Monday, November 29, 2010

Thrift Store Blues

If you follow this blog, you know that I sometimes write a poem and have even toyed with a few Country Music songs.

I wrote this little ditty for my friend Jennifer, who won third place in a country music contest with a song we co-wrote called the "Laptop" song. You can watch Jennifer's rendition here.

Jennifer hasn't put this one to music, partly because she likes thrift stores and partly because it doesn't fit her smooth, soulful singing style.

I'll admit the rhythm of this one is more suited to a Jerry Reed/Tim Wilson type singer.

Hope you get a Monday smile from it, if nothing else.

Thrift Store Blues

I got a bad case of the Thrift Store Blues
Walking dirty aisles in my worn out shoes
No make-up on and unwashed hair
Sorting through some lady's used underwear

Well they say it’s a bad economy
That’s made a thrift shopper out of me
Sifting through other people’s old junk
With a pasted on smile to try and hide my funk

They got pots and pans and old text books
But the manager keeps giving me dirty looks
The twins are crying for a toy they need
And Bubba just rolled by on an old ten speed

I got a bad case of the Thrift Store Blues
From the top of my head down to my shoes
Well I know that we got bills to pay
And things’ll get better, one of these days
But this ain’t the kind of shopping that I was meant to do.

Good Lord what’s a woman like me supposed to do?

You promised me a life of wedded bliss
But instead you delivered all of this
Four crying young ‘uns and bills to pay
Ain’t the picture that you painted on our wedding day.

While you’re off fishing and drinking beer
Me and the kids are stuck right here
Trying to find a fan before the weather gets hot
With our beat-up old van in the parking lot.

Momma told me not to marry you
Said I’d end up with a case of the Thrift Store Blues
Shuffling along flat broke and sad
Said you was ‘no count’ just like my dad

If I could go back and start over again
I’d run with a better group of friends
Find a good-looking man with money who’s smart
Then I could do my shopping at the Super Walmart.

I got a bad case of the Thrift Store Blues
From the top of my head down to my shoes
Well I know that we got bills to pay
And things’ll get better, one of these days
But this ain’t the kind of shopping that I was meant to do.

Good Lord what’s a woman like me supposed to do?

Saturday, November 27, 2010


The sun is rising, almost tentatively, as I have my first cup this morning. A glance out the window reveals a light white dusting on the ground. As I quietly step onto my back porch, I am hit with the cold air--air that was in Canada only a few days ago. It has made a long journey across a continent, hiding all the way behind yesterday's wall of rain.

It is a pattern that will be repeated over the next few months. A part of a cycle that has been occurring for thousands and thousands of years.

The dusting is frost. It coats the grass and the unraked leaves in my corner of central Alabama. It is beautiful to me--not as lovely as the landscape whitened by snow--but this, as I said, is Alabama. We only get that visitation every few years.

This frost is our first of the year in my little corner of the State. It is a game-changer.

Cold is hard on the little things. The birds will have to work for their breakfast this morning. The whitetail deer will have to change his habits, leaving the heavier cover of the forest for the more open areas where the warmth of the sun can penetrate. The squirrels will wait until mid-morning before leaving the warmth of their leafy nests.

My dog could care less. She is snoring heavily on a blanket at the foot of my bed. Dreaming, perhaps, of chasing one of the squirrels. Or perhaps she still dreams of her lost love.

The game has changed, but it continues. It is not unexpected, after all.

Every ending a new beginning.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

About the Blog

I've been blogging for a little over two years now.

It's been an experience that I've really enjoyed. It's allowed me to make new friends over the Internet and reconnect with old friends that I haven't heard from in years. I'd have to say it's been worth the experience just for that benefit alone.

I've managed to attract a small but apparently loyal group of readers, and for that, I'm thankful. Your kind comments have encouraged me to work harder to be a better writer. I have a ways to go (a little Southern expression, that), but I'll keep working as long as you keep reading.

I try to write about things that interest me and hopefully will interest you. In some cases we "connect"; other times we don't. I'm often surprised by the posts readers appear to like, and some that I think are really good work that fall totally flat.

At this point, I do feel the need to clarify an apparent misconception about the blog. I think some readers have figured this out, while others haven't quite caught on.

I consider myself a writer and not a journalist. The distinction is subtle, but one that needs to be understood.

A journalist (by my definition) should stick to the facts. He or she sees, questions, and reports. Such writing should be classified as "non-fiction."

A writer, on the other hand, crafts a story. It may be fiction or non-fiction, or a combination of both.

My writing is a combination of both, sometimes in a single post. I write some things that are true stories in a journalistic fashion, and I write some things that are based on real people and events, but they have been "spiced up" a bit in an attempt to write a better story.

What I'm telling you is this: "This ain't no personal diary." It is written for enjoyment--hopefully mine and yours. So if I write about the expectations of high school reunions or heading down to Mexico on a motorcycle or having the blues on Sundays, don't read too much into it about me personally. The writer is not the story--the story is the story.

Some of what I write is straight from my heart. Some of it is not.

I hope you will continue reading and maybe we can figure out which is which--together.

Monday, November 22, 2010


My forestry work lately has consisted primarily of setting a lot of fires.

Surprised? I expect so. But in spite of what that stupid bear has told you for the last 50 years, fire can be good for the forest. Indeed, it is essential in most cases for the establishment of a new forest. The Southern Pines in particular require fire for their survival and early growth.

Foresters can't take credit for the practice. Historical evidence and the writings of early European explorers has shown that the Native Americans were using fire for such purposes before the New World was even a gleam in Queen Isabella's eye.

The burning I've been doing is called site preparation burning. It is the process of manually burning the debris left from logging (unusable portions of previously harvested trees like limbs and tops), as well as brush, undesirable plants (briars, vines, and weeds), and standing trees that were already dead and therefore unusable at the time of harvest. All of this is done to prepare the site for planting pine seedlings. Planting is done mostly by hand, and almost always by workers from south of the border. This will occur from late November until about mid-April.

Most years, such burning takes place in September and October. This year, we had a drought which prompted a statewide burning ban. So we are behind in our work. It is a mad dash of sorts to complete the schedule before winter rains begin.

Fires that foresters start are also called prescribed burns because they have a definite plan and purpose. The burn area is chosen based on the amount of fuel, the wind speed and relative humidity predicted for that day, and of course, what lies around or near the burn area. Houses, highways, young trees, and other features that might be adversely affected must be accounted for in any burn plan.

These fires are also called controlled burns.

Controlled. Under my command. As in, "I call the shots, here." "You do what I say Mr. Fire." "Who's your daddy."

Yeah, right.

I've participated in hundreds of these so-called "controlled" burns, and I've yet to see one that I was confident I had control over. One little change in wind speed or direction from that predicted--one little spark or ember that blows across the containment line--and control quickly becomes chaos.

I have witnessed a 50 foot tall wall of flame advancing across an area where it should not be. I have seen fire tornadoes that suck burning debris off the ground to deposit it hundreds of yards across property lines.

I have seen the devil dancing in the flames.

And I have experienced that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I realize that the game is over--any measure of control is lost. Time to call in reinforcements: men with big machines, fire trucks, and an insurance agent or two. Maybe even a good lawyer.

Control, in life as in fire, is an illusion. We like to believe we have it, but we never really do.

We can make our plans and chart our course. But there are just too many external factors that interact with our plans: a change in the economy, illness, politics, failures in others that we were depending on. Failure in ourselves to stick with the plan. An unexpected "spark" falling from a clear blue sky that ignites chaos.

Do you have things under control? Really?

My response to you: "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA." You better call for back-up.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Morning Coming Down

"On a Sunday morning sidewalk,
Lord I'm wishing I was stoned.
'Cause there's something 'bout a Sunday
that makes a body feel alone."

Kris Kristofferson

Sundays sometime give me the blues.

It's a beautiful day, and I've been up to see the sun rise. There is the nip of a cool breeze in the air. The remains of Fall leaves, fighting hard to retain their yellows, reds and oranges, contrasted against the Alabama blue sky. This blue sky that songs and poems have been written about.

Thousands will congregate in houses of worship soon. They'll sing, study and pray to a good and merciful God, One who is worthy of their worship, who created all of this I write about and enjoy.

Some will be sincere, and some will only be going through the motions. Acting, pretending--there for reasons only they know. Only God knows which are which.

I will be there too.

But I will be there with a certain heaviness of heart, an unfulfilled longing of some sort. Perhaps a memory of days gone by. Perhaps a yearning for days to come. Perhaps none of the above. Maybe just a defect in the heart or emotions.

Some would say that it should be hard to feel lonely in a crowd--that friends and family and those that surround us should overcome such notions.

But like Kris, there is something about a Sunday that makes this body feel alone.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Mystery Solved?

It's been a very busy week in the woods of East Alabama. No rain, blue skies, and beautiful Fall weather aligned for plenty of field work for this forester.

I'm grateful for the work, but after about three straight days of plowing through brush, vines, and briers, an aging forester's legs begin to tire and his feet get heavy.

By Thursday, I began to trip and fall some. Fell down probably four or five times in two days. A couple of these falls were real face-planting nose-in-the-dirt masterpieces. If I was in film, I thing I might be nominated for an Academy Award-- "best fall in a woodland setting." I should at least be considered for a Golden Globe.

Here's an interesting bit of trivia for those of you who are interested in the quirks of human behavior. A man working alone in the woods who falls down will always quickly look around to see if anyone saw him fall. It must be in our DNA.

There are many mysteries in life--questions that have been pondered for ages:

"Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"

"If man evolved from apes, why do we still have apes?"

"If a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, does it make any sound?"

I don't know the answers to these mysteries. But I do know that if a forester falls in the woods and nobody is around, he does make a sound. Usually something like "ooof."

The initial "ooof" may or may not be followed by other sounds that shall not be addressed in a family blog.

Use your imagination.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Cure

"It was an attitude adjustment--it made my whole life look brand new."
Hank Williams Jr.

An Internet friend of mine in Mexico recently wrote a post about the onset of arthritis in a couple of his fingers. I wrote him back to say that since he was in his 60's that I thought he was in remarkably good shape. At 48, I have some problems with two of the fingers on my right hand. I attribute this to high school football and a large number of fist-fights in my youth. He wrote back that he was surprised to learn I was "pugnacious."

Pugnacious? Oh yes, I was a scrapper in my early teens. Almost any provocation, however slight, could lead to a beating. It could be provoked by a laugh, a word, or even a look that I interpreted to imply that some guy thought he was "better" than me.

Need examples of head-busting verbal offenses?

"Love that haircut. Somebody put a bowl over your head?"

"Where did you get those shoes, the five and dime?"

"What's with the leisure suit? This ain't no birthday party."

I attribute my short fuse to genetics. I am one generation removed from the cotton mill village, a place where poor but proud people struggled to prove they were just as good as the more affluent folks that lived across the tracts. Although my dad grew up there, he escaped that life to make a find a job and home elsewhere. Maybe something in my DNA tied me to those earlier times when you had to be tough to survive.

I certainly didn't get the tendency to fight directly from my parents. I was raised in a Christian home, where following Jesus and His command to "turn the other cheek" was the rule. My dad always advised "walk away when you can, but don't get picked on or bullied." I took the second part of his advice, but selectively ignored the first.

Most of my fighting was in junior high, and mostly in gym class. Fighting was an offense that led to an automatic suspension from school from one to three days. Since coaches supervised gym, I always got away with fighting. I was on the school teams (football, basketball, etc.), and a suspension also meant I couldn't play whatever sport was in season. So you could say I was "protected" by the coaches. It was an arrangement I took advantage of, and like James Bond I felt I had a sort of "license to kill."

Now let me state here, dear reader, that I was not a "bully." I did not go around picking on or beating up kids smaller than me. I never fought without provocation, but I will admit that it didn't take a lot to provoke me. This was, after all, junior high, when large amounts of testosterone flood the male bloodstream. I didn't ever go looking for a fight, but I didn't have too much trouble finding one.

My mistake came in the hall one day between classes. I was talking to a pretty girl when a big upperclassman came by an intentionally bumped into me. I think he was about to say "Leave my girlfriend alone" but he never got the chance. I immediately tagged him square on the jaw, then proceeded to hit him with anything I could get my hands on--text books, gym bag, etc. I think I was taking off my belt to give him a proper beating when old Ms. Bennett walked out into the hall to see what all the commotion was about.

Not good. Ms. Bennett could have cared less that I played both ways on the football team.

A short walk to the Principal's office resulted in a one day suspension.

My dad didn't say anything when he arrived to take me home. That was a bad sign. I was raised with the stated rule that if you got in trouble at school, you could expect a double portion of the punishment you got there when you got home.

I could tell dad was angry--very angry. But I got nothing but the silent treatment.

Until the next morning, that is.

At five a.m., before the sun had even risen, my bedroom light was switched on.

"Get up and get dressed. Time to go to work."


"Time to get to work. Since you don't think an education is important, I'll show you what an uneducated man has to do to make a living every day."

I spent the next twelve hours in various forms of manual labor. I cut grass. I raked leaves. I split and stacked firewood. I hauled brush. I washed cars. I did every possible thing he could think of until we ran out of daylight.

Then I went home and went to bed. I was exhausted.

The message was received. My school fighting days were over. In fact, I don't know that I ever fought again, except for maybe a few scuffles on the football field.

It's amazing how much you can learn about life in one day if you have a good teacher.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Love Story

"I am not a smart man. But I know what love is." Forest Gump.

I believe it was love at first sight.

I witnessed their first meeting, and I could almost see the spark of electricity that jumped between them. It is a rare thing, this phenomenon, but I believe it still happens on occasion. It is like lightning from a clear blue sky, or a rogue wave that hits the land without warning, washing away everyone and everything in its path.

They were an unlikely pair, a couple with more differences than similarities. A professional match-maker would have scoffed at the idea that they could fall in love and be happy together. There was just too much in their backgrounds and personalities to overcome.

She was of dubious heritage and bloodline, the youngest of a large family. She was used to hand-me-downs and being ignored. This made her try a little too hard to be noticed in social situations, as if trying to overcompensate for the attention she had been deprived of in her youth.

He had a distinguished family tree. The kind of family history that is recorded in Registers, with expectations that a high-brow blue-blood union would be in his future.

She was petite but pretty, with delicate features more akin to a china doll than a Grecian statue. She would never make the cover of a magazine or be "discovered" for the silver screen, but she had had the kind of plain wholesome beauty that the glamor girls often lack.

He was broad at the shoulder, wide in the chest, and narrow at the hip. He was rugged masculinity on display, all muscle and sinew rippling over big bones. He looked as if he could take down a bear if the occasion arose. You would not describe him as handsome, however, and his expression was often stern--except when he looked at her.

She was nervous and fidgety. Never completely still, she was given to pacing as if she always had something on her mind--some hidden worry or anxiousness.

He was laid back and easy-going. Some might even describe him as a bit goofy. Never seemed to have a care in the world. Despite his physique and stern look, he was happy-go-lucky. He was a lover, not a fighter, and his love was reserved for only one girl.

She could be moody and snappy with him. Sometimes she was even bossy. Not the kind of behavior that most "macho" guys would stand for.

He never seemed to mind. He was always loving and forgiving, letting unkindness pass without complaint or memory. He would shower her with kisses on such occasions, as if he could willfully love her out of her displeasure.

And so this unlikely match was pure love--the kind written about in fairy tales and old country songs. They were inseparable. They spent almost every waking moment together, and even when sleeping they were usually touching each other, as if by touch they could even be together in each other's dreams.

As intense love stories often go, this one ended much too soon. In a moment as brief and rare as their first meeting, the wink of an eye or the nod of a head, he was gone. The doctors still aren't sure what happened, but it appeared to be a heart attack. Struck down in his prime and too young to imagine such a fate could be possible.

And now she is left to grieve--and grieve she does.

Educated men have studied grief and written volumes on the subject. They postulate that there are definitive "stages" that must be passed through: denial, anger, acceptance, healing, and so forth. I don't know about all that. I just know that watching grief can be as heartbreaking as experiencing it yourself.

She is confused and sad. She finds herself looking for him out of habit, as if he will suddenly be there again. She walks from room to room and visits all their old familiar haunts. She rushes to meet each new visitor and thrills at the sound of an approaching car, as if she expects him to be returning to her side at any moment. And each time, there is a heavy sigh of disappointment when he is not found.

She has turned us for comfort. She does not want to be alone. And yet when we must leave her, we return to find her sitting and staring off into space, as if awaiting her lover's eminent return.

All of this worries me somewhat. I have seen this script too often. Love so powerful that is interrupted can lead to a quick demise of the remaining partner. It happens all the time. Johnny Cash didn't last long without his June. You knew it was coming, and I did too, and we were powerless to stop it.

You will probably say that I am a hopeless romantic. You may say that I am projecting feelings where there are none. You might even think I'm crazy. For this love story is about my two dogs, Dolly and Max.

All I can respond is that I know what I see. Dogs love and dogs grieve. They are as close to humans in these emotions as any members of the animal world.

And I have one who has lost her love and is grieving.