MUSINGS OF A MAD SOUTHERNER

With the GENTLE insistence of a former student, now a writer, now a mentor, and forever a friend, Lynn Cooper, I decided to test the blogging waters in 2015. Lynn had insisted I was a natural blogger and I decided to take her word for it. I am sure there are people who might disagree with Lynn after my nearly two years of blogging history but it has allowed me to empty my head of all the content which “bothers me so.”

When I began to blog I was mad, as in angry. Dylan Roof had turned our state on its head, murdering nine church worshippers who didn’t look like him in the name of white supremacy. Our governor and legislative assembly promptly lit a firestorm over the needed removal of the Confederate Flag from our state house grounds. I was angry because of what I believed to be misplaced divisiveness over our Southern heritage as opposed to our racial hate. Neither side of the argument seemed willing to concede the other might have a point. Consequently, I decided on “Ravings of a Mad Southerner” as the title for my blog.

No matter. The flag is now gone, if not forgotten, and not a moment too soon to my way of thinking. Dylan Roof has been sentenced to die and I’m no longer angry about the divisiveness over the flag because divisiveness has been replaced by a nationwide derisiveness over our new president.

As you are aware, mad can be defined as anger but also as mental illness or craziness or having enthusiasm for someone or something as in “I am mad about my wife Linda Gail or a big ole plate of shrimp and grits.” My madness and enthusiasm has taken over my anger and I have written about my wife, childhood memories and family now gone, Southern paradoxes and perceptions, food, friends, perceived enemies, battles with my depression and again, “things that bother me so,” such as my colonoscopy. I have blogged in anger over politics, bigotry and racism but will attempt to keep them to a minimum. I decided to include many of my posts in a collection of short non-fictional stories entitled “Musings of a Mad Southerner.” Unlike my blog, I will attempt to group them with rhyme and reason but can’t really guarantee I will be successful. Sometimes random rules my day and my madness. Yeah…random it is.

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Old Hardwood Floors

I never know what will trigger a memory. My memories seem to be attached to certain senses. A scent of perfume or the aroma of food. The clink of a stone against the iron blade of a hoe. Something silky to the touch…. Yesterday it was a splash of dropped coffee on our pecan floors. As I knelt to clean my mess I was transported to other hardwood floors and déjà vu moments.

When I first walked into to the original school building at Tamassee-Salem I had a déjà vu moment. The long hallway, with its darkly yellowed hardwood floor, led me back to my old home school circa 1961 or ‘62 when I transitioned to Indian Land Junior High School. It was an easy physical transition, just walk up a short flight of stairs from the elementary school. Both, along with the high school, were all contained in the same building.

I remember long, darkly yellowed hardwood floors and the tap, tap, tap sound my shoes made. The floor shined “tritely” with the gloss of the often-mentioned “fresh penny.” I might have shaken with the fear and apprehension I felt on the first day, both as a student and later as a teacher. There was an excitement and anticipation to go with the fear.

It was a beautiful hardwood floor…before receiving thousands of scuffs and marks from hundreds of children traveling to and fro, reminding me of me in 1962, new and not yet beaten down from memorizing multiplication tables, diagraming sentences and writing out research papers, or an older me in 2001 with a metaphorical new coat of lacquer to hide the scuff marks of my life as I began a new chapter.

There is something beautiful about old hardwood floors, especially the ones in my memory. My mother was almost anally paranoid about her floors, especially those in her small living room and dining room. “Make sure you take your shoes off and do not run in here!” I found out why you didn’t run on waxed hardwood floors, especially in a shoeless, socked feet state. There was a wild collision with a small table, feet, legs and arms flailing wildly as I attempted to avoid a fate worse than death. Time slowed as I watched the globe lamp displaced by my wild slide, teeter back and forth before laying over on its side. A valiant dive to catch the globe ended inches short, or a foot, again due to the inability of socked feet to gain purchase. I watched in slow motion horror as the beautifully painted globe exploded into hundreds of glass shards.

I learned several life lessons on this day, the greatest being you don’t get praised for valiant efforts, you get your behind “tanned”…especially since I was doing what I had been instructed not to do. “Son this is going to hurt me more than you.” Right. It hurt me badly but not as badly as the sorrow in my mother’s eyes as she cleaned up my mess.

The seasonal waxing, even though very few people had ventured into the living room since the last seasonal waxing, became my duty. At a certain, now forgotten age, my mother decided “idle hands (were) the devil’s workshop” and my hands were forced to apply Johnson’s Floor Wax and buff it out, all done by the sweat of my brow. Later I would have visions of a younger me on hands and knees as Daniel LaRusso in “The Karate Kid” was instructed, “Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off.” Thank you Mr. Miyagi.

The smells of freshly lacquered floors are still prominent in the memory portion of my brain. There was a bitter, acrid smell to the oily sawdust used to dry mop the school floor. I can conger the sharp scent from the memories held in my mind. It’s not a bad odor, just the biting aroma of a time gone by.

None of the hardwood floors of my past exist any longer other than my memory. Carted off to some landfill to make room for progress. Replaced by bland, off-white tile with no scuffs or gouges to help tell their story or, as my Mother’s floors, replaced by a retirement village along with the building which surrounded them.

Happily, they exist every time I hear the tap, tap, tap of footfalls in the hallways of my mind.

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LIVER MUSH

I absolutely despise calves’ liver. My grandmother would cook it, sometimes my mother would, even my beloved Linda Gail has attempted it. Smothered in onions and gravy, I would carefully scrape the onions and gravy off the liver, push the liver as far away as the plate would allow and then spoon the gravy and onions onto big ole cathead biscuits. I am sure this practice, as well as applying sausage gravy to big ole cathead biscuits, was a primary reason for my heart attack due to clogged arteries in the mid-2000s.

It’s not the taste of calves’ liver, it’s the consistency. Stringy and tough. I once was served liver nips and feel I must pause to point out, liver does not have nipples. It’s liver dumplins’ made with calves’ liver cooked before being ground with savory spices. It is a South Carolina “Dutch Fork” recipe and yes, I know dumplins’ should be spelled dumplings but it’s just the way we say it…dumplin’ not dumplinnnnnggggg! The dish was quite good, delish in fact, regardless of how you say it.

My dislike for calves’ liver might have been the cooks. My grandmother and mother were not known for their culinary abilities and my beloved was a great coach. It would be during my college days before I knew you could order steak any way other than crisp and brittle. My mother and grandmother did well with fried chicken, biscuits and certain “exotic” dishes like “cooter” soup or catfish stew, “victory” burgers and chicken pot pie. Steak and liver just weren’t their best efforts. My grandmother’s creamed corn was to die for, due in part I think, to the sweat of her brow dripping into it, or the fried fatback it was cooked in. Mom’s butter scotch pie…sorry, I’m having a moment… maybe they were better cooks than I give them credit for. I should also say when my beloved wishes to be, she is a great cook. The last time she wished to be………?

As much as I hate calves’ liver, I like chicken livers…love chicken livers. Fried or marinated and grilled. They just aren’t very good for a heart attack survivor who is trying to remain a survivor. I once tried to make a “poor man’s” chicken liver pate’ stuffed mushroom. I guess there is a reason duck pate’ is expensive and there is probably more to liver pate’ than just ground up liver. My beloved tried one and wasn’t impressed. The puppy dogs ate the mushrooms and left the liver. Not a glowing recommendation.

Which brings me, on a roundabout path, to the point of this story…Liver mush. I am guessing many people are not familiar with liver mush. It is a Southern “thang” made from ground pork liver and hog head parts mixed with cornmeal and spices like sage and pepper. I know the head parts have a few of you scratching your head part, but when a hog is processed, very little is wasted. I should have mentioned souse meat, pickled pig’s feet or pig’s knuckles first. It makes head parts sound a mite bit more palatable. My grandmother would mix the concoction together and form the liver mush into blocks, wrap it in wax paper and refrigerate. I’m sure some of you folks from above the Mason-Dixon line are thinking liver pudding and you would be close. Liver mush is a bit courser. My grandmother would slice it and fry it with onions…I don’t guess “milk and honey” from Heaven could have been any better.

Unfortunately, liver mush is no better for me than fried chicken liver but it wasn’t long ago I had a powerful hankering, which is Southern for an almost uncontrollable desire and in my case, it was not almost. I wanted fried liver mush and onions something awful. I remembered when we ran out of the homemade product we bought Jenkins’s Liver Mush at Pettus’s Store just down the road from the house. That is exactly what I decided to do…except I couldn’t find Jenkin’s in my part of the world and Pettus’s Store no longer exists. I had to settle for Neese’s Liver Pudding, damn Yankee infiltration. It was great, almost as good as I remembered. Then I made the mistake of reading the list of ingredients. You think head parts were bad? Liver and corn meal were listed third and fourth, the first ingredient was the farthest point on the front of a hog’s head. I’m not even going to tell you what the second ingredient was but I know we didn’t put that particular organ in our liver mush.

Will I eat it again? Despite the list of ingredients more than likely. I am pragmatic enough to realize if it tastes good it really doesn’t matter what the ingredients are. I’m also a realist and must admit, fried liver mush is not very good for me so I won’t eat it often. The reason I will eat it occasionally is because it reminds me of people now gone and sometimes warm feelings are worth the risk.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf