An Affront to my Southern Sensibilities

“I’m always sketchy of people who don’t like grits.” – Author: Jaycee Ford

I have many Yankee friends along with those from other parts of the country.  Good folks are good folks no matter where they come from…except when it comes to food…or harping on perceived Southern backwardness which, unfortunately includes our Confederate past and the original sin of slavery and the Jim Crow that came after it.  Don’t pontificate because Southerners wrote the book on pontification and when you speak to me about fried food or our original sin you are preachin’ to the choir. 

If it is backward to revere the callused hands of our forefathers then, yeah, we are backward, but most of us are not the repressive, inbred, missing more teeth than we have, morons we are portrayed to be. 

We have a gracious plenty of those repressive, inbred morons and I’m missing a few teeth myself, but for most of us, Southern identity has more to do with food, accents, manners, and music than our Confederate flag flyin’ past. I did date a distant cousin once upon a time but only because pickins’ were slim… The emphasis should be on distant and not on cousin. We did not inbreed nor did we breed in the backseat of my ’63 Ford.

In my circle of friends, Southern identity is open to all races, a variety of ethnic groups, and people who move here.  It incorporates more than “South” Alabama or Texas but includes Southern France, Southern Italy, Southern Asia, and any other country you can describe as “South” anywhere. West Africa, which is south of the South, made an even greater contribution I should add especially when talking about food and music…or our original sin.   

In all honesty, I believe the repressive morons are just the most vocal as they watch their way transition to the chamber pot of life.  They are not the most numerous. It’s just the rest of us are silent, sitting quietly thinking, “Well, bless your heart.”  We should be more vocal and drown them out and the “bless your heart” in this case is a negative comment.

Still, my Yankee friends, there are limits to my Southern sensibilities, mostly those limits involve food…especially this time of year.

I am a day from the first of my three annual physicals and food is on my mind.  October, the fright month, and I’m not speaking to the horror of Halloween and candy corn.  I’m speaking about the blood work that will be done, the weigh-in, the blood pressure check, the electro-cardiogram with its ice-cold electrodes applied with Gorilla Glue, the body scan to see if any more skin cancer is eating me alive.  It will be the yearly reckoning and one that has me tighter than a tick on a fat dog.

I’m a week away from “paying the piper” for a lifetime of excess.  Platters of “Southern” fried chicken and catfish, oversized cathead biscuits smothered in creamy sawmill gravy, salty pork rinds, cigars, and brown liquor.  Since my heart attack in 2006, my diet has been limited to mostly leaves and cardboard, the seasonings removed from the angelic hands of my ancestors and replaced with a bit of shaken Mrs. Dash. 

Little fried, little creamy, little salty, limited cigars and little brown liquor…well, brown liquor can be used for medicinal purposes, and I light the cigar to smell it more than I smoke it.  The keyword is little as in much less than I might wish, so, my sensibilities are affronted when my Yankee friends try to school me on “good” food. 

It could be I’m just amid a  bacon grease withdrawal. For instance, and in no particular order:

Throwing away the aforementioned bacon grease instead of using it as a “flavorin’.”  Blasphemy! Bacon grease should be stored in a coffee can right on the stovetop for easy access.  Bacon grease is culinary “gold.” Eggs fried or scrambled in bacon grease, greens or beans sautéed in bacon grease and then cooked to death. Bacon grease cooked in bacon grease.

Biscuits and creamy sawmill gravy are most certainly a main course and biscuits running in butter and honey are a dessert. To say otherwise could end a friendship.

It is Duke’s Mayonnaise, or it is nothing. If I have a choice between Hellman’s or Miracle Whip, I’ll look for mustard to put on my tomato sandwich.  Yuck.  Sidenote, tomato sandwiches should be served on soft, white bread.  Save your multigrain for Reubens and such.

Also, I am well-read.  I know a tomato is a fruit and not a vegetable in every state of the union save one.  It is a vegetable in South Carolina by legislative decree. As if my legislators have no better use of their time.

Don’t serve grits from those little brown packets that you microwave with water and then gripe about how bland they are.  Grits are a blank canvas.  They should be stone ground, cooked with cream, and at the minimum contain cheddar cheese and butter.  And please, just serve me the box that the packets of “flavored” grits come in.  Addendum:  Grits should never be served with sugar. 

I’ll drink water from a stagnant, primordial swamp before I will drink unsweetened tea.  It should be served sweet with lemon slices to sour it up. Southern paradox?

Instant tea? Just shoot me.

Chicken fried steak and country fried steak are not the same.  Chicken fried involves an egg batter, country fried a dusting of flour only.  Note to prospective cooks, I’ll eat either and smile.

Don’t ask me to come for the barbecue and then serve hotdogs and hamburgers.  That’s grillin’.  A barbecue is not a place. Barbecue is slow-cooked pig parts over wood coals.  Barbecue is a noun, not a verb.  Note:  If you want to serve some of those German sausages in addition to the slow-cooked pig parts that will be fine with me.  Put it in a bun and you can pretend it is a hotdog and I’ll be okay.  I’ll even eat one. 

Mac and cheese should not come from a little box that contains everything you need to make it taste like noodles and Velveeta and nothing else.  Good mac and cheese is not orange in color.  It is a cheesy crisp brown on the outside and at the corners and creamy and pale on the inside.  It contains more than just mac and cheese. Addendum:  It is also perfectly acceptable to list good mac and cheese on the vegetable menu of your local ‘meat and three.’

Side note: Good cornbread doesn’t come from a package or a box and “nanner puddin'” should not be made with instant pudding.

Finally, viewing Southern food as only fried chicken, pork, or fish and biscuits is a great over-simplification. The Southern food of our forefathers was plant-based.  Granted, many of those plants were fried or flavored with bacon grease or fatback and very well seasoned. Staples included stewed okra and tomatoes, whole-grain cornbread, winter greens, corn, butterbeans, sweet potatoes, and both winter and summer squash. Fried meat, poultry, or fish served daily is a modern contrivance. Certainly, there are Southern dishes that are indulgent, but indulgent food is found in any cuisine.  Beef Stroganoff anyone?

Postscript: My first battery of test came back great. My cholesterol was 121. Biscuits and gravy here I come. I’ve got a year to work it off.

Don Miller’s newest book is live on Amazon and may be purchased in paperback or download at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09GNZFXFT

The Morning I Woke Up Crazy

“When you are crazy you learn to keep quiet.”― Philip K. Dick, VALIS

I remember waking up crazy.  It was a summer morning in the late Seventies or early Eighties.  I know it was the summer because I didn’t have to go to school that day… maybe it wasn’t summer, maybe a weekend day. Sometimes you just don’t know if you are loopy. Probably a good thing on the day you realize you are going insane.

You do realize, I didn’t just wake up and say “Well Don, you are insane…around the bend, looney, as crazy as an outhouse mouse.”  I had to get used to it, ease into it, take my time realizing I was looney-tunes.

I know now my deep slide didn’t just happen overnight.  But this wasn’t now, this was then. Then, I just thought I awoke one day with a mind like a broken kaleidoscope.  All the pieces were there, they just didn’t fit together anymore. Now, I realize it occurred slowly over time until one day it was “Wham-oh, Change-oh” I have gone off the deep end.

I was functioning despite my madness. There was such a stigma during this time.  You didn’t even whisper you were having problems.  People were still being locked away in asylums.  Electroshock Therapy was still used.  Remember “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?”  There was the proof. 

No one could know I was crazy.  No one could know all I wanted to do was lower the blinds and draw the covers over my head…forever.  There was no one I could talk to…well, there were plenty of people I could have talked to if I had been willing to tell them my secret.  The stigma!  “Hey Bud, how are you doing?” “Well.  My television seems to have lost its vertical hold, can you help me?”

All I wanted to do was sleep…except when I tried to sleep, I couldn’t.  I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t focus. When I was awake I was like a Mexican Jumping Bean. I didn’t want to be awake.  

Depressed, anxious, sad, melancholy…more than just a “bit blue”, I was suicidal.   That’s when I knew.  I had a great life, why was I contemplating removing myself from it.  I had a great job, a home, a wife…a wife I was driving away…drove away. 

I hated the questions I asked myself.  “Am I depressed because my marriage is bad or is my marriage bad because I’m depressed?” Well, that certainly worked itself out now didn’t it?  Any question beginning with “Why?” drove me even crazier.  Can a crazy person be driven crazy?

I didn’t want to be around people.  The more people the more anxious I was.  I remember putting on my happy face as I met my classes later in the year.  Every minute was like fingernails on the chalkboard.  I lived for my planning period.

I lost weight, I had no energy.  I was worthless, lower than whale poop in the deepest trench in the Pacific Ocean.  I wanted to die.  Worse, I worried someone might find out.

One evening I sat on the foot of my bed.  A tiny 32 caliber pistol in my hand.  I remember the oily feel of the weapon.  I remember emptying it, reloading, spinning the chamber.  I remember the fear I felt realizing what I was contemplating.  I called my doctor the next day.  Stigma be damned!

I talked, cried a bit.  I answered a questionnaire and he talked with me at length.  Blood work and more talk.  Clinical Depression. A chemical imbalance in the brain.  We’re going to try Elavil, “better living through chemistry”, and therapy.  I also decided to tell someone.  It wasn’t as bad as I expected. No one showed up with a white jacket with belts.

It has been over forty years and I still have bouts of depression.  I’m not cured but I’m off of the drugs.  Every time I begin to slide I worry I might stay there.  I still become unfocused, my mind wanders but one thing I can concentrate on. “I know what it is.  I know I can climb out of the valley.”  Knowledge is power.

I know I’m not alone.  There are others just like me, and I know it is a disease just like any other. It is not something we asked for, it just is.  It is not something that would go away if we were built of sterner stuff.  Yeah, some idiot told me that and suggested it was a weakness in character. 

I don’t worry about stigma, I don’t worry about people knowing because I tell all who will listen.  Stigma kills people and there should be no stigma.

Today is World Mental Health Day, an international day for global mental health education, awareness, and advocacy against social stigma.  The one day of the year that we set aside to make people aware mental health. 

The other three hundred and sixty-four, we kind of ignore it…unless there is a school shooting.  On those days we spin platitudes expressing our concern over mental health to deflect from discussing gun violence until a couple of days or weeks pass and something new has taken over the news.

We don’t talk enough about mental health and the stigma that causes people to die.  Nationally, the suicide rate increased 25.4% from 1999 to 2016, with increases occurring in every state, save for Nevada. In 2018, there were an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts and more than 48,000 deaths by suicide, making it the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. Firearms were involved in half of all suicides, and there were more than twice as many deaths by suicide than by homicide during the same period. In 2020, suicides decreased by five percent to a bit less than 45,000.

Men are over three and a half times more likely to commit suicide than women. Native Americans and Alaskan Natives have the highest rate of suicide.  Older adults have higher rates than younger adults, LGBTQ adults and youth are more likely to commit suicide than hetero counterparts.  Veterans are one and a half times more likely to commit suicide than nonveterans. 

So, on World Mental Health Day let us all pledge to destigmatize mental health.  Let’s pledge to be a friend to the bullied, to accept LGBTQs as first and foremost, as people and call out bullies.  Let’s cut out a couple of Tomahawk missiles and provide the mental health services our veterans need.  Above all, let’s try empathy, something we once had but seems to be in short supply.

The national suicide helpline number is 800-273-8255. Use it! The number is manned twenty-four hours a day.

Don Miller’s new release, “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” maybe purchased at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3NeUQc6vEYiJm1P_3pB-pn0LHPonVrvst95cfhs4HxF5jNjIkwp6mO2q0

What Ever Happened to Burma Shave?

Hinky, dinky…parley voo…cheer up face…the war is thru…Burma Shave From 1930 Burma-Shave signs found along the roadside

I just saw a FaceBook post, one of those that have become too frequent.  “In the last week have you seen….”  It was about advertising some good or service and it caused me to think about advertisements from the past. 

A unknown poster asked the question, “What Ever Happened to Burma Shave?” I had no clue but a twisting pig trail led me from Burma Shave to “See Rock City” to the Eagles’ song, “Hotel California”, and back again.  Yes, it twisted but for some reason, the path made perfect sense to my twisted mind.

It was about advertising methods before there were slick, computer generated commercials. It was about low-tech jingles that included “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” or croaking frogs saying “Bud…wise..errrr“ or stomachs jiggling to “No matter what shape your stomach is in.” You might have to do a bit of research on those. It was when beer, liquor, and cigarettes were sold in prime time. It was about a simpler time but my thoughts went further back,…some might have been a little dark.

“On a dark desert highway…Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light.”  In my fragmented brain, the light was shimmering in gaudy neon.  Red and green, it flashed, maybe flickered as if a neon tube was going bad, “Welcome to the Hotel California.”  Below would be another sign advertising “Vacancies” or “Rooms to Let.”  “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave,” sings in my head.

For some reason, I’m drawn to the gaudy neon.  Old signs flashing in green, pinks, yellows, and red.  “Cold Beer”, “Cigarettes Here”, red and green Coca Cola signs.  Seems you could advertise better with neon…or more brightly.

I associate neon with the hole-in-the-wall places where I spent too many hours during the misspent youth portion of my life.  There seemed to be a bit of the nefarious associated with neon…if not criminal, wicked at least.  If I were creating a scene it would be in a backroom of a pool hall or a bar advertised by harsh neon. Hard men with fedoras pushed back on their heads and Pall Mall unfiltered cigarettes hanging on a lip. They squint to see their cards as smoke circles their heads. Women that Andy of Mayberry would have considered fast “fun girls” in tight shimmering gowns watch the game. Maybe a bit past their prime…trying to hang on for table scraps.

Maybe it was the signs that advertised cold beer and live music, “Girls, Girls, Girls” or the martini glass with a naked young lady in it.  I never liked martinis but girls were another thing as was cold beer and music. Somehow they seemed to be related in the dim light of my past. 

I am reminded of late-night road trips through small towns with darkened streets except for flashing neon. The themes of Perry Mason and Peter Gunn reverberate in my mind in black and white but I see the neon flashing in color.

In a “lighter” time, I remember family vacations, rolling through the twisting and narrow roads in the Blue Ridge and seeing barns on hillsides.  Slab barns with metal roofs with “Visit Rock City” or “When You’ve Seen Rock City, You’ve Seen it All”  painted on them. Sign painter Clark Byers painted over nine hundred barns advertising Rock City after it opened in 1932.

Some thirty years after it had opened, I found Rock City atop Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, and remembered standing in line to step to a spot where I could see seven states, Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Alabama.  I might have been ten or so. I also remember a rope bridge I wanted no part off.

On other trips, roadside signs ranged from professionally done to hand-lettered.  The hand-lettered ones, the work of someone who felt strongly about his religion or his politics. Strongly enough to pound them into the ground on the side of the road.

Weathered red paint on whitewash. Single words or phrases spaced over the road’s shoulder.  Many foretold of doom, “Repent…our…time…is…nigh”  or “The…end…is…near…REPENT.”  Quite ominous for a pre-teen raised in a strict home.

Others advertised Alligator Farms, the best fried chicken, Stuckey’s Candies, or Big Gulps. Sometimes all four could be found in one building.

Then there were the Burma Shave signs and the post that began my wanderings.

The Burma Shave signs weren’t as ominous and were professionally done but many displayed lessons to be learned.  More than a few displayed bullet holes as if someone took offense to them.

Burma Shave, at one time the second-largest producer of “brushless shaving cream”, was famous for its advertising gimmick of posting humorous rhyming poems on small sequential highway roadside signs. The company sold out to Philip Morris in the early Sixties but their signs lived on and were culturally impactful in TV, movies, and literature. They were culturally impactful to me it seems.

Burma-Shave - Wikipedia

One of their advertising sequence of signs read, “Cheer up face…The war is past… The “H” is out…Of shave…At last…Burma-Shave”, another “A shave…That’s real…No cuts to heal…A soothing…Velvet after-feel…Burma-Shave.”  I don’t know what the “H” in the first one stood for. I know the war it referred to was the First World War.

During World War Two they joined the war effort with rhymes like, ‘Let’s make Hitler…And Hirohito… Feel as bad…as Old Benito…Buy War Bonds…Burma-Shave’ and “TOUGH-WHISKERED YANKS…IN HEAVY TANKS…HAVE JAWS AS SMOOTH…AS GUYS IN BANKS!” Oh the humor.

A lesson to be learned, hopefully before a crash occurred.

TheClassicCar.com

The last Burma Shave rhyme landed in 1963, well before I began the daily scrapping of my facial skin. “Our fortune…Is your…Shaven face…It’s our best… Advertising space…Burma-Shave”. 

Until my next pig trail please remember, “Train approaching…Whistle squealing…Stop…Avoid that run-down feeling…Burma-Shave.” Here are three more on the signs that adorned many roadsides. The one on the right fits me perfectly.

Don Miller’s newest release, “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” is live on Amazon. It may be purchased in paperback or download. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09GQSNYL2

Small Town Rivalries

There’s nothing to do here on a Friday night but go to a football game. This town really revolves around football. – John Williams

There was a time….before the small towns were overrun by the Godzilla monster of urban sprawl.  Before cell phones, computers, and social media hypnotized us all.  Before there were so many choices at our fingertips.  Friday night football was king.

I guess there are still small towns that close up lock, stock, and barrel and migrate to the local football stadium on a Friday night.  Bright stadium lights and green grass with sharply painted or chalked white lines.  Marching bands and cheerleaders dressed in their finest, strutting to this year’s marching songs.  Drumlines rocking, pompoms shaking, rabid fans cheering at a fever pitch.  Yeah, there was a time.

This coming Friday the annual bloodletting known as the “Golden Strip Derby.”  I was a part of the rivalry for nine years early in my teaching and coaching career.  During those days I fancied myself as a football coach and felt there could be no higher calling.  No greater high than those heady moments after a win…especially against your “down the road” rival.  “Better than sex,” one coaching chum tried to convince me, “sex lasts but a few minutes, winning a football game last all week long.  Beating your rival last all year long.”

I know it has changed, but during those days, Mauldin, SC, was at one end of the Golden Strip, Simpsonville at the other, maybe five miles separating them by road, closer as the crow flies. 

Mauldin High School was created in the early Nineteen Seventies mostly from the student body of Hillcrest High School, just outside Simpsonville.  In the Seventies, Mauldin proper was a wide-place on a crossroads, Simpsonville, not much larger but they did have a main street.  That is one thing that has changed as Greenville has come calling.

Hillcrest looked down their noses at the farmers and “sh!tkickers” down the road, at least that’s what we told the kids. They probably had as many “rednecks” as we did. It was inevitable a small town, Southern football rivalry would manifest itself.  Rednecks versus the townies. Mavericks versus Rams.

I don’t rightly remember who came up with the idea of playing a game for a cheap sporting goods trophy, calling it the Golden Strip Derby. That would be cheap in monetary value. I’m sure it was as valuable as the Lombardi Trophy to those kids. 

I think I remember but don’t want to put someone’s nose out of joint if I’m wrong.  I know we had a couple of rabid fans I’d put blame on.  They bled their school colors. I remember some pretty outlandish bets being wagered…free gasoline for a year?  A lot of bottles of Daniel’s or Walker’s finest or five-hundred-dollar bets were the norm.

I read Hillcrest is on an eight-game winning streak. I know hope springs eternal for the Mauldin fans. I was a part of nine straight wins by Mauldin in the Seventies and early Eighties. Never lost to them and winning never got old. Our orange, white, and brown-clad Mavericks never fell to the red, white, and black-clad Rams…although there were some close ones.  I’m sure there was always hope by those fans on the opposite side of the field.  Hope that we stomped flat.

Many were close, hard-fought games…” slobber knockers.”  I remember one was 6-0 on a dreary wet night and not decided until Ray Ritchy secured it with a late interception.  He nearly broke my nose when he jumped into my arms and then got tangled in my head set cord. We both went down in a jubilant, muddy heap.

I also remember mocking the Radio City Rockettes as we coaches danced to “Rock and Roll Part Two” watching the final seconds tick off of the clock.  I don’t think the opposing school appreciated the lightness of our feet and the Rockettes weren’t in danger of replacement.

In another game we were down by double digits at halftime when a short, stocky running back named Timmy May and our offensive line decided we weren’t going to lose and we didn’t.  Stuffed it down their throats we did.  Did I mention our defense shut them out in the second half?

The stands will be filled on Friday night and periodically I’ll check the score.  I won’t be one of those fans in attendance.  When I retired I found out it was about the kids and the coaches, the parents of those kids, the students, teachers, and administrators who supported us.

It was about the people who played the game, not the game itself.  The games are not as important when you don’t know anyone.  They are not as important when you haven’t invested a part of yourself.  The win is no longer better than sex…but the memories might be.

My favorite memory of one of those rival games was a pre-game speech.  We had heard how great the Rams were that year, a bunch of college recruits, top to bottom. This was going to be their year. Remember, hope springs eternal.

Our head coach lamented to the team while asking the question, “What can we do to fire you up? We’ll do it. What do we have to do to win the game?”  An offensive lineman no longer with us in this life, Preston Trotter, raised his hand and in his best country voice asked, “You reckon Coach Long could do that Johnny B. Good song?”  Not at all what was expected.

Coach Long was our Elvis impersonator and on the baseball field next to the stadium he did Elvis doing “Johnny B. Good.”  We kicked their butts.

Football is about being a part of something bigger than yourself, even if it is a small town rivalry. It is not about stadiums holding eighty thousand. Its about lifelong friendships forged in the heat of August. About lessons learned form exhilarating victories or excruciating defeats. It is about people, not pigskin.

Good times, good memories.  Good luck to the Mauldin Mavericks.

Don Miller wrote a book, “Winning Was Never the Only Thing….” about his teaching and coaching career. It may be purchased or downloaded on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00OM8ONRM/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i4

Image from Greenvilleonline.com

Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes is Now Live

Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes is now live on Amazon and may be purchased as a Kindle download or in paperback at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09GQSNYL2/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1632220574&sr=8-1

Pig-Trails and Rabbit Holes refers to the way Don Miller’s mind works…a curse or a blessing?  Alice’s rabbit hole worked out well, right?  Think of all the friends she met. A White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, a hookah-smoking caterpillar, a Cheshire cat, and the one he thinks he most emulates, the March hare…as in, as crazy as a March hare…or a Mad Hatter…which is it?

These are short stories and essays about life.  Some humorous, some reflective, all from the perspective of one of the rarest of animals, a Southern liberal. 

Stories of life in the foothills of the Southern Blue Ridge, history, politics, race, religion, and religion’s close Southern cousin, football.  And food…too much is written about an obsession for barbeque. That’s a lie.  One can never write too much about barbeque.

Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes

“Rabbit holes are my specialty. I live and breathe in them.”
― Kara McDowell, One Way or Another

Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes is now live on Amazon and may be purchased at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09GQSNYL2 in both download and paperback.

Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes refers to the way my mind works…a curse or a blessing?  Alice’s rabbit hole worked out well, right?  Think of all the friends she met. A white rabbit, the Mad Hatter, a hookah-smoking caterpillar, a Cheshire cat, and the one I most emulate the March hare…as in, as crazy as a March hare…or a Mad Hatter…which is it?

I write in a world that is slightly out of focus or as a Southerner might say, cattywampus, waiting for something to occur that will send me on an unplanned metaphorical trek, twisting and turning like a wild pig trail or mountain switchback, until I find my rabbit hole.  My motivation may be a spoken or written word, a song, a taste, or a smell…food maybe.  I seem preoccupied with food. 

Once the pig trail leads me to my rabbit hole I will pursue my rabbit to whatever lengths necessary to satisfy myself.  It is maddening to live in my head sometimes.  See, I’m already wondering why you have a rabbit and a hare in the same story about Alice’s great adventure.  They are the same, right? No, they are not.  I did not know that.  Shame on you biology teacher!

Several years ago, I decided to attempt to bring my maddening thoughts under control by writing and created the blog Ravings of a Mad Southerner.  It was a failure …but I’ve enjoyed the trip along the pig trails even though my thoughts are under no better control than they were seven years ago when I embarked on the storm-tossed sea of blogging.

Symbolically, the title of my blog, Ravings of a Mad Southerner has nothing to do with anger but is related to the madness experienced by Alice’s Mad Hatter or March hare…and the madness experienced by the author of the blog. 

In all fairness, my madness has nothing with the production of felt hats or crazy hares at the beginning of their mating season.  I get my madness honestly, I was born this way it seems.

Most of the rabbits I pursue resemble Elmer Fudd’s “wascally wabbit”, Bugs, or Gary K. Wolfe’s bumbling, Roger Rabbit.  I admit sometimes I encounter monster rabbits resembling the fanged demon Kevin McCarthy pulled out of his hat in Twilight Zone: The Movie, but it is rare.

While I search for my rabbit holes, I tend to get lost. Mostly I like it that way.  To quote Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”

Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes is now live and may be purchased in both Kindle and Paperback at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09GQSNYL2

Switch ‘dem Legs

“Suffer the pain of discipline, or suffer the pain of regret.” – Unknown

The young boy-child held a long privet branch, stripped of its leaves, maybe three-eights of an inch at its broken base before tapering to nothing at the “business” end.  It needed to be a “keen hickory” as in “Go out yonder and break me off a keen hickory and be quick about it.”  My grandmother was quite specific concerning her needs…much to my dismay.

The young boy that was me, was hesitant but even his young brain realized that waiting was only postponing the inevitable…and possibly making things worse. My legs were going to be switched no matter how long I waited and often the wait was worse than the punishment.

Punishment was to be swift and the question, “should the punishment fit the crime,” was never asked.  It was to be corporal and somewhat “Old Testament.”  “Spare the rod, spoil the child” was a guiding principle.

Rarely was I sent to my room without my supper, never did I stand with my nose in the corner.  Discipline was a thick privet brach applied to the bare legs.  Whelps that faded quickly while the lessons did not…may be.  All were accompanied by “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” and while it was being administered, “quit that cryin’ fore I give you a reason to cry.”

Spare the rod…” actually never appears in the Bible but my Nannie had memorized Proverbs it seems.  Six verses speak to disciplining children with a rod in Proverbs beginning with Prov 13:24: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him often” and ending with Prov 29:15: “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.” All from the King James version of course.

My parents were shift workers at a nearby textile plant and my care along with my brother’s and three girl-child cousins’ were primarily in the hands of my grandmother.  Care and discipline along with many life lessons.

We would spend the night at my grandparent’s house and would spend the morning and early afternoon with them until my parents returned from their first shift work or their morning sleep when they worked the third shift.  I only mention this to emphasize that we had ample opportunity to run afoul of my grandmother’s wrath…or a lesson or five. 

Not to say I couldn’t incur the wrath of my parents, I did, but it was different.  The line I had to toe with my parents seemed a bit more crooked than the line my grandmother had etched in the sand.  Her line was a sharp, thin line like the crease on a Marine’s dress trousers. Not to say my parents weren’t disciplinarians, they were.  But they took a different tack. 

My father was a talker, an explainer…a pontificator reminiscent of a Southern diplomat stumping for reelection.  Many times I thought, “Please get to the beating, you are killing me.”  He would eventually, a thin belt across the buttocks, done with a purpose but without any emotion other than disappointment.  His disappointment might have been the most painful of all.

My mother…her’s was a reaction to emotion…and her first emotion was raging anger.  She was the stereotype of the explosive Scot Irish redhead.  She went off like twenty sticks of dynamite, swiftly and violently, and then it was over.  The whelps might last a bit longer and some may not have landed where she aimed, others might be a bit weepy with blood.  By today’s standards, the word abuse might have been used but this was a different time.

If you are over fifty and reading this, my guess is you can relate.  If you are over fifty and from the Bible Belt I know you can relate.  Corporal punishment was, maybe is, the Southern way but it is not the only way.  As I’ve gotten older I wonder if it was just an easy way to address the behavior without the cause.

Understand, I hold no deep seated animosity for the discipline I received and am reasonably well adjusted. Any maladjustments were not due to the “whoopins'” I received. While the discipline was swift so were demonstrations of love and when I heard, “Now Donnie, this is for your own good” deep down I knew they were correct.

I began my teaching career in the last decade or so of teacher dispensed corporal punishment and while I dispensed many “licks” with a wooden paddle, I was never comfortable with it.  Early on, I learned I had a good bit of my mother in me and that punishment, like revenge, was best served cold and without a side dish of anger.  I’m proud I had this revelation.  I tried to become a happy medium between my mother and father…no, I became my father complete with pontification.

I was once assigned a classroom across from the principal’s office.  The principal was an imposing woman, the best principal I ever had.  When a male student ran afoul of the system her secretary would step into my classroom and inform me, “Ms. Koon needs your assistance.”  Those were code words that I needed to administer a paddling.

I found those paddlings much easier to administer because I was emotionally detached.  Three firm licks across the buttocks of a young man who hadn’t made me mad.  There was no “this is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you,” lie. 

Some I can remember that make a smile cross my face.  One crawled across Ms. Koon’s desk while I was in my backswing.  “Come on, I haven’t even hit you yet.”  Another, I found had padded his backside with notebooks.  Chortle.

I hear assurances that what is wrong with America is we have gotten away from “whoopin’ our youngins’.”  I don’t know.  I believe there is an absence of limits and discipline being taught but discipline takes many forms beginning with teaching what is right or wrong and what is expected.  We seem to lack self-discipline.

I spanked my daughter once.  Not even a spanking, a light tap on a bare leg.  I don’t remember what it was over and it doesn’t matter.  She cried like I had hit her with a rock.  I’d like to think her tears were over being disappointed that she had disappointed me.  I think we are a lot alike in that area.  Most of my pain was not from the rod but from realizing I had disappointed my parents or grandparents or teachers.  I had fallen short of their expectations.

Deep down I wanted to be the perfect child and repeatedly, due to my lack of self-discipline, fell short.  I hope they forgave me for my many transgressions.  Hopefully, I made them proud. 

My dearest Ashley, you did not fall short.  You were almost a perfect child.  You have made me proud.

***

Don Miller is a retired teacher and coach who writes on many subjects, fiction and non-fiction. His author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3vG_2EfWcuXYSOufYCAOFURnisANCQjCQITPrds5zWwlSO8MKkBqFFhJo

Hooray For Me…

And the hell with everybody else.

I grew up in a world where people were supportive of each other, regardless of political viewpoint.  If you were a liberal, conservatives might look at you side-eyed and shake their heads, but they supported you as a human being. They might talk about you behind your back, call you a ‘quare’ bird, but it was usually in whispers and in all honesty, where I grew up there were few liberals…still are few liberals.

I don’t know where that world has gone.  I hope, pray, that it is just a vocal minority but they seem to have developed a loud “hooray for me and the hell with everybody else” attitude.  Sounds selfish to me but then who am I to accuse?  I’ll just say if the shoe fits wear it. It is my opinion.

The most vocal don’t believe that falling sick to Covid is worse than getting the vaccine or the “jab” as they like to call it.  I detest hearing “I don’t need it. God will call me home when he deems it is time.”  I hate hearing “It is no worse than the flu.” Some three hundred and fifty thousand more were called to their heavenly home in 2020 than in 2019 and we seem to be on a similar schedule for 2021.

Where does free will fit into this?  If I choose to roller-skate on a crowded boulevard during rush hour and am crushed by a beer truck, is that God’s will?  Where does “data” figure into this? “Oh, don’t waste my time with data, my mind is made up. There is a chance I’ll survive and if I don’t, it’s God’s will.” Not my god.

It appears that some of the same vocal minority believe storms, wildfires, and changes in climate patterns are a symptom of an angry god rather than the prodrome of a sick planet. Yep, science is for sissies, and New York got flooded because of liberal leadership despite the fact Ida traveled from New Orleans to New York over several conservative states.

Somehow the liberal media and all the world’s liberal leaders have figured out a way to keep a secret.  A worldwide plot to eradicate conservatism with facemasks, vaccines, windmills, and solar panels.  Covid and Climate Change are all hoaxes or a plot.  All we must do is take vitamins, exercise, eat well, and sweep out our forests.  If that doesn’t work, animal dewormer…yeah, I know they make it for humans too…for parasites. Just say no to windmills and solar panels while you are at it.

I’m trying to picture my parents, Ernest and Eldora Miller, members of the “Greatest Generation”, standing in a picket line, or screaming at a school board about the evils of Satan’s mask mandate and waving placards denouncing returns to Marx’s virtual learning. I can’t picture it because it would have never happened.  It is almost too humorous to consider.

Lord help us if someone mentions “lockdown.”  Oh, that slippery slope toward communism.

How did wearing a mask or getting a “jab” lead us to arguments about freedom?  Do you want the freedom to infect your family, friends, and the old guy you passed in the checkout at Wally World? 

Why are we not supportive of humankind?  Somehow humankind has become a triggering word too.  Why should we worry about people in other parts of the world not named Afghanistan?  That pesky, “Love thy neighbor” thing in the Bible? 

Does this mean my parents were unaware at best or stupid at worst?  No, they were concerned about their family, friends, neighbors, and people they had never met.  Old Ernest and Eldora saw a way to make life better for all.  They were concerned about the human collective except the most vocal will take offense to me using the word collective.  Collective is just too close to communal, and we all know where communal leads. To the great communist devil hiding under our beds.

Somewhere in the dimly lit past, I remember loading up after church into our 1953 Ford Customline and driving to our small school, standing in line with all the people I had just been in church with at the cafeteria.  My parents, grandparents, brother, and me.  Why?  To eat lunch? No. To receive the Salk vaccine on a sugar cube.  No one was protesting and polio disappeared.  Imagine that and I grew up in a most conservative place.  There was no discussion of mandates.  There didn’t need to be.

What happened to us?

Commander Spock of Star Trek fame uttered these words in the movie “The Wrath of Khan,” “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Captain Kirk answers, “Or the one.” I agree with Spock even though he was a fictional character.

Many will say that Spock’s utterance is too utilitarian, the doctrine that an action is right if it promotes safety and happiness, and that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct.  I certainly believe sacrificing oneself for the greater good is an individual choice but no one, not me or anyone else, is asking you to sacrifice your life.  I believe the data supports that and they are not going to take your guns either.

Do some people have potentially deadly issues with the vaccine and is it worth the fear?  Sure, but a very small percentage, 0.0017 percent have died after taking the vaccine through June 14, 2021.  People died from the polio vaccine.  Look up the Cutter Incident and it was caused by a mistake. 

Do the vaccinated still catch Covid? Yes, but look at the vaccination numbers versus unvaccinated and the recovery rate.  YOU LOOK IT UP. The data shows you are much more likely to recover if you do get it and are less likely to get it, period.

For those from the “Don’t confuse me with the facts group”, it would appear, logic has disappeared, worse, it appears logic is purposely being distorted. That worries me the most. People are getting sick. People are dying because hospitals are being filled with the unvaccinated.

To be clear.  Do mandates take away freedoms?  Of course.  What I’m saying is, we shouldn’t even have to mention mandates.

Don Miller writes on various subjects, mostly uplifting non-rants. His author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1smB-fmScUP0JbtXJZaCzDQXYPuJKLT-n4oLUE6ojWkNkHcug5ZFWD8DE

My BBQ Hash Ought Not Be Lookin’ At Me

“Like the blind man said as he wandered into a cannibal village . . .“Alright! The country fair must be right up ahead. I smell barbecue!”― John Rachel

This morning I fell into a rabbit hole that involved football and BBQ.  If you have ever been to a football tailgate, you know how they are related. Southern football tailgates for sure. 

Here, in my part of the world, worshipers of the religion that is football filed back into various high school cathedrals erected to their pigskin gods this past week, and college football worshipers will begin their own pigskin revival this weekend. Many worshipers will bring with them their religious trappings in the form of grills and smokers, filled ice chests, and lawn chairs. 

It is time to sacrifice the fatted hog to whichever football deity you worship. Hardwood charcoal smoke and the aroma of Boston butts slow cooking will waft through the stadium parking lots and are the sacred incense of the religion of football.

No photo description available.
Picture from The Tailgate BBQ-Facebook

I have worshipped football for most of my life and spent twenty-nine years coaching it. As a young, first-year football coach I was a clean slate.  I knew not what I was getting into when I accepted the offer to coach junior high football at Gallman Junior High School and scout for the Newberry High School Bulldog varsity squad in the fall of 1974. 

I was the junior high offensive and defensive line coach, positions I had played in high school…positions I found I was sorely lacking the knowledge necessary to coach. As my first varsity head coach, a big, hairy, square bodied man with the moniker, Bear, pointed out to me, “The first thing you need to understand is that you don’t know sh!t from Shinola and learn which one you need to shine your shoes with and which one you better not step in.”  An old phrase that meant I was ignorant.  Yes, I was ignorant, and some might claim, “You remained that way and to this very day, step in the wrong one…every day.”

Not only was I “on the field” ignorant, but I also had no idea what off-field responsibilities coaching entailed. Cutting fields, lining fields, taping ankles, doing laundry…all fell on the heads of the younger coaches.  I was twenty-three and a first-year coach, my duties weighed heavily upon my shoulders. Did I mention I was a fulltime teacher too?

Friday game nights I never saw us play live and in living color until the last game of the season. I was responsible for scouting. It was my duty to drive to the next week’s opponent’s game for reconnoitering duties and film exchange. Sundays, I assisted with film breakdown because I was the only coach who had seen our next opponent live.  All the while facing five classes of seventh graders daily, five days a week, and no real clue how to teach history, either.  I didn’t know sh!t from Shinola and I was learning which was which while on the job.

What does this have to do with BBQ hash? Nothing but I’m getting there.

Another duty I didn’t realize I had was the twice-annual fundraisers we ran to support our programs.  Athletic programs run off gate receipts and only a few sports make money.  Consequently, athletic programs run their “Sell Your Soul to the Devil for Athletic Equipment” fundraisers or allow the Booster Club to bend you over a desk.  “Was it good for you? Here is the chin strap you needed. See you next week and maybe I’ll give you a second one.”

In my part of the world at the time, the midlands of South Carolina, the easiest way to raise a lot of money was selling tickets for BBQ plates with all the fixings…said fixins. A local farmer gave us a deal on hogs, a local grocery a deal on chicken and the fixins, a local game meat processor did his part and viola, fund raiser.

The kids were handed a number of tickets to sell entitling the buyer to a plate of BBQ…with all the fixins. It also gave us an idea of how much to prepare. That’s right, coaches, their wives, their teams, and any fool stupid enough to volunteer were responsible for preparing and serving the food.

Family and friends who allowed their arms to be twisted into purchasing a ticket would show up on the blessed day and pick up their Styrofoam containers and consume them where ever. This was held in conjunction with meet the Bulldogs and picture day. Everyone wins, athletics get their needed equipment and supporters get a meal. A right good meal I might add.

Unfortunately, it also requires a sleepless night of slow cooking porkers and cluckers for the coaches and then filling plates with pulled pork, or roasted chicken, slaw, pickles, fried hushpuppies, baked beans and my duty, BBQ hash smothering white rice…all without the benefit of any sleep for over thirty-six hours and a hangover from drinking too many brown likker drinks brought by one of the other assistants to help while away the hours. I truly didn’t know the difference between “sh!t and Shinola.” Ah, the stupidity of youth.

BBQ hash is a dish served over white rice, an accompaniment to BBQ served mainly in the Dutch Fork of South Carolina.  Unrecognizable pig parts are cooked until they attain the consistency of mush.  Unrecognizable pig parts means “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Head meat including snouts, tongue, liver, and other organ meat were primary and I guess I just told.

Sautéed onions and potatoes are added and are further cooked to death.  Near the end, mustard BBQ sauce, vinegar, pepper, and hot sauce are added and simmered just long enough to give the flavors a chance to blend. That could be ten minutes or forever plus one day. Finally, you’ll stir in butter.  The dish is much better than it sounds and not a dish you need to eat if counting calories or if you have an arterial blockage.

My duty? Stir the hash in a huge black, cast-iron kettle over an open fire with a wooden boat oar.  Stir, stir, stir, sweat, sweat, sweat, drink, drink, drink.  Repeat until the correct consistency is achieved, or you are too inebriated, tired, or dehydrated to stand.  Couldn’t be dehydrated. Don’t worry, the hash will all come together on its own.

At some point during the early, still dark hours of the morning, I watched as a white object was stirred to the top of the hash. No I wasn’t drunk or dreaming. In the flickering light of the wood fire under the kettle, I watched an eyeball roll over and fix me with its gaze.  This was not an unrecognizable pork part but I decided not to tell. As it sank, it seemed to wink at me as it disappeared into the ooze. 

Suddenly wide eyed, fully awake, and fighting the urge to scream, I dipped the oar where the eyeball had disappeared but never found it.  Later as I ladled hash on top of white rice, I worried which lucky diner would receive the prize he or she didn’t want.  I also admit it was years before I ate BBQ hash again and to this day, when I do eat it, I’m careful to search each forkful before opening my mouth.  Hash ought not to be lookin’ at you while you are eating it. 

In my best Bugs Bunny voice, “Bon Appetit!” For a recipe for genuine SC BBQ hash that doesn’t use “don’t ask, don’t tell” pig parts try https://spicysouthernkitchen.com/south-carolina-barbecue-hash/

In case you are unsure, Shinola is a now defunct type of shoe polish.

The image of the football grilling over coals came from Canva.

Don Miller’s Amazon site can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1Kd0edLWxmy4Zt24SHvYnwe7QBAyx47b-LwntLo5wOhrAjT838vBaFKL0

Hotter Than The Devil’s Colon

“It’s a sure sign of summer if the chair gets up when you do.” — Walter Winchell

The “Dog Days” of Summer just ended but I guess no one informed Mother Nature.  Maybe she is “going through the change” and is sharing some of those hot flashes my wife tells me about.  Much of the country is finding out about Momma’s hot flashes. Good Lord I’m dyin’ here. It is hotter than “all get out!”

Dog Days? Credit the ancient Greeks for the name. They dubbed Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, the “Dog Star”.  From the Greek word Canis we somehow arrive at the word canine…the word for puppy dog. 

The star appears above the eastern horizon just ahead of the Sun in late July and with its appearance, the hottest days of summer arrive. At least that is the folklore. It was already “hotter than a pepper sprout” before Sirius peeked at us from above the horizon.

The Greeks believed the combined power of the stars, Helios (Greek for the Sun) and Sirius. Their combined heat was what made this the hottest time of year. As hot as puppy breath.

The Greeks also believed the Dog Days didn’t bode well for humans…or dogs. All you have to do is read Homer’s Iliad. It refers to Sirius as Orion’s dog rising and describes the star as being associated with war and disaster. Even the Romans believed the rising of Sirius to be a time of drought, bad luck, and unrest when dogs and men alike would be driven mad by the extreme heat.

Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” is believed to have been coined by Englishman Rudyard Kipling and might too apply. Not sure his quote has anything to do with the Dog Days but “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” was a great album. Sometimes my thoughts wander like Joe Cocker singing in front of a microphone.

I do know it is hotter than a mosquito’s tweeter.  When I walked through the Wally World parking lot yesterday and got into my black truck with its black interior it was hotter than “blue blazes” which with “mosquito’s tweeters” got me to thinkin’, always iffy for me. I began to mull over all of the Southern colloquialisms I have heard to describe how hot it might be. These are some of the “cleaner” ones I’ve heard throughout my lifetime. Mostly cleaner…well borderline cleaner.

First, to be clear, I’m not complaining about the heat.  After a particularly brutal winter, for the foothills of the South Carolina, I swore I would “nevah, evah” disparage the heat of summer again.  Humidity, now that is something else. I will disparage humidity, it is fair game.  So to be clear, I’m not disparaging the weather being “hotter than a Billy goat with four peckers.”

Seems we Southerners have several colorful colloquialisms involving Billy goats and heat.  Besides the previously mentioned curiously endowed Billy there is “hotter than a Billy goat with a blow torch” and my favorite, “hotter than a Billy goat’s ass in a pepper patch.”  Man, that’s sho nuff hot.

We have a gracious plenty of sayings involving animals and heat.  “Hotter than Satan’s housecat.” “Hotter than a fire hydrant chasing a dog.” My very favorite, “hotter than two rats fornicating in a wool sock” or its variation, “two dogs fornicating in a croker sack.”  Those sayings lose something in the translation but I felt it prudent to change from the other “F” word.  I know a gussied up pig is still a pig. Finally, one I really don’t understand involves an owl I reckon, “Hotter than a hoot ‘n a poot.”  Nope, don’t understand at all but it is somewhat rhythmic sounding.

Including the title of my epic, many sayings involve the Devil or Hell as you can imagine.  “Hotter than the Devil’s armpit.” “Hotter than Satan’s toenails.” “Hotter than the hinges on the gates of Hell.”  “Hotter than Hell and half of Georgia.”  

Poor Georgia. Georgia is at best semi-tropical and at worst, centered directly over Hell.  “Hotter than a Georgia firecracker lit at both ends.”  “Hotter than Georgia asphalt.”  Sorry, Georgia, I don’t mean to denigrate but there are few places I’d rather not be in the Southern summer and you are included on my list along with Columbia, South Carolina. 

I know why “the devil went down to Georgia” in the old Charlie Daniels tune. Despite the lyrics, he wasn’t “looking for a soul to steal” or to challenge Johnny to a fiddle contest.  He was on his way back home to Georgia from his vacation spot in Columbia. Sorry, Ray Charles, Georgia is not on my mind.

I reckon I would be remiss if I didn’t include one off color response to the Southern heat involving women of ill-repute. “Hotter than a two-dollar whore on Saturday night” or a variation on the theme, “Sweatin’ like a whore in Sunday school.” I’ll quit. Yeah, I know I said one off color response and your got two. Must have been Saturday nickel night.

During my early football coaching days I questioned a player who seemed to be struggling in the afternoon heat and humidity after the second practice during August two-a-days. His steps were slow and plodding, his head downcast as we fought our way up the hill to the locker room through soup like humidity.

Bub, you lookin’ a bit wane. You okay?”

Exhaling heavily, “I’m ah sufferin’ from heat castration, Coach.”

Heat castration? That’s a new one on me.”

Yeah Coach, It’s so hot I’m sweating my balls off.” Bah-da-boom.

I read a quote recently that was directed at the Pelican State but could have been directed at any Southern state during the late summertime…or the rest of the United States this year.  Tom Robbins wrote, “Louisiana in September was like an obscene phone call from nature. The air–moist, sultry, secretive, and far from fresh–felt as if it were being exhaled into one’s face. Sometimes it even sounded like heavy breathing.”  Well said, Mr. Robbins, well said.

From previous experience, my guess is the obscene heat and humidity we Southerners endure will continue well past the official end of Summer.  Mother Nature doesn’t seem to abide by calendars or such. At times I’ve found late October to be “hotter than forty dammits”

Please don’t get me wrong.  I’m not complaining and I will not wish my life away longing for fall. I wouldn’t live anywhere else but am thankful for the invention of air conditioning cause otherwise I’d be “sweatin’ like a pig in a sausage factory.”

Meanwhile, here’s Charlie Daniels with a few of his friends. “Devil Comes Back to Georgia.”

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1AnHOdby4tY4i5xWAMfNinEgy1Y4K5EpLKQBVaDr5-QeTZX1fkiYOzOW8

The soaring thermometer image came from https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1429525/beware-of-soaring-heat-index-stay-cool-and-hydrated-pagasa