Cedar Rock, Dirt Roads and Brotherhood

One of the joys of growing up in a small southern town was the proximity of dirt roads. You didn’t have to drive very far to get to one. I’m not sure what it is about dirt roads, but they seem to beckon the hearts of young southern boys. At least it was that way in our rural county. If you had an older brother, he would usually be the first one to introduce you to the serenity of riding on the back roads of the country with the windows down.
One of those experiences stays fresh in my mind after all these years and illustrates how the bonds of brotherhood are built and what strengthens them in our memories. I don’t remember what the occasion was or if we really needed one, but my older brother Pat took me and my little brother Joey for an excursion to Cedar Rock. If my memory serves me, it was right before Easter one year. It was a beautiful spring day in Georgia. Cedar Rock was a destination out in the far reaches of the county away from town. You would get there by traveling a few paved county roads and then turn down some old dirt roads. Cedar Rock was nothing like Stone Mountain, the large outcropping of Georgia granite that has been a tourist attraction for decades, but it was a little piece of exposed granite in the rural reaches of Butts County.
Cedar Rock had become a congregation area for the youth in the county to park their cars, build campfires and bonfires, drink a few beers, tell tales and to just get away from town. On our particular visit that day, we took some Crisco, some potatoes for frying and one of my mom’s black iron skillets. We also took along a single shot .22 rifle and a box of cartridges. My little brother and I were excited to be riding in our brother’s truck with the windows down and the wind and sun hitting our faces. We set out on our journey and stopped by “Saint Cawthon’s “bait shop to pick up some cokes. Pat spoke to “Saint” as we were checking out and asked about his son Phillip. My brother and Phillip had been friends in school but they also shared another bond. Pat and Phillip had been young soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division serving in Vietnam. Pat told me that he and Phillip had found each other and shared some time together during a break from their combat action. I’m sure seeing a familiar face in a war zone thousands of miles from home gave both of them a comforting feeling in their hearts.
As we continued on our journey, we began our first turns onto the dirt roads that would get us to our destination. Driving along and weaving our way thru the trees that lined our path, we came across what can only be described as a dumping area. Some ways off the road was an area where people would illegally dump old furniture, tires, trash and other oddities. It was an eyesore in an otherwise beautiful area. Perched on a limb and a good distance from the dirt road was a turkey vulture, or what we affectionately call a “buzzard”. No doubt the buzzard was waiting to find a morsel of goodness from the trash heaps. My brother Pat stopped the truck and set his eyes on the buzzard. He reached down and took the .22 rifle and loaded a round into the chamber. He looked over to me and my little brother and said, “Watch this!” He carefully took aim at the buzzard on his perch. I said, “You ain’t gonna hit that buzzard, it’s too far!” As soon as I uttered the last syllable, the crisp shot of the .22 rang out. We thought the bird had heard the crack of the rifle and began to fly away, but Pat had found his mark and the buzzard glided down to the floor of the dump. Being good southern boys, we had to go examine our kill and see where we got him. Pat’s aim was true and upon examination, we found the buzzard with a hole in his neck. Joey and I both shouted, “Wow! Pat! That was a good shot!” He replied back, “You gotta make them count.” Pat was quiet and solemn as we walked back to the truck. This was uncharacteristic of his usual boisterous and jovial self. Years later, I would understand. I think when Pat pulled the trigger on that buzzard, he also pulled the trigger on some memories of combat.
After a few more turns, we finally made it to our destination. We arrived at Cedar Rock. This was the first time Joey and I had ever been to this place, but from Pat’s knowing glance, we knew this was not his first time here. We unloaded the truck and Pat led us straight to an area of rocks which looked like it was the perfect place to build a small fire and rest a frying pan. We all began to gather some firewood and soon we had a good fire going. We then settled the old black iron skillet in place. Digging into our Crisco can, we filled up the pan and watched as the white concoction began to melt into clear liquid oil. Our next task was to prepare our French fries. We cut them up and put them into a small cooler. As soon as the fire had heated the oil to Pat’s liking, he started to lay the potatoes in the pan. My little brother and I could immediately begin to smell the distinct aroma of potatoes being fried in oil. We enjoyed being in the beautiful outdoors and taking in the sights and sounds and smells. Our mouths began to water as we pondered the delicious taste of a fried potato. Pat soon began to plate them on some paper plates we had and he told me and Joey to salt them right away while they were hot.
As soon as we had a big pile, we opened up our bottle of ketchup and popped the tops off our cokes. We sat down around our fire at Cedar Rock and began to enjoy our campfire French fries. We laughed and talked and enjoyed each other’s company.
As soon as our bellies were full of French fries, we turned our attention to shooting the .22 rifle. Pat used some of the leftover paper plates to use as targets. He nailed them to some trees and then he began his clinic on firing a rifle and hitting the bull’s eye of the target. While honing our marksmanship skills under Pat’s watchful eye, we went through a box of cartridges.
Soon after the last trigger was pulled, we began to clean up and load up the truck. We began our trek back home leaving the dirt roads and finding the highway. As the wind came thru the windows and blew on our faces, I licked the corner of my mouth and tasted the remnants of ketchup and salt. We stopped by a filling station so Pat could fill up the truck with gas. Joey and I bartered with Pat for some change to get a candy bar. One of Pat’s old friends saw me and Joey and asked Pat, “Is that your half-brother’s Chip and Joey?” Pat responded quickly and firmly, “We are brothers, ain’t nothing half about us!” Joey and I looked up at Pat with shy grins of pride; Pat looked down and smiled back. The bonds of brotherhood are not only borne of blood, they are also forged with love and camaraderie. My brother taught me this long ago.
Over ten years later, I would be enduring the sweltering summer heat on a firing range at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Trying to qualify on my M-16 rifle, I was in a firing position when those memories of Cedar Rock and that day came rushing back in my head. With the sting of sweat burning my eyes, I gave up a brief grin thinking of that day as I tried to lay a bead on my target. I would qualify expert that day, aided no doubt by the patient instruction of my brother those many years ago.
It was one day in a lifetime, but that day at Cedar Rock has given me a lifelong memory. Every Easter weekend, I recall the brotherhood we shared that day.

Red Clay at 30,000 Feet

While on a recent flight home from a week of business travel, my usual routine was broken by an observation made on the flight ramp. My heart was called upon to visit the memories of my youth and of my home in Jackson, Georgia. I began to daydream of the hot summers. The summer was a time for play and adventure for the little boys of our neighborhood. My younger brother and I would start the day well fed from a home cooked breakfast our mother had prepared. Fully fueled and ready to go, we would dash out the door and greet the hot and muggy morning and feel the first rays of sunshine on our faces. Our standard attire for the days of summer was simple. We were both clad in blue jean cut-off shorts, usually cut from our oldest pair of blue jeans we had worn the knees out of the previous school year. That was all, no more, no less. That’s all we needed. Our days were filled with outdoor activities, baseball, bike riding, and swimming at a neighbor’s pool, jumping on a trampoline at another neighbor’s house and playing on the track field and in the woods.

Red Clay Track
We were small town kids. From where we lived, we were walking distance to the county high school. Across the street from the high school were the football field and baseball field. Behind the football field was the county school bus shop and the high school gymnasium. The gymnasium was a classic. It was a wooden structure painted white and the floors would make a sweet sound when a basketball was bounced on them. Behind and to the left of the baseball field was the track field.
Most track fields you see today are paved with some sort of asphalt or some high tech rubberized composite surface, but our track field back then was dirt. It was hard packed good old Georgia red clay. We would go there and run and play on the track and the grass infield. Particularly fun in those days would be racing around the track on our bicycles. Some days, after a good summer thundershower, we would go to the track field and engage in the finest of mud sports. After some of those rains, there would be beautiful rust colored mud puddles around certain areas of the track field. Little boys can have loads of fun with a little mud and bicycles. We would also race around the track on our bikes and see who could make the highest “rooster tail” of mud from our back tires. The boys who didn’t have a rear fender guard would usually win that prize. They would also be the ones who got the most mud splattered on their backs. But it didn’t matter, by the end of our playing session; we would all be covered from head to toe in red mud.
After we were all played out, we would come home and go into the back yard and turn on the “hose pipe”, our affectionate name for the garden hose. We would start by cleaning off our bikes. The spray of the hose would begin to peel away the red mud and deposit it on the lush green St. Augustine grass of our back yard. After we finished our bikes, we started on ourselves. We did pretty good getting ourselves clean, besides the cool water from the hose felt good on our sun tanned frames. We would get pretty clean, but there was always a tinge of the rust colored clay around our fingers and toes. Our Aunt Carolyn would always say that I and my little brother looked like a couple of little blonde haired Indians. The summer sun would lighten our hair and give us a tan that was sometimes accented by the faint hint of red clay.

Red Mud Puddle
As a business traveler and frequent flyer, I usually have an aisle seat on the airplane. I ask for an aisle seat to have a little more elbow room for my larger frame and I can extend one of my legs into the aisle. But on this trip, the late scheduling of the flight forced me to take a window seat. As I settled into my seat, I was hoping that the person who sat next to me would be of small frame to give me a little more elbow room. Luckily for me, my wish came true and a lady sat down next to me. I then began to get my gear ready and settle into my flying routine which consists of listening to music on my MP3 player and doing crossword puzzles or reading a magazine or a book. The lady next to me pulled out her Kindle and had it standing by. I don’t have a Kindle or a Nook, I kind of still prefer to read a real book and feel the paper as I turn the next page. I looked forward to going home. I had had enough of the cold and snow in the windy city of Chicago.
As a frequent flyer, I was one of the first people to board the aircraft. My seat was 18E. On an MD-90 jet, seat 18E has a perfect vantage point of the conveyor system that is used to load one of the cargo areas of the plane. I looked out at the conveyor and saw the luggage and other cargo that were slowly inching their way up to the cargo hold and disappearing below my feet. I would be taken aback by the next item loaded on the conveyor. It was a rectangular box of wood and cardboard. I pondered only a moment on what was in the box, when I saw the orange label that indicated human remains. My heart fell as I realized that the earthly remains of one of God’s children were going home. The box sat on the conveyor for some time as the ramp workers were diligently preparing to receive it into the cargo hold. As I continued to look down, only a few feet away, I could read the name of the deceased. For propriety and anonymity, I will call her Jane Doe. Jane was travelling from a city in Wisconsin to a small town in Alabama. I was compelled to write her name down on a page from my crossword puzzle book. I kept looking out the window down at Jane until she disappeared below my feet into the cargo hold. I then closed my eyes and said a silent prayer for her and her family. From that moment on, my trip had gone from routine to reverent. I was having a communion with God and I experienced a solemn peace.  I would not look at a book, I would not do a crossword puzzle and my MP3 player would remain silent for the entire flight. My trip would be filled with thoughts of Jane Doe and her family and her life and I would ponder my own as I peered out the window at the landscape of the earth.

IMG-Airplane Wing
As we left the cold snow covered cities of the upper mid-west, my thoughts drew me to the hot summer days and visions of my home in Jackson. I was thinking of home, perhaps because Ms. Jane Doe was on her final trip home. It was a pretty clear day; I could see the landscape below throughout my flight. Sometimes the cloud cover prevents you from seeing the earth below. As we flew farther south, the snow cover began to disappear. The fields and farms of the lower mid-west were colored with hues of light brown and flat greens, as if waiting for spring planting and rebirth. As I continued to daydream looking out the window, I could see the vistas on the horizon change before my eyes. The flat areas of the mid-west gave way to the low rolling hills covered with green and brown forests. Rivers of blue and brown snaked across the landscape offering a beautiful view of our waterways. But the most beautiful sight was yet to come. As a veteran of so many flights now, my internal radar could feel what the next view would be. From 30,000 feet, I could see the red clay and southern pines of the Piedmont region of Georgia. I was almost home. And soon, Ms. Jane Doe would also be home. As we made our approach into Atlanta, the red hues of dirt roads, baseball fields and exposed tracts of earth stood out as beacons calling me home. They also called the memories of my youth. On our final approach, we were coming in for a landing from east to west. Looking out behind me, I could see the majesty of Stone Mountain. To my right, I could see the skyline of Atlanta and looking out to the northwest, I could see Kennesaw Mountain.

Stone Mountain
When we finally touched down, I said one last prayer for Jane Doe and her family. When I got home from my trip, I hugged my wife and daughter a little closer this night. I was glad to be home.
A few days later, I would Google Jane Doe and her little town in Alabama. I would learn that she was 72 years old and had succumbed to cancer. She was surrounded by her family at her bedside when she died. She had loved going to flea markets and spending time with her grandchildren. I felt like I knew her. Her body is resting now beneath the earth in her childhood home, but for a brief time, I felt her spirit with me as I soared through the sky at 30,000 feet and gazed down at the red clay of home.

Red Clay Road

Old Bricks

On my visits back home, I spend precious time with my mother at my childhood home. The times I get to spend with her are special. It often seems like no time before we are back on the road going back to my home in Newnan. Sometimes, I am able to get out and drive around the town and county and pass by old places that I remember from my childhood.
On a recent trip, I was able to take the time to drive down by my grandmother’s old house in what is now called East Jackson. It may show as East Jackson on some maps, but it will always live in my memory as Pepperton or to the familiar, just “Pep”.JB and Bon Bon 4175
Pepperton had begun as a mill village centered on the textile mill by the same name. The mill was built around the end of the 19th century. As was common in that era, houses for the workers were built around the mill. The houses were mostly all the same and there were stores, shops and businesses built within the mill village. The mill provided jobs for hundreds in the community. The little village would take on its own personality and become a true community. Mill life and the mill village would be an important staple in the community for nearly 100 years. It would be an economic engine for the community along with other mills in the county. This common model would be a standard for so many towns and counties and would define a way of life.JB and Bon Bon 5176
My maternal grandparents were a part of this lifestyle. They lived and worked in Pepperton. They earned a living and made a life for their family in that mill village. After their shift in the mill ended, they would earn a few extra dollars by cutting hair in a barber shop next to the mill. These few dollars made would be put away for my grandfather’s dream of buying some land out of town someday where he could farm and hunt and fish.JB and Bon Bon 3174
The people of Pepperton were a close knit community and were proud to be a part of the mill village. The village would also have a baseball team made up from workers in the mill and residents of the village. My grandfather, his brother and a number of friends were part of the team and they played other mill teams in a league. They had a reputation as one of the best teams around, those young men of Pepperton.JB Baseball I hear my grandfather was a pretty good baseball player. I have asked my mom what position he played and the best she could remember was “behind the pitcher”. I think he was a short-stop or 2nd baseman. I think my Uncle Donnie received the athletic genes from my grandfather; he would later become a star half-back for the Jackson Red Devil’s in the 1950’s. I was never much of an athlete in school, but I am sure those athletic genes from my grandfather helped me to master the obstacle courses and physical demands of Infantry training at Fort Benning as a young officer. My grandfather had also served his country. He was just shy of being old enough for World War I, but he would be a soldier with the Jackson Rifles, a National Guard unit in Butts County. He also served as the company bugler. The Caston family would not go untouched by the war. My grandfather’s older brother, Jesse Caston, would be killed in action in the trenches of the battlefields in France. His name now etched on the Jackson Veteran’s Memorial for all eternity.
My grandparents would raise a family there in the village. My mother Edna was the oldest, and she would be joined by two younger brothers, Billy and Donnie and a sister, Angelyn. They would all grow up in the mill village during the Depression years, during years of World War II and during the 50’s. My Uncle Donnie was the last to leave the mill village in the late 50’s.
Located close to the mill was a pond where people of the village would catch fish. There was also a community hog pen where members of the community could keep their personal livestock. I remember one of my older brothers talking about going to play at the “Pep Hog Pen”. By the time I came along as a child, I would not get to play in the “Pep Hog Pen”, but I would catch my first fish in “Pep Pond”. I would spend a lot of time in “Pep” as a child. I would get on my bicycle and ride down the street until I came to the service road that ran in front of the mill. I would hear the activity in the mill from some open windows as I bicycled past the cars of the people who were working inside. By this time, my grandmother no longer worked at the mill. I would turn my bike onto Mill Street and pedal to my grandmother’s front porch. I would walk in and say, “Hey Bon Bon!” We all called her Bon Bon, but her name was Bonnie. One of my older cousins started calling her that name when he was a toddler and the name stuck. She would then ask me if I wanted a “Cocola”. I would always answer yes. She would always keep the small Coca-Cola bottles in her refrigerator. They were always a special treat. They were ice cold and I always enjoyed “popping” the top off with the bottle opener she had mounted on her kitchen wall. She had been a widow now for over 20 years. I never met my grandfather. He died in 1947. He passed away from a heart attack just shy of his 45th birthday. He had realized his dream of buying some farm land and that is what he was doing when he fell ill. He was working in his field, tilling the soil. My mother told me he had always been industrious and was always on the go. Whether working in the mill, the barber shop or farming or hunting, he had a zest for life. He loved to bird hunt and many a quail would be fried up by my grandmother and served on their kitchen table. My grandfather’s younger brother, Wilson “Toots” Caston, was then the only surviving Caston son. He would go on to build the best pulled pork barbeque stand in the state of Georgia, “Fresh Air BBQ”. He would be a respected businessman and community leader for the remainder of his life.JB and Bon Bon 7178
After my grandfather died, my grandmother was faced with making a living on her own. She still had two children at home to support. The land that my grandfather had purchased through his many years of hard work at the mill and cutting hair would now have to be sold so my grandmother could continue to survive on her own. She was able to remain in her home in Pepperton, but the land and farm had to be sold. She continued working in the mill for a while; she would also cut hair for people in the village. She also cut my hair, along with my brother’s, for quite some time. I can still feel the itch of freshly cut hair on the back of my neck and the smell of her talcum powder that she would sprinkle on her brush before she stroked it across my brow.
After the last of her children had left her home in the mill village, she continued to cut hair on the side, but she also worked at the local Tastee-Freez restaurant in town across the railroad tracks in Jackson. She would also later work as a waitress for Tomlin’s Restaurant across the bridge over the Ocmulgee River. They served some fine fried catfish. Some weekend nights, she would let me and my little brother count her tips. We would spend the night with her some weekend nights watching TV, playing games and sipping “Cocola” from those little ice cold bottles. In her later years, as she put on her housecoat and got comfortable for the evening, she would indulge in a portion of “Brutton” or “Tube Rose” snuffs.
Many times when I visited my grandmother, I would reach out for the memory of my grandfather I never knew by reading the books he liked to read. My grandmother had kept many of the books that my grandfather enjoyed in her spare bedroom, where she also had a chair with a stand-up hair dryer attached to the top. A chair she used in her beautician duties. I would sit in the beauticians chair and read the works of James Whitcomb Riley or the volumes of “R.E. Lee and his Generals”. I inherited his love of reading and I am thankful for that. My brothers and all of my cousins would also make memories in that little mill house. Visiting “Bon Bon” and forming those precious bonds, between a grandmother and grandchild, would echo in our hearts for a lifetime.
My grandmother would continue to live in that little mill house until her death in 1989. I remember getting the call from my mother. Fortunately, I was stationed nearby at Fort Benning, Georgia. After hanging up with my mother, memories rushed into my mind of ice-cold Coca-Colas in a bottle and my red bicycle leaning up against her front porch. I wept. I was honored to be a pall-bearer at such a great woman’s funeral.JB and Bon Bon 6177
My mother and aunts and uncles would sell the little mill house that had been my grandmother’s home for over 60 years. Sometimes when I go home, I will drive by that little house and relive many memories and think of a time when I was a little boy. I recently drove by and saw two little girls playing in the yard where I once played. They were making new memories as the little mill house stood witness.
Sometime later, my mother told me over the phone one day that they were going to tear down the old mill. The mill had stood as a landmark in the community for nearly 100 years. On my next trip home, I was compelled to drive down to see what was left of the old mill. As I turned down the service road where my bicycle tires had logged over a hundred miles, I could see where the mill was no more. The absence of her brick walls left a void on the landscape. My progress was impeded by the presence of a makeshift construction fence. I stopped my car and got out and surveyed what lay before me.
Piles of rubble and stacks of bricks were all that was left of a way of life. There are still many mill houses across the railroad tracks that separated the mill from her community, but the heart of the village was now nothing more than piled up bricks and mortar. I stood there and continued to survey the site before me. I daydreamed of a sunny summer day riding my bike along the service road with my fishing pole in hand saying “Hello” to someone coming out of the mill. I would soon turn left and go across the railroad tracks and disappear down the street headed to my grandmother’s.
I walked up to the fence to get as close as I could to reclaim my memories. Right inside the fence were neatly stacked sets of bricks from the mill. I guessed that some of the bricks would be collected and re-purposed for other construction activities elsewhere. At that moment, without hesitation, I reached across the fence and I took two bricks from one of the stacks. Reaching for a memory, I took one for my grandfather and one for my grandmother. I took them back to my car and placed them in the floor board. I hoped that two small bricks missing from the stack would not be missed or even given a second thought by the workers who would come back on Monday, because at that moment, those two bricks meant the world to me.
I stood at the door of my car and peered over the mill site one last time. The next time I see the site, it will probably look like a barren landscape. As of this writing, I don’t know what may be built there again.
When I got back to my mother’s house, I took the bricks and put them on the picnic table outside. I went inside to retrieve a couple of old plastic grocery bags from my mother’s pantry. I walked outside to place the bricks in the bags so I could carry them home. My daughter followed me back outside and asked, “Daddy, what are you doing with those old bricks?” I paused, and then I turned around looking back at her with a big grin on my face. Borrowing in part a line from the last scene from the movie, The Maltese Falcon, I said, “They are not just old bricks, they are the stuff that dreams and memories are made of.”
Memories of my grandparents, of Pepperton and the mill will continue to live in me for as long as I live. Two “old bricks” sitting on my bookcase will never let me forget.
In memory of my grandparents J.B. and Bonnie Caston
JB and Bon Bon 129

The Cuckoo Clock, A Christmas Story

It was late December; the aura of Christmas time was in full repose. My mother, father, little brother and myself had just returned from a visit to my Grandmother’s home in Griffin. It had been a long day and the revelry of the holiday had us all a bit tired. We stumbled into the house with all of our trappings and collectively collapsed into each of our own little worlds.
Our family living room was replete with modest Christmas décor and an artificial silver tinsel tree. Our living room was small and cozy. My mother loved to display pictures of family and there were a number of them on the walls. Included with these on the back wall above the television was a Cuckoo clock. The clock had been a gift to my mother from my brother Timmy who had served in the Air Force. He had purchased the clock while he was traveling through Germany.
The clock had not worked for quite some time, but my mother kept it on the wall to display. I think that year she felt an attachment to the broken clock because it was a gift from my brother Timmy, who had been killed in a traffic accident earlier in the year. It had been over eight months since my brother’s accident, but the memory was still vivid in the minds of our family. It was especially vivid in the mind of my mother. The loss of a child is unfathomable to most, but my mother knew all too well.
My brother Timmy was only 23 when he was killed. He was stationed in California, reveling in the freedom and the sunny west coast. For not long ago, he had been in the thick of the war in Vietnam. He was stationed in Thailand, but he had gone into harm’s way on over 20 combat missions as an air crew member of the 606th Special Operations Squadron. He had survived his tour of duty and was happy to be back in the U.S.A.
Of the myriad of childhood memories that come and go, one I will always remember was when my mother and father received the news of Timmy’s death. Having had the sense of relief that he had survived a tour in Vietnam and was safely back at home, we all had to deal with the cruel realization that he was now gone. I had felt no greater sadness for my mother and our family.
It was getting much later that Christmas Eve night and mother and father were ready to put our gifts out so they could get to sleep. They had told me and my little brother to get off to bed, but we were rested a bit from our trip and we lay awake poised to hear the rattle of “Santa” putting out our gifts.
It was approaching midnight and you could hear a pin drop in the house. I was barely awake, eyes half closed. Mother and father must have taken a brief break. They would later tell me that they had been sitting at the dining room table. Then it happened.
At midnight, the calm silence was broken by the loud bellow of the Cuckoo clock on the wall. Unmistakable in its sound, although we had not heard it in months, the familiar rhythmic cadence echoed throughout the house exactly twelve times then fell silent once again. I had crawled closer to my bedroom door, fully awakened by its call.
There was a pause and mother and father had sat staring at each other, puzzled by the event that just took place. Then my mother’s face transformed from bewilderment to enlightenment. In a steady voice that I could hear from my bedroom, mama said, “Timmy just wished us a Merry Christmas”.
The awe of what happened and what I just heard, transformed my thoughts of ‘Santa” and gifts to thoughts of something much deeper. I eventually drifted off to sleep. The next morning, my little brother and I began to open the gifts that “Santa” had brought that night. We also listened to mama as she related the story of the Cuckoo clock to us. It was a wonderful Christmas Day. Our hearts and souls were happy and at peace.
“Santa Claus” had come that night, but the greatest gift that Christmas was an Angel from God, an Angel who heralded his presence through the sound of a Cuckoo clock.
Cuckoo Clock

I Believe

“We know truth, not only by reason, but also by heart.” Blaise Pascal

Some of my earliest memories are waking up at my grandparent’s house in Griffin, Georgia and looking over and seeing my grandmother reading her bible. I would then wipe the sleep away from my eyes and punch my little brother to wake him up. My grandmother would then close her bible and intervene and say, “You boys get up now and grandma will make you some breakfast.” Our grandfather would nod with a wry grin as he tended to his pipe and watched us climb out of the sofa bed and gather ourselves for breakfast. The holidays were always special at my grandparent’s houses, both sets. Thanksgiving would always start the season off and I remember my Grandma Daniel saying grace right before we ate, giving thanks to God for the blessings of life. Years later, when I was around 12 years old, I would re-live those memories of waking up and seeing my grandmother reading her bible, except this time it would be in our home in Jackson. After my grandfather had passed away, my grandmother’s health had begun to fail and she came to live with us at our home. Walking into the living room and seeing her morning devotional was a daily experience until she too went to be with God.
It was around this time of my life that I also affirmed my faith publicly. I was a member of the Royal Ambassadors of my church. The Royal Ambassadors, or RA’s, as we called ourselves, is a mission’s discipleship organization for boys in 1st thru 6th grade. I think it was the summer of my eleventh year that I attended RA camp down around Brunswick, Georgia. A busload of young boys from our church spent a week in a wilderness camp, living in huts with bunk beds and communing with nature and learning about our faith. We also would have great fun playing games, taking hikes in the woods and enjoying some watersports. We would also worship in the wilderness church located on the grounds of the camp. After one of these services, I was drawn to talk to one of the pastors who were working with the camp, and we talked about God and our faith and he asked me if I wanted to accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior. So, on a beautiful summer day under the shade of a towering Live Oak tree, sitting down with a preacher, I asked God to come into my heart. I don’t remember the preachers name, I wish I did, but I still see his face and the bible he held in his hands. I still feel the soothing breeze under the shade of the oak trees and the warmth that filled my heart and soul at that moment. I would later be baptized at my church and I remember coming up out of the water and peering over the pews and finding the smile on my grandmother’s face. I enjoyed a period of grace and peacefulness that remains cemented in my memory.
Young boys eventually begin to turn into young men. With those eventual changes, the influences of life and the expansion of experiences, the young man’s spiritual self can change from its original form into something else if it is not tended and fostered regularly. This would be my course. I began a slow walk away from God. I never left him completely and I prayed infrequently, but I did not have that endearing spirit that I had as a child. As I began a career in a job of my childhood dreams, I found both personal and professional success. My life was blessed in many ways, but I kept walking away from God. There were many times where the subtle hand of the Divine would try to intervene on my course, but I was not to be moved. I would reach a point in my life where I felt a complete spiritual emptiness. Even at this point, there was something inside that said, “It’s there, and you have to find it again.”
It was during the holidays around Thanksgiving one year, I was driving in my truck and I was listening to a CD of Christmas music by Elvis Presley. I had always been a fan of Elvis since my youth, but I couldn’t ever remember him singing the song, “I Believe.” The song began to play and I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. As Elvis continued to bellow out the tune, I not only heard the words, but I began to feel the words. I bring it out during Christmas time every year and play it along with the other Christmas carols we listen to during the season. The words go like this;

I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows
I believe that somewhere in the darkest night, a candle glows
I believe for everyone who goes astray, someone will come to show the way
I believe, I believe
I believe above the storm the smallest prayer will still be heard
I believe that someone in the great somewhere hears every word
Every time I hear a newborn baby cry, or touch a leaf, or see the sky
Then I know why, I believe.

“I Believe” is a song that was written in 1953. It was commissioned and introduced by Jane Froman, who had a popular television show in the 50’s. It was the first song ever introduced on television. Miss Froman was troubled by the onset of the Korean War and asked some writers to compose a song that would offer hope and faith to the populace. Frankie Laine, of “Rawhide” fame recorded the big hit version of the song and it is also my favorite version of the song. It has become both a popular and religious standard.
I don’t know why this particular song struck a chord with me that day. They say the Lord moves in mysterious ways. Personally, I think we are all hard-wired to believe there is something out there greater than we are. I have an acquaintance who is an atheist, yet, every year during the Christmas season, he revels in the festive spirit of the holiday. I think too, that it is the hand of the Almighty which stirs him this time of year.
Today, in our society, in some circles, it is in vogue to spurn and ridicule the belief in a higher power. I have lamented seeing some of the disparaging commentary in our media on this topic. However, I am reminded as I write this story, that faith in the Almighty, has stood the test of time. Faith has survived for millennia and it shall survive for many more. That is my faith. The founding of our nation was born out of the pursuit of religious freedom. From that first day the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock, to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, that freedom of religion, not freedom from religion, has been a cornerstone of our nation.
During this time of year, we, as adults often recall our childhood memories of parents and grandparents and those in our family who are no longer with us. This day I am reminded of having my grandmother Bon Bon’s Christmas soup at her mill house in Pepperton. I am also reminded of my grandmother Daniel reading her Bible. If I could speak to them again, I would tell them I love them and I Believe.

Mama…..at 90

Calvin Coolidge was our nation’s president. Indoor plumbing was a luxury and electric lights were not widely used yet in the small Georgia town where she was born. A real Southern Belle, my mother has witnessed an incredible slice of the history of mankind in the 90 years she has been living on planet earth.Mama and Billy146
When I look into her beautiful brown eyes, I sometimes imagine what those eyes have seen over a 90 year lifetime. I also see the love, compassion and humility of a good and spiritual woman. The kitchen table where she served so many delicious and heartwarming meals served as the inspiration for my blog. I came to realize that it was my mother who stirred in me the passion to write and share a story. I wrote a story for her a few years ago to honor her birthday. I will share it again below.
I realize that my family and I have been blessed to have our mother as long as we have. I have many friends whose mothers and fathers have gone on to heaven. It is my hope that this story and celebration of my mother will help my readers re-live some of those cherished memories of their mother’s and father’s. The human creature is a divine creation. We cleave to a sense of family and belonging to those we love. My mother taught me this and showed me by example. Witnessing my mother over a lifetime, I came to think of an analogy that I think illustrates her character.
I have sometimes imagined my mother as a proud Eagle standing watch over her nest of hatchlings. Paying meticulous care over her brood, she nurtures and watches over them with fierce loyalty and love. I have counted myself as fortunate to be a part of her nest. When the good Lord sees fit to take her home, her nest will be empty, but her example and her memory will continue to soar with all of the other Eagles she has touched in her lifetime.
Here is my tribute to my hero, my mama.

Happy Birthday Mama,
Thank You

My Mother’s birthday is coming up on September 28th and I would like to honor her in a special way this year. I want to share her life story and what she has meant to me.
She has been called by many names. She has been called Mary, Edna, Mrs. Kelly, Mrs. Daniel, “Miss Edna” and “Teetnin”. It has been my good fortune to call her Mama.
She grew up in “Pepperton”, a small mill village east of Jackson during the Depression. Their bank accounts were not large, but their hearts and souls were full of love. She saw the advent of the indoor bathroom and can remember drinking a “3 cent’er” soft drink. She used to enjoy going to her Grandmother’s home and playing in the country and savoring the offerings from the fruit trees. She enjoyed playing with dolls as a little girl and swimming at the pool at Indian Springs. When she was a young teenager, she and three of her friends pooled their money and bought an old convertible “Model A” or “Model T”, I cannot remember exactly which one. Mama had the distinct privilege of being the driver because she was the only one who knew how at the time.Mama on the town149
Very soon, she would catch the eye of a handsome young man, Carl Kelly. In the course of their courtship, they fell in love and married. They began a new life together. He, as a soldier and she, an Army wife.
Life on army posts in those days could be challenging. I can remember mama telling me of having to go out in the snow and chopping wood for their stove and drawing water from a well pump.
Mama would soon be stricken with rheumatic fever. She would be restricted to bed rest. It was at that time that she came home to Jackson so my grandmother “Bon Bon” could help care for her. Their young sons would stay at Ft. Lewis with their father where he was helped out with the boys by some army wives. Then fate would strike again. The Korean War started up and Carl was to be called overseas.
He brought the boys back to Jackson. He then bid a tearful farewell to mama and boarded a train back to Ft. Lewis. This would be the last time that she would ever see him. Carl was killed in Korea and regaled as a war hero, as was so eloquently detailed in an article in this paper some time ago. Highway 16 running east out of Jackson was named in his honor.
A new phase of life would begin for mama and her three boys. Thru the pain and the grieving, she found an inner strength and courage to forge on with life. She had come full circle, having left Jackson as a young teenage girl, living the life of a soldier’s wife at different points on the compass, and now returning to Jackson as a young woman, a mother and a widow.
She and her boys took up residence in the Deraney apartments. She also worked for her Uncle Ralph, who had a store there in town. She also forged some lifelong friendships while living in the apartments, friendships still strong to this day. This was a period of transition. Mama would begin dating again and would meet a man from Griffin, Ed Daniel, my father. They would be married in the National Guard armory in Jackson. Right across the street would be their new home, etched out of a field where an old farm once stood. Mama had bore three sons and would soon give life to another two, me and my little brother Joe.

Mama is one of the wisest people I have known. As a young child, she taught me about manners and courtesy. I still have memorized the little phrase she repeated over and over, “Yes m’am, No m’am, Thank you m’am, Please.” It is these little memories that make mama, that make all of our mothers, so special.
I was in the second grade when tragedy would once again visit my mother. My older brother Timmy was killed in a traffic accident in California. This was my first real life lesson about grief and loss. Many years later, my brother Pat was also killed in a traffic accident. Yet, my mother displayed profound courage in working thru her grief and anguish. By watching her example, I came to understand that one could rebound and engage life again with a positive attitude and a strong relationship with God. As I continued to grow, I would learn other lessons on life from mama’s example about dignity, character, compassion, courage, courtesy, respect and a reverence of God and love.

One of the most enjoyable benefits of living under Miss Edna’s roof was her cooking. Whether having a wholesome breakfast of eggs, bacon and biscuits for breakfast before school, or having mama’s oven BBQ chicken with mashed potatoes on a cool fall evening, it was all good. But it was also comforting, both physiologically and emotionally. A good meal shared by family imparts a sense of home and belonging. Some of my fondest childhood memories are sitting down to the dinner table enjoying one of mama’s meals.
When I’m feeling low or down about something, I look to my mother’s example to boost my morale and pick myself up. She is my hero and she will be forever. My soul is enriched every time I speak to her and hear her voice. Many times I wish I lived in Jackson once again so I could see her every day.
Those of us of faith no doubt wonder what it will be like when we are finally called to heaven. For me, in my own dreams, I do not see pearly gates and lands of milk and honey. My vision of heaven is that of a little boy of about 10, clad in blue jeans and T-shirt running across a field of grass in the bright sunshine. I’m running towards my house. Standing on the back porch is my mama. I reach my mama and fall into her arms with an embrace. When I realize that dream, I will know that I have made it to heaven.
I thank God daily for blessing me and my brothers with our mother.
Thank You and Happy Birthday Mama.
I Love You,
Chip
Mama and Me163

Paradise….not so elusive after all

It has been over a month since my last entry on my blog. My writing has not been idle, I have some works that are in the making. However, a recent business trip gave me a gift inside my heart that speaks to the essence of what is important in life, at least to me, and I am sure to most, if not all, who will read this story.
This particular business trip was not to some metropolitan city, but to Puerto Rico, “the island of enchantment”. Old Chris Columbus had happened upon this jewel of the Caribbean in 1493. The Spanish took hold of her and didn’t let go until some 400 years later when the United States whipped the Spaniards in the Spanish-American War. Since then, she has been a U.S. Territory.
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I’m sure those Spanish sailors that first set foot on her beaches and looked up at the palm trees swaying in the tropical breezes thought they had found paradise. The Spanish put so much strategic importance in Puerto Rico that they began to build one of the most impressive arrays of fortifications of the time situated around the main city of San Juan. The forts of El Morro and San Cristobal were amazing feats of engineering for the 1500’s. The Spanish would continue to improve upon the fortifications and build onto them for hundreds of years. They would even repel an assault in the 1700’s by the British, who were ultimately unsuccessful in their bid to capture this gem of the Caribbean for the British Empire.
Today, as a United States Territory, her forts are maintained by the U.S. Park Service. It was certainly a treat for an old soldier like me to tour her parapets and stand in the same outposts where so many Spanish soldiers held vigil as they looked out over the sea.
PR Sentry Post
Part of the city, “Old San Juan”, is now a tourist mecca lined with restaurants, clubs and shops to entertain the traveler. Cruise ships frequently make port here so their passengers can spend the day and take in the sites. For travelers on vacation, this can be an escape to an island paradise. For the business traveler, one can still revel in the beauty and excite your palate on the local offerings, but even paradise for the business traveler can leave an empty feeling in your heart when you are not sharing it with the ones you love.
After a day of work, one can relax his soul in the evening by standing on the edge of the ocean and listening to the waves splash against the rocks below. The sea breezes sway the palm trees and blow across your face and take you into a different consciousness as you gaze across a moonlit sea.
PR Palm Trees
Even in this moment of peace, my thoughts are drawn to my wife and daughter back home. My wish at that moment would be to have them standing with me sharing that moment of peace together. Each morning, I get ready to go to work and I stare out my hotel window at the beautiful blue sea that greets me, I thank God for giving me this opportunity to see the grandeur of his creation. I then think of my wife and daughter and I am thankful that I am one day closer to being back home.
My time at work comes to a close. Early on a Saturday morning, vacationers are poised to spend the day at the beach or sit around the pool and spend a day in paradise. I am pulling my luggage along to the check out area with equal anticipation in my heart. But my excitement does not reside at the beach or pool, my excitement resides with the sight of my home and loved ones as I pull into the driveway.
PR Waves
I finally make it on board the plane and look out over the blue Caribbean for the last time. In a few hours, I touch down in Atlanta. Before long, my truck is southbound on I-85 and I am heading for home. When I pull into the driveway, the lawn that needs mowing looks priceless to me and the sight of my front door gives me a lump in my throat.
I walk inside to the smiles and hugs from my wife and daughter. My daughter has baked me a cake shaped like a heart and my wife has an impressive spread of hors d’oeuvres for me on the table.
The look in their eyes is more breath-taking than the paradise I had just left. Their hugs bring more comfort than any evening tropical sea breeze. Some would say that I left paradise and came home. I, indeed had a great privilege of seeing the masterful hand of God’s creation in the Caribbean Sea. But I didn’t leave paradise, I came home to it. Paradise is where we make it and where we see it. I see paradise everyday I get to look into the eyes of my family. Paradise….yeah, it’s not so elusive, it’s found in love. And I am thankful for my paradise.Robin and Molly