Hope, help and healing

June 21, 2018 - Leave a Response

Published by the Times-Georgian–June 17, 2018


by Joe Garrett


They’ve been cracked open.

Wide open, broken, angry—the list is never-ending for these children. They didn’t choose their situations. They need to escape their homes because in their minds (to steal a line from Rick Bragg’s memoir) “It’s all over but the shoutin’.”

Since 2004, KidsPeace Georgia, located on 25 acres in Bowdon provides care for children from troubled homes to give them hope, help and healing to the crisis each has experienced. In other words, these children have grown up way too quickly and experienced situations no child should ever have to encounter.

The 60-bed facility offers services to youth ranging in age from 12-17 years. Presently, the facility serves 20 females in a therapeutic unit, 20 males in a therapeutic unit and 20 males with sexual issues in a self-contained therapeutic unit. KidsPeace has a school that is accredited through the Carroll County School System by the Southern Accreditation of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

Bowdon resident and chairman of its local hospital authority, Mike Steed, in a rare serious moment told me, “I first became interested in KidsPeace in 2002 as an economic opportunity for Bowdon when Georgia officials and Carroll Tomorrow sent them here looking for a site.

“Along with education guru Tom Upchurch, city and county officials, we soon discovered what KidsPeace was doing for children in crisis,” added Steed. “We became enthusiastic supporters. It is really important work and it’s very hard work by dedicated professionals. We are fortunate to have this great resource here. It’s a shame the need is so great that there is a waiting list for their service; however, it is a blessing to see how children’s lives have literally been saved by the work done here.”

Last weekend, local residents Tee and Jennifer Green hosted a fun-evening at their farm to create awareness about KidsPeace Georgia. Construction of a $2 million project is already underway to expand the facility to accommodate an additional 20 youth. As with any charitable organization, it takes dollars to operate and donations can be made directly via the KidsPeace Georgia website at http://www.kidspeace.org/georgia.

During the event, a letter was read to the attendees from a youth who had spent time in the program. The letter, received only a few days before the event was written to one of the KidsPeace staff members. I hope it speaks to you as it did to me.

“Life’s been good to me since I was discharged. I graduate in July. I’m in a relationship with a beautiful girl…been going for a little over 15 months and I got a job interview Saturday.

“Life’s looking up and a good bit of the credit goes to you and the other staff members at KidsPeace. If anything, y’all taught me that no matter what kind of stuff life throws at you, there’s always a way to get through it and rise above it.

“I wasn’t easy to deal with, but all of y’all and especially you worked with me to fix what was bothering me and causing me to act out. I have quite a few people to thank to be honest. A lot of people made it possible for me to have a second chance at living a life in a way I can be proud of, but most of all you.

“You never gave up on me. You never expressed anger towards me. You never put me down and told me I couldn’t. You gave me hope and a new outlook on how life was meant to be lived. And you did all that with a patience that was foreign to me.

“You gave me hope and a new outlook on life”.

The late Mother Teresa, who dedicated her life to helping those in need, once said, “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody—I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”

Each day a child somewhere is broken. Thankfully, there’s a place in Bowdon, Georgia that continues to make a difference one life at a time.

That’s KidsPeace.








Until it’s gone

June 21, 2018 - Leave a Response

Published by the Times-Georgian–June 10, 2018


by Joe Garrett


Alecia decided to take the risk.

After spending a life in poverty, she was ready to make a better life for herself. She had the security of some government support, yet she realized it was time to break free from all she had ever known.

“I believe our welfare system has been broken for quite some time,” she said. “Transitional housing is not often transitional. People come in, they stay and often they never leave. I’ve seen so many families in housing projects that have stayed there for generations, never looking to get out because they don’t believe in themselves.”

Alecia is one of many who found Circles in her community to empower her to seek a more fulfilling life.

In Carroll County, there are 20,000 families living in poverty. This means one in four children in our community is living below the federal poverty guidelines.

In 2014, St. Margaret’s Community Outreach and the Community Foundation of West Georgia had the vision of launching an organization to provide “next level” service and care to those individuals aspiring to move out of poverty.

“We realized there was a specific segment of our population seeking to move into a life of self-sufficiency, that simply need guidance toward and access to the necessary skills, education and knowledge to make a change,” said Kim Jones, President of the Community Foundation of West Georgia.

Through the collaborative effort of St. Margaret’s, the Community Foundation and a core group of supporters, Circles of West Georgia was launched as an independent 501(c)3 organization in January of 2015.

“When there is no accountability, often people aren’t motivated to change,” said Catherine Gordon, Circles Board Member. “That’s why many are hesitant to attempt change. In our community, however, we began to listen to those who want to make a better life for themselves. It’s often as simple as surrounding these individuals with local volunteers who become a bridge for them to take their lives to the next level.”

Circles of West Georgia shares the mission of Circles USA—to equip families and communities to thrive and end poverty. The financial goal for Circles participants is to reach 200% of the Federal Poverty Guideline. At this level, individuals no longer qualify for state or federal benefits, and are by definition self-sufficient.

Currently, Circles of West Georgia is working with 12 families, known as Circle Leaders, who are committed to self-sufficiency. These families attend weekly meetings along with their local volunteers, known as Circle Allies. Weekly programming includes independent work toward individual goals, as well as educational programming by local volunteers on topics such as improving credit scores, financial management, resume building and interviewing skills.

“Circles of West Georgia and its volunteers build relationships in a positive, supportive atmosphere,” said Mary Hart, Coordinator of Circles of West Georgia. “While the vast majority of our participants already have employment, the ‘next step’ philosophy of Circles seeks to open avenues of access to even greater productivity as many of these individuals are actually underemployed.”

Expansion of partnerships with local banks, institutions of higher education, businesses, organizations, churches, civic groups and individuals continue to play an instrumental role in the ongoing success of Circles.

A few of the local successes so far include: small business ownership, purchasing more reliable transportation, safer housing, full-time employment and paying off a title loan. Equally as important are the non-tangible successes such as confidence, self-worth and gaining a voice with purpose and meaning to provide direction in one’s own life.

“We are continuing to seek volunteers from the community who want to support Circles,” said Hart.

One way you can support Circles is attend its BBQ Event this Thursday, June 21 at Printer’s Ale on Columbia Drive from 5-8 p.m. Tickets, which are still available for $15 for adults and $8 for children, will go to supporting Circles of West Georgia. The evening will be filled with live music entertainment along with good food and fellowship. For ticket purchases or to learn more about Circles and volunteer opportunities, please visit the website http://www.circlesofwestgeorgia.com.

In his book “Until It’s Gone,” Scott Miller, founder of Circles USA said, “Although the business of helping someone out of poverty is complex, the simplicity of using a Circle to tackle this challenge is elegant and inviting.”

Today there are Circles Chapters in 24 states across the United States.

When so many in our own backyard live in poverty, it truly has a powerful effect on all of us. Thank God we have people who are willing to invest their time and efforts to assisting the lives of those individuals ready to make a change. These volunteers, along with those living in poverty committed to a better life, embody the following action as they believe in a better world for all of humanity.

“It’s impossible,” said Pride.

“It’s risky,” said Experience.

“It’s pointless,” said Reason.

“GIVE IT A TRY,” whispered the Heart.

Home delivery

June 21, 2018 - Leave a Response

Published by the Times-Georgian–June 3, 2018


by Joe Garrett


Say it ain’t so, Joe.

Bob Dylan was right when he crooned “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” I didn’t realize until recently when he sings “The Times,” he was forecasting the “changin’” of my favorite newspaper. Unless you’ve been out of town or stayed away from the banter at local breakfast clubs in various restaurants through our beloved city, today marks the last day your paper will arrive before sunlight.

On Tuesday, June 5, the Times-Georgian will be delivered by your postal carrier Tuesday thru Saturday.

As a Sunday columnist I’m often amazed how people think I’m a full-time employee for my beloved hometown newspaper. In reality, I only spend about an hour or two writing this column each week which leaves 166 hours for me to do as I please from Monday to Sunday.

Lately, my role as a columnist has turned into a newspaper delivery mental health counselor as I’ve listened to various concerns among readers about the upcoming home delivery changes.

Please know I feel your pain; however, it’s not the end of the world nor the Times-Georgian. Instead of drowning in sorrow over the form of delivery, I’ve come to two conclusions:

  1. Thank God I’m still going to have a newspaper to hold in my hand.
  2. I still don’t understand how to read a newspaper via Twitter.

When looking at the dramatic shifts taking place in the newspaper industry from coast-to-coast, the future for always holding a printed copy in our hands isn’t bright. We no longer have to wait until late in the evening to hear Walter Cronkite tell us “that’s the way it is.” News today moves at rapid speed thanks to the internet, smart phones, 24-hour cable news channels and social media.

From a true overhead expense, the inflationary high cost of maintaining buildings, salaried employees, printing presses and simply the fact that so many of us receive our news for free today continue to pressure newspapers to adapt to the changing times.

On top of that, the fact that every eight years a large portion of a generation dies while another part grows into adulthood is a signal printed copies are on the demise as Millennials and Generation Xers prefer to read news via their cell phones and iPads. The scarier part of the shifts going on within our society is most people simply don’t like to read anything that takes longer than a few seconds, recreationally or otherwise. There’s a reason Twitter limits its Tweets to less than 280 characters.

Our attention spans are contracting instead of expanding. In the words of Yogi Berra—“The future ain’t what it used to be.”

It really hit home a few weeks ago when the Rotary Club of Carrollton hosted Kevin Riley as its guest speaker. Riley, the editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, predicted all newspapers will eventually quit printing a physical copy to hold that’s delivered to your doorstep. Riley indicated the rising cost of delivery as a driving force in this change.

This doesn’t mean the end of newspapers. It does mean, however, newspapers will change.

Riley’s forecast echoes so much of why the Times-Georgian is changing its home delivery system. In the end, it always comes down to cost and profitably operating a business.

I’ve been a media junkie since I was a child. My parents always subscribed to various newspapers and I read them religiously growing up. When I left for the University of Georgia, I was the only person in my dorm who actually subscribed to a newspaper.

It’s still how I start my mornings along with a cup of coffee and taking my dog outside for his morning bathroom break.

All I can say to you, the readers, is give the later delivery time a chance like I did the first time I tasted roasted brussel sprouts. I liked them.

More importantly, I’m grateful I still have food to eat every day. Furthermore, I’ll still be grateful I have a small-town newspaper to hold in my hands that keeps me up-to-date on who died, who scored the winning touchdown on Friday night, life on Mimi Gentry’s farm, who fell asleep in one of Steve Davis’ sermons, the latest vote from the City Council and whose yard won Spade and Trowel Garden of the Month. And how else would we ever know vibrant viburnums are versatile shrubs? We can ask a Master Gardener.

It’s tough being in any leadership position. I’ve served as chairman of boards for a couple of organizations, president of a civic club, member of the Carrollton City Zoning Board and various other positions in additions to my careers as a teacher and business owner throughout my life. Each time I’ve taken a leadership position I’ve had my share of critics.

In reality, some of their criticisms were needed but usually the critics only knew a fraction of the details when a tough decision was on the line. That’s what I’m seeing here. Unfortunately, it costs a lot of money to run a newspaper and as the habits of readers have changed, the newspapers must adapt, or, well—be as relevant as plowing your garden with an old mule.

So I’ll adjust. Instead of walking to the mailbox in the morning to get my newspaper, I’ll go in the afternoon. Thankfully, the Times-Georgian is making these changes to insure we still have a local newspaper to read almost every day.

My dog is actually happy about the change that begins this Tuesday. Instead of reading the newspaper, I told him I’ll start taking him for morning walks.

Riding my age

May 21, 2018 - Leave a Response

Published by the Times-Georgian–May 20, 2018


by Joe Garrett


It’s my birthday.

Well, actually it’s not today, but as I write these words it is. I’m now 49 years old and my legs hurt like hell.

It’s my fault.

When I turned 41 years old, I started a new tradition of riding my bicycle on my birthday. The first year I rode 41 miles on the Silver Comet Trail to prove to myself I still had a little mojo left. It was a great ride until the end.

I had a wreck.

Year after year, I’ve continued to ride my age—42 on my 42nd, 43 on my 43rd and so on. And I’ve always concluded my ride by eating two pieces of fried poultry at Big Chic.

I usually ride alone, but on my 47th birthday my Yankee friend Jim Naughton joined me where we rode from Carrollton to almost the Alabama state line and back. My mother always told me to “be sweet and kind,” but on this day I said enough choice words to make my New York friend turn red as we rode through the rolling hills of the Kansas, Burwell and Tyus communities scorched by the Georgia heat. Jim didn’t speak to me for almost three months afterwards.

Which brings me to 2018. Yes. I rode 49 miles alone plus one to grow on. Thank God the weather was mild.

It sounds impressive, but in reality, I can hear my mother still saying, “One day I hope you get over Fool’s Hill.”

From now on I plan to find a new way to celebrate the big day. Next year I’ll make up a good excuse and find something easier like suckering Times-Georgian columnist Steve Davis into buying my breakfast. I’ll even focus on the decade ahead as the words of Ann Landers echo in my mind:

“At age 20, we worry about what others think of us,” she wrote. “At 40, we don’t care what they think of us. At 60, we discover they haven’t been thinking of us at all.”

I love birthdays because I enjoy getting older. Let’s face it. As a teenager, I was really stupid. My 20s were a blur. My 30s kicked me into adulthood with marriage, children and building a business. My 40s were filled with the joys of parenting and the pains of tragedy and grief.

“I’ll make sure to have some soothing background music playing for you when we do your colonoscopy later this year,” my gastrointestinal photographer Dr. Howard Seeman told me last week.

“Can’t wait,” I replied. “Bring on the MiraLAX.”

Who knows what I’ll learn or what curveballs life will throw at me in the years ahead? All I know is I’ve learned a few things along the way:

  • Popcorn tastes best when cooked on the stove.
  • A good pair of shoes should never hurt your feet.
  • Buy the best toilet paper you can afford.
  • Young engaged couples should never schedule their wedding during college football season.
  • A Willie Nelson song can lift your spirit when you’re down.
  • Prayers don’t hurt at a funeral, but hugs go a lot further.
  • When speaking to an audience of adults, pretend they’re all children.
  • When speaking to an audience of children, pretend they’re adults.
  • A little grease never hurts anything or anyone.
  • Always have a plan.

So here I go again. Hopefully, I still have a few more laps around the sun until I say “Adios.” I have a lot to learn. In the meantime, I’m going to rest my legs and maybe find a good masseuse so I can walk again.

A colonoscopy awaits on the horizon.

Momma’s table

May 13, 2018 - One Response

Published by the Times-Georgian–May 13, 2018


by Joe Garrett


The meal ended with a chocolate chess pie.

Baked in a pie crust, the chocolate delicacy mixed with South Georgia pecans was the perfect way to end the delicious meal.

It all started when a business associate of mine who grew up in Pennsylvania wanted a taste of true Southern cooking.

“Let’s pick a great dive to eat the next time I come to Carrollton,” he said.

“If you want a real meal, then we’re not going to any restaurant,” I replied. “We’re going to Momma’s house after the vegetables start coming in from Daddy’s garden.”

My mother was excited when I called.

“Do you mind cooking for me and my friend from Pennsylvania next week?” I asked her.

“Love, you know I will,” she said.

“Thank you so much and I know he’ll be happy to meet you,” I said. “Please don’t go to too much trouble.”

She did.

When we arrived, the kitchen was alive. Fried chicken, stewed squash, fresh-picked corn-on-the-cobb drizzled in butter, fried okra battered in flour and cornmeal, sliced red tomatoes, field peas cooked in a giant slice of pork fatback, some type of jello concoction filled with bing cherries, cornbread, biscuits, sweet tea and a peeled onion filled the kitchen.

The food looked divine. My friend had stars in his eyes.

“Did you eat like this growing up?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “I’m blessed to be born from my descendants who hail from Burwell and Randolph County, Alabama. I hit the lottery because my mother inherited her cooking skills from her Momma, and her Momma’s Momma and so on. I even followed my dad’s advice when he said, ‘Son, if you ever find a girl who can make homemade biscuits, you need to marry her.’ I did.”

The only time I ever really remember my mother looking at a recipe was after she fell in love with the amaretto cheese cake at Captain Anderson’s she once devoured on a trip to Panama City Beach. The restaurant didn’t publish the recipe so my mother sweet-talked the chef into giving it to her. As for the rest of the time, she—well—just knew how to do it.

After we ate, my friend looked at my mother and said, “Mrs. Garrett, I say this in all seriousness. That’s the absolute best meal I’ve ever had in my life.”

“Well love, you’ll have to just come back to see me again,” she replied.

“I promise,” he said. “I’d give anything if I could cook like you.”

“Well love, if you can read—you can cook,” she said as she hugged him.

For some people, they would have stressed for weeks to prepare such a meal. For my mother, she cooked for others because it brought her joy.

It was the last gigantic meal she cooked that I would ever eat at her kitchen table.

As we drove away, I kept it to myself as my friend continued to talk about Momma’s cooking. Something was different. She seemed to struggle getting the food ready as never before.

Unfortunately, I brushed it off and as time went by and several months passed, the signs appeared more frequently. Eventually, we learned our greatest fears were true. She had Alzheimer’s.

Today she’s in the late stages. I miss eating her home cooked vegetables, drinking her sweet tea and kickstarting my mornings with her baked-from-scratch, hot-buttered biscuits.

I can’t bring her back, but the best living writer on the planet Rick Bragg in some ways has brought the experience of watching my mother in the kitchen back to me.

Bragg doesn’t, however, write about my mother. He writes about his mother Margaret Bragg who lives in Piedmont, Alabama. His writing connects all of us who were lucky enough to grow up in a house where our mommas cooked and probably never even looked at a recipe.

More importantly, the Pulitzer Prize winner, New York Times Best-Selling author and contributor to “Southern Living” and “Garden and Gun” makes his mother’s meals come alive as he spins stories of great Southern food in his new book “The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Kitchen.”

“She cooked, most of all, to make it taste good, to make every chipped melamine plate a poor man’s banquet, because how do you serve dull food to people such as this?” Bragg writes in his new memoir. “She became famous for it, became the best cook in the world, if the world ends just this side of Cedartown.”

If you have plans already scheduled for today, adjust them. This afternoon Underground Books is pleased to present Rick Bragg for a special Mother’s Day commentary of his new book “The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Table.” The event will be held at the Carrollton Center for the Arts starting at 2 p.m.

Bragg will speak on the main stage, share stories from the new book, and be available to sign copies in the lobby after his talk. And yours truly will introduce Bragg. I’m still pinching myself because for me this is the equivalent to introducing Elvis while he was still alive.

Tickets are available at the door for $15. The entire price of the ticket can be applied toward your purchase of the book. Present your ticket and get the book, regularly priced at $28.95, for $13.95.

Also, if she’s still alive and able to physically leave the house, please do me a favor:

Take your Momma. I wish I could take mine.


A lesson from Jimmy

May 9, 2018 - Leave a Response

Published by the Times-Georgian–May 6, 2018


by Joe Garrett


The pecan cracked at Jimmy’s house.

I accidentally stepped on it, but it was still edible. The old pecan tree stood only a few feet from the back door on his childhood farm. After I pulled it out of the shell, I slowly devoured the Southern delicacy.

It’s not everyday you have an opportunity to eat at a former President’s house.

My family’s bucket list is a mile long, and recently we scratched another one off our to-do list. I can’t believe we’ve waited this long as it turned out to be one of the most memorable weekends ever in Plains, Georgia.

Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter live less than two and half hours away from our neck of the woods. For years since returning to their beloved hometown, Jimmy has taught a Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church.

We left around lunchtime on a Saturday and drove south. My son Henry’s teacher Susan Hobbs at Oak Mountain Academy had scheduled a lesson around Jimmy Carter as part of Georgia history, and it inspired us to finally attend one of President Carter’s Sunday school classes.

Plains is a little smaller than downtown Roopville, and it still beams with pride that one of its own ascended to the highest office in the land. We toured Jimmy’s school, his brother Billy’s service station where I still regret I didn’t buy any Billy Beer, his childhood farm and devoured peanut ice cream at a small shop in the heart of town.

We stayed at the historic Windsor Hotel in Americus, Georgia and awakened before the rooster crowed the following morning to take the 10-minute ride to secure a seat inside the church. It’s a simple system. Once you steer into the parking lot, you’re given a number. About an hour later, the church volunteers begin lining up the attendees to go through a Secret Service check.

I was surprised at how fast time passed and even shocked my children didn’t seem to mind the long wait. The church only seats around 250 and there is an overflow room if it’s full.

When President Carter walked into the room, he greeted everyone and asked for people to shout out how far they had traveled. There were people from all across the United States and several scattered in the pews from various countries all over the world. My family and one other were the only ones from Georgia outside of the 24 people who live and regularly attend church there.

The volunteers made it clear that Jimmy was there to teach Sunday school, not politics, and that’s exactly what he did as he taught about King Herod and used Bible stories to reflect what’s going on in the world today.

“My high school teacher Julia Coleman said something profound when she taught us we have to accommodate changing times, but cling to or have faith in principles that never change,” said Carter.

And then he asked the congregation, “What would be some of those principles now that never change?”

“Love your neighbor,” one person said from the back pew.

“Truth,” another person said.

“Justice, equality, peace,” another said.

“We all agree to these principles, but we don’t honor them,” said Carter. “In general, human beings want to have the reputation of telling the truth. But we fall short—even in the White House from Eisenhower to Nixon to Bill Clinton. We should, however, seek to follow these principles.”

And then Carter related these principles to his faith as he promoted his current book on sale now titled appropriately “Faith.”

“Did Jesus stand by these principles?” he asked.

The entire crowd answered emphatically “Yes.”

We live in troubling times and even though we are living in a time of disorder, at the heart of each of us is a longing to live in a world that’s loving, that’s truthful, that strives for justice, that seeks dignity in every human being on the planet to have the equality to be all they can be and live in peace.

There’s still hope. As a whole, I think deep inside we all have faith for a better world.

It won’t be easy, but we can conquer anything with love.

A peanut farmer told us so.

Riding with Terry

May 9, 2018 - Leave a Response

Published by the Times-Georgian–April 29, 2018


by Joe Garrett


We learned Terry was in a funk band.

Within a few seconds of jumping in his yellow cab in downtown Birmingham, our driver quickly introduced himself and shared his dream. My wife Ali and I needed the ride back to our hotel after watching the Eagles perform an almost three-hour concert.

Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit along with newcomers Deacon Frey and Vince Gill harmonized all of the classic hits and reminded the sold-out arena why the Eagles music is timeless. As for our cab driver Terry, his band is just now starting to find its groove.

“We closed a pizza place the other night,” said Terry. “That place had been in business for 40 years and the owner asked us to play the restaurant on its final night.”

“Do you write your own music?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” he answered. “I write music that makes you feel good.”

For the next two minutes, Terry serenaded us with his original song about getting frisky with a girl on a phone call.

“It ain’t dirty,” he argued. “It’s about love.”

“Are you married?” Ali asked him.

“Oh yea, my wife is in the band,” Terry replied. “She didn’t want me on the road hanging around a bunch of unknown women so she learned how to play the keyboard and joined the band. Last time we played she dressed up like Cleopatra. I told her, ‘Whooo girl. You look good.’”

“You can’t make this stuff up,” I told Ali later.

It wasn’t the first time we’ve been serenaded. Twenty years ago on our drive to the Gulf Coast, Ali and I stopped at a produce market in Cottondale, Alabama. I noticed a karaoke machine in the corner and asked the guy helping us if he sings.

“A lot of people tell me I sound like Conway Twitty,” he told us. “Would you like to hear a song? I’ll let you pick either It’s Only Make Believe or Hello Darling.”

We chose Hello Darling. And here we were last weekend once again in the presence of another crooner.

“My band is here to bring joy to people,” Terry continued to tell us. “Last week someone even asked me for my autograph and I got to tell you—I was humbled. All I’ve ever done is drive vehicles for a living and it’s humbling to know you made someone feel good with your music.”

When I was a teenager, I once sat in a Roopville church where a traveling evangelist encouraged us to burn any albums recorded by the Eagles and told the congregation if we listened to Don Henley sing Hotel California, it could lead us to Hell.

Last weekend, however, the Eagles led us to Terry who wants to make a difference in the world with his music.

Too bad that traveling preacher wasn’t with us.

Bowls of ‘taters

April 23, 2018 - Leave a Response

Published by the Times-Georgian–April 22, 2018


by Joe Garrett


I’m no Josh Sewell.

As the number one “Chief Critic,” “Movie Guru,” “Film Rater” and “Popcorn Pundit” for the Times-Georgian, Josh guides me to what my family should see at the movie theater even though we rarely go. In the spirit of Siskel, Ebert and the man with the funny hair and giant mustache Gene Shalit, Josh skillfully outlines for his readers weekly all of a film’s details and sums up his reviews with a grade whether it’s an A-plus or a C-minus.

This week I’ve decided to review three things as I’m sure you’ve all been thinking, “I wonder what Joe’s been watching, reading and listening to lately.”

Josh has nothing to worry about. Even though I taught him in his high school journalism class, he has surpassed his teacher. Hopefully, he’ll give me a decent grade (I only want to pass). Next week I’ll return with something else, but as for today—here I go:


It’s no longer in the theaters, but you can rent it or purchase the DVD starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and Jacob Tremblay. Unlike Josh, I have no clue if the lighting was good or bad, if the director chose creative camera techniques or if the hairstyling and makeup were Oscar worthy (they were nominated). However, I will tell you this much—the film was good. It was really good. And it’s a great film for your children or grandchildren to see.

I’ve cried in a handful of movies (Field of Dreams, Pursuit of Happyness and Rocky Balboa) and this one joins the group. Wonder is about a young boy who has a rare facial deformity and his struggles to fit in as he enters a new middle school.

As most of you who have reared teenagers know, middle school is tough. Hence, if you were bullied in school (I was by my cousin Ben Garrett who once gave me a wedgy so bad my underdrawers ripped), then this film is for you. I hope Ben watches it and repents.

I don’t want to steal Josh’s thunder and give the film a grade or even two thumbs-up like Siskel and Ebert. So, instead I’ve decided to use my own ranking system. Out of five bowls of mashed ‘taters and gravy, I give this film a rating of “five bowls.”

BOOK—Gully Dirt

I recently finished Georgia-born author Robert Coram’s memoir about growing up in the rural town of Edison. Unlike Wonder which is wonderful for children, this book is for a more mature audience.

“A lot of romantic claptrap has been written about the South,” Coram writes in the opening paragraph. “I was born in rural Georgia and grew up there during the 1950s, and I never saw the romance. All I ever saw were people who were as mean as uncovered cat [expletive], people who took pride in being on the losing side of just about everything, people who could quote the Bible one minute and go into a violent rage the next.”

I love good storytelling that’s real, honest and courageous. Coram accomplishes all three with humor yet the underlying dark tone of the book exposes the reader to growing up in a narrow-minded community that was often harsh and brutal in the South during the 1940s, 50s and 60s. The story is troublesome as he tackles all subjects from race to religion to an abusive father. Although I don’t cry in books, I almost did in a few scenes. I did, however, laugh out loud more than once.

Out of five bowls of mashed ‘taters and gravy, I give Gully Dirt (which is on sale at Underground Books in Carrollton) a rating of “five bowls.”

MUSIC—The Tree of Forgiveness

John Prine’s first recording of original songs in 13 years showcases his vast songwriting skills from exploring the mundane and ordinary to his idea of Heaven after surviving two bouts of cancer.

Then as God as my witness, I’m getting’ back into showbusiness

I’m gonna open up a nightclub called ‘The Tree of Forgiveness’

And forgive everybody ever done me any harm

Well, I might even invite a few choice critics, those syph’litic parasitics

Buy ‘em a pint of Smithwick’s and smother ‘em with my charm.

Produced by Grammy Award winner Dave Cobb, Prine tackles current issues but mostly is written from someone who has a lot of experience in living and realizing he’s not going to live forever. He is 71 years old.

Prine, the former U.S. Army veteran and mailman who left the postal service to become one of America’s best humorous folk singers and song writers, delivers another recording with lyrics so honest and pure he can make you laugh and cry in the same song. I found myself doing both when I first heard his new song Boundless Love

Sometimes my ol’ heart is like a washing machine

It bounces around ‘til my soul comes clean

And when I’m clean and hung out to dry

I’m gonna make you laugh until you cry.

Recently, I watched Prine’s NPR Tiny Music concert where he promoted some of his new material. That’s when I knew his upcoming album would be special when he said that he and one of his co-writers would only write on Tuesdays in Nashville “because that’s the day they usually make meatloaf. And I love meatloaf.”

Prine’s wit has been compared to the Mark Twain of our times and it’s evident this is a fair comparison. When asked to describe the theme of his new album, Prine told The Tennessean it’s “been pointed out to me that the songs talk about mortality, love and pork chops.”

With a combination like that it’s no surprise Prine’s new album resonates with my soul. Therefore, check it out because this ol’ critic, who loves mashed ‘taters and gravy, gives it a rating of “five bowls.”

Morning glory

April 23, 2018 - Leave a Response

Published by the Times-Georgian–April 15, 2018


by Joe Garrett


The seashell hurt my foot.

It only lasted a few seconds, and I couldn’t see it. It was dark.

Once upon a time, I used to stay up all night at the beach and watch the glory of sunrise. Those days are long gone as I went to bed at 10 p.m. before waking up early the next day.

It was Easter Sunday. And I decided to go for a walk while my family slept.

The pink sand on the beach of Ft. Lauderdale felt cool as I wore a windbreaker to stay warm from the morning ocean breeze. In a few hours, the sand would feel like stepping on hot coals.

The South Florida sky turns into quite a show at sunrise.

“Where are the people?” I asked myself as I walked alone and heard the words echo in my mind from a friend who once told me, “God was quite an architect when he designed this ole world.”

In a city of 178,00 people and lord knows how many visitors, for several minutes I began to think I was the only person crazy enough to wake up early to watch nature’s grandest show.

It didn’t take long before I heard a young girl singing off-key as I spotted a small crowd about a half-mile away. When I reached the crowd, I realized I wasn’t the only crazy person walking across the Florida sand. The 84th annual Easter Sunrise Service was underway and I stopped to enjoy the music and listen to the sermon.

The stage was set perfectly. When the sun rose from the ocean, the bright light of a spectacular pink horizon illuminated the background of a cross on the left-side of the stage and the preacher’s makeshift pulpit.

“The grand show is eternal,” once wrote John Muir. “It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, in the round.”

The preacher delivered a typical Easter Sunday message about rising again and the small congregation concluded by joining voices and singing “The Day of Resurrection.” For some reason, I wasn’t feeling the sermon nor the music this morning.

All I really needed was a beautiful sunrise and later a grilled cheese sandwich.

For the last 17 years, I’ve joined my wife’s family in coming to a little beach grill on the grounds of the Lago Mar Resort and Beach Club. The menu is simple: cheeseburgers, hot dogs, pizzas and grilled cheese sandwiches. Through the years, I’ve often visited Christine who somehow manages to take the orders, cook the food, keep the place clean and make sure ketchup is available on every table—all at the same time.

“I work in Paradise,” she once told me a few years ago. “People come here to unwind and relax. They’re always in a good mood when they’re here. And I get to be a part of their experience.”

While I waited on my food, I watched my children on the adjacent playground. A few minutes later, Christine walked to my table, handed me my sandwich, smiled and said, “I hope you enjoy it.”

“Thank you,” I replied. “You make the best grilled cheese on the planet.”

That’s when I questioned the preacher’s sunrise message about Heaven. It doesn’t have to be about the future. I realized that as I bit into the scrumptious piping hot, melted grilled cheese sandwich. The ocean waves roared in the near distance and for a few minutes I watched little children full of joy swinging and climbing on the monkey bars.

Heaven isn’t that far away. It’s closer than we think.



Call me Junk

April 23, 2018 - One Response

Published by the Times-Georgian--April 8, 2018


by Joe Garrett


If my friend’s mom had poured a glass of orange juice instead of a Christmas cocktail, I reckon Scott may still be known as, well, Scott.

Instead that’s when my friend Bill looked at me and said, “You know Scott doesn’t have a nickname. Let’s call him Eggnog.”

It stuck and here we are 31 years later and every time I see Scott in the grocery store, I shout across the fruits and vegetables—“Eggnog!”

Even my friend Jim once spent too much time in the woods during a church youth mission trip and his red bug bites were so bad, I started calling him “Chigger” and it stuck, too.

On the last night of the trip, a few folks hoisted Jim on their shoulders around a campfire and the entire crowd started chanting, “Chigger! Chigger!”

“Next to my kids being born, it was the happiest moment of my life,” he recently said.

Nicknames are all around us.

Recently, when I took two of my sons to see the Harlem Globetrotters at the University of West Georgia Coliseum, I smiled when I learned the world-famous basketball clowns kept with tradition. In the spirit of Meadowlark, Geese and Curly, the nickname legacy continues as I watched the terrific ball-handling skills of Too Tall, Spider, Firefly and Big Easy.

Through the years I’ve been surrounded with many friends with great nicknames. I love them all—Bodie, Starchy, Gizmo, Pigah, Squig, Pretty Boy Floyd, Big T, Jiggs, Smalls, Sparky, Chucky Luv, Cookieman, Squirrel, Pokey, Drunkin, Red Bone, Jimmy D, Doughboy, Dunlop, Watterhead, Pugs and Pooter.

“The best nicknames are the ones people don’t know they’re called,” said my friend Gerber, who received his nickname because he looks like the boy on the jars of Gerber’s baby food. “I see Johnny the mail man, Burt the grocery bag boy, Homer the trash man and Dr. Seymour Heiney, my proctologist.”

It’s hard to shed a nickname, especially when you don’t like it. Luckily, I’ve never been bothered by nicknames. Through the years, I’ve been called Shug, Sheer, Smoking Joe, Popsicle, Little Joe, Big Joe, Hoss, Scarecrow, J.W. and The Wracker. But the one I’m fondest of is my nickname from my childhood growing up in Chapel Heights—Junk.

It was 1976 and the University of Georgia’s defense was heralded as one of the best in the nation. The young men played each down with ferocity, grit and instinct. One of the most popular songs from the 1970s was Jim Croce’s “Bad Bad Leroy Brown.” That’s when Coach Erk Russell borrowed a line from Croce’s song and nicknamed Georgia’s defense “The Junk Yard Dogs.”

My mother bought me a red shirt from the All Sports Center in Carrollton that had “Junk Yard Dogs” stitched across the front. I wore it practically every day and that’s when Charlie Murrah looked at me and said, “I’ve never seen someone love a shirt more. I’m going to call you ‘Junk Yard.’”

Within a few days, “Junk Yard” somehow was shortened to “Junk” and it’s stuck ever since among the folks from the neighborhood.

Perhaps I should long for a more uplifting name, but we don’t choose our nicknames—nicknames choose us (ask Times-Georgian columnist Steve Davis who was known as “Wormy” when he was growing up).

However, if ever a nickname truly described an individual, no one had a higher honor than my mother. In the 1980s, she cooked for the Carrollton United Methodist Church youth group’s annual voyage to Noah’s Ark in Panama City Beach, Florida. On each trip, she fell in love with the teenagers and they fell in love with her.

My mom never liked her middle name, Pearl, who many of her aunts and uncles called her for so many years. However, when she received her nickname from the youth in her church, she simply embraced it with the highest honor.

They called her “Love.”



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