Bubba is Still There

July 28, 2016

Last week, I joined Will’s Boy Scout troop for a few days of summer camp at Raven Knob Scout Reservation near Mount Airy, North Carolina. I always look forward to these outings, primarily because they are an opportunity to spend treasured time with Will, but also because I am committed to giving back to the Scouting organization that has given so much to me over the years.

I was particularly looking forward to visiting Raven Knob with Will because our visit would mark the second and third generation of Wagoners being campers there. Raven Knob had been the camp of my father, his brothers, and cousin (Eagle Scouts all) when they were Boy Scouts in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

That was a long time ago. But, I’m a sentimental guy, and I liked the idea of continuing the legacy. And, despite the passage of time, I hoped against hope that I might be able to find physical confirmation of the fact that Will’s and my visit to Raven Knob would constitute something of a “coming home” – and so, upon arrival, I began my search for Uncle Bubba’s water fountain.

Oh, how I wanted to get a photo of Will and me at that fountain. I steeled myself for it not being there. My uncle Bill had looked for it on Google Earth, and saw that a waterfront shelter now stood in its place. “Time marches on,” he said. Still, I hoped. Sure, it had been over 50 years, and no one there remembered, but would they really have gotten rid of it?

They hadn’t. The fountain, though moved from its original location, was still there, right in the center of things at the waterfront, just as I had always imagined Bubba to be. Though there were few left who still had first-hand memories of the reason for that fountain, they hadn’t forgotten.

Fountain at waterfront

Back story: On an August night in 1957, my 16 year old uncle Carroll “Bubba” Wagoner was the driver of a car carrying four friends down a mountain road. Going too fast, he missed a curve at the bottom, and slammed into a truck. Bubba was killed instantly, and two of his friends died shortly thereafter.

A couple of years later, a granite water fountain was erected in Bubba’s memory at the Raven Knob waterfront. Here’s a photo of my grandparents, their grief still raw, at the dedication:Fountain at dedication


I never met Bubba; I was Bubba's plaqueBubba Wagonerborn six years after that hot August night when he and two friends became a tragic example of just how fragile and fleeting life can be. In addition to carrying his name, though, I have always felt that I knew him. Family ties and stories run strong in my clan. I know that he got the nickname “Bubba” because his 3-year old big brother (my Dad) mispronounced “brother” as “bubba”. I know that he was precocious and mischievous, and always in the thick of things. I know that he loved Scouting. I know that, with my middle name of Carroll, I have a lot to live up to.








Here is the photo of the 2nd and 3rd generation Wagoners at the fountain:

Fountain with Will 1

My family is deeply grateful to those at Raven Knob Scout Reservation for ensuring that, despite the passage of time, Bubba is still there. I’m especially grateful to Camp Historian Ken Badgett, and Camp Director Keith Bobbitt, for their graciousness and for their interest in knowing more about Bubba’s story.


Retiring the Colors

July 10, 2015

When applied to the Confederate battle flag, the “heritage not hate” slogan all too often seems to be spouted out of only one side of a Southern drawler’s mouth, while the other side, given the proper audience and circumstance, may be saying something altogether different. That said, there is some truth to the notion of a Southern regional pride that, to me at least, is as inescapable as the humidity of a summer south of the Mason-Dixon.

When I was a boy, I had a Confederate battle flag tacked up on the wall of my bedroom. I don’t recall when or where I got it. It was likely a gift shop souvenir from one of the many Civil War battlefield site tours that my Dad took our family on after we moved to Virginia in the late ’60’s. All I remember is that the flag was a constant presence on my wall as I passed through boyhood, into my teen years, and then on to college.*

Some of you who are reading this are likely aghast at my flag revelation. “I thought I knew him! How could he be one of … them? How could he have displayed that symbol of treason, and prejudice, and hate?”

The thing is, I did no such thing. Though they looked the same, the flag that I had tacked on my wall was not the same as the flag of the KKK, George Wallace, and Dylann Roof. It was, indeed, a symbol of heritage – a nod to the place from whence my people came. Just as my grandmother’s United Daughters of the Confederacy membership certificate was prominently displayed in a frame on her wall, my Confederate battle flag held a prized spot on mine. Not unlike my grandmother, I bought into the Lost Cause narrative to a certain extent. I displayed the flag because it conjured up ineffable notions of duty, loyalty, chivalry, tradition, and family – with perhaps a bit of adolescent rebellion thrown in for good measure. Slavery, prejudice, and oppression didn’t enter into my thinking. In later years I did come to wrestle with the knowledge that the awful institution of slavery had existed under that flag. But, I knew as well that the Stars and Stripes had flown over the United States’ mistreatment of Native Americans in the 19th century, and of Japanese Americans during World War II, and nobody was suggesting getting rid of Old Glory.

In fact, few seemed to be suggesting getting rid of the Confederate battle flag, either. It was everywhere when I was growing up – bedroom walls, keychains, t-shirts, beach towels, bumperstickers. It was even on prime time TV, on the roof of the General Lee on “The Dukes of Hazzard” – and nobody ever called Bo and Luke Duke racists!

That has all changed, however. No amount of Southern hospitality and gentility can overcome the fact that the bad guys have won this battle. And no, I’m not talking about Sherman’s army and its scorched-earth campaigns, or opportunistic Yankee carpetbaggers. I’m talking about hate-filled racists like Dylann Roof. I’m talking about white supremacists of all stripes, whether they are driven by mental illness or plain and simple ignorance. Just as Hitler co-opted the sacred religious symbol of the swastika for his Third Reich, Roof and his ilk have co-opted the Confederate battle flag for their own vile purposes. It has no business flying on government property, and I congratulate South Carolina for taking it down.

As for the rest of us, it rightfully comes down to an individual decision. Those who advocate making it illegal to display the Confederate battle flag are off-base and need to read the 1st Amendment. No, we are all free to fly the flag – or not – as our conscience dictates.

And, it’s important to remember that anyone who chooses to fly it, or wear it, or sport it on a car bumper, may not mean any harm by doing so. But, it’s important to recognize as well that the choice to do so is probably causing harm, intended or not.
*The flag stayed on my wall until one night when some of my fraternity brothers snuck into my room, cut it into 4 pieces, then re-tacked the pieces to the wall, together with a note questioning my patriotism, fraternal allegiance, and probably my manhood as well. My midwestern roommate was probably relieved, though I think he was still a bit unnerved by the Blue Oyster Cult and Jim Morrison posters that remained unscathed.

The Right Thing to Do

January 26, 2014

It was one of the great privileges of my life to be able to speak at my father’s funeral.  As tomorrow will mark one year since the day that Dad left this earth and moved on to his next adventure, I believe it is fitting to publish the eulogy in this space.  Here it is – this time, without tears – but with every bit of the same emotion as when I spoke the words.


January 30, 2013

It’s only been in the past few years that I have really recognized how much of my life I have subconsciously patterned after my Dad’s.  As those who know me well will attest, I don’t always have a gift for recognizing the obvious.

Dad went to Wake Forest, and Wake Forest remained near and dear to him.  Despite having grown up in the shadow of Mr. Jefferson’s University, I also went to Wake Forest.  There was no pressure involved – it just seemed like the right thing to do.

Like Dad, I was active in fraternity life while in college.  I didn’t pledge the same one – but I wasn’t trying to be different.  I sought out the house where I felt the best fit.  It was no coincidence that my Sigma Chi of the early 1980’s happened to be the house that best mirrored Dad’s Kappa Sigs of the late 1950’s.

Dad was a thinker, and a reader, and a writer.  He taught me how to write by way of liberal application of red ink to any rough draft that I would show him.  The corrections were sometimes difficult to take – but they always helped.  In like manner, my kids and many of my work colleagues know that if they ask for me to edit a draft – I will edit the draft.

Dad was a worker.  As a professor, his was not a 9-to-5 job.  He didn’t clock out when he came home.  I am sure that he spent many more hours working at home in his study than he did in the classroom or in his office in Ruffner Hall. While our career paths went in different directions – Dad was in education and I have been in law and business – our habits are much the same.  He taught me that work is not the most important thing – but it is an important thing – and it can’t be done well in the space of an 8 hour day.

Dad was a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Eagle Scout, and Scout leader.  I was a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Eagle Scout, and am a Scout leader.

Dad loved high adventure – while he enjoyed all sorts of outdoor activities, he was drawn to those that involve personal challenge and a gut check – things that get the blood pumping and adrenaline racing.  And, he particularly enjoyed making these experiences available to others.

He shared with me the challenge of climbing up a rock face, and the thrill of rappelling back down. I well remember how excited I was when my wife Jennifer finally let her determination – and my coaxing – overcome her fear, and took that first backward step off the top of the cliff at Raven’s Roost.

Together with some adventurous Sunday School  classmates, some of whom are here today – Dad took on the world-class rapids of the Gauley River in West Virginia. A year or so later, he invited me to join that group on a Gauley raft.  In the years since, I have organized many Gauley trips of my own.

I could go on with the parallels. I want to be clear that I was never trying to be Dad – I could never come close – but I was, sometimes consciously and more often subconsciously – trying to be like him.  Sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes I didn’t.

When I pass, I cannot imagine having that event producing anything close to the same outpouring of love and admiration that you and so many others have expressed.  So many people have said wonderful things about the impact that Dad had on their lives.  Dad’s literal shoes were a size 9 ½, but his figurative shoes were immense.  Much too big to try to fill.

It has only been in the past few years that I have realized that he didn’t see it that way.  My failures – and I’ve had some doozies – were not disappointments or embarrassments for Dad.  He hurt with me.  I was always humbled by him, but he never humbled me.

And he reveled in my successes.

As with most parents, Dad gave me many material things over the years.  But, his encouragement, his pride, his affirmation, and his love were the most precious gifts that he could offer – and he showered me with them.  Those are gifts that I can never repay – I can only hope that I can pay them forward with my own kids.

As with so many other things that I’ve done in following Dad’s lead, that just seems like the right thing to do.

Blink of an Eye

April 22, 2013

bacon  Caroline2

I’m not exactly sure when this happened….

Back to Blogging

November 12, 2012

I am finally getting back to blogging. Really. I am currently working on a post about this past weekend’s OBX races, but it’s not quite done. In the meantime, here’s a link to a post that I wrote several years ago: To Build a Fire.

The post, and the man who inspired it, remain two of my favorites.

Go Hoos

August 24, 2009

I’m a Demon Deacon living in the land of the Wahoo. It’s not a new situation for me – as I recounted in another post a couple of years ago, though I’m a certified Charlottesville “townie”, I guess I’ll always bleed gold and black.

Ironically enough, a friend of ours owns the unrivaled mecca for all things U.Va. Mincer’s is a U.Va institution right up there with the Rotunda and the White Spot. My earliest memory of Mincer’s was when U.Va won the men’s ACC basketball championship in 1976, and “ACC Champion” t-shirts from the store flooded the halls of my middle school (and claimed a prize spot in my dresser drawer). It’s now thirty-odd years later, and with four kids who are as firmly ensconced in their allegiance to U.Va as I was at their age, we’ve given the store our fair share of business over the years. We therefore didn’t think twice when Mark asked us if we wanted to be in a commercial.

We showed up at the store at the appointed time, and were all given different U.Va shirts to wear. Actually, the kids got shirts – despite the muggy temperature, I was handed a heavy hooded sweatsht. Maybe it was payback for my asking if it would be OK if I wore a Wake Forest belt for the shoot!

When the time came for what the kids and I were convinced would be our quick ticket to Tinseltown, we were told to stand in a clump outside the store, and “act natural”. How do you get a 6-year-old to act natural when he has a big television camera pointed at him? We did our best, taking comfort in the assurances that they would only be using a few seconds in the commercial, if that. And then, it was over, and they were on to the next group. No one even asked for our autograph….

We were all prepared to wind up on the cutting room floor. But, we did wind up getting our 1.5 seconds of fame (upper left-hand corner):
I’m not quitting my day job, and the phone hasn’t exactly been ringing off the hook with agents wanting to sign on the next child star. But, it was fun.

So head on down to Mincer’s, or check them out online. Just don’t buy any of the “No Wake Zone” buttons!

Mr. Empathy

February 28, 2009

Despite a work day filled with meetings and deadlines, my mind last Thursday kept coming back to two more important things – passing the learner’s permit test, and making the lacrosse team. It was, of course, my 15 year old daughter and not me who was actually having to go through these trials. And, I had every confidence that she would do just fine. My thoughts, though, kept going back to 1980….

I showed up for varsity football tryouts my junior year of high school knowing that I had my work cut out for me. While I had done fine on the 9th grade team two years before, I had decided (for reasons I can’t begin to explain) against playing JV my sophomore year, so I was an unknown quantity for the coaching staff. Lacking that year of experience and visibility, and without the size, speed, or talent to make up the difference, the results were predictable. After two weeks of two-a-day practices in the steamy August heat, the head coach called me into his office, thanked me for my efforts, and told me there weren’t enough jerseys to go around.

One of those “character building” experiences, I guess.

Several months later, shortly after my 16th birthday, I arrived at the DMV to take my road test and get my license. I didn’t expect any problems. With all of the misplaced confidence typical of a 16-year old boy, my plan was to do the test, smile for my picture, tuck my newly-minted license into my wallet and hit the road.

Funny how running one little stop sign during a road test can put a crimp in one’s plans. I was one of several who was cut from the football team. I was the only one I was aware of (the only one in the history of the world, as far as I knew at the time) who failed his road test. More character building.

Fast-forward to last week. I dropped my daughter off at school on Thursday knowing that the day would have her facing both her learner’s permit test and the announcement of lacrosse “cuts”, and I knew from my own experience how she might be feeling when I picked her up after practice. Just call me Mr. Empathy. I hoped that I wouldn’t have to relate my own experiences to help her through hers.

As it turns out, my worries were misplaced. She aced the test and made the team. So, I can safely shelve the memories of my high school traumas – at least those two, anyway – for another couple of years.

Her 13 year old sister will be at the DMV before we know it.