Textile Strikes, Labor Unions, and Ella May Wiggins-History Repeated

 

During research for a novel I hope to write, I ran across the novel, The Last Ballad, written by Wiley Cash.  Cash’s novel is a fictionalized glimpse into the life and final months of union organizer and balladeer, Ella May Wiggins.  The story was inspired by actual events that hit a little too close to home.  Cash paints a historical picture that is both historically accurate and vivid, yet as dark as the interiors of the textile mills he writes about and the lives of the people forced to work in them.  It’s a novel I wish I could have written.

Image result for ella may wiggins

Wiggins, a spinner at Bessemer City’s American Textile Mill #2 with a history of bad choices for many right reasons and some not so right, was shot and killed in 1929 during labor unrest leading up to the Loray Mill Strike in Gastonia, North Carolina, April 1,1929 and ending in the collapse of the strike after Wiggins’s death in September of the same year.

It was the end of the period called “The Roaring Twenties” which for the textile workers and farmers of the South, were anything but roaring.  While Wiggins did not live to see the great Wall Street crash, times were already hard for those who toiled in textiles, many who had just earlier been left destitute from falling farm prices.  As my grandmother often stated, “We lived so hard we didn’t notice the Great Depression.”

For anyone with empathy, the book is a tough read.  It is painful on many levels, not just Wiggins’s death.  It is disturbing because I see a certain parallel with “history repeating itself.”

I grew up a “hill milly”.  My youth was tied both to the fields of corn and beans of my grandparents and to the textile mills of my parents. By the time I cleaned the cow manure off my boots and traded square bales of hay for the lint, heat, and noise of the Springs Mills’ White Plant in Fort Mill, South Carolina, conditions, pay, and hours had markedly improved from Ella May’s day.  Improved, but still some of the hardest physical labor I ever did under some of the most taxing physical conditions.

On my first day, I was two months past my fourteenth birthday.  I was summer labor, a spare hand, working a six until two shift at whatever hell my second hand decided.   Doffing cloth, filling batteries, taking up quill and skinning them were my primary chores.  I must have done okay, I was invited to continue, working weekends during the school year.

The early shift allowed enough daylight in the evening to pull four additional hours hoeing corn, picking beans or tossing square bales onto the bed of an old flatbed for two dollars a day.  I was bone-weary at the end of the day and slept the sleep of the exhaustedly pure of heart, but in my immature brain, I was rich.

A dollar sixty-five an hour, time and a half for overtime over forty hours, plus the six dollars a week I got for tossing hay.  $93.80 a week before taxes for seventy-two hours counting four overtime hours…all hard work.  That was in 1964 and I wasn’t as rich as I thought.  My parents took half my take-home pay for room and board and I was forced to save half of my half for the college days looming in the near future.

My week’s take came out to about fifteen dollars a week in my pocket…more than what Ella May made for seventy-two hours in 1929.  Six days a week, twelve hours a day for $9.00 a week in conditions you can’t believe unless you lived it. $9.00 to house, feed and clothe herself and her five living children.  She had lost two children in early childhood who developed rickets due to malnutrition.  She was pregnant at the time of her death.

Image result for springs cotton mills fort mill sc

South Carolina has never been receptive to unions…the South has never been receptive to unions.  As of 2017, only 2.6 percent of the Southern workforce was unionized. During Ella May Wiggins’s day, unions had only just begun to move south and were met with a solid, often violent, effort to keep them out.

On my first day at Springs, a cousin took me aside and whispered above the din of eleven hundred looms, “Never mention the word union if you want to keep your job.”  I’m not sure I had heard the word at the time but never mentioned it even though many days I doubted I really “wanted to keep my job.”

Despite the mind-numbing sound and physical labor, I was spoiled and didn’t know it until I went to work for another cotton mill during my college days.  Springs Mills was a Cadillac of cotton mills.  Well lit, it was reasonably modern and technologically advanced, cleaner than most, with a family atmosphere.

The two mills I worked at in Newberry, SC, during my college years were everything Springs wasn’t including an “every man for himself” atmosphere.  Dimly lit, the old Draper looms were contrary and dangerous, the closed painted over windows a reminder of what was just on the other side…bright sunshine and clean air as opposed to the oppressive, lint filled atmosphere and heat inside.

As I lived through a week that saw a major drop in the stock market and a toilet paper panic, I am somberly amused at some of the similarities that exist today as in those thrilling days of yesteryear.  Conservatives attempting to hold the line, liberals clamoring for change.  Name-calling, finger-pointing and unfortunately threats to our democratic system if not our very person.

I hope most threats are coming from internet trolls with nothing to do as we “hunker down”, self-isolating ourselves from the coronavirus, worrying about where our next toilet paper score might occur.  We can’t even agree if this disease is a health threat or simply the flu blown up by a liberal media controlled by communists and George Soros.  I digress with tongue in cheek.

The reason for the Loray strike were workers protesting for better working conditions, a forty-hour workweek, a minimum $20 weekly wage, union recognition, and the abolition of the stretch-out system, a system that doubled worker’s labor but reduced their wages as textiles fell on hard times after The Great War and the drying up of government contracts.

An estimated 1,000 strikers at Loray Mills, Gastonia, 1929. -- Millican Pictorial History Museum

The numbers and issues may be different, our responses have been eerily similar.  It would be during the middle of the Great Depression before minimum wage, the forty-hour workweek and child labor, along with the Social Security safety net, would finally be addressed…all maligned at the time as at best socialism, at worse communism, both a threat to American capitalism and the owners it made rich.

In 1929, company men labeled any check to unlimited capitalism as Marxist, socialist or communist, and yes there were more than a few of them around. Ella May’s National Textile Workers Union certainly had communist ties, not that Ella May and her fellow workers knew what a communist was.  She was simply seeking a better life for her children and herself.

I see the same labels raised when we debate increasing the minimum wage, health care, safety nets or educational opportunities.  Labeling has become quite acute with both our political parties battling to pass a coronavirus relief bill.

Union enrollment is on the decline while finger-pointing increases.  There is no middle ground.  Signs of the time…or as my Evangelical friends shout, “Signs of the Apocalypse.  The time is nigh.”

I wonder if we are nearing a tipping point when the national guard, new wave strikebreakers, and the police force will be employed to evict and expel people whose opinions simply differ.  Couldn’t happen, could it?  Yet in 1929 it did, and the violence would continue well into the Thirties.

Violence spurred by unchecked capitalism, fears of communism and being forced to work side by side with those of a different race.  All supported by a sympathetic conservative media, and government “for and by” the “Captains of Industries.”

On April 1, 1929, eighteen hundred workers walked off the job at Loray in Gastonia, mostly women, some marching with babes in arms.  Management evicted them from company housing, throwing their meager possessions into the street.  One striker was killed, many beaten.

The North Carolina National Guard was called out on the third of April, violence erupted sporadically over the next several months.  The police chief was killed, strikers and company men shot or beaten, and in September, a truck carrying twenty-two strikers was chased down and shot up.  The pregnant organizer and singer of ballads, Ella May Wiggins, was killed, shot through her chest.  Her children sent to an orphanage until their eighteenth birthdays.

Image result for ella may wiggins

A general wave of vigilantism washed across the countryside, company men arriving in the middle of the night, forcing strike participants out of the county in exile.  These were their neighbors, people they knew by name, people they might have worked with just a few weeks before.  People threatened with bodily harm if they returned.

The struggle continues today just not in US textiles.  Textiles left the South for climates more receptive to low pay and long hours.  There are a few specialty mills around but we simply can’t compete.   Our standard of living requires we have a higher level of poverty than places like China, India, and Pakistan.   Hopefully a higher level of empathy for our workers…but I am unsure.

***

I recommend The Last Ballad.  Again, I warn you, it is a painful history brought to life by Wiley Cash.  It is a history I was unfamiliar with even though I possess a history degree and lived within an hour of Gastonia and the Loray Mill site.  We Southerners have a tendency to overlook or twist some of our more unsavory histories.  This one seems to have been ignored.

The book may be purchased on Amazon or if you have a library card, downloaded to a Kindle or computer with a Kindle App for free.  Yes, I’m cheap.  https://www.amazon.com/Last-Ballad-Novel-Wiley-Cash/dp/0062313118

Image result for The Last Ballad

Don Miller is a retired educator and coach.  He writes on various topics and his author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Images

Featured Image:  A member of the NC National Guard forcing two female strikers back. https://wilsoncountylocalhistorylibrary.wordpress.com/tag/ella-may-wiggins/

The first image is of Ella May (spelled Mae on her grave marker) Wiggins just before her death, https://www.charlotteobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article175129556.html

The second image is of a young girl tending spinning frames in the early 1900s  https://www.pinterest.com/pin/83457399315355531/

The third image is of Loray Mill strikers who walked out on April 1, 1929.

The fourth image is of the truck that carried Ella May Wiggins to her death.  https://www.shelbystar.com/news/20190405/1929-loray-mill-strike-gastonia-violence-makes-waves

 

I Always Wonder….

There is an abandoned house I walk past every morning when I force myself out to walk or run.  Yeah, I’m trying to jog a bit these days.  Slow and easy…slow and not so easy.  Try not to have a second heart attack or pull a muscle.

At a curve of the road below what has become my ‘hill from hell’, an old home sits forlornly surrounded by broom straw, English ivy, hemlock, and juvenal river birch.  It has sat empty for the past thirty years.  I vaguely remember people living there a long time ago.  They were solitary people who looked at you side-eyed when you drove by.  They were here today gone tomorrow folks it seems.

I stood, stretching after a five-minute warm-up.  Trying to steel myself for the quarter-mile trek up the hill, I paused and took a picture as I paused.

Have I said that I like old structures?  I like wandering through them looking at how they were built.  I like wondering about who lived there.  I hate to see old houses abandoned into ruin.

Once, a lifetime ago, I dared to investigate.  I’m not built for creeping or sneaking a look through windows.   Sometimes my curiosity gets the better of me.  Don’t fear, I’m not a Peeping Tom.  I knew the place was empty.  I just wondered why they had left in such a hurry.  Looking through windows gave me no clue, only more questions.

Much of the furniture was still in place as if the people who lived there just went off to work or out for dinner, locked the door behind them, and never came back.  A plush easy chair and matching settee but no TV.  No lightened spaces on the walls where paintings or pictures might have hung.  I wonder why furniture and kitchen implements were left behind?   Why did the previous tenants skedaddle leaving so much behind?

There had been people there recently.  A stack of pyramided beer cans attested to their visitation.  Uninvited visitors disturbing the mice, taking advantage of an empty house.  Young people looking for a place to hang out but twenty or thirty years later it’s not a place I would want to spend any kind of “quality” time.

As I took the picture I saw only remnants of Venetian blinds and shredded curtains hanging in the windows.  Windowpanes have been knocked out and I imagine the furniture is covered in black mold or worse.  Still, I wonder…but not enough to go check.  It is a shame and a bit heartbreaking.

The house sits in a steep-sided ‘holler’ split by the road I walk. It is at the base of ‘The Hill From Hell.’  I’ve officially named it.  It rises two hundred feet over two-tenths of a mile.  There was a time when I ran it…that time has run out.

A rocky, shallow stream runs under the road and in front of the house with juvenal river birch taking over between the stream and porch.  Despite its shallowness, the stream runs quite fast.  I wonder why the original owners decided to put their home in a hole that gets very little sunlight.  Access to the water I wonder?

The original house was a sturdy, shed-roofed affair with a narrow screened in front porch.  What appears to be a rebuilt chimney dominates one side.  It looks too new…despite having been there for at least thirty years.  I wonder what the original chimney looked like.  Was it rock like mine, made from stones found in the area?  Was it added as an afterthought during summer after a long, cold winter?

A low and long addition was built on the opposite side.  It matches the original building like a scary horror movie and has not held up well to being left empty.  Loneliness destroys us all.

The screens on the porch are shredded and the tar paper and asphalt shingles have not held up as well as the metal sheets on the original.  The roof reminds me of an old swayback plow horse.

I wonder how many generations lived there, how they survived, what they did for a living.  What were their dreams?  I wonder how they lived and loved, what they ate, what games they played.  Were their lives as hard as my imagination leads me to believe.

Spring is three weeks away and the daffodils are showing themselves near the ditch that separates the house site from the road.  They have pushed up through a stand of blue-purple blossomed periwinkle.

Soon they will be spent and replaced by moon vine in mid-summer and the sickly, sweet smell of blossoming kudzu in the fall.    If enough sunlight can reach the yard, wildflowers will bloom in the late summer.  I wonder if someone once tended to their flowers long, long ago.

Each summer kudzu above the old house creeps closer and closer.  I wonder if it will eventually cover the old house or if someone will come along and knock the house down putting it out of its misery.  Either way, it will disappear from sight…disappear from history leaving no trace of itself or the people who lived there.  I wonder.

***

Don Miller is a retired teacher and coach who writes on various subjects, in both fiction and non-fiction.  Visit his author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.

The image is of the lonesome old house taken with my phone.

Like A Bowl of Gumbo….

 

I was triggered but I was proud of myself.  I said my peace and disengaged.  I recognized that anything I might say would make no difference.  I think most arguments these days are best left…unargued.  There was an upside, my “triggering” sent me down a pig trail to Alice’s rabbit hole.  I found the Mad Hatter, but he wasn’t drinking tea, he was offering me a bowl of gumbo and an Abita instead.

The tiff was over a “Fun Fact” I had posted about Black History Month.  I share “Daily Doses” of witticisms or “Fun Facts” about the world we live in.  Anything to cut the greasy derision abounding today.  Since we celebrate Black History Month in February, I decided to avail myself of the subject although I am sure there will be fun facts about Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras thrown in for good measure.

A comment made about my “Fun Fact” ruffled my feathers.  I felt the response was inappropriate and told the responder so.  He didn’t take it well…or maybe I didn’t take it well.  I opted to say my peace and disengage.  Instead, I punched up a playlist that included Jimmy Buffett’s “I Will Play for Gumbo.”  One of the choruses goes….

“A piece of French bread

With which to wipe my bowl,

Good for the body.

Good for the soul.

It’s a little like religion

And a lot like sex.

You should never know

When you’re gonna get it next.

At midnight in the quarter or noon in Thibodeaux

I will play for gumbo

Yes, I will play for gumbo.”

 

It’s a fun song and it had me seat dancing in my recliner, forgetting about my triggered self.  I might have had a Pavlovian response to boot.  The ditty made me think about diversity…also a good subject for Black History Month.  I know of no other bowls of goodness that are more diverse in ingredients, origin…and full of tasty joy.  If I had to come up with the last meal it would probably include gumbo with a side of shrimp and grits.

The word gumbo derives from West Africa, ki ngombo or quingombo, from the Niger-Congo language spoken by many of the West African slaves who survived the Middle Passage and were forced to settle and perform back-breaking labor.  The words mean okra, a plant the slaves brought with them.

Gumbo can be served without okra but why would one want it without okra?  It was also Africans who introduced serving okra with rice, and rice is generally served with gumbo.

Sometime later, it was the Louisiana French, some who came by way of Canada, who probably shortened the African words to gumbo.

The Choctaw, who gave the dish filé, ground sassafras leaves, called the tasty dish, kombo.

The dish is most closely associated with Nawlins, Loo-see-Anna but can be found in bowls across the United States.

Like gumbo, New Orleans is about as diverse as one place can be.  The Spanish conquistadores wrestled the area from the Natives in the middle 1760s while fighting off the French before secretly giving it to Napoleon’s France in 1800.  The area was heavily explored and settled by both the French and Spanish lending to the diversity.  Napoleon, feeling a money pinch from his many wars, sold New Orleans and a bunch more to the United States in 1803.  All the while, African slaves and Native Americans added to the diversity whether they wanted to or not.

Gumbo varies according to the Cajun style or Creole style…or your style.  All make use of a dark roux (French, although darker than most French styles), some use okra (African) to thicken, others use filé powder, (Choctaw).  Still, others use both.  Seafood or chicken, both or none, can be combined with Andouille sausage (French but with a heavy German influence).  Gumbo’s first cousins, Jambalaya and red beans and rice, are probably Spanish introductions and akin to the Spanish rice dish, paella, so I must believe there are Spanish influences in gumbo too.

What I like about gumbo, besides its taste, is its diversity.  It is made with diverse ingredients that vary, of course, depending on who’s making it.  It can be made with table scraps, shrimp, sausage, chicken or alligator, I guess.

Gumbo in a wide mouth bowl crosses lines of class, rich or poor.  It crosses race and ethnicity and probably religion too.  Louisiana cooks call the combination of celery, bell pepper and onion the “Holy Trinity” after all.  As tasty as it is, I’m sure there might be a bit of West African Voodoo involved.  Gumbo is truly a melding of ingredients, tastes, and people.

Gumbo is both labor and love intensive.  You just can’t put it all together and then walk away.  There is much stirring before you can cut the temperature down to low and let those flavors get to know each other.  People should cut the temperature down and get to know each other too.

Sometimes I wonder if it is the sweat off the chief’s brow that adds to the spice as much as that “Loo-see-Anna” hot sauce…Its gotta be love that makes it so tasty.

“Maybe it’s the sausage or those pretty pink shrimp

Or that popcorn rice that makes me blow up like a blimp.

Maybe it’s that voodoo from Marie Leveaux,

But I will play for gumbo

Yeah, I will play for gumbo

The sauce boss does his cookin’ on the stage,

Stirrin’ and a singing for his nightly wage.

Sweating and frettin’ from his head to his toe,

Playin’ and swayin’ with the gumbo

Prayin’ and buffetin’ with the gumbo.”

 

Lyrics courtesy of AZlyrics.com, Jimmy Buffett, I Will Play For Gumbo, written and performed by Jimmy Buffett.  From the 1999 album Beach House on the Moon.  Video courtesy of YouTube

Featured Image of New Orleans Creole Gumbo from Big Oven https://www.bigoven.com/recipe/new-orleans-creole-gumbo/170608

My favorite Gumbo Recipe from Emeril Lagasse, Gumbo Ya-Ya https://parade.com/27003/emerillagasse/gumbo-ya-ya/

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

Viennas, Nabs, and Cherry-Lemon Sundrops

 

Or as is said ’round heah, Vienners…a somewhat heavy accent mark on the “ners”.  “Vi-en-NERS”.  Some of us end words with “er” that don’t require it, like yeller instead of yellow.

If you are North American and happen to find yourself in Germany with an intense hankering for a Vienna sausage…and, if you can actually get a vendor to understand your Southern accent, you’re probably not going to get what you are expecting; a “baker’s” half dozen of two-inch or so sausages in a jelly-like substance, all contained in a small can with a pull tab.  I remember when you had to us a “key“ to open the top of the can by inserting it into a metal band you twisted off.  Lawd have mercy if the little band twisted or broke, you might starve to death.

Image result for sardine can key"

 

Image result for vienna sausages in jelly"

What you’re going to get in Germany is a long, slender sausage that we Nordamerikanisch would call a skinny hot dog wiener.  They are called Wiener Würstchen in the Germanic states.

Image result for vienna sausages pinterst"

I’m sure, by now many who haven’t clicked to a more interesting post are wondering, “What the hell is he babblin’ about.“  A better question might be “Why is he talkin’ about whatever the hell he is babblin’ bout?“  I’m getting there.

Recently, I handed a new friend twenty dollars to tide him over until his “gubmint” check arrived.  We had become friends that very day but that’s another story.  After thanking me he pointed out, “This’ll buy a lot of  Vienners at the Dollar Store.”

I commented, “And some soda crackers, too.”

As I drove home, I thought, “or buy a lot of Spam…or Potted Meat…or Deviled Ham…which might just be disguised potted meat.”  Nope, I just researched potted meat and wish I hadn’t.  Potted meat is not Deviled Ham.

While I haven’t eaten any of the above in decades, they do hold a warm spot in my heart and as my new friend pointed out, “They’ll hep keep the wolves away.”  I’m also sure they contributed to my 2006 heart attack because as a child I ate a great deal of the highly salted and fatted proteins, what I call “mystery meat”  as in it is a mystery as to what meat parts were used to make it.  I suggest you not read the ingredients if you actually like them.  Ignorance is bliss.

During the summer of my twelfth (12) year, I went to work in the fields alongside my cousins and an uncle.  It’s not like I hadn’t been working in the fields before, this work paid money…mullah…greenbacks…two dollars a day, ten dollars for five early thirty to dark thirty days per week.  Cash money every Friday evening.  Ten brand new Silver Certificates.  There was a caveat.  Two bucks a day plus midday meal.

Two bucks a day plus midday meal to load and haul hay, hoe and pull corn, clean out animal stalls and load their leavings into a manure spreader to…what else…spread manure.  Saturdays, I worked alongside another set of cousins on another uncle’s chicken farm.  The two farms were nothing alike except shoveling poop stinks no matter what animal it comes from and two dollars a day ain’t enough even with the midday meal.   Especially when the midday meal usually consisted of Vienna Sausage or Deviled Ham, soda crackers and a MoonPie or pack of nabs…all washed down from a jug of warm water.  Yummy.

Nabs?  For the uninitiated, nabs is Southern lingo for the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) which first produced small sandwich crackers usually filled with cheese or peanut butter.  Here in the South, we ate Lance’s, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, or Tom’s from Columbus, Georgia, but we still called them nabs.

Tom’s was eventually absorbed by Lance’s but still retains its name and is better known for its peanuts, while Lance is better known for its nabs.  Walk into any Southern mercantile and ask for a pack of nabs and a dope, they know exactly what you want.  You do have to provide which one of the gazillion choices you desire.1

Image result for nabs crackers"

That leads me down another rabbit trail.  Tom’s peanuts and Pepsi Cola.  In the afternoons my uncle would head out to the closest mercantile and bring back a Pepsi Cola, still called a “dope” in my neck of the woods, and a pack of Tom’s peanuts.   Any soft drink was called dope because the original Coca-Cola formula contained cocaine.  Back in the day, Southern soda shops were referred to as “hop joints” and Coke delivery trucks as “dope wagons.”2

For some reason, Tom’s peanuts go perfectly with Pepsi Cola.  I should have said goes perfectly IN a Pepsi Cola.  We’d pour our little bag of peanuts into the Pepsi Cola bottle and consume with gusto.  You could put them in any soft drink, but my choice was Pepsi.  A needed jolt of sugar for energy to get you to dark thirty and the salt from the peanuts helped to replenish what your body had lost as you tried not to die from heat castration 3 in a Southern hayfield.  I don’t know if it contained cocaine but it did seem to refresh you.

Image result for peanuts in pepsi bottle"

Another Southern staple was the MoonPie.  MoonPie?  I’ve never been enamored by the MoonPie, two huge graham cracker cookies with a marshmallow filling dipped in chocolate…originally.  You can get a MoonPie in many flavors now…banana, double yuk.  Not being enamored doesn’t mean I haven’t consumed a gracious plenty of them.  You eat what you have and what you can afford.

The MoonPie is truly a Southern creation, born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1907 at a local bakery.  As the story goes, visiting coal miners asked the owner to create a “man-sized” cookie that could serve as a “workingman’s lunch”.  When asked how big, the miner replied, “As big as the moon.”  We know how it got its name but not how MoonPie became associated with RC Cola, but it seems one cannot be consumed without the other.

Image result for moonpie and rc cola"

How RC or Royal Crown Cola, another Southern creation born in Columbus, Georgia became associated with MoonPie is a depression-era story that has been lost in the mists of time.  For a nickel, each, Southern laborers, textile workers or Kentucky coal miners could afford a filling lunch for a dime.  “An RC and a MoonPie” became a part of Southern culture with no help from advertising moguls.4

Flirting with Southern blasphemy, I said earlier I was never enamored with the MoonPie.  Nothing sacrilegious, I don’t like marshmallows and if I wasn’t drinking Pepsi, I might have a Cheerwine rather than an RC.  Cheerwine…I haven’t had one in years.  Honestly, unless Jack Daniels is in the glass I haven’t had any soft drink in years.

Cheerwine is a cherry-flavored cola produced in Salisbury, North Carolina since 1917.  Sweetened with cane syrup and containing a higher percentage of carbonation, a culture of its own sprang up.  Cheerwine cream-filled Krispy Creme donuts, Cheerwine flavored ice cream, Cheerwine pickles, the base for a barbeque sauce, and my favorite, a cherry, lemon, Sun Drop cola made with Cheerwine. 5

Sun Drop? You don’t know about Sun Drop? A citrus-flavored soda made in Missouri which is almost Southern.

Image result for cheerwine old fashioned"

Memories of sitting in the shade of huge water oaks next to the river, the humidity, and heat finding its way into the shade.  Slappin’ to keep the mosquitos from carryin’ you off before you finished your lunch.  At least the Vienna Sausages were warm and the gelatinous gunk has turned into an oily liquid that could be shaken off.  Ooh, I just remembered what the hands holding the sausage looked like.  Well, a bit of dirt or manure never hurt anyone…”ain’t hurt nobody.”

A twelve-year-old doing his first grown-up job, laughing with his cousins, listening to his uncle sing old-timey hymns just before pinning back the twelve-year old’s ears with a language he had never heard before because of something stupid he had done.  Learning lessons needing to be learned.

Learning to drive a tractor and then the big ole flatbed.  Learning you never pick up a bale of hay on the river bottoms without flipping it first.  “How did that moccasin get under there?”

Staring at long rows of corn, hoe in hand.  That sinking feeling that you’re going to be there all day, a long day.

Watching the early morning mist from the river find its way into the bottomland and the sun creep above the water oaks.

The late afternoon thunderheads forming beyond those same water oaks, praying the would wash out the rest of the day…or at least cool it down.

Lessons and memories at the finest…even if the food wasn’t.

Acknowledgment:  I realize Vienna Sausage is not a Southern creation but like all cultures “We ain’t above stealin’ an idea.”

Footnotes:

1 “A Nab is a Nab is a Nab”  Southern Food Ways https://www.southernfoodways.org/a-nab-is-a-nab-is-a-nab/

2 “Is it true Coca-Cola once contained cocaine?”  The Straight Dope https://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/384/is-it-true-coca-cola-once-contained-cocaine/

Heat Castration:  A non-recognized medical affliction caused by heat and humidity resulting in the “Sweating of one’s testicles off.”

4 “A Brief History of Tennessee Moon Pies” The Culture Trip https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/tennessee/articles/a-brief-history-of-tennessee-moon-pies/

5 “Ten things you didn’t know about Cheerwine” Wide Open Country https://www.wideopencountry.com/10-things-didnt-know-cheerwine/

The Illustrating images were all stolen from Pinterest as was the featured image.

Don Miller’s books, fiction, and non-fiction may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The Day Kennedy Died

 

I was six months past my thirteenth birthday when I learned of President Kennedy’s assassination, and I admit I had the political awareness of a rock…a very dumb rock.  I knew Kennedy was big dodo but I’m really not sure I completely knew why until I became a history major five years later.  I still had the political awareness of a rock but at least I came to understand the political history of the past.

We were called back to homeroom from our eighth grade PE class.  We weren’t happy.  During those days PE was a welcomed break from the academic day.  When we arrived at Mrs. Biggerstaff’s room we could tell something was wrong just by the look on her face.

I’ve tried to remember the feelings.  Can’t quite conger up what they were.  My age and cynicism are interfering.  I remember how quiet the class grew, quite unusual for an eighth-grade class full of hormone-driven early teens.  Sounds seemed muted.  Even the bus ride home was quiet.  Quiet as “inside of a tomb” quiet.

The young Kennedy was a handsome man with a beautiful wife and family.  He spoke in that “funny Yankee” accent but for some reason made people want to listen.   I remember reading accounts of his bravery during World War Two and later attending the movie made about his exploits.  I remember feeling sorry for his wife, especially after seeing her in her blood-soaked dress as a solemn LBJ was sworn in.

Fridays were “go to town day” normally a family adventure.  Monroe, NC, was the destination only because there was a bank that stayed open longer than any in much closer Fort Mill.  Mom, Dad, Nannie, and little brother Stevie joined me inside our nearly brand new ’63 Galaxy 500.  I can remember how we sat, and I can remember the faces on the people we met as we drove the eighteen miles to town.

My grandmother, a staunch Protestant Republican who worried the Catholic Kennedy might steal the White House silverware couldn’t believe someone would assassinate him.  Catholic or Protestant it was just wrong.

Maybe I am merely projecting but everyone seemed to have a pained look on their faces…even on the main street of Monroe.  There was a kind of reverie to the day.  People moved as if in a trance.

I’m sure Kennedy’s legacy has grown over the years.  He attempted much and was thwarted, much of his New Frontier collapsed under the weight of Republicans and Southern Democrats.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would not be implemented until after his death.  There was also the Bay of Pigs, the assassination of Diem and the beginning escalation of the Vietnam War.

On the plus side, he championed Civil Rights, stood up to the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis, established the Peace Corps and challenged us to leave our earthly confines.  Some of his New Frontier proposals were implemented after his death.

There was a hope with Kennedy that we could be more, do more, that we could be a type of Camelot.  An idealism that we could make a difference.  Maybe that was what I was feeling…a simple loss of hope for a world that could be better…or maybe I’ve gotten old and cynical.

A very conservative acquaintance stated that Kennedy was the last great Democrat.  I countered with “and Eisenhower was the last great Republican.”  It was a somewhat argumentative conversation.  I don’t know.  Maybe it was my youthful idealism and propensity for chasing windmills…something I am happy to say I haven’t put aside.  I wish we had another Kennedy or Eisenhower…and the political parties who supported them.

Don Miller writes on various subjects, non-fiction, and fiction.  His author’s page is at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The featured image is a picture from the Chicago Tribune.

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

.

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.”  They 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