Fair Winds

The warm and freshening breeze blowing across the lake brought memories flowing as swiftly as the breeze itself. Most were as warm as the wind driving them. The ones that weren’t were forced away by the bright sunshine.

According to the sign the trail we walk is 1.25 miles. I don’t believe the distance is accurate, but the lake it surrounds is much too small for me to be thinking about sailing.  Yet I was.

Ordinarily my bride would have had me talking or listening to her prattles, pointing out strangely shaped mushrooms or having me wait impatiently as she took pictures of the waterfall she has taken pictures of for the past three hundred and sixty-five days. Instead, she was quiet, as deeply into her own thoughts as I was in mine.  I did not know her thoughts, scary I’ll admit, but I knew mine. 

As I watched the wind driven ripples race across the lake, I thought of a twenty-two-foot sloop with a Bermuda rig from a time far, far distant. Mostly I thought of the people who crewed the boat…some gone but not forgotten.

The warm for November breeze stiffened in my face as I thought, “This would be a great day to be sailing,”  or for partying with friends while sailing.

In my mind’s eye I saw the white sailboat on a close haul, mainsail and jib pulled in tight, the sails singing as the wind’s pressure heeled the boat, the gunnels dipping perilously toward the water. I see us scurrying to the high side to keep from being capsized.  The high side of life?

Battling the tiller for control of the rudder as the speed and water pressure builds. Could this be a metaphor for life…my life? Where did my runaway thoughts come from and why did I quit sailing?

The little boat, narrow of beam with a swing keel, was quick and nimble with her racing rigged main and jib.  I’m surprised I remember any nautical terms; it has been nearly forty years since I gripped the tiller with an unsteady hand.

“Sailing takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be.  Just a dream and the wind to carry me, and soon I will be free.”  Damn, Christopher Cross is playing in my head…can “Southern Cross” by Crosby, Stills, and Nash without Young be far behind.  “So we cheated and we lied and we tested, and we never failed to fail it was the easiest thing to do. You will survive being bested, somebody fine will come along make me forget about loving you…
And the southern cross.”

It was in the late Seventies when I was invited to my first of many sailing weekends.  “Bring a date, spend the weekend.  You’ll love it.”  I did. Bill, Koon, Bobbi, Sybil, myself and a date.  There were a few others who sailed in and out on occasion.

Six of us on a small sailboat on a large inland lake in South Carolina.  Coolers filled with adult beverages or the mixers for a liquor drink.  The alcohol loosened our tongues and greased our laughter. Bill, our captain, always managed to sail us back to our home port, sometimes in the dead of night.

Too much liquor, well grilled steaks, great friends sitting around a wood fire, and a plus one…whomever she might have been at the time, there were not that many. ..or there were too many. Laughter was abundant. Good times. 

Any good time you survive should qualify as a great time.  Great times.  Somehow, we survived our youthful foolishness.  I remember nothing but clear, bright sunshine and fair winds…am I dreaming? No, I don’t think so.

Taking the tiller for the first time, I might well have been at the wheel of the Queen Anne’s Revenge awaiting Blackbeard’s next order.  “Arrr, let them eat steel maties”…or have another mixed drink.

Manning the tiller may be a metaphor for my life.  Sometimes it is hard to stay on course. Life, like tacking against the wind, tends to be made in zigs and zags.  Some zigs are short, some zags exceptionally long…or seem that way. Coming about into the wind can have painful outcomes if you aren’t paying attention.

For some reason my sailing days came to an end.  The storms of depression left me dead in the water. It was my actions I’m sure. There were bad times, dark times.  Depressed times. 

Times improved with understanding and a little wisp of a girl who calmed the winds and seas…except when our own hurricanes blew up.  Our foundation must have been built upon the rock of understanding…we are still here and still together. Our breezes are mostly warm and caressing like today but for some reason I never got back to sailing.

I purged those ill winds from my mind to keep from being driven crazy upon the rocks of life.  I keep them locked tightly away until a fresh, warm breeze hits me in the face allowing only the good memories to flow. 

In my depression I cut myself off from people who didn’t deserve to be cut off.  That was a failure on my part…I demasted myself and lost my rudder to boot. Like a solitary sailor, I battled my storm tossed seas alone…until my North Star became my guide.

I choose to remember the fair winds.  A bow cleaving the water. Great sailing in bright sunshine.  Sybil sitting on the bow, her legs straddling the bowsprit mocking a figurehead on an ancient sailing ship.  Koon’s big laugh and smile with a liquor drink in her hand.  “Now let me tell you one thing….” Blowing off steam in the sun and the wind on a small sailboat.  Sharing the joy and laughter with friends.

Sybil and Koon are silent now as is one of my plus ones.  Silent in the physical world.  Quite alive in the memories on a close haul through my mind.

I couldn’t help but smile as the warm breeze caressed the lake’s shoreline and my face. I miss them but see them sailing across the firmament at dusk. A small sailboat sailing close to the solar winds, white sails glowing red in the sunset.

Fair winds and following seas my friends.  May warm breezes caress you. You are missed.

Sailing by Christopher Cross

The image is from https://www.yacht-rent.com/talking-the-talk-basic-nautical-terms

Don Miller’s author’s page https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3BYeO7eRpFl647KXrqSJD31DxD_NP-u4TMGa1hRS_EpP7vZ-4xQ06JjvM

The Toad in the Corner Revisited

I first wrote about the toad in the corner a year or so ago.  I find it somewhat interesting that I gauge the passing of time by certain events.  When the wild turkeys and Red-tailed Hawks show up, the fireflies, the figs ripening on the tree, my first ‘mater’ sandwich, the change of leaves in the fall. I guess our forefathers gauged it the same way. I know my grandmother fished and planted her garden by the phases of the moon. 

I find it interesting the happiness I feel when old friends show up after an extended absence, even if the old friend is Toady the Toad or Herbert the Rat Snake.  Not so happy when the little bastards, the yellow jackets, first explode for the ground.  Herbert has been around since spring, but Toady just showed up…still sitting in the corner between my rock wall and foundation.

I am bad.  I continue to smoke my one cigar a day…unless it turns into two…never more than two.  I just executed a mental eye roll.  Normally I sit under the massive tulip poplar in my backyard and enjoy an adult beverage while I feed my addiction.  Do I enjoy the cigar due to my addiction or because of the joy it brings me? That is a discussion for a later date.

It’s been hot and humid, and I’ve taken to sitting on my back stoop instead of taking the long, sweaty twenty-five-yard walk to the tree and the chair sitting under it.  My picture should go beside the definition of lazy in the latest dictionary.  It is more about the mosquitoes infesting the shrubbery around my normal imbibing location.  There doesn’t seem to be as many bloodsuckers at my stoop and I may know one of the reasons why.

I sat watching the smoke curl from the smoldering end of my stogie, contemplating nothing more than my navel when I saw her.  In the corner where the rock wall and foundation meet, where the leaves have built up due to my earlier admission of laziness.  A large toad has backed herself into the corner and is also watching the smoke curl from the cigar.

She is an American Toad…I think.  Might be a Southern Toad.  Could be a Fowler’s but I am not an authority on amphibians…and don’t want to be but I am better versed in toad activities than I once was.  Thank you, Google.

Despite my research, I don’t even know if she is really a she but shes are usually larger than hes and she is one of the largest toads I’ve seen.  There is also a smaller toad that seems to want to be around her.  “Oh la saison de l’amour.”  Do toads speak French or mate on dry land?

Toady has been in the corner for two weeks now.  She sits patiently waiting for the darkness and the relative cool of the evening.  I see her often sitting under the flood light, bathing in its glow or waiting for a juicy morsel to fly by?  In the dark I see her sitting on the flat stones or in one instance crawling out of my overturned boot.  In the morning she is right back in the corner.

I check on her often…not just when I feed my addiction.  I don’t know why I check.  I guess to reassure myself that all is right in the world.  I have seen her around for years…maybe it was her, all American toads seem to look alike.  Well, she was still there five minutes ago at least.  Looking fat and sassy from a night of eating mosquitoes.

I didn’t name her at first because Herbert the Rat Snake and his kin are skulking around waiting for a meal.  As I understand it, from the extensive research on toads I tried to reframe from doing.  I probably could name her.   Seems she is not too tasty…does Mr. No Shoulders have taste buds or does Toady just give him gas?  More research to come and I guess I have named her.

For more musings go to https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B018IT38GM

If you are interested in sexy, romantic adventure, Don Miller writing as Lena Christenson can be found at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07B6BDD19

Featured image is from Remember the Hamilton http://joenolan.com/blog/?p=6739

The Old Man

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

Someone wanted to take a picture with their new-fangled camera. Something called a Brownie. He sat a bit slumped, his hands resting on his thighs. An eighty-year-old…today. His once red hair was now white as the cotton bolls bursting in the fall. His beard, years ago red and sparse had thickened like his cataracts. White and long, it spread to the middle of his vest. Tobacco juice from years of chewing stained the sides of his mouth.

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

He had been lucky. He had loved three times. Three fine women had warmed his bed and brought him comfort and joy. Lucretia, Genevieve, and Josephine. He had loved them with all his heart. The old man had been unlucky too, he had outlived all three. He cherished the memories of them all, but Lucretia was special. She had been his first…. He liked to remember her in the emerald green ball dress. High waisted, it bared her shoulders and dipped low showing her décolletage. An emerald ribbon held her mother’s cameo and brought attention to her long slender neck. He remembered slowly taking her out of the dress…Damn, I almost felt something stir.

Timmy, Tyler James’s youngest, sat down beside him. A chap of six, he recognized the boy’s voice when he asked, “Whatcha’ thinking about Grampy?” He was John William’s youngest grandchild. John William was not the old man’s grandson but his grandnephew, Arlo and Stella’s boy. He had sired no children but had been adopted by John William and his brood.

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

“As special as Grammy Josey?” He asked as if he might be worried about my answer.

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

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

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

“Tell me a story Grampy.”

Well, maybe it’s not quite time to move on quite yet.

Finis

I’ve always wondered about the picture I used to illustrate this fictional piece that may or may not become a novel. It is a picture of my great, great-grandfather, Marion DeKalb Rodgers, who was born in 1842. I have no idea when the picture was made…and it really doesn’t matter. It’s his tanned and weathered face, along with the squint, that captivated my thoughts. I wondered what he was thinking and what his life was like, the sights he saw. I understand he was a farmer and a carpenter. I know as a seventeen-year-old he went off with his father to fight in the Civil War and was one of the lucky ones who returned. Again, I just wonder.

Don Miller is a multi-genre, Indie author. He has just released his second work of fiction, South From Sutherland’s Station. It along with his other works may be purchased or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.

A POWERFUL HANKERIN’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POSTSCRIPT

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

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