Monday, May 25, 2009


Earlier this week, Americans celebrated Memorial Day, one of a string of patriotic holidays we observe each year along now.

Starting the third Saturday of May with Armed Forces Day – a salute to our men and women in uniform -- we, in rapid succession, pay our respects to those who have given their lives in the service of our nation on the last Monday in May; then commemorate the Stars and Stripes on June 14th; culminating with Independence Day on July 4th, celebrating the birth of our nation.

Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Independence Day, all squashed together in a period of six or seven weeks, give us each ample occasion to ponder the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.

But there are two other occurrences during the same time frame that I believe also help us define the concept of freedom.

First is the end of the school year… and the end of the school year, to millions of kids across the land, is the very essence of “freedom”.

When I flash back to my own childhood, I can almost taste the joy and excitement I felt on that final day of school each year. I had endured the authoritarian drudgery of 180 days of being told exactly what to do and exactly when to do it… under penalty of severe punishment, such as sitting in the corner, or a trip to the principal’s office. Could living under a Communist regime possibly have been any worse?!!

But now, I was FREE for three whole, entire months. Free to do as I please without classes, without bells controlling my schedule, without homework!!! I was free to wear cutoffs and old T-shirts, free to go barefoot during the day, free to get on my bicycle first thing in the morning and ride it all day long, pretty much anywhere I wanted to go.

Throughout the USA, the next generation of Americans is getting this annual treat of “freedom”, a concept many of them will decide later in life is worth standing up for, even fighting for!

The other occurrence we here in The Palmetto State witness each year along now is the end of the state’s legislative session. By law, the House and Senate must adjourn “Sine Die” no later than the first Thursday in June. (“Sine Die” is Latin, meaning “we ain’t coming back”.) This year, to save money during the recession, they adjourned a couple of weeks earlier than required.

The adjournment of ANY legislative body – House or Senate, State or Congress, or even local bodies such as city and county councils – is a great day for the cause of FREEDOM.

Because… when they’re not in session, they can’t make any more laws taking our freedom away!!!

While the daily news media has been critical of the recent legislative session, I have a very different view. This year’s state legislative session, in my humble opinion, was the most successful in my memory. They passed virtually no new laws this year… and to freedom-loving citizens, that’s a good thing.

To put it in the proper perspective, you should always remember this little axiom of government, which I learned many years ago:

“Every time a new law is passed, somebody loses a little more of their freedom”.

Laws, you know, are generally designed to tell us what we cannot do, not what we can do. We have a constitution which guarantees us certain freedoms, and we are presumed to be free to pursue any dream we may have…unless our dream has been restricted by the passage of some federal, state, or local law.

Since convening in January, the state legislature was successful in passing one major law – the annual state budget, which is needed, despite the fact that it takes away the freedom of the citizens to spend their some of their own money as they see fit.

Others may chide the General Assembly for their lack of action. I applaud them for it. Our freedoms are safe for another year.

And now, just like the schoolkids across the land, I plan to go out this summer and enjoy as much freedom as I can!

The Name Game – part two

Last week, when I wrote a column entitled “The Name Game”, a lot of people told me they were expecting to see: “Hannah, Hannah, bo-bannah; banana-banna fo fannah; me, my, mo-mannah… Hannah!”

No such luck.

Instead of the words to that iconic Silly Song of the Sixties, I wrote instead about the Social Security Administration’s annual list of baby names for 2008… a list headed by “Emma” and “Jacob” as the most popular names for newborn girls and boys, respectively.

(“Respectively”, incidentally, means “in precisely the order given; sequentially”, according to my Internet dictionary. If you’re like me, you’ve read or used that word for years, but never knew exactly what it meant. Today, however, I decided to look it up to make sure of what I was writing… possible through the miracle of the Internet dictionary, right here on my same laptop computer, meaning I didn’t even have to walk across the room to the bookshelf to pick up an actual dictionary. If I had been required to get up from my Lazyboy and walk across the room, I wouldn’t have bothered: I would just have used the word anyway, and crossed my fingers in hopes that I guessed right.)

While I was conducting “research” for my column about names last week, I came across several other interesting lists of names: names of racehorses, pet dog and cat names, and names of boats, to mention a few.

Pet names, it turns out, have morphed primarily into people names in recent decades, or so it seems.

The most popular name for dogs and cats is “Max”, we are told. That can’t be good. It sounds like a plot to force dogs and cats to get along in peace and harmony, which is against nature’s plan, I’m pretty sure.

The next nine most frequent names for dogs are Bailey, Bella, Molly, Lucy, Buddy, Maggie, Daisy, Sophie, and Chloe. Virtually all of them are people names. There are no Fidos, Rovers, Ruffs, or Spots. Not even a Toto or Astro. No dog-names at all… just people names.

Cats are almost as lame. The next nine most common names after “Max” are Chloe, Tigger, Tiger, Lucy, Smokey, Oliver, Bella, Shadow, and Charlie. But still no Puff, Boots, or Felix.

My favorite bit of name research, though, was not cats, dogs, horses, or people. It was boats. And seeing as how we’re now moving into the boating season, I thought I would share some of the names of boats you’re likely to see out on the water this year.

The Top Ten boat names of 2008, according to the folks at Boat U.S. magazine are: Seas the Day, Summer Daze, Second Chance, Aqua-holic, Wind Seeker, Dream Weaver, Black Pearl, Hydrotherapy, The Salt Shaker, and Sea Quest.

While those are the most popular names, the Boat U.S. folks go on to mention their 10 FAVORITE boat names… which are my favorites, too:

1. What College Fund?
2. Stocks-N-Blonds
3. Anchor Management
4. Sweet Em-Ocean
5. Knotty Buoy
6. Reel-e-Fish-ent
7. A-Frayed Knot
8. O-Sea-D
9. A-Loan-Again
10. Really Big Car

Boat-owners, it turns out, still have a little personality when it comes to choosing names… like dog and cat owners used to have. What ever happened to Scooby-Doo?

That’s it for my weeks of “research” into the most popular names for babies, horses, dogs, cats, and boats. Next week, we’ll return to my usual style of column… with no research at all!!!

See you next week… but before I leave…. Let’s do Bella!

Bella, bella, bo-bella; banana-banna fo-fella; me, my, mo-mella… Bella!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Name Game

Most every year in May, I miss the Kentucky Derby.

Some years I miss it altogether, but I usually hear about it on the news after it happens.

Some years I’m aware of it in advance, but am too busy doing other things to watch.
And some years, I actually plan to watch it…. but I’m driving to the Piggly Wiggly to pick up more BBQ sauce when the four-minute race actually happens. Or flipping to the weather channel to see how fast the green blob is moving toward us. Or putting in a load of laundry. (Don’t laugh. I did laundry once.)

With most sports, if you tune in a few minutes late, its no big deal. If it’s NASCAR, you’ll pick ‘em up on lap three. If it’s football, you’re still in the opening possession. If it’s our national pastime, baseball, you’re still in the top of the first inning, and some of the fans in the stand are still awake.

But if you miss the first few minutes of the Derby, it’s over.

Turns out, it really doesn’t matter much, because the only thing I know about horses anyway is their names. Which, I suspect, is the same for many spectators, including some who probably make wagers based solely on that piece of information.

I like the names they come up with for their racehorses. This year, the winner’s name was “Mine That Bird”… not to be confused with “Summer Bird”, who placed sixth. The rest of the field included names like “Chocolate Candy”, “Join the Dance”, “Atomic Rain”, “West Side Bernie”, and “Mr. Hot Stuff”.

I feel bad for the horses. How would you like to go through your whole life knowing the people who feed you also decided to name you “Nowhere To Hide” or “Desert Party”?
Human names are much easier to figure. Apparently, parents-to-be travel in packs, and subscribe to the herd mentality when choosing names for their bundles-of -joy.
Last week, the Social Security Administration released the list of the top names of newborn babies for last year. This list was topped by “Emma”, which replaced “Emily” as the most common name for girls; and “Jacob” as the top name for boys. (“Emily”, by the way, had been the top girls name for the last 12 years; “Jacob” has now been in the top spot for 10 straight years!)

The runner-up names – positions two through nine – were Isabella, Emily, Madison, Ava, Olivia, Sophia, Abigail, Elizabeth, and Chloe for girls; and Michael, Ethan, Joshua, Daniel, Alexander, Anthony, William, Christopher, and Matthew for boys.
The folks at Social Security also let us know which names are on the move, and which ones are falling like a rock. On their website – – they share their full list of the 1,000 most common names for the year, along with other juicy tidbits:

This year’s winner for the biggest jump is Khloe, attributed to the popularity of Khloe Kardashian from the show “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” Khloe with a K increased 469 spots to number 196 in 2008, up from 665 in 2007 and 960 in 2006 (her first year on the list). Also, Chloe with a C is in the Top 10 for the first time ever.

Another fast riser is Miley, moving up 152 spots to number 127 for 2008, a rather impressive increase given this is only her second year on the list. On the downside for fans of Miley Cyrus’ fictional character, the name Hannah fell out of the Top 10 and landed down at number 17.

Jacoby had the biggest increase for the boys, moving up 200 spots to number 423, attributed to the appeal of last year’s star rookie Red Sox centerfielder, Jacoby Ellsbury.

Barack, they tell us, did not make this year’s top 1,000 boy’s list, but it did set what is believed to be a record by skyrocketing more than 10,000 spots in rising from number 12,535 in 2007 to 2,409 in 2008.

And Elvis, they report, is still shakin’ at number 713, but fell on the charts from 673 in 2007.

And, although the Social Security name-watchers did not include this in their annual press release, and as hard as it is to believe, for the umptieth year in a row, the name “Rod-Boy” failed to make the list at all. Apparently, out of the four millions kids born last year, nobody in America had the ingenious foresight to give their newborn that brilliant name: “Rod-Boy”!

(And probably only a handful of horse owners!!!)

Tune in next week, when we’ll take a look to see what Americans are naming their cats, dogs, boats and hurricanes these days.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mom's Day

There is a famous quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln… something along the lines of: "All that I am, I owe to my Mother".

I could say that, too… but right here before Mother's Day, do I really want to put all the blame on her?

There’s a whole bunch of great stories I could recount for you in this column, to note the occasion of Mom’s Day. Some of them are even true!

Like the one year, when I was a pre-teen, and as one of my chores, was supposed to have taken down the bright multi-colored Christmas lights, which had been strung along the top of the house, which happened to be on Main Street. To be sure, I had unplugged the electricity… but January had passed, along with February and March… and I still hadn’t gotten around to actually taking them down. And then, along about Easter, Mom came home from work late one evening – well after dark – and was horrified to discover that somehow, that bright strand of holiday lights had gotten plugged in… and we were the only house in town accidentally displaying bright Easter lights all night long!!!!

Like my five years of piano lessons that she paid for… which turned out to be a huge waste money… just like that day I practiced my piano lesson similarly turned out to be a bit of a waste of time. (Fortunately, the five years of tap dancing lessons were a very wise investment. Have you SEEN me on the dance floor?!!!)

I think back to the late afternoons she would come pick me up after some sort of ball practice or other activity – whenever I called to say it was time. Mind you, this was before the days of cell phones, so she would have already gotten home from a full day’s work. (Did you ever “click” a pay phone? Usually, I didn’t have a dime on me, but had learned that you could dial the number, and just “click” the phone, which was the signal to come pick me up!!!)

I was a picky eater as a child. Still am, in fact. (A picky eater… not a child!) So.. for about 15 years, Mom cooked all of our meals without using onions, tomatoes, and a host of other vegetables that are really very useful in cooking. Once, after Sunday dinner, she and Dad insisted that I eat the English peas that had been prepared, and said I could not leave the table until I did. About three hours later, I left the table, after consuming approximately 50 of the nasty little beans one at a time… popping them like pills, and swallowing half a glass of tea after each one.

Sunday dinner, by the way, is what we called the meal eaten shortly after noon on Sunday, which we ate together every week, after returning from Sunday School and church, which we attended together every week. If it was summertime, incidentally, we sometimes ate that dinner at the lake, and if we didn’t eat there, we generally headed there for the rest of the afternoon.

Sundays weren’t the only family rituals. There were others. Wednesday nights, for instance, were TV nights in the Shealy family den: Green Acres, followed by The Beverly Hillbillies!!!

Needless to say, I had a great childhood, thanks to my Mom and Dad. There were the ordinary scrapes and bruises that all kids get, which needed the appropriate tending-to by Mom… but I also had my share of extra-ordinary “scrapes and bruises”, we will call them symbolically – many of them self-inflicted… and Mom was always there.

Obviously, it’s not easy being my mom… ranging from the anxious tension she undoubtedly feels each time she opens the morning newspaper, to the stressful concern she most assuredly feels each week when she starts to read this column!!!

But she never complains. In fact, she never complains at all… about anything. For that matter, she never says anything bad at all about anybody. For the 55 years I’ve been on this earth, I’ve never heard her say anything bad about anybody… even me!!!

So Mom, I hope you have a Happy Mother’s Day…. cause if anybody deserves one, its you!

And I know the best thing I can do for you on this occasion is to stop writing now… so you can breathe a sigh of relief… at least for another week.

Happy Mothers Day!