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Many years I’ve spent drawing a good sharp knife across a stick of cedar.  From an early age whittling captivated me. Some folks say it’s an art form. Others say it is merely a waste of time.  For others, myself included it is soothing.  Time was that you couldn’t round a city square without seeing old men sitting on benches whittling away. Each day they made huge piles of shavings.  I’ve done this for nigh on forty  years.  All this time I’ve been missing something. That is until today.

Today was like most any other. I came in from work, tired. I had a few errands to run. Some of the ever present list of chores to take care of around the house. I stopped and did my Aunt’s grocery shopping first thing.  Next it was time to haul off the trash. I even finally remembered to take some of the cardboard boxes off to the recycle bin as well.

Once home it was too nice to go to sleep. I needed to get outside and do a little something. Believe me when I say they’ll always be something to do around here. I’ll never get caught up. Today I soaked up some much needed vitamin D. I built a little fire out back in the fire pit. Burning up some old limbs that I’d cut from a tree. Nothing big. I kept it small on purpose. In between feeding the fire I decided to spruce up the ole fire pit a little. Added some larger border to encircle the flaming embers.

Once that was completed it was time to play with my two loyal companions. Bella and Jordan. My two dogs.  It is amazing how relaxing it was simply sitting on that folding stool and watching the dogs and the fire.  I took the opportunity to do a little whittling.  That always takes me back. So many memories of sitting around a show ring watching a Friday or Saturday night Walking Horse Show.  Then there was always the Celebration in Shelbyville.

Drawing that blade from my trusty Buck knife across that stick of cedar it hit me. All those years seeing those old men on courthouse squares made sense.  They weren’t simply making little curly cues.  Even the ones who made things weren’t.  Uncle Buddy was a talented whittler. He made pliers and little wooden boxes with balls inside.  What I finally understood was that whittling is life.

Each of us receives our stick of wood. What we do with it is up to us. We can slowly draw our blade across and make tiny curly cues. We can hack away abruptly at it and shave of large jagged portions.  Either way we will dull our blades. Much like life, whittling takes time and work and a good knife to cut through it. We must take the time to hone the edge on our blade. Making it sharp enough to slice our way through the wood.

Nobody’s cedar stick is alike. Some are pretty red and smooth. Others are mixed white and red wood. Most, unless we’ve been given the best of the best will have knots. We have to decide what to do when we reach those knots. Will we turn and go the other way? Will we avoid them? Will we hone our knife and keep chipping away at it until we remove it?

Take the wood. That sweet aromatic red cedar is beautiful to both our eyes and and sense of smell.  Sometimes our cedar has that white, softer wood. Although not as aromatic and certainly not as easy to whittle, still we much slice away. Once we get through the soft,, white wood we’ll make it to the beautiful, fragrant, red cedar. The choice is ours. Do we work through it? Do we simply move on?

We can look at our life as a huge stick of cedar. Sometimes we split that huge stick to make much smaller sticks. Those smaller sticks are like periods in our life. There will be times when life is smooth. Our blade will remain sharp and swiftly move through the wood.

Other times our stick will be rough and filled with knots. Many times our blade will become dull. Many times we will want to say to hell with it and simply give up.  The choice is ours. As for myself I find it difficult to go on most times here lately. Years ago there was nothing that could stop me. As I age I take pause to hopefully make wise choices as to the path I’ll take. I don’t always choose wisely.  Thus far I’ve been able to continue. Working on that knotty part of life causes the need for me to sharpen my knife. Sometimes it seems as though it will take forever to slowly chip away at that knot. Eventually I’ll figure out a way to get that knot cut out.

Life often will be rough. Much like that knotty cedar stick. But if we can keep drawing our blades across that wood we will be rewarded. We can look at all those many curly cues lying at our feet. We can smell the sweet fragrance of our labors. Each one telling its own story. Each one a chapter in our life.  Let’s keep our knives sharp so that when we grow old we can look back at that pile of shavings and smile. Look back knowing that although it hasn’t always been easy we finally made it. We finally get to smell the fragrance and enjoy the fruits of all our labors.

How long has it been since you truly looked at labels when buying something?  I want to challenge you to do that the next time you are out shopping. See how difficult it is to find something made in America.

Before anyone get’s their panties in a wad, let me say I realize it is a global economy these days.  In fact I have readers to this very blog from 74 countries around the world.  I want to thank each and every one of you who takes time to read my posts. I’m humbled and grateful for all of you. No matter where you are located you can buy American made products. So try them out if you haven’t.

I suppose that I have known for years now about the decline in American manufacturing. Hell I’ve worked in transportation for damn near three decades. I’ve witnessed it first hand. But it has gone on too long. We barely have anything made here anymore.

I recently tried to find a pair of black boots made in America. The huge boot store I was shopping in didn’t have any. In fact they had very few American made boots period. I couldn’t make myself pay over $200 for a pair made in China. I could not nor would not buy them.  This was the straw that broke this ole boys back.  I decided right then and there that I would do everything in my power to find, purchase and promote American made products.

That’s where you come in. I want to know about American made products. I want to hear from you. Send me messages here on my blog. Make a comment to this post and I will see them.  We can make a difference. We can get this grass roots effort going. Let’s share all the American made products that we love and use. Let’s reward these companies for keeping their jobs here. Let’s reward them for standing on the principal  of American made by American workers. We can bring this country of ours back to the greatness that it once was.

I believe this. I also believe you do too. The time is now. Step up and do your part.  I look forward to hearing from you.

“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”

Viktor E. Frankl
Man’s Search For Meaning

Shortly after heading out on my run Friday night I received word of the passing of my Aunt Jimmie.  It hit hard.  So many memories passing through my mind. Emotions overflowing. But you know something? Not one single negative thought. How wonderful is that? I don’t have a single negative memory of her. Nor do I know of anyone ever saying anything negative about her. Not to mention I’ve never heard her say anything negative about anyone.

How beautiful is it to have known and been loved by such a one as she? I remember back in third grade when I was learning to write. We were supposed to write a letter to someone. I wrote my letter to Aunt Jimmie. Wow, that was a long time ago.  Aunt Jimmie and Uncle Rudy came to my high school graduation way back in 1986. I was so proud that they made the trip up to Nashville to be there. It was rare that they came to visit so this was truly special for me.

I can’t write about my wonderful memories of my beloved Aunt without mentioning food. She and Uncle Rudy always had a big garden. I loved sitting down to a meal at their house. Oh the vegetables she would cook. Crowder peas, green beans, and butter beans were but a few.  The pickles. My oh my those pickles. Never before and never again will there be any pickles to compare to hers.

Breakfast memories are the best. She would make her biscuits from scratch. Rolling out the dough and taking a glass to cut out her bite sized biscuits. She would fill that cast iron griddle with those little pieces of heaven.

She had a way of scrambling eggs like no other. I’ve tried to scramble them like hers for the better part of 40 years. I’ve never been able to come close to hers.

After the passing of my Daddy back in 1987 she and Uncle Rudy were my shelter in the storm. They always made me feel special.  She and Uncle Rudy never were fond of my facial hair. Once Uncle Rudy told me that he wanted me to be a pall bearer at his funeral. There was one catch. He wanted me to be clean shaven. I gave him my word and honored his request. Not long after Uncle Rudy’s passing Aunt Jimmie asked me to promise her the same thing.

If you see me or photos of me in the next few days, you’ll know why I’m clean shaven. I hope that seeing my boyish face will make you think of my wonderful Aunt. I also hope she and Uncle Rudy are looking down and enjoying knowing I’ve kept my promise to them. I can still hear their voices.

Here I sit midway through yet another workweek.  Supper has been cooked, eaten and cleaned up. Never enough time anymore. Listening to some music trying to get my mind right. So many thoughts and struggles passing through my grey matter. Somehow I doubt I’ll ever know the answers. 

The shortened daylight hours are a good example of how the days feel to me. Granted I spend my nights trucking across the highways and byways of this land. But those nights are necessary to enable me to take care of other responsibilities. I dream of the day when I can work during the daylight. However that will be a bitter sweet time. 

The roller coaster ride that is my life is not unlike the roads that wind their way across the hills and hollows of my beloved Tennessee. Twisting, turning, climbing and falling. Sometimes sharing the road with others. Many times walking through life alone. Each bend another challenge. Each crossroad another choice. 

The road I travel is long and tiresome. The heavy burden of the load causes me to grow weary.  Though not as strong as in times past, I journey on.  I need and take more breaks these days.  Those many loads have and are taking their toll upon me. Both in the physical and the emotional sense. 

My fate belongs to me and the way in which I react to others. That reaction time may have slowed over the years. Some ways that is good. Other ways not so much.  Taking a moment to empty a few thoughts is often good for me.  One of life’s simple pleasures.  Having so many that take the time to review my writings adds to that pleasure. Another is the enjoyment of a refreshing beverage.  So for now I’m going to enjoy one more glass of tea. Then it’s off into another night’s journey along life’s highway. 

It’s true! I believe that you will agree once you’ve read what I have to say. How often anymore do you hear the voices? Be honest. I bet it isn’t all that often. Sometimes I can go all day and not hear a single voice.  Other times I can make it a day or two. 

Mostly there are text and checking social media instead. Especially this time of year I check the weather. I can get directions. I can find out damn near anything. I take photographs. Within seconds from taking them I can post them to social media. Boom! They are instantly world wide. 

I use apps for texting and photo sharing. I use apps for music. I use apps for email. There’s an app for damn near everything. Amazing what all we can do. But really, when have you actually heard the voices? I bet not very often. 

There are generations growing up today that don’t have a clue that phones were once only in houses or businesses. Who remembers the pay phone? When’s the last time you tried to find one? For those of you who live on the road I bet you remember when truckstops had phones at the tables. That is when they actually had sit down eating places instead of fast food.  There were even rows of phone booths at one time. 

Seldom do I hear the voices on my phone anymore. Well, unless you count the voices talking back to me from certain applications. But not the human voices. We are quickly becoming a world that doesn’t talk. We text. When share photos. We blog. We don’t handwrite things and we don’t talk via our phones much anymore. 

Nope. I don’t hear the voices much anymore at all. Do you?

Far too often and especially this time of year we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life. It’s go go go. Now if you’re a go-go girl then that’s a good thing. But for the rest of us it can be hectic. Not to mention this is the time of year that everyone and every charity seems to have their hand out wanting our money. 

Holidays are nice. Having the time off work has become more important to me than the money. Speaking of money. Holidays usually don’t pay as much as a regular work day. For some they don’t pay at all. Take the small business owner. If they don’t work they don’t make money.  Yet these are some of the main people that are targeted when people are looking for donations. 

To me it seems as though some of these charities spend way more money asking for money than they do on their charity. You make a donation one time because someone you know was doing a walk, run or some other fundraiser and see how many years you keep getting pestered by the charity. 

Only you can decide what is right or wrong for you to spend you hard earned money on. Hell, you don’t even have to spend money. Perhaps you volunteer. Giving your time and talents is a valuable donation too. Don’t think that because you don’t have money to give that you can’t do something.  You would be amazed at the organizations who need folks to make phone calls, file papers and help organize for events and such. 

Look around you. There are people near everyone of us who need help. Your knowledge after going through a hardship. Simply sitting down over a cup of coffee and having a long conversation to encourage someone can do wonders. Maybe you know a single parent that could use a hand watching their kids. Picking up a few extra items at the grocery and dropping them off to someone can make all the difference. 

So you don’t feel comfortable doing these things. Okay. How about picking up a gift card to a local store or even say a Visa gift card from your bank. Mail it anonymously to someone. $20 can get someone over the hump until payday. Say they have enough food in the cabinets to make it but they don’t hardly have enough gas to get all the errands done. Boom! Gas money. 

Sure we don’t always all get along. Lord knows I do my share of pissing people off. But there are things all of us can do. We can do it anytime throughout the year. It doesn’t have to just happen during the Holidays.  Often we hear of people paying for the person’s order behind them in the drive through. There are many more things we can do. 

Taking the time to do something small can leave a lasting impression on someone. For one it gives them hope. Hope that all isn’t lost. Hope that all folks aren’t bad. Look around you. There are people hurting and struggling. Some you may never know because they are masters at hiding it. We don’t have to donate millions for it to matter. 

When it comes down to it we are a just another link in the chain. 

Here I am nearing the end of my vacation. Not unlike the vacations of the past few years. Most of them don’t turn out the way that I have them envisioned.  However, I did enjoy some much needed relaxation and rest.

This is the time of year that I get to sit down and enjoy some special time with a few of the folks near and dear to my heart.  One of the only times of the year that I ever get the sense that I am a part of a family. Having a pretty little freckle face girl call me Uncle Ron fills me with joy. Hearing the laughter at comments I make while letting a fine meal settle reminds me of the Thanksgiving times of my youth. Memories of some of my favorite gatherings.

I hope in some small way I’ve been a part in making memories for these young ones too. Something they can hold to long after I’m gone.  These special times along with time spent with my adopted older brother are what keeps me going. Those early morning laughter filled phone calls light up my heart much like the rising sun.

There are yet other family members that I have. They have fur and four legs.  Sitting on a rock in the middle of a patch of woods today brought me much joy. The little dog that accompanied me brings me great comfort. The vision of watching her working her nose. The potential that she has bred into her. Now to unlock that potential.

My other furry four legged friend was happy to see us upon our return. A dog is always grateful to see you. Period. They give you unconditional love. There is truth to the phrase that they are man’s best friend.

Time spent alone in nature is never wasted. Opening my mind to all those hounds of my past. The memories that thirty-six year old shotgun bring.  The lessons learned through the decades of wandering the hills, hollows, bottomland and riverbanks of Tennessee are priceless. Each step is filled with memories and lessons yet to learn.

As much as the interactions I’ve had with others over the years have moulded me. These times spent alone in nature are responsible for making me the way I am.

Crisp bluebird skies gave the impression of springtime. One short breath of the frigid air reminded me of the reality of late fall.  The season in which I feel most alive.  Oddly enough I was headed to the cemetery.  Somehow feeling alive urges me to visit the grave of my Daddy.  He lives on in memories that I hold to dearly.  The site of his burial is down the hill from a spot he spent much of his time during the 50′s and 60′s.

Every visit I make to his grave puts my mind into overdrive. Days like yesterday are pleasing to me.  Days when I don’t have to be anywhere. Days in which I have time to wander and wonder.  Driving down roads that are filled with memories.  Passing through time as if they recently occurred.  These journeys are often painful. Yet it’s that pain that keeps me company.  The ever-present  reminder.

Wandering aimlessly I found myself nearing the workplace of someone near and dear to me.  After a phone conversation I learned that they had company in from out of town.  These people are family. They love me unconditionally as such. They are in the tiny elite group that I depend on.  I worked my way to their house and spent the rest of me evening there.

I’m fairly certain that it has been a couple years since I’ve seen their daughter.  She lovingly refers to me as the big brother she never wanted. We pick and pester one another like siblings do.  She fusses at her mother. Her mother sets her straight.  Her two beautiful daughters keep us entertained.  Picking and laughing and fussing. It was a fun filled night. A night I will cherish. A night of feeling like and truly being family.

Later today I will experience this yet again. I am fortunate enough to spend the evening with a lifelong friend. Someone that knows both good and bad about me. I am amazed daily that we survived our sixteenth year on this earth.  Man did we have fun.  I get to be immersed in the love of family here too. His beautiful wife and wonderful children are precious gifts that I have been blessed with.  The visiting. The food. The stories. The catching up.  The smiles of that pretty little freckle face girl. My heart will be running over with happiness.

Also today I’ll be thinking of some folks who don’t live close by. People who are extremely important and special to me. People in other states. People I don’t see near enough. People that have opened  their home to me as a refuge. Someone I call my brother. Someone I respect and love along with his wonderful girlfriend. Good people that mean more than they’ll ever know.

I think of another couple today. A couple that moved a short distance away. They mean the world to me as well. Showing me that they cared. Sticking beside me through some of the darkest times of my life. People that I am forevermore indebted to. People that accept me without question.

Finally I think of someone who has been a part of my life since junior high school. Someone that I could never replace. Someone who I don’t spend near enough time with. Simply knowing they are there is the most comforting of all. Knowing that I’m here for her no matter what. Being the on to get that phone call. Hearing the tears or the laughter. Filling me with love.

I’m truly blessed to have this small group. They each are a part of my life for a reason. They happened into my life and left their permanent  mark upon me. These people may not be blood kin, but they are more closely connected to me than almost anyone else upon this planet. They are my compass and map. They are my dousing rod. They are my whipping post. They keep my together when I can’t do it myself.

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in America. A day to be thankful. I’ve been abundantly blessed in oh so many ways throughout my life. The most valuable of blessings are these people.

 

There once was a time that vacations took planning. For months they were planned out. What would my destination be? What will I take? How will I get there?  Will I ask anyone to join me?

I’ve reached a point in life that I don’t plan out things very far ahead, if at all. Being the lone caregiver for my elderly Mother and Aunt doesn’t afford me that luxury. It seems if I try to plan things that means a certain impending cancellation.  I think it’s better to simply fly by the seat of my pants anyway.

Being on a schedule five nights a week causes me to not want any such planning when I’m off work.  Sure I’ll have a general idea of what I want to do. But if if doesn’t pan out I try not to be too pissed off about it.

Thanks to social media I’ve been able to see what’s going on at a place I once couldn’t wait to be. There were a few years that I loved trekking to West Virginia to deer hunt over the Thanksgiving week. I carry some very fond memories of those times.  There are a few other such memories as well.

I haven’t been one to participate in the month long giving of thanks in social media posts. I try to be thankful daily for the blessings I’ve received.  Honestly there have been many.  Far more than I deserve for sure.  The biggest of blessings have been a handful of people.  People that have remained my friends. People who are my family.  People who love and accept me in spite of myself.  It’s not easy doing so.

In this time of the year when the days are short and the nights are long we tend to reflect. Pulling up memories of years since past on. It’s bitter sweet. There are those we love dearly who’ve gone before. Forever leaving an emptiness within our hearts. There are those who simply don’t communicate with us anymore.  For reasons  known only to them, they come around no more. Still we hold them within our hearts. Hanging to that dangling thread of hope. Someday they will reconnect.  Never knowing if it will be so.

For all the joy, happiness and love that circles about this time of year there is also heartache and sorrow. Remember that it’s not a wonderful time for everyone.  For some it drives the knife deeper into the wounds.

Still there are new beginnings. Budding friendships. Tender relationships working their way through the fertile soil of our souls.  Giving off the glimmer of hope. Projecting the possibilities that lie before us.

So I take these few days off to rest my weary body and soul. Feeling refreshed and anew. Thinking of the ones I love both old and new. The special people who left their mark on my being. All those who took the time to shape and mold the man I’ve become.  Occasionally stumbling across yet another artisan who has just the right tool to make their mark. Strong enough to remove but a little of that rust on my outer shell.

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