Hope Shines From Far Away….

It was the awful summer of 1969.  A continuation of the previous bad year, a protraction of bad times that would continue well into the Seventies.  As a country, we were reeling from assassinations of revered figures, a war we could not win but were hell-bent on continuing.  Later a President would use his version of the “Southern Strategy” to help win an election and later give permission for criminal activity to hold on to his office.  In amongst, there were protests and all types of lies and deceit.  I seemed to be watching our American Exceptionalism crumble before my eyes.

We staggered when the “most trusted man in America” stated that the Vietnam War was at best a stalemate and unwinnable.  Watched in sorrow and wept as news of King’s and Kennedy’s assassinations and the civil unrest that followed hit the presses.  Protestors at the Democratic Convention shot birds and thumbed their noses at the police in Chicago before being beaten by those same policemen.

On a lighter note, the Yippies nominated Pigesus, a live pig, for President.  It was lighter until they were arrested, even Pigesus.  I wonder if there was a BBQ.

In the later part of ’69, after having been covered up for over a year, we asked how My Lai could happen, weren’t we better than this? The Pentagon Papers proved we weren’t.

We cheered and shed tears watching the POW’s coming home before listening to a President shout to the cameras, “I am not a crook.”  We found out over several tortuous months that he was just that.

On the home front I had lost my mother on January 1, 1969, and later in the spring when my “fancy (should have) lightly turn(ed) to thoughts of love”, my “one and forever” true love fell under the spell of another…smashing my heart flatter than a toad on a four-lane highway.

My second-semester grades had suffered as I used alcohol and chased co-eds to ease the pain of both loses…chased but rarely caught.  I had barely hung on by my knawed down fingernails.

My wise father decided the best life-lesson would be a summer job with a local construction company charged with building bridges over Interstate Seventy-Seven in Charlotte.  I remember the summer as being one of the more brutal of my life and can’t drive I-77 without worrying a bridge might collapse.

For a few days in July 1969, I put my personal trials away and our country, its woes.  The world gazed skyward and at black and white TVs for news of hope.  Apollo Eleven had lifted off and was headed to the moon.  I and billions of others followed their trek with every newscast and special report.

I watched in awe and fear as the lunar module separated from the orbiter and touched down.  It was late Sunday afternoon on the 20th when I heard “The Eagle Has Landed.”

Neil Armstrong wasn’t scheduled to step onto the lunar surface until well after midnight.  I decided I had plenty of time to partake of an evening I usually dedicated to one last grasp at the weekend.

The Catalinas were playing at The Cellar and I’d be damned if I would let a little thing like the moon landing persuade me to stay home.  All I had to look forward to were five days of ten-hour hells awaiting me in the morning.  Maybe I could catch the “giant leap” on tomorrow’s late news.

I didn’t have much money but then you didn’t need much at The Cellar, a live music venue catering to college-age kids and featuring Beach Music bands.  Dollar cover and twenty-five cent drafts meant I had enough to ask if my latest companion in crime wanted to go…a pretty brunette I had known for most of my life and who, despite being unwilling to be a soothing anodyne for my broken heart, would be a good time “Charlene” on the dance floor.

The crowd was raucous, the band mellow, and the beer…well, it was cheap and cold.  We shagged, twisted and shouted and gave everyone the soul finger to the songs of summer and the Carolina shores.  We sweated like day laborers on the unairconditioned dance floor and cooled off with a draft beer in paper cups out in the parking lot.

The one TV set located over the bar was tuned to the local CBS affiliate with a fuzzy and grainy Walter Cronkite keeping us updated.  As we started to leave for home, the word spread; they were stepping out early.  As if controlled by one mind, we moved to the bar, the band quit playing and the crowd became quiet.  I remember putting an arm around the pretty brunette and she reciprocated with an arm around my waist.  It may have been as close as we would ever come…physically or metaphorically.

We waited, speaking in whispers as Walter kept us abreast of the schedule.  Finally, a little before eleven Eastern Daylight Savings Time, Neil Armstrong’s foot became visible on the lunar module’s ladder and we held our collective breaths until he had both feet planted on the lunar surface.  We cheered, we jumped up and down, we kissed and hugged people we didn’t know.  Hope had turned into a reality and we were so proud.

It’s funny the things I conjure in my aging brain.  The sticky dance floor from too many spilled beers.  The huge oak tree that sat just outside the entryway, a root sticking out of the ground that you had to navigate in order to prove you were sober enough to go inside.  The press of the brunette’s hip against mine as the crowd pressed in under the one TV set.  Walter Cronkite wiping tears from his eyes.

I remember feeling proud…and hopeful.  I’m thankful for having been there with people I didn’t know.  People celebrating the same accomplishment.  The good feelings didn’t last and we as a country would continue to tailspin into Watergate.  Still, it makes me hopeful today.

Despite what my former students might have thought, I’m too young to have lived through the Civil War but the Civil Rights Era and the years of ’68 and ’69, followed by Watergate were as bad as I want to remember…until now.  Our present situation may be worse, or it may be because I have some wear and tear on me…no it is bad.

We need some hope from far away…or next door.  We need something positive to focus on.  We need something positive to pull us together, NOT another war or some catastrophe.

We need to be a POSITIVE leader in the world with positive leadership.  Whether it is ending bigotry and hate or Global Warming, committing to alternative energy, or landing a man on Mars.  We need to be that “city on the hill” that people want to emulate instead of the “Angry American”.  We need to be the “light” that reflects off the good found in others instead of attempting to absorb their light.

The fiftieth anniversary is on Saturday.  It can’t be…but it is.  If The Cellar of my youth was The Cellar of today, I’d take another cute brunette and hoist one in celebration.  Instead, weather permitting I’ll be outside to watch the moon rise.  I’ll remember the hope I felt from far away and hoist one for the many heroes who made it all possible.

 

A modern rendering of the entrance to The Cellar, Charlotte, NC.  Origin unknown.

Don Miller is a retired teacher and coach who writes for his own amusement.  Having said that, and since I can’t live off amusement, should anyone like to purchase a book they can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Featured Image by Steve Penley, Moon Landing http://www.matregallery.com/penleyprints/icons

Apologies to Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s for cannibalizing his quote, “In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” From the poem Locksley Hall

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From “the Rooter to the Tooter”

Sorry.  The year is only three hours or so old and I am entering it like a derailing steam locomotive.  I have completely run off the rails.  It’s three-thirty in the morning, do you know where your mind is?  I don’t.  I apologize for my rambling.

I got food on my mind while researching how a Southern community might have survived in the days following the Civil War and Reconstruction.  I was led down a pig trail by an article on “Southern Poverty Food, How the Other 90% Ate.”1   The article brought back childhood memories of my most favorite subject, food and the diversity of the people who created it.

I never thought about growing up poor but understand being in the “Other 90%”.  We certainly weren’t rich and compared to the rest of the families living along the Charlotte-Lancaster Highway, we all appeared to be in the same boat…a boat full of the rural working class.

While never having everything I wished for, I certainly had everything I needed.  I was surrounded by family and there were always vittles on the table.  The food certainly wasn’t filet mignon and caviar, but I never thought of it as “Poverty Food”.

“You chaps go on out an get me a mess of greens,” echoes brightly in my head.  I ate a bunch of greens, and then some, through those first two decades of life; mustard, turnip, collards.  Like green beans in the summer, there was usually a mess of greens warming on my grandmother’s stove in the winter.  She never threw any away, she just added to the pot liquor that might have been fermenting for weeks it seems.  Sometimes I thought, “If I have to eat one more bite of turnip greens….”  But I ate it anyway or went hungry.

Cooked in the renderings of fried, salt pork, what we called fatback, greens were seasoned with a bit of this and a bit of that.  Maybe some vinegar, hot sauce or left-over bacon or ham.  It was always accompanied with cornbread and a glass of tart buttermilk. One had to have something to sop up the pot liquor.

If we were eating “high on the hog,” the garden’s bounty was accompanied by a cut of meat, usually pork.  The greens might be served with the fried fatback itself, salty and crunchy between two pieces of cornbread or maybe short ribs slow cooked in the Dutch oven.

Pigs were important to Southern Poverty Food it seems…thankfully.  High on the hog….  Pigs were always one of the mainstays of Southern cuisine.  Easy to raise, with eight to twelve in a litter.  Left alone they would “root hog or die” and even a blind one “will find an acorn if they root hog hard enough.”

Recognizable cuts were usually breaded and fried or roasted over open fires or above hardwood coals.  Sometimes, on special or large celebrations, whole hogs were buried in a deep hole filled with hardwood, then covered with wet burlap bags and left to slow cook all day.  Thinking of it has triggered a Pavlovian reaction.

Unrecognizable portions were turned into sausage,  livermush, hash or head cheese…which is not cheese at all.  There was also fresh bacon to serve with brains and eggs the first morning after a hog was slaughtered.

Slow cookin’ over glowing embers was something we picked up from indigenous folk before we uprooted them and marched them west to the “Indian Lands”.  Something else we picked up was using the hog “from rooter to the tooter” but not from the Native Americans.  From pig’s snouts to chitlins’, loin to pig’s feet, little was wasted.  We picked that up that habit from folks bought, paid for and shipped from another continent.  People who weren’t allowed to eat “high off the hog” during earlier times.

Pigs were not indigenous to North America, either.  Interestingly, I was “today old” when I discovered the infamous explorer, Hernando de Soto, brought the first pigs to North America.  Thirteen originally, they must be prodigious breeders if the wild hogs in our area are an indication.  I was a history major and teacher, shouldn’t I have known that?  I guess I wasn’t paying attention that day or maybe I did know it and forgot it.

The Spanish invaders saw Taino Indians of the West Indies cooking meat and fish over a pit of coals on a framework of green wooden sticks. The Spanish spelling of the Indian name for that framework was “barbacoa”.  A tradition and a name were born.

I wonder why my own Southern “rearing” had so much in common with the people of color or Native Americans that lived in nearby enclaves.  Enclaves created by the enforced segregation of the period.  I remember the wariness and fear that undercut the period and the relationships, the period of hard fought for Civil Rights.

Our food was the same…just not seasoned as well.

There were a few people of color who lived in old sharecropper shanties in the area of my childhood and many Native Americans who had adopted the same names as my Scot-Irish forefathers, intermarrying and moving to a place named “Indian Land”, just south of “Indian Trail”, west of “the Waxhaws” and east of the Catawba River.  What is in a name?

Regardless of race, creed or color, we all seemed to share the same love affair for slow-cooked pork, and the creative use of “certain” pig parts.  Served with a wedge of cornbread, red-hulled peas with onion and the “greens de jour.”  When I say we, I am speaking of the family I grew up with, in the area I grew up in although it seems Neo-Southern cuisine has caught on again, both above and west of the Mason-Dixon.  A “new” cuisine that features greens and pork extensively.

I have drawn a line.  I draw it just before the tooter in “from rooter to the tooter.”  I probably shouldn’t limit myself but I have not participated in a chitlin strut or dined on the porcine version of Mountain Oysters, sometimes called”pig fries”.  I probably won’t…although I can’t guarantee what might have been in the barbeque hash served over white rice…don’t know what’s in it, don’t care what’s in it…um, um, good…as are pig knuckles, brains and eggs, and livermush.   Okay, maybe I should rethink the chitlins and pig fries.  Nothing ventured…a New Year’s resolution?

By the time you read this, it will be New Year’s Day.  The tradition of serving collard greens and black-eyed peas will be observed in my little piece of heaven…a tradition I have not varied from ever during my lifetime.  A superstitious fear.  Peas for luck and collards for money.  Not that I have great amounts of luck or money, I’ m just afraid I will lose what little I have.

The meal will be seasoned with pig renderings, a dash of vinegar and hot sauce.  Pork chops and cornbread will accompany but they won’t be the main course.  Greens and black-eyed peas are the stars on this day.

May your 2019 be everything you want…or at least everything you need.

From The Cook’s Cook: Southern Poverty Food: How the Other 90% Ate,  May 2018,  https://thecookscook.com/features/southern-poverty-food-how-the-other-90-ate/

The Image was lifted from Wikipedia with malice and forethought.

 

For further readings about any subjects under the sun, go to https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Old Ghosts Calling to Me 

I have a “thing” for old structures; old farmhouses, slab-sided barns or an aging general mercantile.  I grew up in and around them…like ghosts, they are only memories.  It is not the architecture they represent, but the history that speaks to me.  Old ghosts calling my name.

Decaying, hand-hewn structures…I just wonder about the hands that constructed them.  I feel the same way about fields of rusting cars covered in kudzu or the tools that once maintained them I find in antique shops or “high dollar” junkyards.  It’s about who drove the car, who repaired it…it’s about the history…about the ghosts.

Image result for dorothea lange country store.  Who colorized the picture

I first saw this photograph while researching lesson plans on the depression.  The black and white Dorothea Lange photograph whispered softly to me for some reason.  It was titled, “Country store on a dirt road. Sunday afternoon. July 1939. Gordonton, North Carolina.”

The structure spoke to me, but the ghosts were quiet.  My eyes were drawn to the old metal signs advertising different brands of cigarettes, Coca-Cola, the “Sweet Scotch Snuff.”  I listened to the Texaco gas and kerosene pumps, rough cut and unfinished lumber, a long porch gallery supported by stacked stones.  Cedar trees stripped of limbs used as porch columns and roof rafters that aren’t quite plumb.  I “heard” it, rather than “heard” them.

What I “heard” changed when I discovered the colorized version by Jordan J. Lloyd.  It drew my attention to the men and their ghosts spoke to me.  It became about the people instead of the structure.

Related image

The picture is described as “A lazy Sunday afternoon on a country road.”  Five black men relaxing on a “workless” Sunday with the brother of the white owner leaning in the doorway.  Smiles to go around as stories were told…embellished for listening enjoyment I’m quite sure.  The ghosts spoke but I am hard of hearing and I don’t really know their voices.  But I can research and create.

The colors are vivid…as vivid as khaki and denim can be.  Overalls over a white shirt, rolled up shirt sleeves and pant’s legs.  Dusty, beat up shoes and brogans.  Sweat stained fedoras and baseball caps pushed back on heads.  A “dope” drained to the last drop and the aroma of fine Virginia tobacco wafting in the breeze, “mildness with no unpleasant aftertaste.”

July 1939 in the South…in North Carolina…in the cotton belt.  The depression had been ongoing for ten years and would continue until the soaring production of World War Two finally buried it.  Farmers had been steamrolled by the depression as early as 1920 while boll weevils ate their fill and cotton prices dropping as low as five cents a pound….  Ever pick cotton?  I have.  A pound of cotton is a lot of picking for a nickel and boll weevils wiped out as much as eighty percent of cotton crops during the Twenties.

The depression was particularly hard on people of color in the South.  Many, only sixty or seventy years removed from slavery, found themselves forced into a type of pseudo-slavery, sharecropping and tenant farming…except many poor whites found themselves paddling in the same boat.  The difference? Post-slavery Jim Crow segregation.  As bad as things are, at least you “ain’t colored.” Separate and “unequal.”

Except maybe on “A lazy Sunday afternoon on a country road.”  I smile.  I see four men of color reacting to something said by the fifth man on the left while the white man is slow to get the point or at least react.  A slow smile coming to his face.  Men gathering to shoot the bull on their day of rest.  The simple enjoyment of not having to be someplace…not having to work your fingers to the bone for someone else’s profit.

Image result for dorothea lange country store.  Who colorized the picture

The old store on a dusty, country road still exists.  The road is now paved and the store is no longer open which for me seems a shame.  Boarded up and abandoned, I wonder if the ghosts still gather on the porch, talking of days past and the hard times they endured.  Seeing it closed I am sad for them…and for me.

The first photo is by Dorothea Lang.

The colorized photo is by Jordan J. Lloyd

The last photo was made by Wayne Jacobs.

For more musings go to 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

 

Hope For Mankind

1968 had been a bad year and early in 1969, the world had not recovered from its sickness.  Much of our pain in the United States derived from the war in Viet Nam or from the Civil Rights unrest.  The two-and-a-half-month Battle for Kha Sanh began along with the Tet Offensive.  Three college students were killed by the police in a Civil Rights protest in Orangeburg, South Carolina.  Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert “Bobby” Kennedy are both assassinated.  Much, much more would occur before we watched a glimmer of hope in July of 1969.

The country, and the world, seemed to be coming apart at the seams.  Student and civil rights protests and riots, not just in the good old USA but all over the world.  Cronkite said what many of us feared and others denied, “the war is unwinnable”.  LBJ announced “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president” setting the stage for the hot mess that was the Democratic Convention in Chicago.  We hadn’t even made it to August.

As we limped into the summer of 1969 little changed.  I was a nineteen-year-old college student determined to exercise my god given right to drink myself blind and chase young coeds I would never be able to catch.  I was not oblivious to the issues, especially Viet Nam.  I did not want to be sent “nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves”, from an early LBJ quote.  Unfortunately, we still had a draft and I had registered in the very bad, previous year.

Still, in July 1969 there was hope…at nearly a quarter million miles away from the troubled world.

Many of us are being quizzed about the significance of July 20, 1969.  Former students often asked, “Do you remember?”  Perfectly.  I was with some two-hundred close friends taking a break from nickel drafts and the dance floor at the Cellar in Charlotte.  I don’t remember the band that played that night or who I was with…I was stone cold sober.  I remember the small black and white TV above the bar we all crowded around.  I remember the cheers when Neil Armstrong hesitated and finally made his “giant leap.”  I admit it would be the next day before I learned what he said.

I remember the night.  I remember it bringing a bit of hope to a troubling era.  We would continue to tear ourselves apart with the news of Mai Lai breaking, a random draft lottery announced, more student and civil unrest, and the Manson Family begin their killing spree.  Well, there was Woodstock and the Amazing Mets win the World Series.

No matter how bad things got during the Nixon years, humanity had been to the moon and back.  Humans had left their footprints.  Maybe we should think about returning…and soon.  We need a “giant leap for mankind.”

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

Kudzu, Cotton and Red Clay Banks

 

I’ve battled kudzu for the past thirty years.  Some bright soul decided to import it from Japan and somehow the smothering vine has found a growing spot near my garden and is trying to cover a gully cut by a stream.

Kudzu became a great erosion control method, so great it has been called the “Plant that ate the South.”  Below my garden, near the creek, I saw my first Kudzu runner this morning.  The war begins again, a war that I am gradually losing.

Sorry, you’ll have to allow me a “pig trail” memory.  I remember cotton growing in the huge field across from my childhood home…and kudzu growing in the eroded ravine bordering that huge field.  It reminded me of the old Tarzan movies we watched on a black and white television on Sundays after church.  It was a jungle and I feared walking near it.  My childish mind imagined a tropical rainforest flourishing just across the road…lions and tigers and big snakes, oh my!

There was a smaller field of cotton growing behind my house above an eroded red clay bank separating the cotton from the field of corn growing below it.  There was no kudzu growing on the bank but should have been.  Broom straw was all that grew on its banks.

That’s not quite true, my mother grew there too…grew weary of having to clean my permanently red-stained clothes after I played on it.  Until I was old enough to pick cotton or pull corn I honed my imagination playing on those eroded red clay banks.

Tonka toy trucks and earthmovers created redoubts and ramparts to protect little green plastic soldiers who fought for their lives in the battles I created.  Later, as I outgrew the trucks and soldiers, my friends would join me as we refought World War Two battles with cap pistols and my Combat, the television show, Thompson Sub-Machine gun.  Sergeant Saunders would have been proud.  Momma wasn’t.  She still battled my clothing and was a bit peeved when she found me using her aluminum mixing bowl as an army helmet.

None of those items exist anymore…except…the kudzu.  The fields have given over to condominiums. Tonka toys passed down to my younger siblings as I outgrew them, green soldiers became lost somewhere in the sands of time.  Plastic, green soldier heaven I guess…or hell.  My machine gun, carelessly abandoned, run over in the prime of its life by an uncaring bicyclist.

I don’t see a lot of cotton grown near my upstate home.  I see a lot of kudzu.  On trips to the coast in the late fall, I once saw expansive fields growing cotton.  Cotton bolls bursting white in the fall as the fields sped by outside of my car window.  Big green, red or orange machines rolling in unison, replacing the slaves, sharecroppers and po’ white trash who picked it by hand in a time long past.  Even with mechanization, much of the cotton has been replaced by soybeans.

I say po’ white trash because I can.  I used to be a part of the po’ white trash or po’ white at least.  I never thought of us as trash…nor even poor I guess.  Sometimes life is quite rich without the need for money.  Even the owners of the lands we worked were “landed” rich with little actual money.  We worked side by side with the black sharecroppers, their hands callused over from the daylight to dark of night days making four dollars a day…1950s and 60s money.  Let’s see…that’s about forty dollars a day in today’s money, less than three hundred a week in today’s green money for a six-day week.  Not a lot of money to realize your dreams.

Kudzu was planted in the United States in the late nineteenth century as a foul joke.  Not really, it was a novelty, touted as fodder for livestock.  I admit my goats loved it.  When they grazed was the last time I had the vine controlled.  Shouldn’t have gotten rid of the goats.  Good grazing but not good to dry and bail.  Too heavy and wet.

On a bad day, a vine of kudzu will grow six inches in a twenty-four-hour period.  I don’t think kudzu has ever known a bad day.  In optimum growing conditions, which seems to be any humid, Southern summer day, it will grow a foot a day.  I swear on my dead mother’s grave the statement is not an embellishment.  I’ve watched it do it.

Roundup doesn’t work despite spraying it every two weeks and by “All Things Holy,” don’t burn it…it just grows back stronger than before.  I once attached a chain to a large root and tried to pull it up with my thirty-two-horsepower green tractor that does not run like a deer…the root pulled my front end off the ground before the root broke.  As far as I know, the root is still growing toward China.  I guess I need to mend my fences and get a goat.

In the 1930’s many cotton fields had played out and been abandoned due to the depression and the low prices accompanying it.  Erosion had begun to do its dirty deed in fields over plowed and undernourished.  Kudzu was used successfully for erosion control…too successfully.  I’ve seen stands of fifty-foot pines covered, bending under the weight, and abandoned cabins totally enveloped by the vine.  During the winter their gray outlines are almost ghostly.

Beware if you are living next to a stand.  Be vigilant and do not leave your windows open.  A person might wake up trapped in their bed by long green vines.

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

The image is of an abandoned home about a week from being covered in Kudzu courtesy of http://www.discover.uga.edu

The Old Man

The old man sat on the top step of the porch and watched the movement of children as they played tag. His vision was bad and he squinted attempting to see. Cataracts had thickened, reducing the children to ghostly apparitions. Too much time spent in the blazing sun. He could still see their blurry forms and could discern the gaily clad little girls in their summer dresses from the little boys in their shorts and long pants. Thank God! My hearing is still good.

Someone wanted to take a picture with their new-fangled camera. Something called a Brownie. He sat a bit slumped, his hands resting on his thighs. An eighty-year-old…today. His once red hair was now white as the cotton bolls bursting in the fall. His beard, years ago red and sparse had thickened like his cataracts. White and long, it spread to the middle of his vest. Tobacco juice from years of chewing stained the sides of his mouth.

His gaze shifted to the distant horizon. His once blazing, blue-green eyes had faded but his vision was still sharp…with the visions of the past. He smiled at his thoughts. He couldn’t remember what day it was, but his memories of times now past was as sharp as the old boning knife he once carried. He spent most of his time gazing back at the past. Mostly he spent his time with the memory of Lucretia, now dead nearly fifty years.

He had been lucky. He had loved three times. Three fine women had warmed his bed and brought him comfort and joy. Lucretia, Genevieve, and Josephine. He had loved them with all his heart. The old man had been unlucky too, he had outlived all three. He cherished the memories of them all, but Lucretia was special. She had been his first…. He liked to remember her in the emerald green ball dress. High waisted, it bared her shoulders and dipped low showing her décolletage. An emerald ribbon held her mother’s cameo and brought attention to her long slender neck. He remembered slowly taking her out of the dress…Damn, I almost felt something stir.

Timmy, Tyler James’s youngest, sat down beside him. A chap of six, he recognized the boy’s voice when he asked, “Whatcha’ thinking about Grampy?” He was John William’s youngest grandchild. John William was not the old man’s grandson but his grandnephew, Arlo and Stella’s boy. He had sired no children but had been adopted by John William and his brood.

“Timmy, I was thinking about Grammy Lucretia. I wish you had the chance to meet her. She was a special woman.”

“As special as Grammy Josey?” He asked as if he might be worried about my answer.

“Oh yes, oh yes she was…and Josephine loved you very much.”

“I miss her…’specially her molasses cookies.”

“I miss her too…and her molasses cookies.”
He missed his friends too. All were gone. Sean, Arlo, and Stella, Alexandre’ and Shailene, James. All had been gone for ages. “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” from the book Momma Edwards had taught him to read from. He had been here too long. It was time to move on.

“Tell me a story Grampy.”

Well, maybe it’s not quite time to move on quite yet.

Finis

I’ve always wondered about the picture I used to illustrate this fictional piece that may or may not become a novel. It is a picture of my great, great-grandfather, Marion DeKalb Rodgers, who was born in 1842. I have no idea when the picture was made…and it really doesn’t matter. It’s his tanned and weathered face, along with the squint, that captivated my thoughts. I wondered what he was thinking and what his life was like, the sights he saw. I understand he was a farmer and a carpenter. I know as a seventeen-year-old he went off with his father to fight in the Civil War and was one of the lucky ones who returned. Again, I just wonder.

Don Miller is a multi-genre, Indie author. He has just released his second work of fiction, South From Sutherland’s Station. It along with his other works may be purchased or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.

SOUTH FROM SUTHERLAND’S STATION

Excerpt from Don Miller’s soon to be released historical novel, South From Sutherland’s Station.

As he traveled down the Ohio to the Mississippi, the side-wheeler made stops along the way: Cincinnati, Memphis, Greenville, Vicksburg, Natchez, and finally New Orleans.  Over and over, it loaded and unloaded cargo, livestock, and people.  Vicksburg, Tennessee, and the flanking Delta, Louisiana, were the worst.  Despite having been out of the fight for nearly two years, the people who met them on the wharves still bore scars from the war.  Few young men met them, just older men, colored and white, stooped from both age and abuse.  Underweight and hollow-eyed children begged and faded Southern Belles twirled their parasols, all dreaming of a time now past.  Any joy of being near his home soil was offset by the gloom covering the landscape like the thick fogs off the river.

The easiest way home would be to disembark at Vicksburg, cross the river to Delta and then catch a stage overland the seventy miles to Edwards’ Crossroads.  Going on to New Orleans meant having to catch a riverboat traveling back up to the Red River and onto the Ouachita but his promise to Wyatt ate at him worse than a case of the quickstep.  Allen Kell knew if he did not make the trip to Wyatt’s mother and sister, his promise would continue to gnaw at him.  Maybe he could find some work to get enough money to get home.  Anytime offered work to load or unload the side-wheeler, he had volunteered.  Despite his efforts, he had less than five dollars of army script in his pocket.

Allen Kell sat on the barge and brooded.  He wanted to be happy the war was over.  Memories of the killing and disease seemed to sap his resolve.  He was empty inside, a shell.  Allen Kell knew but refused to admit, he missed the killing.  He had been most alive making the charges against Federal lines, looking down barrels of death pointed in his direction.  The vicious hand to hand fighting sent adrenaline pulsing through his body, leaving him spent and at peace when it was over.  Allen Kell’s ruminations were interrupted as the side-wheeler’s steam whistle went off.  Moments later, just around the next bend, the New Orleans’s wharves came into view.

Allen Kell agreed to trade more labor for meals, a piece of deck to sleep on and passage back to Vicksburg later in the week.  He would end up with more army script to go with what he had.  After spending part of his script on some new clothes-a union suit, one pair of tough canvas pants, two shirts, one flannel for work and a muslin to visit Wyatt’s family in-Allen Kell went to the community baths to bathe and shave.  He kept the officer’s slouch hat he had picked up off the battlefield at Gettysburg, the red Garibaldi shirt he had been issued in Baton Rouge, his braces and his boots, and trashed the rest.  When he looked at his reflection while shaving, Allen Kell was shocked at the gauntness of his face and realized he had the same hollow-eyed stare he had noticed on the faces of the people of Vicksburg.  It had been the first time he had seen his face in over a year.

South From Sutherland’s Station is a novel of the chaotic days following the Civil War and ex-Confederate soldier, Allen Kell Edwards.  It will be available for purchase in early December.  Until then you may go to Don Miller’s author’s page at http://amazon.com/author/cigarman501

 

DONALD TRUMP RACIST? STILL NOT THE PROBLEM

I wrote this piece eight months ago, well before the events of yesterday in Charlottesville, Virginia.  I did update the post and believe my words rang true eight months ago and ring true today.

Countless people are pointing a finger, no not that finger…ok, maybe that finger…. Starting over, countless people are pointing out the racism seemingly enabled by President Donald Trump. Over a thousand documented examples of hate crimes have occurred since his election. Some people seem to believe somehow, this one man is responsible for it all. I also heard a similar argument regarding our previous executive, President Obama. “We are more racist now than ever” resounded through my social media accounts. Remember the old quote, “When you point your finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you?” I’m sure you do.

I believe both arguments are misplaced. I don’t know when the concepts of racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry, or any other -ism or -phobia de jure came into being. They may well have been around since a Neanderthal looked at a Cro-Magnon and said, “Hey man you are different.” Yes, Neanderthals had a language and could have said such although I’m sure we would have needed a translator.

I believe our bigotry, anti-Semitism, etc., etc., etc., were just covered up in the same way that a person might add a layer of fresh kitty litter to a soiled cat box. Everything appears well, might even smell well…until your favorite feline steps in and begins to cover up its leavings. The more it tries to cover, the more the unsavory stuff gets uncovered. When Felix gives up, nobody is happy including the cat.

Our racism, bigotry, etc., etc., etc. simply got uncovered. It had been just under the surface waiting to be exposed to the light of day. No amount of legislation or executive action can actually bury it until those three fingers point in some other direction. We must want to change and some of us have tried. The problem is, when the litter box gets uncovered, even those of us who are not overtly racist, anti-Semitic, etc., etc. etc., suddenly feel the need to defend ourselves with statements like “Some of my best friends are (fill in the blank)” or “People just need to let go of (fill in the blank)”

Just because we have a few (fill in the blank) friends doesn’t mean we are not part of the problem, so just quit trying to deflect from the problem and quit pointing fingers at Donald Trump. He is just the enabler.  The Alt-Right was there all along, they have simply embraced President Trump.  The League of the South or people like them have been there all along and they too have embraced him. Fear bred hatred of people not like us, has been there all along, President Trump’s campaign message just allowed it to uncover the litter box.

Our country has been anti-whatever since before we were a country. Until we actually believe, deep in our hearts, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men (women and those unsure) are created equal” it really doesn’t matter who is in the White House. We should worry about the cleanliness of our own litter boxes (hearts) before we point out another needs cleaning.

Blog Picture from ABC News, http://abcnews.go.com/US/unite-rally-virginia-sparks-counterprotests-state-emergency/story?id=49176243

More of Don Miller’s misplaced rantings may be accessed at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

RADIOACTIVE DUST

It was October 21, 1962. I’m quite sure of the date. The twelve-year-old me listened intently to the adults gathered around my Mother’s formal dining room table awaiting Sunday dinner. That would-be lunch in more civilized circles. Twelve-year-old Donnie was doing as I had been told repeatedly, “children are to be seen, not heard.” Despite being a pre-teen, I was unsure of my standing and decided not to chance a thrashing with a “keen hickory” at the hands of my grandmother.

The news around the table was terrifying to the pre-teen me. Nuclear weapons right down the road in Cuba. Just ninety miles from the good old US of A. An uncle, a member of the Navy reserves, was afraid he was going to be called up to help blockade the island that had become a bristling launching pad of fire and radioactive ruin. A cousin, an army reservist and paratrooper, was afraid he would be making night time drops attempting to capture the nuclear sites. Everyone at the table agreed they would rather be “dead than red.” Everyone but me. Me? I wasn’t at all sure.

Despite my youth, I understood the Soviets and the United States hated each other even if the reasons behind the hatred escaped me. My civics teacher had hammered the differences between the Soviet Communists and our democratic form of government but I just wasn’t sure about the “dead rather than red” thing. I had a lot of living to do even if it was under the thumb of the goose stepping Red Army and I could see no good in circling the earth in a radioactive cloud.

The following Monday, after an “In Case of Nuclear Attack” drill, I kept watching the heavens hoping not to see a Bear Bomber with its red star dropping a bomb on Indian Land, South Carolina, population…not many. I also prayed not to see the telltale contrail of a missile zeroing in on Indian Land School. Just to be sure I kept my largest textbook nearby so I could protect myself if the bomb went off.

Once home I tentatively approached my father. He was hard at rest working on a crossword puzzle after an eight-hour shift a Springs Mills. Ernest didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned that the “Dogs of War” were nipping at our heels.

“Dad?”

“Yes, son,” looking over his reading glasses.

“I’m worried about this Cuba thing. Do you think we ought to get a fallout shelter?”

“I tell you what. Get the shovel and pick a place. When you think you’ve dug deep enough call me and I’ll come see. Right now, I need a four-letter word that means a dueling sword.”

I wish I felt as calm and collected as he appeared. As I read about North Korean nukes and a President threatening “fire and fury”, I am sorely concerned. In 1962 cooler heads prevailed. Russian ships intent on breaking the barricade reversed course, nuclear weapons in Cuba were removed and I did not add my ashes to a mushroom shaped cloud.

I don’t know if we have those cooler heads. The little Korean guy scares me. I think he has “little man’s disease.” Our own guy scares me and if you are waiting for me to say something about “small hands”, well, I just did. I wish it was a sick dream and these two guys were not in charge of nuclear codes but the truth is they are and they are on a collision course with us in the middle.

Think I’ll watch “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Maybe Peter Sellers can give me perspective since my own president can’t. Where is Slim Pickens when we need him?

For more of Don Miller’s writings and musings, including his latest release, Olivia, please follow his author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM