NATE

We served over a hundred and fifty souls, the homeless and poor along with the people who ran the soup kitchen every week and their families. There were smiles, laughs, and expressions of true thankfulness. I believe the smiles made it all worthwhile. As the line trickled to a stop we joined the diners, “breaking bread” and sharing their stories and their experiences.
Aja was unusually quiet. We sat across the table from a thin black man named Nate. A Vietnam War veteran, Nate never got his life together despite the war being over for nearly forty-five years. He had been an eighteen-year-old tunnel rat and by his own admission, “hadn’t amounted to much.” After returning home, Nate had worked at low paying jobs to support his alcoholism until he “had just worn out.” Despite being surrounded by friends this Thanksgiving morning, his glances were furtive, as if someone or life might be sneaking up on him.
“Holy John,” the Methodist minister, disclosed to me Nate lived on family land in a fifty-year-old Airstream resting on flat tires and cement blocks. A cast iron stove “liberated” from someone’s trash heap and vented through a window, both warmed the old travel trailer and provided enough heat to prepare whatever food Nate had available. Like many troubled vets, he sometimes forgot to eat or chose instead to drink his way through the day.
Nate augmented his monthly social security checks with odd jobs done for understanding church members or by selling, for scrap, the aluminum cans he collected walking the country roads around the Airstream. Local folks dropped off bags of aluminum cans under a hand-painted sign whose down-pointing arrow instructed them to “drop cans here.” With no running water or indoor plumbing, he filled recycled milk jugs from a neighbor’s outdoor spigot and took his weekly shower and washed his clothes in the facilities provided in the church’s fellowship hall. Despite his plight, he seemed almost happy with his existence and was more open than many Vietnam veterans I had met.
A gaunt, mahogany face peered out from under an old Detroit Tigers’ baseball cap. Wisps of wiry, gray hair peeked out from under it. He had an ancient face, made older by his predicament. It was cut by deep crevasses that became deeper when he smiled. Nate seemed anything but sad with his self-imposed hardships. In a soft voice, he said, “I do okay. I don’t need much and since I’m drawin’ my social I live like a king.” Pausing to look back somewhere in the past he quoted, “I try to keep my heart open to dreams. As long as there’s a dream I have a life.” With our present military involvements, I wondered how many more of these damaged souls we would produce.
Nate paused, his rheumy eyes gazing intently at Aja before asking, “Little girl…somethin’ is troublin’ you?” Before she could answer he went on, “You young and beautiful. Out here on a Thanksgiving mornin’, you got to have a good heart. People gonna tell you this is the best time of your life. It ain’t. Wonder mo young folk don’t commit suicide hearing that shit. Life always gonna be hard but gets better if you let it. I didn’t and now my time be growin’ short. Nothin’ I can do about it, but you can if you wants to. ‘scuse my language but you need to take life by the balls and twist ‘em if you need to.”
Aja smiled her heart melting smile and said, “Thank you, Nate. I’ll try to remember to twist them just for you.”

This is a fictional composite of many former Vietnam Vets I have known…too many that I have known.  It is also written for Steve, my brother, and Hawk, my friend, who saw a need and acted on it.

Don Miller is a multi-genre writer who, in addition to maintaining a blog, has self-published six books.   His most recent release is the romantic adventure OLIVIA.  Don’s author’s page may be accessed at  http://amazon.com/author/cigarman501.

Thank you for stopping by.

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GLIMMERS

It’s been a while. I had signed off on my blog recently. Total silence. I just haven’t been motivated or maybe I’ve just been too depressed. Not clinically depressed…maybe. Just depressed over forest fires, hurricanes, bump stocks, kneeling and a president numbered forty-five. I might should have capitalized that last bit but I just can’t. I decided that if I didn’t have anything positive to say I should brood silently since my social media feed explodes with vitriol with any postings other than pictures of pink flamingoes.
I was also brooding over health issues. My rebelling sixty something year old body. Sciatica, shingles and Afib have reared their ugly heads, all in the last six months despite my best efforts at staying ahead of the grim reaper. Add a dash of early onset arthritis…if it is a sixty-something body can it really be early onset? The grim reaper in my rear view seems to have crept just a bit closer.
Maybe there is a glimmer of hope, with my health, not the other stuff. I ran. Two minutes out of five for a total of twelve minutes. By my reckoning, a little over a mile. Last week it was one minute out of every five, every other day. I’ve improved. I know the real runners are reading this and laughing their asses off. Laugh, I don’t care. I used to run half marathons. I wasn’t fast. I sometimes finished high in my age group but it really didn’t matter. I was running against myself, not anyone else…and then myself got in the way. A knee injury due to a misstep, then sciatica, several times, then clinical depression resurfaced. It became easier to just not run. My goal became just to walk and ride my bicycle…maybe.
I hated running in the Seventies when the jogging craze first took hold. If you looked at my body and played “What’s his Exercise,” running might be the last choice you would be inclined to pick. I did it despite my hatred and body type…for all the wrong reasons. I’ll be honest, I ran because of a tall, long-legged, brunette who looked great in the running shorts of the Seventies. I tried to stay just behind her. She became the carrot on a string for the jackass that I was. I wonder what happened to her? I probably shouldn’t wonder.
I got out of the habit of exercise in the Eighties, then back into it in the Nineties, then out of it in the early Two Thousands…until a couple of months after a heart attack in 2006. Running became my shield against my mortality and my clinical depression. The more I ran the less depressed I was about my health I guess…it did seem to lighten the effects of the depression. I grew to love it…well, tolerate it and felt as if I had missed something if I didn’t do it.
It would be other body parts that would get in my way. I always wanted to run a marathon and kept trying to train for one. Every time my weekly mileage crept into the thirty-mile range, I managed to injure myself. Still this little bit of running today may be the glimmer that I needed. Slow and easy…well may be a 5K in a couple of months…yeah, hope springs eternal. Wish me luck.
Don Miller has written six books, five nonfictional and one fictional novella. Please visit his author’s page at http://amazon.com/author/cigarman501

“TAILS” OF THE SWAMP RABBIT CONTINUED

 

I have occasionally written about the denizens I have encountered along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a twenty or so mile track used by runners, hikers, and cyclist here in upstate South Carolina.  For those unfamiliar with the Greenville, South Carolina area, the trail follows an old railroad line that was named for one of the denizens I have never seen, the elusive Swamp Rabbit.

When I have written about the Swamp Rabbit it has not been in glowing terms.  That’s unfair.  The trail itself is wonderful, its some of the people who are not so wonderful.  Usually, I ranted because of groups of cyclists riding too fast in large packs.  Old men, sans shirts, proudly displaying their lily-white chests and hairy backs, both forced upward against gravity by what one friend called “Mandex”.  Just what is that little roll?  SOME women wearing lycra sport’s bras and little else…except for the sweetie in white on that very hot and humid day several summers ago.  Oh, sweet pea, why are you running so fast?  The eight-and-a-half-month pregnant woman, if she was a day, who breezed past me pushing a double stroller, emasculating me as I struggled up that final hill. Yes, I have written about them all.

At 5:30 this morning, I expected to see little of interest except maybe a deer or a possum.  It was still quite dark when my friend, Hawk, and I made our turnaround before veering off the trail toward the lake at Furman University.  We had seen no one, something that would change as the eastern sky began to lighten with the impending dawn.  My headlamp picked up a solitary form walking slowly ahead of us.  Leaning on a walking stick, he seemed to be struggling as if attempting to climb a steep hill despite being on the flat ground.  He was also naked as the proverbial Jaybird.  A knit stocking hat on his head, running shoes and socks on his feet and nothing…absolutely nothing in between.  I actually thought he had on one of those new technical one-piece suits…well, I guess it was a one piece, just not a new one and kind of hairy at that.  The three women we tried to warn seemed to be quite excited about the prospect of meeting up with him…oops, campus security got there first.  Wonder how cold and rough the pavement was on the ole beany weenie as he complied after being asked to lay face down on the pavement.

I knew from the set of his jaw, Hawk was mulling over something, “Did you look?”

“Are you kidding?”

“I just wondered if he was walking that way because he was proud.”

What does possess someone to step out his door and decide, “Well, it’s not too cool.  I believe I’ll just take off all my clothes and go for a walk.  I will wear a knit cap so I don’t lose too much heat out the top of my head.”   Could it have been National Hike Naked Day?

I also wondered why it couldn’t have been the fit young lady in the white lycra…or in this case, without the white lycra.

If you enjoyed this, Don Miller has written six books that can be purchased or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.  Be sure and follow him there.

THE EASY WAY OUT? “DOWNER ALERT”

I wrote this last year…this is National Suicide Prevention Month.  Take a minute to drop by…it might save a life.

“A brave man once requested me,
to answer questions that are key,
‘Is it to be or not to be,’
and I replied, ‘oh why ask me?’”

“’Cause suicide is painless,
it brings on many changes,
and I can take or leave it if I please…
and you can do the same thing if you please.”
Theme from MASH, “Suicide is Painless” by Johnny Mandel

I don’t believe there is anything easy about committing suicide nor do I think is it totally painless. That would be two of the major reasons I don’t attempt it. Some say, “It’s taking the easy way out.” When you are sick like me, one may find it may not be the easiest of ways out. I don’t mean sick as in “I have a terminal illness and it is going to eat me up from the inside out” kind of sickness but the “I’m crazy as a bed bug” kind of sickness. I have suffered from clinical depression for over forty years now so I believe I have the right to say, “I’m crazy as a bed bug.” Also, like a world class alcoholic, I have become very adept at hiding it. You see, almost daily, I still have thoughts of suicide or when I do something I consider “wrong,” there are the thoughts that I deserve to be hurt in some way even if I do it to myself. YES, I JUST CUT OFF MY FINGER ON PURPOSE!!!! I’ve done neither so suicide may not be the easy way out after all.

Being suicidal and repeatedly not pulling the trigger, not slitting a wrist or taking a short step out of a very high window is hard. I spend some of my “very best” depressed “self-speak” contemplating, quite morbidly, the pain of a bullet entering my head as opposed to the pain that the same bullet would have on the people I leave behind. The people I love and, despite my depressive hate speech, those I know love me, at least I think…maybe. My wife, my daughter, and son-in-law, my grandchildren, who I don’t yet know as well as I want, my brother and my friends. So far, my belief is that the pain of my action on those I leave behind would be greater…therefore, I don’t do it. There is also the fear of the unknown. Am I going to find myself inside of a vat of boiling “hellfire and brimstone” for instance or am I just going to “wink” out of existence? Both options are scary, as are others, and I find I am not a very brave person or is “sticking out” the mental anguish, in itself, brave?

Clinical depression is one of the odd ducks of mental illness. “Oh you are just a little blue…” and the Grand Canyon is a little hole. Logically you ask yourself, repeatedly I might add, “What have you got to be depressed about?” Right now it is a non-functional tractor and lawn mower, but they should not be “live altering” should they? Or, friends and loved ones ask, “Why are you depressed?” Those questions are quite tiring because there is no answer. My depression is due to a tiny, little, itty bitty chemical imbalance in my brain. AND IT IS TREATABLE, once you figure out it is nothing more than a disease. No different than diabetes, or arthritis, or toenail fungus except that for some reason it seems to be much more embarrassing to say, “I am clinically depressed and suicidal” rather than “I have toenail fungus and it is yucky.” It shouldn’t be.

These thoughts and my own depression were triggered by a phone call. A friend told me of a suicide. I didn’t know the man; I know the family he left behind and can only imagine the pain they are going through. The unanswered questions, “Why?”, “Why didn’t I see it coming?”, “What did I do wrong?” Suicide was not an easy way out for them. Suicide was not due to an incurable and painful illness like cancer. It was due to an incurable and painful illness like clinical depression.

His suicide has me, selfishly, thinking about ME. I worry that someday suicide will appear to be the easy way out…that I won’t have enough clarity in thinking to keep me from pulling that trigger. No there is nothing easy about suicide including the contemplation of it. Before you react, NO! I do not need to be put on suicide watch…at least yet. I’ll try to let you know and you should be paying attention. This blog post is for the people who have not had their clinical depression diagnosed or those who have and still battle it every day. You are not alone. There are many of us out there, a depressing estimate of one hundred and twenty-nine million worldwide, one out of every ten Americans and even more depressing, eighty percent never receive treatment. I was lucky. There ARE people you can talk to. If there is no one in your life, try these:
National Suicide Hotline (800) 273-8255
Teen Health and Wellness Suicide Hotline: 800-784-2433
Crisis Call Center: 800-273-8255 or
text ANSWER to 839863
For more statistics copy and paste http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/statistics-infographic

If you are interested in reading more “Ravings of a Mad Southerner” or other writings by Don Miller, please use the following link:  https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

HOSPITAL FOOD

Freaking A…fib!  What’s next?  Sciatica then shingles, now afib?  This aging sh!t is for the birds.  My childlike brain encapsulated within this bag of crumbling organs.  I feel like a blivit…never heard of a blivit…rhymes with ‘live it’?  It is ten pounds of pooh in a five-pound bag.

It was to be a simple, three-hour process…just a little shock to put the ole ticker back into rhythm…so simple.  Like Gilligan’s three-hour cruise, it didn’t turn out like it was supposed to.  Four hospital days later, my heart is back in rhythm but I’m taking a cure that may be worse than the disease, have seen four different doctors and am waiting to see if I need a pacemaker.  My choices bother me but not nearly as much as four days of hospital food…especially hospital food concocted for a cardiac patient.  Um, yum.  Gilligan and his merry crew of castaways ate much better.

I have attempted to reach a happy medium between doing the things necessary to extend my life, providing I don’t step out in front of a beer truck while enjoying my life.  I did have that heart attack thing.  Eating healthy, smart exercises six or seven times a week, reducing stress…most of the time, although there are those days I walk with Hawk.  Cigarsssssss!  Only once in a blue moon.  Speaking of Blue Moon, less than a six pack a week.  Most days eating food with the consistency of wet cardboard and the taste of unseasoned butcher paper so that once a month I can trip the light fandango…or is it skip the light fantastic?  I’m reminded of a question, “How is the best way to prepare carp?  Easy! Nail the carp to an old barn board. Cover it in moist cow manure and bake until done.  Allow the board and carp to cool until you can handle it.  Throw the carp away and eat the board.”  A lot of the healthier food choices I eat seem to taste the way I imagine a manure covered board might taste.

I’m just not going to eat that way…every day.  There must be a certain joy to life or it is not worth living.  For instance, I have reduced my salt intake but not on grits and eggs…I also don’t eat eggs and grits every day…or even every week.  Occasionally I’m going to eat eggs and grits covered in cheddar cheese and running in butter…real butter…just to remind me of what life has to offer.  I’m going to eat it with salt…and a side of bacon or sausage.  But not every day.  Some days, I’m going to eat slow cooked pork that has been marinated in a brine mixture and then covered in a special rub…but, not every day.  I am never going to eat tofu…ever.

The hospital food reminded me of the good things I was missing…because it was so terrible.  Honestly, it was good hospital food, which is like saying Mississippi River mud taste better than Colorado River mud.  Well, I’m home now.  No pacemaker, no flutter in my atrium and no hospital food.  Also, no cigar, no beer…today…may be tomorrow…and tomorrow, I’ll probably eat oatmeal for breakfast…with no salt…and no taste.

Little Bastards

I really can’t think of much that I dislike about living in the South…ummmm…summertime humidity and mosquitoes can be found anywhere. Right? Sometimes we Southerners only have two seasons – “damn cold or damn hot” … occurring in just the blink of an eye. An old South Carolina saying tells us a lot about our climate. “If you don’t like the weather now just wait a minute. It will change.” I find this to be true during the spring and fall.

I remember a “damn Yankee” football player from the early 90’s who had joined us from one of the “I” states, Indiana I think, and who, before our first August football practice, explained to me that “I can handle the heat. It gets hot in Indiana, too.” An hour later, after his eyes had rolled back in his head, I was cooling him off with ice water soaked towels and forcing him to take sips of Gatorade. Yes, it does get hot in Indiana but, “It ain’t the heat in the South. It’s the humidity!”

When Linda Gail and I moved into our little “piece of heaven” we had no air conditioning. Open windows and ceiling fans moved warm and humid air and reminded us of our youth…except for the ceiling fans, we did not have during either one of our youths. More concerned with conserving heat during the wintertime, unlike” flat land country” farmhouses, ours had eight-foot ceilings instead of ten footers and late in the day, our lower ceilings would trap heat. A lot of late evenings were spent talking on the porch until it was cool enough to go to bed. A breeze might bring the smell of honeysuckle while we listened to the cicadas and other night sounds. I might enjoy a cigar while staying hydrated with a few adult beverages…until the mosquitoes came for dinner. No matter how much citronella we burned or how many fans we used, the little blood suckers seemed to always find us…and still do.

Mosquitoes are just a fact of life in the South and I praise God they don’t grow to the size of vultures. On a trip to the coast, I remember making an impromptu nature call where the only facility available was an old fire road in the middle of a pine forest off South Carolina’s Highway 17. As I completed my task, I looked down to ensure nothing got caught in the zipper and could see a cloud of mosquitoes attempting to make off with my man part. Itchy and it was in November! F&%K it! I DID zip up too quickly! For some reason, Linda Gail thought it was hilarious until the little vampires who had followed me into the car decided she was sweeter meat than I was. I laughed and I laughed and I laughed.

We have “stinging” insects too. Wasps, hornets, bees, even a little bitty thing that might be called a “no see um” … if I could see um’. Generally, I dislike them all. Specifically, I hate the yellow jacket. The little “bastards!” They are small hornets who build nests underground, under leaves or in hollow stumps. Related to bald-faced hornets and common wasps, they are much faster, more aggressive and make a honey bee sting seem like a French kiss from your beloved. If you step into a yellow jacket’s nest, you will not get stung once but several times and the little bastards will pursue you. Talk about holding a grudge.
The first time I stepped into a nest I got stung a dozen times, all from the knees down. When I finished beating them off of me I found my legs covered in “stinging” whelps that slowly, over a matter of days, turned into itchy, oozing wounds that resembled cigarette burns despite being treated with Linda Gail’s “old time remedy,” chewing tobacco and Arm and Hammer soda. This was also despite initially wearing heavy blue jeans, boots and heavy socks. I say initially because I “shucked” my pants quickly.

Over time I have found it better to wear shorts. You get stung fewer times before being alerted to “run like hounds of hell” are after you and the wounds are not nearly as bad. It’s as if the yellow jackets, when met with “blue jean” resistance, really got pissed off. I stepped into a nest while using my weed eater near the back door of the house one morning. Luckily, I saw the cloud of “little bastards” erupt from their hole and I ran for the safety of our closed in back porch. Yelling, slapping and running, somehow all at the same time, I found my “beloved” slamming the door in my face and screaming, “Don’t bring them in here!” Thank you SOOOOOO very much.

As I related in an earlier story I am not the only one to run afoul of the “little bastards.” One of my goats stuck his nose into a yellow jacket’s nest and received numerous stings to the head and neck. With a leather collar around his neck, the swelling had nowhere to go causing his head to swell, and swell and swell. By the time I rescued him, his head was the size of a basketball and I was afraid he would begin to chock if I did not release him from the collar. As soon as I cut through the collar his head began to “deflate” and I worried that he would die when the poison hit his heart. He didn’t and just went back to eating. Goats are simple creatures…unlike my wife who would have let the goat come in regardless of how many yellow jackets followed him. It’s good to know where I rate on her hierarchy of animals that she loves.

Few things that I hate about the South? I just got my first yellow jacket sting of the summer. Luckily, just one and I have found their little underground lair of pain. I will make the “little bastards” pay when night time falls. I will come calling with my little can of “payback” and for a brief time there will be one less thing to hate about the South.

This is an excerpt from the book “Through the Front Gate”
Don Miller has also written other books which may be purchased or downloaded at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Could it be the Lard? Said the Spider to the Candle Fly.

Who knew the shingles could be such a great diet aid. The day before they hit I stood on my scales and commented out loud to myself and the spider creating the web above the back door, “You better be careful, your weight has been creeping up. You are about five pounds above where you want to be…need to be.” The spider ignored me and continued “casting” her web.

That was a month ago and I no longer am concerned about being five pounds too heavy. Now I’m worried about having lost twelve pounds without trying. The spider doesn’t seem to be too concerned although the candle fly joining her in the web seems genuinely frightened to death. Why am I thinking of a spider in female terms? Anyway….

Because of my weight loss and the reinvigorated appetite coinciding with the passing of the shingles, I decided to go on a quest, the holiest of quest. No, I am not joining Percival questing for the Holy Grail, my quest involves gaining four or five pounds using flour, cream, baking powder and …well there is my problem. My quest is to create a biscuit just like my grandmother made; tall “catheads” with a break midway, buttery crisp on the outside, yet moist, light and fluffy on the inside. I’ve tried cold butter ala Bobby Flay, both shortening and butter from Paula Dean and all I have to show for my efforts is a net gain of two pounds. They were good biscuits, worth the two pounds gained, especially the peppered version by Flay, but it’s still not quite right.

It’s my fault. I should have pressed my grandmother for her recipe earlier before she had entered the twilight of her mind. When I finally asked for her recipe, the best she could give me were her dry ingredients and a statement, “When it all comes together it will feel right.” I remember my father saying something similar about love. It took me a while to get that right but I have actually been more successful with my quest for love than my quest for the perfect biscuit…wait, I am no longer questing for love…well, I guess its love for a biscuit.

Well, Miss Spider, what do you think? More silence and for some reason, the candle fly has ceased her struggles.

My mind has been playing around with a thought…the one I’ve tried to ignore. Could it have been lard? Epic pork fat at one hundred and thirty percent of your daily fat requirements in one serving. And if I add a little sausage or sawmill gravy…I’m a dead man. What do you think spider? Could it be the lard?

My quest might be for the impossible. Did Percival ever find the Grail? Okay, yes and no, depending on which version you read. Maybe I have created a standard in my mind that will be impossible to find or meet…well, I still have five or six pounds to play with before I must give up my quest.

Okay, spider…what did you do with the candle fly?

“Looking for answers to questions that bothered him so” For more musings and other stuff from Don Miller, check his author’s page at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP

A QUIET, LITTLE PARK

I have childhood memories of gazing across the main street at the granite soldier standing guard inside the Confederate Park in the small town of Fort Mill. I was probably standing in line for a Saturday matinee at the Center Theater. That would be my guess. Some shaggy dog movie or maybe an oater starring Rory Calhoun or the like. I stood in line pondering the Confederate Soldier perched upon his stand gazing off to…where? Another time? “Good times they are not forgotten….”

The park seemed to be a quiet and serious, an almost religious place despite the Parrott Rifle and mortar guarding the four memorials located within; the Confederate Soldier erected in 1891, two tributes erected in 1895 memorializing sacrifices by loyal slaves and women, and finally, in 1900, a memorial to the Catawba Indians who served with the Confederacy. There is a bandstand, a place to sit and have lunch, contemplating whatever adults must contemplate. The little boy me knew nothing of this, he simply wondered why the granite figure seemed to be so lonely.

Confederate memorials don’t seem to be very quiet or religious these days. Arguments have erupted, again, over the removal of Confederate memorials and the Confederacy’s sacred cloth, the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia. Virginia, Louisiana and locally, my adopted home, Greenville, South Carolina have been focal points. I vacillate on my position. I don’t believe the removal of such monuments erases the history but I wonder how much both sides are trying to change history to fit their cognitive dissonance.

My problem is with the view of my heritage. My issue is with the heritage we Southerners are so proud of. The heritage we are determined to protect…or even invent. Tributes to brave men, our forefathers, dressed in gray and butternut, charging through the smoke, braving musket fire and grapeshot. Brave men on the wrong side of history. Outnumbered but valiant, dying, their blood staining the sacred ground of “Dixieland” …despite their Lost Cause. Defending the land of their birth, their way of life, their rights. Bravely giving their lives in a struggle reminiscent of Ivanhoe at his best.

It is the other side of our heritage I ponder. The heritage we attempt to, if not ignore, deflect from. We protest that the war was about Northern aggression and invasion, state’s rights, defending our homeland from an overreaching federal government and its unfair taxation through tariffs. This is my problem. Politicians, Southern Heritage groups and revisionist are quick to deflect, it’s Heritage Not Hate. My problem is the question I ask, “Where do African-Americans, their forefathers shackled in chains, where does their heritage fit?”

Maybe we should just add a fifth memorial to those already found in the quiet little park near the home of my distant youth. A marble testament to those who suffered under our heritage. We are quick to point out “it is time to move on,” that no one alive has picked cotton as a slave or owned slaves or a half dozen other excuses. In a way, I agree…but not until we take our own advice.

Don Miller writes “about things that bother him so” and things that don’t bother him at all. Should you desire, you may connect with him at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP

SPIRITS CALL TO ME

The spirits of the past call to me often. Usually, they sing to me late in the darkness of night. Mostly their songs are the sweet songs of a mother’s or grandmother’s love, long gone but not forgotten. Their songs of “tough love” don’t come to me as readily as their “sweet love.” Stroking a fevered brow, mayonnaise and onion sandwiches, the sound of a hoe contacting a rock followed by the thud it makes when it is thrown out. A broad smile on a freckled face because of something I did right for a change, birthday cakes, Christmas ambrosia and Missouri cookies. Breaking beans on a front porch in the August heat…. Strange the ways you knew you were loved.

I only had my mother for a short time. She left me when I was a half year past my eighteenth birthday. Left me, my brother and my father. For much of the previous five years she battled ALS until the battle was lost in early January of 1969. I strain to remember her…racking my brain. My memories are fuzzy and I hate that. I have pictures to remind me of her. Her red hair and freckles. The alabaster skin under her freckles turning lobster red after five minutes in the summer sun. A big smile and bigger laugh. A bit of shyness. Readying herself for work…draw in treads draped around her neck like a lei necklace. I wonder what happened to her reed hooks? They were always in her apron…I wonder where they are?

Mother’s Day is not a day of celebration for me, not a day of joy. It is memories of granite memorials in a small, country graveyard. Memories of funerals and pain. It is a day of questions. A day of “what ifs?” She never met my Linda Gail, she never met her grandchild.

Tomorrow will come and go…and with it’s leaving the return of sweet songs from the past…and a brightening I hope. Momma and Nannie…I miss you both every day but more so on this day…Mother’s Day. Rarely is there a day that goes by that something doesn’t remind me of you. Mostly I smile…except when I don’t…but mostly I smile.

Visit Don’s author’s page at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP or pick up a copy or download his new book, Musings of a Mad Southerner, at https://goo.gl/zxZHWO.

TEACHER APPRECIATION

We celebrated National Teacher’s Appreciation Week…last week. Our PTA was wonderful. Today I read a post from Dan Rather celebrating teachers and, after reading it, couldn’t help but think of those teachers who made an impact on my life, those who taught me and those I taught with.

My high school teachers were rural folk, under paid and over worked, often taking second jobs to make ends meet. They were noble people who answered a higher calling. I wonder if Mrs. Richardson or Mrs. McGinn worried about the state of education when I joined their ranks as a teacher in my own right. It wasn’t their fault I underachieved. I wish I had taken the time to tell them how much they meant to me. I wish I had told them that I learned much more than I ever put on paper or ever let on. I’m not sure they ever suspected…but they continued to try. Thank you for helping me to escape the cotton mills of my parents and the fields of my grandparents.

I did underachieve, not really knowing what I wanted to do. My mother wished for a doctor, my grandmother a preacher. I let them down too. It wasn’t until I found myself in an American History class that I felt the spark to teach. Thanks Coach Gunter…and thanks for a spark to become a coach. Thanks for giving me a big enough spark to overcome Western Civilization and Dr. Farley my freshman year in college.

I’ve taught now for forty-three years, forty of them were full time. After having been away for a year and then taking a long-term position for a friend, I cannot express how hard teaching has become and how much esteem and admiration I have for the younger teachers I am now working with. They too, are noble and answering a higher calling.

Teaching was hard twenty years ago, it has now almost become impossible. I applaud their innovative approaches, willingness to give of themselves, their love for their children and wonder if I ever looked that young. Despite the lack of support they receive, the ridicule they sometimes garner, they somehow persevere. Their calling truly is about the children they teach and not about the big bucks they could be earning. Because of these teachers, the children are the winners.

I don’t know if I could teach and coach if I suddenly found myself transported to the future that is now. I was just as terrible as a teacher as I was as a student when I first started out. I hope I improved. If I did it was because of the Nita Leatherwoods, June Shealys and Marilyn Koons from those early years. Later it would be others. If I did anything right, I kept trying to learn and kept copying the Bob Crains, Bianca Jameisons, and Paul Burnettes of the world. They were successful and loved by their students.

If you have a favorite teacher or a teacher who somehow made a difference, take a minute to let them know. They would appreciate it, especially in this day and time when teachers are more likely to be ridiculed than appreciated. They will appreciate it more than gold.

For more witty repartee go to Don’s author page at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP