Make Room for Joy

A positive attitude can improve the quality of our life, often leading us to heights of joy. However, in finding our way as human beings, we are also vulnerable to emotional pain; even on the road to joy we become derailed by times of sorrow. One day when I asked my elderly mother a question about the past, she said, “I don’t want to remember the past, honey. It hurts too much.”

Now that I’ve reached my own twilight years and more fully understand my mother’s pain, I’ve also discovered something else. The things that hurt the most to remember now are the pains I numbed myself to when they were fresh. Even though I had this terrible ache inside, I refused to grieve. I told myself that, like Scarlett, I would deal with it tomorrow.

Some hurts I even denied, burying them so deep I’m shocked when they release fresh arrows of pain from the past into my heart. Others I rationalized by telling myself how lucky I was, that the hurt could’ve been far worse. That I had no right to feel pain because other people had it so much worse than I did. Counting my blessings.

I do believe in counting my blessings. Not by denying or ignoring my pain but doing so while also acknowledging that I have a right to grieve for my loss even while I feel grateful for my blessings.

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Psalms 30:5
So, when your heart is heavy it is better to allow yourself to experience and express the grief until it has wrung itself out. The tears of grief are cleansing your soul, making it ready to once again receive joy.

Well Blow Me Down and Call Me Flossie

When I was fifteen I worked one summer in Don’s Restaurant in Hazard, Kentucky. My name was Flossie. Don had such a turnover in waitresses he couldn’t remember our names so he used a few favorites remembered from ages past. Assuming there’d been a Flossie, that is. So I said “Blow me down and call me Flossie!” After all, he was paying me fifty cents an hour.

We had a tip box to put our gratuities in (I’m more sophisticated now) to be divided up weekly. Like a good little Flossie I put all my tips, excuse me, gratuities, in the box during the first week but when it came time to receive my cut, I only received four dollars.

I complained to the other girls that my tips, excuse me, gratuities, had been more than that for half-a-day. They laughed at me. “We don’t put it all in,” they said, “just a dollar here and there.” In other words I had shared all my own tips, excuse me, gratuities, with them, but they had shared only a smidgeon of theirs with me. The scale had been weighted to their side. I wondered why they hadn’t told me ahead of time. That’s how green I was. I’m more sophisticated now.

Okay, I said, and the next week I only put in a couple of dollars. But I felt dishonest. “Oh, he knows,” one girl said, “he don’t care.” And, since we were all in cahoots, I figured it was okay. But my conscience still bothered me, just a smidgeon. I’d been taught that rules were rules and were meant to be followed.

Although I never became a corrupt politician, nor even an honest one for that matter, I wonder if that’s how it begins? If we all do it, then it’s okay. Let’s vote ourselves some special benefits, set up different rules, just for us.

Of course none of this is actually vocalized. Most likely they just breathe in that rarefied stink in the air that wafts off the old farts who’ve been corrupting Washington for years, and they know without vocalizing that this is how things are done in Washington, DC.

A Boil on the Presidency?

If you’ve ever suffered from boils you know how painful they are. They have to be lanced and drained in order to heal.

Although I don’t remember the following family story as I was only a toddler, an older brother told me about the days when we lived in poverty due to the early death of our father.

The trouble began with an outbreak of boils. To bring the boils to a head and give relief from the pain our mother applied hot compresses, probably from a solution of Epsom salts, and/or soda and boric acid powder in boiling water.

But more boils continued to break out. Finally, Mom sought the advice of a wise old hill woman who told her we were all suffering from an evil in the blood. She said to have the older boys gather burdock, a weed that was plentiful in the hills, and make a tea from it. Everyone in the family should drink the tea and it would soon remove the evil that was tainting our blood. At last we found relief.

I researched and found that burdock has been used since the Middle Ages as a blood purifier and treatment for boils. As well as a host of other ailments. Interestingly, the article’s advice was: “Do not gather burdock in the wild.”

Evidently because “The roots of burdock closely resembles those of belladonna or deadly nightshade”. Now was that a narrow escape or what? One mistake and the solution to our problem might’ve killed us. Not unlike, I think, some treatments for cancer today that kill the good cells as well as the bad.

What a mixed-up world we live in! Everything appears to come down to trial and error. Pure luck appears to determine the outcome.

I can’t help but wonder what evil force has infected the blood of our country. Rising like a boil to the surface with hate messages running amok.

I can’t help but wonder if there is a boil on the presidency.

Upon the Tinkling Creek

Cousin Charles SwearenginI just learned my cousin Charles Swearengin passed away this morning. He’s pictured to the right. The following poem is excerpted from our Kentucky book and was written and addressed to Charles by my brother many years ago. May they both rest in peace.

Upon The Tinkling Creek
Composed By Byrd Adams, Jr.

Let’s talk across the mountain, Charles
And down the hollow road,
Passing by the old graveyard
Remembering tales of old:
How Granddaddy built his house
Upon the tinkling creek,
Adding rooms as babies came
To fill a mansion, sweet
Aunts and Uncles now grown old,
And I along with them,
To fill this sacred country with
Our voices growing dim.
Pause to rest a moment here,
My rifle on my knee,
To take a rabbit on the ground,
Or gray squirrel in a tree.
I’m in no mood to fire a shot
Upon this sacred day,
Where rabbits hop, and stop, and hop,
And gray squirrels come to play.
I’d rather pause among my kin
To spend a day or week,
Here where Granddaddy built his house
Upon the tinkling creek.

God Makes No Mistakes

I was an arrogant child. I thought I was smarter than God because I could see where he’d screwed up. While my mother prayed every night with us children sitting on the floor around her (since we didn’t have that many chairs) I blasted God in my mind for the early death of our dad, for our poverty. Later, knowing God could read my mind, I feared the hot cinders of his wrath raining down on me from the sky.

But rebellion boiled inside me, where I secretly sneered at the preacher’s daughter while envying her for her pretty blue Easter dress. I softened my pain by wrapping it in anger and built a wall around my vulnerability. My anger was not allowed to be expressed in the face of my mother’s prayers of thanksgiving for God’s love and tender care (ha!) so I kept it between us two.

One evening while my mother was thanking God for getting us a load of coal to get us through the winter, my teenaged brother Andy called from the kitchen after having refused to join the circle, “I’m the one who got us that load of coal!” Mom did not acknowledge his outburst but I was thrilled by it. “There,” I thought. “There, God.” And I was content to know I was not alone

Of course I would grow through the bruises and heartaches of living to become grateful for the life I had, to recognize that it was granted to me by a loving God. Who also let me find my own way to exist in this strange life on his beautiful planet. But also to realize that his love knows no limits, that he loves each and every one of us.

My gripe today is not against God but against a society that doesn’t value its people as God values us. We have groups called minorities who have been bullied and excluded due to their differences from the mainstream of society—people who even dare to use the supposed words of God to justify their insufferable actions.

Some progress towards equality has been made with the larger groups of minorities but one group that has been blatantly excluded includes gays and lesbians.

In the beginning of my realization there were such beings in the world I too felt uncomfortable with them. It just didn’t “feel” right. But having learned to question my feelings since my first run-in with God, I asked myself how it would feel to love someone of the same sex in the same way one loves someone of the opposite sex, that merging into a couple that makes the world glow with an intense joy that lights up our spirit.

How would it feel to be born with that difference, yet be told I must “have” or “pretend” to have that feeling for someone whom I can’t love? Otherwise to be told I’m bad, depraved, and out of favor with God. Because gay people recognize early in life that they’re attracted to their own sex even if the full realization takes place much later, it is obvious to me that when God created them, he did it with love. He did not make a mistake.

Just Call Me Scrooge

Just call me Scrooge, but I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. I love the love but hate the hate. Don’t preach to me about it being a celebration of Christ’s birthday. I know that. That’s the love part.

And I don’t hate the Santa Claus and gifts part either. It’s the memories that part brings up and the realization that many children will soon learn too early there is no Santa. That’s what I hate. And don’t preach to me about that part, either, about Santa being the spirit of giving, blah, blah, blah.

The memory of those children from the past blend with knowing that many children in the present will have no Christmas this year. They’ve joined the little ghosts that walk in the back of my mind. Like a Greek chorus. A mute one— because what can they say?

So now that I’ve made you indescribably sad let me add that phrase the elitists like to use: it’s the human condition. Distance yourself from it. What else can you do? Provide for your own and put some change in the Salvation Army’s bucket after you buy your Christmas turkey or ham.

But for God’s sake, don’t whine and carry on about it. If there’s anything I really, really hate it’s a whiner! Merry Christmas.

Andy Adams – Kentucky Coal


The above video of an interview with my brother Andy Adams of Hazard, Kentucky in Appalachia took place twenty-seven years ago when he was fifty years old, and had achieved the American Dream.

His photo on the cover of my family book Stories of a Kentucky Mountain Family was taken when he was just sixteen, with our youngest brother Hale, who was six. When our dad died, leaving eight children, Andy quit school and went to work in the coal mines of eastern Kentucky to support his mother and siblings.

Later, after being injured at the mines during a dynamite blast, he forged a birth certificate to prove he was eighteen and drove semi-trailers across the country. He also worked in the factories in Detroit, and when he came home he paid our debt at the general store.

Andy was my hero. Hale and I, the two youngest, often watched for him to come home. Memories still linger in my mind of him coming up the path on crutches after the blast at the mines, smiling at us through his pain as we waited on the front porch, and later, watching him swing down from the giant cab of a truck as he came home to check on us.

In the video he tells you himself that he achieved the American Dream, a man who only finished the eighth grade and was self-educated. He was also self-directed, with a can-do, positive attitude towards life and work that he passed along to all of us.

When he passed away on March 14 2001, I was with him. A few hours before, he had pointed over my shoulders and said “Your brothers.” I turned automatically towards the wall and said “Where?” He had a disappointed look on his face, realizing I hadn’t seen them. It was the only time I remember disappointing him. But I knew at that moment that the three brothers who had already passed on were waiting to greet him.

Andy was a hero for our times. A young man of sixteen who became a substitute father to his siblings. He set an example for all of us. I hope he knows how much he was loved.