Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Skinny Hound and The Chubby Kid

The Skinny Hound and The Chubby Kid

            It was an early Friday morning when I packed my Jeep and headed toward the Nantahala National Forest for a weekend of camping, hiking, and camaraderie with my buddy Rick. The sun had just crept over the eastern horizon and the air was cool, giving evidence that Fall had arrived.  A slight breeze rustled the changing leaves and made the air feel even cooler than it was.

            As I drove the three hours north, the sky turned from the pearly gray of dawn to brilliant blue.  The further north I drove the more vivid the colors of the leaves.  There were reds, oranges and yellows, that danced as the gentle breeze combed the hillsides. In the distance I could see the tall ridge line of the Appalachian Mountains.  The mountains stood bluish gray and went from the southwest to the northeast as far as the eye could see. I thought to myself, I’ve walked that! 

            My buddy Rick and I planned to camp. Some may call it Glamping (a glamorous camping).  We prefer to call it truck camping.  We each bring our Condominium size tent, along with a double size air mattress, I pods, I pads, Kindles, Nooks, comforters, feather pillows, night lights, ice chests, cooking stoves, grills, tiki lamps, table cloths and enough food to feed a small army.  I had my Jeep full of all the necessary equipment and was looking forward to getting camp set at Turkey Creek on Fontana Lake.  Turkey Creek campground is a relatively small campground, but has great amenities, such as hot showers, flush toilets, billiard tables, a community area with a 50 inch flat screen television, and washer and dryers, not mention the owners of the campground have become good friends.  Their dog, Huey, a Labramut, roams the campground, keeping a watchful eye on all. It always amazes me that every time we begin to cook a meal, Huey straggles into the campsite. Never does he beg, nor does he become a nuisance.  He’ll simply sit by our campfire and give us a forlorn look as if to be saying, “I haven’t eaten in three days,” although Rick and I both know he is fed well.  

            I pulled into the campground a little before noon and found the campsite where Rick had already set up.  I set camp within thirty minutes and informed Rick that I still had to go to the grocery store to get my food for the weekend.  We loaded into my Jeep and drove the seven miles to Ingles in Bryson City to get my necessary provisions.  That’s when we noticed there was a significant haze in the air.  Even though the skies were cloudless there was a haze that hung in the air, obliterating the distant views of the mountains.  We both wondered what the culprit was. It could be pollen, but I had heard on the radio on the way up, that the pollen count was lower than it had been all season.  Rick suggested it might be humidity, but the air felt only cool and dry.  After a long discussion of the phenomena, we decided that it might be smoke from a forest fire somewhere.  Our attention then went to what we were to cook for Friday and Saturday as we pulled into the parking lot of Ingles.

            We bought the necessary provisions for the weekend, which included a couple of Filet Mignons, Tuna Filets, potatoes for baking, rice, salad, corn, a few other assorted vegetables, pancake mix and chips and salsa to munch on in between meals.   And just in case of an injury we purchased the necessary medical supplies; a twelve pack of beer and a few bottles of wine.  We both remembered seeing in movies where gun shot, arrow, and knife wounds would be first cleansed with hard liquor.  Then right before the bullet, arrow or whatever was removed, the patient would take a big swig of the spirits and problem was solved. Unfortunately, Ingles did not carry any hard liquor, but we figured our injuries would not be near as severe as a bullet or arrow wound, so beer and wine would be fine. Even if Ingles had the liquor, we had no mixers, or a blender and steaks go better with beer or wine anyway.

            As we drove back to the campsite, we noticed the suspicious haze that obliterated the views persisted and we began to worry what the views might be like the following day on Cheoah Bald.

            Huey, the ever present campground labramut, greeted us as we turned into the campground.  He simply raised his head from the front porch of the office, wagged his tail and gave a short bark or two, before rolling over on his side and going back to his nap.

            Now that our camp was complete, Rick and I retrieved our collection of maps and began to study them in detail discussing our plan for our next day’s hike.  We figured this was a good time to sample the chips and salsa, we were between meals, and of course since we were also thirsty, and rationalizing that we bought way too much beer, we split a six pack.

            The plan was simple. We would get up early, fix some pancakes, bacon and coffee for breakfast and be at the trailhead by 9:00am the next morning.  We would hike about 5.6 miles to the summit of Cheoah Bald (elevation 5,062 ft).  There would be about a 2,800 foot elevation gain and the trail would be rocky in places. It was not going to be a walk in the park. Just as we were putting the maps away, satisfied with our plan, Huey lumbered into the campsite.  I guess he heard us munching on the chips and salsa or it could have been us digging for the second six pack of beer.

            The next morning was chilly, but not near as cold as I had expected.  We hurriedly fixed breakfast, cleaned our dishes and headed for the trailhead at Stecoah Gap.  The mystery haze that had plagued the skies the day before had just mysteriously disappeared and the sky was crystal clear. Most of the red leaves at this altitude had already fallen, but the yellows and oranges, mixed with the deep greens of the conifers was dazzling.  The sky, now free from the haze, was the deepest dark blue that I had seen in a long time.

            The trail we were to climb, is actually a section of the famed Appalachian Trail, and is considered by most, to be a difficult section.  We were hiking from north to south, then return the same way. The trail begins climbing rather steeply for the first mile and covers some rocky terrain.  We climbed this rather quickly and without too much difficulty we reached the first ridgeline.  We then began a rather steep descent to Simp Gap, where we took a short break and a few sips of water. The trail then began a continuous climb to the summit of Cheoah Bald.  There is a series of switch backs midway and this was about the time we heard a hound howling in the distance as if it had treed is prey.  It sounded as if it was a few miles behind us and way down in the valley.  I did not give it much thought, but Rick said, almost under his breath as if he only was thinking the question out loud, “This is October isn’t it?........Hunting season?....Bear hunting season.”

            I responded without much concern, for I was gasping for air as I led us up the steep trail, “Is it?  Well that hound sounds as if he’s got him one.”

            “What concerns me,” Rick said and paused.... “the hunters usually turn the dogs loose at the foot of the mountain and let the dogs chase the bear toward them….. where they wait with their high powered rifles midway up the slopes.” 

            I didn’t bother answering.  I appreciated the information but at the moment I was more concerned about where my next breath was going to come from.  I had worked up a sweat; my breaths were rapid, sucking what little oxygen I could grasp from the thin, chilly air.
            “Did you think to bring anything red or orange?  You know for the hunter or hunters to know we’re not a bear tearing up the mountainside.”  Rick again questioned, concern in his voice.

            “Damn!”  Now I understood what he was asking…. “No….not a thing except for my pack which is red.” I answered.
            Rick mumbled something but then asked me to hold up a minute, so that he could at least tie his red bandana around his head to be more visible in the woods.  I stopped, taking the few moments to catch my breath, and I watched as my buddy Rick retrieved his bandana from his pack.  He folded the red bandana in a triangle and tied it as a dew rag atop his head.  I stood in amazement as this grown adult transformed himself from a somewhat manly hiker to something that looked like Aunt Jemima with a white face, beard and trekking poles.

            When the task was completed he looked at me and questioned, “I don’t look like a dork do I?”

            No Rick!  You look like a bad excuse for Aunt Jemima.   “Nah dude…..better than getting shot, I guess.” I answered almost laughing out loud and thinking all the while, Hell, if the hunter sees you dressed like that, he may shoot you on purpose…… I would!

            We continued to climb the steep slope and the lone hound dog continued to howl and seemed to be getting closer to us.  We were on a series of steep switch backs when I heard Rick mumble something once again and having not heard him, he repeated it once again.  Something like, “Hey buddy……something….. something.”

            I glanced over my left shoulder toward Rick who was following about ten yards behind and immediately….. out of nowhere….. a black mass of black fur and bones almost ran me down…..bolting up the trail to pass me on my left. After the initial scare and almost pissing on myself, I realized it was a hound dog. It was a blue tick coon dog, complete with an electronic tracking collar around his neck.  It would have been a pretty dog, except it was terribly malnourished.  The poor dog was skin and bones.  Having passed me as if I was of no concern, the dog stopped a few feet in front of me and turned and waited for us to catch up to him.  He was not the least aggressive toward us and seemed content to simply walk with us. The hound did look at my buddy Rick and I imagined the hound to be thinking, what a Dork!

            We continued hiking for about an hour, me and the poor skinny hound walking faster and faster, trying to leave Rick well behind us, fearing that we might come across other hikers, or God forbid a bear hunter, and have to explain our association with this Aunt Jemima look-a-like. But the trail was too steep to put much distance between us and Aunt Jemima. Sometimes, the hound would run twenty or thirty yards ahead and then come bounding back down the trail to meet us once again as we struggled up the steep slope.  Rick and I discussed the poor hound and we wondered if maybe the dog was lost.  But why, or how, could a dog with a tracking collar be lost.  That’s when we heard more hounds, creating a ruckus further up the mountain.  Rick and I decided that this dog was probably part of the group of hounds which were yelping and howling ahead.

            Another mile of hiking and we were getting really close to the other group of hounds, which had continued their yelping and howling, as if in a frenzy.  Every time the group of hounds would begin the cacophony of yelps and barks, our hound would stop in his tracks and glance at me, appearing apprehensive to continue.  I began to wonder that our dog may not be part of this group of dogs.

            We reached an area of the trail that was steep and narrow.  Mountain laurel bordered each side of the trail and was so thick that one could not see much further than ten feet into the thicket.  We were really close to the group of coon hounds and we knew they were within twenty yards.  We went around a bend and there they were.  A bear hunter, with his rifle slung over his shoulder stood on the edge of the narrow trail.  His five or six coon hounds were all tethered together and tied to a tree.  The dogs were going absolutely crazy, and the hunter was wrestling with them trying to get them under some control.  Our poor hound stood behind us, approaching cautiously.

            I nodded to the hunter who glanced our way but seemed too preoccupied with his dogs to wonder about us.  Good for Rick….Otherwise he may have shot right through that dorky red bandana…….maybe we should have brought some hard liquor….you know for the bullet wound. When we got close enough to the hunter, to be heard over the noise of the dogs, I asked him, “This wouldn’t be one of your dogs would it,” As I pointed to bag of bones.

            “Nah….. not mines….whats him collar sez?” The hunter answered and spit a thick glob of black tobacco juice toward the ground at his feet.

            “Didn’t check….. we figured it must be with this group.” I didn’t even think about looking at the collar…

            The hunter looked at me as if he was thinking…….dummy…..check the collar… that will tell you who owns the poor thing……Then I realized he wasn’t looking at me…. He was looking at Aunt Jemima…. And I didn’t even want to know what he was thinking.

            “Have a good day,” I said. Me, the hound and Aunt Jemima continued to climb up the trail. 

            We had only gone about twenty yards, just far enough to be out of sight of the bear hunter, when I decided to check our skinny hound’s collar for a name.  I talked gently to the hound as I got closer, and stroked his boney back before I reached for the collar.  The dog seemed perfectly content to let me read what was inscribed on the collar.  After close inspection I determined the collar did give the owner’s name, phone number, city and state. Rick questioned me, “What’s it say?”

            “Robert Hooper…… gives a phone number and Robinsville, N.C.” I answered while continuing to pet the boney back of the hound.

            “What’s the dog’s name?” Rick questioned.

            “Hell if I know….. unless it’s Robert Hooper.” I said, almost wishing the hunter had shot Rick!

            As we approached the summit, we met a group of college aged hikers on the trail heading the opposite direction than we. We gave them our normal hiker’s greeting which consists of a nod, a “how’s it going,” and this time we asked if they had passed anyone looking for a dog. We pointed to the skinny hound and they all looked at the poor malnourished creature but said no.  They seemed to have little sympathy or concern.  They did give Rick a stare, and before they could comment or start laughing, I started trudging up the steep slope with Cheoah Bald in view and Rick and the hound in tow.

            The poor skinny hound, glanced at me, looked once toward the summit, glanced at Rick, then bounded down the mountain following the group of college kids.  We never saw the hound again.

            Once on top of Cheoah Bald, there was a large grassy area on the North West side.  That is where we removed our packs and stretched out in the grass and enjoyed the views of Fontana Lake, the Smoky Mountains and the small town of Stecoah below.  The colors of the fall leaves covered the slopes in all directions and gave us a wondrous view.  The view was very much worth the climb to get there.  We ate our lunch and discussed the possible fate of the skinny hound. To the South and South East we could see the southern end of the Nantahala Gorge, and although not visible from where we were, we knew that the Nantahala Outdoor Center was almost due south of us, deep in the gorge where the thundering white waters of the Nantahala River comes roaring through before emptying into Fontana Lake.  We hoped the poor hound followed the college kids to the trail head at Stecoah gap and maybe there the dog would be found and taken care of.  I had already decided earlier, that if the dog followed us all day and ended up back at the trail head with us, I was going to load him into my Jeep and take him to the nearest veterinarian.  I was a softy, as well as Rick was, when it came to dogs. 

            After spending a good hour enjoying the views, lunch and conversation, we decided to start the steep descent back the way we came.  It was getting late in the day and dark came early this time of year.  We were going to have to make good time to get back to the trail head before dark. 

            I had not walked far, negotiating down the steep and narrow trail before both knees began to cry with pain. I tried taking smaller steps, longer steps, duck walking and even walking backwards down the steep slopes trying to ease the tremendous pain that was radiating from both knees. I explained to Rick that my knees were killing me and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it down before dark… reality I was beginning to wonder if I could make it at all. 

            When we were hiking on somewhat level parts of the trail or even if it was uphill, my knees did not seem to bother me.  Unfortunately there wasn’t much of the trail like this back the way we came. 

            I was struggling with the pain, inching down a very steep section of the trail when the trail took a sharp turn back to the left. I was watching my feet, stepping as gingerly as I could to minimize the jarring to my knees when I almost ran into a big chubby kid standing in the middle of the trail. He stood staring down the trail appearing lost in thought.  I startled him, as much as he had startled me, and we both nodded and grinned, once we both realized the reality. 

            Before I could even give the hiker’s greeting, “How’s it going,” he questioned me. 

            “Is that way north on the trail?” and he pointed to the direction from where we had just come. Which was South.

            “Nah…… that’s south.  Up there about a mile or so is Cheoah Bald.   That way’s North,” and I pointed the opposite direction, down the steep trail, the way we had to go to get back to Stecoah Gap and the trail head, the way we were heading.

            The chubby kid looked to be about eighteen, and had a huge pack. He was probably spending multiple days on the trail for he looked tired and dirty. He explained, “I got off the trail… wandered off into the woods to take a ‘dump’….. and when I got back to the trail…..I got turned around.” I’ve done that before myself….easier than you might think…That’s why I carry a GPS!

            He questioned us again, almost doubting our word.  He seemed positive that up the hill was heading north on the A.T.  We asked him which way was he heading and he explained he had just crossed Cheoah Bald and was going to Brown Fork Shelter and would spend the night there.

            The young boy seemed disoriented and we assured him that down the mountain was north, and would take him to Stecoah Gap and the highway. From there Brown Fork Shelter was about two miles north up the A.T.  I explained to him that it was a very steep climb from the highway up to Brown Fork and he was going to have to hurry to get there before dark.

            Both Rick and I was a little concerned for the chubby kid, but my knees were still killing me and I was worried about getting myself off the mountain, so I simply wished him well and started the knee jolting trek down the mountain. 

            I heard him question Rick once more, “If you guys were up on Cheoah Bald earlier, why didn’t I see you there….. I just passed over it.”

            Rick explained that we were down on the grassy slope of the bald, enjoying the views and lunch.  He further explained that we were there for at least an hour and yes we did hear several hikers pass above us, but unless you were really looking, you probably wouldn’t have seen us down in the grass field.
            I had the funniest feeling the chubby kid still didn’t believe us.  It was probably the Aunt Jemima costume that made him question our sanity.

            Both Rick and I continued down the path, trying to hurry but at the same time taking it easy, trying to save the knees.  I glanced back over my shoulder, but the chubby kid was nowhere to be seen.  I guess he trusted his judgment, over ours, and headed up the mountain south.  Oh well.

            After about two hours of excruciating pain, trekking poles clattering and taking a step at a time, we were finally back at the trail head and my car.  We threw our packs in the back of the jeep, grabbed a couple cans of our medicinal beer and climbed into the Jeep, ready to drive back to the campground.  We looked around for the skinny hound or possibly the college kids that we had passed but neither they nor the hound was to be seen.  We considered on waiting for the chubby kid, because if in reality he was heading north, then once he arrived at Cheoah Bald he would have realized his mistake, and once again he would have turned around and headed north, down the trail. We figured if that was what happened, it would take him at least two more hours to reach the highway; too long for us to wait.  We also reasoned that if he had to take another ‘dump’, then no telling where he would end up. Nope we were not waiting.

            Huey, the labramut, greeted us once again at the campground, this time rising to his feet and trotting over to the jeep with a tennis ball in his mouth; wagging his tail asking us to take a little time and play a little ball with him.  This dog is so smart that the thought occurred to me that he would probably expect Rick and me to fetch the ball for him.  Nope…not with the way my knees were feeling!  We grabbed a couple bags of ice from the camp office and headed back to the campsite where we were going to grill steaks, drink a little wine, relax and let the campfire mesmerize us with it’s dancing flames. 

            Tom, Rick’s brother works at the Nantahala Outdoor Center as a Raft Guide and he called and said he was going to drive over and eat with us.  That was fine.  We had plenty of food, wine and beer (we stopped on the way back from the trail to buy more).  We explained to Tom that we had plenty of everything.

            Tom arrived just as the steaks were done.  We had steak, baked potatoes, grilled corn, and tossed a salad.  We had several choices of Cabernet and Chardonnay and a couple of six packs left of beer.  We ate till we could not eat another bite.  We pulled our camp chairs close to the campfire and sipped on our wines and watched as the dancing flames, snapped and cracked and sent glowing embers floating into the air.
            The sky was wine-blue and bubbling with stars as our conversation shuffled randomly between us.  I mentioned the strange haze that had occurred the previous day and how strange it miraculously disappeared just in time to allow us to have some tremendous views atop Cheoah.  Tom explained that the strange haze was actually a result of a severe dust storm that had occurred in Oklahoma several days before.  Rick and I were both relieved to finally have an answer for the strange mystery haze.
            We told Tom about our great day of hiking. Tom and I had done the same trip, although we had camped just past Cheoah Bald and hiked down the southern side of the mountain to the Nantahala River when we did it a year past. 

            We explained to Tom about the skinny hound dog and how it had followed us for much of the trail.

            Tom said, “Was it a blue tick hound?  One with a tracking collar?  Skinny as a rail?”

            “Yeah” both Rick and I answered simultaneously, wondering how he would know.

            “That same hound showed up at the Nantahala Outdoor Center late this afternoon.  His name is Spot….. His owner’s name is ……something Hooper” Tom answered and continued to explain. “Yeah that dog showed up while we (a lot of the raft guides) were grabbing a few beers at Slo Joes Pour Over Pub and this skinny hound came walking up.  It looked in pretty bad shape so we checked the collar and called the owner.  He came and got the poor thing.  And you guys know this hound?”

            “Yep. Wondered what happened to him.  I think Rick Scared him off.”  I said and laughed under my breath, hoping they wouldn’t ask why.

            “Why?”  Both brothers asked simultaneously.

            “Must have been the pancakes we had for breakfast…… Aunt Jemima pancakes….Rick ate too many I guess……” and I left it at that.

            They both looked at me as if I was nuts…….never questioned the remark.  Sometimes it’s best to leave some things unsaid and to leave some questions unanswered. 

            It was good to know that the skinny hound found his way home.  Rick and I had a tremendous hike, great views and some great experiences but as we sat around the campfire late that night, we still wondered about that chubby kid.  Would he show up at the Nantahala Outdoor Center the next morning?

Thanks Rick for a great hike…. One of the best…. This trip took place November 2nd through November 4th.











Monday, October 29, 2012



     It was Monday, July 16, 2012. The mid-day temperature was around ninety seven degrees, with little or no breeze. The flag hung listlessly in the stagnant humid air, as close friends and family gathered in the Rotunda of the Veterans Cemetery to honor the passing of a hero.

     As the military chaplain spoke of the heroic actions, contributions and sacrifices this man had acquired through his military career and even enumerating his many contributions to his country, family and friends after the military, the room took on a solemn quietude. There was an occasional sniffle, sometimes an occasional shifting within one’s seat; an attempt to suppress the enormous grief one felt for the loss of their friend or their family member.

     Outside the Rotunda, a full military color guard stood at parade rest as the Military Chaplain described each of the medals that had been awarded to this man during his military career. The Chaplain said the hero’s name was ‘Troy’.

     He would complete his basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia and in 1943 was deployed to the South Pacific where he participated in the liberation of New Guinea and the Philippines. As part of the Army’s infantry, Troy made several beach assaults, especially noted was his participation in the assault at Luzon, Phlippines. These particular military operations are remembered as some of the most bloody, as the Japanese refused to surrender and would simply fight to their deaths. Troy was awarded five medals for his military actions during World War II:

Army Good Conduct Medal
Awarded to any enlisted member of the United States Army who completes three consecutive years of “honorable and faithful service.”

Two Bronze Star Medals (One for his effort in New Guinea and one for the Philippines)
A U.S. Armed Forces individual military decoration and the fourth-highest award for bravery, heroism or meritorious service.

Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal - WWII
Awarded to any member of the United States military who served in the Pacific Theater from 1941 to 1945. The arrowhead device is authorized for those campaigns involving amphibious assaults.

Silver Star Medal
Awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.

     There was an uncomfortable silence as the Chaplain paused in his rhetoric. There were still the occasional sniffle and the soft creak of a chair as one moved about, but the silence was too loud. I at first thought the elderly Chaplain had simply forgotten what he was to say, but I soon realized, as the Chaplain studied the morose faces before him; he was simply allowing his words to coalesce with our mournful emotions. After what seemed to be several minutes, the Chaplain continued, “Outside you see ten soldiers…….another lengthy pause…They are here to impart one of the highest honors for a fallen comrade…….This tradition is done for those that have distinguished themselves in their service……..There are seven riflemen……. And they will fire three volleys…..a tradition which signifies the passing of a hero.” Again the Chaplain paused as if gathering his thoughts and then with a voice that sounded almost fatherly said, “Even though they stand outside the doors of this Rotunda….The first volley fired will be rather loud…. I say this so no one will be too startled…”

     The Chaplain nodded toward the glass walls that surrounded the Rotunda and we gazed to the paved courtyard where the ten soldiers stood at parade rest. There was a moment of complete silence then the Sergeant of Arms commanded in a loud military bark, “Firing Party……Ready……..Aim……….Fire!” a two second pause then… “Fire”….another two second pause….. “Fire!”

     Even having been warned, we all jumped as the first volley was fired. The sounds of the volleys echoed across the hillsides of the vast, green, lawn of the cemetery. The soldiers moved with precision, their movements snapping in sequence as the Sergeant of Arms barked out his commands with conviction. As the last volley’s echo faded and the stillness returned there was the woeful sound of a lone bugle. It was a beautiful, yet mournful sound as Taps was played. The weeping of the bugle’s sound dwelled within the thousands of white grave markers that marked the passing of so many.

     Troy was given this honor for his heroic actions and sacrifice during his service to his country during World War II and even in the beginning of the Korean War. He was a hero to many.

     To me his heroic actions were much different. It was the long hours he spent on community baseball fields teaching me and many other young boys how to play the sport of baseball. Even after a hard day at work, he would spend the next few hours driving around town picking up friends of mine, giving them a ride to the ball park for practice. The baseball fields were not much more than sandlots. The team’s gear consisted of taped bats, a ripped and taped catcher’s vest, and a catcher’s mitt that had been chewed by neighborhood canines to the point of unrecognizable purpose. I and the other young boys were dressed in t-shirts, jeans, and high top sneakers. We all proudly wore baseball caps with our team’s insignia as well as did Troy, our coach. Troy spent his afternoons teaching us the rules of the game of baseball, the proper technique to field a ground ball and the proper hitting stance, but most importantly, he taught us that winning was not everything. Play the best you can, he realized that not everyone had the talent, give everyone the opportunity to play, and have fun. I would be well into my thirties before I fully realized how important Troy was not only to me, but to many other young boys in the community.

     Troy would take the kids fishing, baiting the hooks, and watched as we would attempt to catch the ‘big one’. He never cared to fish himself. I never saw him stand with a fishing rod in his hand once. He simply wanted to give the kids the opportunity to have fun.

     As I grew older, nearing high school, I became interested in the sport of track and field. I would spend many afternoons training, practicing, wanting to be that next famous long distance runner. Troy would take me to many of the track and field events around town, encouraging me to be the best I could be, although, I think he knew all along that I was too slow. He always seemed to find a way to praise me, even when I came in last.
    Troy would be the driver when I first began to date. Usually it would be me and my date and another couple and the four of us would sit in the back seat as he would sit in the driver’s seat, glancing periodically in the rear view mirror, grinning, as I attempted to steal my first kiss. I was even slow at that!

     Troy was at my wedding and admitted to me later that he shed a few tears during the ceremony, realizing that I had become an adult. He did not attempt to give me advice on how to be a good husband or a good father, he simply taught me by example. I now have been married over thirty years and everyday I attempt to be as good as husband and father as he was, although I feel I fall way short.

     Troy never graduated from high school. He spent much of his youth delivering groceries with his brother Mose, to help support their family. Troy’s father abandoned the family when Troy was a toddler, leaving Troy’s mother to take care of the four children. They were poor. To Troy’s credit, he somehow overcame the odds and even though he never was rich, he managed to provide a comfortable life for he and his family.

     Over the last ten years I became much closer to Troy. It could be because I saw his health deteriorating and I simply wanted to share what time he had left. In truth, I believe that as I grew older, I began to realize how smart, how genuine, and how giving he truly was. I in someway, wanted to repay him. I had the opportunity to take Troy to his favorite breakfast hang-out on several occasions. It would change over the years, from Krystal to Hardee’s, but he would always meet his buddies there for breakfast, drinking coffee, talking sports, politics and many other topics that would strike their fancy. His friends were of all ages; college kids to many much older than himself. Having met many of them, they would always find a way to tell me how much Troy had meant to them and how good a friend he was. What I began to regret was that even though I knew how much Troy had meant to me, I could never find a way to tell him. I wanted to thank him, to hug him, to tell him I loved him but I could never find the words or the right moment. I sometimes felt our conversations were somewhat strained. I looking for the right words to express my gratitude and love, he humble enough to let it pass unspoken.
     I stood, starring at the simple, white marble headstone and wept. It marked the final resting place of a man that had influenced so many; a man that sacrificed so much, just so that so many could have.

     The headstone’s inscription said:


SSgt. Troy M. Morgan

Jan.11, 1925 – Jul. 11, 2012

Always Loyal to His Country, Family and Friends

     I could not help but reflect on the days that I had spent with him. The days that I never quite understood him and then later in life as I matured, realizing how much I did love and admire him. Understanding the lessons, the coaching, he had given me, just by how honorably he had lived his life. He was a hero……My Friend….. My Dad.

     On July 6th, 2012, I was fortunate to be by my father’s bedside, in the hospital, as he fought to survive. He was conscious and smiling weakly as he realized I was there with him. I held his hand and patted his shoulder much as he would do me on the baseball field, giving me encouragement and support. I searched within myself for the words that might give him some comfort. With a voice, quivering with restrained grief, I met his gaze and said, “I love you Dad.” He gave me a weak squeeze with his hand and nodded a weak acknowledgement. He knew………….

Troy M.Morgan, my hero, died on July 11, 2012. He will be missed.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Not So Good 'Good Old Days'

I was one of the 3.9 million babies born in the United States in 1952. We were the products of what would eventually be termed the Baby Boom.

The Baby Boom actually began in 1946 and continued to increase until 1964 when it began to taper. There have been several theories attempting to explain the reason for the birth rate increase. Some say that it was people trying to reach some normalcy after sixteen years of depression and war. Some say that it was part of a Cold War campaign to fight communism by simply outnumbering the communists. I think it was simply a sense of optimism and hope that eventually emerged following the depression and the war that brought not only young, married, twenty year olds to the maternity wards, but also older married couples in their late thirties, who had postponed having children due to war and hard times. Many people during the postwar era began to look forward to having children because they were confident that the future would be one of comfort and prosperity, and in many ways they were right.

In 1952, Harry Truman was President but by year end, Dwight Eisenhower was elected by a wide margin over Adlai Stevenson. It should be noted that during 1952, the United States detonated it’s first Hydrogen Bomb and Britain developed their on Atomic bomb. The arms race was booming just as the population. With the Soviet Union entering the race there was a standoff, each country daring the other to strike first. This became known as the Cold War. Even though most adults had a sense of optimism for the future during this postwar era, I remember as a child something very different. There seemed to be a type of nuclear war hysteria that permeated most levels of society. Most every public building had posted the yellow and black triangle signs designating where the nearest fall out shelter was located. I also remember in elementary school having bomb drills, where we would be instructed to get beneath our desks and tuck ourselves into a ball. We also had what was termed walk out’s. I’m not sure if these were done everywhere, but with our proximity to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where most of the actual construction of the nuclear weapons was being done, made east Tennessee a possible and likely target for a nuclear strike. Walk-outs were simply a drill performed at public schools where the students were made to walk home and were timed. Somehow the people in charge seemed to think that if a student could walk home within a half-hour, then they would somehow be safer during a nuclear attack. I had also been instructed by my parents that in case of an attack, and I walked home, that I was to seek shelter in our next door neighbors basement, which was somewhat a bomb shelter. It may have been the Good Old Days to some, but as a child, I was terrified.

During the year of 1952, the average life expectancy was sixty-eight years. Given the increases in the cases of cancer, and the inability to curb such diseases as polio, measles and whooping cough, sixty-eight years may have been more optimistic than it should. There were 57,000 children paralyzed by polio in 1952 and 3,300 people died from this terrible disease before Jonas Salt developed the first experimentally safe dead-virus vaccine for Polio the same year.

Tobacco smoking was so prevalent that as a child we felt almost obligated to smoke. I remember my friend and I buying Swisher Sweet Cigars when we were eleven years old and smoking them routinely. In high school there were designated smoking areas, where students (freshmen through seniors) and frequently teachers would take a ten minute break and smoke their Camels. Advertisements that ran regularly on television would proclaim, “Winstons taste good like a cigarette should,” or “I’d walk a mile for a camel,” and the macho cowboy would come riding up and light up, inhaling deeply and displaying such pleasure that who wouldn’t want to be like the ‘Marlboro Man?’ It should also be noted that even though we had television, it was only in black and white. In my hometown, there were only three channels and only one of those was clear. We had to twist rabbit ears that sat atop the large, wooden box that housed the conglomeration of tubes and wires that somehow magically produced a somewhat recognizable image. Television shows such as Dragnet, Arthur Godfrey and Friends, Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, I Love Lucy, and children’s shows such as Sky King, My Friend Flicka , Howdy Doody, and The Lone Ranger were just a few. In most every episode the characters would perform, providing entertainment for the young and old, and doing so with a cigarette dangling from their lips, blowing smoke rings as they rode off into the sunset.

People talk about the Good Old Days and say things such as, “I remember when gas was 19 cents a gallon,” or “brand new car in 1952 cost only $1700,” and the average cost of a new home was only $16,800.” This sounds almost unbelievable until you realize that the average annual income in 1952 was only $3,890 and the federal minimum wage was 75 cents per hour. The first microwave oven was produced during 1952 and was the size of a refrigerator and cost a mere $1200, almost as much as a new car.

Seat belts were first introduced to the automobile industry in 1952. That fact actually amazes me, because I don’t ever remember seeing one until the late 60’s. Even when seatbelts became a routine accessory on an auto, they were not used. If I remember right the theory was something like this, “What if you wreck and your car catches on fire? By the time you get your seat belt off you’ll burn up!” Yeah…. right. Yep no seatbelt for me, I’ll just shove it down between the creases of the seat, where all of the lost french fries, Goobers, and 3 cent postage stamps are….no one will ever see them.”

Infant car seats were unheard of in 1952 and for at least a decade after that. I don’t remember seeing my first car seat until I was thirty and that was when I purchased one for my first child. As a child with a brother and sister, our seat was always the backseat. The parents would always ride in the front, bench seat. On hot days you could only hope that you were lucky enough to capture one of the seats by the window, because there was no air conditioner on the car. If you were lucky enough to capture a window seat, it was your job and duty to crank, no power windows then, the windows down and push the small vent window out to direct as much refreshing air to the rest of the vehicle as possible. On long trips it became unbearable to be confined in the back seat of a 1958 Buick with your brother and sister. Inevitably they would touch you, which would start a series of whining to the parents, “Momma……. Ronnie touched me……tell him to stop…. Momma…….” If you were lucky they would let you sit, or actually lay, in the prime seat of the car……. the back window ledge above the back seat. I could almost stretch out completely up until I was ten years old in that back window. The sun scorching your back side and your head bouncing against the felt covered board that housed a couple of tiny speakers blaring static music from the mono, Am, radio. But at least Ronnie wasn’t touching me.

I received my first bicycle at the age of seven. It was a red, twenty-four inch bike with fat tires and enough steel in it’s construction to build two Sherman tanks. I dressed it with some red and black streamers that dangled from the handgrips and by using clothespins and a couple of playing cards the bike roared to life as I sped down a hill. I would attach the cards to the frame of the bike with the clothespins and the cards protruded into the spokes of the front and rear wheels. As I coasted down the hill at break neck speed, the cards would clap and chatter, producing a sound that to me resembled a roaring engine. The bike was so heavy I usually just walked it up a hill, the cards still clapping, but sounding more like the tick tock of the grandfather clock at home. But once at the top of hill, off I would go, streamers flying, no shirt, no shoes, no helmet and no hands……..clap..clap…clap…. ROAR! I never wore a helmet when riding a bicycle until I was in my late twenties.

We as children played much differently than the children of today. We were outdoors much more often, climbing trees and sometimes falling out of them, scouting the woods playing army or cowboys and Indians. There were no cell phones to stay in touch with our parents. We simply knew when lunch and supper was and would mosey toward the house at that time. Sometimes the time would catch us by surprise and we would hear off in the distance our mother yelling at the top of her lungs, “Jeff…… Ronnie….. Jeff…..Lunch.” We would usually get a short reprimand from our mother for making her yell for us, but my playmates and I would sit on the back porch eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches with ice cold lemonade, woofing it down in a few bites to hurry back to our games in the woods. There were no electronic games to keep us entertained. There were board games such as Monopoly, Checkers, Chinese Checkers, and we would routinely play tic tack toe, drawing the boxes, x’s and o’s in the dirt and erasing each game with the sweep of our foot. There were of course team sports that we played, such as baseball, football, and basketball which we would play in small patches of somewhat flat land. Baseball was played with wooden bats and we wore no helmets or protective gear. We would configure the diamond using logs or large rocks as bases. The field was so small that there were numerous broken windows from foul balls or erroneous throws to the neighboring houses. Soccer was hardly even heard of and the closest we ever came to playing soccer was participating in a game called Kick Ball. This was played much like baseball but was done with a soccer size ball and kicked into play. Games such as Hide and Seek, playing Tag, and Simon Sez, were just a few more that we played routinely. After dark we could be found catching lightening bugs, seeing who could catch the most, sometimes pinching off their glowing ends and placing them on our finger for a glorious glowing ring. Hula hoops, Cork ball, roller skates with keys, Kick the Can, Jacks, and Pick up Stix all kept us busy and entertained.

Where I grew up in East Tennessee, there was very little illicit drug use. Drugs in general did not seem to be a problem in society, except in large urban areas such as New York City, until the 1970’s. ‘Flower Children’, Hippies, Vietnam, and all of the anti-war hype seemed to have spurred the drug revolution that eventually branched into most every part of society by the mid 70’s. Even though illicit drug use did not appear to be a problem in high school, the drinking of alcohol was. Drinking Schlitz Beer from quart bottles was a Friday night past time. With windows down and the radio blasting out tunes such as Herman’s Hermits, “I’m Into Something Good” or Gerry and The Pacemakers, “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” and The Beatles, Dave Clark Five, and The Beach Boys, we cruised the streets. Cars with four or five guys, all in their teens, cruising the drive-in diners, passing the quart bottle of Schlitz around the car, smoking Marlboro’s, attempting to be like our favorite heroes such as Sean Connery, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, and Steve McQueen. Teen girls would also frequent the drive-in diners and this provided a great venue for teens to show off their cars and do a little flirting.

Drive-in theatres were also popular during my teen years. It was a great place to take a date, because all you paid was 75 cents each to get in and then you would find a parking spot toward the back of the lot and make-out, we called in necking back then, for the length of the movie. Guys would sometimes go as a group. The driver and one passenger would drive through the ticket booth, paying for only two, while three or four guys would be shut in the trunk of the car, successfully avoiding the cost. Once inside and parked, the driver would unlock the trunk and the four or five guys would enjoy the movie, sipping on their quarts of Schlitz.

I have a lot of good memories of the 50’s and 60’s and in some ways I too feel like those were the ‘Good Old Days’, but looking back, it was a wonder we survived. Unfortunately, many of my friends did not. Some were lost in Vietnam, some to drugs in the 70’s, some to cancer, liver disease and tragic accidents. I feel fortunate to have experienced those days that are sometimes referred to as the ‘Good Old Days’ but I am also glad that things are better now. I believe children which are being raised in the present, have many more advantages than we had in the 50’s. With the advances in medicine, safer automobiles, more stringent laws to curb drunk driving and underage drinking, laws prohibiting tobacco sales to minors and the use of seatbelts, bicycle helmets and cell phones for emergencies, the world is much safer now and if approached with the right attitude, it can be rewarding and provide a lot of good memories for years into the future.

I have fond memories of many of my friends and I am saddened that so many have passed on. I feel the loss at the strangest times. When I eat a peanut butter and banana sandwich, see a quart bottle of beer in a convenient store, or a pack of Swisher Sweet Cigars, hear an old tune of the Beatles or the Beach Boys. The memories I have for these I loved as friends will be with me forever, warming my heart and making me so thankful I had the opportunity to call them a friend. To the friends that have passed on, I thank you for the wonderful memories:

Barry Anfinson, Dennis Armstrong, Garry Berrier, Danny Coker, Ben Foust, Gary Gilbert, Beth Maples, Joel Pike, Randy Seals, Chris Settle, Kenny Smiddy, and Henry Thomas, James Davis, Brenda Dyer, Gene Galford, Michael Hurst, Linda Kidwell, Mary Murman, Patti Walker, Teddy Welch and Mary Williams.