"Oh look at that beautiful scene," I remarked as we topped a hill in northwestern Tennessee to see a panorama of luscious green hills open before us, their gentle slopes reaching down to a shimmering blue lake. "That's the Land Between The Lakes," my passenger said, adding that this beautiful landscape was the result of an earthquake some time in the mid 1800s, I believe. "God made that in one afternoon," he said, which is just the sort of concise eloquence I've come to expect of my friend, Bob Lee. He has a way of expressing ordinary thoughts in extraordinary ways, as well he should after retiring from the US Air Force as a Senior Historian.
A disabled vet, Bob got clearance from his doctor to go on the road with me. He rapidly alleviated my primary concern, namely that he be able to climb in and out of the truck without too much difficulty. It takes a little time, but he seems to be getting faster as the trip progresses. Upon getting out of the truck, he reaches into a sheath he wears on his belt and withdraws a collapsable walking cane with all the stern precision of a Samurai Warrior. His progress across the parking lot is steady and, with our hats of many medals, I'm sure we make quite the spectacle. As a result, other veterans approach us and, as always, it is surprising and moving to meet and talk with them.
A few days ago, we were driving from Bob's home town of Clarksville, Tennessee to nearby Martin, Tennessee where we would deliver a load of wooden frames the following morning. Bob's brother, Charles Lee, lives in Martin with his wife, and we were looking forward to spending the evening with his family. Driving through Dresden, Tennessee, Bob nodded to our right and said, "That's a quiet neighborhood." I looked and saw that it was a cemetery. He delivers these little zingers with the stoic demeanor of Judge Wapner on the original People's Court television show.
Somewhere along the way, we found a little place with truck parking in the back and barbecue inside. I forget the name of it now, but it was a gas station / general store / butcher shop / restaurant sort of arrangement where you order your food, grab a cold drink from the cooler, enjoy the feast, and then simply tell the kind lady at the cash register what you consumed and pay for the meal. No ticket from a waitress. Everyone is on the honor system. I don't know many places where that sort of business could survive, but the sign on the side of the building said they had been in business since the early 1900s, which means that this is the kind of little town where I could happily retire.
"Did I tell you about my dog, Robbie?" asked Bob. Nope. "Well, lemme back up a minute," which is the cue that this is going to be a good one. You see, a variety of animals, from dogs to deer evidently, frequently tour the Lee family back yard, marking the territory as they go, and Bob's dog feels compelled to painstakingly reclaim it every time he goes out. But that's not how Bob described it. "Where the other pets go out and then come right back in, Robbie likes to take his time and stop at each place, and read the news, you see. And then he takes the time to leave a comment."
That evening in Martin, I met Bob's brother, Charles Lee and his wife Linda. Then, a friend who I've never met but who engages Bob, Chuck and me on various topics via email came by presently, and we went out to solve world hunger over dinner at a Chinese restaurant. The gentleman's name is Kent, and he works at the local university, so naturally the topic came up of whether that particular university fits into the typical liberal mold. Happily, Kent said that it was not at all typical in that regard. Too many faculty members in that region own guns, I guess. The food was great, and the mixture of southern hospitality and almost epicurean service of the restaurant staff became too much, so we went back for seconds, and then some. We left just before we blew the buttons off our shirts.
We arrived back at Charles' home just in time for a prayer meeting. No, really. It was family, night I believe, so they hosted some folks from their church for some food, fellowship, and Bible study. I even got to read a Bible verse to the gathering. And while I'm sure that my theology might differ from theirs in some particulars, I could see that these people regard each other as family and lend a helping hand accordingly. It was mighty impressive, and very enjoyable.
But as is always the case, and as Bob is now learning, the road calls. Today Bob pointed at a steep and tall hill upon which sat clumps of trees that were separated by a thick carpet of short grass stretching an acre or more. "Who mowed that?" Bob asked incredulously. This was a curse of course, because now I can't look at these blasted hills without wondering how the grass came to be so short. Either that or I immediately picture some poor wretch risking life and limb pushing a lawn mower up that precarious slope. But I will exact revenge on Bob somehow. In the meantime, we go where the freight takes us, and in this case, it will be due south. The yarns will spin with the tales we tell each other of our exploits growing larger and more audacious with each recollection. Perhaps some of this will make it onto a podcast. Or perhaps you will read in a police blotter instead. It's difficult to predict at this point. But for now at least, a couple of irascible old vets have been turned loose amongst the populace. And it is unimaginably fun.