Lifelong friends Wally Stern and Ron Fryar, plus me, the new kid invited to be a part of their long-time Christmas Eve tradition, took the swans’ arrival as a sign of a beautiful white Tennessee Christmas to come.
And we read the signs right, for Mother Nature painted a beautiful white rolling hills’ landscape from Crossville, to Gassaway, to Rockvale, to Eagleville, stretching over to Buck Snort where my beloved grandchildren reside in western Middle Tennessee.
The Sterns and Fryars (no pun intended) deep-fry turkeys and have a host of drop-in friends and loved ones each Christmas Eve. Wally shared one “secret” ingredient of his spices that he injects into the turkeys as Fryar got the fire and peanut oil ready outside.
“I use Onion Wine made here in Warren County,” Stern shared softly.
Sounds awful, but works divinely in terms of “taste” in the finished product.
Which brings me to the main point of this forum: counting of blessings born through true-enduring personal friendships going into 2011.
I may be the only person on earth blessed with friends named Wally Stern and Willy Stern. And isn’t it neat that Sir Willy’s father is named Wally, of the Edgemont, New York Sterns.
You talk about a contrast in pals named Stern: Sir Wally being from Chattanooga/Old South heritage and Sir Willy born in New York culture, well north of the Mason Dixon Line.
Contrast Sir Wally, a roaming photographer, and Sir Willy, a world-travelled journalist who has bravely covered the Iraq War.
Did I mention that Sir Willy is Jewish? And Sir Wally is Baptist to the bone?
Besides blessing me with friendships, what do my Stern-sounding-named friends have in common? Their hearts of compassion are as wide and tall as Cannon County’s majestic Short Mountain, Middle Tennessee’s highest elevation point. That is, if Murfreesboro’s man-made “Trash Mountain” has not surpassed it in height.
As the Christmas Eve turkeys were boiling and bouncing in the peanut oil, I itemized that “Father” Fryar and my friendship began 20 years ago when I had an active newspaper career and he served as the best publisher I ever had. It was a “turkey”, in fact, that helped spawn our friendship that long ago day, but that’s a column for another day.
We both share a conviction that American newspapers will remain alive and well as long as we remain committed to “thoughtful community journalism” as opposed to “corporate conglomerate journalism.”
I credit Fryar and state National Guard PR Lt. Col. Hooper Penuel, now retired, with getting me “shot at” multiple times when sending me to cover the Bosnian War in Europe in the 1990s. But that’s the life of a newspaperman.
Penuel has done more than any single Tennessean in helping us private citizens understand the dangers and sacrifices that modern-day highly-trained Army and Air Guard troops and their families go through, as in extended tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Two other pals I count high on the mountain of personal friendships are Jim Demos, of food fame, and Roger Haley, retired Murfreesboro city manager. I’ve advised both of these buddies that I’m tired of keeping them on my prayer healing list.
But I’m blessed to report that Roger is home and doing well after experiencing his second serious heart attack during the holidays and Jim is beginning to kick high after recent major joint-replacement surgery.
Haley and Demos, plus Toots Restaurant owner Wade Hays have been heroic in their past support of Habitat for Humanity through the old annual Whittlemania fund-raising efforts, plus Haley helped author the political move back in the early 1990s that allowed a permanent city-owned building to house Murfreesboro’s Room in the Inn.
We’re talking compassionate men here.
Longtime political confidant Kent Syler, retiring chief of staff for retiring U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Murfreesboro, had a White Christmas both in Tennessee and Maine, where he and wife Lynell have a three-bedroom rental property on the ocean. Kent and I go back to the 1990s when Fryar and the Daily News Journal allowed me to crusade for the Room in the Inn and Whittlemania for Habitat.
Earlier, I was allowed to crusade for the return of historic Smyrna Airport (former Sewart Air Force Base) to local jurisdiction. It brought good-paying jobs to Smyrna.
I’m especially indebted to Kent and Bart for our region’s Greenways, plus the Discovery Center and walkway over Murfree Springs, a preserved swamp photographic Mecca in the heart of one of America’s fastest-growth cities.
Meet Garry Lewis, whose friendship goes back to our little country high school of advancing thinking and higher ciphering. He’s one of my most remarkably gifted friends, for after high school, Garry launched a career that soared first as a decorated Navy fighter pilot and later as a highly successful attorney and property investor and developer in Louisiana and Missouri.
Like all my gifted friends listed above, Garry has a giving heart as evidenced this coming January when he plans to donate funds for construction of a gymnasium and auditorium at his (retired) pastor father’s former small Pentecostal church in native Lilbourn, Mo.
Armed with friends like this, bring on 2011 and a New Decade!!