💫 I have a large drawing of the coal camp I grew up in (Page) hanging over my desk. An old friend (Reese) gave it to me, and I cherish the memories it triggers. It looks exactly as I remember it. When I make the yearly trek back home to visit family and friends, I always drive up to where that camp was (it was torn down in the late 1950s) and think about the people who lived there. My aunt Beulah is the only adult from that camp still living, and most of the children from there have lost touch with each other or passed away. I still stay in touch with many of my high school classmates, but very few from the coal camp I spent my childhood in. We were stuck between two mountains that only let the sunlight in for about 6-7 hours each day. Our fathers went to the coal mine each morning, and our mothers cleaned the house, washed clothes, and read a lot. We, kids, were always looking for a game to play or something naughty to do. Life, at least to us children, was simple: find someone to play with. My mother would send my brother and me out of the house after breakfast (during the summer) and instruct us not to return until lunch. She was cleaning the house and wanted it to remain that way until dad got home. If we wanted a snack, we snuck in the back door, grabbed a biscuit, and then dashed outside before being discovered.
I recall how slowly time passed during those summers and how eager I was for school to resume. I was also keen to become an adult and make my own decisions. Adulthood arrived quickly. I remember boarding the bus in front of our home in southwest Virginia, headed for San Antonio, Texas, and basic training in the US Air Force (1959). I remember looking out the window of that bus as it drove away and thinking that part of my life was over and a new life was beginning.
Now, I’m sitting here at my desk, looking at the drawing of the Page Coal Camp and reminiscing about my life of long ago. I see myself as a nine-year-old boy with a bag of coal slung over his shoulder, struggling up the hill to our house so there would be fuel for the furnace to keep us warm. That was back when all kids had work assignments, and no one was excluded from contributing to the family’s survival. Those assignments were always in addition to schoolwork and were accepted without protest. I never remember protesting to my parents about a task I was assigned. It would have had a minor effect and likely resulted in a severe tongue-lashing.
I recall telling my dad that I wanted to play high school football (9th grade), and his automatic answer (continually) was, “No!”. I immediately walked down the hall to the kitchen and implored mom to convince him to change his mind. In a few minutes, he called me back to the living room and said that I could play football, but “It damn sure better not interfere with your chores!”. I hastily assured him it would not. On a lot of nights, they were finished at 10 pm. No, I didn’t feel sorry for myself, that was just the way life was. I felt my father was justified in expecting me to carry my part of the family load.
So, I’m left wondering why I choose to think about “the good old days?” Maybe, it’s not because they were better than my life as an adult, but because of an inner need to believe that my core values were derived from that period in my life, that morals were better back then, people were more honest, friendships more lasting, religion more ingrained, and happiness was always just around the corner?
That certainly begs the question, would I want to return to that life? After all, moving back to my hometown has always been within my power. Why haven’t I done so if my life back then was much better than it is now? Of course, the answer has to be that life wasn’t really better; it was only so in my memories of that time.
Janet Malcolm said it eloquently, “The past is a country that issues no visas.” I agree with Janet, except to say that it issues large satchels of memories 😊.
💫 I was watching “Yellowstone” on TV the other night, and one character, a cowboy, told another cowboy, “We’ve all been thru things that other people will never understand.” That’s a pretty astute observation for a cowboy. I understand he was only repeating a line of the script, but someone thought that cowboy was up to making a point in that way. Most of us are guilty of thinking anyone with a cowboy hat and a horse is a genuine cowboy. Probably, some people walking around with just a cowboy hat on, never having ridden a horse in their life, think they are the real McCoy. The same could apply to a young man that drives a pickup truck, wears jeans, and speaks profanely, thinks he’s a “Redneck.”
Many of us go thru life wanting to be what we’re not. It could be the aforementioned cowboy/redneck, a sports coach, or the most essential, hard-working person in your office. Then the time for a layoff comes, and you are one of those included to receive the dreaded “pink slip.” If you’ve ever received that piece of paper telling you your company no longer needs your services or tells you the college you wanted to attend has rejected your application, then you’ve been thru something many people will never understand. If you call your father to wish him a happy 89th birthday and he says the doctor told him he has two months to live (that actually happened to my wife), you know he’s going thru something you will probably never really understand, unless something similar happens to you. That’s when you know you’re in over your heart. That’s when you feel guilty about acting like a nice person instead of being one, knowing you should get in your car and drive the eight hours to be with him during his time of need.
Thomas Wolfe said in “You Can’t Go Home Again,” “Something has spoken to me in the night… and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying: Death is to lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life, you have for the greater life; to leave the friends you loved for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.”
Many of us go through life wanting to be important, achieving great things at work, being a good spouse or friend, and helping those in our lives who need us. Eventually, as we travel through life, we reach the age where we look back and recognize the folly of life’s many stages. Wanting to be a “Redneck” or “Cowboy” is undoubtedly a prime example of immaturity.
C. Adichie said it best, “I think you travel to search, and come back home to find yourself there.”
Almost two years ago, in early January, a fatal car crash happened in my small town. In the early morning, less than a mile from our high school, a woman and her mother-in-law were involved in a multi-car wreck. The mother-in-law, unfortunately, was killed. This sad news spread fast in our little town. The victims’ names sounded familiar, but I did not know them personally. Or so I thought.
About two months later, I was shocked to learn that the elderly lady who had died in that January car crash was my neighbor across the street. I had noticed that there were no vehicles in her driveway anymore. I knew she had a son and daughter-in-law who sometimes stayed with her. I had no idea they were the family impacted by that horrific accident.
I didn’t even know their names. But the lady who passed was the only neighbor on my street who had ever attempted to be friendly toward me. Whenever she saw me outside, walking to my mailbox or taking my trash can to the curb, she waved at me. Her daughter-in-law did the same a few times. In the five years I have lived on my street, they were the only ones to do so.
Suddenly, the story of that car wreck took on a whole new meaning. It was someone I knew. Someone who had been kind to me. My heart went out to the lady’s son and daughter-in-law. I could only imagine what they might be feeling after such a nightmare, how their hearts must be broken. I have never seen them return to the home. Perhaps it is too difficult for them to handle their mom no longer being there.
Every single item on the outside of the house is the same as she left it. There is even a Christmas wreath from the year that had just passed, still on the back door. Her chair, which she sat in on her carport, is still in the same position. I noticed an open curtain in the living room that made it possible to see a light on in her kitchen. Every night, when I closed my curtains, I would see the light still on above her kitchen sink. It was as though she was still there, as usual. It felt a little eerie to me but sweet at the same time.
When Spring came, I began to wonder who would take care of the yard. The lady who passed had worked many hours in her yard to take care of the flowers she had planted all over her property. It is a big yard, and she had the prettiest flowers on the street. I kept waiting to catch a glimpse of the son but never did. Finally, a couple of gardeners showed up and started mowing and caring for the yard. Her flowers were the first to bloom and once again filled her yard with color. It was sad to look at them now, remembering how much joy they must have brought her.
Every night, for a year and a half, I would look over to see the light on in her kitchen as I closed my curtains. Then one night, the light was out. Finally, after all this time, the light burned out. It felt sad. It felt like an ending of sorts.
It will never make sense to me how life just goes on after someone passes. The earth keeps spinning, and the sun rises and sets each day without missing a beat. When a loved one leaves this earth, it feels as though everything in our lives, even the world, should come to a halt and recognize what has just happened. Everyone should stop what they are doing for a respectful amount of time. But that doesn’t happen. Everything keeps moving as usual.
I am sure my neighbor’s flowers will again bloom when next Spring arrives, just where she planted them. They will be vibrant and full, just as she nourished them to be. If I could, I would thank her for leaving them for all of us to enjoy. Maybe this new year, someone will move into the house and make it home again. It would be so lovely to look over and see life and happiness there once again.
🎯I think many of us have difficulty “living on life’s terms.” How often do we complain about the perceived misery that appears quietly in our path? Someone we care about is sick, our car needs repairs to make it safe to drive, or our home requires maintenance. Sometimes, our health is in jeopardy, and many doctors and nurses are needed to correct the problem.
Often, it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. I’m guilty of lumping all my problems into one basket, making them all equally serious when some are not as pressing as others. So, I have changed my outlook and turned my troubles into challenges. By making that simple change, I have changed an unfavorable view into a positive one. Admittedly, having a cheerful outlook on severe health or financial problems is challenging. Still, the options are whether to approach them with eagerness and determination or worry.
I must admit that two of my neighbors fighting cancer brought on my change. We all know that cancer is a severe and life-threatening battle. From my observations, these two people are living life on life’s terms and accept their daily struggles with courage and determination. I had carotid artery surgery a few weeks ago, and I used these two ladies as inspiration. By doing so, I’ve been able to remove any lingering worry about what could go wrong after surgery. My doc says there is a 2% chance of complications, and those odds are good, but what sustains me is my Christian faith and the inspiration of my two neighbors. Edith Wharton said, “There are two ways of spreading light: be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it.” My two neighbors are the candle, and I’m gonna be the mirror 😊.
🎯 A resident of our retirement village started a “Writers Club” a few weeks ago, and I joined it. About ten of us are eager to share our writing talent and learn something that will make us better at scribbling our thoughts on a blank piece of paper. My friend, Jane, wrote a story titled “I Am Still Me,” for the class I attended, and I was so moved by the thought and emotion she put into that beautiful article. I enjoyed it so much that I posted it on my website for everyone to enjoy (www.tommyhale.net). Of course, I asked her permission before doing so, and she politely gave it.
Many of us write letters to friends and loved ones, keeping open a line of communication that lends value to our relationships. All of us write, some a lot more than others, but we all express our thoughts on paper. Often, it’s a card that shows our joy at a special event (birthday, anniversary, etc.).
I have a cousin back home (Grundy, VA) who sends my wife and me a monthly letter. Mike always warns us his writing is not perfect and that he hopes we can read it. My good friend does not realize that we warmly welcome his thoughts into our lives. He provides us with updates on what’s happening within our family and other tidbits of interesting information. He keeps me connected to an extended family that’s far away. I hope that what I’m doing with my writing is keeping in touch with family and friends far removed from my environment but with whom I still want to be involved in my life. The most unfortunate thing about writing is that you seldom get feedback. There is a smattering of responses, but mostly, few do. I think that’s something writers get used to, believing that those we write to are enjoying our thoughts and opinions; they just don’t have the time to respond. I’m guessing it’s a little like when I buy something from Amazon, and they continually want me to rate their service 😊. I often ask my readers if they want to be removed from my mailing list, and few have requested that be done, so I’m encouraged by that. Oh, I forgot to mention that in the Writers Club’s last gathering, we were tasked to write three short stories of about 850 words for our meeting this month. I’m gonna try to squeeze in two 😊. Maybe, I should follow Joan Didion’s advice, “Do not whine… Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone.” Geez, I thought I had spent enough time alone!
🎯 My wife and I went to the Seafood Festival of the small town we used to live in (Poquoson, VA). Because of Covid, they have not held it for a couple of years, so we were eager to attend. It started on a Friday and ended on Sunday. People came from many miles away to attend, and everyone had fun. There were food tents everywhere, and art & craft tents abounded. There was entertainment, usually a big-name band on Saturday night, and a place for the kids to cavort. We always purchase something while there, and this visit was no exception. We had planned to eat lunch, but they didn’t have the fried oysters we enjoy, so we wandered over to the soft-serve ice cream tent and plopped down $15 for two plastic cups of their delicious offerings. The young woman working behind the counter said to my wife, “What do you want, sweetheart?” and she promptly told her. She then turned to me, and I calmly asked her, “how did you know that’s what I call my wife?”. She replied anyone could tell that she was a “Sweetheart.” I agreed that was indeed a correct statement.
I think many men have pet names for their wives & girlfriends, but I haven’t noticed that so much with women. Maybe men don’t take too kindly to being called pet names. Perhaps it, somehow, takes away from their masculinity? My wife said the soft-serve lady called me “Honey,” but I was unaware of it. Three hours later, having walked over two miles, per our Fitbit, we headed for our car and home, exhausted from weaving around several thousand people, all determined to have a good time. On our way home, we quickly calculated how much we had spent while there, and it was close to $100. Regardless of how tired we were or the money spent, we had a good time, and that was the purpose of the trip.
I think it’s essential that we have something to look forward to, if not every day, then at least every week. Sometimes, that’s hard to do, but we must not forget to make it happen. The past month has been a whirlwind for us, with each of us having surgery. But that’s behind us now, we have a one day trip planned for next week and a trip up north (PA, CT, NY) to visit family and friends at the end of the month. We know the time will come when we’ll be too old to travel, but it hasn’t arrived yet thank goodness. Richard Restak (neurologist) said, “We are what we can remember.” Richard should know that we are really trying to make memories, and so far, we can remember most of them 😊.
I believe people come into our lives only for a season. They have a purpose for crossing our path at an exact moment. For some, their season is a long one. Some may come and go briefly. I believe this to be true, especially for friends.
It took me many years and heartache to understand this concept. I remember feeling so sad when I would lose a friend for any reason. I would cry and mourn the friendship. Most of the time, I would feel either betrayed by that friend or guilty in thinking I had done something wrong that made them no longer want me in their life. These were painful lessons for me. I am thankful that I have since learned.
I have learned to look back on these friendships with gratitude and fondness. Grateful for the lessons I learned from that relationship, joy for the good times spent with that friend, and love for the wonderful memories they left me. I no longer hold anger or resentment that the friendship no longer exists. People just move on. That is life, and it’s natural. There is nothing wrong with it. There is nothing wrong with me.
I am most grateful for the privilege of knowing that individual for our time together. Looking back, I can see why we crossed paths at that particular time in our lives. It is evident that they were either there to help me or I for them. That always makes me happy.
I remember one friend I had for a season of about ten years. She was the first friend I made when we moved to Tennessee. I was nine months pregnant with our third daughter when we rolled into town. She was the town’s mail person. She had a friendly and loving personality. Each day she would deliver our mail to the front door and take the opportunity to check on me. Come to find out, she was a mother of 5 young children. I hit it off with Kathleen from the very start. We continued to grow a relationship that, to this day, I hold dear to my heart as one of my most valuable friendships. Kathleen helped me fit into a new town where I was a stranger, and everyone already knew everyone. It was a rough time for me. Kathleen helped me to navigate living in a small town and how to embrace it gracefully. She introduced me to her friends and extended invitations for lunch with the girls. She was also there for me when I needed a helping hand. Later, when we bought a house, it ended up being directly across the street from Kathleen and her family. My kids and hers, of course, became friends. We would wave and talk across the yards at each other. We would admire each other’s flower gardens and go to the nursery to pick up more. We attended school functions and church together. We had a wonderful friendship as mothers, women, and neighbors.
But things move along in life. When she divorced, and her kids were all grown, Kathleen decided to move away. I, unfortunately, had to do the same. It was a hard pill to swallow for me. To this day, I miss her. At first, I felt betrayed when she moved and didn’t keep in touch. But then I learned how happy she is now with a new husband, a beautiful home, and grandchildren. I realized she had been put into my life for a significant season. I was blessed in abundance for having had Kathleen for a friend at the time of my life that she showed up. I believe with all my heart that God placed her there for a reason. Many reasons. She did her job, and now her season is over. I have nothing but love and fondness in my heart when I reflect on my friendship with Kathleen. She is top of my list as one of the best friends I’ve ever had.
I have been blessed with several lifelong friendships. Those are the rarest of all and should never be taken for granted. It truly is a blessing to have the privilege of knowing and caring about someone for a lifetime. That season is never-ending.
I consider each and every one of you that takes the time to read my writings a friend. Thank you! You are indeed appreciated.
This story is from the Spring of 1961 at Hiwassee Junior College in Madisonville, Tennessee.
“Some memories just won’t let go at all. Every time I hear or see a chicken, I think not necessarily of eggs, even though I am pretty fond of them: fried, boiled, poached, scrambled, deviled, pickled, dyed – it doesn’t make any difference.” Grundy Coach Frank Spraker said this as well, so I’m in good company.
Also, I have several dozen egg and chicken jokes that I’ve gathered from the barnyard of my life if you’ll eggscuse the eggsaggeration.
Of course, everyone has an answer for why the chicken crossed the road – to get to the other side or to prove to the possum that it can be done (probably the most popular).
But why did the chicken cross the playground…? To get to the other slide…! You knew this, I bet!
Or why did the chicken only go halfway across the road? She wanted to lay it on the line.
He-he-he. Cluck! Cluck!
If you’re not eggsasperated yet, let me cut to the chase and tell you about an incident during the Spring Quarter at Hiwassee in 1961. One of the guys (John was his first name, and I think his last name was Townsend…no way of checking since I’m sure that John dropped out of school to get a job).
John lived in the room right next to Willard Owens and myself, and he was BIG on breakfast. Nearly every morning, he would knock on our door shortly after daylight and say:
“Let’s go get an egg boys! Let’s go get an egg!”
For at least a month or two, both Willard and myself were awakened at the crack of dawn by Rooster John with about three lusty crows of, “Let’s go get an egg! Let’s go get an egg! Let’s go get an egg!”
And really, it was starting to get a little tiresome. Especially those nights when we’d played Rook or Hearts ’til after midnight, or even those rare occasions we studied ’til midnight or later.
So, it wasn’t much of a surprise when Willard told me what he’d done one night after John had left our room about midnight to go to his room next door. Willard told me he had conspired with John’s roommate to change his alarm clock setting from seven o’clock to one o’clock. John’s roommate told Willard that John always just pushed the “set” button before getting in bed since he “always” got up at the same time…. seven o’clock…
“And he’s always wanting breakfast at the ‘Crack of dawn’!” Denny, his roommate, said.
Willard and I were dozing off with our clothes on when we heard the faint sound of John’s alarm clock coming through the concrete walls. A short while later, we were ready (but made a show of primping) when John and his roommate came by, and John cackled…
“Let’s go get an egg! Let’s go get an egg boys!”
And across the Hiwassee campus we went.
Rooster John is in search of an egg & all the fixins. Meanwhile, the three others were intent on pulling off a prank.
Out the back door . . . across the parking lot . . . past the Library . . . past the old gym . . . and right up to the front door of the dining hall . . . and not a soul in sight!
But that didn’t stop Rooster John from placing his face against the glass when we arrived at the silent and closed Dining Hall shortly after 1:00 in the coolish March air.
John was searching up and down the dining hall for any kind of movement.
“Hey, John! What does that clock on the wall say?” Willard asked with a muffled chuckle.
“Dang boys!” John said, “Somebody’s clock is lyin’…
And there ain’t no sausage fryin’. Let’s go back to bed!”
So, back across the still silent campus we went – kind of afraid to mention to John that it was all a joke. (Perhaps on us more than John.)
All of us slept in that morning, and several weeks passed before Rooster John knocked on our door with:
“Let’s Go Get An Egg Boys!”
John dropped out of school after that semester, and rumor had it that he returned home to Townsend, Tennessee, to take a full-time job serving breakfast all day long at a Waffle House. Shucks! He may have even been the originator of that chain of my eateries… Waffle & Egg.
O, what I wouldn’t give to go back and make that walk and hear those six words just one more time:
“Let’s Go Get An Egg Boys!”
And hear Willard say one more time:
“Good night Roomy!”
But Hiwassee has closed its doors. Hard to believe with all of the new buildings and modernization. Just thinking that we only had one phone in Bruner Hall at the time & it was a Rotary on the wall on the 2nd Floor. It was rarely used, for we were too busy playing games and pranks.
And the roads are paved now also, but no school at the road’s end.
Back then, it was two miles from town along a dusty dirt road & when we got to school, we took a winding path up through a cemetery.
I know several Harman boys that really enjoyed our time there. We thought those days would never end.