THE SIREN’S CALL

A week and a half before high school football practice will begin and I am already hearing her song. The siren’s call of heat and humidity, the smell of freshly cut grass, the scent of over ripe athletic socks and ammonia from sweat soaked practice uniforms. As bad as it sounds, it is still the perfume of a sexy and sultry mistress from long ago. Our affair ended years ago but I still feel her caress on my skin and her call in my head. She tempts me today as she did all those years ago.

It’s been sixteen years since I broke off the relationship, in favor of family, friendship, and health. I hung up my rarely used whistle and shoved my over-used coaching shoes into a closet. I do continue to temp myself, watching football on TV or attending the occasional game. My senses say, “It can’t be that long ago that I last answered her melody, can it?” The calendar proves it is. Somehow, I can’t quite believe it…the desire to answer her call is just as strong today as it was those not so long years ago.

There is something seductive about the call, it’s more than the potential glory of a successful season. It is more about the people…it’s always been about the people. Relationships forged in the fire of competition. I miss those people, those I left behind and those I never got to meet.

There is something destructive about her song too. The unbelievably long hours, too little time with family. Arm chair coaches who have all the answers. My own loss of religion when plays or games go badly.

A week from this coming Friday I will face the day as I face all days, probably with an early morning walk or run. Despite my endeavors to keep my mind off my former mistress, her song will call to me. I will relive those earlier days and think about the young men I had the honor to coach. I will mull over great wins and heartbreaking losses. The pull will be strong but I’ll make sure Linda Gail ties me to the ship’s mast before I destroy my ship on the rocks.

HAPPY FOOTBALL SEASON to all.

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BUT I DANCE SO BADLY

I need to be working on the next great American novel but somehow my thoughts became twisted by a quote I happened to see on another blog site, “If you stumble, make it a part of the dance.” My problem? “I dance so badly…” and I stumble sooooo much! Thank you, Persia, “Blog of a Mad Black Woman”, for sending me into an afternoon’s tailspin of thoughts.

The statement is one of those make positive what is negative quotes, like “If life gives you lemons….” I probably make better lemonade than I dance. I’m just too self-conscience to let myself go without the benefit of large quantities of adult beverages…which causes hangovers and other stupid activities besides dancing. “Dance like nobody’s watchin’?” I have a hard time dancing when I know nobody’s really watching. Yep, I’m one tight-assed SOB.

My mind really got twisted into a knot or a maze of pig trails as I thought about my life. I realized most of my stumbles have been self-inflicted wounds. I tend to search out discarded banana peels to slip on. Many of those self-inflicted wounds were after evenings involving too many adult beverages. Some were more than stumbles, some were full-fledged, bust your ass, crash, and burns. Some make me wonder how I survived, others I just shake my head and smile. Somehow, I managed to regain my feet and will focus on standing rather than stumbling.

My favorite quote is by Walt Kelly’s philosophical, comic strip possum, Pogo. “We have met the enemy and it is us.” Two-word changes make it “I have met the enemy and it is me.” While I still occasionally imbibe I don’t stumble because of it. I guess I should celebrate not having had a hangover in thirty years and, despite those stumbles, my life has turned out awesome.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if I had just answered that email; the one where the foreign guy with the odd name and unusual syntax reached out to me thinking I might be an heir to a billion-dollar fortune. I really need to get back to that great American novel.

Don Miller writes on various subjects which bother him so. Check out his author’s or Facebook Page at
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For a dose of daily inspiration check out Persia at https://blogofamadblackwoman.com/

LITTLE BANDIT-EYED CRITTERS

“A day late and a dollar short” seems to fit…at least for the day late part. I stood in the middle of my garden perusing my small stand of corn and decided I would wait one more day before I collected my bounty of petite bicolor ears. Waiting was a mistake. Raccoons stripped nearly every ripe ear and obviously enjoyed the bounty from my efforts. The f@#$ing little bandit-eyed critters.

I recognize some of my garden bounties are going to benefit the wildlife surrounding me. I don’t begrudge them, I even try to feed them. I have an area, well away from my garden, where I put kitchen wastes, cracked corn and even the stray mice finding their way into my traps. My five pet crows seem to love it…to the point they no longer flee when they see me coming nor do they stake out portions of my garden. They just wait for me to put out the broken off corn tops, tomato peels and rotting cucumbers. I wonder if they discuss the menu? “D@#n, no mice or meat scraps today? Man! You need to add some protein back to your diet.” My possums are not so choosy.

The deer, turkeys, and squirrels love the cracked corn. My feeding area is next to a stream and many mornings or late evenings I will watch four or five does exit the stream to graze on the emerging grass and corn snacks I have put out for them. The same with the turkeys. The squirrels…well you know squirrels.

Yesterday evening I saw a red tail hawk was sitting on a dead stick up in my yard waste pile. Eyes glued to the food scrap pile…waiting. I was waiting too but finally gave up due to boredom and my own hunger. I guess it would be different if I didn’t have the tomato sandwich waiting to be made. I hope she found supper.

Obviously, raccoons don’t like leftovers. I could salvage only a half-dozen ears. They were tasty but I won’t make the waiting mistake again…maybe.

Several years ago, my wife and I watched a large female raccoon braving our backyard and puppy dogs while attempting to figure out a way to get to my bird feeders hanging under our deck. My wife and I viewed her activities, enthralled, for fifteen or twenty minutes while using descriptors like cute, engaging, delightful, inventive and the such. She wasn’t nearly as delightful when she broke into our bedroom’s bath, opening the French doors, before trying to make off with the bucket of dry cat food we left there. My wife “engaged” her in a tug of war over the bucket before chasing her off with a snapping bathroom towel. Take that you little bandit-eyed critter!

Luckily, fresh corn is available just about everywhere in the foothills of the Blue Ridge this time of year…my colon might disagree since I’ve eaten it every day since July 1st…too much information? Like most foods homegrown, corn seems to be just a bit sweeter due to the sweat from your brow…hope the little bandit-eyed critters thought so.

Don Miller writes on many subjects. To connect or peruse his writings and books please click on one of the following links:

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Old Hardwood Floors

I never know what will trigger a memory. My memories seem to be attached to certain senses. A scent of perfume or the aroma of food. The clink of a stone against the iron blade of a hoe. Something silky to the touch…. Yesterday it was a splash of dropped coffee on our pecan floors. As I knelt to clean my mess I was transported to other hardwood floors and déjà vu moments.

When I first walked into to the original school building at Tamassee-Salem I had a déjà vu moment. The long hallway, with its darkly yellowed hardwood floor, led me back to my old home school circa 1961 or ‘62 when I transitioned to Indian Land Junior High School. It was an easy physical transition, just walk up a short flight of stairs from the elementary school. Both, along with the high school, were all contained in the same building.

I remember long, darkly yellowed hardwood floors and the tap, tap, tap sound my shoes made. The floor shined “tritely” with the gloss of the often-mentioned “fresh penny.” I might have shaken with the fear and apprehension I felt on the first day, both as a student and later as a teacher. There was an excitement and anticipation to go with the fear.

It was a beautiful hardwood floor…before receiving thousands of scuffs and marks from hundreds of children traveling to and fro, reminding me of me in 1962, new and not yet beaten down from memorizing multiplication tables, diagraming sentences and writing out research papers, or an older me in 2001 with a metaphorical new coat of lacquer to hide the scuff marks of my life as I began a new chapter.

There is something beautiful about old hardwood floors, especially the ones in my memory. My mother was almost anally paranoid about her floors, especially those in her small living room and dining room. “Make sure you take your shoes off and do not run in here!” I found out why you didn’t run on waxed hardwood floors, especially in a shoeless, socked feet state. There was a wild collision with a small table, feet, legs and arms flailing wildly as I attempted to avoid a fate worse than death. Time slowed as I watched the globe lamp displaced by my wild slide, teeter back and forth before laying over on its side. A valiant dive to catch the globe ended inches short, or a foot, again due to the inability of socked feet to gain purchase. I watched in slow motion horror as the beautifully painted globe exploded into hundreds of glass shards.

I learned several life lessons on this day, the greatest being you don’t get praised for valiant efforts, you get your behind “tanned”…especially since I was doing what I had been instructed not to do. “Son this is going to hurt me more than you.” Right. It hurt me badly but not as badly as the sorrow in my mother’s eyes as she cleaned up my mess.

The seasonal waxing, even though very few people had ventured into the living room since the last seasonal waxing, became my duty. At a certain, now forgotten age, my mother decided “idle hands (were) the devil’s workshop” and my hands were forced to apply Johnson’s Floor Wax and buff it out, all done by the sweat of my brow. Later I would have visions of a younger me on hands and knees as Daniel LaRusso in “The Karate Kid” was instructed, “Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off.” Thank you Mr. Miyagi.

The smells of freshly lacquered floors are still prominent in the memory portion of my brain. There was a bitter, acrid smell to the oily sawdust used to dry mop the school floor. I can conger the sharp scent from the memories held in my mind. It’s not a bad odor, just the biting aroma of a time gone by.

None of the hardwood floors of my past exist any longer other than my memory. Carted off to some landfill to make room for progress. Replaced by bland, off-white tile with no scuffs or gouges to help tell their story or, as my Mother’s floors, replaced by a retirement village along with the building which surrounded them.

Happily, they exist every time I hear the tap, tap, tap of footfalls in the hallways of my mind.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

AN OLD FARMHOUSE PORCH

I was looking through old photographs from my youth when I realized I don’t have any photographs of my grandparent’s old home place. It also registered, I really don’t need the photographs. Their home, and memories of the man and woman who resided there, are forever etched in my mind.

I can see the house sitting on top of a hill, flanked by an old pecan tree meant for climbing and a tall pine tree meant for little except surviving nature’s many lightning strikes. The building itself was not special or unusual, just a white clapboard structure with ugly hip roofs…and lightning rods on every corner with a matching weather vane in the center. Like dozens of other farm houses found in the area and thousands in the South, it was just a square farmhouse with a kitchen and dining room attached away from the main living area as if by afterthought…or to keep the stove from heating up the rest of the house during this non-air conditioned period. The high ceilings held thousands of memories, especially in the kitchen and dining area, where everyone seemed to congregate when not congregating on the front porch.

An author I am reading, Rick Bragg, wrote, “They say the kitchen is the heart of the house, but I believe the {front}porch is its soul.” I agree and wish I had thought to say it first. This simple passage launched me down a road through fertile fields of memories as soon as I read it.

The porch of my grandparents was not screened or lighted, nor did it have a fan to blow away the heat, humidity or the mosquitos. Oddly I don’t remember the heat, humidity or mosquitos on the front porch of my youth as I do on the front porch of my adulthood. I remember July and August to be hotter than forty kinds of hell inside of the house… but for some reason…the porch was a cool oasis. Facing east toward the rising sun, the southern exposure was blocked by thick and tangled privet hedge gone wild and crepe myrtles.

I remember so much…and yet I’m sure I don’t remember enough. Watching lightning bugs in the late evenings, flashing their equivalent of “Hi, I’m a Sagittarius, what sign are you?” I remember friends and family gathering on its worn boards; sitting on metal rockers and a matching glider or leaning, elbows resting upon the plain concrete columns. They talked about their day, told stories and probably more than a few lies, their conversations punctuated by occasional outbursts of laughter.

PawPaw’s brothers and sisters came from a hill on one side and the small valley on the other, meeting in the middle on my grandparent’s front porch. For some reason the men tended to congregate to the eastern side of the porch leaving the women to “gossip” on the southern side. I remember Grandma Griffin, PawPaw’s mother, ever the lady, spitting her Peach Snuff covertly into a handkerchief rather than into the privet. My Uncle Claude, a deaf mute, sitting on the porch with hands flying, his questions answered and statements translated by my grandmother’s or mother’s flying hands. Aunt Joyce “spooning” on the front steps with soon to be Uncle Bo, their hands together with fingers intertwined. Playing two-man baseball games with Uncle Olin on the grass in front of the porch, the front steps marking first base.

Some evening gatherings combined work with pleasure. After a day gathering produce, the ladies of the homes might meet to shell butter beans or pop green beans, preparing them for their short trip to the local school and the cannery housed there. Later in my life, summer phone calls to my grandmother would include how many green beans or soup mix cans had been processed for the week. Later, as winter turned the gardens brown, my visits home would net those same cans so I might share in the previous summer’s bounty.

The porch was always a welcome place, except for the few salesmen who happened by, selling a vacuum cleaner, encyclopedias or this century’s greatest kitchen appliance. My grandmother was always courteous when she dismissed them, modelling the Golden Rule…except once. An overly pushy vacuum salesman made the mistake of following her to the door and blocking it with his foot as he completed his sale’s spill. He paid for his troubles with a face full of broom and was sent running back to the safety of his old green Chevrolet.

During the heat of the afternoons my brother and I, along with our cousins, might find a bit of a reprieve on the porch when August heat and humidity was at its highest. Make up games were our favorites, although for some reason the telling of ghost stories ranked high. The crepe myrtles might become a ship’s mast or a fort’s guard tower, while the thick privet became a jungle where we might have looked for Tarzan and Cheetah. I remember practicing my tuck and roll, jumping off the front steps and landing ala Alan Ladd in “Airborne.” We certainly had great imaginations back then. Even when the old house lay empty we used to porch as our play house until it was finally torn down, disappearing from our vision but not our memory.

I have a front porch though much smaller than the one from my youth. As my wife and I have tried to unclutter and renovate the rooms inside of our home, the porch has become more cluttered…and not with the memories I would wish. My goal for 2017 is to unclutter the clutter, replace some banisters and repaint. My biggest goal is to just sit on it and enjoy the evening cooling, watch cars passing on the road below, enjoy a cigar…if Linda’s incessant harping hasn’t caused me to quit, and of course appreciate the Jack Daniels that goes with the cigar. I would guess my biggest enjoyment will come from sitting with Gran-Momi Linda watching the grandbabies play. Watch? Not likely.

When I die, if I find my way to heaven, I hope my heaven will involve a big front porch. I would hope without the heat, humidity and mosquitos…unless I’m not in heaven. Hopefully I will find family and friends, catching up and retelling stories from long ago.

Rick Bragg, “My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South.”

If you enjoyed this story you might be interested in Don Miller’s book, PATHWAYS, or other books about life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf