Silent memories

October 17, 2018 - Leave a Response

Published by the Times-Georgian – October 14, 2018

by Joe Garrett


The pound cake was still warm and the peanut brittle was perfect.

It wasn’t the first time. For most of my life, she never hesitated to a cut a few slices and walk across the street to deliver. Sometimes she would even invite the neighborhood kids inside her front door to devour a piece or two.

I’m not sure who was happier. As much as I loved biting into one of Jean Muse’s hot pound cakes, I think she was happier than anyone else. Besides, her health often prevented her from eating sweets, but it didn’t prevent her from raising our spirits with an overdose of butter and sugar.

For 40 plus years, Jean and Newt Muse lived in the same neighborhood as my parents. And the Muse’s moved four times. Three of those times the Garrett’s and Muse’s lived across the street from each other, only never on the same side (i.e., it’s important to have distance).

Both Jean and my mother raised a household of boys. It’s probably extremely safe to say each one of us drove them crazy from time-to-time, but they never hesitated to put us in our place.

“I’ll never forget when we were all young teenagers, your momma lectured me, you and your brother Bill one day and said, ‘Boys if you don’t want any trouble in life—chew bubble gum, drink Coca-Cola and keep them britches zipped up,’” said Jean’s youngest son Donnie. “That’s how I learned about the birds and bees.”

It’s a wonder Donnie remembered that lesson. He’s only got five children. Oh yes, and he’s an ordained music minister, too.

As Forrest Gump once said, “Momma always had a way of explaining things so we could understand.”

Ten months before Jean died, Donnie and I loaded up our mothers and treated them to lunch at Billy Bob’s Barbecue. Here we were, years removed from our childhood, only this time the roles were reversed. There was a time when you couldn’t get a word in the conversation, but on this day half of the group was silent.

Both my mom and Jean were in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s.

One of the toughest parts of watching two women who were once full of life and energy was just watching them. They sat across from each other and didn’t speak. They only communicated with smiles and occasionally even laughed. Donnie and I told old stories hoping there was connection inside their brains somewhere.

There are no instruction manuals for these situations. However, there are ways to communicate. Expecting those suffering from memory loss to always reply in conversation is about like expecting your dog to ask, “How’s your day going?” 

It’s usually best to refrain from asking them questions and simply talk to them. They seem to enjoy that. And even though they’re silent doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy the sounds of young children’s voices and a beautiful choir. They’re still here. And so are you.

Locally, on Saturday, October 20, you can help support this fight against Alzheimer’s at Hobbs Farm on the Carrollton GreenBelt. Registration for the 2018 End to Alzheimer’s Walk-West Georgia will start at 9 a.m. followed by a ceremony at 10 a.m. The 2-mile walk will begin around 10:30 a.m. Also, there will be drawings and raffle prizes so bring extra cash if you want to participate.

All funds raised for this event will be used to support and expand research and resources to hopefully one day find a cure. Also, all donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law.

For more information, please visit the event’s website at As Alzheimer’s is now the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, please consider donating to this cause. Donations can be made on the website directly or mailed to the Alzheimer’s Association at 41 Perimeter Center East/Ste. 550/Atlanta, GA 30346.

It’s hell watching someone go through the stages of memory loss. There are no words to describe it unless you’ve been there. Medical researchers and the rest of us don’t have a solution or cure for this terrible disease. This I know and so do you. 

But somewhere there’s a thin place. It’s not between us and them. It’s a connection and the walls are very thin. We’re all on the same team and want this disease to cease. And that reminds me there’s something bigger than life’s complexities. 

There’s got to be a little bit of heaven in this somewhere.

Animal house

October 16, 2018 - Leave a Response

Published by the Times-Georgian–October 7, 2018

by Joe Garrett


I checked eBay last week and the poster costs $250.

It wasn’t just any poster. It was an original 1978 Samurai poster featuring the late John Belushi holding a single-edge bladed katana in both hands looking like an assassin. The Saturday Night Live star captivated audiences worldwide with his hilarious skits as he used his sword to cut deli sandwiches, gather clothes from a dry cleaner and slice a wedding cake.

Long story, short—I didn’t buy the poster (but I’m not giving up).

My bedroom forty years ago was decorated with a Rocky poster, a Georgia Bulldog calendar and an autographed photo of Vince Dooley when he visited the old Burger Chef in Carrollton after winning the SEC Championship in 1976. Also, a homemade collage hung on the wall from photos I cut with scissors out of several Sports Illustrated magazines and glued to a poster board surrounding Ted Turner’s famous picture of winning the America’s Cup while chomping on a big, fat cigar.

The only thing missing was a John Belushi poster. I didn’t have one. My cousin Ben Garrett, however, had one hanging in his black and gold shag carpet room—and I was jealous.

As kids, Ben was always bigger than me—so I knew better than try to steal it off of his wall.

After Ben graduated high school, he moved into a trailer park off Wire Road in Auburn, Alabama. When he began his college career, Ben may have left behind the Belushi poster—but he demonstrated some skills his momma Margaret would have celebrated.

“Ben was a neat freak,” said his roommate and local interior design expert Matt Carter. “He could have given the TV character maids Shirley ‘Hazel’ Booth and Alice from ‘The Brady Bunch’ a run for their money.”

Finally, Ben upgraded his residence as an Auburn student when he moved into the Sigma Nu Fraternity house.

“This time Ben showcased a photo of former Auburn quarterback Jeff Burger, who was from Cedartown, on his wall,” said Carter. “I’m not sure going from Belushi to a boy from Cedartown was an upward move?”

Well, things have changed for Ben. His home resembles more of a design from a Southern Living Magazine than the one he decorated on his own while growing up. He’s smart enough to stay out of the way of his wife Kristi.

On October 19-21, the third annual Circles of West Georgia Show House will feature three classic homes on Dixie Street. And one of those belongs to Ben and his wife Kristi who will open their home as part of the tour. Thankfully, Ben isn’t doing any of the decorating.

All proceeds from the event will benefit Circles of West Georgia which was launched locally in 2015 as a collaborative effort between St. Margaret’s Community Outreach and the Community Foundation of West Georgia. Circles is a “next step” in the services our community provides to its members who are struggling to meet basic needs consistently through long-term, one-on-one, adult mentoring around improved education and employment, financial management and personal growth and development.

Tickets are on sale now for $20 each and can be purchased at the three-day event or online at Furthermore, tickets can be purchased at any of the following locations: Turner Pharmacy, Mountain Oak Florist, Classy Cricket, The Nest, The Furniture House and Feathers and Twigs.

Plan to support and invite your friends for this tour that will also showcase the Dixie Street homes of Dr. John and Barbara Burson and John and Carolyn Aycock. Fortunately, the event will support a wonderful organization that continues to change and empower lives in our community. Unfortunately, it’s doubtful you’ll see a John Belushi poster hanging in Ben’s bedroom—but if you do, please let me know.

I still have my velvet painting of Hank Williams, Jr. from my college bedroom stored somewhere in my parents’ attic and I would be happy to trade.

It sure beats the heck out of paying $250 on eBay.

Shorty’s substitute

September 18, 2018 - Leave a Response

Published by the Times-Georgian–September 16, 2018

by Joe Garrett


Our west bound and down stunt turned south.

Blame it on Burt Reynolds’ character from his 1978 classic film “Hooper.” There’s a scene in the movie where Burt and his co-star Jan-Michael Vincent drive along the California coast a little intoxicated when suddenly their car runs side-by-side with a county deputy patrol car.

“Howdy, you ole Fart!” Burt yells at the officer.

The deputy wasn’t amused and a high-speed chase takes place. As usual, Burt never gets caught.

As children, my buddy Sam Haney and I thought Burt’s line was the funniest in the movie. For the next few weeks, we called every buddy in the Chapel Heights neighborhood an ole Fart. We thought it was funny. We were so naïve we had no clue that to our elders the word “fart” was the original f-word.

Sam and I learned our lesson the hard way.

We had the bright idea one day while we played outside we would become the characters from the movie “Hooper.” We would no longer call our peers an ole Fart. Instead, we would test our theory on an adult.

“Let’s hide in the bushes that surround Cliff and Pauline Miller’s mailbox,” I proposed to Sam. “When Shorty Minick stops to deliver the mail, we’ll call him an ‘ole Fart.’”

We loved Shorty. He was more than the Chapel Heights mailman. He was our friend who always visited with the kids when he made his stops.

The only problem that day was Shorty was on vacation. We didn’t know that and as the substitute postal worker put the mail in Cliff and Pauline’s mailbox, Sam and I started saying—“Afternoon, you ole Fart.”

We giggled and took off running towards Sam’s house.

A few minutes later, we heard a knock on the door. Sam and I peeked through the window and knew we were in trouble. Instead of opening the door, we ran and hid in his room.

As we listened to the postal worker talk to Sam’s mother Linda, we heard our mail carrier begin to cry. Our words had upset Shorty’s substitute. She poured her heart out to Linda. Let’s just say she had experienced a bad day, and our calling her “an ole Fart” didn’t seem to help.

“Shorty would have laughed,” I said to Sam.

“Of course, he would,” Sam replied as we heard his mom walk down the hall. “Uh oh, I think we’re in trouble.”

I don’t know what Linda said to us, but I remember whatever it was—it worked. I haven’t called a postal worker “an ole Fart” since the summer of ’78. And if you don’t believe me, ask Joey, Ricky or Joan at the Carrollton Post Office. Or, even better, ask my former mail carriers Mickey Foster or Wesley Huddleston.

Oops. On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t ask Wesley.

The long story is Linda Haney somehow broke through our elementary school minds that we should show respect for adults and especially those in the areas of public service.

“Let’s just stick to words like ‘poot,’ ‘toot’ or ‘air biscuit,’” I told Sam later that day.

“Absolutely,” he agreed. “If we don’t want to get in trouble, we’ll never use the f-word again.”

Times have changed. My guess is Burt Reynolds never knew about Sam and me getting in trouble from his line in a movie. It doesn’t matter. Burt was our hero. We wanted to grow a mustache and chest hair just like him when we grew up.

Last week only minutes after I learned of Burt’s death, Sam reached out to me via text message. The first line of his message simply read—

“Howdy there, you ole Fart!”


Stitched with love

September 5, 2018 - One Response

Published by the Times-Georgian–September 2, 2018

by Joe Garrett


She poured me a cup of coffee before we started our tour in Hogansville.

It wasn’t in a museum. It was in my great aunt Sara Green Harman’s home. My two oldest sons Turner and Will traveled with me as we stopped for a short visit while passing through on our way to Callaway Gardens in 2007.

“They remind me of you when you were a little boy,” she told me.

I didn’t know if that was compliment so I simply replied, “Thank you, Aunt Sara.”

She was so excited we stopped by to see her and she hugged us all at least 100 times during our short visit. In between hugs, she showed us her most prized possessions—her hand-stitched quilts.

“Did you make all of these?” I asked.

“I sure did,” Aunt Sara replied. “I just loved making each one of them.”

Her quilts adorned every room. They were her homemade treasures, and she told a story about each one in the same spirit young parents beam with pride when telling tales of their newborn child. It was evident her love to stitch patterns together was more than her art.

It was her therapy.

As the old saying goes, “Before Prozac, there was quilting.”

There’s something special about quilts. They’re like a fine wine that ages in comfort as they mature. I can’t say the same for blankets. They get holes.

Recently, I toured the Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum in Carrollton to learn more about the art of making the treasures that have been passed along from generation to generation. The Museum, which opened its doors in September 2012 after the Georgia Quilt Project and Georgia Quilt Council selected Carrollton as the Museum’s home, strives to preserve the art and craft of quilting with museum quality archiving and conservation.

“The Museum also offers multiple level classes for anyone wanting to learn the art and craft of quilting,” said Board Member Sarah Duffey. “Every summer the Museum’s Kid Camp teaches third grade children and older to sew and to quilt by using individual mentors for each student. This summer we had 30 children participate.”

Furthermore, another component of the Museum is to recognize and celebrate current trends in quilting.

“From exhibits on machine applique to art quilts to modern interpretations of old patterns, many exciting trends are happening in the world of quilting,” added Duffey.

On Saturday, September 8 at 10 a.m., the Museum will host internationally known quilter Flavin Glover. For those who have never made a quilt like me, this would be like having Elvis or James Brown show up at your fundraiser.

“We’ve had a busy summer with the ‘Sacred Threads’ exhibit followed by “Color: The Design Element with Punch” by Flavin Glover,” said Marilyn Hubbard, president of the Museum. “We are so excited Mrs. Glover will bring her trunk show to the Museum including her renowned quilt ‘Row Houses’ which was included in the book ‘100 Best American Quilts of the 20th Century.’”

Members and sponsors of the Museum can attend Glover’s talk for free while tickets for non-members are $25. Tickets can be purchased during the Museum’s hours Thursday through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you are unable to attend the event, you can still see Glover’s quilts which are currently on exhibit.

The Museum also has a vast library with more than 2,500 volumes and periodicals to research quilting, and it also has a small gift shop with various items including fabric squares, small pillows, notecards, handbags and more. Since the Museum operates as not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization, it depends on grants, businesses and individual donations and memberships for funding.

“We hope to grow our memberships and anyone can help support the Museum’s mission from levels ranging from $35 to $1,000 and more,” said Duffey. “We have had tremendous support from local businesses and groups such as Carroll EMC, Power of the Purse, Carrollton Convention and Visitors Bureau and 4IMPRINT.”

The Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum continues to gain attention from people across the United States and internationally. It’s had visitors from almost every state domestically along with guests from England, Germany, Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Austria and Switzerland.

Those countries are a long way from my first introduction to quilt making in Hogansville yet I imagine each quiltmaker on the planet has a volume of stories reflected in their quilts. Aunt Sara’s mother died during childbirth. I can’t imagine the void in her life growing up without ever knowing her mother, especially through the challenges and struggles of the earlier part of the 20th century and the Great Depression.

She persevered anyway. Life, I imagine, wasn’t always easy.

Instead Aunt Sara chose to look at the bright side of life. She had a wonderful husband, two beautiful daughters and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She’s still alive and kicking at the age of 96.

The hands of time eventually ended her ability to make quilts yet she’s lived a full life. Aunt Sara learned at a young age if she took the scraps and stitched them together, she made something beautiful.

She made quilts.

Rock with you

September 5, 2018 - Leave a Response

Published by the Times-Georgian–August 26, 2018

by Joe Garrett


I once saw Hank Williams, Jr. take a swig of whiskey with one hand while his other one strummed a guitar.

The crowd cheered while he complained about growing old.

“All my rowdy friends have settled down,” sang Hank. “Nobody wants to get drunk and get loud.”

Hank’s friends may have settled down, but on that night in Atlanta some of his fans had not.

“I ain’t one ‘em, Hank,” the man sitting two rows behind me shouted as he flung his beer in the air that sprinkled the back of my neck.

Concerts bring out the best in people (I think). Through the years, I’ve been to more shows than I can count. I’ve seen Willie Nelson fling his bandana in the air, Merle Haggard show up late because he was drunk, James Taylor sing “Fire and Rain” and John Denver yodel like he was on a Rocky Mountain high. Even caught Paul Stanley of KISS’s guitar when he threw it off the stage only to lose it when a guy bigger than an NFL linebacker yanked it out of my hands on the fourth row.

I’ve seen Les Beasley lead the Florida Boys through “that ole time gospel jubilee” at Franklin Country Music Park, watched Leon Redbone whistle, marveled at “Slowhand” Eric Clapton play the blues, Bob Seger light up the crowd with “that old time rock ‘n roll,” harmonized on “Hey Jude” in the same room with Paul McCartney and laughed alongside Archie Campbell from “Hee Haw” when he crooned “Where, oh where—are you tonight” at the Holiday Inn in Gatlinburg.

This summer I’ve added two concerts to my all-time favorite list. Both shows entertained, electrified the crowd and best of all—I didn’t have to drive to Atlanta. I saw them at the AMP in Carrollton only a few miles from my house.

In June, Robert Randolph and the Family Band packed the AMP and it felt like by the end of the night I was at an altar call as half of the crowd danced in front of the stage. Last Saturday, Marc Broussard and the Stark Family Band packed the AMP on a stormy, rainy night in Georgia. Even the nasty weather couldn’t stop an outstanding show.

“That’s the best concert we’ve ever had in Carrollton,” I heard a stranger say as he walked away from the AMP.

Both of these musicians are on a worldwide tour and if you check most of the music halls or arenas where they play, the average ticket cost to one of their shows is $25.

“The fact it’s free with minimal strings attached is key,” said Howard Seeman, whose band Dakota Dodge has frequently played the AMP.  “I never get over the kick I get from watching performers step on stage from the street. It just sets a tone of ‘it’s personal.’”

Following last Saturday night’s show, I stood by the stage while the crew finished loading the equipment with Marc Broussard and his drummer Chad Gilmore after the crowd disappeared.

“The AMP should be copied by all small towns in America,” said Chad. “Look around at the people in the restaurants and bars. It seems like there’s a direct correlation between those cities that focus on the arts and those who don’t. The ones who focus on the arts are the ones who are thriving economically.”

“We would love to come back here again,” said Marc. “This is such a cool venue and the crowd tonight was terrific.”

We have a special place in Carrollton. The AMP 2018 Summer Concert Series continues to be a big hit and the City of Carrollton and its Mainstreet Program deserve high praise for scheduling such high-quality entertainment.

On Saturday, September 8, the series continues with Who’s Bad: The Ultimate Michael Jackson Experience concert. Look at what some critics have said about the show:

“The ultimate Michael Jackson tribute band.” – FOX News

“Can’t beat it.” – New York Post

“Michael would have been proud.” – Frank Dileo, Michael’s long-time friend and manager

I’ve decided I’ll try to master the moonwalk dance made popular by Michael Jackson before the show in two weeks. Maybe I’ll even wear one glove to the AMP as my own tribute to the late King of Pop.

It definitely beats getting beer sprinkled down my neck at a Hank Williams, Jr. concert. Plus, it’s free.

Song connection

August 15, 2018 - One Response

Published by the Times-Georgian–August 12, 2018

by Joe Garrett


I’m sitting on a bench in Seaside, Florida.
It’s early Sunday morning and the only people walking around this little quaint town on the Gulf of Mexico sandwiched between Destin and the Redneck Riviera are me, a guy picking up trash and a man spraying for bugs. Cockroaches love the salt and the sand too. 
The waves crash in front of me. The water on the emerald coast looks almost blue at sunrise. I can already tell by the sunrise humidity the day is going to be hot. Maybe it will help me sweat out those dozen oysters I ate last night.
It’s not the first time I’ve been here. Nineteen years ago, I proposed to my wife about 15 feet over my right shoulder from where I’m sitting now. 
I’m glad I asked her. Lord knows what my life would look like today if she had said no.
The time has moved quickly and this past week our oldest son reached the magic age of 16.
“Enjoy them and love them,” said my mother. “You blink and they’ll be grown.”
That’s the damn truth. It was the last piece of advice she gave me before Alzheimer’s stole her memory 12 years ago.
Through the years Ali and I have returned here multiple times with our four children in tow. In October 2012 we spent a long weekend here for my sister-in-law’s wedding. My oldest two sons Turner and Will greeted everyone at the Seaside Chapel as they passed out programs. Later that night Will entertained the crowd at the reception as he danced with moves similar to James Brown in his prime.
Two weeks later his life ended on Adamson Square. 
One of the songs played at his funeral was called “Easy to Love” written by our friend Joe Stark. Will’s newlywed Uncle David and his brother Joe sang the song inside St. Margaret’s Church while strumming a guitar and playing Will’s actual drum set.
“You’re beautiful inside,
“And you’re beautiful to me,
“You don’t have to change anything,
“It’s easy to love you,”
“I was going through that difficult transition to adulthood and questioning everything,” said Joe. “My girlfriend Kate, who would eventually become my wife, had a dog who was staring at me as I was thinking about the challenges ahead.
“All of the sudden as I looked at Kate’s dog, I smiled and said, ‘Life may be hard, but it’s easy to love you.’ Maybe it was a God-thing. The song seemed to write itself.”
The song’s message still resonates with me so much. When it was time for me to name my first book published in 2016, Joe granted me permission to use “Easy to Love” as the title.
The song has also resonated with others. Marc Broussard, the singer-song writer from Carencro, Louisiana who will perform this Saturday, August 18 as part of the Carrollton AMP 2018 Concert Series, loves the song too.
In 2017, he recorded his version of Joe Stark’s song and titled his new CD “Easy to Love.”
Joe Stark, along with the Stark Family Band, will open the show at 7:30 p.m. This talented family from Houma, Louisiana is fantastic. Joe and his brother David recently were handpicked by Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame member Jon Bon Jovi to open his concert in New Orleans.
An hour later, Marc Broussard will headline Saturday’s concert. Broussard promises an upbeat show. His chart-making music has led him to perform on The Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, CBS Saturday Early Show and Larry King Live.
“Bring your dancing shoes,” Broussard said. “It’s going to be a party in Carrollton, Georgia.”
And, yes—he will perform his version of Joe Stark’s “Easy to Love.”
“It’s a powerful song,” said Broussard. “It’s powerful in its simplicity and it’s so natural.”
As my gluteus maximus is tired from sitting on this wooden bench in Seaside, it’s time to end this little piece. My greatest joy kickstarted here and a few years later Ali and I would have a household of kids. Eventually, our paths would cross with some musicians from Louisiana. And on Saturday night we’ll be connected by a song on the Will Garrett Stage.
It’s all easy to love.

Straight from the vine

August 15, 2018 - Leave a Response

Published by the Times-Georgian–July 22, 2018

by Joe Garrett


He still delivers tomatoes the old-fashioned way—in his pickup truck.

This time of year, Elbert Eason doesn’t have to travel too far to pick his summer’s finest. He simply walks out his front door and enters his garden for a morning’s fresh picking.

“I planted 162 tomato plants, rows of corn and plenty of okra, squash and cucumbers,” he said.

At 83 years old, Elbert refuses to slow down.

“I still walk four miles every day,” said Elbert.

“He had surgery a few weeks ago, but you wouldn’t know it,” said his wife of 63 years Julia, who bakes Carroll County’s best homemade tea cakes with the same love and care Elbert displays in his garden. “He went straight back to work.”

There’s something special about folks who plant and sustain a garden—the type of souls who could care less about China tariffs, Supreme Court nominations and Tweets. They have bigger things on their minds like going to battle against deer who attempt to eat all of their homegrown goods.

“I’ve won that battle for several years now by spreading sulphur around the outskirts of the garden,” said Elbert. “That stuff smells so bad like rotten eggs the deer won’t come near my corn stalks.”

Since retiring from Georgia Power 27 years ago, Elbert has kept the Burwell community from starving.

“He’s never really retired because he’s operated a produce stand at Burwell Corners selling fruits and vegetables,” said his son Scott. “In previous years, he also operated another location at the old General Store across from the church in Burwell which my grandfather operated when Dad was growing up.”

It’s likely if you’ve eaten in any of our non-chain local restaurants in the past few weeks or so, you may have tasted a bite from Elbert’s garden.

“He loves blessing others and one way he does is by providing produce for others from his garden,” said Scott.

For the last several years, the term “farm-to-table” has been overused in the same vein as the folks who describe everything as “amazing.”

Last week I sat inside a local restaurant eating with my sons when Elbert walked inside with boxes of tomatoes freshly picked from his garden.

“Those are good-looking tomatoes,” I told Elbert.

“Just picked ‘em about an hour ago,” he replied.

Moments later after Elbert and some of the restaurant employees unloaded the boxes from his truck, he walked back inside and handed me a sack full of his pickings both green for frying and red for slicing.

My Paw Paw used to do the same thing for his friends and he’s been dead for more than 40 years. I remember once hearing someone say, “They don’t make ‘em like him anymore.”

Thank God that person was wrong. And thank God there’s still old men in pickup trucks who care deeply and take pride in nurturing the soil to grow produce so the rest of us can eat fresh from their gardens.

There’s nothing better in the hot Georgia summer than biting a fresh ripe tomato delivered straight from a local garden like Elbert Eason’s and devoured whether by itself or sandwiched between two pieces of bread, lettuce and greasy bacon.

It’s not only farm-to-table good. It’s amazing.


The bear and the Bow

July 23, 2018 - Leave a Response

Published by the Times-Georgian–July 15, 2018

by Joe Garrett


If the morning had turned out differently, my last meal would have been a glazed donut.

Instead, life went on so I ate a bison burger for lunch and drank a cold beverage.

It’s not everyday one encounters a bear on a bike ride at sunrise on a Sunday morning.

Banff is nestled in the Alberta region surrounded by the beautiful Canadian Rockies. The small mountain town is Canada’s version of Gatlinburg minus the putt-putt courses, Ridley’s Believe It or Not Museum and Fannie Farkle’s corn dogs.

On the final morning of my family’s summer vacation, I awoke early and ventured into the town via bicycle. The blue sky signaled a great start in this picturesque region as I pedaled alongside a path next to the Bow River. The beautiful Bow Falls flows down the hill from the historic Banff Springs Hotel.

Marilyn Monroe once walked these grounds as the river and falls served as a backdrop in her 1953 film “River of No Return.” King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Teddy Roosevelt and even Jack Benny have marveled at the majestic beauty of Bow Falls that flows into the heart of the Rockies.

“The Bow does not slide or rustle like Prairie rivers, but brawls across bars of blue pebbles, and a greenish tinge in its waters hints of snows,” wrote Rudyard Kipling while standing at the waterfall during his 1907 cross-Canadian adventure.

Eventually, I steered my bicycle and pedaled into downtown. Marathon runners started to walk the city streets towards the starting line of the city’s annual race.

At 4,600 feet above sea level, I wondered if these folks had lost their sanity. They probably thought the same thing about me when I parked my bike and walked into Canada’s famous doughnut and coffee shop Tim Horton’s to order two glazed. I didn’t really care and heeded Margaret Atwood’s advice from her novel “The Blind Assassin”—

“As you ramble on through life, brother, whatever be your goal, keep your eye on the donut, and not upon the hole.”

Once I approached the edge of the Banff city limits, I turned around and passed a gym that offers curling, two churches and watched passengers step aboard the Rocky Mountaineer at the local train station. The marathon was underway and I watched the runners nearby while I had the energy (thanks to the donuts) to climb the steep road back to my hotel.

After passing the hotel, I decided to keep going by circling through a roundabout that rivaled the one in Whitesburg. That’s when the road eventually ended only to spot a mountain bike trail.

It’s been said by the great comedian Ron White, “You can’t fix stupid.” My actions proved White’s argument to be true.

Before I move forward, let me pause and share with you last night’s dream. I was standing in front of Almon Funeral Home next to undertaker Charlie Almon and our coroner Keith Hancock watching the Carrollton Fourth of July People’s Parade. We watched the John Deere tractors, the Shriners and a horse poop in the middle of the street when I heard a screaming preacher demand we turn our lives around and follow the straight and narrow way. And then I died and faced judgement.

“Did you bite your friend Joe Murrah during a wrestling match, tear shingles off of Bud Arnold’s roof and make fun of Preacher Steve Davis’s mustache?” God asked me in my dream.

“Yes,” I replied. “I’m a sinner.”

“And did you once streak buck naked down Panama City Beach on a youth church trip when you were in high school?” God continued.

“Did you see that?” I inquired.

“I wish I wouldn’t have,” he countered.

For the next few minutes, we sat in silence until the final question was tossed.

“How do you explain your encounter with the bear?” God asked.

“Once again, I’m a sinner,” I answered.

“Is that all?” he looked at me sternly.

“Actually, I’m a dumbass,” I said as I held my head down.

Back to reality—After I approached the mountain bike trail, I had two choices: go back to the hotel; or take the road less traveled like the guy in the Robert Frost poem. I took the trail and that almost made all of the difference. For the next 20 minutes, I steered through the woods until I finally reached a small bridge crossing the Bow River.

As I rode parallel to the river, I encountered the first human being and realized I wasn’t in the middle of a wilderness. Finally, I reached civilization again when a golf course appeared within sight. I noticed four men preparing to tee off when one of the golf course workers started yelling.

At first, I thought he was shouting at the golfers, but then I realized he was calling to me.

“Get over here now,” he demanded as he stepped away from his electric Gator motor cart he was driving. “Just pedal onto the golf course.”

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“You were about to run into that bear,” he said as he pointed into the nearby woods.

We watched the bear and the golf course worker mapped our escape strategy.

“If he starts walking towards us, everyone is going to hop in the Gator,” he said. “You golfers can’t outrun him in your golf cart and you definitely don’t stand a chance on your bicycle.”

Eventually, the bear stood on all four legs, and thankfully walked in the opposite direction. We watched him cross a road and then once he reached the fairway, the bear started running.

It was the first time in person I’ve seen a bear run—and he was fast.

I decided it was time to stop riding and pedaled back to see my family.

Back to the dream—I decided to confess again to God.

“Next time I promise to not venture into the unknown wilderness alone,” I noted.

“Good idea,” he said. “And anything else?”

“I’ll put my trust in you,” I promised.

“That’s good,” he said. “But if I were you, I’d bring my bear spray too.”


A snowy walk in Oz

July 17, 2018 - Leave a Response

Published by the Times-Georgian–July 8, 2018

by Joe Garrett


The Scarecrow doesn’t need a brain here.

All he has to do is open his eyes, take a couple of deep breaths and he’s arrived in a place more spectacular than Oz.

My family is in Lake Louise. This glacier lake sandwiched in the Canadian Rockies within Banff National Park and overlooked by the stately Fairmont Chateau is a work of beauty. Named after Queen Victoria’s daughter, the snow-capped peaks of Mount Victoria, Fairview Mountain, Beehive Hems and the Victoria Glacier greet its guests with spectacular views.

After hiking 10 miles yesterday (or 16 kilometers as they say up here, eh), I’m as rusty as the Tin Man while I sit on a park bench overlooking the water.

This is a place where one can see for miles. My family usually sleeps late on vacation while I wake up around the same time as the moose, elk and little squirly chipmunks who aren’t afraid to run towards your blue jean britches here.

Thankfully, yesterday there were no tornadoes outside, but snowflakes filled the air falling on a chilly summer morning.

“I’m off for a morning hike,” I said to a young man in the hotel coffee shop while he poured my morning joe.

“Go right when you see the lake,” he advised.

Suddenly, I felt like Dorothy meeting Scarecrow along the Yellow Brick Road for the first time.

“What’s on the left?” I inquired.

“Bears,” he answered with a stern look. “It’s their season and they love the hilly slope to the left more than the right. Take your bear spray.”

Suddenly, I felt like the Cowardly Lion.

As I walked outside and stared at the beauty of the lake for the first time, I wonder if Dorothy and her gang felt the same way when they first saw the Wizard’s house? The magnificent emerald color of the water results from rock flour carried in by melting from the glaciers that overlook the lake.

I met friends along the way. A Japanese man asked me where I lived and then inquired about the United States economy.

“More buyers than sellers,” I replied.

He looked confused and obviously didn’t have Coach Lankford for his high school economics teacher.

Next, I watched a dog jump into the lake only to paw his way out quickly.

“I wonder how cold the water is right now?” I asked its owner.

“Hold on, I’ll ask him,” she smiled. “Want to jump? Want to jump?”

The dog refused and then proceeded to shake water all over its master.

“It’s cold,” she laughed.

As I neared the end of my walk, the rumble of running water played nature’s finest symphony. A waterfall flowing over mountain rocks from the nearest icy glacier kept everything in balance.

Einstein once said, “Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.”

As I finished my walk, I didn’t meet the great and powerful Oz nor the man behind the curtain. I did, however, stare at the Canadian mountains millions of years old and created long before humans and the T-Rex.

The mountains didn’t speak and ask me to bring the witches broom. They simply reminded me they were here before me and will be here long after I’m gone. They also seemed to whisper to me, “Come see me more often. Find a bench, drink your coffee and simply look at me. If you were dying tomorrow, you would realize all of the things you worry about are as useful as a screen door on a submarine.”

I don’t know what tomorrow brings. I do know, however, there’s nothing better than taking time with my family, especially while my children are young. It’s moments like these that remind me the importance of “making memories.”

Oh sure, Dorothy was right. There’s really no place like home. Yet I imagine every now and then I’ll take a break from this world, close my eyes and click my heels.

It may take me awhile for my feet to hit the ground again. Even though I may be smiling and pretending to listen as my friends talk politics and other things that cause blood pressures to rise, my mind’s somewhere else.

It’s gazing at a lake in Canada while walking in the snow.



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

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.







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