, pruning, and weeding. It’s full of azaleas, ferns, daylilies, and a variety of plants I can’t name. There are also some comfortable wrought iron chairs beneath an oak tree that make a great place for sipping lemonade and counting blessings.

The back half of the garden is still lovely. Looking at the scorched front though, it’s hard to believe such devastation came from what once had seemed nothing more than a little smoke.

Several days earlier, I’d gotten a burn permit. A massive sweetgum tree had toppled into the edge of the garden when Hurricane Michael came through in October of 2018. Rather than taking a conventional approach by sawing it into short pieces and hauling them off, I had an epiphany – The tree can be burned where it fell. We had added limbs, leaves, and other yard debris on top of it for two years. Most of the huge trunk lay outside the heavily strawed flower beds. It seemed like a solid plan. 

As the sun went down on the day of the burn, the fire was almost out and there wasn’t much remaining of the debris that had been piled. The sweetgum, however, still had a long way to go. There were no visible flames, only a little smoke from its smoldering underside. The source of the smoke was about eight feet from the pine straw, so I left it alone rather than drenching it with water.

Two more days went by as the sweetgum kept slowly sizzling. I watched it carefully, thinking I might add some fallen limbs and rekindle the fire. Jane and I checked it several times each day and nothing much changed. When I looked at the tree before going fishing, there were no obvious sparks or floating cinders, nothing except a hint of smoke.  

Jane went to Cordele for a couple of hours. When she returned, fire was spreading through her beloved garden. The worst loss was twenty years’ worth of plants and hard work. Incidentals included a melted water line, two hoses, and the tire on her favorite wheelbarrow.

On a personal note, if anyone has a good used tire, please get in touch with me as soon as possible. With nothing but steel to roll on, the wheelbarrow is hard to push. If Jane gets behind with her yardwork, I’m concerned it could adversely affect the kitchen.

Nothing has been lost that can’t be replaced. Another positive note is we now have excellent access to some pesky Smilax vines that were inextricably intertwined with flowers and shrubs. Hopefully, we can dig up the tubers and get rid of them.

We have a lot to be thankful for, but it makes me wince to see the burned shrubs and flowers and know I could have easily prevented it. Prevention is almost always preferable to fixing what’s broken. And some things when broken can’t be mended.  

That smoldering log became a problem because of my carelessness. Temptation often works the same way. It can evolve if ignored. Most temptations begin with a wisp of smoke that appears to be rather harmless and perhaps somewhat intriguing. We see no urgency in quenching a tiny spark.    

                The charred plants in our flower garden, however, remind me that unseen embers can subtly transition into fire. Something that was beautiful is now badly scarred. And the devastation came from what once had seemed nothing more than a little smoke.     

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That’s What She Said

I may have to finish this column later. Jane is working in what was left of her flower garden after the fire, a fiasco which yours truly was allegedly involved in. That’s a story for another day if I don’t forget. Fortunately, the toasted azalea leaves will help remind me. After the leaves drop, I’ll rely on the charred, barren limbs of about 20 bushes. 

My plant-loving wife is immersed in a salvage operation this morning, but apparently her breakfast ran out before our next major feeding period. She doesn’t usually eat much between meals. Today, however, for reasons unknown to me, she must be extremely hungry at 10 am. Her voice had a sense of urgency.

“Hurry! she said, “Snack! Bring the gum!” Then she hung up, although it’s perhaps incorrect to say “hung up” regarding a cell phone. Maybe I should say she ended the call or hit the red button. Either way, she stopped talking before telling me what kind of snack she wanted. If she doesn’t call back soon, I’ll probably take her a bowl of watermelon since it’s about to be too ripe.

 It’s unlike her to be impatient about anything, and she’s never that way about food. I’m a bit puzzled by her frantic request for a snack and even more so about the gum. I don’t even remember the last time she chewed gum, but that’s what she said. I’m absolutely positive that’s what she said.   

Sometimes, though, my hearing is not as reliable as it needs to be. At a recent worship service our youth minister mentioned the offerings from Vacation Bible School were going to Daybreak Pregnancy Care Center. It shocked me when he said if the goal of one thousand dollars was reached, he was getting high. When the congregation laughed, I wondered if I had misunderstood. It turned out he and our pastor had agreed to get “pied” to save lives.   

Many in the Joiner lineage have some gradual hearing loss that begins around age 50. Our standard practice is to deny it’s a problem for a couple of decades. When hearing aids are eventually purchased, they are put beneath our wills in a safety deposit box in case we need them later.

One day I mentioned to a friend about the aggravation of living with poor hearing, but that the idea of wearing hearing aids was not appealing. “It seems very inconvenient,” I mused.

He told me he had needed hearing aids for fifteen years but hadn’t bought any. “I haven’t found anyone who doesn’t complain about wearing them,” he said, “so I decided to just act stupid.” I’ve been testing his system for several months and it’s working splendidly. That’s probably because I was already acting that way long before having any hearing loss. Preparation is an essential part of success.

Occasionally what I’m hearing is not what the other person is saying. That can be problematic in places such as hospitals. They say a man in California went in for an appendectomy and came out wearing lipstick. That’s not likely to happen in rural Georgia but in critical situations it’s best to have someone with you who has a good set of ears.

Most of the time I’ve found it’s not too risky to smile and nod if the other person is smiling. Or sometimes I just respond to what I think has been said. It’s like when my Cousin Joyce asked her husband, Ben, about the barn swallows who were building mud nests on their porch. He was standing at their kitchen counter when she walked by and noticed the annoying birds flying around. They had been there for weeks and were making an awful mess.    

“Do you think those birds are ever going to leave our porch?” she asked.

Ben held up a dinner knife. “I’ve already put mayonnaise on my bread,” he replied.

I may have told that story before but I’m not certain. My memory isn’t as sharp as my hearing.

Jane just called again and sounded exasperated. “If you don’t come now, it will be too late!” Her volume was above average so she must be starving. I’m concerned about her odd behavior and hope to figure out what’s causing such strange requests.

Maybe she’ll feel better when she sees this nice bowl of cold watermelon and two sticks of Juicy Fruit gum. I don’t understand how a snack and some gum can be so urgent, but that’s what she said. I’m almost pretty sure that’s what she said.   

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It’s amazing how quickly a man’s perspective can change. Matters of seeming importance can suddenly be rendered inconsequential. Things taken for granted become more precious. Our family had one of those pivotal moments in June. But first let me tell you what was on my mind before then.

I was extremely frustrated over a computer issue. In May I began having a recurring problem regarding my blog at joinerscorner.com. Repeated warnings said access to the site would be denied due to an outdated TLS. After doing some research I learned that TLS stands for Transport Layer Security. Tech-savvy people understand what that is and know how to fix such things. I’m in the other group, standing near the back of the line with a blank expression.

A TLS problem, however, appeared to be something I could resolve with a little guidance. After several hours of online chat with a very patient lady at Microsoft everything was copasetic. We said our goodbyes as I relished the return to smooth waters. Then I heard the soundtrack from Jaws and saw the dorsal fin of skewed technology circling my desk.

My computer is still working but frequently requires going through a seven-step process. I’m bandaging a wound while searching for a cure. For a while, that nagging problem was a big part of what I focused on and even fretted about. My perspective, however, changed unexpectedly on the second day of June, early that Wednesday morning.

Jane had a text from our daughter, Carrie, with the kind of message that leaps from your eyes straight into your heart. Her husband, Clay, was in a trauma center in Tallahassee with a brain bleed. Late Tuesday afternoon he had been putting decking on a porch he was adding to the back of their home. He was alone, except for Belle, an 18-month-old German Shepherd.

Belle is a big dog and plays rough. As Clay was on the ladder, Belle climbed up too, then bit his ankle and held on. He tried to shake her loose and lost his balance. It was a nasty fall, but he thought he’d be okay, so he went inside to lie down. Their 17-year-old daughter, Melanie, got home around 8 p.m.  and had no idea anything was wrong. Carrie had not heard from Clay in a while, so she called Melanie and told her to check on him. By then he was nauseated and in severe pain.

Melanie drove him to Miller County Hospital where a nursing friend met them in the emergency room. Carrie, and their seven-year-old son Walt, headed there from Lake Eufaula, where they had spent the afternoon. Clay, along with Carrie, was taken by helicopter from Colquitt, Georgia, to Bixler’s Trauma Center in Tallahassee, Florida.

Clay is much better now and should eventually be okay. Besides a brain bleed, he incurred multiple skull and facial fractures, a fractured neck, and a ruptured eardrum. After 48 hours in a hectic trauma center, there were no beds available in the hospital, so the doctor sent Clay home. He said a quiet, dark room was vital for the healing process.

On the morning we learned of his accident it didn’t take long to realize my computer issue isn’t really a problem. When a wife wonders if the man she loves will be coming home, that’s a problem. When children see their parents leave on a life-flight ride, that’s a problem. Clay is still on the mend, but we expect this chapter of his story to have a happy ending. Not everyone is that fortunate.

The uncertainty of those two days caused me to reflect on what’s most important. At the top of that list, I believe, is being prepared for eternity. Whether we’re young or old or somewhere in between, none of us know the future. Tragedy often strikes without warning.

Precautions aren’t always enough. I wrote a little book about ladder safety, but it never crossed my mind to include a section about climbing dogs. We don’t know what tomorrow brings, or even the next second. What scripture tells us, however, is that we’ll spend eternity somewhere and that God allows us to choose our destination.

John 3:16 expresses it simply. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” How much time remains for each of us between here and the hereafter is unknown. But when that time comes, it will be amazing how quickly a man’s perspective can change.

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Advice Columns – Part 2

Today’s subject matter was suggested by a friend and fellow church member named Marion. He’s been amazed and amused for several years that my wife mows our lawn. Recently he suggested I elaborate on how that arrangement was worked out. Marion was not asking for himself. He thought such advice might be helpful to others. Before I share the secret though, let’s take a side road.   

Last week’s column ended by mentioning a guarantee. That reminded me of another story I heard from Mr. Emmett Stephens, something I believe is pertinent to today’s column.

Although I heartily embrace a flexible approach toward column accuracy, I asked Charles Stephens to check my recollection. He had a front-row seat on a long-ago adventure with his father. Charles was about ten years old at the time, which dates the story to the late 1940s.

Mr. Emmett and two friends, Rupert Drawhorn and Luther Gilbert, reserved a rental house in the Blue Ridge Mountains of north Georgia. The men and their three families made the long drive to Glassy Mountain for a weeklong vacation on the crystal-clear waters of Lake Burton.

Money was tight so they were hoping to catch fish for most of their meals. As a backup plan, however, Mr. Emmett tied some live chickens to the top of his 1941 Plymouth. The chickens had the most thrilling ride of their lives, which was fitting since the fish didn’t cooperate. Someone finally caught a nice bass, but it wasn’t big enough to save the hens.

On their way up from Vienna as the Stephens family neared their destination, Mr. Emmett pulled into a country store to ask directions. Some men were drinking soda pop and smoking Prince Albert. They had the look of seasoned farmers who might sell their corn by the quart.

A big man wearing faded overalls pointed down the road and told Mr. Emmett to turn right when he got to the schoolhouse. “Schoolhouse?” asked Mr. Emmett with feigned surprise. “You mean to tell me y’all have schools up here in these mountains?” Mr. Emmett didn’t hear the laughter he expected. His attempt at humor among folks he didn’t know had not been well received.

“Now look here, fellows,” he said apologetically, “Back home I’m known as the village idiot and people know not to take me too seriously. I was just funning with y’all and didn’t mean to offend anyone. And furthermore, I want you gentlemen to know that everything I say comes with a guarantee. If I say something you don’t like, I’ll be more than glad to take it back.”

The rugged old men of Glassy Mountain had a good laugh and Mr. Emmett parted on friendly terms. It’s probably hard to stay mad at a man who’s traveling with his family and has chickens tied to the top of an aging Plymouth. I’m telling that story to let my readers know that Joiner’s Corner adheres to The Emmett Stephens’ Guarantee Program. We’ll stand by our advice until you tell us to sit down.

As to the question about enticing a man’s wife to mow the lawn, it goes back to a conversation a few years ago at Sunday School. A little before Christmas I mentioned the possibility of giving Jane a new mower. When Marion asked how I got her to cut the grass, I told him the main thing was to be firm. I may, however, have neglected to provide complete information, so here’s the rest of the story.

Somewhere In the early 1980s we had a push mower, which I took no great pleasure in operating. My approach to improving our lawn was to let the Centipede grass go to seed before cutting, thinking it would eventually overcome the dandelions and Bahai. That plan, however, required a four-week mowing schedule, three weeks longer than my wife preferred.

One day while looking for our young triplets in the tall grass, Jane said, “If we had a riding lawnmower, I’d mow the yard myself.” A few minutes later Mr. Billy Langford changed my life by delivering a small Snapper. So, what I didn’t explain earlier to Marion is that being firm works best for chores your wife volunteers to do.

My suggestion to any of you fellows who are interested is to be firm like me when your wife will agree. Or you can be firm on your own terms if you’re up to it. A man with a bad crick once told me that a six-foot frame on a five-foot sofa is a pain in the neck. Whatever route you choose, please remember one thing. My advice is one hundred percent guaranteed. If you don’t like it, I’ll take it back.

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Advice Columns

At times I’ve thought it would be fun to write an advice column to answer personal questions. The format I envisioned was similar to Dear Abby but with answers reflecting a farcical perspective of a southern speaking country boy. Here’s an example:

Dear Neil: My husband is running around on me. How can I stop him? A Scorned Woman.

Dear Scorned Woman: Shoot him in the foot. That may not stop him, but the limp should slow him down. Please understand, however, there are places where intentional shootings are illegal even if justified. Check with your sheriff about state laws and local ordinances.

Prior to taking any such action, I also suggest you consider whether you would be happy living in a small cell with a roommate you didn’t choose while wearing matching jumpsuits. Prison attire is rather lackluster. Compliments on how nice an outfit looks are rare. If that doesn’t sound like a lifestyle you would enjoy, you might first try taping this column to your husband’s TV remote. That could help initiate a meaningful discussion about your concerns.

Another idea would be to call your local funeral home and ask about prearrangements. Make sure your spouse overhears you describe him as a “no-good, two-timing, low-down snake in the grass.” Ask the undertaker for information on the cheapest and fastest burial options. Find out if small pieces of lead would be destroyed in the cremation process. If you live near the coast you may want to inquire about burial at sea. At that point, if your husband is not visibly sweating, you might ask the funeral home manager if he is aware of any alligator farms in the area.

I hope you find this advice helpful. If you feel the need for additional suggestions, I encourage you to send ten dollars and a SASE for my pamphlet – “Treats for Cheats.” P.S. The advice I’ve offered may not be appropriate for your particular situation, but at least I gave it a shot.

A redneck flavored feature seemed like a great idea until I realized I’d need most of the space for disclaimers. If someone took me seriously that could be a disaster. I had decided not to pursue the advice column idea any further, but recently I’ve had what seems a rather urgent request.

Being asked for my advice reminded me of a moment in the distant past when I had a question for Mr. Emmett “Pa” Stephens. It involved our Chamber of Commerce planning a Developer’s Day in the early 1980s. We were expecting a substantial number of overnight guests and wanted to provide a memorable breakfast.

Mr. Emmett was the chief cook for Vienna First Baptist’s monthly Brotherhood meetings. His cathead biscuits and side meat were exceptionally fine when served with soft scrambled eggs and cheese grits. That menu seemed a perfect way to start our day if the volunteer cooking crew was agreeable. I was barely grown at the time and they were in their senior years, so I didn’t want to impose.

“Mr. Emmett,” I said politely, “I’d like to ask your opinion on something.”

“Well, Neil,” he replied with a mischievous drawl, “before I give you an opinion there’s something I want to make sure you understand. Opinions are like behinds. Everybody has one and some are shaped better than others. Now, after hearing that little spiel if you still want my opinion, I’ll be glad to give it to you.”

His response was considerably more colorful than I’ve presented but that’s the gist of it. After we shared a moment of laughter, he said he’d be glad to take care of breakfast and felt sure the cooks would be on board. We had twenty or more developers, mostly from Atlanta, who fell in love with biscuits made from scratch and lightly floured skillet-fried fatback. Mr. Emmett delightfully introduced them to the joyous path of high cholesterol. 

Introductory material has taken up so much space today that I don’t have room to properly address the recent solicitation for advice. A friend of mine wants to know how I convinced my wife to mow our grass. I’ll try to answer him next week. Or I may wait until Jane is out of town.

I don’t think it’s an urgent matter as his lawn looks freshly cut. Besides, I can almost guarantee that my advice will be just as useful next week as it is now.

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The Crawdad Song

Simple songs are what I like best, the ones played with three chords or less and having lyrics that don’t need interpretation. An old tune that fits my preferences well is The Crawdad Song. Although its origins are uncertain, some think it was born on the levees of the Mississippi River as they were being built. I don’t know if that’s the case but spelling Mississippi just reminded me of something from childhood.    

Daddy taught me a couple of ways to spell Mississippi. Speed was essential to both. “M-I-Double S–I-Double S–I-Double P-I. His other version substituted “crooked letter” for each s and “humpback” for each p. That’s just bonus information and not the main story today.        

The Crawdad Song, also known as The Crawdad Hole, has multiple versions with verses that are considerably different. The chorus, however, is common to all with only minor changes. “You get a line and I’ll get a pole, honey. You get a line and I’ll get a pole, babe. You get a line and I’ll get a pole. We’ll go down to the crawdad hole, honey, oh baby mine.”

Sheriff Andy Taylor let me sing along on that song when I visited him and Opie in Mayberry. He had exceptional taste in music. Others have also performed it quite admirably. Woody Guthrie made a nice recording as did The Foggy Mountain Boys. They featured a banjo and a fiddle, perfect instruments for a toe-tapping tune.

Although I’ve been singing that chorus since I was a kid, only recently did I learn what a crawdad hole is. I always thought those two lovebirds were going to a pond to catch a mess of catfish or bream.

In the woods where Jane and I love to walk, there are holes all along the banks of the stream. Mama calls them snake holes and sometimes they are, but snakes don’t dig them. The holes are about an inch across and have a mound of dirt which forms an open-top steeple. I had figured they were dug by giant worms, overgrown cousins of the nightcrawlers which decorate our yard with their castings.

It was late April when I took a picture of one of those holes with its mud chimney and showed it to Dennis Cross. He’s a longtime friend who’s been rambling through woods and wading creeks since before he could say the alphabet. He only needed a quick glimpse to identify them as crawdad holes. That had never crossed my mind, partly because it’s rare to see any of those shrimp-like critters in that stream.

Some online research showed a video of a man fishing for a crawdad out of one of those little holes. He had tied a small weight and a piece of bacon on a string, then lowered it down and waited for a tug. Ever so gently he pulled the line upward. A crawdad was clinging tenaciously to that strip of meat with both claws. He didn’t care where he was going or who was driving. It must have been thick-sliced bacon.  

Our youngest grandchild, Walt, came for a visit and we gave crawdad fishing a quick try. His Uncle Seth dropped a line down several holes, but nothing took the bait. He and Walt started looking under rocks in the stream and found a few crawdads hiding. They could have caught them with a net, but we were sport fishing and had other plans for supper.

When Walt came back for another visit, we tried again using short sticks with strings. Fishing the holes didn’t work that time either, so we lowered our pieces of hotdog near rocks and roots in the flowing water. Two hours later we had 20 crawdads in our bucket. 

Seth boiled them that night. He had one and Walt ate the other 19. Our crawdads are too small to fill the belly of a growing boy, plus we like having them in the branch. We’ll probably go with a catch and release program in the future. And maybe next time I’ll take my guitar and teach Walt an old song that Andy taught me. 

Crawdad fishing isn’t for everyone, but it reminded me of something that is. It’s often the simple things which make the best memories. Walt will likely remember catching those crawdads for a long time, maybe even when he gets to be as old as his Papa is now.

I can’t say for sure that will be the case, but I have my reasons for believing it. Although I’m a little out of practice, I can still spell Mississippi just like my Daddy did. 

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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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