Tuesday, May 18, 2010

You Can't Fix Stupid. Ever.

I read a lot.

Which keeps me informed of all the news I need to know, and some news I don't.

For instance, do you realize how stupid some folks are?  I do.  Almost daily.

As that great philosopher Forrest Gump once said, Stupid is as Stupid does.

Being both an observer, occasional practitioner, and example of Stupid I can speak with authority on this subject. 

For instance, in Daytona Beach, Florida an irate Wendy's customer left the drive-thru, entered the store, and chased an employee around the restaurant with a stun gun, which was pink.  While being encouraged by a friend, who was not pink.

I can only imagine the scene (actual names have been used because you can't make this stuff up).

"Shoot her, Melanese Asia!"

"She won't stop moving, Katrina Mari-Alice!"

While an elderly lady is screaming "Where's the beef?"

It should be apparent that any time you have someone named after a Hurricane and another named after a Continent that sooner or later there will--be--trouble.  Especially if you allow them to ride around together.

Stun guns will never be a problem in the Great State of Georgia, where laws are being passed to ensure that its citizens can carry real guns anywhere they like:  churches (understandable, especially when Baptists are having Deacons' or Business Meetings), airports (What?), and yes, restaurants.  Even Wendy's, which is only marginally a restaurant.

In Georgia, that same scenario would have unfolded like this:

"Shoot her, World's Largest Continent!"


Done.  Now, about that Frosty...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The System Is...The System

The system is broken the system.

I was watching the news this morning and apparently all infierno is breaking out at Kennesaw State University, in Atlanta, and throughout the Intraweb over a student there.  A young lady.  A...how shall I say this?  Illegal Undocumented Alien.

Now, I don't pretend to have all the answers to the immigration problem;  that's why we have morons folks in Washington.  But I do have some questions.

From what I can gather, here's how this whole fracaso unfolded.

--the student in question was brought here by her parents when she was ten years old.  The parents were...extranjeros.  Which made her one, too.

--she graduated from a Georgia high school, then enrolled at KSU.  In Georgia, when you enroll at a State university, you're either supposed to be a U. S. citizen, a non-resident alien here legally, or a permanent resident here legally.  We in this Great State use the time-proven "honor system" and assume the applicant is telling the truth about their resident status, because no proof of citizenship is required.  Ever.

--so...she's been here eleven years, graduated from one school and enrolled at another, and by all appearances a bright and honorable young person.  Except for that one nagging issue, which, if I was her, would cause me to constantly look over my shoulder for the INS.

--a few days ago, this student gets pulled over for a traffic violation, whereupon Cobb County deputies check to see if she's here legally, which under United States law they are allowed to do (see the State of Arizona for clarification).  She's not.

That, my friends, is when the problemas began.

Let's recap:  a person (and her family) here illegally without documentation attends a taxpayer-funded elementary school, a taxpayer-funded high school, and a taxpayer-funded university, without any teacher/administrator at any time, at any level, ever asking for any type of citizenship/immigration papers.  Then she commits a traffic violation, without a driver's license of any kind, and subsequently is found to be here illegally.
What?  How?  Why?  What?  My head hurts.

And then, after breaking the immigration laws, taking advantage of the taxpayers of Georgia, driving without a license, she becomes...a hero.

I saw a bumper sticker not long ago which said, "If government is the answer, then you must have asked a really stupid question."

The Atlanta newspaper loves her.  One of the editors said we need more people like her (to which I say, look around).  Television stations adore her.  On one station this morning, she said, and I quote liberally and not verbatim, "I hope my situation brings about needed changes in the law." 

So do I, senorita. So do I.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I Have Absolutely NO Social Culture

Allow me to preface this by stating I am an EOE--Equally Offensive to Everyone.  That being said, I have to write about last weekend.

My sweetheart dragged asked me to accompany her to a ballet recital last weekend.  It was there I reaffirmed that I have absolutely no social culture.  At all.

One of her elementary school students was dancing in this thing and she went to provide moral support.  And teach me a lesson, which was that when I say "yes ma'am" I better not complain about whatever it is I said "yes ma'am" to.

Her little student was third on the list of--count 'em--seventeen different dancing troupes.

She finished dancing and came up to sit beside us.  Jennie gave her flowers.  I prayed for a way out.

For the uninitiated, a school-age recital is like having a root canal without the benefit of anesthesia.  At least to me.

Now it's different if it's your child performing.  At least that way you know somebody there.  As it was, I knew nobody except my wife and this one child.

We had great seats--right under the air conditioning vent, which was blowing on Full Arctic Freeze-O-Breath.

Did I mention it was a balmy 42 degrees here last Saturday night?  Oh.  Yeah.

I kept waiting for someone to come over the PA system and say, "Randy Berry, you can leave now.  And take your stinky attitude with you."  But no.

In the middle of eternity, a lady stepped out and proclaimed Intermission.  Now at any other venue when Intermission is announced you can at least get up and thaw out (or leave gracefully).  Not here.  "I have some announcements while they're changing the tape to record the DVD."  I am not making this up.  That's literally what she said.

And--AND--I was overdressed for the occasion.  I'm normally a shorts-no socks-deck shoes kind of guy.  For this, I got dressed up.  For this, I got dressed up?

I asked a parent how long the program would last.  He said about an hour and a half.  Seemed like a lifetime.

The best part was being with my love.  But I could've done that without the ballet recital, which I could not and did not appreciate artistically.  Looked like a bunch of grade-school girls running from one side of the stage to the other, jumping periodically.  I'm sure their parents were proud.

Apparently, taking me to anything beyond a George Jones concert is like putting perfume on a hog.

You can do it, but why?

Saturday, May 8, 2010


All my life, I've been surrounded by the absolute best Mamas in the known universe.

Now, before you decide to argue that point with me, let me remind you of what that great philosopher Michael Scott once said:  Don't be an idiot.

My Mama, Ruth, is an absolute firecracker but sweet as honey.  I wrote about her on her birthday this year.  She is something else.  She's mobile, agile, and at times hostile.  She speaks her mind and doesn't mind who knows what she thinks about anything.  I love her with all my heart and wouldn't change her if I could.

She's always been there for me (and lots of others who called her "Mama").  She's sharp as a tack and loves fiercely.  She's a true mountain woman in that respect, like a mama bear who doesn't like her cubs to be messed with.

My sweetheart's Mama, Velma, is one of the sweetest women I've ever known.  The week after Jennie's dad passed away, Velma's kids had to put her in an Alzheimer's facility.  Jennie was the saddest I've seen her in a long time.  And there's no comfort to be given when there are no other choices to be made.

Velma was industrious and hard-working, and that's how I'll choose to remember her.  As one counselor at the facility told Jennie, "When your mom speaks now, that's not her talking.  That's the disease."  God bless her.

Ah, but my sweetheart.  Her Mama capacity is unmatched by any of her friends or relatives.  She loves her children with truth and compassion.  She's always been unwavering in her faith in them and her ability to bring out the best in each one.  John and Carder are "Mama's Boys" and Emily is her "Baby Girl".

Her children have never had any reason to doubt her love for them.  She's supportive and straightforward, compassionate and righteous.  She's a mystery wrapped in an enigma covered by a question.

May that never change.

All three have impacted my life in different ways.  Mama prepared me for Jennie by showing me what a Mama should be.  Velma got Jennie ready for me by being an example of the same.  Emily's preparing for her soulmate with a mantra I keep repeating to her:  watch how a boy treats his Mama;  that's how he'll eventually treat you.

So, on this Mother's Day, I'm thankful for the women--the Mamas--in my life.

God knows where I'd be without them.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Roscoe Athens Berry, May 9, 1920-May 5, 1979

I wrote this last year.  Since Daddy would have turned 90 this May 9th, I wanted to honor him again.  Anything italicized has been added this time around. 
Last week marked the thirtieth anniversary of my dad's death. He had a heart attack at work one Friday morning, and he died a week later on Saturday. He was 58. I was 22 and married for about six months.

Growing up I wanted to be just like my dad. He and my Uncle Johnny were the two best men I had ever known. Quick-witted, compassionate, hard-working, Christian men. I wanted to be like them.

My daddy worked on cars since before I was born. He came back from World War II with that training, and the memories of faraway places like Hawaii, the Philippines, Guadalcanal, and New Zealand. He never talked about the war unless I asked him, and when I did and heard some of his stories I never wanted to ask again.
I recently found out that Daddy mustered out of the service in early 1946 as a Master Sergeant in the 82nd Airborne.

He and Mama moved to Barnesville after they were married and he initially worked for the Chrysler dealer in our town until he had enough of the owner talking bad about everyone's trade-in. He told me later, "Don't ever run down a man's car. It's his and it's all he's got."

My earliest memory of Daddy and cars was at the J.R. Smith Motor Company. Mr. Smith sold Fords and this was the late fifties and early sixties. It's easy to understand how I fell in love when you consider the Galaxie 500, the Fairlane, and the Mustang of that era. He worked at "the Ford place" for almost 30 years, first as a mechanic, then service manager, then parts manager. His last salary was one hundred dollars a week. In 1972. Apparently he didn't just work for the money.

I'd go "help" Daddy on Saturdays, the highlight of my week. We'd walk from our house to work so we could leave Mama the car. I remember the cool mornings as we'd walk together, me trying to keep step with him. I was no more than five years old.

My job was to put the parts order where it went, whether in a bin for small parts or upstairs for mufflers and tailpipes. I thought I was something big. I still remember KDAZ-13-FL13. It was an oil filter.

I learned respect from watching Daddy in operation. He respected old and young, black and white, boss and employee. He taught me that it was okay to speak to black people and call them "sir" if they were older than me. That was in the Deep South in 1962. Think about it. He was way ahead of his time.

I went to Carter's Drug Store one morning to get Mr. Smith some cigars. I didn't need money. Everyone knew J. R. Smith. All I had to tell Mr. Carter was what I needed and he gave it to me, writing down the amount on a running bill for Mr. Smith. While there I was approached by some cadets from Gordon Military College and one of the asked me who my old man was. I told him I didn't have an old man, but my daddy was Roscoe Berry.

When we finished work (they closed at one o'clock on Saturday--those were the days) we'd start home. I wanted to march like Daddy did in the Army, so off we'd go, marching home. I realize now what a sight we must have been, a grown man and a five-year-old marching in time through town.

That should have been embarrassing, but Daddy didn't act like it was. I only gave Daddy and Mama boyhood things to be ashamed of me about when I was young. I wish I could say the same thing since I "grew up".

Daddy got a service station when I was fourteen, and I worked for him until I went off to Mercer in 1976. From that time he ran it by himself. I'd talk to him and Mama once a week and try to come home every chance I got. They were fun to be around, and all my friends loved being around them. They'd come over and hang out even when I wasn't there. Those were the days.

I got married in September 1978. Daddy was my best man, and boy did he look good in a tux. He cried during the ceremony, and so did I. We moved to coastal Georgia not long after that and I began pastoring a church there.

I was at a church in Hinesville when the call came one Friday morning in May. Daddy had some chest pains at work and had been taken to the hospital. Jennie and I prayed all the way there that he would live until we got there.

I wish I'd prayed harder.

He was in ICU and in those days there were no pacemakers, open heart surgery, or any thing to help the situation. We visited him for ten minutes every hour. At night I'd just walk in and watch while he slept. Every time we talked that week Daddy kept saying how good God had been to him.

He got out of ICU on Friday, and that evening we watched "Dukes of Hazzard". He laughed, we laughed. He'd be out of the hospital Monday.

Saturday Jennie, a friend and I were working at the station. That afternoon I got a call from the hospital. Daddy had taken a turn for the worse.

We flew the thirteen miles to the hospital, rushed to the elevators, the doors opened on the second floor, and there was Uncle Robert, Mama's brother. He was waiting for us.

"He's gone."

I fell back against the wall in disbelief. I had just spoken to him that morning and he sounded fine. Apparently my Aunt Gwen had told Daddy a joke and he laughed, put his hand over his heart, turned to the window, and died. Dr. Holloway said if he'd been standing right there he couldn't have done a thing.

I remember Grandma Berry standing at the end of his casket saying a mama shouldn't have to bury her children. Within the year I'd be at her funeral as well.

Preacher Bill used Psalm 37.23 as the text for Daddy's funeral: "A good man's steps are ordered by the Lord." I thought about marching through town with Daddy.

Everybody seemed to love him. People I didn't know told me of things he'd done for them without anyone knowing. It made me love him more.

I had a dream during my recovery from cancer surgery. I saw Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Johnny, and Daddy standing on a riverbank across from me. I reached out to go to them and they backed up and walked away. I guess it wasn't time.

I think about you every day, Daddy. You'd be so proud of your grandchildren. They all have some of your traits. It's scary. I wish I could talk to you sometime, not only for advice, but just to hear your voice. I miss you. Knowing I'll see you someday is comforting, but it doesn't help those times when I wonder what you'd say or do.

The last thing my Daddy said to me in that Saturday morning phone call was "I love you, son." I still remember the sound of that.

He died laughing that afternoon.

I'm still crying.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Those Baptists Sure Know How To Throw A Funeral

My father-in-law, Raymond Coppage, passed away a week ago last Monday in Vero Beach, Florida.  Since I've already said what there was to say about him, I'll move on to something that would really matter to him.

We got to Vero late Monday evening to find grieving family and friends.  And a kitchen full of food.  With more promised.

Baptists are known for putting out a spread when one of their own passes away, and this wake (not a Baptist term, but it fits) would last four days and several meals.

Someone had brought casseroles, a Baptist staple at dinner-on-the-ground and funerals.  We blew through that food in about twenty minutes.  It didn't help that there were four children, their spouses, thirteen grandchildren and some of their spouses, assorted brothers and sisters, and some strangers who happened to smell the Baptist cooking and just stopped by to eat.

My brother-in-law is a regional manager for Publix Supermarkets, and Tuesday was Publix day at the house.  We all got excited about the prospects of Publix fried chicken.  If you can't have Mama's fried chicken, then Publix is the next best thing.

Alas, Publix fried chicken was not to be.

You'da thunk that among the numerous Baptists in and out of the Coppage household that week somebody, somewhere, sometime, would have brought at least a leg or thigh.  But no.

I've been away from Baptists for so long I've lost touch with what they're thinking.  Apparently they've gone healthy on me in my absence.  No fried chicken at a funeral?  Unheard of, and definitely un-Baptist.

Wednesday, Publix brought spiral-sliced ham.  Three of them, to be exact.

Now I'm a cooked-hog fan from way back, but three hams is a lot--even for me.

Still no fried chicken.

Thursday, the day of the funeral, someone brought spaghetti and salad for lunch.  Baptist spaghetti?  Unheard of.

After the funeral the family--all 153 of us--returned to the church for supper.

Ah, finally.  Fried chicken, as far as the eye could see.  Platters of bird covered an entire table.

Raymond would have been ecstatic.  He could clean a chicken leg bare in one bite.

I felt safe as I stood back in the line, secure in the fact that there would be plenty of fried chicken for me to choose from when I finally reached the Promised Land.

At 6:13pm I reached the Fowl Table.  Nothing left.

Oh, the preachers had some chicken.  As did the singers and piano players.  Even the grandchildren, who would have eaten fruit out of a blender, had chicken on their plate.  Everybody had chicken.  Except me.

Now I know that the eating was not what we were there for.  In my quest for crispy thighs, I was simply trying to honor Raymond Coppage in the best way I knew how.  He'd be looking down on me from that Great Covered Dish Supper in the Sky, plate piled high with all that Heaven had to offer.  I'd look up with a mouth full of chicken and say "Mh lothd uoo, mh phstf".

Instead, I ended up with some kind of roast beef and some green beans.

I guess I'll eat healthy from now on.  But I'll sure miss fried chicken.

And Raymond.