Out There…Somewhere

Posted May 25, 2016 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

On Saturday, April 9th, I turned in Dusty (my Freightliner Cascadia truck) and walked away to start my new adventure, whatever that would turn out to be. I spent two nights in Memphis and my good friend, Mary, posed this question, “If you could do anything you wanted, what would that be?”

My answer was immediate and laser focused. “I’d drive around the country in an RV, meet wonderful Americans and write their stories.”

That night I continued to ponder how I could make that come to fruition. I figured that over the next two to three years, I had two choices. I could try to write a grant to pay for the adventure. That could be tricky. Not every organization would consider my adventure research worth pursuing. I could try to get sponsors but then I would be on their agenda, not mine.

On Sunday afternoon while shopping for a new pair of running shoes, I told Mary I felt I needed to become an independent contractor with a trucking company I’d already been talking to for several months. At first she looked at me strangely, like perhaps I’d had a brain bleed. After all, I’d insisted the night before my trucking adventure had drawn to a close. But then I explained to her that in two to three years, I would have enough disposable funds to pay cash for a brand new small RV. That way, I could do what I want on my own time with my own agenda.

I went on to explain that as an independent contractor for this new company, I would be wholly autonomous. I would not have a dispatcher. Instead, I’d log right onto the load board and get whatever loads I wanted to book myself for. I’d be able to go where I like to travel, and avoid those places I don’t think I should be.

I would be completely in charge of my own schedule. I can travel, meet people and be more available to write about them than before because I will no longer have pickup and delivery appointments at 2am.

So, after a great deal of prayer and counsel from my mentors, I joined this new company as an independent contractor. I report on Monday and will have a 2017 Freightliner Cascadia by Friday. I will give them 1095 days. During that time, I will travel around, meet wonderful people and tell you—my loyal readers—their stories. Once those days have ended, I will set into motion the next step.

When I was on the Road to Freedom bicycle tour in 2013, I discovered that contrary to what we hear on the news, the heartbeat of America is alive and well. There has never been a time in the history of our nation when we’ve needed to hear this message more. I feel it is my purpose to get this message out to you. This is the way I can make this happen.

Thank you all for being such faithful followers. I appreciate all the cards, emails, texts and phone calls of concern as I’ve taken a couple of months off to pray and hear God’s plan for me.

As I start this new part of my journey, I commit to seeking out wonderful Americans and bringing their stories to your email or social media accounts. I would also solicit your prayers as I release the brakes thunder down the road heading out there… somewhere.

God bless you, friends!

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Johnny the Hotdog Vendor

Posted April 25, 2016 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

If you spend much time in Memphis, you’ll find him standing by his little hot dog cart. You’ll recognize him by the infectious smile and gregarious demeanor. He plays with the kids and strikes up intelligent conversations with the adults. And he provides the most excellent customer service I’ve ever seen. Johnny the hotdog vendor looks as though he doesn’t have a care in the world.

“I just LOVE what I do!” He is emphatic about how much he enjoys selling hotdogs on the street. Five bucks will get you a dog, chips and ice cold canned soda. Not a bad deal. He doesn’t skimp on the products. Only the best, Nathan’s all-natural hotdogs will do for his customers. People wait in long lines for his combo and he sells out at every event. Last Saturday at an event at the downtown public library, I bought the last one for a homeless deaf man.

A closer look at Johnny’s life revealed he is happy by choice. A very bright man, he worked twenty years for the same company servicing and repairing x-ray equipment. One day his boss in this family owned business told him he would have to let him go to make room for a family member. Family came first, even in business. Johnny was left high and dry with a family to care for.

As was with many Americans during that time, he could not find a job that would keep him home with his family. So Johnny decided to create one. He took money out of their savings, bought a hotdog stand, licenses and supplies and set up on the street corners of Memphis. He’s been there ever since.

“I have the best job in the world! I get to meet all kinds of people every day. I deliver what people want. It makes them happy and that makes me happy. I work and take time off whenever I want. And, at a big event, I make two weeks salary at my old job in a single day.”

Johnny’s zest for life is infectious. He prepares each hotdog to order and, unlike the workers at the national chain fast food places who slop the ingredients on haphazardly, he places the condiments on the dogs with precision. No mess. No worry about dripping when you try to eat one. He really cares for his customers, the tie they’re wearing and makes sure they don’t spill mustard anywhere.

Five years ago, thousands of Americans were faced with suddenly being out of jobs. Many of them lost their homes, cars, families, health and wound up in desperate circumstances. Some did not survive. But Johnny is a shining example of the American spirit, that tenacity that finds a way where there seems to be none. When times were hard, he picked himself up by the bootstraps and instead of trying to follow the same road that got him in dire straits hoping it would change, he blazed his own trail.

Saturday as I stood in the distance devouring the best hotdog I’ve ever eaten—and normally I don’t eat them at all—my heart was filled with pride, and joy as I watched Johnny the hotdog vendor joyfully dispense fun and food. My heart was filled with peace knowing that as long as there are citizens like him, the heartbeat of America will continue to be alive and well.

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I’m Willie Shelton’s Daughter

Posted April 11, 2016 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

We rounded the corner of the old country road and the all familiar blue farm house came into view. Approaching the Shelton farm always draws me back to the Road to Freedom Bicycle Tour and meeting Willie Shelton for the first time.

Today though, I returned with one of his daughters, known to you only as Mary. We sat sharing a meal and like always, Mr. Shelton regaled us with his tales of serving in World War II. Recounting how he’d been wounded three times, his eyes grew distant, as though he was walking through the countryside in Europe.

A new part of the story suddenly emerged. Though wounded himself, he helped a fellow wounded soldier get to a place of safely out of the line of fire. Tears filled his eyes as he remembered the words the grateful young soldier said, “If you ever needed anything, I will gladly do it for you.”

I looked across the room through my own sea of tears only to see those same tears in his daughter’s eyes. But those revealing eyes also told so much more. They held admiration and gratitude. They proudly said, “I’m Willie Shelton’s Daughter.”

He never saw the man again. Eventually, Mr. Shelton came home to the rolling hills of southwestern Tennessee and raised a family on the farm. Mary and I walked through those rolling hills together that day. She pointed out the pond where they fished and the pasture where they rode horses. The rope they swung on from in the barn still hangs from the rafters decades later. But if you listen very closely, you’ll hear their laughter as it rides on the wings of the wind.

Mary is strong. Unshakable. Full of life and has a simple, yet cemented commitment to what she’s doing. She helps others even at her own peril and then just goes on to the next thing as if everyone does the exact same thing. I’ve watched it for years. Now, after meeting and getting to know Willie Shelton and the tower of strength and decency he is, I realize the acorn really doesn’t fall far from the tree.

The more I know Mr. Shelton, the more I see him in my friend. Though small in stature, she stands as tall as the pines on the Tennessee mountains and has a presence that changes the room by just walking in it. In heart, she’s the spitting image of her daddy. Mr. Shelton’s legacy will live on in her long after he goes home to be with the Lord.

I marvel at the fabric Mr. Shelton wove into his children. They are all strong, just like him. He brought them up to live a simple life where people matter and lending a helping hand is as natural as eating watermelon in summer.

I’m grateful to know all of them and honored to witness the countless acts of human kindness in my friend that gives her the right to proudly say, “I’m Willie Shelton’s Daughter.”

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Walking in Memphis

Posted February 8, 2016 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I sat with anticipation staring out the window as we thundered toward metropolitan Memphis. We passed old stone and brick houses that I desperately wished could talk and tell me their amazing history.

At long last we turned into the ornate grounds of the Pink Palace. The enormous home and thousands of pink field stones stood tall among the winter bare branched trees. Its lavish décor makes it every bit the coveted location as when it was built in the 1920’s.

After memorializing it with snapshots from every side, wwee wound our way through surface streets, past the airport where hundreds of FedEx jets sat on the tarmac. The tails towered over the small row houses nearby. The old. The new. The historical. The technological, all dwelling together on a street in Memphis.

We turned onto US 51 and parked in what appeared to be a strip mall. It turned out to be the mecca for The King. People from near and far flock here to see and purchase all things Elvis. One of my friends went to the café to buy Elvis’ favorite sandwich—peanut butter and banana—while I inspected his bell bottomed sequined costumes and autographed guitars.

As I stood in the shops completely surrounded by Elvis, his music and his fans screaming on the video loop playing on large screen TV’s, I pondered how difficult it had to have been for him to live a normal life. Though he clearly loved entertaining audiences, he had to come to a point when he just wanted to be normal… perhaps even anonymous.

After getting all shook up by the memorabilia, we drove another block and found the place where Elvis lived… and died. I couldn’t help but wonder what he thought about when he walked the grounds after flying home from a concert in Lisa Marie, one of two private jets he owned. She sat on display across the street from the home.

Graceland stands as a shrine in Memphis, the only thing in the neighborhood that remained untouched by time. People walk the nearby streets, weighted down by the burdens of life, while streets, curbs and buildings are worn down by years of hard labor. Yet the home of Elvis, like the King himself, lives on seemingly unscathed and unforgotten.

I still had questions for Graceland but they would have to wait. It wasn’t talking and I had other places to see. A short drive to downtown and THE River brought us right to the entrance of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

Unlike Graceland, the patients who come here are very much alive. And the professionals here are using every ounce of their energy, skill and knowledge to keep them that way. Just miles away from where people make the pilgrimage to honor and remember someone who died four decades before, people here make a different sort of trip. No private jet. No fans or fanfare. Just a quiet arrival with hope against hope that a cure will be found and they will grow up, go to the prom, have their first kiss, graduate high school, get married, have a family and live happily ever after. Some of them would settle for living just another day.

We wound our way past the tall buildings down to The River… the Mighty Mississippi. How I desperately longed for it to talk. To tell me its stories that wrote history in our great nation. The streets were as old as the buildings, each one luring me into their moments of old. None of them telling the stories.

Memphis is a magical place where history and modern times walk arm in arm. The soul of the city runs deep in the hearts of those who live here. She sings the blues and people listen with open hearts that change moment by moment as the music of the city permeates their being.

I never thought my life would change by a city I avoided for decades but I now understand what the songwriter meant when he wrote:

 

     Walking in Memphis

     I was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale (Street)

     Walking in Memphis

     But do I really feel the way I feel?

I’ve been asking myself that same question since Saturday. Memphis, you’ve changed me. Lured me into your embrace. Accepted me as one of your own. My heart beats with a different song, one I haven’t quite named yet. The melody is still evolving. The harmony is yet to be heard. One day it will be set to music and I will have my own song… one that was written upon the tables of my heart while walking in Memphis.

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I Just Gotta Get Home

Posted January 27, 2016 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I rounded the corner and headed straight for the kiosk in the truck stop. It was morning. I had some time. I desperately needed a shower and was on a mission to wash me and my laundry.

A young man was sitting in a chair in the trucker’s lounge, the plastic bag at his feet appeared to be filled with various clothing. As I punched the touch screen to order my shower, I overheard him telling someone that he’d been dropped off at the truck stop and was trying to get someplace else.

I walked on by and headed straight for shower number two. That was the most important thing in my life today. My spa awaited and I was not going to let anything—or anybody—get in my way.

Or so I thought.

I washed my hair thinking about the young man on the other side of the door. I forgot all about the wonderful trail of hot water that ran down my body, my achy muscles and the coveted shower time.

Where was home? Why was he trying so desperately to get there right now?

I abandoned my shower, dried my hair in record time and ran out to find the young man. While I couldn’t offer him a ride, I did buy his breakfast in Huddle House. As he devoured steak and eggs, I probed for answers to the questions that haunted me.

He’d left his home outside of Laredo, TX, looking for a better way to send home to support his family. He wound up in Alaska working on a fishing boat. The money was great and he was able to care for his family in better way than he’d ever done before. But he was absent.

His six year old son was smitten with a chronic illness and they quickly went through their funds providing for his care. He took on additional work on the rare occasions when he was off but it still wasn’t enough. And his son continued to spiral downward.

He is now in the hospital and Hector abandoned his job to get home to be by his side. The only problem was he had no funds because he’d sent all his money home.

“I just gotta get home,” he continued to say. “My son needs his father.”

I asked him to wait at the table for a moment, excused myself and went to work. I called Greyhound and explained what was happening. I did not even know Hector’s last name but they said they were willing to hold a ticket at will call for him and hold it in only his first name until he could arrive and provide his identification.

I called a taxi and prepaid the fare from the truck stop to the bus station. I walked back to the table and told Hector what I’d done. The quiver in his lip turned into uncontrollable tears. Elbows on the table and head in hand, Hector released days—months—of frustration, fear and feelings that he’d let his family down.

As Hector hopped in the cab and it sped away to a bus that would take him home, I thought of how many Americans are in that same situation. They do the best they can to provide for their families during these tumultuous times and when tragedy strikes, they will do whatever it takes to get back to them. Hector is an example of how resilient Americans are. And resourceful. I have no doubt he would have walked back to Laredo for his boy if he’d had to. He would have climbed every mountain, crossed every stream and fought every foe for his son.

He’s an American. He is strong. He is capable. His heart beats for his family. That’s the true American way. God bless you, Hector. May you find peace and your son find healing.

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Life is Fatal

Posted January 26, 2016 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I placed the phone back in its cradle and stared at it, not believing what had just come from it. Just five days before, the surgeon had assured the tumor they removed from my throat was a Hurthle cell lesion. The tumor was benign. Those types of tumors were always non-cancerous. So how could I have gone from that to incurable in one phone call?

I was only thirty-five.

The next few days rushed by in a blur. With every pain or unusual feeling in my body, I imagined the cancer raging through, devouring healthy tissue and sealing my fate. I met with who was reportedly the best oncologist in that part of the country. He confirmed that Hurthle Cell Carcinoma does not respond to any known treatment. It is slow growing but extremely aggressive. No one had ever survived it.

He suggested invasive treatments hoping against hope I would be the first to respond to what they already knew was of no effect. So I refused the treatment.

“I’d rather watch and wait,” I’d told him. He was as comfortable with that as anything else.

I walked back out to my car and just sat, looking up the cobalt blue sky and snow white clouds of the Florida winter. My heart drew toward Heaven and I prayed, “Well, Lord, once again I’ve been placed in a position where I have to trust You. The doctors give me no hope. No treatment. No cure. So I have no choice but to trust you.”

God’s rebuke was gentle but a rebuke nonetheless. In what was almost an audible response, He said, “Let me remind you, my child, that’s no consolation prize.”

That diagnosis of Hurthle Cell Carcinoma came twenty-three years ago today. I had a second surgery sixteen days later to remove the other half of my thyroid just to make sure no cancer cells had migrated to the other side. That was my decision and the surgeon felt it was a good option.

In the days that followed, my mother’s words burned in my soul. She’d written me a letter before she herself died of cancer. I’d watched her last few months as she struggled desperately to live the life she’d only existed through for decades. In that letter she said, “You must live while life is with you.” I determined that whether it was a day, week, year, decade or a millennium, I would live whatever life I had left to its fullest. I would experience the most that life had to offer so that when I drew my last breath, I would have no regrets.

That is why I went to foreign soil to minister to others. It’s why I worked in corporate America and had my own radio show. It’s why I play the guitar and listen for hours to the distant sound of a lonesome train whistle as it winds through mountains.

This is why, at the age of 56, I sold all my possessions, packed gear on a bicycle and headed off across the country to help women who were victims of violent assault. And it’s why today, Dr. Reba Hoffman drives an eighteen wheeler across our great nation.

It doesn’t make sense to most people. I’ve learned to accept that because thankfully, most of them never got the phone call that shattered their world. They never stared in the face of the truth we all live with that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

It may sound bizarre but I am eternally grateful for cancer. I’ve lived more in the last 23 years since that phone call than most people do in a lifetime. I’ve had great adventures, seen so many places and met the most amazing people.

I have all of you who live my adventures with me. You encourage me to keep going, even though sixty is only a year away. I’ve never been this old but I’ve also never felt so alive.

Every day is a gift. If you woke up alive this morning, you are blessed. Live life to its fullest TODAY. Dream dreams. Pursue them with passion. Grab all the gusto you can. Live your life with no regrets.

Let your heartbeat be the part of America that is alive and well.

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Whispers of the Past

Posted January 25, 2016 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I drove through the hills of Alabama and Mississippi as the brisk winter air rushed in the window. Patches of snow and ice dotted the landscape but my mind was on the past. For the first time since Road to Freedom 2.0 began, I was retracing this particular segment of my epic solo bicycle trip from 2013.

 

I passed the McDonalds in North Gadsden where I’d taken refuge from one of the worst thunderstorms in history. The nearby church pavilion where I’d spent the night looked different in the daylight. I prayed that since my visit the members of that church had learned to be more accepting of strangers. They hadn’t realized I was on God’s errand and had passed me off as a vagabond.

 

I double-clutched my way through town and wondered how I’d managed to ride my bicycle loaded with gear along this busy road. I was also grateful there was no bicycle in the path of my big rig. Familiar buildings and landscape flooded my heart with memories as Sand Mountain came into view.

 

My truck lugged upward, dragging the 43,000 pounds of cargo behind it. I’m sure if a stranger but fellow cyclist named Norman hadn’t stopped and insisted on ferrying me and my bike over the mountain, I’d have strained more than my truck.

 

I cut through the outskirts of Huntsville where I was born. During that trip, I’d wondered if that would be where God would have me settle. But, now knowing it is not home, I trucked on without an emotional attachment to the city of my roots. I made my way west, riding parallel to Tennessee, my new home and where my heart now is. When I pedaled this same road three years ago, I had no idea where home would be. Today I am proud to call Tennessee home.

 

I passed Ivy Green, Helen Keller’s childhood home. I could clearly see its well in my mind’s eye, the place on the property where Helen’s life changed. I laughed as I passed the Coon Dog Cemetery, recalling the lavish memorials owners had erected for their hunting canine companions.

 

Finally, it came into view. I changed lanes and made a left turn into the place I’d been watching for. I backed my truck into what could have been a parking space, climbed down out of the cab and hurried into the store. There I saw him. My heart sang. The man behind the counter looked up as I approached. His eyes grew wide.

 

“Reba! You returned.”

 

“You remember me?” I was astonished.

 

He ran around the counter and pulled me into a hard embrace. “How could I forget the bicycle lady who introduced me to her God.”

 

Tears bubbled up in my eyes but through them I could see his tears as well. For the next half hour, he told me how different things were in his family and with his wife since we first met. (read the original blog post from 2013 here).  He no longer blames himself for his misguided anger toward her he’d displayed early in their marriage. He realizes he was a victim of his own culture and upbringing. He finally forgave himself. I could tell he was at peace.

 

I finally and reluctantly said farewell and headed west, thanking God that not only had He reached the heart of this victim/perpetrator of violence, but had allowed me to see the fruits of my labor. This man had come to America as a child to find freedom, only to go into bondage. He was bound by his tradition where men are superior and women are treated poorly. He was bound by not knowing the true and loving God. But God set him free and just seeing him on Saturday, there is no doubt that he is free indeed.

 

The heartbeat of America is alive and well in rural Alabama.

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When the Bottom Falls Out

Posted January 18, 2016 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I inched my way through the predawn fog to pick up my orange juice in downtown Houston. I’d run it to San Antonio for an early afternoon delivery. Two hundred easy miles out Interstate 10. On the surface it sounded like a dream trip. But I knew better. I’d already looked at the satellite views and knew I was in for quite the challenge before the sun even came up.

 

I found my pick up point and parked in the street. There was no other place. I surveyed the area and prayed. It would take an absolutely perfect set up in order to get my 53 foot trailer into their lot.  Getting out would be almost impossible.

 

By God’s grace, I crossed four lanes of traffic to the left then wheeled sharp right into their tiny dock area. Using every inch of real estate, I set up and backed my trailer right into the door. Grateful for God’s anointing, I set about trying to develop a preliminary plan on how I was going to work through the maze at my delivery point in downtown San Antonio.

 

When I arrived, the guard told me they didn’t have anyone there to unload me and told me to go to a dirt lot two blocks away from their facility. I slowly maneuvered through their facility, trying to determine when the bomb had gone off. Trucks, trailers, cars and pickups were parked without rhyme or reason throughout the complex, effectively blocking the path I had to go. Pallets, truck parts and various pieces of scrap identified the facility more as a junk yard rather than a fresh milk and orange juice facility.

 

At long last I located the rear gate, crept through the narrow opening and turned right. Two blocks later I spotted the dirt lot. It looked hard packed and solid, a necessity with 43,000 pounds of orange juice in the trailer. I wheeled in and made a u-turn to position my truck to pull right out. Suddenly, the front of my truck fell about six feet and water splashed over my hood.

 

Without a conscious thought of what was happening, I instantly jammed the transmission in reverse, flipped to four-wheel drive and floored the accelerator. My back four wheels spun wildly, smoke billowing from them. My truck and trailer began to jackknife but I kept going.

 

At long last, my front wheels climbed over the top of the hole. My truck was safe. I pulled out onto a side street away from traffic and inspected my truck for damage. There was none visible. Just an enormous amount of mud completely covering the front of my truck.

 

A couple of business owners ran over to make sure I was alright. They told me a water main had ruptured in the area the day before. Though the surface of the lot appeared dry and solidly packed, it was not. The ground beneath had eroded. My entire truck and trailer could have fallen in. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Not one jar of orange juice was broken either.

 

I sat and thanked God for His divine intervention and protection. What could have been a tragedy turned out to be a praise report. I don’t know how people drive a truck without God. I’m grateful that I have Him. I lived to drive another day. I learned in a harrowing way that when the bottom falls out of my life, God’s grace really is sufficient.

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Henry the Liar

Posted January 12, 2016 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I walked across a deserted parking lot to an old country store. I couldn’t miss the old man sitting on a bench in front. His dog-a gangly mutt that looked older than his master—slept lazily at his feet.

 

Coffee. I needed coffee.

 

I mixed my concoction of go-juice and made my way through the maze of stacked boxes to the cash register just as the middle aged cashier glanced out the door. I followed her gaze.

 

“Do you know that man?” I asked, thinking perhaps he was homeless. I wanted to help.

 

“Oh him?” She asked, waving her hand dismissively. “That’s just Henry the liar.”

 

Satisfied that he was a harmless local, I asked, “Does he drink coffee?”

 

She confirmed his habit was the same as mine and I grabbed him a cup of java and, exited the store, and offered it to him as I sat on the bench beside him.

 

He looked up in amazement. Apparently not many folks paid much attention to him, let alone buy him coffee. I’m not very good at small talk so I climbed right to the pinnacle of my curiosity and jumped off.

 

“So why do they call you ‘Henry the liar’”?

 

“It’s a long story about a long time ago.”

 

“Well, I love history and I’ve got time.”

 

He smiled and gazed out in the distance, as if trying to locate a place in his past. Then he took a deep breath and words began to spill out.

 

It was the Great Depression and he was just a teenager when their small town was hit so hard, it was about to disappear. Folks were leaving in droves, having no choice but to follow the bread. Henry grew up in this town and it broke his heart, particularly when his girlfriend’s family fell among those who left.

 

As he walked through the woods one day feeling completely helpless, he imagined how things would look in a profitable town where everyone had work. Life would be righted again. He went home and told his parents he heard a big company was coming to town to open up a new factory. He went on to say he met the men in charge of bringing the factory to their town. They were astounded.

 

The news spread quickly and the story took on a life of its own. Henry suddenly found himself headlong in a whopper of a lie. Many times he thought about owning up to his fantasy but the positive impact on his little town was unmistakable.

 

So, he kept it going. In fact, he became the liaison between this company and the town. He’d go on trips to meet with the company to “iron out the particulars”. While the mayor and other city officials prodded for information and coached him on what the town needed, Henry the Liar would camp out in the woods until the day he was scheduled to return.

 

Hope filled the streets. Townspeople was smiling again. Laughing. Singing.

 

When things got bad, they would say, “It will all be better when the factory comes. We have to hang on.”

 

For two years the façade continued as Henry kept up his work of fiction. Finally, he asked for a meeting with the townspeople on behalf of “the factory”. That night everyone was there. There was the buzz of electricity throughout the place as they eagerly awaited the good news.

 

Henry faced the crowd, cleared his throat and spilled the beans. “The factory” had produced hope in the lives and families of those people. They’d held on, helped each other and that hope propelled them to not only survive, but to thrive in the midst of the Great Depression.

 

There was silence. Utter stunned silence. The longest pregnant pause in history. Then one by one, as reality dawned on them, the townspeople stood and clapped. Finally, the room erupted into applause. Indeed, Henry the Liar had saved their town.

 

From that moment on, he was known as Henry the liar… the one who singlehandedly saved the town. Today, when he’s called the name, he smiles because he knows it is a term of endearment. His heart swells with pride.

 

He’s old and sick. He won’t be with us much longer but he will pass from this world to the next in the same town he grew up in and lied to save. His heartbeat will continue to pulse strongly long after he draws his last breath. It’s the Heartbeat of America. It will never fade.

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In the Presence of Giants

Posted November 30, 2015 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

My friend Mary, her husband and I wound our way through the wet country roads yesterday morning. Even in the rain, the rolling hills and old country barns were breathtaking. My thoughts alternated between the present and my childhood as we drove.

Instead of Sunday morning church, we’d opted to visit two very important people. The first house, that now familiar blue structure I’ve come to recognize and love, came into view. We piled out of the car and into Willie Shelton’s home. Each time I am in his presence, I learn something new. And I respect the World War II veteran all the more.

I marveled as he told of being sidelined on his way to church by a snake one Sunday long ago. Wanting to protect himself and his family from the reptile, he grabbed the snake by the tail and cracked it like a whip. The motion was so violent, its head came right off, bloodying his clean and pressed white Sunday-go-to-meetin’ shirt.

I was impressed that he would even pick up a snake, let alone beheading it with one crack of his wrist. I always learn something from Mr. Shelton through his stories and today was no exception. Knowing we’d see him in a few minutes for Sunday Thanksgiving family dinner, we cut our visit short and headed toward the second home.

Deep in the heart of Chewalla, Tennessee, we wheeled into the driveway of the brick structure. A half dozen cars were in the driveway and folks ran through the rain carrying all sorts of food. Moments later we rapped on the door and entered the private room of Jeff York.

I’d met Jeff on the Road to Freedom tour. Hard to imagine it was over two years ago. Jeff stood bent double leaning on pillows against his desk. It’s where he spends his days tapping away on his computer keyboard. He doesn’t stand taller than three feet, and yet his personality, his quick mind and his wisdom reach to the outer limits of humankind.

Jeff has lived his life riddled with pain. A rare disease has fused every single joint in his body. He has never touched the top of his head. The only joints that move are his fingers. But Jeff does not feel sorry for himself. He uses those joints to write. He’s a freelance journalist for many newspapers in the area. He interviews individuals by phone and writes articles about them. Jeff has an uncanny ability to see into the human condition and truly understands people.

His condition has worsened to the degree that he can no longer get out and do the things he loves like attend church and coach softball. Yet, if you want to get up to speed about the people of Chewalla, Guys, Ramer, Selmer and other surrounding towns in rural Tennessee, all you have to do is ask Jeff. He knows what’s happening with everyone. He’s also not bashful at all and will tell you exactly what he thinks without reservation.

A short visit concluded, we drove back down the country roads as I pondered both of these amazing men. One had left his family behind and gone off to fight a war. The other stayed home and is still fighting one. Both of these men stand among giants in rural Tennessee. Out of the rolling hills in this amazing part of America, brave men fought. One came home, farmed the land and built things out of wood. The other tells stories for the benefit of others using his hands, the only things on his body that will move.

I’m enriched, yet humbled by both of these men. I feel wealthy for knowing them and being blessed to spend time in the presence of giants. I’m also reminded of how small I am compared to these mighty men. I certainly have a benchmark to strive for.

My life is forever changed by being in the presence of giants. Men who with no accolades just quietly do what they were created to do, without reward, and to so many, without notice. Yet, they leave a permanent imprint on their world and keep the heartbeat of America beating strong. Thank you men of valor for being who you are!

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