Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Christmas Verdict....

     Well, it's that time of year again.  And I'm not talking the birthday I celebrate today.  I'm talking about that OTHER birthday that is celebrated this time of the year.  The one where we decorate trees, spend money we don't have and listen to music exclusive to this month....although it seems we're sometimes starting to hear it around November 15th.  It's the time of the year when those that know me look to see which state of mind I'll be in as December 25th gets closer.  I'm usually in between a Currier & Ives snow-covered portrait and a stupid little ditty about a kid wanting a rhinoceros for Christmas.  And that's an improvement - I used to be somewhere between the rhinoceros kid and "Humbug!"
     This Christmas, I have different perspective on many levels.  Back in October I had a scare that provided an ambulance ride, a week in the hospital and the realization that when we reach a certain age the parts in our body do begin to wear out.  By the miracles of modern medicine (both in the hospital and in the handful of pills I take daily) I should be around for a few more Yuletide celebrations.  To quote that Great American Jesse that I worked with many years ago, "Damn,,,,if I'd known I was gonna' live this long I would've taken better care of myself!"  (Jesse, as a POW in WWII had no reason to regret any day or way he spent living his life.  Those of his ilk are the reason those of us native to these lands speak English today.) 
     More perspective was added by the recent loss of one of the kindest, wisest souls I've ever encountered.  He sweated as many buckets over Georgia Tech football as I do and he raised a beautiful family (with his BEDROCK of a wife.)   He taught me a lot about what it means to be a gentleman....all while sitting one row in front of me for many years at Bobby Dodd Stadium.  He was watching the men in gold hats play ball when the season started...but cancer won the physical battle and he wasn't there for the end of the season.  I wish I'd known that when Deion Hill ran across the goal line with 30-something seconds left in that Georgia Southern game it was the last opportunity I'd have to get a high-five from him.  He was already too weak to stand but I felt that hand slapping my ankle and, when I turned, saw that hand in the air and the day was made.  As I say, cancer may have won the physical battle, but I firmly believe that he won battles that go beyond our physical, very temporal existence.  The day he died, Tech went out and THUMPED those Tigers from Clemson. Sometime in the third quarter I stood up and gave the loudest "WHAT'S THE GOOD WORD!" cheer ever heard in section 206 in his memory.  Then last Saturday when a 53 yard kick BARELY made it over the crossbar at Sanford Stadium - sending a game to overtime that seemed lost - I knew who was there playing like Tree Rollins and giving that ball a tip up and into the history books.   But now, he's not here to celebrate holidays with his family but I hope they know he's there, just as he was to help the boys beat Clemson and Georgia (and I hope he's ready to tip a few more balls into glory when we play FSU Saturday night.)
      Back to my ambulance ride.  I knew that I was in danger when the EMT's refused to go to the recommended hospital and headed to something closer.  I didn't really fear DYING itself - I DID worry that I'd leave this planet and not have one more minute with the prettiest, sweetest girl I know.  I feared not having the opportunity to tell her goodbye and thank her for the miracle that it was when someone like her decided to accept an offer from someone like me to live life with this goober.  If you're someone that has known me over the years, you'll know that I wasn't exactly marriage material for a LONG time.   There were many bartenders, music and sports venues, liquor stores and the sellers of chicken wings and pizzas that lamented my domestication.  Our world is now much bigger than any of the "daily unadulterated crap"  that would try to keep us down.  This Christmas, more than ever,  I'll cherish celebrating with her (even if it involves nothing more than our bathrobes, sleeping late and old movies.)     Someday, I promise her a time when she can sit on her back porch and stare at nothing but her pool, a ton of acreage stretched out behind it, and 14 or 15 dogs chasing the same tennis ball.  For now, though, I cherish our little suburban patio that stares at a privacy fence with a sweet yellow Lab lying there, sniffing the air in between naps in the sun.  If that is all we ever have I'll consider it riches beyond measure. (And you're a Jimmy Buffett fan from a LONG way back if you didn't have to confer with Google to see why I put "Daily unadulterated crap" in quotes.)
     Final verdict - I may be more "Feliz Navidad" than "Humbug!" this year.  Alert the media...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014



"I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floatin' around accidental-like on a breeze. But I, I think maybe it's both."  (forrest gump)

    I knew nothing of this man and his family that started sitting in front of us at Georgia Tech football games some 15 years ago or so.  But over the next  15 years we were afforded the opportunity to get to know a fine soul, one that tolerated me becoming sometimes loud, sometimes stupid, sometimes, uh, "over-served."  There in section 206 he and I  became buds, we became philosophers, we became coaches  (convinced that we knew full well what needed to happen on this play, this fourth down or in this time-out than more-so than anyone Tech had on their payroll.)  A good day was one where I went home with my hand stinging because he and I had exchanged so many high-fives.  

     However accidental it was that he and his beautiful family ended up part of our lives, the years that followed acquainted me with his destiny - To make everyone around him happier, better, stronger and feeling important and good about themselves..  It didn't matter if it was family, stranger, someone getting their chemo treatment at the same time he was getting his or just some goober sitting behind him at a ballgame.  Perhaps it was his destiny to be that feather that floats on the breeze in and out of lives that needed him..  For a large chunk of the time that I had the pleasure to watch those ballgames with him, I was in terrible health due to large amounts of excess weight.  There was a time when my family had to consider whether or not it was safe for me to go through the rigors required of climbing to the upper tier of that venerable old stadium.  I was, quite often, mocked in public, pointed at, laughed at and became a sideshow for many sad folks. It often made me rather reclusive, the game was - after all- going to be on t.v. (and a Georgia Tech football game was sometimes the only time I'd even consider putting  myself in a crowd.)  But knowing HE would be there I insisted on getting there.  And  there he was, just glad I'd made it, not seeing the fat guy, not seeing  the one getting help going up and down stairs, I was just ME and he always seemed glad to see ME. Many times he offered to get me a bottle of water or something from the concession stand knowing that navigating stairs more than I had to wasn't possible.  He'd asked how I was feeling but without dwelling on it.  Instead, he knew I was there to talk football and I imagine he knew that the time I spent talking it with him took my mind off much sadder issues that usually occupied my mind.  He never mentioned my weight to me until I lost  a CONSIDERABLE amount of it and could then bound up and and down those stairs like a teenager and get my own bottle of water.  THEN he took a minute to shake my hand and say "You look great."   He could've slipped me a wad of cash and it wouldn't have felt any better.

     We got word that his fight was over very early Saturday morning, just as I'd started loading tailgating necessities into my truck, getting ready to watch the boys play their final home game of 2014.  We contemplated not even going to the game wondering if that would show a a certain measure of disrespect to the passing of our friend,.  But in those pre-dawn hours we decided there was no greater measure of respect that we could show him than by being there and being very loud.  At our tailgating festivities we drank a toast to him (though I'm not sure he approved of such libations) And then, in the third quarter,  I stood up on my row and gave the loudest "WHAT'S THE GOOD WORD???????????!!!!!!!!!!" cheer that I've ever mustered for the inhabitants of section 206.  Those around us joined with great gusto, emboldened by the beating those wearing white and gold were throwing down on Clemson.  I'd like to think he heard us and laughed.  Many times over the years he and I dared each other to give that cheer our best shot.  My bride told me that on this Saturday she'd never heard my voice get that loud.  I told her I must've had some help.  Speaking of getting some help, those poor boys from Clemson didn't stand a chance.  I like to think Bill was somewhere, giving a push the likes of which he could've never given from section 206   At least one son of Tech did, indeed,  "arise, behold!" 

The spirit of the cheering throng
Resounds with joy revealing
A brotherhood in praise and song,
In memory of the days gone by.
Oh, Scion of the Southland!
In our hearts you shall forever fly.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Returning to the scene of the crime...

     The crime in question started 14 or 15 miles down the road with a simple doctor's appointment in Buford, Georgia.  I'd been fighting bronchitis and,  as everyone that has known me my 50 years on earth, a simple respiratory infection that is a nuisance to most quickly becomes something that kicks my posterior, all because of respiratory issues I inherited from our dear Mother (all the sweet things I COULD'VE gotten from her but I got bad lungs...anyway.)  On  October 21, 2014  I went to see why this infection was hanging on so long and  had beaten two rounds of antibiotics and why I couldn't take a shower or pour a cup of coffee without having to sit down and rest afterwards. 
     The doctor came into the room and after the obligatory "Who's Tech playing this week?" (my doctors know me well)   He put a stethoscope to my lungs and heart and said "Dang....that ain't right" and looked outside the exam room door and hollered at his nurse  - "BRING ME THE EKG AND CALL GWINNETT COUNTY!!!"   I figured they'd had a toilet backing up or low water pressure and wanted the county to come out and see if they could fix it!!   No, he was summoning some brave young men from the fire station right up the street to come and take me somewhere for help.   I asked him what was wrong.  He said "I need you to relax.  But you ARE in A-FIB at the moment."   I asked for an explanation.  He said "It means you're not going home....we're going to the hospital."   Again, I asked him for an education on A-FIB.  He said "either you've had a cardiac episode or you're about to have one....either way, we need to get you to a hospital.....but relax."    Hmmmm...ok...there's a pack of wild dogs chasing you and you might survive....or you might end up supper.....but relax.
      When these brave young men arrived (I'm  fairly certain that I have socks older than all of them) I was - in spite of my fear - impressed at the way they went about their work. The one in charge told the doctor (after seeing my EKG) "We're not going to Gainesville (where my doctor wanted them to go)   We're not taking that chance.  We need to get him someplace closer."    Not exactly words of comfort.  They decided to take me to Northside/Forsyth in Cumming, apparently figuring I'd live that long!  As we made our way out to the ambulance  I told one of them that he probably  would've eaten a bigger bowl of Wheaties if he'd known he was going to have to drag ME into the back of a truck.  His response - "I ain't lost one yet, Mr. Freeman.  Me and you both are about to go for a ride."   I wanted to give him a big man hug.  He was right....we both got in the back of that truck. And we both made it to Northside Hospital..
     I say all of that to say this.  During that ride, despite hearing transmissions from ambulance to hospital telling them how far out we were and what EKG was showing and to make sure they had this, that and the other thing ready to stick, strap and glue to me,  it wasn't my demise I was most afraid of facing.   I knew it was a possibility but it became a separate issue.  What was at issue was the fear that I might cross into whatever happens to us  when we leave this very temporal existence without seeing the sweetest, most perfect face I know ever again.   She's the soul that braved taking me as her own.  She's the soul that had a thousand other chances in life but decided I was the one she wanted to live with "til death do us part." I just didn't want that to be right there, right then.
     Long story short (too late, right)  she made it to the hospital and the grasp of her hand felt better than anything they'd given to relax me.  The minute she was there she became two people. The RN I married and my wife.  She was asking doctors questions and keeping a close eye on monitors.  With her there, I felt like  I was gonna' beat this thing like a rented mule. Still, it was touch and go for a while (as my heart wouldn't find normal rhythm until they forced it to with a dose of electricity late into my second day there.)    But that very first night, after they moved me to a room on the cardiac floor,  she fell asleep with her head on the railing of my bed, not letting go of my hand, refusing to be comfortable anywhere else.  Again, it made me realize I was walking out of this damn hospital and nothing would stop me. And a bunch of tests and procedures later (some of which hurt like hell - I've never had a needle puncture the lining of my lungs) I did, in fact, get in her car and come home and sit in my recliner and pet my Labrador Retriever.
     Fast forward to yesterday, when I went to a professional building next to the hospital for a follow-up appointment with one of the specialists that saved my life.  I saw an ambulance flying around to the emergency entrance.  I felt compelled to follow.  The ambulance parked.  And so did a woman nearby who got out of her blue car and broke several olympic records running to the ER entrance to meet the soul being rolled down the same hall I'd recently traversed.  I watched her and I cried because I imagined my own angel running across that same parking lot and felt guilty that I'd put her through that.
       Her favorite show comes on tonight.  I'm gonna' cook her a steak and rub the feet that she works on all day while she watches that show.  And I'm going to say a prayer for some folks we know that have taught me what life and love and eternal things are all about.  They've done this all while watching  their husband and father (one of the finest spirits I've encountered)  fight something far worse than what I faced.  To my boy I say this...let those 3 lovely ladies take care of you and think  "THERE ya' go...."  (which I've heard you say with every Georgia Tech first down.)
"So, if I had a barrel of rum and sugar 3,000 pounds....a college bell to put it in and a clapper to stir it 'round.  I'd drink to...."   THAT good fellow.......
(And also to my cousin Patrick who - standing in my hospital room - told me he missed my writing.  You lit this fire....) 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Dear Ray Rice,

      Granted, I've got a soft spot for football players.  It's the only sport in which I've participated (in an "organized" fashion - I also played a bunch of touch football and tackling games in the neighborhood.  Tackling is fun)  It's the only meeting point my father (who died when I was pretty young) and I ever had together.  When we could talk about nothing else, we could talk about why tackling has left the game (Dear GOD, if he could see the way people tackle now!)   But here's the other side of the equation - growing up in a house full of sisters taught me that it's never (repeat NEVER) appropriate to put your hands on a member of the fairer sex.

     They can be hard to understand.  They can be hard to relate to on ANY terms.   But guess what? They're human spirits who are not as  physically strong as we were built to be.  Note that I said "physically."  Doesn't mean that they're not strong.  My dearly departed mother used to say "there's a good reason the Good Lord decided to let women have the babies - men would've surrendered."  She also used to tell me that "any man who would hit a woman is a coward.  It's easy to be brave when you know you're stronger."  How many movies and stories (and reality)  have we seen play out where chaos reigns until a woman tells everyone in the room to shut up and settle down?   From Mama Corleone ("Santino!!!  Don't interfere....") to Scarlett O'Hara ("God is my witness...")   They can kick ass and take names on their own terms.   Even now the woman I love the most can make me behave with a telling glance from across the room (or, usually, from her seat at a football game....yeah, I'm a lucky Neanderthal.) 

     So here's the rub Ray Rice.  I wish you well in whatever you choose to do going forward.  But stay away from anything that makes you a symbol for stronger and faster professional athletes, many of whom I've been fortunate enough to meet face to face. My impressions of them have always been that they're guys just like the rest of us.  All we see is them running over people, causing concussions, throwing  99 mph fastballs at batters' heads, stopping short-handed goals with high sticks or putting dunks back in faces, But I'm quit sure that MANY of them have one of those "weaker folks" somewhere saying "We need to talk..."    

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Sad Clown

     Make 'em laugh, make 'em have a good time and point out the all that and they won't take notice of everything you hate about yourself.   That's not a quote.  That's the way I lived a lot of my life.  Self-confidence never my forte,  I lived looking for a thousand diversions to take people's attention away from what I thought they saw and put it, instead, on how darn entertaining and funny I can be (even if, on the inside, I thought myself to be one pathetic creature.)  As long as they thought I was fun I could fight my own demons. 
     And that's a word I've heard thrown around a lot in the last 24 hours - "Demons."  Very trendy.  Very psycho-babble. .  But something I fear that, sadly, is only associated with poor souls that have taken drastic measures.  "They were fighting demons."   "Here he is, discussing his own demons."  Hell!  We're ALL souls living inside very finite, physical vessels!  I would think that we're ALL fighting enemies that would seek to destroy by trying to teach us to define ourselves in very temporal terms.
    I grew up in a suburb of Atlanta that in a lot of ways was the "touch of country in the city" about which the Atlanta Rhythm Section sang so eloquently.  I went to school,  to church,  to Boy Scouts,  to the grocery store, to the barber shop and to the doctor with a lot of the same folks.  But, in each of those locales, there existed different caste systems, each independent of the others.  For instance, there were folks that would worship, sing and pray with me at church.  But at school -  there  in the world of student councils, cheerleaders, drill teams, exclusive lunch tables, clubs and homecoming dances -  they were forbidden from recognizing me as a living creature.  I warranted a fleeting glance in hallways between classes  -  "I know you, but you understand I can't talk to you here, right?"  It was in THAT world I learned to entertain people.  It was in that world that a literature teacher first taught me the concept of the sad clown.  Sad that - at such an innocent age - I could closely identify with what being a sad clown was all about. 
     Often the price of a creative mind is that it's nothing but a sponge.  It absorbs all that it sees and hears and there are no barriers to what it will let inside itself.  Unfortunately, the downside to that is that often the sad creeps in along with all the good stuff.  Even if you can hear the laughter and the accolades you can  also hear the jeers, coming mostly from yourself and the aforementioned demons.  And sometimes the bad stuff wins.  Sometimes you believe them when they tell you you're fighting battles you'll never win and that - despite the applause - you ain't about all that.  If you've fought them your whole life, sometimes you don't want to fight anymore. 
      So, yet again, we're burdened with sadness because someone whose day to day existence is light years from our own is now gone.  We wonder why we're so sad.  But then we realize that it's because their craft became something that diverted our attention away from our own realities.  Thanks for that, Robin Williams. Maybe you were tired and had no more craft to give.  Maybe the sad clown just wanted to go somewhere and smile just for the sake of smiling...not because it was his job to make the rest of us smile. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

'...cheer the living, dear...."

     Some days, you wake up with your brain too damn full.  Today a good friend of ours would've celebrated a birthday.  I wrote a blog when back when she died.  She loved the woman I love the most.  She was the friend I was most worried about meeting,  I knew her her opinion meant a lot to this sweet soul, the one I'd just started dating- the one with the world's cutest dimples and sweetest smile.  And hers was the death I watched that sweet soul grapple with the most, wondering why it had to happen.  I wish, still, I could tell her why.
     Then, when this hit my mind, I started thumbing through yesterday's local paper.  There was a story about about a gentleman that was the public address announcer for one of the local high schools for twenty-something years.  He'd taken the job voluntarily when his sons started school there.  He was 62 and out playing golf and had a heart attack.  For this high school, it was Tech losing Al Ciraldo or Georgia losing Larry Munson (still the only thing I've ever like about the evil empire in Athens.)  62?   That's 12 years from where I am right now!  Hell, the flip-flops I'm wearing are probably more than 12 years old...12 years go by right quick!  And 12 more years ain't NEAR enough time to build the life I want to build with the girl with the cutest dimples and sweetest smile.
     And then I started thinking about the first time I experienced an unexplainable death.  We found out my cousin Alan was sick when I was 16 years old.  Until I got married, nobody on the planet knew me as well as Alan did (even if I was only 18 when he died.)  I've never written  much about him because it still hurts too bad.  His is the only grave I ever go to and talk out loud.

     "I cannot buy you happiness, I cannot buy you years.  I cannot buy you happiness in place of all the tears.  But I can buy for you a gravestone, to lay behind your head.  Gravestones cheer the living, dear, they're no use to the dead."  
 (Steve Noonan/Greg Copeland - Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, 1967)

     The first vehicle I ever drove (even before I was old enough to drive) was his 1970-something big, black Silverardo.  I now drive a big, black Ford F-150 with a lot more bells and whistles than his Silverardo had (he'd be shocked to know that I can answer my phone by pushing a button on my steering wheel!)   When I do go and talk to his grave, I always try to irritate him with a little truck envy.
     He taught me to love dogs, I think.  When the world's most beautiful Irish Setter died he dug a hole big enough to bury a Volkswagen, crying the whole time.  He'd be glad to know that since I ran into the kitchen for more coffee, scribbling notes for this blog on a piece of paper (and shedding a few tears myself) a Labrador Retriever followed me to find out what was wrong.
     When I was a small child he called me "Monkey."  Years after I was small child (when I was a teenager and he was pretty sick)  I was talking to him in the part of the day he and I used to always find ourselves talking.  The late hours of a summer day when the sun had gone down but the air's still hot and the lightning bugs and cicadas have come out to play.  "Monkey, just because this has happened to me doesn't mean that bad things are out there, waiting to happen to you.  Don't live scared..."  I wish to God that teen-aged awkwardness hadn't kept me from saying something more meaningful than "Ok, I won't."  I now know that those few words represent some of the greatest advice ever given me by anyone. 
     He'd be most disappointed if he knew that I STILL live very much afraid of many things.  I rationalize it by saying "well, if he'd lived longer, he would've found out how scary life can get!"    But somewhere, deep in my soul, I also know that he'd smack me upside the back of my head and throw me in Lake Lanier - "QUIT WHINING!  LET'S GO SWIMMING!!"   That's how I learned to swim, after all.  (He'd also probably be disappointed to find that you can't discipline a knucklehead in the waters of Lake Lanier anymore without a soccer mom calling 9-1-1 from the cul-de-sac that now resides where our woods and our playground used to grow.)
     I said all of that to say this - I was most confused by Alan's death and - at 50 years old - I'm still pretty confused.  If we leave here for a much better place, whey does everyone get so sad when someone dies?  I reckon it's because they're no longer here to help US figure out what's taking place in our very temporal neck of the woods.  I don't much care if I never walk the "streets of gold."  The only gold I've ever owned is the gold I purchased when I got married.  I'd just like to think that when my time comes,  I'll spend eternity pulling fish out of a lake with Alan and his father, my Uncle Ralph (who was more a father to me than my biological father.)  And then, when the girl with the cutest  dimples and the sweetest smile comes along later (you know, statistics show that's what will happen!)  I can say "Come over here and meet Alan..."
And he'll grin... "You did good, Monkey."


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Baseball and the pretty little black-haired girl....

     Ham & Effie could do anything for the mill families - their wash, their cooking, their babysitting, their grocery shopping, any odd jobs that would make them a nickel or two to keep food on their own table.  The only thing they couldn't do was come up on the porch.  Wouldn't be proper for black folks to come up on white folks' property like that.  So when the wash was delivered you met them on the sidewalk.  When they delivered your groceries they left them there on that same sidewalk.  When the young un's were kept they walked to the corner to meet the old black couple that were at the same time family, employees, and outsiders.   When caring for this gaggle of mill children it was sometimes decided the afternoon could be best spent watching the Crackers play at Ponce de Leon Park.  At that time it was probably still called "Spiller Park" or "Spiller Field."  The only glitch was that for the children to remain in Ham & Effie's care they would have to sit in the "Colored" section of the old ballyard.

     In this group there was this one little black-haired girl perched there in the segregated seats watching baseball  (if, in fact, there WERE might've been a standing only area.)  I imagine the other children pulling ponytails, begging for peanuts (if, in fact concessions were even afforded the "coloreds." ) and running circles around themselves, keeping themselves entertained during those long, slow summer games.  But in the midst of that childish chaos, I'm almost certain that little black-haired girl stood and stared at the game in front of her.   It would've been a sight to see, a little white girl being given a tutorial by the old black man, pointing out every nuance of a game that for her was a natural attraction, a first love,  not just sport or entertainment.  There were superstitions, tendencies, chess-like moves a manager makes in anticipation of the pitcher's spot coming up in the next inning, thousands of things you could see taking place, if only you knew what to watch for.  Folklore about the stars of the game visiting kids in the hospital and then pointing at outfield walls to make good on a promise to one of the sick kids....or superstars playing stickball out in the street with kids after making history-making basket catches on the biggest baseball stage of all, the World Series.    The other children probably found it boring.  That little black-haired girl absorbed all of it and baseball grabbed her by the soul...turns out, it never turned her a' loose.

     Later,you see,  a  pretty black-haired teenager walked across the street from her part-time job at Sears to watch games in the same old revered venue.   This time, though, she could sit where she chose and could probably afford to buy herself  a bag of peanuts or a cold Coca-Cola.  World War II started and her brother went off to war and got shot down by the Germans.  They finally found him in a German P.O.W. camp after being listed M.I.A. for 13 months.  I like to think that the only solace she found during such a terrifying ordeal was the afternoons spent in the old ballyard.  One could put aside your problems and the world's  problems when trying to guess what a pitcher had up his sleeve or hoping for a fly ball deep enough to score that runner on  third.

      The pretty black-haired teenager fell in love and was married when she was 19.  She gave birth to 4 children, and lost 3 others (2 to miscarriage, 1 was stillborn.)  Learning to live life as a mother and a wife is a growth one lives through, sometimes not noticing that it's taking chunks of  personality that make a woman an individual.  Moving from house to house, (each one a little bigger than the last)  watching her and her husband's parents age, some passing on, one moving in and becoming part of the household she worked to support. The husband's  job became a career as the municipality  for which he worked became a CITY instead of a TOWN.  She saw children grow and start driving and having cars of their own and start college and leave home, sometimes getting married, sometimes coming back home.  But in the midst of the chaos that is raising a family, one very important thing happened.

     In 1966 the Milwaukee Braves decided they wished to become the Atlanta Braves.  The black-haired lady now had a team of her own and could quit following the Dodgers.  Years earlier, she had listened to a thousand Brooklyn games on the radio with her father, long before they moved west (and became "a different sort of a team." as she put it.  Asked one time what that  meant she said "Brooklyn was a neighborhood, loyalty, the team belonged to the people.  But L.A.  Hmph!  Hollywood, stars, flash and glitz don't mix with baseball...")   She went to a lot of those games in the old Fulton County Stadium, her husband's career with the city affording her pretty good seats there in aisle 119, atop the home team's dugout. Most of it was pretty awful baseball but she never, ever gave up hope, enduring rain delays, extra innings and double-digit routs.  She'd never leave before her team had won or lost, unless Mother Nature made it impossible.  And when it was Mother's Day, her family left church very quickly (sometimes while they were still singing the final hymn!)  to get her to the stadium before first pitch.  She wasn't one to want flowers, brunch or frill of any kind.  A program, a bag of peanuts, her family around her, everyone in their seats on time was gift enough.

     As the pretty black-haired lady became a pretty gray-haired lady, she  lost a husband and was living in an empty nest and  walking with a cane.  Thank God for cable television and the chance to watch not only her boys, but also boys in other cities play her favorite game.  She developed quite an affinity for the Cubs, based mostly on her love for the character that called their games, the guy with huge glasses.  She took a trip to Wrigley Field once and later said the only thing she'd seen more beautiful was Venice, Italy.  I would imagine, if pressed, she'd admit to liking the 'friendly confines' even more than that jewel of Italy.

     As she grew older, mobility issues made it harder and harder to get her to baseball games.  Until one opportunity for very good tickets - "close enough to hear guys cuss!" as she exclaimed - presented itself and her extended family of children and childrens' spouses and children's children all came up with a plan to get her to those seats.  There were only 2 tickets so everyone couldn't go.  One would drive, one would walk her to the gate, one would get someone to get a wheelchair from stadium personnel, and finally one would walk her to her seat and watch the game with her.  After the game, reverse the process.  It would be worth the trouble.  When she got to her seat she started crying, saying she was sure she'd never watch another game in person.  Tears went away, though, when they sang the National Anthem and got down to business.

     As the bottom of the 4th started and the home team began it's second trip through it's lineup, trying to get that zero off the scoreboard, the gray-haired lady made a very bold proclamation to anyone who would listen.   "UH-OH!!! WE'RE ABOUT TO BEAT HIM UP!!"  (talking about the other pitcher.)   "Why?" she was asked.  "BECAUSE HE ISN'T CHANGING A THING HE DID THE FIRST TIME THROUGH THE LINEUP!!!  WATCH HIM, FAST BALL, BREAKING BALL, CHANGE SPEEDS, AND IF THAT DOESN'T WORK HE'S PUTTING ONE UP IN THEIR EYES TO MAKE THEM CHASE IT!!!"  Suddenly, a dozen or so advance scouts for other teams in the surrounding  seats turned to see who it was making such declarations.  A few of them chuckled when they saw it was that gray-haired lady, leaning up in her seat, chin propped on her cane.  She wondered why there were staring...."Watch!  You'll see!"   By the time the inning had ended the home team no longer had a zero on the board.  There was a 4 there, courtesy of one solo home run, a walk, a single and a 3 run shot.  And in that moment the tutorials given her by an old black man 60-something years earlier paid off when a few of those scouts put down their clipboards and stopwatches and gave the gray haired lady a round of applause.  Once again, tears came to her eyes.  It's good to have some part of you that survives when all else falls prey to change.  I doubt, until that moment, the pretty little black-haired girl, the pretty black-haired teenager, the pretty black-haired lady or the pretty gray-haired lady ever realized it was something she should have been proud of, something that was HERS. 

"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again."

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Peggy Sr.

     We walked to the end of the hall, neither of us saying a word.  We'd just been down to her room, and my mother-in-law knew it was going to be the last time she could hold my Mama's hand, ask her how she was doing, brush her hair back off her forehead and give her a kiss on the cheek.  It was the last time she'd make her laugh by giving her a wink and a grin and asking her "does he belong to you?" pointing at me on the other side of the bed.  By this time all Mama  could do was just nod her head and chuckle when the woman I call "Peggy Sr." said "well, he's a pretty good fella'...I think we ought to keep him around." It was the last moment they shared together.
     Her daughter and I had already been married twelve years but it was there in that hospital at the end of that hall that I realized how much this woman loved me and how much I loved her.  She didn't say a word before she got on that elevator, she just  held my face in her hands and gave me a smile that said everything I needed to hear - "This is bad...this is sad.  but you're going to make it...'cause I'm right here."  I put my head on her shoulder, feeling like the gravity of this whole episode was knocking me to my knees.  But she was there to catch me.  My hands were still shaking....moments before I'd signed a DNR just like I always promised I would do when the time came.  But in that embrace there was a rub on my back and a kiss on my own cheek...and my hands quit shaking. She took her arms from around me and  put her hands right back on my face and stared hard into my eyes.  Again, without words, I knew what she was asking.  "I'll be ok," I said out loud.  "I'll be ok."    Later that afternoon Mama was moved into hospice care and the next morning she was gone.

     A couple of weeks later we were standing in their driveway, saying good-byes after a good meal and a relaxing evening together.  I got in my truck and rolled down my window, waiting on my wife to finish a chat with her dad.  Seeing an opportunity to speak to me privately she came over and leaned in my truck and said "I need to tell you something.  I would never, ever pretend to take the place of your mother.  But I want to make sure you know how much we both love you.   I know you miss her but you're not alone.  You've still got a mom when you need one."  I assured her I needed one most everyday and then I cried like a baby all the way home.

     Mother-in-laws have long been punchlines and cliches.  But the only thing you'll hear me saying about mine is that I thank God for her everyday.  I call her "Peggy Sr." and my bride "Peggy Jr." because they're birds of a feather.  (It's amazing the Good Lord could create two such beautiful women but even more amazing that they're both in my corner!)   Peggy Sr. spoils me rotten, she makes me laugh, she has the most extensive "Crimson Tide" wardrobe of anybody living east of Tuscaloosa.  She'll holler "Roll Tide" anywhere from the grocery store to church.   She makes the best deviled eggs on the planet and has a hat collection that would shame any of those women parading around Churchill Downs.  She loves gospel music and can sing it right well, too.  But the thing she does best is what she did there in that hallway at the hospital - look right into your soul with a mother's tender eyes and calm whatever storm she finds brewing.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Talking about a good way!

     "I was right back  at their house!  I could smell Pa' Pa's pipe just as plain as day!"  We decided she must've smelled someone  driving by and smoking their pipe while she was looking at the outside flower display there at the Home Depot. ( It had to be someone in the privacy of their car, after all, because I think that smoking in public is now grounds for execution by firing squad.)  Thus began a lengthy conversation about the fact that the sense of smell is the one sense most closely associated with memory.  We discussed some of our favorite smells that reminded us of favorite places and times.  My mother's kitchen the day before Thanksgiving.  Fresh cut grass at a ballpark, prior to the great American pastime taking place between the white lines.   Or fresh cut cilantro and limes, the  beginning of many great summer meals in our house (my wife gets positively giddy over the smell of fresh cilantro.)  Coffee and cigarettes, the first thing to hit my nose waking up to summer days spent at my Aunt Nell and Uncle Ralph's farm.  Books and their unmistakable mustiness, a smell which will always take me back to Aunt Jean's house.  (Never married, always living alone, books were her life.)  Even hardcore mobsters can be soothed by the smell of a fireplace on a crisp autumn evening.  Remember Tony Soprano telling Christopher (taking pause right after gunning down 2 guys from a biker gang and stealing their expensive wine) "Smell 'dat?  It's like the first chilly night of fall when everybody lights their fireplaces."  "Yeah, Halloween" responds Christopher, putting a recently fired revolver back in his pocket and looking wistfully towards the sky.

     So we finished our errands and our conversation and, upon returning home, the Registered Nurse that lives in my house (and pulls double duty as my sweet bride) ordered me back into my recliner and told me to rest.  We've been fighting a cold and sinus thing that's been hanging on seemingly for a month.  I was given a reprieve to get out of the house and accompany her on errands but she said I'd done enough.  Now, let me give some background on what transpired next....

     Back a hundred years ago when my sisters were all living at home and we all went to church together (whether we wanted to or not!)  our mother got out of bed early enough to put a pot roast in the oven every Sunday morning.  I think she partially cooked it, kept it wrapped and in the oven and let it stay warm while we were at church.  When we got home she warmed up the the sides (which often included peas she'd snapped and cooked the day before) and managed to have  Sunday dinner on the table by the time we'd all gotten out of our church clothes (everyone except her, of course...I can still see her sweating and darting around a kitchen in whatever she'd worn to church.)    Like most little boys, getting me presentable for church was putting lipstick on a pig.  Cowlicks had to be tamed, smudges of whatever I'd been into in the backyard the day before still lived on my face and a little clip on tie rarely sat the way it was supposed to.  While she was doing all that fussin' and straightening and combing I could smell the onions, potatoes and meat on her hands from her early morning labor in the kitchen.  It sounds odd, I'm sure, but it was a comforting smell and one I'll remember 'til the day I die.

     Now, back to our Saturday afternoon in the recliner.  The afternoon turned to night and for the first night since I'd gotten sick I was actually able to fall asleep, even if it was still sitting up in the recliner (because lying down started the coughing and congestion all over again.)  In the midst of my slumber, I felt someone behind my chair scratching my head and rubbing my neck and shoulders and assumed my bride was giving me one last moment of pampering before she went off to bed (something she does quite well when I'm sickly....ok, she does it all the time, I'm spoiled rotten.)   But the hands that were scratching and rubbing and sending me deeper into sleep suddenly came over the top of my head and rested on my forehead, checking for a fever.  And there they were - the onions, the potatoes, the meat- those hands I remembered well,  wearing all the wonderful smells of Sunday dinner.  It was so real that I reached up and behind me and tried to grab those hands, thinking the woman I miss so much was there checking on me.  There wasn't anyone there of course.  The dog had woken up and was standing in the middle of the floor with a very puzzled look on her face so I reckon I must've been talking during what had to have been a dream.  But it sure didn't feel ........or a dream. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


     Running errands at lunch yesterday,  the fine folks at Sirius XM Radio ("80's on 8" channel) graced my truck with this song:

So, after work,  I had to do a quick YouTube search and watch this video for the millionth time in my life.  I'm not sure what makes this video more epic - the throwback Braves jersey on one drummer, Artimus Pyle being the other drummer, Donnie Van Zant wearing that black hat or the fact that it's the very first song that was "our's." (is it "ours" or our's?  anyway..)     On our third or fourth date this song came on the radio in my little '94 Ford Ranger.   She hollered "I LOVE THIS SONG!!!!!!!!!!" and reached for the volume.   Though I went down some bad roads to find her, I'm happy that I did.  Jeff Foxworthy is laughing somewhere because, truly,  if a .38 Special song puts you in a romantic state of mind you miiiiiiiiiight be a redneck.

     This Saturday would be a good Saturday to be in Tupelo.  (yeah, I'm a frequent visitor to Daily, your source for Northern Mississippi news and, I'm not sure why.)   They're holding their craft beer festival and six Mississippi breweries will be featured.  And, because I'm a "word nerd" and like appropriately named places and things, I'm not sure which participating brewery's name I like the most - "Southern Prohibition Brewing" or "Lazy Magnolia."   After a visit to the Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company's website, though, we have a winner.   Whether it's their  "Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale" ("the first beer in the world, to our knowledge, made with whole roasted pecans...")  or the grace and genteelness evoked by the image of a magnolia tree (possibly shadowing  a wrap-around porch with a ceiling fan and an old dog lying on the step) there seems to be plenty to like.  What? I should actually taste their goods before I act like they're the second coming?    C'mon - "We love great beer, great food and all things southern...cheers y'all!"  They sound like pretty good people to me.

     Also in my semi-regular visit to the Daily Journal, I ran across this  piece from Leslie Criss.  It took me straight back to that little East Atlanta Library (next to the fire station if I remember corrrectly) and my favorite story about my other favorite story.  "Mike Mulligan's Steam Shovel" was my favorite story.  But then I graduated to "Mike's House" which was a story about a little guy in whom (who?) I found much in common.  He loved my favorite story so much that he called the library "Mike's House" because that's where his favorite story lived.  Though I didn't have the luxury of being within walking distance of the library (as did Ms. Criss) I usually did jump in a big blue '64 Chevrolet leaving the library with both of those books under my arm.  Until, that is, Santa was gracious enough one year to bring me a copy of both.  They're probably still in this house somewhere and held together by a lot of tape.  Wish I could find them and sit cross-legged (not sure if it's correct anymore to call it sitting "indian style") in the middle of the living room floor with some cherry kool-aid and a handful of those butter cookies with holes in the middle that you can wear like rings. I'd cancel a couple of already scheduled conference calls to go down that road again. (and then take some Tylenol to alleviate the after-effects inflicted upon 2 arthritic knees that sitting cross-legged in the floor would cause...) 

"You know, you might consider taking Jesus Christ as your personal Lord & Savior..."
"I like Jesus very much...but he no help with curve ball."
"Are you trying to tell me that Jesus Christ can't hit a curve ball?"

     Great baseball quote from a great baseball movie ("Major League")   I ran across more great baseball dialogue this morning while reading an interview with Arthr Idlett, a member of the Atlanta Black Crackers.

"Pitchers had to play outfield and catchers had to alternate at third base.  Most teams carried about three pitchers.  Well, that pitcher could pitch every third day.  We didn't know about tired and all that kind of stuff.  They would get sore arms and they would rub the other down with mustard roll and we made a concoction of alcohol and black pepper, rubbed him down."

     Talk of pitchers' arms and pitchers' elbows are things modern day baseball fans in Atlanta have heard way too much of here in the early days of this spring's training.  Perhaps there needs to be more mustard, alcohol and black pepper in the modern day pitcher's regimen.  So to more pleasant thoughts - I learned in the same interview that "Spiller Field" (which was at the Ponce de Leon Springs Amusement Park) was the original home of the Crackers (both black and white.)  There was a lake at the amusement park and the original stands of  what became Ponce de Leon park were built where the lake was drained.  It's funny to read about baseball in Atlanta during that time and learn that baseball FAR eclipsed football in popularity in Atlanta.  Industrial, school and league teams dominated much of the city's summer leisure time. In the early part of the twentieth century, one found games being played anywhere you found grass. 

"The visiting team furnished two balls and the home team furnished two balls.  That was four balls.  Okay, we've stopped many a game until they found the balls..."   

Monday, March 3, 2014

Stuff on a Monday...

     Amazingly, the funniest thing I've read in a long while comes from my March, 2014 issue of Outdoor Life.  In the "Monkey Business" section (a monthly feature, providing "Good, bad and weird news from the outdoors that you might've missed")  There's the story of a guy walking into a liquor store, trying to trade a live alligator for a 12 pack of beer.  He was, obviously, arrested, and made the rest of us who have an affinity for brewed beverages feel much better about ourselves.   "At least I've never tried to trade an alligator for beer!"  It reminds me of the funny pic (or meme or whatever you call these things that float around the internet) of Johnny Cash sitting in some shrubbery eating cake.  It says something to the effect of "You've been high, but you've never been 'Johnny Cash sitting in a bush eating cake' high."  So, thankfully, the Good Lord puts people on earth that make us feel better about our own existence.  A lot of them are frequently found in Wal-Marts and Waffle Houses. (aaaaaaaaaaaand now I want a patty melt plate, some Heinz 57, scattered, smothered and covered and peppered.)
     Speaking of funny,  the lady of the house and I had the opportunity to see B.J. Novak at the Atlanta History Center.  He's a writer, actor, director, producer and probably most recognizable for his Emmy-winning work on "The Office."  I've also heard tell that he was in the cast of Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" though I don't know because I'm old and don't see many movies. He was in our hometown to promote his new book "One More Thing - Stories and Other Stories."  We felt right cultured having Friday night dinner there on West Paces Ferry and then going to a book launch affair. (I STRONGLY recommend the "fisherman's stew" at Coast Seafood on W. Paces diagonally across from the History Center.  When my bride read the description of it on the menu she said "Oh, that's got 'YOU' written all over it...")    Anyway, Mr. Novak was FUNNY.  The first inclusion in his new book is a very comical depiction of what would happen if  "The Tortoise and The Hare" had a rematch.  I've read it three times since we got home  (a copy of the book was included in the price of our ticket.)   It's funny to read - but it was hilarious when Mr. Novak provided his reading of that chapter.  Just, DANG!   I work hard on my written word and my creativity but when you're exposed to some folks you realize that you're a pinch-hitter in single A ball and some folks are batting lead-off for the Yankees. 
     And, while we're on the subject of that night and my bride, the evening was an anniversary celebration.  Seventeen years ago she took on the monumental task of spending the rest of her life with this loose cannon.  Through the miracle of social media (Lordy, I HATE using such trendy terms!) I've reconnected with a lot of people who have roots in the same ground as mine.  And I know that some of those people are thinking "Holy crap! HE found someone to marry??!!"  Trust me, I think the same thing.  In one of my earlier blogs, I mentioned the moment  at the funeral home when I overheard her whispering to the woman that raised me (who was wearing the same dress she'd worn on my wedding day and was "laid out for burial" as the old folks used to say)  "Don't worry, Erfy....I'll always take care of Tim."  If she can hear me, I'd like to reassure my saint of a mother that her daughter-in-law is  living up to that promise.  From the countless "I can tell you're worried - what's wrong?" moments to the "I bought you some more Sweetwaters but I didn't know you still had some in the fridge- don't drink them all just because they're there!" moments she is, most definitely, taking good care of me.  Life often gets in the way of our free time together.  So - as sappy as it sounds - Edwin McCain says it all better than I ever could.  Happy Anniversary and, truly, "everything you are, is everything to me..."

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Lunch With Eudora

"A Piece of News"
     I'm fascinated with "A Piece of News."  I've read it at least 20 times.  How words can be crafted in such a way so as to tell us so much about 2 characters and their lives in just 4 or 5 pages is completely beyond me.  I would think that asking one to perform such magic would be like asking Rembrandt to paint with just two colors (wait, bad example.  I saw a Rembrandt exhibit in New York one time...he did paint with just two colors - brown and less brown.) 

 "She must've been lonesome and slow all her life, the way things would take her by surprise."

     There's a bag of coffee sitting on the table wrapped in newspaper.  Ruby's shocked that "he" wrapped it in paper.  Who is "he"?  Come to find out he's one of many that she's flagged down up on the road and took to her husband's "whiskey still" and given herself to them, I reckon it was an effort to be some measure of something in her lonely world.   After lying on the paper in front of the fireplace where "in her very stillness"  she sees that right there in the paper it says "Mrs. Ruby Fisher had the misfortune to be shot in the leg by her husband this week."  Panic ensues and we now know who we're dealing with - someone simple enough to see the name "Ruby Fisher" in the newspaper and become frantic because she's been shot in the leg - forget that she doesn't have actually, you know, have a hole in her leg.  Panic sets in to the point where she can imagine Clyde finishing the job and what she'll be wearing in the pine box Clyde builds for her.
     Clyde returns home (from tending his "whiskey still" in the storm that rages throughout the story.)  Ruby's damn near sassy with him, obviously happy that she knows something he doesn't know.  I'm sure she's also quite pleased with the fact that something happened in her world that day, even if it was a bad something.  Between the bag of coffee and the out of town newspaper Clyde knows that she's been "hitchhiking" again (a very nice way to say she's been rolling in the hay with strangers that she flags down on the road.)  There's not a whole lot of scolding - one would have to care about one's spouse, I guess, to get angry over infidelity.  The only pain he finds in the coffee is when nerves cause some of it to be spilled on his hand (which brings a threat of violence towards Ruby, but even this seems to be commonplace in their world.)   Clyde then points out that it's a Tennessee Ruby Fisher that's been shot and he's innocent and Ruby's in one piece.  The sassy side of Ruby calms itself and supper is served first to the man of the house and then to the wife, who eats in solitude.  Life goes back to dark and dull, a glimmer of anything interesting snuffed out.
     So what do I take away?  Again, mostly a fascination that so much can be said about two characters in so few words.  In my feeble attempts at writing, the battle I fight the most is using way too many words to say anything.  I work hard to not ramble.  I remember a course I took on short story writing in college.  The very first rule of short story writing, we were told, is that the opening line has to immediately grab.  There's no time to develop things in a short story so it has to start immediately.  The very first line of "A Piece of News" is "She'd been out in the rain."  Though not earth shattering, one does have to stay tuned to find out what she's been doing out in the rain. Imagine the shock that comes when we realize that she's been up to something that's quite more scandalous than anything else we've encountered in a piece of fiction (print or film) produced in 1937.  Of course I reckon that what constitutes "scandalous" in the "old days" is open for debate.
     I one time watched the Burt Reynolds movie "Sharky's Machine" (one of my all-time favorites, by the way) with my mother.  When it was over I asked her what she thought. "Well, it was pretty good...but it's not very original."  I asked her what she meant.  "It's 'Laura' with cursing..."   A little investigation and I learned that "Laura" was a movie filmed in 1944 with Gene Tierney,  Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb.  It's about a detective who falls in love with the woman whose murder he's investigating.  He mainly falls in love  with a picture of her hanging in her residence (best I can remember.)   Of course then he ultimately meets the murdered damsel and realizes there's been a serious case of mistaken identity.  Holy cow, she was right.  That IS what happened in "Sharky"   I watched the movie with her, to return the favor of her sitting through my movie.  In one scene there's a LONG glance (a longING glance perhaps) between the detective and the supposed dead girl.  My mother hollered "THERE!  RIGHT THERE! DID YOU SEE THAT??  That's sexy!  That's seduction!  NOT the trash they show in movies today!!!!"   So sexy and seduction were mostly implied in movies of that generation?  
      Remembering that notion confirmed what I'd thought about "A Piece of News"  There was nothing implied about what Ruby was doing that was being called "hitchhiking"  There was even mention of Ruby being seductive in her manner -  "sweet and yet abrupt and tentative, a delicate and vulnerable manner, as though her breasts gave her pain."  This isn't someone weaving the romanticism of southern culture (implied or real)  into stories in a fashion as smooth as a "sip of honeydew vine water."  These aren't simple stories of the grand old south.  Yes, her stories take place in those environs but they're sometimes dark, sometimes evocative and sometimes with a hint of scandal. This is a writer, not a "southern" writer or a "lady" writer.  Only two stories into this collection I'm glad I've decided to indulge myself. 

A long day...

     It's just a day of grooming for the Labrador Retriever that runs our household.  I dropped her off this morning and she'll be back under foot by 3:00 this afternoon.  So why in the world am I sitting here all down in the mouth, feeling like the last rose of summer?   Man-up for God's sake!  You're working from home (as opposed to being a resident of cubicle world) so do some work!  You're acting like a reality show drama queen ("The Real Husbands of Sugar Hill") 
     I'm down in the mouth because she's got a lot of gray growing in on that muzzle.  A jingle of my truck keys or her leash, the unlocking of the back door or a mention of birds at the feeder all bring a much slower response than they used to - it takes her a minute to get that bad hip moving.  She sleeps a lot and I know that after her day of grooming she'll be exhausted and she'll just come home and crash and have no interest in retrieving her stuffed duck or football from the other side of the living room.  When she sleeps that soundly I sometimes wake her up just to make sure she can wake up.  The lady of the house (the two-legged one) says I'm doing it to mess with her.  But she watched the decline our late, great black Lab and knows why I'm doing it, I'm sure.
     Don't get me wrong - this old girl ain't near death or anything.  But when a Lab's body begins to have a hard time trying to keep up with that forever young personality...well, it's hard to watch.  And this empty, boring house - even if just for a day - makes me realize the life she brings to it and I dread the day when it's permanently empty...until the good Lord finds us another lost soul that needs some food and shelter (which is how we got this one when the aforementioned black Lab met his Maker.) 
     "There is nothing exempt from the peril of mutation; the earth, heavens and the whole world is thereunto subject."  Sir Walter Raleigh was wise - even wiser when he lamented the short lives of dogs .  He felt it was probably a gift from the creator, knowing how attached we get in just a few short years - how hard would it be to let them go if they lived any longer?   My dearly departed Uncle Ralph said it a bit less poetic but no less truthfully - "Damn these dogs, they get in your soul."  He said that shortly after he'd helped my cousin dig a hole big enough to bury a car that served as the final resting place for an Irish Setter that had wandered into the road and met an early demise.
     I need to quit thinking about tomorrow and enjoy today, I realize.  So when she gets home I'll rub that tummy and listen to her snore.  And I might wake up a few times during the night to make sure she's still snoring...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Moonlight Serenade

     Someday,maybe  the young folks that have called me "Uncle Tim" will hear old tunes - be they Skynyrd, Buffett, Atlanta Rhythm Section, The Outlaws, Rush or whatever - and say "God, we miss him!"   Maybe it'll be when they build a big fire and smoke some good meat.  Maybe it'll be when they watch a baseball game that goes 16 innings and the final score is 2-1 and a shortstop had to come in and pitch the final out.  Maybe it'll be when they watch Georgia Tech beat somebody (hopefully that evil empire over in Athens) in any sport that the Institute happens to be playing at that time.  They'll hopefully  remember me in a positive light....IF I'm as lucky as Winifred Freeman.
     She would've turned 89 today.  And if she knew she'd crossed our minds at all she would've probably told us to go about our day's work, go ahead and feed the kids and the dogs and the cats.  She would've told us to have fun, go help somebody who needs help,  "Go do something with yourselves!!" 
     I've worked hard today, making a living.  I'm going to cook supper for my bride, whom she loved dearly (long after her mind started leaving her she referred to my bride as "uh, one of my girls!")  She'd like it that I spent enough hours watching her in the kitchen so as to be able to put eatable fare on the table.  And she'd like it if she knew that anytime my thoughts turned to her I could hear "Moonlight Serenade" playing in my mind.  The changes in her facial expressions were obvious whenever she heard it.  I'm not sure what she was thinking, probably don't want to know.  But because it was a song that struck her heart it strikes mine...and I've been hearing it all day.
     Fear not, Erfy - we're doing good and pitchers and catchers report next month. 

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Lunch With Eudora

Blue Hair and Big Hats...

     Daddy didn't talk much around the house.  Surprising since he became a singer, comedian and story-teller when serving as Sunday School teacher for the ladies of the Fellowship Class there at the Methodist church they named after Martha Brown.  Those ladies saw the clever and funny side of him that we rarely saw at home. They put a big picture of him on the wall in their classroom and it hung there for years after his death.  
     He was more than their teacher - he was a caretaker.  He did yard work for them, he took them to doctor's appointments, he visited them in their homes and at hospitals, usually on Sunday afternoons.  I accompanied him on many of these missions of mercy (for my own good I would imagine, learning to help those that need help.)   To most kids my age they were just old people.  But I found them funny.  I found them fascinating.   Some of the times and events they'd lived through were - to most my age - just words in a history book or tired, word of mouth tales about how things used to be.  But here they were, living breathing souls who bore the scars of economic depression and world wars and child-rearing and careers.  I learned first hand what C.S. Lewis tried to explain when he said "We're not bodies who happen to have souls.  We're souls that happen to have bodies."  And those bodies - if we're lucky - get old and frail but the soul they carry becomes no less alive when it happens.
     So many of their stories stuck with me.  On one of these Sunday afternoon visits (I was probably 10 or 11) we knocked and knocked on a front door with no response.  We feared the worst.  Daddy told me to go around and try the backdoor while he continued beating on the front door.  After just a few raps on the backdoor the kind smile and crooked fingers and arched back greeted me with surprise that I was at her backdoor.  We went in and let Daddy in the front door.  He was almost scolding in his tone - "WHY AREN'T YOU WEARING THE HEARING AID WE WENT AND GOT FOR YOU??  YOU DIDN'T EVEN HEAR US KNOCKING ON THE DOOR!"  She seemed dumbfounded "Well I wore it all morning Sam and took it out before my nap!  But I think it's working!  After just a few hours wearing it this morning I'm hearing a lot better this afternoon! I'll put it back in tomorrow."  He chuckled and explained to her that it wasn't a "fix" for her ear that would slowly cure her hearing ails by wearing it a few hours a day.  It only worked when it was in and she needed to accept it as a permanent accessory.  I'm not sure she understood.
     I don't remember that lady's name but I do remember Anne Bullock's name.  I always thought Anne looked rich.  There was  a strong resemblance between Anne and the faces on the t.v. screen every time Mother alerted me to the news when it dealt with one of her favorite actresses (See, they made gender distinction in those days between actors and actresses)   I'd heard a hundred times about the day Dr. Chidsey baptized me and my parents sweated the time between the beginning of 11:00 church and the time in the service set aside for baptizing young 'uns.  They got agitated because they were perched in their regular spot on the third row, left side of the church.  Anne had placed herself in the second row, wearing a hat that bore way too many flowers for an infant to resist playing with, pulling on and desperately wanting to see how they tasted.  MANY years later when I ran into Anne I asked her if she remembered the destruction I sought to exact on that beautiful hat.   She laughed and said "No, but I do remember seeing your mama pushing you around in a buggy there at the A&P.  You had a sucker in one hand (because we always went direct from the bank to the A&P and banks in those days always gave kids a sucker) and a 'co-cola' in the other.  I remember thinking 'we should all be as happy as that child in that buggy is right now!' "
     There were many others.  There was Edith Walker who sang a really bad rendition of "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" at Christmas that we all found quite amusing.....until she got to a point where she was  barely able to stand while singing it and we didn't find it so amusing.  There was Vivian Beecher who kissed everything at church but the hymnals.  We always came home from church wearing most of her lipstick.  (My father, in fact, called her "Kissy")  There was Miss Lutrell who taught 2nd grade Sunday School and had one picture of a white heart and one picture of a black heart sitting on a table (depicting those who knew Jesus and those who didn't....) "The B-I-B-L-E,,,,yes, that's the book for me!" may have been one of the first songs I ever knew, thanks to Miss Lutrell.  I thought Mrs. Turnipseed had the funniest name in the world but I didn't laugh at it when  she had tickets for some really good seats at Georgia Tech football games for Daddy and me.
     So, given this familiarity, fascination and affinity with and for the ladies of the Fellowship Class, it's no wonder that just a very few words into "Lily Daw and the Three Ladies I thought "I know these women.  I know what they sound and look like.  I know their intentions and motivations that inspired them to care for this special girl living in their midst!"

Read the story here....

 While they rode around the corner Mrs Carson was going on in her sad voice, sad as the soft noises in the hen house at twilight. "We buried Lily's poor defenseless mother. We gave Lily all her food and kindling and every stitch she had on. Sent her to Sunday school to learn the Lord's teachings, had her baptized a Baptist. And when her old father commenced beating her and tried to cut her head off with the butcher knife, why, we went and took her away from him and gave her a place to stay." 

     I do think that sometimes short stories are just pictures.  It's easy to try to see intent, hidden truths and life lessons hidden in their words.  And I think that sometimes that just causes you to miss a really beautiful picture.  I ran the story by someone to see what they thought.  Their initial reaction was the same as mine - these ladies knew that Lily surely did not have capacity to think for herself and needed their ever watchful eyes on every facet of her life...especially given the tragic circumstances that had left a scar around her neck courtesy of her father.  But I don't think it's just the "special" folks that ladies like these feel led to help. It's all of us.  We're talking about the same instinctual tendencies someone (be it God, Mother Nature, fate or whatever you believe in) decided the females of all species should inherit.  It's the same tendency the yellow Labrador Retriever at my feet reacts to when I run a fever and she leans into me, trying to drape her body against me to comfort and warm me.  It's the same sense with which wives react to their husbands' needs before they're expressed (something my bride does DAILY.)  It's the same sense with which older sisters call little brothers to check on their well-being at the perfect moment.  And it's the same perfection one feels when your mother walks into your bedroom long after bedtime and puts her hand on your forehead to see if your fever has let up.
     There's other things one could take from this story, I'm sure.  Someone hard of hearing being more able to appreciate Lily on a level that goes far beyond conversation and banter that married folks enjoy, perhaps.   And you can't ignore the symbolism of  Lily's Hope Chest flying off down the tracks without her.  I guess we've all felt our dreams ending up far removed from where we've found ourselves in our realities.  I guess the resulting emptiness is one of many things the guardian angels in our lives work hard to fill.