Hall Of Fame

Tonight, Rabun County High School will induct it’s second Sports Hall of Fame Class prior to the start of the evening football game.

The Hall of Fame was formed last year, and in it’s second year of existence many people representing numerous sports and decades have been recognized.

Tonight’s class is no different.

For me, tonight’s class holds special significance, because one of the teams being inducted is the 1970 Rabun County High School Football team.

The 1970 team is special to me as my dad was the Assistant Coach of the team and my brother Tom would have been a senior on the team that year. Tom died in a car wreck in March before that season began.

From this point forward, let me preface this by saying the memories set forth on this post are coming from a 5 year old mind, so I may not have it all exactly right, but I think it’s pretty close.

Obviously, after the death of my brother our family was in turmoil, the greatest tragedy that could ever happen to a family had happened to ours.

Living in a small tight knit community, the people of our town rallied around us and held us up on a daily basis and as football season approached, we had something to look forward to.

My mama and daddy both grew up in Toccoa, just 30 miles from Clayton and in 1970, Toccoa High School was ranked very high in the State. Rabun County would be playing Toccoa late in the season and Toccoa was the odds on favorite to win the game handily.

My daddy and his entire team WANTED the win and sure enough, in the 3rd Quarter Rabun County went ahead and held on for the victory. Up until that time, this was the biggest win a team from Rabun County had ever seen.

The Hall of Fame story could easily end here, but for me, the game that was played against Toccoa wasn’t what made this team Hall of Famers, it was what they did off the field, how they helped save a family and surrounded a 5 year old with love and protection.

You see, when my brother died, he was an integral part of that team, the guys that made up that team were his best friends and they loved one another as brothers.

When Tom died, parts of them died too, they also had to grow up in ways that most would never had expected and I suspect they formed a bond that still exists today.

And for me, they became a group of young men who did everything they could to help fill the void of a big brother who would not be coming home again. They took care of me, they (and their girlfriends) made sure that I didn’t get swept aside in the grief of our family, they protected me. They became a whole new group of big brothers for a 5 year old missing his own and not understanding the concept of death or loss.

When Tom died, we were in the process of building a new home. It was the home we moved into in 1970 and still remains in my family today.

The house wasn’t complete when Tom died, but it was getting close. I think my parents realized very soon after Tom passed away that we needed to get out of the house we were living in and into our new home, a fresh start or at least a new beginning.

Growing up, my mother went to get her hair done every Thursday afternoon. Immediately after school she would go get her hair done and usually be home about 5PM.

On one Thursday afternoon, the entire 1970 Football team showed up at the house we were renting. With their pick-ups and cars and their father’s pick-ups and anything they could find and while my mother was at the beauty shop, they moved our entire house.

When my mother got home from the hairdresser we were moved into our new home. Mama used to joke that they didn’t even put anything in boxes, they just moved the dressers and closets as they were, but they got us moved.

This group of high schoolers continued to bless our family and I hope in some ways we enriched theirs. Simple acts of kindness and love is what represented this group of young men and I think they always realized that 1970 season included a guardian angel who was in every practice and huddle with them along the way of the season.

These young men, the 1970 Rabun County Wildcat Football Team protected us, they helped our family get our footing once again and they provided us with some valuable memories that put a smile on my family’s face when it was much easier to let tears stain our eyes.

I will always be indebted to the 1970 Wildcats, many of them I haven’t seen since I was a child. But they will forever hold a special place in my heart and in the history of my family.

Tonight, many fine people will be inducted into the Rabun County High School Sports Hall of Fame, but I’ll be cheering just a bit louder, with a lump in my throat for a special group of men, who in my eyes were Hall of Famers long before tonight’s induction ceremony.

As a child, I never knew how to say thank you for what these men did, I honestly didn’t know what I would be thanking them for, they were just part of my life. But as a man, I now know the sacrifices they made from their own lives, their teenage years, to help a little boy have some normality to a life that had been turned upside down. From the bottom of my heart, I say thank you, these normal band of high school football players did much more than they ever knew and more than I ever told them and for that, I will always be filled with gratitude. These will always be my Hall of Famers!

Congratulations to all the deserved honorees, especially the Hall of Famers of 1970.

Caretakers

My early years were chaotic.  My mom and grandmother were in a serious car wreck when I was four, my mom was in and out of the hospital over several months with injuries from the accident and subsequent surgeries.

At five, my oldest brother Tom was killed in a car wreck. 

It wasn’t easy, but I am sure for the rest of my family, who could actually comprehend what was going on in our family, the pain was much worse.

My family did the best we could to overcome these tragedies, but still decades later, the grief in losing my brother still remains.

Not long after my brother died, my mom entered a hospital in Augusta, GA for an extended stay.  This left my dad to take care of two boys, keep a household running, work and grieve the death of his oldest son.

I don’t remember much about that time, but I am confident, like he did with everything, my dad handled this with grace and determination. 

As a five-year-old, I was put in the care of many wonderful people who stepped up to help our family out.

I am sure my brother Sam got stuck with me when he would have preferred to be out enjoying life as a young teen. 

My grandparents did what they could, and my Aunt and Uncle in Florida helped out when possible.  Our friends, the Hudson’s had me visit for extended stays on their farm in South Georgia and I spent lots of afternoons with family friends.

During this time, I had many loving caretakers, often dealing with their own grief and pain, who took me in and cared for me when my family could not.

I know I have forgotten so many, but a few come to mind when I think back on these angels.  Not only the ones mentioned above, but many of my brother’s classmates and friends.

Just a few weeks after Tom died, I celebrated my sixth birthday.  Obviously, the last thing my family wanted to do was celebrate, but my family made sure my sixth birthday was celebrated in a big way.

On that day, dressed in a new blue shorts outfit mama got me at Belk’s in Toccoa, children from throughout the town gathered at the old RCHS gymnasium to celebrate me.  My grandmother made the cake, and my family did everything they could to make it special.

On that day, like other days, some of Tom’s female friends from school stepped in to make sure my day was perfect.  Tom’s girlfriend Claudia Henson (who would be taken by leukemia just a few months later), along with her friends Glendis Bearden, Margaret Keller, Deborah Ramey and others ran games and activities for all the kids in attendance. 

These same young women, along with others, often found time after school and on weekends to care for a little boy that had lost too much, but they made me feel special in every way.

That following summer, Tim Marchman, my brother’s best friend, picked me up every day and took me to his job as a lifeguard at Kingwood Country Club.  We spent that summer together, he taught me to swim, we ate lunch and we talked.  That summer, he stepped in for my big brother that had died and took me under his wing.

Certainly I had a chaotic young life, but what I also had was many wonderful caregivers who made sure my life was as normal as possible.

Those people have been and will always be angels in my eyes.  They didn’t have to do what they did, they just saw a need and did it.

I am a better man for these angels on earth and I will always be grateful for their care. 

Thank you really isn’t enough, but it is all I have….. thank you!

Holy Week 2021

I start every day the same, with this simple prayer, “God make me 1% better today than I was yesterday.” Some days I succeed, some days I don’t.

As I drive to work, I pass a sign that says, “Just love everyone, I’ll sort ’em out later. – GOD”

I do my best to let these two messages be my guiding lights. Like I said, some days I succeed, some days I don’t, but like everyone else, I am a work in progress.

As we start our journey of Holy Week, I was thinking this morning, as a society we have forgotten the promise of that Holy Week so many centuries ago.

When I was a child, I was taught that Jesus went to the cross for ALL of our sins. He didn’t do it for men, or women, or whites, blacks, Asians, gay, straight, rich, poor, Republican or Democrat, he died and three days later rose from the dead for ALL of us.

I have always taken comfort in that promise of the death and resurrection in knowing that Jesus did it as much for me as he did anyone else. I am no more or less important than anyone else. I’m not worthy of that grace, and neither are you, but our Lord gave it to each of us, a gift we should embrace and respect, it was for ALL who believe.

Sadly, I think many of us, myself included, often times forget the ALL of us part.

Maybe, just maybe, if we thought more about the ALL of us part of the Holy Week promise and less about our differences in race, sex, status and beliefs we would all be better off and more like Christ.

What Would Jesus Do? He Would Love First.

2020 – Git Outta Here

I guess I should have known on New Year’s Day, when I woke up feeling like I had been hit by a Mac truck that 2020 wasn’t going to be great, but it took a few more days to realize just how bad it was going to get.

Nursing what I thought was “the flu,” I spent 7 days at home before going to the Doctor on the 8th, which led to an immediate trip to the Emergency Room and 3 days in the hospital for what at the time was believed to be bilateral pneumonia.

After a few weeks of recovery, it was time to start moving forward. Since selling my former business, I had made the decision to take my brand “Of These Mountains,” to the next level. For months I had pondered how was best to make this happen and by early February, I had my eyes set on a retail shop.

With the help of my niece, Chelsea, I found the perfect spot in Clarkesville, just 30 miles from home and went about setting up the store with a projected open date of early March.

As I went about getting the store ready to open, I was beginning to hear about this mystery illness called COVID that was affecting people and highly contagious.

I kept working and on March 2nd, set up just the way I envisioned, with great excitement my retail store opened.

We were open for 2 weeks and then closed for 5, due to COVID quarantines and closures.

Not long after going into quarantine, I had to say good-bye to my best friend of 15 years. Rosalita “Lita” Grace Rumsey, was my companion through life’s ups and downs. She came into my life at 6 weeks old and never once was there a day that I regretted the decision to invite her into my life.

Lita’s health had been going downhill for a few months, and eventually with the help of my Vet, the decision was made to say good-bye. I prepared my heart and Brett came over to prepare a final resting place for her in my bed of hydrangeas.

To say quarantine was hard is an understatement but going through it without my Lita made the time almost unbearable.

I’m one of those people that often gets way too into my head, quarantine amplified that for me. Depression, self-doubt, lack of structure all crept into my psyche and I had to work hard to make sure I stayed strong and not get bogged down by all that was bad, but find some sources of sunlight in what were very dark days.

I sunk myself into some creative marketing for work, lots of binged television and too much food; reopening my store 5 weeks after closing. To say those first couple of months after opening were unplanned is an understatement, but people’s generosity with online orders and visits to the store upon reopening got me through.

If I am honest, the first quarter of 2020 was my worst. The rest of the year was different than normal, but I was able to keep my business open and our new storefront has been successful, and we continue to get picked up by additional retailers.

With the emphasis to online shopping our website performed well, and this year Of These Mountains gear was shipped to 30 States, plus Puerto Rico and Canada, something I am incredibly proud of and grateful for!

2020 brought about many changes to daily life. Now a mask is a common part of my wardrobe, hand sanitizer is a constant and while not refusing to live in fear of the virus, I am constantly aware.

I still don’t feel comfortable in large gatherings, while I will go to a restaurant, I am selective and the thought of jumping on a plane for an overnight stay anywhere is far from my thought process.

For me, a particularly difficult part of COVID has been my distance from friends. I’m a hugger and need those interactions, I enjoy spending time with friends and family and while I still get to see those I love, it isn’t as much as I want. Much of that is my choosing, but I also believe it is the prudent decision.

While COVID brought our world to a standstill, there was more that made 2020 one that will always be remembered.

We saw the issue of racial injustice move to the forefront. I believe that every life matters, as does our nation’s history, however, I also believe that when one segment of our population is pained, we all are hurt. When we see citizens murdered simply for the color of their skin, we as a nation still have much work to do and I pray that one day we will get it right.

All Americans have a place in our society and once we embrace the mantra that all men are indeed created equal, we will be a better world for it.

With all that happened in 2020, to me the most frustrating was our national elections. We saw every segment of our nation’s institutions questioned and degraded.

I saw friends and families split over this election and my prayer for 2021 is that those divisions may somehow be brought back together. I stand by the belief that no election, of people that will never know me and from their actions prove daily they could care less about me will ever split me from those I love.

I may not agree on many things with those I call family and friends, but an election is not going to split me from them.

The biggest gut-punch of 2020, was all those who suffered and died alone. Dying alone is my biggest fear and the thought of having someone I love in the hospital taking their last breath not being able to feel the comfort of those who love them is debilitating.

2020 saw the loss of wonderful friends, family and acquaintances that deserved a homegoing celebration for the lives they led. This year robbed us all of being able to say an appropriate good-bye and providing the love to their families they so need.

While living through 2020 has been a challenge, the year also brought about much of our best.

We saw teachers and front-line workers get the respect they deserve. When cities stopped at 7PM each night to cheer for doctors and nurses changing shifts all that is great about America shone through.

Parents became teachers and teachers finally gained the respect they have so long deserved finding ways to educate our young over computer screens instead of in a classroom. I worry about what effects distance learning will have on our youth long-term, but the ingenuity of those who work in education has been nothing short of heroic.

During this year, we have all witnessed the best and worst of our world. While the bad often seems to be what gains attention, I hope we will never forget the good we saw. Neighbors being neighbors, delivering food, checking in on each other and simply showing compassion.

Yes, there is no other way to say it, 2020 was horrible, but the light that makes Americans great did shine through. 2021 will certainly have challenges and who knows what is yet to come, but I remain convinced, that as long as we share our grace, kindness, and love for others, we will persevere.

I pray that 2020 one day will be a distant memory and as we round the corner towards a new year, we will all be blessed with good health, love, friendship, and kindness that can overcome anything thrown our way.

Git outta here 2020 and Welcome 2021, I pray you do us well!

2020 – Coming Into Focus

a5649117efe5e16222a72001a4b11a73As I write this, we are just hours from a new year, a new decade.

With the dawn of a new year, comes the opportunity to look back on what has come before and to look ahead to the endless possibilities just around the corner.

Like most of you, the past year was a mixed bag, I had highs and lows, some of them had a greater impact than others.  Some of my own creation and some that I had no control over, that’s life, it will happen again in 2020 and every year that we are blessed to walk this earth.

What I have learned through the years is, I can’t always control the situation, but I can control how I react.  For 2020, my hope is that I don’t sweat the small stuff, but concentrate on the things that matter, the things that will have impact on my life and those around me.

I pray that I never lose my sense of adventure, to dream big and step into new challenges.  Some of my best decisions have been those cockamamie choices I have made that from the outside make no sense, but in my heart are the only viable direction.

For our nation, I pray that we never forget who we are, we are America, the greatest nation to ever inhabit this planet, a nation that provides hope and opportunity to anyone willing to invest in the American dream.

Moving into 2020, my greatest fear is for our country.  We have become a polarized nation unwilling to work together for the common good.  I pray that this year, we think more before we react, we learn to look beyond our own interests and to what is best for all and I pray that above all else we learn to work together once again, our nation’s future depends on it.

I pray that our world finds long-lasting and true peace.

For each of you, I pray that your dreams will come true in 2020.  I hope that all of your goals and aspirations fall into place and that your days are filled with love, laughter and health.

Above all else, for 2020, I pray that we all find grace, hope and community. I pray that we overcome the hard times with the help of others and that we celebrate our joys together.

For 2020, I will pray for you all and ask the same in return.  For 2020, my goal is to be a little kinder, a bit more joyful, more present and understanding…. for 2020, my goal is simple, just to try and be a bit better every day.

Happy New Year friends, may God bless you in 2020!