Observations and Meanderings

Methodist Chicken

I was out walking the dogs Saturday morning and passed by the parking lot of one of the several churches in the area. Two men were busy down at their outdoor pavilion and when we swung by to say hello they said they were getting the grill ready and I should come back in the afternoon for a chicken dinner. “Half chicken, baked potato, slaw, dessert, and a drink for ten bucks. Eat here or get it to go,” one of them said. I looked past them, under the roof. The pit stretched the entire length of the pavilion. 

“How many chickens are y’all cooking?”

They looked at each other. “Well, we usually serve about 600 meals, so I guess that’s 300 chickens. That’s why we’re starting early, getting everything set up.”

That afternoon, as I was standing in line, the man behind me confided, “I’m a Baptist, but every once in a while I got to get me some of that Methodist chicken.”

I turned around and grinned at him. “I guess some things cross denominational lines.”

Maybe the best way to tell if something is important, if it’s a little piece of truth, is if it crosses lines — denominations, faith traditions, cultures. Things like love, and equality, and compassion, and recognition of our shared humanity.

And chicken. Don’t forget chicken. If it can bring Baptists and Methodists together, I’d say there’s hope for us all, even in these difficult times. 

Please, Take My Money!

Earlier this week my wife and I were at one of the local big box home improvement stores. Which one doesn’t really matter. I could easily imagine this playing out at any one of a number of establishments.

After much hand wringing and soul searching, the carpet and vinyl flooring choices had been made, and we were ready to sign the contract. We had been given a quote earlier and went to the appropriate section of the store, which of course was empty of personnel. Soon an employee from another department appeared and began trying to find our account in the computer. Within a few minutes someone assigned to flooring happened by, and our odyssey began in earnest.

After finding our account and pulling it up onscreen, we started going over it and I immediately noticed several items that hadn’t been discussed when the estimator had visited us the week before. After a few phone calls most of the questions were more or less answered, and we moved on to payment.

I pointed to a clipping taped to the post above the computer that said, “Ask how you can get a 20% discount.” When I asked, I was offered an application for a store credit card. At the end of the online application, after the process was complete, the fine print limiting the discount to a maximum of $100.00 appeared, which was a disappointment. Also disappointing was the 27% interest rate, but not as much as the discovery that the discount did not apply to anything that involved installation. I decided not to bother asking why the offer was displayed in the flooring section of the store, which pretty much only deals in things that must be installed, thinking it would be wasted time. At this point we had already spent close to a half an hour trying to finish this deal. 

It turned out that there was much more to come. We had to move to the front of the store to complete the transaction, and when we got there I got out my checkbook and wrote the store a check for a little over ten thousand dollars. I had moved some money around and had more than enough in my account to cover it. 

The check was declined. The employee tried to run it through again, with the same result. When he called over another employee, she said that when a check was entered into the system, it was treated the same way as a debit card, and if the debit card had a daily limit the transaction would be rejected. 

I called my credit union, had the limit on my debit card lifted, and the employee decided it would be best to tear up that check and write a new one. As it happened, that was the last check in my book, so I went out to my car and got a new booklet of checks, came back, and wrote another check. 

Which was also rejected the first time it ran through the machine. The second time he tried it, it became stuck, and the computer froze halfway through the attempted transaction. This required a call to the IT department and a move to a different terminal. The new terminal would not open our account because as far as the system was concerned, the account was already open on another machine.

At this point we were an hour and some several minutes into trying to complete this sale. A department manager showed up and took over, and much discussion ensued among the several employees involved in this fiasco. Eventually the correct forms were brought up on the computer and the printing process began, which took more time.

By this point we had agreed that we might as well give up on trying to get the machine to accept a check and we used a couple of credit cards to pay for the flooring and installation (which was to be done by a subcontractor; I understand that is standard practice now). I elected not to use the store credit card on principle, because of the usurious interest rate.

The whole process took over an hour and a half, not including the call we got the next day from someone in another department informing us that two items totaling about $500 had been left off the estimate and it was actually going to cost more than we had settled on the previous day.

A thoroughly unpleasant experience, and it’s taking a fair amount of restraint to avoid using the kind of language I would like to use to describe the ordeal.

Later, I spoke to a friend in the construction business and described the above to him. I told him I was thinking about bailing out of the whole mess and trying again at another store. When I asked him if that was a good idea, he said sure, but it might very well be the same at the next place. “That’s just the way it is now,” is how he put it.

As a young man, I did much of the work constructing our house myself. Now that I am well past being young, I no longer have the strength, balance, or stamina to do the kind of things I used to do. Sometimes, having to hire out a job I would have tackled myself some years back is frustrating to say the least. Overall, I like being an old guy. There are lots of advantages: perspective, experience, a sense of the long view of things, the opportunity to play the curmudgeon, and so on. Occasionally, though, it’s a little irritating.

The Last Thing My Dad Ever Taught Me

Dad didn’t mean to teach me this last lesson. In my experience, some of the best, most important, most meaningful lessons are unintentional. I’m pretty sure I’ll remember this one.

My father died earlier today. He was 94, in relatively good health for almost all of that time, went into the hospital with a case of pneumonia five weeks ago, and now he’s gone. He owned and operated an accounting business in Maryville for many years, building his professional reputation on honesty and competence, and worked his farm when he wasn’t behind his desk. He was a Mason, a Navy veteran, and, later in his life, a recreational pilot. He spent almost all of his 94 years on the family farm in Loudon County, on land that has been in the family for generations. That farm now belongs to me and my sister Jane, and is among the many things we’ll have to deal with and make decisions about in the coming weeks.

Fathers and sons. Much has been written about that extremely complex relationship, and I have nothing original to add, so I won’t go into ours other than to say it was as multifaceted and convoluted, and went through as many changes, as most father-son relationships.  We were on good terms for much of our time together, including here at the end, and I’m glad about that.

About two and a half weeks ago I was visiting Dad in the rehab center where he was transferred after being stabilized in the hospital. I was almost ready to leave when he looked at me and said, “There are some things that need to be said.” 

I sat back down. “I’m right here, Dad. I’ll stay as long as you need me to.”

He shook his head. “Not today. Let me get my thoughts together.”

I said okay and left. Over the next several visits his decline grew more rapid, and we never finished that conversation. He never told me what he thought needed to be said. I will never know what he felt was so important.

What he taught me, there at the very end, was this: If there are things you need to say, to your family or those close to you, don’t wait. Don’t put it off. If it’s important, it’s important right now.

Last Festival of 2022

Remember, the Holiday Market at Ijams Nature Center is this Sunday, Dec. 4, 10 to 3. Come by and say hello, check out all the fine artists and crafters, and do a little shopping. Books make great gifts!

Also, if you’re not in the area or can’t make it on Sunday, the Boone series print versions are at Union Avenue Books in downtown Knoxville and on Amazon. If you’re close to a different independent bookstore, ask them to order the Boone series for you. Support local businesses when you can; it’s good for all of us.

Print versions of my children’s books are at Ijams Nature Center and available on Amazon. 

Ebook versions of the Boone series and my other novels are available on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play.

Holiday Shopping

Remember, the Holiday Market at Ijams Nature Center is this Sunday, Nov. 27, 10 to 3. Come by and say hello, check out all the fine artists and crafters, and do a little shopping.

Also, if you’re not in the area or can’t make it on Sunday, the Boone series print versions are at Union Avenue Books in downtown Knoxville. Print versions of my children’s books are at Ijams and available on Amazon. 

Ebook versions of the Boone series and my other novels are available on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play.


Many thanks to everyone who came by my table at the Mountain Makins Festival in Morristown this past weekend. It was a fine way to spend a couple of days; I saw some old friends, made some new ones, and sold a few books in the bargain.

In a few weeks I’ll be at the Ijams Holiday Marketplace to finish out the year, along with a lot of fine artists and craftspeople; if you’re in the Knoxville area either weekend, drop by and say hello. Remember, books make great gifts!