Hunkerin’ Down

 

If watching the local news didn’t worry me enough my throbbing knees do.  Bone rubbing on bone from too many years of athletic abuse, I am usually able to control the pain with Voltaren gel and Tylenol Arthritis pain relief…not this morning.  My aching knees are much better predictors of impending violent low-pressure weather than any meteorologist.

My little piece of heaven is hunkering down awaiting a little piece of hell.  Violent weather has already killed two and it is on the way here.  Long lines of thunderstorms with predicted high winds and a worry that they may become circular in motion.

My home has weathered storms since 1892.  I have been privy to them since 1987 and we have dodged several weather bullets.  Whether tornadoes or straight-line winds, we have been a near miss or a glancing blow on many different occasions.  I haven’t cleared all the downed trees from our last brush with fate, this past winter’s ice storm.

The floors and cabinets found in the newer addition came from our first near miss.  An ancient pecan came down next to the house…followed by an ancient black walnut that blocked traffic for hours on Highway 11.  Later our renovator would turn them into pecan floors, black walnut cabinets, and countertops now gracing our home.  I’d just soon have left them upright and in the ground.

I just stepped out on to the porch.  The air is humid and the breeze tropical.  Every time the wind ceases, I wonder if this is the calm before the storm and check the color of the western sky.

A couple of decades after our first brush with fate, I arrive home one evening to thick, hot and humid, still air and a sky that had turned a brassy, sick green.  I took my bike off my car as nearby thunder rolled; I heard a locomotive coming over my western hilltops…there is no railroad beyond my western hilltops.

I barely made it inside and hunkered down in a hallway with my bride and two puppy dogs before all hell broke loose.  Thirty or so downed trees stacked like Pick Up Sticks in the nearby ravine greeted me the next morning along with a storage building ripped open by the falling top of a tulip poplar and a fence line smashed by a persimmon tree.

On the eastern side of the high rim of hills, the local camp, Lookup Lodge, found themselves trapped with their charges and spent a night without power, their escape routes blocked by downed trees.  My little piece of heaven had dodged another direct hit.

We have a wildlife wilderness filled with pecans, persimmon, black walnuts, hemlocks, tulip poplars, and oaks.  That’s just around the house.  We love them…most of the time…but not during the season of spring and summer storms.  Big tall trees that could easily reach us if they were to come down.   I can’t help but wonder if this will be the big one.

So, we are hunkered down watching the line of thunderstorms march from Atlanta on tv, keeping up with tornado alerts, making sure our cellphones are charged and water is taken up…just in case.  Sometimes I think I liked it better when we didn’t know…days before Doppler radar and other improvements in weather forecasting.

Those thrilling days of yesteryear when forecasting was “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning” or a falling barometer meant “Batten down the hatches matey, we’re in for a blow.”  Days when my knees didn’t ache so much…or at all.

I don’t wish ill on anyone so I don’t know what my prayers should be.  I guess I’ll pray for it all.  “Please keep everyone safe and undamaged.”  Just in case, make sure all of you in the line of fire are hunkered down someplace safe.  Wise men have said, “God takes care of those who take care of themselves.”  Please, “Take care of yourselves.”

Please follow Don Miller’s author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.

Image from https://stockhead.com.au/resources/stormy-weather-washes-away-profits-at-alkane-resources/

 

 

 

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Jackie and Pee Wee

Today is Jackie Robinson Day.  A day celebrated in major league baseball stadiums across our land.  A celebration that I’ve seen little hoopla about, just some passing mentions.  I don’t think anyone is ignoring it for any nefarious reason, it is tax day after all…and Tiger did win the Masters, and Notre Dame Cathedral is burning.

I wrote this piece a couple of years ago as part of a celebration for Black History Month and decided to rewrite it in honor of Jackie Robinson…and Pee Wee Reese.

Athletics in general and baseball specifically have played a very important part of my life. I coached at the middle or high school level for forty-five years, thirty-six coaching baseball, all forty-five coaching kids.

I began my coaching career at the end of segregation and the beginning of integration in the South.  The opposition to black and white kids going to school together was still high but in athletic locker rooms around the South, young people figured out a way around their prejudices…at least for a few hours daily.

I have very strong opinions about the state of race and bigotry in the United States and am sure professional baseball locker rooms of today are no different than the general population of today.  What is different, they find a way to overcome it, a way to make it work…kind of like Jackie and Pee Wee.  From two years ago….

“I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fuckin’ zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you can’t use the money, I will see that you are all traded.”  A short speech by Leo “the lip” Durocher, manager of the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, letting his team know that Jackie Robinson was in the big leagues to stay…with or without them.  I’m sure Leo said more, he was, after all, a man of many words…many “colorful” words.

April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to break the major league baseball “color line” since the 1880s.  The “color line” was a “gentleman’s agreement” among major league owners to not allow Blacks to play.  Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodger owner, would scuttle the “gentleman’s agreement” signing Jackie Robinson and putting him on the field.  I would be remiss not to mention that Larry Doby would be the line breaker in the American League with the Cleveland Indians and for some reason flew under the media radar.

Normally a middle infielder, Robinson started at first base his first day in the “Bigs” because All-Star Eddie Stanky was playing second, and Pee Wee Reese was playing shortstop. While not getting a hit, he did walk and scored a run. Facing ALMOST universal racial prejudice, Jackie finished his initial season hitting .297 in one hundred and fifty-one games and received Rookie of the Year honors.  Not bad considering the weight of an entire race that he carried.

I was too young to care much about Jackie Robinson the player and his trials and tribulations.  I hadn’t even been born yet and when I was born, I wasn’t much of a Dodger fan…at least that is my excuse and I’m sticking to it.  Much later, the old newsreel films I watched incessantly proved him worthy of six all-star appearances, a league MVP award and an election to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Today I celebrate the way he revolutionized the game and the trail he blazed for the stars of my own youth and for those who followed. I cannot fathom what baseball might have been without the likes of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, Ozzie Smith, Frank Robinson…you get the idea. There were a bunch of others.  Today I am also aware of his many trials and tribulations.

When I said almost universal prejudice there were a few opposing players and teammates who came to Robinson’s defense while offering him a hand in brotherhood. One of those men became an all-time favorite of mine as a broadcaster. He was Robinson’s former teammate and Dizzy Dean’s “Little Partnah”, Pee Wee Reese. Many of my youthful Saturdays were spent sitting with my father watching the Falstaff Game of the Week with Dizzy and Pee Wee bringing the play-by-play.

During the trailblazing 1947 season, Reese was quoted as saying, “You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them.” Pretty profound for a white guy from Kentucky in 1947. During the Dodgers first road trip as Robinson was being heckled during pre-game infield, Reese, the captain of the Dodgers, went over to Robinson.  Engaging him in conversation, Reese put his arm around Robinson’s shoulder in a gesture of support which silenced the crowd. An eight-foot bronze statue located at the minor league, Brooklyn Cyclones’ stadium commemorates that moment. A plaque states as follows:

“This monument honors Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese: teammates, friends, and men of courage and conviction. Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Reese supported him, and together they made history. In May 1947, on Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, Robinson endured racist taunts, jeers, and death threats that would have broken the spirit of a lesser man. Reese, captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers, walked over to his teammate Robinson and stood by his side, silencing the taunts of the crowd. This simple gesture challenged prejudice and created a powerful and enduring friendship.”

Image result for statue of jackie robinson and pee wee reese

Simple gestures can solve major problems.

Don Miller writes on many varied subjects.  His author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

 

Silly Little Birds

 

With forecasts of impending storms this weekend, we decided to move Linda’s spider plants indoors from the front porch to avoid the possibility of hanging baskets being blown all over “hell’s half acre.”  As soon as the plants were tucked away safely in the hallway two silly little birds began to flit and flutter hither and yond leaving my bride and I to shake our heads and question, “Again?”

Opening doors and turning on outdoor lights while extinguishing indoor lights solved the problem.  I wonder where they will spend the night since we moved their first choice of accommodations.

It is an act that plays out often around our house, usually in the late fall rather than spring.  A silly little bird hunkers down for the night in a spider plant, waits patiently as we move the plant indoors and then decides to take flight.  I should probably say something about the silly little man who forgets to check the basket to see if there is anything in it besides a spider plant.

I don’t know how many generations of Carolina Wrens we’ve raised on our front porch, but they come back, year after year, to lay their eggs and add to the population that brings joy to “God’s half acre”.   I’m sure we have become multi-generational…to the point, we’re running out of room.

I make primitive art out of interesting pieces of hollow wood and old tin.  Interesting to me at least.  More primitive than actual art, and more decorative than with actual functionality…except to our silly little birds.

What was to be bird feeder became a bird house before I could even fill it with seed.

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A painted gourd that looks like it might have been created by a three-year-old has raised multiple clutches over the past decade…except for this season.  They have avoided it this year…so far.

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A sheared off piece of wood with a hole makes a great place for a nest.  I think they like my artistic endeavors…although they did make a nest in a discarded boot I left unattended for a minute or two.

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Now the silly little birds have moved beyond my ability to create.  They have built a nest on top of the fan that helps to keep heat, humidity, and mosquitoes at bay as we sit on the front porch.  Don’t believe the fan will keep anything away this year…except maybe us.

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Addendum, I found this today.  Won’t be using the chipper any time soon.

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Silly but fun to watch.  Silly but they bring much joy.  I just hope their latest construction lasts until the end of hatching season.

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…For Your Age

 

“Gee, you don’t look your age.”  Thanks!  Just what I wanted to hear from a cute, brunette nurse.  Cute, YOUNG, brunette nurse.  I was having a checkup and she had noted I was a day shy of the annual celebration of my birth.  When your birth year ends in a fifty it’s easy to make the calculations.  At least I’m not too old to enjoy her feminine form, dark brown hair and the splash of freckles across her nose.  At least she didn’t say, “You don’t look that old.”

Buffett sang in my head, “One day I’ll soon be a grandpa.  All the pretty girls will call me ‘sir’.  Now, where they’re asking me how things are, soon they’ll ask me how things were.”  I am a grandpa and the cute nurse did call me ‘sir.’

There was a time when my birthdays were fun.  Frolicking in the glow of birthday candles before the need to have a fire extinguisher at the ready.  Back before every move was accompanied by sound effects.  Snap, crackle, pop, groan….  Now celebrating the memorial of my latest trip around the sun is…well…painful and not as much fun as it was fifty years ago.  It is more a memorial to lost youth…and hair.

I should be thankful.  I could have lost more than my hair.  I have most of my body parts remaining…battered, wrinkled and scarred as they are.  “You don’t look that old”…just almost that old.

Everything works…much more slowly and in one case much too often…geez, I just peed and now I must go pee again because I thought about peeing.  Oh God, now it’s raining.  There is something about the sound of falling or running water.

Did you know your nose and ears continue to grow right up until the day you die?  Great, I’ll be Dumbo’s stand-in in heaven.  To make things worse, it seems another body part is shrinking.  I can’t wait to be welcomed into the great beyond with the biggest ears in the universe and the smallest…well…you know.

“Consider the alternative.”   Okay, I get that.  I am certainly not actively awaiting or embracing the “Great Wink Out.”  Here today, gone, and somewhere else tomorrow…or in the next second or two.  Somewhere else with dirt in my earthly face.  No, I’m going for the smoking, hot body…cremation!

Will I be welcomed into a warm, welcoming light or will the light be accompanied by a blast your face off gust of heat?  A bearded guy in a white gown by the name Saint Peter or an impish fellow dressed in red with a tail, horns and a pitchfork?  Satan! How the hell are you?  Whatcha got on the barbie?

I guess it is normal to contemplate one’s life whenever one celebrates a birthday.  What you’ve accomplished, what you haven’t.  New friends, old friends, dead friends, family and such.

The killer, a poor choice of words.  The killer about getting older, at least for me, is a loss of energy…no a loss in the desire to be energetic.  I’m in good shape…for my age, but I don’t have the stamina I once did.  Keeping up with a two and five-year-old grandbabies are near impossible.

Often I hear, “You are (fill in the blank) for your age.”  “You move well for your age.”  “You still get stuff done…for your age.”  “I’m not as good as I once was but I’m as good once as I ever was”…sometimes.  That pretty much sums up my entire life now.  “I’m not as good at (insert any activity) as I once was….”  That even includes sleeping…ah, but you can sleep when you are dead.

I’m not really obsessed about age or death.  I rarely think about it…except on a birthday or a random dream.  I may be more concerned about age than death or the prospect of aging gracelessly or dying badly.

Every time I look in a mirror, I realize I don’t have a portrait hidden away aging while I maintain my youthful and dashing good looks.  Okay, let’s be real, I didn’t have dashing good looks when I was youthful.

I’m trying to take Shakespeare’s attitude when he wrote in the Merchant of Venice, “With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”  I guess it is just as easy to laugh as it is to cry…and both cause wrinkles to come.   Happy Birthday to Me.

Song excerpt, Nothin’ but a Breeze, written by John Denver but the Jimmy Buffett version played in my head.

 

Check out Don Miller’s author page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Looking Toward Spring

 

As I reached an age of wonder, I often wondered what my grandmother was looking toward as she gazed out of her window at her world.  During the gray days of winter, once her chores were completed, she often sat by the window in her bedroom looking out over her rock garden.  The garden was gray and brown…and bare.  No hollyhocks, iris or lilies…no butterflies.  Just the remnants of last year’s spring, summer, and fall.  Like her plants, my grandmother seemed to wilt and turn gray herself in the winter only to be reborn again in the spring.

Many winter afternoons were spent with a patchwork quilt, sewing quietly with WBT AM playing softly in the background…until some thought of spring crossed her mind and, once again, she would peer out of her window. Other days she might sit with her Bible, a crossword puzzle or the latest Readers Digest condensed anthology.  She would read, gaze out, read some more and repeat like the seasons.  Nannie would begin her rebirth as soon as the seed catalogs began to arrive RFD.

Later in life, she sat with her easel in a sunroom that had become her bedroom, surrounded by her plants and books, and would apply acrylic paint to a canvas board.   She created colorful remembrances based on memories of springs and summers past.  Flowers and birds were favorites…as were the ponds and lakes she fished in.

I understand why she looked toward spring.  I look toward spring myself when the blues and purples of crocus, periwinkle, and violets add color to the browns of winter.  Their blues and purples replacing the blues and purples clouding my own mind.

Looking toward spring until the reddish blossoms of a redbud tree and the pinks, oranges, and reds of azaleas replace bareness, brown and gray.  Till the yellows of buttercups and forsythia mimic the brightness of the sun.  Till the dogwood celebrates the blessings of Easter.  I look toward spring.

The birds bring color too.  Redbirds and woodpeckers have been active all winter as have robins and tanagers, battling the squirrels for the sunflower seeds I put out. They’ve been joined by gold and purple finches.  Their colors growing bolder as the days grow longer and their need to mate becomes stronger.

A pair of nuthatches are working hard to hatch their clutch and they wait, upside down, as I load the feeder near the house I fashioned for them from a hollow log.  I didn’t know I was fashioning it for them but they have taken it over for the past few years.  Returning like the spring.

Mourning doves coo softly and despite their name, I smile, not finding their call to be sad at all.  They are waiting until I leave before feeding on the seeds that have fallen upon the ground.

It won’t be long before the coos, chirps, and calls will be joined nightly by the lament of the whippoorwill or the “hoot, hoot, hoot” of owls on the far hillside.  They add their own color to the darkest night.

It was still cool this morning as I walked my familiar route.  The signs of spring were everywhere…yellow pollen fell from the trees onto the greening grass and swirled in the light breeze.  I worried about my bear friend I sometimes see on this rarely traveled road.  He’s more scared of me than I am of him…right?

A single turkey flushed from a thicket, climbed high, higher, highest to the crest of a hill.  Later, on the way back, a blue heron wading in the nearby the stream took to the air.  So sorry, I wouldn’t dare hurt you.  Huge wings gaining altitude into a cobalt blue sky.  The majestic bird only visits in the spring, so spring must really be here.

Soon butterflies will add their color to the wildflowers and plants I put out.  Yellow, red or blue and black wings will light upon blues, pinks, and whites as the season of rebirth moves on to the season of growth.

I know what my grandmother was looking toward and my heart smiles.  I am glad spring is here and the memories of her it brings.

Visit Don Miller’s author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Privet… Oh, How I hate Thee!

 

Right up there with Kudzu.  After weed whackin’, choppin’, and pullin’ for five hours I got my first patch knocked down.  I liberated some bear plant, a couple of nandinas, a large patch of tiger lilies and iris and what I think is wild almond.  A lot of honeysuckles and wild blackberries came out too.  Sorry for droppin’ my gees but I do that when I’m tired… I’m very tired.  I’ve still got two patches to go… did I mention I’m sore? Oh, my everloving back!

Some fool decided to introduce privet to the US from Asia in the 1700s.  It’s called a hedge, but I find it to be a very un-hedge like hedge.  It’s not thick like a hedge I would want or I’m not growing it correctly.  Privet roots creep underground and send up shoots when it senses sunlight and creeps along some more and sends out more shoots, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera until you have a patch the size of Rhode Island.

Folks from the US must not be very bright… nothing political there… much.  After Asian privet… why would we think Asian kudzu was a good idea?  I’m a dumb American, I followed up with Asian honeysuckle…not that it is a problem… oh yes, it is! Pretty, aromatic and a problem… except on an early summer’s night when the scent reaches me, carried through my open windows by a gentle breeze.

Privet…a problem at best.  I normally cut down my privet two or three times a year… along with the kudzu, honeysuckle, and blackberry that tangles themselves with it.  I had some health issues last summer and I think I must have missed a whackin’ or two.  Between privet, kudzu, blackberry and the local variety of honeysuckle I probably could stay busy with twelve-hour days during the summer.  I just try to stay a little behind.  It helps that my wife won’t let me touch the Asian honeysuckle under threat of a frying pan upside my head.

Privet does put off some white blossoms in the spring… and poisonous, blue-black berries in the summer. Don’t believe the privet blossoms have a scent but I know if I don’t get the plant down before it blooms, my bride won’t let me touch it.

I didn’t always hate privet.  Right outside my grandmother’s backdoor was a patch of privet…patch?  More like a …a forest of privet.  Way tall privet, not hedge-like at all.  She had allowed it to grow redwood style and then hollowed out the center of the patch to create an outdoor room.   Protected from the harsh summer sun, she kept the running roots clipped when they poked their little heads out of the ground.  Kept the dirt swept clean with a twig broom.  It was OUR hidden retreat from the summer sun, a bountiful garden that grew a child’s imaginative games.  Good memories!

I remember chasin’ lightning bugs through the canopy created by the privet or making mud pies using the dark soil as a primary ingredient.  I remember singin’, “Doodlebug, Doodlebug, fly away home, your house is on fire and your kids are all gone” over a hole in the ground not knowin’ what a doodlebug was or why his house was on fire.

I remember jaybirds fighting over the cracked corn my grandmother put out on her feeders.  Their chatter was loud and raucous.  Sitting and listening to bird calls while my grandmother broke beans or cut corn.  Hearing her say, “Listen chile, that’s a catbird” or a mocking bird or whatever.

I remember hoppin’ on a wide flat rock and havin’ it walk off with me standing on it.  Dang big turtle…course I wasn’t very old or big.   Had soup that night, too.  Yum.

Yeah, that privet wasn’t too bad.  I must raise bad privet…at least bad privet rekindled a few memories.

Don Miller’s author’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.  Stop by and like.