#TBT: A Breakdown in Communication

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You just have to wonder what’s coming when this is the opening picture!

I first published this five years ago when Budge began her 9th year teaching. She has just started year 14 which marks the halfway point til retirement. This is a story from EARLY in her career and it’s one of my FAVORITES! Enjoy.

In honor of the first Friday of the new school year around these parts, I want to share with y’all my FAVORITE story ever from my beloved Budge’s teaching career. She just started year NINE, which is hard for me to believe and she gets better and better each year. I’m not saying it just because she’s my wife and I love her, but as a former teacher, I know awesome when I see it.

So this particular story took place early in Budge’s second year. Her first year had been a typical first year. It was stressful, but not terrible. This second year group, however, was proving to be a little more of a handful than her first class. Still, they were a neat bunch and one of the most memorable was a young lad named . . . well, let’s call him “Sydney” since Budge has his baby sister this year.

Young master Sydney was performing the role of “bathroom reporter” during the morning potty break. The most important part of his job was to enter the boy’s bathroom first and return with a report on anything out-of-place or order so none of my lovely’s children would be unfairly blamed. The fun started when Sydney returned from his reconnaissance foray into the toilet. Upon his return, Budge asked for a report. The report went a little something like this:

Budge: “Okay, what’s the deal, Sydney?”

Sydney: “Mrs. Wham, there’s piss on the seat in one stall.” Now it’s important to note that the boy gave his report in an even, conversational, matter-of-fact tone. He was not cracking up or goofing off. Budge, however, wasn’t sure she’d heard him correctly.

Budge: “What did you say?”

Sydney: “I said, ‘Mrs. Wham, there’s piss on one of the seats.'”

Budge, now a little distressed and a little louder: “WHAT did you say?”

Sydney, by this time wondering why this strange woman was teaching replied, again: “I said, “Mrs. Wham. There. Is. Piss. On. The. Seat.” He never raised his voice. He was never disrespectful at all. Truth be told, the poor little guy was at a complete loss as to what he had done wrong and why his teacher seemingly didn’t understand English.

Budge was fairly well discombobulated by this time so she hustled the class into the room, shut the door a little harder than she meant to, and — once everyone was seated — began one of the first, and to date, strangest dressing downs of her career.

Budge: “Class! We do not use the word PISS in this class?! Does everyone understand me?!”

Budge is MUCH prettier, but I have seen a similar look.

She told me the class stared back at her with a reptilian haze dulling their eyes. Sydney was in the back looking absolutely bumfuzzled. Apparently, at his house, the yellow liquid one’s kidneys produced, which then exited the body via the bladder and urethra, was called, appropriately enough PISS.

Now as an aside, I like to think of “piss” as one of those good old Anglo-Saxon words that cut straight to the core of the apple so to speak. When someone uses one of those ancient words, no one has much of a chance to doubt his intentions. Unfortunately, those words have fallen out of favor in polite company. My Budge was about to offer a substitute in its place.

Budge: “Instead of PISS, we will call it “TINKLE”! It is not pee or pee-pee or anything else, and it IS NOT PISS! IT. IS. CALLED. TINKLE!! Got it?”

According to her, twenty-seven of twenty-eight heads, including Sydney’s, bobbed up and down in affirmation probably thinking, if we go along with the crazy woman, maybe we can get away during recess.. The lone dissenter was another lad named Johnathan. Instead of nodding his acquiescence to the new status quo, Johnny had his head buried in his arms on his desk and Budge said his shoulders were shaking violently. When she called his name and asked if he understood, he looked up with a terrible grin on his face and tears squeezing out of his eyes as his whole body shook in a spasm of suppressed laughter.

Budge: “Something funny, Johnathan?” To his everlasting credit, the boy didn’t crack. He regained control of himself and managed to squeak out, “No, ma’am.”

Budge then gave the class a withering look and one more expulsion of “TINKLE, okay?” Before she went on with the lesson.

And the moral of this story is . . .

Sydney and Johnathan are seniors in high school this year, but Sydney came with his mom and sister to “Meet the Teacher Night” on Monday and as soon as he walked in the room — all six foot plus handsome young man of him — he smiled and said, “Mrs. Wham, I’ve already told Sissy here that we use the word TINKLE in your class.”

Budge said she couldn’t help but laugh at what she wouldn’t let herself laugh at eight years ago. Since then, she’s learned to pick her battles and “Piss on the seat” probably wouldn’t garner a second glance. However, to a still-green teacher, she had to stand firm against the onrushing tide of PISS and other monstrosities.

I still love her though!

Love you all too! Keep those feet clean and good luck in school.

My Day as an Engineer

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https://i1.wp.com/media.scpr.org/images/news/2010/02/23/blackboardblog.jpgI told you last post about my move in day at Clemson and I decided to go ahead and enlighten y’all about the day I spent becoming an engineer. I had listed civil engineering as my major of choice before I got to Clemson mainly for two reasons: one, and I don’t know if it’s still this way, but then Clemson pretty much wanted you to declare a major in your junior year . . . of high school; and two, Daddy had counseled me to pick a degree which would let me and help me earn a lot of money.

Now back then I could only think of three professions to satisfy the “lots of money” part of the equation: doctor, lawyer, and engineer. I knew I’d never be a doctor. I’d wanted to be one when I was little, but in eighth grade I spent two weeks in the summer at the Governor’s School Mini-session, which was a trial program for rising freshmen separate from the “real” Governor’s School. ANYWAY, we went on a tour of the MUSC campus and we saw the gross anatomy lab after lunch. This was before the cadavers were in those fancy roll up tubes they come in now. Back then, it was just sheets over dead bodies. Between the occasional hand lolling out from under its sheet and the overwhelming smell of formaldehyde I just barely kept my two hot dogs from lunch in my stomach . . . I was one of the lucky ones. That ended my aspirations of a medical career.

I also knew I couldn’t be a lawyer because I was raised with the belief the Bible held a slew of special woes for lawyers. Apparently they weren’t much better thought of in ancient times than they are now. I understood good lawyers existed, but I also knew they didn’t make anywhere near the money the crooked ones did.

That left engineering. I’ll tell you at the time I had no idea what an engineer did. Honestly, I’m STILL not certain what all the different types of engineers do, but I liked building stuff so I settled on civil engineer. Thus with a happy heart and visions of future fortune, I signed up for a beginner’s year as a civil engineer.

First, a bit of backstory to get you in my frame of mind. I was a good high school student. I made a five on the AP Biology, AP US History, and AP English Lit tests, and a three on the AP Calculus test. According to the sweet young lady who signed me up for classes, the biology, history, and English scores placed me out of six classes and assured that if I remained an engineer I’d never see the inside of a science, history, or English class in college. That seemed like a good deal. She then said my three in AP Calculus would allow me to skip Calc 106, Calc 108, and Calc 206 to go straight into Calc 208. I thought that was a good deal too.

It was here my sorrows began.

I earned my biology, history, and English scores on my own merit. I was good in those three classes and didn’t need any assistance to do well. AP Calculus, however, was an altogether different animal. Math and I hadn’t really gotten on well since eighth grade when some damned fool went and put letters in with all the numbers and called it Algebra. Did you know you can prove 2=1 with Algebra? You have to divide by zero to do it, but still!

I didn’t get my three in AP Calculus on my own merit. I got that score because of Mr. Larry Brady who was hands down the finest math teacher this world has ever produced. He could teach Calculus to jellyfish and I’m sure at times he felt that I was his pet Portuguese Man-O-War. The ONLY reason I passed the AP Calculus test was due to his amazing teaching skill. Unfortunately, Mr. Brady was two years behind me by this point and, quite stupidly, I had no idea what 106, 108, and 206 meant anyway. I just knew I’d be taking fewer classes and fewer classes meant less time in college and more time out making “lots of money.”

I was a right benighted fool.

So, first day of class was a Monday. I had Calculus 208 at 8:00 in the morning. That SHOULD have been my first clue I was in the wrong neck of the woods because 8:00 classes are of the devil — I’m sure it says so somewhere in the Apocrypha to the Bible. Of course, someone SHOULD have written “Abandon all hope ye who enter here” above the door of the lecture hall where the class met. They didn’t, and I walked straight into the proverbial buzzsaw.

I found a seat next to a big ol’ boy from Stone Mountain, GA. I can’t swear to it anymore, but I think his name was Joel. We had good seats on the aisle about midway down. As he and I got acquainted, I noticed people just KEPT coming in that room. I’m certain more people were in that one room than attended my extremely large (1500+ students) high school. Way down front in a bit of a hollow was a long set of chalkboards. At exactly 8:00, a guy in a tweed jacket walked in, picked up a piece of chalk, and started writing.

He wrote for a solid twenty minutes before he turned around and introduced himself. When he finally spoke, he had a thick Indian accent. I don’t know if it’s still the same, but back then, Clemson’s math department was notorious for having professors who barely spoke the Queen’s English and this fellow was apparently one of them. In any event, after he finished writing, he put the chalk down, turned around and introduced himself as something like Dr. Rathpangjani or some other. What he said next killed my hopes of ever making “lots of money.”

He said, “Students, I have written upon the board the bare minimum knowledge you will need to know if you hope to pass this class.” At this, he gestured behind him to a board covered top to bottom and side to side with cryptic symbols and unknown formulae. He continued, “You should recognize all of this from your 106, 108, and 206 Calculus classes. I will NOT be doing ANY review. Know this, I have taught classes all over the world in Calculus and I assure you if you are not intimately comfortable with everything on this board, you will fail this class miserably. I have seen it many times before. Since you know this, understand there is no shame in realizing you are overmatched in something. I have drop – add and class change forms here for anyone who feels he needs one.”

Hands went up all over the auditorium and it took me only a split second of looking at that indecipherable writing on the board for me to raise mine too. This man was no Mr. Brady and since Joel had his hand in the air, I knew he wasn’t going to be any help. I took a drop form from one of the graduate assistants, gathered my stuff, and went back to my room a defeated man. Math, that heartless wench, had beaten me again. I would never be an engineer; I would never make “lots of money.”

And that, friends, is the story of my ONE day as an engineer.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

Taking Flight, Moving In

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https://i.ytimg.com/vi/h7oZ41n5fkc/maxresdefault.jpgAll across the country last weekend and this weekend folks everywhere have seen the annual migration of teenagers and early twentysomethings from home back to college. For all the freshmen in the bunch, they are spreading their wings for the first time. I’ve noticed it’s making a lot of moms and dads sad all over.

I’ve got several friends who have early college age children and many of them are in one of two camps; either they are sending the firstborn off to college and away from the protection of the nest for the first time, OR they are moving “the baby” into a dorm or apartment and now the nest is well and truly empty. In either case, parental tears are almost a given. I do know some parents who have been on tenterhooks for the last four years of high school as they see what they perceive as the end of their responsibility for these lives they have foisted upon the world, but for the most part, the parents I know are sad to see their children grow up and leave. Maybe it’s something as complicated as loss of control or an end to helicoptering (except in extreme cases, but that’s another story) or maybe it’s really simple — their children are leaving and they are going to miss them.

I know the latter is how Mama felt, although I found out quite accidentally, but more on that momentarily.

I stutter-stepped my way into college. Sure, I had the grades and the SAT scores and beaucoup awards and scholarship offers to show; I even had an apartment lined up in Central, South Carolina. Clemson University was ready for me . . . I just wasn’t ready for it.

See, for those of you who might not remember or who had such ungodly horrible childhoods and home lives you couldn’t wait to get out of Dodge, leaving home for what is supposed to be “for good” is scary as Hell. It reminds me of the days of sailing ships when men first left sight of shore to find out what lay over the horizon. They marked their maps with cautious phrases such as “here there be dragons” and believe it or not, many of the dragons are real.

It’s just the first week of classes and I guarantee you hundreds if not thousands of college freshmen have ALREADY made at least one decision which will have disastrous and life-long consequences . . . ONE WEEK. That’s one reason why I took a pass on freshman year at Clemson; I KNEW I was bound to screw the pooch somehow.  See, with the exception of four magical weeks spread over two summers at Camp Broadstone in Boone, NC when I was in junior high, I had never been away from home more than 24 hours more than five times in my life. I didn’t go on trips and I was never good enough to make it to overnight tournaments in wrestling. I was pretty much a homebody. Actually, I still am.

To be honest, I didn’t really want to go to Clemson in the first place. I didn’t know WHERE I wanted to go, but it wasn’t there. I also had a serious girlfriend who was still in high school AND, don’t underestimate this, I was making good money at my auto parts sales job . . . at least good money for an eighteen year old kid with no bills except a payment on a little white truck. So, when move in weekend came, I took a flyer on it and helped a couple of my buddies — who were incredulous I wasn’t coming along — pack up their graduation present cars and head off to either Clemson or USC. A smattering went to other places, but for the most part it was the “big two” for South Carolina.

As for me, I enrolled in the thirteenth grade at Greenville Technical College and took stuff that would transfer to just about anywhere I would eventually end up. It was a miserable year. Except for math classes, I never cracked a book. I worked forty hours a week, went out with that girlfriend on the weekends until we broke up, and basically got another year older.

When the next year rolled around, however, I had my little white truck packed and pointed towards Tiger Town. Like I said before, I didn’t really want to go there, but I couldn’t afford my first two choices who accepted me, so Clemson it was. I went by myself. I moved in mostly by myself and I was able to because I didn’t have anything but clothes. I didn’t throw a graduation party or “dorm room shower” to get all the crazy stuff like mini fridges and stereo systems I saw people carrying into their rooms.

Luckily, my lottery pick roommate, a good ol’ boy from Calhoun Falls, SC, arrived on Sunday with pretty much anything a dorm room needed all packed in the back seat and hatch of a gorgeous red ’89 Mustang GT. I liked him and his friends, but truthfully, I didn’t see much of him. We were in different majors and he had a REALLY serious girlfriend back home so he’d go home pretty much every weekend and lots of times once or twice through the week.

I didn’t cry from homesickness that first week. After classes started I was too busy trying to find another major, but that’s another story for another time. Mostly, I tried to not get lost. I ran into some friends from high school and discovered something passingly strange — college changes some people. Just because y’all were friends in high school didn’t matter for much with their new “fraternity” friends, but again, another story for another time.

I stayed up that first weekend for the opening football game and after that I went home about every other weekend, maybe less if we had a home game. Mama was always glad to see me and I did my own laundry because I’d seen what a dorm full of males could do to a bank of innocent washing machines. Then on Sunday night, we’d watch Star Trek: The Next Generation and I’d head back to school.

It was spring semester that first year when I found out what Mama really felt about me going to school. I left after Star Trek like usual, but ten minutes down the road, I remembered something I’d forgotten to pack so I went back home. Granny answered the door, but I could hear Mama and she sounded like she was dying . . . of course, that’s just something people say because when she actually did come to die she was completely silent . . . anyway, I looked at Granny and she just shrugged and said, “That’s how she does every time you leave. Every single time.” I went back to my room and she had laid down on my bed and was sobbing into my pillow. I picked her up in my lap and rocked her till she calmed down and I asked her what all the waterworks were about. I remember her saying,

“I can’t explain it, son. You’ll have to watch your own child leave before you can understand.”

According to Rob, she did the same thing the night Budge and I left on our honeymoon and she knew we were coming back! So to all of you mamas and dads out there who are missing your offspring, just remember, they may screw their lives up something fierce off at that college, but if you raised them right, they just might figure things out before it’s too late. Either way, you’ve done your job. All that’s left now is to miss them.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Great War Wednesday: The Brusilov Offensive

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Broussilov.jpgDebacles such as the Russo-Japanese War and the Battle of Tannenburg have earned a dismal reputation for the Russian soldier. Truthfully, nothing could be further from the truth. The average Russian soldier and his later Soviet counterparts were hard, tough fighting men capable of great feats. Unfortunately, this valiant soldiery had the terrible luck to usually end up saddled with criminally ineffective leadership. As a result, from the outside, it looks like the Russians were somewhat inept.

Every now and again though, the stars would align and the tough Russian fighting men would end up being led by a brilliant general or other officer. When that happened, the Russians could and did show exactly what they were made of. Such a confluence of greatness happened in the middle of 1916 along a sector of the eastern front of the Great War when an exceptional commander, General Aleksi Brusilov, fought for the chance to launch an offensive and from June to September 1916 almost singlehandedly knocked the Austro-Hungarian Empire out of World War I.

The origins of the Brusilov Offensive lay in an agreement by the Allies to launching simultaneous offensives against the Central Powers in summer 1916. For her part, Russia agreed to the terms of the agreement in hopes of securing arms and ammunition from the other allies, supplies which were in near disastrous shortages at home. She would lend France some troops on the Western Front and Britain some troops on the Saloniki Front but most of all, she pledged to launch a major attack along the Eastern front.

The plan was to launch the simultaneous attacks among the allies in the summer, but events at Verdun wrecked the timetable somewhat. As soon as Germany launched the massive assault against Verdun, France started begging anyone who would listen for help. France hoped any attack anywhere would draw Germans from the attack on Verdun. However, little happens quickly in Russia so it would be June before Russia would make good on her promise to attack the Eastern front, but when she did, she made it count.

The plan General Brusilov presented to the Russian high command was brilliant, simple, and designed to help the most allies. He planned to attack using his Southwestern Army against the Austrians across from him in Galacia. By launching a massive attack Brusilov hoped to ease pressure at Verdun and the Somme as well as helping draw troops from the Isonzo Front in Italy. Never one to mince words, Brusilov told the commanders he hoped to knock Austro-Hungary out of the war completely. He felt his plan would be effective because at the point of attack, the Russians vastly outnumbered the Austrians.

Rising casualties at Verdun and the Somme caused the Russians to move up preparations for the offensive. Brusilov had forty infantry and fifteen cavalry divisions arrayed along his front. Initially he faced thirty-nine Austrian infantry divisions and ten cavalry divisions. Later, however, in an effort to literally keep Austro-Hungary in the war, German reinforcements were brought up.

The offensive began 4 June 1916 with the obligatory artillery barrage. This barrage was different, however. The model which developed over the course of the war to this point was a long, drawn-out affair with days of pounding the intended point of attack with wave upon wave of shells. The Russians did not have the ammunition for such a protracted firing spree so this barrage was focused and proved to be extremely accurate but most of all, it was short. Because the barrage was so short, the opposing force didn’t have time to rush reinforcements to the point of attack the barrage would herald. The shorter attack also chewed up much less of the battlefield, enabling the Russians to advance at a much faster pace.

The initial attack was highly successful as three of Brusilov’s four army groups advanced on a wide front. In addition to a short barrage, Brusilov also used another innovation in his attack, one that would later form the basis for military doctrine all over the world. He used small units, then called “shock troops”, to attack certain weak points with precision. This was in contrast to the usual full scale, “over the top” wave charge across no-man’s-land typical of the Great War to this point. It work well. The small squads could infiltrate a small hole blown in the line and hold it while clipping wire and removing other obstacles to enable the larger force to pour in behind them. These shock troops were the ancestors of the later “small unit tactics” used in World War II.

On June 8, Brusilov captured the city of Lutsk. Such was the speed of the Russian advance, the commander of Austro-Hungarian forces for the entire front almost fell into Russian hands, only just escaping ahead of the arriving troops. The Austrians were in full retreat and the Russians had taken massive amounts of prisoners. Unfortunately, the attack was so successful Brusilov was in danger of overextending his supply lines and he communicated with High Command that the continued success of the attack now lay in other units of the Russian army attacking behind him. These attacks were very slow in coming, however, and the German commanders were able to use the superior German and Austrian railroad system to rush German troops to the front.

After a period to consolidate his gains, Brusilov continued his offensive in late July and even being as short on ammo and other supplies as he was, he managed to punch all the way to the base of the Carpathian mountains where terrain, German reinforcements, and lack of supplies finally forced Brusilov to halt and dig in.

Had the other Russian commanders along the Galacian front been of the same quality as Brusilov and attacked with such innovation and vigor, the war, and history, might have turned out differently. While Brusilov’s Offensive was wildly successful, the generals to either side of him encountered much worse results leading to massive Russian casualties, a fact some historians feel led directly to Russia’s collapse and withdrawal from the war the following year.

In all, however, Brusilov’s Offensive was a remarkable piece of strategic planning and tactical execution. It was by far the most successful Russian offensive of the war and one of the most effective offensives of the war by any side on any front. In terms of casualties, the Russians inflicted 3:1 casualties during the campaign and completely broke the back of the Austro-Hungarian Army as an independent fighting force.

 

 

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.