A Mess of Green Beans

 

It’s early morning and I’m bent over strong green plants, their bounty hanging from the underside of deep, green leaves.  I’m proud of my green beans.

It’s my second picking and I am getting more than from my first.  Despite the early hour, perspiration…nay sweat is trickling down my nose.  It’s not hard work, pickin’ beans, but my back is creaking and sweat is running into my underwear when I straighten it.

I’ll pick, wash and then snap before washing again.  I don’t know what I’ll do with these.  I’m still eating on my first pickin’…my first mess…from archaic French, messe, a portion of food.

It is a word I learned from my grandmother…and a process.  Nothing wasted, not even the pot liquor.  Beans are to be eaten until they are gone…or go rancid, the pot liquor sopped up with cornbread.  Just for clarification, these are not served al dente, they are cooked to death, the Southern way.

Mine are not likely to go rancid soon.  The biological process is aided by meat products and mine have none.  I’ve had to adjust my tastes since a heart attack a decade and a half ago.  No flavorful bacon grease or fried fatback will be added.  Just potatoes, onions, and a touch of salt and pepper.  They are not as flavorful as I remember my grandmother’s but my wife’s cornbread that is served with it is much better.  Sorry Nanny, your cornbread was too dry.

There was always a “mess” of beans on my grandmother’s stove.  Green beans early in the summer, butter beans later, and finally crowder peas in the early fall.  Whatever was canned found its way to the stovetop during the winter and spring.

I’ve tried to keep her schedule along with squash and tomatoes.  I wish I could figure out how to get my tomatoes to mature at the same time my beans do.  It would appear I’m still a few weeks away from my first tomato sandwich.  My garden is late this year due to April rains.

As I pick, I step back in time.  It is Monday as I write this.  A lifetime ago Mondays were days to finish gathering and prepping for Tuesdays which was, along with Thursdays, canning days at my countrified local school.  A cannery subsidized I’m sure by that Yankee ‘gubment’ in Washington or the nearby state one in Columbia. It was cheap, a penny a can, it had to be subsidized by someone.

It was a hot and humid place in the middle of hot and humid summers.  People came from all around to avail themselves.  It was a cheap way to preserve their summer bounty for the cold winter days ahead.  There was so much activity I am reminded of the story of the ant and the grasshopper.  No lazy grasshoppers here, just hard-working ants.

At my grandmothers there would be a flurry of activity on Mondays that would run well into the evening.  It would end with family from the hill above and the ‘holler’ below joining us.  Aunts, Uncles, and cousins sitting on the front porch snapping or shelling the last of the beans or prepping soup mix.  There was a good dose of gossip to go with the shelling.

A hushed voice asks, “Did you hear about so and so?”

Another query, “Didn’t she run off with….?”

A third with shaking head, “Oh my, you don’t say?  I know her momma is besides herself with worry.”

A fourth would ask, “Y’all want some sweet tea?”

The menfolk in fedoras and overalls sitting on one side of the L shaped porch, the women in feed sack dresses on the other.  I don’t really know what the menfolk discussed, what juicy details were talked about but their conversation probably revolved around work or what malady their car might be suffering.  Seemed everything revolved around scratching out a living or driving.

I remember falling asleep on the metal glider surrounded by the aromas of Prince Albert pipe tobacco and Camel or Lucky Strike unfiltered.  It was a different time and somehow, I always woke up in my bed with no memory of how I got there.

The cannery was operated by the Leapharts, my school’s home economics, and agriculture teachers and their offsprings.  They operated it but everyone shared in the responsibilities.  Communal effort is always a farming community’s way.

Sterilized cans were filled with bounty before salt and water added.  Cans ran through some sort of magical machine that steamed and sealed the cans before tops were added and another magical machine sealed them.

The finished product placed in a water bath and allowed to cool until Thursday when we picked them up.  I remember being responsible for adding the water, a steamy job in the steamy, humidity filled days of summer but one suited for a boy my age.

I’ve tried canning with varying degrees of success…the glass Ball jars and rings.  I freeze a lot but for some reason, it does not quite taste the same.  I guess it could be the absence of bacon grease or fatback, but I don’t think so.  It might have been the people and the process.

I remember phone calls to my grandmother when I left for college and later for the real world.  Summertime calls were always accompanied by a canning tally and the weather forecast, “Well I did twenty-five cans of green beans, eighteen butter beans, and a dozen of soup mix.  It has sure been hot and dry.  I can’t remember the last time it rained.”   If she’d been fishing I got that report too.

When I came home to visit from the real world, I always returned with cans of love from her pantry.  A mess of green beans and potatoes with some raw onion and a wedge of cornbread.  Good eats…good memories.

My senses are a funny thing.  Smells trigger many memories…or sweat running down my nose or a song on my playlist.  There is something about the smell of tomatoes or green beans boiling in a pot.  I go back to those days when the humidity didn’t seem so bad when there was always a pot of beans on my grandmother’s stovetop and cornbread or biscuits close by.

****

Don Miller writes on various subjects and in various genres.  His author’s page https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3ISpnFiIcskj6u17soo9sN1uvFBdpA59noucO8m0LdgN9k0rhPlAxRa2g

The image is from Simple Home Preparedness at https://simplefamilypreparedness.com/home-canned-green-beans-in-3-easy-steps/

 

Privet… Oh, How I hate Thee!

 

Right up there with Kudzu.  After weed whackin’, choppin’, and pullin’ for five hours I got my first patch knocked down.  I liberated some bear plant, a couple of nandinas, a large patch of tiger lilies and iris and what I think is wild almond.  A lot of honeysuckles and wild blackberries came out too.  Sorry for droppin’ my gees but I do that when I’m tired… I’m very tired.  I’ve still got two patches to go… did I mention I’m sore? Oh, my everloving back!

Some fool decided to introduce privet to the US from Asia in the 1700s.  It’s called a hedge, but I find it to be a very un-hedge like hedge.  It’s not thick like a hedge I would want or I’m not growing it correctly.  Privet roots creep underground and send up shoots when it senses sunlight and creeps along some more and sends out more shoots, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera until you have a patch the size of Rhode Island.

Folks from the US must not be very bright… nothing political there… much.  After Asian privet… why would we think Asian kudzu was a good idea?  I’m a dumb American, I followed up with Asian honeysuckle…not that it is a problem… oh yes, it is! Pretty, aromatic and a problem… except on an early summer’s night when the scent reaches me, carried through my open windows by a gentle breeze.

Privet…a problem at best.  I normally cut down my privet two or three times a year… along with the kudzu, honeysuckle, and blackberry that tangles themselves with it.  I had some health issues last summer and I think I must have missed a whackin’ or two.  Between privet, kudzu, blackberry and the local variety of honeysuckle I probably could stay busy with twelve-hour days during the summer.  I just try to stay a little behind.  It helps that my wife won’t let me touch the Asian honeysuckle under threat of a frying pan upside my head.

Privet does put off some white blossoms in the spring… and poisonous, blue-black berries in the summer. Don’t believe the privet blossoms have a scent but I know if I don’t get the plant down before it blooms, my bride won’t let me touch it.

I didn’t always hate privet.  Right outside my grandmother’s backdoor was a patch of privet…patch?  More like a …a forest of privet.  Way tall privet, not hedge-like at all.  She had allowed it to grow redwood style and then hollowed out the center of the patch to create an outdoor room.   Protected from the harsh summer sun, she kept the running roots clipped when they poked their little heads out of the ground.  Kept the dirt swept clean with a twig broom.  It was OUR hidden retreat from the summer sun, a bountiful garden that grew a child’s imaginative games.  Good memories!

I remember chasin’ lightning bugs through the canopy created by the privet or making mud pies using the dark soil as a primary ingredient.  I remember singin’, “Doodlebug, Doodlebug, fly away home, your house is on fire and your kids are all gone” over a hole in the ground not knowin’ what a doodlebug was or why his house was on fire.

I remember jaybirds fighting over the cracked corn my grandmother put out on her feeders.  Their chatter was loud and raucous.  Sitting and listening to bird calls while my grandmother broke beans or cut corn.  Hearing her say, “Listen chile, that’s a catbird” or a mocking bird or whatever.

I remember hoppin’ on a wide flat rock and havin’ it walk off with me standing on it.  Dang big turtle…course I wasn’t very old or big.   Had soup that night, too.  Yum.

Yeah, that privet wasn’t too bad.  I must raise bad privet…at least bad privet rekindled a few memories.

Don Miller’s author’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.  Stop by and like.

July Flies and June Bugs

I noticed last night before the mosquitoes drove me in, the July flies have made their emergence.  The males are singing their little hearts out attempting to attract their life partner.  “Go forth and multiply!”  I understand the mating period for a July fly is short.

Last night was the second of two cooler and less humid nights in a row.  Cooler and less humid by July, South Cakalacky standards.  I stood outside listening while enjoying a cigar.  Wish the mosquitoes had thought it was too cool, little vampires that they are.

I’m not a fan of many of our local insects but look forward to the emergence of “lightnin’ bugs” in May, then June bugs and finally July Flies.  I never look forward to the emergence of mosquitoes…not that they ever really emerge, they never seem to disappear.

I remember during the BAC period of our lives, before air conditioning, listening to their mating calls through the open windows.  So many singing at once.  Their chorus reminded of the sounds a distant freight train made during the days of my youth.  Not the “clackity, clackity” but the cycling sound as the trains retreated.  Young Ashley, three or four at the time, even asked me to turn down their volume one night as they interfered with her sleep.  “Can you make them stop?”  Sorry, love of my life, I still haven’t found their volume knob.

We call them July flies here in the southern foothills of the Blue Ridge and the South in general, don’t know about in the North.  They are cicadas, big fly looking insects with clear, iridescent wings and big ole…well…bug eyes.

They emerge in July after thirteen or seventeen years spent underground and their singing seems to be a celebration of sorts.  I would be happy too I guess. To be free of a life underground living off root sap, even if their life above ground is brief.  Their singing makes me smile.

Their songs of joy led me down a pathway to an earlier time.  Not as humid June days from sixty years ago and tying threads around the legs of June bugs.  No, they aren’t related to the July fly, but I never know where my mind might take me.

My grandmother was never happy about beetles chewing on her greenery, especially Japanese beetles.  June bugs to her were just big, neon green “Japanese” beetles, something to be crushed between thumb and forefinger and kept off her okra and roses.

One of my childhood “jobs” was to pick the Japanese beetles off her okra and place them in a jar of soapy water.  I don’t think I was old enough to realize I was drowning them.  I was paid by the number I picked.  I now pick them off myself, but the payoff isn’t pennies to buy Bazooka bubblegum.  It’s the okra for frying or gumbo.

I feel a bit cruel.  Tying thread around the legs of June bugs and flying them in circles around my head.  I can hear their soft drone as their wings beat the air.  I don’t know what we did with those who quit flying but I have an idea…I guess I have effectively purged their demise from my memory.

I haven’t seen any June bugs this year…they tend to appear late in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.  Maybe I’ve been too successful purging grubs from my soil.  No, I’m still battling Japanese beetles in my garden.  Maybe it’s because I just haven’t been looking or avoiding the heat and humidity sitting in my air-conditioned den.  It’s time to slow down and look…and listen…or at least go outside.

For more of Don Miller’s written word try https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B018IT38GM?redirectedFromKindleDbs=true

Image taken from  http://blog.pennlive.com/wildaboutpa/2013/05/cicadas_are_coming_brood_ii_ex.html

Little Bastards

I really can’t think of much that I dislike about living in the South…ummmm…summertime humidity and mosquitoes can be found anywhere. Right? Sometimes we Southerners only have two seasons – “damn cold or damn hot” … occurring in just the blink of an eye. An old South Carolina saying tells us a lot about our climate. “If you don’t like the weather now just wait a minute. It will change.” I find this to be true during the spring and fall.

I remember a “damn Yankee” football player from the early 90’s who had joined us from one of the “I” states, Indiana I think, and who, before our first August football practice, explained to me that “I can handle the heat. It gets hot in Indiana, too.” An hour later, after his eyes had rolled back in his head, I was cooling him off with ice water soaked towels and forcing him to take sips of Gatorade. Yes, it does get hot in Indiana but, “It ain’t the heat in the South. It’s the humidity!”

When Linda Gail and I moved into our little “piece of heaven” we had no air conditioning. Open windows and ceiling fans moved warm and humid air and reminded us of our youth…except for the ceiling fans, we did not have during either one of our youths. More concerned with conserving heat during the wintertime, unlike” flat land country” farmhouses, ours had eight-foot ceilings instead of ten footers and late in the day, our lower ceilings would trap heat. A lot of late evenings were spent talking on the porch until it was cool enough to go to bed. A breeze might bring the smell of honeysuckle while we listened to the cicadas and other night sounds. I might enjoy a cigar while staying hydrated with a few adult beverages…until the mosquitoes came for dinner. No matter how much citronella we burned or how many fans we used, the little blood suckers seemed to always find us…and still do.

Mosquitoes are just a fact of life in the South and I praise God they don’t grow to the size of vultures. On a trip to the coast, I remember making an impromptu nature call where the only facility available was an old fire road in the middle of a pine forest off South Carolina’s Highway 17. As I completed my task, I looked down to ensure nothing got caught in the zipper and could see a cloud of mosquitoes attempting to make off with my man part. Itchy and it was in November! F&%K it! I DID zip up too quickly! For some reason, Linda Gail thought it was hilarious until the little vampires who had followed me into the car decided she was sweeter meat than I was. I laughed and I laughed and I laughed.

We have “stinging” insects too. Wasps, hornets, bees, even a little bitty thing that might be called a “no see um” … if I could see um’. Generally, I dislike them all. Specifically, I hate the yellow jacket. The little “bastards!” They are small hornets who build nests underground, under leaves or in hollow stumps. Related to bald-faced hornets and common wasps, they are much faster, more aggressive and make a honey bee sting seem like a French kiss from your beloved. If you step into a yellow jacket’s nest, you will not get stung once but several times and the little bastards will pursue you. Talk about holding a grudge.
The first time I stepped into a nest I got stung a dozen times, all from the knees down. When I finished beating them off of me I found my legs covered in “stinging” whelps that slowly, over a matter of days, turned into itchy, oozing wounds that resembled cigarette burns despite being treated with Linda Gail’s “old time remedy,” chewing tobacco and Arm and Hammer soda. This was also despite initially wearing heavy blue jeans, boots and heavy socks. I say initially because I “shucked” my pants quickly.

Over time I have found it better to wear shorts. You get stung fewer times before being alerted to “run like hounds of hell” are after you and the wounds are not nearly as bad. It’s as if the yellow jackets, when met with “blue jean” resistance, really got pissed off. I stepped into a nest while using my weed eater near the back door of the house one morning. Luckily, I saw the cloud of “little bastards” erupt from their hole and I ran for the safety of our closed in back porch. Yelling, slapping and running, somehow all at the same time, I found my “beloved” slamming the door in my face and screaming, “Don’t bring them in here!” Thank you SOOOOOO very much.

As I related in an earlier story I am not the only one to run afoul of the “little bastards.” One of my goats stuck his nose into a yellow jacket’s nest and received numerous stings to the head and neck. With a leather collar around his neck, the swelling had nowhere to go causing his head to swell, and swell and swell. By the time I rescued him, his head was the size of a basketball and I was afraid he would begin to chock if I did not release him from the collar. As soon as I cut through the collar his head began to “deflate” and I worried that he would die when the poison hit his heart. He didn’t and just went back to eating. Goats are simple creatures…unlike my wife who would have let the goat come in regardless of how many yellow jackets followed him. It’s good to know where I rate on her hierarchy of animals that she loves.

Few things that I hate about the South? I just got my first yellow jacket sting of the summer. Luckily, just one and I have found their little underground lair of pain. I will make the “little bastards” pay when night time falls. I will come calling with my little can of “payback” and for a brief time there will be one less thing to hate about the South.

This is an excerpt from the book “Through the Front Gate”
Don Miller has also written other books which may be purchased or downloaded at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

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

SHANTIES

This past spring, on a trip to the coast, my wife and I decided to forgo the speed and ease of interstate travel for the interest factor of backroad pig trails. Despite the black water rivers and swamps cutting the land, vast fields and pastures seemed to overtake the two-lane road. Where there were homes, yards were at a minimum…except where pecan tree lined drives led to two story homes featuring circular drives, wrap around porches and columns. Mostly of the homes peaking my interest were small, broken down and square, four room homes dating from share cropping days or possibly earlier. The shanties sat on small square parcels of land and would be surrounded by towering corn stalks, tobacco or cotton by late summer. Known for rice and indigo during our colonial period and cotton during antebellum times, I guess land was too precious to allow for large plots of land to be used for recreational purposes…especially when there was little time for recreation. “Early thirty to dark thirty” days would soon be upon the farm workers of this coastal city and the surrounding area just as it had been decades ago…or may be centuries.

As I drove through the land I imagined poor whites and poorer blacks inhabiting the old share cropper’s shanties, battling each other for a life as “casual” farm laborers, having given up on the pursuit of jobs in the city. An elderly black woman stepped out of one of the tar paper houses, its broken-down front porch resembling the sway back of an overused plow horse. She was dressed as her ancestors dressed, a brightly colored scarf wrapped around her head and a long-sleeved print dress above what appeared to be bare feet. As I breezed past I almost asked out loud, “I wonder what tales she could tell?” While the journey was interesting, I became somber and introspective.

Tar paper and graying, slab wood shacks occasionally dotted the landscape around my childhood home. There was an abandoned and overgrown shack next to my house used as a clubhouse of sorts by my best friends and me. The younger me never thought about what it or these other broken-down homes represented. Our clubhouse was just a place to discuss girls, sneak smokes and talk about whatever preteens talk about…until our parents found out. I didn’t understand share cropping, tenant farming or farming on the lien back then. People bound to the land living from harvest season to harvest season, praying to pay off their crop lien or having a large enough share to put a bit of money away for the future. Hoping to buy a small piece of heaven of their own.

A friend of color told me of an ancestor of his born into slavery. Working as a tenant farmer on the same expanse of land he had toiled on before his own day of jubilee. Scrimping and saving until he could buy his own parcel of land. Clearing the land with his four children and wife, milling his own lumber and building his own four room palace. I’m positive he felt it was a palace. Filling it with hope and joy, twelve kids worth, growing his own work force and I hope expanding his little piece of heaven. There must be a tribute of some sort, especially when one considers the road blocks thrown in front of former slaves. Perseverance, persistence and a lot of patience I would suggest paid off in the long run.

As I’ve written before, my grandparents began their married life as farmers on the lien but they had several safety nets; family, the textile mills and they were white. Their dream included sixty acres and putting a child through college. Maybe there is hope instead of sorrow and the American Dream still exists. Hard work may in fact pay off.

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

AN OLD FARMHOUSE PORCH

I was looking through old photographs from my youth when I realized I don’t have any photographs of my grandparent’s old home place. It also registered, I really don’t need the photographs. Their home, and memories of the man and woman who resided there, are forever etched in my mind.

I can see the house sitting on top of a hill, flanked by an old pecan tree meant for climbing and a tall pine tree meant for little except surviving nature’s many lightning strikes. The building itself was not special or unusual, just a white clapboard structure with ugly hip roofs…and lightning rods on every corner with a matching weather vane in the center. Like dozens of other farm houses found in the area and thousands in the South, it was just a square farmhouse with a kitchen and dining room attached away from the main living area as if by afterthought…or to keep the stove from heating up the rest of the house during this non-air conditioned period. The high ceilings held thousands of memories, especially in the kitchen and dining area, where everyone seemed to congregate when not congregating on the front porch.

An author I am reading, Rick Bragg, wrote, “They say the kitchen is the heart of the house, but I believe the {front}porch is its soul.” I agree and wish I had thought to say it first. This simple passage launched me down a road through fertile fields of memories as soon as I read it.

The porch of my grandparents was not screened or lighted, nor did it have a fan to blow away the heat, humidity or the mosquitos. Oddly I don’t remember the heat, humidity or mosquitos on the front porch of my youth as I do on the front porch of my adulthood. I remember July and August to be hotter than forty kinds of hell inside of the house… but for some reason…the porch was a cool oasis. Facing east toward the rising sun, the southern exposure was blocked by thick and tangled privet hedge gone wild and crepe myrtles.

I remember so much…and yet I’m sure I don’t remember enough. Watching lightning bugs in the late evenings, flashing their equivalent of “Hi, I’m a Sagittarius, what sign are you?” I remember friends and family gathering on its worn boards; sitting on metal rockers and a matching glider or leaning, elbows resting upon the plain concrete columns. They talked about their day, told stories and probably more than a few lies, their conversations punctuated by occasional outbursts of laughter.

PawPaw’s brothers and sisters came from a hill on one side and the small valley on the other, meeting in the middle on my grandparent’s front porch. For some reason the men tended to congregate to the eastern side of the porch leaving the women to “gossip” on the southern side. I remember Grandma Griffin, PawPaw’s mother, ever the lady, spitting her Peach Snuff covertly into a handkerchief rather than into the privet. My Uncle Claude, a deaf mute, sitting on the porch with hands flying, his questions answered and statements translated by my grandmother’s or mother’s flying hands. Aunt Joyce “spooning” on the front steps with soon to be Uncle Bo, their hands together with fingers intertwined. Playing two-man baseball games with Uncle Olin on the grass in front of the porch, the front steps marking first base.

Some evening gatherings combined work with pleasure. After a day gathering produce, the ladies of the homes might meet to shell butter beans or pop green beans, preparing them for their short trip to the local school and the cannery housed there. Later in my life, summer phone calls to my grandmother would include how many green beans or soup mix cans had been processed for the week. Later, as winter turned the gardens brown, my visits home would net those same cans so I might share in the previous summer’s bounty.

The porch was always a welcome place, except for the few salesmen who happened by, selling a vacuum cleaner, encyclopedias or this century’s greatest kitchen appliance. My grandmother was always courteous when she dismissed them, modelling the Golden Rule…except once. An overly pushy vacuum salesman made the mistake of following her to the door and blocking it with his foot as he completed his sale’s spill. He paid for his troubles with a face full of broom and was sent running back to the safety of his old green Chevrolet.

During the heat of the afternoons my brother and I, along with our cousins, might find a bit of a reprieve on the porch when August heat and humidity was at its highest. Make up games were our favorites, although for some reason the telling of ghost stories ranked high. The crepe myrtles might become a ship’s mast or a fort’s guard tower, while the thick privet became a jungle where we might have looked for Tarzan and Cheetah. I remember practicing my tuck and roll, jumping off the front steps and landing ala Alan Ladd in “Airborne.” We certainly had great imaginations back then. Even when the old house lay empty we used to porch as our play house until it was finally torn down, disappearing from our vision but not our memory.

I have a front porch though much smaller than the one from my youth. As my wife and I have tried to unclutter and renovate the rooms inside of our home, the porch has become more cluttered…and not with the memories I would wish. My goal for 2017 is to unclutter the clutter, replace some banisters and repaint. My biggest goal is to just sit on it and enjoy the evening cooling, watch cars passing on the road below, enjoy a cigar…if Linda’s incessant harping hasn’t caused me to quit, and of course appreciate the Jack Daniels that goes with the cigar. I would guess my biggest enjoyment will come from sitting with Gran-Momi Linda watching the grandbabies play. Watch? Not likely.

When I die, if I find my way to heaven, I hope my heaven will involve a big front porch. I would hope without the heat, humidity and mosquitos…unless I’m not in heaven. Hopefully I will find family and friends, catching up and retelling stories from long ago.

Rick Bragg, “My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South.”

If you enjoyed this story you might be interested in Don Miller’s book, PATHWAYS, or other books about life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

HARBINGERS OF AUTUMN

Despite the thermometer’s reading and the gallons of perspiration I am wringing from my tee-shirt after this morning’s run, FALL IS IN THE AIR. It is just a hint mind you but it is there. Could it be that the humidity is just a bit lower, or the direction of the wind a bit different? I guess it could be the fact I went to a football game this past weekend. In the South at least, fall means football even if the heat index is near one hundred and play must be stopped to dodge a thunderstorm or five. Nothing stops a Southerner’s worship at the altar of the religion known as football.

I have learned over the years that there are more subtle changes taking place. The bees and butterflies are frantically working over anything with a bloom. There seems to be a late summer “weed” that puts off a yellow flower the bees are in love with…frantically in love with. Milkweed is covered with beautiful black, orange and yellow butterflies as are any blooming purple…including cocklebur, beggar lice plants along with the sweet smelling kudzu. Linda Gail, my better half for the past thirty years, and I have different ideas as to what a backyard should look like. I coached for over forty years and believe they should look like well-manicured ball fields. She believes any plant that puts off the smallest bit of color is a flower, no matter what that flower might produce later. Linda Gail also loves morning glories and they must have something to grow up on right? This time of year with all of the activity I guess I am glad I acquiesce to her desires…plus it makes my life much easier in the long run…even if I have to clean up the mess in the winter. At least she lets me cut the kudzu regardless of their long purple blooms and sweet, almost sickly aroma.

My oaks don’t quite have the “leaves of green” they had earlier but they haven’t started to change yet but they do look different. I expect to see vast “V” formations of ducks and geese any time now… right after I walk into a painted spider’s web. The woodpeckers and red birds have returned to my bird feeders. For the past couple of months, they have been more concerned with gathering protein rich bugs for their young and I am sure food has been plentiful. Now they are looking for a handout I guess. They will get one if they can beat the squirrels to it. Poke salad has changed into Pokeweed and “my” mourning doves are anxiously awaiting the purple berries growing from magenta stalks.

As I sat on my front porch enjoying a “post run cigar” which sounds absurd but is one of MY Southern paradoxes. Let’s try again. As I sat on my front porch the bunny born this spring in a heavy patch of periwinkle made an appearance. “Bugs” is still all legs and ears but was attempting to put on some weight by eating some of Linda Gail’s potted plants…until he saw me. “Wascally wabbit!” With my puppies too old and blind to chase him off I guess I better look up what “wabbits” eat so he won’t starve when fall turns to winter. For now, I will just wait for summer to change to fall…which for me at least, is the most wonderful time of the year.

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

A FLOOD OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS

We are fifteen feet or more above the closest water, a shallow stream, but we are drowning. I had an idea how the victims of sinking ships felt as they fought their way to the upper decks, in the dark as a river of water hit them in the face. According to legend, a ragtime band played “Nearer My God to Thee” as the Titanic went to her watery grave taking some fifteen hundred passengers and crew with her. The good news is that there were only two of us drowning. The bad? Linda Gail was singing hymns and one could have been “Nearer My God to Thee.” (Actually the band probably played “Autumn” but that doesn’t fit my story does it?)

Over our thirty years living at “Hemlock Hills” we’ve lived through bad weather and managed to dodge a few bullets…or tornadoes. Not long after we moved in a twister took down a huge pecan tree which in turn took down several black walnuts along with the power to the house. I had noted how green the clouds were and how calm, yet oppressive the air felt right before Linda Gail and I, along with three terrified puppies, made for the “perceived” safety of our hallway. The pecan landed close enough to the house that we just stood outside shaking our heads in disbelief. A few days later an ancient black walnut weakened by the storm fell into Highway 11 taking our power again before blocking the highway for several hours. We sold the downed trees for the cost of removal to a self-employed contractor friend who, a couple of years later, sold them back to us in the form of flooring, cabinets and countertops when he was hired to renovate. Funny, I remember paying a lot more for the wood we got back than he paid for the trees originally.

This is an excerpt from the story “A FLOOD OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS” found in my new book, THROUGH THE FRONT GATE. You may purchase in Kindle form at https://goo.gl/4rBPhW or in soft cover at https://goo.gl/Yu3vRm

MY BIRTH

I was born in the fall of my thirty-fifth year in 1985. I say this because nothing happening before really mattered very much once she said yes. I hadn’t planned to ask her to marry me. I thought I was too scared to ask as in “already twice burned” scared. As I asked I looked intently into her hazel eyes and noticed they turned from gray-green to bright green. I have learned over the years that green doesn’t always mean GO! Sometimes it means run like hell and be prepared to duck while you are doing it.

I don’t know when I first met Linda Gail, my ex-roommate’s on again, off again girlfriend. We disagree on that particular moment but I am sure I know when I first noticed her. She had an inflated pumpkin on her head preparing to celebrate Halloween. A year later, in the year of my birth, All Hallows Eve was on a JV game night and I had to attend as a function of my position as a coach and athletic director. Linda Gail and her friend Jeanie were going out to a costume party without me. Those two events should have been exclusive of each other but this particular night they became inclusive. It was raining and I had invited several of the booster club members to join us in the press box to stay dry. Booster club members being entertained in the press box was not an ordinary occurrence and had never happened before until this night. As the game went on, someone knocked on the door. My booster club president opened the door and found two pretty ladies opening their trench coats and exposing their somewhat revealing Halloween costumes. One was a vampire mistress of the night in a short black mini dress with lots of zippers and chains, the other a French maid complete with fishnet stockings, crinolines and a whole lot of cleavage showing … a lot of cleavage showing. I tried not to fall out of the press box window while everyone else was speechless. Utter and complete silence ruled until our booster club president paid them a left handed compliment and confessed that “If I had known it was like this up here I would have come up a lot sooner.”

This is an excerpt from the story “My Birth” found in my new book release, THROUGH THE FRONT GATE which can be purchased in Kindle form at https://goo.gl/4rBPhW or in soft cover at https://goo.gl/Yu3vRm