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

FLOPPY PARTS…DEJA VU

STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! I wrote a book, my second attempt at writing badly, about the “wringers” men catch their floppy parts in…well, for the sake of truth, the “wringers” I catch my floppy parts in. Note: Present tense, plural.

The book was entitled, “Floppy Parts” and didn’t just deal with interpersonal relations but sometimes those relationships are just as painful as any hard shot to the “nads.” You’d think a man with my advanced level of seasoning would have a clue…but no I don’t. Not even close. If male-female interpersonal relationships were a course, I would be failing badly.

According to a blog I just read it takes, and I quote, “a guy up to three weeks to process and understand what is happening on the emotional level of his life.” Really? I would have thought longer…if ever. Maybe I should just wait and check in later, say a month? No I won’t remember it in a month which brings me to my present wringer.

When she makes me mad, I brood, or as my beloved reminds me, I pout. Yeah, I do. I run my lower lip out and I feel sorry for myself…for a couple of hours, allowing it to percolate, and then I blow up. BOOM! And it’s over. I’m good, got it all out, over with, airs cleared, except it’s not. It’s a false sense of wellbeing. “A dead pig smiling in the sunshine” kind of false wellbeing.
My beloved is going to allow my faux pas to marinade for three weeks or so. She’s going to allow it to eat at her and break down into its most basic and primal fractions…you know…like anger. She doesn’t brood, she plots…SHE GETS EVEN!

Three weeks later she has all the symptoms of a woman with a bee in her bonnet. Later I ask, “Honey, what’s wrong?” Later I will ask again…and again.
“Nothing,” says she, again and again. That is her code for I’m pissed but I’m not going to warn you before “comin’ off yo head!”
Eventually she does, “Do you remember three weeks ago when….” Hell no! I don’t remember what I had for supper yesterday…but she will remind me and it will not be as delicious as whatever I had for supper yesterday even if I had a dog poop sandwich.

Like last night. I’m not going to say what minor thing I did but it sent her to bed mad and I brooded from my d@#$ recliner well into the night. It percolated in my dreams. It interrupted my sleep. I awoke sore, too early, and “IT” was the first thing on my mind. I had a couple of hours of darkness to allow myself to brood.

Decision time. Okay, I’m good. I’m going to take the high road, take her morning coffee, and absorb my beating like a man…whenever it comes. Today, next week, a month from now, the year 2020.

What did you just say? You’re sorry? It was all your fault? What kind of black magic is this? Did space aliens kidnap my beloved during the night? I know what you are doing. You are going to keep me walking on egg shells until I forget about it and then, and only then, you will alight upon me like bottle flies on cow poop. But what if she is telling the truth, something she always does…Oh God, my floppies are in the wringer again.

Don Miller writes “memories.” If you enjoyed this short essay, more may be purchased or downloaded at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP

A PLAYER…ALL GROWN UP

For a guy who coached high school baseball for over thirty years, I don’t go to many high school baseball games. Just four this season. I feel a little guilty about not going but have found if I haven’t invested in the kids playing, I’m just as happy to catch a few innings of a collegiate or a pro game on the tube while relaxing on my recliner. Maybe I’m just being lazy.

Today was different. Instead of being lazy, I sat on the first base fence line watching a former player, Tim Perry, coach his high school team in our state high school playoffs. I might have been the only spectator who was more focused on the third base coaching box than the actual field of play.

The site of the game was a field where, in a past lifetime, I had wandered from the dugout to the third base coaching box and back again just like my former player was doing. I felt a certain kinship with him and understood the emotions he was possibly feeling. I watched him cheering, clapping, offering up nuggets of baseball knowledge and teaching the game. Picking his players up after an error or a strike out…no visible berating although I don’t know for sure what went on inside of the dugout…no berating I’m sure.

I was happy to be a spectator. The gut wrenching, acid churning and Tums gobbling days’ of “life or death” competition rest squarely on his much younger, broader shoulders and are, thankfully, in my rear-view mirror. I’d rather just cheer for him.

There is a comradery among coaches, even rival coaches, and these two knew each other well, having competed against each other since their little league playing days. After losing the second game, the district final, I wondered if they were still friends? Knowing Tim’s personality, I would guess yes.

When I first met Tim, he was a freckled faced ninth grader. He had one of those angelic faces that lit up the world when he smiled. Angelic face but full of “snips and snails, and puppy dog tails.” Short and just a few pounds past “stocky,” he resembled a “pleasingly plump” Alfalfa of Our Gang fame or maybe Howdy Doody of Buffalo Bob renown. If you look at him just right today, you can still see it.

Tim was trying out for our junior varsity team and had all the correct mechanics and moves, learned from hours of baseball camps and honed on hundreds of diamonds around the South, if not the nation. He looked good doing whatever he was doing. The problem was he looked good swinging through a lot of pitches, having a ball roll between his legs or having to line him up with a fence post to see if he was actually moving when he ran. I cut him. Doing so might, I say might, have been a mistake.

When a young kid gets cut he has a couple of options. He can allow it to ruin his athletic career, just quit and feel sorry for himself, or he can work harder and try again. I imagine you might guess which Tim did. It didn’t hurt he had a growing spurt over that next year, as in about six inches, a foot? No not that much but he was six foot plus by the time graduated. He turned into a good player, the ace of my pitching staff and good enough to play college ball. Yeah, maybe I made a mistake. I cherish the picture of us made when he signed his letter of intent to play for my old alma mater.

More importantly, and more to the point, he’s turned into a good man with a beautiful family. I watched a three-year-old boy run around and play as the game went on. He is Tim made over, a freckled faced little imp. The little boy’s mother and sister are pretty, brunette images of each other, thank goodness. I’m not sure how much Tim’s wife actually got to watch the game while keeping up with two fireballs. I know I never saw her sit down. Tim’s parents were there too, aging but still pulling for their son, always his biggest cheerleaders…and greatest teachers. How much support does someone deserve…a lot in Tim’s case.

I would guess it was heaven ordained Tim would become a baseball coach. He was already a coach when he played for me. Tim loved the game too much not to pursue that vocation along with a career in teaching despite a short tenure in the “real world,” the non-teaching world.

I’ve found there are two kinds of men who coach baseball…at least at the high school level. Those who coach the game for the game, and those who coach the kids. Over the years, I’ve found I don’t have much use for the men who coach the game just for the sake of winning championships…and I know, we’re all in it to win or you don’t stay in it very long. Observing Tim, I saw a coach who was coaching baseball but more importantly he was coaching kids and having fun doing it…and they were having fun too.

Tim, I’m glad you were mine for a brief period and happy you have turned into the man you’ve turned into. I hope you know how lucky you are to be that man. Maybe next year Coach…and I’m really sorry I made that mistake.

Don Miller writes “memories.” If you enjoyed this short essay, more may be purchased or downloaded at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP

BAD TEACHER

There was a time I didn’t worry so much. Chalk it up to being young and stupid…yeah, old and stupid too. I’ve taken a part-time, long-term teaching position as a favor for a friend. I must have her buffaloed. This is the second time she has asked as she plays momma on maternity leave . She really thinks I’m a good teacher. I wonder. Maybe she shouldn’t have any more babies. Her classes are good classes for the most part. Just a few little “Johnnies” and they aren’t too bad…yet.

I’ve begun to recycle faces. There is the little girl in third block. She reminds me of another little girl, a forty years ago little girl. She asked me where spaghetti came from. Just as seriously as she could, “Coach Miller, I’ve always wondered, where does spaghetti come from?” Just as seriously I answered, “It’s grown on farms in very long thin rows, sown very close together to keep them from spreading out too wide.” It simply popped out of my mouth. Usually when I was pulling someone’s leg I let them off the hook quickly. This young lady was so, so serious…I wonder if she still thinks spaghetti is grown on farms or worse, thinks what a jerk her physical science teacher was. I really wish I had told her the truth. Well pasta is made from wheat….

Most of my worries occur because of my mouth…the mouth that tends to speak before the brain tells it what to say. Most of the time it’s not purposeful, just my mouth tripping over words and the pause afterwards as I contemplate, “Did I really say it was a ‘single celled orgasm’ or the octopus had ‘eighty-foot-long testicles?’” The first one wasn’t too bad, they missed it…a young class, they probably had never heard the word before. The second one I made the mistake of trying to correct myself. “TENTICALES, TENTICALES!”

Oh no, the angry young lady I instructed to “SIT RIGHT THERE!” I just put an h in the word sit. She wasn’t angry very long but I don’t really suggest this as a method to diffuse tense situations. I admit it is hard to be tense with everyone laughing.

Sometimes I did things with malice and forethought. Sometimes, they had unintended consequences, especially during my physical science days. The lab assistants who blew up all the sink traps dropping sodium metal into a lab sink because they saw me demonstrate it. Yep, if a BB sized piece of sodium will do that in a sink full of water, think what a golf ball sized one will do when flushed down the drain. Thankfully no one “lost an eye” and sodium is no longer allowed in high school labs.

Potato guns are fun especially if you get to make one in Coach Miller’s class. Gee, what useful information. “YOU DID WHAT?” With eyes very wide and in a whisper, “The potato went through a window and through a wall?” “YOU TOLD THE POLICE WHATTTTTTTTTT?” My principal in a very authoritarian voice, “MR. MILLER! Could I see you in my office? There are two gentlemen here who would like to interview you about an incident that occurred yesterday.” Great, Sam Cooke is singing “Chain Gang” in my head.

Well thankfully no one tried to recreate my lit pickle demonstration. That might have been “electrifying.” We did bomb the parents in the car line with water rockets after a wind shift.

My biggest worry? That teachers don’t get to do the fun stuff anymore…no not tripping over their words! The other fun stuff, like blowing up hydrogen filled balloons and making dill pickles light up. Oh well…testing begins next week. A real reason to worry.

Don Miller writes “memories.” Some may even be yours. Grab a copy or download today at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP.

BEAUTIFUL BLIND PUPPIES

Madeline Roo and Matilda Sue just celebrated their twelfth birthdays. They’re not really puppies but will always be OUR PUPPIES. They’re sisters, from a litter holding fourteen little gray and black mottled, squirmy, thieves. That’s right thieves, right down to the “permanent” bandit mask across Maddie’s face. Every day, they continue to steal a little bit of my heart.

It’s early morning and I am watching the eastern sky lighten…I’m also watching Tilly navigate the yard. Tilly doesn’t have a bandit mask but she steals my heart anyway. She comes and sits with me in the early morning as I try to put thoughts and words together on this electronic version of paper. I find it comforting to see her or her sister laying in the recliner next to me, sleeping so very non-canine like, on their backs, feet stuck up in the air. Sometimes they scare me, so deeply asleep I must wake them just to make sure….

Tilly is awake and moving, nose to the ground. Every morning, I watch…just in case. She pauses and then circles around a large clump of periwinkle. She has picked up the scent of the bunny living there. After searching, she continues her voyage of exploration, circumnavigating the yard. At the wood pile, she stops to greet the ground squirrel living behind it. Maddie is upstairs with her mommy but will eventually make the same trip. I’ll watch, just in case.

It’s been over two years since Tilly began to go blind. It was rapid, something about dog years. Her sister followed a year later and they are both now sightless. A genetic defect will claim every one of their litter mates. I wonder if they see when they dream? The question makes me hurt and tear up. They seem to have taken their blindness much better than their mommy and daddy.

They make me smile…knowing they remember. Barking at the squirrel, no longer in the hemlock tree or sitting near the persimmon tree waiting for the possum that is somewhere else to come down. Tilly recently brought me a mole, so proud she wanted to share. While I feel sorry for the mole I’m glad it’s not the possum she used to bring me and yet happy she can still find something to bring.

They make me sad…knowing they can’t see. Maddie reminds me daily when she comes over to the recliner I’m not sitting in to get her belly rubbed. She will paw even though I’m not there. I miss them trying to herd squirrels, birds and each other.

It’s taken some adjustment. Old feed bags filled with newspaper used as buffers against hard and sharp objects. Special care not to block learned pathways. New commands like, “Watch your nose, watch your nose” or “Step, step, steps” have been learned, and yet I am amazed to see Tilly scale a rock wall, just like she did when she could see, and then later come down the same wall.

They still play their blue heeler games. Games only they understand. They are playing now, nose to nose, nipping at each other’s muzzles…somehow knowing where the other one is and able to pull up just short. Friendly growls to remind them it’s just a game…and to remind us about the better things in life.

Those in the know told us we shouldn’t get litter mates. They were incorrect. Despite the recent trials and tribulations, it has been worth it. Maddie and Tilly are happy and in much better health than much younger dogs. Mommy has seen to that. No doubt I’m happier and in much better health because of her too…and my beautiful blind puppies.

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.

Natty Old Tees

How many tee shirts are too many? I dare say I have collected enough to wear a different tee daily for a year without repeating once. Since I have retired, tee shirts and jeans seem to be the attire of choice, unless it’s summer and then it’s tees and shorts…except on Sunday. I do wear dress shirts to church…with dress jeans of course. My father is rolling in his grave.

While I no longer exercise in cotton tees, the new technical fabrics are lighter and wick perspiration better, I do love the feel of freshly laundered cotton against my skin. It reminds me of freshly laundered and blued linens, line dried in the fresh air and sunshine…memories having nothing to do with tee shirts.

I’m attempting to sort through my collection of tee shirts and make some decisions. Good ones to wear out on the town in one pile, not so good ones, frayed or forever soiled with chicken grease or pizza sauce, banished to the work tee shirt pile. Worn out tees exiled or repurposed to be used as cleaning rags or to tie up tomatoes on their stakes. I hesitate to throw them away because of the memories surrounding some of them.

Forty years ago, Champion made the best athletic tees, heavy and meant to last. I know this to be a fact. I still have a now yellowed one with the orange lettering, “I Believe.” Worn to death, it is much too fragile to wear now, it turned forty this past fall. A friend and mentor, now gone almost as long as the tee shirt is old, presented it to me and some fifty other coaches and players before the first game of a memorable season. No, I need to put it back right where I found it, tucked away with all its memories from one sparkling season.

Another specimen is a plain, royal blue with more holes than fabric and needs to be thrown away but I can’t. I wore it during a state championship campaign after giving up my number twenty-three jersey to a younger player so he could dress with the team. I keep hoping the tee has a little bit of good luck left in it. After losing a fight with my chainsaw three decades ago, I wear it whenever I am using rotating equipment in hopes it will keep me from losing a body part. So far it has.

A light blue tee with “North-South All-stars” screen printed on the front is displayed in a fading picture made during the after-game celebration. Tim Bright, Anthony Fairchild and Chris Bates are smiling with me and reminding me of better days, “Brighter” days. The actual tee has been worn little since the picture was made and will be stored away with its bitter-sweet memories.

Off-white by design rather than age, I have a heavy-weight tee with a New Zealand logo. I found it on my desk at the close of school one year, a parting gift from New Zealander and exchange student, “Hobby” Hobson. I never got the chance to thank him and wonder often what he might be up to in one of those “lands down under.” How, in the name of all things holy, did it get a hole in the back? No matter, it will stay in the “memorable” pile and be worn with pride, hole and all.

Soiled and stained there is the technical tee from the first 5K run after my heart attack, another from my first half marathon, and an unused one from the last half I didn’t get to run due to an injury. I couldn’t really repurpose those, could I? Maybe the one I didn’t get to run.

There are so many others. A blue Jocassee Bait Shop tee, a gift from a favorite player. The much too small white one covered in pink flamingoes. A gift from a teaching friend who shares my love for the odd looking, yet beautiful birds. My prized Buffett concert tee featuring colorful parrots drinking from margarita glasses along with mermaids swimming about. What to do, what to do? Nothing I guess…simply wear them and remember their meanings for as long as I can see and feel them.

Visit Don’s author’s page at https://goo.gl/pL9bp or pick up a copy or download his new book, Musings of a Mad Southerner, at https://goo.gl/zxZHWO.