As you may know, I have written a couple of books. Among the most enjoyable experiences to come out of those efforts were multiple visits to churches and clubs to tell my stories and to peddle books. As I prepare another book (or two), I still accept every invitation I can to visit with folks, and talk to them eye to eye.
After all, reporting the news on TV each day can get you down. Unfortunately, much of the news is negative, and seems to be getting more so each day. When I tell my “live” audiences that they are about to hear a news guy speak for thirty minutes, without mentioning Trump, Obama, Clinton, climate change or immigration, everyone applauds. I think they need a break from it too. So, most of my presentation is humorous, or at least that's the goal. I call it the “No Bad News Zone.”
I've been to the Rotary Clubs, youth groups, Civitans, retirees, awards banquets, Chambers of Commerce, Kiwanis, Lions, Ruritans, historical societies, Christmas banquets, Valentine parties, book clubs, libraries, and singles groups. I even did a program for a Rose Society (they said they didn’t want to hear about gardening, they talk about that all the time).
I’ve been to Summerville, Rome, Murphy, Higdon, Athens, Trenton, Signal Mountain, Lafayette, Ringgold, Tracy City, Tunnel Hill, Boynton, Cleveland, Dayton, Dalton, Dunlap, Chickamauga, Rock Spring, Jasper, South Pittsburg, Cleveland, Flintstone, Etowah, Apison, and all over Chattanooga.
I enjoy church groups the most. I know what you’re thinking: it’s because of the home-cooked pot-luck meals. Well, they are quite good. Honestly, I don’t know how I’ve avoided gaining fifty pounds. Talk about all you can eat! Everything is made from scratch. Everywhere I go, I’m told, “We have the best cooks in the world here.” I can’t argue that. But more than the food, I’ve enjoyed the friendships. I’ve met the nicest people.
They pray for their community, their neighbors, our nation and our world. Hearing their sincere prayers gives me a boost. They don’t make a lot of noise, but in every neighborhood, there are good people who make our world better. Many of them don’t spend much time online. They stay busy with their families, looking after their neighbors, and visiting hospitals and nursing homes.
After I tell my stories, comes the best part. They tell me about their lives and memories, and I leave knowing much more than when I came. They remember the first time they heard the radio, or the day their family got a TV. They tell me what their neighborhoods were like before the big stores moved in, before the traffic lights and four-lane highways. They tell me about the wars they fought, the children they raised, the grandchildren they adore.
There have been many memorable moments and unforgettable people, but I do have some favorites. A bright-eyed 90-something lady bounded up to me and said, “We’ve had a lot of speakers here, and you’re the best.” I said, “Thank you! What did you like? The history? The stories about radio and TV people? My jokes? Without missing a beat she said, “You’re loud! I could hear every word you said. I’m hard of hearing, but I really enjoyed this.”
And there was this one man I will never forget. If you've ever spoken in public, you know that the task is easier if the folks in your audience are making eye contact with you. It's even better if they're smiling, or at least showing interest.
Well, this guy was one nut I could not crack. He was seated near the back, directly in my line of vision. From the beginning of my speech until the end, he was sleeping. His head was drooped toward his chest. Every now and then, he would move a little, to get more comfortable. Thankfully he was not a snorer.
Occasionally, I would try the preacher's trick of raising my voice. You've seen that on the Andy Griffith Show when the preacher roused Barney out of dreamland. But it didn't work this time. So I carried on with my merriment, and the rest of the audience seemed to have a good time. Afterward, I shook a few hands and autographed some books.
While I was walking out to my car, Mr. Sleepy Head caught up with me, and walked alongside me, since our cars were parked side by side. He said, “I really enjoyed your talk! You had me laughing the whole time.” I was too stunned to say anything except, “Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it.” But maybe I should have given him my card, and said, “Hey, if you ever have trouble going to sleep, give me a call. I can tell you a story!”
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a collection of his best columns. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.