Category Archives: A Story

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: 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.

Great War Wednesday: Finis


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: But They Were Both Green!


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


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!

A Decade of Grocery Store Feet


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.