Front Porch

Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em

I glanced up very briefly from cutting a diagonal on a 6 X 6 timber with my Stihl chainsaw. The black helicopter hovered above me and my landscaping crew in the bright Georgia sunshine. It was The Gambler himself, Mr. Kenny Rogers, flying in to his farm from doing a holiday show in Nashville. I worked for a landscape construction company by day and rehearsed and played music in bars at night. I was burning the candle at both ends in those days. 

The helicopter landed and 30 minutes later, I heard a voice behind me.

“Joe Gale said I should fire you.” I had just finished swinging a sledge hammer pounding in spikes into those 6 X 6 timbers that would serve as Tee-boxes on an 18 hole golf course. I had mud on my jeans up to my knees and breathing heavily, I turned around to see the client, Mr. Rogers. 

“Why would he say that, Mr. Rogers,” I asked, considering he trusts me as foreman of my crew to build your Tee-boxes, as ritzy as anything you’d see on Sea Island?”

That led to a conversation about his now decades famous song, “The Gambler.” Mr. Rogers said it’s about having enough faith in yourself to burn your ships, damn the consequences. Through my employer Mr. Gale, owner of the landscape company, he heard my band was in negotiations for a record deal on the same label as himself, Warner-Electra-Atlantic. Mr. Rogers knew nothing of my talent, but probably assumed it was “adequate” since record deals were very hard to come by.

He shared his story about selling office supplies in Houston and how he charmed the administrative assistants who did all the purchasing. 

“I sold more than my sales associates and could quit by noon to go back to my apartment and work on my music,” he said. “Management didn’t like that, so they fired me. Best thing that ever to happen to me.”

I grinned, thinking a lot of this entertainer who took time out of his busy day to offer up some advice, though it might have been difficult to take at the time. 

Six months later however, I burned my ships to play music full-time in Atlanta. I burned them again three years later because I didn’t hit the big time like Mr. Rogers, but I got close, and after giving something all you’ve got, sometimes you just have to settle with the outcome. In Mr. Roger’s parlance, “You got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.” I was simply reading the cards and cutting my losses.

Last week, I found myself holding another hand I had been dealt.

Many of you know by now that a couple of weeks ago, I had a heart event. I calmly drove to the hospital, but later found myself in the back of a Hermann Emergency Medical Services ambulance headed towards Washington Mercy late at night, to prepare for the catheterization process the following day. The HADH Emergency Room and EMS personnel here in Hermann, were great. Sparing you the details, after a couple of stents, I was released on the same day and for the first time in my life, I received a collection of medications for my cabinet to treat high blood pressure and blood density. 

The next day, possibly searching for an attitude adjustment, I was singing Texas songwriter Mac Davis’ tongue-in-cheek song “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way,” having just gotten out of the hospital and on the way to my mother’s funeral in Mexico (now that’s a country song!). Maybe I should be fortunate it wasn’t “The Big One,” or even a stroke, but somehow I knew things weren’t going to be the same.

I felt great in the ambulance and I feel great now. It’s what’s inside that isn’t so great, but with more exercise, a stricter diet and less stress, I could be around another 20 years or so. But the fact remained,  I had been dealt another hand and I had to either stick with it or get out. I looked at the cards and like any gambler, stared hard at the deck, weighing the risk. 

I folded my hand last week by resigning my editor’s position. I’ll be around until the A-C can find my replacement, as long as it doesn’t stretch too far into the New Year. I’m staying in Hermann, at least for now and will start the book I’ve been wanting to write. I’m headed to Charleston, SC in June and will visit friends in Atlanta and Birmingham. In the meantime, I’m not exactly joining the old men’s club, but when I do, that won’t be a bad thing, as many of my acquaintances here in town are retired and good solid men and women that I’d be happy to call a friend. Through this job I know many grandpas, grandmas, husbands, wives, their children and many singles that make up this great town and area and I look forward to carrying on continued conversations with each of them, though one of my friends suggested (joked) I may not hear from some, now that I’m not in an influential position in the community. 

“Don’t you just love human nature?” I say smiling, as I ask the question.

Thanks to all for making me feel at home here in Hermann, sharing your friendship and giving me your constant, kind words of encouragement. This is a great town and I’ve enjoyed reporting on all the wonderful people, places and activities that make it special. I hope you know I’ve put both heart (what’s left of it) and soul into each and every story. I’ll miss this, but I can always say with pride, like those that went before me, “I was the editor of a newspaper in one of the best small towns in America—Hermann, Missouri.” See you around.

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