Fifty Years Ago…

 

Section 5377 of the Code of Laws of South Carolina of 1942: “It shall be unlawful for pupils of one race to attend the schools provided by boards of trustees for persons of another race.”

Fifty years ago, yesterday, The School District of Greenville County became one of the last school districts in one of the last states to comply with the “spirit” of the Supreme Court Case Brown v Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas.  It had only taken sixteen years to accomplish this compliance.

1954’s Brown v Board included a South Carolina case filed by then Civil Rights lawyer, future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall on behalf of Harry and Eliza Briggs and 20 other families living in Summerton, SC, a small town in Clarendon County.  Filed in 1947, Briggs v Elliott challenged school segregation in Clarendon County, South Carolina.  It was the first case filed of five cases combined under the Brown umbrella

Unanimously, the Justices found that separate was inherently unequal and that “public school segregation was unconstitutional.” They also found segregation “fostered feelings of inferiority among black children that could harm their educational futures.”

Brown overthrew Plessy v Ferguson’s “Separate but Equal”, a railroad case from the 1890s that had been applied to education.  Mandated segregation in South Carolina was over…defacto segregation wasn’t.

I used the word “spirit” earlier because for sixteen years South Carolina lawmakers systematically attempted to put off the inevitable by increasing spending on black schools, implementing “pseudo” freedom of choice, and an end-run with what became known as “token” integration.

State Senator Strom Thurmond of Dixiecrat fame helped to pen what became known as the Southern Manifesto, pledging, along with one hundred other federal lawmakers, the intent to resist integration as far as the law would allow.

It seemed South Carolina and other states, mostly Southern, were intent on being deliberate rather than speedy when instructed by the Supreme Court to integrate their schools “with all deliberate speed” in 1954.

With a Mississippi Federal Court ruling, segregation ended over a long weekend in Greenville County on February 17, 1970, with the busing of sixty percent of the black school populations to various schools distant from their own neighborhoods.  Only ten percent of white children were bused.  Five hundred educators found themselves cleaning out their desks and moving to different desks in different schools as well.  This was done to reflect the racial makeup of the county, 80% white, 20% black.

What had been black high schools, some quite new became middle schools or closed that weekend.  These centers of pride for many communities, like Sterling High or Lincoln High, were now empty; only living on in the memories of many people of color.

I was a second semester junior in college at the time and not very concerned about the politics of my state.  The next year, my senior year, I would find myself an unpaid assistant baseball coach while doing my student teaching at a local high school.  It would be my first-time interacting with black students and athletes.  It would probably be some of their first interactions with white teachers and coaches.  Somehow we survived.

From all I can glean from friends and fellow educators who taught during the period, the change was relatively peaceful.  I imagine there was some selective memory loss but unlike other states, few buses, if any, were pelted with rocks. There were no rabid white crowds shouting expletives to little schoolgirls. The governor did not stand on the schoolhouse steps shouting, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Still…I can’t imagine what those thousands of students were thinking at the time as they rode school buses to new locations.  I’m unable to fathom the fear of the unknown that prevailed, both black and white.  I can only imagine what might have gone on in restrooms, locker rooms, in the parking lot, on buses…out of range of teacher’s and administrator’s ears.

By the time I became a full-time teacher and coach in 1973, I found race relations still raw and contentious.  Generally, the question of race relations simmered just beneath the surface on briefly exposing itself.  There were just enough brief flareups to remind us.  Beliefs don’t go gently into the night just because judges tell them to.

For years we had been indoctrinated to believe races should be kept separate as a benefit to both, and then in the blink of an eye it was over…or was it?

There were still arguments made and old white men continued to try and find ways around the law.  Court cases would still be heard, especially over busing.  Isolated areas would still attempt to hang on to the old ways.  Affluent white folk found another way to be separate.

One hundred and thirty-four private schools and academies opened in South Carolina during the period, one hundred and thirty-one were opened to whites only.  Many still exist today, many still are all white with names featuring Lee, Davis or Calhoun.

Over fifty thousand white students fled to private schools and today one in seven public schools in South Carolina are considered “highly segregated” still.  “Separate but equal” seems to have a firm foothold all over the South and it appears the Secretary of Education is intent on strengthening its foothold nationwide while weakening an already weakened public school system.

I often hear or read, “We need to move on.  That was so long ago.  I don’t understand why it is always about race.”  I find it is often people of my race who make these comments.  The same people who insist their heritage is under attack when certain flags are removed from federal buildings.

I point out that Jim Crow was still entrenched during the years of my youth well into my college days.  As I reach a major birthday in a month and a half, I find that 1970 doesn’t seem that long ago.  If it is during my lifetime it can’t be that long ago.

I remember the signs stating, “White’s Only.”  I remember fire hoses, German Shepards and burning buses.  I didn’t fight for my Civil Rights, I didn’t have to.  I’m sure for those who fought for their Civil Rights…continue to fight for their Civil Rights, it seems like only yesterday.

Addendum 

According to various accounts, although Brown resulted in a legal victory against segregation, it was a costly victory for those associated with the Briggs case.

Reverend Joseph De Laine, the generally acknowledged leader of Summerton’s African-American community at the time, was fired from his post as principal at a local school in Silver. His wife Mattie was also fired from her position as a teacher at Scott’s Branch school, as were all the other signers of the original petition.

De Laine’s church was also burned and he moved to Buffalo, New York in 1955 after surviving an attempted drive-by shooting.  He never returned to South Carolina.

Harry and Eliza Briggs, on behalf of whose children the suit was filed, both lost their jobs in what was called “economic retribution.”  They both left South Carolina.

After death threats and by a joint resolution of the South Carolina House of Representatives, Federal Judge Walter Waring was forced to leave South Carolina for good.  He had sided with the petitioners.

An interesting article I just read, https://www.greenvilleonline.com/get-access/?return=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.greenvilleonline.com%2Fstory%2Fnews%2F2020%2F02%2F17%2Fdesegregation-1-out-of-7-south-carolina-schools-highly-segregated%2F2843394001%2F

***

Don Miller is a retired educator and athletic coach.  He writes on various subjects using various genres.  His author’s page can be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is from “A New Wave of School Integration”, The Century Foundation, https://tcf.org/content/report/a-new-wave-of-school-integration/?session=1

***

Sources

https://brownvboard.org/content/brown-case-briggs-v-elliott

http://www.scequalizationschools.org/briggs-v-elliott.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Briggs_v._Elliott

 

Valentine’s Day…the Horror

The build-up to Valentine’s Day is stressful.  I’m so happy it’s over.  You would think after near forty years with my bride I’d get it right….  I’d rather be the first victim in a slasher movie.  At least it’s over for another year…maybe I’ll die before it comes around again.

I don’t do well with picking “meaningful” gifts or planning “meaningful” events.  Don’t do well?  And the Grand Canyon is a big hole in Arizona.  I’m better at spontaneity, flying by the seat of my pants, spur of the moment.  Who am I foolin’?  Damn, I’ve got an anniversary bearing down on me in late June.

My bride doesn’t like traditional Valentine’s Day gifts…you know…roses or chocolate.  Stress!  I mean she likes roses, but she’d rather have a bare-root rose to plant in the spring…you know the gift that keeps on giving…season after season.  I did that one year.  It died.

Chocolate would be fine if we celebrated at an intimate little Belgium chocolate shop we once discovered in Charleston…the owner, a Belgian Jew whose family fled to the United States as Nazi tanks began rolling toward France, died a while back.  How dare she.  The son who took over was…was…delicate and high strung, prone to fainting.  He couldn’t take the pressure of making handmade chocolate delights.  He sold out and for some reason, it’s just not the same.  It’s like the shop died too.

One of the first Valentine’s Days we celebrated after moving to the foothills of the Blue Ridge, I found a nearby inn offering a romantic dinner for two on Valentine’s Day.  I jumped on it…it snowed.

The owner called us saying, “They say the roads are cleared.  We’re open but have no power.  We’ll be preparing your meal over an open fire if you can get here.”  We’ll get there.  They lied!

“Have four-wheel drive, will travel” which explains why we opted to take the Thunderbird instead of the old Landcruiser.  The Landcruiser just wasn’t sexy enough for Valentine’s Day.  “Fools rush in….”  Up the Saluda Grade for twelve or so miles.  Everything was fine until we hit the North Carolina line.  Snowplows?  Even South Carolina has heard of them.

It was a drive through the mountains that reminded me of the scenes from the movie “Battle of the Bulge.”  The road looked like it had been bombed.  Trees and powerlines down, six inches of snow on the ground with a heavy fog rising as it melted.  Instead of Nazis directing mortar fire on us, power crews in yellow helmets directed us around obstructions.  No artillery shells exploded, just transformers lighting up the approaching darkness.  We made it.  How are we getting home?  I’m sure the inn is full…it was.

Saluda, North Carolina is a rustic little village filled with memories of past days when it was a stop for the railroad.  The inn, built to serve the railroad elite, was located on the far side of town and welcomed us with hurricane lamps that gave the old structure a turn of the Twentieth Century feel.

Oil lamps provided a warm glow with a hint of kerosene wafting through the air.  An intimate table for two covered in red and white checkerboard.  A flickering candle in the center of the table caused shadows to dapple around us as if bathed in soft moonlight.

There was a view of snow-covered mountains as we sat next to an open fireplace that could have burned a giant Sequoia tree.  Everything was warm and cheery…and of course, romantic.  None of the waitresses called anyone honey or sweetheart.  The offer was of a young red wine, not sweet Southern tea.

The bill of fare included mushrooms stuffed with duck liver pâté, Caesar salad, a healthy cut of filet mignon sided with asparagus and roasted potatoes…can you believe I can remember a dinner from over thirty years ago?

A chocolate cheesecake topped with a cherry sauce finished the meal…a decadent, triple-digit priced meal…worth every penny…to me…but not to my bride which is the only reason I had come here anyway.  She enjoyed the meal when she ate it, later…not so much.

We decided to take the long way home by interstate…the interstate had to be clear.  The wide four lanes had to be safer than the two-lane we had traveled up.  We found it clear of snow.  We also found it shrouded in a heavy fog rising from the asphalt as thick as (insert your own cliché here).

Worse still, my bride was sick.

“Honey, you need to pull over,” she said weakly.  She looked a bit green in the light cast by passing headlights.

“What?”

Said with emphasis, “YOU NEED TO PULL OVER!  I’M GOING TO THROW UP!”

Slowing and easing to the side of the road, “STOP THE DAMN CAR WILL YOU!”  Okay, not fast enough.

I watched in horror as half of a triple-digit meal landed on the pavement with the force of a high-pressure hose.  Think Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.”

Once I helped her into the car, I pointed out, “The pâté….”  I shouldn’t have brought up food.

“What?”

“It had to be the pâté.”

“Oh, just shut up and get me home!  NO WAIT.  STOP THE CAR…NOWWWWW!

So much for the after-dinner festivities.

I’m only sharing because it exemplifies the horror that is Valentine’s Day…and it is more subtly humorous in retrospect than at the time.  The ‘meal from hell’ is not the exception; it is the rule.  So bad are my Valentine’s Day memories, I’ve blocked most of them, locking them away somewhere in my head and throwing away the key.

What can you expect from a celebration of love named for the patron saint of epilepsy?  A man beaten, clubbed and beheaded for trying to convert prisoners into Christians.  Nothing says “Be my Valentine” like a bloody, headless corpse.

I thought long and hard about this Valentine’s Day…just like every other one.  It’s been a rough month in a rough year.  I needed inspiration and I got it.  Right on a social media page as if it had read my mind.

A handmade (chortle) necklace…a cheap, fake silver locket in the shape of a sunflower on a cheap, fake silver chain.  The sunflower splits apart to expose an engraved message, “You are my sunshine.”  It’s beautiful.  Perfect.  She is my sunshine.  Sentiment over substance.

And it was…perfect, so far…but she hasn’t eaten my shrimp and grits yet so there’s room for disaster yet.

***

The image is from Horror Fuel http://horrorfuel.com/2017/02/13/love-horror-12-horror-films-watch-valentines-day/

Don Miller writes on various subjects, some fictional, some nonfictional, some at the same time…both.   His author’s page may be accessed  https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

To Block or Not to Block….

 

Alert:  This ain’t about football…

I unfriended and blocked a poster on my social media account.  I normally have a hard and fast rule, I don’t block people unless they become threatening.  Stupid and illogical are okay…well they aren’t okay, but I like knowing those who are stupid and illogical…but if you are threatening, WHAM!  YOU ARE SACKED LIKE Y. A. TITTLE!

I went against my rule yesterday simply because I became tired of the irritation.  The poster, a woman I may be related to due to the twisted branches of my family tree and by marriage, became an irritant. It should have been a minor annoyance, reminiscent of jock itch.   Seeking relief from the itch I blocked her going straight to Defcon One using a good dose of Atomic Balm.  I’m unhappy with my decision, blocking was not the soothing anodyne I expected.

Like-minded friends engaged in the unarmed combat of social media have asked me on more than one occasion, “Why do you put up with So and So?  You have more patience than I do.”  It is not about patience, I taught school for forty-one years and coached for forty-five.  My patience ran out a long time ago.

Until yesterday, I had an easy answer to my friends’ questions.  My act of blocking would be an admission that I gave the “block-ee” control over me.  I am logical, I can argue my point…except when I’m not…and can’t.  I believe blocking is an admission of their control over my thoughts and my inability to positively argue my position.

The comment I made to her post was about empathy for someone, a public figure, who “might” be suffering from a family member’s terrible illness.  Her original post discounted his pain and made it about politics.  I countered with logic, she tried to check me with conspiracy before browbeating me with, “Since you are such a liberal maybe you should block me and go back to watching CNN.”  That isn’t the exact quote but captures the flavor of her comment.  At least she didn’t use the descriptor snowflake.

Sure, I lean middle-left but I’m not a raging radical and haven’t watched CNN in forever plus a day.  She had triggered me and I dropped the hammer on her.  I answered her with, “Done but not because you are a conservative….”  I blocked her before I could add, “…but because you are not a nice person and have the sympathy of a gnat and the empathy of an amoeba.”  Sorry amoebas and gnats.  Did I drop the hammer on her…or on me?

I had blocked her simply to be rid of her.  My attempted expungement failed.  Her Ka lingers like the smell of fried fish or liver and onions from the previous day’s supper.

Another reason I don’t block people derives from a saying from Sun Tzu’s  The Art of War.  “Know your enemy” …except they’re really not my enemies.  It’s easy to think of them as enemy combatants but they are Americans who simply share a different point of view and how does one argue logically if you don’t know your countryman’s position?  She was simply another American with a different point of view…and a nasty personality.

Blocking people with different opinions leads to interacting only with people who share your own beliefs and opinions.  I would think this “vacuum” of only like opinions might help move us farther and farther apart from those who disagree with us.  It moves us farther and farther from discovering common ground.

Walt Kelly’s intellectual opossum Pogo comes to mind. “We have met the enemy and he is us” or in this case, me.

Image result for we have met the enemy and he is us

As soon as I touched “Enter” one of the voices in my head smirked and made itself known, “You just did exactly what she wanted.  She gets her jollies from being blocked.  She’s bragging right now about how she melted a liberal snowflake.”  

My real voice agreed, “Yep if you can’t take the heat stay out of the kitchen. ” Another head voice added, “and you just gave her control over YOU.  You let her bully you into blocking her.”  I’ve also allowed her to trouble my thoughts since.  I’m not sure how to counter my ruminations.  I’m certainly not going to send another friend request to her.

The one logical voice in my head tells me my triggering is the dislike for PC culture taken to a level of bullying.  Sometimes it is best not to say exactly what is on your mind if your intent is to win friends and influence enemies.

I’ve never believed the “words can never hurt you” rhyme.  I hope my own dislike for political correctness is tempered by my humanity, empathy, and the belief people should be treated with respect until all else fails.

I’m not sure I did that.  I’m not sure all else failed.  The same voice also points out, “She ain’t worth the effort to analyze.”  Maybe.  Maybe I’m trying to analyze me.

Many more of my illogical voices are yelling too but as is their nature, quite mindlessly.  All they do is confuse an already confused issue.   

Like two offensive linemen unsure who should block the three hundred pound gorilla in the gap across from them, both decide it is the other guy’s responsibility and the quarterback pays the price as the gorilla, untouched, smashes him into the turf.  I think our country is paying for our confusion…and for the lies told to us that we pass along without a fare the well of research.

Oh well, I’m not sure writing this has helped but the morning is breaking and there should be enough to do around the foothills of the Blue Ridge to take my mind off this subject.

As I wrote this, the sunrise through my French doors was a brilliant orange making the ridgeline look as if it was on fire.  When I went out to enjoy the first hit of my cigar, I found the temperatures quite nice for early-February.  Since then, the rain has put out the fire and the temperatures have receded to normal February levels.  After temperatures in the seventies, thunderstorms, and tornadoes…it snowed.  It appears Mother Nature is confused too.

Sunrise

An early morning jog to go with my walk might just the “soothing salve” I need.  The pain of running seems to displace all other pains and takes my mind away from everything but the pain of putting one foot in front of the other.  I guess it is just replacing one pain with a more acceptable one.

Good day to all.

***

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

Images:  The featured image: The Wisconsin Badgers appear to have a body on everybody except the guy crashing from the backside.  From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blocking_(American_football)

In this 1964 photo, New York Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle kneels after being sacked by John Baker of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  “A dazed Tittle on his knees in the end zone, helmet off, blood trickling from his balding head.”  https://www.newsobserver.com/sports/nfl/article178031466.html

A colorized version of Walt Kelly’s cartoon strip, Pogo.   https://www.myjewishlearning.com/rabbis-without-borders/we-have-met-the-enemy/

Houston Texan’s QB, DeShaun Watson, pays the price for a missed block.  https://texanswire.usatoday.com/2018/12/21/texans-qb-sean-ryan-deshaun-watson-nfl-high-sack/

A view from the ridgeline above my house.

 

Like A Bowl of Gumbo….

 

I was triggered but I was proud of myself.  I said my peace and disengaged.  I recognized that anything I might say would make no difference.  I think most arguments these days are best left…unargued.  There was an upside, my “triggering” sent me down a pig trail to Alice’s rabbit hole.  I found the Mad Hatter, but he wasn’t drinking tea, he was offering me a bowl of gumbo and an Abita instead.

The tiff was over a “Fun Fact” I had posted about Black History Month.  I share “Daily Doses” of witticisms or “Fun Facts” about the world we live in.  Anything to cut the greasy derision abounding today.  Since we celebrate Black History Month in February, I decided to avail myself of the subject although I am sure there will be fun facts about Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras thrown in for good measure.

A comment made about my “Fun Fact” ruffled my feathers.  I felt the response was inappropriate and told the responder so.  He didn’t take it well…or maybe I didn’t take it well.  I opted to say my peace and disengage.  Instead, I punched up a playlist that included Jimmy Buffett’s “I Will Play for Gumbo.”  One of the choruses goes….

“A piece of French bread

With which to wipe my bowl,

Good for the body.

Good for the soul.

It’s a little like religion

And a lot like sex.

You should never know

When you’re gonna get it next.

At midnight in the quarter or noon in Thibodeaux

I will play for gumbo

Yes, I will play for gumbo.”

 

It’s a fun song and it had me seat dancing in my recliner, forgetting about my triggered self.  I might have had a Pavlovian response to boot.  The ditty made me think about diversity…also a good subject for Black History Month.  I know of no other bowls of goodness that are more diverse in ingredients, origin…and full of tasty joy.  If I had to come up with the last meal it would probably include gumbo with a side of shrimp and grits.

The word gumbo derives from West Africa, ki ngombo or quingombo, from the Niger-Congo language spoken by many of the West African slaves who survived the Middle Passage and were forced to settle and perform back-breaking labor.  The words mean okra, a plant the slaves brought with them.

Gumbo can be served without okra but why would one want it without okra?  It was also Africans who introduced serving okra with rice, and rice is generally served with gumbo.

Sometime later, it was the Louisiana French, some who came by way of Canada, who probably shortened the African words to gumbo.

The Choctaw, who gave the dish filé, ground sassafras leaves, called the tasty dish, kombo.

The dish is most closely associated with Nawlins, Loo-see-Anna but can be found in bowls across the United States.

Like gumbo, New Orleans is about as diverse as one place can be.  The Spanish conquistadores wrestled the area from the Natives in the middle 1760s while fighting off the French before secretly giving it to Napoleon’s France in 1800.  The area was heavily explored and settled by both the French and Spanish lending to the diversity.  Napoleon, feeling a money pinch from his many wars, sold New Orleans and a bunch more to the United States in 1803.  All the while, African slaves and Native Americans added to the diversity whether they wanted to or not.

Gumbo varies according to the Cajun style or Creole style…or your style.  All make use of a dark roux (French, although darker than most French styles), some use okra (African) to thicken, others use filé powder, (Choctaw).  Still, others use both.  Seafood or chicken, both or none, can be combined with Andouille sausage (French but with a heavy German influence).  Gumbo’s first cousins, Jambalaya and red beans and rice, are probably Spanish introductions and akin to the Spanish rice dish, paella, so I must believe there are Spanish influences in gumbo too.

What I like about gumbo, besides its taste, is its diversity.  It is made with diverse ingredients that vary, of course, depending on who’s making it.  It can be made with table scraps, shrimp, sausage, chicken or alligator, I guess.

Gumbo in a wide mouth bowl crosses lines of class, rich or poor.  It crosses race and ethnicity and probably religion too.  Louisiana cooks call the combination of celery, bell pepper and onion the “Holy Trinity” after all.  As tasty as it is, I’m sure there might be a bit of West African Voodoo involved.  Gumbo is truly a melding of ingredients, tastes, and people.

Gumbo is both labor and love intensive.  You just can’t put it all together and then walk away.  There is much stirring before you can cut the temperature down to low and let those flavors get to know each other.  People should cut the temperature down and get to know each other too.

Sometimes I wonder if it is the sweat off the chief’s brow that adds to the spice as much as that “Loo-see-Anna” hot sauce…Its gotta be love that makes it so tasty.

“Maybe it’s the sausage or those pretty pink shrimp

Or that popcorn rice that makes me blow up like a blimp.

Maybe it’s that voodoo from Marie Leveaux,

But I will play for gumbo

Yeah, I will play for gumbo

The sauce boss does his cookin’ on the stage,

Stirrin’ and a singing for his nightly wage.

Sweating and frettin’ from his head to his toe,

Playin’ and swayin’ with the gumbo

Prayin’ and buffetin’ with the gumbo.”

 

Lyrics courtesy of AZlyrics.com, Jimmy Buffett, I Will Play For Gumbo, written and performed by Jimmy Buffett.  From the 1999 album Beach House on the Moon.  Video courtesy of YouTube

Featured Image of New Orleans Creole Gumbo from Big Oven https://www.bigoven.com/recipe/new-orleans-creole-gumbo/170608

My favorite Gumbo Recipe from Emeril Lagasse, Gumbo Ya-Ya https://parade.com/27003/emerillagasse/gumbo-ya-ya/

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

If History Repeats…Another Spring Day in January

If history repeats itself, we are in for our coldest days of winter yet…of course, this global climate change “thingy” might have erased any previous history.  Still, I have faith.  I predict our coldest days will occur on or around February the Third.

Why am I so sure?  Since the early Seventies, I have kept a close watch on the weather of late winter.  Spring sport’s practice, a misnomer in this part of the world, begins in the late winter.  For thirty-eight of the forty-five years that I coached, I coached baseball.  Usually, the coldest days of winter occurs around the start of baseball practice in South Carolina.  This year’s start date, February 3.  Sleet, freezing rain, snow, and winds are sure to follow.

Truth be known, the cold start of baseball practice is what finally convinced me to retire.

If history repeats itself, Mother Nature will be bi-polar in the foothills of the Blue Ridge and in the Piedmont of South Carolina until April…or maybe early May.  We will have days of teeth chattering bitter cold with howling winds.  We will have frigid rains bordering and sometimes crossing over to the freezing variety.  We will have sleet driven by icy winds or huge, wet snowflakes that are here today and gone tomorrow.

If history repeats itself there will be spring days as well.  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde weather with lows in the twenties and highs in the fifties or sixties.  Days that defy the calendar of January, February, March, and early April.  Days when crocus, buttercups and Scotch Broom are confused and punch out of the winter ground and bloom.  Days when my Red Bud begins to show pink only to be nipped in the bud by Jack Frost and Old Man Winter a day or two later.

Yesterday was the day that proves the rule.  With daylight hours lengthening enough to recognize, I was greeted with deep blue, cloudless skies.  Redtail hawks caught the thermals in the brightest of sunshine, whistling to each other…sharing their joy with me.  A purple finch stopped by my feeder showing the spring color that gave him his name.  A day so bright I felt the pull to search seed catalogs and almanacs to see when I should plant.

Don’t get me wrong, the feeling passed.  Yesterday was a deceptive day.  All spring looking but… There was still a nip in the wind making the low fifties seem like low forties and with no nighttime cloud cover, the lows have dipped into the high twenties before thinking of rebounding into the mid-fifties.  It looks like spring even if it doesn’t quite feel like spring.

This crazy season in the foothills of the Blue Ridge seems a lot like life.  It’s the good times that make life livable and the bad times less so bad.  Days like yesterday and today make the winter more survivable until the rains come tomorrow.  According to Longfellow and The Ink Spots, “Into each life, a little rain must fall”…but the sunshine makes it survivable if not likable.

Here is a toast for more spring days in January…and February….

The 1944 song by the Ink Spots took its title from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Rainy Day.   If you listened you might think you hear Ella Fitzgerald.  You did.  She had a voice like a springtime too.

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

“Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie, and Chevrolet…”

I saw the ’56 Chevrolet sitting at a local diner, parked off to the side as if to keep it out of harm’s way.  As a teen in the middle and late Sixties, the Belair was my dream car…my first unrequited love…just like Elizabeth Taylor looking wantonly at me from a picture wearing that light blue slip.   Neither proved to be attainable.  Both the car and Liz caused a flood of teenage hormones of Biblical proportions.  My teenage libido revved like the V-8 under the Chevy’s hood.

The car brought memories of pulling into Porter’s Grill or the Wheel-In as a teenager.   Sometimes with friends, occasionally with that special someone.  Carhops in white paper “garrison” style hats rushing out to take our orders in hopes of a good tip…”Don’t take no wooden nickels”…Ha!

Food brought on a tray that hooked on to your car door while the “Devil’s music” played from tinny-sounding speakers hung above the covered parking places. ”One, two three o’clock, four o’clock rock….”  The smell of deep-fried anything and sliced onions permeated my memories.  An “American Graffiti” moment…or maybe a Shoney’s Big Boy moment.

The car I paused lust after was a bone stock Belair in turquoise and white and reminded me of many that I saw during my teenage years in the Sixties…except this one might have been in better shape fifty years later.  The car’s paint was flawlessly polished, the chrome smooth and shining in the bright sunshine, the interior clean as a whistle and only lightly worn.  Wow, what a beauty.  Is that a three on the tree?…nope, a two-speed PowerGlide.

My folks were Ford people for the most part right down to my Dad’s ’64 Ranchero.  My father did have a momentary lapse of judgment with a ’68 Buick Skylark.  Thankfully my brother wrecked it with no harm to himself.  Late in my father’s life, there was an Olds Cutless but no Chevys.

People of that day were loyal to certain car brands, especially during NASCAR races.  I pulled for “Fast” Freddie Lorenzen and his Galaxie 500…the same model we drove except his didn’t have four doors.  Pulled for him until he went over to the dark side driving Dodges and Plymouths.  “Traitor!!!!”

People kept cars longer back then and had time to develop loyalties.  There were no lease plans, people of my father’s generation just drove them until they wore them out, new technologies and designs be damned.  There were still many Forties vintage sedans parked in the church parking lot on a Sunday morning in the mid-Sixties.  Even a late Thirties Pontiac, headlights still on top of the fenders.

Despite our Ford loyalty, my older cousin’s Nassau Blue 55 Belair caused me to break a few of the Lord’s commandments.  Coveting was assuredly one.  It’s tiny two sixty-five V-8 fitted with Corvette accouterments and a racing cam put out a throaty growl as it flew low down Highway 521.

Three on the floor, I did love the white knob sitting atop the shifter.  Lake pipes peaked out from under the doors and matched the chrome rims with half-moon hubcaps.  Like most young teenagers I was in love.

The only Chevy I ever owned was a more rusted than blue ’72 Chevy C10 work truck I bought for a paltry one hundred and fifty dollars in the early Eighties.  It had been old long before I bought it and showed near one hundred thousand miles on its broken odometer.  There was still a throaty roar from rusted-out mufflers, the sucking sound associated with a Holly four-barrel, and an alternator whine you didn’t get from other brands.

I was a teenager in the muscle car era of the Sixties and drooled over ’63 Stingray Split Windows, GTOs, Cobras, Hemi powered Plymouths and the like…still do.   I couldn’t wait for my monthly Hot Rod Magazine to be delivered RFD.

Briefly, in the Seventies, I owned a ’66 GTO, “Little GTO, You’re really lookin’ fine.  Three deuces and a four-speed and a 389…”  Yeah, the old Ronnie and the Daytona’s tune pops into my head but my Marina Turquoise ’66 would fall to the wayside, abandoned due to rising gasoline prices and the oil embargo.  I wish I had had a crystal ball during those days, but single-digit gas mileages didn’t cut it.

My high school parking lot was loaded with tricked out Chevys, but few Fords.  Most were for show rather than go.  There was a white ’58 with the Impala badge that rocked with a type of slow lope associated with the 348 Chevy had introduced that year.  Red bucket seats matching the red trim down the side…a beautiful car.

Unlike baseball, cars were no more an American creation than…well…apple pie and hot dogs, but we found a way to turn them into the American culture traits the Chevy commercial sang about.

Young men piecing together spare parts into cheap “rat rods.”  Jan and Dean lamenting Dead Man’s Curve or ‘grabbing their girls and a bit of money’ heading out to Drag City.  The Beach Boy’s close harmony singing about their ‘Little Duece Coupe‘.  “Necking” at The Fort Roc Drive-In Theater before a milkshake at a drive-in diner, Hardee’s fifteen cent hamburgers, the suburbs.  Cars cruising main streets on Saturday nights across America.  The ultimate car TV show, Route 66.

I never drove across America’s highway, Route 66.  The closest was the Woodpecker Trail from North Carolina through South Carolina, Georgia and Florida with its alligator farms, swamps, Spanish moss, and Magnolia trees.  Small signs posted at close intervals telling me that “the…end…is…near…Repent!”  Shops selling matching salt and pepper shakers to commemorate our travels.

Roadside pull-offs with picnic tables to enjoy homemade fried chicken wrapped in wax paper, Pepsi Colas iced down in old-style metal coolers.  Roadside treats geared toward travelers in their automobiles.  It would have been more exciting if I had made the trip in an early ‘60s Vette with either Tod or Buz instead of my family in a ’63 Ford.

Americans have a love affair with their cars, but I find that my tastes have changed.  I still pause and commit a mortal sin looking at cars from the period of my youth and wouldn’t turn down a ’61 Impala Bubbletop or an Oldsmobile 442.  A Jaguar XKE might be nice…hum.  I wouldn’t turn down the old four-door ‘63 Galaxie.

Today my taste runs toward the more utilitarian. Four-wheel drive pickup trucks, Jeeps or a certain Japanese vehicle quite capable of off-roading.  As ugly as my Landcruiser was I still miss the ’77 FJ-40 that was stolen from my front yard.  It broke my heart when I found it burned.  It breaks my heart when I see one for sale and the price they sell for.

Despite my change in taste I can still pause at a drive-in diner and appreciate an amazing old car.  Appreciate its artistic beauty and the efforts of its owner to maintain it…Appreciate my memories of past road trips and the cars that made them possible.

Intro to Route 66

 

Videos are courtesy of YouTube

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

The picture of the ’56 Belair was taken from Pinterest

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