FLOPPY PARTS…DEJA VU

STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! I wrote a book, my second attempt at writing badly, about the “wringers” men catch their floppy parts in…well, for the sake of truth, the “wringers” I catch my floppy parts in. Note: Present tense, plural.

The book was entitled, “Floppy Parts” and didn’t just deal with interpersonal relations but sometimes those relationships are just as painful as any hard shot to the “nads.” You’d think a man with my advanced level of seasoning would have a clue…but no I don’t. Not even close. If male-female interpersonal relationships were a course, I would be failing badly.

According to a blog I just read it takes, and I quote, “a guy up to three weeks to process and understand what is happening on the emotional level of his life.” Really? I would have thought longer…if ever. Maybe I should just wait and check in later, say a month? No I won’t remember it in a month which brings me to my present wringer.

When she makes me mad, I brood, or as my beloved reminds me, I pout. Yeah, I do. I run my lower lip out and I feel sorry for myself…for a couple of hours, allowing it to percolate, and then I blow up. BOOM! And it’s over. I’m good, got it all out, over with, airs cleared, except it’s not. It’s a false sense of wellbeing. “A dead pig smiling in the sunshine” kind of false wellbeing.
My beloved is going to allow my faux pas to marinade for three weeks or so. She’s going to allow it to eat at her and break down into its most basic and primal fractions…you know…like anger. She doesn’t brood, she plots…SHE GETS EVEN!

Three weeks later she has all the symptoms of a woman with a bee in her bonnet. Later I ask, “Honey, what’s wrong?” Later I will ask again…and again.
“Nothing,” says she, again and again. That is her code for I’m pissed but I’m not going to warn you before “comin’ off yo head!”
Eventually she does, “Do you remember three weeks ago when….” Hell no! I don’t remember what I had for supper yesterday…but she will remind me and it will not be as delicious as whatever I had for supper yesterday even if I had a dog poop sandwich.

Like last night. I’m not going to say what minor thing I did but it sent her to bed mad and I brooded from my d@#$ recliner well into the night. It percolated in my dreams. It interrupted my sleep. I awoke sore, too early, and “IT” was the first thing on my mind. I had a couple of hours of darkness to allow myself to brood.

Decision time. Okay, I’m good. I’m going to take the high road, take her morning coffee, and absorb my beating like a man…whenever it comes. Today, next week, a month from now, the year 2020.

What did you just say? You’re sorry? It was all your fault? What kind of black magic is this? Did space aliens kidnap my beloved during the night? I know what you are doing. You are going to keep me walking on egg shells until I forget about it and then, and only then, you will alight upon me like bottle flies on cow poop. But what if she is telling the truth, something she always does…Oh God, my floppies are in the wringer again.

Don Miller writes “memories.” If you enjoyed this short essay, more may be purchased or downloaded at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP

BEAUTIFUL BLIND PUPPIES

Madeline Roo and Matilda Sue just celebrated their twelfth birthdays. They’re not really puppies but will always be OUR PUPPIES. They’re sisters, from a litter holding fourteen little gray and black mottled, squirmy, thieves. That’s right thieves, right down to the “permanent” bandit mask across Maddie’s face. Every day, they continue to steal a little bit of my heart.

It’s early morning and I am watching the eastern sky lighten…I’m also watching Tilly navigate the yard. Tilly doesn’t have a bandit mask but she steals my heart anyway. She comes and sits with me in the early morning as I try to put thoughts and words together on this electronic version of paper. I find it comforting to see her or her sister laying in the recliner next to me, sleeping so very non-canine like, on their backs, feet stuck up in the air. Sometimes they scare me, so deeply asleep I must wake them just to make sure….

Tilly is awake and moving, nose to the ground. Every morning, I watch…just in case. She pauses and then circles around a large clump of periwinkle. She has picked up the scent of the bunny living there. After searching, she continues her voyage of exploration, circumnavigating the yard. At the wood pile, she stops to greet the ground squirrel living behind it. Maddie is upstairs with her mommy but will eventually make the same trip. I’ll watch, just in case.

It’s been over two years since Tilly began to go blind. It was rapid, something about dog years. Her sister followed a year later and they are both now sightless. A genetic defect will claim every one of their litter mates. I wonder if they see when they dream? The question makes me hurt and tear up. They seem to have taken their blindness much better than their mommy and daddy.

They make me smile…knowing they remember. Barking at the squirrel, no longer in the hemlock tree or sitting near the persimmon tree waiting for the possum that is somewhere else to come down. Tilly recently brought me a mole, so proud she wanted to share. While I feel sorry for the mole I’m glad it’s not the possum she used to bring me and yet happy she can still find something to bring.

They make me sad…knowing they can’t see. Maddie reminds me daily when she comes over to the recliner I’m not sitting in to get her belly rubbed. She will paw even though I’m not there. I miss them trying to herd squirrels, birds and each other.

It’s taken some adjustment. Old feed bags filled with newspaper used as buffers against hard and sharp objects. Special care not to block learned pathways. New commands like, “Watch your nose, watch your nose” or “Step, step, steps” have been learned, and yet I am amazed to see Tilly scale a rock wall, just like she did when she could see, and then later come down the same wall.

They still play their blue heeler games. Games only they understand. They are playing now, nose to nose, nipping at each other’s muzzles…somehow knowing where the other one is and able to pull up just short. Friendly growls to remind them it’s just a game…and to remind us about the better things in life.

Those in the know told us we shouldn’t get litter mates. They were incorrect. Despite the recent trials and tribulations, it has been worth it. Maddie and Tilly are happy and in much better health than much younger dogs. Mommy has seen to that. No doubt I’m happier and in much better health because of her too…and my beautiful blind puppies.

Visit Don’s author’s page at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP or pick up a copy or download his new book, Musings of a Mad Southerner, at https://goo.gl/zxZHWO.

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

THE MAGICAL, MORONIC, MANUFACTURED CELEBRATION OF LOVE

I despise Valentine’s Day. How did we get from the celebration of a Roman festival to the madness of today? A manufactured, merchandize driven celebration of love…or the realization of being quite alone. At least if you are depressed there is plenty of chocolate to raise your spirits and increase your waistline. The Valentine’s candy and cards at Wally World has been displayed since the day after Christmas.

A bit of history. One historical version suggests THE FESTIVAL began as the honoring of the Goddess Juno during the Roman Feast of Lupercalia. Young men and women drew names from a jar, pairing themselves for the duration of the feast and sometimes for the year. This was before the use of car or room keys in a fishbowl I guess. Yes, some would fall in love and sometimes even marry. Ain’t that romantic…or moronic?

Farther down the road known as history, the festival was discontinued because it was deemed un-Christian but as we all know you can’t keep a good celebration down. It was just refigured and given another name. According to one popular legend, a Roman priest would give the celebration its name. Valentine, the priest, defied the emperor, Claudius II, when said emperor decided allowing people to marry or become engaged impeded his ability to raise an army to fight the many unpopular military campaigns of the time. He banned marriage and engagements. Valentine, along with another priest, Marius, secretly married couples in Rome until their treachery was discovered resulting in the brutal beating death of Valentine. I think Marius got the better end of the deal even if a celebration is named after Valentine. Both were elevated to sainthood but Marius escaped execution.

Not romantic enough? Try this version. Valentine was helping Christians escape from prison until he himself was ratted out and jailed. While awaiting execution, as the romantic story goes, Valentine and the jailer’s daughter fell in love. On the night before his execution, Valentine penned a letter to his beloved and signed it “From Your Valentine.” Now why does “from your valentine” sound vaguely familiar?

If those unsubstantiated legends aren’t enough, early Roman-Christians believed birds mated in mid-February. It doesn’t matter. I HATE VALENTINE’S DAY! I have hated Valentine’s Day for thirty years or more. I’d rather be beaten ala Valentine or machine gunned ala Al Capone’s The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Flowers wilt and chocolate is fattening, plus the object of my romantic inclinations shouldn’t eat chocolate for health reasons. FOR THIRTY YEARS, I HAVE TRIED TO DO SOMETHING UNIQUE FOR THE UNIQUE PERSON WHO IS LINDA GAIL! Moreover, for thirty years I have failed. Even the rose bushes I bought with so much care, planted and fertilized so carefully, watered and talked to…died. Can you really kill something with love? YES! … YOU! … CAN!

One year, the worst, I reserved a romantic meal at a nearby inn on a mountain above us. IT SNOWED! Determined to be romantic or machine gunned, we went anyway. A phone call told us they were open but with no electricity. “Come on, the meal will be served by candlelight.” How much more romantic could it get? Just shoot me. JUST FREAKING SHOOT ME! A twenty-minute trip turned into an hour as we dodged downed powerlines and fallen limbs but we made it. It was romantic. Candles and little mini-lanterns. The meal served in courses by waitresses in the cutest little uniforms. A three-digit meal before we got to the tip…but it was going to be worth it! A good meal, romantic small talk, footsy under the table, a short drive home and if I played my cards right…acte d’amour. Not on your life. On the side of the road she upchucked A FREAKING THREE-DIGIT MEAL. l’acte de vomir was all I got.

Am I trying too hard. Is it too much to want to do something special and unique for a special and unique person for goodness sakes? I have been dreading St. Valentine’s Day since the last one and have been trying to come up with something special…maybe I’ll just prepare the meal. A quiet dinner with a French motif. A small table with a checked tablecloth featuring one of those candles in a wine glass with melted wax dripping down the side. I’ve got a bottle of wine somewhere…it’s full. I guess I should start drinking it if I’m going to get a candle holder ready by this evening…and if I’m going to survive it.

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

FISHIN’

For some reason, I awoke from a dream about fishing. I saw an old cane pole bending from the strain of a double hand size blue gill, it’s blue, green and silver body causing the line to sing from the strain the fish was putting on it. After awakening I realize it is still cold and December, rain is pelting on the metal roof and I really don’t know why I’m dreaming about blue gills and the grandmother who taught me to catch them. I may have already shared this story but felt the need to share it again. I hope you enjoy.

My grandmother had what I would describe as a single mindedness about her work ethic. Little would get in the way of what she had scheduled to do. Monday was wash day no matter how cold it was just to get it out of the way. The only exceptions were on rainy days or during harvest season. During the late summer, Monday was also preparation day for Tuesday – CANNERY DAY. Tomatoes were peeled, okra cut, beans shelled or soup mix was readied to be canned the next day. Wednesdays and Thursdays were copies of Monday and Tuesday. One day was set aside to sweep the backyard under the privet, another to weed the rock garden and others to do what she hated most – house cleaning. Early, early mornings were spent milking the cow and some days, work was rearranged to accommodate for the churning of butter and making buttermilk. During the early summer, EVERYDAY was weed the garden and pick the “critters” that might be chewing on plants. Nothing interfered except the meal preparations and finally the harsh late afternoon midsummer sun that would drive her into the shade…of her front porch to start processing vegetables. There was no rest for the weary.

I can see her distinctly in my mind’s eye standing in her garden and clearly hear the “clinking” sound of her hoe contacting the few small rocks that remained in her garden. She is wearing a cotton “sack” dress handmade from last year’s feed sacks, a broad-brimmed straw hat and old lady loafers that had been slit to accommodate corns and bunions. That was pretty much all she wore as I found out one day when a hornet flew up her dress causing her to strip in the middle of the bean field. There is no modesty when being stung by a hornet but young eyes should not see these things. Her face, arms and legs were as brown as the leather harnesses that PawPaw used to hook his old horse to the wagon and the rest of her…obviously had rarely seen the light of day. I think now how old I thought she was but she was just forty-eight when I was born. I was forty-nine when she died.

There were only two things that would drive her out of her garden – rain and fishin’. Fishing was something that she discovered after PawPaw died. I do not have one memory of her going fishing prior to his death although I remember hearing stories about trips to the river, a mile or so distant as the crow flies. I don’t think this was an example of “sport” fishing but was the setting and checking of trotlines in hopes of supplementing table fare…cheaply. Pan-fried catfish and catfish stew would replace the canned salmon that we often ate in the winter. Well, she made up for lost time as she entered her “semi-retirement” after moving in with us and then later with Aunt Joyce after my Dad remarried. It also did not help keep her in her garden that H.L. Bowers built nine or ten ponds and lakes between us and the river…and gave Nannie free entry…and me with her.

I was not her only fishing partner and she would not overuse the Bower’s lakes. I think she feared that the invitation might be revoked if she caught too many fish. There were a plethora of people who would line up to go with her, many who would just call volunteering to take her to the lake of her choice. Some would call days ahead to make “reservations” to go fishing. The reason was simple. The Lord had blessed her with the ability to find and catch large quantities of fish. Miss Maggie would say, “She sho’ nuff’ can smell deem fishes.” She also thought Nannie might have sold her soul to the devil or might have practiced West African Vodun because she fished according to the signs of the moon, wind direction and weather forecast. Full moon, wind from the south or south-east with a rising barometer…time to go fishing. There were times Nannie ignored the signs and, likely as not, she would not be shutout.
Her fishin’ was fishing in its purest form. No high-dollar technology was employed. I once gave her a Zebco 33 rod and reel, maybe the all-time easiest reel to use. She never used it; instead, there would be a thin cane pole or three, all strung with heavy twenty-pound test line and a small split shot crimped a foot or more above a small gold hook. Rarely did she fish with a bobber. All of her extra gear, hooks, weights and line were carried in a paper poke. I remember when she graduated from a “croaker” sack to put her fish on to a line stringer and then finally to a metal stringer. An earthworm, cricket or a wasp larva was lightly presented to where she thought bream were bedding, allowed to sink a bit and then moved in a slow side to side arc. Wham! That strike would likely be the resulting outcome and into the croaker sack a fish would go! For those of you too young or too Yankee to know, a croaker sack was a porous burlap feed bag “repurposed” to put fish or frogs in to keep them alive or, in the gigged frog’s case, wet. The bag would be laid into the water. Frogs—croakers. Get it? Yes, frog legs do taste like chicken.

I would ask her “Nannie, how do you know where the fish are?” She would answer “Can you not smell them?” Uh, no I couldn’t but I can now and she taught me to look for the “pot holes” that the bream made when they were on the bed. That doesn’t explain how she caught fish when they weren’t on the bed. Maybe Maggie was right about the voodoo thing but I suspect it was the fact that she had studied fishing the same way she studied her Bible or the almanac.
Nothing was too big to go in her frying pan and, sometimes, nothing too small. I guess it goes back to being poor during the depression. Small fish were brought home and, if not cleaned, became a part of her garden. The two-and-a-half-pound bream or the nearly eight pound largemouth she caught did not go on her wall. No, that was pure foolishness. An eight pounder could have fed a Chinese family for a month and we were not going to waste it. Hand-sized bream were always my favorite to be pan fried in Crisco using corn meal breading…at least I think it was Crisco…it might have been lard. I’ve tried pan frying them and I just can’t seem to get it right.

There was one August afternoon that Nannie decided to take Maggie and yours truly to Bower’s Big Lake. That’s what we called it. The Big Lake was twenty-five acres of fishing heaven. Bream, catfish and largemouth bass seemed to always be hungry and this day all of the signs were in place. We walked the three-quarters of a mile to the lake, scooted under the gate that cut the River Road, and started to fish from the closest access to water. For the next two hours, we did not move and had it not been so late in the day we might not have left then. Seventy-seven double hand-sized “breeeeeems,” as Maggie called them, over filled our stringer. There had to be forty pounds of fish and, for an eight or ten-year-old boy, a near sixty-year-old grandmother and, who knows how old Maggie was, it was a tough trek back to the house…followed by a couple of hours cleaning the fish. It was worth it the next day as the smell of frying fish permeated the air.

I remember the last time I took Nannie fishing. She was in her late eighties and a bit feeble, but not much. Linda Gail and I loaded her up in my old ’72 FJ 40 Land Cruiser and took her to the dock at Bower’s Big Lake. The weather was terrible for fishing. Cloudy and windy, a gale blew from the wrong direction as the barometer plunged but she hung a couple and we have a picture of her holding a “whale” still decked out in her broad-brimmed straw hat. She had at least started to wear pants by this time and I imagine a cotton “sack” dress would have been a little cool. What I remember the most was her laughter, something that I heard so rarely. When I think about Nannie seldom do I see her smiling. This was a special day as were all of the days when we went fishin’.

I miss her terribly and just don’t seem to get the enjoyment from fishing that I did during those days. I still try to get the spark back and will continue to do so. Sometimes I think to do otherwise would somehow be letting her down. The same is true with my garden. I know I could buy more produce from the money I spend on seed and fertilizer than I actually raise. Fishing, even when they are not biting, is a little like therapy or maybe meditation. I have found it to be a pathway that leads me to memories that I sometimes didn’t even know I had.

This story came from the book PATHWAYS. It and my other books may be purchased or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

OPTIMISM DESPITE SCIATICA AND 2016

I find it interesting, in a bad way, that I am finishing 2016 the same way I began it…limping to the finish line while battling sciatica. The pinching of the sciatic nerve because…well…WHO THE F@#$ KNOWS…all I did was reach across my body with my right arm to pick up a hammer. OKAY I GOT IT…sciatica is caused by work. Now I know how to cure it.

My particular brand of sciatica runs across my left ass cheek and down my left leg…in other words, it is the “royal pain in the ass” and for me a physical reminder of what a pain in the ass 2016 was…except on a personal level it really wasn’t that bad. I lost my favorite uncle and several friends, but I have a family and friends whom I love, food on the table, a roof over my head even though, in order to heat the rooms under that roof, it cost me an arm and a leg…and the sciatica triggered by spitting wood to begin the year of 2016. All and all I ain’t got it that bad…except for the sciatica and a tractor I want to set on fire…kinda like 2016.

I won’t miss 2016…unless 2017 is worse. Worse? 2016, the year of political witch hunts and the hatred that fed it, religious and racial divisiveness, war and rumors of more war, fake news or real news, defining who should have the right to marry and who is what gender along with arguments that will never give love a chance…STOP IT DON! JUST STOP IT!

Yes, at midnight December 31, if I am still awake, I will kiss my significant other passionately and, with great enthusiasm sing “Auld Lang Syne”, Robert Burns’ poem now set to the tune of a Scottish folk song. The reason I will sing enthusiastically are the words, “we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”

Despite the divisiveness and pain of 2016, I face 2017 with the renewed enthusiasm that “we’ll take a cup of kindness yet”, the kindness that was sorely absent in 2016. I am optimistic we will ALL reach across the gulfs that are our differences and find understanding. I am offering you “a cup of kindness yet” in hopes you will take it, along with a hand of mutual friendship, respect and mutual understanding. In other words, because Burns said it better than I ever could “And there’s a hand my trusty friend! And give me a hand o’ thine! And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.” For those of you who are saying, “that’s like world peace, it will never happen,” I say, “There has to be hope. Someone has to make the effort.”

Whether you are a “taste great” person or a “less filling” person, in 2017 I will raise a toast to you, even though I don’t drink lite beer ever. Here’s to you and yours with the hope you have a productive, prosperous and kind new year. May peace be with thee!

COACH ‘EM UP AND LOVE ‘EM

An article from the Washington Post by Chuck Culpepper, “Across college football, ‘I love you’ becomes audible” caught my eye. It featured an exchange, among others, which took place between Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Deshaun Watson after the 2016 National Championship loss to Alabama. As Dabo finished answering a question he turned to Watson and said, “I love you.” Watson returned the love with a back at you “Love you too” to Swinney. There is a great deal to love about these men if you are a Clemson fan.

Football has certainly changed from the days of Frank Howard, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler and Darrell Royal. The major change is reflected in Royal’s quote, “When you throw a pass three things can happen to it, and two of them are bad.” I would say today’s coaches have totally ignored that pearl of wisdom and have proven the one good thing that can happen is a whole bunch of points are being scored. Another change I doubt any of these “old school” coaches would have ever uttered, is a statement like “I love you” to a player. Old school coaches simply would not or COULD NOT say it.

It is only recently men have been free to express feelings of love for other men…in a manly kind of way. See, I have trouble even talking about it. I can’t even give more than a “love ya Man” to my brother and I feel terrible I am so repressed. Coaches kissing their players on the cheek or giving out hugs, until recently, were restricted to the women’s side of athletics. Displays of affection have now found there way over to the men’s side of the bench and I say GREAT! Until this era the best a player might hope for would be a slap on the butt or a noogie.

I’m sure Frank, Woody, Bo and Darrell all loved their players and for the most part I’m sure their players knew it…maybe. I guess I should add my name to the list. I can’t remember ever coming out and saying “I love you” to a team. Maybe late in my career. You ask a bunch of kids to sweat and bleed for you but you are too repressed to let them know you care about them as young men by saying it. Shame on me.

Once after a particular tough loss, I asked South Carolina high school hall of fame coach Mike Anthony what I should do. His wisdom was simple, “Nothing you can do except coach ’em up and love ’em.” Wise words…wish I had listened. Soooooooo, to all my former players, sorry I’m late doing this…I LOVE YOU and while I’m at it, THANK YOU.

To all of you new coaches or coach want to bes, don’t be afraid to “coach ’em up and love ’em.”

The complete article by Chuck Culpepper can be accessed from the following link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/colleges/across-college-football-i-love-you-becomes-audible/2016/11/23/e2d61f4c-a90d-11e6-8fc0-7be8f848c492_story.html

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

DREAM GHOST

Sitting in the dark in front of my computer…a bad habit sitting in the dark but one that seems to suit me. Most nights she comes to me in the dark. Tonight it was easy for me to visualize her leaning against the door jamb while gazing out across the pasture and lake that sat below it. Staring out at a ghost that only she saw? I often caught her in this pose but she never told me what she saw…I was afraid to ask. I was not sure I really wanted to know. Her back was against the jamb with one foot on the floor, the other against the jamb, her hands clutched together between her thighs or wrapped under her breast. Could she be looking back at the past as I often do?

She was a fine figure of a woman and there was still be enough dim light from the outside to outline her curves. I could not stifle the rising heat I felt. A simple white cotton dress…the thought made me ache. I missed how the simple cotton dress slid off her smooth skin and smiled at the memory of being able to produce goosebumps on her arms, the tops of her breast, the…my smile turning downward with sorrow as I remembered…she is gone…gone forever and only alive in my memories and dreams. I had lost her once and then regained her…there would be no reclaiming her again.

It is not healthy but I let my memories take over…like so many nights. The nights were the worst…and the best. She came to me during the night and left me as dawn broke. Tonight she led me to the old car…my…our forty-year-old MGB. It was a fine night to put the top down and ride to…anywhere…or nowhere. She sat with her long legs tucked under her, the hem of her dress tantalizingly riding up her dark thighs. Her smile told me she knew what I might be thinking. As I ran through the gears a full moon followed us making the need for headlamps unnecessary on the old river road. Shadows danced around us as we fled through the night…to our spot overlooking the river with the lights of Trinity highlighting the horizon. As I parked and turned to her she came into my arms smelling like the gardenias growing outside of our front porch. I imagined her soft skin prickling slightly as I touched her.

A banshee screamed in the distance. It seemed to be getting closer. The closer it sounded the farther she seemed to be. “No don’t leave…Please…Not yet.” It was no use. She left me again as I staggered to my feet still trying to hang on to any part of the dream despite knowing it was futile. I was stiff and foggy from sleeping in my chair. The inside of mouth was foul from the last cigar of the night…and the fifth bourbon of the evening. Staggering I found the alarm clock and shut down the shrieking. After washing my face, I was not happy with what greeted me in the mirror. Puffy gray skin only accented the red rimmed eyes reflected back at me in the dim early light. Death eating a shit sandwich. I could not go on living like this…nor did I want to.

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

THROUGH THE FRONT GATE

For nearly thirty years I have entered “Through the Front Gate” to a home that is much more than just a place to lay my head. For more times than I can possibly count I have entered a haven and a refuge, made so by the woman that lives here, my Linda Gail. When I repeat the Bible verse, “You are my refuge and strength” I am not talking to God, I am talking about the woman who is everything good about the world I live in…the world that you have created Linda Gail. Saying that I love you seems quite inadequate but it will have to do. “Linda Gail, I love you.” These are stories from thirty years of marriage and the unintended consequences of Linda Gail.

Cover photography is my “view through the front gate.”

Don Miller’s fourth book, THROUGH THE FRONT GATE, will launch August 12…MAYBE,

“YODA” THE KAMIKAZI KRUISER

I first saw her sitting like a forlorn puppy dog in a friend’s used car lot…on the back row. Born in Japan in 1968 she was already twenty years old with an odometer having rolled over once showing twenty thousand miles. She was boxy and with her high stance I was told she resembled a postal vehicle. That’s not nice. I had seen FJ 40 Land Cruisers before and had, as President Jimmy Carter said, “Sinned in my mind.” Taupe colored, she didn’t appear to have any rust and when the key turned, fired right up with no blue smoke or hiccups. I was on my way to falling in love. Most importantly, Linda Gail liked her too despite no radio, no air conditioning and hard metal doors. If you look up utilitarian in the dictionary expect to see a picture of her. It didn’t matter, “Yoda the Kamikaze Kruiser” became ours.

Cruising at sixty-five was not her long suit despite being capable. What she could do was crawl up and over a wall in low four-wheel drive. With a suspension stiffer than a brand new pair of jeans, she went over rocks and ruts so hard it would jar the filings right out of your teeth. At sixty-five she rattled like a wind chime made from cast iron. It didn’t matter, Linda Gail and I were young and foolish…and in love…with each other and “Yoda.” During the winter we would go searching for snow to play in and during the rest of the year take the doors off and try to find ways to put the Kamikaze Toyota in harm’s way. We were often successful. While “Yoda” never left us stranded, we left her stranded on several occasions.

The first summer “of love” a sharp, freshly cut sapling ripped out a side wall. Now where is that jack…oh I don’t have one. Stupid and in love. A two-mile hike got us back to Highway 11 and civilization. A neighborly type let us use his phone and a friend came and retrieved us. Now I remember what we did before cell phones. We cautiously approached people and begged to use their home phone. Later on the same summer a weakly constructed ditch crumbled and put us on our side near the summit of Chestnut Mountain. Walking again, a house trailer with what seemed to be several dozen Rottweilers, well four or five, became our salvation. Another phone call to the same friend got us a ride and “Yoda” jerked out of the ditch…by a f@#%ing Jeep Wagoneer no less. Later Linda would put “Yoda” on her side on our mountain. I have a vision of Linda scrambling out of the window because the metal door was too heavy to lift. This time I had my own tractor to pull it upright.

“Yoda” became our go to vehicle. A picnic with Linda Gail and Ashley on our mountain top? Yank a stump out of the ground? Haul wood? Take a goat to the vet? Or just try to tear off a fender on some wilderness trek, CALL “Yoda!” So why did I get rid of her? Trust me I asked myself that question on several occasions. With mileage creeping toward two hundred thousand, a screwy braking system and wiring problems I decided to upgrade. A 1974 Clemson orange FJ 40 with a transplanted V-6 seemed to be the ticket. What a mistake. Looked good and sounded better until a broken rod left her bleeding oil and dead on the side of the road. I didn’t have time to even name her. “Yoda?” She was bought by guy in Simpsonville. I still see her sometimes. With travel stickers holding her rust together, she is still running. Gosh I wish I still had her.

Later there would be an FJ-60. My first trip with newly licensed Ashley was in that truck. I found out she had a lead foot returning from a Columbia soccer tournament. After a couple of years of driving it on dealer tags, I sold it back to the friend who sold it to me originally because of a title problem. What problem? I think the cruiser might have been stolen. But officer I gave it back.

My last one was a ’77. Linda and I went together and true to her love for me she let me drive it home. She wishes we still had “Yoda” too. The ’77 named “Darlin’” was turned in to a piece of junk after being stolen out of my front yard. It was returned months later a mere shell of its former self. Two years later she would catch fire and burn. I think “Darlin’” was so embarrassed she tried committing vehicular suicide by burning herself to death. I say tried because I sold her to a guy who has the intention, means and ability to restore her. I wished him luck with instructions to bring her back for me to see when he completed her restoration. I haven’t heard from him…yet. Hope springs eternal.

I don’t know why we name our cars and refer to them as “her and she.” I talked to mine like they were people but like my wife none ever seemed to listen. For myself and my Land Cruisers it is about the memories of a person who goes with them. Warm and fuzzy ones that never get lost in the fog of time. I see a wild tangle of brown hair blowing in the wind, bug-eyed sun glasses and a big smile as we rattle our way over the top of Chestnut Mountain. I still go on EBay looking for the perfect and affordable FJ 40 to help add to those memories. It may be an impossible search.

Don Miller will be releasing his fourth book, “Through the Front Gate” later this month. Until then go to his author’s page and check it out. On Amazon it can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/cigarman501/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel.