Hot Spells

 

“Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.”

–Russell Baker

We appear to be suffering a hot spell here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.  Marilyn Monroe dances in my mind, a song echos in my head, “We’re having a heatwave…a tropical heat wave….”  Seeing her costume in my mind, I wonder what was causing the heat wave.

The humidity is not quite high enough to be tropical but it is as if a heavy weight has descended from the mountains, pressing the air down around us, compressing it and turning it more liquid than gaseous.  This high-pressure weather system has added to my misery in the same way collard greens wilt in a pot of boiling water.  As I mow the grass this morning it is as if the oxygen has been squeezed out of the air.

The weather is July-August hot.  F. Scott Fitzgerald would probably describe the weather as “sultry.”  Sounds real nice.  Maybe like a 1920s flapper dancing the Charleston or Lindy Hop. Sultry.  I wouldn’t describe the weather that way unless the flapper had been dancing for hours in the unairconditioned Cotton Club in August wearing a fur coat.  The problem with our “sultry” July-August hot spell is…it is just now late May.  Doesn’t bode well for July and August.

Humid enough to be uncomfortable but not so humid to give us any rain.  The sky is a brilliant blue with no clouds to block the sun.  The weather pundits say our air is too stable and will remain so for at least another week.  If you say so.

We were flooding in the cold a month ago.  Now we are drier than camel bones in the Sahara.  We water something every day which adds to the muggy misery…and seems to attract the mosquitos and gnats.  God, I love it.

The people living in the mid-west would love to have the mosquitos and gnats.  Theirs have drowned or blown away.  I am not attempting to make light of their disastrous weather.  Major thunderstorms, tornadoes, and floods should not be made light of…nor should the results of global warming.

Several years ago I suffered through an early season baseball practice featuring near-freezing temperatures and snow flurries.  I swore never to gripe about the heat of summer again.  My resolve is eroding…and we haven’t made it to June yet.

My weather conditions trigger memories.  I grew up without air conditioning and wonder how I survived. We spent our days outdoors working or playing in brutal heat and humidity, or if indoors, where it seemed even hotter.  You’ve never been hot like in the middle of a cotton or hayfield hot or inside of a cotton mill hot.  How did we survive?

I would attempt to sleep, fitfully at best, my head at the foot of my bed trying to catch what little bit of breeze might find its way into my small bedroom from the one window.  Laying spread eagle making sure body parts never touched, adding to the heat, humidity, and discomfort if they did.  I wish I had been smart enough to invest in the talcum powder industry.   Later when my parents bought a small window air-conditioning unit for their bedroom, I found heaven when I inherited their window fan.  Blow baby blow.

The same was true of the old school building I attended.  Tall, wide, screenless windows allowed everything to enter…except a cool breeze in the late spring and early fall.  Taking notes while trying to keep the college ruled paper dry was almost impossible.

Sundays were no better.  Church windows wide open, hellfire and brimstone could be no hotter than those pews.  Funeral home fans fluttered in the breeze doing nothing more than moving the heat around.  Shirt sticking to the pew heat and humidity.  On a particularly brutal Sunday morning, the minister shouted to the heavens, “If you think it’s hot now just wait.  Hell is a lot hotter.”  I don’t know.  Heat seems relative.

Yesterday evening I ventured into my garden.  I waited until the shade had found my tomato and squash plants but found them wilted in the oppressive humidity and heat.  The beans didn’t look too much better.  The one crop that should be loving it, okra, refuses to peek above the hot ground.

Despite having watered the day before, dust swirled wherever my hoe contacted the ground.  A clink rang out as my hoe struck rock…seems I have a bumper crop of rocks this year…like every year, no matter how many I throw into the creek behind my garden.  Rocks and weeds…my bumper crops.  Along with squash bugs and bean beetles.

The metallic clink took me back to my grandmother’s garden as did the sweat running off my nose.  It never was too brutal to keep her out of her garden and the old sack dress she wore would run with sweat.  My grandmother was a Southern woman but unlike the heroines of a Faulkner or Wolfe novel, she did not glisten with perspiration, she sweated like a horse.

I paused, leaning on my hoe.  It was her pose I saw in my mind’s eye.  An old woman, with a face browned by the sun, wearing a big straw hat leaning on her hoe.  She was framed in bright summer sunlight, sweat running down her face.  She always defied the hot spells and I shall too.

I have memories of ice cold sweet tea and a watermelon cooling in the nearby stream.  Somehow the heat has made the memories a bit more sweeter…despite my sweating.

Don Miller has published several books.  To access them click on the following link.  https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image came from worldatlas.com

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Crime Sprees, Black Snakes, and Killer Birds

 

Pondering the meaning of life,  why nature can be so cruel, and the evil of man began with the theft of a trailer and continued with the murder of four wren hatchlings we had been monitoring in their little nest perched precariously above the front porch fan.  Four wren hatchlings we had been protecting from attacks from below when we should have been more concerned with attacks from above.

I find I’m much more distraught about the loss of four birds than the pilfering of my trailer.

I watched as a  juvenile black rat snake climbed the front porch swing chain looking for a way to traverse from chain to fan to what his reptilian brain saw as lunch.  I moved him…and later, the big brother he brought with him a half dozen times before my minuscule brain realized that if I took down the swing, he’d have to find another restaurant.

Sneaky snake must have enjoyed our time together.  He still hangs around as if waiting for me to pick him up again.  Ride me, Daddy?

It didn’t bother me the snake was trying to dine on jeune oiseau…after all, he was a snake doing what snakes do.  More importantly, I had stopped him.  The killer birds…I didn’t know I needed to stop them.

I never knew sparrow parents would attack wren young and kill them to ensure there is a steady food source for their young.  They must be new to the neighborhood.  There is no lack of food sources.  My wife has made sure of that.

I saw them hanging or flying around but was too stupid to realize they were up to no good.  We found the little broken and pecked bodies on the porch floor and with their distraught parents flitting about, felt their loss. 

I am telling myself, it is the way of nature.  I haven’t convinced myself.

And then there are the evils of man.  The trailer was just one of several grand heists over the years.    Bad people are found everywhere…and bad birds too.

The thefts began with a tractor stolen from the middle of my “hundred-acre woods.”  I ran out of fuel and didn’t return to where I had left it, literally in the middle of my forest, until a couple of days later.  I couldn’t find the John Deere and Winnie the Pooh wouldn’t help me look.  I guess Winnie was trying to get his nose out of his honey jar.  My nose was just out of joint.

An antique FJ 40 Landcruiser was taken from my front yard.  It was returned much the worse from wear.   A beautiful piece of Japanese engineering turned into junk.  The one time it ran after its return, “Kamikaze Cruiser” caught fire.  I hope the thief joins my beloved cruiser and burns in hell…well…metaphorically, I reckon…may be.

Not that everything has been “take, take, take.”  A would be Robin Hood decided to share the wealth.  A stolen pickup truck with two weeks worth of trash loaded in it, missed the curve at a high rate of speed, flipped and crashed into my creek.  It was laying on it’s top mocking a dead cockroach, two weeks of trash scattered hither and yon.  The old Ford had taken down my fence and my billy goat stood on top of the truck’s bottom as if he had ruled triumphant in a game of king of the hill.

I felt satisfaction when I learned of the malefactor’s capture, a young man found battered and bruised at a nearby restaurant frequented by our local constabulary.  I doubt the owner of the totaled truck got any satisfaction and I was left to clean up the mess that was left and mend my own fences.

There were other occasions to call the authorities.  Enough occasions to put together a pattern.  Every deputy who came out to investigate uttered the same family name.  “I’ll bet you  ‘Old so-and-so’ is responsible.”  “Old so-and-so just got out of jail, bet he’s at it again.”

I’m not going to say the name because I really don’t know if they stole my trailer or not.  If they didn’t it would be a first.  True to form though, as I met the deputy about my trailer, he brought up the same name again.  “You live pretty near Old so-and-so.  Bet it was him or one of his sons.”  Now grandsons.

I still haven’t seen my trailer, but the backcountry crime family tried to strike again.  This time it was my neighbor.  I slept through most of the event despite the blue and red lights flooding my yard at one until three A.M.  My neighbor filled me in.

A young man with the same last name as the redneck crime lord, a grandchild, was apprehended attempting to steal my neighbor’s travel trailer with a truck the boy had stolen earlier and elsewhere.  He even posed for a picture before attempting to flee after he realized no one wanted his autograph.

Attempting to escape in the stolen truck the clown prince of crime found himself reduced to running when the vehicle broke down at the scene and caught fire.  Poor baby.  He was later found hiding in a kudzu filled ditch…kudzu covering blackberry filled ditch.

I wish I had seen his dismay when he dove face first into the ditch only to find his soft landing impeded by blackberry thorns.  That had to smart…I wish it had been multiflora rose.  I do feel great satisfaction envisioning his surprise landing and ask for no forgiveness as I smile.

It seems the torch has been passed from one generation to another.  Grandfather to son to grandchild.  I wonder if the godfather of redneck crime is proud.  The old man showed up and according to my neighbor, just shook his head as if to say, “I thought I taught him better than that.”

My father told me once he could tolerate a thief more than a liar.  The reasons for his comment will remain between my father and me but I was in the wrong.  I understand his sentiment but would pose to him, “One might go hand in hand with the other.”

The image of the angry bird is from https://twistedsifter.com/2012/04/40-actual-real-life-angry-looking-birds/

Further tomfoolery may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Privet… Oh, How I hate Thee!

 

Right up there with Kudzu.  After weed whackin’, choppin’, and pullin’ for five hours I got my first patch knocked down.  I liberated some bear plant, a couple of nandinas, a large patch of tiger lilies and iris and what I think is wild almond.  A lot of honeysuckles and wild blackberries came out too.  Sorry for droppin’ my gees but I do that when I’m tired… I’m very tired.  I’ve still got two patches to go… did I mention I’m sore? Oh, my everloving back!

Some fool decided to introduce privet to the US from Asia in the 1700s.  It’s called a hedge, but I find it to be a very un-hedge like hedge.  It’s not thick like a hedge I would want or I’m not growing it correctly.  Privet roots creep underground and send up shoots when it senses sunlight and creeps along some more and sends out more shoots, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera until you have a patch the size of Rhode Island.

Folks from the US must not be very bright… nothing political there… much.  After Asian privet… why would we think Asian kudzu was a good idea?  I’m a dumb American, I followed up with Asian honeysuckle…not that it is a problem… oh yes, it is! Pretty, aromatic and a problem… except on an early summer’s night when the scent reaches me, carried through my open windows by a gentle breeze.

Privet…a problem at best.  I normally cut down my privet two or three times a year… along with the kudzu, honeysuckle, and blackberry that tangles themselves with it.  I had some health issues last summer and I think I must have missed a whackin’ or two.  Between privet, kudzu, blackberry and the local variety of honeysuckle I probably could stay busy with twelve-hour days during the summer.  I just try to stay a little behind.  It helps that my wife won’t let me touch the Asian honeysuckle under threat of a frying pan upside my head.

Privet does put off some white blossoms in the spring… and poisonous, blue-black berries in the summer. Don’t believe the privet blossoms have a scent but I know if I don’t get the plant down before it blooms, my bride won’t let me touch it.

I didn’t always hate privet.  Right outside my grandmother’s backdoor was a patch of privet…patch?  More like a …a forest of privet.  Way tall privet, not hedge-like at all.  She had allowed it to grow redwood style and then hollowed out the center of the patch to create an outdoor room.   Protected from the harsh summer sun, she kept the running roots clipped when they poked their little heads out of the ground.  Kept the dirt swept clean with a twig broom.  It was OUR hidden retreat from the summer sun, a bountiful garden that grew a child’s imaginative games.  Good memories!

I remember chasin’ lightning bugs through the canopy created by the privet or making mud pies using the dark soil as a primary ingredient.  I remember singin’, “Doodlebug, Doodlebug, fly away home, your house is on fire and your kids are all gone” over a hole in the ground not knowin’ what a doodlebug was or why his house was on fire.

I remember jaybirds fighting over the cracked corn my grandmother put out on her feeders.  Their chatter was loud and raucous.  Sitting and listening to bird calls while my grandmother broke beans or cut corn.  Hearing her say, “Listen chile, that’s a catbird” or a mocking bird or whatever.

I remember hoppin’ on a wide flat rock and havin’ it walk off with me standing on it.  Dang big turtle…course I wasn’t very old or big.   Had soup that night, too.  Yum.

Yeah, that privet wasn’t too bad.  I must raise bad privet…at least bad privet rekindled a few memories.

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

Ode to February

 

Not really an ode…I’m not a poet…some would say I’m not even a writer…but that may just be my depression kicking in…or not.

Too many days of long dark nights, cold and crisp, with the stars twinkling brightly…clear as a bell…seeming so close you might touch them.  Too many days with the sun low in the Southern sky…if it can be seen at all due to the gray days full of winter rains.

I’ll take short summer nights, hot and humid, with the stars obscured by the mosquitos in the air…a thunderstorm rumbling in the distance.  That was almost poetic.

February gives me hope…I know it is cold and crisp this morning and a polar vortex has the mid-west in its deadly, skeletal grip…but there is hope…here in the foothill of the Blue Ridge.  Long range I see afternoon temperatures in the upper sixties.  A chance of the low seventies?  “Hope along Sweet February hope along.”

If previous winters teach us anything, there will be plenty of cold crisp days in February but there will be many “Chamber of Commerce” days too.  Days to live for…sandwiched around days of “I wish I were dead”.  Just enough bright and warm days to keep me alive until late spring.

Soon the cyclist will come out of their winter cocoons, dressed in the newest, natty attire, mimicking colorful butterflies…sorry butterflies, I know you would not dress like you were on an LSD trip on purpose.  Golfers will don their own form of garish fashion and head to the links in hopes of breaking one hundred.  Lines of bass boats in gaudy metal flake will make the trek toward Lakes Keowee, Jocassee or Hartwell, searching for trophy bass.

All will converge on Highway 11, joining pulpwood trucks and farm tractors, creating a slow parade in front of my house.  A parade I will watch from the comfort of my garden.  Maybe I will put on a flowery Hawaiian shirt in gaudy honor of the colors I see slowly passing my home.

My garden has laid fallow since the first frost…way back in late October.  February will give me hope.  Tilling and amending, the smell of cow poop in the air.  Dirty fingernails from digging in the dirt, with sweat pouring down my nose.  The aching knees and muscles of time well spent.  Hopefully, the effort will lead to sweet and tart Cherokee Purple tomatoes dressed in Duke’s Mayonnaise, salt, and pepper, served between two pieces of Sunbeam Bread.  An ear of corn on the cob, or five, on the side…if I can beat the raccoons to it this year.

February makes me hopeful…hopeful that I will flower like the early spring jonquils and crocus.  There will be plenty of “Oh, damn you cold” days in February…and then there are the winds of March on days seemingly left over from January.  But…there is hope and where there is hope, there IS life.

The image is from Deb’s Garden, http://debsgarden.squarespace.com/journal/2016/2/28/early-spring-conquering-weeds.html

Books and further musings from Don Miller can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Prince Albert in a Can

 

I watched as the old man sat on the couch slowly loading his pipe.  Using “Virginny” tobacco from a red metal can, arthritic fingers made the process a slow one.  He was in his very late eighties, I in my middle teens.  It was the middle Sixties and I had driven my grandmother to visit her bedridden mother on Christmas Day.

“Ole Pap” had been celebrating the birthday of our Lord and was at least one nip past a “snoot full.”  Drinking was not his holiday tradition unless every day was a holiday.  Normally he did not progress to the one or two “nips past sober” side of the line.  So adept at maintaining the perfect buzz, not quite sober, not quite drunk, I never realized my great grandfather drank until I found him sober one day.  It was not a pleasant revelation.  My grandmother was not happy with her father and left me to be entertained by his drunkenness.

We sat on a long and narrow porch, enclosed when dinosaurs ruled the earth.  Wide windows lined the southeast facing wall and what heat had been generated by the midday sun had quickly left us.  Still, we sat as he smoked his Prince Albert and talked.

In a slurred voice, he told me he had smoked since he was thirteen and taken to nipping at fifteen.  Nipping had turned into something else entirely.  Great Grandpa passed when he was ninety-eight and as far as I know, was tamping Prince Albert tobacco into his Medico Pipe right up until he died…along with drinking a pint of “store bought” brown liquor a day.  Weaning him down might have been what finally killed him.

He could sit for hours, puffing silently on his pipe.  Just puffing enough to keep it burning, staring off at who knew what.  Half blind from cataracts, I’m sure he was staring back at the past.  From the old pictures I had seen he was never a big man but seemed to be collapsing in on himself and shrinking before my eyes.  The couch seemed to swallow him.

Rheumy-eyed and toothless in his very old age, the old man was still a hard knot, one I was terrified of.  Despite his small stature, from the stories I had been told, he had cast a huge shadow.  He was a hard man who lived in hard times.  According to him, “A man had to be hard to survive” …Darwinism at its best…or worst.”

He had seen much history.  The Spanish American War, airplanes, and automobiles. The Great War, The Great Depression, paved roads and the magic of electricity, World War Two, a man stepping on to the moon.  Something tells me he wasn’t too concerned about those events…unless they related to scratching out a living.

“Ole Pap” ran a general mercantile store at a railroad water and fuel stop during the age of steam.  In his free time, he hammered nails as a carpenter until he could buy a piece of land.  I believe he was a bit of a hustler, anything for a buck kind of guy, including making corn liquor during the depression and prohibition…or maybe that’s a story from an overactive imagination.

He married a woman well above his station and helped her raise ten “youngins” to adulthood he said.  “Raising his own workforce.”  Ten children, he recognized and if my grandmother was to be believed, at least one that he didn’t recognize. I believed her.

He hoed corn and grew tomatoes until he was in mid-nineties.  All the while consuming most of his corn from a jar or a bottle…a pipe stuck between his gums and a tin of Prince Albert stuck in the front pocket of his bib overalls when he wasn’t nipping.

I wish I had asked him more questions about the life at the turn of the Nineteenth Century.  I had been taught that children should be seen and not heard…I took it too literally.  Too literal and I was scared to death of him.  I don’t know why he terrified me, he never mistreated me.

I’m sure he was tough on his children, maybe even cruel.  All were hard nuts in their own rights, especially the elder ones.  My grandmother, his oldest, certainly was a hard nut to crack…and she loved her father dearly warts and all.

I do have fond memories, mainly of large family gatherings, cousins galore.  They seemed to always end on the narrow back porch…or wide front porch. Tales being recounted or maybe even created.  Great Grandpa lightly puffing on his pipe, a can of Prince Albert somewhere close by.

If you liked this story you might wish to download or purchase “Pathways” or “Cornfields…in my Mind.”  The can be found at  https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B018IT38GM?redirectedFromKindleDbs=true

The image came from Argosy Magazine, November 1962

 

The Toad in the Corner

 

I am bad.  I continue to smoke my one cigar a day…unless it turns into two…never more than two.  I just executed a mental eye roll.  Normally I sit under the massive tulip poplar in my backyard and enjoy an adult beverage while I feed my addiction.  Do I enjoy the cigar due to my addiction or because of the joy it brings me? That is a discussion for a later date.

It’s been hot and humid, and I’ve taken to sitting on my back stoop instead of taking the long, sweaty twenty-five-yard walk to the tree and the chair sitting under it.  My picture should go beside the definition of lazy in the latest dictionary.  It is more about the mosquitoes infesting the shrubbery around my normal imbibing location.  There doesn’t seem to be as many bloodsuckers at my stoop and I may know one of the reasons why.

I sat watching the smoke curl from the smoldering end of my stogie, contemplating nothing more than my navel when I saw her.  In the corner where the rock wall and foundation meet, where the leaves have built up due to my earlier admission of laziness, a large toad had backed herself into the corner and is also watching the smoke curl from the cigar.

She is an American Toad…I think.  Could be a Fowler’s but I am not an authority on amphibians…and don’t want to be but I am better versed in toad activities than I once was.  Thank you, Google.  Despite my research, I don’t even know if she is really a she but shes are usually larger than hes and she is one of the largest toads I’ve seen.

Toady has been in the corner for weeks now.  She sits patiently waiting for the darkness and the relative cool of the evening.  I see her often sitting under the flood light, bathing in its glow or waiting for a juicy morsel to fly by?

I check on her often…not just when I feed my addiction.  I don’t know why I check.  I guess to reassure myself that all is right in the world.  I have seen her around for years…maybe it was her, all American toads seem to look alike.  Well, she was still there five minutes ago at least.  Looking fat and sassy from a night of eating mosquitoes I hope.

I’ve not named her because I worry Herbert the Rat Snake and his kin are skulking around waiting for a meal.  As I understand it, from the extensive research on toads I tried to reframe from doing.  I probably could name her.   Seems she is not too tasty…does Mr. No Shoulders have taste buds or does Toady just give him gas?  More research to come and maybe I have named her.

For more musings go to https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B018IT38GM?redirectedFromKindleDbs=true

If you are interested in sexy, romantic adventure, Don Miller writing as Lena Christenson can be found at https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B07B6BDD19?redirectedFromKindleDbs=true

July Flies and June Bugs

I noticed last night before the mosquitoes drove me in, the July flies have made their emergence.  The males are singing their little hearts out attempting to attract their life partner.  “Go forth and multiply!”  I understand the mating period for a July fly is short.

Last night was the second of two cooler and less humid nights in a row.  Cooler and less humid by July, South Cakalacky standards.  I stood outside listening while enjoying a cigar.  Wish the mosquitoes had thought it was too cool, little vampires that they are.

I’m not a fan of many of our local insects but look forward to the emergence of “lightnin’ bugs” in May, then June bugs and finally July Flies.  I never look forward to the emergence of mosquitoes…not that they ever really emerge, they never seem to disappear.

I remember during the BAC period of our lives, before air conditioning, listening to their mating calls through the open windows.  So many singing at once.  Their chorus reminded of the sounds a distant freight train made during the days of my youth.  Not the “clackity, clackity” but the cycling sound as the trains retreated.  Young Ashley, three or four at the time, even asked me to turn down their volume one night as they interfered with her sleep.  “Can you make them stop?”  Sorry, love of my life, I still haven’t found their volume knob.

We call them July flies here in the southern foothills of the Blue Ridge and the South in general, don’t know about in the North.  They are cicadas, big fly looking insects with clear, iridescent wings and big ole…well…bug eyes.

They emerge in July after thirteen or seventeen years spent underground and their singing seems to be a celebration of sorts.  I would be happy too I guess. To be free of a life underground living off root sap, even if their life above ground is brief.  Their singing makes me smile.

Their songs of joy led me down a pathway to an earlier time.  Not as humid June days from sixty years ago and tying threads around the legs of June bugs.  No, they aren’t related to the July fly, but I never know where my mind might take me.

My grandmother was never happy about beetles chewing on her greenery, especially Japanese beetles.  June bugs to her were just big, neon green “Japanese” beetles, something to be crushed between thumb and forefinger and kept off her okra and roses.

One of my childhood “jobs” was to pick the Japanese beetles off her okra and place them in a jar of soapy water.  I don’t think I was old enough to realize I was drowning them.  I was paid by the number I picked.  I now pick them off myself, but the payoff isn’t pennies to buy Bazooka bubblegum.  It’s the okra for frying or gumbo.

I feel a bit cruel.  Tying thread around the legs of June bugs and flying them in circles around my head.  I can hear their soft drone as their wings beat the air.  I don’t know what we did with those who quit flying but I have an idea…I guess I have effectively purged their demise from my memory.

I haven’t seen any June bugs this year…they tend to appear late in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.  Maybe I’ve been too successful purging grubs from my soil.  No, I’m still battling Japanese beetles in my garden.  Maybe it’s because I just haven’t been looking or avoiding the heat and humidity sitting in my air-conditioned den.  It’s time to slow down and look…and listen…or at least go outside.

For more of Don Miller’s written word try https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B018IT38GM?redirectedFromKindleDbs=true

Image taken from  http://blog.pennlive.com/wildaboutpa/2013/05/cicadas_are_coming_brood_ii_ex.html

Even in the Garden of Eden….

Alert…this is not a religious post just a story about snakes.

I have a fear of snakes.  Not a phobia of snakes.  Just given the choice of petting a kitten or petting a snake I’m going to pick the kitten…every time!  While I don’t have a hatred of snakes I also don’t want to live with them.  We have ninety acres of woodlands, streams, hills, and valleys.  They need to stay out there where they belong.  Just after we moved into our little piece of heaven, we found snakeskins…loooooong snakeskins as in five feet plus and they weren’t out in the woodlands, streams, hills, and valleys.   We found them under the house, in the attic, and behind the cheap paneling cladding our beadboard walls.  The next spring, we would find out where some of those snakeskins came from.

It was a late May day when I first made the acquaintance of one of my black rat snakes.  Laying in the sun, he was not nearly as scared of me as I was of him…or her.  How does one tell?  How many steps do you run when you first see a snake lying next to your foot?  My escape was more of a combination hop and lunge followed by three rapid steps before my mind said, “Shut it down, it was a black snake and nothing poisonous.”  It was a huge reptile, as was its mate. They were a matching pair of near six-footers I saw together several days later.  Both had recently shed their skin and their black skin seemed to glisten in the bright sunshine.  I wish they would stay OUT in the bright sunshine.

Late one afternoon I saw my three puppies sitting outside the back door leading onto our combination back porch washroom which was adjacent to our kitchen.  As I continued past them I told them, “You can sit there and wait but your Mommy (Linda Gail) is not here.”  There was no reaction except for wagging tails and their attention seemed to focus on the back door which rarely closed on its own and was always slightly ajar.  My attention was also drawn to the door when I noticed a foot of rat snake tail peeking out from underneath.  Oh pooh!  I ran around and went in the front door, jogged to the kitchen and found the rat snake occupying the kitchen, back porch, AND steps leading to it…ALL AT THE SAME TIME!  I stepped toward Snakey hoping it would retreat.  It did, right under the dryer.  Crap!  Okay if I rock the dryer maybe I can entice it to move…but it might move right up my britches leg.  If I crawl on top of the dryer maybe, I can shake it enough to make Snakey move…on the dryer is just where Linda found me.  “What are you doing?”  She was not happy or impressed with my answer.  We decided to open the porch door, close the kitchen door and wait it out.  It must have worked…briefly.

Momentary digression…but there is a point coming.

Every time I watch NCIS reruns and the Mike Franks’ character is featured I remember my favorite of many favorite Mike Franks’ quotes,

“But the memories we make.

We fill the spaces we live in with them.

That’s why I’ve always tried to make sure that wherever I live,

the longer I live there

the spaces become filled with memories –

of naked women.”

 

My space is filled with memories, but of only one naked woman.  I was and am truly blessed.  I smiled at the vision of my bride sprinting nude from our old-fashioned bathroom.  Sprinting and yelling, “Snake, Snake, Snake!”  I imagined the snake, a five-foot-plus black rat snake, yelling in my head, “Naked Woman, Naked Woman, Naked Woman,” as it tried to climb the wall behind her.

We had returned late to our old non-air conditioned home.  The late July heat and humidity were still evident when Linda Gail retired to the bathroom to bathe.  Believing the bright overhead incandescent light bulb simply added to the heat, she entered the bathroom in the dark and after beginning to run her water, stripped, reached down and plugged in the small lamp that sat next to the lavatory.  As the light dimly flooded the small bathroom, she found herself staring face to “forked tongue” with a snake that was coiled below the short electrical cord.

Typically, male, my attention was drawn to the vision of a fit, well put together woman with fabulous…EYES, running naked through the house and not on the snake that was trying to escape in the other direction.  There is always a price to go with the vision I was enjoying, the snake had to be removed but first I had to find it.  “Here Snakey, Snakey, Snakey!”

From the book “Through the Front Gate”.   All of Don Miller’s books may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Don Miller writing as Lena Christenson may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07B6BDD19

Steak Chips….

 

I never know what will trigger a memory.  They just occur…a benefit from age?  Great, I’m glad there is one benefit from age…wisdom certainly isn’t.

Recently it was an unlikely trigger…Dr. Oz of daytime tv fame.  I walked in to find him prancing from my tv screen discussing how to make hamburgers moist despite overcooking…as in cooking to well done.  Well done and then some…something my grandmother would have done to hamburger or steak.  The young man being interviewed was using a “panade.”  Being as country as a fresh cow patty I looked the word up. Suddenly I was back in a small kitchen watching her making her most special, well done, yet moist hamburgers.

My grandmother grew up in a time when meat was slaughtered and processed on the farm…in not the most sterile conditions.  There was a disease, trichinosis, caused by a roundworm that could be transferred from undercooked meat to humans.  This led me to believe that all steaks were…well…cracker like…dry and tending to make snapping sounds when cut…like a potato chip.

Now, I don’t want to give you the wrong idea.  We weren’t eating premium cuts of meat either.  We were the ones who made “eating high on the hog” or in this case, cow, possible.  Generally, we ate variations of round steak, cubed and then turned into a cracker, may be covered in a milk gravy or covered in a beading and then turned into a cracker before being covered in a milk gravy.  Yes, she overcooked them and taught my mother to overcook them as well.

I didn’t know any better until I went off to college.  I didn’t know steak came anyway other than chip like…and cubed.  A young lady I was dating suggested that I might want to try my filet mignon cooked less than well done.  During those days if a young lady I was dating had suggested I might try a dead cow’s hoof raw, I probably would have eaten it with a smile on my face.  The things you might do for love I guess…or lust.  Despite thinking it was just heated past raw, I found it to be moist, tender, quite tasty and not the least bit cracker-like.  I also didn’t pronounce it correctly either, “fill-it-mig-non.”

As bad as Nannie’s steaks were, her hamburgers were heavenly…despite having every bit of pink cooked right out of them.  They were moist because she added her own version of a “panade.”  A French word, it is a paste made from stale bread and milk or a word that means, “A state or experience of misery or poverty.”  I know my grandmother and grandfather experienced poverty, even before the Great Depression.  Just not sure about the misery but I doubt it.  Gee, the things you learn if you just pay attention.

She didn’t use bread as I remember, she used oatmeal or crushed up crackers.  Nannie also added sautéed onions and used a spice list I’ve never been able to recreate.  I’ve tried, repeatedly with different variations, and have only created my own version of a fried meatloaf…not bad, but not the same at all.  Boo, hoo, hoo.

My grandmother was a good cook, but it usually involved chicken, fried or in a pot pie.  Maybe wildlife like cooter soup or squirrel dumplings and for clarification, in those days a cooter was a turtle.  I know today’s word usage might cast some shade on that dish, but turtle soup was quite tasty…much tastier than her steak chips.

Thank you, Dr. Oz.  You have reinvigorated my efforts and brought back memories of the sound of beef patties landing in a greased, hot cast iron pan, moist and tasty hamburgers on white bread, a small kitchen and the woman who toiled there.  Ummmm, ummmm…wait, you mean I’ll probably use ground turkey instead of beef?  Roasted not fried?  No lard?  Oh well, thanks for the memories anyway.

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

Cornfields…in My Mind

 

It’s early February, it’s been cold here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge…not Chicago or Moscow cold…but for us thin-blooded Southerners it’s been damn cold.  It’s warmer today but that’s because it is raining to beat the band or to beat my metal roof.  Despite the elements, thanks to my son-in-law’s mother, I’m thinking about cornfields.  A bit early in the season to be thinking about cornfields but my thoughts tell me Kimberly’s memories of cornfields are a little different from mine…maybe.

Kimberly, Justin’s mother, posted a cornfield meme extolling the joys of running and playing in the cornfields of her youth and the memories they elicit.  I’m happy for Kimberly and her memories…mine are different and not the least bit warm and fuzzy.

I tend to lump cornfields and hayfields together…except I don’t eat hay.  Corn I love…in any form including liquid and I’m not speaking of corn syrup.  Sorry, the train went off the rails for a moment.

I remember corn and hayfields as places to stay away from if possible.  It was impossible for me to stay away from them, it was part of the job…or just part of my childhood.  There was always a lot of work associated with them both and to this day I break out in hives when I see square bales drying in a hayfield.

I associate corn and hayfields with loneliness, extreme heat, humidity, stinging bugs and venomous snakes.  You’ve never been hot and sweaty like cornfield or hayfield hot.  Drowning in your own sweat hot.  You’ve never been scared like flipping a hay bale over and finding a moccasin scared, the wrong end of the snake bound up in the bale.  You’ve never been scared like plowing a cornfield near the bottoms and having a black snake fall out of a tree and land on your shoulder scared.  You’ve never been stung like stepping into a yellow jacket’s nest stung…wherever, it really doesn’t have to be in a cornfield or hayfield.

As scary or painful as those examples were, I associate corn and hayfields most with loneliness.  You’ve never been lonely until being set out on the river bottoms, watching the old Chevy flatbed disappear.  Hoe in hand, a paper bag lunch of Vienna sausages and soda crackers, a jar of water wrapped in newspaper to keep it cool, knowing you are going to be there ALL DAY LONG, ALONE.  Alone with only your thoughts, your fears, the heat and humidity, the stinging bugs and the reptiles.  Endless rows of corn, thousands of miles long.  All day until you saw that old Chevy flatbed coming back to get you.  Hoping, as the thunderheads built on the other side of the river, that that old truck would get there before the thunderstorms and the lightning they would bring.

I do have good memories too, not about playing in the cornfields or hayfields, but the aftermath.  Laughing with my Uncle James, Mike and Rusty…after the hayin’ day was done.  Playing football in the fields and scratching yourself to death if you fell in the stubble.  Watching the sweat fall from my grandmother’s brow as she cut sweet corn to cream or turn into soup mix.  Eating that first roastin’ ear of the season.  Maybe tastin’ just a touch of corn likker.

Thanks, Kimberly…thanks for triggering a bright and warm memory on a drab, gray day.

For more of Don Miller’s writings, you may find him at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM