You Are My Sunshine….

My thoughts were triggered by a fuzzy and out of focus black and white photograph a high school chum sent me. Our parents had been friends since the Nineteen Thirties until their deaths. My high school friend was the first girl I ever kissed. We were two or three years old sitting on top of a sliding board but that is a different story…not a very interesting one. While we remained friends the kiss didn’t quite take.

In the photo my mother and father are sitting in a prewar sedan complete with suicide doors. So young. Dad in a snap brim fedora with the brim turned up, an unlit Lucky Strike hidden from the camera. My mother’s gaze is drawn away from my father…maybe father to be. They are both looking out in the distance…maybe at their futures.

I draw a purely fictional mental picture of the next frame. My mother turning and resting her chin on his shoulder, eyes twinkling with a “Mona Lisa” smile just showing on her lips. His Humphrey Bogart to her Lauren Bacall complete with coffin nail hanging from his lip? I imagine the photo was made in the early Forties before my Dad shipped out to the Pacific. This was during their “courting” days.

Sorry about the focus

It is hard to think of my parents young, fancy free, and all lovey-dovey.  My father trying to be suave and debonair, attempting to sweep the red-haired fair maiden, my mother, off her feet.  It must have worked. I don’t believe I made my appearance due to immaculate conception but still…my brain might explode. The thoughts of parental romance made my shoulders all shivery as goosebumps race across them.

In a family not known for displays of conspicuous affection, I don’t remember many overt displays but somehow, I knew my parents loved each other.  Sometimes it is how you treat people and not just overt displays.  Sometimes it is about the stories you create in your mind, stories that might be more fact than fiction.

As a child, I remember an old RCA Victor tabletop radio/turntable and the old 78 RPM records it played.  There were stacks and stacks.  Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and “Big Bands” seemed to be favorites.  I’m sure there was a fortune in those old platters now resting in a landfill someplace.

I suspect my Mother was the motivation for the music.  The old RCA Victor was traded in for a cabinet model in the Sixties and a Columbia Record Club subscription followed.  She seemed to be partial to Billy Vaughn and his mellow saxophones.

I’ve created a mental image of her carefully seating a record or tuning into “Your Hit Parade” on a Saturday night.  I don’t remember my Dad sitting and listening, he was more “sit and work” the crossword puzzle guy. I didn’t think my Father was much of a “Music Man” but he would fool me…something I would not find out until after my Mother’s death. 

There was another musical form that caught my ear on those early 78s.  Early country music…called hillbilly, Western, or Western Swing music before the late Forties when it became known as Country-Western.  A heartbroken Ernest Tubbs was walking the floor over his one true love, and Hank Williams seemed to be very lonesome…so lonesome he could cry.  Eddy Arnold, the Tennessee Plowboy, sang “That’s How Much I Love You” in a scratchy baritone, scratchy because of the record, not his baritone.  Vaughn Monroe and the Sons of the Pioneers were desperate for “Cool Water.” 

With enough imagination, I can almost see my parents waltzing to Bill Monroe’s nasal tenor singing “Blue Moon of Kentucky” while the Blue Grass Boys added their instruments.  Almost.  It is easier to envision my parents holding hands in front of the old RCA, listening to the Grand Ole Opry on a Saturday night date. Holding hands? Stealing a kiss?

Ernest and Mary Eldora Miller during their “courting days” Again sorry about the focus.

I stood in my garden this morning thinking of my “unromantic” parents.  If I had neighbors to watch me, I’m sure they would have been curious as to why I was standing so still in front of my sunflowers.  My mind had taken a pig trail and followed it down a rabbit hole in between picking tomatoes and moving toward my okra. 

My pig trail took me from sunflowers turning their heads toward the sunshine to “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.  You make me happy when skies are gray.”  It was a song my father sang to my mother, I’m sure.  Not fiction, but fact.  I have it in writing.  I’m sure he didn’t sing it well, but am sure he sang it with feeling.  Of that, I’m sure too, although I have no recording.

I knew it was “their” song.  I read a letter sent from my father to my mother from somewhere in the Pacific during World War Two.  I found a packet of those letters in a King Edward’s cigar box after her death. They were hidden away in a cedar hope chest, still in their unique airmail envelopes with the red, white, and blue edging and bound with a light blue ribbon. Occasionally there would be lines or words blacked out by censors.  There were other lines I wish had been censored.  There was nothing X rated but my Father…the romantic?  No.

My father quoted the song and lamented his separation and his desire to return to “his sunshine”, an ocean and a continent away.  He promised to sing it to her upon his return. Maybe he did or it might be fiction, created in my head. I like to think he did.

There was a well-used 78 record by the same title in that stack of records from the Thirties and Forties.  I don’t remember the artist but suppose it could have been Gene Autry or maybe the original sung by The Pine Ridge Boys.  It doesn’t matter.  I just know I think of my parents whenever I hear the song by any artist and follow a pig trail when I see a sunflower.

Hillbilly Music at its best…which may not be good at all. “You Are My Sunshine” by The Pine Ridge Boys

Further writings by Don Miller may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2RFMbKqFgEKWPLbpeiVotmz3GATsjIROGRGUqnRwt_XPe2uanDwztdlcE

Image is of a 78 RPM RCA Victor Recording of “You Are My Sunshine” by the Pine Ridge Boys. Distributed by Bluebird Records.

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

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