Officer Norway’s Corner – My second deployment to Lebanon

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

My second and last deployment to South Lebanon as part of the UN forces stationed there was in the spring of 1988. The previous year the UN had established a quick reaction force in South Lebanon, called Force Mobile Reserve or FMR for short. This force was created in the aftermath of a bloody clash between French UN soldiers and soldiers from the Shiite Amal movement. After this incident, it became clear that the UN forces in the area needed a mobile, heavily armed quick reaction force that could assist other UN forces should it be necessary. FMR was via the UNIFIL (United Interim Force in Lebanon) Force Commander placed under direct orders from the UN Secretary-General which at that time was Pérez de Cuéllar.

We moved into a brand new camp near the Lebanese town of Qana. Qana, by the way, is best known as the place where Jesus performed his first public miracle – the turning of a large quantity of water into wine at a wedding feast (John 2:1–11).

There was us in the Norwegian platoon, which was set up with two armored personnel carriers and two infantry squads with eight men in each. The FMR camp was indeed a multi-ethnicity camp. We had soldiers from, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Ghana, Fiji, and Nepal. We each had our own corner of the camp, but we shared the same mess hall and training facilities. Our FMR commander was Irish, so we followed pretty much an Irish military structure, with commands, morning muster and more. It took a bit to get used to their way of doing things, but we got used to it pretty quickly.

Although much of Lebanon at that time was showing evidence of a civil war, still parts of the country were beautiful, with plenty of vast fields of olive and citrus trees, rolling hills and valleys, small villages and bigger towns, and Mount Hermon, where it would snow every winter. As a Quick Reaction Force, we would sometimes be on mobile patrols for several days in a row, often spending the nights out in the fields or on one of the many UN outposts. Sometimes we would drive out to the coastal city of Tyre, where we would tour the ancient Roman ruins there and have dinner at one of the many local restaurants – a nice break from the field rations.

Often in our off time, we would sign up for one of the many biblical tours that the chaplain we had would arrange. We would travel to Israel and visit Jerusalem and trace in the footsteps of Jesus and his disciples. We would visit Masada, Bethlehem, and the Dead Sea, where we, of course, had pictures taken while floating, reading a newspaper. We would tour one of the old markets, where all the salesmen had a special price just for you, and sample the local food, that often was a mixture of Arab, Jewish, and French cooking.

I ended up spending two years in Lebanon on two different deployments. One day I would love to go back and visit.

Until next time, be safe, be happy and when you have a chance, see the world.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Ursula served, is thankful

By Connie Denney

Times were different then—different on a personal and on a global scale. Ursula Behling lived on the West side of the wall dividing Germany. When she visited family in East Germany, it was so very sad to see how controlled lives were, how limited the supply of food.

At that time she was married with kids. But years later when her personal responsibilities were different, she sought out the way to put legs on her understanding of human suffering and desire to do something about it. The path led to the Peace Corps.

Life has carried Ursula from East Prussia, where she was born, to Germany at the age of one year, then to a number of states in this country. There are many stories worth the telling along the way. Being near her daughter had much to do with Ursula’s making her home in Erwin, where we sat a spell and I saw the scrapbook of pictures and mementos from her service in the Peace Corps, which began in 1997.

“My dream was always to go to a third world country and help, and see for myself what it is like.” She was thinking Africa—but the Peace Corps assignment took her to Ukraine after the breakup of the Soviet Union.  She remembers arriving there in January, when the river was frozen. Availability of heat was controlled, turned on in December and off on April 21. By May it was a bit warmer, but she still needed a coat. Among the many things not to be taken for granted were hot water showers and toilet paper.

Work assignments resulted from matching needs to skill sets. Her 30 years of experience in business management led to work in the resource center for NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in Kiev, the capital city. Her duties varied but included teaching general office skills, pubic relations, fundraising.

Her two-year stint was cut short, when her own health problems resulted in her return to this country after eight months.  It was long enough, though, for her to absorb an appreciation for the challenge of learning to navigate a large foreign city in a country in transition, and for the graciousness of a struggling people.  She values the cultural exchange, feels she learned more than she taught.

As for the Peace Corps, Ursula points out that getting in is not a given. She traveled to Washington, D.C., to pursue her interest. Health screenings and extensive training including learning the language of the country one will serve are among requirements. 

Would she recommend it to others?  “If you are a person afraid of your own shadow, or can’t follow directions, don’t go” she cautions.  On the other hand, “I always would say if you can learn something, go do it. “You learn to be independent, be responsible and feel good for what you did.” She noted that there were students, who could get college credit for their service, in her group, along with other ages ranging into the 70s. Housing was furnished, along with a small amount to live on and a bit of money in the bank back home.

Being thankful is high on Ursula’s list, as she reflects on her own experience, noting what a wonderful country in which we live. She came here by choice in 1965, went through the Ellis Island experience as an immigrant and committed herself to the serious business of naturalization to become a citizen of the United States. 

She knows whereof she speaks.

A Refreshing Knapp – What caused this condition?

By Ray Knapp

The check-in receptionist at Mountain Empire Surgical Center was asking the routine questions filled out at any doctor’s office or hospital you check into. When she came to that question of what caused my condition I didn’t have a ready answer. There had been no falls, I hadn’t lifted anything heavy of strained my back in any way. What I had was a Synovial cyst that causes pain and kind of a painful shooting or tingling sensation down your hip and back of your leg and bottom of your foot. The only thing I knew was: they generally happened more to senior citizens. So I answered: Age for one thing.

These cysts develop as a result of degenerative changes that occur with aging. They are most common in patients older than 65 years and can be found throughout the spine, but are most common in the lower back. Synovial fluid, contained in a membrane called the synovial sac, lubricates the facet joints and helps them move smoothly. In response to degeneration, the body may produce more synovial fluid in an attempt to keep the joints moving smoothly. It is thought that synovial cysts form when this extra fluid builds up inside one section of the synovial sac.

The normal procedure is to drain this extra fluid from the sac and then give you an epidural – which is a cortisone cocktail of sorts that travels down your leg and in 3 or 4 days the pain should be gone. In my case, the extra fluid had jelled. The doctor said if the pain persisted they would have to operate and remove that sac; just my luck.

I had an appointment with Appalachian Orthopedics who gives me a yearly “Rooster Shot” to keep my knee operating right – the shots are synthetic now, but used to be made primarily from rooster combs. My wife used to joke that she expected to be woken by me perched on the head of the bed, crowing.

Anyway, they sent me to our new little hospital with its new equipment for a CT scan to see what was going on when I told them of my other complaints. I was personally impressed with it; the clean spaces, friendly and knowledgeable staff and up-to-date equipment. Even though Erwin’s Ballad Hospital only has 10 beds, to me, it is far more than an emergency clinic. The scan revealed the cyst in between joints 4 and 5 – the lower part of the back.

I was a little surprised that Medicare even approved this procedure as I had been for my yearly check-up at the VA and the doctor suggested a lung scan due to a past history of smoking and cancer in other parts of my body. I notified my civilian Primary Care Doctor who put in a request for the scan. It came back from Medicare as disapproved. The reason being, my age was past 77 and starting the first day of 2019, this procedure would not be approved for persons past that age. People past that age still vote, so I wrote Phil Roe, Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn a letter voicing my disapproval and haven’t heard from any of them. ‘Too busy fighting democrats over a border wall I suppose.

The procedure was done by Doctor Knox, a knowledgeable man with 32 years’ experience in this field, so I felt in capable hands. You’re awake during the procedure and though it’s not extremely painful, you could say it’s highly uncomfortable.

For all the age-related problems that occur during the Golden Years, I’ve never met a more supportive or positive people in any age group. I think part of this is while having more physical problems, have – and take the time to check on friends and neighbors. They go to church more, which has a positive effect, and most of them have children and grandchildren to check on and help them.

But watch out for Medicare, they think we’re a bunch of doddering old folks whose memory is shot, and don’t vote. We know how to complain; we’ve heard it all our life.

Officer Norway’s Corner – The greenhorn and the sea

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

In my last column, I mentioned that in my teens I wanted to be a sailor. I have an older brother who was a merchant mariner growing up, and every time he came home he had a suitcase filled with pictures and souvenirs, plus stories to tell from far away places.

So right out of school, I applied and was accepted into one of the three merchant marine academies that were in Norway at that time. Back then these academies lasted for three months and were tailored like a boot camp. We got up at five every morning, and after breakfast, we had to clean our rooms before inspection.

The academy had their own training vessel, a retired 70-foot cargo ship, where we learned navigation, basic engine maintenance, handling ropes, and pulleys and all that one would need to know to work on a boat.

After graduation, I applied to several shipping companies, but this was 1982, and almost overnight the once proud Norwegian shipping industry started to flag out under other nations flags. This was to save taxes and they began to hire cheaper employees from countries like the Philipines and Taiwan, with the result that a lot of jobs in that industry was all of a sudden hard to get. So my plans to go out and see the world on a ship came to a screeching halt. I was not too worried though, because I had a plan B, which was my hope to be called into the navy, but the Norwegian military had other plans for me.

After my year in the army and my first tour to South Lebanon where I stayed for a year, I came back to Norway and civilian life. My older brother at that time was also back in Norway and worked as a deckhand on an Arctic fishing trawler in the Barents Sea and the North Atlantic. Through him, I was offered a job as a greenhorn on the trawler. The trawler was 154 feet long and had a crew of 15. My initial happiness was short lived. We had barely reached the open seas before I was up on deck throwing up. For the next three days, I worked, slept and puked, not necessarily in that order.

As a greenhorn, I was the lowest on the totem pole, and as a result, when the fish had been gutted and rinsed, it was sent down in the cargo room. The cargo room was about 60 feet long and 20 feet wide. On each side, plastic boxes were stacked, and the space in between was filled with ice. It was a narrow passage on top of the ice where one had to belly crawl to get back to a small space where an aluminum table was placed, then a conveyor belt was pushed in behind you.

So my greenhorn job was to stand directly under the conveyor belt as slimy fish fell down, slapping me upside the head, one after another while I, as fast as I could, throw the fish into the boxes and shoveling ice on top. I lasted five trips, and I was on the phone with the Army soon after that. My career as a “sailor” was over.

Until next time, be safe, be happy and eat your fish.

Adam’s Apples – Pets are funny people

By James Mack Adams

Question: Where does an 800-pound female gorilla sleep?

Answer: Anywhere she wants.

Question: Where does a 13-pound female cat sleep?

Answer: Same answer.

When it is nap time for our two cats, Abby and Charley, seating in our small living room is at a premium. Luckily, our female dog, Lucy, still prefers to take her frequent siestas on a rug or floor pillow. Otherwise, Jo and I would have to move to another room. Either that or flip a coin to see which one of us gets the only available seat.

Pets are funny people with unique personalities. At times, dogs will listen to your wishes and obey because they want to please you. At other times … well, they don’t. Cats, on the other hand, can be stubborn and difficult creatures with which to negotiate. If you have a cat, don’t automatically assume the house and furnishings are yours. The cat will challenge that assumption. Cats allow you to live in the home as long as you pay the mortgage, feed them, and don’t disturb their sleep. History tells us cats were once worshipped as deities in ancient Egypt. They have never forgotten that.

It is difficult to imagine Marilyn (aka Jo) without a cat. She has had a cat, dog, or both most of her life. I had never had a pet until a few years ago. It was then I adopted Lucy from the vet. It was also then I began to realize a new pet will quickly become a member of the family. I also soon came to realize the responsibilities that come with pet ownership. No matter how sleepy or lousy you may feel at 5:30 a.m., the cats are demanding to be fed and the dog has to be taken out to do her business. If it is a dark, cold, rainy, icy, snowy morning, deal with it.

We don’t know much about Lucy’s life before she came to us. She is a sweet animal, but she does have some anti-social issues. When I take her to the vet or groomer, they remark to me how gentle and cooperative she is. “Just come to our house sometime,” I tell them. “She will bark, and growl and not let you in the door.” It seems she thinks everyone who comes to our house is there to do us harm. “She’s just doing her job,” people say. I have been told it is a characteristic of the breed. Lucy is a terrier mix.

Charley cat is a white American longhair. She is also uncomfortable with strangers in the house. If you come to visit us, chances are good you will never see Charley, unless you look in the closet or under the bed. Curiosity might prompt her to come out of hiding if the visitor stays long enough. 

Abby cat is the only pet of ours that can be described as a rescue. She just showed up in our yard one day.

On a morning a little over two years ago, I proceeded on my morning chore of filling the bird feeders in the side yard. A black and white tuxedo cat was lying under one of the feeders. I assumed she was waiting to catch a bird and tried to chase her off. I soon realized she was injured and could not stand. 

Jo brought out a saucer of Charley’s cat food and a dish of water. The poor little cat devoured both and meowed for more. We gave her all she wanted because we had no idea how long she had gone without both food and water.

We wrapped the cat in a towel and took her to our vet. She was starved, underweight, dehydrated, and had a fractured pelvis. After the vet gave her a thorough checkup, Jo and I had a decision to make. Do we give her up to the vet or a shelter, or do we keep her? We were told that, in her poor condition, she would probably be put down. We could not let that happen. So, we brought her home and named her Abby. It did not take long for Lucy and Charley to accept the new cat in the house. Abby became attached to Jo and me and loved to lie in our laps when we were sitting. She too became family.

I normally work a couple or three months ahead on writing my columns. When I wrote this column, I had planned to end it with the previous paragraph. That changed the day we lost Abby. Professional care, TLC, and medications kept her with us a little over two years, but kidney failure had the final say. Abby fought the good fight, as did Jo and I, but to no avail.  Rest in peace, little girl. You are missed.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Saying goodbye to a coworker

By Lisa Whaley

This past week, we said goodbye to longtime advertising director and jane-of-all-trades

Damaris Higgins – not for good, because she plans on continuing her relationship with us in one form or another for a while longer – but as a daily presence in the office and our lives.

Fortunately for all, she has agreed to work with us here at The Erwin Record during her transition, even as she begins her new adventure.

This new adventure seems a bit ordained. A few months ago, when Damaris stopped by Governor’s Bend Assisted Living Facility to get approval on an upcoming ad, she found director Johnnie Lyons busy with another matter. Johnnie asked Damaris to wait outside just a moment and she would be with her.

“You can play the piano,” she said jokingly, not realizing at the time that Damaris loved nothing better than to “play the piano.”

Soon residents had gathered around to enjoy Damaris’ music, singing along and generally basking in the impromptu performance. They urged Damaris to come back, and this ad-director-turned-pianist graciously agreed to spend some of her Sundays volunteering at the center.

I remember talking to Damaris after that first visit, her eyes shining and the joy of having done His work clear on her face.

When Damaris handed me her resignation letter a little more than two weeks ago, explaining that after much prayer she had decided to accept the position of activities director at Governor’s Bend, my first surprising reaction was simply joy at her happiness. We try to trust God for the future, but too often miss signs of him so clearly opening a door. It was reassuring to know it still happens.

As I told my boss later, while I might have been tempted to grab onto Damaris’ ankles and beg her not to leave, I didn’t think it was wise to challenge God’s plan.

Today, as we face our first week without Damaris in the office, I am reminded of everything she has done for The Erwin Record – and for me – throughout the years.

Like most of us in the weekly newspaper industry, the staff here at The Erwin Record are familiar with doing more with and for less. Our driving force is often a love for this community, as well as a sincere belief in the importance small town newspapers can play.

For Damaris, it has clearly been both and she has proven it. Whenever there was a need, she would always try to meet it. Whether it was a customer with a missed newspaper, a business hoping for a photo of an event or a customer looking for a more detailed design of an ad, she was often first in the car, with the camera or at the computer trying to make her clients’ dreams a reality.

When I came on board a year and a half ago – more than a little scared, I must admit – Damaris was one of the ones to offer her support. I never heard the words “That’s not my job,” ever come out of her mouth, and I am convinced that had she stayed another 10 years, that would not have changed.

For the past seven years, Damaris has put The Erwin Record first in so many things and has worn so many hats – from selling and designing ads to fixing wayward computers and copiers to stepping in to deliver the newspaper whenever we were short a dedicated delivery person. We are feeling a little lost without her.

But I am still so excited for her, even though I feel her absence greatly. I know she won’t be far away and that she and her dog, Cracker Jack, will soon be popping through the door to continue to help us out.

I also know that there is a group of men and women at the other end of town who are beginning to realize they have just received a precious gift – a hard working woman who gives her all and loves not just in words but in actions.

And this time, she gets to do it all to music.

Hood’s Winks – New airplane flights

By Ralph Hood

Last year’s Lion Airline’s crash prompted many to wonder, “What can go wrong with a brand-new airplane.” The answer? Lots of things.

During my thousands of flight hours most of my emergencies came in brand-new airplanes straight from the factory.

For starters, I once picked up the first model of a brand-new airplane. The engine ran hot. I left the airplane at the factory, which put air vents in the engine cowling of all such aircraft, thus solving the problem.

One pick-up flight worked well until I took a short cut across the Gulf of Mexico. Just as I lost sight of land, the aircraft developed a vibration problem. “Aw”, said I, “It’s just the automatic roughness that seems to occur over water. It’ll quit once I get back over dry land.” But it didn’t.

I landed shortly thereafter and discovered the problem. The wing walk on the wing had come unfastened at the front, bent back, and flapped in the airflow. Once fixed, it never happened again. It was a typical problem—no big deal, but it could scare you to death.

There was the twin-engined aircraft that ran rough, another in which the autopilot would take a nose dive for no reason.

Then there was the time I picked up a new airplane, flew it a couple hundred miles, picked up my 5-year-old son and headed for home. We leveled off in smooth, clear air and I unhooked my son’s seat belt so he could stand up and look out the window.

Instantly thereafter, the single engine quit dead. I immediately wondered if I should try to restart the engine first or put son back under the seatbelt.

As I wondered, I went through the usual quick movements—switch fuel tanks, richen mixture, hit boost pump and look at the gauges. The dead engine quickly returned to life. My son never even knew anything was wrong. Good training is a great asset.

By far the scariest new-airplane flight was in a twin-engined aircraft in which the weather radar worked backwards. If it said the storm cell was on the right, it was really on the left. That radar took me right through the storm as I tried to avoid it. The storm stripped much of the paint from the airplane and the table in the airplane was broken.

We got the radar fixed, but I haven’t recovered from the fear to this day.

Officer Norway’s Corner – Military service in Norway and abroad

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

Back in the 1980s, the law in Norway said that any able man between the age of 18 and 27 had to join one of the branches of the military for one year. Like several other European countries at that time, Norway had what was called a Compulsory Service System.

Growing up in a fishing village I had a natural liking to the maritime life, so my goal was to be called in for my year to serve in the Navy. I went through the Norwegian Merchant Marine Academy and with that, I thought that I was all set. But the Norwegian Armed Forces apparently had other plans for me, because I ended up in the Army, and was sent off to infantry boot-camp.

A little disappointed at first, I soon took a liking to serve in the Army. After boot camp, I was stationed in the northern city of Narvik, a name that might resonate with some World War II history buffs. Narvik was the first place during the war where Nazi-Germany lost a military battle, this after soldiers from Norway, England, Poland and France enmassed a force strong enough to beat them. The German troops were later able to send enough re-enforcements to retake Narvik and the surrounding mountains.

Based on how well one did during your year in the military, you had the opportunity to apply and try out for military service overseas. At that time, Norway had an infantry battalion stationed in South Lebanon as a part of a United Nations operation called, United Nation Interim Force In Lebanon or UNIFIL for short.

After the initial training in Norway, I was assigned to Company B, 1st Platoon, which was a light infantry platoon tasked with intercepting anyone trying to cross into Northern Israel. One of our main tasks was going out on night patrols, looking for infiltrators from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) who often tried to cross the border into Israel to attack Israeli targets, both civilian and military.

I was 19 at the time, so for me who had grown up in a small fishing village in Northern Norway where my only experience with travel had been a few family vacation trips to Sweden and Finland. To suddenly be in a Middle Eastern country, especially during a time where a bloody civil war was going on was an experience that formed my life for years to come. Although the Lebanese civil war was mostly fought in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, we at times had our hands full not only with those seeking illegal entry into Israel but also at times with the Israeli army themselves, or their counterparts in the Haddad militia, who sometimes did not care much for our presence.

During my years in the military, I was able to apply and try out for four different missions which in turn turned into nine tours of duty. I had the honor of serving in countries like Lebanon, Bosnia, Croatia and Somalia. Most of my friends know about my service, but not so much of what I did or experienced, people I worked with, missions we had and more. I will write about some of that in future Officer Norway’s Corner posts.

Until next time, be safe, be happy and do the right thing.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Alert: Groundhogs, presidents & lovers

By Connie Denney

What do groundhogs, presidents and lovers have in common? If you have turned the calendar page manually, electronically, emotionally or otherwise, you know the answer is attention during February. To be the short month it is, February has a lot going on—or at least it has had over the years.

If you put a lot of store by names, you may want to trek back to Roman times. Think “Februarius.” There’s the whole thing about how it came to be a month at all, leap year, changes in calendars, etc. to explore for details.

For now, let’s take a stroll through some of the more modern stops along the way. On Feb. 3, 1870, Congress ratified the 15th Amendment to the Constitution giving African American men the right to vote. If that sounds a bit early to you, do read further about the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In between, on Feb. 1, 1960, four black college students did not leave after being refused service at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. Other sit-ins followed. 

The 60s are known for a number of reasons. Many love the music and remember the lingo! Of historical and global importance, the late John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth Feb. 20, 1962. Now, that’s far out (60s translation: awesome)!

The above are a few high points. February also hosts other noteworthy markers in time and draws our thoughts to specific causes. Consider American Heart Month, Chocolate Lovers Month, Creative Romance Month. Certainly, the choice of February for these, I suspect, could be tied to the romantic unofficial holiday Valentine’s Day celebrated around the world.

There’s also Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month. Guess the market people would love you for that!

Then, there are the birthdays. A number of notables were born during February. The one that results in a holiday on Monday, Feb. 18, was George Washington, the first President of the United States. Presidents’ Day, itself, has a bit of a history. Washington was actually born Feb. 22, 1732, but the holiday’s evolution allows honoring other presidents also AND makes for a three-day weekend, as it is set for the third Monday of the month.

In the interest of balance, it should be noted that February dates were important in the careers of our two presidents who were impeached. In 1868, on the 24th, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Andrew Johnson. On the 12th in 1999, the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in the Senate ended. Both were acquitted.

By the time you read this, Groundhog Day 2019 will be history. You already know the celebrity Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow when he left the comfort of his burrow on Feb. 2, Groundhog Day. We will have to wait to see whether the prediction of an early spring proves true. 

You have Presidents’ Day as an official holiday to anticipate.

Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, however, may be the observance most anticipated, the most likely to bring the most smiles to faces of all ages. A celebration of love is a good thing. Enjoy!

From the Publisher’s Desk – All stages of life filled with promise

By Lisa Whaley

In this week’s edition of The Erwin Record, you will find the Senior Connection, published at the end of each month to provide a list of events and activities for the 50 and older crowd.

As part of my regular duties, I am tasked with reading over each Senior Connection carefully to make sure we present it to you, our readers, in as clean and an accurate condition as we can.

This past weekend as I picked up the pages – red pen in hand to check for errors – I was once again struck by something that has nothing to do with typos and sentence structure.

This community offers a whole lot of opportunities for baby boomers and beyond.

That may not seem like such a big deal, but in a society where youth is seen as the be-all and end-all, I found myself looking with anticipation to my senior, retirement years, in much the same way as I used to dream of graduating from college, buying my own home or having my own family.

A quick look at the Senior Connection calendar quickly illustrates what I mean. Not only are there a seemingly endless list of things to do, most break a lot of “I’m-too-old-to-do-that” stereotypes.

Want to go line dancing? It’s offered through the Clinchfield Senior Center on Feb. 4 at the YMCA. Love to go bowling? Then mark your calendar for Feb. 6 and 20. Feel the need for a little pampering? Sign up for manicures provided by Unicoi County High School’s cosmetology class on Feb. 27.

It’s as if anything that you have ever dreamed of doing has merged with your current favorites to create a list that’s hard to resist.

There are books to read, tips to keep you healthy, games to play and opportunities to give back.

It’s almost like a well-deserved thank-you card – written to the county’s generations of men and women who have already spent much of their lives working, helping and serving. They finally have stepped off the merry-go-round and earned a well-deserved break.

The Senior Center, Family Ministries and other organizations throughout the county are trying to make sure that break is a good one.

When my oldest daughter was about 10 years old, she once shared this observation about the stages of life with me as we were driving to school.

“Mom, I’ve been thinking,” she said. “You know, when you’re a baby, your mom and dad feed you and dress you and do everything you need, and that’s good.

“When you get older, you get to go to school and make friends. You have to listen to your parents, but they still take care of you. And that’s good.

“Then when you become an adult, you get the freedom to decide where you want to live and what you want to do, even though you’ve got to work, and that’s good.

“When you retire, like grandma, you don’t have to work anymore and can do whatever you want. So that’s good.

“And when you die, you go to heaven, and that’s good.”

I think my daughter was on to something.

Thank you, Erwin, Unicoi and Unicoi County, for recognizing that each stage of our lives is filled with promise. I am actually looking forward to the day I have a Senior Connection on the table next to my personal calendar as I make plans for the upcoming week.

Hood’s Winks – Greatest athlete left off list

By Ralph Hood

Well, shoot!

I just read a listing of the greatest athletes of the 20th century in my hometown of Brunswick, Georgia. I was absolutely appalled to learn that I was not included. Somehow my name was omitted. Surely, this was an egregious error.

After all, I did have many astounding athletic accomplishments while growing up in Glynn County and later in my long athletic career.

I distinctly remember …

… losing a foot race at a Cub Scout athletic event in the front yard of Leland Moore (whose sister was voted Most Athletic in my class). That might not sound outstanding to you, but it was a mother/son foot race, and I lost to my mother! It was, as Churchill said of Dunkirk, an “ignominious defeat.”

… coming in second swimming the backstroke at the state DeMolay convention in Atlanta. (I might have won had not a few of us carried out an early scientific experiment on the effects of beer on teenagers the previous night.)

… running into the wrong huddle at a “B” team football game in Savannah. I really did. That was before contact lenses and facemasks, and I was blind as a bat without my glasses. By noon the next day, everyone at Glynn Academy was calling me Wrong-Way Hood.

… competing in the state water skiing tournament in Augusta, GA. There were 15 contenders in the men’s division, and I came in 13th. You should have seen the two guys I beat. Pitiful!

… playing the position of catcher in a Cub Scout baseball game. Daddy had told me never to play catcher. The mask was too small for me—as was everything that fit normal boys—and a tipped ball knocked me out cold. The first thing I remember when I woke up was Daddy’s face—complete with his ever-present, but never lit, King Edward cigar—as he growled, “I told you never to catch.” (Robert Sapp, by the way, was playing baseball in the same league. They put him on the “greatest” list, but not me.)

… being a master squirrel hunter in the swamps and woods of Glynn County. I was hunting squirrels long before I could drive. Daddy took me. I walked for hours and usually returned with one squirrel. Daddy took a nap beside the car. He slept until a squirrel woke him up, then he shot the squirrel and went back to sleep. His squirrel was usually bigger than mine.

… being the only person on a large deep-sea fishing boat who did not—repeat not—catch a single fish in six hours of fishing. This was in the 1960s, and I had long since graduated from high school and college. Unfortunately, one of my high-school classmates was onboard to witness this sad event. I also got seasick.

Given the above facts, it is obvious that my omission from the list was a grave oversight which will no doubt be corrected posthaste.

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

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

Working on various causes with our SADD club members is one of the most rewarding things I do as an SRO. Although it can be hard and at times a little frustrating getting even a few students together to plan on various upcoming projects because those who are active in the club also are busy with other school activities, be it academic, sport or other clubs. So when things come together and we are able to accomplish goals and tasks that is something which gives me that extra push to plan on new adventures and projects down the road.

Last week with the great help of Dustin Street at the high school and one hastily scheduled planning meeting, some of our SADD club members were able to come up with a short and to the point video for a Public Service Announcement (PSA) for the National Road Safety Foundation – Driving Skills 101 Contest. Last year we entered a similar nationwide contest, and our video was ranked among the top 10 of all entries nationwide.

This week the SADD club has partnered with Christy Smith, the director of the Unicoi County Prevention Coalition, to host the National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week, which is a part of the National Institute of Health efforts to combat drug and alcohol abuse among teens. It supplies students with facts to counteract the myths about drugs and alcohol that teens get from the internet, social media, TV, movies, music or from friends.

Recently in a new report from the National Safety Council, more people (1 in 96) will die of an Opioid overdose than in a car crash (1 in 103). This is a serious issue, and I feel a strong obligation to address this in any meaningful way I can, hence our effort to push out the facts about the dangers of using and abusing drugs and alcohol. If we can reach out to just a handful of students about the risks and pitfalls around these issues, it would be well worth it. Until next time, be safe, be happy and preach about the dangers of substance abuse.

A Refreshing Knapp – The hero next door

By Ray Knapp

I was raised in Grandin, Missouri – a little town in the Ozark Mountains. It could be compared to Flag Pond except the mountains are a little higher around Flag Pond. It’s only claim to fame was due to its namesake who established the largest sawmill in the world there in 1900.

Through Facebook, I recently got in contact with one of my friends from there. It had been about a half century since we had been in touch; by using the internet’s messenger service, we caught up on things that had taken place in our life since leaving Grandin.

We came from good, but dirt-poor families; with no trees of any size left to cut, there just wasn’t much work around there, so both of us left Grandin in order to make a living. I went into the Navy and she went to Peoria. Yvonne is the woman I’m talking about. As a high school girl she had this knack for cutting hair. A couple of grades behind me, I recall her cutting my hair with just scissors and a comb when we were in high school.

She got a cosmetology license after I left for the Navy, opening a shop in Grandin. After saving enough money she moved to Peoria and lucked out on opening a shop in a prime location which soon became a very successful business. My brother, Wally, worked for Caterpillar in Peoria. During his working days he would go to Yvonne’s shop and get his haircut – so he kept me a little informed about her during my 20 years in the Navy.

I think the Good Lord rewards people with a big heart. She and her husband, Vance, adopted a baby who only had six inches of intestines and had three surgeries before he was a month old. As Yvonne put it, “When I got him the doctors said don’t get too attached; he can’t live to be 3. But in my heart, I knew better. I blocked the tube (feeding tube that went directly to his stomach) and fed him every two hours and had my nanny do the same. He turned 37 in November and is my handsome sweet man. The doctors said that he has over 15 inches of intestines now. His medical records made history.”

One of her own daughters had severe medical issues as well, weighing only two pounds at birth, 93 percent deaf, and having celiac, and Type 1 diabetes. She wound up being a real challenge to care for. With a lot of care, not only did the baby fight through these issues, she has lived to graduate with straight A’s from President Reagan’s alma mater. That daughter, Savannah, did an internship for four months in D.C.; set before Senatorial panels in Washington, and Congressional leaders in Illinois to give her views about our health care system. She is now in the process of getting her master’s degree.

I was counting the children Yvonne and her husband have adopted or in some cases been a foster parent for, I’ve lost count, but it’s around 10. The youngest, Brittany, is in the process of completing cosmetology school. All of the children have been those with disabilities or other issues that kept other people from adopting them. Yvonne took them in because of that; loved and cared for them all. It seems none are aware of their difficult start, and have excelled in life. Yvonne is not just their Mom; she’s my hero as well.

The person I’m telling you about is not your typical hair-dresser, or gray-haired, babysitting granny. She had a Gold Wing motorcycle she occasionally rode to work and made round trips from Peoria to Grandin. 

Her brother from Poplar Bluff passed away in 2009, so she turned the hair salon over to her oldest daughter; moved back to Grandin, and took over his business of selling vaults to funeral homes.

She still has a home in Peoria and makes frequent visits there to see the kids. I don’t know if it’s on that Gold Wing Honda, or not.

Adam’s Apples – A new beginning

By James Mack Adams

By the time this column goes to press, the year 2019 will be well underway.  he ball will have already dropped in Times Square. The celebrations will be over. “Auld Lang Syne” will have been played and sung. Hopefully, any discomforts resulting from overindulgence in food and drink will have subsided. And, I would be willing to bet, at least a few of the New Year resolutions have already been either fractured, broken or discarded. 

It is a new year. It is a new beginning. It is time to reboot, rewind, remake, recharge, repent, retread, recommit, reestablish, retool, reawaken, reset, restart, refocus. We have been given another chance. With any luck, we might get it right this time.

In his recent First Sunday of Advent Homily, my Parish priest, Father Tom Charters, spoke about transition. Transition means change. It is an ending and a new beginning. We all deal with many transitions in our lives … changing jobs, losing family members and friends, relocating to a new town, etc. 

Each new year brings new challenges as well as recurring old ones that just won’t go away. So be it. How many years can we remember when we had no crosses to bear, no demons to overcome, no dragons to slay? Would it not be nice to have an entire year with no worries, no losses, no heartaches, no disappointments. I would bet that’s not going to happen.          

One of the most memorable opening paragraphs in English literature comes from the classic novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” by Charles Dickens.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair………”

That seems a fair description of a typical year in one’s life, does it not? It does mine.

Challenges come with the territory. We have to play the cards we are dealt. As the lyrics of the country song, “The Gambler,” advise….. “You have to know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em.” 

We all hope for a winning hand, but we must accept the fact we will sometimes have to fold, and hope we get better cards in the next deal.

Just like winning, failing is a part of living. Ask the writer who receives enough rejection letters to paper his or her walls before publishing that best seller. Show me someone who never fails, and I will show you someone who never does anything. 

Our young people need to be taught their lives will be a series of wins and losses. Losing is neither a disgrace nor a blot on one’s self-esteem. They need to learn to accept success with grace and face failure with courage and determination to do better. One of Gen. George S. Patton’s many famous quotes is: “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” 

I am reminded of an instance that happened several years ago when I was publishing a local monthly newspaper. I was invited to cover an event in which children of various ages competed in sport activities. 

When time came to present the awards, I noticed that every contestant received a trophy, regardless of their performance in the competition. When I questioned the practice of awarding “participation trophies,” I was told the organizers didn’t want any child to feel bad. I didn’t respond, even though I admit to questioning the practice at the time. Were they doing the kids a favor? Perhaps I am writing this from the perspective of a member of an older generation. I know some will have different opinions.

I also have some thoughts on the practice of providing “Safe Spaces” on college campuses. But I will save those for later.

Have a very happy, healthy, prosperous and successful 2019. Reach for the stars. You might just grab one.

In the words of the poet: “Ah but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for.” – Robert Browning

Officer Norway’s Corner – New year brings excitement for SRO

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

A new year is here and with that a new calendar that is already, at least for January, filling up fast. The start of a new year is always a little exciting.

Indeed, for many, it is a new beginning, or maybe just the same old beginnings from January last year. Anyhow it’s still a promise of a fresh start, planning on new projects at home, personal goals or things related to work.

As a high school SRO, I certainly have plans to improve in the job I do, be it training or activities related to the SADD Club or any of the other tasks I have or partake in.

We are now three full-time SROs who work for the Sheriff’s Department and who are assigned to Unicoi Elementary, Temple Hill Elementary and the high school. Being a school resource officer is actually one of several specialized fields within law enforcement, like SWAT, investigations, the drug units and others that require specialized training outside of the regular training one receives at the training academy and during our yearly in-service training.

For the last couple of years, we have been fortunate enough to be able to go to the yearly Tennessee SRO conference in Pigeon Forge. These conferences are a great tool for staying up-to-date with current laws as it relates to our jobs as SROs, but it is also an essential part of networking with other law enforcement professionals in the same field. As a small department, it can often be a challenge economically to make sure all our training needs are met. In that regard, I have to commend our Sheriff Mike Hensley and office staff who has made it a priority for all of us to be able to attend this and other training opportunities.

I am currently part of a working group who are in the early stages of planning for a mock-crash scenario for some of our high school students this coming spring. I am excited about this and all the help from both the high school, personnel from neighboring high schools, Wings rescue, Erwin Police Department, the sheriff’s department, fire department and others.

In addition to that, I am also hoping to be able to send at least four of our SADD Club members to the yearly leadership retreat in Nashville this coming March. I was able to do that last year with a few of our students, and we had a great time.

Until next time, be safe, happy and may all your plans for the new year come to fruition.

Hood’s Winks – Disasters of my youth!

By Ralph Hood

I grew up on a dirt road. Well, actually, it was a dirt street, rather than a road. Many of us lived on dirt streets in the ‘50s, and enjoyed it.

A kid could make a fort on the edge of a dirt street, and play marbles or “territory,” a game in which a circle was divided up by kids throwing knives into the ground. I wasn’t, as I remember it, very good at that game.

They finally paved my street when I was about 12 or 13, and we kids resented it. First, they dumped truckloads of dirt every few feet on the street. The dirt made hills, as it came off the trucks, and we immediately invented a recreational activity utilizing those hills. (A hill of any size was, after all, a rare commodity in Glynn County, and not to be wasted.)

If we got a running start and rode our bikes rapidly up the hill, we went airborne as we came off of the top. Boy and bicycle launched into the air, the seat of the boy rose up from the seat of the bicycle, and in midair the only connection between boy and bicycle was the boy’s firm grip on the handlebars. The flight terminated when the bike slammed down onto the ground and the boy slammed down onto the bicycle. It was quite spectacular, particularly if a girl, younger boy or adult was on hand to be impressed.

I had made my last jump of the day when Michael Friedman showed up. He qualified as a younger boy, he had never seen a bicycle jump a hill, and he was eager to be impressed. I rose—pun intended—to the occasion.

I made a mad dash for the hill, rose into the air, and something went terribly wrong. When my seat left that of the bicycle, for some reason the bike seat tilted backward. That meant the front, pointed, narrow, part of the bike seat was pointed straight up at the blunt, well-rounded seat of my pants. When bike hit ground and I hit bike, there was a scream not unlike that of a panther in a territorial dispute with a Tasmanian Devil. I hollered. I ran. I rolled on the ground. I never, ever, left the ground on a bicycle again.

Later, a group of us—including, but not limited to, Raymond West, Richard Lyons and SC (the current Stalwart Citizen who prefers that I not mention his name)—developed a sport called dirt sledding. We made a rough sled of plywood with two-by-four runners, tied it to the back of an early ‘50s Ford belonging to SC’s daddy, put two boys on it and commenced cruising the dirt streets of Brunswick at a rapid pace. The dust was unbelievable, as sled slid sideways around corners. Little children were amazed and we created quite a stir. Entire neighborhoods turned out to watch.

We were, quite literally, cutting a wide swath until the Ford stopped abruptly in the middle of a particularly fast corner. The sled skidded to a stop right beside a city police car, and as the dust settled, the two riders—faces blackened by dust—came face to face with two policemen who had been summoned by the populace and who were, as Queen Victoria once put it, “not amused.”

Thus ended our hopes that dirt sledding would some day be included in the Olympics.

From the Publisher’s Desk – My hopes, dreams for the new year

By Lisa Whaley

It is hard to believe that we have started a new year. When I was a child, the year 2019 could only be imagined as a space age show, complete with flying automobiles and hot-meal dispensers that could shoot out fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans at the push of a button — sort of like grandma with a computer voice and no dirty dishes.

Now, standing firmly in 2019, the world doesn’t really look that much different than 2018 or even, in some ways, 1998 or 1988. People still fall in love and get married, grandparents still spoil their grandchildren and I still believe nothing satisfies like a holiday gathering complete with the warmth of family and good food.

But things have changed — for most of us even faster than we ever imagined.

The microwave didn’t show up on the scene until the 1980s, yet statistics now indicate that more than 90 percent of home kitchens feature one.

Home computers too didn’t really begin to arrive until the ‘80s. I still remember setting up our first one — sometime in the mid-1990s – complete with a dial-up modem.

Today not only do more than 85 percent of homes have some type of computer, the once standard desktop computer is being replaced by laptops, iPads and tablets.

Phones have gone from home phones attached to a cord to cell phones complete with their own antennas, to today’s state-of-the-art devices that can not only make and accept calls, but also search the Internet, take pictures and play games. If it could make fried chicken and bring us a cup of water, we’d never have to leave our seats.

Every day there seems to be some new device to make our lives easier. In all honesty, however, the more these devices multiply, the tougher everyday life seems to become. It certainly isn’t becoming any easier.

But I can’t help but be inspired by all this ingenuity and creativity. The idea that several individuals putting their heads together perfected the microwave, GPS — or even the Keurig — is captivating.

Who knows what might happen in 2019? But while a device that can turn on and off my lights and sing me a song is clever, I have a better wish list for the new year. Here is hoping all those scientists, entrepreneurs and inventors out there are listening.

A cure for cancer. It’s an almost cliché wish, but I don’t know of anyone who has not been affected by this disease either personally or within a circle of family and friends. So many great advances have already been uncovered. If we could just slap this one down, once and for all, the world would be so much brighter

A treatment and cure for dementia. This one, of course, hits close to home for me, as my mother struggled with dementia at the end. Once you have witnessed what it can do, you do not want to see it rob one more memory.

A better health system. Whether you believe Obamacare is the best or worst thing that ever happened to America, the need for some major improvements in our healthcare is becoming more clear every day. Like the cancer statistic, nearly everyone knows someone who has struggled with getting needed care when the insurance and bank account don’t seem to comply. We need to do better than this — without turning it into simply another political football.

A way to slow down. The more gadgets we obtain, the faster we seem to go and the more we seem to lose touch with what is important. I’m not sure how we can do it, but I would love for some creative mind out there to come up with a plan/project that gets us off the hamster wheel so we can better savor the world around us.

Of course, these are just a few ideas. My list could go on and on.

I also like to remember that, while I’m not an inventor, I can still easily have some small impact on the list above. I may not have a cure for cancer, but I can reach out to someone dealing with the disease. I may not know how to rid the world of dementia, but I know the value of holding the hand of someone who is struggling.

I can let my voice be heard in Washington and Nashville to help change laws, not forgetting that human friendship and love can be the greatest healer of all.

And I can remember to occasionally take myself off the hamster wheel and take time to look at the wonder all around.

Yep, I think 2019 is going to be a wonderful year. And I believe a lot of that is up to me — and you.

Happy New Year!

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Message worth more than ‘Peanuts’

Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in the Dec. 20, 2005, issue of The Erwin Record. In it, Denney takes us on an interesting holiday trip – her first viewing of the holiday classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

By Connie Denney

Am I the only one over the age of 3 who saw “A Charlie Brown Christmas” for the first time this year? Maybe that is how television specials become tradition. Not only are there those who watch the same shows over and over, there are others who – for whatever reason or no reason – are first timers.

A friend’s incredulity at my revelation of never seeing the famous Peanuts special planted the seeds for this writing.

Commercialization of Christmas was the offense the namesake Peanuts character found so disconcerting in the seasonal special. Conservation today (now more than 50 years since “A Charlie Brown Christmas” originally aired) indicates that situation has not been remedied. Some would say it is worse.

But we have choices. The giving of gifts seems an appropriate tradition for the season. Many people enjoy the giving and receiving of gifts. Perhaps it is the spirit in which it is done that makes the difference.

If the hubbub of shopping, figuring out what to buy for whom becomes more of a chore than a blessing, perhaps that is a signal to pause and put it all in perspective. Overly commercialized? We don’t have to buy that line.

Today Charlie Brown might have additional furrows in his brow.

Disconcerting elements include rumblings about whether the greeting should be “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” Either greeting from the heart with a smile can be joyous. If it is not from the heart but a matter of political correctness or store policy, maybe – again – we need to examine motives.

Another real interesting rumbling is the talk of closing churches for Christmas. What is there to say about that one?!

Admittedly, I probably have not heard all the points of view about commercialization, greetings and/or church closings, but I have heard enough, because these “rumblings” remind me of a phrase by Dad (a quiet man) used, “unnecessary racket.”

As for what Christmas is all about, Linus (the one with the blanket) reminded Charlie Brown by quoting from Luke 2:8-14: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were sore afraid.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

“And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manager.

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Acceptance of the latter can make the former fall into place. Attention to what Christmas is all about puts “unnecessary racket” in the proper perspective.

Seeing Christmas as a time of choice puts the temporary in an eternal context.

Officer Norway’s Corner – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

God Jul, Merry Christmas.

Christmas in Norway, or “Jul” as it is called, from the old German pagan word “Yule,” brings back many memories this time a year. Like I wrote in my last column, the Advent season is the start of the Christmas season.

Dec. 23, or “Little Christmas Eve,” as we call it is the day in Norway when the Christmas tree is brought inside and decorated. This day is nearly steeped in as many traditions and rituals as Christmas Eve itself. The home has been cleaned, the decorations are up, the traditional pork ribs have been salted in preparation for the Christmas Eve dinner, rice porridge is simmering on the stove, it’s dark and cold outside, and your busy pre-Christmas preparations can finally rest a little.

In the evening of Dec. 23, we would gather around the TV with warm rice porridge, accompanied by a cup of Gløgg, or “Glühwein,” as it is called here. In the evening, a show called “The Evening before the Evening,” a show that still is aired live where the hosts and guests talk about Christmas traditions, how to prepare the perfect pork ribs and of course live Christmas music. One special tradition this evening is this black-and-white British comedy sketch originally called “Dinner for One” that’s been shown every Little Christmas Eve in Norway for decades. (Look it up on YouTube, it’s fun to watch.)

Then the big day, Christmas Eve finally arrives. A few last minute shoppers are hurrying around, others are preparing for the big meal which will be served later in the afternoon. At 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, streets empty, stores and restaurants close and a stillness descends that’s almost surreal. At 5 o’clock the church bells start tolling, ringing in Christmas. Around the same time, families, all dressed up for the occasion sit down around the dining room table, the roasted pork ribs are served accompanied with steamed potatoes, sauerkraut, vegetables, and gravy. The pork ribs or “ribbe” as it called is the most popular dish but others will also eat “Lutefisk,” which is Cod that has been soaked in lye, or smoked mutton ribs.

Christmas indeed brings back many memories from all of our childhoods. The most unique Christmas I recall was when I served with NATO in Bosnia in the mid-90s, and we hosted some American soldiers to a traditional Norwegian Christmas celebration. It brought us altogether far away as we were from friends and family on this special day. That’s one important part of Christmas, being together with family and friends, creating memories, but most importantly, celebrating the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. Until next time, God Jul og Godt Nytt År. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

A Refreshing Knapp – Dec. 26, 2018

By Ray Knapp

Today is the 360th day of the year; five days remaining ‘till the New Year. How about that! This year is almost gone and I accomplished none of my New Year’s resolutions, mainly because I didn’t have any. I gave up on New Year’s resolutions long ago, and have limited resolutions to a much shorter range. I found that giving myself a whole year to break a bad habit, start a new routine, like working out daily and other worthwhile projects seldom happened, and before I knew it, Dec. 26 was here again and it wasn’t worthwhile to start anything with only 5 days left in the year.

Time has gone by so fast that before I knew it, I am fast approaching the century mark. Well, I’m over 4 score and catch myself reading the obituaries often to make sure my name isn’t listed. With the median age for Americans falling to 78.6 years, it appears the Good Lord has seen fit to spare me over to another year.

One month before my birthday we celebrated the observed birthday of Christ, which of course everyone calls Christmas. When I was little I didn’t know the first thing about the true meaning of Christmas until I was in the first grade. There, I learned a little bit about its meaning. Every morning our teacher led us in prayer, and then we recited the pledge to the flag. As Christmas approached she explained that Christmas was about the birth of the Christ Child.

During that time, my sister and I had made new friends at school, and she occasionally stayed the weekend with a new girlfriend and attended Sunday school and Church with her. “I’m learning a lot about God,” she would say, when I asked her what church was like.

As it got closer to Christmas I told my sister I was going to ask Santa for a pedal car when he came to visit the school. My sister informed me that you didn’t ask Santa for anything, you prayed to God for what you wanted. When Santa came to our school we all got to sit on his lap; get our picture taken, and then tell him what we wanted for Christmas. I just sat there on his lap after the picture was taken. Finally he said, “Tell me what you want for Christmas.”

I answered knowingly, “I don’t tell you, I pray to God for what I want.” I could see I had upset Santa a little. He sat me down. “You’re probably right,” he said gruffly.

Finally, the great day arrived. I was one of the first ones up and rushed out, fully expecting to see a shiny red pedal car. It wasn’t there! About that time my sister came out of the bedroom rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “You lied to me!” I cried. “I didn’t get a pedal car.” My sister wasn’t taken aback, “Did you pray “every day?” I had to admit that I hadn’t. “Well, no wonder,” she said. Digging through the presents she found my present and handed me a box that contained a strong metal truck that I could hold in my hands. I drove that truck anywhere and everywhere.

Things and memories don’t end just because you reach those “Golden Years.” Seems like it was just yesterday, I was preaching to a little congregation at Governor’s Bend. Right in the middle of the story of Christ’s birth with angels telling the shepherds not to be afraid, one of the elderly ladies (Jackie) spoke up loudly. “It doesn’t do me a bit of good to go to church,” she stated emphatically, “Ray, you have such a soft and reassuring voice, it puts me to sleep every time!”   

It’s actually been several years ago and Jackie has gone on to her Maker, but moments like that; memories of family and friends; learning what Christmas was about; those things live on over the years. Time slipping away is just part of life, 2019 will be here soon, and I’m happy for that and the past days of my life, and all those sweet memories.