AND ON THE EIGHTH DAY….

Excerpt from Floppy Parts which may be purchased at the following link: http://goo.gl/GIssEq

In a previous story, in a previous book, in a galaxy far, far away…sorry, wrong book and movie. In a previous book I wrote about my belief that the creation story, as it related to Eve, was slightly wrong. Let me say that this is just for the sake of discussion and hopefully to impart humor. This should not digress into a theological argument. After all, my God is a humorous God who, for some reason only known to Him, decided to put our noses upside down over our mouths and gave men these wonderful floppy parts without any control to go with them. What really worries me is the part about being created in his image. Oh my, what if it is in her image? Okay, that is a different set of questions.

Genesis is just chock full of stories about all of our little friends, both male and female. There was a whole lot of “knowing” and “begetting” and “going forth and multiplying.” I am sure that the author of this great work, traditionally believed to be Moses, got the part about “going forth” correct, especially in light of the near eight billion people now residing on our little blue ball. That has been a lot of multiplying. It is the creation of Eve where I believe Moses went a wee bit off track. To begin with, there seems to be a great discussion as to when Eve was created. In Genesis 1:27 it is suggested that both she and Adam were created at the same time but in Genesis 2:20-22 it would appear she was created later. I tend to lean toward that later version because my wife has never been on time in our married life and will be late for my funeral.

Many of you remember the creation story or at least you should. God created the heavens and the earth, all the animals, birds, fishes in the sea and finally Adam on the sixth day. On the seventh day God rested, and after contemplation, realized Adam needed a playmate. Enter Eve. This is the point where, by my account, the story went off course. According to Moses, God crafted Eve from one of Adam’s ribs. According to Don, Eve was crafted from a large part of Adam’s brain. Adam was left with his vision, taste, and pleasure centers intact but little else. This would explain the ease with which Eve convinced Adam to bite the apple despite instructions from God to the contrary and why farts are so funny. To this humble male, saying it was a rib was quite understandable, but “that don’t make it true. “ Moses could not admit men lack the brain power to control our nether regions and that most of our thoughts are controlled by an area located south of our belts. It also explains certain other goofiness associated with the sexes and their little friends.

I shall not throw stones lest they bounce off and hit me. Many years ago I attended the annual school district pep rally, called a faculty meeting, but a pep rally none the less. Now that I have retired I can say it was a waste of time and taxpayer money. I was with my beautiful wife, Linda Gail. As I sat down I noticed a familiar form sitting in front of me. Residing in the seat directly in front of me was ex-wife number two; the blond ex-wife who is the mother of my daughter Ashley. We exchanged, umm, pleasantries although I did detect a bit of iciness even though it had been a number of years since our parting. Once this bit of uncomfortable interaction concluded I settled back into my seat and glanced over my left shoulder only to find a red-haired woman who looked remarkably like ex-wife number one. Oh, how could I be so lucky? It was “Number One,” and she was sitting behind me. Oh man, I should not have married three times but really should not have married three school teachers from the same school district. I remember my Father’s bent wisdom prior to my first marriage, “Son, this is going to be the most expensive piece of ass you ever get,” and he was correct times three. As guilty as I feel about my marital “tip toe through the lava flow,” at least I feel guilt even though I realize I am only one missed step from falling off of the matrimonial wagon despite my best efforts not to. I have several coaching friends who are totally unrepentant when it comes to their lack of control dealing with their floppy parts. Several are championship coaches, and there was once a running joke that the best way to win a state championship was to get caught diddling with a student, a married secretary or teacher, get fired and then rehired at another school. Over a three-year period, that actually happened three times. Ethically, this activity was not a good idea then, and with likely jail time involved today, an even worse idea despite the state championship.

At a club during the dreaded disco era, I remember sitting with Bob, a college friend, when we were joined by another coaching and college friend, John, and his wife. Later John’s ex-wife joined us. She was a woman Bob and I had also gone to college with and strangely enough I had dated. Finally we were joined by another really young lady I had never met before. If this sounds like it might be kinky it really wasn’t . . . at least it wasn’t from my corner of the table. As we sat there, my original college friend, Bob, whispered to me, “This may get interesting and you should be prepared to run.” We had just joined a strange love hexagon involving my friend and me, a second friend, his wife, his ex-wife and the woman he was having an affair with. Oh joy, the band was playing “Stairway to Heaven.” I wondered if there was a hidden staircase leading in the other direction. Okay for those of you who have to know, nothing happened. Well except that the ex-wife went off and found the true love of her life, another woman. The younger woman who John was having an affair with turned out to be the replacement babysitter who replaced the original babysitter who he had married after having an affair with…no, you’re not going to believe any of this so they all just lived happily ever after..

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THE POWER OF RELIGION

THE POWER OF RELIGION

There was a time when I considered the ministry. I grew up in a family that was devout but not fundamental or charismatic…especially my grandmother who both lived her religion and could quote to you chapter and verse, despite refusing to darken the doors of our church. Even though I lived in a small rural area, we were a high Methodist church which would be less charismatic than a lot of people’s preconceived notions. That would be high as in liturgy not as in the use of drugs. My wife says I religiously repressed whatever that means. Did she just call me “tight assed?” Between my sophomore and junior year I fell under the influence of my minister, Mr. McAllister. My statement sounds like I was falling under the spell of a cult but that was not the case. He just took an interest in my piety. During our revivals we had a tendency to become more “hellfire and brimstone” oriented and really got into that “old time religion.” Less “tight assed?” I sometimes think of those revivals during the hot and humid days of August. Our church had no air conditioning, the only air movement coming from the opened windows or fifty or sixty Wolfe Funeral home fans waving in the congregation.

During a revival geared to young adults the summer after my junior year we were told that the visiting minister’s wife was in remission from breast cancer although she eventually would succumb to it. She was a graduate of my high school, a local girl several years my senior. Somehow this made her disease more real to me. This younger man of God believed his wife was cured and her wished for recovery became the centerpiece of his sermons. He hammered his reality repeatedly, celebrating his belief that her “cure” was due of the depth of her faith. “CURED I SAY BY THE GRACE OF GA-ODD! CAN I HAVE AN AMEN?”I can hear him tonight just as I did fifty years ago saying “If your faith has enough depth you can overcome any sickness, any disease.” I am no more comfortable today than I was fifty years ago. Later; during a gathering for our youth he hammered the same point. He asked for any questions and timid little me raised his hand and asked, “Are you saying that my mother is going to die because her faith is not strong enough?” She had been diagnosed with ALS when I was in my early teens and would succumb to it during my freshman year in college at age forty-eight. He looked me square in the eyes and said, “Yes, if her faith is not strong enough.” My religious commitment and belief in miracles flew through the open windows and it took a while for them to fly back. It wasn’t that I ceased to believe, I really didn’t. I simply took my religious leanings and locked them away in a deep safe place for later. It was one of those pathways that wound back from my youth. I also didn’t go out and rebel, I waited until my late twenties and early thirties to do that. I hope my old age is as tardy with its arrival as my rebellious age. Well, the way my knees feel that maybe a pipe dream.

Despite my wandering pathway back to the light, I still have so many questions not the least of which is how something can be such a powerful good, be used to do such harm? I know the answer is easy on the surface, it’s the human factor and it’s really about religions not Christian beliefs. I think it was Gandhi that observed, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” The older I get the more I agree. True Christians follow the teachings of Jesus Christ not the tenants of some religion. I wonder now if I have not discovered the reason my grandmother refused to go to church. It should never be “my God is better than your god.” What can be bad about “Loving your neighbor or your enemies?” The statement that is quoted often, “More wars have been fought over religion than any other reason” is not true but when ideologies conflict, religion is usually one of those ideologies.

I’ve never been high about religions that play to our fears. I truly believe that the FAR Christian right and the Far Islamic left are feeding our fears. I am in the middle politically on Muslim refugees but don’t believe that we can afford to take the chance on accepting them. ISIS atrocities and the memory of 911 are just too strong. But what about our own Muslim citizens or the thirty-five hundred Muslim service members, Muslims whose families have lived here peaceably for hundreds of years or who are fighting in the Middle East for our safety? I asked that question on Facebook and I don’t guess I was surprised by the response considering other posts that I have seen. Visions of Muslim’s scrambling aboard boats attempting to avoid concentration camps enter my mind. That could not occur in the United States could it? It was unconstitutional but I remember studying the Japanese “internment” camps during WW II? I’m not sorry that my beliefs won’t let me believe that something like that could happen again this time to our Muslim population.

My beliefs will not allow me to call my friends abominations either. Conservatives, Liberals, abortionist, anti-abortionist or Gay and Lesbian and homophobes. Yes I just threw you into the group that you are all defiling or supporting when what I would really like to do is throw you all away. How can good Christians use such terms to describe their neighbors…or non-Christians for that matter? How can good human beings say those things?

This past week we began ripping the Pope. Too political? Not political enough? A man who preaches forgiveness and service is bad? Didn’t say enough about abortion and too much about climate change. I am glad to see that we are equal opportunity haters. I just thought it was our racism. It would seem that we are just against anything that is remotely different than our anything. Why do we demonize other people’s heroes…and our own? I keep seeing posts asking why the Pope was even here and even sat through a sermon that somewhat maligned His Holiness. That was the minister’s point, the Pope was no more holy than you or I. I wanted to point out to him that unlike you or me, and why I worry about how much blue and gold will be in Death Valley this Saturday as the Golden Domer’s visit, the Pope does represent a Christian population that is the largest in the United States, twenty-two percent, and in the World, fifty percent. He may not be “his holiness” but sheer numbers of Catholics would seem to make him pretty important and someone we might want to cultivate. Catholics are still Christian right?

SMALL TOWN FUNERALS

SMALL TOWN FUNERALS
I grew up in a small community, not even a town, went to a small town college and have taught at a couple of small town schools, one being Landrum. Like the home of my birth Landrum has grown some in the last twenty years but it still has small town looks, small town feel and most importantly small town ideals. This past Friday I sat inside of the First Baptist Church and contemplated what all of that meant. I was attending Brian Kuykendall’s “going home” memorial. Part revival, part musical, it was all love and a wonderful tribute to Brian, his family and his legacy.

While not a huge church, it is the biggest one on Main Street even if it is the only one on Main Street, an oddity in area that sports more churches than “you can shake a stick at.” It was bursting at the seams when I got there and was filled to standing room only by the time the service began. With the fire department in attendance I don’t think there were any worries about the fire marshal closing it down. For a moment I contemplated how a burglar might find this to be a beneficial day to be working with the number of townspeople and policemen attending. Fire trucks were parked outside while the Landrum firemen dressed in uniform served as pall bearers and the rain that fell only added to the sense of gloom. Even inside, what little talk could be heard seemed to be muted. All of that changed once the memorial began.

As one of the ministers talked about Brian’s competitiveness I succumbed to a bad habit, daydreaming. While I should have been concentrating on the minister it was too easy to drift back twenty years. On the football field in my mind I found myself standing on an opponent’s field wondering if it was a requirement for small town football for one of the goal posts to be crooked. When I mentioned this to head coach Jimmy Cox, he cracked, “The way we are scoring on offense it probably won’t be a problem.” Only Eighteen to twenty football players had welcome me to my first meeting with the team and I could not help but wonder about our size, numbers not weight and height. One of those players was Brian.

Brian was competitive, a good thing because he wasn’t the biggest kid in the world…or the most athletically gifted. I think that Brian tasted victory six times in the two years that I was there. For Brian it wasn’t about winning, although it hurt him to lose. Brian was truly all about being the best that he could be and I am not being trite or mocking when I say that. As the memorial continued it was apparent that he had passed philosophy on to his sons and many of the kids that he coached. It was a tenet that was repeated several times during the service Brian proves that being on a poor football team does not define you in life. Brian’s life would have been portrayed as an undefeated season as could many of the lives of kids who played the game. Brian truly had become the best he could be.

It was a ceremony dedicated to love. Not the love for him, which was ample, but the love that was apparent for his wife, his family and his community. Love begets love and it was clear that even for a small town, there were buckets of love and his memorial was a fitting tribute. Brian left behind a lasting legacy that will continue to live through his family, Tammy, Kaleb, Dalton and CJ. It is also a legacy that will continue through his church, the community and the youth athletic association.

As the funeral procession slowly moved toward Brian’s final resting place I was again struck by small town ideals. A police car lead the procession followed by fire trucks. Another police officer held and directed traffic at the main traffic light. You just don’t see that anymore anywhere other than small towns. “Would you rather be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?” I think Brian answered that question. I know Landrum is happy Brian stayed in his home town even if his stay was much too short.

A BUBBLE OFF PLUMB

A BUBBLE OFF PLUMB is an excerpt from WINNING WAS NEVER THE ONLY THING… which may be purchased through Amazon at the following link: http://goo.gl/UE2LPW

“With the thoughts you’d be thinkin’
you could be another Lincoln
if you only had a brain…”
“If I Only Had a Brain”-Ray Bolger and July Garland

My relationship with pitchers was at best tenuous. It was a strange and wonderful relationship. They were strange while, and despite what my exes say, I was wonderful. That being said, I love their strangeness, the pitchers not my exes. I embrace their oddities because that was what set them apart from the people I normally get along with: the position players. I never was, nor claimed to be a pitching coach or psychologist. Pitching coach and psychologist should be synonymous. Luckily, most of the young men that pitched for me were position players when they did not pitch. At least I understood them part of the time. An exception would be Michael Douty.

Douty was a big rawboned kid, good looking in a Howdy Doody kind of way. Like Howdy and Buffalo Bob, he was always looking to laugh or make someone laugh. “TO A FAULT!” said I through gritted teeth. When interviewed, I would say Michael kept the team loose. That was a nice way of saying he pisses me off so badly I almost want to give him the boot, but not so much that I actually did. Do not assume he was a bad kid; he was a great kid, just goofy. He was a pitcher by trade with an above average fastball and slow looping curve. Unfortunately Michael was also a right fielder by necessity. A good fielder most of the time, Michael sometimes suffered from bouts of mental gas or if I must be crude and I do, the brain fart. A lapse in judgment cost us a game against a rival high school when he committed the no-no of diving for a fly ball as it twisted away from him toward the foul line. The ball was not in foul territory, something that as a coach I had preached against repeatedly. A right or left fielder does not dive for a ball toward the foul line that isn’t foul unless he is sure he can catch it. There is no one to back you up if you miss. With the bases loaded and two outs, he committed the travesty of diving for the ball and not coming up with it. It rolled its way into an inside the park grand slam home run. When taken to task over this, he simply said, “They moved the foul line.” Seriously? I hope Michael meant that he confused the foul line with the out of play line but we’ll never know for sure. What I do know for sure was the outcome. We lost by a run.

At a practice, after throwing a thirty pitch simulated game in the bullpen, he must have been plum tuckered out. When taking his outfield position during batting practice, Michael lay down, pulling his hat down over his eyes in order to catch forty winks. I began to hit fly balls at him with the long and thin fungo bat that coaches use, coming closer and closer until I dropped one right on top of him. It hit nothing important, just his head. I made a point; everyone laughed and got a kick out of it. Most importantly, I did not get sued.

The last time Michael played for me was in an Upper State Championship game against Dutch Fork High School. In this winner-take-all game he came in to pitch and we both became frustrated with our inability to get anyone out. When I went out to make a pitching change, Michael purposely dropped the ball on the ground at my feet, and I reacted by purposely putting him on the bench. It was an eighteen-year-old’s reaction to frustration and a forty-something-year old’s belief that he had to teach a lesson. I wish we had both reacted differently.

We never had an opportunity to mend fences. Later that year, Michael drowned while trying to save a friend’s life. It was an unnecessary death, as if any death involving teenagers are necessary. The young lady he was attempting to save did not need saving and survived the ordeal of being sucked into a storm culvert. Michael didn’t know this and heroically dove in after her and drowned. That next year we put his number thirteen on our hats and began the tradition of praying before games at the flag pole and plaque which was donated and erected in his memory.

In 1999 we played Georgetown for the state championship. As the game moved into the later innings and it appeared we were going to win, I felt a presence behind me. I looked over my shoulder and saw my wife, Linda Gail, with an old blue and red cap. With tears flowing down her face, she was pointing at the number thirteen on the back. I was already emotional and felt the tears then, and still feel them today when I think about it. We won the state championship, but more importantly, that memory of Michael Douty, laid back in the outfield, legs crossed and hat pulled down over his eyes, will always be a memory that will be burned into my brain. Somewhere I am sure Douty was laughing at our tears and cracking up with the angels.

REDHEADS AND FLASHY CARS

REDHEADS AND FLASHY CARS
Seeing the trailer for The Quiet Man awakens a few memories. There stands Maureen O’Hara with her green eyes flashing. Those have to be real because I don’t think contacts had been invented yet. The memories triggered are not about green eyes, though, but about red hair. You see, my mother was a redhead. A real redhead, not the burgundy head that comes from a bottle, but what I guess is called bright red. She also had the freckles to go with her hair and the alabaster skin underneath that caused her to turn bright red after more than thirty seconds of exposure to the summer sun. I’ve heard that complexion called “peaches and cream.” After being in the sun a little while, it was more like “peaches and strawberries.” In other words, she did not tan but went straight to burning and peeling.

I would not call my mother a classic beauty, mainly due to the presence of the Griffin nose which has a tendency to dominate one’s face. That proboscis would dominate the entire face of Mt. Rushmore. If I were going to compare her to a movie star of the “Golden Age”, it would be a redheaded version of Geraldine Page who, by her own admission, was a bit plain. Luckily, my mother also had the Griffin height making her a statuesque woman. If she were not my mother, I would also describe her as full-figured. She was very shy; so shy, in fact, that she allowed her grades to drop enough in order to not have to give a valedictorian address her senior year in high school. Armed with all of this information I was shocked, appalled and quite amused to discover newspaper clippings of a local beauty pageant sponsored by Springs Mills as I went through a cedar “Hope” chest after her death. Had I not asked myself the question, “Why did my mother keep this?” I would not have given it a second look. There was my mother, along with four other young ladies, and she was in…Gasp!..a two-piece bathing suit! The suit featured the Springs Mills logo “Miss Springmaid” – a pinup-style milkmaid, with a lot of cleavage and leg showing. I think the term “cheesecake” would be applicable and that would be the milkmaid not my mother. My shy mother was vying for the title of “Miss Springmaid” to represent Springs Mills, a company that made cloth for sheets and foundation cloth which an advertisement agency described as “for hip-harnesses and breast-holsters.” My mother’s suit bared her legs and midriff and accentuated other key attributes. There sure was a lot of skin being displayed! Thank God, I saw no belly button. Oh my, who was that young woman with the “come hither” look? Rita Hayworth or Lauren Bacall? She wasn’t even a redheaded Geraldine Page. Oh no! It was my MOTHER!

I guess that until that moment I had never thought of my mother or rather my parents as young people with the same drives and desires as any other young people. Even now I have an urge to blind myself for those thoughts but I don’t think it would erase them. According to my Aunt Joyce, Eldora was quite popular and was pursued by many suitors until Ernest swept her off her feet. My parents romantic? I just can’t see it…but then again I was not adopted. At five-foot-six I find it hard to believe my father could have swept the floor much less Mom off of her feet. He did have a kind of dashing look in those photos from the Thirties and Forties. I don’t even know how they met but would guess it would have been through friends or work. With no online-dating services or hopping music clubs I don’t know how people actually met during those days. Church? What an interesting concept. In the same box as her clippings I found the letters they had written to each other while Dad was island-hopping in World War Two. I’m happy that they knew mail was being read and censored but the “R” rated versions were still “tres” uncomfortable. With silk kimonos contained in the same cedar chest I am trying to purge the thought of Mom playing dress up as a Geisha girl. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAh!

A family member related a story that made me both uncomfortable and thankful at the same time. While still in high school my mother and several of her younger female cousins were taken with a very, very distant cousin who was, like them, attending a large family reunion. He was described as very attractive with piercing eyes and a strong jaw to go with a very charismatic personality and rich baritone voice. There was a mention of a smile that would “make your knees weak” so I am guessing that this storyteller might have been smitten, too. According to her story he also had “very wavy hair that appeared to have been styled.” He was driving a very flashy red convertible. It might not have been red but red fits the story. This “flashy” young cousin was taken with my mother-to-be and asked if she might go for a ride with him. As you would expect during these times, he asked permission to take her for a ride in what I hope was his car. My grandparents, after some thought and discussion, refused to grant their permission citing that they felt he “might be a little too fast and flashy for Eldora.” It turns out this “flashy and fast” distant cousin would slow down and become the much beloved and revered “Reverend Billy Graham.” While he does have really nice hair, I’m glad not to be his son Franklin.

SOT IN OUR WAYS

SOT IN OUR WAYS
“Grace changes us and change is painful.”
-Flannery O’Connor

Grace aside, for Southerners change is not only painful it is damn near impossible. Southerners don’t like being told what to do, how to do it…or being told no you can’t do it. Statements like “I’ve done it this way for (fill in the blank) years” are the norm along with colorful expletives accompanying any attempts at change. We are known to dig in like mud turtles, even when faced with the fact that what we are being asked to change to is a hundred times better than what we have. Well, “Bless your heart!” With a new washing machine my grandmother still did part of her washing in a wash tub with a scrub board. Honestly, sometimes I’d like to have a phone with a rotor instead of the one that provides me with a hundred different functions including my wife being able to find me by pushing one button…and don’t get me started on my wife and her Missouri mule-like ideas about change. “And just what was so wrong about Windows98?” Southerners look at change with a jaundiced eye. Lord help us if the “Gubment” tries to get involved!

Saying the South is conservative used to be like saying that the Grand Canyon is a deep hole. Now it has gotten less so. I fear that any liberal shift is due to Carpetbaggers transplanting themselves into our homeland and “rooting” out a place for themselves the same way that a wild hog “roots” out an acorn. These days Southerners tend to vote Republican and support the party of the “status quo.” If you ask someone why they voted Republican you are likely to get an answer like, “Well, my family has voted Republican since 1964.” But, why do YOU vote Republican? “You dummy, didn’t you hear me? I told you my family has voted Republican since 1964!” Southerners do hate to repeat the obvious. This should explain how unusual it was for Strom Thurmond to successfully make the change from Democrat to Republican in 1964 due to a protest “that he said” was against “big gubment” and state’s rights. It worked and he was responsible for the flip-flop in the political spectrum that we follow today.

I consider myself a moderate simply because I will except some change in my life. You know, change in underwear type things. No, I try not to be held hostage to any party politics but it is hard. By saying that I am a moderate places me so far left of my friends that many of them think that I might as well be standing next to Karl Marx. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any southern liberals. It just means they have a tendency to be African-American or, if white, they tend to hide their liberalness and admit to it privately only to a voting machine. Please be aware that I am speaking of Southerners born and bred, not damn Yankees. If a Southern liberal’s friends or family were to find out that they voted for a Democrat, this revelation would likely be accompanied by looks that you would expect your Baptist minister to give you if he caught you coming out of a liquor store or “Hooters.” Never mind asking why he was there because we are also big on “Do as I say do not as I do.”

Before I go on with my tirade I should point out that our “set in our way-ness,” while a Southern white attribute, is not a trait limited to one race. My friend Butch, who is African-American, is as conservative as they come and it has rubbed off on other members of his family. Of my generation, his loooonnnng pontifications would make a Kentucky colonel or GOP politician proud! It surprises me how much our world view is comparable despite our differences in race. I attribute this to our rural upbringing that included chopping cotton and corn and working in textiles along with parents and grandparents who would “switch deem legs.” Despite this similar history, I imagine he has voted Democrat since 1964. Why? “You dummy, didn’t you hear me? I told you my family has voted Democrat since 1964!”

I don’t understand why people in other parts of the world consider us to be uneducated and backward just because we are conservative and as inflexible to change as a piece of rebar. I just thought that “tongue in cheek.” Despite improvements, our school systems still rank lower while obesity, poverty and numbers of unwed mothers still rank higher than the rest of the nation. The world view is of a fat, tobacco chewing redneck who is a high school dropout sporting “shit-caked” work boots and wearing a “South will rise again!” belt buckle. Usually this redneck could stand a bit of dental work on his four teeth and is much more concerned about the Second Amendment than any other aspect of “gubment.” His mate is barefooted and wearing a dress she made herself from a feed sack. “Sugah Pie” is pregnant and showing to be quite far along despite having a babe in arms and another, a year older, in a dirty diaper and tugging at the hem of her dress. They will not have to worry about having three in high school at the same time much less college. In front of their single-wide is a rusting pickup truck on blocks whose engine is leaking vital fluids as it sits on a sagging picnic table next to it. Yes, there is a redbone hound asleep under the truck. Is this an accurate portrayal? Hell no…and, unfortunately, hell yeah! The climate is changing but for those of us who are not “sot in our ways” the change is slow. Oh God, I may be a liberal! Please don’t tell anyone! I will try to do better.

I now live in an area of South Carolina that has become known as the “Dark Corner.” Once I thought it got its name because of our location in regard to the mountains to our west that block the sun as it slips beyond the horizon. To “sorta” quote Yogi Berra, it does “get darker here quicker” but that has nothing to do with the name. Oh no. One local historian suggested that the Dark Corner somehow got its name because Unionist and Confederate deserters invaded the area “here abouts” to defend themselves against a “gubment” that wanted them to uphold slavery that the deserters had decided was a “rich man’s” war to maintain the “status quo” or in the case of Unionists, a “gubment” that wanted them to rebel against the Union. In and around 1864 they decided to unite and began to fortify the nearby mountains and dare the Confederate Army or local constabulary to show up. By that time the CSA had its hands full elsewhere and there was no confrontation. I find it interesting that since the Flag issue in my state landed like a wet cow patty dropped from a B-52, there now seem to be way more Confederate Battle Flags around. I wonder if any of my tradition-laden friends realize the “checkered heritage” of where they live. “Nope, cause hit don’t matter ‘cept that the sumbitch ‘gubment is trin‘to take my flag!” Damn Right!

Another example of old traditions dying hard is the production of “tax-free” distilled spirits. Through the depression and into modern times, the Dark Corner was known for its production of moonshine. Not just any moonshine but what has been described as a particularly “fine moonshine.” That is not an oxymoron. The smoothness supposedly came from the water. In the late Seventies it was also known for producing a particularly high grade of “killer weed” known as “Glassy Mountain Gold.” Weed did not replace moonshining because moonshining was the traditional drug of choice and “them good old boys ain’t about to change.” During the depression poor families resorted to illegally distilling spirits to pay their taxes and to make a living that the “gubment” was attempting to take away, according to their “way ah thinking.” Well, this is 2015 and it is still being made. One morning in the late 2000’s, I stepped out to begin my morning run and was assaulted by the sharp smell of sour mash cookin’. Several years later I found a broken down still on a stream located on my land. They could have, at least, offered me a taste!

I was somewhat shocked to see the face of the father of one of my former players pasted across my TV on the Six O’ Clock News. He was, and is still, a respected “gentleman peach farmer” of high means. His offense? Making “shine.” His defense was that his daddy had made it and his daddy before him and…. He did not need the money to pay his taxes or even take the kids to Disneyworld, nor did he appear to be very apologetic. It was a time-honored tradition to make the “family recipe” free of “gubment” taxes and he was “sot in his ways.” My guess is that despite the hefty fine that he paid, he is still “sot in his ways.”

Most of the people I know don’t make shine and have more of their own teeth than I do. A few wave the flag and chew tobacco. Many of us own rusty old pickups. One even has the engine out of his. It’s in his double-bay garage, the one he built to work on his cars that includes a hydraulic lift rack and engine hoist. There is nothing but food on his picnic table and with it a German Shepard to guard it all. Despite his lack of a college degree, his home, garage and farm are a lot nicer than mine. Uneducated? Not where it counts, it would seem, because they don’t award degrees for common sense and work ethic. He doesn’t chew, dip or drink his spirits out of a Mason jar and is more likely to be in flip-flops than in “shit kickers.” I think of Jimmy Buffett meets Mr. Greenjeans. He also doesn’t wave the Battle Flag but he is as Southern as the day is long and, I think, more of what the New, New South is about, despite being set in his conservative ways. Yes, he does still vote Republican. “You dummy, didn’t you hear me? I told you my family has voted Republican since 1964!”

DEVIL ON MY SHOULDER IS AN EXCERPT FROM FLOPPY PARTS BY DON MILLER http://goo.gl/GIssEq

DEVIL ON MY SHOULDER
…and in my pants, I might add. In the movie “Animal House,” Larry’s evil conscience extorts him to “F@#$ her, F@#$ her brains out!” Larry’s good conscience counters with “For shame! Lawrence, I’m surprised at you!” As the scene plays in my head, the evil conscience takes on the voices of every male friend that I had in a kind of “choir from hell” while the good conscience takes on the angelic voice of my mother. Although the movie doesn’t come out until almost ten years later, it characterizes the period of my teenage years that ended with the loss of innocence on January 4, 1969. Rest in Peace, Virginity. You are gone forever but like the song said, “gone but not forgotten, dreadful sorry”…and it was not lost without putting up a fight. It also reminds me of my Mother’s admonishment, also delivered in an angelic voice that may or may not have been hers, “Your virginity is a gift from God and once you give it away you can’t get it back; so, make sure you give it to someone worthy of it.” According to my Mother that gift should only be given on my wedding night. Sorry, Mom, Christmas came early. After the fifteen seconds it took to lose it, I had to wonder, “What’s the big deal and why would I want it back?” Well, I guess it was a big deal for me but a brief deal for my partner. I did better the second time…I think.

Male-female sexual dynamics have always been confusing to me and I refuse to take all of the blame for my confusion. I also don’t claim to be the only person afflicted with this conundrum. At least, I hope I’m not. When it came to the subject of sex, I paid rapt attention like most adolescent boys…and I guess adolescent girls. I aspired to be an honor student. The problem was a lack of information. What little available information there was tended to be conflicting and often quite useless. There was no handbook for us, unless you count the Bible, and our “education” was either delivered at church or by our parents, best buddies or bragging upper-classmen. You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that we found the latter two sources to be the most interesting. Premarital sex was a sin punishable by “hellfire and damnation” which did not sound like fun. Pretty much any fun was deemed a sin by the Methodist Church of my youth. At a summer revival I found myself gazing longingly at the visiting preacher’s drop-dead gorgeous older daughter while day dreaming about…. The minister, of course, was delivering a loud and lively message on the evils of the modern world, including but not limited to, premarital and extramarital sex. Why would you put something like that on the front row and then try to convince me to stay away from it? Later as I looked across the aisle at Elizabeth, another object of my confusion, I thought “Oh how I wish….” Suddenly, I could almost smell sulfur being given off by brimstone burning in hell. Okay, maybe if I do that other thing until I just need glasses. I know that’s a sin, tooooooo!

The rest of this story and others may be purchased in FLOPPY PARTS through Amazon at the following link: http://goo.gl/GIssEq

RUNNING FROM MYSELF

Eleven months ago I finished my last long run two weeks before competing, wink-wink, in the annual Spinx Fest half marathon. The following week I was a hundred yards from finishing my last easy run before the weekend event when a miss step ended that dream…and others. Later in that week my doctor said in his best doctor voice, “You’ve got a torn meniscus but Early Osteoarthritis trumps that. You are probably looking at a knee replacement down the road.” He continued to talk but for some reason I quit listening and fell into a dark place after the mention of a knee replacement.

I am not a competitive runner, not even in my age group unless I am the only one in it, but I like to compete…even if it is just competing against myself. It may be my teaching background but it seems that when I have a plan and a goal I forget how much I hate the actual act of running. I also like the cheering at the end of the race after following an attractive woman looking fit in her spandex who is running at a rate of speed I can keep up with…but at a distance. Is that chauvinist or just being male? I have missed all of my races and the beer afterwards for the past eleven months as my weekly mileage has yo-yoed all over the place and my fear of being seen running in public has soared. Today it reached an all-time low. Three runs this week for a whopping six miles. There are another twenty-four from walking but it just ain’t the same. There is something that unscrambles my mind when I run while walking sometimes causes a reaction resembling the view from a broken kaleidoscope.

I began to walk and run in my late thirties after taking a look in the mirror. I was active, a coach, but I couldn’t deny that my pants had gotten wider and the long hours on the field had gotten harder so I began to take my health seriously…until torn cartilage and a toe destroyed by psoriatic arthritis sidelined me. After four operations it became easy not to get up and workout and for a year or so I gave in to the temptation of my recliner, tasty steaks, bourbon and cigars. On April 7, 2006 I stood in front of a mirror while standing on my scales and had to admit that two hundred and thirty-two pounds did not look too good on my five foot nine frame. I vowed to fix it but once again providence would intercede. On April 9, 2006, while celebrating my birthday, an elephant decided to sit on my chest signaling the best thing to happen to me since my wedding, a heart attack.

The best thing? Yes the best thing because I survived it along with the four stints that were “surfed” into my heart. It signaled a need for a life style change that I fear is in jeopardy if I can’t run. Between a clean diet, therapy and restarting my running I lost sixty-two pounds, much too quickly and ten pounds too much, before finally settling in at a comfortable one seventy-five and competed in my first 5k six months after my heart attack. I was the “belle of the ball” as far as my cardiologist was concerned but there is a dark side. I still see a fat guy when I look in a mirror and fear I am one step from the slippery slope I was previously on. I am afraid that if I can’t out run myself, everything I have worked for will crumble. There are other forms of exercise but I fear they cannot provide the same peace of mind that I receive from my running. I’ve already seen an increase in the scales, beer consumption and even my cigars. Hopefully acknowledging it will help me battle it but I am not sure I can out walk or out bike myself. Sometimes a “mind is a terrible thing.”

A STORY FOR BRIAN

As the first decade of the new millennium drew to an end I found myself being forced into retirement due to our state’s TERI program and the economics in play during that particular slowdown. I was comfortable with this retirement especially when a new charter school opened and wanted me to continue my teaching and I once again became unretired. My coaching career was coming to an end but at least I would be able to teach without the distraction of practices, games, long bus rides and the cold that always began the baseball season and seemed to get colder as I got older. That was what I thought at least…about the cold and the fact that my coaching career was over. As my wife and I walked one morning late in the summer of 2009 I informed her that long time Landrum coach, Travis Henson, had accepted a collegiate position at North Greenville University. With typical Linda Gail insight her comment was, “You better not answer your phone because John Cann (Landrum’s athletic director) will be calling.” I didn’t listen and ended up as their interim coach for a year. It was a good year, not a great one, but it allowed me to reconnect with Brian Kuykendall.
Brian was a former football player and student from my first stint at Landrum back in the mid 1980’s. He was also a baseball player but during my first stint I had been banished to coaching track and I didn’t get to coach him in that sport. I did get to watch, and he was a player that was light on ability but heavy enough in grit and was a great competitor, a coach’s dream. Short and stocky with dark good looks, he really hadn’t changed it seemed when I met him and his son Kaleb at the first parent and team meeting. You are kidding right? Are you old enough to have a fourteen year old and does this make me a “grand coach” of some type? I guess there was a little gray in his hair and goatee but not much. Brian had taken his love for people and kids and had coached or officiated most of the kids that I was getting ready to coach. He was a true sport’s father except one with brains who cared about all of the kids, not just his own. That is not a statement about Landrum specifically just sports in general.
I visited with Brian a few days ago. It wasn’t a good visit and I dreaded it as I drove the twenty miles to the Hospice House in Landrum. Brian is dying from lung cancer and there is nothing I can do about it. He was unconscious from drugs and I just could not get him to wake up to go out and play catch with me. I was struck by how strong Brian looked and fear that his battle will be long and hard on his family. I would rather he go “gently into the night.” His battle with his illness has taken me back to other players who are no longer with me. It has been a year since Tim Bright died of the same terrible disease and I again am struck with the unfairness of life. Children and former players should outlive me not the other way around. I have hopes that the list will grow no longer and that I will live forever but fear that is not going to happen.
As I walked this morning I thought about Brian along with Tim Bright, Heath Benedict and Jeff Gully. I know there are others who have left us, all too soon, but for some reason it Brian and these three, who force their way into my thoughts. I stopped at the cross located on the lake across from Lookup Lodge and asked for answers. There were none forthcoming, just the sounds of water, birds and the young people that populated the area this beautiful Sunday morning. These were the sounds of life when I was thinking about death and the hereafter.
I don’t know what happens after death, I have my faith and I truly believe that death is just another door to step through and there is something more. I joked with a friend about the laws of physics and Conservation of Energy and the possibility of “mingling molecules” or maybe “flashing photons.” This Sunday morning my concept of heaven includes a freshly manicured baseball field with sharp white lines gleaming in bright sunlight. Brian, when you step through that door and smell the sweet smell of freshly cut grass, look for a big blond guy with an even bigger grin, an even bigger, goofy guy with his hat a little off to the side and red headed smart-alecky outfielder who is looking for his next laugh even though he is now laughing. Introduce yourself to Tim, Heath and Jeff and tell them to play a little catch. I’ll be along in a bit and we can get the game started.

WORSHIPING AT THE ALTAR THAT IS FOOTBALL

IN HONOR OF A FOOTBALL SATURDAY

I am avoiding returning a phone call to a friend and former coaching and teaching peer. This is not a “Hey, how are you doing, whatcha been up to?” kind of call because we have been keeping up with each other. I know what it is. This is the fourth time that I have retired and for the fourth time someone is going to try and get me to UN-retire. “Why won’t you just let me slope off into the sunset and enjoy the cigar and beer?” Why do I keep saying, “Yes?” Not this time! It is enticing with all of the interactions: team building, being a part of something bigger, the comradery with the players and the coaches that you just don’t find anywhere else short of a foxhole…and those Friday night lights. I have always missed football Friday nights. There is something about that green field with sharply laid down lines that almost glow they are so bright. There is probably nothing better in life than taking the field for your first home game…Well maybe one thing but that was so long ago…. What I have not missed yet are the practices, especially those that begin on July 31st… in South Carolina. It looks like they are going to catch a break with temps in the nineties and lower than normal humidity. Oh no! The early week looks bad for them. I say they and them because I am finally going to turn someone down. Sorry, Robbie.

I’m not the first to compare football in the South to a religious experience but that is not going to stop me from talking about it or turning the job down. It is just different and better in the South. There are a few cathedrals to the gridiron gods throughout the rest of the country but those don’t compare. I just don’t think Buckeyes, The West Coast Condoms or Irish Elves can display the trappings for the football sacraments as well as those teams south of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of New Mexico. Tailgating, bands with majorettes, cheerleaders…welllllll, I might have to give the nod for cheerleaders to Oregon. I don’t like the Green and “Yaller” but they wear so little of anything there’s not a lot of it showing…colors I mean.

I began my worship of football at a Clemson game in the early Sixties when invited by a friend to go with his family to watch his brother play at Death Valley. I guess that is when I became a full-fledged Tiger fan and began to worship before the altar that is football. It was not the cathedral it is now but it sure did beat the heck out of Indian Land on a Friday night. I got to meet the “minister” of the gridiron Tigers legendary coach Frank Howard, and could not help but remember our introduction later when I went to a coach’s dinner that featured him as a speaker. The man was a riot and I had a hard time reconciling that this Frank Howard was the same man I met earlier. I guess it was his pregame jitters. A different time in 1976, Howard told a joke on Willie Jefferies, a hall of fame coach for the predominately black South Carolina State University Bulldogs. Howard joked that he had attended a State practice trying to pick up a nugget of information that might lead to a victory and noticed that all of the footballs were painted dark green with lighter green stripes. When asked about them Jefferies responded with a question, “You ever seen a black boy drop a watermelon?” The laughter was lead by Jefferies, a black man himself with tears rolling down his cheeks. My playing days were different from my coaching days. I never played with or against anyone who was a different color. When I coached I found out that there was but one color that mattered on a football field and that was the color of the jersey that you wore. An avowed racist of any color would help, hug, stand up for and drink after members of the other races during their entire careers. I hope that this carried over into their lives after football, as well. Things that were said inside of the locker room might get you beaten severely or worse if they were said to anyone other than your teammates outside of that locker room.

To bring locker rooms into clarity, many activities had nothing to do with dressing and would not be considered religious unless we were talking about the Inquisition. Managers or younger players were sometimes wrapped like mummies and secured to benches with athletic tape. Cramergesic analgesic ointment was applied to heat hip pads or jockstraps of the unsuspecting. And the absolute worst torture known to man, was being told that Atomic Bomb was the best cure for Jockey Itch! Yeeeeeowwwwwwww! I coached a particularly salty group of young men that must have decided that Voodoo should be the religion of choice. Adopting the book Helter Skelter as their bible and Black Sabbath as their choir, this team employed hangmen’s nooses to hang dead birds and snakes around the locker room. A dead squirrel hanging from a noose was presented to the captains of one team to celebrate Halloween. I don’t know if they sold their soul to Beelzebub but they did win ten football games in a row.

I have memories galore associated with football. Most were happy and not blasphemous but there are a few…mostly revolving around practice… which to me were akin to the self-flagellation practiced by certain religious sects. On the practice field behind the gym where we did all of our drill work, morning worship began with the fog evaporating from a copious dew that transformed our heavy elastic and cotton practice gear into individual saunas as our exertions increased. After “Down-Ups,” “monkey rolls” and “Bull in the Ring” our practice uniforms were wringing-wet and ten pounds heavier. We were also a bit bruised. By the time practice was over, the field had dried out so “Sahara-like” that the only place more arid was the inside of our mouths. During those days there was no time limit to practice and water was withheld to make you tougher. Coaches can’t do that now and I am glad. We were kids who grew up without air conditioning and spent our summer days outside working or playing because it was actually cooler there than inside our homes. “You chaps get outside!” shouted by my grandmother was the order that kept me “acclimated.” If you did that to a kid today he would simply die from heat and dehydration. Even though we thought we were dying, it was just a form of heat “castration”…from sweating our balls off! I remember nursing on the edge of a bloody sweat-soaked towel in hopes of getting a single drop of moisture.

I believe the worst travesty ever perpetrated by a coach to his team was carried out by Bennett Gunter, our coach. On a particularly “crusty” day, he carried a bucket of water with ladle and covered it with a towel to keep the bugs out. It must have been the only thing we could think about because as a group we sucked. During the middle of practice he called us over to tell us that, and with the water bucket in the middle of our little circle, took the towel off, removed the ladle…and then tipped the bucket over onto the ground! As I watched the water-parched earth consume our water, I wondered how much trouble I might get into if I dove face first into the mud hole and tried to suck the liquid through my teeth.

During those August practices as soon as we had run our sprints, several of us would head to the boiler used by the cannery and drink the cold boiler water that seemed to be as frosty and tasty as a clear mountain stream, despite its metallic taste. I wonder what kind of health “time bomb” I have residing inside me from drinking that water.

I was fortunate to go to a small high school because fewer students meant that I got to play sports. Luckily, football, like most religions, accepts all comers, at least at the high school level. There were twenty-one bodies in my graduating class in 1968 and only ten were male. Of those ten, only seven of us played our entire high school career and that was a good thing for me. Timid, geeky in a non-geeky way, athletically challenged, clumsy in all other activities, and with an aversion to physical pain, I was not prime football material, at least early in my career. As a junior high player or even later, I would have earned the title “top water superstar.” Remember, cream is not the only thing that will rise to the top. Bobby Beechum, a seven-hundred and fifty-pound eight-foot-tall giant, taught me my first lesson. Throwing me like a bowling ball and making a 7-10 pin split, I learned that it is better to “give a lick than to receive.” I also remember running sprints one day when Coach Gunter exclaimed for everyone to hear, “Miller, I have to line you up with a fence post just to make sure you are making forward progress.” It could have been worse. A friend of mine who walked on at Clemson was told by Coach Howard that, and I quote, “Son, you are a wasted fuck!”

Most of my career I probably would have agreed with that assessment had it been made about me. With a series of injuries limiting my already finite abilities, I struggled through my freshman and sophomore years before getting “mostly” healthy. Still, my career up until my senior year might be summed up by my introduction to Pageland great, South Carolina standout and Hall of Fame Coach Al Usher. During a game my junior year we said our hellos at our five-yard line. I was high and he was low and leverage wins. Five yards later it was a touchdown for Pageland, just one of many that night that saw us embarrassed on our own field. During halftime, my coach RO Potts, slammed my shoulder pads and blew chewing tobacco breath into my face while yelling, “And you! How do you let someone drag you five yards into the end zone?” My brain reasoned, “Because that’s all he needed.” Luckily, I kept my mouth shut!

My senior year, hope sprang eternal, but it didn’t start too well. We made a road trip on a rainy night to Pageland, the self-proclaimed watermelon capitol or the world. Nothing good happens to me in regard to Pageland and, for some reason, I have had no success growing watermelons. I try to avoid Pageland at all cost. Driving rains kept both the worshippers and the offensive output down. Early in the game we drove for a touchdown but missed the extra point. For three quarters we moved the ball up and down the field without scoring. Deep in the fourth quarter and, in our end of the field, we lined up to punt, giving me the opportunity to break the football commandment – “Thou shalt not snap the ball over your punter’s head.” As the long snapper, it was my responsibility to spiral the ball to my punter. The ball was wet and heavy and my last thought was, “Keep your butt down and don’t snap it over his head!” I did neither. Our punter covered my errant snap for a safety and two points. The resulting kick from our own twenty gave them great field position and eventually a narrow eight to six two-point victory. I was probably at my lowest when “an angel fell from the sky” in the form of my coach. Coach Potts could have ruined me for life but instead placed his hand on my shoulder and said, “The game did not hinge on that one play. We had every opportunity to win that game and should have. We all share the loss.” “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” It is a religious lesson that I have tried to remember and live all my life.

Time limits, unlimited water hydration and lighter, less water absorbent uniforms are not the only aspects that have changed about football since I played and since I retired from coaching football. For the most part I think they are good changes even though it is sometimes hard to recognize the game today as the one I played as a boy. Bull and the Ring along with Oklahoma drills have been outlawed as has using the head as a weapon since we have become more concerned about safety. Do I think our brand of football was tougher? Most assuredly! But I don’t guess “three yards and a cloud of dust” was nearly as much fun as the new version. Parishioners have embraced the new version and still cheer that “My god is better than your god!” no matter how many times the ball is thrown. Congregations have swelled at the cathedrals throughout the nation – not just in the South. Even our most conservative “ministers” are throwing the ball all over the field and the participation of “acolytes” has definitely increased. Still I find myself worshipping at the altars of Georgia Tech or the service academies that still run the option, at least when they are not playing the Tigers in the much improved cathedral known as Death Valley.