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

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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

Musings of a Retired Teacher

“It would seem that you have no useful skill or talent whatsoever,” he said. “Have you thought of going into teaching?” ― Terry Pratchett, Mort

The quote comes from a fantasy novel written by Terry Pratchett in 1986 and took me on one of those silly pig trails I sometimes travel down.  Twisting and winding through briar patches and blackberry brambles, my trail is strewn with rocks and roots just waiting to trip me or rip me to shreds…just like teaching.

Tomorrow, around the foothills of the Blue Ridge, teachers will report to their schools for their first day with students.  The mushy portion of my brain will fool me into thinking I should be there with them.

I taught full time for forty years.  Almost a half years’ worth of teacher workdays, days that we really got little work done as it related to the students we would meet on our first day.  In-services on dress codes, discipline, bloodborne pathogens, safety issues, textbooks, teacher accountability, etc.  I don’t want to even imagine what was discussed in this year’s in-services.  Protecting your students in an active shooter situation?  No, I don’t wish to imagine.

Forty-first days of school.  Conservatively, some five thousand smiling faces waiting for me to impart knowledge and wisdom in an interesting, engrossing and riveting way…and be a role model, mentor and in many cases a parental figure.  Another three first days as I taught part-time for three years as a long-term sub.  Even though I’m beginning my third year of full retirement it would be ridiculous to believe I wouldn’t think I should be somewhere at eight o’clock or so tomorrow morning.  Agreed?

Teachers, too, will be smiling as they welcome their new students, despite their apprehensions.  If they are not smiling they should probably think about another profession.  I would say apprehension would be normal too.  I remember forty-three sleep disturbed nights the day before my first day with students as both my apprehension and excitement built.

I worry about my teaching friends and peers.  So much written about public education is negative…and unwarranted.  I’m not sure where education is headed, or society.  I just know teachers are called on to be much more than just teachers, confidants, mentors and parental figures in our modern world…and due to teacher accountability, teaching to the standards and testing, less time to be “everything” to those children…especially those who need it the most.  And yet, teachers are maligned in so many ways by people who have no clue or with multiple axes to grind.  I “summon” you to use such sentiments as your “battle standard.”

There is a reason, or are reasons, why we are experiencing teacher shortages and rapid teacher burn out.  When teachers need more planning and collaborative time they seem to be getting less.  With shortages in numbers of teachers, class sizes can only go up, taxing people who are only human even more.

First-year teachers? Oh my god, your student teaching experience has not prepared you for what you are about to face.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and experienced teachers, please offer it.  Hang in there, teachers have had to learn on the job since there was the first teacher.  If you can survive until Christmas, you’ve got it made…tee, he, he.

In my first attempt at writing badly I shared the following quote from Jim Henson of Kermit fame, “[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”  While I admit to not always knowing what I was, since my retirement from teaching I’ve found the quote to be true.  I wish I had realized such my first year and made the quote my mantra.  I challenge you to remember this quote.

Teaching is much more than teaching and I miss it every day…well, I miss the students every day.  Keep yourself grounded in the knowledge that it’s not teaching the three “R’s” or teaching to the test.  It is about teaching kids.  Don’t be afraid to get close to your students even though some won’t let you.  You will all be better because you tried.  Be proud of the path you have chosen.  I am proud of you all.

There is no greater joy than to run into a former student.  They always tell you, you were their favorite…even if you weren’t.

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

Image from https://www.teepublic.com/t-shirt/2201031-retired-but-forever-a-teacher-at-heart-t-shirt

 

 

 

A TURN OF A KEY

 

Woolgathering doesn’t quite define it.  I wasn’t pleasantly lost in my thoughts…well…the triggering mechanism wasn’t pleasant.  Word came that a former player has died and then Aretha left us the next day.  Their deaths sent me down the metaphorical pig trails my wife often talks about.  I never met Aretha but Pat…Pat played for me and deserved better from his former coach.

I see him with his arms crossed over an ample belly, chin on his chest, his helmet cocked back on his head during a break in practice.  His head is cocked to the side as he listens to our diminutive offensive line coach pontificate.  They share a joke, both belly laughing and after a bit of back slapping went on about their business.  Seeing them in my mind is a prized memory.

He was a big youngster, playing offensive tackle, gregarious and fun-loving…except when he was trying to get in on the defensive side of the ball.  A pest with a huge grin enveloping his whole face, “Come on Coach Miller, I can do this.  I can make a play.”

He wasn’t the quickest kid, built for comfort not speed.  I tended to put runners on the defensive side, nasty folk who could fly to the ball…he wasn’t a runner…nor was he a bird.  He could be football nasty on occasion…and was.

Maybe I should have rethought my philosophy.  In a goal-line situation, we sent him in to add a bit of beef on the line of scrimmage and he came up with a fumble recovery.  I clearly see him running on to the field, chin and face mask jutting forward in determination, arms windmilling.  Smiling, I see him fist pumping in celebration as he took his place in what had become the offensive huddle.

His junior year we caught lightning in a bottle six times and had our hearts broken four.  The four losses were all heartbreakingly close and as their coach, I should have figured out a way to win a couple of them.  The last one cost us a trip to the playoffs.

Six and four was the best we could muster during my four-year tenure…back when I thought I was a football coach. There is much guilt, regret and now sorrow associated with those years.

He is gone, stolen from us in the middle of the night.  I’m still regretful…regretful I haven’t kept in contact. I forgot I coached kids, not football.  He and the rest of them deserved better because winning was never the only thing.

My pride was hurt and according to the Bible, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  I don’t know about the haughty spirit, but pride made me push the memories aside.  My “embarrassments” were placed in a mental “lockbox” and stored in a far corner of my mind.  I turned a key and walked away thinking it would hurt less.   “Out of sight, out of mind” meant the good recollections and warm feelings were locked away too.

There are too many good memories to hide them away…and too many good friends…the coaches and players.  People I should still be in touch with.  There is too little time to allow bad memories to overshadow the good.

Pat, I’m sorry it is too late for us.  I’m sorry about your beautiful family and their pain.  I know they are hurting.  I know too, they will have wonderful memories to fall back on when they are ready.

The key has turned and the lid has opened flooding me with memories.  The bad ones are still there but overshadowed by the good ones.  Bad memories can be handled when you have so many warm ones.

Rest in peace Pat knowing you will be missed…and adored.

The image was stolen from https://www.escapeyourfateup.com/store/p3/Multi-Room_Experience.html

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

Prince Albert in a Can

 

I watched as the old man sat on the couch slowly loading his pipe.  Using “Virginny” tobacco from a red metal can, arthritic fingers made the process a slow one.  He was in his very late eighties, I in my middle teens.  It was the middle Sixties and I had driven my grandmother to visit her bedridden mother on Christmas Day.

“Ole Pap” had been celebrating the birthday of our Lord and was at least one nip past a “snoot full.”  Drinking was not his holiday tradition unless every day was a holiday.  Normally he did not progress to the one or two “nips past sober” side of the line.  So adept at maintaining the perfect buzz, not quite sober, not quite drunk, I never realized my great grandfather drank until I found him sober one day.  It was not a pleasant revelation.  My grandmother was not happy with her father and left me to be entertained by his drunkenness.

We sat on a long and narrow porch, enclosed when dinosaurs ruled the earth.  Wide windows lined the southeast facing wall and what heat had been generated by the midday sun had quickly left us.  Still, we sat as he smoked his Prince Albert and talked.

In a slurred voice, he told me he had smoked since he was thirteen and taken to nipping at fifteen.  Nipping had turned into something else entirely.  Great Grandpa passed when he was ninety-eight and as far as I know, was tamping Prince Albert tobacco into his Medico Pipe right up until he died…along with drinking a pint of “store bought” brown liquor a day.  Weaning him down might have been what finally killed him.

He could sit for hours, puffing silently on his pipe.  Just puffing enough to keep it burning, staring off at who knew what.  Half blind from cataracts, I’m sure he was staring back at the past.  From the old pictures I had seen he was never a big man but seemed to be collapsing in on himself and shrinking before my eyes.  The couch seemed to swallow him.

Rheumy-eyed and toothless in his very old age, the old man was still a hard knot, one I was terrified of.  Despite his small stature, from the stories I had been told, he had cast a huge shadow.  He was a hard man who lived in hard times.  According to him, “A man had to be hard to survive” …Darwinism at its best…or worst.”

He had seen much history.  The Spanish American War, airplanes, and automobiles. The Great War, The Great Depression, paved roads and the magic of electricity, World War Two, a man stepping on to the moon.  Something tells me he wasn’t too concerned about those events…unless they related to scratching out a living.

“Ole Pap” ran a general mercantile store at a railroad water and fuel stop during the age of steam.  In his free time, he hammered nails as a carpenter until he could buy a piece of land.  I believe he was a bit of a hustler, anything for a buck kind of guy, including making corn liquor during the depression and prohibition…or maybe that’s a story from an overactive imagination.

He married a woman well above his station and helped her raise ten “youngins” to adulthood he said.  “Raising his own workforce.”  Ten children, he recognized and if my grandmother was to be believed, at least one that he didn’t recognize. I believed her.

He hoed corn and grew tomatoes until he was in mid-nineties.  All the while consuming most of his corn from a jar or a bottle…a pipe stuck between his gums and a tin of Prince Albert stuck in the front pocket of his bib overalls when he wasn’t nipping.

I wish I had asked him more questions about the life at the turn of the Nineteenth Century.  I had been taught that children should be seen and not heard…I took it too literally.  Too literal and I was scared to death of him.  I don’t know why he terrified me, he never mistreated me.

I’m sure he was tough on his children, maybe even cruel.  All were hard nuts in their own rights, especially the elder ones.  My grandmother, his oldest, certainly was a hard nut to crack…and she loved her father dearly warts and all.

I do have fond memories, mainly of large family gatherings, cousins galore.  They seemed to always end on the narrow back porch…or wide front porch. Tales being recounted or maybe even created.  Great Grandpa lightly puffing on his pipe, a can of Prince Albert somewhere close by.

If you liked this story you might wish to download or purchase “Pathways” or “Cornfields…in my Mind.”  The can be found at  https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B018IT38GM?redirectedFromKindleDbs=true

The image came from Argosy Magazine, November 1962

 

July Flies and June Bugs

I noticed last night before the mosquitoes drove me in, the July flies have made their emergence.  The males are singing their little hearts out attempting to attract their life partner.  “Go forth and multiply!”  I understand the mating period for a July fly is short.

Last night was the second of two cooler and less humid nights in a row.  Cooler and less humid by July, South Cakalacky standards.  I stood outside listening while enjoying a cigar.  Wish the mosquitoes had thought it was too cool, little vampires that they are.

I’m not a fan of many of our local insects but look forward to the emergence of “lightnin’ bugs” in May, then June bugs and finally July Flies.  I never look forward to the emergence of mosquitoes…not that they ever really emerge, they never seem to disappear.

I remember during the BAC period of our lives, before air conditioning, listening to their mating calls through the open windows.  So many singing at once.  Their chorus reminded of the sounds a distant freight train made during the days of my youth.  Not the “clackity, clackity” but the cycling sound as the trains retreated.  Young Ashley, three or four at the time, even asked me to turn down their volume one night as they interfered with her sleep.  “Can you make them stop?”  Sorry, love of my life, I still haven’t found their volume knob.

We call them July flies here in the southern foothills of the Blue Ridge and the South in general, don’t know about in the North.  They are cicadas, big fly looking insects with clear, iridescent wings and big ole…well…bug eyes.

They emerge in July after thirteen or seventeen years spent underground and their singing seems to be a celebration of sorts.  I would be happy too I guess. To be free of a life underground living off root sap, even if their life above ground is brief.  Their singing makes me smile.

Their songs of joy led me down a pathway to an earlier time.  Not as humid June days from sixty years ago and tying threads around the legs of June bugs.  No, they aren’t related to the July fly, but I never know where my mind might take me.

My grandmother was never happy about beetles chewing on her greenery, especially Japanese beetles.  June bugs to her were just big, neon green “Japanese” beetles, something to be crushed between thumb and forefinger and kept off her okra and roses.

One of my childhood “jobs” was to pick the Japanese beetles off her okra and place them in a jar of soapy water.  I don’t think I was old enough to realize I was drowning them.  I was paid by the number I picked.  I now pick them off myself, but the payoff isn’t pennies to buy Bazooka bubblegum.  It’s the okra for frying or gumbo.

I feel a bit cruel.  Tying thread around the legs of June bugs and flying them in circles around my head.  I can hear their soft drone as their wings beat the air.  I don’t know what we did with those who quit flying but I have an idea…I guess I have effectively purged their demise from my memory.

I haven’t seen any June bugs this year…they tend to appear late in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.  Maybe I’ve been too successful purging grubs from my soil.  No, I’m still battling Japanese beetles in my garden.  Maybe it’s because I just haven’t been looking or avoiding the heat and humidity sitting in my air-conditioned den.  It’s time to slow down and look…and listen…or at least go outside.

For more of Don Miller’s written word try https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B018IT38GM?redirectedFromKindleDbs=true

Image taken from  http://blog.pennlive.com/wildaboutpa/2013/05/cicadas_are_coming_brood_ii_ex.html

A Memory

My junior year in high school, Paul Neal’s retirement as principal caused a domino effect as my football and baseball coach, Bennett Gunter was named principal and his assistant coach, Randolph Potts, became head football and baseball coach.  Two more hats to add to an already crowded resume.  He was already the basketball coach, as in girl’s and boys’ basketball coach.  Oh, he taught science and physical education too.

This was fifty years ago when coaching staffs were just a bit smaller than they are now.  We had two football coaches…total.  I coached high school football for twenty-nine years and even our junior varsity staffs had more coaches by then.

Coach Potts passed away this weekend which is causing me to reflect on the strange and wonderful relationships between coaches and their players.  I feel honored to have been on both sides of the equation and honored to have been coached by Coach Potts.

Coaching and the game of football have changed drastically since the late summers of 1966 and 1967. For thirty-three years, through many of those changes, football was an integral part of my life either playing or coaching it.  I had many coaches and mentors who helped teach me a philosophy of coaching.  As I think back, Randy Potts gave me my first building block.

I was not totally unfamiliar with the new head coach.  He had been a fixture since my first season as an aspiring player and my position coach those previous years.  I remember a tall man with a blond flat top, a prominent nose, and a cheek stretched wide with a “chaw” of tobacco.  A blue wool baseball cap with a gold IL on the front.  A gray tee shirt over khaki pants, rolled up to show white socks and black coach’s shoes…oh, my god, he was my coaching fashion icon too.

I was a terrible athlete, an even worse football player, and fortunate to play on a team with a small number of players.  It gave me a chance to play and I had the opportunity to display my ineptness on many occasions.  One example stands out more than others and drew the deserved wrath of Coach Potts.  At home against Pageland, I met soon to be South Carolina standout Al Usher on the five-yard line with time running out in the first half.  I brought him down ten yards later in the middle of the end zone.  I’m glad halftime was just seconds away, had Coach Potts had any more time to percolate over my effort he might have killed me.  Instead, I got my ears pinned back, shoulder pads pounded, a spray of tobacco juice and a face full tobacco breath to go with it.  No, he was not happy.  Years later, as I began my own coaching career, I would understand.

The following year, also against Pageland, we played in a miserable, torrential, game long downpour.  We moved the ball up and down the field but managed to only put a touchdown on the scoreboard.  We missed the extra point.  Backed up, late in the game I snapped the ball over my punter’s head for a safety.  Pageland scored after the ensuing free kick and despite missing their extra point try, I was lower than whale poop.  We lost eight to six.  It is the only game score I can recall.

I have clear remembrances of sitting in the visiting dressing room, uniform running in water, afraid to look at any teammate eyeball to eyeball.  I wanted to cry but back then real men never cried.  No one said they blamed me which wasn’t the problem, I blamed me.

Coach Potts ambled over and sat down, creating one of those defining moments in a young man’s life.  He said, “Son, don’t blame yourself.  If we had done the things we were supposed to do, that snap wouldn’t have mattered.  Tomorrow the sun will shine…if it quits raining.”  This time he patted me on the shoulder pads.  It did quit raining.

I referred to the moment as defining because as I began my teaching and coaching career, his statement helped guide me.  A game may hinge on one play but if everyone does their job, no one play should matter.  If it does, it’s everyone’s fault, a team sport.  I had a couple of occasions to pass his statement on to needy players.

Some twenty-five years later I got to tell him what his warmhearted and compassionate comment meant to me.  For some forgotten reason, he was in Greenville and asked if he could stop by my office at Greenville High.  I was in the middle of finding out I was not football head coaching material and he was trying to sell life insurance, but we were able to spend some quality time together.  I didn’t buy any insurance, but I do remember telling him what the effect of his words was and how they helped shape who I was.  Today I am thankful I had that opportunity.

Rest in Peace Coach Potts and thanks. The former player whose error kept us out of the state championship thanks you too.  He just didn’t know it was you.

Don Miller’s author’s site may be found at https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B018IT38GM?redirectedFromKindleDbs=true

 

 

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

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