Memories of the Coming Good

Not the ‘B’ side of the Johnny Rivers’ hit, “Summer Rain.” Memories of the Coming Good” was a repetitive instrumental. I don’t know why it was even used or why I even remember it but for some reason the title spurred a memory as I thought about the 9/11 attack that occurred nineteen years ago. 

Maybe it was the other way around.  Maybe it was memories of 9/11 and the aftermath that spurred the memory of a bad song with a great title.

As I look back on the days and weeks after 9/11, for a moment in time, the aftermath became Memories of the Coming Good.  The memories of the way Americans pulled together…pulled together regardless of race, creed, color, or political standing.  For a brief time, there was one goal…to recover from our mourning, to overcome what had happened. To rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of Ground Zero.

We awoke the next day to a different world…a world that has become even scarier over the past nineteen years. Still, for a period of time we were united.

I wish our country could go back to the day after.  Not the actual day but to the unity, the purpose. 

I wish we could return to the way the country rallied behind New York, behind the first responders, behind the country, behind the people lost and injured, behind their families.  Americans rallying to each other, for each other.  Americans willing to sacrifice for the coming good.

In the years since his presidency, I’ve become a George W. Bush fan.  Not so much George Bush the President, but a fan of the man himself.  I’m a fan of the way he reacted and a fan of the way he responded in those dark days following the attack.  I knew he was hurt just as much as New York and the rest of the country.  His pain was as real as the rest of ours.

I remember his bullhorn speech standing atop the rubble at Ground Zero.  He was a calming anodyne and you knew we would recover.  We would be okay.

He was a man who might stumble in the ways he reacted or possibly overreacted, but you knew where his heart was. His heart was on his sleeve for all to see and it bled red, white, and blue.  We knew he had been stabbed in the heart just like the rest of the country.

I wish I still had those feelings of a coming good.  I wish I had the joy I felt when Osama bin Laden was run to ground. It was a measure of justice for what we had lost.

Until recently, Americans have always rallied around the common good when times were dire.  Before I was born, the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor and World War Two, 9/11 and natural disasters after I was born.  We rallied.  We responded.  We overcame.

To quote FDR, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  I think we have forgotten that.  We have found our fears and allowed them to rule us.

We move from conspiracy theory to conspiracy theory, putting our faith in QAnon or Revelationist, creating reasons to be fearful when there are real dangers to be addressed and overcome, reasons to worry there is no coming good ahead of us.

I wish we were not so divided. I wish we could rally to each other as we did after 9/11 and no I am not wishing for something catastrophic to give us a reason to rally.  If a pandemic with nearly two hundred thousand dead, wildfires raging on the west coast, devastating weather, demonstrations for social justice, and looting in our major cities cannot rally us, I do not want to consider what might.

There is still time to rally ourselves, but time is running out.  Our memories can be of a coming good or not.  It is for us to decide…if not for us, for our children and grandchildren.

As we remind ourselves of what this solemn day represents, take a moment to think.  Think about not only our losses but our responses.  Think about our rallying, think about the memories of a coming good.   

Iconic 9/11 flag, missing for years, returns to New York City - CNN
Thomas E. Franklin’s Firefighters Raising the Flag published in Newsweek

    

Don Miller’s author’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3-0ovpLqEZAnuKfEmXu0e8AGiMnEE1zS31TkH6pZhaMz5-3OqZz_A_Fh4

The image used is courtesy of USAToday.

Knuckleheads and Other Winners

A former player and I were conversing via social media.  At the end of our conversation, he thanked me for putting up with the knucklehead he had been during his youth.  Knucklehead was his word but he used it honestly.  At the time, twenty years ago, I probably would have said worse…but with all the love in the world. 

Damn him…his comment took me down a rabbit hole populated with knuckleheads jumping out at me as if I were riding a tunnel of horrors…well, not horrors, a tunnel of laughs.  Instead of ghouls, skeletons, and ax murders, they were former baseball players dressed in clown paint with big floppy shoes.  Ah, the memories.

My years as a high school coach were packed tighter than a sardine can with knuckleheads…as if I might have attracted them.  Knuckleheads…not sardines.  I would have never used the word knucklehead but I’m trying to remember what I would have used…that is fit to print…Goofy blond headed kid? Not likely.

I can slide backward in time and find one or two knuckleheads for every one of the forty-four years I coached.  Some years entire teams were filled with knuckleheads. I’m sure it had nothing to do with my personality. 

I had them in all of the sports I coached, but with the down time associated with baseball, between innings and when we batted, it seemed my dugout cup runneth over with knuckleheads…or maybe it is just the game of baseball itself.  Baseball is a game fraught with player shenanigans. 

It is funny odd.  With all the successes associated with those days when I talk to former players, invariably, the conversation turns to “Do you remember when ‘so and so’ did ‘such and such’?”  Yeah, I remember.  During those days, I feigned anger when I really wanted to laugh…sometimes I feigned badly and laughed anyway. 

As I continued down my rabbit trail, I realized that all the really good teams were loaded with knuckleheads, many as crazy as bed bugs, usually pitchers.  If I were to award an All Knucklehead Team, the top five would include…four pitchers. I can think of two immediately who were crazy as bed bugs.

They all used their craziness to defuse tense situations…for themselves and their teammates. Gatorade bottles fill with rock noisemakers, Gatorade cup binoculars, rally monkeys, fins up hats, and hand jives. Dug out Voodoo one team called it. At least they didn’t cheer like softball teams.

The teams were much looser than I was or at least they hid it better.  I sat on my ten gallon baseball bucket undergoing butt pucker while they chilled under fire, shaking their noisemakers or dancing with the rally monkey. 

The teams taught me as much as I taught them, maybe more.  Over time they taught me I didn’t have to be a cross between Attila the Hun and Billy Martin to be a good coach.  I could use my own personality; I could be me no matter which version I was at the time. 

They taught me that getting close was better than remaining distant no matter the pain closeness sometimes brought.  Mostly they taught me it wasn’t about the game but the people who played it. 

The knucklehead I was conversing with almost caused a brawl when he laid a bunt down late in a game we were well ahead in.  He had broken one of baseball’s unwritten rules.  You don’t rub another team’s nose in it, instead you call off the dogs. 

My next batter received a fastball between the shoulder blades because of the faux pas.  Ordinarily, such would not go unanswered, but it seemed an appropriate response at the time even if the wrong knucklehead got hit.  To the original knucklehead’s defense, we failed to tell him the dogs were off…I guess I was the knucklehead.

I have learned a few things since retiring.  Mostly I’ve learned I miss the camaraderie from those earlier years.  I miss the youthful exuberance of teenagers. I miss watching them play the game. I still watch the game but it is not the same. I don’t know the players. They aren’t mine.

I don’t miss the long hours, the foot numbing cold of the early season games, or the long rear numbing bus rides to and from games. What I miss are the kids…the young men who grew from knuckleheads into successful citizens.  I’d like to think I might have contributed to some of their successes.   

 My first attempt at writing badly was, “Winning Was Never the Only Thing…” It chronicalled many of the knuckleheads I was blessed to have coached. Winning wasn’t the only thing but it was written about the winners who made winning possible and my life much sweeter.

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2xmv7S1RJWskEhZZ2zdJyRNTfnKZaA-0fvcaXh2Qoht0TimSO42uLa6I4

The image is of Jose Lobaton with his Gatorade Glasses courtesy of the Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/

Adventures in Paradise

Martin Denny’s “Quiet Village” is playing in my head.  An early morning conversation with Margaret Dacko cued the music along with a mental side trip to a sandy beach with palm trees and tropical blue-green waters.

I gleefully follow the rabbit trails my mind takes me down.  Wandering is therapeutic, even if it is in your head.  I try to stop short of falling into Alice’s rabbit hole but sometimes….  “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there” or even better, “If you don’t know where you are going you cannot get lost.” 

My rabbit track resembled a jungle waterway filled with alligators, crocodiles, and hippos.  Parrots and other exotics darted in and out of the lush foliage that bordered both sides of the waterway.  Eventually it led to a pristine shoreline complete with coconut trees, emerald blue waters, ivory white sands, and of course native girls in coconut bras waiting on me hand and foot.  There may be a boat drink complete with umbrella in my near future..but doubt the appearance of a native girl.  Is that a sailing ship I see on my horizon?

Margaret Dacko is a former teaching chum and dear friend who shares my curse, being unable to sleep like normal people.  Sometimes, like this morning, we converse during the early, still dark hours via Facebook. 

Our conversation led me to Martin Denny, James A. Michener, Gardner McKay, and the South Pacific or Caribbean Islands of my youthful dreams.  There may be a jungle or two residing there too.

I wander down my rabbit trail to a Monday night in 1959 and an ABC program, Adventures in Paradise,  A program I sometimes was able to watch depending upon atmospheric conditions.  A snowy Gardner McKay starring as Captain Adam Troy of the sailing schooner Tiki.  Sailing around the South Pacific for an hour minus commercials, searching for adventure and romance, always finding a reasonable facsimile around the Tiki’s home port in Tahiti or the Pacific beyond. 

Theme from Adventures in Paradise along with stills from the series. YouTube

Our conversation continued and now I’m playing Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song” in my head, “Day-O, Day, Day, Ohhh! Daylight come and me want to go home.”  Later my memories trade Harry and Gardner for Perez Prado’s “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White,” from the movie Underwater featuring Jane Russell’s breasts in a swimsuit.  I was a young teen when I saw them on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies…I mean it, saw it, the movie, saw the movie. I just remembered Jacqueline Bisset in the movie The Deep. Nice T-Shirt.

Perez Prado and his orchestra. YouTube
Underwater! | Trailers From Hell
A pair of nice ones…Richard Egan and Jane Russell. Movie Underwater. https://trailersfromhell.com/underwater/

As a child and young teen, I was drawn to my grandmother’s National Geographic magazines.  Monthly windows into a world far from the landlocked upper state of South Carolina.  Family vacations to Myrtle Beach or Florida would be as close as I would get to the exotic far off places I read about or dreamed of.  My pirate ship was a small Sunfish sailboat sailed on local lakes…my jungles, the forests of Upstate South Carolina. The Sunfish would be as close to sailing off into the sunset to a tropical island or jungle as I would come.

There would be other books or programs that drew my interest to the exotic, Mitchener, James Clavell or John C. McDonald.  Thor Heyerdahl’s real life exploits aboard the Kon-Tiki.  Marlin Perkins battling an anaconda on the Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.   Of course, there was Magnum P.I‘s Hawaiian paradise and the short lived Tales of the Gold Monkey as I moved into adulthood.

There were movies galore in my youth, usually B-movies shown late at night or Sunday afternoons after church. Tarzan or Jungle Jim with Johnny Weissmuller seemed to be a weekly offering. The Saturday morning lineup included reruns of Jon Hall’s Ramar of the Jungle and for some reason I’m seeing Rita Hayworth singing and dancing in Miss Sadie Thompson…hummm, “The Heat is On”. All would be considered socially unacceptable today but were important to my “Beach Boy” attitude.

The Heat is On Rita Hayworth

Even today, much that I read occurs in sunny tropical or at least coastal settings.  I seem to still be drawn to the exotic.

Pat Conroy’s stories set in Charleston, James Lee Burke dark mysteries along the Gulf coast and New Orleans, or Randy Wayne White’s Sanibel Island hero, Doc Ford.  I always thought I wanted to live at a coast…which is why I live as far from the ocean as I can live in South Carolina and still remain in the state of South Carolina. 

I haven’t gone to Tahiti or ventured below the equator to see the Southern Cross.  I still read about soft tropical breezes while roasting my own jerked chicken or coconut shrimp on my Weber listening to Margaritaville on Sirius.  I get to live vicariously through others in my Hawaiian shirt without leaving my recliner or backyard. Still I feel a bit of wanderlust…to the fridge for a Dos Equis or the margarita mix.

Maybe when I finally grow up, I’ll make that trip to Australia.  Maybe move to the Pacific side of South America or a Caribbean island, living my autumn years as an incognito Norte Americano expatriate, all mysterious, an odd little man.  Or maybe I’ll just keep reading, living the life of a want to be beach bum in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.  I think I’ll get a flagpole and run up a pirate flag.  Now I’m hearing Buffett sing “A Pirate Looks at Forty” even though that is a birthday distant in my rear-view mirror.

A Pirate Looks at Forty, Jimmy Buffett YouTube

Thanks for the memories Margaret.    

My little piece of exotica. Martin Denny is again playing in my head.

The featured image is from Adventures in Paradise with Captain Troy at the wheel and an unknown guest star who I should know.

Please take a moment to like Don’s author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3nOBjsp8pBzGU8xJQhoSoZk0SvTPWGEhJEdHkZbe8Y14MMdUFm1IPSyBI

The Art of Lookin’ Busy

 

A big for his age youth sporting a lint covered flattop staggered through his first day at the Springs Mills White Plant.  Staggered because in the first hour the man tasked with teaching the youth the art of ‘takin’ up quills’ attempted to crush the youth’s skull with one of the metal quill cans.  It was the youth’s fault, not the young man’s.  The youth was bloodied and staggered, and it was the beginning of a series of the first day on the job accidents, but that is a story for another time.  Clumsy much?

(In textile parlance, a quill is or was the wooden part of a bobbin the thread is wound on.   The bobbin would seat into a shuttle running perpendicularly to the warp threads. When the thread in the shuttle ended or broke, the bobbin was kicked out into a metal ‘can’ and replaced automatically from a magical gizmo called a battery.  I’m a bit short on the science of it all and you aren’t here for a lesson.  A battery with bobbins is shown below.  The wooden portion of the bobbin is the quill.)

I was the big for my age, crew-cut sporting youngster.  Tall for my age, and I got no taller, I was immature by anyone’s standards at any age.  Big for my age and dumb might have been a requisite for the job I was doing.  A spare hand, I did the jobs regularly employed folks were glad they didn’t have to do or filled in where needed.

I understood hard work having grown up on a farm and having been hired out as farm labor since I had turned eleven or twelve.  Farm labor is hard, but cotton mill labor is a horse of a different color as the old farmers might say.

I had worked at Springs for a week and was worn to the bone…battered and bruised, to the point of tears at various times. The narrow alleyways between the looms left my shoulders marked with scrapes and abrasions.  My body was a skin covered sack of pain.  It was a Saturday and all I could think of was the day off on Sunday…except it would be followed by a Monday when it all would begin again.

When I ran into a much older cousin in the water house I received a life lesson I didn’t know I needed. The water house in mill parlance is a combination bathroom, smoking area, and an escape from the noise and heat of the mill.  An oasis of relatively cool, quiet, and stinky aromas.

As I started to walk out, Charles, a much older cousin who had grown up just below my home, stopped me and put his arm across my sweaty, lint covered, bruised shoulders.

“I been watchin’ you boy,” tapping me on a sore arm with his pointer finger.  Charles was what was called a warp hand who worked out to the tie-in room.  It seemed to me warp hands had a good bit of time for watchin’…or playing practical jokes.  Charles, and his buddy Tommy, were masters at playing practical jokes, “Go down to the parts room and get me a loom stretcher, will you?”   It was the first of many practical jokes endured by the young group of spare hands.  I wasn’t singled out any more than anyone else.

The man in the part’s room cocked his head giving me the side-eye, “Loom stretcher, huh?  Charles sent you down, didn’t he?”  Got me.   

Northrop Loom - Wikipedia

Loom with visible battery and warp.  The warp is the big spool of thread.  A quill can is seen below the battery.  Image https://www.timetoast.com/timelines/industrial-revolution-1750-1900-f8002b6a-a164-4f2c-bea9-a0d54908556d

Back to Charles in the water house.

“You work hard but you got to learn to work smart.”  What Charles really meant was “learn to not work if you don’t have to.”

Beings Charles was an elder I decided I was supposed to listen intently…plus he had a scholarly look going…in a Howdy Doody kind of way.  I really felt I needed to learn how to work smarter.

“This ain’t no horse race and you ain’t learned the art of lookin’ busy when you ain’t.  You got to slowwwww things down.  Shifts are eight hours and you doin’ more than your buck sixty-five an hour.  Whatchu’ do after you finish your quill job?”

“I have to strip quills.”  Nothing provocative, I had to remove the leftover thread from the bobbins so the quills could be reused by the spinning room.

“An what do you do when you get through strippin’ quills?”

I pondered a moment wondering if this was a test, “I don’t know, I’ve never gotten through.”

He popped me on the shoulder as if I had had a major philosophical breakthrough.

“There you go.  You ain’t nevah gonna get through.  You could work a month of Sundays an’ you’ll nevah, evah get through.  The only time you’ll be through is when you die.”

So profound, I pondered too long on his words and Charles began again.

“Pretend you do get through.  Whatchu’ think gonna happen then?”

“They’ll find something else for me to do?”

Shooting me with his pointer finger and thumb, he exclaimed, “Bingo!  You nevah get through or if you do, ole Coley Spinks is gonna come along and give you something else to do.  You got to learn the art of lookin’ busy while doing nothin’, boy.”

Just then, as if to add an exclamation point, Coley Spinks, the second hand walked in.  Folding his Popeye sized forearms sporting the Marine Corp ‘globe and anchor’ tattoo across his ample chest, Coley gave us a head jerk which translated to, “You’ve spent too much time in here, get out and earn you wage.”

Charles scooted out the door with me behind, but Coley planted a flat palm against my chest, jolting me to a stop, “I don’t know what line of bull Charles was spouting but don’t listen to a damn thing he says.”  The age-old disagreement between management and the workers?

“Yes sir, Mr. Spinks.” 

But I did listen to Charlie and endured his harmless practical jokes even if I never quite mastered the art of looking busy or falling for practical jokes.  I practiced a great deal and ran into many fellow workers who had truly turned it into an art form.

I am more of a “git er done, git er over with” kind of guy and I guess it served me well.  Mr. Spinks came to me on my last Saturday before the school year began and proposed, “We’d like you to work Saturdays during the school year if you are a mind to.”  Eight hours of hell for $13.20 before taxes.  “Yeah, okay.  Thanks.” 

I’d work there for three more summers and Saturdays during the school year.  Later, I would work part-time in a cotton mill during my college days.  I never did get done. whether it was stripping quill or some other grunt job, and I ain’t dead yet.  Instead, I moved on to another vocation I never finished until retirement.

It was the mills themselves that died at the end of the last century…something I find saddening.  I would never want to return but I do appreciate the lessons I learned.

***

For more of Don Miller’s shenanigans, visit his author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3EyTJntrwvN_Yq4p_rpDH3Ynurn688xmdNvzJhe_fH7NSBku3Zen-6yb0

The image is of belt driven looms take from one of the Lowell Mills.  https://www.newschoolers.com/news/read/The-List-Newschoolers-Member

Summers Now Past

Or when I reaized Peter Pan had died.

My best summers are behind me not ahead.  If memory serves me, my best summers ended when my hand could reach around the end of a hoe handle or I became strong enough to heft a square bale of hay and toss it onto the back of a flatbed truck.  It certainly ended the summer I walked into the den of heat and noise that was Springs Mills.  Peter Pan died that day.  Despite my best efforts I had grown up.

The last day of school before the summer break.  Elementary school kids squirming in their seats waiting to cast off the chains of their forced imprisonment.  “I’m free, I’m free!”  And just like that, it was September again.

No more Tonka toys and little green soldiers in a sandy ditch.  No more corn cob fights with Mickey and Donnie Ray around the barn. No more playing war in red clay banks around the cornfield.  Fewer trips to the river to check trotlines or intently watching a bobber while praying for a bit of a nibble just to let me know something was down there.

Ode to youth now past.

Here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge a high-pressure dome is making life unbearable.  Hot, hot, hot.  Humid, humid, humid…but no rain.  Hotter than two mice mating in a wool sock and even the devil is bitching about the humidity.  Despite the humidity and the thunder that rumbled around yesterday, my garden is dryer than a popcorn fart.

There is something about the heat and humidity that brings the memories back.  I question how I survived without air conditioning but somehow, I did.  Tall screenless windows at school, perspiration dripping on notebook paper as I practice my letters.  A wasp flies through the window causing a momentary lull in the activities.

No reprieve at home or at church on Sunday.  Humidity and heat causing my shirt to stick to the lacquered seatback.  Ladies in pillbox hats, gloves, and long sleeves fanning as if their lives depend on it, and it may have.  Men in suits and ties sitting stoically in their own perspiration.  The minister announces with a thump of his Bible, “If you think it’s hot now…just wait.  Benediction please.”

As I remembered, my back was bent toward the ground as I straddled the short row of beans.  Perspiration ran down my nose and was soaked up by the dusty soil underneath me as the rivulets landed with a plop.  My sweat ran like the Catawba River during the rainy season when my revelation occurred.  I was thinking of a simpler time.  In my mind my grandmother is beside me, both of us straddling a row, the sweat running down both our noses.

Summer was the time to make hay while the sun shone…tomatoes, beans, squash, okra, watermelons, and corn too.  The sun shone hotly and pulled the moisture into the air encapsulating me in what seemed like a wet, wool blanket.  Hot, moist sun-heated air.  Squash and cucumbers wilting, corn stalk leaves drooping in the afternoon heat…humans wilting and drooping as if they were plants.

As I shift briefly to the present, I realize, there will be good Summers ahead…they will just be different.  Miller Kate and Noli cavorting, splashing in the pool remind me of their mother searching for crawdads and salamanders in the stream by the house.  A memory that brings the smile to my face.  It is about their memories and dreams now.  Mine are still focused on the past.

I remember the welcomed afternoon thunderstorms.  The smell of ozone heralding the cooling winds to come…a few minutes of chill until the sun returned…heat and humidity with it.  Storm clouds outlining the distant water tower in Waxhaw to the east, the western sun reflects off of the tower and makes the thunderheads seem ominous.

My grandmother’s admonishment, “Don’t stand in the draft you might get hit by lightning” or “Get away from the sink!  Lightning will fry you like fatback.”  Needless to say, nothing electrical was turned on especially the TV.  Lightning strikes were worrisome on her hilltop if the lightning rods on the hip roof of my grandmother’s house were to be believed.

Despite sitting in a low ‘holler’, the transformer down the river road from my house was hit a few times and I remember mini lightning flashes jumping between the telephone and the lights over the kitchen bar.  Probably shouldn’t answer the phone.

Ball jars filled with water and wrapped in newspaper to keep it cool.  It didn’t work.  Water was welcomed even warm.  There were times I would have sucked the water from a mud puddle if I could have found one.  Those transcontinental rows of corn that needed to be hoed or forty ‘leven thousand hay bales to toss and stack.  There is nothing much hotter than corn, hay, or cotton fields during July and August.

Inside the relative cool of a non-airconditioned kitchen, sweet Southern iced tea, or a glass of chilled buttermilk, helped to quench your thirst.  Drops of condensation succumbing to gravity on the side of an iced jelly glass…Sylvester the Cat staring back at me, a huge grin on his face.  He knew how much I enjoyed the tea and the peanut butter cookie that accompanied it.  

Late in the harvest season, a watermelon might be picked and put in a nearby stream to cool.  Maybe a ripe tomato or two.  Late afternoons we would crack open the bounty and fight off the horse flies as watermelon juice mixed with the sweat and dripped from our fingers and faces.

In this new timeline, I think about cracking open the Tanqueray and adding some tonic and lime.  What? We have no lime?  Wait! Ah, I found one.

I stare out of my French Doors wondering if I really want to leave the air conditioning to cut grass or pick beans…or do anything else…  How did I get so old?  I also know that the extra piece of watermelon I want to eat will add at least two trips to the bathroom during the night.

I once had an old man tell me the problem with getting old.  “Young man, you know what is bad about gettin’ old?”  I think I was fifty at the time.  In his overalls with a fedora pushed back on his head, he answered the question I had not asked, “There are no dreams left for old men.”

I thought I knew what he meant.  Dreams of love, or an unreasonable facsimile. Getting ahead in the world, earning triumphs and victories, winning another state championship, and overcoming the disappointments of being close but no cigar.

The old man was correct.  There are no pursuits of state championships any more but I would edit his comment.  “There are no young man’s dreams but there are dreams.”

Dreams of a different time when Peter Pan was still alive.  Dreams of summers without a care in the world…a time when I knew I never wanted to grow up…but yet I did.

Still, I shan’t be sad.  There will be good summers ahead as long as my sun continues to rise.  I won’t dream only of the past.  Even dreams must change with time.

***+

The image is of a summer sunset from Pixabay and found on The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3YwCXc-tSERSihnz93ceDKB3PzxGIYX3lVWrJx3-mYmPV89rNT4j7PvxA.

A Mess of Green Beans

 

It’s early morning and I’m bent over strong green plants, their bounty hanging from the underside of deep, green leaves.  I’m proud of my green beans.

It’s my second picking and I am getting more than from my first.  Despite the early hour, perspiration…nay sweat is trickling down my nose.  It’s not hard work, pickin’ beans, but my back is creaking and sweat is running into my underwear when I straighten it.

I’ll pick, wash and then snap before washing again.  I don’t know what I’ll do with these.  I’m still eating on my first pickin’…my first mess…from archaic French, messe, a portion of food.

It is a word I learned from my grandmother…and a process.  Nothing wasted, not even the pot liquor.  Beans are to be eaten until they are gone…or go rancid, the pot liquor sopped up with cornbread.  Just for clarification, these are not served al dente, they are cooked to death, the Southern way.

Mine are not likely to go rancid soon.  The biological process is aided by meat products and mine have none.  I’ve had to adjust my tastes since a heart attack a decade and a half ago.  No flavorful bacon grease or fried fatback will be added.  Just potatoes, onions, and a touch of salt and pepper.  They are not as flavorful as I remember my grandmother’s but my wife’s cornbread that is served with it is much better.  Sorry Nanny, your cornbread was too dry.

There was always a “mess” of beans on my grandmother’s stove.  Green beans early in the summer, butter beans later, and finally crowder peas in the early fall.  Whatever was canned found its way to the stovetop during the winter and spring.

I’ve tried to keep her schedule along with squash and tomatoes.  I wish I could figure out how to get my tomatoes to mature at the same time my beans do.  It would appear I’m still a few weeks away from my first tomato sandwich.  My garden is late this year due to April rains.

As I pick, I step back in time.  It is Monday as I write this.  A lifetime ago Mondays were days to finish gathering and prepping for Tuesdays which was, along with Thursdays, canning days at my countrified local school.  A cannery subsidized I’m sure by that Yankee ‘gubment’ in Washington or the nearby state one in Columbia. It was cheap, a penny a can, it had to be subsidized by someone.

It was a hot and humid place in the middle of hot and humid summers.  People came from all around to avail themselves.  It was a cheap way to preserve their summer bounty for the cold winter days ahead.  There was so much activity I am reminded of the story of the ant and the grasshopper.  No lazy grasshoppers here, just hard-working ants.

At my grandmothers there would be a flurry of activity on Mondays that would run well into the evening.  It would end with family from the hill above and the ‘holler’ below joining us.  Aunts, Uncles, and cousins sitting on the front porch snapping or shelling the last of the beans or prepping soup mix.  There was a good dose of gossip to go with the shelling.

A hushed voice asks, “Did you hear about so and so?”

Another query, “Didn’t she run off with….?”

A third with shaking head, “Oh my, you don’t say?  I know her momma is besides herself with worry.”

A fourth would ask, “Y’all want some sweet tea?”

The menfolk in fedoras and overalls sitting on one side of the L shaped porch, the women in feed sack dresses on the other.  I don’t really know what the menfolk discussed, what juicy details were talked about but their conversation probably revolved around work or what malady their car might be suffering.  Seemed everything revolved around scratching out a living or driving.

I remember falling asleep on the metal glider surrounded by the aromas of Prince Albert pipe tobacco and Camel or Lucky Strike unfiltered.  It was a different time and somehow, I always woke up in my bed with no memory of how I got there.

The cannery was operated by the Leapharts, my school’s home economics, and agriculture teachers and their offsprings.  They operated it but everyone shared in the responsibilities.  Communal effort is always a farming community’s way.

Sterilized cans were filled with bounty before salt and water added.  Cans ran through some sort of magical machine that steamed and sealed the cans before tops were added and another magical machine sealed them.

The finished product placed in a water bath and allowed to cool until Thursday when we picked them up.  I remember being responsible for adding the water, a steamy job in the steamy, humidity filled days of summer but one suited for a boy my age.

I’ve tried canning with varying degrees of success…the glass Ball jars and rings.  I freeze a lot but for some reason, it does not quite taste the same.  I guess it could be the absence of bacon grease or fatback, but I don’t think so.  It might have been the people and the process.

I remember phone calls to my grandmother when I left for college and later for the real world.  Summertime calls were always accompanied by a canning tally and the weather forecast, “Well I did twenty-five cans of green beans, eighteen butter beans, and a dozen of soup mix.  It has sure been hot and dry.  I can’t remember the last time it rained.”   If she’d been fishing I got that report too.

When I came home to visit from the real world, I always returned with cans of love from her pantry.  A mess of green beans and potatoes with some raw onion and a wedge of cornbread.  Good eats…good memories.

My senses are a funny thing.  Smells trigger many memories…or sweat running down my nose or a song on my playlist.  There is something about the smell of tomatoes or green beans boiling in a pot.  I go back to those days when the humidity didn’t seem so bad when there was always a pot of beans on my grandmother’s stovetop and cornbread or biscuits close by.

****

Don Miller writes on various subjects and in various genres.  His author’s page https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3ISpnFiIcskj6u17soo9sN1uvFBdpA59noucO8m0LdgN9k0rhPlAxRa2g

The image is from Simple Home Preparedness at https://simplefamilypreparedness.com/home-canned-green-beans-in-3-easy-steps/

 

Where the Hoe Meets Rock

“What were you thinkin’?” I propped myself on my hoe and contemplated my folly of thirty years ago.  Who picks a former ravine to make into a garden.  When Highway 11 was originally built, “fill dirt” was used to fill up the creek cut ravine, the newly created creek banks stabilized by what else, kudzu. The scourge of the South…at least one of them.

Who tries to transform a broom straw laden, kudzu encroaching, rocky, and sandy wasteland into a garden?  Easy peasy, I did.  I had no choice if I was going to have a garden.  The flat area flanked on one side by a creek and kudzu and a highway and swamp on the other is the only place that receives the necessary eight hours of sunlight.

It has remained a folly despite the years I’ve spent amending with compost, wood chips, grass clippings, even ground up cardboard.  After thirty years I have about four inches of arable soil…and the rocks continue to do the dirty and multiply.

A whiney voice in my head asks, “Why do you do this to yourself.  The roads around your house are dotted with produce stands.  Walmart has corn for twenty-five cents an ear.”  I hear many voices but this one is irritating.  It is the voice that makes a yearly visit this time of the year.  Outloud, I tell it to shut up.

My grandmother is in my head too, she speaks in a voice I barely remember, “You better clean out those middles.  Look at that crabgrass.  What about the Johnson grass coming up?  While you’re at it do something about the kudzu across the fence.”

“Yes Nannie, I know…and soon the bastard wiregrass will begin its slow crawl.”  Common bermuda grass will grow on hot pavement.

My tiller is down and I’m waiting for a part.  It’s supposed to be here Monday but who knows, it may not get here, and I have the mechanical abilities of a brick.  I should probably use this hoe for something other than a leaning post.

A thick morning cloud rolled in and for a moment I think I will be saved.  There was no rain in the cloud despite the “rain” frogs in the swamp singing.  The crows in the distance cawed their good mornings as my hoe contacted one of the many rocks.  Bending over to pick it up I watched a drop of perspiration from my nose land next to my hand.  I was suddenly a small child sitting under a tree as the sun came out again.

My grandparents farmed lands too far from the river to benefit from the fertile silt deposited by seasonal floods.  Bottomlands were for the rich.  My grandparents weren’t rich…at least not monetarily.  They farmed on the lien until my granddaddy, Paw Paw, went to work in a textile mill.  Their soil was red with clay and filled with rocks too.  Their life was hard…much harder than mine, harder than the rocks they threw out of the field.

Even with steady money, my grandfather couldn’t stay out of the fields.  After eight hours in the mill, he would harness the plow horse and do his farm chores before grabbing a bit of sleep in the afternoon.  Sometimes he would head out in the early evenings too.

Corn was our staple, for both humans and animals.  Somehow the poor soil yielded the needed corn along with beans, squash, okra, and tomatoes.  There was nothing exotic in their garden not even a bell pepper.  They weren’t the exotic kind.  They were the survival kind.

I have a mental vision of a man of medium height with a sweat-stained fedora or cap.  Thinning gray hair cut short, a wide nose, and dark-framed glasses.  A man I can’t remember smiling except when he was in the fields.  A man who watched over my brother and I as we played in a sandy ditch with Tonka toys and green army men.  We didn’t know he was slowly dying from a melanoma found too late.  I was nine when he died.  He was fifty-eight or nine.

I’ve gotten into a rhythm.  Hoe the hard ground toward me for a minute or two before pushing the dirt back.  Bend over and pick up the uncovered rocks and throw the rocks toward the creek.  Rest on the hoe for a minute, stretch my back, and start over.  I don’t have the arm I used to have, or the creek has moved further away.  At least the rocks seem smaller than they used to.

Again my grandmother spoke in my head, “Get back to work, you can think and work at the same time.”  I wish I had asked more questions, “What did you think about Nannie?”

As a small child, most of my mornings were spent under a tree with a book in my hands.  Nannie’s rule was “read or come out and pick up a hoe.”  I developed my love for reading under a cedar tree or in a clump of privet.  I remember the sounds her hoe made when it contacted a rock.  I can’t remember her real voice but I remember that sound.

When I got older, I didn’t have a choice.  Hand-picking bugs, hand watering tomato plants, and hoeing middles.  Putting out chemical fertilizer that made my hands burn.  Later she would invest in a front tine tiller that most days beat me to death.

I guess there is something meditative about hoeing…except for this blister between my thumb and pointer finger that interrupts my rumination.  My grand parent’s hands were much tougher.  Hands like tanned shoe leather with thick calluses.  I remember my grandmother’s deeply lined and sun-baked face too.

I don’t know if I could call my grandmother pretty.  She had a broad face and wide-set eyes.  A thick, strong body built for farm work.  Her face was cut with deep crevasses but I remember when she laughed.  Her whole face lit up.  She didn’t laugh enough.

The frogs have grown silent as have the crows.  The voices in my head are still there and I try to shush them with the sound of the hoe.  It is humid and the weather liars say it will reach near-ninety today.  As I watched the sweat fly from my arms I realized the liars might be right.

My garden is late.  Mother Nature has been an unwholesome witch for most of March, April, and May.  If June follows suit, it will make a hard, left turn into hell.  Too cold, too wet, thunderstorms and hail in March, snow in April.  Near record rains in May and a tropical storm kickin’ up a ruckus in the Gulf and it is just the first week of June.

In between tropical systems, I finally planted tomato plants on May the fifteenth…exactly one month past our last frost date.  The two-foot-tall plants are standing proudly and filling out in their cages, but it will be a while before my first tomato sandwich.  I have one small tomato, it reminds me of a green marble.  My guess is summer will be as harsh as the spring, but hope does spring eternal.  Sure hope there is no Duke Mayonaise or white bread shortage.

It does not matter.  For what I spend in plants, seeds, and fertilizer I could buy from the produce stands cheaper.  It is not about the tomatoes, squash, and beans.

My gardening is about connections.  Connections to the past, connections to past generations.  I see my grandfather in his overalls leaning against his hoe, fedora on his head.  My grandmother is in her feed sack dress, perspiration dripping off her nose, a huge straw hat on her head.

It is about connections to the land, even lands filled with rocks.  I welcome the clank made the hoe making contact with a rock.  I smile when it happens.

Don Miller’s author’s page  https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3YVEkI2WW4ZAZbqiYKWyhVQdkGDO6zt6QzExlP8lFCl6FVitonudcbAPQ

The image used is  a watercolor, “Hoeing Turnips”, by Sir George Clausen http://www.artnet.com/artists/sir-george-clausen/hoeing-turnips-m85xrTGVVoEQTDt3k_TMhg2

 

Honeysuckle Spring

Honeysuckle Spring

This is my favorite time of the year…If Mother Nature takes her meds and decides it is going to be a mild spring or a hot spring.  We seem to be yoyoing just a bit.  I can take either just not both during the same week…or within the same twenty-four-hour period.

We may have just finished “blackberry winter” with morning temps dipping into the thirties, but I’m not sure…we’ve been fooled before and the forecast is for cooler temps after this weekend’s dose of summer.

This is the time of year between tree pollen season when my hemlock trees coat everything with a fine, yellow-green powder that hardens like a coating of concrete after a heavy dew and the peak of mosquito and stinging insect season.  I say the peak of mosquito season because mosquito season in my part of the world lasts from January 1st through…through…forever.  It peaks during the sultry, moist, yeast filled days of summer but never really going away.

We are not celebrating or decrying summer yet despite the weather forecasts of near ninety temperatures this coming weekend.  The weather guessers have now backed off a bit saying mid-eighties.  The low seventies are forecast later in the week.

Summer heat and humidity will descend soon enough with thunderstorms followed by clouds of mosquitoes, gnats, “no see ‘ems” and yellow jackets erupting from holes in the ground.  We have already had several thunderstorms with hale and tornadoes but no huge clouds of mosquitoes…just little clouds of mosquitoes rising from the soggy earth looking for a bite.

This time of year is filled with wonderful scents should my allergies calm down enough for me to savor them.  My nose is running like a criminal from the scene of a crime, but at least my sinuses are not slamming shut like a jailhouse door.

Like mosquito season my allergy season is a year-long affliction.  My allergies peak in early spring with the yellow blossoms of forsythia and the green-yellow pollen from my hemlock trees before receding slightly before peaking again in late summer or early fall when the ragweed ramps it up again.  I wish winter would end the allergies and the mosquitoes…but no.  One more reason to hate winter.

Today seems to be the one day my allergies have ebbed enough for me to actually stop and smell the roses…or honeysuckle, multiflora roses, jasmine, and privet.  All are putting off their heady perfume and reminding me why my bride doesn’t let me cut them back, especially the honeysuckle.  The sweet smells allows me to travel back in my mind to a much simpler time.

The perfume of honeysuckle and privet dominated my childhood home, despite my grandmother’s best attempt to eradicate the honeysuckle.  Not that she didn’t like it or the hummingbirds it attracted but like the wisteria vine she also grew, honeysuckle had to know its place.  Its place was somewhere “out there” along the woodline, not “in here” near the garden.

I remember inhaling the aroma of honeysuckle blossoms before picking and carefully pulling out the style through the bottom of the blossom and treating myself to the small drop of nectar that came out with it.  A small, sweet treat I cheated the hummingbirds out of.  I’m still cheating the hummingbirds out of it.

My grandmother was an avid gardener, both in the fields she and my grandfather toiled in and the rock gardens she created from the stones she pulled from the rock-filled ground she tried to farm.  Milky, white quartz stones were highly prized and displayed prominently among the roses, iris, lilies, and hollyhocks she cultivated.  Except for the roses, none were as aromatic as the honeysuckle or privet hedges that surrounded the old farmhouse, she lived in.  None take me back to the days of playing alongside the dusty, dirt road I lived on like the sweet smell of honeysuckle and privet.

As I welcomed the dawn from my backdoor this morning, a sweet fragrance hung heavily and welcomed in the still air.  Honeysuckle with hints of privet hedge and jasmine…the multiflora rose is too far away but if I turn my back for a minute it may cover my drive.

It seems to be a perfect morning with Goldilocks and the Three Bears temperatures and a beautiful crescent moon showing clearly in the southeastern sky.  A bird roosting in the camellia bush sings loudly in agreement.

My little piece of heaven has honeysuckle and privet galore, out of control on fence lines and creeping toward my garden, threatening to overrun my home.  Like a good general, I pick my battles where I can, battles I can win against my memories and my wife.  My goal is not to win the war on honeysuckle and privet, just to continue to keep it stalemated.

Who am I kidding? I am losing but the sweet scents soften the blow.

Tomorrow I will arm myself with a weed eater and chainsaw while girding myself with a floppy brimmed booney hat, face gaiter, goggles, boots, and leather work gloves.  Blue jeans will replace my work shorts protecting me from the blackberries which are also in a war of dominance with the privet and lest I forget, the emerging kudzu.

The scent of Deep Wood’s Off and Banana Boat SPF 100 will briefly blot out the scents of honeysuckle and privet…but only briefly.  I will create a line in the sand, “Cross at your own peril!”…and the line will be ignored.   Deep down, I am glad.  The sweet smelling war will continue.

Further writings by Don Miller can be purchased and downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2xADU9Tanwff98vrukeigPx7fK6H1brWnklDG5Od_95wYn1PEpniUDvMQ

 

 

ALS Awareness Month

ALS took my Mother

May is ALS awareness month…I am quite aware.  It is also the month of Mother’s Day and my mother’s birth month.  They are all related.  I lost my mother due to complications of ALS on January 2, 1969.  I’m quite aware and have never come to grips with it..

ALS, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, it is commonly called Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  It is not one of the more prolific diseases, only six-thousand new cases per year, only two deaths per one hundred thousand.  There is no cure.  My mother heard it’s banshee howl in 1963 and passed during my Freshman year in college.  Five plus years…the upper end of the projected life span after diagnosis.  I find little comfort in those facts.

The disease causes the death of neurons controlling voluntary muscles.  Death of neurons causes the affected muscles to weaken and atrophy.  The heart is a muscle as is the diaphragm that allows you lungs to work.  The disease allows the brain to stay strong and aware…aware that their bodies are dying around it.

ALS is one of those diseases you get to watch your loved one waste away in slow motion.  Her symptoms began with a limp and a twitch in her foot.  She became unable to work, then unable to walk, unable to sit for more than a short period of time.  Finally, she became hospitalized…well not finally, I guess.  Finally, she died.

She spent Christmas with us that year.  She wanted to come home one more time.  An ambulance carried her home from Columbia and then returned her.  We visited on the 1st. I remember sneaking a visit to the waiting room, pausing to watch OJ Simpson take off on an eighty-yard run before his USC Trojans fell to Rex Kern’s Ohio State Buckeyes.  The odd things you remember when trying to forget your mother’s struggle to breathe.

She died just after midnight.  She was forty-eight but the ravages made her look older.

My mother, Eldora at home, Mary at work, Mom to me, was a robust red head, covered in freckles with a complexion that turned lobster red after a brief walk in the sun.  She did not tan.  A true Irish, fish-belly white redhead, she blistered.

I remember a woman who was quick to laugh but few of her pictures show her smiling. I just don’t remember what her laugh sounded like.  I don’t remember her voice.  I try to hear her voice in my aunt’s voice but I’m unsure.  I want to remember the voice that goes with my vision.  I’ll have to be satisfied remembering her smile, something she didn’t do enough.

The disease robbed me of memories.  I remember snatches of things, her teaching me how to find a breakout on a loom, and tying a weaver’s knot comes to mind and I really don’t know why.  There are other memories, some good…some bad.

Despite her laugh, I have the memory of a woman who was shy and somewhat proper…reserved?  If she was my grandmother’s child, she was reserved.   I remember her dressing in shorts around the house or on vacation, but I can never remember seeing her in pants…she dressed to the nines whenever out and about.

She was a weaver at Springs Mill and for some reason, her work seemed to dominate her life and my memories.  There was church,  the whole family sitting on the “special” pew. There was friends, trips to town, and visits to see family and friends.

Most Sundays were dominated by the church, an early morning breakfast of pancakes prepared by my dad before I polished my shoes and dressed.  After lunch a visit to either the Yarbrough’s, Wilson’s, or Sutton’s home or a visit by them to ours.  Sometimes it was family…a lot of the time it was family.

We always ate supper at home.  Regardless of the work schedule, we ate supper together.  Many nights it was a TV dinner, but we ate together.  Spaghetti on Saturday nights was a staple and Sunday’s dinner was always prepared at home after church.  There seems to have been more hours in the day back then.

I see her dressed for work, a pale-colored, cotton blouse with a rope of thread looped around her neck.  An A-line, lightweight skirt with an apron, never pants or shorts, her reed hook, and scissors in little pouches sewn into the apron.  A fashion statement?  She loved her job, a hard job but she loved it just the same.  Her job was where many friends who called her Mary were…and my father, Ernest, was there too.

The disease robbed her.  She was forced to go on disability shortly after I began my brief career working summers in the same weave room.  I had one summer with her.  It was almost as if my father, her loom fixer, was cheating on her as he fixed looms for another weaver.

I never gave my father enough credit for what he did while he was alive.  I didn’t understand how much he loved her.  He was attentive to a fault…there were fights…but he was there, by her side, doing what he needed to do.  I remember some nights when she was in the hospital he played solitare, tears in his eyes.

Playing solitare when he should have been resting for the six A. M. shift the next morning. It must have been painful watching his beautiful wife waste away.  Once she was in the hospital in far Columbia, he worked Monday thru Saturday, sometimes extra shifts before going to Columbia, every weekend, before starting over again on Monday.

She was chosen for a medical study.  I’m not sure they found out much.  Too much iron in her spinal fluid but there is still no cure.  I don’t know what we would have done had she not been accepted.  I know she wouldn’t have lived as long as she did without it.

Most weekends we traveled the seventy-seven miles to the State Hospital, first on Bull Street, later a closer new building just off I-26.  I remember the visits as painful.  I now realize how selfish I was, how I wished I could have been anywhere else, now wishing I could have a do over.

She took up painting when she became disabled, something to while away the hours.  I don’t know if she was good or not, I thought she was a Rembrandt.  The disease didn’t take that from her until the end.  Normally a disease that attacks men, ALS usually begins in the hands and arms.  Hers began in her legs and progressed upward.  Gradually it affected her breathing but never got to her hands.  Atypical…except her death.

The disease robbed her…and her children.  She never had the opportunity to see her grandchild or see her eldest son finally get “it” right.  Her youngest son got it right, to begin with.  She would be proud of the man he grew into and I’m sorry his memories are different than mine.

She would have been sixty-six when Ashley, my daughter, was born and would have loved Ashley and Linda and they would have loved her.  She would have been ninety-seven when Miller Kate was born.  Not impossible…not possible.

Yes, it is ALS Awareness Month.  It is easy to be aware when famous people are diagnosed or fall to the disease.  The famous like Lou Gehrig, Stephen Hawking, Dwight Clark, Sam Sheppard, and Jim Hunter come to mind.  They were robbed too.  Their families were robbed.  It is impossible for their families to think of them without thinking of being robbed by ALS.  I know this for a fact.

I had five years to prepare myself for her death, but I wasn’t prepared.  I refused to think about it, refused to believe it right up until I awoke just after midnight on the second of January.  I remember looking at the clock just before the phone rang.  I have successfully purged the time from my memory.

I wish I could remember my mother’s laugh.

The image is of Mary Eldora Miller at the beach in the late 1950s before the ravages of ALS…still she doesn’t smile.

 

Addendum

It turns out my Mother did smile…a picture from my brother.

Mom 2

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at  https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0FpZWCw_9me-FJa090w819hiX7LbcAUATfvvwRGENNYrUw_sol75s7tj4.

Proceeds from any book purchased or downloaded during May will be matched and donated to the National ALS Association to help support their research efforts.

Questions With No Answers

 

Before social distancing became the in thing, I ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen in thirty years…jeez…more like forty.  I was excited to see her…considering our history excited is not the best descriptor.  Thrilled is a better word.  I was thrilled to see her.

We had a short-term tryst back in the day…just scratching certain itches.  Nothing heavy, a “friends with benefits” kind of thing before “friends with benefits” was a thing…it was the “free love” Seventies after all.  As I think back, I realize there was nothing free about love or even its unreasonable facsimile, lust.

She didn’t recognize me, even when I tried to explain who I was.  Despite the empty feeling in my stomach, I didn’t push it.  She seemed anxious in a bad way.  I think she’s had a stroke or is self-medicating…am I being narcissistic?  Maybe it was my beard, the balding head?  No, I believe there was something wrong.

She seemed frail and infirm.  A woman who once strode through the world confidently was reduced to little shuffles reminiscent of a Chinese woman who had had her feet bound.  The strong alto voice lacked volume and power.  The tall, long-legged, pleasing body seemed to be collapsing in on itself.  Always slender in a good way, she was much too thin.  Maybe it was me looking back on memories through my rose-colored reading glasses.

We remained friends after we both moved on to other places and people…at least I thought we had.  At some point, she seemed to disappear…but, not from memory.  I’ve thought of her often over the years wondering what happened to her.  Wondering if she was happy.  Remembering how foolish I had been.

I wondered if she had moved to a distant part of the world.  Whenever I asked friends, “Have you heard from….”, the answer was always in the negative.

In the mid-80s she decided she was gay and fell under the influence of a “stereotypical” lesbian woman.  You may substitute whatever “stereotype” you wish.  This woman is much more than a stereotype and stereotypes are such oversimplifications.

Still, the time was the Eighties and I was shocked and full of questions.  I’ve often wondered if she crossed over because she was truly lesbian or was it because she had been wounded so many times by people of my gender…or was it I was such a bad lover and friend I drove her to it.  Insecure much?  Ah…yes!

She stumbled and fell over several relationships during those late Seventies and early Eighties.  I wonder if I helped to trip her up as she attempted to recover.  An unwanted splinter under the fingernail of life.  You can tell she is an enigma, she always was.

Are my concerns more about me and my own guilt?  Is it about my own narcissism?  Is it my over-inflated self-importance?  Questions I can’t answer.  Maybe questions I fear to answer.  My greatest question, “Are you happy?”  I hope the answer is yes.

There are questions I can’t even ask.  My friend has dropped off the face of the earth even though she lives exactly where she has always lived.

I think about the crowd we ran with during those thrilling days of yesteryear.  Those days we were lucky to survive.  Those of us still alive have remained in touch.  More so as we have gotten older.  It is as if she has cut all ties with those days and the people who inhabited them with her.   Maybe she wanted to move forward while the rest of us are pulled toward the past.  I know I once did the same thing when my own mistakes became too much of a burden.  Memories too painful to remember…except you do.

Questions, more questions.  Answers, no answers.

***

Don Miller’s author’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0813oF-UzSxgl3eyxNYLytu5JhnD70NuizUBdFlbjT2LTyVAXjPEBJZZE