Southern Bias

“The past is never dead, in fact, it’s not even past.” One of the South’s greatest Nobel Prize laureates. William Faulkner

A blog follower of mine paid me a superb compliment…I think…I hope. Her comment was, “I love reading your musings. You confound my biases about Southern attitudes.” No, she ain’t from around here but sometimes I wonder if I should be. I guess I need to ask the clarifying question, “What biases?” I haven’t heard back yet and since our power went off due to a thunderstorm, I guess I shall attempt to saunter on alone.

I don’t believe she meant, “As one Forbes pundit overstated several years ago, ‘the common media view of the South is as a regressive region, full of overweight, prejudiced, exploited, and undereducated numbskulls.’” I wrote a previous post about our own contributions to those biases , “Sot in Our Ways,” but will not re-till this field since I don’t believe it fits her bias. The reason I believe this? She writes from her Michigan farm about chickens, goats and puppy dogs. She even has a story about possums. Sorta sounds like a female, Yankee version of me…except she’s probably a better writer than I am…no, not probably.

I realize the South is full of paradoxes and I know our paradoxes create biases. Sweetening our tea before adding lemon to make it a bit sour. Revering the past while seemingly revering little of the present. My great Grand Daddy preaching on the evils of alcohol while being drunker than “old Cooter Brown.” My guess was he was railing about the evils of “sto’ bought” rather than homemade. Going to family reunions to find our mates…that was a joke although I did date a very distant cousin once upon a time. I lived in a sparsely populated area and female company was at a premium.

I guess another perceived reason for bias is our murder of the “King’s English.” Droppin’ our gees, talkin’ slower than molasses running in the wintertime and usin’ the word y’all all of the time. I was once told the difference between Southern girls and Northern girls was that if you asked for a kiss, Northern girls might answer “You can!”, Southern gals might answer “Y’all can!” Remember, y’all can mean one…maybe. Well, y’all can is singular, y’all ALL can would be plural…kinda like “Youse guys.”

I know many Northerners who have biases about our food. No one I know actually eats Moon Pies while drinking a “dope” and I have never in my life eaten pickled pig’s feet…and won’t ever unless starving. Some folks above the Mason Dixon Line wouldn’t be caught dead sucking a crawfish head after eating a crawfish tail or eating grits even though polenta is nothing more than grits with a Latin name and probably a heftier price tag. Grits should be viewed as a “blank canvas.” Plain until you start adding color…say…mixed with cream cheese and covered with grilled or blackened shrimp “runnin’” in a brown roux featuring Tasso ham or andouille sausage and chives. Now that’s colorful. I will not discuss Cream of Wheat.

I have my own bias or at least an issue with the way certain folks use the verb barbeque interchangeably with the verb grill. Barbequin’ ain’t grillin’. Grillin’ is charring burgers, hot dogs, chicken or fish. Doing so is fine, I love a good chargrilled burger or chicken done right…with a beer can up its butt. BBQ, however, requires low, low temperatures, hard wood coals and large animal parts although we will sneak a chicken or five in for good measure. Most importantly it requires time…hours of time…sometimes a night of time…with lies and brown liquor to help you pass the time or pass out. Rome was not built in a day and good BBQ requires at least that long.

There is a true earned bias. Many Southerners believe if Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, their favorite college football coach sits to the left…regardless of how much he cusses. For sure, Southern college football is a religious experience of sorts. Even our most hated rivals brag about how they always fill their “House of Worship” no matter how many games they lose. Yes, that was a “hell fire and brimstone” missile aimed right at their little garnet and black hearts.

Okay, maybe I am the exception proving the bias or just the rule and no William Faulkner’s quote had little to do with this essay…except it might exemplify one of our greatest paradoxes and I just like it.

“Musings of a Mad Southerner” Stories from my Southern heart. New nonfiction from Don Miller at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss

If you are interested in reading posts from my Yankee, female doppelganger, use the following link to touch base with Nancy and her Bluestem Farm. https://bluestempond.wordpress.com/

MUSINGS OF A MAD SOUTHERNER

With the GENTLE insistence of a former student, now a writer, now a mentor, and forever a friend, Lynn Cooper, I decided to test the blogging waters in 2015. Lynn had insisted I was a natural blogger and I decided to take her word for it. I am sure there are people who might disagree with Lynn after my nearly two years of blogging history but it has allowed me to empty my head of all the content which “bothers me so.”

When I began to blog I was mad, as in angry. Dylan Roof had turned our state on its head, murdering nine church worshippers who didn’t look like him in the name of white supremacy. Our governor and legislative assembly promptly lit a firestorm over the needed removal of the Confederate Flag from our state house grounds. I was angry because of what I believed to be misplaced divisiveness over our Southern heritage as opposed to our racial hate. Neither side of the argument seemed willing to concede the other might have a point. Consequently, I decided on “Ravings of a Mad Southerner” as the title for my blog.

No matter. The flag is now gone, if not forgotten, and not a moment too soon to my way of thinking. Dylan Roof has been sentenced to die and I’m no longer angry about the divisiveness over the flag because divisiveness has been replaced by a nationwide derisiveness over our new president.

As you are aware, mad can be defined as anger but also as mental illness or craziness or having enthusiasm for someone or something as in “I am mad about my wife Linda Gail or a big ole plate of shrimp and grits.” My madness and enthusiasm has taken over my anger and I have written about my wife, childhood memories and family now gone, Southern paradoxes and perceptions, food, friends, perceived enemies, battles with my depression and again, “things that bother me so,” such as my colonoscopy. I have blogged in anger over politics, bigotry and racism but will attempt to keep them to a minimum. I decided to include many of my posts in a collection of short non-fictional stories entitled “Musings of a Mad Southerner.” Unlike my blog, I will attempt to group them with rhyme and reason but can’t really guarantee I will be successful. Sometimes random rules my day and my madness. Yeah…random it is.

New Release from Don Miller. Purchase or download today on Amazon at https://goo.gl/Cedc7B

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

MY BROTHER…ON HIS BIRTHDAY

My life was great…until sixty-two years ago. I don’t have the minutes and seconds but know I was four years, eleven months and six days’ old, the center of everyone’s attention and the universe, when my mother brought home a curly, red-headed, not that little, bouncing baby pain in the a$$. My brother. I don’t know when I was told I was going to have a little brother but until our adult years, had I known then…I probably would have sat outside on my doorstep waiting for the stork to show up and blown him out of the sky before the dirty bird dropped his bundle. BOOM! Just so we all know, he has grown up to be a bouncing adult pain in the a$$…not really…maybe.

He WAS SOOOOOOOO FREAKING CUTE. Born with long ringlets of dark red hair, the ringlets did nothing but get longer until there was an open argument over, “The kid needs a haircut.” This argument was not settled until a well-meaning woman expressed, “Oh what a cute little girl.” Snip, snip, buzz, buzz. My mother cried! I wonder what she would think now?

Some nine months into his life, Little Stevie began to irritate the LIFE out of me, first putting himself to sleep by rocking his crib across the floor, creating a sound like boxcars on a railroad track…KA-THUMP, KA-THUMP, KA-THUMP. Once he learned to stand he would shake the slats of his crib or playpen while yelling in baby-ese, “Let me out!” Stevie has always been about making noise. I didn’t let him out but instead, punched him in the nose. It didn’t shut him up but instead added to the den as I made squealing noises from my grandmother switched my legs.

Later Stevie would continue to get me in trouble, this time with his “Cro-Magnon” forehead. Having said something to incur my wrath, he ran for his life CAUSING ME to peg him in the middle of the forehead with a piece of driveway gravel as he looked back over his shoulder singing, “Na, Na, Na, Na, Na.” “Dad, no, no, it was an accident. I threw right at him, there is no way I should have hit him.” Those of you who have taken batting practice from me KNOW my statement is truth! A huge, bloody, red mark became a huge “puff” knot of Biblical proportions, a knot he richly deserved for running into that poor rock like he did.

Stevie continued to put his face into harm’s way, whether it was the line drive I hit off his nose during a pick-up baseball game or the glancing blow a player hit off his sizeable eyebrow during the first batting practice of a season when he helped me coach. Both shots may have been the best delivered by me or our player and a broken nose bridge and multiple stiches wreaked havoc on his dashing good looks. After the second, damage inflicting blast, the emergency room doctor informed me “The X-ray of his head showed nothing.” I pointed out he had wasted his time, I already knew that would be the case. “There’s nothing in his head to see.”

Now let’s understand, my little brother was not incapable of defending himself. My ribcage still aches during cold weather due to a sneak attack involving Stevie’s rocking chair hammering into my back as I bent over to retrieve a toy from our closet.

Showing economic savvy beyond his years, I cannot tally the number of quarters I gave him to get him to leave me alone while I attempted to spark with my girlfriend. To make things worse he told our next-door cousins and I had to pay them too. That little bit of “sugar” sure was expensive.

During my high school years, I mostly ignored my little brother but after our parent’s deaths we did grow closer, even rooming together on a couple of occasions. Our time together on the corner of Towns Street and Orange is remembered with the fondness associated with both the area and the people who resided…or at least lurked there. There was a problem with a girl who swore I was Steve. She had called several times and was sure Steve was trying to avoid her…pretending to be me. He was attempting to avoid her, but it didn’t stop her from showing up at my front door before realizing I was not him. One of many interesting evenings involving the “Orange Street Mashers Association.”

A decade ago, on my fifty-sixth birthday, Steve gave me a card with the grim reaper visible from a rearview mirror of a car. Its caption read, “Beware, objects may be closer than they appear.” That afternoon I had a heart attack…
”GOTCHA!” I received the same card the following year. “GOT ME!”

We are both officially in the autumn of our years now…late summer? I feel the need to apologize for not being the brother I should have been…probably needed to be…especially during his formative years. But then I was an immature young man myself and might have just made things worse. Steve has turned out quite well without my input…which he rarely listened to anyway. A business owner and pillar of the human race despite his disdain for social convention, a man who walks the walk even with an unbridled and sarcastic tongue, a solid husband to a lovely woman who must have been a masochist to marry him.

Provided we stay away from politics, and we are closer in belief than either of us wishes to admit, along North Carolina athletics, we generally find common ground. So, I congratulate your on surviving this long, especially with your sarcastic tongue and propensity for running into hard objects travelling at high velocities. There were times I really had my doubts. HAPPY BIRTHDAY
BRO! I LOVE YOU!

For unique life stories by Don Miller visit his author’s page at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

A POWERFUL HANKERIN’

Just say the word DIET and it triggers a Pavlovian response of Biblical proportions. I don’t really have to be on a diet when the word diet is used to trigger the response… a stupid comment, I’ve been on an eleven-year diet. On April 8, 2006, the day before my birthday, I stepped on my scales and they lied! My mind said, “There was no way I weigh in at two hundred and thirty-two pounds”, and then my mind realized I was leaning forward so I could see the scales. I was leaning forward to see over my belly. On April 9, 2006, I received a birthday present, a heart attack. A heart attack will get your attention.

I had battled my weight most of my life but now I was in a full-fledged war. Six months later I weighed one hundred and sixty-two pounds…and looked like a refugee from a famine. I immediately ate myself up to a healthier looking one hundred seventy-two. That’s the last time I was unconcerned about my weight…until just before Thanksgiving of this year when I decided not to worry about it until the first of the year. I weighed one hundred and eighty-five by January 1st. I had to think of that word again. Slobber, slobber, drool, drool.

The word causes me to feel hungry, 24/7/365. Before a meal, after a meal, in the dark hours of the night. The word “diet” gives me powerful hankerins’ for just about anything. Presently my hankerins’ is seafood. Not a McFish Sandwich kind of seafood, real live coastal seafood. The very thought takes me on a mental trip reminiscent of a storm-tossed sailboat without its rudder. You know you’re going somewhere, it’s going to be a wild ride and the outcome may include crashing against rocks.

Sara J’s seafood platter in Garden City, the Captain’s House oyster and artichoke stew at Myrtle Beach, Calabash shrimp anywhere in Calabash, North Carolina. Crabs at Hudson’s on Hilton Head, a brunch involving oysters and Bloody Marys at Shem Creek, shrimp and grits at the River Room in Georgetown along with anything fried at Aunny’s. I am racked with sorrow as I remember Oliver’s Lodge at Merrill’s Inlet will never serve me again because it’s now a private residence. Would they be upset if I just showed up at their door?

As my mental sailboat eased its meandering path with sleep, I found myself dreaming of an old college friend and a roadtrip to his Charleston home during a long college weekend. Bob Lemaster was better known as Renegade during his college days. He earned his nickname honestly with his dark Native-American appearance. Bob reminded me of the now socially unacceptable cartoon character “Injun Joe” in looks and a renegade in actions. Like most of us he matured, found the woman of his dreams, settling down to a normal life…and dropped Renegade for his given name, Bob. This trip occurred during his Renegade days.

The dream took me on a short drive down a long dirt road somewhere on Folly’s Island. Palmetto and scrub pine trees lining the road flew past the windows of Bob’s car like pickets on a fence. Once we arrived, I wondered about the hurry we had been in. Our destination was an old fishing shack or wreck of a house, take your pick, and for the life of me I can’t remember its name. I remember a small, sagging, wrap-around front porch and white paint so old it had grayed into a patina of sorts. I didn’t look for a health department grade and in the early Seventies it may not have been required…I doubt the fish shack would have been serving food had the health department gotten involved.

What the old shack did have was ambience. The wreck sat on a low hill close enough to the ocean for the sound of rollers crashing, the briny smell of the ocean and the touch of salt air, all to reach us and beguile our senses. An almost full moon rising above the horizon only added to the enchantment.

Seating was outside under patched funeral home canopies, on roughhewn picnic tables featuring a large hole in the center. There were no utensils or plates, just newspapers to cover the table and a roll of cheap paper towels. Menu choices were simple. Boiled shrimp, raw or smoked oysters and…well that was it. A short and stocky man with a swarthy complexion brought our choices of food to the table in large aluminum boiler pots and unceremoniously dumped them onto the newspaper covered table. “Bon appe’tit y’all.” Condiments included cocktail and tarter sauces in squirt bottles, a bottle of hot sauce, lemon wedges along with salt and pepper. Beverages choices were sweet tea or PBRs. Shrimp and oyster shells went through the hole in the table and into the trashcan underneath while our conversation drifted quietly with the breeze.

Simple food from the sea…and drinks from grain and hops. Quality seafood smells and taste like the sea and doesn’t have to be battered, seasoned or fried to be great, something the memory of this trip from long ago reminded me of. It also reminded me of a friend from long ago who is no longer with us.

Bob and I, along with several other college friends kept in touch until the early Eighties when a negative change in my marital and job status, along with the depths of clinical depression, made me reassess my life. I made a bad decision to cut people out of my life because they reminded me of the bad times they had no part in. Since Bob’s death I have reconnected with the old crew, Joe, Tim, and before his death, Tom. Bob’s passing persuaded me to reconnect, I’m just sorry I didn’t come to my realization before he died.

Bob, until the day I die, I will remember the no-named shanty, the food we ate and the stories we told. I’m sorry a powerful hankerin’ didn’t occur before you left us.

Just so you know, I weighed one seventy-three this morning and the severe diet is now over although the battle will never end. I think I’m going to get a couple of pounds of shrimp, boil them up in beer and Old Bay before serving them on my picnic table. Probably not going to drink PBRs. The sea and salt air won’t be felt but I can always pretend. Maybe Linda Gail will join me for a dance and I can tell her about one memorable night, an old friend and my powerful hankerin’.

POSTSCRIPT

It turns out my old buddy had us all buffaloed and despite his nickname and appearance, was not of Native American. It’s okay. I am imagining his deep laugh in the rainstorm thundering outside as I write this. Anyway, it’s my story and I’m going to stick to it. Thanks Bob.

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

OLD MULES AND SUCH

Nothing political, mules aren’t donkeys and the joke at the end is funny whichever way you lean.

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On a stop at a nearby organic farm to grab some local honey I noticed a mule standing forlornly at the fence that prevented him from joining me at the produce stand. It was quite apparent that had he been allowed, the mule would have been standing next to me as I looked for local, wildflower honey. He was the first mule I had seen in…well…since Methuselah was a mere slip of a child. He was a beauty…for a mule. A dark reddish brown color that lightened from the backbone down his body until you got to his legs which were almost black. Huge dark brown ears twisted and turned until I addressed him, “Hey Buddy!” His ears focused intently on me. He was not the only livestock contained within the small pasture, there were free range chickens, ducks, goats and even a couple of burros so at least he…

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IN HONOR…SUPPORT THE CAUSE

March is colon cancer awareness month. In 2010 a former player of mine, Tim Bright, was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. Despite a valiant effort, Tim fell to the terrible disease in 2014. Later that same year I found out former player and baseball “Daddy”, Brian Kuykendall was also diagnosed with the same disease. He fell in 2015.

To honor them and others unknown to me, I will donate all profits from book sales for the month of March to the Institute for Translational Oncology Research (ITOR) Greenville Hospital System, Greenville, SC.

Don Miller’s books may be downloaded on any Kindle supported app or purchased at http://goo.gl/lomuQf.

OLD MULES AND SUCH

On a stop at a nearby organic farm to grab some local honey I noticed a mule standing forlornly at the fence that prevented him from joining me at the produce stand. It was quite apparent that had he been allowed, the mule would have been standing next to me as I looked for local, wildflower honey. He was the first mule I had seen in…well…since Methuselah was a mere slip of a child. He was a beauty…for a mule. A dark reddish brown color that lightened from the backbone down his body until you got to his legs which were almost black. Huge dark brown ears twisted and turned until I addressed him, “Hey Buddy!” His ears focused intently on me. He was not the only livestock contained within the small pasture, there were free range chickens, ducks, goats and even a couple of burros so at least he wasn’t lonely. I can’t remember the last time I saw a mule harnessed to a plow. Once again, a random thought sparks random memories.

When I was like young Methuselah, a mere slip of a child and later as a young man, I rode a mule. My Uncle Bill and my Cousin Buck kept horses and a mule. I was not sure why they kept the mule. Their horses were used for riding not plowing. Uncle Bill’s huge, to me at least, Farmall Super C was used for plowing. The mule just stood around a lot until I was deemed old enough to go riding with the cousins. “Low man on the totem pole” which I have found to be historically incorrect, the saying should have been “high man on the totem pole” …anyway I was the youngest of four cousins therefore I got to ride the mule.

Mules are different from horses despite being the offspring of a horse and a donkey. The first difference I noticed was in the saddle Buck put on “Jack.” It was a US Army saddle purchased as surplus and dated from before World War Two. I was young, not stupid, and noticed the saddle was made in two distinct parts with a gap in the middle. “Buck, why is my saddle different?” The answer was, “You’ll find out.” I did. Mules have very prominent backbones. The gap in the saddle allowed your “danglies” to ride comfortably over their backbone’s ridge. Comfortably is a subjective term, especially when riding a mule.

A dissimilarity between a horse and a mule is the way they walk and run. Mules have slender legs and small hooves compared to a horse and after saying “Giddy-up” I wondered if their knees were on backwards. They walked with a stiff-legged gate. When urged into a gallop, oh my, I thought my back was going to break. There was no becoming “one with the mule” and my “danglies?” Ohhhhhhhhhh, mules run stiff-legged too!

Having researched “stubborn as a mule”, I have found mules are anything but stubborn. In fact, they have been found to be much more adaptive and intelligent than the sum of their parts, horses and donkeys. Well…Jack must have been “special” or at the very least, contrary. Jack once tried to drown me as I allowed him to drink from a pond. Another time Jack decided he was going to go back to the barn despite my best efforts to turn him. Lastly, being a hybrid and unable to reproduce did not stop him from mounting Buck’s Paint …with Buck still in the saddle. “Love will find a way” I guess.

As I admired the mule, its owner came over and we reminisced about my riding and his plowing with mules. He told a story about the last time he had seen a mule being plowed. Turns out he had converted to mechanical plowing like the rest of the world.
On a lonely river bottom road, he paused his pickup truck to watch an old man plowing behind a big brown “Missouri” mule. He noticed the man stop, walk up behind the mule and run his finger up under the mule’s tail before rubbing his finger across his lips. My new friend did not believe what he had seen until the old man did it again.

Unable to contain himself, he approached the farmer and after introducing himself, admitted to confusion over what the old farmer had done.

The old farmer explained simply, “Chapped lips.”

Still confused my new friend queried, “Mule poo helps with chapped lips?”

The old gentleman clarified saying, “Nah, just keeps me from lickin’ em.”

Got me! Just like riding old Jack down memory lane.

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

BE SURE YOUR SINS WILL FIND YOU OUT

“Be sure your sins will find you out.” As a young man, I heard this every time I left the house it would seem…especially if a young lady was the reason for my leaving. “Be on your best behavior. Be sure your sins will find you out.” “You be careful now. Be sure your sins will find you out.” Another way of saying “If you get that girl pregnant your sins WILL find you out.” My grandmother had moved in with us after my mother had been diagnosed with ALS. Dad needed the help and I needed to know my sins would find me out. Invariably my sins did find me out as her warnings predicted. I wasn’t expecting them to find me out today nearly twenty years after her death and another twenty since I heard her utter her warning.

I discovered a message on my land line phone’s answering machine, the land line I use only to provide me with slow internet service. I live so far “back in the sticks” internet service must be piped to me…I know…I have a satellite dish and if I can get satellite TV, I should be able to get satellite internet…but it would provide one less thing to gripe about.

The message was from an aged cousin from far, far in my past. Euleen, pronounced You-Lean, Uncle Hugh and Aunt Eula’s girl, grew up next to my mother. She and Euleen had been childhood playmates, attended high school together and had remained close friends until my mother’s death. Ninety-six and as sharp as a tack, I found out she is still quite mobile, has a strong voice and better hearing than I possess. When she got to the point of her phone call I found out her eyesight was as sharp as her hearing…as was her belief in how people should speak about each other.

“Donnie, I’ve read two of your books and I really enjoyed them. I like the way you tell a story and the way your stories are short.” I told her I didn’t intend them to be that way, short, I just had a limited attention span. She thought my quip was hilarious and then things turned serious. I was about to find my sins had, once again, found me out.

“Now Donnie, I really loved them…but…did you have to use some of the language you used? You called that man an…asshole. That was a bit rude.” When she said asshole, it was said quickly and in a whisper, as if she might be hoping the resonance of the word would dissipate enough not to make it to God on high.

“Yes Ma’am I’m not sure who you are speaking of, but since I described him that way, he must have been one.”

“I know, I’m sure he was, but Eldora and Miss Addie didn’t teach you to talk like that.” Eldora is my mother and Miss Addie is my grandmother and Euleen was correct, they didn’t. Somewhere in the back of my head I heard a chorus, led by my mother and grandmother, echoing the sentiment I had heard so often, “Be sure your sins will find you out.” They had and I found myself apologizing to my ninety-six-year-old cousin because of it and promising to do better. I’m glad she was a hundred miles away and not standing next to me with a bar of soap in her hand. Just so you know, she has forgiven me but not before suggesting I might ask for forgiveness elsewhere.

Euleen said goodbye but not before causing me to envision my own death and its aftermath. After finding my way to heaven, I find myself having to explain myself, not only to Saint Peter, but also to my mother and grandmother. Maybe that would be finding my way to hell come to think of it if. How am I going to explain how I came to write a book about men and their pursuit of women called “Floppy Parts.” I am so screwed. Saying screwed in this context is okay, isn’t it?

MAGIC ON A CHINA PLATE

Triggered, appropriately, by a comment about an oyster po’boy, I was taken back to a time when I discovered I had fallen in love with food. I mean really in love. I’m so in love with food, I usually begin planning my next meal while I’m eating the one I am presently eating…sometimes two or three meals in advance. The seduction occurred sometime after I had my tonsils removed in 1956. I don’t understand how my tonsils were related to my taste buds but considering the sixty-year war I have fought with my weight, there must have been some sort of bond. I am presently winning one of the many battles I have fought in my war on weight but I realize I am just a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice-cream from falling off the wagon…or into a food truck.

I associate food with love. It’s my grandmother’s fault. She was never the most demonstrative person when showing affection unless it was with a plate of peanut butter cookies…or a split cathead biscuit dripping in butter and King Golden Syrup. I guess several cathead biscuits dripping…served on a chipped china plate with a jelly glass filled with milk on the side. I’m sure she had saved S & G Green Stamps for the china…or purchased them individually through the weekly grocery store offers. I never asked if she ever collected a complete set. I remember the different scenes in blue I exposed as I mopped up the extra syrup and butter with another biscuit. There is no greater demonstration of love than a biscuit dripping butter and syrup. Magic, pure magic.

Food was usually placed in front of me along with some form of praise, “Donnie you’ve been a good boy, here have a cookie or five.” “Donnie, you did such a good job sorting my buttons, you want a biscuit?” No, she did not withhold food if I was naughty. If that had been the case I probably wouldn’t have my weight problem unless looking like a bag of bones fleeing famine is a weight problem.

I don’t look like a bag of bones because shortly after my tonsils went to tonsil heaven I fell in love with a hog…whose spirit had gone to hog heaven. The hog’s earthly body had been buried but not in a grave. The porker had been slow cooked in the ground all night long before being pulled, shredded or chopped…I really don’t remember which, I just remember the taste…the taste of magic…the taste of love. Served with a mustard sauce, slaw, bread and butter pickles and barbeque hash over white rice. It was magic on a paper plate instead of china.

A decade or so later I would find myself being seduced as an immature Newberry College freshman. Tempted by heaven in a brown paper bag. The “Dopey Burger.” Dopey ran a hole in the wall hamburger joint named The Tomahawk Café across the road from Cromer Hall. He had a real name but everyone just called him Dopey and the café, Dopey’s. Names didn’t matter because it was about the burger. A burger featuring a huge handmade patty on a soft and sensual sesame seed bun, mayonnaise spread copiously on both sides edge to edge. With a sweet onion slice I really didn’t need the lettuce and tomato on the burger but felt it looked naked without it. Despite its covering, I fondled it anyway. I understand why porn addicts have issues breaking their porn habit. I remember taking the burger out of its wax paper wrapper, exposing it to the world, it’s very scent playing to my basest instinct, gluttony. Mayonnaise and grease leaking out, covering my fingers…dripping down my chin…staining the paper napkins on my desk…I was addicted to the “Dopey Burger” and to make things worse, Dopey offered to run a tab. “I can’t graduate until I pay how much?

I so love food; even my more traditional romantic remembrances tend to have a food component accompanying the memory. A honeymoon dinner at the Columns Hotel on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. Magical the way it rolls off the tongue. The Columns Hotel on St. Charles Avenue. Due to an empty dining room, we had our own personal waiter who resembled Santa Claus in a tuxedo. Does Santa wait tables in the off season? He did have on a red cummerbund. It went well with his white beard and gloves. I remember Linda Gail’s floral dress and her beautiful face smiling at me from across her…plate, the polished paneled walls, the soft music playing in the background, a Bloody Mary with a pickled okra pod for garnish and THE BLACKENED RED FISH TO DIE AND GO TO HELL FOR. I also remember the Oysters Rockefeller. Who knew spinach could taste so scrumptious surrounding an oyster and dripping in an herb, breadcrumb, and butter sauce. The evening was memorable due in part to the food. Love Linda Gail, love food! Loved the drunken chase after a street car later, but we should wait for the street car story. Oh my!

To quote author Rick Bragg, “I know magic when I taste it.” He and I must be related, I do too and it doesn’t have to be far from home. My latest magical moment was a fried catfish taco at a new restaurant in nearby Travelers Rest.
Whether it’s fried chicken and catfish at a hole in the wall soul food spot in Georgetown, crab bisque at a Cajun establishment in Hendersonville, Dutch Fork barbeque in Batesburg or shrimp and grits almost anywhere, it really requires only one thing to make it magic, love. Love for good food and the good woman I’m sharing it with…it doesn’t even have to be served on china.

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