Tennessee Homecoming

Posted September 2, 2015 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I sat in the back seat having an easy conversation with my great friend, Mary as her husband navigated the narrow curved roads in the backwoods of Western Tennessee. Her son road shotgun. I stopped midsentence when I gazed out the window to find my new home come into view.

Decades of searching for where I belong suddenly paled into insignificance. I was home. As I walked around the home, I didn’t care about the architecture, though it was excellent and well planned. Instead, my attention went to the people who surrounded me.

After decades of coming home to a quiet and empty place, the house I would soon be hanging my hat was filled with people. Real, genuine, good, fun-loving people who were not only gracious, they welcomed me with open arms. Friends. New neighbors. They treated me like one of their own.

After taking care of business, we traveled a short distance to reunite with war hero Willie Shelton. He was as humble and gracious as he’d been when I met him two years ago. We talked like old friends in the house that Mary grew up in. When I met her twin sister, she acted as though we’d known each other for years.  

The next day, I needed to run some errands. Mary’s son willingly offered his jeep so I would not have to take my truck. I’d developed a slight infection in my hand and made a quick trip to urgent care for antibiotics. They treated me like I’d been a patient of theirs for eons. When I went to get the prescription filled, the cashier at Walmart asked to step down to the other end of the counter so the pharmacist could put my medication in a bag for me. Though puzzled,  I did as I was told and the pharmacist approached me eagerly and told me much more than I needed to know about the simple antibiotic.

I mentioned my encounter to Mary and she looked at me as if I’d just grown a second nose. She told me that was pretty much common place around Tennessee. I’d never experienced that in the decades I spent in the Sunshine State. She recommended I get used to it.

Over the past two years, I’ve traveled in all 48 continuous states and Canada. Most were beautiful. All were unique but they just were not home. Truth be told, I’ve been on a journey my entire life trying to find home. I visited places, would like what I saw and would pray, “God, is this home?” Nothing ever fit. Because of how I grew up, I vowed that when I turned eighteen, I would call wherever I lived home. Unfortunately, I was in Florida. Florida is a wonderful place but it’s just not for me. I spent decades being true to my childhood vow. I resided in that state for a long time… an eternity to spend in a place that never felt like I belong.

Today I have a place to call home. Really, truly home. It’s not in the Great Lone Star State of Texas where I used to ride horses and play with cows. Nor is it in the Sunshine State, where I grudgingly walked through hot sand for over forty years. It’s in the Tennessee hills, a land rich in history. My home is where men fought and died for what they believed in, and forged the backbone of this great nation we call America. Strangely, my heart has been here for quite some time. I just did not know it.

For the first time in my life, when I started Dusty and pulled out onto the open road again, I did so with a twinge in my heart. I could have stayed longer. One more walk through the countryside. Another dinner and sharing life with amazing people.

I’ll look forward to coming home again. Until then, I’ll learn to wear orange without thinking it’s a Florida Gator, make plans and dream about my next Tennessee Homecoming.

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Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof

Posted August 27, 2015 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

As I not so patiently waited in line to be seated by a hostess at a local restaurant, I heard an unusual voice behind me say, “Hello gorgeous.” Assuming a very pretty lady had just entered into the place, I turned to take a gander. Instead, I saw a tiny little man staring up at… well… me!

I couldn’t help myself. I struck up a conversation with Willard, the “little man” or “midget” as he prefers to be called. “It just seems to fit,” he told me.

When I asked what he did for a living, he immediately said he was a forward in the NBA. Without missing a beat I asked, “So how’d your stats wind up at season’s end?”

He gazed at me with the eye of intrigue for a few seconds then said, “You see it, too! I can just tell.” He went on to say that he has lived in a BIGGG world as a small person all his life. Others see him as a little—and sometimes insignificant—part of society. But he says, “In my spirit, I’m ten feet tall! And bulletproof!”

I opted to sit at the counter so Willard opted to go right along with me. He managed to climb the high stool and made a joke about his feet dangling off the side of a cliff. Not the least bit self conscious about his size, he chose a long time ago to capitalize on it. “I believe you take what you have and just make the best of it.”

The more time I spent with him, the more I wanted to know so, ummm, I asked. He laughed when he told me he ran away from home to join the circus as a sideshow. Then he told me the truth. Willard works as a grocery store clerk at the local supermarket. He has a special ladder to reach the high places he has to stock, which he says is “anything higher than the floor.”

I laughed right along with him because I could tell he was genuine in his poking fun at himself. But I asked if he ever felt uncomfortable. He looked as if he was peering into a distant past and said,

 

When I was a kid, my parents didn’t understand why I was “abnormal”. They did not want to have anything to do with me. I don’t hold it against them because they just didn’t know. But even at my size in a great big world, I figured out that life was the greatest gift I could have. So, I decided right then and there I was going to LIVE!!!!

Far from being politically correct about his height—or lack thereof—Willard calls it like he sees it, and as far as he is concerned, he’s a midget. He’s accepted being short but if you were in his presence for five minutes, you’d know he is truly ten feet tall… AND bulletproof!

Thank you Willard, for a wonderful and entertaining dinner. You are my hero!

 

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How the Strong Survive

Posted August 26, 2015 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I sat in the restaurant at a truck stop in Wyoming and as usual, I was gazing around the room seeing who I could pounce on and find out their life story. In the back corner, a middle aged man sat all to himself. He seemed genuinely happy, yet there was a look in his eye that told a sad story.

So, I struck up a conversation with Milton.

He and his wife had only been married two years when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Louisiana coast. Milton lost his home and every belonging they had. Their dog drowned saving their new born baby. They were taken by bus to Texas.

This husband and father had two choices. He could steal or he could drive a truck. He decided to take to the open road. He went from being a white collar office executive for a Fortune 500 company to driving a tractor trailer.

When I asked him how he felt about that, I was amazed by his response.

“My wife and my baby are alive and well. I am blessed. Driving a truck is honest work. Hurricanes won’t stop them. It doesn’t really matter what a man does as far as his vocation. I did what I had to do to feed my loved ones. There’s no shame in that.”

I asked how he dealt with being away from his family for weeks at a time.

“I miss them… but not as much as I would have if Katrina had snatched them away from me. At least I can go home to them. We got another dog to replace Buddy who died. We also had two more kids since then but there’s no way we could have replaced Shamika if Buddy hadn’t saved her.”

I was so curious how the baby wound up being saved by the dog so unashamedly I asked him that, too.

“The wall of the house caved in from all the water. My wife had been sitting there just holding the baby but was knocked down by the rush of water. She hit her head and was unconscious. It was almost dark and I didn’t see where the baby had gone. I was trying to save my wife. The baby was swept up and away from us. Buddy jumped in, swam to the baby and held her head above water until we could get to her. He swam and then drug the baby to a high place. Then he got swept away and drawn under by the strong current. By the time we got to the baby, Buddy had taken in too much water and died.”

I wanted to feel sorry for this man but somehow, I could not. He had a resiliency like few I’ve ever seen. He was happy, grateful, proud and prosperous, despite being caught right in the crosshairs of the biggest storm of the century. Milton and his family has built a new, albeit very different life than he ever imagined. They endured danger, destruction and death, but insist on continuing to live life, and living it to its fullest.

As we said our farewells and headed off in separate directions, I felt honored to have met this man, if not a bit guilty for complaining about anything that happens in my life. If I listened closely, I’d hear the heartbeat of America within him that, despite the hurricane force winds of adversity, is alive and well. 

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Reunion With a Hero

Posted August 24, 2015 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I wound through the hills and narrow curves until the familiar blue farm house came into view. Though it had been two years since I’d been here, it was almost as though I’d never left. Within moments, Willie Shelton opened the door with his distinctive smile welcoming me inside.

Well into his nineties, Mr. Shelton is a decorated World War II veteran. He was wounded in battle three times. Yet, today he is a mild mannered man who just farms his land and refuses to wear his medals of a distant war on his chest as he just goes on living life.

I met Willie while on the Road to Freedom Bicycle Tour 2013. He’d opened his home to me—a total stranger—and fed me with vegetables right out of his garden. He is humble but there is an unmistakable inner strength that guided him through Europe as an Army infantryman during the height of the big war.

I sat glued to Mr. Shelton on Saturday as he told how he and one other soldier captured fifteen German soldiers and while escorting them to a prison camp, they captured more and more soldiers. By the time the two soldiers reached the prison camp, they had compelled over seventy Germans to lay down their guns and march to the American POW camp.

When he was shot, Mr. Shelton survived by playing dead when the Germans came through, even when they poked him with bayonets to make sure he was lifeless. Once he survived attack by diving into a pile of manure.

As with most World War II veterans I’ve met, Mr. Shelton was not boastful about his experience. He just went. And he fought. Then he came home and lived his life to his fullest in the hills of Tennessee. He received a purple heart and two clusters for his wounds. Though he never ascended above the rank of Private First Class, he did the work of many while on the battlefield in France, Germany, Africa, Italy and Austria.

As I tried desperately to understand what it was like for him to be on another continent fighting for freedom, I also wondered what type of country I’d live in today if it hadn’t been for Willie Shelton. He willingly fought for my freedom over a decade before I was born. I don’t live in tyranny. I am not abused or mistreated, all because a quiet man from Tennessee and thousands just like him went across the ocean, took up arms and defended the most precious gift America as given me—freedom!

It’s not free. Mr. Shelton paid a handsome wage to secure my freedom. He has the scars to prove it. I am honored to know such a man. Today he lives his life in peace in the gentle rolling hills of Tennessee. I know there is nothing I can do to repay him for what he’s done for me. Even if I could, he would never allow it. That’s who he is. He is a patriot. A soldier. A hero.

Thank you Willie Shelton for allowing me to spend time with you once again. Thank you for your sacrifice so I can live in the greatest nation on earth. Because of you, the Heartbeat of America remains alive and well! 

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Forever Joplin

Posted August 22, 2015 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

The sun peaked over the rolling hills to the east as I pounded the pavement on my early morning run in Joplin, Missouri. A cool, gentle breeze kissed my cheeks as birds sang out to encourage me to continue my trek.

I rounded a corner into a neighborhood just as a little old lady was bending to pick up the morning paper.

“You’re out early. Can’t say’s I blame you. Beautiful morning, ain’t it?”

I took that my cue to stop and strike up a conversation. Poor lady. She never saw it coming. Something had intrigued me since the tornado ripped through this town on May 22, 2011 and I needed to ask the local about it. Once I confirmed that she was born and raised there, I dove in.

“When the tornado hit and in its aftermath, what were you thinking about?”

“My friends, my family and neighbors who lost so much.”

“So the tornado did not strike your house?”

“Oh yes, they had to rebuild the whole backside of our house. And our barn was completely gone.”

I was astonished. “And yet, you were thinking about everyone else?”

Gertrude (Gerty) looked at me as if I’d just stepped out of an alien spaceship. “Why of course I did. Why on earth would I not?”

I went on to explain to her about the Road to Freedom Tour and how media, television, the movies and politicians have led us to believe Americans are not like that any more. That we don’t take care of our own. That the America I grew up in is gone forever.

A tear trickled down Gerty’s cheek as she gazed off into the past through the window of her soul. She took a long breath then said, “No one told Joplin. We’re a small town of good folks who love each other and our country. Right after the storm the biggest problem we faced was that we couldn’t find our loved ones, not because we were injured or missing. But we couldn’t confirm everyone was alright because we wouldn’t stay at home.We all insisted on going out  to help each other. Their homes were damaged, even destroyed and yet their first concern was for others. It took over a week for us to make sure everyone in the family was safe.

“That’s who we’ve always been and we’ll remain forever Joplin.”

I thanked her for taking the time to answer my question and jogged off. With each strike of my foot on the pavement, I clearly heard the sound of the Heartbeat of America with gratitude that once again I received confirmation that it is alive and well.

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Tribute to a Pioneer

Posted May 13, 2015 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

In Sacramento, a single mom rose early in the morning, got kids off to school and then went to school herself. Not just any school, Dee Sova was learning to drive a truck. It was a day and time twenty five years ago that women just didn’t do that. Yet, Dee recognized it was a great way to provide for her family and was willing to endure the criticism and ridicule to make a better life for her family.

Defying the odds, this lady became a Class A CDL truck driver and has continued blazing the trail for other women for more than a quarter century. At the pinnacle of her success, tragedy struck in the worst possible way for a mom… and for a commercial driver. Her daughter was struck and killed by a drunk driver right in front of her high school. 

Suffering an insurmountable loss, Dee continued to forge ahead, only now with another commit to help spread the word about drunk driving and hopefully prevent such a needless tragedy for others. Through grief immeasurable, she pushed ahead, joining forces with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). She took her pain and is turning it into gain. 

Dee mentors women who are truckers and those who want to be. In fact, she is responsible for me making the final decision to become a trucker babe. She is the real deal and poured into me, a total stranger, in such a way I felt safe entering the strange and foreign world called trucking.

She gives every ounce of energy she has for others. And she helps others endure the horrific pain of losing a child, something so unnatural that no parent should have to go through it. Dee has partnered with her company, Swift, to raise awareness and funds to be able to continue the great ministry of MADD. This giver is asking for our help. Swift is matching funds she raises dollar for dollar. This will make available the help for others at a time they need it the most–when they are suffering through the senseless loss of a child because someone was so irresponsible, they consumed alcohol and got behind the wheel of an automobile.

My prayer for each of you reading this is that you never suffer the way Dee and so many others have when they get that dreaded call telling you your child was killed by a drunk driver. Unfortunately in our country, it happens every day. There is an army of mothers like Dee who stand at the ready to help during that moment and the emotional maze that follows. 

If you are able to contribute to Dee’s MADD team in any way, it would go twice as far to keep this needed ministry going. I did donate and count it a privilege to partner with her in this way. I’ve never done this before on my blog but this is one cause I hope we all support and never need.

Thank you, Dee, for being my truck driving mom. Thank you for sowing into my life in such a powerful way. Thank you for allowing me to give back to you in such a tangible way.

If you would like to read Dee’s story and make a contribution of any size, click here.

Through it all, Dee and thousands of moms like her are truly the heartbeat of America.

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A Time to Plant

Posted May 11, 2015 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

As the wind whirled and the skies turned dark in Illinois, Indiana and Missouri, farmers worked feverishly to plow up the fallow ground the harsh winter left behind. It’s planting season in the farm country of our nation. I have to say I’ve not yet met a lady farmer, only men of few words. It seems they silently communicate with the soil, the seeds and the nutrients and have no need to utter words out loud. Getting them to talk is like trying to blast a stubborn stump out of the middle of the field.  

I met Mark in a seed store next to a truck stop. He’s a seventh generation farmer. Didn’t even know they existed. All he’s ever done was plant and harvest. Strong as an ox yet shy as a school boy, Mark wore leather skin marred by years of exposure to summer sun. He’s seen tornadoes run a hundred miles across the horizon, and watched as hail the size of baseballs beat his crops to the ground.

He’s also watched as thirsty plants withered, cracked and dried from drought. 

Mark is a principled man. He’s up before daylight and works until sunset during farming season. And, just like Jud the miner, he just does NOT complain. Things go wrong. They always will. Yet rather than ranting and raving–or calling the media–Mark just calmly solves the problem and moves on with what he does. He’s a farmer and that’s what farmers do.

I felt compelled to ask him what he would say to America if he had the chance. This is what he said:

Get back to being American. Americans don’t hurt each other. Americans don’t kill each other. They don’t hire greedy lawyers hell bent on getting rich at our expense. Americans work hard for a living. Americans respect the flag, they respect authority and each other. We don’t go sticking our noses in other people’s business and we don’t go looking for trouble.” He shook his head and finally added, “We need to be America again.

Such profound words for someone who’d spoken so few during our encounter. His eyes glistened as he spoke of the America he loves and he feels the full weight of what he sees happening in our great nation. Mark spoke from his own heart but echoed the heartfelt cry of all true Americans. 

As I drove away I was once again reassured that the heartbeat of America is alive and well in the heartland. I was also challenged to make sure I’m plowing up the fallow ground of my soul and planting seeds that will one day yield a bountiful harvest. Today in my heart and America, it is indeed a time to plant.

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Out of the Depths of the Earth

Posted May 9, 2015 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

On a misty morning in the hills of Kentucky, a door opened on a shack in the middle of a field. A human raccoon appeared in the doorway, the whites of his eyes the only thing that wasn’t black. Jud had worked the hoot owl shift in the coal mine, one that supplied the rock necessary to make all the charcoal we use on our grills during cookouts.

As he emerged from the mine elevator, the look on Jud’s face was familiar, the same one I have at the end of a long driving day. He was tired, yet strangely satisfied that he’d put in a hard day’s work. Jud is a fourth generation coal miner. “Born to mine” he said. “I feel more at home in the earth’s belly than topside.”

I tried unsuccessfully to imagine what it would be like working in complete darkness. Coal does not reflect light.  The only light he has is the one on his hardhat. The air is thin and filled with particles of coal. They stick to his lungs with every breath. And yet, day after day for decades he descends into the bowels of our planet and harvests trinkets of black diamonds. 

I asked Jud if anyone had ever thanked him for what he does. He looked at me as if I’d lost my marbles for even suggesting that someone should. He’s a humble man, yet tough as the coal he mines. He doesn’t complain about the working conditions. He’s grateful for the job he has. It’s put food on his table, clothes on his back and provided for two children to go to college. 

He’s not a man of many words and it didn’t take long for him to run out of them. I shook his hand, knowing I’d just felt the heartbeat of America. I didn’t care that I got coal dust on my hand from the exchange. After all, Jud did leave a lasting impression. 

I thought about my chance encounter with Jud for a long time. He’s what America is made of. He’s what we need more of. Knowing he’s down below bringing up coal, I’m reinvigorated by the truth that even in 2015, the heartbeat of America is alive and well.

 

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Ladies of the Evening, Children of the Light

Posted May 6, 2015 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Two nights in a row.
Two Prostitudes.
Two southern towns.
Two souls saved.

Just when I thought my friend, Brandilyn Collins’ “Pitchin’ a Fit” is just a great read, something happened.

One night it was “Miz Sexy” in Montgomery, Alabama. The next night it was “Blue Satin” in Hot-lanta. Each of them knocked on the door to my truck hoping I’d purchase her services. The trucking industry calls them lot lizards. I call the lost souls so rather than shooing them away, I hopped out of my truck and struck up a conversation.

They both lived rough lives and had basically been on there own for a LONG time. Not bad gals at all. Just misguided and in life situations where they had to rely on their own survival instincts. I didn’t have Bibles but as it turned out, they most likely would have not been receptive. But I handed them each  a copy of the humorous book written by my friend. Brandilyn had just sent me some copies.

Rain dampened their, umm, business so they had some down time. The next morning a very strange thing happened.

On two consecutive mornings, each of these women knocked on my door a second time. At first I thought they were still working and just didn’t remember that I wasn’t buying. But, I saw tears in each of their eyes. Each of them had read Brandilyn’s book (or at least part of it) overnight.

They said they soooo identified wtih the feelings portrayed and asked me if I could help them. I was able to lead each of them to The Lord and point them in a Godly direction.

Each of them clutched that paperback like it was a brick of gold. The books were damp from the rain and were already showing what would soon become dog ears. Their countenance had changed. It glowed somehow as if they’d been washed clean. I saw hope in their eyes, something boldly absent the nights before.

I’d be foolish to think that would be the end of the story. It would be so easy for them to go back to their business as soon as the kiddie ran low. So I contacted local street ministries in each town and told them what had happened. Each agreed to follow up with them.

Today on the streets of Montgomery and Atlanta, there are two woman. I met them as ladies of the evening, selling their bodies for supper money. I left them as children of the light, filled with hope of a better life… eternal life forged by a God who created them and loves them.

Doesn’t get much better than that. 

Get Brandilyn Collins’ book “Pitchin’ a Fit” here

 

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Ice Cream Man

Posted May 5, 2015 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Last Sunday as I picked up a load of frozen food in downtown Chicago, the unmistakable and unique sound of a bicycle bell blew in with the strong winds. I followed that sound around the corner of the building thinking I’d see a little girl on a pink bike. Instead, I found an ice cream vendor. Vladamir is a Russian immigrant. He and his family were granted exit visas and came to our great nation in search of that better life many of us take for granted. 

Day after day, Vladamir pedals his three wheeled bicycle around the streets of downtown Chicago ringing his bell. Over a hundred people each day flock to his bike to buy the ice cream he keeps frozen in the freezer. He says he makes more money in a week selling ice cream on three wheels than he made in a year back in his home country.

Vladamir is an entrepreneur. He saved money from his ice cream sales and bought a bicycle taxi. This custom built bike can carry two or three people around the streets of Chicago, all by his strong legs. They see the sights and he lives his dream of being in America. So, while his daughters attend dance class and his son baseball practice, Vladamir sells frozen novelties during the day and chauffeurs sightseers around by night.

I watched as a dozen kids ran to his bike. He knew each of them, their favorite ice cream and had it ready for them as they stepped up. He spoke to parents and clearly had long since earned their respect. They trusted him with their children and their treats. 

I asked Vladamir what his greatest dream is. He said it was once to come to America. Now that he has done that, his new dream is to become an American citizen. “I would never dream of anything else in my entire life,” he said, “because if I become American citizen, then I will have everything.”

Since I’m a cyclist, I was fascinated by his contraption so I asked him if I could ride it to see what it was like. He agreed and I lugged about fifty yards before stopping. No granny gears like my fancy custom built touring bike. This bike had one gear: TOUGH! Yet this pedal pusher never complained. He just pushed one over the other in search for customers. I felt embarrassed and a bit ashamed that I’d even wanted to utter thoughts of my discomfort. 

Hard work. Sweat. Toil. And all of it with a smile. I have no doubt he will be successful. Life is good and the heartbeat of America is alive and well in the windy city!

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