And Here We Are Almost Three Years Later.

Pinecone Land. My daughter Peyton named this very special place when she was only 4 years old. It’s still my favorite spot to go and be quiet, still, and listen to life.

Nelson County, Virginia

Back in April of 2020 I wrote a post here right here called, Keep The Fire Burning : Why A Hug, A Handshake & Friends Matter Now More Than Ever

My opening paragraph in that post was this.

“Most every creature in nature desires, even craves, companionship. Humans are no different. Yes, we can be introverts or extroverts, but eventually we all enjoy the company of a mate, or close friends gathered around a bonfire. For centuries a handshake has been a welcome to someone new. Or sealing a deal after a long negotiation. Or a way to say let’s forgive and move on. That’s being taken away from you now in front of your very eyes. Why? Because we are allowing it to happen.”

So here we are almost three years later. Has much changed? Sort of. I see less masks, “Hallelujah.” People are hugging again, mostly. Fist bumps have almost died (double hallelujah!) but there’s still a big undercurrent that hasn’t gone away. Us vs them. Are you jabbed? Are you not jabbed? Where’s your mask? I still see those things out there.

I’ve lost several friends over the past three years. Some of their choosing, some because I saw they really weren’t friends and I cut them off. If a condition of friendship was no hugs, wear a mask, be jabbed, and on and on, I don’t need you as a friend. It’s conditional. Nope. I have friends today that are both. Jabbed and not. We remain friends. Am I concerned about folks that have taken a highly experimental untested substance? One that even its inventor, Dr. Robert Malone, M.D. from right here in Virginia, has sounded the alarms over. Yes I am. But the friends I have kept are true friends.

Those friends didn’t burn others at the stake when they refused to take the jab. I saw one friend of mine exposed to what could be described as a Salem Witch Trial when she and her family decided not to take the jab. When they got sick with whatever (the PCR test said positive – “Remember those high false positivity rates we now know aren’t our imaginations?”) I sat and watched, with disgust, how she and her family were skewered by her supposed friends and colleagues about how irresponsible they were and they were “killing grandma.” It was the worst of humanity I’ve seen in a long time.

Do you think you’ve gained anything by isolating yourself, not hugging, following those dumb green arrows in grocery stores and more? How about those silly videos thousands were making showing us how effective masks were by spraying hair spray through them? That didn’t bake well.

Almost 36 months later I am encouraged, and discouraged. People seem to be willing to let someone else boss them around, tell them how to live life and what’s best for them. Our founders are rolling in their graves right now at what’s happening. Society has become weak, fat, and sick. It was no accident. The way out won’t be any accident either. It will be deliberate, intentional, and decisive.

I’ll continue hugging, shaking hands, and moving forward. Hopefully those that are still locked into the mentality of three years ago will free themselves soon and enjoy the sunshine, experience life, and never, ever again lock themselves away and refuse to see their dying parent or grandmother or whatever.

Be brave. Be a human.

Pinecone Land. My daughter Peyton named this very special place when she was only 4 years old. It’s still my favorite spot to go and be quiet, still and listen to life.

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How I Became Friends With The Late Earl Hamner, Jr – Creator Of The Waltons

The late Earl Hamner, Jr with me and Yvette at our home back in Greenfield, Virginia in North Nelson County. He and his late sister Audrey had stopped by for a visit on this day back in the summer of 2006.

Nelson County, Virginia

Back in 2005 when we started a printed magazine here in the Blue Ridge of Virginia, Earl Hamner was in his early 80s and very much alive. A local director, Peter Coy, was in the process of establishing a theater here in his home county. It would be called the Earl Hamner Theater.

Peter Coy, Director/Founder of The Hamner Theater back in July 2005. He’s standing in what would become a theater in honor of Earl Hamner, Jr.

The inaugural cast and crew of The Homecoming on stage at The Hamner Theater. It was one of the first productions put on after the its completion in 2005-2006. Several other productions of the pilot that inspired The Waltons was put on there in the coming years.

 

Earl meeting our son Adam for the very first time back in November 2009 when he was back east here in Nelson at a book signing inside The Hamner Theater.

 

Earl (right) greets the late Paul Saunders and his wife Tatum (left) during a book signing at The Hamner Theater. Saunders wrote The Heartbeats Of Nelson over a decade ago before his death. The two were discussing the various books they’d written over time. November 2009.

Today The Hamner Theater is no longer located in the old community center in Nelson, but its vision is very much alive. Boomie Pedersen (founding, artistic, managing director) continues the theater with more of a fluid variety reaching beyond one location based in Nelson.

For those of you that don’t know who Earl Hamner was, he was best known for the television series he founded, The Waltons. It was a hit series about a depression era family here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was loosely based on his childhood growing up in Schuyler, Virginia. A tiny community in Northeastern Nelson County, Virginia near the Albemarle County line.

Since our magazine had just started, getting an interview with Nelson’s most notable native would be a big get! I had no idea that interview would turn into a magical friendship with this man who was a national, no, international treasure.

When Peter Coy above mentioned I should call Earl and talk to him by phone I said, “How?” He said here’s his cell number call him, he’ll call you back. I thought surely this man who was so famous, writing and founding Falcon Crest, the TV series, as well as writing an adaptation of Charlotte’s Web, and writing several Twilight Zone episodes, would just pick the phone up and call me back? Yes. He did.

The old Anderson’s Grocery up in Afton, Virginia (Avon) back in May of 2005. This is where I was when Earl first called me on my cell phone.

I remember clearly the day he called me back. I was in the old Anderson’s Store in Avon / Afton. I was getting a bowl of chili they’d made for lunch that day. I answered my cell (Nextel flip phone – lol remember those days!!) and on the other end this man said, “Tommy this is that old California country boy, how are you?” From there the friendship began until his death over a decade later.

Above one of the many special voice mails Earl would often leave at old house up in Greenfield in the north part of Nelson County. This was shortly after our first son Adam was born back in 2008. Click on the white arrow inside the orange circle to listen.

Aside from the voice mails we would get, his emails would literally have you in the floor laughing. But that’s who Earl Hamner truly was, a kind, light hearted man who dearly loved sharing that with strangers and friends. It’s no wonder he was so cherished the world over by millions.

This was just one of dozens of emails we’d get throughout months and years we knew Earl before his death. This was one where we were coordinating another interview and he sent me a proof of something he’d written recently. Ironically it was based on a couple that had moved to Virginia and started a local magazine, newspaper. It’s sounded familiar indeed! Click on image to enlarge)

Above, another dear voice mail from Earl left at our house back in December 2005 after he’d gotten his issue of then Nelson County Life Magazine. Click on the white arrow inside the orange circle to listen.

Eventually Earl even offered to write in the pages of our magazine and we graciously accepted. Truthfully he probably felt a little sorry for us just starting out and would never let us pay him, so we’d complimentary surprise ship him his favorite wine ever, Black Rock Chardonnay, from Wintergreen Winery here in Nelson. That winery has long since shuttered, but it was always a special treat to ship it out west to Earl.

Above an endearing and comical message after we’d sent Earl a case of Blackrock Chardonnay in late 2006. (Press the white arrow in the orange circle to play.)

After replaying this message, even after all of these years I say out loud to myself, “What a fabulous man.” And he was. He touched so many people in so many ways. After my own mother, who passed away some years ago now, broke her ankle in a car wreck Earl telephoned her and chatted for what she described as forever. He just wanted to cheer her up and knew she was a die hard Waltons TV fan. She was on cloud nine!

From those phone calls and emails and visits over the years, the friendship and the relationship grew with my friend somehow we just clicked. From growing up as a youngster on a farm in NW Tennessee watching the Waltons, to living in the county of its creator and becoming friends with him along the way.

Earl in the center with me on the far left and Yvette, to the right of Earl is James Person and his wife and child. James wrote the authorized biography on Earl’s life. We were all back at the old hospital birthplace of Earl in his hometown of Schuyler, Virginia. This was in August 2005.

My friend and longtime friend of Earl Hamner, Woody Greenberg, took this photo of me, Earl & my then very young daughter Peyton, back in 2014 in Schuyler, Virginia while Earl was back here. A documentary was being filmed on him at the time. Little did we know, just a couple of years later Earl would be gone for good.

Woody Greenberg that shot the photo above was in part responsible for developing the friendship between Earl and I over the years. Woody had known Earl since the 70s when he was a newspaper reporter in the area. They too became very close friends and would often fly to California and visit with Earl and his wife.

As the years ticked by, I wondered many days how much longer we’d have this international treasure around. As Earl would say himself, he was no spring chicken. He was around 90 in that photo above, and made it to 92.

A few years before his death, Earl began alluding to me that things were changing. He knew it. Unsolicited, he sent this to me one day attached to an email. I think it was his way of beginning to say goodbye. I believe he originally prepared this for his own son and daughter to explain what was happening in those final years. You can click on the image above to read it. I’d have some Kleenex nearby. It’s one of the most touching things I have ever read.

In that letter above that Earl wrote when he was in his 80s, he mentioned a big rift and distaste from some dark things that happened to he and some of his family in Schuyler. Before his death that was all resolved, and he came back to Schuyler many times with welcoming arms and a big smile. He was there just a few months before his passing. Nelson County was one of his favorite places in the world.

And then …

I was reading something on Facebook one evening and happened to see a post by Earl’s son, Scott. Earl was gone. I was floored. I cried. I called my friend Woody who’d known Earl much longer that I ever did and asked if he’d heard this. He hadn’t. We confirmed it and both realized, our friend was gone. It really was Goodnight John Boy.

On March 24th 2016, Earl Hamner was gone. Age 92. Above is what I wrote on our website the we learned of his passing. You can click on the photo above to read that story and view some other interviews and memories.

I knew from our conversations in that last year, those final few months, it wasn’t good. And then the phone calls stopped, the emails stopped. And Earl finally said goodnight.

His memory lives on up in Schuyler. His boyhood home is still there. It recently went under contract after it was put on the market. There’s still a museum honoring Earl’s work. It’s in the old school he attended. There’s also a replica B & B there that’s a near duplicate of the familiar Waltons home place from the TV series. If you’re a fan, it’s worth going to see.

There’s seldom a day I don’t think about Earl. It’s hard not to living in the county where he was raised and grew up in his younger years. I don’t get to Schuyler as much as I once did, but when I do I always smile and fondly think of Earl. Or when when I see the mountains I think of Earl.

He was just that kind of person. And I miss him to this very day.

 

The late Earl Hamner, Jr with me and Yvette at our home back in Greenfield, Virginia in North Nelson County. He and his sister Audrey had stopped by for a visit on this day back in the summer of 2006.

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Downing Of The Lights

Christmas finally came to an official end with taking down the outdoor lights over the weekend.

Bryant, Virginia

It’s always a bittersweet time of the year. After weeks of holiday feels, starting back with Thanksgiving, it finally ends in early to mid January. This year we decided to keep the outdoor lights up until just after my wife’s (Yvette) birthday on January 12th.

Yvette (for upper left) gathered around a makeshift table in our barn during her birthday on January 12th with friends and friends she crosses paths with in the real estate business often.

What’s called the Winter Maple Brook Farm Hogstar Classic signals the end of holiday season. Yvette (sitting) listens intently as our dear neighbor, Rob, holds court! To Yvette’s left is her friend and managing broker, Chas Morgan.

There’s even the celebratory burning of the Christmas tree. We almost always cut the tree from right here on the farm in the Virginia Blue Ridge.

We generally get in the holiday mode in the few days leading up to Thanksgiving. By then pigs on the farm have been processed, the garden is long since done, and it’s more of a laid back time as the long winter stretch settles in for weeks ahead. The end of holiday mode is always signified by Yvette’s birthday.

This past Sunday the last of the decorations came down and got packed away. Almost another year will pass before it’s time to get them back up again.

While it’s sort of melancholy for the lights to come down (my memories go back to all of those innocent childhood Christmases on the farm in NW Tennessee) I do like having it in the rearview. One of the main reasons, summer. I deplore winter. And while I will miss the festive carefree atmosphere of the holidays, I also look very forward to those lightening bugs, long summer days, thunder in the distance, days on the tractor in the fields, dips in the cool creeks here on the farm, and so much more that summer brings.

Until next Christmas …lights out.

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6 Years & 50 Pounds

The varying stages of my weight through the years. My heaviest back in 2013 with my friend Pam. Look at the radial tire around my waist. My lowest weight was 143 back in 2019. I found the happy medium years later where I settled in around 150-155.

Six years ago on this very day I’d had enough. November 6, 2016. My pants were tight, my shirts were tight, I was fat. My blood pressure was bumping into pre-hypertensive territory  and even lying down in bed my heart raced with a pulse of 80-90 beats per minute. Today my heart rate is somewhere in the range of 48-55 BPM, resting.

There it is. November 6, 2016. I started walking. It’s all I could do back then. Even at that slow pace I got winded and could barely do it. Climbing hills required lots of rest in between, but I kept going and going. Good weather, bad weather. I kept going.

I certainly wasn’t going for time. I was just going. Back then I averaged a 30 minute per mile pace in November 2016.

Once upon a time I was a TV weather guesser. I’d actually stopped doing that after years in the Memphis TV news market, but did some contract work here in Virginia after moving in 2004. That’s me on the left around 2015, on air in Charlottesville. On the right a couple of years later after getting serious about fitness.

Once I started walking it took about 6 months before I could run with any seriousness. I would jog the flat spots, rest, then run again. Later I was able to run the hills some, rest, then take off again. Something else I did during that time was stop drinking. Completely at the time. Look, I love having a glass of wine, or two, but alcohol is a killer for weightloss, especially as you age and metabolism slows. I dropped almost 15 lbs from that alone. Now that I’ve hit 60, I almost don’t drink, at all. Not because I don’t like it now and then, but the dent in your progress isn’t worth it to me anymore. Look, I’m not saying don’t enjoy life. You’ve gotta have ice cream and cake too! Otherwise, life isn’t worth living. But you also can’t drink a bottle or two or three of wine a week and expect much. At one time I was drinking 3 bottles of wine a week. You know alcohol belly when you see it, and it’s not pretty.

That’s a bigger photo of the split image above. My close friend Pam on the left that sold me her Jeep. I was my heaviest ever in life there at about 190 pounds around 2012-2013. I would regularly unbutton my pants and just let my belt hold my pants or shorts closed to give me “breathing room.” It was a disaster in the making.

Five years after that photo above with Pam and the Jeep. This was August 2018 after I got my act together. Major difference.

What made me change? Several things. We had kids. That was weighing on my mind. My blood pressure was creeping up. At one point I was about 150/100. I didn’t want to take meds and be a slave to the pharmacy industry. Clothes were tight and I kept having to go up in sizes. I was flat out embarrassed to be at the beach or swimming pool shirtless. My wife was a workout, Spartan, Go Ruck, civilian Navy Seal training disciple at the time. And I was fat. As shit.

Photo courtesy of Paul Purpura – Wintergreen, Virginia : That’s Yvette at one of countless endurance races like this Spartan race in 2013 here in Virginia. She made it look so easy!

But one thing actually made me change and oddly nothing to do with those things I just listed above. They helped make the decision, but they weren’t the light bulb moment.

This woman on the left was the push that flipped my switch. At the time I didn’t even know her. I’d been seeing Renee Everhart’s weight loss progress on Facebook. Renee will tell you, she was grossly overweight, 310 lbs at one time. (That’s she and I at one of the many races we ran after becoming friends. This was one in 2019) Her doctors were recommending stomach surgery and such. She refused and said she would do it on her own. Much over 100 pounds of weight lost over time. Simply put, I said if this person who was morbidly overweight can do this and transform, I can. I looked at my wife that night and said that’s it. I am done living like this. I get started tomorrow.

Renee’s journey was so remarkable we eventually did a story on her in the magazine that we owned at the time here in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Click on the image above to read her complete story online.

Renee Everhart : Fight To The Finish : A Nelson County Firefighter Reinvents Herself

 

Renee’s story isn’t unique. Neither is mine. But they matter just as much. They show that with the right mindset anything can be done. I’m an amateur compared to what Renee accomplished, but again, it matters.

Before getting in shape hiking to the top of a mountain at nearly 4000′ would have been impossible for me. While this hike with some of my friends here a year or so ago wasn’t a piece of cake, I was fit and could handle it. This is all of us after reaching the top of The Priest mountain here in the Blue Ridge of Central Virginia in September 2019.

 

I ran alone here on the farm for years. In every kind of weather imaginable. Snow and blowing winds, summer heat and humidity that was just plain nasty.

Cooling down in the stream that runs through our farm during one of those stagnant August afternoons in 2020. You could cut the air with a knife it was so thick.

I never forced our kids to workout. But I made sure they saw me doing it. Often. They’d already been watching their mom for years before me. And then one day back in May of 2021 something happened.

My son Adam asked if he could start running with me. You could have heard a pin drop. I was blown away. And of course I said yes. Now a year and a half later we’re still running together and he’s lifting and working out more than I do! That’s us above back in December 2021 a few months after he started running with me.

 

Now Adam and I have run a few races together and run often on the trails here at the farm.

 

Over the years I started concentrating on weight and resistance workouts as well. Over time I was able to add muscle in addition to cardiac fitness. That’s me in 2020 at Kentucky Lake back in Tennessee.

I’m not trying to be a prize winning runner or lifter. That’s never been my goal. I simply wanted to get rid of the annoying weight. Get a decent level of fitness and be able to work around the farm without getting out of breath. The physique was secondary but a definite added bonus.

This is everyday’s business around the farm. Lots of lifting and moving feed and such. If I were in the shape from a few years ago, I’d never be able to keep up today.

The absolute biggest reason to get in shape and stop procrastinating about it. Your family. It just makes life better all around. And, you know you’ll likely be around to see them grow up.

 

I don’t know if this anniversary reflection will help anyone flip their switch to get started, but I hope it does. One of my best friend’s mom used to say, “You never know who’s watching.” People see what you do. It inspires them. I bet Renee never thought her losing weight would make me get serious. But that was the straw.

It’s been a good six years. Not easy at times. A couple of injuries set me back for a short time. And yes, burnout happens and you take a break, then go back and pickup. But it’s become part of my life now and the landscape.

And a positive one for sure!

 

The varying stages of my weight through the years. My heaviest back in 2013 with my friend Pam. Look at the radial tire around my waist. My lowest weight was 143 back n 2019. I found the happy medium years later where I settled in around 150-155.

 

 

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A Chicken Funeral

Our son, 14 year old Adam, waves so long to his long time chicken friend here on the farm. Henrietta died on Monday – October 24, 2022

 

Nelson County, Virginia

Once laying hens get old, usually about 3-4 years, they stop laying. On a farm they’ve served their purpose and lived a pretty good life, especially if they are able to get to pasture like ours can. But, once they have fulfilled their mission, they are culled (killed) and they either end up as stew meat, or returned back to the land and nature.

A few weeks ago after we got our new flock of 19 laying hens. Thank you Jay Rostow. (Now 15, bear killed 2. Dog killed 2) it was time to cull the older red hens to make way for the new ones. Our son Adam always had a favorite red hen, her name was Henrietta. He told us when the time comes, she gets a pass until her natural end here on the farm.

The day we culled the old flock two other red hens managed to get away. Adam then told us they get a pass too since they escaped. Fair enough. So the trio became known as Henrietta, Hayley and Heather. Those three, despite not laying eggs any longer will have luxury accommodations for the remainder of their lives at Maple Brook Farm and Chicken Retirement Community. I failed to mentioned we ended up with a Bantam game hen too, her name is Heidi. Adam likes the H names.

Hayley had a close call, she strayed off too close to one of the beagles and had a big bite to the butt! Adam went right to work cleaning up the wound, using peroxide and betadine to make it all better. Within days she was back to her old self and even laid an egg or two to boot! The three reds were inseparable among all of the new black layer hens and the pet white turkey, Bertha.

Adam seeing after his Bantam game hen, Heidi. Summer 2022.

We laughingly call Adam the Chicken Whisperer. He has a relationship with them like none I’ve ever seen before.

Not long ago, Adam came to me one day and said, “I think Henrietta is getting tired. She’s moving slow, and she squints a lot.” I told Adam she’s just getting old and they tend to move more slowly, but she’d be fine. Just a week or so later he came to me in the kitchen one morning and said, “I think she’d dead, can you come check with me?” Sure enough Henrietta had crossed over. She came out of the chicken coop and peacefully died in the field.

Adam looks out over the field where Henrietta took her final breath a few days ago in the fall of 2022.

Adam was saddened, but didn’t cry. He just asked that I dig the grave and she be laid to rest near her other chicken family and friends. So I dug the grave as Adam watched. I did cry. Not over the chicken, but over my son’s loss of his farm friend and his compassion.

Henrietta’s finale resting spot among her chicken family at Maple Brook Farm. October 2022.

Life on a farm is beautiful. But it can also be full of hard lessons. To say I was proud of Adam,  and touched by the care and seeing Henrietta through to the end, would be an understatement. Often all you have to do is just stand back and watch. He saw his friend through from the start to the finish. Well done.

And RIP Henrietta. You were a good one full of life lessons.

 

 

 

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“So Long To All My Friends In Tupelo, Mississippi” – RIP Captain Larry Bell

The Late Captain Larry Bell in a screenshot from a TV news story I was covering in the late 1990s back in NW Tennessee. This was a marijuana eradication he was involved in. My friend from law enforcement and TV news days died Thursday – August 11, 2022 with one of his closest friends at his side.

Dyer County, Tennessee

Larry Bell and I shared an office together in the 1980’s when I was still in law enforcement. We both had moved into administrative jobs, more or less, at that point and it became necessary to have an office together. I sort of knew Larry before. My mother and his wife Linda were coworkers for years. I must admit I wasn’t keen on sharing an office with him. But, by the time I left law enforcement in 1990 we had become such pals from our years in that office discussing everything you could think of.

 

Captain Larry Bell with the Dyer County, TN Sheriff’s Department mapping out search areas for a missing person in Tigrett, TN. The was in the late 1990s.

Fast forward to my post law enforcement career in TV news covering several states in the mid-south, I continued to run into Larry in a different capacity. But we still got along just like those days back in those small basement office of the Dyersburg Police Department.

Above, Captain Larry Bell clowning around with me just after they had stopped someone in a police pursuit. Larry knew how to be a very serious lawman, but also knew how to keep it light and all of us laughing. 

Years later when I was covering news Larry would always turn to the camera at some point when he could and say, “I’d like to say hi to all my friends in Tupelo, Mississippi.” It cracked me up every time and it became our laughing joke for may more years to come. It stuck.

Larry eventually retired when the sheriff he worked for became the US Marshal for the Memphis district. He and his wife Linda continued to enjoy life, ride horses and do the retirement thing. I’d occasionally get the opportunity to see Larry when I back in Tennessee after my move to Virginia, but it was a rare opportunity.

Larry wore many hats in his law enforcement career. After serving in the military he was a Tennessee State Trooper, eventually a Field Training Sergeant for the Dyersburg Police Department and then Captain (Chief Deputy) for the Dyer County Sheriff’s Department until he retired.

I knew Larry’s health was failing over the past year. Our mutual friend, Joe Markham who was much closer to Larry and his wife Linda, would keep me updated whenever he would go back to visit from his home back in Florida. Joe notified me on Thursday Larry took his last breath with him at his side in a Jackson, Tennessee hospital. Joe and Larry’s sister-in-law were able to get Larry’s wife to the hospital to see him just an hour or so before he passed.

Larry is literally a dying breed.  A true lawman. A true friend though thick and thin. One of the good ones. A good one I will reflect on fondly and smile. Often. Fly high Larry and RIP my friend.

Larry’s funeral and memorial arrangements are being handled by the Johnson-Willams funeral home in Newbern, Tennessee. You can click here for more info as it become updated. 

 

Captain Larry Bell with the Dyer County, TN Sheriff’s Department making our search areas for a missing person in Tigrett, TN. The was in the late 1990s.

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It’s Not The Same. But It’s Still Great!

Somewhere On The Bay

For 13 years we’ve been coming to this spot on the Chesapeake Bay. Summer calls you here after those long, cold and dark winter days.

Adam crawling on the beach of the bay in October 2009. His very first visit.

Adam and Yvette doing our first time at Chesapeake Bay in October 2009.

We gave it a test run one year in the October off season to see if we’d like the area. Adam wasn’t even walking yet back then. We loved it, so did he. Peyton wasn’t even born yet.

This year we weren’t all able to stay the entire week together. We managed to squeak out the weekend together. Commitments back home away kept Yvette and Adam from staying beyond that. But, Peyton and I have stayed the entire week!

Our daughter Peyton on the shore of the bay June 2022.

For over a decade it’s been all of us here together during those lazy summer days. Kids playing in the water along the shore along with crabs and shrimp on the porch overlooking the bay. It’s a special relaxing place and time of the year.

Our son Adam and mom Yvette chowing down on some crabs at the bay in summer 2021.

This year it’s been all about a dad and his daughter. A rare occurrence where we can just hang out and do nothing. Play board games, (I’ve yet to win a Monopoly session!) kayak along the shore and take long lazy naps.  Anyone that’s raised kids knows how fast it goes by. The days can sometimes be long, but the years are short. You turn around and it’s over. They are on their own and all of the sudden, it’s quiet again.

All of us on the shore back in the summer of 2013.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t take this special week for granted. I do miss those long conversations with my wife. The afternoon walks along the beach, an evening cocktail on the porch as storms work across the bay out front. But, I know this time is so special and so rare.

A thunderstorm marches across the Chesapeake Bay in the summer of 2021 during our stay.

Adam and mom grilling up some food during the brief time here in summer 2022.

Adam & Peyton almost a decade ago heading down to the water on the bay back in the summer of 2013. They’ve been bay kids since birth.

Peyton isn’t so tiny anymore. And the kid who wouldn’t even get off a mat and touch the sand years ago, is now venturing our on her own in the water with confidence.

Virginia is such a unique state. It’s really got it all. You can be in the Blue Ridge Mountains  where we live, and within 2-3 hours on the coastal waters.

It’s a great mix but an entirely different experience.

One I plan to enjoy 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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Just Before Sunrise Summer Quietly Arrived And Unpacked

Kentucky Lake – Tennessee side 2022

Without a sound summer arrived this morning at 5:14 eastern time. I think I was still asleep, but I may not have been. I love summer. It’s my favorite time of the year. I really wish it officially started on Memorial Day weekend. (That’s the unofficial start anyway) By time official summer is underway, it seems like it’s already headed toward leaving and fall’s getting ready to move in.

There’s nothing like summer here in the mountains of the Blue Ridge, and there’s nothing like summer on the lake back in Tennessee. Summers on the lake there with one of my best friend, Burnie, have been a ritual since 1977. As teens we went there to his parents place. As adults some 45 years later we go back there at least once a summer and reconnect. It’s Burnie’s place now, his parents have long passed away. Boating across the water, remembering those days we’d tie up dollar store rafts to a pole in the water and float a cheap styrofoam ice chest out there filled with White Mountain Coolers. Yuck!

My friend Burnie pilots as we head back to the dock at the cabin after a beautiful summer day on Kentucky Lake about 20 minutes south of Paris, TN.

Today it’s fancier, and long gone are those spartan days of playing matchstick poker. There was no telephone back then at the cabin. We literally had to drive about 15 minutes into town if we needed to make a call. Today there’s internet, satellite TV and more. I still long for the matchstick poker days in some ways.

But regardless, I still love summer and all of its peepers at night. The lightning bugs, distant thunder and lightening across the Tennessee River channel in Houston or Stewart County. Or behind the mountains here at home over in Rockbridge or Augusta.

It doesn’t really matter where you are when summer arrives. Most of us, even if you hate summer and the heat, find some comfort in knowing we don’t have to fight the cold and snow for a few months. The pipes don’t freeze and naps on the porch are so much sweeter.

Summer will go just about as fast as it arrives. So I’ll enjoy the coming weeks. I hope you do too.

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Doug Viar Taught Me Everything I Ever Learned About Covering News – Sure Wish He Was Still Around

Photo courtesy of Clayton Hayes & his son Tod. : That’s Doug Viar in the black shirt on the far right. This was covering President Clinton and VP Gore back in the mid 1990s during an appearance in downtown Dyersburg, Tennessee. To my left was Tod Hayes.

I’ll never, ever forget the day Doug Viar’s daughter, Lori, sent me an instant message  over Facebook. “Tommy, daddy is gone.” It sort of confirmed something I had a funny feeling about that day. I’d been trying to reach Doug. There was a severe weather outbreak back in his area of Western Tennessee near Jackson. I never got an answer, not on his office phone, not on his cell. But, I figured maybe the power was out and storms had taken out cell service. Lord knows, he and I had covered dozens and dozens of tornadoes where we had nothing more than walkie talkies to communicate, or simply used pay phones and a roll of quarters. Though it was odd I hadn’t heard from him and wasn’t able to reach him with such a significant severe outbreak.

This would be Doug’s last Facebook post ever. He’d made mention of a severe wether outbreak on his own website then posted it that morning around 9:20. A few hours later, Doug was gone.

Doug had gotten up from his office chair that morning to go to the kitchen for a coffee refill. He was walking down the steps, literally dropped dead, and was gone.

I learned most everything I know about covering news from Doug Viar. Not some college classroom where they are talking ethics, that hardly ever get practiced anymore. No, I learned ethics and the true trade from Doug. And he had tremendous ethics. He was one of the best in the country. Learning under him helped make me a close 2nd or 3rd, but never a duplicate.


Above, some of Doug’s outros from various news reports over the years. He’s voice was well recognized all over the mid-south and the U.S.

Doug and I were a rare breed of reporters and videographers in those days. He owned all of his own gear. I did too later on after I learned the craft. We flew ourselves everywhere by private plane, both of us pilots. We often joked that we’d be to the scene of a news event, shoot and cover it, fly back and edit, fly the tape to the station, and be back home before the other guys even arrived! There were no sat trucks in those days except in large metro markets. TVU’s and even cell phones weren’t around in the beginning.

Doug and I chatting during a Clinton-Gore appearance in NW-TN back in 1996. Tod Hayes is over my shoulder with a camera on his shoulder.

Every year on this date, I remember Doug. Why? Because he meant so much to me personally. There were few real newsmen (yes, he would approve of the word men) like Doug back then. There really aren’t any these days. He simply would scoff and cuss at what he would be seeing now.

I stay in touch with his wife Margaret. I always call her my second mom. I still stay in touch with his daughters, Lori and Michelle. And his brother George, who taught me to fly airplanes.

Doug wasn’t one to dwell on the sad times. So I won’t here. Not much. He’s missed, and 11 years later it still stings. But, I’ll leave you on a happy note. One of the funniest times I can remember. The endless outtakes he was trying to do for the groundbreaking of a law enforcement museum near the home of legendary Sheriff Buford Pusser. It became quite the circus while he tried to finish. This is how I like to remember Doug.

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March Begins. I Can Coast Now.

That’s me back in March of 1968 in front of my childhood home, an old log cabin, standing in a rare March snow for NW Tennessee.

I can remember it. Clear as day. Every year on March 1st, even if it was snowing, my daddy would say, “Tommy, we can coast now. We’ve made it through February, that’s the worst of it.” He’d go on to tell me that even though we can get some major snows in March, and we did. Lort! 1968, 14 inches in one day and no power for a week on the farm back in NW Tennessee as a child growing up. My dad assured me March snows can’t stay around long and spring was well on its way! He was right.

Winter back there could be gentle or harsh. Even if we didn’t get a lot of snow, I recall winters as being really dead. Hundreds of acres of empty, harvested soybean and cotton rows frozen in sometimes single digit weather. My daddy would often be in his coveralls going out to break ice in the ponds so the cows could drink. Or, him on the tractor hauling square bales of hay to the wooden feeders out in the pasture.

My dad, Billie Stafford, and I back in 1966 out feeding the cows one day. This particular day didn’t look too terribly cold.

Winters here in the Blue Ridge aren’t that much different than those back near the Mississippi River. The county I grew up in was as far west as you could go without dropping off into the Mighty Missip! Though we were about 4 weeks ahead of the seasons in warm weather and four seasons behind with fall and winter arriving.

Even with a decent frost on the ground at the farm this March 1, 2022, there are sure signs of spring. Winter is packing its bags. Though we still have several weeks of back and forth cold vs warm weather here in the mountains, warmer days are quickly approaching.

I’ve never been much of a winter person, even back in Tennessee. I couldn’t wait until those hot summer days riding on my horse without a shirt around the farm and in the river bottoms with the sun blazing. The same holds true here in the Blue Ridge. I look forward to those late afternoon thunderstorms rumbling across the mountains off in the distance. Sitting in the creek near the house when it’s hot as hell and the air is so thick you can cut it with a knife.

Soon the time changes, the days get much longer, and we can say goodbye to the ice and snow and the cold winds blowing.

Welcome Meteorological Spring Class of 2022!

My dad and I back in 1966 out feeding the cows one day. This particular day didn’t look too terribly cold.

 

 

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