Retirement Advice

A man named Ben, who lives in Lee County, sent me an email in early December of 2019.  He said he planned to retire at year end and wanted to know if I had any advice.  I told him to stay off ladders and don’t tell his wife he’s retiring.  She’ll eventually find out, but by then he should have been able to establish a routine that’s unblemished by spousal coercion.

The advice I gave him seemed potentially beneficial to others, so I decided to put it in a column with some other ideas.  As I began writing, a few comments I’ve heard about retirement came to mind.

Buddy Mashburn and his wife, Donna, owned The Clothing Carnival in Unadilla for many years.  After they sold their business and moved to Florida a mutual friend of ours went to visit them.  When he asked Donna how she liked retirement, she didn’t hesitate.

“I have half the money and twice the husband,” she said.  “What do you think?”

Another quote I heard was attributed to Mr. John Ransom, a former postmaster in Unadilla.  Not long after he quit canceling stamps someone asked him how things were going.  “It’s been rough,” he said.  “I don’t get any holidays, sick leave, or vacation.”

Pete and Laura are friends of ours who live in Tennessee.  Pete has retired but Laura is still working.  When she came home from her job one afternoon, she asked Pete, “What did you do today?”

“Nothing,” he replied.

“I thought that’s what you did yesterday,” she responded.

“I did,” said Pete, “but I didn’t get finished.”

Those three stories give evidence that a good sense of humor helps in almost every retirement situation, but I thought this column should also include a few ideas of substance.  I’m no expert on retirement, but with four years of practice I’ll share three suggestions.  The triple tenets, which I believe are essential for a healthy retirement, are to stay busy, have some fun, and do something worthwhile.

There are plenty of ways to stay busy.  It may be a longtime hobby like gardening, woodworking, fishing, or sewing.  Or it may be something entirely new.  I know a lady on the other side of the 70-mile marker who is learning to play guitar.  She’s stretching her fingers and mind at the same time.

In an assisted living facility, which I recently visited, a gentleman was working on a massive jigsaw puzzle.  Hanging in the hallways were other pictures he had completed.  There’s a satisfaction that comes from putting jumbled pieces together.  That’s true of more than cardboard puzzles.

Having fun can be as simple as pouring salted peanuts into a bottled Coke while reminiscing with an old friend on a porch.  Or a short drive to Lumpkin to see The Little Grand Canyon and have a picnic lunch below sea level might be a nice outing.  Or maybe boarding a cruise ship headed somewhere we’ve never been should be on our calendar.  Fun happens if we let it.

Doing something worthwhile is perhaps the most important part of retirement.  When we do nice things for others there’s a satisfaction not found if our focus is on ourselves.

You won’t see much litter on the streets of Pinehurst, and none that’s been there very long.  Mr. Raymond Davis is a senior citizen who faithfully walks the roads with a trash bag and a litter stick.  Mayor Connie Christmas told me he follows a regular schedule to make sure the town stays clean.  I drive through Pinehurst several days a week.  When I see Mr. Raymond in his lime green vest on the side of the road, it reminds me that humble service is the most noble of aspirations.  That’s not an original thought on my part.  I’m paraphrasing what Jesus said on multiple occasions.

There are countless resources that offer detailed retirement ideas for those who need help, but simply focusing on three foundations can be a good start.  Stay busy.  Have some fun.   Do something worthwhile.

P.S. to Ben:  I apologize for part of the advice I gave you earlier.  I realized belatedly that one of those recommendations may be questionable.  If you’ll be careful and follow the safety rules, sometimes it’s okay to use a ladder.

Posted in 2018 | 5 Comments

The Book Club

In early December of 2019 I had my first ever experience of attending a book club meeting.  I had been invited by a friend, Sallie Sangster, to speak to the club she belongs to.  It was a lunchtime affair, so Jane went with me to make sure I used the right fork, put my napkin in my lap, and didn’t sigh a long, “Ahhh,” after taking a drink of iced tea.  In childhood I learned from my Granddaddy Hill how to accentuate a good sip.  I still find that it somehow makes the tea a little sweeter.

My food preferences tilt heavily toward basic things whose origins are obvious, southern staples like butterbeans, creamed potatoes, and fried chicken for example.  But I’ll have to admit those seven ladies performed salad magic beyond what I had believed to be possible.  The meal was as delicious as the company and was capped off with a unique chocolate pie so good that Jane asked for the recipe.

Sallie had told me I could talk about anything, but Jane had told me I couldn’t.  She knows I sometimes need a filter.  I had no idea what I should say to a book club, as I don’t read many books and don’t remember much of what I have read.  My high school English teacher, Mrs. Sadie Collins, told me in the late 1960s that I had reached my limit of reports on The Old Man and The Sea.  Admittedly, I chose the book for its brevity, but I still believe it to be worthy of more than two essays.

The lovely center piece on the dinner table was surrounded by books which the club had recently read.  Call of the Wild by Jack London was not among them, but several of the ladies readily agreed it was a worthwhile read.  I knew at some point one of the club members was likely to ask me what good book I had read lately, so I decided to be proactive.

“I’ve just finished reading the book of Ephesians,” I said.  Without hesitation our hostess, Kay Peebles, graciously responded that would certainly count.  Although it may not be a book in the typical sense, I figured it almost had to be considered an acceptable answer.  No one wants to be remembered as the person who said Ephesians isn’t a real book.

My use of Ephesians as a book reference reminded me of the children’s messages that Matt Stephens, a former pastor at Vienna First Baptist, used to give.  Matt would invite the young children to join him at the front of our sanctuary.  Before he shared a mini sermon, he would casually visit with the children and ask them what they had talked about in Sunday School.  The most consistent response became, “Jesus,” which Matt said was always a good answer.  Then he would dig a little deeper and usually find out more about their lesson.

That’s similar perhaps to what the book club does.  They casually visit while digging a little deeper into what they’ve read.  And somehow between the coffee and the conversation a bond is formed that makes their common effort of learning a time of joy.

It surprised me how much frivolity there was at the book club meeting.  It may not be true of all clubs and probably depends a lot on what topic is being discussed.  Chocolate pie always puts me in a good mood so maybe that had an effect.  And my impression is those ladies don’t just drift aimlessly across a sea of literature.  The books they discuss are like hoisting sails on a ship of friendship.

It was such a good experience that I’m inviting any men who are interested to join me at a book club meeting in Vienna.  We’ll be in George Chapel at First Baptist on Sundays at 10 am.  We’re presently reading the book of Numbers to be followed by the book of Deuteronomy.  If Vienna is not a convenient location, there are countless other book clubs which welcome new members.

I didn’t think I should end my short talk at Sallie’s club meeting without sharing something of a literary nature.  Thankfully I recalled an original poem titled “The Lonely Buzzard.”  That recitation is how I concluded my talk, so maybe the last few lines will work for ending this column.

Lonely buzzard with a roadkill diet, no matter how it smells he’s always glad to try it. Lonely buzzard with a quirky appetite, we shouldn’t criticize unless we’ve had a bite.

If you’re not in a book club that meets on Sunday mornings, I hope you’ll join one soon.  Topics vary, but the tie that binds us together never changes.  We always read from The Good Book.

Posted in 2018 | 3 Comments

Who Moved My Chair?

I don’t know what year my chair was inexplicably moved or even the decade for certain.  It was probably in the 1980s.  Although it’s part of my distant past, the memory is as vivid as yesterday’s sunset.  Or maybe I’m thinking about the sunset from Tuesday of last week.  My recollection department goes on strike more often than it used to.

In December of 1975 Jane and I moved from Valdosta to Vienna.  We lived at 601 East Union Street in a large two-story house that had been modified into four apartments.  At $75 per month, and located near the city tennis courts, it was in my opinion ideal.

Jane would occasionally suggest we consider building a house.  I would pleasantly agree then subtly change the subject, a technique I later found useful in my work at the bank when dealing with examiners.  We were a two-income household with no dependents or house payments.  I figured when we eventually had children we could rent the adjoining apartment and make a convenient access through a common wall.  That plan was especially enticing since my father had several solid wood doors stored at the farm.  Salvaged from old houses, the doors needed nothing other than a fresh coat of paint.  It was the best of times.  Then we had a little glitch.

I can’t identify many houseplants, but a philodendron with its long green vines is seared into my mind.  It was positioned just beneath our 20-inch Zenith television on a metal stand with stylish woodgrain panels.  The bottom shelf, originally designed for stashing magazines, had been repurposed by my wife to display our hearty plant.  Flowing vines of the philodendron were artistically draped to cleverly conceal four black plastic wheels.  It was a Norman Rockwell den until one morning we noticed the vines were gone.

There was no trace of vines, leaves, or debris.  The only thing left was a green plastic flowerpot with stubs of the plant barely visible above the potting soil.

“What could have done this?” Jane asked with considerable anxiety.

“It was probably just a little squirrel,” I said nonchalantly.

She was not convinced of my explanation.  With the help of Vienna Hardware, I set a local record that still stands for the most steel wool ever bought in a single day.  Jane went to Stephens Superfoods and purchased as much aluminum foil and moth balls as could be legally acquired.  We stuffed every crack around water pipes, electrical wires, or anywhere that looked remotely like a possible point of entry.  The next night, after I was sure Jane was asleep, I pulled the sheet over my head and pondered whether it might be time to relocate.

We had a house built on Deliesseline Drive and moved in during July of 1977.  A bookcase on an interior den wall held a new TV which was placed in the center.  My oversized Lazy Boy recliner with gold tweed fabric was angled from the left of the TV.  Jane’s rust colored Lazy Girl was angled from the right.  Our television was big enough to see Opie Taylor’s cowlick without squinting.  It was the best of times again.  Then someone moved my chair.

I came home from work one day, not expecting anything out of the ordinary.  For reasons I will never understand, our chair positions had been switched.  Mine was now where Jane’s had been and hers was trespassing in my sacred spot.  Walter Cronkite didn’t look as trustworthy as he peered awkwardly through the television screen.  My neck grew stiff as I tried to adjust.  Jane offered no explanation and I was determined not to ask.  But after a miserable half hour my resolve weakened.

“Who moved my chair?” I asked calmly with an intentional hint of frustration.

“It was probably just a little squirrel,” she said nonchalantly as she passed through the room.

About two weeks later I began to think the new location might be tolerable.  By the end of two months I secretly hoped my chair would forever remain in its now perfect place.  It was the best of times once more.

And somewhere along the way I realized it still is the best of times.  I hope that your blessings, like mine, are too plentiful to count.  Happy New Year and God bless.

Posted in 2018 | 4 Comments

Triplets – The First Year

Erin, Seth, and Carrie were born December 22, 1978.  Jane had received a One Year Diary at a baby shower and passed it on to me.  She was quite certain she would not have time for writing.  Its gilded pages are protected by a sky-blue cover and secured with a tiny brass lock.  The key is long gone but it doesn’t matter.  There are no secrets inside, just scribbled notes about a hectic but rewarding first year.

I don’t know if I’ve kept diaries all these years or journals.  I heard somewhere that diaries are mostly for ladies and journals for men.  I looked online and found that diaries usually record events and journals include more reflective thoughts.  I think that first year I kept a diary, just like it says on the cover.  But over time it evolved more toward a journal as I supplemented facts with perspective.  Whatever it’s called, I thought it would be interesting to do a synopsis of those early writings.

When I read through that first diary recently, I was reminded of something that was brought to my attention in fourth grade.  My handwriting is sometimes illegible.  Mrs. Hazel McGough, my very patient teacher, thought I showed potential to become a doctor. Thankfully, a few years later at Unadilla High School, Mrs. Ruth Cross taught me how to type.  She was such a splendid instructor that I quickly became able to type much faster than I think, a technique I often demonstrate in my weekly column.

January 1, 1979 – “Babies born December 22nd.  22nd through January 1st most time spent going to hospital at night to feed babies.  Nurses very understanding.  On Christmas day I go up to see Jane and give her my poem.  She likes it.”


Birth Is A Miracle

Birth is a miracle, God’s gift,” she said.  “Of course,” I consented and nodded my head.

On she continued her repertoire true, telling me things I already knew.

Espousing her wisdom as freely as dust, I listened only for feeling I must.

But I now understand my sentimentalist wife, for she brought three miracles into my life.

Erin Margaret was first born, slender and long.  My wife named her Erin and for Margaret my mom.  Seth Neil followed after when she gave me a lad.  Seth ‘cause I liked it and Neil for his dad.

Then Carrie Ellen our third miracle sent, with her great grandma’s namesake and for Ellen her aunt.  Three miracles came, yet a fourth just as fine.  She brought us three blessings but all at one time.

“Birth is a miracle, God’s gift,” I said.  She only smiled and nodded her head.


That 1979 diary gives an account of some very uncertain moments during our first few months.  It also shows, however, the triplets’ improving health could be measured by their increasing smiles.  I noted little milestones like turning over, crawling, and standing, but it was their smiles that we relished most.  It was their smiles which gave us a growing confidence that everything would be alright.  As they celebrated their one-year birthday, I penned another poem.  These two poems are only simple rhymes, but they touched Jane’s heart, while she and three children touched mine.


Three Days Before Christmas

“When Christmas passed last she was three days old.  It looked though we’d salvage naught but her soul.

Now three days before Christmas I remember to pray, to thank God for his grace and Erin’s birthday.

Joining his sister, fairing even less well, life seemed too elusive for a body so frail.

Now three days before Christmas I remember to pray, to thank God for his grace and Seth’s birthday.

The last of the trio I watched with a sigh, largest of all but too limpid to cry.

Now three days before Christmas I remember to pray, to thank God for his grace and Carrie’s birthday.

When Christmas passed last three blessings we’d reaped, yet we feared they were borrowed and not ours to keep.

Now three days before Christmas I remember to pray, to thank God for his grace and our children’s birthday.

Posted in 2018 | 7 Comments

Christmas Traditions

I teach a men’s Sunday School class twice a month.  On the fourth Sunday in December of 2018 our literature posed the following question: “What decorations or traditions help you keep the focus of Christmas on Christ?”

Answering that question was how we spent most of our time that morning.  It’s a vital topic which is easily ignored.  The sparkling glitter of distraction is sprinkled more freely with each new season.  Here are a few simple ideas that can help us look past the tinsel toward what’s essential.

“My Christmas Story” was lovingly shared by the late John Bonner with his family each year.  He didn’t use notes when he told this story at home or occasionally at church, but thankfully he left a hand-written account.  It’s a concise overview of how God’s plan for salvation began long before the virgin birth in a Bethlehem stable.  The half hour needed for an unhurried reading is time well spent.  It’s posted on my website at

The late Duain Newsome was a bi-vocational pastor who lived in the Richwood Community south of Vienna.  I mostly knew him through my 35 years of banking.  He would stop by my office about twice a year to chat for a few minutes.  During a December visit, perhaps a decade ago, he told me about a special custom in his family.

His children and grandchildren gathered on Christmas Eve to enjoy a traditional feast from Mrs. Newsome’s kitchen.  They later switched to a simple meal of soup and sandwiches.  Before the presents were opened, the youngest grandchild, who was old enough to read, would share the Christmas story from the second Chapter of Luke.  I’m thankful for that memory of Brother Duain and our conversation of long ago.  It helps remind me that worship doesn’t need to be complicated.

Christmas Eve communion is a cherished tradition for First Baptist Vienna.  Started in the 1990s by then pastor, John Childers, I was quietly unenthusiastic for that first service.  I knew it was a worthwhile endeavor, but my December calendar was overflowing, and year-end work was hectic at the bank.  Between my job, family, and church I wasn’t sure I could embrace another planned activity.

When the dimly lit sanctuary quietly filled with family and friends my attitude changed.  One pew at a time we went to the alter for communion as Gary Mixon softly played familiar hymns on his acoustic guitar.  We watched as others took their turns, some of them home for an infrequent visit.  Then we lit our candles and sang “Silent Night” as we savored a moment of uncommon serenity.  And I knew with a comforting certainty that Christmas must never be too busy for Christ.

Ed Grisamore, long time columnist for The Macon Telegraph, gets credit for introducing me to “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  Like the lead character in the film, I was running a small bank in a little town.  I guess that’s why George Bailey in Bedford Falls found a tender spot in my heart.  He was a frustrated banker until he discovered anew what was important.  Jane and I have watched that movie many times since Ed recommended it in his column.  When I would get a bit out of sorts from December’s frantic pace, she would lovingly suggest we watch it again.

Mrs. Betty Maples from Pinehurst has a longstanding tradition that I count among my favorites.  Her family joins hands in prayer before unwrapping any packages.  “Prayer Before Presents” is so simple I can’t think of a good reason not to follow Miss Betty’s example this Christmas.

Cantatas, caroling, and pageants where children dress up as wise men are a must for any list of good traditions.  There are countless other ideas worth mentioning, but I need to stop writing for now.  Jane said the hot chocolate is ready and it’s almost time to start the movie.

Whatever traditions we choose to embrace, the most important element is that they point toward the abiding reason for true celebration.  Because of the Christ child born long ago in Bethlehem, we can rejoice in our hearts and proclaim joy to the world with our voices.

George Bailey was absolutely right.  This really is a wonderful life.

Posted in 2018 | 4 Comments

Byromville Woman’s Club

When I arrived at the Maggie L. Page Memorial Clubhouse in mid-November, I was the only one driving a pickup truck.  That wasn’t surprising since I was there to attend a meeting of the Byromville Woman’s Club, a still vibrant organization which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2018.

We talked about club history and some moments of interest, but what I found most compelling was their warm camaraderie.  Friendly banter was interspersed with frequent laughter.  The impact they have on their community begins, I believe, with the impact they have on each other.

The Byromville Woman’s Club was organized in 1918 and was originally called the School Improvement Club.  Its purpose was, “to work for the upbuilding of the school and community.”  Projects in the 1920s included landscaping a new park for Byromville and buying curtains for the stage of the local school.  One undertaking, however, was noted far beyond rural Dooly County.

In 1929 the United States Flag Association partnered with Hearst Newspapers for the First Annual Flag Contest.  Patriotic competitions in 48 states attracted 250,000 entrants.  Participants were required to write an essay, give a speech, and answer 75 questions relative to the origins and significance of the American Flag.  The School Improvement Club sponsored a local contest, which was won by Alma Groves, a 16-year-old student at Byromville High School.

Miss Groves went on to win the seven-state southern region, making her one of 38 regional winners from across the entire nation.  Those 19 girls and 19 boys took a two-week patriotic pilgrimage of the eastern states.  Their packed schedule included a reception hosted by President Herbert Hoover.  Each of them was awarded a scholarship to the college of their choice.  Miss Groves was further honored as one of four national winners.  They received a four-month expense paid chaperoned trip around the world.  For the small-town School Improvement Club, Alma Groves’ exceptional achievement gave testament to their making a difference.

World War II expanded the club’s focus.  An early history notes the members knitted sweaters and scarves and helped with War Fund Drives.  They also had projects involving the Red Cross, cancer, polio, Christmas Seals, and clinics for preschool children.  It’s amazing how much can be accomplished when people have a heart for serving others.

Club history from the 1950s reflects an evolving role for American women.  “The theme for the 50s was The Southern Woman – Her Place In This Changing World.  Club members were reminded that a woman’s place was no longer limited to the home and classroom and that she is finding fulfillment in civil defense, safety programs, movies, television; and that women are participating in the United Nations and holding responsible offices in the shaping and initiating of the laws of our land.”

I don’t know if the men of Byromville knew such topics were being discussed, or if they thought those ladies were just swapping recipes and dress patterns.  What I do know is that every community needs a group of women to help make good things happen.  In 1918 the women of Byromville saw an opportunity for improvement.  They chose to do something rather than ignore it.

The late 1950s presented a challenge for Byromville when its school burned.  Helping build and furnish a new facility is where most of the club’s efforts were directed.  They donated money for free lunches, provided a piano for the auditorium, and converted their clubhouse to a third-grade classroom.

The BWC is still involved in education.  There’s no longer a school in Byromville, so they go elsewhere to give books to kindergarteners or read to impressionable young children.

One column won’t cover the accomplishments of 101 years, but maybe that’s not what’s most important.  The rich heritage of the BWC is only part of a story that’s still being written.

I don’t know what the future holds for the Byromville Woman’s Club, but I know every community needs a group of women to help make good things happen.  And I have no doubt the men of Byromville will join me in saying, “Thank you for making life better for the rest of us.”

(Confidential P.S.  To be read by BWC members only.  I appreciate you ladies teaching me how to make a table centerpiece for Thanksgiving, but please don’t tell anyone who drives a pickup truck I did that.)

Posted in 2018 | 4 Comments

Tubby The Talking Pig

My friend Cletus suggested I write a column about a talking pig he owned during childhood.  I told him I was a tad skeptical, that I had never heard a pig talk except for Arnold on Green Acres.  Even with Arnold there were times it looked to me he may have been pantomiming the lines.  There were a few episodes where his lips didn’t seem quite in synch with the words.

Cletus had noticed the same thing about Arnold, but he assured me he had a pig named Tubby who could talk.  He said the two of them thought Tubby the Talking Pig would be a good stage name for a celebrity pig.  They first considered traveling with Barnum & Bailey, but Tubby liked the idea of living at home and hosting a radio talk show they planned to call Swine Time.

Knowing that Cletus is prone to exaggeration, I suggested we watch some of the home movies I felt sure he had made.  Cletus told me he will always regret not filming Tubby, but the only camera his family had was a Polaroid Instamatic.

“Y’all probably had a tape recorder,” I said to Cletus.  “Maybe we could listen to the tapes y’all made?”  Cletus said they had a recorder, but he didn’t make any tapes of Tubby.  He said that without the video he couldn’t prove it was Tubby doing the talking.  He was concerned that people might have accused him of lying, an assumption I found too reasonable to question.

I asked Cletus about family and friends who had heard Tubby talk, and I suggested we get a few of them together to reminisce.  Cletus said he never told anyone that Tubby could talk, that I was the first person he had shared this with.

It was flattering to be the first person to hear about Cletus’ talking pig, but I was a little curious as to why he had not mentioned it to others.  Cletus explained that he and Tubby had kept quiet because they knew the farm might get overrun with visitors.  And Cletus was afraid that Tubby might get stolen.  The only security system they had was an ancient and highly unreliable hound dog.  Cletus planned to build a secure climate-controlled pen, then make a big public announcement, but it didn’t work out.

“What happened?” I asked.

Cletus said that he got in a little trouble at school one day and the principal gave him a paddling.  He said, “I told Tubby about it when I got home that afternoon, and I made certain he understood it was confidential.  Next thing you know Tubby was complaining about his food.  He said he was tired of being treated like a common hog and fed nothing but ground corn.  Tubby wanted a big bowl of fresh fruit at least once a day.  When I told him there was no way I could do that, he just laughed.  He said, ‘Cletus, if you can’t give me a fruit bowl every day, then I don’t think I can keep your little secret.’”

“So, what did you do?” I asked Cletus.

He said, “I did the only sensible thing I could.  I loaded Tubby in the back of Daddy’s truck and drove him straight to the processor.”

“You took a talking pig to the processor?” I asked in disbelief.

“Yep,” said Cletus.  “That’s where we went.”

“Cletus,” I said, “that’s a horribly tragic ending to what could have been a beautiful story.”

“It was a sad day for sure,” said Cletus with a painful look of remorse.  “But on the bright side, I’ve never tasted a better pork chop.”

I said, “Cletus, a talking pig could have made you rich.  It seems like you could have negotiated a deal with Tubby to keep one little secret.”

Cletus shook his head.  “It wouldn’t have worked,” he said with a somber yet confident tone.  “You can’t trust a pig to keep a secret.”

I knew better than to ask why, but I couldn’t resist.  That’s when Cletus finally said something close enough to the truth it almost made sense.  He said, “You can’t trust a pig to keep a secret, because sooner or later a pig is going to squeal.”

Posted in 2018 | 2 Comments