By DAN WHITTLE
As a small lad, I met truly "colorful" folks while sitting quietly on Daddy's knee as he gambled in the back room of our farm town's singular barber shop.
In more modern times, some folks attend sports events to be around those of mutual interest.
Others tell me they attend church to meet, prayerfully, wholesome folks.
Two of my good friends recently wed after meeting each other two years ago over the Internet.
But, it was at a recent Middle Tennessee Mule Skinner's event in Woodbury that I first got to know one of the most fascinating characters I've encountered in recent years. And, I mean "character" in the nicest way.
At first glance, one could think that Smyrna neighbor Lytle Hodge, being a card-toting "Mule Skinner" member in good standing, is what makes him so unique.
Since Mr. Hodge and I also regularly put our feet under the same monthly breakfast table at Rutherford County's historic, rural and pristine pretty Kedron United Methodist Church property that straddles the beautiful meandering Rocky Fork Creek, one might assume that's why I note him amongst my most interesting friends.
"Just call me 'Lytle,'" was his recent instruction while we shared larruping-good hot biscuits of fellowship.
But, none of the above creates the most remarkable aspect of Lytle's robust and well-rounded personality.
Meet the every-day, real-life down-to-earth Lytle Hodge, who ranks as one of the most historic tireless volunteers working to make his community be all it can be.
At age 92, Lytle ranks as one of our Volunteer State's most profound volunteer inspirations to younger whipper-snappers on days we think we don't have the gitty-up to go out and make a day brighter for a neighbor or two.
More later about his remarkable "volunteerism" that benefits a whole town of more than 40,000 people.
Born during the Great Depression, Lytle has known hardships, starting with the death of his mother, Jennie Lee Hodge, when he was age 3.
After that tragedy, Lytle acknowledges being blessed to have had a loving aunt and uncle who reared him during his one-room school years at Rocky Fork School that was located near present-day Giles Creek Baptist Church.
"I went through the 8th grade at Rocky Fork, with wonderful teachers, before finishing high school in Smyrna in 1945," Lytle noted. "At Rocky Fork, we toted sack lunches…"
He attended MTSU for two years, studying agriculture which explains his love for mules to the present-day.
"We worked with mules as a farm boy, so yes, I greatly respect the mules, and what they meant in the livelihood of not only my family, but what they've meant in development of America and the world," Lytle paid tribute.
After MTSU, young Lytle took a job in Nashville, where something profound happened that changed his life.
"I met Ann Marie (Pullum) from Silver Point, in Putnam County, while working my first job at Vanderbilt Medical School," he said in structuring his early years. "It was my best day of life when we wed."
They remained married the next 58 years before the love of his life passed in 2009, at age 89.
In mid-years of life, Lytle and his bride returned to his beloved Smyrna hometown where he began "Smyrna Service Center" in partnership with Ed Johnson, now deceased.
"Tillie Lee Hagar was our loyal bookkeeper and friend at our appliance and hardware business before Wal-Mart put us and other small businesses out of business," Lytle assessed.
From there, Lytle began 30 years employment with Town of Smyrna government, first as a dispatcher with the police department, and later, he assumed in-house maintenance and clean-up duties for the police.
But in 2013, due to recent recession-related economy, Lytle was among one of an estimated 25 city employees laid off their jobs.
Now, we're back to the remarkable volunteerism aspect of his life, at a young and still-agile 92.
"I go back to the police department, one to two hours each morning, just to help clean-up, take out the trash because I love the people there and I love my community," Lytle noted.
Smyrna Police Chief Kevin Arnold described his department's volunteer: "Lytle Hodge, who comes in and helps clean at least four out of five days, is unique and one of the most remarkable good-hearted men I've met in life, and a Southern gentleman in the truest sense."
Sir Lytle Hodge, your community is "blessed" to have you as a solid, good neighbor!!