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

vicki melissa 2

 

 

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

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

melissa vicki

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 helps 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.

10885019_10152463470090940_1565862923223863509_n
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.

jim hardy pic
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.”

hardy 3
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.

hardy 5
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/

 

 

 

 

 

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.

10885019_10152463470090940_1565862923223863509_n
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.

jim hardy pic
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.”

hardy 3
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.

hardy 5
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

piper birth
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.

piper 3
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

kerri
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….

mug-shot-55705491
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.

kerri 5
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….

kerri baby
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.

kerri ava
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.

kerri 4
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.

kerri 1
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.

kerri 2
“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.

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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 🙂