Hood’s Winks – There’s no business like show business

Ralph Hood suspends a woman in mid-air as part of his magic act. (Contributed photo)

By Ralph Hood

There was a time when I was—believe it or not—a magician, traveling the Eastern Seaboard from Pennsylvania to Florida with The Children’s Magic Circus.

I wore a tuxedo, made things disappear, and—as the emcee announced—floated “…a young lady in midair above the stage, passing a completely solid hoop over, under and around her entire body, thus proving beyond a shadow of a doubt the complete absence of any wires or other supportive devices. Watch closely, for you may never see the likes of this again!”

It was one heck of an act, even if I do say so myself (and I do)!

I must point out that before I was a magician I was a salesman. I didn’t do magic at all. So, how did I get hired as a magician? Well, therein lies a story…

Wife Gail was a schoolteacher, and she also sang beautifully. We and another young couple formed The Children’s Magic Circus. It was agreed that Gail would sing Mary Poppins songs (my sister claimed that Gail was the only one on the show with real talent) and I would learn to be a magician, and how to do a fire-eating act.

Jim, the male half of the other couple, had performed many acts on numerous circuses. He—our ace in the hole—spent a lot of time backstage changing clothes between his several acts.

I bought a lot of magic tricks and learned to perform them, but not very well at first. I practiced by doing free magic shows for small groups.

The fire-eating act? I learned it. It was easy to do and popular with audiences of all ages, but it was not enjoyable and left a vile taste of gasoline in my mouth.

There is an old showbiz statement that performers often “double in brass.” Originally, that meant they played in the band when not performing their own act. In our show everybody doubled in brass—not by playing in a band, but by doing other jobs.

I booked our dates, Jim ran the show, and we all pitched in unpacking and repacking the show equipment.

All in all, the show was fun. We took our toddler daughter with us and, every now and then, introduced her to the audience; they loved her impromptu appearances on the stage.

When Gail and I were expecting our second child, we cashed in our (few) chips and returned to a more normal life.

But it’s still fun to remember when we were superstars!

By the way—did I ever tell y’all about the time I was on the Oprah Winfrey show?

Please send comments to ralph@ralphhood.com.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Town continues to thrive despite challenges

By Lisa Whaley

This small town is thrivin’.

Don’t believe all the hype. Small towns are not dying — or at least not this small town, if the weekend’s Apple Festival is any indication.

Now in its 42nd year, the Apple Festival has become synonymous throughout our region as the place to go to enjoy everything hearth and home — from crafts and food to music and art and, of course, apples.

But walking through downtown Erwin Saturday, something else caught my eye.

It was the realization that I was witness to the celebration of a living, breathing community – small town America at its best with little to no signs of decay.

I know. I’ve read the articles and seen the empty store fronts. As a girl who grew up in a town of just 300, I’m very familiar with the challenges small towns face.

And Erwin has had more than its share. The pulling out of CSX Railroad in 2015 was enough for a knock-out. The decision to close Morrill Motors was another such blow.

Yet the Erwin I saw this past Saturday looked neither down nor out.

Women swapped stories on one corner. Family members reunited on another. A group of millennials, handsome and eyes alight with all the promise of the future, joked with each other on a third.

The crowds were filled with everything from giggling children skipping down the street to old men sharing their tall tales, and all ages in-between. It was an irresistible combination of wisdom and promise, heady joy and cool-headed common sense that seemed to promise a bright future for anyone willing to grab this small-town comet by the tail.

And it wasn’t just the audience that seemed to shine. Within the booths and behind the tables, visitors found a collection of hard-working dreamers, not necessarily from Unicoi County, but part of this community nonetheless.

These would-be authors and artists, bakers and woodworkers, jewelers and craftsmen were all working to create a future that could include something they loved to do. And they were happy to share those dreams with anyone who would stop, look and listen.

That, I believe, may be the secret to our success.

Small town America needs jobs. It needs young people willing to put down roots in rural communities. It needs roads, a solid infrastructure, good law enforcement and dedicated mayors. All of these things can be crucial.

But I think, more importantly, small town America needs to be proud of what we have, to celebrate its value and to look excitedly toward the promise of tomorrow.

While this past weekend may have been a festival —  and festivals do indeed bring people from all over —  what I saw Saturday was pure Erwin. The Valley Beautiful has an amazing future ahead of it, as long as we never stop believing in its power.

Erwin is in no danger. I believe that. And I can’t wait to see what we bring to tomorrow.

Conservation in Mind – ‘Green New Deal,’ efforts to save livable climate

By Frances Lamberts

Across the US and the world over, the young are rising in climate-change protests. They “grieve for a future they worry they’ll never have,” as the Associated Press reported, in conjunction with the recent climate summit at the United Nations.

That event also saw the release of yet another report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showing that “earth is in more hot water than ever before, and so are we,” unless carbon pollution in the atmosphere is reduced drastically, and quickly.

It is good to note, therefore, the ongoing actions and commitments, by many cities and other entities, to transition away from the heat-trapping energy sources in order to halt runaway climate change, and promising developments toward that goal in the Congress.

The Union of Concerned Scientists and other sources report that more than a hundred cities and countries across the U.S. have adopted 100 percent clean energy goals, most in staged transition by 2050. Some, like Atlanta, Chicago or Downingtown Borough (Pennsylvania) aim for this achievement by 2030 or 2035, some even earlier.

More than half the states have “Renewable Energy Standards” in place and more than 20 have binding goals – through efficiency and carbon-free energy – to reach or be close to “net zero” emissions by mid-century.

And the Congress has been called on by at least 125 cities and communities to address climate change since this urgent problem cannot be solved through local action alone.

An Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, endorsed by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, is among relevant bills now in the Congress, as is a resolution to “create a Green New Deal,” whose main proponents seem to be the young. These are demanding of policy makers that they listen to the science and preserve a habitable and prosperous future for the up-and-coming generations.

The Green New Deal, while also seeking improvements to social and economic problems affecting many Americans, is focused on the clean-energy transition, at speed and on the scale needed to lower the carbon emissions quickly and keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, as the Paris climate agreement aimed for.

While it is ambitious and unlikely to be passed in a single bill, the ongoing clean-energy efforts and commitments by so many state and local governments show the Green New Deal to be realistic with proper planning and political will, and affordable. One would hope it would receive support from our national legislators.

Office Norway’s Corner – Norway – a country rich in history

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

History has always interested me. I moved to Atlanta in 1996, and later my wife and I moved to Maryland, where we lived for a total of 10 years.

During those years we made several trips to various Civil War battlefields and museums. It was truly fascinating to explore the history of our young nation, the trials, and tribulations this country went through and to where we as a nation are today. Although on a much smaller scale, but with a longer historical perspective, is the history of my birth country, Norway.

Most people are familiar with the Vikings, and from the last decades of the 8th century, Norwegians started expanding across the seas to the British Isles and later to Iceland, Greenland and beyond. The Viking age also saw the unification of Norway, which up to that time had been divided up with several chieftains and kings who often would be fighting for land and influence among themselves.

In 995 Olaf Tryggvason became King Olaf I of Norway. Olaf had raided several European cities and fought in many wars, and got wounded in one of them. After he healed up, he decided to get baptized and returned to Norway, where he made it a priority to convert the country to Christianity using all means at his disposal. The new religion, however, was met with some stiff resistance from Norwegians who for centuries had worshipped Pagan gods.

In 1397 Norway entered into the Kalmar Union with Sweden and Denmark, but when Sweden decided to leave the union in 1523, Norway became the junior partner with Denmark.

In 1537 Norway and several other countries went through what is known as the Reformation. Many nations broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and the authority by the Pope (in particular) which brought forth the Protestant movement and the Lutheran Church.

1814 turned out to be a significant year in Norway’s history. Norway, which was under Danish rule at the time, was forced to cede Norway to Sweden since Denmark found itself on the losing side after the Napoleonic Wars as a result of the treaty of Kiel.

Norway, however, declared its own independence and adopted a constitution on May 17, 1814, which to this day is celebrated as the Independence day of Norway.

The union with Sweden was in many ways an uneasy one and the union came to an end in 1905. The newly independent Norwegian Parliament offered the Norwegian crown to Denmark’s Prince Carl. He later became King Haakon VII. He would be the first Norwegian King since Olaf IV Haakonson who died age 16 in 1387. A new, truly independent country was born. (Partial Souce, Wikipedia, History of Norway.)

Until next time, be safe, be happy, and be a student of history.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Hilltop cemetery brings together the living

By Connie Denney

A family cemetery atop a hill in Western North Carolina was the setting for a group alive with a purpose.

Months earlier I had learned of the hope for a stone to mark the grave of my paternal great-grandmother, whose name I could not have told you at that time. But her now 95-year-old granddaughter’s (my late father’s first cousin) determination to see a proper marker for her grandmother’s final resting place inspired others to help make that happen.

Her niece Sherry and I saw each other at a funeral home, all too frequent a place folks run into each other these days. She told me of her Aunt Mamie’s wish. I won’t try to name all involved, as there are a number of characters in this story, which is still unfolding. Sherry and I were in touch over the months, as she needed a death date for the stone, which she was seeing to getting engraved before taking it across the mountain. My inquiries on my branch of the family tree helped none in that regard. She did learn the date, however; and, the trip to Bee Log was on.

Those accompanying Aunt (her relationship to a number of those along) Mamie on a Tuesday in July numbered a dozen or more. I was so pleased to be among them, as somewhere along the line it struck me that this was MY great-grandmother we were talking about! These were MY people. A number of them I knew but had not seen for a long time. Some I did not remember having seen. Some I had never met.

Among the latter was Steve, recognized as “historian” by others in the group. He was the one with a shovel and materials needed to set the gravestone. The fact that it rained did not keep him from doing what he came to do. As a matter of fact, it did not seem to dampen spirits at all. Mission accomplished, we caravanned into Burnsville for lunch and to extend our visit. Connections among the living had much to do with appreciating a common heritage.

Since then Steve and I have shared information, including old photographs he sent from his Mom’s collection. One is of my Daddy and his twin brother. It’s a picture I had not seen and now can share with other family members on my branch of the family tree. A bit of research connects dots, which creates more questions, which leads to the need for more research.

Between that chance meeting with Sherry and the day Aunt Mamie, surrounded by family members, saw her wish fulfilled, I had two occasions to be at that cemetery. The first was to explore a bit, be sure of just where it was. It was not exactly where we thought it was, but at the end of an unpaved former logging road. That’s a story in itself.

Before the second trip, I had been back where I have cell phone reception and internet access.  I learned more than I even knew to ask. My great-great-great-great grandfather has a commemorative stone on top of that hill acknowledging his service in the American Revolutionary War. That, too, is quite another story.

A Refreshing Knapp – Hamburger row

By Ray Knapp

My wife, Frances, has recently lost about 30 pounds to my three. She is trying to eat healthy. Therefore, I was quite surprised when she asked if I would get burgers for dinner, a Big Mac for her, to be specific. Always being different, she also wanted onion rings, instead of fries.

They didn’t have any, so I just crossed the street to Pal’s, and guess what? They didn’t have onion rings either. Looking around for possibilities: Dunkin’ Donuts, Taco Bell, and Bojangles? No, I do not think so. Then I remembered Hardee’s up past Rock Creek Road. I left Hamburger Row and headed that way. Eureka! They did have some … only $2.73 including tax for a large order.

The trouble that woman puts me through just to get her a heart attack on a bun, (as Squidward Tentacles refers to the Krabby Patties made by the famous fry cook, in the cartoon named for him, SpongeBob Square Pants.) Actually, she has been a little under the weather, so I thought I should humor her a little, or I would have gotten burgers and fries and came home. All that trouble for six onion rings.   

Lately there has been a fight against obesity and fast food restaurants are at the top of the infamous list for causing it. A majority of restaurants are now required to post the amount of calories for most entrees. A Big Mac, for instance, has 530 calories, while a Big Mac and fries contains 900 calories and almost 50 grams of fat. Hardee’s onion rings (assuming they were the beer battered variety) contain 410 calories; unfortunately, 220 of them are from fat. Therefore, 530 calories for the Big Mac plus 410 for the onion rings equals 910 calories and enough fat for at least a day or two.

I will give the Golden Arches some credit; McDonald’s Big Mac must contain fewer calories than it used to, as when I finally got home, my wife decided to rewarm the meat. The size of the meat in a Big Mac has shrunk. It is roughly the size of a small Krystal Burger. I am not picking on any fast food restaurant as almost 40 percent of American’s eat at fast food restaurants on any given day. Therefore, until something better comes along, they are indispensable.

Burger King, which we don’t have in the county, has come out with a meatless burger recently. It is made of vegetables and brown rice. The carbs in the burger are healthy sources of complex carbohydrates that digest slowly and don’t cause a dramatic rise in blood sugar. Its bun, on the other hand, contains high fructose corn syrup, which can cause spikes in blood sugar. It is somewhat lower in calories (390) than most burgers its size. If it catches on, I would venture a guess that most burger chains will jump on the bandwagon with their version of a veggie burger.

However, some of BK’s burger varieties with meat are astonishing. A triple whopper with cheese contains 1220 calories. Add a soft drink and fries, and that is more calories, fat, salt and sugar than a normal person should consume in a day.

You won’t find me on Hamburger Row very often, as most of my meals are homemade and nutritious. My problem in eating stems from staying up later than my wife and sneaking into the kitchen for some kind of snack. That woman can hear me 30 feet away and through closed doors. She comes out of a deep sleep and shouts, “Stay out of that refrigerator.” Actually, I believe she has x-ray vision – always knowing what I’m doing. “You sound like a rat in there rattling around in those chips and cookies.”

I’m going to show her – her and her 30-pound weight loss. I’ll just join her eating celery sticks, raw carrots and other unsavory vegetables; going to bed with her so temptations shouldn’t be as hard to overcome.

Of course, I just wish there was an overnight burger joint in town where I could sneak quietly out of bed and head that way if hunger gets too much to bear.

Officer Norway’s Corner – September 11, 2001 – A reflection

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

Last Wednesday marked the 18th anniversary of the devastating attacks on the U.S. mainland on Sept. 11, 2001. Much has happened in our country since then. Today, unfortunately, our society, in many ways, has become increasingly polarized.

I am not sure if we ever will see a day again where we as a country truly could come together as we did in the days and weeks after 9-11.

9-11 was also for many a “Clarion Call” to sign up and join and serve in our armed forces. There have been several pivotal moments in our country’s history.

Moments where young men and women in a time of need have answered the call for a cause greater than themselves. I am not going to peel away the layers of politics that sometimes have been a source for many wars – wars that some can argue could have been avoided.

I will instead, in remembrance of that somber day, reflect on and honor those who indeed stepped up and took the oath.

A few years ago, when I was employed by Lockheed Martin, I had the honor of working with many veterans. I worked as a weapons handler and firearms instructors for Lockheed, and one of the guys, actually my supervisor, had deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Marines.

He was among the many who fought in the second battle of Fallujah, which turned out to be one of the bloodiest battles in the Iraqi war.

He would tell stories about brothers lost, the hell of house-to-house combat, even sharing a short film clip of him getting a haircut in the middle of a combat zone. It’s hard to be more Devil Dog than that.

We would also talk about the disconnect between many Americans and those who serve in a time of war. When you hear people gripe about trivial things, like their double cappuccino not being hot enough. Or that one of your favorite sports figures is out with a minor injury, that the avocados at the local grocery store are not organic.

It makes you stop and pause. Sadly, too many are blissfully removed from what thousands of our men and women in uniform are facing daily, serving in combat zones. Where the promise of a hot meal, not to mention a shower, is far from guaranteed.

Reflecting on this, one can argue that maybe it is a good thing that our way of life at home is quite normal. That people can enjoy their cappuccino, even complain that it could be a few degrees warmer.

The passing of time has a built-in “fade button” in our collective memories; hence me writing about that day of infamy.

Let us continue to remember and honor those who died on that horrible day. Let us pray for all those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and for the healing of those who came home, some with scars, seen and unseen.

Until next time, have fun, be safe, and be mindful that the promise of tomorrow is just that, a promise. Make the best out of every day.

Conservation in Mind – Nolichucky Gorge highlight of U.S. trip

By Frances Lamberts

When Sebastian and Nicole, visitors from Bonn, Germany came last year, the travel route and destinations reflected the love of America’s open space and parks and its landscapes of great natural beauty.

They included the Blue Ridge Parkway driving down from Washington, D.C., days of hiking in the Roan highlands and Great Smoky Mountain Park, Hunting Island, Cape Hatteras and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and several other coastal parks in the Carolinas. Of historic cities on the route, Savannah stood out for  them for its many green spaces and old trees.

But the adventure of whitewater rafting through the Nolichucky Gorge was by far, they said, the “highlight of the entire journey.”

In February 1965, President Lyndon Johnson had sent a special message to the Congress and later that year held a White House Conference on Natural Beauty.

“For centuries,” the message said, “Americans have drawn strength and inspiration from the beauty of our country. It would be a neglectful generation indeed … which failed to preserve and extend such a heritage for its descendants.”

In similar manner before him, utility but also their beauty had motivated Teddy Roosevelt to urge preservation of unique landscapes and forests and all “the lesser and mightier forms of wildlife.”  Even tiny songbirds, he wrote, “add by voice and action to the joy of living of most men and women.”

President Johnson, too, admitting that “beauty is not an easy thing to measure … in the gross national product,” it is nonetheless a road to satisfaction and pleasure and a good life. He held that it should be considered “one of the most important components of our true national income, not to be left out simply because statisticians cannot calculate its worth.”

His effort, therefore, was to reverse an ongoing “blighting” of the countryside through a national beautification movement and legislative action.

This came to include the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, established by Congress in 1968. Of the many sources of wonder and amazement which the settlers found here, Johnson said, none was greater “than the power and majesty of American rivers.”

In the 50th anniversary year of the law which now preserves “outstandingly remarkable” sections of about 200 of the nation’s (and one of Tennessee’s) rivers, wonder and amazement is what Nicole and Sebastian – on their honeymoon then – reported from rafting through the Nolichucky Gorge.

Adam’s Apples – Real customer service

By James Mack Adams

For this month’s contribution, I would like to write a few words about something many of us encounter in our daily lives. It is commonly called ‘customer service.’ As the name implies, it is a service with the goal of keeping customers and clients satisfied and happy. 

When we think of customer service today, we have grown to envision a sign over a counter in a store or a voice on the telephone promising to settle any issue we may have with a product or service. The telephone voice may often be half a world away and have a heavy accent.

Customer service means something more to those of us who are old enough to remember an earlier time. Yes, there was a time when customer service began the minute you walked through the door or drove up to the pump. Those were the days before self-service gas stations, self-checkout scanners, and online shopping.

I must say that most of my past dealings with customer service have been very satisfactory.  Others, not so much. Sometime ago, I visited a local chain department store in search of a particular item of clothing I needed at the time. I went to the appropriate department, but no store associate was to be found. I walked around the store searching in vain for help. Feeling some frustration, I asked a cashier for assistance. He had to call someone out from some unknown location in the bowels of the store to answer my question. Yes, I do sometimes miss the old days.

Once upon a time when you pulled into a gas station to fill up, you didn’t have to get out of the car. An attendant filled your tank, cleaned your windshield, and gauged your tires for proper pressure. If you requested, he/she looked under the hood to check the oil and coolant levels.

Once upon a time when you visited a department store, there were trained sales associates in every department who were ready and eager to help you find the item for which you were searching. Well-dressed men with tape measures draped around their necks were ready to measure you for that suit you needed for a special occasion. If some alterations were required, that service was usually free to the customer.   

One department store holds the first-place spot in my memory of businesses with great customer service. F & R Lazarus & Co. was a large department store in downtown Columbus, Ohio in an earlier era of retail sales.

It was not uncommon for customers to spend several hours shopping the store’s six floors and enjoying a lunch break in one of its four dining rooms. The customers were at times treated to a live-model fashion show while enjoying their meals. It was a shopping adventure.

The store had a checkroom for coats and hats during the winter months. If the shoppers became overloaded with packages, they could leave them in the checkroom until they were ready to leave the store. Home delivery of purchases was available if desired.

A large waiting room, with comfortable seating, was available on the fifth floor. The room was a designated meeting place if family members became separated. It was also a place where dad could sit while mom shopped until she dropped.

Other amenities included home decorating consultants and an in-house travel agency.

A highlight of the Christmas season for many Columbus area residents was a night trip downtown to view the store’s window displays. The store’s professional window dressers used both static and animated displays to awe the viewers and entice Christmas shoppers. 

In later years, the iconic F & R Lazarus went through some merges with other retail firms. Things went downhill from there, including customer service. 

It is a fact that advances in technology have made shopping much easier, faster, and more convenient. However, I do sometimes yearn for a simpler time when shopping had a more personal touch.

Talk of the Town – Firemen keep us safe

By Jamie Rice

House fires are not something that we want to think about. Besides changing the batteries in our smoke alarms and practicing a few safety drills with our kids, it probably never crosses our mind. We are so fortunate that for over the last 25 years, the Town of Erwin has kept eight full-time and nine part-time dedicated firemen whose sole job is to keep our citizens safe during some unimaginable circumstances. Our employees endure a minimum of 24 hours of training per month to ensure they are always sharp and have the most up to date information on everything from equipment to extinguishing techniques.

In an average month, our employees respond to two house fires, and 12-17 other miscellaneous calls. Expert training and up-to-date equipment help our responders to report to a location in less than five minutes. In these dire situations where every second counts, this quick response time reduces catastrophic damage to property and lives. Besides basic fire emergencies, our employees assist in traffic control, train with police for active shooter defense, respond to methamphetamine labs, industrial accidents, car crash entrapments and are trained with AED and basic life support techniques.

Diligent maintenance and tender loving care have kept a 1976 fire engine in service until late 2018, when it was then replaced by a 2002 model fire engine for $200,000. Normal cost for a new engine is around $500,000. The fire department has two fire engines, one ladder truck, one rescue truck and one pickup truck.

This equipment is inspected regularly and must pass certain criteria designated by the Insurance Service Organization (ISO). ISO is responsible for rating a community’s fire protection capabilities and therefore this rating, either good or bad will affect insurance premiums for residential and commercial property owners. On a scale 1-10, 1 being the best, the Town of Erwin has a rating of 4. Without the replacement of this fire engine, the Towns ISO rating would have increased, causing higher premiums.

Within the next five years, serious discussions will be held regarding the condition of our current fire station located on Elm Street. This building has faithfully served our employees for 40 years, however, like all structures, it is showing some age. The roof system has caused great concern as well as the lack of space to house some equipment. We are very fortunate to have the large public works garage on Watauga Avenue; however, this is not ideal in an emergency situation. Looking at current remodeling costs versus moving to a new location is a decision that will be heavily discussed and scrutinized.

The Town of Erwin will continue to strive to keep our citizens and property safe by responsibly funding the Erwin Fire Department. When you see one of these gentlemen out in uniform, give them a friendly smile and wave. This simple gesture of appreciation may be just the relief they need after a tough shift.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Sept. 11 issue dedicated to all first responders

By Lisa Whaley

I will never forget where I was on Sept. 11, 2001.

My children were small. Ginny had just started kindergarten that year. I had dropped 1-year-old Mary off at her grandmother’s so I could pick up a little extra work with some clerking duties at the Johnson City Press.

I was sitting in what was once referred to as the sports department to do my work. Most of the sportswriters had yet to come in and all was quiet.

On the wall above the desks was a television that ran all day so we could stay up to date on national news. I would type, and glance up, then type and glance up again. I don’t remember if I saw the moment of the first plane flying into the Twin Towers. I remember seeing the replay and sharing the nation’s belief that something had happened to the pilot or plane to cause this horrible accident.

Then I saw the second plane fly into the building.

In that split second, everything changed. In that second, not only were steel and glass shattered, but so too was the belief that United States soil was somehow immune to world conflict.

True, we had weathered Pearl Harbor, but that had been decades and oceans away from our mainland. We had fought in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam, but no one had ever dropped a bomb on New York or Washington, D.C.

As I drove back home later that afternoon, I wondered if war had finally come to America.

Yet as I look back, I can see that from that dark moment, and from those ashes, there arose such a tribute to freedom that, for years to come, we all stood a little taller as Americans.

In those moments, race, religion and political affiliation truly ceased to matter. We were joined together in something bigger than ourselves.

Nowhere was that sentiment more clearly illustrated than at the sites of those terrorist-implemented atrocities — the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon Building in Washington and that lone field in rural Pennsylvania.

At each location, brave men and women rose up — to provide comfort, save lives and avert disaster. They did it quickly. They did it selflessly. They did it for their brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends and even strangers.

They showed each of us who we want to be when we say “I am an American.” They showed us what we, as Americans, do best when we are in real danger. We unite.

Today, The Erwin Record has the privilege of publishing on the anniversary of 9-11 and in doing so would like to dedicate this to all first responders who, like those brave souls on 9-11, continue protect the lives of those around them.

And we thank them for reminding us, again and again, what it means to be a true American — different yes, but united always.

May we never, ever forget the sacrifices that continue to teach us this lesson.

Hood’s Winks – Trestle, train and young boys

By Ralph Hood

I recently was reminded of the 1950s and the Altamaha River where we Boy Scouts camped, hunted, fished, and disobeyed our scoutmasters by crossing the river on the nearby railroad trestle. My mind leaped back almost 70 years to the dark night I was certain that my death on that trestle was imminent.

Crossing the trestle at night was a rite of passage. We took the new boys across the trestle and enjoyed evil pleasure in scaring them horribly.

We discussed what we would do if a train came while we were in midtrestle. We knew it was too high to jump from trestle to river. We all had theories, the most prevalent being that there was room to lie on the side of the track, outside the rails, without being hurt. We had all tried it—when there was no train coming—and believed that it would work. We knew it would take courage to lie there without moving, but we also knew that we, of course, had that courage.

Walking the trestle at night had its problems. If you used a flashlight it was easy to get confused between the tops of cross ties and the gaps between. It was almost like being hypnotized.

In the depths of this misconception, you actually had to feel with your feet to be sure which was which. (It was widely believed by those who had not tried it, that this optical illusion could be avoided by walking in the dark without the flashlight, but we didn’t believe a word of it.)

On the night of my near death, we had walked all the way across the trestle and were midpoint in our return. I felt helplessly for each step. At that point someone shouted, “Look!”

I looked.

There was a train in front of us, not yet on the trestle but headed our way! You could see the headlight coming round the bend.

Sadly, I must admit that the emergency plan never entered my mind. I never considered it. I—who had heretofore been unable to walk at more than a slow creep because of my optical confusion—then ran full tilt across those ties trying desperately to reach the end of the trestle before the train did. In absolute full panic I dashed toward that train at full gallop, oblivious of gaps between ties and of darkness itself.

I made it. I dove from the end of the trestle into gravel and dirt, rolled a few times, then arose scratched and bruised but alive by the very skin of my teeth.

Immediately I realized something was amiss. Where was the train, the screaming whistle, the roar of the locomotive?

There was nothing. It wasn’t a train after all, but only a one-eyed car on the road beside the train track.

I was much abashed.

Officer Norway’s Corner – Fall calendar beginning to fill up

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

We are four weeks into our school year. Last week our school’s safety awareness week was held. We had some excellent training, both our fairly regular fire, evacuation drills, and shelter-in-place drills, but also active intruder and shooter drills.

These yearly drills are made to make both the students, the faculty, and maybe most importantly, the first responders a little better in what we do. They also help highlight issues and procedures where we can do better.

Earlier this year I was invited to give a speech to the yearly Tennessee Lifesavers Conference that’s getting started today at a convention center in Murfreesboro. My lecture will highlight our efforts at our high school in utilizing and implementing the Reduce Tennessee Crashes program. These programs have allowed me using various activities made available through their traffic safety portal online to promote and inform on a range of teen driver safety issues.

We also recently held our first SADD club meeting of the school year. We have a great group of students who are willing and able to be positive peer role models in our school and community. We also signed up a few new freshmen for the club, which is great since we need new and excited members to fill in for the seniors when they graduate. We have several important events lined up this fall school season. Starting on Sept. 10, which is World Suicide Prevention Day, and in October, we will kick off the national Teen Driver Safety Week.

Another exciting project we have in the pipeline for this fall is a SADD club sponsored giveaway. Close to 20 indoor felt slippers were donated to the club by a business owner from Norway. These thick warm slippers were hand made by craftsmen in Mongolia using merino wool and genuine leather. They are made based on Norwegian design and Scandinavian wool traditions. Our goal is to give these away with warm socks and other fall and winter necessities to a few of our elderly, especially those living by themselves.

Until next time, be safe, have fun, and if you know of someone in need, try to help.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Thank you – to the teachers who make a difference

By Lisa Whaley

There is a feeling in the air: that crisp, fragrant reminder that fall is right around the corner. School buses have hit the road again and, if you listen carefully, you can now hear the happy chatter of children early each morning as they prepare for another day at school.

It always makes me a little nostalgic each year, and a little regretful, that fall school days have long passed me by.

Though I was happy each summer, I loved school as a child and was more than delighted in September when it was time to buy pencils, notebooks, crayons and lunch boxes and set back about the task of learning.

I relished the discovery of new ideas, the exploration of new worlds and then, the chance to read, read and read some more

But this year, rather than the classes, the subjects or even the books I loved, I have been thinking a lot about my teachers.

I remember Mrs. Welch, a teacher with a sweet smile and a special way of making a little third grade student feel warm and welcomed.

I remember Mrs. Barnes, a strict and intimidating instructor who was in charge of a classroom of rambunctious fourth graders

For years, I thought I didn’t like Mrs. Barnes. She had short dark hair, cat-eye glasses and a stern, no-nonsense look. She gave me my first low-grade – “NS” for needs improvement in penmanship. Sadly, I still fall short in that skill.

But she was also the teacher that would patiently read to us such classics as “The Wind in the Willows,” “The Secret Garden” and “Charlotte’s Web.”

Now, rather than recalling her with dislike, Mrs. Barnes makes me smile – and I lay at her feet my ongoing love of everything from F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jane Austen to Frances Hodgson Burnett and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

There was also gentle, kind Mr. Peterson.

Mr. Peterson taught science and math. He was an older teacher, one of those that was sometimes mocked by the “cooler” kids. But as Mr. Peterson was teaching me algebra, chemistry and trigonometry, he was also teaching me to believe in myself.

“She’s Stanford material,” he would tell my mom.

I truly believe I have Mr. Peterson to thank for some of the confidence I needed to leave my small, small town and succeed somewhere beyond its quiet streets.

And then there was Mrs. Towery. Mrs. Towery was my English teacher, as well as my German teacher. She was smart, funny and uniquely herself. She introduced me to the art of choosing the best words to paint the most vibrant picture. Like Mr. Peterson, she helped me to feel smart and self-assured. She gifted me with so many skills I needed to succeed.

Teaching is not an easy job. It takes lots of hard work. It takes time. And it can take money, if you want to do it well.

Still, the best teachers, I have found, give even more than that. They give of themselves.

Often under-appreciated. Occasionally mocked and ridiculed. They just keep giving because they believe they can make a difference in their students’ lives.

And they do.

This fall, while I am busy reminiscing, I want to pause and say thank you – to all the Mrs. Towerys, Mr. Petersons and Mrs. Barnes out there.

It may at times seem like a thankless profession. But you are making a difference. You are changing lives.

And I promise you, your students will remember you well.

A Refreshing Knapp – Newfoundland revisited

By Ray Knapp

Wheeling overhead, seagulls shrieked angrily, trying to rouse the sleeping Puffins to fetch their breakfast. The cold, restless waves of the north Atlantic beat against the base of the stark, craggy bluffs of Gull Island, just off the coast of Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland.

The small island is separated from the Cape by a narrow, precipitous channel. These bluffs make safe roosting and nesting places for up to an estimated 260 thousand pairs of Atlantic puffins during summer. My son, Mark, and daughter, Kim, outfitted in coats to ward off the cold, were snapping pictures and shooting scenes early this month.

The tour guide lustily sang the Newfoundland “Bow Wow” song in an effort to keep the 50 or so tourist interested in the scenery as he interspersed the song with bits of history about the cape where John Cabot first discovered Newfoundland in 1497. This kept most of the tourist from noticing the few at the rail who were having trouble keeping breakfast down as the tour boat jostled through the rough water.

For amateur photographers I thought they did a good job. The still pictures and film showed thousands of puffins. Not kin, just standing 10 inches high, but looking remarkably like miniature penguins; they don’t waddle to the sea and hop in. Instead, they fly from their perch. Spotting a school of herring or capelin, they dive head first at an amazing speed and return to their brood with a mouth full of tiny fish. Some fall from their beak and the ever-present gulls pounce, squabbling to be first to the dropped fish.

In 1959, I received orders out of Ice Observer School in D.C., to report to the Navy Base in Argentia, Newfoundland. Prior to leaving the states, all sailors received a briefing on what to expect at their overseas duty station. One of the things we laughed at – sailors married more Newfoundland girls, than girls from any other overseas station. Guess what? I not only married, but two of my children were born there. In 1963, I was transferred early to NAS Memphis, Tennessee, or my third child, Kim, would also have been born there. Back in the states, someone informed us about birth control and it was five years before our fourth child arrived.

Determined to be the best navy weather forecaster possible, I asked, and received orders out of Memphis to the Navy’s forecasting school in 1965. From that school in Lakehurst, New Jersey, I received orders straight to a ship out of Norfolk.

I hadn’t been on that ship a year until I was transferred to yet another ship, the USS America, CVA 66. It was due for deployment the day before my youngest daughter, Cindy, was born. Luckily, I wrangled emergency leave to care for my wife, who was having a caesarean delivery, and of course to care of my other three children.

When leave was up, I flew into Naples and caught up with the Carrier. Nine months seems like an eternity sailing around the Mediterranean. This cruise was even longer, thanks to the six-day war between Israel and the United Arab Republic (Egypt.) It turned into an 11-month cruise.

My baby daughter was just short of a year old when we pulled back into Norfolk. I was expecting some cushy stateside duty when I got a call from the personnel office. A personnel chief tossed me my new orders. I was a little crestfallen when I read, Report to Naval Weather Center, Argentia, Newfoundland, for duty.

Those orders are why Mark and Kim were there this summer. By the time we left Argentia for my duty station in Atlanta, they were old enough to visit cousins, aunts, and uncles in Grand Bank and Grand Beach.

However, 50 years just melted away, so Mark said, and they were welcomed back as if they had never left the island.

Pictures of the once busy and important navy base showed a deserted aircraft runway, buildings falling in, excepting the control tower where I worked, and once showed Bob Hope the Latrine’s location.

“Thanks kids, for the memories.”

Officer Norway’s Corner – Recalling fall memories of Norway

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

It might be a tad early to talk about fall, especially with 90-plus degree weather outside. But in the area where I grew up in Northern Norway, the signs for early fall are underway. Summers that far north can sometimes be a “hit and miss” kind of deal.

Most of Northern Europe experienced a pretty decent heatwave earlier this summer. But all that warm weather did not reach much above the Arctic Circle. That far north, the temperature was hovering in the 50s to the high 60s with just a handful of days touching on the 90s.

Fall used to be a special time growing up. Fall was harvest time, and we used as a family to go out picking blueberries, lingonberries, and cloudberries. To pick the latter one, we usually had to walk for an hour or two out into the marshlands where these berries would grow. Cloudberries are very juicy, and they taste a bit like a cross between a raspberry and red currant. We would typically use them for various dessert dishes and in cake fillings, and some would make jam out of them and have them on toast.

On the coast of Northern Norway, because of the harsh winters (in particular), there are no forests to speak of, mostly smaller bushes and just up from the shoreline, moss, and grass covers the landscape. One would think that those vibrant fall colors we usually experience in our area would be absent that far north. The moss has vibrant fall colors, like yellow, red, green and burgundy, turning much of the landscape into a tapestry of colors.

Fall was also the slaughter season. We would often buy fresh reindeer meat directly from the Lapplanders up in the mountains. Sometimes they would close the deal offering some fresh reindeer blood to drink, and talking about blood. I remember my mother used to purchase pigs blood. The blood would be used to make blood pudding and blood pancakes. It might sound a little gross, but they are actually pretty good, especially the pancakes, which my mom used to make with raisins, bacon bits and drizzle a little honey on top.

Like I mentioned in a previous column, fall is my favorite time of the year. Football season is kicking into gear. Soon we truly can enjoy sitting outside into the evening around a bonfire, taking in that crisp cooler fall air, sipping on a pumpkin-flavored fall drink, maybe roasting some marshmallows, with family and friends.

Until next time, have fun, be safe, and make your very own plans for the fall.

Adam’s Apples – An honest man

By James Mack Adams

I am thankful my public school years provided me with what some have called a classical education. Part of that education included Greek and Roman literature and mythology. I have also benefited from the study of Latin. All of these have been assets in any writing I have done since.

During those public school years, I was introduced to the Greek philosopher, Diogenes. Living in the fifth century BC, he was a practitioner of what was called cynic philosophy. Diogenes was known to indulge in some strange behavior in promoting his beliefs. One of his most well-known acts was carrying a lighted lantern, even during the day, and holding it up to the faces of random strangers. He said he was looking for an honest man. I don’t remember if he ever found one. Being a cynic, he probably was not expecting to find one. 

This leads into the theme of this column. If I were asked to name the most honest person I have ever known, it would have to be my grandfather. It is too bad Diogenes could not have run across Joseph Preston (J.P.) Adams. He could have then extinguished his lantern and stopped looking.

My grandfather considered service to Wise County and the Commonwealth of Virginia to be a calling. Other than for a short time as a mine superintendent, J.P. was employed in some local or state government position.

My earliest knowledge of my grandfather, or ‘Big Daddy’ as we grandchildren called him, was the 1930s. During that decade, J.P. served as sheriff of Wise County, Virginia. He was at times referred to as the ‘High Sheriff.’ That was a title, common in early England, that made it into the vocabulary of our Appalachian region during the early settler migrations from Britain.

It seemed to me, as a youngster, that Sheriff Adams and his deputies spent much of their time locating and destroying moonshine stills. Moonshining was a big industry in those parts during that era. Prohibition ended in 1933. However, it was still illegal to make and sell unlicensed and untaxed alcoholic beverages. 

I always knew when my grandfather was getting ready to go into the hills to search for and destroy a still. He would sit in a chair while buckling his leather leggings. I have a photo of him and his deputies standing beside a still. He is wearing the leggings. I have another photo of J.P. and his deputies dressed in suits and hats and posed beside an old car. That photo reminds me of Eliot Ness and his men.

Later in his government service, my grandfather became an inspector for the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Part of my grandfather’s job was investigating and approving the issuance and renewal of licenses for businesses to sell beer and wine. He became famous for his very tough and thorough inspections.

J.P. was given a state-owned car to travel his extensive Southwest Virginia territory. No one drove or rode in that car but my grandfather. The state car never, and I mean never, left the driveway except on state business.

My grandfather worked out of his home on the west side of Norton. I remember the large roll-top desk with all the cubbyholes and the squeaky wood desk chair. Sundays were the days grandfather worked on the reports that he either sent or took to Richmond. When my cousins and I were at his house on Sundays, we knew to be quiet because Big Daddy was working in his home office.

Joseph Preston Adams was an avid Democrat. Hanging above the fireplace in his living room was a large framed portrait of President Woodrow Wilson. When election time came, grandfather made sure all of his children and voting-age grandchildren were properly registered to vote.

In appearance, Joseph Preston Adams had a striking physical resemblance to President Harry S. Truman. President Truman had a sign on his White House desk that read, ‘The Buck Stops Here.’ The same sign would have been appropriate sitting on my grandfather’s large roll-top desk in Norton, Virginia.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Saying good-bye to the Capitol

By Lisa Whaley

I had a plan.

As soon as I found a free evening, I was going to head to the Capitol Theater on Main Street, purchase popcorn and settle in for the perfect old-time movie theater experience.

Then I was going to write a column about it and share it with you, our readers.

But alas, it was not to be. Before I had a chance to buy that ticket, owners announced the theater had closed for repairs. I was going to have to wait.

I counted the days, the weeks and then the months.

Then, last week, owners had another announcement. The Capitol Theater, currently known as Capitol Cinema I and II, would not be reopening at all.

“The roof support was compromised in December 2018 during the heavy snowfall we had,” explained owner Jan Bradley, granddaughter of original owner Earle Hendren.

The cost to repair was too prohibitive, so the hard decision was made to make the temporary closure permanent.

I could have cried. Of course, my loss was one of “what could have been,” but it was a loss just the same.

Erwin was unique in that, unlike so many other small towns in America, it had until recently been able to retain its downtown movie theater and all the nostalgia that such a theater evoked.

Opened in 1940, the site became the gathering place for Friday night dates and Saturday afternoon matinees. Throughout the years, it also became a symbol of one part of the good old days we actually got to carry with us into the present.

I’m sure we could fill each and every page of The Erwin Record for weeks to come with all the stories out there about first dates, spilled sodas and popcorn, magical movie experiences and occasional mischief-making.

For me, I think part of the appeal of the Capitol was that it brought to mind the stories my dad shared about growing up in Walla Walla, Washington, a town not unlike Erwin in the 1920s and ‘30s.

Afternoons, he said, when not riding around town on his bicycle, were either spent at the Capitol Theater or the Liberty Theater downtown.

At the Liberty, you might find “Gone with the Wind” or “Citizen Kane,” he told me.

The Capitol Theater, on the other hand, was famous for its westerns like “Way Out West,” or “The Big Stampede.”

My dad preferred the Capitol. He couldn’t have imagined his childhood without it.

Erwin’s Capitol Theater’s contributions to both young and old have been every bit as rich. It was a business, true, but it was also the gift the Hendren family and its descendants brought to the town.

The Capitol Theater in Walla Walla was torn down long ago. The Liberty Theater has been renovated and now houses a Macy’s.

It is my hope that someone, somewhere sees the value in this old downtown theater, takes up its cause and continues its legacy.

I have yet to give up on my dream of an old-time movie theater experience in downtown Erwin.

Hood’s Winks – I have seen the other side!

By Ralph Hood

I have been to the mountaintop and seen the other side!

I have been an aviation writer since 1986. As such, I was well aware that there is a shortage of pilots and aviation mechanics. I figured I was an expert on the subject.

Then I went to a meeting last week and found out the shortage of aviation professionals is far more amazing than I thought.

A little history…

When I first met Richard Blevins, he was head of training at the Bell Helicopter plant in Piney Flats. He is now head of the aviation department at Northeast State Community College. He is a fine man.

Blevins held a meeting last week on the demand for aviation professionals.

Y’all, I had no idea!

Blevins showed us facts and figures about the opportunities for careers in aviation. He spoke in terms of thousands of jobs available—even hundreds of thousands.

Blevins also pointed out that the southern United States are leaders in aviation employers. Our young people won’t have to move far to get a job—a good job—in aviation.

On the other hand, Blevins explained that China is trying to lure pilots from all over the world by offering them over $300,000 per year. Yes, I really did say hundreds of thousands of dollars per year—plus benefits! They are also luring aviation technicians/mechanics for big bucks.

Blevins gave us the figures and the source of the figures. The numbers are flat-out amazing. The shortage may not last forever, but it will last for decades.

If you know a young person hunting a good career, tell him/her about aviation.

Now, just for the fun of it, let me tell you a little story about Richard Blevins…

When Blevins was in charge of training at Bell Helicopter, he showed me a brand-new helicopter. The price of that beautiful helicopter was, of course, way, way out of my range. I told Blevins that if I ever won the megabucks lottery, I’d love to buy one of those helicopters.

Mr. Blevins responded, “If I ever win that lottery, I want to use it to help young people get a good education.”

I wish we had more people like Richard Blevins.

Please send comments to ralph@ralphhood.com.

Officer Norway’s Corner – Getting ready for a new school year

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

It’s hard to believe that we are just a few short days away from starting yet another school year. When the last day of school arrives, it seems like there’s “an ocean of time” until school is back in session, but at least for me, it’s more like a “flash in the pan,” and the summer is slowly coming to an end.

My summers are a combination of work, training, and a little vacation. One of my highlights of the summer was meeting the former principal of Columbine High School, “Mr. De” himself, Frank DeAngelis during the SRO conference in Pigeon Forge. He had a compelling and moving presentation about that tragic day 20 years ago and his road forward from there.

Our SADD club also had a great year. The big highlight for our club was to win a national video contest about the dangers of driving distracted. Also, last school year our high school, for the second year in a row, was awarded the gold award from the Tennessee Highway Safety’s Office. This previous school year, we also were on top of their leaderboard of all the 208 registered high schools in Tennessee.

But that was all last year. This year we once again start with a blank slate ready to focus on teen driver safety, a renewed focus on all the SADD USA activities – ranging from traffic safety, substance abuse, teen mental health and more. We will also have a renewed focus on a reasonably new trend among teens, vaping. According to the Federal Drug Administration, the number of U.S. high school students who reported being current e-cigarette users increased by 78 percent between 2017 and 2018 to 3.05 million, or 20.8 percent. Vaping is a growing problem, and with the help of our SADD club and Christy Smith with the Unicoi Prevention Coalition, we will focus much more on this in the years to come.

I am genuinely looking forward to all these challenges and being able to work with our students, administrators, faculty, and staff. Parents, caregivers, and fellow law enforcement professionals are an essential part of this team effort to make our high school a safe place for all to be. Our first game for our beloved Blue Devils football team is Aug. 23, and with that also is the kickoff for the fall season. I hope both will be great and last a long time.

Until next time, be safe, have fun, and go Blue Devils!