MEMORIALS

Memorial: something, especially a structure, established to remind people of a person or event.

I was approached over a year ago about tonight’s memorial and until a week ago I was able to keep all my memories locked safely away in my secret little lock box in a corner of my brain. Until a week ago…and its Michael Douty’s fault. Looking for a hat, the hat we wore in his memory the year after his death fell out of the armoire and into my hands. Upon seeing the number thirteen on the back there was an immediate flood of memories, most of which made me smile.
In my first attempt at writing badly, “Winning Was Never the Only Thing…,” my aim was to write a collection of humorous stories related to my forty years of teaching and coaching. It was Michael Douty’s fault that my purpose changed with the first story I actually sat down and wrote…his story. Michael’s antics were humorous and my intent was to begin the book with his story.

Unfortunately, his death wasn’t very humorous. No matter how I rewrote the story, it always ended badly, as did the endings to stories involving Tim Wilder, Heath Benedict, Tim Bright and Jeff Gully. While writing Michael’s story I found out Tim Bright was battling Stage IV colon cancer and realized my book was not beginning well. I ended up writing about them all, more about their lives than their deaths and the sweet memories they left for me. Later, after I had published the book, I was forced to write another story with a bad ending when Brian Kuykendall left me. All were former players and Brian gets the double whammy of being a former player and the father of a former player.

Jeff and Tim are joining Michael tonight. Plaques are going to be dedicated and theirs will join Douty’s plaque behind the backstop on the field they played on not so many years ago. I believe in ghosts and wonder if their spirits will visit our old field of dreams…I know they still visit me, especially on dark, moonless nights. For the last week, nightly they have also invaded my dreams.

I have an unshakable belief there is something more than death, that life simply just does not end. During a depressing early morning walk I came to a reality of sorts and found a bit of peace and comfort in a strange, cold and unlikely place…science. I came to this truth while standing in front of a cross. There is a scientific law that states “Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Energy can only be changed.” I have taught Conservation of Energy thousands of times, but this cool morning it became more of an anodyne than just a cold scientific law. Call it heaven, Nirvana, a “wheel inside a wheel” or crossing the River Styx, their energy does not die.

I do tend to think of them on dark and clear nights when the stars seem close enough to touch. I described Tim’s light as the “brightest star” in the sky, Jeff as a photon flying in and out of our lives at light speed. Douty? I never described you. You would have to be a comet streaking through the sky, showing his tail in the reflected sunlight. There may be a hidden meaning behind that description and I am sure I just heard you laugh in the gusting wind. Gather them all together

LUNATIC?

I woke up crazy one morning. I’m sure it just wasn’t ONE MORNING. My lunacy was so gradual I didn’t notice it…until I did. Sadness and impending doom permeated my very being. I wanted to stay in bed, keeping the blinds drawn, and wait until the next morning when it would be time to stay in bed again. Saying I was depressed didn’t quite cover it. Saying I was depressed was like referring to the Grand Canyon as a big hole. I hated myself…no I loathed myself and no one knew…no one could know. No one could know because if they found out they would also know I was a lunatic.

Why am I depressed? Late twenties, healthy, married, great job…WHY WAS I DEPRESSED? Why was I crazy? I’m depressed because I hate my marriage…or do I hate my marriage because I am depressed. “A conundrum wrapped in an enigma?” Oh God I have to go to work. I like people but I hate to be around them. “I love my job.” “I HATE MY JOB!” “I VANT to be alone.” I just want to go to sleep…forever. “You have to get up and stand in front of your students and not let on how crazy you are!” “TEACH THEM YOUNGINS!” “But I’m so tired!” Get through today and tomorrow will be better…but it wasn’t. I…just…want…to…break…something.

What am I going to do? “What do I have to be depressed over?” Nothing. “Why?” I grew to hate THAT word like fingernails on a chalkboard. “I DON’T KNOW WHY I JUST AM!” “QUIT ASKING ME!” “I must be ‘bananas,’ ‘bonkers,’ or ‘cracked.’ I tried to make light of it…until one night I found myself having a conversation with myself while staring down the barrel of a gun. A small gun, a revolver and five lead tipped bullets stared back at me. I would not need five, one would end the pain AND THE SORROW. It would be so easy…just pull back the hammer…put the muzzle to your temple and…” WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?” I have to get help…but who can help and no one can know I am crazy.

It has been nearly forty years since that night. Obviously I chose help rather than pulling the trigger on that little twenty-two. I went to my doctor and to together we figured out that I was “clinically depressed.” A chemical imbalance that was treated by drugs and therapy. I’m no longer on drugs but I still battle it. Exercise helps as does knowing what it is but I still battle it. “KNOW YOUR ENEMY!” Mental illnesses are diseases just like the common cold, arthritis or cancer. Some are just as incurable and some are genetic. I know my grandmother suffered from it although she would simply say, “She was just blue.” I will never be cured and sometimes that thought “makes me blue.”

There is still a stigma about mental illness. I still cringe when I here myself say, “You are mentally ill.” A hundred years before I would have just gone crazy. How we throw that word around, not thinking about what it may mean to the people we describe. If I had failed to successfully commit suicide, I might have ended up in the asylum with the rest of the “lunatics.” That’s what we did before reform…but I still worry that I am crazy…in a bad way…and that I should be put away.

I woke up depressed this morning. It happens that way. There is no reason, I just feel sorrow for no reason. I want to crawl back into a hole and pull the dirt in behind me. I can’t concentrate. When I walk I can’t find “my happy place” and I feel so tired I am unsure I can put one foot in front of the other. Despite recent injuries, I run. Not fast, not hard, just a minute of physical pain followed by a minute of worrying about physical pain. Repeat…ten times. I am forced to concentrate…on something other than my depression…my lunacy.

It is the afternoon now. I have had a full and productive day despite my affliction. I am better. Why am I better? I don’t know. I just am. If I awaken depressed tomorrow I will again ask that most hated three letter question, “Why?” There is no answer and there is no cure. I know depression will come again, if not tomorrow, next week or next month. I feel it lurking just out of sight. I know my depression is still nearby just as I know I will continue to fight a battle that I can never quite win…maybe that is winning.

If you enjoyed this, Don Miller has also written three books which may be purchased or downloaded at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

FOR JANE-THE SOUTHERN CROSS

I have found when attending memorials or funerals for old friends or family, the memorial tends to resemble a reunion of sorts. A recent memorial was no different. There were many people attending that I had not seen in decades…and there were many not in attendance who I will never be able to see again, close friends who have left my world. In the book FLOPPY PARTS, I wrote the following story about Jane Cooper. It was the best I could do and I could never do her justice even with my best work.

SOUTHERN CROSS

Every time I run I listen to music on my pink IPOD. It helps with the monotony and pain of mile after mile after…. With me for nearly every running or walking missed step for the last several years, it has long outlasted several less colorful IPODS or Shuffles and, due to its longevity, owes me no service. What is disconcerting about my IPOD is it seems to have a mind of its own, or at the very least, is inhabited by a ghost. No matter what playlist I transfer to my IPOD the Crosby, Stills and Nash song “Southern Cross” somehow finds its way onto the playlist. I even have a Jimmy Buffett version which doubles the chances of it haunting me. It is not as good as the original, but not bad and when I hear it or the original I am transported back into my memories. It’s not that I don’t like the song, I do. I like it very much because the memories the song evokes make me think of a long-time friend who was, for a short time, the object of my floppy parts and affection. She left this world several years ago, and I find the song makes me a bit sad and introspective. After a while I do begin to smile over our antics from almost four decades ago as we traveled a bumpy path toward “hooking up.” After teaching together for several years, we would both go through trashed marriages, and without consulting each other, decided to make the typical lifestyle changes associated with newly divorced folk. As a male, I felt duty-bound to go out and purchase the requisite sports car I could not afford while Jane would lose forty pounds in weight, which she could afford. Yes, typical, and for a brief period I found Jane riding around in my sports car.

At the time, I did not know Jane well and hate to admit I still really didn’t know her as well as I would have liked. We did not travel in the same circles. As a foreign language teacher she resided on “holy hall” with the “power pod” language arts teachers, while I, being a member of the athletic fraternity–despite teaching science and history, was metaphorically relegated to the dark, lower recesses of the gym, right across from the shelves lined with smelly jocks and athletic socks. On campus friends repeatedly asked how things were in the gym and, much like the saloons of old, respectable lady teachers didn’t venture into our little world. No, Jane never really gave me the idea she took the “party line” of the “enlightened few” who tolerated us as coaches but believed us to be lacking as teachers. She did guard her privacy and only grudgingly gave up the bits and pieces of her previous life. A daughter, a controlling mother, the failed marriage all came somewhat into focus but it took time. A Spanish teacher, because of her dark hair and dark eyes, I assumed her ethnic background to be Latin. Oh well, we all know what assuming gets you. She was Irish on both sides of her family but a member of the group known as “black” Irish, those with non-stereotypical Irish features such as red hair, blue eyes and “fish belly” white skin.

It is inevitable friends would want to turn into Cupid when it comes to two single folks who they are working with. Busy, busy, busy! We got to get them together! For the second time in my life I had made the promise “I’ll never do that again” and had made the conscious decision not to date a coworker, after a particularly painful date with a coworker had turned into the number one cause of divorce – marriage! Our friends were persistent and would not leave us alone! I am sure we ducked dozens of Cupid’s arrows. One friend asked “What might be the harm?” to which I enumerated a myriad of assorted reasons gleaned from first-hand experience – two ex-wives. Another, reminding me of a bulldog with her tenacity, put it this way, “Ever had an itch you needed help to scratch…? There doesn’t have to be a commitment, just two people coming together to see what comes up.” Sure sweet Connie, but with affairs of the heart I believe using the word “just” rarely works out and “what comes up” is the part that worries me. Still we found ourselves purposely seated together at parties or POET’S club meetings. We danced together at a local club and finally decided to give in to everyone else’s urgings to just get them off our backs. It was not that I was doing her a favor; she had been attractive when she was forty pounds heavier and now was a full-fledged “stunner!” A tall, dark brunette with dark and twinkling brown eyes, I could not help but believe I was venturing into an area called “out of my depth.” With all of the physical accoutrements well-placed, she possessed a great personality, a sense of humor with a hearty laugh and a “bit of the blarney” to boot. She also had extra tickets to Clemson football games which sealed the deal. I might have been in over my head but decided I would learn how to swim.

Our first dates did not turn out well and made one wonder what our destiny might be. We had been together at work and socially, all in the non-Biblical sense, but this would be the first, planned, “Why don’t you come over and look at my etchings while I fix dinner?”, kind of date. The morning of the big date I became pressed for time and, in a rush, placed a just-repaired athletic department camcorder on a tripod in my bed room to get it out of my way – not thinking I might actually need the bedroom later. Right! I’m a male and had certain hopes, but those circled the toilet when the camera, pointed directly at the bed, was discovered as we toured my home. No amount of explanation seemed rational enough to alleviate her fears. As I think back, it actually ended better than the second date. This time, at her home, after a wonderful meal and a bottle of wine, she threw it all up and then some…repeatedly and onto my shoes. While I did spend the night, it was strictly in a nursing capacity. She claimed that she was not used to rich food and drink…she was Irish after all. We decided not to take any chances on our third date and attended a Clemson football game. Go Tigers! No one got sick ,no disgusting porno movies were filmed and our Tigers won.

During the fall of our dalliance, Jane bought the album “Daylight Again,” by Crosby, Stills and Nash and one evening was insistent I listen to a particular cut. It was the song “Southern Cross.” I fell in love with it immediately as she knew I would. It is about a man who sails the world after a failed love affair, something I am too familiar with – the failure not the sailing of the world. I love to sail but have not ventured out to see the Southern Cross – a constellation visible only in the Tropics or Southern Hemisphere. The music and words are haunting, at least to me and now to my IPOD.

When I hear the lyrics I think of Jane, a victim of breast cancer. “Think about how many times I have fallen. Spirits are using me larger voices callin’. What heaven brought you and me cannot be forgotten.” I haven’t forgotten. Before her death, she had remarried and gotten to see her daughter grow up, marry and give her a grandchild. I tried several times to make contact with her just to let her know I was thinking about her but was somewhat saddened that she did not respond to my communiques. Our parting had not been bitter; much as we drifted into our relationship, we simply slipped apart as we moved on to different places, jobs and other people. Do you think the ghost in my IPOD is just trying to tell me it’s okay? I hope so…I believe so. The lyrics say, “When you see the Southern Cross for the first time, you understand now why you came this way.” Even though I have never seen the Southern Cross, I understand – she was what I needed for a brief period of time and I truly “understand why (We) came this way.” If not a cure she was an anodyne, all calming and soothing. I hope that I was the same for her. Jane was the “Somebody fine (who came) along, (made) me forget about loving you…at the Southern Cross.”

POSTSCRIPT

My Pink IPOD has given up the ghost. Not Jane’s ghost though. I will make sure that my new one has the “Southern Cross” on every playlist.

This story is contained within the book FLOPPY PARTS. You may download or purchase a copy at the following link: http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

ANIMALS GOING BUMP IN THE NIGHT

Since only six of you actually saw the original blog I decided to “rebrand,” “re-picture” and “reblog” this in hopes more people would find in enticing. We will see. Two divorces say I have been disappointed before.

Viewed from a distance, sitting on top of a small hill and surrounded by hemlock, poplars and black walnuts, our old farmhouse looks like it might be haunted and must be inhabited by all types of “haints”, poltergeists or spirits. This assumption is especially fitting when viewed during the darkness of night. Some of my students have even made comparisons of Casa de Miller to the “Bates’ Motel” of Alfred Hitchcock fame. So haunted it looks, in the thirty years we have lived here not one Halloween trick-or- treater has had the intestinal fortitude to come to our door despite the brightly burning outside light. I have to admit I have seen unexplained movements just inside of my vision’s periphery and have heard noises I just could not explain as the “creakings” of an old house. “I ain’t afraid of no ghost!”

Built in 1888, it sits on top of oak timbers milled from the land it was built upon. Although we did not know it at the time, our old home had beadboard walls and ceilings to go with pine flooring, wavy lead glass windows, and was covered by tin shingles. It also sat bathroom-less with no plumbing or electricity until 1956. My guess is that most of the winter functions “back in the day” took place in the small kitchen due to the heat produced by the cook stove and the close proximity to the path leading to the distant outhouse. The old house also had no insulation until 1956 when shredded paper insulation was blown into the walls. Sixty years later, my guess is the insulation has compressed just a wee bit. Mr. Copeland, Hemlock Hill’s previous owner, was a fount of information with a former minister’s well developed “sense of the spoken word.” In preparation for his retirement, he had purchased the house and land in the 1950’s after it had sat empty for several decades. Later it would be inhabited by human beings off and on until Mr. Copeland finally retired from “preachin’ the Gospel” in the late Seventies. I say “inhabited by human beings” only because it was and still is inhabited by more than just two-legged animals and their four-legged pets as we found out when removing the cheap paneling and ceiling tile covering our beadboard walls and ceilings.

While moving in we noticed the quilting room, complete with quilting racks and their supports, had no paneling or ceiling tile. Mr. Copeland had converted the quilting room into his study and informed us the whole house was done with the old-fashioned beadboard the study sported. He had put cheap quarter-inch paneling up to help insulate the house. Really? Quarter-inch? The next month or so “lifetime” was dedicated to the removal of the ceiling tile and paneling. We found out two things. Similar to his verbal skills, Mr. Copeland believed if one nail would do the job, four ought to be used…more if there happened to be a pine knot nearby. His philosophy seemed to be “Nothing done could be overdone.” The one-by-four-inch strips of wood that held the ceiling tile were almost impossible to get down because of the four ten-penny nails spaced every foot or so. Our second discovery was that Mr. Copeland had no issue about covering up dirt dauber nests or bird pooh. The same was true of the paneling but, at least, he used the small paneling nails…thousands of small paneling nails. There were also several large snakeskins found, not only in the attic but in other rooms as well. Okay…where there are snakeskins….

Old houses make noises. Creaks and groans make me wonder if there is a “life” existing inside of our old home. There were other noises that could not be explained away as just the “settling” of the old house. Some of the ghostly noises we heard emanated from the old attic and a downstairs…for lack of a better descriptor… “cubby hole” in the upstairs master bedroom. Thumps and squeaks with the pitter-patter of little feet led us to believe that there had to be a herd of mice in our downstairs “cubby hole.” There were also those periodic booming sounds as something traversed the metal roof during the darkest moments of the night that didn’t sound like a mouse. One night Linda and I decided to explore the “cubby hole” and its strange noises not really wanting to find a colony of mice. We didn’t. Instead, we found a colony of flying squirrels. It’s amazing what the width of a tail will do to your mood, especially when one of the “big eyed” rodents decided to make his getaway by gliding from a rafter to a small opening that led to the outside. “Rocket J. Squirrel” didn’t stay there. Later we would find colonies in unused chimneys, behind my books in the study. One “little gamester” would send our indoor cat “Minnie Muffin” into a “hissy fit” as it glided back and forth between the fireplace mantle and bookcase in the study. The booming noises on the roof? We still have no idea and just named it a “boomer.”

Typically, male, I came in from a morning of cutting and splitting wood, pulled off my boots and socks, stuffed the socks into the boots and left them in the hallway next to our staircase…for about two weeks. Linda finally took me to task, firstly, over leaving them for her to trip over and secondly, because, according to her highly developed sense of smell, they stank like something dead. I took offense to the idea that my boots stank until I took out a sock and found what I thought was a dead rat rolled up in it. Our simultaneous “GROSS!” exclamation changed to an “OH NOOOOO!” exclamation when it turned out to be a flying squirrel. From here our explanations of its unfortunate demise took two different paths. I said that death was due to it rolling up in the sock and becoming trapped. My love explained that it met the grim reaper after having breathed the stench of my boots.

We may have become too used to the creaks and groans that our home emits…or maybe to the ghosts, spirits or flying squirrels who decided that our home was just too crowded for them. I just don’t hear them anymore and it makes me feel just a bit sad. Those scratches made by the real mice? That’s another story or five for another day.

If you enjoyed this story you may be interested in one of Don’s books

Inspirational true stories in WINNING WAS NEVER THE ONLY THING $1.99 on Kindle at http://goo.gl/DiO1hcX
“STUPID MAN TRICKS” explained in Don Miller’s FLOPPY PARTS $.99 on Kindle http://goo.gl/Ot0KIu “Baby Boomer History” in Don Miller’s PATHWAYS $3.49 on Kindle http://goo.gl/ZFIu4V

All maybe purchased as paperbacks.