Roy Exum: Why I Am Thankful

Thursday, November 26, 2020 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

For the life of me, I can’t remember when it started but back in the ‘70s, I began devoting my sports column on Thanksgiving Day to off-the-wall stuff of which I was truly and genuinely thankful. Back then I would go to from “76 reasons”, then “77 Reasons”, and then “78 reasons” with every new year. We climbed through 80’s, and the 90’s and it became a tradition. By then it had become so popular that it was a “section front” and there were a lot of people who were also thankful the “pilgrims spotted a turkey before they saw a possum.”

After the “99 Reasons” appeared, I had a lot of people wonder what I’d do, and eventually we didn’t have to worry about it.

I had become disenchanted and saddened by what “our newspaper” had turned out to be. When I left I felt like “the old mule was worn out,” and I doubted I would ever write again. True story! A couple of years later, my newspaper pal John Wilson had gotten up and running and I asked him if I might submit a story once in a while. He encouraged me and specifically asked, right from the get-go, if I would think about resurrecting “Why I Am Thankful.”

The truth is, I love doing the list every November. As a matter of fact, I’m its biggest fan because, same as any us, it you’ll take a real honest look at your blessings, and really dig inside of yourself for what matters the most, even in an off-handed way, you’ll be heaven-touched. I’ll admit it, the introspection has made me cry every single year as we begin to approach 50 years of trying to find the words for my gratitude that flows in so many directions.

Please allow me to share this year’s thoughts …

I AM THANKFUL that wonderful author John Steinbeck once wrote, “What good is the warmth of summer without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”

I AM THANKFUL that when Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond came down with the coronavirus, and soon passed it along to his wife, that Jeanie didn’t smack the very holiday stuffing out of him.

I AM THANKFUL for the joy that Virginia Schimpf carried with her every day of her life until she died earlier this month. She was ever vivacious, and she and her husband Gene could have been a hit comedy team on vaudeville. Not to worry, children Buck, George, Peggy and Happy are cut from the identical cloth but, Lord have mercy! what a dame who inspired us all.

I AM THANKFUL that so, so many of those who matter are eager to join hearts and hands to bring America tranquility and our togetherness back to the forefront. The first Thanksgiving between the Pilgrims and the Indians is what started it, you know.

I AM THANKFUL that just as the Kentucky Derby has made the Mint Julip its famous signature drink, The Masters Golf Tournament has made what they call an “Azalea” into the preferred clubhouse concoction. The way the bartender makes the cocktail is by taking 2 ounces of lemon juice, 2 ounces pineapple juice, 4 ounces vodka and ¼ ounce grenadine and pouring the mixture into a cocktail shaker with ice. You shake the thing like you are standing over a 4-foot, uphill putt. Then you pour it over a glass with ice and imbibe. Drink more than three and – presto – no more “yips” and, what’s more, you could care less if the putt inches away to the left.

I AM THANKFUL that “Everyone is a story … and each of us – even starting with this Thanksgiving Day – can still make our closing chapters ones that will be remembered long after we are gone.”

I AM THANKUL for the many years “Momma-Cat” spent in my life. In the 37 years I was a sports writer, she had every phone number for me that others didn’t, and Catherine Neely, who coached thousands of girls to greatness at East Ridge, was easily one of the most influential people ever in Chattanooga prep school sports. She never asked a favor for herself, but she made sure women’s sports, losing coaches at other schools who needed a boost, the TSSAA, and that great sportsman(womens)ship had a prominent space on our sports pages. Never mind that all of our writers loved her, or that she “painted with a wide brush” … she was totally consumed by helping others. And the best thing about it? I could gather every girl from any one of her championship teams – basketball or volleyball – and despite our collective and mighty heave-ho, the crowd of us couldn’t begin to lift the crown awaiting her in God’s presence last week. Oh, gee, can’t you picture Betty Robinson's and Hutch Lewis’ faces in heaven’s welcoming crowd?

I AM THANKFUL to have learned, just this year, that after you lose a leg, there are benefits; you can cut your toenails twice as fast, a pair of socks now lasts twice as long, and with my missing leg and my “ornamental” arm both on my right side, I can swim in a perfect circle better than anyone I know. Yes … that’s correct … counterclockwise.

I AM THANKFUL my longtime classmate Garnet Chapin has lived a life so full and so fun that just now he has discovered, like a lot of seniors in those Florida communities, that he has a real deft touch in the sport of croquet. He swears his deft stroke of the mallet improves dramatically when combined with fine wine. The only problem? Shuffleboard is all that’s left, pal.

I AM THANKFUL for knowing that … “You can fake that you care, but you can’t fake showing up.” That’s almost as good as when you don’t know what to say when a friend suffers tragedy, a sincere smile is better than words. Just stand there and smile. Not to worry, the words come easy after triggered by your smile.

I'M THANKFUL that today – on Nov. 26th, mind you – the high will be 70 degrees. Remember it, because the long-range forecast shows that every single day in the coming month of December will have a low in the 30s. That’s right, every day … and with a predicted low of 17 on – yep, you guessed it – Christmas Eve.

I AM THANKUL that Haynes Eller, a standout high school quarterback at East Hamilton, handled being forced to the sidelines due to the coronavirus with true class and character. Understand, Haynes didn’t have the virus but because of “questionable contact” with some who did, he was mandated to miss two games of his senior season. Then he resumed playing like a winner and went out a champion. (It is too early for Haynes to grasp it, but five years from now he’ll have found the life’s lesson and be grateful.)

I AM THANKFUL that only days after ortho surgeon Mark Goodman installed a new knee in my pal David Everett, David was on the phone asking, “What on earth can I do for that Erlanger team? They were sensational! Literally every single person who I came in contact with treated me so wonderfully … totally ‘over and beyond’ someone they didn’t know from Tom’s cat … I still get misted up!” Ironically, I hear that all the time about Erlanger’s nurses and surgery teams.

I AM THANKFUL for that divine moment of providence when house builder Clifford Kirk started coaching girls’ softball. Yet after 10 state titles and over 1,100 victories, his most spectacular achievement is still seen on the faces of thousands of girls whose lives were impacted before “Coach” heard his Lord say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” about a month ago. A greater legend has never been seen on a ball field in Hixson, Soddy Daisy, Sale Creek, or in parts far, far away.

I AM THANKUL that among the married couples, ages 18-55 who said their marriage was in trouble, actual divorce has declined markedly from 40% in 2019 down to 29% in 2020. And this includes with in-house quarantine!

I AM THANKFUL for Scott Allen, Interim Administrator of Elections in Hamilton County, who took over the reins of one of our most revered assets at the very worst of times and then, faced with overwhelming pandemic odds and a record amount of voters, turned our 2020 election cycle into the best of times. As automotive pioneer Henry Ford once said, “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”

I AM THANKFUL for the reaction you get after you confront a total stranger and say with enthusiasm, “Let’s talk … you start!”

I AM THANKFUL that when the coronavirus test came back on Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church pastor Joe Novenson and his bless-ed wife Barb, it was the first thing that has ever been said negative about either one in their lives.

I AM THANKFUL that last week, when I got my first nasal swab for a COVID test, the nurse’s arms weren’t quite long enough to jab that stick so deeply in the back expanses of my brain that I was able to avoid paralysis.

I AM THANKFUL that mine was in a line of about 150 cars at the Alstom testing site but that the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department team was better organized than the night watch on a nuclear sub. As I was awed by their professionalism and commitment, I swear it made me proud to live in this community. Say what you will about the frightening spike in cases and the proven need for face masks, don’t think for a second that Becky Barnes and her health workers are not a harder and more dedicated army than you’ll find in than any other city in our nation. (Sadly, the same cannot be said of the testing agency; I was tested at the Alston site on noon on Wednesday, Nov. 18, and at 3:48 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 25, I was notified “no trace” of the coronavirus was found. I believe eight days is unacceptable with a disease this deadly and as fast acting, and swift remedial steps should be taken at once with the virus now surging.)

I AM THANKFUL that the Chattanooga Food Bank was at the COVID testing site giving sacks of food to anybody who needed it. Absolutely awesome, I tell you, so on this day we give thanks for our blessings, magnify it by sending a donation – with today’s sacred date – to: Donations Desk, Chattanooga Area Food Bank, 2009 Curtain Pole Road, Chattanooga TN 37406 … or, you can go to and make an online donation.

I AM THANKUL that in the last 15 years of his life, David Deutchman would spend two mornings every week going to the neonatal ICU unit at Children’s Heath Care of Atlanta, where he would cuddle the newborns in his rocking chair. He quickly became recognized as the “ICU Grandpa” and his kindness inspired thousands, all moved by – mark this -- what he did … rather than what he might have said. Got that? His actions were much louder than works for 15 full years! He died at the age of 86 two weeks ago, yet can you imagine the wee ones, who didn’t make it alive out of ICU, hovering in a huge flock above him with their tiny angel wings a-buzz, as the “ICU Grandpa” stood at the Pearly Gates?

I AM THANKFUL for the beautiful goodness I see in Miller Welborn, Arch Howell, Jean McKamey, Jody Clark, Bill Knowles’ wife Marlene, and – of course – Peggy Michaels. I love the laughter of Tony Duke, Larry Cloud, Mike Aiken, Ernie McCarson, Jay Greeson, Judy Bellenfant, Pettie Correll, the loveable C. Mark Warren, and the late Walter Forbes. Or how about the brilliance that seems to cloak Clif Cleveland, the oral surgeon Hal Jones, neurologist Tom Devlin, Mike Loftin, Carol Berz, Sparky McKee, and Mickey McCamish? So help me, I don’t know why I find such warmth when their faces automatically come to mind, but I might as well admit such a God-sent blessing. It is one of my most favorite parts of being me.

I AM THANKFUL that Gerald Webb, who I’ve long considered one of the brightest stars on our horizon, is joining Hamilton County’s glitter list of Sessions Judges. Believe this: Hamilton County has got the best line-up in the South, if not the nation, and while we are on the subject, county register Marc Gravitt is too often left out of the praise.

and finally, …

I AM THANKFUL for this video that captures the full essence of heartfelt gratitude more than any I’ve even seen. CLICK HERE.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

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