Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The little things

It's the little things that are the most beautiful.

Oh, sure, there's gorgeous grandeur. Just ask anybody who's seen the Rocky Mountains.

Or the expanse of the Grand Canyon. The wide open Texas plains. Or Phoenix in fall.

Closer to home, there's the Smoky Mountains, pretty much any time. But particularly in autumn, when the colors dance across those hills, and something inside you, placed there years ago, stirs with joy.

The Atlantic is awesome, early in the morning, before the world stirs. The Gulf is glorious, so clear sometimes you can see your feet -- and fauna. The Pacific is peace, hence its name.

Novels are nice, too. Hemingway. McMurtry. Pat Conroy.

Music is marvelous. "Moonlight Sonata." "Mack the Knife." "Midnight Cry."

TV is terrific. "M*A*S*H." Mayberry. Marshal Dillon.

All this is good, yes.

But the most beautiful sight in the whole wide world? It's much simpler than sunsets in South Carolina.

It's her smile. The way her eyes light up when she grins.

It's the cute way she laughs. It's the way she plays with her hair when she thinks nobody sees.

It's a million other things. Everything she does and when she does nothing at all.

It's her. She's beautiful.

And the best part? She's just as pretty on the inside.

You're really special, Elyse.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Going the distance

KODAK, May 29 -- Here's a nickel's worth of free advice: Get rid of the pitch limit in baseball.

OK, OK. Baseball people know much more than I do. They get paid to do this. I'm just a fan.

But when a guy throws a one-hitter and is yanked right at 100 pitches, and the relievers blow your nearly perfect night, it raises an eyebrow. That's what happened tonight at Smokies Park, as Smokies relievers Matt Wilkinson ad Chris Kinsey squandered a three run 9th-inning lead to give the Carolina Mudcats a 6-4 victory.

Tennessee starter Garrett Mock did his part. No-hitter through six. Then he reached 100 pitches. Smokies manager Bill Plummer didn't waste any time.

The theory is you save the arm. Get the most for your money. Don't risk a blowout.

But it hasn't been that long ago when Nolan Ryan would pitch complete games every other start, it seemed. And he had, what, seven no-hitters? And pitched into his 40s?

Think about pudgy Mickey Lolich. The most unlikely pitcher you've ever seen. Lolich was nevertheless the most popular Detroit Tigers pitcher of his era. He had a "I'm just punching a time clock" mentality that the blue-collar Tigers fans loved.

And, yep, he was his own closer. Mick would always go the full nine.

Those days are gone. They ain't coming back. I don't know why I'm wasting my breath.

Guess it's cause one slipped away tonight, on a perfect Memorial Day evening, when both the starting pitcher and the fans deserved better.

Just makes you wonder what might have happened had Plummer let Mock finish what he started.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

A passing moment, but one made to last

As the sun set amid a glow of red and pink hues tonight, I drove home thinking on how happy I am.

Happy to be alive, happy to be here in God's country, happy to be associated with wonderful people, happy to be earning a living with words and ink.

It's funny, sometimes you get to thinking you are all alone in this world. Then, boom, you are reminded that is far from true. Isn't it ironic that so much can go so right after you learn to let go.

I watched a couple of squirrels dance from tree to tree in Sevierville tonight. "Oh, to be that free," a friend commented.

Guess what? I'm already there.

Every day is a new experience. Every turn in the road holds the promise of a new discovery or a new story. Every sunset is another reminder of all that is beautiful and good on this earth.

The songs on the radio bring the emotions -- joy, sadness, longing, regret. It feels good just to feel.

People are fascinating when it comes to feelings. Some close up tight. Others are as open as the prairies.

Me? I'm somewhere in the middle, leaning toward the prairies. I used to be quiet and shy. Now I live my life in front of friends and strangers. It's a good way.

Who knows what God has in store? We're not promised tomorrow. But if it all goes away, I'll hold tight to the things that really matter.

And I will always cherish this moment, a passing point in time, when for once the stars flew in their courses and everything seemed right with the world.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Sunshine on my Shoulders

A perfect song to end a perfect day -- from the talent of John Denver. Have a good night, y'all.

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost always makes me high

If I had a day that I could give you
I'd give to you a day just like today
If I had a song that I could sing for you
I'd sing a song to make you feel this way

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost always makes me high

If I had a tale that I could tell you
I'd tell a tale sure to make you smile
If I had a wish that I could wish for you
I'd make a wish for sunshine all the while

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost always makes me high
Sunshine almost all the time makes me high
Sunshine almost always...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Bonds is no hero

So Barry Bonds has tied Babe Ruth's 714 home runs, huh?

Yawn. Since when did we care so much about second place? Particularly when it's Bonds moving into the slot.

Anybody with a pair of eyes knows how Bonds achieved this mark. Yes, he still had to hit home runs. But, yes, he had an unfair advantage.

What saddens me about all this is you grow up learning that winners never cheat and cheaters never win. I'm not naive enough to know that the real world doesn't work out that way. But it should. Especially in our national game.

Records are the foundation of baseball. We argue about DiMaggio and Williams' numbers. We debate endlessly on whether Maris should be in the Hall of Fame. (The answer is "No," by the way.) It gives you something to do between innings and during that long six month winter stretch.

But if those records are tainted, my goodness gracious. What's left?

Baseball will be stronger without Barry Bonds. One day, and it's coming fairly soon unless I miss my guess, those knees are finally going to give out. He'll be relegated to the bench and to the history books. The game will get back to its roots without all the juice.

But I hope with all my being that Bonds is out before he passes Hank Aaron's 755.

Aaron was a decent human being. He was a solid hitter with quick wrists who hit 35, 40 home runs a year for 20 years. He endured a lot of crap. But he handled it all with class. He is that rare human being --- a true American hero.

So Bonds can take his second place. He'll pass Ruth any day now, and heaven forbid, may pass Aaron. He could have been the greatest power hitter of all time.

But he'll never be a hero.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The hills of home

Sometimes I feel like I'm caught in "Groundhog Day."

Not that my days repeat. Far from it. But I often marvel how things stay the same as much as they change.

I was at the old high school football field tonight. Got a request today to announce the spring practice Red and White Game. I thought back to when I first did so, as a high school freshman, in 1993. If you'd have told me then I'd be doing it again 13 years later, I'd have laughed.

But, at this point, I can't see myself anywhere else. I'm at home here. I feel like in my own small way I'm doing something good for the community.

It's not always easy. And writing is a solitary craft. It's you and your words. That's both therapeutic and tempestuous.

But if I have my say about it, I'll still be sitting here 20 years from now, going to meetings and covering the Red and White Game. This is my home.

If New York comes calling, I'd give it a look. Never say never.

Whatever happens, though, these hills will always be home. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

'Da Vinci' a dud

Let’s get one thing straight. “The Da Vinci Code” is not a good movie.

Director Ron Howard's film is long, it’s boring, it builds to nothing and its liberties with history are laughable. By the end of this 2-hour plus mess, things are scattered like toys in the yard – and you don’t feel like picking up the pieces.

Unless you’ve been in a cave, you know the story. Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) investigates a murder at the Louvre in Paris, only to stumble onto “the greatest cover-up of all time,” with the help of French police officer Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou). This could have been a thinking person’s “Indiana Jones.” Instead it’s just one big yawn.

Oh, it has its moments. The plot finally starts to build midway through. Then it lumbers along, flies off on tangents, leaves you not caring whether this darned thing gets figured out, even if it supposedly is going to shake the foundations of our society. I had the film’s “other” big secret figured out in 30 minutes.

Ian McKellen shines ever so briefly as the old professor who helps Langdon and Neveu, but he’s taken away too soon, in a clichéd role, of all things. Hanks, so good as “Forrest Gump” and in 10 other roles, sleepwalks here, and never reaches his stride.

And that controversy thing? Forget about it. Yeah, it’s all in here. But this film isn’t going to sway anybody’s beliefs. Anybody with any biblical knowledge at all knows that all this is just spit in the wind.

The only faith “The Da Vinci Code” shattered for me is that Hollywood could ever again figure out how to make a decent summer blockbuster.

Oh, well, there’s always the new “Superman.”

“The Da Vinci Code” is now playing at Halls Cinema 7. It is rated PG-13.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Beauty in the morning

Sometimes, in the quiet of the early morning, I lie in bed just as the sun creeps through the window and think about all the beauty in this world.

It's in the big, things, sure. Like those beautiful blue skies, so perfect that even the clouds don't interrupt them. It's in the pink of twilight. It's in the stillness of early morning snow.

But it's in the little things, too. The lopsided smile of a newborn baby. The crack of the bat during a late afternoon game. The solitary rose petal that fell to the ground.

The prose of Hemingway, when he talks about his Catherine. The timbre in George Jones' voice on "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Anytime John Duffey hits a high note.

Grace Kelly, in "Rear Window" and everything else. The fullback pass Von Reeves threw in the 1990 Florida game. Two words: Sid's slide.

Anything from Pete Hamill's pen. Dain Jacob Shelton, when he gives you that look that only children can. Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." A favorite song by Juice Newton. "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes."

Big, beautiful brown eyes. Blue eyes crying in the rain. "Don't it Make your Brown Eyes Blue?"

A forgotten smile by a woman who passed like a ship in the night. Sunsets on Norris Lake. Friday afternoons, pretty much any week. The Chevrolet Ron Howard drives in "American Graffiti."

Conversation around the fishing hole. Late night get togethers. Early morning sleep-ins.

Raindrops on a tin roof. Falling in love. Coming home.

OK, that's enough. Time to get up and start the day.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Magic in Motown

Just when you thought it was dead, boom, it showed up, like a long lost friend waiting on your doorstep.

The Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins faced each other at Comerica Park in Motown last night. The evening promised a pitchers duel. Johan Santana, the best pitcher in the American League, was facing the Tigers' Justin Verlander, a young stud who has been on fire his last four starts.

Both lived up to the billing in a contest that makes you remember why you keep coming back to this grand old game.

Much like the Halls High game on Monday night, the suspense built with each passing inning. It was scoreless through five, six, seven innings. You knew it would come down to a mistake. Or a bad pitch.

Finally, in the bottom of the eighth, it happened. Santana walked Chris Shelton with one out, then struck out Brandon Inge. Up came Vance Wilson, who hadn't hit a homer all year and had struck out twice.

First pitch was a fastball. It cleared the left center fence to give the Tigers a 2-0 go ahead lead.

Santana was done, his 12 strikeouts all for naught. Todd Jones saved it in the 9th, and these amazing Tigers won again.

It's way too early to order playoff tickets. But for the first time in many moons, the baseball gods are smiling on Detroit. Finally they've gotten it right. The Tigers organization put together a core group of pitchers and sprinkled in a solid defense, a great manager, and hitters who know how to score runs for good measure. For any Tiger fan who has struggled through the depression of the last 15 years, particularly the horror of 2003, this is a long time coming.

And it's good to see pitchers duels again. They had become all but extinct during the Steroid Era, save Randy Johnson's perfect game in 2004, and a few gems here and there. Forget all those home runs. This is baseball, folks.

I'll be visiting Detroit in July to see the Tigers play the Oakland A's. If they are still in contention, maybe we can have somebody spin a Motown classic while I'm out there. Cause this will be a perfect July song if everything else falls into place:

"Summer's here and the time is right for dancing in the streets."

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Never forget

Those who lived through Sept. 11, 2001, will never forget it.

The chaos of those first few hours. Confusion. Shock. Conflicting reports. Anger. Realization that nothing will ever be the same again.

You know the story. Four airplanes were hijacked. Three reached their targets. The story of the fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, is captured brilliantly in "United 93," Paul Greengrass' excellent, haunting new film.

When I first saw the trailer to "United 93," my first reaction was one of disgust.

"Oh, geez," I thought. "Too soon. Too exploitive."

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Greengrass chose wisely to populate his film with no-name actors. Unlike, say, the biblical epics of Hollywood's Golden Age, you aren't distracted from the story by the power of celebrity. And the herky jerky cinematography plays well here, giving the film a documentary look that fits the story. FAA guy Ben Sliney even plays himself.

The other great thing about this film is that Greengrass avoided all those cliches that makes "disaster films" stereotypes and would have cheapened this tribute. We don't learn little backstories about each character. In fact, we know little about them, just as we would have had we been sitting next to these people on the airplane.

What strikes you is how normal that day began. Just another Tuesday morning in America. Folks flying home. Business types on commute. Flight attendants and pilots doing what they do.

The finest hour of "United 93" comes as it did in real life, when the pissed-off passengers, realizing they most certainly would not survive this flight, decide to storm the cockpit. Aware of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, they reason that it's up to them to prevent this plane from hitting its target. That notion that Americans will always fight back, no matter the odds, is as true as it is simplistic.

When Todd Beamer (David Alan Basche) and the others take action, storming up that airplane aisle with them were George Washington and Paul Revere, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and every other American who has ever stood up to face adversity head on. It's a beautiful, if poignant, moment.

I kept waiting on Greengrass to have Beamer yell "Let's Roll" to the sound of an orchestral crescendo. It didn't happen, to his everlasting credit.

As I walked to my car afterwards, I felt a sudden urge to call everybody I care about to tell them, simply, "I love you." I didn't do it, but I should have.

This movie floods you with emotions. It brings back the feelings you felt that day. It conjures something deep and real that Americans should never let go of.

Or never, ever forget.

"United 93" is now playing. It is rated R for adult language, violence and traumatic situations. The link to film critic Roger Ebert's review is above. Click on the link next to the lighthouse.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sometimes your best ain't good enough

What a tough way to lose.

You had a feeling at the Halls High School baseball field last night that the regional match-up between Halls and Farragut High would come down to the wire. Halls ace Jeff Lockwood and Farragut ace Rob Catapano were pitching too well.

On it went, three, four, five, six innings -- and no runs. Halls had a chance. They managed seven hits against Catapano and nearly scored a run in the bottom of the sixth, when courtesy runner Quentin Bowman was thrown out at the plate.

As good as Catapano looked, Lockwood was even better. He allowed only two hits in seven innings, striking out 11 in a performance for the ages. But a bobbled ball, an unearned run and the inability to push across runs took all of it away, suddenly, shockingly. Halls lost, 1-0.

Just like that, it was over, and we walked away in the cold spring rain, knowing this won't happen again until next spring, if ever.

Driving home last night, I thought about Ken Johnson. Johnson pitched for the then Houston Colt .45s in the 1960s. He threw a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds on one magical night, April 23, 1964. And he lost the game.

Things were fine until the top of the ninth. Pete Rose bunted and reached first when Johnson threw the ball away. Rose ended up on second and Johnson was charged with an error.

Vada Pinson then hit a routine grounder to Nellie Fox. Fox bobbled the ball. Pinson beat the throw to first and Rose scored what turned out to be the winning run.

Johnson's final line was one run on no hits, two errors and three men left.

Baseball is tough. So is life. Sometimes you beat the throw. Sometimes you make the error. That's how it goes.

Bart Giamatti always said the game is designed to break your heart. And indeed it does.

But on a rainy night in Halls, I couldn't help but think there's a lesson in all this somewhere. I guess it would take the talent of Shakespeare (or at least Roger Angell) to find it.

As for me, I'll be content to remember Ken Johnson, and lament the fact that sometimes your best just ain't good enough.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The most beautiful voice

I will never forget the first time I heard that voice.

I was in the eighth grade, that awkward time when everything and nothing matters, sitting in an English class. From the open partition that led into the social studies classroom wafted the most beautiful voice I had ever heard. It was a female voice, of course. And she was, it seemed, singing just for me.

"Just like me," she sang. "They long to be close to you..."

That was my first exposure to Karen Carpenter.

I went nuts. Had to have everything she had ever put out. Went to Cat's that very weekend and bought their singles collection. I admit it. I was in love.

The Carpenters were maligned by "hip rock critics" back in the early 70s as the poster children of cheese. Even Richard Nixon liked their music, for God's sake.

But middle America embraced them. And those who didn't let politics dictate musical taste knew that voice was one in a million.

I'm told she could turn it on in the middle of the night just after waking up. It didn't matter. She could sing anytime and anywhere.

Her brother Richard, who played piano and sang harmony, was the producer of the Carpenters' trademark sound. His arrangements played to her strengths. He knew the whole darn thing would work if he went for the intimate sound.

Go back and listen to the best of their catalog and you'll see. She sounds best on the yearning ballads, most notably "Superstar" and "A Song For You." Amid all the "We've Only Just Begun" naivete was a brooding sadness than ran through much of the Carpenters' work.

Which makes sense if you know the story. Karen Carpenter was anorexic. An early Billboard review called her "Richard Carpenter's chubby sister." She never recovered. Starved herself on a regular basis. By the late 70s, she was forced to seek treatment. The Carpenters took a hiatus from touring and recording.

Richard had his problems, too. He became addicted to sleeping pills and spent some time in a rehab clinic. The pressures of life on the road were too much.

They came back in 1981 with "Made in America," a happy "we're better than ever" return to the sound that made them stars. The plan was to get back to doing what they do best and to eventually start touring again.

It wasn't to be.

The years of abuse had weakened Karen Carpenter's heart. She died, of heart failure, on Feb. 4, 1983. That voice, that beautiful voice, was silenced forever.

Richard is doing fine these days from what I understand. He went on a solo tour a few years ago and continues to oversee the Carpenters musical catalog, including CD releases and such. In his spare time, he collects classic cars. He says he thinks about Karen every day.

I think about her, too, sometimes. Especially late at night, when I can't sleep, and one of her songs comes on the iPod during random shuffle.

"Are we really happy with this lonely game we play? Looking for the right words to say..."

That voice will live forever. Future generations will discover it. They'll be blown over by her talent, amazed that she sounds so accessible, and download all of her music onto iPods or whatever the technology offers.

There she'll be, singing somewhere in the lonely night, just for you.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The finest man I know

Let me tell you about the finest man I know.

He was a great athlete as a kid. Played football and basketball growing up, was co-captain of the Halls High football team. He cleaned up well, so they named him best dressed as a senior. And everybody liked him, so he was named Mr. Halls High, too.

After high school, he took a few classes at UT, but Uncle Sam came calling. His orders read Vietnam. Then Nixon started Vietnamization and the withdrawal of American forces. So he got to go to Germany.

He came back home in the spring of 1971. A friend introduced him to another Halls girl, Gail Wyatt, in 1972. They married in 1973. Worked at a few jobs, finally getting on with TVA in 1975. He took night classes and earned a college degree from UT.

They had twins -- a son and daughter -- in 1978. The daughter didn't make it. It was tough, but they made it through. Another daughter was born in 1980.

He'd bring his kids animal crackers home from work. Would set up toy trains on the kitchen table and show them how to get ready in the morning.

He's a good looking guy, too. Some used to say he looked a little like Tom Selleck. Best personality you'll ever find.

He and his wife divorced in 1983. But he kept loving his kids. Would pick them up on Wednesday nights and every other Friday for weekend visits. He'd cook his kids food and bring them surprises from time to time.

He finally married again in 1991. He and his wife, Kim, had a son in 1993. Cameron's now a rising eighth grader at Halls Middle School.

In 28 years, I've rarely heard him raise his voice. And when he would get mad, and spank his kids for something they deserved, he'd tell them he loved them later. He never heard his Dad tell him that, so he's made sure to tell his kids "I love you" at every opportunity.

He retired from TVA last year. These days he takes his mother shopping, mows her yard and helps her run errands. He's got an old car he tinkers with and says he'd like to find a part time job to keep him busy.

But, more than all this, he's the finest man I've ever known. He's the type of guy I hope to be. There are few of them left in this world, but to me, he's a hero. I don't tell him enough, but I love him very much.

Happy birthday, Dad.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A genius says good-bye...with a little help from his friends

There's a moment early on in "Genius Loves Company" that captures the greatness of the late Ray Charles.

In the opening line of his and Elton John's duet of John's "Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word," Charles sings the first line, "What've I gotta do to make you love me?" Then he adds a simple "Huh?"

The heartache, indeed the desperate yearning, captured in that one syllabic moment hangs in the air like an about-to-burst storm cloud. You'll accuse of me of hyperbole here, but it takes a genius to be able to express such emotion with so little.

Although at this point I don't think there's much of an argument about the genius. Because that's what Ray Charles was. He conquered every genre, revolutionized pop music in fact, all on the strength of his talent.

His final studio work, finally made available this year for iPod download, is one of those albums you'd take with you to the moon -- just in case something happened and you didn't make it back to earth.

There are few misses. From the first delicious note Norah Jones hits on "Here We Go Again," to the impeccable final chords on the Charles/Van Morrison cover of "Crazy Love," this is as close to perfection as one can get.

And if Charles sounds tired at times, it's understandable, given his declining health. He still has fun, though, playing off Jones and Morrison rather well. He also has his way with James Taylor on "Sweet Potato Pie," and makes magic with Bonnie Raitt on "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" and with Michael McDonald on "Hey Girl."

Old friend Willie Nelson shows up to cover Sinatra's "It Was A Very Good Year" with him. And even though they pull it off, you're left a bit disappointed, if only because this recording just doesn't measure up to the benchmark set by "Seven Spanish Angels." But, then again, what does?

The only other flat notes are the duets with Diana Krall on "You Don't Know Me" and Natalie Cole on "Fever." Not so much for what Charles does or doesn't do, but because Krall and Cole don't bring much to the table.

They saved the best for last, though. "Crazy Love" is one of those near religious musical experiences. Taken from a live performance, Charles and Morrison go back and forth, complete with soul-filled back up singers, letting the song build toward a Gospel-like crescendo finish. It's a moment.

If you claim to be an American pop music connoisseur and don't add "Genius Loves Company" to your collection, you're nothing but a fraud. This album, friends, is pure genius. (And a little company, too...)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Time for a culture change

Just when you think you've heard it all.

According to a WBIR-TV news report (link is above), a Crossville, Tenn., woman was arrested for leaving her sleeping two-year-old child alone in a running car for 15-20 minutes. Guess what the mother was doing?

Lying in a tanning bed.

Investigators were quoted as saying the amount of time was long enough for the child to suffer from heatstroke or carbon monoxide poisoning. The mother said she didn't want to wake her child because she was afraid she would be "fussy."

But apparently it's OK to risk killing her. Just as long as you aren't bothered while getting your fake tan.

It's hard to imagine a mother being able to do something like this. Have we drifted so far from the shore in this country that life has become this cheap?

Yesterday, a co-worker was telling me about an incident that happened at a local gas station. Two motorists got into a shouting match over a vacant parking space. Threats were issued. Verbal assaults were exchanged.

OK, I'll admit it. I've suffered from road rage in the past. I think at some level, it's natural. Then you read about a shooting that started as a driving-related incident and suddenly it's all put into perspective.

I hope this woman learns her lesson. I hope she holds tightly to that child, loves her a little bit more and never, ever does anything like this again.

And here's hoping, too, that somehow, some way, we can trigger a culture change in this country.

We're talking about life here, folks.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

More than just a name

Got a new assignment at work this week.

In addition to my regular writing and editing duties, I'm now typing in obituaries. I complained at first. Tried to give up editing sports. Can't do it. Too short staffed.

It's fine. I need to stay as busy as I can right now.

But what started out as another assignment became something else. Each one of these names is a life. Somebody's mother. Somebody's child. Somebody's sweetheart. Somebody's friend.

You can't help but think about who they must have been, how their lives affected others, what their thoughts were and how they lived.

One was a young school employee with several kids. Another was a longtime Halls veterinarian. Here's a noted economist. There's a World War II veteran.

Here's a newborn who lived just a few days. Oh, how the parents must be grieving.

I know a little about what that's like. I was a twin. My sister only lived a few days short of a month. I was too young, of course, to be aware then. But I know my parents still think of it, as do I from time to time, wondering about the life that might have been.

If I had time, I'd like to write stories about each name on this list. Every life, you see, tells a story. Sometimes it's a remarkable tale. Other times it's just about a person who got up every day, raised a family and lived life. Both are worth remembering.

As it is, I can only devote a few sentences. It's not enough, but it's the best we can do.

Still, it makes you think. These people are so much more than just a name. So much more than a line or two in the newspaper.

Sobering thoughts on a Tuesday afternoon in Halls.

Monday, May 08, 2006

If the phone doesn't ring, it's me

"For only if you've been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain." --- Richard M. Nixon.

If life has taught me anything, it's this: Things ain't as bad as they seem.

Take this weekend. A good friend had convinced himself he was going to lose his job. In spite of all rational evidence, and all the signs pointing to the contrary, he just knew he was gone.

He lost sleep. Worried himself to death. Tortured himself.

Today he finds out he has nothing to worry about. His job is safe.

I can relate only too well. I told myself this past weekend that I was going to lose something I hold dear. It was gone, I thought. That's it. Pull the curtain down. Thanks for coming. It's over. The fat lady has sung. The end. Time to ride off into the sunset.

Not even close.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why, when uncertainty comes our way, do we imagine the worst possible scenario? Or automatically assume the worst?

Sometimes the only barriers that exist are the ones in our minds.

Take baseball. I've been so bummed this week about losing longtime Atlanta Braves announcers Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren, Don Sutton, Joe Simpson and Chip Caray. Thanks to a deal between Turner South and Fox Sports, the majority of the Braves games will be broadcast by other announcers.

OK, it sucks. But life goes on. I got the Sox to watch. I look forward to whiling away the hours hypnotized by the green of that left field wall at Fenway.

I can watch the Cards. Or the Tigers. Or, God forgive me, the Yankees. Skip, Pete and the gang will be around for a few games on TBS and nearly every game on the radio. This ain't the end of the world.

You know what? I've made a deal with myself. From here on out, there ain't gonna be any more worries. At least on the small stuff. We'll save our old friend worry for the important things -- sickness, financial struggles and deaths in the family.

The rest of it? Well, I just ain't gonna go there anymore. Life is too good. Too many positive things are happening right now.

So, with apologies to Jimmy Buffett, if the phone doesn't ring, you'll know that it's me. I'll be out in the eye of the storm. I'll be out there living life, not too worried about things that just don't matter.

OK, so the song is right. Sometimes it is too bad we can't turn and live in the past. Things may not work out like you want here in the present. Sometimes small stuff is going to get in your way.

But you know what? It's OK. The future looks bright.

I'm not going to worry about it anymore.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

I'm so glad I'm standing here today

I awoke this morning to a beautiful sight.

Sunshine was streaming through my bedroom window. How beautiful it is. And how glad I am to be here to see it.

This has been a rough week. You all know about my kidney stone. I'm not certain if I still have it or not, by the way. I'm still in some pain, but I had a CT scan performed on Friday. It will tell for certain. As I said in an earlier post, I'm just thankful it is nothing more serious. So many others out there are suffering so much.

The kidney stone aside, there have been some other problems this week. They are of quite a personal nature, so you'll forgive me if I don't talk about them here. Suffice to say, though, I am just so glad I am here today to see the morning sun.

Life is a precious commodity. You can't put a price on its worth. We must remember that, no matter how bleak things may seem.

Sometimes all it takes is a phone call from a friend to remind you just how true that is.

I'm not going to be one of those self-help freaks who say "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." So I'll use an analogy from my favorite sport. If life throws you a curve ball, wait for the next pitch. It might just be a fastball left up and in the center of the plate.

No matter what you are going through in your life right now -- be it illness, emotional problems, financial problems, marital problems, occupational problems, whatever -- stop a moment and smell the proverbial roses. Think about all those people in your life who love you. Think about the family and friends who brighten up your life. Think about all the good things you have going for you.

Go outside right now, look up into the sky at the beautiful golden sun and thank God that you are here to see it. Because for what all we may not have, we all have one precious, important thing:

We have life.

Thank you for all who called, e-mailed, and sent letters of encouragement during my illness. I'm still not certain if I've passed the kidney stone or not. I'll know next week. Whatever the case, it's not life threatening.

But I've been given a new outlook on things during all this. And that does make all the difference in the world. I can't wait to get back to doin' what I love and loving what I do.

I've got a long way to go in some respects, but I took the first step toward a better tomorrow on Friday. You can't get to where you need to go until you move in the right direction.

Here's a song from Joe Cocker to think about on your way out the door. Thanks for stopping by. Remember, to somebody out there, you are the most important person in the world.

Some said I was hopeless
Mind tangled in the night
Strong hearts just keep goin'
That is why I'm still standing here today

Come together
Raise up your voices
This time my song of love and life won't go away
I'll sing forever
Here in the sunshine
I've lived to see the sun break through the storm
And I'm so glad I'm standing here today.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Sick leave (Part II)

Hi y'all.

I'm taking a few days off from the blog. I still haven't been able to pass this kidney stone. I'm pretty much relegated to the bed and couch right now, am in considerable pain and feel quite fatigued.

I go Thursday to consult with the doctor. Cross your fingers that I don't have to have surgery, but that's what it's looking like at this point.

I'm so thankful that this isn't life threatening, though. So many people out there have it bad tonight. They are facing cancer, heart trouble, the deaths of loved ones, hurt, anger, hopelessness, depression, broken hearts, hunger, poverty and a hundred other things. I, on the other hand, am very blessed. So in that sense, I'm grateful for this kidney stone.

Until we meet again, have a good day today, keep it between the lines, and try to make a difference in somebody's life this week.

I'll leave you with two points to ponder.

First, a quote from the late, great Roberto Clemente:

"If you have a chance to make life better for others and fail to do so, you are wasting your time on earth."

And this, from Kenny Rogers:

"Love your neighbor as yourself. Don't use money to measure wealth. Trust in God, but lock your door. Buy low. Sell high. And slow dance more."

Monday, May 01, 2006

A last link to childhood slips away

As if this week couldn't get any worse.

The one thing (other than my loved ones and pals) that has gotten me through being sick this weekend -- indeed, the one thing that's gotten me through a lot down through the years -- is baseball.

I love our national game. From April to October, it is my life's passion. Yeah, I know. It's weird. Kind of juvenile. Eccentric even. I admit it. At least I'm honest about it.

Tonight I flip on the Atlanta Braves game, looking for a little relief from these darn kidney stones. What's this??!! Bob Rathbun and Jeff Torborg are doing the game. I look to make sure I didn't make a mistake. Nope, this is Turner South. Rathbun and Torborg are the FOX broadcasters. Where's Skip, Pete, Chip, Don and Joe?

A quick internet search reveals that the company that owns Turner South was recently sold to FOX. Which means FOX brings in their own broadcasters. Which leaves the TBS/Turner crew, including Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren, who have been broadcasting Braves games for more than 30 years, relegated to radio and to TBS telecasts.

God, no. Don't do this to me. Not this week.

I've spent my summers with Skip and Pete. They have been coming into my living room since that joyous moment in childhood when my parents got cable and I discovered the Braves on WTBS. They are old friends. Heck, they're family.

I've been waiting on something like this to happen for the last several years. Since Time Warner bought the Braves from Ted Turner and more and more games were showing up elsewhere, I figured it was just a matter of time.

A couple of years ago, even TBS canned Caray and Van Wieren, relegating them to radio and to Turner South broadcasts. But Braves fans raised a lot of hell. Skip and Pete were back by June. Now here we go again.

I feel betrayed. I feel empty. I feel like punching somebody.

Well, if this is the way it has to be, it's been a great ride. There are a lot of happy memories: Skip keeping you laughing when the Braves lose 100 games a year. Pete wowing you with his baseball knowledge. Skip making fun of virtually everything, including the movies TBS would show after the game. Sutton talking too much. Simpson laughing at Skip's jokes. Chip and Skip getting to work together at last.

I feel disconnected. I don't know much else to say.

One of my last links to childhood is gone, the victim of some senseless corporate decision. Poof. So long. See ya. Thanks for the memories.

Just when I needed it most.