Great War Wednesday: The Somme

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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f6/British_Mark_I_male_tank_Somme_25_September_1916.jpg

British Mark I model tank. The Somme Campaign marked the debut of the tank on the battlefields of the Great War.

The Great War was a struggle on a titanic scale consisting of many battles which could almost be called wars in their own right in another time and place. Many of these battles still ring down the years to recall a sense of pride in victory or shame in defeat for the nations who fought them. The French have Verdun; the Italians have Isonzo; the Turks their defense of Gallipoli, and the British have the Somme; the name of which still draws a hush over anyone in Britain’s military.

The Somme Campaign began on 1 July 1916. History would name it the largest battle of the First World War, but the first day will always be remembered as the blackest day in British military history. In spite of the massive battles of World War II, none ever replaced the first day of the Somme as the single deadliest day for the British. In all, British forces suffered 57,470 casualties — on par with the death total for the entire Napoleonic Wars.

The genesis of the Somme Offensive lay with French Field Marshall Joseph Joffre and the new British commanding general Sir Douglas Haig. At a planning session in the winter of 1915, the two commanders envisioned a grand offensive along the Somme River. The scope of the offensive was larger than any before it and both men figured it to be a war winning blow once struck. Then the Germans attacked Verdun. By the time the Somme campaign launched in July, the French had been bleeding for five long months in the battle of attrition to the south. As a result, most of the French forces earmarked for the Somme had long since been diverted to Verdun and what began as a grand war ending battle turned into an effort to relieve some of the massive German pressure at Verdun and, as General Haig put it, “to inflict casualties upon the Germans.” What a plan.

Essential to this fine plan was Lord Kitchner’s “New Army.” This mass of troops consisted of the first wave of enlistees who had spent most of 1915 in training back across the Channel. They were all volunteers as the draft had not yet been instituted (the Somme casualties changed that.) Many of these troops were divided into the famous “Pals Battalions” where men had enlisted en masse from a single town or school or even fraternity at a school with the goal of serving together in combat. What seemed like a tremendous morale asset — fighting besides one’s best mates — became a morale nightmare, especially on the homefront, as some towns lost over 90% of their young men in single engagements.

This was also the first major battle where British “territorials” fought for their common King. Troops — many of them men of color — from Rhodesia, South Africa, Australia, India, Canada, and Bermuda lined up to go over the top. In fact, it was these territorials that kept the German High Command awake at nights. Britain and France both had numerous overseas colonies and former colonies to draw great reserves of manpower from while German had to make do with what lay within her borders.

As was the case by this point in the war, a huge preparatory artillery bombardment preceded the initial attack by the Anglo-French forces. For five days, French and British batteries pounded the Germans on a front 27,000 yards long where the first blow by the British Fourth Army would fall. The attack began on schedule with men going over the top early on the morning of 1 July. Despite great advances in areas along the line, the first push was not a universal success. This complicated matters for the British because so much of the safety of the troops depended upon not getting flanked that a huge advance in one area left a gap in British lines which the commanders were certain the Germans would exploit to get behind and cut off large chunks of the attacking army. As a result, many of the gains of the first day had to be abandoned in order to close up gaps in the line and prevent any salients forming. The result was 19,240 British soldiers killed for — on the whole — minimal gains.

The Somme Campaign lasted 141 days and by the end, the gods of battle claimed over a million casualties again, for basically no appreciable gains. The stalemate of the Western Front continued unabated.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

 

#TBT: Baby, It’s Hot Outside!

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This post originally ran five years ago in July. Hope you like it.

My junior AP History teacher, Mr. Tommy Sublett, was the first aficionado of the late War of Northern Aggression I ever met in person and got to talk to at length. I never knew why he loved the Civil War so much because he was from Kentucky and those Kentuckians — bless their little bluegrass hearts — were citizens of a border state. Being a border state meant they, along with their three brethren states, had legal slavery but they were too chicken-livered (or prescient, if you think about it) to join the Confederacy in defending States’ Rights from the encroachment of the soulless Yankees.

Kentucky Colonel or no, “Sub” loved to teach us about the Civil War. We spent four weeks on everything from Jamestown to Fort Sumter and from the second week in September until February on the War of Southern Independence. Then Sub realized this was an AP class (we were his first) and we were going to have to take a big test the first week in May and he hadn’t covered a few important items from our nation’s history . . . like the entire 20th Century. Even though the War Between the States was important, most of us figured that test would have at least one or two questions on WWII and maybe even a question on the Soviet Union. So from February through the AP test, we covered a chapter in our book every two days. I made Fs on the tests, but I made a 5 on the US AP History Exam.

But I digress.

One of the things Sub taught us was the Confederacy was pretty much doomed from the start because the Yankees outnumbered us (I’m Southern born and bred. My ancestors did some stupid stuff, but you have to love them, so it’s US for me) about 5:1 or so, give or take. The war only lasted as long as it did because it took Honest Abe four years to find two men — Gens. Grant and Sherman — brutal enough to exploit the overwhelming numerical superiority. Once Grant started sending the Yankee equivalent of “human wave” attacks at our ragged boys in grey, the gig was up. All the wonderful officers and doughty farm boys in the world ain’t gonna save you when you’ve got a gun that fires 3 shots a minute at most and ten men come at you across 30 seconds of ground. The public — North and South — called those two “butchers” and accused them of slaughtering their own men, but in the end it worked and — as The Band and  Joan Baez put it so eloquently — they “drove ol’ Dixie down.”

But once again, I digress.

Even though Sub taught us about the disparity in numbers, he never addressed how we ended up with such a skewed ratio of troops. I mean, our women are far prettier than Yankee women and if you don’t believe it watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta back to back with The Real Housewives of New Jersey then tell me those “Jersey girls” can match our Belles! So if our genetic stock was (and is) so vastly superior to our erstwhile foes, WHY didn’t we have at least equal numbers of people?

Then, a few days ago, in the midst of a third consecutive day with 100 degree heat with a 115 degree “real feel”, the answer came to me — the Southern climate doomed our boys.

Imagine wearing THIS in JULY, in ALABAMA . . . OUTSIDE . . . ALL DAY!

We have two seasons in the South — January and summer. Short, mild winters coupled with ungodly hot and humid summers put our side at a disadvantage because we only had about a 2 or 3 month window each year when it was cool enough to . . . well, . . . PROCREATE.

We’re all adults here, do I have to draw you a picture?

Our Yankee foes, on the other hand, had the exact OPPOSITE issue. Minnesota? They have two seasons as well: July and winter. It’s that way all across the North. It gets COLD up there and cold is conducive to baby-making. Couple of quilts and some body heat and you end up warm, toasty, and “expectant.” Then just about the time THAT little bundle of joy gets weaned, it’s sub-zero again and the cycle starts all over.

Imagine this scenario, and before we get started, just so you know, this is the regular old yeoman farmers. This ain’t the big, high-falutin’ 100 Slave Working Coastal PLANTATION. This is a dirt poor Georgia / Mississippi, no-slave-owning upland family growing jes’ enuff cot’n ta’ git by. Mama, Daddy, a mess of kids that pick cotton too, and MAYBE — if last year’s cotton crop was awesome — a hired hand to help get the cotton in before the rain ruined it. Anyway, woman’s been up since before dawn cooking breakfast and packing food to take to the fields. She worked all day in the sun, heat, and humidity wearing more clothes than most women today wear in the dead of winter. Got home about two hours before everybody else to get supper ready and do some laundry. Fed everybody, cleaned up, gathered eggs and fed the chickens then washed her face and collapsed into bed .

In comes hubby. He’s worked all day as well. He hasn’t washed his face and hands. This was NOT a hygienic age in America. He hasn’t washed ANYTHING since last Saturday. So he slides into the straw ticking bed in his union suit and eases his hand over to just gently touch his loving wife and offer her a proposition:

“Hey, honey-bun, how’s about a little lovin’ tonight?”

Now, remember, it’s a July night when hot enough to make the Devil sigh with air thick as day old red-eye gravy. She’s sweating buckets in her coolest cotton nightgown and trying to get to sleep so she can get up in a few hours and do it all over again. She gently puts his hand back over on his side of the bed and offers him a counter-proposition:

“Hey, sugar bug, how about you keep that hand on your side til first frost and you’ll have two hands to pick cotton with tomorrow instead of one.” What’s more, not a jury in the county would convict her.

So the case is cracked. We lost the war because we were low on men and we were low on men because none of those good Southern folks had A/C in their bedrooms and it was just TOO HOT this time of year for all that foolishness.

Love y’all and keep those feet cool, dry and clean!

Boy, Was I Wrong

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https://grocerystorefeet.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/3167f-1450882930373.png?w=253&h=260Several months ago now I wrote a post wherein I confidently, perhaps even arrogantly, prognosticated the results of the upcoming election for our next POTUS. Specifically, I stated categorically Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump had about as much chance of actually obtaining the respective Democratic and Republican nominations as the proverbial snowball in the proverbial Hell.

Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa.

Good old white haired Bernie made the Democratic side a whole lot closer run thing than he had any reason to believe he’d do. Ultimately, Hillary won out, but even in defeat, Bernie remains plucky, vowing to fight on until and during the Democratic National Convention later this year. I’m not certain how much influence over events he’ll ultimately have, but he will certainly keep things stirred up. It must be nice to have so much money you can keep on running a failed campaign just to be a pain in the other person’s ass. I think I like this guy.

On the other side of the aisle, I was CERTAIN “The Donald” would say something so outrageous, so over the top, people would castigate him, cut ties with him, and flee from him like the plague. Well, turns out I was right about two out of three. Trump has not disappointed in the area of issuing outlandish statements. So much insanity has spewed forth from his mouth it has lowered the collective IQ of the nation by at least ten points. He has said, and is still saying, things which would have torpedoed the candidacy of ANY other politician. Far from slowing him down, the more crass references he makes to his “male anatomy,” the more he issues personal name calling attacks on people he perceives as enemies, the STRONGER HE POLLS!

One by one, he sent the other candidates packing. Bush, Rubio, Cruz, and finally Kasich all ultimately bowed out before the force that is Hurricane Donald. None of them could touch him. Logic didn’t work, reasoned arguments didn’t work, and when several of them finally decided to fight fire with name-calling and personal attacking fire, they just sunk to His Hairness’s level and he crushed them with experience. Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee. We are in completely uncharted waters now, folks, and — as the old maps used to say — here there be dragons.

What concerns me most is how we got here as a country. Where did things take such a sharp turn that a man who says the things Trump says not only wins his party’s nomination, he wins it in spite of the party elite’s best efforts to stop him. Make no mistake, Trump has the Republican establishment soiling their collective britches. How can someone, in this error of unprecedented political correctness, say the things Trump says without walking anything back and forge ahead?

I think that’s where the rub lies. Trump is the political correctness giant slayer. He does and says what so many people WISH they and their leaders could and would say. He wants a wall to keep out the filthy raping, murdering Mexican masses (nevermind most undocumented aliens are some flavor of Asian extraction). He says we should take out the families and friends of terrorists, no matter what the cost to the nation in terms of world opinion. He basically has said, in not so many words, F*** world opinion of us.

In doing all he’s done and saying all he’s said, a sobering fact has emerged about our country. Not only is the middle class as an economic entity dying, but the middle moderate political view is also dying as well. America is split cleanly down the middle and — here’s where it’s scary — each side HATES the other side.

If you want to see just how polarized America is, read the comments section of any news article. You won’t find a middle ground. Reasoned, civil public discourse in the marketplace of ideas has given way to two camps with torches and pitchforks staring across an impassable gulf of ideology. Looking back through the history of our country, I can’t find a single time when sheer unadulterated hatred for the other political side is as great since the days leading up to the War Between the States. Like it or not, Americans hate each other.

Into that kind of charged atmosphere comes Trump and Hillary. Never have two candidates been more polar opposites in their views. Pick a wedge issue, any wedge issue: abortion, gun control, immigration . . . it doesn’t matter because the two have no common ground. If one is “pro X” you can bet the farm the other is VIOLENTLY “anti X.” Hillary has shown increasing signs of anger in her camp while Trump has full-scale melees break out whenever he has a rally. Two angry people are leading two increasingly angry factions.https://grocerystorefeet.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/eeaf9-howardbeale.jpg?w=652

Where is it going to lead us as a country? Well, I think the average person today is pissed off. To borrow the line from Network, everyone is “Mad as Hell and not going to take it anymore.” So what’s going to happen is either way this thing goes in November, the half that loses is going to be boiling over with anger. What’s that going to cost the country? I know some friends in the tinfoil hat crowd who are certain a repeat of 9/11 is bound to happen not long after the inauguration in January 2017 because it’s going to take something that awful to bring some semblance of unity to the country again.

I don’t know. I do know I miss the country I was born in and I’m not sure exactly what happened to her. I’m also sure of one other thing; regardless of who wins in November — Hillary or Donald — we will have a well-qualified person at the helm to pilot this rapidly speeding up handbag.

Love y’all. Keep those feet clean.

Great War Wednesday: Jutland

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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/42/Map_of_the_Battle_of_Jutland,_1916.svg/300px-Map_of_the_Battle_of_Jutland,_1916.svg.pngFor two years, the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet had, at best, played a dangerous game of tag with each other. The two navies engaged in small scale battles at places like Dogger Bank, but even then, the action was limited to cruisers and other smaller surface vessels. Since the beginning of the war, the mighty battleships of both sides as well as each side’s vaunted battlecruisers had either remained in port or far away from any gunfire.

On the one hand, it seems strange the two navies would be so reluctant to come to blows since, arguably, the German navy was one of the pivotal events leading up to the war in the first place. Since the decline of the Spanish Empire in the late 17th century, one thing was clear in all countries’ foreign policy — Brittania Ruled the Waves. The Royal Navy was unmatched in size, power, and victory by the time Kaiser Wilhelm II decided to build a German Navy. Britain was so focused on having the preeminent navy in the world she had enacted the Two Powers Act. This was a British law which demanded the Royal Navy be superior in size to the next TWO largest navies in the world COMBINED.

That wouldn’t have affected much in the rest of the world, BUT, the Kaiser wanted a navy to rival the Royal Navy. He’d spent a great deal of time around the ships of the Royal Navy, seeing as he and the King of England were first cousins, and he mightily wanted to emulate the grandeur of the Royal fleet. So he started building battleships and battlecruisers at a phenomenal rate. Britain saw this as literally an act of aggression on Germany’s part and so the first huge arms race of the 20th Century began.

Once each side had those glorious navies filled with dreadnoughts and battlecruisers, however, they were loathe to actually send them out. The reason for this reluctance is actually quite simple and economic. Those ships were called “capital ships” for a good reason; a tremendous amount of a nation’s capital went into their construction. Each ship was massively expensive and the last thing either the British or the Germans wanted was to engage in a huge ship on ship battle where they might lose one or more of these horrendously costly vessels. An old joke in navies around the world is the captain always goes down with his ship because it’s easier to die than face a board of inquiry.

All this feinting and dilly-dallying ended on 31 May – 1 June 1916 in the North Sea off the Danish peninsula of Jutland. For the first and last time in the war the Royal Navy and the Kriegsmarine would face off mano y mano and the result would be . . . inconclusive.

Much more brilliant minds than mine have authored scores of books about what happened to lead to the Battle of Jutland so this will only be a glance at an amazing subject but the gist of how the battle started is both sides thought they were leading the other side into a trap using parts of the fleet as bait. By the time everyone involved figured out the trap was mutual, both fleets were in parallel battle lines and as the saying goes, all Hell broke loose.

In a battle full of famous moments, one in particular which stands out is the fate of the British battlecruisers on the first day. Battlecruisers were an experimental ship at the time. Essentially, they traded armor for speed. They carried guns the size and range of the dreadnoughts of the time, but their armor protection was quite thin, especially over the deck. This thin top armor made the battlecruiser vulnerable to “plunging fire” as three British ships found out in rapid succession.

The battlecruiser squadrons of the two fleets made first contact. The Germans had the range advantage and were, though the British hated to admit it, better shots at sea. As a result, they quickly scored heavy hits on HMS Invincible causing her magazine to explode killing all but a bare handful of men. Not long after, HMS Queen Mary suffered a similar fate as heavy plunging shells detonated her magazines and sent her to the bottom. Later in the day during the famous “Run to the South” when the British battlecruisers tried to retreat to the safety of the main fleet, HMS Indefatigable suffered the now infamous magazine explosion destroying her and killing all but two of her crew of 1200.

Two other battlecruisers, HMS Lion and HMS Princess Royal narrowly missed similar fates and were saved from magazine explosions only by the heroic efforts of two Victoria Cross winning sailors who flooded the magazines at the cost of their own lives. The spectacular explosion of so many of the vaunted battlecruisers in such a short period of time prompted British squadron commander Admiral Beatty to remark, “there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today.” The second day would see the dreadnoughts take their turn in battle and though many delivered and received heavy hits, neither Britain nor Germany lost one of the major battleships.

By the end of the second day, darkness obscured the sea and the ships broke off attack. The Germans slipped away under cover of night and the British seemed more than willing to let them go. To this day, the Battle of Jutland is debated as to its effect on the war as a whole and even on who actually won the battle. Both sides claimed victory. The Germans lost eleven ships to Britain’s fourteen, and the British lost nearly 4000 more men, BUT the British still controlled the North Sea and could still effectively blockade any attempt to get food to Germany through those waters, which steadily increased the pressure on the German Homefront.

However, the heart of Germany’s fleet escaped. As long as the High Seas Fleet survived, it remained a source of constant worry to the British war planners. What the British could not know though is Jutland slaked Germany’s thirst for naval battles. She simply could not risk losing her ships while Britain had sustained incredible losses but still had more than enough naval power to meet Germany on equal footing. If the Battle of Jutland had one agreed upon result it was this — the German High Seas Fleet, pride of the Kaiser, would never again sortie from port. After Jutland, German naval policy would focus strictly on the U-boat, with dire consequences for both sides.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

So, I Just About Died Yesterday . . . For Reals

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https://i2.wp.com/cdn.lolwot.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/20-facts-you-probably-didnt-know-about-scream-8.jpgI tell stories; it’s what I do — run my mouth or type fast as I can. Sometimes I embellish them a little bit just for flavor, but this one retelling needs no other elements than God’s honest truth. I almost died in a fiery car crash yesterday. You read that last part right. After spending the last three years and change separated from my precious little Mama and even longer separated from other beloved friends and family I almost rejoined them on the other side right near mile marker 22 on I-385 northbound.

Yesterday was Tuesday so as per schedule I was on my way home from visiting Granny at the nursing home in Clinton. It was a completely normal day. I was a little bummed that Granny hadn’t wanted to interact with me after her initial toothless grin of recognition, but she takes spells like that. I may go down next week and find her chattering away in her baby talk and we’ll have a conversation of sorts for an hour.

Anyway, back to the near death experience. I was clipping along in my ’03 Honda Element aka. “The Brave Little Toaster” with the A/C on max, listening to my tunes cranked up loud on my iPod, and just generally enjoying the bright sunshine. I had a semi truck in front of me, a big Ford truck behind me, and generally modest traffic scattered about here and there. All was moderately well with the world for a moment.

I should have known it wouldn’t last.

Just as I crossed the bridge at the WalMart Distribution Center where State 221 and I-385 cross, I felt a tickle on my right foot — my accelerator foot. I reached over with my left foot and scratched said tickle, but the tickle didn’t go away. Instead, the tickle transferred to the left foot around the front of my ankle. I was curious so I looked down; looking back at me was a spider somewhere between the size of my thumbnail and a dinner plate and it was taking a leisurely eight legged stroll up my left leg towards the open gap in my shorts.

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A Goliath Bird Eating Tarantula posing with his pet crazy person’s hand.

One would not be remiss in saying I was somewhat troubled and chagrined by this completely unexpected situation. One would ALSO not be remiss in saying I momentarily but completely lost my @#$%ing $#%&. As far as I could determine, a Goliath Bird-Eating Tarantula had miraculously teleported from the jungles of South America to about eight inches below my left knee. Perhaps it was instead a deadly Southeastern Brown Recluse with the lethal white violin shape prominently on its back. Forgive me if I not only couldn’t be sure of the species of arachnid approaching an opening in my shorts, but I also DID NOT CARE in the moment.

All I knew for certain was a @#$%ing spider was crawling up my leg. Comparative Arachnology wasn’t in my stream of consciousness.

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Yeah, this guy was running the show.

Now thankfully, in the midst of such adrenaline fueled situations, the brain really shows its true worth . . .  not so much the frontal lobe, that’s pretty much shut down at the moment, but the instinctual parts of our grey matter which remember the times long ago when humans were just another item on the menu. That part of my brain took over and made me realize immediately I was in serious trouble. I could neither put on brakes nor let off the gas and use my right foot to remove the eight legged freak from my left shin. Had I slowed down so abruptly, the truck behind me would have run me over like Gravedigger at a Monster Truck Jam.

As it was, I started violently pounding my leg against the floorboard in hopes of dislodging the intruder. This caused me to swerve off the road at highway speed. I know I swerved off the road because the newly installed rumble strips made my teeth chatter. I jerked the wheel back to the left and almost overcorrected right into the Jane Mansfield Bar of the semi truck in front of me. The whole time, I’m doing a one legged cross between a Mexican Hat Dance and a Russian Sword Dance while thousands of cars and trucks around me are helping me concentrate by laying down on their horns.

Now let me pause here to address a question which has come up both times I told this story yesterday: “Why didn’t you just pull over and stop?”

Actually, that would have been an excellent idea but you must remember at the time I was mostly using the Og and Thag parts of my brain and cavemen don’t have really good grasps of the mechanics of driving a car; they are, however, excellent at the realization a @#$%ing spider was crawling up my leg. One must make due with the resources one has at the time and higher order thinking skills were up on a chair in the frontal lobe screaming like little girls.

Now, somehow, and I have no idea of the exact mechanism, all my gyrations managed to dislodge the a @#$%ing spider from my leg. That was the good news. The bad news was I knew neither where it fell nor what it’s immediate plans were. All I knew for certain was A) a @#$%ing spider was no longer crawling up my leg and B) I almost ate up the back end of a semi truck.

In the next thirty seconds or so, I started to breath a little normally. The frontal lobe came back online enough to get me moved to the back of the pack of traffic so I was no longer in immediate danger of causing a Talladega backstretch style of pileup on the highway. It is lucky that I did so because about thirty more seconds later, I felt that tell-tale tickle on my right leg again. This time though, I was prepared. I glanced down and flicked mini-Rodan off my leg with my left foot and he landed right next to that left foot as I put it down.

Now ladies and gentlemen, I am not a violent man. I love all God’s creatures except cockroaches, mosquitoes, and UGA football fans. I bear no real malice towards creepy crawlies like snakes and spiders. I feel in my heart everything on earth is just trying to get by as best as it can. Unfortunately for the spider now next to my left foot on the floorboard of the car, those gentle thoughts are the province of that pesky frontal lobe and not all of it had made it off the stool and stopped screaming like a little girl. Og and Thag were still pretty much running the show. As a result, I did not hesitate to stomp on that spider like he had said something offensive about my mother.

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It was him or me.

I wiggled my foot around. I stomped three or four more times. I’d just seen a glimpse of the tunnel of light, my life had flashed before my eyes; therefore I was taking no chances. I turned that poor spider into spider mush and proceeded to drive on home still shaking a little bit. I pulled into the safety of my driveway and turned off the car. Then I grabbed a wad of napkins from the center console because, after all, the spider had been a valiant foe and deserved to be properly disposed of in the trash can . . . plus I didn’t want a zombie spider loose in my car.

As I bent down to collect the remains, I got a whiff of a terrible smell. It seemed to be coming from the spider carcass. I wiped him up and brought him up to eye level to examine him more closely. I can tell you with absolute certainty had he so much as twitched, I would not be writing this post as my heart had borne all it could in one day so I’m certain I would have passed out and split my head open on a rock and died there in the driveway.

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And THIS is what it turned out to be. The antennae fooled me.

Luckily, that didn’t happen. Instead, I examined the spider remains. It wasn’t a wolf spider or a black widow. In fact, it turned out to not be a spider at all. It was instead a rather large example of the stink bugs which have taken over South Carolina the last few years.

That would’ve been nice to know thirty miles earlier!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Thoughts On Motherless Day

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https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/5d/8c/9c/5d8c9cd0dc0b81b8f98cb93ea17e0bb2.jpgI have a friend who was single for many years after all of her friends and most of her acquaintances had married. This young lady HATED Valentine’s Day with a purple passion. She called it “Universal Single Awareness Day.” She said the whole world spent weeks reminding her of her lack of a significant other and then rubbed it in her face every February 14th. I’ve since lost touch with her so I don’t know how her quest for couplehood ever turned out, but she was extremely bitter and bitterness isn’t conducive to great relationship success so I have no trouble believing she now has 20+ cats in a small bungalow somewhere.

Still, I understand her a lot better these days . . . especially today. It’s my third Mother’s Day without Mama and so far time has done a crappy job of healing this wound. It doesn’t help that Mama LOVED Mother’s Day. I always managed to get her a card with my own money every year until I started truly earning my own money and then I took Mother’s Day to the next level. I’d call her at the crack of dawn, take her to Waffle House to eat breakfast, give her her card, go to church with her, and take her to supper later on.

Getting married changed nothing because Budge was the daughter Mama always wanted. She doted on Mama every Mother’s Day as much or more than even I did. She would always arrange a mani/pedi for them . . . until Mama’s lungs couldn’t handle the harsh solvent odor in the store. Mama went from one card to three: one from me, one from Budge, and one from “both of us.” She kept every single card.

I know she kept every single card because I found them neatly arranged in chronological order in one of her deepest dresser drawers three years ago when I had to go through her stuff. She kept everything from the scrawling childish folded notebook paper and crayon all the way through the best Hallmark had to offer. I read two before I realized I’d probably lose my mind if I tried to get through any more so I pulled out the drawer and unceremoniously dumped almost forty years of love writ large into a large trash bag.

Now, every year, Mother’s Day is everywhere starting as soon as Easter ends. Every store runs specials. Every florist vies for the most beautiful commercial so we’ll buy their arrangements. Churches have special recognition services. Everywhere everyone is reminding me I no longer have a mother.

It’s crushing on Budge as well though she does a much better job of dealing with it than I do. In many ways it’s worse on her. She lost her own mother at fifteen and then had to endure losing the woman she called the greatest mother-in-law God ever created, but Budge has a special ache because we are barren. I have to deal with not having Mama. She has to deal with not having Mama AND not having children to celebrate her on this special day. I try to fill the gap, but she sees it for the weak attempt it is. Having no mother and no children I think are two of the hardest struggles my precious Budge has to endure.

We don’t go to the cemetery and visit graves though. My stepdad and I keep some sort of flower on Mama’s grave, but it’s a far cry from the huge arrangements others have on their departed loved ones’ headstones. I used to ache and agonize over not being able to afford an arrangement like those. I thought it meant I was a sub-standard son, but then I realized a lot of those flowers were making up for flowers never given in life. One of Mama’s favorite songs was “Give Me the Roses While I Live.” That’s what I tried to do, give her love and flowers while she was here to see and enjoy them.

Oh, and please, please, please to all my well-meaning Christian friends, don’t tell me my Mama is in a better place. It will make me want to hit y0u with a large blunt object for a few reasons. One, I know perfectly well Mama is in Heaven (at least on the days I’m not in a black hole questioning if any afterlife exists); two, I don’t want her in Heaven; I want her HERE hugging me so I can hug her back, so I can smell her and touch her and tickle her until she lost her breath; and three, I’ll never have a mother again because when we all get to Heaven our earthly relationships won’t be in effect anymore and we’ll be together, but she won’t be my little Mommy and I won’t be her Little Man ever again.

So keep the well-meant platitudes and bible verses behind your teeth today; they are cold, cold comfort compared to my Mama’s arms. I know that sounds horrible and I apologize but instead of the passing time making things easier . . . well, it’s just made it that much harder. I’m fighting a war in my heart and mind against becoming bitter about Mama’s death and, unfortunately, I seem to be losing. I guess it would be easier if she hadn’t died so young, hadn’t sacrificed so much for me, and hadn’t generally been the greatest Mama the world ever knew. I still love her fiercely and painfully.

Hug your mothers if you still have them and know you have my full sympathy if you don’t. Happy Mother’s Day to all the Mamas out there. I hope you get the love and attention you deserve today and every day as well.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean.

Paisley Park is in Your Heart, Forever

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I started listening to Prince at a seventh grade sleep over with Robby at my buddy Duane’s house when we hung out in his family’s RV, commandeered his older brother’s stack of slick covered magazines, and listened to Dirty Mind / Controversy until we fell asleep. The first cassette I ever bought with my own money was 1999. The first time I drove a group of guys around in my 1979 Ford Mustang on a Saturday night, my Purple Rain cassette provided the soundtrack for the evening with all of us singing along. Pretty much wherever I was as a teenager, the Purple One was riding shotgun. I reached for him when I was mellow, when I was excited, and when I was seriously sad, but never when I was angry because Prince didn’t write angry music. Just like his character in the movie Purple Rain, Prince was a lover, not a fighter.

Now he’s gone.

I found out yesterday when someone on Facebook posted “RIP Prince, you sexy MF.” I’ve been taken in by several dead celebrity hoaxes, so I held in the disappointment until I could get online and check out the reputable sources. MSN confirmed it with the “breaking news” headline reading “Superstar musician Prince dead at 57.” Cliche’ as it may sound, when I read that, a little piece of me died.

It’s been a rough year for me musically. First Bowie, then Haggard, and now Prince, but Prince seems the hardest to take because of the three, he most belonged to my generation. We were the ones destined to “party like it’s 1999,” which seemed so far away the first time I heard it. Prince was a large part of the voice of Generation X. 1999 was our middle school anthem, we started high school with Purple Rain, graduated with Paisley Park and went off to college with Sign O’ the Times.

He sang to us about us.

Prince’s music became the first stuff I had to hide from Mama, and most of my friends were the same way. We could get away with the double entendres of Little Red Corvette, but it was hard to mistake what he was talking about in the words to Darling Nikki, even if I did have to look up the word “masturbate” because that particular term hadn’t come up in everyday conversation by 1985 in my small Southern town. One of the best friends I ever had was actually named Nikki. We had first period study hall together my senior year and I loved to aggravate her with that song. All I had to do was hum the first few bars and she’d get all red in the face.

She’s dead now too, victim of a horrible DUI single car crash about 25 years gone. Whenever Darling Nikki runs through my mind out of the blue, I tell myself it’s her trying to communicate from The Beyond . . . nothing wrong with a little white lie to myself, after all.

Thing about Prince was his whole albums were good and not just the few singles which got the air time. In fact, my two favorite Prince songs I don’t ever remember hearing on the radio at all. I adore “Sometimes it Snows in April” off Under a Cherry Moon and my all-time favorite is “Starfish and Coffee” from Sign O’ the Times. Every one of his albums had not one but several un-aired hidden gems so I usually bought the cassettes as soon as they dropped so I could find them.Image result for prince

He was a strange duck in a lot of ways, of course, but — just like being able to pull off purple crushed velvet suits onstage — it was his plethora of quirks which made him so endearing to his fans. I remember when his record company tried to tell him he couldn’t use his own name for his own purposes so what did he do? He legally changed his name to a symbol that ASCII doesn’t reproduce anywhere I can find under any combination of keys. He went his own way, but he was always true to the music . . . always.

A big part of my younger self developed around listening to Prince and this world is a sadder, much less purple paisley place now that he’s gone.

So, remember I love y’all, keep those feet clean, and if the elevator tries to break you down — GO CRAZY!

Great War Wednesday: The Easter Rising 1916

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The Dublin General Post Office where the rebels headquartered.

The English and the Irish have hated each other for centuries. That hatred has ebbed and flowed from lows of simmering unrest to all out internecine warfare of the most foul and horrid kind over the long history of Anglo-Irish relations. One would have to search the annals long indeed before one could find a flare up of violence to quite match the bloodbath in the streets of Eire during the six days of Easter Week in 1916.

At the time of the rebellion, the rest of Great Britain, as we have noted for the last two years, was embroiled in desperate fighting on the continent in the midst of the Great War. Ireland at the time was under direct British rule, a fact which had chafed the proud Irish for as long back into the mists of time as Henry II. Though they had tried to throw off the English yoke several times before, never had they tried so hard, nor had England been so vulnerable as the massive Easter Rebellion.

The Rising began on Monday, April 24, 1916. Three Irish revolutionary armies — the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, and the Cumann na mBan — acted in accord and seized several British government buildings in Dublin and proclaimed Ireland to be a free and independent republic. Most notably, the rebels raised the Irish Republican flag over their de facto headquarters, the General Post Office in Dublin.

The British response was swift, harsh, and military. Many in England had started to soften towards the Irish over the decades since the last major rebellion in 1878 and the British Parliament had started working on several Home Rule Bills aimed at giving Ireland gradually more independence within the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, such goodwill evaporated in the face of what most saw as a rank stab in the back by the Irish nationalists when England was in the midst of dire straits.

The fighting centered on Dublin where British regular army troops by the thousands poured into the city and began nasty house to house fighting in a precursor to later 20th Century urban warfare. The further into the city center the solders got, however, the stiffer the resistance they encountered. Finally, the two sides formed a somewhat static front at one of the major city thoroughfares.

After the initial surprise of the Monday action, however, the rebels’ fate was sealed. The British Army, with two years experience on the Western Front, brought artillery to bear against the lightly armed revolutionaries. The provisional militias fought bravely and many of their actions are still sung today, but they had no way to counter the massive discrepancy in numbers or the artillery. As a result, by Friday, the Rising was over. The rebel leader nominally in charge of the coalition, schoolmaster Patrick Pearse, agreed to an unconditional surrender Thursday evening.

In the aftermath of the rebellion, over 3000 Dubliners — many who had nothing to do with the action — were rounded up and herded into internment or concentration camps to await trial . . . the use of concentration camps here and earlier during the Boer War enabled Adolf Hitler two decades on to blunt the English attempts to take the moral high ground near the outbreak of World War II by allowing the Germans in essence to say, “We got the idea from you!” The majority of the rebel leaders received swift courts-martial before being found guilty almost to a man, or woman, and were executed before the end of the year.

The political fallout of the Easter Rising proved enormous. For five decades the moderates in Ireland and England had been working towards a constitutional nationalism. That immediately gave way to martial law which stayed in effect long after the Rising ended. Many historians cite the Easter Rising as the opening round of the broader War of Irish Independence of 1919-1920 which would eventually lead to Britain giving in and granting Ireland, save for the Ulster counties, independence and the long sought Home Rule. Unfortunately, the situation in the Ulster counties would lead to a quasi-war between Britain and the Irish Republican Army which would last for decades and became known famously as “The Troubles.”

Probably the most famous non-political participant in the Easter Rising was famed Irish poet W.B. Yeats — incidentally one of my personal favorite poets. He wrote the following poem to commemorate the event.

Easter, 1916

I HAVE met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse –
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

#TBT: It’s Springtime! Oh Joy, sniff, sniff, honk.

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This originally ran on March 31, 2010.

It’s (sniff) springtime (sniff) and so (sniff) time to (sniff) begin my (sniff) love / hate (honk, blow, hack) relationship (sniff) with that (sniff) lovely stuff (sniff, honk) POLLEN (wipe, sniff)!!

All kidding aside, I do love springtime. Daffodils are one of my favorite flowers of all and a square foot of the delicious yellow blossoms still bloom every spring about this time next to the stone steps at Papa and Granny’s (now Aunt Cathy’s) just where Papa and I planted them some thirty years ago. The sky is blue as the bluest eye and the Final Four have been announced. It is spring!

Of course, that means it is hay fever season for me. I do not have allergies. That would be too easy. No, I have demon possessed nasal passages that twinge with the slightest micron of plant matter on the air. To put it simply, if it is green or has a bloom, I’m probably allergic to it. Violently, sickeningly, head-splittingly allergic to it.

From now until the first cold snap in October, my days will consist of bleary eyes and a runny nose. If you want some sound financial advice, invest in facial tissue. I predict a spike in the price of the good stuff as soon as I can get to the store. Budge mowed the yard tonight for the first time this year and I was picking up fallen limbs and other vegetable detritus of winter. We were outside probably ninety minutes at the absolute most. That was about three hours ago and one shower, two Claritin, and four Sudafed (the REAL meth-making stuff; not that knock off crap) later and I can finally sit still long enough to type a blog post. Of course, I have hypertension and Sudafed and Claritin do wonders for raising blood pressure so I’ll have a nice little raging headache for the next few weeks until my body adjusts its chemical soup for the change in seasons.

Of course, I am wildly overjoyed at the wonderful array of pharmaceuticals available to me and my fellow sufferers today. As a child, I had no such balm in my particular Gilead. Nothing then existed to blunt the misery of the spring, summer, and fall allergy season. The only medicine of any effectiveness was Benadryl. Now that is some wonderful stuff, but I had a choice — take Benadryl and spend summer in a coma, or take nothing and let my eyes swell shut and my nose become so raw it would literally ulcerate in some places. I tried to play outside with the other kids, but to be totally honest, I don’t do misery well, so I spent a lot of time indoors or in a Benadryl haze.

My horrible allergies deserve the most credit for all my academic achievements and the most blame for all my athletic failures. I’ve always been told I had a football player’s build, but it’s hard to block someone when your eyes are running rivers and you have to sneeze every fifteen seconds. (Just as an aside, you ever sneeze in a football helmet, you won’t forget it) On the contrary, I’m strangely not allergic to dust (mold is another story) so the dusty stacks of the local library branch were a respite from the yellow swirling air outside. The library was air conditioned as well, which was a nice bonus for a fat kid like me.

So, thanks to hay fever, I graduated second in my class in high school having never been able to play a game of football or baseball in my life. I love baseball. ***sigh***

Well, I’ve got to go blow my nose . . . again. So, y’all keep those feet clean and those pollen masks on and remember I love y’all and we’ll talk at you later.

Habeas Corpus

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Today is Easter Sunday.

Today, Christians the world over celebrate the most important event in the history of the world — Jesus Christ’s rising from the dead. It is the the hinge event of the Western world. Before Jesus’ death and Resurrection, we talk about B.C. but after he rose from the dead, dating changes to A.D. It is a singular event.

I’ve had conversations with people of varying degrees of skepticism and the question inevitably comes up, “So what would it take for you to believe in the truth of Christianity?” I’ve gotten a great many answers but they all rhyme. Each one is a variation on the theme of “I would have to have proof of something absolutely miraculous.” More than once, my reply has been, “Um, a man who was scourged, crucified, DIED, had a big-assed spear shoved into his dead body, was wrapped like a mummy in pounds of linen strips, and sealed in a rock tomb before returning to life then stepping out of said tomb triumphantly three days later to begin 40 days of teaching during which time he was seen, felt, heard, smelt, and maybe even tasted by over 500 people before ascending to Heaven in front of hundreds of eyewitnesses isn’t miraculous enough for you?”

To this day, I’ve never had anyone say, “Yes.” They either stare a hole in the ground at their feet or they smile (or smirk) and say, “but that couldn’t happen.” EXACTLY! That’s why it’s called a MIRACLE! Unfortunately, the Resurrection is not only the most important event in history, but also the most ridiculed event in history as well. To adherents of other religions, including atheism and its current priestly triumvirate of Dawkins, Harris, and the late Hitchens, the idea that a man could — and did — rise from the dead is mythology akin to Prometheus being bound in the Caucasus Mountains or Odin and his offspring riding down the Rainbow Bridge from Asgard to fight Ragnarok.

I’ll tell you a truth about myself. I’m one of the worst Christians you will EVER meet. My life seems to be falling apart sometimes. I suffer from anxiety disorder and bouts of severe depression. I am not a poster child for the overcoming life of joy the Bible teaches we can have. In my dark periods — and they come more often than I feel capable of dealing with sometimes — I have wrestled with doubts. Does God really exist? Is there life after death? Where do we come from and where are we going and a thousand other questions that make me walk the floors of my home night after night. But, in my darkest nights of the soul, I return to one thing — the Resurrection accounts, and in those moments of soul-searing agony, one compelling and unanswerable detail has nailed me to my faith in Christ as surely as He was nailed to a Roman cross.

If Jesus of Nazareth did not raise from the dead, where is His body?

The founders of other religions of the world are accounted for. Gautama the Buddha was cremated and containers of his ashes given as relics to shrines. Confucius is interred in Qufu, China, his hometown. The Mohammad lies beneath the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina. Not only are they accounted for, no other religion even claims their founder 1) WAS God and 2) BODILY rose from the dead. Several, especially the more esoteric ones would have us believe their founders or other holy men “transcended” or rose “spiritually.” In any event, a body eventually gets buried, burned, or otherwise disposed of.

But wither the Carpenter of Nazareth? Where are the remains of He whom Pilate, a Roman provincial governor not prone to flights of superstition, named “REX IVDAEORVM” ? Where is the body of The Christ, the Holy One, the Son of God?

First, Jesus of Nazareth was a real person who died on a real cross at a real point in time in the very real and verifiable Roman province of Judea in or about 33 AD. Forget about “the search for Jesus” or “the historical Jesus”. We have the Gospels and they say He lived. We have Josephus and Philo and they say He lived. Still people want to dispute Jesus’ existence. To them I say, was Julius Caesar real? Prove it. Less material exists mentioning the would-be Roman emperor than mentions Christ by a magnitude of ten yet no one doubts Caesar’s life and deeds. Why must Christ’s life be called a myth? If we are going to play these reindeer games, let’s all play by the same rules for all historical persons.

So, where is His body?

The Resurrection DESTROYED the Roman Empire. Because the majority of the first Christians were Jewish, it made Jews, sadly, a cast out and hunted people. Logic dictates that if either the Romans or the Jews had knowledge of the location or were in actual possession of Jesus’ body, as soon as Christians like Peter started preaching in the streets, these men would have gone to a tomb, carted out Jesus’ body, unwrapped it and said, “Here is your ‘Savior'”. Does anyone think for a moment Christianity would have survived such a revelation? Would Peter and the other Apostles have bothered to die such horrible deaths as they did FOR SOMETHING THEY KNEW WAS A LIE?!

No. Christianity would have come to a swift end because our entire reason for believing rests on a BODILY RESURRECTED Jesus Christ. If Jesus was really just a “great teacher,” the movement his followers started at his command would have died in the cradle, not lived to become the largest religion in the history of the world.

But it didn’t.

Through reading I have settled on two unassailable facets of Roman life. First, the Romans were excellent record keepers. Second, the Romans were excellent killers. The Romans in Palestine who crucified Jesus didn’t “misplace” the body and they didn’t take Jesus down “alive” from the cross so that He “got better” then showed up later on. I don’t have the time or space to shoot those two arguments against the Resurrection as full of holes as they deserve to be, but luckily others have done that yeoman’s work in my place. My suggestion is to start with the thin book by Josh McDowell titled More than a Carpenter if you want to start exploring the arguments over the centuries around Jesus’ death and resurrection.
I must warn you, though, before you undertake such a journey. Many extremely passionate and intelligent men have set out to debunk Christianity’s claim that Jesus rose from the dead. None have succeeded and many have become believers and followers of Christ in the process.

Will you?

Love y’all and Happy Easter.

Why are you seeking the living among the dead? He is Risen, just as He said He would.