June 28, 2017

Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton sing it ‘just right’

     Christy Carter nailed it.  The chamber of commerce executive director predicted a sell-out crowd for the annual Legacy event.  The moment that I stepped inside Pine Forest Country Club’s banquet hall, you could feel the electricity, enough to make the walls seem to pulsate. 
     These days, the volunteer holding the gavel is called chairman.  In 1980, when I took my turn, the title was president.  Last Thursday night, outgoing chair Joy Burch-Meeks hosted a reception for former leaders of the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce.
     As I moved around the room exchanging hugs and handshakes, it was as if someone had dropped coins into a mental jukebox.  Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s duet kept playing over and over in my mind.  The song begins:
                  “What will I do when you are gone?
                    Who’s gonna tell me the truth?
                   Who’s gonna finish the stories I start,
                   The way you always do?”
     The country-singing legends nailed it, too: “You can’t make old friends.” 
     There was Billie Clanton.  The silver in our hair won’t let us hide our ages, but who cares?  We’ve been paying our civic dues for a combined 100-plus years.  He remembered the 1968 Dodge Coronet 440 Pope Henry sold me at Clanton Motors.  I told him that I drove that sporty car on my honeymoon the next year.  And I recalled stopping by his mother’s First Street store.  With moist eyes, Mrs. Alene Kendrick said, “I can’t believe it.  My boy is 30 years old today.” That was a “few” years ago, wasn’t it, Billie?
     One of my favorite Billie stories is about the farmer who bought a new truck every year.  While Billie and his wife, Nell, were filling out the paperwork, the farmer went outside to perform his annual new-truck ritual.  Swinging a metal pipe, he bashed the pickup.  Walking back inside, the farmer always said, “Now, I don’t have to worry about when I’ll get that first bent fender.”  You can’t make up stories like that.
     Two of my favorite storytellers are also past presidents of the chamber of commerce: Dr. Larry Bennett and Jim Bland.  Sitting between them at a corner table, I laughed all the way through their back-and-forth banter.  Doc will be 90 next month, and Jim’s 88.  Both are still in tune with what’s going on in our hometown.
     Jim, retired Rayonier vice president, told of his one-day commutes to corporate meetings in Stamford, Connecticut.  When CEO Ron Gross asked Jim why he didn’t just spend the night, Jim said, “I’d rather sleep in my bed at home than in the finest hotel in New York City.” I agree.  Jim and I go back to my diaper days.  In an old apartment house on South East Broad, he was a next-door neighbor to my parents.  Once, they were short a babysitter, so Jim volunteered.  We’ve known each other that long.
     And if ever there was a one-man chamber of commerce, Doc would be the lead pony in that parade.  As a boy, I got to know him, sitting in his dentist chair.  The building has been replaced with Rick Peel’s financial office, but my first memories of Dr. Lawrence Bennett Jr. are rooted on Cherry Street.
     How many Wayne County children learned to swim in Larry and Jann Bennett’s backyard?  Ours did.  And how many swimmers perfected their water strokes there? Too many to count, but one—Olympic Gold Medalist David Larson—spent countless hours in that South Palm Street pool.
     My favorite Doc saying is: “What keeps a small town small is small people thinking small.”
     Kenny and Dolly sing it just right: “You can’t make old friends.”


June 21, 2017

‘Crazy’ times call for more mental-health focus

     “I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane
      Nobody knows if it’s something to bless or to blame
      So far I ain’t found a rhyme or a reason to change
      I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane.”
                                                                         --Waylon Jennings
     There’s a country song for just about everything.  Mental illness is not a laughing matter, but the country-music legend sang those lyrics with a smile.
      Reflecting on yet another senseless shooting, I flash back to a 12th-grade psychology class in 1966.  Our teacher wasn’t trying to be funny, but Mrs. Nancy Larson said, “The trouble with crazy people is that they always think it’s everyone else who is crazy.”
     A few days before the Alexandria shooting, I watched a movie: The Killing of Reagan.  Even before he tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, John Hinckley Jr. showed signs of serious mental illness.  The president quipped from his hospital bed, “I forgot to duck.”  Humor is good medicine, but it won’t resolve a mental-health crisis which allows insane shooters to slip through the cracks.  Take Adam Lanza, for example.  Mental-illness warning bells were clanging, but he still staged that horrific bloodbath at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
     And now comes James Hodgkinson.  Fortunately, he was the only one to die at that Alexandria ballpark.  I read this from someone who knew the gunman: “Do I think he’s capable (of shooting)?  Definitely.  It sounds really awful, but I’m not surprised.  Every interaction I’ve had I’ve thought ‘that guy’s crazy.’”
     John Hinckley, Adam Lanza and James Hodgkinson—besides being shooters—had something else in common.  They fit Mrs. Larson’s profile: “The trouble with crazy people is that they always think it’s everyone else who is crazy.”
     I’ll tell you who else is crazy.  We are, if we don’t put more emphasis on mental-health assessment and treatment.