FOR JANE-THE SOUTHERN CROSS

I have found when attending memorials or funerals for old friends or family, the memorial tends to resemble a reunion of sorts. A recent memorial was no different. There were many people attending that I had not seen in decades…and there were many not in attendance who I will never be able to see again, close friends who have left my world. In the book FLOPPY PARTS, I wrote the following story about Jane Cooper. It was the best I could do and I could never do her justice even with my best work.

SOUTHERN CROSS

Every time I run I listen to music on my pink IPOD. It helps with the monotony and pain of mile after mile after…. With me for nearly every running or walking missed step for the last several years, it has long outlasted several less colorful IPODS or Shuffles and, due to its longevity, owes me no service. What is disconcerting about my IPOD is it seems to have a mind of its own, or at the very least, is inhabited by a ghost. No matter what playlist I transfer to my IPOD the Crosby, Stills and Nash song “Southern Cross” somehow finds its way onto the playlist. I even have a Jimmy Buffett version which doubles the chances of it haunting me. It is not as good as the original, but not bad and when I hear it or the original I am transported back into my memories. It’s not that I don’t like the song, I do. I like it very much because the memories the song evokes make me think of a long-time friend who was, for a short time, the object of my floppy parts and affection. She left this world several years ago, and I find the song makes me a bit sad and introspective. After a while I do begin to smile over our antics from almost four decades ago as we traveled a bumpy path toward “hooking up.” After teaching together for several years, we would both go through trashed marriages, and without consulting each other, decided to make the typical lifestyle changes associated with newly divorced folk. As a male, I felt duty-bound to go out and purchase the requisite sports car I could not afford while Jane would lose forty pounds in weight, which she could afford. Yes, typical, and for a brief period I found Jane riding around in my sports car.

At the time, I did not know Jane well and hate to admit I still really didn’t know her as well as I would have liked. We did not travel in the same circles. As a foreign language teacher she resided on “holy hall” with the “power pod” language arts teachers, while I, being a member of the athletic fraternity–despite teaching science and history, was metaphorically relegated to the dark, lower recesses of the gym, right across from the shelves lined with smelly jocks and athletic socks. On campus friends repeatedly asked how things were in the gym and, much like the saloons of old, respectable lady teachers didn’t venture into our little world. No, Jane never really gave me the idea she took the “party line” of the “enlightened few” who tolerated us as coaches but believed us to be lacking as teachers. She did guard her privacy and only grudgingly gave up the bits and pieces of her previous life. A daughter, a controlling mother, the failed marriage all came somewhat into focus but it took time. A Spanish teacher, because of her dark hair and dark eyes, I assumed her ethnic background to be Latin. Oh well, we all know what assuming gets you. She was Irish on both sides of her family but a member of the group known as “black” Irish, those with non-stereotypical Irish features such as red hair, blue eyes and “fish belly” white skin.

It is inevitable friends would want to turn into Cupid when it comes to two single folks who they are working with. Busy, busy, busy! We got to get them together! For the second time in my life I had made the promise “I’ll never do that again” and had made the conscious decision not to date a coworker, after a particularly painful date with a coworker had turned into the number one cause of divorce – marriage! Our friends were persistent and would not leave us alone! I am sure we ducked dozens of Cupid’s arrows. One friend asked “What might be the harm?” to which I enumerated a myriad of assorted reasons gleaned from first-hand experience – two ex-wives. Another, reminding me of a bulldog with her tenacity, put it this way, “Ever had an itch you needed help to scratch…? There doesn’t have to be a commitment, just two people coming together to see what comes up.” Sure sweet Connie, but with affairs of the heart I believe using the word “just” rarely works out and “what comes up” is the part that worries me. Still we found ourselves purposely seated together at parties or POET’S club meetings. We danced together at a local club and finally decided to give in to everyone else’s urgings to just get them off our backs. It was not that I was doing her a favor; she had been attractive when she was forty pounds heavier and now was a full-fledged “stunner!” A tall, dark brunette with dark and twinkling brown eyes, I could not help but believe I was venturing into an area called “out of my depth.” With all of the physical accoutrements well-placed, she possessed a great personality, a sense of humor with a hearty laugh and a “bit of the blarney” to boot. She also had extra tickets to Clemson football games which sealed the deal. I might have been in over my head but decided I would learn how to swim.

Our first dates did not turn out well and made one wonder what our destiny might be. We had been together at work and socially, all in the non-Biblical sense, but this would be the first, planned, “Why don’t you come over and look at my etchings while I fix dinner?”, kind of date. The morning of the big date I became pressed for time and, in a rush, placed a just-repaired athletic department camcorder on a tripod in my bed room to get it out of my way – not thinking I might actually need the bedroom later. Right! I’m a male and had certain hopes, but those circled the toilet when the camera, pointed directly at the bed, was discovered as we toured my home. No amount of explanation seemed rational enough to alleviate her fears. As I think back, it actually ended better than the second date. This time, at her home, after a wonderful meal and a bottle of wine, she threw it all up and then some…repeatedly and onto my shoes. While I did spend the night, it was strictly in a nursing capacity. She claimed that she was not used to rich food and drink…she was Irish after all. We decided not to take any chances on our third date and attended a Clemson football game. Go Tigers! No one got sick ,no disgusting porno movies were filmed and our Tigers won.

During the fall of our dalliance, Jane bought the album “Daylight Again,” by Crosby, Stills and Nash and one evening was insistent I listen to a particular cut. It was the song “Southern Cross.” I fell in love with it immediately as she knew I would. It is about a man who sails the world after a failed love affair, something I am too familiar with – the failure not the sailing of the world. I love to sail but have not ventured out to see the Southern Cross – a constellation visible only in the Tropics or Southern Hemisphere. The music and words are haunting, at least to me and now to my IPOD.

When I hear the lyrics I think of Jane, a victim of breast cancer. “Think about how many times I have fallen. Spirits are using me larger voices callin’. What heaven brought you and me cannot be forgotten.” I haven’t forgotten. Before her death, she had remarried and gotten to see her daughter grow up, marry and give her a grandchild. I tried several times to make contact with her just to let her know I was thinking about her but was somewhat saddened that she did not respond to my communiques. Our parting had not been bitter; much as we drifted into our relationship, we simply slipped apart as we moved on to different places, jobs and other people. Do you think the ghost in my IPOD is just trying to tell me it’s okay? I hope so…I believe so. The lyrics say, “When you see the Southern Cross for the first time, you understand now why you came this way.” Even though I have never seen the Southern Cross, I understand – she was what I needed for a brief period of time and I truly “understand why (We) came this way.” If not a cure she was an anodyne, all calming and soothing. I hope that I was the same for her. Jane was the “Somebody fine (who came) along, (made) me forget about loving you…at the Southern Cross.”

POSTSCRIPT

My Pink IPOD has given up the ghost. Not Jane’s ghost though. I will make sure that my new one has the “Southern Cross” on every playlist.

This story is contained within the book FLOPPY PARTS. You may download or purchase a copy at the following link: http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

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POSSUMS, PERSSIMON TREES AND PUPPY DOGS

I found myself walking at five thirty in the morning with my Easter sunrise service still two hours away. Crazy I know, but I also know me well enough to realize I won’t get my exercise done if I wait until the evening. There was a time, in another life, the life before my retirement, when I got up well before the crack of dawn to do my running or walking. Up at four thirty and on the pavement by five thirty was the norm with the light of my head lamp bobbing up and down with the motion of my head. People always asked, “Aren’t you afraid of lions and tigers and bears?” “Oh my, …no.” As I walked or ran on the paved service paralleling the creek, dense trees forming a canopy overhead and a fog rising, I was much more afraid of vampires, werewolves or Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

We do have bears, coyotes, wild cats and “painters,” as the locals call panthers, but they don’t really bother me. I am much more afraid of the local dogs than our wildlife. Well there was one early morning when I saw eight sets of reddish hued eyes blocking my path. Eight “Mothmen?” Probably not. More likely coyotes judging from their height above the pavement. They turned away but I decided it was a bad day to run. Another morning I had a cardiac “check-up” when a deer resting between the road and stream decided I was a danger and took off crashing through the thicket…as I crashed through the thicket on the other side.

This Easter morning, as I walked back toward my house, I noticed a little white, heart shaped flower next to my path. I thought it was a bit odd. It’s still March and I know of no heart shaped flowers blooming. Still, there it was glowing in the light of my headlamp. As I got closer I noticed that this “flower” had glowing eyes. A baby possum with a white “heart shaped” face, no more than six inches long, looked up at me. “Gee aren’t you the cutest thing…DAMN YOU TRIED TO BITE MEEEEEEE YOU LITTLE…!” Moments later I heard a rustle in the underbrush and saw two larger glowing eyes peering back at me. Mother or predator? I decided I needed to get back to the house.

We have a pair of gnarled old persimmon trees in our back yard and in the fall their fruit ripens offering a sweet treat to all of the possums in the area. I don’t like persimmons. It seems they are either one day away from ripeness or one day past rotten. What is that fuzzy film it leaves on my tongue? YUK! Unlike me, possums love persimmons and will show up in the fall to eat their fill. Having unwanted guests in the yard drives my blue heeler puppies crazy. Many mornings I have returned from my run to find a gift left for me on the steps leading into my home. Both puppies would stand guard duty under the trees, lying in wait, for a possum to finish eating its sweet treat before making its way down to its fate. Some mornings I would let them out for their bathroom call and later find myself tripping over a dead possum laying in the dining room. They have probably left me a dozen dead possums… or more likely, one possum “playing dead” twelve different times. It’s no fun chasing a “suddenly resurrected” possum as it attempts to escape its captors.

One morning I found a very large possum laying in the floor with both puppies standing guard and awaiting their doggy treat. She was not leaking blood which is always a good thing but when I picked her up by her tail I found myself looking at six very small heads peeking out of out of “momma” possum’s “carry-all” pouch. Oh man! What am I going to do? As I cradled her I noticed one eye was open following my every move and proving where the saying “playing possum” comes from. “GOT ME!” I cannot tell you the relief I felt when I saw her waddling off in the possum equivalent of a sprint after I had released her on the wilderness side of my fence.

Maddie and Tilly no longer bring me possums and I am only slightly happy about it. Maddie has a bad hip and even a possum can out run her…despite her attempts otherwise. Tilly is blind but, like her sister, it doesn’t stop Tilly from trying either. She amazes me how she can still find that old persimmon tree in the fall. I guess there is nothing wrong with her sense of smell. Every night as the persimmons ripen she sits herself down underneath the tree, ears at attention, and waits. I love the fact she still waits. I just hope no possum happens to bump into her.

More nonfiction by Don Miller is available at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

DEATH WHISPERS SOFTLY IN THE NIGHT

DEATH WHISPERS SOFTLY IN THE NIGHT

Sybil Babb has joined the many stars I think about when I look into the clear night sky. Stars I have named after friends, family members and former players, all who have passed from my physical world to join their energies with the cosmos.

Ironically, yesterday I spoke with a much younger friend who felt the need to tell me of her fear of death. Death is not something people normally talk about unless they are troubled so I listened intently. I was surprised that this particular friend feared anything. I was wrong and felt honored she had dropped her “tough as nails façade” and took me into her confidence. I could do nothing to alleviate her fear other than listen. I did tell her I did not fear death…just dying hard. I hope to pass on in my sleep but have been disappointed before and worry I may be disappointed again. I should have also told her of my fear of living so long that I outlive my friends and die alone whether it is peacefully or not. I hope Sybil’s passing was peaceful while surrounded by people who love her. I also wish I had picked up the phone to call her the many times I thought of her. A lesson learned too late.

When I arrived at Mauldin High School in the fall of 1974, I was an immature and green twenty-four-year-old CHILD. I immediately adopted Sybil along with Marilyn Koon Hendrix and Bobbi Frasier Burns as surrogate mothers despite the fact they were closer to my age than they were to my mother’s age. All three made it easy to adopt and would also become my mentors and quickly my friends. Whatever I became as an adult they share not only in my successes but in the good found in me. We were a very young staff and I am sure Sybil served the same role to Koon and Bobbi and dozens of other young teachers…along with the thousands of students who passed through the halls of Mauldin. Someone remarked that Sybil WAS Mauldin High School and I would agree. I see Sybil sitting behind her desk and can’t think of a time she was not smiling or a time she wasn’t supporting. Mauldin would not be Mauldin without her there and I have only returned once or twice since she retired.

We WERE a young staff in the Seventies who worked hard and partied even harder. Sybil was a fixture at those post-game parties or poet’s club meetings…always providing clear council through the vapors of alcohol. I see Sybil sprinting from a former…wife-to-be’s apartment because a drunken neighbor decided to show her his pet snake. He did not know how deathly afraid she was of snakes. Sybil was so terrified she hyperventilated…once she quit running. Sitting on the bow of Koon’s sailboat, drink in hand mocking a figurehead, Sybil must have been able to ward off the evil “spirits.” No ill winds filled our sails. Not so funny were the days when she would quietly appear like a “spirit” at my door to say, “Ms. Koon needs you in her office.” This usually meant some poor fool had run afoul of the rules and I was going to have to administer corporal punishment.

Mauldin High School of the Seventies and early Eighties was the most special of places for this still immature old has-been. Sybil helped to make it one and helped me to grow up there. I choose to see that she has joined my old friend and coaching mentor Jay Lunceford as they enjoy a good laugh at our expense. Most of all I hope she will forgive me for not staying in touch as well as I should have. Sybil you surely deserve your star in the heavens.

I SOMETIMES OPEN MY MOUTH AND MY DAD POPS OUT

I have reached the age. The age when I hear my Dad, not only in my head but sometimes when I open my mouth. Even though he will have been gone forty years this coming August I can see and hear him clearly. I also hear him in my groans as I slowly slide out of bed, attempt to straighten up and not wake up my wife. OOOOOOOh. I have out lived him by six years…or eight, depending on whether you believe what is etched on his tombstone. Born November 18, 1916 or November 16, 1918 might depend upon what he told my younger “evil step mother” since she put November 16, 1918 on his tombstone. I don’t guess it matters since he did not live to retirement age, but his service records say November 18,1916. The things we do when we are in love…or for me, when we think we are in love. As I waited with him in the minister’s alcove before marching off to my first execution… marriage, I asked what kind of advice he could give me. He had two comments. Never a crude man, his first comment, none-the-less, was. “Son this is going to be the most expensive piece of ass you are likely to get” and the second, “There are two theories about arguing with a woman. Neither one works.” If I were not already unsure about the state of matrimony, I was then. I have passed those little nuggets along to friends getting married because I found them to be true.

I remember my father as a quiet, respectful man who was slow to offer his opinion, believing that “It was best to keep your mouth shut and let people think you a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” That was one of his favorite quotes. Not original but one I heard a lot and wish I had taken the quote more to heart. I usually heard the quote right after I had said something really foolish…or stupid. Ernest would tuck his chin, look over his reading glasses and cock his head slightly to the left while delivering this “pearl” of sagacity. As I scroll on Facebook or listen to discussions of certain presidential candidates, I try to remember my father’s advice along with Mark Twain’s “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.” More than one class of students or a player heard the first quote…also accompanied with a tucked chin and head turn while looking over the top of my reading glasses. They didn’t much listen either.

In addition to being a quiet man, my dad was slow to rile. He had a long fuse, something offset by my mother. She was not only a redhead but a hothead when it came to her temper, living up to the stereotype of her hair color and Scots-Irish genes. With her, discipline was not something “best served cold” and between the bite of a narrow leather belt or the “switch dance” I performed for my grandmother, my brother and I would be considered “abused children” by today’s standards. While explosive, my mother would get over her anger quickly. Dad did not have to get over it, he was a talker whose logic involved the expression of disappointment, sadness and dismay over whatever stupidity I had managed to accomplish along with hopes for my genuine repentance. There were too many sessions where my thoughts were, “Just hit me, PLEASE…JUST…HIT…ME…AND…END…THIS!” Funny, the sessions became less numerous as I got older.

I have found myself to be somewhat the combination of both of my parents. I TRY to be slow to rile like my father but when I do go off like my mother, it tends to be “explosive” much like a thunderclap rumbling on for a few seconds and then disappearing. The rumblings are moments of sorrow and disappointment having lost it combining with the receding anger. I wonder if my mother had those feelings? I was fortunate to have a nearly perfect daughter, aside from a short battle with the sickness known as “senioritis” the last few weeks of her last year in high school. I only remember physically disciplining Ashley once. A light slap on a bare leg sent her into wails of “imagined” pain and a gush of tears. I knew then what my father meant when he said “Son this is going to hurt me more than you.”

When I entered my dating years in high school, I often got the “Be home by midnight son” and a “If you ride with the Devil he is going to want to drive.” There was the added admonishment, “If you do something to get arrested don’t call and wake me up.” Midnight, why midnight? The night is still young. “Son if you can’t get it done by midnight it’s not happening and nothing but trouble happens after midnight.” I can hear him when I said the same thing to a group of players. Sage advice but “Wisdom is wasted upon the young” including yours truly. I rarely got into trouble but it was always after the “witching” hour. Major trouble never found me…or maybe it did and I was just lucky. Why are stolen watermelons tastier than those grown in your own garden?

I don’t have a son, just former players and it was decided early that daughter Ashley would be disciplined by her mother, the parent she lived with. While I did not agree with everything her mother did I held my tongue and it must have worked because my daughter has turned into a fine woman…and mother. Despite our lack of time together, I see some of me in her…or is it just wishful thinking. I wonder if she will hear me echoing in her head after I am gone and occasionally allow me to pop out of her mouth? I can only hope I guess.

More nonfiction by Don Miller is available at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

THIRTEEN TURKEYS

Move it Boss! Move it. The calendar says this is the second day of Spring. Someone should have told the weather. Low thirties are bad enough but there is a biting wind out of the west. West? That means the wind will be in my face as I try to swim against it as I come home. Today I am faced with one of those mornings when my self-speak could keep me inside. Instead I will apply my ten-minute rule.

I have been up since four. I didn’t mean to be. Despite sleeping on my couch I was in a warm and happy place. No I had not been banned to the couch by an irate wife but because of my battle with sciatica. A battle that I seem to be losing or at best locked in a stalemate. I find it more restful to sleep on my couch…restful for Linda Gail who does not have to deal with my squirming to find a comfortable position as I chase sleep or getting up every hour and a half to walk off the pain. Last night was better than most I have experienced recently. I had only gotten up once and that was to relieve a bit of bladder pressure, also a step in the right direction. I was slowly awaking from a great dream and trying not only to stay asleep but trying to hang on to the threads of my dream. Why do the memories of good dreams flee so easily while the nightmares hold on with a death grip?

I am awaking because my puppy Maddie is sick. Battling a rare form of diabetes, she will never be cured but can be treated. Her sickness this morning has nothing to do with diabetes. Girl what in the world did you eat? Sick at both ends it is worse than I expected. Linda is up and trying to eliminate all signs…and smells of Maddie’s accident. How much grass can eleven year old puppy eat? If this sight is not bad enough, after turning on my TV I am reminded why I never watch the news first thing in the morning. Murders, fatal car wrecks, earthquakes, memorials and violent presidential rallies populate the newscast and we are only into the first five minutes. The wonderful and warm place of my earlier dream is long gone and has been replaced by a sorrow I feel deep in my bones that has nothing to do with my sciatica.

I eat breakfast and drink copious amounts of coffee. Linda has returned to her bedroom, Maddie and Tilly with her, they sleep on their backs, contorted but somehow comfortable on their dog beds. I turn off the TV and attempt to write. I do my best writing, if that is possible, in the early morning…but not today. I am reminded of a lyric from “Just Dropped In,” a song Kenny Rogers voiced as a member of The First Edition. “I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole and then I followed it in.” I didn’t want to follow mine in so I decided to apply my ten-minute rule. My exercise is as much for my head as it is for my body and no matter how cold or windy it was, it seemed to be a prescription to ease my pain…or some form of self-medication. After stretching I am off.

It takes me ten minutes to walk to the top of my hill. That’s my ten-minute rule. My path then leads me downhill and reasonably flat for another ten minutes. Yes, I am attempting to “whodo” myself into walking farther and today, like most days, it has worked. Ten minutes later I am faced with a dilemma, a fork in the road. Not the metaphorical fork in the road, a real one. Turn left and I am up a slight incline to the lake, continue straight and it is steeply uphill for about a half mile of screaming lungs, quads and calves before a knee pounding downhill back to the lake. I decide to metaphorically “self-flagellate” and walk the screamer. For once I am glad I did.

There is an escape route halfway up the hill. A left turn puts you on another downhill trek to the lake but much shorter. Above it, feeding in a patch of winter rye or maybe chickweed were thirteen turkeys, a dozen hens and a Tom. The hens seem to be oblivious to my approach but not old Tom. He spreads his wings in defiance and blows up in a stance reminiscent of “The Incredible Hulk” …except for his magnificent tail. What a beautiful spread. I raise my hands in surrender and turned left away from them so as to not interfere with their feeding and found my mood lifting much as a hot air balloon might find flight. I found myself thinking of yesterday and my red headed monkey with banana pudding spread all over her face when we gathered with our family to celebrate birthdays, a glimpse of Linda Gail escaping from the shower, my puppies climbing into my recliner with me, jockeying for position to have their ears stroked. Those are the best things in life along with thirteen turkeys minding their own business and a walker with no intention of hunting them. Sometimes it is best to go through life without suspecting something might be wrong or even turning on the news. Just so you know, Maddie seems to be fine to.

If you enjoyed this post Don Miller has also written three books which may be purchased or downloaded at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

STRONG WOMEN

I love strong women and that is not a chauvinist statement. I am a chauvinist…much in the same way that I am a racist. Like many I have swum in a culture both chauvinist and racist and like many folks, don’t seem to recognize it. I recognize my culture but do not allow my chauvinist and racist leanings color my thinking…until it does, DAMMIT! I have been surrounded by strong women throughout my life. From my grandmother and mother to my wife and in between, there have been few “damsels in distress.”

The first time I attempted matrimony I married a woman “just like the girl that married dear old Dad.” It was a mistake but not because she was not strong but rather because I wasn’t strong enough. The second Mrs. Miller was also strong, maybe too much, but she is the mother of my daughter, also a strong woman and mother. The third time being the charm, I married a woman nearly thirty years ago whose outlook more and more reminds me of my grandmother.

My grandmother, Addie, was born in 1901. She would not vote in her first election until 1922, three years after her marriage to my grandfather. During my lifetime she ALWAYS took her hard won constitutional right to vote very seriously and NEVER missed an election. Her early life was hard and she would have been perfectly at home riding or walking along side of a covered wagon had my grandparents been pioneers heading to parts west. Instead she joined my grandfather on a sixty-acre tract of land trying to scratch out a living on soil that was not actually from the river bottoms. It was a hard life. When I asked her how bad life was during the depression I was told, “We were so poor before the depression hit we didn’t notice it.” Those were the days when they farmed “on the lien.” While my grandparents had land and the tools to till it with, like many southern farmers, they did not have two nickels to rub together. Seed and fertilizer cost money – something in short supply after the “War of Northern Aggression” and during the depression. A system was worked out to avoid the need for money at the primary level – the growing, cutting, digging and picking level. Sharecropping, tenant farming and farming on the lien, or even mixtures of all three, were used. In my grandparent’s case, seed and fertilizer were “loaned” to them and a lien or loan was taken out against the crop, in most cases cotton, to be paid back after the harvest. It was a system that worked but one that kept most white farmers poor and black farmers in a type of “post-slavery” servitude. Springs Industries would change the culture with textile mills and at some point PawPaw abandoned the life of existing on the institution of farming and went to work for Springs. He did not quit farming but it was no longer “farming on the lien.” My grandmother did not abandon farming until she was in her nineties.

Many mornings as I stare across my computer screen while attempting to write, I can see my backyard framed like a photograph through the French doors leading out to our, for lack of a better word, patio. My wife has turned our backyard into a cluttered and jammed wildlife preserve–accent on WILD—and it is inevitable I would think of my grandmother. Her “rock garden” was just as jammed with flowers of all types and sometimes with wildlife, too. All were thrown together in a helter-skelter manner. My favorite flowers were her tall and colorful hollyhocks. I have tried to grow them but with not nearly the same success. Her backyard was just as tangled with privet hedge that had grown so high it had formed a canopy which seemed to form secret rooms. I consider myself very lucky to have had her for as long as I did – forty-nine years as she died just a few weeks past my forty-ninth birthday. I’m also greedy because I would have liked to have had her even longer.

As jammed as her rock garden was, her vegetable garden was not. Every morning she went out to the garden to chop down any weed before it could get a foothold or to hand-pick any critter that might chew on a leaf. This devotion is something I have a high regard for as I have moved toward organic gardening. Everything was quite orderly but her flowers were not. This difference was just one of several contradictions. One of the wisest and most well-read people I have ever known, she attended public school only until the eighth grade. She seemed to crave information but only if it didn’t interfere with time better spent in her garden. Even then, on rainy days, I would catch her gazing wishfully out the window. Most of her reading material revolved around her “Classics” plant catalogs, crossword puzzles and religious materials including, but not limited to, the Bible. Despite being one of the most religious people I have ever known, she rarely set foot inside of a church and I wish I had taken the time to ask why. For some reason a belief the church might be filled with hypocrisy comes to my mind but could this be my own cynicism showing? It might have been she just didn’t like being cooped up. When we “stayed the night” due to our parent’s work schedule, she did not tell stories to put my brother and me to sleep. Instead, we played “finish the Bible verse.” To this day when I hear a parent tell a child to “Be Still”, I have to add, “…and know that I am God.”

It is spring and I have begun to plant my garden. Much too big, I really try to grow food out of respect for and in memory of my grandmother. I am not very good at it and probably could buy more food than I raise with what I pay for seed and fertilizer. I am always hopeful and it is a way to stay connected to her and what she was. Every time my hoe clinks on a rock or sweat runs down my nose as I pick beans, I see her in her fields or rock garden. My favorite mental picture is of a woman in a dress “repurposed” from cotton feed sacks leaning on her hoe, big straw hat firmly in place. She is gazing across the hill to where my grandfather’s corn field was located. I wonder if she is thinking of times past…I know I am.

If you enjoyed this remembrance, please take time to “Like” my author’s page at https://www.facebook.com/cigarman501/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

Don Miller has written three books which may be purchased at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

I AM NOT A RACIST…AM I?

I understand “white fragility” and now understand I have it. Because of my “white privilege” I did not even know I had it. I know other people who refuse to recognize their “white privilege” or that white privilege actually exists. I guess they, like me, have an excuse although not a good one. You see for sixty-five years I have been white and have no desire to change who I am. I just want to change the way I think about certain issues such as race. I do not apologize for the fact I am white or that I view the world through white eyes. I just want to learn and understand…and be a better person because of it. For the first twenty-three years of my life I swam in a culture awash with “whiteness.” Schools, textbooks and what little media there was, were all presented from a white viewpoint. In most cases I “feel” little has changed. Back then, in the fog of my youth, African-Americans were on the fringe of my peripheral vision or in some distant city, seen only through the screen of my black and white television. It would be impossible for me to view the world any other way. But…I do have a brain and a desire to change the way that I look at the world.

I grew up in an area and in a family neither racist nor prejudiced…overtly. Now I realize there were covert lessons to be learned and I learned them well…even though I didn’t realize it at the time. When I went off to an all-white college the lessons became more overt. The fight song was officially “Hail to the Redskins,” racist in its own way, but we played “Dixie,” much more. I hate to admit that the de facto anthem of the Confederacy still causes chills to run up my arm. I CAN admit it because it is my “Southern white privilege” to do so. My first collegiate history course was taught by a disciple of the “Lost Cause” history of the Civil War although I would not realize this fact until I heard him speak at a “Sons of Confederate Veterans” meeting…the only one I ever attended. I decided, on my own, that despite their claims to the contrary, they were, in fact, racist…as am I. It was the only class I took under Dr. “White Supremacist” and I was fortunate to have a “damn Yankee” husband and wife team for most of my American History courses. They did not believe in the “Lost Cause.” As I have been too slow to realize, I don’t either.

The first time I came into contact with large groups of non-white races was in the teaching setting…students, players and teaching peers. I studied all of my new black friends and students…and Asian or Hispanics. I also studied my white friends and I had an impossible time reconciling what I was hearing about groups of people with the people I knew. The group “stereotypes” did not fit with the individuals I had gotten to know. The stereotypes could not be correct. For me this was an epiphany, not caused by a lightning strike on the Damascus Road, but rather a realization that occurred over time. Much like Job, I attempted to avoid being called to a cause and admit to having been a “closet non-racist” racist for too many years. I also admit to continuing to think of the “stereotypes” when I looked at groups of people I don’t really know. I believe many of us, of all races, continue to express this view and can’t seem to admit to the creation of a “system” which, in itself, is racist.

We sit back in our “Ivory Towers” declaring how non-racist we are and wring our hands over what is happening in cities like Chicago. We rail about how the “liberals” or “thugs” have destroyed the city and make jokes about turning the presidential “rallies” into “job fairs” to keep the protestors away. We are blinded by our own “whiteness” and refuse to admit that those of us at the top of the racial strata have caused the problems not only in Chicago but in cities throughout the country, despite the money we believe has been thrown at the problem.

After the “Great Migration” of Southern blacks to Northern and Western industrial centers to escape Southern Jim Crow, “we non-Southerners” defended our “birthright” with violence, intimidation and legal maneuvering that included mortgage discrimination and restrictive covenants in order to restrict where people of color could live, work and chase the “American Dream.” Later, in the Seventies, cities underwent what was called “White Flight” as whites with means fled to the “burbs” and a better life “away from those people.” So why didn’t the people of color just leave the decaying inner cities for better opportunities? I am reminded of a Chris Rock standup routine bringing attention to starvation in Sub-Saharan Africa: “Why don’t you just take them to the food?” I posed that question to a group of ninth graders in a geography class and was not surprised to find their answers to be quite mature. “Lack of resources to move, unfamiliarity with the new area, not wanting to leave families behind, fear of the unknown, civil and religious wars, and people did not want to accept them.” I would say most of those statements are true about Oakland, Atlanta, Baltimore, or any of the other areas “we white folk” proclaim to be bastions of free loading and democratic liberalism, along with the thought “Why should they have to leave.” More to the point “These people” are right where “the system” wants them and “these people” are angry about it…something we racist can’t see or understand.

I have been fortunate to make contact, through social media, with many former students. Some are very conservative, others very liberal and they represent a broad spectrum of races and religions. I read some of their post and am shocked and appalled at their thinking. Recently I made contact with Dr. Mary Ann Canty Merrill. I remember her as a pretty little black girl with a big smile who sat very quietly in a ninth grade class many years ago. She went by the name Mary Canty back then. Today she is a beautiful and capable woman who is anything but quiet. Among her titles, which includes psychologist, teacher, life strategist, author and humanitarian, are the descriptors warrior and provocateur. I would add activist. She is ACTIVELY involved in a WAR over the way people view and think about race. The term provocateur is defined as someone who provokes and she has certainly provoked me into thinking differently about my past life and what I want to do with the years I have left. She has also provoked me to re-edit a dozen or so “essays” I had written about “Heritage and Hate” as it relates my home state and the Confederate flag issue. Oh well, it’s just time.

Mary is not a “thug” looking for a “handout” as many of “these” people are being “wrongfully” portrayed. She is actually a “white bigots” worst nightmare. A successful, intelligent black woman who is not going to sit quietly on her hands. That sure goes against the stereotype presented by “certain” people. All of my friends of color go against the stereotype I see advertised by “certain” people. My friends and acquaintances are educated, black home owners, with families, who go to work every day and pay their taxes…just like me. Despite their successes and their hard work to realize them, they too are pissed off at the “system” that I believe “we white folk” have created and maintained for the past one hundred and fifty years. I cannot imagine how people who have spent decades without resources are feeling.

This former student has certainly become the teacher and the new student has become a rapt and uncomfortable learner. After being allowed to join Mary’s website “Voices for Equality,” I have found myself shocked, appalled and quite uncomfortable with the anger I found. I also find myself being “educated” as to why there is anger. Like Saul on the Damascus Roads, the scales have fallen from my eyes but the landscape, bathed in bright sunlight, causes me to squint and cock my head to the side in wonder. “How did we get ourselves in this hot mess?” My conclusion is that the “system” has always been a hot mess, now suddenly uncovered and stinky. Because of my comfortable “white privilege” I had been able to ignore it.

I say these things because I am still learning, still evolving as a person, an “old dog” attempting to learn new tricks…something I wish the rest of my generation might emulate instead of sitting back and being comfortable looking through their “white eyes.” I have been told repeatedly that people are flocking to a certain presidential candidate because they are unhappy. Shouldn’t we also recognize that the unhappiness spans all races and our history? Shouldn’t we ask the question “Why?” There is an answer somewhere if you are willing to allow yourself the opportunity to find it. You might start by asking a black friend…or making a black friend.

I salute you Dr. Merrill. This is Women’s History Month and you are carrying forward the same traditions of women who have passed before you. Thank you for carrying on with the standard.

From your racist student.

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If you are interested in reading more by Don Miller go to http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

DRUNKS, FOOLS AND … OTHER FOLK WHO HAVE ENDED UP IN MY YARD

Another one last night. There is an old quote that goes something like “God takes care of or looks out for drunks, fools and children” …and on my particular stretch of Highway 11, the Cherokee Scenic Highway, I would add old ladies, former students, members of the South Carolina General Assembly, their mistresses, car and motorcycle thieves and our South of the Border brethren. Why do I say this? Because at one time or another all have ended up in my yard with their wheels pointed toward the sky and not one has been unable to walk away. While most were not unscathed, most only had minor bumps, cuts and bruises from their brush with fate.

My home sits one-third of the way up a high hill between two curves and for some reason people have a hard time navigating those two curves. Drunk, sober, day light, night time, rain or clear as a bell, it just doesn’t seem to matter. In our near thirty-years here we have witnessed at least three dozen “brushes with fate” …that we actually know about. There have been others we have not witnessed with only jagged pieces of plastic, metal or glass to attest that they occurred…like last night. There have been many memorable ones but I won’t bore you with them all.

We always hear them first. A tattle tale scream of sliding tires signifying that they had gone into to the curve to fast, smashed their brakes and over compensated. This is usually followed by a “thump” we feel as much as hear. How fast they were going determines where they ended up. After using my side of the hill as a ski ramp a drunk wrapped his car around my closest neighbor’s pine tree and kept trying to extricate himself early one morning. As I sleepily wandered down my drive I watched the tree top sway back and forth as “I got a snoot full Tommy” jammed his gear shift first into reverse and then into forward, not realizing his car was in a “horse shoe” around the now dying pine. Not really knowing what to expect I watched him warily as left his car, tripping twice before he fell face first into a bank. He didn’t even try to break his fall. I felt safe. As I rushed to assist he hopped to his unsteady feet and in a voice that was preceded by the smell of stale beer and cigarettes explained, “I thought I could drive it out.” I jokingly responded “Not without a chainsaw.” He didn’t get the joke and asked, “Man, you got one?” He was not happy when the state constabulary showed up. He fixed me with a drunken stare and said “Man, you sold me out.” Yep.

I have heard said that if you fall from a high place your life flashes in front of your eyes. I don’t know because in order to fall from a high place one must climb to a high place and that AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN! I do know if you are facing what might be certain death your life does just that. With one more post hole to dig, I had paused to rest my aching arms when I heard the scream of locked up tires. As I spun I saw the out of control car become airborne while making a bee line straight for me. As I moved to my left, the car landed and spun “butt-end” forward…and again homed in on me. Time slowed but my life flashed. Ooooh, I HAD FORGOTTEN THAT LITTLE TIDBIT. At the last moment it veered away from me and I tripped over a rock and ended up in the stream below, which put me in a perfect position, albeit wet, to see the car crash, rear end first, into the concrete culvert that my stream ran through. The older lady seemed to be ejected through her open window when her shoulder harness caught and “reeled” her back in. I ran to her fearing the worse. She just looked at me and said, “I guess I hit my brakes a bit too hard. I thought we were both goners.” As had I but I asked if I could assist in anyway before running to call the authorities. She looked up and with a “toothless grin” explained, “I seem to have lost my teeth when I went out the window, do you think you might look for them.” “Pride goeth before the fall” but no self-respecting “Autumn Belle” should be without her false teeth while waiting for an ambulance. I found them and while rinsing them in the stream discovered I had dislocated a finger in my fall. Boy did that hurt…but not until I looked at it.

I left to run on a Sunday morning several years ago and I remember that it was a glorious day. The sun was still just below the horizon but with the stars still twinkling above I knew we were in for a bright blue sky once Old Sol rose from his slumber. Despite being on the wrong end of a ten mile run I was as happy as if I had good sense until I looked down toward my mailbox. A highway patrol car, a car on its top, what appeared to be three bodies laid out side by side and a short dark guy speaking with great animation to a highway patrolman. The three bodies weren’t bodies at all but they were all as drunk as ole “Cooter Brown” or the Spanish equivalent, “Cooter Marrón,” and were sleeping it off in the now early morning sun. I am sure that later in the day they might have prayed for death and the highway patrolman JUST LEFT THEM LAYING THERE to sleep it off! The wrecker showed up, took the car, and the highway patrolman JUST LEFT THEM THERE. I couldn’t just leave them there. “Habla Ingles?” I got a head shake, IN THE NEGATIVE, followed by “Habla Espanol?” With my thumb and pointer finger held close together I reluctantly said, “un poquito.” We are off to a great start and I wish I had paid better attention in my college Spanish class. Using a combination of pidgin English, Spanish and wild hand waving I determined that they lived “somewhere over there.” According to his hand signals somewhere between Nova Scotia and Miami. Ten minutes later they piled out of my old land cruiser in Marietta, not Miami, and despite their hangovers erupted into smiles, head bobbing and a chorus of “muchas graciases.” There were other phrases that might have translated to “You are my hero” but I am not sure. My last thought was a hope they had a bit of the “hair of the dog” to help them with the hangovers that were sure to come.

For great #nonfiction on #Kindle try Don Miller at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

GROWING OLDER GRACELESSLY

Lying in bed I go through the same progression every morning. I wonder if I move, “Am I going to break?” I begin by wiggling, first one little toe, then the other and gradually work my way up. My goal is to get my feet on the ground and stand erect without making the same noises my father made when he was my age…I am now faced with the realization I have out lived my father by five years. That is a sobering thought. My second goal is to check the local obituaries and find that my name is not listed there.

While I am aware of my age, it has not been an issue until recently. For the past year I have battled an arthritic knee that keeps me from running and rocked a vertebra onto my sciatic nerve while splitting wood that, for a month, kept me from doing just about everything else. Bad enough but a conversation with a friend of mine really made me pause to consider the question of my age. Married, hers is a May-December romance. She is May and he is December…which is not true. She is more April and he is more, say, October. With his impending retirement she has suddenly become concerned about her husband’s age or rather what her husband’s age might have in store them both. Seeking enlightenment from me, I was not able to give it. My mind asked “Why is she asking me? I’m not old?” My body answered “You’re three years older than her husband.” Gee, where is my cane?

Today I got to do my “Medicare Wellness Profile.” It included an eye test, whisper test, walking test and questionnaire with such thought provoking questions as “Can you bathe and wash yourself without help?” Yes, and I can wipe my butt to. All went with the normal check of BP, ability to process oxygen and EKG. “You want me to get out of a chair, walk six feet return and sit down again?” Oh me! The nurse in charge said I passed with flying colors until you consider I am being compared to “really old people,” something the old bat pointed out. Funny, I think like a young person but I guess the mirror doesn’t lie. Why couldn’t I have at least had Sam Elliott’s hair?

Forty years ago during the first jogging craze, I began a haphazard exercise regimen. Haphazard in that I would allow anything to get in the way in order to avoid it. Finally getting my mind right in the Early-Nineties, I got into the habit of exercise…until a side lunge put me in the hospital to have cartilage removed. No more lunges of any type. Later a miss step on the baseball field would require the other knee to be scoped for the same reason and in 1999 I had the second of two operations on an arthritic big toe. I found myself out of the habit of exercise and into any habit that involved sitting on a couch and consuming mass quantities of fried foods and beer. Forty pounds later I could not deny what the mirror was showing me. Two hundred and thirty-two pounds on my five foot nine frame could no longer be hidden. I was sloppy fat. On April 8, 2006 I made the decision that I had to make radical life style changes. My realization would be further emphasized the next day.

In a month I will celebrate another birthday and a ten-year anniversary. “Happy birthday to you…How old are you? F@#$ YOU and your horse!” Family had gathered to celebrate my birthday on April 9. Always irreverent, my brother presented me with a birthday card featuring a grim reaper reflected in a car’s rear view mirror and the warning “Objects may be closer than they appear.” Five hours later I found myself hooked up to a gazillion monitors after having just survived a heart attack and having had a catheter and stint surfed into a clogged artery. One month later the original stint would be joined by three more in three different arteries. I was six months away from a loss of seventy pounds and running a 5-K. Yes, it was a radical life style change. My brother was so broken up about the card he had given me, I got it again the next year. It is now framed as a constant reminder of what I am trying to outrun or out walk at least.

For ten years now I have drug myself out of bed and done something. Now at least I wait until the sun is up. At any age, walking, running, cycling, stretching and strength training, I guess it’s all about movement. Moving your ass out of bed and onto something more productive. If I happen to live to be ninety-five I want to be mobile and not in bed…wait. Bed? I just thought of a great way to die…traumatic as it might be for the other individual…or group. I would have to stay in good shape to do it. I believe I will get out of bed in the morning and do what I have been doing for the last ten years.

Move that butt Lard-O! Time’s a wasting!

For great #nonfiction try Don Miller at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

WHEN PIGS FLY….

Despite having written about pigs recently, when I left this morning for my daily walk I had no idea that I would have a flood of thoughts about pigs…I was just thinking about the upcoming election I guess. I think about the election a lot. In fact, I pray about the election a lot but as yet I have had no divine enlightenment. The silence is deafening. I wish the debates were…silent, they are already deafening with their stupidity.

“I’m gonna be as happy as a hog in slop!” With the outcome of this election? “When pigs fly maybe!” There are no good choices and I fear whoever wins is going to leave us “smiling like a dead pig laying in the sunshine.” In other words, some of us will be ”smiling” but things will not be as good as we might want to believe they might be…regardless of which party wins. (In case you don’t know, dead pigs go through biological changes that includes their lips pulling away from their teeth giving them a macabre smile. This smile gives them an extremely happy appearance despite they’re being dead)

I have already called the primary process. It’s over. The election will be one of “Macbeth’s witches,” a sullied Hillary versus a Donald who could have been cast as Napoleon in “Animal Farm.” The rest of the candidates are dead men walking. What a choice! I remember my father using a short analogy to make a point about one of my friends he was uncertain about. Dad was famous for using analogies, metaphors or similes to make his points. He said, “Son, do you know what you have if you bathe and shave a pig and put a red bow around his neck?” After I looked at him dumbly for a moment he answered his own question. “A PIG!” As soon as you turn your back on him that old hog will head right back to his mud hole no matter how clean or dressed he is.” Profound and spot on when referring to our presidential choices.

Profound but not true, as I have found out. Pigs are actually much cleaner than our politicians and will pick a swimming pool filled with fresh water over a mud hole any old day. It seems our politicians would rather wallow in a mud hole full of lobbyist, special interest groups and corporations rather than running the chance of staining themselves in the swimming hole that is “We the People.” I am including our entire population as “We the People,” the rich and poor along with those of us swimming like crazy to stay in the middle. It would also include all races, religions and sexual leanings not just the ones the majority believes in. If our presidential winner decides to return to the mud hole that is our political system, I fear he or she will find plenty of company. I visualize Congress making mud pies instead of doing their job…much like the previous seven years.

Suddenly the silence is not so deafening. I believe I will write in a vote for the pig. At the very least I will know what I have if he is elected. “Sooooooie Pig, Sooie.”

If you enjoyed this blog Don Miller has written three books which may be purchased at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM
Inspirational true stories in WINNING WAS NEVER THE ONLY THING can be downloaded for $1.99.
“STUPID MAN TRICKS” explained in FLOPPY PARTS for $.99.
“Southern Stories of the Fifties and Sixties…” in PATHWAYS for $3.99.
All may be purchased in paperback.