Choosing a Career – Part II

Some people seem to be born knowing what they want to do in life.  I wasn’t in that group.  My plans of being a cowboy left when Chief plodded off into the sunset without me.  It would sound more impressive to say that he galloped away, but that wasn’t his style.  Chief never embraced the joy of running.  He chose instead a painfully slow walk that was graciously accommodating to the swarming summer gnats of Georgia.  I believe he understood that his lack of enthusiasm translated into predictably short rides.

Somewhere not far removed from those cowboy days of grammar school, I had an idea that I might enjoy becoming a cartoonist.  When I was a small child, Daddy would read the Sunday Comics to me out of The Macon Telegraph.  Snuffy Smith and Beetle Bailey were his favorites.  He also enjoyed Lil’ Abner and a few others that I can’t readily name anymore.  He read Little Orphan Annie who had been wandering around America since the days of his youth.  He talked about Punjab, The Asp, and Daddy Warbucks like he knew them.  I guess in a way he did.

I began reading the comics myself at an early age.  I admired how they could capture a moment of humor or even tell a story within a few short panels.   It seemed like a pretty good career, but I realized there was a slight problem in my becoming a cartoonist.  I couldn’t draw.

That’s when I saw an ad for a place you could send in a sample drawing for a free professional assessment.  I knew I didn’t have any artistic talent, but I figured they could tell me if there was even a glimmer of hope to develop my ability.  They responded back quickly and much more favorably than I expected.  They noted my tremendous potential and outlined their phenomenal program along with its easy payment plan. That may be the first time that I understood what a scam was.

I kept reading the comics, a practice that I still enjoy today.   In my teen years I began reading syndicated columnist Art Buchwald.  He had a nationally distributed column that was often based around political satire.  It seemed like a nice way to make a living, but that was still a few years down the road, so I didn’t give it much serious thought.

I don’t remember any particular aspirations between the columnist stage and college.  In the 12th grade my longtime friend, Don Giles, and I interviewed with the F.B.I.  It was Don’s idea, but I quickly embraced it.  I’d been watching Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. on TV.  He always got his man and seldom even needed to straighten his tie.

We went to Macon where State Representative Larry Walker had arranged for us to meet with the agent in charge.  Don and I strolled in wondering how long it would take to get our guns and badges.  The agent was very gracious and hid his laughter well.  He suggested we get a college degree in accounting or law and come back.  Otherwise, he said, we’d be filing papers and working in the office, adding that he didn’t think that’s what we were looking for.  That cured our itch for fighting crime.

At Valdosta State College I majored in business but had little idea what I wanted to do.  Afterward, I spent 18 months selling computers, five years selling cars and carrying caskets, and 35 years working with cash at a small-town bank.  All my careers were linked to words starting with the letter C.

Maybe it’s providential that in retirement I’m staying with the C-word theme by writing a column.  I’m a few million readers short of Art Buchwald’s audience, but I hope that you enjoy our time together each week.

I’ve been thinking about borrowing a horse from my neighbor Marcus Brown to try that cowboy thing one more time.  A slowly plodding horse like Chief would be about the right speed for me now.  With a big hat and some gnat spray I’d be ready for the range.

Or maybe I’ll just write a column about gray-haired men who fondly recall their faded childhood dreams.  Some of those fellows are still around, but I need to write that column soon.  With each passing year the kids who dreamed of growing up to be cowboys are a little bit harder to find.

Posted in 2018 | 5 Comments

Choosing a Career – Part I

I graduated from Unadilla High School in 1970, having no idea what I wanted to do for a living.  That hadn’t always been the case.  There were times during my youth when I was sure of the career path I wanted to follow.

My earliest memory is of wanting to be an Injun.  That was what Native Americans were called on the black and white westerns in the 1950’s.  My inspiration came from a cartoon character of a young Indian boy.  His carefree life roaming the woods seemed quite appealing.

I’m not sure if I saw him on television or in one of those short clips that used to be shown at movie theaters before the main picture.  I only have a vague recollection of how he looked, but I can clearly remember in my preschool innocence telling people I planned to become an Injun.

Then I learned from TV westerns that the Indian life was not as idealistic as I had thought.  They painted their faces and rode bareback in circles around wagons, whooping war cries while cowboys shot them off their horses.  I wondered why the Indians kept repeating a strategy that predictably failed.  Eventually they would leave or be chased off by the Cavalry.  Smoking a peace pipe was seldom cause for celebration.  It more often represented a temporary break in their concessionary struggle for survival.

I gave up my dream of becoming an Indian, but I didn’t have any interest in fighting them either.  Thankfully the cowboy roles in future westerns shifted to herding cattle and rounding up bad guys.   Becoming a cowboy seemed like an option worth pursuing.  It would of course require that I have a horse.  That’s when Mable came along.

Daddy bought Mable from our neighbor, Mr. Junior Spradley.  Before Mr. Junior acquired her, she had spent most of her life in the circus ring.  Mable didn’t understand that trotting in circles was no longer appropriate.  She was fine with another horse beside her, but hopelessly stubborn if ridden alone.

Bryce Bledsoe rode his horse, Red, over to our farm one day.  We raced down the dirt road in front of Uncle Emmett’s store.  Bryce stopped his horse when we reached the highway, but Mabel and I kept going.  There wasn’t any traffic on the road at the time, so it worked out okay.  It made me a bit nervous, but I was thrilled to find out that Mable had a high-speed option.

When I saddled Mable a few days later she fell back into her circus routine, determined to trot in a tight circle.  I pulled hard on the reigns, confidently expecting to impress her with my cowboy skills.  She bucked me off instead, then kicked her heels in the same air I was breathing.  It happened so fast I didn’t have time to get scared, but Mama saw it all from our kitchen window.

When Daddy got home, she told him Mable had to go.  He got in touch with Mr. Herman Sangster who came with his livestock trailer.  I don’t know where Mable went after that.  We thought she had a mean streak at the time, but I realize now she was just trying to do the right thing.  Mable had been trained to follow a circular path.  She didn’t understand that life offered something much better.

When Mable left, I didn’t give up on becoming a cowboy.  Daddy found a brown and white Appaloosa named Chief in The Market Bulletin.  Chief was a fine-looking horse, but lazy beyond measure.  Like Mable, he would gladly run when he had company.  Alone, however, he would lie down and roll on his back if you demanded anything more than a walk.  There were multiple times I had to jump quickly from the saddle to avoid getting a crushed leg.  With Mable and Chief I had taken two shots at becoming a cowboy and missed badly both times.

Joining the Indians was in the distant past and cowboying didn’t seem to hold much promise, but I had learned some things along the way.  I had learned that Indian life was a lot more complicated than I had first thought, and I had learned that it’s hard to teach an old horse new tricks.  Riding Mable had taught me one other thing.  If you follow a perfect circle, you’ll always end up right where you started.

Posted in 2018 | 4 Comments

Chick Days

It hasn’t been acceptable to refer to a lady as a chick in decades, or maybe it never was.  Frank Sinatra was probably the last man who could have used that term without generating any complaints.  That’s why I was astounded when I received a February email from a large reputable company that said, “Chick Days are coming soon!”  What surprised me even more than the caption was that it came from Tractor Supply.

I enjoy going to Tractor Supply, sometimes to buy something and other times just to add to my bucket list.  Their aisles are filled with tempting items, but I was shocked to learn they now offer chicks.  How that works I have no idea.  I assume the chicks are there voluntarily, and that there is an interview process where each chick has a right of refusal.  If not, they need to be reported.

I don’t know if they offer young chicks, old chicks, or everything in between.  It seems that an age appropriate chick would be the best route to follow, but not everyone sees it that way.

The warranty period and return policy would be something that a customer would need to investigate thoroughly.  What if a fellow changed his mind but the chick didn’t want to be returned?  And what all is covered under the warranty?  Is it just parts or is labor included?  Is an extended warranty offered?  There’s a lot that we don’t know from that brief ad.

In order to avoid any misunderstanding, I want to be clear that I have no interest in a chick for myself.  I’ve been happily married since 1974.  But even if I were in the market for a new bride, it could be a little embarrassing down the road.  Someone would inevitably ask how we met.  I’d have a hard time admitting that I got my wife during Chick Days at Tractor Supply.

The email asked, “What kind of coop or run do you need?”  I guess that ad must have gone out to everyone regardless of marital status.  If I brought a chick home from Tractor Supply I wouldn’t need a coop.  I’d need a casket.

I know exactly what kind of run I would need, a very fast run, a run that is faster that Olympic champion Usain Bolt when he was in his prime.  But as the great boxer Joe Louis said of an evasive opponent before they met in the ring, “He can run but he can’t hide.”  Even the best runner has to eventually take a break.

That same ad offered 36 months of financing on purchases of $1,299 and up.  I haven’t priced any of their chicks, but I’m sure they would all be well above the minimum.  If you find a chick for less than $1,299 you better check the expiration date.

At the bottom of that email it said that I had received it as a valued member of Tractor Supply’s Neighbor’s Club.  I’m wondering which of my neighbors are in the club, and if they know that I’m in it too.  I don’t know whether to talk to some of them about this or simply ignore it.  There’s just something about linking a Neighbor’s Club with Chick Days that doesn’t sound quite right.

My wife, Jane, who is Vice President of the Proof Department, read this proposed column and said that I was badly mistaken.  She said that what Tractor Supply is selling are chickens for people who want to have their own laying hens.  After looking at the ad again I did notice a couple of Rhode Island Reds in the background, so she’s probably right.

The chicks I was thinking about would seem more likely to be found in Bed, Bath and Beyond or maybe Home Depot.  Amazon might be another possibility.  I remember some Amazon women in an old Tarzan movie, but those ladies were sort of ornery and dangerous to deal with.  I’d recommend caution about online ordering for a situation like this.  It’s probably best to go to the store.

It’s too close to my deadline to write a new column.  I hope this one doesn’t cause any confusion.  I think I made a terrible blunder in my interpretation of that ad, but just to be certain I may call Tractor Supply.  Or maybe I’ll go to the chick aisle at the local store.  I’m still curious about which of my neighbors may be in the club.

Posted in 2018 | 2 Comments

Lost and Found

I found four tires in a muddy ditch in February.  They weren’t new, but one of them had better treads than the set on my farm truck.  They were on the dirt road that separates Dooly from Pulaski County.  It’s not usually a bumpy road, but sometimes the rain washes across and leaves little gullies.  I’m thinking that someone hit a crevice and the tires bounced out of their vehicle.

I guess their household garbage was riding on top of the tires, because a white plastic bag landed in the same area.  The trash was widely scattered.  I don’t imagine they want any of it back, unless they’re collecting aluminum cans.  They apparently have a strong preference for Coke.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to return the tires.  There are probably some fingerprints on the sidewalls or the Coke cans, but I don’t have a kit to lift them and I doubt the G.B.I. would give me access to their data base.

With all the trail cameras in use today, it’s possible someone caught an image of a slow-moving vehicle on that lightly traveled road. The pictures might help identify the driver or the tag number.  But I’d hate for someone to be embarrassed over not properly securing what they were hauling.

In trying to figure out how to get the tires back to their rightful owner, I remembered what a young man did back in 1973.  I had finished my third year at Valdosta State College that spring, then went to Washington, D.C. as a summer intern for Senator Herman Talmadge.  I wasn’t there to give him any advice.  My job was helping direct people to their seats in the Senate gallery.  My only claim to fame was a short walk in front of the cameras during the Watergate hearings.  Every Talmadge intern got to do that once to add a little flair to our normal routines.

The first part of the summer I lived with two interns of Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.  Toy Nettles and Norman Rodgers were their names.  I have their home addresses in an old shoe box, but I have no idea whatever happened to either one of them.  We were packed into a hotel room that was so small we had to take turns laughing.  It was an old hotel but was within walking distance of the Capital and fit perfectly into a shoestring budget.

Toy and Norman returned to South Carolina before my internship was finished.  Senator Talmadge’s staff referred me to a boarding house where a lady rented out one big room with three beds.  I didn’t know either of the two guys who were already staying there.  I think they were out of college or maybe in graduate school.  One of them was a writer and said he wanted to do investigative journalism like syndicated columnist Jack Anderson.  I don’t recall much about the other one, except for one night when we walked a few blocks to grab a bite to eat.

On our way back to the house he spotted a nice camera perched on a window ledge.  We waited ten minutes or so, but no one returned to claim it.  He took the camera and we walked away.  I figured he had gotten lucky that day.

That’s when he said something that I didn’t expect.  He said that he was going to take out an ad in the lost and found, that the camera was probably left by a tourist who might be staying in town for a few days.  That seemed like a long shot to me, an almost certain waste of time and money, but I kept that to myself.  I was surprised when the ad got a quick response from a person who could describe the camera.  I don’t remember my roommate’s name or even what he looked like, but I’ve never forgotten the character lesson he demonstrated so well.

Instead of taking out an ad, I’m hoping that whoever lost those tires will read this column and know where they can find them.  I realize there’s a slight possibility those tires didn’t bounce out, that someone may have intentionally thrown them in the ditch.  If that’s the case, then maybe they’ll consider the example of that young man I knew briefly a long time ago.

He went the second mile to do the right thing.  Going the second mile takes a little more effort, but it should be easy when you’re riding on a new set of tires.

Posted in 2018 | Leave a comment

Things I Don’t Understand – Part I

A column that’s labeled “Part I” implies there is more that will follow.  I haven’t yet written a “Part II” and I don’t know that I ever will.  I realize, however, that even with a framed diploma from Unadilla High School, I may not be able to cover everything I don’t understand with a single effort.

Kenny Calhoun is one of the few people I know who could cover this subject in a brief manner.  He is reported to have intensely studied the World Book Encyclopedias from letters A through S and to have a general knowledge of letters T through Z.

Man buns are something I don’t understand.  I can appreciate that a pony tail keeps long hair out of your face, and pigtails don’t seem odd on Willie Nelson.  But man buns are beyond me.  I think it’s because they remind me of my paternal grandmother, Mama Joiner, who always wore her hair in a bun.

I may have seen her a few times with her hair down, but I only have one vivid recollection.  I was young, maybe five or six, and I think I was spending the night with her.  She was brushing her hair before going to bed.  It had never occurred to me that her hair was long.  I was intrigued and gave it a few tentative strokes.  It was hard to believe all that flowing gray hair fit into such a neat little bun on the back of her head, a look that seemed perfectly suited for a saintly matron.

The first time I saw a man bun I was overwhelmed with emotion.  I wanted to clasp the fellow’s hand and tell him how much he reminded me of my dear grandmother.  Jane, however, said he might not take it as a compliment.  I’ve learned to listen to her on things like that over the years.

I figured the man had probably answered the challenge of a double-dog dare.  In the late 1950’s at Pinehurst Elementary it was acceptable to ignore a dare or even a double dare.  But no respectable third grade boy walked away from a double-dog dare.  That may not be why the fellow was wearing his hair in a bun, but it’s the only explanation that makes any sense to me.

Lately I’ve been seeing professional athletes on television with man buns.  I discounted a European soccer player but had to take note of a born-in-America wrestler wearing a championship belt.  I discreetly smothered a snicker.  We had just bought a new TV and I don’t know if it’s interactive or not.  It wasn’t worth taking a chance.

Sumo wrestling is another thing I don’t understand.  My theory is that somebody lost a bet.  Why else would two big guys dress in diapers and run into one another on purpose?  I believe someone lost a wager but was then surprised to find that people would pay to see them.  I guess it’s an honest way to make a living, but it seems like they should at least wear suspenders.  One of these days the tabs on somebody’s diaper are going to come loose.  I’m predicting there will be people who will repeatedly grimace about how awful it was as they keep hitting the replay button.

Silent letters are something else I don’t understand.  A man named Herb is pronounced like it’s spelled, but an herb in the garden is pronounced erb, which is further complicated grammatically as it’s preceded by “an” instead of “a.”  That doesn’t make sense to me, but I’ll admit that I’ve always thought “Herb’s Herbs” would be a good name for a plant store.

And it’s time we dropped the “o” in opossum or either started using it.  Why was it ever put there?  My guess is that years ago a man came in from the field for supper.  He recognized the smell from the iron pot simmering on the wood stove and said without enthusiasm, “Oh. Possum.”

I should have talked to Kenny before I wrote this column.  He probably understands silent letters and Sumo wrestling.  I don’t think man buns were in the encyclopedia back when he read them.  Somehow the women of my grandmother’s generation unwittingly became trendsetters for the men’s hairstyles of today.

I’m sure that Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies had no expectation of the granny to man bun transition.  If Jethro had come home with one, she would have “laid a whuppin’ on him.”  She’s probably shaking her head now and saying, “Jed, I just don’t understand it.”  That goes for me too, Granny.  I don’t think even Kenny Calhoun can explain this one.

Posted in 2018 | 5 Comments

Mayberry Moments

I was driving from Center Hill Lake in Tennessee, headed back home to Georgia, late in the summer of 2017.  Our oldest grandchild, Abby, was riding with me.  My wife, Jane, daughter Carrie, and Abby’s siblings, Melanie and Walt, were in another vehicle behind us.

I don’t know exactly where we were when I noticed a sheriff’s car parked on the side of the road.  There was a fleeting moment of trepidation as I checked my speedometer.  But that tinge of fear quickly turned to joy as I read the caption on the trunk.  Printed In bold letters was “In God We Trust.”

It reminded me of The Andy Griffith Show from the 1960’s.  They only had one patrol car in Mayberry.  It didn’t have that caption on it, but that message was conveyed in many episodes.

I miss Sheriff Andy Taylor.  He did an exceptional job in Mayberry of keeping the peace.  Their county had the lowest crime rate in North Carolina.  Andy did that mostly on his own, without much help from his close friend Deputy Barney Fife.  Barney’s enthusiasm for following the letter of the law was an ongoing problem.  He rarely let common sense interfere with enforcing the many codes he knew so well.

There were numerous episodes where Barney’s good intentions became recipes for disaster.  Andy would usually solve the problems in such a way that Barney seemed more like a hero than a goat.  Andy had a knack for that sort of thing.  He didn’t worry about getting credit for what he did.  He was happy letting Barney bask in the glory of unmerited praise.  Barney would straighten his tie and puff out his chest as Andy returned the single bullet his deputy was allowed to keep in his shirt pocket.

Andy was a wonderful father as well.  Opie was a good kid but was occasionally distracted by his peers.  Andy would have a chat with him and always knew the right thing to say.  Opie would quickly embrace a deeper appreciation for good character.  Andy taught him honesty and kindness.  He also taught him responsibility by giving Opie some light chores to earn his own spending money.

All the main characters and most of their friends were in church on Sundays.   Andy, Opie, Barney, and Aunt Bee were among the faithful congregants.  In a practically crime-free county Andy could close the sheriff’s office almost every Sunday.

Otis had a bad drinking problem, but he faithfully booked himself into the county jail to sober up.  He didn’t drive or cause any noticeable trouble except some heartache for his wife.  She looked tired when they showed her, and I expect she was.  Andy seemed to have Otis on the road to sobriety a few times, but it didn’t last long.  Otis’ drinking was somewhat like a fellow told me years ago about his smoking habit.  He said, “It’s easy for me to quit smoking.  I’ve probably quit 50 times.”

When The Andy Griffith Show started its eight-year run in 1960 I was eight years old.  I knew that Mayberry wasn’t real, but it didn’t seem completely impossible that it could be.  Jane and I have been watching reruns of that show lately.  So, when I say that I miss Sheriff Andy Taylor, it’s not that I miss seeing him on television.  What I miss is the feeling that it might still be possible to have a Mayberry kind of town.

I know that’s unlikely to happen, but the caption on that sheriff’s car in Tennessee gave me a small ray of hope.  It was a Mayberry moment, a reminder of a time when there were places you didn’t need to lock your doors at night, places where kindness was common and even disagreements were respectfully civil.

It troubles me that Mayberry moments don’t come along very often anymore.  Maybe instead of wistfully longing for a mythical panacea, I need to focus more on that caption “In God We Trust.”  Those four words point toward a place that’s much better than Mayberry.  It’s a perfect place that’s open to all who follow the path of grace that leads to the gates of pearl.

We can’t go back to Mayberry, but we can go forward to a home where Mayberry moments happen all the time.  It’s a matter of where we put our trust.  John 3:16.


Posted in 2018 | 7 Comments

The Occasional Report

I’ve read the work of a variety of columnists over the years.  Some of them give an occasional update of selected topics they’ve previously covered.  I used to think those were columns of last resort, a result of having nothing else to write about.  So, if you’re suspicious of this week’s offering then I won’t blame you.

March 4, 2019, marks the second anniversary of Joiner’s Corner.  It seems appropriate to comment on a few of the people who have been mentioned.  Here are four of them in the order the stories were published.

“Sweet Martha Brown” (March 25, 2017) – Miss Martha was only 103 when I posted that story.  On Saturday, February 23, 2019, she turned 105.  She celebrated in grand fashion at Lilly Baptist Church, laughing with family and friends and singing along on some hymns and old songs.  Instead of taking a nap after the party she was going to a rodeo in Perry.  You can find her on Fridays at Janis’ Salon getting her hair done and delightfully enjoying her weekly visit.  She’s still living at home thanks to her son Marcus.  I’ve seen a lot of good examples of children assisting their aging parents, but Marcus Brown has set a standard for long-term loving care that’s second to none.

“The Avon Lady” (February 10, 2018) – Mrs. Ernestine Furlow died January 16, 2019, exactly one week shy of her 101st birthday.  Her hospital stay was brief, and she had lived independently at home until then.  When I visited her in 2018 to work on a column, she asked me about playing the piano at her funeral.  It wasn’t a somber moment like one might expect.  She made it clear that she was prepared for one final move.  She didn’t know when she was leaving, but she knew where she was going.

“A Greatly Blessed Life” (March 23, 2018) – World War II fighter pilot Charles Speight is still teaching Sunday School at Unadilla First Baptist as he approaches his 97th birthday.  In April of 2018 he and his family made a trip to Charleston, South Carolina for the 75th anniversary of the commissioning of the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier.  Later in the year Witness to War came to Unadilla to interview him.  His compelling first-hand account of wartime experiences can be viewed on the website.  Mr. Charles continues to be a blessing and inspiration to others as he remains actively engaged in his community.  I don’t know if he’s much of a cook, but he sure has an exceptional recipe for living.

“Keep Pedaling” (September 28, 2018) – Alyssa Wehunt’s courageous battle against brain tumors didn’t turn out as we had hoped.  She passed away January 20, 2019, after three years of severe health issues.

Reverend Graylen Hall made some comments that will long be remembered by those gathered inside an overflowing church.  He spoke of how Alyssa’s challenges had united our community through countless prayers, numerous acts of kindness, and loving expressions of compassion.  She touched more hearts in six years than most of us can ever hope for.

I don’t understand the suffering of innocent children, but I know that God used Alyssa to help me be more appreciative of every day that I’ve been given.  She helped remind me to be more thankful for blessings that I sometimes take for granted.  Her family asked me to play “Jesus Loves Me” on the piano at her funeral.  Despite her ongoing trials that became too routine, Alyssa knew that Jesus loved her.  It seems like that ought to be easy for the rest of us to accept.

I appreciate the encouragement that many of you have given me over the past two years.  Writing has been a rewarding hobby, plus has provided a side benefit of helping me avoid more yard work than I believe my body was designed for.  Jane, however, has become suspicious of my oft repeated line, “I can’t help right now Honey.  I’m working on a story.”  I’ve recently promoted her to Vice-President of Joiner’s Corner, hoping such a prestigious title will buy me a little more time.

That’s all I’m going to write today.  I can see Jane through the window by my desk.  The wheel barrow I gave her for Christmas is way too full.  I can’t just close the shutters and ignore what I know needs to be done.  I’m going to take her a glass of water.

Posted in 2018 | 4 Comments