Bringing Up The Rear

I am by nature a modest person. When I was in the third grade, Dr. Baker removed my appendix at Taylor Regional Hospital in Hawkinsville. At some point during my hospital stay, I locked my bathroom door to ensure privacy. An older nurse came by. She threatened that if I locked it again she would get the key and go in with me. From my perspective, she would not have known the door was locked had she not pushed on it. I still believe that I made the right decision.

As a footnote to the story, it turned out my appendix was healthy. It looked so good that we kept it in a jar of alcohol in our farm shop for years. My surgery was due to having some suspicious symptoms during an era when appendectomies were popular.

In the past fifteen years I’ve had two and a half colonoscopies, one Barium X-ray, and two biopsies of the prostate, the first of which was done without anesthesia. When that tissue sampling gun clicked I understood why they had checked me for weapons at the door. It was the worst medical test that I’ve ever had, followed closely by the Barium X-ray.

The Barium ordeal was when I learned the value of anonymity. My approach was gleeful as I entered the room, blissfully unaware of what was in store for me. I still regret having introduced myself to a technician who was the daughter of a friend. I wished I had borrowed the Lone Ranger’s mask.

The reason I report 2.5 colonoscopies is that my first one didn’t take. Dr. Peter Donnan was practicing in Cordele at the time. He gave me a twilight drug that’s not as strong as full anesthesia but works for most people. They gradually gave me ten times the normal dose, but I reportedly kept flinging my arms and kicking my legs. He called the game in the bottom of the second inning and sent me to Barium Village.

Ricky Stevens has been my doctor for a decade or so. Knowing my history with twilight drugs, he uses Propanol, which for me works much better. Doc had me on the calendar for Friday, December 1, 2017, for our second colonoscopy as a team.

He has a good sense of humor, so I figured he and the other folks assisting might enjoy a little break from the usual routine. Early that morning before we left home, Jane used a brown permanent marker and wrote neatly on my rear, “Exit Only.” I wasn’t awake when they rolled me over, but I’ve been told it was a nice diversion to the mundane task at hand.

In case you are interested in entertaining the medical professionals at your next colonoscopy, here are some ideas. For those patients with an artistically inclined spouse, you could draw a smiley face, compass, sun dial, target, or anything that blends naturally with the landscape. For those who prefer the printed word, the following suggestions are loosely arranged by topics.

Just Say No: No Loitering, No On-Ramp, No Trespassing, and No Smoking.

Travel Guide: Scenic Overlook, North-South Connector, Detour Ahead, Next Exit Closed, The Great Divide, The Twin Peaks of Georgia, and “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Product Information: Periscope Not Included, This Side Up, Handle With Care, Slide Card and Enter PIN, By Invitation Only, and Out of Order.

Cautions: Do Not Over Inflate, Crime Scene Area, and, “Don’t look, Ethel!”

Miscellaneous: The End Is Near, Has Anybody Here Seen John? Charter Member of The Bedpan Band, Service Engine Soon, A Split Decision, All Employees Must Wash Hands, and my personal favorite, “Run, Forrest, Run!”

I’m not recommending you follow this path. Your doctor may disapprove, plus there’s probably a disclaimer on permanent markers noting they are not intended for writing on skin. You are, however, welcome to use any of these suggestions. It won’t matter that you weren’t the first to do this. When it’s a matter of health, there’s no shame in bringing up the rear.

P.S. If you think you don’t need a colonoscopy, please talk to my friend and fellow columnist, Clay Mercer, about his difficult but successful battle with cancer. You can contact him at

Posted in 2018 | 9 Comments

The Avon Lady

Mrs. Ernestine Braswell Furlow turned 100 on January 23, 2018. Woodrow Wilson was President the year she was born. Gas was 15 cents a gallon. It was also the year that a global flu epidemic claimed millions of lives, including over 500,000 in America. That’s a sobering number, especially so to Miss Ernestine. One of those deaths was her mother.

Miss Ernestine was nine months old when her mother died on October 28, 1918. She has a picture of herself as a smiling baby that was taken a month earlier. Her father remarried, but he died when Miss Ernestine was only five. She lived with grandparents, uncles, and aunts, and came to Vienna in the fourth grade.

In July of 1934 she had a blind date with Anderson Furlow. She married him in September of 1935 when she was 17. They were blessed with three children, Belinda, Anita, and Andy. Anita passed away in March of 2000. Mr. Furlow died in 2001 after 65 years of marriage.

In November of 1948 Miss Ernestine joined Avon Products Inc. She worked in outside sales for forty years. She was a regular member of the President’s Club, a recognition for agents in the top ten percent. Another former Avon rep, Mrs. Martha Brown, lives just two miles away and will be 104 on February 23rd.

It’s remarkable that a rural community has two Avon ladies whose average lifespan is 102. If you see me wearing makeup, please don’t laugh. It might be worth giving it a try.

While making her customer calls, Miss Ernestine also did volunteer work for her church, Vienna First Baptist. She was the Extension Director for decades, delivering magazines and visiting the sick. One of her longtime fellow church members, Mrs. Bobbie Odom, is almost 101. It didn’t surprise me to learn that Miss Bobbie was an Avon customer.

Miss Ernestine celebrated her milestone birthday a few days early in Loganville surrounded by 21 family members. Her Sunday School teacher, Murray Stephens, organized a second party held in Miss Ernestine’s home. Her dining room table is filled with cards, pictures, and a giant scrapbook.

She enjoys her scrapbooks, which are of library quality. There are clippings about churches, community events, family, and friends. She had saved an article about her next-door neighbors, Jim and Debbie Bolton, who have been helpful in countless ways.

Miss Ernestine has lived in the same house for 70 years and is not saving any boxes for moving. She smiled when talking about her long life but added that she’s not about to buy any new furniture. With a confident faith, she said that a much better home is being prepared for her.

I squinted through my glasses to read some of the news items that she’s kept. Miss Ernestine wasn’t wearing glasses. Nor was she using a cane or walker. She stood for over 90 minutes as we slowly circled a memory filled table.

The memories she treasures most are of family. She mentioned Anita’s piano lessons from Mrs. Louise Lewis and her gift for classical music. She talked about Belinda, also a student of Mrs. Lewis, serving for many years as a church organist. An article about Andy notes that he developed a computer program so the Georgia Board of Regents could modernize college registrations.

Miss Ernestine recounts childhood memories of ringing the dinner bell when it was time to eat or listening to her uncle play his fiddle. But she’s even more interested in what’s going on right now, in keeping up with her family, church, and friends.

She told me that she enjoys my columns, and that she’s noticed I like to include some humor. She said I could tell folks that she was recently looking for her coffee jar and found it in the refrigerator. I didn’t tell her I had just stuck my head through an arm opening while trying to put on a vest. That wouldn’t be so bad, except it took me a while to figure out what was wrong.

We paused at the front door as I was about to leave. She smiled and said with a hint of mischief, “Neil, I was just wondering if you would mind playing the piano at my funeral?”

I said, “Miss Ernestine, I’d be honored to. But I was just wondering if you would be willing to speak at mine?”

Posted in 2018 | 12 Comments

Junior High Reunion

The quarterly reunion for Junior High was held Thursday, January 4, 2018. Although the school was located in Pulaski County, the reunions are now held in Vidalia. This one took place at Meadows Park Health and Rehab in Room 223.

Junior High was a small rural school that included the first through fifth grades. Its name seems a bit of a misnomer. Perhaps the original plans also included grades six through eight, but that’s just speculation. Other than a blue metal road sign there’s nothing left of Junior High.

The school was housed in the original Bethlehem Church building. It preceded the Bethlehem I remember that was on Mock Springs Road. Folding doors separated the sanctuary from the classroom, an open span that accommodated all the students and two teachers. A coal burning heater kept it warm enough to study. It was as comfortable as most of their homes, which relied on open fireplaces.

My mother, Margaret Hill Joiner, only attended Junior High for the fifth grade. She went there because a relative, Robert Coleman, was a newly-hired young teacher and needed more students. Elizabeth Stokes Dunaway, Mama’s first cousin, attended all five years at Junior High. She serves as President of the Alumni Association, but has delegated most of the reunion details to Mama.

Cousin Elizabeth and Mama grew up near each other. They often visited, played, and had meals together. They attended church at Bethlehem Baptist, and were both baptized in the ice-cold waters of Mock Springs. They double dated, married Dooly County farmers, raised families, and spent decades together as members of Harmony Baptist Church. Harmony is two hours from Vidalia, where Elizabeth now lives, so they don’t see each other on Sundays anymore.

My brother, Jimmy, and I were guests at the recent reunion. We heard some delightful childhood stories from another generation. I asked Cousin Elizabeth if she remembered her first-grade teacher. Without hesitation she named Mrs. Bathsheba Johnson. “We called her Miss Bassie,” she said, noting she was a much better teacher than her sister, Miss Drusilla Sewell.

In nice weather Cousin Elizabeth walked the short distance to school. At other times she caught the bus or was taken by her parents. Mama lived about three miles away. She walked almost a mile, then rode Mr. Tom Dunaway’s school bus with her good friend Kat McKinney.

Mama and Cousin Elizabeth talked about their aunt, Ruth Hill Shelton, who each day milked four cows. She hand-churned the cream into butter that she sold or bartered. I remember as a young child in the 1950’s going with Mama to a grocery store in downtown Hawkinsville. She showed me some of Aunt Ruth’s butter, something I felt provided my great aunt with celebrity status. The days of homegrown products being carried in the stores were rapidly winding down.

Cousin Elizabeth said that she didn’t do much milking herself, but that she loved working in her family’s vegetable garden. Her mother, Aunt Effie to us, had big gardens. She liked sharing from them, especially with people in need. Gardening must have been in the Hill Family genes as Mama also seemed to relish the work. In my childhood, and many years afterward, she picked bushels of peas and beans with an enthusiasm I admired but did not understand.

I attended a funeral recently for Mrs. Helen Cross, a fine lady and renowned cook from the Harmony Church community. Her nephew, Reverend Mike Peavy, described love in a way that I had not heard before. Mike told about Miss Helen picking and shelling butterbeans, then cooking them in a big pot. But love, he explained, was when she gave those butterbeans away, something she did often and in generous portions.

I used to wonder how the ladies of that generation could enjoy the hard, sweaty, work of gardening. I think Mike Peavy gave me the answer. Maybe they loved the work, but I think what they really loved was the sharing. They gathered some to keep, but gathered much to give away.

The Junior High Reunion helped remind me that we all have gardens to tend. Every garden looks a bit different, but so do the needs that they meet. I guess the blue metal road sign isn’t the only thing left from Junior High. There are two alumnae and a huge collection of sweet memories. I hope that I get invited to their next gathering. Maybe I’ll find out what happened after fifth grade.

Posted in 2018 | 5 Comments

Finding Walter Nutt

My brother, Jimmy, and I found Mr. Walter F. Nutt not long ago. Our discovery came unexpectedly on the morning of July 6, 2017. We were doing some long-overdue maintenance at Wallace Cemetery, a small and seldom visited place not far from where we grew up. Beneath several inches of vines, limbs, and oak leaves, we found Walter Nutt’s grave.

His granite slab shows that he was born February 6, 1886, and died at the young age of 32 on January 1, 1919. His death came long before my birth, but his name seemed vaguely familiar, as if there was something more that I knew about him but could not recall. His marker is inscribed, Gone but not forgotten. My unspoken thought was that a more accurate line would now simply state Gone.   

Jimmy and I soon left for dinner, knowing Mama’s homemade biscuits were almost ready. Mr. Junior Sparrow called to tell me that he had enjoyed a recent article written by Ed Grisamore in The Macon Telegraph. It was about a patriotic poem that I wrote a long time ago titled What America Is.

Mr. Junior has done an excellent job maintaining the grounds of nearby Williams Cemetery. It’s the place where his parents and a lot of his mother’s family are buried. It’s rare to find a small country graveyard so well taken care of. I told him that Jimmy and I had been working at Wallace Cemetery, and that we hoped to one day have it back in respectable shape.

Mr. Junior mentioned Walter Nutt, noting that he was buried near the giant oak, a tree that was already massive in my childhood 65 years ago. He told me that Walter Nutt married his aunt, Nora Williams, a sister to Mr. Junior’s mother, Odessa Clyde Williams Sparrow. After the wedding, Nora went by separate means to their new home. Walter was not far behind, driving a horse drawn wagon. A half mile from Wallace Cemetery, on a hill near Cedar Creek, the wagon wheels abruptly stuck in some flint rock. Walter Nutt fell between the horse and wagon. He died on his and Nora’s wedding day.

I have some family members buried at Wallace, including my great grandparents and great-great grandparents on the Joiner side. Several other families once buried their loved ones there, but that was years ago. Their close relatives have mostly died or moved elsewhere. Daddy and Uncle Murray took care of the grounds as far back as I can remember. Jimmy and I have been rather sporadic in our efforts.

It was probably on a visit to the cemetery with Daddy and Uncle Murray that I first heard the story of Walter Nutt. That’s why I think his name had a hint of familiarity.

On October 30th, I went to Williams Cemetery, then later visited with Mr. Junior Sparrow. I learned that Nora Williams Nutt married again after her husband’s untimely death. Her second marriage was to Dr. Burrell B. Wilson, a veterinarian. She and Dr. Wilson are buried in Williams Cemetery with a small marker between them. Nora died in childbirth in 1925, at the age of 31. Her child died also and was buried beside her. I was surprised that Walter Nutt’s tragic death was only part of the story. The somber events of Nora Williams’ life seem an unfair burden for one family to bear. Some things we’re not yet meant to understand, but can only trust that one day we’ll see clearly.

Hurricane Irma passed our way as a tropical storm on September 11, 2017. It toppled the ancient oak at Wallace Cemetery, barely missing Walter Nutt’s grave. Jimmy and I began slowly clearing some limbs and leaves. Thanks to the Finn Cross family, the huge fallen oak has recently been removed from the graveyard.

Someday Walter Nutt’s grave will probably be lost again to time and vines and the absence of anyone looking for it. But I realize now that its inscription, Gone but not forgotten, will still be true for what’s most important. Finding his slab, and learning about his life, helped remind me that the condition of our graves is far less important than the condition of our souls. Taking care of one is worthwhile. Taking care of the other is critical.

Finding Walter Nutt led me to a rather intriguing story of love and tragedy that seems worth preserving a while longer. If you look for his grave, it’s on the north side of Wallace Cemetery. You might want to take a hoe or a rake with you. There’s still plenty that needs to be done.

I thought for a while that our work at Wallace Cemetery was a way of helping others. But I’ve found out that it’s mostly something we can do for ourselves.


Posted in 2018 | 8 Comments


A longtime friend, Mike Chason, texted me a picture of a sign back in October of 2017. The photo, taken on the roadside in Dillard, Georgia, read, “LEGS $2.” He sent it the same day that I published a column titled, “We Bare All.” My column was about the billboards that pollute I-75 with promotions for strip joints and sex stores. I thought Mike had found a new approach to that kind of advertising, but I also felt a tinge of pity. I figured for two dollars, that must be a really bad looking set of legs.

I enlarged the picture, and was surprised to see two wooden table legs propped against that sign. I didn’t think much more about it, until I got a disturbing phone call a few days later.

I don’t usually answer calls from a number I don’t recognize. This number, however, was from the Vienna exchange. I thought it must be someone I knew. The man on the line said it was his car fender that I dented in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot. He wanted to know what I was going to do about the repairs. I told him I didn’t know anything about it, that my wife does all the grocery shopping.

He said it had to be me, because I left my phone number on his windshield. I assured him that I had not hit a vehicle at Piggly Wiggly, and that I had not left my number on anyone’s windshield.

The man had an attitude that I found quite disagreeable. He said that I better take care of his car or he’d contact his attorney. I wanted to ask him how big a fellow he was, but then I remembered how nice it is having all my teeth. I told him that he had the wrong number and that I was hanging up.

I pressed the red button to disconnect, pushing it firmly so he would know I meant business. While telling my brother, Jimmy, about the call, my phone rang again. My old buddy, Bubba Collins, was laughing heartily. He wanted to know what I was going to do about repairing that man’s car. He and his youngest son, Alex, were on their way to a Georgia Tech football game. They had taken a side trip on Prank Call Road.

When Bubba called, it gave me an idea about contacting that leg outlet in Dillard. “Is this the place that sells legs for two dollars?” I asked. A real nice lady said it was, and offered to help me.

I said, “My friend Cletus was fishing for bream at The Blue Hole on Cedar Creek a while back, and a big mud cat got on his pole. He waded into the water to try to land him, but an alligator bit off his leg.”

“That’s just awful,” said the very sympathetic lady.

“Yes, mam. It’s been rough on him. He lost his leg and the fish, and his insurance won’t pay for a prosthesis because Cletus knew the gator was there. Do you think you all could fit Cletus with a leg, if I bring him by one day?”

The lady said she was really sorry about my friend’s leg, but she told me they didn’t handle prosthetics. She said, “What we sell are wooden legs for tables.”

I told her that was even better, that I was making my wife a custom-made table for our forty-third anniversary. I said, “It’s going to be four feet wide and eight feet long. Would I need four legs or six legs to make it sturdy?”

She said that would depend on a lot of things, such as how heavy the top was. I told her I was planning to use a sheet of half-inch plywood and maybe put a nice oak finish on it.

“What kind of a warranty program do y’all have on those legs?” I asked. “Let’s just say my table collapsed on account of a leg breaking. If I had something valuable on the table that got damaged, would y’all’s insurance take care of it?”

That’s when I could tell she had lost interest in making a sale. She said, “Why don’t you come over here and let my husband talk to you about that table you’re working on? I think he can explain it better. He might even be able to fit your friend Cletus with a leg, and maybe fit you with one too.”

I told her I couldn’t come right away, but asked if they could give me a call when it was a convenient time. She said that was fine with her. Then she asked for my name and number.

When that lady calls, I sure hope Bubba doesn’t say anything that might get us into trouble with the law. Bubba and I would probably be okay, but poor Cletus doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

Posted in 2018 | 7 Comments

Ole Red

Ole Red just showed up in our yard one day. He was unexpected and uninvited, but looking as if he planned on staying a while. We already had two Cocker Spaniels that were longtime family members. Libby and Freckles were in a shady fenced area in our back yard with access to their own room inside the garage. They weren’t too keen on a free range Irish Setter joining the party.

Jane and I talked about what to do with Ole Red. We peeked out the blinds, trying to see if he would leave us alone. He wouldn’t, so we fed him, scratched behind his ears, and told him firmly that this was a temporary arrangement.

Red didn’t have a collar. He seemed healthy but obviously had a few years behind him. I wondered if someone decided to put him out before his vet bills started on the upswing.

He was a smart dog and savvy about highways, seeming to understand he couldn’t win a fight with a car. He had a wonderful disposition and a disarming smile. It only took a few days before Jane and I started talking about the advantages of having an unfenced dog, the protection he would offer against snakes and strangers and anything else that might come along. We kept trying to find Red a good home, but Red kept unpacking his suitcase.

Within a few weeks of Red having found us, I went to a Dooly County Chamber of Commerce meeting. There was a good crowd that day at Marise’s restaurant, maybe 25 or so folks. One lady was new to the area and had just started working at local radio station 3WN, 1550 on the AM dial.  Most everyone else that day was a regular attendee.

When the meeting was almost over, President Mike Roper asked if there was anything else that needed to be discussed. In the most sincere persona that I could muster, I told the group that I wanted to express my appreciation for all that the Chamber had done for me through the years. I asked everyone to put their business cards in a hat, that I had something special to give away. We had a hat full of potential winners, some quite excited and some a bit suspicious.

I don’t remember the lady’s name from 3WN, but her card surfaced to the top. I told her that she had won an Irish Setter named Red.   I figured we would have a good laugh and that would be the end of it. Then she asked when she could pick him up.

She told me she had some work left to do at the station, that she would come by later, on her way home. So that my conscience wouldn’t keep me awake that night, I told her that she didn’t have to take the dog if she didn’t want him. I told her how Red had dropped by without an invitation, but quickly settled in. She assured me that she would be glad to get him, and would see me a little after five.

We gave her a bag of dogfood and offered to buy some more. She thanked us, but said that she usually cooked for her dogs. She was going by Stephen’s Super Foods and buy a ribeye to help welcome Red to his new home. She said Red would have steak, a warm bath, and a soft indoor bed. I thought about asking her to take me too, but I was afraid Jane might agree to let me go. I didn’t really want to wear a flea collar.

That was probably 15 years ago. I’ve lost track of the time, but I thought about Ole Red the other day when I saw a story about the Flint Humane Society and their ongoing need for funds. They do a great job with limited resources, and take care of some dogs that don’t have anywhere else to go.

When I think about Ole Red, he reminds me what a difference that a temporary home can make. A few weeks in foster care and he was adopted. He found a permanent home with a nice bed, plenty to eat, and someone to love him. Flint Humane Society helps make that happen for a lot of dogs.

Ole Red wasn’t with us very long, but he sure left me with a lot to think about. He saw us peeking through the blinds that day. I’m sort of glad he did.

Donations to the Flint Humane Society can be sent to P.O. Box 393, Vienna, GA 31092. For more information call 229-268-7030, 229-322-1596, or check them out on Facebook. If you want to send a contribution in memory of Ole Red, I think he would really like that.            

Posted in 2018 | 4 Comments

The Riddler

If someone mentioned The Riddler, many of us would immediately think of Batman’s wicked nemesis. I’m not sure if he’s still around, or what role he may play in Batman movies of today. In the television series of my childhood, he was a twisted character on the side of evil. He taunted our beloved superhero with riddles that had to be quickly solved to avert disaster.

Those were good days because Batman always won. Sometimes the outlook seemed bleak, but just in the nick of time our TV would display BAM! POW! WHAM! across the screen. We knew then that the forces of good had once again prevailed.

I recently learned that Cochran, Georgia, has a riddler on the loose. This one, thankfully, is on the side of good. There’s one thing, however, that he has in common with Batman’s foe. Solving his riddles can point toward salvation. And it’s thankfully permanent, not just for one episode.

Don Giles has been a close friend of mine since the fourth grade at Unadilla Elementary. It doesn’t surprise me that he donned the cape of a good riddler. Writing, as well as being on the side of good, are deeply engrained in his family genetics. His father, Frank Giles, has written hundreds of poems, including the delightfully humorous “Children and Goats.” That poem inspired a book by the same name, authored by David Giles, one of Don’s three younger brothers.

Don’s grandmother, Winnie S. Giles, was born in 1895, growing up in an era when entertainment often came from reading. She had a gift for remembering long poems like “Annie and Willie’s Christmas Prayer,” one that she recited at family Christmas gatherings. She frequently posed folk riddles to her grandchildren, riddles like: “Big at the bottom/ Little at the top/ A thing in the middle goes Flippity Flop/ What am I? A Butter Churn.”

Don and his wife, Ramona, are longtime members of First Baptist Church in Cochran. He’s served in many traditional roles, and in 2017 ventured into something new. Their church hosted a Fall Festival on October 31st.   Attendance was over a thousand, most of them children. There were 27 booths, each having a Biblical name. Don wrote riddles for every activity.

Booth #1 was Joseph’s Carpenter Tent: “I worked with wood, an honorable trade/ Told to take a wife and I obeyed/ Some friends of mine thought it was odd/ But I was the earthly father of the Son of God. / Who am I? Joseph, husband of Mary. Matthew 13:56.”

Don worked with Georgia Farm Bureau and drove thousands of miles over 37 years. He sometimes spent travel time composing riddles. He began with one about John the Baptist, then kept adding characters, events, and other bits of scriptural references.

About nine years ago Don started emailing some daily devotionals that he was reading. He began adding his riddles at the end to personalize the messages. Don isn’t sure how many riddles he has written, but enough that he’s been encouraged to publish a book. I think Riddles for a Reason might be a good name, but meanwhile he’s glad to share his efforts. You can request a copy by emailing

There’s a lot of competition for the attention of today’s children. Tempting roads that lead far away from faith are already too plentiful, with new ones being paved every day. Answering Don’s riddles won’t solve that problem, but it might lead toward the One that can.

Our high school English teacher, Mrs. Sadie Collins, once required us to write a poem and to read it in class. Don’s poem is the only one that I recall from that day. It portrayed a man who had died and was reflecting on his life, regretfully observing that he had done nothing worthwhile.

It’s easy to walk the path of the man in the poem, but that’s not what Don chooses to do. Unlike The Riddler of yesterday’s television, he composes puzzling lines to point others toward The Perfect Answer. It’s still early in this new year, an ideal time for some personal reflection. It never hurts to ask, “Am I living in a way that’s truly worthwhile?” That’s not a riddle, just a simple question with only one right answer.

Posted in 2018 | 7 Comments