Author Archives: G. S. Feet

Giving Thanks This Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#TBT: Halloween at Aunt Nell’s

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

#TBT: Mighty Oaks From Little Acorns Grow!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#TBT Friday Night Lights Shine on the Friday Night Blues

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I originally published this about ten years ago. It’s been 20 years since I taught high school and I still miss kickoff every Friday during the football season.

In the five years since my last teaching contract renewed and I left education, I have endure a crippling wave of sadness during the first week of “back to school.” That sadness is never more acute and I never have to struggle harder to keep bullets out of my head, poison out of my system, or my car at the top of cliffs rather than the bottom than at six o’clock on the first full schedule Friday of high school football.

If you’ve never taught in a high school, I can’t adequately describe for you how important Friday nights are, especially here in the Southland. Any school with a football team is a beehive all day on Friday as the guys (and a girl or two) walk the halls in their jerseys and the cheerleaders wear their non-dress-code-conforming uniforms to school. The day is spent making plans for who is riding with whom to where and who is bringing the illicit substances to the bonfire or house party after the game.

I used to eat up every moment of it. Every Friday for the fifteen years I taught, I was young again for ten Fridays in the fall and as long as my school’s team managed to stay in the playoffs. The kids used to take me back to the Friday nights when my friends and I were the ones planning. From my freshman year through my junior year, I went to more games than I missed. I even went to a game or two my senior year even though the taste of bile and ashes had replaced the once-sweet euphoria by then, but that’s another story.

Several of my friends of those days were football players and one of my lasting regrets is never having tried to get on the team. I was acquainted with many of the cheerleaders and wrote essays for more than one of them so they could keep good enough grades to stay on the squad. My best buddy at the time, Robby, was first trumpet in the band, so I always sat as close to the band as possible. Another regret is never trying to get in the band. I guess I can chalk up my lack of participation to a few things. Some are gifted with athletic prowess and some with musical talent. My gift was, and is, memory. Some call it a gift; I lean more towards curse and agree with the Absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett when he says

“Memories are killing things. So you must not think of certain things, of those that are dear to you, or rather you must think of them, for if you don’t there is the danger of finding them, in your mind, little by little.”

God knows I don’t miss much about high school, but I do miss Friday nights. For those aforementioned years in education, I got those Friday nights back, especially the few years when my schools were desperate enough for warm bodies to ask me to be an assistant football coach. I have a painfully entertaining story of my first game as a JV football coach which involves me, an away game, and a whistle. Maybe I’ll tell the entire story sometime, but for now suffice it to say we lost the game and the night in general was a cascade of fiascoes one atop another. Actually, that phrase pretty much describes my whole football coaching career. Still, it was a lot of fun.

Now though, I’m a civilian. Here it is 6:30 on the first big football Friday. Oh, I know I could go to a local game anyway, but it’s not the same. Something about plunking down your teacher id and walking in the gate for free just adds a special sweetness to the night. The greatest reward, though, is the smiles on the faces of the boys on the field when they catch sight of you on the track or in the stands. Little Johnny may have been the bane of your existence in second block all year, but come Monday, when you tell him how awesome his one tackle of the night was, you’ll have him in your back pocket. Trust me on that one . . . I know from experience.

Go out and pull for your favorite teams and take care everyone.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

# Throwback Thursday: I Hate Summer Passionately

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This was originally posted on July 10, 2010 and, for the record, I haven’t changed my mind in the slightest.

I don’t know how long it’s been since I mentioned this fact, but I hate summer with all my heart. I realize that’s strange coming as it does from a good Southern boy, but I have two perfectly excellent reasons for despising this godawful season that everyone else apparently loves so dearly.

First of all, I am not a small man — not by a long shot. To be quite honest, I’m fat, large, obese, and several other words of varying denotation and connotation all pointing to the fact that I was born 10 pounds and 5 ounces and I haven’t missed a meal since.

Summertime was not meant for fat people. We sweat. Now some of you more proper individuals may “perspire” and some ladies may even develop a “delicate sheen.” Well, honey, I sweat buckets and right now, I’ve got the Zambezi River flowing from my hairline down my back to eventually puddle in and around my nether regions. That’s with the A/C “givin’ ye all she can Cap’n”. Any more strain on the venerable Trane and the dilithium crystals will probably blow and we’ll have to eject the warp core. If I go outside for long in this 100+ heat, you could render lard off my backside.

I hate to sweat. The only time I’ve ever CHOSEN to sweat is when I wrestled four years in high school. Then, sweating seemed to serve a purpose. Any other time, it just makes me miserable. Fat people were built for Arctic conditions. If you don’t believe me, when’s the last time you saw a skinny Inuit? (Nota Bene: “Eskimo” is a derogatory term, which I didn’t know until an exceptionally large Inuit man told me) Inuits live in the Arctic. Ever seen a svelte whale? Know why? It’s freaking cold in the ocean depths where they swim! Nature has selected against fat mixing with heat. Fat goes with cold; skinny goes with heat.

My second reason to despise summer is I am known in some circles as “The Man The Sun Forgot.” I don’t want to say I’m pale or anything, but people afflicted with albinism stand next to me to feel good about their tan. The few times I’ve gone cave exploring, my glowing body was the third emergency light source. Folks are always asking me why don’t I take off my shirt when I’m outside. The simple answer is the last time I removed my shirt outside on a bright sunny day, I got a call from Houston Space Center asking me to please cover myself because I was blinding the crew of the International Space Station and they couldn’t conduct their experiments.

You think I’m joking, but I’m not. I am WHITE and I am FAT. I went to the beach several years and many, many pants sizes ago and, even then, when I took off my shirt just for kicks, a big guy in a frock coat appeared out of nowhere and started chasing me down the beach waving a harpoon and screaming, “I’ve found ye at last! Thar she blows! A hump like a snow hill!” If that wooden leg hadn’t slowed him down enough for the beach patrol to grab him I hate to think what might have happened.

Now I realize many of my gentle readers have a simple solution to my lack of melanin; just lay out in the Sun a little and tan, right? Um, did you even read the first section about heat? An ex of mine once asked me to lay out in the sun with her. I told her if she wanted to break up with me, just say so. Even if I didn’t mind roasting myself like a suckling pig with pineapple rings and a Granny Smith in my mouth, there’s the little matter of blistering sunburn. During my childhood and well into my teens, the strongest SPF sunscreen was 15. I would get COOKED right through 15. It was like slathering butter on roasting corn ears.

Luckily for me, times have changed and sunscreen is now stronger. Still, if I want a decent chance at remaining non-boiled-lobster color, I have to wear Bullfrog 55 SPF and, no lie, I get pinkish through that after a couple of hours. Oh, and when I do burn, it doesn’t turn tan. Nope, most people are burn, tan, burn, tan darker. I am burn, peel, burn worse, get sun poisoning, peel some more, risk drowning in an oatmeal bath.

I’ve got a ton of sunburn stories, but I’ll tell one and let it go at that. When I was six, we had the first above ground pool I’d ever seen. Of course, Daddy didn’t bother to hook up the filter, so we had to drain it once a month to get the slime molds out of the bottom and refill it . . . but I digress. Two friends and I happily splashed around in said pool from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM. I hadn’t put ANY sunscreen on, but that was okay because I had my FAVORITE shirt of the moment on just like Mama had told me to do. (Well, she did tell me to wear a shirt.)jersey

This shirt was a real, live reproduction Clemson football JERSEY. Now for those who don’t know, this was 1977 and football jerseys back in the day had a “mesh pattern” which basically means I was in the Sun on one of the brightest days of the year wearing no sunscreen and a shirt complete with HOLES all in it! Now, I have a genius IQ, but as one of my best friends used to point out, I lack the common sense to get out of a shower of rain. I figured since I wore it like a shirt, it WAS a shirt, and it would keep me safe from the ravages of the sun.

It didn’t.

When Mama came home from shopping, she called us in the house (trailer, whatever). She took one look at me and burst into tears. I couldn’t see my back so I had no idea what was wrong. This was one time ignorance was not bliss. I had developed a water blister through each one of the hundreds of holes in the shirt. The shirt was literally fastened to my back and shoulders by water blisters poking through the holes. I went and stood in the shower under straight cold well water for thirty minutes trying to get the blisters to go down.

They didn’t.

Mama finally had to take the shirt off me. Just so you know, ANYTIME your mother tells you beforehand, “Baby, I’m so sorry, but this is really going to hurt,” you can bet your britches it is REALLY GOING TO HURT. Well, with water still pouring on me, Mama took hold of the hem of that jersey and snatched it straight up over my head in one classic “skin-a-cat” motion . . . and every one of those blisters ripped open and yellowish blister fluid started running down my back. If you’re wondering, yes, I cried. I cried like a baby. My back looked like steak tartare for a week. THAT, gentle readers, is just one of the many reasons why I despise summer, why I don’t go outside if at all possible from June to September, AND why I NEVER get into a pool unless it is DARK O’CLOCK!

Keep cool and wash those feet!

Love y’all!

TBT: Of Aiding and Abetting

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Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red.

I’m rerunnning this post because of all the news lately about Roe v. Wade. It’s a emotional topic among people all across the spectrum. I know i won’t make any friends with this post, but hopefully I won’t lose any either. No one seemed to notice last time I posted it.

It might surprise people who know me and those who follow this blog to learn that I am an accessory before the fact to premeditated murder. The case never came to trial; in fact, no arrests have ever been made, but lately, to quote Eminem, “I’ve been cleaning out my closet” and the guilt I’ve toted over this incident in my life — in my youth (not an excuse, just time frame) — has grown heavier over time. Writing about this unhappy episode isn’t going to change anything. It won’t erase my part in a sad story. In fact, I don’t know what is behind the overwhelming compulsion to preempt my usual World War I post to air out this particular load of dirty laundry. I just know it’s time I told my part.

Anyone now expecting sordid details, copious finger-pointing, and salacious name naming is going to be sorely disappointed. I will name no names but my own. The guilt others feel, if any, is theirs alone to continue hiding or expose to the world. To my knowledge, less than ten, maybe fifteen, people know any of this story. Again, as far as I know, only about five know the entire tale and I’m not one of them.

I was one of the few members of my circle of friends to have a job during high school. The majority of my closest associates relied on regular, sizable handouts from upper middle class parents for spending money, gas money, and any other teen essentials. Daddy provided me with a car and when I wrecked it, he bought me another one. Mama paid my auto insurance and kept a roof over my head. If I wanted to party, date, or in any other way raise Hell, the funds to do so were up to me to obtain so I went to work the week after I turned 15 and I worked as hard as I could for the next twenty-five years until my deteriorating mental health landed me on government disability.

Late in my senior year of high school, I attended a huge bash at the spacious and beautiful ranch of one of my inner circle of friends. Alcohol flowed freely, but I consumed precious little because I was in a black mood. I had begun a downward spiral that would take two decades to land me in Carolina Behavioral Center, but I didn’t know that at the time. I was still operating under the assumption I was a prickly, hard-to-like asshat.

In any event, one of my comrades in arms for most of my life showed up at this party with his flavor of the month. After a few visits to the keg and a shot or two from the pickup truck tailgate bar, he and said girl disappeared, as had several couples during the night, to “explore” the ranch grounds. They eventually found their way to the hay barn and proceeded to give literal meaning to “a roll in the hay.” When I saw them next, a couple of hours later, they were both wearing looks of deep chagrin . . . not horror, not disgust, and not worry . . . they just looked chagrined. Upon a conversational investigation, I ascertained during the aforementioned hay roll, their preferred barrier method of contraception had suffered a catastrophic failure and they worried about the ramifications of this potential disaster. A couple of hours after this revelation, I left the party and by morning had forgotten all about their quandary.

My selective amnesia continued for approximately six weeks until the phone rang unusually early on a Saturday morning. My friend was on the other end of the line, “Wham,” he said, “Could you come over please, I need some help.” I’ve made it my policy throughout my life to go whenever and wherever any of my friends call. This willingness to demonstrate my loyalty has caused me no small amount of suffering through the years, and I’ve seldom encountered any like-minded reciprocity from those I have helped, even those I’ve helped greatly, but I can only control my behavior. What others do is between them and their conscience.

I arrived at my friend’s home a short time to find him still lying in bed wearing a perfectly haggard look on top of his t-shirt and sweatpants. He got straight to the point, saying, “Wham, I need to borrow some money.” Now you know the purpose for that seemingly random paragraph about my work history above. I laughed a bit and replied, “Why don’t you ask your dad or grandpa? They can give you a whole lot more than me and you won’t have to pay them back!” He looked at me and simply said, “I’m trying not to involve my parents.” I nodded. So, he’d gotten a speeding ticket or some such and didn’t want to catch Hell and endure the inevitable grilling lecture that would surely accompany a bail-out.

So I asked, “Okay, how much is the ticket and how fast were you going?” He looked away and shook his head, “It’s not a ticket, Wham. It’s something else.” I found that odd, but — you know — loyalty. I said, “Well, okay. How much do you need then?” He then looked me in the face and said, “$247.00” I know my face blanched because that’s what it always does when I’m overcome with some emotions. See, I’d had conversations with other friends and acquaintances about the high cost of living, and one particular item came up a few times and it always cost $247.00. He went to speak, but I put up my hand.

He fell silent and I pulled out my wallet — I didn’t carry a man-purse back then — and pulled out twelve twenty-dollar bills and a ten. It was basically my entire week’s pay with a little overtime. I folded it and handed it to him as he took it, I said, “I don’t want to hear anything else. Don’t bother saying anything. I don’t want to know anymore than I do right now. Never speak to me about this again, don’t bother trying to pay me back, but don’t you dare come to me if you ever have this ‘problem’ again.” He nodded his thanks and I left with a sick stomach knowing I’d just become an accessory to murder — premeditated murder.

I don’t know other people’s politics or views on what I paid for. I know — if statistics are to be trusted (ha,ha) — probably half of you think I did nothing wrong. In some other cases, I’d be happy to agree with you, but not this one. This was a healthy mother and father with no genetic issues. No life was on the line. No one was in any danger . . . except the danger of scandal. To follow through with this would just have been “inconvenient” and might have “shut some doors” in the future. Both were headed for college, after all. Never mind this “problem” could have been the answer to some infertile couple’s prayers and dreams. This is the type of adoptibility social workers and agencies dream of.

The scandal though. The gossip. The “inconvenience” of the matter. Nine months are too long to hide and people were bound to find out. After all, who were they hurting? This was the late 1980’s, not the 1950’s. They weren’t interested in marrying each other, which — and don’t lose the irony — my friend’s parents did years earlier when they had the same “problem.” I happened to be with him the day he found his birth certificate and his parent’s marriage license and did some quick math . . . it wasn’t pretty. As far as I know, the two of them only went on one more “date.” No one was the wiser and no one seemed bothered at all. To this day, if it bothers him or her, they’ve done masterful jobs at hiding it.

It’s bothered me for years though, and even though I know it is theologically untenable, I can’t help but wonder when I’m at my lowest points if my part in such a sin — yes, SIN, S.I.N. damn it all, call a spade a spade for God’s sake, right is right and wrong is wrong whether you’re an atheist, Buddhist, agnostic, or Hindu– has something to do with why I don’t have children today. Rationally, I know it doesn’t work that way, but sometimes I have a hard time being rational.

Love y’all. Keep those feet clean.

#TBT: How Can We Stop School Shootings?

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I’m rerunning this post because of the shooting Tuesday at an elementary school in Ulvade, Texas. The current death count stands at 19 students and 3 teachers. I know I’m a generally negative person but I don’t think this is the last school shooting.

This latest school shooting in Florida has hit me hard. I was once a high school English teacher and later on, a middle school librarian. The first five years I taught, we never heard of a student going into a school and gunning down classmates. Then came April 20, 1999. Columbine High School erupted in gunfire as two students brought guns to school and killed 13 people before killing themselves. “School Shooting” entered common American lexicon. Nothing has been the same since.

I don’t teach anymore and while I miss that career mightily, one aspect I don’t miss is the existential dread of wondering when was it going to be my school’s turn. When were my students going to look to me as gunshots rang out? When was one of my students going to snap and bring a reckoning down on our school? I don’t miss that helpless feeling that crouches at the bottom of every teacher’s heart: “What happens when it’s us?”

That feeling lies there because the sad, simple answer to my titular question is a terse “We can’t. We cannot stop school shootings.” I fear that ship has sailed for a few tragic reasons.

First, we can’t stop school shootings because we can’t pass any meaningful gun control laws in this country. This depressing fact doesn’t matter, however, because even if our politicians miraculously put aside their differences and ignored the tidal waves of money some of them receive from the gun lobby, it simply wouldn’t matter. Passing a law, any law, has zero effect on behavior. Legislate that people cannot chew bubble gum and honest people will give up their Bubble Yum.

Unfortunately, another segment of society will cram every stick of gum possible into their mouths. Laws only affect lawful people. Pass a law forbidding anyone under age 21 from owning a firearm and we will prevent exactly zero school shootings because the people who deign to follow such a law aren’t going to shoot up a school anyway. As long as we worship the Almighty Dollar in this country, an underage person who wants a gun can get one . . . someone angry enough to kill his fellow students will find a way to get money and turn that money into a gun.

More gun control laws will not stop school shootings because they will only affect those willing to abide by the laws and by definition, this excludes school shooters.

Some people feel banning “assault weapons” like the AR-15 and its clones and derivatives will end the problem. It won’t help. Just for clarification and to appease any gun nuts who read this, the term should actually be “assault ‘style’ weapons” or guns modeled on military arms. A true assault rifle would be something like the US Army’s M-4 carbine, itself a descendant of the Vietnam Era M-16. Both are fully automatic weapons. Pull the trigger and they will fire til the magazine is empty.

The truth of the matter is banning AR-15 style rifles will only send shooters looking for other weapons. Several semi-automatic handguns have magazines which hold twenty or more rounds of ammunition and these handguns are much easier to conceal and so easier to get into a school, especially a crowded school area, than a rifle. The Ruger 10/22 is a .22 caliber rifle which can be outfitted with magazines up to 100 rounds and at schoolyard ranges, a .22 Long Rifle round is every bit as lethal as the 5.56mm round the AR-15 uses.

So let’s ban all guns! As long as the Second Amendment remains enshrined in the Constitution, that’s not going to happen. Even if it were repealed by some miracle, the bloodshed and division of the country attempting to collect the now illegal guns would entail makes such a possibility deadlier and less palatable than risking school shootings.

Some people have even gone so far as to advocate arming our school teachers. This is a preposterously, unthinkably terrible idea. It is not difficult at all to get a concealed carry permit in most US states. Theoretically, any teacher could get such a permit and, if the laws were changed, be allowed to carry a weapon into the classroom ostensibly to confront and repel a school shooter.

Again, this is a horrible idea. To get a CCP, a person has to sit through a class and then shoot a paper target at a range. To repel a school shooter, a teacher would have to kill someone — possibly someone they know and have tried to help before. Let’s set aside for the sake of argument the problems like victims getting caught in the crossfire or teachers simply missing their targets and hitting innocents. Just focus on one thing; any teacher carrying a weapon MUST be ready to KILL another human being.

Understand, the school shooter has made up is mind. He is here to kill as many people as he can or maybe just mark some specific names off a list. He’s made his choice and confronting him will only put a teacher in the direct line of fire. This is not a pistols at ten paces duel or a gunfight on Main Street out of a Clint Eastwood movie. To take out a school shooter who has already started killing, you don’t confront him or tell him to put down his weapon. You get behind him or outflank him and shoot him in center mass or the head until he falls down dead. If he never sees who shot him, so much the better.

Teachers are not wired up to do that. Teachers, not all, but most, are nurturers. They got into teaching to HELP people, not KILL them. Taking someone’s life will trying not to lose one’s own life is an incredibly difficult choice to make and execute. Hesitate an instant and you die and maybe all the students you are trying to protect. When it comes to actually killing a student, I honestly believe 99 out of 100 teachers are going to hesitate or freeze up and become a casualty. It doesn’t mean teachers are weak or cowardly . . . not everyone is a killer. Soldiers must be trained to kill. Overcoming the aversion to taking another’s life is one of the first things trainers in the military have to overcome. Teachers aren’t meant to kill and putting them into a situation where they have to deal with that choice will not go well.

So does this mean we abandon hope of stopping school shootings altogether and just live in fear? To a certain extent, yes. Practically speaking, absolutely. The only way to effectively stop school shooters is to get them before they start. Schools as they are now are what military and law enforcement people call “soft” targets. They need to be hardened. Schools need metal detectors at every entrance. During the day, schools should be under lock-down conditions. No one in the hall means no one gets shot. No unlocked doors means no one sneaks in. Ban bookbags. Amend dress codes to ban baggy clothes and jackets that make it easy to conceal weapons. If the students raise hell, if the parents raise hell . . . show footage of Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora’s movie theater, Las Vegas’ concert, this latest shooting in Florida, etc. Make them answer one question: “Would you rather be fashionable or would you rather bleed out on the floor of the cafeteria with a bullet in your spleen?”

I fully realize none of that is going to happen though. In fact, give it two weeks or so and everyone is going to go back to business as usual . . . until the next preventable school shooting takes place.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

#TBT: Life is a Circle, but not like Disney

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I posted this originally back in 2013. Now even Ima is gone. I got a Freshly Pressed badge for this post. I think about it a lot now that Budge’s dad is in the nursing home with Alzheimer’s Disease. Life sure doesn’t work out like we plan sometimes.

Nothing prepared me to be bitten multiple times by my grandmother.

kelloggwoman

When I entered this world, I had four living grandparents AND four living great-grandparents. Granny Matt (short for Mattie) and Papa Hurley passed before I developed memories of them, but family members have told me both loved me tremendously. It’s not good to grow up with six doting grandparents; it’s not so much the danger of being spoiled rotten — which I was — so much as such excess love doesn’t prepare a person for what a terrible place the world is.

Papa Wham passed in 1995 — the first person so close to me to die. I was attending a wake for a student who’d been killed in a car wreck when my brand new cell phone rang. The first cell phone call I ever received was to let me know Papa Wham was gone.

Little Papa Hughes, my maternal great-grandfather, died on New Year’s Day 1997. He was a tiny man with a heart entirely too large for his slight frame. He was also a bit of “a character” and I have stories on top of stories about him.

Big Granny Hughes, whom Mama (and pretty much everyone) called Maggie-Valmer went Home in February 2001. I call it a testament to her life that it took three preachers — including me — to do her life justice.

After losing those three wells of my adoration, the next few years were quiet. Then Papa John died October 17, 2006. I didn’t grieve Papa’s death for 18 months because Mama was in such a terrible state I wasn’t sure if I was going to lose her as well. I can say from personal, painful experience it is dangerous to one’s mental health to suppress a terrible grief because once Mama came somewhat out of the fog, I had the nervous breakdown that ultimately cost me my job, my second career, and almost my sanity.

I came out of my breakdown just in time to lose Granny Wham on February 5, 2008. As much as I adored Granny Wham and as much as I know she loved me, her passing was easier to take. After Papa died and she became unable to care for herself or be left alone, we had no choice but to place her in a facility. My Aunt Cathy wore ruts in I-385 between Fountain Inn and Laurens going to see her mama; Uncle Larry stopped by on his way to and from the Roadway terminal in Columbia every time he had a trip; and I tried to see her at least once a week, but she missed being home tending her family. Still, miserable though she was, she soldiered on three years at Martha Franks Retirement Home. A week before she passed I went to see her; she told me, “Mama {her mama} came to see me last night.” I knew it wouldn’t be long. Now Granny Wham is waiting on the other side of those Gates of Pearl (with Papa Wham nearby and most likely seated on a golden bench talking baseball with St. Peter).

So Granny Ima (for Imogene) is all I have left. She’s under hospice care at NHC nursing home in Clinton. I go to see her at 10:00 AM every Tuesday, and I leave a sliver of my heart each time I turn from her bed to come home. Ima has dementia. She knows who I am, who Rob is, and who my Aunt Pearl is, but she can’t say our names. All she can say clearly is “yep” and “nope.” I took Mama to see her twice a week as long as she was able, then once a week, then once every two weeks . . . then I took her when she could rally the strength, but one thing never changed — Granny always said, “My baby girl’ whenever Mama asked her who she (Mama) was. I haven’t told Ima that Mama is gone. I tell her the truth — Wannie (her name for Mama) can’t get up anymore to see her, but she loves her very much. Every time I tell her, Granny nods.

Unfortunately, though, Granny’s mind is riddled with holes and she’s lost control of her emotions (especially her temper) just as she’s lost her language. She can’t stand being poked and prodded and she seems to see everything as being poked and prodded. She has a hissy fit whenever she gets a bath — or what passes for a bath when you’re bedridden. I gave my signed permission today for the nursing staff to stop sticking her fingers twice a day for blood sugar samples to control her diabetes. Dr. Blackstone told me years ago diabetes wasn’t what was going to kill Granny. I told the head of nursing today, there are worse ways to die than diabetic coma.

Granny saves a special rage for anyone who tries to clean her hands and especially her fingernails. She cannot abide having her hands or nails messed with, which wouldn’t be so bad, but Granny’s mind wanders now and she will not stop digging in her disposable briefs. Maybe she itches, maybe it’s something else, but whatever the cause, she can’t tell us. I’m not going to be graphic, but you can draw your conclusions as to the state of her nails. Mama cried every time she saw Granny’s nails, but the staff can only do so much because Granny is “combative” which is nicely saying she gets pissed off when you touch her too much.

However, as family, I am not bound by the facility’s rules against restraints, and her nails and hands were so hideous today that I held my precious grandmother while two nurses cleaned and trimmed her nails. I linked my fingers in hers like we used to do crossing the street. She fought but her strength was no match for mine, just as mine was no match for hers long ago when I had to have childhood shots. As I cupped her arthritic fingers gently as I could so as to not hurt her, the tears ran down my face just as they ran down hers long ago. Then I knew with perfect clarity what a parent means when he says, “This is hurting me more than it hurts you.” At one point, she managed to get my hand near her mouth so she bit me. It seemed to make her feel better, so I just left my arm where she could gnaw on it at will — a small bruise or two (she has no teeth) are a small price to pay for her hands to be clean. After we finished, a nurse brought her a strawberry nutrition shake and the nurses were forgiven . . . her look told me I was not, even though next Tuesday she won’t remember a thing. I sat with her a while longer, then kissed her cheek, placed today’s sliver on her pillow, and turned to come home.

The old proverb, “Once a man; twice a child” is painful to see in someone you love.

Freshly pressed

Love y’all; keep those feet clean.

#TBT: Goodbye, Mama. I love you.

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Mama and me

Going to miss her so very much.

Mama will be gone nine years tomorrow. I wanted to post this again in her memory.

I’m sorry if this is some of my worst writing ever in this blog, but I hope y’all will excuse me since I buried Mama today.

She finally succumbed to complications from COPD Monday night, March 25, 2013 at around 10:30 PM. Budge and I were holding her right hand and my cousin Rhonda who was like a daughter to Mama was holding her left hand when she passed from this world into the next. We buried her next to Papa John in a pale, almost translucent pink casket. We didn’t have a viewing and we only had graveside services. That is how Mama wanted it and since I am her only next of kin, only son, power of attorney, and executor of her will, no one was going to have me do anything differently. I didn’t even have her embalmed because her body was in such poor condition. Fletch — Alan Fletcher — the owner of Fletcher’s Funeral Home in Fountain Inn, agreed with me about not having her embalmed. He said she wouldn’t look right and there wasn’t much he could do. I’m glad, because that’s not how I want to remember her.

I managed to preach her funeral myself, which is what she wanted me to do. I really didn’t have any choice because all the other ministers who knew and loved Mama are in such poor health themselves it would have been hard for them to do it. I read the 23rd Psalm and spoke about the Easter story since Easter is Sunday. I talked about how Mama loved Jesus and how she was ready to go to her Heavenly home. I read a letter a friend of hers had emailed me all the way from Las Vegas. Of course, at the funeral, I transplanted Las Vegas from Nevada to California, but Budge and Deuce caught the mistake in time for me to smooth it over. I had the mortician put a copy of the letter in the casket with her.

Rob — my beloved stepdad — is taking Mama’s loss incredibly hard. They were together for almost 20 years, which was three times longer than she was married to my dad. Thankfully, he’s had family and dear, dear friends rally around him the last few days. I know he has a very long road ahead of him. As much as I don’t want to admit this, I’m actually afraid Rob may grieve himself to the grave with Mama. I know he misses her that much.

For me, the grief has been unpredictably breaking across me in waves. I broke down in the hospital right before she died when it was just Budge and I alone with her as she was fading fast. Since then, I’ve had a meltdown per day, except for today. I’ve actually been happy all day, even during the funeral because it was a picture perfect crisp Spring day. I know the happiness isn’t permanent. I have some dark nights to look forward to, I’m sure. I also have a lot of responsibilities to attend to that will give me ample cause to fall to my knees and wail a gut wrenching sob from my heart for nearly an hour as I’ve done twice already. I’m trying to keep in mind this is all normal and I don’t have to be Superman. I’ve just lost Mama — my best friend, my oldest friend, my main cheerleader . . . it’s normal and okay for me to be bereft, but it doesn’t make it prettier or easier.

Reunited Monday, 3-25-13.

Reunited Monday, 3-25-13.

I’m also having to contend with guilt as well. Several times I’ve heard a voice inside me I recognize as my old friend The Black Dog whispering, you could have done more! You should have done more! Why didn’t you move in with her? Why didn’t you bring her to live with you? Why were you not with her more? Why were you reading or eating or playing a stupid computer game instead of sitting beside her in her recliner holding her hand? Why didn’t you cook meals for her? Why did you leave her alone? Didn’t you know she was lonely? Didn’t you know she was hungry? On and on and on this voice spits vitriol and accusation at me and it’s been pretty much nonstop for the last 72 hours.

Of course, there’ve been other voices as well and these have been from the outside. People have told me time and again how proud they are of me for following through with Mama’s wishes and for being strong enough to preach her funeral. I’ve had several people tell me of conversations they’ve had with Mama when she told them how proud she was of me and how thankful she was to have a good son. I’ve had nurses tell me this week of the numerous people they’ve seen die all alone even though family was available.

In the end, I have to decide which voice or voices to listen to. I will say this, though, when I have been at the heartwrenching depths of despair, when I have been sobbing uncontrollably, even in the dark hours at Mama’s deathbed, I’ve found one deep, deep well of strength and comfort — God’s written word. The only thing that has been able to pull me out of the waves of grief that have wracked me with sobs and crushed my soul with emotional pain too great to bear has been reading from the Bible. I’ve read out loud and silently to myself and every time, I’ve found balm in Gilead. For that I am thankful.

I am also thankful for 42 years with the most wonderful mother a boy could want. I am going to miss her tremendously and I’m not even going to try fighting that battle, but I cannot let losing her destroy me and break me in the way losing Papa John broke Mama. I must carry on and if it means I have to limp because I’ve lost one of the major muscles I’ve stood on for all these years, then that is what I have to do. Mama is gone from me, but she is never going to be forgotten.

I love y’all. Sincerely, Me.

#TBT: It Can All Be Gone In An Instant

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This post goes all the way back to lpppAugust 2008. It’s the 3rd post I ever made on this blog. I wonder sometimes whatever happened to Beth.

Many times I think educators in general and librarians in particular get so consumed in minutiae that we don’t realize the really BIG picture. We get caught up in book orders and classes coming in and out and trying to keep up with the latest Web 2.0 tools that we often don’t pick our heads up long enough to take a look at who and what’s around us. We aren’t just working with colleagues, some of whom we love dearly and some of whom were put on this earth to be the bane of our existence. We aren’t just teaching and waiting on students, some of whom we dearly love and some of whom were put on this earth to be the bane of our existence. We are interacting with people who have issues and hopes and dreams and lots of times our library and our schools are not an ingrained part of that dream. The bright new teacher who comes in the library workroom to get coffee may be dreaming of writing a novel or moving to a tropical island. I say all this to say this: we need to dream and we need to hope and we need to laugh and love because as much as we may or may not care about our jobs or careers, one thing is certain . . . they buildings will outlast us, but the people may not. Pick your head up tomorrow and look around. Everyone you see could be gone in an instant and what was the last thing you said to them? You may be gone in an instant and what is the last thing people will remember about you?

I know this may seem morbid, but I’m melancholy and slightly morbid by nature. That has nothing to do with this post. This frailty and mercurial quality of life was just brought home to me in a brutal and shockingly upclose and personal way on my ride home this afternoon.

I saw the black pickup crest the hill and I saw the teal sedan pull out of my subdivision to turn left and I knew that the laws of physics were about to be put to the test once again. The crash was absolutely horrific. The pickup struck the sedan full force in the driver’s side door. The driver had no time to brake after topping the hill. The sedan careened across the road in a crazy spiral and came to rest in the ditch on the far side. I pulled around the carnage and up into a driveway of the subdivision. I already had my phone in my hand dialing *47 for the highway patrol. The dispatcher asked me a series of questions that I barely remember, but judging by soon to come events I must have answered them well. All I clearly remember until reaching the girl was saying to the dispatcher, “You need to get an ambulance rolling RIGHT NOW because this does NOT look good at all.”

Two well-meaning passersby had stopped and for reasons known only to God and their animal instincts to avoid car explosions, pulled the young woman from the wrecked sedan. I was livid, but said nothing since their act was not one of malice but of misunderstanding. Kneeling by the young girl’s side, I took her hand as she slowly regained conciousness. Her face was a jigsaw puzzle of glass cuts and she had a LUMP coming up on the left side of her head that promised greatness. Her left leg was gashed a full six inches long down her calf. She was covered in blood. She was wearing one of the tube/halter-tops that are popular now and a pair of short shorts. She had blonde hair rapidly turning crimson. As she came around, she immediately wanted to sit up. I and one of the other ladies gently pushed her back to the ground. She was bleeding out of her mouth but she started talking and begging us to let her up so she could leave. When I bent closer, I knew why.

She reeked of alcohol. This was bad. She was going to jail if she lived for DUI with injury. Plus, the alcohol was making her blood thinner. I got her talking and asked her for her name, which was Beth. She wasn’t really clear on the year, her age, or where she lived, but judging from the car and the sister-in-law I spoke to later, this latter may not have been solely the result of the concussion. I asked her about her plentiful tatoos including one beautiful star on her neck. She kept wanting to touch her face and she kept asking me what was wrong with her face and where all this blood was coming from. How do you tell an obviously very fetching young woman that the next time she can look in a mirror, assuming she ever can, the face she sees will be very different than the one she left the house with that morning? One thing that struck me as incongruous was the way she kept pulling at her top in a universally feminine gesture with bloodstained hands to keep it from slipping down to expose her strapless bra. Drunk and gravely injured, modesty must be preserved.

After what seemed hours but in reality proved only ten minutes, the paramedics and rescue squad arrived. The professionals took over but I must have appeared to know what I was doing because they didn’t order me out of the way. I asked her who needed to be called to meet her at the hospital. She at first said, “no one”, but finally relented and gave me a relative’s number, which seemed a good sign. I called the relative who proved to be a sister-in-law and told her the story. She screamed and cried and then pulled herself together to start calling family and friends.

Then Beth was in the ambulance and on her way to hospital. It was over and I drove the two hundred yards home. It was only when I walked in the house and got to the mirror in the bathroom that the full extent of what had just happened hit me. I had bloody hands and blood streaks on my face from wiping my eyes. I had blood on my clothes and shoes. I wondered if I needed to go to the hospital myself since I’d deliberately disobeyed every rule laid out to us in the annual blood-borne pathogens video. I decided against it and took a shower with antibacterial soap, shaking like a leaf all the while.

So there you have it. Yes, Beth was stupid and irresponsible for drinking and then driving. She may yet pay for that stupidity with her life. Her father called, a prince of a man I am certain, and, after asking if I’d taken anything from her car, proceeded to tell me that Beth was still in the trauma ward with swelling on the brain. This was five hours later. Five minutes to five and Beth had been sitting around a table filled with beer bottles talking with similarly inebriated friends. By five fifteen, instead of being at the gas station like she’d planned, she was lying in a ditch with a face full of glass and a complete stranger holding her hand and asking about her tattoos.

Look around folks. Look around. It really can all be gone in an instant. Don’t believe it, just ask Beth.