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The phenomenon of elderly people fixed with rapt and adoring attention on The Lawrence Welk Show used to totally baffle me. Everything about it seemed transparently fake – fake smiles, fake dialogue, fake music. The bubbles might have been real. It was like the glaring opposite of hip. But hip can be fake too, more like the opposite of authentic, or maybe anti-real. It’s not much of a leap from Lawrence Welk to Ronald Reagan.
He always held his pencil differently from the rest of us. While we philistines labored to be little Norman Rockwells desperately trying to make the faces we sketched look at least human, he glided over the paper with an ease none of us could ever duplicate. His faces were human, but they were in a Picasso-like abstract style. The noses were there but they sometimes overlapped the mouth and eyes and were out of proportion. Our teacher in middle school was not in the least amused and totally disinterested in how his mind was able to see the assignment in such a different way. All she could tell him was to quit “wasting time” and …
When his obituary appeared prematurely in the press, Mark Twain remarked: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” In the last weeks a number of deaths of celebrities have been falsely reported. Nothing but fame seems to connect the individuals whose erroneously reported demise has set the twittering classes tweeting. First I read on the internet that Michael Moore had died. I was dismayed at the loss of this useful member of society and great campaigner, and relieved next day when I discovered the report was false…
in the south
I step out to a gray afternoon; queerly, white flakes fall from the Atlanta skies. It’s been snowing about an hour. The black roofs are now speckled grey and slowly turning white, yet dark streaks run their length telling of their poor insulation. Over the lawn, a thin blanket of snow leads to my car, a couple frozen blades still stick out. I look back at my footsteps; they only sink about a half inch. A smile of childhood emerges, as I recall how I loved to go sledding.
'til death do you part
Among the survivors, obituaries usually mention the spouse whether the “devoted wife,” “adoring husband,” “the loyal husband” or the “love of his/her life.” Occasionally, though, careful obituary readers will find poignant “valentines” or little love stories almost buried in the litany of jobs, accomplishments and hobbies.
It’s always fun to happen upon these as they definitely help to paint a more complete picture of how a relationship began or how a couple bonded and flourished over the years. Even just a hint of romance or intrigue or courtship that is revealed adds a little sweet perspective to a departure.
saved his life
Al is a crusty New Yorker who moved to our very waspy Republican stronghold here in Central Florida about 10 years ago to open a small cabinetry and carpentry shop. My wife and I own a small cafe here that we opened one month after President Obama was elected. Our very risky venture – on opening day I think we had $100 to our name – was fueled in part by our enthusiasm for what we saw as a turning point in American history. Now it’s five years later and we’re still open, we’re crowded almost every day and everyone in the county knows about us. We can’t claim to any profits yet…
gave gouthern boys a fine ski
Back in the 1960s when I hung out at Georgia’s Elijah Clark State Park, the cool guys were into water skiing. I got into it too and learned to slalom. That was a big deal. Learning to take off from shore standing on one leg was an even bigger deal, and I did that despite my most ordinary ski’s limitations. No matter how well you skied though, not having a big name ski rubbed a lot of luster off your accomplishment. A Dick Pope Jr. ski, however, carried cachet. A cheap ski? It might as well be a plank.
we were soldiers once and young
Of all the distinctive experiences in my life, there have been only two that have totally brought me to a halt, changing my landscape to the point that the line before and after are dark and broad strips as though made with a blunt and heavy magic marker. There is no ambiguity that the line is one of separation. One was my tour of duty in Vietnam from 1968-69. The other was the death of my late wife, Lilian.
It is striking in its unique and haunting simplicity. The concept is most distinctive, and in its own way, reassuring. Just looking at it calms you. The setting is a busy place with traffic rushing nearby, and often, airplanes overhead. It’s difficult to get to during business days, but amazingly simple during weekends. We refer of the Pentagon Memorial in Washington, D.C., the first memorial to 9-11, created to remember and honor those people who perished when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
Moments before, I’d accidentally dropped the TV remote. The thing must’ve flopped on the floor at some crazy-ass angle and flipped the channel to something else. I’d been laughing at a Saturday afternoon Three Stooges Marathon. Now, at the very top of the hour, an announcer, Jim McKay tells me I am about to enjoy “…the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
he had soul
Mr. Goff. Not “Tommy Goff” or “Tommy” or some dorky nickname — Mr. Goff didn’t have nicknames. A bandmate once made the mistake of calling him Mr. Goof — nobody ever said that again. No, there was nothing else really conceivable: he was Mr. Goff. He was the best teacher I ever had, and one of the handful of truly extraordinary people I’ve met in life — and a legion of former students scattered over the world would say the same.
life rises from the earth
The day breaks gray, cold, and wet. Rain and mists swirl and shift like apparitions as winds whip them across the highway. Like twin metronomes, my windshield wipers lay down a steady beat … driving north, driving north, driving north. I’m driving to Lancaster, South Carolina, to interview a Catawba potter. To get there I drive up I-77 and peel off on SC Highway 200, a two-lane road running through pine-clad hills. It runs through hard times too.
useless on ice
A dozen years ago, during the early spring, I was visiting my son in Pennsylvania. Among the scheduled activities was an opportunity to see my ten year old grandson play basketball that Saturday at the local YMCA. Upon rising that morning and peering out the bedroom window, I felt a tinge of disappointment. A dusting of snow had come during the night. I walked down to get coffee and expressed my regret to my son. He looked at me with surprise and confusion until he realized what I meant.
What is it with Republican governors and traffic jams? Up in New Jersey, we’ve got Chris Christie’s staff ordering up some “traffic problems” for Fort Lee, perhaps as a prank, and in Atlanta, Georgia, we’ve got Nathan Deal and the Mayor of Atlanta hosting each other at lunch while the traffic all around the city flops around in slush.
If you didn’t read my column about how a mule’s kick ended up killing eight people, you are in the minority. Of all the columns I’ve written over the last four years none have generated quit a stir like this one. It began to show up on Facebook. People began to share it all over the place and Augusta radio personality Austin Rhodes came across it. He read the entire column over the air on WGAC. The floodgates opened up.
oft we mar what's well
The practice Sunday morning went well and my wife Jody said that I had “nailed” the playing of my alto sax part of The Black Cat Rag, a snappy and quick-paced piece of music by Frank Wooster and Ethyl B. Smith written in 1905. It has been a tough piece, however, for me to get my fingers around in order to dance fast enough to keep up with the light-hearted but sprightly pace. When the time came later in the afternoon…
every scar tells a story
Back in a simpler, better time… In my case, five scars bring back memories of Dr. Weems Pennington Sr., a doctor who epitomized what a family physician should be. He was smart, kind, funny, and kept many of us rolling despite an excess of maladies, ills, and accidents. He had a way of teaching you to be courageous no matter what bedeviled you. He’s been gone for seven years but he lives on in the hearts and minds of many, and he always will.
Times Are Changin’… Give a little thought to this conjured scenario. Bob Dylan and Bernie Taupin are both private, reclusive types who have managed to share many of their thoughts, visions and talents with the world. Such endeavors require the proper introspection. Therefore a logical spot to take in and digress on the world is the window booth at Manuel’s Tavern, located at the corner of North and North Highland Avenues in Atlanta, Georgia.
book banners be warned
It’s a memory that refuses to die and it took place on the front steps of the old brick high school that overlooks Buddy Bufford Field back home. Angry classmates swarm around Skipper Hardin and me, furious because we had the gall to read Charles Darwin’s books on the theory of evolution. Even worse we were so bold as to talk about Darwin’s theory in class. Blasphemy! They thought Darwin’s books should be not just banned, but burned.
leave nothing but footprints
One of our coastal Georgia environmentalists has got a bug about Sea Island Equestrians letting their mounts leave turds in the marsh and on trails through the dunes. Which, of course, is not how the new owners, Sea Island Acquisitions, or the contracted equestrian service provider would describe the “experience.”
quality of life
From the time I was ten running and biking were part of my life and that led to football quite naturally. Like many Lincoln County boys, I played for the Red Devils. Ran track too.
Not long after graduating from Georgia youth-induced laziness set in. Why exercise when you are young and weight gain is no big deal? I went through a stretch of seven years where I did nothing as exercise goes. Then one afternoon a couple of guys asked me to run with them.
“When fascism comes to America it will be carrying a cross and wrapped in the flag.” — attributed to Sinclair Lewis
Dr. Danny Pruett, my dad, passed away peacefully on January 4, his three grown children by his side. He was 90 and had willed himself back from the brink so many times that we began to think him invincible: heart attacks, bypass surgery, hips replacements, ruptured diverticulum and esophagus, multiple abdominal and back surgeries, atrial fibrillation, and more.
Such was life in Atlanta during the run-up to the ’96 Summer Olympics. The Centennial Olympic Games would, so thought entrepreneurs, promoters and cheats, provide hundreds, maybe thousands of ways to make money. And there seemed to be tens of thousands who thought they’d make the money. It was a sad sight. John Prine’s song of hucksters came to mind often, as did, quite a few times, the Bob Dylan line from “Tombstone Blues”: Is there a hole for me to get sick in?”
overcoming primal fear
Few animals arouse primal fear like snakes and yet as citified as we are we seldom see ’em. Other than a green snake scooting through the lawn few people encounter snakes, and even fewer cross paths with industrial-strength venomous snakes. The kind that can send you to the next world.
how’s your neuroplasticity?
At 76 I find my brain getting foggy at times (along with most of my peers) during tasks which I once saw clearly. My main concern is to avert dementia which debilitates and aggravates us and them. So I was interested when a brain training product on the internet introduced itself to me. I read the blurb, played a couple of simple but stimulating games and recognized that this could help keep me mentally limber; then I hesitated about the expense.
The Hawk has come South and Hell has frozen over.
I can’t prove these two events scientifically but I am very sure both happened in the last few days. Suddenly, the area to the south of the Mason-Dixon line is the freeze-framed Land of Petrified Cold. Mother Nature has turned into a frigid, heartless, cold-blooded shrew.
It hasn’t been this cold since…
I suspect there is often a child in a family who is able to escape the confines of the worst kind of restrictive life. Perhaps just getting away from people who have squeezed the vision of possibilities into a speck is beyond our power to appreciate, especially at the moment when we leave their world behind. It is a moment when the air rushes into the lungs and the body can fully breathe. We must shed them and slough off our old skins if we are to become more ourselves.
Worthy of Comment
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