Adam’s Apples – Confessions of a newsaholic

By James Mack Adams

Hello. My name is James, and I am a newsaholic.

If you change the last word in the above sentence, you have the classic opening line for a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. There seems to be support groups for just about every sort of addiction these days. I wonder if there is some help out there for confessed news junkies. If so, sign me up. I am a prime candidate for rehab.

Perhaps there is a retreat where one can live for a time without exposure to newspapers, magazines, television, radio, telephones and the internet. Call it an attitude-adjustment timeout if you will. Perhaps an option would be to book some time at a remote monastery located on a secluded, barely-accessible mountain top in Tibet.

Granted, we all need to keep abreast of what is going on in our world. Excessive consumption of news, however, can be just as addictive as alcohol, tobacco, or opioids. In this modern information age of TV cable news, computers and smartphones, we are being constantly bombarded with “Breaking News.” It is easy to overdose, or at least become so addicted that we begin to lose our need for human interaction. Some media companies have all but admitted their goal is to addict their users. That’s scary. I read recently that some of the companies are now recognizing the problem and making moves to reverse the trend. That’s good.   

Do any of you remember the days when we were anxious to get a chance to leave home or the office for a time just to get away from the phone? Now we take the phone with us. You can run, but you can’t hide. You will be found. Your phone will emit a tone to let you know there is either some “Breaking News” or a text that must be answered before you take the next bite of your BLT. You feel guilty if you don’t stop whatever you are doing and respond.

It is common for those with an addiction to place blame elsewhere. Perhaps my condition comes from my avocation as a freelance writer/journalist. I suppose if I want to blame a particular person, other than myself, for my addiction to the news, it could possibly be Ted Turner. Turner was the media mogul who founded Cable News Network (CNN), the first 24-hour news channel. Now there are more such around-the-clock news channels available to keep us either entertained, frightened, or downright angry.

Excessive news consumption might possibly be dangerous to your physical and emotional health. Perhaps such a warning should precede all news programs. At times, when a news story I am reading or hearing is especially disturbing, my body reacts. Pulse begins to throb.  Heart begins to race. Blood pressure rises. Anger and frustration make me want to lash out. That is not good.

The disturbing story that initially caused this physical and emotional response is then sometimes followed by a lengthy analysis by a panel of contributors, or “experts,” who expound ad infinitum, sometimes even ad nauseum, on the story. If a story has “legs,” as they say in the news business, it can go on for days or even weeks. I guess you do what you have to do to fill 24 hours of air time seven days a week.

I often yearn for a return to the old days of Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow, Eric Sevareid and other news people of their breed. They did occasionally offer commentary, when it was called for, but they mainly concentrated on presenting the news of the day, the who, the what, the when and the where. They had a limited amount of time to do so, usually less than 30 minutes after factoring in commercial time. There was little time remaining for lengthy analysis.  That was usually left to the print media.

Those newsmen and women of the past were generally believed by their listeners. There was no such thing as fake news. Walter Cronkite, whom listeners sometimes referred to as Uncle Walter, was once called the most trusted man in America. When the Viet Nam War was going very badly, Cronkite’s reporting and commentary led President Lyndon Johnson to say to his advisors, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” Johnson later announced he would not seek a second term.

It is easy to see, and to understand, how we might get hooked and become newsaholics. The political scene today is like a soap opera or a reality show. We never know what the administration or members of Congress are going to say or do next. We are drawn to the TV screen like an insect to a light bulb to see what will happen in tomorrow’s episode. What will the two political parties be fighting about today? Who will be insulting whom? Who will be investigating whom? Who resigned or got fired? Is the federal government going to shut down? What is the latest scandal? How close are we to nuclear war?   

So, sit back in your lounge chair. Turn on your favorite news channel. Get ready for the next anxiety attack.

Movie Night – ‘Game Night’ offers laughs, light-hearted fun

By Bradley Griffith

The movies nominated for Oscars have been returning to theaters and most are available for home rental. These movies are serious, deep, and thought-provoking films. If you’re tired of that and looking for some light-hearted fun, head to the theater and buy a ticket for “Game Night.”

Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are a married couple who met and bonded over a love of games. It doesn’t matter if they are board games, charades, Pictionary, trivia games, or any other type of game, as long as the game to be played involves competition, Max and Annie are in Heaven.

Max and Annie host a weekly game night at their home. Married couple Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) always attend. Also always in attendance is their friend Ryan (Billy Rasmussen), who is eternally single but always brings a different female to game night. The group are best friends, and everyone loves each other’s company as much as they do playing games.

Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) is beloved by everyone, though he is almost always traveling on business and many months will pass between his visits. Brooks is the kind of guy who must always outdo everyone around him, especially Max. He has to have a nicer house, a fancier car, and generally live a more exciting life than everyone else. Max loves him, but it’s very difficult for Max when Brooks comes to town.

For the next game night Brooks wants everyone to come to the house he is renting, a modern and elegant behemoth of a home, for the ultimate game night. Brooks has arranged for a local game company to abduct one of the players. The remaining players must follow clues that are left behind to find the kidnapped guest and win the game. When Brooks is kidnapped it looks so real to everyone. The players partner up and Max and Annie are, as usual, determined to win.  The only problem is that as the game goes on it becomes frighteningly real.

The best part of the movie is that the characters can’t decide if they are playing a game or if something real is happening. Was Brooks kidnapped, or was the incredibly realistic scene where he is attacked and dragged from the house kicking and screaming all part of an elaborate ruse to fool everyone? Just when they think they have it figured out, the tables turn on them again, and then again.

I’m not sure if Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams have worked together before, but they had great chemistry in “Game Night.” The movie is obviously about the ultimate game they are playing. But a large part of the movie is also about the relationships of the characters and the entire movie revolves around the relationship between Max and Annie. If Max and Annie had no chemistry the movie wouldn’t have worked at all. Luckily for us, Bateman and McAdams were well cast and if you didn’t know better you would swear they were a real married couple.

“Game Night” is not going to win any awards, and that’s okay, because it was never intended to be a serious movie to be discussed for hours after leaving the theater. If that’s what you’re looking for, look elsewhere. “Game Night” is a fun adventure for the characters on the screen and fun movie for the viewers to watch. There’s no deeper meaning behind the movie, but there’s not a dull moment in the whole movie either.

“Game Night” is a (mostly) light-hearted and fun time at the movies. There are lots of laughter and a little bit of romance thrown in for good measure. The movie keeps you entertained as the characters try to negotiate between what might be real and what is probably fake. “Game Night” is a good choice for a date night.

• • •

Grade: B+

Rated R for language, sexual references, and some violence.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Here’s to the soldiers in life’s daily wars

By Lisa Whaley

I’ve been thinking about heroes a lot lately; not the ones we normally envision when the word comes to mind – such as the firefighter, soldier, and police officer who often put their lives on the line to save others.

Instead, I’ve been thinking about the quiet heroes we encounter every day.

The idea came to mind during a recent visit to check on my mom, who lives way too far away from me and has been struggling with many health issues these past few years. The visit was a difficult one, marked with occasional sprinkles of pure sweetness and blessing, as we tried to get her settled into the best place to meet her needs.

It was there I met Shelly. An employee at Eagles Springs, the memory care facility that is my mom’s new home, she swept into the room filled with a contagious energy and an abundance of love. She plopped herself on the seat of mom’s walker and said, “Come on Arlene, let’s get your exercise for the day. Let’s race down the hallway.” My mom, who had been through so much in the past couple of weeks, laughed delightedly, her face filled with joy as Shelly hugged her tight and loved on her some more.

That sound of laughter was one of the most precious things I had heard for a very long time. It also opened my eyes, in a way, and I began to notice more heroes, like Shelly, making huge differences with little fanfare.

I saw the mother holding onto the hand of her child, now grown but never really growing up, with the same love and patience as when that child was a toddler.

I saw the wife, walking closely beside her ailing husband, meeting each challenge with the love, strength and dignity she knows he needs to continue.

I saw the friend, taking time to truly listen, then willingly stepping out with tangible help and encouragement.

And I saw the husband, once again at Eagle Springs, arriving faithfully each and every day for each and every meal, to sit with his wife, who could no longer remember all the details of their life together.

I saw him take her hand.

Today I want to sing out for the unsung – the men, women and even children – who are currently in the trenches, faithfully doing more than what is expected simply because they see the need and can’t turn away.

They too are our heroes. And I would shudder to be in this world without them.

Movie Night – ‘Red Sparrow’ almost reaches status of great spy movie

By Bradley Griffith

For the first time the latest espionage caper and the latest Jennifer Lawrence movie are one and the same. “Red Sparrow” is out to prove that the cold war between the United States and Russia not only never died, but is more intense than ever. The movie is good, but for the best source of entertainment on this subject you should read the book.

Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) is a CIA agent operating in Moscow. He’s running an undercover agent deep in the Russian government known by the code name Marble. Marble will only meet with Nate. On a cold, snowy night in Moscow an exchange between Nate and Marble is witnessed by the police. Nate creates a diversion that allows Marble to escape with his identity unknown to the Russians.

Dominka Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is a talented and famous ballerina dancing for the Bolshoi Company in Moscow. Dominika takes care of her ailing mother in a run-down apartment owned and provided by the Bolshoi. Dominka’s world comes to a crushing halt when she suffers a devastating knee injury that requires surgery and ends her dancing career.

To keep her apartment and a part-time nurse for her mother, Dominika agrees to do a job for her uncle, Vanya Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts), a deputy director of the Russian intelligence service known as the SVR. Dominka is to befriend a prominent businessman and replace his phone with a duplicate. After Dominika sees too much on this mission she is given a choice, die or attend Sparrow School.

Sparrow School is a top-secret school where young men and women are taught to use their bodies as weapons. They are taught to give their targets whatever it is that they desire, and then take everything from them. They are taught to seduce, collect information, and kill if necessary. They are taught to do whatever it takes, sacrifice whatever is necessary, to get the job done.

Nate is sent to Budapest, Hungary to attempt to re-establish contact with Marble. The Russians counter by sending Dominika to Budapest to seduce Nate and determine the identity of Marble.

The story of “Red Sparrow” is the best thing about the movie. Who doesn’t love a cold-war tale of a female Russian agent trying to seduce and manipulate a male American agent? Nate knows exactly what Dominika is trying to do, but he still doesn’t know if he can resist. His focus is on trying to turn Dominka, to make her a double agent for the United States. It’s a fantastic chess match and it keeps you guessing until the end.

Two terrific actors (Lawrence and Edgerton) played the lead roles with great supporting actors such as Charlotte Rampling and Jeremy Irons. Some movie critics have criticized Jennifer Lawrence for her Russian accent. I noticed nothing wrong with her accent and, even if I had, would take a bad Russian accent any day over half of the movie being spoken in Russian with subtitles. More interesting to me was the transformation of Lawrence’s character during Sparrow School and after when she begins to chase Nate in earnest.

“Red Sparrow,” based solely on the subject matter and the intent of the training at the Sparrow School is explicit at times. The book (the first in a trilogy) was written by a former CIA officer, which lends a level of credence and believability to the movie that James Bond movies simply don’t have. You can actually envision the events in the movie actually taking place.

“Red Sparrow” was a good movie. In fact, it was on the razor’s edge of being an all-time great spy movie. For whatever reason, the film couldn’t quite make the leap into legendary status.  “Red Sparrow” is engrossing and entertaining, but not the truly amazing film it could have been.  Still, I am hoping for a sequel.

• • •

Grade: B+

Rated R for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language, and some graphic nudity.

Hood’s Winks – I can’t do nothin’ right!

By Ralph Hood

These truths are self evident:

The longer you wait to do something, the longer it takes to do it!

Everything goes wrong when you’re in a hurry!

As Lewis Carroll said in Alice in Wonderland, “the hurrier I go, the behinder I get!”

It took me forever to learn these things, although I proved them over and over for decades.

For example. Gail and I need to leave the house at 9:40 a.m. to make it to Sunday School. As I get up from breakfast at 8 a.m., it’s obvious that I have plenty of time to check the computer, then get dressed way before 9:40 a.m.

Gail always says no, get dressed first, then play with the computer. I never listen, but Gail is dead-on right!

We have more info available today than ever before—but getting to it is confusing. Ads are everywhere. It is possible to block ads on your computer, but then you keep getting these “Turn off your ad blocker” requests. I leave ad blocker on anyway.

If I ever win the lottery—not likely, since I seldom buy a ticket—I’m gonna beat this computer to smithereens with an axe while I giggle gleefully.

TV ads during the Olympics drove me insane. One athlete fell and was obviously hurt. The TV switched to an ad and I never, ever found out if the athlete was ok or horribly torn up.

I have a car that does things I don’t understand and won’t do things I do understand. I’m gonna beat it to pieces, too, after I win that lottery. I swear, I have to pull off of the road and come to a full stop just to change from one station to another!

If it wasn’t for Gail, I’d never get anything done at all. She understands all these accursed modern devices.

I’m not about to get a smartphone. I still own a flip phone and the last thing I want is one more thing that’s smarter than I.

We recently bought—had to buy—a new kitchen stove. I’m scared to death of the thing.

If I do win that lottery, I don’t plan to own things anymore. I will never drive again. I’ll call Uber, Lyft, or a limousine service to come get me. I will stay in hotels or rent houses wherever I go. I will not buy an airplane, but will charter airplanes when I want to travel. I will never ride an airline again.

Oh, I am looking forward to all that. Maybe I’ll actually buy a lottery ticket!

Uh, come to think of it, all that’s gonna cost a lot of money—maybe I better buy one of those special Power Ball lottery tickets.

Movie Night – ‘Black Panther’ good action film

By Bradley Griffith

Do you want to see a good action movie? “Black Panther” fits the bill. Do you want to see a superhero movie with many superheroes, supervillains, and superhero action? In that case, don’t watch “Black Panther.” It’s a good action movie, but it’s not like any other superhero movie from Marvel Studios.

T’Challa (Chadwick Bozeman) is the prince of the African nation of Wakanda. From the outside, Wakanda appears to be another struggling third-world country on the Dark Continent. There doesn’t appear to be anything special about Wakanda other than the fact that it is perfectly inconspicuous. That is exactly how the Wakandans want their country to appear.

Wakanda is actually the most advanced country on Earth. Centuries ago a large meteorite made of a rare metal known as vibranium landed in Wakanda. Vibranium is a technological marvel. Using this metal Wakandans built the most advanced city on the planet, complete with airplanes that look and act like something out of a Star Trek movie. But Wakanda does not want the rest of the world to know their secret, they don’t want the rest of the world to converge on them and change their country.

With his father’s death, T’Challa is to become the king of Wakanda. He is also the Black Panther. Ingesting an elixir made with a special herb grown with vibranium, T’Challa has super-human strength, speed, and agility. The Black Panther acts as the protector of Wakanda and its vibranium.

T’Challa learns of a black-market sale of vibranium that is set to take place in South Korea. As he attempts to thwart the sale and recover the vibranium, T’Challa comes face-to-face with the villain known as Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). And Killmonger is coming for T’Challa’s vibranium, and his throne.

“Black Panther” is a good action movie. There are many battle scenes, high speed car chases with the car driven by remote control, and even dogfights in the skies. The action scenes are well choreographed and executed flawlessly. The production of the movie is first-rate, even if a bit too much computer-generated graphics are used at times.

But, even though it’s a Marvel Studios film based on Marvel comics, it’s not what we have come to expect in a superhero movie. There are no superheroes other than Black Panther.  There are no flying good guys, gods of thunder, or even any supervillains with superpowers.  These elements of prior Marvel movies are generally required in a superhero movie.

Chadwick Bozeman was a great pick for T’Challa/Black Panther. He brought the necessary honor and integrity that the role demanded. It seems that in most movies, TV shows, and books the person who becomes king is not worthy of the title or throne. That’s not true in “Black Panther.” T’Challa is a great king, one who can rule his people wisely and with compassion.

On the opposite side of the coin, while Killmonger may not be a “super” villain, Michael B. Jordan does a great job of making you detest Killmonger. Unlike some villains who are conflicted, Killmonger has no redeeming qualities. He is evil and cares only for himself. He’s so bad that he doesn’t even have a posse of other bad guys to enact his plan. No one stays alive around him for long.

An aspect of the movie that I was unaware of going into the theater but was a nice surprise was the warrior women who fought alongside T’Challa, and even protected him. His royal guards were all women who could fight as good as, or better than, him. Danai Gurira of “The Walking Dead” was particularly memorable as the head general of Wakanda.

I have come to expect greatness in virtually everything from Marvel Studios. “Black Panther” is a good action movie, but it’s not great. But I will say that my expectations clearly hampered my enjoyment of the movie.

• • •

Grade: B+

Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence and a brief rude gesture.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Beware: Midterm election season

By Connie Denney

It has begun! Midterm election season is upon us. Perhaps we can think of it as the political teams’ version of basketball’s March Madness. Unfortunately, it lasts longer. I won’t carry this analogy further, lest it stray into qualifications to participate, offensive and defensive strategies, fair play, etc.

When the large tan-colored envelope with bold black print proclaiming “2018 Voter Registration Confirmation Survey” with a second line in smaller print, “& Pledge to Vote of 10,000,000 Christian Americans” arrived a while back, I was curious enough to open it. Looking at it later proved thought-provoking, though probably not in the way the sender intended.

A big dark arrow under the words “Voter Name” pointed to my name and mailing address. The postmark in the upper right hand corner indicated a mass mailing. The names of my U.S. Representative and two Senators were right there on the front. The back of the envelope assured that my answers would be included in a tabulated report to be shared with these officials as well as the President of the United States and Governor of Tennessee, all individually named.

Although I am not naming the organization sending this survey (names of candidates, political parties, whatever, are beside the point here), there was a cover letter from its founder/chairman.  It addressed the importance of attention to the enclosed survey, previous efforts of the organization, previous achievements AND the importance of my chipping in with a donation.

On to the survey. The goal stated on the introductory page is pretty specific for registering targeted voters and comes with a price tag of $11.25 million for the “Battle Plan.” It gets even more specific: “Remember also that it costs us about $4.50 for each brand new Christian voter we register.” Near the bottom of the page the words “important donation reply” are all caps and underlined, drawing my attention to the back of the form, where I could indicate my “very best donation” amount. Just above the boxed-in information for putting a donation on my credit card, there’s box to indicate that although I cannot make a “truly significant contribution” to stop the horrors predicted, I’m enclosing $10 to help cover the survey.

If you are still with me, opening the page lengthwise reveals the survey and pledge to vote with ovals to be filled in beside answers closest to my point of view. There’s an invitation to write in answers and comments — just not much room. There’s Part A with three questions and Part B with six questions. The last question? You guessed it.  It asks for “your best donation.” A self-addressed envelope, which would go to a post office box in Georgia, leaves the place for a first class postage stamp uncovered.

Voter registration information is public record. So, voters can expect more and more mailings as we approach election time. Some information is helpful. Some is not — except to make us think.  All things considered, I do believe I have given this survey as much time, attention and energy as it deserves. The next one is likely to have a shorter route to the shredder.

Movie Night – ‘Only the Brave’ captivating, attention grabbing film

By Bradley Griffith

“Only the Brave” is based on the true story of elite firefighters in Arizona doing what they do best – fight wildfires. Two movies in a row based on true stories of real-life heroes? The difference is that “Only the Brave” captured the story of these heroes and a captivating and entertaining way.  “Only the Brave” is far superior to “The 15:17 to Paris.”

In 2007 Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) of the Prescott Fire Department leads a group of firefighters who fight wildfires rather than structure fires. Marsh and his crew are top-notch firefighters.  Marsh has the know how to guide them and they have the drive, determination, and passion for their job that is necessary to save lives and homes.

The only problem from Marsh’s perspective is that Marsh and his crew are Type 2 firefighters.  They are not certified as Type 1, Hotshot firefighters. Hotshots are the elite of the elite. They battle the wildfires on the front lines, literally fighting fire with fire. No municipal firefighters have ever been certified as Hotshots. The federal government oversees certifying crews as Hotshots and is biased against a municipal fire department. But Marsh is determined.

Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller) has nothing to offer society. He’s hooked on drugs, has no money, lives with his mom (until she kicks him out), and basically spends his days doing nothing but getting high. It’s at this point in his life that he finds out his ex-girlfriend is pregnant. She wants nothing to do with him, wants him to stay away from her and their baby.

Brendan decides to pull his life together. It was one thing when he was only messing up his own life, but now he has a child. He wants to be the father to his daughter that he never had. His first order of business is to get a job, so he applies for an opening with Marsh’s crew. Marsh knows an addict when he sees one. But Marsh also sees a lot of himself in Brendan, so he gives him a chance.

By 2013 the crew has been certified as Hotshots and named their unit the Granite Mountain Hotshots. As the newest crew, they must take on a lot of the workload for fighting wildfires to prove themselves. 

“Only the Brave” is the story of these men who willingly face imminent, life-threatening danger on a daily basis. They choose to face massive wildfires and risk their lives to save the lives of others. “Only the Brave” does a great job of telling their story in such a way to make the struggles of these men and their families both realistic and still entertaining to keep viewers engaged.

The scenes where the crew are battling wildfires are incredible. There are dramatic near-misses as they face raging fires that can turn on them at any time. The special effects as they battle the fires are fantastic. It’s impossible to determine whether the fires are real or computer-generated. “Only the Brave” is a high-quality production in every aspect.

Josh Brolin was dead-on as Eric Marsh. Brolin is a man’s man and was the perfect casting choice for an actor to be the leader of other alpha males. Speaking of which, there’s quite a bit of humor in the movie, mostly the crass, locker-room type of humor between men that makes me laugh every time.

“Only the Brave” grabs your attention early on and doesn’t let go. It’s a very interesting movie and contains quite a bit of information about fighting wildfires that I didn’t know. It made me interested in the real men behind the story and how they find the courage to do what they do. The only thing about the movie that I don’t understand is why the movie bombed at the box office, grossing only $23 million worldwide. It’s an exceptional movie with good actors and a great story. For some reason, it did not attract viewers at the theater. The good news is that it is now available for home rental.

“Only the Brave” is a dramatic, funny, inspiring, and surprisingly emotional. It grabs your attention and holds on for the next two-plus hours. This is how you make a movie about real heroes that is authentic and still fun to watch.

• • •

Grade: A-

Rated PG-13 for thematic content, some sexual references, language, and drug material.

A Refreshing Knapp – Theirs to reason why

By Ray Knapp

Earlier this month, I received an American Community Survey from the United States Census Bureau. I never received one of these before; being somewhat suspicious, as some of the questions were very personal. They wanted to know if you were married, and if so, how many times? With so many of these type of questions, and with numerous scams going on, I thought about calling Senator Rusty Crowe, or Representative Phil Roe, to see if this was for real or not. But, after doing online research and calling the toll free number provided, I determined it was real. (hopefully)

One of the first things I noted was the threat of a $5,000 dollar fine being imposed for refusal of the resident to answer all the questions; also that the resident would receive a visit from Census Bureau Personnel if they refused to participate and answer all questions. With the words, “fines and Under Penalty of Law,” being bandied about, plus the threat of a visit from Census Bureau Personnel – I filled out the survey.

Of course the first question was: Who was the person or persons living at that address, and had anyone lived with them during the past year, even for a short while. I didn’t know if that meant weekend visitors or not, which made me a little nervous when I answered, “No.” A few of my kids came up from Atlanta for an overnight stay, or a day or two visit during the past year. Did that count? I didn’t know what my house was worth either. (One of the questions) I figured realtor Scott Metcalf could answer for me, but I couldn’t get in touch with him; I just pulled a number out of the hat and put that down.

I recall filling out a questionnaire back in my Navy days for a Secret Clearance; this survey was even more thorough. By the way, I did receive that clearance and when asked, would somewhat proudly say: “Yes, I do have a Secret Clearance.” I was never privy to any secret information that I know of. Generally, you can read all about secret stuff in the newspaper. I recall going to Ice Observer School back in ’59. One of our submarines was conducting experiments up around the North Pole and had been able to break through yea-many feet of ice. Someone mentioned this to our instructor, who turned pale, and asked in all seriousness: “Where did you get that information? That’s Top Secret.”

“Right here in the newspaper,” the student replied, pulling out a copy of the Washington Post.

Officially, the American Community Survey (ACS) helps local officials, community leaders, and businesses understand the changes taking place in their communities. It is the premier source for detailed population and housing information about our nation – or at least that is their statement. However, several U.S. representatives have challenged the ACS as unauthorized by the Census Act and a violation of the Right to Financial Privacy Act. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, who opposes the ACS, said of it that the founding fathers of the United States “never authorized the federal government to continuously survey the American people.” But, regardless of numerous challenges, the courts have upheld its legality.

Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote the poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade” which is one of my favorites, especially a couple of lines in the second stanza: “Theirs not to make reply, theirs not to reason why.”

It seems Americans have found their voice and are reasoning why. Not just me questioning the invasive personal ACS questions, but more importantly, school children questioning our elected officials as to why they can’t attend public schools in a safe environment, free from the threat of a mass shooting at their school?

If common sense prevailed, instead of personnel in the Census Bureau coming up with invasive questions to justify their jobs; or politicians afraid to lose the endorsement of the NRA by opposing some of their views, I wouldn’t be wondering if some questions posed by the ACS could be for nefarious reasons, or if political endorsement by the NRA was more important than the lives of our school children?

Movie Night – Film about heroes disappointing, uninspiring

By Bradley Griffith

“The 15:17 to Paris” is the true story of three Americans stopping a 2015 terrorist attack on a passenger train bound for Paris, France portrayed by the actual heroes who stopped the attack.  The movie is based on the non-fiction book by the three Americans and was produced and directed by Clint Eastwood. If that sounds like a setup for a great movie, like it did to me, you are in for a huge disappointment.

Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos are lifelong friends. They met in elementary school and were inseparable. When they were both moved to a private Christian high school they met Anthony Sadler. The three quickly bonded over their disciplinary issues and frequent visits to the principal’s office. They spent their days at school getting in trouble and their afternoons and weekends waging Airsoft battles.

As they grew older Spencer and Alek grew more and more interested in joining the military.  While working at a smoothie shop Spencer serves a Marine recruiter. The Marine tells Spencer that if he could do it all over again he would join the Air Force pararescue unit because all they do is save lives. Just like that, Spencer knows what he wants to do with his life.

At the same time Alek has joined the Army and is stationed in Afghanistan. What sounded like an exciting posting was anything but exciting. More than anything else, Alek was bored. Spencer hopes to ease this boredom by inviting Alek on a backpacking tour of Europe. Spencer also invites Anthony on their trip. The tour is amazing as they travel to Rome, Venice, Germany, and Amsterdam. On their way from Amsterdam to Paris they take a train ride that will change their lives. A lone gunman armed with an AK-47 and over 300 rounds of ammunition begins an attack on the train. Spencer, Alek, and Anthony can’t sit back and do nothing, they have to act.

I really wanted to like this movie. It’s a great true story about real American heroes. Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler deserve all of the medals and recognition that they have received. These three men and their story make me proud to be an American. But, the movie about their heroics is flat out bad.

It’s almost unheard of that the actual heroes play themselves in the movie about them.  And that didn’t help the movie at all.  They are great guys and heroes, but they are terrible actors.  In fact, every actor in the entire movie did a horrible job.  There were no good performances, not even by the professional actors.

The beginning of the movie with the boys growing up in school was almost unwatchable. The kids playing the main characters were such bad actors it’s astonishing they were cast in a major motion picture. If I had been watching this movie at home I would have turned the channel at this point.

Despite the fact that Clint Eastwood was the producer and director of the film, the entire production felt cheap, second-rate. Eastwood did a poor job of telling this great story. The trailers for the movie made it appear to be inspirational and I believe that Eastwood tried to make the movie inspirational. Somehow, despite the great story, the movie fell well short of inspiring.

The story was not long enough for an entire movie. Eastwood spent an inordinately large amount of time on the background of the three heroes. The actual train attack last only five to 10 minutes. That’s too bad since the attack itself was the only good part of the movie.

Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler are true American heroes and their bravery and heroism should be celebrated. It’s too bad the movie about them was so lame.

• • •

Grade: D+

Rated PG-13 for bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references, and language.

Adam’s Apples – Can we talk?

By James Mack Adams

Can we talk? Will you, dear reader, allow me to vent just a little? Now that political correctness and social justice seem to be prevalent topics in the public discourse, I feel I can at last complain about something that has bothered me for a time.

I wish to protest how we Appalachian-Americans have been, and are still being, routinely portrayed on television and in movies. If “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Hee-Haw” are still being shown on cable, I think they should be immediately cancelled. Perhaps the same fate might be in order for “Dukes of Hazard” and “Petticoat Junction.” Thank goodness the movie, “Deliverance,” is not often aired these days. I must admit, though, I did enjoy the “Dueling Banjos” scene. Those shows and others like them are offensive and threatening to me as an Appalachian-American.

By now, you must be thinking I have either been smoking something illegal or have become completely unhinged. Neither is the case, I assure you. What you read above is strictly tongue-in-cheek satire. Truth is, the TV programs I complain about are among my all-time favorites. When the time comes we can no longer laugh at ourselves, we are in deep trouble.  That time seems to be here or close at hand. I am proud of my Appalachian heritage and not insulted or angry if someone calls me a hillbilly. I am willing to wear that label.

From years of observation of the print and entertainment media, someone who has no, or very little knowledge of our region might get the impression that we Appalachian-Americans are a dirt-poor people of questionable morals with fifth grade educations and IQs barely above room temperature.

I would like to offer a bit of commentary directed to those folks who gain their knowledge of Appalachia and our culture through the print and entertainment media.

We Appalachian-Americans do value education. Some of us have even managed to get advanced degrees. We do wear shoes, at least most of the time. We don’t all marry our cousins nor do we attend our family reunions just to meet girls. We know exactly how much a mess of something is and exactly where over yonder is. A pretty far piece is a measurable distance.  Believe it or not, many Appalachian-Americans have good paying jobs or professions and nice homes. Some even have cement ponds in the backyard. You might need to think about the cement pond reference for a bit.   

Yes, we do consider biscuits and gravy to be an entree. So is soup beans and cornbread. If someone tries to tell you differently, don’t argue. Just walk away. It’s a Southern thing and they probably wouldn’t understand anyway.

We Appalachian-Americans do have our own unique musical heritage, but we are not all banjo pickers and singers. When I was living in Ohio and unmarried many years ago, I sometimes attended singles mixers sponsored by a local church. One evening, a lady with whom I was chatting asked where I was from. I guess she recognized I didn’t talk like the locals. I told her I was from Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee. Her next question was, and I kid you not, “Do you sing?” She wasn’t kidding, folks. She was dead serious. I reckon she expected me to break into a few bars of “Rocky Top.” While doing a little flatfooting dance.

Here are some interesting facts about these mountains we all call home. You may already know what I will present here. If you do, it will serve as a review and as a reminder of the awesomeness of the natural wonder that surrounds and cradles us and makes us who we are.

The Appalachians are the oldest mountain chain in North America. Formed 480 million years ago, they are among the oldest in the world.

The name is Native-American and comes from the Apalachee, a tribe that once inhabited parts of the mountain chain.

Scientists believe the Appalachians were once as high as the Alps or the Rockies. They have been worn down by millions of years of erosion.

The tallest peak in the Appalachians is Mount Mitchell in North Carolina. It rises to an elevation of 6,684 feet above sea level.

As we in Unicoi county well know, one of the most popular attractions in our mountains is the Appalachian Trail that stretches for 2,200 miles. Hikers from all over the country and the world pass through Unicoi county. They sometimes stop in town for supplies and other services.

No matter where I have traveled, I have always been proud to tell people where I am from.  Some speak with envy of the area’s natural beauty and lifestyle. Others, of course, might make a good-natured joke about hillbillies, moonshiners and family feuds. That’s fine. I’m cool with it.    

In closing, I would like to correct a fairly common error people make when referring to our region. The correct pronunciation is APPEL-ATCH-IA, not APPEL-LAY-SHIA.

Movie Night – ‘Hostiles’ brings big drama to big screen

By Bradley Griffith

The genre with the fewest movie releases each year is the western. Maybe it’s because of the changing demographics of our country, or the average age of moviegoers skewing younger. Or maybe it’s because there are very few good western stories left to be told. Whatever the reason, “Hostiles” bucks this trend and provides quality serious entertainment for adults.

Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) and her husband are trying to make a home for their family in the western territory of New Mexico in 1892. They have a small home many miles from any other semblance of civilization. They were living in peace until a rogue group of Comanches raided their property.

Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) of the United States Army is in charge of rounding up Apache families that were trying to escape being imprisoned at Fort Berringer, New Mexico.  Blocker is on his way out of the Army, he has only days left until his retirement. He expects to serve out his time at Fort Berringer.

His commanding officer has one final mission for him. Aging Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family have been imprisoned at Fort Berringer for seven years. Yellow Hawk has terminal cancer and wants to be buried in his ancestral burial grounds in Wyoming.  Blocker is ordered to escort Yellow Hawk and his family through the dangerous territory between New Mexico and Wyoming.

Yellow Hawk had killed many of Blocker’s fellow soldiers in brutal and gruesome ways until Blocker captured him. Blocker refused to escort Yellow Hawk until he was threatened with the loss of his Army pension. Along the way Blocker and his group come across Rosalie Quaid and her destroyed home and take her with them on their journey. The movie is about the journey and the many obstacles they find in their way along with the ever-evolving relationship between Blocker and his captives.

Above all else, “Hostiles” is intense and dramatic. Virtually every scene of the movie is filled with tension and foreboding. Every interaction between characters bristles with intensity. The simple scene where Blocker is ordered to escort Yellow Hawk could have been unforgettable. Instead, you could feel the passion radiating from each man and the animosity between them. There is nothing even approaching humor in the movie, it’s all about the drama.

An unusual aspect of the movie is the prominence of silence throughout. These silences allow time for introspection and give you time to think while the movie is still playing. At one point it was so quiet in the theater that I could hear one of the characters swallowing whiskey, and another time the creaking of a chair reverberated off the walls.

If you want a successful movie based on intensity, drama, and silence, Christian Bale is the perfect lead actor. He knows how to let silence work for him and can express both his rage and gratitude in only a few short sentences. While Bale was perfect for his role, the best acting performance was turned in by Rosamund Pike. She was great as the anguished and tortured Rosalie Quaid. The grief coming from her was palpable and her evolution of the character as the movie progressed was stunning.

“Hostiles” was not what I would consider to be a shoot-em-up western. While it’s true there are many fast and furious gun battles that are amazing and are alone worth the price of admission, the purpose of the movie is not the gunfights or action. The movie is about the journey, both across the rugged landscape and closing the distance between the characters.

You don’t have to like westerns to enjoy “Hostiles.” If you enjoy good dramatic movies with action that also focuses on character development and pulls no punches, “Hostiles” is your best bet at the theater right now.

• • •

Grade: A-

Rated R for strong violence and language.

Hood’s Winks – Aviation heroes

By Ralph Hood

Aviation, still a young industry, was even younger when I got into it in 1969.

By 1969, many early aviation pioneers, including the Wright Brothers, were gone, as was Jimmy Doolittle (who led the bomber raid on Japan early in WW I) and General Billy Mitchell, known as the father of the U.S. Air Force. Lindbergh was still alive, but died five years later. Others lived on, and I was lucky to meet many of them.

In many cases, I knew these people. That does not, however, mean that they knew me! I met them not because I was important, but because they were.

General Chuck Yeager was the first person to break the sound barrier in level flight (1947). I love to tell everyone that Yeager and I both set—may still hold—world aviation speed records into Kitty Hawk. We competed in two different classes. He flew a civilian turboprop at about 300 mph; I was in a four-seat Cessna flying about 160 mph. Two men and a dog met my flight. The next morning at dawn, hundreds of people met Yeager’s flight. He sat down facing the crowd, which eagerly awaited his first words. He grinned and said, “Flying’s a lot of fun, but it’ll never beat sex.”

BTW, when Yeager broke the sound barrier, Scott Crossfield was flying the chase airplane. Crossfield was one of the greatest of the greats, and the first to fly at twice the speed of sound. We met several times and were speakers on the same program once.

Burt Rutan—airplane designer/builder of note—and I met several times, but I must admit he didn’t like me at all. His brother, Dick Rutan, and I, however, are friends. Dick is the one who flew around the world without refueling at just about the time that Yeager and I set our records into Kitty Hawk.

I also met General Paul Tibbetts several times. He was the man in charge of building/training the team to fly the first atomic bomb to Hiroshima. Not only that, he was the pilot who flew the Enola Gay on that historic mission. I had the privilege of introducing him as a speaker for an Alabama aviation group.

One of my long-time friends—aviator Pat Epps, who shared the same birthday with Tibbetts—threw a birthday party for both of them. Pat invited me to come, but I had to speak in Texas that day, so I missed the party and never saw Tibbetts again.

John Leahy, called “the greatest aircraft salesman in history,” is another person I’m proud to know, and even prouder to say he is a friend of long-standing. It is said that he is the single person most responsible for the success of Airbus.

I knew Ed Long and Evelyn Johnson very well. Ed flew more hours than any other person who ever lived. Evelyn—from Morristown, TN, BTW—had more flying hours than any other woman who ever lived and more than any man except for Ed.

I met many of the Tuskegee Airmen, including Gen. Benjamin O. Davis—the first African-American general officer in the USAF.

The list goes on, but I’m out of space.

I’ve been so fortunate to meet these giants.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Yesterday and today: People still matter

By Lisa Whaley

I lost myself in stacks of old newspapers last week.

And, I’ve got to say, it was a glorious experience.

Like stepping back in time, each turn of a yellowed page took me to an earlier Erwin and Unicoi County, providing me with a snapshot not only of the communities decades ago, but also its people and what they considered important.

Of course, this isn’t the first time old issues of The Erwin Record have captured my attention. This newspaper’s Heritage Page has often afforded me the chance to pull out the books from 50, 40, 30, 20 and 10 years ago and peruse its passages.

This time, however, there was no higher purpose than to simply dig, discover and savor.

The first edition of The Erwin Record was actually published in 1928, and framed pages of that earlier era adorn the walls of our offices in downtown Erwin.

Our books, however, only go back to the 1950s — and that’s where I began my journey during that recent Friday afternoon.

Headlines were similar to many we could see today with some period-appropriate differences: “Three-Room Addition Planned for Hospital” and “Mothers March on Polio.”

“President Calls for Balanced Budget” seemed especially familiar. And “Unicoi County High School to A-1 Rating” showed clearly that pride in our local schools is a long-termed — and well-earned — phenomenon.

Some were very specific to our town and county, such as  “Erwin Record Is Sold to Missouri Newsman” and “New Robert Ledford Funeral Home and Chapel to Hold Open House” all from 1956.

But I think, as I went from Jan. 26 to Dec. 27 of that year, the thing that stood out the most to me was an ongoing theme. People mattered. It’s not that “harder” news — committee decisions, voting precincts opening, new businesses — didn’t play a part in 1950s news. It’s that the day-to-day events, celebrations and challenges of its people mattered more.

A typical front page in 1956 often featured — top left and above the fold — the announcement of a couple’s 50th anniversary, as was  the case for Mr. & Mrs. J.M. Walker. A young man’s recent advancement to Eagle Scout, 14-year-old Erwin Spainhour and 14-year-old Louis Gentry, was also considered important enough to rate a front page spot.

A death in the community — and announcement of service — was deemed important enough to the readers to go front and center.

Each of these old papers gave such a perfect picture of what was happening that week in old Erwin — not the big state or national news, but the little, important pieces of what was going on with its individual citizens.

And it reminded me that this is something The Erwin Record must never lose. We must continue to cover the “big” stories, because that is important to the community as a whole. But we must never lose sight of the men, women and children who make up this community.

Their stories are what continue to matter.

Movie Night – ‘The Big Sick’ offers humor, touching moments

By Bradley Griffith

If you’re a little tired of the massive action films and epic superhero extravaganzas (while many of these movies are great, sometimes you just need a change) but still want to watch a movie that’s entertaining, you may want to consider “The Big Sick.”  It’s a sneaky funny movie that is now available for home rental, for free if you are an Amazon Prime member.

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a young man living in Chicago trying to find his way in the world. His family moved to America from Pakistan when Kumail was 14. Kumail is struggling with the traditional Pakistani ways of his family, such as arranged marriages and devout devotion to Islam, and his integration into American life.

In this clash of cultures Kumail prefers the American way of life. He is dead-set against arranged marriage and no longer practices Islam. He can’t tell his parents, Azmat (Anupam Kher) and Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff), this or they will kick him out of the family. Kumail may not adhere to all their traditional values, but he loves his family deeply. 

Kumail continues to accept invitations to his parents’ home for dinner knowing that his mother has planned for a good Pakistani girl to drop by during the meal to meet Kumail.  He endures these visits because it makes his parents happy. He dutifully makes conversations with the girls and then never sees them again.

Kumail’s life changes when he meets Emily Gardner (Zoe Kazan). Emily is in graduate school and swears that she has no room for a relationship in her life. Despite her reticence, they quickly fall in love and become inseparable. Until Emily finds out about the arranged marriage plans of Kumail’s parents. Emily immediately breaks off the relationship.

The movie gets interesting when Emily contracts a massive infection and is put in intensive care in a medically-induced coma. Emily’s parents, Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter), come to take care of her. They know that Emily had broken up with him and, at first, resent his presence. Over the course of Emily’s illness Kumail forms a bond with Terry and Beth that he didn’t think was possible.

The story to the movie may not sound good on paper, but the movie brings it to life in a way that makes it interesting and entertaining. The movie is loosely based on the true story of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, who together wrote the screenplay. The movie feels more like something that could happen to real people in real life than just another movie.

“The Big Sick” is less about the relationship between Kumail and Emily and more about the relationship between Kumail and Terry and Beth and Kumail and his parents. Kumail is forced to deal with the hostile Terry and Beth because he is in love with Emily. Kumail also loves his family and doesn’t want to disappoint them. He is in a classic catch 22 situation where no matter what he does it’s the wrong thing.

The best part of the movie is its humor. Nanjiani delivers his lines with a perfect deadpan affect to the point that it takes you a few minutes to understand he is joking and really get his sense of humor. The humor is understated, dry, and witty. Watching it a second time may lead you to find jokes you missed on the first viewing.

“The Big Sick” is mostly a comedy. But there are several moments of unexpected and surprising gravity and intimacy that catch you off guard. It explores issues of parenting and family, sometimes in a serious way and sometimes in a way that makes you laugh. It’s a good combination.

“The Big Sick” is the type of movie that grows on you. At first, I didn’t think it was very good. As the movie went on I began to laugh more and realized that the characters and the story snuck up on me. I realized I was enjoying myself watching this oddball comedy.

• • •

Grade: B+

Rated R for language, including some sexual references.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Memories inspire

By Connie Denney

It has been a sort of verbal collage—with vivid mental images, of course—as folks have shared memories of the gracious, talented, witty, charming great conversationalist we knew as Judy Moss. The obituary marking the finality of her passing at age 97 was published in last week’s edition, as was an “In Memory” column by Mark Stevens, a former publisher of this newspaper.

When I saw Becky Conley at The Y, she told me the story she had shared at a reception following Judy’s memorial service. Becky’s Mother, Mildred Erwin Conley, and Judy as high school students packed their lunch and rode the bus to Johnson City to see “Gone with the Wind.” They ate lunch during intermission.

Over coffee Ann Howze spoke of Judy’s friendliness. When they met, Ann commented on Judy’s purse (from the description, I’m pretty sure it was one Judy had made). Judy explained the significance of the images on it. Nellie Pate was reminded of the chocolate “record” Judy made for Keith Whitson, Nellie’s son, when he succeeded Stevens as publisher of The Erwin Record. Judy presented the “record,” resembling the vinyl ones we all once played, on a doily.  Keith still has it and told me of messages of encouragement, not only with the gift, but on phone messages and in person.

Snippets of my own memories: the time she invited me to come over to meet a regional author; the time we went to an auction; the time we got cool in her pool. She enjoyed giving. I’m looking at a small trinket box made from specially folded paper. Recently, I came across a small glass jar I use to hold buttons in the sewing basket. The label on the bottom reads “Just Judy.” It had contained homemade moisturizing cream.

Losing her reminded me afresh of the pleasure of having friends of varying ages. Special blessings in my life have come from women a bit older than I who have been/are great friends. They have wisdom gained only through experience. They have accepted me as I am, have a sense of humor, have nothing to prove, but do have fun. I have learned/do learn from them just being around them.

Although I don’t remember specifically how Judy and I first met, she became one of the “stability people,” as I have come to think of them, in my life. We did not necessarily see each other often; but, as we agreed, we just picked up where we had left off.  No need to get reacquainted, just catch up.

Not at all one to put on airs, she had a flair that came naturally, along with her quick smile. She spoke openly, shared thoughts, opinions and insights, as well as fruits of her talents. She loved parties and entertaining long before I ever knew her. Creativity expressed itself in her home surroundings, baking, crafts, the way she dressed, including the hats for which she was known.

Judy’s ability—determination, perhaps—to make the best of her circumstances is probably her most outstanding lasting influence on me. Life was not always kind to her. She experienced losses.  But, she made the best of things, however they shook out.

Remembering her makes me smile.

Movie Night – ’12 Strong’ tells recently declassified story of soldiers

By Bradley Griffith

There have been many films, TV shows, and books about special forces, especially since September 11, 2001. Some, like “American Assassin” and “Lone Survivor,” were based on true stories. “12 Strong” is based on the true and recently declassified story of the horse soldiers who were the first American soldiers to go into battle after 9/11. “12 Strong” is now out in theaters.

Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) is a captain in the United States Army Green Berets. Just before September 11, 2001 Captain Nelson requested a desk job so he could spend more time with his family. Nelson’s second in command, Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer (Michael Shannon), had already turned in his retirement papers, but he quickly ripped them to shreds.

Nelson, Spencer, and the rest of the unit wanted to go to battle. It’s what they had trained for and it was their duty. They were one of several special forces units that were flown to Pakistan in the days after 9/11. Their team was selected to be the first soldiers to fight back after the cowardly terrorist attacks. Their mission, however, was incredibly difficult.

The group of twelve soldiers was dropped into the remote reaches of northern Afghanistan among mountain peaks over 10,000 feet high. Their initial mission was to meet up with an embedded CIA asset who would lead them to a remote encampment. They then met with General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban). General Dostum was one of the many warlords that made up the Northern Alliance, who despised the Taliban and their barbaric ways.

General Dostum’s job was to get the U.S. soldiers close enough to direct U.S. bombers flying overhead to drop bombs on the Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan. The ultimate goal of the mission was to seize control of Mazari Sharif, a city that was controlled by the Taliban and occupied a critical strategic position. 

Of all the stories that have been told about countless daring missions and acts of bravery after 9/11, the mission depicted in “12 Strong” was among the most difficult. Twelve men were dropped into one of the most rugged and isolated regions on Earth. Their only assistance on the ground was provided by a ragtag group of soldiers who mostly spoke other languages.  The first part of the mission was convincing General Dostum and his troops to trust them, and to determine if they could trust General Dostum.

They were 12 men along with a few hundred Northern Alliance fighters and their mission was to direct bombers to kill many thousands of men and hundreds of tanks, rocket launchers, etc.  They were dropped in the middle of nowhere in hostile territory and told to find a way to make it work. And they did. The most amazing part of the entire movie is that it was all based on a true story. It’s incredible what only twelve soldiers accomplished in just three short weeks.

More than many other movies and TV shows of the genre, “12 Strong” felt authentic. I’m certain that parts of the story were dramatized for entertainment purposes, but the movie made you feel more like you were watching real soldiers engaged in a real battle to the death rather than watching actors portray soldiers for money. The movie quickly pulled you out of the theater and into their world.

Of course, it is a war movie. There are plenty of gunfights, explosions, rockets being launched, helicopters flying in and out, and many people dying. If you like war movies, you will enjoy “12 Strong.” It includes all the elements a war movie needs to succeed.

Just before the credits roll a photograph of the real men who fought this battle is shown. That photograph really drove home the point that this really happened, that these men really risked everything to battle evil and that they deserve our praise and our thanks.

• • •

Grade: A-

Rated R for violence and language throughout.

Hood’s Winks – Rite of passage

By Ralph Hood

We aren’t big on rites of passage in this country, but they are here, nevertheless.

There are a blue jillion definitions of rites of passage, but the one I prefer is an obvious step up from childhood toward adulthood. It doesn’t mean you are fully adult—you still can’t vote—but some real adult accepted that you have moved up a bit.

Now, let me tell you about my father…

“Daddy” was a right confident man. He had lived in Brunswick, GA, very close to the beaches for more than two decades at the time of this story, and knew about things like tides, rip tides, and sand bars.

Daddy certainly knew it was very dangerous to wade out to a sandbar at low tide. Even I knew by age 12 or so that the tide might come back in faster than you could swim back to shore. As the water came in—or went out—rip-tides could be produced.

Both of us forgot about that one day when my age was somewhere near 13. The sandbar was close to shore, and both Daddy and I could swim that far easily.

But we had my brother Jimmy (now Jim) with us. Jimmy, four years younger than I, had suffered serious ear trouble from birth. Getting water in his ears was risky business, so he had not learned to swim as yet.

Daddy and I both realized about the same time that we had a problem. The water between us and shore was now over our heads. One of us had to swim back to shore with Jimmy hanging onto his back.

There was no alternative. It had to be done. The longer we waited the more risky it would become. Daddy had to make the decision and I saw it torment him. He felt responsible. He was older; I was younger and had at least some training in lifesaving.

Daddy finally decided that I should take Jimmy. Jimmy—a gutsy soul—did not panic as I feared he would; he did not even struggle. He hung on and we swam across.

I was proud as punch, Daddy was relieved beyond belief. I found out decades later that he dreamed of that event for years.

Jimmy? I asked him recently if he was scared during the swim. He doesn’t really remember the entire event!

Me and “Me”: Remembering Judy Moss, a shining star in Erwin for 97 years

Judy Moss and Mark Stevens at Governor’s Bend at the piano. (Contributed photo)

By Mark A. Stevens

Special to The Erwin Record


That’s how she signed her letters and postcards.


Those were the only words on the front of her “business card,” and if she scribbled a hand-written message on the card’s back, it never included a signature or a name. Sometimes not even a “Me.”

But there was no mystery. It was Judy Moss, who delighted in being fun, in being funny, in being herself – always.

“I’ve got to be me,” she’d say.

Letters, postcards, and, yes, that card, that seemingly enigmatic card –  I’ve kept them all, tucked away in my desk.

Judy died Jan. 23 at the age of 97. She’d lived a great life, and my life is immeasurably better because of her.

And, judging from the wonderful comments from others, there are many whose lives were made better because Judy lived an uplifting life.

Here are just a few of those comments:

“She was such a joy to be around!”

“She was just one special human being.”

“She will shine among the brightest stars.”

“She was a very special lady.”

“A woman of class.”

“She was such a kind lady.”

“She always lit up a room.”

Those beautiful words and recollections were realized because Judy lived a life of just being herself – or, better put, by being “me.” Because she was kind, thoughtful and upbeat, others were, too. Kindness, Judy understood, is contagious.

I dedicated the second edition of my pictorial history book, “Unicoi County: Then & Now,” to Judy. I wrote, “To Judy Moss, who is my sweet and special friend and whose life never fails to inspire.”

To be honest, I don’t remember when or how Judy and I became friends, but it was probably like that for a lot of people who knew Judy. She was your friend instantly.

I never heard her say a negative word about anyone. “You be you, and I’ll be me,” she’d say. “How can we go wrong?”

She was gracious and spunky, grand and down-to-earth. She had a singular style, always dressed to impress but with a bohemian’s panache. She was equally debonair in a Kentucky Derby hat, a chapeau, a beret or, my favorite, a pink pith helmet.

Thalia Jennings shared this with me: “Judy was a neighbor when I was a child. I always thought she was so pretty and loved going to her house. She was kind of like a movie star to me.”

That was the thing about Judy. She seemed bigger than life, because she was living life to the fullest.

And, yes, for the most part by “being me.” That is, except when “me” gave way to “we.”

Judy was married to Frank “Dick” Moss for 68 years.

Judy was outgoing, Dick was shy. He worked for the railroad, and she operated Moss Flower Shop and made deliveries in a pink van.

She started her nearly 70-year love affair with Dick Moss holding tight – and never letting go – on the back of his motorcycle, racing away to a Florida honeymoon.

“It’s you and me,” Judy said as they sped away.

They were inseparable, devoted to one another. They never had children, but they had each other, which was more than enough. It was a life full of love.

At night alone, Dick played the piano for his sweetheart. When he died, on Sept. 13, 2010, she held his hands, those same hands that played the piano only for her.

Shortly before his death, Judy once told me, she whispered to him, “I love you much.” He replied, “Love much.”

And his last words to Judy: “Kiss me.”

In his final hours, he gave Judy one final acknowledgement of his love.

“He took hold of my hand,” she said, “and he squeezed it hard. And then he let loose.”

It was Dick’s way of saying it was OK, after all those days and years of being “you and me” that it was OK to let go and just go back to “being me.”

“I was always his sweetheart,” Judy told me. “He was always courteous to me. He always put me first.”

The night “Mossy,” as she often called him, died, Judy admitted that she wished she could have just gone with him, but, as stalwart and graceful as ever, she said, “That’s not how life works.”

So for these last few years, Judy went on, as she had always done, bringing joy to anyone who met her. She was the first resident of Governor’s Bend, the first assisted-living facility in Erwin. With Judy as a resident, I was once told by the manager, it was as if the multi-million-dollar facility had been given the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

The cooks were quite good, Judy told me the first time she invited me to lunch there. We were served fried chicken, and the kitchen brought us both a banana split for dessert.

“Well,” Judy said, “that really is the cherry on top!”

On some visits, I’d play the piano, as she sat beside me. And on other visits, we would just chat in her apartment. She’d decorated the walls with her many hats. “Just something,” she said with a grin, “that I thought of off the top of my head.”

When I visited or would call, Judy always asked about my wife, Amy, and about our dogs.

When Amy and I moved for a short time to Lafayette, Louisiana, and later to our current home in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, Judy would send cards and letters, all signed “Yours most affectionately, ‘Me.’ ”

I’ll always remember Judy’s smile, her sweet nature and her last words before the end of a phone call or a visit. “I love you, honey,” she’d say. “I love you more than butter!”

I am a better person because Judy Moss was my friend, and I know she would tell me not to be sad. She’d have, I believe, only one request: Remember “Me.”

(Mark A. Stevens served as publisher of The Erwin Record from 1997 until 2011. He and his wife, Amy, live in Pawleys Island, South Carolina. He is the author of several books about Erwin history, including “The Clinchfield No. 1: Tennessee’s Legendary Steam Engine.”)

From the Publisher’s Desk – Diminishing cases remind us of possibilities

By Lisa Whaley

Sometimes, shooting for the stars is simply the right thing to do.

In a conversation with Unicoi County Rotary Club President Jim Johnson at the close of their meeting last week, I was reminded of that fact more clearly than ever.

According to Johnson, the Rotary Club’s decades-long quest to bring about a polio-free world was nearly at hand.

“Twenty-four years ago, there were 350,000 polio cases every year” he said, adding with pride that now, those world-wide cases have been reduced to the lower double digits in just three countries.

His statement not only brought with it a feeling of satisfaction for the accomplishment, but also a more personal response, thanks to some sweet memories shared long ago by a very special man.

Robbie was a bright-eyed lively little boy when he contracted polio. It wasn’t until his mother set him down to walk after he started feeling better that she realized something was terribly wrong. In the 1920s, there were few, if any options available in small town America. And for his parents, hardworking German immigrants with 10 more mouths to feed, there were even fewer financial options.

Fortunately, the Shriners organization had already become active during that time, stepping in to meet the need despite monetary considerations. Robbie was sent by train to a nearby city for two important operations to improve his ability to walk – once when he was 7 and a second time when he was 12. He had to go alone – the cost of anyone else accompanying him as well as the inability of his mother to leave her other children made any other option impossible. And he admits that it was often lonely – and painful.

Many years later, Robert E. Zier emerged from his trials, a strong, gentle man with a slight limp who built a good life as a respected accountant in his hometown and eventually married my mother and became “dad” to a quiet little girl looking for a father to love her.

Still, I remember sitting around our kitchen table so many afternoons, pestering my new dad with questions about his childhood – and while the stories were always warm and nostalgic with no hint of self pity, some of the harshness of polio would occasionally emerge.

These included stories of:

Waiting until all the kids left the hallway so he could run awkwardly to his locker with no one seeing or commenting on his pronounced limp.

His long-discarded dream of being a farmer, the career he would have chosen had he felt capable.

Glorious adventures of bicycling around the county with family and friends, always wrapped in a slightly bittersweet reminder that on a bicycle, he could feel like everyone else.

Eventually, as he aged, some of the damages caused by polio returned, and it became harder and harder to get around.

Robert Zier died in 2007, still the most gracious, thankful and dependable man I have ever met, and a perfect father. I miss him to this day and while I recognize that his hardships helped shape the kind man he became, I can’t help but be thrilled on his behalf that the odds of some other little boy facing polio is growing smaller each day.

I am also reminded that whether something seems impossible is truly irrelevant to the task. I am certain when those first Rotarians sat around a table in 1985 and decided to launch their  PolioPlus program to tackle global polio eradication through mass vaccinations, the chances of it ever happening seemed highly unlikely. At that time, the world was seeing about 1,000 cases per day.

Yet here we are, with an end in sight.

Who knows what might be next, if we are but brave enough?