A Battle for Equality

This sweet couple have been all over the news and I couldn’t be more proud for them! Vicky Miles and Melissa Angle have fought long and hard to share a legal union in their home state and I think it’s wonderful they are getting so much exposure. You can read more about their battle by clicking on these links, beginning with the story I did on them over a year ago:

http://www.claycountyweb.com/2013/12/27/dont-duck-the-alternate-lifestyle/

http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2015/02/alabama_gay_marriage_denied_a.html

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http://www.annistonstar.com/news/article_4e39f914-b14b-11e4-9299-3b314bec475a.html

http://www.annistonstar.com/news/article_680f869a-a572-11e4-9205-07aa93a599a7.html

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A quote from Melissa: Well folks, here it is. It’s the morning that so many of us have waited for our entire lives. We will finally be equals today. The air this morning even feels different on my skin. Lighter. No longer feeling the weight of inequality. So many of us will stand in lines all over our great state, many of whom will see marriage by the end of today. This is a wonderful day in not just our personal history, but our nations history. We may see opposition, but it should be handled with grace and class. Show all those who came before us, what they fought for. There may be rain clouds over head, but my what a beautiful day!

http://www.annistonstar.com/star_home_lead/article_3c327362-b17e-11e4-b746-e3b2af17e9b7.html

Tomorrow morning, Vicky & Melissa will be featured on MSNBC interviewed by Jose Diaz-Balart, right AFTER they apply for their marriage license with a big ole traditional to follow in a couple of weeks!

I am simply thrilled for you two great ladies!

Special Needs Organization Provides Direction for Local Outdoor Sportsman

By: Tammy Andrews

1528468_10151774623160940_1592650520_n How do you spot the unsung heroes of the world? Well, in this case, you would find this one on a river bank somewhere showing a special needs child the art of fishing or perhaps in a locker room giving the boys that last pep talk before the big game. And this is just a fraction of how he makes a difference in the world.

His name is Jim Hardy, a man who wears many hats. Jim has been a star football player, a professional angler, Head Coach, outdoor enthusiast, motivational speaker, but the one that is closest to his heart is his own non-profit organization, Outdoor Friends Forever (O.F.F.). The O.F.F. mission is to pair people with special needs with people of special talents and form a bond in the outdoors that will last forever.  The program has been a huge success and the outreach grows with each passing day.

As with many unsung heroes, Jim doesn’t want any credit for the 10290121_10152486179225940_8650173743453128216_nsuccess of this organization, but his story is one of inspiration and hope for anyone who feels they are limited in life. His motto in life is “Never say Never” and the word “Can’t” is not in his vocabulary.

Jim’s upbringing was centered on religion, which paved the road for his future endeavors. Jim always held a love for the outdoors. “I’ve been fishing since I was old enough to walk”, he says. In high School, Jim played football for Benjamin Russell, playing several different positions very well. As a result, he was voted best all-time place kicker in the history of BRHS. Jim was offered three different scholarships to junior colleges, but in the end, he chose a student management internship with Auburn University, working with the Auburn Tigers because it fit more into his long-term goal. Coaching was Jim’s passion and he wanted to pass along his love and knowledge for the game to others.

From the beginning, it was always about the kids. Even as a teenager, Jim loved spending time with children teaching them the basics of outdoor sports, just as he was fortunate enough to be jim hardy pic 2taught. “I think it’s important to give these kids true quality time. Every day, we’re losing kids more and more to video games and internet. Watching these kids learning the sport gives me a satisfaction like no other.”

At 24 years of age, his path in life became even more apparent when his life was changed forever with a tragic hunting accident. Jim fell from 20 feet to the ground when his tree stand broke suffering a spinal cord injury, as well as several other complications. He would spend the next two months in the hospital, recovering from injuries and learning how to cope with his paralysis.

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Jim with Governor Bentley

In many instances, a life-altering accident of this nature would break a young man’s spirits, but not Jim, he refused to let a wheelchair define him. Self-pity was just not his style. Just two months after his accident, he was back at Auburn, finished his degree and went back to work with Auburn Tigers. It was also around this time Jim began motivational speaking to others who had suffered an injury much like his own to help them find their way.

After his accident, Jim began to think harder about what he wanted to accomplish in life and set out to make it happen. He re-evaluated his dedication to the sport of fishing and decided he really wanted to become a professional angler. Jim made a name for himself in the fishing industry in more ways than one, winning fishing tournaments and designing fishing lures.

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Celebrating Back-to-back championships with his boys.

Jim also began working with kids more on an outdoor level, but he soon discovered he was limited in that field, so he began to dig deeper. Being in a wheelchair really put things into perspective for Jim and God’s path for him began to shine more every day as he realized he wanted to work with special needs kids, hence the birth of O.F.F. in 2009. Working with the kids at O.F.F. is and continues to be the most rewarding experiences for not only Jim, but many other volunteers who have been touched by this program, from professional anglers to your average Joe.

Another rewarding experience for Jim his being named the Head Coach of Victory Baptist of Millbrook in the CFA League, who under his leadership has won back-to-back state championship, earning them a 20-0 record. “I don’t take credit for their hard work because they have inspired me as much as I have them.”

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O.F.F. Group hunt with special needs kids

At 37 years old, Jim Hardy is right where he wants to be, even for a paraplegic. I’m sure if he were given the option to be able to walk again, he would gladly take it, but in his heart he knows this was the life God chose for him.  “Everything happens for a reason, and I think God puts you in a place where you’re supposed to be” says Jim, “and if I wouldn’t have been on both sides of it, I wouldn’t be able to relate to what these kids go through.”

Jim’s goal with O.F.F. is to see it grow to nationwide lengths and build a facility to house these kids and their families with all expenses paid when they come to outdoor events. Through fund raisers and private donors, O.F.F. has been able to give 100% back into the program.

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One of the things that make O.F.F. so successful is the many volunteers that donate their time.

In addition to motivational speaking, Jim also loves to share his testimony with others, in hopes it will change someone’s life. “I never want this to be about me, but if one person can read my story and see what I am trying to do with these kids and be inspired, then it was all worth it.”

His final words say it all: “Made sure he put God first and everything else just works out in his time.”

To read more about O.F.F., visit http://outdoorfriendsforever.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 “Although She be but Little, She is Fierce”

By: Tammy Andrews

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Just 4 days old

This quote has been attached to little Piper Claire Champion since her very premature arrival on this Earth on November 1, 2014, weighing just 1 lb. and 5 oz. Piper’s journey has been followed very closely by many people on Facebook since Day one and has become one of inspiration and hope. This little girl has touched the hearts of so many with her strong will to survive. Her story is that of a miracle, her existence is a blessing, and her fight is contagious. So, let me share with you how much of a difference a 21 ounce angel can make in this great, big world…

Just 16 weeks into her pregnancy, Andrea Cotton underwent genetic testing that came back positive for Spina Bifida and Down’s piper smileSyndrome. Further testing would reveal that these two conditions were not what they were dealing with, but they knew there was something else going on there. Andrea was sent to Birmingham to find out what was going on with her pregnancy. An ultrasound revealed that Piper was much smaller than she should be, so the Dr. told Andrea to come back in two weeks to check her baby’s growth progress.

When Andrea went back for that two week check- up, the news wasn’t good. Piper had not shown any signs of growth and time was now a factor. They told Andrea and her husband, Chaz, that she suffered from a condition known as Reverse Flow which essentially means that the heart is pumping blood back to the placenta, but pressure from the placenta/cord is preventing it from getting there, piper 1which in short meant that blood rich in nutrients and oxygen were failing to reach her baby. It was a critical situation, and they were told Piper would have to be delivered within 5 days.

So, Andrea was admitted into the hospital, where she was given steroids and carefully monitored. On the fifth day, Andrea’s kidneys began to swell and the situation turned dire. Andrea was suffering from a condition known as Pre-eclampsia, which put her and the baby at an even greater risk. Andrea underwent emergency cesarean and little Piper made her debut entrance into this world weighing only 1 lb. and 5 oz. and 12 inches long. Piper was given a 50/50 chance of survival rate, odds of which would increase in her favor with each passing day.

However, when Baby Piper was only 3 days old, she suffered a major pulmonary hemorrhage and was placed on an oscillator. When asked if their baby would survive at this point, Andrea and Chaz piper santacouldn’t seem to get a straight answer from the Doctors, but to pray for their baby girl. The terrified parents were sent to the Chapel, where they stayed for 2 hours and prayed non-stop. They weren’t told the severity of the hemorrhage until weeks later, when the doctor told them that they were blessed, because he had only seen two babies survive a bleed of that magnitude.

From the beginning, Andrea admits that she never lost faith that her baby girl was going to make it, but Chaz wasn’t so sure. After seeing his tiny daughter for the first time, he said he went outside because he needed a minute to catch his breath. He said there was a man out there smoking, and from his appearance, seemed kind of questionable to him, so he did not approach him at first. The man piper 2began asking Chaz questions about why he was there, so Chaz told him everything. Chaz will never forget this stranger’s advice “He looked at me and said ‘Let me tell you something, son and don’t let anybody tell you anything any different, if you don’t listen to anything else anybody tells you, just know that your baby was born for a reason and if that baby’s purpose was to change the life of just one person on this Earth, then she has done her job. Just trust in God and let Him work. His plan for her is already written down.” This stranger’s reasoning seemed to relieve some of the apprehension he was feeling about Piper’s chances. Chaz found out later this man’s wife had delivered twins at this hospital and one of them didn’t make it. At the time he had given Chaz this advice, he had just returned from his son’s piper familyfuneral.

The Champions’ prayers were answered and they watched their little girl grow stronger every day. Piper went from being on an oscillator, to a ventilator, to a C-pap, and finally graduated to room air just recently. She is in open crib now and her weight has climbed to 3 lbs and 15 ozs. It is unknown how much longer she will be in the hospital, but she is making tremendous progress every day now. It is also unknown if she will have any long term effects of the pregnancy complications, but all of her tests performed so far have come back with positive results.

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Big Brother, Kage loves his sister!

Andrea says this experience has brought her closer to God and changed her outlook on life. ““It has brought my entire family closer. We are all different people because of Piper and I thank God for that. Watching her fight so hard every day has shown me that God is working miracles through her. We are truly blessed.”

Andrea reveals that although she felt that God was going to take care of her baby, there were some dark days and bumps along the way. “Some days I wouldn’t sleep at all listening to the constant beeping of the machines, which can be very intimidating. You’re always listening for any changing sounds in the beeping that might reveal a problem. Some days were so long and I would pray constantly for God to piper bornplease make my baby girl stronger.”

This family has been in Birmingham since October 2014. After Andrea was discharged, she had to sleep in Piper’s room every night because there were no rooms available at the Ronald McDonald house. Of course, this was rough on someone who had just had surgery, but she refused to leave Piper’s side. They were able to get into a room at the Ronald McDonald house after several days, so the family could be together. They celebrated Thanksgiving, their son, Kage’s, birthday, Christmas and New Year’s Eve away from home, but at least they were a family.

piper 4People have been very good to donate to the Champion family so far, and for that, they are extremely thankful. But months of expenses have piled up, on top of the loss of family income, so much more help is still needed for this family.

Anyone interested in making a donation can contact Charlene Cotton, 256-276-9522.

The Battles of her Life: Kerri’s story

By Tammy Andrews

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Kerri, in the midst of her addiction

Kerri Young was your average teenage girl with average problems with nothing underlying there that anyone would suspect would lead to years of drug addiction. She was beautiful, popular, and your basic social butterfly. As a teenager, she drank and dabbled in drugs at social events, but it was nothing she couldn’t control. But Kerri’s life changed when she turned 18, when she moved out of her parent’s house and in with a co-worker in the Oxford area, where she was introduced to a wide variety of drugs. In the beginning, she was able to keep a grip on it, until meth came into her world at the age of 19. What came after that began a downward spiral for Kerri, one that would take years for her to overcome.

She became a heavy meth user, and later when she moved to Florida and couldn’t find anywhere to get meth, she began using cocaine, then pain pills, acid and eventually heroine came into the picture. She didn’t really care as long as it got her high.

 In January 2011, after she lost everything she had in Florida because she was so strung out, Kerri was forced to call her parents to come get and bring her home to Alabama. “I don’t even remember the ride home, I guess I was that out of it,” said Kerri.

Upon returning home, she became very sick with the flu, on top of detoxing. But as soon as she recovered, she went back to work in the Oxford area, and sadly right back into the same world she left. It wasn’t long before she was heavily back in the drug scene.  But the turning point for Kerri was right around the corner….

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Kerri’s mug shot

 Kerri had decided to move out of her parent’s house, so she took a friend with her to retrieve her belongings. But she was unaware that while she was upstairs packing, he was downstairs going through her parent’s bedroom. He stole credit cards, a pistol, some tools, etc. When Mike and Bonnie Young discovered these stolen items, they pressed charges against their daughter, and her friend. Kerri was arrested on April 19, 2011, just five days before her 32nd birthday and she would never touch another drug again.

 Two weeks later, with Kerri still in jail, her mother suffered a major heart attack, but Kerri was not allowed to contact her since her parents were the ones who had pressed charges. It was then that Kerri decided she no longer wanted to be part of the drug world. She had spent years hating herself and wanted to change, but could never find the strength to do it. The very thought of losing her mother was almost more than she could bear and was enough motivation to help her through the tough spots.

 Kerri spent four months in jail before she was sentenced to a year in Rehab in Oxford. Being in Oxford was a challenge for her, back in the same area where all of her drug buddies were, but Kerri says she believes this was part of God’s plan in order to help her become stronger. Rehab was hard on Kerri but she had the willpower to get better because she was tired of her addiction taking over her life.

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Clean and sober, with the paperwork to prove it!

Even though Kerri had been raised in a Christian environment, she admits she never really knew Jesus until she went to jail. “I know you hear all the time about how people never find Jesus until they’re in jail, but for me that was true,”, says Kerri, “Things began to change for me when I let Jesus in, I was baptized in Rehab and he helped me face reality, which was something I was never good at, and the main reason for my addiction.” After a year in Rehab, Kerri was clean and sober and ready for a new life.

Fresh out of rehab, Kerri admits sobriety was scary for her without being in a restricted environment anymore. “I was like a baby, I had to learn how to live all over again. It was like finding your place in another world.” But it was a world that she wanted, so she surrounded herself with people who could help her. Her Sponsor, Angel Adams, got her a job working as a substance abuse counselor in Journey Detox, which helped her tremendously. Things were looking up and about to get even better….

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Ava Grace is born to loving parents

Chris Cody was part of Kerri’s past, but he was a good part. She and her future husband had originally met in 2001, fell instantly in love, but had broken it off a year later when she moved to Florida. When she returned from Florida in 2011, she had gotten a message from Chris, and it was like time had stood still for them. Chris and Kerri married in July 2013, and almost a year later, they welcomed sweet baby Ava Grace into their life. Incidently, Ava’s middle name actually came from Kerri’s journey because it was by the Grace of God she was brought into this world.  Kerri was right where she had always wanted to be; with the man of her dreams and the little girl she had always prayed for. Kerri couldn’t be happier with the way her life was going and she thanked God for it every day.

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Little girl time here!

Until one day, when Kerri went to see the doctor because she thought she had pulled a muscle in her leg, and was told she had lesions on her hip bone. Further testing revealed a stunning blow. Kerri was diagnosed with Myelofibrosis- a rare form of cancer which attacks the bone marrow, and causes the liver and spleen to swell. And it was terminal.

It was even more rare for this disease to strike someone so young. Myelofibrosis generally attacks the 50-60 yr olds, not a perfectly healthy 35 yr old woman. Kerri was told she had a maximum of 15 years to live, with treatments to prolong the illness. Now, here is where the problem comes in; the only course of treatment known to slow the progression of this disease is Interferon, which is used to treat hepatitis C and cost $3000 a month. Kerri’s insurance refuses to pay for this drug because she has not been diagnosed with hepatitis C, not to mention the expense.

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Kerri’s whole world

Kerri takes everything day by day, she gets up and says her prayers and asks God to help her continue to be the person He wants her to be. Because she has laid her demons to rest and with the help of God, she does not struggle with her addiction anymore and is thankful for every day she gets to spend with her husband and her beautiful blue-eyed baby. She has complete faith that God is in control of her destiny. She also believes that her purpose in life for being the youngest person on the face of this Earth to have this disease is to raise awareness and possibly find a cure for it.  “I believe there’s a reason God had kept me alive all of these years, and I think this is it,  because with all the drugs I’ve done, I should have been dead a thousand times over.”

So, Kerri is on a mission to prolong her life so that she can hopefully see her little girl grow up and she’ll do whatever it takes to see this happen. Since it is rare for someone her age to have this disease, there are no clinical studies she can enroll in for alternate methods of treatment, but she is constantly looking.

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Kerri and sweet little Ava

Kerri makes no excuses for the things she has done in her life. “I’m a drug addict, and I always will be. I can never take a pain pill, or anything associated with drugs, because it will most likely send me right back to where I won’t want to be, but I have no desire to go back to it either. Regardless of what I’ve been through, I’m still a child of God and I deserve a chance.”

A fund has been established at First State Bank for Kerri Young Cody by Bonnie Young to help raise money for Kerri’s treatments since the insurance won’t cover it. Bonnie also set up a Gofundme account for her daughter online you can donate to.

http://www.gofundme.com/jvxs50

Please support Kerri Cody, so that Ava Grace will know how special her Mommy really is one day.

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“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me”

On a footnote, I would just like to say that Kerri’s story is one that needs to be told. People who can overcome such a dangerously strong drug addiction such as this one are considered heroes in my book and should serve as inspiration to people everywhere. So, before you judge, being a drug addict does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone at any given time regardless of race, gender, or community status. Everyone has an addiction of some sort. It’s not a sin to have an addiction, it’s a sin to let one control your life. Most likely, there is a drug addict in every family who is too ashamed to ask for help. Reach out to them today….

This Little ole Lady….

By: Tammy Andrews

Have you ever been to a nursing home and saw that little ole lady sitting in the corner who never speaks? The one who just sits there and stares quietly at everyone? Every once in a while, she will give you a fleeting empty look, but there’s no recognition, so she looks away again.

Of course, as an active individual, this is depressing to you and you may even try to avoid her altogether because you are elderly woman looking out of a windowbusy. But the fact is, if you are fortunate enough to grow old, one day this could be you. But, have you ever sit and thought about who this old mystery lady used to be? About her family, her hobbies, or what her life was like at all?

Did you know that as a little girl, she used to love to play with her Dollie, a handmade rag doll from her Grandma when she was just four years old? Dollie was her best friend and she would take her everywhere. She and Dollie used to help Mommy make biscuits in the kitchen, and she would hold tight to her when her Daddy would give her a piggyback ride. One day, she left Dollie outside and their dog tore her to shreds. She cried for days, and even though her Grandma made her another one, it was never really quite the same.

Did you know her small, stooped frame was once sturdy and strong? She would walk miles in a day’s time, performing her outside chores in record time, and then  race her siblings to the creek where they would swim and skip rocks on sweltering days.  Playing tag was her favorite game as she and her friends would chase each other around for hours at times. Did you know she once broke her ankle when she fell out of the barn loft, because she was playing there without permission? She thought she would get scolded for it, but her Daddy never said anything….he just held her hand quietly while she cried in pain at the Doctor’s Office.

Did you know those eyes of hers were once a sparkling blue when she gazed at the love of her life? How her eyes would light up whenever he was around and she could never seem to get that silly smile off her face? The butterflies she felt when he kissed her for the first time that never really seemed to go away, even after 45 years of marriage? These same eyes sparkled softly as she gazed at her newborn children, but could also turn as dark as night when she was angry about something.

handsDid you know that her crippled hands once created beautiful masterpieces with patches of cloth? Her handmade quilts were the envy of all the neighborhood women, as were the lovely frocks she wore. She was quite the talented seamstress and  truly enjoyed the task at hand. These hands also turned the pages of children’s storybooks at bedtime and baked the tastiest desserts. These same fingers also scrolled under a scripture as she read her Bible faithfully every night, which provided solitude in times of need.

Did you know her thin layer of white hair atop her head was once a long, gorgeous mane of flowing dark curls? One so striking, that men would stop and stare as she walked down the streets, although she only had eyes for one man. Did you know she once lost this beautiful hair when she was stricken with breast cancer and never really got it back, even though she beat the horrible disease?

As she sits there quietly,  no one would ever guess that she was once so overwhelmed with life that she just wanted to run away from it all- From being a wife, mother, caregiver, disciplinarian, cook, and someone’s maid. How she didn’t feel appreciated or loved for putting everyone else first in her life… And then one day, her smiling baby boy brought her a handmade card with “I Love You” wrote out in sloppy handwriting. She was so touched that she cried and hugged him tightly as he looked at her like she was everything to him. This sweet card hung on her refrigerator until she put it in a frame, because she never forgot how this gift came to her at just the right moment in her life.

Did you know that she once had the voice of an angel? That she could belt out high notes while singing in the church choir and sing the softest of hymns to perfection? A voice so smooth that her children would gaze at her until their eyelids drooped every night as she lovingly sang a lullaby. How she would hum softly as she went about her daily chores or when she felt happy about something.

Did you know that one time her feeble little legs were once strong and lean while she danced the night away in the arms of the man she had just vowed to spend the rest of her life with. This was the highlight of her life. She was a beautiful bride with a beaming smile, who felt ready to take on the world. These strong legs also carried her through three pregnancies, and walked the floors with screaming babies on sleepless nights. Sadly, these legs would also carry her to the graveyard in later years, when she said good-bye to her soulmate and one of her darling babies.

You would never guess that behind that blank stare that she was once the queen of her little world. But this quiet creature woman-visiting-nursing-home-xl (1)has experienced more life than you could ever imagine, and in her mind, she still is. Somewhere in her mind, she is still dancing in the arms of her love, rocking her babies to sleep, and singing at the top of her lungs.

So, while you look at her and feel pity for her, just know that she deserves your respect and even your time.  For she still craves attention and good conversation; she just doesn’t want to be a bother.  She has experienced the highs and lows of life and has been worn down with loss of loved ones. Take the time to stop and chat with her. Listen to every word she says and take it to heart, because you won’t find a better teacher anywhere.  I promise you that you could learn a lot.

Making KISStory

By: Tammy Andrews

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Rhonda, me, and Shannon with KISS

Good times….you just can’t put a price on them. Making amazing memories with friends and family is something that stays in your heart forever and puts a warm smile on your face whenever you think about them. Well, I was about to embark on the Granddaddy of them all….so far, anyway.

For years, I have wanted to go on a cruise, but never had the opportunity…but that was about to change. And not just any cruise…KISS Kruize IV. That’s right, the hottest band in the world- KISS, along with a fantastic lineup of other fan-picked artists, making more than just waves in the ocean.  Five days of the most intense music you’ve ever heard on a ship, which was so nice that you were just in awe the entire time. It was nothing short of incredible….but let me back up a little bit here and give you some KISStory….

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KISS lovers way back in the day

On my 11th birthday in May 1979, I took my birthday money and bought my sister and me, Rhonda, a ticket to the KISS concert at the BJCC and my father and stepmother took us.  From that moment on, we were lifelong fans. Now, I loved KISS music, but for my sister, it went much deeper than that.  She just had a rock-n-roll soul from the very beginning and her love for it continued to grow throughout the years. To her, it was more than just music; it was the anthem of her life. Rock n roll was always there to calm and soothe her soul, regardless of whatever circumstances were going on in her life. Through the good times and the bad, she could always count on her “rock n roll therapy” to comfort her.

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Gene autographing Rhonda’s back, which was later made into a tattoo

Because I married young, I never got the opportunity to see all the bands that she and her “wingman” (or should I say woman) did, which was my cousin, Shannon Willingham. They went to concerts every chance they could get and they saw just about every one of the 80’s rock bands, more than one time. From the heavy metal to hardcore, you could usually find them rocking somewhere in the crowd.  Neither of them could be considered your standard groupie, they were just true Fans. Both held down full-time jobs and paid their bills on time, but they both just shared a great love for the music. I tagged along whenever possible and never lost my love for it either, but I never shared the same depth they did.

Had it not been for Rhonda, I would have never been able to go to as many concerts as I did, because you could rest assured that if she knew a big name band was coming within a 100 mile radius ( and sometimes even further), come Hell or high water, she was going to get us there. She would call me up and say, “You up for a road trip to see X band?” and of course, I always was. I have financed more than one concert ticket with her too, paying her off in what I called “easy weekly installments”. But it was always worth it. The round trip conversations, which always included lots of laughs and reminscing, the memories made along the way made the actual concert the icing on the cake. Not to mention, the traditional breakfast at the Waffle House or Ihop in the wee hours of the morning, whether you were hungry or not.

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Shannon, Rhonda, Allison & Darlene in their “I see KISS people” shirts

Rhonda has been to countless KISS concerts, several meet-and-greets, and has been on every single KISS Kruize to date and will be aboard for their final cruise next year, God willing. She is not your standard fan; she has a KISS collection of memorabilia that is quite impressive.  She has traveled all over the United States to see them, and she also has ALL FOUR of the original members autographs tattooed on her back. She is a real asset to the KISS Army.

paul gene acoustic
KISS playing acoustic on the Lido deck

She has been criticized by many about her love for this band, but she does not let this bother her. She just keeps rockin’ on. I always tell her not to let any of the criticism bother her because most of it is stemmed from jealousy. I mean, most people have had to give up their teenage dreams and hobbies because we get sucked into this thing called life, which is loaded with responsibilities and expectations. Well, Rhonda has the same responsibilities as everyone else, but she makes sure to take the time for her “therapy” because it makes her happy.  Now, who wouldn’t be jealous of that? Anyway, getting back to the story…

From the minute we took off on the plane, Me, Rhonda, Shannon, my niece, Rhanda and nephew, Russell, had a BLAST!! Yes, Rhonda passed her love for music to her children, I mean, how could they not?

I have to admit, I was a bit nervous about flying, but I managed to make it through without throwing up on anyone, because this country girl ain’t never been on a big ole plane before! Movies like LaBamba and Sweet Dreams echoed in my head, but I had to remind myself that I wasn’t a famous singer, so surely it would be okay.

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Us crazy women ready to take on Nassau!

I was in awe of the view of the Miami skyline from the beautiful ship, the Norwegian Pearl, where we treated like royalty every day of our stay. Our destination was the Bahamas, but we were more interested in journey, rather than the destination. Cheap Trick rocked the stage as we pulled out of the harbor, and we didn’t stop rockin’ until we pulled back in five days later. A vacation with such intensity that you needed another vacation just to get over it.

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Russell & Rhanda Rowell meets KISS

Now, I don’t know what kind of mental image you are getting, but I can assure you, this ship was full of nothing more than regular Joes from many different countries who just all shared the love of music.  The people on the KISS Kruise weren’t weirdos or sleazy rocker types trying to relive the glory days. They weren’t even drunks or extreme partiers. They were just regular people on vacation. They were families, couples, friends, and the occasional loner.  Everyone was courteous and friendly everywhere you went.  I even made a few new friends along the way, including two very precious ladies, Darlene Rios and Allison Ballenger (aka The Southern Belles) from South Carolina. We were all just part of the KISS Navy, who were just proud to be a part of this international party.

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Darlene & Allison with KISS

Now, all this time, I thought my sister was the BIGGEST KISS fan out there, but I came to see that there were many who shared her same love and came to the realization that KISS music just has that effect on you. They have some of the most loyal fans I have ever seen. From the impressive tattoos they proudly displayed, the lookalike makeup, to the expensive attire they wore just to show their love for this historical rock band, it was a sight to behold. But then again, when you’re riding the Pacific waves with the hottest band in the world, what more could your expect?

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Formal concert..it was incredible

KISS took the stage two different times during the cruise, once in full makeup and draped in expensive dress suits, and one in casual wear, acoustic on the deck. Both concerts were amazing! “Dressed to Kill” was the theme of the high seas party and these legendary artists were their attire as part of this exclusive event. There were interactive activities with the band members several times throughout the cruise, which provided a personal touch by seeing these famous band members in a casual environment, where they just seemed to be having fun.

We attended a book reading by Paul Stanley, and I loved listening to his stories about when he and Gene were struggling to make it as artists in the 70’s. I thought that it was ironic that many people were under the impression that back in the day, KISS was a devil-worshipping band, when nothing could have been further than the truth. All they wanted to do was be original and build a dynasty, which they have more than accomplished.  Now, 40 years later, they are still going strong, if not stronger, than they were then. But I think the empire they have built speaks for itself, along with their massive fan base. They are no longer mocked, they are admired and envied. It’s a rags to riches story that is nothing short of incredible.

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Gene…need I say more?

Perhaps it’s time to take a KISStory lesson here….There are many lessons to be learned from this band; how to adapt to new things to survive, how to stay true to your roots, to never let anyone to get you down, and most of all how to never give up. Because being able to survive forty years at the top with a massive international fan base and timeless music that can never be topped ain’t too shabby….

I will never forget this rock n roll fantasy as long as I live and I am thankful to have had the chance to experience with my sweet family.  If possible, I left this trip an even bigger fan….counting down the days until next year :)

Thanksgiving Lessons and Blessings

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Thanksgiving…a day set aside for God’s blessings, family, and more great food than one can handle. It’s the one day a year we are supposed to be thankful for everything in our lives, although I don’t feel this should be confined to one day, or one month for that matter. But, in keeping with the tradition, I thought I would list some of the things I am most thankful for in my life…

All of you who know me well know that I don’t dwell on the little things in life. Every day, I struggle financially, just as many others do as well as emotionally. There are times that my bills are paid late, and I may have to put off some needed purchases, but I don’t sweat it. Why stress yourself out over things like that? Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our wants and needs, that we neglect the true blessings in our life.

Family, friends and good health are things you just can’t put a price on, but is taken for granted in many cases. Many do not realize this until one of these things, or more is taken away from them and then you can’t get it back. ” Hindsight is 20/20” is the truest statement I’ve ever heard.

In all of my years of working at the CTJ, I’ve written many human interest stories about people who have lost family members to disease or tragedy, lost their home due to natural disaster, or have had some type of tragic circumstances change the course of their life. These people have inspired me and changed my outlook on life in a positive fashion. While they may have thanked me for putting their story into words, it was really me who was honored to be able to do this for them.  And you can learn a lot from someone who’s lost a family member, for the phrase you will hear the most is “I would give anything just to speak with them one more time.”

I did a story on an amazing person one time who lost their life to a horrible disease. I always record my interviews, so I figured I would make a CD out of this one to give to the family later, because sadly, their condition was terminal. One year later, the family called me to see if I still had this CD because the anniversary of their death was coming up and they just wanted to hear this person’s voice again.

If you speak to someone who has lost an immediate family member, they will admit that sometimes they call the deceased loved one’s voice mail several times a day just to hear their voice. Sometimes, we take for granted that we will always have our loved ones beside us, but death is a natural part of life and no one knows when their will occur. So, be kind with your last words on a daily basis so there will never be any regrets. This is just one of the many valuable lessons I have learned along the way.

Folks, life is all about family and friends….so embrace every part of your life with your loved ones, the good and the bad, for there are lessons to be learned in every instance. While you may be sad when your children grow up and leave home, just remember God doesn’t close one door without opening another. Soon, another chapter will begin, and you could be blessed with another generation to carry on the family name. And if you’ve ever had the pleasure of having your grandchild’s arms wrapped around your neck, then you know what I’m talking about….

Many people dream of being showered with riches, to travel the Earth, or to be famous. Even though I admit I would love to be more financially secure sometimes,  I don’t wish for things like this anymore for I feel that God has allowed certain people to cross my path with the intent to change my way of thinking and to show me that there are just some things that shouldn’t  matter in life.

One of the dearest people in my life is my 91 year old Grandmother, Ruby Yates, who is the best person I know. She inspires me every day to be a better person with her infinite wisdom. Her best advice is simply put “No matter what happens in life, just love your family.” I can’t put it any better than that. On December 1st, she will celebrate 92 years of life on this Earth, God willing. Our entire family is lucky to have such a wonderful matriarch who has been such an amazing role model.

So, since I have jumped around a bit in this article, let me just sum it up with this:

Don’t dwell on the things you don’t have, or you will miss out on the good things that have been in front of you all along.  Let go of the situations you have no control over, because this takes too much of your energy and can have detrimental results on your overall health.

Don’t make let mistakes define you, learn to let go of past regrets and use them as a tool for the future. Always be willing to help out a person in great need, no matter how small that help may be, for a true act of kindness goes a long way. When there is loss, grieve, but move on, even though I know this easier said than done.  Never suppress your grief, for it is something we were meant to do when there is a need. With death comes the greatest lesson ever learned; to appreciate every moment you have with your loved ones, for once it is gone, you cannot get it back.

Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.  The secret to being happy is accepting where you are in life and making the most out of every day.

And on that note, I would like to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving and also a very Happy Birthday to my Mawmaw Yates. May your blessings be plentiful….

 The Silent Casualties of War; Johnny’s Story

By: Tammy Andrews

Every year, we give thanks, show our appreciation, and pay our respects for Veterans everywhere, past and present.  This one day a year seems like such a meager gesture for their honorable service to our country.

And sadly, we see and hear about the casualties of war that seem to occur every day. From the 624 acres of Arlington Cemetery, which is filled with the 400,000 graves of the men and women who gave their all over the last 150 years, to the soldiers who arrive in a pine box every day, draped with an American Flag after losing the fight to ongoing war in third world countries who know nothing more than to fight every day.

These brave men and women can never be repaid for their service to our country, for it takes a spectacular human being to put their life on the line every day for our freedom.  While casualties of war are expected along the way, it still hurts our hearts to see a life cut short.

But what about the silent casualties of war? The ones who are so eat up on the inside with battle scars that they never recover and eventually succumb to the internal injuries. Sometimes the greatest wounds a veteran carries are the ones you can’t see, for the war isn’t over for some just because the guns stopped firing…. johnny

On September 12, 2014, Johnny Ray Johnson became a silent casualty of war at the tender age of 23 when he took his own life, ending years of a tormented soul all because the weight of heavy combat was too much for him to bear.  He was a fun loving, happy person, loved by all who knew him, a loyal and loving son, faithful friend, and an exceptional soldier. He had a big heart, and loved fighting for his country, but he was never built to become the callous war machine he needed to be when the situation called for it…and he didn’t know how to lay it down either, when it was all over.

It had always been Johnny’s plan in high school to become a career Marine. After begging his mother, she reluctantly signed for him to enter the Corp at age 17. So, after graduating from Clay County High School, he was off to Basic Training on Parris Island. He set out with an eagerness to save the world, but the boy who would return would never be the same….

Soon after Johnny completed his Basic Training, he returned home and it was then his mother, Donna Wesley had noticed a difference in him. “It was if the light had gone out of his eyes” she said. But when she would try to talk to him, he would just shake it off with “I’m just shell-shocked, it just happens to some people and I’ll get used to it.”

After his Leave, Johnny went back to active duty, serving 8th and I at the White House for the next 2 years, which included ceremonial events, guard duty for the White House and diplomats. The greatest task of this duty he took to heart was with laying a fallen soldier to rest. He took special care of the military families who had lost a loved one, because that’s just the kind of person he was.

Johnny enjoyed his assignment in D.C., and was offered it again, but he felt it was his duty to fight, just like he had planned when he signed up, so he went up for deployment.

Johnny was deployed to Afghanistan soon after, where he would spend a little over seven months in heavy combat zones. Johnny came home after his deployment, but he was never quite the same.

Johnny seemed even more troubled when his step father, Jerry Wesley was stricken with cancer of the head and neck in the midst of his active duty. He seemed to be riddled with guilt because he wasn’t able to be there with the only man he had ever known to be his father.  Johnny came home whenever he could, and each time he did, his mother watched the fun-loving son that she had always known fade away a little every time. And as much as she tried, he would not talk about it.

When his troubles threatened to overcome him, Johnny reached his breaking point and just wanted out of the Corp, no matter the cost.  Johnny decided the only thing to do to end his torment was accept an Administrative Separation, and hopefully leave the pain of war behind him. He lost his GI Bill and healthcare, and part of his VA Benefits.  But the voices of war continued on in his head, and his shoulders were weary with haunting battle scars he couldn’t seem to shake.

But he was plagued with the haunting memories and night terrors that were always there and nothing seemed to help. He began a dangerous downward spiral to forget this pain, but that only made matters worse. He eventually opened up about a couple of disturbing events to his mother of where he had to take a life at one time, and another where they were under an ambush situation involving heavy fire and he had to call in for air support. In the mass confusion, he was worried that he may have given the wrong coordinates. He was haunted that possibly innocent lives were lost in this situation.

Johnny was formally diagnosed with PTSD (Post-Traumatic- Stress-Disorder) only a week before he died. He was prescribed an anti-depressant, but would not live long enough to see if this would cure his pain. Five days later, his parents would find him in his home with a gunshot wound straight through the heart, as if he were trying to free the pain once and for all from this area. Donna performed CPR on her son until first responders could arrive, but it was too late. “In my heart, I knew it was too late, but I had to do something, I couldn’t just stand there”, she said.

johnny 3After Johnny’s death, Donna was surprised to receive a letter from one of Johnny’s fellow soldier’s, who had served by his side and apparently knew him well. She shed tears while reading this letter, but was comforted to know that somewhere in the world, was a person who actually did know what kind of wonderful man her son really was. The long letter went into detail about the comraderies they had shared throughout most of their military career and how much Johnny meant to him and all those he served with.

***Donna, I’m writing your family this letter to let you guys know how much your son meant to me. When I found out about Johnny, I broke and I wanted nothing more than to be with Johnny’s family and friends sharing stories about how he touched all of us. Your son was a great person and one of my best friends. I am so lucky to have known him and I miss him every day. He was one of the most selfless men I have ever had the privilege of knowing. Johnny was like family, he was my brother. ***

One of Johnny’s best friends, who enlisted at the same time, but actually ended up being sent off two weeks later than Johnny due to a recruiter mix up, so they got separated along the way, summed it up with these words: “A tender heart goes one of three ways in the Corp. Either it becomes frozen or later thaws, but partially dead, like mine. Or it becomes replaced with hate and discontent, or it is freed from this heartless world by death.”

Pre-military, Johnny Ray Johnson was a cheerful, joyful person who always into some kind of harmless mischief and looking for a laugh. This boy is the one who Donna tries to cling to in her memory, but it is hard to do when she can’t get the images of the haunted man who took his own life out of her head, all because he didn’t know what to do with the shell of the person he had become. It’s a bitter struggle for her every day. “It’s a day to day struggle, and sometimes it’s minute to minute” she says.

Donna sums up her views on her son’s death with these remarks: “It might not be right, the way Johnny went about it, but johnny 1it’s the only way he knew how to handle it. It’s so hard for veterans to get help they need to overcome the programming that is needed to build a good soldier. I understand you have to have a certain amount of toughness about you, but you got to find a way to undo it before they throw them back out into society, where it’s a different world. They need to be re-assimilated and rebuilt in order to survive in the world and none of this happens.   What they’re doing is just not enough and something needs to change.”

My son was not the only one who suffered from PTSD, and lost the battle. There are others out there who need help, so they don’t feel they have to take the same extreme measures my son did. And after everything he went through, my son was denied a military presence at his burial and would not have even received a flag, had it not been for the insistence of my son- In- law. Johnny has paid the ultimate price for a system flawed. “

Editor’s note: Let me just say that I have the utmost respect for those who serve in the military, but this was a story I thought needed to be told. You can argue and say that maybe Johnny just wasn’t cut out to be military material, and maybe that’s true to an extent, but he wanted to serve his country and that’s a trait to be admired. The problem is that these are kids we are sending into combat, and we expect them to immediately become men. Inside every soldier who has been at war are visions he/she cannot silence. You may not see the churning from the outside, but it’s always there.

God Bless our Soldiers for everything they do for us just so we can taste the sweetness of freedom.  It seems a mere Thank You is not enough.

Johnny left this world a Decorated Veteran;  serving in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom and had been awarded the Combat Action Ribbon (Afghanistan), Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with star and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

Happy Veteran’s Day, Johnny, Thank you for your service…..

Daddy was a Moonshiner – The Adventures of Ab Jackson

by

Legends develop themselves throughout the years, in various forms and fashions to become part of our everyday life. But many of us may wonder, “Exactly what constitutes a legend and how does one reach a status of that nature?” There are many people who feel you must lead an exemplary life to fall in this category, however, the focus of this particular legend doesn’t play out in quite this manner, but it perhaps one of the most interesting subjects you will read about. The name of this legend is none other than Albert “Ab” Jackson, Moonshine King of the Tri-County area.

Ab Jackson

Over the course of two centuries, and several generations, possibly even more…the Jackson family took moonshine making to a whole new level, turning it into an art form, one might say, taking pride in their creation and therefore producing some of the finest whiskey that could ever be found here in the South. Ab Jackson followed in his ancestors’ footsteps by continuing this family tradition, becoming a master of sorts by placing his personal stamp of perfection on each and every handcrafted bottle. The man could shake a bottle of whiskey and tell you what proof it was just by studying the contents. Anytime the word moonshine is mentioned in Clay County, you will most likely hear the Jackson name. With law enforcement, a mention of Ab’s name usually brings on a smile, or sometimes even a small laugh, soon followed by their own personal tales of this most amusing character.

Ab took on the face of many names over the decades: farmer, husband, father, convict, businessman, good Samaritan, but the one he always seemed to wear the best was simply “friend”. If you are ever passing through Millerville and take the time to stop at Jackson’s Grocery, you can mention the name “Ab Jackson” to anyone who walks through those doors and they only had kind words to speak of him. This also included law enforcement, as crazy as that may seem. His life story played out much like a real life Dukes of Hazard theme, one of which he always seemed to be one step ahead of everyone else. Now, as Ab’s years on this Earth grow scarce, as is his memories, his story needs to be told…

Ab was born in 1936, son of Alvin and Ada Jackson, and one of three boys. He was raised on a farm where hard work was a part of everyday life. From early to sundown, these boys performed back-breaking chores that would seem inhumane to children these days. Ab’s grandfather, William Jackson, began passing his whiskey making skills on to his sons by the age of just ten. When Ab was 15, he was able to make moonshine completely on his own to help support the family, although farming continued to take precedence. Ab would buy his first mule for the sum of $20.00 by saving his break money over time of just a nickel a day. Moonshining and farming were not only considered work to him, but also a hobby. If he wasn’t doing one, he was doing the other. His strong work ethic was always one to be admired.

On his deathbed, Ab’s grandfather made his grandsons promise him they would always make good whiskey, a promise they would more than honor over the next few decades. After his grandfather passed, Ab and his brothers kept up the farm and continued making moonshine to make ends meet.

When Ab set his eyes on Jo Davidson, he knew she was the one for him. So, he pursued her with everything he had and won her heart. They married shortly afterwards and enjoyed a happy life together. Their union would produce six children, three sons: Frankie, Dee, Alan and three daughters: Martha, Sandra, and Margie. Farming and moonshine were the primary sources of income for this family, and they never went hungry. His youngest son, Dee, can remember helping out around the stills as early as 5 years old. He can never remember them living in one place for more than a few months while growing up, their frequent moves were always brought on whenever the law would get hot on his father’s trail because there was always a still nearby.

One very interesting fact you might know about Ab before the story goes much further is that he never consumed any of his own whiskey. His explanation for this was always “It ain’t made for drinking, it’s made to sell.” And he would also caution his customers about drinking too much, saying, “My liquor won’t hurt you, but it will make you hurt yourself.”

Of course, it was bound to happen eventually. In the early 60’s, despite Ab moving his stills around frequently in the deepest of the Coosa, Tallapoosa, and Clay County woods, he was arrested and taken into custody. The judge handed down a sentence of three years in the state penitentiary. Ab was irate over this judgement and cursed the judge saying, “Damn, Judge, why couldn’t you just have given me two years?” The judge looked down at him and said “Maybe this will teach you to stop making moonshine.” Ab’s reply was simply, “I ain’t gonna stop making it until my toes turn up.” He would serve 17 months of this sentence.

The second time Ab was incarcerated was in the mid 60’s. He was bonded out of jail by a couple of friends but was given a sentence of two years. Fearful of going back to jail, Ab packed up his family, skipped bond and headed to California. They would spend several months in the sunny state, before Ab was able to save enough money to make the trip home. The law got wind that Ab was back in town almost immediately and came to search his house. Ab hid in the loft and caught an officer quite by surprise with a loaded shotgun. Ab quietly told the officer to yell down to tell them the attic was clear, which he did with no resistance. It is unsure why the officer never told the others he had located Ab’s hiding spot, but after what they thought was a thorough search, they left the premises. The very next day, Ab packed up his family and went back to California for three months, before he just decided it was time to do the right thing. So they headed back to Alabama, and Ab turned himself in to serve out his time. He was sent to Atmore State Penitentiary, where he would serve just one year of his sentence before he was released early for being a model prisoner.

Life went back to normal for the Jacksons and although he had learned a few lessons from his imprisonment, he continued to make moonshine, but was much more careful this time around. Making moonshine was hard work, but it was bred into his blood. Ab was a small-framed man, but could tackle a workload of men twice his size in record time with more stamina than anyone could ever imagine. He would even cut the enormous amount of firewood needed for his mash with a small handsaw. His sons said he moved at the speed of a beaver while performing this task.

facebook_491324342After the mixture was prepared, it would take 3-4 days for the process to complete, so Ab would just leave the still during this time, always setting up some type of markers to see if the still had been discovered. Because an arrest could not be made unless someone was found at the still, Ab might become suspicious if his markers were not in place. One method he would use for markers was placing small sticks standing straight up in the ground around the perimeter of the still to see if anyone had been on the grounds.

The secret to Ab’s whiskey was a rye recipe, and his stills were known for their flawlessness and immaculate craftsmanship. The filtration system he used was the best and as a result, his liquor had a smooth taste and was as clear as water. Ab took great pride in having the best whiskey around. He had people come as far as New York, Ohio, Mississippi, Tennessee, and California just to get a batch of the legendary moonshine. Some would buy as many as 15 gallons to last them awhile because they said it was the best they had ever tasted. Ab even sold his whiskey to Hank Williams Sr.

Eldest son, Frankie, was only nine years old when he began helping his father at the still. He can recall getting up as early as 2:00 am to begin toting large bags of sugar, gas bottles and flour for several miles round trip to isolated wooded areas. Frankie was just 12 years old when he got caught with a mule and wagon loaded down with 52 gallons of whiskey. He said the thing he remembered the most was one of the ABC agents coming out of the woods singing “The Old Gray Mare Ain’t What She Used to Be.” They handcuffed him and made him drive the wagon home, and his mother was livid when she saw her young son in handcuffs. He was taken to the courthouse for mug shots. He was released back into his father’s custody, but only after Ab paid a stiff penalty because his son was a juvenile.

During the late 60’s-early 70’s, ABC (Alabama Beverage Control) began to keep close tabs on Ab’s activities, which kept them very busy. Former ABC agent Terry “Tiny” Turner spent many days and nights staking out Ab’s place and searching for his stills. He had several interesting stories to tell. One night while watching the Jackson homestead, he heard the couple arguing loudly from inside the home. After a few minutes, he saw Ab emerge from the front door swearing loudly, where he proceeded to pick up all of the porch furniture and throw them off to work out his frustration. Turner said this was clearly not a violent situation, just more amusing than anything. “There I was crouched down, hiding in the bushes trying to contain my laughter.”

On another occasion, Turner said they had found a still in the woods one day that had Ab’s signature mark written all over it because of his flawless technique. Because an arrest could not be made unless a person was actually caught making the moonshine at the still, he and his partner decided to come back the next day to see if they could catch him in the act. Much to their surprise, when they came back the next day, the entire still was gone, with not so much as a scrap of evidence left. Apparently, Ab had somehow figured out they had found the still and spent most of the night dismantling it, a huge chore for less than 24 hours. “He must have worked all the way through the night cleaning that still out, it was as if it never even existed,” said Turner laughing “The joke was on us.”

Another memorable moment for Turner and his crew was when they had a search warrant in hand for Ab, which had to be personally handed to him. They found him down at Hatchett Creek, where the water level had risen due to heavy rains. Ab must have heard them approaching, so he quickly jumped in his boat, and drove it to a sandbar where they could not reach him. Try as they might, they could not persuade him to come to them. “He was all but dancing on the other side, saying “Whatcha gonna do now?” said Turner smiling “ He was always very sharp and swift.” They left with the search warrant still in hand. They would find out later he had 50 gallons of whiskey in his house at this time, but since they weren’t able to actually serve the warrant, there wasn’t anything they could do.

Truthfully though, Ab was not the hardened criminal some people may have thought him to be. Matter of fact, there wasn’t a law enforcement employee that disliked Ab. “I just can’t say anything bad about Ab” said Turner, “He was one of the best friends I ever had, just an excellent man and I thought the world of him. I was responsible for putting him in the state penitentiary three times, and he never gave me one minute of trouble. He remained my friend to this day, the best-hearted man I’ve ever seen on that side of the law. When you got some of Ab’s liquor, you got a prize, some of the cleanest liquor anywhere around.” Ab always told me “You’re doing your job and I’m doing mine.”

Although Ab could be an excellent friend to anyone, you did not want to betray his trust because this is where he drew the line. This was even more so true with family members. One time, Ab had hired one of cousins to help on the farm and with the stills. This cousin got angry with Ab for some particular reason and decided to turn Ab in. As a result of his actions, Ab decided to teach him a lesson when he got out of jail. He lured the cousin to him under false pretenses and set his revenge plan into motion. Somehow, Ab ended up holding this cousin, John, hostage by restraining him with logging chains on a huge bed of hay in his barn for three days. Dee remembers this well because he was the one who had to take his meals to him. After a couple of days of being imprisoned, it was really getting to him. On this day, as Dee and Ab walked out ready to work in the fields, John yelled out to Ab from the barn as he was climbing up on the tractor “ Ab, you sonuva….., if you don’t let me go, I’m gonna burn this barn to the ground by the time you get back!” Ab stopped the tractor, stood up and reached deep in his overall pockets until he fished out a box of matches and proceeded to throw them to his hostage, then jumped back on his tractor and left. Dee seemed concerned so he asked his father “Daddy, aren’t you afraid he’s gonna do it?” Ab just looked at his son and smiled saying “Son, he ain’t gonna burn himself up.” And Ab was right. After three days of captivity, Ab turned his cousin loose, and he was never bothered again.

As time went on, it turned into more of a cat and mouse game between Ab and law enforcement, and the heat was on him more than ever to the point of harassment. Ab grew tired of not being able to even make a trip into town without being pulled over and searched. It was one of these times that Ab decided another lesson was needed in order to be left alone. So, he took everything out of his trunk and lined it with a bed of pine straw. He then caught him two big rattlesnakes and placed him in the pine straw. To set them up a little further, he took several glass jugs and filled them with water so they would actually think he was hauling whiskey. True enough, it wasn’t long before he was pulled over again and was searched. When the deputy asked Ab if he had anything in the trunk, Ab answered honestly telling him he had nothing but water back there. Not satisfied with this answer, the officer opened the trunk, saw the jug and reached for it thinking this time they had caught him with the goods. Needless to say, he was more than a little shocked and surprised when a big rattler struck at him, thankfully, missing its mark. The trunk was closed quickly and for a long time, Ab was left in peace in his travels.

Ab also had a love for his 5-gallon glass jugs, which not only held his liquor, but also served as decoration around his house. When one particular raid didn’t produce any whiskey, law enforcement confiscated several of these jugs, not to mention several 50 lb bags of sugar. Their reasoning was they knew Ab was going to use these items to make whiskey. The Sheriff promised they would return his jugs to him after the proper paperwork was done. When this wasn’t done in a timely manner, Ab paid the Sheriff a visit with a gun in his pocket and demanded they return his beloved jugs. Rumor has it Ab even pulled a gun on this Sheriff, although this was never confirmed.

One late night when Ab was out and about, a deputy decided to pull him over and this particular night with moonshine in custody, Ab was having none of it. This high-speed chase that ensued was no contest because it took place on a back road that Ab was only well too familiar with, and unfortunately, the deputy was not. The deputy ended up running his car off the road, flipping it several times. Now, Ab was free to get away, but being the person he was, he was actually concerned about the deputy’s well-being. So, he turned around and went back to check on him, which by then was covered with other law enforcement. The driver was injured, though not seriously, probably mostly with pride. Officers didn’t think too highly of Ab’s act of kindness and took him in custody. He was arrested, but bonded out the same night. The very next day, Ab paid a visit to the Sheriff’s Office, with a twenty five-pound bag of flour thrown over his shoulder. He told the Sheriff that anybody who would risk their own life by chasing him must really be hungry. So, he then tossed the bag of flour onto the Sheriff’s desk and left.

Hoping to eliminate some competition, a fellow bootlegger paid a visit to Ab’s place one time on the pretense of making a purchase, with an officer hidden in the trunk of his car . But Ab’s instincts told him something was not quite right, so he asked this person if there was anyone in his trunk. Although the man swore no one was in there, he still refused to open it. Ab told him if he had someone in that trunk, he was going to throw them in his well. Defeated, the man left.

Another humorous recollection by son, Dee, came when the law enforcement was crouched down outside Ab’s home in hiding one time and Dee’s little dog walked up to the officer, sniffed of him, then raised his leg and let nature take its course on the officer’s pants.

Ab’s demeanor in the courtroom showed a different side of him. He was known to lose his temper quite frequently when provoked, through yelling, throwing things, initiating fights, which would result in further contempt charges at times. At one time, he got so angry with the Judge, he grabbed the gavel from his hand and shook it at him. Son, Dee recalls him getting angry at a Judge one time and slapping him because he said the Judge lied. He was given seven days in jail on contempt of court charges, which they let him serve on weekends, so he could take care of his gardening. The very next week, he took the Judge a bushel of peas because outside the courtroom, he was buddies with most of them. They knew Ab was never a real threat to anyone.

IMG_12738757015977He never had any legal representation in the courtroom, he always chose to defend himself and was successful on several occasions for beating charges going this route. He beat a case one time when he asked the Sheriff to describe the exact location of the still in question. So, the sheriff proceeded to explain in great detail where he had discovered the still. After the Sheriff had finished with his explanation, Ab turned to him and said, “Well, Sheriff, since it sounds like you knew exactly where you were going, it must have been your still.” The case was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

As stated before, Ab was hard to catch, but once he was caught, he offered no resistance of any kind. He always complied with the law in every fashion. Because he was never resistant, many times local law enforcement would just pay him a cordial visit, or phone call to tell him they had a warrant for him and he would go to town and sign it. In the mid 70’s, he was caught once again by ABC. The agents simply raided the still quietly telling Ab they were going to have to take him in. Ab asked them if he could finish making the mash and they allowed him to since they knew he wasn’t going to run. Of course the mash was confiscated, but that’s just the way Ab was. He liked to complete things. ABC agents were so impressed with Ab’s impeccable method of moonshine preparation, they took his still and set it up for display in the Montgomery Office.

A funny thing to note is that Ab received a visit from the Internal Revenue Service one day, not surprisingly since the main reason for moonshine making to be illegal was because of tax purposes anyway. These IRS agents proceeded to inform Ab that according to their calculations of all the whiskey he had concocted and had been confiscated, that he owed them several thousand dollars. Ab just sit there thoughtfully for a minute and finally told them he would be more than glad to pay this amount only IF they could return this whiskey to him that had been seized which the agent knew was impossible. Since there was little explanation the IRS could give, they left…without any money and they never paid him another visit.

Ab was never one to be still. He was one of the hardest working men you would ever meet. When he wasn’t making moonshine, he was farming. This was a big part of how he helped people. If he heard there was a family in need, he would take them fresh vegetables. If someone was sick or having any kind of financial hardship, he would pay their utility bills, buy them groceries or give them money. As far as the moonshine went, many people would use the whiskey mixed with peppermint for medicine. So, if anyone ever knocked on Ab’s door at any hour of the night needing “medicine”, he would give it to them free of charge. Son Dee remembers this well because he said he spent many nights pouring up the mixture in quart jars for anyone in need. “Truth be known, Daddy probably gave away more whiskey than he sold,” said Dee.

Because his liquor was considered “the best,” his customers were plentiful. He sold to many upstanding citizens of Clay County: politicians, judges, council members, commissioners, and mayors. Ab even sold to many law enforcement personnel, some off-duty and some not. He was even known to bring his whiskey in mason jars to employees at the Sheriff Department. He was teased by many of his friends about his profits, saying that he was making that “Rocking Chair” money. This reference meaning after the work was done, he would sit back in his rocking chair and just watch the money roll in. As the years rolled by, his warrants were handled in an even more civil fashion, most of the time he was called by phone and told he had a pending warrant and he would just go up and there and sign it. Since he had such a sharp mind, he decided to go into business for himself, owning both convenience stores in Millerville for some time. Ab also wore the title of “Mayor of Millerville” of sorts, although there was no such position. A close friend of his Dan Endress always told everyone Ab was the most level-headed person alive because that snuff ran out both sides of his mouth evenly. Although, Ab did not drink or smoke, he did enjoy a good dip of snuff.

Ab had a frequent visitor in award-winning photographer Ken Elkins, probably better known as simply “Picture Taker.” Elkins’ work was made famous by having a knack for catching “just the right” pictures of rural life. You could find Elkins on many Saturdays hanging around the store, or in the fields with Ab with his camera in tow. He found Ab to be a fascinating person and always swore he was going to write his life story one day. Elkins won several awards with his pictures of Ab, some with his mule working. You can find these pictures of Ab, and many others from Elkins for sale in a museum in his honor called “Picture Taker” in the Quintard Mall. You can also find information on the some of the Jackson family run-ins with ABC in a book titled “Moonshine Memories” by former ABC agent Tom Allison.

jackson_1__2Ab has been tracked by bloodhounds and was known to outrun law officers by foot. There were times, he would climb trees, throw rocks at the dogs, and even swim the river to get away from them. One time when he and some family members were being chased on foot, one of them was not in as good physical condition as the rest were, so he literally passed out from the physical exertion. Concerned about the fallen friend, they took the time to cover him with pine tops since he was out cold and came back later to fetch him. No one got caught on that day either. He has been arrested or had dealings with over four (4) decades of Sheriffs in Clay County, most of which would “conveniently” catch him near election time. Clay County Commissioner and former Lineville Police Chief Wayne Watts recalls a time when he was campaigning for Sheriff some 20 years ago and ran into Ab. Watts handed Ab a campaign card and asked for his vote. Ab said “ Well, I’m not gonna vote for you, you’d probably catch me.”

Sons said their father was an excellent provider for his family. They said Ab didn’t have to make moonshine, he did it because it was a habit that he truly enjoyed. Whether because he enjoyed the tranquility of being in the woods alone, or just from knowing he was making the best product he capable of, it was an addiction to him. Frankie still has the last gallon of liquor their father ever poured up. They are very proud of him of the heritage their father passes on, despite the arrests, and jail time because they know their father was doing everything he could to provide for his family. “He was a good-hearted person who taught us so much, what hard work was, how to be successful in business matters, farming, helping others and even how to make moonshine.” Son, Dee, even runs the same store, Jackson’s Grocery, that his father once owned. He has even contemplated teaching his own son, age 3 now, the “family recipe” just to preserve the Jackson heritage.

Ab is 76 years old now and is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. I had the honor of speaking with Mr. Jackson just a couple of months ago in his home, shortly before his care began to require too much and his family was forced to place him in a nursing home. Although his memory failed him on many questions, he would still have temporary moments of clarity. He spoke only nice things about his bride of 52 years, Jo, and even teased a bit about how she would never let him have a girlfriend. He could recall a few brushes with the law, although with no details. When I asked him if he made good liquor, he said “Well, if you’re gonna make it, might as well be the best.” He even offered to pay my power bill.

Ab still resides in the nursing home, with the biggest part of his memory gone. Every now and then, you will catch him singing the gospel hymn “I’ll Fly Away”, or make some reference to making moonshine like he is still doing it in his mind. Jo remains attentively by his side in his final days, tending to his needs. She was never bothered by any of Ab’s adventures, she knew he made moonshine from the very beginning. She has stood by his side faithfully throughout the years because she knew at the end of the day she had married a good man. In fact, she fought for him on several occasions. She summed it all up with his statement: “Me and Ab never did smoke or drink, but we sure done our part in raising a lot of Hell.”

Who knows how far the Jackson liquor could have gone, had it reached the right person? A reference was once made in a local newspaper his whiskey was better than Jack Daniels. One thing’s for sure, his legacy will long live past his years on Earth and that’s all anyone could ever hope for. We all have our own unique talents in life and they should all be developed to the best of our ability. So, whether you agree with Ab’s lifestyle or not, he proved that being successful in all aspects of life doesn’t always mean having an unblemished background. He will forever be remembered for not only his whiskey, but also for his compassion and generosity shown towards others.

 

Footnote: This story was written in 2011. Ab has since passed away.

  • Photo credits: First photo by Ken Elkins – Picturetaker; all others provided by the family.
    Editor’s note: this story also appeared in the Clay Times-Journal in Lineville, Alabama.

Autistic Teen conquers his biggest fear

By: Tammy Andrews

timothy13 year old Timothy Kiser LOVES football, more than just your average child. According to his parents, he lives and breathes it. He is constantly talking and dreaming about it…even sleeps and showers with a football. Tim’s biggest dream is kicking a football in a real game, unfortunately, his fear of being hit by the other players has been bigger than his dream up until now. Tim always says he’s going to be a Kicker for the University of Alabama one day.

Tim also has a condition known as Fragile X Syndrome, which falls under the Autism spectrum. Children with fragile X syndrome may have anxiety and hyperactive behavior , along with attention deficit disorder (ADD). About one-third of individuals with fragile X syndrome have features of autism spectrum disorders that affect timothy 2communication and social interaction. But he does not let that define him…

Tim did play midget ball for the last 3-4 years, but was only put in the game a few times, due to his overwhelming fear, and played safety when he was on the field these times. Tim is now a member of the Central Vols Junior Varsity Team, and his passion to be a Kicker goes stronger and stronger…

This is what his father, Kevin Kiser, posted about an incident that took place on the field last Tuesday night: “I was totally shocked when Tuesday night I heard his team begin to chant his name and I looked up from my conversation to see Tim standing on the field about to kick off. I was shocked and so proud of him and his coaches and his team. As it turns out he panicked and made the guy next to him kick it, then ran off the field and cried for a minute and then threw up  He was nervous and scared and yet more excited and happy than I have ever seen him. But I want to assure everyone, he was proud of himself and he was so happy he still hasn’t stopped talking about it. I want to thank everyone involved with giving him a shot to live his dream.”

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But this is not the end of the story….

Tim was very frustrated with himself after the game last week, says his Mom, Martha Denson. “When he got in the car that night, he said ‘Mom, I let my Coaches and my whole team down tonight.” Martha reassured him he would kick it next time.timothy kick

Every afternoon that week, Tim would go outside and practice kicking the ball over and over again. “This boy has more passion and heart for football than any kid I’ve ever seen, says his Stepfather, Tommy Denson. And this is how perseverance pays off…

Tonight, Tim finally overcame his fear with the help of his Coaches and teammates pulling for him. He may not have kicked the ball very far, but something tells me you’re going to hear more of this young man. “Next time I’m gonna kick it harder” he told his Mom when he came off the field wearing a big smile. This is one very happy boy!

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Kevin and Martha wish to thank Tim’s Coaches past and present, and everyone else who played a hand in helping Tim begin to conquer his fears and achieve his dream.

Proud brother
Proud brother