16 Years Later: In Loving Memory of Big Ken

16 years ago today, on October 2, 2006, my grandad lost an eight-month battle with pancreatic cancer. My brother and I affectionately referred to him as “Big Ken,” due to his 6’4” frame. That name fit him in more ways than just his physical stature. To the two of us, he was larger than life itself.

He loved sports, the outdoors, his family and so much more but most importantly, he loved the Lord. His hair was as white as a cotton field, his clothes were always starched, not a wrinkle in sight, his car was spotless. His favorite candy was Circus Peanuts with a glass-bottled Coke, the type that leaves divet imprints in your hand if you don’t use a bottle opener.

Although you can hardly find glass-bottle cokes anywhere these days, I like to think that he is the reason that I love Circus Peanuts. He took great pride in everything he did in his 68 years.

Now, by the time my brother and I came along in 1997, he was “real tired,” as my brother once said, which is what he thought the word “retired,” meant. Big Ken loved spending time with us. He would sit patiently outside his Spanish Fort, Alabama home while I pretended to take his “order” as a young boy. He played baseball with us in the backyard for hours on end without complaining one bit. Again, he loved his family.

In the early 2000’s circa 2002, he built my brother and I a bridge in front of his home. A bridge that still stands some 20 years after it was built.

We spent time with him on picnics at Fort Toulouse in my hometown of Wetumpka, Alabama when he and my grandmother would come to visit and I can’t remember a time when the trunk of his Crown Victoria wasn’t slammed full with toys for us both.

Until we meet again, Big Ken. Hold it down with the Lord and rest assured, your memory will remain alive until I take my last earthly breath and join you in the greatest Kingdom known to man. You took what you had, did what you could, provided us with memories that we’ll never forget, and for that we’ll always be thankful. I love you.

246 Years of Freedom: July 4, 2022

246 years ago today, this nation that we call home was born the moment our Founding Fathers signed their names on that document historic document that we know as the Declaration of Independence.

For 246 incredible years, the flag that we call Old Glory has stood for everything that an American should embody. The morals, the values, and the ideas upon which this country was founded.

The colors on that blanket of freedom each have their own meanings. When I look at the red, I’m reminded of the blood of those patriots that has been shed over the centuries to protect the freedoms that she represents.

The white reminds me of the purity and honesty that was the idea for this great land. Then I look at the blue, and I am immediately reminded of the courage that it takes to see that the freedoms of this land never get taken away.

You see, Old Glory has flown high and proud above so many foreign lands and has stood starched in the paths of enemies over the to years. She’s been from Korea to Vietnam, Afghanistan, to the Islands of Iwo Jima. She almost fell at the Alamo, she got cut at Chancellorsville and Shiloh Hill, she turned red in World War II.

But you see, back here in her own land, she’s been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused. To the point where they’ve almost quit waving her back home.

She’s been through the fire before. She might be getting thread bare and wearing thin, but she’s in pretty good shape for the things that she has seen. As for us back home, we raise her up right, we take her down every night, we don’t letter touch the ground, and we fold her up right.

It seems these days, that the media only wants to tell us what’s wrong with our homeland. The media only wants to talk about the bad happening here at home. Turn off the news. Here lately it seems that the media wants to try to divide us as a nation and turn us as a nation away from God. A nation whose motto is, “In God We Trust and United We Stand.” Happy Independence Day!

Memorial Day 2022: All Gave Some, Some Gave All

As I sit here tonight, I’m reminded of what Memorial Day stands for and represents. Memorial Day is a day set aside each year to remember those brave American heroes, men and women alike, that gave their lives for this country.

You see, Memorial Day isn’t about the barbecuing, parties, lakes, or anything other than remembering those that didn’t make it out of those bullet-riddled battlefields.

If you ever think that we don’t live in the greatest country ever known to man, there are 624 acres out in Arlington, Virginia, that say differently. They call it Arlington National Cemetery. There you will find more than 415,000 reasons to be thankful to live in this nation.

The men and women there and all over this country didn’t have to fight for us. But they did and they gave their lives so that we might live freely for the rest of our days. Tomorrow, take a moment to reflect and remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom for you and I.

Cody Johnson is Saving Country Music

I think it’s pretty safe to say, that Cody Daniel Johnson of Huntsville, Texas, is the future of country music. Not only is he the future of the genre, but he’s the reason there is still hope for real country music. I’m not talking about the kind of “country” that uses hip-hop beats or electronic drums.

I’m talking about the blue-collar country music. The kind that Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash,Willie Nelson and so many others have sang about over the years.

I’m not talking about the kind where people claim to be “cowboys” that seems to be the trend these days, I’m talking about an ex-bull rider turned country musician. The kind that misses songs, not because his voice cracked, but because his cows got out on his Texas ranch, so he’s backstage telling his wife how to get them back. The kind of country where people lived the lives the sang about.

I’m not talking about the politics of country music that pushes people to feel a certain way, I’m talking about the kind of country music that still believes in God, Country, and Family. The kind that will stop at nothing to give the glory to God in front of 10 thousand people.

That’s the kind of country that Cody Johnson is. He’s pure, blue-collared, down-home country. He doesn’t pretend he’s perfect. I’m fact, he’ll stand onstage and tell you he’s the most imperfect Christian in the venue.

He’s seemingly the only hope that real country has. Get a good look folks, this man is one of a kind.

The Little Things in Life: Landon McGregor’s home run

Yesterday seemed like a normal day, little did I know several hours later, I would have the distinct honor and privilege of meeting and calling the home run for one of the most inspirational kids that I’ve ever met.

Meet Landon McGregor, Landon has Down syndrome and is the bat boy for Alex City Middle School’s baseball team. He has an infectious personality with a smile that will undoubtedly light up a room.

Prior to the first game of the doubleheader, our head coach came up to me and explained the situation to me. He told me to play it up, which I gladly agreed to do under the circumstances.

To lead off the doubleheader, Landon happily walked up to the plate bat in hand. It wasn’t long before Landon hit the ball and was rounding the bases with a huge smile on his face. His trip around the bases was ended with a slide at home plate and kids surrounding him congratulating him on his big hit.

Little did Landon know, his big moment taught me one important thing, the little things in life are really all that matters.

Congratulations, Landon!

An Open Letter to Freddie Freeman

Dear Freddie Freeman, for 15 years, 11 of those spent in the big leagues with the Atlanta Braves, you gave all of Braves Country more than we could ever repay you for.

You’ve been our shoulder to cry on during the down years, you’ve celebrated with us in the high years. Despite the ebbs and flows of the years in between your first year here in Atlanta and your last, you stuck it out.

You said you were blessed to be a part of organization, when in fact, we were blessed to have you and your amazing family at our side through the rollercoaster that you ride alongside us for 11 years of big league service, 15 counting your time in the minors.

Thank you for providing us with so many memories, from the home run hugs, to the last out of the 2021 World Series. You did it all.

To Chelsea, thank you for sacrificing so much time with your husband for the betterment of this organization. Freddie is a sensational man who has left an incredible impact on the lives of those of us who are fortunate enough to call ourselves Braves fans. He’s been with for a decade and a half and you have been right there with him.

To Charlie, Brandon, and Maximus Freeman, thank you for sharing your dad with us. Thank you, Charlie for the unconditional love that you’ve shown us the past few years. To Brandon and Maximus, your story impacted us all and brought us all to tears.

Freddie, again, my brother, thank you for sharing your family, your athletic ability, and your story with us all for 15 years. You my friend, are the epitome of what it means to be an Atlanta Brave.

Thanks for everything, until our paths cross again, so long my friend, I wish you and your family nothing but the best.

Five More Minutes: In Loving Memory of Jody Marie Sanford

We’ve all got that one friend, or even multiple friends, that we feel are immortal. The kind of friends that have been with us through all heartbreak and the joys of life. The highs, lows, and everything included in this rollercoaster ride called life.

I’ve got several friends of that variety, but the one that’s been with me the longest is now at the Right Hand of God.

In fact, eight years ago today, she was called to her eternal home by God. On February 2, 2014, the one that I still consider to be the sister that I never had took her last breath and began that Heavenly journey that she has been on for eight years.

I can only imagine what she has seen over the last eight years in Heaven. I was so blessed to have been able to share 16 years of my life, her entire life, with her.

Although the time we shared together was far too short, we shared a lifetime worth of memories that I’m forever grateful for. Happy memories, sad memories, and everything in between.

By now, you’re probably thinking we had a perfect friendship. But believe me, there were multiple times in those 16 years that we got on each other’s last nerve.

But we never left each other’s side. She got on my nerves some, but I know that I got on her nerves far more than she got on mine.

How do I know that I got on her nerves? Well, if you knew Jody, you know about that side-eyed straight-faced look she’d give. Every time she gave me that look I’d playfully say “What is it Jody? What’s wrong?”

All while continuing to do what got on her nerves, not because I enjoyed getting the side-eyed, straight-faced treatment, but because I knew that it would only be a matter of seconds before she busted out laughing saying “You’re so stupid. You know that gets on my last nerve.” To which I’d pause and say “Yeah, I know. You want me to do it again?” And she’d playfully say, “No, you idiot.”

I’m forever grateful for the lifetime worth of memories that the two of us shared. From the trips to Mardi Gras in Mobile, to spending the summers at the city baseball fields, and everything in between.

On February 2, 2014, I was in the back of the house on the computer at about 4:30 p.m., when mom came running into the room and headed for her closet.

I wondered what she was doing so I asked “What are you doing?” She replied hurriedly “It’s Jody!” I was so confused at this point.

What has she done now? Was it something great, was she in trouble? What was going on? I was completely lost as to what was happening. The next minute my brother comes into the room and takes my phone.

After about two hours, the house phone rings and it’s mom. I pick it up, completely unprepared for what was about to be said on the other end. “Hello?” I said expecting just a normal answer to what was occurring.

I could hear people crying on the other end. Mom replied “Jody’s gone.” I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. It had to be a prank right?? This just wasn’t possible. I slowly hung the phone up after mom said that she’d be home in a little while.

February 5, 2014 rolls around, the day of the visitation, or viewing as some people refer to it and by this time I had already accepted the role as pallbearer. A role that I wasn’t too sure about taking on, but I knew that she wouldn’t want it any other way.

After all, I’d been with her for her whole life, why not carry her one last time? I wasn’t sure about taking on this responsibility, but I would be doing it the next day at the funeral.

But now, it was time to face my worst nightmare. I entered Thelma Baptist Church, which is about a mile from my house, through the back side door, where I was met by her entire family.

I didn’t know if I had the strength to face what I was going to have to face whether I wanted or not, so her mom and dad escorted me to the sanctuary where the casket was located and her brother and sister walked behind me.

I entered the sanctuary and made a right turn. There it was. There she was. My best friend’s lifeless body laying in a casket. I broke down. I walked up to the casket, leaned down and whispered “You’re safe with me.”

I got there early and sat about mid-ways down the isle. Before long what seemed like a thousand people were showing up in droves to pay their final earthly respects to not only my best friend, but also my very first friend.

The next morning, the funeral was supposed to start at 9 a.m., so I got there around 8 a.m, went inside the sanctuary, sat right in front of the casket and prayed for the strength to get through the day. I can confidently say that I had never heard of an entire school shutting down for a funeral, that is until this one of course.

Afterwards, I looked up and point to the sky and was met with hundreds of hugs from mutual friends that the two of us share. During the funeral the preacher said “Sixteen years…too short some might say, but if it’s a life that was lived and loved, was it really too short?” Those words will always stick close to my heart

That girl loved life. She loved her family and friends, but most importantly, she loved God. She loved hard. You never left her company with the question of “Does Jody love me?” Because she was going to make sure you knew the answer to that question. But if you messed up, or she didn’t like what you did, or how you did it, she was going to give you an earful about it.

She also was a fighter. She fought for those she loved and in turn those of us whom she loved are left here to defend her name and to keep her memory alive.

She stood up for what and who she believed in and you never had to question her loyalty. It was evident as soon as you met her.

As the funeral ended, the funeral director asked the congregation to rise and prepared the casket to be carried out. I stood up, pulled my sunglasses down, even though it was a cloudy day, took a deep breath and grabbed the casket with my right arm.

Once we were out of the church, we loaded the casket into the back of the hearse and I leaned down saying in between tears “This isn’t the end.”

Afterwards I was met with more hugs and words of encouragement to get me through this rough time. At the graveside, I lifted my sunglasses and wiped my eyes with a tissue. Then I was met by more mutual friends that needed a shoulder to cry on, but little did they know, I needed that shoulder to cry on also.

Tell your family and friends you love them, you never know when you’ll see them for the last time. I’d give the world to be able to spend five more minutes with my best friend. Rest In Peace, angel. You are loved and missed more than you will ever know.

Happy eight years, angel. I love you and I’ll see you again one day soon. Until we pick up where we left off, do me a favor and give Heaven some hell.

“Here for the Long Haul,” Wetumpka Head Football Coach Looking Forward to Serving Community

For most people, it takes a while for them to know what they want to be when they grow up. For one high school head coach, it didn’t take long.

Bear Woods was announced as the Indians new head man a week ago. After spending time in both the National Football League (NFL) and Canadian Football League (CFL), Woods considers this opportunity a blessing saying “I can’t overstate just how awesome of an opportunity this is that my family and I are grateful for.”

Woods, a collegiate standout at Troy University, and most recently with the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Allouettes and Toronto Argonauts, says “it’s a blessing to be at home doing what I love, which is football and to have my wife and my four kids at my side on this journey.”

The Macclenny, Florida, native credits his playing days with putting him “on a journey being able to understand what these athletes are going through and it’s a journey that I wouldn’t trade for the world.”

As a young kid in small-town Florida, Woods dreamt of playing for Baker County High School, a rural Florida institution. “There wasn’t a college team or a professional team, all I wanted to do was play for my high school. On Friday nights, I looked forward to being able to carry my older brother or my older cousins’ equipment.”

Woods says “It’s that type of passion and pride that I want to be able to help cultivate and instill here with our community.”

Woods also says “Football is just a platform with which the Lord has blessed me to serve the place that I call home. This is what the Lord intends me to do and to be able to lead young athletes in all sports, both girls and boys, it’s just a great opportunity.”

The faith-grounded head coach says, “This program has no ceiling on where it can go and I’m anxious to serve here.”

Woods has considered the City of Natural Beauty home for a while. “Wetumpka was home before this job and it’s going to be home well after this job, we’re here for the long haul.”

Picture Courtesy: Bear Woods.

Hank Aaron: A Man Character, Integrity, Tenacity, and Fortitude

There are no words to adequately describe the man that was Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron. I don’t say that lightly. You see, it was nearly a year ago, that we lost a great man, a noble man, a man of the highest character, integrity, tenacity, and fortitude.

When Hank Aaron, a black man from Mobile, Alabama, passed away on January 22, 2021, we lost a man whom, so bravely stood face-to-face with social injustice in the Deep South in the 1950s and 60s.

We lost a legend, but Hank Aaron didn’t care about his statistics, his fame, or what people thought of his career, he was more concerned with seeing that people were treated with the same amount of respect. He was an advocate, a servant, a legend, and an icon in every sense of his being.

He was and is highly revered in the baseball world, just as he deserves to be. Now, I never had the distinct honor of talking to Mr. Aaron during his 86 years of life here on Earth, but from what I’ve read in articles and books, he never wanted to discuss his historic 23-year Major League Baseball career that saw him break Babe Ruth’s long-standing record of 714 home runs by sending a ball into the left-center field bullpen at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium at 9:07 p.m., eastern time on April 8, 1974.

He was more concerned with discussing how you were, discussing your needs, and wants. He never was self-centered at all. Hall of Fame third baseman, Chipper Jones once said “When Mr. Aaron walked into a room, the crowd got quiet, when he spoke, you listened. But when he made himself available for conversation, you approached him, shook his massive hand, and heeded any advice he offered.”

The baseball world definitely hasn’t been the same since Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron passed away just shy of a year ago because we’ve all felt the void that the absence of such a noble human has left in our hearts. I never got the chance to speak with Mr. Aaron here on Earth, but when my name is called one day to head to that big baseball stadium made of gold in Heaven, you can rest assured that I will approach Mr. Aaron and tell him just how much he means to not only me but to the baseball world in general.

Afterwards, if Mr. Aaron has any advice on how to hit 755 home runs, I will sit back and enjoy his company. Rest In Peace, Hammer. I l love you, brother.

Source (USA Today)

Virtual Grave Tour to return New Year’s Day

I’ve always had a love for cemetery. There’s just something peaceful about them. Most people see them as a place where one only goes when they die.

They see cemeteries as cold, dark, gloomy places of mourning and sadness. But to me, cemeteries aren’t all cold, dark, gloomy places of mourning and sadness. They aren’t places where one should only go when they die.

In fact, you can learn a lot just by going and walking through a cemetery and looking at the dates on the headstones, thinking about what all the people lived through and what they saw during their time here on Earth.

I’ve lived across the road from a cemetery all of my life. The graves in that cemetery range from 1863 up until 2010.

When I was a young boy, about 9 or 10, my brother and I, along with our friends would go up to the cemetery at night and play hide and seek with flashlights so that we could see and avoid disrespecting those that were peacefully sleeping at our feet.

So, I’ve always loved the history that cemeteries hold and the stories that are told by the dates on the headstone.

Stories of heart-ache, heartbreak, loneliness, illness, wellness, happiness and sadness. But above all, stories that in a way, make you feel a certain connection to the people that have walked the land before your time. The rich and poor, the old and the young, the famous and the ordinary, their stories all differ, but they’re all the same in a way. They’re all human just like you and I.

I say all of that to say this on January 1, 2022, the Virtual Grave Tour will return to a cemetery near you, wherever you may be, the Virtual Grave Tour travels all over this great land, from California to Florida and anywhere in between.

Come along won’t you? Relive and remember history one grave at a time.