LIFE, BASEBALL, AND A TRANSISTOR RADIO

 

There was once a young boy who went to sleep listening to his small transistor radio.  The circular dial on its front was more than a tuner, it was the young boy’s window to a far away world…the destination depending upon atmospheric conditions.

AM radio, Amplitude Modulation,  is still iffy in perfect conditions and FM, Frequency Modulation, was the new-fangled, next big thing of the early Sixties.  AM radio stations blasting rock and roll so clearly during the daylight hours became impossible to pick up due to changes in the ionosphere or went off the air entirely.

Magically it seemed to the young boy,  AM transmitters bounced their signal off the charged layer of the atmosphere.  Honestly, the old man who replaced the young boy still believes it is magic.  The young boy knew none of the science, he just knew night time brought in far off places and in the summer, brought him baseball games played late into the night.

Just last night I was reminded of the young boy, now wrinkled and gray.  As I drove home in the early evening, my satellite radio brought in a far off, crystal-clear signal from somewhere on the left coast.  Not the crackling, fading in or out signal from his childhood.

The little transistor radio brought him games played by  “Mr. Sunshine”, Ernie Banks of the Cubbies or “The Killer”, Harmon Killebrew of the Twins…depending upon atmospheric condition.  Sometimes it brought games from southern climes with sportscasters speaking in an excited, rapid-fire language the young boy did not understand.  On very special nights, the atmospheric gods brought him the Detroit Tigers and their star outfielder Al Kaline.  I remember the young boy struggling to stay awake long enough to hear the last out recorded.

This was a time when baseball was the American Pastime…before the breakneck speed of our lives, the internet, iPhones, and interactive video games made baseball seem too slow.  This was a time when we built up our athletic idols instead of finding ways to tear them down.  A time before the designated hitter and performance-enhancing drugs.  It was an era when bases were bags and sandlots and playgrounds were filled with youth dreaming of being the next “Mick” or “Sandy” or “The Say Hey Kid.”  It was a time before life got in the way.

I listened to a broadcaster whose voice I didn’t recognize, announcing players I did not know, playing for a team that didn’t exist when the young boy listened to his transistor radio.  For a moment I was sad until I remembered the young boy.  The young boy grew up to play the game he loved and later coached it for a goodly part of his life.

Baseball may no longer be the American Pastime, but it still mimics life.  Life involves so much failure and successful people find ways to rise above their missteps.  Baseball is the same, a game built on failure.  A great hitter fails seventy percent of the time.  A hitter may do everything right and still get robbed, his line drive somehow finding a glove.  A pitcher may make the perfect pitch that ends with a “fourteen hopper” somehow finding its way through a drawn-in infield.  Baseball gives, and it takes away…just like life.

For more wit and witticisms from Don Miller  https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Image of Ernie Banks from CBS News

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Kudzu, Cotton and Red Clay Banks

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Let The Old Man In….

 

I didn’t recognize the face in the mirror.  It sorta looks like me.  Five in the morning is not the best time to look into the mirror but at my age, it’s better than seeing myself in the harsh sunlight.  The face wasn’t “the brown-eyed handsome man” that Chuck Berry sang about sixty-one years ago.  This face is cut by crevasses covered by a wild beard.  The brown eyes sit above “steamer trunks,” not bags.  What hair there is, is now more silver than brown…as is a beard that was once redder than white.  My eyes are still brown and, in my mind, behind those eyes, somewhere, is a young, “brown-eyed handsome man.”

I’m looking down the barrel at another birthday.  Can you tell?  One month from today.  Another year older.  The grim reaper another year closer.  Can it be another year already?  As I look back…into the mirror and the old gentleman looking back at me, I realize a time versus age graph would show a steeper line after the age of fifty than before.  Time flies when you are having fun…and growing old.  Yes, I know there is another alternative.

Looking back into the mirror I realize, “that old geezer wants to get at me.”  He wants to be me…or rather, he wants me to be him.  I refuse to invite him to do so.

I have always been a people watcher…particularly attractive female people, a kink in my sterling armor.  Recently I’ve begun to look at older people I know, OLD people my age.  I always think, “I don’t look that old do I?”  I even asked my best friend Hawk, “Do we look that old?”  He said no…but then he’s just a year younger than me.  Would he lie?

I hear a tap, tap, tap.  Is it the hot water line that needs to be tightened or the old man in the mirror?  He wants me to invite him in.  No, no, no!  I’m going to keep dancing badly until I die…even if it is dancing from the seat of a chair.  Maybe I won’t be able to run, but then I’ll walk, or I’ll crawl or do invisible snow angels in the middle of the floor….  Too many people die because they are afraid to live.  I will not invite that old coot in.

I awoke to the groans my father made, so many years ago…except they are coming from me.  Snap, crackle, pop go my joints as I try to get out of bed.  Once I get moving I do okay.  Is that the lesson from my ruminations this morning?

The “brown eyed handsome man” in my head thinks he can still do anything.  I’m listening to him.  I’m going to keep doing my thing…just a bit more slowly.  Like a wind-up toy, the spring will wind down or break sometimes, but sometime could be a long way off.

I just learned that a friend’s cancer has returned and invaded his esophagus. He has battled cancer for years, battled it with a joyous heart and a cheerful and exuberant attitude.   I hope and pray he is able to beat it but the cards are stacked against him. He has never let the old man in…for eighty-five years.

A piano player, he always reminded me of Hoagy Carmichael’s Cricket in “To Have and Have Not.”  I’ll bet Charlie will be playing the piano, cracking jokes, dancing or doing snow angels on the floor until they carry him out. I’ll miss him when he goes but I won’t mourn for him because he kept the old man out of his life.  Maybe I can get him to play “Am I Blue” one more time.

Yessir!  I’m going to be like Charlie.  I will never let that old man I see in the mirror in.

Video credit: YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9C1vJ2Z8aI0

Photo credit:  Hoagy Carmichael and  Lauren Bacall                    https://indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow/rainbow-hits-ground-hoagy-carmichael-hollywood/

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

Don Miller, writing as Kena Christenson, may be found at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07B6BDD19

Two Dolla’ Pitchers….

Two-dollar pitchers of beer. Bigggggg pitchers. Cheap beer even forty years ago…and a potentially lethal elixir when consumed in the dark, hole in the wall bar named Dino’s Lounge. Stir in for flavor a local, bluegrass “party” band named the “Stoney Creek String Band”, one might think they were consuming a magical concoction that made one bulletproof. Insert a shapely blond in jeans and a white men’s shirt as a swizzle stick…the story might take a twisted route. One might find himself married.

Apparently, the Seventies were an obscure and somewhat blurry period of my life. Well truthfully, I was stone cold sober when I asked her to marry me…maybe I should have remained incapacitated until the Eighties and I assure you a hangover would not have been as bad. Another bad news flash, I ain’t tellin’ this story. There are people still alive who just would not understand.

I’ve never had a drinking problem…not that I didn’t try to. Drinking seemed to be the cool thing to do and I could have had an advanced degree in two dolla’ pitchers of beer and Jack Daniels “Likker” drinks. I failed my dissertation. The times I stepped one or five beers or mixed drinks over the line, I didn’t much like the outcome the next day. Whether it was the hangover from hell I woke up with or the person from hell I woke up with, both were powerfully painful occasions and I was smart enough to learn from them…after a while. I find it interesting how well I remember the hangovers…the people not so much. That may be a blessing.

I learned from my mistakes which means I have survived my own stupidity. Despite the pain of my stupidity, I look back fondly at the people who live in those memories…but there was that proposal…and its acceptance. In all honesty, I look back fondly on the blond headed swizzle stick, she was a wonderful woman and my divorce was just that, my divorce.

It’s social media’s fault I’m percolating over my misspent youth…well, misspent young adulthood…I was a late bloomer. It could be the gray and rainy day too. “Rainy days and Mondays….” Gray and rainy days tend to make me percolate over misspent youth and my attention was drawn to a post about a former teaching peer, now deceased, which makes it more depressing.

My memory took me to one of those two dolla’ pitcher nights, Dino’s Lounge and Stoney Creek. A table surrounded by young men who still had their hair, harassing the pretty waitress as if we really had a chance and leaving a big tip just in case. Young men, friends who shared embellished stories of conquests past and ones we hoped would come. Young men with ready laughs and all their teeth. A brother, former coaching peers, a band director and a couple of former players. I remember it was a fun night long ago…but that might be those two dolla’ pitchers.

Somehow, we all survived to find other ways to die. Several are no longer with us…gone too quickly, but we all survived our foolishness. We all survived to be fine, upstanding if boring, citizens. Those young men still live in those memories…they will live as long as I live, along with two dolla’ pitchers, Dino’s Lounge and the Stoney Creek String Band.

Footnote: There is a Stoney Creek Band which still exists after forty years in the business. They must be good and they play bluegrass too. It’s not my Stoney Creek Band which exists only in my memories. I’m sure there is a Dino’s Lounge somewhere. If it has two dolla’ pitchers, don’t bother telling me, I ain’t going.

Don Miller is a multi-genre writer. His works may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Cornfields…in My Mind

 

It’s early February, it’s been cold here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge…not Chicago or Moscow cold…but for us thin-blooded Southerners it’s been damn cold.  It’s warmer today but that’s because it is raining to beat the band or to beat my metal roof.  Despite the elements, thanks to my son-in-law’s mother, I’m thinking about cornfields.  A bit early in the season to be thinking about cornfields but my thoughts tell me Kimberly’s memories of cornfields are a little different from mine…maybe.

Kimberly, Justin’s mother, posted a cornfield meme extolling the joys of running and playing in the cornfields of her youth and the memories they elicit.  I’m happy for Kimberly and her memories…mine are different and not the least bit warm and fuzzy.

I tend to lump cornfields and hayfields together…except I don’t eat hay.  Corn I love…in any form including liquid and I’m not speaking of corn syrup.  Sorry, the train went off the rails for a moment.

I remember corn and hayfields as places to stay away from if possible.  It was impossible for me to stay away from them, it was part of the job…or just part of my childhood.  There was always a lot of work associated with them both and to this day I break out in hives when I see square bales drying in a hayfield.

I associate corn and hayfields with loneliness, extreme heat, humidity, stinging bugs and venomous snakes.  You’ve never been hot and sweaty like cornfield or hayfield hot.  Drowning in your own sweat hot.  You’ve never been scared like flipping a hay bale over and finding a moccasin scared, the wrong end of the snake bound up in the bale.  You’ve never been scared like plowing a cornfield near the bottoms and having a black snake fall out of a tree and land on your shoulder scared.  You’ve never been stung like stepping into a yellow jacket’s nest stung…wherever, it really doesn’t have to be in a cornfield or hayfield.

As scary or painful as those examples were, I associate corn and hayfields most with loneliness.  You’ve never been lonely until being set out on the river bottoms, watching the old Chevy flatbed disappear.  Hoe in hand, a paper bag lunch of Vienna sausages and soda crackers, a jar of water wrapped in newspaper to keep it cool, knowing you are going to be there ALL DAY LONG, ALONE.  Alone with only your thoughts, your fears, the heat and humidity, the stinging bugs and the reptiles.  Endless rows of corn, thousands of miles long.  All day until you saw that old Chevy flatbed coming back to get you.  Hoping, as the thunderheads built on the other side of the river, that that old truck would get there before the thunderstorms and the lightning they would bring.

I do have good memories too, not about playing in the cornfields or hayfields, but the aftermath.  Laughing with my Uncle James, Mike and Rusty…after the hayin’ day was done.  Playing football in the fields and scratching yourself to death if you fell in the stubble.  Watching the sweat fall from my grandmother’s brow as she cut sweet corn to cream or turn into soup mix.  Eating that first roastin’ ear of the season.  Maybe tastin’ just a touch of corn likker.

Thanks, Kimberly…thanks for triggering a bright and warm memory on a drab, gray day.

For more of Don Miller’s writings, you may find him at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Walkin’ in the Snow

There was a time…a time when I ran in the snow.  We don’t get much snow here in the foothills of the South Carolina Blue Ridge.  You Yankees think we are crazy, running out and grabbing all the bread, milk and toilet paper we can carry.  Don’t tell anyone, I think we’re crazy too.  Why grab milk and bread when you can just as easily grab Jack Daniels and pulled pork barbeque.  I just got off subject, but I do agree with the toilet paper part of the equation.

We are lucky (unlucky?) to receive one or two four-inch snows a year…if that…and we go batshit crazy when we get it.  Few of us really know how to drive in it and those who do have to worry about those who don’t.  Don’t worry too much though.  If you find yourself in the ditch a “good ole” boy with a four by four and a tow rope will be by directly.

I go crazy too but for other reasons.  I enjoyed going out in it and running.  Years ago, before retirement, I would go out before sunup and tackle it…getting a run in before getting the word school had been canceled.  Snowflakes reflecting in the light of my running lamp against the backdrop of the darkness.  The way the snow seemed to glow on its own when I cut the lamp off.  A man against the elements…no.  Putting on my running shoes and going out on a cold morning was “against the elements” enough.  There was something about sticking my tongue out allowing snowflakes to land., the muted sounds of the event, even the frozen toes due to the ice buildup on the toes of my shoes.

I can’t run anymore…maybe…I still have hopes and dreams that cause me to hobble out daily.  Today I went out and walked my old running trail, up to the top of the hill, down to and around the lake before reversing again.  I DID wait until several hours after sunup.  It was colder without the exertion of my running but at least my toes didn’t freeze, my thermal hiking boots made sure of that.  Sounds were still muted, and I still caught snowflakes on my tongue.  The snow was powdery and light, easy to walk in…not good for snowmen or snowball fights but enjoyable to walk in.

A young man riding on his ATV disturbed the silence but was thoughtful enough to stop and ask if would like a ride.  I smiled and thanked him.  I told him I was enjoying my walk too much to spoil it with a ride.  He smiled too before riding on into the white.

If you enjoyed this might like to stop by Don Miller’s writer’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38G

The picture is from Run-Karla-Run and is credited to Phil Hospod.

“PLAY BALL, CHUCK!”

Baseball coaches and umpires seem, at best, to have contentious relationships although to “toot” my own horn, I really attempted to cultivate umpires rather than alienate them and most of the time I believe I was successful.  Yes, I’m happy to say Tommy and I buried the hatchet before he died and we didn’t bury it in each other.

Chuck Eaton has passed away.  Another of my adulthood friends has gone to his reward.  Chuck and I began our careers in baseball about the same time, he as an umpire and I as a coach.  I can’t count the number of times he called games involving one of my teams but it would have had to be in the dozens.  I can remember the first one and the last one and over forty years, I’m just not sure who cultivated whom.  My problem with Chuck was he reminded me too much of my dad, somewhat in looks but more in his quiet and respectful demeanor.  I guess maybe he cultivated me.

I remember when I first ran afoul of Chuck.  It was one of my first games as a JV coach at Mauldin, a high school outside of Greenville, South Carolina.  Chuck was behind the plate, a young umpire but not a young man.  At the time, I did not realize he had retired from twenty years of military service.  I believed the opposing catcher had interfered with my batter’s attempt to bunt the ball.  Chuck quietly said, “No coach, the pitch was too high to be bunted anyway.”  Ordinarily, such a comment would not have been a good start to a relationship between a coach and umpire but somehow, we were able to get by it.

I learned of his military service on a cool moist night at Riverside High School.  We were both older and wiser but I’m sure my interaction with him was somewhat subdued because of the fact we were well ahead.  He was behind the plate, and even though it was late in the game, Chuck had still not settled on a consistent strike zone and my fans were unmerciful in their criticism and accused him of changing his strike zone from pitch to pitch.  Walking to the batting circle to make a lineup change, I decided to engage him in friendly banter.

“Chuck, my fans are pretty vocal about your strike zone.  I’d like to apologize for them but to be honest, I agree with them.”

In his quiet voice, he explained, “Coach, I know they think they are getting to me but I flew single engine props for the Forward Air Control during Vietnam.  This is nothing compared to that.”  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Forward Air Control, they flew unarmed, slow moving propeller driven aircraft called “targets”.  One of their functions was to attract ground fire so the fast moving, armed guys could swoop in and get all the glory.

Chuck was that kind of guy, not looking for the glory.  He enjoyed being a part of the game of baseball and the game called life.  During our many phone calls rescheduling games, he never failed to ask about my family and was quick to offer tidbits about his own, including the daughter I taught at Mauldin.  He was, as we all should be, quite proud of his family.  When we met for the last time on a field of play some three years ago, his first question was, “How is the Missus?”

It was always comfortable to know Chuck was somewhere around and I’ll miss him.  As usual, I wish I had kept in close contact.  I do feel comfort in his strong faith and I’m sure that if heaven exists, he’s already trying to organize a game.  I’m sure his strike zone will be a bit more consistent unless he just misses those coaches and fans yelling at him.  “Play Ball, Chuck!”

BUCK NECKID’ IN THE BEAN PATCH

 

My apologies.  There are times it’s okay to show your naked, lily-white derriere.  Taking a bath or shower, weighing one’s self, sleeping in the buff, skinny dippin’ or faire l’amour…which I guess the last two or three could be related.  I would say, unless you are in a nudist colony, baring your butt outdoors in your bean patch ain’t one of those times.  Especially if your bean patch is adjacent to a well-traveled highway.

My apologies are for the three car loads of folk and the loaded church bus passing by while I was trying to get out of my shorts and skivvies.  My intent was to run and get behind my small stand of raccoon ravaged corn.  I was embarrassed because it’s hard to get out of your shorts if you’re not trying to get out of your boots first.  I was embarrassed because there were no cheers emanating from any those vehicles as I displayed my butt and other body parts.  I guess it could’a been the shock.  I was also embarrassed by the face and head plant into the crooked necked squash plant when I became tangled in my shorts.  It could have been worse; the cops could have shown up.

In a previous post, I admitted to weed eating while wearing shorts because I found myself to be less susceptible to multiple yellow jacket stings that way.  Well…to be honest I wear shorts all the time this time of year unless I am picking blackberries or raspberries.  For some reason, one of the devil’s stinging minions decided my pant leg would be a great place to fly up and into.  Note to self, when wearing shorts choose jockey style underwear and not boxer style.  With the little bastard zeroing in on my soft inner thigh, just under my dangling body parts, you understand why I wasn’t too concerned with embarrassing myself.

What I had not planned on was one of the devil’s stinging minions deciding my pant leg would be a great place to fly up and into.  Note to self, when wearing shorts choose jockey style underwear and not boxer style.  With the little bastard zeroing in on my soft inner thigh, just under my dangling body parts, you understand why I wasn’t too concerned with embarrassing myself.

Sometime later, as I was readjusted my clothes and inspected body parts behind the stand of corn, I remembered a childhood experience.  At a very young age, four or five, I had followed my grandmother into her garden.  As I did whatever four or five-year old’s do, I noticed my grandmother’s movements suddenly becoming reminiscent of a body being possessed by some devilish spirit.  Her gyrations were quite violent and featured a lot of slapping and yelling.  Suddenly, to my surprise, she began stripping off her “feed sack” dress in the attempt to rid herself of what we called a Russian hornet.  It had flown up her dress and was in attack mode.  Her revelations did not scar me for life but I was momentarily struck blind by her whiteness.  “Them” body parts had never, ever seen the light of day.

Oh well, in case you were wondering, I avoided major injury or an insect sting to my physical person but my pride might have suffered just a bit…and I don’t think the crooked neck squash will survive…hope the folks on the church bus do.

If you enjoyed this, please take a bit of time to like Don Miller’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/cigarman501/ or follow his Amazon author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.

Don has also released his first paranormal fictional piece, a novella entitled Olivia which may be purchased and downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/Olivia-Don-Miller-ebook/dp/B0742DF8B2/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

A HEAVENLY HAPPY BIRTHDAY

I wrote this as a postscript to the short story “A Lesson in Physics” from the book WINNING WAS NEVER THE ONLY THING…. I wrote it when I found out Jeff Gully had left us to join former teammates Mike Douty, Heath Benedict and Tim Bright. Today is his birthday and once again I find myself missing the “crazy little @#$%” along with Mike, Heath, and Tim. I know I have shared this excerpt before and my guess is I will probably share it again. Happy Heavenly Birthday JEFF.

I found myself sitting in stunned silence when I learned that Jeff Gully had passed away. For the last few weeks, he has not been far from my thoughts no matter how much I tried to push him out of my mind. In true Jeff Gully fashion, he remains an itch that I can’t quite scratch. I have sat in front of my computer staring into space as I attempted to put my feelings into print. The ability to describe them seems to escape me. In true Gully form, Jeff has once again left me speechless.

I can see the young Jeff Gully so well and it is the Jeff Gully that I choose to see. He is in his baseball uniform playing catch as we warmed up for practice, laughing at his wise-cracking with whomever he is warming up with. Words like spontaneous, free-spirited, impulsive, and devil-may-care come to mind when I try to describe him to myself. I have these very clear mental pictures of him bursting into my classroom, just a little late, with a smile on his face that lit up the dreariest of days. His personality could generate enough energy to power the entire eastern seaboard. As irreverent as he could be on occasion, words like caring, big hearted, bigger than life, and compassionate also come to mind when I think about Jeff. There was no truer friend.

Teammate Carolus “Boo” Bennett posted a picture of himself and Jeff when they were teammates during their Northwood years. It was a great testament to their friendship which lasted through high school. My favorite mental picture is of the four seniors, Jeff, Boo, Brian Bridges and Jason Nasiatka walking arm and arm from the field at Georgetown. I so wish I could have bottled those feelings and sent them to Jeff to be used when he was feeling low.

I attended his memorial and as I suspected, it was an overflow crowd. As I get older I fully expect to be attending more and more of these affairs but not for young men that are half my age. Despite the minister’s assertion that all questions will be answered in time, I am troubled by many questions. If there is a positive to be garnered from his memorial, it is getting to see so many people that meant so much to me over the years. I just wish it had been better circumstances.

I had many conversations with Jeff that began by Jeff asking either “Coach Miller are you pissed at me?” or “Do you still hate me?” Fortunately, most of those conversations ended with “Coach Miller I am sorry!” Many of those conversations also ended in amusement if not total laughter. Jeff, I am sorry too. I was never really pissed at you for any length of time and I never hated you, ever. I wish that I had told you this over the years you have been away from me. The truth be known, I am probably a little envious. While your life was shorter than anyone would have wanted and had its share of demons, it was filled with joy too. It was filled with the joy that you created for your family and friends and the joy that they created for you. I also hope that in Heaven you have found comfort and peace as well as Douty, Bright and Benedict. I am sure you could not wait to yell at them “Hey y’all watch this!”

Like those particles in an electron cloud, Heisenberg tells us that you can’t know both the exact location and the exact velocity of a subatomic particle. Jeff, I am sure you will always be somewhere near, continually bursting into our thoughts at light speed.

IF I WERE A POET….

I have never wanted to be a poet. I have never liked poetry but today I wish I could write a love sonnet or an ode. I would rhyme about my love, my life, my wife, my Linda Gail.

Should I write a sonnet? I would want to describe her hazel eyes. How they flash green when she is mad, or when she is joking around, or just when. When they flash green I worry…except when I don’t.

If I were a poet I would describe her smile as “impish” …and a little “catawampus.” It is almost a laugh, always welcomed and never seen enough.

She laughs with her whole body, from the tip of her toes to where her aura stops, somewhere near the fringes of the sun.

Scribble out an epic poem? I would chronical our first meeting, our first date, first kiss, first …. I would recount a trip to Charleston when we were not together but seemed as if we should have been.

If I understood iambic pentameter, I would use the rhythm of my heart to describe how I felt when I “SAW” Linda Gail for the first time and knew she was the one, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM.

With no ability to rhyme I would not know of a word that would correspond to Casablanca, the club, site of our first “date” and the movie by the same name.

In fifty years I might be able to compose a “non-sensical” haiku about whether or not “yes” popped out of her mouth before her brain had time to wrap itself around the question I had asked and chide myself for not asking it sooner.

A burlesque poem might describe a tale about a “Santa Claus” in a tuxedo and a drunken chase of a New Orleans’s street car despite knowing another would be by in a few minutes. She just wanted “that one!”

Snuggling all night while watching a Humphrey Bogart Marathon, including the movie Casablanca, on a snowy night with no school the next morning. What is a word that rhymes with snuggle…a romantic word that is?

I wish I could write a happy, tail wagging little doggerel, as humorous and badly written as possible about Bubba, Bogie, Brodie, Sassy Marie, Jackson, Goldie, Matilda Sue and Madeline Rue.

There would have to be many verses to include Little Miss Minny Muffin, Baby Sox, Skitty Skat, Santana and Boomer, all animals adopted by Linda Gail or was it the other way around.

Mostly I desire to wax poetic about thirty-one years of memories and my need to have thirty-one more.

From the love story that became a book, “Through the Front Gate.” Don Miller’s writings accessed, purchased or downloaded at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP