You Know You Are in the South If…

Some kind soul sent me down a rabbit hole by asking, “If you’ve been away from the South for any length of time, how do you know you are home.” The question had more to do with “state of mind” than location. I took the thought and ran with it. I don’t know if all are unique to the South but decided to poke a bit of fun at our peculiarities. Enjoy and don’t judge too harshly.

Travel a mile in any direction and see multiple Dollar Trees or Dollar Generals and three Baptist Churches on the same stretch of rural road or two liquor stores and two Baptist Churches on adjacent street corners. 

A church member introduces you as the new couple that moved in across from the “so and sos” when you’ve lived here for thirty years and the “so and sos” have been dead for a decade or more.

You can get a hunting license, bait, a tire fixed, a gas fill up, and a hot meal…out of the same building.

Your girlfriend…or wife can field dress and butcher a deer better than you can.

You hear the words “cooter stew” and immediately realize they are talking about a soup made with water turtle, not a woman’s “holiest of holies”.

Finally scoring a parking place at Mom’s Dinner and finding mac ‘n cheese, cheesy grits, and biscuits and gravy are all in the vegetable offerings.

At a wedding on a Saturday during football season you find the groom checking his ESPN App while the service is taking place.  Actually, a wedding during football season is poor planning.

After a funeral, the “Church Ladies” serve a meal consisting of a dozen casseroles and a like number of plates of fried chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs, and banana pudding.

On a two-lane highway to nowhere you see signs saying, “Repent!”…”The”…”Time”…”Is”…”Near” or Bible verses displayed one word per sign.

You pass “Now Entering ……” and “A Thirty-Five Mile per Hour Speed Limit Strictly Enforced” sign five miles from the actual town.

You are introduced to someone’s parents and must explain “where you came from” which has nothing to do with a location but rather with lineage.

Getting or giving directions that don’t involve map directionals but landmarks, “You know where that Jook Joint is, turn left.” or “If you pass the split rail fence you’ve missed it”, “It’s just t a little piece past the Tastee-Freez”, or “We’re right across from the red barn.”

“Over yonder” and “down the road ah piece” are valid directions and you know exactly where they are sending you.   

You use a heater and an air conditioner on the same day or you put up Christmas decorations in shorts and flip flops.

Service stations have overhangs with rocking chairs or benches for old men in overalls, rockin’ and spittin’. Oh, and lyin’.

You are unsure whether the tickle you feel in the small of your back is from perspiration or a mosquito.

When being told what someone is going to do, they use “ah fixin’ to” as in “I’m ah fixin’ to beat your ass.”

You are offered pickled eggs and a beer as a meal.                                               

You must change planes in Atlanta because you can’t get anywhere in the South without going through Atlanta.

The waitress at the Waffle House calls you “Honey, Sweetie, Baby, or Sweet Pea” with a Pall Mall unfiltered stuck to her lower lip.

Your History teacher was also the football coach and you got extra credit for attending the games.

You are having baseball practice but pause so one of the parents can showoff the “trophy” boar hog they just “kilt”.

You see people selling boiled peanuts out of the bed of their truck on the side of the road and drawing a crowd.

When preparing to make a casserole you turn the bowl over and see there is a name on the bottom that is not yours.

You realize there are more restaurants than you can shake a stick at with the word “biscuit” in their name and there seems to be a Cracker Barrell at every interstate exit.

There are more people who say, “can shake a stick at” than you can shake a stick at.

One hears Ma’am and Sir along with “Bless yo heart” a lot.

When you ask directions to the nearest bar, you receive a fisheye look and are told, “Bar?  You’re in the Bible Belt and this here is the Buckle!”

Or, the strip clubs are closed on Sunday so the girls can go to church.

You exclaim “Good Gravy”, and everyone knows it has nothing to do with gravy.

You find “to layer up” means sunscreen, bug spray, and lip balm.

You ask for a coke and the feller behind the counter asks, “What kind…we’s got Pepsi, Coca Cola, Nehi Grape, Sunkist, Mountain Dew?”

You find people will drink water before drinking unsweetened tea and the sweetened tea will set your teeth to hurtin’.

Beginning to say goodbye in the living room and finally finishing in the driveway forty-five minutes later.

Y’all come back real soon, ya hear.

Don Miller is a writer of both fiction and nonfiction, trying to become a successful author. You might help him by going to his author’s site and buying a book. https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR010oCvAXUraE8HYz65Dff8OYPrGxE5zuRZYqEV5U8cV8jCmbiQymwUG5s

Don Miller’s newest fictional offering, “Long Ride to Paradise”, can be purchased or downloaded at https://tinyurl.com/y8gx9q7m

Long Ride to Paradise: Tales of the Drunken Irishman Saloon by [Don Miller]

The map is from Wikipedia.

“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.

Pink Coconut and a Hard Candy Christmas

The Christmas holidays are full of traditions for many, Christians, non-Christians, and those who are unsure. People of different religions and cultures raise and decorate trees, drape their homes in blinking lights, hang stockings, bake gingerbread cookies, and exchange gifts even though they aren’t Christian in their beliefs.  It is a crossover holiday celebrated all over the world by diverse cultures.  Families with diverse backgrounds gather during the holiday seasons to celebrate not only the birth of the Christian Jesus, but also themselves and their own traditions. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to traditions, I have reached an age when it is easier to look back on Christmas than look ahead.  Ahead shows a much shorter road to travel. I find myself somewhat emotional…but in a good way I guess.

As I gathered nature’s Christmas decorations for my bride; grape vine, evergreen garlands, pinecones, birch limbs with golden leaves, and holly berries, I ‘barked’ up a finger.  I cut it and it is barking like a bit dog.  Watching the blood ooze, I was transported down an old dirt road, a pathway home to my past.

My mother was a child who failed to fall into the adult trap when it came to Christmas. Activity swirled for what seemed like weeks as she prepared for our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day family celebration. Baking was one of my mother’s chores despite working eight hour shifts at the local textile mill.

Fruitcake, fruitcake cookies, yule candy logs, Missouri “no-bake” cookies, pies, and cakes galore, and her very favorite, ambrosia, a dish loaded with pineapple, canned mandarin orange slices or fresh orange sections, miniature marshmallows, and coconut…fresh coconut.

In the days before shredded coconut could be purchased at your local supermarket, it was my father’s responsibility to break open and shred the coconut Momma would use for her ambrosia and coconut cake. He would use a small ball peen hammer to punch a hole in one of the coconut’s eyes so the milk could be drained. The milk would be used in the coconut cake to insure its moistness. 

A larger hammer would break the coconut open and a sharp knife would separate the meat from the husk. If my father were not bleeding by this time he soon would be as his knuckles contacted the hand grater. My Christmas memories always include pink shredded coconut and I smile with the memory.  I  am not a lover of coconut but will eat one coconut containing dessert in memory of him. Hopefully, if it is pink it is due to a maraschino cherry.

As the blood on my finger finally coagulates, I continued to be triggered.  Memories of my mother stringing bubble lights over the tree.  Old timey bubble lights that had to warm up before they began to gurgle.  Billy Vaughn’s saxophones or Percy Faith’s singers are playing in the background.  She hums as someone sings “Oh Little Town in Bethlehem” on the radio.

Watching a fuzzy, black and white TV’s many Christmas specials. There were many but Perry Como and Andy Williams were mandatory. A Christmas Carol and What a Wonderful Life were too. It was a wonderful life….

Hand-made patchwork quilt stockings made by my grandmother, Nannie, adorn the fireplace.  They will eventually be filled with oranges, apples, and nuts…and peppermint swirls.  Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas” is now playing in my head.  I am a bit sad, but I am hopeful too…just like the song.

Christmas is a celebration loaded with emotion and I feel mine ramping out of control despite it being several days in the future. 

Chills chase themselves up my back as I am reminded of a trip to nearby Monroe on a Christmas Eve morning.  It is only my father and me.  I remember the crush of people.  A small town of sixty or so years ago, its entire population must have crowded onto main street.  People scurrying to do last minute shopping, dressed in Christmas finery.

The red and green lights strung from light poles. Being lifted into my father’s arms to see more clearly the Christmas scenes in the original Belk Brothers store window. The man with no legs who sat nearby, a tin cup full of pencils and a small American flag sitting in front of his splayed stumps. The tears in my Father’s eyes as he put a five-dollar bill in the tin cup and offered a salute.  Things you remember that bring tears to your own eyes.

Finally, a short stop at Woolworths and a small bag of warm salted cashews for the trip home from their nut and candy counter.  The cashews were a secret we shared. I can almost taste them…almost.

Something has triggered a memory of splitting wood on a Christmas Eve morning and delivering it with my cousin…a cousin who has now transitioned to his heavenly rewards. Maybe it is because I am standing in a corpse of hemlocks with the sharp aroma of evergreens.

We delivered our pickup load to an old former plantation house, the old Nesbitt place, a bit rundown at the time but decorated with greens and reds with candles twinkling in every window. The lady of the house took us on an impromptu tour of the downstairs, decorated for the Christmas season, a tree in every room.

Later, I remember sitting in his pickup after unloading the wood, drinking a PBR, counting my half of the money and thinking how adult I was. Adultism is a disease to be avoided at all costs…especially at Christmastime. Now instead of the money, or beer, I think of him and the old plantation home. I think of Christmas trees, their star tipped tops pressing near ceilings in every room.

We gather now at my daughters.  A new generation, a new tradition.  It is one I’m not quite comfortable with. Ten of us will gather this year, Covid-19 protocols will be observed but so will the wonder of a four-year-old and a seven-year-old as they open their gifts from their Popi and Grandmommy and uncle and aunt.   It will be different, and I hope face coverings are not to become a tradition like the pink coconut became.

Whatever you culture, however you celebrate the holidays, I wish you a Happy Holiday and a Merry Christmas.  I hope your Christmas Season will be loaded with wonderful memories as will the coming year…memories of Christmas past and of Christmas future. Take the time to enjoy your Christmas present while you enjoy Dolly and the ladies from the “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”

From the movie “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”

Don Miller writes on various subjects “that bother him so.” https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0iqIBEnIxXiIoowO7bX6UV-1RY03y2ts7HHF-RYE46dSMt-hvZ_5AsCHs

Did You Ask it a Question it Couldn’t Answer?

No dammit!  I just encountered one of the many minefields my bride plants around the house.  Minefields in the shape of sharp edges on objects of significance just waiting to jump out and pound my toe.

My bride…my bride…my bride.  I swear she puts things in my path just for the sheer joy of taking me to task over my perceived clumsiness…maybe not so perceived.  What I do not falsely perceive is the maniacal grin on her face as I hop around and curse loudly and at length.

“Did you break your toe sweety?”

Déjà vu all over again, my big toe contacts the edge of a box that wasn’t there yesterday, I cursed quite loudly and at length…again! To which she questioned, “What did you do this time?  You are the clumsiest human….”

“I stumped my toe against this !@#$%^& box you left in my path!”

“Stumped your toe? What did you do, ask it a question it couldn’t answer?”

As tears formed in my eyes, “What are you talking about?  I rammed my toe into the box you moved into my way just for that purpose.”

A toss of her hair and an eyeroll before giving me a side eye, “That box hasn’t been moved in months and it is stubbed not stumped.

Stubbed?  As the mist from my pain filled eyes began to dissipate, I questioned, “Stubbed, that doesn’t even make sense.”  As I said it a thought formed at light speed, “Neither does stumped.”  Could it be I’ve been misunderstanding stumped for my entire life?  I know my hearing is bad, but it didn’t used to be.

One thing I’m not misunderstanding is the pain and since bad news travels in threes I’ve got at least one more date with an object of significance and I doubt it will be a pillow. 

No, I’m quite sure it is “stumped my toe.” Inquiring minds though. I suggest it is right there with “barking one’s shin.”

I ran a social media poll.  The outcome was split. I realized I was not going to be vindicated but also I realized I wasn’t stupid.  Some folk actually say ‘stump’. I would not be able to stand in front of my bride, nodding my head in superiority while grinning, “You know that stumping my toe thing you ridiculed…Well….”  There will be no “Well….”

It turns out either is correct…and therefore incorrect, I guess.  Stumped seems to be a little more archaic and more English.  My guess it has something to do with my forefathers leaving England for Virginia, the Appalachians and finally South Carolina.  There seems to be a lot of odd words that found their way into my vocabulary.  “Lawd hep us” if Nannie started a sentence with, “You chaps…” or ended it with “getting too big for your britches.”

Come to think of it, my big toe is all “stoved up”, another archaic English idiom that found its way to the American South. It means incapacitated or damaged and comes from the English word “stave”. I’m also sure there is something lurking about waiting to bark a shin or stump a toe. If not my wife will have it into position soon enough.

The image is the cover of Shawn Byous’s Children’s Book Because I Stubbed My Toe It may be purchased at https://www.amazon.com/Because-I-Stubbed-My-Toe/dp/1623700884

Don Miller’s latest release, Long Ride to Paradise, may be purchased at

Pearl Harbor…Revisited…Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did you do in the war, Daddy?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Old Man

From the historical novel Long Ride to Paradise

Spring 1934

The old man sat on the top step of the weathered porch and watched the movement of children as they played tag and other games.  His vision had deteriorated, and he squinted attempting to see. The cataracts had thickened, reducing the children to ghostly apparitions.  “Too much time spent in the blazing sun, I reckon.” He could still see their blurry forms and could discern the gayly clad little girls in their summer dresses from the little boys in their shorts and long pants.  “Thank God! My hearing is still good,” He thought

Someone wanted to take a picture with their new-fangled camera.  Something called a Brownie. He sat a bit slumped, his hands resting on his thighs.  A ninety-year-old…today, April 9, 1934. 

His once red hair though full, was now white as the cotton bolls bursting in the fall.  His beard, years ago red and sparse, had thickened like his cataracts. White and long, it spread to the middle of his chest. Tobacco juice from years smoking his cheroots, darkened the whiskers at the sides of his mouth.  

thumbnail (2)
Marion DeKalb Rodgers-My great, great grandfather

His gaze shifted to the distant horizon.  His once blazing, blue-green eyes had faded but his vision was still sharp…with the images of the past.  He smiled at his thoughts.  Sometimes he couldn’t remember what day it was, but his memories of times now past were as sharp as the old boning knife he once carried.  Again, he smiled, “Old times there are not forgotten.” He spent most of his time gazing back at the past.  Mostly he spent his time with the memory of Lucretia, now dead nearly sixty years.

He had been lucky.  He had loved three times.  Three fine women had warmed his bed and brought him comfort and joy.  Lucretia, Cassandra, and Josephine.  He had loved them with all his heart. The old man had been unlucky too, he had outlived all three along with his friends. 

He cherished the memories of them all, but Lucretia was special.  She had been his first….  He liked to see her in the emerald green ball dress their first night at Madam Shailene’s.  High waisted, it bared her shoulders and dipped low showing her décolletage.  An emerald ribbon held her mother’s cameo and brought attention to her long and slender neck.  He remembered slowly taking her out of the dress, pressing his lips to her neck…”Damn I almost felt a stirring.”

Lucretia Noel? Allen Kell’s great love

Timmy, Tyler James’ youngest sat down beside him.  A boy of six, Allen Kell recognized the youngster’s voice when he asked, “Whatcha’ thinking about Grampy?”  Timmy was John William’s youngest grandchild.  John William was not Allen Kell’s son but his nephew, Brother Arlo, and Stella’s only child and a sack of hell.  Allen Kell had sired no children but had been adopted by John William, Adeline, and his brood of ten children and at last count, fourteen grandchildren.

“Timmy, I was thinking about Grammy Lucretia.  I wish you had the chance to meet her.  She was a special woman.”

“As special as Grammy Josey?”  He asked as if he might be worried about Allen Kell’s answer.

“Oh yes, oh yes she was…and Josephine loved you very much.”

“I miss her…’specially her molasses cookies.”

“I miss her too…and her molasses cookies.”

He missed his friends too.  All were gone.  James, Sean, Arlo and Stella, Alexandre’ and Shailene. Virgil, Eamon….  All had been gone for ages it seemed.  “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” from the book Momma Edwards had taught him to read from.  He had been here too long.  It was time to move on to the great beyond.

All the grandchildren had gathered around his feet, Timmy begged, and the rest agreed, “Tell us a story Grampy.”

Well, maybe it’s not quite time to move on.  The grandchildren agreed.

Excerpt for the newly released Tales of the Drunken Irishman: Long Ride to Paradise. It may be downloaded or purchased at

First image is of Marion DeKalb Rodgers, my great, great grandfather. He came home from the Civil War and lived a life nothing like Allen Kell Edwards but was the motivation for the character nevertheless.

Second image is of a “soiled dove” from Pinterest She is not Lucretia Noel but this is fiction anyway https://www.pinterest.com/pin/262475484508164087/

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

Venus Rising, Cynicism in Retrograde

Idealism according to the Oxford Online Dictionary is “the practice of forming or pursuing ideals, especially unrealistically” as in  “the idealism of youth” who we all know are ALL unrealistic.  Youthful Don Quixotes, chasing their unrealistic, idealistic, and impractical windmills…oh, how I love and miss thee.

The online dictionary supplied synonyms, one which caught my eye. Romanticism, “a movement in the arts and literature that originated in the late eighteenth century, emphasizing inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of the individual.”

I began thinking about idealism and from Romanticism, subjectivity, “the quality of being based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions”. I thought as I waited to hear the outcome of our election.  I have been thinking about idealism and subjectivity for the past four days as I write this…and maybe will be thinking about it for a while longer. 

My musings began as I watched Venus rise the morning after the election…Venus the Morning Star…“morning not mourning” I thought. Venus was the brightest light in the morning sky and was showing quite large to my eye…the Morning Star heralding a new day.

Like Venus, I am an early riser who, on good weather days, goes out and sits in his chair, lights a cigar, and meditates for a few minutes  while enjoying a cup of Folgers. “The best part of waking up is…” at my age, the best part of waking up is waking up.

I do not know which I noticed first, Venus or the cynicism oozing through my thoughts…I was depressed to boot, my thoughts scrambled like the broken kaleidoscope I have written about previously. 

Instead of brooding, I focused on Venus. The appearance of that heavenly body along with my meditations gave me a bit of hopefulness, based on nothing more than my “personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.” 

It is another day and Venus is just where it was yesterday, give or take a few minutes, a few degrees above or below its former position on the horizon.  The gas shrouded planet is where it was a thousand years ago, cosmological changes not withstanding.  I imagined The Morning Star might be near by in another thousand years.  My hopefulness grew.

It dawned upon me I might not be as jaded as I thought.  Mentally at least, I’m still the young idealist that left my teenage years for the adult world in the late Sixties and early Seventies.  I may be one of the nation’s older teenagers…an old hippie still waiting for the “dawning of the Age of Aquarius.”

I pondered over my idealism and subjectivity. I am dominated by my feelings.  Not very objective. Do not confuse me with the facts so to speak.  I either “feel” someone is right or “feel” something is wrong or if uncertain, according to my grandmother’s advice, assume it is wrong until proven otherwise. 

I have an open mind, I can be convinced of the error of my ways, but again, all things being equal, with no solid facts available, I go with my gut, my feelings.  If it feels wrong, it is wrong. I even took a personality tests that proved that very fact.

So…I have nothing solid to base my hopefulness upon other than my idealism and my subjectivity but, “Its going to be alright.”  There are more good people than bad, and I am hopeful. There are more forward thinkers than backward non-thinkers regardless of political affiliation, regardless of what state you reside in, regardless of religious affiliation.

I was hopeful as my best friend and I began our weekly morning walk at 6:45 on Friday. Venus had disappeared into the sunrise as we talked of peace, elections, religion and a plethora of other problems we could not solve. Maybe we walk too fast…or talk too slowly. We are Southerners.

We are polar opposites in our outlook on life. He the lifelong Republican, I the left leaning Independent who voted Democrat this cycle. He’s the life long Southern Baptist, I the…I’m no longer sure. I am hopeful because we have found common ground for over forty years and friendship upstages political or religious affiliation.

I am hopeful because of the smiling young lady who serves us coffee at our afterwalk haunt, The Tree House Cafe. The haunt is an eclectic and welcoming little hole in the wall and Lindi’s eight a. m. smile and laugh are brighter than the colorful tattoos peeking from below the sleeves of her sweat shirt. A bright and hopeful youth with oodles of energy early on a Friday morning…not mourning.

There are a group of high school students sitting around a large table, their laptops open and at the ready. I am told by Kristen, one of the owners, they are a study group from the local high school. Kristen is bright, smiling, and welcoming as always. An art teacher and artist, my guess is we share a bit of the same idealism.

The retired teacher in me wanted to admonish the students for not wearing facemasks but instead kept my mouth shut. The same old teacher watched their work from afar, their flurries of activity surrounding burst of laughter bringing a smile to my face. I’m hopeful despite the lack of masks and amazed at their early morning energy. I miss my days of warping the minds of our youth.

Our hope…our salvation is our youth, young people like Lindi, the study group, and young folk like them.

Despite my idealism it is time for an aging “dudeist” like myself to step aside and turn the world over to the young. We baby boomers had our time and royally screwed things up in my mind…my “personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.”  We need to see if the young can do a better job. We know longer live in the world of our youth…the new world doesn’t run the same way.

I’m hopeful the “rising” generation will be our “Venus Rising.” I am hopeful they will continue to pursue their unrealistic ideals and put wings to their dreams. I am hopeful they will ignore all of us who continue to try and put them in a box not of their choosing. I hope cynicism continues in retrograde even if it is just my own.

As I finished these musings I walked outside again. Venus was obscured by the predawn cloud cover and my hopefulness was tempered but only for a moment. The cloud passed and Venus reappeared heralding a bright new morning, allowing me to be hopeful again.

(For a definition of Dudeism, see below)

***

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR23wUPDyCrxyhUiWI0EHKFTmJjLwrAAXOC4Z5Y9Foz95T-JdxM4CkFZFB0

Because I couldn’t find a picture of the planet that I liked I chose SANDRO BOTTICELLI’S THE BIRTH OF VENUS, C. 1486…a picture of a painting I do like.

“Dudeism” is a religion, philosophy, or lifestyle inspired by “The Dude”, the protagonist of the Coen Brothers’ 1998 film The Big Lebowski. Dudeism advocates and encourages the practice of “going with the flow”, “being cool headed”, and “taking it easy” in the face of life’s difficulties, believing that this is the only way to live in harmony with our inner nature and the challenges of interacting with other people. I am a fully ordained Dudeist Priest.

Bull Nuts…Black Walnuts

I do not know how many black walnut trees I have in and around my yard, at least a half dozen maybe a couple of more. Too many this time of year. I know having one is too many. Worse, this appears to be a banner year for walnuts. 

“Deez nuts”, big ole bull testicle sized fruit lurking in the grass, just waiting to cause an ankle turn or if there is a breeze, just waiting to drop from the heavens like a World War Two Dam Buster bomb.  Thump, thump, thump. “Lawd hep you if you are under one of them.”

I’m watching one of my squirrels trying to carry one. He is funny, he can’t get the walnut through the chain link fence. Okay, he’s figured it out and is up and over. They can only carry them one at a time but they are carrying them with a frenzy. Every squirrel frequenting my bird feeders could work from now until all the cows come home and I’d still be tripping over walnuts.

Red Squirrel Workout | Body Soul and Spirit
Poor guy. https://bodysoulspiritwp.wordpress.com/2008/10/25/red-squirrel-workout/

Black walnuts have already shredded two hot houses forcing me to cut polymer sheeting to protect my bride’s tender plants.  Judging from the nuts still hanging from the trees, I’ll probably be cutting more. Gazing heavenward I wondered if I was beating a dead mule or whether I should head inside for the old football helmet to protect my head. 

Walnuts are not pretty trees.  Walnut trees produce wonderful milled lumber, pretty on the inside, not on the outside.  Sounds like the description of a blind date I once had.  “Well old son, she don’t sweat much and she’s got a great personality.”

When my bride and I renovated our farmhouse, we used black walnut and pecan that came from the property after a run in with a tornado.  Still…I periodically check the counter tops to make sure there are not black walnuts being produced.

The trees themselves are the last to put on their leaves in the spring and the first to shed in the fall.  They don’t shed single leaves but rather they shed entire “fans” of leaves.  Thin, twiggy shoots that clog gutters and defy leaf rakes and blowers and stain the green metal roof black. No beautiful leaf colors unless you like brown.  Left to me I would cut them all down…but of course, it isn’t left to me.

I am in the process of picking up the bull nuts…I mean walnuts.  Big green pods…maybe Jolly Green Giant nuts are a better descriptor? Big green pods turning black, the size of a cue ball.  You look at them and think, “Boy that’s a big nut with plenty of seed.” 

Big nut? No, that is the outer covering, the husk.  The husk is pungently acrid, turns your hands brownish black, and when striped away reveals a small, brown, hard, and corrugated nut.  The actual nut is about the size of a human…no, not a good descriptor. 

U.S.: Commercial black walnut production a "long-term goal" at Hammons -  FreshFruitPortal.com
https://www.freshfruitportal.com/news/2017/11/20/u-s-commercial-black-walnut-production-long-term-goal-hammons/

I should alert you; the easiest labor is picking them up.  Getting the husk off to reveal the nut is messy.  You will discover the nut itself is so hard it will withstand a hundred megaton nuclear strike.  All nuclear bunkers should be armored with black walnuts.  Okay, just a bit of an embellishment but when someone uses the descriptor that someone “is a hard nut to crack” they were talking about black walnuts. They are nothing like their thin skinned cousin, the English walnut.

An anvil and a five-pound sledge?  Crush them with a vice? Bagging them in a croaker sack and running over them with a car?  Dropping them from the International Space Station?  So much work for so little reward.  Impossible to get the nut out whole. 

Black Walnut: A Favorite for Flavor - State Parks Blogs
Well done whomever you are. https://blindpigandtheacorn./com/cracking-black-walnuts

Oh, but black walnut cookies are so tasty you say…and black walnut pie, or black walnut pound cake.  Sorry, I will take peanut butter cookies, pecan pie, and plain pound cake…or go to the grocery store and buy English walnuts for the banana-nut bread.

I guess good things take an effort.  I remember black walnuts spread out in my grandmother’s old crib drying, the green husks turning black and shriveling like scrotums in cold weather…shriveling, not turning black…unless you are Black of course.

I remember my grandfather’s anvil and ball and peen hammer in use before Thanksgiving and Christmas…I just do not remember the desserts created from them.  My grandmother was not known for her desserts it would seem.  Pounds and pounds of nuts to get a handful of meat.  A lot of hard work invested for low reward. 

I am not even close to getting them all off the ground and have already filled one garden trailer and begun my second load.  I wonder if I can give them away for Christmas gifts.  Here Bro, here is your croaker sack filled with black walnuts…”What, you expected me to crack them.  I love you but I love no one that much.”  “Wait…you can sell them for fifteen smackaroos per pound shelled?  Still not worth it.  I’ll give them away whole.”

The Hunt for Black Walnuts Yields Highest-Ever Price and Tasty Treats -  Hammons Black Walnuts
https://black-walnuts.com/press-release/hunt-black-walnuts-yields-highest-ever-price-tasty-treats/

Well, it is breezy and a bit wet so for my own well being I will not venture out today to the black walnuts.  It already sounds like boulders are being thrown on to our metal roof.  Tomorrow could be a long day. Bull Nuts!!!!

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1DzBqVKFYXlRQRirpJrr5VAdCV9O8YZto-krRTOrnbHNm1h9UWk85RPH8

Featured image of the squirrel on a chain link fence is from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/199002877267587450/?nic_v2=1a3SbW1kc