The Persimmon Tree That Ate Superman

In those thrilling days of yesteryear, before twenty-four-hour cartoon channels, Disney apps, Nickelodeon, YouTube, and such, there were Saturday mornings.  Every Saturday was like Christmas except better.  Well, maybe not better, but Christmas only came once a year. Saturdays came once a week. 

For a child, it was the best morning of the week.  Sitting in front of our black and white TV with a plate full of Dad’s pancakes watching the good guys beat the bad guys without anyone drawing blood until the Saturday afternoon movie reruns took over or Dizzy Dean, singing “The Wabash Cannonball” with his little pardner Pee Wee Reese doing the color commentary, brought us the Major League Game of the Week sponsored by Falstaff beer.

From the time the local TV station’s test pattern was replaced by a US Flag with forty-eight stars and the National Anthem played, Saturday mornings in the Fifties and Sixties were dedicated to children’s programming.  Looney Tunes,  Merry Melodies, Tom and Jerry, Howdy Doody with Buffalo Bill, Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Greenjeans, even a Japanese Sci-Fi cartoon about a battleship turned into a spaceship, Star Blazers…wait.  That was in the Seventies.  I guess I never outgrew cartoons.

I liked the cartoons.  I did.  But there was something about the syndicated serials that ran along with them. “A Fiery Horse With the Speed of Light, a Cloud of Dust and a Hearty Heigh-Yo Silver! THE LONE RANGER!” Let’s not forget his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, or other oaters like Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, and The Cisco Kid, “Hey Cisco, Hey Pancho”.  There was even a modern cowboy, “From out of the clear blue of the western sky comes Sky King”, flying in his faithful steed, The Songbird. Modern for the Fifties. Finally, Captain Midnight, pilot of the Silver Dart and leader of the Secret Squadron, spoiled saboteurs while hawking Ovaltine and secret decoder rings.

I watched them all but my absolute favorite was something else entirely.  George Reeve was the man of steel, and he didn’t need a horse or an airplane.  He could fly!

“Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane! It’s Superman!”

Intro to the Adventures of Superman. YouTube

.38 caliber bullets bounced off his chest like popcorn and he twisted the pistol they came from into a pretzel, crushed coal into diamonds, used his X-ray vision to see through walls or burn up asteroids, and he could fly.  He was my guy! 

Oh, Noli, my grandson, I remember the four-year-old you in your Spiderman costume.  You had all the Spider moves down pat.  Me?  I was limited to a red union suit with one of Mom’s towels safety-pinned to my shoulders. The things you did to fight “a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.”

I did have a small closet to use as a pretend telephone booth and twin beds to “fly” between. Clark Kent might have a problem in these modern times since there are no telephone booths to make quick changes in.  Bummer.

Too many times I heard, “Son! Quit jumpin’ on that bed before you break it down!”  I was reduced to running through the house pretending to fly. I got yelled at about running in the house and finally took the game outside.  “Quit slammin’ that screen door, boy!”

Reduced to running until the fateful day I walked into the  Woolworth Five and Dime and saw the Transogram Superman Flying Toy.  For less than a dollar, I could watch Plastic Superman fly, soar, bank, loop, glide, or dive.  It said so, right on the package.  I imagined the flash of red and blue sailing through the air.

The Superman Flying Toy was a plastic glider powered by a slingshot affair that would tear your arm up if you weren’t careful despite the package assurances, “Safe for children of all ages.” Right!  It taught lessons, painful lessons I’ll say.  He was also a blond-headed Superman that looked nothing like TV Superman.

I had to beg for a three-week advance of my allowance, but I walked out with the last package and into hours of fun with Superman…until that damnable tree intervened.

A huge persimmon tree sat, majestically…no…ominously, to the left of my grandparent’s home.  It was a pain when the fruit began to fall.  A pain for me, not the possums that reaped the tree’s bounty. How many times did I come in with rotting persimmon pulp oozing from between my toes?  Persimmon pulp mixed with dirt, resembling puppy poop one might have stepped in.  At least it didn’t have the same aromatic properties and the possums partaking of the fruit seemed to like it.

The bottom limbs had been lopped off to allow the blue Rocket 88 my grandfather drove to park under it.  Without lower limbs, it was impossible to climb unlike the pecan tree on the other side of my grands’ front porch.  It also created persimmon Kryptonite for my Superman glider.

At some point in time, I found it necessary to replace the long and thick rubber bands that powered Superman and set about to do so when the thought occurred, “What if you double the bands?”  Twice as much umph, twice as much distance or flight time thought I. That thing would fly a country mile, especially if launched with the wind.  Against the wind?  It climbed higher and higher…circling and circling, right into the clutches of the persimmon tree from one of Krypton’s mountain tops.

An updraft took Superman to the top of that tree.  I prayed to the “gods of Krypton” he would clear but he didn’t.  “Charlie Brown, I feel your pain.”  I wonder if he could have told me how to get Superman out of the tree. Ole Charlie seemed to have a lot of experience with kite-eating trees.

I threw rocks, even the Chinese oranges from the bush with the sharp thorns that tore at my clothes, sometimes my arms.  I ran out after windy thunderstorms with hope in my heart only to have my hope squished flat. Mostly I just stood and shook my head in anger and despair. My parents didn’t seem inclined to call out the volunteer fire department to help. “Son, file this under lesson’s learned.”

I never got Superman down.  He spent years as a lonely sentinel in the top of a persimmon tree until I finally outgrew him and he disintegrated due to loneliness.  Rubber band airplanes, bicycles, my Combat Thompson machine gun, my genuine Rifleman Winchester air rifle, and such replaced him much in the same way Jackie Paper replaced Puff the Magic Dragon.  Later girls would entice me to buy more expensive toys.

Funny, I don’t remember many of those girls, but I remember Superman and the persimmon tree that ate him.  I remember the best day of the week and the childhood memories it sparked. 

Don Miller’s author’s page maybe found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0pjd3sx2XSojL9YQGsygAqHaAp6MfY7pm_ywvteFSDLLII20gZN7hbk6A

Image from https://www.artstation.com/artwork/380LY

Doodlebug, Doodlebug…

Fly away home! Yer house is on far (fire) and yer children are gone! Appalachian Rhyme

Oh, the things we did to engage ourselves and forgo boredom when we were children. Boredom?  I don’t remember being bored as a child.  The days were filled with activities, many forced upon us, but boredom is not a word I would have used. Most days we were allowed to be creative…sometimes to our own distress.

I also don’t remember being very successful chanting Doodlebug, Doodlebug, either, which considering the little insect we were attempting to vacate from his abode might have been fortuitous. Behold! The Doodlebug.

Antlion larva…a doodlebug. Looks like something out of a 50s horror flick on its way to attack Tokyo.

At this point, unless you are of a certain age, you may be asking, “What in the heck is a doodlebug?” I doubt kids today have a clue about doodlebugs.

So, what’s a doodlebug? It depends kiddies and I’m going to further confuse the issue.  A doodlebug is, according to www.merriam-webster.com 1: the larva of an antlion also: any of several other insects. 2: a device (such as a divining rod) used in attempting to locate underground gas, water, oil, or ores. 3: a buzz bomb.

You might still be confused.  Let me clarify.  The doodlebug of rhyme is the larva of the antlion, an insect that primarily subsists on ants.  Divining, also called dowsing, or water witching uses a forked tree branch, called a doodlebug, from a witch-hazel bush, or metal rods to find water or certain minerals.  Finally, a buzz bomb was a World War Two unguided flying bomb used by Nazi Germany to bomb London.  The British called it a doodlebug because of the sound it made. Still, confused? Me too! I’ve never heard a doodlebug make a sound.

The adult antlion: It eats ants.

The divining rod, dowser, or water witch. It finds water…maybe. I’m a bit doubtful of the science behind it…there is none, but the site of our well was found using one.

And finally the Buzz Bomb or the doodlebug as the British called it because of the sound it made. Over ten thousand were launched toward England, six thousand or so landed in London. It goes boom.

Enough! Back to the rhyme.  As a child, I was instructed to find a moon crater-looking depression in dry sandy soil.  Sitting next to it I, along with my brother and cousins, would all chant, “Doodlebug, doodlebug, fly away home. Your house is on fire and your children are gone.”  Because of my Southern Appalachian accent, it might have come out of my mouth differently and there are many other variations of the chant, some not very cheery. 

“Doodlebug doodlebug, come out of your house; it’s burning up with your wife and all your children, except Mary-she’s under the dishpan.” What are we teaching our children? It has no rhyme and the rhythm is awful.

The chant, along with dropping grains of sands down its hole, supposedly caused the critter to come out.  If that didn’t work a small twig was inserted for the larva to latch onto.  That didn’t work either.  I have a lifetime batting average of zero enticing doodlebugs.  My guess is it was a ploy to keep the young ’uns occupied while the adults kept busy with their chores.

My friends and I did a good job of keeping ourselves busy without assistance from a doodlebug…or our parents. We played other childhood games, mostly made up games played from TV shows we had seen or books we had read. We fought and refought battles with corncobs, created pirate ships from a treehouse thrown together with scrap lumber, used my grandmother’s front porch as Fort Apache, although Trixie looked nothing like Rin Tin Tin, and swung from “vine” ropes screaming our best Tarzan yells.

There was one little issue when a friend tried to jump off the hayloft imitating Roy Rogers jumping out of a second story window onto Trigger’s back. Problem was, my friend’s steed was his Schwinn bicycle. He missed the first time and only tried once more. It was a success…maybe. Don’t know if he was ever able to “go forth and multiply.”

We also learned we could fling a Chinese orange a country mile by stobbing (stabbing) it onto the end of a slender sapling and whipping it through the air. We inadvertently on purpose bounced one off the top of Mr. Jimmy’s ’49 Chevy as it motored down the highway. Didn’t hurt anything but gave the old man a bit of a start. Also got our hides tanned.

I know, I know. Some of you of a certain age are wondering, “Did you tie thread around the legs of a June bug and fly it in circles?” No but I know some who did. Always felt it was cruel treatment even for a bug.

Speaking of cruel treatment. The only deed I am truly embarrassed about was strapping a tin can to several large bottle rockets taped together and putting a frog in it. Honestly, it was Mickey Morris’ idea and I really thought the rocket would reach escape velocity. First Frog on the Moon! It may have been the first, we never found the frog.

Further writings can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1vjrkVD5tHLACNvQM7kjc3RUUE2PROcwIT_xxvLhagMX_376LxmGSM_I0

Hope For Mankind

Written in 2018 on the fiftieth anniversary. Are there parallels between 1968 and the present day? Do we still need a “giant leap for mankind?” Do we need something positive to rally around or have we turned corners that make that impossible?

Ravings of a Mad Southerner

1968 had been a bad year and early in 1969, the world had not recovered from its sickness. Much of our pain in the United States derived from the war in Viet Nam or from the Civil Rights unrest. The two-and-a-half-month Battle for Kha Sanh began along with the Tet Offensive. Three college students were killed by the police in a Civil Rights protest in Orangeburg, South Carolina. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert “Bobby” Kennedy are both assassinated. Much, much more would occur before we watched a glimmer of hope in July of 1969.

The country, and the world, seemed to be coming apart at the seams. Student and civil rights protests and riots, not just in the good old USA but all over the world. Cronkite said what many of us feared and others denied, “the war is unwinnable”. LBJ announced “I shall not seek, and I will…

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You Are My Sunshine….

My thoughts were triggered by a fuzzy and out of focus black and white photograph a high school chum sent me. Our parents had been friends since the Nineteen Thirties until their deaths. My high school friend was the first girl I ever kissed. We were two or three years old sitting on top of a sliding board but that is a different story…not a very interesting one. While we remained friends the kiss didn’t quite take.

In the photo my mother and father are sitting in a prewar sedan complete with suicide doors. So young. Dad in a snap brim fedora with the brim turned up, an unlit Lucky Strike hidden from the camera. My mother’s gaze is drawn away from my father…maybe father to be. They are both looking out in the distance…maybe at their futures.

I draw a purely fictional mental picture of the next frame. My mother turning and resting her chin on his shoulder, eyes twinkling with a “Mona Lisa” smile just showing on her lips. His Humphrey Bogart to her Lauren Bacall complete with coffin nail hanging from his lip? I imagine the photo was made in the early Forties before my Dad shipped out to the Pacific. This was during their “courting” days.

Sorry about the focus

It is hard to think of my parents young, fancy free, and all lovey-dovey.  My father trying to be suave and debonair, attempting to sweep the red-haired fair maiden, my mother, off her feet.  It must have worked. I don’t believe I made my appearance due to immaculate conception but still…my brain might explode. The thoughts of parental romance made my shoulders all shivery as goosebumps race across them.

In a family not known for displays of conspicuous affection, I don’t remember many overt displays but somehow, I knew my parents loved each other.  Sometimes it is how you treat people and not just overt displays.  Sometimes it is about the stories you create in your mind, stories that might be more fact than fiction.

As a child, I remember an old RCA Victor tabletop radio/turntable and the old 78 RPM records it played.  There were stacks and stacks.  Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and “Big Bands” seemed to be favorites.  I’m sure there was a fortune in those old platters now resting in a landfill someplace.

I suspect my Mother was the motivation for the music.  The old RCA Victor was traded in for a cabinet model in the Sixties and a Columbia Record Club subscription followed.  She seemed to be partial to Billy Vaughn and his mellow saxophones.

I’ve created a mental image of her carefully seating a record or tuning into “Your Hit Parade” on a Saturday night.  I don’t remember my Dad sitting and listening, he was more “sit and work” the crossword puzzle guy. I didn’t think my Father was much of a “Music Man” but he would fool me…something I would not find out until after my Mother’s death. 

There was another musical form that caught my ear on those early 78s.  Early country music…called hillbilly, Western, or Western Swing music before the late Forties when it became known as Country-Western.  A heartbroken Ernest Tubbs was walking the floor over his one true love, and Hank Williams seemed to be very lonesome…so lonesome he could cry.  Eddy Arnold, the Tennessee Plowboy, sang “That’s How Much I Love You” in a scratchy baritone, scratchy because of the record, not his baritone.  Vaughn Monroe and the Sons of the Pioneers were desperate for “Cool Water.” 

With enough imagination, I can almost see my parents waltzing to Bill Monroe’s nasal tenor singing “Blue Moon of Kentucky” while the Blue Grass Boys added their instruments.  Almost.  It is easier to envision my parents holding hands in front of the old RCA, listening to the Grand Ole Opry on a Saturday night date. Holding hands? Stealing a kiss?

Ernest and Mary Eldora Miller during their “courting days” Again sorry about the focus.

I stood in my garden this morning thinking of my “unromantic” parents.  If I had neighbors to watch me, I’m sure they would have been curious as to why I was standing so still in front of my sunflowers.  My mind had taken a pig trail and followed it down a rabbit hole in between picking tomatoes and moving toward my okra. 

My pig trail took me from sunflowers turning their heads toward the sunshine to “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.  You make me happy when skies are gray.”  It was a song my father sang to my mother, I’m sure.  Not fiction, but fact.  I have it in writing.  I’m sure he didn’t sing it well, but am sure he sang it with feeling.  Of that, I’m sure too, although I have no recording.

I knew it was “their” song.  I read a letter sent from my father to my mother from somewhere in the Pacific during World War Two.  I found a packet of those letters in a King Edward’s cigar box after her death. They were hidden away in a cedar hope chest, still in their unique airmail envelopes with the red, white, and blue edging and bound with a light blue ribbon. Occasionally there would be lines or words blacked out by censors.  There were other lines I wish had been censored.  There was nothing X rated but my Father…the romantic?  No.

My father quoted the song and lamented his separation and his desire to return to “his sunshine”, an ocean and a continent away.  He promised to sing it to her upon his return. Maybe he did or it might be fiction, created in my head. I like to think he did.

There was a well-used 78 record by the same title in that stack of records from the Thirties and Forties.  I don’t remember the artist but suppose it could have been Gene Autry or maybe the original sung by The Pine Ridge Boys.  It doesn’t matter.  I just know I think of my parents whenever I hear the song by any artist and follow a pig trail when I see a sunflower.

Hillbilly Music at its best…which may not be good at all. “You Are My Sunshine” by The Pine Ridge Boys

Further writings by Don Miller may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2RFMbKqFgEKWPLbpeiVotmz3GATsjIROGRGUqnRwt_XPe2uanDwztdlcE

Image is of a 78 RPM RCA Victor Recording of “You Are My Sunshine” by the Pine Ridge Boys. Distributed by Bluebird Records.

My Southern Heritage Doesn’t Require a Flag

…or a monument.

Summer is upon me.  According to John Phillips, “The Mississippi River runs like molasses in the summertime.”  I know the summer humidity is as sticky as molasses…just like discussions about my heritage. 

The steamy humidity is a part of my heritage, as are lightning bugs and mosquitos, or violent thunderstorms, and the refreshing cool afterward.  Cutting sweet corn off the cob and salting it with the sweat off my brow.  Seems much of my heritage runs the gamut between opposite poles of good and bad.

My Southern heritage is being debated across the far reaches of this country…again.   The left is celebrating a statue of General Lee and Traveler, along with Stonewall Jackson being whisked off to a museum and the Right continues to debate the evils of Critical Race Theory, a theory I believe most have never studied…including me.  CRT is a graduate school or law school course that has been around for some forty years and is beyond the scope of what is being taught in grade schools.  Some people are confusing the truth about our checkered past for CRT.  I notice the folks crying the loudest about General Lee are also crying the loudest against CRT.  Maybe they aren’t confused at all.

These statues were erected to glorify men so gallantly in their Confederate gray or butternut.  Many monuments were bought and paid for by the Daughters of the Confederacy.  Statues bought and paid for by our grandmothers and great grandmothers can’t be bad, can they? 

The problem is many were erected in the badly segregated South of the Jim Crow era, celebrating men who caused the deaths of so many and who brought havoc and destruction to the South.  Erected by those who advanced a segregated society for another hundred years after the war. I find nothing to celebrate on this issue.

I believe there is much to celebrate about my Southern heritage. What I celebrate doesn’t increase the resentment associated with enslaved people bullied and beaten by gun bulls and patty rollers on tall horses.  The enslaved whose present and futures were lorded over by Southern aristocrats whose propaganda led poor whites to their deaths on distant hillsides.  Our heritage doesn’t have to involve a Battle Flag that flew over an army in the employ of a rebellious cluster of Southern states intent on keeping and expanding their “peculiar institution.” A “country” that only lasted for four years.

Is there nothing else we can celebrate regarding Southern Heritage?  Is there nothing else to be proud of?  Is there nothing more than flags flown from pickup trucks and belt buckles and bumper stickers proclaiming “Forget, Hell!!!!”  Are we simply the sum of our rebellious past?

We have a rich culture that doesn’t have to harken back to “old times there are not forgotten.” If you are going to lionize the exploits of soldiers on a battlefield, why look past the Revolutionary War?  More Revolutionary War battles were fought in my state than any other and some of the greatest military leaders of the war fought here.  South Carolina born and bred, Sumter, Marion, Pickens, and Moultrie, along with adopted sons like Morgan, Greene, and Shelby left their mark, not only on my state but on the nation as a whole.

Wait just a “cotton pickin’ minute.”  Weren’t some of these men slave owners? Yes, some were and despite this fact, we should neither purge them from history books nor should we discount their contributions.  As some of my right-leaning friends have told me, “It’s history”.  I agree, it is history and history should be taught warts and all.  It shouldn’t be sanitized, nor should it be taught as propaganda like my eighth-grade Cold War Civics class. History is simply what was. We shouldn’t cover it up and we shouldn’t hide from it.

We have a rich Southern culture and heritage going back centuries despite our “peculiar institution” and resulting Jim Crow…let me rephrase that…” including our peculiar institution and resulting Jim Crow.” It’s history.  We don’t need a flag or statues to worship under any more than we should deny the existence of mosquitoes and high humidity in our travel brochures.  They are facts we can’t or should not attempt to escape.  Facts are facts and history is history.

We have a rich and diverse heritage in my state alone.  Gullah language and art from the coast to Appalachian culture in the mountains and foothills and to German Lutherans in the “Dutch Fork” middle.  Native American tribal influences from the Catawba River, across to the Savannah, and down to Pee Dee just to mention a few.  We have art, music, and literature that sprang from slaves and sharecroppers. Beautiful cities and small towns.   Architecture, music, visual arts, cuisine, sports, a heritage that shouldn’t include praise for men enslaving other men or men who fought for them. 

When I say “shouldn’t include” do I mean we should ignore it?  Certainly not.  We shouldn’t heap praise upon the heads of my long-ago, dearly departed great, great grandfathers for fighting under the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia.  Whatever their motivation, they rebelled in the name of supporting slavery. If there was any honor in that flag it was lost when it was co-opted by the KKK and like minded white supremacists while we or our parents did nothing.

My grandfathers were poor men with little education.  Maybe they bought the propaganda about the state’s rights that included the right to enslave.  Maybe they believed in an unfair tariff that was placed on goods raised on the backs of the enslaved.  Maybe they believed it was a War of Northern Aggression.  I doubt they thought much past the surface.  Wars are started by rich, old men and fought by young, poor ones.  Still, they fought and died under the wrong banner and should not be memorialized or immortalized. 

No, I’ll stick with being proud of a heritage that includes BB King from Mississippi singing the Blues, a Southern invention.  I might sip a bit of Jack Daniels from Tennessee with a bit of Coca-Cola invented in Atlanta, Georgia.  Maybe later I’ll select from a menu that includes Cajun or Creole food from Louisiana or BBQ from anywhere in the South or shrimp and grits, from my state.  I’ve eaten enough Soul food to cause my arteries to collapse.

Afterward, I might go sit on my front porch, a Southern culture trait in itself, while smelling honeysuckle, jasmine, or gardenia with a Pat Conroy, Ace Atkins, or a James Lee Burke novel.  All notable Southern authors who follow a lineage of fine Southern authors from Faulkner, Walker, O’Conner, and Williams to name just a few.

Depending on the season I might watch my favorite sports teams, The Braves from Atlanta, The Tigers from Clemson.  I might catch a NASCAR event, a sport begun in the South that sprang from moonshiners and dirt track racers.  We have a Southern heritage attached to our sports teams and college football is a recognized religion with an attending congregation in the millions on any given Saturday.  Why can’t we Southerners be proud of that?

Again, and with fervor, my Southern Heritage doesn’t involve a battle flag or statues saluting dead Confederates.  My Southern Heritage is too rich for that.   My Southern heritage is about beautiful and historic homes and cities, sharecropper shanties, and Sears cottages. It’s about kudzu, cotton, and long-abandoned textile mills.  It’s about old men, white and black, plowing behind a mule on the river bottoms.

It is about rich music from Nashville or Muscle Shoals and even richer food from New Orleans, Atlanta, or anywhere on the coast. It’s great literature that can be as heavy as Southern humidity or as light as the scent of Jasmine.  My Southern heritage is about beautiful flower and vegetable gardens, and cotton fields bursting white in the fall.  It is about sitting on the front porch with family and friends after church and a Sunday dinner. 

My heritage is about friends and families of all races.  It is about celebrating diversity.

If I haven’t turned you off, further works by Don Miller may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0A3XCeFAUGkHotYyrBgt6V-v3Rl-6mVzt2hmVK3o_4rtITkiH874sjYQs

Image of Lee’s statue by Paul Mayer, Office of the Mayor, Washington, DC.

Stories I Need to Tell My Grandchildren

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”
― Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

An Introduction

The time and place of my birth and early life seems alien today…the middle of the Twentieth Century in a Southern, rural, farming community. There is little resemblance of my childhood world to the modern one. A Baby Boomer, I might have grown up in a foreign country…or another planet. I did grow up in a different century. It is certainly not your world, my grandchildren, my loves.

I feel the need to tell stories. Hopefully you will recognize the language, hopefully you will learn that your roots run deep.

The hands of the clock moved slower then…there had to be more than twenty-four hours in the day.  Not because we were bored but because it seemed we did so much in the time that we had. Days so rich and so filled, there had to be more minutes in the day than the 1440 we have now. 

In the time of my youth, cotton was still king with cotton gins and textile mills running at full capacity.  Pulp wooders were still stripping the hills of pine trees to feed the hungry paper mill just across the river from my home.  John Deere tractors pulled disc harrows or hay bailers toward the river bottoms. There were more cows than people, when “backyards” included vast pastures and mixed forests. There were no traffic lights and few stop signs.

Dark-skinned truck drivers were still carrying huge loads of red clay past our house to Ashe Brick Company in distant Van Wyck.  Distant…which was just down the road a piece but might as well have been on a different continent.

Little white boys with crew cuts and flattops standing out in their yard giving the black truckers a universal sign of pumping fists they smilingly returned by blasting us with their air horns.  They seemed to never tire of it, I know we didn’t.  Huge grins blindingly white against dark complexions.

My little brother playing in a sandy ditch using his voice to mock the trucks as they shifted through their gears, pushing his Tonka Toy Truck as he did.  My parents worried he would destroy his vocal cords if he didn’t quit. I might have wished that he had…but just a time or two.

Sitting under a huge pecan tree on a hill above a two lane blacktop, watching the sparse traffic and being able to recognize the cars of friends, family, and acquaintances, some by their distant sound.  There was always a stir when a new model cruised by. Knowing who the occupants were just by the cars they drove. Everyone waved and smiled.  It truly was a different era.

It was a different time because my family was still intact, and the place of my youth still existed.  Family and place are important. Two hilltops and two ‘hollers’ filled with extended families.  Grandparents and Great Grandparents, uncles and aunts, all making sure we always toed the line. The old Nigerian proverb ‘Oran a azu nwa’, “it takes a community or village to raise a child,” certainly was true.  

Cousins to play with even though I was between generations.  Younger than one generation and older than another, I sat dead in the middle, alone. It didn’t matter.  My closest friends of the same age were just across the road or just up the road apiece, all within walking distance.  I am amazed at how long an hour of playtime was during those days.

Forays through our mixed forest into the piney woods across the “crick “ to the Morris’ home or across the road, walking past the scary kudzu shrouded ravine to the Jackson’s.  An active imagination wondered what might be lurking there. What animal or monster, or if the kudzu might reach out and kidnap me. An unofficial club house in a privet shrouded share cropper’s home that sat abandoned next to my house.

If we had a penny we might trek to Pettus’ or Yarbrough’s store for a small Sugar Daddy or BB Bat. “You be careful crossing that road, now, Stop, look, and listen.” Traffic was sparse but our parents still worried.

There were few families in my little world I wasn’t related to.   If the last name was Griffin, Pettus, Perry, Rodgers or Wilson, our family trees probably merged at some point…sometimes becoming quite tangled or maybe without limbs at all. An aunt on one side of the family was also an aunt on the other side of the family, and also my third grade teacher. I need to ask questions because I don’t exactly remember how that came to be. The last name, Miller, was a rare one but then my Dad was a transplant from Fort Mill, thirteen miles away.

Playing football or baseball in the stubble of harvested hay, or corn, or cotton in the field across the road.  At least we didn’t have to worry about avoiding cow patties, but we never learned to hook or popup slide, either. 

Corn cob fights around the corn crib and barn where we did worry about cow patties.  The forts and tree house we built on a bluff above a stream that led to the distant Catawba until cut by one of Bowers’ lakes…not so distant after all.  Playing war in the eroded red clay banks between the cotton and corn fields.  Our parents threatening to tan our hides because of the ruined clothes, once white tee shirts forever stained by the red clay.

Walking or riding my bike down the dusty “river road” to Bowers’ ponds teaming with blue gills, largemouth, and the occasional catfish.  On to the river that seemed so distant then…probably no more than two or three miles away today. Could it have moved closer?

I wish I had asked my grandparents more questions. “What was it like during the depression?” “What did it feel like to see your first car?” “What was it like to work on the railroad.” “How did you make your biscuits so moist on the inside and buttery crisp on the outside.” Hopefully these stories will answer some of your questions after my soul joins “The parade of souls marching across the sky.”

I’m going to tell stories that will be alien to you.  I hope you will take the time to read them sometime.  Hopefully, they will be educational.  Hopefully, you will want to read them.  Maybe you should read them to your mother and father, too.  Some will be humorous, some painful, some will just be.  All will be written with love.

An introduction to Stories I Need to Tell My Grandchildren, a work in progress.

***

Don Miller’s Amazon site: https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0jXxoLIhO8m6Oz6EZ3yUhX3TS3YHpsX0ldPJIFZxBDXQNB8JiA4in1Sgw

Quote from Goodreads.

Image produced by Canva

Quote “The parade of souls marching across the sky.” from the song Wheel Inside a Wheel by Mary Gauthier.

As American as BBQ

“Forget baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet.  For a Southerner, it is barbeque.”

Let’s clarify immediately and with great fervor, barbeque is not an event; it is a dish. I don’t care what our Northern neighbors say.  It is not a backyard gathering.  You don’t go to a backyard “barbeque.”  You go to the backyard to eat barbeque. Barbeque is a dish created by the soft whispers of the angels who trod before us and is as close to heaven as I wish to get until death.  Good barbeque is a gift from heaven…it is not a place. Be reverent my children.

It is the morning of July 5th and as I write this, I’m in a barbeque coma courtesy of Carolus’ ribs and Jamie’s pulled pork…and potato salad courtesy of Carol Ann.  Other significant coma contributors included blueberry cobbler and brown liquor.  There were many other contributors and only contributions I would have added would have been mayonnaise and vinegar slaw and hash over white rice but that is a personal choice and not a coma breaker.  It is a tip of the hat to my roots where barbeque came with mustard sauce and helpings of hash over rice.

It was the first Bennett family Fourth of July backyard cookout in two years.  The Bennetts are our adopted family and I’m not sure who adopted whom.  It was good to see folk we hadn’t seen in two years even though there was a bit of “post-Covid” trepidation.   Sitting outside under shade trees and swapping stories soon reduced my anxieties…or maybe it was the brown liquor.

Backyard cookout.  See how I said that?  A backyard cookout.  You go to a cookout…not to a barbeque.  You don’t even have to serve barbeque at a cookout, you can grill things like pork, chicken, beef, roadkill, or tofu.  But grillin’ ain’t barbequin’.  Barbeque is slowly cooked animal parts, pork in my part of the world, over wood coals.  Slow-cooked until the meat just gives up and shreds easily with two forks or falls off of the bone without any help from anything other than gravity.  Sometimes eating high on the hog involves parts found low on the hog.

There is a certain barbeque etiquette.  None etched in stone, and it varies from place to place but it would behoove you to learn the area’s rules before attending a cookout serving barbeque.  See how I said that? 

Generally, the rules involve sauces, rubs, or sides.  It can involve the meat, Texas is mainly beef, for instance, other areas might be a goat or lamb, yuck, but here in South Carolina, it is pork.  I reckon we all eat chicken and you can slow cook yard bird.

There are sauces and then there are sauces.  Nothing to argue over.  Pick one or experiment. Sauce varies here in South Carolina.  Vinegar base, pepper base, both together.  Mustard base, light tomato base, heavy tomato base, depending on the area.   In the home of my mother, the general rule was a mustard sauce with pork, tomato sauce with chicken.

The mustard base is considered by many to be truly South Carolina’s sauce…may be.  German immigrants brought it from the Fatherland to the midlands.  Our new visitors told the older inhabitants they were from Deutschland, which was mistaken as Dutchland, and the reason the fork between the Broad and Saluda Rivers became known as the Dutch Fork. Dutch Fork…Deutsch Fork…”You say toe-may-toe, I say toe-mah-toe.”

The mustard sauce changes to vinegar and pepper sauces on the coast, light tomato, which is vinegar and pepper with tomato added, in the Pee Dee area, heavy tomato in the West and Northwest portions of the state…with a bit of brown sugar, root beer, or brown liquor added…sometimes.  People are mostly steadfast in their allegiance to one sauce although I admit to experimentation on occasion.  If a person serves you an exotic barbeque sauce like that Alabama White Sauce, thank them even if you don’t like it.  It is the Southern way and good etiquette.

Steadfast allegiance but I’m not willin’ to fight a Civil War over it.  No one should argue over sauces.  It is almost like arguing about politics except with politics no one wins.  With barbeque, everybody wins.  Just don’t drown the meat in the sauce.    It is meant to enhance the flavor, not cover it up…unless it is bad barbeque.  One rule etched in stone: Never pre-sauce a sandwich.  The amount of sauce is a personal choice.

Sides?  I’m guessing we could argue all day. In the South, potato salad is a must.  Corn on the cob, fried okra, baked beans, and dill pickles are quite acceptable.  I fancy the pickled medley that includes pickled cauliflower and pearl onions.  Just don’t call it giardiniera.  Sounds too fancy for barbeque and you can leave the pickled carrots out of mine.

To slaw or not to slaw, that might be the question?  I think slaw is a genetic thing.  You are born to put slaw on your pulled pork sandwich, or you are not.  Kind of like sugar or vinegar or mayonnaise in your slaw.  Me…vinegar and mayonnaise and yes, I want it on my sandwich.

Hash or Brunswick stew?  It is pretty much Brunswick stew everywhere other than the Carolinas. Once again, everywhere else is wrong.  It’s hash always.  Unrecognizable pig products cooked with potatoes and onions until they meld together with certain spices passed down by the ghostly hands of our past. Served over rice…white rice of course.

What is not up for debate, fellowship.  You shouldn’t eat barbeque with someone you don’t like which brings me back to the Bennett clan.  I like the Bennett clan.  I taught with the patriarch, Carol Ann, and coached and taught her two sons Jamie and Carolus.  Through them, my bride and I have become members of their extended family.  I’m honored to have been invited to their July 4th celebration. Barbeque reminds me of home and the Bennett clan reminds me of family.  It just doesn’t get much better than that.

I need to take a nap.  My barbeque coma is about to win out.

Barbecue or Barbeque.  I spelled it barbeque because it is a bit archaic, like me, and because it was spelled that way where I grew up.

For books by Don Miller https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3xEUv3gUa4wrDNp0oXEa2Rbv1hcunRf64Zlr3wl2hNbsCYZwGlgIDwNqw

A July Flies’ Sweet Song

…or everything you thought you wanted to know about July flies but were afraid to ask.

Heard my first July fly…I know, some of you have been dealing with the Brood X Cicada for a while now but this is significant. Yours are dying down, mine are just beginning to sing. I heard my July fly on July the First.  Significant, right?  I lead a simple life. It is significant to me!

His song singing might be a little early by the calendar, but I don’t think July flies worry much about the calendar. Probably something about his circadian rhythm.  Maybe daylight savings time screwed his up his rhythms as it did mine.

I’m pretty sure this was an annual cicada and after nearly a year underground as a nymph he was probably happy to see daylight.  The little big-eyed monster was singing to beat the band.  I hope little Suzy Q was listening. It was neat to hear an individual cicada’s distinctive voice. One voice seems to get lost when a million are singing. Individually it sounded more like the rapid clicks made by one of the old “cricket” clickers from my childhood. Very rapid I might add.

PLYMOUTH CRICKET Vintage Metal Clicker Toy Noise Maker Chrysler Car Advertising
Toy “clicker” used to advertise Chrysler products. Press it, it clicks.

I know this cicada was a male because female July flies don’t sing.  They don’t have the ability because they don’t have something called tymbals, membranes on the cicada’s exoskeleton used to produce sounds. All the females can do is flick their wings to make a faint clicking sound…or maybe they are just playing hard to get.

Noisy Cicadas Are Widely Misunderstood
A Brood X hanging out. Getty Image

Male July flies on the other hand have several tunes they sing.  For instance, they have the cicada equivalent of “Hey Baby!  You lookin’ good.  What’s your sign? Come on give me a little wing.”  If the female flicks her wings, she is answering, “Hey big boy, how ’bout you come over and see me some time.” If he accepts the invitation, and he will, it is time for faire l’amour.

The males have a defensive song; it is the one you hear when you pick one up.  Sounds like a bee as in, “I’m trying to fool you into thinking I’m a hornet. Put me down this instance!” 

Then there are the male’s most favorite song, the “Ooh Baby, Baby. That was great, how was it for you? Cigarette? Wanna make me a sandwich?” song. 

I have been using July fly and cicada interchangeably because I grew up calling the cicada a July fly.  Something about my Southern upbringing I do reckon. When I Googled July flies to make sure, I did not get a definitive answer.  Some places call the cicada locusts, others Jar flies, or Dog Day flies, still others call them Harvest flies. I’m pretty sure they aren’t locusts because we have locusts too and they look nothing like my childhood cicadas/July flies. As a child, I played with enough cicada shells to know the difference.

Cicada Shell

I grew up in the Fifties and Sixties BAC. BAC as in, Before Air Conditioning.  Oh, it had been invented, it just hadn’t found its way to my abode on Route 2, Highway 521, Fort Mill, SC.  Cicadas, on the other hand, had found their way there and in quantity.  Over the sound of my sweat glands trying to drown me and a window fan, I remember the cycling sound of gazillions of male cicadas singing to their one true love. They usually reached their peak in mid to late July and early August.  I tend to relate them to the hottest days of summer.  The days of ripening corn, tomatoes, and armpits. The Summer days of a gracious plenty of humidity and mosquitoes.

When my bride and I first moved into our “little piece of heaven”, air conditioning hadn’t found its way to our ancient farmhouse in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, either.  My five-year-old daughter came down from her bedroom rubbing the sleep from her eyes and made a whimpering sound as she asked, “Can you turn them off?”  

“Turn what off, Sweet Pea?”

“Those thing-ees, outside my window.  They’re so loud.”

It probably wasn’t the last time I failed her.  July fly choirs are loud reaching ninety decibels which is the same decibel level as a lawnmower.  “Sorry baby.  I can’t turn them off.  Try to think of it as a lullaby.” 

When their singing crescendos in late July, their song seems to cycle into a clackety-clickety, clackety-clickety, clackety-clickety resonance.  The cycling reminds me of dark mornings when I stood outside of a cotton mill weave room waiting for the light to flash foretelling eight hours of what I thought of as hell on earth.   The seven hundred and fifty Draper looms cycled the same way from a distance.  When the weave room door opened, the cycling was replaced by a den of sound with no boundaries.  I doubt many of you know the sound I’m talking about since weave rooms are far and in between these days.

The July flies only live for a few weeks so I will not begrudge them their singing.  The males will sing, the females will click their wings and lay their eggs in twigs and leaves.  In a few weeks, the eggs will hatch, the nymphs will fall to the ground and burrow in for another one, thirteen, or seventeen years.  The “cicadian” cycle will begin again. 

Side trip: “You say circadian, I say cicadian. Let’s call the whole thing off.” It turns out I have been missaying “cicadian rhythm” for years…since I first mis-learned the word. I understand I’m not the only person confused. While cicadas have circadian rhythms they do not have cicadian rhythms. The term “circadian” stems from the Latin “circa” (which means “around“) and “diem” (which means “day”). It has nothing to do with cicadas despite their own rhythms and my own faulty hearing.

A second side trip: “Cricket clickers” were used by paratroopers in World War Two to identify each other after a night jump such as the night before Operation Overlord, the D-Day landing. A single click was to be followed by a double click. If it wasn’t, someone might end up dead. That was the plan at least.

 ***

Cicada painting by Louise Holland

Books by Don Miller may be published at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1Smn0AExgDblqvTnANFmKq44x7fzmXw07t9WNlbgdBSpzqv4-X7Pt1EfE

A BACK PEW BAPODIST

I wish I had never become logical…mostly logical…wishing I were logical.

When I became logical, I began to question.  I miss those days as a child when I took things at face value…especially as I move from my autumn years into the cold reality of winter.  But, I mean, at my age, I should cover all my bases, right?

“Is this what old people do?”  Do old people begin to question their beliefs?  Or do old people discount any questions as an assault on their beliefs?  I don’t know what old people do; I’ve never been old before.  “With age comes wisdom” might be the worst lie ever told.

I am habit driven and as soon as I complete my morning ablutions, I step out into the dawning morning and try to complete my absolutions or metaphorical self-flagellation.  Equal parts prayer and meditation, I try to find the moon or Sirius to focus on.  I can usually tell what kind of day I’m going to have if I can focus at all. 

I give thanks for my many blessings, ask for forgiveness of my many sins, “past and future, real and imagined.” Finally, I discuss those things that bother me so or as Buffett might sing in “He Went to Paris”, “Looking for answers to questions that bothered him so.”  I’m not going to Paris unless it is Paris, Texas and so far, my discussion is quite one sided, my questions unanswered which is quite bothersome.

My issue, problem, concern is the lack of answers forthcoming for old questions which simply create more questions de jour.  The silence is deafening.  Except for night birds, tree frogs, and a raccoon rustling in the periwinkle, I hear quiet, a hush, a stillness.  It is tranquil but tranquility is not my goal.  Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions and now I’m hearing the buzzing of mosquitoes.

I grew up in the church…a conservative, Welch’s Grape Juice and Saltines at Communion, Methodist Church.  Little Donnie in his Sunday best, shoes polished, Bible in hand, sitting in the pew designated as “Oh, don’t sit there, that’s the Miller’s pew.”

I joined the church when I was a pre-teen, I still have the Bible they presented me, a Revised Standard, my name etched in gold leaf. I even thought I might become a man of the cloth…although it was more what my mother wanted.  Sorry Mom, I know I disappointed you more than once. 

Left home the fall of my eighteenth year for a conservative Lutheran school of higher learning in the late Sixties and married a Southern Baptist woman…a couple of Baptist women.    Went through the public dunking to join the Baptist Church before sending off an email to become a Dudeist thirty years later…now a Dudeist priest I might add. “Mom, you got your wish!” Some might say I have retreated from the “light.” I say I’ve become a “recovering” Baptist. Is there a twelve-step program that includes giving up your casserole dish?

There are some Christian sects (cults?) (denominations?) that would not use Methodist or Lutheran and Conservative in the same breath.  I counter, in my little church, there was a gracious plenty of hellfire and brimstone preachin’ and long, long alter calls until someone finally stood up and made their way to the front of the church. Are preachers paid according to the number of people who answer an alter call?

Give me that old time religion” singin’, Bible thumpin’, Amen shoutin’, and summer revivals kind of church.  Pretty much I found myself inside my church’s four walls three or four times a week.  That’s a lot for a Methodist. Singing in the choir, progressing from going to vacation Bible school to teaching vacation Bible school, to teaching Sunday school. Dear God, at what point did I fall off of the straight and narrow and onto the primrose path. Another story for another time.

A side trip. I find it interesting as early as 1873, when “Give Me That Old Time Religion” became a standard in Protestant hymnals, people seemed to be dissatisfied and were singing and wishing for “that old time religion.”  Some modern day Christians still sing it but I am unsure what “old time” they are embracing. Many around my little piece of heaven seem to be combining their old time religion with “Old times they are not forgotten, Look Away, Look Away, Look Away, Dixie Land.”

Today’s question de jour, I have a problem with the “Wrath of God”.  I’ll take it one step further, the “Genocide of God”.  I’m not a fan of the Old Testament unless it is Proverbs or Psalms.  I don’t understand how a somewhat more “loving” God of the New Testament could be so harsh, angry, and vengeful to completely annihilate entire city-states in the Old. That’s one of those questions “that bothers me so.” It seems “He’s not the same God” is not the answer but that statement has its own set of questions.

In Deuteronomy 20:16–18, Moses gives these instructions: “As for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded.”  Men, women, children, and animals.  At times, it seems the Old Testament God, Yahweh, didn’t care about proselyting, opting instead for mass carnage of non-believers and I see too many embracing this mind set around the world. “Resistance is futile. Assimilate or die.”

When I was young, I was awed by the triumphant Israelites as they dispatched their enemies. I think I associated them with the triumphant Allies over evil in World War Two. Abraham, Moses, Daniel, David, and Sampson became Eisenhower, MacArthur, Nimitz, Halsey, and Patton. What I didn’t associate was the annihilations of entire city-states.

Trumpeting the fall of Jericho, banners flying.  Glory be to God, all in the name of God. Afterwards, Ai, then the people of Makkedah and Libnah and Lachish and Eglon and Debir—every man, woman, and child slaughtered and dedicated to God. In the end, the entire populations of thirty-one city-states were destroyed…and their animals. Shades of Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki but their destruction maybe more in line with Sodom and Gomorrah as “hellfire rained down from the heavens.” More questions?

I see too much of the Old Testament anger and vengeance in some of today’s so called religious folks.  Not just Christian folk. I still consider myself a Christian, just a lost one. There are very outspoken groups that spew hatred toward those who believe differently on the one hand and lament the loss of membership on the other.  I wonder if those two outcomes are related.  I guess what I consider hatred, they consider obedience to their God. That is not my cup of communion grape juice.

Too much of the world’s violence is created by religious beliefs, I think, sometimes doing more harm than good. Look no further than the Middle East. Too many wars fought with a religious component of my God is better than your god.  Too many songs like “Onward Christian Soldiers”. I’m not attacking Christianity. Well, may be I am but I’m sure other religions have similar tunes to rally them to their religion’s ideology and I am attacking them too.  I worry most for those who attach their religious leanings to their political and military leanings. At least in Christianity you can walk away without losing your head.

Worse, I have a hard time dealing with a New Testament God that would allow The Holocaust, mass shootings, the rape of Nanking, abortion, plagues, poverty, and hunger galore. I see no Divine hand at work, just the evil in the heart of man.

I’m not a theologian and not likely to be but I can’t buy it as a just God’s plan. I can’t relate to “that” God. Maybe the old Deist were correct. God set the Universe in motion like a clock and walked away. I’m sure he is shaking his head, wondering what went wrong…or maybe the joke is on us.

My next question, “Did I just sign my lease for a flat in hell for questioning God?”

Note: Dudeism is a religion/philosophy based on Taoism that preaches non-preachiness and practices as little as possible. It is the result of the movie, The Big Lebowski. It is not related to Deism which believes in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe. Maybe they are related.

Mellow out, man

Don Miller writes on many subjects, good, bad, fiction, non-fiction. Rants, raves, etc. https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR31n_M2GoO3Us0peAwKvRMb001kyhZbwgGbY5MnU5wTKq_hy19h6qdbtiY

Yelling God image from Canva.

A Last Conversation

I remember the last conversation I had with my Father in the mid Nineteen Nineties.  I was sick with pneumonia and racked with a cough that shook me to the bottoms of my feet and chills the heavy quilts couldn’t quite shake. My head buzzed from codeine, antibiotics, and aspirin my doctor had prescribed.  I was feverish and out of my head.  Finally, I slept.

My father sat quietly on the corner of my bed watching me.  He was a small man; five foot six inches and his feet didn’t quite touch the floor.  He crossed his legs and clasped his hands on his knees. Nodding his head, he seemed younger than the last time I had seen him in the mid-Seventies.

“Son, you do know sickness is God’s way of telling you to slow down.  Death means you should have listened.” 

He said “Son” in the voice that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  “Son” was usually followed by gothic organ music and the statement, “This is going to hurt me more than you.” 

Right Dad, I don’t believe you now, and I didn’t believe you then.”

We talked for a while. I caught him up on the twenty years since his passing and even made him laugh a couple of times, something I don’t remember doing too much of when he was alive. 

We reminisced telling stories, mostly focusing on the times I screwed up, maybe times when I disappointed him. Running into him with a quill buggy while he worked under a loom causing him to sit up and bark his forehead on a worm gear. A lot of blood and a look that could have curdled milk.  The looms were too loud for me to hear the names he called me.

“The first time I heard you curse was when I pulled the starter cord on the mower when you were holding the spark plug wire.”  That was a real knee slapper.  He nodded and smiled. 

I remembered a note he left me one morning before going to work.  I was eleven or twelve.  “It has been three days.  Either use the mower or get it out of the front yard.”  Crazy things you remember.

“You weren’t a screamer, but you could give the talk…you know the talk.”  The “Please just hit me and end this” talk.  “You had a long fuse but there was a line I didn’t step across.”

I remembered striking out with the bat on my shoulder during a baseball game to end an inning and tossing my bat in anger.  Bad move, but a learning experience.  You called me over to the chicken wire backstop and punched a finger into my chest.

“The bat didn’t strike out, you did.  If I ever see you throw a bat, I’ll jerk you off this field and jerk a knot in your butt in front of everyone.” I believed him and told every one of my own baseball teams the story before adding, “And, I’ll do the same.”

I was able to say all the things I wanted to say but didn’t when I had the chance.  I got to tell him I loved him, how I appreciated all the sacrifices he made for our family.  I thanked him for how he treated my mother during her sickness.  I forgave him for marrying the stepmother from Hades…more on my brother’s behalf than mine. He laughed and nodded his head.

I awoke from my dream and looked for him.  He had gone wherever ghosts from codeine-fueled dreams go.  I felt a greater loss from a dream than I felt when he died twenty years before. 

I like to think that if there is an afterlife, somehow the dream was real…the conversation real…his ghost real. I can’t remember my last real conversation with him, but the dream was as real as it gets.  The dream somehow gave me a bit of closure, more than I got in 1976.

Many times, I only remember small snatches of my father, and other times I say something that came right out of his mouth. I see him sitting in his rocking chair, reading glasses down on his nose as he worked the crossword.  He was usually a calming factor, slow to react, a man of few words but words with weight.  I wish I saw more of him in me.

For more of Don Miller, https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3-8bMeUK9KNiS9JIFsT1PJHnKDdWomHwXGcfvTatfiESPeifFFSaM1GkA