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2009 February at Steve Wildsmith

Steve Wildsmith

A cross between Rolling Stone, Soldier of Fortune and the Oxford American

Archive for February, 2009

Weekend column: Friday, Feb. 27, 2009

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Some background: I started writing letters to my son before he was born. My Friday columns run the gamut, from the intensely personal to the funny to the offbeat. Invariably, the conservatives in this area blow a gasket when I veer into the political arena and start spouting off my left-leaning mouth, but I’ve yet to receive anything but very positive, very warm feedback for these occasional letters to my son. It seems to touch something in folks, and I’m grateful for everyone who lets me know how much they like it.

This one will be published in tomorrow’s Weekend. The subject, my father, turns 67 on Sunday.

Dear Ezra,

Let me tell you about your grandfather.

You know him as Poppy, and seeing as how he’s in good health for a soon-to-be-67-year-old man, he’ll hopefully be around and a part of your life for a long time to come. A boy needs a grandfather, and although I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with mine, the few good memories I have of mine are precious.

He was my dad’s dad — your great-grandfather — and my memories are of a man who moved through life with a certain amount of dignity and grace that he passed on to my dad. Edward Wildsmith worked for the railroad for most of his life, taking his family from poverty in Alabama and Memphis to Chicago, where he lived when I was a boy. Not long after moving to Tennessee in retirement, he took on the role of caregiver for my grandmother, who was stricken with Alzheimer’s and lingered for nine long years.

Back then, I think, I didn’t understand what it meant for a man to take care of his responsibilities. I was disappointed that Pappaw, as I called him, didn’t seem to have a lot of time for me, that he was always busy or, when he had a few precious moments to himself, trying to find some comfort and peace to keep himself going. Sometimes it was at a local watering hole; sometimes it was with a lady friend. He was fiercely private about those things, and for good reason. He had enough to deal with at home and didn’t feel the need to justify or rationalize what he did to take care of himself to anyone.

Of course, I realize that only in hindsight. I remember having a beer with Pappaw at one of his favorite little bars in Powell, the Checker Flag, not long after my grandmother passed on. We talked and laughed, and I noticed for the first time, perhaps, that he was more than just my Pappaw — that he was a man trying to make his way in the world the best way he knew how, and that I could learn a lot from him.

It broke my heart when he had a stroke a few months later. He was never the same. The proud man with the sly grin was replaced by a feeble, nursing home-bound shell of his former self. I regret I didn’t spend more time with him back then — the idea of growing old, of becoming dependent on others because of the ravages of time and age … for a young man like it, it was an uncomfortable glimpse of a possible future for all of us.

I prefer to remember him as the silver-haired, soft-spoken easygoing guy who passed on those same qualities to your own Poppy. The older I get, the more I realize how much my dad is like his dad, how much I’m like my own father and how much you’ll probably be like us all.

That’s not a bad thing, son. Wildsmith men, as far as I know, aren’t athletes or rocket scientists. We’re not world leaders or industry giants. We’re just regular guys, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t special.

Respect … decency … kindness … these are things in short supply in this world, but not in the heart of my dad. He worked hard, on the job and at home, for his family. He loves my mom, your Nana, and although their relationship isn’t some storybook fairy tale, I’ve never heard him put her down or call her a name or treat her less than the amazing woman that she is. He’s a caretaker and a people-pleaser, and sometimes that’s not always a good thing. Lord knows I’ve inherited those qualities, and as much as I like to pretend to be a rebel and a hell-raiser, I’m much more content when things are peaceable and the boat’s not rocking.

I get that from my dad, and you get it from me. You’re such a precious, sensitive little boy — at 3, you say “please” (most of the time) and “excuse me,” and when you get in trouble, your little eyes fill with tears and it’s all I can do to stand firm. I was the same way, and although I can remember being disciplined by my father, those occasions were few and far between. At the same time, I wasn’t a spoiled brat who ran all over my folks, because I learned from the examples they set in both word and deed — that kindness is such a rare commodity that this world could use a whole lot more of.

I like to think that the man I am today, the father I am today, is a credit to my own dad. I hope I’ve done right by him. I think I have. And I know that, if he feels as strongly for me as I do for you, that no amount of words or pictures or actions can properly communicate how much love seems to want to burst out of my chest for you sometimes.

He feels that way for me and my brother, and I know he feels that way for you. Lord willing, he’ll be around for a long time to come, documenting your every move with cameras and playing silly games and just being a good, decent, kind and loving man in your life, one who will instill within you, I hope, what it means to walk through this life with dignity and grace.

So here’s to your Poppy. Help me wish him a happy birthday, and tell him we want him to stick around for many more.



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February 26th, 2009 at 12:47 pm

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Rolling Stone got nothing on us

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I received a copy of music magazine Rolling Stone in the mail the other day.

I haven’t subscribed in a couple of years, and I’m not interested enough in renewing it to find out (a) why I was suddenly receiving a free copy or (b) why it seems to have shrank (shrunk?) in size. I’m assuming it’s a promotional being mailed out to former subscribers in an effort to entice them back into the fold. Times are hard in the ol’ print media world, as we can attest to personally over here at the Times … but I digress.

I found myself flipping through and enjoying a celebratory moment at how cutting-edge Weekend has been over the past several years in covering music. Seriously. Allow me to share some highlights as I flip through issue 1073, dated March 5, 2009, of Rolling Stone.

On the cover: Taylor Swift. Lovely young lady and a genuine country talent. We wrote about her back in 2007, before she was A-list, back when she was opening for George Strait and Ronnie Millsap. These days, I think those two would probably open up for her.

Page 18: A piece on Alison Krauss and Robert Plant cleaning up at the Grammys for their album “Raising Sand.” We interviewed T-Bone Burnett, the producer and mastermind behind that record, when the tour came through town last year.

Page 18: “The Hot List” selects “The Mountain,” the latest album by the Heartless Bastards, as one of its choice picks of the month. We interviewed front woman Erika Wennerstrom when the band came through town back in 2007. (And I wholeheartedly recommend “The Mountain,” by the way. It’s a more introspective album than the band’s previous two but so, so good.)

Page 52: A pictorial of life on the homefront for guitarist Derek Trucks and his wife, singer-songwriter Susan Tedeschi. We’ve interviewed Derek a number of times, including back in 2006, when he was working out touring as a guitarist for both Eric Clapton and the Allman Brothers Band.

Page 78: Review of “Grand,” the new album by Matt and Kim. We profiled the indie dance-pop duo just this week, making it the second time we’ve interviewed them. (The first was back in 2007.)

So … there. We rock.

Written by wildsmith

February 26th, 2009 at 12:44 pm

“All systems go for throttle-up …”

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Welcome to another online venture courtesy of The Daily Times and yours truly, Weekend editor Steve Wildsmith. As if you didn’t have enough Web sites to keep up/kill time with already.

The idea behind these staff blogs is to let you get to know us, to share some of what goes on behind the scenes and to offer our opinions, thoughts and insight into what we do. We want to share a little bit of who we are.

Me, I’m a recovering drug addict, a father, a son, a music lover, a fan of most things pop-culture and a guy who finds humor in the morbid and cynical side of life. (Hence the title of this entry. Yes, it’s a reference to the Challenger disaster.) That said, I like to think I’m somewhat of an optimist, but really my skewed perception of the world and the way it works can’t be so easily classified.

I’ll be posting my columns, both my personal column as it appears in The Daily Times Weekend edition on Friday and my addiction/recovery column that posts every Wednesday. You can keep up with what I do in various places, including Weekend on The Daily Times site, Weekend’s Myspace page or my Twitter account.

Send feedback, offer suggestions, comment, criticize, what have you. I look forward to it.

Written by wildsmith

February 26th, 2009 at 12:20 pm

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