Southern Bias

“The past is never dead, in fact, it’s not even past.” One of the South’s greatest Nobel Prize laureates. William Faulkner

A blog follower of mine paid me a superb compliment…I think…I hope. Her comment was, “I love reading your musings. You confound my biases about Southern attitudes.” No, she ain’t from around here but sometimes I wonder if I should be. I guess I need to ask the clarifying question, “What biases?” I haven’t heard back yet and since our power went off due to a thunderstorm, I guess I shall attempt to saunter on alone.

I don’t believe she meant, “As one Forbes pundit overstated several years ago, ‘the common media view of the South is as a regressive region, full of overweight, prejudiced, exploited, and undereducated numbskulls.’” I wrote a previous post about our own contributions to those biases , “Sot in Our Ways,” but will not re-till this field since I don’t believe it fits her bias. The reason I believe this? She writes from her Michigan farm about chickens, goats and puppy dogs. She even has a story about possums. Sorta sounds like a female, Yankee version of me…except she’s probably a better writer than I am…no, not probably.

I realize the South is full of paradoxes and I know our paradoxes create biases. Sweetening our tea before adding lemon to make it a bit sour. Revering the past while seemingly revering little of the present. My great Grand Daddy preaching on the evils of alcohol while being drunker than “old Cooter Brown.” My guess was he was railing about the evils of “sto’ bought” rather than homemade. Going to family reunions to find our mates…that was a joke although I did date a very distant cousin once upon a time. I lived in a sparsely populated area and female company was at a premium.

I guess another perceived reason for bias is our murder of the “King’s English.” Droppin’ our gees, talkin’ slower than molasses running in the wintertime and usin’ the word y’all all of the time. I was once told the difference between Southern girls and Northern girls was that if you asked for a kiss, Northern girls might answer “You can!”, Southern gals might answer “Y’all can!” Remember, y’all can mean one…maybe. Well, y’all can is singular, y’all ALL can would be plural…kinda like “Youse guys.”

I know many Northerners who have biases about our food. No one I know actually eats Moon Pies while drinking a “dope” and I have never in my life eaten pickled pig’s feet…and won’t ever unless starving. Some folks above the Mason Dixon Line wouldn’t be caught dead sucking a crawfish head after eating a crawfish tail or eating grits even though polenta is nothing more than grits with a Latin name and probably a heftier price tag. Grits should be viewed as a “blank canvas.” Plain until you start adding color…say…mixed with cream cheese and covered with grilled or blackened shrimp “runnin’” in a brown roux featuring Tasso ham or andouille sausage and chives. Now that’s colorful. I will not discuss Cream of Wheat.

I have my own bias or at least an issue with the way certain folks use the verb barbeque interchangeably with the verb grill. Barbequin’ ain’t grillin’. Grillin’ is charring burgers, hot dogs, chicken or fish. Doing so is fine, I love a good chargrilled burger or chicken done right…with a beer can up its butt. BBQ, however, requires low, low temperatures, hard wood coals and large animal parts although we will sneak a chicken or five in for good measure. Most importantly it requires time…hours of time…sometimes a night of time…with lies and brown liquor to help you pass the time or pass out. Rome was not built in a day and good BBQ requires at least that long.

There is a true earned bias. Many Southerners believe if Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, their favorite college football coach sits to the left…regardless of how much he cusses. For sure, Southern college football is a religious experience of sorts. Even our most hated rivals brag about how they always fill their “House of Worship” no matter how many games they lose. Yes, that was a “hell fire and brimstone” missile aimed right at their little garnet and black hearts.

Okay, maybe I am the exception proving the bias or just the rule and no William Faulkner’s quote had little to do with this essay…except it might exemplify one of our greatest paradoxes and I just like it.

“Musings of a Mad Southerner” Stories from my Southern heart. New nonfiction from Don Miller at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss

If you are interested in reading posts from my Yankee, female doppelganger, use the following link to touch base with Nancy and her Bluestem Farm. https://bluestempond.wordpress.com/

MUSINGS OF A MAD SOUTHERNER

With the GENTLE insistence of a former student, now a writer, now a mentor, and forever a friend, Lynn Cooper, I decided to test the blogging waters in 2015. Lynn had insisted I was a natural blogger and I decided to take her word for it. I am sure there are people who might disagree with Lynn after my nearly two years of blogging history but it has allowed me to empty my head of all the content which “bothers me so.”

When I began to blog I was mad, as in angry. Dylan Roof had turned our state on its head, murdering nine church worshippers who didn’t look like him in the name of white supremacy. Our governor and legislative assembly promptly lit a firestorm over the needed removal of the Confederate Flag from our state house grounds. I was angry because of what I believed to be misplaced divisiveness over our Southern heritage as opposed to our racial hate. Neither side of the argument seemed willing to concede the other might have a point. Consequently, I decided on “Ravings of a Mad Southerner” as the title for my blog.

No matter. The flag is now gone, if not forgotten, and not a moment too soon to my way of thinking. Dylan Roof has been sentenced to die and I’m no longer angry about the divisiveness over the flag because divisiveness has been replaced by a nationwide derisiveness over our new president.

As you are aware, mad can be defined as anger but also as mental illness or craziness or having enthusiasm for someone or something as in “I am mad about my wife Linda Gail or a big ole plate of shrimp and grits.” My madness and enthusiasm has taken over my anger and I have written about my wife, childhood memories and family now gone, Southern paradoxes and perceptions, food, friends, perceived enemies, battles with my depression and again, “things that bother me so,” such as my colonoscopy. I have blogged in anger over politics, bigotry and racism but will attempt to keep them to a minimum. I decided to include many of my posts in a collection of short non-fictional stories entitled “Musings of a Mad Southerner.” Unlike my blog, I will attempt to group them with rhyme and reason but can’t really guarantee I will be successful. Sometimes random rules my day and my madness. Yeah…random it is.

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

MY BROTHER…ON HIS BIRTHDAY

My life was great…until sixty-two years ago. I don’t have the minutes and seconds but know I was four years, eleven months and six days’ old, the center of everyone’s attention and the universe, when my mother brought home a curly, red-headed, not that little, bouncing baby pain in the a$$. My brother. I don’t know when I was told I was going to have a little brother but until our adult years, had I known then…I probably would have sat outside on my doorstep waiting for the stork to show up and blown him out of the sky before the dirty bird dropped his bundle. BOOM! Just so we all know, he has grown up to be a bouncing adult pain in the a$$…not really…maybe.

He WAS SOOOOOOOO FREAKING CUTE. Born with long ringlets of dark red hair, the ringlets did nothing but get longer until there was an open argument over, “The kid needs a haircut.” This argument was not settled until a well-meaning woman expressed, “Oh what a cute little girl.” Snip, snip, buzz, buzz. My mother cried! I wonder what she would think now?

Some nine months into his life, Little Stevie began to irritate the LIFE out of me, first putting himself to sleep by rocking his crib across the floor, creating a sound like boxcars on a railroad track…KA-THUMP, KA-THUMP, KA-THUMP. Once he learned to stand he would shake the slats of his crib or playpen while yelling in baby-ese, “Let me out!” Stevie has always been about making noise. I didn’t let him out but instead, punched him in the nose. It didn’t shut him up but instead added to the den as I made squealing noises from my grandmother switched my legs.

Later Stevie would continue to get me in trouble, this time with his “Cro-Magnon” forehead. Having said something to incur my wrath, he ran for his life CAUSING ME to peg him in the middle of the forehead with a piece of driveway gravel as he looked back over his shoulder singing, “Na, Na, Na, Na, Na.” “Dad, no, no, it was an accident. I threw right at him, there is no way I should have hit him.” Those of you who have taken batting practice from me KNOW my statement is truth! A huge, bloody, red mark became a huge “puff” knot of Biblical proportions, a knot he richly deserved for running into that poor rock like he did.

Stevie continued to put his face into harm’s way, whether it was the line drive I hit off his nose during a pick-up baseball game or the glancing blow a player hit off his sizeable eyebrow during the first batting practice of a season when he helped me coach. Both shots may have been the best delivered by me or our player and a broken nose bridge and multiple stiches wreaked havoc on his dashing good looks. After the second, damage inflicting blast, the emergency room doctor informed me “The X-ray of his head showed nothing.” I pointed out he had wasted his time, I already knew that would be the case. “There’s nothing in his head to see.”

Now let’s understand, my little brother was not incapable of defending himself. My ribcage still aches during cold weather due to a sneak attack involving Stevie’s rocking chair hammering into my back as I bent over to retrieve a toy from our closet.

Showing economic savvy beyond his years, I cannot tally the number of quarters I gave him to get him to leave me alone while I attempted to spark with my girlfriend. To make things worse he told our next-door cousins and I had to pay them too. That little bit of “sugar” sure was expensive.

During my high school years, I mostly ignored my little brother but after our parent’s deaths we did grow closer, even rooming together on a couple of occasions. Our time together on the corner of Towns Street and Orange is remembered with the fondness associated with both the area and the people who resided…or at least lurked there. There was a problem with a girl who swore I was Steve. She had called several times and was sure Steve was trying to avoid her…pretending to be me. He was attempting to avoid her, but it didn’t stop her from showing up at my front door before realizing I was not him. One of many interesting evenings involving the “Orange Street Mashers Association.”

A decade ago, on my fifty-sixth birthday, Steve gave me a card with the grim reaper visible from a rearview mirror of a car. Its caption read, “Beware, objects may be closer than they appear.” That afternoon I had a heart attack…
”GOTCHA!” I received the same card the following year. “GOT ME!”

We are both officially in the autumn of our years now…late summer? I feel the need to apologize for not being the brother I should have been…probably needed to be…especially during his formative years. But then I was an immature young man myself and might have just made things worse. Steve has turned out quite well without my input…which he rarely listened to anyway. A business owner and pillar of the human race despite his disdain for social convention, a man who walks the walk even with an unbridled and sarcastic tongue, a solid husband to a lovely woman who must have been a masochist to marry him.

Provided we stay away from politics, and we are closer in belief than either of us wishes to admit, along North Carolina athletics, we generally find common ground. So, I congratulate your on surviving this long, especially with your sarcastic tongue and propensity for running into hard objects travelling at high velocities. There were times I really had my doubts. HAPPY BIRTHDAY
BRO! I LOVE YOU!

For unique life stories by Don Miller visit his author’s page at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

OLD MULES AND SUCH

On a stop at a nearby organic farm to grab some local honey I noticed a mule standing forlornly at the fence that prevented him from joining me at the produce stand. It was quite apparent that had he been allowed, the mule would have been standing next to me as I looked for local, wildflower honey. He was the first mule I had seen in…well…since Methuselah was a mere slip of a child. He was a beauty…for a mule. A dark reddish brown color that lightened from the backbone down his body until you got to his legs which were almost black. Huge dark brown ears twisted and turned until I addressed him, “Hey Buddy!” His ears focused intently on me. He was not the only livestock contained within the small pasture, there were free range chickens, ducks, goats and even a couple of burros so at least he wasn’t lonely. I can’t remember the last time I saw a mule harnessed to a plow. Once again, a random thought sparks random memories.

When I was like young Methuselah, a mere slip of a child and later as a young man, I rode a mule. My Uncle Bill and my Cousin Buck kept horses and a mule. I was not sure why they kept the mule. Their horses were used for riding not plowing. Uncle Bill’s huge, to me at least, Farmall Super C was used for plowing. The mule just stood around a lot until I was deemed old enough to go riding with the cousins. “Low man on the totem pole” which I have found to be historically incorrect, the saying should have been “high man on the totem pole” …anyway I was the youngest of four cousins therefore I got to ride the mule.

Mules are different from horses despite being the offspring of a horse and a donkey. The first difference I noticed was in the saddle Buck put on “Jack.” It was a US Army saddle purchased as surplus and dated from before World War Two. I was young, not stupid, and noticed the saddle was made in two distinct parts with a gap in the middle. “Buck, why is my saddle different?” The answer was, “You’ll find out.” I did. Mules have very prominent backbones. The gap in the saddle allowed your “danglies” to ride comfortably over their backbone’s ridge. Comfortably is a subjective term, especially when riding a mule.

A dissimilarity between a horse and a mule is the way they walk and run. Mules have slender legs and small hooves compared to a horse and after saying “Giddy-up” I wondered if their knees were on backwards. They walked with a stiff-legged gate. When urged into a gallop, oh my, I thought my back was going to break. There was no becoming “one with the mule” and my “danglies?” Ohhhhhhhhhh, mules run stiff-legged too!

Having researched “stubborn as a mule”, I have found mules are anything but stubborn. In fact, they have been found to be much more adaptive and intelligent than the sum of their parts, horses and donkeys. Well…Jack must have been “special” or at the very least, contrary. Jack once tried to drown me as I allowed him to drink from a pond. Another time Jack decided he was going to go back to the barn despite my best efforts to turn him. Lastly, being a hybrid and unable to reproduce did not stop him from mounting Buck’s Paint …with Buck still in the saddle. “Love will find a way” I guess.

As I admired the mule, its owner came over and we reminisced about my riding and his plowing with mules. He told a story about the last time he had seen a mule being plowed. Turns out he had converted to mechanical plowing like the rest of the world.
On a lonely river bottom road, he paused his pickup truck to watch an old man plowing behind a big brown “Missouri” mule. He noticed the man stop, walk up behind the mule and run his finger up under the mule’s tail before rubbing his finger across his lips. My new friend did not believe what he had seen until the old man did it again.

Unable to contain himself, he approached the farmer and after introducing himself, admitted to confusion over what the old farmer had done.

The old farmer explained simply, “Chapped lips.”

Still confused my new friend queried, “Mule poo helps with chapped lips?”

The old gentleman clarified saying, “Nah, just keeps me from lickin’ em.”

Got me! Just like riding old Jack down memory lane.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

BE SURE YOUR SINS WILL FIND YOU OUT

“Be sure your sins will find you out.” As a young man, I heard this every time I left the house it would seem…especially if a young lady was the reason for my leaving. “Be on your best behavior. Be sure your sins will find you out.” “You be careful now. Be sure your sins will find you out.” Another way of saying “If you get that girl pregnant your sins WILL find you out.” My grandmother had moved in with us after my mother had been diagnosed with ALS. Dad needed the help and I needed to know my sins would find me out. Invariably my sins did find me out as her warnings predicted. I wasn’t expecting them to find me out today nearly twenty years after her death and another twenty since I heard her utter her warning.

I discovered a message on my land line phone’s answering machine, the land line I use only to provide me with slow internet service. I live so far “back in the sticks” internet service must be piped to me…I know…I have a satellite dish and if I can get satellite TV, I should be able to get satellite internet…but it would provide one less thing to gripe about.

The message was from an aged cousin from far, far in my past. Euleen, pronounced You-Lean, Uncle Hugh and Aunt Eula’s girl, grew up next to my mother. She and Euleen had been childhood playmates, attended high school together and had remained close friends until my mother’s death. Ninety-six and as sharp as a tack, I found out she is still quite mobile, has a strong voice and better hearing than I possess. When she got to the point of her phone call I found out her eyesight was as sharp as her hearing…as was her belief in how people should speak about each other.

“Donnie, I’ve read two of your books and I really enjoyed them. I like the way you tell a story and the way your stories are short.” I told her I didn’t intend them to be that way, short, I just had a limited attention span. She thought my quip was hilarious and then things turned serious. I was about to find my sins had, once again, found me out.

“Now Donnie, I really loved them…but…did you have to use some of the language you used? You called that man an…asshole. That was a bit rude.” When she said asshole, it was said quickly and in a whisper, as if she might be hoping the resonance of the word would dissipate enough not to make it to God on high.

“Yes Ma’am I’m not sure who you are speaking of, but since I described him that way, he must have been one.”

“I know, I’m sure he was, but Eldora and Miss Addie didn’t teach you to talk like that.” Eldora is my mother and Miss Addie is my grandmother and Euleen was correct, they didn’t. Somewhere in the back of my head I heard a chorus, led by my mother and grandmother, echoing the sentiment I had heard so often, “Be sure your sins will find you out.” They had and I found myself apologizing to my ninety-six-year-old cousin because of it and promising to do better. I’m glad she was a hundred miles away and not standing next to me with a bar of soap in her hand. Just so you know, she has forgiven me but not before suggesting I might ask for forgiveness elsewhere.

Euleen said goodbye but not before causing me to envision my own death and its aftermath. After finding my way to heaven, I find myself having to explain myself, not only to Saint Peter, but also to my mother and grandmother. Maybe that would be finding my way to hell come to think of it if. How am I going to explain how I came to write a book about men and their pursuit of women called “Floppy Parts.” I am so screwed. Saying screwed in this context is okay, isn’t it?

MAGIC ON A CHINA PLATE

Triggered, appropriately, by a comment about an oyster po’boy, I was taken back to a time when I discovered I had fallen in love with food. I mean really in love. I’m so in love with food, I usually begin planning my next meal while I’m eating the one I am presently eating…sometimes two or three meals in advance. The seduction occurred sometime after I had my tonsils removed in 1956. I don’t understand how my tonsils were related to my taste buds but considering the sixty-year war I have fought with my weight, there must have been some sort of bond. I am presently winning one of the many battles I have fought in my war on weight but I realize I am just a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice-cream from falling off the wagon…or into a food truck.

I associate food with love. It’s my grandmother’s fault. She was never the most demonstrative person when showing affection unless it was with a plate of peanut butter cookies…or a split cathead biscuit dripping in butter and King Golden Syrup. I guess several cathead biscuits dripping…served on a chipped china plate with a jelly glass filled with milk on the side. I’m sure she had saved S & G Green Stamps for the china…or purchased them individually through the weekly grocery store offers. I never asked if she ever collected a complete set. I remember the different scenes in blue I exposed as I mopped up the extra syrup and butter with another biscuit. There is no greater demonstration of love than a biscuit dripping butter and syrup. Magic, pure magic.

Food was usually placed in front of me along with some form of praise, “Donnie you’ve been a good boy, here have a cookie or five.” “Donnie, you did such a good job sorting my buttons, you want a biscuit?” No, she did not withhold food if I was naughty. If that had been the case I probably wouldn’t have my weight problem unless looking like a bag of bones fleeing famine is a weight problem.

I don’t look like a bag of bones because shortly after my tonsils went to tonsil heaven I fell in love with a hog…whose spirit had gone to hog heaven. The hog’s earthly body had been buried but not in a grave. The porker had been slow cooked in the ground all night long before being pulled, shredded or chopped…I really don’t remember which, I just remember the taste…the taste of magic…the taste of love. Served with a mustard sauce, slaw, bread and butter pickles and barbeque hash over white rice. It was magic on a paper plate instead of china.

A decade or so later I would find myself being seduced as an immature Newberry College freshman. Tempted by heaven in a brown paper bag. The “Dopey Burger.” Dopey ran a hole in the wall hamburger joint named The Tomahawk Café across the road from Cromer Hall. He had a real name but everyone just called him Dopey and the café, Dopey’s. Names didn’t matter because it was about the burger. A burger featuring a huge handmade patty on a soft and sensual sesame seed bun, mayonnaise spread copiously on both sides edge to edge. With a sweet onion slice I really didn’t need the lettuce and tomato on the burger but felt it looked naked without it. Despite its covering, I fondled it anyway. I understand why porn addicts have issues breaking their porn habit. I remember taking the burger out of its wax paper wrapper, exposing it to the world, it’s very scent playing to my basest instinct, gluttony. Mayonnaise and grease leaking out, covering my fingers…dripping down my chin…staining the paper napkins on my desk…I was addicted to the “Dopey Burger” and to make things worse, Dopey offered to run a tab. “I can’t graduate until I pay how much?

I so love food; even my more traditional romantic remembrances tend to have a food component accompanying the memory. A honeymoon dinner at the Columns Hotel on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. Magical the way it rolls off the tongue. The Columns Hotel on St. Charles Avenue. Due to an empty dining room, we had our own personal waiter who resembled Santa Claus in a tuxedo. Does Santa wait tables in the off season? He did have on a red cummerbund. It went well with his white beard and gloves. I remember Linda Gail’s floral dress and her beautiful face smiling at me from across her…plate, the polished paneled walls, the soft music playing in the background, a Bloody Mary with a pickled okra pod for garnish and THE BLACKENED RED FISH TO DIE AND GO TO HELL FOR. I also remember the Oysters Rockefeller. Who knew spinach could taste so scrumptious surrounding an oyster and dripping in an herb, breadcrumb, and butter sauce. The evening was memorable due in part to the food. Love Linda Gail, love food! Loved the drunken chase after a street car later, but we should wait for the street car story. Oh my!

To quote author Rick Bragg, “I know magic when I taste it.” He and I must be related, I do too and it doesn’t have to be far from home. My latest magical moment was a fried catfish taco at a new restaurant in nearby Travelers Rest.
Whether it’s fried chicken and catfish at a hole in the wall soul food spot in Georgetown, crab bisque at a Cajun establishment in Hendersonville, Dutch Fork barbeque in Batesburg or shrimp and grits almost anywhere, it really requires only one thing to make it magic, love. Love for good food and the good woman I’m sharing it with…it doesn’t even have to be served on china.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

TWO OLD FARTS WALKING IN THE DARK

“You can think what you want, do what you want, say what you want. We’re old, you might as well embrace it!” My best friend, Hawk, had just responded to a statement I had made as we finished our weekly “walk.” My response to his response, “Bullsh@t! You’re old, I refuse to concede. I’m not going to embrace that sixty-something someone staring back at me from the mirror. He looks like my grandfather.” “You’re a year older than I am Bo,” was Hawk’s retort. Well, yeah, but age is just a number…until you groan getting out of bed in the morning.

Hawk and I walk every Friday. Due to our work schedules, we walk at five thirty in the morning. WAIT! We’re both are retired soooooo…due to being set in our ways, we walk at five-thirty in the morning on a local paved pathway called the Swamp Rabbit Trail. It’s named after a…I’m sorry…somehow, I’ve got to stop turning everything into a history lesson.

Back to the point…WHAT WAS THE POINT…oh yeah, Hawk and I walk every Friday at five thirty am. It is a seven-mile power walk, a sub fourteen thirty mile per hour pace as a goal, in the dark. We haven’t quite made it yet but we are close. Our earlier conversation occurred because I pointed out that we used to run it and I wasn’t ready to give in to my age although it would seem my age might have other ideas. I know my sciatica does.

In between the occasional gasps of our exertion, we attempt to solve all the ills facing our world, discuss religion, our wives, children and grands, wonder what is happening to the youth of today and whether we had a great bowel movement this morning. There is usually a discussion about the number of times we got up during the night to pee and what we could have done to cause the extra two bathroom trips. Afterwards we enjoy a cup of coffee while completing our discussions at a local coffee shop. I’m sure the people we run into there refer to us as the “two old guys” and worry about us if we miss a week, fearing one of us may have died. “I wonder where the ‘two old farts’ were today. Hope they didn’t die.” When I see the cute little girl who serves us every Friday, Jimmy Buffet lyrics from “Nothing But A Breeze” come to mind, “All the pretty girls will call me ‘sir’. Now, where they’re asking me how things are, soon they’ll ask me how things were.” Please God, don’t make him right!

While Hawk and I have much in common, religion and politics ain’t two. I am the social liberal who attempts to follow in Jesus’ hippy footsteps and is not afraid to interject a bit of Buddhism and humor into his belief system. When still coaching, I will confess to having prayed to the baseball gods for a needed base hit or an easy ground ball double play on occasion. Does that make me a pagan? Hawk is not exactly the opposite but…can you be religious to a fault? I just had a vision of him dressed as a Puritan religious leader complete with powdered wig, white hose and buckled shoes. Hawk is in the process of reading the Bible through for the umpteenth time and is not afraid to ask my council and understanding. I’m not afraid to give it. I receive five am texts with scripture to read and react to. When I react, Hawk is not afraid to disagree before asking me if I’m really saved. It’s nice to have a friend who is concerned about my spiritual well-being and where I’m going to reside after my time on earth has passed.

To describe my socially conservative friend I must quote Churchill. Hawk is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” As tough as he is on the exterior, he often melts like a marsh mellow and truly follows in the footsteps of Jesus…literally giving the homeless guy the jacket off his back, along with five gallons of kerosene to run his heater during a recent cold snap, or working at a local soup kitchen. He’s always been a human conundrum, disciplining the kids while asking “Are you stupid or what?” and then making sure the stray cat at the stadium is fed or the killdeer nest is roped off so our grass cutting doesn’t disturb the mother. What does this have to do with kids? Really? If he’s going to do that for an animal what do you think he does for his kids. We both call them our kids and have special places in our hearts for them. So maybe we are more alike….

Two old farts walking in the dark before enjoying a cup of coffee should give the world hope. If we can come to an understanding, poking fun and laughing at our differences while embracing our similarities, the rest of the world can too. Maybe Hawk is correct. Maybe I should embrace my age and the wisdom deriving from it.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor, WISDOM and Southern stories of a bygone time, go to http://goo.gl/lomuQf

LOVE IN A BASKET OF ZUCCHINI

It is February 1st. and I am looking at online catalogues. No not Spiegel’s or Fredrick’s of Hollywood, online seed catalogues. Burpee’s, Gurney’s and Park’s seed catalogues are the main ones but there are others. I remember my grandmother poring over her print and paper versions this time of year…along with the almanac…got to get those planting dates right. Like fishing by the moon and wind direction, she planted by the dates in the almanac and the moon. I’m not that scientific…is it scientific to plant by the almanac? Except for the cold resistant plants, I just plant after the last frost date for our area which is April 15. Well, I might fudge just a bit. I can’t wait to eat my first tomato sandwich and that translates to I can’t wait to get my first tomato plant or six into the ground knowing I might have to protect them during an early spring cold snap.

I flipped through the pages of my electronic catalogues comparing prices and I admit it’s not as much fun as flipping through real pages but everything I plant was there. As I compared prices one of the many voices in my head asked “Do you really believe you raise more produce than you could buy for the cost of seeds, fertilizer and other chemicals?” I answered, “I don’t know, maybe.” Another pointed out, “Don’t you remember the sweat running off your nose while you were picking bean beetles off your green beans and butter peas? You can buy beans you know.” “Yes, I remember but I don’t want to buy them.” To myself, with my real voice, I added, “And those f#$%ing squash bugs.”

What my voices are forgetting is the love that goes into it. Except for the zucchinis. I maybe the only person in the world who can’t figure out zucchini squash. People around me grow one hill of zucchini and have enough for the season and feed half of the population of China with leftovers. I’ve tried it all…well except chemicals like Sevin Dust…well maybe a little. I try to be “organic” and use “organic” chemicals and some of the chemicals work, but not on zucchini. One year it was squash vine borers, I fixed that with my wife’s old panty hose. “Now Linda Gail why would I know what happened to your pantyhose?” Maybe they weren’t so old. Another year its blossom end rot, or squash beetles or the plant itself just wilts away. I’ve asked everyone about squash bugs. Their answer is, “I don’t have squash bugs.” I know you don’t, their all on my zucchinis. I put good organic fertilizer in the hill, added some calcium or Epsom salts or both, never watering in the evening and then wait for the squash bugs to attack and start hand picking them off…after my soap spray fails to stop them. Well back to love.

My garden is bigger than I need because I like to give love in the form of fresh veggies. I also like the look on people’s faces when I present them with “care packages.” My wife, neighbors, my mother in law and her family, my daughter and her family and anyone else who happens by. I like to give away the love. I don’t give love to my brother because he raises his own and because…well he’s my brother. Tomatoes, potatoes, corn, beans, squash, peppers…that reminds me. Charlie likes hot peppers. I’m going to show him some love and order Scotch Bonnets. I just don’t give away much zucchini because I never have much. Just some for my mother in law who returns the love in the form of zucchini bread. Whatever love I have left I can or freeze.

My grandmother did the same thing. Grew it, canned it and gave it away…except for zucchini. I don’t remember her growing much zucchini. Maybe I have the “I can’t grow zucchini” gene. Well, just remember, if you get a basket of zucchini from me, I must love you a lot.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

A TOUCH OF CHICORY

The young woman with the green Ingles apron touched my arm startling me out of my reverie. I didn’t know she was anywhere around…in fact I didn’t know anyone was around. I did know where I was, I wasn’t that far gone. I was standing in the coffee aisle at a local Ingles.

With a huge smile on her face she laughed, “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to scare you. You’ve been standing here so long I was wondering if I could help you. You aren’t ill, are you?”

From her nametag, I ascertained her name was April. I wanted to say, “No April, not ill, I’m just an old fart who got lost in his memories and lost track of time. How long have I been standing here?” Instead I simply told the little blond, “April, I’m just trying to make up my mind on whether to buy this Luzianne Coffee with Chicory rather than my normal Folgers Classic Blend.”

Attempting to be helpful, April pointed out, “More people buy Folgers than Luzianne and I’m not sure what chicory is.”

Oh no, an opening for a retired history teacher. E explained, “Chicory is a plant people use for medical purposes and is used as an additive or substitute in coffee. During the Civil War, and again during World War Two, coffee became scarce and people looked for substitutes, chicory was just one.” With April showing signs of nodding off, something a retired history teacher should be familiar with, I simply finished with, “It’s real popular in New Orleans.”

She disengaged, still smiling, “Well if I can be of help just let me know.”

My grandparents drank Luzianne Coffee and if my memories haven’t failed me, Luzianne Tea. I had just noticed the brick of Luzianne on the shelf below my normal brick of Folgers and had a flashback to a Luzianne tin filled with bacon grease sitting next to my grandmother’s stove. In my reminiscence, she was preparing a winter meal. I could see my grandfather sitting at the head of the table preparing to dine on “breakfast at supper”; eggs, grits, biscuits and those canned smoked sausages that I really didn’t like as much as breakfast sausage. The casing was too tough and back then I didn’t know what the casings were made from…which made them even less delightful. Sitting off to the side of Paw Paw’s plate was a steaming cup of black Luzianne Coffee. It must have been winter; a summer supper would have involved fresh vegetables and cornbread. The beverage would have been the Luzianne Tea or buttermilk not coffee. As I fell more deeply into my remembrance I wondered why my grandparents chose to drink “New Orleans” style coffee instead of a more traditional brew. I can only suppose…it had to do with trying to survive hard times.

My grandparents began their matrimonial bliss during hard times, the early Twenties, trying to scratch out a living on land far enough removed from the river to not be fertile bottom land. Before their marriage, they had lived hard with their own families while “farming on the lien.” After their marriage, money became even more scarce when the Great Depression hit. Maybe it got scarce. My grandmother allowed things were already so bad they hardly noticed the Great Depression. To survive, they stretched their money, sewing dresses from colorful feed sacks, my grandfather wearing overalls with patches on top of patches, turning gourds into martin houses, stretching the costly orange juice by adding less expensive tea…you get the idea. It was all about stretching. Nothing was ever so worn out it couldn’t be repurposed it seemed. Later their Spartan life would become even more frugal to assist the war effort during World War Two and many of their practices carried over to better times during the rest of their lives.

One of those carry overs were “Victory Burgers.” Nannie didn’t call them “Victory Burgers” but whatever they were, to me they were the best burgers I ever ate. She mixed the meat with crushed soda crackers or oatmeal, added onions and then fried them crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside. Try as I may, I can’t get my attempts at reproducing them right. Might have been the “special spices” I don’t know about, the lard she fried them in…or the love she prepared them with. Could be any or all but I haven’t found the correct combination. Nor have I been able to recreate her biscuits.

What does this have to do with Luzianne Coffee? I can mentally envision them adding chicory to their coffee to stretch it, just like adding soda crackers and onions to their meat, or sewing dresses from feed sacks…and just getting used to it. Later, when the times got better, maybe they quit adding chicory on their own and just started buying it already added in the Luzianne Coffee. Or maybe Luzianne was the only coffee stocked at Pettus’ Store just down the road from their house. I think I like my first thought better.

April was happy to check me out when I finally made my choice of coffee. She was probably relieved to know I wasn’t a serial killer stalking the coffee aisle. I am enjoying my first cup of freshly brewed Luzianne Coffee. It’s good. Richer than regular coffee…which is the way I view my life. Richer due to the memories of people who now live in my head. My own touch of chicory.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

GEORGE H. W. BUSH AND THE MEN IN BLACK

Being left in the dark can be somewhat dangerous. Then Vice-President George H. W. Bush once paid a visit to South Carolina in the mid-Eighties. I am sure he was on the mid-term campaign trail and for reasons which escape me, he stopped off in Greenville. I was aware of the upcoming elections but was not a very politically savvy person during those days, much more concerned with running an athletic program than concerned about who was attempting to run our country. Yes, I now understand my mistake. Somehow while I wasn’t paying attention we ended up with a choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

During this political stop, my principal failed to inform me “George the runner” and his staff of Secret Service minions would be looking at Sirrine Stadium, home of the Greenville High Red Raiders, as a possible running site. My principal knew but failed to tell me or decided it was a good way to get rid of me. Considering our contentious relationship, and with 20/20 hindsight, I realize it was probably the latter.

During the summer our primary focus was on fields, growing grass; fertilizing it, watering it and then cutting it…repeatedly. On a Friday in mid-July in the mid-Eighties, I drove the school tractor to Sirrine to mow the field as we did three times a week in the summer. As I dismounted the old Ford, I dropped the keys to the gate and bent to pick them up. Straightening I discovered two young gentlemen standing in front of the gate who had not been there milliseconds before. Both were dressed in dark suits, ties, very polished shoes and dark wraparound sunglasses. (Think of the movie Men in Black but better looking than Tommy Lee Jones and much blonder than Will Smith) Considering the time of year, mid-July, the only part of their wardrobe that fit the time of day or the temperature was their sunglasses.

Taken by surprise I stammered “Can I help you?” Both were tall, blond, young and filled out their dark suits quite well. I also found it interesting that they were not sweating in the July sun. They were two fine specimens of the species known as the adult male and I wanted to be nice until the burly blond guy on the right replied to my question with a question, “Who are you?” A question answering a question equals a smart-ass response: “I asked first,” I reminded them. The blond, burly guy on the left smiled broadly and responded, “Our badges trump your question.” Mr. Burly opened his jacket and retrieved his Secret Service credentials flashing them for me to see. I also had a glimpse of a service automatic on his belt and a small automatic weapon hanging from his shoulder. Even with Mel Brooks’ “badges” quote from “Blazing Saddles” running through my head I decided that being a smart ass would not be “prudent” and quickly explained who I was and what I was doing. Burly blond guy on the right explained I would be doing something else until the next day, while burly blond guy on the left nodded his head before speaking into his sleeve and said, “Stand down, he is not a threat.”

With hair standing up on the back of my neck, I quickly left and after parking the tractor, drove to the Corner Pocket for a beer and a hot dog. That seemed like a good something else to do. “Barkeep! Hit me again!” I do wish I had asked if they could have gotten me George’s autograph.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf