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.
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.
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.
24 years ago tomorrow, you saw the world for the first time. Exactly two months to the day later, I was born into the world. Even though it’s almost been eight years since I said “See you on the other side,” It feels like it’s been a lot longer.
A lot has changed in the last seven and a half years, but the one thing that will never change is the love that I have for you. I can only imagine what you will experience tomorrow in God’s kingdom.
A lot has changed since you took the first step on your heavenly journey, and I can’t help but think of how proud you would be of me.
I was so blessed to have you here with me on Earth for 16 years. It may have only been 16 years, but those 16 years hold a lifetime worth of memory. Thank you for everything Jody Marie. Thousands of memories in such a short amount of time.
Memories that I will cherish forever until I see you again. I know you’re looking down on me giving me that stare that only you could give, telling me to “dry it up, you’ll be fine.”
But the truth is, there will never be another person quite like you. Your heart was so pure, your personality was incredible, your smile lit up a room and if only you knew how loved and missed you are by hundreds of people, you would understand. What they say is true, “True friendship goes far beyond the grave.” I’ll love you forever and always.
Happy Birthday, beautiful. Until we meet again, you’re safe with me.
20 years ago tomorrow, the world was shaken by the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, New York, the Pentagon in Washington, DC and a field out in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where a hijacked plane went down in a blaze. When 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group known as al Qaeda hijacked four aircrafts and carried out the gruesome events of that day. Two of the planes were flown into the Twin Towers, a third hit the Pentagon, and a fourth went down in that Pennsylvania field.
These events we will never forget. These events are forever burned into the memory of millions of Americans. That day, almost 3,000 American heroes were killed tragically in the events of September 11, 2001.
On September 11, 2001, at 8:45 a.m., what seemed to be just an ordinary Tuesday morning, turned into anything but ordinary when an American Airlines Boeing 767 loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. A blazing, gaping hole was left smoldering near the 80th floor of the 110-story skyscraper, instantly claiming hundreds of lives and leaving hundreds more in danger. 18 minutes later, a second 767 Boeing— United Airlines Flight 175 — sliced its way into the south tower.
Out in Washington, DC American Airlines Flight 77 circled over Washington, DC before crashing into the west side of the Pentagon military base at 9:45 a.m. Fuel from the Boeing 757 caused an awful fire that led to a structural collapse at the Department of Defense.
125 military personnel and civilians were killed in the Pentagon, along with 64 people aboard the airliner. At 10:30 a.m. the north tower collapsed 2,763 died at the World Trade Center including 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 New York City Police Officers and 37 Port Authority police officers. 2,996 lives were claimed that fateful day.
I was only 3 years old in 2001 but I miss the way things were on September 12, 2001. Not because of what happened, but because of the way people treated each other. The way the human race came together and mourned as one. The way for just a moment, America truly was suffering from the same thing.
If you lost a loved one on that fateful day or know someone who did, please assure them that their loved one went out a hero. If you survived the attacks, thank you for standing face to face with terror and doing what you could to save those around you.
As humans, we often see Memorial Day as a day to party, a day to celebrate and barbecue. But Memorial Day isn’t about partying, celebrating, and barbecuing, it’s a day set aside each year to remember the selfless, honorable human beings who gave their lives for the sake of their love for this country.
There is no such saying as “Happy Memorial Day.” You see, somebody somewhere across this great country still struggling with the loss of a loved one, a friend, a fellow service member, etc.
Recently, I saw a post on social media asking about a fireworks display for Memorial Day. I thought to myself, “Do they have no idea what the true meaning of Memorial Day is?” It’s not a time for fireworks, it’s a time of reflection, remembrance, and honoring those who never made it home to their loved ones for the sake of the freedom of citizens like you and I.
Tomorrow, as we observe the very somber holiday that is Memorial Day, I ask that you take a moment to pause and remember the many men and women who died protecting this great nation, the ones who came home draped by an American Flag.
If you are struggling with the loss of a spouse, friend, fellow service member as Memorial Day approaches, I want you to know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.
All gave some, some gave all. Love your country, live with pride, and don’t forget those who died.
He’s got 109 hit singles, 99 of which could be found on Billboard Hot Country chart at one time. He’s the son of arguably the greatest Country Music artist to ever live.
He’s an outlaw in every sense of the word, all you have to do is look at his family tree to see that the outlaw lifestyle comes to him naturally. I mean after all, his daddy is Hank Williams Sr, it doesn’t get more outlaw than that.
On this day in 1949, Hank Williams Sr and his wife Audrey Mae Sheppard Williams welcomed little Randall Hank Williams into this world in Shreveport, Louisiana. Hank Sr nicknamed Randall Hank “Bocephus” after Grand Ole Opry comedian Rod Brasfield’s ventriloquist dummy. Now, Hank Sr died in 1953, when young Bocephus was around three or four. So after that, he was raised by his mother Audrey.
When Hank Jr was a child, you could say that a Taj Mahal of musicians visited him and his family, given his father’s status before he passed away on New Year’s Day of 1953.
When I say a Taj Mahal of artists visited his home in his younger days, I don’t mean just one or two famous “regular” artists like you may think. I mean the likes of Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Fats Domino, Earl Scruggs, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis among others.
Williams first stepped on stage and performed his father’s songs at the age of eight and this was just the beginning of what would become what is today a very successful musical career.
In fact, to date, Hank Williams Jr. has 109 hit singles and is by far the most sought after concert ticket in the country music industry.
His career has seen him honored and awarded many times over the years of sitting somewhere between raisin’ hell and amazing grace. He was the 2006 Johnny Cash Visionary Award recipient and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2020.
He’s won countless Grammy Awards for his musical talents but it’s not about the accolades for Bocephus. He says “I’m tryin’ to keep my daddy’s legacy alive in a world that’s becoming more and more blind to those trailblazers as time rolls on.” I guess you could say, it really is a “Family Tradition” in more than one way. Not only is Bocephus keeping the Drifter’s legacy alive, he’s also paving the way for the future of outlaw country.
Happy 72nd Birthday to the Icon himself, Hank Williams Jr.
We’ve all got a best friend, or a lifelong friend who has been or was with us through it all. For me, Jody Sanford was that friend.
For 16 years, we were and still are thick as thieves, constantly getting on our siblings last nerve. In fact, we knew just when to ease up on them.
I like to think of our relationship with each other as sort of a modern day Bonnie and Clyde-type relationship, no we never killed anybody, nor did we ever run from the law, but we always had each other’s backs no matter the circumstances.
We never hurt anybody, but you knew where we stood. If you saw one of us, more than likely you saw both of us, because the other wasn’t far behind.
I’ve had my share of ups and downs over the past seven years, happy moments when I seemed to escape everything and then I’ve had moments where I’ve cried myself to sleep.
To know Jody was to love her, I can’t think of a single person who didn’t love Jody. When she loved she loved hard, but Lord help you if you got on her bad side.
She was never one to sugarcoat anything just to make somebody feel better about themselves. She would tell anybody exactly how she felt about them and it could be anywhere.
I know I got on her nerves more than once and I’m not going to lie, she got on mine too. But we never let that create a void in our friendship.
I clearly remember the day God called her home, I was sitting in the back of the house on the computer, mom was in the kitchen cooking green beans, and my brother was in his room.
It was about 4:30 at this point, and mom came running to the back and said “Jody, Jody!” I was wondering ‘What trouble has she gotten into now?’ Because the two of us were notorious for constantly being in trouble and never getting out of it.
I didn’t think much more of it, because I had just seen her the day before at Bazemore Field, I figured she had just gone off on somebody and everything was going like it normally did.
But then, before I knew it, my brother came into the room and took my phone, which made me mad because nobody really told me what was going on.
At about 6:30 p.m., the house phone rang, I picked it up, it was mom I couldn’t even get the word ‘hello’ out of my mouth good before she said “Jody’s gone,” my world felt like it was closing in on me.
Mom said “I can’t talk right now, I’ll call you back in five minutes.” At 6:35 p.m., the phone rang again, and that’s when she explained what happened and then I fell apart because I had just lost not only my best friend, but my very first friend.
The friend that went off on me constantly, who took me home from school on multiple occasions, the one who literally made me do my school work by saying “Don’t make me tell Mrs. Ellen.” I knew she would do it in a heartbeat, so I just rolled my eyes and did my work.
The one who I played with when we were both in diapers, I spent many nights at her house during the summers, had multiple inside jokes with her, etc. I could go on and on for hours about what she meant to me.
A few days passed by, and I was at lunch and they called me to the counselor’s office, I was confused why was I being called to the counselor’s office? I didn’t need a counselor.
When I entered the office, I headed to the back into a meeting room where several more of my friends, including my brother were sitting.
It wasn’t long until her brother walked in and asked us to be pallbearers at her funeral. I wasn’t sure I was mentally capable of doing it, but I knew it’s what she would’ve wanted. So, I hugged her brother and fell apart, he said “Don’t cry, she’s in a better place, she’s with God at His right hand waiting on you.”
The night of the visitation, I entered the church, which is just about a mile from my house and was met by her entire immediate family.
There, her dad, with a frame that stands well above six feet, hugged me tightly as he fought back tears and said “That girl was crazy over you buddy.” He and her mom escorted me into the sanctuary, where Jody’s body was, I broke down when I reached the casket.
I couldn’t believe this was actually happening, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. We had talked about going to college together but that wasn’t going to happen.
The next day at her funeral, I was sitting in the front left pew with all of the pallbearers, when it was time to carry the casket to the hearse, I stood up, took a deep breath and grabbed the handle of the casket with my right hand.
I walked down the steps of the church toward the hearse and loaded the casket into the hearse, I was wearing sunglasses and I lifted them up as soon as I loaded her in the back of the hearse and patted the casket.
I was met with multiple hugs and then headed to the cemetery, when we arrived at the cemetery behind the hearse, I felt my throat get a lump in it. I approached the hearse and loaded the casket onto the lowering table. Then was met with more hugs.
Jody, thank you for always being here for me. Thank you for the memories, thank you for the arguments, the random times we rode around town together, the ice cream dates, and so much more.
Henry Louis “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron was born February 5, 1934, in Mobile, Alabama. While it may appear to the general public that Hank Aaron had everything handed to him a silver platter, that is far from the truth. Growing up in Alabama in the 1930s and 40s was very difficult, especially for a person of color.
In the 1940s, his hometown of Mobile, Alabama was not a safe place for a colored kid to pursue equality with segregation and all that came with it. In an interview a few years ago when asked about his awareness of segregation and how he felt about it, Aaron stated “I don’t know that I was aware of it, but I was conscious of who I was.”
During his childhood, young Hank passed through the sandlots of that south Alabama town with brief stops in the Negro Leagues and the minor leagues before he settled in with the Braves. He was just 13 years old when Jackie Robinson broke baseball color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, so his greatest idol was none other than Robinson.
Hank Aaron grew up to be quite the baseball player himself. He was a consistent producer both at the plate and in the field, reaching the .300 mark in batting 14 times, 30 home runs 15 times, 90 RBI 16 times, and captured three Gold Glove Awards en-route to 25 All-Star Game selections.
1975 was arguably Aaron’s best season. He hit .322 that year with 44 home runs and 132 RBI, captured the National League MVP Award and led the Braves to their first World Series Championship since 1914. His most memorable feat game on the night of April 8, 1974, when he took Los Angeles Dodgers hurler Al Downing deep for the 715th home run of his career, passing Babe Ruth’s previous mark of 714. He would finish his career with 755 long balls.
He remains baseball’s all-time leader in RBI (2,297) and total bases (6,856). If each of his 755 home runs were to be removed, he would still have 3,016 hits. Hank Aaron was a model of humility, dignity, and quiet competence. He did not seek the adoration that he received, but he earned it, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982. He passed away at age 86 on Friday.
For as long as I can remember, Don Sutton has been a member of the Atlanta Braves broadcast team. I can clearly recall standing in front of TV as a little kid and listening to Don, along with Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren, and later, Skip’s son Chip, call the action.
The trio of Skip, Pete, and Don have now been reunited in Heaven and I’m sure that they will be calling the Braves’ games from the vantage point of Heaven, the greatest vantage point of them all. Not only was Don Sutton a great broadcaster, he was also a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher.
A 1998 inductee into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, National Baseball Hall of Fame Chairman, Jane Forbes Clark said “Don Sutton’s brilliance on the field, and his last commitment to the game that he so loved, carried through to his time as a Member of the Hall of Fame, I know how much he treasured his moments in Cooperstown, just as we treasured our special moments with him. We share our deepest condolences with his wife, Mary and his family.”
Sutton, a Clio, Alabama native, began his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers with whom he played from 1966-1980, and again in 1988. From 1981-82 Sutton was traded from the Dodgers to the Houston Astros, from Houston he left and went to Milwaukee to join the Brewers club from 1982-84, from Milwaukee he went out to California to join the Oakland Athletics where he stayed for less than a year in 1985. Later in 1985 he moved across California and joined the Los Angeles/California Angels with whom he stayed until the end of the 1987 season. In 1988, Don returned to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
During his career, he won 324 games as a pitcher and earned a spot in the hallowed halls of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Following his playing days, he joined the Atlanta Braves broadcast team where he served for all but two years from 1989-2018. He spent the 2008-09 seasons with the Washington Nationals’ broadcast team.
Tuesday afternoon, Don’s son Daron released the following statement on social media, “Saddened to share that my dad passed away in his sleep last night (Monday night). He worked as hard as anyone I’ve ever known and he treated those he encountered with great respect…and he took me to work a lot. For all these things, I am very grateful, Rest in Peace.”
The Braves subsequently released a statement that read, “We are deeply saddened by the passing of our dear friend, Don Sutton. A generation of Braves fans came to know his voice…But despite all (his) success, Don never lost his generous character or humble personality.”
I would have to agree, every time I ever heard the voice of Don Sutton over the TV or radio, I always learned something new about the game. His knowledge for the game of baseball is what I credit for my obsession with the sport.
While sharing his unmatched wisdom, he would often find just enough room to squeeze in one of his corny jokes about either the game the night before or a personal experience with his family in which he found great humor. I could go on and on for hours about the memories that I have and will carry with me for the rest of my time here on Earth that include Don Sutton, but I don’t want to keep you here all day.
Even when he was on the mound, Don wanted to be a broadcaster, specifically with the Braves. In 1976, when the Dodgers were in town playing the Braves at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Sutton, in his usual casual-but-humorous style told Pete Van Wieren: “Someday Pete, we’re going to work together.” Little did he know he had just predicted the future.
It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t wrap this up with Don’s signature sign-off call, “That’ll do it here in Atlanta, for my broadcast partners, Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren, so long and Go Braves.”