FISHIN’

For some reason, I awoke from a dream about fishing. I saw an old cane pole bending from the strain of a double hand size blue gill, it’s blue, green and silver body causing the line to sing from the strain the fish was putting on it. After awakening I realize it is still cold and December, rain is pelting on the metal roof and I really don’t know why I’m dreaming about blue gills and the grandmother who taught me to catch them. I may have already shared this story but felt the need to share it again. I hope you enjoy.

My grandmother had what I would describe as a single mindedness about her work ethic. Little would get in the way of what she had scheduled to do. Monday was wash day no matter how cold it was just to get it out of the way. The only exceptions were on rainy days or during harvest season. During the late summer, Monday was also preparation day for Tuesday – CANNERY DAY. Tomatoes were peeled, okra cut, beans shelled or soup mix was readied to be canned the next day. Wednesdays and Thursdays were copies of Monday and Tuesday. One day was set aside to sweep the backyard under the privet, another to weed the rock garden and others to do what she hated most – house cleaning. Early, early mornings were spent milking the cow and some days, work was rearranged to accommodate for the churning of butter and making buttermilk. During the early summer, EVERYDAY was weed the garden and pick the “critters” that might be chewing on plants. Nothing interfered except the meal preparations and finally the harsh late afternoon midsummer sun that would drive her into the shade…of her front porch to start processing vegetables. There was no rest for the weary.

I can see her distinctly in my mind’s eye standing in her garden and clearly hear the “clinking” sound of her hoe contacting the few small rocks that remained in her garden. She is wearing a cotton “sack” dress handmade from last year’s feed sacks, a broad-brimmed straw hat and old lady loafers that had been slit to accommodate corns and bunions. That was pretty much all she wore as I found out one day when a hornet flew up her dress causing her to strip in the middle of the bean field. There is no modesty when being stung by a hornet but young eyes should not see these things. Her face, arms and legs were as brown as the leather harnesses that PawPaw used to hook his old horse to the wagon and the rest of her…obviously had rarely seen the light of day. I think now how old I thought she was but she was just forty-eight when I was born. I was forty-nine when she died.

There were only two things that would drive her out of her garden – rain and fishin’. Fishing was something that she discovered after PawPaw died. I do not have one memory of her going fishing prior to his death although I remember hearing stories about trips to the river, a mile or so distant as the crow flies. I don’t think this was an example of “sport” fishing but was the setting and checking of trotlines in hopes of supplementing table fare…cheaply. Pan-fried catfish and catfish stew would replace the canned salmon that we often ate in the winter. Well, she made up for lost time as she entered her “semi-retirement” after moving in with us and then later with Aunt Joyce after my Dad remarried. It also did not help keep her in her garden that H.L. Bowers built nine or ten ponds and lakes between us and the river…and gave Nannie free entry…and me with her.

I was not her only fishing partner and she would not overuse the Bower’s lakes. I think she feared that the invitation might be revoked if she caught too many fish. There were a plethora of people who would line up to go with her, many who would just call volunteering to take her to the lake of her choice. Some would call days ahead to make “reservations” to go fishing. The reason was simple. The Lord had blessed her with the ability to find and catch large quantities of fish. Miss Maggie would say, “She sho’ nuff’ can smell deem fishes.” She also thought Nannie might have sold her soul to the devil or might have practiced West African Vodun because she fished according to the signs of the moon, wind direction and weather forecast. Full moon, wind from the south or south-east with a rising barometer…time to go fishing. There were times Nannie ignored the signs and, likely as not, she would not be shutout.
Her fishin’ was fishing in its purest form. No high-dollar technology was employed. I once gave her a Zebco 33 rod and reel, maybe the all-time easiest reel to use. She never used it; instead, there would be a thin cane pole or three, all strung with heavy twenty-pound test line and a small split shot crimped a foot or more above a small gold hook. Rarely did she fish with a bobber. All of her extra gear, hooks, weights and line were carried in a paper poke. I remember when she graduated from a “croaker” sack to put her fish on to a line stringer and then finally to a metal stringer. An earthworm, cricket or a wasp larva was lightly presented to where she thought bream were bedding, allowed to sink a bit and then moved in a slow side to side arc. Wham! That strike would likely be the resulting outcome and into the croaker sack a fish would go! For those of you too young or too Yankee to know, a croaker sack was a porous burlap feed bag “repurposed” to put fish or frogs in to keep them alive or, in the gigged frog’s case, wet. The bag would be laid into the water. Frogs—croakers. Get it? Yes, frog legs do taste like chicken.

I would ask her “Nannie, how do you know where the fish are?” She would answer “Can you not smell them?” Uh, no I couldn’t but I can now and she taught me to look for the “pot holes” that the bream made when they were on the bed. That doesn’t explain how she caught fish when they weren’t on the bed. Maybe Maggie was right about the voodoo thing but I suspect it was the fact that she had studied fishing the same way she studied her Bible or the almanac.
Nothing was too big to go in her frying pan and, sometimes, nothing too small. I guess it goes back to being poor during the depression. Small fish were brought home and, if not cleaned, became a part of her garden. The two-and-a-half-pound bream or the nearly eight pound largemouth she caught did not go on her wall. No, that was pure foolishness. An eight pounder could have fed a Chinese family for a month and we were not going to waste it. Hand-sized bream were always my favorite to be pan fried in Crisco using corn meal breading…at least I think it was Crisco…it might have been lard. I’ve tried pan frying them and I just can’t seem to get it right.

There was one August afternoon that Nannie decided to take Maggie and yours truly to Bower’s Big Lake. That’s what we called it. The Big Lake was twenty-five acres of fishing heaven. Bream, catfish and largemouth bass seemed to always be hungry and this day all of the signs were in place. We walked the three-quarters of a mile to the lake, scooted under the gate that cut the River Road, and started to fish from the closest access to water. For the next two hours, we did not move and had it not been so late in the day we might not have left then. Seventy-seven double hand-sized “breeeeeems,” as Maggie called them, over filled our stringer. There had to be forty pounds of fish and, for an eight or ten-year-old boy, a near sixty-year-old grandmother and, who knows how old Maggie was, it was a tough trek back to the house…followed by a couple of hours cleaning the fish. It was worth it the next day as the smell of frying fish permeated the air.

I remember the last time I took Nannie fishing. She was in her late eighties and a bit feeble, but not much. Linda Gail and I loaded her up in my old ’72 FJ 40 Land Cruiser and took her to the dock at Bower’s Big Lake. The weather was terrible for fishing. Cloudy and windy, a gale blew from the wrong direction as the barometer plunged but she hung a couple and we have a picture of her holding a “whale” still decked out in her broad-brimmed straw hat. She had at least started to wear pants by this time and I imagine a cotton “sack” dress would have been a little cool. What I remember the most was her laughter, something that I heard so rarely. When I think about Nannie seldom do I see her smiling. This was a special day as were all of the days when we went fishin’.

I miss her terribly and just don’t seem to get the enjoyment from fishing that I did during those days. I still try to get the spark back and will continue to do so. Sometimes I think to do otherwise would somehow be letting her down. The same is true with my garden. I know I could buy more produce from the money I spend on seed and fertilizer than I actually raise. Fishing, even when they are not biting, is a little like therapy or maybe meditation. I have found it to be a pathway that leads me to memories that I sometimes didn’t even know I had.

This story came from the book PATHWAYS. It and my other books may be purchased or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

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OPTIMISM DESPITE SCIATICA AND 2016

I find it interesting, in a bad way, that I am finishing 2016 the same way I began it…limping to the finish line while battling sciatica. The pinching of the sciatic nerve because…well…WHO THE F@#$ KNOWS…all I did was reach across my body with my right arm to pick up a hammer. OKAY I GOT IT…sciatica is caused by work. Now I know how to cure it.

My particular brand of sciatica runs across my left ass cheek and down my left leg…in other words, it is the “royal pain in the ass” and for me a physical reminder of what a pain in the ass 2016 was…except on a personal level it really wasn’t that bad. I lost my favorite uncle and several friends, but I have a family and friends whom I love, food on the table, a roof over my head even though, in order to heat the rooms under that roof, it cost me an arm and a leg…and the sciatica triggered by spitting wood to begin the year of 2016. All and all I ain’t got it that bad…except for the sciatica and a tractor I want to set on fire…kinda like 2016.

I won’t miss 2016…unless 2017 is worse. Worse? 2016, the year of political witch hunts and the hatred that fed it, religious and racial divisiveness, war and rumors of more war, fake news or real news, defining who should have the right to marry and who is what gender along with arguments that will never give love a chance…STOP IT DON! JUST STOP IT!

Yes, at midnight December 31, if I am still awake, I will kiss my significant other passionately and, with great enthusiasm sing “Auld Lang Syne”, Robert Burns’ poem now set to the tune of a Scottish folk song. The reason I will sing enthusiastically are the words, “we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”

Despite the divisiveness and pain of 2016, I face 2017 with the renewed enthusiasm that “we’ll take a cup of kindness yet”, the kindness that was sorely absent in 2016. I am optimistic we will ALL reach across the gulfs that are our differences and find understanding. I am offering you “a cup of kindness yet” in hopes you will take it, along with a hand of mutual friendship, respect and mutual understanding. In other words, because Burns said it better than I ever could “And there’s a hand my trusty friend! And give me a hand o’ thine! And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.” For those of you who are saying, “that’s like world peace, it will never happen,” I say, “There has to be hope. Someone has to make the effort.”

Whether you are a “taste great” person or a “less filling” person, in 2017 I will raise a toast to you, even though I don’t drink lite beer ever. Here’s to you and yours with the hope you have a productive, prosperous and kind new year. May peace be with thee!

PINK COCONUT AND OTHER CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

Normally when I can’t run, it is a bad thing. My head, knees or hips won’t let me. Today it was a good thing to quote Martha. My running interfered with where I wanted to be in my head. Usually, I create stories when I run to avoid the pain endured while running. This was not the case today. In my head, I was remembering the “Ghosts’ of Christmases Past.” Consider this a Merry Christmas or Happy Holiday present to you regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas or not. I don’t think it will offend anyone’s sensibilities and, rest assured, I love all your sensibilities…and idiocrasies. Peace on Earth! We can all agree on that along with good will toward men…and women. I miss my wide-eyed wonderment during the Christmases of my youth. Having to grow up was and is a trap and I have been caught in it for far too long. Hopefully my memories will help free me from my snare…although considering the alternative….

A most vivid memory is of a Christmas Eve trip to Monroe, North Carolina where my family normally shopped. It was just my father and a seven or eight-year-old me. Mom was busy at home preparing for the onslaught of people who would attend our evening celebration and little Stevie was too young to make the trip. This was a type of yearly tradition for my father. He didn’t have to go; all the presents had been wrapped and placed under our tree…or hidden away until Santa Claus made his appearance. My father would go and buy nuts and fruit…maybe a trinket or two. I just think he liked being in the Christmas crowd…and Woolworth’s warm and salted cashews was something he could never pass up.

Had people been raindrops, Monroe would have been awash in a torrential downpour. Usually a small and quiet Southern town, it was bursting with activity. As we made our way toward Woolworth’s and Belk’s on Main Street I remember being maneuvered through a throng that included several panhandlers who we avoided like the plague. We paused in front of the Belk’s storefront to look at the mechanical Christmas scene…or so I thought. Sitting below the storefront Christmas scene was a man near my father’s age. He sat on a pad which was attached to a board with small wheels. The unknown man had lost his legs just below his hips and his pants legs were folded and neatly pinned under him. In his hand was a small tin cup containing new yellow pencils. My father had paused in front of the man with no legs, not the windows. Reaching into his pocket my father withdrew his billfold and placed a ten-dollar bill into the man’s cup. It was a considerable donation for the time. I watched my father’s eyes tear as he bent and accepted the pencil and the man’s tearful “Bless You.” My father took my hand and while looking over his shoulder choked out, “No, bless you and Merry Christmas!” In my mind, it is easy to create a story involving a World War Two veteran who paid the same high price our vets are still paying today.

In the small rural community where I lived, most of our activities revolved around our school and our churches. Christmas was no different. Church Christmas plays featured shepherds in bathrobes with towels wrapped around their heads, angels with coat hanger halos and wings covered in Christmas tinsel and Wise Men with homemade crowns. A Betsy Wetsy Doll starred as baby Jesus. Taken straight from the Gospels, the story of the birth was read and acted out. Familiar Christmas hymns were sung by the congregation or choir with “Joy to the World” bringing the play to a close. Downstairs in the fellowship hall Christmas cookies and cakes waited to be shared as the children waited impatiently to see a secular Santa Claus who looked and sounded a lot like my Uncle James. In later years, there would be Aunt Joyce’s Christmas Cantatas, my favorite being the one including “Jubilate, jubilate, King of kings he’s born today” performed by the combined choirs of my church, Belair, and Osceola.

In my day (Doesn’t that sound old?), in my day Christmas break began with a half-day celebration of Christmas at school. Classes had drawn names and presents were traded as we sat around a freshly cut donated evergreen tree decorated with ornaments made from construction paper. It would seem socks were the gifts of choice. Our teacher began our sugar high with decorated sugar cookies in the shape of reindeers, stars or elves. For their trouble our teachers received small ornaments, many handmade pastries and desserts, and, of course, socks. A concert featuring the band and chorus would close the day and, if you were not in the Christmas spirit by then, you had no pulse.

At home, there was a fresh cut cedar tree with multi-colored bubble lights that had to warm up before they began to bubble. White plastic ice cycles hanging with very fragile glass ornaments all covered with tinsel. My mother pausing to listen to “Stille Niche” or playing Billy Vaughn’s “Christmas Carols” ad nauseum. Sorry. I never learned to play the saxophone as well as Billy and his band. A robot that smoked, sparked and reversed path when it met an obstruction. A model of a twenty-mule team borax wagon. My first full-sized bicycle, a red and white Schwinn Phantom, arrived the same Christmas as a freak ice storm. Can you imagine the pain of waiting to get outside? It was almost as bad as the wait for Santa. Lying in bed hoping I had been just good enough not to be getting a bag of coal. A plastic Thompson Sub-Machine gun so I could pretend to be Vic Morrow pretending to be Sgt. Saunders in “Combat.” My grandmother’s gifts, a patchwork quilt Christmas stocking she had made filled with butter mints and peppermint along with healthier fruits and nuts. There were the more practical pocket notebooks, pencils and pens, too. “These are a few of my favorite things…”

After my mother’s death, I found the first gift I had given her that I had picked out and paid for with the sweat of my brow. A cheap, red and green, cut glass Christmas tree broach from Woolworth’s. I guess she must have liked it. There was always one evening anticipating the arrival of church carolers and another to drive through the community looking at Christmas lights. Perhaps there would be a reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” A much simpler time.

My mother was a child who failed to fall into the adult trap when it came to Christmas. Activity swirled for what seemed like weeks as she prepared for our Christmas Eve family celebration. Baking was one of my mother’s chores. Fruitcake, fruitcake cookies, yule candy logs, Missouri “no-bake” cookies, pies and cakes galore and her very favorite ambrosia. In the days before shredded coconut could be purchased at your local super market, it was my father’s responsibility to break open and shred the coconut Mom would use for her ambrosia and coconut cake. He would use a small ball peen hammer to punch a hole in one of the coconut’s eyes so the milk could be drained. A larger hammer would break the coconut open and a sharp knife would separate the meat from the husk. If my father was not bleeding by this time he soon would be as his knuckles contacted the hand grater. My Christmas memories always include pink shredded coconut. It also may be why I don’t like coconut desserts very much although I will eat one dessert in memory of him. Hopefully it won’t be pink.

The Christmas of 1958 would be significant and transitional although I would not know it at the time. Paw Paw would cross over in the fall of the new year. I didn’t even know he was sick much less dying. Oh, to be child-like again. In addition to our parents, Mom’s brother Olin and his wife Gayle would be there with Philip and Robyn; Will was still a twinkle in his parent’s eyes as was Terri, Joyce’s and Bo’s youngest. Their oldest Kim and Lynn would join Steve and I to celebrate. Somehow a tradition of telling ghost stories to the younger cousins and brother in a darkened closet would develop. I hope I did not warp them for all time. Impromptu but not unexpected visits by Paw Paw’s and Nannie’s brothers and sisters would continue through not only Christmas Eve but also throughout Christmas Day. I hate adult life and death has gotten in the way of those memories.

My wife and I have attempted to continue the Christmas Eve tradition, short of pink coconut. I enjoy having my brother and daughter and their families…despite the pain of getting ready. I could never do for my brother what our family did for us but I hope he understands that I try and hope my daughter’s memories are as rich as mine. If her memories are warm, it is due, in most part, to the influence of my wife, Linda Gail, a little elf who never fell into the trap of growing up but whose own memories include recent losses of and distance from family. Being from a blended-family I always had to return Ashley to her mother late on Christmas Eve. It was bitter-sweet. Bitter for obvious reasons but there was something sweet about our trip home. It is a time of private sharing between the two of us, a special time that I cherish and miss. To accommodate the red-headed little monkey, Miller Kate, along with her new brother Nolan, we have moved Christmas Eve to Ashley’s and Justin’s. My wife says it is temporary. She likes to oversee our memories.

I wish anyone reading this a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Dattatreya Jayanti, Mawlid an-Nabi or any other celebrations I have missed. For true “Peace on Earth” I wish to embrace our diversity, each for each other. That is my wish as we close 2016 and enter 2017. May 2017 be the year of “Understanding” and a step toward “Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Men!” Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a happy and productive New Year!

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

A GIFT OF CONSTANT KINDNESS

This morning a previous “memory” from the year past was presented to me on my Facebook wall. A red baseball cap with the message “Make America Kind Again” scrawled across its crown. As I attempted to re-share it and put my feelings into words, I touched the wrong key and it disappeared. I hope this was a coincidence of bad keyboarding and not something ominous.

As the year 2016 ends and 2017 begins it doesn’t require a quantum physicist to realize kindness has been in short supply. Kindness is not something that JUST happens or something we should take for granted. Kindness can’t be enacted by our leaders, a bill debated in the various “hallowed” halls of government until it is passed into law. Kindness is a virtue that must be passed forward by “we the individuals.” Kindness is also a virtue that many of us, me included, simply give lip service to as our actions show anything but kindness. Somehow it is as if kindness and compassion have become traits of weakness instead of the traits of strength I continue to read about in the Bible…especially during this time of year. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” has been changed by some of the more paranoid of us to “Do unto others before they CAN STICK IT to you”

There is an ODD thing about kindness…it doesn’t have to cost anything and yet it can be priceless. A smile, a nod of the head, opening a door for someone, waving at someone or just acknowledging the fact someone is alive dumps copious amounts of naturally occurring opioids into our blood stream.

Another ODD thing about kindness…it is the height of selfish motivation. Selfish? Yes, selfish. Why do we do something kind for someone? IT MAKES US FEEL GOOD therefore IT IS a selfish motivation…a wonderfully human selfish motivation which explains why “it is better to give than to receive.”

My best friend and I walk together one day a week. Exactly seven point one miles beginning exactly at five thirty in the morning. Why exactly seven point one miles at exactly five thirty in the morning? Because it’s easier to deal with my own OCD tendencies than dealing with his. It also explains why we walk only once a week. We are former teachers and coaches and a lot of our conversation is about kids and athletics but much of it is about our religious beliefs. Mike, the traditional Baptist who has rediscovered his way, and Don, the nonconformist follower of Christ with Buddhist leanings. We have some interesting conversations as dawn breaks across our landscape.

After discussing my concerns about the state of kindness, Mike sent me a devotional he had studied entitled “Constant Kindness.” He had circled “In a world in which love has grown cold, a kindness that comes from the heart of God is one of the most helpful and healing things we can offer to others.” I would just add the love we can offer from our own hearts.

With all of the selfishness and kindness I can muster, “Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays” to all along with the hope that each of you will pass it forward, not only for this season but for 2017 as well. May your God Bless.

CHANGE IS GOOD….

I so want this election and its aftermath to go away. I want to start 2017 refreshed and renewed…less depressed. I want to set goals and resolutions that I can break within the first month of 2017. I keep telling myself “change is good.” Give the guy a chance…maybe he will be the breath of fresh air. Then I realize change is only good if the change is good.

There is nothing I’ve seen or heard…in my narrow frame of reference… to make me believe “America will be great again” and yet I am willing to give the guy a chance. As much as I hate it, HE IS MY PRESIDENT. The problem is, I vizualize us circling the toilet, an orange man with bad hair peering into the bowl until he lowers the lid upon us, closing out what little bit of light is left. Honestly, I don’t blame him I blame “We the People.”

As a coach and teacher, as well as in the normal world, I heard repeatedly “Practice makes perfect.” Well that only works if the practice is perfect. Bad practice creates imperfection. The same can be said about change. Change is only good if it is needed, and if it is for the good. I don’t deny we need change but what I am seeing and hearing tells me “this change can’t be good” and it feels like “just a different kind of” poop. Unless you are growing tomatoes, dog shit and chicken shit are still shit or “shit by any other name is still….”

Our new president appears to be a serial liar and a thief…even more so than the run of the mill politician. My dad always said, “There are two types of people I cannot abide by, liars and thieves.” I agree but what bothers me is “we are allowing him to get away with it.” Critics are met with a Twitter “shit” storm or a belief the “media is out to get me.” Paranoia? Sorry, I believe all of us are biased, including the media, but the truth is still the truth, wherever it might come from. This goes beyond not liking the President-elect’s choices for high level positions, building walls, draining swamps, grabbing people by their privates or even being vindictive, another of the President-elect’s charming character traits. A vindictive thief and liar…and not very charming one. Can you at least kiss me while you “screw” the life out of me or should I just “lie back and enjoy it?”

Please don’t assume I want the election results thrown out. No, he won the electoral college “fair and square” but please admit a nearly three million deficit in the popular vote is not a huge mandate to lead…and no I don’t believe there is wide spread voter fraud…at least not three million votes worth. Admit the Russians played a role in this victory and that it was evident the election was being manipulated as early as October Seventh…as the evidence supports. Unless you are comfortable speaking Russian or writing in Cyrillic, admit we have a problem we must address. Not democrats, not republicans, all of us.

I grew up during the height of the Cold War. Cuban Missile Crisis, Viet Nam, “In case of nuclear attack…”, shoe pounding “We will bury you”, wait…did that not happen? I did not trust the Soviets then and I still don’t trust former Soviet, KGB officers who just happens to be the President of Russia and who appears to be as vindictive as… the orange guy with the bad hair.

I am just saying, for change to be good, we must ask questions and we can’t ignore the answers just because the answers don’t fit what we want to believe. Call me cynical but I quit believing in the “White Hatted” America during Viet Nam and Watergate. Nothing about 2016 has restored my belief “in truth, justice and the American way.” Where is Superman when we need him?

For more of Don Miller visit his author’s page at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

HEAVEN IN A ’61 FORD FALL 1966

Bobbi Jo was sitting on the hood of my grandmother’s ’61 Ford. She had on her Trinity High cheerleading uniform. Shorter royal blue skirt with gold inserts, a white oxford shirt with a royal blue Block T letterman’s sweeter. White and blue saddle oxfords over white socks finished an ensemble recognized by cheerleaders everywhere in the fall of 1966.

“John Edward, do you have a date or are you meeting someone?”

“No I was just going to Brannon’s for something to eat.”

“Would you like company?”

Bobbi Jo must be between boyfriends. She tended to drift back into my life when she was in between boyfriends. I didn’t ask because I was afraid the answer would be yes. Instead I said, “Sure, why not.” She raised her hand above her head and waved. A Volkswagen Beetle fired up and sped away from the parking lot. Her father had waited making sure she had her ride. I helped her down off her perch and walked her around to the passenger side. After opening the door for her I tried, and failed, not to watch her skirt ride up as she slid in.

She sat on her side of the car. There seemed to be a gulf between us. In different times, she would have been tucked in close…maybe she would be there again…the hopes of a teenaged boy with raging hormones and so in love it hurt. I immediately regretted turning on the radio as I heard the Beach Boys lament, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, if we didn’t have to wait so long….”

“You are too pensive. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea.”

“Bobbi Jo, if you will start acting like the smart-ass Bobbi Jo I know, I’ll be fine. All this sudden care is confusing me. I feel like I’m tip toeing through a minefield anyway. I haven’t seen or heard from you in two months.” The radio and the Association reminded me that “cherish is a word I use to describe all the feelings I have hiding here for you inside….”

“Here you are back in my life again. Don’t get me wrong, I like you being here but I surely don’t understand you or us.”

I pulled into Brannon’s and rolled down my window for the curb hop who asked “For here or to go?” Bobbi Jo surprised me by saying, “Get some burgers and drinks to go, won’t you?”

Once our order had been filled I asked where she wanted to go and she smiled her Bobbi Jo smile, “Do I need to draw you a map. Think you can still find the way?” She also moved over to the center and encircled my arm with hers and rested her head on my shoulder. Her left breast was burning a wonderful hole through my right bicep. From the radio, Jackie Wilson sang, “Your love is lifting me higher….”

The way was a dirt road leading to a bluff overlooking the river, through a canopy of water oaks and on to the bottom lands across from Trinity. Next to the river, the oaks filled in tightly to create an almost impregnatable tangle except at a clearing used as a turn around. This was our destination. Bobbi Jo and I had spent many weekend evenings watching “submarine races” on this spot…slowly progressing around the bases that had until now ended at third.

“I am always amazed at how quiet it is out here and how it always seems to glow with its own light. Listen to the silence. It’s as beautiful as you Bobbi Jo. Maybe you’re where the glow comes from.”

“Romantic Devil! John Edward, I need to ask a question and if I don’t do it now I may not have the fortitude to do it later. Do you want to make love to me?”

I wondered if my chest might explode. Could she hear my heart? My heart beat was pounding in my ears, surely, she could hear it pounding in my chest.

Before I could answer she went on, “I know I have treated you badly at times. Terribly I guess. Can you forgive me? I always thought when I did it for the first time it would be with you. I’m not asking for any commitments. I just want to do it with someone I trust and love…even if it is in my own way.”

I knew I was smiling, I just hoped it wasn’t a goofy smile. “Bobbi Jo…I’ve always…loved you? I don’t know if it’s true love or forever love…I kind of doubt it considering our history. But as sure as that river is wet I want to make love to you.”

“Do you mind if the food gets cold?”

Excerpt from “Heaven in a ’61 Ford” You’ll have to wait a bit to read the conclusion. Spring, 2017.

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

“GODSPEED JOHN GLENN”

I remember sitting in a second or third grade class, I know it was prior to 1958. The reason I know will become evident in a moment. We came into class and noticed something unusual…a television set was sitting in the front of the classroom. Most unusual. It was an unusual day, Mrs. Crenshaw or Mrs. Wilson explained that we were going to watch the United States launch its first rocket. This was during the days when the United States and the world had been caught with its “pants down” after the Soviets had launched Sputnik, the first satellite into outer space. I remember the oohing and aahing. Fire shot out of the rocket as it left the launching pad only to explode and crash in flames. It would be 1958 before the US successfully launched the Explorer satellite on top of a Vanguard rocket. The space race had begun and we were way behind.

In later years, I watched, always on the edge of my seat, as the Mercury astronauts attempted to get us back into the race riding what looked like trashcans launched from the top of Redstone rockets. One of those astronauts was of course John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth in 1962. An American hero to be who many of his superiors thought was too old for the job at forty.

John Glenn was the picture of an American hero, despite his thinning blond hair. Before becoming an astronaut and later the oldest man to fly into outer space as a seventy-seven-year-old payload specialist on the Discovery Space Shuttle, he was a Marine fighter pilot during World War Two, flying fifty-nine combat missions. He would fly jets during the Korean Conflict with future Hall of Fame baseball player, Boston’s Ted Williams, as his wingman. Glenn would record three kills in Korea and many citations including six Distinguished Flying Crosses. Glenn would fly a total of one hundred and twenty-nine combat missions over two wars. As a test pilot, he would become the first man to traverse the United States at supersonic speeds, Los Alamos, New Mexico to New York in a hair over three hours. Sandwiched in between his Mercury and space shuttle days, he had a successful tenure as Senator John Glenn. A true Renaissance Man.

Glenn just looked heroic whether it was in his Marine dress blues or the blue suit of a Senator. More importantly, he acted it. His television persona was of a quiet man who did not seem comfortable with his fame. Soft spoken he had the demeanor of a man who knew he was heroic but who had nothing to prove to anyone other than himself. Honest and straightforward, we need more men like John Glenn. We need more heroes like John Glenn…especially in this day and age.

At some point space exploration became humdrum. I remember watching Neil Armstrong step onto the surface of the moon while I was standing at a crowded bar. It’s not that I thought it unimportant, I was at an age when girls were more important but at least I paused long enough to watch and cheer. After our quest for the moon was realized it seemed our interest waned with every successive trip to the moon. Even the Space Shuttle Program did nothing to renew our interest. It has waned so much we now must hitch rides to the International Space Station. I wonder what John Glenn thought about our hitching rides into space?

Age gets us all and John Glenn wasn’t going to get off our blue ball again alive. At least he got to see it in all its glory as we got to see him. “Godspeed John Glenn.”

For more of Don Miller’s musings, http://goo.gl/lomuQf will take you to his author’s page.

REMEMBERING PEARL HARBOR

I was a decade away from even being a glimmer in my parent’s eyes when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7, 1941. I really have no true remembrances of the “Day Which Will Live in Infamy”. My remembrances come from listening to my father and his buddies talking, history books and movies.

My father, a single, twenty-six-year-old at the time, did what many patriotic young men did and with several friends headed to the Marine recruitment center to join up…only to find out he was 4F due to a birth defect he didn’t even know he had. Determined, he attempted to enlist in the Navy and Army but was turned down. Two years later, the now married twenty-eight-year old, would receive a postcard that began “Greetings, your friends and neighbors….” Drafting a married, twenty-eight-year old missing an entire row of ribs and vertebrae they attached to should tell you how dire the situation was in late 1943.

I remember sitting as a family in front of our black and white television on a Sunday evening, December 3, 1961. Walter Cronkite was the narrator of the CBS documentary program, The Twentieth Century. On this particular night, the Sunday prior to the fifteenth anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, we sat as a family watching and listening. The episode was “The Man Who Spied on Pearl Harbor” and Cronkite’s distinctive voice narrated the black and white action scenes, some made as the attack occurred, most staged for propaganda use during the war itself, as we remembered Pearl Harbor…and as I remember that night in 1961.

Over the years my thirst for knowledge about Pearl Harbor and my father’s war has caused me to read, watch or listen to most every available program, book, movie or interview about Pearl Harbor and World War Two. Thankfully I had access to the History Channel when it actually aired programs about history rather than programing about Alaskan truck drivers or pawn shops. I continue to remember Pearl Harbor, the men who lived it, died during the attack, the ships that were sunk, some later resurrected…and my father who was thousands of miles away at the time.

I have never outgrown my love for World War Two movies seen repeatedly over again, especially those taking place in the Pacific Theater, the theater my father said he didn’t fight in. “Which wave did you go in on Daddy?” “Son, I was so far away from the fighting the nurses went in before we did.” His admission did not deter my interest…or my pride. My favorite movies were movies involving Pearl Harbor on the periphery. Not quite the center stage like “Tora, Tora, Tora.” Instead it was movies like “From Here to Eternity” or movies starring John Wayne, the John Ford classic “They Were Expendable” and my absolute favorite, Otto Preminger’s “In Harm’s Way.” My favorite line in a movie filled with them was uttered by Henry Fonda, portraying Admiral Chester Nimitz, “On the most exalted throne in the world, we are seated on nothing but our own arse.” Good words to remember. I’ve already checked today’s programing. If I want to watch any of my favorites, I’ll have to download them from something other than my TV.

I hope we continue to “Remember Pearl Harbor” and the generation characterized by Tom Brokaw as the “Greatest Generation”. We need to remember the sacrifices they made in our last righteous war before the concepts of good versus evil became so blurred during the Cold War. I watched a news story night before last on a one hundred and four-year-old Ray Chavez, the oldest known survivor of Pearl Harbor. He has worked for three years with a strength trainer to insure he would be strong enough to fly to Pearl this year. Ray Chavez boarded his plane this past Saturday and I could not help but cry. For him, for the ones we’ve lost and a bit for a father who wasn’t even there.

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

LEGACIES

Near Sutherland’s Station April 4, 1865

He was dead tired but couldn’t sleep. Allen Kell Edwards had been on the run since…since early morning two days previous. Was it just two days ago? He and the remnants of his Louisiana “Tiger Rifles” had been overwhelmed at Sutherland’s Station. It wasn’t just the Tigers, one hundred men held a salient meant for a thousand. Damn blue-belly infantry hit in force before daylight and broke through, turning their flank. Falling back, they had rallied and fought off two attacks before being pushed aside by a third. Petersburg and the South Side Railroad were doomed as was the war effort.

Told to head west and attempt to hook up with Lee’s remaining forces, he and the other nine soldiers had eaten the last of their food a day ago. Allen Kell was down to just three musket balls, having run out of minie’ balls weeks ago. He wasn’t sure he had enough powder to even fire them. He still had a loaded Navy Colt revolver he had taken off a dead Yank officer but that only gave him nine rounds total…if the Colt even fired. He hadn’t tried to fire it, powder was too scarce. “I guess I can always use the old Mississippi Rifle as a Mississippi club,” he muttered to himself.

They were hiding and trying to sleep in a barn somewhere near the village of Dinwiddie. He was drifting into his memories. Allen Kell and his father, William, had joined the fight right after word Fort Sumter had fallen reached them on their small farm. Twenty acres of dirt, a four-room, dirt floor house, a small barn with workshop for cabinet making and the still. A one-horse, one-cow farm at a crossroads on what was simply called the river road. Five acres to feed the family and fifteen to grow corn to feed the still used to make the corn likker they sold to weary travelers making their way to the river and on to New Orleans. Word was the Yanks were all over southern Louisiana. He wondered if the Yankees had found their way north, about his sister Mamie, and his momma. He wondered how they were holding up and if James, their colored boy, was still there and helping them out. Allen Kell had seen the lines of “contraband”–the ex-slaves moving toward Yankee lines…maybe James had gone over too.

Allen Kell and his father, John, had gone to New Orleans and joined the “Tiger Rifles” volunteer infantry. Outfitted in those goddamned Zouave uniforms, he had wondered if the enemy would laugh itself to death. Might as well had a bullseye sewn on them with their stripped blue and white pantaloons, blue sashes and red fezzes with tassels. After First Manassas, they had been issued blue-gray uniforms with matching kepis. All he had left was the gray jacket, now butternut in color, and Yankee trousers. A floppy hat had replaced the kepi. He had kept his red, Garibaldi shirt and at least he had shoes courtesy of a deceased Yank soldier.

Seventeen when he joined, Allen Kell was a tall lad with blue-green eyes and unruly, dark red hair like his father. He had the beginnings of the powerful physique of someone not unfamiliar with physical labor. His hands had begun to grow the same calluses that characterized his father’s hands. No one would have described him as handsome…he was rugged with a long face and a nose that was its most prominent feature. The nose had grown more prominent as his face became gaunter from the lack of food and rest. A sparse, unkempt and tangled beard and mustache covered the lower half of his face. A smiling and happy child and young man, he had grown quiet, brutish and more unfeeling as the war progressed. Had he thought about it he would have realized he felt most alive when killing with the adrenalin rush that went with the act…something he would not realize until the war was over.

Instead of counting sheep, he tried to remember the battles he had fought and their order. First Manassas where he had first spilled Yankee blood. He remembered the taste of bile rising into his throat as fear swelled in his chest from musketry, grape, canister, round shot and shells bursting around him. Later that bile turned to a honey like sweetness as they chased the Yanks back to Washington in “The Great Skedaddle”. Along side Stonewall Jackson, the Tigers had fought at Guard Hill, Winchester, Port Republic, Gaines Mill and the hell on earth, Sharpsburg. He was at Second Manassas when the Ninth Louisiana beat back four Union attacks, the last with rocks when they ran out of ammunition. Later it would be Gettysburg where Papa William was killed, his blood coloring the sparse grass on Cemetery Hill. Battles near the Rappahannock, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania. There were at least as many skirmishes. It seemed the Tigers were always on the cutting edge of the attack. Most of the originals had themselves been cut down. Somehow, he had remained unhurt. With men falling all around him, he had not one scratch. Allen Kell was a grizzled veteran at twenty-one. Finally, ten months ago, he had ended up in the trenches defending Petersburg and the last open railroad. Even they were now lost. Finally, he slept but his sleep was a restless slumber, dream filled with the horrors of the twenty-eight battles and skirmishes he had lived through in the past four years.

“Wake up Allen Kell! We got company!” It was the Irishman Dugan.

Allen Kell was instantly awake. He could tell from the gray light, dawn was about to break. “What is it?”

“Looks like Yankee cavalry. About fifty of ’em. What we gonna do? They bound to come in here lookin’ for forage. We got what, fifty rounds betweens us. Ten against fifty ain’t good odds.”

Because Allen Kell was the oldest among them and the most seasoned, the other nine looked to him for guidance. He had already decided on his only option.

“Everybody gather round.” There was a quiet shuffling as they all moved in close. “We got two choices. We can rush’em and hope we can confound ’em enough for some of us to get away or someone can find me a white piece of cloth for a flag. I ain’t gonna make the decision for y’all but I’m gonna say this. The war is as good as over. We ain’t got nothin’ left to fight with or for.”

“What will happen if we surrender?” He was the youngest, Wyatt, barely sixteen.

“We’ll still be alive.”

Dugan blew himself up, “I ain’t surrendering, I’ll die first but I’ll take as many with me as I can. I ain’t no yellow belly.”

“I ain’t neither,” Allen Kell angrily spat back at Dugan, “I’m just wore out. I’ve fought nearly non-stop since First Manassas. There ain’t no sense in dying for a cause that’s already lost. Somebody get me a stick, anybody got anything white?”

“Here’s an old feed sack will it work?”

“I guess we will just have to see. If the Yanks shoot me, you’ll know I was wrong. If they don’t, Dugan, you’ll need to be making a decision.”

As he made his way to the barndoor he heard young Wyatt praying to himself. Allen Kell had quit praying after Sharpsburg. If there was a God, and after four years of fighting he doubted it, there would be nothing but the hellfire and brimstone his mother had preached while teaching him to read from the big family Bible. No, they were all doomed to hell.

Fiction from a historical novel by Don Miller. “Legacies” will be published the Spring, 2017.

Until then works by Don Miller may be purchased at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

DONALD TRUMP RACIST? QUIT IT! HE’S NOT THE PROBLEM!

Countless people are pointing a finger, no not that finger…ok maybe that finger…. Starting over, countless people are pointing out the racism seemingly enabled by President-Elect Donald Trump. Nine hundred documented examples of hate crimes have occurred since his election. Some people seem to believe somehow, this one man is responsible for it all. I also heard a similar argument regarding our lame duck executive, President Obama. “We are more racist now than ever” resounded through my social media accounts. Remember the old quote, “When you point your finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you?” I’m sure you do.

I believe both arguments are misplaced. I don’t know when the concepts of racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry, or any other -ism or -phobia de jure came into being. They may well have been around since a Neanderthal looked at a Cro-Magnon and said “Hey man you are different.” Yes, Neanderthals had a language and could have said such although I’m sure we would have needed a translator.

I believe our bigotry, anti-Semitism, etc., etc., etc., were just covered up in the same way that a person might add a layer of fresh kitty litter to a soiled cat box. Everything appears well, might even smell well…until your favorite feline steps in and begins to cover up its leavings. The more it tries to cover, the more the unsavory stuff gets uncovered. When Felix gives up, nobody is happy including the cat.

Our racism, bigotry, etc., etc., etc. simply got uncovered. It had been just under the surface waiting to be exposed to the light of day. No amount of legislation or executive action can actually bury it until those three fingers point in some other direction. We must want to change and some of us have tried. The problem is, when the litter box gets uncovered, even those of us who are not overtly racist, anti-Semitic, etc., etc. etc., suddenly feel the need to defend ourselves with statements like “Some of my best friends are (fill in the blank)” or “People just need to let go of (fill in the blank)”

Just because we have a few (fill in the blank) friends doesn’t mean we are not part of the problem, so just quit trying to deflect from the problem and quit pointing fingers at Donald Trump. Our country has been anti-whatever since before we were a country. Until we actually believe, deep in our hearts, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men (women and those unsure) are created equal” it really doesn’t matter who is in the White House. We should worry about the cleanliness of our own home (hearts) before we point out another needs cleaning.

More of Don Miller’s misplaced rantings maybe accessed at http://goo.gl/lomuQf