Saturday, February 10, 2018

Black Hearts (not associated with Joan Jett...)

There was one black-construction paper heart and one red-construction paper heart that sat on the table behind Miss Lutrell's chair.  She was a legendary second grade Sunday School teacher at the Methodist church on the corner of Metropolitan and Moreland Avenue.  The church was named after Martha Brown and the neighborhood was called East Atlanta.  When she wasn't teaching us songs we'd remember the rest of our lives - "THE B-I-B-L-E, YES THAT'S THE BOOK FOR ME!" and the song about the "church in the wildwood" (which fondly brings to mind the "Man In A Hurry" episode of the "Andy Griffith Show")  - she was teaching us the significance of those construction paper hearts. 

Miss Lutrell told us that the red heart represented someone fortunate enough to know Jesus.  I'm not being sarcastic when I say that I was always afraid I didn't know Jesus because in my juvenile mind one had to be in the physical presence of someone before you could say you knew them.  The black heart, on the other hand, was representative of someone who didn't know Jesus.  I was fearful that was me as I'd never actually met the man.  But through her lessons I would soon learn that one knew Jesus through the good things in their lives like sweet mamas and daddies and roofs over our heads and food to eat and sunrises and full moons and warm beds to sleep in and hamburgers from Charlie's Place (which was down at the corner of Glenwood and Moreland.)  Jesus manifested himself in many happy ways and if you knew and loved Him your heart was that beautiful red.

So who, then, possessed the black hearts?  I reckoned they lived in the people I saw on the news, the ones that stole,shot, stabbed and murdered.  THOSE were the black hearts.  Unfortunately, growing older I came to realize that the black heart manifests itself in many ways and not all of them have a thing to do with religion or whether or not you know the Son of God.  As my dearly-departed mother put it, "there's just a lot of meanness in the world."

I think it's sad that they've had to come up with a name for "shaken child syndrome".  I think it's sad that here in 2018 people are marching under Nazi flags and harbor a hate based solely on color or ethnicity. It's even sadder that there's people in high places that defend them.  Speaking of those in high places I'm sad that they're rounding up humans that have lived nowhere but here and separating them from family and sending them to a country that's never been home.  I'm sad that power is not used to keep us safe but to feed self-interests and egos and that's now the definition of leadership.  There are no more statesmen, only politicians.  "There's just a lot of meanness in the world" but I never expected it to be manifested in those who swore constitutional oaths to protect the average folks.

I think it's sad that hearing words like "human shields", "human trafficking" and "sex trafficking"on the news no longer cause our jaws to drop.  They elicit a response no more dramatic than we give to car wrecks and snowstorms.  People are hungry and can't get health care in the richest country on the planet.  When hurricanes and natural disasters hit there are those who leave dogs tied to trees or cats locked in the basement to drown or become miracles.  "There's just a lot of meanness in the world."

Beyond the "meanness" quote one of my mother's other favorites was "he's quit preaching and gone to meddlin' " whenever a preacher got personal.  And it's quite likely I've quit preaching and gone to meddlin'  But I am sad that the black heart has outgrown second grade Sunday School theology. I'm sad that it's so mainstream.  I'm not sure what the solution is but I think my father-in-law had what would be a good start.  He was an elementary school principal and I'm told that he greeted students at the door every morning at the front door of the school, be it rainy, cold or hot.  And he gave each student a thumbs-up and told them to "do something good today."  It might be a start if we'd all just do something good today. And  I know that I do far too little good when I see the picture that floated around the Internet of an old man taking a bag full of tennis balls he'd collected to an animal shelter so that  homeless dogs had something to chase.  Good may make a comeback yet.  Having a few more Miss Lutrells and a few more old men wanting to make dogs happy would be a start.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

3 Men In Heaven.....

      "I loved him and was proud of him.  But you saw how I was raised and what I had for a father - I never learned how to show pride or affection," said the first man.  "I feel bad about that now."
     'I know," said the second man.  "The way you were raised wasn't your fault. That was obvious when I married your sister." The second man  (with skin turned leather from years working in the sun and fingers busted from so many missed hammer strikes)  then got pensive - " I cared about you and I cared about your son - that's why I  worked so hard to take care of your son/my nephew. Men of our generation didn't tell each other how we FELT.  We just dealt with what we had to deal with....usually a day at work."  He then leaned back in his chair and took a long draw on a Winston...."He's good people and I always enjoyed having him around.  You'd be right proud of the man he grew up to be.  Married a real good girl.  She takes good care of him."
     The first man looked off towards the horizon that I assume is always blue sky, puffy white clouds and where the sun is always rising.  "It really wasn't fair - you had a boat and God knows he loves boats and water and fishing."
     The second man laughed - "It's because I knew how to play AND work.  All you worried about was work."
     "I reckon," said the first man though the answer didn't make him all that comfortable.  Even in the hereafter, he worries about who's  making sure Atlanta streets aren't falling in on themselves and who is cutting the grass at houses he no longer owns..   Even here, he doesn't know how to completely relax.  A restless soul is a restless soul wherever it resides.
     "I think I've been looking for y'all."   There was suddenly a third man in their midst. He was all manners, perfectly trimmed moustache and sideburns.   "I think y'all must be Daddy and Uncle Ralph?"
      "You found us..."  said the second man  (who we now know is Uncle Ralph.)  "You're the one who took the biggest chance of all."
      "How's that?" said the newcomer.
      Uncle Ralph laughed "You had one child.  And you let him marry that only child....a DAUGHTER!"
      "Well," said the newcomer. "I told him early on that he was raised to have character.  And now I'm sitting here with the folks that taught him character.  My name is Charles...but I already know your names - Sam and Ralph.  I've heard many stories."
      They sat without saying a word for while.
Sam -  the father - said "I'm just glad they let you drink coffee and chew tobacco up here"
Ralph - the Uncle - said "I'm just glad they let you drink coffee and smoke Winstons up here."
Charles - the father-in-law - said "I don't drink coffee and hate tobacco."
Ralph-"Well, there's somebody over there smoking pork shoulders and making sandwiches"
"I'll be right back..." said Charles.  


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"Ma" Goddard and the Greatest Generation

     We should all be as lucky as Helen Goddard.  Her obituary notes that she died at 96 while vacationing in Mexico.  I could handle leaving this world while sipping on tequila slammers in some ocean front cantina, dining on another bowl of ceviche (heavy on the jalapeno)  I have no evidence that she was enjoying tequila or ceviche....those are my own vices thrown into the story.  I do know, though, that whatever she was doing there in Mexico someone near her was smiling.  You had to smile when in her company.  An individual who loves life that much rubs off on those around them.  An individual who loves everything and everyone around her more than she loves herself is a gift from God.

     I saw her at church and in the classroom.  That's one of the perks of growing up in the "touch of country in the city" that Stone Mountain, Georgia was at the time.  Those of us raised there were, truly,  raised by a village.  There was always someone to feed you or give you a ride or ask how your family was doing.  Helen Goddard was the epitome of the guardians that surrounded us.  When at church she never asked if I'd done my homework.  When at school she never asked if I'd gone to youth choir practice.  She was a rare soul that cared about US in whichever venue we were lucky enough to be near her.  She was the first person (outside of my family) that I ever discussed plans I wished to pursue in adulthood.   I remember the room, the afternoon, the smile on her face and the chalk dust on her hands when she grabbed my face and said " can do whatever you want.  You being you is important to everyone that knows you.  Don't live life in terms of income.  Just live life...."   I think she practiced what she preached, given that she died in Mexico after nearly a hundred years on this planet.  She knew how to live life. 

     It's no wonder that my generation spends so much money on therapy, self-help books, medication and tequila slammers.  Just look at the people against which we had to measure ourselves.  A work friend - in his 60's - once told me "Thank Christ your generation didn't have to fight World War II - we'd all be speaking German."  I couldn't disagree with him.  I've not accomplished any of the things I discussed with "Ma" Goddard that afternoon.....but I have lived life.  I hope she'd be proud....

Monday, August 8, 2016


     "Do you want  your Aunt Nell to cook some fried okra tonight?"  Uncle Ralph asked this question about 2:30 in the heat of the afternoon, while I was scraping weeds out of the okra and beans and tomatoes and anything else he'd chosen to grow that summer.  I figured I was earning me a trip out on the lake in his boat to catch some fish that Aunt Nell could also turn into a religious experience.  I didn't know I was placing my vote where supper choices were concerned. 

     "Yes sir, that'd be good."

     "Use 'Sir' when talking to your daddy.  I don't need that.  If  you want some fried okra, look on the porch, get a bucket and come back out here and pick some."

     Okra - for those not afraid of hot weather and home-grown anything- tastes like someone picked heaven, cooked it and served it up fried, boiled or pickled.  To this day I not only enjoy its taste but realize it's part of what makes me, well,,,,,ME.  It has much in common with the way I pronounce certain words and love hot weather. 

     I ran to the porch, grabbed a bucket and picked as much as I could.  "If it ain't as long as your middle finger, don't pick it"  he said.  I cheated several times and picked some way short.

     "That's enough for supper...go back there and wash off unless you and Alan are going  swimming after while..."   ("After" probably being pronounced "Atter" and Alan a reference to the cousin I spent most of my formative years following around on lakes and in woods and anywhere else he went.)  

     But before I made it to the shower, Aunt Nell stopped a shirtless me and screamed at her husband "PA!  You didn't tell him to wear a shirt before he went out and picked okra???!!!"  I had welts up and down my chest, stomach and back where I'd been picking.   As was par for the course, my dear uncle just laughed and said "Well, he won't do that again."  Okra, you see, has this fuzz on it that's very much akin to the  insulation we use to  secure our houses from the elements.  If you're not careful while picking it, you'll soon need a bath of Witch Hazel or Calamine Lotion (I vote for Witch Hazel because Calamine makes you look like you took a bath in Pepto Bismol)  I didn't care if acted like battery acid upon my skin.  A taste of okra is worth any hardship that you have to endure to get it on a plate.

     I see a lot of commercials these days dealing with "What do  I feed my kids??!".  There's great mention of chicken fingers because they're so easy..  The women that I grew up around would've said "chickens don't have fingers....what do you want for supper?"  I know times are different.  Both parents have to get out and make a living.  So I reckon 2:30 p.m.  inquisitions about "what do you want for supper?"  are as antique as turntables and VCR's.   This makes me sad...and also makes me want okra for supper....


Friday, August 5, 2016

Where you are and what you are........

Dear God, I hate the word "Settle."   It sounds like things didn't work out and, well, this is the best I could hope for. I'm beginning to believe that's NOT what "settle" means at all.   I had a long conversation yesterday with someone who's been dealt a hand she didn't ask for, but is quite content that, if this IS the final hand she's been dealt, she's ok with that because her life has been more than she could've ever hoped for.  MY hope is that it's not her final hand and she's here to tell me to quit taking life so seriously for many more years to come.  I get the feeling she wishes people would start treating her like HER instead of defining her by the battle she's fighting.  (Then there are others who need to quit pitting their own travails against hers, trying to compete in the "I've got it so hard department."  That's a one-sided pity party so just cut the crap, please.  Never, EVER will I understand the need for some folks to beg attention by bringing attention to the "daily unadulterated crap" that we all suffer.)

Back to the issue of "settling."  WHERE I am makes me happy.  A beautiful wife, a good old dog (who's slowing down considerably and I fear you'll soon be hearing me deal with her move on to wherever it is dogs go when they leave us.)   I married into a great family that loves me and treats me like their own. I want for little and the change of seasons (you know, from baseball into college football) keeps my simple needs met.  But realizing there's another side of me doesn't mean I've settled for married life and old dogs and sports.  It means that life is made more interesting because I have the perspective of being a working guy who finds more loose hair in the sink by the day....but is also governed by the very long-haired guy who really enjoys banging on stringed instruments and playing loud music and living on the road that exists on his inside.  Those who know me well can hear certain songs (an example of which is displayed below) and know "that's a Tim song."  They knew me when I aspired to be someone sharing that type of art with the world.  Now it's been deemed planet earth is better served by my life taking place between 9:00 and 5:00 so that I can take care of the people I love when they need it.  From here, I can better relate to nieces and nephews who are still exploring the thousands of options life has to offer.  If me living normal gives them the opportunity to explore EVERYTHING, I'll "settle" for that every day of the week and twice on Sunday.  Most importantly, from there I can fall asleep every night looking at the sweetest face God ever put on earth and listening to an old dog snore at our feet.  I've not "settled"  I won....
Now, for some "Tim music"

Monday, July 18, 2016

Jesus in the moon

"Look attention.  Look to the left and you can see his nose, beard and eyes looking off towards the front of the neighborhood...."

"I'm sorry, Babe....I don't see nothing."

"You're not looking right.  Can't you see that one dark spot on the left side of the moon?  That's his nose...."

"I can't see it.  I think you must be more Christian than I am."

"NO, I'm not more Christian....but I spent a lot of time out behind Ma's Ma's house staring at the moon in the summertime.  And she always said you could find the face of Jesus in a full moon."

     Years later, she still looks up at every full moon and tells me "I miss Ma-Ma" (in our southern vernacular it's pronounced "Maw-Maw").  "She taught me how to find Jesus in the moon.  And we always sang old gospel songs at her piano"   Inevitably she cuts her thoughts short and says "I don't like telling you that because it makes me sad that you never really knew either of your grandmothers."  I make her feel some better by telling her that she's right, I didn't KNOW either of them.  One of them died the year before I was born.  But one lived long enough for me to see her in her last days.  It struck me (and I still  take pride in) how "Cherokee" she looked.  She says "that's why you don't ever've got that Indian skin."  I think she takes comfort in pointing out that I do have some small connection to a woman I never really KNEW...but to which I am definitely connected.

I played her one of my "long-haired" songs called "The Whippoorwill"  recently.  I told her that the guy that wrote it deemed it one of his best because it reminded him of singing old gospel music by his grandmother's piano.  She got tears in her eyes and I felt guilty because it wasn't my plan to make her miss Ma-Ma and that old piano.  She got really choked up when there was mention of 'barefoot and smiling there by the piano...."   And then I got choked up....because I could see the woman that makes it worth getting up in the morning standing there in the hot Alabama summers by Ma-Ma's piano and singing "Power In The Blood" at the top her lungs.  I haven't done much right in this life....but celebrating her birthday over this past weekend it has occurred to me that I've got great taste in women.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

"I hate the singing parts..."

     Christmas in early 1970-something always meant that Winifred Freeman had to watch "White Christmas" or "Holiday Inn" as many times as they would show it on one of the 5 or 6 channels we were blessed with on our first color television set.  Then and now I'm convinced they're actually the same movie...characters change and some songs change but little differentiates one from the other.   The stories were good enough (it was Christmas, after all, and nothing embodies the magic of childhood like December 25th.)  But I thoroughly despised and ridiculed the moments where characters suddenly launched into song.  And they told me "Ultra Man" and "Speed Racer" and the "Banana Splits" weren't real and just for fun?  But it IS real when people start singing to each other with an orchestra playing??  While riding on a train hoping that it will "Snow, snow, snow...." when they get to Vermont?  THAT'S real?   My mother laughed out loud every time I said "I hate the singing parts."

     I was exposed to many other musicals in those formative years.  Mother loved "My Fair Lady" (I think the primary draw was her crush on Rex Harrison)   And "Fiddler on the Roof" came on television at least once a year and all I remember from that is someone wishing to be a "rich man."  Sound of Music was, again, a good story but who among us has had opportunity to run and sing our way through lush mountain meadows with full orchestral accompaniment?  Or stand in a gazebo and woo our crush by singing to them that we're "16 going on 17" (or card rules forbid from me remembering the exact lyrics.) 

     But then something happened.  My older sisters started going to and listening to this musical based on the last week of the life of Christ.  First it was a stage production then a movie came out by the same name.  I never saw the musical or the movie but I did sneak in and give a listen to the soundtrack which had a really big album cover.  Some of the songs were a lot cooler than the ones belted out by Rex Harrison or Audrey Hepburn.  A musical that was as "cool" as some of the "hippy" music that pissed off the grown folks - that was worth a listen.

     Fast forward 40 years or so.  The same guy that put together the musical about Jesus' last week has taken one of my favorite movies and turned into a musical with a lot of "singing parts."   It's enjoying a pretty strong run on Broadway and, as luck would have it, my bride and I were taking a trip to the Big Apple as part of her birthday celebration.  Along with my youngest sister's family, we head to the Winter Garden Theater on a windy March Sunday and check out the matinee performance of "School of Rock."  Tides turned, the heavens shook and lions and lambs laid down next to each other.  See, I sat glued to my seat and thoroughly enjoyed this bit of culture, singing parts and all.   Of course it was a huge help that the singing parts were mostly of the very loud, bombastic variety  - key elements to most of the music I enjoy.  But there was also those darn kids...

     Children's efforts in the dramatic arts are fun to watch no matter how many lines they forget, how many notes are sung or played flat or how amateurish a presentation looks.  So take a bunch of kids that are very, VERY good at what they're doing (be it voice, drums, basses or electric guitars) and it's nothing short of fireworks.  There weren't any forgotten lines or flat notes and I heard some musicians better at their craft than many making a lot more money.  A couple of hours in a theater flew by and I ended up wanting to take the little doll in pigtails home with us (banging on her bass, making her best rock & roll face and singing like an angel)  I now follow a couple of 12-year-olds on Twitter.  I now know some "singing parts" by heart and listen to them often.  Amazing how appealing something becomes to me when you put "Rock" in the title...

Do yourself a favor....