Adam’s Apples – College memories

By James Mack Adams

It seems to me many university graduates reach senior citizenship status before they have any interest in returning to campus for alumni weekends and other such events. That can be explained. During our prime years, we are busy with work, career, and family. As far as the old alma mater is concerned, we have been there, done that, and are ready to move on. No looking back. Right? 

That feeling will sometimes change after our working life ends and retirement begins. Memories from our past start to kick in. We wonder how the old university has changed since we walked its halls in our white buckskin shoes those many years ago. We remember classmates and friends and try to visualize how they must look now. Would we recognize them? Would they remember us? Yearbook pictures might not be too helpful 50 or 60 years later. We might, however, recognize the twinkle in the eyes, the shape of a chin, the gait in a walk. 

I am writing this from personal experience. I graduated from East Tennessee State College, now East Tennessee State University, in June 1957. I never returned for an alumni homecoming, nor had a real desire to, until the spring of 2007. That was the year the class of 1957 was honored, and its members were inducted into the university’s “Golden Fifties” club.

Jo and I have attended the annual “Golden Fifties” reunions for the past several years. She and I were classmates during our years at ETSC. Jo volunteered for several years as a class agent for the reunions. Her job was to make personal contacts with alumni and encourage them to attend. 

My first impression on my return to ETSU was that things certainly have changed since the day I received that coveted degree. During those years I was away, my little college grew up to be a major university. It is still growing.

I recall attending the freshman class orientation in the fall of 1953. If my memory is correct, at least half or more of the incoming freshman class could be seated in the auditorium of the old Administration building. Dr. Burgin Dossett was the president of ETSC. Frank G. Clement was the governor of Tennessee. James H. Quillen (Quillen College of Medicine) was elected to the Tennessee General Assembly in 1954.

The Korean War was in cease fire, and many veterans were enrolling in ETSC under the GI Bill.  I remember Jesse Hurst and Woodson Harris, two combat vets of the 24th Infantry Division and residents of Rogersville. 

Woodson and Jesse became my housemates on one of the tree streets.  Jesse was rather quiet and reserved, but Woodson shared stories of being dug in at night only a few yards from the enemy positions. A shrapnel scar from an enemy grenade was visual evidence of his combat service.

Under the universal military training legislation, all physically able male students were required to take two years of military training through the ROTC program. Veterans were exempt. The training involved classroom instruction and military drill. I wanted to try for a commission, so I applied and was accepted for the four-year ROTC program. Twelve members of my commissioning class attended the 2007 reunion. Some have since passed.

I still try to attend ROTC events on campus when I can. One day I was chatting with two cadets in Brooks Gym. One of the cadets asked me what years I attended ETSU. I told him, “Well, when I was a student here, Madison Brooks, whose name is on this building, was the basketball coach.” He looked at me like he was thinking, ‘This guy is old as dirt.’ Of course, he was too respectful to comment.

The mode of student campus dress was very different in the 1950s. The style was shirt and slacks for boys and skirts and tops for girls. Shorts were worn only during athletic participation.  Jeans were a no-no. 

Jo and I now often take a short cut through part of the campus when driving to medical appointments on State of Franklin. In doing so we observe students on their way to or from classes. We laugh together and jokingly say, “Ella Ross would be appalled.” Ross was dean of women during our campus days.

It’s the same place, but a different time. Several young people in our Parish are now enrolled in ETSU. They love to hear Jo and me tell stories about how it was in ‘the old days.’ And we love to share them.

Officer Norway’s Corner – Remembering my last mission overseas

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

My last mission overseas, this time on behalf of both the UN and NATO, came up in the spring of 1995. The Balkan civil war had been going on since the spring of 1992, and a multi-national UN force had since that year, with various success and indeed serious setbacks, been deployed to the area.

Norway decided in the spring of 1995 to send down to Bosnia a mechanized infantry platoon, which was tasked to provide security to the many supplies and aid convoys going into the area of operations. During this time the mission was under a UN mandate, a mandate the UN struggled to uphold. We operated Finish made Patria Pasi (SISU) armed personnel carriers (APC) with a heavy machine gun mounted on top, and a crew of 11, a driver, commander, the heavy machine gunner, and 8 light infantry soldiers in the back.

Even with this setup, because of a rather weak mandate and, confusing rules of engagement, we often found ourselves being stopped and held back in various military checkpoints. The checkpoints were usually operated by just a couple of militia soldiers from one local militia or another who knew our situation and would indeed take full advantage of controlling our movements in our area of operations, which was frustrating for us to say the least.

We were stationed at a former Bosnian military air base in a city named Tuzla. For many months we would take frequent incoming artillery attacks from nearby mountain tops where Serbian forces had set up artillery positions for the sole purpose of harassing us at the air base. During one of the attacks, a Norwegian soldier was killed when the vehicle he was driving to get to a shelter was struck by an artillery shell.

On Dec. 20, 1995, the UN mission as a result of the Dayton Agreement was transferred over to NATO. We had just a few short weeks of getting all our vehicles painted from the UN white color to their original camouflage paint scheme. Apparently, this change in mandate did not reach the guys covering the Serb artillery positions who for months had inflicted death and destruction on us at the air base.

They fired at us again, but this time we had people who called in an air strike by U.S. F-16 fighter jets, scrambled from the Aviano Air Base in Italy. I have to admit it was a sight to behold to see them take out these artillery positions once and for all.

As mentioned in the beginning, this mission was the ninth and last one for me. I had just turned 31, not really old in the military, but certainly a little older than most of the replacements that came to relieve us. I felt that it was time to end my time with the Norwegian Armed Forces after nine tours, lifelong friendships, and hardships, which shaped me into what I am today.

If I had the chance, I would do it all over again, and probably adjust a few decisions I made back then to wiser ones that age and experience bring with it. It was also during this last mission, at a vacation trip to visit friends in Atlanta where I met the sweet woman who would be my wife. This year we will be celebrating our 22nd year together.

Until next time, have fun, be safe, and chase your dreams.

Hood’s Winks – My prison time

By Ralph Hood

Well, okay, it wasn’t really a prison—it was a jail.

In the early 1960s, I was a student at Clemson. My frat brother, Bill, and I attended the Clemson vs. Georgia Tech football game.

Bill and I were a help to each other. One of us seemed to be in control every time the other became, shall we say, somewhat out of control.

The day of the football game was a bad time for me, but Bill—thank goodness—was in full control. To make it short—I managed to get fairly deeply under the influence of beer.

That day I offered to fight an entire fraternity at Georgia Tech. They took me at my word and came barreling out of their frat house to accept my offer. Bill told me to shut up, then he somehow convinced them that I was a “good old boy” who had enjoyed too much beer.

No, that incident was not what got me in jail.

Later that evening I went searching for a pack of cigarettes (I had several vices back then). The Atlanta police—for some odd reason—decided I was a risk to the public, put me in a paddy wagon and, with very little ceremony, locked me up for the night.

Bill couldn’t find me. Being no fool, he called the police and they filled him in. He was smart enough to tell them that he would pick me up, not that night, but next morning.

I was ashamed.

The next spring when I was graduating and interviewing for jobs, a Fortune 500 company wanted to hire me. I knew they were going to run a check on me and feared they might find my horrifying criminal record. I finally got a copy of my arrest. I expected it to say that I was arrested for violating this law or that law, but that’s not at all what it said.

Under “cause of arrest,” the record said one word—“drunk.”

There was no dignity in that. I was sore afraid.

The Fortune 500 company never said anything about it, so I really did get the job. More importantly, my parents never found out about the episode!

Those of you who have known me since we moved here 12 years ago, will be totally surprised to learn that I ever drank a beer at all, thus proving that I did learn a few things along the way.

Please send comments to ralph@ralphhood.com.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Each of us have a role to play in the fight

By Lisa Whaley

I have always believed that one of the best things about being in the newspaper business is that I am continually learning something.

Sometimes it’s a lesson I expected. Sometimes it takes me by surprise.

That was certainly true last week as The Erwin Record staff worked to put together the finishing touches on a special section spotlighting women in our region. I’m sure you saw it in our last issue and I certainly hope you enjoyed the articles.

The Erwin Record’s  “Women Today” included just a tiny slice of individuals in Unicoi County who continue to make a difference. Some are well known. Others are precious mostly to their families.

All, I believe, play an important role in our region.

One even gained recent statewide attention as shown in the article in today’s paper on Page 2A. Erwin’s mayor, Doris Hensley, was chosen as Mayor of the Year by the Tennessee Municipal League on June 25.

When we started her article for the June 26 special section, we had no idea Hensley would be so honored. It was an exciting discovery for everyone involved.

It also pointed very clearly to something that I am sure we are all becoming increasingly aware. Erwin and Unicoi County are well on their way onto the list of “places to be reckoned with,” thanks in no small part to the people who live here.

Hensley was first elected as mayor in 2012, ready to lead a community forward through railroad closures, financial challenges and those never-ending stories of Erwin’s role in the hanging of “murderous” Mary, the elephant.

She took up the challenge and marched forward. But, as Hensley stressed repeatedly, she was not alone. She credits a united community willing to work hard and share challenges as the key to Erwin’s success.

And that success continues to grow. In the relatively short time I have been here, I truly believe Erwin and Unicoi County have become more beautiful every day. New businesses are opening all the time, often the result of another’s dream given a chance to bloom. 

The community, too, seems eager to get in on the act, joining together to celebrate their valley whenever they get the chance, from Unicoi to Erwin to Flag Pond and from strawberries to apples to hiking trails.

Everyone is proud of their home and seem to be excited about the future.

But I also learned something else this past week. That future, as well as our past, owe a lot of thanks to the women who helped shape it, both during our yesterdays and throughout our tomorrows.

As Sandy Lingerfelt, CEO for Clinchfield Credit Union shared, Southern women do what needs to be done, but they do it with grace.

They have strength. And they have faith. And like the beautiful mountains, they are an important part of this valley home.

Tomorrow, as we celebrate our nation’s independence and pay tribute to all those who have sacrificed to protect our freedoms, let us never forget that all of us — both men and women —  have a role in that fight.

And sometimes, that fight is simply at home as we work to protect the people and the places that we love.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Uplifting stories mean so much

Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in the Aug. 3, 2016, issue of The Erwin Record.

By Connie Denney

It was a dark and stormy night. …. Well, it did rain, if that counts!

That dark-and-stormy-night part could help set the mood, though. You see, I was leaving downtown Erwin, starting up Bogart Hill when it happened. The first sign I had that something was wrong came with the profound thud of the right front portion of the car hitting the pavement. A tire had blown.

I had been in Erwin a short time when I learned the name of the portion of roadway identified as “Bogart Hill.” Just in case you sit elsewhere as you read this and are not familiar with local road names, let me enlighten you. It is an area with few options. If you are off the road, you are into a guardrail or beyond; or, you are against the side of a mountain. Even if you could move your car, there’s no place to go. I was in the road. 

This is among the times for which I am extremely grateful for the instant communication of the cell phone age. My 911 call brought help right away. Next, a roadside assistance call, next a call ahead to deal with what I knew would be a late arrival. If it were going to happen, it’s good it was not a bit farther ahead, as cell phone service could have been iffy.

The two officers who came to my aid kept the traffic moving and me out of harm’s way. They were professional and polite. Rain came. They did not complain, not even when it took the wrecker a while to get there. I do remember one of them looking out toward Erwin as the moon’s outline became visible – a full moon. They probably anticipated a busy night.

Yes, they were just doing their job. Yes, they face situations a lot more threatening to their health and well-being – although, standing in the road on Bogart Hill on a rainy evening is not to be taken lightly. Still, it was a big deal to me. I appreciate their work, their risks. That was months ago. With so many recent reminders of uncertain times, the certainty of help a phone call away is comforting, indeed.

Speaking of help, it is not always the result of a call for it. Here’s another local story. A friend who had to make some dietary changes asked her visitor if she could use some non-perishable food items. The visitor replied, “I’m sure I know someone who could,” although she was not sure just who that would be. On the next stop of her outing, it occurred to her to ask if that person could use the food. Feeling uncertain at first and hoping she asked delicately, she knew it was OK when she saw the softening of the other woman’s face and the beginning of tears. 

The first woman did not think she was doing anything particularly noble by offering something she did not need. The second person did not see any effort on her part. The third person just knew someone cared and was grateful. 

If you have an uplifting story, do let me know. We need them. (Email them to news@erwinrecord.net)

Officer Norway’s Corner – UCHS SADD Club has winning formula

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

The summer in our neck of the woods is well on its way, when this is in print, we are just days away from July. Many take some time off from a hectic schedule, to create even more hectic days packing for a vacation to the beach, or visiting family and friends.

This week we were able to send two of our Unicoi County High School SADD club members and a chaperone on a little “vacation trip” of their own, representing our club and our high school to Scottsdale, Arizona, for the 2019 SADD National Leadership Conference.

First, a little background. In late February our club entered into a national contest hosted by the National Road Safety Foundation and SADD. Our task was to make a short video about the dangers for teen drivers (and other drivers) when driving distracted. We only had a few days to come up with a plan, get some props for the video, and with the excellent help from our high school’s very own videographer, Dustin Street, who shot and edited it, we ended up winning the whole national contest knocking out submissions from more than a 120 other high schools in the U.S.!

The biggest challenge for us was the fact that we had to keep this under wrap until this week when the winner was announced at the national conference in Scottsdale. Part of the winning price is $2,500 for our club and a fully sponsored trip for three to Arizona. Just a couple of weeks before school was out, a 15-time Emmy award-winning production team from New York, Alan Weiss Productions, arrived here in Erwin and with the same SADD club members who appeared in the first video was cast in this new PSA video (Public Service Announcement) which this week had its premiere in Scottsdale. It will later air in over 200 TV stations all over the U.S. as part of the Teen Kids News Network.

Needless to say, I am so proud of our SADD club members who took a good idea and made it great. Great enough to win not only this national contest but also their willingness to be a part of an organization like SADD. Our mission of the club is to promote a broad understanding of the risks facing teens and the importance of reinforcing protective factors, and by sharing their voices and their own perspectives on issues and laws and policies that involve the education, culture, health, safety, and treatment of teens.

Until next time, be safe, have fun and enjoy summer.

A Refreshing Knapp – The past shapes the future

By Ray Knapp

We’ve all heard the old saying, “He’s like a goose … he wakes up in a new world every day!” Without any knowledge of the past, we would be like the proverbial goose, wandering about and looking for some food to sustain us. Fortunately we have a pretty good grasp of the past which comes from written records and not all of this is fed into Alexa, that little round gadget which can answer a number of questions and do a myriad of things, like turning on the lights, the TV – and change channels, lock the doors, play music, etc. However, it can’t dance or tell you anything that isn’t programmed into it.

My neighbor, Nathan Hashe, loaned me some old books, two bibles, one printed in 1892 and the other one so old it didn’t contain a date, and it is quite elaborate – about a foot thick with an ornate backing. Two hasps (one missing) hold the front together. It “may” be one of the first bibles of its kind printed in America. I reference Alexander Cruden’s Concordance first printed in America in Philadelphia, 4th Mo, 1806; this bible contains many references to his Concordance published in 1737, this and the very old appearance of the bible both point to its age.

The third book was not a bible; its cover was missing so there was not a title listed. This book was for teachers from Kindergarten through high school. If there was a title it may have been: “The Volume Library,” – a concise graded repository of practical & cultural knowledge designed for both instruction and reference. Its first copywrite was in 1911 by the W.E. Richardson Company; revised yearly, this edition’s copywrite was in 1927 by Educators’ Association.

Other than reading, writing and arithmetic it listed songs and music for kindergarten children, such as “Humpty Dumpty” and stories, Peter Rabbit, among other still remembered children’s songs and stories. Moving up in grades, the curriculum got tougher with foreign languages being introduced; French, German and Latin were the main ones. There were also various tables like weights and measures, but the one that caught my eye was Population and Statistical facts concerning the states.

For instance, in 1920, the population of Tennessee was 2,500,859 this was further broken down into native (white, I suppose) 2,002,870, colored 480,243, foreign 17,746. In order to vote you had to be a citizen of the United States for 1 year and 6 months, paid poll tax of preceding year, also not allowed to vote were those convicted of bribery or other infamous offense. Idiots, lunatics, paupers, convicted of felony, United States soldiers, marines and seamen. At least Indians and Chinese were allowed to vote in Tennessee. A few states wouldn’t allow them to vote, especially Indians as many in the western states remembered Custer’s Last Stand in Montana in 1876 and a clash between Cavalry troops and Yaqui Indians in Arizona in 1918.

Wyoming required you to be able to read state constitution in the English language.

Of course what kind of galls me is that members of the armed forces were put in the same basket with felons and lunatics. But what really galled the poor back then, especially Blacks and women, was the Poll Tax. It was a way of disenfranchising those who couldn’t afford to pay it. Tennessee didn’t abolish the Poll Tax until 1951, and some politicians of southern states fought for it another13 years. The 29th Amendment to the Constitution abolished Poll Tax in 1964.

By knowing about the past shows us the building blocks of how civilizations came to be. They tell us the wrongs and rights of the past and point a way to the future. The old bibles not only contain the Old and New Testaments, they also tell who, when and where the translation from the original Greek and Aramaic to the other languages of the world occurred; sketches of religions other than Christianity are also within their pages. “The Volume Library” shows us that education was a serious undertaking; I doubt that many schools teach Latin today. Yes, I love old books; they are the written continuation of our heritage.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Once again, it’s time to move on

By Lisa Whaley

I ran into my first love the other day.

Neither tall, dark nor handsome, this love was instead two stories high, drafty and in need of a lot of work.

Yet somehow it tugged at my heart like nothing else before.

At that time, so many years ago, I was single and had always dreamed of living in an old place — but thought it was beyond my reach.

Then I toured the house.

Estimated to have been built in the mid-to-late 1800s, the house used electric “stack” heaters for warmth, well-placed trees for cooling and relied on a nearby spring for water. Strange combinations of paint and wallpaper were everywhere. Half-finished projects, including an upstairs room stripped to its two-by-fours, were scattered throughout the house.

I can still picture the mattress, sans frame, laying on the brown linoleum in a downstairs parlor.

But all I could really see at that moment was its five fireplaces, reminiscent of an earlier era; the ornate, carved wooden staircase and upstairs landing; the tall windows; and the gingerbread-decorated front porch.

I could imagine ladies in big hats and long skirts getting ready for a picnic, hear the rattle of horses and their harnesses as they made their way to the nearby barn after a hard day of work in the fields and smell the aromas of wood smoke, coal and the cooking of long-ago suppers.

I was captivated. And like the whirlwind romance so clearly being mirrored, “old house” and I were soon wed with keys in hand and my name on the deed.

The following years were filled with sweet memories, as well as challenges met and lost. With the help of my long-suffering brother, I uncovered fireplaces, original floors and gorgeous hardwoods.

About two years into the house, I met my real love, Tim. We married and soon had two daughters to raise in a house that seemed to have been created for the warmth of family and the laughter of children.

Not that it was all smooth sailing. There were days when the water from the spring quit running, and we would melt snow in the winter or walk down to the creek in the summer to keep us all going. Gallons of store-bought spring water was also always on hand for such occasions.

Cold weather often meant a move for the whole family to the “study” which we had equipped with a propane stove. And running out to the front porch to reset the breakers became a regular occurrence after we found that the house’s current electrical system couldn’t support, for example, two heaters and a hairdryer.

Yet there were also the nights sitting on the side porch with our girls, Ginny and Mary, singing old mountain ballads passed down from my grandma Rosa and my grandpa Brownlow. The annual “honeysuckle festival” welcoming summer each year, established by Ginny and Mary and conducted on top of the old honeysuckle-covered log in the backyard. And the many dinners, snacks and family celebrations held in front of an original fireplace in our old-fashioned kitchen.

I honestly believed I would live out the rest of my life in that old country farmhouse, but the day finally came more than eight years ago when I recognized that it was time to go.

The house and its needs were just too big for our small family; the costs to keep it running too great. And my dreams of what I could do had long been replaced by the frustration of all that still needed to be accomplished.

I cried when we left, telling “old house” that we would find someone to love it even better than we had.

We sold it to a family with their own growing children and their own dreams of what it could be.

Then, this past month, “old house” showed up on realtor.com.

Photos revealed lots of restoration and repairs. The price was right and, against our better judgement, Tim and I stopped by to tour the property.

A new roof had been added to its top. Its former one-bathroom status had been changed to three. The upstairs had finally been finished. The kitchen had been expanded.

But the side porch was gone, turned into a walk-in closet. The front parlor that had once been our bedroom was now a state-of-the-art media room. The upstairs bedroom, once the domain of my youngest, had lost a fireplace but had gained a bathroom.

Oh, the pull was still there, whispering to me quietly while the realtor described the property. I had to fight the urge to grab a pen and sign on the dotted line. But in my heart I knew this was my house no longer. Another family had worked for nearly a decade to make it their own. And soon, someone else would take up the baton, adding another page in its history.

My husband, when we first made plans to tour the house, said these wise and prophetic words.

“It’s like reconnecting with an old girlfriend,” he said with a wry smile. “It seems like a good idea on paper, but when you meet, you know it just wouldn’t work.”

Like the old house, our family had changed. And it was once again time to move on.

Adam’s Apples – Alexa! Stop listening!

By James Mack Adams

As one who has been around for several decades, I have seen a lot of changes. I can say I have listened to staticky vacuum tube-powered radios, watched three blurry channels on a tiny black and white television screen, and used a rotary-dial telephone. It is difficult for younger folks to believe it, but those were considered cutting-edge technologies at one time. 

I have always considered myself to be receptive to newer technologies. However, the speed at which technology is now moving can be a little frightening. At times I fear we are sacrificing personal privacy on the altar of convenience. Our daily activities are more and more being controlled, and often recorded, by something called ‘artificial intelligence.’ What was once science fiction is becoming reality.

Remember ‘HAL,’ the talking supercomputer in the movie “2001-A Space Odyssey”? You are also probably familiar with Apple’s ‘Siri,’ Microsoft’s ‘Cortana,’ and the GPS lady.  Well, I will soon introduce you to ‘Alexa,’ unless you two have already met.

The dictionary defines ‘artificial intelligence’, or AI, as the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision making, and translation between languages.

I opened one of my gifts from a family member this past Christmas Day and, at that time, I did not know at what I was looking. It was a small, squat, cylindrical object with a power cable. The box said it was an Amazon Echo Dot. That didn’t ring any bells with me at the time. I later discovered the Amazon product has been around since 2014. I had not heard of it.

Briefly stated, Amazon’s Echo Dot is a voice-based, smart-home device infused with artificial intelligence. A lady with a very pleasing voice lives inside the small device.

Her name is Alexa.  She is the artificial intelligence. It’s a little like having another person in the house. No, you can’t claim her as a dependent. 

Alexa can make your life easier. She can control the lighting in your home, control and monitor home security (locks, cameras, etc.). She can remind you of your appointments, prepare a grocery list and let you know when your latest Amazon on-line order will arrive. She can play your favorite music, read the latest news, tell you the meaning of a word, and translate between languages. Need to know a final sports score? Ask Alexa. Need to convert liters to ounces?  Ask Alexa. Is it going to rain in Erwin tomorrow? Ask Alexa.

A word of caution. Alexa reacts whenever she hears her name. That might be a problem if there is a real person named Alexa living in the house. A television character of the same name might also trigger a response. That has happened in our house. 

I will have to admit I am by no means using Alexa to anywhere near her potential. To take full advantage of Alexa’s abilities, I would have to install “smart” plugs, light switches, telephone jacks, cameras and other “smart” devices throughout the house. I would essentially have to do a lot of rewiring. That could become pricey in an older home.

Alexa is listening to what is going on around her. She has to listen so she can react to commands. She is not only listening, she is remembering. There is also a chance Amazon employees may be listening in. Amazon says the purpose of gathering data from users is to improve the system.

That is what concerns some users.   I have another family member who will not allow such a device in his home.  Artificial intelligence might evoke memories of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “1984.” Big Brother is listening.

In this case it would be Big Sister. On at least two instances when Jo and I were discussing something at the kitchen table, Alexa interrupted to offer her commentary. It caught us both by surprise.

Alexa’s ability to listen and record data can be somewhat controlled through the Alexa App on your computer, tablet, or phone. There is a button on top of the Echo device that will turn off the microphone.

It would be nice if I could just say, “Alexa, stop listening,” or “Alexa, shut up.” But that might hurt her feelings and she might not speak to me for days. Perhaps I am being a little too futuristic.

Officer Norway’s Column – More memories of serving in Somalia

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

Editor’s note: This week Officer Kjell Michelsen continues his look back at his service in Somalia during the 1990s. The first part of this story appeared in the May 29 issue of The Erwin Record.

After we arrived in Mogadishu, thanks in large part to the strong presence of U.S. Marines and soldiers from the French Foreign Legion, the city, for the most part, was reasonably safe for us to travel around in. That said, there were some minor clashes between various clan militia, but they let us, for the most part, be alone to do our jobs.

It took a good couple of weeks before our little tent camp came together with a somewhat proper shower house and porta-johns. The first couple of weeks our shower was a few wooden pallets on the ground, and we would stand on those pouring water over ourselves. Even as primitive as that was, it felt great after a long hot day to rinse off with some lukewarm water.

We spent about three months in our little tent camp at the airport. Other countries set up similar camps as they arrived. We had a Nigerian camp right next to us, and not far away, soldiers from New Zealand had theirs and so on. Most of our days were spent supporting the UNOSOM HQ with staff and security, filling sandbags, fortifying our camp and plenty of reconnaissance trips into the city itself.

The security situation started to change in a negative direction in the spring of 1993, just a few days after we had moved our camp from the airport up to the former U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu.

The second in command for U.N. operations was a U.S. Army Lieutenant General Thomas Montgomery. As a result of the worsening security situation, a close protection unit from the U.S. Army CID was assigned to him as his security detail.

Because of our knowledge of the city, the Norwegian guard and escort squad was tasked with augmenting the U.S. Army close protection unit, and thus one of the most exciting and dangerous assignment for me in my years serving overseas started.

We worked closely with our new U.S. counterparts in many security operations in and around Mogadishu, both utilizing vehicles and helicopters.

The U.S. Embassy compound was a target for daily mortar and small arms attacks, so everywhere one went you had to be in full combat gear, at times often running from place to place. This was the period when the well known “Black Hawk Down” incident, made famous through the movie with the same name, took place.

During most of that battle, I was stationed in a side office to General Montgomery and could hear over radio communications when things started to take a turn for the worse as soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment, Delta Force and Navy SEALS went to the rescue of personnel from two downed Blackhawk helicopters.

In all, 19 U.S. soldiers were killed in action during the battle or shortly after, and another 73 were wounded in action. At that time, it was the deadliest battle since the Vietnam War.

Until next time, be safe and be thankful for our military men and women, and say a prayer for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Hood’s Winks – Tuskegee again

By Ralph Hood

My last column—about the Tuskegee Airmen—brought in several comments. One of the most interesting was the email telling me something that I didn’t know at all: there were also Tuskegee women!

The Tuskegee Army Nurses were a part of Tuskegee that had been totally unknown to me until, once again, Pat Luebke—my hard-working friend and media person—informed me of them and put me in touch with Ms. Pia Jordan, Tuskegee Army Nurses Project Director.

Obviously, the Tuskegee Army Nurses are not as well known as the Tuskegee Airmen, but Ms. Jordan is building a website on which you can follow her progress:  www.TuskegeeArmyNurses.info. We wish her the very best.

People ask me about Tuskegee Institute (now University). How did it start? Who built it and kept it growing?

Ah—that brings up another great historic story wrapped around one man, the great Booker T. Washington.

For a quick history, just look up Booker T. Washington on Wikipedia. It is a truly awesome story.

I first read that story in elementary school where we had tons of biographies in the library. They were all orange—front and back—and I do believe I read every one of them cover to cover.

If you go to Wikipedia, notice carefully the dates involved. Mr. Washington was born a slave. As an adult, he advised United States presidents. Unbelievable!

He started Tuskegee Institute with a little bit of money and a lot of effort. His goal was to teach his students how to earn a living and compete in the free market, plain and simple. His students literally built their own school: making bricks, constructing classrooms, barns and outbuildings, and growing their own crops and raising livestock, both for learning and to provide the basic necessities. Both men and women had to learn trades as well as academics.

Booker T. Washington was unbelievable. That’s all I can say.

He died in 1915, when he was only 59 years old. His reputation lives on.

Send comments to ralph@ralphhood.com.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Preservation project has Ervin/Erwin connections

By Connie Denney

It was a fine May morning when I toured Cherokee Creek Farm and heard about work being done to preserve this historic property, now an event venue. Angie Lemon pointed out that exterior walls of the house were built from bricks fired on site and are four bricks thick. Across the road stands a brick spring house. Remains of a post office and general store and a gristmill are still visible along Taylor Bridge Road in Washington County. A Tennessee Historical Commission marker stands near the intersection of State Route 81 and Taylor Bridge Road and may be seen just after crossing Taylor Bridge spanning the Nolichucky River, as one travels from Erwin toward Jonesborough.

The old oak tree beneath which Jacob Brown negotiated with Cherokee Indians in the 1700s was felled by a strong wind in 1958, according to Viola Ruth Ervin Swingle’s book titled ERVIN, which includes a photograph of the house, built by Byrd Brown, Jacob’s grandson. Mrs. Swingle documented the story of the house and its purchase by her father, David J. N. Ervin in 1908. She, also, tells the story of her father’s donating land for a town, which was later named Ervin in his honor. According to the story, the town’s first postmaster was an Erwin and somehow the “W” took the place of the “V” in the name.

As Angie, whose maiden name is Castle, led me about the property, I learned that she and husband Don Lemon also have Erwin roots, although they now live in neighboring Washington County. And, no, she had not done anything like this before. She is a pharmacist who works from home as a medical science liaison for Genentech. Don does IT work for Brown Edwards, an accounting firm, in Bristol. 

The house had been vacant for 20 years when they bought the 23-acre property from heirs in April 2018. She tells of reaching out to others to learn about historic preservation, craftsmen to do restoration work and about this house, in particular. The results are impressive. There’s more to come.

In addition to attention to the house with its nine fireplaces and both summer and winter kitchens, much work has been done on the grounds to provide usable spaces including a dance floor. A lovely fountain still bubbled and floated white blooms, which I supposed were left from the 200-person wedding event a few days earlier. A major addition underway is the 7,000-square-foot Creekside Barn to accommodate large parties. Among other offerings, it is to include a commercial kitchen.

Although the venue is a work in progress, Angie has bookings and is making them into 2020.  She says the goal is what she terms “The Estate Collection,” which is set out in a slick four-color promotional piece. “Our Farmhouse was constructed in 1840 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It provides deluxe, boutique style overnight accommodations for your event. With six different ceremony locations to consider, let the team at Cherokee Creek Farm help make your special day unforgettable!” It suggests one-day, weekend, Farmhouse and/or Creekside Barn, or all- inclusive options.

Although, its use has changed, the fact that this property is being appreciated and preserved allows it to be enjoyed—not only by those using it as an event venue—but by all who take pleasure in knowing it’s place in history is marked, perpetuated.

Officer Norway’s Corner – Remembering a mission to Somalia

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

The same year I came home from my tour to the now former Yugoslavia, another mission popped up in late fall of 1992.

In 1991 the Somali President Siad Barre and his administration had been ousted by a coalition of clan-based opposition groups, backed by Ethiopia’s then-ruling party. To make a long story short, Somalia rather quickly became a country ravaged by civil war, which in turn led to vast amounts of refugees and outright starvation for many people. The UN reacted, and through a resolution passed in early December 1992, the establishment of the United Nations Operations in Somalia (UNOSOM) was created.

Norway decided to send a platoon mostly staffed with support personnel to serve at the UNOSOM HQ in Mogadishu. I was assigned to a rifle squad tasked with security and escort duties for the HQ. After our initial training in Norway, we flew down to Somalia in a chartered Russian Ilyushin airplane, which was a former Soviet-era heavy transport plane with a cool looking “bombers lookout” up front.

Because of some scheduling arrival issues with the now US-controlled airport in Mogadishu, we had to land in Larnaca, Cyprus, where we as best as we could celebrated Christmas with the Russian flight-crew.

A few days after Christmas we finally received the go-ahead for our final flight directly down to Mogadishu. We landed and taxied to the UN side of the airport, and when the doors opened, the humid 100-plus degrees of air hit us like a “sledgehammer.” At that time, the Norwegian Army did not have any proper hot climate uniforms. We were all issued the same, poorly made uniforms called “Indian Bush,” we had been using in Lebanon. They held up for a while, but because of the constant humidity, the fabric took a beating. We later ended up getting new U.S. made woodland uniforms, which was a considerable improvement.

This mission to Somalia was in many ways a “first off” for the Norwegian Army, especially in terms of logistics and equipment. We had, for instance, tents with us that we lived in for the first few months that were made for the Norwegian climate, and not so much for what Somalia had to offer. We did not have any form for airconditioning, so the adjustment for us was brutal, but as the saying goes: “You Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.”

We also had a full field kitchen with us staffed with several veteran cooks. I mentioned the heat, and these guys were working from early in the morning to late at night in a kitchen tent with several gas-burning stoves, again without any air conditioning and where the temperature easily would reach 120 degrees. Still, they managed to serve hot meals every day, bake bread and pastries for the whole platoon from day one.

Until next time, and part 2 of my time in Somalia, be safe, be happy, and enjoy the summer heat and the glory of air conditioning.

Hood’s Winks – A great American hero

By Ralph Hood

Oh, I had an exciting event last week …

I had a telephone interview with Lt. Col. Harry Stewart, Jr., one of the last living members of the Tuskegee Airmen.

The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of black pilots who were chosen, taught to fly, and sent off to Europe to fly combat missions in World War II. They did a great job.

Back when I was selling airplanes in Montgomery, Alabama – a hop, skip and jump from Tuskegee University – I met several Tuskegee airmen.

You young folk can’t possibly imagine how prejudiced and segregated we were in the 1940s, particularly in the southern United States.

Harry Stewart, the future Tuskegee Airman, traveled by train from New York to Tuskegee University in Alabama. Two years later, he was flying P-51 fighters against the Germans in Europe.

Just imagine – he learned to fly, received the coveted silver wings, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He was at the time only 19 years old, and not yet licensed to drive a car!

The Tuskegee Airmen did a great job flying in WW II. They won honors. Stewart was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He flew 43 missions and once shot down three German airplanes in one day.

They were heroes. They did all this knowing full well that if they were shot down and lived, they – unlike white pilots – could not hide among the white population on the ground – they would be killed.

They were heroes – until they came back home after the war.

Stewart had always wanted to be an airline pilot. He said he quickly learned that no airline would hire a “colored person” as a pilot.

Stewart remained in the military a few more years, rising to the rank of Lt. Colonel. Then he retired from the military, went back to school at New York University, earned a mechanical engineering degree, and went to work for a large company, ANR Pipeline. When he retired, he was vice president of the company.

Obviously, the man is a winner in any arena.

After his second retirement, Stewart took young people flying in a sailplane, hoping to inspire them for great things in their future.

Col. Stewart will be 95 years old on July 4 – what a patriotic day to be born! – but he’s still moving forward. He has a book out, “Soaring to Glory: A Tuskegee Airman’s Firsthand Account of WW II,” written by Lt. Col. Harry Stewart and Philip Handleman (Regnery History, June 4, 2019, $29.99).

Col. Stewart will be flying by airline to California to introduce the book. I wonder if any passengers on the flight will realize that a true American hero is onboard.

Send comments to ralph@ralphhood.com.

A Refreshing Knapp – I’ve graduated! Now what?

By Ray Knapp

As a graduating senior this year and exiting into the “real world” out there, you are probably filled with more questions and anxiety than you thought you would feel. What am I going to do now? What do I want to do? Will I just let fate decide for me, or will I make some concrete plans and see them through? What is the meaning of life anyway, and what am I to do with mine? Sometimes those questions are as relevant to university graduates as to those just graduating high school.

Having an age and experience advantage on you, I can say with some authority that it is my conclusion that every person is born to live out the dream they have inside. You may fall or fail many times. Most of us are afraid of the thief who comes in the night to steal all your things. But the thief is actually a figment of your imagination that is after your dreams. He is called doubt. He has killed more dreams than failure ever did. He wears many disguises and will leave you blinded; leave you “kind of” a success, not the real success of fulfilling the dream you were destined to live. To get past this mentality you have to want it with all your heart. You may fall or fail many times, but who is counting? Don’t let go of that dream – determination is the difference between success and failure. Henry Ford was bankrupt at age 42. Many people would have thrown up their hands in despair and settled for a life doing whatever menial thing they could to get by. Henry held onto his dream and, I think we all agree, turned that temporary failure into a huge financial success.

Some of the most meaningful moments come when we too rise above or go beyond the limits of our self-image and put ourselves at the service of others and our creator. Maybe you should add: that in order for life to feel meaningful, it needs to be in sync with your sincere interests. That’s not saying your interests in life are different from everyone else; many will find similar interests in nursing, teaching, or reaching for the stars … being an astronaut. It’s a case of knowing enough about yourself to find a particular path to service. When you find that dream inside you, then you can move towards defining the meaning of life. The meaning of life is to pursue that sense of self through interaction and understanding others, and keeping on the path towards service to God, and country – and working towards your ambitions.

It seems many pursue a life of no particular interests. For your life to be fulfilling and meaningful, certain things need to be done.

Foremost, you need to have relationships with others. Not preaching to you, but the Golden Rule is a good place to start, followed by the 10 Commandments. Relationships with others can, and perhaps should, include romantic ones, followed by family, friends and co-workers. Delving into just the dream – say… writing the next Great American Novel; being the world’s best artist and so forth is not the only thing you need to understand yourself, the world, or the meaning of life. Life means nothing without having a relationship with others.

A good friend, Jack Metcalf, a warm, likeable guy, wanted to be a railroad engineer, and to be the best engineer possible of a diesel train. Being an engineer isn’t just keeping the train on the tracks at a certain speed. Steve Brody learned about speed just before his demise in “The Wreck of the old 97.” Jack had to learn more than that; all the controls; what cars to hook to, and those to leave on a siding – everything about it. He worked hard, realized that dream inside him, and lived a fulfilled and happy life.

Do what interests you, and in everything you do in life … give it everything you have, and like Jack, you can live a fulfilled and happy life.

Officer Norway’s Corner – Norway celebrates its independence

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

This week on May 17, Norway, my birth country, celebrates their independence day. On that day in 1814, the new Constitution of Norway was signed in the town of Eidsvold.

Back then Norway was in a union with Sweden. The Swedish King at that time, King Karl Johan, actually banned it, believing that a celebration of this day was in fact, kind of a protest and disregard, even revolt against the union. It was not until 1905 that Norway once again was a fully independent country with its own King and Queen, and once again May 17 could be celebrated freely.

I remember growing up in Northern Norway how we used to celebrate May 17. The schools were a big part of the celebrations and still are. In the bigger cities with several schools, each would march under their own banner, and each class also had their separate banner. Most schools would also have a marching band, so in a city like Oslo the capital, you will see a parade with thousands of kids, from around 120 schools. Last year there were 74 marching bands, all parading dressed up and waving Norwegian flags. These parades will be held rain or shine.

Another neat thing about the Norwegian Independence day celebrations is the fact that the day very much is focused around children. The first part of the parade is mostly kindergarten, elementary and middle school kids, guided by their teachers and other volunteer chaperons. Behind them is the “peoples parade,” where you will have mostly families and various groups and civic associations. Somewhere between you will have the soon to be graduates from universities and high schools.

The latter, the high school graduates, are something unique to Norway. As I mentioned in an earlier post, high schools in Norway last only three years. The planning for their month-long celebration starts already during their first year in school. Some say it has gone a little out of hand, and I have to agree. Students from some schools will purchase an older bus and have it totally customized with a sound and light system, reminiscent of a night club. It will be painted inside and out, and they rent drivers to drive them around to various parties and concerts.

Some years ago my wife, my late mother-in-law and I were able to experience May 17 celebration in the capital, Oslo. It was a beautiful day, and we were able to get a sweet spot right in front of the Royal Castle and got to see the Royal family out on the balcony waving and greeting the parade as it passed directly in front of them. After the parade, we went as the custom is to a restaurant where they served Norwegian whipped cream cake with coffee, full of people dressed in suits and many in their respective national costumes from both Norway and other countries.

Until next time, be safe, be happy and be a good steward of our very own Independence Day.

Adam’s Apples – Meeting the Yorkshire vet

By James Mack Adams

One of my favorite programs on public television is “All Creatures Great and Small.” It is the story of James Herriot, a veterinarian practicing in the fictional town of Darrowby in the Yorkshire dales of northern England. James Herriot is a pen name used by the real Yorkshire veterinarian, James Alfred Wight. He was known as Alf to his friends. It is said he chose the last name of his favorite soccer player for his pen name. 

I have watched every episode of the PBS series, some more than once. While doing so, I never envisioned that I would one day have the opportunity to meet and chat with the gentleman. The encounter was a coincidence.

It was sometime in the 1980s that my former, now deceased, wife and I decided to embark on a driving tour of the Yorkshire dales. We planned to use a map of the dales that was printed in one of Herriot’s books we owned.

It is my opinion that the best way to travel other countries and enjoy the experience more is to obtain lodgings at bed and breakfast establishments whenever possible. This gives the traveler a chance to stay in private homes, meet and chat with the locals, and soak up more of the local flavor. If we had not decided to use bed and breakfast lodgings, we would not have had the experience I will describe.

One day in our travels, we drove our rented British-version Ford Escort into the town of Thirsk. After some searching, we booked lodgings in the home of a very nice lady. I am convinced some unknown force guided us to that particular house.

We moved our baggage into our room and then sat down in the parlor for tea and scones and a nice chat with the lady of the house. Our conversation soon turned to the fact we were huge fans of James Herriot and were using his book as a guide in our travels.

“Oh yes, Dr. Wight,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. “He takes care of my little dog.”

I was awash in a wave of excitement. I know this was blatantly obvious to our hostess. She continued. “If you are on the street in front of his surgery tomorrow afternoon about 4:30 p.m., he will invite you in for a chat.”

At the suggested time the following afternoon, we were standing in front of the surgery at number 23 Kirkgate. The metal plaque beside the front door read, “Mr J A Wight Veterinary Surgeon.”

We were surprised that we were the only people waiting. It did occur to us that our hostess might have been mistaken and that we might be on a goose chase.

As if on cue, on or about the appointed time, a tall, slim white-haired gentleman opened the bright-red front door and walked out onto the small stoop.

His tie was loosened, and the sleeves of his white dress shirt rolled to the elbows. He greeted us warmly and invited us to come in. We sat in his office and talked for some time. He autographed our book before we left.

There is one particular thing that still fascinates me about the meeting with Dr. Wight. He was well known nationally and internationally as a best-selling author. He was the principal character in a popular and long-running TV series. Yet, to the residents of the town of Thirsk, he was just the local vet.

23 Kirkgate, Thirsk, the former home and surgery of James Alfred Wight (aka James Herriot), is now a museum and tourist attraction dedicated to his memory. On the outside wall is a blue plaque. The plaque, similar in purpose to our historical markers, is used by British Heritage to mark a building or site linked to an important person or event.

Dr. Wight died in 1995, but his professional and literary legacies live on. He dedicated his life to the tender loving care of “All Creatures Great and Small,” and to writing about his experiences. 

He deserves to be remembered. It was an honor to meet him.

From the Publisher’s Desk – A pretty good start – for now

By Lisa Whaley

My daughter called from college early one morning last week. Even before I answered it, I knew there was something wrong.

After all, her first class isn’t until 11 a.m.

“Mom, we had a fire,” was her cheerful 7 a.m. greeting.

Mary is a freshman at Western Carolina University. She is in the college’s Honors program, so she lives in one of the college’s honor dorms — Balsam.

It is a fairly new, beautifully designed and generally quiet building in which to reside.

Except last Wednesday night.

Or to be more accurate, Thursday morning.

Students, already weary from finals’ preparation and end-of-school-projects, were sleeping peacefully when the fire alarms went off at 4 a.m.

Fire alarms weren’t that unusual in Balsam, my daughter explained. The ongoing campus joke was that despite the high-IQs these honors students supposedly had, they couldn’t seem to make popcorn without burning it.

Everyone tumbled out of the building. Some thought it was just an oddly timed drill or perhaps another burnt bag of popcorn. Others were simply tired and confused.

It would be four hours before my daughter was able to return to her room, and she was one of the lucky students whose area had not been affected by either the sprinklers or the smoke.

According to rumors yet to be verified, a student had knocked over a lit candle and accidentally started the fire. (Candles are, of course, forbidden in the dorms for obvious reasons.)

Of course, for the students impacted, the timing of the fire couldn’t have been worse. Everything had been left in the rooms, Mary explained, even the rooms that would soon be doused in water and smoke. Many a student spent Thursday morning in a panic over the state of their final papers and projects — including the status of one very frightened guinea pig that was part of a crucial end-of-term science assignment.

Fortunately, there were no reports of any serious injuries. The college worked hard to get everything back up and running.

And the May 8 Balsam fire will probably become just one of the “when I was in college” crazy memories to relive many years in the future.

These WCU students were lucky.

Not so fortunate were the University of North Carolina at Charlotte students just two days earlier when, on April 30, a gunman opened fire on the campus, killing two and injuring four.

Like my daughter at WCU, these kids were simply students intent on preparation for and completion of spring finals.

It was horrifying; it was senseless; and for parents, it was so terrifyingly unpredictable.

We work to keep our children safe and then, as they step toward adulthood, we try to let them find their way. Last Tuesday’s events make us want to snatch them back and hold them close.

My daughter will finish her last final this Wednesday, and then will be back with us for the next couple of months within that wonderful illusion of safety, our home.

Yet come August, we must once again prepare ourselves to send her out into the big wide world again.

Perhaps our best recourse as parents is to try to raise them with the strength, faith and independence needed to withstand all that life throws at them; to remind them that home is always their haven; and to pray without ceasing.

We also should never stop searching — and fighting — for better ways to provide safer schoolyards and campuses for all our children.

It may not be that perfect hedge of safety we dream of, but right now it is a pretty good start.

Hood’s Winks – I have noticed that …

By Ralph Hood

I have never met a person whose appearance—in my opinion—was improved by tattoos. On the other hand, we do have some tattoos in our family, so I pretend…

When it comes to poor telephone service, medical offices are worst. I tried to call the American Medical Association (AMA) to ask if they are aware of this problem. Now hear this—I absolutely could not find a telephone number on AMA’s vast website! That says all I need to know about AMA’s attitude.

Thanks to computers, we can now make more and bigger mistakes in a few seconds than we could make in an hour back in the typewriter days. Nevertheless, we can’t live without the accursed computers.

By the way – it takes my computer about a minute to get going after I push the start button. Once started, however, it moves faster than a rocket. I recently asked it to find info about koala bears. It found 53,200,000 entries (yes, that really is fifty-three million two hundred thousand entries on koalas) in less than one second! How the heck does it do that? That’s amazing, since my computer says there are less than 100,000 koalas living in the world (truth is, they are not bears at all, but are marsupials).

When I was a teenager, my father bought a used 1955 Ford Fairlane with a V-8 engine and—believe it or not—a glass pack muffler. If you accelerated in low gear it made a beautiful, roaring, blatting noise that could shake the windows of a house. Daddy—who never noticed it at all—was superintendent of schools. He would park at the high school, then rev the engine in neutral as was required in the Model A Ford he drove when much younger. The students loved the racket. Daddy didn’t even notice it.

Motorcycles make a big noise when run at high RPM. They rev the engines while waiting at a red light, then roar off in low gear. Don’tcha kinda wonder why?

How come National Public Radio says it accepts no advertising, then reads ads for all of its donors? I dunno—do you?

In my old age, I started using a walking stick. You would not believe the advantages. People open doors for me. If no one is there, I open the door myself with the stick. If I’m waiting to cross the street, cars in both directions stop and wave me by. I can sit on the side of the bed in the morning and drag my shoes over with the stick, then open my dresser drawer with the stick, pull out my underwear, and drag clothes from the wall hooks.

I’m still noticing new things but some of them I can’t mention in a family newspaper.

Officer Norway’s Corner – Springtime memories from Norway

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

Last Tuesday, we were able to arrange for a mock-crash scenario at the high school. We started planning for this event last year, and we had great help from a few members belonging to the Washington County EMS, who have arranged and planned these for several years.

This event was earmarked for the outgoing senior class, and we genuinely hope that this is something we can do every year from now on for the seniors. As I have mentioned before, distracted driving is now the leading cause of death of teenage drivers, and this is an area that I and others will be focusing even more on in the months and years to come.

Springtime is always a special time for me as an SRO. The school year is winding down, we have seniors soon to be graduating, receiving their diplomas, taking pictures, creating memories for what soon will become a thing in their past, their high school years. This graduating class is also a little milestone for me personally. When I started at the high school, these graduating seniors were all newly minted freshmen, so we have been together since they started high school.

This time of the year also brings back memories from Norway. Easter, which is a weeklong celebration and vacation time in Norway, is also the official start of the spring season. Although where I grew up there’s still plenty of snow and all the mountain lakes are still covered with ice, but the days are a little longer, which helps. One starts to see little bare spots around where the snow has melted, those hardy dandelions are starting to pop up, and the seagulls are getting busy and loud, making nests and fighting for the best spots to do that on.

Another sign of spring in Norway, like it is here, is high school graduation. High school, or “Gymnas” as it is called, lasts for three years in Norway, not the four as here in the U.S. It was a fairly mundane thing when I grew up. There were some parties, some school arrangements, bigger cities even had a concert for the graduating classes, etc. That has totally changed. Those who graduate from a trade school dress up in blue and those from a liberal arts school in red. Some will invest tens of thousands of dollars in fancy buses, decked out with big sound systems and an interior that would make Elvis envious.

Spring is in many ways a re-birth of the glory of nature around us. It’s truly a beautiful, albeit short season, most years in this area, so that gives one even more reasons to enjoy these humid-free, tempered sunny days of spring, although those who suffer from pollen allergies might differ with my views.

Until next time, be happy, be safe and enjoy every day as a gift to be treasured.