Bumper Sharks

I’m not sure what year our family encountered bumper sharks in the Gulf of Mexico.  Several of us were playing in the clear waters off St. George Island.  Melanie, our second grandchild, was probably seven or eight.   She’s sixteen now, but that moment is still vivid in her memory, as well as in mine.

St. George Island is one of my favorite places.  Our family enjoys vacationing there so much I’m reluctant to bring attention to it, but I know good things are meant to be shared.  The uncrowded beaches account for much of the island’s charm.  Sparkling white sand has trails of nesting sea turtles comingled with the scattered footprints of man.  And melodies of gently breaking waves ride salt air breezes to a porch hammock perfect for afternoon naps.

Four generations of our family have been going to St. George every June for a long time.  There’s nothing more relaxing than drifting in those calm warm waters while watching seagulls glide overhead and dolphins patrol the coastline.

The state park at St. George is a popular place for shoreline shark fishing.  That’s a mile or so from where we swim, but sharks are not always courteous enough to stay only where they are welcome.  We’ve seen a few uninvited guests that came close enough to get our attention.  A shadowy figure sends us in retreat to the shallows, but the effect is temporary.  The promise of merriment quickly seals the small crack in our confidence.

I don’t remember who else from our family was in the ocean when the bumper shark came.  Melanie was on top of a rectangular float while I drifted nearby.  Something sparked a conversation about sharks and other dangers, and I saw a teachable moment.

“There were some bumper sharks spotted down the beach yesterday,” I told Mel.  Then I assured her she didn’t need to worry, that my long pale legs would be more tempting than snatching a small girl off a float.  I said, “A unique thing about a bumper shark is they let you know before they attack.”

“How do they let you know?” she asked.

“They give you a small bump before they bite,” I answered.  “You’d feel a short nudge underneath the raft. That should give you time to grip the sides tightly or start paddling toward shore.  You’d have to decide what to do.  The main thing to remember in a crises is don’t panic.”

Less than an hour later a bumper shark punched her noticeably from beneath the float.  She abandoned ship and made a frantic lunge toward shore.  That’s when I confessed the culprit was her Papa’s big toe.  We laughed as she nervously returned to her raft, and I asked what she had learned.

“Don’t jump off my float?” she offered rather tentatively.

“That’s a good point,” I said, “but not the main lesson.  Rule number one in a crisis is don’t panic.  Do you know what rule number two is?”

“Don’t jump off my float?’ she repeated with the same uncertainty.

“Nope,” I responded.  “Rule number two is don’t ever forget rule number one.”

Mel and I still laugh about her close call at St. George Island.  Although bumper sharks are mythical creatures, “Don’t panic” is a good rule when real trouble comes.  As the coronavirus wreaks global havoc and gets closer to home, it’s hard not to be anxious and overwhelmed with fear.

Caution and concern are warranted.  It’s not a time for reckless behavior that endangers others.  But it’s also an opportunity to be reminded of what’s most important.  What if we pray as often as we wash our hands?  Being careful and prayerful seems a perfect combination.   “Clean Hands-Clean Hearts” might be a good theme.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I have confidence in the One who does.  He said, “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God.” (Isaiah 41:10 NKJV)

Life as we’ve known it has abruptly changed, but the Creator of life is still the same.  That’s reason enough not to panic.  And should we forget rule one for a spell, then rule number two works almost as well.  God bless, stay safe, and don’t panic.

Posted in 2018 | 8 Comments

Creative Ideas

Chick-fil-A is my favorite of the chain stores in the fast food business.  There are other places with mighty fine fried chicken, but Chick-fil-A stands out for their excellent service and clean facilities.  It’s also inspiring to me when the owners of a large corporation are generous in their giving and open about their faith in Christ.  They don’t force their beliefs on others, but neither do they hide them.

As a devoted fan of Chick-fil-A I hope they continue to prosper.  That’s why I sent them a suggestion to add Thousand Island dressing as an option for salads.  Thousand Island was the only dressing I ate for many years.  My love affair began during the 1970s in Valdosta at ABC Restaurant.

Mrs. Balanis, the charming Greek lady who owned ABC, made her own delicious version of Thousand Island for the crisp fresh salads she was known for.  A padded booth in her restaurant is where I first realized a green salad can be a full meal.  I can’t claim that was a moment of divine revelation, but it was close.

I’ve gradually shifted toward vinegar and oil over the years and mostly rely on Olive Garden Italian dressing now.  But when I have fried chicken on top of a garden salad I go back to my roots and prefer a heavy dose of Thousand Island.  I emailed my suggestion to Chick-fil-A and got a prompt and polite response.

The fellow who answered my inquiry said they were glad to hear from me and appreciated my input, then he added that due to the potential for misunderstandings they are unable to consider such creative ideas.  He graciously explained their company could potentially already be working on concepts similar to what others might propose, which could lead to confusion as to who originated the idea.

I can see how that could be a concern in today’s litigious society.  Every few minutes there’s a heroic attorney on television encouraging us to sue somebody who did us wrong.  It reminds me of that lady who was in a minor traffic accident and said, “I didn’t know how badly I was injured until my lawyer told me.”

Doctors used to make those kinds of medical determinations.  Now you can call a toll-free number with no upfront cost if you’re willing to share a nominal 40 percent commission on your future winnings.

So, I understand why Chick-fil-A can’t readily accept suggestions.  But I found it amusing they consider Thousand Island dressing to be a creative idea.  If they think that’s creative, they should hear the late Scage Morgan’s story about onion ice cream.

Scage was a good friend of my cousin, Rooney Bowen, and he became a good friend of mine.  I enjoyed his entertaining stories, infectious laughter, and flare for mischief.

Scage had a deep affection for Vidalia onions.  He commented to someone, whose name I’ve long forgotten, that he loved Vidalia onions so much he could eat them in ice cream.  When a man has a prankful nature it’s not uncommon for his friends to be of like mind.  That’s how Scage ended up with a churn of onion ice cream.

“What’d you do with it?” I asked.

“I ate a bowl,” he said, noting his friend dipped him a generous serving.  “I smiled, swallowed, and thanked him profusely.”

“How bad was it?” I inquired.

“It was terrible,” he said.  “I almost choked getting it down, but I bragged on every bite.”

Onion ice cream is obviously a creative concoction, but I’m not recommending it to anyone.  Thousand Island dressing, on the other hand, would be a nice addition to Chick-fil-A’s choices.  If Mrs. Balanis’ recipe was used, I wouldn’t mind paying a little extra.

I hereby publicly affirm that I am in no way entitled to any compensation if this creative idea is implemented now or in the future.  As those friendly folks behind the Chick-fil-A counters always say with a warm smile, “My pleasure.”

Posted in 2018 | 3 Comments

Ask Marilyn

Marilyn vos Savant writes a column called “Ask Marilyn” that’s been in Parade Magazine since 1986.  Her affiliation with Parade began the same year she was recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the highest intelligence quotient in the universe.

Guinness discontinued publishing the IQ category years ago, so now we can only guess at who the world’s most intelligent person may be.  Dooly County has some strong contenders, but I won’t name any of them for fear they might get the big head.  A smart person with the big head is a bad combination.  Even a wise person with the big head can be problematic.

You don’t have to take my word on that.  You can read about Solomon in the Old Testament.  Scripture tells us he asked God for wisdom and God granted it.  Solomon was given wisdom unlike anyone else.  He did some remarkable things, and he left us with Proverbs, a splendid collection of wise sayings we can profit from.

Yet with all that wisdom Solomon accumulated 700 wives and 300 concubines.  It seems like even for a wealthy king seven would have been plenty.  That’s a wife for every day of the week, or maybe allow him a few spares in case of headaches.  His staff was probably overwhelmed keeping up with birthdays and anniversaries.  God gave Solomon wisdom, but He left it up to Solomon to use it.  Free will is a wonderful gift, but it sure is hard not to abuse.

I hope Guinness will resume publishing the IQ data and supplement it with a reliable assessment for wisdom.  Perhaps they could merge the scores and list the top 1000 who are American citizens.  It’s a long shot, but maybe one day we could convince someone in that group to run for President.

Readers submit all sorts of questions to Marilyn.  A few times I’ve thought she was wrong, but I’m smart enough not to argue with her.  I’m gradually learning that avoiding arguments is a good practice in many areas of life.  That reminds me of a conversation I had years ago with my good friend and cousin, Roy Noble.

I don’t recall how the subject of spousal disagreements came up, but Roy told me he and his wife, Ann, had never had an argument.  Roy is easy going and Ann was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known, yet I found it hard to believe they had never argued.  I saw Ann a few days later and shared my skepticism with her.

She surprised me by quickly affirming what Roy had said, then offered some enlightenment.  With a smile so warm it would melt the polar caps, Ann said, “I’ve tried to argue with him at times, but Roy would get in his truck and drive off.”  We shared a moment of laughter, and I realized later I had been offered a valuable lesson.  My record since then is admittedly imperfect, but that memory of Ann helps remind me there are times I should not speak too hastily.  Sometimes the best thing to do is to get in my truck.

I’ve sent a few questions to Marilyn over the years without getting a response.  The only thing I can figure is the problems I presented were too challenging.  On February 9, 2020, she finally came through.  My old pal Bubba Collins let me know I was mentioned in her column.  Now I can quit spending sleepless nights wondering why flannel sheets feel so much warmer than percale.

Marilyn explained that flannel is warmer because tiny air pockets inside the loosely woven threads help capture our body heat.  If the fibers are brushed that also affects the sensation.  That makes sense for during the night, but that’s not what I wanted to know.  It seems to me that when I first touch a flannel cotton sheet it should feel the same temperature as our cotton pillowcases with a percale weave.  The flannel, however, seems warmer, as I’m sure anyone who is still awake this far into the column will agree.

I considered calling Marilyn to complain that she didn’t answer my question satisfactorily, but then I had a better idea.  I got in my truck.  On a slow drive down a dirt road I thought about how good it feels to have flannel in the winter, percale in the summer, and one wife for all four seasons.  I don’t have to ask Marilyn to know that’s a blessing.  And I’m almost positive King Solomon would agree.

Posted in 2018 | 7 Comments

Miss Chili Pepper

When I was a youngster my parents took my brother, Jimmy, and me to the Georgia State Fair in Macon each October.  There are two of those short trips I remember more clearly than the rest.

One time was when my cousin, David Dunaway, joined us.  David counted Fords while I kept tabs on Chevys going up I-75.  We bet on the outcome but there was no money involved, so I think it was okay even for young Baptists.

David and I tag-teamed the other challengers in bumper car battles, then we rocked our Ferris wheel seat with reckless abandon.  Everything was copasetic until the tilt-a-whirl ride where my stomach began spinning faster than our coupe.  I spread fair food all over our floorboard then ran for the exit ramp, hoping to escape the tattooed operator I assumed would slice me with his switchblade or sell me to the gypsies.   I’ve never returned to the tilt-a-whirl, just in case he’s still there.

It’s possible I had eaten too much cotton candy or too many foot-long hotdogs that night.  Cotton candy it seems would be a good source of fiber, but it’s never mentioned in articles about healthy eating.  A few years back there was a rumor that it’s not made from real cotton.  It’s amazing how a crazy story can get told so many times that people believe it.

I don’t know why the foot-long hotdogs were so appealing.  We had hotdogs at home, and if we ran out Uncle Emmet kept some in the little upright refrigerator at Joiner’s Store.  They came loosely packed in a cardboard box of 50.  He would count out however many someone requested then wrap them in white butcher paper.  That was before the days of using disposable rubber gloves.  I guess that’s why Mama boiled our hotdogs until they split wide open.  Even the strongest germs can only stand so much heat.

The other fair trip I best recall from childhood is when I saw Miss Chili Pepper.  I was probably eight or nine, but I can’t say for sure.  Mama, Daddy, Jimmy, and I walked by the stage where she was smiling seductively at potential patrons.  She was gorgeous in her sparkling gold cape and flowing blonde hair.  The man with the microphone invited the crowd to see a lot more of her by purchasing a ticket for admittance inside the canvas tent.

We kept walking and I pretended not to notice her.  I knew a direct stare could lead to blindness or maybe being transformed into a pillar of salt, but even as a child my peripheral vision sometimes worked too well.  I was old enough to know her profession was unseemly, but young enough to think Chili Pepper could be her real name.  “Miss Chili Pepper” was emblazoned in big letters on the lighted marquee.  She had a perfect name for a star of an imperfect occupation.

I’ve sometimes wondered why she chose that kind of life, or if the choice was hers to make.  And I’ve wondered if she danced until wrinkles overtook her, or if she changed her ways and donned the clothes of a nurse, teacher, or a stay-at-home mom.  I hadn’t thought about her in a long time, but that moment at the fair came back to me during halftime of Super Bowl 54.

Two famous women in skimpy outfits danced provocatively for millions.  It’s not always clear where the line between risqué and vulgar routines is but they clearly crossed it.  Shakira goes by one name and I don’t blame her.  Maybe her folks made that suggestion.  And it seems that Jennifer Lopez, age 50 and a mother herself, would have higher standards.  A lot of young people look up to her.  She’s known for generosity and is a professing Christian.   It’s hard for me to believe that lewd performances define the example she wants to set.

A column by a small-town writer isn’t likely to make a difference in next year’s halftime show.  But if enough people let Pepsi and the National Football League know how we feel, then maybe there’s a chance for change.  The Super Bowl should be a family friendly event, not an arena for suggestive gyrations so graphic they would make Miss Chili Pepper blush.

There’s probably a more effective way to combat trashy television than contacting Pepsi or the NFL, but I have no idea what it is.  Too often I neglect to pray before I plan, or I pray without pausing to listen.  That’s where I need to start.  After that I’ll give this matter more thought.  And if the weather is hot while I’m thinking, I plan to be sipping on a cold bottle of Coca Cola.

Posted in 2018 | 5 Comments

3 Redneck Tenors

It’s not often that I go to a concert, but I couldn’t resist the urge to hear a group called 3 Redneck Tenors this past January.  They were featured at The Rylander, a historical theatre in downtown Americus.  It’s an outstanding venue, and with today’s low gas prices is only a ten dollar round trip from home.  The tickets were reasonable at twenty-four dollars each, so I invited Jane to go with me.

The newspaper ad got my attention because the concept of tenors as rednecks seemed so improbable.  In our choir at First Baptist of Vienna the tenors have long been known for their sophistication and suave demeanor.

The bass section, which I pretend to be qualified for, is clearly better suited to wear the redneck label.  I believe that’s the case with most choirs, but I was unable to find credible research to support my opinion.

Opera is not something I find appealing, yet I knew there was a possibility that genre might be a part of the 3 Redneck Tenors’ program.  It was a chance I was willing to take, even though our entire entertainment budget for the first quarter of 2020 was at risk.  I’m pleased to report both our time and money were well spent.

They sang a few classical songs from various operas, but thankfully they were in English which I find to be quite helpful.  I’m not opposed to listening to various styles of music if I can understand the words, and if the words are worth understanding.  That’s a challenge with much of today’s music, but part of the problem may be my hearing which is increasingly unreliable.

That reminds me of a story Johnny Cumbus told me not long ago.  It was about a man who was frustrated by his wife’s poor hearing and decided to run a little test without telling her.  He was walking about 20 feet behind her and asked with normal volume, “Can you hear me?”

She kept walking and he kept easing closer.  Every five feet he would repeat the question, “Can you hear me?”  Finally, he walked up beside her and asked with frustration, “Can you hear me?”

She said, “Yes dear.  For the fifth time, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, I can hear you!”

Most of the songs were showtunes like “Tomorrow” from the Broadway musical Annie.  I enjoyed hearing “Tomorrow,” partly because it’s a good song and partly because it reminded me of Daddy reading the Little Orphan Annie comic strip to me as a child.  He had read it when he was growing up and introduced me to something I might otherwise have ignored.

I always wondered why Annie had blank white circles where her eyes should be, and where she kept the dog food for her faithful pet Sandy.  Punjab and The Asp added a bit of mystery when they would occasionally appear.  I once asked Daddy which of them would win if they got in a fight.  He thought The Asp might be victorious but said that would be some fight and he really wasn’t sure.

It always seemed to me that Daddy Warbucks could have been a bit more proactive in giving Annie a permanent home, but I guess that would have ended the comic strip.

The 3 Redneck Tenors have exceptional voices, and they did something which is rare among performers.  They kept the sound at a comfortable level.  It was loud enough to hear but never to the point I wanted to cover my ears.  I’ve found that a lack of talent is sometimes disguised with extra volume.  These guys were good enough they didn’t have to shake the floor to rock the crowd.

I don’t think those three fellows are really rednecks.  My guess is they were pretending just to see if rednecks would come to a concert where the music wasn’t country.  The audience enthusiastically sang along on several songs, but the voices I heard most clearly were the basses.  I’m not saying you have to be a redneck to sing bass, but it probably doesn’t hurt.

The music was great, the humor clean, and the crowd cheerful.  That’s a good combination for an evening out.  It made me glad I had bought a ticket for Jane.  She enjoyed the concert, and I enjoyed having her beside me.  Twenty-four dollars to get her a comfortable seat was money well spent, because there’s one thing I know for certain.  She would not have been happy waiting in the truck.

Posted in 2018 | 3 Comments

The Waiting Room

Waiting room protocol is something I’m never sure about.  Is it polite to ask how someone in a doctor’s office is doing?  It’s fine, perhaps, if they’re having a routine physical, but what if their wraparound sunglasses are meant to deter unwanted inquiries?

Smartphones have changed the rules of etiquette.  Conversation was once considered courteous.  Now, though, it seems intrusive to interrupt someone staring intently at a screen.

There was a time when I would peruse through layers of magazines to see what I had missed from two years earlier.  That was before my wife convinced me that old magazines in doctors’ offices are breeding grounds for bacteria.  Before I approach the display rack now, I ask the receptionist for disposable rubber gloves and a mask, then I request a copy of the furniture sanitization schedule.

Occasionally there are still opportunities to meet people you don’t know.  I enjoyed a recent chat with two longtime senior citizens named John and Matt.  I was in Macon with my mother who was having a CT scan.  She had been called to the back when the two men ambled in.  They stopped by the front desk then settled into chairs across the room from me, maybe 15 feet away.

I don’t know much about them other than John is 84, Matt is 83, and they’ve been friends for 40 years.  John’s a tall wiry fellow with thick gray hair and the tan of an outdoorsman. Matt’s a big guy with a reddish beard who looks like he could put a charging bear in a full nelson.  He wore a flannel shirt with blue jeans held up by red suspenders.  It was like seeing Geritol’s version of Grizzly Adams.

John’s vision isn’t good, so Matt helped him fill out some paperwork.  He took the forms back to the receptionist and said, “We can’t pronounce some of these words, so I just answered no.”  As Matt walked back toward his seat John called out to him, “Slow down!  You’re making me look bad!”

I was amused at their lighthearted banter but too far away to comment without shouting.  That’s when John walked over near me to look out a window or maybe examine a painting on the wall.

“That’s a good line I overheard when you told your friend to slow down,” I said.

Matt was within earshot and spoke before John had a chance.  “He says that to me all the time.  He’s jealous because of my youthfulness.”  We shook hands and introduced ourselves.  That’s when I learned their age difference is measured by months.

“I was in good shape a few years ago,” said John.  “At 76 I climbed up an old sugarberry tree with ropes so I could take it down from the top.  People a lot older than me remembered the tree being there when they were young.”

John talked about sawing his way down until he was about 25 feet off the ground.  “It was rotten at the bottom,” he said, “but there was a small green part inside that kept the top of the tree alive.”  He finished the job without a hitch, but his tree climbing days were winding down.

Matt told me he used to deliver chickens to grocery stores in Dooly County.  He fondly remembered Mr. Smith Dennard in Unadilla.  “I hauled chickens there before he built the new store,” he said.  “I wore a cowboy hat back then.  He liked it so much he asked me to get him two just like it.”  Matt paused for a second, then dryly added, “He wanted one for a chamber pot and one for a cover.”

“I can’t see well out of my right eye,” said John.  When I asked what happened, Matt explained that John’s wife hit him with a frying pan.   John laughed and corrected him: “Nope, that was my other eye.” Then he said, “Tell me your name again.  My memory doesn’t work as well as it used to.”

“He had his mouth open when you told him before,” Matt responded.  “When John’s mouth is open everything that goes in his ears passes on through.”  I confessed I often have that same problem.

If you see two weathered old men in a Macon waiting room, you might want to find a nearby chair.  I’m glad I wasn’t staring at my phone that day.  I would have missed a charming portrait of friendship that’s still being painted with strokes of gentle humor.

If you know John Barron or Matt Evans, tell them a young guy from Dooly County said hello.  And if I don’t have their story exactly right, it’s probably because I was listening with my mouth open.

Posted in 2018 | 3 Comments

Soup With Old Soldiers

My wife, Jane, was shopping at Belk in Warner Robins in early January.  She met a nice lady who works there named Karen Sisk.  Karen mentioned a monthly luncheon sponsored by Green Acres Baptist Church for Houston County veterans of World War II.  She invited me to attend and extended an invitation to Dooly County native Charles Speight.

Mr. Charles is a decorated WW II Navy pilot from Unadilla.  I’ve written about him before in a column titled “A Greatly Blessed Life.”  He’ll be 98 on April 2 and continues to be active in his church and community.  He’s been teaching the same men’s Sunday School Class for over 63 years.

“Some of these fellows are getting old,” said Mr. Charles spryly to the man seated across the table.  His playful comment was as usual accompanied by a disarming smile.

“I’m 97,” replied Mr. Keath Morgan with a soft laugh.  “How about yourself?”

It was delightful being a spectator in a conversation between 97-year-old war veterans.  Rusty Simpson was seated next to Mr. Morgan, a cherished friend he affectionately calls Papa.

We had soup and sandwiches and listened as two men shared glimpses of going to war long ago and the joys of coming home.  Mr. Morgan trained at Ft. Benning to become a paratrooper.  He volunteered to jump out of planes because of the extra pay.  “I went from fifty-two dollars a month to a hundred,” he said with enthusiasm, knowing his comment would generate laughter around our table.

“You fellows on the ground had it rough,” said Mr. Charles.

“It was cold in the foxholes,” replied Mr. Morgan.  “If you raised your head to look out someone would try to shoot it off.”   Freezing weather, canned rations, and dodging bullets were part of his regular routine.  When shrapnel hit his leg, he wrapped a shirt around it and kept fighting.

Mr. Morgan was featured on the program which followed lunch.  He’s the only known survivor of The Battle of the Bulge living in Houston County.  There were two of them until a couple of weeks earlier.  Now it’s just him.

He pulled a folded piece of paper from a front pocket on his pants to review some scribbled notes.  Rusty asked to look over them, then smiled as he pointed to one of the topics.  Rusty gently reminded him they had agreed it was best not to talk about that incident.

Mr. Charles, with his incurable penchant for mischief, said he sure would love to hear the story.  An old soldier’s grin gave evidence of a humorous memory, a rare moment no doubt much needed in a time of war.  I found out later that two women were involved.  That’s all I know and I’m not asking any questions.

There were eight WW II veterans at the luncheon and about that many other guests.  A dozen or so more people joined us for the one o’clock discussion.  Mr. Morgan and Rusty sat in folding chairs facing the small group which had gathered.  Rusty posed questions to facilitate the conversation.  “Papa, do you remember your service number?”

Mr. Morgan recited it without hesitation, then called out the serial number of his rifle.  He smiled and said, “I knew that M1 rifle inside and out, but when I got to Germany they took it away and gave me a 30-caliber machine gun.”

General Eisenhower shook his hand in Mourmelon, France, a moment he recalled with obvious appreciation.  Then he noted with amusement what Eisenhower said to the troops that day: “I know you boys are looking for some action and I’m going to see that you get it!”

Cheri Adams with the Houston Home Journal was at the luncheon.  The HHJ recently published a magazine highlighting 18 WW II veterans of Houston County.  Cheri, Karen, and a few volunteers are helping preserve bits of history while offering a platform for some voices that deserve to be heard.

I don’t know anything about war except what I’ve learned from others.  I’m thankful for soldiers who were willing to go, and for people who are now helping them share their stories.  The luncheon for veterans at Green Acres Baptist Church is a good ministry model for all of us.

Our short time together gave me a greater appreciation for the costs of freedom, and a renewed gratitude for a dwindling group of aging heroes.  There’s a lot we can learn by having soup with old soldiers.

Posted in 2018 | 6 Comments