RIVER WALK-IN HONOR OF OLIN GRIFFIN WHO PASSED EARLIER THIS WEEK

The un-named river road by my home, one of several river roads in the area which bore no sign, was a twisting affair that eventually ended up on the banks of the Catawba. To a four or five-year-old the road seemed longer than the Great Wall of China; however, in reality, the path was probably no more than three miles, if that. The Catawba was wide, wild and strewn with boulders. Hundreds of ducks crowded a feeder branch and would rest on the banks or float lazily on the water. My guess is today it would look pretty much the same…except maybe not as wild as I thought, rather slow moving. Back then the city of Rock Hill could be seen on the distant bank across the water. Now the city seems to have crept across the water, invading our side and displacing the ducks.

The river road began at my home and meandered through fields and pasture land, gradually rising, until it reached the hill where the old Collin’s house and barn sat. Then it would rapidly fall through a mixed forest down to the banks of the Catawba. There were many other dirt paths off the river road and my four-year-old self was concerned that we might become lost.

At some forgotten moment in the mid-50’s much of this land would become the possession of H. L. Bowers who began his working career as a carpenter’s helper for my Uncle Hugh Wilson. Later Mr. Bowers invented a process that would reclaim cotton from cotton waste. This process made him a millionaire several times over. He would purchase more than seven hundred acres of land from my grands and my uncles, Banks Griffin and Hugh Wilson, along with several other land owners. Despite his wealth, he was still a country man. I remember many times seeing him bouncing along his pastures in his always brand new Cadillac. With that abuse, those Caddies didn’t stay new very long which is why he purchased the latest model every year. I would guess you would need to purchase often if you treated your Coupe Deville like a GMC quarter ton.
The day was bright and glorious like all days when you are four. The river road still split my grandparent’s land and Mr. Bower’s overseer, Roddy McCorkle and his family, had not yet moved into the old Collin’s place that sat on the highest hill overlooking what would later become a twenty-five acre lake. PawPaw’s corn field and cotton patch were still on the south side of the road and the pasture, watermelon and tomato patches were up hill to the north. Many of my days were spent carrying water to those tomato and watermelons using a pail dipped in the small stream that “sometimes” ran through the property. Later in the fall, watermelons would be placed in the stream to cool and provide a sweet snack late in the day. Farther on down the road sitting off in the woods to the north was a sawmill that PawPaw and his brother Banks ran in the winter to supplement the household income.

I have no idea what possessed my Uncle Olin and Cousin Hall to take me along on a hike to the river. I was a little thing, no more than four. For all I know my grandmother may have paid them to take me just to get me out of her hair. Olin, my mother’s brother, was a tall lanky kid with bushy curly hair–tall as in six-foot-forever to a four-year-old. Hall was the son of Aunt Bess, my grandmother’s sister who lived just up the road from us and whose family ran the general store and cotton gin. Hall Junior was much shorter and sturdier-looking than Olin. Hall, known as Junior during this early life, sported a GI crew cut that he wore until he died. Olin would go off to Clemson College taking advantage of the school’s ROTC program in the hopes of becoming a Navy pilot. His dream would be thwarted by color blindness, consequently, he was forced to serve as an officer in the “blue water” Navy. Hall would join the Army and earn paratrooper wings so one of them got to fly…sort of, I guess. Somewhere in my mind is a snapshot of Olin in dress Navy whites along with a very attractive young nurse also in dress whites. They sure were young…and in love. That young nurse, Gayle Miller, in a fit of insanity, agreed to marry him and fifty years or so later they must still be in love as Gayle somehow has tolerated “Big O.”

They were no more than seniors in high school themselves; well, Olin might have been a freshman at Clemson at the time. Anyway, to me they seemed like Greek gods who had come down from Olympus to put me on their shoulders and carry me to the river, at least on the trip back. Mainly I would ride on Hall’s shoulders because Olin’s shoulders were way too far off of the ground for me to be comfortable. I am sure that I wore out poor Hall but no way was I going to climb Mt. Olin and ride him home. Even today I still get a nosebleed standing on a short ladder.

Hall and Olin were a happy pair, full of LOUD AND EAR-PIERCING laughter that accompanied every story they told and they told a lot of stories. I don’t remember much but do remember stories of catfishing, frog gigging and buzzards. No…no one ate a buzzard but someone, whose initials were Olin Griffin, got a nickname for illegally shooting some, I do declare. On a low bluff we paused to rest before making the trip back home. Both guys became a little more serious as they talked about Indian graves and battles that occurred between the Catawbas and the Cherokee. They told stories that included ghosts and long-dead Indian warriors, stories that might have been intended to scare a four-year-old. That bluff was quiet and a bit eerie. Years later when friends and I would go camping and would tell our own ghost stories, the bluff was still kind of creepy. But…I am sure there are no such things as ghosts.

When I was nine, my grandfather died. It was a gray, cool and misty day, both outdoors and inside of my head. I was sick and can remember my father joining me on the couch to tell me the bad news. My grandfather’s memory would haunt me for the next several months. In fact, that next fall, before school began, I slowly peddled my Schwinn Phantom toward the now named “Bower’s place”, past the cornfield of my grandfathers. It seemed to be a lonely field because it had been left unplanted. I felt a bit of despair and started to shed a tear or five until I looked up and saw a figure in the middle of the field waving at me! He looked a lot like my dead grandfather! For some strange reason, at that moment, my mood lightened. Then the figure dimmed and disappeared. Even though he seemed to just vanish into thin air…I am still not sure there are no such things as ghosts.

When I was older I would end up working those same river bottoms for my Uncle James and then later for Mr. Bowers. Whether I was baling hay or hoeing and pulling corn, there was never a time that I didn’t think about that “River Walk” with my uncle and cousin when I found myself on the banks of the Catawba. Sadly, Hall has passed on and left us now. I called Olin and Gayle last week. They are happy as clams and both much stronger than their age. Their kids and grandkids are close by in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I want take a trip to visit soon, to see them in person. Olin still has that loud and piercing laugh which I was so glad to hear again. As I listened to the familiar laugh which took me back in time, I realized that I need to remind Olin of the River Walk. Also, I feel an especially strong urge to tell him the story about his dad. I wonder if Olin believes in ghosts.

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OLD MEN IN FEDORAS

I am by nature a baseball cap “kind” of guy. Forty-three years of coaching baseball and football will make you a baseball cap kind of guy out of habit. Forty-three years of coaching baseball and football added to sixty years of “bronzing my body” in the sun while working in fields or cutting grass will give you a carcinoma on your ear because baseball ball caps don’t cover them. Especially mine! I was born with big ears to go with a big nose and was a bit disturbed to find out, besides finger and toe nails, ears and noses are the only body parts to continue growing throughout life. Maybe I can try out for a part in the next Dumbo movie.

I now wear big floppy hats. I still wear baseball caps…I even have one that my darling daughter gave me many years ago that has a flap that covers my neck and ears…although I need to check and make sure my ears are not outgrowing it. I use it when I run or walk in the sun or go fishing. I have a long billed one she gave me that I use when I am not running in the sun. For long periods in the sun I have “boonie” hats, straw hats and the hats that prompted this post, the fedora. What I think of as the “Old Man’s” hat.

I didn’t always think of them as “Old Men’s” hats…until I got to be one of the “Old Men.” Until I became one of the old men, I thought them to be “cool.” My first fedora was a genuine Indiana Jones’ Stetson from over thirty years ago. I still have it…as I have all of my wide brim fedoras, no snap brims for me. Indie’s old hat is moth eaten and worn…kind of like me. I don’t get up in the morning thinking I’m moth eaten and worn. I don’t even move through the day thinking I’m an old man…unless I get near a mirror. There ARE some mornings that I get up and suspect I might be an old man or rather a young man’s brain trapped in an old man’s body. This is usually confirmed when I look in my mirror. I really should invest in a youthful Panama with a colorful band to get that thought out of my head.

My grandfather always wore a fedora, in the field or at work. My guess is that he took it off when he was indoors at Springs. Unlike today it was poor etiquette to wear a hat indoors. Blue jean overalls topped with an old sweat stained fedora. I have a mental picture of him astride his plow horse riding in from the field. An old man riding an old horse with a fedora perched “fore and aft” on his head. No “jaunty tilt” for him although he might tilt it back to rid himself of the summer heat. No tilt even when he had his “Sunday go to meeting” clothes on with his “Sunday hat” firmly in place…until he got inside the church with the rest of the “Old Men” carrying their fedoras by their side or sitting with them in their laps. Afterwards and outside they were all careful to touch their brims to the ladies, removing them if they stopped to talk. There is one problem with this mental picture. I am nearly a decade older than my grandfather at the age he died.

Thirty years ago this coming winter I drove into Travelers Rest in need of something only a hardware store could provide. Pre Lowes and Wally World, I stopped at Williams Hardware, before it was a restaurant, for no other reason than it was the first one I saw. It was a bitter cold and gray day with a wind that carried ice cycles forecasting the snow or ice that was soon to follow. I wrapped my coat tighter as I fought the wind until I opened the door. It was like a sauna with a huge potbellied stove glowing pink from the heat. As far from the heat as possible, three men sat around a checker board they had placed on an old nail keg. They could have been stamped from similar molds. Broad bodied going to seed, they were wide of shoulder with little or no necks showing above the collars on their flannel shirts. Their round heads were covered by the requisite fedora and underneath they sported broad faces cut by crevasses rather than creased with wrinkles. Faces were the color of tanned leather except where the fedora was pushed back on their heads. Foreheads were as white as freshly bleached sheets having rarely seen the sun. I am sure the bodies under the flannel and overalls would have matched. They spoke in hushed tones as if they had been admonished not to disturb the paying customers…although I was the only paying customer.

I see old men from my youth, sitting around checker boards on wooden barrels crowning kings. Fedoras cocked back on their heads as they studied the board and contemplated their strategies. Another group of old men sat waiting their turn, kibitzing, cracking wise or telling stories that they had all heard before. Old friends comfortable with their age I guess…something I hope I have plenty of time left to acquire…but not quite yet. Yeah, I think a Panama with a colorful band might be just the trick, or one of those snappy European driving hats…but then I would have to buy a sports car to go with it. Hum, not a fate worse than death unless I grow too old to enjoy one.

For more of life’s non-fiction by Don Miller try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

CIRCLES

I wonder how many YEARS of my life have actually been spent driving mowers and tractors in circles? In my own yard, on football and baseball fields? Finishing up where I started only to do it over again…and again…. I find that my mind drifts with the repetitive mindlessness of the job…until I run over something I shouldn’t or cut a clump of Linda Gail’s flowers.
This time of year, the hot and humid doldrums of summer, my mind “circles” to twenty-nine seasons as a football coach…despite not having coached football in fifteen years. It’s been that long? With the coach’s clinic this weekend I am reminded that the football season is just around the corner. The smell of my freshly cut grass, along with the heat and humidity, takes me to the fields of my past. Twenty-nine first practices followed by twenty-nine first games. Fields freshly manicured with sharp white lines almost glowing from the reflected light from above.

In some ways my twenty-nine seasons were a study in frustration. Eight seasons finishing above .500 and a small, very small, handful of break-even seasons. We have at least three coaches in South Carolina with eight or more state championships during their career. It gets much worse, five of those winning eight seasons occurred during my first nine seasons. Three winning seasons over the last twenty. My own tenure as a head football coach boasts one winning season, six wins out a total of thirteen over four seasons. What made me think I was head coaching material?

I spent this past Friday morning with best friend, former boss and Linda Gail’s former high school classmate, Mike “Hawk” Hawkins. I was lending “moron” support as we attempted to erect a backyard swing from scratch. The “blind leading the blind” didn’t quite describe it. More like the “blind leading the stupid.” Somehow with a bit of “cussin’” on my part and a lot praying on his, we got the job done. Maybe it won’t collapse in on itself. More importantly, being around “Hawk” reminded me of why I coached football for twenty-nine years despite the frustration. It was the people and the personalities surrounding high school athletics.

My last game coaching football was Mike’s last game as head coach at Riverside. No man could have put more into a program than he did but it wasn’t in the cards. My first five years as his assistant netted two winning seasons and a couple break evens but then the wheels fell off the jalopy. To quote Linda Gail and thousands of others, “You can’t make silk purses out of sow’s ears.” We had great kids who tried and worked hard but were “athletically challenged” proving that you could do most everything right and still not be successful. Weekly we found our X’s to be much smaller and slower than our opponent’s O’s. Tasting just a bit of success is what made my last game much sweeter.

I don’t know how many games we won my last year…it wasn’t many. It doesn’t matter because we won the last one. A playoff bound Mann team came to the River and our kids rose up and smacked them in the nose. Hawk devised what I have always called a “bastard” defense, throwing caution to the wind and our kids executed it. As the seconds ticked down a senior defensive end who, in a normal defense, would not have been dropping into pass coverage, did. Geoff Rigsby intercepted the confused Mann quarterback to ice the victory…my last victory. I didn’t know it was my last game at the time. I was living vicariously through “Hawk” who was being carried from the field on the shoulders of his players while what few fans were in attendance were bring down the goal posts…well bending the goal posts.

A friend who used to coach with Hawk and I, Rick Scott, once said, “Winning is better than sex.” I bit, “How is that?” “Sex only last a few minutes. A win lasts all week long.” Well! I would guess he is correct. I’ve enjoyed my last win for fifteen years.

For more humor by Don Miller click on the following link: http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

AN OLD FIG TREE

Twenty-five years ago I took a cutting from the old fig tree gracing my aunt’s and grandmother’s backyard. It is a “common” fig which needs no male plant to pollinate and for some reason sounds lonely to me. Later I planted another “younger” tree, grown from a cutting from my original tree, which makes it a grandchild of sorts. I seem to be rambling and a bit morose. I should reframe from drinking another adult beverage until I finish this.

My fig trees haven’t done well unless you consider having JUST survived to be doing well. It’s my home’s location and the weather’s timing. Sitting in the foothills of the Blue Ridge I live in the area known both as the “Dark Corner” and the “Thermal Belt.” The name Dark Corner has no bearing upon my fig trees but the Thermal Belt does. Generally, our weather is not as cool as the surrounding areas…except when it is. Every year the weather seems to throw us a curve just after my fig trees have put out their leaves and first fruit. The threat of frost or freezing temperatures sends fruit growers, along with me, into a frenzy of activity and prayer while we attempt to save our plants. Many years my fig trees have been killed all the way back to the roots. Weeks would pass as I checked them daily hoping to see a bit of green after calling family members to ask if they had grown a tree from the original’s cuttings. No one has an original fig tree “relative” but so far my figs have rewarded me with new growth from the roots every time they were killed back despite looking to be in sad shape.

In many ways my fig trees remind me of my grandmother as she battled through the gray months of winter. She only slightly tolerated the winter and only those days she could get outside. My “younger” grandmother attempted to find ways to stay busy on overly cold and gloomy days which were any day she could not get outside. On those sunless and dismal days, Nannie would write her thoughts on spiral bound notebooks and stare out her window or sew. Patchwork quilts seemed to be her preference although she would sometimes use a pattern and create dresses from repurposed “feed sacks.” To the untrained eye the prized cloth scraps making up her quilt seemed to be laid out in a disordered clutter. This was despite her having studied over the bright and irregular patches for hours before placing them just right…the way she wanted them. Many of those oddly matched patches were memories; a part of an old shirt Paw Paw had worn, a favorite dress, or possibly something worn by a child or a grandchild. I wish I had asked her about their meaning but stupid me I never did. In the late winter she would begin to perk up when the mail brought an almanac or a seed catalogue. At least she was planning for the spring.

Later in her life Nannie took up painting. Quite well I might add. A kind of Grandmother Moses, she painted fishing lakes, barns, landscapes, churches and flowers. Knowing my grandmother this choice of subject was not a surprise. Nannie found her new talent by completing a painting my mother had begun before she lost the ability to sit up and hold on to her brushes. In my family a supreme being seems to decree that if we have any talent it will not manifest itself until the “autumn years” of our life. As Nannie went into her winter years’ poor eyesight and arthritis made it harder for her to bounce back but bounce back she did. Just like my fig trees and her spring flowers Nannie always came alive in the spring…until she didn’t at the age of ninety-eight. She died in the cold of February, just short of spring.

I find myself saying things my grandmother might have said and doing things she might have done. These days I don’t tolerate winter any better than she did or my fig trees do. I have taken up writing but I am not sure it is a talent or a curse, especially for those who choose to read my stories. I spent this past winter suffering through sore knees and a bad back to the point of giving up running for nearly four months until spring came with its annual rebirth. It’s now late May and I am running slowly again; answering a Siren’s call I can’t quite ignore. I feel my spirits rising while my fig puts out new growth from its roots reminding me of my grandmother pulling weeds, hoeing between her rows of beans or fishing. Maybe I can keep winter from lasting quite as long or at least protect my fig trees from that last cold snap during early spring. I will also never complain about the heat and humidity of summer again and hope Indian Summer holds on even longer.

More nonfiction by Don Miller is available at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

LIGHTNIN’ BUGS

“A dark night, lightened up by thousands of glowing fireflies… It’s magical…”
― Ama H. Vanniarachchy

I sat outside last evening celebrating the spring of my sixty-sixth year. I was happily enjoying a cigar and a dark and amber adult beverage while an evening breeze was being kicked up by a distant thunderstorm. Far away according to my weather app, the storm was close enough to cause the “rain” frogs to break in to a calliope of croaking “music” and my puppy dogs to escape to the shelter of my home. As I watched a rising thunderhead moving south of me I saw a small winking light in one of our black walnut trees…followed by another. It was a “blink, blink” followed by a second “blink, blink” in a code I did not understand. “Lightnin’ bugs” had made their early May appearance.

Late one evening several decades ago, a late-night, spring thunderstorm had knocked off our power just long enough for our thirty-year-old pump to lose its prime. I made the dark and scary trip down to the spring my pump fed from and began the process of priming it. Our old pump was located above a cistern created by the previous owner in the 1950s to catch the spring water escaping from under a very large oak tree. As I bent over and tried to concentrate on priming rather than my fears, I felt I had company. Expecting to find a bear, bobcat or vampire eyeing me as a meal, I instead beheld an eerie sight as fireflies began to awake from their winter hideaways and flash their little mating signal. “Come here. I am ready for you to find me. It is time for us to propagate the species.” Not very romantic but we are talking about fireflies and I don’t think they know the words to “You Light Up My Life….” What made their emergence eerie was the fact they had risen to no higher than three feet above the ground and were all blinking in sequence with each other. I was amazed and just a bit fearful. Twenty-eight years later, they still make their appearance in early May but I’ve never seen their group emergence since. A once in a lifetime occurrence? If it was, it was worth it.

Most of us have memories of fireflies. Before computers games, Play Stations, IPads and adulthood we ran barefoot through the early evening dew as twilight fell, an old canning or jelly jar at the ready, trying to see how many fireflies one might gather between supper and bed time. Did you let yours go? I have a memory of our young daughter, Ashley, no more than four or five years old, running and laughing with Linda-Gail while they filled her jar. I had punched breathing holes in the canning lid the same way my grandmother had punched holes in mine so my brother and I could chase the flashing lights through the privet hedge behind her house. As the most dreaded hour of the day approached, bed time, Ashley refused to part with her lightning bug filled jar, intently watching them as she bathed and later when she curled up with them in her bed. When we checked on her later, I found her still awake and grinning like the “Cheshire Cat.” She slowly pointed to the ceiling and said, “Look flashing stars.” A decade later during a college visit, I found that she had glued florescent stars to the ceiling of her bedroom and I could not help but remember and smile.

After I saw my two lightning bugs, and in spite of my fear of the local bear who periodically tears down my fence and steals my trash, I could not curb my curiosity and walked to the backside of my yard bordering the stream. I had hopes I might see the lightning bug’s group emergence again. There was nothing but darkness and disappointment to greet me, not the silent chorus of lights I was hoping for. Maybe tomorrow night.

Disappointment was short lived. My thoughts wandered to Ashley and my red haired little monkey, granddaughter Miller. It won’t be long until she will be old enough to chase lightning bugs on her own. God, please give us the energy to be able to chase them with her.

More nonfiction by Don Miller is available at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

LITTLE PIECE OF HEAVEN

Paradise was once found on the banks of the Catawba River. It had to be the Garden of Eden. Some three miles by crooked road from the river was my home. I still walk and run the old river road today, although only in my memories and my dreams. In between the river and my home were nearly seven hundred acres of heaven. Seven hundred acres of pastures, forests, fields and ten “fishin’” lakes, one a five-acre “pond” we called the “Pettus Pond” where I caught the biggest blue gill of my life, another, twenty acres of water called the “Bowers Big Lake” where I caught the nearly nine-pound largemouth still adorning the wall in my study. Seven hundred acres of playground nirvana.

H.L. Bowers, my Uncle Hugh Wilson’s former carpenter’s helper and true American success story, had purchased or as the locals said, “bought up” nearly seven hundred acres of forest and pasture land sitting on the east bank of the Catawba. Farther east, the border of his land stopped just short of Highway 521. The reason it stopped short was a cluster of small farm houses, fields, pastures and forest owned collectively by my parents, my grandfather and grandmother along with my grandfather’s brother’s family and their sister and her husband. There were other land owners as well but the main dirt road leading to the old Collins’s house that Bower’s would eventually convert into a lodge ran right through the middle of our property. The Bowers’ “land” and the road to it was where I fell in love for the very first time.

My grandmother taught me to fish, the nuances of tying on a gold number six hook, treading on a wiggling red worm, where to look for fish on the bed and what the signs were. “Can’t you smell ‘um?” “See those pot holes?” “Make sure you keep the tip of your hook covered!” “Look at your shadow! If you can see your shadow so can the fish.” “Keep your pole tip high!” One of her fishing buddies, Miss Maggie Cureton, would say, “She sho’ nuff’ can smell deem fishes.” She also thought Nannie might have sold her soul to the devil or practiced West African Vodun because she fished according to the signs of the moon, wind direction and weather forecast. “East is when fish bite least, west is when fish bite the best, north neither man nor beast go forth, and south blows the worm into the fishes’ mouth.” No it didn’t quite rhyme but a full moon, wind from the south or south-east with a rising barometer…time to go fishing. There were times Nannie ignored the signs and, likely as not, she would not be shutout.

We began to fish the Pettus Pond in the late Fifties or early Sixties. Named for our Aunt Bess’s family, it sat on land purchased from them. We were blessed to fish there. Mr. Bower’s was being neighborly but he was not neighborly to everyone. NO TRESPASSING signs were posted but those signs did nothing to deter the locals who succumbed to the siren’s call of water filled with fat blue gills, large-mouth bass and catfish. Large fines or being escorted off his land at the wrong end of a double barreled shotgun did not seem very neighborly. I heard many people refer to Mr. Bowers in less than glowing terms due to his reluctance to allow fishing on his land. It took me until adulthood to realize why he might not want his ponds over fished and I assure you they would have been.

My grandmother was in hot demand as a fishing partner. Friends from all around called to set up “fishing dates” even though she was careful not to fish the Pettus Pond all of the time. She did not want to “over stay her welcome” so to speak and only trusted partners got to go to the Pettus Pond…and her “fishing crazy” grandson. It wasn’t where she fished, it was how she fished. Rarely did the fish avoid her hook and her “luck” seemed to transfer to those who fished with her regardless of the water she put her hook in.

Nannie was a traditionalist. Cane pole, heavy line, a number six gold hook with a split shot sinker she crimped onto the line. A paper bag inside of a vegetable basket held her fishing gear along with a can of hand dug red worms, a canning jar of water and a handful of individually wrapped hard candy mints that had softened in the afternoon summer sun. Most of the time she chose to fish without a bobber and simply kept her bait moving until something hit it. I remember her battling a seven pounder into submission. Send it to a taxidermist? You must be joking. Weigh it but then filet it, bread it in cornmeal and put it into a cast iron skillet with a half inch of melted lard or Crisco. Fry until crispy and then eat. True to her poor farming background, nothing was too big to eat nor too small to keep. Pan fish deemed too small for the pan were never-the-less hauled home and incorporated into the garden providing nitrogen to help produce her sweet corn and tomatoes. “Waste not, want not.”

We were happy as larks to fish the Pettus Pond until the Bowers Big Lake was built. Situated below the Pettus Pond, looking at it from a distance was like placing fudge brownies in front of a food-a-holic handcuffed to his chair. Despite the big bluegills and largemouth bass we were catching, in my youthful mind, “The River Stix” had to be just below the Pettus dam. Somehow I got into my head, the bigger the water, the bigger the fish. In this case I was correct but as I get older I find I miss the smaller confines of the Pettus Pond or maybe I just miss my grandmother.

Today it is late April and two days past the full moon. It would seem we have had our three days of spring and summer is now upon us despite the early date. I’m probably going fishing tomorrow evening provided I get my honey do list completed. I don’t have the passion for fishing that I used to have and haven’t since 1999 when my favorite fishing partner left this world. Don’t get me wrong. I still fish but it might be for the same reason I have for my much too large garden. I know I could buy more food with what it cost me to raise mine but the food is sweeter because of the memories. I have the same sweet memories when I fish.

Don Miller has also written three books which may be purchased or downloaded at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

A LOVE AFFAIR

“As I was motivatin’ over the hill, I saw Maybelline in a Coup de Ville,
Cadillac rollin’ on the open road, nothin’ outrun my V8 Ford”
“Maybelline” by Chuck Berry

It was the summer of my thirteenth year and I was in love. No it wasn’t the little brunette girl in my class with the rapidly expanding chest. It wasn’t my first true love, Sharon. She was still a summer away. I was in love with hot rod cars and the songs about them produced by The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. I could not wait to get behind the wheel of my very own “Little Deuce Coupe” with its very own “409,” race my ’63 split-window Stingray into “Dead Man’s Curve” or maybe a drive to “Drag City” might be safer. During this period, I would not have traded my issue of “Hot Rod” magazine for a subscription to “Playboy.” Okay, who am I kidding? I would have also gone to “Surf City” where there were “two girls for every boy.”

As an eighth grader I would stand all “moony eyed” watching the upperclassmen as they left the school parking lot with their souped-up cars or “No-Go Showboats.” A blue ’53 Chevy looked great dressed in metal flake blue and sporting fake wheel spinners on his rims. Too bad it had the same weak “stove bolt” inline six it was born with. A light blue under white ’59 Ford with a retractable hardtop came next. It was long and low slung, looking even lower with its shiny chrome fender skirts hiding most of the wide, white walled tires it was riding on. I think there might have been fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirror and know there was a good looking brunette sitting in the middle of the front seat. Just after the Ford, a red ’58 Impala convertible appeared with a white top and matching interior. The beauty rumbled ominously as it went by, a 348 and glass packs supplying the noise. Finally, the car I was waiting for cruised by. Buck’s ’49 Ford Coupe.

Buck is my cousin and my first “man crush.” Not because he was a stud, even though in my youthful eyes he was. It was his car that cemented his “studly-ness.” Shackled in the rear, its low slung profile made it resemble “fastbacks” of later years. A blue-gray metal flake covered the outside with matching “rolled and pleated” seats on the inside. Finder skirts helped make it look fast even when it was standing still and hid matching rims adorned with shiny “baby moons.” The standard “three on the tree” had been moved to the floor and while the original little flat head was still under the hood, there was little “stock” about it. When you popped the hood twin carburetors winked at you and to quote the Beach Boys, “She’s ported and relieved and she’s stroked and bored.” Custom headers were attached to lake pipes running out from under the doors. Yes, I was madly in love with that car and never forgave him when he sold it to buy an equally “bad” ’55 Chevy. I still felt as if my parents had divorced.

Buck wasn’t my only hero. There was a man from Waxhaw who had a “cult” following among the teens and preteens residing along Highway 521. I never knew what his real name. All I knew was that he was a legend in the same manner as Robert Mitchum in the movie “Thunder Road” including the death part when he tried to cheat death one time too many and ran off a road and hit a tree. Prior to his death, “Waxhaw” drove the Highway Patrol crazy making runs through the little finger of land jutting into North Carolina called the Panhandle of Lancaster County.

You could hear him coming from a distance. Un-muffled exhaust pipes screaming in the distance would bring myself and my local friends, Mickey and DJ, out to watch. You better get there quick because “Waxhaw” was pedal to the metal in a “hopped” up ’63 Baby Blue, Ford Falcon Sprint. Belching flames from straight pipes, the little Falcon would scream past my house in a blue blur. Usually a minute or so later the siren of a Highway Patrol could be heard. Despite having a 390 Police Interceptor V-8, they just couldn’t keep up with the overpowered little Falcon. From the turn off at the Waxhaw Highway on to 521, “Waxhaw” would dare the SC Highway Patrol to catch him before he crossed the North Carolina Stateline and safety. To my knowledge they never did.

American men have always been in love with “hot” cars and the “hot” women attracted to them. In the Fifties and Sixties, a more mobile society gave rise to drive-in movies and restaurants, fifteen cent hamburgers and to a certain extent, the suburbs. With expansive back seats and drive-in movies, I would say they also contributed to a rise in the birth rate. I didn’t get my first “hot” car until 1972, a ‘67 British racing green GTO with red striped tires. I didn’t get to keep it as long as I wanted because of the Oil Embargo of 1973. With gas shortages and rising gas prices, a four barreled carburetor mated to a four hundred cubic inch engine would be replaced by an under powered, even for a four cylinder, “F’ing” Pinto for my wife and a ’53 Chevy four door for me purchased for twenty-five dollars.

I never owned another “muscle” car but I still have time. I still listen to the Beach Boys along with Jan and Dean occasionally…and dream. Maybe I can join “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena” and get a “Super Stock Dodge.” Those new Hellcats sure are nice but at my age I probably should stay out of them. For safety I probably won’t go “Sidewalk Surfin’” either.

Don Miller has also written three books which may be purchased or downloaded at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

DEATH WHISPERS SOFTLY IN THE NIGHT

DEATH WHISPERS SOFTLY IN THE NIGHT

Sybil Babb has joined the many stars I think about when I look into the clear night sky. Stars I have named after friends, family members and former players, all who have passed from my physical world to join their energies with the cosmos.

Ironically, yesterday I spoke with a much younger friend who felt the need to tell me of her fear of death. Death is not something people normally talk about unless they are troubled so I listened intently. I was surprised that this particular friend feared anything. I was wrong and felt honored she had dropped her “tough as nails façade” and took me into her confidence. I could do nothing to alleviate her fear other than listen. I did tell her I did not fear death…just dying hard. I hope to pass on in my sleep but have been disappointed before and worry I may be disappointed again. I should have also told her of my fear of living so long that I outlive my friends and die alone whether it is peacefully or not. I hope Sybil’s passing was peaceful while surrounded by people who love her. I also wish I had picked up the phone to call her the many times I thought of her. A lesson learned too late.

When I arrived at Mauldin High School in the fall of 1974, I was an immature and green twenty-four-year-old CHILD. I immediately adopted Sybil along with Marilyn Koon Hendrix and Bobbi Frasier Burns as surrogate mothers despite the fact they were closer to my age than they were to my mother’s age. All three made it easy to adopt and would also become my mentors and quickly my friends. Whatever I became as an adult they share not only in my successes but in the good found in me. We were a very young staff and I am sure Sybil served the same role to Koon and Bobbi and dozens of other young teachers…along with the thousands of students who passed through the halls of Mauldin. Someone remarked that Sybil WAS Mauldin High School and I would agree. I see Sybil sitting behind her desk and can’t think of a time she was not smiling or a time she wasn’t supporting. Mauldin would not be Mauldin without her there and I have only returned once or twice since she retired.

We WERE a young staff in the Seventies who worked hard and partied even harder. Sybil was a fixture at those post-game parties or poet’s club meetings…always providing clear council through the vapors of alcohol. I see Sybil sprinting from a former…wife-to-be’s apartment because a drunken neighbor decided to show her his pet snake. He did not know how deathly afraid she was of snakes. Sybil was so terrified she hyperventilated…once she quit running. Sitting on the bow of Koon’s sailboat, drink in hand mocking a figurehead, Sybil must have been able to ward off the evil “spirits.” No ill winds filled our sails. Not so funny were the days when she would quietly appear like a “spirit” at my door to say, “Ms. Koon needs you in her office.” This usually meant some poor fool had run afoul of the rules and I was going to have to administer corporal punishment.

Mauldin High School of the Seventies and early Eighties was the most special of places for this still immature old has-been. Sybil helped to make it one and helped me to grow up there. I choose to see that she has joined my old friend and coaching mentor Jay Lunceford as they enjoy a good laugh at our expense. Most of all I hope she will forgive me for not staying in touch as well as I should have. Sybil you surely deserve your star in the heavens.

I SOMETIMES OPEN MY MOUTH AND MY DAD POPS OUT

I have reached the age. The age when I hear my Dad, not only in my head but sometimes when I open my mouth. Even though he will have been gone forty years this coming August I can see and hear him clearly. I also hear him in my groans as I slowly slide out of bed, attempt to straighten up and not wake up my wife. OOOOOOOh. I have out lived him by six years…or eight, depending on whether you believe what is etched on his tombstone. Born November 18, 1916 or November 16, 1918 might depend upon what he told my younger “evil step mother” since she put November 16, 1918 on his tombstone. I don’t guess it matters since he did not live to retirement age, but his service records say November 18,1916. The things we do when we are in love…or for me, when we think we are in love. As I waited with him in the minister’s alcove before marching off to my first execution… marriage, I asked what kind of advice he could give me. He had two comments. Never a crude man, his first comment, none-the-less, was. “Son this is going to be the most expensive piece of ass you are likely to get” and the second, “There are two theories about arguing with a woman. Neither one works.” If I were not already unsure about the state of matrimony, I was then. I have passed those little nuggets along to friends getting married because I found them to be true.

I remember my father as a quiet, respectful man who was slow to offer his opinion, believing that “It was best to keep your mouth shut and let people think you a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” That was one of his favorite quotes. Not original but one I heard a lot and wish I had taken the quote more to heart. I usually heard the quote right after I had said something really foolish…or stupid. Ernest would tuck his chin, look over his reading glasses and cock his head slightly to the left while delivering this “pearl” of sagacity. As I scroll on Facebook or listen to discussions of certain presidential candidates, I try to remember my father’s advice along with Mark Twain’s “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.” More than one class of students or a player heard the first quote…also accompanied with a tucked chin and head turn while looking over the top of my reading glasses. They didn’t much listen either.

In addition to being a quiet man, my dad was slow to rile. He had a long fuse, something offset by my mother. She was not only a redhead but a hothead when it came to her temper, living up to the stereotype of her hair color and Scots-Irish genes. With her, discipline was not something “best served cold” and between the bite of a narrow leather belt or the “switch dance” I performed for my grandmother, my brother and I would be considered “abused children” by today’s standards. While explosive, my mother would get over her anger quickly. Dad did not have to get over it, he was a talker whose logic involved the expression of disappointment, sadness and dismay over whatever stupidity I had managed to accomplish along with hopes for my genuine repentance. There were too many sessions where my thoughts were, “Just hit me, PLEASE…JUST…HIT…ME…AND…END…THIS!” Funny, the sessions became less numerous as I got older.

I have found myself to be somewhat the combination of both of my parents. I TRY to be slow to rile like my father but when I do go off like my mother, it tends to be “explosive” much like a thunderclap rumbling on for a few seconds and then disappearing. The rumblings are moments of sorrow and disappointment having lost it combining with the receding anger. I wonder if my mother had those feelings? I was fortunate to have a nearly perfect daughter, aside from a short battle with the sickness known as “senioritis” the last few weeks of her last year in high school. I only remember physically disciplining Ashley once. A light slap on a bare leg sent her into wails of “imagined” pain and a gush of tears. I knew then what my father meant when he said “Son this is going to hurt me more than you.”

When I entered my dating years in high school, I often got the “Be home by midnight son” and a “If you ride with the Devil he is going to want to drive.” There was the added admonishment, “If you do something to get arrested don’t call and wake me up.” Midnight, why midnight? The night is still young. “Son if you can’t get it done by midnight it’s not happening and nothing but trouble happens after midnight.” I can hear him when I said the same thing to a group of players. Sage advice but “Wisdom is wasted upon the young” including yours truly. I rarely got into trouble but it was always after the “witching” hour. Major trouble never found me…or maybe it did and I was just lucky. Why are stolen watermelons tastier than those grown in your own garden?

I don’t have a son, just former players and it was decided early that daughter Ashley would be disciplined by her mother, the parent she lived with. While I did not agree with everything her mother did I held my tongue and it must have worked because my daughter has turned into a fine woman…and mother. Despite our lack of time together, I see some of me in her…or is it just wishful thinking. I wonder if she will hear me echoing in her head after I am gone and occasionally allow me to pop out of her mouth? I can only hope I guess.

More nonfiction by Don Miller is available at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM