When Your Best Friend Dies

***

I first began thinking about this in 1985.

For those who are familiar with Larry McMurtry‘s epic Lonesome Dove, you know the story. It’s a story of two rough-and-tumble ex-Texas Rangers, who together, live out a life of adventure, love, tragedy and a shared vision of what life really should be.

Ultimately, Augustus McCrae (Robert Duvall) dies with Woodrow Call (Tommy Lee Jones) by his side. Anyone who doesn’t cry throughout the final hour of the mini-series is a tougher man than me.

The “best friend” relationship is truly special. There’s only one best friend. I wouldn’t trade mine for all the tea in China. This is what I love about my best-friend relationship:

Augustus McCrae and Woodrow F. Call

This is a photo I truly treasure. On a recent weekend outing, my best friend and I came across this replica sign from Lonesome Dove. We both love it.

  • We have no secrets.
  • We have each other’s back – always.
  • Every time we’re together, we laugh until we hurt.
  • He is my cheerleader, and I am his.
  • Loyalty, truth and transparent honesty are the things we value most.
  • If one of us screws up, it’s okay.
  • And even though it’s unspoken between us, we’ve both realized our time on earth is short, and we’ve determined to leave the past behind, look ahead and make the most of what we have left.

Over the last few years I’ve lost a parent, a grandparent and many older friends who were my childhood role models. Each loss is a unique hurt, but I’ve never lost a best friend.

A few weeks ago I made a quick trip to my hometown and as I passed through its outskirts I saw an older man sitting on his front porch. I immediately recognized him as one of those older role models. His name is Gene Gathright, and a few years back, he lost his best friend, Devane Baldridge. It would have been easy enough to pass by, but I turned the truck around, went back and visited with Gene for a few minutes. Moments matter, and I didn’t want this to be a moment lost.

Gene and Devane were almost inseparable. They fished together, played cards together, loafed together and partnered in a number of community service projects. They were a pair naturally inclined to mischief. They were best buddies.

Since Devane died, life for Gene has been different. It’s just an indescribable void.

Another unfortunate scenario has caused me to think even more about this lately. Two men I know well are in the process of saying goodbye. I’ve shared many good times with both these men at family outings and on the golf course. One is now preparing for life beyond earth. The other is wondering what life on earth will be like without him. It’s a hard goodbye.

Have you ever lost a best friend? Would you be willing to share that experience?

***

Over the next year I’m assembling a collection of unique stories about goodbyes between best friends, both men and women.

If you’ve lost a best friend, or know of someone who has, and would be willing to discuss it, please message me on WordPress or send me an email at: stevewatkins71@yahoo.com. I’m interested in stories in the U.S. and abroad.

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An Interview with Rev. Jesse Jackson

Chavis Carter death Jonesboro, AR

Rev. Jesse Jackson in Jonesboro, AR just after a prayer vigil, and preparing to lead a downtown March as questions surround the death of Chavis Carter in the back of a local police car. Officials have ruled the death a suicide, but questions remain.

Tomorrow on this site:

An interview with Rev. Jesse Jackson on the death of Chavis Carter in Jonesboro, AR.

This Little House Was Made of Cement

The work is coming along rapidly now on our South American home in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. Dana and I are getting more eager each day to take make the trip exactly four months from today.

Ours is not the only home under construction in the Manabi Province. To view photos of the beautiful coastal Las Palmas development, please see www.laspalmasecuador.com and read about our friends, Gary and April Scarborough who are developing this land we call the New West.

***

Front of the house with the second floor balcony (right) and patio (left) taking shape.

puerto cayo ecuador

Back door entrance and cement has made it all around the first level.

puerto cayo ecuador

Northwesterly view facing the Pacific, and the forms on the third-floor rooftop patio are in place. Going to be a great elevated view from there.

puerto cayo ecuador

Stairway up to master suite has been mudded.

puerto cayo ecuador

This guy is doing a really neat job. As you can see, electrical and water lines are actually buried in the cement walls. The cement helps regulate the house temperature. It can get hot on the coast one degree south of the equator.

puerto cayo ecuador

Mudding another electrical line.

puerto cayo ecuador

Smoothing the exterior south wall.

puerto cayo ecuador

South wall ground level complete.

puerto cayo ecuador

Mixing at the machine. It’s the “dry season” in Ecuador. You can tell by the overcast skies.

puerto cayo ecuador

Please see today’s additional posts @ http://wp.me/p2bjEC-Aw and http://wp.me/s2bjEC-2311

Intentional Blogging in the Magnificent Medium: 7 Tips for Newbies

oscar meyer

This photo, taken just this weekend, captures the essence of two of my cardinal rules for intentional blogging: Always carry a camera, and NEVER take yourself too seriously!

Occasionally, readers will ask how I come up with ideas for blog posts.

For those who write on a regular basis we know the answer to this question. It’s just not easily conveyed in words.

In its purest form, writing is art, and it’s difficult for any artist to explain how they do exactly what they do.

My answer is found somewhere among a few simple philosophies:

  1. Everyone has a story.
  2. People enjoy reading about other people, and taking a look into their lives.
  3. We don’t talk enough about the uncomfortable issues in life.
  4. The world would be a better place if we could all be more transparent.
  5. Down deep in our hearts, we’re all pretty much the same.

My primary blog is relatively diverse. That comes mostly from a background in journalism. I tend to focus on issues of faith, politics, humor and stories about others.

But the idea of intentional blogging, i.e., blogging with purpose, frequency and readership benefit, has a learning curve for any writer. Strange as it sounds, I see life through the blog, and come across dozens of ideas daily that are blog-worthy.

If you’re a blogging newbie, struggling with how you’ll define yourself in this magnificent medium, consider some of the following practices that have helped me along the way.

1.  CULTIVATE RELATIONSHIPS INSIDE THE BLOGOSPHERE: I may never meet many of the bloggers with whom I’ve communicated over time, but they are relationships I treasure, and many of us carry a mutual admiration for the others’ work. Thank people for their “likes” and “follows.” Read their work and compliment them when you’re impressed. Just yesterday, a former PGA Tour professional followed my blog after reading a random post about a weekend round of golf. That follow was an honor for me. I sent him a “thank you” note of sincere appreciation and wished him luck on his pursuit on the Senior Tour. I appreciated his reading, and I bet he appreciated my thank you, and I bet we’ll talk again somewhere down the line. See Ian Hardie’s fine blog here: www.golfhabits.com

2. MAKE NOTE OF YOUR IDEAS: Writing ideas come at the most inconvenient of moments. Mine come while I’m driving, in meetings, or in the middle of an important conversation. Make a quick mental note, and at the first opportunity, take

Teva shoes

NOTES ON A SHOEBOX: I really do stuff like this, and it works for me.

your idea and WRITE IT DOWN. I’ve learned that moments matter, and moments lost, are not easily recaptured. Throughout the day, I jot my ideas down on paper, napkins or whatever is handy, and at the end of the day, a rough title is entered onto my dashboard.  That way, I have an ongoing resource of posts. The post I’m writing now comes literally from notes I took on the top of a shoe box.

3. ALWAYS CARRY A CAMERA: There’s no substitute for great writing, but it’s the visual elements that draw readers into your site. People love looking at photos of other people. Anyone who goes on a road trip with me knows there will be several unscheduled stops along the way. I vowed months ago that whenever I saw a photo worth taking, I’d stop and take it. Many of those photos become blog topics, and most readers enjoy them.

4. KEEP A JOURNALISTS‘ MINDSET, BECAUSE IF YOU BLOG, YOU ARE A JOURNALIST: You don’t need a degree on your wall to be a journalist. The trick is learning to think like a journalist. Because I’m a news junkie, I’ll often take national news stories, localize them in some fashion, and provide commentary on the general topic. This previous post is just one example. It addresses the very real topic of why the cost of beef will skyrocket in the next two months: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-xR

My blog posts come in two forms: OBJECTIVE and OPINION. Important blog post topics call for objectivity – presenting both, or all sides, of an issue. Fair comment and criticism also has its place, and is a great way to generate activity on your blog.

5. FEAR NOTHING: Some of the greatest bloggers I read, examine the most controversial of topics and pour transparency into their work. You may be in the midst of the most tumultuous time of your life, or be witness to a horrible injustice. Here’s my advice: WRITE ABOUT IT. If you don’t, who will? And what good will come if the topic is never addressed? As a blogger, you can make a difference in the world, one blog post at a time.

6. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF: If you’ve ever had this thought: (my petty little blog will never make a difference) STOP IT. You are now part of a magnificent medium – a collective community of unparalleled talent. You’ve chosen to be here, and there’s a reason. You have a purpose.

AND THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP OF ALL

7. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER TAKE YOURSELF TOO SERIOUSLY: You may be nominated for awards across the blog-spectrum; you may be Freshly Pressed; you may be re-tweeted by Rick Warren; and paid opportunities may flock your way. But NEVER take yourself too seriously. Keep your ego in check. Stay humble. Never stop learning. Be thankful for every follower … and blog on, baby.

(Steve Watkins is a former newspaper journalist and magazine editor with more than 15,000 interviews to his credit. He is the author of a developing series of non-fiction books: The Trilogy of Light, and he currently serves as a freelance writing and blogging coach. For more information, inquire @ stevewatkins71@yahoo.com)

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Pards, Pars and a Birdie Straight from Heaven

As a team, we are known as one of the greatest duos in golf.

Four years from now, the PGA Senior Tour awaits.

The white dimpled ball fears our strike.

Handicap- ZERO. Even par.

NOT.

***

I call him: The Birdie Man.

He calls me: The Snow Man (figure that out for yourself.)

Twenty plus years ago, a weekly round of golf (at least) was standard for my best pal, Brady Cornish and me. At 14, Brady was a young golfer at the top of his game, a high-school Arkansas medalist, and could hang with ANY high school golfer in the state. He could draw, fade (we called his most famous shot “the medium-low burn” and manipulate the ball as he pleased.

I was a high school basketball player with a fair jumper from the left wing, but always admired Brady’s God-given ability on the links. As basketball came to an end for me about the time we both entered college, I made him start taking me to the course, and eventually we began playing team tournaments where he continued his greatness, and I would contribute a shot or two each round.

The memories we shared, and the good times we had on the course are among my best of times.

Twenty plus years ago, life’s random circumstances caused us both to walk away from the game. It was a huge void in both our lives.

***

Two months ago, we vowed to get back on game – and improve enough that we’d feel comfortable getting back on the Northeast Arkansas PGA duffer’s tournament circuit in 2013.

In a practice round at Fox Hills Country Club in Paragould, AR yesterday, Brady declared that if we didn’t scramble a 42 on the back nine, we’d ban ourselves from tournament play and continue practice until 2014. So there was a lot on the line.

In the end, we shot a 39. Not bad. And Brady began showing signs of his old self. He took three birdies on nine holes, and at one point went on a flurry of par-birdie-birdie.

The highlight of the day was a sentimental one for us. Somehow, Brady came across an old ball where someone had written the initials “DW” in black ink. Those were my dad, David Watkins’ initials.

On a par 3, unbeknownst to me, Brady placed the DW ball on the tee, and hit a beautiful 9-iron that tracked in for a near ace. Left with a 9-foot birdie put, the DW ball rolled in for bird. It was a birdie straight from heaven.

We speak of our dads often on the course. Golf is a game many memories … and here are a few from our round yesterday…

The prestigious it’ll do Fox Hills Country Club.

golf courses

New clubs, I’ve had for only three weeks. I love them, and the hybrid wood is shaving a few strokes from my game.

Tom Watson Tight Lies

The Birdie Man, sizing up a second shot a hundred yards out on a par 4.

Golf shot

The 11 Commandments of Fox Hills. We have since repented of any violation of Commandment #10.

Golfing etiquette

My second shot after laying up on #6, a par four 298-yard hole with a lake in a really bad place.

steven w watkins

The Birdie Man believes proper club selection is essential. Little did we know at this moment, he was about to hit a monster drive on #6 that left us with a 10-yard chip for eagle.

golf club selection

Toughest and tightest hole on the course.

par 4 golf

I’m usually at my best without a club in my hand.

 golf etiquette

We’ll never forget this ball, launched from the par 3, #2 hole – a birdie from Heaven.

hole in one

Tournament play, here we come.

under par

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Lewis Grizzard: My Favorite Son of a Gun

“Never order barbecue in a place that also serves quiche.” ~ Lewis Grizzard

One morning a few weeks ago, Dana gave me one of the highest compliments I could imagine, though she did it quite unknowingly.

columnist lewis grizzard

Prompted by a national news story about a black couple who’d been refused a wedding ceremony at a “white” church in Mississippi (and a number of other personal experiences) I’d gone on a three-day blogging tangent about religious segregation in the South.

I asked Dana to read the post before it was published and give me her reaction.

“You’re not afraid to write about anything, are you?” she asked.

I’d never really thought about it that way, but, no, I suppose. What’s to fear in the truth, and why don’t more of us write about and discuss the things that make us most uncomfortable. What’s to be gained from the silence of injustice and human prejudice?

***

By the time I was old enough to read a newspaper, (a ritual I formed daily by the seventh grade), my immediate attention went to the op-ed page where Lewis Grizzard’s syndicated column was published three times weekly.

columnist lewis grizzard

If I could emulate the style, tone and message of any writer in the world, it would be Lewis Grizzard, who’s probably as responsible as anyone for my career in journalism.

Known for his regional demeanor and commentary on the American South,  Grizzard, at 23, was the Atlanta Journal‘s youngest-ever sports editor, and later went on to become executive sports editor of the Chicago Sun-Times.

But Grizzard’s career was defined by his work as a columnist, and at the peak of his career, he was syndicated in 450 newspapers across the U.S.

Grizzard was an eccentric man. In all his career, he never typed a word on a computer. He favored the typewriter.

“When I write, I like to hear some noise,” he said.

In its “Best of Atlanta” issue, an Atlanta alternative newspaper had two categories: “Best Columnist and “Best Columnist Besides Lewis Grizzard.”

The author of thousands of columns and 25 books, Grizzard was the quintessential Southern writer. And he was fearless. Head on, he addressed politics, feminism, race, guns, Russians and anything else that would push the hot button of thousands of readers.

That’s why I love Grizzard. He never took himself too seriously, but he said what he damned well pleased.

Grizzard’s life gave him a plethora of writing topics to which so many of us can relate. He was married four times, born with a defective heart valve which ultimately took his young life at 48, highly opinionated, a recovering alcoholic and he loved sports.

“I finally figured it out. I finally figured out how to have some peace and happiness. I sure would hate for the man upstairs to take me now, but at least I figured it out.” ~ Lewis Grizzard

columnist lewis grizzardMy favorite Grizzard line comes from a column he wrote about his first hole-in-one. Watching the ball leave the tee he said, “it was as if it were a white missile against the azure sky.” Every time my best buddy and I hit the links, we cite the line at least a half-dozen times.

Grizzard wasn’t a hero to everyone. His behavior wasn’t always that of the Southern gentleman.

Many labeled him as “the author from hell” for his behavior on countless book tours.

But his writing was pure heaven to me. Grizzard would have had a field day with this thing we call the “blog.” I miss him every time I pick up the paper.

A few of his books you might enjoy:

“Chili Dogs Always Bark at Night”

If I Ever Get Back to Georgia, I’m Gonna Nail My Feet to the Ground

“My Daddy was a Pistol, and I’m a Son of a  Gun”

“Does a Wild Bear Chip in the Woods”

You may enjoy some posts on my secondary blog at www.latitudeone.wordpress.com

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Impossible Conclusions: Life in Shades of Grey

“Not all those who wander are lost.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

I’m gradually learning to embrace the fact that life’s greatest questions really have no conclusions.

Bradley Harris of Memphis, TN, is my editor, and, moreover, my greatest teacher. Once again, his editor’s notes have given me more than sound writing advice. They’ve given me a lesson in life.

Two weeks ago I sent Brad the final never-ending draft of my first non-fiction book. In the final chapter, I’d unknowingly drawn a conclusion I suppose my subconscious believed would give encouragement to the reader and set up a call to action for living a better life.

Puerto Cayo Manabi

Captured by Dana, me, wandering in thought, in Puerto Cayo, Manabi, Ecuador.

Brad’s notes challenged the conclusion, and the very notion the book required a tidy, happily-ever-after ending. And I knew immediately he was right.

And thank goodness for his profound advice; for without it, I might never have survived the last 24 hours – one of the most confounding days of my life.

“The yearning to know What cannot be known, to comprehend the Incomprehensible, to touch and taste the Unapproachable, arises from the image of God in the nature of man.” ~ A.W. Tozier

My days are painfully predictable. I get out of bed around 3 a.m., write, drink coffee, research, go to work and come home exhausted to hit the bed around 7 p.m. Yesterday’s schedule was typical. It was just greyer than most.

After a 4 a.m. blog post, I scanned my WordPress reader, something I almost never do. When I randomly stopped by Holly Michael’s blog I found she’d nominated me for an undeserved award, and said some very kind things about my work. You may view Holly’s inspirational site here: http://wp.me/1Gxnc

Anyone else would have been thrilled, but it set into motion an entire day of questioning the priorities in my life. And that really doesn’t take much for a 46-year-old guy who’s well into mid-life crisis

So the day begins at 3 a.m. wondering about the possibility of “life’s calling” as a writer.

Next up, around 4:30 a.m. I get a blog post notification from www.laspalmasecuador.com – a pictorial update of a home we’re building in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. The progress is amazing. Dana and I love everything about Puerto Cayo – particularly the business potential, and the opportunities to build a meaningful missional community there. Something very grey from 5,000 miles away is screaming to me, but with a grey, clouded clarity. You may view yesterday’s post about that news here: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-yA

By 4:30 a.m., it’s already an emotional morning. My wife says she’ll pray for me throughout the day. My best friend, knowing my confounding situation, sends me a note that says “go with your gut.” What he doesn’t know is that my gut’s the very thing that scares the daylight out of me.

I finish the routine and make the 10-minute drive to work, and think of my dad who passed away in February. I wish I could speak to him, but he’s not here. And I cry most of the way to work.

Tuesday 8-5 is spent preparing for the next day’s business trip to Thayer, MO. I’ll embark on that trip about 4 hours from now. The thinking time on the road will be precious, and for that I’m grateful.

Five o’clock and I’m waiting in line at Domino’s Pizza. My mind races through the events of the day, and all the writing projects on the schedule. There’s a manuscript to complete, then two more books to finish the trilogy. Then, I predictably wonder what comes after that?

Brad’s notes immediately come to mind: Why draw a conclusion? The most important things don’t require a black and white answer.

This side of heaven, the most important questions in life are inconclusive.

So now, another project stands on the sideline. I’ve purchased the domain: www.theimpossibleconclusion.com

What I’ll do with it stands in the shadow of greyness for now.

You may view posts on my secondary blog at: http://wp.me/2tJ80

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This Marketing Message is Lost on Me…

In a weird pasttime, I’ve always enjoyed seeing the visual marketing messages on U-Haul trucks as they travel down the road.

It’s interesting to wonder where they’re going and the story behind the move.

But when I saw this truck yesterday, I had to wonder what U-Haul’s marketing department was thinking.

What am I missing here???

U-Haul