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Sparks column: Pinch hitting, Ted Budd, ‘Stonewall’

I’m filling in a couple days this week at the Enterprise-Record for ailing editor Mike Barnhardt. I’ve been retired three years from the newspaper, and my skills have slipped. If a headline is misspelled, if the caption under a picture is wrong, if this issue doesn’t read “June 24, 2021” … I’m to blame.

Sports editor Brian Pitts suggested I had been called in from the bullpen. Ad director Ray Tutterow more appropriately said I had been called from the bleachers. General manager Robin Snow put it more succinctly, “Help!”

I worried that I had forgotten how to do this. Fortunately, the newspaper hadn’t changed its computer software. Like pedaling a bicycle, it came back.

But there’s this space to fill, and I have nothing to say about the goings-on in Mocksville or at the halls of government in Davie County. I have spent my spring and summer immersed in cow pastures — far from politics, the courthouse, the police department, the Interstate 40 expansion, the tax rate, the school schedule …

I do know that our fine Congressman Ted Budd of the Yadkin Valley community is running for the United States Senate. Imagine, little Davie County producing a U.S. Senator. I wish him success.

My current area of expertise, however, falls in the category of weeds. I know about thistles, curly dock, fleabane, burdock, pigweed, Johnson grass, milkweed and the host of weeds that infest pastures. I strap on a 55-pound backpack sprayer and walk for miles to free my pasture of weeds.

Out in the pasture, no masks are required. I can breathe deeply and unobstructed. Among the cows and fescue, I can forget the COVID-19 virus and … the last presidential election.

My anti-weed exercise program has burned away the flab accumulated in 43 years of a sedentary job. I’ve climbed 6,500-foot Mt. LeConte this spring with three granddaughters and will scale it again with two grandsons this summer. Life is good.

During this endless virus, I’ve found wonder in unusual places. As a tombstone tourist, I’ve visited 16 presidential graves. A couple weeks ago, I expanded my scope. In Virginia, we found the grave of the arm of Gen. Stonewall Jackson. At the pinnacle of his success, the Yankee rout at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson was mistakenly shot by his own men, embarrassingly, North Carolina soldiers.

His arm was amputated. An officer, refusing to let the arm of the revered commander go to the refuse pile, had it buried in a family cemetery nearby. A tombstone marks the spot. Jackson died a week later.

We arrived at the old battlefield to find the historic site barricaded. My tolerant wife hiked with me a mile down a long gravel driveway — in a heavy mist — to the grave. Other visitors had left Abraham Lincoln pennies atop the stone. Not wanting to insult old Stonewall, I left a coin bearing the image of Thomas Jefferson.

I’m counting on Editor Barnhardt’s quick recovery.

— Dwight Sparks