#TBT: Epiphany of a Vine Tester


I first published this back in early 2011.. I’ve been thinking of my childhood and summers playing in the creek. Some of those summer days involved swinging on a vine and that’s when I became a vine tester. Hope you like it second time around.

I was in Mr. Sublett’s AP US History class on a winter Friday, second period, junior year, halfway listening to The Sub expound on the role states’ rights played in the War Between the States and halfway to Daydream Believer Land when it hit me what a bunch of low-down, four-flushing, underhanded rat-finks my buddies were when we were in the late single digits and very early double-digit years of our lives. The epiphany was nothing short of shocking. I let half the class in on my astonishment by suddenly sitting up straight in my desk and muttering loudly, “What a bunch of sorry . . . ” Well, we won’t go into exactly what sort of sorry they were. This is mostly a family blog.

Just because you’ve got on a cape don’t mean you can fly.

Anyway, this is what hit me. When we boys were young and rip-romping around the woods behind our houses, we had two favorite past-times: splashing in the creek looking for “spring lizards” and swinging on vines over the various ravines and gullies that pockmarked the tree choked hills. As I’ve mentioned many times here before, I am not now and never have been a lightweight. I’ve always been fat to the point of being big around as I have been tall. That made my rip-romping a little more difficult than my lithe and agile blood-brethren. As a result of the large disparity between my ability to cover ground and my lighter buddies’, I often lagged behind the gang . . . far behind at times. On good days, I could stay within earshot; on bad days — if I didn’t know the woods intimately — I’d get hopelessly lost.

Luckily, and here’s where my epiphany kicked in, the boys always waited for me at every vine swing or log crossing. Now all my buddies were raised to be kind and mannerly — just like I was. All of our parents and grandparents had been friends and sometimes even kin. So for nearly ten years, I thought the guys were looking out for me. They knew that I was slow AND (I hate to admit this) they knew I was terrified of getting lost in the woods and eaten by a grizzly bear or worse. It didn’t matter to me that no wild grizzly bear had lived east of the Mississippi River — much less Upstate South Carolina — in over a century. I was just an easily scared little boy. (Who, incidentally, grew up into an easily scared man).

But I digress.

Without fail, I’d always find the group waiting for me at the aforementioned log crossing or vine swing and, without fail, they always let me go first. I figured it was their way of keeping me close enough to hear my death screams as Gentle Ben was having me for lunch. That day in Sub’s class though, the harsh ugly truth hit me. Altruism wasn’t anywhere in their equations.

I was the vine tester.

Quite simply, I was always the first to cross the logs over the creeks or gullies. I was always first to swing across the logless gullies on a vine — Tarzan style. What I had mistaken for kindness was cold, calculating self-preservation. I easily outweighed the next heaviest member of our circle by a good fifty pounds. At some point, they all got together and realized if they sent me across first, whatever material was in question would definitely hold them!

They used me and my fat to keep themselves from cuts, sprains, and wet jeans. I was so certain of their tender motives that I never questioned them. After all, I was a very poor vine-swinger so they would always give me a boost up and a good push to make sure I got across. Once or twice, I didn’t. I would have shoes full of muck and poison ivy all over my legs, but they would be safe.

Why sure, guys! I’ll go first. Hold my drink will ya’?

I would have gone on to my grave in blissful innocence of my “friends'” duplicity had it not been for night hunting. That was what turned my mind to those halcyon days as I sat in that AP History class. Some of my friends from those bygone days had taken up the quintessential Southern “sport” of coon hunting.

Briefly, coon hunting consists of moving rapidly through woods, fields, and creek bottoms in pursuit of a pack of demented dogs — coon hounds — who are themselves in pursuit of a raccoon. To up the degree of difficulty into the stratosphere, this is all done at night. Usually WAY at night. Oh, yes, and the season is also in the dead of winter.

I had joined these acquaintances on a few of these moonlit excursions and, just as in days of yore, I was always invited to cross the fallen log first. Ten years on, I was still “the vine / log tester!”

Thanks to that second period awakening, however, my tenure as quality control for creek crossings was at an end. We had scheduled a hunt for that very night. I went along as I always did and, we came to a fallen log, as we always did. One of the guys called out, “Wham, you head on across so you don’t get so far behind”, just as they always did.

For the first time, however, I spoke up at the crossing.

“Fellas, it’s taken me a long time, but I’ve finally figured out this game. Y’all gonna send my fat . . . butt across that log so if it don’t break with me you’ll know it’s safe. Now don’t deny it, I’ve come to this conclusion, but I’ve got one thing to say. I’ve worked over this here shotgun of mine and she’s got a nice easy trigger pull. It’s gonna be a shame if a log breaks tonight or any other night from here on out because I’m pretty sure if I fall, this shotgun is going to go off. Furthermore, despite all our training with guns and such, I’m almost CERTAIN this shotgun will be fall out of my hand in such a way as to be pointed in all y’all’s directions. Just thought I’d let you know. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll cross this log.”

It was the last log I ever “tested”.

Now keep those feet clean and remember how much G.S. Feet loves y’all!

#TBT: Baby, It’s Hot Outside!


This originally ran in August 2011. Two things have led me to rerun it. First, it’s been horribly hot here for a week. Second, Mr. Sublet who I speak about in the opening paragraphs passed away some months back and I just found out about it.. He was a terrific teacher. Well, he was a terrific person. I learned more from the book than from him about history, but he told us a lot about life along the way. I miss knowing he’s still on the planet.

My junior AP History teacher, Mr. Tommy Sublett, was the first aficionado of the late War of Northern Aggression I ever met in person and got to talk to at length. I never knew why he loved the Civil War so much because he was from Kentucky and those Kentuckians — bless their little bluegrass hearts — were citizens of a border state. Being a border state meant they, along with their three brethren states, had legal slavery but they were too chicken-livered (or prescient, if you think about it) to join the Confederacy in defending Dixie from the encroachment of the soulless Yankees.

Kentucky Colonel or no, “Sub” loved to teach us about the Civil War. We spent four weeks on everything from Jamestown to Fort Sumter and from the second week in September until February on the War of Southern Independence. Then Sub realized this was an AP class (we were his first) and we were going to have to take a big test the first week in May and he hadn’t covered a few important items from our nation’s history . . . like the entire 20th Century. Even though the War Between the States was important, most of us figured that test would have at least one or two questions on WWII and maybe even a question on the Soviet Union. So from February through the AP test, we covered a chapter in our book every two days. I made Fs on the tests, but I made a 5 on the US AP History Exam.

But I digress.

One of the things Sub taught us was the Confederacy was pretty much doomed from the start because the Yankees outnumbered us about 5:1 or so, give or take. The war only lasted as long as it did because it took Honest Abe four years to find two men — Gens. Grant and Sherman — brutal enough to exploit the overwhelming numerical superiority. Once Grant started sending the Yankee equivalent of “human wave” attacks at the ragged boys in grey, the gig was up. All the wonderful officers and doughty farm boys in the world ain’t gonna save you when you’ve got a gun that fires 3 shots a minute at most and ten men come at you across 30 seconds of ground. The public — North and South — called those two “butchers” and accused them of slaughtering their own men, but in the end it worked and — as The Band and  Joan Baez put it so eloquently — they “drove ol’ Dixie down.”

But once again, I digress.

Even though Sub taught us about the disparity in numbers, he never addressed how we ended up with such a skewed ratio of troops. I mean, our women are far prettier than Yankee women and if you don’t believe it watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta back to back with The Real Housewives of New Jersey then tell me those “Jersey girls” can match our Belles! So if our genetic stock was (and is) so vastly superior to our erstwhile foes, WHY didn’t we have at least equal numbers of people?

Then, a few days ago, in the midst of a third consecutive day with 100 degree heat with a 115 degree “real feel”, the answer came to me — the Southern climate doomed our boys.

Imagine wearing THIS in JULY, in ALABAMA . . . OUTSIDE . . . ALL DAY!

We have two seasons in the South — January and summer. Short, mild winters coupled with ungodly hot and humid summers put our side at a disadvantage because we only had about a 2 or 3 month window each year when it was cool enough to . . . well, . . . PROCREATE.

We’re all adults here, do I have to draw you a picture?

Our Yankee foes, on the other hand, had the exact OPPOSITE issue. Minnesota? They have two seasons as well: July and winter. It’s that way all across the North. It gets COLD up there and cold is conducive to baby-making. Couple of quilts and some body heat and you end up warm, toasty, and “expectant.” Then just about the time THAT little bundle of joy gets weaned, it’s sub-zero again and the cycle starts all over.

Imagine this scenario, and before we get started, just so you know, this is the regular old yeoman farmers. This ain’t the big, high-falutin’ 100 Slave Working Coastal PLANTATION. This is a dirt poor Georgia / Mississippi, no-slave-owning upland family growing jes’ enuff cot’n ta’ git by. Mama, Daddy, a mess of kids that pick cotton too, and MAYBE — if last year’s cotton crop was awesome — a hired hand to help get the cotton in before the rain ruined it. Anyway, woman’s been up since before dawn cooking breakfast and packing food to take to the fields. She worked all day in the sun, heat, and humidity wearing more clothes than most women today wear in the dead of winter. Got home about two hours before everybody else to get supper ready and do some laundry. Fed everybody, cleaned up, gathered eggs and fed the chickens then washed her face and collapsed into bed .

In comes hubby. He’s worked all day as well. He hasn’t washed his face and hands. This was NOT a hygienic age in America. He hasn’t washed ANYTHING since last Saturday. So he slides into the straw ticking bed in his union suit and eases his hand over to just gently touch his loving wife and offer her a proposition:

“Hey, honey-bun, how’s about a little lovin’ tonight?”

Now, remember, it’s a July night when hot enough to make the Devil sigh with air thick as day old red-eye gravy. She’s sweating buckets in her coolest cotton nightgown and trying to get to sleep so she can get up in a few hours and do it all over again. She gently puts his hand back over on his side of the bed and offers him a counter-proposition:

“Hey, sugar bug, how about you keep that hand on your side til first frost and you’ll have two hands to pick cotton with tomorrow instead of one.” What’s more, not a jury in the county would convict her.

So the case is cracked. We lost the war because we were low on men and we were low on men because none of those good Southern folks had A/C in their bedrooms and it was just TOO HOT this time of year for all that foolishness.

Love y’all and keep those feet cool, dry and clean!

#TBT: Anxiety vs. Depression — A Primer


Published this back a few years ago. Been a rough few weeks so it seemed like a good time for a reprint.

I have been enduring one of the worst stretches of anxiety and depression since I was in high school. Lately I couldn’t cast Expecto Patronus if my life depended on it. The dementors would just have to take me. Budge assures me it is not, in fact, THE worst since I haven’t been hospitalized but I think I probably could have been sent to the psych ward two or three times in the last seven weeks were it not for the fact I refuse to ever voluntarily give up my freedom to a doctor’s whim again. If I am ever hospitalized again, it will be with a warrant, a straitjacket, and several large orderlies. It may help some people, but it just terrified me. So, I’ve been thinking — analyzing my condition and rather than just a single side of my mental health coin showing up, the last seven weeks have been categorized by mental “coin flips” and it seems the coin is always in the air and I have no idea or control over how it lands. I can only hope for it to land on the thin edge because that edge is where normal, calm, relatively happy days exist.

In the process of analyzing my current situation, I realize just how isolating these conditions are. I don’t think people are monsters. They want to help me, but they have absolutely no idea how. It leads to a lonely existence, especially when I’m alone most of the time anyway. Another thing I’ve noticed is how interchangeable in some people’s minds the concepts of anxiety and depression are. While the two are intertwined in many subtle ways, they do have their distinctions and, as the old adage goes, the devil is in the details.

Depression targets motivation and self-worth. When I’m depressed, and I don’t mean just in a bit of a funk, but really manifesting clinical depression, I have a hard time standing up. The first thing I have to do every morning is make the decision to get out of bed. I literally have to urge myself to stand up, cut the light on, and start the day. Depression becomes the “why bother” disease. For instance, take laundry, which we all agree is a task everyone has to deal with unless he is a nudist. A rational thinking person will look at a pile of laundry and she may think, “damn, I don’t want to do this laundry!” However, her motivation kicks in and she begins to think of all the reasons why this needs to get done now as opposed to later. Depression looks at laundry differently.

When I’m depressed, I see a pile of laundry as an insurmountable challenge. I think, “there’s no possible way to get all this sorted, washed, dried, folded, and put away.” Then the “why bother” kicks in, as in, “why bother doing laundry at all? As soon as I get one load done, two more will take its place. It’s not like I go out anyway, so how dirty can these clothes be? I just want to go back to bed.” Then, depression’s second insidious attack begins — self-worth. The laundry sits there in a pile and you can hear a voice in your head saying, “you’re pathetic! If you’d just man up and do this shit when you get a load together instead of waiting so long you wouldn’t have this problem! You know what? You’re right, go back to bed, you don’t deserve clean clothes anyway. People who DO stuff deserve clean clothes. Losers can wear the same things again.”

It’s a devastating one-two punch. First, you have to fight just to get up the momentum to take care of a task only to have your mind screaming at you just how worthless you are for not getting the task done already. It can be about ANYTHING, too. Right now I can name off a twenty-five item list of things that need to be done around the house. Just looking at the list in my head makes me tired which triggers the idea of “why bother?” After all, nothing you need to do will actually be done because grass grows and bushes grow and oil in cars wears out so no matter what you do, you’re going to be stuck. See, a rational person sees these tasks as a part of life; a depressed person sees them as almost punishments and of course you have the peanut gallery in your head screaming, “You bloody loser! You have the worst looking yard in the neighborhood and you deserve it! Losers don’t get clean yards OR clean oil! Just sit there and cry like a baby . . . it’s what you deserve!”

Another characteristic of depression, at least for me, is a seething, roiling, barely contained anger bordering on rage. I don’t know where I heard it but someone said “Depression is anger turned inward.” Whoever they were, they knew what they were talking about. I’ll just sit sometimes and think about throwing my phone through the wall or something along those lines. At times like that I feel like I am a single giant exposed nerve with no skin and the environment is scrubbing me with sandpaper. I’m never mad at anyone but myself though because I always think I should do better, or should have done better. I was a bit of a cutter when I was in high school and it actually was quite soothing, but the world is hard enough on teenagers who self-harm, it’s down right ferocious on middle aged men who cut themselves. We’re supposed to know better.

Anxiety works in an entirely different way. Anxiety is the “What If” disease. A rational person knows if he wants to eat he has to go to the grocery store, but a person dealing with anxiety sees the trip as nothing less dangerous than a trip to the headwaters of the Amazon. What if you have a panic attack? Remember, you had one last time and had to hurry out of the store! Anxiety is usually much more talkative than depression. It’s a constant chatter of “why hasn’t anyone called you? Is it because they hate you? Did you offend someone without knowing?” Sometimes it’s all about the future, “Oh dear, you know what could happen if we do X! We can’t do that! It’s too much risk.”

That’s another difference between my depression and my anxiety. I can only speak for myself, but depression is much more past focused and backward looking while anxiety is almost exclusively future oriented. One way I’ve analogized them is two huge, dark oceans, the Ocean of the Past and the Ocean of the Future and they swirl together in a maelstrom until they crest and break with unendurable force on the Beach of Now. Anything on that beach is going to get crushed: plans, hopes, dreams, normalcy itself, all drowned in a tide of voices.

Depression looks towards the past. Sometimes it can look almost telescopically into the past. It’s not unusual at all for me to agonize over things that happened to me as a child or bad experiences I had in high school. Most of all, depression expertly hunts out mistakes. If you screwed up, no matter how big or how small, a bout of depression WILL find it and like bamboo under fingernails push on the soft, tender spots of your psyche until it bleeds, and it’s accompanied the entire time by the chorus of “you idiot! How could you do something so undeniably stupid! No wonder you’re in such a sad state; you’ve never made a right choice in your life! Just look at all the people you hurt; look at all the damage you caused! IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!!”

Anxiety, on the other hand, peers into the future and it never, ever likes what it sees. Anxiety also like to do its talking at night. You’ll just be lying in bed planning to go to sleep when you think, “Wonder why my arm has been hurting so much lately? Is that related to why my hand is shaking? Have I got Parkinson’s Disease? Am I going to die? What happens if I die? Who will take care of Budge?! Budge . . . did she check her sugar enough today? Did you make sure she didn’t eat gluten? What if she dies? You’ll be all alone! You’re going to DIE ALONE!”

Sometimes, they team up with depression dredging up some awful pain from the past and tossing it like a downfield pass to anxiety who says, “Ah yes! Remember this bit of idiocy on your part? What’s going to keep you from doing it again? You know every time you open your mouth something stupid comes out? This is just proof. I’m just going to have to make sure we don’t go anywhere or do anything that might cause a repeat of this mistake.” Of course, depression piles on with “That’s right! Stay home! Stay in the bed! You don’t deserve to go and do because you’ll just screw it up!”

Those “voices!” Now when I say “voices” please understand I’m not “hearing voices” in the classical schizophrenic sense. I’m just anthropomorphizing my thoughts. I will say sometimes though it can feel like the voices actually are screaming. It happens at my lowest and when they start pounding on me and I’m in tears and near the fetal position, I have entertained the one way to shut them up entirely . . . but so far I’ve always managed to claw out of such darkness. Honestly though? I never come back from the edge for myself. If it was just me, I’d have punched my ticket a long time ago. Someone’s always needing taking care of though . . . Mama, Granny, Budge – of course. I always come back.

The amazing thing about dealing with anxiety and depression is the amount of expertise you encounter. For example, one of my favorites is have someone say, “You know, there’s nothing really wrong with you? It’s all in your head.” Awesome! Thank you random person or perhaps family member. I have a board certified psychiatrist and a board certified psychologist who would disagree with you, but thank you for letting me know a mental illness is, in fact all in my head. I do hope the irony is not lost.

Another great healing balm is “You just need to get out more and face the world! Face your problems head on!” Again, I appreciate the sentiment and as soon as I uncurl myself from the fetal position and cut the lights on so I can put some unstained clothes on, I’ll get right on that!

The worst, however, is to be a Christian and suffer from depression and anxiety. You get a whole different batch of advice and well meaning helpful hints. Let me just list some of the things other Christians have said to me over the years when I’ve been stupid enough to talk about my depression and anxiety in front of them:

  • If you prayed enough you wouldn’t feel this way.
  • You can’t possibly be a REAL Christian because REAL Christians don’t have mental illnesses . . . . they’re of the devil!
  • If you just focus on Jesus instead of yourself you’ll be fine and it’ll all go away.
  • You don’t need all those medicines; prayer is the answer.
  • You must not be very close to God. He wouldn’t let you suffer like this! (When I get this one I always want to say, ever read Job, asshole?)
  • Real Christians don’t think about suicide because suicide is an unforgivable sin!

That’s just some of the more common pieces of wisdom I’ve had sent my way by well-intentioned believers over the years. It’s not as bad now that I’m in a different church but, no offense, growing up Pentecostal with a mental illness, it’s a wonder I made it out alive.

So that’s it. That’s what I’ve been dealing with the last several weeks. Hopefully you got some information out of it that will help you connect with someone you know who’s struggling with depression or anxiety. Maybe you are one of the brotherhood / sisterhood yourself and you came across this post at a low point. I hope you know you aren’t alone and let me leave you with two pieces of advice that have sustained me through many long dark nights of the soul:

  • Suicide, no matter HOW tempting it can be at times, is ALWAYS a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
  • It’s ALWAYS a temporary problem because you’ll get past the hump or you’ll eventually die and it’ll be over then, but be sure to follow Item 1.

Love y’all, I mean that, it’s not something I just use as a tag line. Not enough people love each other so when I close with “Love y’all” I’m not just talking to hear my brains rattle. Anyway.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Me and Traveling


I was talking to my therapist today and the subject of me traveling came up. I hadn’t thought about it for awhile but we got to talking and I realized I am not what one would call a well traveled man. With just a few exceptions, I’ve not really left South Carolina. To list it all out, North Carolina has been my most frequent out of state destination. I’ve been there many times; mostly I went to Maggie Valley and Cherokee when I was little with Granny and Papa Wham, but I’ve been to Asheville several times to Biltmore and I went to Greensboro once for a prom in high school and out to Wilmington on the coast to see a girl. Now we go to the apple orchard a time or two a year, so yeah, I’ve been a pretty regular visitor to our northern neighbor.

Next in frequency would probably be Tennessee. I went to Knoxville in sixth grade for the World’s Fair in 1982. Other than that, I’ve been to Gatlingburg and Pigeon Forge a handful of times for day trips, but that’s about it. Then there would be Georgia. I’ve been there once to a Braves game in the middle of July for a day game. I don’t recommend that particular trip. I went to see a girl one summer in tenth grade. That was the first time I ever drove that far. Then I’ve been to the Aquarium in Atlanta twice. Other than that, I went to Elberton a handful of times when I drove a truck for awhile for my cousin delivering stuff.

I’ve been down to Florida I think six times. I went to Disneyworld in 7th grade with the National Junior Honors Society. I’ve been to the Gator Bowl twice, once in I think it was 1985 to see Clemson beat Stanford and again in was it 2002 when Micheal Vick and Virginia Tech dismantled Clemson in the Gator Bowl? So that’s three times. Then Budge and I went to Disneyworld in 1996 for our honeymoon. I don’t really recommend central Florida in August any more than Atlanta in mid-July, but we did have fun. Then we went to meet Budge’s extended family in Fort Myers after we’d been married a couple of years. That’s all the Florida trips I remember so I guess it was only five times I’ve visited the Sunshine State.

Now getting outside those three states, I’ve only traveled three other places. I went to Washington, DC twice. The first time I went was in 8th grade on the annual National Junior Honor Society trip. If you’re keeping up, Mr. Marler, our principal at Gray Court-Owings in my youth had us alternate field trips by year. Every other year we went to Disneyworld. The years we didn’t go to Disney, we went to Washington, DC. Like I said in the Florida entry, 7th grade was my year for Disney. The next year was DC. That was the first time I’d been that far north and been to a city that big. It was culture shock for my little 13 year old small town Southern self. For one thing, I didn’t know stuff was so expensive in other places. It was also the first time I saw a homeless person. That made me think. The second time I went to Washington, I was teaching at Woodmont and was chosen as a Blecher Scholar to represent South Carolina at the annual Belcher conference held at the US Holocaust Museum. My meals and hotel room were paid for by the Belcher Center and we got extensive tours of the Museum during and after hours. We also got to attend lectures by Holocaust experts from all over the world. Budge got to go with me and we made a mini vacation out of it. We had once free day and she and I did a self paced, self designed walking tour of DC. We saw as much as we could possibly see from 8 AM to 10 PM and we walked every step of the way. I’d die if I tried that now. As it was, my feet hurt for days afterwards.

So, that’s almost the extent of my travels in my entire life. I’ve never crossed the Mississippi River, by a long ways. Never been anywhere really, except once. I have had one Bilbo Baggins-like adventure in traveling. I have been out of the country! Yep, once upon a time, I FLEW to Toronto, Canada. I was teaching at Woodmont and we were going to become an IB school (google it). I was picked to be one of the first teachers to be trained and the training was in Toronto (if you didn’t bother to google, the I in IB stands for International). We flew out of Greenville to connect in Charlotte. We were in one of those little prop planes. I remember the end of the runway getting closer and we weren’t in the air yet. The engines were straining like they were about to fall off. I was sure we were going headfirst into the trees, but finally the plane lifted off and we had an uneventful ride to the Queen City.

We left Charlotte in a big jet. Here my troubles began. First, they sat me over the wing because they said I wouldn’t seesaw as much and it would be easier on me. What they didn’t tell me is how airplane wings work. We took off, which was scary; then we were just cruising along and I looked out the window at the wing. It looked like a perfectly normal wing until it split apart in the back and all these wires and tubes appeared. I was certain the wing was falling to bits in front of me. I grabbed a passing flight attendant to show her we were all going to die and she laughed and explained what “flaps” were and how they worked. That was one tragedy averted. Another thing no one told me about was how much airplane wings flex in flight. The same kind flight attendant assured me the wings always did that and we were not all about to die.

About halfway into the flight, things got interesting. We hit turbulence. The plane dropped like a stone. My stomach dropped with it. We bucked and bounced like a bronco at a rodeo. I caught a glimpse of the kind flight attendant and she was white as milk. I found out later this was much worse turbulence than usually encountered. Lucky me. Since I could expect no help from my knight in shining blue uniform, I turned to the Almighty and I cut a deal with God. I prayed, “Lord, I’ve got to get home and they want me to use an airplane to do that, but if you’ll get me to Toronto and back to Greenville, I’ll be done with airplanes!” Apparently the deal was acceptable because in a bit the turbulence cleared and we made it to our destination with no further incidents. I barely refrained from kissing the ground when we got out of the plane.

Our stay in Toronto was pleasant as any trip to Toronto in winter could be, especially since we were all from the South. I almost froze three or four times. We went to a comedy club, which was something new to me; I enjoyed it. Everywhere we went snow drifts were piled higher than my head and when an inch of snow shuts down where you’re from, that was a sight to behold. I also though Canadian gas was really cheap until I figured out Canada was on the metric system and the low prices I was seen were per liter, not gallon. Multiplied by four and the prices eclipsed those at home by a dollar or more. Overall it was a fun trip. I learned a lot and didn’t make any cultural faux pas in our four days.

The trip home was very smooth. We took a small jet to Pittsburgh and an even smaller jet home to Greenville. It was nighttime so I didn’t worry myself since I couldn’t see the wings. We landed in Greenville at 1:00 in the morning. Budge picked me up and just like that, Bilbo was back at Bag End. That’s the full extent of my lifetime travels. Not too much, but at least one big trip. I wish Budge and i could travel more but it’s hard to find someone to watch the fur babies. We won’t leave them with just anyone. Also, I’m bigger now than when I went to Toronto so I’m not sure how well I’d fit on a plane, plus there’s that deal I made and I try to be a man of my word!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

#TBT: It’s Springtime! Oh Joy, sniff, sniff, honk.


This originally ran on March 31, 2010.

It’s (sniff) springtime (sniff) and so (sniff) time to (sniff) begin my (sniff) love / hate (honk, blow, hack) relationship (sniff) with that (sniff) lovely stuff (sniff, honk) POLLEN (wipe, sniff)!!

All kidding aside, I do love springtime. Daffodils are one of my favorite flowers of all and a square foot of the delicious yellow blossoms still bloom every spring about this time next to the stone steps at Papa and Granny’s (now Aunt Cathy’s) just where Papa and I planted them some thirty years ago. The sky is blue as the bluest eye and the Final Four have been announced. It is spring!

Of course, that means it is hay fever season for me. I do not have allergies. That would be too easy. No, I have demon possessed nasal passages that twinge with the slightest micron of plant matter on the air. To put it simply, if it is green or has a bloom, I’m probably allergic to it. Violently, sickeningly, head-splittingly allergic to it.

From now until the first cold snap in October, my days will consist of bleary eyes and a runny nose. If you want some sound financial advice, invest in facial tissue. I predict a spike in the price of the good stuff as soon as I can get to the store. Budge mowed the yard tonight for the first time this year and I was picking up fallen limbs and other vegetable detritus of winter. We were outside probably ninety minutes at the absolute most. That was about three hours ago and one shower, two Claritin, and four Sudafed (the REAL meth-making stuff; not that knock off crap) later and I can finally sit still long enough to type a blog post. Of course, I have hypertension and Sudafed and Claritin do wonders for raising blood pressure so I’ll have a nice little raging headache for the next few weeks until my body adjusts its chemical soup for the change in seasons.

Of course, I am wildly overjoyed at the wonderful array of pharmaceuticals available to me and my fellow sufferers today. As a child, I had no such balm in my particular Gilead. Nothing then existed to blunt the misery of the spring, summer, and fall allergy season. The only medicine of any effectiveness was Benadryl. Now that is some wonderful stuff, but I had a choice — take Benadryl and spend summer in a coma, or take nothing and let my eyes swell shut and my nose become so raw it would literally ulcerate in some places. I tried to play outside with the other kids, but to be totally honest, I don’t do misery well, so I spent a lot of time indoors or in a Benadryl haze.

My horrible allergies deserve the most credit for all my academic achievements and the most blame for all my athletic failures. I’ve always been told I had a football player’s build, but it’s hard to block someone when your eyes are running rivers and you have to sneeze every fifteen seconds. (Just as an aside, you ever sneeze in a football helmet, you won’t forget it) On the contrary, I’m strangely not allergic to dust (mold is another story) so the dusty stacks of the local library branch were a respite from the yellow swirling air outside. The library was air conditioned as well, which was a nice bonus for a fat kid like me.

So, thanks to hay fever, I graduated second in my class in high school having never been able to play a game of football or baseball in my life. I love baseball. ***sigh***

Well, I’ve got to go blow my nose . . . again. So, y’all keep those feet clean and those pollen masks on and remember I love y’all and we’ll talk at you later.

#TBT: Goodbye, Mama. I love you.


Mama and me

Going to miss her so very much.

I wrote this the day we buried Mama. It’s been eight years today since she died . I still miss her. Rob is holding on as best he can.

I’m sorry if this is some of my worst writing ever in this blog, but I hope y’all will excuse me since I buried Mama today.

She finally succumbed to complications from COPD Monday night, March 25, 2013 at around 10:30 PM. Budge and I were holding her right hand and my cousin Rhonda who was like a daughter to Mama was holding her left hand when she passed from this world into the next. We buried her next to Papa John in a pale, almost translucent pink casket. We didn’t have a viewing and we only had graveside services. That is how Mama wanted it and since I am her only next of kin, only son, power of attorney, and executor of her will, no one was going to have me do anything differently. I didn’t even have her embalmed because her body was in such poor condition. Fletch — Alan Fletcher — the owner of Fletcher’s Funeral Home in Fountain Inn, agreed with me about not having her embalmed. He said she wouldn’t look right and there wasn’t much he could do. I’m glad, because that’s not how I want to remember her.

I managed to preach her funeral myself, which is what she wanted me to do. I really didn’t have any choice because all the other ministers who knew and loved Mama are in such poor health themselves it would have been hard for them to do it. I read the 23rd Psalm and spoke about the Easter story since Easter is Sunday. I talked about how Mama loved Jesus and how she was ready to go to her Heavenly home. I read a letter a friend of hers had emailed me all the way from Las Vegas. Of course, at the funeral, I transplanted Las Vegas from Nevada to California, but Budge and Deuce caught the mistake in time for me to smooth it over. I had the mortician put a copy of the letter in the casket with her.

Rob — my beloved stepdad — is taking Mama’s loss incredibly hard. They were together for almost 20 years, which was three times longer than she was married to my dad. Thankfully, he’s had family and dear, dear friends rally around him the last few days. I know he has a very long road ahead of him. As much as I don’t want to admit this, I’m actually afraid Rob may grieve himself to the grave with Mama. I know he misses her that much.

For me, the grief has been unpredictably breaking across me in waves. I broke down in the hospital right before she died when it was just Budge and I alone with her as she was fading fast. Since then, I’ve had a meltdown per day, except for today. I’ve actually been happy all day, even during the funeral because it was a picture perfect crisp Spring day. I know the happiness isn’t permanent. I have some dark nights to look forward to, I’m sure. I also have a lot of responsibilities to attend to that will give me ample cause to fall to my knees and wail a gut wrenching sob from my heart for nearly an hour as I’ve done twice already. I’m trying to keep in mind this is all normal and I don’t have to be Superman. I’ve just lost Mama — my best friend, my oldest friend, my main cheerleader . . . it’s normal and okay for me to be bereft, but it doesn’t make it prettier or easier.

Reunited Monday, 3-25-13.

Reunited Monday, 3-25-13.

I’m also having to contend with guilt as well. Several times I’ve heard a voice inside me I recognize as my old friend The Black Dog whispering, you could have done more! You should have done more! Why didn’t you move in with her? Why didn’t you bring her to live with you? Why were you not with her more? Why were you reading or eating or playing a stupid computer game instead of sitting beside her in her recliner holding her hand? Why didn’t you cook meals for her? Why did you leave her alone? Didn’t you know she was lonely? Didn’t you know she was hungry? On and on and on this voice spits vitriol and accusation at me and it’s been pretty much nonstop for the last 72 hours.

Of course, there’ve been other voices as well and these have been from the outside. People have told me time and again how proud they are of me for following through with Mama’s wishes and for being strong enough to preach her funeral. I’ve had several people tell me of conversations they’ve had with Mama when she told them how proud she was of me and how thankful she was to have a good son. I’ve had nurses tell me this week of the numerous people they’ve seen die all alone even though family was available.

In the end, I have to decide which voice or voices to listen to. I will say this, though, when I have been at the heartwrenching depths of despair, when I have been sobbing uncontrollably, even in the dark hours at Mama’s deathbed, I’ve found one deep, deep well of strength and comfort — God’s written word. The only thing that has been able to pull me out of the waves of grief that have wracked me with sobs and crushed my soul with emotional pain too great to bear has been reading from the Bible. I’ve read out loud and silently to myself and every time, I’ve found balm in Gilead. For that I am thankful.

I am also thankful for 42 years with the most wonderful mother a boy could want. I am going to miss her tremendously and I’m not even going to try fighting that battle, but I cannot let losing her destroy me and break me in the way losing Papa John broke Mama. I must carry on and if it means I have to limp because I’ve lost one of the major muscles I’ve stood on for all these years, then that is what I have to do. Mama is gone from me, but she is never going to be forgotten.

I love y’all. Sincerely, Me.

Thoughts on 50


I turned 50 years old last month. I knew I wanted to write about it but, honestly, it’s taken me a while to process the fact I’ve ridden this rock around the Sun fifty times. I guess many people could say this, but if you had known me in my teenage and early twenties years you’d probably be surprised I made it this far. Up until 25 I didn’t lead a lifestyle conducive to growing old. I drank as much as I could in high school and swam in bourbon at college. Of course, you can’t be young and drunk without participating in many somewhat sketchy activities so I had some close scrapes along the way. Then there was the underlying reason I was acting out so. I was struggling with undiagnosed anxiety, depression, and borderline personality disorder. Looking back, I guess it’s a wonder I managed as well as I did.

I met Budge when I was 25 though and on the cusp of turning my life around. She help complete the turn and she’s been helping me along for half my life now. I wish I could say it’s been all pixie dust and unicorns farting rainbows, but it hasn’t. Old dragons returned and got much worse after a time, but Budge has held my hand through it all. She says she always will.

But what of 50? How do I feel hitting the half-century mark? Physically? Not so good. Age has uncovered the physical consequences of doing some dumb stuff while I have plenty of normal wear and tear to boot. It’s like a man once said, “It ain’t the make of the car as much as it is the mileage.” I have to say this vehicle has not been garage kept either. My knees hurt a considerable bit. I know much of that pain is from working double hard to carry my fat bottom around for all these years. Except for about three years in my teens, I’ve never been accused of being svelte and my knees remind me of that now. Actually, I could be weeks from death and I wouldn’t know it. I haven’t seen a doctor since 2015. I should probably be on cholesterol and blood pressure meds at least and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if blood work showed me to be borderline diabetic or worse. It drives Budge crazy, but right now I prefer denial to cold, clinical facts.

Mentally I don’t feel so bad. I have the slight forgetfulness that comes as we get older. I’ve made two and sometimes three trips to a room to remember what it is I’m here for, but overall I have pretty good recall. I know all the important dates and the relevant information about my marriage – you know, first date, what I was wearing when we met, all the important stuff that will get a husband in hot water if he forgets. I don’t think I’ll be fulfilling my dream of going on Jeopardy! any time in the future now though. I still know the answers but my reflexes might not hold up against the younger generation. My mind has been my greatest friend and worst enemy in my life but it’s still mostly intact and I can’t be thankful enough for that. If dementia is in my future at least I’ve made it by the “early onset” point. I hope I’m spared that fate though because, as many things as I’d like to forget in my life, I can’t imagine much worse than forgetting my friends and loved ones. It’s one of my many greatest fears.

So what do I think about turning 50? Mostly I think I’m old. Now I know plenty of people who are over 50 and don’t seem touched by age. I’m not one of them. I’ve never been active much in my life and if you don’t use it, you lose it. I’m not one of these who is going to be competing in senior marathons or weightlifting competitions. I just feel settled. I’ve been home sitting on the shelf for all of my forties. I haven’t been in front of a class in over 15 years; haven’t been a librarian for ten. Maybe I should try to reinvent myself and do something different the second half of my life but I’ve been on the shelf so long I don’t really know where to start. I’ve heard people talk about late bloomers, so maybe I’m just an early flower dropper.

One thing I don’t feel is particularly wise. To me, 50 has always been the age a man starts being sought out for his opinion and advice on weighty matters. I don’t feel like I have much weighty experience. I can serve as an example of the wrong way to do many things with alcohol, pills, and especially money. I learned all those the hard way, and I would love to spare young people some of that heartache, but I don’t seem to have much of an audience. I think about Papa Wham. He was 50 when I was born and he’s probably the wisest man I’ve ever known. He did things though. He fought a war, ran his own business, and served as a church deacon several times. He had a deep well to draw from. Next to him, I feel like a puddle.

One thing I am more aware of now that I’m 50 is my own mortality. Men in my family don’t generally reach 80. It seems 74-77 is the sweet spot. Then a big heart attack comes to take them away. I know I’m a lot, lot closer to the finish line than I am the start. I wish I was leaving more of a legacy behind but leaving no children and getting out of the workforce early aren’t the best ways to ensure I’ll be fondly remembered.

So here I am at 50. I’ll have good company by year’s end since many of my friends turn 50 this year also. I’m just going to try looking ahead more than behind because that’s supposed to be where the good stuff is.

Love y’all, and keep your feet clean!

#TBT: They Touched the Face of God


I originally published this five years ago. Today is the 35 anniversary of the disaster and, maybe it’s because I’ve not long turned 50, but looking back at these events seems different now.

I was a freshman at Laurens District 55 High School on a bright, bitterly cold day in 1986. My third period class, just before lunch, was Honors English I with Dr. King. She told us anyone who wanted to could go get their lunches and bring them back to eat in her classroom. She’d gotten a TV from the library and had it all set up to watch the Space Shuttle Challenger carry a civilian — a TEACHER — into space.

I remember the line I picked was more crowded than usual so I was later getting my lunch tray than some of my classmates. When I walked back into Dr. King’s classroom, all behind schedule, she was sitting at her desk with tears creeping down her cheeks and the handful of my friends who’d gotten there on time sat in stunned silence staring at the television set.

I walked closer and got to an angle where I could see the screen and close enough to hear the announcer. That’s when I saw the now infamous smoke plumes hanging in the azure Florida sky. The man on the news keep repeating something like, “It seems a serious malfunction has occurred with Challenger. We don’t know what has become of the crew.”

I remember the room being quieter than the grave . . . more silent than I thought I would ever hear a high school classroom become in my life. Unfortunately, I was wrong on that count because 15 years later, I was the one weeping silently on a day in early September as my normally rowdy first block English II class sat in stony and complete silence watching another pair of explosions play over and over again on a much newer television.

As a young teenager, I had no idea how to process the Challenger disaster. We didn’t know at the time, it would be later in the day when the crew cabin was located, that the entire crew was dead. I didn’t know what to do with such public death. To be honest, I hadn’t been exposed to much death at that age. All my grandparents were very much alive, as were a slew of beloved great-aunts and great-uncles and other extended family galore. I certainly couldn’t understand the magnitude of an event like this.


I remember the rest of the day being subdued, which was always unusual in our public high school. I finished classes and wrestling practice then went Granny and Papa Wham’s house where a newfangled television network called CNN played footage of the explosion over and over. The three of us ate supper and both Granny and Papa talked about other times such a huge event had happened in their lives like the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the day FDR died. On the ride to Fountain Inn earlier in the afternoon, Mama told me she remembered exactly where she was (the gym at Gray Court Owings School) and what she was doing (playing four square) when the principal announced JFK had been assassinated.

Now I could join the adults. I had a touchstone event in my life, a “where were you when” moment. I wish that moment hadn’t come at the expense of seven lives. I remember that night watching President Reagan as he gave his speech and said,

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honoured us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’

In the thirty years since that fateful January moment as a freshman in high school, I’ve been witness to other monumentally historic events. I lay in the floor, again at Granny and Papa’s, and watched the Berlin Wall fall. I saw the horrific events of 9-11-2001. Worse, I sat with eerie feelings of deja vu in 2003 watching the coverage of the Columbia shuttle disaster, but nothing hit me quite as hard as watching Challenger explode on tv seemingly thousands of times. I guess because it happened when I was young enough to still believe the world was a bright and good place and the shock of seeing that it wasn’t stuck with me the longest.

So, help me remember those seven brave men and women now thirty years gone and also remember I love y’all, and keep those feet clean.

I Survived 2020


The end is almost in sight. Just two more days to go and we are through this godforsaken year. It wasn’t until this year I really learned to appreciate the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” This year has been interesting but for all the wrong reasons. It all started way back in January when Kobe Bryant died in that helicopter crash along with his daughter. Everyone should have seen that for the terrible omen it was, but we didn’t. We would regret it.

I have to be honest about COVID-19. Personally, it hasn’t affected me much at all on a day to day level. Once schools got cancelled in person and moved to virtual learning, Budge stayed home from March to August and that wasn’t a problem at all. Exactly the opposite, I wasn’t lonely for the entire spring. She was about to have a nervous breakdown because of the craziness with trying to move from in class to online, but I was thrilled to have her home.

It’s not like we go on tons of vacations or fly or anything the powers that be deem high risk. We stay around the house most of the time anyway so the quarantine didn’t bother us much. At first, I was concerned with toilet paper. That was the most hilarious thing of the whole year to me. Running out of food on the shelves I get. I even understood the Lysol wipes disappearing. Toilet paper though? We may not eat and we may all contract this dread disease but at least we’ll do it with clean bottoms! We got a line on some though and managed to stay supplied through the darkest days when all butt wipe seemed lost.

We cooked at home more just because it was easier than going for take out. I may have mentioned this here before, but Budge and I eat out A LOT. It’s just the two of us and somewhere along the lines we decided cooking and cleaning up afterward was an awful lot of work just to feed two people. So, restaurants became our friend. COVID put the kibosh on that pretty hard though. We’re heading back out now and we’re fortunate that the majority of places we love weathered the storm well. We didn’t lose any of our favorite eating places, but I know everyone can’t say the same thing.

The thing that’s bothered me the most about this whole pandemic is how polarizing it’s been. Everyone has sorted into camps. Believers vs. deniers. Maskers vs. non-maskers. Now we’ve got those who are anxious to get the new vaccine vs. those who have no intention of getting it. I’ve never seen such a divide in the country. I’m not stupid; I know a lot of it broke down along political lines, but I’m so worn out from politics I try not to think about that angle.

While we’re talking about that. Election years are always a pain to me. I despise political ads and the entire political process. In all my years, no elected official has made my life measurably easier or harder. I know that may not be the case for everyone. Anyway, I always figured election years were the worst and nothing would ever top them. I was wrong. How about a hotly, bitterly contested election that some people see as a referendum on the soul of the country? Sound dire enough? Okay, now let’s put it in the middle of the worst pandemic in a hundred years. 2020, the year that keeps on giving.

COVID screwed us all over. Every holiday after Memorial Day had some kind of backlash due to the virus. July 4th was a bust even if some people did get together and cause a few spikes in places. It was a long hard summer. Thanksgiving and Christmas are usually happy times when everyone can get together and things go great. Not this year.

But now it’s on to 2021 and I’m interested in seeing what will happen. Will the vaccine take hold and things slowly get back to normal? How will I handle turning 50 in a week? How will Budge and I celebrate 25 years of marriage? Lots of questions and those are just the ones closest to home. Only time will tell.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean and Happy New Year!

Veterans’ Day 2020


At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns fell silent on the Western Front. The armistice ending The War to End All Wars went into effect. Thus was born Armistice Day which was celebrated up until World War Two proved war was alive and well. After World War Two, Armistice Day became a day to honor veterans of all branches and all conflicts, and the name was changed to Veterans’ Day. This day out of the year we celebrate our surviving veterans. Over the years, people have begun to celebrate the living and the dead on Veterans’ Day, but those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom are more properly honored on Memorial Day. It doesn’t really matter as long as honor is given to these brave men and women.

I live with a lot of regrets. I’ve made many poor choices in my life, but one of the ones that hurts me the most is that I never put on a uniform and joined the military. Many of the men in my family served with honor and distinction. I regret I have not joined their numbers. When I was in high school I had a dream of attending the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. I had the required grades and my SAT score was excellent, but what is enough to get one into a regular college is not good enough for the Naval Academy.

To get into the Academy, you have to be appointed. I didn’t understand politics enough at the time to know what to do in order to get an appointment from a congressman or senator. So I didn’t get into the Naval Academy and my senior year stayed on its downward trajectory.

I was aimless after graduation. I enrolled at a local community college, but it was like high school all over again. At the time though, I was working at Advance Auto Parts with a guy named Moose. Of course that wasn’t his given name, but it’s all anyone ever called him. Moose had been in the Marine Corps and he had stories galore. He didn’t want to get out when he did but he was injured and had no choice. Moose convinced me I should enlist in the Marine Corps. I talked to a recruiter and took the ASVAB. My score caused the recruiters eyes to light up. It looked like I was on my way to enlistment. Before I could join though, I had to attend MEPS, which was the Medical Examination and Processing Station. Things went wrong there.

See, when I was near the end of my tenth grade year, I was in a car wreck that put a jeep bumper made of wood deep into my left thigh. The injury got infected and swelled up into a huge hemotoma that had to be cut out. I didn’t affect my daily life much, but I had a divot on my left thigh that was about a centimeter deep. It was fine as long as I left it alone, but if I touched it wrong, pain would shoot through my leg and I’d almost vomit.

Well, guess what the examiner at Fort Jackson did as soon as he saw the scar? Yep, he stuck his finger right in the middle of it. I crumpled and he asked me if it hurt. I assured him it did. He said I would have to get it fixed before I could enlist because they couldn’t have a marine with a built in torture spot on his body. I didn’t know how to get it fixed and I was too stupid to ask, so that was the end of my shot at enlistment. Had I gone in, I probably would have fought in Operation Desert Storm.

So, I never got to wear the uniform. I regret it every time I see our soldiers on the news or see an enlistment ad on TV. Still, I am quick to thank all those who did join and have served so faithfully all these years and to them I say Happy Veterans’ Day!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.