All I Want For Christmas Is One Front Tooth

So last Sunday I’m at the BBQ joint around the corner treating myself to some ribs.  About halfway through the last one, I chomped down on something that definitely was not meat.  I rolled it around in my mouth and decided to face the music and check it out more closely.

OH NO.  It’s a big chuck of tooth and it didn’t take my tongue very long to tell me that it came from a front tooth.  Like the second one from the center of the upper front.  Right there in plain sight of God and everyone else.

When I looked in the bathroom mirror my first thought was that all I needed was a cap saying “Roll Tide” to complete the picture.

Two days later and I’m plopped in my dentist’s chair while he takes x-rays, pokes around with some tools and does a lot of mumbling.  I learned that at some point this tooth got a root canal.  Also that seven years ago he filled it and left behind a notation on his charts, “Let’s hope for the best.”

Obviously the time limit on hope has now elapsed.

The dentist tells me I just have bad teeth.  That I’ve not taken care of them.  (I tell him I brush every morning and come to his office for cleaning every six months.)  He tells me I have eaten too many sweets and sugar and teeth don’t get along very well.  I plead guilty.  That I come from a long line of men with a sweet tooth.

And while Daddy may have given me his sweet tooth, he did not give me his teeth.  When he passed away at 86 he had one filling.  He always claimed this was from being raised on well water that was not subject to Lord knows what kind of chemicals are in tap water today.

However, for much of his life this well water came from a bucket dropped down a dug well and I’ve never understood why such water that is standing still in a deep hole and can be the breeding ground for all kind of creepy, crawly things could be that beneficial.  Besides from the time I was in the fifth grade until I finished high school I also drank well water, but it came from a pump stuck in the ground, not an open hole.

The dentist tells me that he can make a bridge, however, he is not sure how long the teeth he would anchor it to will be around.

He leaves it at, “Let me think it over and see what I might come up with.”

So I leave his office just like I came in–with a  big hole where a rib-gnawing tooth used to be.  Which means that if you see me you will immediately think of Hee Haw in all likelihood.  And though it may be called for, don’t expect me in that Roll Tide cap.

A Fine Piece Of Writing

My son, Kevin, lives in Mobile and writes for the weekly publication, Lagniappe.  I am proud of him and his ability to tell a story.  He is a tireless researcher and digs hard to get those tiny facts and quotes that bring a story to life.

On September 22, 1993 ,The Sunset Limited left the train station in Mobile past midnight headed east.  Unfortunately, within minutes the train derailed and chaos consumed the dark and very foggy night in the water and mud of the Mobile Delta.

Here is Kevin’s recounting of this event.  He puts the reader in the midst of this Hellish scene.  If you appreciate good writing, treat yourself.

Father Time Taps Auburn Alum On The Shoulder

How many times have I been part of the multitude gathered in Auburn to watch a football game?  No earthy idea.  The first one was in the fall of 1961 back when Shug Jordan was coach and the stadium held about 40,000 people.

No million dollar contracts for coaches, no ESPN, no giant video boards.  If there were RVs and reserved parking I didn’t know about them.

And Saturday night, Sept. 8, as I waited in the stands for the kickoff of Auburn vs. Alabama State I was flooded with memories.  This is where I watched all three of Auburn’s Heisman players perform.  Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson and Cam Newton.  I saw Auburn beat Alabama in Auburn for the first time ever in 1989.  I saw Auburn come up with miracle finishes to beat Georgia and then Alabama in 2013.

I got season tickets for years and remember Auburn beating LSU in the fourth quarter on pass interceptions run back for touchdowns.  And suffering through too many seasons of Doug Barfield and his woeful teams.

But it was last Saturday when I finally came to know that the thrill of being in the stadium is about gone.  It’s been creeping up on me for several years.  Once the hustle and bustle of being there in person was not given a second thought.  But no more.

Several years ago I started taking the shuttle bus to the stadium.  Which makes far more sense to me than trying to find a parking place that may be way away from the stadium.  The bus lets you off about two blocks from the stadium and takes you back to your car away from traffic jams.  But too many sausage and biscuits and too little exercise have made even this journey on foot more of a march than a walk in the park.  You sweat like someone heading to their cell on death row.

Your steps are much more measured and no guard rail goes unused.  You climb stadium steps more gingerly and pray you don’t stumble.  Other old-timers navigate cautiously and you know deep inside you are their carbon copy.

The calm and cool of your living room, with the big screen TV and 10 steps to the bathroom seems all the more inviting.  Midway through the third quarter you leave.  There is not a dry stitch on you.

You pause and look around just before you enter the exit tunnel and quietly utter, “Thanks for the memories.”

You may some day return–or you may not.  But you know for sure that either way, Father Time has claimed another one.

The Prodigal Has Returned

Yes, there really is an Eiffel Tower in Paris, TN.  I have now seen it with my own eyes,  As well as the playground, swimming pool and tennis courts that surround it.  Granted, it is miniscule compared to the real one in France (which I have also seen live and in person) but it is well done and quite recognizable.

After covering 1,696 miles and being in five states (Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri) this week, the tower is just one of the many memories I have filed away

Others include: somewhere in the Missouri Ozarks between Cherryville and Bixby there is a real live, honest-to-goodness, still in operation drive-in picture show.  Now dang if I know who comes to the movies because people are few and far between in that part of the world.  In fact, the Ozarks seems like a great place to hide someone who is in the witness protection program.

Those who think agriculture is dead or dying should have been riding with me.  I passed about a jillion aces of corn and soybeans in Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois and the boot hill of Missouri.  And while Alabama has endless acres in planted pines, I don’t recall seeing any on this trip..

Outside the little community of Milburn, KY I happened upon a sign announcing “tuxedo rental.”  This struck me as being oddly out of place.  I stopped at the only gas station in Milburn and asked the young lady there if I were in downtown Milburn.  “Ain’t no downtown,” she told me.

Time after time you pass through a small community where a very large cemetery lets you know things were not always like they are now.  Back before interstates and Wal-Marts and Dollar Generals.

A high overlook at Wickliffe, KY, centuries ago the site of Fort Jefferson, stands guard at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.  You have to marvel at the history and commerce this site has witnessed for generations.

If you are looking for the best deal on gas for your car, go right around the corner to the nearest station.  Avoid Tennessee at all costs.  I filled up in Alabama for $2.44 a gallon, it was $2.99 some places in the volunteer state.  Other states were between these extremes.

Some recall U.S. Route 66 that opened in 1926 and ran from Chicago to California.  If you are in Cuba, MO you can find Shelley’s diner located on a portion of the original highway.  Shelley’s began life in the 50’s as the local Dairy Queen.  I got a cheeseburger.  I’ve had better.

We have done a fine job of homogenizing America.  The arches of McDonalds sprout above the landscape in countless communities, large and small.  We have franchised our way to a bland sameness in too many locations.  Still, there are sights to see if you look closely and leave the interstate.

And even with all our warts, we are each blessed to call the United States our home.




Leaving The Reservation

Have changed the oil in my old car (the 1999 model with 125,000 miles on it) and about to hit the road.  So won’t be on my keyboard for several days.

Purpose of this wandering is to attend the board meeting of the Rural Schools Collaborative being held in St.; Louis.  This is the group that has worked hand-in-hand with the University of West Alabama to get the Black Belt Teacher Corps up and going.  They also coordinate the rural grants program that has assisted many teachers across the state.

Other than St. Louis, I have no itinerary or real destination.  Just another chapter in Larry Lee sees the country.  Somewhere I happened on info telling me that there is a replica of the Eifel Tower in Paris, TN.  I have seen the real tower in Paris, France and have also been to Paris, TX.  So chances are good that I will make a stop in Paris, TN just to say I’ve been.

No doubt I will find some country roads and see what is at the other end of them, keeping an eye out for local eateries.

I trust you will keep the home fires burning.


A Beautiful Goodbye

I have never met J. L. Strickland in person.  But I do know he worked in the textile mills for many years in “the valley” where the Chattahoochee River becomes the Georgia-Alabama border.  And he is a heck of a story teller, which is important in order to be a good writer–which he is.  He has shared some of his pieces with me for a long time and I always enjoy them.

Now his beloved wife of many years, Yvonne, has passed away and like so many writers, me included, at such times you turn to the written word to express your emotions.  I wanted to share his heartfelt thoughts with you.

As well as to make the point that while the TV news focuses on the same handful of people 24-7 as if they were the only humans alive, this is hardy the case.  It’s easy to see a crowd and simply dismiss each as a stranger with unknown faces and unknown feelings.  However, they are all real people, with real thoughts and feelings and struggles with all the things life deals us every day.  We cheat ourselves when we don’t recognize them as such.

People like my friend J. L. Strickland.

My father and his older brother used to sing an old song with lyrics that went, “Life’s evening sun is sinking low, a few more days, and I must go.”   To that generation from up in the sticks, death was often brutal, and frequently as familiar as a next-door neighbor. .  
 Yvonne’s sun has disappeared below the horizon, and, man, is it dark and cold right now. 
BTW, I can’t say enough good things about the Bethany House Hospice in Auburn.   That place is a blessing for terminal patients and their families.

“I’ve never experienced such a laid-back, subdued, comforting atmosphere. I never heard or saw anything other than kind acts and caring words during our stay.
Even the fellow who cleans the floors always had a smile and a kind word for everybody.   Yvonne and I were there only three days, but I felt like he and I had become old friends. 
A real rarity in this increasingly “not my problem” world.”  Someone put some real thought into how this place is designed and operated. I didn’t see or hear a single, jarring note in the place, only what can be described as a tangible calm. 
And if anybody ever needed a respite and a kind word, it was ol’ self-centered “woe is me.” 
Even the soft, overstuffed chairs in the place are like floating on a cloud — in contrast to the reinforced concrete furniture usually found in hospitals.

After a combined seven hospital stays over the past few years,  Yvonne and I had become experts in such matters. When she was admitted, I always stayed the entire time with her; and when I was admitted she did the same for me. 
Bethany House, a ten-patient facility–is the end of the line, for sure. The final exit. But, they make the passing as comfortable as possible. And it costs nothing.
Seriously ill patients can stay at Bethany House for up to six months, maximum.  However, I think the average stay is about a week or so.  Maybe less.  When a patient is sent to Bethany House, somebody better start making funeral arrangements. 
When they transferred her from East Alabama Hospital, I rode down to Bethany House in the ambulance with the comatose Yvonne; and walked into the place and pulled out my checkbook.

The friendly, soft-spoken angel who runs Bethany House immediately told me to put it away — there were no charges to patients at Bethany House.  They accept whatever Medicare pays with no cost to the patient. 
I thought I was hallucinating.   As it is, I’ll probably have to take a second mortgage on my soul to pay off East Alabama Hospital. (Not that I’m worried about it. With my many and nasty ailments, they’ll probably have to send the bill Resthaven Memorial Gardens, in care of my cemetery lot.) 
However, if I had a million bucks, I’d probably sign it over to Bethany House and move to the projects.   The place is a blessing on earth — for those who’s life script is ending, and their loved ones who really hate to see them go.
And, did I ever hate to see my darling brown-eyed girl go.”..