Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Bigfoot and a schoolboy heart...

At the house we lived in up until my ninth year on the planet, there was a crawl space by the basement stairs that seemed to go on forever.  When going down the stairs you could look over into the crawl space (the only part of that basement that was unfinished) although I seldom did.  I didn't want to see eyes looking back at me.  I didn't want to hear anything moving around.  Anytime I had reason to go down into the basement I simply kept eyes forward, turned on the tunnel vision and made a mad dash down the stairs.  

But then, one day, the kid that lived next door to us (who was my partner in crime in many situations our parents probably wanted us to avoid) got up our nerve and went halfway down the stairs and crawled up there with two flashlights.  We spent half a Saturday getting up our nerve and then summoned up all the bravado that can live in a child of single digit age and climbed from staircase over into crawl space and began our journey.  Needless to say, we found nothing but Georgia red clay and some vents in the cinder blocks through which one could see out into the side yard.  We crawled far enough to look through those vents at green grass and sunshine.  We then crawled back out of there quite disappointed,  having lost a good measure of excitement from our young lives.  Granted, it was excitement grounded in fear, but excitement none the less.  And on that Saturday afternoon, it was taken from us! 

Life is so much more fun if you think "something" is up there, out there or in there.  If we've discovered everything that creeps and crawls and swims and flies then I think we're living in boring times!  Plus my wife just gets way too much enjoyment watching me glued to television shows where folks from West Virginia to Australia are out in the woods and jungles looking for creatures that live (for some folks) only in legend and folklore.  But I like to think  they're just one step away from coming face to face with Bigfoot (or the Grafton Monster or the Hellhound or a Yowie.....)

They spend a lot of time on these shows howling off into the dark night.  Sometimes they get a response.   "SEE!?"  I yell at her!  "SOMETHING ANSWERED THEM!!!"    "It's some other goober off in the woods yelling back at people stupid enough to be out yelling at things that aren't there!" she responds, usually through chuckles.  She says it worries her that I lend any credence to their "research."  Truth be told, I can spot a fake or staged "reality show" as easily as the greatest skeptic.  I just don't want to. I guess being scared of stupid things is the last way someone my age can hold on to the heart of the child still living somewhere inside of an aging body.  Besides, one should watch these shows if for no other reason than to feel better about themselves.  Some of these "hunters" and "researchers" are more likely to find Bigfoot than they are a barber or a dentist.  I ain't a handsome man but DANG I can clean up and look a sight better than that!! 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The weather lady and the rain and Mama and black coffee....

       It was that great southern philosopher Lewis Grizzard who many years ago said that the weatherman talked too much.  "All we want to know is whether or not it's going to rain."  If he felt that way twenty-something years ago, he should hear meteorologists these days (they're now really smart and sometimes women.)  This morning, for instance, I just wanted to know if the rain was going to be of the Biblical proportions they'd been promising all week (turns out it was.)  But before I could hear the bottom line, I had to be educated about how soil temperature in Idaho had caused a frontal boundary to spawn a wedge that pushed high pressure back to Mexico and that - mixed with Gulf moisture - meant that we all could quite possibly drown by midnight. "But in case you don't, we're giving away antibiotic-free turkeys to 100 viewers tomorrow.  Remember, you must be watching to win!"  
     I was gathering this news from a meteorologist on a different channel than our usual (yes, one of the signs of old age is that you have a preferred news channel.)  I actually didn't know this woman was still on television.  Just the sight of her face, though, brought a smile to mine.  I was taken straight back to a breakfast with Mama many years ago, not long after we'd first started noticing signs of dementia.  Our roles as adult/child had just started their reversal and on this particular morning I had to promise to take her to breakfast if she'd let me take her to get a flu shot.
     The flu shot went by without incident but in the middle of that breakfast she suddenly hit me on the arm and got quite animated.  "LOOK! THAT'S THE WOMAN THAT TELLS THE WEATHER ON CHANNEL 2!!!!"  I was really hoping that the object of her shouting was sitting a great distance from us, rendering her unable to hear Mother's glee.   No such luck - she was at the table right next to us.  I could've reached out and hit HER on the arm.  I just said "I think you're right" and gave an apologetic smile that tried to say "sorry, but she's old and it doesn't take much to excite her."   The meteorologist  just gave me a wink and a smile that let me know it wasn't as much an intrusion on her day as I feared it would be.  A minute or two of silence passes and I'm hoping the episode was behind us...but the hollering started again.   "GOOD LORD SHE'S A TALL DRINK OF WATER!"  I thanked the Almighty that her height was the only thing of note that my mother could find to holler about.  The only thing I noticed about her was that she apparently has a coffee addiction that rivals  my own.  She pounded as many cups as I did and drank it black, the way the Good Lord intended for people to drink coffee.
      So, anyway, a promise of bad weather turned into a visit with Mama.  Laughing instead of hurting is a good way to miss her. 


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Leave it to Clapton....

     You think you've never heard of Conor, but you have.  If you've heard Eric Clapton sing "Tears In Heaven" you're familiar with Conor.  He was Eric's son, who fell out of window in March of 1991.  But his demise (sad and horrific as it may be) isn't the part of his life that holds me captive.  It's his birth.  Because, when retelling the details of that birth on August 21, 1986,  Clapton wrote in his autobiography:

"I just had an incredible feeling that this was going to be the first real thing that had ever happened to me.  Up till that moment, it seemed like my life had been a series of episodes that had very little meaning."  

     So a resume that would ultimately land you in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame THREE TIMES (once solo, once with Cream and once with The Yardbirds) had little meaning for you?    Having your name scribbled on subway walls followed by " GOD"  meant little?  Changing the way people play guitar FOREVER meant little?  A career that ultimately won 18 Grammys meant little?

     If Eric Clapton, at ANY POINT, felt  that his life had little meaning....dear GOD imagine how the rest of us on planet earth feel.  Those of us with broken dreams, marriages, careers  and promises...imagine how WE feel.   I've read every word of Clapton's autobiography twice.  And no words included hold as much meaning as the notion that he ever (EVER) felt like his life had little meaning.

     I'm not alone in growing older by the day.  Hell, everybody I know has pains and issues that remind us that we're "Growing older but not up...."  (to quote another great songwriter whose roots are planted in soil much closer to my native soil than Clapton's)   But inside all of us lives the fear that - as we near our expiration date - we've done NOTHING to make people's lives better.

     I can live with never being monetarily rich.  I only want to keep people I love comfortable.  Anything past that is gravy.  I can live with the hits & misses of career choices - they only gave me opportunity to meet some very cool people, some of them (though gone) still touch my life.  But what I don't want to happen is to leave this opportunity thinking that I wasted time.  You see my Mother lost 3 babies on the way to having me.  That's a LOT of a pressure to live under....thinking 3 other souls didn't get to walk on this planet so that I could.  Perhaps they would've done better.  Perhaps they would've built buildings.  Maybe they would've become philosophers, professors or engineers (like our father!)   But they lost their shot so that this one person (ME!) could live to learn how to pluck a guitar, write a few songs, start a novel (or FIVE!) yell very loudly at Georgia Tech football games and make folks feel at home when they come to watch minor league baseball. 

     I wake up every morning and look at the sweetest face God ever put on earth. There is (and always will be) a good dog lying near where we sleep.  If that's as good as it gets, then I really need to believe that I've won.  But I'd like to tell Eric.................QUIT WHINING!  YOU'RE CLAPTON!!!!!!!! 


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mama's Boy

     Respect prevents me from calling him an old man.   Yes, he's lived 81 years on this planet.  He sometimes loses his sense of time and place.  He moves slowly, sleeps a lot and takes a long time to get out a vehicle.  That's especially sad because - aside from faith, family and country - vehicles have been his life.  But there's one time when he's no longer slow.  There's one time when he practically jumps out of a car and hits the ground running, knowing exactly where he's going.  It's when you take him up a road that the rest of the citizens of Bibb County, Alabama probably mostly ignore.  At the end of that road, when it turns to gravel, sits an old country church and a cemetery on a hill.   There's no fear of falling when the walking stick he calls "Slim" barely touches the ground, guiding him over sweet gum balls and uneven earth to get to the spot where his mother's buried.  A man can live to be a 100 but any walk that ends with him being in proximity to Mama is made expeditiously. 

     In our younger years, they hold us when we're hot with fever.  There's nothing that calms like realizing your mother is in your bedroom in the middle of the night, ignoring sleep because she could hear the way you're  sneezing, wheezing, coughing or shivering.  Then, no matter how many years pass,  all food is judged by the way Mama cooked it.  All flowers, in the springtime, are remembered as "the ones that Mama planted around her front porch" or "down there by the mailbox."   Days of the week are remembered as the ones when she walked up a certain street in a very small town to have her hair "set" so that it'd look good come Sunday morning.  Our Daddies are special and have another world of things they teach us.  But they don't become the one thing that turns us into mush when someone mentions their name after they're gone. 

     I watched him for a minute, and I thought he would cry.  But he just turned and looked at me and said "that was my Mama, Tim."   I said "yes, sir....I know."  There were headstones in that old cemetery proudly regaling their service to the "Confederate States of America."   He noticed them and said "yes, that's interesting."  But then he turned and headed back down the hill, again looking old and slow and in need of assistance dodging those sweet gum balls.   He rushed up the hill to feel  that spirit that gave him life on this earth.  He walked back down, again an old man, hoping that a bunch of gospel hymns are true and he'll walk with that sweet soul down streets of gold someday.  I think right now he'd settle for one of her biscuits and a bowl of 'fields and snaps"  that she cooked whenever he came home hungry, be it from high school football practice, college or the Army.  . 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

And then God created dogs........

     The first dog I ever found dead was Prissy. I think it was on a Saturday morning.   As a seven-year-old here on planet earth  there were two dogs that occupied my time and emotions  - Ginger and Prissy.   No clue what breed they were.  They both always seemed in need of a haircut (these days you call them "grooms" or "doggy day care sessions")   And the one day I was allowed to sleep late (Saturday, of course,  because you had to get up at an early hour to make it in time for Sunday School with some Vitalis in your hair on the seventh day) I usually started my day running down to the dog pen to make my buddies run and jump and act stupid.  I can still remember the way that dog pen smelled, like dirt and leaves and, well, dogs.  I usually came back from my romps in the dog pen smelling the same way.  But on this Saturday Prissy was lying there motionless and not responding to anything I said. Ginger stood to one side and stared at me, probably having the same concerns as to why Prissy wasn't moving.   I ran faster than I'd  ever run back to the house to tell someone that Prissy wasn't moving.  I wasn't smelling like dirt or leaves or dogs...but I was covered in tears. Daddy walked down there, pronounced her dead and instructed one of my sisters to distract me somehow (probably involved a trip to the old Burger Chef in Gresham Park) while he tended to a dead dog.

The surviving dog Ginger lived another few months....or years.   I'm not sure (at that age, time doesn't get marked as precisely as it does later in life.)   But I do know her demise not long afterwards was another defining moment in my life, but on a deeper level.  It was the first and only time I ever saw my father cry.   He was crying because the vet said Ginger was suffering.  So Daddy brought her home and took out his .32 caliber pistol (which hides somewhere in my house right now) and put her out of her misery.  He did it while, again, telling one of my big sisters to distract me, this time probably involving South Dekalb  Mall and a pizza burger at the Orange Bowl. ( Damn, ain't no wonder I love food.  It served as a distraction to some very traumatic events very early in life!)   When we got home Daddy was sitting in his chair in the living room, chewing tobacco and crying.  I didn't ask questions.  I knew it meant Ginger was gone (one way or the other.)  I went and sat on my bed the rest of the afternoon (the spot from where out of my bedroom window I could see an empty dog pen) crying and thinking no dog could ever replace Ginger and Prissy. 

     But there's been dogs that have done the job admirably  You see, after Ginger and Prissy were gone I moved on into  life as a teenager while being tailed by a Beagle named Siren and her buddy, a Beagle/Terrier mix named Jake.  They came into my possession like most everything else in my life, courtesy of older sisters  I think Siren belonged to one sister and Jake belonged to a professor at Georgia State University who was teaching another sister.   They were good dogs and I learned early that noise is the one thing a Beagle does well.   You can hear them a mile off and I reckon that's what makes them such good hunters.  Siren was allergic to everything except oxygen and my parents spent many dollars keeping her from being miserable.  I can hear them both now, trying to outdo each other with that distinctive howl, usually responding to a firetruck or to each other at opposite ends of the yard.  When bred for the thrill of the hunt, one must make their own thrills when forced to live in suburban Atlanta.

     When I transitioned from being a confirmed bachelor to a married man, a 130 pound black Labrador Retriever made the same transition.  A newly built house lost some of its newly laid carpet one morning when my new bride accidentally left the bedroom door closed when she left for work.  Unfortunately the bedroom was Buzz' safe place in the new house and he did his best to dig under that closed door while we were at work.  Despite how close he came to making us single guys again, Buzz won my bride's heart and together we spoiled him rotten as he became an old man.  Together we held him when the vet at the emergency clinic ended his suffering, sometime in the middle of his 12th year. .  He was extremely intelligent, extremely loyal - mostly to my mother in her later years.  After being banged up in a bad fall, we moved her into the little crash pad apartment Buzz and I shared in our single days.  We moved her there because everything she'd need was on one floor.  I let her sleep in my bed and I slept on my couch.  The first day we moved her into the little world that Buzz and I shared he walked slowly backwards with a strange look on his face, knowing something was very wrong with her.  From then on, he didn't leave her side, even sleeping in the floor by the bed. I was awakened often during that time by scratching on my face because she'd told him to "Go get Tim....go buddy...wake up Tim!"   whenever  she needed the bathroom, a glass of water or anything else she couldn't get during the night.  So you see, by the time that vet, my wife and I ended Buzz' suffering in the middle of the night at some emergency animal clinic he'd become a hero to many and his work here was done.  The many pictures of him that populate our house will always bring a smile and a tear.

     Now we've another Labrador Retriever (a yellow one this time) entering old age herself.  But don't tell her.  She chases remote control trucks on the patio, she has a toy box full of things that will inevitably get pulled out just when the humans in the house have hit couch and recliner, exhausted from their workday ("oh, y'all were planning on crashing?   I've been napping all day and really need someone to throw this stuffed duck for me!!!")     We'd had her several months before we ever heard her bark.  We honestly thought something was wrong with her, rendering her unable to bark.  Alas, we now know that her lack of barking is only because she loves every single thing about being alive and being part of a family.  She had huge shoes to fill when Buzz died.   She did it with flying colors.  And now she's laid the groundwork for another huge hole that's going to need filling someday.  I'm excited to see the canine soul that may not even be amongst us yet, but the Good Lord knows we'll need when the time comes.  See, I always figure God made everything else -including us stupid humans -and then thought "Wait ....I can do much better than that!"   He then created dogs.

     I heard one time on the Andy Griffith show that "your first flame never quite burns out."  That probably holds true when dealing with silly human crushes.  But I really think it's different with dogs.  The flame for that first dog never burns out, true.  But it seems there's always the next one to carry that torch because that's their mission - to make our lives complete.  Each subsequent one accepts the relay from the previous with pride, carrying its own flame, unique but part of the same mission the creator of the universe gave them when he put them in our midst to take care of us.  I got a tear in my eye when a Beagle won the dog show the other night.  It's face looked just like that Beagle of my childhood, Siren..  I felt her somewhere, rolling in green grass, relaxed and happy (and no allergies!) because she knew there was a long line behind her watching my every step.  I hope they're all there on that side of whatever happens to us when our own bodies give up the fight.  If "eternity" means a "heaven" that is a life spent with dogs romping in an eternal springtime, their barks and howls asking "what took you so long?"  then I need to start acting like somebody and going to church. 


Monday, January 19, 2015

When Men Should Cry........

     I lied to my wife last night.  There, I said it, it's out there, you know, she knows and we all know.  I'd relocated from my recliner in order  to sit next to my best girl, perched there on the couch.  I think she's the only thing I've  done right in my 51 years on planet earth.  And lest you think I've gone soft, I went to sit next to her to watch the marathon of "Rocky" movies they were showing on one of our zillion channels that we pay a zillion dollars to enjoy.  They were at Rocky III which, for the record, is the last one to which I give any CREEDence (see what I did there?)    They were at the point in the movie where Rocky resigned himself to not wanting to be the champ any longer.  This was after Apollo had gone to the trouble of flying him out to Los Angeles to train him "old school."   Adrian was looking dead into Rocky's eyes and asking "Why'd you come here?"  I started getting misty...on many levels.  First, I remembered the umpteen times I'd seen this movie in the theater with a posse of friends that still - through the magic of "social media" - are a part of my life.  But also because I know that since February 22, 1997 I've faced situations much less serious than trying to be the heavyweight champion of the world where she's had no issue pulling me aside to say "Shut up and tell me what's happening in your mind right now."  On this night she said "Are you crying??"  I LIED and said "Uh, no....this cold has my eyes weeping..."  She knows I was lying.  She knows that I grew up respecting a Mama, three sisters (one adopted sister....I love you Judy) and a multitude of aunts   I'm talking about women that could strangle chickens, dress hogs, play killer basketball or put supper on the table for a hundred WHENEVER the occasion called for such. The result is that I have a deep, deep respect for women and can't enjoy any entertainment that degrades, objectifies or depicts violence against them.   Another result may just be that I've fought a life-long battle with being a man that cries.  Crying is, after all,  a pretty normal occurrence in a house full of females.  So maybe I grew up thinking it's acceptable?  Anyway...I'm out of the crying closet.

     My propensity for shedding  tears is well known to those around me.  My wife tells me it's because I have a big heart.  I think it's because I'm unstable.  We're not talking about crying at funerals or other occaions that warrant crying.  Yesterday I cried watching a car auction because proceeds from one vehicle went to help veterans injured in the line of duty.  I cry when they play the National Anthem at ballgames.  I cry when a bunch of kids sing "Away In A Manger" at Christmas.  I cry when I think about how much I love my nieces and nephews and the fact that they may be the closest thing I'll ever come to having kids of my own.  I cry when student athletes wearing White & Gold beat other student athletes wearing red & black, like they did back over Thanksgiving weekend.  I cry when an old dog puts her head in my lap to make sure I'm ok or to ask me if we can go out in the cold to see if that noise in the backyard was a rabbit....or the wind chimes.  Hell, I get misty when I eat a bowl of collards and cornbread because I think about my dearly departed Mama who taught me to love such delicacies. Speaking of dearly departed Mama, don't let my cd player come upon "The Best of Glen Miller" because I'll need a minute.   And I cry at "Rocky" movies.  Just dammit.................

     There is ONE thing that makes me feel a bit less unstable about this embarrassing state of affairs.  If you look through my middle sister's wedding album, there's one shot of my cousin Alan (who, along with his father, taught me most of what I know about being a man) sitting there a wedding.  If you knew him, you'd know why that's surprising.  He was a big man that was strong as an ox.  I spent most of my adolescence trying to lift anything he'd just thrown in the back of a truck.  He's the guy that could throw me in a lake to teach me how to swim, yet pull me aside and put his arm around me if he knew I was upset.  He could smack me in the back of the head and show me a REAL body slam (not like the fake ones we watched on "Georgia Championship Wrestling)  But he could also cry while we watched a re-run of "The Rookies" together one Saturday afternoon (Google is your friend.  "The Rookies" is where the world first saw Kate Jackson, long before she was an "Angel")   I'm no small man myself and people sometimes rely on me to lift heavy things.  So whenever I feel the floodgates opening I remember Alan, and realize that's whatever started my waterworks would also start his.  (And he'd be pissed - but not surprised -  that I spent a month crying when cancer took him away from us way too soon.) 

     So does the shedding of tears still separate the sexes?  I'm asking because, surely, I no longer know.  Earlier today, on my random search for music, I came across Skynyrd playing Curtis Lowe.  I shed a tear.  Does that make me a redneck or a girl............or both?

Friday, January 9, 2015

You know what????????

     I grew up United Methodist.  I went to college for a while at a Methodist school. There I was educated by some radical Methodist scholars who loved golf and homemade ice cream.  Hell, my propensity to drink fermented beverages every once in a while may have already clued you into the fact that I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Methodist (as will the fact that I just used the word 'hell" in a sentence.)   But guess what - I didn't wake up this morning wanting to go kill some Roman Catholics (them with their Apostolic succession and 'Power of the Pope" and all 'dat)   I've never wanted to kill some Jews.  Seriously, they're WAITING on the Messiah??   There's "POWER IN THE BLOOD!" by God!!!!.  (And if you'd just split a bag of pork rinds and a cold PBR with me you'd not worry so much about that Kosher issue.)   I don't want to  kill 7th Day Adventists - who goes to church on Saturdays??!!   (The Good Lord set aside that day for college football!)  I've never thought about killing Hindus - WHO doesn't like a chunk of red meat cooked on a fire? 
     I can certainly live with you if you can find a way to live with me.   If you're using religion, societal differences and prejudices as justification for murder, me thinks you left the womb with murderous tendencies.  I quote her often, but my dearly departed Mother would tell you that the devil's getting your room ready.  (But she was a DIEHARD United Methodist....perhaps you should've gotten to her in a smart bomb or a random shooting before she was able to show  herself as an "infidel.")