Legacy

When the news came across my feed I felt as if I had lost part of my childhood.  Henry Aaron was dead at eight-six.  I knew his days were numbered at that age but still.  I had just seen pictures of him taking the Covid-19 vaccine to help other African Americans make the decision to do so.  Henry “Hank” Aaron was never just a baseball player. His legacy is much more than the game he played.

He was always larger than his historical moment.  The moment he hit Al Dowling’s pitch into the left field bullpen on April 8, 1974.  It was an early birthday present to me.  The day after Aaron’s name went into the record books as the “Homerun King” I turned twenty-four.  Since that date others have had their names etched in above his, but no one hit more home runs in the pre-steroid, pre-juiced up ball, pitcher’s era.  To me he will always be the “Homerun King”…and much more.

He was a quiet man…soft-spoken, a man who let his glove and bat do his talking.   He never liked the moniker “Hammerin’ Hank.” His mother named him Henry, that was good enough for him.  Aaron never doubted his own ability but never felt the need to toot his own horn.  He was a team player on some pretty bad teams.

He hit 24 or more home runs every year from 1955 through 1973, a pitcher’s era, and he is one of only two players to hit 30 or more home runs in a season at least fifteen times. He also earned three Gold Gloves during that period.  In 1999, The Sporting News ranked Aaron fifth on its list of the “100 Greatest Baseball Players”.  Considering the man, they ranked him too low.  He was so much more to a white kid who so much wanted to be a baseball star.

He was the baseball definition of grace.  There was an elegance just walking into the batter’s box or jogging around the bases.  Loping after a fly ball.  He had a beautiful, artistic swing, whether a swing and a miss or a ball roped into the left field bleachers.  It was about the finish.  Art frozen on a photograph.

Our Annual Birthday Tribute to “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron
A young Henry Aaron, off and running baseballhistorycomesalive.com

My brother put it this way, “Mr. Atlanta Brave has passed away. As a lifelong Brave fan, it is a sad day. Been a sad month or so with Phil Niekro and Don Sutton passing before him. Hammerin’ Hank will always be the true Home Run champ, not the juiced-up cheaters who currently are ahead of him. I can see him now with batting helmet in hand, slipping it on his head, taking three practice swings before stepping in the batter’s box. It was a thing of beauty.”  I agree.

I remember when the Braves moved from far away Milwaukee to not quite so far away Atlanta for the 1966 season.  We finally had a team. I was an instant Braves fan…but it was hard.  Every season began with hopes and dreams, hopes and dreams that were usually crushed by the All-Star break.  But we had Hank, “Hammerin’ Hank”, Henry Aaron.

My father took my brother and I to a Sunday double header that first year.  I was stoked.  Not only would I get to see Hank but Willie Mays’ San Francisco Giants.  What a day.  To see two of my childhood idols.  Hammerin’ Hank versus the Say Hey Kid.  Baseball nirvana.  Aaron didn’t see the field that day and Mays only pinch hit late in the second game.  Instead, I got to see Atlanta pitcher Tony Cloninger hit two grand slam homeruns…I say that as if I have swallowed something unsavory.

When Vin Scully, the great baseball announcer, retired I wrote about Vin and his call of Aaron’s historic homerun. As Aaron rounded the bases, Scully said into his microphone, “What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron.”

From YouTube

As I listened and cried a bit, Vin’s words troubled me because I have seen an increase in the words and actions that motivated his descriptions.  Aaron was subjected to a road littered with racial landmines as he moved closer and closer to Ruth’s hallowed record.  Racial abuse and death threats followed him around those bases but somehow, he managed to stay above it all.  As a man he was much greater than the stage he played on.

“I had many, many, many death threats. I couldn’t open letters for a long time, because they all had to be opened by either the FBI or somebody. I couldn’t open letters. I had to be escorted. In fact, just recently I went to a funeral, Calvin Wardlaw, who was the detective — the policeman — with me for two years, passed away just recently. He and I got to be bosom buddies really, but that was the hardest part. I wasn’t able to enjoy — you know.”  A real shame, “I wasn’t able to enjoy…”

I wish I had taken the time to have written Mr. Aaron.  From an old white Southerner.  An apology of sorts just to let him know how much his exploits meant to me…meant to most of us, I think.  I would remind him of the joy I received living through him.  He was a towering hero on and off the field.  Unassuming, quiet but forever inspiring.

There are many pictures of Henry Aaron, but I have a favorite.  It is not a picture of my idol wearing a Milwaukee or Atlanta uniform, hitting or fielding.  It is of a young Henry Aaron standing in front of a train car.  He is about to embark into his future…his destiny.  He would step onto that train and head to Indianapolis to play shortstop for the Negro League “Clowns” for two hundred dollars a month. 

I feel I HAVE lost a part of my childhood.  So many have transitioned over the last year.  Tonight, I will gaze at the night sky hoping for the flash of light.  Scientifically I know it is a meteor burning up in the atmosphere.  In my heart I will know it is Henry Aaron hitting another one out of the park. 

*** 

The image of Henry Aaron and Willie Mays is from https://www.talkingchop.com/2020/6/10/21285787/this-day-in-braves-history-hank-aaron-passes-willie-mays-on-all-time-home-run-list

Don Miller’s authors page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0b6oFbr9QqtEYvWbOkHCcfv23IpoKgaxuRZd-nLM-fM1dmnch_2SGSfSY

An Accidental Comedian

“A misplaced modifier can make you an accidental comedian.”

I like hole-in-the wall bars but dark, dirty, and rundown drinks…no.

My friend Shupee, laminating business losses during early shutdowns due to the pandemic, presented me with a humorous mental picture…humorous and a bit X rated…but then that is the way my mind works.  Instead of offering some sort of moral support, he got a goofy smile.  What?  Everyone will find out in a bit.  First, I have to scurry down a pig trail looking for a rabbit hole. 

Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg address while traveling from Washington to Gettysburg on the back of an envelope.”  A large envelope I guess, Ole Abe was a tall man.

Being a retired history teacher, I wondered…did I ever? I probably did.  I remember a lot of stupid things I said…some on purpose.  As a faux writer and a non-English major, I have found another reason for my anxiety level to increase.  I wondered if my rabbit hole might turn out to be a buried landmine.  As if bad analogies weren’t worry enough, now I have to worry about misplaced modifiers.  As far as bad analogies, “The dew glistened like nose hair after a sneeze.”  “As tight as a tick on a fat dog.”  I actually used one of those, you can guess which.

My pig trail took me to Google, and there I found some of my favorite misplaced modifiers.

“Dressed in a diaper and drooling, Grandpa read a book to his granddaughter.”  I’m a Granddad with a granddaughter and I am at an age I worry about diapers and drooling.

“The patient was referred to a psychologist with several emotional problems.”  I suffer from clinical depression; do I really need a psychologist with more emotional problems than I have?

“David waited patiently behind a teenager with baggy jeans carrying a full load.” I’m cracking up a little.

“The homeowner chased the intruder wearing nothing but his underwear.”  Was the intruder trying to do a load of wash while he was intruding?

“The waitress passed the platter to the guest that was heaped with tangy barbequed ribs.” Well, I have covered myself with BBQ sauce.

Okay back to my original pig trail and it is a bit risqué. 

My friend lamented that he couldn’t afford to keep both of his workers, Doris or Jack.  In his West Tennessee voice he lamented, “I don’t know what to do. I’m gonna have to lay Doris or Jack off.” 

Smiling, I couldn’t help myself, commenting, “Well, I sure hope Doris doesn’t have a headache.”

He got it and I hope you do too.

Please leave any of your favorites in the comment section. I would love to hear them.

***

Most of my examples came from https://www.proofreadnow.com/blog/the-funny-business-of-misplaced-modifiers

Further of my meanderings can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3H8MbofI2YlIhiXG4jeByOO3vlOXPG1kGsP6xNJMnSfnA76bWPv3iaeQM

Image from Pinterest

1968 2.0…2020-2021

As 2020 ended I hoped for a brighter 2021…hoped the cockroaches with 2020 embossed on their backs would scurry for the safety of darkness as the bright sunlight of 2021 hit them.  Then visions of white supremacists and nationalist storming the Capital hit my TV screen and news feed on January 6.   People in red hats and animal skins carrying Confederate Battle Flags among many, made it surreal.  I couldn’t help but think about my earlier year of discontent, 1968. 

Most of us, I hope most of us, will celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday January 18 this year. His life ended with an assassin’s bullet in 1968.  That same bullet triggered national unrest similar to what we saw this past summer. 

Despite being a proponent of nonviolent protest, King’s assassination prompted violent protests and riots in major cities across the US as news of his death led to anger and disillusionment, and feelings that now only violent resistance to white supremacy could be effective.

Known as the “Holy Week Uprising”, the riots and unrest began after the April 4th murder of King lasted well into the remainder of the year.  These uprising weren’t the first expression of unrest and would not be the last in 1968. 

Vietnam protests joined Civil Rights protests, walkouts, sit ins, hostage taking along with the riots that saw Chicago policemen in battle gear wading into crowds and beating Vietnam War protesters and news correspondents, This was during the 1968 Democratic Convention and played out during August on our television sets.

We weren’t alone in our discontent.  Social unrest seemed to grip the world.  Movements sprang up worldwide as protests were registered in over two dozen countries.  Here at home, in addition to our Vietnam War and Civil Rights movements,  Anti-nuclear movement, Environmental movement, Hippie movement, Women’s liberation movement, Chicano movement, and Red Power movements staged protests.  During the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, two medalists raised their glove clad fist in a Black Power protest.  That was in October. 

Some historians believed 1968 saw the greatest wave of social unrest the United States had experienced since the Civil War.  Of course, that was before 2020 and the beginning of 2021.  I don’t know what historians will believe about these, there is so much misinformation to sift through I doubt a consensus will be reached during the remainder of my lifetime.

I also wonder what Dr. King might think had he lived to be ninety-two.  Despite his own move toward greater militancy, I wonder if his influence would have made any difference in what continues to play out on my television. 

Our Capital is locked down. National Guards men are moving to the nation’s capital and sleeping in the building itself.  Buildings being boarded up.  Gunmen have been arrested attempting to breach what is known as the Red Zone…even using descriptors like Red Zone. My depression and anxiety are growing by the minute as the inauguration approaches.

Despite my anxiety, I find comfort and hope in Dr. King’s words.  Yes, I still believe in hope.  In 1964 he closed his Nobel acceptance speech, beginning his final paragraph, “Let me close by saying that I have the personal faith that mankind will somehow rise up to the occasion and give new directions to an age drifting rapidly to its doom. In spite of the tensions and uncertainties of this period something profoundly meaningful is taking place. Old systems of exploitation and oppression are passing away, and out of the womb of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born.”

I have hope that his words will come true and that the reaction to what happened on January, 6, will prove to be an impetus for better days. 

***

Quote is from Dr. King’s Nobel acceptance speech.

His image from his “I have a dream” speech.

Much of my research came from experience but I used Wikipedia to fill in the gaps of my memory.

My own rantings and writings may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1m9HXR3YH52tj33iUxPkzyf1PvTdt2BaXLwT3hka344adJ4sa6n3sIkr4

You Know You Are in the South If…

Some kind soul sent me down a rabbit hole by asking, “If you’ve been away from the South for any length of time, how do you know you are home.” The question had more to do with “state of mind” than location. I took the thought and ran with it. I don’t know if all are unique to the South but decided to poke a bit of fun at our peculiarities. Enjoy and don’t judge too harshly.

Travel a mile in any direction and see multiple Dollar Trees or Dollar Generals and three Baptist Churches on the same stretch of rural road or two liquor stores and two Baptist Churches on adjacent street corners. 

A church member introduces you as the new couple that moved in across from the “so and sos” when you’ve lived here for thirty years and the “so and sos” have been dead for a decade or more.

You can get a hunting license, bait, a tire fixed, a gas fill up, and a hot meal…out of the same building.

Your girlfriend…or wife can field dress and butcher a deer better than you can.

You hear the words “cooter stew” and immediately realize they are talking about a soup made with water turtle, not a woman’s “holiest of holies”.

Finally scoring a parking place at Mom’s Dinner and finding mac ‘n cheese, cheesy grits, and biscuits and gravy are all in the vegetable offerings.

At a wedding on a Saturday during football season you find the groom checking his ESPN App while the service is taking place.  Actually, a wedding during football season is poor planning.

After a funeral, the “Church Ladies” serve a meal consisting of a dozen casseroles and a like number of plates of fried chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs, and banana pudding.

On a two-lane highway to nowhere you see signs saying, “Repent!”…”The”…”Time”…”Is”…”Near” or Bible verses displayed one word per sign.

You pass “Now Entering ……” and “A Thirty-Five Mile per Hour Speed Limit Strictly Enforced” sign five miles from the actual town.

You are introduced to someone’s parents and must explain “where you came from” which has nothing to do with a location but rather with lineage.

Getting or giving directions that don’t involve map directionals but landmarks, “You know where that Jook Joint is, turn left.” or “If you pass the split rail fence you’ve missed it”, “It’s just t a little piece past the Tastee-Freez”, or “We’re right across from the red barn.”

“Over yonder” and “down the road ah piece” are valid directions and you know exactly where they are sending you.   

You use a heater and an air conditioner on the same day or you put up Christmas decorations in shorts and flip flops.

Service stations have overhangs with rocking chairs or benches for old men in overalls, rockin’ and spittin’. Oh, and lyin’.

You are unsure whether the tickle you feel in the small of your back is from perspiration or a mosquito.

When being told what someone is going to do, they use “ah fixin’ to” as in “I’m ah fixin’ to beat your ass.”

You are offered pickled eggs and a beer as a meal.                                               

You must change planes in Atlanta because you can’t get anywhere in the South without going through Atlanta.

The waitress at the Waffle House calls you “Honey, Sweetie, Baby, or Sweet Pea” with a Pall Mall unfiltered stuck to her lower lip.

Your History teacher was also the football coach and you got extra credit for attending the games.

You are having baseball practice but pause so one of the parents can showoff the “trophy” boar hog they just “kilt”.

You see people selling boiled peanuts out of the bed of their truck on the side of the road and drawing a crowd.

When preparing to make a casserole you turn the bowl over and see there is a name on the bottom that is not yours.

You realize there are more restaurants than you can shake a stick at with the word “biscuit” in their name and there seems to be a Cracker Barrell at every interstate exit.

There are more people who say, “can shake a stick at” than you can shake a stick at.

One hears Ma’am and Sir along with “Bless yo heart” a lot.

When you ask directions to the nearest bar, you receive a fisheye look and are told, “Bar?  You’re in the Bible Belt and this here is the Buckle!”

Or, the strip clubs are closed on Sunday so the girls can go to church.

You exclaim “Good Gravy”, and everyone knows it has nothing to do with gravy.

You find “to layer up” means sunscreen, bug spray, and lip balm.

You ask for a coke and the feller behind the counter asks, “What kind…we’s got Pepsi, Coca Cola, Nehi Grape, Sunkist, Mountain Dew?”

You find people will drink water before drinking unsweetened tea and the sweetened tea will set your teeth to hurtin’.

Beginning to say goodbye in the living room and finally finishing in the driveway forty-five minutes later.

Y’all come back real soon, ya hear.

Don Miller is a writer of both fiction and nonfiction, trying to become a successful author. You might help him by going to his author’s site and buying a book. https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR010oCvAXUraE8HYz65Dff8OYPrGxE5zuRZYqEV5U8cV8jCmbiQymwUG5s

Don Miller’s newest fictional offering, “Long Ride to Paradise”, can be purchased or downloaded at https://tinyurl.com/y8gx9q7m

Long Ride to Paradise: Tales of the Drunken Irishman Saloon by [Don Miller]

The map is from Wikipedia.

Spinnin’ in Her Grave

I’m sure my grandmother is looking down from the great beyond and shaking her head.  I’m guessing what is left of her earthly body is spinnin’ in her grave.  As soon as she heard that can opener, I visualize a side eyed look below her furrowed brow.  Not only am I cooking canned black-eyed peas I’m serving canned collards to go with them.  If she were still alive, I’m sure I would be disenfranchised. 

My grandmother, Nannie, was not known for her cooking.  She wasn’t into exotic food…I don’t think I ate a pizza until I went off to college.  Pizza…exotic?  Cooter Stew was about as exotic as she got.  But there were lines she would never cross and peas with collards from a can was a line in concrete. 

Peas and collards fit right in with her idea of utilitarian food, with cornbread and a raw onion of course.  Oh, and some of Aunt Alta’s chow chow. Bless my soul, I had forgotten that. Nannie’s meals were made to fortify you for a long day in the field.  Exotic foods weren’t known to stick to your ribs.

In her small kitchen dried black-eyed peas from her fields would have been put in the Dutch oven to soak the night before, picked over to remove shells or gravel that might have “snuck” in.  Drained and rinsed, they would have returned to the Dutch oven along with onions, ham hocks, and seasonings and allowed to slow simmer in water and get to know each other for the next four or five hours.  When the ham hocks were tender, they would be removed, and the meat picked from the bone and fat and returned to the peas. 

Well before the pickin’, fresh collards from her garden would have been washed and rinsed repeatedly, chopped awaiting placement into another Dutch oven.  There they would join up with sauteed, in bacon grease, onion and chopped ham, some broth, apple cider vinegar, and red pepper flakes.  These would hang together until cooked to death. 

An hour before the meal was ready, a cast iron frying pan with a dollop of Crisco would be placed in the old stove to become screaming hot before corn bread batter was poured into it and put back in the oven to cook and brown.  I can remember the sizzle the batter made when it hit the grease and have a mental vision of a tanned and creased, flour-streaked cheek.  I also remember the corn bread to be a tad dry but something to mop the pot likker from my bowl with. 

Tea so sweet it made your teeth ache or fresh buttermilk would wash down the meal.

All told, she spent the better part of half a day to get the meal on the table…which is why I will open a can.  My bride will cook her special brand of cornbread, better than my grandmothers, moister at least…and I’ll mop up my pot likker with it.  I’ll keep the collards and peas a bit healthier and a lot less tasty, all-in hopes of seeing another New Year’s Day or two. We may oven fry some pork chops…the other white meat.

It is about traditions, I reckon Southern traditions in this case.  It is about honoring the past.  As I have quoted before, William Faulkner’s line, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” 

Peas swelling as they cook for luck, greens for money, pork because hogs are always moving forward as they forage, and cornbread for gold is a long running tradition…as is cornbread running in butter. 

In the South, how the tradition began involves two stories of note. Not sure either is true. According to one, during Sherman’s March to the Sea during the Civil War, “bummers” left behind peas and salt pork thinking it was nothing more than animal feed.  Southerners gave thanks for having even that gracious little to get through the winter.  I have my doubts about the story.  It makes no sense to leave even animal feed behind.  It does make for a good story and a reason to celebrate.

According to the second, and I find this more likely, black-eyed peas were a symbol of emancipation for African Americans who were officially freed on New Year’s Day, 1863 by the Emancipation Proclamation.  As the story goes peas were all they had to eat, and it became a symbol.  Again, I am unsure of the story but know former slaves initiated the idea for adding rice to the peas along with bacon, onion, and spices, giving us Hoppin’ John.  That is a good thing whether the story is true or not and has become a favorite Southern tradition of mine.

Yes, the South does have traditions we are not likely to allow to die.  Some I wish would.  Peas and collards isn’t one of them even from a can.  Be sure and eat your peas and collards. 

I hope you have a healthy and prosperous New Year.

Visit Don Miller’s Author’s Page https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR12bCTU7L4-4kWnHyS1zoacryFywuXQm_mLnMXCkCldT08Goh0UKW8dkZY

“A Cup of Kindness, Yet”

I find the song Auld Lang Syne to be haunting and a bit sad. While hopeful it makes me think of loss. It may just be my emotional instability rearing its head. The tune causes the same reaction I have with the abused pet commercials with Sarah McLachlan singing. 

To make sure I get a good dose of sorrow, there is an American Express commercial using the old Scottish ballad,  sung by India Carney. Her voice and the arrangement were created to make people stop and reflect…and maybe shed a tear.  It’s a commercial Don, wipe your face.

I’ve been fortunate.  I have lost no close friends or family members to Covid-19 in this terrible year that threatens to run on into the new year.  This is not to say I have been unscathed. I have lost folk I didn’t want to lose, both family and friends. I have lost former acquaintances, coaching and teaching peers, and have had family and friends who were sick but should recover. ”We’ll take a cup of kindness yet” together, I hope in the near future.  If you can read this, we have reasons to be optimistic and hopeful for the coming year and yet the commercial is on again and I’m misty eyed.

I battle with myself; the fearful me who wants to live as long as possible even if it is in isolation and the defiant me who thinks “Damn the torpedoes”. There is a small part of me who still thinks he is bulletproof.  I check too many “bad” boxes on my health sheet, so I am most assuredly not bulletproof.  I should remain the fearful…the smart one. Still my daughter and grandbabies call to me…as does the BBQ and beer at Green River BBQ.

Christmas is a few days behind me and the New Years a few days ahead.  I am conflicted and a bit melancholy.  I long for the days of childlike wonder when my father and mother were responsible for my happiness.  I do not like being the responsible adult…the adult in charge, the adult responsible for my happiness.  I turned the Christmas Eve responsibilities over to my daughter but the mental vision of social distancing and face masks on seven- and four-year olds is not the last vision I wish to have. 

I am old enough for my wants not to hurt me and will spend the New Year’s Eve with my bride attempting to stay awake for the New Year’s toast and kiss…maybe I should set a twelve am alarm.  A fire in the fireplace and a Jack Daniels instead of champagne, I will toast the new year, kiss my bride, eat a sausage and cheese ball, and then say a prayer for the coming year…before sleeping my way into it.

Auld Lang Syne began its life as a poem attributed mostly to Robert Burns and written in what has become such an obscure Scottish language that most English readers can’t comprehend it.  It is quite possible Burns was motivated by an earlier ballad written by James Watson.  The tune is an old Scottish song of unknown origin.  The standard version, what we sing after the “ball drops”, is much easier to understand.

The first verse goes

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and auld lang syne?

Chorus:

For auld lang syne, my dear,

for auld lang syne,

we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

While it does not specifically translate, Auld Lang Syne translates loosely to “for the sake of old times” and old times is where my mind goes.  My visions are of old friends or family gatherings, making a toast to those we have lost and those who remain.  A toast to the better times we hope will come. 

I visualize party goers on black and white film, the ladies dressed in shimmering gowns of unknown colors and the men in old high collar shirts, tuxedos, waistcoats, and narrow bow ties.  They hold champagne flutes and kiss as balloons fall before singing Auld Lang Syne. 

I seem to be captured in an old Thirties or Forties movie from “the good old days” of the Great Depression or World War Two.  I don’t believe New Year’s Eve 2020 will be considered one of the good old days any more than the days of the Great Depression were, and I fear 2021 will simply be a redux of 2020.  Like those from “the good old days” there is hope.

Maybe we will be able to safely gather next year but whether we do or not, let us raise “a cup of kindness yet”, not just at twelve am on January 1st, but for all of 2021 and the time we have remaining.  We are in control of our kindness and it cost nothing.  Kindness is free but is worth its weight in gold.

I offer you the following toast credited to Alfred Lord Tennyson.  In a pandemic year with a contested elections and conspiracies theories on galore, it seems appropriate.

“Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow.

 The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true.” 

I repeat, “Ring out the false, ring in the true.”

Happy New Year my friends, Happy New Year.

India Carney from YouTube

One of your New Year’s resolutions should be to read more starting with “Long Ride to Paradise”, my latest release. Download to Kindle or purchase in paperback. As usual it is free with Kindle Unlimited.

Pink Coconut and a Hard Candy Christmas

The Christmas holidays are full of traditions for many, Christians, non-Christians, and those who are unsure. People of different religions and cultures raise and decorate trees, drape their homes in blinking lights, hang stockings, bake gingerbread cookies, and exchange gifts even though they aren’t Christian in their beliefs.  It is a crossover holiday celebrated all over the world by diverse cultures.  Families with diverse backgrounds gather during the holiday seasons to celebrate not only the birth of the Christian Jesus, but also themselves and their own traditions. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to traditions, I have reached an age when it is easier to look back on Christmas than look ahead.  Ahead shows a much shorter road to travel. I find myself somewhat emotional…but in a good way I guess.

As I gathered nature’s Christmas decorations for my bride; grape vine, evergreen garlands, pinecones, birch limbs with golden leaves, and holly berries, I ‘barked’ up a finger.  I cut it and it is barking like a bit dog.  Watching the blood ooze, I was transported down an old dirt road, a pathway home to my past.

My mother was a child who failed to fall into the adult trap when it came to Christmas. Activity swirled for what seemed like weeks as she prepared for our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day family celebration. Baking was one of my mother’s chores despite working eight hour shifts at the local textile mill.

Fruitcake, fruitcake cookies, yule candy logs, Missouri “no-bake” cookies, pies, and cakes galore, and her very favorite, ambrosia, a dish loaded with pineapple, canned mandarin orange slices or fresh orange sections, miniature marshmallows, and coconut…fresh coconut.

In the days before shredded coconut could be purchased at your local supermarket, it was my father’s responsibility to break open and shred the coconut Momma would use for her ambrosia and coconut cake. He would use a small ball peen hammer to punch a hole in one of the coconut’s eyes so the milk could be drained. The milk would be used in the coconut cake to insure its moistness. 

A larger hammer would break the coconut open and a sharp knife would separate the meat from the husk. If my father were not bleeding by this time he soon would be as his knuckles contacted the hand grater. My Christmas memories always include pink shredded coconut and I smile with the memory.  I  am not a lover of coconut but will eat one coconut containing dessert in memory of him. Hopefully, if it is pink it is due to a maraschino cherry.

As the blood on my finger finally coagulates, I continued to be triggered.  Memories of my mother stringing bubble lights over the tree.  Old timey bubble lights that had to warm up before they began to gurgle.  Billy Vaughn’s saxophones or Percy Faith’s singers are playing in the background.  She hums as someone sings “Oh Little Town in Bethlehem” on the radio.

Watching a fuzzy, black and white TV’s many Christmas specials. There were many but Perry Como and Andy Williams were mandatory. A Christmas Carol and What a Wonderful Life were too. It was a wonderful life….

Hand-made patchwork quilt stockings made by my grandmother, Nannie, adorn the fireplace.  They will eventually be filled with oranges, apples, and nuts…and peppermint swirls.  Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas” is now playing in my head.  I am a bit sad, but I am hopeful too…just like the song.

Christmas is a celebration loaded with emotion and I feel mine ramping out of control despite it being several days in the future. 

Chills chase themselves up my back as I am reminded of a trip to nearby Monroe on a Christmas Eve morning.  It is only my father and me.  I remember the crush of people.  A small town of sixty or so years ago, its entire population must have crowded onto main street.  People scurrying to do last minute shopping, dressed in Christmas finery.

The red and green lights strung from light poles. Being lifted into my father’s arms to see more clearly the Christmas scenes in the original Belk Brothers store window. The man with no legs who sat nearby, a tin cup full of pencils and a small American flag sitting in front of his splayed stumps. The tears in my Father’s eyes as he put a five-dollar bill in the tin cup and offered a salute.  Things you remember that bring tears to your own eyes.

Finally, a short stop at Woolworths and a small bag of warm salted cashews for the trip home from their nut and candy counter.  The cashews were a secret we shared. I can almost taste them…almost.

Something has triggered a memory of splitting wood on a Christmas Eve morning and delivering it with my cousin…a cousin who has now transitioned to his heavenly rewards. Maybe it is because I am standing in a corpse of hemlocks with the sharp aroma of evergreens.

We delivered our pickup load to an old former plantation house, the old Nesbitt place, a bit rundown at the time but decorated with greens and reds with candles twinkling in every window. The lady of the house took us on an impromptu tour of the downstairs, decorated for the Christmas season, a tree in every room.

Later, I remember sitting in his pickup after unloading the wood, drinking a PBR, counting my half of the money and thinking how adult I was. Adultism is a disease to be avoided at all costs…especially at Christmastime. Now instead of the money, or beer, I think of him and the old plantation home. I think of Christmas trees, their star tipped tops pressing near ceilings in every room.

We gather now at my daughters.  A new generation, a new tradition.  It is one I’m not quite comfortable with. Ten of us will gather this year, Covid-19 protocols will be observed but so will the wonder of a four-year-old and a seven-year-old as they open their gifts from their Popi and Grandmommy and uncle and aunt.   It will be different, and I hope face coverings are not to become a tradition like the pink coconut became.

Whatever you culture, however you celebrate the holidays, I wish you a Happy Holiday and a Merry Christmas.  I hope your Christmas Season will be loaded with wonderful memories as will the coming year…memories of Christmas past and of Christmas future. Take the time to enjoy your Christmas present while you enjoy Dolly and the ladies from the “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”

From the movie “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”

Don Miller writes on various subjects “that bother him so.” https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0iqIBEnIxXiIoowO7bX6UV-1RY03y2ts7HHF-RYE46dSMt-hvZ_5AsCHs

Did You Ask it a Question it Couldn’t Answer?

No dammit!  I just encountered one of the many minefields my bride plants around the house.  Minefields in the shape of sharp edges on objects of significance just waiting to jump out and pound my toe.

My bride…my bride…my bride.  I swear she puts things in my path just for the sheer joy of taking me to task over my perceived clumsiness…maybe not so perceived.  What I do not falsely perceive is the maniacal grin on her face as I hop around and curse loudly and at length.

“Did you break your toe sweety?”

Déjà vu all over again, my big toe contacts the edge of a box that wasn’t there yesterday, I cursed quite loudly and at length…again! To which she questioned, “What did you do this time?  You are the clumsiest human….”

“I stumped my toe against this !@#$%^& box you left in my path!”

“Stumped your toe? What did you do, ask it a question it couldn’t answer?”

As tears formed in my eyes, “What are you talking about?  I rammed my toe into the box you moved into my way just for that purpose.”

A toss of her hair and an eyeroll before giving me a side eye, “That box hasn’t been moved in months and it is stubbed not stumped.

Stubbed?  As the mist from my pain filled eyes began to dissipate, I questioned, “Stubbed, that doesn’t even make sense.”  As I said it a thought formed at light speed, “Neither does stumped.”  Could it be I’ve been misunderstanding stumped for my entire life?  I know my hearing is bad, but it didn’t used to be.

One thing I’m not misunderstanding is the pain and since bad news travels in threes I’ve got at least one more date with an object of significance and I doubt it will be a pillow. 

No, I’m quite sure it is “stumped my toe.” Inquiring minds though. I suggest it is right there with “barking one’s shin.”

I ran a social media poll.  The outcome was split. I realized I was not going to be vindicated but also I realized I wasn’t stupid.  Some folk actually say ‘stump’. I would not be able to stand in front of my bride, nodding my head in superiority while grinning, “You know that stumping my toe thing you ridiculed…Well….”  There will be no “Well….”

It turns out either is correct…and therefore incorrect, I guess.  Stumped seems to be a little more archaic and more English.  My guess it has something to do with my forefathers leaving England for Virginia, the Appalachians and finally South Carolina.  There seems to be a lot of odd words that found their way into my vocabulary.  “Lawd hep us” if Nannie started a sentence with, “You chaps…” or ended it with “getting too big for your britches.”

Come to think of it, my big toe is all “stoved up”, another archaic English idiom that found its way to the American South. It means incapacitated or damaged and comes from the English word “stave”. I’m also sure there is something lurking about waiting to bark a shin or stump a toe. If not my wife will have it into position soon enough.

The image is the cover of Shawn Byous’s Children’s Book Because I Stubbed My Toe It may be purchased at https://www.amazon.com/Because-I-Stubbed-My-Toe/dp/1623700884

Don Miller’s latest release, Long Ride to Paradise, may be purchased at

Pearl Harbor…Revisited…Again

I was nearly a decade away from even being a glimmer in my parent’s eyes when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7, 1941, so I have no true remembrances of the “Day Which Will Live in Infamy”. My remembrances come from listening to my father and his buddies talking, history books, documentaries, and movies.

My father, a single, twenty-five-year-old at the time, did what many patriotic young men did and with several friends headed to the Marine recruitment center to join up…only to find out he was 4F due to a birth defect he didn’t even know he had. Determined, he attempted to enlist in the Navy and Army but was turned down.

Two years later, the now-married twenty-Seven-year-old, would receive a letter that might have begun “Greetings, your friends and neighbors….” Drafting a married, twenty-seven year-old missing an entire row of ribs and vertebrae they attached to should tell you how dire the situation was in late 1943.

My Father, a mechanic, was eventually assigned to amphibious assault teams training in Carrabelle, Florida.  Later he would join MacArthur in time to assault the Philippines, Okinawa, and finally would step ashore on mainland Japan as a part of the occupation force.  I wish I knew more but his military records were destroyed in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri.

I remember sitting as a family in front of our black and white television on a Sunday evening, December 3, 1961. Walter Cronkite was the narrator of the CBS documentary program, The Twentieth Century. On this night, the Sunday prior to the fifteenth anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, we sat as a family watching and listening.

The episode was “The Man Who Spied on Pearl Harbor” and Cronkite’s distinctive voice narrated the black and white action scenes, some made as the attack occurred, most staged for propaganda use during the war itself, as we remembered Pearl Harbor…and as I remember that night in 1961.

Over the years my thirst for knowledge about Pearl Harbor and my father’s war has caused me to read, watch or listen to almost every available documentary, book, movie, or interview about Pearl Harbor specifically and World War Two generally. Thankfully, I had access to the History Channel when it aired programs about history rather than programing about Alaskan truck drivers or pawn shops. I continue to remember Pearl Harbor, the men who lived it, died during the attack, the ships that were sunk, some later resurrected…and my father who was thousands of miles away at the time.

Many of my father’s friends served and I remember their visits. Stories told around a dining room table.  Older men, cigarette smoke swirling toward the ceiling, coffee left to get cold as they talked. Like many veterans of any wars their stories didn’t focus on death and violence but on humor and comradery. 

One story even involved my mother.  She did her patriotic duty working in a munitions plant.  If one of my father’s friends was to be believed, sitting in rain filled foxholes with artillery shells were being fired over their heads at unseen Japanese positions in the Philippines, one landed short and didn’t explode.  My somewhat taciturn father was quoted to have said, “That must have been one of Eldora’s.”

I have never outgrown my interest in World War Two movies seen repeatedly over again, especially those taking place in the Pacific Theater, the theater my father said he didn’t fight in.

“What did you do in the war, Daddy?”

“Son, I was so far away from the fighting the nurses went in before we did.” His admission did not deter my interest…or my pride.

My favorite movies and stories were those involving Pearl Harbor on the periphery, not quite the center stage like “Tora, Tora, Tora”. Instead, it was  Fred Zimmerman’s “From Here to Eternity”, John Ford’s “They Were Expendable”, and my absolute favorite, Otto Preminger’s “In Harm’s Way”.

A line from “in Harm’s Way” has always stuck in my head.  It was uttered by Henry Fonda  portraying Admiral Chester Nimitz, “On the most exalted throne in the world, we are seated on nothing but our own arses.” Good words to remember whether at war or sitting in your recliner.

The featured image I used is a colorized picture of the iconic USS Arizona burning after the attack.  I met a survivor of the attack in the late Seventies.  A career Navy man he had “joined” up after the War to End All Wars as an eighteen-year-old and served for thirty years.  He served in dozens of Pacific stations from China to San Diego.  One of those ports was in Pearl Harbor on board the USS Arizona.

Among his many duties was manning an anti-aircraft gun should there be an attack.  He never got the opportunity.  Providence intervened that day.  Off duty, he met a friend ashore and watched helplessly as 1,177 of his shipmates and his ship were sent to glory.  Despite the life he was able to live…to create, he never quite forgave himself for surviving.

As I’ve gotten older and a bit of a peacenik, I find myself watching less the movies about the valor and courage of our fighting men and more about the periphery, the politics, our own cruelties…which are simply the cruelties of war itself.

I hope we continue to “Remember Pearl Harbor” and the generation characterized by Tom Brokaw as the “Greatest Generation”. We need to remember the sacrifices they made in our last righteous war before the concepts of good versus evil became so blurred during the Cold War and in the Middle East.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor, and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

Red Sky in Morning…along the Missouri

Or as my grandmother might have said, “Jesus said, ‘When in evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: For the sky is red. And in the morning, it will be foul weather today; for the sky is red and lowering.’”  Which has nothing to do with what I’m writing about except the great photo below.

Courtesy of Jimmy Griffin

The sunrise over my little piece o f heaven this morning is clear and golden but a former Mauldin High School student, Jimmy Griffin, took the above picture near Virgelle, Montana which is just across the Missouri River from Bum Fornicate, Egypt, for all I know. 

Seriously, Virgelle is located in a ‘v’ shaped bend of the Missouri River just southwest of Coal Banks Landing.  I’m guessing you still don’t know much because I don’t and I googled it on a map.  Virgelle looks like a destination someone living deep in the sticks might go to in order to get away from it all. To clarify, it is just south of,“There ain’t nothin’ there atall.” Which is just the way I would like it. Grocery store, liquor store, internet access, I’m good.

When I zoomed out on my Google map, there were no cities…towns or villages within the frame…just Virgelle. 

But on Jimmy’s Facebook page there are beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

Courtesy of Jimmy Griffin

I wondered to myself, how does a boy from Mauldin, South Carolina end up in Virgelle, Montana with a population of less than six thousand in an  entire county?  It had to be a woman, right?    No. I think more like wanderlust or the call of the wild. “Go West, Young Man!”  To be certain I asked.

I’m a little bit jealous.  Jimmy went for a visit and stayed. Jimmy took a chance, one that didn’t include nine to five hours or a cubicle in front of a computer screen.  I didn’t take a couple of chances…and I have a wonderful life.  Still I wonder, “Should I have wandered?” Whatever, I think I want to visit Virgelle at the very least.

I came to my first fork in the road in ’68.  Join the Navy or head off to college? I headed to college…it was the Vietnam years after all. Another decision came up in ’72…whether to continue my education and become a teacher or take more Spanish and head off to Guatemala for a life of running textile mills…in a foreign country…with a population prone to shouting “Yankee Go Home” and kidnapping American industrialist.  I made the safe choice….

I’m not sure Jimmy chose the safe road when he came to his fork.  He decided, his college degree be damned, he’d rather run a ferry across the Missouri, help run an outfitters at a B & B, all located at or near an old mercantile rather than a real nine to five job…that’s not fair.  These are just additions to his chosen vocation, crop insurance adjuster contractor.  What the …? Whatever it is, I’m guessing he has more fun running that old ferry and his days don’t involve cubicles and computer screens.

I get a mental picture of “man against the elements”, long Grizzly Adams beards and animal furs, mountain men kind of images.  The American West, frontier, Americana. Man against his environment. Self reliant and self imposed isolation from all that is bad in our world. Photographs like this back those images except I see no mountains.  I also shiver a bit…I’m at an age I don’t like the cold and the grayness associated with it. Still, it is a great sunset.

Courtesy of Jimmy Griffin

No, if I had a choice, I’d spend Spring and Summer being the somewhat odd “character” running the ferry across the Missouri in Montana and in Fall and Winter barking at a Florida alligator farm when not strolling through trees covered with Spanish moss. I believe I could play the aging hippie in either place.

 I guess I have settled into my “character” moniker despite my lack of wonderlust.  You know, “Old Miller, down the road there, now he’s a quare duck if ever I saw one.”  I guessing Jimmy has become a character in his own right and probably has better stories to tell than I do. 

The Image for the blog is also Jimmy’s and I would suggest he should add photographer to his résumé

Don Miller writes on various subjects and just released his second book in the Tales of The Drunken Irishman Saloon Series, “Long Ride to Paradise.” A direct link is https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08P81W6LZ

His author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3rvGbwgvJskPdR8Ne7W4xd-CBPdSuwkQ6GvCGVeHVH8IZBg5qePYIwrig