Feeling exceedingly grateful for life, love

Lately when I gather with family members, there is a moment that crystallizes for me just how blessed we are. This weekend,  that moment came around 7 a.m. Thursday. That is the precise time my 75-year-old mother began seasoning the bird. Cecil Duerson is a woman of order who follows her word to the letter.

My husband Joe knows this. He is up and ready to go at 6 a.m. I get up a few minutes later, shower and dress and come downstairs around 6:45. As we go downstairs, we pass our college girl Imani in the hallway. She is up for the lesson. She is eager to learn from the master chef. Nobody gets it done like ReRe.

Downstairs, ReRe has already washed the 25-pound bird and is lining the pan with sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil to wrap the bird up tight.  She gives Joe and I our instructions. Lift the bird onto a cookie sheet. We will season it there. Pour salt, pepper and garlic into my hand so i can put it inside the cavity. Shake the salt and pepper and garlic all over the outside of the bird after you rub it down with plenty of butter.  I’ve seen her do this countless times, yet my turkey is never as flavorful and juicy as hers.  The lesson continues.

I’m not sure this big bird fit into your roaster. I knew I should have brought my big roaster. Still no sign of Imani.  It’s a tight squeeze but the bird fits into the roaster. We pour in a cup of water and Joe hoists the bird into the oven. We’re cooking it on 450 degrees. It will be ready in four hours. Oops I remind her, we forgot the celery. Out goes the bird, the celery is cleaned in no time, and the bird is back in its rightful place. The centerpiece of our meal is on its way to being ready. A half hour later, Imani comes downstairs. You missed the lesson Imani, next time.

It’s amazing how simple things can bring so much joy if we take a moment to slow down and reflect on our blessings. No day is promised, each day is a gift. A few months ago, my mother wasn’t up to making the trip from Kentucky to Atlanta.   Her body was filled with pain from several sources. The pain was constant. She and her doctors were trying to figure out the best treatment plan. Each time I talked with her, I could hear the frustration in her voice. When I talked with my father, he too was concerned. With six grandchildren, three great-grands and a host of relatives and friends, they are always on the go. This was slowing them down.

Suddenly, there is a breakthrough. Life slowly begins returning to normal. Then the call comes. We are coming to your house for Thanksgiving. We will bring the turkey and homemade rolls! Of course you will. Some traditions never change; providing the heart of the meal is one of them.

As three generations of Duerson women busied ourselves in my kitchen Thursday making new dishes and old I know there will come a time when we won’t be together like this. I am thankful for every moment. Their love is all I need.


If you died, who would come to your funeral?

Normally on Sunday mornings I’m in church. Yesterday, my day started with a sobering question posed by a man I’d just met.

“If you died, who are the people who would come to your funeral; even if they knew you didn’t plan to leave them anything in your will?”

He asked us to write down their names on the back of our tent card and put our names on the front. The names I wrote down faced me the entire time I sat in the defensive driving class. Like the three other people who showed up for the class, I really didn’t want to be there. My attendance was mandated after I admitted to violating Georgia’s Move Over Law. The law, which I’d never heard of, says that if you’re driving and see a police car or rescue vehicle stopped on the side of the road, you must move over if traffic allows.

When I saw the blue lights behind me, I knew I wasn’t speeding so I wondered what I’d done. I was headed south on Interstate 75 en route to the airport; eating my Chick-fil-A nuggets and sipping my Diet Lemonade.

The officer who pulled me over told me I should have gotten over when I saw him stop another car. I hadn’t seen him, I said — probably not the best admission to make. Driving and eating is a bad habit — it wouldn’t have hurt if I had finished my meal before pulling into traffic. It seems I am always rushing somewhere.

It’s been years since I got a ticket and this one was serious. In Atlanta Municipal Court a few months later, I joined about 250 other  traffic violators who had to show up on a Wednesday for an 8 a.m. court date.  I’d heard the fine was costly and I definitely understood why. The last thing an officer or paramedic should have to worry about is getting hit on the side of a road while they are doing their job. I get that now.

The clerk told me I could enroll in a diversion program if I hadn’t had a traffic ticket in the last 12 months. I’d be required to take a defensive driving course and pay a $250 fine. The class would cost me an additional $75.

It was a costly, but worthwhile reminder that I should focus more on driving and less on other things while in my car. I’m one of those folks who multi tasks all the time. But when you’re driving, that’s a very bad idea. I once saw a woman taking out her rollers and fixing her hair while driving full speed around Interstate 285.

I don’t want to be the person who endangers the lives of others because I’m sending a text or applying makeup. The defensive driving class was a good reminder that I need to change my ways. Driving is a privilege that should not be taken lightly.

Here are some things our instructor reminded us of in the class:

— Georgia is 4th in the nation when it comes to deer accidents. Since this is mating season, deer are out in force. In my neck of the woods, it’s common for me to see three to four deer a week roaming around on the side of the road. If you’re driving too fast or driving distracted you’re going to hit the deer or worse, swerve off the road and hit a tree.

—  If a child is 8 years old or younger, they need to be in a booster seat no matter their size. My grandson is around that age and thinks he’s too big for a booster seat. But the booster seat gives kids that age the height needed for an adult size seat belt to correctly do its job.

— Adult passengers in Georgia aren’t required to wear seat belts unless they are in the front seat (I didn’t know this). Those under 18 are required to wear a seat belt no matter where they are seated.  We watched a video of emergency room doctors talking about how likely you are to have serious, life threatening injuries if you are thrown from a car. Seat belts increase your chance of surviving a crash by more than 50 percent.

— Georgia only requires older drivers to take and pass a vision test. Some states require drivers over the age of 70 to take a driving test to test reaction time, hearing, etc. 

—  You can get DUI in Georgia while taking certain medications if those medications impair your driving. You’re considered legally drunk in Georgia if your blood alcohol level is .08; and .02 if you are under 21. But some counties — including Gwinnett, Cobb and Clayton — have zero tolerance for alcohol in drivers under 21.

—   You shouldn’t sit any closer than 10 inches from the steering wheel to avoid sustaining head and neck injuries if your airbag deploys. This is difficult for short people like me because we adjust the seat closer so our feet can reach the brake and accelerator.

— It’s never a good idea to follow another car or truck too closely; especially when visibility is decreased by rain, snow or fog. Under ride crashes pose a huge threat to drivers. Even though many tractor trailers have bars on the sides and back to prevent cars from sliding under them, sometimes those bars aren’t sturdy enough to prevent a car from doing so.

— Most drivers need to slow down. For every 10 miles per hour you go over 50 miles an hour, your risk of dying in a crash doubles.




The aura and legacy of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

The dashing young president and his stylish wife are riding in the back of a convertible limousine, waving to people who’ve come to see them on a crisp November day in Dallas. The governor of Texas and his wife are seated in front of them smiling and waving. Suddenly shots ring out. Jacqueline Kennedy, her pink suit covered in blood and brain matter from her beloved husband, John F. Kennedy, frantically tries to climb out of the limo. A member of the Secret Service pushes her back inside the car. The bullets fired at the presidential motorcade hit Texas Gov. John Connally too.

Hours later, anchorman Walter Cronkite announces with tears in his eyes that President John F. Kennedy is dead. Cronkite, his voice breaking, pauses and removes his glasses.

President Kennedy’s assassination at the age of 46 on Nov. 22, 1963 changed the course of history. At 43, he was the youngest person elected to the presidency.  He and his young family offered hope and promise to a generation of Americans. He fought against Communism, reluctantly believing America should stay in the Vietnam War though it wasn’t ours to win. After a near catastrophic standoff, he managed to get Soviet missiles out of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis; which some historians argue he caused. He established the Peace Corps, an organization of volunteers who work in countries around the globe to promote peace and good will. He believed America should go to the moon but he would not live to see it happen.

Born into a Massachusetts family of privilege and political power, Kennedy famously told Americans during his January 1961 inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” It was a message that resonated deeply with a generation poised for change.

When hundreds of Freedom Riders challenged segregated conditions on Greyhound and Trailways buses in the segregated South in 1961, President Kennedy was reluctant to get involved. He didn’t want to anger Southern Democrats and foreign affairs dominated his young presidency, remembered John Seigenthaler, an aide to Bobby Kennedy, the president’s younger brother and then-U.S. Attorney General.

During his campaign for the presidency in 1960, John F. Kennedy placed a strategic telephone call to Coretta Scott King, the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who had been arrested during a protest in Atlanta. That phone call earned the candidate an endorsement from Martin Luther King Sr. and Kennedy went on to receive 70 percent of the black vote in his victory over Richard Nixon. Some questioned Kennedy’s sincerity but he later said equal rights for African-Americans was a moral necessity.

The idealistic young president would not live to see his predecessor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, sign major Civil Rights legislation into law in 1964.

His assassination was the first of several that would take place in the 1960s, when Americans dared to believe they could change the world. The bravery and actions of President John F. Kennedy and his younger brother Bobby Kennedy, were a big part of those beliefs.

“The Best Man Holiday:” A movie that will get you in the spirit

It’s Tuesday night and the parking lot of the movie theater is packed. I thought I was the only person too cheap to pay full price for a movie. Turns out $6 night at Regal Cinemas is a popular spot. A man in the crowd who appears to be a regular, asks an employee: “Why are so many people here tonight?”

“The Best Man Holiday” she responded. “Everyone is here to see it.” The movie — about friendship and forgiveness — doesn’t disappoint. It’s a great way to kick off the holiday season.

Most of us look forward to the holidays with a mix of excitement and dread knowing that anytime you get a bunch of friends and family together who haven’t seen each other in a while — something crazy is likely to jump off.

The friends in “Best Man Holiday” have known each other since college. The last time they were together was for the wedding of Lance — a hunky football played by Morris Chestnut — and Mia (Monica Calhoun), who Lance believed was as pure as the driven snow. Ah secrets: they made for a memorable movie in 1999 when “The Best Man” hit the big screen.

If you saw the original, you know what happens. If you didn’t, you’ll still enjoy the sequel; which does a nice job of catching you up on all the characters. The movie grossed $30 million in its first weekend. Clearly, fans were anxious to get re-acquainted with these friends.

The glitzy set makes us all wish we had a crib like Lance and Mia, who have four beautiful children and what appears to be a picture-perfect life. Writer/director Malcolm D. Lee (Spike Lee’s cousin) does a terrific job getting all the original actors, including Terrence Howard, Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan and the always gorgeous Nia Long to star in the sequel.

The movie’s themes will resonate with audiences of all ages and races. The men in our audience seemed to enjoy it too. My 23-year-old loved it and suggested I see it right away. It will make you laugh and cry, she said. (The woman seated next to me cried enough for both of us). After seeing it, I got it. It’s a fun, romantic comedy with some touching moments and memorable lines. It’s a mature holiday movie (leave the kids at home) that some people will enjoy seeing more than once.

In addition to having a great soundtrack (Especially the Anthony Hamilton/Marsha Ambrosius remake of Stevie Wonder’s “As,” the movie showcases the talents of African-American actors and actresses. Watching the sequel, I found myself wondering why I hadn’t seen some of these actors in a while.

Maybe they are picky about the roles they take on; or perhaps they are being passed over for roles because they don’t fit the profile movie makers have in mind for the central characters. Some, like Taye Diggs, have been cast in TV dramas such as “Private Practice,” a Shonda Rhimes creation. Still, I would love to see more of Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long and Regina Hall. These women can act. The same is true for Howard, who delivers some of the best lines in the movie and whose devilish character makes you yearn for a Best Man no. 3!

It’s nice to see young black professionals leading mostly responsible lives. Sure, they’ve had their share of setbacks; yet they’re still very much in the pursuit of happiness on the family and career front. Their conflicts are real and they rely on faith and the bonds of friendship to press forward.

Grown men bullying other grown men is tomfoolery

Boys will be boys?


Schoolchildren learn that bullying is not okay at an early age. It causes emotional harm to the person being bullied and usually ends up getting the bully into hot water with authority figures.

Maybe these grown NFL players in testosterone overdrive need to go back to grade school. The kerfuffle between Miami Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, a rookie offensive lineman for the Dolphins allegedly caused Martin to leave the team and seek help for emotional distress and harassment. Martin claims Incognito and other Dolphins players harassed he and other rookies and that Incognito frequently called him the N-word.  Incognito tells a different story. He claims he and Martin are friends who often engage in harmless banter. The racial slurs, he said, went both ways.

The former athletes and coaches turned TV commentators expressed starkly different opinions on the matter Sunday. Some dismissed it as standard practice in…

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Grown men bullying other grown men is tomfoolery

Schoolchildren learn that bullying is not okay at an early age. It causes emotional harm to the person being bullied and usually ends up getting the bully into hot water with authority figures.

Maybe these grown NFL players in testosterone overdrive need to go back to grade school. The kerfuffle between Miami Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, a rookie offensive lineman for the Dolphins allegedly caused Martin to leave the team and seek help for emotional distress and harassment. Martin claims Incognito and other Dolphins players harassed he and other rookies and that Incognito frequently called him the N-word.  Incognito tells a different story. He claims he and Martin are friends who often engage in harmless banter. The racial slurs, he said, went both ways.

The former athletes and coaches turned TV commentators expressed starkly different opinions on the matter Sunday. Some dismissed it as standard practice in NFL locker rooms. It’s a rite of passage all rookies endure, said one.

Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe went hammer bammer on Incognito for his use of the N-word. (See attached video). Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka said he wouldn’t want Incognito or Martin on his team. He went on to say that Martin should have punched Incognito instead of being a baby about it. Really, Ditka? That says a lot about your character. It is precisely this attitude that keeps most people from reporting inappropriate behavior. Ditka seems to be blaming the victim and saying, “Man up dude.”

Commentator and former player Cris Carter’s comments were smart and thought-provoking. When NFL players enter the locker room, he said, they are entering their workplace. All workplaces have anti-harassment policies. Why should NFL players be exempt?

League officials are trying to sort through what happened. They are questioning players, coaches and other staff members.

The men who play professional sports are often considered role models for young people. This is another reason why we should rethink the people we put on pedestals. In a league that has much more serious issues to deal with, like concussions, this behavior is an embarrassment. These are grown men who get paid a lot of money to perform on the playing field. Their coaches need to shut this nonsense down. Hand down some stiff fines and this behavior will stop. It’s one thing to engage in harmless banter in the locker room. It’s another matter entirely when the harassment becomes so unbearable that a player has to seek therapy.



Shannon Sharpe’s take on Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin

Showing love to our veterans and their families

One of the most enduring memories of my parents’ courtship is a story my 77-year-old father told me as we were preparing to celebrate our parents 40th anniversary 15 year ago.

He was a young Marine stationed overseas at a time filled with uncertainty. My mother’s letters, he said, were his saving grace. “A lot of girls promised to write me,” he said. “But your mother was the only one who did.” He knew then that she was the one. He would read her letters and look at the moon when he was homesick, knowing that she too was looking at the same moon.

Our soldiers need that kind of lifeline when they are serving far away from home in countries very different from America. In addition to putting their lives on the line, they leave behind children, spouses and other relatives. Letters and packages from home are looked forward too more than we realize. So too is appreciation for active military personnel. Whenever I fly in and out of Atlanta’s airport, it is wonderful to see the support and respect our troops receive. They deserve all we can give them every day, as do their families who sacrifice so much in the name of our freedom.

Show your appreciation to a retired or active military man and woman. Today,  I’m thinking of my father and his service to our country; my uncle, Walter Mack, who served in the Korean Conflict as a cook; my friend Robert Marks, a retired Marine Chaplain; and all of my cousins, uncles and friends who served this country so bravely.  I love you and appreciate you today and always.