THE BELL RINGER

A local icon has passed.  I think everyone is familiar with the Radio story, at least if you are from the South.  A book and movie chronicled the story of a mentally challenged young man who was befriended by a coach, school and community.  Radio went on to be what I call the “Bell Ringer” for his school.

If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s worth the rental with Cuba Gooding playing James “Radio” Kennedy and Ed Harris playing Coach Harold Jones.  I was lucky enough to have met both Radio and Coach Jones as we squared off against each other on many fields of athletic endeavor.  It was always a joy, win or lose to meet up with Radio.

Many small towns, even some larger ones, have bell ringers like Radio.  I call them bell ringers because of one special man who rang the victory bell at a local high school’s football field.  Some were flag bearers as they led their football team onto the field, through the goal post and hopefully on to victory.  One, after growing old in age but not spirit, was buried in the local Legion baseball uniform.  Undying loyalty even in death.

Young men who grew old but never quite grew up.  For some reason, God chose them to be both challenged and special.  They were folks who in addition to being challenged, were special to their schools and were their school’s number one fan and “Bell Ringer.”  They all possessed the wide-eyed wonderment and innocence associated with the young every time their teams took the field.

Radio passed last night at seventy-three.  He had been in bad health, in and out of the hospital will complications due to diabetes and kidney function.  His hugs and smiles will be missed by the school and community.

Last year the CBN network and 700 Club aired an interview and article on Radio’s and Coach Jones’s fifty-year friendship.  I cannot improve upon it so I will simply share it.  The link is…. https://www1.cbn.com/act-kindness-results-50-year-friendship.

You should take the time to watch the interview or read the article.  It not Coach Jones’s final quote is “People with special needs, you know, they give us more love than we can actually return.”   Radio certainly provided a lot of love.

Don Miller is a retired teacher and coach who is still trying to write the next great American novel.  His author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is of Harold Jones and Radio Kennedy and came from Greenville Online.

A Changing of the Guard

 

John McKissick has died.  The picture in the first obituary I read reminded me of a similar pose by General Douglas MacArthur…a green and gold baseball cap instead of a military-style hat with scrambled eggs on the visor, no corncob pipe, but the same jutting, strong chin, and intense look.  Arms crossed in front of his body, he was an imposing figure despite the hint of a smile.  The picture reminded me that along with soldiers, old coaches never die.  They live on in our memories, especially if they are legendary.  McKissick was legendary as was MacArthur…but without MacArthur’s narcissism.

I knew Coach McKissick…but I didn’t know Coach McKissick.  A big man, I shook hands with him and his hand swallowed mine.  He was the legend.  I was just starting out, a wet behind my athletic whistle young coach.  He was on his way to becoming the winningest coach in high school football, not just in South Carolina but nationally.  No one has won more games, 621, ten of them State Championship games.

Perspective.  He became the head coach at Summerville High School when I was two years old and retired the same year I did.  I coached for forty-five years.  He spent sixty-three years as the head coach at the same school.  Over five thousand players…in some cases, three generations of players.  Further perspective, he won 604 more games as a head football coach than I did.

Coach McKissick was a legend and I was a peon; a child and we all know children should be seen not heard.  I learned over time Coach McKissick would have never thought of me that way.  It was my own insecurities melting me under his gaze.

I misstated earlier.  Coach McKissick is a legend.  He still lives on in the hearts of his former players and coaches…and some people he never really knew.

At a clinic in the late Seventies, I sat just outside of his orbit making sure to be seen but not heard.  His orbit included the rest of South Carolina’s Football Trinity, Willie Varner and Pinky Babb.  They were the archangels of the religion known as Southern football…at least in South Carolina.  Together they have 1340 victories.  There were other angels at the altar of football but these three men were the most legendary of the legendary and McKissick would eventually fly higher than any with almost half of their total.

In the periphery of his orbit, I scribbled notes, hanging on his every word, hoping to pick up some tidbit to make my Xs better than someone else’s Os.  I should have listened more and quit writing notes.  For McKissick, as I learned, it was never about Xs and Os, it was about kids.  He was never a master strategist; he was a leader of men.

His former players use such descriptors as honest, motivating, inspiring, and inspirational.  Some use the greatest descriptor, a father figure.  These men speak of life lessons, those he taught and they learned.  They speak of how John McKissick was the town and school of Summerville.  Not one speaks of Xs and Os.

In an interview in Charleston’s Post and Courier by Gene Sapakoff, Coach McKissick refused to let his light shine when asked the keys to his success.  I quote directly from the Post and Courier, “I was in a good place and I was surrounded by good people; coaches, administrators, and some good players,” McKissick said. “I’ve always heard that if you surround yourself with good people who work hard, good things will happen.”

I dare say, it took a special coach to pull it all together and keep it going for sixty-three years.

The old guard was changing before Coach McKissick retired.  Babb and Varner had crossed over to their hereafter and many others of the old school had retired.  New coaches were lining up to take their places.  New legends in waiting…they’ll never be McKissick.

Football, the game, was evolving from a straight-ahead, three yards and a cloud of dust, bust you in the chops game to a more pass-happy, spread you out, finesse rather than smack you in the face game.  Honestly, I don’t recognize it sometimes.

I’m sure Coach McKissick changed how he attacked other people’s Os with his Xs but I’m also sure he never changed the way he coached.  You don’t have to change the way you coach when you coach kids and not a game.

Rest in peace Coach McKissick, rest in peace.

Featured image from USA Today, (Photo: Associated Press)

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

How Did We Survive?

 

My downstairs air conditioner is out…specifically the air handler.  I felt it when I came downstairs first thing this morning.  For some reason, air-conditioned air at seventy-one degrees feels different than non-air-conditioned air at the same temperature.  Am I crazy? Oh yes but not because of that last statement.  I knew immediately something was amiss.

I am anxiously awaiting my rescue from the remnants of the lingering summer.  It’s not too bad…yet.  We are well shaded but I’m expecting temps in the mid-nineties by week’s end…it could be bad by Friday if my problem hasn’t been rectified by then…it could be bad tonight as inside temperatures approach a balmy seventy-five.  I don’t sleep well above seventy-two…who am I kidding?  I don’t sleep well.

I should warn you; I sweat in Biblical proportions.  Noah’s forty days and nights look like a clearing off shower.

My predicament once again has me scurrying down a pig trail that leads to those thrilling days of yesteryear.  How did we survive in the days when air-conditioning was not the norm?

I know.  You get used to what you get used to and I have become acclimated to air-conditioned air.  There was a time….

I remember an unairconditioned school building.  We never called off school because of extreme temperatures, hot or cold…but I forget we were built of sterner stuff.  As first graders, we walked ten miles to and from school, uphill in both directions, wind, rain, snow or asteroid strike be damned.

A brick building with wide and high windows.  Ceilings twenty-five feet high if they were an inch, not really but twelve at least…may be.  Unscreened, high and wide windows, I  remember the panic caused by red wasps visiting our eighth-grade history class and trying to take notes around the droplets of perspiration dripping onto my notebook.

During those wonderful years of junior high school, one young lady decided shucking her underwear might help with heat transfer…in the middle of class.   Much in the same way my wife can change clothes using her tee-shirt as her dressing room, this girl squirmed out of her slip.  Our teacher, a somewhat flustered Mister Gunter cautioned us that we should reframe from removing foundation garments due to the heat.  Somehow, we survived with most of our clothing on.

Church Sundays were the same…except for the removing of our underwear.  Tall windows open to catch whatever breeze was available.  No screens and plenty of wasps visiting, dispensing their own version of hellfire and brimstone.

Handheld funeral fans causing us to sweat more with the effort needed to keep the hot and humid air moving.  Sweat soaked dress shirts ruined when the varnish on the pews stuck to them.  I survived even if my shirts didn’t.

At home, it was ceiling box fans and window fans, sitting on the front porch until the bedroom had cooled sufficiently enough for the sandman to visit…sleeping on the front porch when it was miserably hot.  Hmm…decisions, decisions.  Sweat yourself to sleep in the bedroom from Dante’s Inferno or risk getting sucked dry by mosquitos.  I believe I’ll just lay here with a window fan installed backwards in the window at the foot off my bed.  I actually slept that way…with my head at the foot of my bed with chicken wire covering the backside of the fan so I didn’t accidentally stick a body part in it.  Somehow, we did survive…body parts and all.

I know we spent our awake time outdoors.  No matter how hot it was outside, it was cooler than inside.  A lot of the time was spent in my grandmother’s garden, playing cowboys and Indians in and around the barn or recreating World War Two in the woods or on the clay bank behind my house.  For some reason, it didn’t seem as hot then.

It’s persimmon season despite the heat and I remember running barefoot under the persimmon tree in my grandmother’s backyard.  Rotting persimmons caking on the bottom of my feet, oozing between my toes, sticking to the brown, dusty, dry dirt.  Hearing, “You chaps clean your feet before you come into this house!”  Heading to the stream that ran through the pasture trying to pry the mud off our feet.  Getting distracted with the crawfish and minnows…forgetting it was time to do my chores.  “Go out there and pick me a keen hickory!  I’m gonna switch them legs.”  No physical marks remain and eventually my feet came clean.

When my bride and I first moved to our little piece of heaven in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, we had no air conditioning and were surprised at the low ceilings our little farmhouse had…until winter hit, and we understood.  It gets cold in them thar hills.  The original owners were required to feed five fireplaces to heat their home.  Low ceilings make for a warmer house.

In the summer we never ventured onto the second floor, it was just too hot.  For seven years we survived with the help of the hemlocks, poplars and black walnuts surrounding the house along with ceiling and window fans.   Late nights sitting on the front porch waiting for the bedroom to cool down.  Just talking and rocking or swinging, holding hands, the smell of a cigar mixing with the forest smells and citronella.  Good times.  Maybe we did more than survive.

My guess is we will survive this little blip on our radar.  Still, I hope it is a short little blip.

The image is of Robert Hays sweating it out as Ted Striker in Airplane! (1980)

Further musings may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Confessions of a Coaching Fraud…

 

My induction into a former high school’s athletic hall of fame has me flitting hither and yon over memories from forty-plus years of teaching and coaching.  For some reason, I don’t feel very worthy of the accolades.

It was great to see former players now conquering their own lives and being successful by any standard applied. Former students, coaching peers, and parents stopping by and pumping my hand or hugging my neck.  It wasn’t great, it was wonderful.

Still, I wonder in the back of my head, “Why?”  “How?”  “Am I a fraud?”  Sometimes things were too easy…except when they weren’t.

Dozens have extended congratulations and well wishes on social media and email.  Despite my pride and delight…I don’t feel worthy.

The festivities were poignant, my plaque sitting alongside Tim Bright’s, a player who passed too soon due to colon cancer.  A player who was, along with hundreds of others, responsible for my success.  I wonder what he might have accomplished had he not left us.  His family is so dedicated to his memory.  His charity is still doing great things for those who suffered as he did.

My wife…a former coach herself and far superior in my estimation.  As always, standing by my side.  Always supportive, always ready with a meaningful critique of the last game’s outcome.  Greatest supporter and greatest critic.  “Just let them play and quit bunting so much.”  “Why did you do….”  I do miss her voice distinguishable from anywhere in a stadium no matter how large or loud the crowd was.  “Come on Coach, run your other play!”  I am so lucky and so unworthy.

As I look back, it seemed too easy.  I know I’m looking through the sands of time and the time is becoming a sandstorm.  Still, great assistant coaches, great players, and great parents made my successes.  I just walked around being me.

I’ve heard so many horror stories that I never experienced.  There were just a few bad apples, just a few obstacles…maybe they weren’t bad apples…maybe I just did find the key to unlock their potential.  I do feel like the king of frauds.

There were laughs and tears but the tears were minimal.  When we gather and exclaim, “Do you remember…?”, the question is always about the laughs.  It is easy to remember the good times.

Through the magnifying glass of retrospection, even the bad seasons were good.  Seasons we knew we were bad but managed to get better.  Sometimes a seven-win season could be as rewarding as a state championship season.  Seasons you really didn’t know how good or bad you were.  Seasons you just put in the work that didn’t seem like work and hoped for the best.  I believe I always received the best they had.  I hope they received mine.

When I first began my coaching journey, I was terrible.  Some might say, “Nothing ever changed.” It is a fact I’m comfortable with because I believe I grew despite feeling apologetic to those early teams.

I grew and turned a corner of sorts after a bitter loss. I lamented to the offending coach. “I don’t know what to do.”  His answer was, “You love them.  Remember, you’re not coaching football, you’re coaching kids.  Win or lose you love them.”  I tried to apply his nugget through the rest of my career.

Names and faces blur over time but I can honestly and unapologetically say, “I loved them.”  I didn’t coach football, soccer or baseball, I coached kids.  Maybe I’m not as big a fraud as I believe.

It has been three years since I last stalked a sideline or a dugout.  I honestly haven’t missed the practices or the games.  Every time I think I might return to a grassy field my body does something to remind me of the beating it has taken over the years and those feelings pass.

What I miss is the comradery.  I miss the interactions with my players, the coaches and the opponents staring back at me from the opposing dugout or sideline.  Those were good times and I miss them.

I still feel like a fraud.  It was too much fun, it was too easy.  Great players make for good coaches.  I had a cornucopia of great players. Thanks for the memories guys, thanks for the effort, thanks for my successes.  Thanks for letting me be me and letting me be a part of your lives.

HOF

Don Miller writes at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The featured image was lifted from https://eic.rsc.org/feature/coaching-for-success/3010068.article.

The whistle is the symbol of the coaching profession.  I find it interesting that I rarely used one.

The Champagne of Bottle Beer 

 

I can remember the best beer I ever drank…can you?

I have a love-hate kind of relationship with beer.  Mentally I think, “I love beer,” in my best Brett Kavanaugh voice.  Mentally I should think, “I love ‘good’ beer.”  I’m not sure Justice Kavanaugh cares if it is good beer or not, just cold and in large quantities.  I also understand ‘good’ beer is a subjective term and I might not know what a good beer is should it bite me on my ass.  I’ve had many bad beers bite me on the ass too and any beer past three is a bad beer.

A video of a very young country “singer” triggered my thoughts.  Thanks, so much for sending me that at five in the morning Leland.  The young crooner was singing of “ice-cold root beer in long-necked bottles” and the thought of ice-cold beer took me down a pig trail to a hot summer on a loading dock or in my case an unloading dock.  I was between year four and five of my teaching career and working summers to help make ends meet.

Ten-hour days, eight on Friday.  Time and a half over forty unloading goods for a five and dime chain.  Big boxy trailers that had made the long ocean voyage from China, offloaded on our left coast and stacked on flatbed railroad cars headed east.  Off-loaded again in Greenville and hauled to me to be unloaded and broken down before being distributed all over the Southeast.  I remember thinking of my Asian counterpart slaving away loading the trailer I was now unloading.  He or she got the ball rolling as these goods would be loaded and unloaded at least one more time before they found their way to shelves near you.

I wondered why he had loaded so much dust and filth with the flimsy boxes I manhandled out the back of those trailers.  Now I wonder what life-threatening timebombs are waiting to go off in my body from that filth and dust.  Get back on the subject, please.

The subject was beer, the best beer I ever drank.

A six a.m. to four p.m. shift had ended and it was still hotter than forty kinds of hell.  The day had been spent in an airless trailer pulling out corrugated boxes filled with who knows what and covered with who knows what.  Every box I moved sent dust swirling in the airless trailer.  Even on the dock, the mid-July sun and humidity was merciless, pounding me like a superheated hammer on the anvil that was my head.

Bone weary and headachy, I drug myself to my car.  With no air conditioning, I dropped the top of the ’76 MG and headed home, fifteen miles away.  I remember being dry as the Sahara and stopped at a country mercantile featuring peeling white paint and rusting Esso and ice-cold Pepsi signs.  I could think of nothing better than an ice-cold Pepsi to relive the dryness in my parched head and made my way straight to the old waist-high blue cooler with Pepsi in red across a white field.

Pepsi

Opening it I found no Pepsis…or Coke.  There were no soft drinks in this cooler.  Instead, tall long-necked bottles of Miller High Life beckoned to me and I contemplated a change in beverage.

The woman behind the counter, a peroxide blond fireplug with too much makeup and carrying an extra fifty pounds in weight cautioned me, “That’s the coldest beer you’ll ever find as long as you keep the top closed.  You’re lettin’ the cold out.  You need to make up your mind.”

Sufficiently chastised, I made up my mind and was rewarded.  As I removed a Champagne of Bottle Beer there was an audible crunch as the ice gave way.  It was so cold it was stuck to the bottom of the cooler.  Promptly I picked a second one and after paying the blond fireplug headed to my car.

Huge oak trees formed a canopy over a wide pull off and I decided to enjoy my heavenly elixir picnic style.  I was rewarded with ice crystals in my first swallow…and the second.  I drained that amber potation in seconds.  I remember holding the still cold empty against my forehead, the condensation providing a cool bath.

After wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, I twisted the top off the second and drained it almost as quickly.  The beer went straight to my head and I was still a dozen miles from home.

I broke the law, but the law didn’t win.  It was a different time and I was still young and stupid.  This wouldn’t be the last time I drove impaired but maybe God does take care of drunks and fools.  At this stage of my life, I was certainly equal parts of both.

It would be the last time I had a beer, two beers, so good.  Believe me, I’ve searched high and low, and stopped at the little country mercantile enough times during the summer that remained to find out the blond fireplug was named Ramona.  She was a nice lady with a boisterous laugh and a bawdy sense of humor.

Miller High Life, The Champagne of Bottle Beer.  I do love a crisp pilsner so cold you have to snap it off the bottom of an ancient Pepsi cooler.  I wonder…no…I’m sure it would be a wasted trip.  I’m sure the general mercantile only exists in my mind…just like the best beer I ever had.

6bf4dc5d857e7596f4fbc5c76aafa61c--beer-signs-tin-signs

Further wanderings may be found at Don Miller’s author’s page by going to https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

 

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

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.