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I can't help what pops into my brain. If you took a peek in there, I'm pretty sure, at the very least, you'd say, "Oh my Lord!" Sometimes, I feel like my mind needs to be drained. I'd rather run a quart low than overflow.

I have an exercise that helps keep me stable. It's a mental workout. Any time I have a less than pleasant thought or one of those bad, bad memories, I look around for beauty and concentrate on it. It's like pumping fresh air into a room filled with smoke.

I've never taken Mother Nature's ambience for granted. I thank my lucky stars that I spent the first 13 years of my complex life in the South and at least half of those years growing up out in the country in the '50s when things and people and the universe were at peace.

It's not as if everything was perfect back then. But as a child, it seemed pretty perfect to me. The best part of being a kid is that you don't give a flip what's going on in the rest of the world. You have your very own agenda.

Every day is a brand, spanking, new one, custom-made for kids. It felt as though the waking morning lay in wait for me right outside my front door. A bowl of Cheerios, my five-minutes-or-less "commode duty" and I was gone. My dog, Prince, and I ran with the rising sun in pursuit of adventure and, ultimately, a full day's worth of happiness.

All colors on God's palette are mixed with water.

In the country, all around you are colors. More colors than you can shake a stick at. God took his time when he painted Tennessee. It's some of his best work. Like all the different hues of green that he used to color our world.

Nothing's more beautiful than the first buds of green leaves on soggy trees after the coldness moves out and makes way for early spring's brighter days. Fresh-cut pastures and gardens of new-birth vegetables add to the mix.

Flowers of all colors and fragrances are right in front of us. I grew up around roses and iris flowers. If I concentrate, I can smell my grandmother's pink, yellow and red blooming rose garden teeming with soft honeysuckle and permeating through musky summer nights. More fresh air for my very smoky mind.

For years before moving back to Tennessee, I lived by the ocean in Southern California. It's magical from sunup to sunset.

I miss the morning sounds of the beach. When those waves begin to come in, in melodic sets of four, there's no doubt in my mind that the Almighty's running the show.

We can't live without water.

It's a downright shame what they're doing to our oceans and streams. They waved off preservation in favor of profit and went to plastic. Now, all these years later, there are islands of plastic, the size of a city, floating around out there in our oceans.

It must make God sad enough to cry, seeing his vision and creativity being destroyed by mankind. Those corporate muckety-mucks will have to answer up to him for daring to dismantle and ruin what was perfect.

When they first started selling plastic bottles of water, I thought that was the silliest thing I'd ever heard. Who in their right mind was gonna pay for free water and then drink it out of plastic containers? Certainly not us Southerners.

Of course, many years back, I was positive that when Coca-Cola converted from glass bottles to cans, that it wasn't gonna fly. I was wrong.

When I was a little whippersnapper, I could just run in, stick my head under the kitchen faucet and the water was pure. In the winter, it came out of the faucet cold as ice.

Or you could open up the fridge. Most everyone had a glass pitcher of cold water that came from the faucet sitting in there next to the milk. I remember my grandmother, Miz Lena, setting out glasses of ice water with our meals.

They started adding chemicals to it, and the water began to taste like a swimming pool. Not too long later, they started selling water to us. Not just one brand, but several. I always thought water was water. I guess I was wrong.

The best-tasting water I've ever had came from a spring on Mr. Mullin's farm in the little country town in which I lived over in Middle Tennessee.

The water babbled right out of the earth, flowed into a nature-built basin, then emptied into a creek that ran all the way back into town. No matter the seasonal temperature, that spring water was always cold.

Three or four times a day, one of the many Mullin kids would step out the back kitchen door with a big, 2-gallon oak bucket, walk back to the spring and fill it to the brim. With both hands on the handle, they stiff-leg-walked and sloshed the bucket of water back to the house.

All you country boys and girls know that a bucket of water is plenty heavy. Little country kids sent to fetch water got strong at an early age.

As a matter of fact, you didn't want to get into it with a Mullin gal. They all had muscles. The fourth-grader, Betty, especially. I was a grade behind her. It was apparent that she was kinda sweet on me.

She was always chasing me, trying to kiss me. I was faster. Still, she got me once in a while. After a few kisses from her, I started feeling a special tingle in my belly.

I must admit, as the day went on, I'd slow down and let her catch me. She always caught me the same way. She tackled me like a linebacker. There was no prim and proper with Betty. Still, she was a pretty good kisser.

When the cold months came, spots along the creek froze over. Mullin's spring slowed to a trickle. Icicles hung from the limbs of the birch trees rooted above the spring and less than a stone's throw from the creek. Those were the best icicles I ever bit into. We called them God's Popsicles.

Out in the country, there's a code, an unwritten law, when it comes to water. Drink it, use it, but don't waste it.

I think country folks have a better appreciation for water than do city slickers. Maybe if those urbanites had had to fetch a bucket or two, they'd think twice about emptying out a perfectly good glass of water. If I have a little left over, I look for a plant to pour it in.

Aside from farmers, all combat veterans appreciate water. Ask any guy who's been pinned down for hours with the sweltering sun right over the top of them how much a precious swig of water is appreciated.

I hate to admit it, but one of my valor ribbons the Marine Corps awarded me wasn't about heroism. It was about water.

We fought all day and were hunkered down behind some Vietnamese graves, awaiting artillery backup. Snipers were in the trees, waiting for us to raise our heads. It was hot. So hot, that your sweat dried up as soon as it came out.

Generally, most of us carried as many canteens of water on our cartridge belts that we could. Water is fuel for warriors. Even if you have self-discipline and ration yourself, that water goes fast.

I looked out in front of me and saw a dead Marine, lying on his belly, no more than 30 yards away. I could see that he had several canteens on his belt. We were completely out. Over there, staying hydrated is super important. If you're not careful, that sun can suck the life out of you.

I decided that I'd go get that water. I took off my helmet, backpack and flak jacket, said a prayer, got down into my running stance and took off. It's hard to run in jungle boots, but when they're shooting at you, you'd be surprised how fast you can get to the 30-yard line.

I got there and reached down to unbuckle his cartridge belt and heard, "Oh, thank God." The Marine was alive. He'd been lying perfectly still so the snipers wouldn't shoot him again. He'd taken one in his back.

They were firing all around me. Without hesitation, and with some kind of strength that God must have given me for that very moment, I clean-jerked him up on my shoulders and ran back to the graves. No doubt in my mind, God covered me.

Jesus' birthday is less than three weeks away. If you want to give him a present that's sure to please him, in your next prayer make a vow to protect his Father's greatest creation: Water.

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Bill Stamps

Bill Stamps' books, "Miz Lena" and "Southern Folks," are available on Amazon. For signed copies, email bill_stamps@aol.com.

Southern Folks

 

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