Food Should Taste Like the Past

“Ours is a region whose food carries with it the burdens of our past — a history of slavery and racism, long-lasting, outdated stereotypes of our people, and a tenuous political landscape.” -www.thrilist.com  The New Southern Cuisine: Don’t Call It Fusion

Our past IS fraught with burdens when it comes to race…even our present.  Somehow our food rises above it all.  Don’t believe me? Go to a Baptist Church covered dish dinner or a hole in the wall diner named “Momma Ester’s Café”.  European, West African and Native American foodways merge into a superhighway that became known in the Seventies as soul food…one of the few positives of the Columbian Exchange.  It was Southern fusion before the word was cool. 

Over a year ago, before our lives changed with the “corona”, my bride and I sat down at a restaurant for a Sunday brunch to celebrate our wedding anniversary and contemplated our dish selections.  This was before the need for masks, social distancing or arguments over rights and vaccines.

At the urging of my bride, we decided to sit outside in the shade and enjoy the warm breezes along with a Bloody Mary or two.  It was late June.  Even mountain breezes in late June sometimes feel like the blast from a Bessemer furnace.

This was one of those “sometimes”.  Winter had gone straight to full on summer.  The “bacon infused” Bloody Mary with the okra pod garnish had just enough bite to increase the perspiration forming across my nose and to a greater extent, settling into my underwear.   For some reason the hot wind reminded me of the past before air conditioning was cool, when a window fan was an ineffective defense against the hot and humid air.

The restaurant was one of those neo-Southern cookin’ places boasting traditional Southern dishes with a “twist.”  Judging from the prices I worried it might be a nouveau-riche Southern cookin’ place although no one would accuse me of being a member of the nouveau-riche…not near Beverly Hillbillies nouveau-riche but it was my anniversary, and my bride was worth any price.

I was hopeful as I perused their menu.  There were plenty of selections featuring biscuits and deeply fried anything.  There were collards cooked to death with ham and bacon grease, cornbread battered fried green tomatoes, and dishes featuring cracklins’…bacon bits…not the real ones, pig skin fried crisp.

Fried chicken with an acceptable twist, waffles.  Sounded tasty with maple syrup drizzled over it.  What worried me were dishes including fried cauliflower bites or smashed avocado on toast points.  I don’t remember many dishes from the past including cauliflower in any form but right there in the menu was a picture of a vegan taco with both fried cauliflower and avocado wedges.  I figured it looked better than it might taste. I like cauliflower and avocado but I had decided today was not a day to eat healthy.

I saw one immediate positive. No dishes involving kale.

One appetizer piqued my interest.  Deep fried BBQ stuffed egg rolls.  Recipe must be from Southern China.  Didn’t matter where it came from, it was good, but didn’t speak to the ghosts of my past.  Not sure I ate an egg roll until I was out of college.  Now BBQ? That is something else entirely.

Some of  this neo-Southern cuisine is described as fusion cookin’ but it seems to me, the food I consumed as a child was fusion.  We ate what became known as soul food.  Food heavily seasoned with salt pork and bacon grease, the heavy use of starches and cornmeal. We ate soul food before it was cool and before we could be accused of racial appropriation. We ate soul food until our arteries seized up.

I grew up in an area where no one of any race really ate “high on the hog.”  We didn’t know we were poor, and in most ways that counted, we weren’t.  Money was not one of the ways that counted.  Even the “landed rich” didn’t have an extra two nickels to rub together until after harvest season, so most of us ate like we were poor.  Sometimes the poor knew better how to eat than the rich.

Chicken, pork, and fresh caught fish seemed to be staples.  Not much expensive beef unless it was from the “butt end of the cow”, cubed round steak dusted with flour and fried crisp or chicken fried and smothered in milk gravy.  I didn’t know you could order steak anyway but done to death until I graduated from college. That doesn’t mean we didn’t eat well; we just didn’t eat a lot of steak.  Catfish fried with a cornbread batter heavy with black pepper, chicken battered and fried in lard.  The skin crisp and the inside moist and tender. Pork chops fried and smothered with milk gravy, the renderings spooned over biscuits.

Green beans, butter beans, peas, and collard greens cooked forever plus one day, cooked with fat back or bacon  Maybe some unrecognizable pork bits in and amongst it.  Seasoned with a bit of salt and sugar, a finely chopped hot pepper to add a bit of heat and cider vinegar for a little tartness.   Pinto beans simmered all day with hog jowls, ham hocks or neck bones until the meat fell off the bone. Chopped onion and a pone of cornbread to go with it.  Sweet potatoes made sweeter with butter and sugar or syrup. All seasoning guided by the hands of the ghosts of women long dead. 

Simple food seasoned well and prepared in cast iron pots and pans dating from before the First World War and cut up with a knife that had to be seventy years old.  Soul food can’t help but taste of the past.

My grandmother and mother were not known for their culinary abilities.  They did okay, I didn’t starve. My grandmother was more concerned about the great outdoors and growing the food although there were memorable dishes. Her creamed corn, chicken pot pie, “cooter” soup and peanut butter cookies.  

My mother was a textile shift worker and I remember dining on Birdseye TV Dinners and fried bologna sandwiches often.  Mom did cook on weekends, spaghetti on Saturday nights and her own trinity, BBQ chicken, pot roast, or fried chicken on Sunday. 

My grandmother’s sisters and my mother’s sister can put on a spread.  So could their in-laws.

I am reminded of a late summer feast put on by my Uncle James’ wife, Aunt Mary Hannah and their two daughters. She was a slight woman crippled by polio. Braces and crutches did not affect her abilities in her kitchen.  It always amazed me how happy she could be.  Her freckled face always had a smile.

The summer season was drawing to an end, the hayin’ was done and in the barn, corn pulled and stored in the cribs, the tomatoes, squash, and beans almost played out.  Those huge John Deere tractors safely tucked and serviced in their garage.  I was headed back to school and football practice as were my cousins who, with me, provided the summer labor.  We sat under a shade tree in slat backed chairs we moved from her dining room and ate off rough boards set on sawhorses covered with linen tablecloths.

Part of my daily pay was a midday meal which usually consisted of Vienna sausages or deviled ham, maybe sardines and saltine crackers, a “dope”, and a Moon Pie.  But one late summer day, the midday meal was worth the hell of those hay and corn fields.

Pan fried chicken, butter beans cooked with chopped up ham, creamed corn running with home churned butter, corn bread battered okra fried crisp, squash casserole, deviled eggs to die for, potato salad, and biscuits.  All seasoned well, with a smidge of this, a pinch of that, a tad of something else, until it tasted right and the voices from our past whispered, “That will do.”

Every vegetable or starch grown in their garden. The chicken, ham, and eggs from their coop or sty.  The only dishes or ingredients foreign were the sweet tea we washed it down with and the bananas and vanilla wafers in the banana pudding we finished it with.  We could have stayed local and washed it down with buttermilk from their cow and eaten watermelon from their field. It was food fit for fieldworkers or a king. That one meal encompassing all of the different foodways.

Soul food…food with a soul.  Food with a past going back centuries brought from lands far away and land close by, somehow merged in a way the people who brought them should fuse. 

Food should unite us all. Food prepared by hands who were taught by ghostly hands from the past in implements passed down by generations.  Food should taste like the past.

May be an image of text that says 'DON'S DAILY DOSE CONO "Neither sugar nor salt tastes particularly good by itself. Each is at its best when used to season other things. Love is the same way. Use it to "season" people." Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration'

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For more Musings, https://www.amazon.com/~/e/B018IT38GM

Of Blind Pigs and Acorns…of Genes and Superstition…

and Pedro Cerrano.

I used an old saying I had heard all my life in my latest endeavor to write the greatest American novel. My stalwart hero used “A ghost walking across your grave” to describe a shiver felt by my heroine. I found myself on one of my pig trails.  The path twisted and turned before falling into a rabbit hole of old sayings, superstitions, and baseball as I researched where the saying had come from and my own genetics.  Once and a while, a blind pig might find more than an acorn.

One side of my family is diverse if family traditions are to be believed.  A large piece of my genetic pie on my mother’s side of the family is Scot Irish. According to family lore there are dashes of a Native American princess and an African seaman to spice up my pie.  I haven’t had a DNA test and may not.  I’d rather trust what I believe than find out the stories are fairy tales or out and out lies.

I am certain about the Scot Irish piece of the pie. All I have to do is look at a picture of my red headed, freckled faced, alabaster skinned mother and early pictures of my red headed and bearded brother.  When I gaze into my own mirror, I see an argument for more than a dash of Native American or African seaman…or maybe an argument for a Bavarian named Miller or Müller on my father’s side…ah diversity.      

In the early to middle 1700s settlers with the names of Perry, Rogers, Griffin and Morrow made their way South from the chilly North through Virginia’s and North Carolina‘s Appalachia.  Eventually they would settle in the fertile area around the Catawba River in northern South Carolina and bring sayings and superstitions picked up along the way. 

I ’m not sure how the side of my family with the surname Miller got here.  There seems to be an argument over its English or German roots. More research is needed.

Shivering a bit, I found that the saying that sent me down my rabbit hole should have in fact been, “A rabbit (or goose) ran across my grave.”  According to Appalachian lore, your final resting place is preordained and anytime an animal runs across the site of your grave to be, you shiver. 

I don’t remember my family being overtly superstitious…well my father with his Miller surname, always spit on the windshield of our car (yuck) and made the sign of an X any time a black cat crossed our path. 

From the Appalachians, the practice is believed to ward off any bad luck that some say follows the four-legged creature, long seen as an ominous sign of bad luck in the Southern Appalachians.  From my research, it appears that the sign must be made three times and that spit is not needed to ward off the bad luck.

Also, from Appalachian folklore, toss a pinch of the spilt salt over your left shoulder into the face of the Devil who lurks there. Always leave a building using the same door as you entered to avoid bad luck. “Nevah, evah” nudge an empty rocking chair lest you invite the wrath of evil spirits.

My favorite might be holding your breath as you pass by a cemetery so you do not accidentally inhale a recently departed soul.  That makes sense. I have enough voices in my head without adding a departed soul.

One that didn’t make sense to me was gathering acorns amid a thunderstorm and placing them on the windowsills to protect their home from lightning strikes. Not sure about that one, seems gathering acorns from under a tall oak tree during a lightning storm might be counterproductive as in dangerous. 

Another, for those of us with apple trees, remember to leave a single apple hanging from at the end of the harvest, lest they attract the Devil.

I coached baseball most of my teaching career and while studies show that the passing on of Appalachian superstitions is in cultural decline, I assure you, in baseball superstitions are alive and well. Much effort is made attempting to please the baseball gods.

In an age of non-wood bats, if someone goes on a hitting spree; everyone wants to use his bat.  Anyone in a zero forever slump, their bat was avoided like the plague.

If a pitcher is pitching a no hitter late, never mention it, don’t talk about it even in whispered voices. In fact just ignore the pitcher totally.

One of my teams used a “rally monkey”, dugout Ju Ju in the form of hand jives, and even had a model toilet to flush their frustrations down. Anything that might help appease the gods of the diamond.

As a manager, I never stepped on the white line entering or exiting the field of play.  That is bad Ju Ju for sure.  No, I don’t know why? 

I always looked for a red head to rub for good luck.  Not sure the young lady in the first-row bleachers seats appreciated me rubbing her. A bad joke. I looked for a red headed player to rub his head.

One of my biggest superstitions was to make sure I changed everything except my uniform when on a winning streak.  Baseball players are notorious for wearing the same underwear or socks, over and over again, unwashed until a streak comes to an end.  I made sure I stayed clear of dirty socks or underwear.

One of my teams went on a twenty-two-game winning streak.  No one washed their socks…except me and I only washed mine.  I didn’t check their underwear. I changed everything every game.  Socks and underwear as fresh as Arm and Hammer could make them. My players? The aroma from their socks was strong. Left unattended the socks might walk off on their own.  When the streak was over, we had a ceremonial burial of the socks in the deep centerfield outfield. Grass still refuses to grow there.

There are plenty of superstition in baseball. Eating special pregame meals, jumping over foul lines, putting an X or writing a message in the corner of the batters box or behind the mound, talking to the ball or bat while going through batting rituals, ala Mike Hargrove, the “Human Rain Delay.”

My favorite baseball film is the 1989 comedy, Major League. Much was comedy but so much of the comedy happens in real life or at least real baseball life.  The reason it is a favorite is the character Pedro Cerrano, the Cuban player who couldn’t hit a curve ball believing his bat was afraid. Pedro tries to cure his bat by using chicken bones, snakes, and a nonexistent Vodun god named Jobu.

From the movie:

Pedro Cerrano : Bats, they are sick. I cannot hit curveball. Straight ball I hit it very much. Curveball, bats are afraid. I ask Jobu to come, take fear from bats. I offer him cigar, rum. He will come.

Eddie Harris : You know you might think about taking Jesus Christ as your savior instead of fooling around with all this stuff.

Pedro Cerrano : Jesus, (Hey Suse) I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.

Eddie Harris : You trying to say Jesus Christ can’t hit a curveball?

I had a player who carried around chicken bones in his bat bag hoping the bat would gain favor with the baseball gods. No snakes, no cigars or rum…may be. I don’t know how he felt about Jesus Christ but he was Catholic.  Like most players, he struggled with hitting anything that bent unless it bent badly.

Me?  In a Pedro Cerrano voice, “I like to drink de rum and smoke de cigar. That is good Ju Ju for me.” I couldn’t hit a curveball consistently and I don’t think it was the bat’s fault. And Eddie Harris, I’m not sure Jesus could hit one either.

Enjoy Pedro in Major League via YouTube.

For more of Don Miller, https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3PWD3_Jlf68shjooz-h5Ll_pyiL0QWZXXc9w3K_UMn2eVm8-sdp4KydlA

The Season of the Girl….

On my knees, burying a rose bush, my train of thought suddenly derailed. I thought about something I had shared celebrating International Women’s Day. A memory formed in my head. I’m sure it is a symptom of my advancing age…or the Commodores singing about a “Brick House” over my ear buds. I went back to the future to the early Eighties and a season I titled, “The Season of the Girl….”

I spent most of my forty-five years in athletics coaching young men. There were two occasions I was called upon to coach young women.  One was thrust upon me by a lawsuit…not against me, the other a favor to a fellow coach.  Both were learning opportunities for the male chauvinist that used to be me. 

In the middle Seventies, I accepted the position of head boys soccer coach at the high school where I taught.  At the time Mauldin High School was as country as a cow patty and the kids that came out for soccer had no idea what soccer was. Most were American football players looking for a ball to kick around and a body to run over.

The appointment was my first head coaching position at the varsity level.  It should have been a joyous occasion.  The culmination of hard work and accomplishment but it wasn’t. I was a warm body, available, and could drive a bus. I also needed the six-hundred-dollar stipend the position paid. 

Soccer was a sport I had never played or seen played which was not unusual for the time.  I was a blank slate as were most of my players, especially the first year. The first year I only had two players who knew how the game should be played, the rest looked for a body to block and toe kicked the ball as far as they could. Even they knew more than their coach. Truly the blind leading the blind.

 We jokingly referred to the game as “communist kickball” which for us was not far from the truth…the kickball part. We were starting from scratch.  The first soccer match I saw was the first soccer match I coached in. It was the same for most of my players.

This was when Neanderthals roamed the earth before video tape and well before YouTube.  There was nothing available for me to “research”.  No access to computer vids or DVDs with instructions on “how to change the pull cord in a lawn mower” or “beginning brain surgery.” None existed on soccer either, they hadn’t been invented.

Somehow, I learned.  Like the “blind hog who root hogged until he found an acorn” we tied our first match. I was a blind and stupid hog, but I did root-hog hard to get ahead of the curve.  Luckily, it was a shallow curve.  For seven years, especially the last four, we were one of the best teams in the state with many acorns to be found.

In the early Eighties the South Carolina General Assembly steepened my curve.  Our General Assembly finally decided to acknowledge Title IX, enacted in 1972, but only because a court case forced their hand.  The legislative train runs slowly in the South when it comes to equal rights, and the politicians had drug their feet until just before the season began.  Avoiding the lawsuit, our governing body, The SC High School League, decided women would have a voice in high school soccer, but it would not be a chorus of voices, it would be a solo.

The chickens had come home to roost and we were told that for one year, until women’s teams could be formed the next year, girls could try out for our men’s soccer teams. It was a hollow victory with only one school in the state with a woman on their team. We had just gone coed, and the Mauldin High School soccer program would become a very tiny footnote in history.

Girls couldn’t compete with guys, could they?  I was about to find out.  Laena and Cathy showed up for the first day of practice along with a couple of dozen of their male counterparts.  Too many bodies vying for twenty-two positions.  Cuts would have to be made.  Cutting a team is never enjoyable but this one had the added effect of a feminist’s minefield.

I sought knowledge from our girl’s PE teacher and primary girl’s coach, a wonderful old battle-axe who if she reads this will smile at the reference…I hope. I say battle-axe with all the love and respect I can muster.  In 1980 I was terrified of her and as I’ve found it the later years, my fear was unjustified. 

Seeking understanding of the feminine beast, I asked, “Anything you can tell me about coaching girls?” 

She gave me a squinty eyed look, and in her gravely voice minced no words, “Miller…you ain’t stupid.  You coach ‘em like boys.”  I was fairly sure the first statement was untrue which made me question the second. 

As I watched practice, attempting to evaluate the talent, I was reasonably sure Lena could make the team.  She was athletic…I’m sure in my mind I added, “for a girl”. Laena was a blond Norwegian who had moved to Mauldin from one of the Northern states with ice and lakes and had played soccer most of her life. She had a skill set on par if not better than most of the men.  She didn’t have the speed or strength but was smart enough to read what was occurring and put herself where she needed to be for success.  She was also a tough nut who played with a chip on her shoulder. 

Cathy was a hardnosed goalkeeper but didn’t have the quickness or strength to compete with the men.  I thought I was about to step into the Mars-Venus minefield, but she took herself out of the mix. Cathy was smart and read the writing on the wall and approached me about becoming a manager and bookkeeper. I was happy to oblige and happy to keep her.

There were other cow patties lying about waiting to be stepped in, as with any team, men, women, or coed.  These were different.  Slapping players on the butt immediately went out the window along with certain language nuances.  Being given homemade cookies before practice was a pleasing difference, not a cow patty at all.

As I look back, I smile because of the respect Laena earned from the men.  It was earned and I include myself.  Some of the more immature didn’t know how to act and quite a few got their noses out of joint.  They were verbal out of my earshot in their criticism of “the girl” until she took them out with a hard tackle or hacked them up in a drill.  After an early season discussion, Lena decided it would be best to take care of her own problems and she did…sometimes as violently as her Viking forefathers.

We did get our collective noses out of joint over our media coverage.  During those days, soccer competed with basketball for newsprint with soccer coming in a distant second.  When local news broke that Lena was the only girl participating in SC high school soccer, our coverage increased but it wasn’t about the team and Lena and I grew tired of answering the dreaded “What’s it like…” question.

In our first match, against our closest rival, when Laena went in the game it was as if someone had muted the volume until an opposing player took her down with a hard shoulder tackle.  The poor boy.  As play continued he stopped and offered her a hand, fine Southern gentleman that he was. She took it, and as quickly took him down with an illegal tackle that drew a warning from the official.  She giggled as she ran back to her position in the midfield.  She had made her point. Soccer players giggling? They shouldn’t giggle.

It was our best season, “the season of the girl”.  Unless I’m confusing years, we were 13-3-3 and went on to win an Upper State Championship before falling in a close match in the State Championship.  A memorable season by anyone’s standards.  Lena was more than a team member.  She was not a token and contributed many quality minutes.  She was also a teacher because I learned a great deal.  I learned not to coach them like men, or women, I learned to coach them like people.

My daughter went on to play soccer, also at Mauldin High School, a couple of decades later.  I can’t help but think maybe we laid a little of the groundwork for her own State Championship in her “season of the girl”. She was the hard-nosed goalkeeper who made me cringe every time she came out to attack a break away.  She turned out okay and lost no teeth.  My grand daughter is now playing, hope she looses no teeth.

Athletics are important, no matter what the gender.  Athletics teaches life. Hard work makes you better as both a player and a person. Players learn sacrifice, resilience, how to deal with success and failure, and how to play well with others. Athletics stresses taking worthwhile risks, nothing ventured, nothing gained. It teaches that in life, you won’t win all of the time and that’s okay.

Celebrate “the season of the girl”, Women’s History Month, and the International Women’s Day.

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0jCNAuN3Z8dNPesZwZtTn0bQHkZG8G6HgAbbZlv-rpjKH_Cn4aPmvbZKA

AB Dick-less

The older I get the more my senses come into play…provided I still have them.  They trigger memories. Are flashes of the past a sign of getting old?

A sound or smell, a scene formed in the periphery of my vision that is not real…a tune popping up on my playlist causing my senses to work in reverse.  It was Kris Kristofferson singing about, “the Sunday smell of someone fryin’ chicken…And it took me back to somethin’…That I’d lost somehow, somewhere along the way.” It was a Sunday morning as I walked, and I could smell pan fried chicken from sixty years ago.  Triggers. 

“Sunday Morning Comin’ Down” Kris Kristofferson

After my weekly four-and-a-half-mile jaunt with my best friend Hawk,  we stopped by the Tree House for our weekly cup of coffee and probably…more importantly, a stop at a place “Where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.”  Cliff and Norm played by Hawk and Don except I don’t know which character is which.

There was a scent of something chemical in the air, probably a cleaning fluid. They clean every day first thing, and we are the first to arrive most Fridays. Hygiene is important and they are very hygienic.  The aroma wasn’t a bad smell, the opposite, a trigger to an all too familiar smell from a time long ago, duplicating fluid.  Familiar if you began your teaching career while dinosaurs still roamed the earth.

Sitting in our reserved spot, just like Norm and Cliff, our conversation turned toward a former teaching chum who is deathly ill, but I found it hard to concentrate.  Flashes of forty plus years of teaching came into view in between the thoughts we shared. Strange flashes. The Twilight Zone of test making.

Norm and Cliff on Cheers sing Lollipop

The clackity rhythm of an old Royal or Remington typewriter followed by the ding of a bell.  I had my tempo and then the long curse when I hit the h before the t in the word the…or with…or thought….  Correction fluid, its own smell familiar.  More blue ink everywhere but where it needed to be.  More cursing. 

Arriving early to school and sprinting to the copying room to find a half dozen teachers stacked up in a holding pattern waiting for the only copying machine needing to be filled with duplicating fluid because the secretary could not be found.  She had the only key to the storage room and had been kidnapped it seemed.  For some reason duplicating supplies had to be guarded as if they were gold coins.  The semester reckoning, a sit down with Sybil or Flogene, “Coach Miller do you realize you used x number of reams of paper? You are killing too many trees.” Our secretaries only used my title when I had been a bad boy.

Donated Copy Paper to the School My teacher was greatly appreciative. true  story. - Barney StinsonHIMYM | Meme Generator
The Meme Generator

The cycling sound of the drum of the AB Dick duplicating machine as it spun to the timing of your hand crank, kah-thunk, kah-thunk, kah-thunk. A paper jam followed by blue ink, more on you than on paper.  How many shirts did I ruin?  Students raising the fresh, still damp mimeographed papers to their noses and inhaling deeply.  Strange flashes, indeed.

r/MovieDetails - In Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Mr. Hand passes out the class schedule of quizzes. After the paper is passed out, the students put the page up to their noses and deeply inhale. This was a popular school ritual of the 60s,70s and early '80s because the transfer agent for the ink …
From “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”

There were other flashes.  The tap, tap, tap sound of yellow chalk on a green board.  The history teacher who wrote notes with one hand and erased them just as quickly with the other.  God help you if you dropped your pencil, you might lose an entire historical era as you frantically searched.  Choking on chalk dust, the new piece of chalk making the long screech.  Students covering their ears and screeching their own discomfort.

I remember shoe taps on hardwood floors along with the acrid smell of red sawdust used to clean and keep the dust down.  Do they build schools with hardwood anymore?

Teachers have moved on from those days.  Computers and smartboards have replaced the need for copied tests, typewriters, and chalkboards.  There is software that can grade five sets of tests in the time you can scan them and hit enter.  Chromebooks have replaced the book bag filled with heavy textbooks.  White boards and dry erase have eliminated hair raising screeches. Zoom classes and virtual learning have become parts of the teacher’s tool bag.

Lecture Memes. Best Collection of Funny Lecture Pictures
Meme

Please don’t assume I’m insinuating teaching is easier.  I am most assuredly not.  While I loved teaching, no amount of money in the world would bring me out of retirement.  I taught in a simpler time…even when I retired six years ago, it was simpler than today…and I am a dinosaur…as much a dinosaur as the AB Dick Copier.  I am happy to be AB Dick…less.

Grading test in a simpler time…

Don Millers ramblings can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0x9B8Ym-4Eaqr1jiiLb8bE8e8HQyqjxJ4Tus5v-Cy1TJ00oE28k3EdhGM

Featured image is of an AB Dick 8200. AB Dick filed for bankruptcy in 2005.

Early Spring?

My Scots Broom is blooming giving me hope…and activating my allergies.  I’ll take the allergies.  Spring is right around the corner…a blind corner.  Approach with caution! I don’t know what might be waiting for me on the other side, what cruel trick might be played by Mother Nature.  I don’t care, I have a wonderful and sunny seventy-degree day waiting for me in my little piece of heaven. 

Crocus and daffodils are waking from their winter nap, pushing toward the sun and the red tail hawks that circle above.  Two mating pairs climb in the thermals, whistling to each other in a language only they understand.  Are they as happy as I am to feel the warm sun? 

These are sure signs of spring as are the gold and purple finches putting on their spring colors.  Nests are being built awaiting tiny eggs that will help continue the species. Their yearly mating ritual has begun. Mother Nature renewing herself despite all of our efforts to destroy her.

It has been a hard winter…in a lifetime of hard winters, I guess.  I planned to do much.  Unless I am mistaken, I have accomplished nothing except staying clear of Covid and getting my vaccinations.  Isolation has not helped my melancholia.  When I did have a flush of adrenaline my sciatica grabbed, flushing my rush down the toilet, adding more fuel to my winter depression.

I am reminding myself of my Grandmother.  My Nannie would disappear into the depths of depression as the days shortened, robbing her of available sunlight and keeping her from the outdoors she loved.  The short, cold winter days left her peering out of her window at the world.  She described her malaise as “feeling a bit blue.”

Her rock garden lay darkened and wilted, as dark as I’m sure her thoughts were, and had her thumbing through her seed catalogues and the almanac.  I no longer wonder about her effort to be functional.  I wonder why I even get out of bed somedays. Functionality is sometimes evasive. I plod on doing nothing.

Not today, or even yesterday…or the day before.  Three days in a row in late February to die for as I write this.  Deep blue, cloudless skies.  After crisp mornings, sunny days and seventy degrees.  I went forth and was productive.   

It is gray this morning, with impending rain forecast for the next few days. The price you pay for three days of celebration. The price is much like the hangover you might expect from too many shots of Jack Daniels as your merrymaking runs off the rails. I was able to walk despite my metaphorical hangover and late arriving rain. As I looked into the gray sky a red tail flew by and lit in a nearby tree making me smile.

I have made a small dent in my yard work, but every trek begins with a step…or with the swing of a machete.  It has left me with hope to battle my depressing hangover. Hope that I might bloom with the spring flowers.

A roadside that I wish was mine. https://www.diynetwork.com/

My bride likened my grandmother to the spring flowers.  Late in her life we wondered if she would survive the winter and then like the daffodils or crocus, she would burst from her depression as they burst from the ground.  I hope I am like my grandmother although I wonder what flower I might be.  I’m sure the flower that is me has thorns and few blooms.

Here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge we have bipolar seasons.  Short fall seasons, some years summer jumping straight into winter.  On the other side of the equinox, our brief springs are dotted with spring flowers, sometimes pushing out of March sleet and two-inch snowstorms.   Many days we have all four seasons rolled into a twenty-four-hour period.  Polar wear in the morning, flip flops and tank tops in the afternoon.

Crocus | LoveToKnow

The breezes of April will quickly roar into the simmering heat and humidity, thunderstorms and tornadoes, yellow jackets, and clouds of mosquitoes.  Something to gripe about other than the cold winds of winter.  I’ll take the heat because with it comes those long days of sunshine. No more seed catalogues, actual seeds going into the ground. Sunflowers reaching for the sun.

So, I’ll cherish these three perfect days of early spring.  There are more crystal blue skies coming…sandwiched between the gray, cool, wet skies of the fading winter and the anvil topped thunderheads to come.  Such is life, I guess.  I will long for the perfect days of an early spring and celebrate when they arrive.

Featured image from https://www.thelocal.de/20190222/early-spring-to-continue-in-germany-over-weekend/

Don Miller’s authors page https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2JKFOIkUMkr7DDTIGejQCNCoz-GdyUSmvDXYWfNYk8mV4O3sVbxPB8JFY

Speaking Ill of the Dead

I was taught “If you can’t say anything good, say nothing.”  I fully admit having failed to heed that teaching but I will not speak ill of the dead.  I will not celebrate his death, but I cannot celebrate his life either.  I will not call his name.

I’m quite sure during the course of his life he spoke some truth, but I cannot see his truth because of the hate he peddled and the anger he caused me.  I don’t blame him for peddling hostility anymore than I blame him for my outrage. I’m not speaking ill of him at all.

From college dropout to AM disc jockey to rightwing mega pundit, he was trying to find a way to make a living and found fertile ground to till.  A fertile ground that grew bountiful crops from the seeds of bigotry, misogyny, conspiracy, and misinformation he peddled.  All he was doing was farming the fields he had been blessed with.

No!  I’m not speaking ill of him.  I’m speaking ill of many of his followers.  They provided an eighty-five-million-dollar salary on the way to being worth six hundred million dollars.  He was just doing what he needed to do to provide for his family.  Capitalism at its best.  Charging what the market would bear and then some.  Not caring who you might step on while climbing to the top. If comparing thirteen year old Chelsey Clinton to a dog sold advertisements and airtime, what is a guy to do? If it helped write him a new and bigger contract, what is the big deal?

His audience loved the comparison along with making fun of Michael J. Fox’s disease, referring to Obama as a “house Negro”, mocking rape victims, and calling activists sluts and femnazis.  It was all in good fun; real knee slappers his fans guffawed loudly at. Just pokin’ fun at political correctness. There were other examples but like a good farmer I will not over till my ground.

He was a snake oil salesman who knew his fan base well and played to it every chance he got.    Know your demographic.  He was a President maker, a purveyor of conspiracy, a trader in fear and hatred. He was a comedian that none of his followers believed to be comedic. I’m not speaking ill of him, but it bothers me his fans couldn’t see through his shtick.

He was a Billy Mays huckster, Joe Girard car salesman, P.T. Barham showman, and Jim Bakker TV evangelist all rolled into one.  People metaphorically lined up to spend their money or shed their panties because he spoke to them in a language they understood.   They bought his absurdities along with his truths and were unable to tell the difference. They are the ones I am speaking ill of, not him. He was just trying to make a living the best way he knew how.

Do not despair fertile field. There will be others to take his place.  Seeds will continue to planted and bitter crops harvested. Want to bes are already posturing, ready to harness their mule.   He laid out the furrows and someone will broadcast the seed. While they may not be as successful they will make their living, there will continue to be successful crops.

 But he liked cats. How can you speak ill of a cat lover who named his pet “Punkin’?”  I’m sure Punkin’ loved him.

For mostly non-political ramblings https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1Cv5JjARlf26IKkUq2zgrvGXL-GnP_1j8cgoPJOlIEjfVzAeMTupWmL3c

Of Birds, Grandmothers, and Eisenhower Republicans

Continuing to write chapters in my head from the unwritten book entitled Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes, I find myself meandering along a twisting path and disappearing into Alice’s rabbit hole, again. Maybe I’ll encounter a hookah smoking caterpillar. The Mad Hatter has already taken up residence in my head.  A bit of hashish might calm him.

It is a dark, raw, and dreary day here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.  It is the kind of day rabbits and wild pigs should be tucked safely in their burrows, huddled together for warmth.  I am warm, sitting in front of a fire, watching my birds gorge themselves on sunflower seeds and suet. You can add a squirrel or five and an occasional “Chester”, a name my wife has given to the ground squirrels that seem to be multiplying at an alarming rate.  All are eating me out of house and home.

I’m drawn to thoughts and mental photos of my Grandmother’s bird feeders.  I don’t remember squirrels in attendance but there were plenty of little chipmunks around. 

My grandmother would be proud of my collection of avian acrobats.  Cardinals, woodpeckers, titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, and sparrows have been joined by gold and purple finches, their spring mating colors beginning to show. Cardinals are pretty but they are mean.  They take nothing off anyone, not even the squirrels.

Below the feeders, towhees, robins, doves, and a brown thrasher dig, waiting on “manna” from heaven to fall from the feeders.  Same with two chipmunks.  Where are the mockingbirds and catbirds?  I really must get a platform feeder with some fruit offerings.

On clear days my Red Tails cavort, riding the thermals and gleefully whistling to each other. But it is not a clear day.

Yeah, Nannie would be proud…until the impeachment trial lit up on my TV screen.  I doubt she would have any pride in anything I watched and I should have stayed tuned into the chipmunks.

My grandmother was an Eisenhower Republican.   Maybe I am too…or a Kennedy Democrat.  I know that Eisenhower nor Kennedy would recognize their respective parties today.  I also know the transition didn’t occur over night. It has been a treacherous highway we have traveled and appear to continue to travel.

As I researched “Ike’s” childhood and early life, I realized how similar my grandparent’s forefathers and mothers resembled the President’s.  Their forbearers, German, Scot, Irish and English, probably arrived in the New World via Pennsylvania like my forbearers.  My forefathers and mothers headed South through Virginia, North Carolina, to finally South Carolina and a hard scrabble existence as farmers, drummers, and cabinet makers. There might have been a huckster or two among them.

President Eisenhower’s forbearers headed to Virginia and then west to Kansas, south to Texas and then back to Kansas.  His family lived in poverty as hard times struck the mid-west.  Ike worked on a dairy along with his brother, helping his mechanic and dairy farming father scratch out a living.  There are a lot of similarities when faced with a hard scrabble life.

When I was a child, my grandmother forced me to read.  My grandmother’s tutelage was fully supported and enforced by my parents.  Sometimes quite painfully enforced. During summer vacations I would be led to meet the county bookmobile and forced to pick books to read.  It was decided I would pick three, all to be completed before the ancient, converted school bus returned two weeks later. Over time I found myself picking four or five books on my own.

I remember one choice chronicled Eisenhower’s early life.  How he almost lost his leg to a freak football injury.  Refusing an amputation, he somehow survived and grew up to be General Eisenhower of WW II fame and the Thirty-Fourth President of the United States.

He was a heroic figure and, despite the warts we all have, I understand my grandmother’s adulation. He certainly wasn’t perfect, and with twenty-twenty hindsight, it is easy to see missteps as he dealt with the recovery from WW II, the escalating Cold War, and building Civil Rights movement.   It should also be easy to see his positives. Despite not being able to stop nuclear proliferation, it was one of the most prosperous times both economically, scientifically, and artistically.  In some ways it might have spoiled us.

The first election I remember was the 1956 election, Eisenhower running for a second term against Adlai Stevenson.  It had no significance for a six year old. I was still playing cowboys and outlaws. I remember it because my grandmother seemed to be concerned.  She left her radio on all night awaiting the election news.  From my bed in the corner of her room I remember her whispered prayers. She shouldn’t have been worried.  It was a landslide for Eisenhower.

Despite the duck and cover drills in case of nuclear attack I experienced as a child, I can’t help but wish an Eisenhower incarnation had been elected to deal with Covid-19 and the social unrest we are experiencing.  I liked his attitude of diplomacy first. I know today’s responses would have been different and so would the outcomes. 

I remember or studied later his responses to Polio and the Salk vaccine, Sputnik, McCarthy, fireworks in the Middle East and Asia, carrying out Truman’s executive orders desegregating the military, an interstate system…even if was built to move the military rapidly from one place to another.  A response might have been the wrong one in hindsight, but there was a response, usually with diplomacy first. There was no inactivity. 

Then maybe I’m deluding myself.  Is it the differences in Presidents or the differences in Americans? 

I still think I’ll characterize myself as an Eisenhower Republican…or a Kennedy Democrat.  I just heard a squirrel land on my bird feeder…or was it my grandmother spinning in her grave.  She was not a Kennedy fan, at least at first. He was a rich, Massachusetts’s Catholic after all.  Unlike Eisenhower, my grandmother grew up in a world so different from Kennedy’s it might well have been another planet. I doubt she was a Nixon fan either as history played out.

Oh well. The rain has slacked off and my bird feeders need to be refilled. It is another day and there will be no trial coverage. Since there is a chance of winter weather on Tuesday my grandmother would agree that I need to make sure my wood stores are replenished. “Yes ma’am, I’ll get those bird feeders first.”

For more pig trails and rabbit holes https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3oAjNYooKiVzCcXTBVNofhw-T3ZwvoWeD90Y-Uv_KI1Y8lpyLBOC-HK2M

The image of Eisenhower is from Wardlaw Museum, University of St. Andrews.

Baby Love

I saw that Mary Wilson had passed away this morning.  Another one gone.  According to the Righteous Brothers,  

“If you believe in forever, then life is just a one-night stand, if there’s a rock and roll heaven,
well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.”

To many of my teen idols are leaving me.

Mary Wilson’s death took me along a pig trail that led to a rabbit hole.  A teenage boy with his new transistor radio, a Christmas present during his fourteenth year.  It opened up a universe I could only dream about.

A Deep South, land locked surfer boy who swam like a rock listening to The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean, dreaming of Surfer Girls, Surfing Safaris and Sidewalk Surfing in far off California, until one fateful night his tuner pulled in distant Chicago and WLS.  A window to a different world had just opened.

I listened to the local radio station in the daylight hours. Big Ways radio, an AM station that went off of the air as nightfall fell. At night I had to search and one cold winter’s night hit radio gold.

There was a smorgasbord of sounds.  The Beach Boys made me wonder, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older?”  There were huge doses of British invaders.  I really did want to “Hold Her Hand.”  The little blond girl who would make my life equal parts heaven and hell for the next four years.  There were soulful sounds too and they took a teenager’s heart and made it swell or “crushed it flat”. 

WLS was as close to Motown as I would get.  I never could pull in anything from Detroit, but there were plenty of soulful sounds emanating magically from distant Chicago or sometimes Fort Wayne, Indiana’s WOWO.  Jerry Butler, “Make it Easy on Yourself” or with Betty Everett, “Let it Be Me.”  God, I had it bad for that little blond girl.

The Impressions, The Miracles, The Temptations and The Four Tops joined the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean…and The Beatles and Stones. They were joined that same year by a different group, The Supremes.  A ‘girl group’ who helped turn the British invasion with the song “Where Did Our Love Go?” It would vault to the Billboard’s number one single and be followed by four more number one singles and a Grammy nomination.

I first saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show.  A white boy living in the Jim Crow South, sprinting home from the Sunday Methodist Youth Fellowship gathering to watch three Black girls from Detroit.  Somehow, music unites us all. 

Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard appeared 15 times with Ed Sullivan from December 1964 through May 1967.  I remember, as if yesterday, their medley with The Temptations in 1967. 

They were elegant and glamourous.  Shimmering gowns or mini-dresses in black and white, exotic and for a teenage boy, erotic.  With the big-eyed, big voiced, slender girl fronting, Florence and Mary were almost an afterthought, but they could sing and all looked good doing it. They look even better now that I can see them in color.

My musical choices have changed over the years but there is still huge doses of Motown, Soul and Rhythm and Blues on my playlist.  I still want to get up and move a little bit when I hear Diana Ross’ version of “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”  I might even wonder a bit, “What happened to that little blond-haired girl that kept me twisted in a knot?”

Rest in peace Mary.  Thanks for helping to open a new world and a new way of thinking.  You are missed.  Thanks for the pig trail and the warm memories that it conjured…even the little blond girl.

The Supremes and The Temptations, 1967 The Ed Sullivan Show

Further ramblings may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1PwFnOZx8KriCNpkLfMuyJj-qRRkXkpBuD1uDcQGZ7-3JbrKLAdlH7ZHs

Celebrating the “Dreaded” Black History Month.

In the middle of the Obama years, I got the dreaded “When are you going to teach white history?” question.  Tomorrow, February 1, two administrations later, I’m sure I’ll see some of the same.  I will be disgusted because many will come from folks, I want to respect but find that I can’t.  We can agree to disagree but not on racism.

Why are some of “white” America so “butthurt” over Black History Month? I have seen social memes and comments that have included “When is White America going to have a Month?” “Black History Month is Racist!” “Why do we have to have a Black History Month?”

An answer to the last question, in a perfect world, YOU WOULDN’T. Nor would you have Women’s History Month, in March, a Native American Heritage Month, in November, a Hispanic Heritage Month beginning in the middle September or any of the others that you can take the time to look up. Unfortunately, we are not, nor have we been, living in a perfect world. To quote a former student, “We celebrate white history in all months that don’t begin with F.” I agree with my student.

As a retired, high school history teacher I know history books are written from a decidedly Anglo-American point of view…well…at least where I taught, a deeply red, conservative state. A state that almost required D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” as required viewing, along with Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind” and Walter Raleigh’s “Ivanhoe” as required reading.

During the course of a year, Asians are mentioned about four times. Transcontinental Railroad, the Chinese Exclusion Act and Gentleman’s Agreement, the Japanese involvement in World War Two and China goes communist.  I almost forgot Korea and Vietnam. That makes five and six.

Hispanic contributions, maybe a bit more. Spanish colonization, Mexican American War, Imperialism, Pancho Villa, and then a jump to NAFTA and the question “Why are they taking our jobs?” Wait, we fixed that one didn’t we? Notice, these are all mostly decidedly negative when viewed from an Anglo point of view.

Native Americans are prominent but disappear after Wounded Knee unless you happen to bring them back up in the Sixties with the many social movements. Again, until recently, Custer’s Last Stand was viewed negatively by Anglo America. Damn Redskins stepping on our Manifest Destiny and the only good Indian…! I digress.  The Washington Football Team cured all those ills this past season. (said with sarcasm)

I rarely taught Black history during Black History Month. I was wrong. I deluded myself into thinking that I taught EVERYONE’S HISTORY ALL YEAR LONG and didn’t need to focus on a Black History Month. Then I began to assess what I had taught. I’m not happy. Kind of like ALL HISTORY CAN’T MATTER UNTIL BLACK HISTORY MATTERS.

Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Harriett Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, W.E.B Dubois versus Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King and maybe Malcomb X. There were others but most were only related to one aspect of African American lives and American history. A decidedly important aspect but besides George Washington Carver and Langston Hughes, there was nothing about other contributions.

Black History Month should be viewed as an opportunity to spotlight contributions by African Americans. Musicians, artists, writers, poets, inventors, explorers, scientists, businesspeople, soldiers, etc.  It should be an opportunity for us all to learn. 

As a teen, I picked up one of my father’s books, Foxes of Harrow. It was written by Frank Yerby. I read all his books that my father had and along the way picked up a few more. They featured historical fiction with a bit of…latent eroticism. Nothing graphic but I was a teen boy, it didn’t take much!

As a young adult, I was looking for more of Yerby’s books not realizing he had died and found out he was bi-racial and from Georgia…which meant, because of the “one-drop law”, he was black. Who knew and should it matter? No it shouldn’t. Just like celebrating Black History Month should not matter if you are white, green or multi-colored. It should be a positive educational experience for all.  Postscript on Yerby.  He fled his native Georgia, first for France and then Spain, where he lived for the rest of his life.  I’ll let you research why he fled.

Three of my last four years before retirement were teaching “cultural” geography. I loved it. One, I had no end of school testing pressure and could go off on any tangent I desired to go off on. I could be creative and allow creativity from my students. It became about cultural diversity, really teaching everyone’s history, all year long.

In a paragraph I wrote about a former student turned preacher I said, “Today I look toward diversity as a smorgasbord of delights. I believe we should just focus on how diversely different people party. How can you be distrustful of people who produce such wonderful food? Or music, or art, or etc…. My life without Latin, Soul, Oriental and Cajun foods would not be life-ending but life would not be as joyous, especially without a Belgian, Mexican, Jamaican or German beer or maybe some Tennessee whiskey to go with it and a Cuban cigar for afterward. Someone might as well play some Blues, Reggae or a little Zydeco to help the atmosphere along. It is just as easy to focus on the positives about diversity as it is the negatives and again with knowledge comes understanding.”

I realize that I am a social liberal swimming in a red sea of white conservatism and make no excuses. I believe that the rights that someone else is given don’t take my rights away from me including the right to celebrate Black History Month…or Cinco De Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day for that matter. In fact, I have joined in and by doing so believe I am not only a better American but a better human.

Don Miller’s Author’s Page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0mzivK_bmnTjG4D9RL1KGMQ4TurZ8y7hrFca8ExoRa_XmkEUStmSylMCc

Legacy

When the news came across my feed I felt as if I had lost part of my childhood.  Henry Aaron was dead at eight-six.  I knew his days were numbered at that age but still.  I had just seen pictures of him taking the Covid-19 vaccine to help other African Americans make the decision to do so.  Henry “Hank” Aaron was never just a baseball player. His legacy is much more than the game he played.

He was always larger than his historical moment.  The moment he hit Al Dowling’s pitch into the left field bullpen on April 8, 1974.  It was an early birthday present to me.  The day after Aaron’s name went into the record books as the “Homerun King” I turned twenty-four.  Since that date others have had their names etched in above his, but no one hit more home runs in the pre-steroid, pre-juiced up ball, pitcher’s era.  To me he will always be the “Homerun King”…and much more.

He was a quiet man…soft-spoken, a man who let his glove and bat do his talking.   He never liked the moniker “Hammerin’ Hank.” His mother named him Henry, that was good enough for him.  Aaron never doubted his own ability but never felt the need to toot his own horn.  He was a team player on some pretty bad teams.

He hit 24 or more home runs every year from 1955 through 1973, a pitcher’s era, and he is one of only two players to hit 30 or more home runs in a season at least fifteen times. He also earned three Gold Gloves during that period.  In 1999, The Sporting News ranked Aaron fifth on its list of the “100 Greatest Baseball Players”.  Considering the man, they ranked him too low.  He was so much more to a white kid who so much wanted to be a baseball star.

He was the baseball definition of grace.  There was an elegance just walking into the batter’s box or jogging around the bases.  Loping after a fly ball.  He had a beautiful, artistic swing, whether a swing and a miss or a ball roped into the left field bleachers.  It was about the finish.  Art frozen on a photograph.

Our Annual Birthday Tribute to “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron
A young Henry Aaron, off and running baseballhistorycomesalive.com

My brother put it this way, “Mr. Atlanta Brave has passed away. As a lifelong Brave fan, it is a sad day. Been a sad month or so with Phil Niekro and Don Sutton passing before him. Hammerin’ Hank will always be the true Home Run champ, not the juiced-up cheaters who currently are ahead of him. I can see him now with batting helmet in hand, slipping it on his head, taking three practice swings before stepping in the batter’s box. It was a thing of beauty.”  I agree.

I remember when the Braves moved from far away Milwaukee to not quite so far away Atlanta for the 1966 season.  We finally had a team. I was an instant Braves fan…but it was hard.  Every season began with hopes and dreams, hopes and dreams that were usually crushed by the All-Star break.  But we had Hank, “Hammerin’ Hank”, Henry Aaron.

My father took my brother and I to a Sunday double header that first year.  I was stoked.  Not only would I get to see Hank but Willie Mays’ San Francisco Giants.  What a day.  To see two of my childhood idols.  Hammerin’ Hank versus the Say Hey Kid.  Baseball nirvana.  Aaron didn’t see the field that day and Mays only pinch hit late in the second game.  Instead, I got to see Atlanta pitcher Tony Cloninger hit two grand slam homeruns…I say that as if I have swallowed something unsavory.

When Vin Scully, the great baseball announcer, retired I wrote about Vin and his call of Aaron’s historic homerun. As Aaron rounded the bases, Scully said into his microphone, “What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron.”

From YouTube

As I listened and cried a bit, Vin’s words troubled me because I have seen an increase in the words and actions that motivated his descriptions.  Aaron was subjected to a road littered with racial landmines as he moved closer and closer to Ruth’s hallowed record.  Racial abuse and death threats followed him around those bases but somehow, he managed to stay above it all.  As a man he was much greater than the stage he played on.

“I had many, many, many death threats. I couldn’t open letters for a long time, because they all had to be opened by either the FBI or somebody. I couldn’t open letters. I had to be escorted. In fact, just recently I went to a funeral, Calvin Wardlaw, who was the detective — the policeman — with me for two years, passed away just recently. He and I got to be bosom buddies really, but that was the hardest part. I wasn’t able to enjoy — you know.”  A real shame, “I wasn’t able to enjoy…”

I wish I had taken the time to have written Mr. Aaron.  From an old white Southerner.  An apology of sorts just to let him know how much his exploits meant to me…meant to most of us, I think.  I would remind him of the joy I received living through him.  He was a towering hero on and off the field.  Unassuming, quiet but forever inspiring.

There are many pictures of Henry Aaron, but I have a favorite.  It is not a picture of my idol wearing a Milwaukee or Atlanta uniform, hitting or fielding.  It is of a young Henry Aaron standing in front of a train car.  He is about to embark into his future…his destiny.  He would step onto that train and head to Indianapolis to play shortstop for the Negro League “Clowns” for two hundred dollars a month. 

I feel I HAVE lost a part of my childhood.  So many have transitioned over the last year.  Tonight, I will gaze at the night sky hoping for the flash of light.  Scientifically I know it is a meteor burning up in the atmosphere.  In my heart I will know it is Henry Aaron hitting another one out of the park. 

*** 

The image of Henry Aaron and Willie Mays is from https://www.talkingchop.com/2020/6/10/21285787/this-day-in-braves-history-hank-aaron-passes-willie-mays-on-all-time-home-run-list

Don Miller’s authors page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0b6oFbr9QqtEYvWbOkHCcfv23IpoKgaxuRZd-nLM-fM1dmnch_2SGSfSY