#TBT: Great War Wednesday: 1918 Flu Pandemic

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Flu_viruaI published this a mere two years ago, BUT considering what’s going on, I thought it deserved a rerun sooner rather than later. Stay safe everyone.

The Great War provided a plethora of ways a man could meet his Maker; some were even quite novel. He could take a rifle bullet to the vitals from across No Man’s Land, or even be riddled with rifle bullets from one of the new machine guns as he charged across the broken way. He could disappear into a fine red mist if an artillery shell landed in the midst of him and his buddies. A sudden gas shell attack could dissolve his lungs in his chest. Given the right terrain and weather, he could drown in sticky, soupy mud. He could even fall out of the sky, burning like a candle, in one of the new airplanes if his enemy got behind him or the ground fire was accurate enough.

Novelty is fine and all, but for sheer staggering numbers of piled up corpses, it’s hard to beat the old black horse from St. John’s Book of Revelation — Pestilence. From the dawn of time until the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, disease killed more men in war than stones, swords, and shells. That was the first war where combat caused more casualties than disease, but in 1918, a plague fell over the entire world which would try to rethrone pestilence. The great killer was the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic.

First, though, we need to clear up a little nomenclature. This outbreak has come down through history bearing the name of the “Spanish Flu.” Because of the name, many people believe the flu originated in Spain. This is patently false. The disease picked up the name of Spanish Flu because of Spain’s neutral stance in World War One. In countries where men were off at war, military censors cut, redacted, or at least downplayed the outbreak. Because Spain was neutral, her press was free to report whatever about the flu. Since most of the early reports of the disease came from Spanish media sources, people assumed Spain was the epicenter of the flu when in fact, it was a matter of reporting. Spain suffered a proportionate number of flu deaths, but no more than any other nation.

In fact, the flu first appeared in the United States in early March 1918 at a military installation called Camp Funston in Fort Reilly, Kansas. Several men reported to sick call with normal flu-like symptoms. From these humble beginnings, the pandemic exploded, especially when American troops landed in Europe to fight in the Great War.

The disease traveled across oceans and through mountain passes. India was devastated as was China. Unlike many diseases, isolation and distance did not slow this strain. Millions of cases broke out across Australia, New Zealand, and even reached remote Pacific outposts like Fiji and the Christmas Islands. It truly was a global killer. Estimates of total number of individuals infected stand at fully one-third of the world population. This exceeded even the infamous Black Death in 15th Century Europe.

Death was widespread as well. The most conservative number is 20 million fatalities, while at the other end of the spectrum, people have put forth a chilling 100 million deaths. Exact counts are difficult because of the sheer scale of the outbreak, but if the upper number is close to the truth, the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919 killed more people than both world wars combined. What scientists are still trying to figure out and debating, however, is what exactly made the Spanish Flu H1N1 strain such a killer, and so much deadlier than other previous and subsequent flus.

We know the Spanish Flu was an avian flu of the H1N1 strain. If that sounds familiar it’s because a similar H1N1 strain known as “The Bird Flu” broke out in China several years ago and threatened to break out into a pandemic that fortunately was averted. It killed the typical targets flu usually takes, the very young and the elderly, but what made this flu unique is how hard it hit the 20 – 40 year-old demographic. These are usually healthy adults whose immune systems generally shake off the flu after a few sick days.

This flu wouldn’t shake, however. It attacked the lungs with a vengeance, causing air space to fill with fluid. Deprived of oxygen, many people died and those who did more often than not developed pneumonia as a secondary infection and without even penicillin or sulfa antibiotics, those with pneumonia perished more than recovered.

The pandemic reached its peak killing capacity around December 1918. Contributing to the deaths was the sheer number of cases. Even in the most developed countries and cities, healthcare systems were overwhelmed. Hospitals pulled in people beyond their capacity. The number of deaths swamped funeral homes. At the height of the outbreak, people lost the luxury of single family funerals. Instead, many of the dead were interred in mass graves even in America.

By the spring of 1919, the Spanish Flu seemed to have shot its shot. Total number of cases tapered off and the strain on healthcare eases enough to allow for better treatment and proper quarantines. The world wide killer had passed on.

Today, we are still under threats of an outbreak of a disease like Spanish Flu. Thankfully, modern antibiotics — though not the panacea they once were — and better overall hygiene help keep outbreaks manageable, but the same flu strain that killed so many people is still out there. The CDC and a few other labs around the world have samples of flu-infected tissues taken from bodies in colder regions. The Spanish Flu lives on in captivity, but could it ever break free and ravage the world again? Only time will tell.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean!

#TBT: World of Nursery Craft

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Man-Holding-Crying-B

I originally wrote this about five or so years ago. The twins are grown and married with children of their own now, and we’ve moved to a new building, but I’m still rocking babies every Sunday from 11:00 to 12:25.

I am an exceedingly odd duck — and not for the reason most longtime readers of my work are thinking of right now.  I am a male nursery worker whose wife doesn’t work in the nursery with him.  To my knowledge, and the knowledge of everyone I’ve discussed this with, I am the only member of my kind.  I serve in the Snails class at our church.  This class is the pre-Sunday School of Sunday School and encompassed ages from “walking steadily without help” down to “mama finally has the courage to leave her bundle with a semi-stranger.”  I serve because I enjoy babies — spit up, dirty diapers, and all.  I should note, however, that my church has a policy forbidding males to change any baby’s diaper.

It’s one of those particular rules which runs its fingernails down the chalkboard of my anti-authoritarianism because I resent the implication implicit in the policy, but I make it a point of honor to tell my co-servers I am forbidden by statute, not a weak stomach, from changing diapers.  After all, I am a veteran of three Samples children from my former church nursery.  Those little tykes — who are now in high school grown and married and middle school in college– were fearsome in what they could pack in a Pamper. Their mom didn’t bring Wet Wipes, she packed Bounty paper towels and a shop-vac.  On more than one occasion, I have held a Samples child beneath a running faucet to expedite the removal of “material” from his back and it is not unknown for a nursery worker to resort to shampooing hair to complete a full diaper change. After Logan, Riley, and Emily, nothing in a Huggies can deter me. Stun me for a moment, maybe, but not deter.

But I digress.

This past Sunday morn, I was on the schedule to serve with the Salon twins.  They have never served with me before and when they arrived and I was already in the room, I got the usual “well, he’s going to be useless” look.  Most of the time, I take women by surprise because of having Shannon for a first name.  I love and miss Mama, but regardless of the fact she swore to her dying day it’s a unisex name, I never got to have a bicycle tag or a book bag tag because all the Shannon’s were pink and not blue. But I’m not bitter. Anyway, these two are in college and are six-year veterans of nursery work and babysitting and I could tell they figured on carrying me for the day. crying-baby-cartoon

Oh thee of little faith.

When the first song of the service started, we had three charges: Jackie, who is the chunkiest little boy you’d ever want to meet and adorable besides; Madeline, a darling little girl who isn’t long for Snails since she is up on two legs and motoring well; and Oakes, another little girl but she is a tee-tiny newborn and her mom was leaving her in the nursery for the first time. Three babies; three workers.  Easy-Peasey, right? No.

To understand what happened next, you have to understand a little about church.  Service starts at 9:15 AM.  That means the first song cranks up then.  Most people seem to live in some other time zone, though, because THEIR 9:15 is much closer to OUR 9:25 — 9:30.  It never amazes me how the same parents who can get multiple children out the door to school and day care so they can get to WORK on time have such an awful record of getting those same children to CHURCH on time.

Same goes for those scheduled to serve — a man or woman who may have a seven-year running record of perfect attendance at his or her employment doesn’t think twice about calling the staffing coach to say they “just can’t make it today.”  Now that it’s football season, it’ll get exponentially worse.  A guy can stay out until midnight on Monday or Thursday at the sports club watching football and still manage to get to work on time or even a little early, but for some reason he just can’t get up the day after tailgating and watching a NOON game at the ol’ alma mater forty-five minutes away.

Anyway, having three bambinos at 9:15 means nothing.

By 9:30, we had EIGHT.  Madeline was our best walker, Jackie our fastest crawler, and Oakes had another member of the “car carrier club” situated next to her in the teensy person of Lyndsey.  Our other four were Osteen, Mae, Benjie, and Sidney. Only Maddie was fully mobile so it looked like we were off to a good start . . . for five whole minutes.  Then, for some reason we never did determine, Mae decided to see if she could hit E flat over Middle C.  For those of you who’ve never worked with babies en masse, it’s the funniest thing — when ONE of them goes ballistic, they ALL go ballistic! By 9:45, we had an eight piece choir making a not-so-joyful noise.  The three of us looked at each other with a gaze that must have been reminiscent of the look the troopers of the 7th Calvary gave Custer when all those Sioux and Cheyenne rose up out of the grass at the Little Bighorn.

We petted and rocked and patted and replaced binkies which were promptly spit right back out.  I know a lot of you are wondering why we didn’t just cork the kids with a nice warm bottle? No such luck. The majority of women at our church are nursers and while I am capable and willing to do a lot of things traditionally considered “woman’s work,” breast-feeding is something God in His infinite wisdom thankfully did not equip me to do.  We were swimming upstream against an Amazonian current.  At one point, I had a baby on each thigh hugging and rocking them while simultaneously rocking Lyndsey’s car carrier with my foot.  The twins, veterans that they were, had two and sometimes three little ones, walking them around the room, trying to interest them in a ball or a rattle or something.  Then we had to make sure Jackie and Madeline — our two mobile mites — didn’t get into something dangerous. It was nothing short of pandemonium.

Just in time for Mom and Dad to pick up and take home.

Just in time for Mom and Dad to pick up and take home.

Now we have a system for paging parents to come get their children if we can’t get them settled, so why didn’t we?  Well, that’s the heart and soul of nursery work.  For a lot of these moms, this is baby number two or three . . . and sometimes four.  These are really busy women and even though they would be down at the nursery seconds after seeing their child’s number flash on the pager, all most of us who serve in the nursery realize this hour is the only time many of these moms have a chance to THINK.  We hold out as long as we possibly can, then hang on just a bit longer so the moms can have some time to themselves to worship and thank God for the precious little baby who is even now screaming his head off a mere twenty feet beneath her seat!

It’s not pride. It’s service and that why I do it and why most of the ladies I serve with do to.  As for this past Sunday, mercifully the whole group began to nod off into sound slumber — literally “sleeping like babies” — a whole five minutes before the first parent came down to pick up at the end of the service!  Nothing like having service end right at morning nap time! Oh, and the girls know I can hold my own in the nursery now!

Love y’all, keep those feet clean!

To Open the Gates of Hell

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auschwitzSeventy-five years ago today, Ukrainian advance elements of the Soviet Red Army reached the medieval town of Oświęcim, Poland. Now understand the Soviets had no great love for Poland or Poles, but what they found that day would jar the nerves of the most jaded infantryman or tanker. You see, for the last several years, Oświęcim had used another name. The occupying Nazi SS called the town Auschwitz — a name synonymous with horror. In all, over 1.5 millions souls would pass through Konzentrationslager Auschwitz; less than 400,000 would leave its gates alive.

Auschwitz was an “everything” camp. The first of the three main camps — Auschwitz I — was a typical Nazi concentration camp designed originally to hold Polish political prisoners swept up in the days after Germany’s invasion of Poland. Auschwitz I was utilized for slave labor. Most inmates were worked to death. The third main camp built, Auschwitz — Monowitz, was built by IG-Farben (a German chemical company still operating wide open today) to produce synthetic rubber called Buna, which is why this camp is sometimes called Auschwitz–Buna or simply Buna.

Along with IG-Farben, several other companies (many of which still operate in Germany today) built their own subcamps around the Auschwitz complex. Prisoners were herded into these satellite camps by the thousands to work themselves to death having been promised “Arbeit Macht Frei” or “Work Will Make You Free.” Unfortunately, the only freedom offered at Auschwitz was the freedom of death.

To that end, the most notorious of the Auschwitz camps was constructed. It was called Auschwitz–Birkenau and its purpose was not manufacturing nor slave labor. Birkenau was designed for one reason only — the murder of men, women, and children on nothing less than an industrial scale. Birkenau was one of the five “death camps” the Nazis built in occupied Poland to eradicate the subhumans in the Reich: homosexuals, Romani, Sinti, Soviet POWs, but especially Jews. The death camps were the Final Solution to the Jewish Question which consumed Hitler since the days he wrote Mein Kampf.

The days were simple at Auschwitz. Up before dawn, assemble in the courtyard of the dormitories, and march off to work oneself one day closer to death. At Birkenau, however, the day ran differently. All day and all night, the trains arrived. These were the infamous cattle cars that brought Jews and other undesirables from all across Nazi occupied Europe. The trains came right up to the gate of the camp and their wretched human cargo, often still clutching luggage of some pitiful kind, would pour out onto the receiving area. They would be lined up by baton wielding guards with vicious dogs and each line would walk up to a black clad SS doctor, maybe the Angel of Death himself, Josef Mengele.

This was the horrid selektion. If the doctor pointed right — LIFE! The prisoner would go to the line leading into the work camps; however, if herr doktor pointed left, well the prisoner would go into another line. The prisoners not selected to work would be taken to Birkenau and lead up to a line of shower rooms. All around them signs would admonish them to take the process seriously because lice were dangerous in the camps. Many more than could be expected to shower comfortably were pushed into the tiled rooms. As the doors were sealed behind them, they might have time to notice the scratches on the wall and ceiling, but it was too late. The Zyklon-B gas, originally developed as a pesticide, would already be flowing.

Fifteen minutes later, the doors would be opened — usually without venting the rooms — and the dead became the burden of the most miserable prisoners in the camp, the sonderkommando. These poor damned souls were responsible for pulling the dead bodies apart, loading them into carts, and taking the carts to the crematoria buildings where other of their kind would toss the bodies unceremoniously into the ovens. A black joke among these wretches was the only was out of Auschwitz was through the chimney. Human extermination on an industrial scale is what the Ukrainians found 27 January 1945. Some eyewitnesses said the ovens were still warm.

The camps were eerily empty, however. The only living prisoners were in the hospital, abandoned by the SS in their haste to leave before the Soviet army arrived. The rest of the prisoners had been rounded up one last time and marched off in their rags in the bitter cold of a Polish winter towards Germany and other camps. Their suffering was not yet completed. We will likely never have accurate numbers of those who perished on these death marches.

But Auschwitz was liberated.

When General Eisenhower and the American and British forces liberated other concentration camps farther west, the general would order war journalists into the camps by the dozens and instruct them to take as many pictures as possible of the conditions and the people they found there. One of them asked Ike why and the general replied, “One day in the future, people will say this didn’t happen; it couldn’t have happened. I want there to be proof.”

His words have proved prophetic. Holocaust denial often centers around Auschwitz. Deniers point out too few ovens to handle the massive claimed numbers. They say, “Where is the gas residue?” They have been taken to court in countries all over Europe and none have won yet. So as we celebrate this day of liberation, take the time to look around at the world today.

No one ever thought a killing machine like the Nazi regime could arise. It was the stuff of nightmares and yet since 1945 we have witnessed genocides all over the world: China, Cambodia, Latin America, the Balkans, and Rwanda just to name a few. It can happen again and it will if we stand aside and do nothing.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

#TBT: Recollections of Santa

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These things had a LOT of decals!

I originally posted this Christmas Eve 2009.

Christmas Eve has been a favorite day of mine for a long, long time. When I was a child, it meant getting up early and driving to Granny Hughes and her jerk second husband’s house in Columbia for a day of food and presents. That was as far as we ever went when I was a kid and driving with Mama for an hour seemed like an adventure.

I remember one time, we were coming back in a driving rainstorm and Mama couldn’t see plus she was dead tired and nodding off. I kept putting my hand out the window to collect rainwater and rub on her face to keep her awake. Good times. Good times.

By the time I was a car driving teenager, we didn’t have to go to Columbia anymore because Granny had moved in with us. Instead, I’d go hang out with my Aunt Cathy and Uncle Larry and their two sons, Zach and Blake. This particular Christmas Eve, Zach was maybe six years old. Blake was a toddler. The must have toy for that year was the DinoRider Action Figure collection. Zach was in love with all things DinoRider, so Cathy, like any good mother, had gone out and purchased a tandem axle dump-truck load of DinoRider Action Figures for her tow headed eldest boy.

I got to her house about ten on this particular Christmas Eve and the boys were asleep, finally. That was the cue for Cathy, Uncle Larry, and I to put together the “Santa Tableau”.  Most of the toys went together easily enough as I recall, but around midnight, we got to the DinoRiders. The box said “some assembly required.” Yeah, right.

The figures were all put together, BUT none of them had the correct decals stuck on yet. Those were in a sheet PER BOX about the size of the Webster’s Third Edition International Unabridged Dictionary. I started sticking decals on. To make matters worse, the figures had a molded place EXACTLY where the decals were supposed to go, so if you were the tiniest bit out of line, it stuck out like a sore thumb. I didn’t know I had OCD at that time. I just knew I had to get the stickers on perfectly or it would drive me crazy. If you made a mislick and put a sticker in the wrong place, God help you. I’m convinced that had the Titanic been wrapped with DinoRider decals, she would have split the iceberg and made New York in record time. Those things would stick your eyeballs together just looking at them.

Midnight became 2 A.M. which turned into 4 A.M. Finally, at around 5:45 AM, the three of us got the last of the toys ready and set up properly for maximum “Wow Factor” when the boys came in to see them. I stumbled into Zach’s room and collapsed in the bottom bunk of his bunk beds and promptly passed out from exhaustion. I slept like the dead until around 6:15 A.M. when, with the barest hint of dawn just breaking in the window, I was awakened by two pudgy little hands beating me about the head and shoulders with cries of “Shannon, come see! Come see! Santa came!”

Somehow, I managed to stumble into the living room as Zach ran into the midst of half the stockpile of Toys R’ Us arrayed underneath the well decorated tree. Cathy was snapping still pictures and Larry was filming the event with one of the first practical VHS self contained camcorders. Zach, joined a few minutes later by Blake, was so happy and so bouncy that I felt less and less tired. I may even have drank a cup of coffee even though I hated the stuff.

It never ceases to amaze me how time gets away from us. That was twenty years ago at least now. Zach is a grown man and the associate pastor of a church in Gainesville, Florida, but he just posted on FaceBook that he’s home safe. I’ll see him tomorrow at Daddy’s house for Christmas supper and I’m thinking it won’t be long until I have to put together a second generation of toys. You see, the little pudgy, tow headed boy of all those years ago gave one of the most beautiful diamond rings I’ve ever seen to one of the sweetest girls I’ve ever met just this past Thanksgiving. Just yesterday, he was beating me awake to come see him play with his toys. This coming Easter, I get to see him marry the girl of his dreams.

Don’t forget to wash your feet, y’all, and most of all Merry Christmas!

Love y’all a lot!

#TBT: Stop Hijacking Jesus

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I originally wrote this post nine years ago back in 2010. I reread it and realized something. It’s football season, awards season, and — most aggravatingly — ELECTION season. Nothing’s changed from what I said then so I thought I’d run it again. I hope you enjoy it.

As a matter of good raising, I don’t normally discuss sex, religion, or politics in polite company. Lately, though, a trend has developed that has me frothing at the mouth and I’ve reached the point of putting my irritation into print.  Therefore, this post will be quite religious and political in places. So, if you are an atheist or you hate religion or you just don’t like reading or talking about spiritual things, here’s your warning. Hit the bricks now and if you still read to the bottom, don’t send me some comment about how “weak-minded” or “old-fashioned” I am to believe the Bible is real or that God is real or that Jesus is real. I’ll take my chances, thank you very much.

So, you’ve been warned.

If you’re still with me, know that what’s driving me nuts (well, MORE nuts) is the growing tendency of people in all forms of public endeavor to drag religion into everything. What has finally pushed my quarter off the table is the rash of comments in my local newspaper by people claiming to speak for Jesus. It’s on my last nerve and it has got to stop.

People need to quit hijacking Jesus.

As an example of what I mean, watch any football game from high school to pro. As soon as a player makes a touchdown, he hits a knee or points to the sky in some obvious move to “give thanks” for his touchdown.

I’m pretty sure He don’t care, son.

Really?

I am not a seminary educated theologian, but I am willing to bet on a few things in the theological sphere and one of those is I’m pretty certain Jesus Christ is not a football fan. Or a baseball fan. Or basketball. Or hockey. . . you get the picture.

See, for those who don’t know, Jesus and His dad, aka. God Almighty, have tasked themselves with the creation and maintenance of the universe. Now, even though being omnipotent makes this task vastly easier and probably does leave time to take in a few quarters of football here and there if They so choose, I just don’t picture Jesus being a football fanatic. Of course, the Saints DID win the Super Bowl last year, but I think that was more on God-given talent than any divine intervention.

Leave Jesus out of the scoring celebrations!

The proper order is “get award” THEN “get drunk!”

Another group that boils my innards and boils my blood over their misappropriation of the Lord’s Name is the lot of “award winners.” Oscars, Emmys, and Tonys. CMAs, AMAs, and Grammys. Stage, screen, or stereo. The medium that is the source of the awards show is irrelevant. They all have the same seriously annoying habit. As soon as they get up on stage and take their pot metal statuette or crystal resin miniature from the vapid, chattering host or hostess, the first thing many of them do is lean into the microphone and say, “I’d like to thank God for this award!”

Really?

Again I appeal to my admittedly self-taught body of Biblical knowledge and I feel very comfortable saying God probably doesn’t care that you won your silly award. After all, He and Jesus sit on thrones (well, technically Jesus is standing at God’s right hand for the moment) in a room vastly beautiful beyond our finite minds’ ability to comprehend. They are surrounded by seraphim and cherubim that do nothing 24/7/365 (366 on leap years) but sing songs more glorious than our greatest songwriter can dream of. Do you really think They stop listening to an angelic choir just to hear Lady GaGa warble out “Bad Romance?”

I’m betting against it.

One other thing before I leave the entertainment industry alone and move on to the REAL target of my derision. If, after receiving your pot metal or crystal resin, you lean into the microphone and drunkenly or doped-upedly slur your thanks to the Almighty, I wouldn’t count on that thanks reaching the ceiling. I am no longer a teetotaler where faith and alcohol come together. My thought is Jesus’ first recorded miracle was turning fetid water into fabulous wine. I don’t think He has a problem with a glass of wine or a cold beer after cutting grass in July in the South.

The whole drunken slurring thing though? Probably not so good. The Bible has several instances of people (usually men) getting drunk and the results are always disastrous and ugly. You may THINK you’re different, but I can pretty much assure you, you’re not.

Leave Jesus out of the “awards ceremonies!”

Now, before I begin blasting away at my most despised blasphemers, let me make clear that I think anyone, anywhere, anytime (let’s leave the technical theology out of it for the moment if we may) can respond to and accept the Gospel, be he a self-indulgent basketball star or be she a babbling, bacon bikini wearing songbird. I have it on good authority that one of my very best friends accepted the Gospel message halfway down a 150′ ravine during the third end over end flip of his Nissan 280ZX. One of my former students, a self-proclaimed atheist, heard Jesus’ call in a fighting hole in Afghanistan right after a Taliban bullet made a crease in his armor helmet.

Any time. Anywhere. 24/7/365 (366 in leap years).

Now for my true venom. The group I despise the most and the absolute WORST Jesus hijackers are POLITICIANS! I am at the point of getting nauseous whenever I hear some scheming, conniving, back-door-dealing Washington sewer dweller spout out something like “Our party won control of thus and so because God is on our side!”

Let me go puke.

This wrapping oneself in the Cross covered prayer shawl is completely bipartisan as well. Elephants and Jackasses alike invoke the name of the Lord to hopefully win the passage of some “vital” piece of legislation or, much more likely, to appeal to the “folks back home” who expect their representatives to be moral, preferably Christian, men and women.  Nowhere is this malady worse than here in my beloved Southland. We are a devout people down here. Sure, we may go out on Friday and Saturday nights each week and drink ourselves blind. We may switch from bed to bed like our heads are on fire and our butts are catching. We may swear and spit and carry on, lie, cheat, steal, etc.

But we’ll be in church come Sunday.

We expect the same from our politicians and they deliver. If I hear one more politician say “I feel this is what God would want me to do,” I may collapse into an uncontrollable conniption fit! It wouldn’t be so brazenly blasphemous and hypocritical if the politicians were not so “cafeteria” style about their so-called “heavenly mandate.” A senator can vote to increase the deficit, increase taxes, increase involvements in wars — but he’ll still get elected by a landslide as long as he claims to be staunchly against abortion! A representative can back big business, spit on the middle class, and whore-hop around Washington, DC worse than a Heidi Fleiss call-girl working on a new Ferrari, but as long as he keeps pushing a bill to get prayer back in schools, the people will support him.

535 member congregation and every single one of them is a politician! Who’d a thunk it?

So it goes on with this party claiming divine favor then that party claiming some new revelation. They’ll get up on TV with tears in their eyes as they talk about their conversion experiences in a little country church (he or she may be from Atlanta, Nashville, or Jacksonville but it’s ALWAYS a little country church) when they walked the aisle and let Jesus into their hearts.

All I know is Jesus must be pretty lonely in there since He’s the only thing in that heart.

Let’s get one thing straight and clear once and for all now and forever. Jesus Christ is not a Republican. Jesus Christ is not a Democrat. Jesus Christ is a King and not just ANY king but the King of Kings. Neither He nor His Daddy give two toots in a tornado about our petty earthly politics because They know who ACTUALLY runs this show! It doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference to Either of Them that Barak Obama Donald Trump defeated John McCain Hillary Clinton to become POTUS. They. Don’t. Care. They have bigger fish to fry.

So please, all you politicians posturing on a false faith or even a genuine faith that you can’t stop ramming down people’s throats, stop. STOP!

Leave Jesus out of politics.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Thoughts on Veterans Day

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https://tce-live2.s3.amazonaws.com/media/media/a8dde221-64c3-48cf-b6d0-248d0ce4d539.jpgIn Flanders Fields
By: Lt. Col. John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
.

From one who has never known the smell of battle and the stench of blood and fear to every veteran of every American war, popular and unpopular, won or lost, concluded or continuing, thank you so much for risking your lives and many times giving your lives in the service of your country. You did not ask if the fight was a cause you believed in for it was enough that you believed in the country that gave the call.

Bless you, each and every one of you.

I’d wash all y’all’s tired feet if I could.

Thank you again. Love y’all.

#TBT: Halloween at Aunt Nell’s

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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!

I Remember

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tower-of-voices-chimes-flight-93-national-memorial-620According to family stories, my great grandmother was listening to her daily gospel radio show at 11:00 on November 11, 1918 when the announcer broke in to say the Great War was over. Granny Wham always told me she was at the kitchen sink washing the breakfast dishes on December 7, 1941 when the news came over the radio that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Until the day she died, Mama would tell me about being in gym class at Gray Court – Owings School when the principal announced over the PA system on November 23, 1963 that President Kennedy had been assassinated. Memories of where you were and what you were doing.

Eighteen years ago, on September 11, 2001, I was a thirty year old English teacher at Woodmont High School in Greenville County, SC. I was standing in front of a class of sophomores transitioning from our silent reading block to our daily lesson when Pat Harvey, the school receptionist, tapped on the window in my classroom door. I stepped into the hall to speak to her; she had tears in her eyes. She said, “Two planes have hit the World Trade Towers in New York. They thought the first one was a terrible accident, but then the second one flew straight into the building a few minutes later.”

I remember wishing I had a television in my room. Instead, I went back in class and tried to explain to a group of 15 and 16 year olds that likely the biggest event of their lives had just taken place. America — land of the free and home of the brave — had been attacked by terrorists on an unimaginable scale, not in some foreign airport or embassy, but right in the heart of our largest city. They had questions and I didn’t have any answers. It wasn’t long after though that the calls started coming in for students to be dismissed as parents came from all over to pick their children up, to hug them, to remind themselves their babies were safe.

But were they?

The world I grew up in died on 9/11/2001. I woke up that morning in one country and went to bed in another. Something unthinkable happened. Terrorists had attacked us on our home turf and had killed — all total — over 3000 people in the deadliest action against our homeland since Pearl Harbor. But Pearl Harbor was different. It was a sneak attack, yes, but it was an act of a conventional war. We understood Pearl Harbor; many even predicted it. We didn’t like it of course and we paid the Japanese back in kind, but this attack was something else altogether.

This wasn’t a strike by a nation with borders and cities and ships we could retaliate against. This was a blow from the shadows. Everyone wanted to get back at “them” but this wasn’t World War II. We didn’t have a Tokyo we could sail to and bomb. For awhile, we didn’t even know who “Them” was until Al-Queda and their front man Osama Bin-Ladin stepped up to take responsibility for attacking “The Great Satan.”

I don’t have anything to offer about that day other than what I’ve already written. It was a day of victims and heroes of all stripes and even species. How many epitaphs could include the phrase, “the last anyone saw him, he was climbing up”? How many ordinary citizens carried people down multiple flights of stairs on their backs. I can’t add to that. I’ve been thinking about something different.

I’ve been thinking about the children of those sophomores. The Towers fell 18 years ago today. That means that right now we have a generation of 18 year olds who just became eligible for a military draft who have never known a world of peace. In their lifetimes, America has been in some sort of conflict related to what’s come to be called The Global War on Terror. They don’t understand the irony of scenes in movies with people running through airports because in their lifetimes running through an airport without really good reason might get you shot by security.

Security. Now there’s a word for this new generation. For the last 18 years people have been preaching “never forget; never again!” We’ve developed a bunker mentality. Air travel used to be one of the most carefree adventures a person could take. Now it’s a chaotic mess of ounce bottles and full pat-down searches to get on a plane. It has to be that way because once you realize you live in a world where evil men are willing to use jumbo jets as guided missiles, you live in a world where ANYTHING is possible.

The next attack could come from anywhere. Sadly, we are so scared of the next attack, we’ve lost large chunks of what made us a place to envy. Not only did 3000 people die on 9/11/2001, huge swaths of our freedoms did as well. Under the guise of protecting us from another 9/11, we have become a virtual police state. Now don’t get it twisted; this is the nicest, freest police state in the history of the world, but Big Brother is still watching everywhere all the time because He wasn’t watching in 2001 and people died.

I don’t know if there will ever be another attack the scope of 9/11, but there really doesn’t have to be. For 18 years, our peace of mind as a nation has been non-existent. People are scared of everything now and we are willing to do whatever it takes to whomever it takes to make us a little less scared. With our present mentality, the bad guys don’t have to attack . . . they’ve already won.

Love y’all, and keep your feet clean.

50 Years After 3 Days of Peace and Music

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250px-Woodstock_posterImagine waking up in the morning and looking out your window to see the population of Cleveland, OH gathered on your back lawn. Now imagine seeing that sight for three days. That mental exercise will give you an idea of what Max Yasgur saw back in August 1969 as he looked out over his dairy farm at what became known as Woodstock after the nearby town which was supposed to host the gathering but ultimately turned the promoters down.

Woodstock is so massive, so important, and so well documented that it’s hard to write about it and say something someone else hasn’t already said so I’m not even going to try. I’m just going to share some history but also my thoughts about the event that became a touchstone in American musical and countercultural history.

Let me begin by saying this unequivocally — I don’t consider myself anything of a hippie person. I’m certainly not countercultural, but if I had a time machine and a list of the top places in history I’d love to personally visit, Woodstock’s music festival in 1969 would be number four. Imagine seeing almost anyone who was anyone in the music scene on one stage over three days? CCR, The Grateful Dead, The Band, Janis Joplin — over thirty bands and artists culminating in a never duplicated performance by the legendary left handed guitarist, Jimi Hendrix! I definitely would park the Delorean and sit down awhile.

I can’t help contrasting the mood at Woodstock with what’s going on in America today. Back then, the Vietnam War was burning hot and protests were popping up all over the country. The country was as divided at that time as it hadn’t been since the Civil War and yet 400,000 people got together and stood in the rain and mud and generally horrible physical conditions to enjoy music and each other. The local sheriff went on record saying how calm the whole thing was. He said, “Something about the marijuana just keeps everyone real calm; if it had been beer or other alcohol, things would have gotten ugly I believe.” Imagine getting that many people together today? The National Guard would be on scene before the first act went on stage and probably for good reason. Half the people would want to fight the other half over something political and you’d be lucky if one or two mass shooters didn’t smuggle in something bad and kill a few people.

You know who worked security for Woodstock? A commune out of New Mexico lead by a charismatic guy who went by the nom de plume of Wavy Gravy. A commune. No one needed anything else. He also helped run the aid stations where the job description often included hugging out people in the middle of really bad trips on LSD.

Over all, in three days with 400K people less than a thousand accidents or injuries were reported and 900 of those were from bare feet stepping on glass or other impediments. Two people did die so it wasn’t bloodless. One overdosed on heroin and one for reasons known only to him went to sleep behind the rear wheels of a tractor and the driver didn’t look behind him when he backed up and rolled over the young man’s head. Two babies also were born during Woodstock, but not on the grounds as popularly believed. One was born in a car during the attempt to get to the venue and the other mother was safely airlifted to a hospital to give birth.

Now it’s fifty years later. A lot of the artists who graced Woodstock’s stage have gone on to that great amphitheater in the sky or maybe in the other place, who am I to judge? Janis and Jimi both died the next year the rest succumbed to overdoses in some cases and old age in others.

Still, for a shining moment, Woodstock lived up to the billing. It was, truly, three days of peace and music. To be honest, I believe we need a Woodstock today. In any event though, I don’t think Woodstock will ever happen again. People can’t get along long enough to get together in that large of a group without violence. Less than half that many riot almost monthly at soccer matches all over the world today.

 

#TBT: We Are NOT That Broke Yet!

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Friends don't let friends wipe with dollar store toilet paper.

Friends don’t let friends wipe with dollar store toilet paper.

This was the last post I wrote before Mama passed away. Two weeks later, she would be gone from me. Sad as that may be, this post does still tell the truth.

I went down to check on Mama recently. She’s been suffering for a good while now with C.O.P.D. and if God is not merciful to her, it will eventually take her from me. I try to keep watch over her and I’m thankful for the hospice organization and my wonderful step-dad for helping me. Now before you go getting bummed out, this post is only tangentially connected to Mama’s health.

Anyway, while I was at Mama’s the salad from the night before and the large bowl of Raisin Bran from earlier in the morning both decided to end their tour of my colon. I told Mama I had to go see a man about a dog then grabbed my phone to have something to pass the time because I figured this might take a bit. The phone was my undoing because I was so focused on pulling up Angry Birds I forgot to check the toilet paper. Big mistake. Now you’re probably thinking the roll was empty, leaving me stranded. Actually, that would have been a better scenario than the one confronting me as I finished my lengthy constitutional because had the roll been empty I could have called Mama from the bathroom and asked her to bring me some paper towels using her scooter chair. No, the holder was full. Unfortunately, it was full of the worst substance known to man.

Dollar store toilet paper!

Now long time readers know I am a restroom connoisseur. Were I to become wealthy enough to build my dream home, I already have the bathroom completely planned out. Budge can design everything else. My exquisite taste in all things water closet related extends to toilet paper as well. At home, having a septic tank keeps me anchored to the pedestrian but adequate Scott Tissue, but I do have a couple of rolls of White Cloud Ultra Soft stashed away for those “occasions” when my stomach has risen up in rebellion and constant use of the facilities begs for something more tender than Scott 500 grit special. When the economy and civilization collapse, it won’t be lack of food, water, or power that does me in; it will be the dearth of bathroom facilities and the end of manufactured toilet paper.

Wonderful but frivolous luxury.

Wonderful but frivolous luxury.

Sadly, the fake dollar store toilet paper ended up in Mama’s bathroom because her illness necessitated turning the shopping over to my step-dad. Now I won’t lie. Money is very tight at our two households. Budge and I have been helping Mama pay her bills for over a year now. Rob, my step-dad, knows this so he’s always trying to cut corners and save wherever he can, which is perfectly reasonable since we are more or less broke. However, as bad as it may be, we are NOT dollar-store-toilet-paper-level broke yet. We can’t necessarily afford luxury like Charmin or Quilted Northern, but we can certainly afford some Scott Tissue. Granted, Scotts isn’t the softest on one’s bottom but at least it is absorbent enough to do the job while being strong enough to not have to wrap a hand in half a roll just to keep the wiping fingers from bursting through mid-stroke.

I don’t know what dollar store toilet paper is made of. Based on its absorbancy, I would guess wax paper, but wax paper is many orders of magnitude stronger than dollar store TP, and that’s where this stuff really starts to wreak. Apparently, dollar store TP is woven from unicorn farts, angel burps, or something else comparably rare and insubstantial. As a general rule, I shouldn’t be able to read a newspaper through a ply of decent TP, but laying a sheet of dollar store rubbish on the funny pages doesn’t even dull the colors much. At the risk of sounding a bit gross, if this stuff is all you’ve got, you’re better off just bare-handing it and cutting out the middle man, so to speak. Dollar store TP is really that bad.

The bare-a$$ed minimum acceptable TP. (see what I did there?)

The bare-a$$ed minimum acceptable TP. (see what I did there?)

To make matters worse, this  “paper,” which is so useless in its intended hygienic function because of its lack of strength and absorbancy in the hand turns into some sort of uber-wadded concrete blob once you drop it in the toilet. It might not take poop off a goose, but two or three handfuls of this stuff will clog up a toilet tighter than the Chihuahua that ate a whole cheese and peanut butter sandwich. Plunging only makes the stuff multiply like some sort of soggy, stinky Hydra. Dollar store TP truly is a mystery substance.

In any event I managed to finish up and get myself reasonably ready to reenter the world so I went in to Mama and begged her to have Rob stop buying dollar store TP. She reiterated what I already knew — he was just trying to save us money. My reply was simple and heartfelt. Buy REAL toilet paper and I’ll give up cable and internet or cut us down to one car to make up the difference. It’s like I told Mama and I’m saying it again to y’all, I’m a simple man. I don’t have many needs. All I ask for to make me happy is decent A/C in the summertime to keep my fat butt cool and some good quality TP to keep the same fat butt clean. Is that too much to ask? When the day comes we can’t afford at LEAST some Scott Tissue, it’ll be time for me to start paying close attention to Breaking Bad reruns.

Love y’all! Keep those feet clean . . . and all the other parts as well!

The Holy Grail of TP! It has THREE PLYS and Shea Butter!!!!

The Holy Grail of TP! It has THREE PLYS and Shea Butter!!!!