# Throwback Thursday: I Hate Summer Passionately

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This was originally posted on July 10, 2010 and, for the record, I haven’t changed my mind in the slightest.

I don’t know how long it’s been since I mentioned this fact, but I hate summer with all my heart. I realize that’s strange coming as it does from a good Southern boy, but I have two perfectly excellent reasons for despising this godawful season that everyone else apparently loves so dearly.

First of all, I am not a small man — not by a long shot. To be quite honest, I’m fat, large, obese, and several other words of varying denotation and connotation all pointing to the fact that I was born 10 pounds and 5 ounces and I haven’t missed a meal since.

Summertime was not meant for fat people. We sweat. Now some of you more proper individuals may “perspire” and some ladies may even develop a “delicate sheen.” Well, honey, I sweat buckets and right now, I’ve got the Zambezi River flowing from my hairline down my back to eventually puddle in and around my nether regions. That’s with the A/C “givin’ ye all she can Cap’n”. Any more strain on the venerable Trane and the dilithium crystals will probably blow and we’ll have to eject the warp core. If I go outside for long in this 100+ heat, you could render lard off my backside.

I hate to sweat. The only time I’ve ever CHOSEN to sweat is when I wrestled four years in high school. Then, sweating seemed to serve a purpose. Any other time, it just makes me miserable. Fat people were built for Arctic conditions. If you don’t believe me, when’s the last time you saw a skinny Inuit? (Nota Bene: “Eskimo” is a derogatory term, which I didn’t know until an exceptionally large Inuit man told me) Inuits live in the Arctic. Ever seen a svelte whale? Know why? It’s freaking cold in the ocean depths where they swim! Nature has selected against fat mixing with heat. Fat goes with cold; skinny goes with heat.

My second reason to despise summer is I am known in some circles as “The Man The Sun Forgot.” I don’t want to say I’m pale or anything, but people afflicted with albinism stand next to me to feel good about their tan. The few times I’ve gone cave exploring, my glowing body was the third emergency light source. Folks are always asking me why don’t I take off my shirt when I’m outside. The simple answer is the last time I removed my shirt outside on a bright sunny day, I got a call from Houston Space Center asking me to please cover myself because I was blinding the crew of the International Space Station and they couldn’t conduct their experiments.

You think I’m joking, but I’m not. I am WHITE and I am FAT. I went to the beach several years and many, many pants sizes ago and, even then, when I took off my shirt just for kicks, a big guy in a frock coat appeared out of nowhere and started chasing me down the beach waving a harpoon and screaming, “I’ve found ye at last! Thar she blows! A hump like a snow hill!” If that wooden leg hadn’t slowed him down enough for the beach patrol to grab him I hate to think what might have happened.

Now I realize many of my gentle readers have a simple solution to my lack of melanin; just lay out in the Sun a little and tan, right? Um, did you even read the first section about heat? An ex of mine once asked me to lay out in the sun with her. I told her if she wanted to break up with me, just say so. Even if I didn’t mind roasting myself like a suckling pig with pineapple rings and a Granny Smith in my mouth, there’s the little matter of blistering sunburn. During my childhood and well into my teens, the strongest SPF sunscreen was 15. I would get COOKED right through 15. It was like slathering butter on roasting corn ears.

Luckily for me, times have changed and sunscreen is now stronger. Still, if I want a decent chance at remaining non-boiled-lobster color, I have to wear Bullfrog 55 SPF and, no lie, I get pinkish through that after a couple of hours. Oh, and when I do burn, it doesn’t turn tan. Nope, most people are burn, tan, burn, tan darker. I am burn, peel, burn worse, get sun poisoning, peel some more, risk drowning in an oatmeal bath.

I’ve got a ton of sunburn stories, but I’ll tell one and let it go at that. When I was six, we had the first above ground pool I’d ever seen. Of course, Daddy didn’t bother to hook up the filter, so we had to drain it once a month to get the slime molds out of the bottom and refill it . . . but I digress. Two friends and I happily splashed around in said pool from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM. I hadn’t put ANY sunscreen on, but that was okay because I had my FAVORITE shirt of the moment on just like Mama had told me to do. (Well, she did tell me to wear a shirt.)jersey

This shirt was a real, live reproduction Clemson football JERSEY. Now for those who don’t know, this was 1977 and football jerseys back in the day had a “mesh pattern” which basically means I was in the Sun on one of the brightest days of the year wearing no sunscreen and a shirt complete with HOLES all in it! Now, I have a genius IQ, but as one of my best friends used to point out, I lack the common sense to get out of a shower of rain. I figured since I wore it like a shirt, it WAS a shirt, and it would keep me safe from the ravages of the sun.

It didn’t.

When Mama came home from shopping, she called us in the house (trailer, whatever). She took one look at me and burst into tears. I couldn’t see my back so I had no idea what was wrong. This was one time ignorance was not bliss. I had developed a water blister through each one of the hundreds of holes in the shirt. The shirt was literally fastened to my back and shoulders by water blisters poking through the holes. I went and stood in the shower under straight cold well water for thirty minutes trying to get the blisters to go down.

They didn’t.

Mama finally had to take the shirt off me. Just so you know, ANYTIME your mother tells you beforehand, “Baby, I’m so sorry, but this is really going to hurt,” you can bet your britches it is REALLY GOING TO HURT. Well, with water still pouring on me, Mama took hold of the hem of that jersey and snatched it straight up over my head in one classic “skin-a-cat” motion . . . and every one of those blisters ripped open and yellowish blister fluid started running down my back. If you’re wondering, yes, I cried. I cried like a baby. My back looked like steak tartare for a week. THAT, gentle readers, is just one of the many reasons why I despise summer, why I don’t go outside if at all possible from June to September, AND why I NEVER get into a pool unless it is DARK O’CLOCK!

Keep cool and wash those feet!

Love y’all!

Seventy Years on Suicide Watch

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http://larrycalloway.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/trinity.jpg

“‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.” Dr. Robert Oppenheimer.

Seventy years ago today, 15 July 1945, the world entered the Atomic Age with the successful detonation of “The Gadget,” a prototype atomic bomb device, in the desert of Alamagordo, New Mexico. Code named “Trinity,” the explosion crowned years of intense, sometimes maddening, more than once deadly, and always shrouded in I’d-tell-you-but-then-I’d-have-to-kill-you levels of secret research at Los Alamos, New Mexico; Oak Park, Tennessee; and Chicago, Illinois among many other places. It was a project so cloaked in silence and mystery the Vice President of the United States didn’t know of the Manhattan Project’s existence until shortly before he would be called upon to make the decision to use this terrible new weapon in combat against the Japanese.

The entire lead up to the test took on the quality of a March Madness office pool. All the physicists knew the device would work and go kaboom . . . THEORETICALLY. Empirically, no one, including them, had the faintest idea what was going to happen. The scientists placed bets on what would happen during the test. Most wagered on a specific “yield” the explosion would put off. One wag bet on a “fizzle” with nothing happening at all, which would have been ten kinds of disastrous, while a final optimist believed the bomb would go off and ignite the Earth’s atmosphere, incinerating the planet.

Now, we know what happened at the test. Books fill whole library shelves describing the Manhattan Project, the physics of the A-Bomb, and the results of Trinity. We also know that explosion, which turned the desert sand to green glass, ushered in the era of atomic weapons. Two of those weapons would end World War 2 in spectacular, if controversial, fashion. Still, that is not the ultimate legacy of the Manhattan Project and the culminating successful Trinity test.

What really happened in the desert that day in 1945 was the world purchased a revolver with six chambers and three mighty large cartridges. After the two bombs fell on Japan, the final cartridge would remain in the gun and that chamber would spin wildly for the next fifty years as nuclear powers like the USA and the Soviet Union played a dangerous game of Russian roulette with the world.https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/35/Trinity_Site_Obelisk_National_Historic_Landmark.jpg

When that “gadget” worked, mankind, for the first time since God created us or we climbed down from the trees to stand on two legs, whichever scenario works best for you, now possessed the power of complete global annihilation. Before the Atomic Age, we might have been wiped out by a supervolcano explosion like Yellowstone or Toba. We may have bought the farm courtesy of a Texas sized asteroid hurtling into our planet. We may even have contracted some sort of disease no one could survive, but all those scenarios have a single thing in common . . . they are OUTSIDE forces.

With the coming of “The Bomb,” the decision of a few men could set in motion the end of the human race. We image-bearers of God or evolved monkeys now hold the power to kill everyone and everything on this planet except for cockroaches and, possibly, kudzu. I don’t know about y’all, but that is a staggering thought and one my generation was the last to fully appreciate.

See, I grew up in the ’80’s as a member of Gen-X. For eight long years, I watched Ronnie Ray-gun goad and cajole and threaten the Soviet Union into an unsustainable arms race which may or may not, depending on who you ask, have ultimately bankrupted and destroyed the USSR and with it, the USA’s only real rival in the world. Along the way, though, it looked more than once like a big crop of mushroom clouds was going to pop up all around the world as the USSR decided if they couldn’t win the Cold War, no one was going to.

I spent my tween and teen years watching movies and television episodes like Damnation Alley, The Day After, and Amerika. In junior high, we even had a War of the Worlds like moment when some local station started reporting Charleston Harbor and Naval Base had been nuked. It was another “docu-drama” but it scared the Hell out of those of us who hadn’t seen the previews. We knew we lived in a world that could end at any time just because someone on our side or their side got pissed off and pushed a button. We also knew, thanks to Mr. Stoddard and social studies, EVERYONE was going to die because no matter who shot first, the tons of nuclear “boomer” submarines in both superpowers’ navies would finish off whoever was left. I can’t speak to others, but I went to bed scared a lot of nights, but then I always was a sensitive child.

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According to the Doomsday Clock, it’s three minutes til midnight.

So now, we are seventy years removed from Trinity. The Cold War is over; the remaining ICBMs safely pointed, we’re told, into the ocean. Can we really say we’re any safer though? A nuke remains the Holy Grail of every terrorist organization in the world. Just imagine if one of the planes on 9-11-2001 had carried a suitcase nuke instead of just a full tank of fuel. New York City might not be nearly as crowded. Also, remember, at the fall of the Soviet Union, apparently some generals had a “Nukes-R-Us” type yard sale because several small to medium “devices” are still unaccounted for. Where are those bombs?

If the idea of terrorists with atomic weapons doesn’t chill you enough, keep in mind the nuclear club has gotten a bit bigger since 1945. The Soviet Union / Russia joined up in 1948 followed soon after by China, the UK, and France. Now Pakistan AND India (who HATE each other BTW) are both declared nuclear powers. Don’t forget the lunatic in North Korea. He SWEARS they have at least three small nukes. Who knows for sure? Then there’s little Israel with their Samson Protocol. Sure, they don’t advertise they have nuclear weapons, but it’s a pretty safe bet they do and you can bet the house and kids if Israel is ever invaded or attacked by a nuclear missile, they WILL blow AT LEAST the Middle East all the way to Paradise and back.

Oppenheimer, et. al. let a potent genie out of the bottle on those plains of New Mexico. We’ve got the means of global suicide sitting beneath the Siberian and American Great Western plains. I just hope cooler heads always manage to prevail and if they don’t, then I hope I’m really close to the first wave of nuclear blasts because, as the man said, “It’ll sure hurt bad, but it won’t hurt long.”

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Throwback Thursday: Snakes in a Jon Boat

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This story was originally published January 27, 2010

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite recreations was fishing on the local farm ponds around my hometown. A buddy of mine named Scott had unfettered access to a nice fourteen foot jon boat and we had permission from several farmers to get in their ponds whenever we wanted.

Mostly, we fished at night for three reasons. First, this is the Southland in the summertime. Fish have sense even if people don’t; they lie deep and don’t bite much, if at all in the heat of a July day. Second, I am about half a gene from being an albino. Sunshine is not my friend. Finally, if you ever once hear a five pound bass explode through the surface to take a Heddon’s Hula Popper on a still night under the stars, you can say you’ve lived a good life whatever may come from then on.

This particular Wednesday night, Scott and I were joined by another of our buddies, Wishbone. We got on the pond just as twilight was turning into full dark. I was seated in back of the boat because I cast right handed side armed. Wishbone was in the front seat because he also cast exclusively side armed. Scott took the middle because he was a lefty and could cast very well with a traditional overhand motion. The arrangement worked quite well and we spent an hour catching and releasing small, strong bass and an odd bream or two with more guts than sense.

We’d worked our way around the edge pond and had reached the “neck” where the stream that fed the pond flowed in. Several large water oaks and a willow or two hung out over the water and at times we passed underneath these outstretched limbs to cast to the undercut banks that were home to the real lunker bass in the lake. All had gone nicely when I heard a distinct “thump” in the boat between Wishbone and Scott. Scott whipped around and shot me a desperate look in the light of the gibbous moon. I nodded wordlessly that I’d heard it as well just about the time the thing we’d dreaded most came upon us; Wishbone wailed out plaintively, “What just hit the boat?” Now Scott and I knew quite well what had made the noise. It was most likely a brown or “yellow bellied” water snake that had dropped out of the overhanging tree into the boat. They are big eyed nocturnal serpents and about as harmless as cold blooded, scaly kittens.

At this point, I need to tell you three things of great importance. One, we were in ten or twelve feet of water. Two, I’m five feet ten inches tall on a good day and I can’t swim a LICK. Some of you may have heard an old wives’ tale about how us fat people “float well.” Now I can’t speak for anyone else, but personally, I float like a ’54 Studebaker Conestoga station wagon. Third, Wishbone was mortally, morbidly, and totally terrified — nay, freaked completely out beyond all rational thought — by snakes. Any snakes.

At this point, the night got quite interesting.

Wishbone guessed the noise had been a snake. He snatched what must have been a WWII antiaircraft spotlight from his tackle box and, before we could stop him, cut it on and began searching for Zeros and Val bombers in the bottom of the boat. The only real effect the ten million candlepower flashlight had was to blind the three of us instantly, which sent Wishbone straight from granny, past second, third, and fourth right into fifth gear of panic. Poor Wish. He only knew two things at that moment: all he could see was red and yellow splotches AND he was in a fourteen foot aluminum jon boat with — to his tortured mind anyway — a Titanaboa. He lost all control. Still, IF the very bright flashlight had been the ONLY non-fishing item in Wishbone’s tackle box, we might have made it out okay.

It wasn’t and we didn’t.

My vision cleared just enough, just in time to watch a still-partially-blinded Wishbone stand up, pull a Charter Arms Bulldog five shot .44 Special double action revolver from his tackle box and point it at the bottom of the boat where he figured the anaconda had taken refuge. I managed to squeak “NOOOOO!” in a rather pathetic way before the calm night erupted in a thunderclap not once, but five times. The boy emptied the gun into the bottom of the boat. How none of us fell out of the boat in the midst of the confusion, I’ll never know, but what I do know is this — .44 Specials make BIG ‘OL HOLES in aluminum boats.

I guess the report of the gun cleared Wish’s head because he plopped down into his seat with a sheepish look on his face and watched five .44 caliber sized geysers jetting up from the bottom of the boat. Scott calmly reached over and took the gun from Wish and said, “Well, Wish, now the boat is going to sink and we’ll be in the water with REAL dangerous snakes like water moccasins and cottonmouths.” At this point, I chimed in, “Remember fellas? I can’t swim. AT ALL.” What Scott and Wish said next, I won’t print but it would have made Samuel L. Jackson proud.

In the end, we found out the boat’s “solid” seats were packed with styrofoam or some such floatant and, with a combination of bailing like mad and some Olympic class rowing, we made it to the take out point with two whole inches of gunwale still above water. All three of us were soaked to the bone but we’d saved the boat, saved the tackle, and, most important to my mind anyway, saved my fat rear end. Apparently, our reptilian interloper had made good his escape sometime between the shooting and the paddling. In any event, we never saw tooth nor scale of him. Once we got everything loaded up in the back of my little white S-10 truck, Scott walked over and patted Wishbone on the back and said, “Wish, I love you like a brother, I’d fight a circle saw for you, drive here to Texas to pick you up off the side of the road, and drain out the last drop of my blood to help save your life, but as God Almighty is my witness, frost will form on the Hinges of Hell before you EVER go night fishing in a boat with me again.”

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

Great War Wednesday: Warfare Takes Flight

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http://www.military-art.com/mall/images/dhm1296.jpgNow back at the turn of the century
in the clear blue skies over Germany
came a roar and a thunder like I’d never heard
it was the screamin’ sound of a big warbird!
Snoopy and the Red Baron by The Royal Guardsmen

Little more than a decade after the Wright Brothers made their famous flight at Kitty Hawk, some enterprising young French or British lad with a certain skill at piloting these newfangled “aeroplanes” convinced his commander to let him take one up just to “see what the Huns were up to over the hill.” The commander obliged and the daring young man in his flying machine returned a little later breathless and excited at all the amazing intelligence he was able to gather for his fellow soldiers. Obviously, some enterprising young German lad saw that “reconnaissance flight,” as did HIS commander so the youngster had little trouble convincing a nearby officer to let him go fly over the Allied lines. He went and came back safely, and so began the earliest use of airplanes in warfare.

Things went along splendidly for a few months with almost daily flights over the lines by both sides. The pilots were quite chivalrous with one another and usually exchanged a wave as they passed in the air. They were enemies on paper, but kindred spirits at heart. Then, one of the nastier young men figured it would be good if only HIS side were able to fly over and spy out the other side’s troop movements so this cretin carried a Lee Enfield or Mauser K98 up with him the next time he went aloft and instead of waving at his fellow recon pilot from the other team, he shot the guy with the rifle which, of course, the other man found quite unsporting and he complained about it bitterly to himself all the way to the earth whence he crashed and died.

The offended side, and I like to think it was the British for reasons which will be clear in a moment, thought this shooting at another plane was certainly NOT CRICKET! (see, only the Brits say that) They decided to one up Fritz and did so by sending up a plane with an “observer” in a rear seat. Now, this observer happened to have a Vickers machine gun mounted on a swivel in his cockpit and this machine gun made short work of the first German recon plane the duo encountered. Now the cat was well and truly out of the bag. Pilots had decided, mostly amongst themselves, it was open season on each other and the arms race took off, quite literally. I cannot help but admire these first air warriors. I am terrified to think of flying in the most modern airliner the world has to offer so the idea of climbing into a jumble of wires, wood, and cloth with an engine out front . . . usually anyway . . . is to me nothing short of madness.

At first, the most daunting task facing the early aircraft engineers was how to best arm the new “fighter” type planes. The rear facing machine gun was a start, but the chance always remained that an overzealous “backseater” might track a trailing plane too literally and end up blasting his own craft’s tail off with predictably disastrous results for him and his pilot. What was apparent to everyone almost from the start was the finest place for armament was on the nose of the airplane. With guns on the nose, the pilot could fly the plane and shoot the guns resulting in fewer men in the plane and less weight. The only drawback to guns in the nose was the particularly pesky problem of the propeller. Early attempts established what most suspected, any attempt to fire through the spinning prop would result in shooting one’s own prop to bits with more predictably disastrous results for the pilot and plane since planes before the invention of the jet engine tended to fly quite poorly without propellers.

The first attempt to remedy the problem was put forward by a Frenchman named Roland Garros. His solution was to place steel plating on the propellers at the point where a bullet would otherwise strike the wooden prop. This method did work. Mssr. Garros shot down three enemy planes using the steel plate technique, but it did have one nasty bug. If a bullet hit the steel plate at the right angle, it would not zing harmlessly to the side but instead came ricocheting back at the pilot seated behind the gun. Since the bullet traveled much too fast for the pilot to duck, he would usually end up shot in the head with, again, predictably disastrous results.

As luck had it, a German engineer of some renown, Anthony Fokker, (yes, let the puerile joking begin) got hold of a crashed plane with the steel plates on the prop and realized immediately what a truly stupid idea the whole thing actually was. Within a few weeks, he presented the German High Command with his masterpiece — the interrupting gear. This was an ingenious device that wedded the shaft of the propeller to the firing mechanism of the machine gun. Essentially, it had a “bump” on the gear wherever a blade of the propeller crossed the plane of fire from the gun. The bump would “interrupt” or lock the gun momentarily so the blade could pass unharmed.

Once a German fighter equipped with the interrupting gear crashed behind Allied lines, It didn’t take long for the British to get their hands on one of Fokker’s inventions even though the Germans tried like the devil to keep it secret. Once both sides possessed the ability to mount guns firing through the propellers of planes, the true age of fighter aircraft began as planes still famous today like Spad, Albatross, and Sopwith began taking to the air flown by men of equal fame like Buck, Rickenbacker, and von Richthofen. Air power was out of the cradle and by the end of the war would give glimpses of just how awesomely powerful airplane mounted weapons could be as well as how crucial control of the air would become.

More about all those in later episodes!

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

Great War Wednesday: The First Blitz

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http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02652/zep_2652198b.jpgAny mention of The Blitz generally conjures up images of He111s and Ju88s dropping loads of bombs night after night out of a searchlight-crossed sky as the hardy residents of London sheltered, but not cowered, in the Tubes of the Underground and other “bombproofs” in the dark, uncertain days of 1940 and the Battle of Britain.

Similarly, question nearly anyone about Zeppelins and, if one gets any answer at all, it will contain a reference to one of two things, either the hard rocking Led Zeppelin led by Plant and Page or, if they are more historically minded, the ill fated Nazi passenger airship Hindenburg which famously erupted into an inferno over a New Jersey airfield in 1937.

However, during the Great War, Germany, in an effort to launch some sort of offensive to break the stalemate of the Western Front, began experimenting with the rudiments of what we call today strategic bombing. Beginning as early as January 1915, the ponderous steel-framed hydrogen filled products of Herr Von Zeppelin’s genius and factories glided silently across the English Channel under cover of darkness to drop some unexpected explosive surprises on the unwitting population of Britain.

After several aborted attempts, a successful raid finally launched on 19 January 1915. Two Zeppelins slipped across the Channel bound towards England and guided mostly by the glow of the city in the distance. Reaching what they deemed to be their targets, they dropped their small payload of bombs and turned back towards home. While four people were killed and 16 injured in this first raid, it highlighted what would plague the bombing campaign throughout the war.  First, several earlier raids had been forced to abort because of weather. High winds at altitude would render the earlier airships almost unmanageable and a strong headwind could lengthen the outbound trip long enough for the Zeppelin to lose cover of darkness and woe betided any poor Zeppelin crew caught out in daylight.

Any storms in the region would also cause a mission to abort. These airships floated on hydrogen gas bladders. As anyone who has ever seen footage of the Hindenburg explosion can attest to, hydrogen is wildly flammable. Even scarier, a pure hydrogen flame is invisible! If an incendiary round punched into a Zeppelin gas bladder, the resulting fire would be unseen until it reached the skin of the ship and cloth with rubberizing began to burn. More than the bullets, however, the crews feared lightning. A direct strike could, and did, ignite the volatile suspendent and send the crew to a flaming, crashing demise.

Another weakness the crews detected early on was the total inaccuracy of their bombing. At night, most brilliantly lit cities looked alike. As a result, it was not at all unusual for bombs to drop miles off target. Whereas in World War 2, any attack on London was likelier than not to actually hit London, some Zeppelins attacked “London” only to discover later their bombs had fallen on the city of Hull a mere 154 MILES away. Furthermore, all the bombing crews aimed at a “target” in the largest possible sense of the word. Bombs either dropped from crudely fashioned racks below the gondola or else were hurled out the windows by the crew. Neither method came near to anything one might consider precision. The deadly iron hail fell where it would and often where it eventually landed had no connection with the military whatsoever. https://grocerystorefeet.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/bc2dd-plaque2bww1.jpg?w=233&h=233The very first bomb dropped on London by Zeppelin landed in a flower garden. The tendency for bombs to go off target led to mostly civilian casualties. Even though these deaths were unintended, the term collateral damage had yet to be invented. British press made propagandizing hay with every non-combatant’s death. Londoners referred to the giant airships as “baby-killers.”

Ironically, the bombings proved so inaccurate Kaiser Wilhelm refused to allow the Army or Navy air arms to target London for months after the raids began. After all, he had several beloved cousins and other family living in London . . . most of them at Buckingham Palace . . . and he didn’t want to risk them being harmed.

While people on the ground obviously feared the Zeppelins, the German crews who flew and maintained the beasts didn’t exactly live the life of Riley either. The airships had around a twenty man crew who, like the later submariners, were all volunteers, and who, again like their brethren under the sea, suffered much greater casualties. Over 40% of the aircrews perished during the course of the war.

Fully half of the crew was devoted to maintaining and repairing — often mid flight — the four or six giant engines of the craft. This job had its perks, first among them being the warmth of the engines. These craft were flying at altitudes where the temperature was a balmy -20F even in the summer so a sustained heat source was a true pleasure. This boon came at a cost, however. The engines were atrociously loud and during each flight, the engine compartment quickly filled with a noxious mixture of fuel fumes and exhaust. The other crew members such as the officers, defensive gunners, and radiomen had a much quieter ride, but the mountain of garments they were obliged to wear made them look for all the world like Randy, Ralphie’s young brother in A Christmas Story. Regardless of where a man was on the craft, however, the fears gripping their hearts were the same — crashing, enemy bullets, getting lost, but most of all burning to death in a tangle of cloth and metal hurtling earthward. Being a Zeppelin crew member was not a job for those faint of heart.

http://img138.imageshack.us/img138/9533/pushervszeppelin.jpgWhile Zeppelin raids went on right up until the Armistice in 1918, they must be deemed a colossal strategic failure. In the course of the war, airships made 51 bombing raids on England. These killed 557 and injured another 1,358 people. More than 5,000 bombs fell on towns across Britain, causing £1.5 million in damage. 84 airships took part, of which 30 were lost, either shot down or lost in accidents with an accompanying death of over 600 men.

In the end, and quite ironically, probably the worst damage the Zeppelin raids would do would come during the Second World War. The German High Command greatly overestimated the psychological effect the bombing of civilian centers would have on Great Britain. In their turn, the Allies would adopt the same philosophy as the Germans and as a result, civilian casualties in World War 2 dwarfed those of World War I as each side tried valiantly to “bomb them back to the stone age.” Unfortunately, in an all out war scenario, governments — even the vaunted democracies, much less the totalitarian states — aren’t great at listening to their populations. In a real sense, the feeble and largely unsuccessful Zeppelin raids of World War I sowed the seeds which led directly to the atrocities of the Blitz, Dresden, Tokyo and other failed attempts by the powers to bomb each other out of World War 2.

Hope you liked this week’s Great War Wednesday.

Love y’all, and keep your feet clean.

When the Sandlappers Stood Tall

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http://www.clipartbest.com/cliparts/Rid/gEj/RidgEjAdT.pngAs a native South Carolinian, I know full well my little pie-shaped state by the Atlantic Ocean has precious little to show for its 489 years of European influence. To be sure, we started out well enough and early to boot. Spaniard Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon, founded the first European settlement in what would be the United States back in 1526. Called San Miguel de Gualdape and founded with 600 settlers, including African slaves, the little colony only lasted three months. I suppose football season ended. We were one of the original Thirteen Colonies, the First State under the Articles of Confederation, and the Eighth State to ratify the US Constitution. One could say we made a good beginning. Unfortunately, things began a steep decline from such august beginnings around 1860 and we’ve had trouble getting back on the rails ever since. We have no confirmed Presidential birthplaces within our borders, and no Presidential campaigns ever hinge on our bright red state. None of the Big Four professional sports has a team which calls our state home. No national parks beckon tourists even if the Grand Strand does.

Indeed, few in this country notice us at all and if they do it is for some reason of negativity. We hover around 49th in educational success (thank you, Mississippi). We have staggering poverty in our Appalachian regions AND in our Lowcountry. We started the Civil War after all. Anytime we get press, it usually refers to the little pizza-pie shaped Southern rebel. Every now and then, however, my state grabs the national spotlight by the throat and shines it on some speck of accomplishment worthy of pride even if, in that moment of pride, sorrow usually dwells.

Recently, our nation has endured throes of rioting and rhetoric not seen since the Rodney King Verdict in the 90’s. Places like Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; and Baltimore, Maryland have erupted in violence towards all following violence towards others — specifically blacks. In that same time period, my state has experienced two of the worst incidents of racial violence the country has produced in many years. Recently, a white police officer in Charleston, SC shot an unarmed black man seven times in the back as the man fled arrest. Just nine days ago, a young white boy walked into a Charleston, SC church of mostly black worshipers and, after spending an hour bathed in their love, rose from his pew and slaughtered nine congregants with a concealed handgun.

Considering the response to similar incidents across the nation, people in other states held their breath wondering how the towns and cities of South Carolina would burn with rioting and looting. Imagine their surprise when our response was justice instead of inflammatory and divisive rhetoric and unconditional love instead of spewed hatred. The dread gods of chaos did not descend upon my state. Al and Jesse didn’t rush here to make speeches. Instead, we held hands and wept together at the tragedy our people had endured, but we did not add wanton destruction to the already terrible loss. Our state stood tall as others looked on, waiting for flames, they found only flowers.

Now some might take my words in praise of my state to mean I feel South Carolina is above the fray other states find themselves in. Some may take me for a polemicist point out the progress this one time bastion of the Confederate States of America has made towards equality. Some may even think I’m daring to say South Carolina has overcome racism. So do I believe my beloved Palmetto State has truly turned the corner and we are beyond the pale in terms of racism? Have we really become the fertile ground to realize Dr. King’s mountaintop dream? In short, can we say with pride South Carolina is not a racist state?

OH HELL NO! Are y’all crazy? South Carolina is one of the most racist places in the USA. Come on, now, people.

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Look, Charleston, where all this happened, was one of the largest slave entry points in the colonies and later the country. “The Old Slave Market” is still a huge draw for the city’s multitude of tourists even if today ornamental tchotchkes instead of human chattel are the featured items. We may not have had as many huge plantations as Georgia or Virginia, but we had our share and African slaves bent their backs under King Cotton’s lash for 250 years. Oh, we started the Civil War that killed more Americans than any other conflict we’ve ever entered. Once the war was over, we replaced King Cotton with Jim Crow to “keep ‘them’ in their ‘place.'” Just because we didn’t have the Scotsboro Boys or Emmitt Till doesn’t mean we didn’t have lynchings a-plenty. The white robes Klansmen have always found a haven in the Palmetto State.

Ever hear of the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, KS? You know, the one that was supposed to strike down segregated schools? It passed in 1954. We didn’t have the Little Rock Nine and our governor didn’t sit in the schoolhouse door to bar “colored” from entering, but anyone want to guess when our little state finally complied and FULLY integrated all public schools? 1971, the year I was born and a full seventeen years after the Brown decision. Our longest serving US Senator from SC — the Honorable (oookayy) Strom Thurmond — ran for President on a platform of continuing and strengthening segregation. When the Civil Rights Movement reached full swing and came to South Carolina, the state legislature responded by requiring the Confederate Battle Flag to fly from the TOP of the Statehouse dome. Oh, and the piece de resistance, we sent a man to the United States House of Representatives who interrupted this country’s first black President during an INTERNATIONALLY TELEVISED SPEECH to call him a liar right in front of God, the international media, and a joint session of Congress. He was later re-elected to his House seat by a 96% margin.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R_SC) of “YOU LIE” infamy.

It’s safe to say we’ve come a ways, but we’ve got miles to go before we sleep equally well.

So what AM I trying to say about my state? First of all, we don’t HIDE our racism here just like we don’t hide our crazy relatives. No, we wrap a shawl around it’s neck, sit it in a rocker on the front porch, and let it wave at the neighbors. We were an original slave state; we started a freaking WAR to keep our states’ rights . . . to OWN PEOPLE. What’s the point in denying it? Drive all over the lower part of the state and you’ll see dozens of posh, well landscaped private schools named after Confederate generals and all with a plaque out front saying “FOUNDED 1971.” If you can’t beat ’em, run from ’em. Interracial couples still get a lot of stares and glares, but we aren’t stringing them up and while that might not seem like much, at least it’s something. What I’m saying is, we are trying. Overcoming 500 years of precedent and prejudice won’t be accomplished overnight, but we are trying.

http://i.huffpost.com/gen/3090818/thumbs/o-CONFEDERATE-FLAG-COLUMBIA-570.jpg?6For example, if you are a cop and you shoot an unarmed man you were trying to arrest for non-payment of child support seven times IN THE BACK on VIDEO, we will not send the video to a lab and have it analyzed ad nauseum then convene a grand jury to figure out what should be done about you amidst much hand-wringing and moral agonizing. NO. Instead, we will fire you, take your badge and gun, charge you with first degree murder then THROW. YOUR. ASS. IN. JAIL! If some poor fool walks into a church and walks out later with an empty gun leaving behind nine dead worshipers, we aren’t calling “Reverend” Sharpton to come make a speech about how tragic the incident is while neighborhoods all across the state lose their minds and start burning police cars, smashing store windows, and looting everything in sight under the pretense of “being angry at the system.” Instead, we will pack out that church with people black, white, brown, red, pink, orange and green for every funeral. We will do what we always do for death in the South . . . mourn with those who mourn and send casseroles, pound cakes, and dry chicken to comfort the grieving.

That’s just the way we roll here in South Cackalacky. From poor white trash to Hilton Head / Cliffs of Glassy McMansions, we know how to act — black and white. We may not always do right, but we KNOW right from wrong because it’s the way our Mamas and Grandmamas — black and white — raised us to do. Family members get on TV and forgive the ignorant young man because it’s what Jesus said do and around here, Jesus and Mama are still more important than the media. So, no, we aren’t perfect and we’re still racist as Hell, but most of us WANT to do better. Just like every other state, we’re all in the same racist prison looking out the same racist bars. The difference is other states are looking at the mud and we are looking at the stars.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean!

Throwback Thursday: To a Young Person Turning 16

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I’ve been looking for ways to post more often about a wider variety of stuff. Earlier this week, I hit upon the idea of re-runs! I’ve made over 300 posts in the seven or so years this blog has been extant and while most of them aren’t all that special, one or two have managed to make people smile or think again and again. With that in mind, on Thursdays I’m going to start rerunning a favorite post of mine or one that has garnered a lot of attention. Today’s Throwback Thursday I originally wrote for one of my former student’s sweet sixteen. She’s just over 21 now, married, two beautiful little girls, and working on becoming a nurse like her own amazing mom. I hope new readers will like this and older readers will remember it fondly.

Originally Published on September 16, 2009

http://www.themastershift.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/55730869_561c6dd6544ef4.jpgOne of my all time favorite kids is turning sixteen tomorrow. She was one of my best customers back when I had a job as a middle school librarian and I wanted to do something for her special day, but as you can imagine, being out of work has seriously cut into the gift giving budget, so I sent her a card and enclosed a two page note that I wish someone had given me when I was turning sixteen. Maybe things would have turned out differently. Do you think I gave her good advice?

Dear _____,
You are turning sweet 16!

Though you may not believe it, what comes next is probably the most important five year period of your life. From 16 to 21, you will make a ton of decisions that will affect the rest of your life. The problem is, you sometimes won’t know that you are about to make such a life changing decision until you look back on that moment from ten or twenty years down the road. For that reason, you must be careful and thoughtful about everything you do. I’ve got a few things to tell you about what’s coming that I really wish someone had told me when I was 16, but no one was around to tell me. Trust me when I say everything I’m going to tell you are lessons I learned the hard way by making mistakes, some of which I am still paying for to this day.

First, sex. Just say no. I realize that is sometimes easier said than done, especially when “everyone is doing it” and every TV show, movie, and song seems to be screaming that it’s okay and you are weird if you don’t sleep with everyone who comes along. Well, take it from me, they are wrong. Having sex too soon is a really good way to train-wreck your life in a hurry. Aside from the obvious fact that you can contract diseases and get pregnant, you can also be devastated emotionally. I promise you, as someone who knows too well, a lifetime of regret and second guessing is not worth a few minutes of what seems like the ultimate pleasure. Also, your generation seems to have trouble sometimes figuring out “what is sex.” This is a simple question. If you have to wonder if what you are thinking of doing is sexual, then it’s sex and don’t do it. It’s just not worth it.

Second, relationships. In the next five years, you’ll cement some relationships that will last for the rest of your life. Oddly enough, some of the people you think you’ll be friends with forever will drift away while some people you never dreamed of speaking to will turn out to be your dearest friends. You won’t make all the friends you’ll ever have by 21, but you’ll get a good start. You’ll also come across a boy or two that you thought at first would make a good boyfriend but after awhile you’ll see that he’s really a great boy who’s a friend. Hold on to those because friends of the opposite sex can give you insight into some decisions that your very best girlfriends can’t.

While I’m talking about relationships, don’t forget the most important relationships of all and that’s family. You will be sorely tempted many times in the next five years to think that your parents are idiots who know nothing and are completely out of touch with reality. However, if you will watch your tongue and try, just try, to listen to them, you will be shocked when you are 30 at how incredibly intelligent they have become. No relationships are more important than family. They are the ones who have been with you the longest and you didn’t get to pick each other – you just got stuck together by Someone who is a lot smarter than all of us. If you break ties with your family, you will live to regret it. Again, I know from experience what I’m talking about. When those family members are gone, you’ll be shocked at how lonely life can be.

College and jobs. Go to college or don’t go to college. You can make it in life either way. Just don’t go to college or pick what college you go to just because “everyone else is going there”. Following what everyone else does is another really good way to train-wreck your life because you aren’t everyone else. When you decide on a career, remember this – you will spend more waking hours at your job than you will anything else in your life. If you think being in school and hating it sucks, you’ve never laid in bed listening to the clock go off and nearly bursting into tears because you hate the thought of going to a job you despise. Find something you love to do then find a way to make a living out of it. That’s what I did and it’s one of the few things in my life that is still regret free.

Jobs lead to money and if you don’t listen to anything else, PLEASE listen to this. Be careful, careful, careful about money. No, money is not the most important thing in the world – far from it – but good money management can make your life go a lot easier. The worst thing you can do is come out of college thousands of dollars in debt with student loans AND credit cards! Avoid credit cards like the plague. Debt is like crack cocaine, it feels so good to buy what you want, but sooner or later, you have to pay. Now, having said all that, don’t hoard money either. Once you have a good roof over your head and the light bill and such are paid, don’t be afraid to live a little. People who hoard up money are just keeping score and money is a very empty way to keep score. Remember this – use things and love people; don’t use people and love things.

Finally, keep one thing in the back of your mind as you go “This too will pass away.” It’s true of everything, bad or good. If you are insanely happy at the moment, don’t get too caught up in it because it WILL pass away. No one can stay on the mountain top forever. At the same time, though, if you are in a dark period of life and it seems like the sun will never shine again, this too will pass away. No one stays in the valley forever, it just seems like a long time sometimes.

So, Sweetie, I hope you can find a nugget or two in the ramblings of an old man who’s seen a bit too much and avoid some pitfalls along the way. Life is a wonderful thing, enjoy it as much as you can, but always remember – this is the journey, not the destination. Enjoy your Sweet 16, _____, and may you have many, many more!

With fond affection,
Mr. S. Wham

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley

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http://vetmed.duhs.duke.edu/Photos/cutebrownmouse.bmp I just tucked Budge in after an adventurous first day of Summer Vacation for her and the rest of the county’s teachers. Now I’m sitting here mulling over what would have happened if my plans hadn’t gang agley, as dear Robert Burns says. I know this much; if Plan F had managed to grow from seed to fruit, yesterday would have closed out my second full decade as a teacher. I was an emergency hire at Woodmont High School in October 1994 for the 94-95 academic year. A teacher who moonlighted at a retail store in the mall got a sweet promotion to full time district manager in another state and my resume’ was the one Dr. Susan Hoover-now-Achilles picked, I think at random, from a pile on her desk.

I realize now I’ve started in medias res so to catch everyone up, Plan A was to follow my dream to become a Midshipman at the US Naval Academy, marry my high school sweetheart at the USNA Chapel after graduation, make rank, win medals, and have pretty babies. As to the first part, I had the grades. At that time, I had the fitness ability. I had a sweet 1380 on the SAT (back when that meant something). What I didn’t have was an appointment. Ignorant babe that I was, I didn’t know one does not simply walk apply and get accepted into Mordor The United States Naval Academy; one must be “appointed” by a US Congressman from one’s home state. A few other shortcut ways exist, but I didn’t meet any of them either. Apparently, I didn’t impress either secretary enough to even get an interview with the august men so, NO NAVAL ACADEMY FOR YOU!http://www.sposabellaphotography.com/blog/2011/brittany/naval%20academy%20wedding_009.jpg

So, I did what I always did. I dropped back ten and punted to Plan B which was to enlist in the United States Marine Corps after graduation, marry my high school sweetheart after basic, get deployed, make rank, win medals, come home, and have pretty babies. Unfortunately, I’d wrecked my ’79 Mustang the summer before my junior year and a piece of bumper went through my left quadriceps right down to the bone. The wound got infected and turned into a cantaloupe sized subdermal hematoma which I delayed getting taken care of until it had seriously messed up the muscle surrounding the wound, the end result being a 5″x5″ puckered, sunken spot on my thigh with a direct tunnel of nasty scar tissue running right down to the bone. I went to my Armed Forces physical (MEPS) at Fort Jackson and was doing great until one of the doctors did something no one else had ever done . . . he put his finger right in the center of the scar mass and pushed. I hit the floor like a crack dealer during a Saturday night SWAT raid. He pointed out any enemy who captured me would do the same AND that spot was going to swell up tight whenever I ran, which he was right about — the swelling, not the capture — because my junior year wrestling i had to ice that spot after every practice. So, I spent the longest five hours in history on a bus back to Greenville from Columbia just to tell my very unhappy Gunnery Sgt. recruiter I was a medical washout.

So, dropped back ten more and punted to Plan C which was to go to college, marry my high school sweetheart, get a degree, and have pretty babies. Well, Plan C went down in flames one day in the spring of my senior year when my high school sweetheart announced to me at my locker on a Friday right after final bell, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. The good news is, ‘IT ISN’T YOURS'” then turned and walked out of my life forever to become the wife and punching bag of an odious Georgia redneck. On the positive side, once I finally woke up Monday morningish, I understood with perfect clarity what a “Lost Weekend” is.

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So, dropped back ten more and punted to Plan D which was to go to college . . . and after that things got a little hazy but, as you can tell, I’ve never been one for planning the details. So I went to college, became an engineering major for a total of two hours, and came out on the other side with a degree in Secondary English Education. I and my country bumpkin accent and grammar were off to become a high school English teacher. That was in 1993 and by the end of the summer, I’d lost any hope of getting a teaching job so with the aforementioned Plan D in tatters, I took the aforementioned job at Kufner Textiles. That year of 93 to October of 94 was a long, strange trip involving lots of adventures I may tell some other time, but not here.

Welcome to Plan E. Here, I worked as many hours per week as I could doing whatever, but mostly dyeing cloth dark blue, jet black, or sometimes whorehouse red. Whenever I changed lots, I had to climb into the dye vats and wash down the rollers and flush out the tanks. It was hot, wet, and absolutely miserable work, but those adventures I was having made it bearable for awhile. Then, on October 10, 1994, while in the middle of a change from blue to red, I got called to the public phone in the breakroom, Dr. Hoover of Woodmont High School wanted to see me for an interview as soon as I got off that afternoon.

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/smurfs/images/8/8d/Smurfette-original.png/revision/latest?cb=20130824204416That interview was a hoot.https://avikstudio.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/hellboy_001b.jpg?w=160&h=219

Dr. Hoover forbade me from going home and changing so I walked into her nice spiffy office looking like the bastard love child of a giant Smurfette and Hellboy. As always happened when I cleaned dye vats, I had blue dye in my hair, on my face, and all over my clothes. I splashed red dye starting up the second lot so I had red mixed in all over as well. I tried to get her to let me stand on the sidewalk outside her office, but she knew nothing about how strong industrial cloth dye is and I knew nothing about what a raging, control freak, diet obsessed hellcat she was so I came in and plopped my happy dye covered ass down on her brand new office couch and crossed my legs. When I stood up again, I had the job, starting the next day. So that led to Plan F where I would teach like some of my favorite high school teachers had taught and stay in the same room teaching two and a half generations of children for thirty years and retire with a luncheon and a cake shaped like a book of Shakespeare Plays to write the great American novel. Somewhere along the line, I’d get married and we’d have pretty babies.

Well, I got my Budge, several ex-students now friends, but only ten good years of memories rather than the thirty I’d planned. I could go into detail and I have in a previous post as to what led to Greenville County Schools and me parting ways in a most unfriendly fashion, but I don’t feel like digging up those bones tonight. It’s in the archive. So ended Plan F. Funnily enough though, the day I left the school ten years later, you could still see the outline in blue of someone sitting, legs crossed and arm extended on the arm rest as clear as a mountain stream on that office couch. https://postmediamontrealgazette2.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/a-empty-teachers-desk-is-seen-at-the-front-of-a-empty-classr.jpg?quality=55&strip=all&w=660&h=495&crop=1

An old proverb, maybe Jewish, says, “Man plans and God laughs.” I’ve fought my way through a few more plans until Plan I finally took over after I was unceremoniously let go from my last chance teaching job six years ago now. Still, IF things had worked out, I’d be two thirds of the way to retirement today along with some of the best friends I’ve never heard from again. Funny thing my daddy used to say about that word “if;” he said, “If a frog had wings he wouldn’t bump his ass every time he took a step either.” Ah the plans of mice and men . . .

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

When the Levee Breaks

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Important Disclaimer: I have people of every form, fashion, and faith reading my blog and I’m happy more than you know that each and every one of you stop by and take the time to give GB & GSF a read. This particular post, however, is one of my more personal revelations so I’d like to ask the handful of atheists and agnostics who stop by from time to time if y’all wouldn’t mind just skipping this one. It’s just going to make you laugh at me and right now, I don’t need laughed at and while I’m a firm believer in free speech, it’s my blog and this is my heart I’m bearing here so any snarky comment is going in the circular file drawer. Having said that, let me tell you about breaking levees.

My life has slowly gone to Hell in a cheap Dollar General handbag for the last twelve years. It started with getting fired from Woodmont, but it’s steadily picked up speed until now I feel like I’m riding with a one way ticket on a runaway train, and to make matters worse, I haven’t had the foggiest idea why. I haven’t done anything that differently in my life, but stuff just keeps coming faster and faster and faster down the years. Now, I’m standing on top of my metaphorical levee, it’s leaking like a sieve, it’s going to break, and I know two things I didn’t know before: 1) This levee’s gonna break and 2) I know why. Let me enlighten you with what I’ve figured out.

I was literally prayed into this world, into my mama’s womb, and prayed out nine months later. Laugh if you want. I don’t care anymore. Mama told the story to me a million times how everyone else thought I was destined to be a girl, but Mama said, “No, I prayed for a big, healthy baby boy who would look just like his daddy.” Ask the people who still walk up to me in a store and say, “Hey, Frankie!” if she got her prayer answered.

When I got to this world, I dropped right onto a flood plain and great rivers of evil were rolling all around me and a black rain kept falling and still the deluge comes to this day. I never thought to worry though because even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I had one of the most massive spiritual levees this existence has ever seen. I had Big Granny and Aunt Lib. I had Granny Wham. I had Papa John. I had Mama, and by the time I was 25, I had Budge and those were just the main ones.

This was a crowd of praying people. Some people garden, some restore cars, some paint landscapes for hobbies, this bunch prayed . . . a lot . . . and a lot of those prayers were for me. Big Granny had retired by the time I was born so she’d pray hours and hours at a time for her family, but every now and again, she’d call Mama and pray for her special on the phone then she’d tell Mama to put the phone to my infant, then toddling body so she could pray for her “Shanlon” as she called me.

Aunt Lib worked second shift at one of the mills in Laurens. She lived and breathed the power of Pentecost and anyone who knew her knew she had the goods. She’d get off work after midnight and come home dog tired but instead of going to bed she’d pray for her family just to supplement the praying she’d done walking the floorboards of the weaving machines in the mill for the previous eight hours.

Next to my Mama, Granny Wham was the most formidable woman on this earth. She had an iron will that would not break even though it bent precariously a time or two, but she prayed Papa Wham home from Europe during World War II without a scratch on him and she prayed Daddy home from Vietnam without a scratch on him that anyone could see. If Granny Wham said she was going to pray for you, she wasn’t making idle talk. Your name was going on the list she would quietly and calmly review before her Lord every night before she went to bed. Everybody else on this page except for Budge and Granny Wham were all Pentecostal. Granny was a sprinkled Methodist turned dunked Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher and when she got on her knees she wasn’t talking to hear her brains rattle. She had every scrap of faith in the world that whatever she was praying for would come to pass no matter how improbable. Granny Wham was a serious prayer warrior.

I remember one of the last nights I ever spent the night at Granny and Papa Wham’s house. I was a teenager. Papa and I had watched a Braves game into the wee morning hours and instead of driving home I just laid down in Aunt Cathy’s old room and went to sleep. I sat bolt upright and looked at the clock on the headboard read 3:37 AM and I heard soft noise down the hall in the den. When I eased into the room, Granny Wham was on her knees at her favorite chair with her Oxford Blue Schofield Reference Bible laid out on the seat. She was praying and crying. I walked over and laid my hand on her back gently. She looked up towards me through pouring eyes and I asked her whatever was wrong. She said, “I had a dream I was in a wide open field and in the middle of the field was a mound of logs with a white sheet laying on it and as I walked closer to it I saw it was on fire, and when I got closer still I saw a body was under the sheet and it was on fire as well. Then I got right up to it and I was scared to pull back the sheet but I heard a voice telling me to.” Here she broke down for a minute and when she could speak again she said, “It was Frankie (my daddy). He was dead and burning and I don’t know what it means so I got up and came in her and I’ve been praying ever since.” When she reached a level of care need Cathy couldn’t give her at home, Granny moved to Martha Franks Retirement Center and even though a stroke left her barely able to speak intelligible words, God didn’t have trouble understanding her I know. Every time I went to see her, which was so very much less than it should have been, she was either napping in her bed or praying in her bed with her hands laying softly on the last bible I bought her to replace the Schofield that fell apart. Granny prayed.

Papa John (Mama’s daddy) was a Pentecostal preacher and a loom fixer at a cotton mill. People laughed at him and ridiculed him and put him down as tongue tied and uneducated. They didn’t know the pain that seared Papa’s soul and mind. Papa fought his own personal demons all his life and even though they broke his body with multiple strokes and multiple heart attacks and a car wreck or two for good measure, they never broke his spirit. He preached God’s word on Sunday morning and Sunday night with all the fervor and fire of a John Wesley or Charles H. Spurgeon right up until he had a big stroke in the church parking lot that left him unable to speak above a whisper. People gave up on him and people thought he was odd and funny, but Papa never gave up on God. The last several years of his life, Papa couldn’t get out or get up much without help. Instead of watching the old westerns he loved with Roy Rogers and Lash LaRue, he’d sit from late afternoon until dawn with his father-in-law’s ancient family bible on his lap reading and praying, mostly for Mama and me. The last words I heard him speak were a prayer.

Then . . . Mama. All my life Mama drilled into my head I didn’t belong to her I belonged to God and He had just allowed her to raise me. I once asked Mama if she loved me more than anything or anyone (I may have been five) and she replied without pause, “Everything and anyone except Jesus. I don’t love you more than Jesus, little man.” Jesus was the center of Mama’s universe no matter what anyone else may have ever believed about her. In all three trailers we lived in together, Mama wore a low spot in the carpet at the foot of her bed where her knees rested. She literally had callouses on her knees from kneeling before the Lord in prayer. When the COPD put her in a recliner for good, she couldn’t do anything else so she sat all day and long into the night watching the Gaither Gospel Homecoming series on DVD and praying, even though she couldn’t get to her knees anymore. The last three years of her life, she seldom left her chair except to use the bathroom. She couldn’t even get a shower unless the hospice nurse helped her she was so weak, but she still prayed for me. She was praying for me when she lost consciousness that final time.

Now, they’re all gone. Aunt Lib died September 3, 1997; I preached her funeral. Big Granny died February 9, 2001; I preached her funeral. Papa John died October 16, 2006; I preached his funeral, Granny Wham died February 5, 2008; she had wanted me to preach her funeral but Daddy and Cathy wouldn’t allow it so the idiot passing himself off as a pastor at her church who never darkened the door of her nursing home room the entire three years time she was there preached it, and so that left Mama and she went home March 25, 2013 . . . two years and two months from tomorrow.

All my levees broke, but the storm never let up. Looking back, I could feel a change after Big Granny died, but the hits really started pouring in after Papa John died and when Granny Wham died in February, I had my first stay at Charter Behavioral that November. The five years between Granny Wham’s death and Mama’s death saw my life seriously go into decline emotionally and mentally. Mama was strong praying for her little man though. With help from Budge, she almost single-handedly kept the darkness away from me. So that’s how I noticed what was happening . . . Mama knew she was going to die and she spent so much time praying for me that, with Budge adding a wife’s prayers along too, it took the darkness two full years to finally leak past the prayer levee Mama laid down.

But now she’s gone and my precious Budge is trying to hold back alone what the combined effort of the five greatest prayer warriors I’ve ever known could barely keep at bay. It’s a testament to her own strength that I’m still standing instead of cowering under the kitchen table in the fetal position. I feel it though. I hope no one thinks I’m casting aspersions on my precious wife’s praying ability. It’s just harder for one pillar to hold up what six once held.

I don’t know what is going to happen, but I know it’s going to be bad. My head stays in a whirlwind; thoughts will not settle down, some days motivation to MOVE is impossible to scrounge up. I am on the brink of tears every moment of every day. My decision making ability is becoming suspect. I’m having trouble getting out of the house. Pack after pack of black dogs chase me and The Tape plays over in my mind almost constantly. I live afraid of what comes next and I know some of you won’t understand that or will think I’m wallowing in self-pity. Honestly, I don’t care what you think. I know what’s in my head and guts. I know what I’ve faced WITH help and now I’ll face worse WITHOUT help.

So that’s the story and I don’t know why I didn’t realize it sooner but it’s like the old axiom “You don’t miss the water ’til the well runs dry.” I don’t want to carry on, but I don’t have a choice until I’m hammered down so hard I can’t rise anymore.

Until then, I still love y’all and hope y’all still keep your feet clean.

The Tape

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Of all the issues I have to deal with, and believe me I have more issues than National Geographic, the most pernicious and debilitating is what I affectionately refer to as “The Tape.” That’s the short name. It’s full name is The Grievous Recitation and Replay of Misery, Misfortune, Doom and Failure Inside My Head. So, see, it’s much easier to just say “The Tape.”

The Tape consists of basically everything bad that I’ve ever said or done AND everything bad that has ever happened to me as far back as I have memory. I realize some of you will read that and think it impossible, but ask people who know me and they can assure you I am quite capable of remembering all that and more. What many people wrongly believe to be a superior intellect on my part is actually just an above average memory. It’s not photographic or eidetic like Dr. Spencer Reid on Criminal Minds, but it’s been a true blessing to me in my academic career . . . and a blackened curse on my emotional life.

The Tape functions like so, all my bad memories are stacked like cord wood inside my brain. One really old one is me falling into the man eating rose bush outside Aunt Mary’s back door. One minute I was standing on the top step waiting on her to open the door and the next I was bum over teakettle in a rose bush that could have made an admirable crown of thorns for an Easter Passion Play. Another one — a seriously horrible one — is of me feeding one of our bulldogs when Rusty, a fat little waddling beagle puppy stuck his nose in the food dish and Lady snatched him up and tore his throat out right before my four year old eyes. My fault because I knew better than to let any beagles near the bullys and I should have been paying attention. I never knew what happened to Lady. Daddy told Mama he gave her away, but Mama always believed he took her out and shot her.Image result for tape recorder

Tons of episodes just like those, or worse, all stack up in my memory just as crystal clear as if it were yesterday. I’ve got all the usual biggie baddie things: Daddy leaving, reading the divorce papers, every death of every pet, every friend who moved away, every time I was bullied or embarrassed in elementary school . . . the usual. I’ve got some HUGE ones like breaking up with the first girl I ever loved and ever made love to just because I thought I was getting “cool enough” to “play the field” only to find out just how stupid that move was within only a few weeks. Then I have senior year high school which seemed to be one train-wreck after another from January til graduation, including finding out the aforementioned girl was pregnant and it wasn’t mine.

Every stupid thing I’ve ever done, every time I made Mama cry by hurting her feelings, Every girl’s heart I ever broke along with every girl who ever broke my heart . . . and I had six engagements counting Budge, all of it is sitting on those brain cell reel to reels waiting along with my hearing before the Greenville County School Board that ended my teaching career in Greenville County AND the nice, terse “we don’t have room for you next year” email that effectively ended my teaching career once and for all. The current reigning champion is listening and watching Mama rasp out her last breath and not being able to do anything about it but weep and howl.

It’s all sitting up there waiting for the right time.

The right time is usually a stressful period or a bout of depression, but truly anything can trigger it and when it’s triggered, something in my brain hits “Play” and we’re off on a trip down memory lane only this one is the Poop Colored Road instead of the Yellow Brick one. Once it starts, it’s a doozy of a ride. Bad memory after bad memory followed up with mistake after mistake flash through my head in an unbroken, dizzying swirl of negative emotion complete with voice over narration by people who hate my guts with a passion. Sometimes, I get lucky and it’s just a two minute teaser trailer; usually, it’s a double feature of Gone with the Wind and Ben-Hur; however, every so often, and it’s been much more often since Mama died, that tape will settle in for a genuine combination Sundance, Cannes and Telluride jumbo festival of woe. Those bouts are the killers. They damn near shut me down because one can only take so much.

Historically, only two things have been successful at derailing a lengthy Tape run — obscene amounts of very good (or very bad, brain’s not picky) alcoholic beverages OR some nifty and not always legally obtained pharmaceuticals. Unfortunately, both those solutions closed to me. Budge will put up with a lot of my wild hairs, but me being drunk is not one of them — she’s heard a few too many stories from people who REALLY needed to keep their mouths shut. So now, all I can do is white knuckle it through with some wimpy anti-anxiety meds and poor attempts at sleeping, which brings it’s own bag ‘o fun in the form of trippin’ nightmares.

That’s how The Tape works and it’s a bitch and a half, let me tell you.

Now, before anyone gets the genius idea to make an asinine comment, think about this: if I had a dime for every time some well meaning person without an obnoxious tape in his or her head has said, “Well when those thoughts come, you just need to push them aside and think of something pleasant,” I could make Warren Buffett look like a beggar. Similarly, if I had just a nickle for every well-meaning, super spiritual fellow Christian who has told me, “If you just pray about it, it’ll all go away and be fine,” I would have a fortune making Bill Gates look like chump change.

Before you quickly judge my inability to conquer this tape once and for all as some form of attention seeking or self pity, try this little experiment. Picture a purple pig riding a unicycle in a pink tutu playing “It’s a Small World After All” on a ukelele. Focus that in your mind. Experience that imaginary pig . . . now, forget about it. I command you to think of ANYTHING but purple pigs, unicycles, ukeleles or pink tutus. If a violet porker slips through your mind just for a second, you lose. Forget the pig! Hurry up! It’s only a memory. Why can’t you forget it and move on?

Harder than it seems it should be, isn’t it? That’s an imaginary thought exercise. Try REAL events that resulted in REAL negative consequences, sometimes physical scars, and always emotional scars and pair them with a mind that doesn’t seem to have a “Delete” function and see what you can do. In short, it’s not like I WANT TO THINK ALL THESE THOUGHTS!! I am not a masochist. I don’t enjoy misery or pain, so if it was as easy as “just thinking of something pleasant” don’t you think I’d have done it already? Do you not realize how many times I’ve tried in over 30 years?

No, you don’t realize it because you’re still thinking about the pig!

Anywho, love y’all and keep those feet clean.