Posts Tagged ‘Children’


Last week, my son and daughter-in-law dropped the hammer of parental authority on their two daughters due to excessive computer usage.


In a calm and deliberate email, they informed Maddie and Sarah, ages 11 and eight, that they need to take a break from the virtual world and “explore life.”

For the rest of the summer, the girls are allowed to use their laptops only from 10-11 a.m., 1-3 p.m., and 8-10 p.m.

(I assume they chose email to deliver the message because the girls are on their laptops constantly and were sure to see it.)

“New Computer Policy — Effective Immediately” was the subject of the message. We grandparents were copied on the email, owing to the fact that all four of us live in town and will be called on to enforce the new rules.

In large part, the cause of all this drama is the computer game Minecraft, which the girls discovered some weeks ago. In Minecraft,  you create virtual worlds using a variety of building blocks that, for unexplained reasons, look like Legos.

You can erect buildings, plant crops, raise livestock, dig mines, stockpile supplies and equipment, and trade goods with other players.

You also can enter game modes that introduce malevolent creatures, lava flows, and other mortal dangers. If a player gets snuffed out, no worries. You simply regenerate and start over.

Minecraft is clever and addictive, and Maddie and Sarah were promptly sucked in — so much so that their parents felt obliged to intervene.


A Minecraft virtual world, this one especially elaborate.

When the new computer usage rules were announced, the girls made no attempt to circumvent them. After all, they are responsible, sensible children, and they understand the folly of invoking the wrath of the parental units.

The only thing is, during the hours they are allowed to crank up their laptops and are on the clock, they play Minecraft with an even more feverish intensity.

The hammer was dropped at 9:45 a.m. on a Monday. When I arrived at the girls’ house for babysitting duty that day at 12:30 p.m., they were in their respective rooms upstairs.

Their laptops, I observed, were on the kitchen counter, charging.

I was there to take over from my ex, Deanna, who had the morning shift. She said the girls had been somewhat jolted by the new policy, but seemed to accept the inevitability of it.

Deanna and I sat down and chatted about grandparent things. The clock inched toward 1:00 p.m.

At precisely 1:00 p.m., Maddie and Sarah came bounding down the stairs. Both girls gave me a fleeting Hi, Rocky, snatched up their laptops, plopped down on the couch, and began Minecrafting. Deanna and I exchanged meaningful looks.

A few minutes later, Deanna announced that she was going home. The girls paused Minecraft to see her off, then resumed play.

The house was quiet except for their game chatter…


“Maddie, do you have any dirt and wood planks?”


“Yes, you do.”

“I can’t spare any. Where are you? I don’t see you.”

“I’m at the portal. PLEASE let me buy some dirt!”

“Okay, I’ll trade you some dirt for some coal.”

“Maddie, look out! There’s a cave spider!”

“Cave spiders won’t hurt you, Sarah.”

“Oh, okay. Rocky, what time is it?”




“Maddie, I fed my pigs carrots, and they breeded and spawned babies.”

“Yeah, the rabbits and pigs eat carrots. The horses like apples best.”

“I want some horses — Maddie, look out! There’s a Creeper!”

“Stay away from him, Sarah! If he gets close, he’ll explode, and you’ll be dead!”

“Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, no! — Maddie, he got me. I’m killed.”

“Sarah, I told you to stay away from him. Do you have a potion so you can regenerate?”

“Yeah. Hey, Rocky, what time is it?”




2:55 p.m. — Maddie suggests that they wrap things up with a quick round of Minecraft virtual hide-and-seek. She tells Sarah to hide first. She averts her eyes from the laptop screen as Sarah hides in the dark corner of a basement.

2:58 p.m. — Maddie finds Sarah. Panic sets in because time is running out. Sarah averts her eyes while Maddie digs a hole in the side of a hill, climbs in, and covers herself up. Sarah begins the search.

3:00 p.m. — The designated afternoon computer session has ended, but Sarah has not yet located Maddie. Benevolently, I grant them extra time.

3:03 p.m. — Sarah discovers where Maddie is hiding. They close their laptops. We turn on the TV and watch SpongeBob SquarePants.







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At some point back in the 1990s, I came into possession of this pocket-size, soft-cover booklet:


It’s tiny, the size of an index card, and 70 pages long. It presents the full text of our two key founding documents, and, except for a stirring patriotic preface, contains no embellishments or editorializing. At the end is a blurb about the Cato Institute, which published the booklet and was selling copies for $1.00.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t go anywhere near a publication from the Cato Institute, which is a conservative/libertarian “think tank” founded in the 1970s by cuckoo wingnut Charles Koch.

That villainous source notwithstanding, the booklet seemed like a handy reference tool — assuming the Cato Institute wasn’t loony enough to tamper with the wording of the documents.

I decided to trust them. Publishing that booklet is probably the most positive thing the Cato Institute has ever done.

Anyway, I kept the booklet around the house and referred to it surprisingly often. (Hmmm, the amendment that abolished slavery — was it the 15th? No, that was Prohibition, wasn’t it?)

Fast-forward to 2014.

My granddaughter Maddie, then age nine and in the 4th grade, mentioned one day that her class soon would be studying the Constitution, including all the amendments thereto.

Being the considerate grandfather I am, I gave her my little booklet from the Cato Institute. Maddie was very pleased. I heard no more about the booklet and forgot all about it.

Fast-forward to this summer. Maddie is now 11.

Early one morning recently, I arrived at her house for babysitting duty. As my son Dustin was preparing to leave for work, he chuckled and said, “You won’t believe what Maddie did yesterday.”

Now, Maddie, as I’ve mentioned before, is a special kid. She is super smart — to the degree that it’s kinda scary.

This is a child who, at age eight, looked up the email address of her state representative and contacted him, on her own, with a philosophical question about jurisprudence.

Based on past experience, I knew Dustin was about to tell a pretty good story.

Dustin said he and Maddie and her sister Sarah were driving somewhere, and he had occasion to bark at them for something — being noisy or boisterous or whatever. When they didn’t settle down, he wondered in a faux-stern voice if tasing Maddie might be a way to bring the situation under control.

Dustin is in law enforcement. He has access to Tasers and other such tools of the trade.

“You couldn’t tase me,” Maddie told him. “That would be a violation of my 8th Amendment rights.”

Dustin was, he said, rendered speechless.

He said he is plenty familiar with the amendments relating to police work — the 1st, the 2nd, the 4th, etc. — but he drew a blank on the 8th. He was obliged to ask Maddie to explain.

“The 8th Amendment protects me from cruel and unusual punishment,” she replied.

After that, a spirited discussion ensued between them as Dustin tried to remember which of the 27 amendments did what. Maddie patiently (and probably a bit smugly) corrected him and schooled him on the highlights of the key amendments.

Shortly after Dustin left for work, Maddie came down for breakfast. I asked her about the incident. She smiled knowingly and related essentially the same story as Dustin.

The school year ended weeks ago, so I asked when she had last studied the Constitution in class. Back in early spring, she said.

“But,” she added, “I’ve got that little booklet you gave me. It helps me keep all the amendments straight.”

Ah, the little book. It all came back to me.

Setting aside her breakfast, Maddie went upstairs, retrieved the booklet from her bedroom, and brought it to me. The little thing looked so familiar, if a bit more battered and thumb-worn than when I had it.

There was a time, I told her, when I had a pretty good grasp of the Constitution, but that was a long time ago. “How do you retain all that detail?” I asked her.

She just shrugged and went back to her cereal.


If your memory needs refreshing about the U.S. Constitution and 200 years worth of amendments, I suggest this website, which presents the complete text with helpful explanatory notes.

Maddie could explain it herself, but the website will save time.


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A month or so ago, I pulled up behind a large black SUV at a traffic light. The stick figure family, I observed, reached halfway across the back window.

According to the stickers, the family consisted of Mom, Dad, two girls, two boys, a dog, a cat, and a turtle.

The vehicle was seriously dirty. It was covered in a uniform, yellowy-orangish layer that was a mixture of (1) Georgia red clay, which, when dry, is as fine as baby powder and adheres nicely to waxed metal, and (2) pine pollen, which was afflicting us at the time.

Written in the thick coating on the back window, clearly by different fingers, were four names: Kaylan, Shiloh, Holder, and Pruitt.

Fine names all, but more to the point, they reminded me of how American baby names have evolved over the years.

For example, consider the names a few generations ago of my Dad and his siblings. They were Walter Anthony, James Allan, John Daniel, and Martha Elizabeth.

Dad’s kids: Walter Allan, Frank Lee, Thomas Daniel, and Helen Elizabeth.

My kids: Britt David and Dustin Drew.

Their kids: Kathryn Sierra, Kelsey Elizabeth, Madeleine Grace, and Sarah Rose.

All in all, a mixture of the classic and the popular. You can see the evolution of name choices in this one family.

Seeing the names on the back of the SUV got me curious, so I Googled the subject. Below is the official list (from Social Security records) of the most common American baby names over the years.

Baby names-1


James, Robert, John, William, Richard
Mary, Linda, Barbara, Patricia, Carol


Michael, David, James, Robert, John
Mary, Deborah, Linda, Debra, Susan


Michael, John, David, James, Robert
Lisa, Mary, Karen, Kimberly, Susan


Michael, Jason, Christopher, James, David
Jennifer, Amy, Heather, Melissa, Angela


Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Joshua, Daniel
Jessica, Ashley, Jennifer, Amanda, Sarah


Michael, Matthew, Christopher, Jacob, Joshua
Jessica, Ashley, Emily, Samantha, Sarah


Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Matthew, Ethan
Emily, Emma, Madison, Abigail, Olivia


Liam, Noah, Mason, Ethan, Logan
Emma, Olivia, Sophia, Ava, Isabella


A few last random points about names…

— I always liked the name Brandi, but I didn’t have a daughter.
— My granddaughters have pals named Sophia, Isabella, Olivia, and Madison.
— The boys who live next door to me are Eli and Aiden.
— Among my childhood friends were Claude Lumpkin and Merwyn Lassiter.
— My dad grew up with a kid named Gober Soseby.
— The name Walter is no prize, but at least it isn’t Claude, Merwyn, or Gober.
Baby names-2

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“So… I have this mole on my back,” said Sarah, my youngest granddaughter. Sarah just turned eight. She enters third grade next fall.

“It’s pretty big, but the doctor said it’s not dangerous.”

“That’s good news,” I said. “Be glad he didn’t say, ‘Nurse, hand me that scalpel.'”

Her eyes widened, and she grimaced dramatically at the thought.

We were in my car at the time, Sarah in the back seat, chattering about this and that and making occasional eye contact in the rear view mirror.

“How big is this mole?” I asked. “Have you looked at it in a mirror?”

“No, I don’t need to,” she said. “It’s just a stupid brown thing.”

“Does it itch?”

“No. I usually don’t even think about it.”

“But you know what?” she added suddenly, straining against her seatbelt. “Mom and Dad gave it a name! They call it Fred!”


“Yes! They think it’s funny, and they laugh, but it’s embarrassing!”

“Well, it IS kinda funny.”

“Yeah, but what if someone at school found out? That would be awful! Pretty soon, every kid in school would know! I’d be walking down the hall, and they’d be, like, ‘Hi, Sarah! Hi, Fred!’ Can you imagine how humiliating?”

“I see what you mean. But kids are always clowning around. It’s harmless. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

“Yeah, right. I’d be laughed out of school.”

Later, when I dropped her off, I gave her a hug and said goodbye.

I was tempted to add, “Oh, and, goodbye, Fred!” but the better angels of my nature prevailed.

Sarah 2-15

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CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS — A chef wielding a sushi knife foiled the attempted armed robbery of a Japanese restaurant last month.

Champaign police said 23-year-old Clayton Dial entered the restaurant, pulled a pistol from his waistband, and ordered the hostess to hand over the money in the cash register.

Sushi chef Tetsuji Miwa grabbed a sushi knife and confronted Dial. “He saw the blade, got scared, and started running,” Miwa said.

In the parking lot, Miwa and two other employees scuffled with Dial, took away his weapon, and held him until police arrived. The pistol turned out to be a pellet gun.

Miwa said flashing the sushi knife was only a bluff, because a good sushi knife is expensive, and he would never risk damaging it.

Sushi chef

DUBLIN, IRELAND — An abandoned tunnel used in the 1800s by members of the Irish Parliament to visit nearby pubs and brothels collapsed this month, creating a sinkhole in a downtown street.

The long-rumored tunnel led from a bank building that once was the Irish House of Commons to an old cellar across the street. Allegedly, politicians used the tunnel to make clandestine trips while Parliament was in session.

The collapse created a six-foot-deep sinkhole in the middle of Dame Street, a major Dublin thoroughfare. The tunnel and cellar were filled in with concrete.

Dublin sinkhole

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY — A woman forced her way into a Lexington home and attempted to strangle the occupant with a bra, but was subdued when struck on the head with a ceramic chicken.

Patricia Leece, 61, told police she heard loud knocking at her front door and thought it was her granddaughter. Instead, 31-year-old Ashley Sies forced her way into the home, pounced on Leece, and wrapped a bra around her neck.

“She choked me, and we fought for a good 15 to 20 minutes,” said Leece. “Finally, I saw one of my (ceramic) chickens on the floor, so I picked it up and started bashing her on the head with it.”

When the intruder fell unconscious, Leece called 911.

Police said Sies apparently was on drugs when the incident occurred. Sies pleaded not guilty to first degree burglary charges and was jailed in lieu of $10,000 bond.

Ceramic chicken

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My previous post was about the late Margaret Wise Brown, an author of children’s books who bequeathed her future royalties to the nine-year-old son of a family friend.

Brown’s will stated:

“I give and bequeath all of my right, title and interest of every kind and nature in and to all books written by me and published by D.C. Heath & Co., William R. Scott Inc., Harper & Bros., Simon & Schuster, Lothrop Lee & Shepard & Co. Inc., Cadmus Books Agency, Harvill Press and Thomas I. Crowell & Co., and in and to all contracts for the publication thereof, to Albert Clarke, if he survives me.”


In 1957, when Albert Edward Clarke III was 13, the executors of Margaret Brown’s estate estimated that the 79 titles Brown left to Albert would be worth about $17,500 when he turned 21. They valued the copyright to “Goodnight Moon” at $500.

But the Clarke family had more immediate concerns. As young Albert entered adolescence, his behavior was changing from mischievous to criminal.

At age 15, Albert was arrested twice, first for smashing a traffic light and then for taking a car on a joy ride. He was kicked off his high school wrestling team for fighting.

At age 17, he dropped out of school and left home. Living in an abandoned railroad car a few miles from his parents’ house, he stole milk and bread from the doorsteps of nearby homes. He used a sledgehammer to break into parking meters. He sneaked into his family’s kitchen at night to take food.

At 19, Albert joined the Merchant Marine, but was discharged after a confrontation with an officer. When he returned home, he was arrested at various times for burglary, vagrancy, assault, resisting arrest, criminal trespass, criminal possession of a weapon, and grand larceny.

Most of the charges were resolved with a fine, but once, after fighting in public, Albert was sentenced to three months in jail for disorderly conduct. Owing to a jail  fight, the sentence was extended to six months.

In 1964, on Albert’s 21st birthday, he and his father went to the office of Manhattan attorney Samuel Nadler to discuss Margaret’s Brown’s estate. They learned that about $75,000 had accumulated since Brown’s death.

Nadler appealed to Albert to invest the money. Instead, Albert gave half to his family and went on a spending spree with the rest. He was broke within a year.

But the royalties from Margaret Brown’s book rights were still trickling in. Nadler insisted on banking the money and starting Albert on an allowance of $125 per week.

Albert began a life of aimless wandering. Nadler sent the weekly checks by Western Union.

As the years passed, Albert lived idly and comfortably. His weekly allowance went up regularly — to $250, $300, $400.

His run-ins with the law continued. He faced charges of malicious mischief, attempted burglary, and marijuana possession. Nadler dutifully bailed Albert out of jail, represented him in court, and managed his affairs.

In 1970, Albert married a woman in Puerto Rico. Four years later, just days after their second daughter was born, Albert fled Puerto Rico to avoid prosecution on drug charges, leaving his family behind.

His ties with his parents and brothers also faded. Every few years, he spoke to one of his brothers by phone. In the fall of 1984, he learned of his father’s death months after the funeral.

Meanwhile, the popularity of Margaret Brown’s books was increasing. By 1987, the 40th anniversary of “Goodnight Moon,” sales surpassed two million copies. Nadler increased Albert’s weekly allowance to $800.

Albert began wandering the streets of Manhattan and sleeping in an old Dodge van. There, he met a homeless woman, took her in, and sobered her up. They married and had two children.

When Samuel Nadler died in 1992, his records showed that Albert’s accumulated royalties, minus the weekly checks, left some $500,000 in savings.

By then, Albert had not been arrested in five years. He began dealing directly with the publishers, who sent his royalty checks twice a year. Albert was still aimless and had never held a job, but he seemed stable and content.

By 2000, Albert was divorced again and living in a New York suburb. After an ugly custody dispute, in which he accused his wife of child cruelty, the family court gave him custody of the two children, Sharmaine and Albert IV.

In an interview that year, Albert told a Wall Street Journal reporter that he had spoken to his mother Joan only a few times over the years. She died of cancer in a nursing home in Maine in 1998.

In the interview, Albert referred to her as “Mrs. Clarke,” because he believed that Margaret Brown, not Joan Clarke, was his mother.

He claimed he learned the truth when he was 12, hiding behind the couch to eavesdrop on the adults. He said he heard Joan Clarke admit the truth to her sister-in-law.

“Margaret Wise Brown has left Alby an inheritance,” Albert quoted Joan as saying. “She’s left him about $15,000. And did you know that Margaret Wise Brown is his real biological mother?”

No one who knew Margaret Brown, personally or professionally, believes it. Friends said she could not have concealed a pregnancy, and probably wouldn’t anyway.

“It’s delusional thinking,” said Albert’s brother Austin. “It’s a fairy tale to make him feel better.”

At the time the Wall Street Journal profiled him in 2000, Albert was still living on his royalty checks, and he claimed to have about $27,000 in savings.

The Journal reported that Albert had been under investigation by a New York social services agency for verbally abusing the children. Albert denied it. The department declined comment.

After the 2000 interview, Albert and the children moved again and dropped from public view.

Today, if Albert is still alive, he is 72. Over the decades, he has gone through some $5 million in book royalties.

By law, Sharmaine and/or Albert IV will retain Margaret Brown’s copyrights until 2043.


Fascinating stories are all around us.

Albert Edward Clarke III

Albert Edward Clarke III

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Fascinating stories are all around us.


Margaret Wise Brown was a popular writer of children’s books in the 1940s. You know her as the author of the children’s classic “Goodnight Moon.”

Goodnight Moon

Brown was born in New York in 1910 to well-to-do parents. Her grandfather had been a U.S. Senator. The family lived in Brooklyn and summered in Maine.

In 1932, after graduating from college in Virginia, Brown took a job with a New York City publisher as an editor of children’s books.

Soon, encouraged by her employer, she began writing children’s books herself. She was so successful that in 1941, she left the company to write full time.

Brown was attractive, vivacious, socially prominent, and very much a free spirit. Friends called her Brownie and described her as whimsical and childlike. With her first royalty check, she purchased the contents of a street vendor’s flower cart and threw a party.

She once formed a group called the Bird Brain Society. Any member could declare a random day to be Christmas, and the others would gather to celebrate.

Although briefly engaged while in college, Brown never married. As her career blossomed, she had a succession of romances and affairs, often with men in her literary circle.

In 1940, she began a romantic relationship with the former wife of John Barrymore, actress and poet Michael Strange, who was 20 years Brown’s senior. They lived together from 1943 until Strange died in 1950.

Friends said the two were devoted to each other, but they quarreled often. Strange once said to a friend, “Why don’t you marry Margaret and take her off my hands?”

In 1952, Brown became engaged to James “Pebble” Rockefeller, the son of a Rockefeller and a Carnegie.  Later that year, on a book tour in France, while waiting for her fiancé’s yacht to arrive, Brown suffered sudden abdominal pains. She was rushed to a hospital, where she had surgery to remove an ovarian cyst.

During her recovery, she performed a leg kick to show the doctor how well she was doing. The kick dislodged a blood clot that traveled to her heart and killed her instantly. She was 42.

Brown never had children of her own, but she always seemed insightful about their viewpoint and experiences. Her empathy was especially apparent with the children of Joan MacCormick, a close friend since the 1930s.

When Joan MacCormick married Albert Clarke, Jr. in the early 1940s, the Clarkes moved into an apartment next door to Brown. The three Clarke boys grew up thinking of Margaret Brown as part of the family.

Brown gave the boys gifts, encouraged them, and took them to her vacation home in Maine during the summer. The boys later recalled that Brown was more like one of the kids than a grown-up.

Of the three boys, Brown seemed fondest of the middle child, energetic and unruly Albert Clarke III.

In early 1952, Brown decided to make a will “so that the rapacious State of New York cannot take one-third of my horse brasses and Crispian,” her beloved dog.

Brown’s assets included real estate, stocks, jewelry, and her book rights.

She surprised everyone by naming nine-year-old Albert as the beneficiary of the rights to most of her books, effective when he became 21.

At the time, book sales were modest. “Goodnight Moon” sold only 6,000 copies the first year and was expected to go out of print soon. Brown probably thought the royalties would give Albert a small financial boost in future years.

Margaret Brown died six months after she made the will.


In my next post, the story of Albert Clarke III.

Margaret Wise Brown.

Margaret Wise Brown.

Brown with Crispian, her Kerry Blue Terrier.

Brown with Crispian, her Kerry Blue Terrier.

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Lucky me, I was able to retire early, and I had sufficient financial resources to glide comfortably ahead into my dotage.

So far, so good — although I don’t want to get cocky about it and jinx myself. Anything can happen.

As we all know, the feeling of financial security is sublime, and the feeling of financial insecurity is horrendous.

Having money problems tears at your insides. Beats you down. Does awful things to your mental and physical health. Having no financially worries does just the opposite.

Personally, I can’t complain. I’ve had an easy enough time of it. But I do know how it feels to have financial woes — to struggle to meet your responsibilities when debt is dragging you down.

In fact, what happened to me in that regard has been a burr under my saddle for 30 years. After all this time, I still hold a simmering grudge against a bank and a banker who let me down, in a most callous fashion, when I needed them most.

Allow me to explain…


My financial low point came at the end of the 1980s, when three events conspired to do me in.

First, my oldest son was about to graduate from college. For the previous four years, my finances had taken a thorough battering.

Second, my youngest son was about to enter college. More major stress on my finances was ahead.

And third, my wife chose that particular time to serve me with divorce papers. Essentially, she cleaned my clock, and she did it at the worst possible time.

Well, I survived anyway. It took a few years to recover, but I did.

I didn’t resort to bankruptcy, didn’t amass monumental credit card debt, didn’t default on any loans. I just slowly and stubbornly worked my way out of a tough situation, because I had to.

It certainly helped that I had a secure job with decent pay. Those were good economic times. Salary increases came regularly. And the banks in those days were more inclined to be understanding.

At the time, we lived in Lawrenceville, Georgia, a small town north of Atlanta. In the years leading up to my difficulties, a local bank had granted me a succession of unsecured loans, mostly of one to three thousand bucks each, that were instrumental in keeping me afloat.

The bank was Brand Banking Company, and I was sincerely grateful.

Most often, I would apply for a new loan as soon as I paid off the previous one. That gave me an infusion of cash to help with expenses.

Twice, when my obligations got overwhelming, I refinanced a loan early. The bank never balked or complained. Refinancing meant more fees and interest for them.

And, for the record, I never missed a payment or a due date in all the time I did business with them.

Today, Brand Bank is “BrandBank,” with a dozen fancy branch offices and ATMs in the local supermarkets.

Back when I banked there, it consisted of one modest office in downtown Lawrenceville.

And modest it certainly was. The place was old and drab, circa the 1940s — or something masked bad guys would rob in a Hollywood western.

The boss had a private office, but the other officers had desks in the open. They lined the walls and railings haphazardly amid the filing cabinets and the clutter. No two pieces of furniture matched.

The bank officer who handled my loans was John (last name withheld), a likeable young guy who had graduated from the University of Georgia a few years before me.

On John’s desk was a large ashtray with a handsome bronze bulldog affixed to the rim. I greatly admired that ashtray. Each time I walked in and sat down, I ritually asked John if he had changed his mind and would finally consent to sell it to me.

John would offer his regrets and explain that, as much as he would like to, the ashtray was a family heirloom, given to him by his father, grandfather, aunt, uncle; the relative changed with each telling.

John was low-key and casual, given to wearing khakis and open-collar shirts. By then, I had known him for eight or 10 years, and we had an easy, cordial relationship.

He was fully aware of my situation — my job, my assets, the college costs, the divorce — and still, he and the bank stood by me. They seemed confident I was a good risk.

Then one day, everything changed on a dime.

When I arrived, the John behind the desk wasn’t the genial fellow I had come to know. This John was all business.

His handshake was formal. He was somber and unsmiling. He was in stern banker mode.

He listened stoically as I presented my case for another loan. Then, in the condescending manner of an English lord dressing down a peasant, he turned me down.

In officious banker-speak, he laid out the corporate reasoning. It was gibberish, but I got the idea: in their minds, I had gone to the well one too many times.

It came as no surprise that the bank assessed its customers and made loans based on precise standards. They probably used a formula that bankers learn in college.

The corporation had decided I no longer was an acceptable risk. The parameters of my situation simply ran afoul of their formula.

Okay, I could accept that. But the way they did it was childish and insulting.

Instead of leveling with me honestly, my purported long-time banker friend dropped the hammer on me coldly and pompously. I don’t recall that he ever made eye contact.

Frankly, the incident seemed surreal. It was as if Pod People had taken possession of him as he slept. Had I not been so stunned, I would have been embarrassed for him.

That unpleasant end of my relationship with Brand Bank meant that I needed to find help elsewhere.

Soon after, I made an appointment at a branch of Georgia Federal Credit Union in the town where I worked. I don’t remember the particulars. Someone may have recommended them. I may have picked them out of the phone book.

The manager of the Conyers branch of GFCU listened to my story, and she gave me the loan I requested.

With the help of my new branch manager friend, I was able to recover financially. In the ensuing years, she and her successors always were there when I needed them. From the late 1980s until my retirement in 2005, I gratefully did most of my banking with GFCU.

Today, they’re called Georgia United Credit Union. I still keep some savings at the Conyers branch, and I have a Visa card with them.

I’m big on loyalty, you see, and they earned my business.

As for “BrandBank,” I have no charitable thoughts about them at all.

Well, I do remember the bulldog ashtray fondly.

Scene of the crime -- the old Brand Banking Company office on the square in Lawrenceville, now nicely remodeled.

Scene of the crime — the old Brand Banking Company office on the square in Lawrenceville, now nicely remodeled.

Bulldog ashtray


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A bearded, grandfatherly man is waiting in the self-checkout line. Ahead of him are a couple in their 20s and a BOY about four years old. The MOTHER is massively pregnant. The FATHER wears a Duck Dynasty t-shirt and a Georgia Bulldogs baseball cap. All is quiet except for the beep beep boop of the checkout scanner.

The boy stands next to their shopping cart, watching with interest as the mother hands purchases to the father. The father scans them and places them in the bagging area. He breaks the silence.

What about wood glue? Aren’t we out of wood glue?


I thought we were out.


(Pointing to a rack of candy atop the scanner)
Mama, look! They got Snickers bars! Can I have a Snickers bar?

No, you don’t need no candy.

Aw, Mama, please! Lemme get a Snickers bar!

Yore mama said no! End of story!

You never let me git NOTHIN!

Boy, don’t you start! Yore mama said —

Son, we’re gonna eat lunch in just a minute. You know you can’t have a Snickers bar right before lunch.

(With difficulty, she leans down, intending to pick up the child and put him in the shopping cart. The father quickly intervenes and lifts the boy into the cart.)

(Standing up in the shopping cart)
Can I get a Snickers and not eat it till after lunch?

You don’t need no damn Snickers bar!

(The boy stretches forward and grabs a Snickers bar from the display rack)

Goddammit! Put that thing back!

Oh, let him hold it till we’re done. He knows we ain’t gonna buy him one.

(She continues handing items to the father, who scans them and places them in the bagging area.)

(Meanwhile, the boy is studying the Snickers bar, turning it over in his hands, looking closely at the wrapper.)

(The father scans the last item. As he leans aside to place the item in the bagging area, the boy lunges forward and passes the Snickers bar over the scanner.)

Beep beep boop.

Goddammit to hell! Did you see what he did! Did you see that!

(He looks around for a store clerk, apparently to void the purchase of the Snickers bar.)

Oh, never mind. Let’s just go. I’m tired.

(As he feeds cash into a slot in the checkout station)
Boy, I have HAD it! You know what? I’ve got a mind to eat the damn thing myself! You wanna watch me eat it?

(The boy bursts into tears. All customers and staff in the vicinity turn in their direction.)

(The boy continues bawling. They load up the shopping cart and head to the exit. The automatic doors open.)

(Addressing the father in a serious tone)
You are NOT gonna eat that Snickers bar and make him watch, you hear me?

Hell, I didn’t mean it, and you KNOW it. He can HAVE the damn thing — after lunch. OKAY?


(Immediately, the boy stops sobbing. The doors close behind them.)





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Here in Jefferson, the kids started back to school on August 1, which means they had a measly two-month summer vacation. That’s cruel.

By all rights, summer vacation should be three months long, like it was in olden times when I was in school. True, today’s little darlings don’t know the difference, but I feel bad for them.

But, as usual, I digress. A few days before school started, my ex Deanna and I took our two youngest granddaughters, Maddie and Sarah, ages 10 and seven, up to the North Georgia mountains for the day. It was one last chance to spend time with them, one last summer fling.

We kept it simple. In the morning, we hiked a short trail to Panther Falls, a pretty spot in the Chattahoochee National Forest.


For lunch, we went to Henry’s Restaurant in Clayton, Henry’s being one of the culinary gems of Northeast Georgia.

After that, we drove over to the Chattooga River and sat on a rock overlooking Bull Sluice Rapid, watching the rafts flip.

It was a most satisfying day. The weather was idyllic — cool and bracing. The girls kept the squabbling relatively in check. The food was superb. And, for Maddie and Sarah, seeing the whitewater and the boats was a new and enlightening experience.

Here are a few recollections…


Ten minutes down the trail to Panther Falls, we reached a spot where you cross the creek on a series of stepping stones. At that point, the creek is a small, clear, babbling brook about six inches deep.

I hopped across the stepping stones first, and Maddie followed. While Deanna was preparing to help Sarah across, Sarah calmly waded into and across the creek, bypassing the stepping stones, soaking her shoes in the process.

“Sarah!” said her grandmother in surprise.

“Wow, the water’s cold,” Sarah observed as she emerged on the opposite bank. “My socks are all squishy.”

I asked Sarah if she wanted to take off her shoes and wring out her socks.

“No, I’m fine. They’ll dry pretty soon. Let’s go!”

“You are such a knucklehead,” said Maddie.


We had the trail to ourselves. At Panther Falls, the girls waded in the pool at the base of the falls (shoeless) while Deanna and I took photos.


On the way back to the trailhead, we encountered a young couple heading toward the waterfall. Toddling along on a leash in front of them was a Lhasa Apso puppy.

Lhasas can be beautiful when their coats are long and well-groomed. This one was shaved bald and, at least in my view, singularly homely. In fact, it looked a bit crazed, like a blunt-nosed, goggly-eyed Chihuahua with an overbite.

Our two parties greeted each other cordially. The couple pulled their goofy little dog aside to let us pass.

Sarah, apparently watching the dog instead of her footing, tripped on a rock and did a spectacular faceplant in front of the entire group.

Gasps went up from everyone. Deanna and I simultaneously rushed forward to Sarah’s aid.

“Well,” Sarah intoned, still sprawled face down on the trail, “THAT worked!”


Sarah was okay, except for a tiny scratch on her leg, but she soon realized she could get some mileage from it. As we continued toward the trailhead, she began to groan and hobble.

“Don’t be such a baby,” Maddie barked. “That hardly qualifies as a scratch.”

“You don’t know how much it hurts!” Sarah pouted, limping in apparent agony.

“Okay, you two,” the grandparents ordered in unison. “Knock it off.”

Back at the parking lot, Maddie held her cell phone aloft and whooped, “Hey, I got a signal! I’m gonna call Mom!”

Which she did, bringing Leslie up to date about the events of the morning, including Sarah’s pratfall in front of six witnesses, if you count the dog.

“Yeah, Mom, Sarah fell on her face in the middle of the trail a while ago, but she’s fine now.”

“I am NOT ‘FINE’!”  Sarah bellowed.


Henry’s Restaurant is a North Georgia institution. The food — country cookin’ served buffet style — is as good today as it was 30 years ago, when Henry himself ran the place.

Sadly, Henry is gone now. His daughter Lynn is in charge, assisted by a crew of siblings, children, aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws.

While we were feasting, the kitchen door burst open, and Lynn’s oldest son emerged carrying a tray of piping hot glazed donuts. He wandered among the tables, offering the diners complimentary donuts for dessert.


Sarah’s eyes were as large and as glazed as the donuts. She waved eagerly to flag down the donut boy, and he approached our table.

Deanna reminded Sarah that donuts are for dessert, after one finishes one’s meal.

“Don’t worry, we have plenty,” donut boy told her. Sarah resumed eating with new purpose.

Maddie’s reaction to the donuts was different.

“Did you see those things?” she said. “Nothing but sugar! That’s sickening! No way could I eat one!”

Sarah allowed as how she could eat one just fine. Probably two.

“Yuck,” said Maddie.

A few minutes later, the donut boy returned with Sarah’s prize. While Maddie looked away in mock disgust, Sarah consumed it with speed, efficiency, and no ill effects.


If you leave Henry’s Restaurant and drive 10 miles east on U.S. 76, you reach a large parking area on the Chattooga River near Bull Sluice Rapid. This is the take-out point for boat trips down Section III of the river, and it’s the put-in point for trips continuing downstream on Section IV.


It’s also a popular picnicking and swimming spot where the locals go to watch the rafters and kayakers run Bull Sluice Rapid, the grand finale of Section III.

Maddie and Sarah were enthralled by everything — the river, the whitewater, the scenery, the eddies full of swimmers, the crowds of spectators, the colorful rafts and kayaks, the spectacular flips.

For a long time, the girls sat quietly on a rock and watched the activity. They could see that the kayaking requires skill, but they weren’t sure about rafting.

“Rocky, are rafts hard to paddle?” Sarah asked.

“Not really,” I said. “They float downstream by themselves. The guide in the back is doing the work — using his paddle like a rudder to steer. When a raft flips, it’s usually because the guide made a mistake, like entering a rapid crooked.”

“What about the passengers?” asked Maddie. “They’re all paddling like crazy.”

“Well, most of the time, it doesn’t matter what they do. Especially in a big rapid like this. Either the guide nails the entry, or he doesn’t.”

As if to illustrate the point, a raft approached Bull Sluice, and the passengers brought their paddles into the raft and held them vertically. The guide carefully lined up the raft in the chute at the top of the rapid, and they shot smoothly through.

“Cool,” said Maddie.

“Rocky, I want to come back here sometime and go swimming,” said Sarah.

“No problem,” I said. “But you guys will be back in school in a couple of days. We’ll have to do it on a Saturday.”

They had no problem with that.


Back at home that evening, I got an email from my son Dustin imploring me NOT to get the girls interested in whitewater boating.

I can’t figure out why he was so concerned.


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