On Memorial Day — Ode to my Grandfathers

My grandfathers were — and likely will always be — an enigma. They are both gone now, and their stories and memories are fading, as those who knew them fade. But on Memorial Day, I’m reminded of the strange, intriguing similarity that they share.

Both served, as almost all men of a certain age did, in World War II. But they both served in the background; they both served in a capacity that never brought either to the front. Neither claimed to have been in any battles or experienced the direct horrors of war.

My maternal grandfather — Melvin — was a complicated man. More specifically, he was complicated emotionally. He was often conflicted about his experiences in war, and also highly proud to have been a part of the effort. He served in the Army Air Corp, but spent most of his time as a mechanic. He served multiple years in the service during World War II, but the majority of his time, he spent it in the states.

He checked in young men as they came in to begin their service. Melvin was a country boy from rural Alabama whose parents were hardscrabble farmers. And the men he processed came from a lot of places that were not Alabama. But the names are what he remembered. He could pronounce all the odd names, all the hard ones.

He also had lots of stories, that he might or might not want to share … like hitch-hiking back to Marshall County or buying and selling cars from men being inducted.

His stories of war were a mishmash of experiences, like his brief time in England supporting the Army Air Corp as the war moved toward Germany in the last years of the war. His time in England left him with mixed feelings. He was somehow — even in his 70’s — still annoyed at the reaction of some of the English to the Yank’s presence, using a phrase that wasn’t original to him — that the Americans were “Overpaid, oversexed and over here.”

And he wasn’t laughing when he said it.

But he also loved and was proud of what they did. Proud of defeating Nazism. And the war changed him, in many ways. Between the war and growing up in the Depression, he was a Roosevelt Democrat, and a lifelong Democrat, with ideas about respecting people that echoed more progressive Christian beliefs (and perhaps experiences serving alongside people of different backgrounds and experiences).

And he loved visiting with and being a part of the reunion groups of the Air Corp. He did that until he died. He identified with that group of men.

My Grandfather Ray was Navy man. Somewhere in my home, I have his discharge papers. Like Melvin, Ray served, but his service ended at almost the time that World War II started.

Ray and Melvin actually knew each other. They both were from Marshall County, though Ray also spent time in other states, and had a bit more worldliness about him. He was more educated. But unfortunately for me, and for my memories of him, he died when I was young — 11 years old.

Ray was a large man. He wasn’t a tremendous talker, preferring to interject more than lead a conversation. If he had issues, if he had conflicts, he’d be much more likely to come out and tell you, but without passive-aggression. He’d just tell you like he saw it, and that was good enough.

He missed most of the war. He spent his time in the Navy working on ships, stationed in and near Mobile much of the time. The story, as it’s been told to me over the years (or at least the one I choose to remember), is something that seems indicative of the Campbells.

He was medically discharged after he hurt his back, carrying a generator … by himself. He’d served most of his time by then. But the image of him — stubborn, trying to do it alone, bull-headed — is something that speaks to me, something that seems all too believable.

He was also an interesting character, in that he wasn’t the type of man who sought the approval of the crowd. He could be a bit prickly, but he was also the type of man who did what he thought was right, regardless of what others might think.

Serving their country, I believe, changed them both, as it changes anyone. I like to believe that perhaps their service taught them about life and appreciation. I like to believe that the sacrifice they made played a part in them becoming men ahead of their time. More accepting of different people, different circumstances.


Now I’m watching “children” begin their time of service to our country. My own son-in-law now serves in the Air Force. I’m proud of him and for him. I have friends and others who have served — some who are no longer with us.

I recognize that service does not necessarily enlighten all who serve. But it can, and it does. Most people who have served and seen the suffering and pain of war and conflict don’t wish that experience on anyone, especially those closest to them. And I like to believe that in the midst of sacrifice, suffering and destruction, that we can become more, that life finds its way.

I think for me, I have to believe that. On Memorial Day, I’m remembering these men because they are my connection to life and my connection to service. And I loved them. Not because they served, but because they were my people, and because in their own imperfect way, they showed me a better way.

For them and for all those who served, I say, “Thank you.”



Happiness will find a way or What I learned about being happy by just getting out of the bed

There’s a saying — maybe it came from Jurassic Park (who knows) — that “life will find a way.” Today, I was reminded that if we are open, look and savor what presents itself that happiness often finds a way, too …

A few years ago, I was part of a “Happiness Project” that had its roots, ironically enough, in some very unhappy and crappy circumstances. I wanted to revisit this, maybe for one day, maybe for 40, to look at happiness. The most difficult part was where to start, and how?

Happiness is tied to being aware, open and marking it when it happens… which, by the way, is a lot easier to write when you’ve written the column than when you haven’t. But today, that process begins with focusing on some small, happy wins (which I saw as an achievable goal for writing) … and ends with the something better than I’d unexpected:

Indulge yourself. Recently, I declared a random Friday a “Mel-a-bration.” Why? Why not is the better question. We spend a lot of time, most of us, doing for the people around us — family, friends, coworkers. But we shouldn’t forget (as I do sometimes) that we do and we live also for life that we were given. To enjoy it and embrace it ourselves. Buy yourself a cookie or a burger or whatever makes you smile. Sleep late. Say yes to the dress (or whatever). Take a day for you. For my Mel-a-bration, I tried a new place for breakfast and tamped down my guilt at buying a $9 biscuit.

Unplug. Social media is less the problem (it’s not all good or all bad) itself and more that it often provides unreasonable and ultra-dramatic outlets for people’s narcissism and anxieties. I’ll give you that it represents people’s true feeling, but social media ramps up our emotional outrage and burns us out emotionally in the long run. Just like a difficult situation, sometimes you just need a break … a few hours, days or whatever’s right for you. Avoiding the negative is almost like embracing the positive … almost.

Find ways to say yes. When it comes to be bedtime, I will do just about anything to get the kids into and headed to sleep. They, on the other hand, sense my desperation and unleash a barrage of requests/demands that would overwhelm an army of hostage negotiators … can I have a drink, can I have something to eat, can I buy a unicorn, can you lay with me … As a parent — and I think as just a member of the human race — we are barraged by requests: do this, do that, get mad about this, buy this, share that, enter this, eat here. It’s exhausting. And often, my reaction is just to shut it all down. But my kids have taught me something, a well timed yes — not to everything but to something — goes a long way to to preserving your sanity … but it also reminds you that saying yes, agreeing, is powerful. As I was writing this, my youngest was asking to sit in my lap as I typed. I told him that I couldn’t type with him there, but he could pull up a chair and sit next to me. He’s next to me now, singing a made-up song about “Twitter.”

Saying no to everyone and everything will wear you down. No’s are necessary but they also creep into becoming the default too easily. And if you’re not careful, the frequency of no will change you and the people asking, and not necessarily in a good way. So … play for five minutes, go to lunch with that friend, get a treat, call that person you miss…

Do. Move. Journeys move us. They are part of our collective memory, and are part of how we process life and stories. And they all depend on moving, starting … doing. Consider all the great journeys and adventures you learned about in your life. They don’t begin with the end. They begin with some step, one removed from where the person started. Marco Polo didn’t start in China. D-Day didn’t start in France. To correct the good folks at Nike, from years ago, just doing it can be overwhelming; why not just start?

Before the sun came out today, I was in the bed, hoping for a return to sleep (not an uncommon position). But this post was also on my mind … what makes me happy and why. I started it yesterday, but I wasn’t satisfied. Without a lot thought or direction, I got up. I made coffee. I turned on my laptop … eventually reaching the words I’m typing now.

For whatever reason, life has a tendency to drag us down, with the weight of responsibility and bad news and just the yoke of depressing crap around us. It makes you want to stay in the bed and hope it all just goes away. But it doesn’t. Instead, DO. Move. Do something, anything. One step begets the next one. Get up. Get moving and see what happens.

Watch and Learn. A few minutes ago, the recently agreed-with child stopped in mid-singing and mid-gaming, looked up at me and said, “I love you, Dad.” He was happy, himself … to play his favorite video games, to be with his dad and next to him … with the neurotic cat, Gus, crawling around him, too. He was safe and content and carefree.

I guess, no more than forcing a column about being happy, you can’t always plan “happy.” But you can — like visiting the ocean — let it happen around you … and accept it like the cat when it comes by in the morning or the child who just wants your attention … or a snuggle or cuddle.

Happiness Project: What can I thank you for?

I have a question for you to ponder on a gorgeous Sunday morning: can we make ourselves feel happy? I can make myself angry, focusing on some slight, imagining things true or untrue and whipping up my emotions. I can make myself sad by cataloging shortcomings, disappointments and the people I’ve loved and lost. But what about being happy?

* First, I’m no longer sure – except in the black/white definition – what the opposite of happiness is. If you don’t think that happiness embraces sadness and happiness at the same time, I challenge to check out these posts from some of the folks also involved in this …


To paraphrase one of the writers who has been most influential to me – C.S. Lewis – to have joy, you have to stop thinking about it, contemplating it … and DO something.

When happiness seems distant to me, I usually start thanking people for what they’ve done for me, validate what they’ve meant to me or show my appreciation for who they are. I also try to be grateful and have some fun with things that make my life better. So, I’m going to throw out some thanks today:

  • Coffee – I wasn’t always a coffee drinker, but I do so appreciate the brown grit in a cup that just seems to make my day a bit more awake.
  • My baby, Betsy – She’s two, and we’ve spent most of the week alone together. She reminded me that being a father is one of the greatest gifts in the world, as she kept coming back to sit in my lap, clung to me when she was scared, and made all sorts of attempts to get dill pickles (“kuckles”, as she says) out of the fridge.
  • Kathy Due – We haven’t seen each other since college, but she read one of my recent posts in the project. She sent me a message on Facebook that couldn’t have come at a better time.
  • My parents – I could get all sappy about what good people they are (and they are!). But they also make me laugh a lot. After spending nearly a week with them, my older kids begged: “Please, no steak or pizza tonight” when they got home! And when I talked with my brother, Jon, recently he related that my dad – a Baptist minister (yes, I have fallen far) — had told him, “Yes, I’ve had to adjust my theology a good bit after you boys grew up.”
  • Barry Norris – He is one of a kind – an organist, choir director, carpenter and missionary. What I love about him is his passion for people and the grace he shows them. I have to thank him, however, because he has a gift of talking me into singing in his choir, even when I’m reluctant or busy. And it always, always, is worth the effort.
  • Randy Miller, Terry McElroy and Matt Rocksvold – I know it’s not manly/cool to thank your occasional drinking buddies for whatever trouble they seem to be able to get me into. So, I am not thanking you. Nope, not at all.

When I start this gratitude thing, it really begins to take on a life of its own; I could thank people – and probably should – a lot more than I do and or for a lot more things than I do. I’ve had – and continue to have – my personal compliment of crap, or what seems like it. But there are always people and things that make it better – for seconds, moments or days.

I became single again the year I turned 40. And I decided to change some things in my life. I wanted to be bolder and cultivate a mind-set of joy: (and yes, I do say this) “Our lives are short and the opportunities we have to live, love and enjoy the beauty around us are too few to … [insert the veiled excuse, such as, “worry about what someone else will think; not take a risk; not stay out too late, etc.]. Basically, life is too short to give myself an abundance of reasons to regret.

It’s that way for all of us. Instead, just DO.

As Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” It might also have a love child of happiness …

Check out these great blogs, too, from other happy people.

Joining the bandwagon for the Happiness Experiment … or why I love a blown speaker

When I started really thinking about happiness, I remembered that so much of what makes us really happy — family, friends, careers, faith — is also fraught with hurt, loss, pain and disappointment. The people we love bring us the greatest joys, and the potential for the greatest hurts.

And buddy, that really blows. In my life, when I’ve looked at the big picture, it put things in perspective … but it doesn’t always make me happy. It might explain why someone who loves me also hurts me, but it begins an almost clinical process (probably needed) of obscuring the pain … and the joy. It turns snapshots of bliss and sorrow into a movie.

Sometimes, I’d prefer the snapshots … which is why I keep a lot of unexplainable (other than to me) stuff around. Even as I listen to Miles and watch my glass ease its way to emptiness, I can turn to my right and see a wall of photos. One of the them is one of the few pictures of my grandfather, Melvin, and Ben (my son). Ampa is bent over hugging Ben. Another is a picture taken while I was a member of East Lake UMC. It’s a picture of all the kids in the church — the Archilbalds, the Chambers, Emma and few others. It’s pure kid happiness. And reminds me of great times there with great friends.

Of course, it’s not just pictures, either. It’s little things that remind me of happy times. Mementos I keep around for who knows why, but seeing them reminds me of someone or something that makes me happy. It would literally be impossible to give a full list, but I’d challenge you: go into any room in your house, look at the items there and you’ll see one of the mini-sliders of happiness waiting to be found.

Here are just a few I found today:

  • In my office, in the corner, is a now fading paper-mâché globe. It has all the continents on it and is painted blue. My oldest daughter made it for me years ago, in elementary school, and I’ve kept it for nearly ten years. People who’ve never been to my office always ask about it. My oldest is hardly a baby (except in my eyes). She’s about to graduate now, but I remember days in the past when she’d come to my office (it was a treat) and played with the stuff I’d collected in my “fun drawer.”


  • In my desk drawer at work is a now-kind-of dirty plastic baby. I found that little sucker almost exactly eight years ago in a Mardi Gras King Cake. I’m not sure what to say about the agency that felt compelled to send it to us then; but I should be sending them a child support bill, because lo and behold, nine months after I found that little boy in my piece of cake, I welcomed my son into the world.
  • When I was in high school, my parents bought me a real trumpet. For years, I’ve kept it, even when I haven’t played it. My Dad is the one who really ensured that I’d get it, and in his heart of hearts, he wanted to hear me play it more (particularly in church). I remember when I went to graduate school at Alabama that this horn was likely the only thing standing between me and cracking up. It’s been a lifeline to me so many times … and even tonight, as I opened the case, oiled the valves and played for the first time in ages … it was like it spoke to me, saying, “Hey friend, it’s good to see you; you don’t know what you’ve missed.”


  • I’ve been friends with Tom Woods since I first met him in college. I was friends with him when his dad taught me Freshman English, and Tom was trying to understand why I had a fixation with Jody Whatley. Tom is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known. Today, he’s Father Tom. In previous lives, he taught in Ecuador, traveled to Poland, and wrote his name on his chest in magic marker as he traveled across Columbia to see the Pope. One day, he gave me this tiny wooden … thing … it’s just a painted piece of wood from Ecuador. But it’s something he gave me. It reminds of this great friend I have; we certainly see the world in different ways, have different ideas of faith and belief … but he is and will always be, my friend.
  • In the back of the cabinet where I keep my liquor, I have at least one empty bottle. It’s a now-empty bottle of Swing. I only have one friend who is both a fan of Swing and willing to purchase it for me … Sean Kelley. He and his wife Patti have been friends since I moved to McCalla. That bottle, and I can’t actually remember exactly, was either a gift for my 40th birthday or some other celebration I had. I keep it not because I need a cool bottle, but because it reminds me what great friends they are, how they’ve been there for me and my children so many times and how they’ve made my life more bearable and better for knowing them.


  • In my closet, I have approximately 1,209 t-shirts, some dating from the hair-shirt era. One that I have kept over the years is one my ex-wife gave me nearly 20 years ago now. When I see it, I remember our college days … drinking 190 in my apartment in Tuscaloosa and serenading her outside her dorm. There’s nothing remarkable about the shirt; it came from Banana Republic … before they were cool, and moved from the spot in the Galleria with the Jeep coming through the window. It’s frayed around the collar and the sleeves. There are yellow paint splotches on it. I’d never wear it in public, but someone else will need to throw it out.
  • With each of my kids, I’ve saved something that symbolized their infancy to me. With Emma, it was a multi-colored dress that she picked out herself. With Ben, it was some of the toys and stuffed animals that he latched on to … or the Mardi Gras beads that he loved playing with as a tot. With Betsy, I’m saving this … thing … it’s not her favorite by any stretch. But it’s the first thing bought for her specifically.


  • Last Christmas, I received one of the coolest gifts that anyone has ever given me — a set of Batman cufflinks. Heidi Rowe had seen me plenty of times with cufflinks. But she did something no one else had; she decided to buy a pair for me. She talked with Emma, behind my back, to see what I’d like the most — Batman or Superman? They weren’t easy to find or easy to get. It’s kind of symbolic, to me, of what type of person she is — creative, bold, persevering … and thoughtful. Maybe she knew it or Emma did, but I like Batman. He’s human. He struggles. He’s smart, but vulnerable. He’s a bit of a tortured soul … he could be a writer.

I could go on and in full disclosure, I probably should …

But these are just a few things that remind me of when I was happiest and what makes me happiest. It’s not the thing itself, but just a symbol, a remembrance that is meaningful probably only (or mostly) to me. Call them happy distractions, if you will. I call them happy testaments to the best in us … our desire to give of ourselves, our faith in hope and the future, friendship, love and family.

Like a photo of something beautiful, I can linger. I can take this goodness and joy in at my own pace and not be forced to enjoy it at the speed of life.

I can enjoy it at the speed of happiness.

777 lbs. of anything is scary

You know, I love a good burger as much as anyone. Heck, I’m not above eating one that isn’t that good. But I guess I never considered that it’s not just quality that the world seeks … it’s quantity.

Community sets World Record with 777 lb. burger

I was — I don’t know — amused. Scared. Confused. Amazed. When I read this article, I was speechless. It’s one of those stories that sounds cool on some level, and then you start to think about it, and I found myself dwelling on the sheer size of this thing.

Pounds of lettuce. More than 1 million calories. And for a more $.99 you could have indulged, too. I just wonder how good it actually was.

Look for my review of Purple Onion and an experience that took me back to my past.

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