A Change in Routine


https://i2.wp.com/images6.fanpop.com/image/photos/32900000/Dove-doves-32938347-1600-1200.jpgToday is Tuesday. For the last three years Tuesday has meant one thing to me above all else — a ride down to Clinton to check on Granny in the nursing home. My routine changed earlier this month. November 1st, when I would normally be on my way home from NHC, I was sitting in the family room of Fletcher’s Funeral Home planning Granny’s funeral.

Granny had been in decline for several weeks, but the call on Halloween night at 9:00 was still a surprise. See, I had just called at 8:00 and she was doing well — meaning about the same as she had been for a couple of weeks — resting comfortably in her bed. Then only an hour later, I got the call and she was gone. Just like that. The nurse said Granny went peacefully, just stopped breathing and lost pulse. Just like that.

We buried her next to Papa John. Now he’s got Mama on one side and Granny on the other. I picked her out a white casket with a pink lining. Granny always loved pink. She was wearing her newest gown and I had them wrap her in her favorite blanket. She got cold easily.

The funeral was tiny. The only people attending were Aunt Pearl and Rachel, Granny’s oldest sister and oldest niece, and about five others. I didn’t put Granny’s death in the paper until after the service so no one really knew about the arrangements. I know I didn’t make any friends with that branch of the family, but I had my reasons.

Chief among them was how she lay in the nursing home over five years and no one went to visit her except Mama and me . . . until Mama died . . . and Aunt Pearl and Rachel. Everyone else seemed to have their reasons for not making the half-hour drive to Clinton to see her. I figured if they couldn’t be bothered to see her when she was living and needed company, there wasn’t much point in coming to see her once she was gone and didn’t need anyone anymore.

So, my littlest Granny is gone now. When I was born I had all four grandparents AND four of my eight great-grandparents alive to visit. Granny was the last one. I know how fortunate I am to live to 45 before losing my last grandparent, but it’s still bittersweet knowledge all the same. To have so much love surround you then for it to be all gone is a hard thing to take.

That’s why it’s taken so long into the month for me to write about Granny’s passing. I didn’t want to be maudlin — her memory doesn’t deserve that. All her life, Granny lived for one thing — love. She only wanted to love and be loved in return. Now she’s finally in a place where she’s surrounded by love and I know she’s happy even as I miss her.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

Great War Wednesday: Lafayette Escadrille


The insignia of the Lafayette Escadrille and no, that’s NOT a Nazi symbol. Way before Hitler and his evil bastards appropriated it, the swastika was a symbol in many cultures around the world, including Native Americans.

Ever since the first man took ship to go explore somewhere in the New World, young Americans, mostly men as women tend to have better sense, seem to enjoy going abroad in search of dragons to slay for some reason or another. Americans have been fighting other countries’ wars for as long as there’s been an America. Some go out of a sense of bravado and adventure, others for that most elusive of game “a cause”, and still others, especially in the days before fingerprint databases and DNA tests rendered it nearly impossible, to simply start over as another person — perhaps to forget a broken heart and perhaps to stay one jump ahead of the penitentiary.

One of the most famous groups of American young men who went to the service of another country was the Escadrille Number 124 of the nascent French Air Force. History knows them better as Le Lafayette Escadrille. These 38 men flew under the command of their five French officers from March 1916 until America officially joined the Great War in 1917 at which point they were incorporated into the even MORE nascent Army Air Corps.

When the group first formed, it was called the Escadrille Américaine. For some reason, however, — maybe it was having “American” right in the name — the German embassy in the United States filed a formal protest because America was “neutral” at the time and having a group of people under the name Escadrille Américaine apparently seemed to suggest America was allied with France rather than being strictly “neutral.” So the French changed the name to honor the biggest French hero in American history.

The unit received its baptism of fire over the Battle of Verdun soon after its constitution. On 18 May 1916, a Tennessee boy named Kiffin Rockwell became the first Lafayette Escadrille pilot (and by extension the first American period) to down an enemy aircraft when he shot down a German observation plane near the Verdun battlefield. Sadly, Rockwell would not survive the war but became the second casualty of the unit. The first casualty was one Victor Chapman who was shot down over Verdun 23 June 1916. In all, nine of the original 38 volunteers died in the skies over France while two more died later on when the unit became part of the American Army Air Corps.

The main weapon of the Escadrille was the Nieuport 11, affectionately called La Bebe’ by the pilots. It easily outclassed the monowing Fokker fighters which had driven all the earlier Allied aircraft from the sky during the latter half of 1915. It was nimble and powerful, but not without issues. Unlike German planes, the French had yet to develop a working synchronizing gear to enable the machine gun to fire through the propeller of the plane. The Nieuport’s single Vickers gun fired above the top wing which made aiming slightly more difficult than its German counterparts like the Albatross DIII.

If you like being an insufferable know-it-all at movies, and who doesn’t, if you’re ever watching the WWI movie about the Lafayette Escadrille called Flyboys you can tell everyone the Americans are flying the wrong planes because the movie uses replicas of the later Nieuport 16 which fired through the propeller AND had the full nose ring seen in several of the movie shots. Also, the Nieuport 11 wouldn’t have been flying against the Fokker Triplanes like in the movie since the 11’s had been replaced before the Triplane’s appearance in 1917.

Another historical inaccuracy of the movie is the inclusion of an African American pilot. The character is obviously based on the legendary Eugene Bullard who was the son of American slaves and who DID serve in France, first in the trenches in the infantry of Great Britain and later flying in the French Air Force. An amazing and deadly pilot who went to Europe to escape the rabid racism at home, Bullard nonetheless did not fly for the Lafayette Escadrille because they stopped taking volunteers once 38 had been reached. I could find no reason why because other men, white and black, were turned away once the 38 mark had been reached.

The Lafayette Escadrille officially came to an end 8 February 1918 when its surviving pilots were absorbed into the newly formed American 103rd Aero Squadron. Try as I might, I couldn’t locate the fate of the wonderful mascots of the Lafayette Escadrille who just happened to be two full grown African lions named, appropriately American enough “Whiskey” and “Soda”and who pretty much had the run of the aerodrome and the barracks where the men slept.

Love y’all and keep your feel clean!



https://i1.wp.com/img.deusm.com/networkcomputing/2014/08/1298101/fog-316479_640.jpgI never parted from Mama if we were mad at each other. From the time I could drive I would threaten to follow her to work if we didn’t fix whatever lay between us. As a result, when the day came going on four years ago now and I had to stand over her casket, I felt grief — crushing grief –; I felt profound loss; but what I did not feel was regret. I’m not saying this makes me a great son or a great person because it doesn’t. I’m saying it because I haven’t followed the “no regrets” program with everyone in my life.

I met Tracey over the phone when she was a sales rep for a book seller and I was a middle school librarian. After our first conversation I wouldn’t deal with anyone at the company but her. We were kindred spirits. Our friendship was ten years of phone calls, emails, and texts. I never once laid eyes on her in the flesh. I knew she was up in New York living a life that would terrify me and loving every minute of it.

We’d go long stretches and not hear from each other but once Facebook caught on, it became much easier to keep in touch. She introduced me to the music of The Cramps and offered me the “real” tour of New York if I ever got the courage up to fly to the Big Apple. I didn’t make it for a thousand reasons: money, time, commitments . . . the usual. Then, last spring, through Facebook I found out she was sick — extremely sick, like at death’s door sick. She had a condition called “lipid pneumonia” which made her lungs fill up with a fatty fluid the consistency of oil.

Something strange happened then. We had a fight. Of all things, she was sick as a dog and we had a fight. Part of it was over someone in her life I hated — well, as much as you can hate someone you’ve never met; part of it was because I kept badgering her to leave her beloved New York City and move back to her family in Florida with warmer weather and family to look out for her. It was ALL stupid and the majority of the entire fiasco was my fault. Then she started to get better and better and got out of the hospital and it looked like everything was coming up Milhouse.

But she was still angry with me and I was too proud and stubborn to admit any wrongdoing or back down from anything I said. So, we stopped communicating. Last I talked to her was July of last year and she was, “fine thank you very much!” Then nothing. Well, Monday was her 40th birthday and I thought fourteen months was plenty to act like an ass so I sent her an emoji laden post telling her happy birthday on Facebook.

About an hour later I got a reply to my post, not from Tracey, but from her mother. It simply said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you but Tracey died Thanksgiving Day of last year.” I sat and stared at my phone so hard Budge asked me what was wrong. She knew who Tracey was so she was sorry for my feeling too.

It’s so weird in a way. I never laid physical eyes on her, but she’s left this empty space. She’s been dead nearly a year and I didn’t even know! Now it’s too late. I’ll never know what she thought of me those last months. Did she still consider me a friend? Did she feel betrayed? Did she feel anything at all? What I feel is much simpler.

I feel regret.

I feel regret that when she needed me most I wasn’t there in person or electronically. I feel regret that this amazing person who was part of my life will never know just exactly how much she made me smile or how much she taught me . . . all because I waited too late to stretch out an olive branch. Our last words to each other were harsh . . . because of my pride.

Now she’s gone.

Which got me to thinking how she’s not the only one. I’ve got friends and family I haven’t seen in years and some of us parted on bad terms. I’ve got people I need to apologize to but I don’t know where they are and it’s taken losing a real friend to open my eyes to just how fragile and fleeting life is and how enduring and everlasting our words are.

If you happen across this post and you are a friend, former friend, or family member; if you are someone I’ve wronged, comment below, email me, reach out and give me a chance to mend and take back some of the things I’ve said and if you can’t or don’t want to please know that for my part, I’m sorry. I’ve said and done stupid things and hurt people unknowingly and quite willfully at times, but I’m going on fifty and the man is sorry for many things the boy has done . . . and many things the man has done. I’m so sorry.

The Quakers have a proverb: “I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”

You only live once is not just a Millenial throwaway line by some rapper. It’s not just something to say. No, it is a truth . . . an immutable truth. No matter what we may believe about what comes after we’re only going through THIS life one time and this life is just a mist, a fog, a momentary vapor.

So please, take my advice. Never part with harsh words. Always be the first to say “I’m sorry” whether you feel it was your fault or not. Reach out to your friends and loved ones because you never know if what seemed so important to say, the argument that was so vital to win, the point so desperate to make just might be the last words the two of you ever share and then, when you finally decide to try to mend things you find out you’ve come to late.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean.

Ten “Five Year Missions” Complete


Image result for star trekStardate 8 September 1966 a little known and lesser heralded science fiction show debuted on CBS. This little one hour space drama would only last three seasons — less than 100 episodes — but it would change the lives of countless people then yet to be born. Of course the show was Star Trek, known in Trekkie parlance as The Original Series or TOS to distinguish it from Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS); Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG); Deep Space Nine (DS9); Star Trek: Voyager (VOY); and, most recently, Star Trek: Enterprise (ENT). Anyone on the set back then would have been dumbfounded to know they were kicking off a bona fide cultural phenomenon and fifty years, six (soon to be SEVEN) TV series, and thirteen feature length movies later, Star Trek would be an actual way of life for some people. All you have to know is the Holy Bible is available in Klingon. Image result for star trek

Most Trekkies these days don’t realize how rocky their beloved franchise’s start truly was. Critics blasted the plots, the premise, the acting, and anything else they thought of. It was an ensemble cast of relative unknowns who would all end up being household names revered around the world today. Though time has taken several of them — Bones, Scotty, Yeoman Rand, and just this year Spock — those left are still the darlings of any convention they choose to attend.

Image result for star trekI discovered Star Trek during the summer between fifth and sixth grade, a period I like to call the Babylonian Exile, when I was a lonely, bereft kid living in Columbia, SC for what seemed like the longest three months of my life. I was flipping channels . . . by hand, no less . . . and I saw a green girl dancing. I stopped and by the end of the episode, I was a devoted fan. I fell in love with Star Trek before I discovered Tolkien and Middle Earth, which is still hard for me to believe since I favor fantasy over science fiction these days. I spent every 3:00 hour that summer parked in front of the TV watching my new heroes Kirk, Bones, and Spock battle Klingons and Romulons . . . and each other more than once. When we moved back to the upstate, I was delighted to find the show came on up here, too, and at 7:00 so I could watch it during the school year as well. For those of you tender youths who wonder why I didn’t just “DVR” it, at the time VCRs were a bit in the future and anyone proposing something like commercial free television on a “hard drive” would have been burned at the stake as a witch.Image result for star trek

Star Trek: The Next Generation came out my junior year of high school. It ran on the brand new Fox Network on Sunday nights. Mama and I watched every episode and even once I went off to college, I wouldn’t leave to return to Clemson until 9:00 when that week’s episode ended. I’m not going to wade into the murky shark filled waters over which series is the best. A person can get flame broiled quickly for choosing the “wrong” series. I’ll say I’ve seen all of TOS, TNG, and VOY. Budge and I watched Voyager together one year when we caught the pilot episode in syndication just by chance one day after school. For the rest of the year, a “new” episode aired each day Monday through Friday at 4:00 and we watched Captain Janeway and the crew try to get home from the Delta Quadrant every night before supper. Of the three series I’ve watched in totality, I’m satisfied with each in its own way. Ideally, I’d like to catch a channel that aired a TOS episode followed by a TNG episode and finished off with a VOY Image result for star trekepisode. I’d be a happy little camper then.

I watched a few episodes here and there of Deep Space Nine, but I never really got into it like I did the other series. For one thing, and this is a really petty point, the episode titles were way too long. I also despise Ferengi and having a station littered with the grasping little buggers aggravated me to no end. As for Enterprise, well, I’ve never seen an episode so I wouldn’t be qualified to judge its quality. I’m holding out high hopes for next year’s launch of Star Trek: Discovery because, success of the recent movies non-withstanding, I’m one of those who thinks Star Trek does best on the small screen.

I’ve seen several of the movies including all three of the most recent incarnation and I for Image result for star trekone thought the way the writers rebooted the series while still maintaining continuity with the old timeline was genius. I know a lot of people wanted to scream deus ex machina, but hey, it worked . . . even if we did get a new Spock slightly more disposed to emotion. I’m not bucking any trends, however, when I claim The Wrath of Khan as being my favorite of the movie series. Spock dying to save the ship gets me every time AND it sets up the next few movies where Kirk steals a ship along with the rest of the gang, who even at this juncture are NOT as young as they used to be, in order to go find their friend.

At its core, that’s what Star Trek is all about — friendship. A loyal bunch of people in a tin can zooming through outer space with aliens and natural disasters constantly trying to kill them get multiple opportunities to save each other, depend on each other, and grow together. It’s the entertainment industry’s longest running buddy movie / road movie and even fifty years after a rough and rocky start, it’s still gaining new converts all the time.

Keep those feet clean and of course, live long and prosper, y’all!Image result for star trek

#TBT: Elegy for a Utility Ballplayer


This was originally posted seven years ago. Recent events have brought it to mind. Some things never change.

Lonely GloveHe always knew this day was coming, but he tried so very hard to fool himself into denying the inevitable. Once he’d been cut at the end of last season, he told himself it was just a temporary setback and he’d have a new gig with a new team in no time at all. It’d be like the last time he got traded . . . what a row that was! Been with a team for nearly ten years and along comes a new manager and next thing a guy knows, well, he’s looking for a new job. Of course, he’d had an agent back then. He could afford one. Unfortunately, a couple of years bouncing around the minors pretty well did that in. The last two teams, he’d handled his own contracts. It wasn’t like he need a whole lot of legal advice anyway. Guys like him never did. In all his career, he’d never merited more than a little bit above league minimum salary anyway.

After all, it wasn’t like he was a star. He’d never been to the All-Star Game; no World Series or playoff rings adorned his fingers. His baseball card would never be encased in a plastic shell to guard against bent corners or dinged edges. His hitting stats weren’t gaudy . . . he was just barely north of the infamous Mario Mendoza Line . . . but he’d punched seventeen homers over various walls in his career. He was a good, solid defensive player, though, and that’s what kept him in the game. He’d shown up for work every day, taken batting practice every day, shagged his share of fly balls . . . every day. He kept track of the “kids” on away games and he’d helped more than one superstar to a hotel room to “sleep it off.” In all, he’d had fourteen years in the Show. It was nothing to sneeze at, but it was cold comfort where he was now.

After four years on this team, he was cut. The coach said the team didn’t need him anymore. It was nothing personal. Just business, you know? Budgets were being slashed all over, you know? People want the flashy hitters these days and the young pretty boys, you know?. He’d nodded throughout the conversation, shook hands with Coach, and then he’d cleaned out his locker — thankful he was alone with no one to see the pain on his fact.

He’d waited all through the off season for the phone to ring, sure that someone out there needed his steady presence and boundless enthusiasm. Maybe he’d have to start off in the minors again, but that was okay, he’d done that before. It was kind of fun actually. He’d gotten a couple or three calls and went for interviews and workouts, but the story was always the same — thanks for coming, we’ll call if we need you.losing

The phone never rang a second time, though, and now he was parked in front of the TV in his modest living room  staring at the first game of the season playing out in front of him. His old team was winning 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh. Some new kid straight out of college (or maybe high school) was in his old spot on the bench. Waiting to get in the game. He knew about that wait and now —  too old to start over and too young to retire — waiting was all that he had left.

Enjoy the school year, y’all.

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

#TBT: A Breakdown in Communication


You just have to wonder what’s coming when this is the opening picture!

I first published this five years ago when Budge began her 9th year teaching. She has just started year 14 which marks the halfway point til retirement. This is a story from EARLY in her career and it’s one of my FAVORITES! Enjoy.

In honor of the first Friday of the new school year around these parts, I want to share with y’all my FAVORITE story ever from my beloved Budge’s teaching career. She just started year NINE, which is hard for me to believe and she gets better and better each year. I’m not saying it just because she’s my wife and I love her, but as a former teacher, I know awesome when I see it.

So this particular story took place early in Budge’s second year. Her first year had been a typical first year. It was stressful, but not terrible. This second year group, however, was proving to be a little more of a handful than her first class. Still, they were a neat bunch and one of the most memorable was a young lad named . . . well, let’s call him “Sydney” since Budge has his baby sister this year.

Young master Sydney was performing the role of “bathroom reporter” during the morning potty break. The most important part of his job was to enter the boy’s bathroom first and return with a report on anything out-of-place or order so none of my lovely’s children would be unfairly blamed. The fun started when Sydney returned from his reconnaissance foray into the toilet. Upon his return, Budge asked for a report. The report went a little something like this:

Budge: “Okay, what’s the deal, Sydney?”

Sydney: “Mrs. Wham, there’s piss on the seat in one stall.” Now it’s important to note that the boy gave his report in an even, conversational, matter-of-fact tone. He was not cracking up or goofing off. Budge, however, wasn’t sure she’d heard him correctly.

Budge: “What did you say?”

Sydney: “I said, ‘Mrs. Wham, there’s piss on one of the seats.'”

Budge, now a little distressed and a little louder: “WHAT did you say?”

Sydney, by this time wondering why this strange woman was teaching replied, again: “I said, “Mrs. Wham. There. Is. Piss. On. The. Seat.” He never raised his voice. He was never disrespectful at all. Truth be told, the poor little guy was at a complete loss as to what he had done wrong and why his teacher seemingly didn’t understand English.

Budge was fairly well discombobulated by this time so she hustled the class into the room, shut the door a little harder than she meant to, and — once everyone was seated — began one of the first, and to date, strangest dressing downs of her career.

Budge: “Class! We do not use the word PISS in this class?! Does everyone understand me?!”

Budge is MUCH prettier, but I have seen a similar look.

She told me the class stared back at her with a reptilian haze dulling their eyes. Sydney was in the back looking absolutely bumfuzzled. Apparently, at his house, the yellow liquid one’s kidneys produced, which then exited the body via the bladder and urethra, was called, appropriately enough PISS.

Now as an aside, I like to think of “piss” as one of those good old Anglo-Saxon words that cut straight to the core of the apple so to speak. When someone uses one of those ancient words, no one has much of a chance to doubt his intentions. Unfortunately, those words have fallen out of favor in polite company. My Budge was about to offer a substitute in its place.

Budge: “Instead of PISS, we will call it “TINKLE”! It is not pee or pee-pee or anything else, and it IS NOT PISS! IT. IS. CALLED. TINKLE!! Got it?”

According to her, twenty-seven of twenty-eight heads, including Sydney’s, bobbed up and down in affirmation probably thinking, if we go along with the crazy woman, maybe we can get away during recess.. The lone dissenter was another lad named Johnathan. Instead of nodding his acquiescence to the new status quo, Johnny had his head buried in his arms on his desk and Budge said his shoulders were shaking violently. When she called his name and asked if he understood, he looked up with a terrible grin on his face and tears squeezing out of his eyes as his whole body shook in a spasm of suppressed laughter.

Budge: “Something funny, Johnathan?” To his everlasting credit, the boy didn’t crack. He regained control of himself and managed to squeak out, “No, ma’am.”

Budge then gave the class a withering look and one more expulsion of “TINKLE, okay?” Before she went on with the lesson.

And the moral of this story is . . .

Sydney and Johnathan are seniors in high school this year, but Sydney came with his mom and sister to “Meet the Teacher Night” on Monday and as soon as he walked in the room — all six foot plus handsome young man of him — he smiled and said, “Mrs. Wham, I’ve already told Sissy here that we use the word TINKLE in your class.”

Budge said she couldn’t help but laugh at what she wouldn’t let herself laugh at eight years ago. Since then, she’s learned to pick her battles and “Piss on the seat” probably wouldn’t garner a second glance. However, to a still-green teacher, she had to stand firm against the onrushing tide of PISS and other monstrosities.

I still love her though!

Love you all too! Keep those feet clean and good luck in school.

My Day as an Engineer


https://i1.wp.com/media.scpr.org/images/news/2010/02/23/blackboardblog.jpgI told you last post about my move in day at Clemson and I decided to go ahead and enlighten y’all about the day I spent becoming an engineer. I had listed civil engineering as my major of choice before I got to Clemson mainly for two reasons: one, and I don’t know if it’s still this way, but then Clemson pretty much wanted you to declare a major in your junior year . . . of high school; and two, Daddy had counseled me to pick a degree which would let me and help me earn a lot of money.

Now back then I could only think of three professions to satisfy the “lots of money” part of the equation: doctor, lawyer, and engineer. I knew I’d never be a doctor. I’d wanted to be one when I was little, but in eighth grade I spent two weeks in the summer at the Governor’s School Mini-session, which was a trial program for rising freshmen separate from the “real” Governor’s School. ANYWAY, we went on a tour of the MUSC campus and we saw the gross anatomy lab after lunch. This was before the cadavers were in those fancy roll up tubes they come in now. Back then, it was just sheets over dead bodies. Between the occasional hand lolling out from under its sheet and the overwhelming smell of formaldehyde I just barely kept my two hot dogs from lunch in my stomach . . . I was one of the lucky ones. That ended my aspirations of a medical career.

I also knew I couldn’t be a lawyer because I was raised with the belief the Bible held a slew of special woes for lawyers. Apparently they weren’t much better thought of in ancient times than they are now. I understood good lawyers existed, but I also knew they didn’t make anywhere near the money the crooked ones did.

That left engineering. I’ll tell you at the time I had no idea what an engineer did. Honestly, I’m STILL not certain what all the different types of engineers do, but I liked building stuff so I settled on civil engineer. Thus with a happy heart and visions of future fortune, I signed up for a beginner’s year as a civil engineer.

First, a bit of backstory to get you in my frame of mind. I was a good high school student. I made a five on the AP Biology, AP US History, and AP English Lit tests, and a three on the AP Calculus test. According to the sweet young lady who signed me up for classes, the biology, history, and English scores placed me out of six classes and assured that if I remained an engineer I’d never see the inside of a science, history, or English class in college. That seemed like a good deal. She then said my three in AP Calculus would allow me to skip Calc 106, Calc 108, and Calc 206 to go straight into Calc 208. I thought that was a good deal too.

It was here my sorrows began.

I earned my biology, history, and English scores on my own merit. I was good in those three classes and didn’t need any assistance to do well. AP Calculus, however, was an altogether different animal. Math and I hadn’t really gotten on well since eighth grade when some damned fool went and put letters in with all the numbers and called it Algebra. Did you know you can prove 2=1 with Algebra? You have to divide by zero to do it, but still!

I didn’t get my three in AP Calculus on my own merit. I got that score because of Mr. Larry Brady who was hands down the finest math teacher this world has ever produced. He could teach Calculus to jellyfish and I’m sure at times he felt that I was his pet Portuguese Man-O-War. The ONLY reason I passed the AP Calculus test was due to his amazing teaching skill. Unfortunately, Mr. Brady was two years behind me by this point and, quite stupidly, I had no idea what 106, 108, and 206 meant anyway. I just knew I’d be taking fewer classes and fewer classes meant less time in college and more time out making “lots of money.”

I was a right benighted fool.

So, first day of class was a Monday. I had Calculus 208 at 8:00 in the morning. That SHOULD have been my first clue I was in the wrong neck of the woods because 8:00 classes are of the devil — I’m sure it says so somewhere in the Apocrypha to the Bible. Of course, someone SHOULD have written “Abandon all hope ye who enter here” above the door of the lecture hall where the class met. They didn’t, and I walked straight into the proverbial buzzsaw.

I found a seat next to a big ol’ boy from Stone Mountain, GA. I can’t swear to it anymore, but I think his name was Joel. We had good seats on the aisle about midway down. As he and I got acquainted, I noticed people just KEPT coming in that room. I’m certain more people were in that one room than attended my extremely large (1500+ students) high school. Way down front in a bit of a hollow was a long set of chalkboards. At exactly 8:00, a guy in a tweed jacket walked in, picked up a piece of chalk, and started writing.

He wrote for a solid twenty minutes before he turned around and introduced himself. When he finally spoke, he had a thick Indian accent. I don’t know if it’s still the same, but back then, Clemson’s math department was notorious for having professors who barely spoke the Queen’s English and this fellow was apparently one of them. In any event, after he finished writing, he put the chalk down, turned around and introduced himself as something like Dr. Rathpangjani or some other. What he said next killed my hopes of ever making “lots of money.”

He said, “Students, I have written upon the board the bare minimum knowledge you will need to know if you hope to pass this class.” At this, he gestured behind him to a board covered top to bottom and side to side with cryptic symbols and unknown formulae. He continued, “You should recognize all of this from your 106, 108, and 206 Calculus classes. I will NOT be doing ANY review. Know this, I have taught classes all over the world in Calculus and I assure you if you are not intimately comfortable with everything on this board, you will fail this class miserably. I have seen it many times before. Since you know this, understand there is no shame in realizing you are overmatched in something. I have drop – add and class change forms here for anyone who feels he needs one.”

Hands went up all over the auditorium and it took me only a split second of looking at that indecipherable writing on the board for me to raise mine too. This man was no Mr. Brady and since Joel had his hand in the air, I knew he wasn’t going to be any help. I took a drop form from one of the graduate assistants, gathered my stuff, and went back to my room a defeated man. Math, that heartless wench, had beaten me again. I would never be an engineer; I would never make “lots of money.”

And that, friends, is the story of my ONE day as an engineer.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

Taking Flight, Moving In


https://i.ytimg.com/vi/h7oZ41n5fkc/maxresdefault.jpgAll across the country last weekend and this weekend folks everywhere have seen the annual migration of teenagers and early twentysomethings from home back to college. For all the freshmen in the bunch, they are spreading their wings for the first time. I’ve noticed it’s making a lot of moms and dads sad all over.

I’ve got several friends who have early college age children and many of them are in one of two camps; either they are sending the firstborn off to college and away from the protection of the nest for the first time, OR they are moving “the baby” into a dorm or apartment and now the nest is well and truly empty. In either case, parental tears are almost a given. I do know some parents who have been on tenterhooks for the last four years of high school as they see what they perceive as the end of their responsibility for these lives they have foisted upon the world, but for the most part, the parents I know are sad to see their children grow up and leave. Maybe it’s something as complicated as loss of control or an end to helicoptering (except in extreme cases, but that’s another story) or maybe it’s really simple — their children are leaving and they are going to miss them.

I know the latter is how Mama felt, although I found out quite accidentally, but more on that momentarily.

I stutter-stepped my way into college. Sure, I had the grades and the SAT scores and beaucoup awards and scholarship offers to show; I even had an apartment lined up in Central, South Carolina. Clemson University was ready for me . . . I just wasn’t ready for it.

See, for those of you who might not remember or who had such ungodly horrible childhoods and home lives you couldn’t wait to get out of Dodge, leaving home for what is supposed to be “for good” is scary as Hell. It reminds me of the days of sailing ships when men first left sight of shore to find out what lay over the horizon. They marked their maps with cautious phrases such as “here there be dragons” and believe it or not, many of the dragons are real.

It’s just the first week of classes and I guarantee you hundreds if not thousands of college freshmen have ALREADY made at least one decision which will have disastrous and life-long consequences . . . ONE WEEK. That’s one reason why I took a pass on freshman year at Clemson; I KNEW I was bound to screw the pooch somehow.  See, with the exception of four magical weeks spread over two summers at Camp Broadstone in Boone, NC when I was in junior high, I had never been away from home more than 24 hours more than five times in my life. I didn’t go on trips and I was never good enough to make it to overnight tournaments in wrestling. I was pretty much a homebody. Actually, I still am.

To be honest, I didn’t really want to go to Clemson in the first place. I didn’t know WHERE I wanted to go, but it wasn’t there. I also had a serious girlfriend who was still in high school AND, don’t underestimate this, I was making good money at my auto parts sales job . . . at least good money for an eighteen year old kid with no bills except a payment on a little white truck. So, when move in weekend came, I took a flyer on it and helped a couple of my buddies — who were incredulous I wasn’t coming along — pack up their graduation present cars and head off to either Clemson or USC. A smattering went to other places, but for the most part it was the “big two” for South Carolina.

As for me, I enrolled in the thirteenth grade at Greenville Technical College and took stuff that would transfer to just about anywhere I would eventually end up. It was a miserable year. Except for math classes, I never cracked a book. I worked forty hours a week, went out with that girlfriend on the weekends until we broke up, and basically got another year older.

When the next year rolled around, however, I had my little white truck packed and pointed towards Tiger Town. Like I said before, I didn’t really want to go there, but I couldn’t afford my first two choices who accepted me, so Clemson it was. I went by myself. I moved in mostly by myself and I was able to because I didn’t have anything but clothes. I didn’t throw a graduation party or “dorm room shower” to get all the crazy stuff like mini fridges and stereo systems I saw people carrying into their rooms.

Luckily, my lottery pick roommate, a good ol’ boy from Calhoun Falls, SC, arrived on Sunday with pretty much anything a dorm room needed all packed in the back seat and hatch of a gorgeous red ’89 Mustang GT. I liked him and his friends, but truthfully, I didn’t see much of him. We were in different majors and he had a REALLY serious girlfriend back home so he’d go home pretty much every weekend and lots of times once or twice through the week.

I didn’t cry from homesickness that first week. After classes started I was too busy trying to find another major, but that’s another story for another time. Mostly, I tried to not get lost. I ran into some friends from high school and discovered something passingly strange — college changes some people. Just because y’all were friends in high school didn’t matter for much with their new “fraternity” friends, but again, another story for another time.

I stayed up that first weekend for the opening football game and after that I went home about every other weekend, maybe less if we had a home game. Mama was always glad to see me and I did my own laundry because I’d seen what a dorm full of males could do to a bank of innocent washing machines. Then on Sunday night, we’d watch Star Trek: The Next Generation and I’d head back to school.

It was spring semester that first year when I found out what Mama really felt about me going to school. I left after Star Trek like usual, but ten minutes down the road, I remembered something I’d forgotten to pack so I went back home. Granny answered the door, but I could hear Mama and she sounded like she was dying . . . of course, that’s just something people say because when she actually did come to die she was completely silent . . . anyway, I looked at Granny and she just shrugged and said, “That’s how she does every time you leave. Every single time.” I went back to my room and she had laid down on my bed and was sobbing into my pillow. I picked her up in my lap and rocked her till she calmed down and I asked her what all the waterworks were about. I remember her saying,

“I can’t explain it, son. You’ll have to watch your own child leave before you can understand.”

According to Rob, she did the same thing the night Budge and I left on our honeymoon and she knew we were coming back! So to all of you mamas and dads out there who are missing your offspring, just remember, they may screw their lives up something fierce off at that college, but if you raised them right, they just might figure things out before it’s too late. Either way, you’ve done your job. All that’s left now is to miss them.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Great War Wednesday: The Brusilov Offensive


Broussilov.jpgDebacles such as the Russo-Japanese War and the Battle of Tannenburg have earned a dismal reputation for the Russian soldier. Truthfully, nothing could be further from the truth. The average Russian soldier and his later Soviet counterparts were hard, tough fighting men capable of great feats. Unfortunately, this valiant soldiery had the terrible luck to usually end up saddled with criminally ineffective leadership. As a result, from the outside, it looks like the Russians were somewhat inept.

Every now and again though, the stars would align and the tough Russian fighting men would end up being led by a brilliant general or other officer. When that happened, the Russians could and did show exactly what they were made of. Such a confluence of greatness happened in the middle of 1916 along a sector of the eastern front of the Great War when an exceptional commander, General Aleksi Brusilov, fought for the chance to launch an offensive and from June to September 1916 almost singlehandedly knocked the Austro-Hungarian Empire out of World War I.

The origins of the Brusilov Offensive lay in an agreement by the Allies to launching simultaneous offensives against the Central Powers in summer 1916. For her part, Russia agreed to the terms of the agreement in hopes of securing arms and ammunition from the other allies, supplies which were in near disastrous shortages at home. She would lend France some troops on the Western Front and Britain some troops on the Saloniki Front but most of all, she pledged to launch a major attack along the Eastern front.

The plan was to launch the simultaneous attacks among the allies in the summer, but events at Verdun wrecked the timetable somewhat. As soon as Germany launched the massive assault against Verdun, France started begging anyone who would listen for help. France hoped any attack anywhere would draw Germans from the attack on Verdun. However, little happens quickly in Russia so it would be June before Russia would make good on her promise to attack the Eastern front, but when she did, she made it count.

The plan General Brusilov presented to the Russian high command was brilliant, simple, and designed to help the most allies. He planned to attack using his Southwestern Army against the Austrians across from him in Galacia. By launching a massive attack Brusilov hoped to ease pressure at Verdun and the Somme as well as helping draw troops from the Isonzo Front in Italy. Never one to mince words, Brusilov told the commanders he hoped to knock Austro-Hungary out of the war completely. He felt his plan would be effective because at the point of attack, the Russians vastly outnumbered the Austrians.

Rising casualties at Verdun and the Somme caused the Russians to move up preparations for the offensive. Brusilov had forty infantry and fifteen cavalry divisions arrayed along his front. Initially he faced thirty-nine Austrian infantry divisions and ten cavalry divisions. Later, however, in an effort to literally keep Austro-Hungary in the war, German reinforcements were brought up.

The offensive began 4 June 1916 with the obligatory artillery barrage. This barrage was different, however. The model which developed over the course of the war to this point was a long, drawn-out affair with days of pounding the intended point of attack with wave upon wave of shells. The Russians did not have the ammunition for such a protracted firing spree so this barrage was focused and proved to be extremely accurate but most of all, it was short. Because the barrage was so short, the opposing force didn’t have time to rush reinforcements to the point of attack the barrage would herald. The shorter attack also chewed up much less of the battlefield, enabling the Russians to advance at a much faster pace.

The initial attack was highly successful as three of Brusilov’s four army groups advanced on a wide front. In addition to a short barrage, Brusilov also used another innovation in his attack, one that would later form the basis for military doctrine all over the world. He used small units, then called “shock troops”, to attack certain weak points with precision. This was in contrast to the usual full scale, “over the top” wave charge across no-man’s-land typical of the Great War to this point. It work well. The small squads could infiltrate a small hole blown in the line and hold it while clipping wire and removing other obstacles to enable the larger force to pour in behind them. These shock troops were the ancestors of the later “small unit tactics” used in World War II.

On June 8, Brusilov captured the city of Lutsk. Such was the speed of the Russian advance, the commander of Austro-Hungarian forces for the entire front almost fell into Russian hands, only just escaping ahead of the arriving troops. The Austrians were in full retreat and the Russians had taken massive amounts of prisoners. Unfortunately, the attack was so successful Brusilov was in danger of overextending his supply lines and he communicated with High Command that the continued success of the attack now lay in other units of the Russian army attacking behind him. These attacks were very slow in coming, however, and the German commanders were able to use the superior German and Austrian railroad system to rush German troops to the front.

After a period to consolidate his gains, Brusilov continued his offensive in late July and even being as short on ammo and other supplies as he was, he managed to punch all the way to the base of the Carpathian mountains where terrain, German reinforcements, and lack of supplies finally forced Brusilov to halt and dig in.

Had the other Russian commanders along the Galacian front been of the same quality as Brusilov and attacked with such innovation and vigor, the war, and history, might have turned out differently. While Brusilov’s Offensive was wildly successful, the generals to either side of him encountered much worse results leading to massive Russian casualties, a fact some historians feel led directly to Russia’s collapse and withdrawal from the war the following year.

In all, however, Brusilov’s Offensive was a remarkable piece of strategic planning and tactical execution. It was by far the most successful Russian offensive of the war and one of the most effective offensives of the war by any side on any front. In terms of casualties, the Russians inflicted 3:1 casualties during the campaign and completely broke the back of the Austro-Hungarian Army as an independent fighting force.



Great War Wednesday: The Somme


British Mark I model tank. The Somme Campaign marked the debut of the tank on the battlefields of the Great War.

The Great War was a struggle on a titanic scale consisting of many battles which could almost be called wars in their own right in another time and place. Many of these battles still ring down the years to recall a sense of pride in victory or shame in defeat for the nations who fought them. The French have Verdun; the Italians have Isonzo; the Turks their defense of Gallipoli, and the British have the Somme; the name of which still draws a hush over anyone in Britain’s military.

The Somme Campaign began on 1 July 1916. History would name it the largest battle of the First World War, but the first day will always be remembered as the blackest day in British military history. In spite of the massive battles of World War II, none ever replaced the first day of the Somme as the single deadliest day for the British. In all, British forces suffered 57,470 casualties — on par with the death total for the entire Napoleonic Wars.

The genesis of the Somme Offensive lay with French Field Marshall Joseph Joffre and the new British commanding general Sir Douglas Haig. At a planning session in the winter of 1915, the two commanders envisioned a grand offensive along the Somme River. The scope of the offensive was larger than any before it and both men figured it to be a war winning blow once struck. Then the Germans attacked Verdun. By the time the Somme campaign launched in July, the French had been bleeding for five long months in the battle of attrition to the south. As a result, most of the French forces earmarked for the Somme had long since been diverted to Verdun and what began as a grand war ending battle turned into an effort to relieve some of the massive German pressure at Verdun and, as General Haig put it, “to inflict casualties upon the Germans.” What a plan.

Essential to this fine plan was Lord Kitchner’s “New Army.” This mass of troops consisted of the first wave of enlistees who had spent most of 1915 in training back across the Channel. They were all volunteers as the draft had not yet been instituted (the Somme casualties changed that.) Many of these troops were divided into the famous “Pals Battalions” where men had enlisted en masse from a single town or school or even fraternity at a school with the goal of serving together in combat. What seemed like a tremendous morale asset — fighting besides one’s best mates — became a morale nightmare, especially on the homefront, as some towns lost over 90% of their young men in single engagements.

This was also the first major battle where British “territorials” fought for their common King. Troops — many of them men of color — from Rhodesia, South Africa, Australia, India, Canada, and Bermuda lined up to go over the top. In fact, it was these territorials that kept the German High Command awake at nights. Britain and France both had numerous overseas colonies and former colonies to draw great reserves of manpower from while German had to make do with what lay within her borders.

As was the case by this point in the war, a huge preparatory artillery bombardment preceded the initial attack by the Anglo-French forces. For five days, French and British batteries pounded the Germans on a front 27,000 yards long where the first blow by the British Fourth Army would fall. The attack began on schedule with men going over the top early on the morning of 1 July. Despite great advances in areas along the line, the first push was not a universal success. This complicated matters for the British because so much of the safety of the troops depended upon not getting flanked that a huge advance in one area left a gap in British lines which the commanders were certain the Germans would exploit to get behind and cut off large chunks of the attacking army. As a result, many of the gains of the first day had to be abandoned in order to close up gaps in the line and prevent any salients forming. The result was 19,240 British soldiers killed for — on the whole — minimal gains.

The Somme Campaign lasted 141 days and by the end, the gods of battle claimed over a million casualties again, for basically no appreciable gains. The stalemate of the Western Front continued unabated.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.