Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A memory of a memory

OK, I can't get this out of mind. So I guess I should wrestle with it a minute. Toss it around. Try to make some sense of it.

A few days ago, I wrote about finding a book in the Fountain City library written by one of my professors from UT.Well, I finished it last night. The final story, about his father dying on Good Friday one year, struck a chord.

No, that's not quite true. It wasn't the story, it was something Robert Drake says in it.

He says that to love sometimes means you die. And what I think he means by that is when you give your heart to someone, you're not sure of getting it back in return. Or maybe you will for awhile and then it goes away. Or maybe you just get laughed at.

Drake says the risk is always there, but what do you do? He seems to think you just keep on loving. You take the risk. And I agree.

I'm the last person on earth who should ever act like he knows anything about affairs of the heart. But I do know this, cause Dale Murphy told me so: You can't hit the home run without stepping up to the plate.

Yes, you may strike out. But you might just clear the bases. Whatever the case, you'll come up to bat again in another inning or two.

Time has taught me a couple of things. One is that there never are any guarantees, save death and taxes. The perfect love will turn out to be anything but that. There ain't no perfect anything in this life.

And the other thing? No matter how much your heart gets broken, you get over it. Usually you learn something, too -- most of the time about yourself.

Let me tell you two stories.

I adored this girl once. Thought she hung the moon. I was nuts about her, I tell ya. Got goosebumps whenever I saw her. Felt my heart get stuck in my throat every time she came within 50 feet.

But guess what? I never told her. Kept my mouth shut. Was scared of, well, God knows what, whatever an awkward skinny teenager is scared of.

Now, this other girl -- totally different scenario. I went hog wild at first glance. Threw caution to the wind and made a promise to myself that for once I was just going to follow my heart. Tilt windmills a la Don Quixote. Didn't worry about anything, just went for it. After awhile, it turned out neither she nor I were where we needed to be.

Which one of those was worse? Well, both hurt, for different reasons. But I don't think I have to tell you which one was worse.

Put it like this. I came to grips with the one situation and, to quote Jed Bartlett, moved on and said, "What's next?"

But darned if I don't still think about that one girl. Fourteen years and a lifetime later, I still think about her. Ain't that funny?

Here's my point. There are no guarantees, especially when it involves giving your heart away. Maybe it is like dying, when you're heart aches, and you try to make it stop, and you sit and think awhile, wondering if there's something you could have done or said, or whether it's even worth it.

But do you remember that feeling? You know, the one when the night is right, and the song is perfect and the sun is setting just so and you never want it to end? Oh, yeah. You'd never trade it. No matter what came or didn't come later, you'd take no amount of money, nothing in the world in fact, for that moment.

That's why you throw yourself out there. That's why you risk it all.

Besides, it beats being haunted by a memory of a memory any day.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The gentle voice

The voice comes over you soft and easy. It's not a sucker punch; it's more like a gentle wave that floats ever so easily across your body.

You're drawn in immediately, not by her looks, which are gorgeous, not even by the fedora (as a child, I'd have called it a 'Papaw hat') she wears on the top of her head. No, it's the voice that brings you near.

"It's been a too long time with no peace of mind, and I'm ready for the times to get better."

She starts with an old Crystal Gayle tune, and you're glad you came. Her voice is a respite from the bitter cold air. It's almost as if by driving to the Old City and ducking into the taproom, you've come home, back to something familiar that stirs you deep down in your soul.

Pull up a chair and listen a minute. Here's how this all happened.

What a weekend to forget. Lost in the haze of painkillers and migraines, I just wanted it to end. Go away. Get back to work on Monday. Forget about this 3-day hell.

I'm taking a nap, easing into the Sunday afternoon, when I hear the phone ring. Text message. Will look at it in a minute. Finally open my eyes a couple of hours later. And like manna, it's Andrea.

"Would you like to go see Robinella tonight?"

I don't have to be prompted. Robinella has one of the prettiest voices I've ever heard. Sometimes I shut my eyes and pretend she's singing just for me. It's ethereal. It's lovely.

We duck into Barley's about 7 or so. It's freezing outside, but I forget all about that when this angel opens her mouth.

Somewhere in her first set, she steals my heart, twists it around and plucks its heartstrings like a finely tuned mandolin.

"Funny how my teardrops don't make a sound, when they're all down my cheeks and they fall to the ground...

"Hold me, I've fallen and I can't stand upright. Love me, I'll stay by your side..."

Her voice fades and the mandolin combines with the bass and the drums and the pedal steel to create something that I want to go on forever. My soul climbs into the stratosphere and despite the song's sadly poignant lyric I'm rejuvenated somehow, as if this is exactly what I needed to hear tonight.

"Please, God," I pray, "don't let this ever end."

My request is granted for awhile. Robinella shifts back and forth in her unique way, from soul to bluegrass to Patsy Cline and back again. Somewhere in the second set, she strums her guitar a minute, then launches into a familiar waltz.

"Dance a little closer to me, dance a little closer now, dance a little closer tonight..."

Upon hearing Nanci Griffith's lyric, Andrea smiles, nods her head to the music, loses herself in the moment.

"This is my favorite."

Robinella treats us to a little bit of everything before she leaves us. She even tells us that Jesus is coming soon and that she's crazy for loving you.

When she goes a part of us goes with her. We put on our coats and I raise my collar to the wind, preparing for the winter chill I know is coming.

My body is soon frozen, but the heart remains warm. Still it basks in the glow of that voice, that voice that floats over you like a gentle wave.

It stays with you on the ride home, and as you drift off to sleep, your thoughts return to the smell of smoke from the bar, to the gentle eyes of the woman who brings your drinks, to the look on Andrea's face when she hears her song, and finally, ultimately, to that voice.

"See my tears in the moonlight, reflect what I'm feeling inside. Hold me, I've fallen and I can't stand upright.

"Love me,"
it says, "I'll stay by your side..."

Don't worry. I'm not going anywhere.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

He teaches still...

I can still see him, walking in the humanities classroom with that plaid jacket on, looking like a character straight out of a Walker Percy novel.

I can still hear that Southern cadence, born out of the cotton country of West Tennessee, can still remember how his eyes lit up when one of his students (who wasn't an English major, thank ya very much!) knew what he meant the day he came to the front of the room, opened his mouth and said, "Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived."

Robert Drake was a character, no doubt about it. He taught English at UT for 35 years. Life had taken him from Ripley, Tennessee, way out west, to Yale University for graduate school and finally to Knoxville.

The English majors in the Southern lit class that fall made fun of him behind his back. Not being such a species, I loved him. He seemed to like me, too, although he never could pronounce my last name correctly, preferring to put the accent on the "e." But that was OK, because he loved the South and its literature more than any other human being I've ever met.

I didn't get to know Bob Drake all that well. He had a stroke just after Thanksgiving, cutting short our time together. We knew something was up the day he appeared confused during a discussion of Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men."

"It all comes together," he kept saying, wiping sweat from his brow. Five days later we learned he was in the hospital. He never returned to the classroom.

Work took me to the Fountain City Branch Library last Thursday. Killing time before Dr. Bill Bass's speech, I browsed the shelves. Like a delightful little time machine, sandwiched between larger tomes, hid a collection of Drake's short stories.

His stories are autobiographical to the extreme (the main character is named Robert Drake). But he has a palpable feel for time and place, like all good Southern writers do, and takes you back to the Depression-era small town of his childhood.

Perhaps my favorite tale is "The Store," a nostalgic look back to the small hardware/grocery store ran by his father and uncle.

"I myself no longer live there," he wrote in the piece. "But whenever I return to visit my uncle, I still see many people... who tell me how much they miss both my father and the store...

"And then usually, in spite of all I can do, my eyes will fill with tears because I have learned, all over again, what it really means to be back home."

Any Southerner who has ever tried to return to a home or a time now gone with the wind knows all too well what he means.

After reading the story, I pick up the phone to call my old mentor, to tell him how poignant his words are. Then I remember. Bob Drake never recovered from the stroke. He died a year or two later.

I didn't go to the funeral.

But I'm glad to have found this slim volume on a dusty shelf during a snowy and frigid Thursday morning. It has been nearly a decade since I was in his classroom. But through his words about coming home, and letting me feel his own bittersweet heartache, Robert Drake continues to teach.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

We the people...

I'm reading a new book. It's a biography of one of the most misunderstood figures in American history, the progressive Democrat and legendary orator William Jennings Bryan.

I'll post a full review of "A Godly Hero" when I'm done with it. But I came across a quote from one of Bryan's letters about his hero, Thomas Jefferson.

"Jefferson trusted the people and believed that they were the source of power and authority," (Bryan) wrote to an admirer. "Jefferson's motto of equal rights to all and privileges to none is the fundamental law that governs legislation and the administration of government."

Something to think about, especially in light of Knox County's current term limits fiasco.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Learning lessons

Went up to Carter Middle School today. A little out of the way for a Halls guy, I know.

But Language Arts teacher Angie Nicely had invited me to speak to The Writers Group. The group meets each Tuesday to fellowship together, study grammar and share stories. Then, for one hour, they write.

I found a lot of bright kids up there. They weren't necessarily the smartest kids in the school. But many of them had a lot of passion. Nearly all had opinions to share. All of them love to write.

Couldn't help but think while driving back to Halls about some of my favorite teachers. Too many to name here, but I'll single out one or two.

Never will forget my senior year English teacher. I had taken the subject almost for granted. Had never received anything below an A --- ever. Mrs. McNeely gave me a B plus. And I want you to know, I earned every bit of that and subsequently went on to breeze through my English courses at UT.

I could write a whole column about Mark Duff. Short and sweet: He taught me to think, he challenged me to challenge myself and my own ideas and he instilled in me a desire to never be satisfied. You can always --- always --- do better.

Guess he did something right. He's the school principal now.

And what to say about Doug Bright? Well, for starters, I tested into the final year of humanities-required Spanish as a UT freshman because of him. He took a subject that could be tedious and turned it into a daily delight.

But more than this he's someone I am proud to call a friend. High school would have never been the same without him.

UT was more of the same. Steve Ash ignited my spark of interest in American history into a raging inferno. Lorri Glover (and the book "American Scripture") gave me a deeply abiding respect for Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence.

Ying'pin Hao literally opened a new world before my eyes. Paul Pinckney taught me how to be a better human being.

I could go on. Bottom line is good teachers are such a precious commodity.

I woudn't be who I am without them. I so hope you have been just as blessed.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Fair weather fans are anything but...

OK,this bugs me.

Here's the deal. Your team has hit a three game skid. Said team's best player has hurt his ankle and is out for no telling how long.Your team has the lead, but the score remains tight in the closing minutes.

What do you do? Rally around the home team? Scream loudly? Clap and stomp your feet?

If you're Tennessee basketball fans, you apparently stream to the exits.

Such a scenario played itself out at Thompson Boling Arena on Saturday night. The Vols were holding off SEC East rival South Carolina, but without the help of their best player, Chris Lofton, who went down clutching his ankle in the second period.

JuJuan Smith, Jordan Howell and others did their part. Smith scored a game-high 21 points. Howell played longer than expected in his first game after an extended injury. Too bad a big chunk of the 23,000 in attendance were more worried about beating the crowd.

Fans in our section started yelling at them. "Where are you going?" one of them said. "Don't bother coming back next time."

Tennessee talks a lot about pride. About Power T's and Big Orange Country and Rocky Top.

Exciting basketball is something new to Vol fans. The Wilderness Years lasted a generation. NCAA Tournament appearances are still a treat. To a lot of them, Ray Mears and Ernie and Bernie are just names in the media guide.

But come on. When the going gets tough, the tough don't run for the nearest exit.

Stay in your seats or just stay at home.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


OK, first thing's first. Halls and Powell don't like each other much.

Oh, we pretend we do, mumble magnanimous phrases, say it's all in good fun. But when an estimated 1,200 show up for a high school basketball game on a freezing cold winter's night, you know different.

Found myself at the old school last night for the battle. And what fun it was. Basketball has changed some since I darkened the doors at Halls. It's more festive, more rowdy, actually; it's full of fire and vinegar.

The upstairs bleachers, which used to be reserved for three dads with cameras, were packed. Even the band showed up, blaring the fight song, and "Crazy Train," and other ditties to get the crowd happy.

Teachers who hadn't been to a basketball game in 20 years showed up. So did alumns like Josh Witt, Josh Horner and Jonathan Woodall, school board guy Rex Stooksbury and former principal Dink Adams. Yeah. It was that big.

And let me tell you something friends, every paying customer got their money's worth and then some. Both the girls' and boys' games went into overtime. Three point shots told the tale in both ends of the girls game. The Halls boys refused to be denied, clawing back from a 17-2 Powell run to force overtime and earn a win.

Of course, the real story was Cameron Sharp, "Pistol," (as in Pete) the paint-covered student fans call him. Sharp's 18 points led the way. Carson-Newman is getting something special in that kid.

Overtime was more of the same. Halls pulled ahead. Powell looked out of it, but hung around, stayed within six. Back and forth it went, until fouls and free throws sealed the deal.

Halls High teacher Tim Reeves, who fires up the fans as the public address announcer, usually isn't at a loss for words. But even this night, two hours you never forget, renders the bombastic Reeves speechless.

All he can say afterwards is "Wow."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Texas harmony, Gatlin style

The mandolin kicks in. The drums go to work. The harmony hits you in layers, wave after wave, and the hair stands up on the back of your neck.

The voices blend together in the most delicious way you’ve ever heard. “She’s a broken lady,” they sing, “waiting to be mended.”

You can’t beat family harmony — particularly when it’s out of the mouths of Gatlins.

Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers have long been among the most talented vocalists in country music. From the Grammy Award-winning “Broken Lady” to the controversial “Midnight Choir (Mogen David),” the Brothers produced some of the most professional recordings ever to emanate from Music City in the 1970s and 1980s.

Many of those hits can be found on this live album, “Live at Billy Bob’s Texas.” The Brothers were the first act to hit Billy Bob’s stage in 1981, and they seem happy to be back in this 2004 concert.

Gatlin’s range may have dropped a notch since his mid-70s heyday, but the harmony remains untouched, a living reminder of what real music used to be. The Brothers shine again on “I’ve Done Enough Dyin’ Today,” “All the Gold in California” and the hauntingly beautiful “Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall.”

Larry Gatlin was one of the first singers involved with Southern Gospel guru Bill Gaither’s “Homecoming” projects, appearing on the very first video 15 years ago. And the gospel recordings included here are some of the best tracks on the disc, including “Swing Down Sweet Chariot” and Gatlin’s own “Help Me.”

And if the live version of “Broken Lady” doesn’t quite capture the magic of the original recording, well, what could? That second chorus remains the best 40 seconds of any country music record.

If you are a longtime Gatlin fan, “Live At Billy Bob’s Texas” is a must own. If you’ve never treated yourself to the Gatlin family harmony, run, don't walk, to your nearest CD store.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

For love of the game

Well, I finally did it.

Saved a few pennies, used some Christmas money and realized a lifelong dream. I feel like a kid in a candy store.

Those who know me well know that my first love really wasn't the little dark haired girl with the blue eyes and perfect teeth. No, sad to admit, it was baseball. (What can I say? I was 5. Girls were annoying, like my little sister.)

One of my secret goals in life (up there with something like climbing Everest) was to be a baseball season ticket holder. Some people wait years to purchase Green Bay Packers tickets. Others keep submitting applications for Bristol Motor Speedway. Not me. All I wanted was season tickets to our national game.

Choices are few in East Tennessee. The Atlanta Braves are three and a half hours away. The Smokies season tickets are a little bit out of my budget. (Plus I'd go broke filling the SUV with gas driving back and forth to Kodak. Thanks, Victor Ashe!)

But then my eyes fell on Rocky Top. I remembered Rod Delmonico and his Diamond Vols. Yes, they play with aluminum bats. Yes, it's freezing cold for half of their season.

But Halls guy Jeff Lockwood is the new first baseman. And, so yes, I did it. Cue the drum roll.

Guess who is the newest UT baseball season ticket holder??!!

Whoo Whoo!

Found out something else fun. The Vols will play a baseball game on my birthday this year! That's another to-do crossed off my list.

And if it couldn't get any better, I even got an autographed Chris Burke baseball out of the deal. OK, so he hit the home run that knocked my Braves out of the playoffs two years ago. If you're going to put a dagger through my heart, do it in style.

Life is good. And if it proves impossible to get to 39 home games, which indeed it will, what the heck. I've got tickets to 'em all!

Least I can do for love of the game.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Wisdom from the Wizard

Another sleepless night.

Finally give up the fight and pick up a book, "They Call Me Coach," by John Wooden.

The Wizard of Westwood, they called him. Best coach of them all. Ten NCAA championships. Four undefeated seasons.

But even more than this, he's decent, in the best sense of the word. He's one of the few people in athletics truly worthy of being called a hero. Give me a year or two and I might come up with another couple of names.

Wooden portrays himself as a simple, God-fearing, optimistic, gentle soul. I don't totally buy it because no one who succeeds so brilliantly at the level he did is that basic. I suspect, as sincere as all of that stuff is, deep inside him lies a fascinating, complicated soul.

His basketball is gone, replaced by a faster, up-tempo, decidedly urban game, changed forever by a shot clock and 3-point line. There are good arguments for both styles. Some days I miss solid defense and fundamentals. Other days I like dunks and show.

Bill Walton, the most unlikely of the Wizard's stars, says what John Wooden really was, (and still is at age 93) is a teacher. He didn't talk baseketball. He talked life.

He lived by a seven point creed, corny stuff like making friendship a fine art and building shelter against a rainy day. One I like very much, though. It's first on the list.

Be true to yourself.

I've seen a lot but haven't learned all that much in my short life. One thing I do know, though. The minute you break Wooden's No. 1 commandment is the beginning of your slouch toward disaster.

I don't care if you're playing at life, basketball, work, relationships, or whatever, when you become something you aren't, you've failed. You'll be miserable. You won't win.

It takes guts to follow that piece of advice. Most don't. People conform. Go with the crowd. Sell out. Fake it. Forsake it.

That is a long, miserable road.

I admire people who know what they are and who they are -- and aren't afraid of it.

Just ask the Wizard of Westwood. He took seven simple rules for life his father gave him the day he graduated and went on to become one of the best human beings this country has ever produced. Oh, yeah, and a hell of a basketball coach, too.

And you thought nice guys finished last.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

My game

So here it is nearly 2 a.m. and I can't sleep.

I'm thinking tonight of baseball. Three more months. Three more months.

Actually, not even that long. UT baseball starts Feb. 2; Halls High baseball begins a month or so later.

There is something inherently wrong with freezing your butt off at a baseball game, which is what usually happens in February and March. But I'll take it. I'd walk through hell in a gasoline suit to get to a game.

Early on this Sunday morning, I read from Roger Kahn's "The Boys of Summer," his ode to the Brooklyn Dodgers of 1952-53. And I think about what my pal J.M. said earlier this week.

"I'm looking forward to it this year."

Me, too.

It's a catharsis. It's a pastime. It's a game. It's a philosophy. If you're looking for it, chances are, baseball's got it.

I like high school and the minor leagues the best. Those guys play because they love it. They aren't in it for the money; they aren't (I hope) juiced up on steroids.

I've watched the sun set in New England, the Arizona desert, in California and in Karns, and I don't think it looks any prettier than when it fades just beyond the Halls High baseball field on a spring night. From my perch on the press box stool, usually next to either Rodney Duncan or Sweatbee Mynatt, it's the most beautiful sight I've ever seen.

Somewhere along the way, I have lost my boyish enthusiasm for just about everything. Except for this game.

I hold tightly to it, consider it a prized possession, stubbornly refusing to let it go.

Strikes and steroids be damned. This is my game.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The old dreams

Sometimes when the night is new, I turn out the light, throw open the window and listen.

At first there is silence. "Hello, darkness, my old friend..."

But wait. Then comes the crickets, and the frogs and the thumping of the rabbit that lives in our backyard.

Then the ghosts.

Sometimes it's welcomed. I'll hear a long-forgotten friend, saying hello through the mist of time. Josh Ellis isn't dead. He pulls up in that white car, still wearing his baseball uni, and tells me about the JV game I missed.

Other nights, it's a woman. She'll say things I want to hear. Or perhaps things I've spent a lifetime trying to forget.

I'd be lying if I didn't tell you about the characters I sometimes see. Gus and Call, from "Lonesome Dove," show up quite a bit. So does that heartbroken young man from Conroy, Jake Barnes from Hemingway and Nick Carraway from Gatsby.

One night, it's Johnny Majors, of all people. I picture him coming out of a movie theater in Pittsburgh, wishing he was back home on Rocky Top. Then it's Greg Maddux, walking to the dugout before the final strike reaches Eddie Perez' mitt. And I know afterwards it's not really Johnny or Maddux at all, but the remembrance of summers past, gone for good.

Occasionally it's the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. She doesn't say much. I remember her face. If her ghost lingers, I try to deal with what happens inside my heart.

I live daily with the realization that life didn't turn out at all like I thought it would. That doesn't mean it's worse, or better. Just different.

I need only to open the window and spend time with the ghosts. They, too, remember the old dreams.

Monday, January 08, 2007

What a trip

The prose fly across the page. They rush out at you, like the undertow of the tide, leaving you disoriented, breathless, unsure of yourself.

It's talent. No doubt about it. It's a talent born out of the usual suspects for a writer -- pain, misery, a difficult childhood, the blessed bane of being born on the lower half of the Mason-Dixon.

Reading Pat Conroy is in many ways like coming home.

"He's not as good the second time around, but different," a friend says.

So I go to the shelf one night when I can't sleep. I still can't bring myself to revisit "The Lords of Discipline." Just can't do it.

Instead I go for "The Prince of Tides." Two pages in, I'm hooked.

The novel is wordy. Almost 300 pages in, I'm ready for a payoff. Instead, I have 330 pages to go. So I relax, tell myself the fun of this is in the journey, and fasten my seatbelt.

Conroy is very good at conjuring a time and a place. I can smell the South Carolina of his youth, right up to the shrimp and the odor of the river that runs near his home.

I am drawn to the narrator, a high school English teacher and football coach who is going through one hell of a midlife crisis. The story of his life unfolds as he helps a New York psychiatrist treat his mentally ill sister. That, too, piques my interest.

A good book is the best vacation. It's a grand journey, in which the sights and the smells and the experience is one to savor. You think back on it later, in the quiet times of your life, when the world doesn't make sense and you're looking for an escape. Even better is the trip's price.

At best, Conroy is our most talented modern novelist; at worst, he's a heck of a storyteller. Whatever the case, I enjoy hearing his voice, long for the hour or two I spend with him at night.

I don't want this trip to end. But I know it must. So onward I go, back and forth between New York and South Carolina, hypnotized and horrified by this author's world.

Yes, it's talent, alright. It might even be genius.

Whatever it is, I wish I had some of it.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Like you've been there before

What was that Joe South sang about in "Walk A Mile in my Shoes?" Something about the law of karma and reaping what you sow?

Just ask Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. He knows all about it this Sunday morning.

Romo replaced Drew Bledsoe as the Cowboys on-field leader earlier this season. He won a few games. It went to his head.

He started dating Carrie Underwood, the country music singer and former "American Idol" and paraded around with her on the field before a game. FOX broadcaster Terry Bradshaw spoke for a lot of us when he took Romo to task.

"I would never dream of doing that before a game," Bradshaw said. And he really knows about winning. Terry has four Super Bowl rings.

Romo led his team down the field in the closing seconds of yesterday's Wildcard playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. The Cowboys were a field goal away from advancing. It was a chip shot.

The snap was clean. But what's this? Romo, also the holder on kicks, bobbled the ball. Oops. The Seahawks escaped with a win. Tony went from hero to goat in seconds.

Several lessons can be learned here, the first of which might be to hold the ball steady. But more than that, maybe Romo will learn something about humility, and acting like you've been there before.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Once I was

This blog is dedicated to all who fought. And to those who never returned.

I watched a documentary earlier tonight. Called "Dear America: Letters From Vietnam," it combined archival footage with actors reading actual letters from Vietnam-era soldiers backed by a fantastic soundtrack.

How sad it was. Young men, kids really, writing about the things they saw. Some of them, placards later said, were killed within days of writing the particular letter. The average age was 20.

Vietnam was a two generations ago. But today American troops are still dying on foreign soil. That's where the analogy ends.

Sometimes I wonder if we don't forget that fact. We go about our lives, lost in our personal minutae, and every day the GIs are out there doing what they do. I think about our Halls buddy Dewayne Perry. I think about others just like him. I'm ashamed to admit I don't think about them enough.

There's this folk song from back in the day I like very much.

"Once I was a soldier," it says. "And I fought on foreign sands for you.

"Sometimes I wonder for awhile, do you ever remember me?"

Here's hoping we never forget them.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Indelibly yours

My friend Marvin West has a way with words.

I'm just a pretender, but Marvin is the real deal. His incredible journey led from Powell to UT to the News Sentinel to Washington to retirement in Maynardville. But that's another story for another day.

Marvin has a good line, though. He says that life is indelible. It is what it is and was what it was, yesterday, today and maybe tomorrow. Only in the movies, he says, can you go back and change it.

I don't have a lot of regrets. Oh, one or two. Wish I'd kept playing baseball. Maybe wish I'd opened my mouth a time or two when I didn't.

Course, there are a few times I should have closed my trap instead of yapping, so I guess it evens out. But, all in all, life is what you make of it.

There are moments I wish I could have back. I never have tried to read "The Lords of Discipline" by Pat Conroy again because I know it won't be as good as the first time.

I'll never forget this one image, when the woman the main character loves sends back to him the sea shells they had been collecting during their courtship. The shells were all broken inside the box. If that didn't actually happen, Conroy has one hell of a morbid imagination.

I sometimes wish I could go back and do one last show in front of all my high school friends. I miss that. I don't miss anything else, save some of the people. But I do miss that.

I'd like to go back to the first time I ever really fell in love. There was an innocence to it, a childlike wonder about it all, that time and experience born from heartache tend to remove.

A few football games come to mind. Beating Florida 45-3 in 1990. That magical Miami win in '86.

And baseball, of course. Sid's slide. Beating the Indians in '95. Just being at the ballpark on any beautiful spring afternoon.

There is one woman to whom I wish I'd never given the time of day. But we won't get into that. Just makes you appreciate all the good ones that much more.

All in all, it's been a good ride. I'd change a few things, sure. But, then again, the choices I've made have made me who I am.

Besides, I couldn't do that even if I wanted to. Right, Marvin?

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's resolutions

Gee. Guess I blinked 'cause 2006 sure went by in a hurry. The years seem to go by faster the old-- well, never mind, I don't have it in me to say that "o" word.

Somebody awhile back started the tradition of coming up with New Year's resolutions. Being somewhat of a traditionalist, you won't catch me breaking it. So here goes.

I joked in the newspaper this week that my resolutions for '07 are to finally make it through "War and Peace" and to watch more baseball this year -- and that most likely I'd only keep one of those. Well, the baseball part is easy. We'll see about conquering Russian romanticism.

Closer to home, I resolve to spend more time with my family. Recent events have served as a reminder that they won't be here forever.

I also hope to spend as much time with friends as possible. They say you add seven minutes to your life every time you laugh. With the bunch I hang around, I'm going to live forever. Thanks, y'all.

Near the top of the list has to be getting back to a more regular exercise routine. I like to take long, fast walks outside. Here's to more of that in '07.

Ditto to spending more time at the lake (and outside in general). Missed too many pretty days this year cause I spent them indoors.

This is a daily resolution, but I'll include it. I plan to get better, each and every day, at my job. Never be satisfied. Always recognize you've got much more to learn and constant room for improvement.

I'd also like to think I'll become a better person this year. More thankful. More humble. More empathetic. More grateful for all I have.

Silly stuff?

Well, I'd like to get to a Washington Nationals baseball game this year. I'd also like to make a big dent on that book I've been writing. And record that country album with Rick Campbell.

I've also got a long list of books I want to read this year, places I'd like to visit, projects I want to complete.

But my main resolution for 2007? Chill out. Relax. Take each day as it comes. Recognize, not to be trite, that it's all small stuff, and not worth sweating. Be grateful for this time.

And to always --- always --- make time to laugh.