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grisferrolsamsI remember going to hear a Ferrol Sams lecture at Mercer University’s Newton Sanctuary, the small chapel where I got married in 1982.

I can’t recall the year. I have it written on a calendar somewhere. But I remember one of his granddaughters was there that night.

I have copies of his first books, “Whisper of the River” and “Run With the Horseman” on a bookcase in my living room. There has always been a special place there for the storyteller.

What I remember the most about his talk that night was how he wrote his first book at the age of 60. He was a country doctor in Fayettteville.

You never have time to write. You have to make time. And that was his lesson. He would get up every morning at 5 a.m., before the roosters started crowing and the coffee pots started percolating. He would write long-hand in a spiral notebook, then have his secretary transcribe them.

You have to make time. Great advice. Carve out some time. It’s all your’s.

A few of my favorite Ferrol Sams quotes:

“Don’t write a story about the streets of Paris if you’ve never been out of Valdosta.”

“I don’t have to write for money or critics. The only thing I have to write for are people who like to read, and I’ve been very blessed that a lot of people like to read what I write.”

“There’s nothing like 5 acres of cotton and two milk cows to make a man want an education.’’

“There’s romance in everything about life if you leave room for it.”

“Writing is hard work and a difficult discipline but, next to medicine, is the most fulfilling thing a person can do.”

“There is no greater tribute after something is done or played than total silence.’’

grisflushotGetting a flu shot was not on my bucket list.

It was not on the 1,001 things I hope to do before I die.

I have spent my entire life bragging about how I had never had a flu shot. It was a point of pride.

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My late father, a physician, never believed in them. I was stubborn in my resolve never to break down and get one myself.

But I caved in this year. I got caught up in all the hype. I read stories about how the flu this year was sweeping across the country like a tsunami.

So I finally consented to take the bullet in my right arm. I was told it would take about 14 days for it to take effect.

I have one week to go. With my luck, I will probably be quarantined with the flu by the end of the week. Or the flu season will be declared officially over.

At any rate, you can read about it here in my column in The Telegraph. It’s nothing to sneeze about, but I hope you have fun reading it.

_mg_15441I first met Eloise Hope in the summer of 2008. I was working on the biography of Durwood Fincher, which was published later that year … “Once You Step in Elephant Manure You’re in the Circus Forever: The Life and Sometimes of Durwood ‘Mr. Doubletalk’ Fincher.’’

She lived in a retirement community in Columbus, Ga. She was a very intelligent and pleasant woman. I enjoyed the time I spent interviewing her. She had a very interesting life.

She never had an official title. It could have been “Mrs. Doubletalk.’’

Had there not been a “Mrs. Doubletalk,’’ there might not have been a “Mr. Doubletalk.’’ The world is a better place because she lived in it.

I have been thinking a lot about her these last few days, since I found out she died on Jan. 8, just a week after her 89th birthday. (Her obituary is here)

In the book, I told the story about how she was the person responsible for Durwood learning the art of doubletalk in the early 1970s, when she was working at the chamber of commerce in Columbus and he was a young teacher at Hardaway High .

In the chapter I wrote about her, I called Eloise the “Godmother of Doubletalk.’’

Here is the chapter in its entirety:

The Godmother of Doubletalk

As far back as she can remember, Eloise Hope was having fun with words.

She would put them in the blender of life and flip the switch.

Trying to follow her conversations was like keeping up with one of those quick-lipped disclaimers at the end of commercials. Or like trying to read a Scrabble board on a tilt-a-whirl.

She never had any formal training. She called it “doubletalk” for lack of a better word.

“I never really practiced it, and I could never teach it to anybody,’’ she said. “I really considered it a God-given talent.’’

But what exactly was it? The dictionary defines “doubletalk” as “speech that is purposely incoherent but made to seem serious by mixing in normal words and intonations.’’

“The secret is mixing up all the syllables, but you’ve also got to make enough sense so people can understand part of what you’re saying,’’ she said.

She would amuse and baffle her friends and family. When she went to college at Auburn, she packed her bag of mischief and took it with her.

The first time she used it in front of a group was during a freshman hygiene class. When the teacher called on her to answer a question, another student gave her a playful look and whispered: Why don’t you have a little fun?

“The teacher acted like she understood what I was saying,’’ said Eloise. “She never caught on.’’

At the dorm meetings at the beginning of the year, Eloise would be recruited to “address’’ the incoming freshmen about the rules and regulations at the residence hall. Even the flies on the wall were reeling from a bout of vertigo after dropping in on those meetings.

Later, she would doubletalk unsuspecting victims at dinner parties and conventions she would attend with her husband. Soon, she was being asked to speak to civic clubs and church groups. She was always introduced by another name and another title.

She became the affable imposter. She might be Charlene McGill from the treasury department. Or Mary Williams, a noted horticulturist.

Nobody ever bothered doing a background search on her. They took her at face value. That’s why she usually had befuddled them before they had time to connect the dots.

Once, she was introduced at a PTA program as the school’s new German teacher. She spoke to parents while wearing a long black dress with glasses and a black pocket book.

She could almost hear the restless stirring in the audience.

I can’t understand a word she is saying. What kind of teacher is she going to be?

“Whenever someone would ask me to speak, I would,’’ Eloise said. “I never thought about charging a fee. It was fun just to see people laugh.’’

An executive from Callaway Gardens heard her at a local civic club. He later contacted her about a group he had coming in for a convention at the popular resort, located about 30 minutes north of Columbus. They were looking for a banquet speaker. Would she be available?

“I don’t know,’’ she said. “That’s a little far to drive for a meal.’’

“Oh, we’ll pay you a speaker’s fee, plus your accommodations,’’ the man said.

She went. She spoke. She conquered. And, within a few weeks, she had been extended invitations to speak in Nashville, Winston-Salem and Miami Beach.

It never was a way to make a living. But it helped with the milk money. And the rent. Especially after she divorced and was a single parent with three children.

She began working for the Columbus-Muscogee County Chamber of Commerce in 1969. The chamber used her at many of its functions.

“The money sure helped,’’ she said. “I never had an agent or anything. It was a way to supplement my job at the chamber. One time the hot water heater went on the blink, and I remember thinking: ‘Oh, my goodness! Here is another expense!’ And then the next day, I got a call to speak somewhere.’’

The list of speaking engagements grew longer. She spoke to pharmaceutical companies, bankers, hoteliers and automobile dealers. There were some big names along the way: Merrill-Lynch, Johnson & Johnson, Toyota, Rockwell International and NASA.

Every speech was different because every audience had a different personality. She always went in under the cloak of anonymity. When The Atlanta Journal-Constitution featured her in an article, it referred to her as the “speaker with a secret.’’

She once addressed a group of lawyers. After doing enough doubletalking to give them whiplash, she quipped: “With y’all being lawyers, I thought you would catch on right away to what I was saying.’’

In all, her speaking routine carried her to 36 states, Canada and Mexico. She once was asked to speak at Auburn, her alma mater, at a retirement dinner for Ralph “Shug’’ Jordan, the school’s legendary football coach.

After her words kept reversing the field like a slippery-legged halfback, she noticed the coach’s wife was growing restless in her seat.eloise-brochure-2

Finally, Shug Jordan leaned over. “Would you please be quiet, Evelyn,’’ he said. “I’m not sure what she’s saying either, but this woman is doing the best she can.’’

She once spoke to a group of sportswriters at an event prior to the Kentucky Derby in Louisville. She pretended to be a horse breeder from Georgia.

Afterward, a writer from Sports Illustrated magazine approached her.

“I knew you were doubletalking,’’ he said, laughing. “I just didn’t know if you knew it.’’

Following a speech in Miami Beach, a man asked if she had ever heard of a well-known comedian named Al Kelly, who once appeared as a doubletalking judge on Candid Camera. At the time, she had not.

“Well, he’s my uncle, and he’s the first person I ever heard doubletalk,’’ the man said. “He made a career out of it.’’

It was a nice ride for Eloise Hope, too. She officially “retired” in 2004 at age 80.

She won’t allow herself to get rusty, though. Every now and then, she’ll have a little fun with someone on the cereal aisle at the grocery store. Or break in a new teller at the bank. She has been asked to do several programs at the retirement community where she lives in Columbus.

Eloise has never forgotten one of her “victims.’’ He was a young teacher at Hardaway High School.

She delivered a flurry of frenetic phonetics in his direction, sending him to the canvas in a pile of consonants and vowels.

By the time he realized what had hit him, she had changed his life.

rudy1gris2Well, tonight is the national championship game.

Some folks aren’t giving Notre Dame much of a chance. After all, Alabama has won two of the last three national titles. They are accustomed to being on this stage.

The Crimson Tide plays in the almighty Southeastern Conference and, if you listen to some of their increasingly obnoxious fans, should probably petition to play in the NFL.

I give Notre Dame at least a  chance, because of the Fighting Irish tradition and the whole Touchdown Jesus and Win One for the Gipper thing.

Don’t forget Rudy, either.

I won’t. Like most everybody else, I saw the movie when it came out in 1993. It was right up there with Rocky and all those other movies about improbably underdogs.

What makes it extra special is I got to meet the real-life Rudy when he spoke in Macon in 1996.

I was a little surprised when I saw him. He looked more like the guy who might show up at your doorstep to deliver a pizza on Friday night. Or always wins the beer frame down at the local bowling alley.

Football hero? No way. Subject of a movie? Nah. Dan Ruettiger had heard it all before.

He wasn’t big enough.

He wasn’t good enough.

He wasn’t smart enough.

Yet he became the most famous one-play player in college football history.

“The appeal of `Rudy’ is there is an underdog in all of us,” Ruettiger told me. “It’s the little guy struggling against the big guy. Most everyone can identify with that struggle. There are only one or two stars on every team. Basically, the rest of us are all Rudys, struggling to overcome the perception some people have of us.”

Rudy. Rudy. Rudy.

It was one of those movies that makes even grown men cry.

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connshootgriswashpost

(Washington Post photo)

This is a column I published in The Macon Telegraph on April 25, 1999, after the school shootings in Littleton, Col.

We ride to school each weekday morning down familiar streets. The view never changes. The route is rather routine. Yet the journey is always different. Sometimes my 12-year-old son and I swap stories. Other times, we listen to the radio. We laugh. We talk. We reflect. We communicate.

But, after the events of this past week, the ride has consumed an eerie grip of fear. It’s not easy keeping my hands on the steering wheel when my head is light and my heart is heavy. Oh how I wish we could change the subject back to baseball. Now, when I drop him off and watch him climb those seven brick steps, there is a lump in my throat the size of a baseball.

It is no longer simply enough to worry if your child has studied for his social studies test or remembered his lunch money. He will be behind those schoolhouse doors for seven hours. In these troubled times, we must live with the paranoia and endure the deep fear that the kid who sits beside him in math class may snap and start pulling a trigger.

From the time we give them roots to the time we give them wings, we protect and over-protect the lives of our sons and daughters. We child-proof our homes, strap them in car seats and make them wear helmets on their bikes and while waiting for the pitch at home plate.

We are forever sounding the alarms of everyday life. Chew your food so you don’t choke. Know what to do in a tornado drill. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t smoke cigarettes. We are conditioned to shield them from everything from ultraviolet rays to ultra-violent TV shows.

Now we must guard them from each other.

I owe my kids and apology. I used to think they had it much easier in school. After all, they are deposited at the front door each morning and picked up promptly every afternoon. I had to walk to school. (No, not five miles through the snow but enough to wear off some shoe tread.)

Computers have placed the world at their fingertips. Key words and spell checks never were an option in my day. We went to the library and — imagine this — researched material in a book.

But I was wrong. Children today don’t have it easier. They are dealing with a wider range of problems. There are more pressures and less support. Choices are more complicated. Distractions have multiplied. Morality has bailed out. Rage is running rampant.

We have nobody to blame but ourselves for the uprising. We have taken away more than we have given back. Prayer has been kicked out of public schools. The ability of our teachers to discipline has been restricted. Perhaps it is time to reinstall the software of prayer and the hardware of discipline. Prayer is not so much a religious conversion as it is a moral compass. Instead of hiring more teachers empowering them in their own classrooms we have been forced to recruit security guards and campus police.

We get tripped in the semantics of our fundamental freedoms. We have the right to bear arms. Freedom of speech. Freedom of expression.

Well, there ought to be a student’s bills of rights, too. The right to walk for fourth period to the lunchroom without fear of the bullets flying down the hall.

It’s going to take a lot more than money and ground troops to deliver us from evil.

Ronnie Marshall was a gentle giant. He had the best smile. I’m not sure I ever saw him when he wasn’t wearing it.

ronnie-nu-way

Ronnie worked at the Nu-Way on Cotton Avenue. His nickname was “Juicy Mae.” He was a fixture back in the kitchen. I would sometimes pull around and park in the alley that runs behind the tall buildings on Cherry and Poplar. I would often see Ronnie taking a break out on the loading docks. It was like his own back porch.

His death this past weekend left a huge hole in the heart of anyone who knew him. He is going to be missed by a lot of folks.

I first met Ronnie three years ago. He was talking about how he and the late Ray Mills used to make the slaw for those famous Nu-Way slaw dogs, which were voted the No. 1 slaw dogs in America by The New York Times food section.

He took a lot of pride in that. I laughed when he told me the most difficult part was dicing all those onions. They would cry a river. He said he and Ray would chew on wooden match sticks to ward off the onion. I had never heard of that, but I have since tried it. And it works.

I know the next time I walk through the kitchen at  Nu-Way, I’m going to have a lump in my throat when I look over and I don’t see him sitting there.

grisgarfield1

Today was a red-letter day in the 186-year history of The Macon Telegraph.

It was a sky-blue letter day, a lime-green letter day and a daffodil-yellow letter day.

In case you didn’t get the memo, the comic page was in color.

That would be nothing new for a Sunday, when the birthright of the comic pages are a rainbow.

But this was a Monday, one of the smallest papers every week and perhaps its least-popular day, when folks are in rotten moods because the weekend has pushed them back into the  grind of work and school.

This wasn’t a special occasion or a bonus feature designed to get attention.It is the way it’s going to be from now on.

Lucky you. You’ll be reading the comics in living color when you open your newspaper at the breakfast table every morning.

So if you never noticed that Snoopy’s doghouse is deep red or that Garfield could pass for a gingersnap or those yellow buttons on Beetle Bailey’s uniform, we are here to bring you the color wheel.

And hopefully bring a smile to you face too. Click here to vote for your favorite comic and earn a chance to win some prizes.

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paradesanta2

It looked like a Christmas parade.

Santa was there. So were a few of his reindeer. The elves made an appearance, too. There was green tinsel on the floats. The fashion of the day was red hats with white tassels.

I didn’t feel like a Christmas parade, though. It was 73 degrees when the first motorcades pushed up Cherry Street in the annual Macon Christmas Parade on Sunday afternoon.

Nobody brought blankets. You couldn’t see your breath as the sun slipped behind the cherry trees in Third Street Park. There wasn’t a run on hot chocolate, just bottled water.

I was one of the judges for Sunday’s parade, so I had a front-row seat. It was a lot of fun. It was great to see the community turn out.

But the short-sleeve weather didn’t exactly put me in the spirit.

I don’t buy into the global warming argument. However, it’s kind of creepy when you see Santa breaking into a sweat 16 days before Christmas.

I rode home with the air-conditioner on in the car, dreaming of a white Christmas.

neil_armstrong

This is a column I wrote about my father three years ago on the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s moon walk. [I included it in my book “Never Put a Ten-Dollar Tree in a Ten-Cent Hole.”

Some nights, you have to search to find the moon.

It’s just a sliver in the sky. Or tucked behind the clouds.

Other times, it’s like a giant street lamp, so bright you can read poetry under its glow.

The moon follows us like a shadow through life. We are told there is a man in it. A cow jumped over it. It is made of cheese. It controls the tides.

We howl at the moon. We sing lullabies about it. “Goodnight Moon” is one of the most beloved children’s books of all time.

At dusk, the moon sometimes arrives early. It raises its head before the sun slips behind the curtain.

And there are dawns when it lingers until the morning chases it away.

Every time I see the moon, I think of my father.

He never set foot on it, although he probably grabbed a handful of moon dust on his way to heaven three years ago.

I honor my dad today because he had a small part in the Apollo 11 moon mission.

He wasn’t on the front lines. It was a minor role. He was a supporting actor in a very large cast.

But the whole is represented by the sum of its parts.

Forty years ago tonight, the world watched Neil Armstrong take “one small step for man” and become the first to walk on the moon.

Dr. J.M. Grisamore took a small step, too.

He was a captain in the Navy and a surgeon for the base hospital at Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida.

Five days before the moon walk, he had been given a personal tour of the Apollo 11 spacecraft.

The following day, July 16, he watched the historic launch from the roof of the nearby Air Force hospital.

He had been assigned to a team of military doctors who were on standby. Had there been an accident or explosion during the launch, he would have been part of the medical crew to treat the astronauts for injuries.

It was not his first experience with NASA. On the same July date three years earlier, he had been on board the USS Guadalcanal, where he was the senior medical officer for Gemini 10.

After the capsule splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean 4.5 miles from the aircraft carrier, my father was assigned to perform the post-flight physical on astronaut Michael Collins. It had been Collins’ first space flight.

I remember my dad telling stories about how Collins had a small Bible strapped to his left thigh. Of course, Collins later was part of the three-man crew for Apollo 11. As the command module pilot, he orbited while Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the lunar surface.

I got to see my first space launch a few days before Christmas in 1968. My father drove me, my sister and grandfather down to Cape Kennedy early that morning, where we watched Apollo 8 rise in a fireball across the Indian River.c374

Dad was then selected as part of the medical teams for Apollo 9, 10 and 11.

He was always proud of his behind-the-scenes involvement with the space program. He served his country with the same loyalty he did in the military as a veteran of two wars.

I try to honor his memory every day. I still hear his voice of encouragement in my head. Before he died in November 2006, he promised he would be with me in every sunrise and sunset and every breeze that blows.

He didn’t mention anything about the moon.

He left that up to me.

dscf5408-2

On Tuesday, July 31, they will be bringing the remains of Thomas Jefferson “Sugar Boy” Barksdale home to Macon.

Barksdale was killed in Korea in December 1950. It took 60 years and a DNA to positively identify his remains.dscf5405-21

The simple wooden casket will arrive at the airport in Atlanta at 7 a.m.

I will be there with his relatives and representatives from Jones Brothers Funeral Home. There will be an escort from the Georgia State Patrol and Freedom Riders down I-75.

I will be sending reports on Twitter @edgrisamore beginning at 7:30 a.m.

Click here to read the story that appeared on July 22.

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