The year 2014 began, as most do, with black-eyed peas for good luck.
Last call will come Wednesday night with whatever leftovers can be found in the fridge. I might nod off before midnight. You reach a point in your life when auld lang syne becomes old lang syne.
It was a good year, even a great one in stretches. I ate most of my vegetables and stayed out of trouble. I waded in the Atlantic Ocean and stretched my eyes across Tallulah Gorge. I became a grandfather for the first time, and must childproof the house all over again.
A man in the lobby at the Macon Marriott told me I look like Bill Gates. (Except for my wallet, of course.) A lady in a retirement community had me autograph a pair of socks. At a school career day in Warner Robins, a little one asked if I rode around in a limo. (No, that’s Bill Gates.)
I found stories in coffee shops, church pews, baseball dugouts, nursing homes, country stores, on the midway at the fair and the porch at the Ronald McDonald House. Lives were shared across the tables at the Burger King in Macon, the Huddle House in Milledgeville and Maebob’s Diner in Irwinton.
I stood in the shadow of a 110-foot rocket that has been a landmark at the Cordele exit on I-75 for the past 46 years. I shielded my eyes against the sun as Jimmie “The Dove Keeper” Granville released three dozen snow-white doves into the skies above McEvoy Drive in south Macon.
I swept across south Georgia cotton fields in search of the perfect word and found the patch of dirt in Haddock where the 1914 Boston “Miracle” Braves held spring training a century ago. My feet waltzed across the stage at the City Auditorium, a magical night with the Dancing Stars of Central Georgia. I bowed my head at a “Blessing of the Crops” prayer breakfast in Hawkinsville.
Some days I felt like Superman, but most days I dressed like Clark Kent. I stood at Melvie Jane Brown’s bed in a nursing home and marveled how someone who has never walked or talked, with twisted arms and a crooked back, could touch so many lives. I visited a patriotic couple on Houston Road who keep a fresh coat of red, white and blue paint on the stump of a chinaberry tree in their front yard.
I chased snowflakes Macon to Warner Robins to Fort Valley to Roberta and Forsyth. I did not accept the “ice bucket challenge.” I did, however, watch “Frozen” and headed to Nu-Way for a “flaky ice cup challenge.”
On an Indian summer morning, I was off to see the gizzard -- a family-owned business in Jones County that is the world’s leading provider of replacement rollers for poultry gizzard processing machines. I was a judge for the dessert contest at the Strawberry Festival in Reynolds. (It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.)
I had a much better year than my car. While minding my own business at a stop light on Napier Avenue, I was hit from behind by a “distracted driver.” (I am convinced there is an epidemic.) We broke down on the mountain between Chattanooga and Nashville, Tennessee, and that was frightening. (Delinda had to sit in my lap after the driver of the tow truck decided to bring his wife along.)
We had the alternator replaced in Paducah, Kentucky, and I might write a country song about that one day. On the same trip, we stopped at a mall in St. Louis, not far from a suburb called Ferguson. Who could have known that three weeks later it would become the powder keg of the country?
The year brought its share of sadness. There were too many funerals. Wiley Baxter, the man who inspired the peg-legged caveman in the comic strip B.C., was laid to rest at Macon Memorial Park just three months after his dear wife, Fran, passed away. Leonard Grace, who edited the local Exchange Club bulletins for 55 years without missing an issue (a national record), was promoted to heaven. The passing of Austin Childers, a courageous young man whose family I hold dear, left a hole in my heart.
On a whim, I declared myself a candidate on Election Day. I launched a last-minute campaign on Facebook and received several write-in votes, although I never really made it clear which office I was seeking. Like many of you, I was disgusted when the Atlanta Braves and Falcons announced they are building new stadiums. Given the seasons they both had, I propose we bring back a cheer. “Go Braves!!! ... And take the Falcons with you!!!”
A roundabout opened a few blocks from my office. There have been no major accidents, just a lot of folks driving around dizzy. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the mortality rate for those who volunteer is 22 percent lower than non-volunteers, so I’m going to sign up for everything in the new year.
Once upon a time, 2015 sounded so futuristic. Now it’s at the front door. It’s the “Year of the Sheep,” but I have no plans to be sheepish.
My horoscope tells me to do what I like and like what I do.
Bring it on.
To contact Gris, call at 744-4275 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.