This week, all around the neighborhood, many people are just now getting to the job of packing away their outdoor holiday decorations. I had to chuckle when I drove by one house where this tremendous blow-up Santa lay deflated. He was lying on the ground, with a gentle breeze blowing across him as if it were trying to resuscitate new life. Nearby were Santa’s trusty inflatable reindeer, also flat as pancakes. These characters gave so much joy for a few weeks, now to only be burdens. Fun to display and entertain neighbors and passersby. Now a headache for the owners to pack away neatly and find a place to store them for another eleven months. No one ever seems as excited to pack up these bad boys as they were to display them.
I too usually feel a little deflated after the holidays. Some years I have felt very deflated. Wishing the good cheer and cozy feelings of Christmas could last forever. But this year I was eager to get to the last chapter in the saga titled 2020. Ready for a brand-new year, with new hopes and dreams to fulfill.
Unfortunately, the new year had a vast variety of baggage to drag into 2021. Not ideal at all, but it’s not always how you start the race, but how you finish. So, my hopes are that by the end of this new year, that old baggage from 2020 is taken care of and can rest in its rightful place. I too hope to take care of some unwanted issues this year and end my race next December victorious.
Under the circumstances, I feel okay about how I ended my race this past year. I reached new growth as an individual, which is my goal for every year. No matter how perfect you may think you are, I can assure you, there is always room for improvement! I got through a pandemic which I had never experienced before. We can all pat ourselves on the back for that one. My body, mind, and soul are still intact, and in fairly good working order. And there is still plenty to be thankful for! Not a bad way to end a year. Especially one like 2020.
How have you begun your new race for this year? I hope it is with fresh eyes, plenty of faith, and good health. I hope it fills you with the eagerness of all things newly birthed and can see a lot of light in your future. I hope you do not allow the plights of this world to slow down your personal race this year and that you can keep your personal vision clear and strong moving forward.
We all have a brand-new year to share. Start with yourself to make it the best year you can. With that, you will share it in a positive manner with others.
I want to take this opportunity to say THANK YOU to all of you that have read my posts in the past, and especially to the ones who continue to come back to read more. I am grateful for each one of you. For those that are generous enough to take the time to leave a comment for me, thank you! Your kind comments humble me and give me more joy than you can ever know. You encourage me to continue writing.
Happy New Year! JoAnn
by Larry Fields
(based on true events, mostly)
“Hey Heck! What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?”
“Don’t reckon Santa will be a-comin’ to our house this year Tommy Joe”, Heck answered. “But iffen he does, I’m just a wantin’ me a bullwhip . . . and that’s all I want! What about you, Tommy Joe?”
My name is Tommy Joe Hall, and that’s part of a conversation I remember having with my best buddy the last day of school before the Christmas holidays in 1955.
My answer to Heck Hadley that day was a lie. I told him I only wanted a bicycle, when in actuality I wanted the exact same thing he did . . . a genuine Lash LaRue bullwhip….
This is the story of why I answered the way I did, and why I still say today, fifty years later, the Christmas of ’55 was my favorite Christmas.
Heck Hadley and I lived in a coal mining camp in rural Southwest Virginia. We were both ten, and our daddies were employed as coal miners by Bull Creek Mining Company. Several hundred people lived in the camp, in side-by-side, spittin’ image houses.
Heck had a knack for discovering fun things to do. Just walking to Bull Creek Elementary School each day was a wonderful adventure. Things like smoking out a hornet’s nest and catching a crawdad, or even swinging across Bull Creek on a grapevine, made the two-mile trip fly by. And we had fun with each other’s names….
I was always saying—”Aw Heck! Heck”. One day at school Heck yelled:
“Get out of the hall, Tommy Joe Hall!” 😂
I will say that school was hard for Heck. He was always getting in trouble for not paying attention or dropping a marble on the floor. In his defense, he was such a good marble shooter he couldn’t help but drop marbles. He could go outside for recess with two marbles in his pocket, and twenty minutes later when the bell rang, he’d come in with two hundred marbles bulging his pockets out.
But with class work, it was kinda like Heck got things backwards, and the teacher just thought he wasn’t trying (since he couldn’t even read or write).
Heck didn’t’ know what to think when the teacher, Mr. Wilkens, told him he would never get out of the Fifth Grade. I thought that was a mean thing to say.
One fine Saturday in late September, Heck and I caught the passenger bus to Grundy, a booming mining town about ten miles away.
Arriving in Grundy, the first place we visited was the Ben Franklin 5 & 10 cents store. Heck wanted candy and some caps for his cap shooter, and after purchasing those items, we went over and looked in the western comic books section. We looked at several before settling on one we knew we didn’t’ have . . . a Buck Jones.
Back on the crowded streets, we hurried to get a closer look at the posters describing the movies at Grundy’s’ three theaters (Lynwood, Morgan, and Alamo). Two of the theaters had Double-Feature westerns starting at noon . . . but the other theater, the Morgan, was the one that caught our eye. The Morgan was having a live show at noon featuring a western star named Lash LaRue. The marquee announced him as “KING OF THE BULLWHIPS”.
Heck and I agreed that we had heard of him, but we were pretty sure we hadn’t’ seen any of his movies. Right away, that was where we wanted to go. Just one thing was holding us back . . . the one- dollar admission price. Quickly checking, we determined that we had 50 cents between us. Ordinarily, that would be enough for the 10¢ admission to any of the theaters, plus enough to buy popcorn and soda, and the 10¢ bus fare back home to Bull Creek.
Don’t’ get me wrong. Money was never a problem when Heck was around, and we had a whole hour to earn the money . . . as announced by eleven loud bongs on the courthouse clock.
As it turned out, Heck didn’t’ need an hour. Heck was a masterful shoe-shine boy. Not only did he give the best shine in town, but also his whistling entertained bystanders royally.
Four shines at a 25¢ a customer, with one man giving a dollar tip, and Heck had earned the money we needed for the show, and we didn’t’ even move from our spot in front of the Grundy Drug Store. My contribution was holding on to the funds.
“Give me a quick one son”” said a man in black wearing a black cowboy hat, I’ve got a show at twelve over at the Morgan Theater.””
“Say, you must be Lash LaRue mister” Heck said, as both of us looked on, kind of starstruck. “That’s me” said the man in black. (Years later Johnny Cash would introduce Lash LaRue as the original man in black.)
“How would you boys like to make a quick buck?” he asked, as Heck popped his rag and whistled the “Chattanooga Shoe -Shine Boy” song.
We nodded, knowing we didn’t need the money right then, but from the looks of things we were going to see his show for free anyway.
As it turned out, we not only saw it, but we were also co-starring. Lash LaRue marched us right into the Morgan Theatre and right up on stage where he told us what he wanted us to do.
What a show! We both agreed later that we had discovered a new number one cowboy hero that day. With bullwhips, guns, strength, and magic, Lash Larue kept the packed audience in the Morgan Theater on the edge of their seats for nearly two hours.
The show opened with a movie clip that showed Lash LaRue getting shot. A split-second later, the house lights came on and Lash LaRue jumped out from behind the screen, his guns blazing! It scared me and Heck and everybody else half to death.
My hands trembled as Lash had me stand on one side of the stage with a piece of paper held between my hands. Lash stood on the other side with a bullwhip at least 15 feet long.
“R-R-R-R-ip!” . . . and the paper I was holding pulled apart like it was cut with a pair of scissors. The audience cheered and Lash asked me to hold just one half of the remaining paper. I closed my eyes when he brought the whip down. When I heard the sound, I opened them . . . and he’d done it again.
Since I’d felt the wind the last time, I refused to hold the smaller piece. Then Heck volunteered and held it ’til the paper got so small you could hardly see it. Finally, even Heck wouldn’t hold it.
“He could shore whup a young’un!” yelled a snaggle-toothed woman, suddenly standing up in the first row.
About that time, a man came running up out of the audience, grabbed Lash’s gun belt from the stage and started running up the aisle.
Lash’s whip sounded like a thunderbolt as the tip popped in the air above the head of the running man!
And then the cracker end of the whip descended around the man’s neck like he’d lassoed him….
When Lash pulled tight, the man’s tongue shot out, causing the audience to roar with laughter.
Lash continued pulling and soon the man was right up on stage, looking embarrassed and whipped. It may have been part of the show, but the sheriff came up and escorted the man out the door.
Lash LaRue was quite a showman with the whip, even catching coins out of the air and jerking the fire out of a man’s cigarette, leaving the cigarette still dangling in the man’s mouth.
Then Lash asked Heck to whistle . . . and did he ever . . . bowing to a standing ovation.
After the show, Lash gave us our dollar and an autographed picture of himself sitting on his horse, Black Diamond. A big bullwhip was curled around Lash’s shoulder. A picture to treasure forever!
Everyone wanted to shake our hand on the way out. I was surprised to see that Mom and Dad had been in the audience. Mom invited Heck to stop by our house for her Saturday night special; hamburgers, and home-made fries. Sooo Good!
Heck and I made a good number of whips in the days following the big show . . . but none of them were worth a plug nickel. We had fun, but to be honest, sticks and old shoestrings don’t make much of a whip.
Shortly after the big show, tragedy struck the Hadley household. Late one October night, Heck’s dad was working the hoot-owl(midnight) shift at the coal mine when he was pinned in a roof-fall. Luckily, his life was spared, but my dad said it was doubtful if he’d ever walk again.
Heck became the breadwinner at the Hadley place, doing all sorts of jobs, including shining shoes on Saturdays. Unfortunately, since Heck had to miss a lot of school, we rarely saw each other during November and December of that year (1955).
On the rare occasion I saw Heck, he wasn’t his old jolly self . . . and neither was I . . . without Heck to keep me company.
As Christmas approached, I thought a lot about Heck, and my lie to him about only wanting a bicycle for Christmas. The lie to Heck was a Hallmark event in my life. There, in that moment when Heck asked me what I wanted for Christmas.
For the first time in my life, I valued another person’s wishes above my own. IF THERE WAS JUST ONE BULLWHIP IN SANTA’S BAG, I WANTED HECK TO HAVE IT.
On Christmas morning I couldn’t believe my eyes when I hurried to the tree and saw a beautiful black bicycle. But what really caught my eye was the genuine Lash LaRue bullwhip coiled around the handlebars and seat. Lash’s name was carved right in the handle. I was jumping up and down happy when I saw it.
Being so excited I couldn’t eat, or even watch for a minute what dad said was the first television in the Bull Creek mining camp. I hopped on my bicycle, quickly christened it Black Diamond, after Lash LaRue’s horse, and letting out the reins on Black Diamond, and leaning out over her neck, I arrived at Heck’s house in record time.
If any boy had been a good boy, it was Heck. I knew in my heart that Santa had delivered Heck a whip just like mine and a whole lot more.
But no, that didn’t happen. I was just readying myself to ‘hello’ to everyone in the house when Heck stepped out on his porch . . . looking like a little whipped pup. 😞
“Santa d-didn’t come to o-our h-house”, Heck said, choking back tears.
I didn’t hesitate for a second. “What the Heck, Heck, Santa left your present at my house” I said, sailing the coiled whip through the air into his outstretched hands.
Heck didn’t return to school in January 1956, and when mom told me his family had moved to Montana, I cried for two days.
I looked up Montana on the map and vowed I would visit there some day.
That day came this past October. My wife Mary Jane, and I, were touring the West . . . when the big sky country of Montana beckoned.
It was surprisingly easy. I asked a guy at a truck stop, near Helena, Montana, if he knew Heck Hadley.
“Everybody knows Heck Hadley, he has a 5,000-acre ranch for troubled kids just south of here” the man said. “Several thousand kids have graduated from his ‘Hope and Help’ ranch. Just follow the signs, mister.”
Twenty minutes later, we were parked in front of the gate at the “H&H” ranch. “Look at the bullwhip!” Mary Jane said excitedly, as she pointed to the sign above the gate.
I looked . . . It was the same genuine leather Lash LaRue bullwhip that Santa had left for Heck Hadley at the Bull Creek mining camp.
Just then, a black horse cantered up to the gate. Mary Jane touched the power window, and I was pretty sure I recognized the rider because he was whistling.
Merry Christmas from the H&H Ranch and Ol’ Corn.
It is indeed more blessed to give than receive…… Larry
Some words should never be misspelled, and Christmas is one of them. I have few pet peeves, but the one on the top of my list has to be the big “X” used to replace Christ in Christmas.
As a Christian, to see someone replace Christ’s name with a big ole X, is offensive. I say the “o” word cautiously, as I know that in this day and time, people can be offended at the drop of a hat. But to replace the name of the one whose entire existence is reason for the season, really makes me sad, and a little angry.
I understand Christmas is a lengthy word to place on a decorated window, or to write in a quick text. But if you remove Christ, what exactly does XMAS mean? If you are a believer like me, I can’t fathom it not hurting your heart to replace your Lord and Saviors name with a big X. And if you are not a believer, then why are you wishing someone a merry anything?
Over my life, I have happened upon many an unbeliever. It always surprised me when the same people who preached God to not exist, did indeed celebrate at Christmas time. They would put up a tree, decorate their homes, send out holiday cards (careful to not include anything resembling Christ), and would exchange gifts on Christmas morning. I never understood why. I spent time in their homes, enjoying their holiday cheer. But at the end of the day, no mention of Christ’s birthday was ever made. I walked away wondering what exactly were they celebrating? Their own Winter holiday? I guess so.
I imagine this debate has been going on for a very long time, and probably one of the reasons the sayings “Happy Holidays” and “Seasons Greetings” came about. I really don’t mind those two greetings, I find them cheery and respectful. Just don’t X out my Lord. After all, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. If you feel this to be a myth or fairy tale, please don’t disrespect His name by using an X. Simply choose another expression of holiday cheer. There is no need to offend people like myself, who hold the Lord’s name with such love in their hearts.
I’ll climb down from my soap box now. Merry Christmas!
This morning, as I watch the news on television, and then read the news on my laptop, I am overwhelmed with emotion. 2020 has certainly been a year most of us hope we can forget! Covid-19 started out the year and quickly turned our sense of normalcy upside down. Heart wrenching violence quickly followed, leading to months of protests in almost every major city. Today, I watched the horrifying images of the Western states literally on fire. The entire states of California, Oregon, and Washington State appear to be in flames when looking at a map showing a marker for each fire location. Which, at last count that I heard, was over 77 fires. And, we can’t forget the overly active hurricane season we’ve had as well.
Human lives, homes, businesses, and jobs have been lost for each of the 2020 tragedies I’ve mentioned. I can only imagine the many individuals and families struggling and desperate. Unfortunately, we have a few months left to go this year, and I think most of us are wondering what else could possibly go wrong. I’m sure just as many are hoping and praying that 2021 will bring an end to all the turmoil, we have seen this year.
I am a person of deep faith, and a mother who raised her children to always count their blessings no matter what the situation. So, I ask myself today, what blessings have come out of 2020. It may take some digging to get past all of the sadness of this historical year, but I believe everyone can find a reason to be thankful.
I for one am extremely grateful to have a safe, comfortable roof over my head. With plenty of food, clean running water, and electricity to keep me cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. I shudder to think of all the people who are, or will be, struggling with those most basic needs this year, and probably into next year as well.
I am also so very grateful for the loved ones in my life that are truly there for me, no matter what. Even though I may not be able to see them in person, because of Covid-19 and/or distance, not a day goes by that I don’t need them! For now, I am happy to hug them if only in my heart, just to know they are safe and still in my life.
I am thankful for my faith in God, and the comfort and peace that faith gives me in turbulent times. I know I have grown even closer to Him in 2020. I imagine many others have as well. I believe in the positive power of prayer, and my prayers have been plentiful this year.
I realize that 2020 will not magically turn back to what we know as normal at the stroke of midnight on the eve of 2021, but I do have hopes that we will see positive improvements by then. No matter what happens, I have been shown without a doubt this year, that there are still superb people in this world. A tragedy has a way of sifting all the good from the bad and making it easy to distinguish who is who.
I will continue to be more thankful for what I have and worry less about what I don’t. I will continue to look for any flicker of light at the end of this long dark tunnel in which we seem to travel. Hoping for the best outcome for every one of us. Some may think I am being unrealistic, or downright silly. No, I have kept a positive attitude. Even if that means counting my blessings one by one daily, to keep my head up.
Here is hoping each of you can find a blessing for yourself today. Or better yet, be one to someone else. After all, we are all in this together.
It has been two months since my last missive, and I have missed the daily jotting down of things that roam aimlessly thru my mind. Hopefully, I have mended my wasteful ways and am now back to allocating the 15 minutes each day I use for writing. Whenever I lose interest, I go back to 2007/2008 and read some articles I wrote then, and they give me so much pleasure. Things long forgotten are instantly brought back to memory. Therein lies my motivation.
⌘⚽ I’ll bet you are unaware that the most widely consumed meat on Earth is pork. Personally, I thought it was chicken, but pork is consumed by 36% of Earthly residents and chicken is 2nd with 33%. My favorite (beef), comes in at a mediocre 24%. The average person in our country eats 51 lbs of pork each year. You guys are eating a lot of pork!
I’m confident my family doctor thinks I eat too much meat because each time I go in for my yearly physical he always hands me literature on healthy eating, and it never includes very much meat. I probably wouldn’t be taking a cholesterol pill if I consumed less meat. I used to eat a lot of steak, but after choking on it back in 2014 and almost losing my life, I switched to meat that wasn’t so dense. Mostly now, my meat is chicken, hamburger, or something else that’s easily swallowed. I remember that life-threatening event and it had a lasting impression (thanks to Cindy for saving my life).
Sometimes, I wonder if we see the past as it actually happened, or do we intentionally forget certain aspects of what occurred. I believe that all of us have some type of burden to carry from our past, but I also think our past is unchangeable and we should always try to put it out of our mind unless they are beneficial or beautiful memories.
Anyway, back to the meat thing. We all know that too much of it will eventually clog our arteries and generate all kinds of health problems. I walk around with 200 lbs on a frame that my doc tells me should only have 175 lbs. My only explanation is that, somehow, I believe I’m a healthy 200 lbs. My doctor ordered an echocardiogram last week, so we’ll see what damage all that meat has done to my cardiovascular system. I dunno how it can come back showing problems because I feel as healthy as a horse. We’ll see. I know that I’m a grateful recipient of undeserved grace.
Update: The doctor’s office called and said everything looked good. That made me feel better.
⚽⌘ It seems as if the heat index for our area in Virginia has been over 100° for the past two weeks, thus, our thrice weekly walks really took its toll. It would be easy to say, “to heck with it” and stay inside all day, waiting for cooler weather to prevail. But, upon further reflection, I decided that wasn’t the choice I wanted to make, and it wasn’t a hard decision. Over 200 years ago, families loaded all they had into wagons pulled by horses and trekked all the way from the Eastern Seaboard of our country to the shores of the Pacific coast. They did that in the heat of summer and the cold of winter. Heck, it’s hard for me to visualize anyone today driving a car that far without an air conditioner in it. I wonder what the settlers of that time would think of the people we have become today. Yes, I’m confident we still have strong, sturdy people that roll out of bed every morning and work outside in the extreme heat and cold, but a lot of us don’t, we stay inside and find things to do, rather than open the door and walk into a heat index of 110°.
Well, I decided that I don’t want to be that guy, the one that stays inside and cowers from the heat, I want to stand straight and tall, breathe in that hot humid air and say, to no one in particular, bring it on, I can take it! What I may have failed to mention is that part of my motivation comes from my wife. She heads outside in just about any weather, except the rain, doesn’t want her hair to get wet, other than that she’s finding something to do out there. The odd thing is, she never sweats, nothing, nada, not a drop of salty brine glistens on her forehead. Turn your head and look in my direction and you would assume I was just in someone’s swimming pool with all my clothes on. I don’t quite understand why a person doesn’t sweat when the temp is nudging 99°, but then again, she doesn’t have a lot of meat on her bones, unlike the more than plump guy standing beside her, apparently preparing for his role when Satan opens the gates of Hell. I’m thinking the Lord believes that if he turns up the heat some of this fat will melt from my body, if only I have the willpower to step into his oven.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no desire to be a pioneer, but neither do I want to become a couch potato. I’m going with an old proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was ten years ago, the second-best time is now”. My take on that goes like this, “The best time to take a stand was ten years ago, the second-best time is now”. So, tomorrow when that old temperature gauge heads towards 100°, I’m gonna step out into that oven and take a stand, refusing to stay inside where the temps stay around 78° all day and all night. But I will be watching to see if the fat melts away 😊. I am reminded of a quote by Saint Vincent de Paul “Be careful to preserve your health. It is a trick of the devil which he uses to deceive kind souls, to incite them to do more than they are able, in order that they may no longer be able to do anything”. Hmm, maybe I need to rethink this thing?
⌘-⚽ A few months ago, our longtime neighbors (Mary Beth & John) moved about four hours away and their lovely granddaughter (Beth Ann/ Alvin) took over their beautiful home. We now have five handsome boys, anywhere from age 3 to age 12 living next door to us. It saddened our hearts to see our friends move, but we knew it was the right decision. They needed to be near their daughter (Robin/Greg) to get help with their health needs. From experience, I know that as you travel thru life, people enter your circle, stay for a while, and then move on. Some, you miss very little, and then some you miss a lot. Mary Beth and John will be missed terribly. The good news is that when we are finished with COVID-19, we can go visit them. It looks like that will happen in the Spring of 2021 (7 months). By then, we will have been marching in place for a year. That’s a lot of time to relinquish to a virus, especially when you get older and the years you have left get fewer.
Our time “hunkered down”’ here at home isn’t a total disaster. We have visited with family, always using a face mask and social distancing, and gone to the grocery/drug stores for food and other necessities. We spend a lot of time outside working in the yard, hovering over every weed that pops up and immediately sentencing it to the gallows. As soon as a gumball or pinecone hits the ground, it is pounced on and deposited into my handy cart for disposal. As you can tell, I have too much time on my hands. I also spend a lot of time on my PC, but that happens whether we are in the middle of a pandemic, or not 😊.
If I had to decide what activity I miss the most during this stressful time, it would be visiting my family and friends. While all the other stuff is important, bus trips to other cities, dining out weekly, attending church in lieu of virtual services, etc. I miss visiting those dear to me the most. Arthur Brisbane said it best, “A good friend can tell you what is the matter with you in a minute. He may not seem such a good friend after the telling” 😊.
Wherever you are in this world, I hope your family loves you as much as mine loves me. I know you will return their love abundantly. That is my intent as well. I am always grateful that you take the time to read my missives. Until next time, be well….Tommy