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Roof has been sentenced to die and I’m no longer angry about the divisiveness over the flag because divisiveness has been replaced by a nationwide derisiveness over our new president.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.

New Release from Don Miller. Purchase or download today on Amazon at https://goo.gl/Cedc7B

FISHIN’

For some reason, I awoke from a dream about fishing. I saw an old cane pole bending from the strain of a double hand size blue gill, it’s blue, green and silver body causing the line to sing from the strain the fish was putting on it. After awakening I realize it is still cold and December, rain is pelting on the metal roof and I really don’t know why I’m dreaming about blue gills and the grandmother who taught me to catch them. I may have already shared this story but felt the need to share it again. I hope you enjoy.

My grandmother had what I would describe as a single mindedness about her work ethic. Little would get in the way of what she had scheduled to do. Monday was wash day no matter how cold it was just to get it out of the way. The only exceptions were on rainy days or during harvest season. During the late summer, Monday was also preparation day for Tuesday – CANNERY DAY. Tomatoes were peeled, okra cut, beans shelled or soup mix was readied to be canned the next day. Wednesdays and Thursdays were copies of Monday and Tuesday. One day was set aside to sweep the backyard under the privet, another to weed the rock garden and others to do what she hated most – house cleaning. Early, early mornings were spent milking the cow and some days, work was rearranged to accommodate for the churning of butter and making buttermilk. During the early summer, EVERYDAY was weed the garden and pick the “critters” that might be chewing on plants. Nothing interfered except the meal preparations and finally the harsh late afternoon midsummer sun that would drive her into the shade…of her front porch to start processing vegetables. There was no rest for the weary.

I can see her distinctly in my mind’s eye standing in her garden and clearly hear the “clinking” sound of her hoe contacting the few small rocks that remained in her garden. She is wearing a cotton “sack” dress handmade from last year’s feed sacks, a broad-brimmed straw hat and old lady loafers that had been slit to accommodate corns and bunions. That was pretty much all she wore as I found out one day when a hornet flew up her dress causing her to strip in the middle of the bean field. There is no modesty when being stung by a hornet but young eyes should not see these things. Her face, arms and legs were as brown as the leather harnesses that PawPaw used to hook his old horse to the wagon and the rest of her…obviously had rarely seen the light of day. I think now how old I thought she was but she was just forty-eight when I was born. I was forty-nine when she died.

There were only two things that would drive her out of her garden – rain and fishin’. Fishing was something that she discovered after PawPaw died. I do not have one memory of her going fishing prior to his death although I remember hearing stories about trips to the river, a mile or so distant as the crow flies. I don’t think this was an example of “sport” fishing but was the setting and checking of trotlines in hopes of supplementing table fare…cheaply. Pan-fried catfish and catfish stew would replace the canned salmon that we often ate in the winter. Well, she made up for lost time as she entered her “semi-retirement” after moving in with us and then later with Aunt Joyce after my Dad remarried. It also did not help keep her in her garden that H.L. Bowers built nine or ten ponds and lakes between us and the river…and gave Nannie free entry…and me with her.

I was not her only fishing partner and she would not overuse the Bower’s lakes. I think she feared that the invitation might be revoked if she caught too many fish. There were a plethora of people who would line up to go with her, many who would just call volunteering to take her to the lake of her choice. Some would call days ahead to make “reservations” to go fishing. The reason was simple. The Lord had blessed her with the ability to find and catch large quantities of fish. Miss Maggie would say, “She sho’ nuff’ can smell deem fishes.” She also thought Nannie might have sold her soul to the devil or might have practiced West African Vodun because she fished according to the signs of the moon, wind direction and weather forecast. Full moon, wind from the south or south-east with a rising barometer…time to go fishing. There were times Nannie ignored the signs and, likely as not, she would not be shutout.
Her fishin’ was fishing in its purest form. No high-dollar technology was employed. I once gave her a Zebco 33 rod and reel, maybe the all-time easiest reel to use. She never used it; instead, there would be a thin cane pole or three, all strung with heavy twenty-pound test line and a small split shot crimped a foot or more above a small gold hook. Rarely did she fish with a bobber. All of her extra gear, hooks, weights and line were carried in a paper poke. I remember when she graduated from a “croaker” sack to put her fish on to a line stringer and then finally to a metal stringer. An earthworm, cricket or a wasp larva was lightly presented to where she thought bream were bedding, allowed to sink a bit and then moved in a slow side to side arc. Wham! That strike would likely be the resulting outcome and into the croaker sack a fish would go! For those of you too young or too Yankee to know, a croaker sack was a porous burlap feed bag “repurposed” to put fish or frogs in to keep them alive or, in the gigged frog’s case, wet. The bag would be laid into the water. Frogs—croakers. Get it? Yes, frog legs do taste like chicken.

I would ask her “Nannie, how do you know where the fish are?” She would answer “Can you not smell them?” Uh, no I couldn’t but I can now and she taught me to look for the “pot holes” that the bream made when they were on the bed. That doesn’t explain how she caught fish when they weren’t on the bed. Maybe Maggie was right about the voodoo thing but I suspect it was the fact that she had studied fishing the same way she studied her Bible or the almanac.
Nothing was too big to go in her frying pan and, sometimes, nothing too small. I guess it goes back to being poor during the depression. Small fish were brought home and, if not cleaned, became a part of her garden. The two-and-a-half-pound bream or the nearly eight pound largemouth she caught did not go on her wall. No, that was pure foolishness. An eight pounder could have fed a Chinese family for a month and we were not going to waste it. Hand-sized bream were always my favorite to be pan fried in Crisco using corn meal breading…at least I think it was Crisco…it might have been lard. I’ve tried pan frying them and I just can’t seem to get it right.

There was one August afternoon that Nannie decided to take Maggie and yours truly to Bower’s Big Lake. That’s what we called it. The Big Lake was twenty-five acres of fishing heaven. Bream, catfish and largemouth bass seemed to always be hungry and this day all of the signs were in place. We walked the three-quarters of a mile to the lake, scooted under the gate that cut the River Road, and started to fish from the closest access to water. For the next two hours, we did not move and had it not been so late in the day we might not have left then. Seventy-seven double hand-sized “breeeeeems,” as Maggie called them, over filled our stringer. There had to be forty pounds of fish and, for an eight or ten-year-old boy, a near sixty-year-old grandmother and, who knows how old Maggie was, it was a tough trek back to the house…followed by a couple of hours cleaning the fish. It was worth it the next day as the smell of frying fish permeated the air.

I remember the last time I took Nannie fishing. She was in her late eighties and a bit feeble, but not much. Linda Gail and I loaded her up in my old ’72 FJ 40 Land Cruiser and took her to the dock at Bower’s Big Lake. The weather was terrible for fishing. Cloudy and windy, a gale blew from the wrong direction as the barometer plunged but she hung a couple and we have a picture of her holding a “whale” still decked out in her broad-brimmed straw hat. She had at least started to wear pants by this time and I imagine a cotton “sack” dress would have been a little cool. What I remember the most was her laughter, something that I heard so rarely. When I think about Nannie seldom do I see her smiling. This was a special day as were all of the days when we went fishin’.

I miss her terribly and just don’t seem to get the enjoyment from fishing that I did during those days. I still try to get the spark back and will continue to do so. Sometimes I think to do otherwise would somehow be letting her down. The same is true with my garden. I know I could buy more produce from the money I spend on seed and fertilizer than I actually raise. Fishing, even when they are not biting, is a little like therapy or maybe meditation. I have found it to be a pathway that leads me to memories that I sometimes didn’t even know I had.

This story came from the book PATHWAYS. It and my other books may be purchased or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

LEGACIES

Near Sutherland’s Station April 4, 1865

He was dead tired but couldn’t sleep. Allen Kell Edwards had been on the run since…since early morning two days previous. Was it just two days ago? He and the remnants of his Louisiana “Tiger Rifles” had been overwhelmed at Sutherland’s Station. It wasn’t just the Tigers, one hundred men held a salient meant for a thousand. Damn blue-belly infantry hit in force before daylight and broke through, turning their flank. Falling back, they had rallied and fought off two attacks before being pushed aside by a third. Petersburg and the South Side Railroad were doomed as was the war effort.

Told to head west and attempt to hook up with Lee’s remaining forces, he and the other nine soldiers had eaten the last of their food a day ago. Allen Kell was down to just three musket balls, having run out of minie’ balls weeks ago. He wasn’t sure he had enough powder to even fire them. He still had a loaded Navy Colt revolver he had taken off a dead Yank officer but that only gave him nine rounds total…if the Colt even fired. He hadn’t tried to fire it, powder was too scarce. “I guess I can always use the old Mississippi Rifle as a Mississippi club,” he muttered to himself.

They were hiding and trying to sleep in a barn somewhere near the village of Dinwiddie. He was drifting into his memories. Allen Kell and his father, William, had joined the fight right after word Fort Sumter had fallen reached them on their small farm. Twenty acres of dirt, a four-room, dirt floor house, a small barn with workshop for cabinet making and the still. A one-horse, one-cow farm at a crossroads on what was simply called the river road. Five acres to feed the family and fifteen to grow corn to feed the still used to make the corn likker they sold to weary travelers making their way to the river and on to New Orleans. Word was the Yanks were all over southern Louisiana. He wondered if the Yankees had found their way north, about his sister Mamie, and his momma. He wondered how they were holding up and if James, their colored boy, was still there and helping them out. Allen Kell had seen the lines of “contraband”–the ex-slaves moving toward Yankee lines…maybe James had gone over too.

Allen Kell and his father, John, had gone to New Orleans and joined the “Tiger Rifles” volunteer infantry. Outfitted in those goddamned Zouave uniforms, he had wondered if the enemy would laugh itself to death. Might as well had a bullseye sewn on them with their stripped blue and white pantaloons, blue sashes and red fezzes with tassels. After First Manassas, they had been issued blue-gray uniforms with matching kepis. All he had left was the gray jacket, now butternut in color, and Yankee trousers. A floppy hat had replaced the kepi. He had kept his red, Garibaldi shirt and at least he had shoes courtesy of a deceased Yank soldier.

Seventeen when he joined, Allen Kell was a tall lad with blue-green eyes and unruly, dark red hair like his father. He had the beginnings of the powerful physique of someone not unfamiliar with physical labor. His hands had begun to grow the same calluses that characterized his father’s hands. No one would have described him as handsome…he was rugged with a long face and a nose that was its most prominent feature. The nose had grown more prominent as his face became gaunter from the lack of food and rest. A sparse, unkempt and tangled beard and mustache covered the lower half of his face. A smiling and happy child and young man, he had grown quiet, brutish and more unfeeling as the war progressed. Had he thought about it he would have realized he felt most alive when killing with the adrenalin rush that went with the act…something he would not realize until the war was over.

Instead of counting sheep, he tried to remember the battles he had fought and their order. First Manassas where he had first spilled Yankee blood. He remembered the taste of bile rising into his throat as fear swelled in his chest from musketry, grape, canister, round shot and shells bursting around him. Later that bile turned to a honey like sweetness as they chased the Yanks back to Washington in “The Great Skedaddle”. Along side Stonewall Jackson, the Tigers had fought at Guard Hill, Winchester, Port Republic, Gaines Mill and the hell on earth, Sharpsburg. He was at Second Manassas when the Ninth Louisiana beat back four Union attacks, the last with rocks when they ran out of ammunition. Later it would be Gettysburg where Papa William was killed, his blood coloring the sparse grass on Cemetery Hill. Battles near the Rappahannock, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania. There were at least as many skirmishes. It seemed the Tigers were always on the cutting edge of the attack. Most of the originals had themselves been cut down. Somehow, he had remained unhurt. With men falling all around him, he had not one scratch. Allen Kell was a grizzled veteran at twenty-one. Finally, ten months ago, he had ended up in the trenches defending Petersburg and the last open railroad. Even they were now lost. Finally, he slept but his sleep was a restless slumber, dream filled with the horrors of the twenty-eight battles and skirmishes he had lived through in the past four years.

“Wake up Allen Kell! We got company!” It was the Irishman Dugan.

Allen Kell was instantly awake. He could tell from the gray light, dawn was about to break. “What is it?”

“Looks like Yankee cavalry. About fifty of ’em. What we gonna do? They bound to come in here lookin’ for forage. We got what, fifty rounds betweens us. Ten against fifty ain’t good odds.”

Because Allen Kell was the oldest among them and the most seasoned, the other nine looked to him for guidance. He had already decided on his only option.

“Everybody gather round.” There was a quiet shuffling as they all moved in close. “We got two choices. We can rush’em and hope we can confound ’em enough for some of us to get away or someone can find me a white piece of cloth for a flag. I ain’t gonna make the decision for y’all but I’m gonna say this. The war is as good as over. We ain’t got nothin’ left to fight with or for.”

“What will happen if we surrender?” He was the youngest, Wyatt, barely sixteen.

“We’ll still be alive.”

Dugan blew himself up, “I ain’t surrendering, I’ll die first but I’ll take as many with me as I can. I ain’t no yellow belly.”

“I ain’t neither,” Allen Kell angrily spat back at Dugan, “I’m just wore out. I’ve fought nearly non-stop since First Manassas. There ain’t no sense in dying for a cause that’s already lost. Somebody get me a stick, anybody got anything white?”

“Here’s an old feed sack will it work?”

“I guess we will just have to see. If the Yanks shoot me, you’ll know I was wrong. If they don’t, Dugan, you’ll need to be making a decision.”

As he made his way to the barndoor he heard young Wyatt praying to himself. Allen Kell had quit praying after Sharpsburg. If there was a God, and after four years of fighting he doubted it, there would be nothing but the hellfire and brimstone his mother had preached while teaching him to read from the big family Bible. No, they were all doomed to hell.

Fiction from a historical novel by Don Miller. “Legacies” will be published the Spring, 2017.

Until then works by Don Miller may be purchased at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

THIRTY YEARS AGO…WE CELEBRATE!

I look nothing like Eddie Arnold and Linda Gail would not be caught dead in one of Eva Gabor’s chiffon outfits. She might be convinced to wear some of Eva’s jewelry but not her outfits. Linda leans more toward athletic wear or overalls. Yeah, a diamond neckless would look good accessorizing her overalls. Yet, despite this fact, as we stood at the front gate of a chain link fenced in yard, I was having a “Green Acres” moment gazing at the old farm house my wife had just fallen in love with. The chain link fence enclosed a yard filled with hemlock and black walnut trees. It was inhabited by the requisite canine, although this one looked more like a small bear. As it happens Bear was his actual name. Bear lay in the sun and gazed at us with wary eyes until he decided we were not a threat and went back to his mid-morning nap. I did notice that while his eyes were closed, his ears were at attention. I had no doubt should we attempt to breach the fence; he would be there to impede our passage.

Linda Gail and I had been out exploring, something we still do on occasion. Even after thirty years we seem to always find some new, or at least forgotten, pig trail to travel down. We saw the for sale sign as we drove by and Linda Gail forced me to turn around and go back. We were sort of house hunting, looking for a home to fix up with five or so acres of land. We had to do something; we were living in a condo with three Boykin Spaniel mixes who were about to poop us out of house and, if not home, a small backyard. This old farmhouse appeared, at least on the outside, to fit the bill. With the heavily wooded yard and surroundings, white clapboard siding and a tin roof, it certainly had the ambience! The problem was that no one was home.

A phone call to the realtor deflated my wife’s euphoria like a “nickel balloon.” The house had a contract written and signed on it with a closing date just around the corner. The realtor told us that when he spoke to Mr. James Copeland, the owner, about our wanting to see the house, Mr. Copeland had said “Sure, if we wanted to come out and look the place over. He would love to show it to us.” Odd I thought. If you are days away from closing why would someone want to show it? Odder still was Linda’s response, “We’ll be right there!” Knowing better than to question her, I decided to go along for the ride.

A very gregarious and personable Mr. Copeland met us at the front gate and led us inside. Seventy-seven years young, Mr. Copeland was a retired Methodist minister who had purchased the home in 1956 and, with his first wife, had begun to renovate. The home, empty for the past “many” years, had no electricity, indoor plumbing or heat, other than its five fireplaces. The original outhouse was and still is on the property but is now used for storage instead of its original purpose. There was an original chicken coop built from slabs milled from the forest surrounding the home. The house itself was supported on its field stone foundation by hand-hewn oak timbers. With help from his “good Baptist brethren”, heating, electricity and plumbing were added to the home which had been originally built in the late eighteen-eighties or early eighteen-nineties. All of the electrical outlets were put in waist high on the wall to accommodate his first wife who was blind.

South Carolina Highway 11, built around 1922, actually cut through the original two-hundred-acre tract of land, separating the home from its barn which still stands on the wrong side of Highway 11. The beautiful old barn does give me an opportunity to break a commandment every day when I walk outside and look across the road. It is the commandment against coveting…a barn, not my neighbor’s wife.

After a tour of the home and a history lesson, the very spry and physically fit Mr. Copeland decided we should go on a hike to see the land surrounding the house. While we had been looking for five or so acres, this particular parcel of gently rolling forest land was eighty-seven acres. If you are looking to purchase land and see the description “gently rolling” don’t believe it any more than you should believe a doctor who says, “This might sting” or a dentist who says, “You might feel a pinch.” Gently rolling means up and down a lot. With seven streams cutting through ravines, dense hardwoods and vines obstructing our path, along with both a humidity and temperature over ninety, it was a tough three-hour hike for a guy who thought he was in shape. Mr. Copeland hardly puffed at all. Instead, he simply “walked us into the ground” despite being over twice our age.

We enjoyed our time with Mr. Copeland but left with a “day late and a dollar” short feeling. The closing was at hand and it appeared there was nothing to do but keep looking for our little piece of heaven. Sometimes fact can be stranger than fiction or maybe prayers are truly answered. We received a phone call from the realtor asking if we still wanted the place. Mr. Copeland had backed out of his original contract. His reasoning was, “He liked us better.” After thirty years, eight puppies, seven cats, eight goats, thirty chickens, a Vietnamese pot belly pig and a whole lot of stories involving possums, raccoons, snakes, and rats, I really don’t know whether to thank him or curse him.

This is an excerpt from the book “THROUGH THE FRONT GATE.” It is a book about thirty years of memories, thirty years of celebration and thirty years of love. We celebrate our thirty anniversary of a place we call home. “Through the Front Gate” maybe purchased and downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

AN OLD TEE SHIRT

I have somehow collected hundreds of tee shirts over the years. Some are old athletic tees dating to the Mauldin years when I first began teaching and coaching at the high school level. Many are tattered and yellowed from age, others carry what I hope are grass stains. Some are covered in memories and is why I have a hard time getting rid of or “repurposing” any of them; the tattered “lucky” blue one I wore the year we won a state championship, another from a region championship, the only region championship, in football. Some are not athletic wear from former teams but are souvenirs from races I have competed in, if you can call my running even running much less competing. I am drawn to one, almost forgotten, which brought back memories of the player who gave it to me. It was off white from its conception, not just with age, and has a prominent hole in the back. Dang! How did that get there? On the front, there was a design including a Kiwi, the bird not the fruit, surrounded by the logo “Kiwi Country.” Underneath the logo, screened in block letters is “New Zealand.” Wow, I had forgotten all about this particularly beautiful fashion statement.

“Hobby” Hobson or Hobart R. Hobson had a thick and, by my Southern “hillbilly” standards, a somewhat odd English accent and the coaching staff decided to pronounce it as a cockney would, ‘Obby Obson’. I don’t think he was very impressed. Hobby was also not impressed when I began to sing “Walzing Matilda,” the unofficial Australian National Anthem. I would have sung the New Zealand National Anthem had I known it. Oh, yeah, it’s “God Save the Queen. Despite being in the same hemisphere as Australia and settled by the same imperial power, Britain, I found they were more than thirteen hundred miles apart in distance and even farther apart in culture and mind set.

“Kiwis” do not like being thrown into the same pool as the Aussies. Despite the fact both were mapped by noted explorer James Cook and claimed by the British Empire, Australia was settled as a penal colony while New Zealand was settled as a religious colony. Think prisons rather than churches. Also, there are major environmental differences that provided opportunities for different cultural outlooks. Think deserts, snakes and drought in Australia and lakes, forests and glaciers in New Zealand. They also developed a love for different types of sports. Australia has Australian Rules football, which aside from its name, a very large football and large goalpost, resembles American football only slightly. New Zealand is known for Rugby which, despite its plumper ball, does resemble American football and is one of the sports that American football is derived from.

Foreign exchange student Hobby Hobson from New Zealand seemed to be a very serious and quiet young man; much more mature than his American counterparts. He was quite unlike the Crocodile Dundee character that I was still attempting to compare him to and he never understood why I continued to belt out “Tie Me Kangaroo Down” after his repeated denials of the existence of Kangaroos in New Zealand. Physically dark, with brown hair and a sturdy build, he looked and sounded nothing like Paul Hogan. This did not stop me from kidding him with questions about “shrimps on the barbie” or “What did your didgeridoo?” I always stopped short of cruelty and always goaded him with a smile on my face. I would not know how well he took it until much later. Hobby found that his serious good looks and exotic accent gave him an advantage when it came to man’s favorite sport, girls. Hobby was a “chick magnet” despite his quiet demeanor. They all seemed to want to take him gently into their arms and crush him passionately while lining up as if on a bill of fare at some blue-plate restaurant. When questioned about this week’s “menu choice” he would just smile and add that New Zealanders were more gentlemanly than their Australian counterparts. Never having met an Aussie I don’t know.

Hobby played rugby and therefore thought he wanted to play football. Of medium height and stocky build, physically he was typical of Riverside athletes, undersized for a linebacker or defensive end and too slow to play defensive back. A typical Riverside player, small and slow. We moved him from position to position until he settled in as an outside linebacker. He would hit you if he could get into position but there is a learning curve in football and sometimes we found him curving in the wrong direction. It began with the simple act of dressing. Did I mention that Rugby players don’t wear equipment? The game of rugby involves blocking and tackling, all without benefit of the equipment that we associate with our game of football including helmets and shoulder pads. This might explain why when “Googling” rugby I saw so many smiling rugby players without all their teeth.

Once he learned how to dress, and made it to the field, we decided to limit him to defense because of the learning curve involved with offense. In addition to never having played football, Hobby had also missed all four weeks of preseason practice. Defense is more about alignment and reaction than having to learn a play with all the terminology involved. “Bunch Right-Liz-Move-Combo Veer-On Three” is akin to learning another language in addition to acquiring the technical ability required to execute the play. He did find a place to play. Despite his disadvantages, Hobby would run as hard as he could and was not afraid to cause a collision. This made him perfect for the kickoff team and he became a good “wedge buster.” Unfortunately, this was not one of our better teams meaning we might not get to kick off but once due to our propensity for being shut out. As the season ended we also put him on the kickoff return team which gave him many more opportunities to play.

The end of football season also meant that Hobby and I did not run into each other as often. At the fall athletic banquet, he presented each member of the coaching staff a wall hanging of a New Zealand map which was divided according to their rugby teams and each of their team uniform shirts. After the banquet, there was limited contact until one day the following spring I saw him in the hallway and we paused long enough to catch up on how well he was doing and to remind him that I still thought he was Crocodile Dundee despite his protests. He was dressed in typical teenage faire, which is universal it would seem, blue jeans and tee-shirt. This tee shirt featured his county’s name and logo and I made a big deal about how much I liked it.

After bidding the seniors a fond adieu that spring, the next day would be spent completing those tasks that teachers must complete before we can run, cheering and dancing to the closest bar as we close school for the summer. I had completed my list of duties and had wandered to another room to try and assist another teacher. When I had assisted, or interfered all I could, I wandered back to my room and found the tee shirt neatly folded on my desk. There was no note but I got the message loud and clear. It would also explain why I have held on to it these years, hole and all.

This is a selection from the book “Winning Was Never the Only Thing…”, a feel good kind of book based upon Don Miller’s forty plus years of teaching and coaching. Should you be interested in purchasing this book or other’s of Don Miller’s unique views of life and humor try the following link: http://goo.gl/lomuQf

RIVER WALK-IN HONOR OF OLIN GRIFFIN WHO PASSED EARLIER THIS WEEK

The un-named river road by my home, one of several river roads in the area which bore no sign, was a twisting affair that eventually ended up on the banks of the Catawba. To a four or five-year-old the road seemed longer than the Great Wall of China; however, in reality, the path was probably no more than three miles, if that. The Catawba was wide, wild and strewn with boulders. Hundreds of ducks crowded a feeder branch and would rest on the banks or float lazily on the water. My guess is today it would look pretty much the same…except maybe not as wild as I thought, rather slow moving. Back then the city of Rock Hill could be seen on the distant bank across the water. Now the city seems to have crept across the water, invading our side and displacing the ducks.

The river road began at my home and meandered through fields and pasture land, gradually rising, until it reached the hill where the old Collin’s house and barn sat. Then it would rapidly fall through a mixed forest down to the banks of the Catawba. There were many other dirt paths off the river road and my four-year-old self was concerned that we might become lost.

At some forgotten moment in the mid-50’s much of this land would become the possession of H. L. Bowers who began his working career as a carpenter’s helper for my Uncle Hugh Wilson. Later Mr. Bowers invented a process that would reclaim cotton from cotton waste. This process made him a millionaire several times over. He would purchase more than seven hundred acres of land from my grands and my uncles, Banks Griffin and Hugh Wilson, along with several other land owners. Despite his wealth, he was still a country man. I remember many times seeing him bouncing along his pastures in his always brand new Cadillac. With that abuse, those Caddies didn’t stay new very long which is why he purchased the latest model every year. I would guess you would need to purchase often if you treated your Coupe Deville like a GMC quarter ton.
The day was bright and glorious like all days when you are four. The river road still split my grandparent’s land and Mr. Bower’s overseer, Roddy McCorkle and his family, had not yet moved into the old Collin’s place that sat on the highest hill overlooking what would later become a twenty-five acre lake. PawPaw’s corn field and cotton patch were still on the south side of the road and the pasture, watermelon and tomato patches were up hill to the north. Many of my days were spent carrying water to those tomato and watermelons using a pail dipped in the small stream that “sometimes” ran through the property. Later in the fall, watermelons would be placed in the stream to cool and provide a sweet snack late in the day. Farther on down the road sitting off in the woods to the north was a sawmill that PawPaw and his brother Banks ran in the winter to supplement the household income.

I have no idea what possessed my Uncle Olin and Cousin Hall to take me along on a hike to the river. I was a little thing, no more than four. For all I know my grandmother may have paid them to take me just to get me out of her hair. Olin, my mother’s brother, was a tall lanky kid with bushy curly hair–tall as in six-foot-forever to a four-year-old. Hall was the son of Aunt Bess, my grandmother’s sister who lived just up the road from us and whose family ran the general store and cotton gin. Hall Junior was much shorter and sturdier-looking than Olin. Hall, known as Junior during this early life, sported a GI crew cut that he wore until he died. Olin would go off to Clemson College taking advantage of the school’s ROTC program in the hopes of becoming a Navy pilot. His dream would be thwarted by color blindness, consequently, he was forced to serve as an officer in the “blue water” Navy. Hall would join the Army and earn paratrooper wings so one of them got to fly…sort of, I guess. Somewhere in my mind is a snapshot of Olin in dress Navy whites along with a very attractive young nurse also in dress whites. They sure were young…and in love. That young nurse, Gayle Miller, in a fit of insanity, agreed to marry him and fifty years or so later they must still be in love as Gayle somehow has tolerated “Big O.”

They were no more than seniors in high school themselves; well, Olin might have been a freshman at Clemson at the time. Anyway, to me they seemed like Greek gods who had come down from Olympus to put me on their shoulders and carry me to the river, at least on the trip back. Mainly I would ride on Hall’s shoulders because Olin’s shoulders were way too far off of the ground for me to be comfortable. I am sure that I wore out poor Hall but no way was I going to climb Mt. Olin and ride him home. Even today I still get a nosebleed standing on a short ladder.

Hall and Olin were a happy pair, full of LOUD AND EAR-PIERCING laughter that accompanied every story they told and they told a lot of stories. I don’t remember much but do remember stories of catfishing, frog gigging and buzzards. No…no one ate a buzzard but someone, whose initials were Olin Griffin, got a nickname for illegally shooting some, I do declare. On a low bluff we paused to rest before making the trip back home. Both guys became a little more serious as they talked about Indian graves and battles that occurred between the Catawbas and the Cherokee. They told stories that included ghosts and long-dead Indian warriors, stories that might have been intended to scare a four-year-old. That bluff was quiet and a bit eerie. Years later when friends and I would go camping and would tell our own ghost stories, the bluff was still kind of creepy. But…I am sure there are no such things as ghosts.

When I was nine, my grandfather died. It was a gray, cool and misty day, both outdoors and inside of my head. I was sick and can remember my father joining me on the couch to tell me the bad news. My grandfather’s memory would haunt me for the next several months. In fact, that next fall, before school began, I slowly peddled my Schwinn Phantom toward the now named “Bower’s place”, past the cornfield of my grandfathers. It seemed to be a lonely field because it had been left unplanted. I felt a bit of despair and started to shed a tear or five until I looked up and saw a figure in the middle of the field waving at me! He looked a lot like my dead grandfather! For some strange reason, at that moment, my mood lightened. Then the figure dimmed and disappeared. Even though he seemed to just vanish into thin air…I am still not sure there are no such things as ghosts.

When I was older I would end up working those same river bottoms for my Uncle James and then later for Mr. Bowers. Whether I was baling hay or hoeing and pulling corn, there was never a time that I didn’t think about that “River Walk” with my uncle and cousin when I found myself on the banks of the Catawba. Sadly, Hall has passed on and left us now. I called Olin and Gayle last week. They are happy as clams and both much stronger than their age. Their kids and grandkids are close by in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I want take a trip to visit soon, to see them in person. Olin still has that loud and piercing laugh which I was so glad to hear again. As I listened to the familiar laugh which took me back in time, I realized that I need to remind Olin of the River Walk. Also, I feel an especially strong urge to tell him the story about his dad. I wonder if Olin believes in ghosts.

A FLOOD OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS

We are fifteen feet or more above the closest water, a shallow stream, but we are drowning. I had an idea how the victims of sinking ships felt as they fought their way to the upper decks, in the dark as a river of water hit them in the face. According to legend, a ragtime band played “Nearer My God to Thee” as the Titanic went to her watery grave taking some fifteen hundred passengers and crew with her. The good news is that there were only two of us drowning. The bad? Linda Gail was singing hymns and one could have been “Nearer My God to Thee.” (Actually the band probably played “Autumn” but that doesn’t fit my story does it?)

Over our thirty years living at “Hemlock Hills” we’ve lived through bad weather and managed to dodge a few bullets…or tornadoes. Not long after we moved in a twister took down a huge pecan tree which in turn took down several black walnuts along with the power to the house. I had noted how green the clouds were and how calm, yet oppressive the air felt right before Linda Gail and I, along with three terrified puppies, made for the “perceived” safety of our hallway. The pecan landed close enough to the house that we just stood outside shaking our heads in disbelief. A few days later an ancient black walnut weakened by the storm fell into Highway 11 taking our power again before blocking the highway for several hours. We sold the downed trees for the cost of removal to a self-employed contractor friend who, a couple of years later, sold them back to us in the form of flooring, cabinets and countertops when he was hired to renovate. Funny, I remember paying a lot more for the wood we got back than he paid for the trees originally.

This is an excerpt from the story “A FLOOD OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS” found in my new book, THROUGH THE FRONT GATE. You may purchase in Kindle form at https://goo.gl/4rBPhW or in soft cover at https://goo.gl/Yu3vRm

MY BIRTH

I was born in the fall of my thirty-fifth year in 1985. I say this because nothing happening before really mattered very much once she said yes. I hadn’t planned to ask her to marry me. I thought I was too scared to ask as in “already twice burned” scared. As I asked I looked intently into her hazel eyes and noticed they turned from gray-green to bright green. I have learned over the years that green doesn’t always mean GO! Sometimes it means run like hell and be prepared to duck while you are doing it.

I don’t know when I first met Linda Gail, my ex-roommate’s on again, off again girlfriend. We disagree on that particular moment but I am sure I know when I first noticed her. She had an inflated pumpkin on her head preparing to celebrate Halloween. A year later, in the year of my birth, All Hallows Eve was on a JV game night and I had to attend as a function of my position as a coach and athletic director. Linda Gail and her friend Jeanie were going out to a costume party without me. Those two events should have been exclusive of each other but this particular night they became inclusive. It was raining and I had invited several of the booster club members to join us in the press box to stay dry. Booster club members being entertained in the press box was not an ordinary occurrence and had never happened before until this night. As the game went on, someone knocked on the door. My booster club president opened the door and found two pretty ladies opening their trench coats and exposing their somewhat revealing Halloween costumes. One was a vampire mistress of the night in a short black mini dress with lots of zippers and chains, the other a French maid complete with fishnet stockings, crinolines and a whole lot of cleavage showing … a lot of cleavage showing. I tried not to fall out of the press box window while everyone else was speechless. Utter and complete silence ruled until our booster club president paid them a left handed compliment and confessed that “If I had known it was like this up here I would have come up a lot sooner.”

This is an excerpt from the story “My Birth” found in my new book release, THROUGH THE FRONT GATE which can be purchased in Kindle form at https://goo.gl/4rBPhW or in soft cover at https://goo.gl/Yu3vRm

THROUGH THE FRONT GATE

For nearly thirty years I have entered “Through the Front Gate” to a home that is much more than just a place to lay my head. For more times than I can possibly count I have entered a haven and a refuge, made so by the woman that lives here, my Linda Gail. When I repeat the Bible verse, “You are my refuge and strength” I am not talking to God, I am talking about the woman who is everything good about the world I live in…the world that you have created Linda Gail. Saying that I love you seems quite inadequate but it will have to do. “Linda Gail, I love you.” These are stories from thirty years of marriage and the unintended consequences of Linda Gail.

Cover photography is my “view through the front gate.”

Don Miller’s fourth book, THROUGH THE FRONT GATE, will launch August 12…MAYBE,

THE “GUILT” OF CHILD “REARING”

My daughter Ashley has been put into the hospital. Nothing serious…I hope. She is pregnant with our second grandchild and will be induced to give birth later today. It has “induced” in my head memories from Ashley’s past…and a bit of haunting with it.

I feel a bit like Maximillian Robespierre of French Revolution fame. In addition to “losing his head” during his own “Reign of Terror” Max once, as I understand it, wrote on “child rearing” despite never having a child to rear. When I think of my daughter Ashley, I feel somewhat the same way. I was a part time Dad, and carry a certain burden of guilt because of it. For some reason I feared children. I had a sense I would not wear the mantel of “fatherhood” very well. Thirty-five years after becoming a father, I still am not sure, but could not be happier with the way Ashley turned out.

Linda Gail and I chose not to have children although it was probably me more than she. Instead, we chose to share my daughter with her mother. Our relationship with Ashley’s mother was at times strained and at times not, and probably could be described as “as good as one would expect and probably better than most.” Without consulting Linda Gail, I chose to not confuse the issue of child rearing by “bending” to Ashley’s mother’s vision of raising our child since Ashley lived with her. Ashley’s mother did a wonderful job of raising my daughter with very little help from Linda Gail or myself…until Ashley does or says something that reminds me that we might have had more influence than I realized. I am sure Linda Gail believes our influence was paramount.

Linda Gail’s influence was great, both in amount and purpose. I remember sitting on the front porch rocking while playing some sort of juvenile “name calling” game when the four or five-year-old Ashley called me “penis breath.” You really have to love the lessons learned in day care. Before my eyes could refocus after growing to plate sized, Linda Gail said, “I’ll handle this!” I chuckle seeing Ashley’s little hands clasped over her mouth as Linda Gail whispered in her ear.

I cannot speak for Linda Gail, but most of my warm and fuzzy memories involve a young Ashley, running around “Hemlock Hills.” We purposely wanted to introduce her to a different life style than would be found in the suburbs of Greenville…despite the City of Mauldin being more rural than suburban and the fact there was a huge farm directly across the road from her home. We wanted her to have a “country” slant to her life. Damming up the nearest stream to wade in, searching for salamanders and crawdads. Riding all over the “north forty” across rutted old logging roads while bouncing ourselves silly in the old Land Cruiser. Fishing using a “Snoopy” bobber attached to pink line running through a pink rod. Thankfully, Ashley did not grow up to be a “girly-girl.” I have an idea that both of our grandchildren will be subjected to fishing, camping and hiking. It helps that Ashley married a guy with the same interests.

Early on she had little understanding of certain insects beyond the lightnin’ bugs she released in to her room, wishing to sleep in the warm glow of their flashing little bottoms. Later on a warm July night, before we had installed air conditioning, we heard the patter of her small feet descending the stairs from her bedroom. “Daddy I can’t sleep. They are too loud. Can you turn them off?” She was speaking of the cicadas singing loudly outside of her open bedroom windows. Sorry kiddo I don’t know where the off switch is.

I tried to do things with her that I did when I was a kid. Dragging her into the garden to plant butter beans and then letting her help shell them when they had matured. What do you mean you don’t like tomatoes? Going into the woods to hike…and split and load wood. It doesn’t sound like a lot of fun but it was…I hope. Ashley really didn’t quite get the moral of the story when I put a watermelon in the stream to cool, just like I did when I was a kid. Later in the afternoon as I struggled to retrieve the melon and finding that a “varmint” had begun the party without us, Ashley asked “Wouldn’t it just have been easier to put it in the refrigerator?” Yes, but would it have been as sweet? I have to say Linda Gail probably took Ashley’s side.

As Ashley got older she played soccer and keeping with the insect theme her first team was the “Lady Bugs.” They were so cute. She was not the most gifted athlete, a trait she inherited from me. I remember her running, shoulders scrunched with her chin jutted out in determination. She would later move to goal keeper and I was always amazed, and a bit fearful, at how fearless she was attacking high crosses or the ball being dribbled on a breakaway. I was also a little bit proud…ok, a lot proud. With my own coaching schedule, Linda Gail and I don’t have as many memories of Ashley’s athletic career as I would like but I still cherish seeing her team win a state championship. I was also quite proud when she began coaching during her second of three careers.

Christmas Eve was always our time to get together. Linda’s mother and father, Mr. and Mrs. Porter, now Linda Gail’s stepmother Francis, my brother, Steve, and his wife, Rebecca, and of course Ashley. After an evening of celebrating and gift giving there was always the bitter sweet time when I took Ashley home, late in the night. We would talk, just she and I, until she fell asleep. For some reason I remember driving home in Linda’s little red bug with Ashley helping me shift the gears. Odd what we remember. This past year we moved our Christmas Eve party to Ashley and Justin’s to accommodate Miller Kate and I am not sure if we like it very much…yet.

I have a photograph that always causes a tightness in my chest. Young Ashley is perched upon a twisted tree that resembles the hump of a camel. Mr. Porter (Pop) and I are steadying her with Linda Gail’s mother looking on. Pop and Linda Gail’s mother are gone, as is the young Ashley, replaced instead by my grown up daughter; nurse, wife and mother of a red-headed little “doddle bug,” Miller Kate. I wish Linda Gail was in the picture but, as usual, she was “attempting to capture the memory.”

As I am writing this I have just gotten word that “Little Boy Blue’s” arrival is still on hold. It appears he is ready to come, about two weeks early, and I am sure Ashley and Justin are ready but I’m not sure about Miller Kate. I have a remembrance of a chubby little red-headed kid (brother Steve) who came into my life just before my fifth birthday. As soon as he was old enough to stand I punched him in the nose, not my finest moment. Hopefully Miller Kate will deal with the new addition better than I did.

Despite my guilt and fear, Ashley has turned into a daughter to be proud of…is there any other kind? She is sensitive and strong and actually has some of our “liberal” traits. I just don’t know why she doesn’t like tomatoes. I guess I could have done a better job there.

POSTSCRIPT
“Little Boy Blue” decided to join us during the mid-afternoon. Seven and a half pounds of healthy boy with all of his toes and fingers and everything in between. Dark headed with a full head of hair, I think he will end up red headed like his sister. I’m not sure what Miller Kate thinks about her baby brother yet. She addresses him as “Baby Nolan Samuel”, more as a title than a name. I worry how she is going to react when she realizes that she has to share being the center of the universe with someone else. There is something hopeful about a new birth. New opportunities to make a difference in the world. Hope he grows into a smart, strong, athletic young man but I will accept a good young man. Knowing his parents, I am sure he will have every opportunity to be a good young man.

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from the soon to be released book about thirty years of the “unintended consequences” of living with Linda Gail, “Through the Front Gate.” For more of Don Miller’s unique outlook on life try clicking on http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.