Time Capsule or Pandora’s Box?

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Mama's LetterI grew up on 18.6 acres of land in rural Gray Court, SC. The story of the land and how it ended up like it did and further on how I ended up owning 6.2 acres outright would be a whole ‘nother long, long post. For now, all you really need to know is a buddy of mine is renovating the old farmhouse on the land I own and when he gets it finished, I’m going to sell it to him.

So here’s the deal. My maternal grandmother lived in the old farmhouse as caretaker for my paternal great-uncle. Believe me, it’s complicated beyond belief so I’m just hitting the high points. Ima took care of Uncle Carrol for a number of years and even continued living in the house for a few years after he moved to a nursing home. Over the course of those intervening years, Mama used some of the closets out there to store some boxes. The boxes were forgotten to history for thirty years.

Here begins our tale.

My buddy found these forgotten boxes with my name on them as he was working on converting a bedroom to a bathroom and was in the closet doing some plumbing. He told me about the boxes and I told him to bring them by the house when he got a chance and I’d go through them. He brought them and I went through them.

Here’s where our tale gets interesting, well, at least for me.

Dana was out for the evening with friends when Carlos stopped by with this load of past for me. We brought the boxes into my office, sat them in the floor, and proceeded to get all Indiana Jones on them. I was half a layer into the first box when I realized I should have told Carlos to take them by the dump and save me the slap in the face from the memories wafting out of those boxes along with the rancid smell of mouse pee and poop.

The four boxes spanned my entire pre-postsecondary academic career from the tin can pencil holder I made Mama in kindergarten to some papers from my first year of college. A lot of items came out of those boxes heavy with memories, memories in more than one case I didn’t want.

Mama kept every certificate of achievement I ever got from K-12. She kept every newspaper clipping from the Laurens Advertiser with me in it somewhere. They were all still here, right beside pounds of notes and cards from two ex-girlfriends I did wrong. My plaque for being on my junior high school’s championship academic team rested beneath the jumping fish trophy I received from my wrestling teammates after my freshman year. I was the “flopping fish” of the year and the trophy reminded me of a dismal 0-16 record.

One box had a box within it containing loads of memorabilia from Camp Broadstone, the summer camp where I spent two weeks each during my seventh and eighth grade summers. It was full of letters from friends made those four glorious weeks when I was happier than I’d ever been before and than I’ve ever been since. We made crude “yearbooks” and signed them with our undying friendship pledged over and over. Each letter, each rustic “craft” was a dagger in my soul because we didn’t keep up with each other and now those four weeks are getting hazy over thirty-five years later. Tears came to my eyes as I handed the entire box to Carlos and asked him to dump them outside in the trash.

I threw away nearly everything I came across. Ribbons from high school football games. Awards for the best essay in the county on water conservation. In some instances the mice had saved me by destroying things I didn’t want to deal with. I wasn’t ready for this kind of nostalgia. These boxes contained proof I once had a bright future with the chance to be and do whatever I could put my mind to.

They were from before the anxiety attacks. Before the crippling depression. Before I lost one career doing what I thought was right and another because I couldn’t get over losing the first. Before I started down this dark, dismal road.

It hurt to remember. I would have broken down in sobs, but Carlos was with me and I’m still a man with a man’s pride and its accompanying refusal to show weakness in front of another man. So I forged on through the boxes; I beat on, a boat against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. Little from the boxes remained. Carlos filled up the big black rolling trashcan outside with memories I could barely tolerate.

Now only one small box remains and I’m going to have Budge go through it ruthlessly and throw away as much as she can of the things my heart couldn’t bear to let go. She is nowhere near as sentimental as me so she can purge the house of these past haunted relics.

You would think the night could get no worse than meticulously poking around in the scar tissue of my soul. Surely this is as low as it could get? Sadly, you would be wrong.

I hadn’t opened the fourth box.

The fourth box was more Mama’s box than mine. I should have tossed the box then and there and let a dead dog decompose in peace, but I was already in what we southerners call “a state” as it was so I was in no position to stop this plane from full throttling into yon craggy mountain of memory.

I wish I’d been stronger.

You must understand something vitally important to know. Mama married at 16. She had me at 18. She was single again by 25. Also, and this is crucial, Mama was not a plain, homely woman. The fourth box contained proof of that. Years worth of Valentine’s cards and love notes lay in a neat pile. I recognized some of the names; some I didn’t. Two in particular caused me to almost vomit because of the anguish they had put Mama through. I spat on one’s grinning face and shattered the frame of the other. They both had the good sense to die before I ever crossed paths with either of them so my true vengeance was spoilt, but dead they are and no torment is too much for them.

I have an image of Mama that has withstood all life has thrown at it. Her pedestal is not so high as it once was because I know things now I didn’t know then, but I was not so big a fool as to read what other men thought about my mother. I can take a lot, but too much is too much. I gathered up all the cards and letters and gave them to Carlos and into the big black trashcan they went. I still remember Mama as my mama, not as a woman and I don’t think my heart will ever bear to change that.

Now again, you’d think the night was over and it was time to lick my wounds, take a Xanax, and try to recover, but the night still had one trick left to play and it lay in the bottom of the box.

Right at the bottom of the box — the godforsaken box — was another, smaller box. This box, when opened, proved to be full of letters as well, but these were different. They were all in red, white, and blue envelopes. Some were crisp and clean even after fifty years. Some were stained with mud — the mud from the hills of Vietnam. Lying in front of me was a treasure beyond measure. I picked the package up and held in my hand every letter Daddy wrote Mama during his military service. Fifty years on and she had kept them all.

Everything else of Mama’s from the boxes is gone, but the letters sit in a pile on my desk. I don’t know what to do with them. Here is proof positive that once upon a time Daddy actually did love Mama. The pile has a few cards scattered through it too. I’ve read a Father’s Day card I don’t remember signing. Someone got Mama a Mother’s Day card from me as well. It’s all here. The brief moment when my parents had a chance to be together forever . . . before the dark times when love proved to not be enough.

So I have these letters. They are my birthright. They are indelibly connected to my past, but the question is, do I read them? Do I want to see what I would see? On the one hand, maybe I would finally catch a glimpse of young man Mama loved, and loved until the day she died, all others be damned. The young man who never came home the same. The young man Mama told me stories about, but who I never had a chance to meet. Do I want to meet him? Would I even recognize him?

On the other hand, the young man belongs to Mama, just as he did for too brief a time all those decades ago. Should I intrude on their privacy? I barely have any memories of the two of them together and the ones I do are not always pleasant. Would these change years of pain and animosity between Daddy and me? Do I want to know? Can my heart take the answers I might find?

I don’t know what to do.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

#TBT: They Aren’t Loaded; They Just Smell Bad

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My Engine looked like this.I ran this post back in summer 2011. Then, Budge and I got pulled over recently and the way the traffic stop went reminded me of this particular event. Hope you like it.

Lately, I have taken to perusing the classified ads gathered on Craigslist.com. Yesterday, I found the car of my dreams could be mine for $25K or the best offer. The car was a 1969 Chevelle SS 396, and it was hauntingly similar to Marilyn, the ’69 Chevelle SS 396 Daddy bought for me after I wrecked my beloved ’79 Mustang.

Like the car in Craigslist, Marilyn had a Chevy big block 396 cubic inch engine under the hood bolted to a racing transmission. I loved that car. I miss that car every day. I sold her to help pay for my last semester of college and to take care of some debts I owed. If I had it to go over with again — knowing what I know now — I’d have kept the car, bad credit be damned, and dropped out of college. By now, the car would be worth more than my degree is anyway and I’m pretty sure I’d be a lot happier with the car than I’ve been with the degree.

Marilyn looked just like this only with white SS stripes on the hood and trunk lid and a white interior.

Looking at that Chevelle in the classifieds, then looking at the weatherman promising a week of sweltering days ahead led me back in my mind to the summer when I was 17 and had just gotten Marilyn on the road with her newly rebuilt, highly tuned engine.

Back then, gas was hovering around $1.25 for the premium her engine required, which was good because Marilyn would pass anything on the road but a gas station. I used to joke with my buddies how she got 60 mpg, until I dropped the engine and transmission in, then the mileage went down to about 7 mpg . . . downhill . . . with a tailwind . . . and no passengers.

She was NOT an economy car. Of course, I knew that when I built her, but I couldn’t have cared less. Why should I? I was a teenage boy with a decent job and no bills, a pretty girlfriend, and what at the time looked like a great life full of promise ahead of me. In short, life was good and the days were long; it was summertime in South Carolina.

The particular day I remember was exceptionally hot. We’re talking “two hobbits climbing Mount Doom” HOT, and unlike the complete restoration I found in Craigslist, Marilyn didn’t have one nice luxury — AIR CONDITIONING. Now, she had the vent system, controls, and spot on the firewall where an A/C unit had been when she left Detroit, but in the 20 years between that day and the one in question, the unit had disappeared. I had every intention of replacing the climate control right up until I found out doing so would cost $2000 — in 1987 dollars. On my $3 per hour stocking job at Community Cash, the likelihood of me getting such a head of lettuce together was somewhere between slim and none, and slim had saddled up and left town.

Since I didn’t have the factory A/C, I made use of an aftermarket system called the 2WD70MPH model. That was short for “2 windows down going 70 miles per hour.” As long as Marilyn was moving she stayed cool. You did NOT want to be stuck in traffic though. In addition to the scorching ambient heat, it is amazing how much heat a pair of aluminum headers on a 396 cubic inch Chevy big-block generate as they pass right under your feet. My car was HOT in more ways than one.

Due to this lack of climate control, it was my custom in those days to drive shirtless and shoeless. At the time, I could still take my shirt off without getting complaints from the International Space Station about the glare, or some crazy man with a peg leg and a harpoon trying to stab me while shouting “Thar she blows!” I actually had a waist. Like I said, it was 1987.

Now, here’s an important tidbit of information — in the state of South Carolina, it is illegal to drive barefooted. Did you know that? Guess what? Neither did I, and thereupon hangs the rest of this story.

I was on my way to Gray Court from Laurens running about 85 mph up Highway 14 with my AC/DC “Back In Black” CASSETTE TAPE (!!!! remember those anybody? !!!) cranked to 11 when I passed the old fruit market in Barksdale. Did you know that stretch of road happens to be a 55 mph speed limit zone? Guess what? NEITHER DID I! However, the nice man in the grey car with the blue lights who pulled out behind me would enlighten me once all the soon ensuing excitement died down.

So, to set the scene, Smokey Bear was behind me and the road was too straight and the day too bright for me to out run him. I was caught dead to rights. Reluctantly, I pulled over, cut Marilyn off, and waited. Trooper Douglas walked up beside my the car and said, in the same half-bored, half-irritated tone I’d heard quite a few times before, “Son, get your license and registration and step out of the car.” Remember how I said I drove barefooted? Now imagine how hot the asphalt on the highway had to be. No way I was “stepping out of the car” barefooted. I needed to get my pair of blue canvas Nikes (!!!! remember those anybody? !!!) and put them on.

Guess where they were? Under the seat.

But there was just one of him. Of course, he was PLENTY.

Gentle friends, a word of advice — should need ever arise for you to retrieve something, ANYTHING, from under the seat of a hot rod in the middle of July with a large and somewhat aggravated member of law enforcement standing beside your open window . . . tell the man (or woman) what you need and what you are about to do before you move. No one ever gave me such sage advice, so I didn’t say anything; I just nodded, quickly reached down between my legs, and stuck my right hand under the seat almost to the elbow.

At that point, the day got a lot more interesting.

For reasons I now understand perfectly, but had no concept of then, Trooper Douglas took exception to me reaching under the seat for some unknown, unseen object and  being a man of action, reached through the open window, seized me under the left armpit and with ONE ARM snatched me bodily through the open window, flipped me — shirtless and spreadeagled — across Marilyn‘s hood, drew and thumb-cocked his .357 magnum service revolver (1987, no Glocks), then placed said revolver’s muzzle right against my left temple with his hand still pressing me firmly into the sheet metal of the hood.

As a matter of fact, that hole DID look this big or maybe a mite bigger.

Time stopped.

Somewhere off in the distance a mourning dove cooed out his sad song. A lone dog barked. I heard a radio across the meadow playing Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried”. My nose was filled with the smell of chest and thigh flesh roasting on the superheated sheet-metal of my car hood. I remember thinking two things quite clearly and quickly. First, I thought,”Well, Mama, wearing clean underwear whenever I went out presupposes the underwear would still be clean once they examine my body.” In this case, it most certainly wasn’t. Second, I thought, “This is gonna hurt bad, but at least it ain’t gonna hurt long.”

After an eternity, Trooper Douglas spoke and his voice rolled down like Moses commanding the Red Sea to part for the Children of Israel, “Son, just what in the hell (pronounced in the stereotypical Southern lawman two syllable way “hay-yill”) do you think you are reaching for?”

Somehow or another, a primitive part of my brain realized my survival depended on the careful wording of my answer so I said, somewhere between a sob and a whimper, “Um, shoes, sir; my canvas Nikes, Sir. They are under my seat and I promise they aren’t loaded; they just smell real bad.”

Love y’all. Stay cool, keep your feet clean, and drive with your shoes on in South Carolina.

 

Great War Wednesday: Belleau Wood

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M-Belleau-leadspread-1The British have the Somme; the French, Verdun. However, if the United States Marine Corps Hymn is ever rewritten or updated, right next to the Halls of Montezuma and the Shores of Tripoli will stand the Battle of Belleau Wood. It was the Battle of Belleau Wood where the newly arrived American doughboys received their real baptism of fire in the Great War, and they showed they had a lot to learn, but they were not a bunch to be trifled with.

The American Expeditionary Force began arriving in strength in the spring of 1918. One of the first battles Commanding General John “Black Jack” Pershing had to fight was against his French and British counterparts. After three years of brutal warfare, the Entente forces welcomed the Americans, but the French and British commanders had their own ideas about how the new forces would be used. To the weary Entente commanders, the new troops were warm bodies who could strengthen the depleted ranks of the French and British armies. General Pershing, however, made it clear his boys were here to fight Germans as Americans, not as fill ins. After considerable wrangling, he managed to keep his units together and the Americans moved into the battlelines to face the enemy.

As part of the Spring Offensive, the Germans were marching hard towards Paris and sweeping the Entente forces before them. On 1 June 1918, however, the Germans moved into Belleau Wood near the Marne River and found fresh American troops waiting for them. Now the French had wanted to retreat further away from the woods and construct a new trench line. The Americans were entirely too stubborn for such a move and instead their commander ordered them to, “Die where you stand!” The mixture of Army and Marines dug fighting holes with bayonets and bare hands and waited for the attack. They didn’t have to wait long.

On 3 June, the Germans conducted a massed bayonet charge designed to break the upstart Americans. The upstart Americans responded by keeping their rifles and machine guns silent until the German advance reached the 100 yard mark whereupon the troops received the shouted order to fire at will. The Germans learned Americans could shoot too as the Kaiser’s forces fell by the hundreds, mowed down by deadly accurate fire from shallowly dug in Americans.

Badly mauled, the Germans retreated to a trench line just the other side of Belleau Wood. The French were nominally impressed with the American show of fighting acumen but now strongly advised the American commanders to withdraw from the field to better prepared positions farther back. A Marine captain who overheard the talk of retreat blurted out one of the most famous retorts in all of American military history when he replied, quite loudly, “RETREAT?! HELL, MAN, WE JUST GOT HERE!” The Marines stayed where they were.

Not content with waiting on the Germans to advance again, the Americans launched their own attack in their sector by driving ahead through the woods themselves towards an objective known as Hill 142. The Marines led the way, but in this instance had let the Germans get the better of them. The Marines failed to reconnoiter the wood carefully before the attack and ran directly into two German divisions who didn’t know they weren’t supposed to be there.

The Americans pressed the attack home with bayonets fixed, but men fell like wheat before a scythe. Still, no order for retreat came down the line and so the attack went on. By nightfall, the Americans held Hill 142 with its commanding view of the battlefield below, but of the two companies who started the attack most were dead, including nine of the eleven officers in the charge.

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First Sergeant Dan Daly

On 6 June, the Marines formed up and launched another assault, this time into the Belleau Wood proper. Before the attack, First Sergeant Dan Daly, twice recipient of the US Medal of Honor in other theaters, looked out over the open ground they would soon be marching across. He noted the enemy positions on the other side then turned to his men and encouragingly screamed at them to, “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” His rallying cry is now part of USMC lore and Sergeant Daly one of the most revered Marines.

It would take more than bravado to win this day, however. The Americans stepped off in tight formation, line upon line and found out what the French and British had been trying to tell them all along — attacking shoulder to shoulder in the face of machine guns was a terrible idea. The Marines lost more men on that fateful day than they had ever lost before in a single battle and the total casualty count would not be eclipsed until the worst island invasions of the Pacific Theater in the Second World War. Still, enough troops made it to the German lines to break through and force the Germans into retreat. By nightfall, the Americans held the side of Belleau Wood nearest Paris.

What followed was nearly a solid month of brutal fighting in the wood itself. Natural barriers paired with manmade entrapments turned the scene into one of attack and counter attack often with intense hand to hand fighting. The woods were often so thick with smoke and mist men couldn’t see each other to tell friend from foe. In all, it would take a total of six major assaults by the Marines at a huge cost of 9,777 casualties, included 1,811 killed, to finally expel the Germans from the wood entirely, but this objective was accomplished near nightfall on 26 June 1918.

America had gotten her baptism of blood and fire on the European Continent.

According to legend, the US Marines earned a nickname from the Battle of Belleau Wood. As the story goes, a captured German officer was incredulous at the way the Marines had fought during the battle and he demanded to see these “teufelshunde”, which is German for “devil dogs.” Whether the exchange ever took place is doubtful, but the Marines have been known as Devil Dogs ever since.

Love y’all, and keep your feet clean.

Papa and the Braves Redux

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Papa Wham’s Atlanta Braves cap hangs right where he left it, 15 18 over 20 baseball seasons ago.

Today would have been my beloved Papa Wham’s birthday, so I’m re-running this post from a few years ago in his honor.

I take my love of baseball in general and the Atlanta Braves in particular from my Papa Wham. In 1978, Granny surprised Papa with a special present when she signed their house up to be the first “Cablevision Equipped” residence on Weathers Circle. Now Papa could watch the Braves on the new Turner Broadcasting Channel out of Atlanta right from the comfort of his favorite couch instead of having to go sit in the car and listen to the games on the car radio.

From that first season until I was old enough to stay by myself several years later, Papa and I didn’t miss a game through the week and I’d often make Mama take me to Granny and Papa’s on Saturday or Sunday or both so he and I could watch the weekend games together.

If you call yourself a Braves fan, I have one question for you? Who are Chris Chambliss, Glenn Hubbard, Rafael Ramirez, Bob Horner, and Bruce Benedict? If you don’t know those names, you are not a Braves fan, you are a BANDWAGON jumper who attached yourself to Papa’s beloved team AFTER their meteoric rise from worst to first and the subsequent instant classic that was the 1991 World Series. Those names are the starting infielders from the 1981 Braves team that finished a miserable 15 games back of the NL WEST leaders and eventual World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Papa and I watched them all. I lay on the floor next to his couch and listened as Papa told Bobby Cox how to manage a game through the television.

Papa and I claimed we would pay any price for tickets if Atlanta ever went to the World Series. For all the years we watched WTBS, however; the Braves making the post-season, much less the Fall Classic, seemed about as likely as country ham and cheese grits as the breakfast special of a kosher diner. Still, we watched faithfully. Dale Murphy was a bright spot and when he won the MVP in 1982, we two were deliriously happy. I got my license a couple of years later and stayed by myself at night while Mama worked, but come summer, at least twice a week and one weekend day I’d pull in to the driveway and run in just in time to watch some new hotshot throw the first pitch of the game.

I went off to Clemson in the fall of 1990. The Braves were on their way to a fantastic finish a mere 26 games out of first. Papa and I groused about that season all winter. Then came 1991. All summer, I’d cut grass, wash cars, and ride up to Granny and Papa’s to see the Braves play. It LOOKED like they’d finally put an awesome team together, but 15 years of utter futility had taught us not to be optimistic. Still, they kept winning and by the time I went back to school, the woe-begotten Braves were making a run at the NL West pennant.

I can remember this next part just as easily as if it were yesterday. I was standing in front of a big screen TV in The Tiger Town Tavern. It was after midnight; the Braves were playing the Pirates in the National League Championship Series. The winner of THIS ONE GAME, unbelievably, would go to the WORLD FREAKING SERIES. A new kid named John Smoltz pitched a complete game and shut out the vaunted Pirate batting line up — including a young (and much smaller pre-steroid Barry Bonds). The Braves were going to the Series!

I almost got in a fist fight pushing my way to the front of the pay phone line (this was way before everyone had a cell phone) and called Papa. Granny answered the phone and just as I asked her if Papa was up to see the game winning run, I heard him call from the den, “World Series, Shannon; we’re going to the World Series!” Granny just laughed and took him the phone where we replayed every crucial at bat during the entire game.

Unfortunately, Papa took sick later that week. I’d scraped up enough to get us tickets to at least one game, but he was under the weather and Granny said “NO.” So that was that. I ended up watching three of the seven games of the Series against the Twins with him and we were on the phone talking as we watched Gene Larkin break our hearts with the winning hit in that unbelievable game seven.

Papa and I never did get to see the Braves play in any of the World Series of that awesome 15 year run when it seemed the Braves couldn’t be beaten anymore. He was on oxygen by the time little Francisco Cabrera’s pinch hit and Sid Bream’s slide sent us to the 1992 World Series, but I sat with him and together we watched Joe “Touch ‘Em All” Carter and the Toronto Blue Jays beat us. A baseball team from CANADA. The shame was too great to bear.

Papa was gone by the time the Braves made the series again in 1995. He died of a heart attack in Daddy’s arms right after the All-Star break. His beloved Atlanta baseball cap hung on the top peg of the hat rack in the kitchen right where he’d put it the week before . . . the last time he’d worn it before he became bed-ridden. I wanted to bury it with him, but Aunt Cathy couldn’t stand the idea of parting with it, so we didn’t. I’m glad now. It’s still right where he hung it. In two decades, it’s never been moved. Cathy will gently dust it off every now and again, but it’s waiting for him.

I sat alone in tears and watched the Braves beat the Indians in game 6 of the 1995 World Series to win the only World Series they would win during their streak. The next day, I cut the box score out of the local paper, had it laminated, wrapped it in a plastic bag and buried it under the gravel in the corner of Papa’s plot. The Braves haven’t won another series since. I guess all the magic of their greatest fan just petered out once he was gone. I miss him terribly and to this day, fifteen eighteen over twenty years on, I can’t watch a Braves game without thinking of him.

So to all you fathers and grandfathers out there, take in a game and make some time for each other. I love you, Papa; and happy birthday.

And I love y’all!

Keep your feet clean now!

Where Are The Children?

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red coatI don’t write political leaning posts as a general rule. I try to stay as apolitical as possible, for my mental health as much as anything because watching the state of our country today played out on the news is as anxiety producing an activity as one could participate in. Sometimes, however, an exception comes along and I cannot, in good conscience, stay silent. The current situation at the US-Mexico border is one of these exceptions.

Since at least early May, the US Border Patrol, under orders from the US Department of Justice, headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has implemented a so-called “zero tolerance” policy to those crossing the border illegally. In and of itself, this policy would not have sent me to the computer regardless of what I think. What has happened as an unintended (I hope) consequence of this policy, however, is the forced separation of over 2,300 children from their parents at the border.

The children taken from their parents range in age from middle teens all the way down to eight months old with fully two-thirds of them being what the government is calling “tender age” children meaning they are under twelve years old. I can say, with proof and without hyperbole, the United States government is taking babies from their families who cannot speak, walk, or in any meaningful way care for themselves.

Factions exist in this country that do not see a problem with this policy. A Fox News broadcaster this morning made the statement that separating families was “not a problem.” His reason? “They aren’t doing this to people in Idaho; these are children from another country.” Of course, he is right; these children are from another country.

I also had a person post on my Facebook feed the self-evident advice of “If they don’t want to be separated from their kids, they shouldn’t come to America illegally.” Many commenters supported him and agree with his assessment of the situation.

At what point did we become a nation that strips children away from their families? When did we start taking infants out of their mothers’ arms? As a country, we have fought wars to keep other countries from doing the exact same thing, and if this were taking place somewhere like China -which in all likelihood it is to some extent — we would see impassioned speeches on the floor of both chambers of Congress and it would not take long before a nation doing something so soulless would — at the least — be facing stiff sanctions from the United States.

Now we are the ones doing the separation.

When did we stoop so low?

slavesActually, this action is not without precedent in our history. For 300 years we took black babies from their mothers’ arms and sold them without compunction to others. For over a century, we took Indian children from their homes and families and sent them to places like Carlisle Indian School where white teachers tried to “save the soul by killing the Indian” in the boys and girls. We have proven as a country we are not above doing what we are now doing; it hides like bad code within our country’s DNA in places we don’t like to talk about in “nice” company.

indiansThe public is rallying behind these children. Pressure mounted so much on the White House to do something that our notoriously truculent President Trump went against his iron-fisted immigration policy and signed an Executive Order legally stopping the forced separations. Yet, when questioned closely, a least one White House aide said, on record, the separations were likely to continue anyway because of nothing less than inertia. The Department of Justice doesn’t seem intent on stopping any time soon.

Even if they did, even if from this moment forward not a single child more was separated from his or her family, what about the 2,300+ who are already in tent cities, warehouses, and former Wal-Marts across the nation? I deliberately avoided the phrase “in the system” because no “system” is serving these children.

I serve in my church’s nursery. I hold babies for an hour or so each week so their parents can worship without worry. Before I get that baby, the parents have to provide fingerprints — which are kept on file — and a photo id to a ten member team whose only job is ensuring the safety of the children we get. Once the parents submit their fingerprints and are identified by the Welcome Team, the parents get an entry slip. They bring that slip to me in the baby room and give me the slip and their baby. Halfway through the service, a member of the Welcome Team comes around and visual checks each child against the entry slips and against the class list they print off once the service begins. At the end of service, the parents submit prints and id once again and are issued an exit slip. They bring me that exit slip and once I verify they are who they say they are, they get the baby back. We haven’t lost one yet in 25 years even though we have had more than one attempt made to take a child under our care.

THAT is a system, folks.

No one in either the Trump White House or the Department of Justice, when questioned about the eventual reunification of these 2,300+ children with their families has provided a shred of a plan as to how this is to be done OR WHEN this is to be done. Keep this in mind, the parents are in detention centers around the border in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, but in many instances their children have been flown or bussed as far away as Miami, Florida; Richmond, Virginia; and New York City, New York. These children in many cases are THOUSANDS of miles from their families. Some of them have not spoken to a family member even on the phone for WEEKS.

These children are in centers and foster homes scattered all across the country like so many feathers from an exploded feather pillow. How are we supposed to believe our government is competent enough to have kept up with every single child over those great distances and has the ability and wherewithal to match each child up with the proper family? Our government loses track of people and things every day. What are the odds of at least some of these children NEVER seeing their families again?

I realize plenty of people don’t see a problem. Many agree, openly or tacitly, with the Fox News anchor who says these are other countries’ children. More specifically, these are brown countries and black countries children, and who really cares about them anyway? I know more than one person who feels the world has too many brown and black people in it already.

What would you do if it was YOUR child?

What if YOUR eight-month old infant was taken from you and sent a thousand miles away in the company of complete strangers? What if you miss their first steps? Or their first words? Who is raising YOUR baby? What is standing between YOUR baby and neglect? Abuse? A pedophile? Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

Ask yourself this chilling question: With things as up in the air and lax as they are at present, how hard would it be for human traffickers to get their hands on many of these babies and small children who some people already think we don’t have to worry about because “these aren’t our children; they are from another country?” We see stories every month of babies snatched by traffickers from their mothers’ grocery carts with the mothers standing right there. Who is going to stop them from taking a child no one is really even looking for?

Call and email your Congressmen and Senators. Get even more pressure on the government to put these families back together while everyone has a reasonable chance of getting back to the right place. Deport the illegal immigrants if that what has to be done, but in the name of all that is holy, put the families back together before this situation gets any worse. death-of-the-girl-in-red

#TBT: Daddy’s not the Cadillac Kind

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These boys sang my life story.

These boys sang my life story.

I wrote this for Fathers’ Day five years ago. With Fathers’ Day coming up Sunday, I thought I would rerun it and maybe Daddy will see it. Hope you like it.

Driving home from supper last night, Budge and I heard Confederate Railroad singing their hit song, “Daddy Never Was The Cadillac Kind.” Now the boys in Confederate Railroad wrote the two songs that perfectly sum up my relationships with my parents. Mama’s ringtone from the day I was able to get mp3 ringtones was “Jesus and Mama” by Confederate Railroad; they wrote that song for me and her, they just didn’t know it. Then Daddy fits just perfectly with “Cadillac Kind.”  In the second verse of the song, the narrator is describing how he told his Daddy about buying a nice big new car. In his words, “Daddy asked how I bought it; I told him on credit, and Daddy just smiled, I’ll never forget it.” That brings to mind one of the most memorable conversations I ever had with Daddy and, this being Father’s Day, I thought I’d tell it as an interlude in my beach recollection.

So here’s what happened. I was eighteen and fresh out of high school in fall of 1989. I’d already abandoned my plan to go to Clemson University with some friends of mine and instead was working at Advance Auto Parts and planned to start classes at Greenville Tech later in the year. Each of those items is worth a story in its own right, and maybe I’ll tell them one day, but for now, suffice it to say I was in the grip of new car fever. For the last few months, I’d parked Marilyn — my ’69 Chevelle SS that would pass everything on the road but a gas station — and started driving a little Ford Fiesta, which is another story worth vignette. In any event, I was through with used cars and wanted to buy something new, so one Friday afternoon, I picked up my check from Advance and went with Mama to what was then Crossroads Chevrolet between Mauldin and Simpsonville.

What I went to get!

What I went to get!

I knew exactly what I wanted and it was sitting in the showroom when we walked in. It was a 1990 Chevrolet Camaro IROC Z-28, smoke grey with factory tinted windows, t-tops, and high pro v-8 engine. Sticker price was $22,999.00, which was a ton of money in 1989.

I pointed to the car when the salesman walked up and told him that’s what I intended to buy. He opened the driver side door, got me seated, went around and got in the passenger’s seat, handed me the keys, and I was off on my first test drive ever. Five miles of curvy roads and one carsick and extremely pale salesman later, we were back on the lot and then in his little cubicle. I filled out a mile of paperwork and signed my name to hundreds of forms. Mama didn’t have to sign anything. I was so proud. He said it would be about two hours before he could give us “a decision.” So we went to eat lunch.

Right here, I need to explain something to y’all I’m not really proud of, but it is a fact of my existence. I suck at all things financial. Growing up, I never learned to save because we never had enough money around to have anything left over to save. I didn’t get an allowance, if I was with Mama, she bought what I needed or wanted if she had the money and if she didn’t, I did without. It’s where I picked up a phrase I use to this day to answer someone saying, “I want X or Y.” My answer is “People in Hell want ice water too.” If I was with Daddy, it was the same way. So I just never learned how to handle money well. I knew people got paid on Thursday and it was their job to spend it all because I figured if anything was left the next Wednesday, they’d come back and get it. I’m serious about this. To this day, if I’m not constantly vigilant, I can go through a pile of money of any size like poop through a goose and have a ball doing it. I lived with Mama and Mama’s budget was the same as what I use today. It’s called the Pile Method. You get paid, put the money in the bank, and sit down with a checkbook and a pile of bills and write out payments until the money or the pile is gone. Some weeks the money won, most weeks the pile won. To this day, I do that with only a little variation. So again, I suck at all things financial.

After lunch, we went back to the showroom where the very somber faced salesman sadly gave me the news that GMAC Financial had refused my loan application on the Camaro. I was heartbroken and he almost got to see a big boy bawl. I wanted that car so bad I could taste it. He saved the day, however, by telling me he HAD gotten me approved for another vehicle. He took the lead and showed me, at the very back of the lot, the vehicle I would drive off the lot with that day. It was a 1989 Chevy S-10 Cameo EL pickup truck — base model, sticker price $7999. Now when I say “base model” I don’t mean “no power windows” or something like that; I mean it didn’t have a RADIO — just a hole in the dash covered by a blockoff plate. No power steering, no power brakes, no NOTHING. It was a 4 cylinder 5 speed manual drivetrain and it DID have A/C, but only because GM wouldn’t ship a car below the Mason-Dixon Line without A/C and expect to sell it.

And what I got.

And what I got.

I paid $200 down and signed my name to a loan agreement of $184 per month. The salesman handed me the keys, I kissed Mama on the cheek, and took off in my new ride to show Daddy what a big boy I was. Daddy had just gotten home from eight hours at Laurens Glass Plant. He was sitting in the shade of his workshop shed and stood up when I pulled into the yard. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe I was 18, which made Daddy 38 years old. I walked up the hill and asked him how he liked “my new truck!” He looked at it thoughtfully for a long moment, then turned and the conversation progressed like this:

Daddy asked me, “How much was it?” I told him, “$7999.00.” He nodded.

Then he asked, “What’d you put down on it?” I told him, “$200.00.” He nodded again.

Then he wanted to know if Mama had co-signed with me and I proudly told him she had not; I was grown and making my own way in the world. I thought I was doing well and was smiling like a bloodhound pooping peach pits. Then Daddy asked his next question.

“What’s your payment?”  “$184 per month, sir!” That brought a wince, but the next few questions almost got me killed.

“How many months?” “Um, I don’t know?” Frown.

“What’s your interest rate?” Again, I had to say “Um, I don’t know?” That wasn’t the right answer.

“So, you just bought a truck? No idea how many payments? Don’t know the interest rate? Do you have the paperwork you signed?” I just nodded. “Go get it.” I went and got it and when I brought it back to Daddy, he sat down in the door of his workshop and read over everything, which was the first time anyone but the salesman read those papers. Apparently, he found the payment schedule AND the interest rate because he looked up at me.

He didn’t look angry, he didn’t even look upset. The best way I can describe his face was the way Jackie Gleason’s face looked during this scene in Smokey and the Bandit. He said, “You are paying $184.00 for SIXTY months. That’s FIVE years, son.” I didn’t know what to say. He continued, “You are paying 16% interest! You are basically buying that truck on a credit card!” Once again, I didn’t have any idea what to say. He finished up, “You just saw a truck you wanted and the man got you in it however he could. I wish you had come to me, son, and we could have gone together.” You may notice a pattern here, but I still didn’t know what to say. Finally, Daddy just smiled the same exasperated smile Budge says I use with her sometimes and said, “C’mon. Take me for a ride in your new truck.”

Twenty-five years later, I know the interest rate of every loan, credit card, and savings account I have and it’s all because of one conversation. I also know why Daddy was so aggravated about the interest rate. See, he bought his and Teresa’s house they live in now during the height of the Jimmy Carter administration. Daddy paid 17% interest on that house and it made him hate interest in all its forms; think about that the next time you hear a commercial for refinancing at 4%!

That’s my Daddy.

Happy Fathers Day to all the daddies out there and y’all be sure to keep your feet clean!

Love y’all.

#TBT: Speak Softly and Carry a Frying Pan

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I just passed my 5th Mother’s Day without Mama. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately so I decided to repost this from not long after she first passed away. It’s still one of my favorite stories about her and me. Ironically, my grass needs cutting right now and I don’t want to do it anymore than I did then. It’s originally from May 10, 2013. Hope you like it.

As I face my first Mother’s Day without Mama, I thought I’d tell y’all one of my favorite stories ever about me and Mama. I have been known to embellish my tales, but this one is the absolute truth.

I was sixteen and as a byproduct of such a sage and wizened age, I knew everything about everything and if you didn’t believe me, all you had to do was ask. Mama was 34 — a year younger than my Budge is right now. We were living in “The Little Barn,” which was our name for the 1960-something vintage trailer we called home for several years. It pretty much was a barn, no central heat . . . no heat at all in the back of the house where my room was . . . and no central air, just a window unit mounted in the wall in the living room. The carpet was hand-me-down from my aunt after she’d changed rugs at her place. It was a sight for sore eyes and it rocked like a sailboat in a hurricane when the wind blew, but it was home.

This is what I cut grass with .  .  .  no lie.

This is what I cut grass with . . . no lie.

Anyway, this particular day was a Thursday right around this time of year. I remember it well because the grass needed to be cut and that was my job. I never particularly looked forward to cutting our grass because my instrument for mowing our 3/4 acre lot was a 19 inch bladed push mower and it was decidedly not self-propelled. This was also in the days before wonder drugs like Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra had been invented. I’ve chronicled my battle with hay fever before in these pages so I won’t go into great detail now, but suffice it to say by the time I finished cutting all that volunteer fescue with my Fisher-Price toy lawnmower, I could either endure the rest of the day sneezing and itching or take two Benadryl capsules and slip into a coma. But I digress.

It was a Thursday and I had three things propelling me towards my doom: my new ’79 Mustang, a newly upgraded drivers license, and daylight. A few years later at Clemson University, weekends always started on Thursdays, but a young man tearing out the door after supper on what was still a school night then was severely frowned upon in Mama’s household.

I had one hand on the doorknob with visions of picking up Robby and just wandering around the countryside telling lies, going a little too fast around curves, listening to loud music, and hoping to catch a glimpse of that elusive creature — the beautiful teenage girl. Mama was washing the dishes from supper and at that moment, she was cleaning out the 12″ cast iron frying pan (or skillet to you yankees among my limited readership) she’d used to fry my favorite breaded okra with earlier in the evening. She had just placed that hunk of pig iron on the stove eye where it lived when she noticed me still in “school clothes” and fixing to walk out the door. She turned back to the sink and as she did, she asked me a question — a simple question really — that would change my estimation of Mama for the rest of my life. She said, “Son, where are you going?”

I could have answered with any number of phrases, the absolute truth being best, that I was going to get Robby, put a few hard Community Cash earned dollars worth of gas in the car and drive around wasting time and daylight. That’s all I had to say and the evening would have simply progressed on. Unfortunately, I was sixteen and a boy. I also possessed one of the smartest mouths in three counties and I had a delightful talent for opening it at the wrong time and letting it say the wrong thing. Tonight, my smart mouth shoved my much less bulky good sense out of the way and blurted one word, “OUT!”

Mama paused in her dishwashing and visibly tensed, but she almost immediately went back to the suds in the sink and her back asked me a second innocuous question, “Okay, and when do you plan on being back?” Once I let my mouth off its rather long chain, it had a tendency to overdo things so I missed the chance to have a pleasant evening when I replied with yet another one word answer, “LATER!”

Again, Mama tensed up. I learned later on that weekend that I had just used the same intonation, phrasing, and even voice patterns my Daddy used when he and Mama were dating and later on when they were still married and he was off to do some mischief. Mama HATED that “Out; Later” nonsense coming from Daddy. She didn’t like it any better coming from me, but what happened next is what sealed my fate. She had again started washing the dishes and softly, without turning around, she said, “That’s funny, son. Now really, where are you going and when do you plan on being back? It’s a school night.”

Gentle reader, have you ever had an out of body experience where you have seemed to stand beside yourself as you did something unbelievably stupid and your astral self is screaming at your physical self “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger, Will Robinson!” But your physical self just plowed right on through that big red mental STOP sign up ahead? Well, that’s how I felt when I spoke next.

I was sixteen and basically grown — in my own eyes — and I had a car Daddy had bought me so Mama had no business telling ME — A MAN — where to go, do, and be back. As Daddy had famously told her himself on more than one occasion “No damn woman is going to tell me what to do.” So, I spoke again and very nearly paid for my words with my life when I said, loudly with all the confidence of a teenage boy who feels ten feet tall and bulletproof, “IT’S NONE OF YOUR (horrible expletive I’d never used in front of Mama deleted) BUSINESS WHERE I’M GOING OR WHEN (second horrible never used in Mama’s presence expletive deleted) I PLAN TO BE BACK! I’M A GROWN MAN!”

In the right hands, deadly weapon.

In the right hands, deadly weapon.

As God whom I serve is my witness, I didn’t know that little woman could move that fast. In one smooth, swift motion, she pivoted on her left foot, snatched up that cast iron frying pan in her right hand, and stepped and threw a sidearm cookware fastball that would have made Kent Tekulve blush with shame it was so perfect. I never saw it coming until it was too late to do anything about it. That heavy hunk of iron spun a few times between me and Mama and — mercifully — struck me right in the solar plexus with the lip instead of the handle. If the pan had rotated another half turn, we wouldn’t be having this conversation because I’d have been skewered by an iron handle.

The force of the blow staggered me backwards and I caught my knees on the arm of the sofa, lost my balance, and sprawled backwards, arms flailing, to land flat on my back after cracking my skull on the coffee table on the way down. As I lay there in a dazed stupor with my head and chest throbbing while my feet still twitched in the air on the sofa cushion like a mosquito on a date with DDT, I heard the refrigerator door open, something get removed, and footsteps coming towards me. Before I could clear my head at all, Mama slung the contents of the ice water pitcher all over my face and upper body, causing me to sit up and split my forehead on the bottom of the coffee table as I rose.

As I sat spluttering and breathless, Mama put her face millimeters away from mine, which was good because my eyes were having trouble focusing, and said very quietly and carefully, “You will never speak to me in that manner again; do you understand?” I could only nod my most vehement, impassioned assent. Then she said, “When you get your breath back, you get up, change clothes, and go cut the grass, yes?”

My pride was soaked and my head and chest were pained but that skinny bundle of good sense had whipped and hog-tied my smart mouth for a change so all I could croak was, “Yes, ma’am,” as Mama nodded and walked off.

I love her still and God knows I miss her.

Love y’all as well, keep those feet clean, and as you honor or remember your own mothers this Sunday, if you’d say a prayer for me, I’d certainly appreciate it.

#TBT: I-85 Take Me Home To The Place I Belong!

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It all started with a simple high school baseball game.

I originally posted this back in April 2012. I had lunch with Robby not long ago and thought it’d be a good time for a rerun.

This post is the direct result of a memory jog brought on by reading about some random high school baseball playoff. Looking at the box score of a couple of schools I’ve never heard of took me back to one of the most confusing nights of my life that also just happened to involve a high school playoff game . . . sort of.

As Kid Rock so eloquently puts it, “It was 1989 (technically, 1990), my thoughts were short, my hair was long . . . ” My alma mater, Laurens District 55 High School, was playing for the State 4A Baseball Championship against Lancaster High School. My long-time best friend, Robby, asked me to go to the first of the three game series with him and we watched the Green and Gold dismantle the Bruins at Laurens’ stadium. The second game was the next night in Lancaster and Robby asked me to go to that one as well.

At that point, Robby and I managed to maintain what was left of our grade-school spanning friendship. He hadn’t been home from his freshman year at college long  when the playoffs in question started. He’d gone off to Clemson University while I had chosen a girl over my education and stayed home — which is another story for another time — and gone to Greenville Tech. (Spoiler alert: I came to my senses and rectified that situation in the fall of ’90.) So we agreed to meet at his house the next night about 4 and make the three hour drive to Lancaster in time for the game.

Now if you look at the relative positions of Lancaster High School and our home town of Gray Court on a map of South Carolina, you’ll probably start to wonder how in the world it can take three hours to make such a seemingly short trip. The answer — as an old man once told me — is simple, you can’t get there from here. What I mean is, then as now, NO road worth driving connects Gray Court and Lancaster. What’s more, you never ACTUALLY reach a town in the course of the entire trip there. You always “head towards” a town but make a turn before you get to the town limits. For example, in the first leg of the trip, we “headed towards” Union, but turned before we got there in order to “head towards” Chester. The upshot of it all is what looks like it should take 45 minutes to an hour of hard driving takes 3 or more hours of winding country roads through one of the most desolate areas of my home state.

Our chariot for the evening’s events. Robby’s looked almost exactly like this one.

We made it to the game without a hitch, riding in Robby’s high school graduation present – a frost white 1989 Chevy Beretta. It was a beautiful day full of  bright spring sunshine. Once there, we watched as Laurens was handed its hind-quarters on a silver platter by a pitcher named “Pep” Harris who would eventually play for the Cleveland Indians and the California Angels. The boy was “throwing bb’s” as the baseball expression goes and he made our visiting team look sickly and anemic, which future major league pitchers often do to their high school competition. I got to shake his hand before Robby and I packed up and headed home.

Here’s where the fun began.

See, this was in my younger and less responsible days when I preferred the company of my dear uncles James Beam and Jonathan Daniels over lesser forms of entertainment. Robby shared my love of the “family”, though his preferences ran more towards Messrs. Bartles and James. In any event, we had brought along several “family members” on this particular adventure and by the time the sun went down, most of those dearly beloveds had gone on to a new place of residence. In short, we were a bit less coordinated for our trip home than we’d be on our trip out.

We did fine until we were “headed towards” Chester. Then, for reasons that aren’t completely clear even now, we went UNDER a bridge that we were supposed to go OVER. That would have been trouble enough, but what with our relative lack of thought processing compounded by a joyous rendition of the ENTIRE AC/DC discography played on one of the first in-dash CD players I’d ever seen, we did not notice our mistake for nearly an hour.

When we realized we should have long since reached Union, we started looking for road signs. We were on a two lane road in the middle of the boondocks. Road signs were at a premium. Now two 19 year old guys are not lost so long as there is gas in the tank; they are merely taking the scenic route, so we weren’t worried. The fuzzy effects of our erstwhile uncles had worn off so we were in full possession of our outstanding senses of direction. We reasoned that “home” was to our left, so the very next intersection we found, we turned left. After spending twenty minutes on that road, we figured we must not have turned far enough left so at the next crossroads, we hung another left.

We started to feel this way after midnight.

After twenty more minutes of driving through scrub pine and cotton in the desolate northern borderlands of South Carolina, we came to another crossroads. At that point, a glance at the fuel gauge told the two of us we were dangerously close to getting lost. Unfortunately, we had not the foggiest idea where we were since this was well before a future POTUS Bill Clinton opened up the GPS system for civilian use. I hate to admit it, but we resorted to flipping a coin. The coin chose “right turn” and five minutes later we were at the chain link locked gate of an abandoned cotton mill. After throwing that particular quarter over the aforementioned gate, we headed back the way we came on what amounted to a left hand turn.

About ten minutes later, our luck changed somewhat. After two and a half hours of roaming around aimlessly in the dark, we saw our first road sign. It read “Charlotte 35 miles.” Somehow, we had managed to wander to within 35 miles of the largest city in North Carolina. We were no less than 270 degrees in the wrong direction. Undeterred, we now had knowledge, somewhat anyway, of our position. We still needed to keep going left. At the next intersection, we did. Twenty minutes later, we came to an intersection with a sign pointing off to the right reading “Charlotte 45” above some other places I’d never heard of and I’ve lived in this state all my life.

Now at that point, Robby — ever the stubborn optimist — wanted to turn left again. One glance at the dash, however, told me we were now SERIOUSLY close to being lost so I said, “Temp, let’s go to Charlotte.”

Click to enlarge!

He looked at me like I had two heads and asked, “Why do you want to go to Charlotte? We need to get home.”

I replied, “I KNOW. That’s why I think we should go to Charlotte.”

He said, “Why?” I asked, “Do you know where we are?” He shook his head then said, “But what good will it do to go to Charlotte? That’s even further from home.”

Finally, exasperated, hungry, tired, and my throat sore from imitating Bon Scott and Brian Johnson, I said, “I KNOW THAT DAMMIT, BUT I ALSO KNOW THAT I KNOW HOW THE HELL TO GET HOME FROM CHARLOTTE!!!!”

We turned right and headed towards Charlotte.

Along the way, about ten minutes later, we crossed a road with a sign reading “SC 92”. Before I could say anything, Robby had already slammed on the brakes and did a half doughnut turn onto that road. Two hours and a seedy gas station stop later and we were home because Robby knew what I did . . . SC 92 dead-ends onto SC 14 and SC 14 is also Main Street of Gray Court.

So the moral of the story? Don’t hang out with your “uncles” then try to drive . . . or navigate either for that matter, but if you do and you end up on the backside of nowhere, head for Charlotte because I-85’ll take you to I-385 and I-385’ll get you to Gray Court where you can stop at Mama’s and have her call me and I’ll come and try to get you home.

Love ya’ll and keep those feet clean!

Great War Wednesday: Kaiserschlacht

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German Stormtrooper carrying the MP18, an early submachinegun.

Since the Race to the Sea ended in 1914, the Great War on the Western Front had stagnated into grinding, muddy trench warfare. Attack and counterattack over small pieces of no mans land had added no appreciable territory for either side. In March-April 1918, both sides were roughly in the same positions they had been in when movement became too deadly four years before.

The main reason for the lack of movement was the lack of sufficient numbers of troops available to storm across the bullet swept no man’s land and land an attack on the enemy that would endure the immediate counterattack. If one side could get a local, massive superiority in troop numbers, theoretically it could steamroll the other side and get movement going again.

The Entente Powers were about to get their massive local superiority vis a vis the numbers of doughboys streaming across the Atlantic Ocean bound for the trenches. Once the human potential and industrial might of the New World landed full scale on the shores of France, a German defeat was only a matter of time. It looked as if Germany was done until a miracle happened — the Russian Revolution and formation of the Soviet Union took Russia out of the war entirely. For the first time in four long years, Germany had what it had hitherto only dreamed of, a single front war.

The end of the war on the Eastern Front made the 50+ divisions formerly used to fight the Russians available for action on the Western Front. Germany wasted no time packing all those men and their supplies onto trains and started steaming west as fast as the locomotives could go. It was a puncher’s chance, but maybe it would be enough. Germany was launching the Kaiserschlacht or “Kaiser’s War” but it has become known as The Spring Offensive.

The Spring Offensive was a series of attacks by the newly reinforced German lines up and down the Western Front, but mainly concentrating in Belgium, close to the original path of attack from 1914. The first and strongest attack was codenamed “Michael” for the archangel who legend says leads the Heavenly Host. On 21 March, a massive bombardment, the largest of the war, unleashed more than 1.1 million shells over a 150 mile front. Then a new type of German unit began streaming out of the German trenches to slam into the reeling Entente lines.

Germany had learned a great many lessons in the four years of the war and one was the value of movement. They, and the Allies, learned that the real problem was movement was one could only go so far before overrunning supply lines at which point the attack would fizzle out and break against a farther line of trenches like a weak ocean wave. The German Stormtrooper units were supposed to solve that problem.

The Stormtroopers were the handpicked best of all the German troops available on the Western Front. They were not going to be dependent on supply lines because they were going to carry their supplies on their backs. The general, greatly simplified, idea called for Stormtroopers to press the attack directly behind the artillery barrage. Rather than rank upon rank of troops trying to storm an entire line, these troops would run through relatively small openings in the opposite lines and fan out in the rear. They were looking for high value command and control centers to attack and leaving the bypassed front units to be mopped up by regular troops coming later.

In a show of force that ominously foreshadowed the Wermacht Blitzkrieg twenty-two years later, the Stormtroopers hit the lines around the Somme River and broke through with precision attacks aided in some places by German armor. The attacks worked. All up and down the attacked front, the Entente forces gave way and were relentlessly pushed back. Once again the German army was on the move and had as its destination Paris. The Germans knew they couldn’t win a war of attrition anymore, but they thought if they could break through to Paris or at least close enough to the French capital for the French to feel the pressure they could possibly force the French to sue for an armistice and Germany could hold on to its territorial gains in the East and the West.

For a time, the plan worked. The holes did get punched and the infantry did follow up. Unfortunately, it couldn’t last for the same reason all the other offensives throughout the war had ultimately failed — the Stormtroopers could only carry so much on their backs and sooner rather than later, they ran out of supplies to continue the surge forward. Once that happened, the lines once again began to solidify. To make matters worse for the Germans, the Allies, once they realized what was happening, would simply evacuate low importance areas along the line and pull back. For example, the British mostly abandoned the Somme territory, giving back what had been won at such high cost in 1916, but which was now deemed expendable. As a result of Allied withdrawals and German surges, the Germans gained relatively great amounts of territory, but most of it consisted of “bulges” in the lines and a bulge required more troops to defend than a straight trench line and Germany’s initial troop superiority was fast beginning to wane.

In the end, the German tide broke against Allied defenses once again, albeit at a much higher tide that the previous four years, but still not as high as Paris. For all Germany’s gains, her army was a spent force. Six months of the Spring Offensive cost the Germans a million men killed, wounded, or captured — men they had no way of replacing. On the other side of the trenches, the doughboys were arriving in force and what they lacked in skill, and they certainly lacked skill, they made up for in enthusiasm and, most importantly, sheer numbers. Germany had lost the momentum and she would never recover it. Now, the next move was the Allies.

Not many more episodes of Great War Wednesday to go. It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since Belgium stood strong, but the last few months of the war would be far from easy. Germany wasn’t about to give up what she had won without a hard fight.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

Anxiety vs. Depression — A Primer

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I have been enduring one of the worst stretches of anxiety and depression since I was in high school. Lately I couldn’t cast Expecto Patronus if my life depended on it. The dementors would just have to take me. Budge assures me it is not, in fact, THE worst since I haven’t been hospitalized but I think I probably could have been sent to the psych ward two or three times in the last seven weeks were it not for the fact I refuse to ever voluntarily give up my freedom to a doctor’s whim again. If I am ever hospitalized again, it will be with a warrant, a straitjacket, and several large orderlies. It may help some people, but it just terrified me. So, I’ve been thinking — analyzing my condition and rather than just a single side of my mental health coin showing up, the last seven weeks have been categorized by mental “coin flips” and it seems the coin is always in the air and I have no idea or control over how it lands. I can only hope for it to land on the thin edge because that edge is where normal, calm, relatively happy days exist.

In the process of analyzing my current situation, I realize just how isolating these conditions are. I don’t think people are monsters. They want to help me, but they have absolutely no idea how. It leads to a lonely existence, especially when I’m alone most of the time anyway. Another thing I’ve noticed is how interchangeable in some people’s minds the concepts of anxiety and depression are. While the two are intertwined in many subtle ways, they do have their distinctions and, as the old adage goes, the devil is in the details.

Depression targets motivation and self-worth. When I’m depressed, and I don’t mean just in a bit of a funk, but really manifesting clinical depression, I have a hard time standing up. The first thing I have to do every morning is make the decision to get out of bed. I literally have to urge myself to stand up, cut the light on, and start the day. Depression becomes the “why bother” disease. For instance, take laundry, which we all agree is a task everyone has to deal with unless he is a nudist. A rational thinking person will look at a pile of laundry and she may think, “damn, I don’t want to do this laundry!” However, her motivation kicks in and she begins to think of all the reasons why this needs to get done now as opposed to later. Depression looks at laundry differently.

When I’m depressed, I see a pile of laundry as an insurmountable challenge. I think, “there’s no possible way to get all this sorted, washed, dried, folded, and put away.” Then the “why bother” kicks in, as in, “why bother doing laundry at all? As soon as I get one load done, two more will take its place. It’s not like I go out anyway, so how dirty can these clothes be? I just want to go back to bed.” Then, depression’s second insidious attack begins — self-worth. The laundry sits there in a pile and you can hear a voice in your head saying, “you’re pathetic! If you’d just man up and do this shit when you get a load together instead of waiting so long you wouldn’t have this problem! You know what? You’re right, go back to bed, you don’t deserve clean clothes anyway. People who DO stuff deserve clean clothes. Losers can wear the same things again.”

It’s a devastating one-two punch. First, you have to fight just to get up the momentum to take care of a task only to have your mind screaming at you just how worthless you are for not getting the task done already. It can be about ANYTHING, too. Right now I can name off a twenty-five item list of things that need to be done around the house. Just looking at the list in my head makes me tired which triggers the idea of “why bother?” After all, nothing you need to do will actually be done because grass grows and bushes grow and oil in cars wears out so no matter what you do, you’re going to be stuck. See, a rational person sees these tasks as a part of life; a depressed person sees them as almost punishments and of course you have the peanut gallery in your head screaming, “You bloody loser! You have the worst looking yard in the neighborhood and you deserve it! Losers don’t get clean yards OR clean oil! Just sit there and cry like a baby . . . it’s what you deserve!”

Another characteristic of depression, at least for me, is a seething, roiling, barely contained anger bordering on rage. I don’t know where I heard it but someone said “Depression is anger turned inward.” Whoever they were, they knew what they were talking about. I’ll just sit sometimes and think about throwing my phone through the wall or something along those lines. At times like that I feel like I am a single giant exposed nerve with no skin and the environment is scrubbing me with sandpaper. I’m never mad at anyone but myself though because I always think I should do better, or should have done better. I was a bit of a cutter when I was in high school and it actually was quite soothing, but the world is hard enough on teenagers who self-harm, it’s down right ferocious on middle aged men who cut themselves. We’re supposed to know better.

Anxiety works in an entirely different way. Anxiety is the “What If” disease. A rational person knows if he wants to eat he has to go to the grocery store, but a person dealing with anxiety sees the trip as nothing less dangerous than a trip to the headwaters of the Amazon. What if you have a panic attack? Remember, you had one last time and had to hurry out of the store! Anxiety is usually much more talkative than depression. It’s a constant chatter of “why hasn’t anyone called you? Is it because they hate you? Did you offend someone without knowing?” Sometimes it’s all about the future, “Oh dear, you know what could happen if we do X! We can’t do that! It’s too much risk.”

That’s another difference between my depression and my anxiety. I can only speak for myself, but depression is much more past focused and backward looking while anxiety is almost exclusively future oriented. One way I’ve analogized them is two huge, dark oceans, the Ocean of the Past and the Ocean of the Future and they swirl together in a maelstrom until they crest and break with unendurable force on the Beach of Now. Anything on that beach is going to get crushed: plans, hopes, dreams, normalcy itself, all drowned in a tide of voices.

Depression looks towards the past. Sometimes it can look almost telescopically into the past. It’s not unusual at all for me to agonize over things that happened to me as a child or bad experiences I had in high school. Most of all, depression expertly hunts out mistakes. If you screwed up, no matter how big or how small, a bout of depression WILL find it and like bamboo under fingernails push on the soft, tender spots of your psyche until it bleeds, and it’s accompanied the entire time by the chorus of “you idiot! How could you do something so undeniably stupid! No wonder you’re in such a sad state; you’ve never made a right choice in your life! Just look at all the people you hurt; look at all the damage you caused! IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!!”

Anxiety, on the other hand, peers into the future and it never, ever likes what it sees. Anxiety also like to do its talking at night. You’ll just be lying in bed planning to go to sleep when you think, “Wonder why my arm has been hurting so much lately? Is that related to why my hand is shaking? Have I got Parkinson’s Disease? Am I going to die? What happens if I die? Who will take care of Budge?! Budge . . . did she check her sugar enough today? Did you make sure she didn’t eat gluten? What if she dies? You’ll be all alone! You’re going to DIE ALONE!”

Sometimes, they team up with depression dredging up some awful pain from the past and tossing it like a downfield pass to anxiety who says, “Ah yes! Remember this bit of idiocy on your part? What’s going to keep you from doing it again? You know every time you open your mouth something stupid comes out? This is just proof. I’m just going to have to make sure we don’t go anywhere or do anything that might cause a repeat of this mistake.” Of course, depression piles on with “That’s right! Stay home! Stay in the bed! You don’t deserve to go and do because you’ll just screw it up!”

Those “voices!” Now when I say “voices” please understand I’m not “hearing voices” in the classical schizophrenic sense. I’m just anthropomorphizing my thoughts. I will say sometimes though it can feel like the voices actually are screaming. It happens at my lowest and when they start pounding on me and I’m in tears and near the fetal position, I have entertained the one way to shut them up entirely . . . but so far I’ve always managed to claw out of such darkness. Honestly though? I never come back from the edge for myself. If it was just me, I’d have punched my ticket a long time ago. Someone’s always needing taking care of though . . . Mama, Granny, Budge – of course. I always come back.

The amazing thing about dealing with anxiety and depression is the amount of expertise you encounter. For example, one of my favorites is have someone say, “You know, there’s nothing really wrong with you? It’s all in your head.” Awesome! Thank you random person or perhaps family member. I have a board certified psychiatrist and a board certified psychologist who would disagree with you, but thank you for letting me know a mental illness is, in fact all in my head. I do hope the irony is not lost.

Another great healing balm is “You just need to get out more and face the world! Face your problems head on!” Again, I appreciate the sentiment and as soon as I uncurl myself from the fetal position and cut the lights on so I can put some unstained clothes on, I’ll get right on that!

The worst, however, is to be a Christian and suffer from depression and anxiety. You get a whole different batch of advice and well meaning helpful hints. Let me just list some of the things other Christians have said to me over the years when I’ve been stupid enough to talk about my depression and anxiety in front of them:

  • If you prayed enough you wouldn’t feel this way.
  • You can’t possibly be a REAL Christian because REAL Christians don’t have mental illnesses . . . . they’re of the devil!
  • If you just focus on Jesus instead of yourself you’ll be fine and it’ll all go away.
  • You don’t need all those medicines; prayer is the answer.
  • You must not be very close to God. He wouldn’t let you suffer like this! (When I get this one I always want to say, ever read Job, asshole?)
  • Real Christians don’t think about suicide because suicide is an unforgivable sin!

That’s just some of the more common pieces of wisdom I’ve had sent my way by well-intentioned believers over the years. It’s not as bad now that I’m in a different church but, no offense, growing up Pentecostal with a mental illness, it’s a wonder I made it out alive.

So that’s it. That’s what I’ve been dealing with the last several weeks. Hopefully you got some information out of it that will help you connect with someone you know who’s struggling with depression or anxiety. Maybe you are one of the brotherhood / sisterhood yourself and you came across this post at a low point. I hope you know you aren’t alone and let me leave you with two pieces of advice that have sustained me through many long dark nights of the soul:

  • Suicide, no matter HOW tempting it can be at times, is ALWAYS a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
  • It’s ALWAYS a temporary problem because you’ll get past the hump or you’ll eventually die and it’ll be over then, but be sure to follow Item 1.

Love y’all, I mean that, it’s not something I just use as a tag line. Not enough people love each other so when I close with “Love y’all” I’m not just talking to hear my brains rattle. Anyway.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.