In Memorium: Another of the Good Ones Dies Young.


I originally published this five years ago the day I heard April had passed away. I’m reprinting it now in her memory and her honor.

AprilSeventeen years ago I started my first teaching career at Woodmont High School with two classes of English IV and four classes of English II. One of the students in one of those sophomore classes was a little slip of a girl. She was blonde and blue eyed and cute as a button. She didn’t have much to say on the first day, and to be truthful about it, she wasn’t very talkative the entire time I knew her. Her name was April Pruitt and because of a quirk in scheduling, she and many of her classmates from that first sophomore class would be in my English III class the next year and would finish up with me in English IV the year after that. I guess about a third to a half of the WHS class of 1998 had me for English as sophomores, juniors, and seniors. They were the first of my favorite students and quiet, short, but smiling April stood tall among the ones nearest and dearest to my heart.

April wasn’t college bound. She graduated and went into the workforce. From all I’ve been able to ascertain, she held down her job well. Like many of my former students who stayed in this area, I would run in to her at the grocery store or WalMart from time to time. When Facebook came out, she was one of the first of my former students to “friend” me and using that wonderful network of Mr. Zuckerberg’s, we kept in touch over the last few years. Like a great many of her classmates at Woodmont, she never married, but she did have a devoted boyfriend and two beautiful little boys who looked remarkably like their mother.

I never heard anything from or about April these last seventeen odd years to worry me like I had to worry about so many of my former students. She steered clear of drugs as far as I can tell. The picture at the left was taken in April and her face shows none of the ravages an addiction would create. She wasn’t a heavy drinker or a wild party girl.  I don’t even know if she smoked cigarettes or not. Every picture in her Facebook album shows her happy and laughing with friends or, even more often, with her two boys who were obviously the apples of her two eyes. I was more than a little proud of her because she was successful in the quiet, steady way that is so typical of a Southern woman. She was 32 and doing well for herself and her boys.

Until a week ago Friday when she had her accident. From what I can gather through Facebook and other channels, she and her boyfriend were riding his four-wheeler — sans helmets, of course and unfortunately — when they lost control of the ATV while going at a pretty fast rate. Apparently, her boyfriend was able to hang on to the machine and let it bear the brunt of the crash, but April was thrown from the back and flew some distance through the air before landing hard on her head and neck. She was rushed unconscious to the hospital where she spent the last week in a coma with swelling on her brain. I planned to go to see her in the hospital every day last week, but something constantly seemed to come up. Now, I won’t get the chance. April passed away early this (Sunday) morning. She fought hard, but she never regained consciousness.

For several years, I kept a list written on an Olive Garden napkin of all the students and former students I had lost over the years. It was on such a medium because several of my former colleagues and I were at Olive Garden on the last day of school one year discussing the “Woodmont Curse” which seemed to take at least one or more of our students each year. In just the short time I was at WHS, I put nearly 20 names on the list. By the time the napkin disappeared, it held over thirty-five. If I still had it, the total would be somewhere around 42. Forty-two lives cut tragically short by disease, accidents, suicide, and several other reasons.  I knew each one personally and very few of them were nearer and as special to me as April.

I wish her family, especially her boys, able to find peace. I don’t pretend to have anything wise and transcendent to say. I don’t have the answers I once thought I had. All I know is one more little sliver of my heart will join many others in graves, tombs, and even at sea in places far and near and the world will be all the poorer for having lost such a lovely and smiling light.

In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Resquiescat In Pace, April. Coach Wham will miss you.


#TBT Friday Night Lights Shine on the Friday Night Blues


I originally published this five years ago. With this being my tenth year out of teaching, I thought it was a good time as any to run it again.

In the five years since my last teaching contract renewed and I left education, I have endure a crippling wave of sadness during the first week of “back to school.” That sadness is never more acute and I never have to struggle harder to keep bullets out of my head, poison out of my system, or my car at the top of cliffs rather than the bottom than at six o’clock on the first full schedule Friday of high school football.

If you’ve never taught in a high school, I can’t adequately describe for you how important Friday nights are, especially here in the Southland. Any school with a football team is a beehive all day on Friday as the guys (and a girl or two) walk the halls in their jerseys and the cheerleaders wear their non-dress-code-conforming uniforms to school. The day is spent making plans for who is riding with whom to where and who is bringing the illicit substances to the bonfire or house party after the game.

I used to eat up every moment of it. Every Friday for the fifteen years I taught, I was young again for ten Fridays in the fall and as long as my school’s team managed to stay in the playoffs. The kids used to take me back to the Friday nights when my friends and I were the ones planning. From my freshman year through my junior year, I went to more games than I missed. I even went to a game or two my senior year even though the taste of bile and ashes had replaced the once-sweet euphoria by then, but that’s another story.

Several of my friends of those days were football players and one of my lasting regrets is never having tried to get on the team. I was acquainted with many of the cheerleaders and wrote essays for more than one of them so they could keep good enough grades to stay on the squad. My best buddy at the time, Robby, was first trumpet in the band, so I always sat as close to the band as possible. Another regret is never trying to get in the band. I guess I can chalk up my lack of participation to a few things. Some are gifted with athletic prowess and some with musical talent. My gift was, and is, memory. Some call it a gift; I lean more towards curse and agree with the Absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett when he says

“Memories are killing things. So you must not think of certain things, of those that are dear to you, or rather you must think of them, for if you don’t there is the danger of finding them, in your mind, little by little.”

God knows I don’t miss much about high school, but I do miss Friday nights. For those aforementioned years in education, I got those Friday nights back, especially the few years when my schools were desperate enough for warm bodies to ask me to be an assistant football coach. I have a painfully entertaining story of my first game as a JV football coach which involves me, an away game, and a whistle. Maybe I’ll tell the entire story sometime, but for now suffice it to say we lost the game and the night in general was a cascade of fiascoes one atop another. Actually, that phrase pretty much describes my whole football coaching career. Still, it was a lot of fun.

Now though, I’m a civilian. Here it is 6:30 on the first big football Friday. Oh, I know I could go to a local game anyway, but it’s not the same. Something about plunking down your teacher id and walking in the gate for free just adds a special sweetness to the night. The greatest reward, though, is the smiles on the faces of the boys on the field when they catch sight of you on the track or in the stands. Little Johnny may have been the bane of your existence in second block all year, but come Monday, when you tell him how awesome his one tackle of the night was, you’ll have him in your back pocket. Trust me on that one . . . I know from experience.

Go out and pull for your favorite teams and take care everyone.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

My Opinion of Being Here


I got to thinking the other day – always a dangerous event – about the myriad twists and turns my life has taken. I started at the here and now and wound my way back to that fateful day, January 6, 1971, when I made my entry into the world. I noted how some of it has been rather good and other has been rather bad. I even slept on my thoughts for awhile because I wasn’t certain I wanted to publish my conclusions since I have no idea how people would take my findings. Eventually, as this post bears witness, I just decided no one would care one way or another what I put so here is my final analysis: I have absolutely no business being alive.

Now, this isn’t a post designed to race to the deep black hole of morbidity and self-flagellation. I have no plans on ending my earthly existence at the moment. No, I am simply exploring cause and effect, action and reaction as it pertains to me arriving at this particular moment in time. The fact I am here is nothing less than the monument to a disaster of train wreck proportions. Allow me to explain.

It all started, as near as I can sift out from various second hand sources and some recollections given to me years ago by the principles in this endeavor, in the year of our Lord 1965 at a local hangout known as Curry’s Lake. Curry’s Lake was more of a pond than lake and it was designed more or less as a public swimming pool. From what I’ve been told, stands stood around the lake selling concessions and other items of need to what was essentially a teenage clientele.

One particularly hot and fateful summer day in 1965, a thirteen year old girl sat on the sandy beach of Curry’s Lake cavorting and conversing with her circle of friends while letting her gaze roam over the crowd. That barely teen-aged girl was Lawana Hughes and in the fullness of time, she would become my mother. This sunny summer’s day, however, future maternity I’m sure was the farthest thing from her mind. Her thoughts were directed to the top of the hill which separated the lake from the parking lot.

Beginning the descent down said hill was a fifteen year old lad with nearly white blond hair, a stocky build, and a cigarette at a jaunty angle on his lips. He was, if the stories are accurate, attired in white jeans with a navy blue t-shirt for a top, looking for all the world like the second coming of James Dean, or so I’ve been told by others. He too circulated in the center of a group of similarly dressed boys all walking down the hill surveying the surroundings like so many feudal lords. Some of the boys in the crowd were at Curry’s Lake to meet female companions but the young man in question was presently unattached and oh how my burdens would be lighter had he remained so. His name was Frank B. Wham, Jr. and he was destined to be my father.

Wannie, for so my mother was known, and Frankie, to distinguish daddy from Papa, met that day. I have no record of their conversation but apparently it was riveting enough to ensure they would meet again. So, in a short time, Wannie and Frankie became boyfriend and girlfriend. Picture this, a 13 year old girl and a 15 year old boy, both dissatisfied with the way things were going at home, come to lean on each other to the exclusion of others. If this were not a recipe for disaster then I’ve no idea what would constitute one. From the beginning the differences in their backgrounds and home lives would dictate this was a bad idea and maybe one day I’ll go into more detail why, but for the moment suffice it to say this was not a joining of equals and more’s the pity someone with sense didn’t see it coming . . . or maybe they did and just felt powerless to stop it. I’m damned if I know.

In any event, Frankie and Wannie were together as much as decency and schedules would allow. Frankie lived up the road in Fountain Inn while Wannie lived in Gray Court. They would go on dates (who goes on dates at 13?) together with friends or alone in Frankie’s car. They had fights and as teenagers will do they would break up now and again vowing to never speak again. I can only imagine if those vows had held.

I don’t know how things would have turned out had the two youngsters been left to their own devices. Maybe they would have stayed together and married much or at least a little later when youthful fires are cooler and good sense prevails. Perhaps they would have split up irrevocably, gone their separate ways never to reunite. It’s a moot point because after two years and some odd months of dating, events conspired to cast the future into stone and erase any chance of what might have been.

The short summary of a lengthily story is Frankie got into a spot of trouble with the law one night after drinking a little more than was advisable for him. I shun the details in this telling because they really aren’t important, I don’t know from first hand accounts exactly what happened, and the outcome is all that really matters anyway. The trouble Frankie got into landed him in front of a magistrate who, for what perverse reason I couldn’t begin to fathom, decided Frankie needed a lesson. His lesson came in the form of a choice of punishment — he could either risk a trial that might result in a prison term or he could enlist for two years in the armed forces and “all would be forgiven.” That’s how Frankie became Private Wham, US Army.

On the surface this arrangement doesn’t seem so bad. A two year enlistment didn’t amount to much when weighted against prison, right? It was a no brain decision. Unfortunately, as these things always have, there was a little catch. This was 1968, the absolute height of the complete cluster known today as the Vietnam War. Being in the regular army in 1968 meant one simple thing — you were going to spend 13 months in Vietnam where boys were being killed and wounded by the thousands every week. What looked like a way out was tantamount to a death sentence. Frankie . . . Daddy was screwed and no one lifted a finger to help him until it was entirely too late.

Here’s where the train jumped the tracks. Wannie and Frankie decided to make a bad situation exponentially worse. Both were convinced Frankie was going to his death in Vietnam and would never return so they decided the absolute best thing in the world to do would be get married. Frankie was just past his 18th birthday and Wannie was just about to turn sweet 16. So . . . they got married on Wannie’s 16th birthday — December 27, 1968. Frankie left for basic training just a short time later.

My question is simple. Who was steering this catastrophe? I love my four grandparents more than anyone I’ve ever loved. They all walked on water in my eyes and I’ve never thought any of them capable of being anything less than perfect until I started thinking about this disaster that directly got me on this ball of rock. They could have stopped this mess. Wannie couldn’t legally marry in South Carolina at the time. She would have had to be 18. She was 16, really 15 until the day of the wedding. Whatever possessed Granny and Papa Hughes to sign away their permission for her to wed?

Now I know for a fact the two lovebirds had threatened to sneak over the state line to Georgia where the age of marriageable consent was only 16 at the time and I’ve been told Papa and Granny Hughes felt they didn’t have a choice because they didn’t want Wannie running off and getting married. WHY NOT? It’s called a childish bluff! If they want to run off, MAKE THEM RUN OFF! Don’t pave the rough road ahead and make it easier. In the name of all that’s holy why didn’t one or the other set of parents stop this craziness? These were children who were operating under stress and emotion. Someone SHOULD have done something. . . but no one did anything and here’s what happened.

Frankie and Wannie got married on her 16th birthday. Frankie went off to war. Wannie dropped out of school where she was a straight A student with some money set aside for college because according to the draconian codes in schools at the time a girl couldn’t be married and attend school. So Wannie’s chance at a good education went the way of the Great Auk and she went from dead end job to dead end job for most of the rest of her life. I coached her to get her GED during my senior year of college.

Frankie had it worse. He ended up in the middle of Hell on earth in the most unpopular and worst run war this country has ever fought. He saw friends killed and maimed in the worst ways possible. He slept in heat and mud like we’ve never seen here and no one could tell him what he was fighting for and what his friends were dying for. He survived, barely, but the man who came home bore no resemblance to the boy who left.

While Frankie was on leave from Vietnam waiting to go to West Germany for the second year of his enlistment, I was conceived. I will spare you the details, but one interesting thing about my journey to the world . . . Mama was in a body cast from the belly button down. The doctor actually had to cut an arc in her cast so I could grow. I often thought about asking Mama or Daddy about the mechanics involved but I always decided it was one of those multitude of things I was better off not knowing.

Fast forward a year and a half. I’m born, Daddy’s home from the army. Mama is raising me. It was sweet and peaceful while it lasted . . . at least I guess it was because to be brutally honest, I don’t have a lot of memories from Mama and Daddy being together. Things jolted along until I was five, but the deep cracks had already formed. Daddy wasn’t the man Mama married and try as she might she couldn’t get her Frankie back. Daddy met another woman. He liked her better. He and Mama divorced when I was eight and the wheels fell completely off the apple cart. Mama was 23 and Daddy was 25 when they divorced.

All because Romeo and Juliet had to get married and no one had the guts to stop them. No one was thinking about me at the time but in the end, I’M the one who bears the heaviest weight. Sure, it bothered other people. Mama was never the same and I spent forty years trying to fix what the divorce did to her. I was so angry with Daddy that he and I never have managed a good normal father son relationship. But I’m the one who lost my childhood. I’m the one who had to take on responsibilities I didn’t understand and couldn’t hope to bear up under. It’s been forty years and part of me is still angry.

It all could have been so easily avoided if someone had just stopped the marriage. Daddy would have come home and he and Mama probably would have realized how different everything was now and they likely never would have married and I’d have never been born . . . and how different that would have been, but no one stepped up, so here we are.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

#TBT: Adventures in Yard Care


This was originally posted September 22, 2014, but I had a similar run in when I cut grass earlier this afternoon. Not nearly as serious, but it brought this post to mind.


Argiope aurantia, Yellow Garden Spider aka: Daughter of Rodan

Lately, I have been remiss in my duty to the grass. This lackadaisical approach along with some recent showers resulted in a stunning greensward behind our home.  Mama, God rest her precious soul, would have called it “snaky” for fear of encountering Mr. No Shoulders. I realized something had to be done before the situation got completely out of hand, so — having finished the ritual Monday “Home Blessing Hour” — I went to cut grass.

First, I reanimated “Frankie,” short for “The Bride of Frankenstein,” my ancient and trustworthy riding mower. She looks a sight. No cowling; no seat cover, and no wires because I cut every wire I could after I got fed up restarting the engine every time I tripped a kill switch. Frankie now cuts forward, backward, and upside down whether I’m on the seat or not. I know because I’ve rolled her twice and both times, the engine kept on trucking until the gravity feed carburetor ran dry whilst I was trapped on my back under her.

With Frankie rolling, I started cutting the back yard. Something nagged at the back of my mind, but try as I might, it just wouldn’t come to the surface so I could remember it. I only knew it was important. Then, I rounded the (unopened, again) pool — aka, “The Bane of My Existence” — and the day got interesting.

I don’t know how many of you have ever seen a Yellow Garden Spider. Here, folks call them “Writing Spiders” because they often have crazy designs in their extremely elaborate webs which might be seen as writing. The tale goes if you see your name in a Writing Spider’s web, you’re going to die soon. I’ve never given that particular lore much credence since EVERY wives tale in the South ends with “that means you’ll die soon!” Seems I may have to rethink my stance.

I’d seen this gal last time I cut grass but, I started cutting the other way round that day and saw her large web with a great deal of warning. I gave her the wide berth she deserved that time. Yellow Garden Spiders are large arachnids, typically about the size of a saucer. She was bigger, about the size of Granny Wham’s turkey platter. I remembered what I couldn’t remember in the back of my mind just as Frankie’s front bumper twanged Daughter of Rodan’s web and things headed downhill picking up speed.

The contact with the bumper caused her web to oscillate, near to me then far from me. Faster than I could see, she scuttled to the center of her web where the amplitude of the web-wave was greatest. I didn’t know spiders understood physics, so I guessed her devious spider mind a split second too late. Just as the web reached its apogee, she hurled herself towards me. Time stopped; she hung suspended in mid-flight. For a moment, we were eyeball to eyeball to eyeball to eyeball to eyeball to eyeball to eyeball to eyeball to eyeball. Time restarted once I registered she did NOT land on my face, neck, or chest. Had she actually landed on me, you would not be reading this, and why the fat man died on the lawnmower from a massive coronary would be a mystery.

Instead, she landed on Frankie’s steering wheel — then looked right at me with malice and forethought gleaming in all eight sparkly eyes.

Now, beloved, I am a gentle man. I don’t kill anything but roaches, mosquitoes and fire ants and only if they bother me. If I see a spider in the house, I trap it and set it outside. If I had to butcher my own meat, I would die of starvation. I’m not a treehugger or anything. I’ve just lived long enough to recognize all God’s creatures are just trying to get by as best they can like the rest of us and I just can’t bring myself to kill something if it’s not an absolute necessity.

Brethren, in addition to being a gentle man, I am also a generous man.  I would happily give a stranger the shirt off my back. If Budge didn’t watch over me, I’d have given the house away by now. When I stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ, I will have a plethora of things to answer for, but neither greed nor lack of charity will be among them. Since charity is always at the forefront in my heart and I possess a giving spirit, I discerned in an instant the Daughter of Rodan needed Frankie more than I did.

In the spirit of generosity, I left her with it.

People often mention the “fact” bumblebees are aerodynamically incapable of flight. I bet those same folks will tell you a 350 lbs 5’10” man can’t possibly do a full backflip off a riding lawnmower from a seated position. Folks are wrong; I even stuck the landing. Then, Frankie started backing up towards me. Right then, cutting the kill switch wires seemed a bit premature. Of course, this eight legged refugee from a B-movie probably weighed enough to keep the switch closed anyway. All I could think was, “She’s coming to finish the job!” Now how’s that for gratitude? Let the spider have the lawnmower and she tries to run me down.

Now those bee people I mentioned earlier will also tell you a 350 lbs 5’10” man can’t possibly vault a six-foot tall chain link fence from a flat-footed position. Folks are wrong. With proper motivation, it is not only possible, it is quite easy. For the record, a spider the size of a manhole cover riding backwards on a lawnmower happens to be proper motivation. Unfortunately, I didn’t stick that landing. I landed flat of my back, knocking all the breath out of me. When I recovered — with some helpful face licks from Bozo, the neighbor’s beagle —  I looked between my feet to see Frankie straining to push through the fence I had just jumped. Daughter of Rodan was gone.

Replaying the events later, I realized I’d probably knocked the mower into reverse in my haste to give over operation to the Daughter of Rodan. I say “probably” because I saw her eyes. She might have decided to take me out and spend the rest of her days bragging about catching “the big one” down at the Spider Club while playing eight handed bridge and munching on candied flies as my stuffed head looked on.

We’ll never know.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean!

Writing and Me


7152014type-blog480This post is somewhat out of desperation. Ever since I started this blog back in September 2008, I’ve always managed at least one post per month. Something stirred my mind yesterday and I realized today was the last day of May and I hadn’t posted anything this month! I didn’t want to break a perfect streak so I went to sleep last night thinking about what to write today. As I was drifting off, I thought I’d settle on telling y’all why I don’t publish any more writing on this blog than I do.

After all, averaging out to 1.5 posts a month over the last few years isn’t going to make me a blogger with a household name and that irritates me somewhat because I really, truly love writing. I’ve written “stuff’ for lack of a better word ever since I was in single digits. When I started this blog, I had great aspirations of publishing an increasing volume of work. Unfortunately, it hasn’t turned out quite as I planned and I thought I’d let y’all in on the three major reasons I don’t write more than I do.

First off, it’s not for lack of time. I have PLENTY of time to write. In fact, I’ve got nothing but time. Ever since I went on disability about six years ago, my days have been my own. For all intents and purposes, I’m a house husband, and honestly, not a particularly good one. I could sit and outline stories and type away for hours if I wanted to and lots of times I want to, but I’m hindered.

One great hindrance is a lack of something definite to say. Actually, I have many things I want to say, but I don’t think my audience, such as it is, would want to listen to any of them. I eschew political topics mainly because I have no patience for flame wars and any time someone writes about politics, he is immediately alienating half the people in the country and ignoring the broader world-wide audience who have no interest in our politics at all. I also am too sensitive to deal with the comments political posts generate. I don’t like be called racist or “blank”aphobic because what I believe doesn’t line up with someone else. People say the most hateful things on the internet and I just don’t want to be a part of it.

Of course, I could write about other topics than politics but the truth is I don’t KNOW much about anything worth writing about. I’m not a parent so it wouldn’t make sense for me to join the legions of mainly mommies blogging about how to raise children. History is a great love of mine, but history blogs are all over the internet and are done much better than I could manage.

When I started this blog, I was a librarian and I thought I could join other librarians in writing about my profession. Then I got fired from being a school librarian and no one wants opinions from an also ran. It’s hard to write to a profession when you no longer have a profession to write for. “Watching the Walls Close in on Me” isn’t much of a professional topic.

Another obstacle to my writing more is my desire not to hurt anyone. I’ve got a lot of stories I’d love to tell. I’ve got a lot of angst and passion I’d like to expunge from my soul and I know from reading and from my own therapist just how cathartic and helpful writing would be. Unfortunately, some things I have to say and some opinions about my own life that I hold would be painful if I spread them out on the electronic page for everyone to read. I have an aversion to people who air all their dirty laundry on social media like Facebook, and I’m afraid if I started writing about topics to make myself feel better, I’d be no better than them.

One of my favorite authors is Thomas Wolfe but I don’t want to emulate him. Once he published You Can’t Go Home Again, he really couldn’t go home again. People recognized his portrayals of them even under the veneer of fiction. Several members of his own family turned against him. He lost long time friendships. I don’t think Wolfe intended to hurt anyone with his writing, but despite his best efforts, he ended up with a conflagration of bridges. I don’t have many friends and I’m rapidly running out of family. I’d rather not get the angry calls, emails, and texts some things I want to discuss would actually bring about.

The last best reason I don’t write more, however, is actually medical, or more accurately pharmaceutical. I suffer with depression of varying severity. In an attempt to combat the depression, I take antidepressants. In point of fact, I take quite a few doses of medicine. I may as well own it because it’s a huge chunk of my life that I’m not especially proud of, but it’s part of me. Unfortunately for me, in an effort to keep one from killing one’s self, they attempt to level out emotions and maintain a nice even keel for the person suffering from depression or some other mental disorder like anxiety.

Not to put too fine a point on it, antidepressants are an emotional bulldozer. Sure, they keep the black pit of despair from being quite so dark and they manage to hold off the black dog as well. The emotional stability comes at a price though. The highs go away just as much as the lows. I don’t know of a drug, and I’ve taken a few both legal and not so much, that is as euphoric as a manic state. When you are manic, the world is your oyster. Your mind works at a frantic pace and your creativity explodes. Of course, you also tend to engage in extremely reckless behavior and spend money you don’t have, but oh the EMOTIONAL HIGH!

Well, antidepressants take that all away. You give up the euphoria to keep the depression quiet. You become a nice, docile person, but everything about your personality takes a hit. For me, I can SEE the stories and essays I want to write down in the bottom of the well of my creativity, but I can’t bring them up to the page. It is little wonder so many great writers had mental issues. Imagine if Ernest Hemingway had taken anti-depressants. He probably wouldn’t have been led to blow his head off, but at the same time, would the world have The Sun Also Rises or The Old Man and the Sea? Obviously the people who love us would rather have us here and mostly healthy and damn the writing; I only wish they could understand how to be a writer and not able to write is a high price to pay.

So that’s why I don’t write more than I do. I’m trying to find some exercises to help me get broken out of this long, drawn out funk I’ve been in as far as my creativity so maybe I’ll end up writing more somewhere down the line. If I ever want to get those books written, I have to get going soon.

In the meantime, love y’all and keep those feet clean!

Great War Wednesday: Vimy Ridge, Canada’s Hour


The_Battle_of_Vimy_RidgeThe French still recall Verdun; the British have the Somme; the Anzacs, Gallipoli. When the Americans began fighting on their own they would remember Belleau Wood as a place of honor, but for the Canadians, the Battle of Vimy Ridge remains the most important battle of the Great War. This battle, fought from April 8 to April 12, 1917 marked the first time all four all-Canadian divisions had been assembled in one place for one assault. They would make the most of their opportunity.

After spending 1916 mired in offensives on the Somme and counteroffensives down in Verdun, the Entente forces decided to move the war back north to where it all began in the chalk fields, ridges, and valleys near and around Ypres. The assault on Vimy Ridge would be a set piece battle part of the larger 1917 Arras Offensive and it would begin in similar fashion to most battles to this point in the war.

Once all the Canadian forces, strengthened by some British corps of engineers and other specialists gathered at the mustering point, the deluge of supplies began to arrive. Thousands of shells for the guns, food for the men, and all the other necessities of a Great War battle poured into the depots behind the lines. Of course, as usual, this let everyone who took a moment to notice an attack was obviously brewing in the area. Still, this battle would take into account several lessons learned by both sides in 1916.

For the Germans, they began abandoning single line trenches in favor of defense in depth networks which gave their troops greater survival ability under massive bombardment. The Somme taught the Germans the futility of attempting to hold a front line of trenches. Unfortunately for the Germans, the area to be attacked during this battle had little in the way of defense in depth positions established given that the surrounding sector had been so quiet for the better part of the last 18 months. They would start preparations, but wouldn’t have time to get much done.

The Canadians drew on lessons in tactics and strategy learned in the meat grinder of Verdun. This included multiple wave attacks reinforced by close artillery support. The French generals who had successfully broken the German siege of Verdun actually gave a series of lectures detailing the methods they had used in the counterattack which threw the Germans back and regained the territory originally lost around the fortress city. Many Canadian corps commanders attended these lectures and the plan of attack for Vimy Ridge bears the French stamp of the new tactics.

The four Canadian divisions began training for the assault in rear areas as early as February 1917. This training included one extremely important new wrinkle. The allies had learned at great cost the majority of officers and commanders tended to lead from the front of their troops and so became early casualties. This was a problem because those officers were the only ones who knew what the plan was. Once they were killed, attacks often dissolved into little more than disorganized brawls and rarely accomplished anything lasting.

For the Vimy Ridge assault, the Canadians instituted a new policy. Every officer, commissioned and non-commissioned alike all the way down to platoon sergeants would cross train and learn the job of the man above him in the chain of command and the job of the man immediately below him as well. This proved a fateful change of strategy because now enough people knew enough of the plan to ensure that even when the top commanding officers were killed, the attack could go forward with a reasonable chance of success.

The battle began with the usual preliminary bombardments starting 20 March 1917. While the bombardments commenced, British and Canadian miners finished laying underground mines below the German lines to be a nasty surprise for the Germans once the assault began in earnest.

At 5:30 AM on 9 April 1917, the engineers blew the mines, destroying several German strong points and creating a kind of trench across no man’s land. This explosion signaled the supporting Canadian artillery to open up the hurricane bombardment where every gun in the line began firing at maximum rate. Despite sleet and snow, the Canadians managed to advance perfectly. Some units followed tanks in early examples of the later common combined arms attacks.

By 6:30 AM, three of the four Canadian divisions had reached their first objectives known as the Black Lines. After a planned pause to reset their lines of attack, the divisions moved on towards their secondary objectives, the Red Lines. These fell as well and for a time, the Canadians held the bombed out village of Vimy itself. Unfortunately, a German counterattack drove them out of the village but was unable to achieve much more in the way of sweeping the Canadians away.

During the early morning hours of 10 April, the Canadian commanders moved a sizable reinforcing force up to the front to join where the attack had stopped.  These new troops leapfrogged the Red line and began an assault on the Blue line, which they took by 11:00 AM. The original troops then leapfrogged THOSE troops and took the Brown line which ended up falling by early afternoon. By nightfall and despite a German counterattack, the entire area of Vimy Ridge was in Canadian hands with the exception of a single hill known as “The Pimple.”

After spending 11 April consolidating their gains and digging in against further counterattacks, the Canadian 4th Division renewed its assault on The Pimple and by 6:00 PM on 12 April, the entire ridgeline and surrounding villages and hamlets were in Canadian hands.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge is the greatest source of national pride for Canada to come out of World War One. Recently, however, some revisionist historians have begun to question just how Canadian the attacking force really was. Regardless, the largest Canadian monument to the men of the Great War remains proudly at Vimy Ridge to this day.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

Great War Wednesday: America Enters the Fray


doughboysOn 6 April 1917, the United States’ patience with the Central Powers ran out and President Woodrow Wilson asked for and received a declaration of war from Congress. After almost three years of sitting neutral on the sidelines, America was a combatant in the Great War.

The great irony is America didn’t really want to get into the war. Unlike Franklin Roosevelt in 1941, Wilson had campaigned for the 1916 Presidential election under the slogan “He kept us out of war!” Unfortunately, circumstances overseas eventually made neutrality impossible.

Probably the greatest factor to draw the US into the war was Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in February 1917. After two years of scrupulously leaving neutral shipping, including American shipping, alone, the German High Command felt pressured by many factors, including the continuing British naval blockade of Germany, to resume the practice of sinking ANY ship via submarine found traveling in what the Germans designated war zones. In practice, this meant American ships started sinking any time they were found near the British Isles. Germany even went so far as patrolling outside American harbors for ships bound with material for Britain.

In the interest of honesty, America was in a poor position to cry foul over the submarines. Ostensibly a neutral, she was bound by rules of war not to carry armaments and other shipments to trade with and aid EITHER side in the conflict, yet from the war’s early days, American shipping magnates and manufacturers largely ignored the rules and carried on taking huge amounts of supplies across the Atlantic to Britain. One famous example was the Lusitania back in 1915. The sinking of this large ocean liner off the coast of Ireland nearly brought America into the war then because our government felt Germany had violated American neutrality. Since then, however, proof positive surfaced that the Lusitania, in addition to carrying passengers, had a hold full of ammunition destined for British guns. It’s not like Germany was sinking completely “innocent” ships despite the often high collateral damage.

So, unrestricted submarine warfare was a major cause of America’s move towards war, but it was not the ultimate factor. The final proverbial straw which broke the back of America’s patience bearing camel came in the form of the infamous Zimmerman Telegram. On 19 January 1917, Arthur Zimmerman, head of the German Foreign Office sent a telegram to the German Embassy in Washington, DC which was forwarded to the embassy in Mexico City, Mexico offering a sweet deal to the Mexican government. The entire text of the telegram read:

Zimmermann-telegramm-offenWe intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the President’s attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace.

It wasn’t an altogether unusual step for a foreign government to try wooing allies during wartime; it’s actually a common practice. Unfortunately in this particular circumstance Germany made a fatal oversight. Unbeknownst to them, earlier in the war, British Intelligence Services had broken the German military ciphers used to encrypt the message. Secondly, since no German telegraph lines remained intact at this stage in the war, the message would have to go across the AMERICAN transatlantic telegraph cable. This cable just happened to run through a BRITISH relay station on its way to the United States. What neither Germany nor America knew at the time was British Intelligence had tapped said cable and recorded all traffic between Berlin and the embassy in Washington, DC.

Britain intercepted and decrypted the message, of course, and realized they were sitting on a bombshell that could finally get America into the war on the Entente side. However, they couldn’t do anything with it at the time because to take the cable straight to Wilson would be admitting Britain had been spying on American telegraph transmissions at least since the beginning of the war. A cover story was needed and lo and behold, one appeared shortly after Germany resumed the unrestricted submarine warfare.

When Germany loosed her submarines, America broke off diplomatic ties with Germany. Britain, who had been sitting on the telegram for a couple of months now saw the chance to act. They gave American intelligence services the decrypted telegram claiming a British spy had stolen a copy of said telegram in Mexico City. Still, all was not lost for Germany. A large section of the American population, mostly Irish-Americans and German-Americans, were wary of and disliked the British and vocal members of those contingents at first claimed the document had to be a forgery by British Intelligence trying to goad America into the war. For a few weeks, it looked like they were swaying the rest of popular opinion since such a large swath of the country was so determinedly anti-war.

Thing is, that might have worked had German Foreign Secretary Zimmerman not seriously put his foot in his mouth and given a speech in the Reichstag and ADMITTED the telegraph was genuine. This speech took place on 29 March 1917. Once the telegraph was confirmed genuine, the dominoes fell in America rather quickly, culminating in Wilson’s request for a declaration of war which Congress granted on 6 April 1917.

At long last, America was in the war. Undermanned and completely unprepared, but nonetheless in the war. The Yanks were going “over there.”

Love y’all and keep your feel clean.



More Than One Way to be a Winner


12838011222010022905This past weekend, 330 wrestlers from all over the country competed in the 2017 NCAA Championship Tournament. My favorite college wrestling team, Penn St., won the team title by a large margin, helped by the strength of five individual champions. The Penn St. wrestler who impressed me most this year, however, never stepped on the mat at Nationals. He was the one Nittany Lion who did not qualify for the tournament. His name is George Carpenter.

George is a sophomore from Chapel Hill, NC where he had a decent amount of success as a high school wrestler. Now, he just completed his red shirt sophomore year at Penn St. and, to put it honestly, he didn’t have as much success. For the second year in a row, he finished with a losing record.

See, wrestlers have many names for a teammate like George — sacrificial lamb, fill-in, spot holder, etc. On a team of stars and superstars, George was an also ran, but I loved to watch him every time he took the mat for one simple reason, he never quit. Most matches I saw George wrestle in, he was noticeably smaller and less muscular than his opponents. I would imagine many of them looked across the mat and figured George for an easy out. They took him for a “fish” and that is where they were greatly mistaken.

George Carpenter might not have had the flashiest moves or the biggest muscles. He might not have been competing under the highest expectations. Still, every time I watched him, he was always the first back to center mat on a restart. He would run back to the middle. He never played the edge of the mat and he never, ever backed down from an opponent. I saw him fight off his back and not get pinned. More than once he saved bonus points from going against his team because he was so tenacious he kept the score down so the other guy couldn’t get a major decision or a technical fall. Maybe he wasn’t supposed to win. Maybe he didn’t get his arm raised much, but he always did what his coaches asked of him which was to go out and wrestle hard. I admire him for that.

Years ago, I was an assistant wrestling coach at the high school where I taught. We had a wrestler like George. Actually, to be honest, compared to Nathan, George was more like an Olympic gold medalist. Nathan loved wrestling and he put his heart and soul into the sport. He ran sprints harder than anyone, he drilled during water breaks, and he always asked how he could get better. Unfortunately, God had completely overlooked Nate when He was doling out physical gifts.

Nate was short, a little slow on his feet, and possessed the saddest physique I have ever seen. His chest was literally concave. As the head coach put it, Nate didn’t have any “bumps” on his arms. He was the least gifted athlete I have ever coached or even seen. Still, he loved the sport of wrestling and due to several quirks in the weight classes, he was almost always in the starting line up.

For four years I watched Nate go out every match and lose. It was actually a surprise when he showed up the first day of practice his sophomore year after getting pinned some twenty times straight as a freshman. I was flabbergasted when he showed up for his junior season after his sophomore campaign was more of the same and I must admit I figured the boy was a bona fide masochist when he came out his senior year still having never won a match.

He was one of our three captains his senior year representing the lowest weights. He earned the spot through his tenacity and spirit. I couldn’t have done what he did. I wrestled in high school and I wasn’t good, but I still managed to put together some wins by my sophomore year and I actually finished second in the region my junior year. We don’t talk about my senior year when the weight classes changed. I know for a fact if my seasons had been as futile as Nate’s, I would have called it quits after my sophomore year.

Nate never quit. Match after match he would lose, more often than not by pin and he would always politely shake his opponent’s hand and come over to the bench. He’d put on his warm ups and go off by himself for a few minutes before coming back to cheer on the rest of the team. He was always right there on the edge of the mat willing his teammates to do what he seemingly could not. For that, the other boys respected him. He was their captain and they wanted to see him win as badly as the rest of us.

I’d love to say this story has a happy ending and Nathan broke through his senior year and won the region on the way to a state championship, but life doesn’t usually play out like a Hollywood movie. Nate’s overall record for four years of wrestling was 0 for forever. He never got his hand raised in victory. Yet, in some ways, Nathan won honors others never could. At least he was on the mat. He was IN THE GAME. Granted, he wasn’t so good at the game, but he never gave up on doing what he loved and next to his name in his senior yearbook is the notation “Wrestling 9,10,11,12 Letterman 9,10,11,12 Captain 12” which is more than many of his classmates had by their names in that same yearbook.

So raise a glass to the Nathans and the Georges of the world. They may not be champions at their chosen sports, but they are winners at life. Maybe they never got or never will get a trophy, but they made memories and they were true to themselves and in this world today if you can manage that, you’ve done a great thing.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

#TBT: The Fallacy in the Furor over “Fifty Shades”


50 Shades Criminal MindsI wrote this a couple of years ago when the FIRST Fifty Shades movie came out and since its equally vapid sequel has just hit the screens, I thought it would be a good time to rerun it.

Hopefully surprising no one, Fifty Shades of Grey tanked in its second week at the box office, but before the lines of voyeuristic housewives and notebook carrying college students dried up, the movie version of the best selling novel series since Harry Potter grew up unleashed a bee in the collective bonnets of moral conservatives throughout this great nation. I’ve read blog post after blog post and listened to sermon podcast after sermon podcast denouncing E.L. James’ books and the movie based upon the first novel as the latest sign the Apocalypse is upon us, Christianity has lost the culture war, and America has officially gone the decadent way of ancient Rome. While I agree with all three of those assessments, my reasons have nothing to do with this hideously written fan fiction masquerading as some sort of modern Anais Nin novel. I think we’re doomed, but that’s the subject of other posts for other times.

The segment of the blogosphere and Facebook most incensed by Fifty Shades of Grey is the group made up of parents of daughters — especially Christian parents of, ostensibly, Christian daughters. Fathers and mothers are posting and reposting their fears of some Christian Grey-esque person insinuating himself into their little girls’ lives and using his wiles to turn them into latex gimp suit clad BDSM sex slaves imprisoned in a Red Room of Pain somewhere far from their chaste upbringing. I’m here to tell you that fear is wrong on every level that matters.

First of all, the majority of people terrified of BDSM have no idea what the BDSM lifestyle is all about. It’s a lifestyle. It’s weird to us who don’t live that way, but lots of lifestyles are weird to people not living them. I for one am completely mystified at the vegan lifestyle. I have great respect and love for all animals except mosquitoes and roaches, but God did not put Adam at the top of the food chain so his descendents could eat rabbit food. Still, I don’t knock vegans because I believe what a grown, educated person puts on his or her plate is not my business and doesn’t affect his or her salvation in any way. By the same token, what a husband and wife choose to do for pleasure in the privacy of their own bedroom . . . or red room . . . is none of my business either. It’s not something I would choose, but I don’t see it affecting salvation either; unless, of course, it becomes an idol, but that’s a whole ‘nother can o’ worms.

My church did not one but two entire series on The Theology of Sex and I’d put our two teaching pastors’ exegetical ability up against anyone past or present. Make no mistake about it, the Bible has a lot to say about sex. Rape? Explicitly Forbidden. Bestiality? Explicitly Forbidden. Incest? Explicitly Forbidden. Polygamy? Explicitly Forbidden. Adultery? Explicitly Forbidden. Homosexual Sex? Explicitly Forbidden. Sex before and outside of marriage? Explicitly Forbidden, and that means “swinging” or “wife swapping” is forbidden too.

What a HUSBAND AND WIFE, aka. “Happy and Healthfully Married Couple” do to give each other pleasure is none of my business. If they are Christians, and that’s who I’m primarily talking to, their sexual appetites are bound only by the dictates of Scripture and some may disagree with me, but I’ve never read anything in the Holy Bible — and I’ve read it cover to cover many times — about BDSM being forbidden to a married couple.

This guy is not your problem . . . .

Now, THERE’S the rub! Every post I read and every sermon I listen to speaks with abject horror about the evils of BDSM but no one yet has said anything about the fact Christian and Anastasia are NOT MARRIED! It doesn’t matter WHAT kind of sex they have; it is wrong according to the Bible and it’s THAT kind of thinking that has so many of our teens and young adults screwed up today. They try to use the slipperiness of words to justify having a sip of forbidden waters without the commitment of marriage. If BDSM is wrong, we just won’t do that and we’ll be okay. Sex means vaginal intercourse, right? Well then, oral isn’t really sex, right; anal isn’t really sex, right; *blank not involving her vagina and my penis” isn’t really sex, right? So, we just won’t do “that” and we’ll be okay AND have a good time as well . . . right?

Not according to the Scriptures.


. . . . this is the guy you need to look out for.

My second point is this — if parents are worried about a theoretical Christian Grey introducing their daughter to the wide world of kink, they are worried about the wrong guy. A saying I am fond of from the world of medicine goes, “When you see hoof prints, look for horses before you look for zebras.” It’s highly unlikely your little girl is going to catch the eye of some philandering, kinky billionaire. If she does, worry about it then. On the other hand, it is extremely likely she has already caught the eye of the cute boy next door or the sweet guy who sits near her in biology class or maybe even Dreamy McDreamerson sitting across the room in her youth group. THOSE are the guys you have to worry about, teach about, and plan against. Horses, not zebras.

The worst enemy of a girl’s chastity is neither some mythical billionaire dom nor some leather jacket wearing motorcycle riding bad boy. The worst enemy to a girl’s chastity is the good guy, the nice guy, the guy YOU like and trust. I know what I’m talking about because I WAS THAT GUY. {If you’re a family member of mine or an ex-girlfriend, now would be a good time to quit reading unless you want to learn some things about me you’d probably live just fine until death without knowing. You’ve been warned.}

Bad choices are made here way more often than . . .

My beloved wife of almost 20 years is not the first woman I ever had sex with. She knows this. Actually, she wanted it that way, but that’s another story ENTIRELY. I had sex with five other girls / women before her. Four of the five were while I was in high school and college. Believe me when I say I was not a billionaire playboy. I wasn’t even especially good looking. I was NICE, KIND, THOUGHTFUL, and TRUSTWORTHY. At least that’s what two sets of parents and two single moms thought anyway.

They were right about that too . . . except for the trustworthy part. I’ve never been physically, mentally, or emotionally abusive to any woman, much less a girlfriend. I loved to send cards and flowers and other little gifts to make them feel special because first and foremost I DID want them to feel special because of what I’d seen my mother go through but I’d be lying if I said the possibility of sex wasn’t lit up like a bright neon sign in the hormone soaked nether regions of my adolescent brain. So, after holding hands, then kissing, then heavy petting, the next order of business in the fulness of time was sex. More than once, it was the girl’s idea, not mine.

. . . here. Keep that in mind.

Keep this in mind, too. My papa was a Pentecostal preacher. I was raised in church and when I say raised in church, I mean I was born on a Friday and Mama took me to our little white church the following Sunday. I had been taught by many adults I respected and loved that sex before marriage was wrong. I wouldn’t have called myself a Christian back then, but I knew right from wrong; however, when the time was right, I JUST DIDN’T CARE and neither did the “she” of the moment.

I’m not saying this to brag or air my dirty laundry unnecessarily. I suffer the consequences of my youthful wrong decisions on a daily basis. What I’m saying is all you parents need to quit worrying about the Christian Greys of the world and start worrying about the guys in your daughter’s life whom you really like because those guys, like it or not, are the ones most likely to end up in a situation with your daughter that’s going to end in one hell of an emotional train wreck, and if you’re lucky that train wreck will be ALL. Much worse things can happen.

So go out and rail against Fifty Shades of Grey, not because of the BDSM, but because it makes sex outside of marriage seem okay and without consequence and both those assumptions are dead wrong.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Great War Wednesday: Tanks

Standard didn’t take long looking at the killing fields of the Western Front in 1914-1916 for some commanders at all levels to think, “We have to find a better way.” The whole idea of flesh and blood men jumping out of the scant protection of the trenches to run across the shell cratered and machine gun swept No-Man’s Land was obviously insane and yet, what to do about it?

The idea of men advancing within some propelled or motorized type of vehicle was not a new one. No less a mind than Leonardo da Vinci drew up plans for his Armored Turtle which was basically a wheeled dome with arrow slits cut in the side. While never produced, this machine gave the basic idea for what eventually became the tank.

Any vehicle used in combat in World War I had a few criteria. First, it had to contend with the sucking morass of mud the artillery turned the battlefield into. Second, it had to withstand sustained machine gun fire (no one seriously considered any idea of a vehicle impervious to artillery). Third, it had to be able to cross obstacles such as shell craters and trenches to be of any real effect.

The sticking point, no pun intended, was the mud. Cars and trucks (lorries for my friends in the UK) were a relatively new invention but it didn’t take long to realize their narrow tires would be of little use in the mud and muck of the Western Front. Wheeled vehicles of the era notoriously bogged down on what passed for roads in those early 20th century days; putting something on wheels with armor increasing its weight out on the battlefield would do little more than create a sitting duck.

The breakthrough came with the invention of the caterpillar track. Basically the “tractor” or vehicle had four driven wheels and several rollers over which lay a wide linked, jointed flat piece of metal. The track made a big circle around the four wheels while sprockets in the drive wheels engaged holes in the “track” and pushed it forward so the rollers could roll on it. The wideness of the track, the four driving wheels, and the circular motion combined to produce a machine that essentially laid down its own road as it went forward or backwards. The width of the two tracks enabled the weight of the vehicle to spread out over a much larger surface area than was possible with wheels and tires so the tractor could cover almost any ground.

Tractors were gaining widespread usage in agriculture to replace horse power and some enterprising army officers looked at the agricultural machines with an eye towards armoring them and using them as a weapon. After all, any machine capable of navigating a plowed field successfully should be capable of getting across a shell plowed battlefield.

The British were first to develop a viable machine. Originally called “land battleships” because of their great size and armor, their name during development changed to “tanks” to maintain secrecy. The legend has it that workers thought the new metal behemoths looked like municipal water tanks, thus “tank” stuck.

The first successful tank was the British Mark I. It was a diamond shape which allowed it to cross trenches and shell craters effectively because a good surface of track would be in contact with the ground at all times even if the tank tilted forward. It moved along at a scorching four miles per hour so it was in no danger of outrunning the infantry hiding hopefully behind it.

As for armament, the Mark I as well as later British models were known as “male tanks” or “female tanks” depending on what weapons they carried. Male tanks mounted two six pounder guns in sponsons to the left and right of the tank body. Female tanks carried up to six Hotchkiss machine guns.

The first tanks were used during September 1917 in one of the sections of the Battle of the Somme. They did not give an good initial showing as many broke down. The developers back in Britain, including their champion Winston Churchill, complained the tanks had been rushed into battle too soon before having time to learn how to best use them. Later battles would see greater numbers of tanks massed in lines and moving forward as great steel waves. These tanks were much more effectively used in these later battles.

In all, the tank did what it was designed to do. It crossed No-Man’s land with general impunity and gave the following infantry something to hide behind. Though they didn’t know it, mainly because this was supposed to be the war to end all wars, these early tankers and the infantry that followed them were setting the stage for the “combined arms” tactics of the Second World War which made the blitzkrieg so effective.

Looking back, it’s ironic to note the Germans only made about twenty tanks total in the Great War. They just didn’t see the point in the design, yet it was a young German corporal who faced tanks in battle who decided they were a great asset on the battlefield so Adolf Hitler made sure his army had plenty of tanks in the next war.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.