Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures


I have wanted to tell this story for a couple of years now, but Budge has vetoed it because she says it is terrible. I’m not sure how terrible it is. After all, it simply involves one of the most natural biological processes imaginable. I told her I was having a tough time coming up with something to write for this month’s post and that I’d like to finally tell this story. She huffed and puffed a little, but finally gave in and told me if I could do it justice, go for it. So here’s what happened.

A few years ago, Budge and I had supper at Sabroso’s, which is one of our favorite Mexican restaurants around. I ate some chips and salsa, and for a main meal had Arroz Con Pollo. That’s chicken with rice for the rest of us. I didn’t think I over ate, especially compared to some meals I’ve put down there before. Just some grilled chicken over yellow rice topped with queso blanco. Nothing to it. I also downed three glasses of their exceptional sweet tea, but I don’t think that made a difference either. I don’t know what caused all the excitement to tell you the truth.

Anyway, we ate, paid, and left for home. We got to the first red light coming from Woodruff Road when my stomach dropped. I’m sure you all know the feeling. One minute you are fine; the next minute, you are sweating bullets. I knew for certain we were not going to make it home with my clothes intact in my present condition. I told Budge we had to find a bathroom quickly.

Luckily, right before the highway lies a Spinx. They are all over these parts like mushrooms after a bad rain. They combine gas, car washing, and a lite grocery store. I knew for a fact they prided themselves on the cleanliness of their bathrooms, so I told Budge that was where we were going. She pulled in and I got out, gingerly. Then I stood by the car for a minute gathering myself and making sure everything was squeezed tightly for the fifteen yard walk to the bathroom. It was pretty bad. Well, in all my excitement and other-mindedness, I completely forgot my phone and left it in the console. That will become key later on.

As I was walking in, slowly, I breathed a quick prayer that the bathroom would be unoccupied. Some Spinx have multiple urinals and stalls available, which would be nice in a way in my present condition, but then again, it might scar some poor soul for life. This particular Spinx, however, was a one-holer. It was immaculately clean, but there was only one porcelain throne. Of course, one was all I needed so that didn’t bother me.

I’ve never been so happy to see a bathroom in my LIFE! I turned around to lock the door only to find the door lock was broken. In its place was one of those barrel locks where there’s a metal rod in a tube on the door and a metal ring on the jamb for the rod to slide into and secure the door. Okay, not ideal, but I had other things to think about at that particular moment. Still, like my phone, this will become key in a minute.

I made it to the toilet without a second to spare as my sphincter decided enough was enough and this was happening right now, ready or not. Gentle reader, without getting too graphic, let me just say in about five minutes of intense exercise of various little used muscles, I destroyed that poor toilet, which had done me no wrong at all. Still, I blew it up. It was a near run thing though. A couple more steps or an issue getting my pants down and the outcome could have been tragic. As it was, I sat there breathing heavily and waiting for the stomach spasms to stop. I felt completely human again, so I turned myself to the task of cleaning up after this industrial accident. That’s when things took a turn for the absurd.

As a general rule, the first thing I do when going to a public restroom is assure myself plenty of toilet paper is available. It may be one ply stuff you can read a book through, but if you use enough, it will suffice. As Napoleon is quoted as saying, “Quantity has a quality all its own.” This time though, I really hadn’t had time to make my pre-poop reconnaissance of the facility. As a result, it was with a deep sense of trepidation that my hand encountered only empty space when I reached for the necessary supplies. I looked and the two roll dispenser was empty. Both holders held only paper tubes. I cursed Spinx for not checking these things more often. I cursed myself for not doing my usual due diligence, not that it would have made much difference in this case. This train was coming through, available tp or not.

Well, I was dismayed, but not overly so. I flushed the putrescence down the sewer so I was at least sitting on clean water while I pondered my predicament. It was then I spied the paper towel dispenser. I was saved. Paper towels certainly were not optimal, but considering the situation, what is one to do, right? So I leaned over as far as I could lean to grab a few pieces of brown sandpaper and finish the job then be on my way. The paper towel dispenser was as empty as the toilet paper dispenser. I really cursed now. I was stuck for sure.

But wait, I thought. I’ll call Budge and she can come in and explain the situation to the nice teenager behind the counter, he’ll go to the store room and bust out some one ply, bring it to me, and — while somewhat embarrassed — I could be on my way. So I reached down to my shorts on the floor, stuck my hand in the left pocket where I keep my phone and instantly remembered my phone was sitting on the console of the Santa Fe. See, I told you that would be key. To make matters worse, I realized even if I could call, it would be impossible for an employee to get into the room with me stuck on the toilet and unable to unlock the door because of the barrel lock. I was well and truly in a bit of a pickle.

I cast about for any solution. I briefly hit upon the idea of using my underwear, but honestly, with what I had just done, I doubted it would be enough. What was I to do? Then, I saw my salvation — the overflowing trashcan! Apparently, everyone had been so busy at this store, no one had time to restock the bathroom or empty the trash. I was thankful for heavy traffic. I could just barely hang on to the toilet with one hand and lean as far as possible to just hook the trashcan with a finger of my other hand. It proved enough though, and I was able to slide the means of my salvation over to my side.

Now this is why Budge didn’t want me to tell this story, because she thought what I was going to do was gross to the point of dry heaves. I, too, wasn’t happy with the choices presented to me, but as the Bible says, “When the ox is in a ditch, one must get him out.” Also, in this case, beggars couldn’t be choosers. Now I didn’t just reach in and grab a paper towel all willy-nilly. I have standards, they just aren’t very high apparently. I daintily sorted through the cast off hand dryers and picked only those that were spotlessly clean, if a bit damp. I was right about my underwear being insufficient to the task. It took twelve trips to the used paper towel pile before I was clean enough to carry on with my business.

I got myself redressed, put the trashcan back where it went, washed my hands, and — another part of this story Budge hates — dried them on the tail of my shirt. Remember though, this was a desperate time. I then walked up to the front of the store and informed the teenager behind the counter that the men’s room was out of both toilet paper and paper towels. I then exited stage right and got back in the vehicle with Budge.

She wanted to know what had taken so long, so I told her in the same exquisite detail I have just relayed to you, gentle reader. She turned a bit green and I thought she might be about to lose her enchiladas she had so recently eaten. She berated me for being so unsanitary. I pointed out I had no bidet so my choices were quite limited. She didn’t say much as we rode home. She only told me I was not to write about this on Grocery Store Feet. Still, here we are! Nothing, not even time, can stand in the way of a good story.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean!

Warehousing Warriors


My father-in-law is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Over the past several years, he has gone from an independent, fully functioning male to a shadow of himself. Last year, he had an episode that made it apparent that, despite her best wishes and intentions, his wife Sandy could no longer care for him at home. After an eleven day stay in the hospital, he went to a rehab nursing home near his home. This was not a long term solution and after a month’s stay at that facility, he was accepted at a veteran’s nursing home fifty minutes away. He was admitted to the Alzheimer’s unit of the facility. His stay in this home has been fascinating as we have gotten to meet the men who share the ward with Dad.

The home has five separate units. Four of the five function as regular nursing homes do with round the clock care for aging people. The fifth unit where Dad is located is the Alzheimer’s ward. Here are men who have seen Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia rob them of their memories, leaving only holes in their place. I have overheard some of the most amazing conversations during visits on the unit. One day, I listened while Dad napped in his chair to Mr. Ira and Mr. John swap stories of their time on aircraft carriers during the Korean War. It seems Mr. Ira was an aircraft mechanic aboard the USS Essex, while Mr. John was an anti-aircraft machine gunner aboard another aircraft carrier. He didn’t mention the name of his ship. Mr. Ira told of the number of times planes came in with, “holes so big a man could put his head through them!” He expressed his amazement that the planes ever brought their pilots home in such condition. Mr. John avowed that he’d had a much quieter time during his service because North Korea didn’t have any anti-ship capable aircraft that could strike his floating airport.

Listening to Mr. Ira and Mr. John and several other former servicemen always amazes me. A few of the men, like Mr. Ira and Mr. John are Korean War veterans, mostly in their late eighties and early nineties. The home also houses a bare handful of World War II veterans — men in their late nineties and over the century mark. These are few and far between and none of them are on Unit Five because Alzheimer’s does not allow its victims to reach such advanced age. At the other end of the spectrum are another handful of Desert Storm vets whose bodies are failing early and who have been forced into long term care before their time. The vast majority of the men, however, are Vietnam Veterans from all five branches of the armed forces.

These men always make me pause; especially the ones with “Infantry Veteran” on their caps and sweatshirts. To think that these men, now mostly confined to wheelchairs or at best walking with walkers, fifty and sixty years ago were slogging across Southeast Asia through flooded rice paddies dodging bullets from the far tree lines as young men — eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old — a far cry from the worn out bodies and, in many cases, minds that roam the halls of this veteran’s nursing home. Mr. Faircloth has a cap with a Combat Infantryman’s Badge embroidered on it. I would imagine were he able to stand anymore, he would top six feet easily. I can’t carry on a conversation with him, I’m afraid. He is too far into the ravages of dementia to understand what I would say, but it’s easy to see the young man he once was carrying an M-16 down a red dirt road with his company.

One precious fellow I can have a conversation with is Mr. Bob. Mr. Bob is on Unit Five so he has dementia, but it hasn’t robbed him of his bright smile and eyes. He can still walk, although he does so very slowly and against the nurses’ wishes. They would rather he stay seated because falls at these gentlemen’s ages are deal breakers many times. Mr. Bob was in the Air Force in Vietnam. He’s never forgotten he was a pilot of a airplane either. He’ll smile at me and ask me in his halting way if I want him to take me on “an airplane ride.” I have no doubt he probably still remembers how to start up and fly an F-105 Thunderchief or an F-4 Phantom II. The body may be weak and much of the mind unreachable, but it’s amazing how much remains and what remains.

It’s interesting on the ward at times. As an orderly pointed out to me early in Dad’s stay there, the facility is full of alpha males who may have forgotten much, but they still remember that once upon a time they were some bad assed sons of bitches and every now and then, those old fires flame up. I’ve seen the nurses have to step between two old bulls more than once and wheel them to opposite ends of the unit until passions cool and they forget whatever it was that angered them in the first place. That’s what makes going to visit Dad so sad at times.

A long term care nursing home — any long term care nursing home — is simply the anteroom to the Other Side. The men here aren’t going home. They will leave this last outpost only one way, feet first into a hearse. It’s visible in the faces of the men and the staff. The staff work tirelessly to make these former warriors comfortable in their time left, but no one is under any delusion how this movie ends. The nurses and CNAs have a kind, but somewhat detached way of dealing with the men they all refer to, regardless of former rank or name as, “Papa.” They have to though. These men are here to die and to grow too close to each one is to court madness. Some of the men are gentle, some are fiery, the staff treats them the same, often changing adult diapers while dodging the occasional flying fist. They often don’t know any better. All the safety controls on the machine, all the filters, are gone now. All that is left is a body — once strong and virile, a true warrior — now in a sad warehouse, waiting to die.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

Ten Years


Ten years ago today, Mama died. I don’t ever say I “lost” her, because I didn’t. I know exactly where she is. It has been a difficult decade. Budge says I’ve never been the same since that night. I just know I miss her. I still grieve her death, just not as intensely as I did right after she died. No one can sustain a grief like that. One would die. Some people have.

One thing that terrifies me to this day and will ruin my day if I think about it is a choice I made for her funeral. She wanted to be buried immediately or as close as possible after her death and she threatened me with a haunting I would regret if I had her casket opened, “so people who didn’t care to come see me when I was alive can come gawk at me when I’m dead.” Because of those two factors, Fletch, the owner of Fletcher’s Funeral Home, which handled the funeral and all, advised me not to have Mama embalmed. He said it would save several hundred dollars and with no viewing, it was really pointless.

He was wrong. It had a point I hadn’t considered until the night after her funeral as I was lying exhausted in bed. See, when someone is embalmed, all the blood is drained out of their body and replaced with horrible chemicals. This serves two purposes. One, it preserves the body for a viewing, but, two, when all the blood is drained out of a body and replaced with chemicals, that person is — without a shadow of a doubt — dead. No other outcome is possible. Since I didn’t have Mama embalmed, that night and at random nights since I have had the horrible thought hit me that I buried my little Mama alive and she woke up in the dark of the casket and grave and screamed for me as she tried to get out before she died for real of a heart attack from the exertion or from suffocation. At one point a few years ago, this though got on my mind and plagued me so much that the only thing that kept me from exhuming her body to assure myself I hadn’t buried her alive was the cost. I called about the price and realized I had no way to come up with such an amount. I still wonder sometimes and it will cause me to have a panic attack every time I do.

I miss her profoundly, but differently than I did just after her death. Even after all this time, something important or otherwise notable will come up and I’ll think, “I need to call Mama and tell her!” I’ve even reached for the phone before. That doesn’t happen as much as it used to. In fact, the first thing I did when Budge and I got into the car to leave the hospital the night she died was to erase her contact information and custom ringtone from my phone so I didn’t dial her accidentally and bring up her voicemail.

“My Mama’s dead,” is also no longer the first thought I have waking up in the morning. I go long stretches of time now without pondering her death. I wonder sometimes if I’m in danger of forgetting her, but then I’ll pass a grocery store or see something bright yellow and I’ll tear up and remember that, no, I won’t forget her.

Sometimes, I have difficulty recalling the sound of her voice. When that happens, I’ll sing one of the old songs from our little white church to myself and inevitably I can hear her singing on a Sunday morning long ago. I only have one picture of her sitting out, mainly because Mama hated to be photographed. I have a professional picture of her from when I was in the sixth grade and she and I dressed up and went to TG&Y and got a set of photos made. In her picture, she is wearing a fire engine red blouse and jeans and her hair is spilling down her back. She’s not smiling though. She looks serious as the camera snaps. I guess it was because sixth grade was the year she and I spent living with Granny and Papa Wham — Mama’s ex-in-laws. That was a hard time for Mama and she didn’t have many easy times.

I miss hugging her a great deal. I reached a point when she could no longer get her arms all the way around me, but she would then squeeze tight and try to close the gap between her hands. I miss being called her little man, a pet name she used for me up until her death by which time I was forty-two. I dream about her sometimes too. Most of the time I remember she’s dead even in the dream, but sometimes I forget and waking up from those dreams is a bit of a shock again.

As a matter of fact, the last time I heard her call me little man was in a dream I had about a month after she died. We were sitting at the kitchen table in The Little Barn. It was the ramshackle trailer we lived in for years. I could see the peeling wallpaper and scratched kitchen linoleum as clear as day. I knew in the dream she was dead, but it’s like she had summoned me there just to tell me something. As we sat there, her with a cup of coffee in front of her, me with a glass of sweet tea, she said, “Little man, Mama isn’t coming back. I have to go on now. I spent your life trying to prepare you to live without me and now you have to. You can come to me one day, but you have a life to live on Earth for a while longer.” I nodded, she slowly disappeared, then the dream ended. She just faded away and I woke up crying.

I get angry sometimes that she’s gone and never had a chance to take it easy. Mama worked either at a difficult job or slaving away at home all of her life. She didn’t stop until Granny Ima went into the nursing home and by then, she had expended so much of her energy in service to others, she didn’t have anything left to sustain herself. She didn’t last long at that point. I always longed to give her an easy time. I wanted her to take vacations, and for her to have a new car that didn’t constantly need fixing. I wanted her to be able to do whatever she wanted to do to the house without worrying about the cost. I wanted to give her all that, but I gave her nothing. I did the only thing I could do — I loved her. I guess, excluding Budge – my precious wife, I loved Mama more than anything or anybody in my life. Matter of fact, it wasn’t until Budge came along that I learned I could love someone more than I did Mama. Mama was a close second though.

Budge misses her, too. Mama helped her wrangle me through bad spells. Mama had long experience with my black moods and outbursts. She knew how to handle me and she lived long enough to teach Budge much of what she had learned over the years. Budge says it’s not enough though. She said working with Mama always made calming me down easier than having to do it alone. I’m thankful to Mama for teaching Budge, and I’m thankful for Budge for trying.

People say it’ll get easier and time will heal the wounds. I don’t think so. It doesn’t get easier; it gets different. The grief has carved out a spot in my heart and ten years have worn the sharp edges off so it lies there much more calmly and I can carry it better, but it is still there. Something tells me it always will be.

Love y’all. Keep me in mind today, and keep your feet clean.

Saved From Shoe Polish


I’ve mentioned on several occasions the fact that I was incredibly spoiled as a child by my grandparents. I was the first grandchild and only grandchild for years and years, so I was the light of my grandparents’ life. One adventure in particular when I was very young perfectly illustrates the level of my rottenness where Papa and Granny Wham were concerned.

This took place early in my life. It is actually one of my earliest memories. I know it was early because it is one of the few memories I have of Mama and Daddy together so I was no more than five because that’s how old I was when they separated and the marriage imploded.

At that early age, I loved to polish shoes. In another time, I probably would have become a young shoeshine boy working at a barbershop or somewhere similar. As it was, I just polished all Papa Wham’s dress shoes over and over again. He joked that he had the “sharpest shoes at church every Sunday!” This hobby of mine figures large in a bit.

We were at Granny and Papa’s on a Sunday after church. It was common for us to ride up for Sunday dinner after church. Granny’s roast beef or fried chicken was a highlight of the week and we’d just finished a great meal from Granny’s kitchen. We had retired to the den. Papa Wham was stretched out on the couch. Granny was sitting across from him in an easy chair. Mama was at one head of the room in the recliner and Daddy was in the rocker next to the wall. I was sitting in the floor playing with Legos.

I was playing on Granny’s new rug. Now when I say “new,” I’m talking less than a month old. It still had that “new rug smell.” Granny bought it to cover the den floor. It was braided in a coil pattern and was a lovely combination of light and dark. Now you have to understand, Granny NEVER bought herself anything new. She was a child of the Great Depression and the lack of luxury in those times had left an indelible mark with her. She just didn’t spend money on what she considered unimportant things. The fact that she bought a brand new rug was a stretch for her most people today can’t imagine.

In any event, I was playing with my Legos and got bored, as a four or five year old will do and wanted a change. I put the Legos back in their box and pushed it into its place under the couch. Then I hopped up and went to the “pink” bathroom (as distinguished from the “black” bathroom — tile colors) and retrieved Papa’s shoeshine box from the bottom of the linen closet. As soon as I walked in the den carrying the box of polishes and brushes, Mama immediately said to put it back and play with something else, that I didn’t need to be polishing shoes on Granny’s new rug. Granny said, like she always did, that it was just fine and to let me play. Papa said his shoes could use a good shine.

So, there I was with Papa’s shoes in front of me and the box next to me. I searched among the polishes for the right shade to shine Papa’s shoes. Now most of the polishes were Kiwi paste waxes. Every pair of shoes had its own polish, reddish Cordovan, light brown, dark brown, and black. The shoes I was to polish this day were black so I pulled out a polishing rag and the can of black polish. It was empty! Now I couldn’t use another color; it would ruin the color of the shoes. Luckily for me, one alternative remained. Papa had a bottle of Saphir liquid black shoe polish. I pulled it out to use.

Once again, Mama and Daddy both shut me down and told me in no uncertain terms I was not to use a liquid polish on the new rug. It was bad enough I was risking Granny’s rug with any polish, but not liquid. Both of them told me to put it up. Granny, however, once again intervened and told them to leave me alone. I looked from parents to Granny and back. My parents were not happy, but they didn’t go against Granny.

I decided that was tacit permission to proceed and went to take the top off the liquid polish — the brand new, completely full bottle of liquid polish. It was stuck. Here is where things went south. Instead of asking Daddy or Papa to take the top off for me or even better, putting the polish up and getting my Legos back out, I forced the lid in my own grubby little child hands. It moved. Quickly. The top spun off faster than I anticipated and I lost my hold on the bottle. Just as you have all figured out by now, the bottle dropped to the new rug, mouth down, and the entire contents spilled out. A huge — HUGE — jet black spot was oozing across the brand new rug!

I was in shock and out of the corner of my eyes I saw Mama rise from her seat at the same time Daddy rose from his and both started towards me. I was going to die. I saw my short life pass before my eyes, reflected in the oily black shoe polish on Granny’s new rug. Granny got to me first! She scooped me up and started patting my back saying I didn’t mean any harm and to not punish me. Then she sat down with me on her lap and that was that. Mama and Daddy sat down in a huff, but once again, Granny’s will prevailed. All Papa did was shake his head.

They turned the rug around since the polish was soaked into the fibers and had now way to come up. When they change it end for end, the spot — which ended up being the size of a dinner plate — was mostly hidden by Granny’s easy chair. Granny and Papa would put down carpet throughout the house fifteen years later and that ugly black spot was still there when they threw the rug away. I always felt bad about ruining Granny’s rug and to be honest, I knew I deserved whatever Granny had saved me from that day. I never polished another pair of Papa’s shoes again.

That’s how spoiled I was. I’m not proud of it, but I never doubted how much my grandparents loved me. Papa and Granny are both gone now and I miss them terribly because no love is the same as the love of a grandparent and now that’s gone from me.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean!

The First Time I Tried Baking


One of my fondest memories of childhood was watching Granny Wham bake stuff. She made biscuits from scratch three or four times a week and she was always making pies, especially a chocolate pie I dearly loved. My favorite thing she baked though was her pound cake. She would take out her spiral bound notebook of recipes and remove the card with Pound Cake on it and lay it out on the table next to the mixer. I never understood why, after all the pound cakes she had made over the years, she would still keep the recipe close at hand. She said it was, “just in case.” I used to “help” as much as I could. I got to sift the flour onto a sheet of wax paper with the wire sifter. I can still hear the “zip, zip, zip” of the bail in the sifter can going around and around as I turned it. Then I could add the flour into the stand mixer along with the cans of sweetened condensed milk and pour in whole milk, too. The only thing I wasn’t allowed to add was eggs.

Granny preferred I not try to crack eggs on the side of the mixing bowl like she did. I had tried once and it took her ten minutes with a fork to get all the eggshells out of the batter. The greatest treat though was once the batter was safely in the baking pan, I got to lick the bowl and spatula. Now today, mothers and grandmothers too I’m afraid would be all in a tizzy about eating cake batter with raw eggs in it, but it was a simpler time back then and if it made me happy to lick the bowl, Granny was content to risk a little salmonella. (Spoiler alert: I licked A LOT of cake batter and not even an upset tummy.)

Once the cake was in the oven, I had to be extremely quiet and still. It took over an hour for the cake to first rise then bake through completely and Granny always admonished me that any shaking the floor or loud noises could cause the cake to “fall” and that would be the worst thing to happen since FDR died in 1945. I walked pretty much like an elephant when I was younger so to avoid a so-called “sad cake,” I would usually just lie in the floor of the den and read the encyclopedia while the cake baked. Later on in life, much later actually, I learned that cakes will not actually fall. This was simply scientifically impossible, but my thinking so did give Granny Wham two hours of quietude from a grandson who could be most unquiet indeed.

Well, when I was 11 or 12, I was staying at Granny and Papa’s on a Saturday morning. Papa was working till noon when Mr. Ashley called and asked Granny if she could come in to work at Belk’s for a few hours because someone had called in sick. She was leery of leaving me by myself. Granny was a worrier, and the thought of me being by myself worried her greatly, but she was also intensely loyal to Belk’s where she worked. So, after wringing promise after promise from me to not get into any mischief, she told Mr. Ashley she’d be in directly. It was only going to be for a handful of hours anyway. She left with worry on her face, but I assured her I would be fine. It was early on a Saturday morning and I was watching cartoons.

Things went swimmingly until the cartoons I liked ended at 10:00. It took me five minutes to get bored and I was dangerous in a bored state even back then. I don’t know to this day what put it in my head, but against Granny’s strict instruction to not touch the stove or even go in the kitchen, I decided I was going to bake a pound cake to surprise Papa and Granny when they got home. Again, I don’t know why. Who knows what causes a 12 year old boy to do anything? So I went into the kitchen and got started.

First, I took the faded index card containing Granny’s recipe out of the spiral bound notebook. Then, I got down the venerable green stand mixer. After that, I went to work gathering the ingredients. Now I had seen and helped Granny bake cakes more times than I can remember, but this was my first time flying solo, so I was nervous about that AND I was disobeying a direct order from Granny, which to be honest didn’t really matter much. I was the first grandchild and only grandchild, at least for a little longer, and Granny’s idea of severe discipline was to look stern and tell me not to do whatever I had done again, then give me a Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookie or three and send me on my way. In my whole life to the day she died, Granny, and Papa too for that matter, never raised their voices, much less their hands, to me. If any child has ever been spoiled by a grandparent, it was me.

So, I had all the ingredients laying around with the mixer and the Pyrex measuring cup and the measuring spoons and at long last I was ready to begin. I flipped the mixer on and put in sugar, then, holding my breath, I cracked an egg. I put that egg, along with its fellow travelers into the mix without a single shell falling in. I alternated between flour and sweet milk just like Granny did and I added the vanilla and lemon flavorings just like I was supposed to. The sweetened condensed milk gave me a bit of a struggle because the lid didn’t want to give in to the ancient can opener, but eventually, it saw the fight was hopeless and yielded its contents. Last of all, I put in the baking powder. Some butter — well, a lot of butter actually — and some Crisco shortening made it into the mix earlier on as well, but I can’t remember when. I had my first cake batter all ready to pour.

I got out Granny’s pound cake pan with the cylinder in the middle to make the hole in the middle of the cake and I rubbed it down with one of the butter wrappers to grease it up real good. Then, I poured the batter into the pan, scraped everything out with the trusty spatula and set the full pan aside to lick the bowl and beaters. I always did when Granny baked a cake, so I absolutely was going to with my first creation. I slide the cake into the cold oven — pound cakes go into a cold oven rather than a preheated one — and turned the oven controls to bake at 350 degrees. Now it was time to wait two hours on tenterhooks to see how it would turn out. What’s more, I couldn’t open the door to check on it because Granny had assured me that would make a cake fall quicker than anything and her oven didn’t have a window in the door!

I washed the mixing bowl and the rest of the dishes I’d used, then cut the TV back on and watched some later morning cartoons and wrestling. The cake was beginning to smell good when I heard Granny return! She came in the house and put her keys down and asked me why she smelled pound cake cooking. I came clean immediately and told her I wanted to surprise her and Papa. She looked like she was going to scold me, but she gathered me up in a hug instead. Like I said, spoiled rotten.

Granny asked me how much longer it was to bake. At that point about twenty minutes remained and I wanted so badly for them to hurry by. Finally the kitchen time dinged and it was time to take the cake out and see the fruits of my labor. I walked to the oven with Granny behind me. I cut off the oven first to be safe and I opened the door. . . . Cake was EVERYWHERE! The cake had blown out of the pan and flowed down the sides. It looked terrible and I wanted to cry; then I noticed Granny’s smile.

She asked me one question: Where did I get the flour for the cake? I showed her the red plastic bin marked “flour” where she got the flour almost every night of the week to make biscuits. She smiled even more broadly. “So that’s the problem!” she said. Then she reached back in the pantry and pulled out a box of flour with the picture of a cake on the side. She looked at me, still smiling and said, “I suppose you put the baking powder in like the recipe says?” I nodded. Then I learned that two types of flour exist: self-rising, which already contains leaven, and cake flour, which does not. What I had done was use Granny’s biscuit flour, which was self-rising, to make the cake AND added baking powder to the mix. Essentially, I had doubled the amount of baking powder in the batter and the result was a cake that rose WAY too much.

We slid the monster cake out of the oven. It surprisingly came out in one piece clinging to the pan. Granny broke off a piece and ate it. She said there was nothing wrong with the taste of the cake; it was just a bit more fluffy. I took a piece and after I ate it, I agreed. I asked Granny what in the world we were going to do with such a seemingly ruined cake? She said, “Well, I guess you are going to learn what a trifle is.” So, I did. We made a trifle out of that over risen cake. For those who don’t know, a trifle is alternating layers of cake and fruit with whipped cream. I’d never seen one before then, but when Papa got home we all ate some and even though I’m not crazy about fruit, I thought it tasted just fine.

Granny was proud of me, but she made me promise not to ever use the stove again! So I did.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

My Favorite Christmas Carol


One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is the music. Now, unlike in years past when we were lucky to get a scattering of Christmas songs mixed in on the regular radio stations, we now have one station around here which devotes 24/7 programming to Christmas music from November 1st (YES, November) through January 1st each year. They play everything from the old standards to the latest Christmas recordings. Budge and I actually keep a running total of how many times a season we hear the song “Last Christmas” by Wham. We’re up to fourteen for the year as of this writing. Unfortunately, one of the neglected areas of the music the all Christmas, all the time station makes is of the traditional Christmas Carols, the hymns from earlier times like “Silent Night,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and “Joy to the World.”

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at the lack of hymns on the radio today. After all, most people these days barely admit Christmas is, at its roots, a Christian holiday. The lights and glamor of celebrity drowns out the real reason this holiday ever started and that’s the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Because of that, my favorite Christmas hymn is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Of all the songs I’ve heard, none more clearly capture the feeling and true meaning of Christmas than Charles Wesley’s mighty hymn.

Imagine if you will, you are a lowly shepherd on a Judean hillside in the black of night. It’s not that cold because Jesus wasn’t actually born in December because the sheep aren’t in the field in winter. Anyway, you and your comrades are dozing in turns watching over the flocks when out of nowhere the sky lights up brighter than day. The heavens are filled from horizon to horizon with the Heavenly Host singing songs of praise that the King of Kings has been born. One of the angels tells the shepherds where they can find the new babe. Eagerly, they set off to see him. I would imagine only after standing up from where they had fallen on the ground. That is the subject of verse one:

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King:
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
with th’angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King”

It is the second verse that captures the realities behind Christ’s birth.

Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
late in time behold him come,
offspring of the Virgin’s womb:
veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail th’incarnate Deity,
pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King”

The final verse tells the truth of why Jesus came, that men no more should die. Not die as in we’ll never face death, but die as in the second, eternal death.

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King”

I know a lot of people who read my blog don’t believe like I believe. For many of you, Christmas is just giving gifts and eating feasts of food. It is lights and trees and presents. Christ doesn’t matter anymore. Still, I’d like to say that even though many may not believe in Jesus, Jesus still believes in you and you can find Him if you simply open your heart and let the Sun of Righteousness meet you where you are.1

In any event, Merry Christmas and love y’all and keep those feet clean!

My Love Affair With Computers


First of all let me say this and all future posts on this blog are brought to you on my new Asus Vivobook. This is my early Christmas present from two of my good friends — Cook and Hoppe — original members of the Original Lightsey Bridge Mafia. They saw where I was getting by on substandard equipment to do my posts and decided to do something about it so they went in and bought me this computer, which is probably top three nicest, kindest things anyone has ever done for me. So it’s much easier to post again and now maybe I can increase output since they both want my writing to continue, so thank you very much guys.

Honestly, I’ve always had a love affair with computers. My generation was the early, early beginnings of the personal computer boom. I got my first real computer when I was twelve. It was a Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. It hooked up to the tv since these were the days long before separate monitors became common. It had a tape drive to store any programs I might write and it came with a book to teach how to program in BASIC. That book may as well have been written in ancient Sumerian. Not then and not since have I been able to learn something like that out of a book. I did find a book of ready made programs you could type into your computer in BASIC and since it was mostly games, I picked it up to give a try. I spent four days typing a program into that monstrosity that was supposed to be a Star Trek game. I finished it with eager anticipation and hit the “run” command. That was the minute I learned not all BASICs are created equal. The program crashed immediately and that was pretty much the end of my early attempts at computing.

Now in junior high school at Gray Court-Owings, we had Commodore 64s we got to work on from time to time. My favorite thing to do on them was to play the completely text-based adventure game Zork. My buddy Greg and I played together countless times. We could always get the lantern and we figured out how to put things in the trophy case in the house, but no matter how we tried, we simply could not avoid the Thief who would always appear, take all our treasure, and “slip a stiletto between your ribs.” The screen would announce in big, bold letters “You Have Died!” I never got to play Oregon Trail because that was an Apple program and we were a PC based school.

After writing all my papers on a typewriter throughout high school, I was a teacher’s aide as a senior. Mr. Linville, my physics teacher, had an Apple IIe with a word processor. You could make a mistake and just hit backspace to erase it and type another letter. I had already learned to type in tenth grade with Mrs. Wilson (God rest her soul) and I was delighted to discover the keyboards were the same. From that day to this one, I have never hand written an out of class essay or slaved over a typewriter again. Word processors all the way.

I got to college and met the MacIntosh by Apple. It was love at first sight. I loved the little screeching monkey sound it made when you hit the wrong key or it didn’t like the data you put in. I took a basic computer science class and learned about things way above my head like databases, but as long as I could word process, I was happy.

It was also in college where I met Hoppe. He was the first real live computer guru I’d ever known. He had a complete setup with a PC 386DX. It was a little harder to word process on so I usually kept to the Macs in the library, but this think could play games like you wouldn’t believe! It didn’t hurt that Hoppe was also the first computer pirate I ever met, too. He had a HUGE box of pirated discs (remember those?) he kept next to his computer. It had every kind of game you could imagine: sports games, adventure games, trivia games, you name it, Hoppe had it. I spent hours in his and Wingnut’s room playing DnD Eye of the Beholder and Star Control. Those were the first PC games I’d ever seen. We lost a lot of study time to gaming the three years we were all together. Hoppe also kept a really big electromagnet sitting on top of his box of discs and when I asked him why, he said it was in case the room ever got raided by the government! I didn’t know computer piracy was such a big deal, but apparently it was and all it would take was a hot second to flip the switch on that big electromagnet and all the evidence against Hoppe would disappear! To show you how times have changed, Hoppe came back after Christmas either our sophomore year or our junior year – I can’t remember which and he had a new set up. It was a PC 486DX. The thing I remember most clearly about that computer was it had a 40 Megabyte hard drive! We were all in awe. That was tons of discs worth of space instantly available without the slow disc drive reading them. Plus, 40 Megabytes! We couldn’t imagine any way possible to fill up that huge hard drive. Now, we’re lucky if one document formatted on MS Word is less than 40 Megabytes. Everything is in Gigabytes now, and quickly moving into Terabytes. It was fun while it lasted.

I didn’t mess with computers after I got out of college. I didn’t have a need to in my textile plant job. Then I got my teaching job and we got five computers for the entire faculty. If you wanted one you had to write a proposal explaining how you would use it to help your teaching. I got my proposal accepted so all my tests were formatted and word processed. It was great; especially when I found a program that would average grades on the fly and print progress reports. I gave my kids a progress report each week, because I could, and the parents loved it. The kids, eh, not so much. Back then it was still a stand alone machine. We hadn’t hooked up to the newfangled Internet yet, but that was coming.

When I went to work as a librarian at Bell Street, I became responsible for all the computers in the school. I took that job seriously and worked closely with Computer Services at the central office to keep our systems running better than anyone else’s. I was allowed to build images which are program clones of a certain model of computer’s hard drive. With an image and a set of CDs, I could multicast an entire lab of computers and update them almost instantly. I even worked with Computer Services during my summer vacations for free just because I enjoyed the work. That all crashed down when I got booted out of the district. Ironically, it may have been my hard work with the computers at school that cost me my job. I took lots of time with the computers and I don’t think I was supposed to. I guess I neglected other parts of the job and it made it easier to get rid of me. Computer Services was sad to see me go though. I had the one school they didn’t have to worry about because I kept it running.

I’ve had several computers of my own since that TRS-80 and I actually learned how to use them. Now don’t get it twisted – I never learned to code, much to my sad disgrace, but I loved using readymade programs to do jobs around the house and to write on whenever I wrote stuff. I still have some of my earliest stuff saved on discs that nothing can read anymore. Luckily I’ve got hard copies of most of it. My first “real” computer was a Montgomery Ward Pentium that Mama bought me for Christmas when I was a freshman in college. What I remember most about it was it had twin CD drives and at that time several games were multi-CD. Since I had a twin drive, I didn’t have to keep switching back and forth between discs! I used that computer until the hard drive died on me and back then, I didn’t know how to fix that.

My two favorite personal computers I ever owned were my two Gateway 2000 machines. I still have the stuffed cow the first machine came with. The first one I got was a Pentium II and the second one a couple of years later was a Pentium III. I used to love to call tech support when I had a problem. They were always so cheerful and they always answered the phone with, “Greetings from sunny South Dakota! How can I help you today?” Those were the first two computers I ever opened up and tore into the guts of. I upgraded memory modules and installed second hard drives. If someone didn’t know better, they might look at me and think I actually knew what I was doing! I really enjoyed those machines.

The last ten years I’ve used a series of laptops that got more and more outdated as time went on. Actually, I still keep my checkbook and finances on my last Dell laptop because it runs Windows XP and Quicken 2002 and nothing else I have will. If it ever completely dies, I guess I’ll have to modernize. But now I’ve got this slick Asus, thanks to Hoppe and Cook. I’m going to try to up production since I don’t have any excuse not to now and I know I said it before, but once again, thanks so much guys!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

Giving Thanks This Year


I haven’t written much new material in a long while. It’s not that I don’t have any ideas, but rather my computer has gone on the blink and replacing it is beyond my means at this season of life. Putting out a post on my phone as I’m doing now is quite tedious since I think faster than I can type, but this holiday begs for a new post so I’ve set myself a goal of giving thanks. Specifically I’m going to list ten things I’m most thankful for at this time. So without further ado, my list.

1. I’m thankful for Budge. We’ve been married 26 years and she’s stood by me through all the tough times. She’s my rock.

2. I’m thankful I had 42 years with Mama. Sometimes it hits me that it wasn’t enough time, but some people don’t get that much with their mothers.

3. In the same vein, I’m thankful I had all my grandparents until I was 24 and Papa Wham died. It makes me sad that so many people never get to know their grands and I’m so glad I had mine for so long.

4. I’m thankful for my home. It may not seem like much to folks, but it’s ours. The roof doesn’t leak. It’s cool in summer and warm in winter. Some people look down on living in a trailer, but I don’t really know any different so it makes me happy.

5. I’m thankful for my friends. I’m not going to start naming them for fear of leaving someone out, but I’ve got some really loyal friends. I’ve been blessed all my life with friends I could count on and though some have drifted away, they still hold a special place in my memories.

6. I’m thankful for my furry babies. Budge and I never had children and I know it’s not the same but we love them as if they were our children. I spend many hours alone and I also fall into some pretty dark moods and having them blunts the loneliness. They don’t talk back in our language but they have a way of letting me know they care.

7. I’m thankful for my beloved therapist and my equally beloved psychiatrist. That may seem odd to some to care that much about two men who came into my life over ten years ago, but they keep me going. Next to Budge, they are the biggest members of my mental support system.

8. I’m thankful for my health. Oh, I have some medical issues but thanks to a good doctor, they are all well controlled. I can still get around on my own and I’m not in constant pain; except for the odd aches that started popping up around 45. I see people who can’t go and do and it reminds me how much good health really means.

9. I’m thankful for my church. The people I see most Sundays, the ones I serve in the nursery with, the pastors who check on me, they all make me feel seen and cared about and that means a lot when you think dark thoughts like I do sometimes.

10. I’m thankful for Jesus. I realize faith in Jesus might not be as fashionable as it once was, but I’ve never been the fashionable type. I’m glad He came and died on a cross for me to have new life. Sometimes I wish I could move on into that new life, but I’m thankful that as long as I have Jesus, I may get lonely, but I’m never really alone.

So, there’s my list. It may seem sappy to some of you, but it’s all true. Those are the things, not all of course, that I care about. Maybe next year I can add some more if I’m not typing on a phone! Until then love y’all, happy Thanksgiving, and keep your feet clean!

#TBT: Halloween at Aunt Nell’s


I originally published this on Halloween 2009. Since then, Aunt Nell’s grandson, who was living in the house has sold it and left Greenpond for the suburbs. Halloween gatherings at Aunt Nell’s belong strictly to the realm of memory now.

When I was growing up, we lived in the back forty acres of the boondocks. I took some friends home from college to meet my mama over the holidays once and two of them swore we lived in a different time zone, if not another space time continuum. Living that far from nowhere meant that social events were scarce, but for a kid with a sugar craving on All Saint’s Eve, it was death. I LITERALLY had no where within walking distance of my house and we lived so far out we’d have to eat all the candy we got driving around just to survive the trip. So in the era of my childhood, preceding all the newfangled “Trunk or Treats” , the highlight of Halloween for me, my brother’s generation, and my dad’s generation was the annual trip to Greenpond to visit Aunt Nell and drink her Witch’s Brew.

the boys at halloween

Over twenty years ago in Greenpond. My baby first cousin, Blake, is the Blue Dinosaur; my brother, Nick, is the redhead behind him; Aunt Nell is in the witch’s costume; my second cousin, Anna, is next to Aunt Nell and is holding a child I don’t recognize; and Zach, my oldest first cousin, is standing behind Anna.

See, when Daddy and Aunt Cathy, as well as all the First Cousins, were children, they lived in the boonies as well; so they didn’t have anywhere to get candy on Halloween either. In an effort to give the children somewhere to wear their costumes and get some candy, Papa Wham’s sister, my great-Aunt Nell, started dressing up in a witch’s costume on Halloween and hosting a small gathering. She’d put a huge (well, huge for a five year old) cauldron of what she swore was witch’s brew on an open fire in front of her open and detached garage then pop up a huge amount of pop corn and lay out a great stock of candies.

Children — first my daddy’s generation, then mine — would come with their parents and eat popcorn and run around the pitch black yard in our costumes playing hide and seek until we vomited. It was our unofficial family reunion and most Halloween nights, just about every lineal descendant of Granny Mattie would make their way up Aunt Nell’s winding driveway. Rain or shine, she always turned out.

The Witch of Greenpond became pretty much a local legend. Aunt Nell made the cover of the local weekly newspapers and in all the years I can remember, she never missed a Halloween. Time comes for us all though, even good witches, and the year finally arrived when Aunt Nell simply couldn’t take on the night’s festivities. Alzheimer’s Disease had robbed her of the memory of the wonderful times she’d given all of us and the rest of the rural children of the surrounding countryside.

That year, about six or seven years ago now, I think, the pointed hat was passed. Anna, the adorable little blonde standing next to Aunt Nell in the picture, took up the mantle of the Greenpond Witch from her grandmother. Now she presides over the ceremony that has meant so much to so many people for so long. Now, rain or shine (and tonight was a frog-floater) the cauldron still gets lit and the children still come to eat popcorn, chase each other, and drink a cup of Witch’s Brew . . . which still tastes suspiciously like cherry Kool-Aid.

Happy Halloween, y’all, and don’t forget to wash your feet after you come in from trick or treating!

#TBT: Mighty Oaks From Little Acorns Grow!


Behold the lowly acorn; sign of Fall, food for wildlife, and deadly missile!

Behold the lowly acorn; sign of Fall, food for wildlife, and deadly missile!

This post originally ran October 19, 2009 and, sadly, both Beau and Jack have gone to the Happy Hunting Grounds.

I love Fall. From now until the end of November is hands down my favorite time of the year. Granny Wham always loved Fall. As soon as the weather got nippish at night, she’d tell Papa it was time to go see the leaves. That meant I’d spend the night with them on an October Friday and we’d get up at the butt-crack of dawn the next morning to head to the Blue Ridge Parkway. As long as we were on the highways, I’d read. I wish I still could read in a moving car, but for some reason, carsickness hits as soon as I look at a page . . . but I digress from my digression!

The three of us would spend all day in the mountains looking at the golds, reds, and yellows all along the mountain roads. Still, this was Granny and she is who I took the lion’s share of my worrying tendencies from, so we’d have to be headed down I-26 towards home before the first sign of dark. Granny didn’t like to travel at night.

So Fall has always held a particularly warm place in my heart from an early age. However, this beautiful season is not without its extreme hazards. In my front yard are three extremely tall and extremely productive oak trees. Overhanging my back fence are about ten or twelve more. Now, while they are a wonder to look at, it is with some trepidation that I venture forth from the safety of the front porch to journey to the mailbox.

You see, these oaks do not produce the dinky little BB sized acorns of the so-called “water oaks” of my youth. Oh, no! These trees shed acorns that, if cast in lead, could have been fired in a .68 caliber Brown Bess musket with no trouble at all. My trees are well over fifty feet tall and when one of those green slugs lets go from a bough near the top, it stands to reach terminal velocity before it makes contact with the ground . . . or my balding pate! Getting cracked in the top of the head with one or two of those little monsters is enough to bring tears to a strong man’s eyes. What’s just as bad, the trees in the back lot overhang my tin-roofed workshop. When acorns hit that tin roof at about Mach 1, they make a crack like a 12 gauge shotgun going off.

Now, this doesn’t bother my oldest fuzzy child, Beau, in the least. He is stone deaf as befits a canine of his years and stature. His kennelmate, Jack, however, goes into paroxysms each time a shot rings out from the tin roof. I have to admit that I find them startling as well. More than once I’ve nearly put out an eye with an Xacto knife as I was cutting and concentrating when one of the green hailstones hit!

Still, the squirrels and deer the crop of mast attracts to my back yard is plenty enough reason for me to leave the trees alone and risk a knot on the noggin or four!

Happy Autumn everyone! Don’t forget to wash your feet!