Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

Barium Springs – A promise of hope

The article below appears in the August issue of Cornelius Life Magazine.

Isn’t it amazing in this fast paced world of smart phones, laptops, Facebook, and texting, it’s the simplest of things that teach us what’s really important in life. I was reminded of that by a teenager whose words made my heart tremble and brought tears to my eyes.

As the president of the chamber, I am keenly aware that while we are blessed to live in the Lake Norman region, there are still many in our community that need a helping hand. The generosity of our residents is nothing short of spectacular as we give freely of our time, talents and financial resources from Habitat Homes for single parents to Big Day at the Lake.

Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins with Bill Russell at Barium Springs Luncheon

Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins with Bill Russell at Barium Springs Luncheon

 

A few weeks ago, I attended a fundraiser for Barium Springs at The Cove Church in Mooresville.  Surrounded by approximately 400 other community and business leaders, we networked and discussed the issues of the day ranging from taxation to tolls waiting on the program to begin.  

Then the lights dimmed and I heard those words, those chilling words which seared into my soul.  I looked into the eyes which stared back into mine and the face of innocence weathered by years of abuse and neglect.  I listened as Barium Springs volunteers and school officials shared their own particular stories. Barium Springs provides an array of services for children, families and individuals throughout our state.  Their main objectives are to provide a safe home through residential homes and foster care; to heal the hurt for children who are troubled, abused or neglected; and to encourage a healthy start through educational and prevention programs.

I grew up with two parents who loved their children.  Mom and dad were both very active in the Rock Hill (SC) community serving in civic organizations like the Jaycees, Kiwanis, United Way, Red Cross and our church.  Dad worked with other kids as a commissioner of Little League Baseball and ironically daddy led an effort to create a Boys Home for kids who found themselves in need of mentoring and guidance.

To this day, when I call my mom she always ends the conversation telling me “I love you.”  And her words still warmly embrace me just as they did in my youth when she tucked me into bed each night.  Those words come harder for dad.  It’s his actions which speak louder than the words as we enjoy a Saturday afternoon football game together or a horseback ride through the woods on our family farm.

I listened that May day as teenagers told their stories of neglect.  Parents who sometimes never got out of bed, their minds and bodies wracked by years of substance abuse, leaving a trail of victims in their wake – among them their children.  Kids that before Barium Springs, never had a bed to sleep in or a pillow to rest their head. 

As I watched a short video, a young man appeared on the screen.  He spoke of the years of abuse at the hands of his father.  But it was the eyes which touched my heart. The pain and anguish that no child should ever have to endure.  Barium Springs has turned his life around and today he is a good student, involved in athletics, with a chance for a scholarship and a bright hope for the future.

 

Cody

Cody

Then he said it, those words which still bring tears to my eyes.  The first time they escaped his lips, I felt my eyes well up and I hoped those at my table wouldn’t see me weep.   At that moment in time, he was not speaking to a camera or the other 400 people in the room.  He was speaking to me when he said, “I want to grow up and be the daddy my father wasn’t.”

No one can undo the hurt or the scars they leave.  Memories may linger, but with a new day comes a promise of hope. The volunteers and contributors to Barium Springs provide that hope through support and unconditional love…and perhaps the chance to be a parent that their mother or father wasn’t.  

ill Russell

Bill Russell is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.  For information about Barium Springs, to set up a tour of their campus, or make a contribution call 704-872-4157 or visit  www.bariumsprings.org.

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July 29, 2013 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), Personal, Social Causes | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Father’s Gift

Dad, his long time friend Harold Ramsey, and myself at a Carolina Baseball game.  Baseball is one of dad's passions!

Dad, his long time friend Harold Ramsey, and myself at a Carolina Baseball game. Baseball is one of dad’s passions!

Pope John XXII once said, “It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father.” A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at the induction of the National Honor Society at Lake Norman Charter School.  I spoke to many of the parents there, who beamed at the success of their sons and daughters.  Having parents that are involved with their children, serving as mentors, and showering them with love are the greatest gifts you can give a child.

My brother, sister and I had parents who did just that.  Father’s Day is a chance to say thank you – thank you for picking me up when I was down.   That no matter what crushing blow I felt, I would always get past it.

A dad shakes his head at your mistakes, hoping you learn, as he takes your hand, and pulls you up.  He’s there to teach you life’s lessons…and in my case, sometimes over and over again.

Billy on board dynamite - 1965

Billy on board dynamite – 1965

I was born and raised in Rock Hill (SC) and my father’s family owned a farm where he still lives.  When I was five, my parents purchased me a black and white pony that I appropriately named – “Dynamite.”  That little fellow lived up to his billing as he seemed to take great delight in throwing me time and time again.  Dad, simply picked me up and put me back on the horse, sternly counseling me, “You have to show him you’re not afraid.  You have to show him who’s the real boss.”

Between sniffles I pointed out I was afraid and there was no doubt…he was the real boss.  But dad simply sat me back up in the saddle, put the reigns tightly in my little hands and off we went. In truth, just about anywhere that pony really wanted to go which was usually to the barn!   Many including mom and Grandmamma Russell were not real happy with dad’s insistence.

Looking back though, I’m not sure who suffered more – my backside or dad’s ears.  Mama really took dad to task and to this day, none of us have forgotten those Sunday afternoons with “Billy breaking Dynamite.”   “But at the end of the day, it was an important lesson.  Life will throw you time and time again, but you have to get back up in the saddle, hold on tight, and ride the  rough out of it.  It’s okay to be a little afraid but never, ever give up.

Dad was there when I lost my first election running for president of my college fraternity.  He shared the first time he too had lost an election, but the next time out, he won his race.  He pointed out that in retrospect, he was perhaps a better leader learning from the earlier setback.  And once again, he was right.

Dad was there to help with my homework. He tried so hard to help me master the ground ball.  He tied my first tie and walked down the aisle with me the first time I said “I do.”  Mom and dad both were there to hold me when my world seemed dark and stood on stage years later when the world was so right.

Former North Carolina State Coach Jim Valvano, a life lesson himself, said of his dad, “My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”

And perhaps the greatest gift a child can give to his or her parents is simply to say, “l love you both!  Happy Father’s Day, Dad.”  And while I’m at it – I love you too mom, both of you!!!

Bill Jr.

June 7, 2013 Posted by | Leadership Lessons, Personal | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Greatest Gifts of All

This afternoon, I went to BirkdaleVillage in Huntersville and stopped by a few stores including Kilwin’s for some fudge and assorted candies for the holiday. Then it was off to Cornelius to Honey Baked Ham Company for our Christmas Eve dinner before a last stop at NorthLake Mall.  Look around the lake towns and you’ll find our stores have geared up for the busiest days of the year.  Retailers sell more in the fourth quarter than they do all year and our merchants are hoping for a much better 2011 than the last few years!

The sights and sounds of Christmas fill the air as the Salvation Army rings their bells at the malls and area grocery stores bringing holiday cheer as you approach.  Radio stations are slipping in our favorite holiday classics between today’s modern hits.

I cannot help thinking of Christmas without getting a little nostalgic about how we all went to both sets of grandparents for Christmas.  It started with dinner at Grandmamma Feemster’s and ended with the Russell’s later in the evening.  For many years I was the first grandchild on the Russell side and my cousin’s father was in the military and they were often stationed around the country leaving me with most of the presents.  I was spoiled rotten!

I always believed the best gifts came in the biggest boxes and always delighted when someone put a large box under the tree with my name on it.  When I was just a little tike, and on one of the few Christmas Eve’s when my cousin Jim and Kim Lever were home, I was taken back when my cousins received new toys from my grandparents and I had a stuffed monkey in my box.

I’ve heard the story recounted many times how I cried getting the monkey.  Try as they might, no one could stifle my tears or convince me I had the most marvelous gift.  Mom confided to me years later that Grandmamma picked out the toy herself and actually spent more on it than the other gifts put together.  All four grandparents worked at the mill, but the Feemster’s just scraped by.  But to this day, I’m convinced that both felt they had all the riches of the world.

Granddaddy loved the outdoors and fishing and Grandmother loved her daughters and her family.  The Lord blessed them both and they had all they needed.

After a while, Granddaddy Feemster grew tired of my crying and proceeded to snatch up the stuffed animal and tossed it out into the front yard.  “There, there’s nothing more to cry about.  He’s gone,” Granddaddy proclaimed. 

My tears dried up immediately and with a flash I jumped up and ran out the door to fetch my beloved friend.  I seldom slept without that stuffed animal for many years and ironically it is the only toy left from my youth.  My G.I. Joes, matchbox cars, baseball cards, and comic books have all been lost.  But Grandmamma put away the monkey and re-presented it to me one Christmas Eve in my teens.

Today, it sits on a shelf in my den, not far from a chair with a hand crocheted afghan blanket that my Grandmother Russell made for me.  I suppose some time ago, I realized it’s not the gifts you receive but the love in the gifts you give that matter most. 

Kim, Bill Jr., and Jim Jr.

Over the next couple of days that are left for your Christmas shopping – when you hear that bell from the Salvation Army, drop a little more in for that family that needs it.  Put in a little extra at Church this Sunday or at Christmas Mass.  Bottom line – open your wallets and your heart this Christmas.

My Grandparents are all gone now. I lost Grandmamma Feemster last February.  But nearly every winter I wrap up in the afghan Grandmamma Russell made me and on more than a few occasions I take the monkey off the shelf and hold him.  The cotton has thinned in places and the stuffing pokes out. But almost fifty years later, it’s still filled with a Grandmother’s love.  They both knew, it’s not the biggest gift that counts but the one that comes from the heart that matters most.

December 22, 2011 Posted by | Personal | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lessons I learned from Grandmamma Tillie – #3 “Putting others First”

The following is the third in a ten part series of: “Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way…”

Putting others first

Grandmamma Feemster Mother's Day 2009

In 1994, I joined the Santee Rotary Club while I was Executive Director of the Tri County Regional Chamber of Commerce. It was there I was exposed to the club’s motto “Service above Self,” the underlying premise behind one of the world’s largest service organization with 31,000 clubs in 166 countries.  Today, I am a member of the North Mecklenburg Rotary Club which has a profound impact on our region.

However, long before my membership in Rotary, my Grandmother Feemster taught me to put others first through her limitless compassion and service. Grandmamma was the oldest of six kids and spent her days looking after her brothers, sisters, and later her children and grandchildren.

Early in her life a family member nicknamed her “Tillie the Toiler” and the name Tillie stuck. Toiled she did, working in a textile mill like many in rural South Carolina. Later in life she spent countless hours behind a sewing machine creating dresses and garments for her daughters, close family members, and friends.

Rarely did she ever sew anything for herself. It was a pretty safe bet that pretty little dress or sleek pants suit was for someone other than herself.

As a child, I spent most of my weekends in McConnells (SC) with Grandmamma Tillie while my grandfather went fishing with his buddies. On Saturday mornings, we would go into town, as she referred to it, where she would always buy me a little “pretty.” Then we spent the rest of the day with her looking at the latest designs and styles so she could buy the pattern and sew someone a “pretty” of their own.

Regardless of how well she felt, Grandmother would be the first by the bedside of a sick relative and the last to leave. She took to heart the verse in Philippians (Chapter 2 Verse 3): “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”

Too often when we meet folks for the first time, our thoughts are what do they think of us rather than what we can do for them. Many often seek out the credit rather than sharing the credit with others. Some of us learn too late that when we put others first, that is when we truly get ahead ourselves.

In February we lost Grandmamma Tillie. She was with us for 93 glorious years and taught me a great deal about life. My mother asked that I speak at the funeral and I shared a conversation I had with grandmamma when I asked what was her favorite hymn? Without hesitation, she replied, “In the garden.”

I can still hear her starting to softly sing the lyrics on our way to church that morning. “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses. And the voice I hear falling on my ear, the son of God discloses, and He walks with me…”

Grandmamma Feemster - (Tillie) Taken around 1962

I know that my Grandmother Feemster stands in the garden today. Surrounded by the brothers and sisters she cared for so much in life. This time though, she’s wearing a new dress of her own…. stitched in love and sewn by the hand of God.

Her lesson of compassion, putting others first, is one more lesson, I learned along the way.

May 7, 2011 Posted by | Personal | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Christmas to Remember

My brother Todd & I at Grandmamma Feemster's

The Christmas Eves of my youth growing up in Rock Hill (SC) seem so long ago.  Every year my parents would load my brother, sister, and myself into the car and take off to our grandparent’s house.  Our first stop was the Russell’s where grandmamma would be playing Bing Crosby or Jim Neighbors on her stereo with the sweet smell of fresh baked cookies, pies, and cakes in the air.

We would have a large supper with all the other relatives including my Aunt Terry and her family.  There was turkey and dressing with vegetables grown from the garden and my grandmother’s specialty – Quail Pie.  My favorite was her little biscuits.  My cousin Kim had nicknamed Grandmother Russell “Bumba” and I affectionately referred to her delicacy as “Bumba’s Biscuits” and there was simply nothing on earth quite as delicious.

The Russell's 1964 Christmas - Guess who's hiding their eyes!

We all had to save room because round two was with my Grandmother Feemster who worked just as hard in the kitchen with her turkey, macaroni pie (Mac and cheese to my Yankee friends), cornbread dressing in little cakes, and a fresh pound cake.

Sadly, the Grandparents are all but gone with Grandmother Feemster in the twilight of her life.  The onset of dementia has robbed her of most of her memories though mine still fondly recall our family Christmas gatherings.

This past week, our Lake Norman Kiwanis Club sponsored a holiday social for our Kiwanis Aktion Club.  The Aktion Club is a group of young adults 18 years of age or older who deal with some type of physical or mental disability.

Growing up, I never thought about the families who face Christmas Season with a loved one who deals with an impairment.  There are 35 million Americans who deal with a severe disability but roughly 46% of those are still employed.  In totality, there are more than 54 million Americans that deal with some type of disability, or one in five.

Last Friday night, we all enjoyed a wonderful dinner and gave awards out to our hard working Aktion Clubbers.  The joy in their face spoke volumes as they stood front and center clutching their awards tightly in their hands.  We then installed our new officers for the year.

One young lady, Chris Hunter, walked up front with the aid of her crutches and “signed” to me with her hands how she would be a good treasurer and promised not to spend all of our money.  She then hugged me as tears of joy ran down her face.

Her mom Tracy explained how proud she was as we both stood there and embraced, her arms wrapped securely around my waist.  I felt her warm tears on my arms as we pulled apart, but not before I saw her face beaming with joy.

One of our Kiwanians had brought an IPAD and they had programmed streaming Christmas Carols.  Our crowd had all but drowned out the music which had been playing softly in the background, but as Chris and I parted, I heard Crosby’s version of, “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas…” playing in the background.

Chris Hunter, Aktion Club Member

If your family is healthy, thank God and pray for those who deal with their challenges each day.  Spend extra time this coming year volunteering to help someone who needs that helping hand.  Give a little more to the organization of your choice that is trying to find a cure or at least making life better for us all.

The Christmas Eve’s of my past are filled with warm and special memories of those I love and miss very much.   My Christmas Eve’s of the future are filled with hope that we will make strides toward defeating those disabilities.   That would truly be a Christmas to remember!

December 21, 2010 Posted by | Personal | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Greatest Gift of All

Bill Russell alias "GI Joe"

At the age of six, I was pretty certain of my career path – I would likely be a soldier or a cowboy.  I looked pretty sharp in my new G.I. Joe uniform my Grandmother Feemster bought that year and I had a rather nifty little salute. It was about that time though that dad and Granddaddy Russell bought me a pony and I was also pretty sure I could be the next John Wayne.  That same year Santa left a “doctor’s kit” under the Christmas tree.  My present included a microscope and a doctor’s bag equipped with stethoscope, a little flashlight to peer into ears and mouths, and little candy pills to remedy nearly any non-life threatening ailment. 

Mom had also purchased me the Board Game “Operation” that had players remove items from the board without touching the sides setting off a buzzer. My family marveled at my steady hands and surgical abilities. Granddaddy Russell often served as my patient over and over again as I gave him one examination after the other, always leaving him with a “pill” to take to cure any sickness. Granddaddy started referring to me as “Doc” and often called me that long after I grew out of my doctor phase. I never made it into medical school, instead turning my attention to business.

Tall in the Saddle at 2 years old Jan 1961

Recently in a staff meeting, we all spoke about the tremendous activity at the Chamber. While business may have slowed down over the last couple of years, there are more seminars and programs going on at the Chamber than ever before.

Our Chamber coordinates consultations and business assistance with the SBA and SCORE to help our businesses create or redefine their business marketing and financial strategies. In essence, the Chamber is much like the doctor’s office as we help the struggling and ailing businesses get back on their feet, ready and able to compete in the marketplace. This month, our Chamber members and service organizations will collect “Coats for Kids”; deliver toys, clothing, and food to families needing a helping hand; make Santa visits to shut ins and kids in hospitals; and volunteer their time, talent…and yes, dollars to make this a memorable Christmas for those who are less fortunate.

I cannot count the number of times I have participated in a “Christmas Charities” event, providing for that family who would otherwise go without that family Christmas celebration. Having that mother look me in the face, with tears in her eyes telling me she had explained to the kids there would be no Christmas – no Santa this year. “I didn’t think anyone cared,” one woman once said to me as her little boy hugged tightly at her waist.

Merry Christmas from Bill, Gipper, Abbey, and Mad Dog Murray!

Long ago, I came to understand that it’s not what we get in life that matters but what we give to others that counts and what we become by doing it. That service to humanity, service above self, is the greatest gift. In a way, I became that doctor that I envisioned as a little boy. In a real sense, that’s what our staff here at the Chamber means to our local businesses. And yes, at times, I may still be a little bit of a cowboy.

As we enjoy, this holiday season, let us all remember the real purpose of our celebration, and perhaps share with others … the greatest gift of all.

December 16, 2010 Posted by | Personal | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congress Strikes Out

As news that home sales fell 27 percent in July, the steepest one-month drop since figures were first compiled in 1968, and Americans grow even more concerned with the cost of the healthcare plans which are forcing companies and small businesses alike to delay any hiring of new employees, our U.S. Congress is taking decisive action in Washington, D.C.  They are holding hearings on steroids in baseball.   That’s right, while the American public stares at staggering unemployment numbers, our country annually spends roughly $1.3 trillion more than it takes in, and the economy still appears to be anemic but not altogether dead, our Congressional leaders are taking aim at the greatest nemesis of our time – Roger Clemens.

Rocket during his days with the NY Yankees

William Roger Clemens, nicknamed “Rocket” is a former Major League Baseball Player who won seven Cy Young Awards, more than any other player.  He played for 13 consecutive seasons for the Boston Red Sox before a stint with the N.Y. Yankess where he had his first World Series success.   The Rocket is accused of using Performance Enhancing Drugs and lying about it to Congress.  While I do not condone using steroids, nor do I know if there is definitive proof that the Rocket used them, the fact he is being accused of lying to a group of people, who habitually lie to the American public, is on the face of things – laughable.

The bigger issue is when our national leaders should be huddled in a room trying to solve the budget crisis, sorting out how to put Americans back to work, and reaching consensus on a fiscally responsible approach to taxes and regulations, they are focused on holding a retired baseball player accountable for telling them lies when it comes to using steroids which were not even banned by baseball at the time.

Gaining a competitive edge by the use of injections is nothing new in baseball.  The book The Baseball Hall of Shame’s Warped Record Book, written by Bruce Nash, Bob Smith, and Allan Zullo, includes an account of Babe Ruth administering himself with an injection of an extract from sheep testicles.  It didn’t improve his game, however, and it is recorded that he pulled himself out of the game with a “bellyache.”

I’m not sure I ever took anything that could be considered a performance enhancing drug but I do admit that I was allowed to go outside and participate in a neighborhood pick up game of football only after I lied to my mother.  I think the statute of limitations has long expired on what I now admit was nothing but a complete falsehood – an out and out deceitful act on my part.

Glazed Rutabagas

Mama was cooking those infamous rutabagas, which if you have never experienced their unique aroma, is both quite distinctive and breathtaking.  In a word – “revolting”.  Dad was attending a meeting of the Rock Hill Jaycees  and informed mom he would be missing our dinner.  Mom took that as an opportunity to prepare her cornbread, rutabagas, turnip greens and ham.  While the aforementioned meal was most delicious and I long for the days of her cooking, I could do without those copper colored rutabagas.

Anxious to rejoin my buddies waiting out in the yard for my return, while mom wasn’t looking, I scraped my helping of rutabagas on my brother’s plate.  Todd, who was likely five or six at the time was left defenseless as mom now required him to clean his plate before he could leave the table.

I, on the other hand, dashed madly outside to rejoin the football game still in progress and my rightful place as a legend in my own mind when it came to athletic prowess on my backyard gridiron.

My Brother Todd - His angelic quality perhaps came from the rutabagas - who knows

I now humbly and with deep humility apologize to my brother Todd for what I did.  And I ask my mother’s forgiveness for not only not eating the copper colored yucky square things but for telling a fib about the whole affair.

Now, with that off my chest, perhaps I will not be called up to Capital Hill for my chicanery and they can get to the business of solving the real issues facing our country.

Actually, there’s a better chance I’ll eat a plate of rutabagas for breakfast!

September 1, 2010 Posted by | Personal | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Serve me up a Porky Pig Platter Please!

Judge at this year's BBQ Cookoff

Judge at this year's BBQ Cookoff

Recently I was asked to judge a Barbecue Cook Off for the Ada Jenkins Center in Davidson – an outreach center which assists those in the community that need a helping hand.  It was an honor as I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur when it comes to that delectable dish.     Barbecue means different things to different people.  To some folks chicken, beef, lamb, and an assortment of other creatures can be barbecued on the grill.  But to a real southerner, Barbecue has one meaning – pulled or chopped pork pit-cooked slowly, typically 16-18 hours, over hickory coals served up Eastern Style with a sauce of vinegar and peppers or mustard based.

No Porky Pig sandwich or plate is complete without fresh hush puppies, Cole slaw, and topped off with Banana Pudding.  When I was a little boy growing up in Rock Hill, my father, grandfather, and a South Carolina House of Representatives member by the name of George Petty used to attend most of the South Carolina football and basketball games. Win or lose, we found our way to Maurice Bessinger’s Piggie Park in Columbia for a Big Joe for the men and a Little Joe for myself and a couple of hush puppies for good measure.

My father, a USC graduate, spent many a day pouring over his studies with a plate of ribs, a side of slaw, and onion rings.  Sometimes he ordered the rice with hash, another great dish!  Rare do I tailgate for today’s Carolina Games without stopping by Bessinger’s.  I admit to an occasional run by Bojangles for Fried Chicken, but nothing says Carolina football more than a round of Big Joe Porky Pig Sandwiches and a gallon of sweet ice tea.  Yes, there are cocktails involved but it is simply not proper etiquette to drink your whiskey before a bowl of “Nanna Pudding” made with real Nilla Vanilla Wafers.  I once had someone try to sneak a Nanna Puddin’ by me made with those low fat off brands like Keebler.  I can tell the difference blindfolded, standing on my head, with a plethora of Gamecock Cheerleaders walking by – “Go Cocks!” 

Go Cocks!

Go Cocks!

When I was a chamber executive in the Low Country of South Carolina, I spent many a Friday lunch at Sweatman’s in Holly Hill.  Their mustard-based barbecue melted in your mouth – yum! In 1992, I was elected President of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) and it was tradition for the National President to host a cookout for the National Officers and headquarters staff.  I flew out gallons of Bessinger’s Barbecue from their Flying Pig service.  It was an experience those folks from Tulsa was sure not to forget.  I have to give credit where credit is due – it was my wife Melissa’s idea and it was a sure fired hit!

Great Grandmamma Rosie Agnes Lee Feemster

Great Grandmamma Rosie Agnes Lee Feemster

My Great Grandmamma Rosie Lee Feemster, whose granddaddy was Robert Byrd Lee, Robert E. Lee’s fifth cousin once removed, once told me the War of Northern Aggression or the Late Unpleasantness as her generation called it was fought because Union General Winfield Scott tried to steal Jeff Davis’s barbecue sauce recipe.  Scott, who was big as a house, didn’t fight in the war because he couldn’t mount his horse. Lincoln, rather than apologize for trying to snitch a southern dish, antagonized the Citdael boys until fed up with the Yankee chicanery, they fired off that damn cannon and started a war.  Who was I to argue with Great Grandmamma Lee!

Bessinger's Piggie Park

Bessinger's Piggie Park

So how can you tell a good Barbecue joint?  Well if they have quiche or a soufflé of some type, get the hell out of dodge.  Any good Barbecue House is going to have the green or red plaid vinyl tablecloths strategically placed on a picnic table or bench.  Shealy’s Bar-B-Que House in Leesville South Carolina even has a washing station (sink) on the wall as you wait in line.  No self respecting southerner would eat his hush puppies with soiled fingers!  If there is a picture of Jesus, Ronald Reagan, and Robert E. Lee – the Holy Trinity – on the wall, chances are it’s good pork.  A dead give away is a plump waitress or rotund cook in the back.  If they’re skinny – leave.  If they don’t eat it – you don’t want it either.

The North might have won the war, but as far as I’m concerned they can keep their beer and brats.  Give me a few ribs, a plate of pulled pork, and a side of hash and I’m a happy camper.  Throw in the hush puppies and bring on the puddin’ or pie.  Whether its peach cobbler or a slice of pecan pie – I’m in heaven, my oh my!

August 6, 2009 Posted by | Personal | , , , | 2 Comments

Lula Bell

Lula hiding from the camera - Garden City Beach trip 1975

Lula hiding from the camera - Garden City Beach trip 1975

Recently I was going through old family photographs when I stumbled upon a picture of a lady who used to help my mom, and before that, my grandmother with their housekeeping.  To say she was merely a housekeeper would be completely disingenuous.  When my aunt was a little girl, an African American lady named Lula Bell Wilson helped my Grandmother Russell around the house and kept my Aunt Terry until my grandparents arrived back home from work.

When I was three years old, I was by all accounts a precocious little tyke.  There is a good reason why my mom waited seven years to have another child.  My mom was almost a nervous wreck when my grandmother suggested strong reinforcements in the guise of Lula Bell.  Mama has always told me I had a difficult time pronouncing Lula’s name and instead called her “Wuda Bell.”  For the next six years, Lula kept me during the day while Mom and Dad were at work.  While I’m sure that many of the values and beliefs that I cherish today were no doubt passed on to me by my parents, I have no doubt that Lula herself also had a profound impact in shaping my world.

While I sometimes have difficulty remembering what I did last week, I can recall with clarity sitting out in the back yard with bologna sandwiches Lula had made us or walks up to the ice cream shop, roughly a mile round trip from our house on Carey Drive.  Mom said Lula would often pay for the ice cream cones out of her own pocket.  I was after all – her little boy.    I suppose it’s because of the time I spent with Lula that I’ve always had such difficulty seeing the contrast between black and white.  The differences between races, between those who have and those who have not have always been blurred for me.

Exchanging gifts with JCI Japan National President - 1993

Exchanging gifts with JCI Japan National President - 1993

In 1994, I had the chance to attend the Junior Chamber International Japan  Academy with students from approximately 80 countries. Over the next two years I would serve Junior Chamber International as General Legal Counsel and then Treasurer, traveling into Japan, Korea, Central America, and Eastern Europe.  It was a rewarding experience sharing ideas and appreciating the diversity and customs of other cultures.

This month the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce launches the first of its Women and Minority Business Development programs.  This is an opportunity to engage the diverse population that makes up our region.  Our hope is to create programs that strengthen us as a region, to open doors of opportunity, and provide resources for our citizens to help them reach their potential.  After all, we are at our best when we help others achieve their dreams. 

This past Sunday, I traveled to Rock Hill to help my dad on the farm.  On the way back to Huntersville, I drove to our old home where I grew up as a child.  I parked the car and looked at the little house on Carey Drive.  I stood in the drizzling rain peering into the back yard, beyond the little fence, where Lula and I would sit and eat our sandwiches.    I can still hear her laughing at my many antics.  She would put her hand to her face and laugh with a sparkle in her eye.  To me Lula wasn’t a black woman or a white woman, she wasn’t well off or poor  – she was my Lula and I was her little boy.  While she has passed on now, her laughter still warms my soul.  The days we spent together, four decades later, are etched in the memories of my mind and through the eyes of a young boy I remember.

May 27, 2009 Posted by | Personal | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Things I can do without!

The Infamous East Tennessee Snail Darter

The Infamous East Tennessee Snail Darter

I just returned home from a regional transportation committee meeting which is about as much fun as watching a PBS documentary on the mating habits of the east Tennessee snail darter.  However, given the choice between the two, Rocky Top could be home sweet home to me.  I admit to being in a somewhat agitated mood as the notions of increased taxes, vehicular fees, and roundabouts do have a tendency to set me off at times.

I’m not real crazy about the roundabouts to begin with and Davidson (NC) has two of them.  My 350Z always gets a little loose going around turn three and I want to automatically pull into that gas station there at exit thirty and get a wedge adjustment before I get to that next roundabout.

To compound my anxiety, I get home and heat up a plate of left over spaghetti and make a salad to find that the salad dressing in the pantry is Thousand Island Low Fat.  Now given I am really the only one who does the grocery shopping around here, I have to assume I purchased said salad dressing.  I can’t blame the shopping on either of my two dearly departed ex-wives.  And, no, for those who don’t know my social history, the wives aren’t deceased they just departed. I know I have poor eye sight these days and I’m quite confident I wouldn’t purchase it on purpose.  I absolutely abhor low fat stuff.  I’ve a notion the Good Lord didn’t intend us to have low fat items or else he, or (she …who really knows) would not have made fattening items taste so good.

I did eat my spaghetti and picked at my salad.  Finally, determining I didn’t really need the salad – much too healthy in the first place.  Now I’m sitting here at my computer frustrated that I wasted however much I paid for the damn Thousand Island when I really don’t intend to eat another spoonful.  Come to think of it –there’s a great many things I really don’t care for.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say not like.  That’s pretty strong language and Lord knows I don’t want to offend said Salad Dressing or the people who purchase the stuff.  But here’s a list of things I could simply do without:

Fat free anything, particularly the offending salad dressing, cookies, ice cream, popsicles, and pudding.  I mean get real – deserts are supposed to have sugar.  It’s like the food law or something.  I also abhor this salt that has no salt taste.  Who thought up salt without the taste?  My mother is cooking with that stuff now.  She raised me on fried foods and gravy.  Today it’s no sugar, salt, fried foods, or caffeine.   Decaffeinated coffee?  Just who drinks brown water?  Makes no sense to me.  While we’re still on the foods: Ketchup based barbecue.  If you cannot fix it eastern or mustard style, just don’t

a Rutabaga

a Rutabaga

bother.  Rutabagas!  I’m not real sure what they are but I know ‘em when I smell ‘em. My mama used to cook those too back when she used salt and sugar.  Hated the things.  I always knew when my dad was out of town because the house smelled of rutabagas.

Enough on the food – ready for this – Democrats west of the Mississippi.  Surprise!  Okay, you got me.  I need to throw in north of the Mason Dixon line too.  There’s a few down south that I can tolerate.  I particularly don’t have much use for the ones from Nevada and California.  I think I’d rather be water boarded or go duck hunting with former Vice President Cheney than spend ten minutes listening to their drivel.

Northern tourists who wear knee high black socks with their sandals at Myrtle Beach.  Holy cow!  Who gave them their fashion sense?  My great great great grandfather William Beauregard Russell spent four years of his life during the war of Northern Aggression trying to protect the beaches of South Carolina from the oppressing Yankee hordes who attempted to walk down Ocean Drive wearing the aforementioned knee high black socks with the sandals.  My great great great granddaddy had two horses and three Red Cross nurses shot out from under him during that late unpleasantness trying to protect the sanctity of our beaches.

Reality shows – Somebody explain to me why anybody would want to spend an hour watching “some other dude sitting on their couch watching TV” in a reality show.  America needs to get a life.  And this Tweeter thing is just as bad.  Listen – I don’t care what you were doing five minutes ago and I really don’t care what you’re doing now.  Just let me know when you’ve changed the face of the world and done something someone else said couldn’t be done to make things better.  Then tell me about it.

Sunrise at South Beach

Sunrise at South Beach

Fortune tellers. Don’t have much use for them either. I remember wandering into a fortune teller’s front parlor down at South Beach in Miami about five years ago.  Her business was between Finnegan’s Pub and the Royal Palm Hotel.  I asked one simple question: what’s the point spread gonna be in the Duke game tonight when they were in the NCAA tournament a few years back.  She wanted me to pay her fifty bucks and read my palm.  I can assure you, the score wasn’t on my palm and fifty bucks was far more than I was gonna win on the bet to begin with.  Really have no use for fortune tellers.

I guess I need to quit whining.  Maybe it all makes sense to someone else.  Me, I’m gonna grab a little Debbie Oatmeal Cookie and a tall glass of whole milk and go to bed. I need the rest.  There’s another transportation meeting tomorrow.

May 14, 2009 Posted by | Personal | , , , | Leave a comment