Wednesday, August 24, 2016

You Surely Reap What You Sew

My neighbor planted a garden along her fence row,
With the utmost of care, she did till and sow,
I too sowed a garden atop my fence, not low,
Where my lovely feathered friends could live and grow.



I so enjoy providing shelters for my feathery buddies living with me up here in the foothills of Roan Mountain. 

I love watching the tiny hummingbirds, and delight at their shenanigans. On the other hand, the oh-so-small Warbling Vireos who live among us bring out my mother instinct in part because of their mating commitments. Though larger than the hummingbirds, the warblers don’t have the cocky confidence of the hummers. I spend much time in the rocker on the front porch marveling at ‘the least of these.' 

This past spring was spent watching a mommy and daddy Vireo as they worked in harmony building their nest in one of the birdhouses designed primarily for their species. The soon-to-be-mommy would land on the little stoop with a small scrap of moss or tiny twig and wait patiently for her husband to come out of the home’s hole door. As he flew off to gather his next contribution to the impending miracle, she entered to stuff the mattress in her birthing bed as we expectant mommies are prone to do.

After their work was finished and her nest ready, she entered her home and did not come back out for a season. Her husband stayed close. She labored in love, and her eggs were finally laid to rest. She and her husband both then settled down to co-nurture them to birth, a strong trait of the Vireos. Incubation is by both parents, anywhere from 12-14 days, and the male frequently sings from the nest while incubating.

Then one day when it was the mama's turn to sit on the nest, I noted the daddy flew off but he, uncharacteristically, never returned. I felt sad for the abandoned mommy and her future children.

Yet, she remained stoic and lovingly cared for those babies when they hatched. As hungry gaping mouths constantly demanded to be fed, she became a frequent flyer in search of bugs and grubs.

When my grandbabes came up to visit their Nana, I cautioned them not to go near the little cabin and frighten the new mommy. I was pleased to see how very careful my puppies were when they learned the mother bird would abandon her little ones if they pestered her. I believe the word ‘abandon’ frightens children the world ‘round as it has been said that being abandoned is the most destructive emotion we can inflict upon another human being. 

Thankfully, the mother was faithful, and finally, her brood was ready to leave her nest, and they did; all flew safely into the sanctuary of the forest that surrounds us.

Having witnessed the plight of this one pitiful mommy and her little ones who were suddenly abandoned started me thinking though about the four little bird cabins now empty. I knew the coming spring would be bringing forth new families and I realized something needed to be done now to prepare for them.

So I sat down and penned four tiny manuscripts and rolled each into a scroll. I tied a pretty ribbon around each and placed it in each cabin as a welcome gesture. I hope these will be a source of inspiration if needed and the families will find bits ’o wisdom, maybe even a note of levity. Who knows, some of the powerful words may give one of the little birds the courage to soar like an eagle.

In addition to the scrolls, I have also decided to go a step further.  I am going to invite each Vireo family to come join me on the back porch for brunch every morning. I will put out small bowls of savory seeds, bits of fruit, sliced caterpillar-a favorite of the species- and water; I will have my usual poppy seed bagels and cream cheese. Hey! I just had another idea! Those little sweet peas fly up this path to the back porch so after they eat and start back down to their cabins, I  think I will put a birdbath right beside this walkway so they can also take their morning baths! Yes, that is a must do.

In the meantime I thought I would share with you, my faithful friends and readers, what I wrote in those scrolls to each of my future feathery friends...                                    

“Hello, my graceful beauty and new neighbor. Welcome to Misty Hollow. My name is Auntie Linda, and I live in the old log cabin right in front of you. I want you to know my heart and home are open to you at all times; just fly to my window, and I will drop everything and be at your peck and call. In this scroll are some words of wisdom others have shared with me in times of trouble. I want to pass them on to you, my friend, in the hopes these truths may one day encourage you. 

Always remember, we might not know what the future holds but we sure know Who holds it, don’t we honey? Again, welcome to the hollow and may God bless your stay as you and your husband busy yourselves with nesting and birthin’ your babies. Oh! I almost forgot. We have a huge Easter Egg Roll on the grounds planned in a few weeks, and I hope you and the kids will be able to join us!”

Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm. -Abraham Lincoln

Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength. -Saint Francis de Sales 

I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born, I set you apart. –Jeremiah 1:5

A happy family is but an earlier heaven. -George Bernard Shaw

"As you read this scroll you precious little lovely, consider this my hearty welcome to you and your husband; I trust you’ve found your cabin to your liking.  I live in that old log cabin looming right outside your front door. Please know that my door will always be open to you. Just fly over and peck on the window and I'll be there for you, come hell or high water. I hope the pearls of wisdom found in this scroll can be of use to you somehow, someday. 
There is a hodgepodge of soothing and helpful truths I have used as a salve for my past wounds, so I wrote them here for you should you ever need them. May God’s richest blessings rest upon you and your husband as you begin your quest to get pregnant, build your nest, lay and share the sitting on those eggs, and as they crack open. Welcome to Misty Hollow!"

You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them. -Desmond Tutu

My peace I give unto you, let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  -John 14:27

Permanence, perseverance, persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguish the strong soul from the weak. -Thomas Carlyle

There is no such thing as a "broken family."  Family is family and is not determined by marriage certificates, divorce papers, and adoption documents. Families are made in the heart. The only time family becomes null is when those ties in the heart are cut. If you cut those ties, those people are not your family. If you make those ties, those people are your family. And if you hate those ties, those people will still be your family because whatever you hate will always be with you. - C. Joy Bell

"Hey there, you adorable tiny tot you. I see you are reading the scroll I put here anticipating this move into your cabin. Let me introduce myself. I hope you will call me Auntie Linda and I live in that log cabin right out your front door and slightly to the right; that's right, the one with the blue shutters. I hope you are getting settled in and are excited about living here with us in Misty Hollow. I know you, and your husband have much work to accomplish before you can finally crack open your babies and start cuddling. I know...I have myself nested four times, and it can wear your skin thin!

This scroll contains a lit'l tidbits of wisdom contained within and has been such a source of comfort to me in my times of need. I wanted you to have it should you ever have a need. May God's richest blessings be upon you in this, your new home, you itsy bitsy baby doll. Oh, by the way...if you ever have a need, come and peck on my window, sweetheart." 

The tongue has no bones, but it is strong enough to break a heart. Please be careful with your words and sticking your tongue out is mean too. –Anonymous

A truly strong person does not need the approval of others any more than a lion needs the approval of sheep. -Vernon Howard

My peace I give unto you, Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. John 14:27

Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten. -David Ogden Stiers

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh since there is less cleaning up to do afterward. -Kurt Vonnegut

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart. -Helen Keller
"Hello. I am happy you are reading this scroll I left for you, my dear feathered gal pal. I am also delighted to see you and your husband chose the biggest home on the birdie block! You both must be planning on having a huge family. I love watching all the new chick-a-dees in the neighborhood stretching out their tiny wings for the first time while tumbling ‘round in the yard trying to peck each other. My husband and I had four little ones ourselves. I wanted more, but God wisely chose not. 

I do so hope your family will love living here at Misty Hollow. How far did you have to travel to find our paradise here on earth? I cannot wait to sit down with you and hear your story. Your water wheel is not only a wonderful way to deliver power to your home by using the creek behind you, but the cool breeze generated by the rolling wheel is delightful. 

Now, this scroll contains insightful quotes from various authors that meant a lot to me in troublesome times in my past. I so hope you glean bits of wisdom that speak to you if you ever get to your wit’s end. 

And please make note, be sure and peck on my window should you need for anything, honey. I always keep my larder well stocked; shoot, I even keep a good supply of worms on hand. There’s a carton in my fridge in the laundry room right now. Would you believe I left a container out there once and when I went to get a needed worm, all I found was black dirt! That’s the truth, honey! Well, that’s why the Good Lord says ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ in the Good Book. If anybody doubts that truth, just let ‘em buy a can of worms. Anyways, please call me Auntie Linda, sweet girl. I will be praying for God's wisdom, guidance and a heapin' helpin' of love for your future family."

I will not forget you. I have carved you on the palm of my hand. Isaiah 49:15

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." -Jeremiah 29:11

Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.  -Robert Louis Stevenson

Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably they are both disappointed. - Albert Einstein

Lastly, always can be cruel at times. You may shed tears, but none will see your pain; your wing becomes crippled, and all look away. You are cowering in fear, yet that too goes unnoticed.  But if you accidentally expel a little gas...                        

                                           The Tale End

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Man of Men Roams These Mountains Part 2

 For Part One of This Story Please Continue Scrolling Down

Welcome back to Part Two of the life and times of my friend, Robert Lane Street. I am always honored and blessed when you choose to 'read my voice.' 

Referring back to the earlier note of R. L.'s daily target practice, I came to learn what a sharp shooter my buddy really is. As I have said in this space before, I am acutely aware that every family who lives up here in these hollows has weapons in their homes, fully loaded, Tony and I included.

Honestly, though, R. L. brings owning and firing his firearms to a whole new level. A sizable portion of his back acreage is dedicated to his passion. There is a long range shooting range, a pistol range, and a skeet range.

Long range rifle shooting is my bud's forte. He has eight by eight-inch targets pinned on his office wall (for his eyes only- his competition is against himself) showing shots taken from 150 yards away, and the bull’s eyes have shots in them with double shots right on top of the original shot.

I am always amazed as I watch him in action. He makes me think of those old Western TV shows starring men like James Arness, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood. Those heroes in their TV roles were deadly accurate with their weapons and determination to right wrongs.

A few days ago R. L.’s brother Larry who also lives in his own hollow down the road, my friend Berta and I trekked up to the ridge for some target practice.  R. L. had recently purchased a Browning A-Bolt .280 rifle, and I had been hounding him to let me shoot it.

My buddy balked. I could not figure out why R. L. was uncharacteristically giving me push back. If this was a straw man debate, I intended to win. His new rifle was too heavy he said, it would be too loud for me and the kick, if the butt was not secure on my shoulder, could possibly black my eye. Hogwash.

Well, all of my assumptions for why he didn't want me to shoot his rifle were finally put to rest when he let it be known he simply did not want his friend to get hurt. He is, and I do not find this at all offensive, a gentleman from the old school of thinking in matters such as this.

I finally soft-soaped him into letting me take aim, though, and I was pumped. A target was set up at the 80-yard mark for both of us though Jerry, Berta and I also noted a tiny white dot up at the 150 mark.

Here is a video that was taken of R.L. as he is preparing to fire his rifle. Note his humble comment wondering if he can hit his target.

With that shot that son-of-a-gun hit that white dot 150 yards away! R. L. told us it was a small plastic bottle filled with water. His audience was thrilled to see the result of his talent. R. L., disregarding our compliments, solemnly let us know that is what happens to the body of a human or an animal when hit with a rifle like that. His message? While guns should be enjoyed, they are nothing to fool around with. Period. 

Here is a slow motion video of the two of us firing our pistols on his pistol range...

Now, if anyone is interested, here is the video of this gal, wearing the ‘R.L. required’ shoulder pad and taking aim with ‘The Rifle.'

And here is the target I shot from that distance of 80 yards. I was so thrilled with my accomplishment, I had Berta, Jerry, and my dear ole buddy R. L. all sign and date it on the back. 

Well folks, that pretty much scratches the surface of the life of someone who roams up here in these mountains where we live. There’s so much more I could share wit... “Robert Lane! You nitwit! I am going to choke you!” 

Just as I am putting the wraps on this post, I hear R. L.'s soft, unassuming Southern drawl, “Hey, did I tell you I made the finals playing tennis in the Tennessee Senior Olympics four or five years ago?"

"Yeah, I came within a hair of winnin’ the state championship in my age group. I'd never played my whole life, but I thought it looked like fun, so I started watchin' tennis a lot on TV. Then I got some manuals and started readin' up on it and bought a racquet and went to a tennis court and started hittin' some balls. From there I started playin' with some people and then ended up in the Tennessee Olympics. But I got beat out at the very end by a tennis coach...he deserved to win, he was a great opponent."  

And then my buddy shyly showed me his tennis racquets and medallion.

Someone once said, "life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get." That, my friends, is what life has been like since I have been blessed to know Robert Lane Street. 

Lane, my brother in Christ, I told you this story would be about you, but I also told you I would dedicate it to you. I struggled to find the words. A trip to the barn recently gave me my dedication as it hung below Trig's stall. It seemed to embody the essence of you, my friend.

Below is a story R.L. wrote after arriving back from Vietnam. I photographed the paper where he typed it on an old Remington typewriter. The story follows, unedited.

November 18, 1965, dawned clear and hot as had every other day during the past three months.  I, along with specialist, Joe Campbell, had been attached
to the 21st artillery, 1st bn. Cavalry Division, South Vietnam.  Our job on this mission was to supply the 21st artillery with Balistic Metrological Data. 
     The 21st was bivouacked a few miles south of Ira Durang Valley with orders to standby and support the 1st and 5th battalions which had been sent out into the jungle in search of the Viet Cong.  It must have been approximately 3 or 3;30 P.M. when a Mayday call from the Fifth came in over the radio.  They had made contact with and were pinned down by an overwhelming number of Viet Cong Regulars, and needed help fast.

       My outfit was immediately loaded aboard helicopters and flown into the battle area.  We had landed and were preparing to launch an attach on the Viet Cong, when we were attacked from the rear by a large contingent of enemy soldiers. (Reports later show we were outnumbered by a ratio of three to one.)  Apparently the Viet Cong unit that attacked us had been on their way to re-enforce their comrades when they spotted us. We were soon trapped between these soldiers and elements from the regulars who had by now, overrun the other company.  (Artillery and air strikes from supporting units finaly drove the Viet Cong away after a fierce fifteen hour battle.)

       I don’t remember the exact time when I was hit by shrapnel from an emeney mortar round, but it was dark when I regained consciouness.  Sometime during the night, Joe who also had been slightly wounded reached me and dragged me to the shelter of an aid station that had been set up by the medics.

       By the time I had fully regained control of my thoughts, a nauseating fear began to creep into my guts.  I could only lie there helpless and listen to the whine of machine gun bullets overhead, and hear the “whump’ of enemy mortar rounds exploding close by.  A cold chill ran down my spine as I wondered where the next  round would strike.  It was then that I noticed a medic walking erect among the wounded, undaunted by the bullets screaming past him. I watched him and thought, “My God this man is out of his mind.”  I could see him talking to the wounded soilders, as he stopped here and there to administer first aid to one.  He started walking toward me, and I shouted, “Get down, man, or you will surely get hit”. A little grin wrinkled his war-strained face, as he replied in a calm southern drawl: “What the Hell? You only die once.”  He then turned and walked away, and I saw that he too was wounded.  I must have passed out then because I don’t remember anymore. 

       In the hospital, a few days later, I learned that a medic had been killed while giving first aid to a fallen comrade.  He had been wounded three times, and could have saved himself, He instead had sacrificed his own life for another.  I’ll never know for sure whether or not this was the same medic I had talked with that night.  But I will always believe it was.  I do know that whenever I feel the fangs of fear, I remember that night, and the medic who said; “What the Hell? You only die once”.  

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Man of Men Roams These Mountains Part 1

“I guess I'm pretty much of a lone wolf. I don't say I don't like people at all but, to tell you the truth I only like it then if I have a chance to look deep into their hearts and their minds.” 
― Bela Lugosi

How do I write a mere blog post about a man who lives in the shadows among us up here on Roan Mountain whose life is deserving of a book? 

A man knitted with complexity yet with a wisdom cloaked in simplicity; one with demanding loyalty to his reclusive lifestyle yet tightly embracive of those he does let into his world; he who comes across with the fierce call of the wild until he privately picks up his pen when beautiful words flow... 

My friends, I would like to introduce to you my neighbor and dear friend, Robert Lane Street.

I will never forget the day I met R.L. as he is known in these parts. Tony and I had settled up here in Misty Hollow, one of many hollows that branch off of the (often) one lane road winding up into these mountains we folks up here call home.  R.L. and his home and acreage are located off that main artery, and his gravel road leads up into his hollow.

Since moving, I had been busy meeting my new neighbors and had already picked up a few tidbits about R.L.  I knew he was a loner who lived up at the top of the ridge. I knew he had hunting dogs and was an avid hunter. I was told he was shy. I did not have to be told he practiced daily on his shooting techniques as the somehow comforting sounds of his various guns ricocheted throughout the valley.

So realizing R.L. was the only neighbor I had not met, I figured it was time to take the bull by the horns. I jumped in my car one day, drove down the mountain and started the climb to his place.

As I reached my destination and was parking, R.L. came out onto his small front porch and stood warily watching me; he looked nothing like the one man welcoming committee I had hoped for. I stepped from the car, flashed him a huge grin and started up the steps to his porch. The first thing I noted was this...

…and then I saw the 357 Magnum lying on the railing.
Extending my hand, I blurted out I was Linda, his new neighbor who lived up in Misty Hollow and I thought it was high time we met.
Quickly sizing him up, this crusty fellow looked to be in his mid-seventies and he had a lean athletic build with piercing eyes set in a face whose deep etches announced he had witnessed more than his share of trouble, fear, and heartache. His demeanor alerted he'd be damned if he intended to take on any more.
A fascinating hour and two cups of coffee later I was leaving with a promise I would be back based on his slightly gruff but kind invitation to visit again. After some gentle probing that day, R. L. had mesmerized me with a little about his incredible life.

With a cock-eyed grin, he later told me I had this peculiar way of pulling stuff out of people that had long been buried. I smiled and said I was honored he felt safe to share with me.   
That day, my friends, was the root of a great friendship. Early on I asked my bud if I could call him Lane as I had a son named Lane. He reckoned it was okay; he had a grandson named Lane.
With time I have learned in our friendship when I can push. Mostly though I’ve discovered by a slight raising of those eyebrows when I’ve crossed a line. Through the telling of his stories, I’ve also learned of the many and varied branches of life my friend has laid under. The more I was able to draw him out the more I realized his life and ways should be shared, and I was thrilled he shyly agreed to let me do the telling.
As a young boy of seven, R. L. said he would go off into the mountains with his grandpa to hunt. Though he was not allowed to shoot, that is when he began to fall in love with the beauty and peace of God’s creation. He shared that spending time with older family members who spent time with him in this way was what he felt kept him out of the typical trouble of most youth.
Loving horses from an early age, R. L. at age twelve milked cows early morning and evening, and by selling the milk and butter, he was able to buy his first horse. That sparked a lifetime of owning, riding and breaking horses.
At age sixteen his father bought thirty acres out on Gap Creek Road in Elizabethton, TN. That young boy loved the acreage and wanted it so much he approached his dad. R. L.’s father told him if he would work in the family mercantile store from age sixteen to the day he turned twenty-one and not join the armed services, the property would be deeded to him.
The boy agreed and did keep up his end of the bargain, and his dad did likewise. Unfortunately, the reality of the draft was the law of the land so the day R. L. celebrated his twenty-first birthday he became both the owner of the thirty acres and the United States Army became the owner of him. Realizing he was preparing to be to be drafted, he did join that birthday of January 22, 1964.

R. L.’s tour of duty in ‘Nam began September 15, 1965, and he found himself in the Central Highlands of Vietnam and worse…in the thick of the first major battle of the war on November 14, 1965, the Battle of la Drang. Serving in the Division Artillery of Headquarters Battery, his assignment was to support his infantry with artillery as well as give visual coordinates as they engaged with the North Vietnamese. His given creed was held close, just a heartbeat away...I am the Infantry. I am my country’s strength in war, her deterrent in peace. I am the heart of the fight-wherever, whenever. I carry America’s faith and honor.

And then that terrifying night came when his body was simultaneously riddled with shrapnel from an enemy mortar round as well as a piercing bullet into the back of his skull. The pain in his head exploded, then nothingness. He dropped.
R.L. regained consciousness where he learned his fellow comrade Joe Campbell, who had also been wounded, had dragged him to an aid station still frighteningly close to the fighting. He eventually learned he had taken nine hits.   Mercifully, a medivac helicopter extracted R.L. and flew him to a safer field hospital. To this day he has a bullet fragment in his head and shrapnel fragments in his leg.
While still swathed in head bandages and on crutches, the U.S Army was preparing to send him home. He pleaded with them to not discharge him; he did not want to leave his fellow comrades behind. Convincing them he could still function in other ways other than battle they relented and he was allowed to complete his full two years of service.
Finally, the day came when Uncle Sam broke his plate and sent him on his way. They flew R. L. into California and left him on his own to get back home to the East Tennessee peace he so longed for. The Purple Heart he had earned, though appreciated, was not as healing at gut level as the purple Catawba Rhododendron growing wild back in his neck of the woods.
He had a deep need to spend that first summer riding a motorbike through the mountains of Carter County. He recklessly rode in places that one wrong move would have sent him careening over high bluffs into deep crevices below where He would have laid until only God knew when. “Just like in Vietnam, and the many times of dangerous situations I had faced before, God still had me wrapped in His big hands.”
I gently asked my buddy what he thought about the time he spent in Vietnam and he, with a far-away look softly muttered, “The looks in the eyes of the children, the people, made me feel that was the reason I should be there.”
A front page article was written January 27, 1966, in the Elizabethton Star regarding their returning hero and quoted Street as saying, “Seeing the children and the way they have to live keeps the soldiers from really minding the hardships over there.”
R. L. felt his final closure on that tragic war of so long ago came when Elizabethton High School invited a keynote speaker a few years ago and local Veterans were asked to attend. The guest's name was Bruce Crandel, and he was a highly decorated Army medivac helicopter pilot from the Vietnam War.
My friend sat up front in the roped off section. As soon as the program was over, R. L. quickly made his way to shake hands with the man who, risking his own life, had picked his shattered body up and flew him out of that battle hellhole with his angel wings to an army hospital in a safer place.
On a side note, the much acclaimed 2002 war film, 'We Were Soldiers' starring Mel Gibson and based on the 1992 book 'We Were Soldiers Once…And Young' by U.S. Army Lieutenant General Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and war journalist Joseph L. Galloway (both in that battle) focuses on that deadly day at la Drang. A 'must see and read' in my book.
R.L. did pick up the pieces of his life and marched on. He eventually met and married his Jane (now deceased), and they built and settled down on those thirty acres he so loved. They even opened a western store, and life was good. Jane blessed him with his three (now) grown children.
All three of those children, two sons, and a daughter, have gifted him with his six grandchildren. All of these, cherished in his life, are according to R. L. a gift from God. I personally consider Jerry, one of R. L.’s sons, to be a Godsend as well. He is my farrier and takes excellent care of my Tennessee Walker, Trig.    
Years passed and with Jane gone and his children grown life for this man, still slightly bent but not broken, eventually settled down into the rhymes and rhythms of his life up on the ridge in his hollow. An avid hunter, he began to spend time hunting out West in Kansas and Colorado. His time in Kansas, in particular, gave him solace and he spent much time there in solitude. The love of that place is what drove R. L. to purchase a farm there. He still strikes off and spends weeks on end there.
As a hunter, R. L. has always carried a lifetime "code of the hills." He also carefully taught his children (and now grandchildren) this same ethos. "Don't kill it unless you are going to eat it unless it's going to kill you."
The living room wall around this hunter's home on the ridge is lined with the heads of the game he has killed from years past. That first time I barged in on R. L. I questioned him about the mounted heads and he, with not one iota of care for political correctness, proudly shared the stories of a couple of those heads.
He also let me know those heads hanging there was just a drop in the bucket but those particular ones each had an unusually funny, sentimental or freighting story that stood out for him, thus their placement.

It was important for my friend to let me know he will never drop an animal that he does not immediately gut, skin, quarter and ice to bring back home to his own family members, someone up here in the hollow, or food banks that depend on his much-needed donations.
I remember so well a day I pulled out of Misty Hollow and started down the mountain passing my neighbors Berta and Barney's house. There they both stood with large chunks of deer meat splayed out in the back of Barney's pick-up truck. They were processing it into smaller roasts for their freezer.They told me it was given to them by R. L. It was killed in South Carolina and had been marked for them and they were grateful for the winter meat. It’s thought of like the circle of life up here in this beautiful place we live.
Very fiscally wise, R. L. has his office set up in a back bedroom where he methodically fills and refills his own cartridges. Some of those brass cartridges have already been used several times. I find it fascinating to watch this tedious procedure, but he says it’s the only way to go if you do as much shooting as he does.

Never leaving anything to chance, R. L. has weapons strategically placed around his home. Curious, I asked him if he had guns in every room and he said, "No, not in my bathroom." To be honest, I have to be very wary as my friend has a subtle sense of humor and oft times I don’t know if he’s pulling my leg or not.

(This concludes Part I of 'A Man of Men Roams These Mountains'

Friday, June 3, 2016

I Ain't Much But I'm All He's Got

My happy regards to each of you, my faithful readers!

Once again it is an honor to have you join me as I share my thoughts while living to the fullest up here in Misty Hollow in the foothills of Roan Mountain, Tennessee.

Sunshine and summer weather have crept across the dense forest floor, and we are finally flush with flora and fauna. Everywhere I look I see draperies of bright green. The various bird's nests in the nooks and crannies around both cabins are full of gaping hungry mouths.

My favorite wildlife right now is the turkey hens as they each strut proudly around the grounds with up to ten chicks stumbling, rolling then quickly recouping to hasten behind their moms. It won't be long before the does have their polka dotted fawns following their moms as she stealthily moves among the trees in high protective mode. Life here is so amazing my Tony, and I often hold hands and thank God for the privilege of living here.  

Now speaking of my main squeeze, have you guys noticed you have never seen a photo of him on this blog, and have rarely heard about him?  

Well, there's a reason. Tony is camera shy and has said, "Honey, I am so happy you love blogging, and I enjoy reading what you write.  But, you blog....I'll read and we'll leave it at that."

I wondered though if I could talk him into loosening up a bit. He and I were sitting down to a romantic dinner and, sensing he was in a mellow mood, I told him I would love to write a blog post about how he and I met.  

It really was our 'Pretty Woman' story, and I asked if he still remembered when the romantic comedy starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts came out in 1990.  Did he remember how I cried several times throughout that movie? 

"Well, that is basically us, Tony, and our story begs to be told."  His retort? "Linda, you were not a hooker when we met, and I sure did not look like Richard Gere but if you want to write it, go ahead honey."  YES! "Smile, sweetheart, I need to take your picture."

So let's hitch our horses together and see if we can ride this one out.  When I think back and recall all that happened, I still find it difficult to believe myself.

The year was 1968, and I was a junior at Tennessee High School in Bristol, Tennessee. I had met and was 'running around' with a new friend named Brenda Nickels. I don't remember how we met nor why she chose to befriend me; we lived in entirely different worlds. 

I owned two pairs of shoes. Brenda's bedroom housed a custom built shoe closet showcasing enough leather to cover a large sofa and matching recliner. In all fairness, though, her parents did own Nettie Lee Shoes in downtown Bristol.
I lived in a two bedroom home on the wrong side of the tracks that managed to squeeze in my parents and five kids. Brenda, an only child, lived in a lovely, spacious home in a beautiful neighbor. Her parents were always so kind and accepting of me. It was evident they never seemed to care their daughter was friends with someone of much lesser means. 
Brenda had invited me to stop by her home one Sunday after church so I could run an errand with her. Sure. I was so impressed Brenda had her own nifty car, and we were able to hop in and take off at will. When we arrived at her cousin's, we were met in the living room by three men, all in a disheveled state of dress and looking pretty haggard. All were nursing what I learned later were Bloody Mary's.
That man's name was Tony. I thought he was obnoxious and could not wait to leave that house. I learned that day he was twenty-two years old and his two friends, Bruce Hawks and Raymond Siler, were both preparing to graduate from East Tennessee State University. Tony was already employed at Trammell Construction. 

I had no way of knowing then that Sunday would catapult me on the ride of a lifetime.

Soon Brenda began to invite me to her home quite often. Tony always seemed to be there to visit his Aunt Juanita and Uncle Harry, Brenda's parents. He was flirty and teased me incessantly. I learned much later it had been confided to the Nickels' family he had a crush on me. 

Tony told them he had never met a girl quite like me....shy but sassy, innocent yet mature, and attractive while not seeming to realize it. He also later told me his Aunt Juanita wagged her finger in his face and told him if he so much as laid a finger on me she would "detach his gonads."  
Juanita and Harry were very fond of Tony and had cookouts and dinners for him and his friends Bruce and Raymond, me and anyone else who cared to drop by. They were such a lovely couple who delighted in entertaining while assuring all felt welcome at their table.

I could not help but note Tony was an incredibly sharp dresser. Every time I saw him, he looked like he had just stepped out of some men's fashion magazine. That was very intimidating to me. I shyly commented once on his dress and asked if he ordered his clothes. 

He laughed and told me he shopped at Blakley-Mitchell in Bristol and Soble's in Kingsport. Why he asked, do you like how I dress? I felt my face flush and, tweaking my cheek, he told me he thought the fine art of blushing was long lost.

My mom and dad were beginning to wonder why I was spending so much time at Brenda's all of a sudden. Who was at Brenda's house, my father wanted to know. Lying to them was something I'd never felt comfortable with, but all I could think to say with pounding heart was, "Brenda's little red-headed cousin will be there, but I am not sure who else."

My conscious was eating me alive. I had grown to really care for Tony so after about a month of meeting at Brenda's I told him he had to come to my home and meet my parents. "Absolutely, I'd love to meet them. I did not want to push you, but I am more than ready". 

Seriously, I did not intend to be difficult, but he did need to be reminded  I was sixteen years old and he was twenty-two with a receding hairline and a bald spot on top of his head making him look at least thirty. He laughed.

"It will be okay, Linda. I promise."

I told my parents Tony from Brenda's had asked me out, but he wanted to come to the house to meet them first and get their approval.  I had at that point only dated one guy in my lifetime, and I had to be in by ten o'clock on school nights and eleven on weekends.  

The night Tony came to my home, that firm knock rapped, and my knees knocked as well as I opened the door. There he stood in a gorgeous suit that even more accentuated the fact he was a grown man.

I could hear my parents making their way from the den as Tony stood perfectly at ease in our small living room. It was surreal to see the looks on their faces as they stood there gaping when they saw him.
"So this is Brenda's little red-headed cousin?", my dad managed to gasp.

Within thirty minutes my parents thought my boyfriend was the most wonderful person in the world.  He was straightforward, we filled in the gaps of how we met, he told them about his employment at the offices of Trammell Construction and then shared his life plan. Tony thanked them for the time he had spent with me while letting my parents know the characteristics that drew him to me.  

Lastly, Tony assured them if allowed to date me he would always treat me with respect and take excellent care of me.  

Yes, my father said, Tony could date his daughter, but he must have her in that door by ten o'clock on school nights and eleven on weekends. I really wasn't sure what Dad would do to Tony if he failed to obey that order (though he did); that train seemed to have left the station once Dad told a twenty-two-year-old man he could date his daughter.

Three months from when I met him, I married my Tony on Saturday, January 25, 1969. Sixteen-year-old kids were not allowed to marry in the State of Tennessee, so our marriage license was obtained in Virginia with parental permission. My father refused to sign for me although he thought the world of Tony; he firmly believed I was too young to marry. 

My mother, ever the opportunist, saw a stable future for her daughter and did not hesitate to sign on the dotted line. My desire was to marry at Fellowship Chapel where I had attended church for years and had been a part of the youth group. Reverend Lester McKinnon who knew me well did the honors.

My wedding gown came from a small bridal boutique and cost $35, and my veil was borrowed. There were not that many people in attendance. Tony's entire family was there of course, and all were so kind and supportive. I had met them and agonized inwardly what they must think of Tony's choice of a wife. I was a skinny, long drink of water and pathetic piece of insecurity who wondered, too, what Tony saw in me.

My fiance's sister Peggy had married one of Kingsport, Tennessee's most prominent sons complete with a large, lovely wedding in Church Circle with the full compliment of bridal showers and teas. To me, though, my nuptials was simplistically beautiful. Our photos were taken with a Polaroid camera, and I still cherish them today.
Tony had picked Atlanta, Georgia for our honeymoon. I had no idea where to go as I'd hardly been anywhere. I had carefully washed and ironed my best outfits and laid them carefully in a suitcase. My smaller bag carried my underwear, my gown Mama had picked for my wedding night and my makeup bag and toiletries that I'd carried into the church for my sister to help with my makeup and hair.

We left immediately after the wedding in a rush to start our honeymoon. I ended up at our hotel that evening with the smaller bag, but the larger suitcase was still in the back of my parent's car. Humiliated, I burst into tears. Tony gathered me in his arms and told me he had a quick fix for that little problem, and I was not to worry. 

Here I am below on my wedding night...a woman child donned out in her chartreuse wedding gown with white daisy accents. I am playing with my Mr. Big Ears mouse and the Raggedy Ann doll my new husband bought me when I fell in love with them at a gas station coming across the mountains. 

Jeez, you can't make this stuff up.

I woke up the next morning realizing I was not in Kansas anymore. Tony was in the shower, so I quickly made up the bed, finishing just as he walked out of the bathroom. He smiled and gently told me I did not need to make up the bed every morning; maids would be coming in and cleaning the room. Once again I felt my face flush with embarrassment. How was I to have known that?

Tony told me the first day of our new life together would be awesome. We were going to downtown Atlanta to have lunch on Peachtree.  Arriving there was a breathtaking experience for me. 

I had never been in a metropolitan area before, and Tony had to hold my hand as we walked along or I would have fallen down while gaping up at the tall skyscrapers all around us.  

Peachtree was a long avenue with storefronts filled with incredible items beautifully displayed and designed to lure even the most discriminating buyer.  

Finally, we stopped in front of a luxurious clothing store. The Fashion Shop back in my hometown was considered our very finest.  I always nurtured a dream when a young child that someday I would walk in there and shop 'till my heart's content. Yet, even it paled in comparison to this stunning place before us.  

"Come on, we need to buy you some clothes, Mrs. Blevins."  Oh my gosh! First I was stunned to hear him call me by that name! It was the first time I'd heard myself called that! It sounded...well, strange to me; that was his mother's name. Next, I anguished realizing I had not been married to Tony a full twenty-four hours and I was already a financial burden to him.

I had on the same outfit I had worn to the church the day before with Mom and Dad, carrying my bridal gown.  Then I rode to Atlanta in was all I had.  I felt very ill at ease beside my new husband as he was, as always, dressed perfectly.  This man I adored took my arm and walked me through the door of the clothing salon.  
It would be impossible to express how shy and overwhelmed I felt as two sales women headed our way. Asking if they could be of assistance, Tony said he was buying a wardrobe for his new bride; could they please help select what she wants. The slightly raised eyebrows and a quick scan of my body resulted in one question, "You look like you are about a size six, dear. Yes?" Mortified, I could not utter a word. 

Tony spied a grouping of chairs toward the back with a three-way mirror, so he decided he had better take charge.  "Ladies, let's all go back there. My wife and I will have a seat, and you can bring things for her to look at and then we can make some decisions."

And we did. The ladies were very gracious and helpful, and I felt like Cinderella.  Of the lovely things we bought that day one outfit was my favorite; it was a cream colored sailor dress with navy accents. While trying it on I had peeked at the price tag, and it said $100! I was shocked to the core! That one item was more than the cost of my entire wardrobe, including shoes, back home! 

I whispered, telling Tony I had decided against taking the sailor dress all the while wishing I had looked at the prices of the other things I had tried on. My husband asked why...he loved that dress on me. I asked him if he had noted how much it cost? He laughed and gave me a quick hug and told the sales ladies to wrap everything up.

Years later as I watched the scene in Pretty Woman and the character Vivian walked into that exclusive clothing boutique with money Edward had given her to buy some things, my heart ached for her knowing how she must have felt. 

I can't help but believe if Tony had not been with me that day and I had been alone, those ladies would not have been remotely interested in waiting on me. An ugly truth, but reality can be such at times.                         

The rest of our honeymoon was spent doing things that left me breathless one moment or feeling way out of my league the next. 

Going to my first nightclub caused me to come unglued. Tony took me to a famous club called The Sans Souci Lounge. Right off the bat, I was sure my being there was breaking the law and firmly told my husband as much.  

After we had been seated, the waiter came and asked for our drink order. I was just preparing to tell him I was sixteen and not old enough to drink when Tony ordered himself a bourbon and water and me some fruity drink with a darling little umbrella.   

I then informed my ignorant husband there were probably people somewhere around watching for illegal activity and they would spot me and arrest me for underage drinking!  That man of mine just roared with laughter and told me to calm being married changed everything. I could legally have cocktails with him, so that was the end of that.  

A couple of days later we visited a place called Underground Atlanta- the city beneath the streets- that had just opened that year. It was another world revealed to me, especially when we saw a beautiful, scantily clad woman with a tiger on a leash stroll by not three feet from us. 

My personal favorite on our honeymoon?  

Our visit to Grant Park Zoo which housed a black bear, jaguar, a hyena, a gazelle, a Mexican hog, lionesses, monkeys, and two camels.  Most of all this outdoor trip allowed me the opportunity to wear my new sailor dress and matching handbag and shoes and suede coat with fur collar. Seeing I was dressing totally inappropriate for the zoo, my precious husband told me long afterward he put on a suit that day so as not to embarrass his slightly off-key, wacky wife.  

On the drive back to Bristol, reality hit and real life together stretched before us. Tony felt the need to discuss some critical issues with me.  First, he told me it would be foolhardy for us to become parents until we enjoyed several years of marriage to mature in our relationship, travel, and focus on saving for our future.  

Tony said he would like for me to contact a GYN-OB (What's that, I asked?) when we get home and get on birth control pills.  Next, I needed to withdraw from Tennessee High School as he said he had been looking at a place on the river in Bluff City for us to lease for a while.  Oh my goodness, I thought.  I hated leaving the school system I had grown up in since I started at Central Elementary in first grade. I realized then I would be starting my second semester of my junior year at East High School.  

He also wanted me to know "WAIT!  STOP THE CAR!!"  During our short courtship, 'our' song, When a Man Loves a Woman by Percy Sledge came on, wherever we were, and whatever we were doing, I wanted to stop and slow dance.  My sweet guy agreed to my lovesick teenage request, so we had danced in restaurants and on street sidewalks with the car radio blaring.  Now we were driving across Sam's Gap, so he was pulling over for us to hold each other close to 'our song.'  

Back in the car, my Tony also wanted me to know how much he loved me, what an awesome time he had on our honeymoon and how excited he was about our future. I told him I had never been happier in my life.

We did move to that charming little place on the Bluff City river and life there was so precious. My other half would rush in from work, grab us a couple of fishing rods and we would step down to water's edge; that is where I learned to fish.

Transitioning into the East High School family as a married 'woman' was easy. Staff members were very kind, and the other students quite friendly. I got my driver's license, Tony bought me my first car, gave me one dollar a day for lunch and I felt like the most blessed and cared for wife in the whole wide world.

For the first time in my young life, I never felt hungry. East High had been built a year prior and boasted the most amazing cafeteria imaginable. I would get my tray, and for that dollar, I could load up with a large serving of meat, several vegetables, rolls, a dessert, and milk! Slowly, ever so slowly, my thin frame began to fill out along with my self-esteem.

In the meantime, I was introduced to the Trammell Construction family. I was still quite shy and intimidated at the smallest of things and meeting that group Tony worked with daily was no small thing. 

First, there was Mack Trammell and his gracious and beautiful wife, Frankie. Then came Dewey Pendley and his vivacious Nancy, a real go-getter who did not seem to understand the words 'no' or 'it can't be done.' Don Moneyhun was the financial guru of the firm, and he was married to the lovely and gentle Betty. These three couples embraced this young bride from the get-go as if I had always been a part of their group. Obviously, if Tony loved me then so would they.

Frankie, Nancy and Betty, and their husbands were all at the very top of Bristol's social structure. These precious women took me under their wings as if I was their personal pet project. All I could feel was intense gratitude they were determined to turn this sow's ear into a silk purse. I frantically felt the need to feel more secure about not embarrassing them.

My incredible life with Tony was filled with so much joy and excitement yet simultaneously exposed to twists and turns I never knew were possible for someone like me. The summer between my junior and senior year of high school was like a dream as I languished poolside at the Howard Johnson's Motel, owned by Mack Trammell. 

Mr. Trammell contacted Howard Smith, his hotel manager, and told him to permanently secure the room nearest the pool so Linda, Tony's wife, could enjoy the pool and have a place to change or relax in. Also, my meals at the restaurant were to be complimentary. Can you imagine how this touched and overwhelmed me?

A few months after that Tony and I were asked by Mack if we would like to move-gratis-into a darling home he owned in Blue Ridge Subdivision in Bristol. Mack let it be known he believed in my Tony and saw a bright future for him in his chosen field. That was not surprising to me; printed under Tony's senior photo in his high school yearbook was his stated dream...To own my own construction company. 

We enjoyed living there and from there bought a newly constructed Spanish-style home in Mount Area Estates. Then came the purchase and move to a lovely new home in Lowry Hills in Bristol, Virginia (where we had out first child, Tara) and finally to the stately Georgian Court on Shirley Drive...the home we lived in for the next twenty-three years while rearing our children. 

Please note the timeframe from the move into the Trammell home in Blue Ridge to the move on Shirley Drive was a little over seven years! My husband did not mind buying and long as he turned a profit; finding the perfect permanent home for us to rear children was paramount! Shirley Drive was that home in a neighborhood with great parents with lots of nice kids who all grew up with ours.

My senior year of high school was definitely out of the norm. I was doing very well academically, but when it was necessary for me to miss a day or two from school with my husband, I still did so with a nervous stomach.  I remember like it was yesterday carrying excuse notes written by Tony for my needed absences and handing them to my principal, Kenneth Carrier.  

"Mr. Carrier, please excuse Linda for being absent this past Thursday and Friday. We flew to Hilton Head for a business associate's wedding. Thank you for your kind understanding."

"Mr. Carrier, please excuse Linda for being absent Monday and Tuesday. She needed to travel with me on a business trip. We appreciate your patience with us."

When reading these notes, Mr. Carrier would laugh nervously. I could tell he was not sure just exactly how to handle my situation, but he always excused me.

Tony and I kept our personal commitment to not start a family prematurely. Our firstborn, Tara Lane, was born in May 1975, our Amanda Leigh, September 1978. Lane Hunter, our first son, was born March 25, 1982, and our last dumpling, Ethan Nathaniel, came exactly three years later on March 25, 1985.

And remember that guy named Bruce Hawks who was with Tony that first day I met him? They were then and have remained best friends throughout all these years. Bruce graduated with a degree in accounting and Tony's dream of owning his own construction company meshed together, and twenty years ago with his co-owner Bruce managing the financial end T & B Contractors, Inc. was established and is a thriving business today. Their expertise is in building water and wastewater treatment plants.

It has been said 'When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.' As a sixteen-year-old kid, I did not understand that. On this side of our love, I fully grasp it now.

I do hope you enjoyed reading about the joys, insecurities, delights and trials of this child bride who married a real man (not a lot of 'em left anymore) so long ago. 

My Tony and I were able to carry off a relationship such as ours due solely to the wisdom, maturity and fully committed love of this man I married and the fact this was nearly fifty years ago. It goes without saying Tony and I certainly do not condone relationships like ours in today's modern culture.

I love him today with a love so profound and rich and vibrant that oft times it overwhelms me. To avoid confusion, when I started this blog post I was back at our cabin in Misty Hollow, but Tony and I left for Hilton Head, so the following video was obviously not taken on our mountain.

Now, I am so proud to introduce you to this incredible but still shy, man I adore...