“Rabbit holes are my specialty. I live and breathe in them.” ― Kara McDowell, One Way or Another
Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes refers to the way my mind works…a curse or a blessing? Alice’s rabbit hole worked out well, right? Think of all the friends she met. A white rabbit, the Mad Hatter, a hookah-smoking caterpillar, a Cheshire cat, and the one I most emulate the March hare…as in, as crazy as a March hare…or a Mad Hatter…which is it?
I write in a world that is slightly out of focus or as a Southerner might say, cattywampus, waiting for something to occur that will send me on an unplanned metaphorical trek, twisting and turning like a wild pig trail or mountain switchback, until I find my rabbit hole. My motivation may be a spoken or written word, a song, a taste, or a smell…food maybe. I seem preoccupied with food.
Once the pig trail leads me to my rabbit hole I will pursue my rabbit to whatever lengths necessary to satisfy myself. It is maddening to live in my head sometimes. See, I’m already wondering why you have a rabbit and a hare in the same story about Alice’s great adventure. They are the same, right? No, they are not. I did not know that. Shame on you biology teacher!
Several years ago, I decided to attempt to bring my maddening thoughts under control by writing and created the blog Ravings of a Mad Southerner. It was a failure …but I’ve enjoyed the trip along the pig trails even though my thoughts are under no better control than they were seven years ago when I embarked on the storm-tossed sea of blogging.
Symbolically, the title of my blog, Ravings of a Mad Southerner has nothing to do with anger but is related to the madness experienced by Alice’s Mad Hatter or March hare…and the madness experienced by the author of the blog.
In all fairness, my madness has nothing with the production of felt hats or crazy hares at the beginning of their mating season. I get my madness honestly, I was born this way it seems.
Most of the rabbits I pursue resemble Elmer Fudd’s “wascally wabbit”, Bugs, or Gary K. Wolfe’s bumbling, Roger Rabbit. I admit sometimes I encounter monster rabbits resembling the fanged demon Kevin McCarthy pulled out of his hat in Twilight Zone: The Movie, but it is rare.
While I search for my rabbit holes, I tend to get lost. Mostly I like it that way. To quote Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”
Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes will be released next week unless I lose myself on a pig trail or in a rabbit hole or the gods of publishing are in a bad mood.
A conversation with my brother and a simple act of research has caught me in the event horizon of the black hole that is the internet…or my mind. My mind…I don’t seem to be able to escape the pull of my own mind.
I’m on my twelfth Jim McKay narrated ABC’s The Wide World of Sports intro and I’ve lost count of John Cameron Swayze’s Timex commercials. All courtesy of YouTube, thank you.
Somehow they are connected by something other than the black and white I watched them in but I’ve yet to figure out what that connection is. Later there was the black and white picture I discovered of YA Tittle battered and bleeding on the turf in Pittsburg. Where did that come from? The black hole of the internet of course.
All I know? Timex watches and an Italian ski jumper “takes a licking, but keeps on ticking” and the Italian ski jumper is probably happy Wide World of Sports was canceled. We just celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his failure this past April. What about YA Tittle? After a crunching tackle in a 1964 game with Pittsburg left him with a concussion and a cracked sternum, he suited up for every remaining game of the 2-10-2 season but retired at its end. He barely kept on ticking and experienced “The Agony of Defeat.”
The skier’s name was Vinko Bogataj but no one knew at the time. With limited TV in Italy, Bogataj didn’t know he was a television star…even if it was for “the Agony of Defeat.”. He was the nameless guy on a fuzzy black and white screen who wiped out on an attempted ski jump in 1961 and was immortalized on film by ABC and now on YouTube.
Bogataj was the epitome of the “Agony of Defeat”, the posterchild for failure, and remained so for three decades after his broken ankle and concussion had healed. He even continued to compete…just not well. ABC added a crashing motorcycle later but it just didn’t catch on like Vinko.
In case you have forgotten…or are too young to know. Here is Jim McKay’s rousing 1978 Wide World of Sports intro preceded by Charles Fox’s ringing brass…
“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport … the thrill of victory … and the agony of defeat … the human drama of athletic competition … This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”
When Wild World of Sports premiered, 1961 was still BAC, before air conditioning, and BC, before cable. Our RCA TV only received two and a half channels. Why do I say half? The closest ABC affiliate was still in distant Asheville, NC, some one hundred thirty miles away as the cow patty flies, and the VHF signal just wasn’t strong enough and subject to shifts in the ionosphere.
Too much science, right? Right! No matter how much we tried to fine-tune the Rototenna, it was always snowing on Channel 13.
No matter. On Saturdays, we sat down to the snowy Wide World of Sports before the weekly battles erupted over whether to watch The Lawrence Welk Show, Have Gun Will Travel, or the NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies while eating Mom’s spaghetti, Sloppy Joes, or breakfast at suppertime. Seems Lawrence Welk won most Saturday nights and why polka music and champagne bubbles make me ill. “Ah one, and ah two…”
Sports programming was nothing like the unfettered access we are afforded today. The Game of the Week was just that, the lone game of the week and “lesser” sports were overlooked until Wide World of Sports came along. It was the big three, baseball, football, basketball, and if you were lucky you might get one pro and one college basketball game a week…except I’m not a lover of basketball and didn’t tune in unless Bill Russell was playing. Why Bill Russell? I have no clue.
Speaking of agony. Due to the way pro football coverage was allocated, our game of the week usually meant watching the always struggling, awful Washington Football Team, known as the Redskins. Even Sonny Jurgenson couldn’t lead them to victory. I am reminded of many late fourth quarter failures and my father’s exclamation, “Well, I believe they’ve shot their wad.”
“Wide World” was different. It included many sporting events not seen on American television, such as hurling, rodeo, curling, jai-alai, firefighter’s competitions, wrist wrestling, powerlifting, surfing, logger sports, demolition derby, slow-pitch softball, barrel jumping, and badminton.
Deadpan Jim McKay calling curling was not one of my favorites but he hosted for over three decades. Don’t confuse hurling and curling. Hurling is interesting, curling is not…at least not south of the Mason-Dixon.
NASCAR Grand National/Winston Cup racing first appeared on “Wide World.” Traditional Olympic sports such as figure skating, skiing, gymnastics, and track, and field competitions were also regular features of the show.
Another memorable regular feature played to two of my worst fears, heights, and drowning. The scary Mexican cliff diving.
The first national television broadcast of the Canadian Football League was a Wide World of Sports broadcast of the 1966 Grey Cup game; ABC paid the league a whopping $500 for the rights.
Wimbledon, The Indy 500, the NCAA Basketball Championships, Little League World Series, and the British Open all debuted on “Wide World” before they became wire to wire on a network or pay-TV.
I think we’ve lost something with our twenty-four/seven access to whatever it is we want to watch. Nothing seems to be special. There is no excited anticipation for the Game of the Week because there is no Game of the Week…there are dozens. There was more excitement when there was “just one”. We are flooded to the point of saturation and lose a bit of the uniqueness, “Would Christmas be as special if it happened every day of the week?”
I’m still trying to figure out how Wide World of Sports led me to Timex watch commercials. Maybe it is the similarities between John McKay’s and John Cameron Swayze’s deliveries or that I watched them in glorious black and white until the late Sixties. May be there is no connection. I thought they were both a bit deadpan until I found McKay’s call of the 1972 massacre at the Munich Olympics.
Next year will mark the fiftieth year since “our worst fears have been realized.” Fifty years? With recent events I would say our worst fears, like too much access to TV and internet, have saturated us.
On a lighter note, here is John Cameron Swayze. A commercial that aired live and didn’t work out as planned. Like McKay he was the consummate pro. Like Bogataj and Tittle, he recovered. Swayze broke nothing, not even the watch.
In those thrilling days of yesteryear, before twenty-four-hour cartoon channels, Disney apps, Nickelodeon, YouTube, and such, there were Saturday mornings. Every Saturday was like Christmas except better. Well, maybe not better, but Christmas only came once a year. Saturdays came once a week.
For a child, it was the best morning of the week. Sitting in front of our black and white TV with a plate full of Dad’s pancakes watching the good guys beat the bad guys without anyone drawing blood until the Saturday afternoon movie reruns took over or Dizzy Dean, singing “The Wabash Cannonball” with his little pardner Pee Wee Reese doing the color commentary, brought us the Major League Game of the Week sponsored by Falstaff beer.
From the time the local TV station’s test pattern was replaced by a US Flag with forty-eight stars and the National Anthem played, Saturday mornings in the Fifties and Sixties were dedicated to children’s programming. Looney Tunes, Merry Melodies, Tom and Jerry, Howdy Doody with Buffalo Bill, Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Greenjeans, even a Japanese Sci-Fi cartoon about a battleship turned into a spaceship, Star Blazers…wait. That was in the Seventies. I guess I never outgrew cartoons.
I liked the cartoons. I did. But there was something about the syndicated serials that ran along with them. “A Fiery Horse With the Speed of Light, a Cloud of Dust and a Hearty Heigh-Yo Silver! THE LONE RANGER!” Let’s not forget his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, or other oaters like Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, and The Cisco Kid, “Hey Cisco, Hey Pancho”. There was even a modern cowboy, “From out of the clear blue of the western sky comes Sky King”, flying in his faithful steed, The Songbird. Modern for the Fifties. Finally, Captain Midnight, pilot of the Silver Dart and leader of the Secret Squadron, spoiled saboteurs while hawking Ovaltine and secret decoder rings.
I watched them all but my absolute favorite was something else entirely. George Reeve was the man of steel, and he didn’t need a horse or an airplane. He could fly!
“Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane! It’s Superman!”
.38 caliber bullets bounced off his chest like popcorn and he twisted the pistol they came from into a pretzel, crushed coal into diamonds, used his X-ray vision to see through walls or burn up asteroids, and he could fly. He was my guy!
Oh, Noli, my grandson, I remember the four-year-old you in your Spiderman costume. You had all the Spider moves down pat. Me? I was limited to a red union suit with one of Mom’s towels safety-pinned to my shoulders. The things you did to fight “a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.”
I did have a small closet to use as a pretend telephone booth and twin beds to “fly” between. Clark Kent might have a problem in these modern times since there are no telephone booths to make quick changes in. Bummer.
Too many times I heard, “Son! Quit jumpin’ on that bed before you break it down!” I was reduced to running through the house pretending to fly. I got yelled at about running in the house and finally took the game outside. “Quit slammin’ that screen door, boy!”
Reduced to running until the fateful day I walked into the Woolworth Five and Dime and saw the Transogram Superman Flying Toy. For less than a dollar, I could watch Plastic Superman fly, soar, bank, loop, glide, or dive. It said so, right on the package. I imagined the flash of red and blue sailing through the air.
The Superman Flying Toy was a plastic glider powered by a slingshot affair that would tear your arm up if you weren’t careful despite the package assurances, “Safe for children of all ages.” Right! It taught lessons, painful lessons I’ll say. He was also a blond-headed Superman that looked nothing like TV Superman.
I had to beg for a three-week advance of my allowance, but I walked out with the last package and into hours of fun with Superman…until that damnable tree intervened.
A huge persimmon tree sat, majestically…no…ominously, to the left of my grandparent’s home. It was a pain when the fruit began to fall. A pain for me, not the possums that reaped the tree’s bounty. How many times did I come in with rotting persimmon pulp oozing from between my toes? Persimmon pulp mixed with dirt, resembling puppy poop one might have stepped in. At least it didn’t have the same aromatic properties and the possums partaking of the fruit seemed to like it.
The bottom limbs had been lopped off to allow the blue Rocket 88 my grandfather drove to park under it. Without lower limbs, it was impossible to climb unlike the pecan tree on the other side of my grands’ front porch. It also created persimmon Kryptonite for my Superman glider.
At some point in time, I found it necessary to replace the long and thick rubber bands that powered Superman and set about to do so when the thought occurred, “What if you double the bands?” Twice as much umph, twice as much distance or flight time thought I. That thing would fly a country mile, especially if launched with the wind. Against the wind? It climbed higher and higher…circling and circling, right into the clutches of the persimmon tree from one of Krypton’s mountain tops.
An updraft took Superman to the top of that tree. I prayed to the “gods of Krypton” he would clear but he didn’t. “Charlie Brown, I feel your pain.” I wonder if he could have told me how to get Superman out of the tree. Ole Charlie seemed to have a lot of experience with kite-eating trees.
I threw rocks, even the Chinese oranges from the bush with the sharp thorns that tore at my clothes, sometimes my arms. I ran out after windy thunderstorms with hope in my heart only to have my hope squished flat. Mostly I just stood and shook my head in anger and despair. My parents didn’t seem inclined to call out the volunteer fire department to help. “Son, file this under lesson’s learned.”
I never got Superman down. He spent years as a lonely sentinel in the top of a persimmon tree until I finally outgrew him and he disintegrated due to loneliness. Rubber band airplanes, bicycles, my Combat Thompson machine gun, my genuine Rifleman Winchester air rifle, and such replaced him much in the same way Jackie Paper replaced Puff the Magic Dragon. Later girls would entice me to buy more expensive toys.
Funny, I don’t remember many of those girls, but I remember Superman and the persimmon tree that ate him. I remember the best day of the week and the childhood memories it sparked.
…or everything you thought you wanted to know about July flies but were afraid to ask.
Heard my first July fly…I know, some of you have been dealing with the Brood X Cicada for a while now but this is significant. Yours are dying down, mine are just beginning to sing. I heard my July fly on July the First. Significant, right? I lead a simple life. It is significant to me!
His song singing might be a little early by the calendar, but I don’t think July flies worry much about the calendar. Probably something about his circadian rhythm. Maybe daylight savings time screwed his up his rhythms as it did mine.
I’m pretty sure this was an annual cicada and after nearly a year underground as a nymph he was probably happy to see daylight. The little big-eyed monster was singing to beat the band. I hope little Suzy Q was listening. It was neat to hear an individual cicada’s distinctive voice. One voice seems to get lost when a million are singing. Individually it sounded more like the rapid clicks made by one of the old “cricket” clickers from my childhood. Very rapid I might add.
I know this cicada was a male because female July flies don’t sing. They don’t have the ability because they don’t have something called tymbals, membranes on the cicada’s exoskeleton used to produce sounds. All the females can do is flick their wings to make a faint clicking sound…or maybe they are just playing hard to get.
Male July flies on the other hand have several tunes they sing. For instance, they have the cicada equivalent of “Hey Baby! You lookin’ good. What’s your sign? Come on give me a little wing.” If the female flicks her wings, she is answering, “Hey big boy, how ’bout you come over and see me some time.” If he accepts the invitation, and he will, it is time for faire l’amour.
The males have a defensive song; it is the one you hear when you pick one up. Sounds like a bee as in, “I’m trying to fool you into thinking I’m a hornet. Put me down this instance!”
Then there are the male’s most favorite song, the “Ooh Baby, Baby. That was great, how was it for you? Cigarette? Wanna make me a sandwich?” song.
I have been using July fly and cicada interchangeably because I grew up calling the cicada a July fly. Something about my Southern upbringing I do reckon. When I Googled July flies to make sure, I did not get a definitive answer. Some places call the cicada locusts, others Jar flies, or Dog Day flies, still others call them Harvest flies. I’m pretty sure they aren’t locusts because we have locusts too and they look nothing like my childhood cicadas/July flies. As a child, I played with enough cicada shells to know the difference.
I grew up in the Fifties and Sixties BAC. BAC as in, Before Air Conditioning. Oh, it had been invented, it just hadn’t found its way to my abode on Route 2, Highway 521, Fort Mill, SC. Cicadas, on the other hand, had found their way there and in quantity. Over the sound of my sweat glands trying to drown me and a window fan, I remember the cycling sound of gazillions of male cicadas singing to their one true love. They usually reached their peak in mid to late July and early August. I tend to relate them to the hottest days of summer. The days of ripening corn, tomatoes, and armpits. The Summer days of a gracious plenty of humidity and mosquitoes.
When my bride and I first moved into our “little piece of heaven”, air conditioning hadn’t found its way to our ancient farmhouse in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, either. My five-year-old daughter came down from her bedroom rubbing the sleep from her eyes and made a whimpering sound as she asked, “Can you turn them off?”
“Turn what off, Sweet Pea?”
“Those thing-ees, outside my window. They’re so loud.”
It probably wasn’t the last time I failed her. July fly choirs are loud reaching ninety decibels which is the same decibel level as a lawnmower. “Sorry baby. I can’t turn them off. Try to think of it as a lullaby.”
When their singing crescendos in late July, their song seems to cycle into a clackety-clickety, clackety-clickety, clackety-clickety resonance. The cycling reminds me of dark mornings when I stood outside of a cotton mill weave room waiting for the light to flash foretelling eight hours of what I thought of as hell on earth. The seven hundred and fifty Draper looms cycled the same way from a distance. When the weave room door opened, the cycling was replaced by a den of sound with no boundaries. I doubt many of you know the sound I’m talking about since weave rooms are far and in between these days.
The July flies only live for a few weeks so I will not begrudge them their singing. The males will sing, the females will click their wings and lay their eggs in twigs and leaves. In a few weeks, the eggs will hatch, the nymphs will fall to the ground and burrow in for another one, thirteen, or seventeen years. The “cicadian” cycle will begin again.
Side trip: “You say circadian, I say cicadian. Let’s call the whole thing off.” It turns out I have been missaying “cicadian rhythm” for years…since I first mis-learned the word. I understand I’m not the only person confused. While cicadas have circadian rhythms they do not have cicadian rhythms. The term “circadian” stems from the Latin “circa” (which means “around“) and “diem” (which means “day”). It has nothing to do with cicadas despite their own rhythms and my own faulty hearing.
A second side trip: “Cricket clickers” were used by paratroopers in World War Two to identify each other after a night jump such as the night before Operation Overlord, the D-Day landing. A single click was to be followed by a double click. If it wasn’t, someone might end up dead. That was the plan at least.
Southern funerals have always been equal parts family reunion and social gathering. I think it dates to the days when Southern families were so spread out and isolated. It was a chance to reconnect and be social even if it was a sad event. It was time to serve those who needed it the most.
You can’t have a social gathering without food whether it was a cotillion or a funeral. Funerals were where the “church ladies” came in and ran the show. They may not be allowed to be preachers or deacons but in times of need, they are the backbone of the church. All the while, wearing their pearls and white gloves, their little pillbox hats on their blue-white heads. They all seemed to smell of lilac or gardenia and had names like Miss Agnes or Miss Minnie.
I know every section of the US has its own set of traditions, but the South knows…or knew how to do “grief” food. With the gathering of friends and out-of-town family, the grieving family didn’t need to worry about preparing food. This was a time to tell stories and relate memories associated with the deceased. Maybe even tell a joke or two if the dearly departed is the butt of it. “You remember when ole Earl blew up his still? Told him he ought not to hide it in the chicken coop. Chicken feathers was flyin’ everywhere.”
It’s not a time for the grieving family members to be planning menus. Enter close friends and the “church ladies.” Bless their little blue-haired heads.
Platters of food begin to arrive before the body is cold. A half dozen versions of fried chicken, everyone’s Grandma “So and So’s” deviled eggs, mac and cheese, and “forty-leven” different deserts ranging from red velvet cake to banana puddin’. It is as if they had prepared ahead of time just in case someone died. Do good Baptists have a casserole frozen and stashed away just in case?
“You know, old Earl looked kinda peeked at church Sundee. I’m gonna make this caramel cake usin’ Grandma Earlean’s recipe just in case he kicks the bucket.”
Comfort food in a person’s time of need. There is a reason comfort food is called comfort food. It makes you feel better in the worst situations until you step on the scales or feel that sudden “There’s an elephant sittin’ on my chest” feeling. This is of no concern to the church ladies and when the body has made its final six foot trip, there is room for one more meal.
Doesn’t matter that the grieving family can’t close the refrigerator door for the casserole dishes or that both the microwave and convection oven are filled with six different versions of the same protein. The post burial meal must be observed.
More mainstays are laid out. Fried chicken, again, or maybe, baked ham, more deviled eggs, more mac and cheese, a dozen congealed salads, what we called Jell-O salad, and several different potato salads. Depending upon the time of year, fried okra or fresh creamed corn might find a place at the long tables covered in white linen tablecloths.
A church lady directs us down both sides of the table as soon as the grieving family is served and settled…and in a stringy, sharp voice and pointing a white-gloved finger, “Y’all the desert table and sweet tea are over yonder.” She nudges me, “You better hurry if you want some of my chicken pot pie. I knows how much you like it! And get you some of Miss Sally’s banana puddin’ before it gets gone.” Can’t fault her, Miss Mamie was correct.
“How many casseroles can there be?” Several dozen casseroles of different types it would seem. I’m sure the church ladies formed a telephone chain, in fact, in distant times, they may have been on the same party line. “I’m gonna do a green bean casserole if I can find that can of Campbell’s Mushroom Soup and a can of those fried onions. Why don’t you do broccoli?” Or squash, or funeral potatoes, or chicken pot pie, or if someone is creative or from the low country, chicken bog.
This is the way it should be, comfort food for the grieving, but something has gone amiss.
I found myself at a recent funeral. I could not believe it…I refuse to believe it!
Chicken provided by KFC and Bojangles. What? They didn’t even take it out of the box. Hard ole biscuits and that watery potato salad. Slaw so sweet it set your teeth on edge. I didn’t even try the tea. I know we live in different times but this…this…this is sacrilege. “Blasphemy I say!!!!” And this was in a Southern Baptist institution.
Not even one, three-quart casserole dish with a name taped to the bottom. What have we come to? What have we become? Where is the banana pudding?
I can’t believe the lack of respect shown for the dearly departed family. I didn’t know the family. I just stopped in for the food.
The May, full “Flower Moon” had risen just above the tree line along my southeast horizon. Big with a pinkish tint, I watched it rise although the warm pre-dawn felt more like July or August in the foothills of the Blue Ridge than May. Temperatures climbing to the low nineties didn’t sound bad if you live in south Texas or Arizona but as you are aware, “It ain’t the heat, it’s the humidity”. The humidity seemed to be building despite there being little chance of rain.
It has been drier than my first wife’s sense of humor for most of May and the weather liars allowed there would be no relief soon…maybe the early June weekend. They predicted wide spread showers by Thursday but we’ll see…they have been known to lie before.
My garden is suffering despite the hose and sprinkler I pulled from my house. Even my crabgrass seems droopy, and the row middles are harder than baked brick. My tiller bucks and kicks up dust but doesn’t dig deeply enough to remove the crabgrass. Dry, windy air is not good for my garden…or my psoriasis…or my mood.
Not too dry or hot to walk. It is a habit I look forward to and the world might quit spinnin’ if I were to miss a day. I have three routes I use but recently I’ve have stuck to my lake route. The three and a half mile trek is cooler and there is plenty of shade…and plenty to see.
I paused on the lake bank and watched the activity ten or twenty feet from the shoreline. Dozens of pothole bream beds were visible in the shallow water. Dark torpedo shapes darted in and out. The bream seemed to be playing a child’s game of chase.
Full moon, wind favorable. Might be time to dust off the rod and reel. It has been a while. This lake is catch and release but that’s okay. My freezer is full of food, I don’t think I’ll starve. I’m also not fond of cleaning fish.
I used to fish every chance I got until I lost my fishing partner. I heard my grandmother’s voice in my head, “Can’t you smell ’em? They’re here close by.” She’d drop a squirming worm on a number six, gold hook from a cane pole and be rewarded. I couldn’t smell them then…still can’t but I could see them guarding their beds, dark shapes silhouetted against the sandy bottom.
My grandmother taught me about fishing. How to tie on a hook and work the worm on to it. “Make sure you get the tip covered. The breams is smart.” “Fish facin’ the sun, so they don’t get spooked by your shadow.” Except when they are on the bed. They’ll bite about anything on the bed and don’t really care about shadows…mostly out of anger, I think. Once she ran out of bait and used a flower blossom successfully to catch “just one more.” I’m reminded of “shooting fish in a barrel.” Don’t rightly seem fair but then my grandmother didn’t fish for sport, she fished to eat.
Nannie fished without a bobber mostly and only the smallest split shot weight. Slowly moving the pole tip back and forth, changing the depth up and down. Moving up and down the bank until she locked herself in mortal battle with a warmouth or bluegill bream. She didn’t throw any away. The smaller ones made it to the garden as fertilizer, the “eatin’ size” into a frying pan. I’ve tried pan frying and can’t seem to get it right. I’ve just about quit trying.
I walked out before sunrise the next morning carrying an old Zebco 33, a pail with redworms, and a pocket filled with a few extra number six hooks, red and white bobbers, and split shot weights. The Flower Moon was still visible in the dark western sky. A mile and a half there and a mile and a half back, I could have been ten years old again walking down the river road toward Bower’s Lake, my grandmother and Trixie the puppy leading the way. Maybe Miss Maggie would be with us too.
The Zebco wasn’t much different than the one I saved up for and bought at Pettus’ store sixty years ago. If memory serves, it’s my fourth 33. It’s a cheap, no frills reel perfect for a cheap, no frills guy. It is also beat up despite not having been used much in the past decade. The cork handle of the rod is peeling, and I noticed I had made a hasty repair on an eyelet with electrician’s tape. Whatever works.
The fish were active and the action swift. Pumpkinseed and blue gills, some bigger than my hand, battled for the opportunity to hang themselves on my hook. In an hour I probably caught two dozen keepers, some I probably caught more than once. I know my grandmother was spinning in her grave as I let everyone of them go.
An alligator snapping turtle paid a visit as did several Eastern water turtles. I’m sure they were looking for a free meal from a stringer that wasn’t there. We called them cooters back in the day, from the West African word kuta. With a modern change in usage I have to be careful when using the name.
The beast’s shell was as big around as an old-fashioned Caddy hubcap. Again my grandmother spoke in my head, “Don’t let a snapping turtle bite you ’cause it won’t let go till it thunders.” I don’t know about that Nannie, but I know he’ll take a finger off.
I made the mistake of casting near him trying to scare him away. Despite his size he was quick in the water. He submerged and took the worm and hung himself on the hook. I tried to keep him from heading to the bottom expecting him to break my line. The line didn’t break, instead he stripped the gears in my old reel and hunkered down on the bottom to wait me out. Looks like I’m in the market for a fifth Zebco.
My grandmother would make cooter soup from the turtles she caught or those that happen to wander through her yard. During those days, Southern farmers who survived the depression days still prepared cooter soup, or catfish stew, or fried rabbit. I think they did it to remind themselves of the bad, old times…the “worser times.” At least she stopped short of possum. She said it was too greasy. I’ll have to take her word that it is.
I understand turtle soup is now considered a delicacy. Don’t believe my grandmother would agree. To her it was a free meat when times were hard.
I remember a big iron pot on an outdoor fire boiling water to dip the cooter in to loosen its shell and skin. It was a lot of work to crack open the shell and skin and bone the meat, being careful to remove the eggs and liver. Rich looking dark meat ground like hamburger, sautéed with onion before being cooked like vegetable soup. Soup heavy with tomatoes, potatoes, corn, beans, and okra to thicken. Maybe celery or carrots thrown in for good measure. Basic soup with a twist. Everything harvested from her garden, sometimes even the turtle. The old cooter tasted like chicken with the consistency of beef…or was it the other way around?
How long can a cooter stay down? Still waiting after a half hour, I tugged on the line and felt the load on the end move. Hand over hand I hoped the line wouldn’t cut me if he ran. He didn’t run and I took out my MacGyver knife and waited to get him close. I cut my line as close as I dared and watched my line and the old mossback disappear into deep water.
Walking back home I carried no fish but there was a spring in my step as I thought the best of life has to offer sometimes requires a lot of work…and provides sweet memories too. An evening in late summer came to my mind. Two old women in flour sack dresses and wide straw hats and a small boy sharing a load. Carrying three stringers full of hand sized or better home and sitting out under the privet bushes and stars next to the garden cleaning them all. Nannie, Miss Maggie Cureton, and a young boy. Listening to them laugh and tell stories of the “worser” old days that didn’t seem so bad. Enough fish for three families to feast on the next day. A memory to feast on for life.
I’ve awoke with a start. Another one of those dreams that I usually reserve for nights after too many Margaritas and seafood tacos. I can’t tell you the last time I had a Margarita…or a seafood taco. It wasn’t last night.
This dream was too vivid, and it wasn’t the first one. Good news, it wasn’t a nightmare…maybe.
There was once an old man who walked the two-lane road in front of my house. My dream included him. His name was Bap. My guess…Bap was a nickname. Being young I referred to him as Mr. Wolfe. After rubbing the sleep from my eyes I remembered what the old folks said about Bap, “He ain’t right in the head.” Maybe I’m not either.
Dressed in bib overalls and a dusty, sweat-stained fedora, he would walk until approached by a car. As the car drew near, he would recoil, clearly fearing the car might suddenly lose control and run him down. His eyes were dark and brooding, boring into the driver as if Bap could somehow create a visual barrier that might protect him from being squashed flat like an unlucky possum. His head followed the movement of the car until it was well past. Thankfully there were few cars during those days but I don’t think Bap had much to do anyway.
There were stories told around campfires by preteen boys that claimed Bap had been kidnapped by nefarious teenagers up to no good, taken on a wild ride in someone’s jalopy and let out far from home. Somehow this had translated into a fear of cars instead of a fear of nefarious teenagers.
When I asked my father about him my dad simply replied, “Ole Bab is just a quare bird. Don’t worry, he’s harmless.” I guess he was, I remember him only as a reluctant and fearful walker and no threat to society.
I dreamt about him last night. Bap, not my father. I’ve had a series of dreams that, while none are exactly the same, my series follows the same theme. I’m lost and as the dream progresses, I get more lost and quite anxious about it.
Last night was the sixth in the series since the beginning of this month, a variation on a theme once or twice a week. Having reoccurring dreams is not new to me but I feel something is amiss, I’m a bubble off plumb. More so than usual I should say.
Why am I dreaming in psychedelic tangerine and blue paisley? Why am I having a dream that includes a man long dead, a man I haven’t thought about in decades? Why am I having dreams that include unicorns and oiled up body builders hitting a bell with sledge hammers.
In the dream I can see my destination clearly in the distance even though I don’t really know what my destination is. I just know it is there. I’m on a high hill under a haze filled sky with a brightly lit city spread out below. I see my destination but somehow, I get lost. I see it again and again from different vantage points.
I see it over and over and over and over again its location changes and I’m further away. Short cuts avail themselves, but they turn into lengthy long cuts as I find myself in mazes that include textile mills, construction sites, athletic complexes, even a cruise ship.
I find myself in dimly lit corridors or brightly lit shopping malls. In one I open a door to a disco lounge complete with shiny disco ball, swirling women in dresses made of ethereal fabrics, and John Travolta in his white suit. At least the Bee Gees aren’t singing in the background, “Staying alive, staying alive, oh, oh, oh….” Instead I hear Jimmy Buffett singing, “My whole life lies waiting behind door number three.” Great, Monty Hall may be in my next dream.
I open doors and am led further from my destination or to rooms with no exits. In one, Bap stands against the wall staring at me with the look he reserved for cars, no white suit just bib overalls, a dark stare above a mouth formed into an “O”.
All along the way there are people, in many places there is a crush of bodies. People from my far past like Bap or people from my near past. Friends long dead, others quite alive. Family members galore. Folks I haven’t spoken to in decades and others I talked to yesterday including the little blond runner with the bouncing ponytail. No rhyme or reason in psychedelic colors.
If I were an electrical media device, I’d attempt a hard reset. For some reason an engine seems more appropriate. I think my timing gear is off and I might be missing on a couple of cylinders. I’m in need of a tune up, BIGGLY!
Despite so much color in the dream I have awakened feeling like a threadbare cotton tee shirt, its logo faded from view.
I awake and remember the dreams vividly…and the colors I dream in. The colors are psychedelic. Tangerine and pink acrylics in a swirling paisley and that’s just the unicorns walking around an azure blue lake in the middle of a football field. Did someone sneak LSD into the corn salad I made for myself last night? The oiled up body builders beating the bell with sledge hammers? Turns out my alarm was going off. I don’t know why the resemble Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.
I don’t know what the dreams mean…do they mean anything? I’ve always believed dreams to be the discharge of random, unneeded data…a cleansing of unneeded (unwanted?) memories. Freud and Jung would disagree, I guess.
Most of my dreams fade over time. Not this one. The tangerine is still quite bright.
I should be happy. They are not nightmares…at least not yet. My concern is probably much to do about nothing and I am actually looking forward to meeting up with people I haven’t seen in a while…even in a dream. I should take the stance that you really can’t be lost if you don’t have any idea where you are going anyway. Maybe I should go ahead and have a spicy fish taco and a tequila drink…or three. Who knows how lost I might get or who I might meet up with.
21289 steps….the average of the number of steps I took yesterday as shown by my Fitbit, an app that came with my iPhone, and an app I downloaded later. Three ways to count steps!!! That does not include the Runtastic app that analyzes distance, time, pace, average pace, and a dozen other fitness markers. Having four ways to “anal-ize” my steps might be excessive. I might be more obsessive or anal retentive than I credit myself. Or maybe, I don’t trust my Fitbit.
Taking the time to average my number of steps from my three tracking apps might be a symptom of my peculiar brand of insanity. Even my insanity has insanities. Taking 21289 steps might be excessive, period. Some of my steps were not easy. The morning after my knees are decrying my brutality…and stupidity. Where did I put my Tylenol?
21289 steps are over twice the recommended number of steps the fitness gods say should be our fitness goal. The fitness “gold” standard, ten thousand steps accompanied by gothic organ music.
One of the more inquisitive voices in my head asked, “Why is it ten thousand steps…why not 9999 steps or 10001 steps? Why can’t we be fit eating a slab of bacon?” The call to wander down a pig trail was strong. “Indeed, why are ten thousand steps the fitness gold standard?”
“Turns out, it is not based on anything scientific!”…or should I say, it did not start out that way. Ten thousand steps was nothing more than a marketing ploy.
“There doesn’t appear to be any scientific basis for the idea that 10,000 steps should be everyone’s daily fitness goal”, according to I-Min Lee, professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. I quoted Ms. Lee but understand, there are other studies that parrot her.
Ten Thousand steps turns out to be a marketing strategy, propaganda? Lie? Shades of the parental phrase I remember, “drink your milk so you’ll have strong bones.” That propaganda certainly sold more milk. No really. Calcium and Vitamin D are good for you but do not guarantee strong bones. While we are exploding myths, “Superman couldn’t have turned coal into a diamond either.” What?
In the early 1960s, a Japanese company introduced their pedometer with the interesting name, manpo-kei. Interesting? Hell, I can’t even pronounce it. I can however translate it, “10,000-step meter.” “man” stands for 10,000, “po” for step and “kei” for gauge. “Well, ain’t that the catfish in the trap?” (Southern idiom for surprise)
Okay, before you go out and trash your pedometers and fitness trackers and trade them for a bacon wrapped cheeseburger, do not. Studies made since the 1960s bear out the science behind ten thousand steps…not as a “gold” standard, but a worthy and attainable goal.
Without boring you anymore than usual, in a 2010 “step” study, it was found, on an average the Japanese walk 7,168 per day and the Swiss at 9,650 per day. A 2004 study showed Amish men “pickin’ ‘em up” at an average of 18,425 steps a day. Wow, I outwalked an Amish man yesterday. All three of these samples are healthier as an overall population than your average American. And yes, there are other studies from other places and demographics that agree with this.
In the same 2010 study, Americans averaged less than five thousand steps per day, and Americans are getting fatter, and dying sooner than most “advanced” nations. I know, our diet doesn’t help either. Bacon, bacon, bacon!!!! I admit I would rather be sedentary with a BLT in my mouth that going out in the wee morning hours or rain and hoofing it for three or four miles. I do not walk in the rain if I can help it. There are limits to my obsession.
My 2006 heart attack changed my outlook but not my desires. There is nothing more sensual than disrobing a wax paper wrapped bacon cheeseburger on a soft sesame seed bun. The tomato and onion slices, along with lettuce peeking seductively out from the edges of the bun. Tantalizingly and teasingly licking the juices running down my fingers. Fried onion rings looking on quietly awaiting the orgy. “Was it good for you,” I asked my taste buds…it was until I felt the tightening in my chest. It was not desire and there was no passionate release…until the four stints were “surfed” into my blocked arteries.
Ten thousand steps became my daily obsession, but my neurotic fascination with the number did not begin that way. My first post heart attack walk was one third of a mile, seven or eight hundred steps at best. My legs felt like over cooked spaghetti, my perspiration resembled Niagara Falls after a hurricane, my respiration sounded like an overworked steam locomotive. My bride had to walk back and bring the car to get me back home. She wondered out loud, “Should I take you to the emergency room or the funeral home?” “Thanks hon, just get me in the house and let me die in peace.”
I didn’t die and have come a long way since that day. My screaming knees do not let me run any longer, my dreams of marathons are mute, but I walk twenty to twenty-five miles a week and average ten thousand steps six out of seven days. Most days Tylenol takes the edge off my efforts and I am marginally productive.
Whether ten thousand steps was based upon science originally or not does not really matter. Get up and out, move, stay healthy. Move, move, move not bacon, bacon, bacon!
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.
No dammit! I just encountered one of the many minefields my bride plants around the house. Minefields in the shape of sharp edges on objects of significance just waiting to jump out and pound my toe.
My bride…my bride…my bride. I swear she puts things in my path just for the sheer joy of taking me to task over my perceived clumsiness…maybe not so perceived. What I do not falsely perceive is the maniacal grin on her face as I hop around and curse loudly and at length.
“Did you break your toe sweety?”
Déjà vu all over again, my big toe contacts the edge of a box that wasn’t there yesterday, I cursed quite loudly and at length…again! To which she questioned, “What did you do this time? You are the clumsiest human….”
“I stumped my toe against this !@#$%^& box you left in my path!”
“Stumped your toe? What did you do, ask it a question it couldn’t answer?”
As tears formed in my eyes, “What are you talking about? I rammed my toe into the box you moved into my way just for that purpose.”
A toss of her hair and an eyeroll before giving me a side eye, “That box hasn’t been moved in months and it is stubbed not stumped.
Stubbed? As the mist from my pain filled eyes began to dissipate, I questioned, “Stubbed, that doesn’t even make sense.” As I said it a thought formed at light speed, “Neither does stumped.” Could it be I’ve been misunderstanding stumped for my entire life? I know my hearing is bad, but it didn’t used to be.
One thing I’m not misunderstanding is the pain and since bad news travels in threes I’ve got at least one more date with an object of significance and I doubt it will be a pillow.
No, I’m quite sure it is “stumped my toe.” Inquiring minds though. I suggest it is right there with “barking one’s shin.”
I ran a social media poll. The outcome was split. I realized I was not going to be vindicated but also I realized I wasn’t stupid. Some folk actually say ‘stump’. I would not be able to stand in front of my bride, nodding my head in superiority while grinning, “You know that stumping my toe thing you ridiculed…Well….” There will be no “Well….”
It turns out either is correct…and therefore incorrect, I guess. Stumped seems to be a little more archaic and more English. My guess it has something to do with my forefathers leaving England for Virginia, the Appalachians and finally South Carolina. There seems to be a lot of odd words that found their way into my vocabulary. “Lawd hep us” if Nannie started a sentence with, “You chaps…” or ended it with “getting too big for your britches.”
Come to think of it, my big toe is all “stoved up”, another archaic English idiom that found its way to the American South. It means incapacitated or damaged and comes from the English word “stave”. I’m also sure there is something lurking about waiting to bark a shin or stump a toe. If not my wife will have it into position soon enough.