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Walking Through The Store

Still standing near the four-way stop in the community where I live is Versailles Grocery, vacant, with rusting RC signs and a reminder of a day when the news came from a stop at the store rather than a click on a channel. The old store building was in need of repair and a cousin of mine along with his family members recently gave it a new look for the community’s sake. I stopped by the other Saturday as they were putting on a new back door and walked through the old friend’s interior and could almost hear the area farmers gathered to feed hungry hay hauling crews and discuss the latest weather conditions.  

I grew up in that old store and received some valuable education like how to appreciate people different than I was, respect my elders, take time to enjoy the fun things of life and realize that peanuts in a cold drink is the grandest treat known to man - at least in Versailles. Today, that old grocery is nothing but an empty building, located at a crossroads and a four-way stop.  The days of its existence are only a memory to those who shopped there.  Much like in other small rural communities across this state, the country store has given way to the large city supermarkets and the stop-and-go gas stations. The country stores that many of us have fond memories of from our childhood are rapidly going the way of many things in rural Tennessee. There are still a few scattered across the state that resemble the stores we grew up with, but most are standing vacant with rusting feed signs and bread company screen doors hanging from one hinge. I appreciate my kin taking time to at least preserve the outer shell of what made me who I am.  

Back when we used that store, my parents got by with a whole lot less than those who shop in today’s large markets due to us living on a farm and growing much of what we ate. I can remember going in with a list and handing it to Miss Ruth who gathered everything up, placing each item in a paper bag. Usually she wrote us up a ticket in the charge book that we paid at the end of the month when the milk check came from the Carnation plant where we sold our milk.  

Today, I have become just like everyone else, removed from those days of Miss Ruth’s store. We have all become spoiled and demanding consumers who are use to the many selections and items available in today’s modern supermarkets.  Not only do we enjoy more selections, but we also enjoy using less of our income for food.  In 1960, the average American used 18 percent of their income on food for their families. Today’s modern family uses less than 10 percent of their income for food. That’s a major change in disposable income that the majority of us take for granted, but really shouldn’t. The reason our food doesn’t cost us most of our paycheck is due to the American and Tennessee farmer. They have become more efficient and produce the safest and least expensive farm commodity in the world.   

All of us are aware that farmland and farmers are becoming less and less each day.  From 2007 to 2010, 1,331,200 acres of agricultural land was converted and developed nationally, and in the state of Tennessee we have been losing more than 65 acres of farmland per day. The average size of a farm in our state is approximately 142 acres. That means every two and a half days in Tennessee a farm goes under a parking lot or housing development. Sort of scary isn't it?  

During that same period it also means Tennessee has fewer farmers. That’s folks doing something else other than providing our food and fiber.  If a factory closes with people losing their jobs, every TV station in America will report the story.  However, our only concern has been if the price of a gallon of milk goes up a few cents or if the wheat whey is safe in our dog food.  

Automobiles can go up $2,500 in price and we only want to know if they have it in our favorite color.  Milk goes up and we start drinking water from a plastic bottle.  

It’s time we thank the Tennessee farmer for providing us a great deal at the supermarket. They do a good job. Each and every day the number continues to decline, but they are very efficient in what they do. Let’s hope this year will be a good one for Tennessee's farmers and the final harvest for them will look real good.  

Some say it may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a farmer to feed one.  


Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at      

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Let Kids Be Kids

During my days of “full-employment,” I thought once I retired that stress would be something I would only feel during selecting a different choice on the buffet at the pizza place. I have found that not to be the case, as I now become a granddaddy once again. Waiting at the hospital for another little Read boy to make his appearance does put stress on my older way of viewing things.  

I grew up in the country landscape of this great state where I had the chance to be a part of a lot of "grass roots" folks who enjoyed life. Being born in a log house in Rutherford County at an early age, I learned that each day is what you make it, and if you don’t, no one else will. However, since grandchildren have come on the scene, my outlooks have turned into you better look or before you know it, it’s over.  

One of my favorite "grass roots" people was Mr. Lonnie Safley who could spin a yarn better than anyone I have ever met. He told a story one time about a family who lived in the backwoods of our state and it seems the man’s wife went into labor in the middle of the night and the doctor was called out to assist in the delivery.  

There was no electricity back then, so the doctor handed the father-to-be a lantern and said, “Here, you hold this high so I can see what I’m doing.”  It wasn't long before a new Tennessean was born into the world.  

Being happy with the birth of his new son, the father started to put the lantern down, but the doctor said, “Don’t be in a rush to put the lantern down... I think there’s yet another one to come.” Sure enough, within minutes a new little Tennessee baby girl was born.  

Now, being even more happy, the father started to set the lantern down to hold his new babies, but the doctor once again told him to hold on because it looked like another child was about to enter the world.  

Being somewhat confused, the father looked at the doctor and asked, “Do you think it’s the light that’s attractin’ ‘em?”  

As the number of my grandchildren increase, I also wonder if it’s the light that’s attractin’ ‘em, but my concern also goes to what will attract them in the future. I had the opportunity to grow up in the country during the fifties and sixties, where it was less stressful for a child than today, especially on a dairy farm in rural Rutherford County. With all that has happened since September 11, 2001, I feel for today’s children and can only hope that their childhoods will be as enjoyable as mine was on the farm.  

I had the chance to be a boy prior to Internet, computers, cable TV, video games, shopping malls, two showers a day and peer pressure clothes. We never feared going to school, unless we didn’t have our homework. School included the basics, such as reading, English, math, history, shop (for the boys) and home economics (for the girls). FFA and 4-H were not really a choice, it was just what everyone did. The only Common Core was the fact that we were kids who respected our educators and each other. Our core came from the home where if you got into trouble at school, you were for sure in trouble when you got home.  

Terrorism was not even a word back then. People seemed to respect life and the other person’s way of life. Heroes back then were white-hatted cowboys, the police, presidents, TV star dogs and our parents.  

During my early years, school classes were small and gospel revivals were large. Today, that seems to be reversed.  

You never heard a country kid say that they were “bored.” They knew that using that term could result in some added activities directed by their father.  Those activities could include cleaning out the barn, cutting out a fencerow, restacking hay, or even worse for a farm boy, helping his mother in the house.         

Times have changed and in many places not for the good. Maybe it is time to reverse the size of our revivals and school classrooms. I know it is time to get our kids off the Internet and outside to once again be kids. We could even let them organize their own sports sometimes, instead of those being what we think they should be.  

As a granddaddy I feel it is time to let kids be kids. They will be adults soon enough, and believe me, you are an adult for a lot longer time than you are a kid.             


Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at

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Warming Up With Bubba Skinner

As the New Year makes its presence known by giving the state of Tennessee some real winter weather, that many seem to forget happens during January, those of us who have forgone the pleasure of holding a daily turn of employment seek to do things that doesn’t require us going outside, unless it is to feed something other than a human. In fact, I have heard of a few who plan to stay in until the outside temperature reaches their age, and for some, that will be a rather pleasant temperature.  

This morning the outside/inside gauge was resting on 15, which made me give up my walk in the woods and settle for a bit of household R and R watching my high debt TV, which is the better name for it due to what you can find on there. I must admit I have become somewhat attached to a TV program that aired back in the early 90s called “In The Heat of The Night.” It was one we didn’t watch back then, but for some reason I find it interesting now. I guess because the police usually come out ahead and I’m one who was taught to respect law enforcement.  

I now serve on our county’s Public Safety Committee and see many of the things that affect our county in the way of crime. I have gained some understanding of the operation of our Sheriff’s office, but nothing like the knowledge of our law enforcement individuals who have made protecting us their life’s work. To even learn more, I have agreed to participate in the Sheriff’s Citizen’s Academy, held twice a year, to see the daily operations firsthand. Hopefully, in fifteen weeks, I can come out knowing much more about the many aspects of police work from investigations to traffic stops. I know what they do is real life, not a TV program, and the support of the citizens that they protect is much needed.  

As I have been forced to watch the square box a little more the last few weeks, the things that have captured my attention have been many of the commercials. Since this is the cold and flu season, most of the ads have been dealing with what to take for all the problems associated with these diseases. The one that keeps coming to the forefront, and is noses ahead of the others, is the one that has to deal with mucus. I am becoming so tired of seeing that green talking thing with feet trying to go to work with folks. He says he is mucus, but to me he is something more from the nose that simply needs a tissue. I can’t understand why commercials don’t have a little more class.  

After the TV gets to become a little more than I can take, I usually go to the best standby of all for a really cold day, and that’s a good seed catalog. Usually, when days seem the coldest, those who produce seed catalogs know that somewhere out there a person like me is needing a reminder that spring is not that far off. I really enjoy going to the mailbox and finding brightly colored seed catalogs. It warms the cockles of my heart (whatever they are) just to get a catalog of this year’s hottest new seeds. Not meaning I’m going to plant all of them, but when you have cold cockles you need them warmed every now and then.  

I know the new way of looking at these items is by the Internet, and I do some of that, but something about holding a seed catalog in your hand is more personal than moving a mouse around and pointing. I was taught not to point anyway and the seed catalog is more in the right direction when dreaming about spring.  

The other day as I scanned through my catalog collection, a strange packet of materials had made its way into my treasure trove. There amongst the Burpee and my Farmers Almanac collections was an advertisement package of how to get a CD to do your income tax yourself. At that sight my cockles soon turned cold again and spring seemed to be not that pleasant of a thought. April 15 does come in the spring and it is one day I had just as well forget.  But, being an American citizen I do receive the opportunity to participate in this annual event and I guess I will just have to make the best of it.  

Hopefully, the weather will break soon and all us can get our cockles warm again, but in the mean time get those shoeboxes of receipts out of the closet, put them next to the seed catalogs and kick back for an afternoon of Bubba Skinner arresting someone down in Mississippi. Before you know it, we will have spring.               


Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at  

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January Cold Got To Me Already

With the holidays all over and the weather being pretty much on the cold side the last few weeks in Tennessee, winter has been the major discussion topic around every country store, church meeting and even over at the bank. Just trying to get from your car to the bank lobby with northern breezes whistling around every corner has given a totally new meaning to the term “cold cash.” It hasn’t been any different out on Uncle Sid and Aunt Sadie’s farm either. The other day as I pulled in the long gravel driveway of their farm, the winter wind was blowing to beat the band and the yellow glow of light coming from Aunt Sadie’s “Gone With the Wind” hurricane lamp in the window of their white frame house was sure a welcome sight on that dark cloudy day I made my visit. 

As I made my way up the walk I met Uncle Sid coming from his bird feeders where during this time of the year he looks after numerous cardinals. The wind whistling around the corner of the house was pushing us both to the kitchen door. Aunt Sadie met us both there wiping her hands on her apron and led me to the back portion of their house where the old couple spends most of their time. There, sitting on the round kitchen table, were some of Aunt Sadie’s teacakes and coffee for both Uncle Sid and myself. As we warmed up with the goodies we seemed to settle into some kind of trance watching a brief snow flurry out the back kitchen window, falling across the couple’s old farm. It was a pretty sight with the white landscaped hillsides and the many red cardinals getting seed from birdfeeders the couple religiously maintains. I guess I could have enjoyed it even more if it hadn’t been for the fact that we had already seen about all the cold we wanted over the past several days and it was only the first of January.

After enjoying another couple of Aunt Sadie’s teacakes, I asked Uncle Sid the question we all seemed to be asking right now, “When is the thaw coming?”

The old man never bothered to even look my way, but answered, “You're about as patient as a tomcat on a marble floor ain’t you. It’ll come. When it does, we will all start complaining about how hot it is and want to know when it is going to cool off. It has always worked that way and probably will for as long as we will be around. Folks up in Washington are still all hested up over global warming and if it continues to keep on warming like they say it’s going to, then we all are going to freeze to death.”

Over near the kitchen sink Aunt Sadie chimed in to add her two cents to the conversation and said, “Yeah. I’m just glad they haven’t done any studying on global chilling. If that comes about, we had better plan on Tennessee becoming a desert and selling our cattle to buy camels, because it sure will get hot if the chilling works like this warming they are talking about.”

I could see that little sparkle in her eye and knew she was enjoying her opportunity to compete with Uncle Sid. However, I knew he would not let it end like that.  

While dunking his teacake in his coffee cup, he answered her back, “You just may have something there Sadie. It is sort of like this wind chill factor and heat index we hear on the TV weather reports all the time. If they could reverse those two and give the chill factor in the summer and the heat index in the winter, instead of the other way around, it would make us all feel better about the temperature outside. Why it was so cold at the barn yesterday the rats in the corncrib were asking the cats for a snuggle.

I’ve been around for several years and I’ve seen weather cycles change every so many years and that seems to be what we have going on for us right now.  When we were young, the snow was always deeper and the winters colder than what we experience when we are older. Just wait, we will forget about the cold before long and start worrying about the heat and dry weather.  Always have and always will.”

You know, he’s right. It always helps to listen to a little common sense on a cold winter’s day.




Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at

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Open Up Commerce With Cuba Or Not

As the chartered four-prop plane touched down on the runway of the Josemarti-LaHarana Airport in Havana, Cuba, I, along with thirty other semi-anxious people, wondered to ourselves what the five days would hold back during a very hot time in July of 2001. The group was made up of farmers and agri-business leaders from the state of Tennessee traveling to the politically volatile markets of Cuba to learn more about the country and its people. I was along to cover the trip as the official media and to say I was somewhat nervous is a total understatement.  

Over the last several days as news has broken about the possible establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, I have had thoughts back to that trip of a lifetime where for a week we were completely out of contact with home, closely watched and on an adventure that I was glad I made. When I hear the discussion today about what we should be doing, as far as talking once again with Cuba, I have to think back to those days when I witnessed this island only 90 miles from our shore for myself.  

After an hour of passport checks and visa sampling, our group was escorted outside the airport to an awaiting chartered bus. Parked among ‘56 and ‘57 Chevys, which seems to be the car of choice for the Cuban people, we were placed on a plush Mercedes-Benz Busscar that seemed to stand out as a hint of capitalism in the socialist countryside. The sign placed on the front of the bus, denoting us as from the USA, also made our presence very obvious to the Cuban people who resided in the capital city of Havana. This vehicle became our means of transportation for those five days, as well as our haven of reprieve from the humid and hot Cuban days.  

Planning for this trip began months prior to actually leaving. Each member was required to have a passport, a visa from our government as well as the Cuban government and a travel affidavit giving us a specific license to travel to Cuba. Trips to Washington, D.C. were required to meet with Cuban officials so plans could be made for our group to visit with Cuban trade representatives once we arrived on Cuban soil. It was not a vacation but a trip designed to see for ourselves if there were possible new consumers in the country of Cuba for Tennessee agricultural products.  Knowing we were not the first to travel this well-beaten path to Havana, we understood our goal, that making the right contacts was important and the more information we could consume could be the difference in selling Tennessee milk, soybeans, poultry and other locally grown farm products over current supplies imported to Cuba from other trading partners around the world such as China, who makes up a large portion.  

One thing that did catch my attention as I traveled the streets of Havana was the fact that Cuba is a communist country.  Billboards everywhere projected images of government leaders, rebellion heroes and support for socialism. Everywhere you looked you saw monuments to military leaders and the ever-present red star.  

But, one thing that seemed to override all of those materialistic honors of government was the Cuban people. We were always treated with respect and gratefulness that we were there.  

I found that there is one language that our two countries understand fluently. When I was packing for the trip, I placed a major league baseball in my camera case thinking I could maybe get a Cuban baseball player’s autograph. I never did get an autograph, but whenever I wanted to get a crowd to talk to, I would take out the baseball and just sort of pitch it up in the air. Before long, I would hear the word “baseball” coming from our Cuban hosts. It opened doors to discussion and developed a friendly method of expressing friendship.  

The Cuban people love baseball and enjoy talking about their teams and our American teams. The director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs walked all the way from one side of a crowded room just to talk baseball with me. It also gave me the opportunity to ask him some questions about trade that I just might not have gotten the opportunity to do without that round, white ball.  

The baseball did not make it back to the USA with me. While making a diplomatic tour of a Havana cigar plant to see how they could use some of our tobacco for their products, I noticed a young, Cuban boy worker wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap. I approached the young man and asked him about his Yankees cap.  He didn’t understand me exactly, but he did express how proud he was of his cap. I reached in my camera bag and pulled out the baseball. As soon as he saw the regulation ball he immediately asked to hold and feel it for himself. Baseballs are scarce for most individuals in Cuba, along with many other things, and just to see a real major league ball was a thrill for the young man.  

You should have seen his face when I told him he could have it for his very own. It was as if I had given him great riches. A large smile came across his face and his fellow workers immediately asked if they could hold the ball. I am sure after we left he became the most popular boy in his area.  

Farm organizations for years have wanted someone to “throw out the first pitch.” The Cuban people have “taken the field” and it is now up to us to “go to bat” for improved trade relations between the two countries.                                                                                                                                            


Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at      

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Already Starting to Miss 2014

Just the other day, I picked up my annual Normal Rockwell calendar from the drug store for 2015, and as I thumbed through the months, checking out the next years dates, I began to feel a little sorry for 2014. Many people are glad to leave one year and move to another, due to a year full of problems, but I have been one to always enjoy the past. I feel with history you know what you have had and with the future there is certainly a lot of unknowns. However, in just a few days, it will become one of the years of the past and another time of only remembrance of yesterday.  

All of our thoughts and concerns during these last days of 2014 have been directed to what is going to happen to this nation when we turn our calendars over to the New Year.  The last few weeks have been spent with people watching the news and debating issues that seem to never go away. Maybe, in the next 365 days that will change, but if it doesn’t, then maybe we will change.  

I know the excitement of a new year and what it will bring is where we like to direct our thoughts during this time, but there were 365 days in this year that could also use our respect. The year 2014 has possibly seen as many changes in the way we do things as any so far in the 21st century. Cell phones have become the norm for all of us to the point where it is the normal standard to make an announcement before every event, including church and funerals, to silence them. This year, they have made it possible for us to even watch TV with these devices (which we really need more of) and the iPhone 6 has replaced cellulite on the hip.  

More people filed their income taxes electronically this year and refunds were received faster, as well as spent sooner. We now have our paychecks automatically deposited and no longer receive the enjoyment of knowing what it is like to really see how much we have earned when we do cash a check at the bank.  

Things that only appeared in comic books when I was a kid have become a part of our everyday lives.  Our pets are implanted with chips so they can be identified easier while our identity is being stolen faster. We now can Google electronic maps right from our phones to help us locate people we never go visit in the first place. We have visited more people this year with Facebook, without leaving the house, than ever before, but also with this same social media we are capable of making a mistake with the whole world knowing it in a manner of seconds.  

Farmers drive tractors using information from satellites in space and have the ability to produce more than ever before. We also have seen the increased interest in buying local and growing things in our own backyards.  

It is amazing how we seem to want to know the future before we take the time to take care of current business.  The year 2014 could be one of the most unusual years that we have ever seen, but we all may overlook it trying to see what is going to happen at this year’s New Year's Eve party.  

The year 2014 was an election year for many. We saw changes in Congress, our state and counties. Each will be facing new as well as old issues, but hopefully with fresh ideas.                            

Just what does 2015 hold for us?  That's a question that no one on this earth can answer. Will we have a good economy, better farm prices, a cure for cancer, normal weather conditions, non-normal weather conditions or whatever? That is yet to be seen.  

I do know that it will contain 365 days, with each day using 24 hours, no more or no less.  It will have a first day of spring, summer, fall and winter that will give all of us something to look forward to.             

There will be a Valentine’s Day for giving flowers and expressing our love, an Easter with jellybeans and brightly colored eggs, as well as a last day of school before summer vacation.  

We will honor our war dead on Memorial Day with flags and speeches, and celebrate our country’s birthday on July 4 with watermelons and fireworks.  

The year will contain cookouts, family visits, a fun-filled Halloween, a thankful Thanksgiving and a merry Christmas.  

In between all of this, there will also be days of our usual work, paying bills, buying groceries, going to school and helping others. However, each day will be whatever we make it. The important thing is to take care of each day and make the best of it.  

Nobody really knows what this next year will include, but the important thing is not to let it go by without giving it a chance. The “Good Book” tells us that no one knows what the morrow may bring.   

Happy New Year!    


Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at

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Time To Tell The Firestone Story

Back in the day when I held a real job instead of being retired, I remember one December evening riding on a shuttle bus to an event at the Governor’s residence with a number of media folks from around the state. We were all involved in journalism either in newspaper, TV, radio or as freelance writers and we joined together on this mode of transportation for this one night to enjoy a holiday get together. It was a cold and dark December night, which is how most writers start a suspenseful story - or at least Snoopy does - but the night was typical for December and it did lend itself for a good night to see Christmas lights as we drove through some of Nashville’s neighborhoods.  

As I sat there gazing out the window into the dark yards of unsuspecting Nashvillians, I overheard two of my fellow media types talking about how they had only done minimal decorating. They surmised that they did so due to the current economy and that they just didn’t wish for their yards to resemble “Whoville.” I still remember those individual’s remarks to this day, and as my grandfather often said, “It really stuck in my craw!”  

Recently, I have just finished, once again, turning my front yard and home into a display of lights and holiday gaudiness on a day that the winds blew out of the north and I, too, could have used an excuse of some type to keep my lighted reindeer in the barn for another year.  

However, I have been a part of the “Gaudy Christmas Decoration Society” for years and the economy has never really figured into my reasoning for lighting our hillside home with lights. All I have to do is reflect back to when I was a child growing up on our rural countryside farm and remember a very special Christmas shopping trip made by my mother to truly understand my fascination of outside lighting. I’ve told this story before, but I think this year it deserves to be told again. Our country needs some brightness and there is no better time to do so than at Christmas when there is no time for excuses.  

In the late fifties, Christmas lights on doorways and houses were something you may have seen in nearby cities, but not on the farms in our area. Of course, everyone placed their lighted live cedar Christmas trees in front of a window or as close as possible so it could be seen from the outside, but yard decorations were just not that prevalent back then. I remember the visits to town at Christmas time and seeing the storefronts full of lights and Christmas decorations. The homes along Murfreesboro’s Main Street were always beautifully decorated with evergreens and lights as they are still today. As a small child, those homes were a wonderment of holiday excitement and hopes.  

One year, about three weeks before Christmas Day, my mother and father arrived home from a trip into town.  As they unpacked their purchases from their trip to town, they pulled out two long boxes that were decorated with Christmas trees and had the logo of GE on the front of each box. The boxes had come from the Firestone store where my father bought everything.  

Each box contained a strand of 12 outdoor Christmas lights of multi-colors. Of course, they were the kind that if one burnt out they all would go out, but they were the most beautiful things I had ever seen.  My mother had saved back some special “Christmas money” to buy the lights to add some holiday cheer to our small Tennessee farmhouse.  

My father cut cedar greenery and helped us nail it around the front door. Then he and my sister attached the lights to each side of the doorway and ran a brown extension cord to the single light bulb socket located on the porch.  Each bulb was checked and the lights tested to see if they worked. After passing all tests, our outside display now waited for sundown.  

I’ll never forget standing in that dark and cold December night in our front yard as my mother turned on the porch light switch. It was as big of an event to me as the lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center in New York City.  

When the lights came on their blues, greens, reds, and yellows blended just right with the cedar greenery on the doorway.  As a small boy it signaled to me that the Christmas season had arrived.  

For years we used those lights from the Firestone store. They soon lost the paint from around the bulbs and you could see light through the cracks in their paint, but they still announced the arrival of the season to our rural countryside.  

So, I guess that is why I still put up my Christmas lights each year. To announce to others that the season has arrived at our house and to renew those same feelings I felt standing in that cold front yard many Christmases ago - a feeling of belonging and being loved by a family who cared to express the joy of the holiday season. Merry Christmas!    


Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at      

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Something Else To Begin

I have found out that when something ends something else begins, at least that has been the way it has worked in my life. Over the years I have held numerous titles, some given, some won and often many just happened because I showed up. One such title happened because I began something over 36 years ago and was the one still there at a most inopportune time.  

The title of widower is one that most men don’t look forward to, especially if they had a wife like mine. We had a wonderful thing going, but one September day, I gained the title of widower that now gets checked by a somewhat reluctant pen when I fill out applications that want to know my marital status. I never knew over those 36 years that she was preparing me for the job either. Often she would say, “Now watch what I’m doing, someday you may have to do this.” It may have been something to do with the wash, the cooking or other things around the house, but I would watch because with her you never knew when there just might be a test. And, let me tell you, the final exam has really been a doozy.  

I have held this title for more than five years now and must say I’m a pretty accomplished widower. This past Thanksgiving I cooked the turkey, made the dressin’ and fixed some of the best sweet potatoes with marshmallows that left folks smiling after they ate them. As I write this column, I have three loads of wash a’going, two phones busy and just finished vacuuming the house. Let me tell you, I was paying attention during all those widower lessons when it came to homemaking and the outside is doing all right as well.  

When the term widower enters the discussion, individuals have numerous images of what those people should look like. When I first was asked if I was a widower in an application, I immediately saw an old grizzled man, unshaven, felt hat, and living in a house with dim lighting. That night, I returned home and turned on all the lights. It took that application to make me realize that I had achieved a new title in life. I notified my daughter that she now had a new job to keep an eye on me so I would avoid the image of what I had pictured at the application process. She was to tell me if I smelled like an old man, looked like an old man or allowed my house to turn into the home of the hermit from Gunsmoke. Something may have ended, but now something else will begin.  

Christmas is now upon us and I am in the process of preparing my home for the holiday. Decorations are up and each year I attempt to do something new. Now, I know there are men out there who are saying to themselves this can’t be right. True, I’m not a decorator, but I’m a photographer who knows how to look at and copy pictures. My house is a copy of something I have seen somewhere else and it helps me compete in this world as a widower.  In the Bible it speaks of taking care of the widows but doesn’t say anything about us widowers. If the Bible is silent on the subject then it means for me to get busy and take care of myself.  

I needed something the other day for the house and a very kind lady suggested I could get it at the Old Timers Pottery. On a Sunday afternoon I ventured there and proceeded to look for the item and found a lot more. There in every aisle of the store were ladies with carts being followed by husbands with the look of being weaned on a dill pickle. Each man walked with a distinctive hump in their back and I could tell that on this particular Sunday they all had rather been at home asleep or watching a football game on TV instead of roaming through plastic roses. They just didn’t understand it was part of the test.  

I watched and saw wives show husbands flower arrangements, followed by asking their opinions on which one would work best. Each time the one that the husband chose was discarded and the other picked. I remembered those days and on that Sunday I understood why I was brought along on those Sundays past. I was there as the official quality control for my wife. Those husbands were there that Sunday doing the same thing, but also being taught a lesson on what is the best choice, much the same as they would have done showing the wife the proper lawnmower for the yard.  

As I said, things do end, but with every ending there is something else to begin.             


Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at      

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Farm Ponds Did Freeze Once Upon A Time

It had been one of the coldest winters Tennessee had experienced in quite a while. It was the winter of 1964 and temperatures had been below freezing for several nights across the state. Winter is a tough time for occupations that require individuals to work outside and the farmers were spending a lot of time keeping waterlines thawed at their barns, as well as breaking ice on ponds so livestock could have water to drink.  

As night began to fall one winter evening in January 1964, a high school farm boy was in the process of feeding hay to his family’s Guernsey dairy cows. It was his job to make sure all the cows were fed and bedded down for the night, especially that night, due to below zero temperatures being forecasted. As he placed blocks of hay in front of the cows, he would also pet each of the bovine giants on the neck as a way of showing his herdsman care. The cows were very important to the family, not only because they provided a milk check for the family to survive on, but also because each animal had been raised there on the family farm making them something very special. The young man knew their names, their bloodline and which calf came from which cow. On that very cold night, he noticed someone was missing from the herd family.  

A mischievous yearling was not standing with the others, which was not necessarily a need for concern. Taffy was often bringing up the rear or getting herself into trouble, so the farm boy assumed that this evening was not going to be as simple as he had hoped for. He knew his mother was preparing hot water hoecakes for supper and he wanted to find the wandering cow as soon as possible so both of them could get to their meals and settle down for a long winter’s evening.  

However, the cow was not in her usual places of hiding. He checked the back forty acres, the cedar thicket near the barn, as well as made sure all the gates were closed around the lot she was supposed to be in. He knew he had broken the ice around the pond earlier in the day and she had been with the rest of the herd as they waited for each of their turns to get a drink. He thought out loud, “Could she still be there?” He was sure the pond was frozen back over by now, but he thought he should check just to be sure.  

Sure enough, the yearling was there and not in the best of conditions. She had walked to the middle of the frozen pond and slipped on its slick surface. Being unable to get up, she had spent most of the afternoon there on the pond. Her condition was critical and the farm boy knew that if he did not do something soon, she would die there on the ice.  

After running back in the freezing weather to get his father at the barn, the two of them struggled to get the cow back to the pond’s bank. With the ice making cracking sounds around them due to the weight of the animal, the two finally got the yearling to the pond’s edge. The time on the frozen surface had taken its toll. The animal’s back legs would not move and she was unable to stand. The worst had happened to the dairy cow and the final action is to usually put an animal in this condition out of her misery.  

However, that is not what the father and son did that evening. Instead, they made a makeshift cow-sized stretcher out of pieces of tin and took the cow by tractor to the barn.  There they made her comfortable and called the vet. He gave little hope for her recovery, but the farmer and his son never gave up. That night the boy stayed in the freezing barn to watch after his bovine patient and friend. For weeks the man and boy cared for the yearling.  

One morning, the boy entered the barn as usual, but this time he opened the stable door to see his cow standing and looking to him for her usual welcoming pet on the head and scratch between the ears. That morning, however, she also got a hug around the neck.  

You may be asking yourself why I have written this story. After some recent reports in the news the last several days from a few high dollar animal activist groups with misguided and unfair facts about farmers, I use this story as an example to emphasize the fact that Tennessee’s farm families, no matter what the weather conditions, provide only the best of care to their animals everyday. The news, at times, gives all farmers a bad rap when it comes to how they care for their animals when a few “bad actors” are caught mistreating livestock. Farmers do care and also do not condone inhumane treatment of animals. Without healthy and content animals, farmers and ranchers wouldn't be in business. Only the best of care for their animals means only the best and safest food for you.  

By the way, the farmer and farm boy in this story were my father and myself. It is a true story, and I know, because I was there that cold winter night.    


Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at    

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Is It Worth It?

With new grandbabies showing up in my household, you would never think that the granddaddy would be the one getting the vaccinations, but that is something that happens at my house. With my last granddaughter, I found out from my daughter-in-law that I should get a DPT shot, or a pertussis shot, if I was going to be around my new sweet little grandchild. In other words, I was told that if I was going to see her closer than the screen door out back, I was getting a shot, which I did.

Many of you may think these shots are just for children and really old folks, but right now pertussis, better known as whooping cough, is making somewhat of a come back in our state and many thought it had gone away. So far this year 238 cases have been reported, compared to 179 last year, and out in California there is somewhat of an epidemic with over 9,000 cases. Whooping cough is a contagious infection and not something you get over with a pill. Vaccination is the best form of preventing the infection and the newer vaccines developed after 2000 are safe, but it is reported that they don’t last as long and you may have to have a booster, especially if you are going to be around small children.

I was glad to get my DPT shot and having grown up in a time back in the 50s and 60s when vaccinations were just something everyone did, it wasn’t all that big of a deal to do for my grandkids. But recently while eating lunch at a local sandwich place, where if you eat their sandwiches you are supposed to get skinny, I overheard a group of homeroom mothers discussing their children’s school vaccinations at a table behind me. Realizing that my sandwich wasn’t making me skinny, I decided to listen in on the ladies’ conversation about needles and shots, which was a lot more interesting than reading the nutrient content of my Cheetos bag, which had become empty. Stories about kids hiding under tables and doctors getting bit seemed to be very funny to that group, but having been a kid myself over 50 years ago and experiencing some of those same traumatic events, I was glad I had finished my weight reducing sandwich as I remembered back to the days when the health department nurse would show up at my school.

Those ladies were even talking about the option of vaccinating your child or not. Back when I was going to school there were no options. We all got stuck whether we wanted to or not. Plus, so many times we got stuck while standing in a line with a bunch of other kids who also didn’t want to get stuck, but had to. We didn’t have our mothers close by or even the option of a nice doctor’s office with pull-out white paper to sit on. And I think because we stood in those lines and had those health department people in white coats show up at our schools to give us those vaccinations we didn’t like that a lot of the infections past generations once endured no longer cause our children problems today.

I know the Internet gives out numerous side effects that can happen with vaccinations and the dangers that may evolve from taking certain medicine. I remember back when I went for cancer surgery, I made the mistake of checking out the procedure on the Internet and almost died before turning my computer off without leaving the house. Sure, there are risks to everything we do, but where would we be if everything we did was 100 percent a sure thing.

I remember the days of standing in line for the polio shots, and later, how excited I was when we no longer had to take shots because it was given to us on a sugar cube. As I grew up, I knew individuals who had to wear braces and use crutches because of polio. In our classrooms each year we took up dimes for the March of Dimes and placed them in cutouts in a small card to go into a fund to pay for research to find a cure. Because of our dimes and many more, a cure was found and today those braces and crutches are no longer seen.

As I listened to those ladies discuss the options of not getting inoculations and the many fears they expressed about all the side effects from taking the injections, I wondered what our parents really thought about it those many years ago when they sent us to school to meet the health nurse. I think they were more concerned with the dangers of the diseases, which they knew of first hand, than the rare chances of the side effects, which they knew very little about.




Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at

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