John Hunt: Gratitude Never Gets Old

Celebrating Thanksgiving A Daily Affair With Much To Be Thankful For

Thursday, November 28, 2019 - by John Hunt
John Hunt
John Hunt

As I get older, time just seems to move a little bit faster.

Seems like just yesterday that I wrote my annual Thanksgiving column where I randomly list people and things for which I’m most grateful.  I always think about my buddy Roy Exum, who started this a long, long time ago.

Gratitude is an attitude I’ve developed in recent years.  I try to be grateful on a daily basis, not just the last Thursday in November when the practice takes on national attention.

But with Roy as my hero for many reasons, here’s a list of the 52 things I have to be thankful for today.

I AM THANKFUL that I woke up again without a hangover.  This is the 26th straight Thanksgiving for that to be the case and it never gets old.

I AM THANKFUL for my dear wife Althea.  We’ve been married almost 22 years and she’s the woman of my dreams.  She’s also the veteran in my family, but she does more for my benefit than anyone and I would be a lost ball in tall weeds without her.

I AM THANKFUL that I was blessed with my first grandson on Thursday, November 14.  His name is Riley Louis Hunt and was named after grandfathers.  Michael and Kelly are the wonderful parents and seem to have everything under control.  And I don’t want to appear biased, but he’s the cutest and most handsome baby I’ve ever seen.  Take a look at his picture and you’ll agree with me.

I AM THANKFUL that Roy Exum took a chance with me more than 40 years ago and hired me as a sports writer at the News-Free Press.  November 3, 1979 was the date and I remember it vividly because that’s the day the Tennessee Vols lost a 13-7 heartbreaker to Rutgers of all teams.

I AM THANKFUL for all the experiences I’ve had these past 40 years.  The events I’ve been able to cover and the friends I’ve made with athletes and coaches is something I could never put a price tag on.  Nobody gets rich in this business monetarily, but those relationships I’m talking about are worth millions.

I AM THANKFUL for my buddy Larry Fleming, who died way too young a few weeks back.  Larry was a Times guy when I started work at the Free Press and probably one of the most fierce competitors in the business.  We were never friends during that time, but we got to be pretty good buddies in recent years at the and I’m glad that our relationship ended on a positive note.

I AM THANKFUL for Rick Bitterman and his wife Carol.  Rick has been the caretaker at Dogwood Lodge, my church camp located on Possum Creek in Soddy Daisy.  There’s never been a harder worker up there than Rick and I’m just sad that he’s retiring at the end of December. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing he can’t do and it will be impossible to get an equal replacement.

I AM THANKFUL for Jeff Parker, who is the minister of music at my church.  We’ve become really close friends in recent years and always try to meet for lunch at least once a month.  He’s an excellent musician and a really good guy, despite being a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan.

I AM THANKFUL for Jeremy Pruitt and the job he continues to do as Tennessee’s football coach.  I know that things were a bit bleak after losing three of the first four games in September, but he never lost faith in his players and are undoubtedly headed in the right direction.  Now if we can just end the regular season with a win over Vanderbilt on Saturday, we’ll all be happy.

I AM THANKFUL for quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who had an equally bad start this season.  Much like Alabama’s Jalen Hurts, he didn’t feel sorry for himself and didn’t blame anyone for the results, but dug a little deeper to get better and has been a major reason the Vols have turned things around.

I AM THANKFUL that Rusty Wright is UTC’s football coach.  He has fire in his belly and wants success for his program more than anyone.  Lamont Paris, Katie Burrows and Kyle Rueschel are cut out of the same mold.  I’m sure there are other UTC coaches just like them, but I’ve never covered their teams.

I AM THANKFUL for my son Michael and his lovely wife Kelly.  I’ll never forget the day they got married back in 2016 on the day Josh Dobbs connected with Jauan Jennings on the final play to upset Georgia.  I was so excited when I found out they were expecting and it’s been a blessing to see how they’re handling parenthood.  Riley is indeed a lucky young man to have parents like them.

I AM THANKFUL for Atlanta Braves baseball and the resurgence they’ve had these last two years.  I’m just hoping they can win another World Series or two before all is said and done.

I AM THANKFUL for Dogwood Lodge, my church camp I mentioned earlier.  I spent many years there as a camper and later a staff member and have lots of positive memories.  I don’t spend as much time up there now as I’d like, but there’s no more beautiful place on earth as it totally redefines peace and serenity.  And the fishing in Possum Creek isn’t bad either.

I AM THANKFUL for sunrises and sunsets.  The sunrise looking off the Walnut Street Bridge is awesome and the sunset looking toward Lookout Mountain from Chickamauga Dam is simply breath-taking.

I AM THANKFUL for electric blankets.  I never slept under one when I was younger, but Althea makes sure the bed is nice and warm before I crawl in every night.  There’s nothing quite like it.

I AM THANKFUL for Nikki’s drive-in at the top of Cherokee Boulevard.  There’s talk about them closing or maybe even moving as condominiums are being discussed, but Nikki’s has some awesome onion rings and those huge Gulf shrimp are unsurpassed anywhere.

I AM THANKFUL for the fellowships of Alcoholics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery.  No doubt these two groups are saving millions of lives and giving people like me a reason to keep battling one more day at a time.

I AM THANKFUL for gas-powered wood splitters.  I rent one every fall to split wood I’ve collected for my fireplace and I’m amazed at how strong and powerful these machines are.  Also makes me realize just how impossible my job would be if we had to split that wood the old-fashioned way.

I AM THANKFUL for fishing boats.  I must admit that I didn’t get out nearly as often this summer as I would have liked, but I’ve never had a bad time on the lake and look forward to many more of those outings.

I AM THANKFUL for the Star Spangled Banner and the lump that forms in my throat every time I hear it.

I AM THANKFUL for American flags and the freedom they represent.  There are three huge cranes below Chickamauga Dam involved in the lock project and all have flags attached at the top.  It’s really special when you drive by at night and see them with bright lights bringing them to life.

I AM THANKFUL for wonderful pets like C.J. and Sweetheart.  C.J. was a gray cat that we got when Althea and I first started dating in 1997 and he went to the rainbow bridge in June, 78 days short of being 22.  And Sweetheart was a lovable beagle mix who had a paralyzed larynx and had to be put down a few weeks later.  Those were sad, sad days for us, but we still laugh and smile at all the positive memories and fun times we had with them.

I AM THANKFUL for good books and the ability to read.  I was taught the value of such activity by my parents.  We’re so lucky to have a great public library in Chattanooga.  I’m just thankful that I decided to pick up the habit again a few years ago.

I AM THANKFUL for a long and memorable career as a long-distance runner.  I ran a bunch of races and did pretty well at times.  I could write a book about all the memories and the wonderful people I met, but as the old saying goes, the older I get, the faster I used to be.  And I'm so thankful I don't have to run another marathon anytime soon.

I AM THANKFUL that I still have the opportunity to cover races put on by the Chattanooga Track Club.  One in particular that stands out this year was the Missionary Ridge race in August.  The heat and humidity that day was horrible, but John Gilpin and Christian Thompson put on a race for the ages.  Their times weren’t as good as normal because of the conditions, but they totally laid it on the line at the end with Gilpin winning by a hundredth of a second.

I AM THANKFUL for Vic Oakes and the job he does with the Chattanooga Boys Choir.  The annual Singing Christmas Tree will take place on Dec. 7 at the Tivoli and there’s no better way to start your holiday season.  I’m pretty sure tickets are still available with performances at noon and 5:30.

I AM THANKFUL for coaches like Mark Dragoo and the impact he’s made on thousands of lives in his long career as the CSAS basketball coach.  They named the court in his honor earlier this week and he was somewhat embarrassed by all the hoopla, but what a humble human being he is and what a deserving honor it was for him.

 I AM THANKFUL for Christmas decorations and folks who still believe in making their houses more festive with such lights.  Christine Hairston is one of my neighbors who has the most immaculate yard and whose house is always so beautiful this time of year.  My heart sings every time I pass her house.

I AM THANKFUL that Althea and I had the chance to see Elton John in concert earlier this fall in Atlanta.  He’s on his farewell tour, but there’s not another entertainer on earth like him and he puts on a show like nobody’s business.  His concert lasted just five minutes short of three hours.

I AM THANKFUL for Neyland Stadium and the excitement every time I get to attend a Tennessee football game there.  And there’s nothing quite like the joy I feel every time I watch the Pride of the Southland marching band perform at halftime.

I AM THANKFUL for positive memories in my life.  Two of the greatest were my parents.  Not a day goes by that I don’t think about them and the influence they had on me.

I AM THANKFUL for prep sports, especially football.  I really like most high school sports, but football really gets my motor humming as there’s nothing quite like walking the sideline of a good high school game.

I AM THANKFUL for rainbows after a hard rain and the promise associated with such beauty.

I AM THANKFUL for home-cooked food.  I do pretty good with cooking meat on a grill, but my mother-in-law and my two sisters are three of the best cooks I know.  Chances are good that I won’t eat a bite of turkey and dressing today, but I’ll get my fill of ham and sweet potatoes and you can’t beat that.

I AM THANKFUL for all the veterans who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.  Althea is the veteran in my family and I could never repay her for her time in the military so I could enjoy a lifestyle like no other.

I AM THANKFUL for the National Cemetary and the fact that both my parents are buried there.  Memorial Day is my favorite when every grave has an American flag by it and the drive is lined with the Red, White and Blue.  I’m hoping that I’ll be buried there some day if it doesn’t fill up too soon.

I AM THANKFUL for the Sports Barn Turkey Trot and the fact that so many people begin their Thanksgiving with a spirited five-mile run.  I still have a T-shirt from the first Turkey Trot back in 1993.

I AM THANKFUL for my buddy Louis Priddy.  He was big in the running community for many years not only as a runner, race director and running store owner.  We have lots of wonderful memories from the times we spent together running too many miles.

I AM THANKFUL for slow, boring days.  There was a time when I created more chaos than I care to admit, but as I get older, slow boring days where I read a book and nap most of the day is a wonderful thing.

I AM THANKFUL for four Jacks in my life.  All are gone now, but Jack Hunt, Jack Kay, Jack McEwen and Jack Stanford are four of the most wonderful men I ever knew.

I AM THANKFUL that I can feel feelings today.  For many years, I was paralyzed by excessive drugs and alcohol, but that’s not the case today.  Feelings are real and they won’t kill me, no matter if they’re happy or sad.

I AM THANKFUL for the Salvation Army and all the people they help every day.  We started “Ringing the Bell” at Christmas back when I was at the Free Press and I’ve made that another of my December traditions.  I’ll be at Sam’s on Lee Highway on Friday, Dec. 20 and Monday, Dec. 23 between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. so stop by to say hello and hopefully make a generous donation.

I AM THANKFUL for God’s grace.  As I always say, I’m way better than I deserve and really happy that I received mercy and not justice.  I bet you can identify with that one.

I AM THANKFUL for miracles and that I’m able to recognize them today.  They happen every day and I’m just thankful to be one of them.

I AM THANKFUL for Echo backpack blowers and the power they generate when moving leaves across my yard.  I have seven huge hardwoods and I spend more time blowing leaves than I do mowing in the summer.  Thank goodness I don’t have to rake them today.

I AM THANKFUL for naps.  My schedule isn’t nearly as busy as it once was, which allows me to take at least one nap every afternoon.

I AM THANKFUL for a new way of life.  As my buddy said earlier today, thank goodness I don’t have to live like I used to.  Amen to that, brother.

I AM THANKFUL when I hear the crack of a wooden bat and the ball clears the fence for a home run, especially when it’s my team doing the hitting.

I AM THANKFUL  for a wonderful circle of friends who know me and love me anyway.  My father always told me that if I want to be a winner, surround myself with winners.  I’ve been trying to do that for a  long time.

I AM THANKFUL for long-distance readers who respond with emails concerning something I’ve written.  At times, those are people I’ve known in the past and haven’t been in touch with in a long time.

I AM THANKFUL for readers and those who support me and the work I do.  As my friend Jim Dugger used to say, thanks for reading all the way to the bottom.

What about you?  What are you thankful for today?  I’m sure you can come up with a long list of your own.  But I hope that all your dreams come true and that you get to spend the day with family and friends who mean something to you.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

(Email John Hunt at

John Hunt and grandson Riley Louis Hunt.
John Hunt and grandson Riley Louis Hunt.

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