“A Cup of Kindness, Yet”

I find the song Auld Lang Syne to be haunting and a bit sad. While hopeful it makes me think of loss. It may just be my emotional instability rearing its head. The tune causes the same reaction I have with the abused pet commercials with Sarah McLachlan singing. 

To make sure I get a good dose of sorrow, there is an American Express commercial using the old Scottish ballad,  sung by India Carney. Her voice and the arrangement were created to make people stop and reflect…and maybe shed a tear.  It’s a commercial Don, wipe your face.

I’ve been fortunate.  I have lost no close friends or family members to Covid-19 in this terrible year that threatens to run on into the new year.  This is not to say I have been unscathed. I have lost folk I didn’t want to lose, both family and friends. I have lost former acquaintances, coaching and teaching peers, and have had family and friends who were sick but should recover. ”We’ll take a cup of kindness yet” together, I hope in the near future.  If you can read this, we have reasons to be optimistic and hopeful for the coming year and yet the commercial is on again and I’m misty eyed.

I battle with myself; the fearful me who wants to live as long as possible even if it is in isolation and the defiant me who thinks “Damn the torpedoes”. There is a small part of me who still thinks he is bulletproof.  I check too many “bad” boxes on my health sheet, so I am most assuredly not bulletproof.  I should remain the fearful…the smart one. Still my daughter and grandbabies call to me…as does the BBQ and beer at Green River BBQ.

Christmas is a few days behind me and the New Years a few days ahead.  I am conflicted and a bit melancholy.  I long for the days of childlike wonder when my father and mother were responsible for my happiness.  I do not like being the responsible adult…the adult in charge, the adult responsible for my happiness.  I turned the Christmas Eve responsibilities over to my daughter but the mental vision of social distancing and face masks on seven- and four-year olds is not the last vision I wish to have. 

I am old enough for my wants not to hurt me and will spend the New Year’s Eve with my bride attempting to stay awake for the New Year’s toast and kiss…maybe I should set a twelve am alarm.  A fire in the fireplace and a Jack Daniels instead of champagne, I will toast the new year, kiss my bride, eat a sausage and cheese ball, and then say a prayer for the coming year…before sleeping my way into it.

Auld Lang Syne began its life as a poem attributed mostly to Robert Burns and written in what has become such an obscure Scottish language that most English readers can’t comprehend it.  It is quite possible Burns was motivated by an earlier ballad written by James Watson.  The tune is an old Scottish song of unknown origin.  The standard version, what we sing after the “ball drops”, is much easier to understand.

The first verse goes

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and auld lang syne?

Chorus:

For auld lang syne, my dear,

for auld lang syne,

we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

While it does not specifically translate, Auld Lang Syne translates loosely to “for the sake of old times” and old times is where my mind goes.  My visions are of old friends or family gatherings, making a toast to those we have lost and those who remain.  A toast to the better times we hope will come. 

I visualize party goers on black and white film, the ladies dressed in shimmering gowns of unknown colors and the men in old high collar shirts, tuxedos, waistcoats, and narrow bow ties.  They hold champagne flutes and kiss as balloons fall before singing Auld Lang Syne. 

I seem to be captured in an old Thirties or Forties movie from “the good old days” of the Great Depression or World War Two.  I don’t believe New Year’s Eve 2020 will be considered one of the good old days any more than the days of the Great Depression were, and I fear 2021 will simply be a redux of 2020.  Like those from “the good old days” there is hope.

Maybe we will be able to safely gather next year but whether we do or not, let us raise “a cup of kindness yet”, not just at twelve am on January 1st, but for all of 2021 and the time we have remaining.  We are in control of our kindness and it cost nothing.  Kindness is free but is worth its weight in gold.

I offer you the following toast credited to Alfred Lord Tennyson.  In a pandemic year with a contested elections and conspiracies theories on galore, it seems appropriate.

“Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow.

 The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true.” 

I repeat, “Ring out the false, ring in the true.”

Happy New Year my friends, Happy New Year.

India Carney from YouTube

One of your New Year’s resolutions should be to read more starting with “Long Ride to Paradise”, my latest release. Download to Kindle or purchase in paperback. As usual it is free with Kindle Unlimited.

Fair Winds

The warm and freshening breeze blowing across the lake brought memories flowing as swiftly as the breeze itself. Most were as warm as the wind driving them. The ones that weren’t were forced away by the bright sunshine.

According to the sign the trail we walk is 1.25 miles. I don’t believe the distance is accurate, but the lake it surrounds is much too small for me to be thinking about sailing.  Yet I was.

Ordinarily my bride would have had me talking or listening to her prattles, pointing out strangely shaped mushrooms or having me wait impatiently as she took pictures of the waterfall she has taken pictures of for the past three hundred and sixty-five days. Instead, she was quiet, as deeply into her own thoughts as I was in mine.  I did not know her thoughts, scary I’ll admit, but I knew mine. 

As I watched the wind driven ripples race across the lake, I thought of a twenty-two-foot sloop with a Bermuda rig from a time far, far distant. Mostly I thought of the people who crewed the boat…some gone but not forgotten.

The warm for November breeze stiffened in my face as I thought, “This would be a great day to be sailing,”  or for partying with friends while sailing.

In my mind’s eye I saw the white sailboat on a close haul, mainsail and jib pulled in tight, the sails singing as the wind’s pressure heeled the boat, the gunnels dipping perilously toward the water. I see us scurrying to the high side to keep from being capsized.  The high side of life?

Battling the tiller for control of the rudder as the speed and water pressure builds. Could this be a metaphor for life…my life? Where did my runaway thoughts come from and why did I quit sailing?

The little boat, narrow of beam with a swing keel, was quick and nimble with her racing rigged main and jib.  I’m surprised I remember any nautical terms; it has been nearly forty years since I gripped the tiller with an unsteady hand.

“Sailing takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be.  Just a dream and the wind to carry me, and soon I will be free.”  Damn, Christopher Cross is playing in my head…can “Southern Cross” by Crosby, Stills, and Nash without Young be far behind.  “So we cheated and we lied and we tested, and we never failed to fail it was the easiest thing to do. You will survive being bested, somebody fine will come along make me forget about loving you…
And the southern cross.”

It was in the late Seventies when I was invited to my first of many sailing weekends.  “Bring a date, spend the weekend.  You’ll love it.”  I did. Bill, Koon, Bobbi, Sybil, myself and a date.  There were a few others who sailed in and out on occasion.

Six of us on a small sailboat on a large inland lake in South Carolina.  Coolers filled with adult beverages or the mixers for a liquor drink.  The alcohol loosened our tongues and greased our laughter. Bill, our captain, always managed to sail us back to our home port, sometimes in the dead of night.

Too much liquor, well grilled steaks, great friends sitting around a wood fire, and a plus one…whomever she might have been at the time, there were not that many. ..or there were too many. Laughter was abundant. Good times. 

Any good time you survive should qualify as a great time.  Great times.  Somehow, we survived our youthful foolishness.  I remember nothing but clear, bright sunshine and fair winds…am I dreaming? No, I don’t think so.

Taking the tiller for the first time, I might well have been at the wheel of the Queen Anne’s Revenge awaiting Blackbeard’s next order.  “Arrr, let them eat steel maties”…or have another mixed drink.

Manning the tiller may be a metaphor for my life.  Sometimes it is hard to stay on course. Life, like tacking against the wind, tends to be made in zigs and zags.  Some zigs are short, some zags exceptionally long…or seem that way. Coming about into the wind can have painful outcomes if you aren’t paying attention.

For some reason my sailing days came to an end.  The storms of depression left me dead in the water. It was my actions I’m sure. There were bad times, dark times.  Depressed times. 

Times improved with understanding and a little wisp of a girl who calmed the winds and seas…except when our own hurricanes blew up.  Our foundation must have been built upon the rock of understanding…we are still here and still together. Our breezes are mostly warm and caressing like today but for some reason I never got back to sailing.

I purged those ill winds from my mind to keep from being driven crazy upon the rocks of life.  I keep them locked tightly away until a fresh, warm breeze hits me in the face allowing only the good memories to flow. 

In my depression I cut myself off from people who didn’t deserve to be cut off.  That was a failure on my part…I demasted myself and lost my rudder to boot. Like a solitary sailor, I battled my storm tossed seas alone…until my North Star became my guide.

I choose to remember the fair winds.  A bow cleaving the water. Great sailing in bright sunshine.  Sybil sitting on the bow, her legs straddling the bowsprit mocking a figurehead on an ancient sailing ship.  Koon’s big laugh and smile with a liquor drink in her hand.  “Now let me tell you one thing….” Blowing off steam in the sun and the wind on a small sailboat.  Sharing the joy and laughter with friends.

Sybil and Koon are silent now as is one of my plus ones.  Silent in the physical world.  Quite alive in the memories on a close haul through my mind.

I couldn’t help but smile as the warm breeze caressed the lake’s shoreline and my face. I miss them but see them sailing across the firmament at dusk. A small sailboat sailing close to the solar winds, white sails glowing red in the sunset.

Fair winds and following seas my friends.  May warm breezes caress you. You are missed.

Sailing by Christopher Cross

The image is from https://www.yacht-rent.com/talking-the-talk-basic-nautical-terms

Don Miller’s author’s page https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3BYeO7eRpFl647KXrqSJD31DxD_NP-u4TMGa1hRS_EpP7vZ-4xQ06JjvM

Questions With No Answers

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions, more questions.  Answers, no answers.

***

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

Aging Gracelessly Redux…. 

 

Oh,  I’m feelin’ it this mornin’, the morning after my weekly visit with Hawk.  Five miles on the Swamp Rabbit, solving all the world’s problems before enjoying an after-walk cup of coffee at the Tree House.  That’s just in case it’s been a problematic week and we need more time to solve those problems.  Lately, they’ve all been problematic, and no one listens to us anyway…well, they listen to us at the Tree House and that’s one of the reasons we keep going.  They think we are the bee’s knees.

Yeah, I’m feelin’ it as in feeling old, very old.

I do about twenty-five miles of walking during the week hoping to put distance between myself and the ominous figure caring the old-fashioned scythe.  Despite my best efforts, the distance between us is shortening.  As Hawk continues to tell me, “We ain’t gettin’ out of this alive.”  No, but I’m going out kicking and screaming…just like he is.  I want to be a burden on my child and grandchildren for a long time.

Hawkday Friday is the only day of the week I set an alarm and it throws my whole system out of whack.  Aging creates creatures of habit, I guess.  I am so out of sorts waiting for the Big Ben to go off.  “Did I remember to wind it?” Am I the only guy who must get up two hours ahead of time to make sure all systems “are a go?”  Friday mornings my “systems” always send out messages.  “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” 

I take my wife a cup of coffee at five-thirty because she is as crazy as I am and invariably, she mutters, “I don’t know why in the “firetruck” y’all can’t walk at a decent hour.”  I don’t know either except that it is easier to deal with my own disfunction than Hawk’s.  “And besides, you went to high school with him and learned similar dysfunctions.” He wants to walk at six to keep away from the sun and just because. I want to walk at seven-thirty to get into the sun and just because.  Opposites do attract.

So, I’m up at three-thirty and feeling like a dead man.  I had trouble falling asleep.  Late at one end of the day, early at the other makes for a grumbly old guy.  I could blame Hawk’s goofiness but to be honest, it’s just as much mine.  “How long before the alarm goes off?”

Who lays awake worrying about lying awake?  I do, that’s who.  When my bladder drives me out of bed in the middle of the night I worry about when the alarm is going off.  “Don’t look at your watch, you’ll only worry about going back to sleep.  Don’t look I said.  You’re a dumbass, you looked.  Jeez, I gotta get up in an hour.”  I might as well get up now, all I’m going to do is worry about having to get up.  Jeez, forty-five minutes, thirty minutes, etc. and finally I fall back to sleep…thirty seconds before the alarm goes off.

I feel as though I have been beaten.  My aging body has become an alien thing…as alien as Ripley’s Alien Queen and just as nasty at times.  An ever-changing sack of tiny aches and pains, a “thousand little paper cuts” kind of agony.  Nothing major, just my sagging bag of bones letting me know what I did yesterday, maybe the day before, maybe the hit I took in a football game fifty years ago.

Once I jumped out of bed in anticipation of the day to come, now I ease-out, one toe at a time, hoping I don’t pull something before my feet hit the floor.

Sagging bag of bones…. Did you know besides your hair and nails, your nose and ears are the only body parts that continue to grow as you age?  I don’t mean stretch as in sag…that’s kind of funny looking.  It would be funnier if it was someone else. Damn you gravity.

I mean body parts that actually continue to increase in size.  God must have a twisted sense of humor.  If I live long enough, I’m gonna look like a caricature of Ross Perot…according to the mirror, I already do.  A truly loving God would have given me hope in another area and a reason to get rid of my big ole four by four.

Every morning I wake up as the dark-headed, dark bearded young man of forty years ago.  I walk into the bathroom and yell in my head, “Don’t look in the mirror.  Don’t do it!  Boo, you looked.”  The vision in my head is a mirage, replaced by the image in the harsh light of the mirror.  An old guy with a bigger nose and ears than last night, with less hair and more wrinkles turning into crevasses.

Still, as Hawk and I discussed, we are better off than a lot of our peers.  We’re still mobile, hostile, agile…and delusional.  Youth is a state of mind and we are still in diapers…or are heading back to diapers?  We still have a childlike wonder about the world.  We still wonder what we are going to do when we grow up.

I’m a gluten for punishment and out of habit I walk again this morning.  I walk alone with my earbuds until I meet a pretty blond runner, her long ponytail bouncing, blue eyes twinkling.  For a moment I remember being thirty.  As I continue my walk, we pass each other three more times.

Finally, I ask, “How far are you going today?”

A big smile followed, “I’m doing eleven.”

I shook my head and returned her smile, “I remember those days, long runs on Saturdays.”

“How far are you walking?”

“Near five.”  She smiled, gave me a thumbs up and shouted “Great job” before continuing on her way.

My heart melted a bit and I thought, “You know your knees feel pretty good.  Maybe a little running next week. Maybe if I’m careful I can do a marathon by the time I grow up.”  I don’t know, I’m sure a nap will cure those thoughts.

For the clarification of those who don’t live in the area:

The Swamp Rabbit Trail is a fitness trail that runs from above Travelers Rest, SC through Greenville, SC.  It was named after and follows the route of a short spur railway once called The Swamp Rabbit.

The Tree House is the Tree House Cafe and Studio, which sits next to the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Travelers Rest.  Great coffee, sandwiches, great service, and great company.

Don Miller writes on various subjects, non-fictional and fictional, and can be found at  https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.

Lena Christenson, Don Miller’s feminine pen, has released a new book, Dark Tempest, a suspenseful romance with a hint of the erotic.  Lena can found at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07B6BDD19

The image, Old Man Loves Smoking Cigars, is by Greg Cartmell and may be purchased at https://gregcartmell.com/product/old-man-loves-smoking-cigars/

The Toad in the Corner Revisited

I first wrote about the toad in the corner a year or so ago.  I find it somewhat interesting that I gauge the passing of time by certain events.  When the wild turkeys and Red-tailed Hawks show up, the fireflies, the figs ripening on the tree, my first ‘mater’ sandwich, the change of leaves in the fall. I guess our forefathers gauged it the same way. I know my grandmother fished and planted her garden by the phases of the moon. 

I find it interesting the happiness I feel when old friends show up after an extended absence, even if the old friend is Toady the Toad or Herbert the Rat Snake.  Not so happy when the little bastards, the yellow jackets, first explode for the ground.  Herbert has been around since spring, but Toady just showed up…still sitting in the corner between my rock wall and foundation.

I am bad.  I continue to smoke my one cigar a day…unless it turns into two…never more than two.  I just executed a mental eye roll.  Normally I sit under the massive tulip poplar in my backyard and enjoy an adult beverage while I feed my addiction.  Do I enjoy the cigar due to my addiction or because of the joy it brings me? That is a discussion for a later date.

It’s been hot and humid, and I’ve taken to sitting on my back stoop instead of taking the long, sweaty twenty-five-yard walk to the tree and the chair sitting under it.  My picture should go beside the definition of lazy in the latest dictionary.  It is more about the mosquitoes infesting the shrubbery around my normal imbibing location.  There doesn’t seem to be as many bloodsuckers at my stoop and I may know one of the reasons why.

I sat watching the smoke curl from the smoldering end of my stogie, contemplating nothing more than my navel when I saw her.  In the corner where the rock wall and foundation meet, where the leaves have built up due to my earlier admission of laziness.  A large toad has backed herself into the corner and is also watching the smoke curl from the cigar.

She is an American Toad…I think.  Might be a Southern Toad.  Could be a Fowler’s but I am not an authority on amphibians…and don’t want to be but I am better versed in toad activities than I once was.  Thank you, Google.

Despite my research, I don’t even know if she is really a she but shes are usually larger than hes and she is one of the largest toads I’ve seen.  There is also a smaller toad that seems to want to be around her.  “Oh la saison de l’amour.”  Do toads speak French or mate on dry land?

Toady has been in the corner for two weeks now.  She sits patiently waiting for the darkness and the relative cool of the evening.  I see her often sitting under the flood light, bathing in its glow or waiting for a juicy morsel to fly by?  In the dark I see her sitting on the flat stones or in one instance crawling out of my overturned boot.  In the morning she is right back in the corner.

I check on her often…not just when I feed my addiction.  I don’t know why I check.  I guess to reassure myself that all is right in the world.  I have seen her around for years…maybe it was her, all American toads seem to look alike.  Well, she was still there five minutes ago at least.  Looking fat and sassy from a night of eating mosquitoes.

I didn’t name her at first because Herbert the Rat Snake and his kin are skulking around waiting for a meal.  As I understand it, from the extensive research on toads I tried to reframe from doing.  I probably could name her.   Seems she is not too tasty…does Mr. No Shoulders have taste buds or does Toady just give him gas?  More research to come and I guess I have named her.

For more musings go to https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B018IT38GM

If you are interested in sexy, romantic adventure, Don Miller writing as Lena Christenson can be found at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07B6BDD19

Featured image is from Remember the Hamilton http://joenolan.com/blog/?p=6739