Saturday, May 27, 2006


Gimme that ol' time religion!

I almost never sing hymns in church, I just kinda mutter along. The main reason is that I cannot carry a tune in a bucket. However, I love to hear Sharon sing. I think she has a beautiful voice and I get much more from the hymns listening to her than from me having to concentrate to keep up. There are certain hymns where she really gets with it. She says that it's the hymns played in a particular note. Seems like it's C flat or something like that. I am tone deaf so I wouldn't know the difference. I do not know what makes us remember certain events from our childhood and not remember others. I guess that my preference of religious music stems from my childhood.

The only thing I can remember about the First Baptist Church in Kingsport, Tennessee is, I believe, it was big and located on a cul-d-sac(? I have spelled this so bad that SpellCheck just put up a big question mark. Of course, I remember a lot about the First Baptist church in Longview. It was big, very big. I bet the First Baptist Church in Longview now owns about half of the downtown area. I also remember that when Mom, Toni and I went off to church, I was always late and had to put my socks and shoes on in the car and my shirt was unbuttoned. I got dressed on the drive to church.

When I was on one of my many visits to Uncle Ober's and Aunt Mary's farm, we always went to a Methodist Church, it was just down the gravel road, around the bend and up the hill. The church was wood framed with a thin, tall wooden steeple. Seems like it was always freshly painted white. The windows were open in the summer and one pot belly wood burning stove provided heat in the winter. Uncle Ober wore overalls with a white shirt to church. The overalls and shirt were always freshly washed and ironed. Other than his shoes, that was the only difference between what he wore every day to work on the farm to milk the cows and hoe the tobacco. As a group, I don't believe I have heard any choir that sounded as good as the congregation of farmers in that old Methodist Church in Greene county Tennessee. I guess that's why I love the old hymns. Everyone sang, and I mean everyone. Some folks were on tune and most folks were not. Together, they made the sounds of Sunday morning with their East Tennessee twang that I loved. I guess it was not they were the best sounding choir I have ever heard, but they were the most sincere. I went up to the that old, little church the last time I was in Greene County and stood outside as my mind wandered back to the late '40's. The church was still freshly painted white. If I closed my eyes I could Imagine "The Old Rugged Cross" being sung inside the church, escaping through the steeple, and echoing across those green hills.

After Joey and Maria's wedding in Wimberley, I went with a friend to the Cypress Creek Church. I believe the church is Pentecostal. I had never heard of the songs they were singing. Evidently, no one else did either because they keeping flashing the words across a two big tv screens. Seems like every song had about two lines of lyrics they kept repeating about 100 times. I was not impressed. I believe that the myths used by the political right to gain control of most of our state governments and our federal government is that Religion is under attack in America. From my observations, religion is doing quite well. Take a look at most of the big elegant churches all around you. Most of the Evangelical ministers generate such a large cash flow they start their own colleges. Look at Jim & Tammy Baker's retreat in North Carolina! Pat Robertson was going to build a 35 acre theme park in Israel until one of his numerous stupid remarks got the project canceled. I have seen a lot of extravagant Churches here and during my trip to Europe. I prefer the smaller, plainer churches. Of all the churches I have attended or seen, the most beautiful church I can remember is that white, wood frame church in Greene county Tennessee. I guess that is why I am comfortable with our church in Houston. No, it's not plain or wood frame, but it is not extravagant. It is also small by today's standards. You can hear and see our pastor from your pew without the aid of TV screens and a surround sound audio system. Christ The Servant Lutheran Church make me feel like I am an important to the church, not just a face in a nameless sea of faces. I go there for the sermon and the solitude, not the glitter and the flash I find in most other churches.

A couple of years ago, we had an organist, I believe his name was Marshall. Marshall would play hymns on the organ while people were coming in before the service started. I once asked him to play "In The Garden". That is one of my favorites and it is not in the Lutheran hymnal. Marshall told me he could tell my background because it was an old Baptist and Methodist hymn. Anyway, from that day on, he would always play it for me if he spotted me coming in. I've told Sharon that it is one of the two songs I want played at my funeral. The other is "I'll Fly Away". I believe that is a black gospel song, but I am not sure of the origin. I like "Amazing Grace" too, but everyone has that played at their funeral. I guess that Sharon can hold my funeral in a closet because I don't think there will be many people there.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Chicks are back!

Just ordered the Dixie Chicks new CD from Amazon. Just for the heck of it, I also ordered their other two CD's.

Just my way of giving the old one finger salute to the mentally challenged country music profession and Bozo.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


I'll sleep better now! This must be an election year!

I feel reassured now about our current congress. They are finally addressing one of the most pressing issue our country is facing. We may finally get a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

I have been soooooooo worried about that. I do not feel secure about my 39 year marriage without that constitutional amendment. Can you image the chaos the might result without it. Anarchy could take over unless congress acts quickly. Pat Roberts can now continue to stonewall the senate investigation into the lies and half truths that convinced congress and the American public that we must invade Iraq before they attack us and to "bring justice to them" for their part in 911. We could not wait for "the smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud". Speaking of Condy, she was on one of the Sunday morning talk shows and failed to mention that. Instead, she said that we invaded Iraq to bring democracy and freedom to the region. Guess I must have missed that in 2002 and early 2003. On a much more serious note, Bozo and the first lady said that Iraq had now turned the corner and that millions now have a path to live in freedom. I hope they don't remember that Bozo said that the reason we were attacked on 911 was because "they hated our freedom". Gotta give him credit though, he said it with a straight face.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Across the fields and thru the woods.

My Uncle Frank had many stories about his younger years growing up in Erwin. He had a very good friend he called Popeye. I asked him how he got the nickname, Frank said it was because he liked to fight. Any way, one night Frank, Fred, Popeye and some other friends had been out partying. Probably had been to Limestone Cove because that was the nearest place we you could legally buy alcohol. Frank and Fred were in one car and Popeye was driving another car with other friends

This had to be in the early 40's or right after the war. Erwin is located in the mountainous part of Tennessee so the roads then were very curvy. Franks was in the lead going back home to Erwin when he lost his breaks. He went off the road and through a fence. Luckily it was a pasture and not off the side of the road into a creek or off a cliff. He was able to steer his car up a hill and finally came to a stop. He said he got out of the car a little bit shaken and up drove Popeye right behind him. Popeye stuck his head out the window and with a puzzled look on his face asked, "where are we going?".


RC Colas and Moon Pies

There are other memories of my childhood on Uncle Ober's and Aunt Mary's farm. I mentioned the highlight of everyday was going to get the cows for the evening milking with Bobbie Jean. There was also a weekly event that I looked forward to. Every Wednesday, we all went to the store to get the few household items that they needed. This was more of a social event than a shopping event though.

So every Wednesday evening, after the evening milking and dinner, we piled into Uncle Ober's car and went to the store. It was great. Other than church, it was one of the few chances to socialize with the neighbors. The men played checkers and horseshoes, the women gossiped and kids played caroms. There was never any alcohol, only soft drinks and yes, moon pies. I returned one summer after we had moved to Texas. Of course, I wanted to spend some time at Uncle Ober's and Aunt Mary's farm. They still went to the store on Wednesday night. But It had changed. Uncle Ober went to a different store because they had electricy and thus a TV. I couldn't believe it. No checkers or horseshoes, no caroms and no gossiping. Everyone was sitting around the TV watching wrestling. The saddest part of this change was there was little socializing anymore, just exchanging pleasantries when the arrived, find a seat and watch a wrestling match.



I like to relate to Joelle stories about her mother's childhood. Joelle was going through a particular time of habitual nose picking, so I told her about the time that Petie quit picking her nose.

We had a carpool of four children to go to gymnastics once a week. In 1980 seat belts were not required let alone child safety seats, so you see, we could carpool easily. As we made our stop for the last child on the route, out he comes with his mother right behind; this was typical, except as she got closer to the car it was a pretty scary sight. The children, who were standing on the floorboard sat straight back on the seat, eyes glued to the woman. I have to say she looked liked something out of a horror movie. She had an operation for a deviated septum. Her face was swollen, eyes black, and even bloody cotton still coming out of her nose. I can't imagine why she came out unless it was for sympathy.

The boy hopped in and we left. There was dead silence in a usually noisy car. After about five minutes, Petie said, "I tell you what, I'm not going to pick my nose again." ss

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Frank and Fred

Thought I had better document a classical Erwin story before it is forgotten. My Dad's family lived in Erwin, Tennessee. My Dad's parents had 4 boys and 4 girls, the youngest were twins, Frank and Fred. From the stories I have heard, Frank and Fred were, let's just say, spirited. They were never in serious trouble for anything that was criminal, but when there was mischief in Erwin, Frank and Fred were the usual suspects.

There was an atomic energy research center in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, near Erwin. The time frame for this story is either just before WW II or right after we entered the war. The next door neighbor to my Grandparents had applied for a job at Oak Ridge, and the FBI did a routine check on anyone that was going to work there. That included asking the neighbors what was, I am sure, very basic questions.

Two FBI agents knocked on my Grandparent's door to inquire about their neighbor. My grandfather was, of course, working so my Grandmother answered the door. You have to picture my Grandmother. She was probably all of 90 pounds, wore glasses, always had her hair in a bun and always had an apron on. Anyway, when she answered the door, the two men identified themselves as FBI agents. My grandmother almost fainted as she gasped, "what have the twins done now?".


Joelle at Disney World

On our trip to Disney World, we had lunch at some restaurant...don't remember which one....that featured Winnie the Pooh characters as the main attraction. Every so often, the characters, eeyore, piglet and tigger would have a parade around the room and the children were supposed to join in. The first time, Joelle was a little reluctant but did join the parade. She was having a little trouble keeping up but managed by grabbing and holding on to eeyore's tail.

The characters then went around the room stopping at tables and signing autograph books. Piglet stopped by our table and Joelle LOVED piglet. She gave him the biggest hug and later informed us that "He was soft". Before we left, another parade started. Joelle was late getting into the parade and was trailing the group by quite a bit as they went around the corner and temporily out of sight. When the group came back into view, Joelle had not only caught up, she was in front holding piglet's hand with the biggest smile you have ever seen. The parade was then going from our section of the restaurant to another section and the children were supposed to stay in their section. Joelle was not about to let go of piglet. She went skipping along, holding piglets hand into the other section. A parade worker was trying to get Joelle to let go of piglet and stay in our section, but Joelle was having none of it. She keeping holding on to piglet with one hand and swatting off the guy trying to make her let go with the other hand. Chris then went into the other section to retrieve Joelle after the parade was over.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


When steam was king on the Clinchfield!

Well, guess I can now bore you with why I find train whistles soothing. As I said earlier, I spent most of my summers during the late 40's at Uncle Ober's and Aunt Mary's farm in Greene county, Tennessee. However, from my birth until we moved to Longview, Texas, I lived in Kingsport, Tennessee. My Dad had a dual engineering degree from Georgia Tech and worked at Tennessee Eastman. We lived in Edgewood Village, literally a company housing project owned by Eastman. Yes, we had indoor plumbing, electricity and a coal fired heater. The chemical plant was maybe a couple of hundred yards to the west. It was close enough that I walked to the plant for the Saturday morning Horse Krickers Club. That was Eastman employee's children movie club, where I saw Song of the South, The Wizard of Oz, along with every Roy Roger, Lash Laroo(?) and Hop-along Cassidy movie ever made. Daddy could walk to work too, weather permitting. The tracks of the Clinchfield Railroad were less than a 100 yards east of our house with nothing but our backyard between the house and the tracks. The Clinchfield was a very short railroad, running about 270 miles from the coal mines in western Virginia and Eastern Kentucky to the terminals in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Erwin, Tennessee was almost exactly halfway between the two and was the headquarters of the Clinchfield. Erwin is about 20 to 25 miles south of Kingsport.

My Grandfather was an engineer for the Clinchfield so he regularly drove his train right by our house. He had seniority, so he was an engineer on freight trains rather than the coal trains. That's important because freight train had priority over coal trains and got the right of way at meets....which means the coal trains had to pull into sidings and wait for the freight train to pass. Passenger trains, of course, had priority over both freight and coal trains. Anyway, the trips for freight trains were faster than coal trains and commanded a higher status symbol. The way a shift worked on the Clinchfield was one day you would leave Erwin, take a string of emptys north to the coal fields or take loaded hoppers south to Spartenburg. If you were hauling freight, you took your cars to interchanges with the B&O, C&O, Southern and other road names. You would then lay over and the next day take a train back to Erwin. The worst jobs went to the most junior engineers who would be gone for a week at a time and do switching duties at the coal fields. Switching meant that you took empty hoppers to the mines and picked up loaded hoppers to build trains for the trip south thru Erwin to the utility plants.

When my grandfather would power his train past our house, he would always blink his lights, ring the bell and blow the whistle. The whistle of steam engines had a lot of character, not so with diesels. The reason is that a burst of steam was used to blow the whistle of a steam engine but diesels have electric horns. I believe. So the engineer can vary the whistle sound by the length of time and volume of the steam he releases to blow the whistle. I don't know this to be a fact, but I'll bet that an engineer of a steam engine could be be identified by the sounds of his whistle. There is nothing like the sound of a distant steam engine's whistle cutting through the night air. I was too young to remember, but Mom told me that once my grandfather stopped his train at our house to unload my first big bed. He thought it was time for me to get out of that baby bed.

The railroad tracks also served as a constant source of amusement when I was growing up. I bet you didn't know that the best tasting strawberries in the world grow wild along the tracks of the Clinchfield. Sometimes I would go on an excursion down the tracks and return with a stray dog; I was hoping Mom would let me keep it. Never did get to keep one of those strays. There was a tunnel about a quarter of a mile south, toward Erwin, from our house. Just beyond the tunnel was a trestle that crossed the Holston River. You could see a long way north toward the Kingsport yards because the roadbed was straight, but south, through the tunnel and just beyond the rivers trestle toward Erwin, the tracks made a sharp bend around a hill so you couldn't see very far. In Texas, that hill would be called a mountain. Trains always traveled faster going north past our house than going south because the upgrade was north to south at that point on the mainline. So, before crossing the trestle, you had to put your ear to the rail to make sure that a train was not coming around that sharp bend.. There was no walkway on the trestle so you had to walk right in the middle of the tracks stepping from tie to tie. You would not want to be halfway across the trestle and see a train coming around that sharp turn. I'll bet everyone that ever lived by railroad tracks has put a penny on the tracks and retrieved the flatten, larger penny after the train has run over it.

There was a problem living next to railroads in the 40's. There were a lot of hobos that used the railroads for free travel and free lodging in empty box cars. I guess that Hobos were about the same as homeless people living on the streets today. I believe there was a bigger criminal element among Hobos than homeless people though. Our house in Edgewood Village was the last house in the project, and beyond our house was an old farm, and there was a small wooded area just southeast of our house, between the old farm and the railroad tracks. We would play and build lingtoos(?) in the woods , I guess to play cowboys and Indians. The Hobos would use these crude shelters to stay in at night. Mom had a scare one night from someone she later thought was probably a hobo. Daddy worked the night shift and got off work sometime after 11:00 PM. Mom heard a noise one night and turned on the porch light, which was unusual, just before opening the door; thinking it was Daddy coming home. There was no one there when she open the door, but she saw footprints in the snow. After that, she borrowed Granddaddy's derringer, went out every night at about 8:00 PM and fired two shots. She just wanted anybody along the tracks to know she had a gun. I don't believe Mom was afraid of the devil himself at that point in her life. That really changed as she got older. Probably had something to do with someone being gunned down on their front porch across the street from her in Longview. I am beginning to understand that change now that I am getting up there; I couldn't outrun a glacier now due to the total deterioration of my abused joints. I no longer have erotic dreams, just dream what it was like to run, get that runner's high and feel the wind in my face. Don't get me wrong, I realize just how lucky I really am. I don't have to look very far to find someone a whole lot worse off than I am. My problems are just an inconvenience.

Well, that about covers why I find the cry of a train whistle at night so peaceful. Late at night or early in the morning, depending on your sleeping habits, the noise of Houston dies down a little and I can hear a Diesel's horn pierce the night air, I love that sound. While a diesel doesn't have the character or the mournful wail of a steam engine, My mind can still picture my grandfather, his head sticking out the side of a coal black steam engine, taking a sting of cars down the Clinchfield mainline as he pulls the cord to release steam into the whistle chamber and making the array of sounds that only he can make. I really miss the days of steam. I would love to see, just one more time, steam units straining, blowing smoke and hissing steam, pulling a sting of loaded hoppers up the grade, thru the tunnel before disappearing around that sharp turn just beyond the Holston River trestle. The last thing you saw before it disappeared was the red caboose dulled by layers of coal soot. The Clinchfield is no more. It is now part of the CSX system. There are only a few road names that have survived the railroad consolidation. Railroads have become a a minor player in transportation. The reason is not too hard to understand. Railroads have to maintain their road beds out own their own pockets, while taxpayers bear the major burden of maintaining the highway structure for the trucking industry. Yea, I know that trucks pay highway use taxes, but their taxes don't even come close to paying for the wear and tear that trucks do to our highway system. Just think, one train from LA to Houston or New York can carry the freight of a hundred or more trucks and use a fraction of the fossil fuel. I, for one, would not miss these trucks on I-10.

I guess that I could make one more post about Erwin, Tennessee in the late 40's, and about the neatest family in that neck of the woods.

Friday, May 12, 2006


There isn't "country" anymore

Sometime in the 70's, I was talking to my Mom about a little place I had in rural Washington county, Texas. I told her that I slept in the bed of my pickup. She told me to be careful, I replied that it was OK because it was in the country. She replied. "there isn't any country anymore" How right she was.

Country was where I spent my summers in rural NE Tennessee during the late 1940's. I know the door to Uncle Ober's and Aunt Mary's farm house was never locked. There was no running water, indoor plumbing, phone or electricity. The gravel road that ran in front of the house carried very few vehicles. The milk truck came by daily to pick up the milk kept cool in the spring house next to the road. Other than that, maybe one or two cars a day passed by, that's it. Nothing after dark.

I can still hear Uncle Ober yelling at his team as he prepared the fields for planting. "Get up there Kate", "Come On John". Kate and John were the two draft horses he used for his farming. He didn't have a tractor. I really felt big the summer Uncle Ober let me drive Ol' Kate and John from the fields with a load of corn to unload in the corn shed. I realize now that Ol' Kate and John would probably have made trip even if no one had the reins, they didn't need me. The major event every day for me was when Bobbie Jean and I went to get the cows for milking. I never wore shoes, so I had to manage my steps to the bigger flat rocks because the smaller pebbles hurt my feet. You also had to be careful not to step in a cow paddy because it oozed up between your toes. Would have been easier if I had put on shoes, but not near as challenging. Also a tip about easing the pain of getting bull nettle strings on your feet and legs...Pee on it. The acid in urine neuteralizes the sting. The fences along the way were oak split rail with one stone wall that served to separate the east back pasture. Never asked who built that stone fence or when it was built, wish I had now.

To me, the most tranquil sounds in the world are cows baying at night and the night wail of a train whistle. Of course, the train whistles that are embedded in my soul are the mournful cries of a steam engine. Diesel's cannot come close to the character of a steam engine. Why the mournful cry of a steam engine is peaceful to me will be the subject of a future post. There is no doubt why I love the sound of cows baying at night. It takes me back to those cool summer nights in NE Tennessee.

Made a trip back to NE Tennessee a few years ago. Wanted to show my daughter and son-in-law my roots. There is no more country. The roads were paved, electricity, phone and indoor plumbing in every home. The split rail fences were gone, replace by steel posts and barbed wire. The most striking change though, the trees were gone. I visited my grandfather's farm, not in the family anymore, and you could see the Smokey Mountains while sitting on the front porch. You couldn't see them in my childhood days because of all the tall trees, I was somewhat shorter too. I miss the tall trees. My grandfather's main house is now a historical home in Greene county Tennessee. The family that owns the entire 500 acre farm are decendants of one of my granfather's sharecroppers. She proudly showed us the house and how she had "restored" it. I didn't tell her, but thay had butchered it. They lowered the 10 foot ceilings to 8 feet and in doing so, got rid of the main feature of the house, the big, red oval stained glass window above the front door. Also put vinyl siding over the original clapboard siding. The woman's brother couldn't assist in showing the house because he is in prison. He was in the courtroom where his wife was testifying against him in a civil suite. He shot her dead while she was in the witness box. I don't think he had much of a chance in the murder charges against him.

Mom, as usual, you were right. There is no more country.


Story about the center of my universe

To the few people who know me, let alone like me...they will probably hold my funeral in a closet.....know that I think my granddaughter, Joelle, hung the moon.

Today, I got up as usual at the crack of noon. Looked around for my wife and found a note that stated "have phone, will travel". Meant she was out shopping and had the cell phone. I tried to call three times. I keep telling Sharon, Nana, that having the cell phone does no good if you don't have the durn thing turned on. Well, I called Petie, my daughter, because if anyone knows where Sharon is, Petie does. She had no idea where Nana was. Petie asked Joelle if she wanted to talk to "pawpy", that's the way the lil' darlin' pronounces "poppy", that's me. She asked me what I was doing and I told her that I was looking for "Nana" because I didn't know where she was. Joelle than said, "Pawpy" do you want me to come over to be your Nana until she comes home? Joelle is just a little over 3 1/2 years old....she is amazing.

By the way, if you can relate to the phrase "have phone, will travel", you're getting up there in years too.



Well, wasn't sure whether to name this blog "me" or "ramblings of an old man". My daughter and son-in-law said that I probably could remember "me" and could spell it most of the time, so "me" it is.

Now to give you some idea about the age of this "old man", let me just say that before I was a teenager, there were civil war vets still alive. That was plural, vets, not vet. I believe the last civil war vet died during my teenage years.

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