A Last Conversation

I remember the last conversation I had with my Father in the mid Nineteen Nineties.  I was sick with pneumonia and racked with a cough that shook me to the bottoms of my feet and chills the heavy quilts couldn’t quite shake. My head buzzed from codeine, antibiotics, and aspirin my doctor had prescribed.  I was feverish and out of my head.  Finally, I slept.

My father sat quietly on the corner of my bed watching me.  He was a small man; five foot six inches and his feet didn’t quite touch the floor.  He crossed his legs and clasped his hands on his knees. Nodding his head, he seemed younger than the last time I had seen him in the mid-Seventies.

“Son, you do know sickness is God’s way of telling you to slow down.  Death means you should have listened.” 

He said “Son” in the voice that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  “Son” was usually followed by gothic organ music and the statement, “This is going to hurt me more than you.” 

Right Dad, I don’t believe you now, and I didn’t believe you then.”

We talked for a while. I caught him up on the twenty years since his passing and even made him laugh a couple of times, something I don’t remember doing too much of when he was alive. 

We reminisced telling stories, mostly focusing on the times I screwed up, maybe times when I disappointed him. Running into him with a quill buggy while he worked under a loom causing him to sit up and bark his forehead on a worm gear. A lot of blood and a look that could have curdled milk.  The looms were too loud for me to hear the names he called me.

“The first time I heard you curse was when I pulled the starter cord on the mower when you were holding the spark plug wire.”  That was a real knee slapper.  He nodded and smiled. 

I remembered a note he left me one morning before going to work.  I was eleven or twelve.  “It has been three days.  Either use the mower or get it out of the front yard.”  Crazy things you remember.

“You weren’t a screamer, but you could give the talk…you know the talk.”  The “Please just hit me and end this” talk.  “You had a long fuse but there was a line I didn’t step across.”

I remembered striking out with the bat on my shoulder during a baseball game to end an inning and tossing my bat in anger.  Bad move, but a learning experience.  You called me over to the chicken wire backstop and punched a finger into my chest.

“The bat didn’t strike out, you did.  If I ever see you throw a bat, I’ll jerk you off this field and jerk a knot in your butt in front of everyone.” I believed him and told every one of my own baseball teams the story before adding, “And, I’ll do the same.”

I was able to say all the things I wanted to say but didn’t when I had the chance.  I got to tell him I loved him, how I appreciated all the sacrifices he made for our family.  I thanked him for how he treated my mother during her sickness.  I forgave him for marrying the stepmother from Hades…more on my brother’s behalf than mine. He laughed and nodded his head.

I awoke from my dream and looked for him.  He had gone wherever ghosts from codeine-fueled dreams go.  I felt a greater loss from a dream than I felt when he died twenty years before. 

I like to think that if there is an afterlife, somehow the dream was real…the conversation real…his ghost real. I can’t remember my last real conversation with him, but the dream was as real as it gets.  The dream somehow gave me a bit of closure, more than I got in 1976.

Many times, I only remember small snatches of my father, and other times I say something that came right out of his mouth. I see him sitting in his rocking chair, reading glasses down on his nose as he worked the crossword.  He was usually a calming factor, slow to react, a man of few words but words with weight.  I wish I saw more of him in me.

For more of Don Miller, https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3-8bMeUK9KNiS9JIFsT1PJHnKDdWomHwXGcfvTatfiESPeifFFSaM1GkA

Flower Moons, Bream Beds, and Cooter Soup

The May, full “Flower Moon” had risen just above the tree line along my southeast horizon. Big with a pinkish tint, I watched it rise although the warm pre-dawn felt more like July or August in the foothills of the Blue Ridge than May.  Temperatures climbing to the low nineties didn’t sound bad if you live in south Texas or Arizona but as you are aware, “It ain’t the heat, it’s the humidity”. The humidity seemed to be building despite there being little chance of rain. 

It has been drier than my first wife’s sense of humor for most of May and the weather liars allowed there would be no relief soon…maybe the early June weekend.  They predicted wide spread showers by Thursday but we’ll see…they have been known to lie before.

My garden is suffering despite the hose and sprinkler I pulled from my house.  Even my crabgrass seems droopy, and the row middles are harder than baked brick.  My tiller bucks and kicks up dust but doesn’t dig deeply enough to remove the crabgrass. Dry, windy air is not good for my garden…or my psoriasis…or my mood.

Not too dry or hot to walk.  It is a habit I look forward to and the world might quit spinnin’ if I were to miss a day.  I have three routes I use but recently I’ve have stuck to my lake route.  The three and a half mile trek is cooler and there is plenty of shade…and plenty to see.

I paused on the lake bank and watched the activity ten or twenty feet from the shoreline.  Dozens of pothole bream beds were visible in the shallow water.  Dark torpedo shapes darted in and out.  The bream seemed to be playing a child’s game of chase.

Full moon, wind favorable.  Might be time to dust off the rod and reel.  It has been a while.  This lake is catch and release but that’s okay.  My freezer is full of food, I don’t think I’ll starve. I’m also not fond of cleaning fish.

I used to fish every chance I got until I lost my fishing partner.  I heard my grandmother’s voice in my head, “Can’t you smell ’em? They’re here close by.”  She’d drop a squirming worm on a number six, gold hook from a cane pole and be rewarded.  I couldn’t smell them then…still can’t but I could see them guarding their beds, dark shapes silhouetted against the sandy bottom.

My grandmother taught me about fishing.  How to tie on a hook and work the worm on to it.  “Make sure you get the tip covered. The breams is smart.”  “Fish facin’ the sun, so they don’t get spooked by your shadow.”  Except when they are on the bed.  They’ll bite about anything on the bed and don’t really care about shadows…mostly out of anger, I think.  Once she ran out of bait and used a flower blossom successfully to catch “just one more.” I’m reminded of “shooting fish in a barrel.” Don’t rightly seem fair but then my grandmother didn’t fish for sport, she fished to eat.

Nannie fished without a bobber mostly and only the smallest split shot weight.  Slowly moving the pole tip back and forth, changing the depth up and down.  Moving up and down the bank until she locked herself in mortal battle with a warmouth or bluegill bream.  She didn’t throw any away.  The smaller ones made it to the garden as fertilizer, the “eatin’ size” into a frying pan.  I’ve tried pan frying and can’t seem to get it right. I’ve just about quit trying.

I walked out before sunrise the next morning carrying an old Zebco 33, a pail with redworms, and a pocket filled with a few extra number six hooks, red and white bobbers, and split shot weights.  The Flower Moon was still visible in the dark western sky. A mile and a half there and a mile and a half back, I could have been ten years old again walking down the river road toward Bower’s Lake, my grandmother and Trixie the puppy leading the way.  Maybe Miss Maggie would be with us too.

The Zebco wasn’t much different than the one I saved up for and bought at Pettus’ store sixty years ago.  If memory serves, it’s my fourth 33.  It’s a cheap, no frills reel perfect for a cheap, no frills guy. It is also beat up despite not having been used much in the past decade.  The cork handle of the rod is peeling, and I noticed I had made a hasty repair on an eyelet with electrician’s tape.  Whatever works.

The fish were active and the action swift.  Pumpkinseed and blue gills, some bigger than my hand, battled for the opportunity to hang themselves on my hook.  In an hour I probably caught two dozen keepers, some I probably caught more than once.  I know my grandmother was spinning in her grave as I let everyone of them go. 

An alligator snapping turtle paid a visit as did several Eastern water turtles.  I’m sure they were looking for a free meal from a stringer that wasn’t there. We called them cooters back in the day, from the West African word kuta.  With a modern change in usage I have to be careful when using the name.

The beast’s shell was as big around as an old-fashioned Caddy hubcap.  Again my grandmother spoke in my head, “Don’t let a snapping turtle bite you ’cause it won’t let go till it thunders.” I don’t know about that Nannie, but I know he’ll take a finger off.

I made the mistake of casting near him trying to scare him away.  Despite his size he was quick in the water.  He submerged and took the worm and hung himself on the hook.  I tried to keep him from heading to the bottom expecting him to break my line.  The line didn’t break, instead he stripped the gears in my old reel and hunkered down on the bottom to wait me out.  Looks like I’m in the market for a fifth Zebco. 

My grandmother would make cooter soup from the turtles she caught or those that happen to wander through her yard.  During those days, Southern farmers who survived the depression days still prepared cooter soup, or catfish stew, or fried rabbit. I think they did it to remind themselves of the bad, old times…the “worser times.” At least she stopped short of possum. She said it was too greasy. I’ll have to take her word that it is.

I understand turtle soup is now considered a delicacy. Don’t believe my grandmother would agree. To her it was a free meat when times were hard.

I remember a big iron pot on an outdoor fire boiling water to dip the cooter in to loosen its shell and skin. It was a lot of work to crack open the shell and skin and bone the meat, being careful to remove the eggs and liver. Rich looking dark meat ground like hamburger, sautéed with onion before being cooked like vegetable soup.  Soup heavy with tomatoes, potatoes, corn, beans, and okra to thicken. Maybe celery or carrots thrown in for good measure. Basic soup with a twist.  Everything harvested from her garden, sometimes even the turtle.  The old cooter tasted like chicken with the consistency of beef…or was it the other way around?

How long can a cooter stay down? Still waiting after a half hour, I tugged on the line and felt the load on the end move. Hand over hand I hoped the line wouldn’t cut me if he ran. He didn’t run and I took out my MacGyver knife and waited to get him close. I cut my line as close as I dared and watched my line and the old mossback disappear into deep water.

Walking back home I carried no fish but there was a spring in my step as I thought the best of life has to offer sometimes requires a lot of work…and provides sweet memories too. An evening in late summer came to my mind. Two old women in flour sack dresses and wide straw hats and a small boy sharing a load. Carrying three stringers full of hand sized or better home and sitting out under the privet bushes and stars next to the garden cleaning them all. Nannie, Miss Maggie Cureton, and a young boy. Listening to them laugh and tell stories of the “worser” old days that didn’t seem so bad. Enough fish for three families to feast on the next day. A memory to feast on for life.

Don Miller writes about various subjects, nonfiction, fiction and some with elements of both. His author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3MGRivTC9YRWjMTAbB1FsY7cD3V0OLEHDQLxd3M7T2ka0A4gkmY5YWW-g

Spirits Call on Mother’s Day

“…I believe in ghosts, but we create them. We haunt ourselves.”
― Laurie Halse Anderson

The spirits of the past call to me often. It seems as I age they call more loudly and often. They have become a choir but one or two voices sing more loudly than the rest…especially on Mother’s Day.

Usually, they sing late in the darkness of night. Mostly their songs are the sweet songs of a mother’s or grandmother’s love, long gone but not forgotten.

Light fingers touching my cheek waking me from a deep sleep in the early, still, and dark morning. It is not the witching hour but the sweetness hour. A memory, a sweet dream. A dream but I am thankful just the same.

Disjointed dreams with no rhyme or reason. Just the brain ridding itself of useless information…maybe.

Stroking a fevered brow, mayonnaise and onion sandwiches, the sound of a hoe contacting a rock followed by the thud the rock makes when it is thrown out. Sitting on “our” church pew, my brother and I sandwiched between my mother and father.

A broad smile on a freckled face because of something I did right for a change, birthday cakes, Christmas ambrosia, and Missouri cookies. A smiling good night or good morning. Breaking beans on a front porch in the August heat….or cutting corn to cream off the cob under a shade tree.

I only had my mother for a short time. She left me eight months past my eighteenth birthday. Left me, my brother, and my father. For much of the previous five years, she battled ALS until the war was lost just after midnight the second day of the New Year 1969. I awoke and glanced at the clock just before the phone rang with a message I didn’t want to hear. I never allowed myself to actually believe she would die…until the phone rang.

I try to forget those years…the years she couldn’t work, the years she sat in a wheelchair, her legs becoming more useless as the disease moved up her body. The wheelchair changing to a hospital bed. The weekend trips to visit her in the hospital in Columbia. That last Christmas together. The nights my father sat up and played solitaire because he couldn’t sleep from the worry.

I strain to remember her…I rack my brain for a wisp of a memory. I can’t hear her voice any longer and it pains me.  All my memories are fuzzy, and I am pained further. I stand in front of her paintings, the acrylics she labored on during those last years. They are silent. They don’t help me remember.

A cheap bit of costume jewelry tucked away in a small jewelry box. The first gift I bought her with my own money. A broach she wore often at Christmastime. Just a bit of paste and red and green glass. I didn’t have a chance to buy more expensive gifts…gifts she deserved.

I have photographs to remind me of her. Her curly, red hair and freckles. The alabaster skin under her freckles turning lobster red after five minutes in the summer sun. A big smile and a bigger laugh. A bit of shyness. A series of photographs from a vacation we took…when she was alive…really alive. Putt-Putt golf and lounging on the beach.

My parent’s twenty-fifth wedding anniversary…but in the picture was the wheelchair.

Readying herself for work at a textile mill, a thick round of draw-in treads draped around her neck and tied like a lei necklace. I wonder what happened to her reed hooks and the tiny scissors she carried. They were always in her apron…I wonder where they are? 

I wonder why my memories of her are in her “work” clothes. A plain cotton blouse and A-line skirt…sensible shoes. For some reason, I remember the color blue and how, late into one shift, she took the time to teach me to tie a weaver’s knot and how to find a breakout on a loom. Strange memories indeed.

Mother’s Day is not a day of celebration for me, not a day of joy. It should be.  My daughter is now a mother, a good mother…the best mother. I should focus on her…I try…I fail. 

My memory moves to the small country church of my youth and the graveyard across the road. Granite memorials are all that remain. Memories of sickness, funerals, and pain.

It is a day of questions and longings. A day of introspection, searching for the memories…the dreams. A day of “what ifs?” She never met my Linda Gail; she never met her grandchild; she never met her great grandchildren. I think they would have liked her…loved her.

Today will come and go…and with its leaving, the return of sweet songs from the past played out in dreams…and a brightening, I hope.

Momma and Nannie…I miss you both every day but more so on this day…Mother’s Day. Rarely is there a day that goes by that something does not remind me of you. Mostly I smile…except when I do not…but mostly I smile.

Mary Eldora Miller before the wheelchair. Early 1960s.

Visit Don’s author’s page at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP or pick up a copy or download one of his books, maybe Musings of a Mad Southerner, at https://goo.gl/zxZHWO.

Seductive and Sensual….

Maybe even Erotic…Hamburger Eroticism that is.

Am I the only person who talks in naughty whispers to their hamburger?  Is it normal? What is normal? Am I the crazy Southern uncle or grandfather being paraded out to entertain the kiddies?  Am I the guy the youngin’s talk about in their own whispered tones, “Don’t mind him, he’s harmless. Just a degree or two off of plumb. He’s talking about hamburgers not…you know.”

Talking to a hamburger as if it were an alluring female striping down to her unmentionables is not normal, but I guess it is because I eat so few.   Get your mind out of the gutter, you degenerate, I’m talking about hamburgers.

When the rare hamburger finds its way onto my menu, I tend to cook them myself.  I think I should give up my “man card”. Grilled, dry, ninety-ten blends that don’t satisfy me at all. All in the name of health. I don’t think hamburgers and heart health should be used in the same thought. But then again, hamburgers shouldn’t be a sexual experience either. Can you guess what kind I just ate? The hamburger equivalent of a cracker.

Soooo…not just any hamburger gets the sexy talk, but the kind that starts out as a ball of ground beef the size of a baseball and is squashed flat by a spatula onto a greasy griddle.  A miraculous metamorphosis occurs. More flavor is imparted and an even sear too.  Crisp on the outside and oh so moist and juicy on the inside.  It is the difference between a silk nightgown and a wool nightshirt. I’m having both a Pavlovian and an erotic reaction. My very own “Cheeseburger in Paradise” moment but hold the cheese, please.

If I were writing a book my short order cook would be more round than tall, wearing a stained white apron and wearing a hairnet under one of those paper hats that resembles a World War Two garrison cap.  The hat would be worn at a jaunty angle and have grease stained finger prints all over it. With a toothpick wedged into the side of his mouth, the cook would answer to the name Earl or Mose…or maybe Ike. He would be as greasy as his hamburgers. The Chesterfield unfiltered resting behind one ear is optional.  He’s not sexy…he’s my pimp.  If hamburgers were violins he would be Antonius Stradivarius.

My first “foodgasam” occurred in college. I was seduced as an immature Newberry College freshman and my “affaire de l’estomac” lasted for the next four years.  It was not my first hamburger. I had been around the corner once or twice, Porter’s Grill, The Wagon Wheel, The Clock. No, I was not a burger virgin but this was like seeing my first Playboy centerfold…live and in living color without air brushing or filters…or clothes. The only difference was, unlike the Playboy centerfold, this hamburger was going home with me. 

I was sorely tempted and was finally worn down. I gave into what would become “heaven waiting in a brown paper bag”, the “Dopey Burger.” Dopey, who looked nothing like the cook I created earlier, ran a hole in the wall hamburger joint named The Tomahawk Café across the street from Cromer Hall, the jock dorm. He had a real name, John Edwards, but everyone just called him Dopey and the café, Dopey’s and not the Tomahawk.

Names didn’t matter…we were two nameless ships passing in the night. This was a “third rate romance, low rent rendezvous.” built on nothing more than lust…the lust for the best burger I have ever stuffed into my mouth. A burger featuring a huge handmade patty, fried on a grill before being bedded down on a soft and sensual sesame seed bun. 

I watched wantonly as he placed a ball of meat on the griddle before smashing it flat. I felt my heart skip a beat and my breathing become labored when Dopey went about spreading mayonnaise copiously on both bun halves, edge to edge.

With a sweet onion slice, I really didn’t need the lettuce and tomato on the burger but watching him add them reminded me of a beautiful, long legged redhead wearing a sexy negligee…in reverse I guess, putting it on rather than taking it off.  And any hair color is acceptable, just no catsup or mustard please.

I snuck out the diner like a man guilty of breaking one of the Lord’s commandments…I wasn’t breaking a commandment but I’m sure I hit a couple of the deadly sins. Let me see, lusting for a burger…check. Gluttony, self explanatory…check. Sloth…as I lay in my bunk glistening with hamburger grease and burping contentedly…check. Three out of seven ain’t bad.

Despite the paper bag and its wax paper covering, I fondled and felt its seductive shape as I made my way back to my dorm room. As soon as I closed my door behind me, I locked it and turned down the lights. This was for my eyes only! Peeking inside the bag and…oh my.  I couldn’t control myself.  The bun was buttered and toasted. I understand why porn addicts have issues breaking their habit.

Taking the burger out and slowly undressing it from its wax paper wrapper, I exposed it naked to the world and my salivating lips. It’s very scent played to my basest instinct, my greatest sin, gluttony.

Mayonnaise and grease leaked out, ran down my hand, covering my fingers…more dripped down my chin…staining the paper napkins on my desk…I licked my fingers carnally giving into my depravity.  I took a bite, and then another. I was out of control.

As I looked at the last bite I asked, “Was it good for you? Not so much?” I’m not satiated either…but I ordered two. My own little ménage à trois. Just me and two beguiling Dopey burgers. I promised to take more time with the second one…I lied.

Unfortunately, my love affair ended badly.  I was addicted and found myself broke.

“Where will I get my next fix? “, asked the Dopey Burger addict.

“You can run a tab payable at the end of the semester?”, said the Dopey Burger dealing pimp.

“Like water to a thirsty man. I’ll have two.”

Four years later, “I can’t graduate until I pay how much?” 

To quote author Rick Bragg, “I know magic when I taste it.” This was magic and Dopey was the wizard, his spatula replacing his magic staff.

Unfortunately the magic that was my love affair is no more. Like the memory of my first kiss, Dopey and the Dopey Burger are lost among the sands of time. The “brothel of hamburger delights” transitioned to where ever hole in the wall diners transition several years ago. I’m sure the rats and roaches were devastated. Progress sucks.

Still I search. Especially after I eat one of my own creations. Like Sir Galahad, I search for the hamburger holy grail…or maybe more like Monty Python. My grail is a hamburger that reminds me of a Dopey Burger. My quest continues.

Note: After Newberry College changed their mascot from The Indians to The Wolves, The Tomahawk Café became known simply as Dopey’s Café. Dopey’s closed for good in 2017 after sixty plus years, the building and its memories torn down. Progress sucks bigly…lust like my hamburgers.

***

For more of Don Miller’s ramblings https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1dxW98rKV_5v4REICuZyvVsL-B5lN00AMMqszuAzBo49ox2ksFDHl-wm8

His latest release is the second historical novel featuring the Edwards’ clan in the Drunken Irishman Saloon Series: Long Ride to Paradise.

The Season of the Girl….

On my knees, burying a rose bush, my train of thought suddenly derailed. I thought about something I had shared celebrating International Women’s Day. A memory formed in my head. I’m sure it is a symptom of my advancing age…or the Commodores singing about a “Brick House” over my ear buds. I went back to the future to the early Eighties and a season I titled, “The Season of the Girl….”

I spent most of my forty-five years in athletics coaching young men. There were two occasions I was called upon to coach young women.  One was thrust upon me by a lawsuit…not against me, the other a favor to a fellow coach.  Both were learning opportunities for the male chauvinist that used to be me. 

In the middle Seventies, I accepted the position of head boys soccer coach at the high school where I taught.  At the time Mauldin High School was as country as a cow patty and the kids that came out for soccer had no idea what soccer was. Most were American football players looking for a ball to kick around and a body to run over.

The appointment was my first head coaching position at the varsity level.  It should have been a joyous occasion.  The culmination of hard work and accomplishment but it wasn’t. I was a warm body, available, and could drive a bus. I also needed the six-hundred-dollar stipend the position paid. 

Soccer was a sport I had never played or seen played which was not unusual for the time.  I was a blank slate as were most of my players, especially the first year. The first year I only had two players who knew how the game should be played, the rest looked for a body to block and toe kicked the ball as far as they could. Even they knew more than their coach. Truly the blind leading the blind.

 We jokingly referred to the game as “communist kickball” which for us was not far from the truth…the kickball part. We were starting from scratch.  The first soccer match I saw was the first soccer match I coached in. It was the same for most of my players.

This was when Neanderthals roamed the earth before video tape and well before YouTube.  There was nothing available for me to “research”.  No access to computer vids or DVDs with instructions on “how to change the pull cord in a lawn mower” or “beginning brain surgery.” None existed on soccer either, they hadn’t been invented.

Somehow, I learned.  Like the “blind hog who root hogged until he found an acorn” we tied our first match. I was a blind and stupid hog, but I did root-hog hard to get ahead of the curve.  Luckily, it was a shallow curve.  For seven years, especially the last four, we were one of the best teams in the state with many acorns to be found.

In the early Eighties the South Carolina General Assembly steepened my curve.  Our General Assembly finally decided to acknowledge Title IX, enacted in 1972, but only because a court case forced their hand.  The legislative train runs slowly in the South when it comes to equal rights, and the politicians had drug their feet until just before the season began.  Avoiding the lawsuit, our governing body, The SC High School League, decided women would have a voice in high school soccer, but it would not be a chorus of voices, it would be a solo.

The chickens had come home to roost and we were told that for one year, until women’s teams could be formed the next year, girls could try out for our men’s soccer teams. It was a hollow victory with only one school in the state with a woman on their team. We had just gone coed, and the Mauldin High School soccer program would become a very tiny footnote in history.

Girls couldn’t compete with guys, could they?  I was about to find out.  Laena and Cathy showed up for the first day of practice along with a couple of dozen of their male counterparts.  Too many bodies vying for twenty-two positions.  Cuts would have to be made.  Cutting a team is never enjoyable but this one had the added effect of a feminist’s minefield.

I sought knowledge from our girl’s PE teacher and primary girl’s coach, a wonderful old battle-axe who if she reads this will smile at the reference…I hope. I say battle-axe with all the love and respect I can muster.  In 1980 I was terrified of her and as I’ve found it the later years, my fear was unjustified. 

Seeking understanding of the feminine beast, I asked, “Anything you can tell me about coaching girls?” 

She gave me a squinty eyed look, and in her gravely voice minced no words, “Miller…you ain’t stupid.  You coach ‘em like boys.”  I was fairly sure the first statement was untrue which made me question the second. 

As I watched practice, attempting to evaluate the talent, I was reasonably sure Lena could make the team.  She was athletic…I’m sure in my mind I added, “for a girl”. Laena was a blond Norwegian who had moved to Mauldin from one of the Northern states with ice and lakes and had played soccer most of her life. She had a skill set on par if not better than most of the men.  She didn’t have the speed or strength but was smart enough to read what was occurring and put herself where she needed to be for success.  She was also a tough nut who played with a chip on her shoulder. 

Cathy was a hardnosed goalkeeper but didn’t have the quickness or strength to compete with the men.  I thought I was about to step into the Mars-Venus minefield, but she took herself out of the mix. Cathy was smart and read the writing on the wall and approached me about becoming a manager and bookkeeper. I was happy to oblige and happy to keep her.

There were other cow patties lying about waiting to be stepped in, as with any team, men, women, or coed.  These were different.  Slapping players on the butt immediately went out the window along with certain language nuances.  Being given homemade cookies before practice was a pleasing difference, not a cow patty at all.

As I look back, I smile because of the respect Laena earned from the men.  It was earned and I include myself.  Some of the more immature didn’t know how to act and quite a few got their noses out of joint.  They were verbal out of my earshot in their criticism of “the girl” until she took them out with a hard tackle or hacked them up in a drill.  After an early season discussion, Lena decided it would be best to take care of her own problems and she did…sometimes as violently as her Viking forefathers.

We did get our collective noses out of joint over our media coverage.  During those days, soccer competed with basketball for newsprint with soccer coming in a distant second.  When local news broke that Lena was the only girl participating in SC high school soccer, our coverage increased but it wasn’t about the team and Lena and I grew tired of answering the dreaded “What’s it like…” question.

In our first match, against our closest rival, when Laena went in the game it was as if someone had muted the volume until an opposing player took her down with a hard shoulder tackle.  The poor boy.  As play continued he stopped and offered her a hand, fine Southern gentleman that he was. She took it, and as quickly took him down with an illegal tackle that drew a warning from the official.  She giggled as she ran back to her position in the midfield.  She had made her point. Soccer players giggling? They shouldn’t giggle.

It was our best season, “the season of the girl”.  Unless I’m confusing years, we were 13-3-3 and went on to win an Upper State Championship before falling in a close match in the State Championship.  A memorable season by anyone’s standards.  Lena was more than a team member.  She was not a token and contributed many quality minutes.  She was also a teacher because I learned a great deal.  I learned not to coach them like men, or women, I learned to coach them like people.

My daughter went on to play soccer, also at Mauldin High School, a couple of decades later.  I can’t help but think maybe we laid a little of the groundwork for her own State Championship in her “season of the girl”. She was the hard-nosed goalkeeper who made me cringe every time she came out to attack a break away.  She turned out okay and lost no teeth.  My grand daughter is now playing, hope she looses no teeth.

Athletics are important, no matter what the gender.  Athletics teaches life. Hard work makes you better as both a player and a person. Players learn sacrifice, resilience, how to deal with success and failure, and how to play well with others. Athletics stresses taking worthwhile risks, nothing ventured, nothing gained. It teaches that in life, you won’t win all of the time and that’s okay.

Celebrate “the season of the girl”, Women’s History Month, and the International Women’s Day.

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0jCNAuN3Z8dNPesZwZtTn0bQHkZG8G6HgAbbZlv-rpjKH_Cn4aPmvbZKA

AB Dick-less

The older I get the more my senses come into play…provided I still have them.  They trigger memories. Are flashes of the past a sign of getting old?

A sound or smell, a scene formed in the periphery of my vision that is not real…a tune popping up on my playlist causing my senses to work in reverse.  It was Kris Kristofferson singing about, “the Sunday smell of someone fryin’ chicken…And it took me back to somethin’…That I’d lost somehow, somewhere along the way.” It was a Sunday morning as I walked, and I could smell pan fried chicken from sixty years ago.  Triggers. 

“Sunday Morning Comin’ Down” Kris Kristofferson

After my weekly four-and-a-half-mile jaunt with my best friend Hawk,  we stopped by the Tree House for our weekly cup of coffee and probably…more importantly, a stop at a place “Where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.”  Cliff and Norm played by Hawk and Don except I don’t know which character is which.

There was a scent of something chemical in the air, probably a cleaning fluid. They clean every day first thing, and we are the first to arrive most Fridays. Hygiene is important and they are very hygienic.  The aroma wasn’t a bad smell, the opposite, a trigger to an all too familiar smell from a time long ago, duplicating fluid.  Familiar if you began your teaching career while dinosaurs still roamed the earth.

Sitting in our reserved spot, just like Norm and Cliff, our conversation turned toward a former teaching chum who is deathly ill, but I found it hard to concentrate.  Flashes of forty plus years of teaching came into view in between the thoughts we shared. Strange flashes. The Twilight Zone of test making.

Norm and Cliff on Cheers sing Lollipop

The clackity rhythm of an old Royal or Remington typewriter followed by the ding of a bell.  I had my tempo and then the long curse when I hit the h before the t in the word the…or with…or thought….  Correction fluid, its own smell familiar.  More blue ink everywhere but where it needed to be.  More cursing. 

Arriving early to school and sprinting to the copying room to find a half dozen teachers stacked up in a holding pattern waiting for the only copying machine needing to be filled with duplicating fluid because the secretary could not be found.  She had the only key to the storage room and had been kidnapped it seemed.  For some reason duplicating supplies had to be guarded as if they were gold coins.  The semester reckoning, a sit down with Sybil or Flogene, “Coach Miller do you realize you used x number of reams of paper? You are killing too many trees.” Our secretaries only used my title when I had been a bad boy.

Donated Copy Paper to the School My teacher was greatly appreciative. true  story. - Barney StinsonHIMYM | Meme Generator
The Meme Generator

The cycling sound of the drum of the AB Dick duplicating machine as it spun to the timing of your hand crank, kah-thunk, kah-thunk, kah-thunk. A paper jam followed by blue ink, more on you than on paper.  How many shirts did I ruin?  Students raising the fresh, still damp mimeographed papers to their noses and inhaling deeply.  Strange flashes, indeed.

r/MovieDetails - In Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Mr. Hand passes out the class schedule of quizzes. After the paper is passed out, the students put the page up to their noses and deeply inhale. This was a popular school ritual of the 60s,70s and early '80s because the transfer agent for the ink …
From “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”

There were other flashes.  The tap, tap, tap sound of yellow chalk on a green board.  The history teacher who wrote notes with one hand and erased them just as quickly with the other.  God help you if you dropped your pencil, you might lose an entire historical era as you frantically searched.  Choking on chalk dust, the new piece of chalk making the long screech.  Students covering their ears and screeching their own discomfort.

I remember shoe taps on hardwood floors along with the acrid smell of red sawdust used to clean and keep the dust down.  Do they build schools with hardwood anymore?

Teachers have moved on from those days.  Computers and smartboards have replaced the need for copied tests, typewriters, and chalkboards.  There is software that can grade five sets of tests in the time you can scan them and hit enter.  Chromebooks have replaced the book bag filled with heavy textbooks.  White boards and dry erase have eliminated hair raising screeches. Zoom classes and virtual learning have become parts of the teacher’s tool bag.

Lecture Memes. Best Collection of Funny Lecture Pictures
Meme

Please don’t assume I’m insinuating teaching is easier.  I am most assuredly not.  While I loved teaching, no amount of money in the world would bring me out of retirement.  I taught in a simpler time…even when I retired six years ago, it was simpler than today…and I am a dinosaur…as much a dinosaur as the AB Dick Copier.  I am happy to be AB Dick…less.

Grading test in a simpler time…

Don Millers ramblings can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0x9B8Ym-4Eaqr1jiiLb8bE8e8HQyqjxJ4Tus5v-Cy1TJ00oE28k3EdhGM

Featured image is of an AB Dick 8200. AB Dick filed for bankruptcy in 2005.

Baby Love

I saw that Mary Wilson had passed away this morning.  Another one gone.  According to the Righteous Brothers,  

“If you believe in forever, then life is just a one-night stand, if there’s a rock and roll heaven,
well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.”

To many of my teen idols are leaving me.

Mary Wilson’s death took me along a pig trail that led to a rabbit hole.  A teenage boy with his new transistor radio, a Christmas present during his fourteenth year.  It opened up a universe I could only dream about.

A Deep South, land locked surfer boy who swam like a rock listening to The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean, dreaming of Surfer Girls, Surfing Safaris and Sidewalk Surfing in far off California, until one fateful night his tuner pulled in distant Chicago and WLS.  A window to a different world had just opened.

I listened to the local radio station in the daylight hours. Big Ways radio, an AM station that went off of the air as nightfall fell. At night I had to search and one cold winter’s night hit radio gold.

There was a smorgasbord of sounds.  The Beach Boys made me wonder, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older?”  There were huge doses of British invaders.  I really did want to “Hold Her Hand.”  The little blond girl who would make my life equal parts heaven and hell for the next four years.  There were soulful sounds too and they took a teenager’s heart and made it swell or “crushed it flat”. 

WLS was as close to Motown as I would get.  I never could pull in anything from Detroit, but there were plenty of soulful sounds emanating magically from distant Chicago or sometimes Fort Wayne, Indiana’s WOWO.  Jerry Butler, “Make it Easy on Yourself” or with Betty Everett, “Let it Be Me.”  God, I had it bad for that little blond girl.

The Impressions, The Miracles, The Temptations and The Four Tops joined the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean…and The Beatles and Stones. They were joined that same year by a different group, The Supremes.  A ‘girl group’ who helped turn the British invasion with the song “Where Did Our Love Go?” It would vault to the Billboard’s number one single and be followed by four more number one singles and a Grammy nomination.

I first saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show.  A white boy living in the Jim Crow South, sprinting home from the Sunday Methodist Youth Fellowship gathering to watch three Black girls from Detroit.  Somehow, music unites us all. 

Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard appeared 15 times with Ed Sullivan from December 1964 through May 1967.  I remember, as if yesterday, their medley with The Temptations in 1967. 

They were elegant and glamourous.  Shimmering gowns or mini-dresses in black and white, exotic and for a teenage boy, erotic.  With the big-eyed, big voiced, slender girl fronting, Florence and Mary were almost an afterthought, but they could sing and all looked good doing it. They look even better now that I can see them in color.

My musical choices have changed over the years but there is still huge doses of Motown, Soul and Rhythm and Blues on my playlist.  I still want to get up and move a little bit when I hear Diana Ross’ version of “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”  I might even wonder a bit, “What happened to that little blond-haired girl that kept me twisted in a knot?”

Rest in peace Mary.  Thanks for helping to open a new world and a new way of thinking.  You are missed.  Thanks for the pig trail and the warm memories that it conjured…even the little blond girl.

The Supremes and The Temptations, 1967 The Ed Sullivan Show

Further ramblings may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1PwFnOZx8KriCNpkLfMuyJj-qRRkXkpBuD1uDcQGZ7-3JbrKLAdlH7ZHs

Pearl Harbor…Revisited…Again

I was nearly a decade away from even being a glimmer in my parent’s eyes when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7, 1941, so I have no true remembrances of the “Day Which Will Live in Infamy”. My remembrances come from listening to my father and his buddies talking, history books, documentaries, and movies.

My father, a single, twenty-five-year-old at the time, did what many patriotic young men did and with several friends headed to the Marine recruitment center to join up…only to find out he was 4F due to a birth defect he didn’t even know he had. Determined, he attempted to enlist in the Navy and Army but was turned down.

Two years later, the now-married twenty-Seven-year-old, would receive a letter that might have begun “Greetings, your friends and neighbors….” Drafting a married, twenty-seven year-old missing an entire row of ribs and vertebrae they attached to should tell you how dire the situation was in late 1943.

My Father, a mechanic, was eventually assigned to amphibious assault teams training in Carrabelle, Florida.  Later he would join MacArthur in time to assault the Philippines, Okinawa, and finally would step ashore on mainland Japan as a part of the occupation force.  I wish I knew more but his military records were destroyed in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri.

I remember sitting as a family in front of our black and white television on a Sunday evening, December 3, 1961. Walter Cronkite was the narrator of the CBS documentary program, The Twentieth Century. On this night, the Sunday prior to the fifteenth anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, we sat as a family watching and listening.

The episode was “The Man Who Spied on Pearl Harbor” and Cronkite’s distinctive voice narrated the black and white action scenes, some made as the attack occurred, most staged for propaganda use during the war itself, as we remembered Pearl Harbor…and as I remember that night in 1961.

Over the years my thirst for knowledge about Pearl Harbor and my father’s war has caused me to read, watch or listen to almost every available documentary, book, movie, or interview about Pearl Harbor specifically and World War Two generally. Thankfully, I had access to the History Channel when it aired programs about history rather than programing about Alaskan truck drivers or pawn shops. I continue to remember Pearl Harbor, the men who lived it, died during the attack, the ships that were sunk, some later resurrected…and my father who was thousands of miles away at the time.

Many of my father’s friends served and I remember their visits. Stories told around a dining room table.  Older men, cigarette smoke swirling toward the ceiling, coffee left to get cold as they talked. Like many veterans of any wars their stories didn’t focus on death and violence but on humor and comradery. 

One story even involved my mother.  She did her patriotic duty working in a munitions plant.  If one of my father’s friends was to be believed, sitting in rain filled foxholes with artillery shells were being fired over their heads at unseen Japanese positions in the Philippines, one landed short and didn’t explode.  My somewhat taciturn father was quoted to have said, “That must have been one of Eldora’s.”

I have never outgrown my interest in World War Two movies seen repeatedly over again, especially those taking place in the Pacific Theater, the theater my father said he didn’t fight in.

“What did you do in the war, Daddy?”

“Son, I was so far away from the fighting the nurses went in before we did.” His admission did not deter my interest…or my pride.

My favorite movies and stories were those involving Pearl Harbor on the periphery, not quite the center stage like “Tora, Tora, Tora”. Instead, it was  Fred Zimmerman’s “From Here to Eternity”, John Ford’s “They Were Expendable”, and my absolute favorite, Otto Preminger’s “In Harm’s Way”.

A line from “in Harm’s Way” has always stuck in my head.  It was uttered by Henry Fonda  portraying Admiral Chester Nimitz, “On the most exalted throne in the world, we are seated on nothing but our own arses.” Good words to remember whether at war or sitting in your recliner.

The featured image I used is a colorized picture of the iconic USS Arizona burning after the attack.  I met a survivor of the attack in the late Seventies.  A career Navy man he had “joined” up after the War to End All Wars as an eighteen-year-old and served for thirty years.  He served in dozens of Pacific stations from China to San Diego.  One of those ports was in Pearl Harbor on board the USS Arizona.

Among his many duties was manning an anti-aircraft gun should there be an attack.  He never got the opportunity.  Providence intervened that day.  Off duty, he met a friend ashore and watched helplessly as 1,177 of his shipmates and his ship were sent to glory.  Despite the life he was able to live…to create, he never quite forgave himself for surviving.

As I’ve gotten older and a bit of a peacenik, I find myself watching less the movies about the valor and courage of our fighting men and more about the periphery, the politics, our own cruelties…which are simply the cruelties of war itself.

I hope we continue to “Remember Pearl Harbor” and the generation characterized by Tom Brokaw as the “Greatest Generation”. We need to remember the sacrifices they made in our last righteous war before the concepts of good versus evil became so blurred during the Cold War and in the Middle East.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor, and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

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/