Adam’s Apples – Coal Miner’s Newphew

By James Mack Adams

It was in 1946 that country singer, Merle Travis, wrote a song about Kentucky coal miners. He gave it an appropriate title, “Sixteen Tons.” The song has been recorded by several artists, but the best known and most popular version is the one recorded in 1955 by Tennessee Ernie Ford. It is the one that rose to the top of the Billboard charts.

It was in 1970 that country music legend, Loretta Lynn, recorded an album featuring what was to become her signature song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

I haven’t written a song about it yet, but I am a nephew of Southwest Virginia and Kentucky coal miners. So, I know a little about what Merle and Loretta are saying in their song lyrics. I was a youngster during much of the time when coal was king in that part of the country, but I became very familiar with the lifestyles of my coal-miner uncles. And yes, I remember the company store.   

Those were the days before machines started doing much of the heavy mine work. The primary tools of the coal miner of the 1930s and early 1940s were a pick and a shovel. The coal was dug out of the mountain with the pick, and the shovel was used to load the loosened coal into waiting coal cars. The cars were then moved to the mine entrance where the coal was loaded onto trucks. At least a portion of a miner’s weekly pay was determined by the number of cars he loaded.

I was never allowed inside the mine with my Uncle Claude, but I recall his daily routine when he got home from work. His coal-blackened face and hands made him almost unrecognizable. After bathing in a galvanized tub filled with hot water heated on the kitchen stove, he would sit down for supper. After eating, he would take out the small notebook and pencil stub he carried in his overalls pocket and record the number of cars he loaded that day. If there were some daylight left, he would likely then do some farm chores.

Another uncle, Uncle John, went to work each day carrying an old dented metal lunch bucket. That lunch bucket fascinated me as a child. I loved to finish off any food he had left in the bucket when he got home. Uncle John knew this and would always save a hardened jelly biscuit for me. I considered it a treat.

One line from the song, “Sixteen Tons,” is “Saint Peter don’t you call me ‘cause I can’t go. I owe my soul to the company store.” The company store was owned and operated by the coal company. Miners were required to buy some of their own work supplies and equipment, such as the carbide they used to light the open-flame lamps on their hard hats. Guess where they had to purchase these items required to do their jobs. You guessed it … the company store.  The company store was also a source for some food and household items.

Saturdays were paydays at the mines. The miners were usually paid in cash, or partly in scrip. Scrip was a legal money substitute that could only be spent one place. You guessed it … at the company store.

Saturdays were busy and bustling days in my little town. After drawing their weekly pay, the miners and their families would come to town for the day. The wife would shop at Woolworth’s or the town’s only department store. The kids would be given a quarter to go to the movie theater where they would spend most of the afternoon watching a double feature, a serial, previews of upcoming movies, and a collection of cartoons. The miner, if he were so inclined, might have headed to the pool hall or tavern to down a few cold ones while socializing with buddies and listening to his favorite hillbilly tunes coming from the jukebox.

Miners often sacrificed their health to pursue their chosen occupation. Two of my uncles later developed an occupational illness named Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis (CWP), better known as Black Lung. Another uncle lost a leg in a mine accident.

Regardless of the hard labor, as well as the health and safety hazards involved with coal mining, I never heard my uncles express regret about their choice of jobs. Not long after my Uncle John became ill with black lung and retired, I asked him if he would go back to work in the mine if he had a chance. Without hesitation he replied: “I would start Monday morning.”

Movie Night – Fans of original will enjoy ‘Sicario’ sequel

By Bradley Griffith

The original “Sicario” may not have been a huge hit like the original “Jurassic World,” but it was a great movie. It boasted a star-studded cast of Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro, along with a great story and great drama. Brolin, Del Toro, and the great story return for a second adventure in “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” now in theaters.

A series of horrific suicide bombs are detonated in a grocery store in Kansas City. Fifteen people die in the massacre, including two young children. The FBI links at least one of the bombers to a Mexican drug cartel who illegally transported the bomber across the U.S.-Mexico border.

The response of the U.S. government is to deem the drug cartels terrorist organizations. That means that the full weight of the United States military can be brought to bear on the cartels.  But the military needs a way to get the war started, they need a man who can work behind the scenes in covert action to support any overt action taken by the military. The Pentagon needs someone who can rattle the cages of the cartels. The Secretary of Defense turns to Matt Graver (Josh Brolin).

Graver is a CIA operative who is known as a guy who gets things done, a guy who you keep on a tight leash or he will go too far. This time the government is turning Graver loose with no leash. He is free to do whatever he deems necessary to destroy the cartels. No rules. 

Graver decides that the best way to inflict real damage on the cartels is to cause a war between the cartels. Graver knows exactly who he needs for a mission inside Mexico with no rules. Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) was Graver’s secret weapon in the original story. This time Alejandro will take the lead in causing a major war between cartels.

If you are a fan of the first movie, you will like “Day of the Soldado.” Two of the major actors return (though the absence of Emily’s Blunt’s character was a disappointment) for another battle against the Mexican drug cartels, only this time the cuffs are off. Graver and Alejandro are the perfect men for such a mission.

Brolin and Del Toro once again deliver consummate performances in their roles, but it’s a different role that I believe was the most important in making “Day of the Soldado” a quality movie. Taylor Sheridan returned as the writer of “Day of the Soldado.” Sheridan is one of the top young writers in Hollywood with movies such as “Wind River,” “Hell or High Water,” and “Sicario” and new TV show “Yellowstone” under his belt. He creates drama and tension with his writing that is almost unique in modern-day filmmaking. Sign me up for anything that involves Taylor Sheridan.

“Day of the Soldado,” like its predecessor, is not an action movie. For sure, there are sporadic action scenes throughout the movie, and when these scenes come they are fast and furious. But “Day of the Soldado” is more of a slow-burn drama than anything else. The story builds on itself little by little and ratchets up the tension with each successive scene. Some may say the pace was slow, but I thought it was intense.

Josh Brolin is becoming a true superstar. His movies released this year alone include “Avengers: Infinity War” (where he played Thanos), “Deadpool 2,” and “Day of the Soldado.”  He was also excellent in one of my favorite movies, “No Country for Old Men.” But it seems that at age 50 he is hitting his stride and Hollywood recognizes the emergence of a superstar when it sees one.

Likewise, it also appears that Benicio Del Toro is in a groove of his own actor. Del Toro was in one of my favorite movies, “The Usual Suspects,” but at age 51 he was also in “Avengers: Infinity War” and was previously in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” These two actors seem to get better as they get older.

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is not as good as the first movie, but sequels rarely are. Still, “Day of the Soldado” is an excellent adult movie of the type that would normally be released in the fall.

• • •

Grade: A-

Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, and language.

Hood’s Winks – Dog Wars!

By Ralph Hood

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Ralph’s book, “Southern Raised in the Fifties.”

My father was the school superintendent in Brunswick, Georgia, for decades. Most everybody called him R. E. Hood—we called him Daddy.

Daddy is remembered by many as a dignified man. His uniform was a business suit, complete with hat and walking stick. His manner bordered on southern courtly. (He also kept an unlit cigar in his mouth, but we won’t go into that.)

On the other hand, he was in many ways unconventional to the point of eccentricity. For example, Daddy kept a running war going with dogs. As far as I know, the dogs were quite unaware of the war. No dog ever bit him, and I saw no evidence that dogs bore him any ill will. Still, he was eternally convinced that all dogs were out to get him.

Daddy rode an adult three-wheeled tricycle around in his later years. He said it was for exercise; I rather suspect it was primarily a continuance of his “War On Dogs.”

Daddy’s tricycle was a virtual arsenal of anti-dog weaponry. He had, so help me, an umbrella, mace spray, and electric cattle prod on that vehicle. The umbrella was his first line of defense. His chosen technique was to point umbrella at dog, then open and close umbrella rapidly. Most dogs fled in confusion at such a sight, and Daddy enjoyed it immensely. I don’t remember that Daddy ever had to use the rest of the arsenal, and I think he was right disappointed about that.

Once upon a time, Daddy stayed at the home of old friends in the Washington, D.C. area. On his arrival, he was horrified to learn that he was to share the house with two huge Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs.

I never saw those dogs, but to hear Daddy tell it, they breathed fire, drooled blood, and were trained to kill. By bedtime, Daddy was convinced that only his constant vigilance kept him alive. He bolted his bedroom from the inside, and probably wedged a chair under the doorknob.

Before telling the rest of this story, I should point out that it is not necessary to be in danger to be terrified. It is only necessary to believe oneself to be in peril. It is the belief, not the real risk, that strikes terror in the mortal heart.

In the middle of the night, Daddy was awakened by a call of nature. He carefully opened his door, peered up and down the hall, and ascertained that the dogs were not in the immediate vicinity. He then made a run for the bathroom.

Daddy swore to his dying days that the two dogs had been lying in ambush, just waiting for an opportunity. He heard them overtaking him from behind, panting in hot bloodlust, determined to do him bodily harm with malice aforethought.

Daddy bolted through the bathroom door, slammed it behind him, and turned around. To his horror, the woman of the house was sitting on the toilet!

Now hear this—Daddy did not leave! He apologized to the lady, turned to the wall and stood there until she finished. Then she, not he, left the room. As Daddy explained it to me, “Goshamighty, boy, it was a matter of life or death.”

Movie Night – ‘Jurassic World’ sequel has great special effects

By Bradley Griffith

Sequels are generally a hit or miss proposition. They are usually great or truly terrible.  “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is neither. It’s not nearly as good as its predecessor or the original “Jurassic Park” movie, but it’s not terrible either. The movie is a typical summer blockbuster film filled with action, outrageous stunts and great special effects.

The theme park from “Jurassic World” is in tatters and has been abandoned. The jungle and the remaining dinosaurs are reclaiming the island of Isla Nublar. But the biggest problem is that the formerly dormant volcano on the island is now active. Small eruptions are happening on a frequent basis, with the specter of an island destroying eruption occurring at any time.

In the United States, a heated debate is raging across the country. Do dinosaurs deserve to be preserved like any other animal on the endangered species list, or should the dinosaurs become extinct once again when the volcano blows? Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), former operations manager of Jurassic World, has created a non-profit group to help secure the safety of the dinosaurs.

Claire is hired by the estate of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) to help rescue the remaining dinosaurs and relocate them to another island where they can live out their lives in peace. The only issue for Claire is that she needs someone to help her who knows how dinosaurs think and that has a history of controlling dinosaurs. In short, she needs Owen Grady (Chris Pratt).

Owen trained the Velociraptors of Jurassic World to follow his commands. Blue was the leader of the Raptor pack and is the only Raptor still alive. Claire needs Owen to help capture Blue so they can relocate him to safety. When they arrive on the island they are introduced to the real truth behind this expedition. A group of mercenaries has been hired to capture one of each of the species of living dinosaurs and get DNA from those dinosaurs that are dead. These mercenaries don’t care about the animals or what will happen to them, only about their payday.

I wanted to be wowed and amazed by “Fallen Kingdom.” Its predecessor was a surprise both in terms of quality of the film and at the box office. It remains the best of the Jurassic Park series of movies. But even though I wanted to be amazed and wanted to love “Fallen Kingdom,” it didn’t rise to the level of “Jurassic World.”

“Fallen Kingdom” brought back the two main stars in Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. The movie returned the action (for the first part of the movie) to Isla Nublar. It returned your favorite dinosaurs, including the Velociraptor and T-Rex. But it just didn’t capture the same movie magic that was found in “Jurassic World.”

First of all, the story was a little contrived. It was obvious from the beginning that there was something rotten at the estate of Benjamin Lockwood and it didn’t take a genius to figure out that Claire was being duped and blinded by her passion for saving the dinosaurs. I won’t spoil the story for you, but the reason for capturing the dinosaurs and bringing them back to the United States was, well, stupid. It felt like the movie was rushed to theaters to take advantage of the huge box office of the previous movie. Unfortunately, the story suffered.

There were good aspects of the movie.  In addition to the great actors, great action scenes and great production of the movie, the special effects were flawless. I don’t know how the filmmakers did it, but it appeared that the dinosaurs were real and were right there with the actors on screen. The deadliest dinosaur ever was created for this movie. The Indoraptor is a combination of the Indominous Rex from “Jurassic World” and a Velociraptor. Not only was it deadly, but it also looked evil.

It should be no surprise that “Fallen Kingdom” excelled in the action scenes and disappointed in the story. It should also be no surprise that at the end the T-Rex is still the king of the dinosaurs, or that another Jurassic World movie is in the works.

• • •

Grade: B

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science fiction violence and peril.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Food nourishes, nurtures

By Connie Denney

You don’t have to be Italian to enjoy Italian food. Think specifically about the basil and olive oil mixture we like to sop with crusty bread while waiting for a meal. You don’t have to speak Italian to enjoy pesto; but, homemade by an Italian friend, it makes me want to say “mama mia”!

This premier pesto producer is neighbor Dee. With her permission, I’m sharing a bit about her life and, joyously, her pesto recipe!

Dee Donzella Riddle began life in Tarrytown, New York, (think Legend of Sleepy Hollow), and has lived in Florida, North Carolina and Georgia, as well as Tennessee. Her grandparents came to this country from Italy and Sicily around the turn of the century. Her Mother’s Father was a head gardener for the Nelson Rockefeller family.

Dee remembers as a small child seeing her Grandpa’s peach trees, tomatoes and lots of basil. “Growing up, all our family gatherings were spent around my Mother’s extra large dining room table. She had lots of Grandma’s recipes and from an early age, probably around seven or eight, I learned how to make pasta.” Dee and her Mom spent Saturday mornings making pasta and sauce.

“We always had basil in the backyard. I was tasked with picking just the right leaves for the sauce. My Father to this day, at 94 years old, will pick a leaf and sit on my front porch contently smelling its intoxicating fragrance.”

During the latter part of her Mother’s life when fear and confusion were so disconcerting, Dee recalls how turning back the pages of time and a cookbook or two were a positive distraction.  The strong bond of tradition and food includes the catering business her Mom started in the 90s.  Dee and husband James, also from an Italian family, helped.

They have enjoyed cooking together since they were dating. Calling theirs a “match made in heaven,” Dee says they gave themselves a six-quart KitchenAid stand mixer as an anniversary gift! They carry on traditions with their family, including four grandkids, ages 5-7, who also can make pasta.

Dee’s 27-year career in senior management at a Miami Beach resort hotel exposed her to “many fine dining experiences,” as well as opportunities to learn from chefs flown in from Italy. She speaks of learning to make “the perfect pesto” and “how the finest ingredients could make a dish sing!”

I sure like the flavor notes her pesto adds to bread or pasta, tomato sandwiches, pizza, salad, baked potato….  Need I go on?                    

PESTO

2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil first cold pressed (very important for the right flavor)

1/3 cup pine nuts (may use chopped walnuts as a substitute but pine nuts are the best)

2 garlic cloves

Salt to taste

1/4 cup grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese

Put all ingredients except the cheese in a food processor and process until smooth. Pour the sauce into a small bowl and stir in the cheese. Makes one cup of pesto. Keep refrigerated. Freezes well.

Note: Pesto should always be served at either room temperature or chilled. If adding to pasta, remove the pasta from the heat first. This will preserve the taste and color of the pesto.

Movie Night – Reviewer not impressed with ‘Annihilation’

By Bradley Griffith

Many people rely on the trailers for movies to decide whether a movie is worth their time and money (except for people like you who read these reviews). Usually your first instinct is the correct one. I thought the trailer for “Annihilation” looked terrible. I should have trusted my gut.

As the movie opens Lena (Natalie Portman) is being debriefed in a secure location by government representatives. Lena is under quarantine. Her interrogator is decked out in full hazmat gear to safely talk to her. Lena tells her story about how she made it to this room.

Lena’s husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), is a soldier in a United States Army special forces unit. He is called away to a location that he can’t reveal on a mission that he can’t speak of, even to his own wife. Kane doesn’t return from this mission. Despite Lena’s best efforts, she can’t get any information about her husband from the military. 

Nearly a year after he disappeared, Kane shows up at their home out of the blue. He begins acting very strange. He can’t remember where he went or how he made it home. He suddenly becomes very ill. He and Lena are in the back of an ambulance headed to a hospital when they are forced off the road and taken to a secret government facility known only as Area X.

Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a psychologist and is in charge of Area X. She explains to Lena that Kane had been sent with an entire unit into something known as the shimmer. A meteorite had impacted at a lighthouse near the coast. Shortly thereafter a shining mist-like phenomenon began to spread with the lighthouse at its center. They called this area the shimmer.

Kane’s team had been sent into the shimmer and only Kane returned. Lena, a biologist and former soldier, volunteers to enter the shimmer with the next team of explorers. She wants to investigate the shimmer and maybe find a cure for her husband’s illness.

Natalie Portman is such a good actor that it’s hard to believe that she was in such a bad movie. In fact, from Oscar Isaac to Tessa Thompson to Gina Rodriguez, there are several fine actors in this bad movie. Jennifer Jason Leigh turned in an awful performance at the emotionless and rigid Dr. Ventress. Her acting was the very definition of a wooden performance.

The parts of the story described above may seem somewhat intriguing, but trust me when I tell you that “Annihilation” goes downhill as soon as they enter the shimmer, the part where the movie should get better. I know it’s based on a popular book that is supposedly beloved a by a certain portion of the population, but the plot goes haywire once the team goes into the shimmer. The movie become ridiculous and the special effects of what they encounter in the shimmer were terrible.

The filmmakers seemed to want to create a certain tone that lasted throughout the movie. The background music and soundtrack were unusual and, I suppose, were intended to intensify the vibe of the movie. The vibe was one of trepidation and lurking menace, a strategy that works well when the movie follows through on its promise, unlike “Annihilation.”

The climax of the movie, which occurs chronologically before Lena is telling her story about exploring the shimmer, is one of the strangest things I have ever seen in a movie. I won’t spoil it for those of you who want to waste your money renting this movie at home, but you’ll know it when you see it.

I read one article that listed “Annihilation” as one of the top 10 movies of the year, an honor I would not bestow on this movie if only five films had been released this year. If you are a true hard-core sci-fi fan you may enjoy “Annihilation,” everyone else should stay far away.

• • •

Grade: D-

Rated R for violence, bloody images, language, and some sexuality.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Summer is here – and I can’t wait

By Lisa Whaley

This will be my first summer spent in Erwin.  And though rain is pouring down as I write this, I can’t help but be full of anticipation.

There is no summer, I believe, like a small town summer.

I grew up in a tiny town of 300, and I still love to think back to those lazy days of childhood. Of course, lazy definitely applied more to the mood than an actual lack of activity.

Instead, summer meant up and out, exploring neighborhoods, forging friendships and enjoying family.

Divided in the middle by a highway, Touchet (that really was its name) had one K-12 school, one grocery store, one restaurant, two churches, Rusty & Myrt’s grill and a “watering hole,” actually named  “The Watering Hole.”

In addition to beverages, they were known for their wide selection of candy bars. Rusty & Myrt’s had great ice cream treats.  (All these details were vitally important to a child in the warmer months of June, July and August.)

Each summer, in this tiny town,  my friends and I would climb aboard our bicycles and set out in search of adventure. Wind blowing in our hair, we cruised down Gardena hill with what seemed to be supersonic speeds, waded in the cold waters of the Touchet River, uncovered hidden tunnels in fields of wild shrubbery and discovered treasures on the site of the old town mercantile.

There were precious days at Vacation Bible School and family cookouts complete with games of badminton or croquet. And there were those moments simply to enjoy the warmth of the sun and the joy in being alive.

Now, I have a whole new town to explore for the summer, and I can’t wait to get started. I’m also intrigued by the Valley Beautiful’s wealth of waterfalls, parks and historic sites.

I want to walk along Main Street savoring an ice cream cone from What’s the Scoop, enjoy a summer movie at the Capitol Theater, and find the freshest produce at Tuesday’s Farmers Market.

And that is just the beginning of my plans. If you have any suggestions for the list, please email me at lwhaley@erwinrecord.net. I would love to hear from you.

I also encourage you to make your own list to help you savor the season. Though I’m just beginning to sample a Unicoi County summer, I am convinced this may be one of my best summers yet. After all, all the ingredients are here — a beautiful location, a plethora of opportunities and, most important of all, some of the warmest and most welcoming people I have ever met.

A Refreshing Knapp – Old Glory

By Ray Knapp

Some players in the National Football League recently protesting the National Anthem by kneeling while it was sung, has caused a lot of controversy – negative for the most part. To quell the national condemnation, the National Football League revised the Game Operations manual to ensure all players, on the field, to stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.

With Flag Day just past (June 14) and Independence Day arriving a week from today, I thought it would be appropriate to give a little history on its origin; what it stands for, and observance. Of course, we learned in the first grade that Betsy Ross made the first flag and was also credited with giving the United States its name. History researchers dispute both those things. The only thing on written record was given to the Pennsylvania Historical Society in 1870 by Betsy’s grandson. Some of his papers described the first flag the way it is usually depicted with 13 alternating red and white stripes and 13 white, five-pointed stars, arranged in a circle in the upper right corner of the flag on a blue canton.

I’ve heard some people say: I bet that school kids today don’t know the first thing about the Flag, National Anthem, or Pledge of Allegiance. These 3 things are our national symbols – the symbols which keep us together as the United States and as one nation. I had to see what Tennessee’s School Code said.

It read (in part): “49-6-1001. Flag Recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. (a.) All boards of education shall direct and all teachers employed by the public schools shall give instructions to the pupils of the schools, and shall have the pupils study as a part of the curriculum, the uses, purposes and methods of displaying the American flag and other patriotic emblems, and the history and usage of the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. (b.) In recognition of the civic heritage of the United States of America, all students shall be required to learn the Pledge of Allegiance and to demonstrate such knowledge.

(c.) Each board of education shall require the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in each classroom in the school system in which a flag is displayed.”

That came as a surprise, as I noted at public events, many people were unsure of what to do, nor knew the words to the Pledge of Allegiance. Of course, there always seems to be those few that appear oblivious to what’s going on; talking, laughing, or walking about as the National Anthem is sung and the Pledge of Allegiance is being recited. In opposition to this, Tennessee’s stand on reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is: “if for religious or other beliefs, no person will be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance; however, they shall set or stand quietly and not disrupt the proceedings.”

Procedures when observing the National Anthem, or during the raising, lowering or passing of the flag, or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance are not complicated. Civilians are to stand (if able); remove their hat; place the hat or right hand over their heart during these proceedings. In recent years there have been some changes in paying respect to the flag by veterans. (Veterans and Saluting Out of Uniform) A provision of the 2009 Defense Authorization Act changed federal law to allow U.S. veterans and military personnel not in uniform to render the military hand-salute when the national anthem is played. This change adds to a provision which was passed in the 2008 Defense Bill, which authorized veterans and military personnel in civilian clothes to render the military salute during the raising, lowering or passing of the flag. Most veterans are aware of this, but many who have not been in the military are not.

The flag does not belong to any one American, but to all Americans. To most, a feeling of national pride is felt when we hear the National Anthem and its closing words about Old Glory: “Oh long may it wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

Movie Night – Willis’ ‘Death Wish’ filled with plot holes

By Bradley Griffith

“Death Wish” is the 2018 re-make of the 1974 cult classic film of the same name starring Charles Bronson. Bruce Willis takes the reins from Bronson as the main character of the story. If you liked the original movie, or even if you didn’t, do yourself a favor and do not pay good money to see the remake.

Dr. Paul Kersey (Willis) is a trauma surgeon in Chicago. He lives a normal life for a trauma surgeon, meaning he lives in relative luxury. He and his wife, Lucy (Elisabeth Shue, and daughter, Jordan (Camilla Marrone), live in a very nice suburban home. Jordan will leave for college soon and Paul and Lucy will have to deal with an empty nest. The family lives a comfortable life away from all the violence that has been plaguing Chicago.

Until one night, on Paul’s birthday, his entire world is destroyed. Just before they were set to leave for his birthday dinner Paul is called back to the hospital for an emergency. Three men who thought the family would be out celebrating Paul’s birthday enter their house. Unfortunately, Lucy and Jordan fought back against the attackers.

Paul finishes with the surgery he was called in to perform and finds that his wife and daughter have been brought into the hospital with gunshot wounds. One has already passed away and the other is on life support.

Paul is not the kind of guy to take the law into his own hands. He doesn’t even own a gun. But after he stops two men from assaulting a woman in an alley (and is beaten for his trouble), Paul gets an idea. Violence is skyrocketing in Chicago and no one seems to be able to do anything to stop it. The police are making no headway in their investigation into the attack and robbery of Paul’s family. Paul decides to take matters into his own hands. He steals a gun from a gangbanger at his hospital and sets out to exact revenge on those who attacked his family, and any other criminal that crosses his path.

First of all, this may be the worst acting performance of Bruce Willis’ career. I would say that I’m not sure he can believably portray a trauma surgeon, except I am certain that he can’t. He has absolutely no emotional range. Even though one member of his family is murdered and the other is in a coma on life support, Willis looks like he is having just another day at the office. He should be devastated, but acts as if nothing is wrong.

Willis is much better at the vigilante role than the trauma surgeon or devastated father and husband role. Once the movie turns to Willis seeking vengeance it gets a little better, but not much. Bruce Willis with a gun in his hand is much more believable than Bruce Willis with a scalpel in his hand. The best part of the movie is the debate over whether the unknown vigilante is a hero or no better than the criminals he is killing.

Willis is not the only actor who seemed to be mailing in their performance. Vincent D’Onofrio as Paul’s brother and Dean Norris (Hank from “Breaking Bad”) as the lead detective into the attacks at the Kersey home were also pretty bland. If the product on the screen is any indication, the actors knew this was going to be a bad movie, they were just there for a paycheck.

The story wasn’t much better than the acting. Movies about revenge should pretty much write themselves. Instead, “Death Wish” was filled with so many plot holes that the entire movie was unbelievable. Also, the story created no tension. Even the climax of the movie was uneventful. If a movie about shooting and killing can be boring, this was it.

It’s unusual for a movie about vengeance to have no real emotional center, to not make you angry and emotional. Despite the subject matter, “Death Wish” is not only boring, it has no heart.

•••

Grade: C-

Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout.

Adam’s Apples – Old teachers never die

By James Mack Adams

In his farewell address before a combined session of the United States Congress on April 19, 1951, General Douglas MacArthur said: “Old soldiers never die. They just fade away.”  Perhaps the same can be said for old school teachers. Being one of those old school teachers, I hope that is true.

A teacher’s legacy is his or her students. If you are reading this column, thank a teacher. If you can balance a checkbook successfully, thank a teacher.

Every time I power up the laptop to write a column or to work on any other writing project, I pay silent homage to my public-school English and Latin teachers. They mercilessly drilled their students on grammar, spelling, pronunciation, sentence structure and writing.  What I thought at the time was sure torture bordering on child abuse was well worth it. Over my lifetime, I have enjoyed the benefits.

My public-school teachers had such an influence on my life I can still remember the names of several of them. I remember Edith Cherry, Frances McCoglin, Lucille Whitmire, Lennie Blankenship, Rhoda Burke, Grace Elmore and others. I can also visualize their appearances.  They have all been gone for many years, but they live on in my memory. In my thinking, they never died. They just faded away.

The majority of my elementary and high school teachers were female and unmarried. That was just how it was in the teaching profession at the time. My first male teacher was the high school football coach. Their students were their families. Teaching was their calling and their life. They were for certain not in it for the pay or benefits.      

I entered the teaching profession later in life than most. My undergraduate degree from ETSC (now U) is in business administration. A teaching career was never a consideration during those early years.

Following six years active military service, I went to work for the state of Ohio as an administrative specialist in the data processing division and planned to follow that career path the rest of my working life. Then the Ohio Department of Education, and my schoolteacher wife, stepped in to convince me to change my plans.

In the 1960s, the Ohio governor and legislature began an ambitious state-wide program to make vocational education available to every student who wanted it. During the following decade, they built large vocational high schools and technical colleges throughout the state.

The new schools had to be staffed with teachers who were experienced and skilled professionals and tradespeople from many occupations. Most did not have college degrees.  They were required to earn degrees and qualify for full state teacher certification within a certain period of time after being hired.

My teacher wife, and others, encouraged me to apply for a teaching position in a new school being built in a nearby county. I was hired as a teacher of computer and related technologies and followed the profession until my retirement 22 years later. I have never regretted my choice.

U. S. Marines I have known insist there is no such thing as a former marine. “Once a marine, always a marine,” they say. I will say the same for teachers. “Once a teacher, always a teacher.” Many long-retired teachers just can’t seem to stop teaching. It is a common condition among members of the profession. I am a prime example. It is perhaps, in part, the reason I became a history reenactor and living history interpreter after leaving the classroom.

As a teacher, journalist and former monthly community newspaper editor, I have always been a word person. The aforementioned drilling by my English teachers is partly to blame. I have an uncontrollable urge to edit everything I read for spelling and grammar.  That includes newspapers, billboards and all other publicly displayed signs. During my teaching years, one of my favorite things to do when I got home from school on Thursday afternoons was to read the local weekly newspaper and circle the errors with my red pen.

If you have read many of my columns that appear in this space once a month, you know that at times I switch to my teacher mode. I plead no contest. Please bear with me. That is just part of who I am. It is part of my being.

I am reminded of another saying about teachers I once either read or heard. A play on General MacArthur’s words as it were. It might just bring a parting chuckle to the reader?

“Old teachers never die. They just lose their class.”

If you ever see that happening to me, please let me know.

‘Ocean’s 8’ offers respite from summer action films

By Bradley Griffith

Good sequels to good movies (and who wants a sequel to a bad movie) are inherently difficult to make. It’s very difficult to recapture the magic of the original. “Ocean’s Eleven” was a good-bordering-on-great movie, but its previous sequels were not very good. “Ocean’s 8” is better than the other sequels, but not even close to the original.

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) is in prison for a crime she did commit. That doesn’t mean she is happy about it or that she won’t get her revenge on the person who set her up to take the fall for selling fraudulent goods. Like her brother Danny Ocean, Debbie is a con-artist and thief.  She lives for the thrill of a well-planned and executed heist for big money.

Debbie has had five years in prison to plan her next job. She has played every possible contingency and scenario in her mind many times and knows without a shadow of a doubt how to run the heist and how to make it work. The only things she needs to pull off the job are parole, a crew of seven women and $20,000.

Debbie is let out of prison on parole and quickly reverts to her old ways. She contacts her partner and best friend Lou (Cate Blanchett). They gather a crew of five more women, Amita (Mindy Kaling), Tammy (Sarah Paulson), Constance (Awkwafina), Nine Ball (Rihanna), and Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter). These women have the different skills and specialties that Debbie needs.

The job is to steal a diamond necklace from Cartier that is valued at $150 million. Their plan is to convince Cartier to let famous actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) wear the necklace to the Met Gala, the most exclusive party in the world. The plan is to steal the necklace and replace it with a copy so no one will ever know it’s gone. But, surely the job won’t go as planned.

“Ocean’s 8” is supposed to be a slick and sophisticated heist movie like its predecessors. For the most part, the movie lives up to this billing. The heist itself is complex and daring, with more than one area where the entire scheme could implode. In fact, the plan is needlessly complicated and seems like it would be impossible to execute flawlessly.

The most important aspect of a movie like this is whether the correct mood is set for the entire movie. “Ocean’s 8” tries to capture the vibe that made “Ocean’s Eleven” not only successful, but a classic film. The mood is created not only by the story, but also through the characters themselves. The movie must make you be on the side of criminals, not an easy task to accomplish. The viewer needs to forget that the main characters are criminals and that they should not get away with the theft. 

I never forgot that the main characters in “Ocean’s 8” were actually the bad guys. In “Ocean’s Eleven” the guys were stealing money from a corrupt and crooked casino owner who was a bad person. It’s still not okay to steal from him, but it was at least understood and you rooted for the criminals to succeed. In “Ocean’s 8” they are stealing from Cartier for no reason other than Cartier has a very expensive diamond necklace that Debbie Ocean wants. Not okay. 

I will say that the movie was well cast and that every woman, with maybe the exception of Sandra Bullock, performed superbly in their roles. Bullock’s character seemed oddly devoid of emotion or anything other than a blank stare. The setting of the movie at the Met Gala was a great idea and allowed the filmmakers to add in several cameos by celebrities and a few twists at the end.

While “Ocean’s 8” is technically a sequel, and it could have been a much better movie, at least it provides a short respite from superheroes and giant action movies at the movie theater this summer.

• • •

Grade: B

Rated PG-13 for language, drug use, and some suggestive content.

Hood’s Winks – Tourism and natural assets

By Ralph Hood

A recent issue The Erwin Record announced the possibility—perhaps the probability—of a committee to promote tourism under the leadership of Lee Brown. Gosh, I hope that happens.

Unicoi County could benefit highly from a growing tourist industry—without spending a fortune. Let’s promote what we already have on hand: the wonder and beauty of nature.

We already have Rock Creek Recreation Area, Rocky Fork State Park, the world-famous Appalachian Trail (AT)—breathes there a soul who wouldn’t love to say, “I have walked part of the Appalachian Trail?”

On our part of the AT lies the well-known Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky Hostel and Outfitter for hikers. Our reputation for welcoming “through-hikers” is also well-known. Wife Gail and I have met through-hikers galore on our brief forays on the AT, and met others at the Steel Rails Coffee House and other establishments (spending money, BTW).

We also have some stunningly beautiful waterfalls and rapids.

These waterfalls may be the first attractions we should promote. Before you laugh, Brevard, North Carolina, has a beautiful brochure with pictures of their surrounding waterfalls. Yes, they do have more waterfalls than we do. On the other hand, we have some beauties and we need to let the world know.

Erwin Kiwanis Club presents a Campfire Program once a week during summer months—absolutely free—at Rock Creek Recreation Area.

Our natural assets have several great advantages:

1) They are already in place

2) They attract nature lovers, who tend to be neat, non-littering people

3) We have professionals already in place and providing kayaking, river rafting and other activities.

4) People who participate in outdoor recreation tend to tell their neighbors all about it—they promote it for us.

Let’s get started!

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Make something – Be a different person

By Connie Denney

BE INSPIRED.

BE INFUSED.

BE TRANSFORMED.

Jan Bowden spoke in all caps as she elaborated on the above words, which I had noticed on a sign as I walked by the location of Union St. Gallery, coming soon to the corner of Union Street and Nolichucky Avenue in downtown Erwin.

She spoke by phone from Ohio, where she and husband Vince had, that day, closed the deal selling property where they lived and had a gallery before moving south. But her happiness about that did not account for the level of excitement in her voice as she responded to my question about the sign. “I feel it!” she said.

An artist herself, Jan knows a person may think of art as something “I wish I could do.” If so, she advises:  take a class and be INSPIRED by what you learn.

As for being INFUSED, she talks about color, light, creativity. “Do what makes you feel happy.”  Jan says she can’t paint but that glass offered a way to use color, light and creativity.

The TRANSFORMATION, she says, comes after you make something. You’re a different person. Finding out what it takes to create an item—whether you are ever going to do it again—results in a greater appreciation.

Both Jan and Vince work in metal; Jan also fuses glass. Explaining that her husband has been welding for more than 40 years and was self-employed as a machinist/welder, she says he naturally chose metal as an art form.

“I didn’t know a thing about metal ‘til I met him,” Jan says. Now she has eight years of welding experience. Each has logged 25 years plasma cutting. (This involves cutting metal with a torch using compressed air and electricity, like “drawing on metal.” A clean way to cut metal, it has industrial and art applications.) Jan moved on to fusing or “kiln forming” glass to add color to her work. She’s been at it 12 years.

So it’s that experience they bring to Erwin, with the goal of opening their gallery by the end of July. A lot depends, of course, on the pace of readying the building. (A story in the May 5, 2018, issue of The Erwin Record included information about the gallery.)

The Bowdens will display their own work and want to add other artists’ work in the future. They do art for the garden and home including garden stakes, trellises, gates. Each is one-of-a-kind, cut by hand, not computer-assisted. Sculptures may be appropriate for wall hangings, or cutout designs welded to a base to stand alone. One such piece depicting family members holding hands will grace their home here.

Wanting to help attract folks downtown, Jan looks forward to being open for “Sip N’ Shop” the first and third Friday nights of the month. Otherwise, they plan to open four days a week, Wednesday through Saturday.

Although the Union Street building is not yet ready, plans are in the works for classes. Fused glass classes for beginners with simple projects students can complete in one session, intermediate classes mornings and evenings, something for school-age children, plasma cutting and simple welding to create a finished garden piece are all possibilities. “I have a lot of ideas in the works,” she offers.

Let’s keep an eye on that corner for signs of coming attractions.

Movie Night – ‘Solo’ tells backstory of beloved character

By Bradley Griffith

The latest entry into the suddenly crowded Star Wars universe is the origin story of one of the most beloved characters in all of cinema. Harrison Ford made Han Solo a household name like no one else could have. In “Solo,” Alden Ehrenreich tries to recapture the magic of Han Solo one more time.

Han (Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clark), are teenage slaves on the distant planet of Corellia. Orphaned children are captured and forced to lie, cheat, and steal to survive. Han and Qi’ra have plans to escape and begin a new life together. In a daring escape, Han is able to make it out of their life of indentured servitude, but Qi’ra is re-captured.

With no money and no way to rescue Qi’ra without a ship, Han joins the Empire. He signs up for the Imperial Navy so he can learn to be a pilot, buy his own ship, and then rescue Qi’ra. As often happens, Han’s plans don’t turn out the way he had hoped. He is kicked out of the navy and sent to be an infantry soldier, where he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson).

Beckett is posing as a captain in the army but is actually a thief, outlaw, and smuggler. Han threatens to expose Beckett if he doesn’t allow Han to join his crew. Han is swiftly thrown in the stockade where he meets a giant Wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Han and Chewy break out and convince Beckett to let them join their crew and that easily Han and Chewy become best friends and outlaws.

Beckett needs Han and Chewy’s help to steal a shipment of coaxium – an element that powers hyperdrives – is very valuable, and very explosive. In the middle of the theft the shipment is attacked by another band of marauders who call themselves the Cloud Riders. In the struggle Beckett and his crew do not get the coaxium, but neither do the Cloud Riders.

Beckett had been hired to steal this shipment by a criminal syndicate known as Crimson Dawn.  Beckett must devise a plan to make things right with Crimson Dawn, or he will be killed. Han is still looking for a big payday to buy his own ship and rescue Qi’ra, so he and Chewy are with Beckett.

In any movie where Han Solo is a character the most important question about the entire movie will always be, who is playing Han? Let’s get this out of the way, no one can replace Harrison Ford as the brash and daring outlaw that we all know and love. But Alden Ehrenreich does a good job in the title role. He has just the right combination of charisma and cockiness to play Han Solo. He’s no Harrison Ford, but he was well cast and performed well as the title character.

Speaking of characters, “Solo” is character driven rather than plot driven. The plot is straightforward and simple, Han must make (or steal) enough money to buy a ship and rescue Qi’ra. There’s a double-cross or two, but that’s all there is to the plot. At times the movie feels like it’s one long action scene, though the action is very good.

There are some colorful characters in the movie, starting with Lando Calrissian, played by Donald Driver. If it’s possible for a person to be more self-assured and arrogant than Han, Driver’s Lando Calrissian is that person. Han and Lando play well off each other as they try to best the other with skill, luck, or deceit.

Everything about the movie is not good. After the first five minutes of the movie I was worried that I had wasted my money. The beginning is bad, but it gets better from there. The movie was also too long. Two hours and 15 minutes is too long for a movie with very little plot and so much action.

Still, “Solo” is worth the money whether you are a Star Wars fan or not. If you want to find out how Han got his last name, got the Millennium Falcon, or began his life as a smuggler, “Solo” has the answers.

• • •

Grade: B+

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-action/violence.

Movie Night – ‘Deadpool 2’ funnier than original with more action

By Bradley Griffith

Deadpool is supposed to be the cool superhero. He’s supposed to be the funniest guy around, the guy who everybody loves because, even though he’s raunchy and vulgar, his heart is still in the right place. For the most part, that’s all true of “Deadpool 2.”

Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), is taking out the scum of society that no one else can or wants to deal with. By taking out I mean that he is killing them in the most graphic and imaginative ways possible. Wade takes a world tour, killing bad guys no matter their race or nationality. Deadpool does not discriminate.

Deadpool also has no second thoughts or regrets, he knows that the criminals deserve everything they are getting. Then the one lowlife that Deadpool left alive decides to visit him in the home he shares with his girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Deadpool cannot be killed due to a super formula he was given in the first movie that also deformed his body. The same cannot be said for those he loves.

Wade becomes distraught to the point that he tries to kill himself. When that doesn’t work he is taken to the X-Men mansion by Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) where Wade becomes an X-Men trainee. Through his work with the X-Men, Wade meets a young mutant by the name of Russell Collins, aka Firefist (Julian Dennison). Russell is a powerful mutant who has been abused at a home for mutant children.

At the same time cybernetic soldier Cable (Josh Brolin) returns to 2018 from the future with one mission: kill Russell. That means Wade has one mission: stop Cable from killing Russell.  Wade forms his own superhero team made up of Domino (Zazie Beetz), Bedlam (Terry Crews), Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgard), Shatterstar (Lewis Tan), Vanisher (?), and Peter (Rob Delaney). Together the X-Force must stop Cable and rescue Russell from himself before he does something he can’t take back.

“Deadpool 2” is funny and irreverent like the original movie. The movie takes no prisoners and pulls no punches. Everyone is fair game to be ridiculed and mocked, with no exceptions. The fact that the movie makes fun of everyone means that no one can be offended by the harmless jokes that come on a constant basis. The jokes are thrown at you in such a frenzy that you will have to watch the movie more than once to catch all the jokes.

The sequel is like the original in many ways. It has the same brand of humor that made the first movie a hit. It has the same terrible language that is constantly peppered throughout the entire movie from beginning to end. The sequel has the same graphic violence as the original, except it’s turned up a notch this time.

While “Deadpool 2” is a lot like the original, it’s also different in many positive ways. It’s not quite as graphic or vulgar as the first movie. This movie is more of a superhero movie than the first. There are more mutants and supervillains with more superhero action. The fight scenes were very well done and rival anything in any other superhero movie other than “Avengers: Infinity War.”

Wade isn’t just bent on revenge like he was in the first movie. He might call family an f-word, but he is determined to save Russell no matter what it takes, and he needs his friends to help him. In short, Deadpool is more altruistic than before. He cares about something other than himself.

“Deadpool 2” is the rare sequel that is better than the original. It’s funnier, with better action, and the movie actually has a heart this time. FYI, make sure you hang around for the mid-credits scenes.

• • •

Grade: A-

Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references, and brief drug material.

Hood’s Winks – Through hikers

By Ralph Hood

Through hikers are those who are attempting to walk the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia, all the way to Maine. That’s over 2,000 miles. They are a tough and committed group.

Many of them stop in Erwin to enjoy the hospitality of Uncle Johnny’s campsite—famously well-known to all through hikers—and to shop in Erwin. If you get a chance to meet them, you’ll find them to be very interesting people.

One who passed through recently was my nephew Grant—son of my brother Jim and his wife Sue. He stayed with us for a couple of nights and taught us a lot about the trail and those who walk it. He is a gregarious sort and fun to be around. Besides, he listens to my stories!

Grant started in Georgia all alone, but—as is typical—is now walking with friends he met along the way. Each hiker quickly picks up a “trail name” such as Rattler, Gambler, Suzy Q (yes, girls do indeed walk on the AT and guys approve greatly), and many others. They make notes and keep mileage info along the way on smartphones. Ask them how far they’ve come and/or how far they have to go—and they’ll have the answer quicker than you can imagine.

Erwin, BTW, is over 300 miles from the starting point at Springer Mountain and therefore roughly 1,800 miles from the end in Maine. I’d be more specific, but if I did, some of you would write to correct me by a few miles.

Hikers tell me that they start slowly, but work up to as much as 20 miles per day as they get in shape. That varies a lot with terrain and rain, of course, and they do skip a day every now and then. I am very jealous of them.

Gail and I walk on the trail, but only in short stretches. We find we’ll meet more of them if we head south—they’re mostly going north—but they zip right by. If we walk north, they catch us and pass us and we get to ask them a few more questions.

On the other hand, it seems a bit embarrassing for them to see how slowly we’re moving when they catch and pass us. When we meet them head on, they can’t tell how slowly we move.

They tend to be friendly and fascinating people. If you aren’t chatting with them in coffee shops around town or offering them rides, you’re missing one of Erwin’s special treats.

One more thing: The beautiful paths in our area provide burbling mountain brooks, beautiful flowers, wonderful exercise, and experiences that border on religious.

It would be hard to walk these trails and not to believe in God.

Movie Night – ‘Lady Bird’ offers fine acting, humor

By Bradley Griffith

It should be no surprise that Oscar-nominated films frequently fail to live up to the hype surrounding their nominations. Yet every year I keep looking for the gem from awards season that is actually worthy of being nominated for best picture of the year. “Lady Bird” is neither a hidden gem nor a disappointment. It’s not great, nor is it terrible. But for the price of a home rental it may be worth seeing.

Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is an unusual 18-year-old high school senior that for some unknown reason wants to be called Lady Bird. She’s eccentric and artistic and lives on what she calls the wrong side of the tracks from many other students in her private Catholic school in Sacramento that she can attend only through a scholarship. She has only one real friend, Julie Steffans (Beanie Feldstein).

Lady Bird’s mother, Marion McPherson (Laurie Metcalf), is always hard on her. Whether she is fussing at her for using two towels after a shower, constantly telling her how she is ungrateful, or refusing to ever give her compliments, Lady Bird and her mom clash on many levels on virtually every day. Many times they even have difficulty speaking to each other.

Lady Bird and Julie seem to finally find their groove when they sign up for a play with the drama department. Lady Bird meets a boy and they are part of a new group of friends. Then, for some inexplicable reason, Lady Bird tries to become friends with the cool, rich kids. For a while she is accepted by her new “friends.” She even finds a new boyfriend.

Lady Bird wants to go to college on the east coast where the cities have culture, which, according to her, is totally lacking in Sacramento. She doesn’t know if she could get in or how she could pay for one of those expensive private universities. Her mom wants her to stay in California and attend UC Davis, so she doesn’t tell her mom when she applies to several schools on the east coast.

“Lady Bird” is an average story about an eccentric teenage girl who doesn’t seem to know exactly what she wants. The story itself is fairly mediocre with no great twists or unusual bits that make it any different from any other coming-of-age story we have seen before. It’s neither the beginning of the story for Lady Bird, nor is it the ending. And it would be nice if the movie explained why she wants to be called Lady Bird.

In many ways it’s a story about family. Lady Bird and her mom can’t seem to agree on anything, which seems fairly common when it comes to teenage girls and their parents. The interaction between mother and daughter may be taken to a bit of an extreme for the movie, but it does illustrate that even though your family loves you more than anyone else and is always on your side, sometimes it’s more difficult to have a real conversation with your family than anyone else.  Especially when you are a teenage girl.

There are two aspects of the movie that make it enjoyable. The first is the fine acting performances of Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf. If you didn’t know better you would believe that they were actually mother-daughter with the way they acted on the screen. They were imminently believable, which is what you really need in any acting performance.

The second part of the movie that is entertaining is its humor. The interactions between mother and daughter, and with Lady Bird at a school where she doesn’t feel like she fits in, are crazy and funny, mostly because they are honest and genuine. You can imagine these situations happening to a teenage girl every day in every part of the world, but you wouldn’t necessarily anticipate Lady Bird’s reactions.

The best parts of “Lady Bird” are those that surround mother and daughter and the whole family. The fact that I can sympathize with both mother and daughter is kind of scary, because it means I am getting old.

• • •

Grade: B

Rated R for language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity, and teen partying.

A Refreshing Knapp – 2018: A Year to remember

By Ray Knapp

Not halfway gone, but you know this will be a year to remember, thanks in no small part to President Donald J. Trump. The news media for, and against him, gave him an A+ rating for his tweets. All they have to do is keep-up as he writes tomorrow’s headlines, tweeting at a furious pace, and about multiple issues during all hours of the day and night. Additionally, he astonishes the world, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, getting North Korea to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, or not, (Kim Jung-Un has proven slippery as an eel.) Additionally Trump has threatened to slap tariffs and trade embargoes on our biggest trading partners.

Democrats call some of Trump’s moves crazy, while the Republicans reply: Yes, crazy like a fox. Sometimes I flip a coin to see which side I agree with. It is definitely hard to be in the middle, or even slightly left or right – as both sides are adamant that if you’re not 100 percent with them, then you are against them.

After my wife watches Hollywood Entertainment (or is it just E-News?) I watch a little local news, CNN and Fox. And there are many issues. Wars are raging in the Middle East and parts of Africa. Terrorism of one sort or another is wreaking havoc around the globe.

Painting a grim picture of a world gone mad, the news media details assassins driving trucks into crowds; mass shooting at schools; violent street gangs often shooting police, or one another. If there is a slow news day, the media turns to Mother Nature who is always coughing up violent storms, floods, earthquakes, and volcanoes.

Fortunately, I can turn off the TV; walk out on the porch; smell the new mown lawn; see the flowers blooming; survey the surrounding mountains, and thank the Lord for living in the Valley Beautiful, where – for the most part, life is good, free of worry and cares and you don’t have to drive for miles to have a good time.

For instance, I went up to Flag Pond on the 12th of the month to the Ruritan’s 33rd Ramp Festival. I noticed things are changing on the south end of the county with all kinds of construction going on for the new Rocky Fork State Park. One thing that hadn’t changed was the festival. Ramps still had that odor that takes a little getting used to – but still tasted great in the fried potatoes. The people were still laid-back and friendly; the friends I knew from when I lived there 10 years ago were older, but still hard at work keeping the festival running smoothly. The Unicoi High School Bluegrass Band was playing as I left to deliver a bunch of to-go dinners. After all my gabbing there wasn’t time to stay and listen.

On the 19th, I had to check out Unicoi’s Strawberry Festival. The festival was great, with excellent music; booths selling about anything you can think of; Scott’s famous strawberries for sale everywhere; generally topping some shortcake. A beauty pageant got things started – with girls dressed like princesses and all looking beautiful as Meghan Markel, whose wedding to Prince Harry was showing on TV as I departed home for the festival. I left before seeing who won, to watch my grandson, Dusty Baucom, in a children’s fishing contest at Rock Creek Park – I couldn’t miss that.

In between the two festivals I managed to squeeze in two church services on Mother’s Day; one at Grace United Methodist at 8:45 in the morning, then drove-up the road a piece and attended Unicoi Baptist’s 11 a.m. service. When you’re preaching from the same Book, it’s hard to tell who is a Baptist, or a Methodist. It didn’t matter; I was among friends, and for a change – listening to Good News.

A hundred years ago, in 1918, my father was a soldier returning home at the end of WWI. Unfortunately that wasn’t the war that ended all wars. Soldiers, from here, are in harm’s way today. Maybe you have relatives in one of nature’s destructive paths. Preachers are saying its end times. I don’t know, but I’m sure we will remember 2018.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Celebrate the Mrs. Bs in your life

By Lisa Whaley

With the focus on mothers this past Sunday, my mind has, of course, been filled with memories of my own sweet mama and all that she gave to her family. Fortunately, though she is far away from me, I was still able to visit with her via phone and let her know what she means to me.

I am so blessed to have her as my mother.

But this week, I have also been thinking about other women – other mothers – whose love has helped guide me through my life.

I have a mother-in-law whose grace, sweetness and Christian love were evident from the first moment my husband, Tim, brought me home to her, and those qualities have never waned. And I have an Aunt Judy, 95 years young and my mother’s sister, who loves all of us like we were her own.

And those are just two.

But for some reason, the ones who keep coming to mind this week are two lovely ladies from my childhood, Mrs. Burns and Mrs. Burton.

To my 9-year-old eyes, these saints of God seemed very, very old; attired in similar print cotton dresses, sensible shoes and gray hair pulled into a bun. Yet they never acted old, nor were they too aged to take on the antics of several small girls, eager to get together for snacks, conversation and a little godly pursuit.

The ladies called our afterschool group “Girls Missionaries.”

Each week, we would leave school and walk to Mrs. Burns’ little white house at the end of the lane – a house she shared with Mr. Burton, a retired farmer.

I never knew where Mrs. Burton lived; just somewhere “nearby.”

In the Burns’ comfy, cozy living room, we would gather to hand-stitch pieces of quilting together while one of the Mrs. B’s would share a Bible study.

These quilts would eventually adorn the beds of missionaries around the world, and the encouraging words these ladies shared during our sewing still circles inside of my head.

After our lesson, we would hurry into the tiny kitchen to sit at the lone table squeezed into one corner. There, I would taste my first Nutter Butter, a nostalgic favorite to this day, and dig into squares of rich chocolate cake topped with warm chocolate gravy.

Eventually, we girls grew older; chocolate cake; cookies and sewing were less alluring and our little group of missionary girls disbanded. We went onto what we thought were much more age-appropriate pursuits: ball games, young love and even top 40 hits.

And for a long time, the Mrs. B’s were simply sweet older ladies from my childhood – still ancient against the backdrop of my youth; somewhat dull and ordinary, but always kind.

As I have grown older, however, I have come to see these ladies for who they really were and recognize their unique boldness. In our tiny town of 300, these calico-clad ladies in sensible shoes helped four young girls look far beyond our neighborhood streets and understand we could make an impact.

Overall, Mrs. Burns and Mrs. Burton taught us all about faith, commitment and love, and they did it all in much the way a mother guides her young daughters.

This week, remember to hug the Mrs. Burns and Mrs. Burtons in your life. And if you have an opportunity to become a Mrs. B, seize it.

That small seed you plant could yield something amazing.

Movie Night – Hugh Jackman shines in ‘The Greatest Showman’

By Bradley Griffith

I’m not a musical kind of guy, not at all.  The only musical I recall ever enjoying is the latest film version of “Les Miserables” starring Hugh Jackson. Because “The Greatest Showman” also starred Hugh Jackman, I thought I would give it a whirl. I’m glad I did.

Phineas Taylor Barnum (Hugh Jackman), also known as P.T. Barnum, was the son of a tailor who worked for the Hallett family in the early 1800s. Even though a tailor worked for the higher classes, a tailor and his son were considered low class, which posed a problem for Barnum when he became infatuated with Charity Hallett (Michelle Williams). Still, Barnum never gave up and eventually married Charity, even though he never received the approval of her parents.

Barnum is determined to make something of himself to show the Halletts that he is worthy of their daughter. After losing his job as a shipping clerk he steals the deeds to several sunken ships and uses them as collateral for a loan from the bank. With that money he opens Barnum’s American Museum in Manhattan. He initially showcased various wax models of oddities until he realized that he needed living “freaks” to draw in crowds.

Barnum hires Lettie Lutz, a.k.a the bearded lady (Keala Settle), the diminutive Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey), and a pair of trapeze artists that includes Anne Wheeler (Zendaya). Barnum re-named the venture Barnum’s Circus and people began flocking to the shows en masse. The shows were soon sold out and Barnum became wealthy and famous. But he was still not accepted by the Hallets or other members of high society.

Barnum thinks he can remedy this situation by hiring famous Swedish singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) for a tour in America. Known as the Swedish Nightingale, Lind is certain to gain Barnum respect from the upper echelon of society.

I was worried about whether I would enjoy the parts of the story being told through song. It turns out that I was worried for no reason. The songs were catchy and, in some instances, they conveyed the emotions of the characters in ways that simple dialog or acting never could. The songs convey the ups and downs of Barnum and the others who orbit him like he was the sun.  The music allows you to become more invested in the movie as it progresses.

When actors turn to song to tell their story there is always a moment just before they begin singing where you may cringe a little. You naturally wonder if they can actually sing. Thankfully, all the actors in “The Greatest Showman” can sing. Of the supporting cast, Keala Settle stood out as a great singer. Loren Allred, singing the part of Jenny Lind for Rebecca Ferguson, also delivered a standout performance with the song “Never Enough.”

But, regardless of the quality of the supporting cast, “The Greatest Showman” would rise or fall based on the quality of the performance by Hugh Jackman. Thankfully, Jackman is one of the elite actors in Hollywood today. He was great in both the speaking and singing parts in the movie. Was Jackman as spectacular here as he was in “Les Miserables?” Maybe not, but it’s still a performance worth seeing.     

While “The Greatest Showman” is based on the life and times of P.T. Barnum, I don’t believe everything in the film is accurate when it comes to the true story of Barnum’s life. From what I have read he wasn’t exactly the sweetheart he is portrayed to be in “The Greatest Showman.” Still, this is a movie that focuses on mostly the positive aspects of his life and is all the better for doing so.

In a world where the box office is dominated by superhero movies and Star Wars sequels and spinoffs (and rightly so), “The Greatest Showman” is a welcome diversion. “The Greatest Showman” is now available for home rental.

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Grade: B+

Rated PG for thematic elements, including a brawl.