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Pearl Wants To Play Catch

The other night after attending Wednesday night prayer meeting, I returned home and parked my pickup in the garage. It was a pleasant June evening, so my black lab Ranger and I played a game of catch in the driveway. While doing so, I noticed something strange happen with my fairly new pickup. With the two of us outside in the driveway, the truck locked all four doors, followed by the usual beeping sound and the flashing of lights, as if I had pushed the button on the keys.  

Thinking I had accidently hit the button in my pocket while playing with an extremely energetic dog, I took the keys out and pushed the button unlocking the doors, while going back to playing with fuzz mouth. In less than a minute, the truck once again locked itself, with all the bells and whistles going off, and this time I knew I had not touched the button.  

Ball playing was over and I now turned my attention to a truck that seemed to feel it was being neglected, seeking a way to get me to play with it. I’m starting to think I have watched too many Twilight Zones, and maybe so, when your truck cuts into your playtime with your dog.  

After unlocking the doors again and opening them to see if something was causing this strange reaction and finding nothing out of the ordinary, I closed the doors and put the keys down on a shelf. Both Ranger and I waited to see if Pearl (that’s what I call my truck - I know that’s weird too) wanted to play some more.  Sure enough, within thirty or so seconds after closing the doors the lights flashed, the truck beeped and all the doors locked tight! Pearl was making it known that she was wishing to play with Ranger and me.  

After several more times of unlocking, checking, looking, locking, beeping and feeling creeped out, I did what I had to do. I decided it was time to reboot Pearl’s computer before she decided she wanted to take me for a spin in the country against my will.  

I got in the truck - Ranger, who always loves to ride, refused to get in with me - and closed the door and started the engine. All the gadgets and lights came on, as they should, along with the XM radio that was playing “Highway to the Danger Zone” from Top Gun, which I thought was odd. It seemed that everything was normal and the computer had made its complete cycle, so I turned the key off and stepped out of the truck with key in hand and waited.  

Ranger and I waited for several minutes with no more door locking and beeping from Pearl. I guess she was through for the night and I, for one, was glad. Later that evening while watching Jag, I checked the Internet and found that some other truck owners reported the same problem, but on a much more regular time pattern. Pearl seemed to just want to get in on the ball playing with Ranger.  

I miss the simple vehicles of days gone by. You locked those by pushing the button down on the door, but out where I live you never locked them anyway. Today’s computers have taken the shade tree mechanic out of most of us, and if you have to take your vehicle in for repairs they get hooked up to other computers that are in cahoots with your car’s computer to say there is nothing wrong in the first place. Then, those computers hook up with the computers in the office that makes out the bills that finally goes to the machine that is the head cahootor of all - the cash register.  

What I would give for a vehicle that I could understand. I would also like to have the days once again when a service station provided what the first part of its name implied - service. Back in those days when you pulled up to the pump, a young man with his name on his shirt would greet you with a smile and ask that important question, “Fill’er up?” He would then proceed to put either high-test or regular gasoline in your tank and move almost in a run to the front of your car.  After a search for the hood latch, he would then raise the car’s hood and grab the dipstick to check the oil in the engine. While there, he also felt of the hoses and belts to see if they were safe to get you on down the road. Slamming the hood shut, he next would take out a gray shop rag from his back pocket and wipe off his handprints from the hood.  Usually the shop rag was also greasy, but it was the thought that counted in this action.  

Next, in almost one motion, he would grab a squeegee from a bucket of water, and using the same rag he wiped off your hood with, he cleaned your windshield.  After completing all of these assignments, he finished filling your tank and if you purchased at least ten gallons of gas you could even receive a cup with the station’s logo on it, or even better, a bank shaped like a dinosaur to put your saved pennies in. Of course, that was back when a penny was saved and not left to be smashed into the pavement in area parking lots.  

Those days are gone. Guess I just have to let Pearl play catch.        


Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at

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They’re Here

I have seen in movie reviews, that once again, another poltergeist movie is coming to the big screen, with this one being in 3D that should make some folks have second thoughts about reaching toward their TV. The original movie was produced back in 1982, along with ET, and I guess what goes around comes around, with no pun intended, pertaining to items that spin.

When I read the review, it reminded me of those famous lines the child said as she looked into the TV, and slowly mumbled, “They’re here.” It reminded me of what I just saw a few moments earlier in my front yard as my dog Ranger disappeared into a hole he was digging. There may be those of you who remember a few years back, I had major problems with moles in my yard. It seemed, I thought, they had decided that they had caused me enough anguish and migrated to fields that surround my home. However, like the little kid who said those famous words in that awful movie, she could easily look at my yard and say, “They’re back, dude.”  

The last time I wrote about this problem, I received all kinds of suggestions on how to rid my acreage of these creatures.  I had people send me sacks of mole beans that resembled a blood-sucking insect found on dogs. I planted the beans, finding out later they may be poisonous, hoping they would at least spare parts of my yard from invasion. The moles did not bother the mole bean plants, but instead tunneled under the rest of the acreage. It seemed they received some type of fix from the beans like a drug and made tie-dye patterns in the yard. I ended up with hippie moles instead of no moles at all.  

I am talking about having really big moles taking up residence in my yard. They had tunnels the size of city water lines and they all seem to meet to form a mound the size of a small storm cellar. Each morning I would look out to see a new development that had sprung up over night, made from soil that resembled a structure that could be used to hide a North Korean missile site.  

Since earthworms are a mole's primary diet, I have even tried bait that looks like a gummy worm and costs close to $40, but all it does is give the moles a special treat. I have also read that they may even occasionally catch small mice at the entrance to their burrows. I’m talking about some really mean moles around here.  

I have even learned that because their saliva contains a toxin that can paralyze earthworms, moles are able to store their still living prey for a later snack. Wikipedia says they construct special underground "larders" for just this purpose and researchers have discovered such larders with over a thousand earthworms in them. Maybe that should be the place you look next time you need to dig for fishing bait. One thousand earthworms could make for a long day of fishing.  

I’ve always known moles were brutal, but did you know that before they eat their meal of earthworms, they pull them between their paws to squeeze the collected earth and dirt out of the worm's gut, so says Wikipedia. Now that is not only pretty mean, it is also smart. If I ate earthworms, I would want it cleaned and gutted too.  

Another kind soul suggested placing small windmills and whirly-gigs in the ground so the noise would scare them away.  I have almost two acres of yard, which would require hundreds of these things to make enough noise to scare the herd that lives under my sod.  I guess I could get an energy credit on my income tax for a wind farm. I also could add some flamingos, which would not only get rid of the moles, but my neighbors as well.  

I was even told to place chewing gum in their tunnels, but I really don’t know what flavor they like.  While taking down a fence the other day, I found a mole trap that was all rusted that had been used in the Mole Wars. It was spring-loaded and contained sharp spears that would stab the mole when it hit the trigger. It didn’t work. The moles dug around the trap and threw the trigger from the other side without spears; plus, it rained so much that spring that the trap rusted.  

With the new Mole War in progress, it at least gives Ranger something to do, but I’m getting tired of planting trees in the holes he leaves behind and I really don’t need a forest in the front yard.         


Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at  

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It’s Tough Doing It By Yourself

Through the years, I have found myself to be one to not ask for help no matter what. I have built decks where you didn’t know if you were coming or going. I once stacked rock for a porch footing that ended in my having to get a shot to get my shoulder working again. The death defying solo act of hanging a ceiling fan at a height where objects below looked like toys and using a ladder that should have been outlawed, causing my wife to go to the back porch and pray out loud until I finished, was probably number one on my list of stupefying feats.  But I’m a man, and we just seem to do things like this, causing children to marvel and wives to understand why Eve gave Adam that first piece of fruit, because it was just so easy to do.  

Over the years, I have slowed down on some of the exciting things and have found that I now take the advice that Andy gave Aunt Bea about getting the deep freeze repaired when he said, “Call the man!” I have reached that age where “calling the man” works much better for me, and Medicare also appreciates my doing so as well. Guess I have seen too many folks my age falling on TV lately without their emergency button around their neck and not having one of those bathtubs that you can walk into makes me more concerned about the things I can get myself into as an old dude.  

There are still a lot of things one person can do alone, but there are just some things that take more than one. Folding a fitted sheet may work for some people, but mine just come out in a wad. I did remedy that by just owning one fitted sheet per bed. When the time comes to wash, I wash it and put it back on the bed with no folding required.  

It takes two people to check really good for ticks, no matter how you do it. There is no way in the world to hold a mirror and get tweezers to work properly at the same time on your own body.  That’s a fact we just have to live with. If you can make it work with ease, then you may have more concerns than ticks.  

Another household chore that requires two people is the occasional turning of the mattress. You may accomplish this with very little help if you have a twin or single, but when you get into today’s queen and king size double-deckers, then you better have an additional strong back close by.  

Located in my chambers (doesn’t that sound majestic) is a fairly new queen size mattress that almost requires a ladder to get into each night. When I bought it, I was given instructions to turn it regularly to keep from voiding the warranty. Turning meant to move the head to the foot in a circular motion. That may sound easy if your bedroom is the size of a gymnasium and your bed is flat with no posts, but neither of those descriptions fit my bedroom. My bed has posts and the location of the bed in the room does not lend itself to a lot of movement. The mattress also has the weight of a steamer trunk and isn’t easy to grab a hold of.  

After waiting too long to make “the turn,” with the mattress developing an image of me in the very center, I decided to take it upon myself to follow the instructions and turn the mattress. Today, I can tell you I should have “called the man” or at least someone with a good back, but instead, I once again did it my way (I think someone else said that who is no longer with us…hhmmm).  

After clearing everything off of it, I grabbed one side of the mattress to slide it around. The next thing I knew I was face down with a mouth full of pillow top and two feet sticking straight up in the air. The mattress had not moved.  

Not to be out done by a sack of cotton, I slid both arms under one side and lifted with all my might. This time it moved sideways, knocking pictures to the floor from the nightstand and pinning me against the wall. With nothing else to do but lift it up, I got one leg under the monster, pushing it upward until it now hung like a plate on a juggler’s stick on one of the bedposts.  

As it hung unbalanced, but with me now freed, I made a mighty leap knocking it into a spin, and like a miracle it fell into the proper position on the box springs, only losing a couple of family pictures and the telephone in the process.  

That morning, after putting the fitted sheet back on and making up the bed, I proceeded to recover from the hardest wrestling match I ever had with a bedroom item. In the future when the thing needs to be turned again, I may just order a new mattress, because another fight like that just might put me in a hospital bed.              


Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at      

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Three-Year-Old Event Still Causes Giggin’

As a farm writer, I often receive communications from readers who have opinions about my subjects and sometimes their opinions may not agree with mine. When you write an opinion column, of course you expect differences of thought among the masses and you soon take criticism for what it is worth and move on. But, when someone questions your support of an activity that began three years ago for a very good reason and puts scripture as the basis for why you should not be in support of the activity, I do feel compelled to explain.   
In July of 2013, a group of young farmers who make up the Dekalb County Young Farmers and Ranchers organization were looking for a way to provide funds to help high school graduates in their area go to college. It seemed just about every kind of fundraiser had been tried in their county and they were looking for something unique and different to get enough money for a scholarship. Since Dekalb County is known for Center Hill Lake and its abundant fishing, as well as hunting resources, the group thought that taking one of the area’s favorite hunting sports and forming a contest would be a good idea to raise some cash for graduates.  
During the summer, most of the locals and hunters in the area around Dekalb County enjoy frog gigging. Frog gigging requires you to take a flashlight, a frog gig, some good boots and a buddy with a sack to visit a real wet area where the frogs live. There you harvest the frogs under the guidelines and rules of the area game warden, as well as the state of Tennessee. You can take no more than twenty frogs and after your hunt you can have some of the best eating from the frog legs you harvest. Dekalb County has some of the largest bullfrogs I have ever seen. Because of this fact, the idea of a “Giggin For Grads” contest was born and it’s about one of the greatest ideas I have ever heard of.  On a night in July of 2013 the first contest was held with a lot of success.  Despite the out of sorts feelings of some folks in other parts of this country that didn’t have a frog in the hunt, the event developed a lot of support from people who heard about the protest.  
As soon as the “Giggin For Grads” contest was announced, save the world and animal welfare groups got on social media to protest the young farmer’s efforts. A TV station out of Nashville even got in on the act. The fact that a group of young people were raising funds for college scholarships by means of a legal, decades old hunting sport, regulated by the state of Tennessee laws and the harvesting of a product served on the tables of Nashville’s very own finest restaurants, seemed to have not been very important in any of the news reports. The news only wanted to cover the controversy.  
That first year the protest groups acted uglier than warts on a frog. Their goal was to stop the contest, but their efforts seemed to have croaked.  
The young farmer group held tough. The community held even tougher. Other young farmers joined them and the contestant numbers grew from an expected 20-plus entries to almost 100 entries. Donations were sent to the event from people from adjoining counties and the scholarship fund grew to more than $1,000.  Due to the efforts of the animal groups more frogs were harvested that evening than planned, but that made for a better frog leg supper to celebrate the event’s success. I hear that if you want to donate this year, you can send your donations to Dekalb County Young Farmers and Ranchers, 865 South Congress Blvd., Smithville, TN 37166.  
Instead of the hundreds who were to come and protest in Smithville that night, only four showed up with their signs. The young farmers supplied them with water and food, as well as kindness. Later in the night about five more arrived, but as one young farmer said, “Everyone is welcome to their opinion, but not their way.”  
Once again, on June I9 the Dekalb County Young Farmers and Ranchers will be holding their event to raise money for scholarships, just as they have since that evening in July of 2013.  I spoke with a representative from the YF&R group and she says they are already having calls from animal cruelty groups with all kinds of threats including those of bodily harm to humans.  
The email I received only quoted scripture and came from the state of California. I’m just impressed that we have young people willing to stand their ground on something they think is right to help someone else go to college no matter the threats.  
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at  
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A Simple Cigar Box

You just never know how someone else will interpret what your intentions are until they are placed in the position to have to make a decision that can either put you in the driver’s seat or on the street walking. Over the past few days, the bank made just such a call on me that stopped everything and it was over someone reading a name wrong.  
I’m in the process of building a fence in the backyard and made a visit to a local store to purchase the needed supplies. After making all the arrangements for the delivery and installation, I prepared to make the payment. Noticing I had left my checkbook at home, I placed the charge on my credit card, knowing that I could pay it off at the end of the month when the charge came through.  
Thinking everything was okay, I was surprised the next day when I received a call from the store saying my charge had been denied. Immediately, I called my bank’s credit card department and was told that there was a charge on my account that had caused the block to be placed. The call was transferred to the fraud department, where I was questioned about an “unusual” charge to a social club that was not normal for me, thus causing the bank to block my account.  
After numerous questions relating to previous charges, dates and giving me the amount of the charge for the “social club,” the mystery of my strange behavior was finally solved. The “social club” charge was actually the fee I paid to the American Kennel Club to register by Black Lab puppy Ranger. That’s about as “social” as I get. After two phone calls and a visit to the bank, I finally had the problem resolved, and things back to normal with a fence going up the backyard. Next time, I’ll write a check.  
It just goes to show you, there are those who can make a decision without knowing what they are talking about. I assumed everyone everywhere knew what the American Kennel Club is, but there must be someone in the banking world that doesn’t.  
Often, we classify folks when we really shouldn’t and you never know where it may lead. I’ll never forget when someone classified me as an uber-conservative in a letter to the editor one time. It seems someone had determined I was an uber-conservative by a recent article I had written. They had gotten all caught up in conservative and non-conservative politics and thinking everything related to that. In fact, I had to look-up uber-conservative myself to find out what it really meant. It is someone even beyond ultra-conservative. That in no way is a description of me. If you happen to know how I was raised, we may have been called conservative today, but we were mainly conservatively without money. I have to say I do have conservative tendencies, but they are due to being reared by depression era parents.  
This month marks the one-year anniversary of when my mother passed away and if anyone was a conservative she was that. Just the other day I was going through some of her things, which consisted of nothing of monetary value, but a worth to a son that jewels couldn’t replace. There were ink pens that didn’t write, bread wrapper twisters, newspaper clippings, broken vases, spoons that didn’t match, a Mr. Coffee and our report cards, just to name a few of the treasures.  
In the boxes were also King Edward cigar boxes, containing miscellaneous receipts of years during my father and mother’s time of housekeeping. One of those boxes in particular that caught my attention contained the year’s receipts of 1960, ‘61 and ‘62. Among those receipts were notebook paper sheets filled with handwritten charges from the Farris Garage in Concord where my father took his school bus, tractors and cars to be repaired all those many years. There were charges from the Versailles Grocery containing items of a ten-cent Coca-Cola and a bag of peanuts that I can still remember sitting on the bench out front drinking while trying to wrestle each peanut with my tongue out of those little glass bottles. Each small aging sheet held listings of charges made by a farm family at the local country store to be paid at the end of the month when the milk check came in.  
That box held electric bills that amounted to only $6 and telephone bills being an extremely high $15, but there were tickets to the I.P. Burns Feed Mill showing evidence that the Read livestock ate very well during those days. But within that highly graphic box, still bright in color today, was a history of how life was for my family during a special time.  
It was much simpler than with your charging and record keeping. For sure, no one would check out your social club and I’m sure everyone knew about your dogs.        


Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at    
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Hold That Hog A Little Higher

It was a beautiful Tennessee spring morning when I pulled in the long gravel driveway of Uncle Sid and Aunt Sadie’s farm. The hills behind their house this year, once again, are bathed in hues of deep greens due to all of the rainfall that we have received. But their driveway did show signs of a whole lot of rain with some pretty deep ruts cut by several inches of rain that used their gravel drive for a riverbed the last few weeks.      
When I got out of my car, I was trying not to show how this year’s pollen was using me as a source of attraction. Uncle Sid never has problems with allergies and he blames the problems on “foreign” plants brought in here to bloom pretty, which only makes people’s noses bloom instead. There was no way I was going to let him know that my head resembled a too tight drum.  
Of course, Aunt Sadie met me at the front door wiping her hands on her apron and led me through the house to the back porch where Uncle Sid was looking at the mail while enjoying the warmth of the morning sun. There, setting on a white painted round table, was a plate of freshly baked cinnamon rolls and a pitcher of ice cold milk just waiting for someone like me to help myself. I just wished I could have tasted Aunt Sadie’s homemade delights.  
Her cinnamon rolls are the real things, too! Uncle Sid wouldn’t allow any of those canned types to be placed on the table at their house. He has complained for years about canned biscuits causing marriage problems in the home. Uncle Sid puts a lot of stock and value in good homemade biscuits to the point where he thinks that a plate of biscuits and preserves can solve any problem you may have. He once said, “It use to be housewives would pride themselves on their homemade biscuits, but now across America in subdivisions early every morning, ladies are up popping open those canned biscuits on every street to the point where it sounds like a young war.”  
After exchanging pleasantries and taking my seat in a lime green metal chair near the table to share with Uncle Sid some of Aunt Sadie’s cinnamon rolls, Aunt Sadie asked me how things were going. It had been a pretty demanding week and I sort of complained about how hard I had been working lately, not mentioning the allergy problems. I even made the statement of not having enough time to get things done the way I really wanted them to be completed.  
“Boy (I’m 66 and he still calls me boy), time - and how you use it - is all up to you,” Uncle Sid said while biting down on one of Aunt Sadie’s cinnamon rolls.  
Thinking to myself that Uncle Sid had never worked for anyone other than himself, and had spent his entire life on this farm, I assumed he knew very little about today’s world and the problems with modern-day time management, as well as the political world. “That’s true, but today it’s tough in the political and business world Uncle Sid,” I answered the old man while pouring myself a glass of milk.  
Setting his plate down on the porch table he pushed back in his chair, and I could tell I was about to get a lesson in time management. He looked at me and said, “I was walking several years ago, as a young man, over on the Haint Hollow Road near old man Howard’s farm, when I passed his orchard and saw him out there with a small pig under his arm holding it up to the apple trees. He was letting that pig eat apples one at a time. After it would finish one apple, he would move to another for the pig to eat.”  
He paused for a drink of milk and continued, “I stood there and watched him for a while and asked, ‘What you doing Mr. Howard?’  He just kept holding that pig up to that tree and answered, ‘I’m feeding my pig.’  To which I said, ‘Ain’t that awfully time consuming feeding a hog that way?’”  
Uncle Sid then leaned back in his lime green porch chair, looked straight at me, and said, “To which Mr. Howard said, ‘Yeah, but what’s time to a hog?’”  
With that, Uncle Sid got up and headed out to do his morning chores and left Aunt Sadie and me to ponder that time management story. And you know, a lot of the things I do everyday is sort of like feeding apples to a pig from an apple tree and I often wonder what is time to a hog? Welcome to the world of politics.        
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at  
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Nothing Can Stop The Desire

Whenever I have the chance to meet up with a group of friends, there is always one question that never fails to get asked by someone during casual conversation about how I’m enjoying being a county commissioner. I really don’t know if the word “enjoying” is proper to describe an elected office or not, but many times I get the feeling most individuals think there is something acutely wrong with me when I usually answer that it is everything I thought it would be. It does require long meetings, missed meals, phone calls with interesting concerns, and expectations of magic wands that makes everyone live happily ever after without leaving payment in kind.  
I must say, so far it has been exactly what I signed up for when I turned in my papers to qualify over a year ago and won. That is until Palm Sunday, when I got a text message from our local sheriff advising me of a problem in my district that needed my attention or at least come by to see what had happened over the weekend.  
The text arrived while having lunch with my family after church, so after finishing our meal and telling them all good afternoon, I proceeded to the far corner of my rural district to the Journey of Hope outreach center operated by the Midland Baptist Church. Within this small community outreach program, more than 600 families a week benefit from volunteer’s efforts to provide needed food and clothing without a lot of questions asked. When traveling near the old school building that was turned into the Journey of Hope facilities, there usually is a traffic jam, as those in need fill the building looking for food for their families, while also receiving a smile and kind words from those who administer the program.  
But, that Palm Sunday when I arrived, there were no lines of people looking for food and the parking lot had sheriff vehicles instead of bread trucks. As I walked through the old school building’s doors, I walked across crushed glass from broken front doors and the smell of pickle juice permeated the air, due to someone taking cases of dill pickles and smashing them throughout the building.  
But there, among turned over shelves, destroyed food and broken commercial refrigeration units in a building that once held hope for many, but now looked like a war zone, were the volunteers assessing the damage of all their hard work.  On Saturday evening, some very unconcerned and seemingly heartless individuals entered the building and spent their time breaking or destroying anything that came into their sights. I even saw eggs thrown at a picture of Jesus. What they apparently saw as fun was nothing but a direct attack on a program that was placed there to help and heal.  
Thousands of dollars of damage was declared on Journey of Hope that night, but the following Monday more than 60 volunteers were on the scene rebuilding. In fact, their determination gives me the impression that this outreach will be even better and stronger.  As I visited the following day, those who were involved driving nails and mending clothing said that they had already forgiven those who had trespassed against them. The smiles were back, and yes, by the end of the week there was food on the shelves, with many of the people’s needs being taken care of once again.  
By Tuesday of that same week, three young men were arrested by detectives and charged for the crimes. The reason they gave for what they did really stunned me. These three men, within the ages of 19 to 21, said they destroyed the Journey of Hope food pantry because they were “bored.” For a very important reason, that was one word that was never allowed around our farm when we were growing up. If you even looked bored there was a set of limb clippers that would fit your hands to start cutting out fence rows or you had to move baled hay from one side of the barn to the other and then back again.  
I still have plenty of fencerows that need working, so if a 20-year-old gets “bored” they are welcome to come help, rather than take food from the needy. Maybe they should also be fed pickle sandwiches for a while, since they enjoyed spreading their contents for others to clean up.  
If anything, I was renewed to see the volunteers who jumped right back in and showed that their desire was to do the work that Journey of Hope was designed for. It is great to see that no matter what adversity is thrown at those who believe in what they are doing, it will not stop their desire to do good.            
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at
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A Good Stern Look Does Wonders

As I looked through a display of brightly colored packaged seeds at Kelton’s store the other day, I saw some okra that reminded me of Uncle Sid. Okra is one item that Uncle Sid considers a weed and one day I discovered he and Aunt Sadie had totally different views on the plant. It was also a day I was taught a lesson or two about politics.  
It was a spring day fit for planting a garden. The late April sky was overcast, the humidity somewhat high and the white frame farmhouse of the old couple was totally dark. When I arrived I knew exactly where they were.  
I walked on around the house to the backyard, and sure enough, there they were in the middle of a family discussion at the beginning of a newly planted row in their closely manicured vegetable garden. Aunt Sadie saw me first and met me rubbing her hands on her apron so she could give me a hug without soiling my clothes. After exchanging pleasantries and taking my place at the beginning of the garden row being planted by the two aged agriculturalists, Aunt Sadie asked my opinion on when does it become too much okra when you are planting your garden. Seems that had been the discussion the two were involved in when I arrived and I had become a third party in determining what amount of the green podded plant was to go in this year’s garden on their farm. Uncle Sid had said nothing, which indicated he was not at all in agreement with Aunt Sadie’s plans for the afternoon, and it also sent up a red flag to me on how I should be answering the question. I knew he was the head of the household on this farm, but I also knew that Aunt Sadie was the neck that controlled the direction of the head. Plus, there was the smell of a freshly baked cobbler coming from the kitchen’s windowsill just a few yards away and I didn’t want to miss any of that dish later.  
Being a college graduate, a newly elected county commissioner and a direct descendant of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, I said, “There is never too much okra, is there? What do you think Uncle Sid?” Boy, was I out educated and birth righted with his answer.  
Leaning on his garden hoe and kicking a dirt clod with his old brogan, he answered, “It’s a known fact that common or uncommon insects won’t even eat okra. If a bug won’t even eat it, why should we?  It is related to cotton and hibiscus plants, which don’t sound very appetizing, plus, when you boil it the stuff turns into something sort of like pond scum.”  
From those statements, I got the feeling the old man was not very interested in planting okra. But, as I glanced at Aunt Sadie, I saw a look from her eyes, bypassing me and going straight to the source of the recent comments on okra. Uncle Sid saw that look as well, and he, too, was receiving the same vibes as I was from that little white-haired lady with her hands placed firmly on her hips.  
“But you know,” he said rubbing his chin, “Okra fried in good Martha White cornmeal and placed alongside Sadie’s homegrown tomatoes can’t be beat. Boy (he still calls me boy even though I’m 66 years old), okra can be boiled, pickled, steamed and fried. And the interesting thing is that it still tastes like okra no matter what you do to it. It arrived in these parts way back in 1806, and if it had not been for okra seeds during the last days of the War of Northern Aggression, our kin folks wouldn’t have had a replacement for coffee when times got real tough. In fact, just thinking about a good cup of coffee and Sadie’s cobbler over yonder in the kitchen window makes me want to plant both those rows of okra that Sadie ‘suggested’ a few minutes ago. What do you think Miss Sadie?”  
Later that afternoon the cobbler was certainly good and it’s amazing what can be done in the garden when it involves a cobbler and a stern look from a headstrong little old lady.  
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at
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What T-Shirt Should You Wear

I love my state this time of the year! You can tell you are in Tennessee when the days begin to warm and the trees change from dark brown to colorful pastels, as well as by the number of festivals being held across our volunteer state. Spring, along with fall, is a wonderful time to celebrate the changing of the season after “Ole Man Winter” ran us all indoors for the past several months. It also gives us rural types a real good reason to get out and enjoy a whole lot of celebrations that relate to numerous things.  

Those of us who are native Tennesseans have the unique desire to want to hold festivals to honor food, animals or some type of produce. It must be in our nature, because if you check the coming events section of most of our reading materials you will find the majority of our festivals support those three areas of our culture. We honor the mule, bird dog, fainting goat, bee, horse, cornbread, strawberry, poke sallet, soybean, cotton, catfish, apple, peach, molasses, kudzu, pig, and many others too numerous to mention in this limited space.  
Being one who really enjoys this time of the year, I’m glad all these festivals occur and urge others to pull on their favorite tee shirt (which the majority look better on the item being celebrated) and head out this weekend to see some type of Tennessee festival at its best.  
Being somewhat of a specialist in good country cooking and also a bit on the unusual side, I was invited for a number of years to be a judge at the Annual National Cornbread Festival for the 4-H Division Cook-off in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. Due to a few tummy surgeries I turned that job over to a very capable coworker, and now stick to judging my own cooking, which is pretty good if I do say so myself. If you have never attended the National Cornbread Festival, then you had better plan to be there the last weekend of April, because it is the event of a lifetime.  
For a cornbread lover like me, just to savor the smells and tastes of everything cornbread in one day's visit was almost more than I could stand. And then to have the opportunity to taste the ten best recipes of cornbread out of more than 100 entries from 4-H members from all parts of the country and this state, you had to know that I was in "country cook'n heaven."  
I got VIP parking, a large rosette judge's ribbon and several goodies from festival cook-off sponsors Lodge Cast Iron Cookware and Martha White. For a southern fat boy, what more could you ask for? But the greatest part of the day was meeting and judging the contest for 10 of the most charming 4-H members you would ever want to meet.  
They were elementary students, but they all had just as much determination and skill to compete as the adults, who would bake their goods during the afternoon national contest.  
The contest is held early in the morning and each contestant has to prepare their own recipe on a stage before hundreds of watching festival goers. After mixing their ingredients, they bake their cornbread creation on stage for the judges. They are judged on appearance, creativity, presentation, cooking techniques, product color, shape, crust, texture and most importantly of all, flavor. And by the way, they must prepare their recipe in cast iron cookware. As I always say, "Anytime you encounter cornbread made in a cake pan, you're dealing with imposters."  
The cornbread dishes I’ve tasted those past years were all really good and trying to pick a winner was tough. I ate enough cornbread on those judging days that all I had to do for supper at night was drink water and swell.  
It is a treat to see these kids put all their efforts into being the best. Lodge and Martha White are to be congratulated for promoting the town of South Pittsburg, but most of all getting these young people a chance to “make the best better.”  
During the festival you can tour the Lodge plant located in South Pittsburg, see hundreds of arts and crafts, watch the cook-off, go down Cornbread Alley and basically have a really good time.  
Maybe someday they will let me judge the big contest or even enter the Celebrity Cook-off. Just don't put me up against those 4-Hers. They are good at what they do.  
Hope you are packing your t-shirt right now and heading to South Pittsburg.                                                                                                                                                                                 
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation.  He may be contacted by e-mail at
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Is Cousin Clod Happy?

Since I no longer drive to work, I now am pleasantly awakened each weekday to the sound of my favorite radio station WSM and the Bill Cody program. “Cody In The Morning” is one way I start the day and have been doing so for sometime. His radio show is like a radio program should be on a station with a legacy like WSM.  It has always been a mainstay in my family and has also been around ever since I came into this world. As a matter of fact, we had an old brown Philco radio bought at the local Firestone store that sat on top of the white, green-trimmed cabinet in the kitchen that only would pick up “The Air Castle of South.” I still think it ought to be the law that all kitchen radios be tuned to a local AM station and the radio knobs pulled off so the station can’t be changed.  
At high noon each day back on the farm we always stopped for dinner, to not only eat, but also to listen to the market report on John McDonald’s Noontime Neighbors radio program. Whenever that dinner bell would ring you knew it was time for us children to get quiet because Daddy had to hear if the livestock market was up or down. The results of that market report also helped with his attitude when we went back to work in the field. Always liked it when they said the market was up.  
During my time of listening recently to the Nashville station, not only at home but also in my pickup, I heard a commercial that dealt with a certain brand of chicken you could buy at your local grocery. The thing that caught my attention in the advertisement was that they were referring to how happy their chickens were back on their farm. They said their birds didn’t receive antibiotics or other drugs like other chickens grown on other farms, and that they lived in special houses that helped keep their chickens healthy and happy.  
I appreciated the image the commercial presented, talking about the health of their fowl and that they were taking extra steps to keep their product safe for the consumer. It’s good to know that poultry producers are very aware of providing clean, safe and comfortable housing for their chickens and the consumer’s concerns are always a part of maintaining their operations.  
The thing that I have a problem trying to understand is how to tell if a chicken is happy or not. Telling folks your chickens are healthy and content is understandable, but saying they are happy is somewhat hard for many of us country residents to grasp. I raised chickens for years and was even the grand champion winner in my county 4-H club six times in a row for having the best group of twelve pullets. I have even had the grand champion Rhode Island Red rooster at the Tennessee State Fair, but I have yet to hear a chicken laugh. I can’t even tell if a chicken is smiling or not. They all have that sort of silly look with their mouths open, but I don’t think that means they are happy. Cousin Clod has a silly look and also walks around with his mouth open at times and I know for a fact he is not the jolliest person you would ever want to meet.  
Maybe they cackle every now and then, but does that mean they are happy? A lot of people think because a hen cackles after she lays an egg she is proud and happy of the accomplishment. I think she is just glad that the ordeal is over for the day and she doesn’t have to think about it again until tomorrow.  
We are still trying to figure out which came first, the chicken or the egg. Nobody really knows why the chicken crossed the road. Is it true that the term dumb cluck comes from an observation of the abilities of chickens? Do we run around at times like a chicken with our head cut off? And, just what are the Colonel’s secret ingredients in his fried chicken recipe?  
Who would have ever thought all of this high level fowl pondering would have resulted from a WSM radio program. Maybe you would have thought it considering the shows content, but I still am not sure that a chicken can smile or be called happy.            
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at    
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