Bookmarks From My Book of Life

 

I’ve sung, played and danced badly all my life.  Some of my earliest memories include the old upright in my grandmother’s hallway, my uncle’s mandolin and the whiny bluegrass he sang…”Blue moon of Kentucky….”  Singing, first in the youth choir at church, then in the adult choir, the high school chorus and playing in the concert band, the college band and a brief stint as a discordant sax playing rock star.

Participating in a men’s quartet singing “Just Have a Little Talk With Jesus,” my thin baritone joining in at the Fifth Sunday Night Sing.  My Uncle James making a not so joyful noise unto the Lord, my cousins and I trapped in the cab of the old flatbed truck as we moved hay bales or corn to the songs he sang.  I’ll say this, he sang praise tunes with great gusto and vigor, but if notes were water molecules, he couldn’t have found one while standing in the ocean.  It didn’t stop him from trying.

I guess what I’m trying to say, on this fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock and the death of Easy Rider’s Peter Fonda, music has played prominently in my life…if not a backdrop for my life, a bookmark.  “Don Miller, A Rock Opera.”

Dancing in the privacy of my room to the songs played on WLS, Chicago.  Beach Music at The Cellar as a young adult.  A cute redhead, and Eddie Floyd singing “Knock on Wood” as I danced badly with her at a rural jook joint outside Newberry.  We danced badly around a divorce later.  Not all bookmarks lead to soothing anodynes.  Some are like sleeping in a patch of prickly pear cactus.

Doing the horizontal rumba for the first time in the backseat of an old Ford while Lou Christy sang “Rhapsody in the Rain”.  Humm.  That earlier relationship didn’t end well either, but I don’t believe it had anything to do with the music.

The movie Easy Rider was an eye-opener and for me heralded a change…although it might have taken forty years for the change to occur.  I’ve only recently embraced my hippie self.  I was a rhythm and blues, beach music, soul music kind of guy…probably still am but sitting at a drive-in with the cute redhead who became ex-wife number one, I became mesmerized, not by the film but by the soundtrack.  Later, I would add the complete Woodstock to my album collection…wonder what happened to those bookmarks, the albums not the ex-wife.

I walked today as I do nearly every day, my playlist playing in my earbuds, just like every day.  Today there was a little dance step to my walk as I thought about Peter Fonda.  I decided to dial up my Easy Rider playlist that includes three different versions of “The Weight”.  One can never get too much of a good song.  

I think I scared a local woman smoking an early morning cigarette on her front porch as I belted out “Born to be Wild”.  I flushed a pair of mourning doves, mourning my off keyed version of “A Little Help From My Friends” while doing my best Joe Cocker impersonation on the double lane. “Don’t Bogart that joint my friend….”  Fun memories bookmarked in my mind.

Some of the bookmarks haunt me but even those trigger warm memories. Ghost stories of friends now gone.  My coconspirators in crime the summers of ’68 and ’69 are both gone to the great cosmic rock concert that is the afterlife.  I miss them almost as much as my lost youth of the same time period.

I wrote about a haunted pink iPod in an earlier blog from a couple of years ago.  A former love now dead gave me the Crosby, Stills and Nash album that featured the song “Southern Cross.”  It’s a song about a long boat trip taken by a man trying to heal his wounds after a bad divorce…what is a good divorce?

We were both wounded, and the song spoke to us as we tried to console each other in ways men and women have been consoling each other for all recorded time, I guess.  After she died, I put the song on my playlist and for some reason, no matter how many times I changed the playlists, the lament was always there…haunting me along with her.

“When you see the Southern Cross for the first time

You understand now why you came this way

‘Cause the truth you might be runnin’ from is so small

But it’s as big as the promise, the promise of a coming day”

 

We were never truly in love, more like friends with benefits, but she is still one of the bookmarks that haunts me.  The old iPod is long since been retired but she is a bookmark, like Easy Rider soundtrack or an old Gospel tune that triggers warm memories in my book of life.

“So I’m sailing for tomorrow, my dreams are a dyin’

And my love is an anchor tied to you, tied with a silver chain

I have my ship and all her flags are a-flyin’

She is all I have left and music is her name”

Music is her name and I call to it often.  For the complete song…

 

 

Quotes and video are from the song “Southern Cross” and the album Daylight Again by Crosby, Stills, and Nash.

Don Miller writes badly about many subjects, both fictional and only somewhat embellished.  For more, go to his author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The featured image is of Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, and Dennis Hopper.  It is from a movie review https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/easy-rider-review-movie-1969-1221117

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Oh Summer Days

 

“Summer in the deep South is not only a season, a climate, it’s a dimension. Floating in it, one must be either proud or submerged.”- Eugene Walter, The Untidy Pilgrim

It is five in the a. m. and I’m standing outside smoking a cigar.  Don’t ask…it’s become the new, old normal.  Blame a life of getting old and blind puppy dogs who don’t know it is the middle of the night when they come looking for belly rubs and snacks…yes, they have trained me well.

Despite being as dark as the inside of a cow…whatever Mark Twain meant by that seems to be accurate although I’ve never actually been inside of a cow…anyway, despite being as dark as the inside of a cow, one could tell there were low clouds pressing down with humidity as thick as a wet, wool blanket.

I wonder who first used that descriptor and to my knowledge I’ve never worn a wet, wool blanket.  Dark and oppressively humid would have described the predawn morning but not nearly as colorfully and with many fewer words.  I also fear I will be submerged and drowning by mid-morning.  Ah, Southern summers.

We have been without more than a few drops of rain for over two weeks.  As warm, humid and still this morning is, I worry the fifty percent chance of thundershowers might become strong thunderstorms.  I also worry we will get no rain at all.

Except for a lone whippoorwill, there are no night sounds.  The lonesome bird is muted even though it is nearby.  “As quiet as the inside of a tomb”…ok, I’ll quit…maybe.

Later when the darkness has turned to a muted light, a woodpecker is beating its brains out against an oak tree but there are no chirps from the songbirds I normally hear.  Maybe the worms were resting in cooler places and the early birds had given up the hunt.

At five the thermometer read seventy-six, but it felt ten degrees warmer.  I decided to wander back inside to work on the next, great American novel.  Right.  I will settle for semi-great or even not so great, but “he has some potential”.  I’d really just like to sell a book to keep me interested.

By seven a. m. the sun might have been above the ridgeline to my east, but you couldn’t be sure.  Gray clouds hung low as I began my morning walk.  The humidity felt heavy against my skin and soon the cotton tee I shouldn’t have worn was saturated.  I’m a Southern male, I do not glisten.  I sweat like a horse and cotton does not wick well.

The air is heavy and still.  The surface of the lake I walk around as flat as a mirror.  Fish must be laying low, not even a ripple.  The sun comes out briefly causing the air to boil around me.  Sweat is now pooling in my unmentionables bathing certain parts in a wet, steamy and I’m sure yeasty film.  I probably should have added some Body Glide or Boudreaux’s Butt Paste before I left…too much information?

The campers I encounter are taking advantage of the relative cool of the foothills of the Blue Ridge at Lookup Lodge.  They are out and about and wondering if they were sold a bill of goods.  “Cool Mountain Mornings?”  These are kids along with their counselors, high schoolers or early college I think…maybe middle school, they all look so young and the sweat is fouling my eyes.

Normally blusterous, their movements are slow, and the usual raucous chattering muted as they line up for breakfast.  The smell of cinnamon rolls permeates the area and my salivary glands add to the relative humidity.

Around the lake, I find my way blocked by a downed tulip poplar laying across one of the wooden footbridges.  As I’m contemplating turning back a younger, female runner passes me and scrambles over the tree leaving me in her dust…humid dust.  She points out how stupid we are, “This is the most humid time of the day” she shouts over her shoulder.  The runner reminds of the days I used to run the same path stubbing my toes on various roots, crashing and burning.  Now I just walk and burn in the humidity. “Hot fun in the Summertime…” sings Sly Stone in my head.

She is correct about our stupidity and the humidity.  I’m reminded of my youthful, ‘early thirty’ mornings hoeing corn or chunkin’ hay bales onto a flatbed along the river bottoms. The heavy dew on broad corn leaves or narrow hay stubble seemed to melt into the air almost choking you with its warm thickness before dissipating into a dusty, dry, throat-searing heat by midmorning.

Julys and Augusts are oppressive in the South, slowing time to crawl.  Was it not for modern conveniences would time stop altogether?  Our ancestors survived with high ceilings, wide, tall windows and broad, tree-shaded verandas.  As a child, I survived with nothing more than a window fan exchanging hot air for hot air.  For some reason, the sun didn’t seem as hot nor the humidity as thick in the hazy fog of my memories.

Today I’m just thankful to have the choice to stay out in the thick, sticky humidity or come into the air-conditioned comfort of my home.  You can probably guess which one I will choose.

For more ramblings go to Don Miller’s author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Featured image is of Salvadore Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory”  and was lifted from Flickr.

Jackie and Pee Wee

Today is Jackie Robinson Day.  A day celebrated in major league baseball stadiums across our land.  A celebration that I’ve seen little hoopla about, just some passing mentions.  I don’t think anyone is ignoring it for any nefarious reason, it is tax day after all…and Tiger did win the Masters, and Notre Dame Cathedral is burning.

I wrote this piece a couple of years ago as part of a celebration for Black History Month and decided to rewrite it in honor of Jackie Robinson…and Pee Wee Reese.

Athletics in general and baseball specifically have played a very important part of my life. I coached at the middle or high school level for forty-five years, thirty-six coaching baseball, all forty-five coaching kids.

I began my coaching career at the end of segregation and the beginning of integration in the South.  The opposition to black and white kids going to school together was still high but in athletic locker rooms around the South, young people figured out a way around their prejudices…at least for a few hours daily.

I have very strong opinions about the state of race and bigotry in the United States and am sure professional baseball locker rooms of today are no different than the general population of today.  What is different, they find a way to overcome it, a way to make it work…kind of like Jackie and Pee Wee.  From two years ago….

“I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fuckin’ zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you can’t use the money, I will see that you are all traded.”  A short speech by Leo “the lip” Durocher, manager of the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, letting his team know that Jackie Robinson was in the big leagues to stay…with or without them.  I’m sure Leo said more, he was, after all, a man of many words…many “colorful” words.

April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to break the major league baseball “color line” since the 1880s.  The “color line” was a “gentleman’s agreement” among major league owners to not allow Blacks to play.  Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodger owner, would scuttle the “gentleman’s agreement” signing Jackie Robinson and putting him on the field.  I would be remiss not to mention that Larry Doby would be the line breaker in the American League with the Cleveland Indians and for some reason flew under the media radar.

Normally a middle infielder, Robinson started at first base his first day in the “Bigs” because All-Star Eddie Stanky was playing second, and Pee Wee Reese was playing shortstop. While not getting a hit, he did walk and scored a run. Facing ALMOST universal racial prejudice, Jackie finished his initial season hitting .297 in one hundred and fifty-one games and received Rookie of the Year honors.  Not bad considering the weight of an entire race that he carried.

I was too young to care much about Jackie Robinson the player and his trials and tribulations.  I hadn’t even been born yet and when I was born, I wasn’t much of a Dodger fan…at least that is my excuse and I’m sticking to it.  Much later, the old newsreel films I watched incessantly proved him worthy of six all-star appearances, a league MVP award and an election to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Today I celebrate the way he revolutionized the game and the trail he blazed for the stars of my own youth and for those who followed. I cannot fathom what baseball might have been without the likes of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, Ozzie Smith, Frank Robinson…you get the idea. There were a bunch of others.  Today I am also aware of his many trials and tribulations.

When I said almost universal prejudice there were a few opposing players and teammates who came to Robinson’s defense while offering him a hand in brotherhood. One of those men became an all-time favorite of mine as a broadcaster. He was Robinson’s former teammate and Dizzy Dean’s “Little Partnah”, Pee Wee Reese. Many of my youthful Saturdays were spent sitting with my father watching the Falstaff Game of the Week with Dizzy and Pee Wee bringing the play-by-play.

During the trailblazing 1947 season, Reese was quoted as saying, “You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them.” Pretty profound for a white guy from Kentucky in 1947. During the Dodgers first road trip as Robinson was being heckled during pre-game infield, Reese, the captain of the Dodgers, went over to Robinson.  Engaging him in conversation, Reese put his arm around Robinson’s shoulder in a gesture of support which silenced the crowd. An eight-foot bronze statue located at the minor league, Brooklyn Cyclones’ stadium commemorates that moment. A plaque states as follows:

“This monument honors Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese: teammates, friends, and men of courage and conviction. Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Reese supported him, and together they made history. In May 1947, on Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, Robinson endured racist taunts, jeers, and death threats that would have broken the spirit of a lesser man. Reese, captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers, walked over to his teammate Robinson and stood by his side, silencing the taunts of the crowd. This simple gesture challenged prejudice and created a powerful and enduring friendship.”

Image result for statue of jackie robinson and pee wee reese

Simple gestures can solve major problems.

Don Miller writes on many varied subjects.  His author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

 

Looking Toward Spring

 

As I reached an age of wonder, I often wondered what my grandmother was looking toward as she gazed out of her window at her world.  During the gray days of winter, once her chores were completed, she often sat by the window in her bedroom looking out over her rock garden.  The garden was gray and brown…and bare.  No hollyhocks, iris or lilies…no butterflies.  Just the remnants of last year’s spring, summer, and fall.  Like her plants, my grandmother seemed to wilt and turn gray herself in the winter only to be reborn again in the spring.

Many winter afternoons were spent with a patchwork quilt, sewing quietly with WBT AM playing softly in the background…until some thought of spring crossed her mind and, once again, she would peer out of her window. Other days she might sit with her Bible, a crossword puzzle or the latest Readers Digest condensed anthology.  She would read, gaze out, read some more and repeat like the seasons.  Nannie would begin her rebirth as soon as the seed catalogs began to arrive RFD.

Later in life, she sat with her easel in a sunroom that had become her bedroom, surrounded by her plants and books, and would apply acrylic paint to a canvas board.   She created colorful remembrances based on memories of springs and summers past.  Flowers and birds were favorites…as were the ponds and lakes she fished in.

I understand why she looked toward spring.  I look toward spring myself when the blues and purples of crocus, periwinkle, and violets add color to the browns of winter.  Their blues and purples replacing the blues and purples clouding my own mind.

Looking toward spring until the reddish blossoms of a redbud tree and the pinks, oranges, and reds of azaleas replace bareness, brown and gray.  Till the yellows of buttercups and forsythia mimic the brightness of the sun.  Till the dogwood celebrates the blessings of Easter.  I look toward spring.

The birds bring color too.  Redbirds and woodpeckers have been active all winter as have robins and tanagers, battling the squirrels for the sunflower seeds I put out. They’ve been joined by gold and purple finches.  Their colors growing bolder as the days grow longer and their need to mate becomes stronger.

A pair of nuthatches are working hard to hatch their clutch and they wait, upside down, as I load the feeder near the house I fashioned for them from a hollow log.  I didn’t know I was fashioning it for them but they have taken it over for the past few years.  Returning like the spring.

Mourning doves coo softly and despite their name, I smile, not finding their call to be sad at all.  They are waiting until I leave before feeding on the seeds that have fallen upon the ground.

It won’t be long before the coos, chirps, and calls will be joined nightly by the lament of the whippoorwill or the “hoot, hoot, hoot” of owls on the far hillside.  They add their own color to the darkest night.

It was still cool this morning as I walked my familiar route.  The signs of spring were everywhere…yellow pollen fell from the trees onto the greening grass and swirled in the light breeze.  I worried about my bear friend I sometimes see on this rarely traveled road.  He’s more scared of me than I am of him…right?

A single turkey flushed from a thicket, climbed high, higher, highest to the crest of a hill.  Later, on the way back, a blue heron wading in the nearby the stream took to the air.  So sorry, I wouldn’t dare hurt you.  Huge wings gaining altitude into a cobalt blue sky.  The majestic bird only visits in the spring, so spring must really be here.

Soon butterflies will add their color to the wildflowers and plants I put out.  Yellow, red or blue and black wings will light upon blues, pinks, and whites as the season of rebirth moves on to the season of growth.

I know what my grandmother was looking toward and my heart smiles.  I am glad spring is here and the memories of her it brings.

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

Privet… Oh, How I hate Thee!

 

Right up there with Kudzu.  After weed whackin’, choppin’, and pullin’ for five hours I got my first patch knocked down.  I liberated some bear plant, a couple of nandinas, a large patch of tiger lilies and iris and what I think is wild almond.  A lot of honeysuckles and wild blackberries came out too.  Sorry for droppin’ my gees but I do that when I’m tired… I’m very tired.  I’ve still got two patches to go… did I mention I’m sore? Oh, my everloving back!

Some fool decided to introduce privet to the US from Asia in the 1700s.  It’s called a hedge, but I find it to be a very un-hedge like hedge.  It’s not thick like a hedge I would want or I’m not growing it correctly.  Privet roots creep underground and send up shoots when it senses sunlight and creeps along some more and sends out more shoots, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera until you have a patch the size of Rhode Island.

Folks from the US must not be very bright… nothing political there… much.  After Asian privet… why would we think Asian kudzu was a good idea?  I’m a dumb American, I followed up with Asian honeysuckle…not that it is a problem… oh yes, it is! Pretty, aromatic and a problem… except on an early summer’s night when the scent reaches me, carried through my open windows by a gentle breeze.

Privet…a problem at best.  I normally cut down my privet two or three times a year… along with the kudzu, honeysuckle, and blackberry that tangles themselves with it.  I had some health issues last summer and I think I must have missed a whackin’ or two.  Between privet, kudzu, blackberry and the local variety of honeysuckle I probably could stay busy with twelve-hour days during the summer.  I just try to stay a little behind.  It helps that my wife won’t let me touch the Asian honeysuckle under threat of a frying pan upside my head.

Privet does put off some white blossoms in the spring… and poisonous, blue-black berries in the summer. Don’t believe the privet blossoms have a scent but I know if I don’t get the plant down before it blooms, my bride won’t let me touch it.

I didn’t always hate privet.  Right outside my grandmother’s backdoor was a patch of privet…patch?  More like a …a forest of privet.  Way tall privet, not hedge-like at all.  She had allowed it to grow redwood style and then hollowed out the center of the patch to create an outdoor room.   Protected from the harsh summer sun, she kept the running roots clipped when they poked their little heads out of the ground.  Kept the dirt swept clean with a twig broom.  It was OUR hidden retreat from the summer sun, a bountiful garden that grew a child’s imaginative games.  Good memories!

I remember chasin’ lightning bugs through the canopy created by the privet or making mud pies using the dark soil as a primary ingredient.  I remember singin’, “Doodlebug, Doodlebug, fly away home, your house is on fire and your kids are all gone” over a hole in the ground not knowin’ what a doodlebug was or why his house was on fire.

I remember jaybirds fighting over the cracked corn my grandmother put out on her feeders.  Their chatter was loud and raucous.  Sitting and listening to bird calls while my grandmother broke beans or cut corn.  Hearing her say, “Listen chile, that’s a catbird” or a mocking bird or whatever.

I remember hoppin’ on a wide flat rock and havin’ it walk off with me standing on it.  Dang big turtle…course I wasn’t very old or big.   Had soup that night, too.  Yum.

Yeah, that privet wasn’t too bad.  I must raise bad privet…at least bad privet rekindled a few memories.

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

Championship Emotions

As I watched last night’s National Championship game, I seemed to drift to days of yesteryear.  Not that the game wasn’t interesting…well…anytime you pop the bully in the mouth it is interesting.  My memories were of young men competing on fields marked with white lines that seemed to glow with their own light.  Days when I still coached football, at a different level, in a different time.  But it was football.  I thought of an early spring evening at a coaching clinic held at Clemson University in 1981.

Danny Ford was my guy in 1981…still is my guy.  I miss his visage and demeanor on the sidelines at Death Valley.  A personable, country come to town, baseball cap pushed back on his head, a piece of grass stuck between his lip’s kind of guy.

Danny spoke two languages, football, and Alabama redneck.  He had a look that could freeze your heart or melt it.  He is still my guy.  Danny had recruited our school as an assistant, and our staff had developed a closeness with him during those days that carried over after he was named head coach.  Not that the present head coach isn’t my guy, Dabo is…its just different…despite being an Alabama boy too.

During those days I had dreams and aspirations.  Dreams and aspirations that never quite came to fruition.  I am now a spectator instead of a participant.  Sounds like I might be bitter.  Hmm.  Thoughts for another day.

Being young and foolish, our high school staff “closed” the clinic in the spring of 1981.  Late in the evening, sitting around a table were maybe a dozen of us “hardcore partiers”.  Ford knew how to throw a clinic.  After the football X’s and O’s were done, he served us beer in sixteen-ounce Hardee’s cups, pulled pork sandwiches with fixings and entertained us with a tree climbing hound dog while a bluegrass band played in the background.  The festivities had ended, the band packed up, with just a few of us sitting around a knockdown table.

In my world of coaching, I sat in the rarified air of coaching elite.  Successful high school head coaches sat close by while I thought it was smart for children and young coaches to be seen and not heard.  I admit to feeling somewhat invisible but listened intently hoping for a coaching nugget to stick in my brain.  Funny, Danny Ford was just two years older.

Normally jovial and full of country colloquialisms, this version was depressed and subdued.  Hat pulled down over his eyes, crying in his beer depressed.  Inside of a coffin subdued.  Clemson had just come off a terrible six and five season and he was feeling pressure from the administration and alumni.  A well-known, South Carolina High School Hall of Fame coach gradually drew him out before pushing a Hardee’s cup toward him saying, “Son, all you can do is coach ‘em up and love ‘em.  Other than that, what’s gonna happen is gonna happen.”

Something happened.  Clemson’s first National Championship was won ten months later as the Tigers beat Nebraska to cap the first storybook season.  The first of three storybook seasons…so far.

I ran into Danny recently…literally not figuratively.  I’m smiling.  At a small mercantile in the middle of nowhere, I walked into him as I exited the door with a package of cigars.  He was entering to get a pouch of Red Man and a hotdog.  Some things never change.  We both paused waiting as neurons slowly crackled in recognition.

Pointing a sausage sized finger at me, he drawled, “I know you.  You were with Lunceford and Bradburn at Mauldin.”  It was nice to be remembered.  I shivered a bit.

We stood outside, leaning on truck tailgates, reminiscing about times gone by and people we’ve lost, highs and lows, hemp farming, raising cows, grandchildren, and retirement.  “Whatever happened to….”  He seems quite happy to be out of the spotlight butI don’t think Danny Ford will ever retire.  Our meeting left me both proud and a bit melancholy, like what I am feeling this early, early morning as the talking heads analyze Clemson’s throttling of the Crimson Tide.

It seems we’re a lot alike…except I’m not a National Championship coach from a major university.  Neither of us misses the long hours but miss the people.  We miss the competition and prowling the sidelines on game night.  We don’t miss the practices held in hot and humid August and September.  I guess he is still competing in a way, now from astride a tractor, trying to resurrect a hemp industry while raising cattle.  At least the cab is airconditioned.

The memories we shared were warm, but I think we both fear there will come a time when memories are all we will have left…or maybe it is only my fear.  I guess I do miss “coaching them up and loving them.”  I also realize my time has passed.  Another reason to be melancholy.  The game has passed me by…but I’m not sorry.  I still have the memories and the attending emotions of young men competing on brightly lit green fields striped in white.

For those of you, not football fans, Dabo is Dabo Swinney, head football coach of the 2018 National Champion Clemson Tigers.

For further musings, https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is of Danny Ford being carried off of the field after Clemson’s 22-15 victory over Nebraska in 1981 National Championship.

“They Paved Paradise….”

 

I have been asked to speak to a historical group at the “active-adult retirement community” now located where my childhood home once stood.  The home of my youth, a brick veneered cottage located between two hills.  A small house but a house full of memories that spilled out along the river road that ran beside it and up the hillsides flanking it.  A homesite now covered by pavement, retirement homes and businesses.

I’m speaking about the history that I lived as a youth, the South in the Fifties and Sixties.  As I have prepared for my speaking engagement, my thoughts and dreams have drifted to those “thrilling days of yesteryear.  Hi-yo Silver, Away!”

My thoughts run through a gazillion emotions and memories.  They flow faster than I rode my red Schwinn Torpedo through the ruts cutting the old river road leading to the Catawba and my youthful adventures.

It has been fifty years since I left the home of my youth, but recently I find myself thinking more and more about people I grew up with, family and friends, and a place that no longer exists anywhere other than my mind.

Mental images of mixed forests of pines and hardwood cut by streams inhabited by crawdads, frogs, turtles, and salamanders.  Fields of tall corn, cotton bolls bursting white in the fall or thick hay and pastures.  I remember ponds loaded with bluegill and largemouth.  Mostly, I remember a dirt road that led to great adventures concocted by a youthful imagination.

I only spent eighteen years living there before leaving for college and a lifetime of work.  Over time, I became a visitor to my childhood home…until it was replaced by progress.

Yet…I remember those first eighteen years with much greater clarity than what I did yesterday.  No matter how I age, my thoughts wind back…back to the river road where I grew up.

I think of home and smile but find it depressing to return.  The cotton, corn, and hayfields of my youth have been replaced by Walmart, QT, Publix, countless other businesses and miles and miles of parking lots.  Joni Mitchell is singing in my head, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”  It was a paradise, I just wish I had realized it at the time.

Many of the lakes I fished have been filled in or have signs prohibiting the fun I had.  The forests I wandered have been cut down and the river road sparking my youthful imagination supplanted by the perceived modern headway in the form of homes built for the youthful, over fifty-five crowd.

There are some landmarks I recognize, but a library and a small strip mall now sit where a home full of memories once sat.  I do find solace that a library has replaced it.  Both my grandmother and father were voracious readers…as am I because of them.

I have now lived on my little piece of heaven for over thirty years and it reminds me of my youthful residence…except it is hillier.  It’s green in the spring and summer, cut with streams loaded with trout and nearby ponds and lakes are filled with panfish and bass.  Sounds like I need to go fishing.  There is wildlife galore and plenty of characters to study or ignore.

My old farmhouse is also filled with memories that flow out to the hillside it sits on…hopefully with more memories to come.  My adventures are no longer youthful…but I still have adventures…I just don’t run from them as fast.

It is easy to draw connections between my present home and my home from yesteryear.  I wonder?  My daughter will be my present age in thirty-three years.  I wonder what paradise will look like to her?

For more of Don Miller’s wanderings https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is from Pinterest.

Haunted Houses

 

“It was a mistake to think of houses, old houses, as being empty. They were filled with memories, with the faded echoes of voices. Drops of tears, drops of blood, the ring of laughter, the edge of tempers that had ebbed and flowed between the walls, into the walls, over the years.”  -Nora Roberts, “Key of Knowledge”

An old farmhouse sitting on top of a hill.  Tall hemlock and walnut trees surround it.  The original front porch shone with a silvery gray color in the moonlight…from the silver paint applied by a wandering group of shysters who convinced the previous owners to let them paint the roof.  The silver paint had washed off by the first winter rain, staining the original lapboard that clad the old farmhouse.  The shysters were long gone.  Moss covered chimneys in disrepair rose above the rust stained, metal shingles.  If you need a site for a horror film, I have a one for you.

This was the house we purchased thirty-one years ago…a house we fell in love with as soon as we saw it.  A house we renovated and brought into the twenty-first century.  I wish we had left it the way it was when we first saw it but sometimes my memories are softer than the here and now.

Spirits reside here.  Renovations have not chased them away.

Mike Franks, a character from the television program NCIS made the follow observation, “With the memories we make. We fill the spaces we live in with them. That’s why I’ve always tried to make sure that wherever I live, the longer I live there, the spaces become filled with memories of naked women.”

I always laugh when I hear him say that.  I think too, our spaces become haunted not only with the memories of naked people but any person who has been lost…people we don’t even know…people who lived their lives and died within these walls.

Four families have contributed memories I believe haunt this old farmhouse.  Except for a period in the Fifties, it has been occupied continuously since 1892…a lot of spirits I would guess.

Despite our renovations, this old farmhouse still creaks and moans.  If the wind is just right and the TV is low, late at night you can hear the spirits…whispers in the dark, a light footfall, a woman’s giggle…or a maybe just a scurrying mouse or a puppy moving in her sleep at the foot of the bed.  I choose the former.

Sometimes when I’m reading, as the witching hour approaches, I catch movement just outside the periphery of my vision…beyond the light cast by my reading lamp.  A shadow that doesn’t quite belong, a flash of light despite the darkness that surrounds me.  I don’t fear them, I welcome them.

We’ve spent thirty Halloweens inside of these walls…we’ve never had a trick or treater.  No little ghouls or goblins.  The house looks haunted in the darkness of night with little light filtering through the hemlocks.  It is their loss.  A not so wicked witch lives here.

I’m comfortable with my spirits.  The spirits residing here…and the ones I brought with me from a time gone by, from places that no longer exist anywhere other than my mind.  No vampires or werewolves, just spirits that lovingly caress a cheek or place a steadying hand lightly upon my shoulder.  Comfortable and loving spirits from a time long past who visit me every day, not just Halloween.

For more of Don Miller’s ramblings https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is from https://www.narcity.com/ca/on/ottawa/things-to-do-in-ott/a-giant-mansion-in-ottawa-is-being-transformed-into-a-creepy-haunted-house-this-october

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

 

I have a vision of our old farmhouse before we renovated.  Gray-silver metal roof shingles streaked with rust.  One bathroom with a bathtub and no shower.  An unheated upstairs and air-conditioned nowhere at all.  A fairly large kitchen despite the old woodstove with a walk-in pantry that was quite spacious.  A doorway leading to a stoop that led to a…patio?  On the other side of the kitchen, a doorway led to a small back porch holding among other things, a washer and dryer that we feared would freeze every winter and hid a rat snake during the summer.

The old home was quaint and comfortable unless you wanted to be warm in the winter or cool in the summer…or if you wanted to take a shower.  In 1995 we decided we would renovate.  Not much you understand.  We would take off and seven hundred and fifty square feet of kitchen and pantry while adding an upstairs bedroom and bath, with a shower of course, and a new kitchen, dining room, den and a half bath with shower downstairs.  Later we would replace the roof and all of the old wavy, paint-streaked, lead glass windows.  A total of about two thousand square feet replaced the original seven hundred and fifty…but it hasn’t replaced the memory of the old place and now the thoughts that usually begin “I wish.”

It’s not that Linda and I don’t appreciate being able to take a shower, we do, but we miss the quaintness.  We also miss the huge pantry…especially Linda Gail.  The huge fireplace in the den is a great conversation piece with its handmade “chainsawed” walnut mantle and huge centerpiece stone but sometimes I miss the original fireplace and wood stove.

There is a little bit of pride that goes with saying, “The flooring and cabinets came from pecan and walnut trees from the property…as did the table and kitchen island.”  Even when the table and island warp upward in the winter and downward in the summer.

For some reason, it is just not the same.  We lost the upstairs cubby hole with the pitter-patter of little “flying squirrel” feet and the slithering of rat snake non-feet.  That is actually a bad thing.

It is both funny and odd what Linda Gail misses and she is going to kill me when she sees this in print.  It’s okay Linda Gail, there are still some secrets I will never tell.  When we renovated the old bathroom we changed the location of the toilet.  Linda can no longer sit and see the birds dining in the feeder from her new “perch.”  This is something she reminds me of quite often.

Linda Gail and I aren’t angry. We just wish we had had a crystal ball or maybe enough money for just a little “do-over.”  Are there renovation “Mulligans?”  I guess not.  We thought we were outgrowing our little farmhouse and instead, we found we just overfill whatever space we have.  The good news is that we overfill that space with memories too…good ones.

There are other lessons we continue to learn from living in a house that originally dates from 1890 or so.  Not the least of which is, “Renovations are never completed.”  A new water heater or two to go with replacing the heating system or a leak here or there.  It is odd, knock on wood, “Seems as if everything replaced seems to be the first to go, having to be replaced again.”  Is that the designed obsolescence I’ve heard so much about?

Excerpt from Through the Front Gate by Don Miller which can be purchased or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is of the old portion of the house, my little piece of heaven.

Knocked your Noggin’

 

“Watch your head!” followed by “Oops! Knocked your noggin’.”  My beloved says it a dozen times a day…mostly to our blind puppy dogs…but sometimes to me.  With blind puppy dogs, we have had to “puppy proof” all the sharp edges inside and outside our old farmhouse.  Feed bags filled with feed bags to guard and cushion sharp corners or narrow pasteboard boxes turned on their side to keep lost puppies from wandering where they shouldn’t.  I should probably just dress in bubble wrap.

The puppies, Maddie and Tilly, do well considering their disability.  Much better than their master.  I have my vision and still run into things.  I seem to bark my shins or forehead with an increasing frequency.

Coming in and removing my cap, I hear, “What did you do to your head?”  My beloved’s voice is fraught with faux concern, a mischievous grin plays on her lips and an impish twinkle flashes from her hazel eyes.

I’ll have none of it, “You know damn well I scrapped it on your cartop day before yesterday.  It’s just taken this long to scab over.”

If it had not been her canvas convertible top, it would have been something else.  It seems as my birthdays have increased and the hair on my head has decreased I can’t keep my scalp intact and unmarred.  Some mornings I awake and, while brushing my “tooth”, find I have been mugged during the night if the mirror is to be believed.  “Where the hell did that come from?”

I am my father’s son and he and WKRP’s Les Nessman could have been brothers.  Dad would come in from work wearing a band-aid, bandage or dressing on something, usually on his nose or forehead.  The wounded area was usually somewhere not easily camouflaged and in a different spot from the previous one.

Working with him at Springs Mills during my high school days I remember an early morning shift after a late-night football game.  I had dragged a beaten and bruised body into work and found myself emptying quill boxes, quill being the bobbins after they had been emptied of tread.  It was a job I could do on autopilot but probably shouldn’t have.  My father would agree.

I pushed a quill buggy up and down the long allies of looms working myself into a sweaty rhythm.  Push the buggy down the ally, stop, turn to the right, pull out the heavy metal box, carefully empty it into the quill buggy, carefully slam the box back into the loom, turn to the left and repeat.  Yep, autopilot…until you hit something that shouldn’t be there.

If I had been paying attention I would have seen him sprawled in the ally in front of me, but I was on autopilot.  The buggy bounced back at me, both startling me and waking me from my walking nap.  I was soon facing an angry father with blood dripping down his face.  I had startled him as he worked under the loom causing him to sit up quickly.

There are a lot of sharp and hard angles with metal gears under a loom.  Ernest’s forehead had found one and blood was already dripping down his nose…”Oops! Knocked your noggin’” never came to my mind.  The gear teeth left an ugly mark until covered by his pre “Les Nessman” band-aid.

Now, where did I put those band-aids?  I’m going out to work on my tractor.  I’m sure I’ll need one before the day is done.

The image is of Les Nessman sporting his trademark band-aid from the late Seventies comedy series WKRP in Cinncinati.

For more musings by Don Miller https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM