LIVER MUSH

I absolutely despise calves’ liver. My grandmother would cook it, sometimes my mother would, even my beloved Linda Gail has attempted it. Smothered in onions and gravy, I would carefully scrape the onions and gravy off the liver, push the liver as far away as the plate would allow and then spoon the gravy and onions onto big ole cathead biscuits. I am sure this practice, as well as applying sausage gravy to big ole cathead biscuits, was a primary reason for my heart attack due to clogged arteries in the mid-2000s.

It’s not the taste of calves’ liver, it’s the consistency. Stringy and tough. I once was served liver nips and feel I must pause to point out, liver does not have nipples. It’s liver dumplins’ made with calves’ liver cooked before being ground with savory spices. It is a South Carolina “Dutch Fork” recipe and yes, I know dumplins’ should be spelled dumplings but it’s just the way we say it…dumplin’ not dumplinnnnnggggg! The dish was quite good, delish in fact, regardless of how you say it.

My dislike for calves’ liver might have been the cooks. My grandmother and mother were not known for their culinary abilities and my beloved was a great coach. It would be during my college days before I knew you could order steak any way other than crisp and brittle. My mother and grandmother did well with fried chicken, biscuits and certain “exotic” dishes like “cooter” soup or catfish stew, “victory” burgers and chicken pot pie. Steak and liver just weren’t their best efforts. My grandmother’s creamed corn was to die for, due in part I think, to the sweat of her brow dripping into it, or the fried fatback it was cooked in. Mom’s butter scotch pie…sorry, I’m having a moment… maybe they were better cooks than I give them credit for. I should also say when my beloved wishes to be, she is a great cook. The last time she wished to be………?

As much as I hate calves’ liver, I like chicken livers…love chicken livers. Fried or marinated and grilled. They just aren’t very good for a heart attack survivor who is trying to remain a survivor. I once tried to make a “poor man’s” chicken liver pate’ stuffed mushroom. I guess there is a reason duck pate’ is expensive and there is probably more to liver pate’ than just ground up liver. My beloved tried one and wasn’t impressed. The puppy dogs ate the mushrooms and left the liver. Not a glowing recommendation.

Which brings me, on a roundabout path, to the point of this story…Liver mush. I am guessing many people are not familiar with liver mush. It is a Southern “thang” made from ground pork liver and hog head parts mixed with cornmeal and spices like sage and pepper. I know the head parts have a few of you scratching your head part, but when a hog is processed, very little is wasted. I should have mentioned souse meat, pickled pig’s feet or pig’s knuckles first. It makes head parts sound a mite bit more palatable. My grandmother would mix the concoction together and form the liver mush into blocks, wrap it in wax paper and refrigerate. I’m sure some of you folks from above the Mason-Dixon line are thinking liver pudding and you would be close. Liver mush is a bit courser. My grandmother would slice it and fry it with onions…I don’t guess “milk and honey” from Heaven could have been any better.

Unfortunately, liver mush is no better for me than fried chicken liver but it wasn’t long ago I had a powerful hankering, which is Southern for an almost uncontrollable desire and in my case, it was not almost. I wanted fried liver mush and onions something awful. I remembered when we ran out of the homemade product we bought Jenkins’s Liver Mush at Pettus’s Store just down the road from the house. That is exactly what I decided to do…except I couldn’t find Jenkin’s in my part of the world and Pettus’s Store no longer exists. I had to settle for Neese’s Liver Pudding, damn Yankee infiltration. It was great, almost as good as I remembered. Then I made the mistake of reading the list of ingredients. You think head parts were bad? Liver and corn meal were listed third and fourth, the first ingredient was the farthest point on the front of a hog’s head. I’m not even going to tell you what the second ingredient was but I know we didn’t put that particular organ in our liver mush.

Will I eat it again? Despite the list of ingredients more than likely. I am pragmatic enough to realize if it tastes good it really doesn’t matter what the ingredients are. I’m also a realist and must admit, fried liver mush is not very good for me so I won’t eat it often. The reason I will eat it occasionally is because it reminds me of people now gone and sometimes warm feelings are worth the risk.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

IN PRAISE OF DIVERSITY

I thought I would avoid this question but I got the dreaded “When are you going to teach white history?” Why are some of “white” America so “butt hurt” over Black History Month? I have seen social memes and comments that have included “When is White America going to have a Month?” “Black History Month is Racist!” “Why do we have to have a Black History Month?” In a perfect world, YOU WOULDN’T. Nor would you have Women’s History Month, in March, a Native American Heritage Month, in November, a Hispanic Heritage Month beginning in the middle September or any of the others you can take the time to look up…including Irish-American Heritage Month in March. Unfortunately, we are not, nor have we been, living in a perfect world. To quote a former student, “We celebrate white history in all months which don’t begin with F.” Well, there are those two months teachers are NOT on vacation.

As a retired, high school history teacher I know history books are written from a decidedly European-American point of view…well…at least where I taught and if any of the research I have done is to be believed. Asians are mentioned about four times. Transcontinental Railroad, Chinese Exclusion Act, the Japanese involvement in World War Two and China goes communist and the Cold War. That makes five. Hispanic contributions, maybe a bit more. Spanish colonization, Mexican-American War, Imperialism, Pancho Villa, and then a jump to NAFTA and the question “Why are they taking our jobs?” Notice, these are all mostly decidedly negative when viewed from a European point of view. Native Americans are prominent but disappear after Wounded Knee unless you happen to bring them back up in the Sixties with the many social movements. Again, until recently, Custer’s Last Stand was viewed negatively by European America. Damn Redskins stepping on our Manifest Destiny and the only good Indian…! I digress.

I rarely taught Black history during Black History Month. I was wrong. I deluded myself into thinking I taught ALL HISTORY ALL YEAR LONG and didn’t need to focus on Black history. Then I began to assess what I had taught. I’m not happy. Kind of like ALL HISTORY CAN’T MATTER UNTIL BLACK HISTORY MATTERS. Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Harriett Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, W.E.B Dubois versus Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King and maybe Malcomb X. There were others but most were only related to only two aspects of African-American lives and American history, slavery and Civil Rights. Decidedly important aspects but besides George Washington Carver and Langston Hughes there little about other contributions.

Black History Month should be viewed as an opportunity to spotlight contributions by African Americans. Musicians, artist, writers, poets, inventors, explorers, scientists, business people, soldiers, etc. As a teen, I picked up one of my father’s books, Foxes of Harrow. It was written by Frank Yerby. I read all his books my father had and along the way picked up a few more. They featured historical fiction and a bit of…latent eroticism. Nothing graphic! As a young adult, I was looking for more of his books and found out he was bi-racial and from Georgia. Who knew and it didn’t matter. Just like celebrating Black History Month shouldn’t matter to those railing against it. It should be a positive educational experience.

Three of my last four years teaching were teaching “cultural” geography. I loved it. One, I had no end of school testing pressure and could go off on any tangent I desired go off on. I could be creative and allow creativity from my students. It became about cultural diversity. It also reminds me of a paragraph I wrote in a story about a former student. “Today I look at diversity as a smorgasbord of delights. I believe we should just focus on how diversely different people party. How can you be distrustful of people who produce such wonderful food? My life without Latin, Soul, Oriental and Cajun foods would not be life ending but life would not be as joyous, especially without a Belgian, Mexican, Jamaican or German beer or maybe some Tennessee whiskey to go with it and a Cuban cigar for afterwards. Someone might as well play some Blues, Reggae or a little Zydeco to help the atmosphere along. It is just as easy to focus on the positives about diversity as it is the negatives and again with knowledge comes understanding.”

I realize I am a social liberal and make no excuses. I believe the rights someone else is given doesn’t take my rights away from me despite what I might think, including the right to celebrate Black History Month…or Cinco De Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day for that matter. In fact, I have joined in. Who knows? This old dog might just learn a new trick or twenty.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

THE MAGICAL, MORONIC, MANUFACTURED CELEBRATION OF LOVE

I despise Valentine’s Day. How did we get from the celebration of a Roman festival to the madness of today? A manufactured, merchandize driven celebration of love…or the realization of being quite alone. At least if you are depressed there is plenty of chocolate to raise your spirits and increase your waistline. The Valentine’s candy and cards at Wally World has been displayed since the day after Christmas.

A bit of history. One historical version suggests THE FESTIVAL began as the honoring of the Goddess Juno during the Roman Feast of Lupercalia. Young men and women drew names from a jar, pairing themselves for the duration of the feast and sometimes for the year. This was before the use of car or room keys in a fishbowl I guess. Yes, some would fall in love and sometimes even marry. Ain’t that romantic…or moronic?

Farther down the road known as history, the festival was discontinued because it was deemed un-Christian but as we all know you can’t keep a good celebration down. It was just refigured and given another name. According to one popular legend, a Roman priest would give the celebration its name. Valentine, the priest, defied the emperor, Claudius II, when said emperor decided allowing people to marry or become engaged impeded his ability to raise an army to fight the many unpopular military campaigns of the time. He banned marriage and engagements. Valentine, along with another priest, Marius, secretly married couples in Rome until their treachery was discovered resulting in the brutal beating death of Valentine. I think Marius got the better end of the deal even if a celebration is named after Valentine. Both were elevated to sainthood but Marius escaped execution.

Not romantic enough? Try this version. Valentine was helping Christians escape from prison until he himself was ratted out and jailed. While awaiting execution, as the romantic story goes, Valentine and the jailer’s daughter fell in love. On the night before his execution, Valentine penned a letter to his beloved and signed it “From Your Valentine.” Now why does “from your valentine” sound vaguely familiar?

If those unsubstantiated legends aren’t enough, early Roman-Christians believed birds mated in mid-February. It doesn’t matter. I HATE VALENTINE’S DAY! I have hated Valentine’s Day for thirty years or more. I’d rather be beaten ala Valentine or machine gunned ala Al Capone’s The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Flowers wilt and chocolate is fattening, plus the object of my romantic inclinations shouldn’t eat chocolate for health reasons. FOR THIRTY YEARS, I HAVE TRIED TO DO SOMETHING UNIQUE FOR THE UNIQUE PERSON WHO IS LINDA GAIL! Moreover, for thirty years I have failed. Even the rose bushes I bought with so much care, planted and fertilized so carefully, watered and talked to…died. Can you really kill something with love? YES! … YOU! … CAN!

One year, the worst, I reserved a romantic meal at a nearby inn on a mountain above us. IT SNOWED! Determined to be romantic or machine gunned, we went anyway. A phone call told us they were open but with no electricity. “Come on, the meal will be served by candlelight.” How much more romantic could it get? Just shoot me. JUST FREAKING SHOOT ME! A twenty-minute trip turned into an hour as we dodged downed powerlines and fallen limbs but we made it. It was romantic. Candles and little mini-lanterns. The meal served in courses by waitresses in the cutest little uniforms. A three-digit meal before we got to the tip…but it was going to be worth it! A good meal, romantic small talk, footsy under the table, a short drive home and if I played my cards right…acte d’amour. Not on your life. On the side of the road she upchucked A FREAKING THREE-DIGIT MEAL. l’acte de vomir was all I got.

Am I trying too hard. Is it too much to want to do something special and unique for a special and unique person for goodness sakes? I have been dreading St. Valentine’s Day since the last one and have been trying to come up with something special…maybe I’ll just prepare the meal. A quiet dinner with a French motif. A small table with a checked tablecloth featuring one of those candles in a wine glass with melted wax dripping down the side. I’ve got a bottle of wine somewhere…it’s full. I guess I should start drinking it if I’m going to get a candle holder ready by this evening…and if I’m going to survive it.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

SHANTIES

This past spring, on a trip to the coast, my wife and I decided to forgo the speed and ease of interstate travel for the interest factor of backroad pig trails. Despite the black water rivers and swamps cutting the land, vast fields and pastures seemed to overtake the two-lane road. Where there were homes, yards were at a minimum…except where pecan tree lined drives led to two story homes featuring circular drives, wrap around porches and columns. Mostly of the homes peaking my interest were small, broken down and square, four room homes dating from share cropping days or possibly earlier. The shanties sat on small square parcels of land and would be surrounded by towering corn stalks, tobacco or cotton by late summer. Known for rice and indigo during our colonial period and cotton during antebellum times, I guess land was too precious to allow for large plots of land to be used for recreational purposes…especially when there was little time for recreation. “Early thirty to dark thirty” days would soon be upon the farm workers of this coastal city and the surrounding area just as it had been decades ago…or may be centuries.

As I drove through the land I imagined poor whites and poorer blacks inhabiting the old share cropper’s shanties, battling each other for a life as “casual” farm laborers, having given up on the pursuit of jobs in the city. An elderly black woman stepped out of one of the tar paper houses, its broken-down front porch resembling the sway back of an overused plow horse. She was dressed as her ancestors dressed, a brightly colored scarf wrapped around her head and a long-sleeved print dress above what appeared to be bare feet. As I breezed past I almost asked out loud, “I wonder what tales she could tell?” While the journey was interesting, I became somber and introspective.

Tar paper and graying, slab wood shacks occasionally dotted the landscape around my childhood home. There was an abandoned and overgrown shack next to my house used as a clubhouse of sorts by my best friends and me. The younger me never thought about what it or these other broken-down homes represented. Our clubhouse was just a place to discuss girls, sneak smokes and talk about whatever preteens talk about…until our parents found out. I didn’t understand share cropping, tenant farming or farming on the lien back then. People bound to the land living from harvest season to harvest season, praying to pay off their crop lien or having a large enough share to put a bit of money away for the future. Hoping to buy a small piece of heaven of their own.

A friend of color told me of an ancestor of his born into slavery. Working as a tenant farmer on the same expanse of land he had toiled on before his own day of jubilee. Scrimping and saving until he could buy his own parcel of land. Clearing the land with his four children and wife, milling his own lumber and building his own four room palace. I’m positive he felt it was a palace. Filling it with hope and joy, twelve kids worth, growing his own work force and I hope expanding his little piece of heaven. There must be a tribute of some sort, especially when one considers the road blocks thrown in front of former slaves. Perseverance, persistence and a lot of patience I would suggest paid off in the long run.

As I’ve written before, my grandparents began their married life as farmers on the lien but they had several safety nets; family, the textile mills and they were white. Their dream included sixty acres and putting a child through college. Maybe there is hope instead of sorrow and the American Dream still exists. Hard work may in fact pay off.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

TWO OLD FARTS WALKING IN THE DARK

“You can think what you want, do what you want, say what you want. We’re old, you might as well embrace it!” My best friend, Hawk, had just responded to a statement I had made as we finished our weekly “walk.” My response to his response, “Bullsh@t! You’re old, I refuse to concede. I’m not going to embrace that sixty-something someone staring back at me from the mirror. He looks like my grandfather.” “You’re a year older than I am Bo,” was Hawk’s retort. Well, yeah, but age is just a number…until you groan getting out of bed in the morning.

Hawk and I walk every Friday. Due to our work schedules, we walk at five thirty in the morning. WAIT! We’re both are retired soooooo…due to being set in our ways, we walk at five-thirty in the morning on a local paved pathway called the Swamp Rabbit Trail. It’s named after a…I’m sorry…somehow, I’ve got to stop turning everything into a history lesson.

Back to the point…WHAT WAS THE POINT…oh yeah, Hawk and I walk every Friday at five thirty am. It is a seven-mile power walk, a sub fourteen thirty mile per hour pace as a goal, in the dark. We haven’t quite made it yet but we are close. Our earlier conversation occurred because I pointed out that we used to run it and I wasn’t ready to give in to my age although it would seem my age might have other ideas. I know my sciatica does.

In between the occasional gasps of our exertion, we attempt to solve all the ills facing our world, discuss religion, our wives, children and grands, wonder what is happening to the youth of today and whether we had a great bowel movement this morning. There is usually a discussion about the number of times we got up during the night to pee and what we could have done to cause the extra two bathroom trips. Afterwards we enjoy a cup of coffee while completing our discussions at a local coffee shop. I’m sure the people we run into there refer to us as the “two old guys” and worry about us if we miss a week, fearing one of us may have died. “I wonder where the ‘two old farts’ were today. Hope they didn’t die.” When I see the cute little girl who serves us every Friday, Jimmy Buffet lyrics from “Nothing But A Breeze” come to mind, “All the pretty girls will call me ‘sir’. Now, where they’re asking me how things are, soon they’ll ask me how things were.” Please God, don’t make him right!

While Hawk and I have much in common, religion and politics ain’t two. I am the social liberal who attempts to follow in Jesus’ hippy footsteps and is not afraid to interject a bit of Buddhism and humor into his belief system. When still coaching, I will confess to having prayed to the baseball gods for a needed base hit or an easy ground ball double play on occasion. Does that make me a pagan? Hawk is not exactly the opposite but…can you be religious to a fault? I just had a vision of him dressed as a Puritan religious leader complete with powdered wig, white hose and buckled shoes. Hawk is in the process of reading the Bible through for the umpteenth time and is not afraid to ask my council and understanding. I’m not afraid to give it. I receive five am texts with scripture to read and react to. When I react, Hawk is not afraid to disagree before asking me if I’m really saved. It’s nice to have a friend who is concerned about my spiritual well-being and where I’m going to reside after my time on earth has passed.

To describe my socially conservative friend I must quote Churchill. Hawk is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” As tough as he is on the exterior, he often melts like a marsh mellow and truly follows in the footsteps of Jesus…literally giving the homeless guy the jacket off his back, along with five gallons of kerosene to run his heater during a recent cold snap, or working at a local soup kitchen. He’s always been a human conundrum, disciplining the kids while asking “Are you stupid or what?” and then making sure the stray cat at the stadium is fed or the killdeer nest is roped off so our grass cutting doesn’t disturb the mother. What does this have to do with kids? Really? If he’s going to do that for an animal what do you think he does for his kids. We both call them our kids and have special places in our hearts for them. So maybe we are more alike….

Two old farts walking in the dark before enjoying a cup of coffee should give the world hope. If we can come to an understanding, poking fun and laughing at our differences while embracing our similarities, the rest of the world can too. Maybe Hawk is correct. Maybe I should embrace my age and the wisdom deriving from it.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor, WISDOM and Southern stories of a bygone time, go to http://goo.gl/lomuQf

LOVE IN A BASKET OF ZUCCHINI

It is February 1st. and I am looking at online catalogues. No not Spiegel’s or Fredrick’s of Hollywood, online seed catalogues. Burpee’s, Gurney’s and Park’s seed catalogues are the main ones but there are others. I remember my grandmother poring over her print and paper versions this time of year…along with the almanac…got to get those planting dates right. Like fishing by the moon and wind direction, she planted by the dates in the almanac and the moon. I’m not that scientific…is it scientific to plant by the almanac? Except for the cold resistant plants, I just plant after the last frost date for our area which is April 15. Well, I might fudge just a bit. I can’t wait to eat my first tomato sandwich and that translates to I can’t wait to get my first tomato plant or six into the ground knowing I might have to protect them during an early spring cold snap.

I flipped through the pages of my electronic catalogues comparing prices and I admit it’s not as much fun as flipping through real pages but everything I plant was there. As I compared prices one of the many voices in my head asked “Do you really believe you raise more produce than you could buy for the cost of seeds, fertilizer and other chemicals?” I answered, “I don’t know, maybe.” Another pointed out, “Don’t you remember the sweat running off your nose while you were picking bean beetles off your green beans and butter peas? You can buy beans you know.” “Yes, I remember but I don’t want to buy them.” To myself, with my real voice, I added, “And those f#$%ing squash bugs.”

What my voices are forgetting is the love that goes into it. Except for the zucchinis. I maybe the only person in the world who can’t figure out zucchini squash. People around me grow one hill of zucchini and have enough for the season and feed half of the population of China with leftovers. I’ve tried it all…well except chemicals like Sevin Dust…well maybe a little. I try to be “organic” and use “organic” chemicals and some of the chemicals work, but not on zucchini. One year it was squash vine borers, I fixed that with my wife’s old panty hose. “Now Linda Gail why would I know what happened to your pantyhose?” Maybe they weren’t so old. Another year its blossom end rot, or squash beetles or the plant itself just wilts away. I’ve asked everyone about squash bugs. Their answer is, “I don’t have squash bugs.” I know you don’t, their all on my zucchinis. I put good organic fertilizer in the hill, added some calcium or Epsom salts or both, never watering in the evening and then wait for the squash bugs to attack and start hand picking them off…after my soap spray fails to stop them. Well back to love.

My garden is bigger than I need because I like to give love in the form of fresh veggies. I also like the look on people’s faces when I present them with “care packages.” My wife, neighbors, my mother in law and her family, my daughter and her family and anyone else who happens by. I like to give away the love. I don’t give love to my brother because he raises his own and because…well he’s my brother. Tomatoes, potatoes, corn, beans, squash, peppers…that reminds me. Charlie likes hot peppers. I’m going to show him some love and order Scotch Bonnets. I just don’t give away much zucchini because I never have much. Just some for my mother in law who returns the love in the form of zucchini bread. Whatever love I have left I can or freeze.

My grandmother did the same thing. Grew it, canned it and gave it away…except for zucchini. I don’t remember her growing much zucchini. Maybe I have the “I can’t grow zucchini” gene. Well, just remember, if you get a basket of zucchini from me, I must love you a lot.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

A TOUCH OF CHICORY

The young woman with the green Ingles apron touched my arm startling me out of my reverie. I didn’t know she was anywhere around…in fact I didn’t know anyone was around. I did know where I was, I wasn’t that far gone. I was standing in the coffee aisle at a local Ingles.

With a huge smile on her face she laughed, “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to scare you. You’ve been standing here so long I was wondering if I could help you. You aren’t ill, are you?”

From her nametag, I ascertained her name was April. I wanted to say, “No April, not ill, I’m just an old fart who got lost in his memories and lost track of time. How long have I been standing here?” Instead I simply told the little blond, “April, I’m just trying to make up my mind on whether to buy this Luzianne Coffee with Chicory rather than my normal Folgers Classic Blend.”

Attempting to be helpful, April pointed out, “More people buy Folgers than Luzianne and I’m not sure what chicory is.”

Oh no, an opening for a retired history teacher. E explained, “Chicory is a plant people use for medical purposes and is used as an additive or substitute in coffee. During the Civil War, and again during World War Two, coffee became scarce and people looked for substitutes, chicory was just one.” With April showing signs of nodding off, something a retired history teacher should be familiar with, I simply finished with, “It’s real popular in New Orleans.”

She disengaged, still smiling, “Well if I can be of help just let me know.”

My grandparents drank Luzianne Coffee and if my memories haven’t failed me, Luzianne Tea. I had just noticed the brick of Luzianne on the shelf below my normal brick of Folgers and had a flashback to a Luzianne tin filled with bacon grease sitting next to my grandmother’s stove. In my reminiscence, she was preparing a winter meal. I could see my grandfather sitting at the head of the table preparing to dine on “breakfast at supper”; eggs, grits, biscuits and those canned smoked sausages that I really didn’t like as much as breakfast sausage. The casing was too tough and back then I didn’t know what the casings were made from…which made them even less delightful. Sitting off to the side of Paw Paw’s plate was a steaming cup of black Luzianne Coffee. It must have been winter; a summer supper would have involved fresh vegetables and cornbread. The beverage would have been the Luzianne Tea or buttermilk not coffee. As I fell more deeply into my remembrance I wondered why my grandparents chose to drink “New Orleans” style coffee instead of a more traditional brew. I can only suppose…it had to do with trying to survive hard times.

My grandparents began their matrimonial bliss during hard times, the early Twenties, trying to scratch out a living on land far enough removed from the river to not be fertile bottom land. Before their marriage, they had lived hard with their own families while “farming on the lien.” After their marriage, money became even more scarce when the Great Depression hit. Maybe it got scarce. My grandmother allowed things were already so bad they hardly noticed the Great Depression. To survive, they stretched their money, sewing dresses from colorful feed sacks, my grandfather wearing overalls with patches on top of patches, turning gourds into martin houses, stretching the costly orange juice by adding less expensive tea…you get the idea. It was all about stretching. Nothing was ever so worn out it couldn’t be repurposed it seemed. Later their Spartan life would become even more frugal to assist the war effort during World War Two and many of their practices carried over to better times during the rest of their lives.

One of those carry overs were “Victory Burgers.” Nannie didn’t call them “Victory Burgers” but whatever they were, to me they were the best burgers I ever ate. She mixed the meat with crushed soda crackers or oatmeal, added onions and then fried them crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside. Try as I may, I can’t get my attempts at reproducing them right. Might have been the “special spices” I don’t know about, the lard she fried them in…or the love she prepared them with. Could be any or all but I haven’t found the correct combination. Nor have I been able to recreate her biscuits.

What does this have to do with Luzianne Coffee? I can mentally envision them adding chicory to their coffee to stretch it, just like adding soda crackers and onions to their meat, or sewing dresses from feed sacks…and just getting used to it. Later, when the times got better, maybe they quit adding chicory on their own and just started buying it already added in the Luzianne Coffee. Or maybe Luzianne was the only coffee stocked at Pettus’ Store just down the road from their house. I think I like my first thought better.

April was happy to check me out when I finally made my choice of coffee. She was probably relieved to know I wasn’t a serial killer stalking the coffee aisle. I am enjoying my first cup of freshly brewed Luzianne Coffee. It’s good. Richer than regular coffee…which is the way I view my life. Richer due to the memories of people who now live in my head. My own touch of chicory.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

RETURN OF THE RED TAILS

I heard a shrill whistle from above and looked up into a late January sky. It was a beautiful January day, warmer than normal although the day felt cooler with a gusty breeze blowing from the northwest. The sky was cloudless and of a deep blue color poems are written about. Circling in the middle of the blue expanse was my red-tailed hawk.

I know she’s not mine any more that I’m hers but it’s the way I think of her…if she is a “her.” I believe she is a her because of her size. She and I met several years ago when I got too near her nest and was dive bombed by either “herself”or her mate. A bright reddish-brown flash had me ducking low to the ground while uttering several expletives as I scurried to safety. For several days, I searched with binoculars until I found her nest high in an oak tree on the high hill behind my house and made a note to stay clear until her clutch had flown.

For the past several January winters, the red tails have returned to make repairs to their nest before beginning their courting flights as the days lengthen in the early spring. Soaring high into the blue sky while twisting and turning, the male makes steep dives around his mate before soaring back into the “romantic” blue sky. Soon they will retreat to their evergreen boudoir in an ancient hemlock tree and their “acte d’amour” will begin for another season as the “circle of life” continues with an egg or three.

I once wasted several cool, early summer mornings watching the red tail teaching her one offspring how to hunt field mice. Standing at the kitchen sink, a wide picture window affords me a view of a small open area between my backyard and one of the streams cutting my property. Sitting on a dead “stick up”, the red tail and her charge would wait patiently for movement, then, after erupting into a violent dive, return to their perch with the bounty of their exertions and share…until that faithful day when they returned and momma hawk brushed the little one aside as if to say “This is mine, it’s time for you to go get your own.” There comes a time when we all must spread our wings and go off to do our own hunting.

My red tails are one of the harbingers of spring I check off as I await my “most wonderful time” of the year. Soon everything will be green and colorful with rebirth. Despite my allergies, mosquitos and the emergence of yellow jackets, it is the “most wonderful time” of the year.

As I knelt in my backyard, digging at some dormant plant needing to be moved, I paused to watch her catching thermals, soaring higher and higher. I realized we had survived one more season. It is a season of rebirth for us all. My grandmother lived for spring. In her nineties, I expected every winter to be her last but every spring she would rally, be re-born like the jonquils, to enjoy her “most wonderful time” of the year. In the February of her ninety-eighth year, winter won out as it will for us all. Until then I will await the return of my red tails, her memory, and my own rally and rebirth. My “most wonderful time.”

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time go to his author’s page at http://goo.gl/lomuQf. While there you might like to hit like.

A SPRING DAY IN JANUARY

Glorious is the only way to describe it. Days ago, I was wishing, nay, pleading for just a bit of sun to burn away the depression I experience in the winter. My Lord granted my wish. Two beautiful days with bright sunshine and temperatures in the high sixties or low seventies. Great days for yardwork, digging in the ground and playing in the garden while basking my body in the sun, an extra walk in the afternoon as the shadows begin to lengthen. Sitting in my backyard Adirondack, I am happy I have accomplished something outside. With my brown liquor and cigar in hand, I watch the sun disappear behind the mountains to my west. Glorious it is…was. Sunlight in the backyard and no mosquitos.

The coming days won’t be as warm but at least the sun will be shining, a true blessing…the sun. Later I’ll worry about whether the temperature has gotten cold enough to kill any of the mosquitos or whether we are getting enough rainfall to refill the local lakes and our water table. Honestly…it never gets cold enough to kill the mosquitos here in the foothills of the South Carolina Blue Ridge. For the next few days it’s all about soaking up enough sunlight to get me through the rest of our winter with my sanity intact.

I don’t know what people do in northern climes where it is “for real” cold and the sun is even lower in the sky…at least I don’t know how people with clinical depression survive, even if it seems to be in remission. Should I say, if they can see the sun for the copious amounts of snow fall? I religiously watched the television series “Northern Exposure” in the early or mid-Nineties. The series took place in the mythical city of Cicely, Alaska, a village I would love to live in or near if it was below the Mason-Dixon line. Do they have moose below the Mason-Dixon line? I vividly remember an episode titled “Spring Break.” The inhabitants of Cicely go through temporary and humorous madness as they await spring and the river ice to break. When the sun rose high enough in the sky…does it EVER rise high enough in Alaska? When the sun and the temperature rose high enough to cause the ice to break and flow in the river, the male inhabitants participated in what was called “the running of the bulls,” a run, sans clothing, past a gantlet of applauding women lining the Cicely equivalent of main street. If it will get spring here any sooner, I’ll run naked down Highway 11 and give you time to draw a crowd.

Fortunately for the residents of Tigerville, SC, I know spring won’t be here for another six weeks or so…regardless of what a ground hog located in Pennsylvania and my premature blooming Scot’s Broom say. Running naked won’t get it here any sooner. Until spring hits for real and the sun causes the ice to break, I will be satisfied with a day of spring here and there. I give thanks for these past two spring days…especially as I watch the weather news and its forecast of an impending cold snap. “Breaking ice” can’t get here soon enough. I wonder if my wife will applaud if I run naked around my back yard?

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time go to his author’s page at http://goo.gl/lomuQf. While there you might like to hit like.

A SLIP OR A SLIDE

When does the slip become a slide? A slide an uncontrolled skid? Or when does a skid become a full-fledged plunge over a cliff, my arms and legs flailing against air, hoping against hope to gain purchase, pinwheeling into the abyss. Everyone laughs when the comedic actor slips on a banana peel. I don’t. It reminds me of my metaphorical banana peel, depression. I don’t even laugh when Wile E. Coyote goes over the edge. I know he will survive the sudden stop at the end of his fall. I sometimes wonder if I want to survive mine…just go ahead, take that step. Falls have never killed anyone…but what about the crash at the end?

My depression hasn’t hit full force in decades. It doesn’t have to. My mini-depressions have hit like Wile E.’s anvil, just not in full force. Depression is a constant companion, offering me a taste, a bit of the poison, waiting for its chance to kick me over the edge. Every time my “blues” hit, I wonder, is this it? Is this going to be the one that lasts for a lifetime instead of two or three days? All I need is the memory, or is the remembrance a self-fulfilling prophecy? Does remembering make it more probable? Do all the questions with no answers depress me even more?

I napped heavily yesterday, a harbinger of depression? Was it the gloomy weather, lousy football games or my depression returning to sap not only my strength but my will to stay awake? Early the next morning I awoke in the darkness made heavier by the continued gloom and argued with two of the dozen or so voices normally residing in my head.

The feminine voice, one as smooth as aged whiskey implores, “Stay, pull the covers over your head. You have nothing to do…just stay, stay here with me.”

The other, a deep voice on steroids orders, “You lazy sumbitch, get your ass up, you’re burning daylight!”

They argued on and on until the drill sergeant’s voice wins and kicks me out of bed. Will there be a time when I ignore his deep baritone and succumb to the siren’s call of smooth whiskey, pulling the covers over my head and giving up? Is this the slip that starts it all?

Normally my exercise unscrambles and silences the voices. This morning the voices become shadows, flying behind my eyes in shapes and patterns resembling those found in a broken kaleidoscope. The colors and forms are there but I can make no sense of them. Is this the slide? The skid sending me over the edge?

Tomorrow is a new day. I pray for sunlight…bright and glorious sunlight to burn away the depression…if it will. In the winter of the year, my depression’s whisper become deafening, the slide more out of control. The nights are too long and the sun is still low in the sky. I pray for the sun and short nights. I dream of long days and a sun high in the sky even if it brings the heat, humidity and mosquitos of summer.

Until then I will have to try and battle my voices, wrap up against the cold when I go for a run, hoping the voices are silenced or at least softened and my slide ends up against a wall instead of over the edge and the abyss below.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf