A Close Look at the Pipeline Victims

I got a dose of reality I wasn’t looking for yesterday in the wilds of Franklin County. I also saw, first-hand, what real courage is.

I visited the family of Carolyn and Ian Reilly  at their smallish Four Corners Farm and learned first-hand of the extensive physical, cultural, psychological, emotional and community damage the gas pipeline that is under consideration will do.

The Reilly farm, which has been years in the building, is an environmentally-friendly creation of people who love the land, their families and their culture. They are careful and they farm the right way, which is to say in a sustainable manner.

This pipeline would cut a swath 150-feet wide and 1/4 mile long through the middle of their best grazing land. God only knows what it will do to the soil and the water on the land. Nobody is saying the pipeline will make a better place for the Reillys. Most agree their small patch of heaven will be despoiled by wealthy industrialists who don’t care one whit what happens to the land under which their pipeline carries their potential billions of dollars.

This is Trump nation where good people like the Reillys and their four children, people who do everything right, are seen as expendable. If they are expendable, then so are we all. In a few hours we will see the despicable, excremental Roy Moore, an accused child predator, elevated to the U.S. Senate while the Reillys fight tooth and nail to save their small farm.

The whole family fights, organizes, speaks, shows up, argues and Carolyn even started Bold Alliance, a non-profit hell-bent on stopping this atrocity, the likes of which have become so common in the past year of Trump and his minions.

I admit to having been a passive observer of the pipeline issue–which is quite complex on the technical side. But seeing the simplicity of a small, good family struggling in the face of a big, soulless, culture-destroying industry gives me pause. Serious pause.

(Photo: WDBJ7)

MMT Delivers with “A Christmas Story”

I was especially curious how a younger audience would react to the dated jokes and references in A Christmas Story, written for the screen in 1983, but set in the 1950s. This was Jean Shepherd’s childhood and he was the droll narrator of the movie,which made his jokes all the more hilarious.

Mill Mountain Theatre has tackled the Christmas classic with solid results and I was, frankly, surprised that the audience gets it … all of it.The moments are there: Flick’s (Jacob Snead) tongue on the metal pole, Randy (Beckett Socha) in his snow suit and then the bunny suit, the evil Scut Farkus (Graham Roudebush is good here) bullying everybody, and Ralphie (Sawyer Mullins with a star turn) obsessing over the Red Ryder BB gun (which I also lusted after as a kid and my mom said just what his mom–Julia VanderVeen–said: “You’ll shoot your eye out”).

Of course there’s the Major Gift (a godawful leg lamp, which has become a Christmas icon) won by Ralplhie’s Dad (played with aplomb by Scott Watson).

A Christmas Story is not drippy, sentimental “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” story. It’s about real people experiencing this magic time the way real people do. Travis Kendrick, the talented in-house director at MMT, pulls this story together with good pacing, superb delivery of the jokes and strict adherence to the story. When you have a classic, you don’t need to deviate.

As you might expect, “A Christmas Story” has been drawing very well, so get your tickets and don’t miss this one. It runs through Dec. 23.


What You Gettin’ for Christmas (in Song)?

“A pair of Hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots …”

For a week or so–starting today–I will like Christmas music and will play it in my car. Then it’s over. Too  much. Saturated. Filled to brimming.

One of my favorite games with Christmas music is trying to figure out who’s giving what to whom. Here are a few examples (song titles in bold face):

Up on the Housetop

Little Nell: dolly that laughs and cries, one that will open and shut its eyes.

Little Will: a hammer and lots of tacks, also a ball and a whip that cracks.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Barney and Ben: a pair of Hopalong* boots and a pistol that shoots;

Janice and Jen: dolls that will talk and go for a walk.

(*Hopalong Cassidy was a 1940s B-movie cowboy.)

Chipmunk Song

Chipmunks: a plane that loops the loop and hula hoop.

Jolly Old St. Nicholas

Johnny: pair of skates;

Susy: dolly;

Nellie: story book;

Me: “my little brain isn’t very right; choose for me, Old Santa Claus, what you think is right.”

All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth

Me: two front teeth.

I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ for Christmas

Me: nuttin’.

Nancy Agee: Virginia’s Best in Business

My old pal Nancy Agee, CEO and President of Carilion, has been named the top business professional in Virginia, a recognition she richly deserves. Nancy has instituted the kind of team approach to leadership at Carilion that has resulted in better health care treatment, happier staff and international recognition.

She’s one of those rare business professionals who honestly believes it is more important to have good outcomes than it is to be given credit for those outcomes.  Her team approach has the goal of empowering all of the 13,000 Carilion employees in 300 square miles of Western Virginia.

She’s in a position that invited criticism (head of a huge health care concern), and as often as I hear Carilion criticized, I can’t recall anybody saying anything negative about Nancy. In our country’s health care system, health organizations are wide open for criticism, regardless of what they do, but Carilion is one of those that works–in my personal experience.

I interviewed Nancy for a magazine story I just finished writing last week and she chatted briskly about a trip she’d just taken to China where she gave a presentation (the second by an American in the history of this particular conference), but she was far more interested in talking about how clean the country is, how careful visitors have to be and how she hiked the great wall. She’s president of the American Hospital Association and is almost constantly traveling in that capacity.

Virginia Business Magazine, which rarely seems to know Western Virginia exists, selected her as its top business person (here).

The Fault at UT Lies with the President

Shirley Raines would have avoided the mess at UT.

I just watched the architect of the University of Tennessee’s implosion in the past 20 days, Chancellor Beverly Davenport and new athletic director Phil Fulmer, try to avoid explaining what happened.

I was left with the impression that if my former sister-in-law, Shirley Raines, were heading this attempt to hire a credible football coach, UT would not only have a top-notch, experienced, creative football coach, but stability would reign (so to speak).

Shirley was president of the University of Memphis when it was searching for a football coach and didn’t have an athletic director to conduct the search. Shirley did it and wound up hiring Justin Fuente (now at Virginia Tech), who turned out to be arguably the best football coach in Memphis history.

Shirley’s retired, though, and she’s not at UT. Such a pity.

Beverly Davenport was about seven levels below impressive in this press conference and her hire of John Currie, the AD she fired today, over Fulmer and, more important, David Blackburn, a UT-Chattanooga AD with a UT background, is a glaring error. It is compounded by the constant missteps of the past two weeks and it falls on her desk, all of it. She’s the boss and she failed.

One irony in all this: Justin Fuente could well be the leading candidate for the Tennessee job if he doesn’t get the opening at Florida State. He’s a damn good coach. Shirley could see that.

It’s Back to Church for My Pal and Me

Susan shot this of me jumping the creek. I like the shot. Shows an old man still able to do cool stuff.

Susan and me celebrating Sunday.

It’s been a few weeks since my friend Susan and I celebrated our Sunday with our version of church, but yesterday, we managed to not only commune with nature in our own celebration of the spiritual, but we found a delightful breakfast before we entered the woods.

After a search that eliminated three different breakfast spots in downtown (or near downtown) Roanoke because they didn’t open until 10 a.m., we settled on Scrambled on City Market and found its food and ambiance to our liking.

Then it was off to the greenway to celebrate Sunday morning with glorious color, a brook that defined “babbling” and back to Grandin Village for lunch at the Co-Op. It was a lovely day and I got to see my friend, whom I have missed, for nearly five hours. Good stuff that.

Susan’s photo of what we’re celebrating.

Pampa digs church.

Trolleys and Trains and Greenways, Oh, My!

That’s the trolley between rail cars.

Went down to Carilion Riverside this morning to have some blood work done and after being stuck and withdrawn, I went for a little walk along the greenway. Along the way, I ran into this train and the Carilion trolley on the other side.

I needed to pick up some theater tickets, so I hitched a ride on the trolley and got dropped off downtown, a seven-minute ride and no problems parking. Only thing was, Mill Mountain Theatre is closed Mondays, so the trip was fruitless. Except that riding that little bus-ette is a lot of fun.

Nice view of the end of the train.

A Book for Your Christmas Stocking (At a Real Deal)

Here’s a Christmas gift tip for those of you who want something local, full of heritage and wildly entertaining:

Today, BookBub, the website that features some of the best reading available in the country for a price that is absurd on the low end, is featuring my friend Leah Weiss’ book “If the Creek Don’t Rise” for a fraction of its cover price (something like $2.50). It would make a great Yule gift.

Kirkus reviews calls the book “A beguiling, compelling read … This Appalachian tale is a strong, formidable novel for readers of William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy.” Strongly reminiscent in tone and language of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” A work of art in words. Leah lives in Lynchburg and the book is on its way to becoming a best seller.

I told you about this book as Leah was writing it and it is receiving the high praise I thought it would  from a diverse set of reviewers at every level..

Fall: One Last Burst of Color

This spectacular (if crippled) Bradford pear tree greeted me out the kitchen window this morning as I made coffee. It is the last gasp of one of the more colorful falls in my memory.

I recall in August and through September saying, “We’re not going to have a fall this year. Too hot, too dry.” And then the weather cooled and the rain came, producing color that was more New England than Appalachia.

This old pear tree has been battered by wind for years and last year pretty well split in half, but it’s still pretty, so I’m not cutting it down until I have to.

A Brief, Memorable Visit

Madeline pushes her lazy little brother.

My son’s family goes back to Memphis tomorrow, unofficially halfway across America, and leaves me with some pretty good photos of our time at Thanksgiving, 2017.

I like these quick intense visits, though I would really like having them around more, so Madeline and I could hang out and Evan and I could talk football. But, as Ev says, “It is what it is.” And what it is now is these photos.

Evan with Maddie and her mom at the skating rink.

Maddie hit the deck, but later skated quite well.

Evan liked the little penguin.

Oz ready to take off down the ice run …

… and here comes Oz.

A father-daughter stroll on the ice.

A hug from grandma.

Mom and Dad enjoying being parents.

Maddie at a video game in the pinball museum.

Evan looks like a pro.

Oz has his own way of playing.

The family that plays (pinball) together, stays together.

Group action at the pinball museum.