Author Archives: G. S. Feet

#TBT: Happy B-Day, Granny and RIP

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Granny Wham, 1978

I originally wrote this for what would have been Granny Wham’s 90th birthday. Tomorrow would have been her 98th and she’s been on my mind recently.

Had she lived, January 11, 2o1o 2018 would be my Granny Wham’s 90th 98th birthday. Mrs. Martha Ellen Willis Wham missed her nonagenarian years by two when she passed away just a month after her 88th birthday. She was a pretty awesome woman.

Granny was the poster child for a woman of Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation. She grew up on a small family farm in the rural Upstate of South Carolina. She had a younger sister (Aunt Mary) and two older half-brothers (Uncle Gordon and Uncle Henry) but as she said, “We loved each other wholly and no halves involved.” Her teenage years were in the brutal heart of the Great Depression and even an already poor area like post-Civil War South Carolina wasn’t spared.

Granny brought home the real trials of the era when she told me how her daddy, Papa Willis, had gotten a WPA job for the princely sum of $9 per week. As she put it, “we thought we were wealthy.” Like many of her co-sufferers, the deprivations of the Dust Bowl ’30s left their mark on Granny. She saved tinfoil by washing it clean and she had a full 12 place setting of Kraft Cool Whip salad bowls should the need have ever arisen.

As I related earlier, she married Papa in December 1945 after The War and they started a family. She was a homemaker until Aunt Cathy started school and then she went to work in the shoe department of Belk’s Department Store on Main Street in Fountain Inn. For the first 13 or so years of my life, every pair of shoes I owned was bought with Granny’s discount.

What Granny truly excelled at in my eyes, however, was in being a grandmother. To say she doted on me as her first grandchild would be a criminal understatement. She, with PLENTY of help from Papa to be sure, spoiled me, and later her three other grandsons, completely rotten. I loved every minute of it. She saved me from several well deserved punishments, but for the sake of space, I’ll just relate this one.

Granny had just bought a nice new corded rug to put down over the hardwoods in the den. It was a beautiful rug and she was proud of it. I, at the tender age of about three, was sitting in the middle of this brand new rug playing with a bottle of jet black liquid shoe polish that Papa had just used to shine his Sunday shoes. This is one of the few memories I have of Mama and Daddy before the divorce, but I distinctly recall each of them having told me more than once to put this bottle down and stop fiddling with it. Of course I kept right on and as you’ve probably guessed, the top popped off and jet black liquid polish met brand new beige rug. Mama started from the north end of the room as Daddy started from the south end of the room. As luck would have it, however, the room was a rectangle and Granny was in her rocker on the short eastern side so she got to me first, scooped me up over her shoulder, and stopped both my parents by saying, “It’s just a rug and it scared him to death. He didn’t mean it. He was just being mischievous.”

“He’s not bad, he’s just mischievous,” was Granny’s stock answer to any mishap any of her four grandsons might have. Lord knows how many times she could have worn us out or at least put us in time out for eternity, but instead, she just gave us a hug, asked us not to do it again, and usually gave us a piece of her homemade pound cake to reinforce the lesson.

Granny Wham, age 88 at Martha Franks Baptist Retirement Home.

To be completely honest, Granny Wham was one facet of my life I took for granted would ALWAYS be there. To me, she and papa were like the mountains or the ocean or even the blue sky above. They would always abide with us. Nothing could ever take them from us.

I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

Granny suffered a medium serious stroke in July 1995. It was the beginning of a long, long decline. She rallied. She even rallied upon learning two days after her stroke that Papa Wham had died. She had an indomitable will and for a few more years, it kept infirmity at bay. In the end though, a diagnosis of mini-strokes put an end to her living alone and driving. Aunt Cathy did the duty of a dedicated daughter selling her own home to move Uncle Larry, Zach, and Blake in with Granny so Granny wouldn’t have to leave the home she and Papa had built together in 1953.

She would stay with Aunt Cathy through the week and spend some weekends with Daddy and Teresa. One early weekend morning, trying to fix coffee for Daddy before he got out of bed, she made a misstep and fell, breaking her birdlike hip bone. After a stint in the hospital, she went to Martha Franks Retirement home to undergo physical therapy. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, she seemed to grow more frail instead of regaining strength. Again, though, her indomitable will, along with a hearty dose of good Willis stubbornness, kept the end at arm’s length for another few years. After all, she had a family to look after.

In the end, though, the reaper comes for everyone, even tiny precious and greatly beloved grandmothers. Aunt Cathy held her hand as she passed from this world to the next. My two first cousins, my little brother, and I stood watch over her casket at the front of the church where she’d taught Sunday School and sang in the choir for over fifty years, then, when it was time, we closed the lid on her beautiful oaken casket with The Pieta of Michelangelo depicted on all four corners and let the ministers have their say.

Granny’s dust lies next to Papa’s now in the Beulah Baptist Church cemetery. Her soul, I imagine, walks hand in hand with his down golden streets and, even though I have no theology to back it up, I like to think she looks down on us every now and then — in afterlife, as in life — watching over the family she held so close to her heart.

Love you, Granny Wham and miss you very much. Tell Papa we love and miss him too.

#TBT: A Non-Ironic Christmas Miracle

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I originally wrote this post on Christmas Day 2015. For a variety of reasons, this holiday season has been if anything worse than the season I mentioned originally, but whenever I read this post, I realize in the midst of the deepest darkness we have something to cling to if we just reach for the light.

I’ve been having a terrible holiday season. Thanksgiving was wonderful but ever since that glorious meal and day of hanging out with friends like family my mood and emotions have slowly and inexorably skidded towards a new nadir. I always write a Christmas post and honestly I had planned something even more cynical than last year’s. I feel like sandpapered bare nerves and figured I may as well take my massive (ha,ha) readership down with me.

Then, I some news rocked me back on my heels and got me to thinking beyond twinkling lights that keep blowing, decorations that never made it to the tree, and all the presents I couldn’t afford to buy this year. I got some news and it made me shut my cynical, downward spiraling mouth until I could open it in wonder and say to myself, “Damn, if that’s not Christmas, I don’t know what is.”

I’m leaving out all the names in this story because it is so highly personal to those involved. In doing so, however, I fear some may see my concern for another’s privacy as a cheap way of passing off a lie. If you believe I’m lying about this story, I pity you because you have grown more cynical and jaded than I have. I’m trying to protect the dignity of a person who doesn’t even know I exist and if you think that’s lying, I can’t help you.

This concerns the granddaughter of a precious acquaintance of mine. This sweet young lady whom I have only seen in pictures at my friend’s home is a freshman at a Midwestern college who currently attends said institution on a full scholarship. She comes from a wonderful family, had a reasonably good upbringing, got into the usual teenage mischief, but is overall a lovely young lady, if completely unremarkable in most ways. When I say she is unremarkable, I don’t mean she isn’t special or talented or she doesn’t stand out in any way, but she is much like the rest of her tribe of young college students. If I gave her name, it wouldn’t ring any bells to anyone outside her immediate family and circle of friends, I’m sure. In a very good way, she is simply average.

Several weeks ago, this wonderfully average girl was in her room studying for classes when her suite-mates announced their room was to soon become the epicenter of a spirited get-together. This lovely girl wasn’t too thrilled about having her study time interrupted by an impromptu party, but she realized those are the memory making moments of college which last so she didn’t protest much.

By-the-by, friends and acquaintances, classmates and dorm-mates began to arrive and a wonderful time of eating and listening to music, etc was had by all. Whether or not any underage drinking occurred is anyone’s guess but I can say with absolute authority the young lady in question emphatically did NOT partake of anything alcoholic, much less to extreme because her scholarship depends on an extremely high level of training and fitness and her coach does not tolerate hangovers.

So, at an appropriate hour, or maybe somewhat past, the suite-mates decide the gathering had run its course and started breaking up the festivities. Our girl walked a few friends out of the building then returned to her apartment, said goodnight to the few remaining guests and — claiming fatigue — retired to her bedroom where she changed into flannel pjs, crawled into bed, pulled the covers up and went soundly to sleep. When she awoke the next morning, she was in basically the same position, same clothes, same bed, same everything.

When she got up, she did notice she was really sore, but she didn’t think much of it because training for her sport had begun in earnest and a modicum of soreness was expected at this point in the season. When the ache went away by the next day, she didn’t give it anymore thought.

Fast-forward four or five weeks and she’s feeling a touch under the weather. Nothing terrible and she figures it might be her body adjusting to the new climate. Still, to be safe, she went to the infirmary where a very efficient nurse practitioner checked her out and took a blood sample before sending her home with an antibiotic.

Two days later, she got the call from the infirmary which would change her life and the life of her family forever. A lot of us think we’ve gotten such a call . . . this young woman did. The very efficient nurse practitioner was on the phone and basically ordered her to return to the infirmary . When she arrived at the clinic, she asked what the problem with her blood tests was. The very efficient nurse practitioner then point-blank informed this young lady all alone and miles from any of the support systems she knew and adored she was several weeks pregnant.

That was impossible she told the nurse. She absolutely couldn’t be pregnant because she was, in fact, a virgin. She didn’t even have a boyfriend! Somehow a mistake had to have occurred, but upon a thorough exam, she realized there had been no mistake. She was no longer a virgin. She WAS pregnant.

When the shock wore off enough for her to contact her family, her mother came out and along with her roommates they began to piece together what had happened. To cut a rapidly growing story somewhat short, this girl had been drugged or “roofied” at the party weeks before, stripped, raped while unconscious, then re-dressed and tucked back in bed as though nothing happened. What’s more, the roommates were certain of the culprit because he had apparently been accused of this action before.

Now, this girl and her family are solid Christians, but even so, the most staunch pro-lifers are against abortion “EXCEPT in the case of incest, rape, or danger to the mother.” OBVIOUSLY this was a case squarely in the “exception clause.” Of course she was going to have an abortion. The school even offered to pay for it for her so she wouldn’t be out any money. They would work on prosecuting the offender, but no one expected her to keep this child. It was a RAPE BABY! Everyone would understand. It was the right course of action to take.

Here’s where the story turns from anger inducing to miracle working. She said, “No.” Simple as that. NO. She wasn’t having an abortion. Furthermore, she is not giving the baby up for adoption once he or she is born. She plans to keep and raise her baby.

NOTE: The baby BOY was born in due course and is beautiful and lovely in every way and as far as I have been able to keep up, mother and child are doing well.

Obviously, to just about everyone around her this is nothing short of insane. She’s a freshman in college. How is she going to manage a baby as an unmarried single mom in school? What about her reputation? What about the father? What about the hundreds of other “What abouts” to consider? Well, she considered them and decided to have and keep her baby.

The university is working with her hand in glove. She’s being given a leave of absence until the baby arrives at which time a court ordered paternity test will take care of the question of the father. Her scholarship is safely intact. Still, nothing in her life is ever going to be the same. All the plans she had mapped out, all the hopes and dreams now have to be completely overhauled. She will endure ridicule and scorn from now on because in any crowd some people will always rush to believe the worst about someone. She’ll be accused of “asking for it.” Her life will be on trial even though she’s done nothing. Some people will claim she’s using the baby for monetary gain because the rapist father is the scion of a hugely prominent and wealthy family in that state.

From now on, no matter what she does, she’s going to carry a stigma. She’s going to be “That Girl,” but she’s also carrying a baby. I guess 999 of 1000 women or more would have gone with the abortion and WHO COULD BLAME THEM? To this girl, however, aborting the baby would be tantamount to blaming him (or her) for the heinous crime the father committed. She refuses to do that. The world sees a rape baby, fit for — at best — being given up for adoption.

She sees her son (or daughter) and THAT is what hit me so hard.

2000 years ago and half a world away, another lovely young lady, also completely unremarkable in most ways and also a virgin found out SHE was pregnant. She, at least, was warned by an angel, but I’m thinking it didn’t help much in the end. As soon as she began to show, tongues started flapping. Obviously she was a harlot! She must have done something to bring this on herself! Her betrothed had the right to have her killed by stoning, but he chose instead to just “put her away”, an euphemism for divorce. Another visit by another angel changed HIS mind and together they had that baby and the Apostle Luke says she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger because there was no room in the local inn. They became a family right in the middle of a storm of scandal.

“The Holy Spirit?!” “Right!” “A VIRGIN!! Her?!” “Right.” That mother and her little baby were haunted by people who thought for absolute certainty they knew more than they did and weren’t afraid to spread their venom far and wide. Even today, 2000 years later, it hasn’t stopped. Scientists, philosophers, and great men of all stripes still say it couldn’t have happened. One major theory for all 20 centuries was this lovely young lady, completely unremarkable in most ways was raped by a Roman soldier, got pregnant, and tried to cover it up with the most unbelievable story possible and make herself the center of a new religion in the process because in any crowd some people will always rush to believe the worst about someone and refuse to believe otherwise.

By the way, spare me all the stories of the pagan roots of the Christmas celebrations — I know them, studied them, and even taught classes about them. I know, as do most thoughtful Christians, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25, 1 AD so save all your science and your scorn. Keep your bigoted opinions to yourself because I’ve been there, I’ve got the scars, and I bought the t-shirt with all that cynical drivel writ large upon it and I came to realize one thing:

Christmas isn’t about a date on a calendar; it’s about a babe in a manger. It’s not about the gifts we give each other but about The Gift a loving God gave to a world dying in sin; “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son and whosoever will believe in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” So, to quote an adorable little cartoon guy with a red shirt and a blue blanket, “THAT’S what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Love y’all, keep your feet clean, and have a very Merry Christmas.

Great War Wednesday: Finis

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vimy-sheep

Sheep graze on the Vimy Ridge Battlefield today.

For a brief flaming moment early in 1918, it looked as though the Germans might take Paris and grab victory from the ashes of defeat, but alas, the Spring Offensive failed them. With the cream of their army spent and fresh American troops arriving by the shipload daily, the Kaiser’s once mighty army began a long fighting but inexorable retreat towards the vaunted last defense of German home soil, the Hindenburg Line. Once even that mighty redoubt was breached, the gig was up. The army was fighting, but barely, and it was irreparably broken. Revolution began breaking out in cities across Germany. Hindenburg and Ludendoff, the two generals at the top of the military hierarchy realized the war was lost and informed Kaiser Wilhelm II of this fact. Faced with this ultimate humiliation, the Kaiser abdicated the throne of Germany on 9 November 1918 and the German High Command asked the Allies for terms of armistice. Two days later, at 11:11, 11 November 1918 — the “eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day” — the Armistice took effect and after four and a half years of unprecedented slaughter and misery, all the guns fell silent on the Western Front.

The Great War was over. The War to End All Wars had itself come to an end.

Sadly, the grim lesson of the war didn’t affect everyone. Front line commanders knew an armistice would take effect on 11 November at at least 5:00 AM local time and yet in many, many places along the line, fighting kept up and even intensified. Sadly, in the six hours between the signing of the truce to its going into affect, men kept dying — now completely needlessly — all along the front as nations in the last gasp of the war grasped for some final shreds of territory to claim. Maybe they thought another 100 yards would make the carnage mean something but who can really know?

If the Great War changed the world, the peace which followed changed it at least as much. The Hapsburgs were ousted from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. That ancient edifice, last remnant of the Holy Roman Empire of centuries before, splintered into various countries including Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and others. The Balkans, where the war began, consolidated into one country called Yugoslavia and laid the groundwork for generations of ethnic violence for decades to come. Poland, once wiped from existence, returned to nation status again and Russia started calling itself The Soviet Union.

Perhaps most affecting us today, the Middle East as we know it was created out of whole cloth as the Ottoman Empire shattered and was redistributed among the victors. France and Britain took up protectorates of the areas which now hold Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Kuwait, and all the familiar names we know from the violent news in our headlines today. The victorious powers drew national boundaries where none had existed before and split tribes in many places while combining the volatile factions of Islam into single countries in other places. The conflict in the Middle East today, bloody as it is, traces its origins to the chaotic end of World War One and the scramble for the mysterious new magical fluid — crude oil — that all the major powers now needed as if it were their own life’s blood.

For Germany, the end of the war was particularly cruel. Germany lost the heart of its industrial region — the Rhineland — to France, and was stripped of all her colonies as well as being forcibly disarmed. The monarchy was gone, replaced by the Wiemar Republic, a barely functional government that bravely but futilely tried to transition Germany from monarchy to democracy. Most grievous to German morale, Germany was forced to accept complete responsibility for the War. France and Britain both demanded heavy reparations from the broken country — payments that were draconian in both size and duration. Germany had to accept the label of “the bad guys” famously iterated in the clause in the treat which said Germany must bear sole responsibility for “all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by” Germany and her allies.

One problem developed immediately in the German psyche. Because Germany still had a capable army in the field when the war ended, many German radicals would protest that the country hadn’t actually been defeated. They claimed the military never surrendered but was instead “stabbed in the back” by the civilian government with the help of “Jews, Socialists, and Bolsheviks” who had no right to stop the war while Germany had the power to resist. This mythical “stabbed in the back” narrative would rankle in Germany for years and would find its ultimate fertile ground in the speeches and writings of a former Austrian corporal named Adolf Hitler.

The Treaty of Versailles which ended the war notoriously emasculated Germany. Her army was taken, her navy sunk en masse at Scapa Flow in Britain, her air force dismantled and forbidden to reform EVER. It was a treaty no self respecting country could ever bear up under and it was the conditions imposed by the treaty that led Field Marshall Ferdinand Foch to famously state, ““This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years”. Ironically, the Second World War began twenty years and sixty-five days from the signing of the Versailles Treaty.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed the past four years of Great War Wednesday posts. I originally intended for there to be one every Wednesday, but as you can tell from the archives, that didn’t happen. Still, World War One was an immeasurably important point in world history, arguably more important long term than the larger and deadlier Second World War.

In any case, love y’all, and keep your feet clean.

#TBT: Somebody Just Got Rich, but It Ain’t Me!

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powerball-ticket

I first ran this post in 2013 after someone in my state won a paltry $400 million lottery. Well, lightning struck again only this time it’s someone right here in the Upstate AND instead of $400 million, the haul is a record $1.6 BILLION. So I thought it’d be appropriate to run it again!

As I write this, someone, somewhere here in my beloved Palmetto State is the nouveau-est of the nouveau riche.

Someone in South Carolina purchased a PowerBall lottery ticket yesterday and for his or her trouble is now $400 million $1.6 billion richer. Let that sink in just a minute. Yesterday morning, this person got up and maybe went to some dead-end job to give a little more sweat and time to The Man in exchange for enough of a paycheck to get by. All day long yesterday at his machine or behind her desk, this special someone was working away without the slightest idea the Long Black Freight Train of Fate was rolling down the tracks right towards him or her. For once, the light at the end of the tunnel WAS a train — metaphorically at least — and this time, that wasn’t a bad thing.

I like to picture this soon-to-no-longer-be-a-drone getting off work and starting towards home in a car or truck with broken air conditioning, four bald tires, and a drooping headliner. He sighs as he pulls out of the parking lot. She waves goodbye to the security guard at the gate. Either way, one of them turns into the late afternoon sun for a hot, sticky ride to the house. Suddenly, the headache that’s been building all day gets annoying so she pulls into a Quickie Mart clone near home to grab a Pepsi Max to wash down a few Advil in hopes of taking the edge off the pounding before facing the kiddos.

He’s a decent guy so he’s probably making some small talk with Apu behind the counter when he notices the sign stating the PowerBall jackpot is up to $400 million. He figures, “Eh, what the Hell?” and gives over a couple of dollars, fills out the ticket and heads home laughing at himself a little at the silliness of buying a lottery ticket. What would his sainted Southern Baptist grandmother think if she could see him now?

Just as an aside, this is one of the quirks of lotto ticket buying I’ve never understood. I’ve actually heard people say, “Ah, the pot’s only at $50 million . . . I don’t even bother getting a ticket if it’s less than $200 million.” That’s crazy talk! You are standing on a sidewalk in front of a 7-11 looking like death on a stick and you’ve come to the conclusion a mere $50 million wouldn’t be worth your while? Now I read somewhere that Bill Gates would actually lose money if he stopped to pick up a $100 bill off the sidewalk. I have no idea if that’s true, but I know none of us are Bill.

Anyway, our erstwhile worker ant gets home, talks to the significant other, plays with the kids . . . whatever. Supper’s ready then the dishes get washed and he turns around to the TV just in time to catch the day’s numbers. Funny . . . those sound familiar. Not even seriously hoping for anything and certainly not expecting anything, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out his lotto stub with the numbers he chose. He takes one look at his ticket, looks back at the screen, and the next thing he knows his wife is kneeling beside him fanning him and dabbing his neck with a cool cloth. When she asks him what happened, he shows her the ticket, points to the TV, and just manages to catch her head before it hits the floor. They won. They have hit the big time.

Dude is now LOADED. He woke up in the morning wondering how he was going to stretch the money to the end of the month and he’s going to bed tonight with visions of Maserati and mansions dancing in his head.  Of course he can’t sleep. First thing this morning he called in sick to work. Dude’s tickled to death about the money, but he’s smart so he called the lawyer who helped him close on the double wide. Then he called a buddy of his who is an accountant. THEN, the three of them went down to the store to turn in that ticket.

Now here’s another thing that cracks me up. I was reading some of the comments on the stories about the winning lottery jackpot. One guy, obviously eating a bushel of sour grapes, remarked how sad it was $400 million gets taxed down to $145 million and “no one seems to care.” WHY WOULD YOU CARE!!!??? The day before, stand up weenies and saltine crackers were a gourmet lunch because this guy was one paycheck away from the poor-house and today he has $145 Million after taxes? Sure, Uncle Sam, take your chunk because I’m STILL RICH!! ONLY $145 million. That’s like saying the Star of India is ONLY a diamond or the Grand Canyon is ONLY a hole in the ground.

So this guy is set for life now, whoever and wherever he is, and I’m truly happy for him. If there is any real justice in the world, he or she is a teacher with the class from Hell this year and now gets to quit if she wants to because that brings up my final funny point . . . all these people who win these millions get interviewed and say “I just don’t think I could stay home all day so I think I’ll keep on working like always.” RIIIIGHT! When I was a high school teacher I used to talk about hitting the lottery with my students and I always told them the same thing, “Folks, if you see Coach Wham on the news holding up one of those big paper checks that says ‘Lottery Winnings: $X millions’, DO NOT look for me at work the next day! I will hire my OWN substitute, but I’m going fishing!”

So here’s to you Mr. or Mrs. Lottery Winner. I hope the wealth doesn’t change you — unless of course you are a raging asshole and then hopefully it will change you for the better — and to all the dreamers who have worthless slips of paper in your pockets, all I can say is “better luck next time.”

Til then though, I love y’all — rich or poor — and remember to keep those feet clean!

#TBT: But They Were Both Green!

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God’s gift to men-children everywhere. For some reason, all mine were green elephants and purple hippos. Coincidence? I think not.

This post first ran on February 16, 2011

I’ve had some people ask me if I had personal experience as my guide for my last post. To that, I can only answer “Of course!” I am still amazed by the amount of knowledge I lost on January 7, 1995. (That would be the day Budge and I started dating, in case you aren’t keeping up!) For the last ten years, I had been a passable driver, notching only one wreck in that decade. It was a GOOD wreck, but still, it was only one and, to set the record straight, Budge had TWO wrecks in the six months before we met. More importantly, I had managed for the previous 20 years to dress myself in clean and decent fashion. I admit that when I was younger, I benefited from the miracle that was the original Granimals line of clothing, but even after I outgrew my mix and match zoo, I still looked presentable.

In one day, I not only lost the ability to drive, it seems I was no longer competent to dress myself either. Strangely, the only thing different from 1-6-95 to 1-7-95 was that I had become joined at the heart, if not the hip — at first at least, to She-Who-Was-To-Be-Called-Budge. Now, to get everyone just joining us up to speed, Budge was a student where I was a first year teacher. We met. We clicked. We became the worst kept secret in the school district and the fact I didn’t get fired (at least not for our relationship) has always warmed my heart because people must have thought I was a good enough man to have a relationship like this without taking advantage of a poor, lovestruck teenage girl.

Yeah, RIGHT! If they ONLY knew how brazen my future wife was!

Anyway, when I started teaching, I was a bit strapped for clothes fit to wear in front of a classroom full of students. Four years of college will do that to a guy’s wardrobe. I did, however, have ONE outfit that I thought was, to use the student vernacular of those days, “Da Bomb!” It was a nice, heavy cloth Duck Head button up shirt that I wore with Duck Head cargo pants.

Now, if you aren’t familiar with Duck Head, you didn’t go to college in the South in the late ’80s or early ’90s. They were a ubiquitous brand of khaki pants and pastel shirts in solids, plaids, and stripes. Some of us called them “the poor man’s Polo” since they were better made but lacked some of the cachet of Mr. Lauren’s little red horsey. They certainly were a great deal more affordable, especially when every dollar one saved on clothing was money that could be put towards paying down student loans! Yeah, I know and you’re right, whatever we saved went to beer, but it’s nice to think about what might have been had we been a bit more responsible.

But I digress.

This is pretty close to what mine looked like. Snazzy, right?

I had this one well-made, well-maintained and — to my eye anyway — STYLISH outfit. Since I am a firm believer in the old adage, “If one guitar string breaks in the middle of the set, play harder on the other five” I wore this particular outfit once per week, every week, from the time I got my job at the school in October until the outfit’s untimely demise six months later. Now, I’ve noted the cut, construction, and origin of this outfit, but what I failed to mention, and what apparently is SUPREMELY important, is that both the shirt and the pants were green. Apparently, that presented somewhat of a problem.

This would be a good time for me to reiterate one fundamental difference between men and women that happens to be most germane to this recollection. Men, to use computer terminology, are 4 bit color depth beings. If you’ve ever hooked up a monitor to your computer that wasn’t quite compatible and it reverted back to the lowest color setting, you’ve seen color through a man’s eye. We have red, blue, green, white, black, grey, and beige (and we’re not to sure about beige.)

Mine were a little lighter, but this is reasonably close. Does anyone else see a problem? I certainly didn’t!

Women, however, are 256 XVGA HD 1080 color compatible. They do not have “beige.” They have eggshell, off-white, candlelight, old lace, ecru (which I always though was a bird from Australia), flat champagne, and at least ten other “shades” for what men call “beige” and which no being in possession of less than two X chromosomes could discern a difference between even if held at gunpoint.

So, I thought the shirt was green and the pants were green. No problem. To Budge, however, I discovered that the pants were “olive” and the shirt was “dark lime.” Here I thought I was supposed to wear the clothes and she’s making it sound like I need to eat them. The very first time I brought her home to meet Mama, before I had revealed to Mama that Budge was — in fact — a student which is a story for another time, Budge went into my room — later to be our room — took out my “olive” pants, brought them into the kitchen, and threw them in the trash. She then told me that I could wear THE shirt with jeans and nothing else.

Life would simpler. I might even get to buy my own clothes again!

When I pointed out to her that I had worn that same outfit once a week for six months and she had NEVER said one word about it, she had a ready reply: “I know that, honey, and I told ‘the girls’ when we first started dating that once I found out I was coming over here the first thing on the agenda was to GET RID OF THAT OUTFIT!”

That, beloved, is how I found out that green actually doesn’t “go with” green and from that day to this, I have not bought an item of clothing to be worn in public without my Budge’s express approval.

I want my Granimals back!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

Great War Wednesday: 1918 Flu Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love y’all and keep your feet clean!

#TBT: Of Starfish

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Once upon a time, I was a teacher and a librarian. That was a long time ago, but back when I was and I started this blog, this post got more views than any other had up to that point and it is still in the top five ten years later.

I’ve been thinking about a lot of things and doing some intense soul searching over the last few weeks since finding out my position has been cut at school and I don’t have a job next year. To be honest, I’ve been seriously considering some field other than education just because the endless politics and prurience keep dragging me down. So I’m publishing this article that I originally wrote for my state association’s newsletter. I’ve been rereading it to try and boost my flagging spirits.  I hope y’all like it.

“Of Starfish”

Starfish and coffee, maple syrup and jam;
butterscotch clouds, tangerines, side order of ham.
If you set your mind free, baby, maybe you’d understand
Starfish and coffee, maple syrup and jam. (Music and lyrics by Prince Rogers Nelson)

Most everyone in education has or has read the poster / cup / screensaver about the young boy throwing starfish back into the ocean as the older gentleman watches him and comments on how useless the boy’s efforts are. Many of us, especially after a hard day when the children (and faculty) have tried our patience, are sustained by the hopeful last line of that free verse that says, “It made a difference to that one.”

We all have starfish in our careers. They are our life’s blood and they keep us going; their very existence validating our best efforts and giving us the desire to come back in August even if we left in May or June swearing we’ll “never come back again.” Our starfish, our precious students and even teachers, in whose lives we have made a noted, tangible difference, are the most valuable revitalizing resources we possess.

I got to pondering starfish last Saturday after eating with my wife at one of the nicer Italian restaurants in town. Our regular waiter at that particular eatery happens to be one of my first, and still one of my most beloved, starfish. Jason (not his real name) was a sensitive, broody young man in my honors English class during a particularly bad year for me professionally. He thought deeply of subjects far beyond the purview of many of his classmates. He pondered much more than proms, power, and the popular crowd, of which he was an abject outcast. Jason had problems at home where a burly stepfather insisted he play football even though Jason had precious little athletic aptitude and even less interest. To make his life even more stressful at the time, Jason was also extremely confused about his sexual orientation. For some reason, he chose to confide in me. In all honesty, it wasn’t a subject I liked, was comfortable with, knew much about, or wanted to discuss, but something in me knew that Jason wasn’t going to go to anyone else, at school or out.

So, I listened before school, after classes and at the end of the day as he talked through what he was feeling. I felt terrible because I didn’t think I was being much help other than as a sounding board. Then one day, whether by luck, intuition, or some latent librarian skill, I gave him a copy of a book that had come to me in a box of classroom library donations. The title character was a teenaged boy with an emotionally abusive stepfather and confusion about what sexual orientation he had. It wasn’t a famous book; if someone put a gun to my head and demanded I tell him the title, I’d be shot dead.

Be all that as it may, the book seemed to be a key for Jason. He took solace that someone, even a fictional someone, had similar thoughts to his own. I don’t know why, but whatever the reason, he seemed to regain a little more life and a bit of zest. I remained his unofficial father confessor through his senior year and he stopped by quite often during his first year of junior college. We lost touch for about two years until he walked up in his spiffy waiter’s uniform and apron to be our waiter one night about two years ago. Between the breadbaskets and the ice cream desserts, he told Budge and me that he’d dropped out of college, gone back, dropped out again, started waiting tables in good restaurants and got certification as a physical therapy masseur. He now has a wonderful live-in girlfriend, whom I have met, so apparently, as I’ve kidded him, he has a handle on his orientation. We see each other about once a month, either at the restaurant or at a bookstore or ice creamery. He mentions those bad times every now and then, but no matter how many times he says it, I still get shivers and Budge says my face lights up when Jason says, “Coach, you listened when no one else did . . . I appreciated it so much.”

Jason was my first memorable starfish, but I’m glad to say, not my last. I hardly have space to talk about the wonderful parade of miscreants and misfits, talkative and taciturn, popular and pauper who have made my career as a teacher and now as a librarian incredibly interesting and unbelievably fulfilling, like the five boys who demanded I sign their diplomas because they felt I was the only reason they got them or the young lady and her beau who asked that I perform their wedding after graduation. Then I had the two tough middle school football players who say I’m the only one who could ever get them to read a book, the list could easily go on. They are all my starfish.

I suppose my reasons for focusing so much on starfish have a lot to do with one particular young student I knew well once upon a time. He was very overweight and had pasty white-pink skin. His middle school playground nickname was “The Great White Marshmallow.” Overly smart for his age, non-athletic to the extreme, bookish, he was simply not a success in the shark tank of middle school. I can see him now in sixth grade huddled in the back of the small library poring over a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, hoping earnestly that the large eighth grade jocks wouldn’t come inhere after him.

The young man’s best ally was the school’s librarian. She was the picture of kindness to him, even lending him her personal first edition of The Fellowship of the Ring because the school’s library didn’t have one. Looking back, he can understand how incredibly busy she was at the time and he knows now that she was going through tough times of her own, but she always took as much time he needed to talk about elves and dwarves and hobbits.

Because of the love of books and learning she imparted to one lonely starfish, that starfish had the desire to go on to college, then to library school and become a librarian himself. The librarian is now at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory as a psychometrician on the venerated faculty of Harvard University, but the boy starfish is now a middle school librarian and he’s never forgotten what it felt like to be burning up on life’s beach only to have a caring set of hands take him back to the cool ocean.

In closing, my esteemed colleagues, remember your starfish. Some of them may drive you crazy while some may make you smile and laugh, but either way, remember you never know the difference you make in someone’s, some starfish’s, life.

Love y’all and don’t forget to wash your feet.

A Decade of Grocery Store Feet

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10 yearsToday marks ten years since the first post I made on this blog. It’s easy to remember the day because my first post was about Labor Day and how it’s vital to teachers. I talked about teachers in many of my posts back then. Then, the blog name was “Books, Bytes, and Grocery Store Feet” because it was aimed at my colleagues — other school librarians. I had no way of knowing at the time, but 2008 would be my last year in education. Actually, it would be the last time I was in anything. After a lifetime fighting my mind, my mind finally won so I’ve spent the last ten years on the sidelines.

Still, ten years is a long time for me to have done ANYTHING! This blog constitutes the second longest thing I’ve ever managed. Dana and I have been married 22 years. That’s the only thing I’ve done continuously for longer than I’ve written this blog. It’s longer than any other romantic relationship I’ve had by a long shot and longer than any single job I’ve ever held so I guess I have room to be thankful for this little blog anyway.

I looked up some statistics about “Granny Beads and Grocery Store Feet” that WordPress provides and I’m a little amazed by some of them. I have over 2300 followers, which is strange because I’ve never had 2300 views on a single post so apparently not everyone is keeping up to date. This blog has been viewed and read in 190 countries and territories across the world. Presently, the UN recognizes 194 sovereign countries so I’ve made a tiny ripple in a good chunk of them and since I’ll never travel to a foreign land, it makes me happy to know my ideas have at least crossed oceans.

I’ve managed to post at least one item per month for each of the last 120 months. I’m proud of that streak. It means I’ve been able to stay on top of something, even if it’s something small and inconsequential. I’ve also been featured on Freshly Pressed three times which, considering the sheer number of blogs on the WordPress platform isn’t something I take lightly. It’s one of my happier accomplishments.

I’ll be honest though, more than once I’ve thought of shutting Granny Beads and Grocery Store Feet down. One of the main reasons is I don’t get a lot of views on what I think are good or important topics. I’ve only gone over 1000 views a handful of times. The latest post that went over 1K was my tribute to my Uncle Larry. I’m happy people liked that post, but it makes me a little sad that someone had to die for me to write something a thousand people would want to read. I wish some of my other posts had managed that level of popularity.

For now though, I’ll keep writing. I’d love to have some of my readers suggest something they would like to read about and if I can be articulate on the subject, maybe I can get a post written about it. Anyway, it’s been an interesting ten years to say the least.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

A Matter of Priorities

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Two scandals have blackened the eye of college football this summer. In the first, as many as thirteen University of North Carolina football players were caught selling limited edition shoes gifted to them by Nike and the school. For the egregious violation of NCAA rules and basically trying to make a little bit of money — since they don’t get PAID for putting their bodies on the line for UNC — these thirteen young men received punishments ranging from one to four game suspensions. They’ll have to sit on the sidelines for up to four games for selling their personal property.

The second scandal involved Ohio State University head football coach Urban Meyer III. A full explanation of the case involving Meyer is beyond the scope of my posting but here are the salient details. Basically, a guy named Zach Smith coached wide receivers for Ohio State. He also has a record of domestic violence towards his wife. After one episode, his wife told Meyer’s wife about the abuse and offered pictures. The upshot is Smith ended up fired from Ohio State and the question came up “what did Coach Meyer know and when did he know it?” He claimed he knew nothing about Smith’s past. An investigation by Ohio State took two weeks during which Meyer was suspended without pay. The investigation found something rotten in the state of Ohio and determined Meyer should be punished. For ignoring a man on his staff beating his wife, Meyer will be suspended for the first three games of this football season.

Let’s review. Young men in their late teens and early twenties who are football players sold their OWN stuff to a third party and some of them will be suspended FOUR games as punishment. A head football coach in his middle fifties ignored an assistant coach’s history of domestic violence and lied about it and he will be suspended THREE games as punishment.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but THREE is LESS than FOUR, I think. Math was never my best subject, but I’m pretty sure of this one. I’m also pretty sure criminal domestic violence is a more serious offense than selling one’s own property through legal channels.

In the parlance of this latest generation — WTF?

Sell your shoes and get suspended four games; ignore a man beating his wife and get suspended three games.

I’m gobsmacked by the complete failure of the system in this case, and lately, it takes A LOT to even mildly surprise me. My questions are why are the boys even being investigated and why isn’t Urban Meyer being fired as head coach?

In the name of full disclosure, let me just go on record as admitting I pretty much hate football. I went to a high school where football players were treated as demigods then I went to a college where they dropped the “demi” and just treated them like gods. It’s always turned my stomach. I don’t hate the players; I hate the game, just like the man said to do. Football players and coaches are just taking what life gives them; it’s the schools and the fans that are crazy.

Ohio State has a slogan painted on the wall of its practice facility for football. It says:

HONESTY

TREAT WOMEN WITH RESPECT

NO DRUGS NO STEALING NO WEAPONS

Is domestic violence treating women with respect? If you are the head coach of a multimillion dollar a year football team do you not have a responsibility to know what’s going on with your players AND YOUR COACHES? What good does it do to paint a slogan on the wall if, by your actions, you demean everything it stands for?

Let’s review, again. If you risk permanent physical or mental damage for your school twelve times in a year for three or four years, BUT someone else can take your place on the depth chart, you get a FOUR game suspension for selling your own shoes. On the other hand, if you get paid $38 MILLION to help your school bring in nearly $1 BILLION in sports revenue AND you’re considered the second or third greatest college football coach in the game, you can ignore your responsibility and LIE about it and you will only get suspended THREE games.

Something is broken in our country when our priorities are so distorted.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

PS: for much better explanations of what is going on at both schools, I’ve got three really good articles I’d suggest you read, if you can stand it. They explain things in much better detail.

Shoe Deals and Double Standards at North Carolina

Urban Meyer stays as Ohio State football coach, but he is diminished after investigation

Why Didn’t Ohio State Fire Urban Meyer?

#TBT: Verbal Brutality: Still Life in Words

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Friend of mine has started restoring his high school ride. It’s a ’68 GTO. I started thinking about this post from November 21, 2011.

You ever get something on your mind and you cannot move on to something else because you can’t concentrate with THAT thought rolling around in your head? You know, kind of like getting “It’s a Small World After All” stuck in your head on an endless loop? I’ve run into such a syndrome this fine Monday morning.

I was balancing out the checkbook from the weekend, pretty much the way I do every Monday, and I uncovered a couple of bills had slid or slipped or — knowing me — been placed under a stack of other papers. One was the water bill and of course it was overdue so I went online and paid it immediately since Budge doesn’t ask for much, but running water IS one of her requirements.

Anyway, after settling up those couple of bills and scheduling out the taxes (which were ALSO resting comfortably under the aforementioned pile) I realized we had about a third of the money I’d hoped we’d have for Christmas. Now, please understand, that’s nothing unusual. Since I got fired, money is always tight around here.

It was just a little disheartening to get socked this early on a Monday morning AFTER my awesome new-to-me laptop decided to lose it’s mind (and LCD screen) AND after spilling a heaping cup of Domino’s Extra Fine Granulated Sugar all over the counter and floor as I was making tea. I just wasn’t in the mood to be reminded of this particular incident, but . . . what’re you gonna do? Thanks to a story I saw on the internet, it was rolling around in my head and I’m hoping telling this story publicly will help exorcise this foul mental demon. After all, I need the room up there.

So without further fanfare, I want to tell about the most brutal, most condescending, most intentionally hurtful thing ANYONE has ever said to me. Names have been changed to show how even with BPD, Dysthymic Disorder, anger management problems, and all my other issues I’m just telling a story; I’m not out for revenge or trying to hurt anyone.

My Papa John had a 1965 Pontiac GTO he was insanely proud of. He loved that car. When I was small, he would put me on his lap and let me steer it down the highway. The GTO died when I was in middle school, but instead of getting rid of it, Papa took it down to our little white church and put it up on jack stands (not blocks) and threw a nice cover over it. Our plan was for me to “fix it up” and drive it once I got to high school and got my own job. Apparently, at some point, the antagonist of this story — a filthy rich Pontiac aficionado, found out about the GTO and offered to buy it from Papa John. Now, folks, Israel will give up the West Bank of Jordan and leave Jerusalem before my Papa John would have sold the GTO. So he said, “No thank you.” Undeterred, the guy would make papa the same offer several times over the years.

Then in my senior year of high school, Papa John had his first major debilitating stroke. It wasn’t his first stroke, but it was the first one to take him out of action for an extended period of time. Papa John gave me the title to the GTO and said, in his newly slurred speech, to go ahead with our plans and as soon as he got well, we’d work on the car together.

Unfortunately, I found out restoring cars is a rich man’s hobby. Even repairing the GTO enough to return it to the road proved to be beyond my means with my high school jobs. By then, I’d had it towed from the church to a friend of mine’s house who had a full on shop where I planned to do the work. Fortunately, the GTO wasn’t eating anything, didn’t cost much in taxes, and was more or less safe from the elements. I figured circumstances would change eventually and I could complete the restoration.

Once the Pontiac guy found out about Papa’s stroke, he started turning up the heat on ME to sell him the car. Please bear in mind I had all the same issues back then I do now, BUT I didn’t know anything was wrong with me, I just thought I was a raging asshole with a hair trigger temper. So I said, “No.” When he kept asking, I upped my response to “Hell no.”

Then, one night after I’d had a pretty disastrous day, the phone rang. This was in the pre-caller id days or I’d never have answered it. It was, of course, the Pontiac guy. We started going through the usual preliminary small talk expected of Southern men even if they DO hate each other but this time, he had a different tactic. He went straight for the guts. He said, “Shannon, I’ll tell you, I’ve been trying to buy that piece of $#@! GTO from your grandfather and now you for too long and I’m just going to be straight with you, John’s never going to drive again and you’ll never get that car running on what you make at a grocery store– you need to sell me that car tonight if for no other reason than

(here it comes)

(the ugliest thing anyone’s ever said to me even to this day)

I know you are dirt poor and could desperately use the money.”

I didn’t have anything to say. The saddest part was how right he was. At that particular moment, all the fight went out of me. With tears in my eyes, but not my voice (pride is a dangerous thing) I told him I’d leave the title and the key with Bobby (the guy who owned the shop where I had the car) after school the next day and he could pick them and the car up and drop off a check whenever. What he gave for our beloved GTO wouldn’t buy a set of tires today.

Now here is one of my life’s greatest ironies, I went to high school with the Pontiac guy’s son. Later on, I would be roommates in college with his son and dude became one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I could always count on him and still can.

I never mentioned the conversation with his father to my buddy. He knew where the car came from but not the circumstances. He also knew I loved old cars so he’d update me on his dad’s latest restoration projects. To this day, thirty years later, the GTO sits in a warehouse in Laurens County, protected from the elements, but still far from my planned glorious outcome for it. I doubt it’ll ever see the road again.

I don’t think St. Peter allows driving where Papa’s gone to now. It’s most likely hard to get tire marks off golden pavement, so I doubt Papa could care less.

As for me, whenever I see a 1965 GTO on the road, on TV or in a magazine, to this day, I taste bile and — more than that — dirt in my mouth for hours afterwards.

Love y’all, keep those feet clean, and be careful what you say to each other.