BUT I DANCE SO BADLY

I need to be working on the next great American novel but somehow my thoughts became twisted by a quote I happened to see on another blog site, “If you stumble, make it a part of the dance.” My problem? “I dance so badly…” and I stumble sooooo much! Thank you, Persia, “Blog of a Mad Black Woman”, for sending me into an afternoon’s tailspin of thoughts.

The statement is one of those make positive what is negative quotes, like “If life gives you lemons….” I probably make better lemonade than I dance. I’m just too self-conscience to let myself go without the benefit of large quantities of adult beverages…which causes hangovers and other stupid activities besides dancing. “Dance like nobody’s watchin’?” I have a hard time dancing when I know nobody’s really watching. Yep, I’m one tight-assed SOB.

My mind really got twisted into a knot or a maze of pig trails as I thought about my life. I realized most of my stumbles have been self-inflicted wounds. I tend to search out discarded banana peels to slip on. Many of those self-inflicted wounds were after evenings involving too many adult beverages. Some were more than stumbles, some were full-fledged, bust your ass, crash, and burns. Some make me wonder how I survived, others I just shake my head and smile. Somehow, I managed to regain my feet and will focus on standing rather than stumbling.

My favorite quote is by Walt Kelly’s philosophical, comic strip possum, Pogo. “We have met the enemy and it is us.” Two-word changes make it “I have met the enemy and it is me.” While I still occasionally imbibe I don’t stumble because of it. I guess I should celebrate not having had a hangover in thirty years and, despite those stumbles, my life has turned out awesome.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if I had just answered that email; the one where the foreign guy with the odd name and unusual syntax reached out to me thinking I might be an heir to a billion-dollar fortune. I really need to get back to that great American novel.

Don Miller writes on various subjects which bother him so. Check out his author’s or Facebook Page at
https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM
https://www.facebook.com/cigarman501/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel
For a dose of daily inspiration check out Persia at https://blogofamadblackwoman.com/

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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

Old Hardwood Floors

I never know what will trigger a memory. My memories seem to be attached to certain senses. A scent of perfume or the aroma of food. The clink of a stone against the iron blade of a hoe. Something silky to the touch…. Yesterday it was a splash of dropped coffee on our pecan floors. As I knelt to clean my mess I was transported to other hardwood floors and déjà vu moments.

When I first walked into to the original school building at Tamassee-Salem I had a déjà vu moment. The long hallway, with its darkly yellowed hardwood floor, led me back to my old home school circa 1961 or ‘62 when I transitioned to Indian Land Junior High School. It was an easy physical transition, just walk up a short flight of stairs from the elementary school. Both, along with the high school, were all contained in the same building.

I remember long, darkly yellowed hardwood floors and the tap, tap, tap sound my shoes made. The floor shined “tritely” with the gloss of the often-mentioned “fresh penny.” I might have shaken with the fear and apprehension I felt on the first day, both as a student and later as a teacher. There was an excitement and anticipation to go with the fear.

It was a beautiful hardwood floor…before receiving thousands of scuffs and marks from hundreds of children traveling to and fro, reminding me of me in 1962, new and not yet beaten down from memorizing multiplication tables, diagraming sentences and writing out research papers, or an older me in 2001 with a metaphorical new coat of lacquer to hide the scuff marks of my life as I began a new chapter.

There is something beautiful about old hardwood floors, especially the ones in my memory. My mother was almost anally paranoid about her floors, especially those in her small living room and dining room. “Make sure you take your shoes off and do not run in here!” I found out why you didn’t run on waxed hardwood floors, especially in a shoeless, socked feet state. There was a wild collision with a small table, feet, legs and arms flailing wildly as I attempted to avoid a fate worse than death. Time slowed as I watched the globe lamp displaced by my wild slide, teeter back and forth before laying over on its side. A valiant dive to catch the globe ended inches short, or a foot, again due to the inability of socked feet to gain purchase. I watched in slow motion horror as the beautifully painted globe exploded into hundreds of glass shards.

I learned several life lessons on this day, the greatest being you don’t get praised for valiant efforts, you get your behind “tanned”…especially since I was doing what I had been instructed not to do. “Son this is going to hurt me more than you.” Right. It hurt me badly but not as badly as the sorrow in my mother’s eyes as she cleaned up my mess.

The seasonal waxing, even though very few people had ventured into the living room since the last seasonal waxing, became my duty. At a certain, now forgotten age, my mother decided “idle hands (were) the devil’s workshop” and my hands were forced to apply Johnson’s Floor Wax and buff it out, all done by the sweat of my brow. Later I would have visions of a younger me on hands and knees as Daniel LaRusso in “The Karate Kid” was instructed, “Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off.” Thank you Mr. Miyagi.

The smells of freshly lacquered floors are still prominent in the memory portion of my brain. There was a bitter, acrid smell to the oily sawdust used to dry mop the school floor. I can conger the sharp scent from the memories held in my mind. It’s not a bad odor, just the biting aroma of a time gone by.

None of the hardwood floors of my past exist any longer other than my memory. Carted off to some landfill to make room for progress. Replaced by bland, off-white tile with no scuffs or gouges to help tell their story or, as my Mother’s floors, replaced by a retirement village along with the building which surrounded them.

Happily, they exist every time I hear the tap, tap, tap of footfalls in the hallways of my mind.

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

SHANTIES

This past spring, on a trip to the coast, my wife and I decided to forgo the speed and ease of interstate travel for the interest factor of backroad pig trails. Despite the black water rivers and swamps cutting the land, vast fields and pastures seemed to overtake the two-lane road. Where there were homes, yards were at a minimum…except where pecan tree lined drives led to two story homes featuring circular drives, wrap around porches and columns. Mostly of the homes peaking my interest were small, broken down and square, four room homes dating from share cropping days or possibly earlier. The shanties sat on small square parcels of land and would be surrounded by towering corn stalks, tobacco or cotton by late summer. Known for rice and indigo during our colonial period and cotton during antebellum times, I guess land was too precious to allow for large plots of land to be used for recreational purposes…especially when there was little time for recreation. “Early thirty to dark thirty” days would soon be upon the farm workers of this coastal city and the surrounding area just as it had been decades ago…or may be centuries.

As I drove through the land I imagined poor whites and poorer blacks inhabiting the old share cropper’s shanties, battling each other for a life as “casual” farm laborers, having given up on the pursuit of jobs in the city. An elderly black woman stepped out of one of the tar paper houses, its broken-down front porch resembling the sway back of an overused plow horse. She was dressed as her ancestors dressed, a brightly colored scarf wrapped around her head and a long-sleeved print dress above what appeared to be bare feet. As I breezed past I almost asked out loud, “I wonder what tales she could tell?” While the journey was interesting, I became somber and introspective.

Tar paper and graying, slab wood shacks occasionally dotted the landscape around my childhood home. There was an abandoned and overgrown shack next to my house used as a clubhouse of sorts by my best friends and me. The younger me never thought about what it or these other broken-down homes represented. Our clubhouse was just a place to discuss girls, sneak smokes and talk about whatever preteens talk about…until our parents found out. I didn’t understand share cropping, tenant farming or farming on the lien back then. People bound to the land living from harvest season to harvest season, praying to pay off their crop lien or having a large enough share to put a bit of money away for the future. Hoping to buy a small piece of heaven of their own.

A friend of color told me of an ancestor of his born into slavery. Working as a tenant farmer on the same expanse of land he had toiled on before his own day of jubilee. Scrimping and saving until he could buy his own parcel of land. Clearing the land with his four children and wife, milling his own lumber and building his own four room palace. I’m positive he felt it was a palace. Filling it with hope and joy, twelve kids worth, growing his own work force and I hope expanding his little piece of heaven. There must be a tribute of some sort, especially when one considers the road blocks thrown in front of former slaves. Perseverance, persistence and a lot of patience I would suggest paid off in the long run.

As I’ve written before, my grandparents began their married life as farmers on the lien but they had several safety nets; family, the textile mills and they were white. Their dream included sixty acres and putting a child through college. Maybe there is hope instead of sorrow and the American Dream still exists. Hard work may in fact pay off.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at 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

RETURN OF THE RED TAILS

I heard a shrill whistle from above and looked up into a late January sky. It was a beautiful January day, warmer than normal although the day felt cooler with a gusty breeze blowing from the northwest. The sky was cloudless and of a deep blue color poems are written about. Circling in the middle of the blue expanse was my red-tailed hawk.

I know she’s not mine any more that I’m hers but it’s the way I think of her…if she is a “her.” I believe she is a her because of her size. She and I met several years ago when I got too near her nest and was dive bombed by either “herself”or her mate. A bright reddish-brown flash had me ducking low to the ground while uttering several expletives as I scurried to safety. For several days, I searched with binoculars until I found her nest high in an oak tree on the high hill behind my house and made a note to stay clear until her clutch had flown.

For the past several January winters, the red tails have returned to make repairs to their nest before beginning their courting flights as the days lengthen in the early spring. Soaring high into the blue sky while twisting and turning, the male makes steep dives around his mate before soaring back into the “romantic” blue sky. Soon they will retreat to their evergreen boudoir in an ancient hemlock tree and their “acte d’amour” will begin for another season as the “circle of life” continues with an egg or three.

I once wasted several cool, early summer mornings watching the red tail teaching her one offspring how to hunt field mice. Standing at the kitchen sink, a wide picture window affords me a view of a small open area between my backyard and one of the streams cutting my property. Sitting on a dead “stick up”, the red tail and her charge would wait patiently for movement, then, after erupting into a violent dive, return to their perch with the bounty of their exertions and share…until that faithful day when they returned and momma hawk brushed the little one aside as if to say “This is mine, it’s time for you to go get your own.” There comes a time when we all must spread our wings and go off to do our own hunting.

My red tails are one of the harbingers of spring I check off as I await my “most wonderful time” of the year. Soon everything will be green and colorful with rebirth. Despite my allergies, mosquitos and the emergence of yellow jackets, it is the “most wonderful time” of the year.

As I knelt in my backyard, digging at some dormant plant needing to be moved, I paused to watch her catching thermals, soaring higher and higher. I realized we had survived one more season. It is a season of rebirth for us all. My grandmother lived for spring. In her nineties, I expected every winter to be her last but every spring she would rally, be re-born like the jonquils, to enjoy her “most wonderful time” of the year. In the February of her ninety-eighth year, winter won out as it will for us all. Until then I will await the return of my red tails, her memory, and my own rally and rebirth. My “most wonderful time.”

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time go to his author’s page at http://goo.gl/lomuQf. While there you might like to hit like.