Author Archives: G. S. Feet

#TBT: We Are NOT That Broke Yet!

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

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

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

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

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

Dollar store toilet paper!

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

Wonderful but frivolous luxury.

Wonderful but frivolous luxury.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#TBT: Papa’s Day plus 75 years

Papa wham

Frank B. Wham, Sr. circa 1944

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, aka: D-Day. My beloved Papa Wham was there. I wrote this post June 6, 2015 for the 70th anniversary and I wanted to rerun it in memory of Papa and all the other brave boys who hit the bloody beaches all those long years ago. We will never see their like again and precious few remain.

Today more than any day of the year, I think of Papa Wham. More than his birthday (July 7), more than Christmas or Thanksgiving, more than Father’s Day, more than the anniversary of his passing (July 17), the anniversary of the D-Day invasion is my memory of Papa. This year is the 70th 75th anniversary of the Operation Overlord invasion that finally opened up the second front in Europe the Soviet Union had been so adamantly insisting upon for years. Seventy-five years since the beginning of the end for Hitler and his 1000 year Reich. For Papa Wham and thousands of young men like him, it was another day away from home and the people they loved. I’ve seen the news coverage of the ceremonies in the Normandy cemeteries and I’ve marveled at the large number of veterans of that day who made the trip back to those stormy cliffs to remember. None of them are younger than their late 80s, but every single one of them stands as straight as age and appliances will allow as the colors troop past and the national anthems play. These are not young men and for many of them, this will be their last tour of the battlefields of their youth. It’s nearly a cliché now, but this is the flower of America’s Greatest Generation and those flowers are quickly fading.

If Papa were still with us, he’d be 97 102. This year will mark twenty-five years since his passing. It’s been two decades since I’ve seen his gentle smile and heard his sweet voice. To have known my papa when I did and as I did — as my beloved grandfather and one of the two greatest men I’ve ever known — was not to picture a warrior primed for battle. Papa ran a service station then an auto parts store. He vacuumed the house for Granny Wham on Saturday mornings and dozed off sometimes in church on Sunday mornings when Preacher Jeff wasn’t holding his attention. He loved baseball — especially his Atlanta Braves. He loved me and each of his three other grandsons (though I’m pretty sure I was the favorite.) I just never viewed my precious Papa Wham as anything other than my papa.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve often wondered what Papa thought about “his” war. I never asked him for any details. I was too young to know how to gently and politely ask an older man about his service and Papa never volunteered his thoughts on anything but the most innocuous incidents, the funniest stories. I wonder about things now though. Papa was in his middle 20s when he went to fight the Nazis. He was a small town South Carolina boy riding to war on the Queen Mary ocean liner. What was he thinking 70 75 years ago today as his LCI splashed towards the narrow strip of sand? If I’ve heard correctly, Papa was in the third wave of the invasion, which meant the beach was still “hot” in terms of enemy action. Was he scared? I can’t imagine Papa Wham being scared any more than I can imagine Daddy being scared, but having watched the invasion scene of Saving Private Ryan time after time, I can’t see anyone in one of those boats not being terrified.

I know from his service record that D-Day wasn’t Papa’s first rodeo. He’d landed in North Africa during Operation Torch. He had been at Anzio and had taken part in the Sicily campaign. Still, this was attacking Hitler’s Atlantic Wall of Fortress Europe. I wonder how many friends he’d made in the two years of serving with the First Infantry Division, “The Big Red One.” I wonder how many he had seen maimed or killed in terrible ways. Had he ever killed anyone? I simply can’t see Papa as a killer, but it was a war and a terrible, bloody war at that. I know he could shoot because I’d seen him do it, but did he ever shoot a man? If he did, I never knew and I was brought up too well to ask.

What did he do in England during the build up for the invasion? What about during the days on the road in France when every American soldier was a liberator and a hero? Papa was dashingly handsome; especially in his uniform. Did he turn the head and catch the eye of a pretty English shop girl? Did he spend a quiet hour with some lovely French maid? To me, it’ll always be “Papa and Granny” but Papa wasn’t married to Granny yet and he was a long way from home with the possibility of being killed dogging his every step. I know it would seem scandalous to some — especially my Aunt Cathy — but I would hardly think less of my precious Papa Wham if he’d spent an evening with a European girl. He was kind and sweet and if Granny Wham loved him, why couldn’t a red-headed Scottish lass have been taken with him as well? I think entirely too much of Papa and his steadfast integrity to even entertain the idea I may have some kin on the other side of the Pond I don’t know about. That’s just not the kind of man Papa was . . . but if it did turn out I had a Belgian relative or two, I certainly wouldn’t think any less of Papa. It was a war.

A war he fought 70 75 years ago thousands of miles from home. Oh the questions I wish I had asked.

Rest in Peace, Papa, and Rest in Peace to all the brave fallen of that terrible war.

Love you all and keep those feet clean!

Thirty Years Gone


89At 7:30 tonight, it will be exactly thirty years since I graduated from Laurens District 55 High School. It was hot that night, June 3, 1989 and the green polyester robes and my borrowed necktie didn’t help matters much at all. The ceremony was in the gym since our auditorium would barely hold the graduating class, much less the ten visitors each graduate was allowed. I was second from the top in class rank, but “Wham” put me third from the bottom in getting my name called. I joked with Stacy Wilson sitting next to me that some of our A and B named friends would be at the beach before they got to us. All 399 of us.

It was to be the capstone of a high school career which had started off with great promise, but somehow had gone off the rails to become a complete trainwreck by the time I walked across the stage. What I didn’t realize then was I was suffering from clinical depression, an anxiety disorder, and borderline personality disorder. I needed a lot to put Humpty Dumpty back together and by the time someone sat with me long enough to figure out what was wrong with me, it was basically too late to matter much. As bad as things were, I had no idea how much exponentially worse it could get.

I wish I could go back and talk to the kid I was then. I could see me materializing next to him that night long ago and, after the shock wore off, taking him by the arm and guiding him to one of the benches around the courtyard to sit down and warn him about what was coming so it all wouldn’t blindside him the way it did.

I’d tell him the downhill spiral was going to pick up speed tonight. In just a few minutes, our AP English teacher is going to pull us aside and tell us just how much of a disappointment we’ve been. She’ll call us overrated and go into how we squandered our massive potential. Then she’ll go off and get ready to go in with the rest of the teachers.

I’d tell him this ceremony was going to be long but he had people watching him who he thinks right now are going to be around forever. Papa and Granny Wham are in the crowd. Mama is in the crowd. They aren’t going to be around as long as you think they are. They’ve got a few years left still, but not nearly enough.

You’re going to be sitting with your friends one last time. You’ll see some of them in college and some of them who aren’t friends now will be best friends before it’s all said and done. Take a good long look. You’ll never be together with them again. You’ll also never have friends like these ever again. Not in college and certainly not once you become an adult, whatever that means.

The ceremony will end and you’ll hug some necks and take pictures with family and friends, then it’ll be time to go. You’ll go out to the Chevelle and just before you get in you’ll see the first girl you ever loved parked with her new boyfriend three spaces away from you. You know she’s pregnant by the boy and the knowledge is like a sliver of glass in your eye. You walk over and give her one last hug and you tell the boy if he ever hurts her you’ll hunt him down and kill him like a rabid dog. He laughs and nods. He knows you won’t. Even when you find out months later from her brother how baby daddy now husband has been beating her black and blue, you won’t do anything and you’ll feel like chickenshit for being a coward for a long, long time. No, you’ll just go back to your car and watch her drive away. It’ll be the last time you ever see her.

I’d tell him things are going to go crazy now. You’re going to get moved from your great store to a ghetto store on the backside of Greenville so you won’t last much longer. You’ll work a first stint in a textile plant and realize what you don’t want to do with your life but other than that you won’t have a clue. Oh, you don’t go to college that first year with everyone else because your new girlfriend is crazy and doesn’t want you to and you don’t know how to say no. Instead you’ll do 13th grade at Greenville Tech until you realize it’s taking you nowhere.

The good news is you do get to Clemson. You’ll have forfeited all your scholarships and grants so you’ll be drowning in debt but you’ll get there. Engineering isn’t going to work out though. Calculus just isn’t our strength. You’re going to be a teacher instead. College is interesting. You’ll meet some great people and you’ll meet some assholes and you’ll spend a lot of weekends and some weeknights too filling that growing empty hole inside you with Jack Daniels and vodka. Overall though, you have a good time, but it’s over way too soon and you’re own your own again.

That teaching degree doesn’t turn out to do much. You’ll send out over fifty resumes and go on one interview. When it doesn’t pan out, you’ll go back to textiles. About this time you’re going to meet a woman you will do well to walk on by, but you won’t and you’ll end up in a mess like you wouldn’t believe. In general, women have been and are going to be a sore spot in your life up until you meet Budge, but she’s in middle school right now and doesn’t know you exist.

Next to women, your biggest downfall is going to be money. Your credit score will be shot by the time you get out of college because of credit cards and to be honest, you’re never going to recover it, especially when you see what’s coming a few years down the line. Nope, you’ll be riding the paycheck to paycheck train like a champ, just like Mama always did and for a while, you’ll make it work, but it’ll catch up with you. It always catches up with you.

Eventually though, you catch a break. An old friend’s dad works for Greenville County Schools and he mentions your name to a principal and Bob’s your uncle, you get a teaching job at a country high school with students a lot like you. You’re gonna meet Budge your first day there, but don’t be discouraged when she blows you off. You end up growing on her after awhile.

You grow on her so much she agrees to marry you. Seven years out of high school, you are on your way to the American Dream. You’ll have a wife. You’ll have a singlewide trailer and eventually you’ll have a cat. You and Budge will go to church together at Abundant Life Church of God.

For the next ten years, things are going to seem good. Your life consists of Budge, teaching at Woodmont, coaching wrestling in the winter, and going to Abundant Life with all the other young couples you know there. You’ll have some rough spots. Depression and anxiety haven’t gone away. You self medicated them all through college and the first few years out, but now you’re married and a respectable church goer. You can’t pour whiskey in that black empty hole anymore.

Budge is going to notice and she’s going to sit you down and tell you to either get help or she’s leaving. You get a little help. You start taking your first real regimen of anti-depressants. They help some — more than you’d expected them to and things rock on for awhile longer. You’ll see the new millennium come in; you and your class will watch the towers fall. Students will love you, administration won’t, and your fellow teachers will split somewhere in the middle, but it’s a good time. Until it isn’t.

You’re going to say something people take wrong. You’ll end up in front of your principal, then you’ll end up in front of the school board. Then you’ll get fired from teaching. That black hole is going to open up and threaten to swallow you whole. You’re going to turn to your church family but suddenly you’ll be a pariah and you’re never going to know why. Basically everything you’ve lived for for the last ten years collapses in less than six months.

You declare bankruptcy to keep the trailer and car, but at the cost of ever having any kind of credit rating good enough to buy a house. You’ll drive a truck for your cousin for a year to make ends meet. You’ll get a masters degree in school librarianship and then against all odds, you’re going to go to work teaching at this very high school where we’re sitting now. It will cause you some cognitive dissonance for that year, but the NEXT year, you become a SCHOOL LIBRARIAN! You got fired from teaching and now you’re a librarian — that never happens but it’s happened to you.

Now you’ve got good meds, a great therapist, and your dream job. Looks like the worst is behind you. It was bad, but it’s in the past and things are going to be okay now. Until they aren’t.

You’re going to get fired from being a school librarian in five years. You have a disagreement with the superintendent and you don’t know when to shut up. So you get fired. You’ll try to get a job as a librarian elsewhere, but a friend who sees your application lets you know two people you trusted to give you recommendations have actually tanked you. You’re never going to teach again. The black hole swallows you whole. No light. No hope. No peace.

You’re going to give up. You’re going to qualify for disability based on depression and anxiety. The next ten years are going to be the toughest of your life. You’re going to take care of Mama for two years constantly then you’re going to watch her die. You’re going to take care of Granny Ima for two more years and watch her die. You’re going to wish YOU could die. The days are going to drag on in an endless parade of darkness.

Next thing you know, you’re going to be almost fifty years old with nothing to show for it. Budge tried to keep you going but you know it’s hard on her. You’re going to be taking almost 800mg of THREE antidepressants to get you out of bed in the morning. You’ll have a great therapist and a wonderful psychiatrist and they will do their best to keep you going, but even with all the people pulling for you, that blackness still envelopes you. Washed up. Lost two careers. On the government’s dime. That’s what I’d have to tell that kid with the mullet getting ready to graduate thirty years ago.

I’d have more to tell him. Some of it good, most of it not, but just with what he’s going to know now, it’ll be enough for him to go home and dig a hole in the backyard to climb in and forget life. He won’t though. He’s going to try. Now he’s going to fail miserably, but he’s going to try because it’s all he can do.

Love y’all. Keep your feet clean.

Thoughts This Mother’s Day


Avalance-White-Rose-Close-500_39e2bbb7Today is the sixth Mother’s Day since Mama died. I always made a big fuss over her on Mother’s Day and the last six years, this day has stung like a hornet sting in my heart. It’s been a hard day around our house ever since we got married because Budge lost her mother when Budge was only fifteen years old. Budge has hated Mother’s Day for as long as I’ve known her. It only got worse when Mama died and now neither of us have a mother to celebrate.

It doesn’t make it any easier on Budge that we don’t have children of our own and we never will. Mother’s Day is about mothers and when you don’t have a mother and you never will be a mother, well, sometimes it seems like the best thing you could do is just stay in bed. We’ve done that before, too.

It’s times like this I’m thankful we go to a non-traditional church. All over the country and especially the South, many, if not most, churches make a big deal about Mother’s Day. The pastor or some suitable representative will acknowledge the oldest mother and the youngest mother. They will recognize the mother with the most children. It gets pretty ceremonial and when you’re like me and Budge, it’s just harder than a hard day already needs to be. Our church doesn’t do anything but congratulate mothers briefly and not all our campus pastors do that. So that helps.

I’ve been thinking about Mama a great deal lately. Some friends of mine have had their mothers turn sixty. That’s all I got with Mama. I get angry sometimes even though it’s silly when I think if Mama had just taken a little bit better care of herself she could still be with me this Mother’s Day. It wasn’t meant to turn out that way though. The other day I did something I haven’t done in five years. I saw something and thought, “I need to tell Mama about that,” and I picked up my phone to call her and didn’t realize my mistake until I saw her speed dial icon wasn’t where it was supposed to be. That was a hard day.

People say grief gets easier with time; I’m not so sure. I admit my first thought in the morning is no longer, “Mama’s dead,” but I think about her every day. Now it’s Mother’s Day. I haven’t picked out a card in six years. Mama was crazy about cards. It didn’t matter what I got her for Christmas, her birthday, or Mother’s Day, if I didn’t have a card taped to the steering wheel of the pink Cadillac, she wouldn’t be happy. When I was going through her stuff after she died, I found her card drawer. It was a deep dresser drawer and it had cards in my handwriting from crayon to the year before.

So, even though Budge and I won’t want to, we’ll go to church today. I have babies to hold. We have a new little one who was a premie and he’s a darling.

Anyway, I hope all of you mothers and those with your mothers have a good Mother’s Day. Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

Middle Earth and Me


This is the set of books I own and have read to tatters over the years.

It was December 19, 2001. Budge and I got stuck in Woodruff Road traffic on the way to Regul Hollywood Twenty and we were hurrying past rows of cars flying American flags in their windows. Feelings were still running high and patriotic over the 9/11 terrorist attacks just a few months old. That night, however, my mind was free from the existential dread the attacks had cast over our country. It was opening night of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

We got to the box office about ten minutes after the movies supposedly started and I questioned the young lad selling tickets, “Have I missed anything?” He said he wasn’t sure. I replied, “No, you don’t understand; I’ve been waiting and dreaming about this night for twenty years. I can’t miss anything.” He told me I might be better off coming back the next night to be sure.

So the next night I was seated next to Budge as Cate Blanchett / Galadriel’s voiceover of the creation of the rings began playing. I was as excited then as I had ever been in my life. This movie, and it’s two sequels — released the following two Decembers — was the culmination of my love affair with Tolkien’s work, The Lord of the Rings.

I blundered onto The Hobbit totally by chance. I was browsing the shelves at Gray Court – Owings School library when I found it. I liked the cover because I like eagles. I was in sixth grade and at a time of nearly unparalleled stress in life. Soon as I got to Granny and Papa Wham’s that fall afternoon, I sat down on the cold concrete slab of the carport with my back to the half-wall and started reading. By the time Granny called me to supper three hours later, I was over halfway through. I would finish the book before I went to bed.

The next day, I took The Hobbit back to the library and asked the greatest librarian ever, Ms. Goodhue, if the library had the sequels the back cover of the book mentioned. She told me sadly the library didn’t have those books because they were considered high school level. I walked away dejected.

The following day, Ms. Goodhue called me down to the library and handed me three books. They were hardcover with the dust jackets removed to show what I now know was the One Ring outlined in fire on the covers. Ms. Goodhue said, “You’ve been reading on high school level since third grade. Take care of these and bring them back when you finish.” She was loaning me her personal first edition copies of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. The last time I priced a set of those books on eBay several years ago, they were running nearly $100K for a mint condition set with perfect dust jackets. So now you know why Ms. Goodhue was one of my earliest heroes.

I started in on the first book as soon as I got to Granny and Papa Wham’s house that day after school. Notice I don’t say “home” because when I was in the sixth grade, Mama and I didn’t have a home. We were staying with Granny and Papa — Mama’s ex-inlaws — because Mama had left my first stepfather after a summer in Columbia and we didn’t have anywhere else to go. It was tough on me. At the time, I knew it was exceptionally hard on Mama, but looking back I understand why I had a lot of upset stomachs and Mama kept a headache most of that year. The whole situation exuded stress. Imagine eating Sunday dinner with your Daddy and stepmother knowing your Mama is sitting on the bed with the door closed just across the hall. Just another depot in the rolling trainwreck I call my life.

But I digress. This is about The Lord of the Rings!

I tore through the first novel and was 3/4 through when I got one of the biggest jolts of my young life. Gandalf died. Now I’d grown attached to the kindly old wizard all through The Hobbit and the first part of The Fellowship of the Ring. Nobody said anything about Gandalf dying! They need to tell someone something like that. Nothing had prepared me for the moment he plunged off the bridge of Moria in battle with the balrog, Durin’s Bane. I lost it and started ugly crying. Just sobbing. I was reading in bed with Mama and she turned over and asked me what in the world was wrong. Saying, “Gandalf just died!” didn’t communicate the gravity of the situation to her. She just hugged me and tried unsuccessfully to remind me that, after all, it was just a book.

As readers of the books know, Gandalf doesn’t stay dead and I was as happy when he reappeared as I’d been distraught when he died. I finished all three books in less than a week and safely returned them to Ms. Goodhue. It’s only as I’m older looking back that I realize what it meant for her to trust me with her books like that.

So The Lord of the Rings became a touchstone for me. I would turn to them often over the years. When I was in seventh grade, I bought a set of my own with covers which match the picture at the head of this post. I’ll never forget; they were 25% off at Waldenbooks in the Greenville Mall and I was shopping with Scott Blume and his mother. I still have those books, even though I had to replace The Two Towers after I foolishly lent it to someone who will remain nameless. I’ve got another combined volume bound in leather and complete with a slipcase Budge gave me for Christmas one year. I’ve had others, but those are the two I’ve read the most.

Funny story, when the movies came out, Budge hadn’t read the books and wanted to. She asked me if she could read my set. Something in my face told her no before my mouth could wisely say yes. She couldn’t believe I would value books more than her! That even put me in a pickle for a bit, but I managed to return to her good graces by purchasing her a set all her own. I still read the books. I also liked the movies, but I was disappointed by a few things being left out as well as some things being added. Overall though, I thought Peter Jackson did a great job.

The Lord of the Rings is still a vital part of my day-to-day life. When I’m having a bad day, which happens more often than I wish, I’ll pick up one of my copies and scan a favorite passage. I’ll always stop and watch if I come across one of the movies channel surfing. Most of all though, they help me sleep. I have a difficult time getting to sleep, especially on nights I don’t take anything to help me sleep. When I’m lying tossing and turning in bed and can’t get my mind to shut down, I’ll start going over passages in my head. I’ll refight the Battle of the Pelennor Fields or struggle up Mount Doom with Sam and Frodo. I drift off with the songs of elves in my mind.

So it’s safe to say Tolkien has had a huge impact on me and still does. I have other books I love, but I don’t think anything will ever replace The Lord of the Rings in my heart. It’s always been there when I needed somewhere to run away to.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

#TBTish: A Meditation on Foodstuffs


I originally posted this in November 2010 under the title “Don’t Ask, Just Eat It.” As happens with lots of stuff I write, I promptly forgot I wrote it. Earlier this week, though I was having a conversation with some folks about favorite foods and it got me to thinking about foods and I vaguely recalled I may have written on the topic. So, I combed through the archive and found this one. It’s mostly the same, but I have reworked it slightly. I hope you like it.

A group of us were sitting around Sunday after an impromptu pizza dinner and we started talking about food. We talked about favorite foods and foods we hated and someone – I believe it was my stepmother-in-law – broached the subject of what kind of -vore humans are. Someone had once told her that we are anatomically designed to be herbivores because of our extended digestive tracts and lack of sizable canine teeth. Apparently, whoever told her that figures all meat eaters have to have short colons and saberteeth, but who really knows? Anyway, I assured her that humans are, in fact, omnivores and I offered as proof the fact that people the world over will eat pretty much ANYTHING.

My Exhibit A was the fact people all over the world consider raw oysters a delicacy. That’s right. You may be reading this yourself thinking how much you’d love a plate of oysters on the half shell right now. Do you know what that means? Sometime in the past, somebody was walking down a beach and probably cut himself (or herself, let’s be inclusive) on an oyster bed. For whatever reason, this distant shore-dwelling ancestor of ours pried the oyster apart and thought the phlegm-like mass lying before him was the yummiest thing he’d seen all day and proceeded to chow down. Raw oysters are proof positive people will eat whatever! It’s that way all over the world. Every culture has delicacies that just don’t sit well with others’ ideas about edibles.

To quote Mr. Jerry Clower, “slick, slimy, boiled okra!”

Just take my wonderful homeland of Dixie. People down here eat something called collard greens. If you Yankees and other foreigners want a good idea of what collard greens are, next time you cut grass, empty your mower bag into a 20 quart stock pot and boil for about four days. Add vinegar. Enjoy. People around here love that stuff. To me, it looks like someone already had a go at it before me.

Another godawful Southern “delicacy” is boiled okra. If you don’t know what okra is, Google it. Once you have a picture of this strange vegetable in your mind, picture it boiled and canned. People exist who love it. I believe those people also ate their own boogers when they were small as well because boiled okra is as close to snot as you can get outside a nose — or a raw oyster.

We southern boys don’t have the market cornered on strange stuff to eat though. Look at Scotland. Their national dish is some concoction called “haggis” which I’m pretty sure is Gaelic for “this is made out of what?!!” Haggis is a bunch of chopped up meat bits — the origins of which are better left unknown — topped off with oatmeal and spices. The whole kit’n’kaboodle is chopped up, swirled around, salted, and stuffed into a SHEEP STOMACH, sewn up, and boiled. People in kilts everywhere eat this. You have to go to Scotland to try it though because most countries won’t allow it to be imported for various food safety issues?

My, my, my! Doesn’t that stuffed sheep stomach look delish?

See, it’s dishes like haggis (and raw oysters) that make me wonder about our distant ancestors. I mean, look at eggs. Who is the first caveman to stare at a chicken and say to his hirsute brethren, “Ug, omaoma mooka go mabab mambo,” which loosely translated from Old High Caveman means, “I think I’ll eat the next thing that drops out of that bird’s butt!” You stop to think about that a minute. If these old boys had mistaken a rooster for a hen, breakfast could be a WHOLE lot different to us today.

Truthfully though, people will eat anything that can’t get away from them. In several parts of the world including Iceland, most of Scandinavia, and great swathes of Southeast Asia, people eat fermented fish. Basically, they bury, box, or barrel up a bunch of fish with some salt and stuff and wait. Eventually, the stuff rots enough and they bring it out and slap it on a cracker! Um, um good! REALLY?! Who was walking down the beach and came across a fish carcass riddled with scavenger holes and thought to himself, “I bet this would taste awesome with a little salt on a Ritz,” ?! In Norway, and parts of Minnesota by extension, they mix herring in with lye to make a concoction called lutefisk. LYE, PEOPLE! It comes in a can; we used to use it in chemistry class in high school. It unclogs drains in sinks. Folks, if the recipe says, “add two cups of Drano to the fish mix,” y’all can just leave me out.

Of course, I mentioned Southeast Asia and I know we’ve all heard the jokes, but some of it isn’t a joke. Dog, cat, and rat are all considered delicacies in places like Thailand and Vietnam. The country folk in those nations don’t make a big ceremony out of it either. They’ll just stick a field rat on a skewer and pop it over a fire. Next thing you know, roasted rat.

Now please understand that I’m not making light of anyone’s plight. Some people eat what is available and I understand that, and I also know if you get hungry enough because you’ve been without food long enough lots of this stuff might seem seriously tasty. I’m not talking about those situations. I’m talking about stuff people eat when they could have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or something.

For example, someone explain “fugu fish” connoisseurs to me. For those that don’t know, raw fugu (or puffer fish) is considered a delicacy in Japan and commands HUGE sums of money. Just one little problem — if the chef doesn’t prepare the sashmi PERFECTLY, you will become paralyzed, suffocate, and die about thirty minutes after dinner and that’ll really put a crimp in your movie plans, now won’t it? These people are eating something they KNOW will KILL them if just a tiny little bit of the wrong organ is missed in preparation. The aficionados of fugu claim to like the “thrill” of cheating death as well as the pleasant “tingling sensation” even properly prepared fugu creates on the tongue.

Right! I’ll stick with my Long John Silver’s fried shrimp thank you. I can get a tingling sensation on my tongue eating Pop Rocks and drinking Coke.

Ah! Casu marzo! Smooth and piquant, with a nutty, maggoty overtone!

Still, just to show I’m not trying to bash the Orient, people in Sardinia have a local favorite called “casu marzo.” This is a local cheese that is so “good” it’s illegal. Actually, the legality of the cheese has nothing to do with it’s flavor. No, casu marzo is made by leaving strong goat or sheep cheese out for flies to infest with maggots. Yes. You read that correctly. Part of the preparation is to have maggots crawl through the cheese, eating and pooping as they go. Apparently, the maggots “pre-digest” the cheese and give it a unique taste and texture not possible any other way. Don’t worry though. These people aren’t savages. They don’t eat the maggots. In fact, you can’t eat the cheese with the maggots in it because this particular species of “cheese maggot” is impervious to the hydrochloric acid present in our stomachs.

That’s right. Our stomach contents can dissolve steel, but these maggots just swim right through it. Then, all nice and warm in the digestive tract, they can — and have — munch right through the intestinal wall into the body cavity and introducing the contents of our colons (poop) into our abdomens. That, boys and girls, produces a little condition we like to call septicemia or septic shock. Simply put, forget and eat a maggot with your cheese cracker; die a painful, lingering death.

All for a piece of cheese? Really? So who looked at a hunk of cheese someone accidentally left on the table in the garden and now it’s crawling with maggots and thought to himself, “I bet those maggots made that cheese something special. I think I’ll try some!” Now he probably died of septicemia since he didn’t know about the gut-eating-maggots, so that means someone ELSE thought the same thing. He just thought it might be better to knock the maggots off first. Wow.

So yes. Humans are most definitely omnivores. If it grows out of the ground or beneath it, if it crawls, runs, swims, flies, or even just lies there, someone, somewhere will put some ranch dressing on it, munch it up, and wash the whole thing down with a nice Chianti. All I can say is, “ewww.” I think I’ll just stick with ice cream and McNuggets!

Love y’all and keep your feet clean . . . unless you want your toe cheese to become casu marzo!!

A Matter of Inches


bullet bibleI was flipping channels a few days ago and caught the beginning of Saving Private Ryan. I always watch the first twenty minutes if I catch anywhere in them so I stopped flipping and watched Spielberg’s ultra-realistic version of the Normandy landings.

Now every time I watch those twenty minutes of that movie, it’s never Tom Hanks on the screen. It’s always Papa Wham. Papa Wham was at Normandy. It’s always him I picture wading through the blood-filled waters of the English Channel, hiding behind tank traps and, I suppose, wondering how a young man from Greenpond, SC ever managed to get mixed up in this mess.

Papa never talked about the war except for relating a few funny stories about what happened to him. I’ve read his DD-214 though. I’ve researched all the beaches he stormed during World War II. This time watching the movie it hit home with me how unlikely my existence is. If one of those German gunners on the heights overlooking Omaha Beach had panned left instead of right, Papa Wham might have died — like so many did that day — and I wouldn’t be here.

For years, Daddy had a dislike for Christmas Day. I never knew why until he told me one night after a few drinks. Daddy was in the Vietnam War and on Christmas Day 1970, his tank and two others were drawn up three abreast on a muddy road in the jungle. Out of nowhere one of the tanks took an anti-tank rocket blast from the trees. The tank was destroyed and three of Daddy’s good friends lost their lives. What if the young Viet Cong guerilla fighter behind that rocket launcher had sited the middle tank instead of the one on the right? Daddy would have died in Vietnam and I wouldn’t be here.

When I was conceived, Mama was in a half body cast. I know what you’re thinking and I don’t know how either. All Mama would ever say is “your father had been gone a year in Vietnam and where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Some things I prefer not to dwell on. Anyway, Mama was in that extensive cast because she pulled out of one of the gas stations in Gray Court and her car and an oncoming car hit head on at near highway speed. Mama’s leg was shattered and she had several other serious injuries, but the steering column on the car stayed intact instead of spearing her in the chest or crushing her abdomen as so often happened in those types of crashes. A little more to the left or the right? A couple of miles per hour faster? I wouldn’t be here.

Papa John had scarlet fever as a young boy. He lay near death for over a week because no one had money for a doctor. Big Granny prayed day and night for him at his bedside that he would be spared. Had God not answered her prayer, I wouldn’t be here.

Granny Ima had a condition in her early twenties that required her to undergo a complete hysterectomy at such a young age. The hormonal consequences were horrible and caused Granny problems for decades, but if she had been forced to have such a surgery only a little before she did? She couldn’t have borne Mama, and again, I wouldn’t be here.

Had Mama gone into labor with me as little as fifty years before she did, I would have died in childbirth, as would she have. I was completely oversized for a regular delivery. Had I been born in a time, not that long ago really, before C-Sections were perfected, Mama definitely would have died and they might have tried to cut me out after she passed but that didn’t work most of the time, so most likely, I wouldn’t be here.

Those are just six instances from stories I’ve heard in my family over the years. If the outcome of any of them had been different, I wouldn’t be here typing this right now.

Our lives hang by a thread. In a world of chaos like ours, it’s a small wonder anyone survives. The simplest of accidents and one would cease to be or even still, never have been born in the first place. Life is tenuous and could end at any moment. Take from that what you will.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

#TBT: Three Lessons on Valentines Day


This post goes back to February 14, 2011 when I recalled my years as a high school teacher giving advice to the guys about matters of the heart. As if I knew anything!

I’m sitting here with Budge while another Valentines Day wends towards its happy conclusion . . . at least here in the Eastern US Time Zone. Any of y’all who may read this out on the Left Coast still have time to make at least SOME last-minute plans. We’ve never been great fans of Cupid’s Day. Budge worked at a florist shop for a little over a year so if I even mention bringing her a dozen roses, I get the “withering stare.” She took a break from her diet and we had a nice supper together.

Still, not many days evoke the humorous and the serious from my memory quite like Valentines Day. I taught high school English in a rural, blue-collar high school for ten years and Valentines Day always produced a few surprises. I remember one young lad who began coming to school dressed in khakis and button down oxfords instead of his former ratty t-shirts and blue jeans with the dip can ring on the back pocket. I held him after class one day near Valentines and questioned him on the quite noticeable change in his attire. He said, “Coach, it’s the strangest thing. Ever since me and ____ started dating, she’s taken some of her check from her after school job and bought me clothes. She knows my size and everything. Does that mean she’s got it bad for me, Coach?”

Now, as an aside, please remember that this was a rural high school. Graduation was nowhere near assured for many of these students. I had several walk across the stage as first generation diploma bearers during my tenure. Also, college was somewhat of an undreamed of luxury for this hard-working community. That meant that high school romances were quite often precursors to a married life. The girls especially seemed to realize this more than the boys and they would lay claim to the best of the crop of young men by the junior prom. So that meant my young buddy’s question was not unfounded.

I smiled at him and said, “Son, learn something from me right now that’s never going to be on a test. None of those clothes, right down to those nice new ropers you’ve got on has a THING to do with you!” Seeing his quizzical expression, I continued on, “Nope, it’s ALL about her. See, you have become an ‘accessory’ now. You are just like a handbag or a bracelet. It’s your job in life to make sure SHE looks good when y’all walk down the hall or the mall together. You ever been to a jewelry store and seen all the diamonds?” He nodded. “Well, then. Think of yourself as the black velvet cloth her diamond lies on. You make her shine.” That seemed to register with him so I asked him what he’d gotten his new beauette for Valentines Day. His reply was one that would run ice water through any “attached” man’s veins.

He said, “She told me not to get her anything. She’s real easy on me like that.”

I said, “Son, tell me you got her SOMETHING — card, candy, SOMETHING!”

“No, Coach, I told you she told me not to.”

I let him in on the secret. “Son, lesson two for the day. When a girl y’all’s age says, ‘oh, don’t get me anything’ she means she’s not going to TELL you what to get her. This is the test of how well you know her. She’s going to find out now just how well you’ve been paying attention on y’all’s dates and stuff.”

He looked stricken, “But she SAID . . .” I cut him off, “Son, I know what she said and that’s just it. She’s testing you. Now you can take her at face value and not get her anything and pay the price, or you can hit up Wally World and get her a teddy bear and a cute card.”

Nodding, he asked me, “but, Coach, why didn’t she just SAY all that?”

I gave him the last lesson for the day, “Son, she’s a female. Females are smarter than us. That’s all I know.”

He did get the teddy bear and cute card and about four years later I had the pleasure of officiating at their wedding.

It’s the truth, ladies. Y’all are just smarter than us.

Love all y’all and keep those feet clean!

#TBT: Happy B-Day, Granny and RIP


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


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.