Friendly Fire


       I started a fire a couple of nights ago on the burn pile out back of our property, soon after darkness fell. The spot is near the woods in which a thin little stream bends and gurgles southward, eventually spilling into that lovely, sequestered tributary known to locals as Stafford Creek. The air of that fledgling night had a little early May nip in it, and the sky was so sparklingly clear that it seemed you could nearly see forever. There was a high and dazzling, yellow-white moon up there, companioned by a thousand/million scattered points of shimmering, silvery light. The wind was coming from variable directions- mostly gentle, with an occasional moderate gust- and was nice and cool, as it carried the pleasant and mellow smell of smoke and the dewy, freshly cut grass.

     While I was out there in my little tucked away corner of the world, burning several boxes, some limbs, and a couple of wads of plastic weed barrier that I had ripped up from the vegetable garden, I enjoyed listening to all of the echoey sounds: the neighbor’s children laughing from way across the street; an almost silent night bird that was probably wading in the shallow waters down in the woods; a far-off dog talking to another far-off dog from a different direction; the nighttime songs of the few crickets that were brave enough to cling to the dark and hidden places, under such chilly conditions; the changing breezes caressing and nudging rustling leaves up in the tallow tree; and the raucous noise of an engine racing- probably some young buck in his pickup truck out near the highway, toward the east. And I could hear the usual swamp frog or two.

     But the thing that was most noticeable on that crisp and wonderful night was the sound of the fire; once it stopped its flailing and roaring, as it ran out of most of what fueled it. It gradually changed to a soothing and comforting crackle and pop, and murmur- glowing a golden glow that was tinged with orange and greenish blue in the nooks and crannies, where the black plastic and a log from a couple of months ago were still slowly burning, until the flames eventually died away altogether.

     A fire like that can be a mesmerizing thing for some reason. A fire like that, along with experiencing all of the sounds, and the smells, and the beautiful mystery of such a night, can cause a person’s mind to go to wandering and wondering- at least for me it can. I start to thinking about God, or little green aliens, or the vastness of the universe. I might also consider how tranquil and wondrous all of nature can be, or how badly the nearby fence needs weeding, as the waning flames shed a dwindling light on the overgrowth.

     A fire can also make me think about the people that I roasted wienies with back in younger days; my long lost, beloved grandma; the friends who have moved on; and the new friends that will share future fires with me on future nights, when the cold air makes an inviting situation for needed warmth. But whatever crosses my mind as I tend the flames and stare at the stars, I can be guaranteed that a fire, whether for pleasure or for utilitarian reasons, will always be a warm and welcomed companion when a cold wind blows. Yes, I think that a restrained, worry-free blaze is sometimes the nicest friend that a person can have when the weary nighthawks soar to a far-off roost, somewhere away from the busy, complicated, and sometimes bothersome world. . .

Something to Look Forward To


Having something to consistently look forward to is a significant way to keep each of us happy and more emotionally content in our day-to-day lives. In fact, this idea can benefit not only us individually, but those around us in most cases- if we pick the right pursuits. Here are a few ideas for regular activities to help all of us feel happier as we live together in our beloved neighborhoods and town:

  • Go for a neighborhood tour- Take a friend or family member and go out after dinner. Walk for an hour or so in a chosen neighborhood. Try to learn who use to live in the various homes, and who lives there now. It could be something to look forward to on a nightly basis, and could foster closeness with you and the ones who tag along.
  • Visit someone in the hospital- Do this routinely to lift the spirits of local patients. It’s also a good way to get to know what a person’s story is.
  • Do something nice for five people- Pick out five people for the year- maybe they’re alone or elderly or related to you. Stop by every month with a goody bag or a crossword book and say hello.
  • Exercise- Go out to Sam Atkin’s Park or the Bike Trail three times a week and play a little basketball with some friends, or do some fast walking/running . You might include some pull-ups, stretches, or other types of calisthenics along the way.
  • Mentor someone- Spend some time each week with a young person in our community, maybe helping them with homework or listening to their problems.
  • Plant a garden- Tending to a manageable sized vegetable or flower garden is a good way to relieve life’s pressures. It makes you slow things down and relax, and gain something delicious to eat or beautiful to look at, as a result. You can even share your spoils with the neighbors and get to know them better.
  • Put up a bird feeder- Hanging a bird feeder in a tree near your house, and filling it with good quality seed, is a good way to see nature’s beauty at a short distance. Add a shallow water dish close by, as well. A person can gain a lot of knowledge by learning more about the various feathered visitors. (Aquariums are nice too, but might prove to be more costly and maintenance intensive.)
  • Have someone over for dinner- Sharing a meal with someone that you know well, or would like to get to know better, is something to look forward to- for you and your whole family- and your guests.
  • Volunteer- Find a local organization that you think is important and help them out- put your skills and ideas to use.
  • Be there for a person in your community- Cut the grass of the elderly man or woman next door, or take them to the grocery store, or make them a cake.
  • Get involved with a church- Learning about faith, having regular services to go to, and contributing in some way to a church’s projects or ministries is very rewarding, It can make you feel like you are a part of something bigger than yourself.
  • Get organized- If we would each spend just 30 minutes every day at getting our paperwork, messes, and other stuff in order, we could easily get things under control within just a week or two; rather than waiting for what often ends up being years to do what ultimately might take just a few hours in total. Look at each 30 minute session like that’s all you have to do, and ignore thinking about the larger job. In just two weeks, you will have put in seven hours on whatever you’re behind on- most projects can easily be completed in seven hours or less. (This is the hardest one for me; and it’s not so much something to look forward to as it is getting things under control.)

Good ideas?  Try a few and see for yourself if things become better for you and those around you. Indeed, such a plan could go a long way toward making life in our little home town better for everyone.

Small Town, Small Time Gypies


Since this little tale deals with the belief in hocus pocus- a topic which is often seen by many as an embarrassing pursuit; and a black spot upon one’s ancestry, concerning those from the past who were connected to it- most all of the names have been left out of the forthcoming account:

I recently heard this story where, back in the late, late 1940’s or early 1950’s, there were several gypsies who lived for a while in a little woodframe house where the Fairpoint building on Main Street is now located, here in Blountstown. There was a very superstitious townswoman that would take her grown daughter (who happened to live right around the corner from those palm readers) along on a regular basis to get their fortunes told.

Before too long, the gypsies started warning the two women that they were going to bleed out, that all of their food would turn sour in their stomachs, and all other kinds of horrible curses, if they ever told anyone of the subjects of their meetings. It seems that those small town witches were telling tales from the past, controversial tidings of then current affairs, and forthcoming prophecies, on much of the citizenry. Then one morning, the matron of the darksome clan told the mother that unless she gave them $12,000, she and her whole family would die after sunset that same day! The mother was so convinced of their supernatural powers that she immediately and frantically headed to the bank for the requested money.

Meanwhile, another of her daughters got a telephone call from Hilma Barbee, who worked at the bank in question- the Bank of Blountstown; it was a large, red brick building situated on the northeast corner of the present-day downtown fountain park. (Hilma had called because she was aware of the mother’s withdrawal, and believed the transaction to be highly unusual- such a large sum.) This daughter quickly notified her sister- the one who had been in on the meetings with the gypsies from the start. They then telephoned the sheriff, and headed that way.

The two made it to the den of thieves just in time, as their mother had arrived a few minutes before. The original daughter made her way to the back room, pushed aside the strings of purple beads hanging in the doorway, and grabbed the bag of money from the clutches of the head chiromancer- after shoving her against the wall. In just a minute or two the sheriff showed up, but was told that everything was alright, so he soon turned around and left through the front door. And just as fast, the small band of gypsies scrambled together to get in their vehicles and high-tailed it out of town, as they were already loaded up for a quick getaway once they had the money in hand, even though this time- they didn’t. They were never seen again.

Now that is a pretty cool small town story. It is a good example of “you just can’t make this stuff up.” Who knew that Blountstown had such crazy goings-on back in the day?

The Ultimate Christmas List


Dear Santa,
I hope that you and your elves haven’t been too busy since my last letter. How’s the wife? So, for this Christmas I would like the following:

  • an Alaskan cruise, as I enjoy the rustic over the tropical
  • a shiny new Jaguar or Maserati- your choice (both?)
  • a simple little beach house on Cape San Blas; beach-side preferred
  • a nice little cabin somewhere near Pigeon Forge- wooded creek and panoramic view of a prominent snow-capped peak, if possible
  • a job that pays at least $200,000 per year, with full insurance coverage; full retirement; 401K; four-day weekends; all nationally observed holidays off (two weeks per each); stock portfolio; working hours 9:00 to 1:00- Tuesday through Thursday, with a one hour lunch, three mandatory 30 minute breaks; and summers off
  • a complete restoration on my “vintage” 1994 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck- all new interior, custom wheels, and black metallic clear coat
  • $120,000 to pay off my comfortable but aging farmhouse on Stafford Creek
  • a zero turn, 48 inch cut, riding lawn mower
  • a new trailer for transporting the lawn mower
  • a tractor with Bush Hog, front end loader, various harrows, scoop, finish mower, and other necessary implements
  • a barn, which includes: a loft, a large open area for tractor storage/barn dances- with a fireplace and kitchenette, two horse stalls, a wood working shop on the side, a weight room on the side, and a large attached outside chicken/fowl enclosure
  • A lifetime supply of Mountain Dew and my favorite junk foods- you’re The Claus, you know what they are
  • A full-time cook and house keeper, one who is especially gifted in South Western and authentic Mexican cuisine
  • Surprise me with the rest.

I have mostly been a good boy this year. I will be awaiting your arrival with bated anticipation.

Your best friend, number one admirer, and biggest fan,
Jonathan Alford

Say hello to Donder, and tell him I’m sorry that no one can pronounce his name right.
Hmmm. . . It would be beyond awesome to get everything that I want, with all the extras; just handed to me by the equivalent of some Yuletide, red-and-white-wearin’, sack-of-goodies-totin’ genie. Mine is the kind of Christmas list that any adult, living in a greed-conditioned society, would consider to be the ultimate haul, if the Jolly Old Elf would so graciously comply. And in my case, I deserve all the things that would make my busy, working-class, idyllic, rural life more do-able and complete, PLUS EXTRAS! . . . Right?
Wait a minute. . . Really? Okay, okay, I can obviously do without any or all of the above requested items. In fact, a list such as mine is so absurd that it’s funny when I think about it. Thankfully, when I finally come to my senses, I realize that there is a lot more true need in the world today, than the frivolous and extreme wants of some entitlement-prone Anglo like myself. What’s really important, and what’s really at stake as far as the big picture is concerned, is human lives, human situations, and human feelings.
So hopefully (to offset own my greed and stupidity), there is a little boy or a little girl down the street somewhere, sitting at a lonely, quiet table in their bedroom, whose soul hasn’t yet been tainted by the selfish spirit that rules our planet; writing the kind of letter to Old Saint Nick that really means something. Hopefully they have listened to their mothers and their fathers. Hopefully they have respected their teachers. Hopefully they have said their prayers every night. Hopefully they can see with the eyes of the Innocents. Hopefully they possess the rare and much needed childlike wisdom of a beautiful and compassionate old soul. Hopefully, their Christmas list would be something like this:

Dear Santa,
I hope that you and your elves haven’t been too busy since my last letter. How is Mrs. Santa Claus? How are your reindeer? I will leave them some carrots and cookies under our tree. So, for Christmas this year I would like these things:

  • Please fix the girl who cries herself to sleep every night because she thinks that nobody likes her.
  • Please fix the family down the street that just lost everything when they had that fire.
  • Please fix the kid at school that had to move because they took his house away.
  • Please fix the raggedy guy who sleeps on the bench in front of the grocery store- I bet his mama worries about him.
  • Please fix that lady who can’t afford to feed her children since she lost her job a long time ago.
  • Please fix her children.
  • Please fix the woman who lost her hair because of the treatments she takes- I bet she thinks her world is falling apart, and I bet she’s really scared.
  • Please fix the man in town whose wife died after they were really old.
  • Please fix my teacher- she doesn’t live with her husband anymore and they are all sad.
  • Please fix the soldier who came home and nobody loved him.
  • Please fix the little boy who gets bullied on my bus every single morning and every single afternoon.
  • Please fix the bullies.
  • And please fix all the people who don’t have anybody.
  • And fix all the wars and make all the people happy.

Your best friend, number one admirer, and biggest fan,
Emily Doe

I already told God about all of this, and I figure since you are nice you could help Him.
That same beautiful, hypothetical child exists- in truth- inside each of us. I hope we can all find where they’ve been hiding- I hope I can find where mine’s been hiding, because the world needs him really, really badly. I think that I’m gonna rewrite my letter. . .

The Most Beautiful Words


Long, long ago, a newborn infant slumbered and dreamed in a small, hay-filled manger; surrounded by oxen and sheep and a humble burro. Mary and Joseph couldn’t begin to imagine what was in store for their beloved son, or who he really was, or what he was actually here for: to display the most unimaginable and selfless act of love that mankind had ever known- to save the world.
Envision yourself bundled-up and alone, in a glistening, moon-washed clearing. A serene and sleepy forest flanks the ground on which you stand- underneath a lonesome, cloud-swept sky. The undulating winds blow gently and cold against your face; as silent drifts begin to fall on an already blanketed, unwakeable world. You can feel God all around you in the noiselessness. And you think that you sense the unexplainable presence of angels in the evergreens; while a whispery, faraway sound threads its way through the sighing bows of snowy fir, and spruce, and soft-scented pine. There is peace and comfort for as far as the soul can see. . .

*And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David);
to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about 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 manger.”
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.”
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

. . . you become so flooded with the intensity of your thoughts and emotions, that your eyes well up with unworthy tears, from the overwhelming wonder of it all. You realize that these tidings are yours to go and share; just like the celestial messengers and the shepherds of yore, when it was so gloriously foretold on that kindred, distant night. Yes, you must now leave the silent clearing, with aching reluctance. But as you finally turn to heed the far-off voice of someone beckoning you home, you think you hear what must be the whole world calling out in the frozen, meandering wind:

**Hallelujah, we’ve been found, a child is born to save us now.
Hallelujah, light has come- a Savior set us free.
Hallelujah, we’ve been found, a child is born to save us now.
Hallelujah, light has come- a Savior set us free.
Praise to God on high, He has heard our cry. . .
Praise to God on high, He has heard our cry. . .
Praise to God on high. . .

*The Gospel According to Luke- from the King James Bible- 1611 A.D.
**Alyssa, Rebecca, and Lauren Barlow- from the song “Hallelujah (Light has Come)”- 2008 A.D.

December in My Neck of the Woods


This is what December is like in my neck of the woods. . . red and umber/gold leaves from the hardwoods, as they rest beneath the planted pines, along the roads and endlessly white cotton fields; days in the 60’s and nights in the 30’s; clear and vivid blue skies, with an occasional cirrus cloud, up where it’s cold; long shadows all day long; mysteriously foggy nights; verdant citrus trees full of kumquats and satsumas; frost on the ground in the mornings; burgundy sunsets; lighted decorations on the town’s power poles; nighttime store windows, glowing with quietly peaceful holiday cheer; crunchy brown leaves on tan colored lawns, pecans littering the scruffy grass, out in the grove; salmon-tinted roses making one last show in front of the neighbor’s home- before Christmas and the chilly winds arrive; church program practice; the Baptist and Methodist cantatas; and the smell of woody smoke on a lazy afternoon. Even though we don’t have snow, December is a beautiful sight to behold in our part of the deep, deep south. And Santa still comes down nearly every chimney, and the prettiest sight on Christmas Eve night is a dollar store Jesus, with his parents and some sheep and a camel by His side; shining in a plastic manger, out under a star-scattered midnight.

Hometown Heroes


There are revered walls in our courthouse; walls that hold countless stories; walls where the faces of the valiant and strong permanently reside. They are our protectors. They are our hometown heroes. . .

Some battled on a hostile, faraway desert. Some lost their brothers in brutal, remote jungles. Some lost their friends on the icy plains. Some fought on a fiery shore.
Some soared with eagles and the angels. Some were gunned down in skirmishes. Some were savagely wounded. Some have abandoned their hope.
Some saw hell on earth. Some mended maimed and withered bodies. Some were misunderstood. Some are haunted by endless nightmares.
Some sorted official orders. Some kept secret records. Some drug their dying comrades across a violent, exploding field. Some worked on mighty machines.
Some stood beside a lonesome grave. Some raised old glory high in triumph. Some slumped in pain and defeat. Some were utterly broken.
Some sent homesick, tear-stained letters. Some made promises as they held a dying, quivering hand. Some nervously trod upon booby trapped ground. Some sent unnumbered rounds down an angry street.
Some sang in the jubilant choir. Some played on the grassy gridiron. Some cooked hasty meals. Some whispered a hymn at midnight.
Some delivered terrible, gut-wrenching tidings. Some prayed to God in fox holes. Some were captured. Some kept up the morale.
Some killed within marble walls. Some killed on a golden meadow. Some killed, knowing that innocence was erased. Some killed, knowing that innocence was regained.
Some were left adrift upon a vast, chaotic sea. Some were left behind- a long time lost. Some feel great guilt. Some feel so unworthy.
Some moved beneath the ocean’s surface, in elusive, iron-clad chambers. Some were decorated and others were honored. Some came back. Some cannot find their way back.
Some were injured in ways that we will never understand. Some were laughed at. Some were scoffed at. Some were betrayed.

Some cried when we said thank you.

None will ever be the same.

I thank our fearless guardians for their unwavering dedication- whether mothers or fathers or sisters or brothers; whether neighbors or strangers or doctors or lawyers; whether Saxon or Native or Nubian or Asian. Words can never tell what my heart feels. My mind will never comprehend what happened out there in this crazy, unsettled world. Your sacrifice was too much to ask.
So whenever the drum corps beats a sad and somber rhythm; whenever “Taps” plays in the wintry wind; whenever gloved hands offer a flag to a weeping widow; whenever you visit the resting place of one that is fallen; whenever you feel sad and lonely – remember that I thank you.
And with every sleepless night that you have to endure; with every psychiatric appointment; with every painful surgery; with every therapy session; with every substance abuse meeting; with every inescapable, tragic memory; with every broken dream – remember that I thank you.
And each time I hear “God Bless America”; each time I see a lone soldier standing guard; each time I hear a baby cry or see a stranger smile; each time I walk to the store without a second thought; each time I freely speak my mind or cast my vote; each time I shoot at cans down by the old sand pit; each time I relax on a lazy afternoon; each time I celebrate another birthday- remember that I thank you.
And if you smile at the passing clouds; if you feel the gentle breeze on your face; if you listen to the sweet, falling rain; if you gaze at the waxing moon; if you look to the setting sun- remember that I thank you.

And when you revel in the brave new morning, remember that I thank you.

Yes, each and every time I stare at the faces on those revered walls and remember, I will thank you- from the very deepest part of my humble, undeserving heart.
Thank you for your unimaginable service, and thoughtfulness for the safety of us all. Thank you for your unbelievable selflessness. Thank you for your unmatched courage. Thank you for your devoted protection. Thank you for your loyalty, and thank you for your love. Thank you, all you magnificent and treasured home town heroes.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. . .