Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I guess the days leading up to December are as good a time as any to quote Dickens. The last year truly has been "the best of times and the worst of times." For all the hurt there's been equal amounts of good. No longer defined by my weight I now can enjoy the good and deal better with the hurt. But, before Christmas there's Thanksgiving. And with much respect to that great American sportswriter Furman Bisher (and with much trepidation about cliche overdose) here's some things for which I'm grateful:
I see a cute child and I can pinch a cheek and make it giggle without worrying that the child's going to tell me that I'm fat. During the "fat days" I was constantly called out and humiliated by the honest, hurtful words of children. They're brutally honest but, sadly, seem to have not quite as many manners as we did when we were kids (Oh dear GOD, I can't believe I just said that...pretty soon I'll be starting sentences with "In my day....")
I'm thankful that I can now wear Georgia Tech clothes proudly (after buying them off a rack and not from the "God, you're huge!" catalog.)
I'm thankful that I followed Mother around the kitchen all those years and I can now walk in my own kitchen and cook some of her dressing for tomorrow's festivities. She was a good teacher. I'm also glad that there's a bite of her raisin pie in my future. My sister does a good job of recreating that slice of heaven (I told you...cliche overdose.) Speaking of heaven, if I get there I'll know it because it'll smell just like Mother's kitchen the day before Thanksgiving.
I'm thankful for the opportunity to look at a dog seemingly asleep in the sun on the patio...but seeing her nose twitching a thousand miles an hour I know she's smelling everything in the neighborhood.
I'm thankful to be at an age where I can appreciate really simple a good cup of coffee.
I'm thankful for friends who I don't talk to near enough,,,but know that if I needed them they'd be a phone call away.
I'm thankful that so many of my clothes can fit into my chest of drawers. My old clothes took up a lot of room!
I'm thankful that I'm never too old to be three women's little brother.
I'm thankful for in-laws that treat me like their son...and appreciate the doses of "Methodist cough syrup" I bring into their Southern Baptist household.
Most of all, I'm thankful that she doesn't think it's a chore to be married to a knucklehead like me. I'm grateful to God that her's is the first face I see every morning.......

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I know and have known lots of veterans. Whether a veteran saw combat or not makes him no less a hero in my mind. If you put on the uniform you had your posterior on the line for my freedom. Ask a bunch of families in Fort Worth if you have to be "over there" to earn our respect. But on this Veterans Day I'm remembering one of these veterans in particular.
I worked with Jesse for a couple of years when I was in the hardware/building materials business. Jesse was a retired textile engineer who worked in our store just to have something to do. He grew up in North Carolina and went to North Carolina State University. He was the only employee in our hardware store above the age of 30. The rest of us were all single kids who drug into work most mornings in various states of recoveries from our night before. We were truly just working for beer money and didn't much care about anything important. At first Jesse was just the "old guy." But then we came to a know a treasure of a man that made all of us laugh with some of the most outlandish stories you'd ever heard. I have no idea what percentage of the stories he told us were true. I could tell he loved watching our minds work while he was telling his stories, knowing we were trying to separate fact from fiction. Most of his stories illustrated quite well that, at one time in his life, he was like us - a young idiot full of piss and vinegar looking for the next good time. That court jester demeanor left, though, when he would tell us about his war experiences. The smile would leave his face because it was important for him that us "young folks" knew just how a high a price had been paid for the freedom to live our lives of fun and debauchery. Not just by him but by thousands like him.
He was a Marine who fought in the pacific in the second World War. Somewhere in the midst of his deployment he was captured by the Japanese and spent several years in a POW camp. He was the ranking officer. As an officer it was his duty to escape as often as possible. The logic being that the more soldiers the Japanese had out looking for him the fewer they had in the field fighting. I asked him one time how he would escape from a heavily fortified camp. It was the only time I saw him struggle for words. "Uh,,,,'d watch the guards for a week or two, figure out which one was probably the weakest and then pick the right time to disengage him..." I asked him what "disengage" meant exactly. He said "well, what do you think it means?" I could tell he didn't want to provide details. He would later tell me that the lingering hurt from the war (other than the physical scars he brought home) was knowing he'd had to "disengage" some guys who were just like him - a long way from home and fearing for their life.
On the occasion of his last escape he was captured quite quickly. Apparently it was, at that time, hard for a 6'2" Caucasian to go unnoticed in the Philippines. He was captured and taken back to prison camp. The colonel that ran the camp was furious at Jesse's continued defiance and decided to make an example. See, he had on previous occasions taken a hammer and flattened Jesse's thumbs to try and make him fearful of escaping hadn't worked. So this time he stood Jesse up in front of the other prisoners (who were Jesse's subordinates) and told him that he was going to show them how much respect Jesse had for the Japanese colonel. He ordered Jesse to take two steps back and salute the colonel. Jesse took two steps back. But he didn't salute. He gave the colonel the finger. There was, obviously, much rage. The colonel took a rifle and raised the butt and smashed in the left side of Jesse's face. Literally crushed his face. They then threw Jesse in one of those "hot boxes" you've seen in World War II movies. They left him there to die.
Jesse always said the time he spent in that hot box was the hardest part of the war. Not because it was hot. Not because he was always awakened at night by maggots and cockroaches feeding on his crushed and infected face. Not because he was starving to death and dehydrated beyond belief. But because he knew he was going to lie there and die in the middle of that jungle and his mother and his sister would never know what happened to him. Realizing their hurt was more than he could bear. He eventually found himself begging God to just let him die.
Obviously, he didn't die. It was fortunate for him that his camp was liberated in the midst of his torture. He was free and went stateside to be treated for his massive face wounds. They were unable to save his eye and he lived the rest of his life with a glass eye in that socket. And he knew that "eye stuff" freaked me out. So he'd leave his glass eye on the counter where I'd find it. He'd put it in my coffee cup. He'd say "hear hold this" and, without looking, I'd hold out my hand and he'd place his eye in it. Typical Jesse that the one thing that was the evidence of the hell he'd lived in became such a source of humor for him (at my expense.) I told him once he was a hero. He shook his head. "Nope" he said, "The heroes didn't come home...."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

You know what feels really good???

I get an e-mail at least twice a month from Casual Male. Casual Male sells clothes for big and tall men. Today I e-mailed them and asked me to take them off their list. I no longer fit in their clothes...........because they're ALL too BIG. While fighting a bad cold and enduring a really crappy work week, that was a real shot in the arm.
Along those same lines, I had another zen moment when putting together a Christmas list for our annual family gathering. I put an Eddie Bauer gift card on my wish list...BECAUSE I CAN WALK RIGHT INTO AN EDDIE BAUER STORE AND BUY SOMETHING OFF THE DAMN RACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I think I'm getting over the cold symptoms as we speak...I'm going out on the patio and take off my shirt and flex and shout to the heavens "RAIN RULES!!!!" (that's only funny to a few of you)

"The days they pass so quickly now..."

Good Grief...2010. That sounds like Buck Rogers type stuff. We've got to be getting close to putting on our little jet packs and flying to work and eating meals in little capsules, don't we?
Barney Fife didn't like change. Remember his disgust with the post office for putting in a stamp machine? Meant you had to deal with a machine instead of a person. Andy asked him if he'd written a letter to complain. Barney said "NO, because I wouldn't buy a stamp out of that machine to put on the envelope!" I'm with him...change worries me. It's not that I'm afraid of new stuff..I like new stuff. I like new additions to families. I like meeting new people. I like new "things." Christmas came early to our house, see. Our television died and the world's greatest father-in-law bought us a new 42" HD flatscreen. I gotta say, it's living up to the billing. New things don't scare me - I just wish that the advent of new didn't have to coincide with the disappearance of old.
YouTube - I spend as much time on YouTube as I do on many other websites. You know what I'm hunting on most of my favorite searches? Retro-commercials. Oh man, I like the old commercials. There were some classics. I've long been joking with folks that Christmas lost its luster for me when they quit showing that Norelco commercial on television where Santa rides down that hill on the Norelco razor. Well you can bring the luster back to the holidays because that commercial lives on YouTube!
I'm going to sound like quite the old fart today, but there are commercials today that embarrass me even if I'm sitting all alone watching them. There are products that we need and we know how to find them when we need them. You don't have to show us REALLY detailed ads telling us about them. So, not only did Norelco Santa disappear he got replaced by a Christmas male enhancement product commercial where the central character dresses up like Santa and has a long line of ladies waiting to sit in his lap because he took this "enhancing" medication. "The gift that keeps on giving..." they tell us. I just don't need that.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Harry and Eunice (and the day I ate brains)

He said "I don't give a damn about money,
I've lived without it for years."
Hot biscuits and sourwood honey,
I wonder if he ever shed a tear..."

I wrote that line in a song long time ago. I was probably 13 or 14 years old. I wrote it after a visit to my Uncle Ralph and Aunt Nell's house. They lived in Dawson County, Georgia. They moved there in 1973 or so, way before Ga. 400 ran all the way to Dahlonega and turned everything in its path into a suburb.
For a city boy like me, a trip to their house was an adventure. They lived in a house on top of a hill that sat in the middle of 10 undeveloped acres. For this little boy, it was better than any amusement park. I drove tractors. I worked in gardens. I played with yard dogs that were scarred up from fights with beavers and raccoons. I went to work with Uncle Ralph and my cousin Alan and worked HARD, just so I could spend as much time as possible with them. At the end of most days we either pulled fish out of or went for a swim in Lake Lanier (or both.) Then I'd lay in bed at night and listen to what I was sure were strange critters romping around in the dark...but they were probably the aforementioned yard dogs. Best of all, I met a cast of characters that lived a much different life than the one I was accustomed to. Not one of them was more interesting, though, than Harry - the subject of that line I just quoted for you.
Harry and his bride Eunice lived down a dirt road that seemingly went to nowhere until it ended in their yard. They had no indoor plumbing. They butchered or grew everything they ate..very little came from the grocery store. They had a television but I don't remember it really picking up many stations. It didn't keep Harry from staring at it and giving animated commentary - especially when a politician was running his/her mouth about something. To my knowledge Harry couldn't read a word - but that didn't keep him from telling you about all the articles he'd read in the paper about all the stupid politicians in the world. He told me one story about the time he'd accidentally cut off a cow's tongue while the cow was licking some honeysuckle...all because Harry was on the other side of the shrub and thought that long tongue was a snake. I worried much about the cow with no tongue until Uncle Ralph warned that I needed to take Harry's stories with a huge grain of salt. Whew! A cow with no tongue is a hell of an image to have floating around in a boy's head. I was relieved to find out it was fiction (GOOD fiction, but fiction none the less...)
One morning I was awakened at daylight by Aunt Nell. "Come on...we're going over to Harry & Eunice's to kill hogs." do WHAT to hogs? And why do they need our help to kill these animals? Little did I know that when one says "killing hogs" it's actually just one hog that meets its demise. And people go to help because transforming this animal into food is a lot of work and takes all day.
Fortunately Wilbur had met his demise by the time we arrived (that wasn't really the animal's name....but I'm a Charlotte's Web fan from way back.) All my young eyes witnessed was a deceased animal having its hair scalded off...which was image enough. And smell enough. Good Lord, it stunk. I was repulsed but didn't want anyone to know it. These were strong folks and I didn't want 'em laughing at the city boy throwing up his toes at the smell of burning pig hair. In fact, I did everything they asked me of that day. I carried one whole side of this animal up the hill to the house after it'd been sawed in half. "Dang Nell...your nephew's awful strong for a city boy!" I cut up pounds of fat into little pieces so that Eunice would have just the right ratio of fat to meat to make the best sausage I ever put in my mouth. I then ground that sausage using an old - timey grinder with a crank handle until I thought my arm would fall off.
The meal Eunice cooked that evening was more than ample reward for all the hard work. Fried pork tenderloins and and biscuits that were better than any others on planet earth (probably because they included substantial amounts of very fresh lard.) And a MOUNTAIN of scrambled eggs. Remember the eggs.
Aunt Nell and I got home exhausted and full. Uncle Ralph had not joined us for the hog killing adventures..he'd had to work all day. He asked Aunt Nell how I'd done. She said "you would've been right proud...he worked hard." My chest swelled...the city boy had done good. Uncle Ralph said "How'd you like those brains and eggs Tim?" "Uh..........I didn't eat any brains..." He chuckled. I ran to the porch where Aunt Nell was having a cigarette. I wanted confirmation on the brains issue because Uncle Ralph was known to spin some creative fiction himself. "Yep, that big platter of eggs wasn't just eggs...I figured you didn't know what you were eating, but you were enjoying them so I let it be." I squealed "I ATE THREE HELPINGS OF BRAINS!" Uncle Ralph laughed for twenty minutes "Good God boy! You got more brains in your stomach than you got in your head!!"
When I was a kid, I felt sorry for Harry and Eunice because I thought they lived such a hard life. Now I'm grown I think they may have been on to something. A house in the middle of the north Georgia woods and living a life that revolves around farm and family seems most preferable to rush hours, deadlines, mortgages and "resource actions" (a very comfortable word for layoffs.) Since I've lost all this weight, I feel an inclination to transform everything about my existence. My bride's pretty adventurous and is as fed up with the drudgery of adulthood as I am. She'd probably be okay with the notion of selling our abode in a subdivision and moving to the middle of nowhere and living off the land...she might insist on indoor plumbing, however.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

'Tis the season(s).......

Last year, I THINK I documented here how much I enjoyed Christmas for a change. I really did have a new lease on life and was enjoying all the positive changes weight loss had brought me. Hell, I became a regular Burl Ives having much "holly jollyness." One evening a couple of weeks before Christmas we (me and my bride) went to Starbucks, stocked up on coffee and drove around and looked at decorations. We took a Friday afternoon off and drove to our old stomping grounds (Stone Mountain, where we both grew up) and looked at the park all decorated up for the holidays. We shopped. We went to cantatas. We did Christmas.
Fast forward to now. It's just now November and there's already talk of Christmas plans, Christmas shows, Christmas gifts and some decorations are starting to pop up in stores and malls. Sadly, I just ain't feeling it. And it's not just Christmas...I'm not much looking forward to Thanksgiving, either. Why? Because I'm having trouble moving on from losing the woman that raised me.
I'm a 46 year-old grown man, for God's sake. I lost someone I loved. Grown folks grieve and move on. I reckon I'm not grown yet (like we didn't already know that!) But I'm not looking forward to cooking the Thanksgiving turkey and dressing she taught me to make. I'm not looking forward to family holiday time when she won't be there (remember my 'empty chair' discussion in my last blog.) I can't stand the thought of getting up Christmas morning and NOT going to the assisted living facility and picking her up for Christmas breakfast. I'm inclined to hibernate and ignore the day...kind of like I did back on Mother's Day.
Again, to go back to the point of my last blog, I think too much, I feel too much and I go backwards too much. She'd have a stern word for me if she knew I was having such a hard time leaving her behind. "Don't you worry about take care of my sweet Rhonda and you take care of yourself. Pouting ain't doing you any good..." I can literally hear her voice uttering that admonition. I'll try Mama...I ain't making any promises, though.