Author Archives: G. S. Feet

Thanksgiving 2021

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It’s that time of year again. As distant as it looked in the bygone days of summer, Thanksgiving is here. Thanksgiving is a day with a lot of memories for me.

Growing up with divorced parents did have one advantage, if you can call it that — every holiday was doubled. When I was little, Thanksgiving day meant the opening day of rabbit season. Daddy would come to mama’s to get me early in the morning with the beagles already loaded in the truck and barking up a storm. Then we’d go meet whichever cousins were going to hunt with us that day.

It wasn’t easy going. Rabbits don’t live out in the open and getting to their houses almost always means dealing with briars. My fat little legs in their blue jeans didn’t do much to bust through briars like daddy’s special overalls with the tough canvas on the legs, so I usually stayed to the outside of the patched and walked in the clear spots. According to daddy, it didn’t really matter if we got any rabbits as long as the dogs got to run.

We’d hunt till around 11:00 and daddy would take me back to mama’s where I’d get cleaned up, change clothes, and we’d go to whichever relative invited us for Thanksgiving lunch. We’d get home and I’d take a nap until daddy picked me up again at 6:00 and we’d go to Granny Wham’s for supper. Granny always made a little pan of dressing with no onions in it because I didn’t like onions and she spoiled me.

Things went on that way for years, until I became a teenager and the boys were getting older. Then I had a girlfriend and she wanted to eat with her family and bring me along. I still went hunting and most of the time they would have Thanksgiving lunch so we’d eat there at lunchtime and at Granny’s that evening. This didn’t sit well with me because it left mama out.

What eventually evolved is Granny moved her Thanksgiving dinner to the Sunday after. Mama started cooking a small lunch and if I had a girlfriend at the time we go there for supper. Daddy and Teresa and Nick would go to Teresa’s mother’s Thanksgiving day and Cathy and her family would go to Uncle Larry’s sister’s house then we’d all meet at Granny’s on Sunday.

Then people started dying. Mama is gone now these eight years and I miss Thanksgiving day with her, especially after Budge and I married and we spent the days with her getting ready for our guests. Granny had been gone longer than Mama, but now Teresa hosts the Sunday after and everybody brings something to help out. This year Budge is making deviled eggs which is weird because she has never made them and doesn’t eat them.

It’s just Budge and me on Thanksgiving day now that mama is gone. The last several years we went down to Laura’s house and ate lunch with her and her family. We were like family too I suppose. COVID killed that meal last year and since I haven’t heard anything from Laura, I guess we aren’t gathering there again this year.

So, this year Budge and I are going to get up and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is about her favorite thing about the day. Once Santa rides past Macy’s, we’re going to eat turkey at Cracker Barrel. Then we’re going on a ride while listening to Alice’s Restaurant on WROQ 101.1. They play the twenty minute long song every Thanksgiving at noon and it’s become a tradition to listen to it. We used to listen to it on the way to Laura’s. After our ride we’ll head home for a nap then we’re going to see Ghostbusters at 6:30. If we’re hungry, we’ll eat supper at the new Waffle House just up the road and we’ll call it a day.

I like Thanksgiving, don’t get me wrong. I like eating and it’s by far the best time to eat, but it’s also the time of year that highlights all the empty chairs at the tables now. I miss the dinners of my childhood. I miss Mama, Ima and Papa John, and Granny and Papa Wham. I’m thankful though and blessed that I still have my Budge through the holidays. She means the world to me.

So happy Thanksgiving! Hope it’s a great day for all of you. Love y’all, and keep your feet clean!

#TBT: Sport of the Gods

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This came out way back in ’09. It’s that time again for practice to start in earnest. Hopefully by Thanksgiving everyone will be ready to go.

Volleyball is for girls. Football is for boys. Wrestling is for MEN!

At least that’s the way we always phrased it back on the mats when I was a wrestler. Please, before I go any farther, do not confuse nor make the tired joke about wrasslin’. NOTHING annoys a real wrestler more than the question, “Where’s the ropes?”

Tonight was the first Monday night after Thanksgiving and ever since I was a freshman in high school, that has meant the first match of the wrestling season. Ever since late September, wrestlers all over the country have been counting calories and donning sweat suits to get down to whatever magical weight they want to compete at for the coming season. Tonight, they got to step on the mat and see if their hard work has paid off.

I don’t miss much in my life as much as I miss wrestling. I was a varsity wrestler for my high school for three years and I had the pleasure of coaching as both an assistant and a head coach for nearly ten years. No other sport comes close. Wrestling was on the agenda at the first Olympics and the basic equipment hasn’t changed much . . . except we don’t wrestle naked anymore — although the first time you ever put on a Spandex singlet and step out in front of a crowd of people, you may FEEL naked.

Everything great and wonderful about my high school years revolved around wrestling. I went out for the team as a freshman in the hopes of catching the eye and impressing a girl named Kim whose brother was on the team. I was the only heavyweight that year so I started every match . . . and LOST every match except the lone forfeit I got because the opposing wrestler tripped getting off the team bus and got a concussion. Needless to say, I didn’t get the girl, even though she was impressed that I didn’t quit. At the awards banquet that year, I received the Silver Flounder Award for being the biggest fish on the team.

I dropped weight and wrestled great my sophomore and junior years. I even placed second in our region my junior year. I was one match away from qualifying for the state tournament when I came down with stomach flu. That was the end of that year. My senior year was a disaster. I was already having a REALLY BAD year and the first day of practice, I found out the weight classes had changed. My coveted 167 was gone. I was now in the same class with two monsters who I never could hope to beat. They tried to kill each other and the loser dropped down to the next lowest division.

I was odd man out. I was a senior with three bars and twenty-two pins on my letterman jacket and I was relegated to the bench. It was at that point that I gave up on my entire senior year and the wheels well and truly fell off the apple cart, but that is a story for another time.

So, men, gird up your loins, put your foot on the stripe inside the circle and wait for the whistle.

When you finish, roll up the mats . . . and wash your feet! Love y’all.

#TBT: Adventures in Cast Iron Cooking

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I published this a long time ago. Budge hasn’t cooked okra in awhile but I’d still eat it!

When Budge and I first married, we lived with Mama and Rob for a while until we got on our feet a little better financially. Budge helped Mama with the housework and laundry, but Mama did all the cooking just because . . . well, just because, I guess.

Anyway, one weekend about six months into our nuptials, Mama and Rob went to visit Grandma Lowe for the Lowe Family Reunion up in the hills of North Carolina. Since we had the house to ourselves, Budge decided she’d make us dinner. She’d cooked a few things for me before and they hadn’t be half bad. Tonight, she planned to pull out all the stops. She knew my favorite side item in the world was breaded, fried okra, so she obviously planned for that to be prominent on the menu. It was here that things got interesting.

Now, as a side note, my Budge is a wonderful wife. God knows she’s a whole lot more than I deserve and I am deeply appreciative of her. One issue she had early in our marriage, however, was putting way too much pressure on herself to be a modern day June Cleaver complete with pearl necklace and apron. She liked things to be perfect. Unfortunately, Budge never had much hands on experience cooking. Her mother passed away suddenly when Budge was 15 and she just hadn’t had time to learn much about the culinary arts. The second factor adding to this tense situation was the fact that Budge had only seen Mama cook fried okra for me and Mama always fried her okra in Granny’s cast iron skillet.

Now from that sharp intake of breath, I see that y’all, at least the cooks out there, realize what’s going on. In this day of non-stick, space age polymer pots and pans, a cast iron skillet has mostly been relegated to baking corn bread. The reason for this demotion is simple — it’s hard as crap to cook in a cast iron skillet! Budge did not know this.

So, blissful in her ignorance of cast iron cookery, she filled the pan about a third of the way with Wesson oil and waited. Once the oil started smoking and looked about to catch fire, she dumped the bag of Southern Home frozen okra into the pan. I didn’t know Budge knew some of the words that came out of her mouth when some of the hot oil spit out onto her arms and bare feet. If you wonder what I was doing at this time, I was sitting at the kitchen table watching intently and keeping my mouth shut like any intelligent new husband watching his wife cook.

Time passed. Budge watched the okra for several minutes with no discernible results, so she decided it would be safe to prepare other parts of the meal, just like she’d seen Mama do. Now, for the laypeople out there, here is a VERY important fact — the interval of time between “perfectly golden and delicious” fried okra and “blackened pea gravel” fried okra in a cast iron skillet is about three tenths of a second. Those three tenths of a second passed as Budge was pouring up the glasses of tea. I knew something was amiss by the way Budge looked at the frying pan when she crossed back to it.

I couldn’t see her face, but I thought I caught wind of a slight “sniff” as she carried the pan of okra to the sink to strain the oil off it. As she used Mama’s aluminum colander, I heard the unmistakable sound of river rock being ground in a coffee grinder. Still, how bad could it be? She set the rest of the meal on the table and it all looked extremely tasty. I fixed my plate then asked, “Baby, where is the okra?” She didn’t answer, but sighed heavily and brought over the bowl.

You know those lava rocks some people use as mulch around their flower beds and trees? Think harder and smaller. The bowl was half full of what can only be described as jet black ball bearings with bits of blackened cornmeal mournfully hanging on to them. I glanced up at my bride’s stricken face where her eyes were just beginning to tear up and did what any self respecting husband would do in such a situation. I poured the entire contents of the bowl onto my plate and began eating.

Under her watchful eyes, I ate the entire bowl of food formerly known as fried okra. It was crunchy. Ever ate charcoal flavored Grape-Nuts without milk? Make no mistake, it was charcoal. I could have drunk a liter of pure strychnine mixed with dioxin and the amount of charcoal in my stomach would have neutralized it instantly with no need for pumping or antidotes.

It was worth every bit though to see the tears vanish from Budge’s eyes as I declared the okra “quite tasty”. We both knew the truth, but that’s what you do when you love someone. You make allowances. Mama later explained to Budge with a smile just how hard cast iron cooking was and introduced her to The Fry Daddy. Budge makes very good deep fried okra. I’ll have to tell you about her peanut butter pie later though!

Keep your feet clean and remember who loves you!

#TBT: Epiphany of a Vine Tester

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I first published this back in early 2011.. I’ve been thinking of my childhood and summers playing in the creek. Some of those summer days involved swinging on a vine and that’s when I became a vine tester. Hope you like it second time around.

I was in Mr. Sublett’s AP US History class on a winter Friday, second period, junior year, halfway listening to The Sub expound on the role states’ rights played in the War Between the States and halfway to Daydream Believer Land when it hit me what a bunch of low-down, four-flushing, underhanded rat-finks my buddies were when we were in the late single digits and very early double-digit years of our lives. The epiphany was nothing short of shocking. I let half the class in on my astonishment by suddenly sitting up straight in my desk and muttering loudly, “What a bunch of sorry . . . ” Well, we won’t go into exactly what sort of sorry they were. This is mostly a family blog.

Just because you’ve got on a cape don’t mean you can fly.

Anyway, this is what hit me. When we boys were young and rip-romping around the woods behind our houses, we had two favorite past-times: splashing in the creek looking for “spring lizards” and swinging on vines over the various ravines and gullies that pockmarked the tree choked hills. As I’ve mentioned many times here before, I am not now and never have been a lightweight. I’ve always been fat to the point of being big around as I have been tall. That made my rip-romping a little more difficult than my lithe and agile blood-brethren. As a result of the large disparity between my ability to cover ground and my lighter buddies’, I often lagged behind the gang . . . far behind at times. On good days, I could stay within earshot; on bad days — if I didn’t know the woods intimately — I’d get hopelessly lost.

Luckily, and here’s where my epiphany kicked in, the boys always waited for me at every vine swing or log crossing. Now all my buddies were raised to be kind and mannerly — just like I was. All of our parents and grandparents had been friends and sometimes even kin. So for nearly ten years, I thought the guys were looking out for me. They knew that I was slow AND (I hate to admit this) they knew I was terrified of getting lost in the woods and eaten by a grizzly bear or worse. It didn’t matter to me that no wild grizzly bear had lived east of the Mississippi River — much less Upstate South Carolina — in over a century. I was just an easily scared little boy. (Who, incidentally, grew up into an easily scared man).

But I digress.

Without fail, I’d always find the group waiting for me at the aforementioned log crossing or vine swing and, without fail, they always let me go first. I figured it was their way of keeping me close enough to hear my death screams as Gentle Ben was having me for lunch. That day in Sub’s class though, the harsh ugly truth hit me. Altruism wasn’t anywhere in their equations.

I was the vine tester.

Quite simply, I was always the first to cross the logs over the creeks or gullies. I was always first to swing across the logless gullies on a vine — Tarzan style. What I had mistaken for kindness was cold, calculating self-preservation. I easily outweighed the next heaviest member of our circle by a good fifty pounds. At some point, they all got together and realized if they sent me across first, whatever material was in question would definitely hold them!

They used me and my fat to keep themselves from cuts, sprains, and wet jeans. I was so certain of their tender motives that I never questioned them. After all, I was a very poor vine-swinger so they would always give me a boost up and a good push to make sure I got across. Once or twice, I didn’t. I would have shoes full of muck and poison ivy all over my legs, but they would be safe.

Why sure, guys! I’ll go first. Hold my drink will ya’?

I would have gone on to my grave in blissful innocence of my “friends'” duplicity had it not been for night hunting. That was what turned my mind to those halcyon days as I sat in that AP History class. Some of my friends from those bygone days had taken up the quintessential Southern “sport” of coon hunting.

Briefly, coon hunting consists of moving rapidly through woods, fields, and creek bottoms in pursuit of a pack of demented dogs — coon hounds — who are themselves in pursuit of a raccoon. To up the degree of difficulty into the stratosphere, this is all done at night. Usually WAY at night. Oh, yes, and the season is also in the dead of winter.

I had joined these acquaintances on a few of these moonlit excursions and, just as in days of yore, I was always invited to cross the fallen log first. Ten years on, I was still “the vine / log tester!”

Thanks to that second period awakening, however, my tenure as quality control for creek crossings was at an end. We had scheduled a hunt for that very night. I went along as I always did and, we came to a fallen log, as we always did. One of the guys called out, “Wham, you head on across so you don’t get so far behind”, just as they always did.

For the first time, however, I spoke up at the crossing.

“Fellas, it’s taken me a long time, but I’ve finally figured out this game. Y’all gonna send my fat . . . butt across that log so if it don’t break with me you’ll know it’s safe. Now don’t deny it, I’ve come to this conclusion, but I’ve got one thing to say. I’ve worked over this here shotgun of mine and she’s got a nice easy trigger pull. It’s gonna be a shame if a log breaks tonight or any other night from here on out because I’m pretty sure if I fall, this shotgun is going to go off. Furthermore, despite all our training with guns and such, I’m almost CERTAIN this shotgun will be fall out of my hand in such a way as to be pointed in all y’all’s directions. Just thought I’d let you know. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll cross this log.”

It was the last log I ever “tested”.

Now keep those feet clean and remember how much G.S. Feet loves y’all!

#TBT: Baby, It’s Hot Outside!

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This originally ran in August 2011. Two things have led me to rerun it. First, it’s been horribly hot here for a week. Second, Mr. Sublet who I speak about in the opening paragraphs passed away some months back and I just found out about it.. He was a terrific teacher. Well, he was a terrific person. I learned more from the book than from him about history, but he told us a lot about life along the way. I miss knowing he’s still on the planet.

My junior AP History teacher, Mr. Tommy Sublett, was the first aficionado of the late War of Northern Aggression I ever met in person and got to talk to at length. I never knew why he loved the Civil War so much because he was from Kentucky and those Kentuckians — bless their little bluegrass hearts — were citizens of a border state. Being a border state meant they, along with their three brethren states, had legal slavery but they were too chicken-livered (or prescient, if you think about it) to join the Confederacy in defending Dixie from the encroachment of the soulless Yankees.

Kentucky Colonel or no, “Sub” loved to teach us about the Civil War. We spent four weeks on everything from Jamestown to Fort Sumter and from the second week in September until February on the War of Southern Independence. Then Sub realized this was an AP class (we were his first) and we were going to have to take a big test the first week in May and he hadn’t covered a few important items from our nation’s history . . . like the entire 20th Century. Even though the War Between the States was important, most of us figured that test would have at least one or two questions on WWII and maybe even a question on the Soviet Union. So from February through the AP test, we covered a chapter in our book every two days. I made Fs on the tests, but I made a 5 on the US AP History Exam.

But I digress.

One of the things Sub taught us was the Confederacy was pretty much doomed from the start because the Yankees outnumbered us about 5:1 or so, give or take. The war only lasted as long as it did because it took Honest Abe four years to find two men — Gens. Grant and Sherman — brutal enough to exploit the overwhelming numerical superiority. Once Grant started sending the Yankee equivalent of “human wave” attacks at the ragged boys in grey, the gig was up. All the wonderful officers and doughty farm boys in the world ain’t gonna save you when you’ve got a gun that fires 3 shots a minute at most and ten men come at you across 30 seconds of ground. The public — North and South — called those two “butchers” and accused them of slaughtering their own men, but in the end it worked and — as The Band and  Joan Baez put it so eloquently — they “drove ol’ Dixie down.”

But once again, I digress.

Even though Sub taught us about the disparity in numbers, he never addressed how we ended up with such a skewed ratio of troops. I mean, our women are far prettier than Yankee women and if you don’t believe it watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta back to back with The Real Housewives of New Jersey then tell me those “Jersey girls” can match our Belles! So if our genetic stock was (and is) so vastly superior to our erstwhile foes, WHY didn’t we have at least equal numbers of people?

Then, a few days ago, in the midst of a third consecutive day with 100 degree heat with a 115 degree “real feel”, the answer came to me — the Southern climate doomed our boys.

Imagine wearing THIS in JULY, in ALABAMA . . . OUTSIDE . . . ALL DAY!

We have two seasons in the South — January and summer. Short, mild winters coupled with ungodly hot and humid summers put our side at a disadvantage because we only had about a 2 or 3 month window each year when it was cool enough to . . . well, . . . PROCREATE.

We’re all adults here, do I have to draw you a picture?

Our Yankee foes, on the other hand, had the exact OPPOSITE issue. Minnesota? They have two seasons as well: July and winter. It’s that way all across the North. It gets COLD up there and cold is conducive to baby-making. Couple of quilts and some body heat and you end up warm, toasty, and “expectant.” Then just about the time THAT little bundle of joy gets weaned, it’s sub-zero again and the cycle starts all over.

Imagine this scenario, and before we get started, just so you know, this is the regular old yeoman farmers. This ain’t the big, high-falutin’ 100 Slave Working Coastal PLANTATION. This is a dirt poor Georgia / Mississippi, no-slave-owning upland family growing jes’ enuff cot’n ta’ git by. Mama, Daddy, a mess of kids that pick cotton too, and MAYBE — if last year’s cotton crop was awesome — a hired hand to help get the cotton in before the rain ruined it. Anyway, woman’s been up since before dawn cooking breakfast and packing food to take to the fields. She worked all day in the sun, heat, and humidity wearing more clothes than most women today wear in the dead of winter. Got home about two hours before everybody else to get supper ready and do some laundry. Fed everybody, cleaned up, gathered eggs and fed the chickens then washed her face and collapsed into bed .

In comes hubby. He’s worked all day as well. He hasn’t washed his face and hands. This was NOT a hygienic age in America. He hasn’t washed ANYTHING since last Saturday. So he slides into the straw ticking bed in his union suit and eases his hand over to just gently touch his loving wife and offer her a proposition:

“Hey, honey-bun, how’s about a little lovin’ tonight?”

Now, remember, it’s a July night when hot enough to make the Devil sigh with air thick as day old red-eye gravy. She’s sweating buckets in her coolest cotton nightgown and trying to get to sleep so she can get up in a few hours and do it all over again. She gently puts his hand back over on his side of the bed and offers him a counter-proposition:

“Hey, sugar bug, how about you keep that hand on your side til first frost and you’ll have two hands to pick cotton with tomorrow instead of one.” What’s more, not a jury in the county would convict her.

So the case is cracked. We lost the war because we were low on men and we were low on men because none of those good Southern folks had A/C in their bedrooms and it was just TOO HOT this time of year for all that foolishness.

Love y’all and keep those feet cool, dry and clean!

#TBT: Anxiety vs. Depression — A Primer

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Published this back a few years ago. Been a rough few weeks so it seemed like a good time for a reprint.

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.

Me and Traveling

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I was talking to my therapist today and the subject of me traveling came up. I hadn’t thought about it for awhile but we got to talking and I realized I am not what one would call a well traveled man. With just a few exceptions, I’ve not really left South Carolina. To list it all out, North Carolina has been my most frequent out of state destination. I’ve been there many times; mostly I went to Maggie Valley and Cherokee when I was little with Granny and Papa Wham, but I’ve been to Asheville several times to Biltmore and I went to Greensboro once for a prom in high school and out to Wilmington on the coast to see a girl. Now we go to the apple orchard a time or two a year, so yeah, I’ve been a pretty regular visitor to our northern neighbor.

Next in frequency would probably be Tennessee. I went to Knoxville in sixth grade for the World’s Fair in 1982. Other than that, I’ve been to Gatlingburg and Pigeon Forge a handful of times for day trips, but that’s about it. Then there would be Georgia. I’ve been there once to a Braves game in the middle of July for a day game. I don’t recommend that particular trip. I went to see a girl one summer in tenth grade. That was the first time I ever drove that far. Then I’ve been to the Aquarium in Atlanta twice. Other than that, I went to Elberton a handful of times when I drove a truck for awhile for my cousin delivering stuff.

I’ve been down to Florida I think six times. I went to Disneyworld in 7th grade with the National Junior Honors Society. I’ve been to the Gator Bowl twice, once in I think it was 1985 to see Clemson beat Stanford and again in was it 2002 when Micheal Vick and Virginia Tech dismantled Clemson in the Gator Bowl? So that’s three times. Then Budge and I went to Disneyworld in 1996 for our honeymoon. I don’t really recommend central Florida in August any more than Atlanta in mid-July, but we did have fun. Then we went to meet Budge’s extended family in Fort Myers after we’d been married a couple of years. That’s all the Florida trips I remember so I guess it was only five times I’ve visited the Sunshine State.

Now getting outside those three states, I’ve only traveled three other places. I went to Washington, DC twice. The first time I went was in 8th grade on the annual National Junior Honor Society trip. If you’re keeping up, Mr. Marler, our principal at Gray Court-Owings in my youth had us alternate field trips by year. Every other year we went to Disneyworld. The years we didn’t go to Disney, we went to Washington, DC. Like I said in the Florida entry, 7th grade was my year for Disney. The next year was DC. That was the first time I’d been that far north and been to a city that big. It was culture shock for my little 13 year old small town Southern self. For one thing, I didn’t know stuff was so expensive in other places. It was also the first time I saw a homeless person. That made me think. The second time I went to Washington, I was teaching at Woodmont and was chosen as a Blecher Scholar to represent South Carolina at the annual Belcher conference held at the US Holocaust Museum. My meals and hotel room were paid for by the Belcher Center and we got extensive tours of the Museum during and after hours. We also got to attend lectures by Holocaust experts from all over the world. Budge got to go with me and we made a mini vacation out of it. We had once free day and she and I did a self paced, self designed walking tour of DC. We saw as much as we could possibly see from 8 AM to 10 PM and we walked every step of the way. I’d die if I tried that now. As it was, my feet hurt for days afterwards.

So, that’s almost the extent of my travels in my entire life. I’ve never crossed the Mississippi River, by a long ways. Never been anywhere really, except once. I have had one Bilbo Baggins-like adventure in traveling. I have been out of the country! Yep, once upon a time, I FLEW to Toronto, Canada. I was teaching at Woodmont and we were going to become an IB school (google it). I was picked to be one of the first teachers to be trained and the training was in Toronto (if you didn’t bother to google, the I in IB stands for International). We flew out of Greenville to connect in Charlotte. We were in one of those little prop planes. I remember the end of the runway getting closer and we weren’t in the air yet. The engines were straining like they were about to fall off. I was sure we were going headfirst into the trees, but finally the plane lifted off and we had an uneventful ride to the Queen City.

We left Charlotte in a big jet. Here my troubles began. First, they sat me over the wing because they said I wouldn’t seesaw as much and it would be easier on me. What they didn’t tell me is how airplane wings work. We took off, which was scary; then we were just cruising along and I looked out the window at the wing. It looked like a perfectly normal wing until it split apart in the back and all these wires and tubes appeared. I was certain the wing was falling to bits in front of me. I grabbed a passing flight attendant to show her we were all going to die and she laughed and explained what “flaps” were and how they worked. That was one tragedy averted. Another thing no one told me about was how much airplane wings flex in flight. The same kind flight attendant assured me the wings always did that and we were not all about to die.

About halfway into the flight, things got interesting. We hit turbulence. The plane dropped like a stone. My stomach dropped with it. We bucked and bounced like a bronco at a rodeo. I caught a glimpse of the kind flight attendant and she was white as milk. I found out later this was much worse turbulence than usually encountered. Lucky me. Since I could expect no help from my knight in shining blue uniform, I turned to the Almighty and I cut a deal with God. I prayed, “Lord, I’ve got to get home and they want me to use an airplane to do that, but if you’ll get me to Toronto and back to Greenville, I’ll be done with airplanes!” Apparently the deal was acceptable because in a bit the turbulence cleared and we made it to our destination with no further incidents. I barely refrained from kissing the ground when we got out of the plane.

Our stay in Toronto was pleasant as any trip to Toronto in winter could be, especially since we were all from the South. I almost froze three or four times. We went to a comedy club, which was something new to me; I enjoyed it. Everywhere we went snow drifts were piled higher than my head and when an inch of snow shuts down where you’re from, that was a sight to behold. I also though Canadian gas was really cheap until I figured out Canada was on the metric system and the low prices I was seen were per liter, not gallon. Multiplied by four and the prices eclipsed those at home by a dollar or more. Overall it was a fun trip. I learned a lot and didn’t make any cultural faux pas in our four days.

The trip home was very smooth. We took a small jet to Pittsburgh and an even smaller jet home to Greenville. It was nighttime so I didn’t worry myself since I couldn’t see the wings. We landed in Greenville at 1:00 in the morning. Budge picked me up and just like that, Bilbo was back at Bag End. That’s the full extent of my lifetime travels. Not too much, but at least one big trip. I wish Budge and i could travel more but it’s hard to find someone to watch the fur babies. We won’t leave them with just anyone. Also, I’m bigger now than when I went to Toronto so I’m not sure how well I’d fit on a plane, plus there’s that deal I made and I try to be a man of my word!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

#TBT: It’s Springtime! Oh Joy, sniff, sniff, honk.

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This originally ran on March 31, 2010.

It’s (sniff) springtime (sniff) and so (sniff) time to (sniff) begin my (sniff) love / hate (honk, blow, hack) relationship (sniff) with that (sniff) lovely stuff (sniff, honk) POLLEN (wipe, sniff)!!

All kidding aside, I do love springtime. Daffodils are one of my favorite flowers of all and a square foot of the delicious yellow blossoms still bloom every spring about this time next to the stone steps at Papa and Granny’s (now Aunt Cathy’s) just where Papa and I planted them some thirty years ago. The sky is blue as the bluest eye and the Final Four have been announced. It is spring!

Of course, that means it is hay fever season for me. I do not have allergies. That would be too easy. No, I have demon possessed nasal passages that twinge with the slightest micron of plant matter on the air. To put it simply, if it is green or has a bloom, I’m probably allergic to it. Violently, sickeningly, head-splittingly allergic to it.

From now until the first cold snap in October, my days will consist of bleary eyes and a runny nose. If you want some sound financial advice, invest in facial tissue. I predict a spike in the price of the good stuff as soon as I can get to the store. Budge mowed the yard tonight for the first time this year and I was picking up fallen limbs and other vegetable detritus of winter. We were outside probably ninety minutes at the absolute most. That was about three hours ago and one shower, two Claritin, and four Sudafed (the REAL meth-making stuff; not that knock off crap) later and I can finally sit still long enough to type a blog post. Of course, I have hypertension and Sudafed and Claritin do wonders for raising blood pressure so I’ll have a nice little raging headache for the next few weeks until my body adjusts its chemical soup for the change in seasons.

Of course, I am wildly overjoyed at the wonderful array of pharmaceuticals available to me and my fellow sufferers today. As a child, I had no such balm in my particular Gilead. Nothing then existed to blunt the misery of the spring, summer, and fall allergy season. The only medicine of any effectiveness was Benadryl. Now that is some wonderful stuff, but I had a choice — take Benadryl and spend summer in a coma, or take nothing and let my eyes swell shut and my nose become so raw it would literally ulcerate in some places. I tried to play outside with the other kids, but to be totally honest, I don’t do misery well, so I spent a lot of time indoors or in a Benadryl haze.

My horrible allergies deserve the most credit for all my academic achievements and the most blame for all my athletic failures. I’ve always been told I had a football player’s build, but it’s hard to block someone when your eyes are running rivers and you have to sneeze every fifteen seconds. (Just as an aside, you ever sneeze in a football helmet, you won’t forget it) On the contrary, I’m strangely not allergic to dust (mold is another story) so the dusty stacks of the local library branch were a respite from the yellow swirling air outside. The library was air conditioned as well, which was a nice bonus for a fat kid like me.

So, thanks to hay fever, I graduated second in my class in high school having never been able to play a game of football or baseball in my life. I love baseball. ***sigh***

Well, I’ve got to go blow my nose . . . again. So, y’all keep those feet clean and those pollen masks on and remember I love y’all and we’ll talk at you later.

#TBT: Goodbye, Mama. I love you.

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Mama and me

Going to miss her so very much.

I wrote this the day we buried Mama. It’s been eight years today since she died . I still miss her. Rob is holding on as best he can.

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.

Thoughts on 50

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I turned 50 years old last month. I knew I wanted to write about it but, honestly, it’s taken me a while to process the fact I’ve ridden this rock around the Sun fifty times. I guess many people could say this, but if you had known me in my teenage and early twenties years you’d probably be surprised I made it this far. Up until 25 I didn’t lead a lifestyle conducive to growing old. I drank as much as I could in high school and swam in bourbon at college. Of course, you can’t be young and drunk without participating in many somewhat sketchy activities so I had some close scrapes along the way. Then there was the underlying reason I was acting out so. I was struggling with undiagnosed anxiety, depression, and borderline personality disorder. Looking back, I guess it’s a wonder I managed as well as I did.

I met Budge when I was 25 though and on the cusp of turning my life around. She help complete the turn and she’s been helping me along for half my life now. I wish I could say it’s been all pixie dust and unicorns farting rainbows, but it hasn’t. Old dragons returned and got much worse after a time, but Budge has held my hand through it all. She says she always will.

But what of 50? How do I feel hitting the half-century mark? Physically? Not so good. Age has uncovered the physical consequences of doing some dumb stuff while I have plenty of normal wear and tear to boot. It’s like a man once said, “It ain’t the make of the car as much as it is the mileage.” I have to say this vehicle has not been garage kept either. My knees hurt a considerable bit. I know much of that pain is from working double hard to carry my fat bottom around for all these years. Except for about three years in my teens, I’ve never been accused of being svelte and my knees remind me of that now. Actually, I could be weeks from death and I wouldn’t know it. I haven’t seen a doctor since 2015. I should probably be on cholesterol and blood pressure meds at least and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if blood work showed me to be borderline diabetic or worse. It drives Budge crazy, but right now I prefer denial to cold, clinical facts.

Mentally I don’t feel so bad. I have the slight forgetfulness that comes as we get older. I’ve made two and sometimes three trips to a room to remember what it is I’m here for, but overall I have pretty good recall. I know all the important dates and the relevant information about my marriage – you know, first date, what I was wearing when we met, all the important stuff that will get a husband in hot water if he forgets. I don’t think I’ll be fulfilling my dream of going on Jeopardy! any time in the future now though. I still know the answers but my reflexes might not hold up against the younger generation. My mind has been my greatest friend and worst enemy in my life but it’s still mostly intact and I can’t be thankful enough for that. If dementia is in my future at least I’ve made it by the “early onset” point. I hope I’m spared that fate though because, as many things as I’d like to forget in my life, I can’t imagine much worse than forgetting my friends and loved ones. It’s one of my many greatest fears.

So what do I think about turning 50? Mostly I think I’m old. Now I know plenty of people who are over 50 and don’t seem touched by age. I’m not one of them. I’ve never been active much in my life and if you don’t use it, you lose it. I’m not one of these who is going to be competing in senior marathons or weightlifting competitions. I just feel settled. I’ve been home sitting on the shelf for all of my forties. I haven’t been in front of a class in over 15 years; haven’t been a librarian for ten. Maybe I should try to reinvent myself and do something different the second half of my life but I’ve been on the shelf so long I don’t really know where to start. I’ve heard people talk about late bloomers, so maybe I’m just an early flower dropper.

One thing I don’t feel is particularly wise. To me, 50 has always been the age a man starts being sought out for his opinion and advice on weighty matters. I don’t feel like I have much weighty experience. I can serve as an example of the wrong way to do many things with alcohol, pills, and especially money. I learned all those the hard way, and I would love to spare young people some of that heartache, but I don’t seem to have much of an audience. I think about Papa Wham. He was 50 when I was born and he’s probably the wisest man I’ve ever known. He did things though. He fought a war, ran his own business, and served as a church deacon several times. He had a deep well to draw from. Next to him, I feel like a puddle.

One thing I am more aware of now that I’m 50 is my own mortality. Men in my family don’t generally reach 80. It seems 74-77 is the sweet spot. Then a big heart attack comes to take them away. I know I’m a lot, lot closer to the finish line than I am the start. I wish I was leaving more of a legacy behind but leaving no children and getting out of the workforce early aren’t the best ways to ensure I’ll be fondly remembered.

So here I am at 50. I’ll have good company by year’s end since many of my friends turn 50 this year also. I’m just going to try looking ahead more than behind because that’s supposed to be where the good stuff is.

Love y’all, and keep your feet clean!