Category Archives: VIP Posts

They Shall Run and Not be Weary


Requiescat In Pace, Mi Amo.

As years go, 1995 sucked rocks big time.

My great-grandfather died New Year’s Day. Two of my favorite cousins were killed in a huge car wreck in March. One of my wrestlers was killed in July and while I was on the way home from his visitation, Mama called and told me to go to the hospital where Granny Wham was recovering from a stroke. I broke every speed limit possible getting to Hillcrest thinking the whole time that Granny had died. She hadn’t . . . Papa Wham had. That was enough to send my world reeling, but the year wasn’t over yet.

On this day 15 years ago, my buddy lost her long brutal fight with cancer. She was just shy of turning 20. She was one of the very best friends I ever had and she’s the only woman, besides Mama, that Budge doesn’t mind me having a picture of on my desk. Budge knows what my buddy meant to me. Not many others do because I’ve never told that many people about her.

I met her when I was doing my student teaching in 1993. She was a senior which meant at that time, she was just over three years younger than me. I won’t say we had love at first sight, but we definitely had chemistry at first sight. The crutches made me curious.

She got around on crutches better than I could get around on two legs. Her left leg was gone. Once I got to know her, the story came out. She’d been a first rate cheerleader and volleyball player up until her freshman year of high school.  One day after practice, she had a cramp in her left leg behind her knee. When she sat down on the bleachers to rub it out, she found a knot. The knot didn’t go away in several days. She went to the doctor, the doctor did some tests, and the next thing you know, Jed’s a millionaire and she’s being diagnosed with acute lymphoma.

They took her leg with a saw; her health and hair followed with chemotherapy. None of it ever broke her spirit though. She just threw up and rocked on. That’s how she rolled, as the saying goes today. When I met her, she’d finally gotten a full head of hair back, even though it was short, and she was in full remission.

We started calling and hanging out together. She had a Corvette she drove with hand controls and in those days when I had more courage than sense, she was one of the few drivers who could put me in the floor with terror. She was utterly and finally fearless. She said cancer couldn’t kill her so she wasn’t going to worry about anything else.

I graduated in May; she in June. We met up at the beach and hung out some. She loved the beach. I was over 21 so I kept her hotel room supplied with party lubrication. Yeah, it was illegal. Sue me. We had a great week before I went back to find a teaching job and she went back to get ready for college.

She never made it to college though. She called me two weeks later. I went to see her at the hospital. The cancer was back. In her lungs this time. They took out the offending lung lobe, gave her more chemo and again pronounced her in remission after six months. I called her daily and went to see her every chance I could. One day while we were laughing and cutting up driving around the hills around her home blasting out Skynyrd, Hatchet, and Duane and Gregg,  I even asked her if she’d like to get hitched to a redneck like me. After all, it was obvious we were a perfect match.

I’ll never forget her reply. She reached up and cut the radio off, suddenly all business. She locked eyes with me and said, “I’d love to, but I’m going to die before long and you won’t be able to bear it if we were married. It’s going to be hard enough on you as it is.” I nodded. She turned up “Tuesday’s Gone” and we took off again.

Turns out, she was a prophetess. Less than three months later, I went back to the hospital to see her. It was in the right lung this time, but this time things were different. She wasn’t a minor anymore and she made her own decisions. To the abject horror of her mama, daddy, friends, and me, she announced she had no intention of leaving the world one piece at a time. She was done fighting. She was tired.

I kissed her on the cheek before I left her room that night. It was the last time I saw her alive. In the end, the big C sucked her dry. She weighed less than 50 pounds at the end. Her hospice nurse called me when it was over. My number had a heart around it in her contact book. I heard it was a closed casket funeral. She wanted everyone to remember her as she’d lived, not as she’d died. I went to see her mama and daddy but I didn’t make the funeral. No way I could. Hard to go to a funeral fifty miles away when you can’t get your eyes dry long enough to drive.

I only knew my buddy a little while in the grand scheme of things — barely two full years — but she taught me a hell of a lot in that short time about loving life and what it was to show real courage. On her tombstone is the picture of a soaring eagle and her favorite Bible verse:

“They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.”

I lost a lot of love in 1995 and love, especially the kind of love I lost, can’t be replaced.

That’s why I love all y’all so much.

Keep those feet clean and remember to live like you were dying!

Happy 6th Decade, Daddy!


Daddy as a toddler.

As hard as it is for me to believe it, Daddy turns 60 years old today. I’m betting it’s as much a surprise to him as it is to me since I’ve heard him say on more than one occasion that if he’d known he was going to live this long, he’d have taken better care of himself! It’s a mite too late for that now, Daddy.

Country Music Hall of Fame member Waylon Jennings could very well have had Daddy in mind when Waylon sang the words to one of his most famous songs, “Them that don’t know him won’t like him and them that do sometimes don’t know how to take him. He ain’t wrong; he’s just different but his pride won’t let him do things to make you think he’s right.” A better summary of my father’s general attitude towards life doesn’t exist.

Daddy was born on Labor Day in 1950. Granny had lost my Aunt Judy to death in the hospital two years earlier without ever getting to bring her home. Since Daddy was so healthy and easily delivered, he quickly became the apple of Granny Wham’s eye and he maintained that position for 58 years until she passed away. Daddy was Granny Wham’s heart and pretty much the center of her world. That may seem a wonderful thing, but in many ways, being the center of anyone’s universe is a heavy burden to bear. Granny was so happy to have her bouncing baby boy that early on, she started smothering him with love and attention. It may seem ironic, but a person can be “loved to death” in some senses. That’s a story for another time, though.

Daddy was the typical All-American Baby Boomer boy. He played Termite League baseball for Fountain Inn, roughhoused with the abundance of cousins on Papa Wham’s side of the family, and generally seemed to have a bucolic and idyllic childhood. He and Papa Wham went rabbit hunting together on the few occasions Papa was able to tear himself away from the service station he ran on Main Street and slowly but surely, Daddy grew into a teenager.

Daddy at 18.

When Daddy was 15 and Mama was 13, they met at a local hangout called Curry’s Lake. I don’t know about love at first sight or any tripe like that . . . especially considering what came later . . . but they managed to hit it off well enough to start dating.

Now, as a teen, Daddy had a problem I would later inherit from him — he was a trouble magnet. Some people can fall into a vat of Limburger cheese on a hot July day and still emerge smelling like a sweet spring breeze. Daddy, and later I, had the opposite ability. We could fall into a vat of Chanel #5 and come out smelling like the north end of a south bound skunk. My daddy wasn’t a mean person. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body. If he had any fault it was an undying loyalty to his handful of true friends. Loyalty like that, paired with our atrocious luck, can get a body into mischief. It did Daddy.

Something happened when Daddy was 17. The details depend entirely on whom one asks and I’ve asked enough to reach the point of saying “to Hell with it,” because no two stories match, but the outcome remains the same and if you get a hole in your foot, it doesn’t much matter if a nail or a knife caused it. You just know it hurts. To clear things up, Daddy enlisted in the US Army on his 18th birthday. Enlisting in the Army in 1969 meant one thing and one thing only — an all expenses paid “vacation” to the cesspool called Vietnam.

Before Daddy shipped out, however, he or Mama or both had decided that Daddy might get killed and they’d never see each other again, so someone came up with the bright idea for them, 18 and 16 years old respectively, to get married. Looking back, that turned out not such a good idea, but, as I’ve learned over the last many years, you can’t unbreak eggs. Daddy left his young bride and his family on the tarmac at Greenville Airport on Easter Sunday. I’ve been told that Papa Wham, a veteran of three years of awfully bloody fighting in WWII, told Daddy with tears streaming down his checks that  if Daddy said the word, Papa would put him on a plane to Canada and Daddy would be safe from what Papa seemed to sense coming. That’s another one of those unanswerables life tends to throw us now and again.

Daddy didn’t go to Canada. He went to Vietnam and spent 13 muddy, bloody months in the Central Highlands of the I-Corp region of that godforsaken hell hole driving an M48A3 Patton main battle tank or one of the M113 APC variations up and down the rutted pig-trails that passed for roads in Vietnam’s fourth world backwaters. He did his duty and he did it well. He also had to see a lot that 18-19 year old boys weren’t meant to see. Things no one this side of Hell is meant to see. He lost a lot of good friends. I know some of their names, but not many. Daddy seldom speaks of those 13 months. When I was smaller and starry-eyed with the “glory of battle” and tanks and airplanes, I’d ask Daddy questions. His face would get cloudy. I finally gained enough sense to stop asking by the time I was an early teen. Once he thought I was old enough, he told me some things that occurred. Then I knew why he’d never talked about it before.

Daddy returned from Vietnam a drastically changed man. He was home just long enough to see me born January 6, 1971 before he shipped out to West Germany to finish his enlistment. In its own way, Germany in the ’60s had just as much to offer in the way of pitfalls as Vietnam did, but the enemy was even subtler than the VC. In any event, Daddy came home for good in 1972. He and Mama bought a single-wide trailer and set it up on Granny Wham’s home place.

Daddy went to work at Laurens Glass Works. Back then, drinks, pickles, and anything else worth packaging came in GLASS bottles. Daddy made those bottles. To this day, if I see an old Coke or Pepsi bottle, I’ll snatch it up and turn it bottoms up looking for the “L” in the glass that signified that bottle had its birth down in Laurens. Daddy was blue-collar and dependable to perfection. He always paid his bills on time and kept a nice roof over my head. If he had a bit of money left, he’d buy a six-pack of Miller High Life for himself. If money was short, he didn’t. I was small, but the message I got from Daddy was always unsaid but crystal clear — a man takes care of his responsibilities before his pleasures. That’s how he lived his life.

Of course, somewhere along the way, things went south for Mama and Daddy. I could go into details, but this isn’t the time nor the place and in the grand scheme of things, what difference does it really make? Some of it was the ghosts of Vietnam some of it was other things. The long and the short of it is, it was a damn mess. I really think Daddy and Mama both tried to keep me in the dark so I wouldn’t worry, but that’s one of the disadvantages to being precocious. Anyhow, Mama and Daddy parted ways for good in the late 1970s. The divorce was final a little later on. I’ve always hated it happened, but in the end, it’s another one of those unanswerable questions of life.

Daddy started his next stage of life by marrying my stepmom, Teresa. He and she worked together at the glass plant and they seemed to have a lot in common. I didn’t see Daddy as much in those days. It was complicated. Still, I would spend some weekends with them and we always went to Santee-Cooper for a fishing vacation in the summer. I’d spend Christmas Eve with Mama and Daddy would pick me up on Christmas morning to go to Granny and Papa Wham’s house.

I grew up. Daddy and I didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things as I got older and since we are so much alike in more than just looks, neither one of us was going to give the other one the satisfaction of backing down. Things would have been a lot easier if I’d cared more about having a good relationship with my father and less about being right, but that’s one of those broken eggs it’s a waste of time to cry over. We aren’t as close as it would have been nice to be, but, especially since I married Budge, we don’t fuss much anymore — not that we’ve forgotten how, mind you — but things have changed. Lot of water. Lot of lost opportunities. Lot of missed communication. It’s still a bit of a mess, but it is what it is.

Daddy at 60.

When the Glass Plant shut down, it was a tremendous blow to Daddy. He’d put more than 20 years of his life into that place and now, at nearly 50, he had to start over again. He went to technical college. I helped him a little with some courses and he started a new career as a HVAC tech and then as a maintenance man. It wasn’t the same though and he never was as satisfied so he worked out an early retirement deal and got away from the stress those jobs put on him. I think it added ten or fifteen years to his life.

These days, Daddy takes it a little easier. He has to. Fortunately, after all these years of being haunted by the specters that came home with him from Vietnam, he’s gotten some help from some professionals. I know he hated every minute of it because saying Daddy is a VERY independent man is about like saying the Great Wall of China has a few bricks. It just doesn’t get the point across. He doesn’t travel far from home. He’s pretty well got a route worked out that he rides most days and sees to what he wants to see to. In his spare time, he raises goats.

Today, though, Daddy is 60. He’s carved out his own path in life and he’s managed to secure a pretty safe future for himself and Teresa as the get older. He got me grown, gone, and married and now he’s done the same for my little brother, Nick. Everyone might not care for the way he’s lived his life or the way he’s done things, but if you call him on it, he’ll happily tell you to go to hell. Trust me, I know this.

Of course, as either of us will gladly tell you, Nick nor I matter very much anymore. That’s because Mason Benjamin came along nearly a year ago. Daddy is now Papa and though he isn’t very comfortable around babies, we all know that in a couple of years, when Mason is old enough to toddle around after Papa, Teresa and Mrs. Miller will have a hard time on their hands getting hold of the little one for any great length of time. I know what the little fellow is in for. Daddy’s got a lot of lessons to teach him. He taught them to me and then to Nick.

My daddy is a very special man. He’s not huggy, touchy feely by any means, but he is honest, hardworking, and loyal to those who have proven their loyalty to him. I wouldn’t say he is easy either to get to know or to understand. He likes it that way. It keeps people guessing. I once told Teresa I didn’t think Daddy liked me very much. She said, “Your daddy loves you dearly; he just isn’t great at showing it.” Again, it is what it is.

I’m glad I have Daddy as my father. If you ever meet him, call him Frankie. Never make the mistake of referring to him as “Mr. Wham.” He’ll tell you the same thing I or Nick would and that’s Mr. Wham is buried next to the only Mrs. Wham near the front of Beulah Baptist Church Cemetery. He ain’t wrong . . . he’s just different. Seeing as how I took so much of that from him myself. It’s a little easier now to appreciate.

If you read this, I love you, Daddy, and hope you have a great birthday!

And I hope the rest of you have a great day as well.

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

Happy Anniversary, Budge!


Put a diamond next to a lump of coal and it shines that much brighter. Wasn't she gorgeous? She still is!

It’s been 14 years today since Budge and I married; I have a hard time remembering much before August 3, 1996. I know it sounds clichéd and sappy, but it seems like Dana has always been with me. She found me a long time before I found her. To hear her tell the story, she knew I was coming nearly a year before I did. I’m going to try to explain that last sentence, and I hope I don’t mess it up or she’ll have my hide. This story is the last remaining reason I cling to the little faith I have left. Without exaggeration, it’s the most important story in our marriage.

Dana’s mom, Faye, passed away unexpectedly in July 1993, the summer between Dana’s freshman and sophomore years of high school. The next two years were a dark time for my Budge. See, Dad is a great guy, smart, funny, but he is fully capable of overlooking important stuff right in front of his face. To complicate things more, he was trying to get his new business off the ground and, after about five months, he was seeing Dana’s future stepmother, Sandy. (She and Dad met in the waiting room of the hospital ICU where her husband was dying with the exact same illness as Faye. That’s a tremendous story too, but it’s for later.) Her only other close kin was Rich, her brother, and he was in the Navy moving around constantly.

Without going in to the gory details, Dana was alone. She was alone A LOT. I can’t describe the intensity of the loneliness she felt because every time I think about it — every time we discuss those days — I end up in tears for an hour or so then I want to go strangle someone because she had to endure such. Just to give you one tiny snippet, if EVER in 14 years I have had to be away from Budge at suppertime, I make as many phone calls as it takes to guarantee she has someone to eat supper with. It might be one of her friends, it might be Mama, but frost will form on the hinges of Hell before my wife eats another meal alone without choosing to. She does choose to sometimes, but she doesn’t HAVE to and as long as I’m above dirt, I’ll make damn sure she never has too again.

But that’s just a side note. Here’s the real story.

First of all you have GOT to know, by the time Dana and I met, I was engaged not once or twice, but SIX times. I was actually, technically engaged to another girl when Budge and I got together. Now before anyone brands my dear heart a homewrecker, you MUST understand my “Rules of Engagement.” Except for my first fiancée’ who was my high school sweetheart and first real love, I never intended to marry ANY of the girls I gave diamonds to. I was skittish of females in general after the aforementioned sweetheart shattered my heart into a gadjillion tiny shards and then stomped those shards into dust then swept the dust into an incinerator to be completely consumed (I’m not bitter or anything, just saying). I simply realized that at some point in a relationship, the girls started to want to, as Emeril says, “Kick things up a notch” in the commitment department. I then discovered if I gave them a diamond, they considered us to be engaged and started planning a wedding and left me the hell alone. (Did I ever mention I hate two things above all else? Turnip greens and emotional confrontations.) So, the diamonds bought me a lot of peace and sooner or later the girls always decided I wasn’t the prize they had taken me for so they’d hand me back the diamond and break up with me . . . which was totally fine, because it was THEM doing it, not me. Worked like a champ . . . until Budge.

Budge handled that particular strategy a wee bit differently, but that’s another story entirely.

(Just as an aside, if any of y’all other five former diamond bearers are by some miracle reading this , don’t start hating. I’ve clandestinely kept up with all of you and you’ve done just fine without me.)

But I digress.

Dana was alone a lot and she hated it, so she’d often ride up to her old elementary school and sit on top of the slide in the playground and think . . . and pray. She’d do this day or night, didn’t matter. Well, one night, she was in a particularly sad and lonely mood and she looked up at the stars and prayed for the Lord to send her someone to take away the loneliness.

Now, if the story ended there and we got married, it’d be a nice “Awww” moment but no big deal that couldn’t pooh-pooh away by appealing to coincidence. It ain’t like that. Here’s where things go from a Hallmark moment to hairs standing up on my arms like they are doing now. See, Budge didn’t want just anyone. She’s always been awesome that way. Sure she was lonely, but she didn’t plan on settling for any old yahoo. Then, as now, she knew EXACTLY what she wanted and she asked the Lord to send her this exact person.

She wanted someone older, definitely not her own age. Dana has always been an “old soul” and boys her age were just too immature. She wanted him to be stocky, just a little bit taller than her, and have blond hair and blue eyes. Still, not too much to keep the faith by, but I’m seven years older than Budge, I do happen to be stocky (well, I was stocky then. I’m a little rounder than stocky these days), I’m 5′ 10′ to her 5′ 9′ and I’ve got blond hair and blue eyes that she tells me change shades of blue with my mood and the lighting.

Well, then she wanted a guy who had been “around.”

Now, watch me dance around this subject with all the grace of a bear in a ballroom. Budge and her circle of friends were very good girls. With an exception or maybe two, they graduated high school and in most cases, college with their virtue unspotted. They didn’t drink. They didn’t party. The didn’t smoke, and they certainly didn’t sleep around. Wasn’t any of this modern-day “hooking up” crap where so many teen (and tween, sadly)  girls and boys seem to run around with mattresses tied to their backs. The bases hadn’t been moved up like they are now.

With that in mind, Budge — ever the levelheaded practical minded amazing lady that she is — figured it would be best if someone knew exactly what to do on their wedding night and honeymoon and since it wasn’t going to be her, it would have to be him. Okay, this one hit a bit closer to home and I was a little indignant at the implications, but it would be pointless to lie. While I was certainly not a manwhore in my younger and less judiciously minded days, I had accumulated enough “experience” to meet her criteria. Now, moving right along.

If you still aren’t convinced, don’t worry, neither was I until Budge dropped the A-Bomb. She had been friends with one of the most popular guys in school. He was the guy who could sit at any table in the lunchroom, be it Jocks, Goths, Stoners, Preps, anyone. He and Dana were never romantic. She just liked him as the cool and kind person he was. He was such a tremendous part of the school that his death in a one car wreck caused massive emotional devastation to everyone from the teachers on down.

Now, I told you that to tell you this, when my Budge was sitting atop that slide, asking for her future husband in such exquisite detail, she remembered him. She always adored the sound of his name and figured — as long as she was asking — she wanted her husband to be named Shannon. If Paul Harvey was still alive and telling this, he’d say, “and now you know the rest of the story.”

How I ended up with a wife like her God knows because I’ve done nothing to deserve her. In 2 years of dating and  14 years of marriage , I’ve asked Budge thousands of times what she could have possibly seen in me to make her want to risk all she did and give up all she did to marry me. She’s consistently given me the same answer, “I asked for you by name, Silly Goose, and you can’t not marry the man you specifically asked for when he shows up.”

And that’s why I still believe in miracles.

Happy 14th anniversary, Budge! I still love you muches.

Love all y’all too, don’t forget to wash your feet!

It All Changes


It is an eye-opening moment the day you discover your parents are real people. You actually didn’t appear in a cabbage patch, but YOUR PARENTS had . . . sex!  Ewww. You realize that a time existed when you were not the center of their universe and life did not revolve around getting you to practice on time or refereeing sibling shouting matches. Something happens and you see through the parental veneer to the man or woman responsible for giving you life. They do something “normal” and it makes you realize that, “My parents are actually PEOPLE.” It marks a transition from parent as abject object of worship to parent as person who loves me but still has issues of his or her own. A bitter divorce will bring this particular realization about real quick and in some more of a hurry. Sometimes it’s simple; sometimes . . . it’s a bit more complex. No matter how it happens though, your relationship with your parents is never the same.

It is a heart-warming moment the day your parents treat you as an equal. Maybe Dad offers you a beer or Mom doesn’t ask you to leave the room when the gossip topics get R to X rated. Whatever the case, you know when it happens. It’s a subtle shift in how they look at you and how they treat you. You’re not just their child anymore, you’re a member of the club of adults. To use an image from the “olden days,” it was when you were allowed to be heard and not just seen. Sometimes, some truly glorious times, you end up having not just a parent but an incredible friend who already knows all your stories because they were at the center of so many of them. No matter how it happens though, your relationship with your parents is never the same.

It is a gut-wrenching moment the day your role switches with your parent. Mama wants your advice or asks if you will, “just handle this.” Maybe Dad can’t go all day in the yard and you need to come over and take care of trimming the holly bushes. Often, it around the time the folks don’t insist on everyone coming “home” for the holidays but instead let “one of the children host this year.” Sometimes, you catch a grimace of pain or come in unannounced and find Mama taking a breathing treatment you didn’t know she needed. Sooner or later, you’ll taste the hideous, coppery tang of fear when you realize that this once invincible tower of strength and safety is beginning to crumble. Instead of drying your tears when you skinned your knee, you you dry their tears when they can’t quite remember the recipe for your favorite cake. We laugh and joke during the good times about how our parents had better be good to us because we are going to pick out their nursing home one day. The joke isn’t quite as funny when the day actually comes that you have to leave them and when you look at the expression on their faces and they tears in their eyes, you know EXACTLY how they felt looking at you on your first day of school. Unfortunately, a big yellow bus isn’t going to bring them home to milk and cookies and maybe a nap or a game before homework and supper time. In place of the big yellow bus will be a long black limousine and you will have a new standard of loneliness to measure things against in your life. No matter how it happens though, your relationship with your parents is never the same.

Once the changes start, your relationship with your parents is never the same.

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