Hood’s Winks – Brave people

Missionaries Timo and Laura Harkonen with their delightful children Richard, Iisakki and Janey. (Contributed photo)

By Ralph Hood

I well remember the very first missionary I met. We were eating breakfast at a church event when the missionary said, “I wish I had some termites to put in my oatmeal.”

Right then and there, I decided to become a missionary, but it never happened.

During the eight years Erwin Presbyterian Church has helped support the Harkonen missionary family, Gail and I have had the privilege of meeting and enjoying Timo and Laura Harkonen plus their delightful children, Janey, Richard, and Iisakki. They are a truly fascinating family.

Timo is originally from Finland. He was invited to America by the athletic director of Averett College, Danville, Virginia, to play tennis.

Timo met Laura in computer lab at Averett, and you can guess the rest of the story—they fell in love and married, earning their college degrees—masters for Timo and bachelors for Laura—along the way.

Laura had determined long before to be a missionary, and a flying missionary at that!

She learned to fly and flew business airplanes so sophisticated that I couldn’t have cranked them even with jumper cables.

Timo became a preacher and teacher and the two served in the Democratic Republic of Congo with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). Timo taught and Laura flew.

I’ve seen a video of her flying bush planes in/out of strips that looked more like ditches than runways—much worse than the crop duster strips I used for years.

Oh, the stories these two can tell! Once their home in the Congo was surrounded and covered by carnivorous, meat-eating ants the size of grasshoppers. Panic ran rampant until Timo sprayed the ants with fuel—believe it or not—siphoned from Laura’s turbine airplane. It worked!

Another time in the Congo—after an automobile driver killed a motorcyclist in a wreck—bullets fired by police and/or soldiers fell wildly about their abode.

Brave people, these missionaries!

Their children are outgoing and engaging. Janey and Richard are two of the most polite teenagers you could ever meet, with huge smiles.

They walk trails with my wife, Gail, and never leave her behind.

Iisakki, not yet two, is a totally entertaining child who definitely enjoys himself.

Timo and Laura now work with Africa Inland Mission (AIM). We wish them the very best. They are dedicated to a great and very important job.

The Harkonens would love to tell their interesting stories to your church. You’d love them. They can be reached by email at [email protected]

Officer Norway’s Corner – UCHS drama presents ‘We’re All Fine’

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

Sometimes even when writing a bi-weekly column it can be hard coming up with something meaningful to write about. I usually start a week or so before my due date, and when we have projects at school or something I find interesting to share about Norway, it’s a fairly easy process, but going into last week I pretty much had a blank canvas to fill and not much to fill it with. That all changed on a Saturday evening at our very own high school.

My wife and I went to our school to see an original play written and performed by the Drama II class at our school. Our daughter is one of the students in the play, so we felt an extra obligation to come and support her and her fellow drama students. The one-act play, “We’re All Fine,” was written to showcase what an average high school day looks like, the challenges students face, the constant drive for excellence, to fit in, to stand out.

What really stood out in this play was not a big stage creation with impressive props, but rather the absence of it, just a couple of tables and the students themselves, their own stories, often raw, even heartwrenching and sometimes funny in a “Shakesperian way.” We are extremely fortunate to have a very well run drama class at our school headed by Lori Ann Wright who has such a passion for theatre arts and the students themselves that make them go above and beyond, something this play so clearly showed.

Often one doesn’t think about it, but being a teenager today is not like it was just a few short years ago. The introduction of smartphones, high-speed internet and a virtual jungle of apps and social media platforms filled with so-called influencers. These influencers are often teenagers themselves who are paid big money to show off what is supposed to be a perfect, worry-free life while advertising for various make-up and fashion products.

These influencers, often combined with a pressure for excellence in both sports and academics, can sometimes be a driving force behind high stress levels that can show itself as both insecurities and various behavioral problems some of which can be very well hidden; hence this play was such a great way to open the door to these and other issues our students are facing, often on a daily basis.

When I was in my teens, I would often hear from older folks that “today’s youth have it so easy; nothing compared to when we grew up.” And would you not know it, pretty much all of us are saying the same thing to the teenagers today, “ah look at you all – internet, smartphones, computers in class, you have no idea when we had to rewind a VHS tape or seek out information in a 500 page Oxford dictionary.”

Times are indeed changing. But some things seem to stay the same; the struggle for teenagers to fit in, often trying to live up to high expectations, to explore and grow, to learn from mistakes, and to sometimes say when asked how they are, “We’re All Fine.”

Conservation in Mind – Endangered animals, Erwin’s elephant celebration

By Frances Lamberts

With weight of up to 10 tons, their height and enormous tusks, elephants look like remnants of primeval fauna, some of their fossilized bones found in Gray. In Erwin, they occasion an artistic annual revival in memory of a historic event, to honor the circus elephant Mary and benefit a sanctuary for these unique animals.

Awe-inspiring creatures, they are intelligent and skillful, exhibiting varied emotions not unlike our own. Social animals, they communicate danger and emotional pleasure, help one another when attacked and adjust the herd’s activity to accommodate an injured member. They grieve for dying or dead companions and have been observed covering a carcass with grass clumps and branches torn from the surrounding vegetation.

Charles Darwin thought elephants to weep when injured and even shed tears of grief at companions’ suffering. The American wildlife biologist Douglas Chadwick told of a young Indian elephant weeping when scolded for having knocked someone down in too-boisterous play.

The newspaper Zeit reported 12 million elephants to have roamed Africa a hundred years ago. Fewer than 400,000 still survive. Killed by poachers for ivory, they also are victims to large-scale deforestation and habitat loss. Both the African and Asian elephant reportedly are at risk of extinction.

But in one African country they are thriving. Botswana, the Zeit reporters conclude, values its wild animals, none more than its elephants. A keystone species whose ecological functions maintain the Chobe-National-Park landscape, it also constitutes a major tourist attraction, bringing millions in revenue. The population, steadily growing since the early 1990s, now counts 135,000, more than a third of Africa’s total. Residents of Unicoi, visiting Botswana in March, encountered elephants “everywhere” except in the country’s desert region.

Are they capable of map reading, too? Many of these elephants emigrated from neighboring countries – South Africa, Zimbabwe and others – where hunting, poaching, or land mines from civil wars are major threats. They seem to know where safety lies. Since now exceeding sustainable-population size, Botswana has instituted a small, fixed-number annual culling.

In the U.S. now, as the Trump administration has opened several national monuments and many other public lands to development and “redefined” the Endangered Species Act and other relevant laws, protections for wildlife are being weakened. With the Rocky Fork State Park a crucial reserve and the Town of Erwin celebrating the memory of its elephant and funding conservation causes, this region, hopefully, will better preserve our own, natural resources heritage.

Officer Norway’s Corner – Remembering a forced evacuation in Norway

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

Tomorrow, Oct. 31, marks the 75th anniversary of the forced evacuation of civilians from Northern Norway that took place in 1944.

The German occupying forces in Northern Norway realized that the Soviet Red Army’s attacks in what is known as The Petsamo-Kirkenes Offensive, became too strong for them to withstand. On Oct. 31, 1944, the German high command issued an order of forced evacuation of all civilians. The Germans also decided that they would burn all houses and kill most of the livestock, leaving little or nothing behind that could, in some way, aid the Soviet forces.

My grandfather, Johan Michelsen, and wife Esther with nine kids, were forced at gunpoint out of their home, loaded onto trucks, and transported westwards away from the Soviet forces. Three of their oldest sons, one of them my father, Alex Michelsen, decided to escape into the mountains to avoid the Germans until the Soviet forces had taken control. The journey west with other families was hard after all; this was in late October, so winter weather, snow, and frost had set in.

They ended up in a small town on the Northern Norway’s west coast. There the 11 of them and 1,900 other evacuees were made to stay in the cargo room of the German transport ship “Karl Arp.” Their journey south soon turned into a living nightmare. There were only three restrooms available, and all of them were clogged up. There was little or no drinking water, and soon people started to suffer from diarrhea and Typhoid, resulting in 35 people, many of them children, dying on this voyage.

My grandfathers’ family all survived the journey and ended up living in an old school building in the south of Norway until the German surrender in May of 1945. But their stay there was anything but easy. Lack of food and proper clothing was always an issue. Some of the locals wrongfully thought they were on the German side. Since they had escaped with the German forces, not realizing that they all at gunpoint had been forced to leave.

Up north, the situation during that time was grim, to put it mildly. Towns, villages, really any place people lived, were burned to the ground. Some people who escaped were living in tunnels, caves, and makeshift huts and cabins up in the mountains away from German forces.

One of the hardest-hit towns was Hammerfest, where virtually every structure burned to the ground. Other small towns, like Kirkenes, Vadsø, and Vardø, were also hit hard.

After the war, the many who had been forced to leave their homes came back. People started to rebuild slowly but surely, and life after a few hard years began to resemble what it had been before the war.

Growing up, I remember as kids, we used to play in what was left of the many German fortresses along the coast. We would find remnants of German helmets, pieces of weapons and ammunition.

My grandparents, my mom, and dad have long passed away. However, their memories, what they had to go through lives on, and is a reminder that freedom is a perilous thing that should not be taken for granted.

Until next time, be safe, be happy, and cherish our freedom.

Hood’s Winks – The great trip!

By Ralph Hood

Gail and I just returned from almost a week in Boston and Lincoln, New Hampshire.

On Friday we flew from Tri-Cities Airport to Boston, with the usual obligatory wait in Atlanta. It’s hard for me to believe that I first flew in/out of the Atlanta Airport more than 50 years ago, and even harder to believe that I flew myself in/out in basic, small airplanes.

Son Kevin, his wife Shirley, and our only grandchild, Rowan, live in Newton, Massachusetts, which is a suburb of Boston. Grandson Rowan is a genius, of course, a handsome young man of almost 12, and interested in everything!

Our son and daughter-in-law are hard working professionals. We admire them and sincerely appreciate their hospitality. Thanks also to grandson Rowan and his ability to fascinate and entertain us.

On Saturday, we drove to Lincoln, New Hampshire, to see the fall foliage. The tree colors were awesomely beautiful, particularly from the top of a mountain. We stayed there two days then drove back to Newton.

New England is—of course—where the American Revolution started.

Remember the Boston Tea Party?

One can actually see today the old North Church in which the lantern was burned to advise Paul Revere if the British were moving in by land or by sea.

Most of us, long ago, read the story of that night in the beginning lines of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s great poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride”

“Listen, my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;

Hardly a man is now alive

Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march

By land or sea from the town to-night,

Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch

Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,—

One if by land, and two if by sea;

And I on the opposite shore will be,

Ready to ride and spread the alarm

Through every Middlesex village and farm…”

I have often wondered when—or if—the USA would have become an independent nation without the early actions of New Englanders.

Please email comments to [email protected]

Conservation in Mind – New threats to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

By Frances Lamberts

Since its earliest work on energy in the 1970s, the League of Women Voters position states its “continued opposition to repeated efforts to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

These attempts have been many, though unsuccessful till now, since the American people seem overwhelmingly to support preservation of the Refuge.

They need to rally for its protection, again. Oil and gas lease sales there had been included in the tax-cut law of December 2017. Ostensibly, sale of drilling rights in a vital part of the Refuge was intended to save money and mute the impacts of a vast increase in the federal debt, through lost tax revenue.

As recently reported by the Washington Post, President Trump currently seeks to open “the entire coastal plain [of ANWR] to oil and gas exploration,” and is “picking the most aggressive development option” for this purpose.

For its importance to wildlife and indigenous people, its natural beauty and recreational values, the Refuge was set aside (first as protected Range) by President Eisenhower. For millions of migrating birds from all 50 states and five other continents, and for numerous other wildlife, it is nursery and home and – quite literally – the last place on earth to go. Its continued protection is essential to grizzly and polar bears, sheep, musk-oxen, wolves, the caribou which move to its birthing grounds by the thousands, and many other, unique animals.

President Theodore Roosevelt, an authority on birds and their song, once described an evening concert by thousands of tundra birds, coming from “numberless loons, rolling cries of cranes and bugling flocks of swans, clanging of innumerable geese, hoarse calls of various ducks and the screams of gulls and terns trying to outdo one another … in wildly harmonious music.”

Osprey and Bald Eagle, Common Nighthawk and Red-breasted Nuthatch, Tennessee Warbler and Ruby-throated Hummingbird were among birds documented – in the fall 2017 regional count by Bryan Stevens – which nest or at other times use the Arctic Refuge. The Annotated Birds of Northeast Tennessee include, as seasonal residents or visitors, more than hundred of the ANWR avian fauna.

Science tells us, and the children demand, that most fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground if the fight against climate change is to be won. On that goal and for our birds and all wildlife that depend on ANWR, I hold with the League of Women Voters.

A Refreshing Knapp – Unicoi County: Past & future

By Ray Knapp

Lisa Whaley stated in her column in the Oct. 9 edition of the Erwin Record “that the Valley Beautiful has an amazing future ahead of it, as long as we never stop believing in its power.” I agree, even with the recent setbacks she mentioned in her column: the pulling out of the CSX Railroad in 2015 and Morrill Motors’ recent decision to head to foreign shores in order to stay afloat in the world market place.

Tough times have hit the county before, and it has always rebounded. For instance, Southern Potteries, Inc. had several names during its existence. Named Clinchfield Ware, when it incorporated in 1916, this company, along with the Clinchfield Railroad, was responsible for the county’s 41 percent population increase from 1910 to 1920.

The railroad moved its headquarters from Johnson City to Erwin and changed its name to CSX. Sporting a turntable and rail car repair capabilities, Erwin became a “Train Town,” for the obvious reason that the railroad employed more people than any other company.

Coming in second place for number of employees was Southern Potteries, Inc. My neighbor, Nathan Hashe, rummaging through some old pictures left to him by his late father, brought over some 1925 pictures of pottery workers posing before the plant. I counted 141. I don’ know if it was the entire workforce at that time, or not, but the plant continued to grow. The hand-painted pottery became more and more popular. By the late 1940s the plant operated 24/7 with a workforce of 1,200 making it the largest hand-painted pottery in the nation. Of course, that pottery is now the coveted “Blue Ridge Pottery.”

With cheap plastic serving ware imported from Japan during the 1950s, the demand for the hand-painted pottery practically ceased, causing the plant to close in 1957. The 1960 census showed the county’s first population decrease in its history as people left to find work.

Following World War 2, Erwin and the rest of the county were enjoying some of the more prosperous times in its history. Nathan pointed out the Drive-In Theatre. Its screen showed as just a small white speck on the aerial photograph. From the back porch of his home on Harris Street, he could watch the Drive-In movies. In addition, Erwin had its own golf course encompassing roughly all the school and school grounds now lying east of South Mohawk Drive.

Furniture stores, grocery stores, drug stores, a new hospital sprang-up to keep up with the growing demand.

My wife recalled her infrequent visits from Flag Pond in the 1950s. She said on Saturdays, as stores unlocked for business, the sidewalks soon filled with people busily shopping.  Not all people were busy. Kids played on the sidewalks until the matinee movie opened at the Capitol Theatre – costing all of 10 cents. Old men sat on the courthouse steps swapping tales and whittling on sticks, while others played checkers. Those benches you see along Main Street would have been a welcome relief to those men, as they were to some Apple Festival goers, earlier this month.

More pictures showed a street passable only by a high-wheeled Model T, or preferably a horse-drawn carriage before its paving in 1917. Some people complain about the way Main Street is now. However, it is certainly an upgrade from those days and the street benches give Erwin a nostalgic touch of a bygone era.

Today there are some empty storefronts along Main Street, as large chain stores have changed shopping habits. Nevertheless, as many are aware, not all shopping is at Walmart, and I can envision many of those empty storefronts reopened with specialty shops that cater to tourists, or locals that enjoy small town attractions, like restaurants, antiques, and design shops that entrepreneurs create to refill the void left by a few failed businesses. 

As old businesses close, or move to some foreign country, I have noticed that new businesses spring up. The Economic and Development Board is hard at work to attract more businesses to the region and like Lisa Whaley, I envision Unicoi County having a great future.

Officer Norway’s Corner – A focus on driver safety, substance abuse

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

The month of October is well underway. The Apple Festival, which turned out to be a record-breaking one, is behind us. The festival also brought with it some fall-like weather, especially a little rain which was much needed in our area.

Fall is definitely my favorite season of the year. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are lined up, and many stores in their eagerness to sell have just thrown them in altogether it looks like.

October is also one of the key months in the school year where an increased focus on especially teen driver safety takes place. It starts with the National Teen Driver Safety Week on Monday, Oct. 21. That same week is also the kickoff of our yearly SADD Club Rock the Belt campaign, which will have a focus on seatbelt use.

During that same week in October, the Red Ribbon Week starts, which is also a yearly campaign with a strong focus on combating drug use in any form, especially among teens. The Red Ribbon Week, like so many other campaigns with a focus on safety and prevention, got its start with a tragic incident.

Enrique (Kiki) Camarena was a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agent. He was killed in Mexico in 1985. On Feb. 7, 1985, the 37-year-old Camarena left his office to meet his wife for lunch. Five men ambushed and kidnapped him. One month later, his body was found. He had been tortured to death.

In honor of Agent Camarena’s memory and his fight against illegal drugs, friends and neighbors began to wear red ribbons. Parents, sick of the destruction that alcohol and other drugs cause, formed coalitions, and adopted Camarena as their model. They embraced his belief that one person can make a difference, and so the start of the Red Ribbon Week was born.

All these activities, with a focus on teen driver safety and substance abuse, are one of my key focus points at our high school. It’s hard to reach every student and to get the point across, but if just one or two gets it, it is worth it a hundred times over.

Until next time, be safe, have fun, and enjoy the crisp, cool fall days.

Hood’s Winks – There’s no business like show business

Ralph Hood suspends a woman in mid-air as part of his magic act. (Contributed photo)

By Ralph Hood

There was a time when I was—believe it or not—a magician, traveling the Eastern Seaboard from Pennsylvania to Florida with The Children’s Magic Circus.

I wore a tuxedo, made things disappear, and—as the emcee announced—floated “…a young lady in midair above the stage, passing a completely solid hoop over, under and around her entire body, thus proving beyond a shadow of a doubt the complete absence of any wires or other supportive devices. Watch closely, for you may never see the likes of this again!”

It was one heck of an act, even if I do say so myself (and I do)!

I must point out that before I was a magician I was a salesman. I didn’t do magic at all. So, how did I get hired as a magician? Well, therein lies a story…

Wife Gail was a schoolteacher, and she also sang beautifully. We and another young couple formed The Children’s Magic Circus. It was agreed that Gail would sing Mary Poppins songs (my sister claimed that Gail was the only one on the show with real talent) and I would learn to be a magician, and how to do a fire-eating act.

Jim, the male half of the other couple, had performed many acts on numerous circuses. He—our ace in the hole—spent a lot of time backstage changing clothes between his several acts.

I bought a lot of magic tricks and learned to perform them, but not very well at first. I practiced by doing free magic shows for small groups.

The fire-eating act? I learned it. It was easy to do and popular with audiences of all ages, but it was not enjoyable and left a vile taste of gasoline in my mouth.

There is an old showbiz statement that performers often “double in brass.” Originally, that meant they played in the band when not performing their own act. In our show everybody doubled in brass—not by playing in a band, but by doing other jobs.

I booked our dates, Jim ran the show, and we all pitched in unpacking and repacking the show equipment.

All in all, the show was fun. We took our toddler daughter with us and, every now and then, introduced her to the audience; they loved her impromptu appearances on the stage.

When Gail and I were expecting our second child, we cashed in our (few) chips and returned to a more normal life.

But it’s still fun to remember when we were superstars!

By the way—did I ever tell y’all about the time I was on the Oprah Winfrey show?

Please send comments to [email protected]

From the Publisher’s Desk – Town continues to thrive despite challenges

By Lisa Whaley

This small town is thrivin’.

Don’t believe all the hype. Small towns are not dying — or at least not this small town, if the weekend’s Apple Festival is any indication.

Now in its 42nd year, the Apple Festival has become synonymous throughout our region as the place to go to enjoy everything hearth and home — from crafts and food to music and art and, of course, apples.

But walking through downtown Erwin Saturday, something else caught my eye.

It was the realization that I was witness to the celebration of a living, breathing community – small town America at its best with little to no signs of decay.

I know. I’ve read the articles and seen the empty store fronts. As a girl who grew up in a town of just 300, I’m very familiar with the challenges small towns face.

And Erwin has had more than its share. The pulling out of CSX Railroad in 2015 was enough for a knock-out. The decision to close Morrill Motors was another such blow.

Yet the Erwin I saw this past Saturday looked neither down nor out.

Women swapped stories on one corner. Family members reunited on another. A group of millennials, handsome and eyes alight with all the promise of the future, joked with each other on a third.

The crowds were filled with everything from giggling children skipping down the street to old men sharing their tall tales, and all ages in-between. It was an irresistible combination of wisdom and promise, heady joy and cool-headed common sense that seemed to promise a bright future for anyone willing to grab this small-town comet by the tail.

And it wasn’t just the audience that seemed to shine. Within the booths and behind the tables, visitors found a collection of hard-working dreamers, not necessarily from Unicoi County, but part of this community nonetheless.

These would-be authors and artists, bakers and woodworkers, jewelers and craftsmen were all working to create a future that could include something they loved to do. And they were happy to share those dreams with anyone who would stop, look and listen.

That, I believe, may be the secret to our success.

Small town America needs jobs. It needs young people willing to put down roots in rural communities. It needs roads, a solid infrastructure, good law enforcement and dedicated mayors. All of these things can be crucial.

But I think, more importantly, small town America needs to be proud of what we have, to celebrate its value and to look excitedly toward the promise of tomorrow.

While this past weekend may have been a festival —  and festivals do indeed bring people from all over —  what I saw Saturday was pure Erwin. The Valley Beautiful has an amazing future ahead of it, as long as we never stop believing in its power.

Erwin is in no danger. I believe that. And I can’t wait to see what we bring to tomorrow.

Conservation in Mind – ‘Green New Deal,’ efforts to save livable climate

By Frances Lamberts

Across the US and the world over, the young are rising in climate-change protests. They “grieve for a future they worry they’ll never have,” as the Associated Press reported, in conjunction with the recent climate summit at the United Nations.

That event also saw the release of yet another report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showing that “earth is in more hot water than ever before, and so are we,” unless carbon pollution in the atmosphere is reduced drastically, and quickly.

It is good to note, therefore, the ongoing actions and commitments, by many cities and other entities, to transition away from the heat-trapping energy sources in order to halt runaway climate change, and promising developments toward that goal in the Congress.

The Union of Concerned Scientists and other sources report that more than a hundred cities and countries across the U.S. have adopted 100 percent clean energy goals, most in staged transition by 2050. Some, like Atlanta, Chicago or Downingtown Borough (Pennsylvania) aim for this achievement by 2030 or 2035, some even earlier.

More than half the states have “Renewable Energy Standards” in place and more than 20 have binding goals – through efficiency and carbon-free energy – to reach or be close to “net zero” emissions by mid-century.

And the Congress has been called on by at least 125 cities and communities to address climate change since this urgent problem cannot be solved through local action alone.

An Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, endorsed by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, is among relevant bills now in the Congress, as is a resolution to “create a Green New Deal,” whose main proponents seem to be the young. These are demanding of policy makers that they listen to the science and preserve a habitable and prosperous future for the up-and-coming generations.

The Green New Deal, while also seeking improvements to social and economic problems affecting many Americans, is focused on the clean-energy transition, at speed and on the scale needed to lower the carbon emissions quickly and keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, as the Paris climate agreement aimed for.

While it is ambitious and unlikely to be passed in a single bill, the ongoing clean-energy efforts and commitments by so many state and local governments show the Green New Deal to be realistic with proper planning and political will, and affordable. One would hope it would receive support from our national legislators.

Office Norway’s Corner – Norway – a country rich in history

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

History has always interested me. I moved to Atlanta in 1996, and later my wife and I moved to Maryland, where we lived for a total of 10 years.

During those years we made several trips to various Civil War battlefields and museums. It was truly fascinating to explore the history of our young nation, the trials, and tribulations this country went through and to where we as a nation are today. Although on a much smaller scale, but with a longer historical perspective, is the history of my birth country, Norway.

Most people are familiar with the Vikings, and from the last decades of the 8th century, Norwegians started expanding across the seas to the British Isles and later to Iceland, Greenland and beyond. The Viking age also saw the unification of Norway, which up to that time had been divided up with several chieftains and kings who often would be fighting for land and influence among themselves.

In 995 Olaf Tryggvason became King Olaf I of Norway. Olaf had raided several European cities and fought in many wars, and got wounded in one of them. After he healed up, he decided to get baptized and returned to Norway, where he made it a priority to convert the country to Christianity using all means at his disposal. The new religion, however, was met with some stiff resistance from Norwegians who for centuries had worshipped Pagan gods.

In 1397 Norway entered into the Kalmar Union with Sweden and Denmark, but when Sweden decided to leave the union in 1523, Norway became the junior partner with Denmark.

In 1537 Norway and several other countries went through what is known as the Reformation. Many nations broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and the authority by the Pope (in particular) which brought forth the Protestant movement and the Lutheran Church.

1814 turned out to be a significant year in Norway’s history. Norway, which was under Danish rule at the time, was forced to cede Norway to Sweden since Denmark found itself on the losing side after the Napoleonic Wars as a result of the treaty of Kiel.

Norway, however, declared its own independence and adopted a constitution on May 17, 1814, which to this day is celebrated as the Independence day of Norway.

The union with Sweden was in many ways an uneasy one and the union came to an end in 1905. The newly independent Norwegian Parliament offered the Norwegian crown to Denmark’s Prince Carl. He later became King Haakon VII. He would be the first Norwegian King since Olaf IV Haakonson who died age 16 in 1387. A new, truly independent country was born. (Partial Souce, Wikipedia, History of Norway.)

Until next time, be safe, be happy, and be a student of history.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Hilltop cemetery brings together the living

By Connie Denney

A family cemetery atop a hill in Western North Carolina was the setting for a group alive with a purpose.

Months earlier I had learned of the hope for a stone to mark the grave of my paternal great-grandmother, whose name I could not have told you at that time. But her now 95-year-old granddaughter’s (my late father’s first cousin) determination to see a proper marker for her grandmother’s final resting place inspired others to help make that happen.

Her niece Sherry and I saw each other at a funeral home, all too frequent a place folks run into each other these days. She told me of her Aunt Mamie’s wish. I won’t try to name all involved, as there are a number of characters in this story, which is still unfolding. Sherry and I were in touch over the months, as she needed a death date for the stone, which she was seeing to getting engraved before taking it across the mountain. My inquiries on my branch of the family tree helped none in that regard. She did learn the date, however; and, the trip to Bee Log was on.

Those accompanying Aunt (her relationship to a number of those along) Mamie on a Tuesday in July numbered a dozen or more. I was so pleased to be among them, as somewhere along the line it struck me that this was MY great-grandmother we were talking about! These were MY people. A number of them I knew but had not seen for a long time. Some I did not remember having seen. Some I had never met.

Among the latter was Steve, recognized as “historian” by others in the group. He was the one with a shovel and materials needed to set the gravestone. The fact that it rained did not keep him from doing what he came to do. As a matter of fact, it did not seem to dampen spirits at all. Mission accomplished, we caravanned into Burnsville for lunch and to extend our visit. Connections among the living had much to do with appreciating a common heritage.

Since then Steve and I have shared information, including old photographs he sent from his Mom’s collection. One is of my Daddy and his twin brother. It’s a picture I had not seen and now can share with other family members on my branch of the family tree. A bit of research connects dots, which creates more questions, which leads to the need for more research.

Between that chance meeting with Sherry and the day Aunt Mamie, surrounded by family members, saw her wish fulfilled, I had two occasions to be at that cemetery. The first was to explore a bit, be sure of just where it was. It was not exactly where we thought it was, but at the end of an unpaved former logging road. That’s a story in itself.

Before the second trip, I had been back where I have cell phone reception and internet access.  I learned more than I even knew to ask. My great-great-great-great grandfather has a commemorative stone on top of that hill acknowledging his service in the American Revolutionary War. That, too, is quite another story.

A Refreshing Knapp – Hamburger row

By Ray Knapp

My wife, Frances, has recently lost about 30 pounds to my three. She is trying to eat healthy. Therefore, I was quite surprised when she asked if I would get burgers for dinner, a Big Mac for her, to be specific. Always being different, she also wanted onion rings, instead of fries.

They didn’t have any, so I just crossed the street to Pal’s, and guess what? They didn’t have onion rings either. Looking around for possibilities: Dunkin’ Donuts, Taco Bell, and Bojangles? No, I do not think so. Then I remembered Hardee’s up past Rock Creek Road. I left Hamburger Row and headed that way. Eureka! They did have some … only $2.73 including tax for a large order.

The trouble that woman puts me through just to get her a heart attack on a bun, (as Squidward Tentacles refers to the Krabby Patties made by the famous fry cook, in the cartoon named for him, SpongeBob Square Pants.) Actually, she has been a little under the weather, so I thought I should humor her a little, or I would have gotten burgers and fries and came home. All that trouble for six onion rings.   

Lately there has been a fight against obesity and fast food restaurants are at the top of the infamous list for causing it. A majority of restaurants are now required to post the amount of calories for most entrees. A Big Mac, for instance, has 530 calories, while a Big Mac and fries contains 900 calories and almost 50 grams of fat. Hardee’s onion rings (assuming they were the beer battered variety) contain 410 calories; unfortunately, 220 of them are from fat. Therefore, 530 calories for the Big Mac plus 410 for the onion rings equals 910 calories and enough fat for at least a day or two.

I will give the Golden Arches some credit; McDonald’s Big Mac must contain fewer calories than it used to, as when I finally got home, my wife decided to rewarm the meat. The size of the meat in a Big Mac has shrunk. It is roughly the size of a small Krystal Burger. I am not picking on any fast food restaurant as almost 40 percent of American’s eat at fast food restaurants on any given day. Therefore, until something better comes along, they are indispensable.

Burger King, which we don’t have in the county, has come out with a meatless burger recently. It is made of vegetables and brown rice. The carbs in the burger are healthy sources of complex carbohydrates that digest slowly and don’t cause a dramatic rise in blood sugar. Its bun, on the other hand, contains high fructose corn syrup, which can cause spikes in blood sugar. It is somewhat lower in calories (390) than most burgers its size. If it catches on, I would venture a guess that most burger chains will jump on the bandwagon with their version of a veggie burger.

However, some of BK’s burger varieties with meat are astonishing. A triple whopper with cheese contains 1220 calories. Add a soft drink and fries, and that is more calories, fat, salt and sugar than a normal person should consume in a day.

You won’t find me on Hamburger Row very often, as most of my meals are homemade and nutritious. My problem in eating stems from staying up later than my wife and sneaking into the kitchen for some kind of snack. That woman can hear me 30 feet away and through closed doors. She comes out of a deep sleep and shouts, “Stay out of that refrigerator.” Actually, I believe she has x-ray vision – always knowing what I’m doing. “You sound like a rat in there rattling around in those chips and cookies.”

I’m going to show her – her and her 30-pound weight loss. I’ll just join her eating celery sticks, raw carrots and other unsavory vegetables; going to bed with her so temptations shouldn’t be as hard to overcome.

Of course, I just wish there was an overnight burger joint in town where I could sneak quietly out of bed and head that way if hunger gets too much to bear.

Officer Norway’s Corner – September 11, 2001 – A reflection

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

Last Wednesday marked the 18th anniversary of the devastating attacks on the U.S. mainland on Sept. 11, 2001. Much has happened in our country since then. Today, unfortunately, our society, in many ways, has become increasingly polarized.

I am not sure if we ever will see a day again where we as a country truly could come together as we did in the days and weeks after 9-11.

9-11 was also for many a “Clarion Call” to sign up and join and serve in our armed forces. There have been several pivotal moments in our country’s history.

Moments where young men and women in a time of need have answered the call for a cause greater than themselves. I am not going to peel away the layers of politics that sometimes have been a source for many wars – wars that some can argue could have been avoided.

I will instead, in remembrance of that somber day, reflect on and honor those who indeed stepped up and took the oath.

A few years ago, when I was employed by Lockheed Martin, I had the honor of working with many veterans. I worked as a weapons handler and firearms instructors for Lockheed, and one of the guys, actually my supervisor, had deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Marines.

He was among the many who fought in the second battle of Fallujah, which turned out to be one of the bloodiest battles in the Iraqi war.

He would tell stories about brothers lost, the hell of house-to-house combat, even sharing a short film clip of him getting a haircut in the middle of a combat zone. It’s hard to be more Devil Dog than that.

We would also talk about the disconnect between many Americans and those who serve in a time of war. When you hear people gripe about trivial things, like their double cappuccino not being hot enough. Or that one of your favorite sports figures is out with a minor injury, that the avocados at the local grocery store are not organic.

It makes you stop and pause. Sadly, too many are blissfully removed from what thousands of our men and women in uniform are facing daily, serving in combat zones. Where the promise of a hot meal, not to mention a shower, is far from guaranteed.

Reflecting on this, one can argue that maybe it is a good thing that our way of life at home is quite normal. That people can enjoy their cappuccino, even complain that it could be a few degrees warmer.

The passing of time has a built-in “fade button” in our collective memories; hence me writing about that day of infamy.

Let us continue to remember and honor those who died on that horrible day. Let us pray for all those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and for the healing of those who came home, some with scars, seen and unseen.

Until next time, have fun, be safe, and be mindful that the promise of tomorrow is just that, a promise. Make the best out of every day.

Conservation in Mind – Nolichucky Gorge highlight of U.S. trip

By Frances Lamberts

When Sebastian and Nicole, visitors from Bonn, Germany came last year, the travel route and destinations reflected the love of America’s open space and parks and its landscapes of great natural beauty.

They included the Blue Ridge Parkway driving down from Washington, D.C., days of hiking in the Roan highlands and Great Smoky Mountain Park, Hunting Island, Cape Hatteras and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and several other coastal parks in the Carolinas. Of historic cities on the route, Savannah stood out for  them for its many green spaces and old trees.

But the adventure of whitewater rafting through the Nolichucky Gorge was by far, they said, the “highlight of the entire journey.”

In February 1965, President Lyndon Johnson had sent a special message to the Congress and later that year held a White House Conference on Natural Beauty.

“For centuries,” the message said, “Americans have drawn strength and inspiration from the beauty of our country. It would be a neglectful generation indeed … which failed to preserve and extend such a heritage for its descendants.”

In similar manner before him, utility but also their beauty had motivated Teddy Roosevelt to urge preservation of unique landscapes and forests and all “the lesser and mightier forms of wildlife.”  Even tiny songbirds, he wrote, “add by voice and action to the joy of living of most men and women.”

President Johnson, too, admitting that “beauty is not an easy thing to measure … in the gross national product,” it is nonetheless a road to satisfaction and pleasure and a good life. He held that it should be considered “one of the most important components of our true national income, not to be left out simply because statisticians cannot calculate its worth.”

His effort, therefore, was to reverse an ongoing “blighting” of the countryside through a national beautification movement and legislative action.

This came to include the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, established by Congress in 1968. Of the many sources of wonder and amazement which the settlers found here, Johnson said, none was greater “than the power and majesty of American rivers.”

In the 50th anniversary year of the law which now preserves “outstandingly remarkable” sections of about 200 of the nation’s (and one of Tennessee’s) rivers, wonder and amazement is what Nicole and Sebastian – on their honeymoon then – reported from rafting through the Nolichucky Gorge.

Adam’s Apples – Real customer service

By James Mack Adams

For this month’s contribution, I would like to write a few words about something many of us encounter in our daily lives. It is commonly called ‘customer service.’ As the name implies, it is a service with the goal of keeping customers and clients satisfied and happy. 

When we think of customer service today, we have grown to envision a sign over a counter in a store or a voice on the telephone promising to settle any issue we may have with a product or service. The telephone voice may often be half a world away and have a heavy accent.

Customer service means something more to those of us who are old enough to remember an earlier time. Yes, there was a time when customer service began the minute you walked through the door or drove up to the pump. Those were the days before self-service gas stations, self-checkout scanners, and online shopping.

I must say that most of my past dealings with customer service have been very satisfactory.  Others, not so much. Sometime ago, I visited a local chain department store in search of a particular item of clothing I needed at the time. I went to the appropriate department, but no store associate was to be found. I walked around the store searching in vain for help. Feeling some frustration, I asked a cashier for assistance. He had to call someone out from some unknown location in the bowels of the store to answer my question. Yes, I do sometimes miss the old days.

Once upon a time when you pulled into a gas station to fill up, you didn’t have to get out of the car. An attendant filled your tank, cleaned your windshield, and gauged your tires for proper pressure. If you requested, he/she looked under the hood to check the oil and coolant levels.

Once upon a time when you visited a department store, there were trained sales associates in every department who were ready and eager to help you find the item for which you were searching. Well-dressed men with tape measures draped around their necks were ready to measure you for that suit you needed for a special occasion. If some alterations were required, that service was usually free to the customer.   

One department store holds the first-place spot in my memory of businesses with great customer service. F & R Lazarus & Co. was a large department store in downtown Columbus, Ohio in an earlier era of retail sales.

It was not uncommon for customers to spend several hours shopping the store’s six floors and enjoying a lunch break in one of its four dining rooms. The customers were at times treated to a live-model fashion show while enjoying their meals. It was a shopping adventure.

The store had a checkroom for coats and hats during the winter months. If the shoppers became overloaded with packages, they could leave them in the checkroom until they were ready to leave the store. Home delivery of purchases was available if desired.

A large waiting room, with comfortable seating, was available on the fifth floor. The room was a designated meeting place if family members became separated. It was also a place where dad could sit while mom shopped until she dropped.

Other amenities included home decorating consultants and an in-house travel agency.

A highlight of the Christmas season for many Columbus area residents was a night trip downtown to view the store’s window displays. The store’s professional window dressers used both static and animated displays to awe the viewers and entice Christmas shoppers. 

In later years, the iconic F & R Lazarus went through some merges with other retail firms. Things went downhill from there, including customer service. 

It is a fact that advances in technology have made shopping much easier, faster, and more convenient. However, I do sometimes yearn for a simpler time when shopping had a more personal touch.

Talk of the Town – Firemen keep us safe

By Jamie Rice

House fires are not something that we want to think about. Besides changing the batteries in our smoke alarms and practicing a few safety drills with our kids, it probably never crosses our mind. We are so fortunate that for over the last 25 years, the Town of Erwin has kept eight full-time and nine part-time dedicated firemen whose sole job is to keep our citizens safe during some unimaginable circumstances. Our employees endure a minimum of 24 hours of training per month to ensure they are always sharp and have the most up to date information on everything from equipment to extinguishing techniques.

In an average month, our employees respond to two house fires, and 12-17 other miscellaneous calls. Expert training and up-to-date equipment help our responders to report to a location in less than five minutes. In these dire situations where every second counts, this quick response time reduces catastrophic damage to property and lives. Besides basic fire emergencies, our employees assist in traffic control, train with police for active shooter defense, respond to methamphetamine labs, industrial accidents, car crash entrapments and are trained with AED and basic life support techniques.

Diligent maintenance and tender loving care have kept a 1976 fire engine in service until late 2018, when it was then replaced by a 2002 model fire engine for $200,000. Normal cost for a new engine is around $500,000. The fire department has two fire engines, one ladder truck, one rescue truck and one pickup truck.

This equipment is inspected regularly and must pass certain criteria designated by the Insurance Service Organization (ISO). ISO is responsible for rating a community’s fire protection capabilities and therefore this rating, either good or bad will affect insurance premiums for residential and commercial property owners. On a scale 1-10, 1 being the best, the Town of Erwin has a rating of 4. Without the replacement of this fire engine, the Towns ISO rating would have increased, causing higher premiums.

Within the next five years, serious discussions will be held regarding the condition of our current fire station located on Elm Street. This building has faithfully served our employees for 40 years, however, like all structures, it is showing some age. The roof system has caused great concern as well as the lack of space to house some equipment. We are very fortunate to have the large public works garage on Watauga Avenue; however, this is not ideal in an emergency situation. Looking at current remodeling costs versus moving to a new location is a decision that will be heavily discussed and scrutinized.

The Town of Erwin will continue to strive to keep our citizens and property safe by responsibly funding the Erwin Fire Department. When you see one of these gentlemen out in uniform, give them a friendly smile and wave. This simple gesture of appreciation may be just the relief they need after a tough shift.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Sept. 11 issue dedicated to all first responders

By Lisa Whaley

I will never forget where I was on Sept. 11, 2001.

My children were small. Ginny had just started kindergarten that year. I had dropped 1-year-old Mary off at her grandmother’s so I could pick up a little extra work with some clerking duties at the Johnson City Press.

I was sitting in what was once referred to as the sports department to do my work. Most of the sportswriters had yet to come in and all was quiet.

On the wall above the desks was a television that ran all day so we could stay up to date on national news. I would type, and glance up, then type and glance up again. I don’t remember if I saw the moment of the first plane flying into the Twin Towers. I remember seeing the replay and sharing the nation’s belief that something had happened to the pilot or plane to cause this horrible accident.

Then I saw the second plane fly into the building.

In that split second, everything changed. In that second, not only were steel and glass shattered, but so too was the belief that United States soil was somehow immune to world conflict.

True, we had weathered Pearl Harbor, but that had been decades and oceans away from our mainland. We had fought in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam, but no one had ever dropped a bomb on New York or Washington, D.C.

As I drove back home later that afternoon, I wondered if war had finally come to America.

Yet as I look back, I can see that from that dark moment, and from those ashes, there arose such a tribute to freedom that, for years to come, we all stood a little taller as Americans.

In those moments, race, religion and political affiliation truly ceased to matter. We were joined together in something bigger than ourselves.

Nowhere was that sentiment more clearly illustrated than at the sites of those terrorist-implemented atrocities — the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon Building in Washington and that lone field in rural Pennsylvania.

At each location, brave men and women rose up — to provide comfort, save lives and avert disaster. They did it quickly. They did it selflessly. They did it for their brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends and even strangers.

They showed each of us who we want to be when we say “I am an American.” They showed us what we, as Americans, do best when we are in real danger. We unite.

Today, The Erwin Record has the privilege of publishing on the anniversary of 9-11 and in doing so would like to dedicate this to all first responders who, like those brave souls on 9-11, continue protect the lives of those around them.

And we thank them for reminding us, again and again, what it means to be a true American — different yes, but united always.

May we never, ever forget the sacrifices that continue to teach us this lesson.

Hood’s Winks – Trestle, train and young boys

By Ralph Hood

I recently was reminded of the 1950s and the Altamaha River where we Boy Scouts camped, hunted, fished, and disobeyed our scoutmasters by crossing the river on the nearby railroad trestle. My mind leaped back almost 70 years to the dark night I was certain that my death on that trestle was imminent.

Crossing the trestle at night was a rite of passage. We took the new boys across the trestle and enjoyed evil pleasure in scaring them horribly.

We discussed what we would do if a train came while we were in midtrestle. We knew it was too high to jump from trestle to river. We all had theories, the most prevalent being that there was room to lie on the side of the track, outside the rails, without being hurt. We had all tried it—when there was no train coming—and believed that it would work. We knew it would take courage to lie there without moving, but we also knew that we, of course, had that courage.

Walking the trestle at night had its problems. If you used a flashlight it was easy to get confused between the tops of cross ties and the gaps between. It was almost like being hypnotized.

In the depths of this misconception, you actually had to feel with your feet to be sure which was which. (It was widely believed by those who had not tried it, that this optical illusion could be avoided by walking in the dark without the flashlight, but we didn’t believe a word of it.)

On the night of my near death, we had walked all the way across the trestle and were midpoint in our return. I felt helplessly for each step. At that point someone shouted, “Look!”

I looked.

There was a train in front of us, not yet on the trestle but headed our way! You could see the headlight coming round the bend.

Sadly, I must admit that the emergency plan never entered my mind. I never considered it. I—who had heretofore been unable to walk at more than a slow creep because of my optical confusion—then ran full tilt across those ties trying desperately to reach the end of the trestle before the train did. In absolute full panic I dashed toward that train at full gallop, oblivious of gaps between ties and of darkness itself.

I made it. I dove from the end of the trestle into gravel and dirt, rolled a few times, then arose scratched and bruised but alive by the very skin of my teeth.

Immediately I realized something was amiss. Where was the train, the screaming whistle, the roar of the locomotive?

There was nothing. It wasn’t a train after all, but only a one-eyed car on the road beside the train track.

I was much abashed.