The Power of Suggestion

“White Socks – Part 2” mentioned cracks between the floorboards of Mr. Rufus Collins’ childhood home. That description reminded Dooly County businessman Lee Harris of a story told by the late James Peavy. It struck me as an amusing illustration of the power of suggestion.

Facts and fiction were often blended in the days when farmers swapped tales at country stores. This account involves two friends from that era. Both had a knack for helping people laugh.     

During James Peavy’s childhood, his pal Ray Howard came to visit and stayed overnight. As the sun went down, afternoon’s warmth gave way to freezing temperatures. The Peavy’s old house had big cracks between its floorboards and a tin top speckled with holes. It was sometimes colder indoors than out.

Bedtime came and the boys crawled under a dozen hand-stitched quilts. The blankets were so heavy James’ mother had to help them when they wanted to turn over. Despite the thick layering, Ray complained he was too cold to sleep.

 “I think a window is open,” said James. “Why don’t you get up and close it?” Ray felt his way around the dark room and let it down. He warmed up so much he soon threw the covers back, unaware the window had no panes. 

James Peavy was a masterful storyteller and Ray Howard’s wit was so dry it left you thirsting for more. He spoke slowly, kept a cigar perched in his mouth, and found humor in everyday events. A memorable example is when he went to buy a heater for his home.

The business owner asked Mr. Ray how many BTUs he needed. British Thermal Unit,   BTU, is the amount of heat needed to raise one gallon of water by one degree Fahrenheit. In case anyone is wondering, I had to look that up.

Mr. Ray shifted his cigar slightly and paused for a moment before responding. “I don’t know anything about BTUs,” he said in his South Georgia drawl. “What I need is a heater with enough BTUs to warm my wife’s B-U-T-T, which is about the size of a T-U-B.” 

Another example of the power of suggestion is something my father told me in childhood that his father told him. Papa Joiner’s advice was, “Never date a girl you’d be ashamed to marry.” 

That’s good counsel for boys, and just as solid for girls if you flip it around. It’s even appropriate for grownups, knowing we sometimes behave like children.

Speaking of boys and girls, one of the most rewarding suggestions I ever received came from a college friend, Paul White. He and Jane were taking a class together and went on a date, but friendship interfered with romance.

Paul thought Jane and I would be a good match and said I should ask her out. She was elated of course and here we are 51 years later. Paul grew up in Americus, but it’s been decades since we’ve had any contact. If anyone knows how to reach him, I’d like to thank Paul. Jane wants to have a word with him too. 

Some suggestions come indirectly in conversation or by example. Years ago a married couple was in my bank office trying to figure out a budget. It surprised me to find that despite substantial financial challenges they faithfully tithed.  

When I mentioned their giving, the husband said something that made a lasting impression. “We write our check to the church first thing every month,” he said. “If we wait until later the money might not be there.” 

I was supposed to be helping that couple, but maybe God brought them in for my benefit. Perhaps it was God’s way of suggesting I learn from their example. Giving the first and best part of our offerings isn’t just about money. It’s about time, talents, and commitment. And most importantly, it’s about attitude. As Paul said, “God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

James Peavy’s humorous tale is a delightful reminder of the power of suggestion. Closing that paneless window warmed Ray Howard so much he forgot about the cold. And sharing that story among friends surely warmed the hearts of both those fine gentlemen.

The warmth of a close friendship is probably impossible to measure, but I can’t say that with any degree of certainty. I don’t know anything about BTUs.             

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The Heavenly Choirs

Part 3 of “Praying the Alphabet” identified music as one of life’s blessings. That led me to do some thinking about the heavenly choirs. Whether there’s one or umpteen I have no idea, but their music is undoubtedly soaring. 

My hometown of Unadilla is well represented by too many singers and musicians to name. I’ll just mention a few high-school friends today, guys who were instrumental in tuning my limited talents.         

During my freshman year, four juniors invited me to join the F.F.A String Band to play piano. My skills were basic, but Charles Jones and Jerry Pickard taught me the essentials. I was taking lessons from Mrs. Mary Frances Beddingfied, a wonderful instructor, but students back then were taught to play what was written. Improvisation was not on the menu.   

At our first band session I was introduced to forming chords and playing by ear. Charlie and Jerry, both gifted on multiple instruments, patiently offered advice and encouragement over the next two years.   

Michael Sullivan was our first bandmate to join the heavenly choirs. He played lead guitar and had a smooth voice similar to country star Jim Reeves. When Mike sang “The Green Green Grass of Home” it was easy to visualize people gathering for a final goodbye. 

Mike would come by my house on Monday nights and give me a ride to our practices in the school’s auditorium. He’d play old instrumentals like “Wildwood Flower” and sing a few as well.   

Harmony Baptist Church is where I still picture him singing “It Is No Secret What God Can Do.” Mike embraced God’s love at an early age and was a stellar example of faithful living.   

Another Jerry, last name McIntyre, played drums and was the second bandmate to climb Jacob’s ladder. Jerry kept better time than a metronome, and his high-speed solo on “Wipeout” was always a crowd pleaser. He was an exceptional athlete whose coordination was evident when he hammered those sticks. 

Jerry also had a splendid voice, something I first learned when hearing him sing “There Goes My Everything.” Jerry performed with confidence, the same way he approached sports and life. That’s why I was brave enough to walk the streets of Atlanta with him late one night.

The band was there for the statewide F. F. A. competition. The two of us somehow ended up navigating among dozens of hippies sprawled on the floor of an abandoned building on Peachtree Street. I don’t think I’d ever seen a hippie up close. I hoped this was a peaceful tribe. 

They were asleep or either had a no-talking rule after midnight. With Jerry in the lead we high-stepped over motionless bodies on blankets, careful not to trip over anyone. That strikes me as a bit foolish now, but seemed like a good idea at the time.

Charles Jones was the third bandmate to leave for a loftier venue. Like his father, Horace Jones, Charlie could tame anything with strings. He played bass guitar and occasionally plucked a bluegrass tune on his mandolin, or joined Jerry Pickard on piano for “Down Yonder.” 

When Charles sang “Johnny B. Goode” the audience couldn’t help but grin and pat their feet. He loved making music and helping folks laugh.  

Jerry Pickard is the only one left of those four, which is a bit sobering. I wrote a column about him titled “Running Toward God.” That’s what he’s been doing ever since I’ve known him.

He moved from piano to rhythm guitar when I joined the group, plus sang some memorable numbers. “On the Wings of a Dove” is one I fondly recall. 

At Charles Jones’ funeral service Jerry played “Last Date” on piano. Then I joined him for a duet of “Down Yonder,” a light-hearted tribute to a fun-loving friend we knew had reached higher ground.

The heavenly choirs don’t need my modest talent, but I’m hoping the F.F.A String Band can get together again. A small stage in the corner of gloryland will be fine. That’s a big step up from a flatbed trailer at a Purina Store opening.

We probably won’t have a full reunion anytime soon, but there’s no way to know. That’s why I made reservations. I’d rather stay below a while longer, but my faith is in what’s above.

I’m confident the green, green grass of home will someday lead me to the streets of pure gold. Music there is undoubtedly soaring. The heavenly choirs can hit the high notes.             

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Praying the Alphabet – Part 3

My restful approach to healing while writing was abruptly halted due to carelessness. Jane caught me walking without a limp. We’ll go from H to Z today. 

Hope gets the nod for H. An old hymn, “The Solid Rock,” says it well. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” 

Imagination is a blessing easily overlooked. Justice, though often flawed, will one day be received by all. Kindness is essential and Love providential. 1 John 4:16 says, “God is love.” That defining quality sets our Creator apart from gods made in man’s image.

Music warrants inclusion, with lessons of faith expressed beautifully through lyrics and melodies. N brings New to mind – Lamentations 3:22-23 says his mercies are new every morning. If they weren’t, we’d all be in trouble.

Opportunity is our O word. Our nation, despite massive problems, is still a land of immense opportunity. Scores of people would love to make America their home. The list of those trying to leave is short.

Patience has its own prayer. “God give me patience and give it to me right now!” A challenge of the Christian faith is being patient for long-term rewards. Temporary pleasures compete with eternal treasures.

Q presented a quandary, but I settled on Quiet. I’m increasingly appreciative of the blessing of clear sounds as my hearing becomes less reliable. But I’m also thankful for quiet times, for porch swings on a sunny winter day or walks by a stream which tenderly polishes ancient rocks.

Radicals need to be in our prayers, some for a change of heart and others to be emboldened. Paul was a radical as was Peter, a quality inspired by the one they served. The world has not seen anyone as radical as Jesus, a King who chose a cross over a crown. 

Songs might be repetitive since Music has been mentioned, but there aren’t any rules for this exercise. Songs can lift our spirits or lead toward silent introspection. They can motivate us to action or soothe our souls, cause us to shed a tear or make us laugh out loud.              

Tenacity isn’t often requested in prayers but probably should be. Jesus made it clear in Revelations 3:15 how he feels about lukewarm faith. Perhaps we need to ask for tenacity to be faithful when it’s not easy, to witness when it’s uncomfortable, to take a stand when it’s unpopular. Tenacity, however, is of little value unless paired with love. 

Ukraine needs prayers and much more due to Russia’s brutal invasion. After the country didn’t crumble as expected, President Putin began bombing utilities and infrastructure, even hospitals and maternity wards, trying to make life intolerable. 

In addition to prayers, there are tangible ways to assist. Samaritan’s Purse is an organization I have confidence in. Donations can be sent to P. O. Box 3000, Boone, NC 28607 and designated for Ukraine Response.    

Variety is said to be the spice of life. God may have had that in mind when he created seasons, colors, sounds, and such. He even gave us unique fingerprints, something far beyond my comprehension.    

Wisdom seems a good use of W, a letter I overlooked until the charming Vice President of Proof noticed. I keep asking God for more wisdom. He keeps hinting I should make better use of what I already have.  

Xylophone players have never been mentioned in my prayers. I hope a xylophonist somewhere will read this and smile. Please don’t run with the sticks. Searching for an X word reminded me there are countless areas I neglect. Blessings, needs, and praises all get shortchanged.          

Youth need our prayers. My father’s generation left the world better than they found it, but I’m not sure my group can make that claim. Regardless of your view, prayers for divine guidance for young people are in order. Youth I define as no more than 49. 

Zion will complete my haphazard attempt at praying the alphabet. Whether the whole world seems a hopeless mess or it’s just our part that keeps us from rest, I am reminded by Isaac Watts this is only my temporary home. But as I’m “Marching to Zion” sometimes I’m limping.

Thank goodness there’s a remedy for spiritual thorns. The Great Physician offers the way with no copay for Jesus paid it all. On that note this prayer will end. You’re welcome to join me as we say, “Amen.”   

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Praying the Alphabet – Part 2

A sequel wasn’t planned for “Praying the Alphabet,” but I was writing more than working in late November. Skin cancer surgery dealt me a sore hand, and the doctor cautioned against popping the stitches loose. I listened carefully due to a pain allergy.      

But wait there’s more. The day before my procedure, something sharp stuck through my tennis shoe while clipping vines in the woods. I didn’t see a snake, so I switched to a limp and clip technique. That worked okay until I stepped in a hole and twisted my ankle. 

With a stitched hand, sore foot, and tender ankle, I was moving so slowly the buzzards began circling. I relaxed under an ancient birch one afternoon as Harriet splashed through the nearby stream. An alphabetical prayer session focused on topics rather than people.

What subjects I covered would be a guess and don’t really matter. These aren’t suggestions, just examples of how letters can lead to ideas.

America is getting mentioned a second time because the need for prayers is critical. Sometimes, however, my requests are for a nation that suits my preferences more than one which pleases God. Hopefully there’s considerable overlap, but God’s perspective is unlimited whereas mine barely reaches the horizon. 

Beatitudes seem a good use of B. In Matthew 5:3-12 they are found within The Sermon on the Mount. That’s excellent reading, better than anything you’ll find at Joiner’s Corner. If you only have time to ponder Jesus’ words or mine, choose his.

C is for Can. I was aggravated when my foot and hand interfered with work plans. Dwelling on limitations, however, is unproductive, whether they are minor or severe. Paul said it beautifully in Philippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

My intention to limit each letter to one paragraph is going off the rails at this point. While writing, I recalled a moment from decades ago at Vienna United Methodist Church. I’m not sure why I was in the congregation, but a teenage girl, Jeanna Gregory, gave a memorable reading of “The Little Engine That Could.”  

Her enthusiastic presentation was intended for children, but I found inspiration too. I need to read that short story often to remind me of the little engine’s mantra. “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”

For D I’ll go with Dogs again. Of all the creatures God made, I don’t know another that’s so appreciative and forgiving. I read a prayer somewhere that said, “God help me be the person my dog thinks I am.” That says it perfectly.

Environment will represent E today, an area that needs our prayers and efforts. God entrusted us to care for his amazing creation, but my guess is he’s a bit disappointed. Jane and I recently watched a Netflix series titled “Down to Earth,” which explored some means toward a healthier planet and conveyed an underlying message – the solution to pollution begins at home. The same holds true for our spiritual environment.

Friends gets the nod for F. I visited with Mr. Charles Speight last spring, not long before he turned 100. When I asked what he wanted for his birthday, he said, “ Good health and good friends.” One of the few advantages I’ve found of aging is having older friends. Mr. Charles is the most senior of that group and continues to inspire us kids.

Gratitude will close us out today. I don’t know the origin, but Linda Hobbs is who I first recall saying, “Let gratitude be your attitude.” Linda and I grew up a mile apart and worked together for many years at Bank of Dooly. She shared that jewel of wisdom in one of our Wednesday morning staff meetings.  

It’s easy to feel gratitude for blessings, but I find it hard to appreciate challenges. Paul, however, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, wrote about the thorn in his flesh and the value of its humbling effect. He was grateful for something unpleasant because it improved his usefulness to Christ.

I would have rather been clipping bullis vines along the stream than praying through the alphabet or writing a column. But the thorn in my foot reminded me of Paul’s situation, and his admonition to give thanks in all circumstances. (I Thessalonians 5:18)

So I’ll end this rambling prayer with a simple heartfelt plea, that an attitude of gratitude might shine its light through me. 

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Praying the Alphabet

Perhaps I had heard the idea before and dismissed it, or maybe November 22nd was my first introduction. When I read Rick Hamlin’s devotional in Daily Guideposts, alphabetical prayers at bedtime struck me as a practice worth exploring. 

Rather than counting innumerable sheep, 26 letters help Rick go to sleep. Family and friends are regularly included, but there are no rules. I’ve tested the method a few times, not to entice slumber but to facilitate praying.    

As a child I had a hard time going to sleep. I’d toss and turn and pull the covers loose. Now it only takes a minute to drift off the first time, though second and third rounds are less predictable.

Thankfully, alphabetized praying is suitable in many venues. I recently had a nine o’clock dermatology appointment in Warner Robins but arrived too soon. At 8:15 the blinds were still closed at the walk-up window. 

A notice said they would reopen that Monday morning, which followed Thanksgiving, at nine a.m. It seemed odd that no time was allowed for paperwork, but I returned to my truck to wait. My first thought was to crank up some classic country at Willie’s Roadhouse. Rick’s mention of prayer, however, interfered with the music.

Thirty minutes didn’t get me far into the alphabet, as my prayers tend to drift off course. I’m not sure what was covered in that half hour, but here are some things that come to mind now.     

Abby, our first grandchild, gets dibs on A. With my tendency to quickly fall asleep, however, I’m thinking A should be for All our grandchildren. Otherwise Melanie and Megan will usually get left out and Walt won’t stand a chance.

Initially my inclination was to stick with people, but A reminds me to pray for America, something I admittedly neglect. And when I do remember, sometimes I make suggestions how God might handle matters, rather than asking what he desires from me.    

Our nation has been divided before, severely at times, but voices of reason have traditionally prevailed. Such voices are dwindling in today’s politics. Servant leaders are often not electable. Others choose not to wade into the bitter quagmire that’s become the norm.     

B is for the Bodrey family which our daughter Carrie married into. Then C brings up Callaway which covers Erin’s household. Seth would be way down the list, so I figure it’s best to remember him along with his sisters.

My mother, who is 96, deserves an earlier spot than M would allow, so I’ll include her at this point. And it’s essential I don’t forget my wife, who now has the stress of dealing with a 70 year old husband. As Dorothy said to her dog, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”   

D will stand for Dog today, especially for Harriet who faithfully accompanies me on each trip to the woods. Besides protecting me from squirrels, she’s an ideal confidant. Harriet listens attentively and seldom speaks.  

There are several benefits to Rick Hamlin’s approach to prayer. It can be used to quickly mention a number of people or to elaborate on a few. Or we can let our minds wander through the letters and see what happens. 

At 8:45 that Monday morning, I ambled into the lobby again, thinking the window might open early. The blind was was still closed and the waiting room empty, so I took a seat. That’s when I realized I was trying to register at Beltone Hearing Aids. 

Nearby signage pointed me down the hall to Georgia Dermatology, where a nurse and I had a good laugh. I thought the mixup might be an omen of hearing aids which Jane has suggested I need. The nurse said that was possible, or it could be pointing toward new glasses. Twelve stitches later I headed home with a two-week excuse from yard work and washing dishes.

Praying the alphabet won’t appeal to everyone and I don’t know if I’ll use it long term. But when sleep won’t come, or you’re wide awake and passing time in your truck, I believe Rick’s method is worth a try.    

After several starts, always beginning with A, I’ve not made it past D. For those of us who drift off easily, or whose minds are prone to wander, 26 letters present a challenge. In the early part of the ABCs, my prayers give way to slumbering ZZZZZZZZZs.           

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How To Eat An Elephant

In December of 1980 I began working at Bank of Dooly. Not long afterward the bank sponsored four of us to take a Dale Carnegie course in Cordele. What we learned about remembering names is gone, but a few memories survived. One of my favorites is a quote, which was probably already well known yet was new to me. 

My recollection of Ray Clemons’ brief talk is limited to his opening line. He said, “I’ve always heard the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”

Desmond Tutu, the late Anglican bishop from South Africa, has been credited with a similar version of that thought. Some references say it’s an ancient African proverb. Regardless of its origin, Bishop Tutu’s global prominence surely expanded the audience, perhaps all the way to the Clemons Farm near Unadilla.

After taking some time off due to family health matters, I resumed working in the woods in late summer, mostly clipping vines and knocking down inland sea oats. And I began mulling over Ray’s advice, sometimes reciting it to Harriet, my canine assistant.

Like many jobs, the hardest part of this one was getting started. I had gotten out of the routine, then began finding reasons to stall. Snakes and ticks were the top deterrents, but unwanted oats began double-dog daring me to to take a swing with a sling.   

Wild oats would have been a minor problem if contained when they first appeared. These, however, had roamed freely for years. Each stalk produces dozens of seeds which adeptly ride the slightest breeze or float atop rivulets of rainwater. Their territory had been expanding without disruption. 

I cringed at the thought of not seeing where I was putting my feet. The oats, however, were a growing problem, plus Harriet, a once homeless blue heeler, loves having company. So I sprayed for ticks, prayed for safety, watched for snakes, and began weedeating. 

Seeds were already on the stalk when I renewed my efforts, and were probably mature enough to survive the thrashing. I won’t know for sure until next spring. Either way, my plans are to get an early start whacking and spraying before they produce another crop.

Unwanted vines have been another recent focus. There are climbing briars and several I can’t identify. The most prolific, however, are bullis vines. I have no idea how many I’ve cut, but it’s in the hundreds and the party is not over.

Some are small enough for garden shears. Others can be clipped with a lopper and some leverage. For the biggest ones a chainsaw works best. I’ve cut a few large vines by hand with a pruning saw, but nixed that strategy due to concern the blade might overheat. 

The largest bullis vine I’ve sawed through measured eight inches in diameter. That may not be a world record, but it’s bigger than anything I’ve seen in the wild. Quite notably, it had required no special attention to flourish and entangle several trees. All it needed was to be ignored.

Last year, I cut dozens of the bullis vines back to the base. My hope was they would produce fruit on that new growth rather than high and out of reach. What I’ve learned, however, is offshoots continue to relentlessly spread, often on the ground and hidden under fallen leaves.

Trees are enjoying relief from the clinging vines that have been clipped, but eradication will require more than severe prunings. The root of the problem must be addressed. 

While trying to eliminate the bullis vines and wild oats, I’ve been pondering Ray’s comment from long ago. I’ve gained a greater appreciation for its humorous and profound message, but what strikes me as more significant is the wisdom of that approach in facing life’s challenges.

There’s an endless list of situations which can be overwhelming. It might be health issues, family matters, strained finances, or divisive politics to name a few. It can be an ominous feeling we can’t explain because we don’t fully understand it. Sometimes even the Christmas season is accompanied by feelings of anxiety which temper our joy.

Everyone’s circumstances are unique. Some have a clear path forward while others face difficulties that almost defy solutions. Whether it’s manual labor, like clearing vines and oats, or overwhelming  problems which seem impossible to resolve, Ray shared a solid idea. 

Harriet and I have found Ray’s advice helpful, so maybe someone else will too. It doesn’t matter how big the elephant is. “The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”       

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The Leaning Trees

In the woods near my mother’s childhood home, dozens of trees are noticeably leaning, a few almost parallel to the ground. Some were bent when another tree or heavy limb fell across. Others have been slowly pulled down by climbing vines which show no mercy.

I’ve cut a few such trees with my chainsaw, but usually leave them alone if they show even slight potential. Several I’ve freed from bondage, giving them a second chance to reach toward heaven. Most are unremarkable in terms of aesthetics, but two deserve inclusion in The Leaning Tree Hall of Fame.  

Native Americans are said to have tied trees down to alter their natural growth. The same sapling would sometimes be manipulated in multiple directions for various reasons, like marking a trail or boundary. Tree bending was probably sometimes done to impress neighbors or young ladies. Whitewall tires weren’t available to line driveways.

Daddy told me that during his youth boys would use a rope to pull a limber sapling over then ride the spring-loaded top. One kid would cling tightly as the others released and launched him skyward. It wasn’t as fun as a trip to the fair but the price was great.

A leaning tree I find especially lovely is a birch whose long roots are mostly exposed. I would guess it’s only a few decades old. During the past several years, as we’ve spent more time in those woods, I’ve gained an increasing appreciation for that tree which refuses to surrender to gravity.

Years ago it was steadily secured on the bank of the stream, but passing water has eroded the soil from its base. The birch is about 30 feet tall yet its top is almost within my reach. A barren trunk is tethered by a mass of open-air roots which eventually pass through shallow water and grab the earth.  

The tree’s tenacity is inspiring and its peculiarity endearing, plus it’s useful. When our grandson, Walt, was looking for crawdads, those twisted roots turned out to be their favorite hiding place. That day’s catch was cooked for Walt’s supper, but now we leave them undisturbed. Even crawdads need a place to call home.  

My other favorite leaning tree is firmly grounded, but suffered an unknown trauma long ago. It’s on a tiny peninsula which has been patiently carved by years of flowing water. The tulip poplar offers an ideal setting for taking photos or escaping from alligators.

We’ve only seen one alligator along the branch. To his credit, he didn’t sneak up on us. We unknowingly walked within a few feet of him before being unexpectedly greeted. 

Jimmy, my late brother, first spotted the huge gator submerged and resting on the bottom near the spring. Apparently he had traveled upstream from a pond on an adjoining property. The big fellow visited a few weeks then left, presumably returning home. We didn’t know he stopped halfway there. 

Megan and our daughter, Erin, were with Jimmy and me taking a relaxed walk along the branch. We were unaware the gator was quietly perched on the bank of the stream. He startled us with a four-foot belly flop into knee-deep water. Megan shimmied up the leaning tree as the rest of us scampered away. I ran because my license for gator wrestling had expired. 

That ancient poplar’s massive base is heavily tilted and grew into two trunks of about the same size. One goes straight up, but the other slopes about eight feet before making a turn toward twelve o’clock. The oddly shaped tree reminds me that neither beauty nor purpose require perfection. 

If I needed timber for sawing into boards, I’d want trees with exemplary posture. For a walk in the woods, however, I love those which are charmingly blemished, which have flourished despite their setbacks. 

Imperfect trees are not so different from life when plans go awry. It may be from self-inflicted wounds or due to things beyond our control. Either way, the weight of burdens can bend us so badly it’s hard to look up. And climbing vines of every kind can steal the sunlight and overshadow our dreams.

Two oddly-shaped trees beside the stream remind me that blessings sometimes come in unorthodox forms. When life doesn’t turn out as expected it can be hard to accept and even harder to embrace. But the leaning trees in my favorite woods show that challenging circumstances can lead to new opportunities. One gave Megan a lasting memory. The other found an uncommon purpose. Even crawdads need a place to call home.       

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White Socks – Part 3

As we wrap up this series, don’t expect any grand revelations. Today’s lesson is one from childhood which has been seasoned by experience. Maybe that’s a topic for another time, how seeds planted in spring are harvested in later seasons. 

Two ladies recently had a minor collision in my mother’s driveway. One was backing up as the other was pulling in. Their accident reminded me of something my father told me as a teenager or perhaps earlier. He said, “Don’t ever back up if you can go forward.”

Daddy’s point was that we don’t know what’s behind us. He encouraged us to park so we didn’t have to use reverse when possible. That’s not always an option, but a somber moment from youth still reminds me of what can happen.  

Bags of peanut seeds were stacked high in the bed of Daddy’s pickup for the next day’s planting. His truck was parked under the shelter to keep them dry overnight. When I slid under the steering wheel the following morning, I had no idea our chihuahua was nearby. 

Granddaddy Hill had given Skip to me when I was in the fourth grade. Chihuahuas were thought by some to help with asthma, a problem which severely affected me at times. That’s why my grandfather paid fifty dollars, a lot of money in 1960, for an unproven remedy. 

Medical science probably doesn’t support the reputed health benefits of those little dogs. Rumors of healing may have come from an innovative chihuahua salesman. All I know is I stopped having asthmatic episodes after Skip came. Whether he deserves any credit I can’t say. Either way it was a relief from the panicky feeling of struggling to breathe. 

Most challenges have a silver lining and I guess asthma did for me. Dr. Ted Coleman in Hawkinsville made a wry comment that got my attention. He said, “Neil, if you want to keep having trouble getting your breath, you should take up smoking.” That convinced me not to ride beside The Marlboro Man.              

Skip was twice as big as most chihuahuas, so probably came from mixed parentage. He lived inside for a few months, until unacceptable bathroom habits led to his ouster. We knew when he’d been naughty because he stayed out of sight.

Like Adam and Eve, Skip tried to hide, except he used furniture as his cover. Thankfully the outdoor lifestyle suited him fine. He got along great with Trixie, a collie mix who was smarter than Lassie. Rather than going for help, Trixie never let us fall into a well. A heat lamp warmed their cozy bed in winter. 

There’s an old saying that could be applied to Skip. “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight that matters. It’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Chihuahuas are known for bravado and Skip had more than his share. He was friendly toward people but didn’t cater to canines he thought were trespassing.

A neighbor’s dog, belonging to the Homer Todd family, was trotting by our house one day minding its own business. Although the road was public, Skip’s domain extended beyond our lawn. He ran toward that much bigger dog, which I nervously assumed would stand its ground. The dog fled instead with Skip chasing after.

If Skip had caught him, it would not have ended well for the home team. I’m not sure if going after a bigger dog is an example of courage or foolishness. Skip’s fearless attitude was admirable, but I don’t think he realized we can catch things that won’t turn us loose. 

The truck was barely moving, still under the shelter when I heard Skip’s yelp. It was a heartbreaking scene, but hard lessons can at least help prevent future mistakes.

Daddy’s comment years ago was made for safety reasons and nothing more. The principle, however, can be applied to many areas, including spiritual matters. The direction we’re heading is a good way to assess our daily walks of faith. Backsliding often affects more than the driver and leads to unintended casualties.     

Sometimes I ignore what I know is best, even with things that are important. But the seeds my father planted in springtime are better appreciated with each passing season.

I don’t have any grand revelations, just simple advice from a wise and godly man. I’m glad I can still hear my father’s voice. “Don’t ever back up when you can go forward.”                     

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White Socks – Part 2

Reflecting on things I learned while growing older keeps taking me back to childhood. One such memory concerns fences, a lesson I appreciate more now than then.  

I’ve been weed eating in the woods at my mother’s childhood home lately. Rusted page wire, flattened by time, is camouflaged by limbs, leaves, and vines. I’ve found yesteryear’s remnants with my feet several times and once with a chainsaw. It reminded me of Daddy’s tongue-in-cheek comparison of my grandfathers’ approaches to putting up fences.  

Papa Joiner, he’d say with a slight grin, would reuse old wire and homemade cypress posts that were cut off the farm. He’d sometimes flip the posts over and put the top in the ground, giving them a fresh start. His fences lacked glamor, but were tightly stretched and followed straight lines.  

Grandaddy Hill, on the other hand, favored new wire and creosote posts, and took a casual approach toward alignment. Trees, even if a little off course, were enlisted into service. Evidence of that practice remains in trees which gradually swallowed sections of wire. 

Sharing their contrasting philosophies was Daddy’s subtle way of advocating conservative living. My father was born in 1923 and grew up plowing a mule. He was still farming that way in 1947 when Mama said, “I do.” Cora was replaced with a Big M Farmall before I came along in 1952. Big exaggerates the tractor’s size, but perhaps described the huge improvement over walking.  

Daddy’s frugal nature was reinforced by a drought in 1954. That was the first year he was unable to repay his crop loan at Exchange Bank of Unadilla. Mr. Tom Woodruff let him carry his debt over and loaned him more operating money. His appreciation for Mr. Tom never waned, nor did the unsettling experience of a crop failure.    

My father didn’t give lectures. He taught by making observations and through example. With current talk of a recession, Daddy’s philosophy toward finances is worth revisiting. Frugality won’t solve every financial problem, but it’s a start.  

A similar view was perfectly expressed years ago in a wry comment made by Mr. Rufus Collins, a man ten years older than my father. I met Mr. Rufus after Jane and I moved to Vienna in 1975. He had retired from farming by the time I began working at Bank of Dooly in 1980. That’s where I would usually see him.  

As he was leaving one day, I followed him outside to visit for a few minutes. Mr. Rufus was driving a well-worn 1974 Chevy pickup with faded green and white paint. Knowing that was by choice and not necessity, I teased him about being overdue for an upgrade.

 “Mr. Rufus,” I said, “The bank will be glad to help you get a new truck if you’re about ready.” He smiled as he opened a dusty door and shared a pearl of wisdom. He said, “Son, save the meat that hangs closest to the door.”

He was referring to the days when most farms had a smokehouse, a place to cure and store hams and such. It was probably tempting at times to grab what was convenient rather than going to the back corner to get the oldest.

Larry Collins recently told me another saying of his father, a response to his loving wife when she wanted to do something he didn’t consider essential. He’d tenderly say, “Vera, we’re comfortable. We’re doing okay. I want to save so the young’uns won’t have to go through what I did.”

Born in 1913, Mr. Rufus had a firsthand look at hard times. The cracks between the floorboards of his childhood home were wide enough that wind would move the bed covers. Most of us don’t have that perspective, but we can learn from those who do.        

Economic problems are likely to present increasingly painful challenges. I have no idea what the future holds, but here’s what I’m certain of. Two men who understood lean times would recommend getting prepared.     

Stumbling across those fallen fences reminded me of how Daddy described my grandfathers. And that led me to a treasured memory of Mr. Rufus Collins. Conservative living has mostly gone out of style, but it might be a good time to bring it back.

Rusty wire and reused posts may not impress the people who ride by, but that’s not important. A better approach is to ask if the fence will keep the cows in.

Decisions can be viewed from multiple angles, and old material is not always the best choice. But there’s one thing about cattle and fences that’s become more clear as I’ve grown older. Cows don’t care if the wire is new.       

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White Socks

I was surprised to recently learn that Don Giles, a friend since fourth grade, usually wears white socks six days a week. It’s not for style. He says they’re better for your feet. Enlightened by his example, I’m considering a gradual shift from black as toe holes mature.  

Socks are not something Don and I normally discuss. The subject came up in a text with him and our pal Mike Chason on my 70th birthday. Mike shared some memories from our time at Valdosta State College. He recalled my innovative pairing of black socks with white tennis shoes on the basketball court.

To be clear, I wasn’t on the college team. Coach Jim Melvin preferred players with high-school experience and talent. The same was true when James Dominey of Vienna took over. The gym, however, was open to students on weekends and was a gathering place for guys to shoot hoops. We tried to attract cheerleaders but none jumped at the chance. 

Don, Mike, and I were members of Delta Chi fraternity, which consistently excelled in intramurals. I wasn’t a prospect for that roster either. Mike, a high-school basketball star, played with Delta Chi but polished his game with us outliers on weekends. 

Several fraternity brothers, including Don and me, decided to form an intramural team just for fun. The Delta Flyers were sort of a low-talent version of the Globetrotters except for our special strategy – ignore the score. 

We didn’t fly very high so I saw no need to change socks for our games. I wore the black ones I’d begun the day with, thereby avoiding unnecessary additions to a smoldering laundry pile. 

Black socks fit perfectly in my pursuit of roundball mediocrity until our coach pulled rank. Danny Chadwick, another fraternity brother, was a Physical Education major and took his leadership role seriously. He decided we should dress like a real team.

Danny politely suggested I wear white socks on a couple of occasions, then finally delivered an ultimatum. “Joiner,” he said, “if you show up with black socks again I’m benching you!” Not wanting to jeopardize a three-game, two-point scoring streak I complied.  

Mike’s mention of my unique attire prompted Don to suggest a column: “White socks and other things I’ve learned as I’ve grown older.” I can’t promise anything exceptional, but the best place to start is perhaps the beginning. 

One of my earliest lessons came because of our dog, Mug. I followed her into the wheat field until she left me behind. Having no idea how to get home, I sat on the ground and cried until Mama found me. Daddy explained later that looking up could have helped me find the way back. He said to look for a tree top or something high and walk straight toward it. 

Since then I’ve discovered there are thousands of ways to get lost. Some are minor detours while others lead to dead ends. Regardless of how far we’ve strayed, though, the best path forward comes through looking up.

Captain Kangaroo deserves credit for another early lesson, one that’s essential. He taught me to sing the ABCs, a tune that still readily comes to mind. Mr. Green Jeans, Dancing Bear, and Grandfather Clock were regulars on his show. I don’t remember much about the series except that Grandfather Clock slept a lot. He was probably tired from having too much time on his hands.    

A third thing I learned early is to keep a salt shaker in the truck during summer. Daddy and I loved wild plums and both preferred the half-ripened stage. Each year we’d stop on the roadside at volunteer orchards. We’d sprinkle salt in our palms then lick each plum before rolling, chewing, and spitting the seed out. 

Pomegranates were another seasonal favorite of ours. Mrs. Dora Rogers had a big bush from which she generously shared. My earliest memory of eating a pomegranate is of sitting at our breakfast table as Daddy separated the fruit from the bitter pulp.

When I asked if the President of the United States had someone who prepared his pomegranates, Daddy said he didn’t know. We put a few in the freezer one year but they were mushy when thawed. Some things are intended for the moment and not much use later on. 

Hopefully, that won’t be the case if I make a belated transition to white socks. Switching colors fifty years ago kept me from being sentenced to the sidelines, but making a change now may be even more important. If white socks are good for the feet, they’re bound to be good for the sole.              

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