Running Delight

 

A simple joy?  I ran…I jogged…I shuffled my feet…slowly.  Call it what you want but “jogging” seven minutes out of fifty-six brought a river of “good” endorphins and a bit of hard breathing.  Little “feel good” opioid peptides that have raised my spirits at a time when my spirits have been quite low.

To think, I sooooo hated running…I still hate the actual act of running.

I flirted with exercise my entire adult life.  Flirted like the unsure introvert gazing wishfully at the beautiful homecoming queen from across the room.  I’d contemplate asking her to dance and then take a good look in the mirror as I straighten my tie.  Why would she be interested in dancing with me?

Similar to the pain of rejection, running was painful.  Aching muscles, being short of breath, the queasy stomach after strenuous exercise…and…left to my natural state, I’m basically lazy.

The mirror suggested, “You don’t look like a runner…you are too round, your legs are too short, your feet are too big.”  Compared to a thoroughbred horse, I was at best a mule, at worst a donkey…built for carrying burdens not speed.

A birthday gift from hell changed the way I looked at myself in the mirror.  I embarked on a running program six weeks after a birthday heart attack in 2006.  After the heart attack, I decided the homecoming queen could be damned.

Four stents overcame a life filled with Southern cooking, I completed cardiac rehab and embarked on a walking program.  An old school coach, I just didn’t feel the “no pain, no gain.”  I needed to hurt…and I did.  I needed to pay for those caloric indiscretions of my youth…and I did.  I used the “Couch to 5K”1 workout and found the pain to be manageable.  I also found there were unforeseen benefits.

My feet were still too big, my legs will always be too short, but I wasn’t as round…sixty-two pounds less round.  Those changes or lack thereof were foreseen.  It was the changes in my mind I didn’t foresee.

I have battled depression for over forty years and suddenly my broken kaleidoscope of a brain seemed to reset itself.  There were days I still battled but the din of battle had quieted.  The voices in my head whispered instead of yelling.

There were (are) still days when I didn’t want to get out of bed, but they were less numerous and harsh.  I had a reason to get out of bed…my early morning run.

Running for me was like the guy hitting himself in the head with a hammer.  It hurt like hell while I did it but, “It felt so good when I stopped.”

I wasn’t satisfied with 5Ks and continued to push through 10Ks and half-marathons.  I even wrote down a marathon on my bucket list and began to train.  For five or six days a week, I battled my body instead of my mind.  I was addicted.  I wasn’t fast and would win no races.  I might win in my age group if everyone in my age group had died.

My running wasn’t about competing with others it was about competing with myself.  My running was about finishing a workout or finishing a race.  I could put a 13.1 bumper sticker on my Jeep and look in a mirror and say, “I am a runner!”

And then I wasn’t.  On my last run before a half-marathon in 2015, a misstep opened a can of worms.  For two years I hobbled through workouts, tried to prepare to run only to reinjure myself until I decided I was being hardheaded and put my pain into a doctor’s hands. A torn meniscus was an issue…also the discovery of early-onset osteoarthritis.  “A knee replacement is in your future,” he said.  I wish I had never gone.  I wish I had never found out.

For two years I have walked or rode a bicycle and mentally bitched over every mile. Walking doesn’t do it for me.  Cycling doesn’t blot out the voices in my head no matter how much I crank up the volume.  Walking fails to reset my brain.

This winter season has been the worst.  The SAD and depression had laid me low until the New Year.  I decided to run…jog…shuffle my feet.  A different program, a thirty-second jog out of every two and a half minutes the first week, a minute out of three the second, the same next week.2  Twelve weeks to a 5K.  I feel like a baby taking his first steps, but I am hopeful.  Even my walking days have been…hopeful.

I am also going to be smart.  Three days a week only, on the grass, not the pavement, no back to back days no matter how many workouts are rained ut.  Good shoes and braces.

I scratched the marathon off my bucket list.  It will never happen.  I do hope to do a 5K even if it is a walk/run…jog…shuffle.  Anything to reset my mind.  Anything to keep the negative voices at bay.  Anything to repair the broken kaleidoscope.  Anything to get my mojo back.

1 Couch to 5K  http://www.c25k.com/

2 None to Run Plan https://www.nonetorun.com/

Don Miller writes on many subjects, fiction, and nonfiction.  His author’s page is https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

 Sittin’ on a Cactus

 

“Being negative only makes a difficult journey more difficult. You may be given a cactus, but you don’t have to sit on it.”  Joyce Meyer

I’m trying to be positive, but I hold no notion 2020 will be any better than 2019 unless I take the cacti by the thorns.  I remember thinking 2018 was awful….  Now 2019 has been awful.  I think you get what you expect, and I’ve been expecting nothin’ if not the worse.

I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions anymore per se.  Why take the time when you are going to break them.  I set goals…I break them too but try to climb back on the horse whenever I fall off…until lately.  Lately, I’ve chosen the easy way, to lay in my bed of cactus and sleep in it.

As I look at the “coming New Year” posts I made from 2016, 2017, and 2018, it would appear we are…or I am…in a downward spiral.  A toilet bowl kind of spiral.  I have a vision of a large turd with my face on it going around, and round, and down. and down.  Too dramatic?  Sorry, just the way I feel.

I am sitting in the dark, listening to rain pelt down against my metal roof trying to take inventory of the previous year.  I probably need to turn on some lights, my depression is getting the better of me.  My inventory tells me I haven’t accomplished very much…and sadly, I’m feeling okay with having done absolutely nothing I needed to do in 2019…2018…etc.

I once looked at the New Year as a painter looks at a blank canvas.  What kind of brilliant colors can I put on my canvas?  Who am I kidding? I can’t draw a stick figure that looks like a stick figure and my 2019 canvas is still blank…blank?  Blank to the point of being transparent.  I seem to be sucking the color out of my life and planting more cacti.

Even the simple things seem to escape me.  I’m still trying to lose the ten pounds I needed to lose in 2016.  By God!  I’m going to do it this year!  Or maybe next.  Should I put a check in the box because it is still just ten pounds…maybe, I haven’t weighed today, and yesterday and the day before were long days of TV football and pizza eating.  Let’s look shall we…nope can’t check that box.  Tomorrow?  2021?

I’d like to resolve to enjoy life more…something I’m not doing…and so little time left.  If I resolve I make a resolution so I can’t do that for fear of breaking it.  

Sometimes my lack of motivations are external forces at work but this morning I look in the mirror, I point a finger, scrunch up my face and yell, “Really?  It’s your fault.  Get off your ass and do something with that potted cactus.”  It is my fault.  I am choosing to sit on the cactus.  It seems easier to deal with the pain than do something about it.

Years ago, I had an old fart tell me his biggest issue with growing old was having no dreams.  The old fart was younger than I now am.  Not sleep dreams, old farts still have those.  Accomplishment dreams, relationship dreams, aspirational dreams are no longer there.  Young men have dreams, old men have memories…or regrets.  I believed him to be full of ”**it.”  Not so much now.

My goal is to change my outlook.  I still won’t have aspirational dreams; those days are gone unless it is aspiring to get out of bed.  I can have accomplishment dreams and relationship dreams.  I can add to my memories…somehow.  I have some ideas, some things to think about.  Positive thoughts on how to change the direction my brain is taking me.  We’ll see.  You’ll have to wait until the end of 2020 to find out.  “Tune in next year….”

If I made a New Year’s resolution, it would be to“quit wallerin’ on a cactus and destroying the blooms”…the good things.

Set some easy goals at first like losing a pound ten times instead of saying you had to lose ten pounds all at once…or fifteen and if you fall off the wagon, climb out of the cacti.  Maybe quit eating Oreos and drinking chocolate milk as a midnight snack…that might get the job done right there…but the Oreos!

Take care of the little things, the easy things daily, and maybe the big things won’t overwhelm you.  Remember that no problem ever gets better on its own.

To all a Happy New Year and a wish for us all…

“I hope there are days when your coffee tastes like magic, your playlist makes you dance, strangers make you smile, and the night sky touches your soul. I hope there are days when you fall in love with being alive.”–Brooke Hampton

Don Miller writes on various subjects both fiction and non-fiction.  His author’s page may be found at https://www.facebook.com/cigarman501/?eid=ARBT–kBkSHJV1fxQoDO_FML7NeUu6ktF4-9U4AQ6u3WdIzjy__fU6WDa_wF0AlHkp3VPIxEzVnOBjkb

Or https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

 

Hope

My holiday wish is hope.

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”  ― Shel Silverstein

***

Humanity is capable of such good.  Humanity is capable of flight, capable of putting people on the moon and returning them home again.  We can be so amazing.

I hope we can find our amazing light and shine it throughout the Universe.

Music, art of all types, the application of human creative skill and imagination…mathmatics, science,..we’re problem solvers.

I hope we put our collective minds together, solving more world problems, making life better for all.

Amazing breakthroughs in medicine, evolution in technologies.  Testaments to what humans can do when they embrace a positive goal. 

It is my hope we come together and embrace each other and find a positive goal.

So many people in need.  In a world with so much plenty, so much wasted with so many hurting for necessities.  In a world with so much opulence and wealth, we have people starving or lacking for clean water.  This is despite the verse, “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”

I hope we invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind to our table.

I have hope we will see the light and channel our amazing abilities toward ending those pestilences that plague us…regardless of who “us” is.

My fondest hope is the “goodwill toward men” we traditionally embrace during the holiday season will continue into and through the new year.

I hope all a Happy Holiday and a Merry Christmas.

I hope all a warm and prosperous New Year.

More than anything I hope for peace and healing to all.

“Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”  ― Shel Silverstein

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The featured image is from the charity, Hope for the Holidays Program, https://charity.lovetoknow.com/Hope_for_the_Holidays

The nativity scene is from Trinity Store https://www.trinitystores.com/artwork/light-world-nativity

Santa Clause and Reindeer are from Pinterest.

My Little Copilot

 

When Tilly rode with me, she perched herself on my center console, a paw resting on my arm as if to say, “Aren’t you driving a bit too fast?” or “Your next turn is coming up.”  Maddie just crawled into Mommy’s lap and went with the flow.

Tilly

Sometimes she would rest her muzzle on my shoulder while giving puppy kisses.  I know it’s not smart to allow a puppy to ride on the console, but I grew up in an era when we pretended to surf from the back of a pickup truck.  I was much more careful with the puppies than I ever was with me.

Tilly 4

It is a memory I shall ever hold near my heart…because soon, memories will be all I have left.  Tilly, Miss Matilda Sue, is nearing the crossing of her rainbow bridge.

Her fall has been rapid.  We knew her sister was sick and near the end of her days…although she doesn’t seem to be any closer than when she was diagnosed with liver tumors.

After a suddenly rough night,  Tilly is calm and sedate.  She is in no pain.  We watch her breathe waiting for the last breath.  We have a four-thirty vet visit scheduled just in case.  A good portion of me hopes we don’t have to make it.

Almost fifteen years ago she and her sister, Maddie, Miss Madeline Rue, adopted us, stealing our hearts as they did.  Maddie is still with us, but I worry about how she will react to the absence of her sister.  They have been together for almost fifteen years.  Sometimes buddies, sometimes antagonist, always competitors for our hearts.  Sometimes I hate the circle of life.

Mad and Til

They imprinted on Linda more than they did on me.  I didn’t mind…I imprinted on Linda too.  It is also something I’ve found almost always happens, imprinting more on one than the other.  Late in their lives, both blind, Tilly deaf, they would wander their pathways searching for her scent anytime she was absent from their side.  I love her that much too.  I’m always anxious when she is not around.

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Mommy and her puppies

They were trouble but never troublesome…even when they escaped as mere puppies and traveled over a half-mile from home.  I can remember the joy of finding them replacing the guilt I felt for allowing them to escape.

They came into our lives after losing our long, long, long term puppy, Sassy Marie.  She was a stray who wandered up one day, skinny and skittish, and then left just as quickly…some sixteen years later all fat and Sassy.  She knew she was nearing her time and just left, leaving us to believe she still roams the hillsides around our home.  Maddie and Tilly won’t leave but will haunt us just as deeply…maybe more deeply.

Linda swore we weren’t ready for another pet, that we were just going to look.  A friend’s relative raised Blue Heelers and their puppy had had a litter of sixteen.  “I’m not going to get one, just going to look”, said she.  “Not going to get one?”  It turned out to be a question of how many.  The answer was two.

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We didn’t have a chance.  Two puppies made their way out of a mass of wagging tails, pointy, upright ears, and blue merle fur with hints of buckskin brown.  They demanded we take them and stole our hearts.  No, we had no chance at all.

L, m and T.jpg

They were too smart for our own good.  Tough knots.  Brave and stubborn, they repeatedly put themselves in harm’s way.  A snake bite here, a wasp sting there.  Sticking their muzzles where they shouldn’t.  There was no doubt they would have defended us with their lives.

My little co-pilot was odd from the beginning, with no Bentley mark and a crooked tail from a birth defect.  Maddie is the perfect one, Tilly the interesting one…no they were both perfect and interesting.  She is now scarred with a cauliflower ear and a gouged nose.   Her imperfections were perfect.  They made me love her even more.

They both brought me gifts but Tilly’s were the best and the worse.  A very alive Brown snake that escaped and I hope found its way out of the house.  Several possums…thankfully playing possum.  One decided to resurrect from the middle of the dining room, leading us on a merry chase through the house.  The other, carrying a half dozen joeys waited until I dropped her over the fence to waddle off as if nothing had happened.  Tilly always stood over them with her lopsided smile, “Look, Daddy, I’m a good girl.”  “Yes, you are.”

Tilly left us this morning (Monday) on her own terms.  She lived on her own terms.  I hope she is off somewhere chasing rabbits, trying to herd squirrels, barking at birds in the trees, ears up and tail pointing crookedly toward the sky.  No longer deaf and blind…no arthritis, no longer in pain.  Fifteen years was not enough…never enough.  I love you Tilly and miss you terribly already.

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Miss Madaline Rue April 1, 2005-December 16, 2019

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

THE BELL RINGER

A local icon has passed.  I think everyone is familiar with the Radio story, at least if you are from the South.  A book and movie chronicled the story of a mentally challenged young man who was befriended by a coach, school and community.  Radio went on to be what I call the “Bell Ringer” for his school.

If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s worth the rental with Cuba Gooding playing James “Radio” Kennedy and Ed Harris playing Coach Harold Jones.  I was lucky enough to have met both Radio and Coach Jones as we squared off against each other on many fields of athletic endeavor.  It was always a joy, win or lose to meet up with Radio.

Many small towns, even some larger ones, have bell ringers like Radio.  I call them bell ringers because of one special man who rang the victory bell at a local high school’s football field.  Some were flag bearers as they led their football team onto the field, through the goal post and hopefully on to victory.  One, after growing old in age but not spirit, was buried in the local Legion baseball uniform.  Undying loyalty even in death.

Young men who grew old but never quite grew up.  For some reason, God chose them to be both challenged and special.  They were folks who in addition to being challenged, were special to their schools and were their school’s number one fan and “Bell Ringer.”  They all possessed the wide-eyed wonderment and innocence associated with the young every time their teams took the field.

Radio passed last night at seventy-three.  He had been in bad health, in and out of the hospital will complications due to diabetes and kidney function.  His hugs and smiles will be missed by the school and community.

Last year the CBN network and 700 Club aired an interview and article on Radio’s and Coach Jones’s fifty-year friendship.  I cannot improve upon it so I will simply share it.  The link is…. https://www1.cbn.com/act-kindness-results-50-year-friendship.

You should take the time to watch the interview or read the article.  It not Coach Jones’s final quote is “People with special needs, you know, they give us more love than we can actually return.”   Radio certainly provided a lot of love.

Don Miller is a retired teacher and coach who is still trying to write the next great American novel.  His author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is of Harold Jones and Radio Kennedy and came from Greenville Online.

A Pig in a Poke

 

The dryer went out last night.  This morning I’ve already ordered a replacement heating element and watched a video on how to replace it.  I can do this…if I can stay away from one of the voices in my head.  It’s Natasha Negative, she’s reminding me that I’m a f@#$ up when it comes to home repairs.

The element won’t be here until tomorrow and it is pouring rain outside.  I have plenty of time to follow the pig trails my thoughts have traveled this morning…like ordering a heating element sight unseen from a very large and rich internet company.  I have ordered a ‘pig in a poke’…and it ain’t my first time.

It’s a saying I’ve heard all my life but for some reason, in the darkness of this rainy pre-dawn morning, I decided to search the whys and the wherefores…which led me to some other why and wherefore…and then to another why and wherefore…just the “pig trails” my mind sometimes follows.  Kind of like the free history lesson you didn’t want but are going to get if you keep reading.

After the Scot-Irish portion of my ancestry made the trip from across the big pond to Pennsylvania or Virginia in the early 1700s they meandered southward until happening upon “the Indian Lands” bordering on the Catawba River sometime after 1750.  They brought words and sayings with them as they came…and probably made up a few new ones too.

Located in the tiny panhandle of South Carolina, between the Queen City of Charlotte and the Red Rose City of Lancaster, my ancestors found the land fertile and the natives receptive.  So receptive were the natives, they gave up their rights to their own ancestral lands believing it was not theirs to sell and that no one really could own it.  That belief was a mistake until they were awarded a settlement that kept the city of Rock Hill from falling into their hands.

A thriving agrarian society was founded and those remaining Native Americans who didn’t cross the river to live on their reservation, assimilated into white society taking Scot-Irish names such as Pettus, Rodgers, Griffin, Wilson….

My grandmother, a Rodgers who became a Griffin, continued to use words and sayings brought from the ‘old countries’ from years ago along with others acquired by our forefathers as they trekked southward through the mountains of Appalachia in Virginia and North Carolina.

We were never children, we were ‘chaps’ who wore ‘britches’.  We ‘hollered’ up the ‘holler’ and were ‘fixin’ to go someplace or do something.   We had paper bags called ‘pokes’ and burlap bags called ‘croaker sacks’ (croker sacks?) which are the pig trails my mind chose to follow.  Pokeweed, poke sallet or poke salad, poke a hornet’s nest, paper poke.

‘Poke sallet’ (poke salad) has nothing to do with paper bags…and having eaten it, little to do with salad either.  It would be more closely related to a ‘mess of turnip greens’ or a cooked salad (sallet) of greens.  Even the use of the word poke is different.  The poke in ‘paper poke’ comes from the French word poque, meaning pouch, while the ‘poke sallet’ poke is an Algonquian or Powhattan word meaning blood or dye.  Pokeweed has red berries that will produce a blood-red dye and red stems that will produce…I have no idea.

Poke a hornet’s nest is pretty self-explanatory and should be avoided.

Pokeweed grows wild in the South and despite being poisonous, its tender immature leaves can be cooked, carefully, in the same manner as turnip or mustard greens.  Carefully means that you should bring the chopped leaves to a boil and drain off the water, repeat four or five times before finally preparing them as one might prepare turnip greens…you know with fatback or ham hocks, some vinegar and red pepper flakes along with a slab of cornbread runnin’ in butter…sorry I got carried away.

As usual, I drift.  My ‘pig trail’ began with a ‘pig in a poke’ and took a sharp left at ‘letting the cat out of the bag’ before colliding with the unrelated ‘croaker sack’.

Some English farmers, a deceptive group it would seem, attempted to pull the wool over the naïve eyes of some unsuspecting souls by substituting a cat for a purchased suckling piglet.  The old bait and switch, I reckon.  The unsuspecting mark would take the poke home and not discover the switch until ‘he let the cat out of the bag.’  I was this day old when I realized the two sayings were related.

I was also this day old when I learned ‘pulling the wool over one’s eyes’ has nothing to do with sheep…and why would it?  It dates from the days when English judges began to wear wigs.  The saying came from pulling the wool or wig over the judge’s eyes so he could not see the truth despite it being right in front of his face…the truth was as clear as the nose on his face.  Maybe not.

I have gone far afield from pigs and paper bags.  A symptom of my affliction?

My meanderings came to a screeching halt with ‘croaker sacks’ which has nothing to do with pokes unless it relates to a paper poke I guess.  My ancestors were masters at recycling, reusing or repurposing and heavy burlap bags were no different.  Burlap bags usually contained feed but after their primary use had been realized, are great to contain other stuff that needs containing, especially those that need to stay wet…like fish or frogs.

There is a croaker fish, several versions found off the Atlantic shores.  I’ve caught them but never put them in a burlap bag before cleaning, battering, frying and serving with tartar sauce and lemon slices.  It’s still early but I’m getting a hankerin’ for fried fish with some hush puppies and cabbage slaw.

I have used burlap bags to store frogs in.  Frogs croak…croaker sack.  It can’t be a coincidence.

Been frog gigging?  I have but it has been a while and my guess is it will be in another life before I go again.  In the dead of night on a pond bank or in a shallow draft boat, shine a strong light ashore which both freezes the frog and causes his little eyes to light up, gig him, and put him in the bag…a ‘croaker sack’.

Sounds cruel and I guess it is, but fried frog legs are sho nuff good.  Battered or unbattered, served with stone-ground grits smothered in pan gravy, maybe a salad and a glass of sweet Southern tea. They do taste like chicken and also kick around when they hit the hot grease.  Hum.  “Jumpin’ like a frog leg in hot grease.”  Not sure I’ve heard that one before, but I’ll go have a ‘look see’ on Google.

Ya’ll don’t take no pigs in a poke now…or wooden nickels.   I’ll see you on down the road a piece.

Don Millers Author’s Page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/265938/what-does-it-s-always-a-pig-in-a-poke-so-why-not-a-pig-who-pokes-mean

Nothing

 

It’s Tuesday…I have been sharing my great wisdom and sense of humor on Tuesdays.  Sometimes I rant on all the subjects that bother me so….  Sometimes people even read them.  It’s Tuesday and I got nothing… nil, nada, zip, zero, zilch, nowt or is it spelled naught.  Hey, that’s something.

For a week I have been awaiting something to trigger a thought, something that I might find interesting to write about.  Something uplifting on World Human Rights Day?  Nothing!  I have waited patiently for divine motivation.  Nothing has sparked my interest.  I…GOT…NOTHING!

Clear your mind, something will manifest…I… GOT…NOTHING.

My mind is literally filled with thousands of subjects, nothing very interesting.  Nothing whispering, “Now this is something you need to blog about.”  No cute stories about forgotten youth, flamingoes, puppy dogs, or coming of age.  No rants on the joke that is the state of national affairs.  N-O-T-H-I-N-G!  At least nothing I’ve not spoken to.

Be honest.  There is something.  Anger.  I’ve turned into an angry old man. Angry because I’ve got nothing.  Angry because I’m afraid.  Afraid I’m running out of stories.  Angry because I can’t seem to get motivated beyond the occasional shower and change of underwear.

I have a vision of an old man sitting in his recliner surrounded by empty beer cans and molding pizza boxes.  Flies buzz overhead.  An ashtray is overflowing with cigar butts.  His tomato sauce stained t-shirt is covered in ashes and burn holes from the embers falling from his cigar.  He is staring at his TV set wondering where he hid the remote, deciding the infomercial about incontinence is better than getting up and searching for something to change the channel.

Is thinking about nothing thinking about something?  Elevate your mind…but ‘maryhoochie’ is still illegal in this state.

I need to do something positive…but I want to do nothing.  Is stepping out into the rain and removing overnight puppy turds positive?  I guess avoiding stepping in dog sh!t is positive.

Oh, my poor daughter.  “What is your father’s legacy?”  “Writing about dog turds.”  I have become an embarrassment to my wife, daughter, grandchildren, puppy dogs…and myself.

Okay, I’ll quit the self-pity.  Writing about nothing has done nothing for my mood.  I’m sure it has done nothing for yours either.  Tune in next Tuesday…it’s got to be better.

For more uplifting blogs or stories go to Don Miller’s author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Viennas, Nabs, and Cherry-Lemon Sundrops

 

Or as is said ’round heah, Vienners…a somewhat heavy accent mark on the “ners”.  “Vi-en-NERS”.  Some of us end words with “er” that don’t require it, like yeller instead of yellow.

If you are North American and happen to find yourself in Germany with an intense hankering for a Vienna sausage…and, if you can actually get a vendor to understand your Southern accent, you’re probably not going to get what you are expecting; a “baker’s” half dozen of two-inch or so sausages in a jelly-like substance, all contained in a small can with a pull tab.  I remember when you had to us a “key“ to open the top of the can by inserting it into a metal band you twisted off.  Lawd have mercy if the little band twisted or broke, you might starve to death.

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What you’re going to get in Germany is a long, slender sausage that we Nordamerikanisch would call a skinny hot dog wiener.  They are called Wiener Würstchen in the Germanic states.

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I’m sure, by now many who haven’t clicked to a more interesting post are wondering, “What the hell is he babblin’ about.“  A better question might be “Why is he talkin’ about whatever the hell he is babblin’ bout?“  I’m getting there.

Recently, I handed a new friend twenty dollars to tide him over until his “gubmint” check arrived.  We had become friends that very day but that’s another story.  After thanking me he pointed out, “This’ll buy a lot of  Vienners at the Dollar Store.”

I commented, “And some soda crackers, too.”

As I drove home, I thought, “or buy a lot of Spam…or Potted Meat…or Deviled Ham…which might just be disguised potted meat.”  Nope, I just researched potted meat and wish I hadn’t.  Potted meat is not Deviled Ham.

While I haven’t eaten any of the above in decades, they do hold a warm spot in my heart and as my new friend pointed out, “They’ll hep keep the wolves away.”  I’m also sure they contributed to my 2006 heart attack because as a child I ate a great deal of the highly salted and fatted proteins, what I call “mystery meat”  as in it is a mystery as to what meat parts were used to make it.  I suggest you not read the ingredients if you actually like them.  Ignorance is bliss.

During the summer of my twelfth (12) year, I went to work in the fields alongside my cousins and an uncle.  It’s not like I hadn’t been working in the fields before, this work paid money…mullah…greenbacks…two dollars a day, ten dollars for five early thirty to dark thirty days per week.  Cash money every Friday evening.  Ten brand new Silver Certificates.  There was a caveat.  Two bucks a day plus midday meal.

Two bucks a day plus midday meal to load and haul hay, hoe and pull corn, clean out animal stalls and load their leavings into a manure spreader to…what else…spread manure.  Saturdays, I worked alongside another set of cousins on another uncle’s chicken farm.  The two farms were nothing alike except shoveling poop stinks no matter what animal it comes from and two dollars a day ain’t enough even with the midday meal.   Especially when the midday meal usually consisted of Vienna Sausage or Deviled Ham, soda crackers and a MoonPie or pack of nabs…all washed down from a jug of warm water.  Yummy.

Nabs?  For the uninitiated, nabs is Southern lingo for the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) which first produced small sandwich crackers usually filled with cheese or peanut butter.  Here in the South, we ate Lance’s, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, or Tom’s from Columbus, Georgia, but we still called them nabs.

Tom’s was eventually absorbed by Lance’s but still retains its name and is better known for its peanuts, while Lance is better known for its nabs.  Walk into any Southern mercantile and ask for a pack of nabs and a dope, they know exactly what you want.  You do have to provide which one of the gazillion choices you desire.1

Image result for nabs crackers"

That leads me down another rabbit trail.  Tom’s peanuts and Pepsi Cola.  In the afternoons my uncle would head out to the closest mercantile and bring back a Pepsi Cola, still called a “dope” in my neck of the woods, and a pack of Tom’s peanuts.   Any soft drink was called dope because the original Coca-Cola formula contained cocaine.  Back in the day, Southern soda shops were referred to as “hop joints” and Coke delivery trucks as “dope wagons.”2

For some reason, Tom’s peanuts go perfectly with Pepsi Cola.  I should have said goes perfectly IN a Pepsi Cola.  We’d pour our little bag of peanuts into the Pepsi Cola bottle and consume with gusto.  You could put them in any soft drink, but my choice was Pepsi.  A needed jolt of sugar for energy to get you to dark thirty and the salt from the peanuts helped to replenish what your body had lost as you tried not to die from heat castration 3 in a Southern hayfield.  I don’t know if it contained cocaine but it did seem to refresh you.

Image result for peanuts in pepsi bottle"

Another Southern staple was the MoonPie.  MoonPie?  I’ve never been enamored by the MoonPie, two huge graham cracker cookies with a marshmallow filling dipped in chocolate…originally.  You can get a MoonPie in many flavors now…banana, double yuk.  Not being enamored doesn’t mean I haven’t consumed a gracious plenty of them.  You eat what you have and what you can afford.

The MoonPie is truly a Southern creation, born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1907 at a local bakery.  As the story goes, visiting coal miners asked the owner to create a “man-sized” cookie that could serve as a “workingman’s lunch”.  When asked how big, the miner replied, “As big as the moon.”  We know how it got its name but not how MoonPie became associated with RC Cola, but it seems one cannot be consumed without the other.

Image result for moonpie and rc cola"

How RC or Royal Crown Cola, another Southern creation born in Columbus, Georgia became associated with MoonPie is a depression-era story that has been lost in the mists of time.  For a nickel, each, Southern laborers, textile workers or Kentucky coal miners could afford a filling lunch for a dime.  “An RC and a MoonPie” became a part of Southern culture with no help from advertising moguls.4

Flirting with Southern blasphemy, I said earlier I was never enamored with the MoonPie.  Nothing sacrilegious, I don’t like marshmallows and if I wasn’t drinking Pepsi, I might have a Cheerwine rather than an RC.  Cheerwine…I haven’t had one in years.  Honestly, unless Jack Daniels is in the glass I haven’t had any soft drink in years.

Cheerwine is a cherry-flavored cola produced in Salisbury, North Carolina since 1917.  Sweetened with cane syrup and containing a higher percentage of carbonation, a culture of its own sprang up.  Cheerwine cream-filled Krispy Creme donuts, Cheerwine flavored ice cream, Cheerwine pickles, the base for a barbeque sauce, and my favorite, a cherry, lemon, Sun Drop cola made with Cheerwine. 5

Sun Drop? You don’t know about Sun Drop? A citrus-flavored soda made in Missouri which is almost Southern.

Image result for cheerwine old fashioned"

Memories of sitting in the shade of huge water oaks next to the river, the humidity, and heat finding its way into the shade.  Slappin’ to keep the mosquitos from carryin’ you off before you finished your lunch.  At least the Vienna Sausages were warm and the gelatinous gunk has turned into an oily liquid that could be shaken off.  Ooh, I just remembered what the hands holding the sausage looked like.  Well, a bit of dirt or manure never hurt anyone…”ain’t hurt nobody.”

A twelve-year-old doing his first grown-up job, laughing with his cousins, listening to his uncle sing old-timey hymns just before pinning back the twelve-year old’s ears with a language he had never heard before because of something stupid he had done.  Learning lessons needing to be learned.

Learning to drive a tractor and then the big ole flatbed.  Learning you never pick up a bale of hay on the river bottoms without flipping it first.  “How did that moccasin get under there?”

Staring at long rows of corn, hoe in hand.  That sinking feeling that you’re going to be there all day, a long day.

Watching the early morning mist from the river find its way into the bottomland and the sun creep above the water oaks.

The late afternoon thunderheads forming beyond those same water oaks, praying the would wash out the rest of the day…or at least cool it down.

Lessons and memories at the finest…even if the food wasn’t.

Acknowledgment:  I realize Vienna Sausage is not a Southern creation but like all cultures “We ain’t above stealin’ an idea.”

Footnotes:

1 “A Nab is a Nab is a Nab”  Southern Food Ways https://www.southernfoodways.org/a-nab-is-a-nab-is-a-nab/

2 “Is it true Coca-Cola once contained cocaine?”  The Straight Dope https://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/384/is-it-true-coca-cola-once-contained-cocaine/

Heat Castration:  A non-recognized medical affliction caused by heat and humidity resulting in the “Sweating of one’s testicles off.”

4 “A Brief History of Tennessee Moon Pies” The Culture Trip https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/tennessee/articles/a-brief-history-of-tennessee-moon-pies/

5 “Ten things you didn’t know about Cheerwine” Wide Open Country https://www.wideopencountry.com/10-things-didnt-know-cheerwine/

The Illustrating images were all stolen from Pinterest as was the featured image.

Don Miller’s books, fiction, and non-fiction may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

A Changing of the Guard

 

John McKissick has died.  The picture in the first obituary I read reminded me of a similar pose by General Douglas MacArthur…a green and gold baseball cap instead of a military-style hat with scrambled eggs on the visor, no corncob pipe, but the same jutting, strong chin, and intense look.  Arms crossed in front of his body, he was an imposing figure despite the hint of a smile.  The picture reminded me that along with soldiers, old coaches never die.  They live on in our memories, especially if they are legendary.  McKissick was legendary as was MacArthur…but without MacArthur’s narcissism.

I knew Coach McKissick…but I didn’t know Coach McKissick.  A big man, I shook hands with him and his hand swallowed mine.  He was the legend.  I was just starting out, a wet behind my athletic whistle young coach.  He was on his way to becoming the winningest coach in high school football, not just in South Carolina but nationally.  No one has won more games, 621, ten of them State Championship games.

Perspective.  He became the head coach at Summerville High School when I was two years old and retired the same year I did.  I coached for forty-five years.  He spent sixty-three years as the head coach at the same school.  Over five thousand players…in some cases, three generations of players.  Further perspective, he won 604 more games as a head football coach than I did.

Coach McKissick was a legend and I was a peon; a child and we all know children should be seen not heard.  I learned over time Coach McKissick would have never thought of me that way.  It was my own insecurities melting me under his gaze.

I misstated earlier.  Coach McKissick is a legend.  He still lives on in the hearts of his former players and coaches…and some people he never really knew.

At a clinic in the late Seventies, I sat just outside of his orbit making sure to be seen but not heard.  His orbit included the rest of South Carolina’s Football Trinity, Willie Varner and Pinky Babb.  They were the archangels of the religion known as Southern football…at least in South Carolina.  Together they have 1340 victories.  There were other angels at the altar of football but these three men were the most legendary of the legendary and McKissick would eventually fly higher than any with almost half of their total.

In the periphery of his orbit, I scribbled notes, hanging on his every word, hoping to pick up some tidbit to make my Xs better than someone else’s Os.  I should have listened more and quit writing notes.  For McKissick, as I learned, it was never about Xs and Os, it was about kids.  He was never a master strategist; he was a leader of men.

His former players use such descriptors as honest, motivating, inspiring, and inspirational.  Some use the greatest descriptor, a father figure.  These men speak of life lessons, those he taught and they learned.  They speak of how John McKissick was the town and school of Summerville.  Not one speaks of Xs and Os.

In an interview in Charleston’s Post and Courier by Gene Sapakoff, Coach McKissick refused to let his light shine when asked the keys to his success.  I quote directly from the Post and Courier, “I was in a good place and I was surrounded by good people; coaches, administrators, and some good players,” McKissick said. “I’ve always heard that if you surround yourself with good people who work hard, good things will happen.”

I dare say, it took a special coach to pull it all together and keep it going for sixty-three years.

The old guard was changing before Coach McKissick retired.  Babb and Varner had crossed over to their hereafter and many others of the old school had retired.  New coaches were lining up to take their places.  New legends in waiting…they’ll never be McKissick.

Football, the game, was evolving from a straight-ahead, three yards and a cloud of dust, bust you in the chops game to a more pass-happy, spread you out, finesse rather than smack you in the face game.  Honestly, I don’t recognize it sometimes.

I’m sure Coach McKissick changed how he attacked other people’s Os with his Xs but I’m also sure he never changed the way he coached.  You don’t have to change the way you coach when you coach kids and not a game.

Rest in peace Coach McKissick, rest in peace.

Featured image from USA Today, (Photo: Associated Press)

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

Hidden in the Shadows

I hadn’t entered a Roses…since…since…I worked in one during my college years.   I took a summer off from working textiles to take some summer school classes and needed a part-time job to keep my head above water.  I scored the position of stock room supervisor…a lofty title ruling over a staff of exactly one, me.

Today my wife had sent me to Roses on a quest, not for a holy grail but for a special type mop that Walmart didn’t seem to carry.  It became more than a quest.

The man called to me from the shadows created by the storefront at Roses.  I heard him but I couldn’t see him right off.  I could hear him but wasn’t close enough to understand him.  Cupping my ear with my hand I walked toward him.

He was an old man of color, skin a deep coffee with just a hint of cream.  He was clean-shaven, with skin smooth and clear.  His eyes were bright and twinkling although a bit sunken I thought.  He was dressed in old clothes consistent with an old man…something I might wear.  A faded army field coat over a blue and white plaid shirt worn over, threadbare, shiny khaki cords.  I saw slender ankles disappearing into scuffed but polished tie-up shoes.  The clothes were worn but clean.  The jacket and shirt swallowed him and later I noticed his belt caused his pants to bunch around his waist.  He held a cane across his lap.

His smile showed oversized false teeth, “Captain, can you spare some change?  I need a little food to keep the wolves away.”  His voice was deep and gravelly and somewhat melodic.

I am leery of panhandlers and have seen the video of one getting into her Mercedes after a long day of standing on the street.  As she placed her hand-lettered, cardboard sign in the trunk of her E class the interviewer asked a why question.  She ignored the microphone thrust into her face and roared off into the sunset without answering.

I looked at him with a sideways fisheye and reading my mind, he volunteered without me asking, “Naw sir, I ain’t drunk no al-ke-hall in over five years.  I’m just a little short between gubmint checks.  If you can’t hep me I understand.”

As I pulled out my wallet, I asked the old man, “If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?”

“I just turned sixty-nine last week.  I’s born November 13, 1950.”

I was stunned.  The old man was six months younger than me.  It was almost a kick to the danglies.

“I’m six months older than you.  April 9, 1950.”

He grinned, “Yeah?  Looks like I might have a bit mo mileage on my speedo.”  I nodded and thought, “I sure hope so.”

Looking in my wallet I found three twenties and two ones.  “Listen, I’ll be right back,” and went in to complete the search for my holy grail but failed to find it.  No mop with my wife’s specifications.  I called her admitting to my failure and explaining what I was about to do.

The old man was still there…funny how I thought of him as an old man still.  “Come on, let’s go across to Wendy’s and I’ll spring for a burger.  What do you say?”

He paused and pondered…finally, I tried to assure him, “Look, I’m harmless, come on.”

He stood and I slowly walked with him finally helping him into my old Ram 1500.

Once in the truck, he volunteered, “Ya know, I ain’t homeless.  I live over yonder in them gubmint houses.  I just come up short this month.”  He signed,  “Pay my bills or eat.  Tough choice sometimes.”

I glanced at him, “No need to explain.  I’ve had hard times too.”   Compared to him I knew I was lying.

“My name’s Don, incidentally.”

He extended his hand, gnarled and callused, “I’m Herbert…Herbert Perry.  Pleased to meet chu.”

Once inside he held back until I prodded, “Go on get what you want, Herbert.”

He stepped forward and in his gravelly voice slowly asked the woman behind the counter, “Kin I get me one of them double burgers with bacon?  How’s your coffee?  Fresh?”

I stepped forward and added, “Throw in an order of fries for him and a second double burger with bacon.  Also, large vanilla Frosty.”   One of the voices in my head laughed saying, “Eatin’ high on the hog ain’tcha?”

We sat in a corner, him eating his burger, me drinking my Frosty,

“My son comes by an looks in on me but he’s out of town.  He goes to where the work is with his company.  In Colorado now…been gone a month.  ‘Posed to be back this week.  He’ll slide me a bit of money until my check comes in.  Doctor’s bill cut into my social and the little bit of retirement money I get from Southern Weavin’.”

“What’s wrong if you don’t mind me asking.”

“I got the sugar and neuropathy.  Medicare don’t quite cover it.”

Food or medicine, what a choice.

“Did you grow up in Greenville?”

“Naw, down near Orangeburg…little place called St. Matthews.  My parents and grandparents were sharecroppers.  We moved to Greenville when the mills started hirin’ coloreds in the late Sixties.  I finished my senior year at Sterlin’ High.  You know of it?”

“Yeah, I drove a bus during summers takin’ kids to the pool at the old Sterlin’ gym.”

He laughed…”I reckon you looked like a pimple on a black face didn’t you?”

I laughed, “Yeah, I did.  But the people were nice and the kids…they were kids.”  I went on to explain my choice of vocations, a teacher and a coach for forty-five years.  I began teaching just after schools were totally desegregated.

“I worked at Southern Weavin’ until the jobs went south.  Nearly thirty years.  I did odd jobs after that.  I’ve always been good with my hands.  Dorothy, my wife, was a nurse until the cancer got her.  I kind of fell into a bottle for a while.  I crawled out about five years ago.”

“It happens.  You say you got a son, any others?”

The conversation shifted to families, children, and grandchildren.  I was happy an old black man and an old white man had so much in common.

“Captain, you not going to eat that burger?”

“No, that Frosty filled me up…I thought I’d let you take it home for supper.”  I didn’t fool him at all but we both ignored the lie.

“Why you doin’ this?”

I shook my head, “I don’t know.  Someone in my head told me it was the right thing to do and I hope I’ve made a friend.”

He nodded, “Could be.”

“Why don’t you let me take you home.  That way I’ll know where my new friend lives.”

I again watched his slow trek to the truck and offered him a hand.  He was quiet for the short trip to his home…a government-supported group of duplexes.  It was well maintained but had a gridded and boring sameness.

Kids, home from school, played along the streets.  Chasing each other, along with Frisbees and colorful balls.  Carefully I wove through them and at his direction pulled up to a corner unit and got out to help him down.  A little girl of my granddaughter’s age ran up to him.  Wearing a pink Minnie Mouse tee-shirt, she hugged him around his knees.

“Where you been Mr. Herb?”

“My friend and I just went for lunch Lizzie.  You go on and play now I’ll be out in a bit to watch chu.”

To me, he added, “Somethin’ about the noise kids create makes you forget your troubles.  I likes to sit out and watch ‘em.”

Leaning on his cane, “I ‘preciate the meal.  Maybe you come by sometimes and I’ll stand you one.”

I nodded and smiled, shook his hand and walked back to the truck.  I watched him slowly hobble to his door.  Turning, he waved as I cranked my old truck before disappearing into his home.

As I drove home, I had time to think.  I was reminded of an old phrase from some educational advertisement and adjusted it to “A mind is a terrible thing….”

I wondered how many people were having to make decisions on whether to eat or pay for a prescription.  How many people became homeless.  Bankrupt because they got sick.  I also gave a silent thanks for more blessings than I deserve.

In this country we continue to tout ourselves as the greatest in the world, we have people dying because they can’t afford health care…people who don’t have to die.  People who are dying because of corporate greed.  Being told to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps…or get another job.” How many are hiding in the shadows?

We have a family member who has “the sugar” and neuropathy.  He also lives in government-subsidized housing and his “social” doesn’t quite cover some months.  He is not an alky or drug addict.  He made some bad business choices and picked the month’s just before the Great Recession to try and start a company, sinking all of his resources into it.

The company went under and everything went with it.  His home, his car, his equipment, his country club membership, his life.  He went to work cleaning offices or selling everything from shoes to his soul, his wages garnished to pay off the loans made in good faith that had been sunk into a business that sank like a stone because of greedy mortgage lenders and Wall Street tycoons.

He has survived but could just as easily been hidden in the shadows.  Survived because of the family…but what of those who have none.  One “social” check short of the street.   Eat or buy meds, buy meds or pay the rent.

I tire of pontificators spreading the lies of the “welfare queens” living on the taxpayer’s teat.  Are there abuses, of course.  There are always people who play the system…some might say that billion-dollar corporations paying no taxes might be playing the system.  An excessive number of “welfare queens” are retired or disabled folk.  In many cases, they are people working multiple jobs to keep the wolves away.

Enough of the rant…  I hope I’ll follow through with my thoughts…Herb is a bit old to be adopted but maybe I can shine a bit of light into his shadows.

Don Miller writes on various subjects, some that bother him so.  His author’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM